The door swung open slightly, and Heero frowned. "I know Wufei's got an alarm system, and he modified it to be more sensitive, so why--"
Relena walked straight past him, pushing the door wide open. "Duo? Are you here?" Everyone else followed right behind her, leaving Heero to trail in last, checking the alarm box on the wall on the way in. There was a piece of paper taped to it, with the codes to switch it on and off, in Wufei's handwriting-- presumably so Duo could set it-- but it wasn't on.
Duo was curled up under the afghan on one end of the sofa, reading a book, a glass of water on the end table beside him. He glanced up as Relena and the others came in, then looked away, concentrating stubbornly on his reading.
"Duo, are you all right?" Relena exclaimed, hurrying forwards. "Why weren't you answering the phone?"
"I'm fine," he said quietly, not looking up. "I don't want to tie up the phone in case 'Fei gets a call through."
Sally bustled forward, quickly checking his temperature with a hand on his forehead, then reached for his wrist to take his pulse. "I'm fine!" he repeated, yanking his hand away.
"Have you been eating properly?" she asked, worry making her voice sharp.
"Are you sure? I didn't see any dirty dishes in the kitchen--"
"I wash up!" he said angrily, glaring at her. "'Fei trusts me to look after myself. Leave me alone. I'm not a kid."
Trowa and Quatre conferred in whispers for a moment, then Quatre stepped forward. "Duo, would you like to come home with us until Wufei gets back?"
"Please? We really don't want to leave you all alone for a week."
"I don't mind."
"Duo, I really think you should--" Sally started.
"Wufei is coming back here!" Duo snapped. "He might call here. I don't care what you think, I'm staying here."
Heero was standing back, behind all of the others, watching Duo. He looks better, he thought wistfully. All the bruises are gone. He's still too thin, but not painfully thin like he was. He hasn't looked at me-- he winced slightly, unhappily, --but he's talking to everyone else.
I guess Wufei really has been good for him.
Relena was watching Duo, too, but was concentrating more on the way his expression was getting more and more mutinous and stubborn.
He's not going to agree to anything that takes him out of this apartment, but with everyone so worked up about his safety, they're not going to agree to leave him here alone. Sally's stressed enough that she might try to move him forcibly, and he'd never forgive that...Coming to a decision, she held up her hand, cutting Sally and Quatre off in mid-sentence.
"Heero, please pack me a bag and ask Karl to reschedule all of my appointments for the next week," she said firmly. "I'm staying here until Wufei gets back."
Une blinked in surprise, then slowly smiled; Sally wasn't so happy. "Relena, you're hardly qualified to take care of Duo!"
"I won't need to take care of him," she said sweetly. "He's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. I'm staying for everyone else's peace of mind, not because I think he needs help." She turned to smile sympathetically at Duo, who was eyeing her suspiciously. "I won't nag you," she whispered, leaning closer, "and it'll keep everyone off your back. Okay?"
"...Maybe," he muttered grudgingly.
"What about your meetings?" Quatre asked.
"Karl can make my apologies, and explain that I've been called away on urgent personal business," Relena said firmly.
"You can't cook," Trowa pointed out.
"Duo can, and when it's my turn, I have a platinum card and a phone book."
"I thinks it's an excellent idea, as long as Duo doesn't object," Une said cheerfully.
Everyone looked at Heero. Even Duo peered sideways at him out of the corner of his eye.
"...How many changes of clothes do you want?" he asked.
It wasn't quite that simple, of course, but eventually Duo and Relena were alone in the apartment. Relena had a bag of casual clothes and toiletries, a briefcase full of paperwork, a list of instructions from Sally that she planned to ignore, and a mobile phone, so she could stay in contact with her office without tying up the apartment's phone line.
"Duo, will I be in your way if I do some work on the dining table?" she asked, holding up the briefcase. "I've got a lot of reports to read."
"Go ahead," he shrugged, curling up with his book again.
They read in silence until nearly dinner time, then Duo set his book aside and went into the kitchen to cook. A short while later, Relena looked up from her work to discover a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at her elbow. When she'd finished, Duo collected her plate and utensils, again without a word being said; when she heard him running water into the kitchen sink, she followed him out and picked up a dishtowel. Together, they silently washed up, put everything away, and returned to the living room. Duo pulled the spare futon and pillow out of the linen closet, helped her set it up, then picked up his book and walked off towards the bedroom.
He paused at the door, looking back. "...G'night," he said quietly, and vanished before she could reply.
* * * * *
"Leave me alone!"
Relena jerked awake, blinking at the ceiling. There was enough light filtering in through the curtains for her to see vague shapes in the dimness, and for a moment she was completely disoriented as she tried to find the familiar landmarks of her own room. Everything was in the wrong place, and the bed didn't feel right...
"Heero?" she said muzzily, propping herself up on her elbows to look around. "Where--"
"Don't!" There was a dull thump against the wall behind her, then a muffled whimper, and abruptly Relena remembered.
Wufei's apartment. Duo. Something's wrong!
Almost tripping as her feet tangled themselves in the covers, she scrambled off the futon and headed for the bedroom. She ran her hip into the dining table on the way, not seeing it in the gloom, but barely noticed the pain.
Duo was struggling against his covers, choking out sobs and curses as he fought in his dreams. Relena went to her knees beside the futon, reaching out to pat his shoulder.
"Duo? Duo, wake up," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. "You're having a nightmare. It's not real, you're okay, I promise. Wake up!" He cried out and writhed away as she touched him, cringing into a ball.
"Duo! Wake up! ...damn, damn, damn it, what do I do?" she almost wailed, clutching at her hair. Scrambling to her feet again, she ran out into the living room and grabbed her phone off of the table. Pushing the first speed-dial button, she paced back and forth, listening to Duo's sobs as she waited for the call to be answered.
< < Yui here. > >
"Heero, it's me," she said quickly. "Duo's having a nightmare and I can't wake him up. What do I do?"
< < I'll be there in five minutes-- > >
"No! I told Duo I'd keep everyone off his back. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it!" Besides, she thought unhappily, he still isn't comfortable around you. He might react... badly... if he wakes up and you're here.
There was a pause before Heero replied, and his voice was strained. < < ...Okay. If he won't wake up, he's too deep in the nightmare. The only thing that'll work is soothing him out of it. Hold him, stroke his back, keep talking to him. Tell him he's safe until he calms down, then stay with him or he'll just start again. Once you're holding him, he should calm down fairly fast. > >
"Right. I can do this. Um... if I don't call you back, everything went fine, all right?"
< < All right. Call me if you need anything else. > >
"I will. Bye. Thanks."
Without waiting for a reply, she hit the button to end the call and dropped the phone; it probably landed on the table, but she didn't wait to see.
Back in the bedroom, Relena carefully climbed onto the futon next to Duo. I can worry about getting under the covers after he settles down, she decided, reaching for his shoulders and gently pulling him forwards, trying to lift him enough to get her arms around him. I hope Heero is right about this working fast--
Once again, Relena found herself blinking up at an unfamiliar ceiling. This time, she was sprawled off the edge of the futon onto the hard floor, with the added entertainment of a seriously painful right cheekbone and pretty sparkles in front of her eyes.
"Owwww..." Okay. Maybe this isn't going to be as easy as Heero made it sound. Sitting up, she carefully explored the bruise with her fingertips, wincing. Well, at least he didn't hit my nose. Wouldn't that give the press a field day? Vice-Foreign Minister Peacecraft with a broken nose, very photogenic. Ow. Let's try this again.
Easing back onto the futon, holding herself ready to duck, she carefully reached out and stroked Duo's arm. "It's okay Duo, I'm here. You're safe, I promise. It's okay..." He whimpered and curled up slightly, rolling towards her, and she switched to rubbing his back. "It's okay. You're safe..."
Well, he hasn't tried to hit me again-- yet, she thought after a minute, and his fists aren't clenched. He isn't trying to get away anymore. Maybe it's safe to get a little closer? Slowly settling down until she was lying facing him, still rubbing his back and talking softly, she inched forward just a little. Duo shifted slightly, brushing against her stomach with the back of his hand--
--and suddenly grabbed her, worming forward and burrowing under her chin. Relena squeaked in alarm as he clutched at her pyjama top, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding tight, and she had to suppress a panicked urge to elbow him off of her, the way Heero had taught her to deal with a grappling attack.
"Don't go," he sobbed, shivering. "Don't leave me..."
"I--I won't, Duo," she said, a little shakily, hugging him. "I'm here. You're safe, I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
Some time later, finally dozing off, Relena's thoughts wandered. I wonder if that counts as a TKO? I think I was down for an eight- count...
Once he settles down, though, he settles down fast. Heero was right about that.
...Hm. Heero. He said he'd be here in five minutes... but from my house to here takes twenty minutes, if there's no traffic. What was he going to do? Fire himself out of a cannon?
Yawning, Relena nestled her unbruised cheek onto the top of Duo's head, and drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
The warm body in Relena's arms shifted a little closer, muttering something incoherent about woodpeckers, and she stretched sleepily. "Morning, Heero," she yawned, cuddling closer and stroking his back; then her hand encountered something that felt like a long, soft rope, and she picked it up and peered at it, blinking. "Ooops, morning, Duo."
"Follow the rabbit," Duo said clearly, not moving.
"That's as reasonable a statement as anything else, I suppose," she muttered, settling down and taking stock of the morning. Early morning, she mused. It's still dark. I can hear a little traffic... no birdsong, yet... Ow. My face hurts. I wonder if I have a black eye?
...Is that the door? Lifting her head slightly, Relena listened intently.
Uh-huh. If that's Sally, I'm going to give her a piece of my mind!
Duo clutched at her as she started to ease our of bed, and she had to stop for a moment, stroking his hair until he relaxed; then she padded towards the front door, mentally rehearsing a few choice phrases about people who come knocking on other people's doors before dawn.
Outside, Heero looked up and down the rows of apartment doors, then glanced over the walkway's edge, checking the glass-roofed central garden area for signs of life. It looked like his quiet knocking hadn't woken up any of the neighbors yet, which was good, but it also didn't seem to be getting any response from Relena.
I don't want to knock any louder, though, he thought, turning back towards the door to knock again. I don't want to wake up Duo if I can avoid it--
The door was abruptly yanked open
to reveal an angry-looking Relena in red flannel pyjamas. "Do you have any idea
what time-- Heero?"
"I wanted to check and make sure everything was all right," he stated, then stopped short as he saw the purpling bruise across her right eye and cheek. "You-- what-- are you all right?" he blurted out, eyes wide, reaching for her. "What happ--"
The punch took him by surprise. One second he was standing up; the next, there was a sudden blinding pain in his left eye, and he found himself sitting on the walkway, looking up at Relena as she flexed her hand, working the tingles out of it.
"That's for not warning me to duck," she said coldly, stepped back, and slammed the door in his face.
* * * * *
It was well past dawn when Duo woke up.
Unlike Relena, he knew right away that the person holding him was not his
usual bedmate; Wufei's chest and shoulders were far broader than Relena's, for
one thing, and he had solid planes of muscle that she lacked. The breasts were a
pretty good clue, too.
His eyes popped open and he jerked backwards, staring at her in shock. "Relena?!" he squeaked, watching as she blinked awake. "What-- how did you-- uh-- why do you have a black eye?" he trailed off weakly, seeing the fairly impressive bruise. "Oh, shit. Did I do that?"
"It's not your fault," she said sleepily, wiping tendrils of hair off of her face. "You had a nightmare."
"I'm really sorry," he said miserably, starting to pull away. "I didn't mean to."
"Don't be silly!" she answered, pushing herself up on one elbow and leaning forward to hug him. "You were asleep! Of course you didn't mean to do it! Do you honestly think I'd still be here if I thought you'd punched me on purpose?"
"Um... I guess not."
"Good answer," she said, patting his back before letting him go. "Now, if you're happy with just toast and coffee for breakfast, I think I can handle it, but if you want anything more ambitious, I'm going to need help."
"Bacon and eggs?" he suggested tentatively.
"You read my mind," she said happily, scrambling for the edge of the futon.
Breakfast was a little awkward, with Duo sneaking nervous peeks at Relena's face whenever he thought she wasn't looking. She found out why after they cleaned up, when she went into the bathroom to wash and get dressed.
"Oh, my," she whispered, marvelling at the dark bruise stretching from her eye socket nearly to her chin. "That is impressive! No wonder poor Duo keeps looking guilty... I look like I've been mugged, or got into a fight!" She leaned closer to the mirror, examining the delicate shades of purple circling her eye, and snickered quietly. "I look like a raccoon."
Abruptly, the full impact of her appearance at the moment hit her. Relena Peacecraft, pampered princess and politician, still regarded by many as 'the Queen of the World', was standing in a strange bathroom, admiring her first ever black eye like a prize fighter, with her hair in a rat's nest sticking out in all directions. "Oh, if the press could see me now," she muttered, starting to giggle. "Wouldn't that be a shock?"
"Um... Relena? You okay in there?"
"I'm fine!" Still giggling, she opened the door. "I look a fright, don't I? I've never had a black eye before, I didn't know how ridiculous one would make me look!"
"Sorry," Duo whispered, twisting the end of his braid around his fingers; he jumped, surprised, as she hugged him.
"I said it wasn't your fault," she told him, gently rocking him back and forth. "It doesn't even hurt much. I'm not mad about it. Actually, I think it's pretty funny..." She started snickering again, and pulled back to look him in the face. "Can't you just imagine it if I showed up at an official function with a-- a shiner like this?! All of the old fossils who act like they'd like to pat me on the head and tell me to run away and play would be horrified! Baroness Alsmley would probably tell me to go to my room until I looked more like a lady!"
Slowly, a tiny grin appeared on Duo's face. "It does look pretty silly."
"Does Wufei have a camera?" she asked, eyes sparkling. "Can we take a picture of this? I need it for posterity. Someday I'll have kids, after all, and I want to have evidence when I tell them how Uncle Duo gave Mommy a black eye."
That startled a laugh out of him, and by the time they'd found Wufei's camera and taken several photos of The Black Eye From Hell, there was no room for awkwardness left.
* * * * *
Early that afternoon, the phone rang.
Relena and Duo were reading again, both sitting on the couch this time, and Relena felt the couch jerk slightly underneath her as Duo's head snapped up to stare at the vidphone. He stayed perfectly still, so tense he was almost quivering, as it rang three times and then switched to voicemail.
*Click* < < Chang residence. Leave a message. > >
< < Damn. > > Wufei's voice was almost drowned out by a burst of static, then came back. < < Duo, hi. I-- > >
Duo almost catapulted himself across the room, hitting the 'accept call' button hard enough to shift the vidphone slightly. "'Fei! How are you? Is everything going okay?"
The image on the screen was rippling and haloed with colour shadows, but Wufei's delighted grin was still clearly visible. < < I thought I'd missed you! I'm fine; half of the electronic systems on this piece of junk station seem to be permanently 'being serviced', but nothing essential has broken yet, and the negotiations are going reasonably well. How are you? > >
"I'm okay," Duo said softly, one hand lifting to brush fingertips across the screen. "Miss you, though... I'm looking after myself, I swear, but Sally and the others were freaking out 'cause I didn't answer the phone, so don't panic if she calls you, okay?"
Wufei seemed torn between laughter and concern for a moment, but laughter won. < < She does fuss, doesn't she? I'd be lying if I said I didn't worry about you, but *crackle* trust you to look after *crackle* > >
"Uh, 'Fei, you're breaking up a bit."
Bands of static were appearing on the image. < < I think the connection is going. *crackle* *hiss* phone systems are as bad everything else on this *crackle* Would you *hiss* don't even have a working approach radar? > > The picture broke up completely, but sound transmission stayed on for a moment longer. < < Don't forget, I love y-- > >
Duo watched the screenful of static hopefully for a moment, then wilted slightly as it blinked to a test pattern, the visual equivalent of a dial tone. Sighing, he switched it off and slowly wandered back to the couch, flopping heavily into his seat.
"At least he got through for a minute," Relena said eventually, reaching out to rub Duo's shoulder sympathetically.
"Yeah," he sighed, managing a smile, and picked up his book again.
And he didn't get cut off three words earlier, Relena finished to herself, hiding a smile behind her reports.
About an hour later, Relena had finished the last report and Duo was still staring blankly at the same page of his book.
"Do you mind if I turn on the TV?" Relena asked, managing not to laugh at his startled expression. "Karl will call me if there's anything on the news I really need to take notice of, but I prefer to watch it myself."
"Uh... sure, that's not a problem. Go ahead."
"Thank you," she said gratefully, reaching for the remote. "You know," she mused, switching it on and flicking through the channels until she reached ESNN, "I never would have thought of myself as a TV addict, but I think I would have become positively twitchy if I'd missed another day's worth of news."
"You're not an addict," Duo muttered, smirking. "You can stop any time you want, right?"
"Definitely! Do you think I'm tough enough to do it cold turkey, or should I wean myself off with documentaries and infomercials?"
"Not infomercials," he shuddered dramatically. "They're more addictive than any other form of-- hey, that's you!"
< < Coming back to our news story, here on the Earth Sphere News Network, > > the announcer said with a fixed, plastic smile on her face, < < Vice-Foreign Minister Relena Peacecraft dropped out of sight yesterday, and speculations on her current location is running high. > > The picture behind her switched from one of Relena's formal portraits, taken during her short rule of the Sanc Kingdom, to a mansion with reporters and camera crews clustered outside. < < Minister Peacecraft's personal assistant and PR office will only say that she is occupied with 'personal business'-- > > A raised eyebrow and a little subtle emphasis in the voice managed to convey the announcer's opinion of what that business might be. < <--and is expected to return at the end of the week. Her household staff have been similarly uncommunicative, and physically ejected a reporter who attempted to enter the grounds. > >
"Good," Relena said coldly, beginning to feel angry. "Probably tried to climb a wall. It wouldn't be the first time."
"Do you get this sort of thing often?" Duo asked, watching incredulously as the picture changed to show other ministers entering a building, with reporters shouting questions from behind a line of police officers.
"No, not often. Usually, the main news services are fairly considerate; they know that if they don't push things, we'll give them good information when we can." Relena smiled thinly, tapping her nails on the remote. "It must be a slow news week."
"I guess so," Duo said weakly. "Geez... I thought we had it tough with the press during the war. At least they weren't supposed to be on our side!"
Relena's phone rang, and she got up to answer it. "Hello? ...Yes, Karl, I know," she sighed. "We just turned on the news and saw it. ...No, you did exactly the right thing! They aren't entitled to any more information than that, and if you'd told them more, they just would have been encouraged. ...Yes. Thank you, Karl. Goodbye." She sat down again, putting the mobile on the coffee table. "Hopefully, something more interesting will come up and they'll lose interest."
On screen, the announcer stiffened slightly, one hand going to the tiny receiver in her ear. < < We're crossing live to one of our mobile camera teams now-- > >
The screen blanked entirely for a second, then flashed multi-coloured static. A data bar appeared at the bottom of the screen, reading 'LIVE TRANSMISSION- Disappearance of Minister Peacecraft'; then the static cleared, showing a group of reporters running towards a car as someone got out.
"Oh, no, not again," Relena moaned. "That's Heero's car..."
"Mr Yui, can you comment on Minister Peacecraft's whereabouts?"
"Is she ill? What's happening?"
"What sort of personal business?"
"Is there any truth to the rumours that the engagement is off?"
"Mr. Yui, how'd you get that black eye?"
"I teach self-defense classes. I didn't duck this morning." Two perfectly true statements, only one of which was actually an answer to the question.
"So, Ms. Peacecraft hasn't been kidnapped?" The reporter sounded almost disappointed.
"If she had, I'd be looking for her, not talking to you."
"One of my sources insists she's pregnant, and is trying to decide whether or not to keep the baby!"
"I don't think so." Heero snorted derisively.
"This source has been very reliable in the past."
"Not this time," Heero glared contemptuously at the reporter, wishing he could just shoot the idiot. "Try a Magic 8-Ball in the future."
"Is Minister Peacecraft seeing someone else?"
"Not that I know of." Another twenty feet and he'd be at the door...
"So she could be?!"
Heero slowly turned around. "I know exactly where she is, what she is doing and why. You're not even close."
"Then what is she doing?"
"You've been told. Personal business."
"Mr. Yui, you have to give us more information than that!"
"Not according to our current legal system, I don't."
"Mr. Yui--" "Is she--" "My sources--" "A rumour--" The reporters crowded closer, shoving microphones and cameras at him; he tried to ignore them, slowly pushing his way closer to the building.
"I don't believe this!" Relena seethed, jumping up to pace angrily back and forth. "Can't they find anything better to do than harassing Heero? And these are supposed to be the reputable news services! I'd expect this sort of behavior from the tabloids, after all they already did it to him once-- almost got him evicted, they were so eager to dig up every scrap of information! The dirtier, the better, and if you can't find out something bad, you make it up! No respect for anyone's dignity or privacy, calling and harassing him, waiting on his doorstep-- if he has to change his phone numbers again, or move, I swear I'll sue them out of business! If they want to know all about my personal business, they can damn well ask me, and then take no for an answer!"
< < Mr.Yui, surely you can see that we need some sort of statement for our viewers-- > >
"You want a statement?" Relena asked the TV, scooping up her phone and punching a button. "Fine. You'll get a statement!"
"Uh, Relena, are you sure that's such a good idea?" Duo asked nervously, glancing from her to the mob on the screen... where, he saw with growing alarm, Heero was pulling his phone out of a pocket.
"Oh, I'm sure," she answered him. "...Hello, Heero? Pass the phone to the nosiest reporter, please."
Heero blinked, looking surprised; then he smirked, eyes glittering, pushed a couple of buttons, and held it out to the man who'd asked if Relena was pregnant.
< < Here. It's for you. > >
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