Authors: TB and Marsh
Pairing: 6+2
Rating: R
Notes: Takes place five years after EW

Caveat + Part 12

Headquarters was eerily empty. The lone guard at the entry station checked his badge and nodded him through, and he spotted one of the admin support staff at a desk in an unlit office, but he was otherwise alone as he walked the halls. He had to find his key in his duffel to unlock his own department's door, and felt blindly across the blank wall until he found the switch for the lights. They came up, dim and blue, in night setting. Zechs rubbed his eyes and let the door fall shut behind him.

While he waited for his computer to boot he made coffee in the small staff lounge and unearthed a frozen lunch he'd left there weeks earlier. Eating it almost put him to sleep. He sat slumped with his chin on his fist as he called up the e-case on his network and slowly sipped away his coffee as he reviewed.

Telephonic threats received by Relena's Sanqian bodyguard, routed immediately to Preventers. Three calls over two days, the same essential message, differently worded each time: the Princess consorts with the enemies of peace and democracy. Until she disavows these monsters, she will be in danger.

It was the third message that specifically named the 'monsters'-- Gundam Pilots. Every moment she spends with them endangers her further. More visits to Brussels than Zechs had been aware of, and apparently quite a lot of them had included side trips to Heero Yuy's apartment. None long enough to include-- well, he didn't think his sister, or Yuy for that matter, were the type for a quick dalliance, and according to Duo, at least, they hadn't been in a relationship for a year. So whatever those few short hours here and there had amounted to, it was likeliest to be friendship, not romance. But the message had named both Yuy and Duo as 'corrupt influences', and so both had fallen under Preventers' circle of protection.

The network attack they had-- well, that Yuy had-- captured on his home computers had been right on the tail of the threats. Preventers had been actively investigating, but the IP address Yuy had managed to unearth had been their first real clue. Searching for what? Just another shot across the bow-- something that hadn't so much harmed as warned, like drugging Duo's drink? No information stolen, no bank accounts accessed, just in and out to prove it could be done?

But no, no quite. Whether or not it could be proved was one thing, but Zechs knew in his gut that whoever had invaded Yuy's computers had been the same one to call in the anonymous tip that Yuy was hacking classified data. Had noticed it during that first attack, and saved the information for when it would be most useful, for the day when Preventers weren't there, when Yuy could be got rid of with almost no effort at all.

But why wait? In fact, if the goal had been to somehow dispatch Yuy and Duo, to separate them from Relena, why bother with a threat, with those slowly-escalating tricks that never really warranted lockdown or evacuation? Months had passed between the original threat and this move to incarcerate Yuy. Why give them so much time to react? It was almost-- it was almost an honourable pause in combat, giving an opponent a chance to recover on equal terms.

Miles Pargan had introduced him to that concept. The difference between violence and engagement. Violence existed only to reach an ending. Engagement existed to reach an understanding. You only had the measure of a man if you engaged him honourably and defeated him on equal terms.

Treize had believed in honour, too-- the way a man believed in things like alien life in distant galaxies. Something far away that was interesting enough, but not something that grew from an internal passion. The first time he'd ever sparred with Treize, he'd won, disarmed his new friend, offered him a hand off the floor; and found himself flat on his back with his own epee at his chest a moment later. I hope you learn your way out of that before it gets you killed, Treize had said mildly.

Treize's particular brand of practicality had gone to the grave with him. They venerated him in those Christmas broadcasts Duo hated so much; Zechs hated them too, but wearily, wishing there was room for a narrative that didn't cast its characters in such black and white. But Treize had always counted on humanity's reductionist impulses. Honour, maybe. The belief that, given a chance, humanity was capable of meeting itself on an even playing field and deciding not to fire.

Zechs had fired. He'd fired on the man who'd arranged his father's assassination; he'd fired on Earth for being the symbol of all his own failings; he'd fired on Treize for standing in his way. He'd always fired. Treize had always known he would. Honour. A code that required veneration or abnegation of the self. Zechs had been on both ends of that, and made his greatest mistakes in those extremes.

If you didn't do it for honour-- sometimes you did it for loyalty. Duo lying for Yuy. Yuy telling the truth for Duo.

Corrupt influences. That was the key. He was sure of it. He stared at the transcript of that phone message until his eyes watered. Corrupt influences. Every moment she spends with them endangers her further.

Preventers had read that as an active threat. What if it had been a plea? The caller had seen Relena in danger, not from himself, but from Yuy and Duo-- no, not even them specifically. What they represented. The Gundam Pilots. Enemies of peace and democracy. Man's reductionist impulse at work again. Yuy and Duo were nothing more than the movement they had once represented-- and Relena wasn't a person, but a lodestone, an ideal. An ideal in danger of corruption.

Almost as soon as he thought it, the idea began to lose coherence. Honour and loyalty were concepts, not criminal motivations. Weren't they? Radical drives that led unanimously to destruction when carried to the extreme. But if someone out there really believed that Relena needed to be saved, how would you expose her corruptors? Exposing Yuy's illegal activity-- revealing him as someone who would never obey the law, would never stop fighting a war that was over and lost. Exposing Duo... Exposing Duo as what? Drugging him had been almost worthless, as a gambit. No lasting harm at all.

So what had the point of it been? Zechs had been with him the entire time, and there was nothing to suggest Preventers were playing anything but a cameo in this scenario. The attack had been random, not timed for Preventers' absence as Yuy's deporting was. If Zechs hadn't been there to see it, no-one might ever have known about it, even Duo, who had had no memory of it.

But Zechs had been there. Maybe that wasn't accidental. Maybe he'd been meant to see it. Zechs pulled up his own statement from the case file, willing it to regurgitate some kind of meaning. They had been eating dinner. Duo had been upset about Christmas, but had calmed, and they'd been relaxed, at their ease. Duo had had a drink. Duo had gone to the toilets, returned acting inebriated. He'd walked Duo back to the garage to get a car--

He'd lied in his statement to Preventers. Or rather, he hadn't told the entire story. He'd walked Duo back to the garage, yes, but he'd omitted that Duo had tried to seduce him in the backseat, omitted how near they'd come to sex that night. He'd been trying to spare Duo's reputation, spare himself a little unnecessary embarrassment, and it hadn't really been relevant. He'd realised Duo was drugged and--

But if he hadn't realised Duo had been drugged?

Duo had been acting so loose, so different. He'd only stopped it because he'd thought Duo would regret it by sober morning. But if they had gone through with it, and Duo had waked in the morning with no memory of it or believing he'd been taken advantage of when he was vulnerable, given Duo's temper, what then? Their relationship might not have survived it.

It would have driven them apart. It would have cut Duo adrift from Preventers. And Zechs might not have rushed back from L4 to help him, if they'd been on the outs; Duo might never have called him for help. Both Yuy and Duo might have been irrevocably deported by the time Preventers even had wind of it happening.

He slept at his desk for a few short hours, waking sandy-eyed and cloudy-headed. He showered in the stalls in the gym and dressed in a spare uniform he kept in his locker. His hands were swollen and his stomach growled, both usual after-effects of Space travel, but he didn't have much time to deal with it. His twenty-four hour deadline had shrunk by ten. He checked with Forensics, but they didn't have anything yet on the tape of the anonymous tip to the Special Prosecutor. He checked his email as well, hoping for good news from L4, but there was nothing there, either.

This time he had no trouble finding someone to take him to Duo at the Asylum Centre. Duo had been moved-- and Zechs did not think it was a good move-- to a cell like Yuy's. In the rolled-up sleeves of his blue jumpsuit he looked less like a prisoner than the grease monkey he claimed to be; at least until Zechs looked at the barred window behind him.

'Can I see him yet?' was the first thing Duo asked.

'Do you understand that by taking the fall for him, you will likely never see him again?' Zechs gestured for his escort to leave a folding chair for him, and then they were alone. Zechs sank onto his seat. 'How are you doing?'

'I'm fine.' The corners of Duo's lips turned up, but didn't stay there. 'You look rough. I'm sorry.'

'And I'm serious. Do you really understand the consequences of what you're doing?'

'Accidentally breaking up with you.' Duo rubbed his thumb over his fist, and dropped his head back to the brick behind him. 'Which kind of sucks. I appreciate all the derring-do on my behalf, though. I don't think I'm going to get as lucky again as I have been with you.'

'Let's save the eulogy for when we really have no hope.'

'Wow, you're seriously pissed at me.' Duo avoided his eyes, picking at his fingernail. 'He's my friend. I'd do the same thing for you.'

'Not everything should escalate to life or death, Duo. There were so many other ways to handle this that wouldn't end with you in jail.' Zechs rubbed his own hands, trying not to sigh. 'They'll send you to L2, I gather.'

'They'll let me out eventually. There's not enough room for the real baddies on L2, much less people like me. They might not even keep me at all.'

'If they do let you out, it won't be for free. And the people who will want you the most will be the ones who want to use you.'

'I know.'

'And? Duo, please just make me feel like you aren't letting this play out on purpose.'

'You know me better,' Duo said flatly, his eyes snapping up to Zechs' face. 'I'm not a revolutionary, not anymore. Even if they handed me a weapon, I wouldn't use it. My war is over.'

'You think you'll have a choice?'

'You really suck at pep talks.' Duo pulled his knees up to his chest and hugged them close. 'Be nice to me. I probably won't ever see you again, either.'

Zechs was spared a reply by a knock at the door. Van den Broeck, who looked almost as tired as Zechs felt. He was let in by one of the uniforms, and brought with him Duo's breakfast. Duo gave him room to settle on the cot, and accepted an apple silently. Van den Broeck smiled somberly down at him.

'Any progress?' he asked Zechs.

'Unfortunately not.' Zechs gazed down at his hands. 'I believe whoever is behind this-- I think that-- possibly this person is politically opposed to you. Maybe a radical Pacifist.'

'Radical and Pacifist don't usually go into the same sentence,' Duo observed. His voice was just a bit husky, and he wasn't looking at Zechs again. This time Zechs did sigh.

'It does exist,' he answered. 'They have anarchist tendencies, particularly in Europe. They advocate combative non-violence. As a group, they're fanatical about Relena. If it is a radical Pacifist, though, I don't know what to make of the bomb on L4. Maybe if there had been no-one in the mine, it would fit within their philosophy. But not at the risk of so many lives.'

'Guess by that logic Heero'n me are lucky.' Duo rolled the apple between his palms slowly, caressing its dappled skin. 'You think they'll find him? Quatre?'

'Maybe a lack of news on that front is a good sign.' Van den Broeck sat silently watching their byplay, but Zechs couldn't ask him to go. So Zechs ignored it instead. He crouched at Duo's feet and covered Duo's hands with his own. 'You still have time to retract your statement. Please, Duo. You're not saving Heero. You're just ruining your own life.'

'You don't know that. And even if it were true, it would still be worth trying.' Duo freed his fingers, letting the apple slide into Zechs' hand. 'During the war. Before the war-- hell. My entire life. We survived because we protected each other from our weaknesses. Maybe that's the only reason we survived. I wish you understood. But even if you don't, this is the only way I know.'

It might have been the exhaustion. He'd given up only a very few times in his life. If he didn't get out of Duo's presence immediately, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from adding to the tally. He managed just a civil nod to Van den Broeck as he shoved to his feet. The wait for the guard to open the door seemed interminable, and he couldn't draw breath until he stood in the corridor outside.

'I need a phone,' he told his escort. 'I need to speak with the Special Prosecutor.'

'We have an office you could use, Agent.'

'Thank you.' He discovered the apple in his hand. He passed it awkwardly to the guard. 'Let me know if Mr Van den Broeck requests to speak with me.'


**


He used an encrypted laptop, with added network protection, and the highest security credentials Preventers had access to. He had only an average education in computers, but he was sure enough of one thing. If Yuy was right about secret government datasets, then Yuy wasn't the only one who knew about them, and the best place to find out who else knew was the internet.

He ran a dozen searches simultaneously, burning through the net and returning results by the thousands. He eliminated half by narrowing his parametres-- ridding himself of the conspiracy websites, the discussion forums dead longer than a year, anything produced by an official news source. He eliminated half again simply by binning anything too small to be worthwhile. It still left him with more than ten thousand leads. With grim determination he settled himself in for a long read.

There was widespread belief, at least, that such datasets did exist. Not just the publicly released datasets of financial or populace information he knew of; that was innocent enough, and fairly useless for anything more than number crunching and the occasional cross-reference. Long years of war and military rule had shuttered early efforts at transparency. The Parliament had released plenty of data in raw, machine-readable form, but innovation was slow and the data were not particularly useful outside their mother-agencies. Secret data could be anything. Reports by Parliamentary research services were not generally made public, nor had prisoner of war lists been. Watch lists. And God knew Treize had employed shredders by the hundreds to destroy documents seized from every Alliance base he'd destroyed. Zechs was one of a very few who knew that Une had authorised the Trojan virus that had wiped out OZ servers in the aftermath of Libra. Of course data would have survived, and there were likely some very ugly things to be learnt in them, but was it truly a sinister thing, to keep it secret? Or did it only look sinister if you'd been raised to abhor and distrust a government that regularly abused its citizens?

He interrupted his reading only when he had to step out to the toilet. His head felt stuffed with newly learnt information, but none of it came together in sense. He leaned wearily against a cool tile wall with one hand trailing under the cold water from the sink faucet. He checked his mobile again, but it was silent, with no alerts waiting. No news.

'Agent.'

'Mr Van den Broeck.' Zechs twisted the spigot off. 'Are you--'

'Wondering how your investigation is coming.' The tall man joined him, hands in his trouser pockets. His suit was rumpled, and he, too, had beard growing in for lack of grooming, salt-white speckling his chin.

Zechs dried his hands on the towel hanging over the sink. 'I spoke to the Special Prosecutor. I think she can be convinced that Duo's only acting out of loyalty to Yuy. Whether that will count enough in her tally of special circumstances, I don't know. But if they can't establish forensically that Duo was really the one using those computers, in the end I don't think they'll have a case.'

'I agree. He may sit in here while they sort this out, but I think in the end they will be lenient. He has worked hard in Brussels, you are aware. He has a good job, he gives his time more than just Small Arms. I think we will not have difficulty finding character witnesses, if it comes to that.'

'No, I wouldn't think so.'

'Heero?' Van den Broeck asked then. Zechs only shook his head. Van den Broeck acknowledged that with a dip of his head. 'Well,' he said. 'I have a few contacts on L1. I will see if perhaps something can be done for him in the colonies. They might be able to ease his conditions there.'

'I hope your friends are very good lawyers.' Zechs faced the door, but his feet didn't move. 'What an ignominious way for this to end.'

'Their lives were never going to be easy, Mr Merquise. Some very special people will always struggle in this world, even when they only want to do good.' Van den Broeck's pocket began to beep. 'Please pardon me,' he muttered, turning slightly away as he liberated a mobile phone. Zechs stepped back to give him room, and ducked toward the door so Van den Broeck could have privacy. He made it just to the threshold when his own mobile began to vibrate. He pulled it from its clip and read the number. He covered a sudden smile with his hand, drawing a deep breath. He set his phone to his ear.

'You have no idea how glad I am to hear from you,' he said. 'I hope it's good news.'

'Very. We're just pulling up to the garage.'

'I'm on my way to meet you.' Zechs turned, and found Van den Broeck right behind him. 'Our miracle has arrived,' he told the man, gripping his arm tightly. 'Are you ready for a show?'

'What have you managed, Mr Merquise?'

'It's Zechs. Hurry. We'll want to be on hand to do the shouting.'

They came clattering down the steps just as a dark car with tinted windows pulled to a stop in the restricted zone in front of the Asylum Centre. An excess of weary paranoia made Zechs pause long enough to scan nearby rooftops for snipers, but that thought didn't last long. He had the car door open as soon as the vehicle stopped, and reached his hand inside.

Relena slid to the kerb in his hold, her fingers wrapping around his as she leant up to kiss his cheek. 'How much time do we have?' she asked him.

'Not much. I was starting to worry.'

'You?' She smiled tightly up at him. 'Never you, Zechs.'

'Excuse me, yes?' A head of dark hair poked itself out of the open car door. 'We are going inside, are we not?'

'You brought your boyfriend?' he asked Relena softly.

Her cheeks pinkened. 'He isn't my boyfriend,' she replied with dignity. 'But he is a good friend.' Her gaze went over his shoulder. 'Who's that?'

'Mr Pieter Van den Broeck,' he introduced them, 'may I introduce Relena Peacecraft, the Princess Royal of Sanq. Oh-- and Troyes Lefèvre, her companion.'

Van den Broeck's eyes were very wide indeed. 'I am honoured,' he stuttered, and gave himself a shake. 'We have never met, your Highness, but you are very generous to my organisation.'

'Yes, Mr Van den Broeck, it has been my pleasure. And Duo and Heero both speak so highly of you, I feel I already know you.' Relena's smile was dazzling, and Van den Broeck blinked back, obviously charmed. Zechs smiled himself at the now-familiar scene; he'd watched his sister collect hundreds with nothing more than those dimples and a kind word. How could he not feel hope again, seeing that?

'Let's hurry,' he reminded her gently. 'I want them to have the time they need to review the documents.'

'Yes.' Relena squeezed his hand. He kissed her again, impulsively, and escorted her up the steps to the Centre. 'The Special Prosecutor?'

'I asked her to meet me at six.' He checked his mobile for the time. 'Not long now. And the Minister-President?'

'I informed him of my visit. He's coming.'

'What have you planned?' Van den Broeck demanded, catching up on Zechs' other side. 'Will it work?'

'It will work,' Relena promised. 'Now. I want to see them both.'

Zechs gestured for his escort, waiting for them just inside the lobby. 'I want the two Gundam Pilots brought to a conference room. When the Special Prosecutor and the Minister-President arrive, show them in.'

It took time. Relena spent most of it pacing anxiously, until Troyes coaxed her into the chair at the head of their table. Zechs kept her there by pouring her a glass of water from the carafe provided. He kissed her knuckles, and she smiled tightly at him. Van den Broeck did not pace, though his tense stance and frequent checking of the clock spoke volumes.

Duo was brought in first. He slowed when he saw just who occupied the room, nudged along by his escort. 'Relena,' he said, half-questioning. 'What's going on?'

'It's a good question,' Van den Broeck muttered.

Relena stood, stretching out a hand. Duo took it, and she pulled him in for a quick embrace. She touched his hair. 'Oh,' she said. 'You look a fright. Didn't they give you a comb?'

'I can't be gorgeous all the time.' Duo did have a dull blush when he scraped his loose hair behind his ears, though. 'Relena, what are you doing here?'

'Zechs rang me yesterday. It terrifies me the kind of situations you get yourselves in. When I think you were almost deported...'

'What?' Duo turned to follow her eyeline. 'Heero.'

'Heero,' Relena echoed, her voice barely a breath. She stumbled just a moment on her chair, caught by Troyes' hand at her elbow. She walked like a woman in a dream, crossing the room to Yuy there at the door. Yuy looked no less dazed. She touched his chest, the zip of his blue jumpsuit. Yuy moved suddenly, grabbing both her slim arms in his fists, staring almost wildly down at her. Zechs looked away as she turned her face up and they kissed.

Duo was looking away, as well. His expression was dark and dead-eyed. He's guessed, Zechs thought. For a moment-- a moment he didn't like in himself-- he wondered if maybe it might have been better, after all, to let Duo do it his way. Duo might have lived with it better if it had been his own choice.

At any rate, it was a moot point. Zechs cleared his throat loudly when he heard the approach of a familiar strident voice. Relena jumped back from Yuy guiltily. Yuy touched his mouth, but he moved when Van den Broeck drew him aside.

The Special Prosecutor blasted into the room so hard the door went thumping back against the wall. 'What is the meaning of this?' she barked at Zechs. 'Either your investigation is concluded and you turn these men over to me, or you have information to disclose about their undeniable criminal activity.'

'Neither,' Zechs returned coolly. 'Please be seated. We have something to discuss, but we will wait for the Minister-President.'

'I am here.' A white-haired man in a very expensive suit entered on the heels of the Special Prosecutor, brushing her aside like so much white noise as she tried to interrupt him. 'Princess Relena,' he said directly, taking her hand and bowing briefly over it. 'The pleasure is mine. I received your communication.'

'And I have the official documents for your perusal, as I promised.' Troyes opened a briefcase on the table behind her, and passed her a thick folded packet wrapped in formal blue ribbon. Relena in turn offered it forward. 'Minister-President Moreau, the Kingdom of Sanq has learned of your intent to expel Heero Yuy from Brussels. We offer right of asylum.'

'What?' the Special Prosecutor exploded. 'Ceci est indigne! This is Preventers playing politics!'

Relena never so much as looked at the woman. 'As we discussed, Mr Moreau,' she said, 'I am fully aware of my responsibility to continue the terms of Mr Yuy's sentence under the High Court. You have my assurance.'

'None is needed. Your honour is known the world over.' Moreau slapped the paper packet against his open palm. 'I cannot say I am entirely displeased with this solution, but I think you will find he brings a certain amount of trouble with him, your Highness.'

'The Gundam Pilots personally saved my kingdom, sir. I owe them greater debts than these.' Relena clasped Moreau's hand. 'And now I owe you one as well. You know where to find me when I can repay you.'

'Not both of us?' Yuy said suddenly.

Relena's head dipped. Zechs answered for her. 'Just you.'

'Then I can't go.' Yuy set his jaw, but his voice didn't quite last him. 'I... won't.'

'Heero.' Zechs called his attention, but Yuy barely managed to look at him, his eyes locked on Relena. 'This is the only chance you'll have. Without asylum in Sanq, you will be deported to the colonies.'

'I won't leave him here alone. You know what will happen to him.'

'Duo, reason with him.'

Duo seemed to be caught off his guard. He licked his lips, but his hands were unsettled, hesitating between the back of the chair he stood at, twisting over themselves. 'Heero,' he began, but didn't seem to know what else to say.

'No matter what you do he will be here without you.' Zechs put himself physically between them, drawing Heero's eyes up to him. 'But he isn't alone. I'll be here.'

'Heero,' Relena said softly.

He'd once told Duo he admired Heero Yuy, and that had been true. Purpose and strength were always admirable qualities. He'd seen this struggle before, this need to find the right thing in a sea of bad choices. But now more than ever he also saw a young man who wanted to be sure and would never be sure enough.

'Duo,' Zechs said then. 'May I speak to you. Outside. Your Highness, Minister-President, please excuse me momentarily.'

'Of course,' Moreau said.

'I don't--' Duo began.

'Now,' Zechs cut him off. He caught Duo by the shoulder and propelled him out the door, throwing the flimsy wood shut behind them. Their momentum carried them a few yards down the corridor, past their escorts, who took in Zechs' glare and took care to mind their own business out of ear shot. Duo wrenched away from him, and Zechs let him go, staring at the stubbornly hunched shoulders and wondering if it would be better to shake Duo until his teeth rattled or just yell until he himself felt better.

'Cat got your tongue?' he said finally.

Duo hunched in even further on himself. 'Sarcasm is so not helpful right now.'

'Duo—' Zechs rubbed his neck with both hands, then clenched them behind his back. 'I am frankly at the end of my rope. I don't know what you want from me. You called me for help. Here I am, helping. Did I fail some kind of test? Did I miss a step on your checklist?'

'What the hell kind of solution is asylum?' Duo whirled on him then, though after his initial shout he controlled himself to a tight whisper. 'He'll be confined in Sanq the same way he is here. He'll still be gone!'

'He may be confined there, but I think he'll be far happier with Relena than he has been here, and from what I saw in there--'

'Huh,' Duo dismissed him contemptuously.

'From what I saw in there, I think they'll both be happier with him in Sanq.' He tried to lift Duo by the chin, but Duo slapped his hand away. 'Or is that where this is coming from? Are you jealous? I thought you wanted him to be happy.'

'They're a disaster together! They've already been five rounds on this. Maybe they're whatever right now, with the urgency and I don't know, but—'

'But that's a decision that should be left to them, I'm sure you agree. And Relena would hardly cast him to the wolves if they don't manage a romance.' Zechs blocked Duo against the wall with his arm and body, and, oh, Duo did not like that. The heat off his body rose, and that was nothing compared to the blaze in his eyes, but Zechs didn't back down. 'This is unworthy of you,' he told Duo quietly. 'I know you're scared. But this is his best chance, and he's looking to you to give him permission to go. A minute ago you were willing to go in his place, but if it comes to him walking away from you, you can't bear it?'

'I never said that!'

'Then go back in there and say it's all right.'

'Of course it's all right.' Duo faced the wall, pressing his forehead into his elbow. 'He knows it's all right. My say-so doesn't matter at all.'

'Of course it matters.' He squeezed Duo's shoulders. 'You told me before. He'll do whatever you tell him to do. Go tell him to do what's best for him.'

He mostly expected it when Duo shoved him away. He made no attempt to stop it, or to stop Duo from stalking off. Duo was going in the right direction.

It didn't take long. Moreau was the first to leave, meeting up with his entourage and heading out without much discussion. The Special Prosecutor was next, wearing a thunderous scowl. When she saw Zechs, her mouth twisted even more. She flicked her hand at him in a gesture that fully expressed her opinion of him, and then she was stomping off, her heels practically casting sparks with the force of her steps.

Next was Van den Broeck. He hurried toward Zechs, grabbing his hand and pumping it. 'You are a genius!' he enthused. 'A masterstroke. Right of asylum! You should be a diplomat, Mr Merquise. And the Princess, every bit the miracle you called her. Genius, Mr Merquise.'

'I thought I told you call me Zechs.'

'And please, I am Pieter. Those who unite in the same cause must be friends, surely.' Van den Broeck gave him a broad white grin. 'You did a great thing for those young men. They could have no better champion.'

'Then Duo--'

'The Minister-President told her outright to dismiss any charges. Duo is free to go.'

That was more than Zechs could have believed possible. 'I think I owe Relena something very expensive for her birthday,' he managed. 'Moreau never would have done that if it weren't for Relena.'

'Yes, we had a hefty share of luck today.' Van den Broeck-- Pieter-- heaved a deep breath. 'But I will let you enjoy your victory alone with them. Go.'

Relena and Heero stood together. Her head inclined to his chest, and his lips touched her hair. Zechs fetched up against the door jamb to watch them. Add another to his list of cosmic forces; Zechs had seen love before in his life, but this kind of love was something remarkable. They all but radiated rightness.

It was Troyes Lefèvre who gently broke the reverie. The snap of the locks on the briefcase brought Relena's head up. 'We should go, my lady,' he murmured. 'We only have a few hours to get Mr Yuy back to Sanq.'

'Yes, you're right.' Relena rested her fingers on Heero's cheek. 'We shouldn't test Moreau's indulgence. He did this mostly as a favour to Sanq. My plane is waiting at the airport.'

'Duo.' Heero stirred. Zechs followed his gaze to the corner. If Heero and his sister were the epitome of lovers reunited, Duo was a prime example of someone abandoned and alone. Zechs looked down at his shoes, already knowing what was coming. Duo wouldn't walk out of this all right. Which meant their relationship was as good as over, even with both of them still in the same city, alone together.

Duo had a reasonably bright smile when Zechs dared to look again. The smile was a little too braced, but it obviously relieved Heero. 'You two crazy kids be good,' Duo said. 'I'm not there to play referee when you fight. Troyes has my permission to lock you in your rooms if you raise your voices at each other.'

'I shall take this advice most seriously.' Troyes produced a small duffel. 'Clothes for Mr Yuy. You will be more comfortable on the flight, yes?'

'Yes.' Heero kissed Relena again, more tenderly than Zechs would have thought he was capable of. 'We'll be just a moment.'

Zechs held the door as Troyes and Duo exited. Duo kicked at the wall. Zechs hurriedly shut the door, but Duo's temper fizzled almost as soon as it appeared. Duo rubbed his nose, his neck, and then with a tiny exhale, he surrendered.

'Okay,' he said. That was all.

'That was well done,' Troyes said. The curve of his lips was sympathetic, but not a whit of it reached his voice. 'Relena was very right about you, Mr Maxwell. You are a man of great integrity.'

Duo flushed. 'Not always,' he muttered.

'Nonsense.' Troyes took a card from his briefcase and extended it. 'I hope this time you will take my number? If ever you are in trouble again, I hope you will call. Though I am not Relena, I have resources. It would be a privilege to me to help.'

Duo took the card reluctantly. 'I was really rude to you last time. Sorry about that.'

'I think I deserved it.' Troyes kissed both of Duo's cheeks, and Duo's blush reignited. 'But now I have a good example to live up to.'

Zechs moved aside for the door opening again. His sister was first; she wore a demure look, but there was a steely determination in the way she looked over her shoulder at Heero that said promises had been exchanged. Heero had a kind of vast contentment, a wonder that softened him, and he held Relena's hand tightly. That lasted until he looked at Duo, and then it fractured.

Duo coughed. 'If you get stuck in Brussels because you're slow Zechs'll get really pissed. He's, like, totally tired of cleaning up after you.'

'Yeah.' Heero still hesitated. Finally he turned to Zechs. 'Watch him,' he said. 'Even if he makes it hard. He does that.'

Duo rolled his eyes. 'I'm not even going to miss you.'

'That's okay.' Heero made it as awkward as possible, but Duo's eyes still closed involuntarily when Heero gave him a one-armed hug. Duo carefully didn't touch him back, and Heero was off him quickly. 'Stay low.'

'Same. And quick fucking around on the internet. You know better.'

That seemed to land. 'Yes,' Heero said quietly. 'Thank you.' He included Zechs in that, with a formal nod. Zechs returned it.

'Go, already,' Duo said.

[part 11] [part 13] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]