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Work in Progress by Covenmouse

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The bare muscles of the mans chest rippled and glistened with sweat in the coloured lights cast upon him; they had stopped the music entirely for this part of the act, the silence and bated breath of the audience providing the perfect backdrop as the spiky-haired clown turned himself up into a handstand upon the seat of the motorcycle. Upon the ground this still would have been considered difficult, as the kickstand wasnt down. Up in the air it was simply terrifying, at least for the blond man watching at too great a distance to possibly save his friend should he fall.

That there wasnt a net below Trowas precarious perch had not gone unnoticed by the Arab watching him. An indignant part of him had the nerve to be angry at the ringmaster and Catherine, whom he knew should have protested at so dangerous an act. Another, vaguely sheepish voice, reminded him that Trowa knew what he was doing.

The low thrum of a horn playing a slow, almost sorrowful melody sounded through the tent. Quatre felt almost as if the notes were vibrating through his entire bodyor was he shaking? It was possible. The drink that hed bought at concession earlier now dangled loosely from one hand, forgotten as his concentration had been stolen by the Heavyarms ex-pilot. Trowa shifted his hands slowly, carefully keeping the balance on both his body and the bike strung on top of the wire hung stories above their heads. Millimeter by millimeter, Trowa edged himself onto one palm, his other hand coming off to stretch into the empty air. Not a single soul was breathing in the tent.

Elbows settling upon his knees as he leaned forward, one knuckle found its way to Quatres mouth. He bit nervously on the flesh; almost entirely unawares that he was doing so. Dont fall. Dont fall. Dont fall, The mantra repeated monotone within his head. He wished that he had a better view.

Though the pair of them had found seats at the top of the bleachers set up inside the big top, the major problem with seeing the high wire act was that it was so very far away. Despite that his eyesight was perfect, Quatre couldnt make out the detail he wanted most to see: Trowas face.

His heart began to beat again, one weakly protesting thump, when Trowa lowered himself back onto two hands. Another thump sounded in his ears as the clown lowered himself back into the seat of the bike. It wobbled a little beneath him, causing the audience to gasp collectively, and then he was back in the seat and gunned the engine. The bike zoomed across the rest of the wire and he parked it on top the platform.

The tent exploded with noise. As the audience surged to their feet around him, including his company for the evening, Quatre found himself glued to his seat. He could barely see Trowa around the big hair of the woman standing in front of him, but if he looked up far enough he could just make out his half-masked face as the boy took his bows to the crowd. For a moment, he could swear that Trowa looked right at him.


++//\\++


The show had been dazzling. Even better than the first time hed seen it with Hilde, Duo thought. If anything could be said about the Three-Rings was that while their name might not have been terribly imaginative their performances were spectacular. Hed liked the clowns, especially; not that he had any bias. I didnt know that Trowa had begun a tight rope act! Quatre marveled half to himself as he stared down at the paper cup in his hands. His lips fumbled for the straw, finally catching it and sucking only to realize that hed already drained the cup.

Neither did I, Duo agreed, nodding. The two were still in their seats near the top of the bleachers, waiting for some of the crowd to clear out before they tried to get down. I wonder how they got that motorcycle up there, though. I never saw it until he just appeared with it.

The blond shook his head in wonder, a slightly distant look on his face. The music was still playing from a live band near the entry way to the back stage, a strange and hypnotic tune which seemed to be present at all circusesboth in real life and on television. Duo couldnt help but smile a little to himself as he noticed a familiar red head with her head poked out the flap. He raised a hand, waving to her energetically but Catherine didnt seem to see him and ducked back into the darkness. Pouting a little, Duo shrugged and sighed, Well, what ya going to do?

His companion made a non-committal noise and Duo turned to face him, You alright, fluff ball?

Huh? Quatre started, physically jerking back into reality from where hed been lost in the contents (or lack thereof) of his cup. For an awkward moment all he found that he could do was stare at Duo and then he laughed and shook his head. Yeah, Im fine. I guess I just got a little lost for a minute.

The braided boy tilted his head a little, considering that. He didnt quite believe it, but would it do Quatre any good for him to say so? Duo didnt think so. Instead he climbed to his feet and gave a stretch. Theyd been sitting for the full two hours of the show and he was feeling a little stiff in his back and neck. The boy pivoted his waist from side to side to crack his back. When Quatre stood as well the two worked their way over to the stairs cut into the middle of the bleachers. I really like what theyre doing with the whole act. Its improved did you ever see their old performances?

Duo glanced behind him in time to see Quatre shake his head. When they reached the ground level he stopped, turning to let the other boy catch up to stride with him, as well as wait for the last of the crowd to disperse from the exits. A moment of genius struck him like a bolt, You know what? We should go see him! Congratulate him on opening night or some such.

There were times when Quatre had something of an owlish look to him, normally when he was surprised by someone else suggesting something hed wanted to do for himself; the blond donned that look now, mouth gaping at the other boy. Duo mentally congratulated himself on having read Quatre correctly. Hed considered, on the odd occasion, telling Quatre just how much of an open-book he really was, where his friends were concerned. While Duo had never seen Quatre in a board meeting, he privately thought that his friend must have mastered a good poker face by now, or else hed never have survived this long in the corporate world. At least if television was to be believed about such places.

I dont know, Duo, Quatre replied tentatively, after some soundless flapping of his lips, He probably would want to rest

That guy? Duo had to scoff. Grabbing his friend by the arm, Duo proceeded to drag Quatre into the crowd of people still milling about the nearest exit. It wouldnt take a genius to sneak them back stage when most of the audience was still outdoors and a lot of the performers were out front signing autographs. You know as well as I do that Trowa is a tank; a measly rope walk isnt going to knock him out.

That wasnt all Quatre began to protest. The boy fell silent, then, and Duo decided to pretend that he hadnt said anything at all.

Once outside the tent, Duo took a headcount of the actors around them. Standing on tip-toe he was tall enough to see over the heads of most of the crowd. A familiar red-head could be seen near a cotton-candy vendor, and he noted a few other clowns handing out balloons but no, the half-naked, half-masked tight-rope star was nowhere to be seen. There was little wonder in thata year wasnt going to be enough to change Trowa into an extrovert, even if this were his job now.

Duo dropped back on his heels and slipped behind a huge, muscular man that was covered in tattoos. The man was so busy showing of his pecks to the crowd that neither he, nor the people admiring him, noticed the two teenage boys sneaking around behind the curve of the big top tent towards the dark of the backstage area.


++//\\++


The door swung open before Wufei could finish knocking once upon it. The air was crisp and cold; it seemed that spring had lost that days battle over the climate and the world had once again settled into overcast, miserable and wounded winter. He pulled his Preventors jacketthe only one he had that was thick enough for this messtighter around himself and looked up at the tall Italian now looking down at the lot of them.

Trowa! Noin laughed, face splitting in a grin at the sight of the ex-pilot, Surprise!

Surprise was right, Wufei thought, for Trowa merely stared at them for a long moment. Unlike the rest of the pilots, Wufei hadnt spent much time at all around Trowa during the war. Perhaps it was because of this that he noticed the way that the clowns body stiffened just a little at the sight of them. Certainly that shock never made it to Trowas face, and soon the boy nodded to them. Good evening. I hadnt expected visitors.

That was as cool a response as any Wufei had expected once hed heard the plan the women had concocted for that nights trip. Though hed suspected it when Sally had invited him out with the girls, they had waited until they reached the fair grounds to inform him that tonight wasnt just a pleasant outing for the four of them. He could see the logic in their arguments, but Wufei suspected that Trowa wasnt going to be terribly happy at being cornered like this.

Well we just had to come by and see the show. The blonde to his left smiled pleasantly at their quary. That wasnt a lie, Wufei noted, merely a half-truth. The women had been interested in seeing the show and he had to admit that it hadnt been terrible. Trowas acts had been actually interesting, even if he had little to no doubt that Trowa was entirely safe during all of his death-defying stunts. Its been such a long time since weve all seen you.

Trowa nodded. He glanced at Lady Une and then the Chinese boy, neither of whom had yet to say anything. When the other boys eyes landed upon him, Wufei shrugged and stuffed his hands into the front pockets of his jacket to warm them. All four of them were wearing their jackets, though there were street clothes underneath them, and thus had had the benefit of no one wanting to be anywhere near them. They were also a major clue that this was not merely a social call.

I hope you enjoyed it, the clown replied smoothly. He didnt seem inclined to invite them into the trailer or to even move from the door of it, despite that he was standing shirtless in pants which couldnt possibly be thick enough to warm him. Wufei admired the fact that Trowa wasnt even shivering; or he would have, that was, if he werent getting annoyed with having to stare up the two foot difference in height currently between them. Until this moment hed thought that Duo was tall.

The six inches between the ground and the first step up into the trailer didnt help anything, either.

We did, Une replied and tilted her head, Might we come in a moment?

Trowa didnt budge from the doorway. Instead he leaned against the side of it and crossed his arms over his chest. From this angle, Trowas bangs didnt hide anything from the four people standing below him; it didnt matter, though. Trowas face was as unreadable as stone. You can when you tell me what it is youre after.

A slight smirk twisted one corner of Unes lips. Wed rather not discuss that in the cold. What she really meant was that she didnt want to discuss it where others could hear. Wufei and Trowas eyes met again and Wufei offered the boy nothing more than a lifted brow.

We dont have a warrant, Noin interjected, her voice pitched carefully so that it wouldnt carry too far into the night. You know we cant demand anything. We just wanted to come, as friends, and ask a few questions.

After a moment of careful deliberation Trowa moved back into the trailer. They took the door he left open as an invitation and, one by one, entered the small living space. The last one in, Wufei turned to close the door and paused. Black eyes piercing out into the night beyond, he looked around the otherwise deserted set up for the movement hed thought hed seen out of the corner of his eye. Then a member of the crew laughed nearby, exiting the big top with some equipment and Wufei relaxed. Writing himself off as paranoid, Wufei shut the door.


++//\\++


The station that Quatre had the car radio tuned to was mostly static and neither boy really cared. Duos eyes stared fuzzily at the brilliant red lights marking the rear of the car head of them. Finally he blinked and his eyes burned with the sensation that hed left them open a little too long. Leaving the fairgrounds was proving to be as difficult as it hadnt been reaching them. Theyd been stuck in traffic for the past half-hour and had barely moved a muscle.

In the drivers seat beside him Quatre tapped one hand on the steering wheel in time with the beat of the barely audible music, the rest of his body leaned casually against the door of the car. The blue eyes underneath his semi-wild blond bangs were distant; Duo had no doubts as to his friends ability to drive a car, but he did notice that when the van in front of them crawled forward several feet it took Quatre a minute to realize and move their car as well.

Sure you dont want me to drive? he asked quietly, though he knew that hed be no better.

Nah, Quatre muttered behind the hand that was pressed to his left cheek that was currently obscuring half of his mouth. His temple rested against the window, and Duo wondered if the cold was helping with the headache his friend had mentioned. Instead of asking, he just shifted in his seat and tried to make himself a little more comfortable.

Youre sure you dont have any idea what they wanted? Quatre asked in that same monotone voice which Duo had come to associate with his friends most introspective moments. Closing his eyes against the glare from the various vehicular lights surrounding them, Duo barely managed to bite off the aggravated sigh that question induced. Did he have any idea what Wufei was doing questioning Trowa at the circus? No, no he didntwhy? Because the man had turned him down when hed wanted to go to that very place; because Une, and Sally, and Noin had all thought to take his partner on this little foray and leave him out in the dark.

Well aware that he was acting like a petulant child, Duo just shook his head. Maybe they were asking him questions about the stunts he was doing. That tightrope act had to be against some sort of safety regulations.

Quatres made a rude noise which seemed like the most appropriate response to such a ludicrous statement. Too bad we didnt get to see him ourselves, though, Duo continued on to try and relieve the mood a little, I was hoping hed still be in that outfit. Or a towel.

Duo! Duo heard, not saw, Quatre sit up straight in shock. Without having to open his eyes he knew that the other boy would be staring at him, slack jawed and eyes side. A squeak of leather informed him that Quatres hands had also reflexively grabbed the steering wheel.

Eyes on the road, fluff ball, Duo replied with a teasing smirk. When there wasnt any response to that, he continued, It isnt as if you werent thinking it yourself. The man looked good. He was always kind of muscular, but hes really filled out since he went full-time circus freak.

You you really are incorrigible. Peeking one eye open, Duo glanced into the rearview mirror. Quatre had it turned at such an angle that he was easily able to see the faint blush on the Arabs cheeks without having to turn to do so. Of course, it could have just been the reflection of the brake lights Duo chose to believe that it wasnt.

Trowa looked healthy, Quatre admitted when the silence had stretched to an uncomfortable measure.

Now Duo did turn his head, eyebrows lifting in question as he stared at the blond next to him. Healthy?

He did! The frown on Quatres cheeks puffed them faintly, giving him something akin to a chipmunks appearance. By some strange twist of fate, Quatres body hadnt change noticeably since the warnot compared to the rest of the boys hed fought beside. Though hed grown an inch or two and lost most of the baby fat left in his face he was still remarkably slender and frail looking. The one time that either of them had said anything about it, the day that Duo had found out that, yes, Quatre did in fact need to shave his jaw, it had been hinted that the cause of this might lie in that his mother had been of European descent. She was French, to make no small point about it; apparently it was a topic of ill regard where Quatres paternal family was considered.

Ah ha. Duo shook his head and let his hat tip down over his eyes a bit as he leaned his seat back a little further.

Quatre turned the static off and they were left in a quiet car with only the sound of the air conditioner, the thrum of the other cars engines and each others breathing to listen to. Duo continued to watch his friend through the veil of his eyelashes, bangs and hat. Despite that no worse a comment had been made than the implication that Trowa was a rather nice-looking individual and that Duo appreciated said niceness, Quatre was looking rather disturbed. The car rolled forward another five feet with the rest of the traffic around them. Whatever the hold-up was it didnt seem as if they were going to be out of it any time soon.

Just as he was beginning to wonder if hed said something damning (and simultaneously consider the possibilities of passing it off as a joke) Quatre spoke up. Are you gay?

From any other guy that question would have been something to meet with laughter and indignation. There simply was no other response to give it. Except that Quatre wasnt any other guy, and there was none of the insult in his voice that such an individual would have put in there. Instead, the question was soft, curious scared. Duo shifted nervously.

I see what I see, he answered slowly and shrugged.

That isnt an answer, the Arab accused.

Duos first response was another shrug; that that wasnt acceptable revealed itself in the way that the frown of Quatres lips deepened. With a roll of his eyes he sighed heavily. Alright, alright. Fine. Mouth open to answer the question more honestly, Duo stopped. He reconsidered, opened his mouth again, and once more paused mid-vowel. Despite the fantastic show of awkward in the passenger seat, Quatre managed to keep his eyes on the road; his eyes were all but glued to the van in front of him, pale blond brows scrunched above them as he thought. Duo

It isnt a straight answer, the braided man finally blurted.

It was a long moment before Quatre began to laugh. Catching what, exactly, he had just said, Duo couldnt help but join in softly. He snuck a look at the boy beside him, only to catch Quatres eyes dead on. The two stared quietly at one another and then began to laugh again, much more loudly this time. The SUV behind them honked and Quatre collected himself long enough to pull forward the twenty feet hed been neglecting.

When they calmed down, Quatre twittered as he said: He did develop nicely.

And purple is his colour, Duo added with an impish grin. Quatre began to laugh again.


++//\\++


Minister Darlian.

Relena looked up from the papers spilt across her lap and the fold-down airline table, a touch of irritation upon her brow. The woman now standing over her was young by most peoples standards, but far too old by comparison to the girl sitting before her to have had such a silly expression of reverence drawn upon her face. Expecting an autograph request, for there had been no few instances where someone had gotten confused over the differences between a politician and a celebrity, Relena reluctantly set her papers in her lap and pulled her best mask of polite attention across her face. Can I help you?

The flight attendant seemed a little surprised at the friendly tone with which Relena had addressed her and that, in turn, caused a small pang of guilt to Relenas conscience. She was, after all, a servant to the peopleand who was to say that the woman wasnt merely there to ask a business related question? It isnt all about you, she mentally chided herself and widened the smile on her face just a little.

Maam, the flight attendant recovered a little and drew a small package out from behind her back, This is rather unusual, Minister, but I was just readying the coffee that you asked for and I found this among the mugs. Its addressed to you.

The bag she held out was made of pink-and-white-hearted cellophane, tied at its open end with a red silk ribbon and filled inside with individually wrapped candies. Without opening the package Relena could see that there were heart shaped candies as well as a few in simple primary shapes. And, dangling from a string that was tied around the bow itself was a small gift-tag with her name on it. Relena accepted the package with a smile and word of thanks, after which the flight attendant smiled broadly and returned to her area behind the curtain; presumably she was still preparing that coffee.

Papers forgotten, Relena set the package down on her lap and lifted the gift-tag in her hand. Relena was printed in careful black ink on one side of it. Turning it over, she found that the back was blank. Relena knew that she wasnt supposed to accept gifts without running them having been run through her security staffespecially gifts of an edible nature! And yet

Her eyes flickered towards the curtain that masked the tiny area the stewardess worked in. It didnt move and it was obvious that the woman wasnt at all curious about the gift. Before shed boarded the private carrier earlier that evening Mike and Gareth, the two burly bodyguards who followed her everywhere, had checked the shuttle for anything suspicious top to bottom. The stewardess would have had her belongings looked over, of course, and had any of them found a single thing they would have thought strange they would have stopped her from boarding.

Which meant that either they had overlooked something (Unlikely, Relena thought, Those two are both perfectionists to an unhealthy level) or else that the person who had placed it was someone of a seemingly unnatural skill level. Unable to help herself, she glanced behind her to the place where both bodyguards were catching a moment of shut eye. Shed given them leave to do so since it was highly unlikely that anything would catch them unaware out in the middle of space Relena smiled to herself and opened her purse, stuffing the bag of chocolates into it for later. Even if he wasnt brave enough to give these to her himself, she still thought it was nice of him to leave her little unexpected little presents.


++//\\++


It was freezing outside and Catherine just wanted to get a hot shower, a cup of hot cocoa, and settle down with the latest romance novel shed picked up for an hour or two before bed. Catherine picked her way through the muddy sludge where most of their personal trailers had been set, trying to keep from slipping or twisting an ankle as the ground sucked at her shoes, threatening to claim the high heels for their own. She was tempted to let it have them.

Just as she turned the corner around the home of their resident contortionist she was surprised to be confronted with the sight of people exiting her trailer. People that worse Preventers uniforms, at that.

No, Catherine realized as the fourth, and last, of them stepped out and she was able to get a good look at them in the light that spilled from inside the trailer, those are just Preventers jackets.

Still, she wasnt certain that it was a good thing. Instead of approaching the trailer, Catherine felt herself hanging back. Quickly as she could, she ducked back around the corner of the trailer she was standing near and peeked around it to watch as Trowa came to the door. His shape was black against the light within so she couldnt make out the expression on his face, but neither did it matter as their voices drifted to her ears from across the silent fair grounds.

So, youll give us a call if you hear from him? A cold voice asked; male.

Of course, her brother responded, sounding as reasonable as he ever did. From this distance Catherine wasnt able to tell if he meant it or not.

It really was good to see you again, Trowa, a female voice piped up. The comment sounded a little forced, but nonetheless truthful. That was a feeling that Catherine knew only too well; Trowa wasnt easy to get along with on the best of days and sometimes he was an absolute pain to talk to, no matter how much you loved him. Catherine wondered who this woman was that she had the right to sound like that.

He didnt say anything to that, and another woman piped up, Do think about our offer, Barton. Well be in touch. With that final statement the group began to move away.

Catherine quickly straightened her costume out and turned around the corner of the trailer shed been hiding behind. Now out in the open, she passed the group as they were walking away; three women, total, and a very short boy who couldnt have been much older than Trowa. Catherine thought she might have seen them somewhere before, but in simple passing she couldnt put any names to their faces. They were all Preventers, though, and that in itself sent a shiver or worry down her back.

Trowa! She called out with a forced cheer as she approached the trailer. The boy had seen her coming up and stopped himself from closing the door. The faintest of smiles appeared on his face and he held a hand out to help her up into the trailer. You didnt come out to the front after the show! There were a lot of fans waiting on you.

Im sorry, Catherine, He replied as she hopped into their home and took her shoes off at the door. Trowa reached around behind her and reached for the door handle to pull it closed. The lock fell in place behind it with a mind-easing click. I got held up by some old friends. Ill be there tomorrow, I promise.

Dont promise to me, you scoundrel! She laughed and wandered into the kitchenette to collapse upon the bench built against the wall. Promise to Jeffery. He was the one who had to deal with all of your disappointed fans.

The look which Trowa bestowed upon her was priceless. It had taken her the better part of two years to learn to read his looks, but once she had Dont give me that, mister. You know that costume change did wonders! You were popular before but now youve got all the ladies drooling over you. I think you made Arnold a little jealous tonight.

Catherine reached up to disentangle the headdress from her red-ginger curls, eyes following Trowa as he returned to fixing the cocoa upon their small electric stove. Tell Arnold that he can keep them. Ive no use for a pack of screaming fan-girls.

Too bad, Im sure theyd have a use for you, Catherine couldnt help but tease. He threw her a little bit of a half-smirk over one naked shoulder and returned to carefully stirring the milk he was heating. Catherine had tried to introduce the boy to water and chocolate powder cocoa, but she had to admit that his way of making it tasted better.

Though she needed a shower the woman was loathe to get back up onto her sore and tired feet. Instead she laid back into the bench a little, shoulders resting comfortably upon the wall behind her, and let her eyes drift once more to Trowas back. The scar that ran across his back was still as vibrant as ever, tearing down the length of it in jagged steps. Not for the first time she wondered where it had come from; he had spent most of the war in their company and not even when he had lost his memory had he ever once been wounded in that particular spot.

She snapped out of her reverie when a mug of fresh cocoa was put on the table beside her a few minutes later. I put extra cinnamon in it, Trowa informed her before his hand left the mug, green eyes gazing dispassionately into her own. A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature wormed its way down Catherines back. Somehow she knew that he knew what shed been looking at.

Thank you, she replied and took the mug up. It was hot but the warmth against her hands was well welcome.

He sat down across the table from her and merely nodded, his own mug making a soft thunk against the wood. For a long time the two sat in silence, each sipping at their respective drinks. Trowa, Catherine said when she couldnt take it any longer, those people that were here

From the war, he supplied when she drifted off. His head was lowered so that she could only see one of his eyes through his hair, but that eye was mostly closed and gazing down at the dark liquid in the mug he held. They were looking for someone and thought I would know where he is.

Do you?

Not at this moment, no.

Trowa Catherine began, only to be cut off.

If they ask you about him, please dont say anything.

Once again their eyes met, but this time there was a definite note of pleading in the young boys face. It was rare that Catherine was allowed to see the child in him; somehow that very childishness in this matter was reassuring. Alright, Trowa, She agreed in a whisper and knew that there was nothing she could deny her little brother.


++//\\++


A straight flight through to L4 was a weary and boring one. Most people occupied the time by sleeping much of it away; Relena finally stuffed the last of her papers back into the briefcase she had to carried them in on and settle back into her seat as the shuttle began its docking procedures. Though she had taken several very successful catnaps during the time there had been many much more important matters to see to than her getting unneeded shut eye. Ill sleep when Im dead, She muttered to herself, unconsciously echoing her fathers favorite (and morbidly prophetic, her sleep-deprived and highly disrespectful funny-bone informed her) phrase.

Miss? Mikeor, more aptly, Michael though he hated such a formal sounding nameasked, his deep baritone penetrating her sleep-fogged mind.

Oh, nothing, Relena threw him a smile and shouldered her purse. Looking about her she noticed that the shuttle was strangely still and quiet. Normally the engines were so loud

Weve docked on L4-RS01, Miss Relena, Mike informed her in an amused tone which she took to meant that hed addressed her several times already before shed answered. He offered her a hand to help her up, which she took though she didnt need it. He was the gentleman of the two guards, though most people wouldnt have been able to tell that by looking at him. Tall, huge, and mean were usually the first three adjectives any person came up with to describe the darkly skinned man who now picked up her briefcase for her and lead her out of the shuttle cabin. The first two, while lacking in imagination, were unfailingly accurate. The third was simply untrue so long as you gave him no justified reason to behave in an unfriendly manner.

Though shed been reluctant to employ bodyguards at first, Relena had to admit now that taking Mike and Gareth into her personal staff had been among the smartest decisions shed ever made. Both men were entirely competent, level headed and tended to make her day a little brighter simply by being themselves. While there was a certain level of distance one had to keep with their employees, Relena had found that she was able to put a great deal of trust and friendship into her working relationship with the two men. It was something which she had to be careful that the blood-thirsty press never got their sights on, of course.

Gareth was waiting upon the platform outside the shuttle, as big and burly as ever. That was the one thing the two had in common, otherwise they were as different appearance wise anyone could have asked for. Where Gareth was so pale that one could safely say he glowed in the sunlight, Mike contrasted him by being the sort of dark that she had only before prescribed to the finest Godiva chocolate. Mikes facial features contained broad, flat shapes with a rounded edge to them, making him take on the appearance of a humanized jaguar, while Gareths face could safely be described as being made of squares. Everything about the man was square, from his jaw, to his chin, to the protruding and shaggy brows over his eyes down to the tip of his nose; the sole acceptation was that his nose had been broken several times and now drew a rather crooked line directly down the middle of his face. Mike was bald, Gareth had thick brown hair and a beard; Mike was muscular, Gareth sported something of a belly. She liked to call them yin and yang in private.

With both of them dressed in identical, jet-black Armani suits they made quite a striking picture flanking the thin willow-whisp of a Vice Foreign Minister as she strode through the VIP section of the shuttle terminal towards the protected departure bay. Certainly any molesters would think twice before approaching her, but that did not mean that the paparazzi was inclined to let her off the hook.

Those brave souls defied logic in the same sort of way that lemmings did cliffs.

The first flashbulb that went off did so in her much sleep deprived face, effectively stunning Relena into a moment of dazed shock. She went still, frozen just outside the double doors that should have taken her to a private pick-up zone designated for public officials, celebrities and other persons of note, and tried to blink the spots from her vision. All around her the cries of Miss Darlian! Miss Peacecraft! Queen of the world! A question! Just a moment of your time! blurred into one hazy sort of chatter and she felt one of her men slip his arm around her shoulders. The otherMike?interposed himself between her and the crowd and the trio began to ease their way through the milling bodies to where a limousine was parked against the curb.

After a few moments of jostling, the two managed to get both themselves and Relena into the waiting car without undue injury. Her bags were always sent ahead of her by a private car, of course, so that the security detail could check them thoroughly before they were placed in her room, and Relena had no worries over that. She checked to make certain that Mike still had her briefcase and he did. The girl relaxed back into her seat and closed her eyes. She felt, not saw, the car begin to pull away from the crowd.

How the fuckd they find out youre here, Gareth muttered to himself.

How do they ever find out? She responded quietly. We might as well have expected it.

To her other side Mike grunted, reminding her very much of a certain young pilot shed used to know. The faintest of smiles crossed her lips and Relena patted the purse tucked safely against her side. The thought of his gift warmed her heart a little and the ten minute trip to her hotel was almost unbearable.

The same scene threatened to repeat itself when the limo pulled to a stop in front of the Al Hasha Hotel. Fortunately most of the reporters had been left behind at the airport and there were so few here that Relena suspected that while her trip had been leaked her hotel had not. It was more than likely that the few reporters that met them there had counterparts stationed at every other likely hotel all over the colony.

Once again she was ushered into the building in a hasty fashion, and once inside her ever loyal guards fell into step just behind her. She was thankful that the press at least had some idea of when to stop for not one of them dared to try and follow her into the hotel itself. Check-in was simple and the attendant, who was quite used to such affairs of state, informed her nicely that her luggage had arrived and been sent to her suite. Relena thanked her, collected the keys and went to the elevator with her entourage in tow. Inside the box she handed the two copies of the keys one to each of them and insisted upon taking her briefcase from Mike.

Im perfectly capable of carrying it myself, Mike, she insisted gently as she pried the piece of luggage from his fingers. While she was appreciative of his help there were times when his ideals of what was and was not womanly could be quite oppressive. I think Im just going to retire, boys The meeting isnt until tomorrow morning, if I have my time change right

Exactly what we would have told you, Mike informed her. Deprived of his self-prescribed briefcase duty he took it upon himself to unlock the door to the suite and step in first. Lights on, Mike made a quick round of the three rooms within the suite and the both bathrooms, making certain that nothing was hidden and no one present before he returned to give the all clear for the two waiting at the door. That done, Relena quickly picked out and took the master bedroom, leaving her bodyguards to their joint room and to fight over the living room television.

She leaned against the door for a moment after shed shut it, a sigh making its way out of her mouth. A quick glance about the room informed her of nothing save that it was yet another hotel room in yet another hotel they all started to look the same after awhile. A king-sized bed that was always cold, a bathroom far larger than any one person could sensibly use, enough space to have built three decently sized rooms in, big-screen television, desk, walk-in closet for those persons who were rich enough and inclined to rent these suites as apartments, and a small chocolate mint set on her pillow. Relena gave the mint a superior sort of smileshe had something much better than silly little hotel chocolates.

The girl kicked her heels off at the door and crossed the plush carpet to put her purse down on the bed and crawl into the center of the soft mattress. Sitting in a cross-legged position that was incredibly unladylike, especially given that she was wearing a knee-length skirt, she unzipped her purse and took out the bundle of chocolates held within.

A yawn ripped at her throat as she untied the ribbon, but Relena ignored that. She would unpack the bags that the maids were certain to have put in her closet, as they always did, as soon as shed had a chance to right herself again. Reaching for the remote that theyd conveniently left on the end of the bed, Relena pushed the power button for her TV and found the local news channel.

Her hands moved of their own accord, picking up a heart-shaped chocolate and unwrapping the brightly coloured foil that protected it as she listened to the newscaster recite that days stock information. and following the announcement of the merger, Winner Corp has taken yet another dip in stock as protesters flock to the corporate office on L4-RS01. Though many sources have tried to get in touch with the corporations CEO, Quatre Winner, son of the late Khareed Winner, it seems that all communication with the man is at stand still. Thus far the only response to come out of his office has been a firm decline to comment.

In related news, the female anchor added to her male cohorts statements, it seems Vice Foreign Minister Darlian has made a special trip to L4-RS01 in order to address growing concerns over the merger and what it means for an Earth bound corporation like Telacorp to merge with colony located Winner Corporation. There are large concerns that such a merger, while not only dropping many job in an already unsteady market, would form an illegal monopoly as well as subvert trade tariffs.

That isnt the only reason Minister Darlian has for visiting us, however, another woman chimed in. The moment she appeared Relenea knew that she wasnt going to like whatever this woman said. Slouching a little over her chocolates, the girl braced herself for whatever horrible news that womans smile held.

What news do you have, Tracy? The first woman asked, leaning forward in a way reminiscent only of old gossips leaning across their neighbors fence.

Sources have it that Minister Darlian has been in close contact with Mr. Winner for several years now, mostly through private lines. While theyve made no secret of their friendship in the past, Minister Darlians reaction this afternoon to those questioning her relationship with Mr. Winner seem to speak for themselves. As you probably know, Mr. Winner was recently named number two upon People magazines list of most eligible bachelorsbut friends of the man say that he may not remain that way very long.

AHHH! Relena protested, cutting off whatever other gossip the woman had launched into next. She wished shed kept her shoes on, then shed have something she could chunk at the TV. Relena reached behind her and settled for a pillow, though the reaction was somewhat less than fulfilling. How DARE they?

Fuming, the girl looked down at the pile of wrappers in her lap and realized shed actually managed to work her way through half the bag without realizing it. Relena gave the softest growl and grabbed the remote to turn the blasphemous machine off; she could hope all she wanted that this bit of gossip would remain in local channels only but she knew how unlikely that was.

When had the news gone from reporting facts to being yet another spring board for idle gossip and pointless filler? She rolled her eyes and slumped once more over the pile of candy. Unwrapping one last piece, Relena stared at the small, milk-chocolate heart and felt the outrage drain out of her as quickly as itd come. Her eyes itched with sleep and she felt a little dizzy, but Relena put the chocolate to her lips and bit into the sweet confection. This one seemed to have some sort of cherry filling those were always her favorites. How does he always know? She asked the chocolate in the whiniest voice shed allowed to come out of her mouth in ages, one that she didnt even have the heart to chide herself for.

With a sigh the girl finished the candy and sucked her fingers clean. Though she knew she should clean the wrappers up and put the candy away, or at least change into her pajamas, the girl found herself crawling up the bed towards her pillows. Just five minutes, she remembered thinking before her head found her pillow and sweet, complete oblivion.

++//\\++

++// A/N:
Hm, chapter two already? Im on a roll. I meant to say something witty or potentially fun here but I seem to have forgotten what that was. I would like to thank my Anon reviewer over at GW-FF who talked me into posting the pairings. They made a valid point towards it, so Im going to do that now. Whoo. Ill probably rewrite the summary, too, as I seem to have found an actual plot for this. (Shock and horror, I know, I know.)
But Rae, are we still going to get coffee zombies or stuffed penguins, you might ask. (Though I seriously would wonder about your mental health in this case, I can quite understand the driving need for zombies. There are never too many zombies.) The answer to that would be yes, I will still provide you with coffee zombies and stuffed penguins. Theyre just running a little late and still have to stop at the dry cleaner.
I really appreciate those who have taken the time to review the first chapter and hope that youll continue to enjoy the fic.

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