+ Part 3
"You're lucky that Rashid could find something for your scrawny body," Trowa snorted as he taped one of his wrists for support. Standing in his tights, upper chest bare, he was all muscle and Duo couldn't help admiring the view even amidst his indignation.
"I am not scrawny!" Duo retorted. "I'm lean."
"Lean?" Trowa echoed with a snort of amusement.
Duo glared as he separated ropes and harness. He changed the subject. His lack of height, compared to the others, had always been a sore point with him. "I'm supposed to be helping you. It's a little hard to do that in a suit."
"I don't really need you for another hour," Trowa told him. "Quatre wanted to give you the chance to enjoy the event before then."
"I had my fill of bullshit this morning, Trowa," Duo replied angrily. "Want to tell me what this is really all about? If Quatre is trying to hook me up with another job prospect, I'm going home."
"No, not that," Trowa assured him and then shrugged as he checked several rings. "Enjoy yourself and don't worry about what Quatre is trying to do. There's good food here and some entertainment beside my act."
"Food?" Duo perked up, but was suspicious too. "Not strange things with stranger names?"
"I don't know. Go and find Quatre and he'll lead you to something... safe," Trowa suggested.
Duo rolled eyes. "I want to get paid and I want to get fed. If I get both of those things, I'll be happy."
Duo strode from the room and Trowa sighed to himself, "I think you're going to get fireworks as well, friend."
Duo threaded his way through the crowd and found Quatre where the crowd was thickest. He was talking to a group of men and women, face serious. A tilt to his chin, though, told Duo that he would have liked to be somewhere else.
Duo used a judo move to get through the last barrier of bodies and locked arms with Quatre. "There is a matter that needs your immediate attention, Mr. Winner, sir." Duo told him.
"If you'll excuse me, please," Quatre said to the people around him and they gave way. When Duo had Quatre free of the press of bodies, the man turned to him anxiously. "What's going on, Duo? Has something happened?"
"My stomach is empty and it needs a guide to real food," Duo replied irritably.
"Duo, those were important people!" Quatre complained and began to return. Duo caught his arm and held him back.
"You picked at that bug soup you ordered for lunch," Duo pointed out. "Here's your chance before they come down on you again. Eat now, schmooze later."
Quatre was looking over Duo's shoulder, unsure, but then he smiled broadly. "Relena's here, by the buffet tables. Come on, Duo. You're right. Eating sounds good."
Duo raised eyebrows. "Relena's here. Let's eat. Those are two ideas that are just wrong together."
Quatre gave Duo a light punch in the shoulder, accidentally hitting Duo's shoulder holster under his coat. He started and exclaimed, "You're armed, Duo?"
"I'm with Quatre Winner, of course I am," Duo growled. "I borrowed a piece off of Rashid. Crowds make me nervous, especially when I'm with the biggest target in the Earth Sphere."
"I'd say that was Relena," Quatre snorted.
"I wish I'd asked for a beam cannon, instead," Duo muttered as he looked around the crowd nervously. "Don't you two know better than to hang out together?"
Quatre was suddenly very serious, almost angry. "I'm not going to let rebels and murderers dictate my life."
"That's good for you, but what about everyone else here?" Duo shot back. "They didn't get to make that choice."
Quatre looked shocked and then he ducked his head. "It should be easy to see what's around me when I stand on the top of the mountain."
Duo quirked an eyebrow. "Uh, I guess that means you're used to being the target, so you don't think about 'Average Joe'. Well, speaking as Average Joe Maxwell, I have to ask you to think about it in the future. You're not a fly by the seat of his pants pilot anymore."
Quatre nodded solemnly and then he was collecting himself and putting on a smile. "Done is done, though, and Relena and I are at the same event. We should go greet her before we eat."
Duo rolled his eyes. "I'll go by myself then. You'll never get out of her clutches once she starts talking."
"No!" Quatre exclaimed quickly and then calmed himself with an effort. "Maybe I need another pilot as a guard? You've made me nervous."
"I made you think," Duo replied skeptically. "I'm not going to believe I scared you." He eyed Quatre. "Is this part of you plan?"
Quatre was startled and then he dissembled. "I don't know what you mean, Duo. Come on, now. We can't keep her waiting."
Duo jumped on that. "Then she is waiting for us?"
"No, you're too suspicious, Duo," Quatre sighed in exasperation as he pulled Duo towards Relena's entourage.
Duo narrowed eyes at Quatre as he followed. "You're not... Okay, I have to believe that you want me to take a job with her, or something, because I sure as shit don't believe that you're trying to fix us up."
Quatre laughed outright. "I think I lost my appetite."
Duo glared. "Me too."
Relena was surrounded by security guards and looking around as if she were expecting someone. When She saw Quatre and Duo, she brightened at once. Dressed in a pantsuit, and her lapel adorned with a red rose, her carefully styled hair made her look official and older. Her smile broke that impression, though, and she seemed suddenly a girl again.
"Quatre!" she exclaimed as she waved aside her security detail and came forward to take Quatre's hand. Her security looked over Quatre's head at Duo and it was Duo they were obviously suspicious of. He grinned at them as Relena reached out and took his hand as well. She led them towards a table and sat them down. "How are you, Duo?" she asked sweetly.
Duo sat uncomfortably and replied uncertainly, "Uhm, okay, I guess. Nice shindig you're having."
"Thank you," Relena replied absently as she leaned and whispered something to one of her security men. Then her attention was on Duo again as she sat as well. "I've been told that you're a delivery man. It must keep you very busy."
Duo frowned. Nothing was making sense. He would have laid odds that Relena would not only not have any interest in him, but that she wouldn't ever have any conversation including his name. "Yeah," he replied unintelligently, "Pretty busy."
There was an uncomfortable pause. "Queen business keeping you busy?" Duo asked and felt his level of discomfort rise.
Relena's cheeks dimpled. "I'm not a Queen any longer. I'm not even on the council."
"Oh.... So... Just partying then and saving the Indonesian gnats?" Duo flushed and then bit his lip.
Quatre raised golden eyebrows at him, chuckled, and then covered over Duo's awkwardness by saying, "This is a very important fund raiser, Duo, and nothing to do with bio-diversification in the Earth Sphere."
"Bio... what?" Duo blinked.
"Saving gnats," Quatre clarified and Relena laughed. It was a pleasant sound. He gave Relena a nod and a look and her laughter was replaced by a deep breath and an expression of someone breeching a difficult subject.
"Not interested," Duo said, cutting her off. When Relena looked surprised, he bulled forward. "I like my life. No guns. Nobody to kill. I just deliver packages. Whatever you two have cooked up, I don't want any part of it." He stood up. "Thanks and all, but I have things handled."
Duo turned to leave and came face to face with Heero. The man was wearing a black suit with bulges that told Duo that he was heavily armed. His dark brows came down hard as he realized that it was Duo and his cobalt eyes swept Duo up and down. His hand clamped on Duo's shoulder when he realized that Duo was armed as well.
"You don't have clearance to carry a weapon," Heero snapped. "Collins! Take Mr. Maxwell into custody until the end of the fund raiser. I'll deal with him then."
"Like hell!" Duo shot back and jerked his shoulder out of Heero's grasp. "If you think I'm a danger to anyone, you're fucked in the head!"
"You are clearly breaking the law," Heero told him as he reached under his coat for Duo's gun. "If you resist arrest, we will stop you with any force necessary."
Guns were drawn. The tension was thick. Duo and Heero glared at each other as Duo gripped Heero's wrist and kept the man from taking his gun.
"You touch me under my coat, buddy, you better be doing it for a whole 'nother reason than disarming me in a pack of trigger happy security men," Duo warned icily.
Heero suddenly looked uncertain and he blushed, just slightly, but enough for Duo to wonder what the man was thinking. Heero was under control again in the next moment and not about to let the situation get out of his control. "You will hand over your weapon, Mr. Maxwell. I assure you, if you comply, I will make it my personal responsibility to make certain that no one harms you."
"Yeah?" Duo sneered. "Is that why you were handing me off to 'Collins'."
Heero's jaw worked and then he said, "He's a trusted agent."
"Goon," Duo corrected him. "They're all goons and one of them is about to blow off my head from the back. They were ready to shoot me when I showed up."
Heero looked over Duo's shoulder at the very nervous men and their drawn weapons.
Quatre rose. "Heero," he admonished. "I gave Duo the weapon myself." He was unruffled by the small lie, "He wanted to make sure that I was safe in this crowd."
"I'm not so sure of that," Heero replied. "Duo has been at Preventer headquarters many times, and the vid tapes show him acting subversively, perhaps memorizing the faces of agents for just such an opportunity today."
"And that would explain why I walked right up to them?" Duo retorted. "... and met with Relena... and signed in at the gate... and told security there that I was packing a weapon... Funny, they seemed to trust an ex war hero, but then again, they aren't stuck up Preventer agents."
"Heero," Relena said at last, in a tone of voice of someone seeing a disaster unfolding. "Quatre and I wished Duo to be at this gathering."
Heero blinked. "You invited him?"
"Yes," Relena sighed. "Please, Heero. You are under my orders and I want you to leave Duo alone. He has my permission to carry a weapon here."
Duo grinned and it wasn't humorous. "See, big guy? Everything's kosher. You can pack up and get out of my face now."
"That still doesn't explain why..." Heero began, but then he was interrupted as cries rang out to their left. Suddenly, the crowd began scattering.
"Everyone remain where you are!" A voice shouted on a loud speaker. "We have guns and we will use them. Bring Relena Peacecraft to this stage at once, or we will start shooting hostages!"
Heero pulled his gun and aimed it at Duo's head, seething, "I knew it!"
Duo scowled. "Okay, I thought you had some brains. If I was one of them, I'd be over there, not standing where I can get my ass shot."
"Heero, Duo isn't a danger!" Quatre said angrily as their security detail surrounded them. "He's not part of this!"
"Then explain why he was at Preventer headquarters!" Heero snarled back.
"He was trying to be near you!" Quatre exclaimed and then looked shocked at his own words.
Duo went as pale as a sheet. He was still looking into Heero's eyes and he saw consternation there as they turned back to him in confusion. "Me?"
"Shit!" Duo swore.
"Duo, I'm sorry!" Quatre stammered.
"The hell with this now!" Duo snarled. "We've got a situation, Yuy! Trust me or lose an extra gun!"
Heero looked torn and then, suddenly, he nodded.
"Great!" Duo breathed in relief and then pointed over the heads of the crowd. "Trowa's over there. He won't be sitting still, so make sure nobody shoots him."
Heero began shouting orders and the security men broke ranks. Some took Relena and disappeared into the crowd. Quatre drew his own gun and ran a quick hand through his hair as he motioned to several of the detail to follow him.
"You're with me," Heero ground out as he grabbed Duo by his lapel and pulled him into the crowd. "I'm not taking my eyes off of you."
"I'm going to kill Quatre," Duo growled under his breathe as he followed.
Heero heard and looked hard at him.
"I mean he's in trouble!" Duo shot back. "This was all his idea. It has his fingerprints all over it!"
"The kidnaping attempt on Relena?" Heero wondered as he pulled Duo through a knot of panicked people.
"No, my being here and you being here!" Duo fumed.
Heero glared over his shoulder at Duo. "You're not making and sense and it's very important that you start... now!"
"Or what?" Duo retorted.
"I see that you aren't taking our threat seriously," the voice over the loud speaker said angrily. "A little demonstration is in order. Felix... kill five of the hostages."
They finally broke through the crowd into an open space that they had eagerly cleared. On a gaily decorated stage, five men were arranged around a group of twenty of the events notable guests.
Duo motioned to them angrily. "Good going! Weren't you watching them?"
"None of them were prime targets," Heero growled back, but he was pulling Duo down behind the back row of seats arranged before the stage.
"What's the plan?" Duo wanted to know acidly.
Heero pulled out a gun and hit a button on it's side that made it telescope out. He handed it to Duo. "You're a better shot. Get the leader."
Duo frowned at the stage even while he felt a warmth at Heero's compliment. "The one behind Relena's bullet proof podium, you mean?"
"Buster bullets," Heero explained. "They pierce gundanium, they can pierce the podium."
"Sweet!" Duo grinned. "Then what? What's going to stop them from killing the hostages?"
"Quatre, Trowa, and me," Heero replied and then he was gone into the crowd again.
"No hand signs, signal flares, or smoke signals," Duo grumbled as he checked the gun and it's ammo. It was sleek and blue black, a marvel of advanced weaponry. "Never use a weapon you don't know anything about," Duo snorted and hit the button. It became compact again and he tucked it into his belt. He pulled out a revolver instead. "Low tech, small chance of screw up."
Duo rested the barrel of the gun across one arm to steady it and then took aim.
[part 2] [part 4] [back to Kracken's fic]