Chapter 21: "The Senator's Daughter"
Treize Kushrenada glanced up from where he was still seated at his desk, fingers steepled beneath his chin. He arched a brow in question at the young woman standing at attention before him. "Colonel Une," he greeted.
The stern-looking woman, sharp in her military uniform, flicked a look towards the communicator set up before her General. "How did it go?"
"Not as well as I'd hoped," Treize admitted with a small, dry smile. "But in much a way as I'd expected." He pushed himself back from the desk and rose to his feet. "That young man has got to be one of the most stubborn people I've ever met. With a temper to boot."
"And the other? His... 'Guardian'?" Colonel Une's face wore a faint mask of disapproval. "He seems like he could be trouble. He'll try to keep us from the boy."
"He failed once already," Treize pointed out, strolling over to a potted plant, hands clasped behind his back.
"Yes," Une admitted. "However, after that last meeting, I don't think this 'Chang' boy will be as willing to meet with you again."
"Indeed," Treize murmured, looking completely unconcerned.
Une frowned. "You still plan on going after him, then?"
"Of course." Treize bent slightly to take a whiff of the delicate blooms. "It is imperative that we get to him before he disappears again. We'll never find the new colony without his help."
"If I may make a suggestion, sir," Une said prudently, "it might be easier if we were to simply take him by force. Or, if he is as stubborn as you say, perhaps he would be more willing to cooperate if we had one of his friends captive."
"Taking Wufei himself hostage would not be the way to go," Treize affirmed. "He would sulk and throw a tantrum and threaten my life until Yuy eventually tracked us down and killed more of my soldiers. No, taking Wufei against his will would be a waste of time."
Une nodded. "One of his acquaintances, then?"
Treize turned to face her, face still composed. "I would rather not stoop to such a level unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Besides, it could prove difficult. His foster mother has disappeared; not that I would want to involve an innocent woman. The rest of his 'friends' are on that ship with him."
"Innocent?" Une repeated before she could stop herself. "That blasted woman hid him so well no one knew of his whereabouts. She hid him away in some no-name town, raised him to be an antisocial troublemaker... even going so far as to change his name. It's pure chance we found him at all."
"Not chance," Treize corrected. "I prefer to see it as fate. We might never have found him if one of your men hadn't recognized that Guardian of his."
"The one who thought he was being clever by posing as the family gardener?" Une's lip curled slightly. "A slip on their part. It was only made more obvious who they were when the rest of those 'Guardians' started showing up."
"Yes, well..." Treize offered a small, amused smile, "they are only children, after all."
Treize turned his back on her, gazing out of the porthole and out into the depths of space. Somewhere out there was Chang Wufei, suspicious of everyone and surrounded by overprotective, trigger-happy bodyguards.
Slowly Treize's mouth widened in a self-satisfied smile. Guardians weren't the only entourage Wufei had picked up on his journey. "We don't need to resort to kidnapping and ransoms," he practically purred. "I'm sure the Princess will be more than willing to cooperate."
Une blinked, nonplussed. "Princess, sir?" she repeated blankly.
Treize turned slightly to smirk at her. "Wufei keeps grand company for one so young," he said. "But then, so does she. The fact that neither of them are aware of that fact only makes it all the more amusing."
Une held her tongue, unwilling to express her ignorance.
Treize returned his attention to the porthole. "We must get in contact with Senator Peacecraft's daughter. If we have to, we will go through her father. No doubt she is eager to find someone willing to get her out of her current... 'predicament'."
"Yes, sir," Une agreed, saluting smartly and turning on her heel. She strode out of the room and out into the shuttle corridor, frowning to herself. Nothing of what her General had said in those last few moments had made sense. However, she wasn't about to question him. He was Treize Kushrenada, the hero of earth. She would do what he ordered, no questions asked.
And willingly die for him if ever the need arose.
"We have to escape."
Hilde blinked. "Um." She glanced down at the gun in her hand, then offered Relena a strange look. "I'm here willingly," she reminded the other girl. "Wufei's my best friend. I don't know what mess he's gotten himself into, but I'm not about to just leave him to get himself into worse trouble." She frowned. "I didn't see you putting up too much of a fight, either," she said pointedly. "You could have ran and got security. Plus you knew Heero had his gun on 'safe' when we went through the gate. You could have broken away."
Relena got up a little huffily and began pacing the cabin, hands clasped fiercely in front of her. "This is getting blown far out of proportion," she insisted. "At first I thought it was a prank of some kind--"
"Does this look like a prank?" Hilde demanded, holding up Heero's gun from where she was seated on the bed.
Relena ignored her. "Then I thought I could convince him to rethink things. But I'm beginning to realize this is much bigger than I originally thought." She spun to face Hilde. "That was Mr. Kushrenada on the link," she said firmly. "I know what I saw. And did you see how Heero and Chang spoke to him? At first I thought this shuttle was just a coincidence-- that they took it because it was the easiest to hijack once they had a 'hostage'. But did you hear some of the things they said? Kushrenada must have called to try to convince them to release me. And you as well, no doubt."
"I'm not a prisoner," Hilde repeated. "And I don't think you're right." She glared down at the gun in her lap. "I didn't catch the entire conversation, but Heero accused Kushrenada of hurting Wufei somehow. And he all but admitted to it. Doesn't sound like much of a 'hero' to me."
"You must have misunderstood," Relena cut her off almost absently, beginning to pace again. "The point is, things aren't what they seem. These friends of Heero's are obviously a bad influence."
Hilde jumped to her feet. "Hey! You'd better not be lumping Wufei in with those other lunatics!"
"He's with them, isn't he?" Relena demanded, frowning at the outburst. "You saw him agree to come with them. And he seems to have some idea of what they're up to." She turned to the small porthole, gazing out at the stars with a worried frown. "I know Heero won't hurt us," she said confidently. "And that blond boy... Quatre, was that what they called him? He seems decent enough. But those other two..." She glanced over her shoulder at Hilde. "The tall one doesn't make any facial expression whatsoever. He makes me nervous. And as for Maxwell..."
Hilde bristled. "What about him?"
"He acts like a complete idiot," Relena said bluntly. "When I met him at school I assumed he was just some class clown. But..." she hesitated, a nervous look in her eyes. "Did you see how he was with those men at the shuttle port? And how he refused to tell me what happened to that last one?" She looked sharply at Hilde. "And Wufei," she added quickly. "How can I not view him in the same light as the others? You saw it-- he killed those men!"
Hilde shook her head slowly, swallowing hard. "He had to," she protested weakly. "I mean... they would have killed us."
"They were just trying to scare us."
Hilde's eyes narrowed, and she got to her feet. "One of those men was going to hurt Quatre," she pointed out in a hard voice. "Cut off his fingers-- that's what he said. He even cut his arm and face. Those were terrorists, Relena. Quatre was right; it was kill or be killed."
"That doesn't make it right!" Relena interrupted heatedly, fists clenched at her sides. "There is absolutely no excuse for murder!"
"It was self defense!" Hilde shouted.
Relena drew herself up straight and took a deep breath. "I'm not going to get into a shouting match with you," she stated with quiet reproval. "Obviously our views on this are different, and for the time being there's nothing I can do to fix that. But this isn't about morals right now. It's about our personal safety."
Hilde eyed the other girl warily. "You don't really think any of them will hurt you, do you?"
"Heero won't," Relena repeated firmly. "But I still think Maxwell and that tall boy-- Barton --are loose cannons."
"Heero seems to be in charge," Hilde pointed out. "He won't let anything happen to you." She frowned. "And anyway, I don't think Duo's a bad guy."
Relena gave her a long, steady look. "I don't think he's stable," she said quietly. "And I think you're letting his charm and looks get in the way of your judgment. You saw his face in that room at the shuttle port."
Hilde flushed. "You have room to talk," she snapped. "You don't know Heero any more than I do Duo. What makes you so sure he's the knight in shining armor you make him out to be?"
Relena sputtered a bit, throwing her hands up to cover the pink blush on her cheeks. "D-don't be silly! When did I ever call him a--"
"Look, Relena," Hilde cut her off impatiently. "Unless you wanna take your chances outside-- which isn't really an option up here --it'd probably be a good idea if you just sat down somewhere and stayed quiet for a little while. They already said they're going to let you go at the next colony we come across. Other than getting through shuttle security, they don't seem to have any other use for you. The idea of taking you 'hostage' didn't even occur to them until the last minute. They'll let you go. So just try not to give any of them a reason to do something stupid."
Relena lifted her chin defiantly. "I refuse to meekly succumb to this insanity," she declared. "My father has a firm policy against dealings with terrorists."
Hilde balked. "Terrorists??"
Relena began ticking off the offenses on her fingers. "They hijacked my father's private shuttle, took me along with them, brought weapons into the port, held me at gunpoint, threatened the lives of the security guards, and killed those men." She gave Hilde a stern look. "The bearing of weapons in a shuttle port without military clearance makes them terrorists in and of itself. They've only dug themselves a deeper hole with their other actions. And the longer they keep us here--"
"You mean keep you here," Hilde grumbled.
"--the harsher the repercussions will be," Relena finished, ignoring the interruption. She paused, looking thoughtfully towards the door for a moment. She turned towards Hilde abruptly. "You're Wufei's friend," she whispered excitedly.
"Yes," Hilde drawled. "We've been over this."
"Then talk to him!" Relena moved closer, lowering her voice even more. "Find out what's going on. Try to get him to convince Heero to let us go and turn themselves in."
Hilde looked at Relena incredulously. "But he--"
"Maxwell seems to be willing to listen to you, too," Relena added. "Try to get some information out of him. Or a favor. Better yet-- distract him."
"Distract him," Hilde repeated in a dead-pan voice.
"Yes! Keep him away from the cockpit, and I'll use the comm unit in there to call my father. He can send a rescue team."
Hilde threw her arms up in the air. "Jesus! Listen to yourself! Relena, if these guys are as dangerous as you seem to think they are, then imagine what they'll do if we get caught."
"We won't get caught," Relena said with a confident little smile. "Not if you do your part. You're a pretty girl, Hilde. I have faith in you. Give it your best shot; Duo won't even think to look in the cockpit."
Hilde hesitated, feeling her face heat up. "Um... well, but...."
"Come on!" Relena seized Hilde and dragged her away from the bed.
What the hell just happened?
Wufei was back in his seat, staring blankly out of the small port-hole that was his window. But this time he wasn't paying any attention to the stars, or the far-off planets, or even wondering where this new frontier would take him. He couldn't even force himself to stew over Treize's call.
Now that he was alone, all he could think about was lukewarm water, soap in his eyes, warm breath on his mouth...
He shivered involuntarily, reaching up to run a hand roughly through damp hair. Shit. Shit shit shit. What the hell was that? What had Yuy been up to?
And why had Wufei been stupid enough to agree to that shower in the first place?
Gonna have to be honest with yourself sometime, Chang, Wufei told himself sternly. Like it or not, something's going on here. And you aren't exactly retreating from it. He felt his face slowly flush and reached up hastily to tie his hair up in an attempt to distract himself.
Best not to think about it. Not here, not now. Perhaps he was misreading things. Yuy was a hard man to figure out, after all. And it wasn't like Wufei had any experience with... matters like these.
Heero chose that exact moment to come storming out of the kitchenette.
Wufei hastily controlled his facial expression, giving Heero the same calm, cool look he usually wore. Nothing's the matter, I'm fine, I'm not thinking about you at all.
Dumbass, the little voice in his mind muttered in disgust.
Heero froze on spotting him. He studied Wufei with an unreadable expression for a moment before turning abruptly on his heel and stomping off without a backwards look. Wufei blinked, startled. What the...
Trowa stepped out of the kitchenette a moment later, glancing at Wufei, then in the direction Heero had gone. His face was composed, but Wufei thought the older boy had an air of... resignation, almost, to him. Wufei rose to his feet on impulse, intent on finding out what Heero's deal was, but Trowa's steady gaze held him in place. "Wufei, why don't you relieve Duo in the cockpit?" he asked calmly.
"What?" Wufei frowned. "I'm no pilot, Barton, you know that."
"It's a good skill to learn," Trowa said mysteriously. "I'll join you in a moment."
Wufei nodded, both reluctant and eager at the same time. He didn't see what was the point in him learning any piloting skills, but then again, it would undoubtedly be interesting. And who knew when an emergency might occur where it might come in handy?
Duo's expression was not happy when he turned to glower at the door as it slid open. On seeing Wufei, however, he blinked and quickly slapped on a wide, welcoming grin. "Wuffers! Finally coming to get a try at this, huh?"
"Don't call me that," Wufei said almost absently, eyeing Duo curiously. "Who were you expecting?"
Wufei shook his head slightly and let it drop. Something was going on. Heero was pissy, Trowa looked like he'd had something to do with it, and now even Duo looked as if he'd just gotten out of an argument of some kind. But Wufei knew better than to pursue it. The fact that he had no idea what was going on probably meant he wasn't supposed to know in the first place. The feeling was fast becoming a familiar one, and it wasn't one he enjoyed.
Duo bounced out of the pilot's seat and made an elaborate gesture. "Have a seat."
Wufei eyed the chair and the instrument panel before it warily. "Shouldn't I sit co-pilot first?"
"Pfft, don't be silly," Duo scoffed, patting the back of the seat encouragingly. "Besides, it's mostly on autopilot now, so it's not like you'll have too much to worry about." He glanced at his watch. "Besides, I'm starved. Who's gonna train you, anyway? Um, is it gonna be Heero?"
Wufei slowly took the seat. He hesitated, then lied calmly, "Winner, maybe."
The fib told Wufei enough. Duo's words were peaceable enough, but there was a flat note to his voice. So it had been Quatre that had put that scowl on Duo's face. Wufei frowned at the control panel. Trowa and Heero were fighting. Duo and Quatre were fighting. And there was already something strange going on between Heero and himself. The others had all seemed to get along just fine before. And it was hard to imagine Quatre angering anyone-- especially a carefree person like Duo Maxwell.
A small voice in his mind was pointing out with a bit of paranoia that things seemed to go wrong whenever he himself was involved.
He pushed the thought away, glancing over his shoulder as Trowa appeared in the doorway. Duo offered a lazy wave and left.
Wufei nodded slightly. Trowa took the co-pilot's seat and pointed at a set of numbered dials on the control panel. "This is how you set the frequencies on your UHF's..."
Hilde ducked back around the corner and shook her head. "No go," she said quietly. "Duo's just been replaced by Wufei and his gardener.. um, I mean Trowa."
Relena frowned, placing her hands on her hips as she mulled this over. "No," she admitted reluctantly after a long moment. "We'll never get them to let us in there for a moment by ourselves. We'll have to wait until tonight."
Hilde was only half listening, eyes unconsciously following the braided figure heading down the corridor. "Um.... Sorry, what?"
Relena looked amused and exasperated at the same time. "Honestly, Hilde, get your head out of the clouds. I said--"
The floor rocked abruptly, throwing both startled women off their feet with shrieks of surprise. An instant later there was a dull thud that reverberated through the walls. From the kitchenette came the sound of glasses shattering on the floor.
"Bloody fucking Christ on a--" Duo came tearing back down the corridor, eyes wild and teeth bared. "HEERO! Get out here!" He spotted the two girls picking themselves up and screeched to a halt. "What are you two-- Never mind. Just get to your seats, buckle up, and keep your heads down."
"What's going on?" Relena gasped, grasping the wall railing for balance.
"We were hit!" Hilde exclaimed in astonishment. "Someone's shooting at us!"
"What? Don't be ridiculous!" Relena snapped. "No one would be daft enough to open fire on the private shuttle of a peace delegate."
"Even in the middle of a war?" Hilde shot back hotly.
Duo opened his mouth to answer, but they were hit again. Relena barely managed to keep herself up, clinging to the rail, and Hilde cannoned into Duo, knocking them both against a wall. Relena let out a scream of terror.
"Why are they shooting at us??"
Duo had managed to grab a rail with one hand, his free arm wrapped instinctively around Hilde to hold her up. She hesitated in the act of pushing herself up straight, a little unwilling to draw out of the tight embrace. She averted her face to hide her blush and glared at Relena. Her own heart was pounding in her ears with a mixture of adrenaline and fear, but for some reason the other girl's near-panic was sudden infuriating. Before she could say something she would later regret, however, Duo spoke up.
"I think the more important question is 'who' is shooting at us," he pointed out, eyes already flicking towards the nearest porthole. "Look, just do what I said. Buckle up and cover your heads, OK? We'll take care of this."
There were pounding footsteps, then Heero and Quatre went running past for the cockpit.
Duo released Hilde, and she hastily stepped back out of his personal space. She wanted to ask to come to the cockpit with him and see what was going on for herself, but something about Duo's expression killed the words before they reached her lips. His eyes were still wild-- but not with fear as she'd initially assumed. They were the eyes of a fighter, an adrenaline junky. He kept looking in the direction of the cockpit, longing to get in the middle of all the action, but holding himself back to make sure the two of them were all right.
"OK," she forced herself to say instead, keeping her voice as calm as possible. "You go ahead. They probably need you in there."
"You sure? Right, OK," Duo said quickly, already hurrying off. "Just keep your heads down, dammit!"
"He's leaving us??" Relena cried incredulously.
Hilde seized her by the arm and dragged her towards the passenger seats they'd taken during take-off. "Calm down, Relena," she snapped. "Just make sure you keep your head down like he said. Duo and the others will take care of this." But, she asked herself silently, just how much could they do? This was the shuttle of a pacifist Senator. There would be no weaponry to defend the ship, and it wasn't made for speed and fancy defensive maneuvers, but rather for comfort. They could be blown apart at any moment. Unless their attackers had plans to board.
She reached back with her free hand to feel the bulge under her jacket, suddenly grateful beyond words for the loan of Heero's gun. At least she would be able to defend herself. At least, if it came down to it, she would be able to go down fighting. "Calm down," she repeated, to herself as well as the frightened girl hurrying behind her. "Wufei won't let anything happen to us."
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