Notes: I know...this story is update sporadically, at best. But, wonderful people have been commenting on the arc lately, so I'm feeling some Gundam Inspiration! Woo hoo!! A little of the wacky 1+2+3 dynamic here!
by: Shoori

I Know Who I Want... + Part 21

The door opens and closes quietly. I look up from the book I'm reading, and a moment later Heero appears in the doorway of the living room.

He smiles slightly at me, and I return the expression.

"What are you reading?" he asks, coming to sit by me on the sofa, careful not to jar my injured leg.

I turn the book and show him the cover. "Sherlock Holmes," I tell him seriously.

He grins. Both he and Duo find my fascination with mystery novels to be very amusing.

He arranges my foot so it's propped up on his leg, and then lays his head back against the sofa and closes his eyes.

"How was your afternoon session?" he asks, and now I can hear the tension in his voice.

"Not bad," I admit guardedly. "It only went until about two o'clock."

He grunts enviously. "Lucky," he comments.

I am. I have the least to do with the lawyers, except for maybe Wufei. Quatre would have less to do even than me, but he insists on involving himself in every facet of the case. All that Wufei has to say is that he always suspected Relena and Heero were unhappy, and that he doesn't know anything about anyone's sex life except what I told him the day before the Gundams arrived, which is one day before the separation papers read, and what he saw in space while I was gone, which probably won't be admissible. Quatre has the same story.

My tale is a bit more involved, but not much. I just have to deny that I slept with Heero before he was legally separated, though I do have to rehash when I caught Heero and Duo together. I could do without that. The lawyers have had me practice responses to other questions - what happened in space, on the island, why we were gone so long, what happened in the month I was a prisoner (I was beaten, took an opportunity to escape and later recovered. They wanted me to be a little more detailed, but I've been adamant), and what brought us all together. That's it.

I hate it, passionately.

I leave every one of those sessions feeling like I've spent a year in jail, but it isn't as bad as it could be. The lawyers swear that almost everything we're practicing probably won't be admissible at all, we're just going over it on the off-chance that the judge is an idiot.

Duo's got it worse, and Heero the worst of all. But then, each of them have more to say.

And I'll leave it at that.

"Did you stay at the mansion?" Heero asks idly.

"No, I left when I was done." We'd all brought separate cars this morning, because we knew we'd probably be done at different times. Tomorrow, the last day before the hearing, we'll probably all be there all day, so we'll likely go in together.

"Did you just hang out?" he asks. He's making conversation with me, but I have the feeling his mind is somewhere else.

"No." I hesitate for a moment. "I went to see Mariemaya."

His eyes snap open and he looks at me, surprised.

"Yeah, can you stand it?" I glance at the doorway, where Duo's lounging against the frame. "The man drives himself sixty miles out of the city with his driving leg messed up. Very intelligent." Duo directs the comment to Heero, but the criticism in his tone is just for me.

"We've been back almost a week," I say mildly, for the fourth or fifth time since I got home half an hour ago, "and I haven't been out there yet. It seemed like a good time to go."

Heero smiles up at Duo, who wanders into the room and sits on the floor, leaning his back against the sofa.

"How is Mariemaya?" Heero asks me.

"Yeah, I haven't had a chance to ask you," Duo adds, craning his neck to look up at me.

I feel a small smile cross my lips. "That's because you've been too busy scolding me," I comment.

He scowls. "What if something had run out in the road and you had to slam on the brake?" he demands.

"I would have slammed on the brake, and then cursed loudly because it hurt my knee," I reply calmly.

Duo huffs in exasperation and Heero grins at me.

"Mariemaya is... fine," I tell them, sighing.

Duo frowns. "Is she ok?"

I nod. "She's tall," I comment, smiling.

"How old is she now?" Heero frowns.

"Fourteen," I tell him.

"Geez," Duo whistles.

"How is she doing?" Heero asks.

I sigh again. "Her grades are great. I talked to her teacher, and she says that she's one of the top students in the class."

"Of course," Duo puts in wryly.

"I have to talk to Une," I reflect, almost to myself.

"About what?" Duo demands.

"I want to bring her in to another school, one closer to the city," I tell him slowly. Strange how much more concrete the idea is when I say it out loud. I'd just been thinking vaguely as I was driving home that something wasn't quite right. I hadn't realized, though, that I'd already come to this conclusion.

Duo shifts, so that he can look up at me without twisting his neck. "How come?" he asks. His voice is curious.

I shrug. "Never mind. I have to talk to Une... "

"Hey Tro," Duo interrupts loudly. "How about you talk to us?"

I blink, surprised at the determined tone of his voice.

"She's your kid," Duo tells me bluntly. "Talk to us about her."

I blink again, very startled this time. "She's not my kid," I protest. "I just... "

"You're her guardian, aren't you?" Duo demands.

"Une is her primary guardian," I explain. "I'm listed as her co-guardian in case something happens to Une, but I wouldn't say that she's my... "

"You're closer to being a parent for her than anything I ever had," Duo points out abruptly.

I stare at him for a moment. "You're right," I say slowly. I haven't been living up to my responsibilities.

"Don't go deciding you've been a crappy guardian," Duo says hastily. He sighs. "Look, Tro... This is one of those things we used to avoid," he admits. "You'd say something about her, and I'd change the subject. I'm trying not to do that anymore. I know you care about her. I think that's great. She's lucky to have you. You said you want to change her school. Why?"

I look at him for a moment, then glance over at Heero, who's watching me closely.

"I... well, for one thing, I'd like her to be closer. So I could see her more," I begin.

Duo nods.

"And... this school only keeps pupils until they're sixteen, so she'd be changing in a year-and-a-half anyway... "

"You don't think she should finish up there?" Heero asks quietly.

I shrug. "I don't know," I admit. "I'm not sure what's been going on while we were gone. That's why I wanted to talk to Une, to see what she thinks of the school. I just think... "

"Yes?" Duo encourages.

I can not believe we're all having this conversation. It seems surreal, somehow.

"I have to talk to Quatre... " I say.

"About what?" Duo demands, his eyes flashing at me.

"I have to see what he told her," I hasten to explain before Duo can decide that I'm trying to talk to anyone but him about the child I consider to be my niece. "I think he told her too much," I tell them, and I know they can hear the annoyance in my voice.

Heero frowns. "Too much?" he repeats.

"About the last war," I explain. I roll my eyes. "About everything," I amend. "She was very upset," I explain in response to their expressions of inquiry. "She said... " I swallow. It was very difficult to have this conversation with Mariemaya. "She felt like it was her fault. Because it was her uncle who was involved and who... imprisoned me." I manage to get the words out. This is more conversation on that topic than we've had... probably since it occurred. I want to leave, but my foot is in Heero's lap and Duo is blocking my passage off the couch. Besides, this conversation is not about me.

Duo reaches up and takes my hand. His thumb rubs in slow circles over my palm, silently encouraging me to continue.

"She cried," I admit. I hate dealing with tears.

Duo winces. He knows my weak points as well as I do. "What did you tell her?"

I shrug. "That it's not her fault. She had nothing to do with it - she doesn't even remember him."

"Did that make her feel better?" Duo asks.

I shrug. "She asked what he did," I tell them abruptly.

They both glance away from me. "That must have been difficult," Heero says finally, in a very neutral tone.

Suddenly, I'm struck with an overwhelming urge to laugh. An article from one of Duo's never-ending stream of magazines, one he'd left very subtly laying open on the coffee table in the island - pops into my mind. "Your partner doesn't want you to solve her problems," the article had advised earnestly. "She - or he - wants you to listen to her, to hear what she's saying. She wants you to know how she feels, and she wants to know that you accept her feelings as valid. So avoid giving directions, like ‘You should do this,' or ‘I would deal with it that way.' That's not what she needs. Instead," the author instructed, "make statements acknowledging that you hear what she's saying and that you empathize with what she feels. Say, ‘That must have made you angry,' or ‘Sounds like you're sad,' or ‘That must have been a difficult experience for you.' That way, you're telling her, ‘You're a reasonable adult with feelings that are valid,' rather than, ‘You are someone weak who must be told what to do.'

I always read the articles Duo left out with a mixture of amusement and irritation, wondering whether even the authors themselves really believed what they were saying or if they realized how inane they sounded. I should have known that Heero would study them solemnly, seeing them as how-to manuals.

"What did you tell her?" Duo asks, mistaking my amused silence as reluctance to speak.

I shrug. "Nothing much. Then... "

"I want to know what you told her," Duo insists.

I frown at him. "Why?" I ask bluntly. He's being a little strange.

He shrugs. "I just want to know," he insists.

"I told her he beat me up, and I was injured for awhile, but now I'm fine." I look suspiciously at Duo, but he seems satisfied.

"Not bad," he nods. "Pretty good, Tro-chan."

"Glad you approve," I tell him wryly.

He grins cheekily at me.

"So, why do you have to talk to Quatre?" Heero frowns.

I scowl, remembering my irritation. "She wouldn't believe me for awhile. She said... " I scowl again. "She knew I... she knew how long I was laid up, and that I had to have surgery on my... back." I really hadn't liked discussing that with Mariemaya. "And then... " I feel myself turn red.

"Then what?" Duo asks interestedly.

[cont]