Demon of Justice + Chapter 19
What would Duo say?

* * * * *

Relena always dealt with the early mail delivery at breakfast, and today when she came downstairs, there was a large special delivery package sitting on top of the neat stack next to her plate.

"Good morning, Miss Relena," Pargan said, lifting the silver coffeepot as she approached. "Would you prefer scrambled eggs, or --"

"Hold breakfast for a while, please, Pargan," she said absently, walking straight past him to pick up the package. "I'll be in my study if there are any urgent messages."

"...Certainly, Miss Relena," he said to her back as she hurried away. Safely in her study with the door locked behind her, Relena found a pair of scissors and got the package open, breath hissing between her teeth in exasperation as the tough plastic resisted the attack. Finally, she had a stack of computer printouts and photocopies, two data disks and a cover letter from the private investigator.

'Miss,' it began, 'despite the elapsed time since the subject left L2, I was able to find a surprising amount of people who remembered him. His appearance is distinctive, and it seems he tends to make an impression -- good or bad -- on everyone who meets him. As previously suggested, I was also able to find numerous references to the subject in law enforcement records.

'Due to these circumstances, I find myself able to present my preliminary report sooner than expected. My bill for services rendered to date is enclosed; please inform me soonest if you require further inquiries to be made.'

Hands shaking slightly, Relena began leafing through the printouts. L2's police had apparently first noticed Duo when he was only four or five years old, as a member of a gang of street children. Relena scanned the investigator's summary attached to that printout and frowned, pushing it to one side. Nothing worse than minor shoplifting and public nuisance complaints, she thought, reaching for the next document. Heero wouldn't care.

The next document was just as disappointing. Copies of orphanage records... useless! All right, he wasn't adopted, but I can't exactly tell Heero 'Nobody else wanted him, so why should you?' Relena fumed, tossing it aside. I need something he did, something unforgivable --

The second section of Duo's police file, reopened after the Maxwell Church orphanage was destroyed, was more detailed. No convictions... not even any arrests, but look at all these reports! she thought, flicking past the summary page and thumbing through the inch thich printout. 'Suspicion of theft'. 'Suspicion of juvenile
soliciting'. 'Known associate of gang members'. Another 'suspicion of juvenile soliciting'... and another... I need more than just suspicion! Tiring of squinting at the small print on the poor quality printouts, Relena turned back to the summary page. Is there anything concrete in here?

'During this period, the subject would undoubtably have been arrested several times if the local law enforcement personnel were genuinely interested in doing their jobs,' the summary began. 'Several retired police officers remember the subject as a regular source of bribes to prevent either his arrest or the arrest of members of the child gang he protected (see interview records #3-7 on disk 2). The gang appears to have been supported on the proceeds of the subject's thefts and occasional prostitution (see related medical file on disk 1)..."

Still reading the summary page, Relena grabbed one of the disks without really looking at it, feeding it into her computer.

'...I was able to locate a previous member of this gang, now living in a charity orphanage...'

The computer beeped as it opened the only file on the disk, and Relena glanced up at the screen, frowning as she realised she'd grabbed the wrong one. No, that's the medical data-- I want the interview records first -- She snatched up the other disk, impatiently opening its protective case, automatically reading another line of the summary as her eyes panned across it.

'...subject reportedly refused to allow other members of the gang to solicit, insisting it was too dangerous...'

Disk in hand, Relena looked back at the screen just as the first clinical photograph popped up.

Oh my GOD...

A younger Duo, perhaps twelve years old, was lying naked on a hospital bed, glaring defiantly into the camera out of the one eye that would still open. His body was covered with bruises and bleeding welts, one knee visibly swollen, and even with all the damage it was obvious that he was far too thin.

One hand over her mouth, Relena fumbled for the mouse to close the document, but missed the proper button and only succeeded in scrolling down. That got the photograph away from her horrified gaze, but brought up the 'initial evaluation' section of the file. Random words and phrases met her eyes.

'...moderate to severe trauma...' '...beaten...' '...brought in as a charity case by three other juveniles, approximate age 6-8 years...' '...sexual assault...' '...ample evidence of previous injuries...'

The cold official jargon only slipped in the field marked 'Other Comments'. 'Hooking to get food money, picked the wrong john and didn't even get paid. Won't be the last time. I've tried to get kids like him into government programs before, but as soon as they get a sniff of prostitution, nobody'll touch them...'

Relena wrenched her eyes away and stabbed at the keyboard, managing to close the file on her second try. Breathing heavily, she looked at the stack of papers, at the disk still clutched in her hand, thought about the use she'd intended to put them to... and suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

What am I doing?!

----------

The high pitched shriek of a smoke detector brought Pargan to the study door. "Miss Relena? Miss Relena, is everything all right?"

The lock clicked, and she opened the door. "Quite all right, Pargan," she said, face pale but composed. "I'm just... taking care of a problem. Could you turn off the smoke alarm please?"

"Ah... certainly, Miss Relena, but what...?" Looking over her shoulder, his eyes widened as he saw the small fire in the grate of the fireplace. Most of the smoke eddying into the room seemed to be coming from two melting data disks. "I'll get the fire extinguisher --"

"No!" Relena snapped, then controlled herself. "No," she repeated softly. "Let it burn."

"But Miss Relena, the fireplaces are only ornamental now," he protested. "The chimneys were all blocked for security reasons years ago! The smoke has nowhere to go!"

"I'm aware of that, Pargan, but it can't be helped. Please just disable the alarm."

"Yes, Miss Relena," he sighed, beginning to climb onto the desk as she sat in front of the fireplace, turning the burning paper over with a metal ruler to make sure it was all destroyed.

The 'reset' button on the smoke alarm wouldn't be of any use with all the smoke still in the air, Pargan knew, so he disconnected the power supply and backup battery. Hopefully, the air-conditioning system will draw it out of the room instead of letting it out into the hall to set off the other alarms, he sighed to himself. It does seem to be drawing it into the vents..."Miss Relena?"

"Yes, Pargan?"

"You could have placed that in the classified waste bag to be destroyed."

"I know, Pargan."

"So... if I may ask..."

"This was just something I needed to do myself," Relena said quietly, crushing the last blackened sheet of paper into ashes.

* * * * *

"If you'll just get changed, we can start the drip for your pre-op medication," the nurse smiled, handing Duo a neatly folded patient gown. "Do you need any assistance?"

"Nah; if I have a problem, one of the guys can help," Duo told her, then he cleared his throat and looked pointedly from her to the door.

"Oh! Well, I'll be back in about ten minutes to start your drip," she said brightly, walking out.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Duo balled up the gown and threw it across the room, dropping it neatly into a rubbish bin. "Gimme the shirt."

Heero reached into the duffle bag at his feet and pulled out Duo's evil smiley-face boxers and an oversized white t-shirt. "Good thing we found that custom print shop yesterday," he commented, smirking as he passed them over.

"I would've thought of something else if we hadn't," Duo grinned, shaking the t-shirt out and admiring the printed slogan. 'Patient gown? We don't NEED no @#~%ing patient gown!'

"I can see that you're going to be a very popular patient," Trowa chuckled.

"Hey, my physical therapist is going to love me," Duo growled, starting to get changed. "Everybody else can just cut me a little slack or face the consequences."

"I'm not going to ask what those consequences are," Quatre sighed. "I'd rather not be an accessory before the fact."

"You guys don't need to hang around," Duo muttered, concentrating on undoing his bootlaces. "I mean, you need to start moving our stuff, and I'm going to be doped up in a few minutes anyway, so..."

"Well... okay," Quatre said reluctantly. "We'll be back this afternoon, after you're awake, okay?"

"Yeah. See you."

"It also means we get clear before the nurse comes back," Trowa pointed out, leaning over to give Duo a quick hug. "Break a leg," he added, straight-faced.

"Get outta here!" Duo laughed, half-heartedly swatting at him with the thin pillow from the gurney.

Thirty minutes later, after a heated argument with the nurse over the patient gown (which Duo won with Dr. Modi's assistance), he was starting to drift off. The first dose of sedative had taken effect, a different nurse had come in to inject a second dose into the drip line, and everything was starting to go fuzzy around the edges.

"I hate sedatives," Duo mumbled, eyes drifting closed. "Make m'mouth all furry... an' I don't like knowing I can't wake up..."

"I know," Heero said, and Duo felt him take hold of his hand. "I'll be here when you wake up."

"I know," Duo sighed, feeling his mouth curve into an involuntary smile. "Y'promised..."

* * * * *

The first thing Wufei was aware of was the worst headache he'd ever had in his life, a dagger of pain stabbing straight across from one temple to the other every time his heart beat. The next thing to filter through was that he was lying on his back with his head on something soft and his sword hilt clenched in his hand, so tightly that his fingers were beginning to cramp.

The third thing to come to his awareness was a voice.

"If he isn't hurt, why isn't he waking up?"

"I said he didn't seem hurt, Naiya," Uthmar's voice replied; he sounded strained, as if he was worried, but trying to keep sounding calm. "There's no trace of Krashnark's power left on him, but that doesn't mean he didn't do anything."

"What in the name of all the hells happened to the whole thing about gods not being allowed to interfere?!"

"Don't shout," Wufei groaned, one hand going up to press at his forehead. It didn't help the headache, but at least that way he could be reasonably sure the front half of his head wasn't going to separate from the back.

"Are you all right?" Karthan's voice broke in. Wufei risked opening one eye a crack, and made out five dark shapes bending over him, silhouetted against a dazzlingly bright sky. "What happened?"

"That's what I was going to ask," the Chinese teen mumbled. "Uh... I think... I made him mad."

"Ooops," Gunnar commented.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time. Tried to fight him, but he just vanished... then he apologised for insulting me..."

Five voices made startled noises, and the silhouettes shifted as if they were looking at each other. "That's not usual," Arwen said dubiously.

"Surprised me, too," Wufei grunted, blinking. The dazzle seemed to be clearing up, and unless it was just wishful thinking, he thought the headache was fading slightly. "He said he'd intended to give me a gift... then he reached out of nowhere and touched me," he finished, waving his hand at his forehead in a vague illustration of what he meant, before going back to holding his head together. "That's all."

"He said he wanted to give you a gift?" Naiya asked, puzzled. "What sort of gift?"

"No idea," Wufei would have shrugged, but another trickle of situational awareness made it through the headache. My head's in Naiya's lap?! Uh... Not sure how to react to that, he settled for ignoring it until later. "All I know is that I have a massive headache."

"Er... Wufei," Karthan said slowly, "I don't think our link's open right now..."

"It isn't," he agreed, after a moment of concentration.

"So... how can you be speaking Spearman so fluently?"

Wufei squinted at him for a moment, bemused; then his eyes opened wide as he thought back and abruptly realised that according to his memory, the entire conversation had been in Chinese.

"...how is it that you're speaking to me in Chinese?"

"I'm not. You only think I am. A god must be able to make himself understood..."

"Somebody say something in another language," he snapped, levering himself up into a seated position, headache or no headache.

"Uh... it's a beautiful day, isn't it?" Naiya said. Now that he was concentrating, Wufei could hear that it was a different language -- rather musical, he thought -- but he understood it as well as if it had been his native tongue. And now that he thought about it...

"Yes, it is, if I ignore the fact that my head is trying to fall apart," he replied in the same language. "What am I speaking now?"

"Hurgrumese," Naiya told him, eyes wide. "Like a native."

"Right. That makes it fairly clear," he said, switching back to Spearman. "He gave me the Gift of Tongues, or something similar, and a massive headache. Remind me to put him on my Christmas card list!"  

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