The Final Murder: Part 18

I woke up.

At first, I remained still to gauge my surroundings. I could hear the rain falling steadily, but it sounded with a high 'plop' when it hit the ground. I thought that was odd. It was also landing against something else that sounded with a dull tone. Then I turned my assessment on myself. I was laying on a hard, cold surface, with my hair splayed around my head. My legs felt strained, as if they were in the same position for too long, and I was dressed, but drenched. Nothing smelled or felt familiar. It also felt empty.

I opened my eyes. I was greeted with the sight of a high ceiling that had large lightbulbs hanging from a strong metal rod. The lights were not on, but the room was lit weakly from the few strands of sunshine that made it through the dark clouds. I looked around without turning my head, and noted an island in the center of the room, and vacant teller stations. Following the patting noise, I realized that the sounds were coming from the rain hitting the tile outside, and from hitting the large window panes that made up the door. Holy smokes...I was in the lobby of the L1 International Bank.

How did I end up here of all places?!

Stiffly, I sat up, and groaned from the headache that made its presence known. When the pain died down to a dull roar, I looked myself over. I was in one piece (thank Allah), but slightly worse for wear. My legs were bent at an uncomfortable, but possible angle, as if I fell to the floor from a slight distance. My clothes weighed a metric ton, and were ripped in a couple of places. Strangely, all I could think about right then, was how thankful I was that I wore my bounty hunter gear. I would've been very unhappy if it was one of my tailored suits. But my ripped clothes made me remember my Bowie, so I checked my ankle to find that it was still snuggled in its sheath. Whew. Other than that, I had the aforementioned headache, a stuffy nose, rope-burned hands, and I had been unconscious for an unknown amount of time.

It took a couple of tries, but I made it to my feet. I wobbled to a nearby desk, crawled into the chair like I worked there, and used my empathy to seek out any personnel. I found none. The thought made me shiver. Here I was, in a fifty-story building, all alone. Yikes.

Pushing that thought away, I picked up the phone, made sure the vid-screen was working, and dialed Une's private number.

She picked up on the second ring. "This is Une, who's--Quatre! Oh, thank god! Heero's been going crazy! Hang on." She brought a cellphone up to her ear. I could hear someone screaming bloody murder from the earpiece. "Heero? Yes, it was Quatre that called. He dialed my private--yes, he's okay... No, no gun is being held to his head." She rolled her eyes. I chuckled. "Okay... okay. Quatre, where are you? Heero is going to have the helicopter he's on come get you."

"L1 International Bank. Tell him to meet me in the lobby."

"He said he's at the L1 International Bank, and to meet him in the lob--how the hell should *I* know how he got there? He...damnit, can I say something here?!"

"Tell him to hurry up," I said, standing. As entertaining as it was to see Une and Heero go at it, I still had a mission to complete. "I'm hanging up. I have something to do."

Une held the mouthpiece against her shoulder. "Quatre, where are you going?"

"Downstairs," I told her, and hung up.

As safely as I could, I hurried downstairs to the vaults. Out of habit, I popped my head into the office where the 'warden,' as Duo called them, sat. Just like I thought, she wasn't there. Sending a thanks heavenward, I ran down the hallway. At the end of the hall, I turned left. Because WEI did so much business on L1, there was a section of the bank reserved just for me. That was where I headed.

The door to the vault was identical to the one used in the X-Men movie, the one Xavier used to get to Cerebro, his mind-amplifying machine. The only difference was the color. It was the grey that Sandrock had on its shoulders, instead of the shiny silver in the movie. Also like Cerebro, it could only be opened by a retinal scan. So, I walked up to the door, and held my breath as the scanner examined my eye horizontally, then vertically. There was a quiet hiss as the door began to open. "Welcome, Mr. Winner," it said, in Trowa's husky voice.

I shivered. I swear, that man has a voice that would melt frozen butter.

Shaking my head to clear it of naughty thoughts, I hustled into my vault. This time, it was like walking into a cave. The walls and floors were made of a smooth, black, shiny rock that came from volcanoes. Each rock was in the shape of a square, and about the size of a large floor tile. A lone bulb shone from the ceiling, where its light reflected in uncountable ways off of the rock. In the center of the vault was a three foot podium, made of that same volcanic rock. Built into that podium, was a keyboard. The tiled rocks, believe it or not, were my safety deposit boxes. I wanted a keyless system, so Heero designed this vault and the keyboard, to allow me to remove any item I wanted by typing in its assigned number. All of my deposit boxes operated this way, except for one.

My footsteps were nonexistent as I made my way to the podium. Once there, I looked down at the keyboard, which seemed so out of place in the room, and allowed a second retinal scan. I jumped slightly when it beeped. "Password, Mr. Winner," Trowa's voice said again. Without hesitation, I pressed the letter 'K.' I waited a few seconds for the voice recognition system to kick in. It beeped again when it was ready.

I took a deep breath through my nose and said my password. "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." [1]

There was silence, then a beep. "Password Acknowledged."

I took a step back and waited as the podium lowered itself to the floor, then went under. A rock tile mechanically shifted over the hole left from the podium. There was a rumble under my feet as the required item was obtained. Then the podium rose again, except this time it lacked the keyboard. Instead, a small metal box sat on top. When it was waist-high, it stopped. Without hesitation, I lifted the lid of the metal box, reached inside, and withdrew the contents. "Mission accomplished."

In my left hand, I held my ring. The aquamarine gem was still as bright as ever, but the silver crosses on either side were a little dull.

In my right hand, I held Krahe's key. The crow head was still as cold as the first day I held it.


I had reset the vault, locked up, and was running up the stairs two steps at a time. I could tell by all of the racket that the helicopter was close to touching down. Holding my items tightly in my fists, I ran to the lobby. I reached it in time to see Heero jump out of the chopper, and run for the front door. He grabbed the handle, pulled, and walked face-first into the glass. Another two attempts proved that yes, the door was locked. I didn't bother hiding my laughter at the nasty look he gave me. I laughed even harder when he gave me the finger. Then the water, whipped around by the chopper, hit him just so, and I suddenly remembered how I got here.

My eyes glazed over, and my head hung limply to the side as it all came back to me. I heard Heero shout my name, but I couldn't acknowledge the sound of his voice. I could only...

...I had been thrown off. I only saw Heero's hands reaching out for me, before my world turned into chaos. I was turning so violently, I couldn't tell which way was up or down. The air was whistling past me, and I couldn't breathe because of how it rushed into my face. Then I leveled out, falling head-first. I could see the flooding water rising up to meet me at a deadly rate, and I heard distant screaming. I thought of the bank, and...

I heard glass break. The ring and the key slipped from my stilled fingers. Slowly, but not consciously, I fell to my knees. I could hear the sound of the impact echoing dully in my head. All was still. Then the world exhaled, and when it did, I started to topple to the side. I was saved when a strong pair of arms caught me, and I was able to count six pairs of Preventer-issued boots run into position, before I closed my eyes and left reality.


When I woke up again, it was to the thrumming of engines. I was warm and comfortable from the blanket thrown over me, the softness of the pillow was heaven against my face, and the narrow couch was the most comfortable I've ever slept on, which was saying a lot. I'm damn near a certified expert in the 'sleeping on the couch' department. Part of being a CEO.

I cracked my eyes opened, and on a couch directly across from mine, was Heero. He was asleep, but that didn't hide how awful he looked. His hair was the messiest I have ever seen it, as if he had been abandoned on the streets for years. His eyes were swollen, and his face was streaked with dirt, bruises, and...tears?

"How are you feeling?"

Startled, my eyes flew all the way open and I sat up. I felt my heartbeat slow down when I saw who it was. "Wufei."

We were on one of my shuttles. I would recognize the cream colored interior anywhere. Wufei was sitting at the 'round table,' as Duo and I called it. I smiled to myself as I remembered the five of us sitting around the table, discussing (or arguing in Duo's and Wufei's cases) everything from literature to politics. My friend had his Preventer jacket thrown over the back of his seat, and the first three buttons of his shirt were undone, exposing his clear skin. His hair was loose, wisping about his face, and his glasses were at the tip of his nose as he read some paperwork. He made a sexy picture, in a platonic sort of way. Yeah. Platonic.


I shook my head. Get it together, Quatre. "I'm fine, just exhausted." He raised a bottled water towards me, and I shook my head again. Wufei gave a slight nod and put the water back. In his distraction, I noticed his weary posture, and felt worry still emitting from him. He did not have the mindset of a man who recovered one of his best friends. "Wufei, what's going on?" I got up, grabbed my blanket and took a seat next to him. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders, and curled up in the chair as best as I could. "Hey man, talk to me."

He put down the papers, but paused as he stared at an invisible spot on the table. "After...that night in the trailer, I went back to L4 to take care of as much as I could." I glanced down briefly, in shame. "Once I felt that the loose ends were tied up, I started on my way home. Halfway there, I got a call from Une. She said there had been some sort of accident..." He lifted his hands slightly in bewilderment. "She told me you were no where to be found, and that Heero was completely hysterical. I didn't believe her on the latter. I assured her that there would be snow in hell before the day would come where Heero Yuy behaved like a hysterical woman." He turned to me and gave me a sad grin. I grinned back. "So she put me through to Odin. I listened to him for ten seconds before I turned around, raced to the spaceport, and flew out of there half an hour later. Oh yeah, I'm 'borrowing' this plane. I hope you don't mind."

This time I smiled. "No, I don't mind." I sat back and exhaled. "I don't mind at all."

He chuckled quietly to himself. "I knew I shouldn't have been worried about you. Une was on the phone for two hours looking for you, and in the end you called her yourself."

"Two hours?! They were looking for me for two hours?!"

"Yes." He rubbed the back of his neck.

"How long have I been asleep?"

"About ten hours."

"Ten hours?!" I was shocked. "I was asleep for ten hours?! Wufei, I don't even sleep that long at home!"

"I know." He stretched and yawned. "But I wasn't concerned. After you passed out, Une had you and Odin secured at a nearby hospital until my arrival. While you were there, Odin had a CAT Scan and a MRI done on you, just to be safe. Everything checked out." He shrugged. "My guess is that you used a lot of energy when you...transported. And knowing you, you probably haven't been sleeping well these past couple of weeks, because of Hrncir and his threat to your company." He frowned. "In all honesty Quatre, I wish you would sleep a bit longer."

I shook my head. I've had more than enough in my opinion. "What happened after that?"

His eyes rolled towards the ceiling as he tried to regain the thread of the story. "Nothing much. When I landed, you and Odin were under guard at the spaceport, ready to leave. It took a couple of minutes to get you on board, a few more to refuel, then we were off. We've only been in flight about half an hour."

I thought over Wufei's story, then grimaced as a thought hit me. "Did anybody see my...stunt?"

"Two women," he said nonchalantly. "But nothing can be done about that. It's not our job anymore to kill for secrecy, and it's better that they saw you transport than turn into a stain on the street."

"True." Well, he was right. Let bygones be bygones, I supposed. So instead, I studied Heero, and frowned at his hobo appearance. "How is he?"

Wufei glanced to the man in question. "Bad," he supplied helpfully. "I think he may still need a few days before returning to work."

I looked Heero over again, curiously. "Why?"

Wufei shook his head to himself, and focused on me so intensely, it made me squirm. "He thought he killed you, Quatre."

My eyebrows shot up. "Killed me?"

He sighed. "I know about the little spat you two had about the harness. You wanted the chopper to take him first, and then you. But he wanted both of you to go at the same time, yes? Well, he felt that it was his fault you were thrown off. He didn't know you weren't killed until they went to recover your body, and the women told him what they saw."

I was shaking my head. "It wasn't his fault. It just happened."

"Yes, I understand that," Wufei said in a soothing manner. "But think of it from his point of view. When Une put me through to him, I knew I wasn't going to be able to talk him down. He was...inconsolable." Wufei looked sad. "It really hurt me to hear him like that."

"What did he say?" I knew I would regret asking, but I had to know.

Wufei looked to the ceiling, and ran his tongue across his top lip in a thoughtful manner. "He said he ruined our lives." Wufei turned his attention back to me. "He said he didn't know how he was going to tell Trowa, his best friend, that he got the love of his life, the father of his child, killed. He said he didn't know how he was going to tell Duo, his husband, that his impatience got his best friend killed. He said he would allow Trowa to seek vengeance, but knew Duo wouldn't let him, and that it would destroy us all."

I never thought my heart could sink into my shoes, but that's exactly what it felt like. "Odin..."

"Forget about it," Wufei said with a wave of his hand. For some strange reason, that remark made me superimpose a black suit on him, and I imagined he was a member of the mafia. The thought almost made me burst out laughing, but a weak chuckle came out instead.

I took a deep breath. Here was the big one. "How's Trowa?"

Wufei started shifting through papers as he spoke. That didn't make me feel better. "Trowa was about to touch down on L1 when we took off." Oh boy. That wasn't good news. "As soon as Une knew I was well on my way, she called Barton to let him know what was going on. We should still beat him to L4 though. The jet he...borrowed, is fast but burns fuel like a sportscar. It will take more time for him to refuel, and by then his window to whip around the colony will be closed. We should beat him home by half a day."

"I see," I said absently as I ran the calculations in my head. Yep, I agreed with Wufei. Just about half a day... "And, he's doing okay?"

Wufei stopped flipping through papers and gave me an apologetic look. "I tried to hail him, but he wouldn't respond." He went back to flipping through the papers.

"Oh...well...thank you for trying." He gave a curt nod. "How is everyone else?"

"They're fine. Duo's on L4, and he, Hilde and Sally are keeping an eye on things." He paused. "Kitty's trip is almost over, isn't it?"

My happiness at the mention of my son, was shot down at the tone in his voice. He sounded... displeased. "Yes, he is. Why is that a problem?"

Wufei waved his hand in the air like it was no big deal. "Don't worry about it. It's nothing."

I could feel my ire rising. "From the tone of your voice, it didn't sound like 'nothing' to me."

He stood and walked to the back of the plane where the frig was. I stood and followed, sliding the door closed behind me. I could tell that we were about to get loud, and I didn't want to wake Heero.

He opened the frig and retrieved a sandwich. "I don't want him getting caught up in this mess, that's all."

"Caught up in what mess? What are you hiding from me, Wufei?" He didn't answer. He only stood there, holding the sandwich in his hand. I mentally ran through the things we had talked about, from the time we were at that hideous mansion on L2 until now. What could've happened for him to worry about Kitty?

Nothing sprang to mind, but that wasn't going to stop me from finding out. Without thinking, I whipped around, ran to the den area, and started digging through the papers that Wufei had been shifting through. Quite a few of them were pictures of the motel that was bombed, the water flooding the streets, people running back and forth...

There was one picture where a hand and the end of the missile launcher was visible. Just as I was reaching for that particular picture, Wufei snatched it right out of the pile. Ah! That was it! He took off running to the back of the plane again, about to flush it down the toilet. Before he could, I grabbed a chunk of his hair and pulled so hard that he flew backwards, into me. We both fell to the floor and started wrestling for the picture. I had just gotten a hold on it when Wufei kicked at me, forcing me to roll away. I was all huffy and puffy, but I felt good to see that Wufei was too. "What about the guy with the missile launcher?" I asked breathlessly as I sat up. He sat up too. "What does he have to do with Kitty, or us?!"

"We'll talk about that later, I promise."

Like hell we will! "Why not now?! I refuse to go home, or be near my son, if there's a chance this guy's going to appear out of nowhere and blow my house up!"

"Quatre, calm down! I just want all of us to be together when we discuss it! I don't want Kitty to overhear what we're going to talk about. That's it!"

"But that's not everything," I said distrustfully. "You know something I don't."

His jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed. In this mood, it was nearly impossible to get him to talk. "Don't you narrow your eyes at me!"

"Don't you take that tone with me!"

"What do you expect?! You drop a not-so-subtle hint that my son could be in danger, and then clam up. What am I supposed to do, go and bake cookies?!"

"No." He frowned in impatience.

I threw my hands in the air. I was truly exasperated. "Then what?"

"I want us, especially you and Duo, to step away from this." I choked in shock, but he ignored it. "You've been too close to this situation for too long Quatre! Because of that, I've emailed what I have to Zechs and Noin," I frowned, but once again he ignored me, "and we will all discuss it when we get their opinions. That should only take a day or two, but that will be enough time for us to look at the problem with fresh eyes all around. I've also asked Une to recall them back from Mars. We could really use their help here."

"I don't like having so many people know about this."

All of a sudden, Wufei started to shake. "Christ Quatre!" I had worn out his patience. "Do you trust me?!"

The question, combined with the rage in his voice, had the same effect on me as a slap to the face. "Of course I trust you! But why bring Zechs and Noin into this?! Why--"

"Oh, the hell with it!" he shouted, and slapped the photo down in front of me. My eyes took up my face as I looked it over. It was Hrncir, dressed in dark, oversized clothes and a black trenchcoat, hoisting the missile launcher over his shoulder like he knew how to use it.

And standing right behind him, as cool as a cucumber, was Krahe.

"Then trust me," Wufei snarled, "when I say that you're going to need all the help you can get."


[1] 'You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.' Lyrics from "Hotel California" by The Eagles. Krahe had Relena relay these lyrics to Quatre in AMOC (chap. 32) so that Quatre would understand that he will never escape Krahe.