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Work in Progress by Covenmouse

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Heero was at his computer when she found him, staring at an email and wondering for the first time if all of this had been a Really Bad Idea. He wasnt so self-centered that he couldnt admit to having had a few of those in his time. For instance, hind-sight told him that blowing himself up had been a little melodramatic. Had it made his point? Absolutely. But as far as the course of things went, it had been among one of the higher-scale Really Bad Ideas. He was sure he knew what Relenas answer would be if he asked her for an opinion on this and so he didnt. Instead, Heero reached forward and lowered the screen of the laptop as she approached.

Though the morning had faded into afternoon, she hadnt bothered to change out of her night clothes. So far as Heero was concerned that was a good thing, because it meant that she was easing up a little. He was grateful shed chosen to comb her hair, though.

You said I had an e-mail from Quatre? Relena stopped a few feet away, feet bare upon the dusty wooden floor of the dining room. The afternoon sunlight streamed in through the multitude of floor length windows that ran along three sides of the dining room, catching upon golden winks of dust floating in the air. A pair of double doors stood open at the back of the room and let in a gentle breeze from the outside. Beyond that laid a pool, perfectly clean and clear, surrounded by cracked and overgrown tile; hed repaired the diving board as best he could, but hadnt come close to perfecting it yet.

He nodded and gestured to the bench on the other side of his table. She sat down reluctantly and leaned forward on her elbows. Heero flipped the screen of the notebook back up and quickly tabbed out of his own account. His fingers danced upon the keyboard and then he turned the computer around so that she could read what Quatre had sent.

Relena, she mumbled as she read, Im sorry, but Rashid is keeping me host

There was a pause and then Relenas eyes rose above the monitor to meet his. Theres nothing else to this?

He shrugged loosely, Thats all that came through. It was sent from his cell phone, though.

How do you knownever mind, stupid question. Her eyes lowered and she moved the mouse a little. For a moment Heero considered stopping her but no. He would only do that if she tried to send some form of email.

Hn, he replied and settled back in his seat. Youll be able to ask him what he meant fairly soon.

That got her attention and Relena looked up, the hand that was using her mouse stilling. Heero watched her body language closelyas mean as it was, he couldnt afford to let her get any sort of message out. She might be a guest here for the most part, but she was also a sort of prisoner. He ignored the awkward sense of guilt that brought with it and reminded himself that he was doing this For Her Own Good. He and Trowa are on their way.

They know about this? The girl bristled as she had not since yesterday morning. Heero repressed a sigh. So they were back to this, were they? If Relena thought he didnt notice her left hand gliding stealthily along the top of the laptop keyboard she was sadly mistaken. Heero leaned forward and gently took the laptop away, closing it upon itself, and set it aside. Relenas face fell a little but she didnt fight him.

They know now, he replied truthfully enough. If Quatre didnt technically know just yet, he was certainly going to know whenever he woke up. Somehow, that seemed to diffuse her temper immediately. A small smirk quirked upon her lips and he could see her repress a laugh.

You know, Mr. Yuy, if you keep telling people where we are its going to be difficult to keep me here.

And here I thought you wanted to go back, Heero replied automatically. Unable to help himself, he returned her smirk in kind, Though if youre so concerned, I have some chocolate in the kitchen.

No way! Its my turn to choose the location. Relena did laugh then, shaking her head at the pair of them. He caught a good look at her smile, wide and bright stretched across her face. Relena wasnt gorgeous by most peoples standards, so far as Heero knew. Oh, she was pretty enough certainly, but no one would have ever mistaken her for a super model. Her face was a little too squat, nose a little too long and if her eyes were big, they might be placed just a little too far apart for true beauty. Yet somehow, sitting in the golden, dust-filled sunlight with a light breeze ruffling her hair and that smile stretched across pale, plump lips she was the most beautiful creature hed ever seeneven more beautiful than his sparrows.

Her cheeks began to colour then, and the smile wavered a little as she shifted. Hed been staring. Heero turned his head then and coughed and Relena leaned her chin forward into her clasped hands, her elbows still supporting her upon the table, Ill stay until Trowa and Quatre get here, how is that?

The moment shattered and Heero sighed, shaking his head. She was a stubborn onehed known that, of course, but she wasnt as stubborn as he was. At least that was what he kept trying to tell himself. This isnt a negotiation.

Heero reached forward and wrapped one of his hands around the both of hers. The size difference between them was momentarily distracting; he tried not to show that. Leaning towards her, he made sure to catch her eyes as he stated, Relax. Catch up on your sleep and have some fun.

Is that an order, Mr. Yuy? She replied, suddenly quite serious.

Maybe it is. He smirked and stood up, sensing that it was time for a tactical retreat. Without the slightest thought, Heero left his laptop behind and headed for the doors that lead further into the hotel. Perhaps he would take advantage of that pool before he had to help Trowa figure out how to keep Quatre from squealing on them. The idea of the two blondes working together was enough to send chills down Heeros back.

From behind him, he heard Relena growl in frustration and knew that shed found out he password locked his screensaver.



++//\\++



Rashid. Took Quatre to the country. Be back soon. Dont worry, Catherine read aloud to the large, otherwise silent hotel room. Suite, she corrected herself, as she took in the kitchenette and multiple bedroom doors. She replaced the note scrawled in her little brothers horrible hand writing back upon the sideboard where shed found it and then folded her arms before her chest as she surveyed the room once more. Where was this cat she was supposed to pick up, anyway?

She placed the key theyd given her in the lobby down beside the note so that shed know where it was and set her purse next to it as well. Here kitty, kitty, kitty

Calling the cat underneath her breath, Catherine found herself wandering into each of the rooms the suite had to offer. The master suite was behind the door to the right side of the room; she was appalled to find that the bedroom was large enough to fit their trailer in twice over. While the luxury was breathtaking she also couldnt help but feel it was just a little much. What was the point of all of this? And the bed hadnt been made yet.

Catherine staved off a small touch of annoyancebut boys will be boys, she reminded herself. A sudden impulse over took her and she found herself pulling the covers from the bed and the pillows and beginning to re-straighten the sheets. It didnt take too long for someone who was a practiced hand at such things. Soon enough, the bed looked as if it belonged in a linen-store catalogue and she nodded with self satisfaction as she returned to her search.

Quatre wasnt a messy person, Catherine was happy to note. His bed aside, there wasnt a single thing out of place. His clothes seemed to be put away, bathroom cleaned, no personal paraphernalia lying about It was almost too neat. Catherine shook her head at herself and shut the door to the Master bedroom when shed donethe cat definitely wasnt in there. Kitty~ She sing-songed through the living room as she crossed it to the next door; that one was a shallow coat closet.

There was only one coat hung in it, a large brown trench coat far too big for the slight blond she remembered from the war. Perhaps hed grown? Catherine closed the door after assuring herself that there was no cat there, either, and turned to the next. This was a second bedroom, smaller than the first, which sported two double beds and a private bathroom. Whoever the occupant of this room wasRashid, she guessed from the notethey werent quite as neat as Quatre seemed to be. The bed closest to the door was recently used. Though there had been some attempt at setting it to rights, the end result was shoddy at best. On the other bed a suitcase was laid open, indicating that the rooms occupant was more inclined to live out of his or her suitcase rather than use the drawers provided. His, Catherine decided as she glimpsed the contents of the suitcase from the doorway.

Kitty, she called out again, leaning into the room a little and then glancing behind her. Somehow this hadnt felt at all like snooping until shed entered this roombut Trowa had asked her to come, and even sent her the room key! Certainly Quatre had to know that shed be doing this.

Maybe the bathroom The suites second occupant had left the door to his bathroom open, as well as cracked open the closet door despite his inclination to not use the space. Catherine took a deep breath and let herself cross the threshold. When nothing happened, she let the breath out with an airy giggle at herself. The woman crossed to the bathroom without any further incident and poked her head in. She found the switch with one hand, lit the small chamber long enough to assure herself that the feline wasnt there, either, and then flicked the light off again.

Deciding to check the closet while she was at it, Catherine turned and let out a startled shriek.

The man watching her from the doorway seemed amused at that; despite that small smile stretched across his broad face, there was also subtle tension through his broad shoulders and the way in which he watched her that suggested he was in no mood to play games. Catherine felt her cheeks heat when she realized she must be standing in the middle of his room. So was this Rashid?

Her watcher laid her doubts to rest then, and shifted to the side so that he was leaning against the door jamb rather than blocking the whole of it, I didnt see a maids cart out front and as youre not in uniform, Ill guess youre not with the hotel, Miss?

Bloom, Catherine tried to shake off her apprehension and crossed the short distance between them with one hand outreached. The smile Rashid wore grew by a few degrees and clasped her hand in his, the gesture warm and firm and fleeting. Catherine Bloom. Im Trowas sister.

I see, Rashid relaxed so visibly that Catherine had to fight the urge to giggle. After releasing her hand, he brushed his fingers through his short, dark hair; there was just the faintest of silver dusting beginning at his temples, Catherine noted. It gave the man a distinguished sort of air that his manner corroborated. I didnt realize he had onehis note said that hes taken Quatre out to the country?

Catherine nodded and slipped back into the main room when Rashid moved out of the doorway. The remaining tension ebbed and she threw Rashid an apologetic smile, Yeah, but I dont know much more than that. He had a courier send me the hotel key earlier today, and asked me to check in on the cat?

Though it hadnt been phrased as a question, Catherine couldnt help but end it as one as she glanced about the living room again.

Rattrap. Rashid replied and crossed his arms before his massive chest. The woman frowned and glanced back at him, unable to help herself as she noticed that underneath the business-casual button-down shirt he wore the line of his body suggested that his lifestyle wasnt a sedentary one. If shed have to guess, and it seemed she would, Catherine would have marked Rashid as Quatres bodyguard. Though what a Gundam Pilot needed with a bodyguard she didnt have the faintest clue

Thats the cats name, Rashids eyes were laughing at her now and Catherine realized that shed been staring. Refusing to blush at having been caught, Catherine just offered him a smile and something of a laugh.

Thats fitting, I suppose, but unusual.

It isnt Quatres cat. He was supposed to watch him for Duo There was an annoyed undertone to Rashids voice that Catherine wasnt certain how to take. Though if it had anything to do with the mans relationship to his employer it certainly wasnt any of her business! Catherine told her love for gossip to take a hike and shrugged instead.

Like I told Trowa, I can watch him. I like animals and we have a lot of them at the circus, so its really no bother We just have to find him.

Easier said than done. The man shook his head and began to check under the couches in the sitting area. Catherine moved to make certain the cat hadnt managed to lodge itself behind the refrigerator or in one of the kitchenette cabinets. Im afraid the thing rather well hates me. I would appreciate your help in this matter, Ms. Bloom. Ack!

Catherine shut the door to the cabinet shed been looking in at the mans yelp. Rashid had sat back in a crouch near the coffee table, frowning at a set of red lines on the back of his hand. Well, I found him.

The woman crossed over to the couch quickly and sunk to her knees beside Rashid. On her hands and knees she peered into the narrow confines between the couch and floor to see two bright green eyes staring out at her. So you did Hm Catherine tossed her head to clear her bangs from her eyes and extended a hand towards the animal.

I wouldnt do that if I were you, Rashid warned from behind her.

Dont worry, I have a lot of experience with this, Catherine chuckled. Rather than trying to touch the cat she pressed her thumb to the pads of her fore and middle finger and rubbed them together. I got Trowa to talk to me, didnt I?

Hes your brother, isnt he? Rashid asked. She heard the man stand and give her the full space between the couch and table.

Well The woman shrugged; Rattrap was torn between watching her face and her fingers. He leaned forward a little, nose wriggling at the tips of her manicure. Thats kind of a long story. We met during the war, but hes been very close to me since.

I see. There was something in the way that he said that which caused Catherine to lift her head to look at him. Rashid was standing not too far away, at the open door to Quatres bedroom. He didnt notice her looking at him, for his attention was turned inward. The expression upon the mans face was all too familiar and Catherine had just begun to wonder if shed misread the relationship between him and Quatre when there was a soft touch upon her hand.

She startled and the cat did too. With a wince, she returned to the task at hand and leaned down once more to see where the cat was. Rattrap mewled at her from right beneath the edge of the couch and then took one hesitant step out. Catherine scratched under his chin and picked the cat up to cradle him against her chest. The cats soft fur brushed under her chin as the cat sought to rectify his position until she was carrying him as she would have a toddler and he was all but clutching about her neck. She laughed.

You have a way with hell beasts, Ms. Bloom.

Catherine returned Rashids smile warmly and shook her head. Hes just a bit scared. I would be too, with all these new people about. He doesnt have a carrier, does he?

No, but he seemed to do just fine in the car.

Thats okay, then. Catherine got to her feet and petted the cats back to keep him soothed with all the movement. She glanced to Rashid as she headed for the door. Im with the Circus were out at the fairgrounds, just down I-25, uh, South, I think. If you need to pick him up or anything.

This is very kind of you, Ms. Bloom, Rashid followed her towards the door, opening it for her when she got to it.

Catherine, she corrected for him, pausing in the doorway to smile up at him.

Catherine, he affirmed and returned her smile.



++//\\++



There. Duos hand appeared over his shoulder, finger pointing toward the TV monitor directly in front of him. The pair of them was currently entrenched in the Hotels security room, the back of which was entirely covered in small screens. Each TV screen displayed a rotating bit of footage from the various cameras throughout the buildinga fairly basic set up, all considered, though not at all up to either Gundam Pilots standards. After Duos epiphany the night before, the two had spent much of their afternoon going over the tapes from the handful of cameras positioned in roughly the spot that they were looking for. Until this moment the time had been an absolute wastethe hotel had more blind spots in it than swiss cheese had holes.

Wufei paused the track and wound it back, setting the slow motion before he pressed play. With his fingers poised over the pause button, they watched each frame blip by. This particular camera was the only one positioned anywhere near the fire exit that Duo had pointed out. It was supposed to be for the delivery area where the kitchen received its supplies and the laundry trucks came and went, however someone had knocked it aside and no one had paid attention. Wufei thought he knew who it might have been, but a dusting of the equipment had revealed no finger prints. Duo had argued that there was no way to know how long ago the camera had been turnedit now faced down the alleyway through which the delivery area was accessed, so he could be right. Either way, no one had thought to check this camera before.

Stop it, Duo said just as he pressed the button to do so. Wufei suppressed the urge to growl at his partner and reached for his coffee. Even as he brought the cup to his lips, his mind replayed Duos comment the day before: Really? Because the fact that youre frothing at the mouth over the lack of an addictive substance really hints otherwise. Wufei put the coffee down.

Why am I looking at the laundry truck, Duo? Wufei asked with what little patience he had left.

The plates, Duo pronounced smugly and turned to lean his bum against the consol. His partner didnt need to look up to see the conceited smirk plastered on Duos lips. Instead, Wufei focused his gaze on the fuzzy, grey-toned image the monitor had to offer and after a moment shook his head.

I dont have my glasses with me.

Ah, Duos act dropped, and he turned again to lean himself over Wufeis shoulder as he took a closer look at the plates. Wufei rolled his eyes. Well, if my eyes dont deceive me I do believe they read TX4AFSH.

Wufei thought about that for a moment. That isnt a valid plate for this colony. Or its a vanity plate.

And why would a delivery truck have a vanity plate? The question was rhetorical, so Duo moved on, The staff clearances and the checks on all deliveries that daythe laundry was picked up at six a.m. and dropped off at eight p.m. on schedule. But this truck is leaving at ten. Check the times. Our girl loaded Rena into that, Ill bet you anything on it.

Anything? Wufei asked even as he punched up the time data.

Beside him, Duo grinned like a lark and gave his eyebrows a suggestive waggle, You have something in mind?

The Chinese boy blinked and, caught entirely off guard by this, looked up before hed checked the information. He hadnt been a Gundam Pilot for nothing, however, and recovered almost instantly. Wufei let a smirk cross his face, If youre wrong youre never calling me Fei again.

If anything, Duos grin only got wider. And since Im right?

Ill give up coffee.

Oh god, no! The braided idiots face was suddenly awash in horror, For the love of all thats holy, man, we need you caffeinated!

Im not that bad, Wufei grumbled to himself and looked back down at his papers. He frowned at the time marker for the shot that Duo had picked and the corresponding one to the late-staying delivery truck. God damnit, Duo was right. He sighed. Alright, Maxwell, you win.

Nah-ah, Duo shook his head and took the file away. Wufei frowned and followed the papers up to where Duo was now flipping through them, seemingly for some bit of information. As he watched, the boy reached over to the consol and pressed a button to print out a screen grab of the truck. Not Maxwell.

Wufei arched a brow and leaned back in his seats. The printer spewed forth the image after a few seconds, and Duo waved it dry before he stuck the sheet into the file with everything else that they had found to be pertinent to the case. You made a bet with the devil and you lost buddy-boy. My condition is that you cant call me Maxwell anymore.

And what, exactly, do you expect me to call you?

The boy donned that same, evil little smirk that Wufei had become so used to over the past two months. By the light of the flickering monitors Duos expression sent a chill down his spine and suddenly Wufei had an idea of what their opposition might have felt like during the war. By my name.



++//\\++



His head felt like a Gundam had just done a tap dance number inside of it, complete with encore and stage rehearsal. It didnt help that the ground beneath him was shaking subtly or that the light was far too bright for his liking. His head hurt too much to think, but he did manage to groan something that he didnt remember any longer than it took to leave his mouth.

Then some minor relief came in a cool cloth against his forehead and a hand running through his hair. Quatre opened his eyes slightly, wincing away from the brilliant light behind the hands owner. He couldnt make out more than a blur before he squeezed his eyes shut again, but that blur had managed to give off the feel of masculinity. Go back to sleep, Quatre, a familiar, soothing voice said and the fingers danced over his cheek, Well be there soon.

The blond relaxed, giving only the faintest whimper for the pain of his headache and nodded. Sleep sounded like a great idea, if it meant that his head would stop hurting, and somehow he knew that he could trust this person. He tucked his head into the darkness created by his arms and let sleep claim him once again.



++//\\++



Wufei listened to the annoying jingle on the other end of the phone and considered tracking down and strangling the composer. Or, if nothing else, the person who invented ring-back tones; Wufei was convinced that that person was a sadist. Who wanted to listen to other peoples crappy idea of good music, anyway? Worse yet, the pretentious idiots who tried to make points of their ring-backs. More and more Wufei began to believe that no one in the world knew how to communicate in an honest, straight-forward manner anymore. He missed the days on his colony, where everyone knew one another, grew up together, got married, had kids and eventually died without ever having to face the horrors of a long-distance phone bill to Earth.

Sally eventually picked up on the third repeat of the taste of her cherry chapstick, and sing-songed an all too perky hello into her end of the receiver. Wufei snorted. I swear to God, Sally, if Im singing that tune in the shower tonight, Ill be coming for your head.

Come now, Wufei, we all know you could do with a few girly kisses, the woman on the end chuckled.

Shaking his head, Wufei moved a little further from the door of the hotel and glared at a nearby trashcan. Why had he thrown that coffee away again? Oh yes, MaxwellDuo. The thought of his partner seemed to spark something and Wufei found himself asking, Are you aware that Duo calls you Butcher?

Quite. He screams it loud enough every time he has to be patched up, there was a laugh and the familiar squeak of Sallys leather office chair. He imagined that she was sitting down in it now, just after her afternoon coffee break. They always met in the staff lounge at around this time, by Earth Standard; since he wasnt there, she would have just returned to her office to do paperwork. And since when have you started calling him Duo?

Since I lost a bet, the boy grumbled and kicked the ground. Your guess was right. Duo has had some contact from Heero. He says not in the past two months or so, but I cant tell if hes lying or not. The space outside the hotel lobby was clear of reporters for the time being. Over thirty-six hours into the investigation and they still had yet to have a leakthat in itself was a small miracle which Wufei was not going to question. Instead, he enjoyed his moment alone while Duo wheedled the cops into getting the license plates run just a little faster and tried to track down someone who knew the office number for their laundry service. Wufei had attempted to do all of this, of course, but for some reason the idiotic staff here seemed less than inclined to work with himthey all but jumped through hoops for Duo. He blamed those baby-blues.

Silence followed that statement. Just as Wufei was beginning to think hed lost signal, Sally made a soft noise and sighed. Ill relay the information but Wufei, you werent supposed to tell Duo about that.

I didnt, Wufei couldnt help the rude noise which accompanied that statement. His whereabouts came up in conversation. I thought Une might need the information.

Shell be happy for it, yes. I must say, Im surprised you didnt go to her directly. There was a shuffle of papers and then the tick-tack-tick of fingers on a keyboard. Wufei didnt think anything of it, as Sally and Une communicated more through e-mail than in person when they were at work.

Ive been here, coping with the Braided Idiot for nearly forty-eight-hours and the clock is still running. I really dont need a conversation with that harpy to top my day off.

You could have just said that you missed me.

I really dont think I could have, Wufei replied with a faint smirk. He turned to lean against one of the columns that held up the overhanging roof of the drop-off area and in doing so found himself face-to-face with the impassive gaze of his partner. How long had Duo been standing there?

I see how it is! Sally was laughing on the other end but Wufeis mirth had disappeared in one wholly awkward heartbeat.

Sally Ill call you back. A single click ended the call before she could protest. Wufei shoved the device into his coat pocket and waited for Duo to break the silence. It was odd, Duo without a smile stapled to his face.

I got the address to the laundry mat, Duo said after a moment and indicated a sheaf of papers in his hand with a single, idle wave, And the plates are a dead end, at least on this colony. Im having them run through the three other colonies which actually match that format. If nothing comes up well move to the others for vanity plates.

With that, Duo moved to brush past Wufei and try and hail one of the cabs which ran omnipresent down this entire boulevard. In a seeming after thought, Duo stopped just as he was shoulder-to-shoulder with his partner and gave him a look which was chillingly serious. I dont lie, Wufei.

The boy raised a hand and a cab stopped. Duo circled it and climbed in, leaving the near door for Wufeis benefit. With a vague sense of shame, Wufei stepped forward and joined him in the cab. They still had a job to do.



++//\\++



This place was probably condemned. Relena wrinkled her nose as she stared down another dark passage of the hotel, and tried to forget about a specific movie shed seen years ago with her friends. There were no strange old psychic chefs or ghostly twins parading around here! The Minister promised herself that if she so much as a saw a tike she would run screaming into Heeros arms. Gundams, mobile dolls and threat of explosion she could handle, but she drew the line at homicidal ghosts.

Down the dusty hallway she went, warily eyeing the numbers still affixed to the hotel rooms. Wherever this was, it had been beautiful in its time. Now it stood a husk of its former glory like the lined and worn face of an actress past her prime. In a way, Relena couldnt help but feel a little sorry for the hotel, standing forgotten by all in a sad reminder of more decadent times. All but two, anyway. She turned the corner and came to the end of the hall where a stairway led down to the floor below. There was a window directly across from it which spanned both floors, the glass twinkling in the last rays of sunlight cast over the empty stalls and rides and booths. A thousand fairy lights of broken glass and forgotten bulbs shimmered in the ruins of the park below; the sight was breathtaking. She watched them as she trotted down the stairs and Relena had to hand it to Heeroif you had to be abducted, this was the sort of place it was nice to be abducted to.

Something tugged on her shoe as she neared the bottom of the staircase. Startled, the girl pitched forward and lost her grip on the banister tumbling to the landing. Relena hissed as pain shot up through her one elbow, her hip and side. That faded quickly, however, and she twisted to push herself up when her left ankle rang out with a pain entirely different from a momentary jar; she bit back a yelp.

Looking back at it, Relena was glad to note that her foot wasnt twisted at any unnatural angle. It had landed two steps from the floor and smacked the top of her foot against the flat of the wood. Relena braced herself and tried to raise her foot. When tears sprang to her eyes and another wave of pain washed over her body, the girl stopped and waited patiently for it to fade a little. Sending up a silent prayer that it was just sprained, Relena gathered herself together and slowly eased her foot off of the step and down to the floor with her. There was more pain involved in that simple action than there rightfully should have been.

Next, she pushed herself into a sitting position and then grabbed the railing to help herself to her feetfoot, she corrected, for putting any weight at all on her injured ankle only produced more pained tears. Once she was certain of her stance, the girl took a look around the hallway and realized that she didnt really know where she was. If this were a horror movie, now would be the time for the murderer or vengeful spirit to happen along and terrorize her. It wouldnt kill her of course, not yetthere hadnt been enough of a climax built up yet. Assuming that she was the main character, anyway; since she was the lone girl in a haunted mansion Relena felt that that was a fair estimate.

Her subconscious decided to poke her with the idea that Heero was either the anti-hero or the killer. Relena used that thought to try and distract herself as she hobbled the few feet to the nearest wall. Despite recent events, she really hoped that Heero was the anti-heromostly because she couldnt very well imagine anything more frightening than Heero angry and didnt really want that chasing her around a hotel. Shed take strange, naked corpses in bathtubs over an enraged Gundam Pilot.

Several minutes and half a hallway later, Relena had to sink down to the floor and take a breather. Shed been forced to put more weight on her ankle than she wanted to and it had left her breath shaky and hands weak. Relena pressed her back against the wall and bit her bottom lip. She stretched her left leg out in front of her and pulled the leg of her pajama bottoms up enough that she could see her ankle. It was beginning to swell, and there was a red-purple hue spreading across her skin. How attractive

The light from outside was fading quickly as the sun set. Though the rooms that they used had running electricity, Relena wasnt certain what sort of system Heero was using. If the hotel was still on the grid then it was possible that some of the overhead lighting would still workassuming she could find a switchbut if he was running a generator it was more likely that hed only run electricity to specific rooms. Though she hadnt seen any of the tell-tale wires of a generator it was still possible, she thought, if you took into consideration the amount of time Heero had spent fixing up the living areas.

Just as Relena was beginning to wonder how likely it was that calling for Heero would bring him, the sound of footsteps reached her ears. They were rushedrunning.

The girl sat up a little straighter as Heero rounded the corner at the end of the hall at a head-long pace. For a moment, she flashed back to her earlier thoughts of a horror movie set up and she drew away from him as he approached, slowing for the last few feet before he reached her. Heero frowned at her behavior but dropped into a crouch at her side. What happened?

How did you know where I was? She demanded, and bit back a yelp as his fingers grazed over the sore, naked flesh of her ankle. Heero retracted his hand immediately, those piercing blue eyes flying to her face. In answer he jerked his chin towards the corner; Relena turned enough to look at the far corner of the hall. At first she wasnt certain what he meant, and then she caught it: a slow, steadily blinking red light underneath a cob-webbed faux plant set on an equally dirty table.

She jumped when he touched her and found herself being scooped into his arms. Heero held her up without the slightest difficulty, cradling her to his chest as if she weighed nothing more than a feather. It wasnt the first time shed been carried by him in the past weekthat particular trip over his shoulder was still quite fresh in her mindbut it was the first time she could remember being carried so gently.

He took her to a room she hadnt seen before. By the far more complete look of it, Relena guessed that it was one hed spent some time cleaning up. The rugs on the floor were clean, if a little threadbare, and the furniture dusted and polished. It was also the first room shed seen that was fully furnishedthis one sported two couches, a coffee table, armchair, several filled bookshelves lining the walls and a large mahogany entertainment center with a cabinet in the middle which looked as if it should hold a TV. Heero set her gently on the couch and left the room.

Relena eyed the door hed left through for a long moment before she shook her head in disbelief. She shifted herself a little on the couch and twisted herself to fluff the throw pillows behind her when she realized that there were nonethat shouldnt have come as a surprise, but it somehow struck her as odd that Heero had forgotten a detail. If this room was any indication, the boy had obviously been trying to make the place seem as normal as a condemned hotel could be.

Heero returned more quickly than shed have thought possible; he had an armful of medical supplies, probably more than shed have thought necessary. Kneeling beside the couch, Heero pulled her pants leg back up and rolled the cuff up around her knee. Relena shifted awkwardly upon the cushion and then hissed as Heero touched her ankle again. He didnt so much as glance at her and she felt her cheeks heat a little. Despite the pain, she was able to realize how embarrassing it was to be so weak in front of him. I tripped down the stairs, she finally explained.

He snorted and gave a nod. After hed carefully explored the swelling flesh, Heero sorted through the supplies hed brought. A short roll of bandages was quickly bound around the flesh; he secured it with a metal clasp and then brought out what looked like a piece of blue foam with Velcro attached. What? She asked.

Cold wrap. He replied as he settled her ankle into the device and strapped it about her foot and leg. It certainly lived up to its name in temperature. Despite the chill, it did ease the pain of her ankle.

You just happened to have one around? Heero got up and headed for a small door between two of the book cases. It proved to be a closet, from which he extracted two throw pillows. Why the boy hadnt set them out, she couldnt fathom. Instead of handing them to her, however, he put them on the other end of the couch and settled her ankle on it.

I thought it might come in handy and it did. The boy shrugged. They stared at one another until Relena looked away. Her gaze landed on the mahogany panels across the room.

Is that a TV? Her companion grunted in response. He crossed the room and slid the cabinet panels open to reveal the large screen monitor. Taking the remote off the top of the screen, he returned to the couch and handed the object to her. She accepted it graciously and smiled. Thank you.

There was a nod in response, and Relena couldnt help but notice that Heero was looking at her ankle again. She frowned and, unsure of what to say, began to shift backward so that she could lean against the side of the couch. A hand upon her shoulder stopped her.

Relena looked up again as Heero sat down in the space between her and the end of the couch. An arm slid itself about her middle and guided her back against his chest. Pressed so closely against him, she could feel how tense he was; his nervousness mirrored her own. The thoughts that shed been trying to repress the day before slipped back into her mind and began to suggest ulterior motives for wanting to take her away from the rest of the world. In order to ignore this, Relena lifted the remote and hit the power button. The screen flickered to life, bringing with it the raucous laughter from a Japanese game show.

After a few minutes of watching their brightly coloured insanity, Relena tipped her head back so that she could see the boy she was leaning against. Is there anything in English? Relena found herself whisperingshe wasnt sure why. She offered him the remote like a peace offering.

His arm shifted about her, tightening in a way that was more reassuring than binding, and his eyes flickered to her face before he accepted the remote. His fingers, calloused and frayed from years of hard work, brushed against hers and Relena jerked her gaze from his. The sounds from the television began to blur together as he skimmed through the stations and Relena looked down at the arm draped so casually around her.

A sudden impulse overtook her and she laid her arm over his, her fingertips grazing the back of his knuckles. Relena settled herself against his side and tipped her head back upon his shoulder. Laughter once again filled the room as he stopped upon an old English-language sitcomit was subtitled in Japanese but that was easy enough to ignore. Heero put the remote aside and for a long while they sat together in silence.

It was about the time that the show ended, when they had both relaxed enough to laugh faintly at some of the jokes, that Heero tipped his cheek into her hair. I didnt mean for you to get hurt here, he whispered.

I know, she replied and turned her head that her temple might touch his cheek.



++//\\++



The owner of the laundry mat was a pudgy, balding man in his late fifties who had something of a slavish look to his dress; he certainly wasnt the sort one would think to leave their laundry with if they wanted it back clean. Duo was willing to give him the benefit of doubt, however, especially after a quick tour of the facilities showed everything as sparkling clean and running with a clockwork efficiency that even Wufei would be able to appreciate. Duo tried not to bristle at the mere thought of the boy currently walking alongside him.

So Im not quite sure we can help you boys out, the man was saying as he led them into the back area where the delivery trucks were all coming in for the night. All our trucks were here, safe and sound when we opened up this morning.

Do you have surveillance cameras in the yard? Wufei asked with his usual abruptness. This time Duo didnt even try to step in between him and the citizenmaybe some human interaction would do Wufei some good. Well aware that he was behaving somewhat childishly, Duo just pressed his fists a little more firmly into the front pockets of his jacket, pulling the material tight enough to risk stretching it. He had taken a lot of things in his time, and had let all of it roll off his back like water over a pebble bed. They were just wordsit didnt matter, right? Only, this time it was different. This time, it was someone Duo cared about.

The mats owner rubbed the back of his fleshy neck and shook his head, Technically, yeah, but its more for show. It doesnt do much anymore cept show a little red light and pretend its taping something. It hasnt worked right in years.

So, maybe their organization wasnt entirely efficient. Wufei shook his head in disbelief and Duo decided it was time to intervene. And youre certain that no one messed with the locks?

Positive, the man frowned, I check the gates myself, every morning and every night.

Do you use a padlock or is it electronic? Duo countered. He could see the gates on the other side of the yard, just around one of the delivery trucks. As he watched, the last truck came in for the night and the gate began to slide shut.

Electronic, the man snorted in disbelief, Aint no one in the sphere that trusts a padlock anymore.

Do you mind if I take a look at it? Duo asked. He got a shrug in response, which he read as permission and began to pick his way across the yard, dodging various employees who seemed to know better than to stop and gawk at the Preventers in their midst. Over the din of the workplace, Duo could just barely hear Wufei continue to grill their host about his security measures and anything odd which might have come up in the past few days. At this point, however, Duo was beginning to consider that the truck theyd seen might have somehow been a fake, despite the logo splashed onto its side. It wouldnt be hard to mimic, he decided after a moment of deliberation, just time-consuming and costly.

The real question was whether or not Heero would go to such lengths.

Duo thought that he might, but it would be worth it to check the lock anyway. He found the consol for the lock easily enoughit was right in the open on the inside of the yard, built into the large column which supported the gates. With expert ease, Duo flipped the panel open and gave the screen a quick tap with his index finger to wake it and the machine beeped angrily at him. He glanced at the number pad beside the screen and, after performing a quick evaluation of the device, punched in the proper access code.

In less than a minute he had gained entry not only to the gates but to any information the system had to offer; it really was too easy. Models like this always kept records of their usageit was a failsafe measure to alert anyone that they had been tampered with. The problem was that most of the people who owned systems like this never even realized that they came with that function, much less had any idea how to properly utilize the information.

Just to drive his point home, he pressed the button that would re-open the gates.

Now, how in the world did you do that, youngn? The laundry owner asked as he and Wufei joined Duo at the control panel. Duo turned around, resisting the urge to glance at his partner as he did. Though he told himself that he didnt need Wufeis approval, there was still a large part of him that hoped to once again see a glimmer of respect in the mans eyes. Or perhaps that was just his pride wanting to make Wufei eat crow.

The keypad, he replied, and winced a second later when he realized just how smug that sounded. They wear out, you see, especially models that have the painted numbers. Youre much better off with a blank-key model or a pure touch screen, rather than the integrated system like this. Any thief fresh to the game could break in to this place just by glancing at the keys.

The man looked so shell-shocked that Duo actually felt a little sorry for him. Duo did glance at Wufei then, but only to get the mans attention. Once he was certain that he had it, he turned back to the control screen and pointed at the display, The gate was reopened from the inside at twenty-ten, locked, and then reopened from the outside at twenty-three-oh-five, and locked it again behind them. Someone took one of your trucks, sir.

Which means that we need to search each and every one, as well as have access to your security feeds, Wufei added without a pause. Duo stole another glance at him, just enough to ascertain that Wufei still looked uncomfortable with something. If he knew the other boy as well as he thought he did, it was likely that he couldnt adjust to the idea that Duo was right.

The owner of the laundry mat shook his head in disbelief. After a moment he seemed to realize that that could have been taken as refusal and he nodded his head, one pudgy hand rubbing its way through his sparse hair. Of course, of course is there any way you could look it over tonight? I still theres business to do in the morning.

Sure, Duo nodded before Wufei could find any reason to object, But you must understand that if we find anything

Of course, the man nodded. He glanced at his staring workers and then looked back at the gate to stare at it. Duo knew that the man was still shocked at the idea that his safe little world wasnt quite as safe as hed thought it waseven if he hadnt had anything of his stolen, the invasion of ones security was still a hard thing to adjust to. Duo could appreciate that.

He reached out and took his partners elbow, turning them both away and dropped the appendage when Wufei seemed inclined to follow. Lets get the officers, he said, Were going to need help on this.



++//\\++




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