The cops were at the mansion for almost two hours, in which they questioned just about everyone. Heero was more than glad to see them and the coroner leave at last, taking their little bags of evidence with them and leaving behind a stern order to stay out of the panic room.
Quatre retreated to a guest room the moment they left, wishing to be alone to mourn. Relena locked herself in her room to sleep off her miniature break-down, and Heero drifted around the house numbly, checking and re-checking the security and trying to figure out how that body had gotten in the basement in the first place.
Why was everything so different about this murder? The note, the type of death... Even the choice of victim was odd. Wufei could be right; Tobias Cutter could have merely caught the killer off guard, which would explain why a gun rather than a knife had been used. But then, wouldn't a hastily scribbled note have been quicker than a typed one? And the body had been hidden in a room no one knew about for a week. The other bodies by the 'Gorgenstern Butcher' had been found shortly after the crime. The murderer had made no effort to hide the bodies. Almost as if he-- or she --wanted them to be found.
All the signs suggested a copycat... but that still didn't explain how the hell it had happened right under Heero's nose, in Relena's own mansion. The only explanation was that it was some sort of inside job.
It made sense, in a way, he admitted grimly to himself as he walked the perimeter slowly, deaf to the guards' greetings. Somehow the Butcher had always known where Relena was and what she was doing. Yule's murder at the meeting, the cat, the eye in the oatmeal... If the Butcher had a confidant on the grounds, maybe the other man had been told to commit the next murder. Or he had been found out, and had no other choice.
Heero decided to take his thoughts to the one man on the grounds as cautious and blunt as he was.
"It could be a copycat," Wufei grunted in agreement as he and Heero stood on the back porch, almost directly below Relena's balcony. He blew a wayward strand of hair from his face and squinted up at the cloudless summer sky. "Or maybe that's exactly what this 'Butcher' wants you to think."
"What do you mean?" Heero demanded, fingers drumming restlessly on the butt of the gun on his belt.
Wufei shook his head slightly. "I don't know for sure one way or the other," he admitted reluctantly. "But the idea of a sloppy copycat does seem the most likely. But almost too obvious. What if the Butcher deliberately made it look like a copycat did the job? It would make us all even jumpier and distrusting of each other if we suddenly thought there were two people out to get us. Maybe that's his plan."
Heero frowned uneasily. "But there's no way to be sure it is or isn't a copycat."
"No. Not unless forensics finds something useful from all the evidence they gathered." Wufei rolled his eyes. "Not that I think they'd bother to clue us in until they were actually making an arrest." He gazed out at the grounds for a long moment before speaking again. His voice was quiet but firm. "You can't make Maxwell leave."
Heero turned a sharp look on his old compatriot, eyes narrowing. No one knew about the argument-- and borderline fistfight --from a few hours ago. How...? Of course, Duo had been going out of his way to stay as far away as possible from Heero, and they hadn't exchanged a single word since the fight. But Heero couldn't see why any of this was Wufei's business. His tone was short and dark. "What?"
Wufei glanced at him sideways, undaunted by the other man's subtle-- but dangerous --change in mood. "Barton has to leave in a day or two; the circus is already on the move, and if he hopes to catch up to them in time to be in the next performance, he'll have to head out soon. And I have my own business to attend to; I can only give you a few more days. Kicking Maxwell out of the house would be a very stupid thing to do, Yuy. Your woman needs his protection right now, even if the two of them don't get along. I'd assumed you were man enough to put her safety above your pride."
Heero glared at him for a long moment, but his team mates had never seemed to be very impressed with his bad moods. Wufei was too arrogant, Quatre too forgiving, Trowa too indifferent...
And Duo always brushed it off with a joke and a grin.
Just thinking of the other man made his head hurt. Perhaps because he was clenching his teeth almost tight enough to crack the enamel.
Insufferable idiot. How dare he say the things he had? He confused Heero to the point of... well, homicide, lately. And what made him even angrier was the unfortunate fact that Wufei had a point, damn them both. With Trowa and Wufei gone, Heero would be the one person he trusted completely to keep Relena from harm. He did need Duo-- as the braided moron had so scathingly pointed out earlier. It might have made Heero glad for the excuse to have more time with his old friend...
If he didn't have such a strong urge to strangle him.
"The things Maxwell said to your woman were inexcusable," Wufei admitted, drumming his fingers on the balcony rail. "To be fair, she said some things that probably brought out the worst in him. The two of them have never been fond of each other, Yuy, and putting them in the same room for any length of time has always been a mistake. Especially with..." he stopped himself.
Heero stared at him in challenge. That abrupt cut-off would have puzzled him before, but after everything Duo had said, and after some of the things Relena had blurted out earlier, he knew what Wufei was referring to, even if he wished he didn't.
His engagement to Relena.
The fact that even Wufei seemed to have realized before Heero had that Duo's sullen attitude about the whole wedding thing was a bit odd was frustrating, so he decided to turn the tables ruthlessly.
"Why are you and Barton so uptight around Winner?"
The blunt question hung in the air heavily for a long moment. Wufei had gone tense, and was staring intently at a scar on the back of his hand.
"It was obvious there was something wrong when he arrived," Heero bulled on, watching the other man closely. "And if anyone so much as mentions his name, the two of you are always very careful not to look at each other. And then that fight you two had in the den the other night--"
"It's none of your business, Yuy," Wufei snarled abruptly, turning his head away to glare off into the distance.
"And yet my relationship with Relena-- and my friendship with Duo --seem to be a topic of great interest for everyone else," Heero pointed out coolly.
Wufei winced ever so slightly. "All right," he grumbled, "you have me there. Look, I don't care what you do or don't do with your woman. But pride and honor aside for just a moment, you do need Maxwell as an extra set of eyes until this whole 'Butcher' thing is over and done with. Lives are on the line here, Yuy."
Deep down, Heero knew he was right, and that was what was the most infuriating thing about it all.
Rather than admit to his own bull-headedness about the whole issue, he turned and walked away, shooting a parting shot over his shoulder, "It's Relena, by the way. Stop calling her 'woman', Chang."
Wufei muttered something under his breath that Heero deliberately tuned out, frowning to himself in annoyance. The man was as bad as Duo. Calling her unflattering names as if she weren't even a real person.
...Speaking of Duo, he had better try to find the idiot and smooth things over a little bit, as well as lay some firm ground rules. He didn't want a grudging Duo to "forget" to watch his back.
Duo was ready to forgive and forget fairly quickly; Heero couldn't decide whether to be surprised or not. But their friendship meant enough to the both of them to keep them from killing each other. The rest of the day was relatively peaceful, with no more bodies or explosions of temper, much to everyone's relief.
Quatre remained in the guest room for most of the day, only coming out to speak with Relena, and then to join the others for dinner.
His presence at the table made the meal a tense one. Wufei, Trowa, and Quatre avoided looking at each other throughout dinner, and if one of them wanted the salt passed, they asked Heero or Duo. Duo arched his brows meaningfully over his cup at Heero, but no one pointed out the obvious tension in the room. Even Relena had picked up on it this time, and she kept flicking Quatre questioning looks. She ignored Duo completely, the air between them frosty. Dinner was short and silent, but a little uncomfortableness was better than another brawl, in Heero's opinion.
Trowa was the first to excuse himself, and Quatre's eyes flickered up to watch him leave, though his face was carefully neutral. Wufei didn't miss the glance, and cut up the rest of his steak with a bit more savagery than Heero thought necessary.
When Duo offered to do the perimeter check with Heero after dinner, he relented. Perhaps it would help clear the air between them.
But Duo didn't want to talk about the fight from earlier; he was acting as if it was already in the past and forgotten.
"It's Quatre, I knew it," he muttered, half to himself as they walked slowly along the fenceline. "He's at the center of whatever the hell's going on between those three."
"It's none of our business, Duo," Heero reminded him in a monotone, remembering Wufei's angry reaction to his earlier probing. "Besides, I thought you didn't want to talk about this with me."
"But it's drivin' me nuts!" Duo exclaimed. "I think I might have it figured out, though. You ready for this? If this is too much, you can just tune me out like you usually do."
"Right, so here's my theory..." Duo toed absently at the bottom of the fence to make sure it was firmly in the ground before jogging to catch up with Heero again. "I think those two both have a thing for Quat, and I think he knows it. I mean, I was starting to have my suspicions before, but now I'm pretty sure about it. I think that fight they had the other night was about Quatre. You've seen how they're careful not to talk about him, and how now they won't even bother to look each other in the eye now that he's here. And remember when you let slip that one night that Wufei had run across Quatre that one time? I wasn't there for that part, but you said it was the same night that they had that fight, right?"
Duo spread his arms, smirking. "See? It's obvious. Tro and Wufei both want Quatre, and he knows it. I'm betting he turned them both down. Whether it's cuz he's straight, not interested, or doesn't want to hurt one of 'em, I don't know. But it makes 'em all pretty uncomfortable around each other."
Heero frowned at him. A week ago he would have been completely confused at how Duo had arrived at such a wild conclusion. But with the... strangeness.. between himself and Duo lately, he could almost see what the other man was getting at. "You don't know that," he pointed out. "How do you know you're right?"
"I don't," Duo admitted, stepping deftly over a tripwire. "I'm pretty sure, though. Only one way to find out. If any of them's gonna spill their heart out, it'll be Quat. I'll loosen him up some, be his little shoulder to cry on. Maybe he'll finally shed some light on this mess. We used to be kinda close. He might open up to me."
Heero felt a twinge of irritation that he didn't understand, and his voice was sharper than he'd intended. "It's none of your business, Duo, and it has nothing to do with the--" he almost said mission, but stopped himself. "The current crisis. Leave it alone."
"Hey, if Quat doesn't wanna talk, I can't make 'im," Duo retorted breezily. "Doesn't mean I can't try. Besides, I'm way too curious now. By the way, you got any alcohol in the kitchen? That'll help loosen his tongue."
For some reason that last sentence, innocent as it was, made something deep in Heero twitch. It angered him on some base level that Duo's unwanted advances over the last couple of days had twisted certain phrases in his mind.
They had finished their circuit and were heading inside. Heero scowled at his partner as they entered the foyer. "You're on duty, Duo. No drinking. If something happens and you're drunk..."
"Fine, fine," Duo sighed. "After we catch the bastard, then. And you," he jabbed Heero in the chest, "are going to join us, buddy. I hear you didn't even get to celebrate your twenty-first birthday properly."
Heero stared back, deadpan, and Duo chuckled before heading for the kitchen with a wave. "Go catch some shuteye, man; your shift's not for another three hours. Your lady probably needs to vent some more, anyway."
Heero checked his watch automatically. Almost eleven. Surely she'd be in bed by now; possibly already asleep after the trying day.
She was in bed, yes, and in her nightgown already, but she was sitting primly on the edge, hands clasped in her lap, waiting for him.
"I don't want that man in this house anymore," she said the minute Heero had closed the bedroom door behind himself.
Heero hesitated, gauging her mood carefully. She was no longer furious, and thankfully she didn't look on the verge of tears anymore. But she was stiff and tight-lipped, and her tone brooked no argument. She was still angry.
"If you mean Duo, I can't ask him to leave," he said slowly. "The others will be gone soon, and I need someone else here I trust to--"
"Trust," Relena repeated with an edge of disbelief. "That man is the last person I trust! Heero, he grew up on the streets for pete's sake! He's a common thief! And he was always the loose cannon during the war; you said so yourself. Even I could tell that much from the few times we met. And he doesn't like me, Heero. What reason does he have to protect me?"
Heero frowned at her, displeased. He had hoped she would be more mature about it once she'd had time to cool down, but her dislike for Duo seemed to be clouding her judgement. "He'll protect you because I asked him to, and because he knows how important you are to Earth. And while I admit Duo's morals are a little looser than most, he does have his own code of right and wrong that he's followed all his life. Whether you two like each other or not, the fact remains that I need another set of eyes and an extra gun. You're just going to have to deal with it. Don't talk to him if you don't want to."
Relena threw up her arms in disgust. "I can't believe you're taking his side after what he said today!" she cried. Then a look of resignation and hurt crossed her face, and she let her hands fall limply back into her lap. "What am I saying? Of course you're taking his side. You always do."
"Heero," she said quietly, "I know that your friendship with Duo is important to you, because he's the only other person besides me that you've ever allowed inside. He's the closest friend you've got. And while I don't approve of him, I am grateful for his friendship with you." She rubbed wearily at her forehead. "It's just... I wish you could appreciate my side of this at least a little. Did you even speak to him about the horrible things he said to me?"
I hit him, actually. Heero decided not to go that in depth. "We talked," he hedged. "He should apologize to you soon; after that, he'll do his best to be polite."
"You mean he'll ignore me."
"Isn't that what you want anyway?" Heero demanded, beginning to get a bit irritated.
Relena stared at him a long moment, then abruptly rose to her feet. She padded across the room on bare feet until she was standing directly in front of him. She reached up slowly and twined her arms around his shoulders. "I'm sorry," she murmured, her thumb massaging a knot of tension in the back of his neck. "I know you two are close, and I know you don't like it when we fight. And you're right, even if I don't like it. I guess I would be safer if he was helping you keep watch." She looped her arms a bit more securely and pressed up against him, gazing up at him from under lashes. Her voice lowered. "Heero... Would you like to prove him wrong?"
Heero stared back, at a loss. "Wrong?"
"Those things he said... he doesn't understand us. He thinks everything is about hormones. He doesn't know how we really feel about each other; that's something he could never understand. But..." she glanced down briefly, her lip trembling just a bit. "Those things he said... they were so hurtful. Please, Heero..."
Heero was irrationally irriated all over again, before he reminded himself that he had no right to defend Duo. The idiot had said things that should have gotten him more than a punch to the mouth. But what was Relena...?
She pressed up against him a bit more firmly, reaffirming his suspicions.
"You want to..."
"Yes." She smiled up at him demurely.
He hesitated, glancing over his shoulder towards the door. Young was on duty right outside... but she was usually fairly quiet.... And if it would make her feel better....
He didn't protest when she tugged his shirt up over his head, and her smile was more genuine this time. He kissed her when she stood on tiptoe, and she practically melted in his arms.
Usually she liked the kissing; she was quite content to kiss, and liked it if he touched her face or her back. This could go on for several minutes before she even got undressed. But Duo had struck a nerve, and she was bolder tonight.
Her hand slipped down his chest, over his belt, and began rubbing slowly at the front of his pants, causing him to jump just a bit. She was never this forward. Perhaps because they didn't do this that often--
She pulled back, staring up at him with a hint of uncertainty in her eyes. "Heero? What's wrong?"
He stared at her, hands loosely gripping her shoulders, lost and a bit worried. He'd upset her, he could tell. What had he done? What--
Her hand trembled a bit, then pressed more firmly against his groin. He could feel her shoulders tense up. "You... you don't want to?" she whispered, looking hurt and dismayed. Her hand flexed a little in emphasis.
Heero almost looked down on reflex as he recognized the problem with a tiny grain of panic.
"You're not even..." she removed her hand and took a step away. Heero's grip on her shoulders loosened, then tightened abruptly. He stared back at her helplessly, and one line leapt to the front of his mind and began a frantic, continuous litany.
"Next time she's in the mood, see if you can even get it up for her."
"Next time she's in the mood, see if you can even get it up for her."
Relena averted her gaze and tried to pull back again. Her lip was trembling again, and her eyes were suspciously shiny. "You must be tired," she murmured. "Never mind. Forget about it."
Heero took a quick step forward and captured her mouth in a desperate kiss. Surprised, she went very still, and didn't respond at first. Heero's grip on her shoulders tightened, physical evidence of his furious denial. Relena squeaked a bit, then began to tentatively return the kiss. When he moved towards the bed, she stumbled a bit, then eagerly followed suit.
They hit the mattress, and she was already fumbling with his belt. Bold all over again, she unzipped his pants impatiently and slipped a hand inside.
Heero froze, mind going blank with disbelief and panic.
Nothing. No reaction.
It was as if his libido had packed up and left for the night. Usually by now the rest of his body was responding to stimulation, but...
She was staring up at him again, eyes wide. The hurt flickered again on her face, and she went still.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled against her neck, dropping his face to keep her from seeing his expression. "I'm tired."
"All right," she whispered, a thread of nervous desperation to her tone. "Do you want to... sleep, or...?"
"No." No, he couldn't leave it like this. Her emotions were already raw from her fight with Duo, and she needed him to prove to her that Duo was wrong. That he still needed her. If he didn't figure out a way-- fast --to fix this, she was going to withdraw further into herself, and act like a kicked puppy for at least another day or two. Or longer.
Damn the man. Heero's lips lifted in a silent snarl of frustration. It was that idiot's fault; planting the seeds of doubt in his mind like that. Saying--
"Next time she's in the mood, see if you can even get it up for her."
--Saying something stupid and immature like that.
Saying stupid things like that after...
Unwanted memories rushed up as if they'd been lurking in the background, simply waiting for an excuse to ambush him.
Harsh breathing in the cab of a truck. Strong chest rubbing against his own. Hard mouth on his, devouring him, claiming him.
Hand in his lap, merciless and rough, pulling his jeans tighter and tighter...
Relena took in a sudden sharp breath, and he lifted his head quickly. He didn't need to see the brief flicker of hope and relief on her face. He could feel it happening, and he knew she did as well-- her hand was still down his pants.
She lifted her head and kissed him soundly, her hand beginning to move with a bit more confidence.
Pinned against the door, hips rolling against his own... Hand sliding down the back of his pants...
In the morning Heero would sit motionless in bed, staring straight ahead as his stomach churned in guilt and horror. He would spend over an hour trying to convince himself that he had not used memories of Duo's... advances... to get himself in the mood for Relena.
In the morning, he would have a private little meltdown.
But for tonight, with Relena sagging against the mattress in relief at his sudden renewed interest, he pushed his qualms and his shame to the very back of his mind, and he did what she wanted. Even if it meant somehow he let himself almost believe that the hands on his body belonged to a grinning braided idiot.
And in the morning, that knowledge would haunt him.
Author's Notes: Good CHRIST, I am so sorry for the long delay!! *grovels* I really am. I just haven't been able to write jack squat. When I get in drawing moods, they tend to crush my writing muses pretty thoroughly. T.T Please forgive me~
Some of the reviews this fic got recently made me feel guilty, though, so I stayed up all night doing this chapter XDD;;
To answer two reviewer questions... someone referred to Bill as a person... ^^; I was referring to the Gorgenstern Bill; I just shortened it to 'the Bill'. And as for the art I've been working on, it's a webcomic: h t t p : / / w h e n s h e w a s b a d . s m a c k j e e v e s . c o m (without the spaces).
Back to fics