Late afternoon found the three returning to Mrs. L.'s comforting home. Trowa carried Duo inside, disregarding his weak protest that he could walk by himself, with Quatre at his side ready to assist in any way. The elderly woman met them on the front porch step, and seeing their downcast countenances, gave each young man a warm and sympathetic embrace. She had made a comforting dinner of homemade vegetable soup and buttery dinner rolls, which Duo barely touched. He indicated soon after the dishes were cleared that he wanted to go to lie down.
With his right hand once again firmly gripping Trowa's shirt, he allowed his protector to carry him up the stairs, having no strength in body nor in his heart to do it on his own. A half hour later Trowa descended the stairs alone.
Quatre turned his worried eyes on him as he approached and watched his lover intently. Trowa looked as exhausted as he, himself, felt. Moving with an uncharacteristic shuffling of his feet, he threw his weary body down next to Quatre and leaned over until his head rested on his smaller lover's shoulder.
"This is so completely unfair." Quatre said sadly and tilted his head to rest against his lover's. Trowa twisted slightly to bring his arms up and wrapped them around Quatre's smaller body, seeking some measure of comfort.
"I'm going to call Sally and Une," Trowa said in a quiet voice and giving his lover an extra squeeze.
Quatre nodded and straightened slightly, knowing from experience that Trowa needed to be doing something when things went wrong. He sat patiently on the couch watching the news updates as Trowa stood to go to the phone on the table that rested against the back wall behind the couch.
The first call he placed was short and he reported to Quatre that Sally was on her way with an overnight bag, but before he could dial the next number, the phone rang; it was Wufei.
The conversation was pretty much one sided, Quatre observed, and unfortunately, not on his side. He could glean nothing from the "hum" or slight grunts Trowa gave as some sort of reply.
"I understand." Trowa finally said. "I'll tell Quatre," he added and hung up the phone.
Turning to the blond on the couch, he told him the news. "Relena's dead." he reported. "She died during surgery." he added. "Heero hasn't been charged, but is being held over for more questioning. Wufei said to be prepared to be called in as a witness and that we might want to look into getting Heero a lawyer."
"I already did." the blond replied. "While you were upstairs with Duo I called my lawyer on L-4 and asked him to come here to represent Heero. In the mean time, he's contacting an associate here on Earth who...." he looked at his watch. "should be at Preventer's Headquarters within twenty minutes."
Trowa smiled with appreciation for his lover as he moved to the couch and sat next to him. Then enfolding him in his arms once again, he took comfort in the gentle strength only Quatre could give him. "I guess there's nothing more we can do than just wait." He sighed despondently, silently wondering if their lives would ever be peaceful, without fear and danger always lurking around the corner.
They sat there quietly holding each other while listening to the faint sound of Mrs. L. working in the kitchen and then later in the back garden of the house.
Sally arrived a half hour later, a deep frown marring her face. She went directly to Duo and gave him another pain /sleeping pill to ease his discomfort and upset. She then returned downstairs to join the other two former pilots in their vigil.
They both looked up at her as she reentered the room, clipping her cell phone onto the waistband of her tan slacks and noticed the frown still on her face, her eyebrows pinched together in thought. "Something is going on here," she stated unhappily. "Noin hasn't checked in and Une isn't answering my calls," she told them.
"So?' Trowa asked, not understanding her meaning.
"Trowa," she leaned forward intently eyeing him. "Noin and those men were all being blackmailed by Relena," she told him. "And this morning, she told me Une was under Relena's thumb also."
Quatre gave a startled gasp at the information and Trowa bore the look of one betrayed.
"So they could be suspects, too?" Quatre finally found his voice and managed to speak. "Have you told anyone this information?" he asked.
Sally shook her head. "After all the commotion this morning, I went to bed believing all was well. But then I woke up to news of an attempted assignation and Heero is in custody. I tried to call both women, but didn't think anything about it until I realized neither had called me back. They always call me back," she informed them.
Trowa shot to his feet and went directly to the phone. He passed Mrs. L coming into the living room from the outdoors. He stopped abruptly, remembering his manners, and took hold of her hands. "I'm sorry to be bringing so much commotion into your home, Mrs. L.," he began sincerely. "But Sally will need to spend the night to insure Duo is recovering from his ordeal. Is that all right with you?"
Eyes faded from many years of observing life looked up into the young man's worried face. She pressed a soft, wrinkled palm against his cheek. "This is your home too, dear," she told him kindly. "You have brought life back into this old home when I had thought it was about to die out. You and your friends must all consider this a place to come home to, for comfort, love, and shelter from the world."
The lines of worry softened on Trowa's face to reveal sincere affection for the gentle woman. "Thank you, Mrs. L." He pulled her into a careful embrace. "You have no idea what a home means to me." he whispered.
"Well, maybe I do, just a little bit." she patted his back then stepped from his embrace. "You should rest, dear. You and Mr. Quatre look exhausted."
He nodded. "I will as soon as I call Wufei back," he told her.
"Alright." She said, satisfied with his answer. "I'll show Dr. Poe to her room." He watched as the elderly woman warmly greeted their new guest and slowly led her up the stairs to the last vacant room at the far end of the upstairs hall.
Turning, he lifted the phone from its base and punched in the familiar number.
"Chang here." Wufei's voice sounded tired.
"It's Trowa," he announced. "Have you heard from Noin or Lady Une?" he asked.
"There's an APB out on Noin, but Une has been suspiciously absent since the shooting," he reported. "I suspect it's because she is too emotionally upset by the assassination to deal with it objectively."
"She and Noin were apparently being blackmailed by Relena. That's what Noin told Sally this morning."
"That may help Heero, if we can locate them. The maid's statement from the argument between Relena and Heero this morning hasn't help him much. Especially when she reported Relena had red marks on her neck from where Heero had held her up again the wall, and then wished her dead as he left."
Trowa shook his head. This didn't look good at all, and once the newspapers got a hold of that story.... "We have to find them immediately before this gets out of hand and Heero becomes the government's scapegoat."
"That's my first priority." Wufei stated. "How's Duo doing? Did you call Sally?"
"She's here and he's asleep. Quatre and I are going to bed also, but don't hesitate to call if something comes up."
"Take care of Heero."
"I'm on it."
"Get some sleep."
*pause* "I'll try."
A click on both ends completed the short call. Hanging the phone up, Trowa turned to be greeted by worried and tired blue eyes. "Lets go to bed," he told the blond with his hand extended out in an invitation to join him.
Quatre nodded and walked around the couch to take the offered hand. They climbed the stairs together and entered Trowa's room. With the nightlight illuminating just enough to see in the darkness, they both looked down on the slight form sleeping in the middle of the bed. Duo had a pillow and his small quilt tucked up against his chest, his thin body curled around them.
"How are we going to do this?" Quatre asked in a whisper, a bit perplexed by his exhaustion.
"I'll sleep in the middle." Trowa offered as he began to pull off his loose hanging tie and unbuttoned his uniform shirt. Quatre immediately began to help by undoing his lover's belt and unzipped the fly to his pants, then let the dress slacks fall over the slim hips to the floor, the shirt following a second later.
Trowa then returned the favor and began to unbutton the smaller blond's dress shirt and pulled the hem out from his pants and continued the process until they both stood in only their t-shirts and boxers.
"Come on", "Quatre yawned. "I'll help you move him."
Five minutes later, the three former gundam pilots were nestled into bed. Trowa lay on his back as two smaller bodies snuggled against him on each side. He leaned down and gently kissed the top of both heads, then allowed himself to drift off into a much needed and exhausted sleep.
The quiet sound roused the former mercenary out of his deep sleep, and his waking senses alerted him to the fact that his bed companions were still snuggled firmly against him and that he could definitely feel that someone else was in the room and watching them. He cautiously opened his eyes and blinked them into focus in the dim light of pre-dawn. When they finally adjusted, he could see two shapes at the end of his bed. Almost immediately he succeeded in identifying them, then nearly wished he hadn't awakened, realizing he was looking at Wufei, shaking his head while smirking at them and Heero, who stood next to the Chinese Preventer looking anything but happy at the view before him. In fact, Heero looked down right pissed.
"Well someone died and went to hentai heaven." Wufei chuckled softly at the three snuggled together in the queen-sized bed.
"Just don't get use to it." Heero warned in a stern whisper looking directly into Trowa's eyes.
Trowa knew that this situation looked bad. Duo was pressed up tightly against him, his head nestled on his shoulder and wounded arm resting on his chest, his hand clutching his t-shirt. He rushed to explain before Heero jumped on the bed to kill him. "Duo's just insecure at the moment, Heero. Because of what he's just gone through, he just needs reassurance that I'm not leaving." Then seeing the grim frown on his Japanese friend's face, he knew he'd said something wrong.
The unhappy look softened on Heero's features as he gazed upon Duo's relaxed face as he rested trustingly in Trowa's arms. "Like I did," he said remorsefully.
"So what happened?" Trowa asked, feeling awkward at Heero's self-castigating mood.
Heero seemed to shake off his moodiness and answered. "They decided to release me. Not much sense keeping me any longer when Noin and I corroborated that we saw each other outside the conference room at the time of the shooting."
"Then who do you think killed Relena?" Trowa asked, his puzzlement was clear to the other two.
Wufei shrugged. "Evidently she was blackmailing quite a few people, probably more than we know or can speculate about: Heero, Noin, the three Preventers, Une, possibly a warden and a judge, and someone in Quatre's family. There could be many more, and probably most of them wanted her dead."
"Frankly, I don't care who did it." Heero interjected as he moved to the right side of the bed where Duo slept soundly and oblivious to the conversation. "I'm just glad she won't be able to hurt us any more."
"Do you guys have to discuss this right now?" Quatre's gravelly and slightly irritated voice asked. His head remained unmoved from Trowa's strong shoulder and his eyes stayed closed.
"Why doesn't Duo wake up?" Heero asked as he looked down with a tinge of jealously on his soul mate nestled contentedly in Trowa's embrace. His eyes took in the long temporary brace that encased Duo's slender arm from the just below his shoulder down to his wrist.
"Sally gave him another pain pill. It knocks him out for eight to ten hours," Trowa replied.
Heero sighed. "I could use one of those," he said wearily.
"Go to bed." Quatre mumbled, sounding unusually cranky.
Wufei chuckled. It was obvious to him that the normally cheerful Arabian was not a morning person. In fact, he once recalled Trowa comparing the blond's disposition when being awakened during the night to that of a bear being roused from its sleep during hibernation.
Heero looked at Duo, clearly undecided as to what he should do. Then kicking off his shoes and undoing the jeans he'd worn for almost twenty-four hours, he shed them and his t-shirt. Pulling back the covers, he crawled into the already crowded bed, and pressed himself up against the slender body of his lover, taking care not to bump his wounded arm, then closed his eyes, finally able to give himself up to his exhaustion.
"Guess that leaves you, Wufei," Trowa said in an amused tone. "Care to find a spot and join us?"
With a smirk and shake of his head, the last standing man in the room declined. "I've got a bed in the other room that promises I won't be squished nor have any snoring to keep me up. Can't say the same for you, though." With a wave of his hand he turned to leave the room. The door shut silently behind him.
Trowa smiled before a large yawn took over. Adjusting the blanket to cover the four of them, he kissed the top of the blond head again and allowed himself to go back to sleep.
A slight gasp escaped Duo's lips as he began to emerge from his drug-induced sleep. Waking slowly, he blinked his eyes open. He glanced at the alarm clock that had never been set since he began sleeping in this room, and saw that it was forty-five minutes after ten in the morning. He also became fully aware that he lay on his right side with a pillow and his small quilt pressed to his chest, holding the bulky brace on his arm up for circulation and in a more comfortable position. The bed before him was empty and in realizing this, a feeling of panic began to fill him. He hadn't wakened alone since Trowa found him, and the familiar feeling of being deserted began to overwhelm him. Then a warmth against his back, and the small, warm puffs of air on his neck registered in his mind and his body calmed; he wasn't alone, he hadn't been deserted. Leaning backwards into the warmth just slightly, he turned his head to see who it was. His heart nearly stopped at the sight of the dark brown hair that could only belong to one person.
Careful not to jar his aching arm, Duo eased himself onto his back so he could turn his head fully to gaze at the slumberer. He brought his right hand up to caress the bronze cheek. Cobalt blue eyes snapped open and a soft smile of recognition instantly lit on Heero's face.
"Morning." Heero's low voice spoke for the both of them. Duo answered him with a warm smile, encouraging Heero enough that he rose up from where he slept and leaned over the smaller man to capture his lover's lips. When they parted from what they both hoped was the first of a lifetime of good morning greetings, they both smiled warmly at each other, and Heero carefully climbed completely over the slender body to move to the other side, putting himself in the spot Trowa had occupied earlier.
Both young men shifted until they were pressed comfortably against each other, legs entwined and arms wrapped carefully around each other, Duo's injured arm was resting heavily on top of Heero's side. Both sighed in a rare feeling of contentment that neither had felt for over two and a half years.
"She's gone, Duo." Heero spoke softly against his love's soft, free flowing hair as he held Duo to him. "Relena's dead."
Duo pulled his head back to look with concern and worry into Heero's face.
"I don't want you to worry." Heero told him firmly, then leaned forward and kissed the tip of the pert nose in front of him. "I didn't do it, and I don't care who did," he told him. "I'm just happy we're free of her and her machinations. She can't hurt either of us again."
Duo's eyes were brimming with emotion and he pressed forward again, bringing his face to rest in the crook of Heero's neck, relishing the feelings of safety and security that he felt when he was this close to Heero. They lay there a long while, and could possibly have spent the day just like that if it wasn't for the knock on the door.
"Go away." Heero barked out and pulled Duo's slight body even closer.
The door opened in defiance of the order to admit Wufei with a forced, fake frown on his face. "Alright, break it up, break it up." he called out in an exaggerated tone of disapproval from the open doorway even as his mouth twitched to smile.
Neither body on the bed moved.
"You slept right through breakfast guys," he told them. "Mrs L. has lunch ready and she's worrying about Duo. How about coming down and eating? It will make her feel better."
The long-haired young man reluctantly moved back from Heero's hold and nodded his head.
Heero sighed. "Life goes on, right?" he looked into the large eyes on the pale face. It was clear to him in the light of day that Duo was still not very healthy and his kidnaping has set his progress back.
"Come on." He smiled encouragingly. "We'll eat lunch then relax in the garden." Heero knew it was Duo's favorite place to be during the day. The suggestion gained him a true smile.
"I put your suitcase in Duo's room." Wufei said over his shoulder as he pulled the door closed behind him.
"How about a quick shower together?" Heero asked as he got up and looked around for his discarded jeans. He turned for Duo's response in time to see him point forlornly at the brace on his arm.
"I take it you can't shower?" Heero asked.
Duo shook his head no.
"How about a wicked sponge bath?" He suggested with a knowing smile and raising his eyebrows up and down, suggesting something decidedly wicked indeed as his mind swirled with possibilities.
Though Duo smiled in response, there was a recognizable glint of fear in his eyes. Heero saw and recognized it for what it was, making it clear that it was too soon for the kind of play that use to be a part of their daily lives.
Heero pulled on his jeans, zipped them up, then moved to help Duo out of the bed. "Tell you what," he moved slowly to cradle the heart-shaped face in his hands. "Why don't you use the bathroom first while I get us some fresh clothing?" The hint of fear disappeared, replaced by the visible emotions of relief and gratitude as Duo smiled back at Heero's suggestion.
Twenty minutes later, the two entered the kitchen to see their three friends and Sally already eating and Mrs. L. stood at the stove, an apron around her rounded waist and a wooden spoon in her hand as she stirred the contents in a large stock pot. She turned and beamed a smile at the newcomers. "There's my boy!" she said as she wiped her hands on her apron, then moved towards Duo standing near the table with his right hand holding tightly onto Heero's shirt.
"Did you sleep well, dear?" she asked him tenderly and leaned forward to kiss his pale cheeks.
Duo nodded and quickly put a brief kiss on the wrinkled but smooth cheek next to his.
"He's tired." Heero reported with a slight look of concern and worry. "We're going to take it easy today."
"I'd like to take a look at Duo after he's had something to eat," Sally said, looking at the pale face with a slight frown.
"Then come and sit." Mrs. L. entreated the two and motioned to the two vacant chairs. "I've got a pot full of goulash just waiting to be eaten."
As soon as they took their seats, the promised food was set in front of them. Duo began to eat in a slower manner than usual, with Heero and the others cautiously watching his every move.
"So what news have you had on the investigation Wufei?" Heero asked the Chinese Preventer dressed in his uniform. It was obvious he was about to go into the office.
"Lady Une reported in this morning shortly after we left and presented a letter of resignation," Wufei reported as he watched Heero pierce a piece of potato and then a carrot on his fork and popped the two into his mouth. "Noin has also resigned."
"Who's going to be put in charge?" Heero asked, his brow furrowed.
"Milliardo Peacecraft has been called back into town to temporarily take on Une's role as Head of the Preventers." Wufei answered. "There was some arguing that he shouldn't be put in charge when the assassination of his sister will be the Preventer's top priority for the next couple of months. The argument was that he's too close to the case to be objective about it."
"That's a very good point." Trowa spoke up. He was dressed in casual clothing, so Heero doubted he would be returning to the office to take up the case. "They weren't that close, but he might try to find someone to blame. A scapegoat."
"Milliardo has a good head on his shoulders." Sally interjected a bit defensively. "He's grown a lot since the war and I think he'd do well as head of the Preventers."
"But his only sibling is dead and his wife was blackmailed by her," Quatre said as he pushed his empty plate away from the him. "That's got to mess with your head."
"I'll just keep a close eye on him." Wufei said with a frown, now having doubts about the new person chosen to keep the Preventers going. The phone in the living room rang and Mrs. L. moved to answer it.
"Will charges be brought against Noin and the other three Preventers who took Duo?" Heero asked then put another fork full of food into his mouth as he waited for an answer.
Wufei shrugged. "Hard to say at this point. The arrest warrant looks valid. If it is, they were just carrying out their duty."
"Excuse me Mr. Yuy." Mrs. L stood behind them, having come silently back into the room. "But the telephone is for you. It's Mr. Peacecraft."
The room went silent, and Heero looked up from his plate to his companions. Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he scooted his chair back. His eyes turned to Duo's. "I'm sure it's nothing," he told him. "I'll be right back."
Duo quickly fisted the front of Heero's shirt, and his eyes pleaded with him to stay.
"I promise you, I'm just going to talk to him. I'm not leaving your side today."
Hesitating, Duo slowly loosened his grip and let Heero move to stand. His troubled eyes followed him as he left the room. Mrs L. sat in Heero's chair and picked up Duo's slack hand as she smiled warmly at him. "It's alright dear." She told him. "Mr. Yuy has already stated he has plans with you and the swing out back. I don't think he'd miss that for the whole world."
Duo still looked unsure and insecure as his eyes strayed from the elderly woman to the direction where Heero had disappeared.
"Now try to eat your meal because you can't go outside until Ms. Poe has a look at you and she won't do that unless you eat something." The elderly woman smiled at him encouragingly.
He nodded in reply, but ate very little of what was placed before him.
Five long minutes later, Heero reappeared with an emotionless look on his face. Mrs. L. had gone to the sink to start washing dishes with Sally at her side, so his seat was once again vacant. He sat down and stared at his plate for a moment as he seemed to be organizing his thoughts.
"Well?" Wufei asked impatiently.
"He wants me to come in and meet with him, and he wants me to bring Duo."
"No!" Trowa said sharply, his tone indicating he was going to hold stubbornly to his decision.
"I told him no," Heero looked up at the auburn haired young man. "On both counts."
"Did he accept your answer?" Quatre asked.
"He said he could issue an arrest warrant for the both of us if I didn't comply." He looked up at the five staring at him intensely. "I said we'd be gone before they could get here."
"Do we need to pack now?" Trowa asked with a regretful look towards Mrs. L. He really hated to leave her.
"No." Heero shook his head. "I told him Duo was not well today and that I wouldn't leave him. I told him that if it was really important that he could come here for a brief interview, but Duo and I won't leave the premises. I advised him to come alone."
"I'll give it to you Heero, you've got balls." Wufei snorted. "You've just been released from custody, and you're already telling the new head of the Preventers what he can and can't do."
"I have to put Duo first." Heero answered with a tender glance exchanged with the violet-eyed young man sitting next to him. "I don't mind answering his questions, but I won't have Duo interrogated and intimidated. Not now, and not ever again."
Duo carefully moved to lean over and twisted his torso in order to put his right arm around Heero's broad shoulder and hugged him as fiercely as his present condition would allow.
"When's he coming?" Sally asked as she held a damp plate in her hand and dried it with a dish towel, her eyes suspiciously moist and turning red from the tender moment.
"In two hours."
"Then I better check Duo over in case I'm asked for an opinion as to his current physical condition." She put the towel down and looked at the person in question. "Are you done eating Duo?"
With an audible sigh, he nodded, looking as if he was doomed. His eyes then turned to look with a silent appeal at Trowa.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Trowa guessed at what Duo was asking.
A nod of his head was the answer.
"I'll go with you." Heero offered, then a faint look of hurt crossed his face as Duo shook his head, giving Heero a look of regret.
"Alright." Heero replied, trying to hold back any further signs of the hurt he felt that Duo would choose Trowa over him.
Duo suddenly moved and took hold of the front of Heero's shirt until he got the man's attention and looked into his face. //You'll stay here? You won't leave?// his lips silently spoke his worry.
A small smile graced the Japanese man's face. "I'll be here, Duo. I told you, I'll never leave you again," he answered.
Duo nodded and then stood, waiting for Trowa and Sally to lead him upstairs to the privacy of Trowa's bedroom.
The three made it to the stairway before Trowa's curiosity got the best of him. "Why didn't you want Heero to stay with you instead of me?" he asked the long haired man hobbling with effort up the stairs.
Duo stopped and turned to face him. His lips moved and Trowa carefully studied them. //I didn't want him to see me in this condition.// He tugged at his baggy clothing. //I'm too scrawny.//
Trowa smiled and nodded. "That may be so, but he loves you. He doesn't care if you're skinny or even fat, Duo. He just wants you."
A small smile lit Duo's face as he turned and trudged up the remaining stairs.
The two reunited lovers sat in relative peace and quiet in the fragrant and ornately blooming backyard. Heero's foot gave a slight push each time the garden swing went back to keep the momentum going. Duo had fallen asleep again, and he'd positioned him so that his upper body was cradled in is arms, his pale face pressed against his chest, and his legs were curled up on the other half of the swing. Wufei had gone to work and Trowa and Quatre were busy making phone calls. Mrs. L. stepped outside the back door every so often to offer lemonade, tea, or a tempting treat, but since the time Duo had fallen asleep, Heero had been left entirely alone with the recovering young man nestled protectively in his arms.
His eyes studied the beautiful face resting against him. He moved his hand to brush back a couple of long, stray hairs that were out of place. He missed Duo's braid. Of course he'd never tell Duo how much, because he knew its loss must have been very painful to his lover. During the war, the vivacious and beautiful teen from L-2, who had at that time just become his lover, told him of the sentimentality he attached to his long braid, stating that it was in many ways a memorial to those he'd loved and lost to death.
Hearing the back door open, Heero was brought out of his thoughts of the past and turned his head to recognize the tall blond man he'd known in the war as Zechs Marquise, the Lightening Count, step out into the lush garden. Two sets of blue eyes locked and the new head of the Preventers strode confidently towards the two resting on the patio swing. Behind Zech, Heero could see Trowa standing in the doorway, letting him know he was guarding them.
Milliardo Peacecraft grabbed one of the lounge chairs and with one hand, carried it over to place it in front of the gently moving swing. He sat, crossed one leg over the other, then let his eyes fall on the sleeping form of Duo Maxwell. His facial features softened as he took in the changes in his one time opponent and one time ally.
"Une showed me his file." The blond said, keeping his voice soft. "I'm sorry for all he's had to endure."
"All because of Relena," Heero added bitterly.
Milliardo nodded, then looked into Heero's frowning face. "I had no knowledge of what she was doing to him or yourself Heero, though I had a few suspicions."
"I knew," Heero replied a bit softer. "And I still couldn't stop her."
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Heero looked up at him questioningly. "What do you want from us Zechs?" Even though the war was long over and he was looking at his former brother-in-law, he'd always had a hard time addressing the tall, aristocratic blond man by his real name, Milliardo. To him he would always be Zechs.
Dressed in casual clothing consisting of dark blue jeans and a white oxford shirt, Zechs looked cool and calm as he straightened in response to the question. "I read your statement," he said to the younger man. "And I never realized how much my sister had become corrupted by her office," his tone was grave. "She was much too young to be entrusted with that much power and authority. I'm not making excuses for her Heero, but she didn't possess the maturity to understand that kind of power nor the responsibility that comes with it. She obviously didn't understand that having so much power didn't mean that she could have whatever she wanted, and that having the office, clout and/or power she had didn't give her the right to try and take what she wanted by force or manipulation just because she could." He paused to search Heero's face. "She must have wanted you so badly that she ignored her better judgement, and having all she needed in money, people and resources, she fulfilled the old saying that power corrupts absolutely. She found your weakness and discovered underhanded means to get you away from Duo and put you at her side. She then used that information to carry out her own agenda to have you."
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. "I don't believe you were the first nor the last person she had in her web of deceit and betrayal Heero. In fact, I know she was blackmailing several others in order to close down Duo's business, and manipulated other people into doing her dirty work."
"Noin?" Heero asked.
The blond nodded with a sad look on his face. "I should have guessed, but I was too worried about keeping Relena off of my back."
"She blackmailing you?" Heero's surprise was evident on his normally placid face, though his voice raised only slightly.
"That's not important." Zechs flicked his hand as if to dismiss the topic.
"I think it is." Heero answered with a frown. He shifted Duo in his arms as they'd begun to cramp from being stationary for so long.
"It won't change anything." Zechs answered.
"What's the point of this visit then?" Heero's patience was almost spent.
"I want you to let go of any legal retaliation for what Relena did to you and Duo." He put up his hand to forestall Heero's protest. "From what I saw in Duo's folder, he has a very good case in which to sue Relena, if she was still alive. He could still file a suit and pursue a claim against her estate, which is quite substantial, for damages caused by my sister. He would probably win, and the press would have a field day with it."
He scooted closer to the edge of his seat. "If you choose to do this, the Peacecraft name will be irreparably tainted by the scandal." He told the Japanese man. "I would like to avoid that if possible."
"She mentally tortured me every day for two and a half years Zechs," Heero said between gritted teeth. "She made me leave the only person I ever loved, causing him to try and take his life. And when I didn't sleep with her, she had him framed for stealing from his best friend. Duo was unknowingly caught up in her web of betrayal. She made it look as if all of us betrayed him, with the exception of Trowa. We both have been hurt in ways that might be impossible to recover from."
"I understand that," Zechs said in a much calmer tone. "And I'm sorry, but I'm here today to make you an offer, one I hope you'll find acceptable."
Heero's left eyebrow rose in question.
"I'm willing to offer you Relena's entire estate, her money and holdings, in exchange for your cooperation in this matter. Take the money, and with it you can take care of Duo for the rest of your lives. You'll never have to worry about leaving him for work or not having the money to pay for medical or psychological help for the both of you. You can give him anything and everything."
"You would do this just to keep Relena's name clean?" Heero asked looking doubtful. "She didn't earn that honor in life, Zechs. Though, to her adoring public, she was like an angel who could do no wrong." His eyes narrowed on the fair skinned man. "Are you so different from her that you think you can bend me to your will by the lure of money and the promise of security?"
"Heero," Zech's face took on a look of gentle pleading. "I think I can make a difference. Une has resigned her post, though I don't think she should have. The Preventers needs someone to lead them, someone the world would hold in high esteem. I can't do that if my name is dragged through the mud along with Relena's. She was my sister, and our names will always be linked together. I'm asking you, not for her sake, but for mine and the Preventers. If I don't take the helm, the organization will lose credibility and fail. We can't afford for that to happen now. Maintaining the fragile peace is too important."
Zechs closed his eyes and sighed. "I've done all the pleading that I'm going to," he said quietly. "Do you have any questions for me?"
Heero looked down at his love and wondered what to do. Duo certainly deserved to have his revenge on Relena, even though she was dead. Her pacifist name had meant a lot to her as did the ideals she touted but failed to live. She was a hypocrite and the world deserved to know it. But at what cost? He wondered. His eyes studied the face of the beautiful person he held in his arms. Duo had suffered so much. A court trial to expose Relena would mean testifying, not only in front of a judge or a possible jury, but to the press. They would make a circus out of Duo's sufferings before, during and after the war. Whatever happened in Section Ten of P.C. Four would have to come out in detail to show the extent of Duo's suffering caused by Relena's manipulations.
Duo's face gently nuzzled against Heero's chest, seeking reassurance that he was still there. The unconscious movement caused Heero to smile, just slightly. Duo trusted him again and was depending on him to be there. It was up to him to make the decision that was right for Duo, not for himself nor for Zechs. In that light, the decision became easy.
"Will the arrest warrant for Duo be canceled?"
"It's already done. An investigation is in progress and an officer of the Preventers is interviewing the warden of P.C. Four as we speak. If he is corrupt, he will be brought to justice as will the judge on L-4."
"Am I still a suspect in Relena's murder?"
Zechs nodded his head. "You and Noin cleared each other."
Heero paused. "You do know that I only saw her when I first arrived at the hotel, not during the shooting, don't you?"
A nod from the Preventer was his only answer. "But she saw you, and knew you didn't shoot Relena, though heaven knows you showed great restraint. She felt you shouldn't have to take the blame for something you hadn't done."
"I don't know that she didn't do it." Heero told him.
"I know she didn't." Zechs told him. His look told Heero to ask no further on the subject.
"Then who did?"
Adjusting himself back into his chair, the Head of the Preventers took on a more formal appearance, he was all business now and Heero could see that in posture and confidence alone, Zechs would be a man the Preventers would look up to and follow.
"Ballistics state that the bullet that hit my sister in the center of the frontal lobe was from an antique shell, probably shot from an old relic gun that someone had for the purpose of collecting. There are no matches on record of the marks on the casing."
"A gun hobbyist?" Heero asked perplexed. "Do you know anyone like that?"
"A lot of prestigious families have extensive gun collections. My father did as well as Treiz's family, Noventa's, Dermail's, and a dozen others that I know of. An investigation is continuing, but we may have to look at something other than the weapon, that is unless it's dropped into our laps."
"Motive?" Heero asked.
"If we could find a list of the people she was blackmailing, we could begin to eliminate possible assassins."
Duo stirred in his arms, but then resettled as he wrapped his right arm tighter around Heero's waist for a moment, then let it slack when he fell back to sleep. Heero had seen from his vantage point the unhappy frown that marred the face of the dreamer.
"Duo is my first concern, Zechs." Heero spoke so soft the Preventer had to lean forward to hear him. "I think going to court is the right thing to do, to make Relena's misdeeds her true legacy." He looked up to see the unhappy countenance Zechs wore. "But putting Duo on trial to testify about all the abuse he's endured would be too traumatic. If I take what you offer as a remittance for his suffering, do you promise me we'll never be bothered by this again?"
"I swear it to you Heero," he answered vehemently. "I'm the person who will legally inherit Relena's entire estate, but the day I receive it, I will turn it over to you without a second thought. You deserve recompense after what she's done to the both of you. I'll give it to you with no regrets and no repercussions."
"I want his name expunged." Heero told him. "Relena had him set up and I want his record cleared as well as his name. The Maxwell name means a lot to him," he added thoughtfully.
Zechs paused for a moment in consideration. "I'm not sure how to go about that, but I promise to see what I can do," he told him.
"Then I guess there's only one thing left that I need to know," Heero stated.
The blond tilted his head to the side as his puzzled eyes met Heero's steady gaze. "And what's that?"
"What was Relena blackmailing you with?"
"I don't think it's necessary to go into that Heero. It's something from my past."
"I want to know or there's no deal." The look on the Japanese man's face showed his serious intent.
Zechs sighed and shook his head. "This conversation goes no further, understand?" he requested of the Japanese boy. Heero nodded his head n agreement, then Zechs continued. "It was the same thing she held over Une's head." he said in a hushed, embarrassed tone.
"You and Une were involved?" Heero asked, feeling shocked at the idea as Zechs and the former head of the Preventers never seemed to get along.
"No," the blond man answered with an amused smile at the idea. Then his smile faded as he continued, "but Treize and I were involved when we were younger." He looked up and almost smiled at the look of shock on Heero's face, almost. "Relena found out after the first war, after I became involved with Lu. She threatened to expose my relationship with him and ruin both our reputations and my relationship with Noin."
"Why did this information affect Lady Une?" The other asked, clearly bemused.
"She was in love with Treize herself," the blond man explained. "And also very devoted to him. She wants his legacy to stay in tact and not besmirched by an unconventional sexual relationship with one of his subordinates. That wouldn't look good in the history books."
Heero frowned and shook his head at all the people hurt and used by Relena. At the same time, he had his information, now he could come to a decision.
"I think you'll be good for the Preventers, Zechs." Heero said, giving the other man his cryptic approval.
Zechs smiled at the decision he'd hoped for. "Thank you, Heero. That means a lot coming from you."
The blond man stood from his chair and offered his hand to seal the deal they'd just made. Heero took it and shook hands again with the very man he'd given his first handshake to so long ago.
Two minutes after the Zechs left the house, Trowa and Quatre came outside and sat in the two chairs in front of the swing.
"What did he want?" Trowa asked, his eyes falling from Heero's face to check on Duo as he slept soundly in the sheltering embrace.
"To make a deal," Heero replied. "Our silence for Relena's fortune."
Both former pilots looked at him with varying expressions; Quatre looked shocked, and Trowa thoughtful. "To save the family name?" The blond guessed.
"That and avoid the negative publicity that would hinder his abilities as the new Head of the Preventers," he replied.
"What was your decision?" Trowa inquired with a steady gaze focused on the Japanese man.
"But why Heero?" Quatre asked, looking perplexed. "Duo has a solid case against Relena's estate for what she did to him. You could have seen her actions exposed to the public so that she doesn't die a martyr to a cause she was totally hypocritical of."
Lowering his head once again to study his mate, Heero answered. "I did it to spare Duo from having to testify as to what he's gone through because of Relena. I just want to help him put it behind him and enjoy life again. With Relena's inheritance, Duo can have anything he'll ever want, the best doctors, the best care, and a guarantee that he'll never be hungry or hurt ever again."
"Is that the only reason?" Trowa looked skeptical.
"It's the main reason, but no." Heero answered honestly. "I believe Zechs will be a good leader for the Preventers, and he needs his good name in order to do his job well. He'll see that to it that the organization stays in existence so that we won't ever have to fight again."
There were a few moments of silence before Trowa spoke up again. "I agree with your decision. Duo comes first, and he would have to testify in a civil suit exposing Relena's misdeeds and the abuse he was forced to endure. I think it's best to put it in the past and deal with the future. His body and mind will be our focus for months to come and a lawsuit would distract us from making him well again."
"I agree." Quatre said quietly. "Although I was willing to care for Duo for the rest of his life."
"Thank you," Heero whispered emotionally. "For being our friends."
They sat there together, not saying a word, but relishing the idea that the threats and fears they'd had for so long were now put to rest and that they could look forward to helping Duo regain his life without Relena's shadow hovering over their every move.
Two weeks later, Duo sat in the doctor's office, his mouth wide open as the doctor pulled the scope out of his mouth. He presented the young man with a pleased smile. "Well, everything looks great Denver," he announced and chuckled at the sound of the four people behind him sighing in relief. "Would you like to try saying something?" he asked. "Got some famous first words?"
Duo looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded and cautiously hopped off the exam table, avoiding hitting his newly cast left arm, to walk over to his friends.
"Only a few words now." the doctor told him. "And very quietly."
The smiling, long haired young man looked at his good friends returning his gaze with anticipation, but he stopped directly in front of Trowa. Reaching up to clasp his hands behind his friend's neck, he pulled the taller man down placing Trowa's cheek against his own. "Thank you, Trowa." His voice came out raspy and weak, but every one in the room heard it and heartily applauded the sound. He kissed his friend on the cheek with affection and let go.
Trowa straightened and smiled warmly at the gesture Duo had made on his behalf. It had all been worth it, he thought. The two years of working and saving to rescue him were all worth that very moment when he saw a sparkle of happiness back in Duo's amazing eyes, and to have been gifted with the first truly coherent words he'd spoken in over two years. He was awed and humbled by the experience. He reached out and cupped the other's cheek. "You're welcome," he replied with moist eyes. "Anything for a friend."
Duo's smile grew, and he turned with happiness radiating from him to look at Heero. "I love you." he rasped out while throwing his arms out wide for a hug.
Heero returned the smile and quickly enveloped the long haired man in his arms. "And I love you more than words can ever describe," he whispered back.
"Let's celebrate!" Quatre was nearly jumping out of his skin with happiness, his blue eyes shinny and bright.
"Just one moment." The doctor interrupted and all eyes in the room went to him. "I just want to make sure you know that Denver here will need physical therapy to strengthen his vocal chords. I've set up a tentative appointment for tomorrow morning and my receptionist will give you the address and paper work you'll need." He looked at the jubilant patient. "You'll have to limit the use of your voice until then," he told him. "Your therapist will let you know how much you can use it until it's strong enough to hold its own."
"We'll make sure he's there." Wufei assured the older man, the smile on his face matched that of the others. He couldn't help the warmth that was seeping through his whole body as the group of friends celebrated what was the first of what they all hoped to be of the many accomplishments Duo would make in returning to a normal life. He knew that they were all committed to that end.
Lucretia Noin Peacecraft quietly entered the study where her husband had retreated after dinner. The last two weeks had left him exhausted, drained, and feeling completely accomplished. Her eyes lit on him as he sat behind his large mahogany desk, appreciating for a moment how wonderful he look in jeans and a soft green t-shirt, his feet propped up on the edge as he leaned back in his black leather chair. On top of the desk was an antique she'd seen many times before.
"Are you alright?" she asked as she approached, looking at the gun curiously.
"I'm fine." He sat up at her approach and smiled at her. She was dressed in her usual "at home" clothing, consisting today of a short denim skirt that showed off her lovely, long legs and a short-sleeved, white collared shirt that was neatly tucked in. He quickly motioned for her to sit on his lap.
She sat down and raked her fingers through his long, blond hair. "How was work?" she asked, silently missing her work at the Preventers, now a thing in the past since Relena's death. She had avoided being censured for her part in Duo's questionable arrest by resigning, thus keeping the Peacecraft name clear of any scandal.
"Hectic, as usual." He smiled at her.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him tenderly. When she broke the kiss she smiled at him knowingly. "But you love it, don't you?"
He smiled back. "I have to admit it, I really do," he replied sheepishly and with a chuckle.
"What's with the gun?" she asked looking at the ancient relic. "Isn't that the one Treize gave you during the war as a token of his friendship?"
"Yes," he answered, reaching out his hand to finger the handle of the pearl handled revolver. "I was thinking of donating it to his museum. He really loved old guns, practiced with them almost every day."
"Won't it be difficult for you to part with it?" she frowned knowing he'd always cherished the weapon. "It was his last gift to you, a token of his friendship."
"It served it's purpose." He pushed the gun to the side of his desk. "But sometimes the things we keep around just bring back bad memories."
"You miss him terribly, don't you?" she asked brushing his long bangs back from his eyes.
"More than you'll ever know," he said thoughtfully, then claimed
his wife's mouth in a desperate, melding kiss.
Back to Chapter fourteen