Children + Friday (cont)
"We want to know where the Weapon is," Heero said.
Relena didn't blink. "In the Chamber, of course," she said with just the
right blend of condescension and bemusement.
Duo stretched. "Do you know that I can hear your heart beating? Is there
a particular reason it just got a whole lot faster? And your breathing
-- you shouldn't take such fast, shallow breaths. Also, if you
clench your hands so tightly beneath the table you'll hurt yourself."
"Watch your tone when you speak to her royal highness," Sally Po snapped.
"It doesn't matter, Sally," Relena said wearily. "Please, my lord Duo,
forgive me if my heart pounds a bit faster after the death of my cousin
yesterday. I am not so inured that death fails to move me."
"She was your cousin?" Duo asked, his eyes glinting with interest.
"A manner of speech, only," Relena told him, "though I daresay if you
went far enough back we are related. One way or another. Is this what
you wanted to ask me?"
"We wanted to know where the Weapon is. And how long it's been missing."
"Don't be ridiculous," Sally Po said, still annoyed. Heero noticed that
she was looking daggers at his lover -- as if her harsh behavior
would balance out her fond flirtatiousness of the days before. She obviously
felt betrayed, he realized. "The Weapon cannot leave the room. Only the
monarch can wield it -- few can so much as touch it."
"I had no problems running my hands over it earlier," Heero said stoically.
He was lying -- he'd been too busy running his hands over an all
but unconscious Duo, who had been quite thrown by their experience in
"My lord, you're a Clan Lord. You should have small problem touching it,"
"What about me?" Duo asked. "Why could I touch it?"
"Because it's a fake," Relena said softly.
Sally sat down. Hard.
"We're not sure how long the real Weapon has been gone. We have no idea
where it is or who took it."
"That's why you brought us here," Heero realized.
"Yes," Relena said simply. "To try and preserve the peace."
"And instead we've had betrayal and murder and a killer dancing every
waltz," Sally said, her eyes red-rimmed.
"Oh, that," Duo said, and casually draped a leg over the arm of his (priceless)
chair. "That's the other reason we're here. I thought I should tell you
before your spymaster did -- I've accepted a contract on Hilde."
"He's been offered a king's ransom to kill her," Heero confirmed.
He saw the expressions on Relena's face, on Sally's -- a sort of
horror, a sudden awareness of the depths to which humanity could sink,
and a sick fascination with the idea that a dear friend could drive a
knife into your heart as easily as breathe. He had felt the same way,
himself, last night -- for that everlasting millisecond until Duo
had told Solo, "Fuck off!" And then the longer stretch -- minutes
in a dim room that stretched like lifetimes -- until Solo's face
had relaxed into that mocking grin. "I thought you'd say something like
that," he'd said. And Heero had remembered how to breathe.
"I got the offer yesterday," Duo continued, flicking an imaginary grain
of dust from his shoe.
"And you accepted it?" Relena's voice was icy.
"Well, sure," Duo said, astonished. "If someone thinks I'm trying to kill
her they might not try too hard to get anyone else to."
"Where is the Lady Hilde?" Relena asked, rising. Her hands were still
clenched at her sides -- she could feel the imprints of her perfectly
shaped fingernails in her perfectly moisturized skin. She felt utterly
and completely afraid.
"I picked a few of those soldiers of Quatre's," Duo said carelessly, "and
told them not to let her out of their sight. Meiran and Catherine are
also keeping a fair eye on her, though not so much that anyone would notice.
I've told the rest of Quatre's squad to stand on guard so that it looks
like security has been beefed up -- I don't want anyone to know
that anybody in the palace knows about the contract. The way I see it
there are two groups of people -- the ones who know that Shinigami
is Hilde's old chum and the ones who don't. The first group is a lot smaller
than the second." He shrugged. "Truth be told, I shouldn't be letting
any of you live. And if I didn't love Hilde like I love my sisters I don't
know what would happen."
"You'd take out the heir to the throne and most of the Clan Heirs?" Sally
Duo shot her a sexy grin. "It's the kind of thing that makes a boy's reputation,
"We have to ask ourselves what benefit Hilde's death would have," Wufei
Hilde looked a little pale. "I've been asking myself that all day."
"You're not going to die," Catherine insisted. "We won't allow it."
Yeah, Hil, Duo thought. You've got a flock of useless nobles trying to
protect you. And me. Who knows everything about death but jack shit about
preventing it. Aloud he said, "What have you come up with?"
"Well," Hilde said, taking a deep breath, "whoever did this has money.
You cost a fair bit."
"They could promise the money but not deliver," Meiran pointed out. "Or
have the expectation of money."
"One doesn't skip out on an assassin's bill," Duo said dryly. "We tend
to get a wee bit annoyed. . . and to take it out in training, instead."
Hilde laughed. "My father has gotten some interesting incentives over
the years. I don't believe he's ever been late with a payment."
"Getting a jar full of testicles can do that to a client," Duo said cheerfully.
"Me, I have a collection of -- "
"We don't want to know," Quatre said quickly, going a bit green. He leaned
a bit closer to Trowa -- if such a thing were possible.
"False teeth," Duo continued.
"False teeth?" Heero asked.
"Yep. Always thought they were cool. When I lost my baby teeth I used
to go around wearing false teeth I'd stolen off of -- uh, friends.
I used to try and knock my teeth out on purpose just so I could wear the
"But you grew out of that, right?" Catherine asked, her hand frozen in
the act of stroking Hanako. The kitten, annoyed at the cessation of affection,
rolled over and dug her teeth and claws into Catherine's hand. The Lady
Wanderer didn't notice.
"Well. . . my big brother found me doing it one day and beat me black
and blue," Duo grinned. "Turned out I'd run out of baby teeth and was
trying to get rid of my permanent ones. He told me that if anyone was
going to knock out my teeth, it'd be him, and he'd let me know when he
"But he never did." Meiran looked downright entranced with the story.
"Oh, yeah, he sure as hell did. Just none of the front ones --
said it'd make me too easy to remember. I'm missing a few back in here
"Shut your mouth," Heero said, "and let's try and get back on topic. We
didn't arrange this meeting so you could show us all your tonsils."
Duo flashed him a wicked grin. "Oh, you want a private showing? Maybe
later. . . depends on what kind of sweet things you say to me."
Heero went even more impassive -- if such a thing was possible.
Duo sighed and flopped back. "I have. . . friends. . . trying to find
out where the contract originated. It's not easy, because it's not meant
to be. In most cases -- my association with Hilde and her family
is a rare exception -- it's dangerous for both parties to know
each other." He stretched. "For a second when I got the job I thought
it was because she betrayed me yesterday."
Hilde looked stricken.
"She had a higher loyalty," Meiran said in Hilde's defense, and Wufei
concurred, adding, "it would hardly be honorable for her to continue the
deception. Under the circumstances."
Duo's posture was completely relaxed; Heero wasn't so sure about his eyes.
"Guess there's a reason why she's the noble Lady and I'm the street rat."
"Guess so," Hilde said softly.
"In any case," Quatre said, gently dragging them back on topic, "we've
determined that Hilde's death was not something ordered as revenge for.
. . exposing Duo."
Heero was almost disappointed when the braided boy let that pass with
only a smirk.
"How likely is it that the deaths of two Clan Heirs within as many days
would be coincidental?" Hilde asked.
"Not very," Catherine mused, "but if it's the same person, why not simply
kill you in the same way that Faiza was killed?"
Hilde raised a hand to her throat, her face pale and drawn. Heero remembered
how she'd looked last night, asleep, when he and Duo had gone to warn
her. A bit tired, certainly -- she had obviously cried before sleeping.
But it had been a child's face, a sweet face. Today she looked decades
older. . . like a laugh would shatter her.
"Alibi?" Quatre suggested.
"Which points to someone in the palace," Wufei followed. "And makes us
ask if it was someone who knew me or not," Duo added glumly.
"Which brings us back to the question of why they want her dead," Quatre
sighed. "If we assume that they didn't know who you are, Duo, it's a little
more straightforward. But if we assume that they do. . . well, then, that
implicates one of us."
"And makes me wonder just who you all told about my little secret," Duo
said in singsong tones. "The eight remaining Heirs, the princess, Sally
Po. My brother, and two of my sisters, one of whom wouldn't recognize
me now if she met me on the street. She has little idea where I am."
"She was the one that Faiza hurt, though," Quatre reminded him. "She might
find some way to connect you."
"My sister won't give a fuck about your cousin's death," Duo said bluntly.
"She knows better than to wonder too hard about what I'm doing."
"Did any of us tell anyone else?" Heero asked, meeting the eyes of each
of his peers in turn.
"You say it like any of us has someone to tell," Catherine said with a
quiet dignity. "I myself know no one in the entire city. I didn't tell
anyone -- I didn't even speak the words aloud."
"Trowa?" Duo asked, his legs swinging carelessly. His eyes intent.
"Yeah -- I might have let it slip to a few of the maids while I
pounded their brains out. Moments of passion -- you know how they
are," the other boy said without thinking, then winced. "No. Told no one.
. . pounded no one. . . no one to tell." His eyes flicked to Quatre.
"What of the duchess?" Heero asked.
"Dorothy?" Trowa made a face. "I wouldn't tell that bitch I was bleeding
to death. All she'd do would be to settle back for the show. No. I told
no one. Like Ca -- like my cousin, I didn't even speak the words
"So," Duo said. "That leaves Zechs, Lucrezia, and aitch-are- aitch. Lady
Catherine, Lady Meiran, I would be forever in you debt if you would continue
to keep my. . . Lady Hilde with you at all times."
"Of course," Catherine said, and Meiran echoed the sentiment.
"And what do you expect me to do while someone tries to kill me?" Hilde
asked, her voice casual."
"I expect you to stay safe."
"I intend to, but I hardly think that hiding in my room is the safest
way to go." She stood, a lifetime of leadership adding a dramatic element
to the gesture. "If my companions will accompany me, I intend to go speak
to Lord Zechs and Lady Lucrezia."
"And if one of them tries to kill you?" Duo asked, his tone totally unconcerned.
"Then I shall take great delight in trying out the new tricks Catherine
and I have been teaching these little angels," Hilde said, swooping up
Hanako in one arm and sweeping from the room. Catherine and Meiran exchanged
glances and followed her.
"Took her long enough," Duo said, satisfaction evident in every movement
of his body as he stood and stretched. "I thought she'd sit on her ass
like a ghost all day." He looked around the room at his companions --
Trowa, Quatre, Wufei, and Heero. His gaze lingered a little longer on
Heero. "Now the five of us can get to the real problem."
"And what would that be?" Wufei asked.
"That, my dear Lord Drag-On, would the be location of aitch- are-aitch's
precious little Weapon."
"It's Dragon," Wufei snapped automatically. Then, a second later, "what
did you just say?"
"We're going to search for the missing item in your bedroom?" the amused
tone of Quatre's voice as he followed the prince through the door left
little question as to what he thought their real mission in Trowa's chambers
"There are a few things I do really well," Trowa said. "And in a crisis
one should always rely on one's strengths. I happen to be good at fucking."
He spun and caught the blond in a kiss, slamming the door shut with one
"I've. . . oh! . . . noticed," Quatre said, and slipped a hand lower to
prove that he, himself, had picked up a few things recently.
Trowa pulled his mouth from his lover's and grinned. "But that's not why
I brought you here."
Quatre's face fell. "Well, that's good," he said, as if trying to convince
himself. "You've got an idea of where to start?"
"No," said Trowa, "I wanted to ask you what I should wear to dinner tonight."
He walked into the next room and opened his wardrobe. "Perhaps this? Or
this? Or this one?" He tossed a few garments to Quatre. "All items my
dear brother has obtained from his newly discovered clothmakers in a small
town no one has heard of. Does it look familiar to you?"
Quatre raised his head; his fingers still caressed the fabric. "This is
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive," Quatre said. "This type of stitch -- right here
-- it's a mark of ours. It could be a forgery, but anyone who can
make something of such quality has no need to pass it off as another's
work. It could have come from my cousins in Oz -- but if that was
the case why wouldn't your brother say so?"
"So it came from your missing caravans," Trowa said. "And this?" He tossed
his lover a brooch. "Just part of the bribe to get me peacefully out of
"Sapphires look to be from Auverne," Quatre said, eyeing them carefully.
"The jade could be from several places, including Arthis. We lost a load
of gems from Auverne two months ago and a caravan from Arthis a month
before that." He eyed the setting disdainfully. "They certainly weren't
set by the Winners. Not our style. Or rather, our lack thereof."
"My brother-in-law took over my country and all I got was this lousy brooch,"
Trowa murmured. "Bastard always was cheap."
In spite of himself Quatre laughed.
A few minutes later, still examining his wardrobe, Trowa remarked, "Treize
is too much in control of Oz to not know about this. If someone else had
provided the goods -- maybe -- but the fact that he introduced
them to us means that he knows they're from Raberba."
"And from Winner," Quatre said grimly. "I find it hard to believe that
even Treize would take on my family. I have some cousins in the Oz court
who are not without power and influence."
"Are you sure of them?" Trowa asked softly.
"Two days ago I would have said yes without hesitation," his lover whispered,
face blank, eyes haunted. "Now. . . I think not. But I am sure of so little."
Watching the boy, Trowa felt a pain deep within him. He had been betrayed
by his own family, but that had mattered little in the long run. He had
survived it. Seeing the other boy doubt his family, people Trowa knew
nothing of -- that hurt him. He had the sudden and completely impractical
thought that he would do anything to keep Quatre from being hurt. And
following it was the equally strong revelation that there was little he