Peace Children 5/8ish: Thursday
Author: Zillie
warnings: ORIGINAL CHARACTER DIES!!!!! Please be warned! Didn't bother me a bit to knock it off, but if it bothers you, go read something else! Also has sexual stuff--2x1, 3x4--sympathetic Relena (sort of), non- sympathetic Solo and Dorothy, language, betrayal, and other Fun Stuff including a cheap ending (I despise cliffhangers on principle. I'm still trying to figure out why I keep using them. . . .)
note: I've finally figured out the solution to my little "two big problems/two parts left" dilemma-- s*e*q*u*e*l. if there are no objections :)

Peace Children + Thursday

The shopkeeper looked up as several nobles entered his shop. He put on his best smile. "My lords, my lady, please come in!" He could smell a killing from across the room.

The pretty blond boy with the aqua eyes and the very expensive clothing ran his hand across a bolt of fabric. "It's so soft!" he exclaimed. "Feel it!"

The boy with the long braid -- the shopkeeper looked at the pair for a minute and then smirked -- mimicked the boy's movement. "Nice," he said. "Hilde, what about this one?"

The girl yawned disdainfully. "I want to impress the man, not scare him off!"

The blond looked back at the bright fabric. "I suppose it is a bit. . . bold."

"But it would look lovely with milady's coloring!" the shopkeeper put in.

"I like it," braid boy said.

The girl relented enough to touch it. "It feels nice," she admitted, "but the color. Haven't you anything a bit. . . more subtle?"

The boys were peering at various swatches. "It has to be blue," one said.

"But not too dark," the other said.

"And it has to look expensive," Lady Hilde said decisively. "I may be a merchant's daughter, but all that means is that money is my strength. I have to make him remember why he's looking my way."

"Yes, because it's better than looking at his pile of debts!" the braid laughed. "I suppose even your face is better than the tax collector's!"

The girl turned haughtily from him. "Have you any other fabrics?" she asked.

He thought of the shipment he had received only two days before. . . they had told him to hold off on selling it for a while, but surely. . . . "As a matter of fact, milady, I have just the thing."

"I hope so," Hilde said acerbically.

"It is. . . rather costly. . . ." he warned.

"Good," she said, and that was that. He went to the back and found the bolt he was looking for. The blond boy looked at it closely.

"Yes," he said. "This is it."

And the shopkeeper found himself shoved up against the wall with a blade at his throat. The braided boy wasn't grinning anymore. "Why don't you tell me where you got this?" he said conversationally. And then he grinned.

The shopkeeper wet his pants. And told.

+

"Hilde's going to fuss for hours because we didn't take her with us," Duo observed, trying to get something out of Quatre. The other boy had been all but silent since they had finished with their last informant.

"I suppose," Quatre said, not really listening.

"So did that mean anything to you?" Duo asked bluntly. "Those dates -- those towns."

"Yes," Quatre said. "Those are the days I passed through those towns, or near them.

Duo took a deep breath. "I see. So where are we heading?"

He looped a sympathetic arm around the boy who, in the space of hours, he had come to call friend.

Quatre looked at him with miserable eyes. "Back to the palace to talk to my cousin."

+

Trowa watched them enter the palace from the now empty music room, arms around each other. He said nothing, just stepped back from the window. And slammed his hand into the wall.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone was here," a timid voice said.

He turned to face her. "Well, here I am."

She began to stammer something, to back out, but Hoshiko chose that second to dig his claws into her arm and she found herself swearing instead. Trowa took pity and came over to help her disentangle herself from the cub, and found claws in his arm as well.

"Oh, you brat!" Catherine exclaimed. "I'm so sorry, Try, he just has to learn better -- you let go now! Now!"

"My name is Trowa," he said.

"Yes," she said, looking up then away, quickly. "I suppose it is." She held out her hands for the cub but he turned away.

"His claws are in my sleeve," he said. He walked back over to the light.

She followed him, Hanako prancing behind her. Her heart was pounding, but she wasn't sure what to say. Were they pretending they had never met before? What game was this and why wouldn't he just look at her?

"He's feisty," Trowa remarked.

"He takes after his mother," Catherine said. "Bunny. She was the first cub I was given."

He'd named her, too, because he'd wanted a rabbit and when they'd gotten Bunny he'd taken a few days to come around. And then it had been the three of them, plus a handful of other animals, running around like wild things all through the glorious summer. Winter had come too quickly that year, and with it the sickness that had killed Trowa's mother.

"Don't you mind living with so many animals?" he asked her, his tone bordering on insult.

"Better than living with so many people," she said.

She thought he almost smiled at that. "At least people you can fuck."

She shrugged. "You can do that with animals, too, if you're not too particular. I've got a cousin who seems a little too fond of his cows, if you ask me. Course, if I had his wife, I might be like that too. And the cows are right fond of Jand, too, so it seems to work out well all around."

"Not for his wife," he said.

"Oh, Lil takes extra special care of the bulls," she explained, delighted to see his lips twitch.

"And as for my mother," she added deliberately, "there are those who say she's overfond of animals herself."

He stiffened, a bit.

"I'm grateful for that, though, because if she wasn't so fond of animals she never would have married a beast like my father, and then where would I be?"

He glanced over. "You're an only child?"

"Yes. . . I've got cousins, though. My mother's brother's children. They're all young and plentiful -- his wife just spits them out -- and completely out of control. But that's how children should be, I think."

"What do -- what are they called?"

"Oh, there's Jen and there's Ilya and Graj and Hark and Rayve and Brec, and they run wild all over the place. Just before I left, Ilya and Graj decided they were going to see what happened when one put clothing on a lion. Not a cub, mind you -- the cubs will put up with it. With a full grown lioness, they tried."

"Why do you have so many animals?" he asked her.

She blinked, thought for a minute. "Well, we're a farming clan, and that has something to do with it. The lions, though, they were my father's. He traveled with a circus. One day he met my mother, the Heir, and decided to give them to her as a wedding gift. She took a bit of convincing but he talked her round right soon enough and before long there was me, and. . . I took to them. So we started breeding and training them not just for shows but for guards -- they're not pets, so they tell me, and it's true they can maul you as soon as purr for you, but I love them. And all the other animals. We've got all kinds. I feed the squirrels, every morning," she said, and faltered, aware that she was babbling.

"Does anyone feed them now that you're gone?"

"Ilya said she would, but I made my mother promise to help her, because otherwise she'd forget."

"So she made it through the experience of dressmaking for a lion?"

"Oh, yes," Catherine said, and launched off into the story. It was followed by another, and another, and she watched the smile creep onto his face. It looked real.

She was quite annoyed when a servant burst through the door. "Your highness. . . my lady. . . the princess. . . commands your presence."

"Do they not teach you to knock in this godsforsaken country?" Trowa asked, glaring at the man.

"Your highness, forgive me," the man said, trying to catch his breath. "It is the Lady Faiza, the Raberba."

"Did someone slash her dress again?" Trowa asked cuttingly.

"No, your highness, no. The lady. . . she's been killed."

+

Heero knelt over the body and shut her eyes. "May your spirit fight forever," he whispered.

Relena had retreated in hysterics; Sally Po was calmly questioning the servants, but, Heero noticed, she took care to look anywhere but at the dead lady. He wished he could run his hands over her throat and close the gape there. He stood quickly and turned away.

"No, milady. Last night she left orders. . . not to be disturbed. . . the first time anyone came in here today was when her highness came. . . ." The maid was in tears. Faiza had not been loved but nor had she been hated. She had simply been killed.

Quatre burst into the room. "Fai! Fai! What is this -- oh, gods." The weeping boy knelt by her body and took her cold hands in his.

"Quatre," Duo said softly, following the boy into the room. "Shh. C'mon."

"No, no," Quatre said.

Heero walked over to Sally. "I don't think that Maisie needs to see this."

The maid, whose name was Millie, shot him a grateful glance. "No," Sally said, studying him, "of course not. "Come on, Millie, and I'll get you some tea."

As soon as the door was shut behind them Heero had his hands around Duo's throat.

"You're a liar."

The braided boy shook his head, then kicked out. Heero grabbed his groin and bent over. "Easy shot, Heero," Duo said scathingly. "And I'm not. I run and I hide and I survive but I don't lie."

"You're lying right now," Heero gasped. "Does Quatre know that you're not really any relation of Hilde's?"

"As a matter of fact, he does," Duo snapped.

"And I should believe you?"

"Because he has better things to do right now than to answer your stupid questions!"

"I know who Duo really is, Heero," Quatre said dully from beside the body.

"You know he's a thief and a killer?"

"I know."

"You know he's the best suspect?" Heero said.

"Especially since he's the one who slashed all her clothes and her bed and broke her mirror and so on and so forth," Quatre answered, rising.

Heero had not known that.

"But I know why he did it, too, and who he did it for," Quatre said, turning away. He looked awful, Heero realized. The boy known for being pretty looked like hell, not even warmed over. Just cold. And dead.

"I didn't do it for anyone!" Duo said quickly. "Just for myself."

"Nobody's going to do anything to the girl, Duo, don't worry," Quatre said. "Or to you. I know you didn't kill her."

"How do you know?" Heero asked.

"Yeah," said Duo, "how do you know?"

Quatre looked surprised. "Because you said so. And I'd know if you were lying."

"Everyone's going to be looking for the person who trashed her rooms," Duo said. "I should split."

"That would be stupid," Heero said. He felt his neck grow hot as they turned to look at him. "They'd think you did it," he explained.

"I didn't kill her," Duo said. It was almost a whisper.

"I know," said Heero. And he was surprised to find that he did.

"So who did?"

+

Relena emerged from the meeting with her father feeling worse than ever. The stakes had just risen, dramatically. She looked at the Children -- no, no, at the people -- before her.

"I brought you here for peace," she said. "Instead I find that my actions have brought about death."

"Don't be silly, Relena," Sally said quickly. "You didn't kill her."

"If she'd stayed at home she might still be alive," Relena said.

The door opened and Quatre, Heero, and Duo walked in. The group was complete.

"Quatre, we're all sorry for your loss," Relena said, tossing the words off easily. "But I must know -- do you have any idea what this is about?"

"I uncovered evidence today that seemed to point towards my cousin as the, well, as the," he sighed again.

Trowa checked himself. He would not comfort him. Not here. Not now.

Duo draped an arm around the blond. "What he's trying to say is that Faiza was part of the plan to steal the Winner caravans. We have reason to believe that the Raberba Clan was in some way behind recent troubles plaguing the Winners."

"Those weren't the first caravans to disappear," Quatre said, "and that was why my sister was with one. We knew we could find her, even if we couldn't find the goods. The fact that we cannot reach her in any way makes it fairly certain that she's dead." His voice broke; he paused and then went on. "We've also had a lot of bad rumors -- that we've backed out on deals, that we've double crossed, that we care more for our Clan than our country. That we're scheming with Winners in other countries to take over the world." He looked up. "I don't want the world, your highness. I don't want this country. Right now I don't even want -- " he broke off.

"We were waiting for a return message from Quatre's Clan before we confronted Faiza," Duo said. "And then we heard she was dead." He looked uncomfortable.

"We're also convinced that whoever killed the Lady was not the same person as whoever destroyed her property," Heero said.

"Why is that?" Sally demanded.

Heero looked at her levelly. "I can't tell you that."

Hilde was silent.

"Besides the fact that her throat was slit with a knife, not with a scythe," Duo said.

"How do you know that?" Wufei asked.

Duo shrugged. "I looked. Looks totally different. Scythe, unless it's two inches tall, has a different shape. It goes into flesh differently. A knife skims along the surface, usually deeper on one side depending on which hand was used. A scythe cuts deepest in the middle. Even if you twist it."

"I'm going to be sick," Noin said, and left the room hurriedly.

Duo winced. "I'm sorry."

"I think we're all curious about your expertise, Duo," Sally said flatly.

"He's an assassin," Hilde said, staring at the ceiling. "He kills with the scythe."

Heero stiffened.

Duo shot her a betrayed glance. "Hilde!"

"It was a joke," she said, "for fun. He wanted revenge on her for something. But he didn't kill her."

"How do you know that?" Relena demanded.

"Because he doesn't kill for fun," Hilde said. "And nobody paid him."

Duo shut his eyes, feeling like he'd been gutted himself.

Hilde was crying. "He didn't kill her."

"I'm glad that you think so, Lady," Relena said coldly.

"No -- I know it!" she wept. "Shinigami doesn't kill like that."

Relena's head swiveled around to look at the braided child in front of her. "You are the one they call Shinigami?"

Duo's eyes had gone flat. "You could say that. Aye, that's me."

"But he's not," Hilde protested. "He's Duo. Shinigami's just. . . the one who kills."

"Death," Relena said levelly.

"Aye, lady," he said. "Death."

Noin reentered the room, her face white. "Your highness, the people. . . they say that if the Lady is dead, and killed here, then there's something wrong with the Weapon. They say we're unprotected. They're filling the audience rooms, your highness, demanding to be shown the Weapon."

"Is that so?" Relena asked. "Well, we'll show them something, all right. I want him in chains," she said, gesturing towards Duo. "I want the murderer in chains."

"Your highness, he is not the killer," Quatre said, jumping to his feet.

"Yes, well, perhaps we should send you with a violin instead?" the princess snapped.

"Your highness, I, too, stand for Duo," Heero said.

"I have declared him guilty," Relena said. "If you stand for him, you stand against me."

"Then Winner and Odin will stand together," Heero said simply. "He is innocent."

"Raberba as well," Quatre added. "For I find that I am now the heir to that Clan as well, through my mother."

Trowa stood, not entirely sure, but. . . "I stand with them."

"You count for little here, prince," Relena said dismissively.

"He is my cousin and if he stands, the Wanderers stand," Catherine said, coming to her feet beside him. He looked at her, surprised, and then linked his arm with hers.

"Maxwell stands for her people, and Duo is ours," Hilde said quietly.

"Five of my nine clans," Relena said, amazed. Hurt. Betrayed. "And the rest of you?"

Wufei thought of the conversations he had had with them, all of them, and stood as well. Between them there flashed something -- Heero -- Duo -- Trowa -- Quatre -- Wufei -- as if they were all part of something. "I stand."

"And what, I pray you, do I tell my people?" Relena asked.

"With all due respect, your highness, that is up to you," Heero said. Looking at him, Relena felt her heart crumble. "We merely refuse to let you sacrifice him for your peace of mind."

"He is a killer," she said, pausing at the door. "Perhaps not the Lady Faiza, but he has killed a countless number."

"That does not mean you can throw him to the people," Heero said.

Relena turned, and, with great dignity, left the room. She was followed by Sally, Noin, and Zechs.

"I'm never going to see you again, am I?" Hilde asked, her voice a scratchy whisper.

"I can't risk it," Duo said.

"You can't risk leaving right now, either," Heero told him. "Relena could change her mind, with you gone, and you'd endanger whoever you were near. Whoever you were trying to protect in the first place."

"My sisters," Duo murmured. He placed his head in his hands, then looked up wildly. "Hil -- Poe -- gods!"

"I think I may faint," Hilde said, looking stronger than ever. "Ring for my maid!"

Heero rolled his eyes. "Subtlety," he said. "It's a good thing. Try it sometime." He pointed to Duo. "You don't go off. Anywhere. You need a reliable alibi with you at all times."

"You volunteering?" Duo said, only a hint of his usual flirtatiousness in his voice.

Heero studied him. "Wufei and I will take turns."

"You'll wear me out!" Duo protested.

Wufei flushed. Heero ignored him.

Quatre rubbed his head. "And I -- "

"You need a bodyguard, too," Heero told him. "You've got the strongest connection to her -- you're Heir now that she's gone. You'd do well to stay in well-populated areas as well."

"I could be his bodyguard," Trowa said, no mockery in his voice for once.

"You're from Oz," Heero said, then reconsidered. "All right. You'll do."

Quatre exhaled. "I need something for this headache, and I need to contact my father. If you will all excuse me." He left, followed by Trowa.

"So what do we do now?" Hilde asked, her voice small.

"We find the real killer," Meiran said. They looked at her; she flushed. "I was not sure before. . . I stand with you now."

"Why would anyone want to kill her?" Catherine asked.

"I can think of a few reasons," Duo said, then gulped. "Guess I shouldn't say stuff like that."

"Maybe not," Wufei said. "Idiot."

"I have another question," Catherine said. "The Weapon. . . it's said to protect us in the castle. Why didn't it?"

As one they headed for the Chamber of the Weapon. They entered the chamber slowly, quietly, aware that they were in the presence of a god.

It lay on a velvet cloth, simple and shining. Duo started, fell back. Heero caught him.

"I didn't know," he whispered. "It. . . I didn't. . . ."

The silver was in the form of a scythe.

+

[cont]