Peace Children + Thursday (cont)

+

Duo leaned against Heero on the way to his rooms. "At least it's still there," he offered weakly.

Heero looked at him as he opened the door. "Was it? I'm not so sure."

+

Hilde and Catherine rushed into Hilde's rooms, calling out frantically. "Poet! Poet!" There was no answer.

+

Trowa pretended to be asleep when the blond next to him began to cry, but after a few minutes he sighed and pulled him closer. And kissed the top of his head. "Kitten," he said, softly. "My kitten."

+

Wufei examined the body. "She's been dead for hours." Meiran agreed. "I'd say midnight."

"I'd say two a.m."

"I'd say small knife. At midnight."

"I'd say knife about the size of my forearm. At two in the morning."

"I think she was asleep."

"I think she was standing up."

Meiran glared at him. He smiled politely back.

+

"She was a bitch," Duo snapped. "She was betraying Quatre and cheating for profit. She had bad taste in manners and good taste in clothes. I don't know why the hell someone would kill her!"

"Why didn't you?" Heero asked.

"Because I don't need that kind of aggravation," Duo growled. "Going through all this."

"If you had killed her you would be long gone. Far away from all of this."

"Aye, and a good bit richer as well. But I didn't."

"I know," Heero said, putting down his pen and walking over to Duo. He placed his hands on the other boy's shoulders. "I know." He paused a minute, then went on. "When I saw her today -- I've never really seen people killed by violence before. Hell, I'm supposed to be a soldier, but I don't know anything about real war. Like you said, sex and death are real, and I'm just a spoiled kid."

"That's not what I said," Duo murmured, a little bit totally entranced by Heero's eyes.

"I learned a little bit about death today," Heero said, "and I was hoping. . . maybe. . . you could teach me a little about sex tonight."

Duo snorted softly, shook his head. Cursed. Then jumped the boy.

+

Dinner that night was a subdued affair, lacking the pageantry that had characterized the previous dinners. Relena had kindly requested that Duo not be present; she had not anticipated that this would keep her from the pleasure of Heero's company as well. Instead she sat between Prince Trowa and her Grace, Dorothy Catalonia.

Dorothy kept asking questions about the death; Trowa provided her with no escape. He seemed completely distracted by something or other. Relena followed his gaze to where Catherine and Quatre sat. The Winner's arms were full of lion cub -- he and Catherine talked earnestly.

Relena bit back a scream. She felt so trapped. And so alone. Five of her clans had stood against her -- what kind of queen would she be? Would she even have the chance? And if she did -- she would be queen over these nine clan lords -- eight now -- who alternately fought with each other, fought with each other more, and -- catching a look that Quatre threw at Trowa -- fell into bed with her enemies.

She didn't trust Winner, now more than ever. Sure, he seemed nice -- but if he could affect their feelings with a violin, possibly without one, could she trust her feelings where he was concerned? He had obviously had some inkling of Duo's true identity, and had defended the boy against her.

So had Heero.

Two dances and a few minutes polite conversation does not, can not, mean true love, she chided herself. She did not think of herself as one of those silly girls who, after catching a glimpse of a handsome face on some deserted beach or somewhere, went around the world like an obsessive lunatic just to follow that boy. And nothing could have ever come of it, either -- she could not afford to show favor to one clan over another. No monarch could. . . wasn't the fact that she had never before this week met Zechs Marquise proof of that? And yet. . . she had hoped, had found her life feeling a little less confining just because of those daydreams. She had not been foolish enough to imagine any reciprocal feelings on his part -- or so she had told herself until he had stood against her. She lifted her wine glass and took a bigger sip than was strictly polite.

"I hear the servants are refusing to enter the lady's room," Dorothy remarked, watching Relena with eager eyes.

"Do you?" Relena replied noncommittally.

"And I hear that there are pools being run in the kitchens. About who did it, and about how long it'll take to find them."

"Is that so?" Relena murmured. Really -- duchess or no, the girl had little sense of decorum. Of good taste. Of humanity.

"They also say that a lot of people weren't convinced by your father's speech this afternoon," Dorothy said.

Relena turned -- quite rudely, to be sure -- to Trowa. "Your highness, would you care for some of this rabbit?"

Trowa started, but recovered quickly. Giving her a seductive smile -- she was almost positive that it was merely habit -- he declined politely, adding, "I've always been too fond of bunnies -- rabbits -- to find them good food."

Which left Relena with a plateful of bunny rabbit. "I see," she said.

Trowa shrugged gracefully. "I always found the way that they hop sort of endearing. . . and how they twitch their noses. . . ."

"I am afraid that I have not had much experience with live rabbits," Relena managed. And thought of how peaceful Faiza had looked, with her eyes closed, when Relena had been to see the body. There had been almost a smile to her lips. Relena set her fork down. "Have you seen my father's menagerie yet?"

"I have not had that honor." For once there was no faintly mocking undertone to his voice.

Relena stood. "I shall take you there at once. If you will excuse me, Your Grace." She knew she should have included the duchess in the invitation, but she found herself unable to face the girl's company.

"Of course, your highness," Dorothy said, lifting her glass in a mocking toast.

Trowa offered her his arm -- she took it gratefully -- and they swept from the room.

Fifteen minutes later they paused in front of another cage. "More birds," Trowa said.

"My father doesn't like keeping large animals in such small cages," Relena said.

"I'm not much for cages myself," he said, staring intently into the cage. "Look -- there. It's beautiful." He glanced over at her. "Are you feeling any better?"

Embarrassment hid behind formality. "I'm quite fine, Cousin."

"You're lucky you left when you did," he said, ignoring her. "Dorothy would have gotten detailed in a minute." Relena whitened; Trowa frowned. "You wouldn't last ten minutes in the Oz court. Dinners there frequently contain all sorts of mean little tricks meant to make rivals -- and friends -- lose face."

"I'm sure I don't know why anyone would wish to live there," she said, and regretted her words a second later.

He turned back to the birds. "It's not a matter of choice, Cousin. It's a matter of survival." There was a bitter smile on his face. "Dorothy's something of a master at it. My dear brother finds her quite amusing."

"Your dear brother," she said, echoing his sarcastic tone, "must have a stronger stomach than I do."

"He does," Trowa told her. "Stronger stomach, stronger armies, and stronger balls. I would not underestimate him, Cousin."

"And your dear sister?"

"That bitch? She has little power. She's kept safe -- until she has a child, Treize's claim to the throne is weak, and everyone knows it. As soon as they realized that she was expecting, they sent me off with Dorothy to watch over me." Trowa laughed. "I have sworn my loyalty but apparently that is not enough." He turned and looked at her. "One bet that Dorothy didn't mention was the most popular one in Oz. How much longer they will suffer me to live. I become more and more of a threat the older I get. My dear big brother does not suffer threats lightly."

"I suppose I'm lucky to be an only child," she said, and then winced.

Trowa kindly offered no comment.

"You are still a citizen here," Relena said. "If you were to make an oath of loyalty to my father and myself you would be free to make your home in this country."

"And be killed the instant I next set foot in Oz as a traitor," Trowa said.

"Yes, but if you took that oath I could kick Dorothy out," Relena said wistfully, and then laughed at the hopeful look on his face.

After a startled second, Trowa laughed with her.

+

Duo could not sleep.

Heero was wrapped around him, sleeping, his breath deep and even. Duo turned his head and laid a kiss on the arm that was draped over his body.

They hadn't found the Poet.

He closed his eyes and wondered if she was all right. He was too smart to say so, but he did not regret Faiza's death. The girl had been a bitch -- two of his sisters were endangered because of her. If Poe was hurt -- not even being dead would protect her from his wrath.

There was a movement in the corner of the room. Duo stayed completely and utterly still.

For twenty minutes.

What the hell was this?

"If you've come to attack, please hurry up about it," Duo said loudly.

Heero started and sat up, grabbing for his sword. Duo stayed in his lounging position.

A familiar laugh came from the shadows. "I was wondering how long you'd wait."

"I've never been all that patient, now have I?" Duo asked comfortably.

"I thought perhaps the pretty there had softened you." Solo moved closer. "The young Odin. I could get quite a good price for one so. . . feisty."

"There are some things worth so much that no one could pay the price," Duo said, and laid his hand on Heero's leg. The other boy was silent, his eyes riveted to Solo's shadowy form.

"Why, Duo," Solo said, dropping onto the end of the large bed. Heero tensed. "You sound so besotted."

"Did you come here to play games?"

"Well. . . I did. . . but I doubt your lover here would take to them. He doesn't look like the kind to share, now does he?" Solo gazed soulfully into Heero's eyes. "Duo does make one feel protective, doesn't he? Aren't his eyes so pretty when you have him beneath you? He's so tight. . . and sweet. . . and he makes such noises."

Heero's eyes were glittering. Duo sighed. "You know that Poe's missing?"

Solo rose easily. "I know."

"Do you know where she is?"

"Not yet." The words seemed to glitter in the night air. "But I will soon."

"And then?"

"That depends on whether or not she killed the Bitch-Lady."

Solo sighed and paced, his gait rolling and easy. "I told you this was a bad idea, but you just had to get your revenge on her. It's rather funny, though -- she had you for an enemy and was killed by someone else. Very few people could say that."

"Very few people would want to."

"True enough."

"How do you know he didn't kill her?" Heero asked, the words gritted out from behind locked teeth.

Solo dropped back onto the bed lazily -- Heero gripped his sword tighter. "Because I didn't tell him he could."

"And you are the master of his conscience, then?"

"He's my friend," Duo said softly.

"More than that," Solo said, running a light finger over Heero's sword. It occurred to the Odin that this was what Duo would be like without his sense of humor and his genuine like for other people. Heero wasn't impressed. "I'm his family." He leaned in, a bit closer, as if he would kiss Heero, not seeming to mind that there was a sword pressed to his throat. "Who are you?"

"Back off, Solo," Duo said, sounding annoyed. "Tell me what you want and get out of here before we all get in trouble."

"That's simple enough," said Solo, pulling back and standing abruptly. "I want you to kill for me."

"It might have to wait until I'm done here," Duo said doubtfully.

"No," said Solo. "It won't. The person I want you to kill is our own sweet friend. Lady Hilde."

++

note: on the scythe thing -- purely off the top of my head. I have no idea what the difference would be, and I thought of a few problems with my argument after I wrote it, but as that's not the focus of this fic, please just go with it.

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