Rebuilding + Chapter 9 (cont)

* * * * *

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.

"Duo?"

"Huh? What?"

"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?"

"No."

"Is she ill? What's happening?"

"Personal business."

"What sort of personal business?"

"No comment."

"Is there any truth to the rumours that the engagement is off?"

"No."

"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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