ChApTeR 5

It was close to midnight when Heero again found himself entering the kitchens.

Duo, predictably, was seated at the cooks' small table, chowing down on leftovers from dinner. "Hey, buddy," he greeted cheerfully, grinning around the brim of his cup as Heero stepped inside. "Can't sleep?" He lowered his cup and sniffed delicately at the air as Heero seated himself across from his old friend. "You've gotta be kidding," he muttered, amused.

"What?" Heero reached out and snagged a potato wedge from Duo's heaping plate.

"Good lord, man, if you don't give it to her every once and awhile, she's really gonna go bonkers."

Heero didn't quite understand the term, but Duo's meaningful stare filled him in. He frowned at the other boy as he dipped the potato in ketchup. "Didn't we already go over how this is none of your business?" he snapped. He hesitated, staring at the potato wedge. "...Anyway, how did you...?"

Duo chuckled, tapping the side of his nose with a finger. "You sure as hell don't smell like sex. You coulda taken a shower, but..." his eyes lifted to Heero's dry hair.

Heero made a face, popping the potato into his mouth. "You can smell that? That's disgusting, Duo."

Duo leaned over slightly to grin teasingly. "Do you think I'm disgusting, Yuy?"
Heero stared back at him silently for a moment.

Somewhere he could hear a clock ticking in the darkness of the kitchens. It was hard to see anything past a few feet in the gloom. The kitchens were so quiet and dim that for a few moments Heero let himself forget that he was still in Relena's mansion, that there was a killer loose, that he was going to be a married man when this was all over.

Wait. Duo had asked him a question. "You can be. Sometimes."

Duo laughed. He lowered his feet from where he'd been propping them on an extra stool, letting his boots thump to the ground. "That's what I like about you, Heero," he murmured, still grinning as he stood and slowly came around the small table. "Blunt as a rock."

Heero arched a brow, reaching for another potato wedge. "Thanks," he drawled.

Duo stopped right beside him, leaning his hip against the edge of the table as he grinned down at him. Heero hesitated in the act of dabbling his snack in the pool of ketchup on the edge of the plate, his gaze locked with Duo's. Something in the room's atmosphere... shifted.

He didn't know how to explain it. He wasn't even sure how-- or if --he really sensed it. But it was there. One second everything was laid-back, two old friends talking, then suddenly...

It wasn't.

Heero's internal alarms tripped, but he didn't react right away. They were whispering danger, but somehow not the kind of danger he was used to. No, there was no intent of physical violence here. But something was threatening him anyway. Something he couldn't name, but understood somehow on a deep buried level that refused to explain itself. Something he wasn't sure he should defend himself from.

Duo put a hand on the back of Heero's chair and leaned in slowly so his grin was hovering just by Heero's ear. "You never answered my question the other day," he pointed out in a throaty murmur.

Heero had forgotten all about the potato wedge hanging limply from his fingers. He stared at Duo from inches away and wondered absently why his heart had started beating faster. "What question?"

Duo stared right into his eyes and offered his most maniacal grin. "Do you think I'll taste like an ashtray?"

Heero opened his mouth, searching for a proper response, then jumped violently when a hand landed lightly on his thigh. Duo leaned back a fraction, but didn't remove his hand. "Whoa, chill, Heero. I don't bite.... too hard."

Heero stared at his old friend. "What are you doing?" he demanded, his voice quieter than he'd intended.

"Testing the waters," Duo murmured, lips stretching in a lazy smile.


Duo leaned in slowly, and Heero wondered frantically why he wasn't backing off, wasn't putting out a hand to keep the twit out of his personal space...

"She isn't the one you want," Duo breathed, lips brushing against Heero's cheek, just beside his mouth.

That snapped him out of it. Heero jerked his head away and glared at his friend. Duo didn't try to invade his space any further, but he continued to grin infuriatingly, as if just daring him to argue. Heero opened his mouth, not quite sure yet what he was going to say.

A muffled crash made them both jump.

Duo backed off, and Heero slid from his seat, already drawing his gun. He tore his eyes from the door at a quiet snick to find Duo with switchblade in hand, all humor gone from his face.

Duo flicked him a sideways glance and a nod, and wordlessly they moved towards the door.

They hesitated once they were in the foyer, glancing around warily.

"What the hell was that?" Duo hissed.

"It sounded like it came from down here somewhere," Heero murmured back, straining his eyes in the gloom.

"Right..." Duo looked around tensely. "I'll check out the dining room. You take the den."

They split up, feet treading silently on the lush carpet. Heero's thumb flicked the safety off on his gun as he eased up to the den's wide double sliding doors. They were open a few inches, and from within he could hear hushed voices. Putting his eye to the crack, he could make out shapes in the dark, but the conversation was too low to pick out any words. He remained still as stone, counting down the seconds in his head.

A moment later he sensed movement behind him. He kept his eye to the crack, not bothering to turn and check. It was a presence he knew well after years of fighting side by side.

"They in there?" Duo's voice came from just behind Heero's ear, barely audible.

"I think there's two of them," Heero muttered back. "I can't hear what they're talking about. It sounds like an argument or a fight."

"Right." Duo shifted away, taking a quick peek through the partially open door before moving so he was on Heero's other side. "They're on the other side of the room. You've got the long-range weapon; you take point. I'll hit the lights and block the door."

Heero nodded and cocked his weapon. He didn't give a warning; Duo could read him well enough to know what to expect. He threw the doors open and charged inside, aiming for the two startled silhouettes. A split-second later the lights snapped on.

"Christ!" Wufei threw his arms up to block his eyes, grimacing at the sudden light. "What the hell?!"

Trowa was blinking rapidly, trying to adjust to the brightness. He stared at the two of them in surprise. "Heero. Duo. Is something wrong?"

Heero lowered his gun, eyes flicking to the shattered vase close to Trowa's feet. Wufei looked flustered and furious, and kept shooting glares Trowa's way. "What's the big idea, Yuy?" he snapped.

"...We heard a crash." Heero holstered his gun. "What are you two doing in here?"

Duo had also noticed the broken vase and Wufei's evident temper. "Everything all right?"

"Feh!" Wufei shot Trowa one last scowl and stalked off. He shouldered past Duo and left without another word, shoulders stiff.

Trowa sighed quietly, running a hand through his hair and gazing down at the broken pottery. "I apologize if we startled you. We were having a mild... disagreement. Tell Relena I'll pay for the vase."

"You've gotta be kidding." Duo snapped his switchblade shut and stuffed it in his boot, letting out a loud sigh of disappointment. "You guys are fighting? Now? Good grief, Tro, this isn't exactly the best time to be snapping at each other's throats."
Trowa leveled him with a stern look. "It won't happen again. There are just some things bothering Wufei. I was trying to talk to him about it, but..."

"Yeah, yeah." Duo flapped a hand in forgiveness. "We all know about Wufei's short fuse."

"You're lucky you weren't shot," Heero said pointedly.

Trowa glanced at him. "Then I am grateful you've learned to get over the whole 'shoot first, ask questions later' phase."

Heero frowned at him irritably. "From now on, keep your fights outside this house."

Trowa nodded, absently wiping a hand across his bruised mouth. "Hopefully Wufei got most of his aggression out."

"He had better." Heero checked his watch. "I need to relieve Young at Relena's door. You--"


Heero hesitated, glancing up at Duo in impatient inquiry.

"You mean 'our' door, don't you?" Duo corrected, face innocent but eyes laughing mockingly. "Yours and hers."

Heero's eyes narrowed slightly. There it was again. The sense that Duo's words were not as harmless as they seemed. "I'm going to relieve Young," he snapped. "The rest of you get some sleep. Leave it," he added when Trowa started to bend over to pick up the vase pieces. "A maid will get it in the morning. I don't think it was one of her more expensive ones, anyway."

"No... A bit more important than that, perhaps." Trowa lifted one of the largest pieces and held it up so they could see the amateurish paint job. He winced. "I think this had sentimental value."

"Ouch," Duo said sympathetically. "I suggest a formal written apology in the morning, and lots and lots of I'm Sorry Pancakes."

Trowa put the shard down carefully and followed the other two as they shut off the lights and left the den.

Heero refused to make eye contact with Duo and went straight upstairs to relieve the bored door guard outside Relena's bedroom.

Our bedroom, he corrected himself without thinking.


"Yuy. Wake up."

Heero jerked out of a restless doze at Wufei's impatient voice. He sat up quickly, hand already on the gun under his pillow. Beside him, Relena mumbled in her sleep at the disturbance. Heero blinked quickly to get the sleep out of his eyes, staring at Wufei standing at the foot of the bed.

Wufei held up a scrap of paper, mouth twisted in disgust.

Wordlessly, Heero slid out of bed and followed the other man out into the hall.

"Do you remember something odd about that cat head you found?" Wufei asked as soon as the bedroom door was shut.

Heero ran his hand over his face, feeling as if he hadn't gotten any sleep at all. "Yes," he grumbled. "It was without a body."

"Besides that," Wufei snapped.

Heero paused, thinking hard. His mind was still a bit foggy from the abrupt awakening. Wufei offered the crumpled piece of paper. "Maybe this will jog your memory."

Heero smoothed the small note out with his fingers, staring at the scribbled words.

He offered his partner a blank stare. "What's that supposed to mean? Where did this come from?"

"The head, Yuy," Wufei interrupted. "What was missing?"

Heero stared at the note, forcing himself to concentrate and go over the previous day's events in his head. He'd found the little bloodied head in the drawer... picked it up... and gazed into its empty sockets. "The eyes. There were no eyes." He looked back at Wufei quickly. "Where did you find this?" he demanded.

"I didn't find it; Duo did, just now." Wufei hesitated, wincing. "He found it wrapped in plastic at the bottom of his bowl of oatmeal."

Heero stared at him in dawning horror.

"I guess that explains where the eyes went," Wufei pointed out unnecessarily, still grimacing.

Heero cursed under his breath, crumpling the note in his hand. "Where is Duo now?"

"Where else?" Wufei motioned over his shoulder. He took one look at the note, turned green, and bolted for the bathroom. I think he's busy puking his guts up right about now."

Heero winced sympathetically. "Don't tell Relena. She won't be able to eat a thing if she finds out."

Wufei nodded. "I can't bear to think about food right now," he admitted. "I haven't eaten, yet. I was exercising. Duo was the first one to the kitchens, predictably. I think Trowa might have had some toast, but that was it. No one feels very hungry anymore. Trowa offered to make Relena's breakfast himself. She never has to know."

"Right." Heero read the note once more, frowning. "I spy with my little eye," he murmured.


"Nothing, just..." Heero stuffed the note in his pocket. "It only says 'eye'. One eye."

Wufei shrugged. "That's just the way the phrase goes. Anyway, it's not like an eye is poisonous. If the other eye is still in some food it's not like we'll know. Just make sure no one else eats any oatmeal, just in case."

Heero nodded absently. "I'm going to check Relena's schedule. She had a point yesterday when she mentioned meetings she might not be able to cancel. Will you watch Relena?"

Wufei hesitated, frowning at the door. "...Sure."

Heero stopped in the act of walking away, turning stern eyes on his companion. "What?"

"Nothing." Wufei blew out an impatient sigh at Heero's Look. "Heero, Duo's not the only one who's not so fond of your little girlfriend, all right?" he grumbled. He was stepping into the bedroom before Heero could respond.

But the simple words made a small curl of unease twist inside of Heero's stomach. What Wufei said was the truth. Plenty of people supported and loved Relena, but there were also many others that would love to see her power taken from her. Not everyone would kill to achieve this goal-- hell, Duo hated her, but the thought of hurting her would never cross his mind, because he knew what she meant to Heero and what she could do for politics --but it was still an interesting point.

Though he had to admit he had been unaware of Wufei's feelings until now. He'd always assumed the man's brusque attitude towards her stemmed from his dislike of women in general. Did he have something personal against her? Why?

Never mind. He shrugged it off, striding down the hall to Relena's office. Wufei and Duo might not like Relena, but they would never hurt her. That didn't mean someone else wouldn't. Someone on the grounds. But many of the staff had been employed here for over a year. How could he not have noticed that someone on the grounds felt anything towards Relena but respect?

One of the less queasy maids had already cleaned up the gory evidence in the office. Heero had disposed of the head himself, but the maid had carefully gotten rid of any traces of blood from the desk and sprayed air freshener quite liberally throughout the room.

Heero took a seat at the desk and began flipping through Relena's day planner.

Damn. It seemed there was an event today that could not be rescheduled without insulting other parties. Its coming must have slipped his mind in all the recent commotion.

He glanced up at a quick rap on the open door. Duo was leaning against the doorframe, grinning weakly, face pale. "Yo."

"Duo." Heero pushed the planner aside and rose to his feet. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Duo waved a hand in the air carelessly. "I think I almost puked up my intestines back there, but it's gotta be out of my system by now. Ughh." He shuddered convulsively. "I'll never be able to eat oatmeal again."

Heero frowned at the hoarseness to his friend's voice. "Vomiting that much must have washed your throat with a lot of stomach acid. Go take some anti-acids and drink a glass of water."

"Aye aye, cap'n," Duo drawled with a lazy salute. "After that I'm on my way to the kitchens. I'm gonna question everyone in there and see if anybody saw anything strange. Starting with whoever-the-hell made breakfast."

"Duo--" Heero called when the other man made as if to leave. He hesitated when Duo sent an inquiring look his way. "About last night. Trowa and Wufei..."

"Oh, that." Duo rolled his eyes. "Poor Quat. Bet he'd be pretty broken up if he found out they were still tussling."

"Quatre?" Heero stared at his old friend in bewilderment. "What does he have to do with anything?"

Duo arched his brows. "Oh, come on, Heero. Those three have been tense for ages now. If you want my opinion, I think Quatre's a little too soft-hearted to make any kind of choice, so--"

"Choice? What?" Heero frowned, irritated at his own confusion. "What are you talking about?"

Duo hesitated, studying Heero almost warily. "Y'know what? Never mind."

"Don't 'never mind' me," Heero snapped. "Just explain."

"Ohhh no, I don't think so, buddy." Duo held up his hands defensively. "No one's sure where you stand morally on this subject, so I'm just gonna leave it the hell alone for now. If you wanna know what's up, you'll have to talk to Quatre yourself next time you see him. Trowa would probably ignore you, and Wufei would just blow up in your face. It seems like a pretty sensitive subject to me."

"...You think that fight last night had something to do with Quatre?"

Duo shrugged. "I dunno. Probably."

"Then why didn't they just say so?" Heero demanded, annoyed.

Duo stared at him for a long moment, then his face suddenly became serious. "Heero, you need to remember something. Everyone's here to help you. We all love ya. But I'm the only one here who isn't allowed to lie."

Heero knew the words were meant for comfort, but for some reason they sparked unease inside him instead. Duo would not lie. But that didn't keep everybody else in the mansion from lying through their teeth.

"But Quatre--"

"Forget it, Heero," Duo cut him off firmly. "That's a no-fly zone."

Heero's glare went completely ignored.

"I have a date with some chefs. You just forget about those two nimrods and get back to protectin' your little princess, all right?"

"Prime Minister," Heero corrected, but Duo was already gone.


"As long as I'm here, you might as well be useful," Wufei declared from where he was keeping watch at the balcony doors.

Relena looked up from the tray of breakfast Trowa had delivered a moment ago, trying to hide her offended look. The breakfast in bed had been a pleasant little surprise-- Heero's idea, no doubt, in an attempt to show he still cared even amidst all this confusion --but Wufei's thorny presence threatened to start the morning off on a more sour note. "Excuse me?"

"This Bill that seems to be causing so much trouble." Wufei looked across at her with hooded eyes. "Explain it."

"Um..." Relena stirred cream into her coffee distractedly. "What would you like to know?"

"Heero broke it down into the simplest possible form, but wasn't knowledgeable enough to explain exactly what the Bill entails. What are its terms?"

"You want to know why so many colonists are opposing it?"

"Actually, I'm more interested in why someone would kill over it," Wufei pointed out a bit snidely, "but sure, let's go with that."

Relena looked away to keep the man from seeing the irritation in her eyes. She'd forgotten what a rude pompous ass the former pilot of Shenlong could be. "Heero once told me you used to be a scholar. How much do you know about Paul Gorgenstern?"

"Only that he was a political pacifist, much like Senator Peacecraft. I was only a scholar in my childhood, and history wasn't where I focused most of my attention."

Relena looked up, interest piqued despite herself. "Oh? What did you study?" Wufei only stared at her until her eyes dropped away again uneasily. "He wanted equal rights for colonists, naturally," she explained, buttering a piece of toast. She wondered absently if Heero had made the breakfast himself. How sweet of him. "It was before the war, so tensions between earth and space were rising. To tell the truth, the colonists were not being treated fairly. Taxes for them simply to live on their colonies were outrageous. To accomplish anything, a colonist had to first go through a stack of paperwork that had to be approved by an earth official. You know, like if they wanted to travel, especially to earth, or mine anything, or so much as leave one colony and move to another. The laws that had protected them on earth rarely extended to space, and for quite some time anarchy was a viable threat. Heero Yuy's death kind of helped jump-start the war, and actually it's what pulled the colonies together. The only problem was it made them think earth was their enemy." She nibbled delicately at the toast. "My job, obviously, is to fix all of that and strengthen the alliance between earth and space."

"Gorgenstern, Prime Minister," Wufei interrupted impatiently. "Get back to him."

"I was getting there," Relena said huffily, dipping a corner of her toast in jam. "Gorgenstern is actually credited for being the first colonist politician to speak peace instead of war when tensions were highest. But he was killed shortly after he stepped forward, so he never gained the popularity that the original Heero Yuy did." She paused to take a careful sip of the hot coffee. "Heero Yuy's plans and visions were never very focused; he preached peace, but he had very few actual ideas. Gorgenstern was different in this respect. He listed the issues and actually suggested solutions to them. Some of the solutions were useless, but others held promise. Presently, earth and space are better off than they were back then, but there are still feelings of resentment and distrust, and many colonists feel they aren't being treated fairly. So the Gorgenstern Bill was proposed. Its contents are supposed to reflect the most promising of Paul Gorgenstern's own original ideas for peace and equality."

"Such as?" Wufei prompted.

Relena took her time finishing her toast. She had Wufei's interest, now. And let him wait. She was tired of his attitude problem. Just when he looked ready to lose his temper, she patted at her mouth with her napkin and continued calmly as if blind to his impatience. "The Bill is rather lengthy and involved, but I can highlight some of the more prominent points. Mining, for example. Nowadays the colonist mining companies must first submit a request through the politicians of space; that request, if approved, must then be shuffled down to earth's government. If the earth decides the asteroid or planet intended for mining has no further use, it's approved, and mining can begin."

Wufei frowned. "I've heard-- in great, detailed length --Duo bitch about that before. That insane process takes months."

"Sometimes," Relena admitted. "To shorten that delay, as well as give the colonists some freedom, the process will be cut in half. A single earth delegate will be stationed space specifically for instances such as that. That way miners need only send the request to their own politicians."

"And that one earth official," Wufei added.


Wufei's eyes narrowed. "And if that delegate disapproves, how much weight does his decision carry?"

Relena hesitated, looking up from her bowl of peach slices. She could sense the displeasure in Wufei's voice, and tried to think of what she could possibly have said to irk him. "I don't follow you."

"I'm willing to bet," Wufei said slowly, "that if that delegate rejects the request, it will be denied no matter how many members of the colonist committee approve it."


"Which means you aren't 'helping' the colonies at all," Wufei interrupted angrily. "You're not giving them any 'freedom', you're just giving them the illusion of it."

"No, no, I'm not explaining it right," Relena said hastily.

Wufei ignored that, glaring at her darkly. "Continue," he encouraged, his scowl a strange counterpoint to his calm voice. "What else does this Bill promise?"

Relena wagged her fork distractedly, trying to negotiate the verbal minefield. She'd lost her train of thought completely. "Er, well, it also offers lower taxes..."

"I've never understood why the colonists pay the earth government taxes in the first place," Wufei pointed out coolly. "The whole reason people moved to space was to start over. To annex themselves."

"But earth supports the colonies," Relena protested. "We supply the natural resources they lack, we--"

"Colonists trade with earth, yet the government has never bothered to put a tax on colonist goods for the terrans."

"Yes, well..." Relena took a deep breath and lifted her chin regally. "Look, you asked me to explain, and I'm trying to," she said shortly. "I'm not the one who wrote the thing up."

"No," Wufei agreed mildly. "But you support it."

"I do. I think it's a fantastic first step towards complete peace and equality," Relena said firmly, not favoring him with a look. "The colonists who are so against it should probably bother to read the thing before throwing such a fit. It's for their own good; they just refuse to accept that." She reached for her coffee, satisfied that she had quieted his pessimistic comebacks for good. "If you'd like to get more thorough information on the Bill, I can certainly loan you some pamphlets. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to finish my breakfast."

Wufei stared at her, face neutral, but said nothing.

Relieved and a tiny bit smug that she had won the argument, she leaned back against her headboard and finished her coffee, studying her empty plate a bit hungrily. "I wish there'd been something a bit more filling," she admitted out loud.

Wufei's mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smirk. "I could get something else."

Relena looked at him in surprised, gratified at the apparent peace offering. "Really? Thank you, that's very thoughtful."

Wufei nodded. "How does oatmeal sound?"

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