Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 70
Berlin

Zechs hadn't said much, during the planning sessions or the flight to Germany in the slick Zoroaster, but Heero sensed that the man had his own history with Meir. The photos Duo had found while hacking the tabloid's files were some proof of that.

Zechs and Duo piloted, leaving Heero with time to ponder his own feelings. If Meir was behind the hateful mail, what was he going to do about it? Shoot him? Hand him over to the authorities and face the inevitable media feeding frenzy? Neither prospect had much appeal. It bothered him that he could not foresee his own reaction. He'd gotten better at understanding his own feelings and emotions these past months, but this was beyond him. When he let himself think of what those pictures showed, or the way he'd reacted, he just seemed to go numb now.

He kept an eye on Duo though the flight, and the long taxi ride to an elegant apartment Zechs had bought in the Schoneberg before the war. It was large, taking up the entire top floor of a pre-Colony brick building in the heart of the gay district. The interior was ultra modern, but comfortable, with soft leather furniture, warm woods floors, and colorful artwork. They had an awkward moment as they dropped off their bags; had sleeping together in New Orleans been a one time thing or set a pattern? Zechs solved it smoothly by showing them to an elegantly appointed guest room just off the high ceilinged living room. Both this room and the master suite down the hall had double beds, not large enough for group sleeping.

They'd arrived in Berlin at noon and "Herr Schmidt" had an appointment at five to meet with Meir at a cafe in Hardenbergplatz near the zoo.

Wufei and Duo dressed as students, in jeans and leather jackets. Heero had borrowed Duo's old Alliance parka and paint streaked jeans and brought along a sketchbook. Zechs put on a stylish black suit for the occasion, with his distinctive hair swept up out of sight under an expensive fedora and looked like a high priced lawyer. Everyone was wired for communication, and everyone except Zechs was armed.

They arrived early and spread out to watch for their prey. Duo and Wufei sat at an outside table, well hidden under hats and dark glasses. Heero took up a position on the curb across, as if sketching, and Zechs lounged at a trendy outdoor bistro, pretending to watch pretty young girls walking by.

Playing his role, Heero sketched Duo and Wufei as they played a pair of lovers, holding hands across the table.

"We are lucky, aren't we? They're as deadly as they are beautiful." Even through the tiny ear bud, he could hear the amusement in Zechs's voice and wondered how the man had guessed what he was doing.

Heero grunted softly, but suddenly felt a little cold inside, the way he did when he caught that manic gleam in Duo's eyes now and then.

"He's here," Duo murmured at last, not glancing in Heero's direction.

"And he's alone," Wufei added.

They all stayed put as Meir entered the cafe, and let him wait out the last few minutes before the appointed meeting.

"He's either very brave or very foolish, given his line of work," Zechs muttered as he and Heero crossed the busy street to join the others.

Duo and Wufei got up, but hung back near the door as Heero and Zechs crossed to the booth at the back of the dimly lit little establishment, where Meir sat nursing a beer as he read a magazine.

Zechs slid in beside him, trapping him in the booth, and Heero sat across from him.

"Herr Schmidt sends his regards," Zechs rasped as Meir started and looked up. "Did you like our pictures?"

"Peacecraft?" Meir hissed in surprise. "What the hell have you to do with this?"

"I'm just here with my friends."

Heero took off his tinted glasses and tipped the brim of his baseball cap back.

"Yuy!"

"Keep your voice down," Heero growled, glancing around. The place was noisy. No one seemed to be watching them except for Duo and Wufei. Meir appeared not to notice them yet.

Meir sighed and threw down the picture of Duo and Trowa. "So I assume this was simply for my benefit, or had your pretty boyfriend really betrayed you?"

"You wish," Duo growled, slipping in next to Heero. Wufei pulled up a chair and straddled it.

Meir was completely hemmed in now and he knew it. "So, all this just to bring me here? What do you want?"

Heero pulled out a photo of his own and tossed it across to cover the other. It was one of the milder ones his tormenters had sent, just a shot of him being held down on his knees in front of a half naked man, someone's hand fisted in his hair.

Meir glanced at it and shrugged but Heero knew how to read faces.

Duo was good at reading people, better than any of them. "You know what this is, Meir. I suggest you start talking. Now." He kept his voice low and a smile on his face; to anyone watching, not able to hear the clear edge of menace in that soft voice, nothing would have seemed amiss.

"Sure. Someone tried to sell me those. I figured they were fakes and turned them down."

"Oh yeah? But it must have made a slime-sucking shit monger like you a little curious, huh?" Duo growled clearly unconvinced. "Is this where that prostitute theory of yours came from? Does it look to you like he was having a very fucking good time?"

He was almost on his feet now, leaning across the table to get in Meir's face. One hand rested in a tight, white-knuckled fist on the table. His gun hand was out of sight behind him.

Perfectly calm to all outward appearances, Wufei rose smoothly to shield them from prying eyes. Heero found Duo's wrist and gripped it, gently pulling him back into his seat. Still scowling darkly, Duo settled down, but his hand stayed under the table. Wufei brushed an imaginary crease from his designer jeans and sat down again.

"I need to know where you got your information, Meir," Heero said.

Meir raised an eyebrow. "So they were genuine? I suppose I should have guessed, given *her* reaction." He shot Zechs an annoyed look. "I already settled this. Tell her nothing has changed!"

"You can't be referring to my sister?"

Meir leered over at Heero. "She didn't say anything to you, your little girlfriend? She leaned on me very hard, that day in Madrid. I came back to my hotel room after the press conference to find some of her people waiting for me, and then she called in person. She was most--persuasive, shall we say, on your behalf, Herr Yuy. Of course, I'd already been convinced that they were fakes, especially given your reaction to my questions. Very cool, you were. My compliments. Much calmer about it that she was. But then again, that was before she caught the two of you in bed, wasn't it? I think perhaps things have cooled a bit since then, ja?"

"Are you saying Relena Peacecraft had something to do with this?" Duo hissed.

"She didn't say anything about pictures. She simply suggested that if I wished to continue to do business in this country, I would do well not to spread rumors about certain people. I told her it wasn't my sort of story, anyway. And it's not. I do have standards, you know. This?" He tapped the photo of Duo and Trowa. "This would sell." He leered brazenly over at Duo. "You've made much money for me, Herr Maxwell. People "cannot get enough of you", as you would say. I've missed your antics since Herr Yuy came to claim you."

"You sick fuck! I'll give you--"

Heero caught Duo's arm and hauled him down again. "He's baiting you."

"But as I said," Meir went on, seeming to enjoy the confrontation, "seeing their little hero of the Libra being gang raped? No, my readers would not like that so much. But there are many others who would. I'm surprised no other paper picked up on this. Maybe Fraulein Peacecraft has been busier than I knew? Hmm. If these are real, that might present some legal difficulties, ja?"

"I advise you not to pursue that train of thought," Zechs warned quietly. "There is no proof that Relena knew of these photos, but you've already admitted that you did. If they are real, then under ESUN law, you could be charged with obstruction at the very least."

Meir shrugged. "As I said, I thought they were fakes. You cannot prove otherwise. I would simply say that I wished to spare Herr Yuy embarrassment by bringing them to light."

"Who brought them to you?" Heero asked, torn between the desire to keep Duo from making a scene, or joining him in beating the information out of the smug German. "I suggest you tell us now, as we have many ways of getting the information, with or without your cooperation."

"Threats?" Meir chuckled. "I have been threatened by more dangerous people than you. Do you think I have left such information lying around to be found, or that no one knows where I am right now? Or that I have no way of proving whom I met here? You do not survive long in my line of work, being so stupid, I assure you."

"Or not being able to carry a bluff," Duo muttered, loathing clear in his eyes.

"No, threats are very crude," Zechs agreed. "What do you propose, Herr Meir?"

The man smirked. "I'm a simple fellow, with simple needs. Perhaps an exchange? A story I can use, in exchange for one I cannot? An exclusive of some sort--"

"The Victoria scandal?" Zechs suggested with a wry smirk.

"No!" Heero said at once. This was his fight; he didn't need anyone else dragged through the mud on his account.

Meir waved a dismissive hand. "Old news. Surely you have something more current?" He stole a glance at Wufei and Heero could have sworn the man licked his lips.

"How would a headline of us charging you with extortion play to your readers?" Wufei growled. He'd been very quiet, but now his dark eyes were blazing with barely suppressed outrage. It was Zechs's turn to calm his own lover, but he didn't look any more pleased at the prospect.

"I'll give you an interview," Heero said quietly, fists clenched under the table. "If the information you give me leads me to these men, then I will give you an exclusive interview, but only about myself, and not about this, or anything about my friends they do not wish me to speak of. Take it or leave it, Meir."

Meir picked up the picture of Duo and Trowa. "I have heard rumors . . ."

"Nothing, until your info checks out." And then, he amended silently, only what the others agreed to beforehand.

Meir smirked again. "Very well." He scrawled something on a cardboard beer coaster and slid it across to him. "This is all I have, you have my word. I think you are a man of your word, too, Herr Yuy, so I will consider ours a verbal contract. For free, I will tell you something else. These men? You should be very careful with them. They're not right in the head."

"No shit!" Duo muttered.

Heero glanced down at the coaster before pocketing it: it was a name, and a post office box address. In Kisarazu.

+

"Is it just me, or was that a little too easy?" Duo growled in the cab on the way back to the apartment.

"Hn." The same thought was nagging at Heero. These shadowy figures were dangerous men, according to Meir, and their latest messages to Heero were almost like taunts, asking him to come after them. He shuddered and leaned back against the seat, feeling a little ill. If only he could remember something more from that bad time! So far, though, all he had were fleeting glimpses, nothing more than he'd already recalled.

As soon as they were safely behind closed doors again, Wufei asked the one question Heero had been avoiding. "What about Relena?"

"I'll speak with her tonight," said Zechs.

Heero gave him a grateful look, glad to be spared that conversation. That confrontation at the Madrid embassy came back to him now: Relena's tears, and the angry words he had misunderstood, discounted and tried to forget. //After all I've done for you!// Apparently she had tried to protect him yet again, just as he had once sworn to protect her. He tried to say as much now, but Duo rounded on him with surprising anger.

"She shut him up, sure, but why, huh? Think she was really doing it for you? No way! She just wanted to make it go away to save herself the embarrassment. She still wanted you, Heero, and having her war hero fiance splashed all over the tabloids as a rape victim just didn't send the right message."

"Duo, please!"

"No, he's right." Everyone turned to stare at Wufei, who was seething again. "The whole time you were missing, Heero, she could have helped us find you. But she didn't. Why? I've asked myself that again and again ever since I found out the details. She let you live like that, sick as you were. She left you out there on the streets, where those men found you and-and-" He was shaking now, hands clenched at his sides. "If we'd found you first, they couldn't have done that to you! I'm sorry, Zechs. I know she's your family, but it's true!"

"No, you're right," Zechs growled, drawing him into a hug and stroking his back under the leather jacket. "This isn't the first time I've had cause to question my little sister's motives." He looked sadly at Heero. "I'm so sorry about everything that happened to you. It could have been stopped."

"It wasn't your fault, Zechs," Heero sighed. "None of this had anything to do with you. Duo understands that, too, don't you, Duo?"

"Yeah, I know. Hell, you were unconscious in the regenerator unit all that time. And, well--" He gave Zechs a small, grudging nod. "You were good today. Real good."

Acting purely on instinct, Heero opened his arms to Duo, then drew him over to Zechs and Wufei and wrapped his free arm around them. They stood that way for a long time, holding each other. If the beds had been larger, he'd have been tempted to suggest they share.

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