Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 11 (cont)
Clearing Things Cryptic

That wasn't amazing. He liked other people.

He liked spending time with them.

That was a little more surprising. He'd preferred all his life to be by himself whenever possible, probably because he'd had so little time alone. But in the last few years, he'd discovered that, the vast majority of the time, he would far rather be with the other former pilots than by himself.

It was just more fun with them.

He had fun with them.

That was damn amazing. 'Fun' had never been a high priority in his life, until they'd showed him how... enjoyable it was.

He liked having sex with them.

There's something they should damn well know. He'd had sex before he was with them, but he hadn't understood anything about what the fuss was until them. It had been pleasant enough, but with them... it was amazing.

Heero realized that he was just staring at the screen of the computer. His eyes strayed to the little clock on the corner of the desktop, and he realized he'd been sitting there for more than five minutes without moving. He shook his head, dazedly, scowling in irritation at himself.

"So you're back. I've never seen you be unproductive that long. I was afraid you'd died and noone had noticed."

Heero jumped, startled, as the light, teasing voice broke the silence of the room. He looked up and saw Relena standing in the open door of his office, smiling at him.

He glared back at her, but her smile widened. She knew it wasn't an angry glare, he was just irritated that she'd startled him.

She stepped further into the office, and closed the door behind her. She crossed to his desk and set down a paper cup on the surface near his hand. He picked up the cup and sniffed at it, his eyes lighting up. She smiled indulgently at him as he picked it up and gulped the contents.

"Fruit punch," he identified after drinking half of it. He grinned at her. "I love fruit punch."

"You have a mustache," she informed him with amused impatience. He snorted unconcernedly, rubbing the area above his upper lip, removing some of the red liquid.

"I still can't believe that the hero of the Gundam Wars goes crazy for fake tropical punch," she commented, pulling one of the office chairs around to his side of the desk and plopping down in it beside him.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. "I can't believe that the Queen of Sanc sits like that wearing that short a skirt," he retorted dryly, ostentatiously observing her slumped posture and casually parted knees.

She laughed. "You keep my secret, I'll keep yours," she bargained, laughing again as he grunted and returned his attention to the computer screen.

They sat quietly for a few moments as Heero continued working on the file he'd just inserted into Quatre's records. He only paid partial attention to what he was typing - the rest of him was marveling, as he frequently did when alone with her, how much his relationship with Relena had altered.

The first six years he'd known her, he'd dreaded being near her. In fact, three years ago he couldn't have imagined being alone with her in this close proximity, especially voluntarily. She'd been obsessed with him. In love with him, she'd insisted, but he'd rather doubted that. He was not convinced that such an emotion even existed, and even if it did, she hadn't known him at all. So how could she feel that way toward him?

She'd insisted as fervently that she did love him, that they were soulmates and foreordained lovers and meant to be together forever. She made it her mission to get him, and, one night almost a year after the Eve Wars, she'd almost succeeded.

He'd been in that transitory, unfocused, drifting period he fell into after the wars were all over. Sure, he didn't have to kill anymore - but what was he supposed to do? She'd offered him a job as a security consultant in the Sanc Kingdom, and he'd accepted it. But after working there for almost a year, he'd pretty much ironed out the kinks in the royal security systems. Oh, there were always quirks, but the day-to-day challenge of the job had disappeared, and he was getting restless.

Plus, he was getting nervous. Relena had been getting more and more persistent all the time, and he still just wasn't interested in what she was offering.

He didn't want a marriage, however politically correct and beneficial to the peace it was. He certainly didn't want to be King or Prince Royal of anywhere. And, frankly, he didn't want Relena.

One day, she'd asked him to come and review the files of all the changes he'd made since he started working for her. They began reviewing the files at three o'clock, and when she pulled out the wine at eleven-thirty, they hadn't stopped for a minute, not even to eat. As the hour had grown later, she'd starting moving a little closer to him, her tone had become more suggestive, her movements more deliberate. He was getting nervous, and the wine was a welcome distraction.

Of course, he hadn't eaten for almost twelve hours.

And he had never drank more than a single glass of wine with dinner before.

He hadn't noticed that she wasn't drinking anything, though she was diligent in filling up his cup.

After what seemed like a very short time, though in retrospect it had been time enough for him to down almost three bottles of wine on his own, it didn't seem like such a bad thing at all that she was sitting close to him.

She smelled good, and her hair shone in the dim light from the lamps.

When she kissed him, that had seemed like a good idea too.

Then, they were on the floor of her private office, and the carpet was scratchy against his knees, but her body was soft and willing and warm beneath his, and that seemed like a very good idea.

The next morning though, when he'd woken up in her bed with her curled up in his arms, with no clear memory of how he'd gotten there, that didn't seem like a very good idea at all.

He'd panicked. He didn't know what to do. He just knew that he hadn't planned this, hadn't wanted it... and didn't want it again.

She'd opened her eyes then, and looked into his...

And she'd just sighed. She moved back, away from him, and pulled the sheet up over her chest.

And she'd told him he could go.

He hadn't waited long enough for her to change her mind - he'd grabbed his clothes, which had somehow been piled on a chair by the bed, pulled them on, and left.

He'd hesitated in the doorway, looking back toward her...

But she hadn't been looking at him. She'd been staring at the blanket, and though he stood and looked at her for a long time, and she'd had to know he was still there, she never looked up.

He'd left - left the room, left the palace, left the kingdom. He'd drifted for two years, years during which she'd never contacted him.

When he'd moved back to Sanc, she'd been thrilled. She'd resumed her pursuit of him with all its former vigor.

Apparently, since he'd returned to her sphere, she'd interpreted that as a sign that he might actually be interested after all.

Then, he'd moved in with the other four.

She'd flipped her lid, in Duo's words. There'd been one loud, angry scene in the living room of their townhouse, where she'd furiously accused him of taking advantage of her - of stealing her heart and her virginity and running away.

That had been ugly. Quatre had been distressed, Wufei shocked, Trowa quietly concerned... and Duo had been hysterical.

Duo still did impersonations of that encounter sometimes when he was very drunk. Sometimes, if Quatre was very drunk too, he participated, Quatre playing Relena and Duo playing Heero.

Duo would stand on the couch in order to be taller than Quatre, and shake his fists down at him.

"Took your virginity?" he'd bellow. "You practically shoved it down my throat!"

"You left!" Quatre would shriek in hideous falsetto.

"I thought you were going to rape me again!" Duo would shout, his voice exaggeratedly deepened.

Quatre would fall to the ground and roll around on the floor, pretending to sob hysterically. He'd manage to call Duo a cad, a rogue, a roue, a rascal, and a debaucher of innocents before he'd break out in giggles, at which point Duo would declare that he hadn't seen any debauchery yet, and jump him.

Then they usually started having sex on the floor.

Their portrayal of the encounter was only exaggerated a little. Most of the dialogue was roughly accurate. There had been no sex on the floor, though.

Heero grinned at the computer. He always sulked when they drug out that particular reminiscence, but he always ended up laughing at their enthusiastic reenactment.

"What's so funny?" Relena demanded, leaning forward to catch his eye.

He turned and smiled at her. That had been the low point of their relationship. She hadn't spoken to him for six months, and then, suddenly, she'd appeared at his office one day and apologized. She'd visited him regularly after that, and slowly their relationship had developed, but she never again had aggressively tried to make their relationship something it wasn't.

Oh, she suggested it frequently. But it was done lightly, without seriousness... it was more a flirtatious gesture than anything else.

It was as if Relena, finally having had to accept that she was never going to get what she wanted, had suddenly, because of that, grown up.

It may have been the first time in her life that she really didn't get something she badly desired.

It had probably done her a world of good.

She had been a hell of a ruler, and in the last few years, as she grew older and came into her own more, she'd been getting steadily better.

Heero had to admit that it was very likely only her presence and her associations with the Preventers that had kept him part of the organization. Without her guidance, things would probably be even more ridiculously bound by red tape than they were.

"Huh?" she pressed leaning forward to wave her hands threateningly over the keyboard. "Tell me or I'll screw up your code... come on, come on... "

"Watch it!" he warned her, pushing her hands away. "Hit too many wrong buttons and Quatre's going to jail."

She raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't drop her earlier question. "What were you thinking about that was so funny?" she pressed.

He grinned at her, wondering whether he should admit his train of thought.

Oh well. She'd asked.

"I was remembering the time you came to my house to yell at me for having sex with you," he told her bluntly, still grinning.

She flushed bright red and groaned, dropping her hot cheeks in her hands.

"Don't remind me," she appealed, her voice muffled by her hands.

"It was quite the show," he goaded good-naturedly. "You called me a cad."

"I did not!" she insisted, lifting her head to glare at him.

"And a rogue," he nodded.

"I never called anyone a 'rogue' in my life!" she denied heatedly.

He nodded, grinning. "Noone ever called me that before," he teased. "It stuck in my mind."

She groaned again, lowering her eyes. "How about we never discuss that again?" she suggested acerbically.

He grinned. A couple of years ago, he could never have imagined having this conversation with Relena.

A couple of years ago, he could never have imagined that she would ever be his friend.

But that's what they were.

You never knew.

"So... what are you working on?" she asked, determinedly changing the subject despite the fact that her cheeks were still pink.

He turned his attention to the screen, politely allowing the subject to drop although the grin still lingered around his mouth. "I'm making Quatre a criminal bastard," he announced calmly, putting the finishing touches on the faux transaction.

"Ah," she said, leaning forward to peer interestedly at the file he had created. "For the case with the Order?"

He leaned back and frowned at her. "What do you know about that?" he asked suspiciously.

She huffed in exasperation, glaring at him. "Who do you think rented Une the extra building she needed for those files?" she demanded. "I'm the one who suggested the Preventers be formed, they're headquartered in my kingdom... do you think that I wouldn't be aware when they're working on one of the biggest cases in their history?"

Heero sighed loudly, scowling at the screen as he clicked through a series of windows until he found the next one he wanted to work on. "Why don't we take out an ad in the damn paper?" he groused. "'Attention, top secret prostitution ring, known as The Order. The Preventers are on to you. Repeat, the Preventers are seeking to undermine your organization. Take all necessary steps to avoid detection.'"

"Telling me is hardly alerting the news media," she reminded him dryly.

He grunted again. "And your hanging around here is... "

"Not at all unusual," she finished tartly. She was silent for a moment. "I want to help," she said softly.

Heero sighed, and turned to face her. "Relena, I don't mean any offense, but what can you do to... "

"Not much," she agreed easily. "But my brother can. He's with Wufei, helping him train the backup units you're bringing... "

"Your brother?" he interrupted incredulously. "You pushed Zechs in there with Wufei? Wufei's going to have a fit... "

"Millardo," she interrupted loudly, glaring at him as she accented the name, "offered to help, and Wufei accepted the offer."

"Wufei accepted an offer of help from Zechs... ?"

"Millardo is a very good instructor, and Wufei was working with a lot of people at once. He said it would be helpful to have someone to work with him... "

"He said it would be helpful to have someone work with him... ?"

"Oh, stop it," she snapped. "Things change. People change. He's not so bad, as you'd know if you'd ever talk to him... "

"He's always busy running your errands," Heero snapped, then winced, regretting his tone and his words.

Relena looked away. "I know it seems like that... " she began stiffly.

"Oh, Relena, don't," Heero appealed pleadingly. "I didn't mean it like that. It's just that he's... "

"Always running my errands," she finished ruefully. She sighed. "I know," she conceded. "That's why I'm here, in fact - if he was here alone a lot, someone might pick up on it. But... " She grimaced, frustrated. "He doesn't seem to... want to do anything on his own. If he had anything that he wanted to pursue on his own, of course I would never ask that he stay here. But he doesn't, and I'm not just letting him sit alone on some colony!"

For awhile after the war, Zechs had lived by himself on an abandoned colony. He'd bought it, with some of his considerable wealth, and kept it relatively heated and kept the atmosphere running so that it would be habitable... but he hadn't activated any of the climate or lighting apparatuses... He'd just lived, all alone, in constant chilly darkness.

Heero recalled that at the time, he'd been rather impressed.

Relena hadn't though, and she'd dragged her brother back to Sanc, to help her administrate the kingdom that she insisted was both their inheritance.

He'd been doing so efficiently, stoically and austerely ever since.

Heero sighed, and reached out and touched Relena lightly on the arm. "He'll be fine," he told her somewhat awkwardly. "He'll... work it out."

Personally, he wasn't sure what Zechs had to work out. He was young, handsome, rich, he more-or-less shared the ruling of a kingdom he'd thought he'd have to give up, and everyone adored him, despite the fact that he'd once tried to destroy the world. Heero himself wasn't very fond of him, but he knew he was part of a decided minority. He had really no clue what could be keeping the man morose.

But, that seemed to be the right answer, and Relena visibly cheered up.

They chatted for a few minutes about the case, and he showed her some more of the files he'd created on Quatre.

"And what's the purpose of all these shadow companies?" she asked, her brow creased attentively.

"We want to make it look like he has some... unsavory habits," Heero explained. "He's moving personal and corporate funds to what are essentially untraceable accounts. Who knows what he's been doing with that money? But if it were legitimate, he wouldn't have to hide it like this."

"So... you're making it look like drugs?"

"Drugs," he agreed. "Gambling, prostitutes... any number of things."

He trailed off, staring at the surface of the desk. Any number of things noone would expect of Quatre... These records weren't real, of course. But it was disconcerting to realize that they very well could be, and noone who knew Quatre would ever guess it. Heero hated the thought that there was a lot more going on with most people than there appeared to be on the surface.

"Heero?" He looked up as Relena rested a hand on his shoulder, and met her concerned blue gaze. "Do you want to tell me what's going on?"

He stared at her, and she continued delicately. "Une told me that Duo has... disappeared, and that the four of you don't seem to know where he's gone. She said she's concerned about him, and about all of you... "

Heero snorted in derision. "She's concerned about her damn mission," he corrected acidly. "She could give a flying fuck about any one of us personally; all that matters is that we're all clear to do her damn work for her... "

"I don't think you're being quite fair to her," Relena disagreed soberly. "I know you all... well, you don't always see eye-to-eye," she amended diplomatically, "but I could tell that she's genuinely concerned." She was silent for a moment. "Is Duo all right, Heero?"

The simplicity of that question destroyed Heero's determination to remain silent on the topic. Because that was the one question he didn't at all know the answer to, and the one fear that was destroying him.

Duo might well be very... not all right. And he didn't know.

Heero pushed the keyboard away and braced his elbows on the desk. He lowered his head into his hands, and just sat there, while Relena gently rested her hand on his back, silently encouraging him to talk and offering him quiet support.

She'd really changed a lot from the pushy, demanding girl she'd once been.

He poured the whole story out, not looking at her, detailing the facts in a long, toneless stream of information. He didn't leave anything out - the encounter in the conference room, Duo's revelation, his reaction, Duo's disappearance, Trowa's anger and subsequent revelation, the strain that they'd all been living under since then... He let it all pour out, confessed everything that he hadn't been able to talk about with anyone to Relena.

He stopped, and there was silence for a long moment. She'd moved her hand away while he was talking, and there was no contact between them. The quiet stretched out until he could no longer bear the tension. He looked over at her, and saw that her soft blue eyes were filled with tears.

"Relena?" he asked, concerned.

"Poor Duo," she breathed. She shook her head. "Poor Trowa." She looked up at him. "God, Heero," she whispered. "I never knew. I... "

"I didn't either," he told her, acknowledging her shock.

She shook her head again, and suddenly she was glaring at him. "How could you run away?" she demanded.

Heero scowled. She was supposed to side with him. "I didn't know... I'd like to see what you'd have done!" he flared.

"I don't think I'd have gone running off down the hall," she replied sharply.

Heero growled. "Everyone keeps telling me how much better they'd have reacted. Let me just tell you, it's really helping a lot. I would have no idea that I'd screwed up without all of you pointing it out to me in detail... "

"I'm sorry," Relena interrupted, sounding genuinely contrite. Heero glared suspiciously at her, but she continued. "I know you didn't mean to be a jerk. You really can't help it. But... "

"Hey!" he protested, offended. "I'm not a... "

"But you need to stop running away whenever things you don't expect happen," she continued, lecturing over his protest.

He glared at her again. "I don't run away whenever... "

"You ran away from me," she pointed out calmly.

"That... that was different!" he sputtered. "I didn't... "

"You didn't expect it, I got you drunk, I'm the bad one," she agreed wearily. "But I was still an eighteen-year-old girl. You could have been a little... more sensitive," she finished softly.

He stared at her, not speaking until she looked up at him, her eyes, for once, a bit shadowed and uncertain. Heero sighed when he saw the lingering hurt in them. For the first time, he realized how much his abrupt departure must have injured her.

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