TB and Marsh
see Prologue for warnings, notes,
of Conduct +
Quatre twitched at the limp
plastic blinds over the window. "Well, you'd have to replace these, obviously."
"There's this place downtown where they sell these canvas things you can
get dyed to match your walls. I'm leaning toward that instead of blinds.
Or maybe inside shutters. Those are cute."
"A little kitschy, don't you think?" Quatre faced him. He said, "We should
talk about Wufei."
Duo had extreme reservations on the matter. He did partial duty to paying
attention to the apartment, giving the vents in the floor cursory inspection.
"Have you spoken to him?" Quatre pressed.
"You told me not to speak to him. And then you bring him to my door."
"Both of you needed a cooling-off. But months have gone by. Isn't it time?"
Quatre's pale eyes kept a lock on his. Quatre was annoyed, but the frustration
came out of slamming his head against the brick walls in his life, and
Duo was probably Wall Number One at the moment. Small comfort that Wufei
was in contention for the title.
"No," he answered then. "What do you think of the closets?"
Quatre followed him into the master bedroom walk-in, standing in the door
with his hands in his pockets as Duo jiggled the wooden shelves. "I'm
not letting this go, Duo. It's too important."
"Is that why you're here? Did Trowa even really call you?"
Quatre coloured. Duo ignored it. "No," Quatre overrode him. "Not at all.
And don't shift this to Trowa."
"All that to the side, we both know you wouldn't be here for me or for
Wufei if Trowa hadn't rung you up and asked you to come."
He earned himself a short, hurt silence for that. "That's unfair, Duo."
But he was in a brutal sort of mood, between trying to be nice and pleasant
to first Johnny and then Marc and Marc's ex who was all kinds of star-struck
to have the Foreign Minister touring one of his apartments, sandwiching
in worry about Trowa between working on the case and his newfound uncertainty
over Zechs Merquise. He really didn't enjoy thinking about Zechs. He was
scared about it, about putting this yoke on a man most people didn't even
know was dead. Zechs hadn't been a good man, but he'd been an important
one, quite probably a crazy one, but dying the way he had was a tragedy
for anyone and Duo didn't really have the room inside of him to be thinking
and feeling about Zechs' tragedy and that teenaged dead child's tragedy
and now Wufei's ongoing tragedy on top of it.
"No shit," he said, and didn't even regret it until it left his lips.
"I could use a friend once in a while."
"I haven't got a phone call from you either. In fact, Trowa is the only
one who calls."
Called and invited Quatre to visits when Trowa was out of the damn country.
And damn if it hadn't immediately occured to him why that might be. "I'm
not ready to deal with Wufei. I'm not ready. I think maybe three months
is within the acceptable time-frame for not being ready to deal with the
man who turned out to be--"
He didn't finish it. Quatre did. "A liar."
Hitting the nail on the head. It came down to that being the worst of
But what did you say to someone who lied? What made one liar different
from another liar? He lived with Trowa's lies. Not because he had to,
because he could have left. Had left, once. Could have left again, and
probably after the initial anger Trowa wouldn't even have blamed him.
He could find himself a man who didn't challenge him. Friends who didn't
used to pilot death machines, who didn't know that he had.
Or not. Everyone knew who he was, now. He wasn't going to be normal ever
He wasn't adapted for this kind of life. A secret fantasy of his was that
he hadn't really been destined ever to make it out of the war, though
back then he'd never so much as conceived of the thought that he'd die.
Well, almost never. But he couldn't start second-guessing his entire existence,
not at almost thirty years old, at the start of his second career, the
start of his second major relationship with the only man he was ever going
to love so much he could scream and cry in the same syllable.
He'd been doing all right, the year he and Trowa were separated. Functioning,
even occasionally enjoying himself, although it seemed like no-one was
talking about anything, and that included Quatre Raberba Winner in his
glorious majesty, making the fast-track on the political trail and changing
lives, and that included the man who was guarding the car down on the
street, who had been on a private crusade that had just somehow slipped
everyone's notice. No, he didn't like being surprised by Wufei at the
door. He'd been doing all right when none of it was out in the open--
no, not quite the whole picture. He'd been doing all right with the forgiving
and forgetting when it wasn't right in front of his face. When Wufei was
safe away on L4 being taken care of by someone else for a while.
Probably an important thought, that. Probably said something important
about himself. He had the occasional epiphany without the aid of a therapist,
whatever Trowa thought. It just seemed like it had been a long time since
any of them were good.
So what did he have to say to Wufei anyway? Nothing. Not a damn thing
occurred. He'd worked through the betrayal, mostly, he'd worked through
the denial in the first ten seconds after seeing that freshly dead body
Wufei had made in Rene Vasquez's apartment. Worked through the guilt when
Wufei had said some particularly shitty things the day of the trial, making
like it was all Duo's fault for forcing his help on someone unwilling,
someone set on throwing their life away.
Why were there so many people who seemed to want to do that? Who made
a very competent go of trying. Himself, top of the list, right up to living
with a man who was a functional alcoholic when Duo had almost tanked at
age nineteen being a very unfunctional one. But add in Kelby Gerganas,
who at fourteen hadn't known how bad bad could get; add in Zechs Merquise,
who maybe hadn't really understood it either. Add in Chang Wufei, who
had no damn reason, no god-damn reason to do it, no go-damn--
And Quatre, who was trying to take on Duo's usual job, in addition to
living a very fine life Duo wished him to go on living uninterrupted by
the greater darkness.
Worth a few deep breaths. He took them, head-clearing lung-filling breaths,
and asked, "How big do you think this bedroom is? Twelve by nine?"
"You can shut me out, but you can't shut this out of your own heart."
As reasonable as assuming hearts had doors. "Eventually you'll have to
deal with this. And not for Wufei, but for yourself."
Two conversations ago. Two lifetimes ago. "And I'm telling you I've got
bigger shit to deal with than you, me, or Wufei."
"I think the room is twelve by ten."
"It's fourteen by twelve, Duo. The paint color is deceiving you."
Quatre made a strategic exit with a not-as-strategic sigh. Duo ground
his teeth against an equally obnoxioius retort. They both knew Duo was
blowing him off, and it was fair, if markedly immature, to go out on a
snide note. He shouldn't have said that bit about Trowa. True or not,
some things shouldn't be said and it went against his own rule of leaving
a very wide berth around anything having to do with Trowa and Quatre.
No shit Quatre was going to come running the moment Trowa evidenced anything
that looked like need. Duo didn't begrudge it. Much. There was something
sweet and important and even innocent about first love, and he didn't
begrudge it for them, because it had made them better men to go through
it, even if it had been doomed.
God, how did he just stand there and pass judgment on anyone? It wasn't
like he and Trowa had a magical guarrantee. They had good intention, they
had something that was awfully close to a committment. But they had no
more guarrantees than anyone alive and vulnerable and human had, and quite
a lot more room for a stray gunshot than most had, and it was damn stupid
to count on something blindly like that, to have--
Faith was for people who enough security in their lives that it came naturally,
or for people who had it so bad they needed the promise of a better day
in the hereafter. Duo wasn't either, had never been all powerful or all
powerless, and that pretty much left him with determining his own fate,
and extending just enough trust to the people in his life to exercise
"Sorry," Duo said, turning to look.
Quatre stood by the window, square in front of it where he had a perfect
view of all the world laid out on the hills. It was a good view, Duo admitted,
even with a sheen of the Bay silvering the horizon edge, the Transamerica
Pyramid from the Washington Street side. Better view than what they had
Quatre said, "He loves you, Duo."
"I don't doubt any of you do. And I love all of you. Even when we're all
being stupid and selfish and sucky."
"Is that what I'm doing?"
He gave it up to God with a smile. "I think it's what I am."
Quatre wasn't ready to let it go yet. He said, "I think you're being self-protective
to the point of shutting the rest of us out."
"I'm not ready. And Trowa's not either. We-- things are-- we needed the
time to ourselves, but there's still stuff to deal with."
Quatre pounced on that, turning on him with a little whirl of the heel,
a glimmer of triumph lifting his chin. "When Trowa rang me," he repeated.
"I thought he was calling me from home. Guess not, huh?"
As easy as that the advantage went swinging away from Duo and right into
the lap of the man born to be a politician. Duo even found himself telling
the truth, despite an absolute determination to run a little feint-and-distract.
"He's been out on the job for a few days," he said, and finally found
the strength to flee up to the third-floor kitchenette.
Quatre followed patiently. "You don't have to confide in me," he told
Duo, ducking the wild swing of a overhead cabinet door. "But I hope you
know that you can. And that I'd help you any way you asked."
"He's..." He occupied himself opening drawers and refrigerators. "We had
a little car crash after dinner one night. He had a flashback, I think.
Or a hallucination or something."
"It wasn't the only time, was it?"
"Don't use that mind-tricks thing on me. I don't like when you do that."
Quatre relented. His eyes fell to his shoes. It might have been Duo's
imagination, and if some wild drunken theories were correct it might not
have been, but it felt like a pressure at the back of his head vanished
the moment Quatre was looking elsewhere. "I'm sorry," Quatre was saying,
sincere as a mountain snowfall. "I didn't mean to be manipulative. I only
meant I don't think he was in the here and now when he called me."
No, Duo very much suspected he hadn't been. A man could go mad trying
not to think about it. But out went his gut, spilling all over the bloody
place, because Quatre looked at him with those big dewy eyes and asked
him to share. "I don't even know where he is."
"You have no way of tracking him?"
"Short of asking--" He'd very nearly let it slip the rest of the way out,
Une's name and Trowa's real mission title, and horror at himself clamped
him up tight. No-one outside of his lawyers and Duo himself knew Trowa's
whole story. "Around. I've never tried to track him before."
"I always hated that aspect of his job. He's so secretive. It can't be
"How do you stand it?"
Which, really, was kind of a silly thing to ask, coming from a man who
was trailing six full-time body guards just to go apartment hunting in
an admittedly more decent part of town than Duo currently occupied. And
it took on a shade of the absurd when you added in the fact that there
was no weapon invented that either he or Duo couldn't have shot pitch-perfect
on first meeting, out of practise or not. Given that Trowa qualified as
the one man amongst them who was in practise, it was actually an outright
ridiculous little comment.
The kind you made to pacify a friend with a ridiculous temper. Duo had
to force himself to unclench. He said, "It's actually vindicating to know
I was right when I spent years bitching about it."
"Being right only takes you so far."
"Give me a minute or two to enjoy it."
Quatre met his frown, and looked away again. "I don't suppose he's willing
to get help."
"Oh, I'm sure he's got a shrink on retainer. After all, Trowa's always
eager to talk to people about his troubles, open himself to others. Oh,
wait, I have him confused with someone."
"Duo." Quatre chided him like a recalcitrant schoolboy, folding his arms
sternly over his chest. "I know it's not in character, but if anything
Trowa has a sense of self-preservation."
"Yeah. That he does."
"Ought I talk to him?"
"No. He'd kill me, Quat. I'd deserve it." He shut the final drawer on
the conversation, as such, and made an effort to turn back to a safe topic.
"So what do you think of this place?"
"It's a wonderful investment. Great schools in the area. The clubhouse
and pool are gorgeous and Anwar-Morris is the builder. They've got a good
reputation for quality. You're in a liberal voting district."
"If we were a straight couple with kids, any of that would matter."
"It should matter to any couple, Duo. Well, what are you looking for in
Trees. This place had a few decorating the perimetre of the parking garage.
A porch. This had a strip of green on the second-storey balcony, like
a lot of the multi-level apartments in San Francisco, but it wasn't the
same as a lawn or a garden. There were shitloads of stairs here, too,
and without pictures of your wedding and your kids stairwells didn't contribute
much to a home, in his experience. The downstairs kitchen was more cramped
than the little kitchenette up here on the third floor. Who needed a kitchenette
on the third floor? There were nice enough touches, sure. He liked this
room, actually. It had skylights, he loved those, and the windows up here
were diamonds, unlike the square ones below. Maybe it had been a studio,
or a spare room to rent to a student or something. Sloping ceilings, space
for some book cases, room for a futon or a big rug to sit on or something.
He could picture sleeping in this room-- or sleeping around in it with
Trowa, anyway. It had that kind of wistful romance.
Which of course meant Trowa wouldn't go anywhere near it.
"Duo, look. Straight over the Bay there. I forgot you could see them from
Quatre had sharp eyes. Duo followed his finger out over that beautiful
city view from the little diamond window over the second-storey balcony.
They were there all right, bright stars amid the fainter ghostlights.
The L3 cluster, and there hovering higher in the evening sky and glowing
defiantly in reflected sunlight, L2.
Yeah. There they were, all right. It might well always make his heart
seize like this.
Quatre had gone quiet. They had both gone quiet, but Quatre was looking
at Duo instead of the colonies up there in the Space over their heads,
all that great distance away, and Quatre was the one who found his voice
first. He said, "Maybe you should keep looking."
Duo had to clear his throat to get words out of it, and it still sounded
like he was talking out of his stomach. "Speaking as someone who's had
to actually look for a place to live several times, it's not that much
Quatre regarded him patiently. "I have people who can do the preliminary
leg work. If you like."
"Don't go out of your way. Seriously. It's okay." He shrugged off all
the offers Quatre was capable of and ready to make. "And you know how
Trowa is. He'll leap all over you about managing us."
"I know how Trowa is. You're not happy."
"It's been a long day and Wufei is sitting in your car outside."
"Let's get you home."
"Yeah. You think your burly men out there would eat Thai? We could order
"I can take care of them, Duo."
"You going to a hotel tonight? I don't know what they allow you to do."
Quatre leant on the windowsill. "I've booked a room at the Prince Edward,"
he said. "I think that's what Wufei said."
"Swanky. Maybe I should come stay with you."
Quatre broke out the grin most people saved for getting a puppy on Christmas.
"Oh, I'd love that! Could you?"
Duo had to grin, himself. He'd been joking, but leave it to Quatre not
to register tone or context or plausibility. It was part of his charm.
"I guess it's not like anyone's waiting for me at home," he admitted.
Then just took the plunge. He'd never liked being catty with Quatre, anyway.
"Yeah. I can even sleep in a little. It's closer to downtown."
"I can have my driver take you into work."
"You've seriously forgotten what it's like to be a regular Joe, haven't
Twice in two minutes Quatre missed the joke by a country mile. He looked
thoughtful, considering that far more deeply than it warranted. "I don't
know if I ever was."
"You were. We beat the rich boy out of you, once." He slung his arm about
Quatre's shoulder. Human contact, that was nice once in a while, wasn't
it? Especially with someone who could take you over his knee one minute
and spoon-feed you chicken soup the next. "Remember going to the beach
that one summer? I mean the fake beach on L1."
Quatre provided the exaggerated wince that meant he was finally going
along with the humour. "Yeah, I guess I do."
"I made you shop at a thrift store. With cash."
"Those clothes were so filthy."
"They wash them. And you looked good in jeans. We went to the beach and
those hot babes in the thong suits were cruising you."
Quatre was still sceptical over that one. Then again, he still probably
didn't know what 'cruising' meant.
"That was a good day," Duo said. "You and me."
"We should do it more often."
"You still dream big."
"Always." Quatre squeezed him tentatively about the waist. "Shall we get
"Yeah." He sneaked a final glance at that window with its loaded little
view, and resolutely put his back to it. They clattered down the stairs
arm-in-arm like the teenagers they hadn't been in, well, ever, really,
and a strange sense of euphoria began creeping over him. They might really
pull it off. Really, they might manage it. Boy's night out, and maybe
he could convince Quatre to break out the feather pillows and take a few
whacks at each other, for old times' sake. He could use a night like that,
and God knew there wouldn't be any coming once the thing with Relena went
permanent. She was perfectly all right for a girl, but girls tended to
want things like no chaos in their houses, and right now Duo wanted nothing
more than a little light-hearted chaos to roll around in.
"You ever play basketball? There's a lot by Prince Edwards."
"Basketball? Not since grade school."
"Good," Duo said, grinning madly. "I'll cream you."
Quatre was right there with a high-brow, "Don't get cocky, buddy," but
then he was grinning too. "I play racquetball three times a week."
"Yeah, with Sion, who is paid to protect you."
"No, really, with Wufei. And you know how he is."
"Yeah, well, basketball is not a game of skill and strategy. It's a game
of sweat and masterful insults and a lot of chest-thumping, so I think
my chances are pretty good."
"You're on, Maxwell."
Given his options, Trowa chose
the one least likely to get him in trouble. He slipped in the building
with the pizza guy and walked down a lantern-lit lobby. There was new
art on the walls, truly ugly abstracts in pastels that would have made
for a particularly dreary dentistry, and didn't do any favours for a place
that was supposedly livable. The paint was on the grey side of white and
created long shadows under his feet, abruptly abbreviated when he halted
at the door with the Complex Super sign.
When Heero answered his knock, Trowa said, "I broke the cardinal rule
on my last job." And then there were just too many damn things wrong with
the picture, so he started to actually laugh. "It all went to shit, and
in the aftermath, I went to my dead partner's house. How fucked up is
And Heero stood staring at him for a long time, as startled as Heero ever
looked, which meant eyes a fraction wider than was perhaps normal and
no other clues in an otherwise impassive face. Sometimes Trowa forgot
that about Heero, until he was standing in front of him. Once when Duo
had been angry he'd called Heero a robot. That had more than a grain of
truth to it. Heero didn't have depths to his surface. It was all one level,
almost a god-like absence of the need to feel. And though it had been
a very long time since Trowa had been in a place this low, suddenly he
was fifteen and desperately wishing he could be just that safe from his
Then Heero reached for something on his side of the door. A coat. He put
his arms into it, one smooth mechanical interaction of muscle after the
other, buttoned it to his collar. "Come get a drink with me," he said.
"It won't be so bad then."
Dorothy wrapped up her lengthy
and prominently one-sided conversation with a vexed, "You haven't heard
a thing I've said since you saw that black dress."
Relena admitted as much as she turned the dress again in her arms to examine
the tailoring at the waist. "I've heard you. I've heard you three or four
different times. Is this the one about submarine nuclear attack? Or the
one about how carpet bombing Dresden was the most successful campaign
"You're no fun at all when you get up on your high horse. It was the one
about the breakdown in communications between the three colonial mining
unions. I'll never appreciate why there need be more than one."
"You'll never appreciate why there need to be unions, dear." She gave
the dress over to the personal shopper trailing them and directed herself
at a dark blue organza with a daring swoop-cut that would bare almost
the entire back. She held it up to Dorothy, first, but couldn't resist
turning to the nearest of the standing mirrors to try it against her own
"Oh, please," Dorothy interrupted. "That is neither your style nor colour."
Fair if rude. It was a good match with her friend, though, especially
with the feathery curls Dorothy wore these days. Her already trim hips
would all but disappear in the sleek skirt, but it would show off her
slender shoulders to perfect advantage. "For you, then. You've got that
hint of strawberry in your hair. It would be gorgeous on you, and certainly
far more suitable than your customary mourning garb. Isn't it time to
give it up?"
Dorothy's smoky eyelids went wide under pale arched brows. "I wasn't aware
there was a timetable for these things," she replied tartly.
Relena let that pass with just a touch to Dorothy's cheek, and gave the
organza to their shopper to send to the dressing lounge. "At least try
it on. You'll be smashing, and you know you can't resist that."
"I detest shopping. Why do we always go shopping?"
The complaint was without bite. It was, in fact, quite warm. Dorothy knew
the answer as well as Relena did. They had both been treasured daughters,
but as teens they'd been robbed of the carefree maturation into womanhood
that many of their school fellows had enjoyed. There had been no experiments
with their mothers' rouge and lipstick, no giggling trips to the salon
to have their nails buffed and varnished. They had both lost beloved father
figures, been making decisions that ended lives, when other girls their
age had been choosing nothing more dire than which dress to wear for promenades
and debuts. Relena had been proclaimed a Queen and been made a political
refugee in the same year she might have had her first kiss, instead. Dorothy
had lost a costly rebellion and nearly lost her own life at Relena's brother's
Dorothy was a sober person these days, very much the image of the CEO
of Winner Enterprise's Earth-side holdings. It had certainly been a surprise
appointment, given the history between Quatre and Dorothy. Relena had
thought it compassionate, at the time. Now she thought it shrewd. Dorothy
had been scrupulously proper as the public face of WEI, but more than
that, and despite her complaints to the contrary, she'd been the lynchpin
in relations with the unions. WEI rated in the top five industry ranking
for employee satisfaction, and it came at no detriment to productivity
and expansion. Quatre had given her an opportunity to prove herself useful--
not just to the world, but to herself. She would never be a pacifist,
and she might never be even the humanist that Quatre was, but Quatre had
led her back to the shred of humanity she'd nearly forgotten, and she
would be ruthlessly loyal to him until the day she died. If it left her
little time for joy, then Relena made a point of trying to keep their
Which was why she mentioned none of that. Instead, truthfully enough,
she answered, "I see you three times a year at most, and I don't like
to spend that time watching you do paperwork."
"Oh, is that what it is." Dorothy took the shimmery white gown one of
the assistants brought to her, but made a face as soon as it was in her
hands and tossed it back. "Are we shopping for your honeymoon wardrobe,
Dorothy had at least waited for a moment of relative privacy to make that
sally. Relena glanced about to be sure, but they'd been left in a momentary
bubble of peace as the owner assembled an array of models in silk lingerie
for them. "I'm ready for a marriage," she said softly. "Quatre will make
a good husband. There's things attendant on it I don't like, but nothing
comes free of charge, does it?"
"He's been finished with Barton for a long time. In any way that you'd
find threatening, anyway."
That most certainly did not invite eavesdropping. Relena gave her companion
a dark look as they took their seats on the low divan before the runway
where their models would display the clothes they'd chosen. A small champagne
fountain yielded two gold-rimmed goblets for them, served by a smiling
young girl with an attractive dark bob. Relena watched her go, thoughtful
suddenly. "It's nothing to do with that," she admitted.
Dorothy crossed her long legs and gestured for the show to begin. A thin
woman floated from behind the diaphanous curtains, strutting slowly into
a turn in her Basque ivory corset. "What then?" Dorothy asked. "He's met
your mother. You've met the brood of harpies he calls his relations. You
don't want to live on L4? You want him to convert to Catholicism first?"
"Quatre has political ambitions. And there are a large number of people
who'd like him to fulfil them as soon as possible."
"Ah." Dorothy speared her with sharp eyes as a second model emerged with
a barely visible chemise of lace. Both Dorothy and Relena waved her on
immediately. "You don't approve ambition?"
"I haven't decided."
"Would you sway him from his destiny?"
"You and destiny." She waved off as well the La Perla bustier that followed.
"Is politics ever a destiny?"
"For Treize it was. As it is for Quatre."
Oh, that did not please her. "Quatre is not Treize," she whispered tightly,
concealing her the movement of her mouth behind the rim of her champagne
flute. Dorothy made no such effort, but her lips never moved from their
smile as she spoke.
"They're more similar than you'd guess," she said. "The Opium corset is
divine. Imagine him unlacing you in the bridal bed. Oh, don't sulk. It's
not as bad a quality as you seem to think."
"We'll have to continue to disagree on that point."
Dorothy laughed her rich laugh. "You know I'm right. I think that's exactly
why you hate the idea of Quatre in office."
"Quatre will never be the kind of man Treize was. Quatre's never evidenced
the top-heavy ego, for one thing. And it never would have occurred to
him to run for President if Temple Mayfield hadn't been dripping honey
in his ear for years. And he certainly hasn't agreed yet."
Raspberry chiffon replaced the creamy silks. Once again, Dorothy took
charge of the selection, approving a thigh-length slip with a ruffled
edge and a camisole and panty set that flounced in the thin breeze created
by hidden fans. "He will," Dorothy answered. "Perhaps even if you say
Relena was agitated. It was an effort to keep her expression smooth, to
occupy herself with the champagne, to smile at the owner who watched anxiously
from the side. "I didn't invite you along so you could sharpen your tongue
on me," she murmured.
"Oh, forgive me, indeed. Stop looking at that girl. You're too old for
They were on to the gowns. Her first selection, a wine-red sheath with
beaded columns at the breast, moved too stiffly on the girl who wore it,
and Relena sent it off with a flick of her finger. She said, "If that's
the life he chooses to live, I'll live it with him. And then he'll owe
me the same favour."
"Oh?" Dorothy called for a refill of their flutes. Her full lips were
curved in an almost catty smile. "That sounds positively threatening.
You must tell me now."
"There are things that one can do once one had had a position of power."
The young lady dripped bubbly into their glasses and retreated to her
corner. The blue organza made its appearance, flowed like water about
the model's knees, the soft gather at the shoulders revealing a hint of
cleavage and the long white slope of spine to nearly the top of the buttocks.
Dorothy would indeed turn heads in that dress. She nodded to the owner,
who sent the model to stand with the other girls they'd approved. "I've
done what I could with the credit I earned from the wars and from serving
as Vice Foreign Minister. If Quatre does decide to run for the Presidency,
we both know he'll win. And whether he serves one term or three, when
he's done, we'll have the political capital to effect more, and more effective,
change than any President ever could. We can open foundations, we can
raise funds, we can call in more favours than any fifty senators could
pocket. That's a goal I can dream of."
"A goal Quatre would happily embrace." The black dress she'd liked so
looked almost aubergine under the lights, but the strapless corset bust
would flatter her curves as a slimmer woman couldn't hope. It fastened
with buttons, not a zip, with a slight gather at the hips to emphasise
the waist, and the scarf-like drape of the single shoulder was elegant
without competing with the fish-tail train. Relena approved it, and so
did Dorothy, grudgingly inclining her head to Relena's taste. "I'm a little
disappointed, though," Dorothy added then. "That it wasn't something more
nefarious, I mean. How many children will you have?"
"I think two is reasonable."
"Reasonable." Dorothy sipped her champagne and set it aside to search
the tray of truffles left for them. "That word perfectly describes you
She knew. There were moments where she truly wished she could be unreasonable,
but those days were long past her, and it was time to be-- sensible. Rational.
She said, "If there is such a thing as destiny, this is what it is."
Dorothy sighed, very quietly. "Both of you need to be reminded what passion
Shoes, next. Relena chose a truffle for herself, using it as a prop as
she had used the glass to hide her lips. "We... got something of a start
Dorothy's head whipped around. "You did the deed?" she whispered sharply.
Satin sandals passed them by, and fan-back stilettos. "When he gave me
"And you didn't call me with the details?"
"There hasn't been time." She risked a transition between the models to
pull the golden chain she wore from under her scarf, to show Dorothy Quatre's
ring. She tucked it away when the boutique owner strained her head to
"My goodness," Dorothy observed. "So was it all you hoped?"
"It was-- interesting." She knew Dorothy would tease and press her, so
she quickly moved on. "In all honesty I'm shocked he agreed."
"Please tell me he didn't fail to get it up for you."
"Of course that's not what I mean!" None of the season's new shoes met
her approval, and she gestured the owner to move on to the jewelery. "I
meant I thought he would want to wait for the wedding."
"He's a man, Relena."
"He cares about those things."
"You should care about those things too."
"But you're disappointed?"
She almost regretted bringing it up, but at the same time there was a
certain liberation in being able to verbalise it. "There was something
missing from it. I don't know what."
"Technical or... emotional?"
"Emotional." She touched the ring hidden at her bosom. "There was nothing
"Quatre..." Dorothy's voice trailed off. Relena looked to find her friend
lost in some memory, her eyes dark and abstracted. "He always holds back.
Until he's ready to stop being-- polite."
"And I thought that we might have got to that point when we went to bed
together." She barely whispered the last two words, wary of their surroundings.
"And I don't doubt his feelings for me, but I felt like-- like--"
Dorothy reached into Relena's collar, snagging the chain. She didn't pull
it free, stopping even before Relena caught her wrist, but her fingers
rested on Relena's neck. "Maybe he's waiting for you to wear this somewhere
"We agreed we would wait to announce til he got back from his trip."
"Congratulations. The two of you are very well matched."
A frothy necklace of fresh water pearls made a slow walk past them, and
Relena gave it her nod. Pepite earrings in gold settings Dorothy selected
for herself, and they took a diamond and aquamarine pendant as well.
"What do I do about him?" Relena asked then.
Dorothy went straight to the point with customary nonchalance. "Do you
"Then love him. And teach him how you need to be loved back." Dorothy
touched her hand, then squeezed it gently. "All they that love not tobacco
and boys are fools."
Relena found a smile for that. "You told me you'd stopped reading Marlowe."
"I could never."
"The coral rose brooch. That's enough, thank you." Relena stood. Dorothy
joined her, blotting her lips with a small napkin that she tucked away
into her purse. "Allow me to buy you the organza."
"Hm." Dorothy smiled for her. "As you say, darling."
That brightened her at last. "Wonderful! Wear it to the wedding and steal
all the attention away from me."
"Where else would I wear it?" Dorothy watched her in that sharp way she
studied things she didn't understand. But all she said was, "It's about
time he realised you're perfect together."
"Very true. Speaking of perfect, Quatre's sister Zarah will be there.
When's the last time you heard from her?"
"Zarah and I are over. Don't go matchmaking."
"You made a dashing couple."
"Past tense. Give me time, Relena. Not all of us find our perfect mate
the first time."
Or lost the one who might have been. Relena kept herself from twitching
the dowdy pleats of Dorothy's dark suit, and let it drop. "As you like,
then. But when the photographs of you in the blue make the rounds, you'll
be inundated with fan mail."
"It will make the rest of the Winner hags furious. I'll enjoy that."
That, they could both laugh for. Relena had had run-ins of her own with
the many Winner sisters. Not all of them were as charming as their brother.
"The two of you should visit more often once you're married," Dorothy
"We'll try. I don't always like you, Dorothy, but I do miss you when we're
"I feel much the same about you. It's Quatre I wanted to see anyway."
"Oh, please, you and Quatre have nothing to speak about but reliving the
good times with sharp fencing foils."
"We're kinky that way. Remember, sweetness, I had him first."
Relena tweaked her friend's slender nose. "Go try on the blue. And wear
underpants this time."
[part 6b] [back to TB and