There came the sound of something solid hitting something fragile that gave way and broke, filling the room with the noise of breaking glass.
“Why wasn’t I told of this?” A man’s voice, haggard with emotion, rang out in the silence. “I could have protected her, but instead I was left in the dark!”
No one answered the questions. The room was filled with eight people, only of whom two were sitting down. Zechs prowled from one end of the room to the other, not even bothering to nurse the hand that had just broken a clock’s facing. Lucrezia stood to one side of the room next to the slender windows that graced the room, her eyes on her husband. Ann, Sally, and Wu Fei stood at one end of the room, ranged against a large desk. Duo and Trowa were the only ones sitting, in chairs that were across from where Lucrezia stood. The ball was still going on for many people and all could hear the faint strains of music in the sudden silence. Only the parties involved had been informed of Relena’s condition and they had deemed it prudent not to raise alarm at such an occasion. Relena was down a couple of hallways in the infirmary undergoing surgery to remove the bullet.
“And you have the gall to stand there and say that you tried to save her? I see no wounds on any of you! You especially!” Zechs yelled at the silent figure at the other end of the room. “I can’t believe that you truly tried to protect her!”
Duo raised a hand. “Excuse me, but she did leave the dance quickly. It was hard to follow without being too obvious. That, and the little fact that we had no idea what the guy looked like. We only suspected something when he started to follow. We couldn’t move until then.”
Zechs whirled towards the younger man. “Why are you here? Aren’t you busy running your own business?” His gaze shifted slightly to encompass Trowa.
“And what about your job as an entertainer?”
“A friend needed help and we’d both heard about the plot from our own sources. We decided to help a friend protect another friend,” Trowa replied, speaking up for the first time. Duo looked over at him, and then glanced over at Heero. Not that he could see much, what with the fact that Heero still stood in the shadows, face vacant as ever.
“We should just be grateful that Relena wasn’t seriously injured and she should be fine in a few weeks,” Sally said soberly, looking at the assemblage.
Lucrezia halted Zechs pacing by placing a hand on his arm, smiling up at him sadly. “There’s nothing we can do by worrying about the past. She’s strong-she’s come through worse situations and survived. She’ll be fine.” Zechs was silent for a moment before he nodded slowly.
“If we’re not needed, we’ll be in our suite.” Zechs led his wife out, but not before lancing a brief look at the young man standing near the doors. Heero's eyes flickered back at his, a solemn promise in the dark depths. Satisfied, the older man left the room.
As if it had been an unspoken signal, Ann and Sally made their excuses and left the room, leaving the four former Gundam pilots alone. Duo looked around at the two remaining standing, smirking.
“Don’t start again about justice, Wuffie. It happened and it’s over with. And Heero did his best, considering the situation. There were three of us there and that guy still got a shot off. She’d be dead if we’d hadn’t been there.”
Wu Fei glared at him for a moment before nodding. “You are right, for once.” His eyes tightened with annoyance as Duo mimed falling out of his chair.
“If you don’t need me here, I’ll be down in the infirmary.” Heero stated quietly, turning to leave. The other pilots exchanged quick glances as they watched him walk towards the doorway. Duo leaped to his feet as he nominated himself for the task ahead. He caught up to Heero as the other reached the main hallway.
“Oi, Heero. Anything on your mind?” The Wing pilot didn’t respond, but Duo had gotten used to that four years ago.
“Surely you can’t expect us to help you without an explanation as to why you decided to appear out of nowhere. That, and be part of the Preventers, in one of their top positions, to boot! What gives here?”
“They needed the help. I volunteered.” Heero replied, eyes straight ahead. Duo kept up the pace that Heero was setting. determined to get an answer.
“But that doesn’t explain why you called Trowa and me in to help. We’re not Preventers.”
“I needed someone who had been trained the way I had been. Wu Fei couldn’t help without taking the chance that someone would notice a change in his schedule. So I decided on contacting you and Trowa. I thought of Quatre, since he’s closer, but he’s untrained for this sort of mission.”
The two turned a corner and Duo drew in a deep breath. “Okay, that explains why we’re here. But I didn’t catch the part as to why you showed up out of the blue.”
This time Heero looked at him. “Relena needs protection. And I didn’t just ‘show up out of the blue’-I’ve been with the Preventers for a year and a half now.” Duo quirked an eyebrow at that tidbit of information. So…
“So why the cloak and dagger? She looked for you for the longest time after the Mariemaia crisis, when you vanished. Don’t you know that if you had shown up on her balcony, she’d have taken you with open arms?”
Duo was nonplussed. “You know? Then why have you been lurking in the shadows for the past year or so?”
Heero stopped and Duo skidded to a halt. “I’ve been watching and waiting for the right time.” He looked at Duo fully. “This wasn’t the only threat she’s received in the past year or so. I approached Ann with a proposition and she agreed. That’s why she was having the meeting tonight-I was to present myself as Relena’s personal bodyguard and explain the reasoning behind it. But the incident tonight forced our hand.” He looked away for a moment and Duo saw an emotion pass over the pilot’s face-pain. Pain, from someone who didn’t know the meaning of the word.
“Heero.” He reached out a hand to his friend’s shoulder, trying to offer support.
“I tried to get in the way, to take the bullet. But I was too slow. I should have been on that balcony sooner. Some bodyguard I turn out to be.” The last words were a mere whisper, but Duo heard them.
“There was nothing any of us could do. You had no idea where she would be going.”
Heero looked back at him. “I knew where she was at all times. There was a homing beacon on her costume. I could have prevented this from ever happening if I had just been quicker.”
Something inside of Duo snapped-he didn’t know if it was from anger or sadness. All he knew was that in the next moment he had grabbed Heero by the collar of his jacket and was pushing his friend against the wall, going nose to nose with someone who could break all the bones in his body without even raising a sweat.
“Listen to yourself! There was nothing you could have done that we didn’t try already. It was taking two of us to hold him down and he still succeeded!” Duo yelled at him. Blue eyes stared back at him, narrowing dangerously. But at least it was an emotion, something new in Duo’s book.
“I failed in my mission.”
Duo gave the taller man a hard shake. “Forget your mission for once and take a good look at yourself. You’re avoiding the big picture here. You’re upset because the one person in the entire world that can actually make you feel like a human being was injured in your presence and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. And now she’s in surgery while you’re still fine and that makes you feel like crap. And you have no idea why you feel this way.”
Heero glared at Duo. “Don’t try to psycho-analyze me.” Duo smirked, twisting the jacket against Heero’s throat. “I’m not even going to begin to try. I tried that four years ago and all I got was a headache that wouldn’t quit. I just want to hear you say it.”
Deep blue glittered darkly at violet. “Say what?”
Duo released the jacket, but not before shoving Heero up against the wall once more, just to give himself a sense of satisfaction. "If you don't understand now, then I can't help you. Go on down and see how ojousan is."
Heero turned away, walking down the hall. Duo stared after his retreating back, then grinned. The situation was dire and people had been hurt, but in the end, he wouldn't have missed it for the world.
The world was made up of light and shadow. It danced around her and tantalized her with images that passed too quickly for her to see or remember clearly. Heero was in her dream, but that was nothing new.
He was in samurai armor, a katana in his hands as he faced off against a looming dark shadow. Two other figures joined him-one, Duo, was dressed in unrelieved black, a long-bladed scythe in his hands. The other was Trowa, dressed in silver European armor, wielding a sword. The three of them hacked away at the shadow, the fragments falling away in rainbow-hued shards.
Someone was calling her but she had no desire to respond. She was safe here, protected. Heero was here with her and that's all she needed to know.
That voice again. It wouldn't go away and leave her alone. She was so tired. She just wanted to wake up when she had to, not a slave to her schedule.
*It's time to wake up, Relena…*
She turned to Heero, only to see him fade away. Turning, she saw Duo and Trowa disappear also, Duo tossing off one last salute.
*Relena, come back to me…*
"She should be waking up soon. The operation was successful-there were no complications and she's young and strong." The nurse said to the young man who showed up at the infirmary at daybreak. She didn't say anything, but quite frankly, she thought he looked like hell. His eyes were shadowed with fatigue and his Preventers uniform seemed to hang loosely on his frame.
He nodded to her then walked past into the room where the Vice Prime Minister was lying.
Heero sat down in the chair next to the bed, eyes intent on her. She was so pale there, the only color seeming to come from her long, dark gold hair that was draped over the uninjured shoulder in a ponytail. Her left shoulder almost looked like the shoulder mount of an MS, with what appeared to be miles worth of gauze.
He remembered when Ann and Sally had found him two years after Mariemeia’s bid for power. He had been working at a construction site, helping rebuild parts of the colonies that had been damaged in the wars. He had thought he had covered his tracks well, but they had shown up on his doorstep with a proposition.
*“We know that a occurrence like Mariemeia probably won’t happen again, but we need to take measures to prevent it from being even an idea. We want to form a special unit to protect her. She is too important to the government to be lost again.”* Ann had said, sitting across from him. He had barely looked at them, staring at a space between them. Sally had leaned forward, drawing his gaze back to her.
*“Heero, we would like to offer you the position of being in charge of this unit. You’re the best for what the job needs and Relena trusts you.”* He glanced away again, considering. Then he had looked at them both.
*“If I take the position, I want to make a few requests.”* The two women had looked so relieved at the possibility that he might take the job that he almost turned them down at that moment. Only the vision of Relena’s face had prevented him from doing so.
*“I’ll take the job, but she is to never know that I’m around. She can never see me, or have contact in any way. And there is no need for a unit-I can take care of everything myself."*
They had looked nonplussed at his request, but had granted it. So for the past eighteen months he had been watching over her, keeping her safe. And she never knew of the extent to which he kept his vigilance.
He knew when she was weak, after a long day with politicians. When she would close her door, go to her bed and cry into the plush fur of a small brown teddy bear with a red ribbon around its neck. Or when she would be tempted to throw an object against the wall just for the pleasure of smashing something that wasn’t as fragile as peace. He had lost count of how many nights he would guard her balcony, watching as she slept fitfully, her dreams crowded with demons that stalked her during the waking hours. But whenever he approached, she would calm down, her hand reaching for the gift he had given her long ago.
And he had failed in the end-she had been shot, wounded. He had failed in his mission, the only mission he had ever given himself.
The sound of the door opening made him spin around, right hand bringing up his pistol to bear on the door. Then he lowered it slowly as he saw Duo walk in, inclining his head towards the bed.
"How is she?"
"The nurse said she should be awake soon. Why are you still here? I thought that your shuttle left this morning.”
Duo rolled his eyes, leaning back against the wall. “You really expected me to leave without witnessing the final act in this little show? I think that Trowa may have left, though.”
Heero nodded absently, turning back to the bed. Duo looked at the back of his friend's head for a long moment then narrowed his eyes. Seemed like this duty was to be his also.
"You know Heero, I've been thinking about what you said last night," he said calmly. He saw Heero jerk slightly in the chair but he didn't turn around.
"You were right-you did fail in your mission. I've never known you to fail at anything in all the time that I've known you. Maybe you should go ahead and leave while you still have a chance. If you leave now, before she wakes up, maybe she'll think that seeing you was a dream she had."
This time he got a reaction. Heero turned around in his chair, standing up with a scrape of the legs against the floor. If he had looked tired before, he now looked as if he was ready to do battle. His blue eyes glittered dangerously, stabbing deep into Duo's.
"If you have something to say, I suggest you say it to me out in the hallway." So saying, he walked past him into the hall, and Duo followed. Once there, he closed the door behind him and turned to see Heero standing five feet away, feet spread apart, his fists clenched.
"What exactly are you trying to say, Duo?"
He leaned back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm saying that since you failed in protecting Miss Relena in there, that perhaps you're not up to the job after all." He let a smirk cross his face.
"I meant what I said earlier. If you leave now, then Relena will think that seeing you was just a side effect of being shot. Or just a dream she had-wouldn't be the first time that she's dreamt of you, I’m sure. Maybe she won't even remember you at all-sometimes a victim of trauma has short term memory loss."
"I'm staying, Duo. I'm going to stay here and wait for her to wake up."
"And tell her what, Heero? Tell her that you're sorry that you couldn't save her? I'm sure that will go over well with her, since she's the one lying in there with a bullet wound in her shoulder."
Heero's eyes narrowed, his chest expanding as he drew in a deep breath. "I don't know what I'm going to tell her."
Duo nodded. "I see. Well, if you do decide not to stay with her and be part of the Preventers, don't worry about her safety. I've been thinking about it and resolved to join the Preventers and take your place. Who knows? Maybe I can do a better job than you."
'What about your business on L2?"
"I can sell it and come back here to carry out my new duties as her bodyguard."
Heero stepped closer. "I'm not leaving."
"Why not? C'mon Heero, admit it. You're afraid that I'll do a better job than you." He smiled slightly, snapping his fingers. "Maybe Miss Relena will fall for me. After all, I do have a better personality now than you'll ever have."
Heero came within a foot of Duo, staring at him. "If you think that I'll leave and let you make a mess of her life, then you're mistaken."
Duo stopped smiling, his eyes serious. "I can't make it any worse than you have already. Do you know that she waited forever for you to turn up? I think that she believed that you would come to her eventually. When you didn't, I heard that she just gave up and dedicated herself even more to her position."
"It's my intention to explain to her why I was gone for so long."
Duo glared at Heero. "Gee, that's big of you Heero."
He barely saw the fist that flew towards him before it impacted, sending him back against the wall. He looked up to see Heero standing over him, fists at the ready. He nodded, wincing slightly at the pain in his midsection as he stood up.
"So I take it that you don't like the idea of me, the personification of Death, being with her, the Dove of Peace."
Heero launched another punch and this time Duo ducked, plowing his own fist into Heero's stomach. He remembered the last time he had hit Heero-barely made an impact with his best punch. This time would be different-he hadn't grown up on the streets and not picked up a trick or two.
Duo reached up and grabbed Heero's jacket lapels, using the momentum to slam his fist into the others face. Heero's head whipped back then came forward, impacting with Duo's forehead.
"You and her together; that's not a funny joke, Duo," Heero said between exchanges. The two men circled each other slowly, both with at least one eye swelling shut and blood running down one side of their faces.
"It's better than leaving her alone," Duo retorted. Heero's good eye narrowed at that and he launched his fist at Duo's face. The two men plowed into a gurney this time and tumbled to the floor.
The nurse, who had been standing to the side, trying to stay out of the way, started to go to their rescue but was halted by something holding her shoulder. She looked back to see a tall young man with brown hair falling over one eye shake his head once, holding a finger to his lips in the age-old gesture for silence. She nodded once and walked out of the ward.
"You left her! Do you know how much that hurt her?" Duo gasped out around Heero's hands at his neck as he gazed up at his friend. His words sank in and the fingers loosened slightly. Then they released as Heero moved away, slumping against the wall and sitting down. Duo rubbed at his neck gingerly then sat down next to him.
"I know. And I mean to make it up to her, if she'll have me."
Duo nodded. "Then go and see if she's awake. If so, ask her."
Heero stood, taking a deep breath, then looked down. "Sorry about that. Don't know what came over me."
Duo waved it off. "Someone has to be your conscience once in a while. Go to her."
Heero walked into the room.
Relena opened her eyes, blinking up at the blinding whiteness that surrounded her. Slowly, things started to take shape around her. There was a slight sound and she turned to see Heero sitting next to where she lay, holding her hand.
"Heero?" she asked, afraid that she was having another dream and that he would fade away if she got too close.
"I'm here, Relena."
Her eyes searched his, then noticed that he looked like she felt. "What happened to you?"
He rubbed at the bridge of his nose for a moment, then shrugged. "Duo and I had a difference in opinion."
Relena frowned. "Duo is a good friend. What happened?" she asked again.
Heero hesitated. "I was to be presented to you last night as your personal bodyguard, if you'll have me."
Relena stared up at him, her blue eyes huge in her pale face. "If I'll have you?" she whispered, then nodded, feeling happier than she had in a long time. Tears came to her eyes as she reached out a hand to his face, touching the cheek that wasn't bloodied or bruised. Heero placed his own hand over hers, smiling.
Duo let the door close softly on the scene, shaking his head. "Ninmu Kanryou" he whispered to himself as he turned and started to walk away. Ahead of him Trowa stepped out from another room, falling into step next to him.
"Is she okay?"
Duo nodded. "She'll be fine now. He's staying." He looked over at the other man. "I'll meet you at the spaceport-have a few more things to take care of here before we leave."
Trowa nodded, walking on down the hall as Duo split off in another direction.
Duo walked down the hall, remembering the first time he had come this way. Remembering the day his life had changed.
*"I want to be a member of your organization. I can't be at peace with myself until I know that all of the threats are taken care of."* He had said to Ann and she had nodded in reply.
*"We have need of those like yourself."*
*"If you need someone to watch over her, I volunteer. She seems to be the lynchpin that holds peace together for now."*
She had looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. *"Welcome aboard, Duo."*
But he hadn't guessed at how much Relena would come to mean to him. He had watched over her, making casual visits to her when her schedule permitted and they had become friends. But there was always the specter of Heero in the background. As the years passed he had seen her transform from a young girl with the light of life in her eyes to a woman who had to sacrifice every dream she had ever harbored to the reality of her life. He had done his best to try and bring back the light, even going to the lengths of taking her out to movies or to the carnival, but to no avail. She would always be polite, yet distant, and he knew the reason why. And so he had made a decision and gone to find Heero. After months of trying to track him down, he finally had found him on L1 and had dropped a few discreet data dumps into the computer system. The rest was history. They had taken his suggestion that a bodyguard unit was needed and that Heero would make the perfect head. And for the past eighteen months he had watched Heero watching over Relena.
Relena…it was funny, in a twisted sort of way. Everything he had said to Heero had been correct to an extent. But she had never fallen in love with him-it was the other way around. The God of Death had fallen in love with the Dove of Peace after six months of protecting her. She was everything that he wished he could be and he loved her for that. But he had always known that it was a one-sided love and now she was happy, happier than she could ever be with him. She had Heero and he knew that Heero cared about her also. It was a two-way street and they were both going to give it a try.
Walking into the large office, he looked around one last time, then patted his jacket pocket, feeling the small card that was his ticket back to L2. Reaching into another pocket, he drew out another card, looking down at it wistfully before placing it on Ann's desk. Then he walked away, closing the door behind him for the last time.
The light shone on the card, black printing against a white background. Duo's picture was on the left side, face solemn as he gazed at the camera, his name printed out next to it. At the bottom was the slogan, "Special Duty-Vice Prime Minister Relena Darlien." And at the top was one word.