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Work in Progress by Covenmouse

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Despite the late show the night before, Trowa was up at half-dawn as usual. The circus was an interesting occupation, certainly, and the larger it became over the years the more hassle it was to keep running. Thankfully theyd never added rides to the whole ensemble, or else theyd be just short of an amusement park and zoo combined. As it was, Trowa rather felt that they had the zoo concept down perfectly.

Wake at five and be out the door by five fifteennever bother with a shower at this time, because youll just be dirty again in a moment. Feed the predators first because theyre the ones that could kill you, and then move on to the slightly more docile creatures. When thats done, muck out the elephant stalls. Once that chore is down, youre free to shower and grab whatever breakfast you can keep down after such a disgusting chore.

The morning was practice time, followed by lunch, followed by more practice time and costume preparation. Animals had to be trained, laundry done, repairs made, everything had to be cleaned, and in the midst of it all was an entire colony of people ready to spring drama at your doorstep.

Trowa tried to remain separate from the group so far as the drama-mill was concerned but every now and then some bit of gossip or another liked to come and nibble about his ankles. It was rare that one actually managed to bite him in the ass.

Hed been in the kitchen urging some sausage to cook just a little faster so that he could return to working with the lionsone of whom was getting a little testy and had had the nerve to growl at him the night beforewhen Catherine had entered the trailer fresh from her morning gossip circle. He expected her normal tirade about the current goings-on in the circus camp and had thus chosen to tune her out until a very familiar name cropped up.

What was that, Cat?

In true female form, his sister replied, You werent listening to a word I was saying, were you?

You mentioned Quatre, the teen shrugged and pressed the sausage just a little. It hissed and smelled wonderful and reminded him in its own, teasing fashion that it wasnt quite cooked yet and hed probably regret eating it half raw. Bother.

Mhm, though Im not sure that I should tell you now, if thats how its going to be! Catherine opened the refrigerator door as she sing-songed at him, perfectly aware that her teasing would be grinding on his nerves. Hed long since decided that she enjoyed tormenting him just as much as he enjoyed aggravating her with silent patience. They both knew one another entirely too well.

Eventually her need to fill him in on this bit of information conflicted too widely with her frustration at being regulated to background noise. The woman opened her mouth to continue and, joy-of-joys, his sausage was done! Trowa put the twin links on the bread and egg that had been waiting, closed the sandwich up and joined Catherine at the kitchen table.

I was speaking with Mishelle this morningshes finally starting to get over that bought of flu, by the way

Good, he said and bit into his sandwich.

Anyway, she saw the group that came to talk to you after the show. But, more importantly, she saw another duo sneaking around the trailer as well Catherine cut herself off to snicker a little. She shook her head at herself, Pun not intended.

Duo and Quatre? Trowa guessed, eyebrows rising in unison not that she could have seen one of them.

Mhm! Catherines expression was positively feline as she smiled over her orange juice. Or at least, thats what I think from Mishelles descriptions. There arent too many teenage boys with two-foot braids running about with short blondes and Quatre does seem to be featured quite often in those gossip rags she reads.

Hn, Trowa stated and frowned at his sandwich. It remained delicious but suddenly there wasnt any interest within him to finish it. He sighed and stuffed another bite into his mouth, anywayhed help no one by going without.

It was one thing to have your suspicions about having seen an old friend in a crowd, it was quite another to know that theyd been correct and that said friend had, apparently, tried to seek you out. Trowa wasnt sure what to do with this information and so continued with his current course of action: eating. Across the table from him, Catherine hid another smile with her juice and pretended not to be watching her brother; neither of them was fooled.

You should call him, she suggested a moment later. Trowa chewed his sandwich. After thered been no response for a reasonable period of time, Catherine gave a sigh and drained her cup. She got to her feet, moving across the tiny space to rinse the glass in the sink. Trowa, I know I never approved of your friends from the war, at least not then but it wouldnt hurt to callespecially not if hes going to slink around here at night, trying to talk to you.

You dont know that he was, Trowa rolled his shoulders in an easy shrug. That shed gotten that much of a statement from him was a victory in and of itself. The boy shoved the final corner of his meal into his mouth and crumpled the napkin which had been holding. An easy toss landed the wrapped in the recycling bin marked paper and then he rose to his feet in an easy, fluid gesture.

Catherine sighed faintly and shook her head at whatever her internal council was cooking up. Rather than stay and hear her arguments as to why he should be more social, Trowa walked himself to the door and slipped through it into the daylight beyond. He paused outside the door to stretch. It was nippy, to say the least, and the sky above bore promise of rain; Trowa didnt think that it would until later that night and it was little worry when they had the big-top. Still, rain meant smaller crowds, especially when they were based on the outskirts of town and not in a formal arena.

For a long minute Trowa merely stood there, arms stretched above him and hands resting upon the back of his neck. All around him the circus breathed; its members bustled to and fro despite the early hour, lugging boxes here, carrying bags there. They chatted and trained and gossiped and lived. It was a large family, in its essence, as closely knit as any hed ever heard of. Despite being a hundred people strong, everyone knew everyone and was closely involved in one anothers liveseven Trowa.

One of their youngest members, a young girl named Cassidy, stopped to wave at Trowa from across the yard. He felt the faintest of smiles cross his lips as he raised a hand to return the gesture. Cassidy clutched the bag of dog food she was holding to her chest with a giggle and ran off to her familys trailer. Her mother was a bearded lady, wonderful woman, and her father the resident school teacher; Trowa often saw Cassidy training her tumbling act with the rest of the Three Rings handful of children. She worshiped Trowa.

A year ago he had refused to so much as speak with Cassidy, or any of the children. It had been too much a risk to get involved in the lives of any of the circus folk, he had told himself, they were a cover for his mission and nothing more. Even Catherine had been included in that, he was sorry to say. When he had lost his memory and been taken in as Catherines brother, Trowa had still not been able to form bonds with the rest of the circus folk. It had been like a block laid somewhere deep inside of him, shutting off his ability to form emotional attachments to these people; it was a block that had persisted until hed finally regained most of his memory, months after the wars end.

Strangely, it had been Cassidys cheer that had brought him fully to himself again.

Trowa still wasnt certain if he was thankful for that or not. The boy shook his head clear of his woolgathering and turned; he had chores to see to and practice to attend.


++//\\++


The city just wasnt the same without Duo there to share in it. Quatre looked off the balcony of the seventeenth-floor restaurant at the skyline stretched out before them and wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his week. Duos job was important, whatever it was, and the boy couldnt begrudge him walking out to take care of whatever the problem was. But it did put a damper on the weekend. So, he sat upon the fairly chillyand for that reason, privatebalcony of Chez Lumiere, lingering over the remains of a hardly-touched luncheon and staring at the moody clouds hung over the city. It was still nice to be here, he couldnt help but think, for the simple fact that artificial weatherno matter the kindwas much nicer than the controlled and predictable weather functions of the colonies.

Quatre lifted his nearly forgotten cup to his lips and grimaced at the taste of the liquid inside. Mint tea was wonderful when it was hot, but once it had gone cold the after-taste was repugnant. He set the cup aside and gave a sigh, turning his head to look back towards the window where a member of the waitstaff would surely appear as soon as they noticed him.

There were other people upon whom he could call while he was here, he knew; not the least of these was the clown that they had gone to see the night before. Quatre couldnt explain the hesitation he felt towards that line of action, he only admitted that it existed. When the waitress appeared in the window in her smart black and white uniform, Quatre flashed him a smile and nodded faintly. The door opened and the girl scuttled across the cold-lashed balcony to his table with a smile plastered upon her pink-painted lips.

Dont know how you can stand this weather, sir! Its right to catch your death out here, it is, the girl chided and clasped her hands before her, a black-bound pocket book caught between them. Is there anything else I can do you for?

No I actually. You wouldnt happen to have any desserts, would you? And some fresh tea Quatre glanced at his sorry cup of mint; he should have finished it sooner.

Mm, that depends on what youre in the mood for, the waitress bobbed a little as she stood and searched her memory, Cooks got a quaint little dish cooked up in back called Clafoutis. Tis a muffin whats topped with strawberries and some sort of sweet-tasting batter, plus a few little extras he keeps to hisself; I havent tasted anything like it, I havent! If youre in the mood for something a bit more traditional-like, theres the crme brule Ooo! And if you like chocolate, and someat is a bit warm, weve got a new dish of profiteroles poured over with hot chocolate sauce.

That last one, Quatre decided immediately on hearing it and smiled. Something warm would definitely do him some goodeven if he was being incredibly bad by eating it at all.

Right-o! One dish of profiteroles and some hot tea comin at you, the waitress announced, making a quickly jotted note in her pocket book before she skittered back to the doors. Quatres gaze followed her out and then he turned it back to the railing. From his seat he couldnt see the street below them, but even if he had walked to it and looked down he wouldnt have been able to distinguish their car from any of the others. He wondered if Rashid had gotten back yet.

Judging from the fact that his phone had yet to ring, Quatre suspected that he had not. Regardless, the man drew the small device from his pocket anyway and flipped it open. There werent any new messages at allwhich wasnt surprising as only a set number of people had his private number. A small icon in the corner informed him that he did have email, however. Though highly conscious of what Rashid was sure to do if he caught Quatre checking anything remotely work related, Quatre punched the button to bring the inbox up and was surprised to see a note there from Relenas personal account.

As he opened it, the waitress returned and replaced his cup of tea. Quatre flashed her a grateful smile then turned his attention back to the phone. He reached for his cup and took a sip, careless of how hot the liquid was.

Dear Quatre,

Ive been trying to contact you by phone but it seems youre rather busy. After seeing that report this afternoon, I can understand why! Im on my way to L4 now and was hoping that we could get a lunch in together while Im there; theres more to discuss than just business. Please get back to me as soon as you can.

Best Wishes,
Relena

Quatre winced a little. With the faintest of sighs, the boy pushed the reply button and began the painstaking task of typing an email on the awkward, compact keyboard. He really wished that Rashid had let him keep his blackberry

Master Quatre, the devil broke into the relative silence of the balcony; Quatre jumped.

His cell phone beeped in his hand to indicate that it had quite helpfully sent his half-finished e-mail and Quatre turned to face his bodyguard, companion and, at current, nanny. Hello Rashid. I didnt realize you were back.

It didnt take long, Rashid replied and eyed the cell phone with what could only be described as a predatory glare. Master Quatre, you werent harassing the secretaries again were you?

No, Rashid, the boy sighed in return just as the waitresss return was heralded with an indignant squeak. Did everyone in this place gain ten points in stealth?

The waitress regarded Quatre with an expression that warred halfway between a scowl and a pout. Harassing poor secretary girls are you, now, sir? She put the plate of delicious looking pastry down in front of him just as Rashid moved to take the chair opposite his employer.

It isnt like that, Quatre promised with a faint laugh. He was rewarded by a broad grin that reminded him faintly of Duo and the girl nodded.

Good, good, she stated, crossing her arms before her with all the air of a mother hen. Quatres eyes darted to her name tagAlice, it seemed. Hed have to remember her.

And that was when the bomb dropped, Harassing ones secretaries is bad enoughbut to do it when youre just engaged! Id hate to hear what your Lady would think.

Ahexcuse me? Quatre stumbled, blue eyes widening dramatically. Across from him, Rashid was looking quite appropriately as if hed been hit by a bus. Alices face fell just a little and her eyebrows scrunched together in a way which caused them to run together in a single, slightly bushy line.

It was in the papers this morning, sir, wasnt it? Your engagement.

The clich went that in moments of true horror or bliss time would freeze and your heart seize in your chest. Quatre had never believed in such things until this very moment. Mouth hanging open wide enough to catch a carp (should such creatures learn the ability of flight, of course), Quatre turned to stare at his companion who looked equally flabbergasted.

You didnt realize itd gone public, then? Alice asked with due concern for her suddenly speechless guests. She wondered if she was about to be fired againit wouldnt be the first time shed gotten in trouble for having a big-mouth with customers.

That would be an understatement, Quatre managed to squeak. His gaze fell upon the chocolate dish hed so been looking forward to. Suddenly it didnt seem to matter how bad it was for his bodyhe picked up one of the chocolate oozing cream puffs and bit into it. Whatever he was about to face, he would face with a sugar high!


++//\\++


She was stuck in an amusement park and she was not happy. Relena stared out the window of her designated bedroom and tried to pretend that she wasnt merely sulkingshe was pissed. Oh yes, absolutely. Not that yelling had gotten her anywhere but over Heeros shoulder, being lugged back upstairs to her bedroom. Relena was also trying to pretend that her cheeks were red from being hung upside down and not from the path her thoughts had chosen to tread.

Hed only dumped her on the bed, collected his laptop, told her that he was going to give her some time to think and then left her alone in the bedroom Relena tried to believe that she hadnt inexplicably hoped for more. Rather than think on it, the girl reminded herself that he had kidnapped her, destroyed any and all chances shed had of helping out the situation on L4 and that being alone with him for the first time in years was not a turn on, damn it! Her hormones were turncoats and she should have them court marshaled.

The view outside of her window was a dreary one and not at all welcoming by her standards. There were rides covered in an array of chipped, fading paint and rust, half-collapsed game booths and decrepit attractions galore. Somewhere in the middle of the expansive graveyard of leisure was a rickety looking ferris wheel, and far beyond that Relena could just make out what appeared to be the gates of the entire structure. The walls surrounding the place where high and she could make out nothing past them but unmarked greenery and mountains. It had taken her a long time to figure out where she was, but eventually Relena had noted some half-faded and cracking symbols painted upon the signs below and realized that this was Japan.

Well, it could be China, she amended, but why would Heero take me to china? Besides, she didnt think that they had a wealth of abandoned amusement parks in that country.

Of course he would take her to a country where she couldnt speak the language. Relena gave the faintest of sighs, both blessing and damning her luck. Heero was smartshed known that much of her young-adult life and yet this was the first time she was actually sorry for that. He wouldnt be able to hide her face from the public, were she able to get out of this place but if she knew him, they were probably in the most remote place he could find in the overcrowded, island-based country.

No, she would have to convince him to let her go.

There was a knock at the door and briefly Relena considered ignoring him. Her stomach growled and she sighed, Come in.

The door opened with protest. In the reflection from the window, Relena watched as Heero leaned against the door jamb. He was watching her as intensely as he always did; she shiveredwhy did it always feel as if he had her under a microscope?

Theres dinner downstairs, he said after a long moment. The dining room is to the left.

Relena turned her head only slightly enough to acknowledge that shed heard him. They stared at one another for a long moment and then he took a step backward and shut the door. The girls shoulders sagged a little and her gaze returned to the sunset-lit amusement park. If this was so wrong, why did it feel so right?


++//\\++


Master Quatre, calm down youre scaring the cat.

Quatre glanced behind him at Rattrap who was, in point of fact, not at all frightened and currently licking himself on top of the baby grand. The blonde threw an annoyed look at his all-too-cool companion and growled faintly. The paper in his hands crinkled as his fingers tightened around it again and threatened to leave another set of permanent creases through the picture splashed across the top of it. His eyes were drawn once more to the desiderated photo of himself and Relena, taken several months ago at a restaurant somewhere in the L2 cluster. Quatre knew he should have been able to place it, exactly, but the anger in his mind kept him from being able to accurately recall the last time hed seen the Vice Foreign Minister.

He didnt think it had been at that restaurant at all.

In a huff, the boy threw the paper down upon the nearby sofa and stalked to the floor length windows lining the wall of the common room, where he pressed his forehead to the cold-frosted glass and glared at the city below. Rashid! he heard himself whine, Theyre saying Im engaged to Relena. Do you have any idea how badly this is going to hurt us?

Its just a rumora rumor that theyre publishing as fact, Rashid reminded him. He poured tea and set it out on the table, expecting Quatre to drink it. That was Rashids answer for everything these days. Theyre going to have to retract it.

Or what, Rashid? Quatre answered, suddenly weary of the world. He repeated himself, or what? Do you expect me to sue if they dont? I really cant see anyone taking a threat of that seriously. Who the hell sues someone over falsely proclaiming an engagement? That would only make my reputation look even worse, and the more that I deny it the more that people start to question why Im denying it, and my grandparents and uncles start questioning why I havent taken a wife, and then all of the family is breathing down my neck and their friends are sending their daughters to meet me and suddenly everyone is trying to get me married off because Im too old now

Breathe, Rashid interjected, appearing like magic beside the boy. Quatre sucked in a breath, realizing just as suddenly that hed been ranting like a lunaticor worse: like the teenager that he technically was. The teenager, he reminded himself, that he couldnt afford to be.

Sorry, Rashid, Quatre threw an apologetic smile up at his companion, shoulders slumping and head hung in shame. The boy rubbed his temples with one hand and shuffled his way across the room to collapse in a chair at the table. After a moment he realized that his tea had been sat at the opposite placing, so he reached across for it.

Rashid was still standing at the window, watching him impassively. The man slowly brought one hand up to his chin to rub at the beard growing there. So, the man asked after a few minutes and half of Quatres cup had gone by, why arent you married?

Quatre choked on his tea.

Thumping his chest, the boy coughed and sputtered and stared at Rashid in disbelief, Rashid!

Im serious, he replied with a frown. Though Rashids tone was light, Quatre could tell that the man meant every curious word that now fell from his lips. Why arent you? Youre seventeen, now, and youve been running the corporation alone for a year. Your father didnt arrange your marriage for you, but most of the boys your age have already entered engagements, at least, by now. Considering your social position, it would only make sense for you to begin courting the idea, at least.

Not you, too, Rashid, Quatre frowned into his cup, finding it quite a bit less comforting than it had been moments before. Why is marriage such a big deal, anyway? Id rather no. Forget it.

Putting his cup down upon the table, Quatre turned that same frown upon the elder man, who looked as if he were ready to object. I need to get out of here for awhile. He stood up sharply and turned to grab his jacket from the back of the chair hed thrown it at when hed entered the room a half hour before, Ill have my cell on me.

Before Rashid could protest, the boy grabbed the keys to the car from the side table and was out the door. And, for the first time that Quatre could remember, he didnt try to follow.


++//\\++


The circus tents under a tumultuous sky didnt look like the same bright, decadent things the stereotype called to mind. The scent of rain was heavy in the air, now, and Quatre wondered briefly if the weather casters had been wrong about their not being rain expected for that afternoon. Too bad he hadnt brought an umbrella with him. He locked the Mercedes up and trod the short distance from half-sodden parking ground to the area of game booths and snack stands set up before the big top. There werent any customers about at this hour, but there were plenty of circus folk out and about, no doubt setting up for that nights performance. A few of these persons cast Quatre strange looks as he walked around the area but none of them tried to stop him. No one, that was, until he tried to go behind the big top.

Can I help you, ssson?

The owner of the voice appeared to his lefta man who looked alarmingly like a snake both in bone structure and coloration, with the latter thanks to the hundreds of intertwining serpentine tattoos which covered his body. Or was it merely one tattoo that spread everywhere? Quatre would have to ask to find out and he found the question sticking like peanut butter to the roof of his mouth. Im looking for Trowa Barton, he stated instead and clutched his jacket just a little more about his lean form.

The man regarded him curiously for a long moment and then nodded. When he opened his mouth, Quatre could see that hed even had his tongue split down the center; the boy shuddered. Fortunately the snake-man didnt seem to notice and instead nodded, peering behind Quatre to the backstage beyond. I think The man drawled with a faint hiss in his speech thanks to the cosmetic surgery, That he isss with the children. Come.

One long, claw-like finger beaconed Quatre to follow as the serpentine man slid behind him and into the rows of tents and trailers that made up the Circuss living quarters. Quatre did as he was told and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat as far as they would go. He hadnt been cold that afternoon but now he was positively frozen. Even the knowledge that it was most likely a psychological problem than a true physical one didnt help to keep the cold at bay and he found himself wishing that hed thought to grab his gloves as well.

The back area of the fairgrounds looked remarkably different by day than it had the night before. Despite that, Quatre was able to pick out the trailer theyd identified that night as Trowasand, by approximation, the trailer that he and Duo had hid behind to watch the group of Preventers corner the clown after his performance. It isss not often that our Trowa hasss friendsss visssit, the snake-man was saying, unconscious of the fact that Quatre had barely been paying attention.

The blond jumped to attention at the sound of the other mans voice and took a moment to register what had been said. It was a question, of course, but stated in such a way that Quatre could have neglected to answer if he hadnt wanted to. The boy found a smile encroaching upon his lips, It isnt often that Im able to see him; we lead very different lives.

The snake-man laughed, nodding his head, and Quatre wondered how often it was that any of the circus-folk got to see the friends or relatives they had outside of their job. Probably not often, with how much the circus was on the move. It couldnt be a lonely life, for you were surrounded by your coworkers constantly but Quatre did wonder how they dealt with it. Suddenly he felt a little sorry for the ever-smiling entertainersthey were never allowed to be unhappy.

Here, the snake-man stopped so suddenly that Quatre nearly ran into him. Muttering an apology, Quatre stumbled away a step or two and peered around the mans wide, tattooed form. The sound and sight of children was what hit him first. He couldnt understand why he was so shocked to see them there; the circus performers werent likely to all be chaste or unmarried and hed even seen the children helping their parents out in the performance the night before. Yet, somehow, the idea that there were children in the circus hadnt quite dawned on him until now.

They were garbed as any other children would belarge T-shirts, ratty pants, shorts, tanks Work clothes, he would guess, from the amount of stains and tears upon them. Each child was working on a routine or skillmost were tumbling, some were juggling with beaten and worn practice pins, and others were taking turns walking across low beams suspended a few inches above the ground.

After hed had a few minutes to get used to the sight, Quatre realized there really werent as many of them as hed initially thought. They were an energetic lot and all their movement and laughter and cavorting about had made them seem a larger grouphe counted only about ten, possibly eleven. In the middle of this chaos was a taller boy currently overseeing the kids on the beam.

Duo had been right; Trowa had certainly grown up. Quatre felt his cheeks flush a little and tried to hide his embarrassment by coughing into his handsit went unnoticed by the crowd at large. A pair of emerald eyes slid towards him, however, and had Quatre not been watching for it he might have missed the slight smile lift the edges of Trowas lips. A blast of icy wind shook Quatre from his daze and he jerked his head to the side to issue a mandatory Thank you to the snake-man who had shown him the way, only to find that the man had already disappeared.

Thats good Cassidyif you can keep that up for a few more days we should talk to Jonathan about starting you on the low wire, Trowa was saying to one of the girls by the beam. Quatre returned his attention to them in time to ascertain that Cassidy was the name of a thin-as-a-reed, blonde pre-teen girl running about in a leotard and sweatpants. Just looking at her made Quatres body temperate drop a few more degrees and he shivered again. He supposed that the physical activity was enough to warm them, but at the moment he was more certain that their parents were crazy for letting the kids out dressed as they were.

Do you really think so? Cassidy beamed up at Trowa and bounced in place. He nodded, though his attention had already turned to a little boy who was cautiously making his way across the beam with his arms extended like wings to either side. Quatre smothered a chuckle at the face the boy was making and began to pick his way across the training area to where the beam was set up on the other side.

Trowa nodded, But dont take my word about it. Your parents have the final say on that.

They wont disagree with you, Trowa, the girl giggled faintly and rubbed one sneaker-shod toe against the ground. You know what youre doing.

Well see, Trowa just nodded and watched the boy reach the end. That one Quatre felt a little sorry forthe look of pure, unadulterated relief at being off of the balance beam was one that was hard to miss. Trowa clapped his hands together three times and the whole crowd came to a halt. Alright, thats enough practice for today. Get everything put up and go finish your choreswe have a show in a couple hours.

The announcement was met with the usual disappointment shown by children everywhere when chores were mentioned. Only Cassidy seemed not to careshe tossed another grin at Trowa and then ran to help the jugglers collect their batons and put them back into storage. Something inside of Quatres chest seemed to curl into a hard knot and settle at the base of his throat. He didnt like it one bit, whatever it was, and he jumped when a hand fell onto his shoulder.

The blond boy looked up into a pair of green eyes and felt that knot grow just a bit bigger. He gulped inexplicably.

Trowa didnt say anything; he arched one thick brow and then released Quatres shoulder. Turning, the clown moved to pick up one the balance beam himself. He hefted it over one shoulder, his arms flexing to show off just how much well-toned muscle was packed under his skin, and headed off towards one of the storage tents nearby. His free hand gestured that Quatre should follow him. After a moment spent staring, Quatre did.


++//\\++


The PA announced that they would be docking soon and Duo dropped the reports back into his lap with a sigh. Wufei was in the bathroom and he took the chance to close his tired, sore eyes. The flight to L4-RS01 was long and boring and hed spent every minute of it trying to work his way through the case file. Much to his annoyance, Duo had only just realized that most of it was a reiteration of things hed known about Relena and her past for yearsit was just that some agent, somewhere, had felt the need to type it up in semi-biographical fashion and fill the entire thing with ten-dollar words. Duo had half a mind to find out who had written the overly detailed report and strangle them. With wool yarn. Because nothing quite said I hate you like making certain that an enemys strangulation was extra painful and itchy.

Are you finished yet? Wufei asked as he dropped back into the seat to Duos left and fastened his seatbelt. Duo was about to question that when the pilot asked that all the passengers tie themselves in. Half-heartedly wondering if Wufei was psychic, Duo sat up and did as told. He picked the file back up and waved it at his partner.

This, he made certain that Wufei had glanced at the manila folder being waved under his nose, Was entirely unnecessary. You could have summed that up in about three sentences.

Its better to be well prepared, Maxwell. You never know what information you might need, Wufei replied and rolled his eyes. He shoved Duos hand away.

Suspicious now, Duos eyes narrowed at the Chinese boy. After a moment, he leaned in and whispered, You wrote this report, didnt you?

Of course I did, Wufei snapped, I actually knew the subject, after all; if you bothered paying more attention to our assignments you would have seen her file when it came up last month.

Why did it come up last month?

Obviously that was not the right question to ask at that moment because Wufeis eyes managed to narrow even further. Duo wondered if the boy could even see out of them right now. Then, suddenly, Wufei deflated and shook his head. Sitting up straight, the boy let his head roll back to rest against his seat. The anger was gone, but now Duo felt himself being regarded with the expression that hed long since decided scored the highest on his mental list of Top Most Annoying Expressions of Chang Wufei: the lofty, holier-than-thou, why are you such a moron scowl.

Duo. We spent all of last month trying to plug and find the source of a massive security leak discovered in her household. Her office was bugged, her computer had a hackers imprints all over it, there was evidence that someone had been sneaking into her house

well yeah, but I never saw any paperwork on it and it wasnt as if it was ever solved.

No, it wasnt. And now someone has kidnapped her.

You know, I did manage to correlate that myself, thank you, Duo scowled and felt a further stab of irritation when he noticed the smirk that crossed Wufeis lips. There were days when he really wanted to punch the other man Shaking it off, Duo turned his eyes towards the cabin window and stared out at the side of the colony they were currently docking in. A little turbulence hit the shuttle as the pressure around it shifted, but the docking procedure went as well as could be expected when a commercial pilot was in charge. It was on that point alone that Duo missed the days of military efficiency.

See, reading that was good for you. Youve already learned a new word. Wufei got up before Duo could hit him and jerked Duos bag out of the overhead compartment. He tossed the worn rucksack into Duos lap and then pulled out a similar sort of duffel back which he slung over his own shoulder. Duo followed in kind, after he tucked the file into his bag for safe keeping, and together they exited into the terminal. A quick flash of their badges allowed them to bypass security and within minutes they were out the door.

They grabbed a cab whose driver was a little surprised at hauling two boys, with little more luggage between them than a pair of drifters might have, towards a five-star hotel. At least, he was surprised until they both drug their official jackets out of their respective bags and put them on; then he was just nervous. Duo felt the slightest pang of guilt when he noticed the nervous glances the driver kept shooting into his rearview mirror. He didnt blame him in the slightest, of coursewhen it came to figures of lawful authority, everyone thought they had something to hide, even when they didnt.

Soon enough they were at the hotel and Duo stopped to hand the man his Preventers business card, waiting as the man swiped it, signed the ticket and added the most generous tip he could without facing a lecture about it later.

Immediately upon entering the hotel they were set upon by a rather flustered looking concierge. She wobbled like a penguin in her three-inch stilettos and too-tight skirt and the smile on her face was just a little too strained to be happy. Sirs! So good to see you, the woman began, holding out a hand which only Duo took to shake. Wufei leveled his best no nonsense glare at her and succeeded in making her wring her hand after duo had released it. Duo elbowed his partner, successfully gaining the mans attention, and the woman regained her ability to speak, Youre here about the incident, yes?

Duo grinned and nodded, Yeah. Say, you havent been mentioning that about to your staff

What? Oh! the woman shook her head and made a gesture to indicate that they should follow her. The men were forced to pause one step for every two of hers, just to keep her wobbling figure in front of them. She lead them towards the elevators, No, no; most certainly not! Need to know basis and all that but Im afraid we wont be able to keep it out of the grape vine much longer

We understand, Duo replied before Wufei could say anything terribly damning. The elevator gave a cheerful bing after the concierge pressed the button and the bronzed doors slid open to reveal a classy, tasteful interior. The three of them piled into the small box of a room and she pressed the button for the proper floor. Once the doors had closed, the woman fanned herself with one hand and cast another, nervous grin towards the pair of them.

Im really so glad that you came so quickly. The media began sniffing about early this morning the police chased them off for the time being, but

But someone is sure to have seen us entering the building, Wufei interjected and sighed. Duo couldnt help but agree with him on that point; in all likelihood there were members of the press housed in the modest motel across the street that were assembling like vultures even as they spoke.

The trio managed to make it up to the floor Relenas suite was on without any interception from other hotel gueststhat in itself was a small miracle that Duo was highly grateful for. They entered the hall together but neither agent needed the concierge to tell them where the suite was: an inexplicably large, intimidating man in Armani was standing in the hall beside the suite door with a cigarette pressed between his lips and a maid begging him to put it out. The nearby fire alarm had been jerked from the ceiling.

Mr. Gaiden! The concierge gasped. That got the mans attention and he lazily turned his face towards them, one dark, brick-like hand rising to take the cigarette from between his lips. Sir, you know we have proper areas for that.

Duo doubted that such nagging would have worked had he and Wufei not been there. As it was, Mr. Gaidens eyed the two other men and then slowly bent to press the cigarette out against the soil of a plotted plant that stood beside him. The maid made a tsking noise under her breath as she snatched the stump up and threw it into the garbage bag on her cleaning cart nearby. After casting one dark look towards the dejected bodyguard, the maid grabbed her cart by its handle and stomped off down to the next suite lining the hall.

You must be Michael Gaiden, Wufei stepped forward, effectively taking the reins from Duos hands. Duo let him, much more content to let Wufei handle the guys who looked as if they could easily take on a Leo bare-handed and win. It wasnt that he was scared, Duo reminded himself, only that he knew better than to risk provoking someone who could crush his head like a grape. Why was he letting Wufei do that talking again?

The man nodded and opened the door to the suite, waiting outside of it for the two Preventers to enter ahead of him. Wufei walked through the entrance without hesitation and a moment later Duo skittered in behind him. Mike followed and shut the door in the concierges face.

Three men looked up when they entered: a somewhat pudgy, but strong looking white man and two equally twiggy Arabian men both dressed in the uniform of the local law enforcement. Based upon his readings from the file Duo concluded that the white guy was Gareth Schwartz, Relenas other bodyguard. Ex-bodyguard, if they had anything to say about it after this. Gareth was sporting a rather nasty looking black eye and a bruised lip and suddenly the reality of the situation hit Duo like a square ton of brickswhoever could take out a guy like Gareth meant serious business and Relena could be in very real trouble.

What happened, in your own words, Wufei demanded as he chunked his duffle bag down beside the door. Duo followed suit with his rucksack and then moved to the coffee table where there were a few other police reports scattered about. All of this was evidence gathered in the last few hours since Relena had gone missing, things that they wouldnt have gotten yet. Wufei remained standing, arms clasped behind his back and glare leveled towards the sore-eyed bodyguard. To his credit, Gareth didnt even flinch.

We got in at about twenty-twenty-five. Mike checked the apartment, top to bottom. ReleMiss Darlian said she wanted some shut-eye and went directly to her room. We could hear her telly on for a few minutes, probably the news since she rarely misses it, and then she went to bed, Gather began. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and looked miserable enough that Duo managed to feel a little sorry for him. The man obviously cared about Relena and not just about the fact that hed bunged up his job; that much was apparent.

Mike and I settled in, watched some telly ourselves. Got a bit peckish at about oh twenty-one eh would you say thirty or so, Mike?

The darker man nodded from his place by the door. He didnt seem inclined to offer anything more than that. Duo raised his eyes towards some masking tape hed noticed marking off a section of carpet nearby; he frowned and picked up a pile of surveillance photos. Twenty-one-thirty, Gareth repeated with more surety. Called some room service, cute little waitress brought it up. She left, we ate I think the food was drugged.

Why do you think that? Wufei asked as he crossed towards the taped area. There was a stain on the carpet from something theyd already tried to clean whatever it was but it would take more than a perfunctory wipe or two to get the marks out. Wufei didnt touch the spot, but he studied the placement between it and the two bedroom doors.

Cause Mike and I dont just fall asleep in front of the TV, eh? Gareth spat, suddenly defensive. One of the mans hands balled into a fist and Duo raised his eyes back to him for a moment. The other men in the room all stiffened, waiting for Gareth to do something but the man only settled back on to the couch and shook his head. The fist uncurled and he shoved his fingers through his shaggy brown hair. but we did.

So how did you get that, Wufei made an idle gesture towards the man. It seemed to take a moment for the man to realize what Wufei had meant, but when he did he shook his head.

My memory is fuzzy on this bit. I guess I didnt get as much of whatever it was as Mike did, cause I remember waking up somewhatI thought I heard something. My eyes werent too clear but I saw, or I think I saw, that same waitress again. She was in our room and had the Minister slung over her shoulder and was doing something with the food cart. I said something. Dont know what. Got up The girl smacked me! I wasnt expecting it! Then she did something with her foot and

Gareth lifted his hands helplessly, shaking his head.

As you can see, one of the police men interjected and nodded to the photos in Duos hands, We caught the woman in question three times on the cameras but her back was always toward them.

Youre certain this is her? Duo found it his turn to do the asking, and he frowned down at the photo.

Absolutely. We questioned the entire staff and they all stated that they never saw a woman matching this description before in their lives.

Then how did she get the food tray? Wufei snorted as he joined Duo at the couch. Duo handed the photos over; the image of the compact, auburn-haired womans back thoroughly burned into his retinas. There was something off about it that he couldnt quite place.

Tied up one of the waiters in a broom closet down the hall. We found him this morning and questioned him ourselves, the other officer replied. She used chloroform on him, probably from behindhe never saw her and we caught none of it on tape.

Duo frowned and shook his head at the files. He hated sitting still so long and found himself pacing, And youre certain that the boy isnt lying?

Weve no reason to assume that he is. The officer replied after a moment of hesitationhe sounded a little shocked. Behind him, Duo heard Wufei give the faintest of bitter chuckles.

When a government official is concerned, gentlemen, you have no reason to assume that anyone is telling the truth, Duo stated with a smile. Wufei looked up and for the first time Duo thought he saw something resembling respect in his partners expression.


++//\\++


You were at the show last night, Trowa stated as soon as hed dropped the beam down in its accustomed place inside the storage tent. He dusted his hands off though they werent dirty and turned around to look at the boy standing awkwardly at the tents entrance. He noticed how Quatres hands were fiddling with the ends of his jacket, pearly white teeth worrying his bottom lip. Odd; hed never seen Quatre nervous about seeing him before. Trowa marked the observation for thought later and waited out the boys answer to his unasked question. To add further confusion over the situation, Quatres cheeks turned pink and the boy frowned.

I didnt realize youd seen us, the blonde replied softly. He was watching the children who were busy putting the batons away on the other side of the tent; Cassidy in particular, who was overseeing how the younger children stacked their equipment. Yet another strange thing, Trowa decided, and found himself a relatively stable stack of boxes to lean against. He had no intention of taking Quatre anywhere beyond this point without knowing what it was the other boy wanted.

When Quatre didnt elaborate, Trowa explained, I didnt. Someone saw you and Duo sneaking about the back area.

Quatres cheeks turned a little darker and the stain of red spread to his ears. One of his hands let the jacket go and Quatre coughed into his fingers before running them through his wind-mussed hair. Yeah we were going to come and say hello, but we saw the others that were with you.

Ah, Trowa nodded; it was a perfectly reasonable response, so far as he was concerned.

Yeah, Quatre looked up from where hed been staring at their feet and offered Trowa the faintest of smiles. So its been awhile.

The wind rustled the tent walls around them, sending a cold blast through the tent-flap and chilling everyone inside. A few of the kids whined about how cold it was, dumped the last of their burdens and fled to whatever warm place they had waiting for them. Hey, come back here! Cassidy cried after them with no results.

Trowa broke his eyes from Quatres and turned his smile instead upon the girl. Cassidy was a little firecracker when she wanted to be and now she bent over the mess of batons, shaking one uselessly in the general direction of the runaway children. After a moment she stopped and began to pick up the mess, grumbling under her breath the entire time. He bent to help her.

Thanks, Trowa, the girl smiled up at him, apple blossoms staining her cheeks in much the same manner they had Quatres not a moment before. Not for the first time Trowa became aware of how much Cassidy reminded him of the boy now standing silent and cold behind him. Both were kind and perky when they had reason to be and both tended to see the lighter side of things, rather than focus on the negative. Unlike Quatre, Cassidy had no issue ranting and raving and screaming to get her point across and shed been known to throw a punch or two when the mood struck her. Yet, on a purely physical level she resembled the boy as well; striking blonde hair, short stature, big blue eyes. She was shivering.

You should go inside, he told her, Its getting cold out here and you need to bundle up.

But Cassidy cut her protest short when she caught the look he was giving her. Slowly the girl nodded her head and stood with a sigh, Ok, Trowa. The girl headed for the exit but from the corner of his eye he saw her stop and stare at Quatre. Something was muttered, then, and before he could question her, Cassidy ran off.

Quatre crossed to him and bent to help him with the last of the batons. The boy was blushing hard enough to give himself a tan, now, and Trowa frowned. He didnt miss the fact that Quatres hands lagged over the batons, hesitating before each movement he made. Despite this, Trowa gave him time to think, waiting until theyd finished rebuilding the stack and stood up before he said anything. Youre in on business, then?

No, Quatre shook his head as he snapped back into reality. No at least, I wasnt.

Trowa sat on a box and made a small, noncommittal noise to encourage the boy. Quatre seemed to take that as an invitation and took a box of his own. The wind blew again and faint pattering noise from above alerted them both to the fact that it was now beginning to rain. The blonde turned slightly to look out the tent-flap at the rain-streaked scenery beyond. Some things came up I dont think Ill be able to stay as long as I thought.

Trowa nodded; again, a perfectly reasonable statement by his way of thinking. Your company needs you.

Yeah, Quatre sighed faintly and frowned at the rain. His hands curled over his knees, fingers clutching the fabric of his pants. I had hoped to get to spend some time with you and Duo.

This felt exactly like the same conversation theyd had a year and a half ago, the day after the war had ended. There hadnt been many words exchanged between them, but for every word which was said a thousand meanings unfolded in the back of Trowas head. Quatre had spoken quietly of the business he had to run, Trowa had mentioned briefly that Catherine was his family, now. They had parted, and neither had called or written. They used every excuse they could come up with to avoid one another and only heard from one another via round about methodsDuo or Relena or occasionally Rashid; Trowa thought that Quatre liked to admit that this was what they were doing as much as he didin other words, he wouldnt out loud. He wondered what it was that had driven Quatre into breaking their stalemate now.

The seconds ticked by into a minute and neither had said anything. Trowa managed to briefly consider that this was exactly the sort of situation another person might have considered awkward when Quatre opened his mouth again and startled them both with a nervous laugh. The single short note turned into something a bit deeper and the blond bent over his knees as he worked whatever it was out of his system. Quatre pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes and let his elbows settle on his knees; had it not been for the smile on his lips, one might have thought him weeping. Perhaps he was.

When the laughing stopped, Quatre wet his lips and turned his head enough that Trowa could see one sparking, all-too-shiny blue eye from beneath the blond screen of hair dangling over Quatres face. Trowa leaned forward enough to run his fingers into Quatres hair, pushing the bangs back away from that cherub face and as he did the smile the boy was wearing flickered then vanished.

It had seemed a wholly natural thing to do but suddenly Trowa wished he hadnt moved at all. His fingers were still twined into those golden, silky locks when a disturbance at the entrance got both their attention. One of the circus workers, wearing a parka, came through the tent flap and shook himself before he noticed the two sitting so awkwardly beside one another. Trowa slipped his hand away and Quatre jumped to his feet.

Mouth flapping, the boy inched towards the door, moving in a half-circle around the newcomer; then he looked towards Trowa and his eyebrows knotted in confusion. Quatre shook his head, turned, and ran out into the rain.

Ah fuck, man, Im sorry, the worker managed to mutter a moment later. Trowa ignored him.


++//\\++




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