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The next time that he woke, it was to the sound of the world shattering. As he was fairly certain that he hadnt gone to sleep in a demolition zone, Quatre felt he should be concerned about this. The problem with that, of course, was the inherent difficulty in caring about anything when ones head felt as if a mallet had been taken to it. Repeatedly.

There was only one time when Quatre had felt worse than he did at that particular moment. Much to his horror, upon opening his eyes he discovered that sharing the room with him was a rather vocal blond woman brandishing a stick-like weapon.

He yelled, flailed backward and fell out of the bed that he hadnt even realized hed been lying in.

Relena stopped screaming at the door and hobbled around the end of the bed. Quatre? she asked.

At the same time, the door stated (and managed to sound very much like Heero in doing so): Relena, you shouldnt be walking on your ankle.

Get. Out. Relena fumed and the door promptly shut itself. Still lying on the floor, Quatre was beginning to sense that he was missing something quite important.

As well as his pants.

Relena, he asked as he stared at the naked, hairy legs protruding out of his boxers and wrapping over the mattress edge, Whats going on?

Weve been kidnapped, she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. The weapon she was wielding whizzed past his face as she did and he winced away.

That doesnt make any sense, the boy complained and began to lever himself off the floor, And why are you carrying a curtain wand?

The woman snorted rudely and sank onto the end of the bed. She lifted an ice-pack-clad foot and deposited it upon the mattress. The curtain wand remained clutched in her hand but it waggled far too suspiciously for Quatres liking. Nothing about this situation makes sense, I promise you. And Im protecting us.

With a curtain wand.

Yes. After a nod, Relenas eyes darted over his mostly unclothed body and she frowned. I think theres another robe in the bathroom, if you want it. I dont know what those two are thinking.

With another look down at himself, Quatre had to agree that clothing would be a good option. He turned to look in the direction that Relenas curtain wand pointed, making certain to keep well clear of its reach, and eyed with suspicion what he suspected to be the bathroom door. Based upon the look of the door itself he wasnt at all sure about how sanitary it was in there. Quatre took two steps towards the door and wobbled.

He stopped with a frown, shook his head, and tried again. Though his mind reasoned that walking a straight line between the bed and the bathroom shouldnt be all that difficult, he was having a hard time getting his feet to agree.

As he finally reached the end of his epic trek, Quatre came to jolting stop. Weve been kidnapped!

Behind him, he heard Relena sigh.



++//\\++



A rap at her office door and Lady Une looked up from the headache inducing forms spilled across her desk. She rubbed slow circles against her temple with her left hand as she stretched her back out. Her right hand she flapped at the blonde in the doorway.

If youre still getting headaches, you may need to check your prescription, Sally noted, closing the door behind her when she moved into the cramped office.

Theres nothing wrong with my eyes, Sally, Une replied and leaned back into the lavish leather desk chair. After three months torture at the hands of the regulation office furniture theyd all had to deal withcheap, mass produced stuff that was responsible for more than a few back aches and sore rear-endsUne had finally broken down, pulled rank, and wheeled in something comfortable shed bought with her own wallet. Afterward shed been unable to object when the regulation chairs were slowly replaced by more individual ones. So long as they were kept to actual office chairs, and not the recliner one joker had tried to pass by security, Une didnt object.

(Unfortunately this policy meant that the entire office was then subjected to Maxwells idea of proper seating arrangements. Une didnt know where Duo had managed to find a hot-pink, zebra-striped leather desk chair, much less one with white fuzzy trimming, but it made the third floor office a much brighter place.)

Which is why you need glasses, Sally observed.

Une picked up the top most form from her desk and held it aloft for Sallys inspection. After glancing it over, Sally gave a low whistle as she sunk into the chair placed on the opposite side of Unes desk. Is that Arabic? she asked with a frown. Who here fills out forms in Arabic?

No one, Une replied and replaced the form with a sigh. If it were Arabic there wouldnt be an issue. Thats meant to be English.

Ooooookay, Sallys eyebrows rose sharply into her hairline. Sitting forward a little, the woman rested her elbow on the desk and put her chin in one hand. Whose is that? Thats terrible!

Maxwells, Une shrugged. She paused and then added, Im surprised you couldnt tell. Who else would use an entire rainbow of ink?

Sally laughed a little at that. True, you have me there.

Actually, Une shook her head and sat up straight again. Unable to stop herself, she smiled as she picked out the various pages in Maxwells last stack of paperwork and spread them out across her desk in order. I thought it was odd. Usually Duo just uses the colours in sequential order, but there didnt seem to be a pattern to these. At least, not at first.

Une sat back and waited as Sally leaned forward to get a good look at what was before her. It only took a moment for Sally to catch the pattern in the papers spread before her and the womans lips twitched upward. Is that a Sallys voice trailed off as she began to laugh.

A Leo in a ballet tutu? Why, yes, I do believe it is. As Sally calmed down, Une crossed her arms over her chest and smiled to herself. If only he put half this amount of effort into getting along with Wufei.

I think the problem is that he does, Sally twittered faintly. She scrubbed the dampness from one eye with her hand and gave a great, amused sigh. Speaking of, Wufei called me this afternoon. He said that Duo hasnt heard from Heero either.

And you dont think thats true, Une realized.

The blondes lips pursed and she shook her head slightly. I dont think he knows Duo well enough to tell.

Duo Maxwell. Runs and hides but never tells a lie, Une paraphrased slowly. To her growing sense of dread, Sallys blue eyes stared solemnly back at her from across the desk.

Duo lies all the time, the medic smiled sadly, He just doesnt see it.



++//\\++

There was something about this case which was eating at him. Wufei growled lightly at himself as he watched the forensics team scrambling about the three trucks that theyd narrowed their search down to. Only three hours remained before the business would reopen; two before they had to announce Relenas disappearance to the world.

Despite the lack of time on their part, his brain didnt seem to want to supply him with the proper solution. Or even, he thought with annoyance, even clue him into what it was that was off. He felt as if he were missing something which was staring him in the face and mocking himmuch like Duo was inclined to do on a daily basis, these days.

Here, said the Devil himself, as he handed Wufei a steaming cup of coffee. Wufei gathered the will to give a nod of thanks as he took the cup by its cardboard protector. I just cant believe he didnt have surveillance cameras. Thats fucking basic.

Wufei lifted a brow at the sudden tone which Maxwell (Duo, his conscience reminded him) was using. The bags under Duos eyes said it all and Wufei couldnt help but frown deeper into his first draft of scalding hot ambrosia. His nose scrunched and his brows furrowed; Duo had brought him hazelnut. The feeling of eyes on him made him look up and he caught Duo shifting his attention rather rapidly back to the forensics team.

Theyre going to put this all over the news, Duo complained after the silence between them had time to settle. He brought the neglected cup in his own hand up to his lips but didnt drink from it. After a moment he brought it back down again and leaned back against the side of the building.

With any luck it will only escalate the liaison rumor, Wufei shrugged. Were rather lucky it stumbled up when it did.

Lucky? Duo snorted. No such thing.

Well, if you dont believe that it was luck, Wufei replied evenly, Then exactly why would it have

They turned to look at one another at precisely the same time that the one of the forensics crew shouted something at them. Rather than speak of their mutual revelation, Wufei stood up and headed over to see what evidence, if any, science had rewarded them. Behind him, Duo pulled out a phone.



++//\\++



What are you doing here, old man? Rashid asked himself for the millionth time since hed climbed into the Mercedes an hour before. The traffic had been terrible but hed ridden through it accompanied by a steaming pile of guilt. Which was utterly ridiculous, he continued to tell himself, as he hadnt done anything to be ashamed of.

You havent done anything to be ashamed of, yet, his guilt informed him. He tried to ignore it, which only prompted it to add: But you want to.

Seemingly encouraged by his silence, Rashids guilt went a little further, and who wouldnt? She was a sweet little thing, after all.

Silence.

Good personality, well spoken

Rashid nodded a little.

Hot little body.

He frowned.

And when she bent down like that, those tiny little shorts over her round, well-formed

Will you just shut up? Rashid snapped at the non-corporeal guilt.

The child standing nearby with a blue balloon and stuffed carnival toy began to cry. Its mother shushed it and sent Rashid scathing looks. The man ducked his head a little and hurried away into the crowd milling around the exit of the big top.

Just about to give into the nagging sense of guilt, turn around and get back into his car, Rashid felt his pocket buzz. The phones tone was impossible to hear over the crowd; Rashid fished it out and pressed the call button to his ear. Hello?

Hey, pally, Duos voice grated over the static and popping that most cells got this far out of a cityespecially on colonial calls. Rashid thought the boy sounded tired, not something he was accustomed to hearing from Duo, but unable to place it said nothing. I couldnt get a hold of Quatre, figured he was in some sort of meeting.

No, Rashid shook his head and stepped to the side as some of the jugglers stepped past him, milling about the crowd. He glanced them over, but none of them sported the red hair he was looking for, Trowa took him out on a camping trip. They should be back in about a week it was the only way to keep him on his vacation.

Huh. Static crackled on the phone for a moment. Then, he followed it up with another question, Hey you might know something about this. You guys hear these rumors flying around about Fluff-ball and Rena?

No, theyre not true, Rashid sighed.

Duh, the voice on the other end snickered, I know that. What I want to know is where they came from.

Rashid stopped in his search for a moment, watching a gigantic snake man hand out balloons to children. Duo knew that? Though he felt as if there was some sort of meaning to that statement, he let it ride and replied as best he could, Where the rumors came from?

Yeah. Like, is there any hint at what meeting or whatever started them?

No, Rashid shook his head. Lifting one hand to his beard he stroked it as he thought, Now that you mention it, I havent heard anything about where this pseudo-information is coming from. Usually rumors like this are started for political reasons: either as something about yourself to distract the public from what is really going on, or else as an attack by one of your enemies.

But why would an enemy of Quatres start a rumor about him getting married? Or Relenas, for that matter?

Rashid took a moment to ponder that over as he wormed his way through the crowd to a place on the sidelines. He couldnt watch for the red-head as well, there, but it would keep him from being in the way of traffic flow. Once he was settled, he shook his head, Im sorry, but I cant think of any reason. I know it certainly didnt come from our camp, and Relenas PR certainly would have informed us if they were leaking any rumors.

Alright so, just so that I have this straight, Duo replied after a long moment, No one would gain anything by putting the spotlight on those two, and Quatre wasnt using it as a cover?

Is there anything that Quatre would use it as a cover for? Rashid asked with some amusement. The silence which greeted him on the other end of the phone didnt help his mood at all.

Thanks for the help, Rashid, Duo said in typical cheery fashion after a minute. It seemed to be the end of the call, but then Duo added, Oh! Hows Rattrap?

Hes definitely your cat, Rashid frowned. Duo, what

It was then that he saw her, radiant in her sequin-covered uniform and standing in the light of the big-top entrance. Catherine turned, as if she felt his gaze upon her. Their eyes met and she smiled, one delicate hand lifting in greeting.

Ive gotta go; sorry, Rashid! Duo interjected in a rush and the line went dead. Rashid didnt mind.



++//\\++

So let me see if I have this straight, Quatre said as he stared at the steaming cup of tea hed been supplied as soon as Relena had allowed their two kidnappers back into the room. He wasnt entirely certain he could trust it, though Relena seemed to be drinking hers with no reservation. The facts were slowly beginning to slip into his still drug-addled mind, and he was still not sure he believed that this was realitycertainly someone was playing some sort of cruel trick. Youve kidnapped Relena and myself, because

Quatre stopped for a moment to glance up at the circus performer currently leaning against one of the cracked and weathered bedroom walls, We work too hard?

You work constantly, Heero emphasized from the doorway. Though hed been allowed back into the room, he seemed to be stopped short by the glare (and curtain wand) that Relena was still holding in his direction. For everyone else. Its counter productive if you burn yourself out. Time away was the logical solution.

And you never heard of picking up the phone? Relena snapped, throwing her arms wide. The curtain wand slapped against the wood paneling behind her and Quatre winced. You could have voiced your concern like a normal person!

After a moment, the girl added: For once.

Would you have listened? Trowanot Heero, Quatre was shocked to noteasked in reply. That seemed to give Relena pause, but only for long enough to allow her attention to shift.

Dont even get me started on you, Relena hissed, brandishing her impromptu weapon, I trusted you!

And you didnt trust me? Heero interjected. Though his voice held no inflection at all, Quatre could feel the emotion radiating off of him like a tidal wave. It was always like this with Heero, he remembered; anger, hurt so much hurt. Both blonds lips tightened for different, yet similar, reasons.

Why should I? Relena hobbled a step away from him, Youre never around. You never call, never write. Now this? You need to make up your mind on where you want to be with me.

Heero stood up, turned and left the room as quietly as hed come.

Quatre Trowa began after a moment. His attention called back to his own problem, Quatres eyes lifted momentarily to the boy hed been avoiding for over a year. The words came easy and even to his lips, though they were the hardest things hed ever said.

Get out.

They stared at one another a long moment and then Trowa, too, left. Alone once again with Relena, Quatre set his mug down on the bedside table.

Much more steady on his feet than hed been an hour before, Quatre cautiously crossed the room to where Relena stood. He eyed the curtain wand cautiously, but extended a hand to gently touch her shoulder. Rena?

The girl sniffed loudly.

He pressed a little more firmly against her shoulder to turn her. Relena needed no more encouragementshe turned to him and wrapped her arms about him, burying her face into his shoulder. The curtain wand hit the floor with a dull thud and neither of them cared. Quatre squeezed his arms about her in return, cheek pressed into her hair, and felt a sudden surge of pride for the girl in his arms course through his heart. Hed expected her to be crying, yet she wasnt.

Sometimes, Relena whispered faintly, Sometimes I wish those horrible rumors were true.

I wish they could be, Rena, he replied in kind. She nodded, understanding completely. Another muffled sniffle and then they let one another go.

Relena managed to favour him with a smile that was only half-forced. Well. How rusty are your skills as a tactician?



++//\\++



D. C. M. Forever and always, Duo read out of the inside of the white-gold wedding band he was twisting about in his hand. He lifted a brow at that and frowned. It doesnt seem like much, Fei. Some lady lost her band in a dry cleaning.

Not lady, man, Wufei replied as he tossed his empty coffee cup at the garbage can. And not just any man. You dont recognize the initials?

Duo rolled his eyes, Wufei, there have got to be a hundred people with the initials D.C.M. out there!

True. But that ring is solid gold, and Ive seen the inscription before. He stopped on the street corner and punched the button to cross the street. During the morning rush hour it would take a few minutes for the light to turn, and he glanced at Duo who was still fiddling with the ring.

The boy smirked, but it didnt quite reach his eyes. Youve seen a wedding ring before? Up close? Wufei, Im shocked.

Rolling his eyes, Wufei gave the faintest of snorts. Im more familiar with them than youd know. Thats Dorothys husbands ring.

From the corner of his eye, Wufei noted the shock on Duos face, which melted almost as soon as itd come. He barked out a laugh, jilted by his lack of sleep, and shook his head. Well, well, well I didnt know shed gotten married.

They invited most of the Preventers. It was before you signed onshe was one of the leading backers to the organization, after all, Wufei shrugged. His last name is Marciel. Duke.

Makes sense, Duo replied faintly and nodded. The signal turned and they began across the street together. So its no coincidence that Dorothys husbands wedding band ended up in one of the laundry trucks we were investigating. Or maybe it is? Has she had business in the colony?

Wufei shook his head, Dont know, but were going to find out. Ill check her itinerary once we get back to the hotel. What did QuFluff-ball say?

The burst of startledlaughter next to him actually surprised a smile out of him. Rather than let Duo see it, Wufei turned his face to the side and pretended to be watching the crowd across the street from them. The laughter subsided slowly and Wufei looked back in time to see Duo swipe a tear from his eye. I dont think we should use their names too readily in public, he explained.

Duo nodded, the smile still stretched upon his taunt and tired features, Yeah, I can agree to that. Still, I never thought Id hear you The boy shook his head, then, and seemed to forget whatever hed been about to say. I couldnt get hold of him, but I got Lurch instead.

Lurch?

Big, tall, and bearded.

Ah, Wufei nodded in recognition.

Anyway. He said that Uni-banger took Fluff-ball out for a camping trip, Duo hummed thoughtfully. The expression on his face was easy enough to read, even if Wufei hadnt known the two in question.

Any idea where they really are? Wufei asked as they approached the entrance to their motel. He made no comment as Duo moved to open the door for him, and then followed him inside.

Not a clue. Lurch did say that the rumors werent started by their department, though, or Relenas. Duo fell back into step beside him. As usual, the motel staff made no move to stop them or attempt any sort of communication at allthey didnt do that when Wufei was around, though hed seen Duo speaking with some of the bellhops when he thought Wufei wasnt looking. Not for the first time, he wondered if perhaps Duo did have a point about his communication skills but what did it matter?

But the rumors didnt come from any known source, Wufei concluded.

Duo nodded, And rumors, especially fortuitous ones, usually have a starting point.

Wufei extracted their keycard from his jacket pocket and swiped it against the entrance panel to their room. The lock clicked and he flipped the light switch on as he passed into the quiet chamber. That feeling of something missing was beginning to press on his nerves. He divested himself of his jacket, throwing it carelessly over his bed, and ignored the tsking sound that Duo made behind him. The door shut as he sat down in one of the armchairs with his laptop.

Get some rest, Wufei told his partner as he booted up the computer, Ill check this out and wake you when we have some answers.

Despite the order, Duo stood in the entrance to their little room for a long time, watching him. Wufei pretended not to notice and eventually Duo went into the bathroom and closed the door behind himself. A moment later the shower began to run.



++//\\++

Trowa followed the sound of tapping. It wasnt hard to do in so quiet a place, and he soon found Heero seated at a counter in the massive industrial kitchen with his laptop and a mug of tea. The Japanese boy seemed to be oblivious to the world, but Trowa knew better. As he headed into the steel and tile space, he picked an apple from a fruit bowl stationed near the door. A knife appeared in his other hand just as quickly, taken from the slip in his sleeve, and he began to peel it as he walked.

You didnt believe shed take it so seriously? It wasnt a question, though he phrased it as one. Waiting to see Heeros reaction, Trowa stopped a few feet away and leaned one hip against a large, empty sink. Heero grunted in response and his fingers continued their tap dance across the keys.

That was the response hed assumed hed get, and Trowa merely nodded. He pretended to watch his apple as he curled the skin off of it; the bright red ribbon grew longer by the second and twisted upon itself as it dangled. I did warn you that this might backfire.

Yet you brought him here, Heero pointed out with an accusatory glare. The taller boy shrugged; though he felt badly for having hurt Quatre, and it seemed that he had, he still wasnt certain that he had not done the right thing. Yes, the boy was here against his will but the memory of that irrational laughter, the deep sadness in Quatres eyes

I didnt say we were making a mistake, Trowa corrected, Only that they are not too happy for it.

We should try harder, Heero agreed and his eyes returned to his work. Trowa nodded and lifted the ribbon of apple skin to his mouth.

Try harder, he thought, or try doing what they say. Relena, at least, has told you what she wants.



++//\\++

He was lying on his side and his back was cold, but his chest was warm. Warmer, at any rate; it was all relative to the storm howling death about their ears, and he snuggled closer to the source of that fading heat. Why anyone had thought to put weather systems on the colonies was beyond him. The colonies? Was that where he was?

Duo forced his eyes open; the scene about him was blurred by snow one moment and then cleared in the next. The storm had stopped, but the freeze remained, and he stared into a pair of filmed, clouded and very familiar eyes. Jerking upright out of the snow, Duo stared at the body of the boy next to him.

Reaching forward with shaking hands, Duo poked the boys shoulder first, swallowing at how stiff the blue-tinted skin was. With both hands he grabbed him, shaking him, but he knew what he looked athe knew it as surely as he knew the air he breathed.

It isnt fair, Duo breathed into the night air and scrambled to his feet. As he stumbled backward his foot landed in something soft. He was walking on a carpet of children.

The snow became fog and the corpses began to move. The boy hed been laying with lifted to his own feet, dead wide eyes staring at his former companion. Its all your fault, you know, Solo twittered in demonic laughter, All of it. See how many orphans youve made?

Duo shook his head, but it was useless to argue. After all these years, he knew the arguments wouldnt work. Leave me alone, he begged instead, and lifted his arms to shield himself from the bodies of the children rising from their communal grave. Their hands tugged at his clothes, his braid, his arms. They pulled and climbed and forced him down. Youre one of us, the children giggled, One of us, one of us!

LEAVE ME ALONE!

One balled fist surged towards Solos shocked, rotting face. This time it connected.

Duos eyes opened to reality. He stared up into the darkness of the hotel room at the shadow which loomed over his bed and for one horrific moment, he understood that death had finally come for its due. Then Wufei, without letting go of the fist hed caught, shifted to the side and snapped on the light at the bedside table. He cast a significant look at his partner, the meaning of which Duo missed entirely, and let Duos fist go.

Dropping back down into his mattress, Duo stared at the ceiling as he the adrenaline rushed from his veins. Bit by bit he became more aware of the sweat sticking his beater and bangs to his skin, to the infernal hum and cough of the motel air conditioner. Wufei had turned it up againit was freezing.

I told you not to have that burrito, Wufei finally said from the other bed. A grin stretched itself across Duos lips and he laughed.



++//\\++




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