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Work in Progress by Covenmouse

previous  Killing With Kindness…



Quatre carried Relena piggy-back down the stairs only after besting her at a game of chess. She wasnt happy about it, but had to admit that it was better than attempting to limp her way down themand it would quicken her chance of recovery. Taking the spill in the first place hadnt been good for her health or dignity, and now it was hindering any chance of escape that they might have otherwise had.

Though she trusted that Quatre could plan something around her injury, she couldnt help but feel as if she were coming up lacking when shed already been handicapped. It was like being the three-legged mutt in a pack of trained Dobermans.

Well aware that she was feeling sorry for herself, Relena tightened her arms about Quatres shoulders after she pointed out the door to the kitchens. He nodded and headed across the empty, mostly dark dining room, pushing the double doors open with one foot when he reached the other side. The brightness of the kitchen was almost a shock, as the site of their two captors wasnt. Both former pilots looked up as the conjoined pair entered, but neither blond paid them any attention.

Hmm Quatre hummed to himself, eyeing the several large refrigerators placed around the room. Which one has food in it?

Relena wasnt sure herself, and after a moment, Heero seemed to realize that he was being addressed. The one closest to you, he answered. I was going to start dinner in a moment

Thats alright, Quatre rebuffed with a cheerful smile and carried Relena towards the refrigerator, We know our way around a kitchen. Right, Rena?

Right, She nodded and plastered a smile across her face. It wouldnt fool Quatre, she knew, but she didnt think the other two were quite as good at reading people as he was. Heero definitely wasnt.

Quatre sat her down on one of the counters, and Relena momentarily considered hopping down to help him with gathering the supplies. The look he spared her stole all thought of that, but the smile upon his face never wavered. She gave the briefest of nods and settled herself a little further back on the counter. As much as she hated to, she had to give Heero some creditevery surface in the kitchen shined like a mirror.

Her fellow politician turned to open the gargantuan refrigerator door and survey its contents. He gave a low whistle at the foodstuffs packed within and Relena had to join him in the sentiment. Theres fresh seafood in the other half, Heero informed them from across the room.

How do you feel about spaghetti, Rena? Quatre said instead.

Id love some, She answered with a grin. There was a grunt from the other side of the room and then the tap-tap-tapping of Heeros keyboard began again. Relena thought that there was an excessive amount of force being used now, but she knew that she was also looking for it. Rather than turn her head to see him, she kept her eyes focused on the ground meat Quatre was pulling from the refrigerator. Suddenly curious, she had to ask, When did you learn to cook?

Ah, Quatre put the meat aside and then began to rummage through the cabinets for the other ingredients. There seemed to be an entire supermarket shoved into the kitchena byproduct of Heeros over ambitious efficiency, no doubt, and he soon stumbled upon a variety of noodles. Im not that good, Ill warn you. I only know how to make a few things. Duo taught me, last time he stayed with me.

Duo cooks? Unable to contain her surprise at this, Relena instead decided to make herself useful. She looked up to where the pans and some utensils were hanging above them. If she remembered correctly, the last time shed seen Pagan cook ground meat it had been in one of the flat ones. She hummed to herself and selected a pan, carefully lifting it from its hanger, setting it on the stove next to her. When Quatre turned from the cabinet with his prize, he nodded at the pan and her question both.

Yes, actually; hes really good, too. I wanted him to stay on as my chef, Quatre laughed. He wouldnt hear of it though. Settled down with the Preventers soon after.

I remember him mentioning something about that, Relena chuckled, Though if memory serves, he said you were trying to tie him down like a little house wife.

He would, her fellow blonde laughed and lit the burner with a flick of a knob. He poured a little water into her selected pan and put the meat in with it. That should take a little while to brown right.

Ill have to invite him to the house next time he has a vacation, Relena chuckled. This Ive got to see for myself.

Tell him that hell drown you in cookies, Quatre warned and returned to the cabinets for tomato sauce and spices, I gained four kilos before he left, I swear it.

Liar, Relena twittered as she crossed her legs. Her ankle was beginning to throb from being left down so long, and she had to hoist it up a little higher. With a sigh the woman leaned back on her hands a bit. The water around their meat was beginning to sizzle, and Relena detached a spatula from the rack above her head in order to flip it over.

I think I remember his recipe for the sauce, Quatre mused, half to himself, as he scoured the refrigerator for produce. He came up with some mushrooms and a clove of garlic, then a bell pepper. The boy paused, humming at the refrigerator. After a moment he pulled out something green loosely cone-shaped. Peppers?

Relena shrugged, I wouldnt know anything about it. Im not too fond of anything spicy, though.

Nodding, Quatre put the peppers back and shut the door. They continued to talk as he chopped the vegetables and mixed everything together, along with several spices that Relena couldnt identify, into a sauce pan. Across the room the tapping never ceased, and Relena could see Trowa carefully slicing up an apple with a pocket knife, eating it one slice at a time. She ignored this as Quatre did also, and soon enough they had a nice dinner going on the stove beside her.

You know, Relena said suddenly in a quiet aside to their conversation, This is the first time Ive really cooked like this. With a frown, she added mentally: and the first time, in a long time, that Ive been able to sit about talking about nothing.

Quatre looked up from taste-testing the sauce. He was too good a politician to let his poker face slide now, but the look in his eyes said it allhe knew her thoughts, and he agreed with them. Relena bit her lip and refused to look at the silent guards behind her.



++//\\++



Duo frowned over the itinerary of one Duke Malcom Marciel. It wasnt the most imposing name on the planet, but he supposed that not all royalty took the storybook ideals to heart. He wondered if that had lost the guy any face amongst his peers. Ok, so neither he nor his wife have, officially at least, been here. Ever, so far as we can tell.

Mm. Wufei nodded. The ring was found under the drivers seat. Im surprised that none of the workers found it, but it certainly would have turned up in a thorough cleaning of the vehicle.

Which we probably stopped by getting there before they shut up shop, Duo observed with a shrug. Though it didnt matter in the long run of things, he didnt want to think too badly of the owner of the laundry mat. The man had been really helpful and hadnt even required them to get warrants for anything, which saved them both a ton of paperwork. Anyone that saved Duo time at his desk was someone to be thought highly of. But I get what youre saying.

His partner offered little more than a snort to that observation. By turning his head slightly to the left, Duo was able to get a clear view of Wufei standing beside him. The slightly shorter boy had his eyes riveted to the flight board of the shuttle station, eagerly awaiting the boarding signal for their flight. Duo didnt think he could blame himhe wanted to be as far away from this colony as he could.

Rubbing one palm against a tired, gritty eye, Duo heaved a sign and tipped his head back against the wall behind him. Were you ever able to get through to her secretary?

I have the arrangements taken care of, Wufei told him in a tone which clearly added for the millionth time, to the sentence. Silence drifted between them, only the relatively subtle noise of the early morning crowd around them to break it. Hed successfully tuned that out by this point and hoped that Wufei would bother to say something rather than just walk off when their flight showed up; Duo shut his eyes.

I dont like this, Wufei cut in, much to Duos surprise, a moment later.

Popping one eye open, Duo cast it down at his partner with a faint frown. Had Wufei figured it out? Unsure of how to take that, Duo opted to keep his mouth shut. A moment later, as if sensing the eyes upon him, Wufei looked up. Those hawk-like black eyes narrowed a little, and a chill ran down Duos back. It abated the second that Wufeis eyes cut back to the flight board and the boy began to speak again, Were being led around. The evidence lines up too well.

Yeah, I know, Duo shrugged easily. He closed his eyes again just as he felt Wufeis try to penetrate his skull once more. An easy smile formed on his lips, Its pretty obvious. But its equally obvious that were not coming up with anything else so as long as we know its a trap.

Better an enemy you know, Wufei quoted lightly.

Bingo, Duo twittered in response. There was a tug at his elbow, which was gone by the time hed opened his eyes. Wufei was already walking away, and on the flight board, their shuttle had just been announced.



++//\\++

Planning a getaway with one incapacitated person was proving to be just as hard as sounded. Quatre frowned down into the bottom-lit pool and swung his legs slowly back and forth in the water. The summer bugs buzzed beyond the back patio area, yet the torches that Heero had set out along the perimeter seemed to be keeping them away from the small group gathered there. Though he and Relena had continued to ignore their captors as politely as they could, neither had they been left on their own since theyd come out of the bedroom.

Some small, perverse part of him was happy about that. So long as they were under observation, then Heero and Trowa were worried that they would be able to escape. The down side to this belief in their abilities was that theyd been given no chance to try.

Leaning back onto the palms of his hands, Quatre tipped his head up and was surprised by the brightness of the stars. The only light outside came from the pool, the torches, and the brilliant moon above. As he watched, he counted seven tell-tale streaks of shuttles dropping back into the atmosphere, or leaving it. He should have been on one of those flights

A splash at the other end of the pool followed by droplets raining down on Quatres face. He startled, and his eyes jerked to the water where a long, lean form was now skimming across the bottom of the pool. The water lapped a little higher against his legs before it settled from the dive that had been taken into itQuatre couldnt find it in himself to care.

I was hoping hed still be in that outfitor a towel. The phantom memory of Duos words only a few days earlier ghosted across his mind as he watched Trowa rise towards the surface of the water. The boy broke through and shook his head, long bangs flying every which way before sticking to his face. Trowa lifted a single hand, the other helping him to tread the water, and pushed his hair from his eyes. Green eyes caught blue for a single moment before Quatre jerked his attention away.

Cheeks heated and heart ill, Quatre climbed to his feet.

Relena had been laying quietly in one of the deck chairs since theyd retired outdoors after dinner. She turned her head when Quatre approached her, a slight frown crossing her lips. Quatre, you ok?

He offered her a smile and took the chair next to hers. Hed put a towel at the end of it earlier and took it up now to dry off his feet. Yeah, he lied, Just thought my feet were starting to prune.

I didnt realize you had so much of an ego, the girl teased in response. A splash from the pool caught both of their attention, and they looked in time to see Trowa disappear under again. I envy you.

Huh?

I havent been swimming in ages, Relena explained in a whisper. Quatre frowned at her tone of voice, but the reason behind the quiet confession moved from the shadows of the patio doorway, then. Heero passed by them, showing no signs of having heard the exchange, and headed towards the pool himself. He pulled his shirt off over his head, leaving only a bright coloured pair of swimming trunks on his person, before he joined Trowa in the water.

I dont think itd hurt your leg too much, Quatre replied thoughtfully. He tried to turn his eyes from the swimming pool, but Heero had started to do laps around it. He muttered a second later, I bet he doesnt know a single pool game.

Probably not, Relena agreed. She sat up, her shadowed form moving in Quatres peripheral vision. I dont have a swim suit. Ive been making do with what he had to provide.

Oh, Quatre blinked. After a moment his cheeks coloured again as his thoughts wandered down the list of items that men and women couldnt share. Or at least, werent supposed tohad Heero thought to provide that? Try as he might, he couldnt force himself to ask.

You could just wear a t-shirt and uh

I could, if theres one dark enough, Relena replied with an easy shrug, I hadnt thought about it. A pair of shorts but I also dont know if theres any way to clean them.

Well have to ask Heero, Quatre nodded absently. A splash from the pool, and Trowa was pulling himself out of the water, muscles glistening with water and starshine

Fluff ball?

Quatre startled again at the touch of Relenas hand on his shoulder. Her left brow shot up in a silent question, her eyes glancing to toward the pool to see what had had him so enamored. With a blush, Quatre realized that shed asked him something several times already. What was that, Relena?

I said, the girl replied lightly, that we might not ask him at all. We could just go looking.

The meaning of that sank home after a moment. Quatre nodded in agreement and watched as Relena scooted back into her lounge chair. She returned to watching the stars, and after a moment, he joined her. How were they supposed to do that if the others were always watching?



++//\\++



Commercial flights were the worst way to travel, Duo decided as he stared out the window into the familiar star field of space. He let his head roll back on the top of his seat. His arms and legs ached, signaling yet another growth spurt he was ready to go through He hoped it would stop soon. Absently rubbing one arm, the boy lulled his head towards the inside of the cabin. Beside him Wufei was sleeping againa senseless pang of envy shot through Duos system and he pouted just a little. Across the aisle from Wufei, a man was staring at him.

Catching the mans eye, Duo lifted a brow and stopped blinking. Slowly unnerved by this display, the man eventually turned his face away and coughed into a fist. Duo snorted faintly and let his attention return to his partner. Wufei didnt look all that bad asleep, Duo had to admit. It wasnt the first time that hed noticed this, not by a long shot, but Duo couldnt help but smile for it now.

Yet he also couldnt help but remember the conversation hed overheard just a day before. Though hed realized that Wufei had had some problems with the partnership, hed always assumed it had more to do with Wufeis loner tendencies. The spark of pride hidden within deep him replied that it still had a lot to do with that. Probably, anyway.

Duo rolled his head back the other direction, once again staring off into space. He wondered if hed ever get the chance to pilot something again, even if it was just a dinky little shuttle.

A faint pinging noise erupted from his back pocket, and Duo jumped.

Grinning at his own idiocy, he shifted towards Wufei in order to retrieve it. He bumped against the other man and went still, fearing hed woken him. Much to Duos surprise, Wufei didnt seem to even notice. He settled down in the seat again, phone retrieved, and his eyes widened as the other boy moved with him.

Wufeis head was resting against his shoulder.

On one hand, Duo was perfectly aware of how hilarious this wasWufei the great warrior, the war hero, the highly-trained-soldier, didnt even realized hed been bumped into in his sleep, and at the same time he was utterly terrified that the boy would wake up. That same spark of pride interrupted his impending freak out to point out that hed done nothing wrong, and Wufei, at least after he calmed down, did tend to see reason. Duo wondered exactly which person that spark had been watching for the past few years, but accepted it with a mental shrug and pressed the button to silence the incessant beeping of his phone.

There was a movement in the corner of his vision, and Duo turned his head just in time to see that man staring at them again. Duo stuck his tongue out at him.

The man properly dealt with, he flipped his phone open and took a look at the message waiting him.

So were you ever going to call me back, or should I start planning the funeral? In his head, Duo could imagine Hildes exact candor in that message. He smirked and pressed the reply button.

Is that a threat? I could have you arrested for that.

He snapped his phone shut and shifted a little to get comfortable with Wufeis weight resting heavily against his side. Though he half expected the boy to wake at any moment, Wufei never did, and Duo allowed himself to relax a little more. It wasnt so bad, he thought, the human contact. Itd been awhile since hed had any of that.

The phone beeped again, and with how close Duo was to the Chinese ex-pilot, he could feel the faint, annoyed stir at the sound. Against his better judgment, Duo took the opportunity to put his phone on silent mode. That done, he opened the next message.

No threatI follow through on my promises. Seriously, though, I saw the news. You ok?

Duo scoffed lightly and sighed. Quickly he typed back, Yeah Im fine. Cant talk about it, though.

The reply was quick enough that Duo could imagine Hilde where she was right now: sitting in her studio with a cup of some foul-smelling tea, curled into the huge wicker basket chair she kept there, phone on her knee, and Mozart playing in the background. She always did that when she was upset. Understood. Youve been sleeping, right?

I wish youd stop asking me about that.

Maxwell, a sharp voice cut into Duos scowl, and the braided boy jumped for the second time that hour. Wufei winced, one hand rising to rub where Duos shoulder had collided with his forehead, and he sat up. Behind Wufei, Duo noticed that man looking at them again. He wanted to say something, but Wufeis glare stopped him short.

Duo, he reminded his partner, who was still glaring at him from beneath the faint bruise that was beginning to form over his right eyebrow.

Wufeis eyes closed for a long moment, the expression upon his face strained. Duo watched the other boys jaw twitch a few times, as if biting back a few choice words. And then, as if by some grand miracle, Wufei opened his eyes and mouth and didnt shout at him. How long till we land?

Uh An hour or two more, I think. Duo glanced at his phone and realized he had another message waiting for him. Suddenly he didnt feel quite so social. He leaned up again to shove his phone back into his pocket as Wufei got up. Where you going?

Bathroom, the Chinese boy snapped, and headed through the curtain into the stewards area.



++//\\++



Heero watched as Quatre carried Relena up the stairs later that night, the girl wrapped around his back like a backpack. When Trowa had first shown up with Quatre hed thought that all the progress hed made with Relena had been undoneyet the longer the day went on, the less certain he was that that was true. She was relaxed, again, and smiling more often when she thought there was no one watching her. Perhaps his mission wasnt going as badly as hed feared.

Footsteps stopped behind him, and Heero turned his head enough to acknowledge the other boy. Trowa stepped forward only after Heero had done this; he moved into the line of Heeros peripheral vision and stopped again. From Trowas stance, Heero guessed that the boy was watching the other pair disappear into the second story of the building.

Once they were out of sight, Heero headed down the hallway towards the security office. The quiet footsteps followed him.

Im not certain that leaving them unmonitored is wise, Trowa echoed his own thoughts when theyd reached the office door. Heero dialed in his access code and waited for the click from the other side. As soon as it sounded, he pressed on the door, and they both entered the small room. It was filled with a consol and monitors displaying various areas of the hotel and surrounding carnival. Heero sat in the one chair present and moved to the keyboard as he prepared to go over all that days specs for the outside park. Though hed not been alerted to anything out of the ordinary, he never trusted machinery to do everything for him.

Probably not, Heero agreed.

But were going to?

After a moment, the brunette nodded. Trowa seemed to take this as an order, and he did as well. After another moment, the taller boy turned and left Heero to his equipment.



++//\\++



The motel room in Brussels was almost identical to the one theyd shared on L4-RS01. The colour scheme had changed, but the set up was the same: two beds, a beaten up tv, a bible stuffed in the shared night stand, and an equally dubious bathroom. Yet for the standard shab the place was bathed in, Wufei had to give it credit for being appropriately clean.

From the bathroom sink, he cupped cold water into his hands and splashed it over his face, letting himself revel for a moment in the chill. Looking up into the bathroom mirror, the boy stared at his reflection for a long moment and imagined instead that he saw Maxwell instead. Why hadnt he noticed the bags under the boys eyes?

This wasnt the first time that hed witnessed Duo going without sleep, hed realized only moments after having caught the text message exchange. True, it was hard to discern, as Duos bouncy personality and lively manner belied it, but now that he knew what to look for Wufei knew hed had many conversations with Duo over the past couple of months where his partner had looked worse for the wear.

For some reason this troubled him. That it was a liability was no small part of it, Wufei knew. Duo was able to handle himself in a pinchno matter how incompetent the boy was when it came to desk work, but how reliable was that ability when he was functioning below maximum capacity?

Wufei gingerly touched the bruise still showing above his eyebrow and bit his bottom lip as he thought. Was it really such a problem? Though they hadnt yet spoken about what had happened on the shuttle, what Wufei may or may not have seen, Wufei didnt think that this silence would last long. Not where Maxwell was concerned, at least. Surely the other boys sleeping issues were his none of his concern, and it looked as if Duo already had someone nagging him about it.

The scene from the night before came back to haunt him once again, as it had done several times since hed woken from his nap. Duo had a hard time sleeping

Out in the bedroom, a phone rang. It got to its second repetition before it was cut short, and he could faintly hear Duo speaking to someone on the other end of the line. A moment later there was a rap at the bathroom door. Yo, dude that was Dorothys secretary. Theyre bumping up our meeting.

Wufei snorted and reached for a wash cloth to dry his face off with. Thankful for the reminder that they had more to worry about than inter-personal relationships, Wufei returned the cloth to the counter and headed out the door to meet his partner. They had work to do.



++//\\++



Even standing outside the door Duo could hear the door bell echo inside. He gave a low, appreciative whisper as he took a step away from the entrance to look up at the walls towering above them. Dont this just beat all? he breathed. Wufei gave him an odd look and snorted.

It isnt as if youve never been to a castle before.

Maybe not, but its the first time Ive been to this castle, Duo replied with a smirk. Wufei once again graced him with an unreadable look which sent up the hairs on the back of Duos neck. He smiled a little more in the boys direction, but was only rewarded with silence.

The door opened, and it didnt dispel the awkward, though Duo gave it points for trying. Mr. Chang and Mr. Maxwell, Id presume? A woman in a sharp black business suit asked. Her smile was laced with arsenic, and her tone managed to turn the words into their proper meaning: Great. Now I have to disinfect the porch.

Agents, Wufei replied. This isnt a personal call.

The womans lips tightened noticeably though her voice remained calm. Duo wondered if she realized just how bad she was at acting; for once he didnt think Wufei unjustified at all, though he couldnt place his finger on why. Of course. The Duchess is waiting. Follow me, please.

Bitchy-Mc-Snot-Nose, as Duo now dubbed her, turned from the door to clip-clap her way into the mausoleum of a home. Wufei and Duo followed at a more sedate pace, the latter taking a moment to shove the heavy oak door back into place. The inside was a veritable labyrinth of decadence: silver candelabra lined the halls as if electricity was a concept of science fiction, Persian rugs lined the middle of the long hallways, and paintings, which Duo guessed were originalseach and every one, covered every inch of available wall space. Though hed only met her a handful of times, Duo thought that this suited Dorothys style very well. Or, to be a little more kind, it suited the kind of lifestyle to which shed been born. He didnt have much taste for either, but that was neither here nor there.

Instead he watched Bitchy-Mc-Snot-Nose as she shook her bony bottom down several long hallways, a handful of rather random stairs, and through a pair of glass doors into the back of the castle.

Dorothy was sitting at a lone table placed on the far end of the patio, which, in Duos opinion, was far too big for any practical use. Formal events, the size of which only royalty could throw, were held here, he supposed. That was what movies had taught him, and in this case, he judged that they were right. As much as the decorating seemed to be her style, so too did the idea that Dorothy would use such a place for small, private meetings.

Though his lips quirked at the imagined irony, Duo found he could appreciate the single practical appeal of such a venue: here they wouldnt be readily spied on. Whatever Dorothy had to tell them, they didnt care for untrustworthy ears to hear it.

Gentlemen, Dorothy smiled, the steaming mug of tea she held paused before her lips. She took her first sip then, and sighed with gratitude. One imperious hand waved at the spread on the table before her. Duos eyes immediately flew to the cookies. Please, join me. Im so glad you could make it.

Funny, Wufei replied in his most bored voice. Duo glanced at the boy to assure himself that the glare written upon Wufeis features wasnt directed at him. It wasnt, so Duo fell into a chair and snatched up a butter cookie before the offer could be retracted. I thought you were trying to avoid us.

Now why would you have thought that? Dorothy continuedit had to be the worst display of feigned innocence Duo had ever seen. Wufei took the remaining seat, placed diagonally from both Duo and Dorothy, and his brow twitched in irritation.

With the understanding that he was in for a bit of a show, Duo helped himself to a cup of tea and a heaping stack of cookies. Rich people had the best shit.

That was a rather sudden time change, Dorothy, Wufei paused to snort as he caught sight of what his partner was doing. He picked his sentence up right away, As if you expected us not to make it.

And yet here I am waiting on you, She smiled like a cobra, With snacks, even.

I suppose you made them yourself.

Dorothys lips froze in her smile, and she pried them apart only to sip at her tea. When theyd defrosted, she put her cup down and leaned back in her seat. Her gaze settled on Wufei and Duo munched happily awayforgotten, and glad of it.

You wished to discuss Relenas disappearance with me, Dorothy stated. Duo began to nod when he noticed Wufeis eyes narrow. Though surprised by this, Duo stifled his motion and shoved another cookie into his mouth.

The womans lips quirked into a much more genuineDuo thoughtsmile, and to her credit, she only snickered once. Faintly, at that. It wasnt that difficult to figure out.

Wufei snorted and poured himself some tea. What I havent figured out, Dorothy continued, her eyes upon her tea cup, Is why youre here to see me and not my husband.

Only years of experience kept Duo from tensing in surprise; he noticed Wufeis hand twitch at the same time. Then it passed as rage burned from his partners eyes. I believe you just answered your own question.

Dorothys snake-like smile once again struck the Chinese agent, andDuo had to hand it to hershe was good at getting Wufei riled up. A sudden, hard lump formed in his stomach and faded just as quickly. He swallowed thickly around his last cookie and settled back in his seat. Self incrimination isnt going to help your case in this, Dorothy, Duo interjected before the two could start a shouting match. Unless youd like to make a formal statement?

Why should I do that? The woman countered. Her eyes darted to Duos, as if surprised to still see him there. That didnt bother him in the least, and he felt the beginnings of a smirk twitching at his lips, You have no evidence against me, and I have done nothing Im ashamed of. Follow your clues more carefully, and you might actually get somewhere.

One of Duos eyebrows rose, You want your husband investigated?

Were not your private police force, Wufei hissed at the same time.

I never claimed that, Dorothy replied as she once again took up her tea. The woman sipped it slowly, eyes closing as she did. Though she put the tea to rest, her eyes did not open, I am merely suggesting that you pay more attention to the path youre being led down. And yes, you are being led.

Wufei snorted again, arms crossing tightly about his chest, and Duo gave his partner a wary glance. The Chinese boys jaw was twitching, and his lips set into a scowl. We know, Duo replied, This could go a lot more easily if youd just tell us

I shant, the woman snapped. Her eyes locked with Duos, and he felt his own jaw tighten.

Alright, he nodded, As you wish. Standing up, the braided boy shoved his hands into his pockets and jerked a nod at their hostess.

Thanks for the cookies.

Anytime, She muttered. Duos eyes settled for a moment upon the way her fingers curled tight about her porcelain cup, the faint lines around her eyes. She was so young to look so old.

He reached out and tugged Wufeis sleeve to get his attention. Wufei nodded to him, ignoring Dorothy completely as they turned to leave the way theyd come.

Duo fished the keys out of Wufeis pocket before theyd left the castlea fact which Wufei didnt realized until theyd gotten to the car theyd rented for the duration of their stay. Rather than argue about it, which was a miracle in and of itself by Duos standards, Wufei merely climbed into the passenger seat and allowed Duo to take the wheel.

In a few moments they were heading back along the ridiculously long driveway, each apparently lost in his own thoughts.

One hand on the wheel, Duo let himself lean casually back into the seat of the tiny European model that passed for a car on that side of the planet. It was cute, he thought rather pointlessly, sort of like a bug. A bug that he could have stepped on without ever being the wiser, back when he was piloting Deathscythe.

A frown crossed his lipswhy had that thought come up?

He shook his head to clear it just as Wufei spoke up, This is ridiculous.

A bit, yeah, Duo agreed.

Another few moments of silence passed. They reached the front gate, and the guard there let them pass without questioning. Of course he did, Duo mused; it wasnt his job to keep people in.

So I guess we go after the Duke properly? Duo asked. He thought he could hear Wufeis teeth grinding.

I dont like being led about like a sheep. Wufei growled. Anyone else would have been drumming their fingers or tapping their foot, but Wufei did neither; he just crossed his arms a little tighter and frowned out the window. Duo rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the road.

And I enjoy it?

You are a Christian, are you not?

Duos hand clenched, causing the steering wheel to give a squeak of protest. Wufeis eyes widened a little when Duo swerved through a lane of traffic to pull over to the side of the highway. Without taking his eyes from the front of the car, Duo put the car into park and killed the engine. Only then did he round on Wufei.

What the fuck is your problem with me, anyway?

The Chinese boy lifted a hand to one temple, rubbing slow circles upon it. The comment about your religion was inappropriate, I admit. I apolo

Fuck my religion, Duo spat, Im not a Christian, which youd damn well know if you bothered to pay attention for two seconds. I want to know what your fucking problem is with me.

Cold black eyes locked with his, and the two stared at one another for a long moment as cars whizzed past on the freeway beside them. Each one shook the car a little, but neither seemed to notice. That tick in Wufeis jaw continued its work more fervently than before, like a living creature trying to get free.

You never do your paperwork, Wufei finally said in the flat-even tones which indicated his most pissy of moments. Any other day and Duo might have been scared. Youre loud and uncouth, and dont seem to take your job with any sense of pride or dignity. While youre obviously smart, you pretend to be an idiotand I dont know why. You gain nothing from this foolish little mask you wear! Were being drug around like dogs on a leash, and you could at least give a shit about it.

Well if thats all it is the words flew from his mouth before hed even had a chance to think them. Duo ate the rest of that sentence as Wufeis jaw twitched once more and the boys hand clenched into a fist.

Duo threw his hands up in defense and blurted: I cant read, okay?

An incredulous silence fell into place. Duo peeked one eye open to see Wufei staring at him with accusation in his eyes. Well I mean I can, Duo clarified and swallowed a lump in his throat, Just just not really well. Not like you can.

Wufei rolled his eyes, and it was Duos turn to clench a fist. He fell back into his seat, staring out the windshield and pouted. We both know it, okay? Youre smarter than I am. I cant read those stupid reportsI try, but it takes forever. I have to look up every other word in a dictionary, and then ten to twenty more words, just to understand the first definition! Its stupid. Im a better fighter, okay?

Why didnt you just tell me that to begin with? Wufei frowned.

Would you want to let someone know about that? Duo muttered. As much as he hated himself for it, he glanced at the other boy only to find Wufei still staring at him. The accusation was gone, as was the jaw twitch, but they had been replaced by something which Duo couldnt define. Something that made his spine crawl.

We have a job to do, yeah? He chuckled humorlessly and turned the key in the ignition. The little bug hummed to life once again, and Duo guided it back onto the roadway like the expert that he was. At least in this he was unmatched, and they both knew it.



++//\\++



In the first drowsy moments of consciousness, Relena wasnt certain where she was or what was going on. The only thought that registered was Oh bother, not again. It was with reluctance that Relena opened her eyes and took a good look about the foreign room shed fallen asleep in. The sight of a familiar blonde head was a welcome one, though she did wonder what Quatre was doing digging about in the closet.

Good morning, he said, without looking up.

Relena sat up and winced when she moved her ankle. She shifted about until she found a comfortable position and stretched her back out with a pop. A yawn and scratch of her sleep-knotted hair later, and the girl leaned forward to pull up the cuff of her pajama pants so that she could get a good look at her ankle. The swelling had gone down, but there was still a large yellow-green mark across it.

I didnt mean to wake you, Quatre continued from the closet. He was mostly inside of it now, with an impressive collection of junk put out into the room in a semi-circle about the door. I couldnt sleep anymore.

Well you did have a rather long nap on the way here, Relena replied with another yawn. She gave the fleshy swelling of her ankle a tentative poke and winced at its reply. The silence from the closet grew louder, and what she said caught up with her. She winced, Quatre, Im sorry. I forget Ive had more time to adjust

Were both off our game, his voice drifted back in the same, light tone he used for polite company. Then he peeked around the doorway and threw a smile at her. It was gone in an instant and he was back to tunneling his way through the remains of decades past, theres no reason to apologize. On your part, at any rate.

Relena nodded with some reluctance. When Quatre seemed content to leave it at that, Relena let her concentration rest upon finding a way out of the king-sized bed without jarring her ankle too much. It was difficult, but she managed.

One bathroom break later, Relena had twisted her hair into a much more manageable braid, and Quatre had made a discovery in the closet.

It looks as if Heero wasnt quite as thorough with his cleaning as he might have thought, Quatre announced and held aloft an ancient key ring. The ring itself was covered in rust, and there were spider webs sticking to the whole lot of it. But the keys still seemed to be useableor, at least, they were in better shape than their holder. There was a plastic tag clipped in among them, and Relena squinted as it as she took the item.

Theres something wrong with that statement in and of itself, Relena muttered. With a sigh she read aloud, A-3 215.

Quatre nodded to both, crossing his arms over his nude chest. Yep, he agreed brightly, But either way, Im curious.

Same, Relena nodded. She dropped her attention from the keys and threw a wary glance toward the bedroom door, Are they still watching us?

He followed her gaze with a frown. His lips twitched back into a smile before he thought shed noticed, and Relena decided not to say anything. No. They didnt last night, from what I could tell, and I havent heard from them yet this morning. I even went down to the kitchen earlier. Theres no sign.

I see. Relena frowned a little and then shook her head. Well. This doesnt seem like a hotel key. Lets get some breakfast. I need a shower, and if theyre still leaving us alone, we can try and figure out where Mr. Yuy is leading us off too.

And poke about for some swimwear, He reminded her as he offered her his arm.

And poke about for some swimwear, Relena agreed with a laugh as she accepted it.



++//\\++

A/N: Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far, and a hug to my two editors for this chapter: Loki and Ami

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