He'd been mistaken. Although he'd woken, he had been sleeping. He turned his head to the right, picking out the faint details of Heero's slumbering form beside him. The princess had, of course, gotten a bed to herself. Such was only proper, especially with Heero's frown presiding over the matter. There hadn't been any need for deliberations. But damn him if the end result didn't have him waking up next to Heero Yuy once again. And this time, in a bed. One criterion down, only one more to go, and then... then there'd be trouble.
Shit. He wanted to scrub at his eyes or punch Yuy or something, something to dispel this weird feeling brewing inside of him. He didn't know what it was, but he knew it started when Heero Yuy showed up one night at one of his hangouts. Why had Yuy succeeded where Howard had failed to pry him loose from his self-imposed punishments? He didn't know that, either, and he didn't really want to know. It would, no doubt, require him to look more deeply into his own behavior, and that never turned out very well at all.
He exhaled softly, an almost sigh. No one had asked him what he was doing here, lately, which was just as well. He knew no better than Heero did.
There was a nearly imperceptible shift in the air, and then Heero turned to face him. The quiet rhythm of his breaths told Duo that he was awake. They stared at each other's dark outlines for a minute before Heero drew in the air to say something. Before he spoke, he thought better of it, and pulling one hand out from under the blankets carefully, he lifted it clear of the bed for a better view and gestured toward the bathroom in inquiry. After a long hesitation, Duo responded by slipping out of bed with a gentle rustling of sheets. Heero followed.
They padded into the bathroom and shut the door behind them. Once safely secured inside, Heero, standing to the outside, flipped the lightswitch, leaving the two of them squinting at each other's rumpled appearances in the painful illumination before the loud bathroom fan kicked in. Not wanting to wake Relena with the noise, he hurriedly shut the light off, and with it went the buzz and rattle of the ventilation.
There was a very faint nightlight embedded in the light switch panel, but it provided only direction and orientation in the small, unlit room. Fortunately, there wasn't much in there, and their memories were keen enough to have marked their positions. They leaned together against the sink's countertop, close enough for their arms to touch, but not quite closing the gap between them.
Duo wasn't certain what they had come in here for, though it wasn't any less productive than lying in bed awake. Eventually, the awkwardness overcame him and he spoke in a hushed tone. "You've really messed her up, yanno."
"I know," Heero sighed with equal volume.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
"She's gonna mess you up, too, isn't she?"
Too late for that. "Fair's fair." He wondered if maybe that was the reason why he had started down this path. She had always had a strange effect on him. Maybe he'd come here seeking it. "Do you think Quatre was right?"
"About me... being afraid."
Duo didn't want to answer that one. It was sure to be self-incriminating in some way. "I've never known you to be afraid, Yuy. At least, not enough for it to stop you."
"Maybe five years are enough to wear a man down." He shut his eyes for a moment, the weariness dragging at him. He tried not to show it, maybe in the hopes that he could abolish it if he just pretended it wasn't there, but here in the darkness, he could let it out and no one would be the wiser. "I've tried, Duo. I've tried to muster up some sense of responsibility for what's going on in the world right now. But I keep coming up short. The big picture just fails to make an impact on me. I know what I would have done, five years ago. I know what I would have done four years ago, even. But now. I go through the motions. I keep looking for that spark inside of me, and I can't find it. I've never felt so... 'passive' before."
Duo let out a puff of air. "I know what I would have done five years ago. It probably would have been just going through the motions. I always was a rather screwed up little kid. Heh, I guess maybe that's why the government guys left me on my own, for the most part. They saw potential in you, and they had to squish it. Me? I guess I can take care of that myself just fine."
Heero leaned against his shoulder briefly before turning to face him, almost rolling across him, until he pressed Duo against the edge of the countertop with the weight of his body. "It's like a drug, isn't it?" he whispered, his mouth suddenly in close proximity to Duo's ear.
Uncharacteristically unsure of himself, Duo held himself very still. "What?"
Lips brushed lightly down his jawline before returning to their starting position. "Forgetting. You just do it a little bit at first, and it feels good for a while. But after the high, you crash. You feel empty inside, so you want to forget some more...."
He shivered, finding that one of his hands had risen to graze the thin cotton covering Heero's back. If he was going to do this, he should have been ravaging the hell out of Yuy, not acting like this maybe meant something.
"And soon," the murmur continued. "Soon you need it so much that it just becomes another part of your day, a part of the routine. And we're good at routines, aren't we?"
No, kissing Heero Yuy like a first-timer was not a part of his routine. Not at all. A split second before their lips would have touched, he turned away, forcing his heart to slow and his hand to glue itself back to the countertop where it belonged. "Heero..." A head came to rest against his shoulder. "What part of your routine says you rush off to save the girl?"
"My routine got broken up before that, when someone shoved me into an alley and tried to knife me." There came a grimly amused sound. "How different things would be in this world, if only that hadn't happened. Or if only he had succeeded."
Duo shivered again. "What are you going to do, Heero?"
"I don't know, Duo. I don't know." For now, he was going to stand here in the dark, leaning into his companion, and pretend that nothing outside that door existed. No doubt, when they left the confines of this little room, it would be the other way around, and they would pretend that this had never happened. But for now... he would forget.
When they asked her where she might be able to lay low for a while, it took only a moment's thought to come up with the right answer. "Dorothy has a country villa in Belgium. She doesn't spend much time there, but I've visited her there once or twice. Her staff is minimal. The groundskeeper is retired from one of her family's other estates. I know he's fiercely devoted to the Catalonias."
"Dorothy is a good friend of yours these days?" Heero asked skeptically, recalling the girls' differences of opinion from his time in Sanq. Dorothy had been dangerous, and related to their enemies by blood. She'd then taken command of a mobile doll army at Zechs' behest. Though he hadn't done much fighting against the dolls himself, it did not reflect well upon her in his mind.
"I trust her, Heero. I won't say she's changed since you last knew her, but I don't know what I would have done without her these last few years. She's been the only one to understand. I know she'll help."
"They'll be keeping an eye on her, if she's as good a friend as you say."
"And like I said, she won't be anywhere near that estate in all likelihood. But the groundskeeper knows me, and my relationship to his mistress. He'll let us in and keep quiet about it."
He frowned. "Is there no one else?"
"No one I trust so much in this area. I'm not going to space to visit the rest of them."
His sigh was nearly a growl. "Fine. We'll go to Dorothy's place."
The first baby steps of her plan had been taken. The villa wasn't so far from the world capital, and that was where she needed to be. As much as her heart ached for the innocent people caught up in this political mess, especially rough since they were already the low and dispossessed, she had recognized that her limited powers were best wielded at the source of the problem. But first, she needed to get there.
It was noon the next day when she figured out that her plans were more easily said than done. There were hotspots all over the world, but some of those spots were in her own backyard as well, so to speak. A flock of migrant workers in the orchards of Grenville were restless. Recent advances in technology, supported and subsidized by the EUW, had eliminated the need for such a large work force, leaving the pickers at a loss. Money for the season suddenly seeming scarce, they had begun to agitate and harass the landowners.
It was Relena's natural instinct to stop and talk with both sides of the disputes to try and make peace between them, but Heero voted her down, very grateful that they had rented a two door. It made it easier to keep an eye on the progressive princess. "Relena, you can't go out there."
"All they need is a mediator," she tried reasonably, taking in the fields of mechanical harvesters through the window. They changed the landscape, made it seem more impersonal.
"It takes time to mediate these things. And a more thorough understanding of the situation. And it takes just one person to report that you were here for our enemies to track us down. If it gets out that you weren't kidnapped by wicked terrorists, all of their plans will come crumbling down."
"Which is why it should get out."
"Which is why they will do everything they can to make sure it doesn't," he responded firmly. "There are far too many easy ways to counter such a story. Even if you come out on a broadcast to tell the truth, they can just say that we drugged you or brainwashed you, or maybe we're threatening you with something. It won't be foolproof, but it'll last long enough and cast enough doubt for them to move and implement a more permanent solution for themselves."
She wanted to protest further, but so long as Duo didn't stop the car, all the words in the world wouldn't make a difference. Even if she did manage to worm her way out, she had no doubt that Heero wouldn't hesitate to tie her up, gag her, and toss her in the trunk, and then she'd really be a princess kidnapped by terrorists. She settled for sulking in the back seat, weighing Heero's concerns. When she finally made it back to the central government, it would be best for her to have strategies mapped out to counter anything their adversaries might throw at her.
Far too many times during those planning sessions, she wanted to ask the other two for input, but that would have obviously tipped her hand. Following those impulses had been bursts of incomprehension, fear, sadness, and irritation. She still didn't understand what had happened to the strong, proud Gundam pilots she had known. They sat in the car with mostly silence, moving from easy and companionable to dark and brooding. Occasionally conversation would be made, and that, too, ran the gamut from casual to cutting. She felt like a white elephant stranded in their car at times, representing something that neither of them wanted to examine too closely. She did her best not to snap at them; just because she didn't understand them was no reason for her to be snippy with them. Not while they were helping her, whatever their motivations were.
The journey through the countryside was deceptively easy. For her, at least. Other than the disturbance they had encountered in Grenville, and the varying mood inside the car, she felt they could have been on a simple road trip. Then again, she was sure that they were taking precautions that she was not even aware of. They obeyed a majority of the traffic laws to make sure no authorities felt it necessary to pull them over. The car had been rented and pre-paid for a week, so the plates would not show up on any 'hot' lists. Listening to the news, she could tell the search for them was still going strong, but now that the Jurgensens, and whoever their allies were, had spun the story such that her disappearance was a necessity for them, local and state authorities were not taking every means available to locate them. They didn't want her to be found by any officials. The more devious would be any local agents they may have had in place.
She directed them to the villa in the late afternoon, hoping that her memory was accurate, never having been the one to transport herself into the countryside. It took a wrong turn or two, along with some forebearance and tolerance from her chauffeurs, but they got there in one piece, and to the best of their ability to determine, which was a considerable degree, without anyone on their tail.
Heero stayed with her in the car while Duo scouted the area to determine its suitability. Relena was almost afraid to talk to him. He was still Heero, and yet not. She wouldn't have minded getting to know him all over again, but not at this particular point in time. There were important things that had to be done, and she couldn't afford to be distracted by the way her rock had suddenly shaken loose beneath her grip.
Duo returned to report that the place seemed to be clear, and that the groundskeeper was in the gardens to the rear of the estate, tending to his craft. They decided that it was better to approach him there, out in the open, rather than through the front door. Duo poked Heero teasingly in the side through a vine-covered fence. "Try not to let him sneak up on us this time, eh?"
"I don't recall that you noticed him, either," Heero murmured in response, cupping his hands to give Relena a leg up over the fence and into Duo's waiting hands. Once she had cleared the obstacle, he vaulted it with ease himself.
The last time they had snuck through a garden, they had spent too long deliberating on the method of approach. This time, Relena had not nearly as many concerns as they did, and she walked confidently, if carefully, towards the man gardening. She cleared her throat quietly once she was near. "Pierre?"
The groundskeeper looked up calmly at the interruption, a habitual frown turning into a welcoming smile when he identified his visitor. "Miss Relena, how lovely to see you here. What brings you to my gardens today?"
Duo cast a suspicious look at Heero, who returned it in a more mild form. This conversation seemed a little too familiar to them.
Not having been privy to the first, Relena continued. "Oh, Pierre, I hope you don't mind my just dropping in like this, but I'm afraid that I seem to need a place to stay for a little while, and I'm sure Dorothy wouldn't mind. I just haven't been able to get in contact with her."
Pierre waved his trowel at them good-naturedly, though he squinted an inspection at the two men accompanying her. "Of course, yer ladyship. No trouble at all. Please, come in, come in!" He dusted himself off hastily and led them in through the back door and into the kitchens.
"Okay, this is really weird," Duo muttered. "Doesn't anyone blink twice at people just randomly showing up in their backyards anymore?"
Heero snorted quietly. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
Relena's assessment of the villa seemed to have been correct so far. It did not look lived in, nor did it look like it expected the lady of the house to visit any time soon. There were foodstuffs on the countertop, but not much perishable. Pierre shuffled through it for a bit, trying to find something appropriate quickly before settling on offering them water.
"Oh, don't trouble yourself, Pierre," Relena said, pre-empting his attempt to fetch some glasses. "We can take care of ourselves here. I promise, we won't be a problem. I just... I have to be honest with you. Have you been keeping up with the news?"
"Never you mind about that, girl," the older man responded gruffly. "I know what's going on out there. It's a damn good thing you got away from those good-for-nothings, and I know Miss Dorothy would say so, too. You were right, she'd hide you away here herself if she were here."
It was a little frustrating that everyone seemed to have seen what a bad idea the marriage was, except for her. "Then you know that they're looking for me. I don't want to bring you any trouble."
"Bah. Trouble and I are old friends."
That didn't bode well in Heero's mind. He scowled, and Relena noticed. "Let me introduce you to my two friends. That's Duo Maxwell, and this is Heero Yuy. Otherwise known as the man who can be counted on to tell me what he thinks is good for me."
Duo stifled a snort.
"I don't know what the media are saying about them, but I'm sure it isn't true. They didn't kidnap me. They--"
"Aye, I know who they are," Pierre frowned. He had, after all, worked for the Catalonias, kin to the Dermails and Khushrenadas. Gundam pilots were no natural friends of his, whether they were currently saving the world or experiencing psychotic breaks.
"Do you, now?" Duo murmured, a subtle threat hiding in his tone. "What is it with old guys that know so much these days?"
"We've been around longer," the senior grumped. "'Course we know more than you youngsters. Why, I bet I coulda given you a run for your money back in my day."
"Rather lively for a groundskeeper, weren't you?"
"Groundskeeper? Bah. I'm just retired these days. I coulda run circles around you. You never saw me and ol' Bertrand going at it. Ah, those were the days."
"Bertrand?" Relena interrupted politely. "Bertrand Pargan, you mean?"
"That's the one," Pierre crowed proudly. "Me and him, we were rivals, you know. How we led each other on merry little chases. I remember this one time we were both down in France, looking into the Ernst scandal. Damn, the fun we had."
Heero cleared his throat delicately. "Pargan? Retired? Butler?"
"Bah! He's as much a butler as I am a groundskeeper." Which really wasn't saying much, since the two ex-pilots didn't know how much or little he was a groundskeeper.
Relena explained. "Yes, Pargan. You didn't know?"
"Know? Know what?"
"Pargan was a member of my father's -- Peacecraft, that is -- he was a member of the Sanq Intelligence Corps before the country fell."
Blink blink. He got the uncomfortable feeling he should have figured that one out by now. "Oh. That might explain why he was able to help me borrow my hitman's credit card." Good ol' Marvin had been financing their expenses lately. It made him feel slightly better about Pargan knowing more about leading edge technologies than he did. He glanced over to see how Duo was taking the news, but Duo had taken Heero's diversion of the group's attention to spend his reaction, and now he was able to appear completely unfazed by the information, despite his initial surprise.
"Child's play!" Pierre huffed. "Why, I remember the time he broke the code on General Hermann's personal transmissions...."
last modified : 1/19/2006 00:27:14 PST