by Dyna Dee
Five days passed quickly and the fifth one found Relena following Heero into his room to discover the next picture card. With the dark and light haired heads gently and unconsciously coming together, the two friends contemplated the picture that came in the post, yet another part of the puzzle. The photo showed a second portion of the small river and the green hillside. A brown diagonal line interrupting the green grass they determined to be a road or perhaps a driveway.
"What does it say?" Relena asked excitedly. Heero told her of his mysterious mail the day after he'd received the second postcard and she'd nagged at him until he relented to show her the next one. Turning the photo over, they both read the neatly block-printed words, penned in black ink.
I WANT TO WALK WITH YOU
ON A CLOUDY DAY
IN FIELDS WHERE THE YELLOW GRASS GROWS KNEE HIGH
SO WON'T YOU TRY
Relena gasped softly, her face taking on a dreamy cast. "This is so romantic, Heero," she said with dreamy eyes.
The young dark haired man snorted scoffingly and shook his head. "For all I know it could be another sicko or a 'love-at-first-sight' stalker."
"Maybe, and then again maybe not," she replied with a smile. "It could be someone you know, someone who's sincerely attracted to you but too shy to approach you."
Heero continued to study the postcard. "This one was sent from Florence, Italy," he commented, looking at the post mark.
"Is that significant?" Relena leaned in closer to get a look at it.
"Each postmark has been from a different location: New York, London, Paris and now Florence."
"This person travels as much as we do," the blonde girl commented with a soft smile. "Maybe he's getting closer on purpose with each card that's sent."
"You're assuming it's a he," Heero said, one eyebrow raised.
"Your announcement was rather gender specific." She grinned at him, her eyes alight with humor.
"Yes, and it's bought its share of Tom, Dick and flaming Harrys out of the closet thinking I could be their soul mate," he replied unhappily in remembering all too clearly that awkward couple of weeks. He then turned his attention to placing the card up on the wall with the others. After studying them a bit, he realized he had four corners, and judging by the scope of the picture and putting it into perspective, he thought that he had four out of nine pictures that would complete the puzzle.
"What do you suppose it is? What could it mean?" Relena asked, standing at his side and staring with him at the four pictures on the wall.
"An invitation and a clue," he answered without looking away.
"Any idea who it could be from or where the picture was taken?"
Heero shook his head. "I can't imagine anyone who would go to such lengths to get my attention. I still think it might be some sort of advertisement for a vacation destination. You know, where they lure you in for free and make you sit through a pressure sales pitch to buy a condominium."
Relena turned to look at him, an expression of exasperation on her face. "What? An advertisement? You have got to be kidding me!"
Puzzled at her tone and disbelieving expression, Heero shrugged.
"Heero," Relena said more softly, "you are beautiful, one of the most handsome men I've ever met not to mention that you're a wonderful person too. I'm surprised people aren't beating down the doors to get your attention."
"Looks can be deceiving, Relena. I'm fully aware of my lack of social skills. I'm a trained killer. I'd say that's a big negative on a resume for a potential boyfriend."
"Resume?" Relena laughed, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "Maybe that's what I need to do in order to get a date. Do you have a copy of your dating resume that I could use as an example?"
Heero rolled his eyes at her teasing. Sometimes Relena reminded him of Duo. He reached up and gave a gentle tug to her long blonde hair, similar to how he used to pull at Duo's long braid to keep him in line.
"You need to associate with people more your own age," he advised her in a gentle voice. "Go to college or parties that have nothing to do with politics." He brought his hand up and stroked her soft cheek with the back of his fingers in a tender gesture of a caring friend. "You deserve some happiness and fun."
Relena leaned into his hand and sighed wistfully. "Maybe one day, when Milliardo realizes he can do his job without me."
"He can do without you now," Heero said, lowering his hand. "Don't let too much time pass or your youth will pass you by completely."
"And what about you, Heero?" She took up his bronze hand into her own. "I could say those same things to you. I know you're bored to tears with all the meetings we have to attend. You're unhappy and it hurts me to see you so dissatisfied."
"You need me and so I'm here," he replied simply. "Where else would I go?"
A small smile came to the girl's lips. "Perhaps we both need a lifestyle change. And maybe, just maybe," she turned to tap one of the four pictures on the wall with her finger, "this is the chance you've been waiting for. Sometimes you need to jump into something with both feet and enjoy the ride."
Heero looked at her in disbelief. "And this comes from someone who plans out every minute of her day?"
"Like I said," Relena continued, with a grin. "Maybe we're both ready for a change."
"You didn't say that before," Heero corrected her, fighting the smile growing on his face knowing Relena hated being corrected.
"All right, Mr. Literal, I'm sure that I inferred that a change was in order." She smiled back, not able to resist when her good friend teased her. "Really, Heero, that perfect memory of yours can be quite irritating at times."
"So I've been told." His amusement dimmed in his eyes as he recalled the many times he'd made Duo angry because he would recall and recite every detail of a mission, conversation or incident, critiquing the other boy until Duo was left pulling at his braid and snapping back in defense of his actions. He'd learned too late that the way he'd been trained, with every thought, action and movement receiving constructive criticism, did not work well on Duo. The Deathscythe pilot viewed his list of the other boy's errors and faults on a mission or of his general behavior as a sign of his disapproval and dissatisfaction with him as a pilot and as a person. Heero had honestly thought he was doing his fellow pilot a favor by pointing out his mistakes so that he could correct them on the next mission. At the time, he didn't understand Duo's anger and resentment and he probably wouldn't have figured it out if Trowa hadn't observed one such argument and intervened.
Taking him aside, the Heavyarms pilot explained to him the reasons for Duo's perturbed reaction and he'd made a conscious effort from that point on to hold back any analysis of the other pilots' performances unless their behavior endangered the mission. That change helped to ease the strain that had developed between himself and Duo, but even now, after so much time had passed, Heero still felt a pang of remorse for having hurt his friend's feelings with past words and actions.
"What's the matter, Heero?"
Coming back from his thoughts of the past, Heero gave Relena an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I was just remembering something."
"You looked sad," she said, concern evident on her face.
"I'm fine," he assured her.
Relena sensed Heero did not want her to pry. He was a very private person, never speaking at length about his past. She had gotten to know him better by learning small bits and pieces of his life through their conversations and without stating it, she'd always sensed her friend was missing something or someone in his life. He would get a look of longing on his face at certain times, especially when seeing a vibrant colored sunset, a moonlit sky on a clear night or aerial displays of a lightning and thunder storms always brought a look of wistful longing to his handsome face, but he never fully opened up enough to tell her who or what brought about that expression. She'd guessed what the problem was after having seen him gaze with longing at his collection of pictures of the other pilots, and one pilot in particular. He'd shyly admitted his attraction to Duo after she told him of her suspicion.
She sighed and watched now as Heero looked at the pictures on the wall. "What would you say to playing hooky this afternoon?" she asked with a mischievous smile on her face as she'd spontaneously decided they both needed some fun.
"Don't you have an appointment with your dressmaker at one thirty, tea at Dorothy's, and a three o'clock with Mr. Cannon at the Ministry of Trade?"
"I'll cancel them," she replied with a delicate wave of her hand, indicating the appointments were not as important as getting away. "I think a drive to the beach sounds much more fun. Maybe we could go in disguise and pick up a couple of guys and make out with them as the sun sets." There was a definite sparkle in the young woman's eyes.
"We will not pick up guys and make out with them," Heero said firmly, giving her a particular glare that told her he meant it.
Relena pouted playfully. "Well, we can look and dream, can't we?"
"Yes," he replied with a long suffering sigh. "We can dream."
The afternoon spent at the nearby beach lifted the spirits of the two young adults and made the next five days seem to pass much more pleasantly.
Both Relena and Heero looked impatiently at the clock as it inched towards the noon hour. They were enclosed in a room at the Sanq Palace with representatives from L-1, L-13 and L-3. They had come to the Vice Foreign Minister's Office with the hope of coming to some agreement on a trade dispute between their colonies and Milliardo had promptly given the matter over to Relena to handle it as she saw fit. But as the hour wore on, the disagreements between the three seemed petty and ridiculously heated. Relena's calming presence and Heero's potent glares were the only things that kept the group of men from going at each others' throats.
At a quarter to twelve, her brother strode into the room looking tall, authoritative and confident. He was always a presence to be reckoned with, especially in a gray business suit that complemented his striking blue eyes and long platinum hair.
"Gentlemen, good day to you," he greeted the room confidently. He then turned to the colony representatives to specifically address them, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry for my delay, but I left you in capable hands." He gave them a warm, I'm-kissing-your-ass smile. "I see it's lunch time. I've taken the opportunity to have the kitchen staff prepare a luncheon for you. If you'll just follow Inka, she'll lead you to the dining room." He turned and brought their attention to the maid, dressed in a traditional service uniform and standing in the doorway with a smile on her face.
It took less than one minute for the visitors to clear the room. As the last of them disappeared out the door, Milliardo turned to the two relieved people left in the room. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a card and held it out as he walked towards Heero. "This just came in the morning's post."
Heero recognized the postcard, similar to the others, and turned an accusing glare towards Relena.
"Sorry," she said with a tiny voice and a growing grin. "But it's just too intriguing. I had to tell Mill. After all, his love life is about as interesting as ours."
"Hey!" the tall blond protested with exaggerated indignation as he came to stand in front of the two. "I wouldn't call Luca a nothing."
"You're just lucky she understands your neglect," Relena replied, her eyes focused on the postcard. "Your social life is just as boring as ours, even with Lucretia's devotion."
Heero reached out and took the card from Milliardo's hand, choosing wisely to stay out of the two siblings' tit-for-tat conversation. As he looked at the picture, he saw yet another part of the puzzle that looked like a vineyard on a hillside. A smattering of orange and yellow flowers dotted the landscape. The top of the picture had a dark patch that Heero thought looked like the foundation of a structure and something more. He looked closer.
"Are those stairs and a porch?" Milliardo asked, having moved to look over Heero's left shoulder. It was then that Heero realized that Relena was peering over his right shoulder, studying the picture as intently as he had been.
The three looked up as Inka entered the room, running and slightly breathless. "What's it say?" she asked, excitement in her blushing face.
Heero rolled his eyes heavenward. The way things were going, the whole palace would know about his postcards.
"He hasn't read it yet," Relena answered, then gave Heero a nudge with her elbow to bring his attention back to the card in his hand.
The palace maid moved into the spot Milliardo had made for her in front of himself and just behind Heero's shoulder. "Turn it over," the elder Peacecraft urged.
Heero huffed with frustration at his lack of privacy but dutifully turned the card over. Four sets of eyes scanned the words as Relena read them out loud.
COME AWAY WITH ME AND WE'LL KISS
ON A MOUNTAIN TOP.
COME AWAY WITH ME AND I'LL
"Oh, Heero," Relena sighed dreamily.
"How romantic," Inka chimed in and shared an if-only-it-were-me smile with Relena.
"Is this from a woman or a man?" Milliardo asked, a slight frown on his face.
"It was sent after my so-called 'coming out' interview, so I assume it's someone of the male persuasion," Heero answered.
The tall blond seemed to ponder the situation. "While it's intriguing, are you sure this is safe?"
Heero shrugged, making it look careless. "So far it's just a card with harmless words on it. There's no implied threat or anything repulsive, so I guess we can consider it a small diversion."
Relena bent to get a closer look at the postage stamp. "Monaco," she announced. "It was mailed from Monaco."
Inka also leaned over the card still held in Heero's hand. "What's that at the top of the picture?"
"The foundation for some kind of building," Heero answered.
"Those look like steps and a porch. If you look closer, you can see a difference in the wood," the blond man observed.
The four heads came closer together to see the proof of those words. "There's not enough showing for me to tell," Heero said, eyes still on the picture. He then became aware of just how close the others were to him. He could smell Zechs's citrus based cologne, Relena's floral perfume and an antiseptic smell that must have come from some cleaning compound emanating from Inka. Before he could move to distance himself from the tight olfactory assaulting group that made him feel a bit uncomfortable, Inka gasped.
"There's a foot," and all four heads came together again, eyes straining to see the small mark the maid referred to.
"No, it's a cat or something," Relena decided, turning her head to a different angle to gain another perspective.
"I think it's one of those things gentlemen spit into, a spittoon," Zechs offered up his viewpoint.
Bringing the card up to his face for a closer study, Heero came up with his own idea. "It's a sandaled foot."
"You're right," Zechs concurred.
"It's a cat," Relena persisted. When the other three gave her a look of disbelief, she pouted. "Well it looks like one to me."
The two men gave each other a long suffering sigh, earning them both a well deserved pinch on their arms from the young woman.
"Maybe it's a person with only one leg," Inka said thoughtfully. "Perhaps they lost the other tragically in the war and now the poor dear sits alone all day with nothing better to do but write famous people cryptic love poems." The three thought for a moment that the older woman was going to cry from the distressed look on her face at the notion she'd fabricated in her head.
Deciding he'd had enough, Heero stepped away from the group and slipped the picture into his coat pocket. "I'm going to my room," he announced. "I'll meet you in the dining room for lunch in ten minutes," he called out over his shoulder as he left the three staring at his back.
Placing the picture in its place amongst the others on his bedroom wall, it was easy for him to see it was the center picture. There appeared to be only four missing pieces remaining, each the middle piece of the four sides. Taping it in its proper place, he stepped back to take in the five parts of the picture. It was now obvious that the large hills at the top of the picture proved to be the distant background. The structure, hinted at by the foundation, stairs and porch, was probably a house. The hill it rested on was a vineyard with a small river flowing where the hill turned into a valley.
He tried to place the picture's setting, deciding it could be from Italy, France, California or South America. Four cards to go, and Heero sensed that the important piece, the one that held the information he needed to understand the cards' purpose, would be the last to arrive. What would happen when it came? He wondered. Would he meet the traveler, a stranger or perhaps an acquaintance? What would be expected of him if he did come face to face with the anonymous person? With these questions weighing on his mind, he left his room, locking the door behind him, and made his way down the staircase and to the dining room.
Two days later, Quatre called.
"So what's this I'm hearing about romantic love notes being sent to you?" the blond asked over the vid screen with a definite sparkle in his blue eyes and a teasing smile on his lips.
Heero sighed wearily. "Who told you?"
"I ran into Dorothy at a trade meeting yesterday," the executive answered. "She could hardly talk of anything else." He laughed in the light, amused way that was characteristic of the gentle soul Quatre possessed, despite all he'd been through in his young life. Heero and the other pilots had found the blond's laughter a balm to their souls when the darkness of war surrounded them. " You'd think she was the one getting the anonymous romantic attention from the way her face lit up."
"Have you told anyone else?" Heero was almost afraid of the answer.
"Well." Quatre blushed slightly, not a good omen. "I told my sister Farah."
"The gossip?" Heero's voice rose considerably with disbelief. Quatre's sister, just older than the blond himself, was a notorious gossip. If she knew, then all of Quatre's sisters knew and so would half of L-4.
"Who else?" he groaned, his hand coming up to rub at his temple, feeling a headache coming on.
"That's a given. Anyone else?"
"Why didn't you just make an announcement to the L-4 press?" Heero asked irritated and more than perturbed. "Probably half the colony knows about my personal mail by now."
"Colonies," Quatre corrected in a small, apologetic voice, causing Heero's eyes to narrow dangerously. "Dorothy told me about the postcards in front of several trade delegates and businessmen from other colonies."
"I'm going to hire a new bodyguard for Relena," Heero said with a dark look on his face.
"Why?" Quatre looked puzzled.
"To keep me from killing her. She's the only one who could have told Dorothy."
Quatre smiled, knowing Heero didn't mean that particular threat anymore than he had when he said the same thing during the war. "I'm sorry, Heero. I didn't know it was a secret. You have to admit it is very romantic. Maybe we all just needed to syphon off a little of that for ourselves."
"It could be some nutcase or stalker, Quatre." Heero tried to reason with the blond. "That thought blows any ideas of romance right out of the sky, doesn't it?"
"But you don't know that," the other man countered. "It could be someone you know but is just too shy to reveal himself."
Heero shook his head. "I don't know anyone that has shown this much interest in me."
"It could be a secret admirer, someone maybe who has loved you from afar."
"Then they're looking at me from too far a distance and with rose colored glasses. They couldn't possibly know who I really am or anything about me." Heero shrugged, ready to let the whole incident go.
There was a pause before Quatre's voice spoke up softly. "It could be Duo."
Heero's head shot up. Leave it to Quatre to hit the bullseye. In his heart, he'd secretly hoped it would be the missing American issuing him the invitation. The first postcard had come from the United States after all. But Duo had been gone from their lives for over a year. Why would he show up like this instead of a direct call?
"Have you heard from him? Heero asked.
Quatre looked apologetic again. "Just the last e-mail a couple of months ago saying he thought he'd found his niche in life. I just wish he'd been a little more explicit as to where he is and what's going on. Have you had any word?"
"I got an e-mail Christmas card that was very annoying and loud," he answered. "But nothing since."
"I hope he's all right," the blond said with a distracted look on his face, obviously thinking about their missing friend. Then a slow smile grew on his still youthful looking face. "And I hope he's your secret admirer."
Heero shook his head. He couldn't let his friend get his hopes up. He knew Quatre sensed his strong feelings for Duo but he never pried or tried to interfere. Instead, he'd been a consoling presence when Duo departed for L-2 after the war to work with Hilde. Only Quatre had known of Heero's desire and loss at that time. He'd tried to get him to talk to Duo, tell him of his feelings, but Heero just couldn't do it. He thought it was better to hold onto the dream than to risk losing the friendship or respect of his fellow friend and comrade. A lot of good that did him, he thought. Duo had stayed only a short while with Hilde before becoming disenchanted with the nine to five business and took off for places unknown. Despite keeping his feelings to himself, Heero had lost Duo anyway.
"Dorothy said there was some poetry on the back of the pictures." Quatre changed the subject smoothly. "Care to tell me what it is, that is if it's not too personal."
Heero had copied the words from the back of the cards onto his computer so that he could study them better. "I'll send it you," he said, even as his hands began the process of bringing up his e-mail and attaching the file. In less than a minute it came up on Quatre's computer. Heero watched as his friend read the lines and a spark of recognition lit his face.
"It's a song, Heero. An old one, but I've heard it before. Howard played it on Peacemillion for a couple of his crew members that he married. You know he's got that collection of really old music that Duo always talked about. If I remember right, the singer was female with a soft, sultry voice. It was simple but quite... pretty."
Heero frowned as another thought came to him. "It had better not be Howard sending me these postcards."
Quatre's laughter burst out from his small frame. "Howard doesn't swing that way, Heero. So at least you're safe from that worry." He continued laughing for several moments longer at the mental image of a much older Howard, wearing his typical Hawaiian shirt, his skinny and hairy legs exposed by his tan shorts and the sunglasses hiding blood shot eyes. The idea was too funny to even entertain it seriously.
"Do you know how the rest of the song goes?" Heero asked, obviously trying to distract Quatre from his wayward thoughts, not quite knowing what he was still laughing about.
"No," Quatre sighed, having enjoyed the good laugh. "I could probably track it down for you, but wouldn't you rather find out as each card is sent? It does lend an air of mystery that's rather fun."
Heero thought for a moment. "I'll wait for the cards," he decided.
"Can you show them to me?" Quatre asked, hopeful of getting a glimpse at the mystery puzzle. He'd received a brief description from Dorothy, but he really wanted to see if he knew what region the picture had been taken from.
Heero got an irritated look on his face as if he didn't want to bother going to all the trouble to fulfill Quatre's request. Recognizing it, the blond pressed further. "Please, Heero. Maybe I'll recognize the terrain. I've traveled extensively and it's possible that I've been there before."
A look of reluctant caving-in passed over Heero's face. "All right, hold on." he said as he opened the desk drawer and took out a utility knife and opened up the part that was a screwdriver. He began to undo the screws that fastened the camera for the vid phone onto the top shelf of his desk.
A couple of minutes later the picture from Quatre's end became jumbled with movement before it stabilized and struggled to focus on the pictures taped to the wall. "Back up a little, Heero. It's a bit blurred and the two pictures on the right are cut off."
With a bit more instruction, the camera fed a steady and clear picture of the photo cards to the colony high above the earth. Quatre studied them carefully, taking in the details of the background. "It could be a number of places," he said. "But I'm pretty sure I haven't been in this particular place before. It looks like either California or Italy. When does the next picture arrive? Dorothy said they arrive every five days, right?"
"That's correct," Heero answered. "The next is due in three days." Deciding Quatre had enough time to study his postcards, Heero began to reattach the camera back into its place on his desk.
"Will you call me when you get it?" The blond asked with a note of pleading in his voice.
"I think you should get Trowa to send you some postcards," Heero suggested as he sat back into his chair and began to re-adjust his camera again.
"A little to your left," Quatre directed. "Now just a touch more. Got it!"
Heero nodded his thanks, then continued speaking. "Or maybe you could send him some mysterious picture cards yourself, inviting him to a romantic retreat."
Quatre's eyes lit up at the suggestion. "That's a great idea. Our anniversary is coming up and so is our break from school. Thanks for the suggestion. I better go and get to work on it. I'll call you back in three days, all right? Bye, Heero." The excited blond's face disappeared from the screen and Heero could only smile, feeling grateful that he wasn't the one that Quatre had chosen for his next personal project. He knew Trowa wouldn't mind at all being the focus of the busy blond's attention. Quatre always had a way of taking a simple idea and turning it into a production.
Heero looked at his desk clock to see it was nearly ten thirty p.m. He should call it a night, but his hand hesitated on the mouse to his computer. He moved it to the icon for his e-mail page and brought up Duo's last know address. He'd tried several times over the last year to contact his friend, but never received an answer.
'Duo, where are you?,' he typed. 'Come home. We miss you. Heero.' It was straightforward and simple, yet the short message expressed more of his feelings towards the American then he'd ever allowed before.
It had taken some time, but Heero felt he was healing, changing from the trained assassin and the driven soldier he used to be into someone with emotions he could now express, a person with personal needs and desires. He felt he was finally ready to reach out for more than the solitary life he'd led with his emotions kept firmly in check. He was certain that he'd begun to rid himself of the rigid characteristics of a proper soldier that had defined him during the war and he was ready to shed what was left of them as a snake would shed its skin once it had outgrown it. He'd definitely outgrown the person he'd been trained to be for fighting a war and was now ready to move on. But now that he knew what he wanted, or rather who he wanted, the one person he cared about the most and desired above all things for him to be in his life, was gone, unreachable and untouchable.
He stared at the words displayed on his computer screen once more, his finger poised over the right click of his mouse, the cursor over the 'send' button. He knew he needed to send his brief message before he chickened out. "Please answer," he whispered as he pushed the button, sending his wish along with the simple plea for his friend to return to him.