see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
'I didn't make a scene,' Quatre
grinned. 'Now did I?'
If I was any judge at all, the guy was on something of an adrenaline kick,
and looking for something to kick in return. I snorted, derailing whatever
response Trowa would have made. 'Probably less of a scene than the one
I was apparently about to make, if you hadn't come along and shut me up.
'You are entirely welcome,' Trowa responded with the quirk of a grin.
'Shutting people up is what I do best.'
'It's what you try to do,' Quatre murmured from behind his glass,
but before his partner could even start to reply to that, his attention
was on me. 'This portrait, Duo, did you have plans for it? Because if
not, I want it.'
I glanced up finally, and found that we were standing in front of the
sketch I'd been working on of the two of them, the one I started way back
while Heero was in the hospital. 'Uh... about that,' I said, ducking my
head because I knew I was blushing furiously. 'I never meant for this
to end up here, guys. I swear. Aleyah got hold of a sketch pad that I
hadn't really intended?'
'We're not looking for an apology, you dork,' Trowa said genially. 'We
want to buy it, if it's one of the ones that are for sale.'
I blinked up at him, a little surprised that I didn't find any sort of
irritation in his expression. 'Are you nuts? After everything you two
have done for me? If you want the thing, you know it's yours.'
They shared this look that made me feel like I'd said something stupid,
and Quatre all but snickered at me. 'Aleyah was right, Duo... you really
do need to leave the financial end of things up to her.'
There was that slur on my business skills again, and I might have been
irritated about it, but I was too busy thinking about the implication
that Quatre and Aleyah had been talking about me. How completely weird.
Since I wasn't sure how to answer that, I glanced back at the picture
in question and wondered why they weren't ready to kill me. It was a strange
damn thing; a ying and yang sort of picture, with Trowa and Quat as the
two halves, almost knee to forehead with each other. Their hands were
cupped in front of the curl of their bodies, not touching, but framing
the white rose held between them. It was oddly intimate despite the rather
unusual design. I'd have thrown a fit over it with Aleyah, if I hadn't
felt like I needed to pick and choose my battles. I'd had a feeling that
I was only going to win one, and it had been far more important to me
that I not embarrass Heero.
I wanted to feel guilty that I'd thrown the guys to the wolves, so to
speak, but neither of them seemed to be the slightest bit upset, so it
kind of felt like a waste of energy. I was opening my mouth to apologize
one more time anyway, when Trowa suddenly shifted.
'There's Aleyah now,' he said. 'I'll be right back.'
I glanced up in the direction he was moving, and could just see Aleyah
back in the entry room, still talking with Mr. Kirby, though there was
another man standing with them now.
Quatre blew out a breath and I turned me attention his way. 'Whoa, Duo,'
he muttered softly, shifting just a bit as someone moved past us. 'That's
Jack Lee... I haven't seen him come out to a show in ages.'
'Jack Lee?' I questioned, wondering if I was supposed to recognize the
'He's Aleyah and Stan's other partner,' he explained, just as we saw Trowa
approach the group and shake hands all around. 'He's got something of
a reputation for being very particular; he seldom comes to the gallery
except on special occasions.'
At the end of the hall, we could see Trowa as he talked with the group.
It was very strange seeing Trowa Barton in a setting like that one. The
last time I could remember it, was at the end of the war. We'd all been
pulled fresh from the battle-field, stuffed into suits and ties, and expected
to mingle with the elite and powerful at the many celebrations that the
world seemed to need to throw. Back then... Trowa had been just as miserably
uncomfortable as I'd been. A street rat, and a mercenary, with no real
names of our own, suddenly trying to make small talk with people who had
qualified as 'the enemy' not all that long before.
Looked like Trowa had gotten it all figured out. Watching him laugh lightly
at something Mrs. Kirby said, watching him clap Mr. Lee on the shoulder...
he seemed very much at home. It made me feel odd; like I'd fallen behind
my class-mates in school. When had I lost the ability to adapt? When had
such small, insignificant things become so difficult?
I realized I probably should have said something to Quatre's comment,
but wasn't sure just what it would be. I was just starting to worry that
my silence might be stretching a bit too long, when we saw the Kirby's
daughter approach Trowa. He leaned down to listen to something she said,
smiled broadly, and then straightened to point our way. The kid... JC,
I suddenly remembered, flashed Trowa a grin and started to run down the
hall. Some parental word must have sounded, because we saw her slow down,
though we also saw her roll her eyes.
Quatre grinned down at her, when she drew abreast of us. 'Well, hello
JC; you look lovely tonight.'
The kid did the eye-roll again and blew out her a breath. 'Pah-leese,'
she informed him. 'I look like a Barbie doll.'
Quatre laughed and gave her a conspiratorial grin. 'Well... at least it's
He got a dark look that made me wonder if pink hadn't been Mommy's first
choice. But then the kid was looking up at me with a light in her eyes
that was a little unnerving. Like she'd just been told that I was a member
of the latest, popular, boy band and no one had bothered to tell her.
'You drew a cat,' she suddenly observed, sounding like she thought I might
not know that.
I couldn't help grinning. 'Yes, I suppose I did.'
She pointed past me to where Wufei's portrait with Beowulf hung. 'Can't
you do the back end either?'
Beside us, I thought Quatre was going to spit champagne. I followed JC
over to stand in front of the portrait and she pointed up at it and its
companion piece of just Beowulf. Both of them did indeed show the cat
from the front.
'See?' she said, tone just a bit accusing, as though I'd cheated somehow.
'Well,' I replied, trying to tone the grin down just a little bit. 'These
just worked out that way; I suppose I could manage the back end of a cat
if I had to.'
Her expression changed to one of guarded hopefulness. 'Really? Then could
you help me get this right?' And she was digging around in this dinky
little purse that I had thought was only there to accent the outfit. She
pulled out a folded up piece of paper and handed it up to me. Some artistic
part of my soul wanted to cringe, but really, the picture had been erased
so many times that it was going to have to be redone on good paper at
some point anyway. 'See?' she said, pointing at the back half of the cat
on the paper. 'It's all wrong.'
There was more wrong with it than just the back end, but the rear definitely
had some major issues with cat anatomy. I turned the paper around where
she could see it too and pointed along the curve of a back leg. 'Here's
your problem,' I explained. 'You're thinking backward.'
'Backward?' she frowned up at me, fidgeting in place, making me wonder
just what her normal attire was. Somehow I saw jeans and cover-alls, and
a lot less curl in the hair. Kid should have been home with a babysitter,
playing video games or watching TV, not out being paraded around like
some porcelain doll for show.
'Cats back legs bend the other way,' I smiled. 'Don't you have a model?'
She blew out a breath of sheer irritation. 'My Dad's allergic.'
'Ah,' I commiserated. 'If I had a pencil or something, I'd show you.'
That was all it took for the kid to drop down right there on the floor
and start digging through her purse. I heard Quatre snort almost involuntarily
and I glanced up at him, noticing the pissed off parental person down
the hall, just over his right shoulder.
What else was I to do? I sat down with her.
She looked startled for a second, but then grinned widely at me and settled
in, her God-awful puffy skirt hiding her legs and making it look like
she was only half there. It was a morbid little thought that made me shake
my head as I accepted the pencil she produced. And then we bent over the
paper on the floor and I did a quick cat drawing lesson.
'See?' I began, doing a small sketch in the corner of her paper. 'Cat's
may have a knee back here, but it bends the other way?'
'Standing up,' she commanded, when I started to do a lying down pose.
'I want one walking.'
I shifted to another corner of the paper and started again. 'The back
foot is really kind of longer than the front...' I explained and she nodded
as I worked.
'Did you have a model?' she suddenly asked, making it sound like an accusation,
as though that were cheating too.
'For Beowulf?' I asked distractedly, working out the details of a walking
cat. 'Yeah, he belongs to a friend of mine.'
'Bayowolf?' she snickered. 'What a dumb name for a cat.'
'It's classic,' I grinned. 'What would you name a cat?'
'Tiger,' she said decisively and I glanced up at her, thinking that there
was a whole lot of 'I wish' in that tone of voice. I bent back
to the picture and began shading in stripes.
She kind of gasped and pushed at my hand, so she could see. 'How'd you
'There's more to a pencil than the point,' I smirked and showed her how
to hold it. 'Got another pencil in there?'
She dug back through the little purse, and I had a feeling her mother
did not have a clue what all was in that thing. I suspected it had been
meant for show, or maybe just a dainty little handkerchief. I doubt dear
old Joan had seen the junk the kid had managed to drag along with her.
Then she sighed, pulling something purple out of the purse. It wasn't
a pencil and I wrinkled my nose. 'What is that? It stinks.'
I thought she was going to giggle herself silly before she burst out,
'A crayon, silly!'
I took it from her and tested it on the paper; it made a quite unsatisfactory
line, almost crumbling as I worked. I stopped pretty quick and handed
it back. 'That's nasty,' I had to tell her. 'Have your parents get you
some colored pencils and forgot those things. How do you get a decent
line out of it?'
She had to cover her mouth to stifle the laughter that wanted to come
out. 'You're weird,' she finally proclaimed, though something in her tone
of voice made it sound like that might be a cool thing, and not really
the insult it sounded like.
'I like to think so,' I smirked and got a roll of the eyes. Then she took
the pencil and tried to add some stripes to my cat. There was a noise
somewhere above us that sounded... not happy.
'Don't press so hard,' I instructed and she did a decent job finishing
out the tail. When it was done, not that it was much, I took the pencil
back and did a quick sketch of a little girl in a pair of cover-alls standing
with the cat and positively got beamed at.
Then we both sort of became aware of the fact that it was kind of... quiet.
I'm not sure what brought it to my attention, but JC seemed to notice
at the same time, and we probably looked damn comical as we kind of unbent
from where we'd been working on the floor and looked up.
At first all I saw was legs, and realized that we'd drawn some attention.
I glanced at JC and wondered if my own face was as red as hers. 'Busted,'
I muttered, and she giggled, though it was a bit more subdued than her
mirth had been. We wordlessly, but mutually, agreed to pack her things
up and I noticed that we lost a pair of legs or two when the paper got
put away. It was something of a relief.
JC bounced to her feet then, sticking her hand out for me to shake, and
I got the impression it was a last ditch effort in not getting
in trouble with her parents for sitting down on the floor in a dress in
a public place. 'Thank you very much, Mr. Maxwell.'
I snorted at the sudden formality, but shook her hand quite solemnly.
When she stepped away, I started to rise, a little sorry that the reprieve
was over, and a hand presented itself to me. I took it and let myself
be pulled to my feet, expecting Trowa, but turning to find, 'Heero!'
He smiled at me, his hand squeezing mine tight for a moment. 'Hello, love,'
he murmured very softly and I couldn't help grinning at him. God, it was
so good to see him. If we'd been anywhere else, I'd probably have already
been demonstrating that fact a bit more physically.
'What are you doing here?' I had to ask though. 'What about the trial?'
His smile turned just a little bit smug and he told me, 'It's over.'
He let go of my hand then, though I could tell he hadn't really wanted
to, but any longer would have been awkward. 'What happened?' I pressed.
His grin failed him then, and I suddenly remembered the last occasion
I'd had to talk to him. Remembered
the subject matter. Remembered what he'd had to do. I couldn't help a
glance around, suddenly realizing that everyone in the room with us had
probably seen that damn broadcast. I was relieved that people were moving
off now that the spectacle of the resident artist sitting on the floor
was over. Though I imagine my smile deserted me every bit as much as his
'I am so sorry--' he began, but I stopped him with a shake of my head.
'Old ground,' I said, trying not to think about it. 'Just tell me what
happened to Gray.'
Though he didn't get that smug grin back, there was a certain satisfaction
in his voice as he told me, 'The... evidence, when it went public, finally
broke one of them. That flight attendant came forward and the rest of
them just caved one after the other.'
I grinned, recalling the girl who had led us down to the air lock. 'Bobbi?'
Heero shook his head. 'The other one.'
I blinked at him, remembering the giggly girl who had asked for my autograph.
'Leslie?' I muttered. 'I'll be damned.'
'As soon as she came forward,' Heero said. 'Spencer was quick to follow.
I think the only thing that was keeping him from telling the truth right
from the beginning was fear of his father. But once the truth came out...'
he shrugged, not bothering to finish.
I looked at him long and hard, caught in a sudden rush of emotion. 'It's
really over?' I almost whispered, maybe afraid that weird little deity
in charge of torturing me might hear.
Heero smiled warmly. 'Case closed. Gray confessed when his subordinates
turned on him.'
Over. Case closed. It was like some sort of weight was lifted off my shoulders
that I hadn't even known was there. I had not thought I'd been dwelling
on it that much, but the sudden wobbly feeling in my knees told me I had.
If there had been someplace handy, I might have sat the hell down. Like
some sort of buzzing adrenaline over-load in the back of my brain was
suddenly gone. We won.
'Yes,' Heero agreed to a thing I had not realized I'd said out loud. 'We
damn well did.' And there was a hell of a broad hint of pride in his voice.
Something about that tone, sounding just a tiny bit dangerous, brought
me back to our surroundings and I glanced around. The world had moved
on when I hadn't been paying attention. I didn't see JC or her parents
and I hoped the poor kid wasn't off in some corner getting lectured about
lady-like behavior. I could just see Trowa and Quatre in the entry room,
talking with Aleyah now that she seemed to have stopped her debate with
Mr. Kirby, Cocotte still tucked neatly under her arm.
'Did Wufei...' I began, not sure if it was politic to ask, but Heero snorted.
'Like he would have missed this for anything in the world,' he said, and
inclined his head in the general direction of the exit room. I turned
just in time for Wufei to snap the picture, and I realized I'd been set
up. Wufei was smiling at me with the most bizarre proprietary air, just
as though he were somehow responsible for the entire gallery show.
'I didn't think cameras were allowed in here...' I grumbled, blinking
at him in mock irritation. Well... mostly mock.
'Do you honestly think that even Aleyah Winner could say no to this charm,'
Sally said, stepping up beside her... whatever you want to call him. Boyfriend?
God, but that was just too weird a word to use for Chang Wufei. Significant
'Charm?' Heero asked in disbelief. 'I thought he snuck it in...'
'Why, of course,' Sally returned, in a really bad southern drawl. 'But
it will be his considerable, dark-eyed charm that gets him out of trouble
when he gets caught, good sir.'
I think only Wufei can manage to look pleased and disdainful at the same
time, using little more than an arched eyebrow. 'I did not 'sneak' anything,
Yuy,' he corrected. 'I have free rein as long as I take some pictures
for Aleyah as well.'
Somehow, it figured.
Sally was toying with one of those champagne glasses and it suddenly reminded
me of mine, and I wondered where it had gotten to. I looked around, fairly
sure that I must have set it down when I'd sat on the floor with JC, but
I didn't see it and could only assume that one of the black-dress brigade
had come and cleaned up after me.
When I brought my attention back to the group, the conversation had moved
on without me, and Heero was teasing Sally about the dress. I had this
strange sense of detachment; like one of those out-of-yourself moments
that you hear people talk about. Words flowed around me, but I didn't
really hear them. I was too busy thinking about how strange the evening
was. I'd been feeling so damn uncomfortable, hadn't known how in the hell
to talk to the people around me. JC had been a welcome relief. Kids are
easy to talk to; there's no pretension, no hidden agenda, just blunt honesty
and a curiosity that generally won't be quelled.
I had rather been dreading returning to the grown-up world when she and
I had put away our toys. But... finding that Heero was there, had made
everything different. Finding... my friends there, had made everything
It was very strange to feel all these... touchstones around me. Like a
safety net. Like backup. But not. I was struggling, very close to understanding
what I was almost feeling when Heero touched my elbow, bringing me back
into focus. I'm afraid I only blinked at him for a second, a little frustrated
as it slipped through my fingers.
'Duo,' he asked gently, voice low, 'are you all right? Would you... like
me to take you home?'
I could sense his concern, and I could also sense eyes on us. I glanced
up to find Wufei watching Heero, taking his cues from him. I felt something
more, and turned a little further to look behind me and found Trowa trying
to catch Wufei's eye, perhaps seeing the disquiet on Heero's face and
wanting to know what was going on. Beside him, Quatre seemed to sense
Trowa's attention drift and looked up at his partner, following his gaze
I could feel the connection between us like a damn physical tie. Something
I could have traced with my hands if I could only feel well enough to
touch it. It rather left me feeling breathless, and still not quite sure
I understood it.
'We should get a picture,' I blurted, turning back to Heero.
'What?' he asked in this totally bemused tone, like he was trying to follow
my thought processes and had taken a wrong turn. I had the urge to tell
him that I couldn't always follow my thought processes, but refrained.
'We're all five here together,' I told him, wanting to capture what I
couldn't quite see. 'And... you know... we're all dressed up and crap.'
I shrugged, suddenly feeling kind of stupid for asking. But something
took light in Wufei's eyes and I realized that I'd just poked at his own
hobby. Maybe stirred up his own artistic muse.
'Duo,' he said, pouncing on the notion, 'that's a very good idea. I'll
go out to the car and get my tripod and...'
Sally cut him off with a jab to the ribs. 'Don't turn it into a three-ring
circus, Chang, just give me the camera.'
Wufei growled at her, muttering something under his breath about 'over-exposure'
that made Sally get indignant. Beside me, Heero chuckled lightly and leaned
in to whisper, 'Now see what you've done?' but he sounded pleased.
If I had thought that Chang Wufei was anal about his candid photography,
that was only because I'd never dealt with him doing a posed piece. I
thought he would never get everything just the way he wanted it, moving
us several times until the background was just so, checking lighting,
making minute adjustments to his camera, and giving Sally detailed instructions.
If we were bothering anyone there in the flow of the gallery, no one dared
challenge Wufei's dark glare to say anything.
When it was all said and done, I found myself in the center, turned slightly
toward Heero, Wufei at his back, Trowa at mine, Quatre at his side. I
felt it again, that strong sense of connection, of relationship, and though
Wufei made Sally take several shots of the same pose, just in case, I
knew somehow that the first one would be 'the one'. I already knew where
I wanted to put our copy.
When we broke apart, while Sally was still mocking Wufei for checking
his 'precious' camera over after she'd handled it, I found Kit standing
at my elbow. 'Ms. Winner would like to speak with you,' she informed me,
all trace of her normal impish humor set aside, for a much more professional
tone. 'She's in the foyer.'
I tried not to feel like my number had just been called by the executioner,
and excused myself. I had rather hoped that the woman would wait until
some other time and place to give me hell over the picture I'd removed
from her carefully crafted display, but I suppose I shouldn't have set
my sights quite that high.
I went around through the exit room, since it was closer, and noticed
that Zechs and Noin were still standing near the Jensen portrait, never
having made it much further, engaged in quiet conversation. I tried not
to look that way as I slipped between the other visitors, excusing myself
quietly as I went.
As soon as Aleyah caught sight of me, she gave me a rather imperious gesture
that wordlessly commanded, 'This way,' and she went back into the gallery,
not bothering to make sure I was following.
She came to a stop in front of Allison's portrait and turned to wait for
me to join her; Cocotte had been shifted from her left arm to her right,
but was otherwise much like I'd seen her last.
'Darling,' Aleyah said, her voice managing to convey just a whole world
of stressed exasperation. 'You simply must stop holding out information.
You make things so very difficult.'
'What?' I blurted, completely confused, blinking at her while I tried
to change gears. This strange, almost affectionate, exasperation was not
what I had been expecting.
She flicked those manicured fingers of hers in the general direction of
Allison's portrait and graced me with a slightly accusing look. 'You did
not tell me this was a charity show. I could have done so much more had
I only been privy to that information.'
I opened my mouth with another what, but felt kind of stupid and
closed it again. When next I opened it, what popped out was, 'Who...?'
She laughed lightly in a way that made me feel like I was being terribly
dense. I thought back over the evening and realized pretty quickly that
the only one who had a clue about my agenda that I had seen talking to
Aleyah at any length, had been, 'Trowa?'
'Oh, he does have a brain in that darling little head,' Aleyah said delightedly
to, apparently, the damn dog.
I snorted, but she was still waiting for some sort of explanation from
me and I stopped looking at her and looked at Allison's portrait instead.
'They... aren't charity cases.'
I had to imagine the raised eyebrow since I wasn't looking right at her.
'What you provide isn't charity?'
I frowned, irritated somehow, by her manner. 'No; I'm... I'm family. I
came from that place as much as they do.'
The delicate little sniff she let out then made me look at her again.
Her smile was quite condescending and my irritation flared. 'Commendable,
pet, but impractical.'
I glared at her, taking in the dress and the jewelry and the damn little
dog, and growled, 'What the hell would you know about it?'
It didn't faze her, just made her smile soften a bit. 'What I understand,
Duo, is that it's your pride keeping those children from reaping the real
benefits you could bring to them. You have connections, my dear, that
you shouldn't be so persnickety about exploiting.'
I blinked at her and could see that she was quite pleased with herself
for taking the wind out of my sails, but I couldn't think how to answer
would amounted to an accusation.
She didn't wait for me to figure something out, tapping the back of one
of my gloved hands instead. 'Perspective, darling. Put it in perspective.'
She lifted her arm and displayed a diamond bracelet sparkling there; she
didn't have to tell me that it had probably cost her damn near as much
as I was struggling to raise for Allison's surgery. I blushed, scowling
at the notion, and she walked away laughing at my consternation.
I stared at Allison, and she stared back. Was that a hint of reproach
in her shadowed gaze? More so than had been there before?
Pride? I suppose I have to kind of take that one without too much argument.
It's rather been the trait that has gotten my ass into trouble for as
far back as I can remember. But... was I really letting my need to handle
things on my own stand in the way of something better for those kids?
What I chose to do, or didn't choose to do, as far as the Maxwell home
was concerned was between me and Mrs. Octavia and those kids. If I sent
them books, or I sent them money, or I sent them gifts, what the hell
did that have to do with Aleyah Winner?
Or anyone else, for that matter. I sure as hell wasn't stopping
anybody else from making donations if that's what they wanted to do.
All my hamsters, artwork, beasts, and ghosts were strangely silent.
'Why's she so sad?' a small voice asked me, and I looked down to find
JC back from her presumed lecture, and standing beside me.
'Because...' I said, really thinking about it, 'somebody let her down.'
'Oh,' JC replied, not seeming to know what else to say to that.
'You get in trouble?' I asked, kind of wanting to change the subject.
'Nah,' she smirked. 'I don't get yelled at in front of people.'
I chuckled. 'And by the time you get home, it's been forgotten?'
She just grinned, which I took to mean yes, and we just let that go.
'My Dad bought that picture,' she suddenly blurted, as though she was
telling me something that was a secret.
'Huh?' I said brightly and looked to where she was pointing.
'That weird one,' she clarified. 'With the bird.'
I had to walk over closer; just to be sure we were talking about the same
picture, though I couldn't think of anything else with a bird in it. 'This
one? But I thought he said it was all unbalanced?'
She grinned again, telling me, 'Yep. He says it makes him think.' Then
she rolled her eyes and skipped off after one of the black-clad servers,
having seen something on one of the trays that must have been to her liking.
I wished her luck; I hadn't seen anything yet I could identify.
As she got the attention of the server, and the woman held the tray down
so that JC could delicately pluck something from it, I tried to imagine
Allison in her place. Or Sarah. I couldn't. Instead, I imagined them standing
just behind me, peeking out at all the people with trepidation, their
eyes solemn and wide.
JC wandered on, probably off to find her parents, and I was left to look
around at all the people, and I wondered if there was an expression of
trepidation on my own face. Aleyah's words came back to me and I had to
wonder; what really kept me from feeling like I could fit into this bizarre
little world of hers? It's not like L2 orphans were branded on the forehead
or anything. Nobody could possibly know about my past or my history to
pass judgment on me.
Then someone wandered past me, leafing through one of those little pamphlets
and I had to shake my head. At least, I hoped they didn't know
about my past. God only knows what Aleyah had written about me. If I hadn't
felt like I just didn't need another thing to deal with at that moment,
I might have been tempted to pull my copy out and check. Though... in
retrospect, I suppose that would have looked just a little bit self-absorbed.
But... was I just as guilty as the people that I felt were judging me?
Wasn't I just as judgmental, only in reverse, so to speak? I resented
those people their money and their life styles, but I honestly didn't
even know them.
Was it really just my pride that painted such a picture of 'us' and 'them'?
And was that same pride really keeping me from doing all that I could
for those kids?
I really hate it when people see things about me that I haven't figured
out on my own. Though... you have to give me the bracelet thing; there's
just no damn call for a piece of jewelry that costs as much as your average
So just what the hell was I supposed to be exploiting?
I might have stood and chewed on that for quite a while longer, if I hadn't
suddenly caught sight of Zechs in the foyer, obviously querying an employee
about something, and that something turned out to be me. I was pointed
out, and the good Prince Peacecraft was heading my way.
I always set aside personal epiphanies when confronted with royalty. Even
if it's only the King of Peroxide.
Ok, get off my damn case. I really don't like the man; I'm supposed to
not take the cheap shots just because of who he is? I think I deserve
points for toning down 'vile hatred' to mere 'dislike'. This was the man
who goaded Heero into that dumb-ass duel when Heero was still recovering
from self-destructing his damn Gundam. You want to tell me where the honor
and shit was in that?
'Maxwell,' Zechs said curtly as he stopped in front of me, and I nodded
a greeting, having to tilt my head a bit to look up at him. I had to fight
the urge to step back a pace; he'd gotten just a hair farther into my
personal space than I was comfortable with, but I suppose the flow of
people dictated it.
'I...' he began, and a strange frown flitted across his face. 'I didn't
know you were an artist until Lucrezia told me about your opening here;
you're very talented.'
I recognized it for the 'nicety' thing. Breeding will tell, I suppose.
Do the polite stuff first, because that sure as hell wasn't what the man
had hunted me up to say.
'So they keep telling me,' I quipped and I could tell he wasn't sure how
to take the comment. He assumed false modesty, just because that's what
that comment would have been, coming out of his own mouth. He couldn't
fathom a person not being supremely confident in their own abilities.
I wondered if the man had ever known a doubt in his life. I saw him eventually
just dismiss the remark rather than decide how it was meant.
'I wanted to ask you,' he said instead, surprising me by cutting to the
meat of things. Perhaps his military training overriding his breeding?
'What Quatre said... about that man...' he surprised me again with his
hesitation. I wouldn't have thought he had it in him. The man wasn't sure
he wanted the answers he was asking for. I grudgingly had to give him
points. Not many, mind you, but a few.
'Jensen?' I prompted, not letting it just be that man.
He nodded, looking even more uncomfortable. 'Jensen; yes. Was that true?'
The guy looked like he'd just taken a sip of his champagne, only to discover
that it was really Kool-aid in disguise. 'That he was a murderer?' I replied
levelly. 'Yes, it was.'
I saw the faint hint of disbelief behind those damn ice-water eyes of
his and thought for a minute that he would keep it there, but he couldn't
contain it and blurted, 'How do you know that?'
I almost laughed at the strange, line-in-the-dirt feeling he was exuding?
except it kind of pissed me off that he was questioning Quatre's word.
'That would be the part where he tried to add me to his list of victims,'
I told him coldly, getting a sudden mental image of a Pekinese growling
at a St. Bernard. No, not a St. Bernard; too mundane for Zechs. A Greyhound,
maybe... or a Doberman.
He blinked and I watched the disbelief fade. He surprised me for a third
time; he hadn't just been doubting us, but simply verifying personal knowledge.
Checking his facts. I suppose I should have expected that; he was
a Preventor agent, after all. But then his expression turned just a touch
'Define murder, if you will,' he said, not mincing words any more at all.
'We were at war...'
It kinda rubbed me the wrong way at the same time that I had to give him
another half point for having the balls to ask. 'We were not, to my knowledge,
at war with innocent teenage street people,' I told him, not entirely
able to keep the anger out of my voice. 'We encountered him in the middle
of a mission, yes. But during our surveillance, we over-heard a clear
admission of no less than five rapes and subsequent murders of civilians.'
That rather caught him by surprise, I was very pleased to see, and he
just stared at me for a long couple of minutes, as though he could somehow
read whatever information he wanted in my eyes. 'And you...' he finally
'Under cover,' I admitted. 'I was supposed to make contact with him in
an attempt to follow him back to the target.'
If he got the scenario from the Reader's Digest condensed description,
it didn't show on his face, and so far, just about everything else he'd
been thinking had. He chewed on that for a second before asking, 'And
what was the target?'
I snorted. 'That was the question of the hour. It turned out to be a hidden
manufacturing site for some type of advanced mobile dolls.'
He looked... not happy. Kind of guilty, actually. Another surprise from
Prince Pomp. I had no doubt from the look on his face that he knew exactly
what the operation had been, and might well have had a hand in it somewhere
up the chain of command. I was starting to wish that he would get his
curiosity satisfied soon though, he was making me think about things that
were making me just as... not happy.
I couldn't help making an adjustment to my gloves, not that I'd meant
to, but it made his gaze flick that way. I thought for a second that he
would speak of them, but he didn't.
'Thank you,' he finally said, acknowledging my speaking to him honestly,
I think. Then he got in one last surprise shot, inclining his head slightly
and saying, 'I'm sincerely sorry,' before he turned and walked away.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's