Demon of Justice + Chapter 23 (cont)
Confession

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"I can take it," Duo announced, clutching at the blankets and visibly bracing himself. "Give it to me straight. How pink is it?"

"No pink," Quatre assured him. "No ruffles, either. It's... ah... much better than any of us expected!"

"Well, since I, for one, was expecting something out of the Ninth Circle of Girly Hell, it could still be pretty bad," Duo told him, relaxing and starting to unpack his dinner.

"It's fine," Quatre said, exchanging glances with Trowa. "I think you should wait until you see it for yourself, but even you will have to admit it's fine."

"What, I don't get any details?" Duo protested. "No photos? No colour swatches? I want to know how much I should cringe when I walk in!"

Heero smacked him lightly on the back of the head. "If Quatre says it's fine, you won't have to cringe at all. Eat your dinner."

"Quatre wears pastel shirts," Duo muttered, keeping his face straight with an effort.

"Quatre knows that you don't," Heero retorted. "Eat!"

"Real men are secure enough that they can wear pastel shirts and eat quiche," Quatre said loftily. "I-- Duo, what is that?!"

"A deluxe meatball sandwich with extra sauce and cheese," Duo said almost lovingly, lifting his prize out of its tinfoil wrapping and admiring it. "Real food, not that cardboard crap they give you here."

"Shouldn't you be eating something a little healthier while you're convalescing? More balanced?"

"Yes, mother," Duo said dryly, lifting a tub of salad out of the bag and waving it. "Way ahead of you, mother."

"Duo..." Heero murmured warningly. "Less teasing, more eating."

"Or else what?" Duo's voice was light, but there was a dangerous sparkle in his eyes, suggesting that Heero's response had better not be too authoritarian. Quatre winced inwardly, waiting for the explosion.

"Or else it'll get cold, and the cheese will go all... what was that word you used about a pizza a while ago?" Heero replied calmly. "Ah. Yes, 'manky'. I have no idea what it means, but I gather it isn't good, and I didn't go out and buy that thing so you could let it get manky."

Explosion averted, Duo snorted and took a huge bite, chewing happily; then he paused, eyes widening. "Heero," he said after swallowing, "I'm fairly sure I haven't eaten pizza near you for quite a while. When did I use the word 'manky' in your hearing?"

"Approximately... Three and a half months ago."

"And you remembered it?!"

Heero shrugged one shoulder, looking away. "I remember almost everything you ever said to me."

Watching Duo's slow blush and shy smile in Heero's direction, Quatre raised one eyebrow and leaned back against Trowa's warm chest. If that's true-- and Heero may be a lot of things, but a romantically inventive liar he is not-- it's a good sign that Heero really does care for Duo, and has for some time. And the fact that he was willing to say it, in public...

Nudging Trowa surreptitiously as he straightened up, he cleared his throat and smiled at Heero and Duo. "We really just came to say 'hi' and ask if there was anything we could bring either of you," he said, not entirely truthfully. "There's still a lot of unpacking to do, so we need to get back to the house."

"You don't have that much portable stuff," Duo objected.

"Not in the way of personal possessions, no," Trowa told him, following Quatre's lead, "but we now have a full set of kitchen and dining essentials, courtesy of Relena, including 'every day' and 'visitors' sets of plates and cutlery. We also have two lots of audiovisual gear to set up; and you didn't really think we were going to leave your personal stuff for you to take care of when you get out of the hospital, did you?"

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"I take it you had some reason to hustle out of there?"

Quatre had the good grace to look embarrassed as he slid behind the wheel of the car. "I thought they might appreciate a little time alone."

Trowa shot a sideways glance at him from under his bangs, and smiled. "So... does this mean you're finally willing to trust Heero with Duo's heart?"

"Well, at least he's honestly trying," Quatre muttered, starting the engine. "If he's willing to make a genuine effort and Duo's willing to let him try, I'm not willing to stick around playing gooseberry when it looks like he's actually getting somewhere."

"And you tell Duo he comes up with strange expressions," Trowa murmured, stifling a snicker. "'Gooseberry'?"

"Three's a crowd," Quatre said primly, concentrating on the road. "Or in this case, four. You know what I mean!"

"Yes, love, but occasionally you need footnotes."

* * * * *

Relena took a deep breath, biting her lip as she looked at the perfectly ordinary door; then she took a firmer grip on her packages and knocked quickly, before she could change her mind.

Heero opened the door, stiffening slightly as he saw who it was. "Relena," he said, voice flat, but eyes wary.

I wouldn't have noticed that a week ago, she observed with a sort of morbid humour. "Heero, good evening," she replied, keeping her voice low and even. "I came to see Duo. Is he... ah..." Quickly, Relena mentally deleted 'awake' and substituted another term. "Receiving visitors?"

"I'll find out." The door swung almost shut.

Inside the room, still holding the door handle, Heero leaned back until he had a clear view of Duo. "Relena's here," he said blandly, grimacing and pointing at the door. "Are you up for another visitor?" 'I'll send her away if you want,' he mouthed silently, knowing that Duo could read lips.

Duo quickly wound his braid around his neck and yanked upwards, gagging silently, then dropped the pantomime and nodded. "Sure, why not?" he said cheerfully, disentangling himself from his hair. "Come on in, Relena!"

"How are you feeling?" she asked, side-stepping past Heero with her arms full of carry bags. Her eyes flicked down to the bulky lump under the blankets that was his leg in the brace, then lifted determinedly to his face again. "I hope you weren't trying to rest; I would have come sooner, but I couldn't get away from the Ministry."

"Ahh, I'm doing okay," he said, waving one hand dismissively. "I like to think of this as a possible first stage towards becoming a bionic superhuman... if somebody ever invents a way of doing augmentation surgery without all of the boring hospital and recuperation bits, that is."

"I'm sure there are research teams working on that problem even as we speak," she murmured, managing a strained smile. "The usual fruits and flowers didn't seem exactly... appropriate as hospital gifts for you, so I brought you these instead."

"All right," he said admiringly, raising an eyebrow as she pulled a huge deluxe chocolate assortment out of the largest carry bag and handed it to him. "This is way better than the watery chocolate pudding they described as 'dessert' today! Quatre's going to flip over the whole 'unhealthy eating' thing again, though."

"About a quarter of that is actually chocolate-covered crystallised fruit," Relena pointed out. "Tell him it has vitamin C in it. And there's these, in case you get bored..." Two hand-held game machines, a selection of program disks, and a cable to join them up for two-player games appeared out of the other bags.

"Oh, hey, thanks, Relena," Duo said, now slightly bemused. "I appreciate it really, but you didn't have to..."

"In other words, I never have before, so why now. Am I right?" she asked quietly, looking back and forth between Heero and Duo. "If I heard that Heero was in the hospital, I'd drop everything to visit him, and Quatre might get flowers, but the rest of you... the most attention I've paid to your injuries in the past has been something like 'How are you, Duo? Getting better? That's nice. Where's Heero?' Right?"

"Well... I wouldn't have put it exactly like that, unless you really pissed me off, but... yeah, that sounds about right," Duo agreed slowly. Heero straightened up from his spot leaning against the wall, frowning.

"Well, if you had told me that was how I was acting a week ago, I think I would have angrily denied any such bias, and then would have filed it away as one more reason why I shouldn't waste time associating with you," Relena said shakily, hunting in her handbag for a tissue as her eyes began to tear up. "I'm sure you can see the little logical error there."

"Relena, Queenie, babe, don't go all watery on me here!" Duo exclaimed, sitting up in alarm. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"May I speak to you alone, Duo? Please? I need to apologise, and explain what I'm apologising for, and I honestly don't think I can if..." Relena trailed off, almost wincing as she glanced over at Heero again, and Duo nodded.

"Ah, yeah, I think I can manage that," he muttered, making a 'beats me' face in reply to Heero's questioning glance over Relena's bowed head. "Sorry to boot you out twice in one day, Heero, but you have to admit this qualifies as special circumstances."

"Agreed," the Japanese pilot grimaced. "I'll get coffee, and take my time. How do you want yours, Relena?"

"No, I don't-- I don't need--"

"Little bit of milk, half a sugar," Duo interrupted, waving off her objections. "Hot drinks are good in stressful situations, so you do need it, Relena. A couple of extra sugars might be a good idea, too."

Relena blinked at him in surprise as Heero nodded and went out. "You know how I take my coffee?"

"I've made it for you a few times," he shrugged.

"Yes, but-- you bothered to remember--" A tear trickled down her cheek, and she hastily wiped at her eyes again, sniffing. "That's exactly the sort of thing I've been ignoring. You've always been nice to me, even when I must have been so annoying, and... well, a couple of times I've asked for coffee as an excuse to get you out of the room so I could be alone with Heero, and looking back I think you must have realised it--"

"Ohhhh yeah," Duo muttered under his breath.

"--but you never gave me bad coffee," she continued miserably. "And you remembered."

"Yes, well, this isn't about remembering your coffee preferences," Duo said uncomfortably. "At least, I don't think it is. What is it about?"

Relena looked down at the damp tissue in her hands for a few seconds, then started slowly shredding it. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I have been fixated on Heero for quite some time," she said in a low voice. "Obsessed, even. I thought it was fate, or destiny, or something equally poetic, bringing us together, and of course he would be strong and silent and hide his feelings until the war was over and he was free of that responsibility, and then... happily ever after. The hero wins the princess. All the cliches."

"I take it you've changed your mind?" Duo's eyes narrowed as he studied what he could see of Relena's face. This was not what I expected, he thought. I would have bet that she'd decided the way to Heero's heart was through being nice to his friends, but... this sounds like she's giving up.

"Not exactly. I suppose you could say that I had the truth forcibly introduced to me." Relena managed a thin, tight smile, sniffed, and continued tissue-shredding. "I'm sure you also noticed that I filtered everything to do with Heero through my... little romantic fantasy... and everything that didn't fit in it was ignored or reinterpreted. Heero was the hero, so of course anyone who shot him automatically became the bad guy, no matter what their motives might have been. Thank you for saving my life that time, by the way," she added, glancing up at Duo with another watery smile. "I don't believe I was properly appreciative at the time."

"You could say that," Duo muttered, grinning back. "No thanks needed, ma'am; saving pretty ladies is a perk, not a duty. Go on."

"Well." Relena's smile twisted, and she looked away. "I went on like that for quite some time... until the last time I showed up unannounced at your safehouse. You fell, and hurt your knee again, and Heero..." She swallowed. "I saw his face when... He loves you, doesn't he?"

It was Duo's turn to wince. "We're... kinda working that out," he said slowly. "But... yeah. I think so."

"Well, I thought so too, and I didn't take it well," she said bitterly. "I was furious. Heero was supposed to be with me, after all; nobody else should have been in the picture. So, I nearly..." She took a deep breath. "I nearly did something unforgivable."

"Nearly?" Duo asked. "We are clear on the 'nearly' part, right? I'm not going to have a hit squad kick in my window, here, am I?"

"Nearly," Relena confirmed, not smiling at the almost-joke. "I thought... if I could get Heero to reject you, somehow, everything would be okay. I went looking for something you'd done that I could use, something that would revolt Heero. And when I didn't find anything, I considered making something up. Having evidence manufactured. But then--"

--I saw that photo--

"...I realised what I was doing wasn't anything to do with love. If I really did love Heero, I should have been able to talk to him about it. I should have been asking him what he wanted, not trying to stuff him into my picture of the perfect love and pruning off the bits that didn't fit. Like you, and his friends." She sighed heavily, wiping her eyes again. "So, I did some serious thinking, and worked out what I was really after. I'd convinced myself that I was in love, because that was the sort of thing I thought was supposed to happen, but... after the first flush of infatuation was gone, I think what I was after was a friend."

"Relena... you have lots of friends!"

"I have sycophants, and hangers-on, and yes-people," Relena corrected him. "I don't have anyone who will disagree with me, or tell me I'm doing something stupid, or who likes me just because they like me, not because I'm famous or can do something for them. I have a lot of people who want to be able to say 'Oh, the Vice-Foreign Minister and I are so close,' but nobody who will tell me 'That outfit looks awful, Relena, where did you leave your dress sense today?' Pargan is the closest I come to having a real friend, but he'd never dream of stepping over the line dividing servant and employer." She snorted, a suprisingly unladylike sound. "Heero might not have been the Knight in Shining Gundanium I thought he was, but he also wasn't a-- a toady. He didn't fall all over himself with delight when I gave him a party invitation, he ignored me instead of hanging on my every word... he was honest with me, instead of changing his opinions to match what I said. I might have gotten the wrong idea about why I wanted to have more to do with him, but at least I recognised that he had something I needed." She looked up at Duo again, managing her first real smile since she'd walked in the door. "I got so caught up with him, though, I never saw that the rest of you were just like him in some ways. You've certainly never tried to flatter your way into my 'clique'!"

"Relena," Duo said seriously, "you couldn't pay me to get into your 'clique'!"

"To be honest, if I had the option, I wouldn't be in my 'clique'," Relena sighed. "I liked it when I was in school, but now that I'm trying to do something serious, I don't want to have twenty invitations a week to lunches and afternoon teas where nobody would ever dream of discussing something as boorish as politics." She grimaced, balling up the mess of limp tissue fragments in her hand and dropping them into the bin beside the bed. "Getting back to why I'm here... I've treated you abominably, Duo, and I was willing to ruin your life to get what I thought I wanted. I'm truly sorry. I know perfectly well I can't just say that, and give you a few presents, and have everything be miraculously all right, but I can try to start over and behave properly this time... treat you as yourself and not the villain of my imagined love story. That is... if you're willing to have me around."

Duo picked up one of the game disks scattered over the bed, and studied it, jaw working slightly. "Let me get this straight," he said eventually. "You've basically been a bitch on wheels to me since I saved your life. The first time I saved your life, that is, not any of the ... I think it's four times since then. Now you've seen the light and smelled the coffee, so you want to start over and be friends this time. Real friends, that is, not just acquaintances or wishy-washy don't-really-care friends. Does that about cover it?"

"...Yes," Relena whispered.

"Okay."

"...Okay?"

"Yeah. I don't have that many friends, so one more would be a good thing. You can never have too many friends, after all. And you didn't actually get around to ruining my life... By the way," he added casually, a slight edge in his voice betraying his tension, "what did you find out while you were digging for dirt in my metaphorical back yard?"

More than you ever want anyone to know, I think."I found out that you're a very hard person to track," Relena said honestly, wiping away fresh tears, and smiling at him. "I found out that you stand by your friends... in fact, you're the sort of person I wanted to think I was. Which just made me more angry at you!" she exclaimed, mock-glaring at Duo as he relaxed minutely. "I was trying to find reasons for Heero to not love you, not evidence that you were exactly the sort of person he should love!"

"Yeah, well, some of us just have to suffer under these burdens of greatness," he grinned. "So, starting over... My first piece of advice to you as your friend, is to lose the pink limo! Or at least have it repainted. Pink is not a good colour for that car. You should probably ditch the pastels out of your wardrobe, too. That royal blue dress is the best thing I've seen you wear, and you'd look killer in deep red. Just wait 'til they let me up and about, and we'll go shopping."

There was a quiet knock on the door, and Heero's voice called, "Can I come in, or should I go and retune an ambulance engine or two?"

"Great timing, Heero! Welcome back," Duo called. "Come on in, all is forgiven... literally." As Heero nudged the door open and walked in, carefully carrying three jumbo cups of coffee, the braided teen continued. "We're starting over, okay? This is my new friend, 'Lena. She's got a famous surname, but that doesn't matter. 'Lena, this is my boyfriend, Heero, a very useful guy to have around..."

Heero stopped short, coffee sloshing slightly, and stared at Duo.

...Boyfriend?

Slowly, a faint, hopeful smile quirked the corner of his mouth.


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