Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
It was taking forever for the shuttle to dock, Wufei thought impatiently. His impatience was due, no doubt, to the urgency he felt in getting to the resource satellite as quickly as possible. With few leads pertaining to the identity of the marauders or their location, it was imperative he follow up immediately on any information that came his way.
Standing next to his seat while waiting for the group in front of him to unload their carry-on luggage from the storage bins above, he turned to his quiet companion. "Heero and I discussed the possibility of Howard being involved with the marauders."
"Duo's Howard?" Trowa questioned with a frown.
Wufei knew he was stepping into a touchy area. Anything that involved Duo Maxwell was of concern to his two very protective friends. Quatre and Trowa had displayed the great lengths they would go to in order to see their friend was sheltered, protected and cared for. That fact was evident by how swiftly they'd swept Duo away after his and Heero's fight five years ago and helping him in the healing process, including the best counseling and doctors for the many surgeries he'd undergone after Heero obliterated his face. Duo had suffered a multiple fractured nose, a cracked cheek bone, busted lips and jaw dislocation. The hearing in his right ear and the vision in his right eye had also been affected by the severe beating. He'd garnered this information about his former comrade from emails Quatre had sent and by covertly checking up on Duo after he'd begun having his surgeries on L4. Duo's occupation as a wildly popular model was also due to the influence of his two close friends. After the braided man had healed from his reconstruction surgeries, Duo was given the means to make a living, a very lucrative one from what he'd seen, allowing him to leave behind the struggle and fighting that had been a part of his life from his earliest memories. That Duo was happy with such a frivolous job and lavish lifestyle surprised him, though he kept such thoughts to himself. After all, who was he to judge another man after the things he'd done in the past? Duo deserved happiness more than anyone he could think of.
Continuing with the subject at hand, Wufei explained the reason for his inquiry about Howard. "The marauders are obviously using some type of cloaking device. Howard was the engineer, if not the designer, of Deathscythe. To overlook his potential involvement would be foolish on our part."
"What would be his motivation?" Trowa asked. "Howard has a legitimate job as a Sweeper and, from what Duo has told me, enough money to fill that huge barge he floats around the earth's oceans."
Wufei shrugged. "Maybe the man pirates for the thrill of it, for the challenge of getting away with something illegal."
Trowa looked at him skeptically. "You really think that of Howard? After all he did to help us during the war?"
"No," Wufei confessed. "But neither his accomplishments, occupation or money were of consideration when he involved himself in Operation Meteor. We really have no choice but to look at him as a possible suspect until we have evidence to prove otherwise."
When at last the he and Trowa disembarked the shuttle, they were greeted by two uniformed Preventer officers. "Agent Chang." One of the men stepped forward. The pale faced, red-headed man was at least six feet tall, with wide shoulders that narrowed to a trim waist. He wore a serious expression and exuded an air of professionalism. "I'm Agent Donnihan. I spoke with you while in transit?"
"Good to meet you," Wufei said, extending his right hand to shake hand's with the other agent. He then introduced Trowa as his partner on the case then asked, "Are we ready to leave?"
"There's been yet another attack by the marauders," the redhead stated, his manner rushed and excited. "A freighter carrying food and essential supplies was overtaken several hours out from L1."
Wufei turned his gaze to Trowa. "Looks like our visit to the resource satellites will have to wait."
Trowa nodded. "Let me make a fast call to Quatre to tell him I won't be home today." He lagged behind the group as they walked through the terminal in order to have a bit of privacy as he made his call.
Through Agent Donnihan, Wufei requested the local Preventers inquire about the resource satellite's owner and for them to set up a surveillance droid to monitor it for any movement until he could return to search it himself.
Using the prepared Preventer shuttle, the two former gundam pilots along with Donnihan and his partner, Agent Shoemaker, arrived at the shuttle dock on L1 eight hours after their departure from L4. They met with the crew of the freighter Hammerhead on their ship and immediately commenced their questioning and recording their statements. Three and a half hours later the four Preventers regrouped in the crew compartment on their own shuttle.
"It doesn't make sense," Agent Shoemaker remarked, scratching his ear while leaning back into his chair. The colony born man was short in stature with well-developed neck and arm muscles, and a broad chest, signs that the man took his physical fitness seriously. His brown hair was styled in a short crew cut. His facial features were ordinary, as were his brown eyes. But it was his dark and heavy eyebrows that lent the man a rather comedic aspect to his otherwise somber face. "The crew on the cloaked ship boards space freighters armed and masked. They take only those goods that are ordinary everyday stuff, which they pay fair market prices for. Why don't they just buy them like everyone else does?"
"That's the question that needs answering in order for us to find the marauders," Trowa answered while taking apart his handgun in preparation for giving it a thorough cleaning.
"There must be some reason they avoid making such a large purchase openly," Wufei surmised while typing up his report. "Tax evasion, affecting the market on surplus goods, causing panic with the colony freighters or perhaps causing a disturbance in trading circles with a purpose we've yet to determine."
"They've been doing this for two years, right?" Donnihan asked.
"Yes," Wufei answered without looking away from his computer screen.
"So where has all this stolen freight gone to? There should be a warehouse overflowing with the goods they've taken."
"Unless they've been sold on the sly, or on the black market."
"It doesn't make sense," Shoemaker said again, shaking his head.
Wufei leaned back in his chair, a frown on his face. "No, it doesn't. It makes more sense to assume that the food is being forcibly taken and purchased by someone in need who is otherwise unable to obtain and distribute or resell the goods."
"Who?" Shoemaker and Donnihan asked simultaneously.
"So someone or some group on L2 is sneaking out of that colony and raiding freighter ships?" Trowa asked, a hint of disbelief in his voice.
"Who else needs everyday goods more than a colony burdened with the restrictions of an embargo, forbidding any freighters from delivering to its docks?"
Trowa sat forward and looked at his friend. "L2 is a run down, poorer than poor tin can floating in space. With a government corrupt enough to cause the UEC to place an embargo on it, I can only imagine that no one there has more than a couple of credits to rub together. Even if they pooled all of the colony's credits together, there's no way they could afford to build or purchase a ship with stealth capabilities."
Wufei nodded. "All the more reason to find Howard and question him about his activities and possibly about any crew members who worked with him before the wars on the cloaking device they developed for Deathscythe."
"Duo mentioned several months ago that Howard was still with the Sweepers. They were making runs to Mars and gathering up the remainder of space debris from the wars."
"Then he shouldn't be too hard to track down."
Donnihan cleared his throat. "So what now?"
Wufei sighed. "We go back to L4, analyze the statements to see if there is any new information that we might have missed and try again to track down Howard." With a look of irritation on his face he asked Trowa, "By the way, what the hell is Howard's last name?"
The other man gave him a crooked grin. "I'm sworn to secrecy," he answered.
"And if I order you to give me his name?"
"Then I will, under protest."
"Considered it ordered."
Trowa chuckled. "Duo let it slip one night, after a night of heavy drinking, that Howards full name is..." he leaned forward and whispered into his friend's ear the information.
A matching smile grew on Wufei's normally sober face. "No wonder we were never told his full name," he chuckled.
"What is it?" Shoemaker asked, his eyes lit with curiosity.
"I think it would be best to keep that information to myself for a little while," Wufei replied. "Donnihan?"
"Yes?" the redhead answered.
"Think you can pilot this ship back to L4?"
"I'm on it." The agent immediately stood and strode towards the cockpit.
"What would you like me to do?" Shoemaker asked, eager to please.
"I'm hungry. How about you, Agent Barton?"
"I'll see what we've got." The short and stocky man jumped up and rushed to open the stash of food to see what he could make for the other two men who were, unbeknownst to him, having a hard time containing their amused grins.
Two days following Wufei and Trowa's departure, Heero still had very little to go on in regards to Relena's disappearance. Reports of sightings or possible leads, prompted by her brother's reward offer, had all been discounted. Calls on the hotline now came trickling in and most were obviously poor attempts to gain the offered reward. "Where the hell did you go?" Heero muttered as he looked down at the picture they'd sent to the press of Relena to keep her image sharp in the public's mind.
He recalled a day, not too long ago, that the two of them had spent at the beach. Relena had just wanted some time away to relax and she'd coaxed him into taking her to the local beach. Dressed in off-white capris and a pale blue summer blouse that covered her swimsuit, she wore her hair back in a braid and kept her head covered by a wide-brimmed straw hat. Overall, she presented the appearance of a tourist. Keeping a low profile, Heero knew he probably looked like her boyfriend, dressed down in swim trunks and a tank top instead of the suit-and-tie apparel he usually donned as her bodyguard, which was probably why no one bothered her that day. For several hours they'd enjoyed the water and lounged on their beach towels, talked of everyday things, excluding work, and let the ocean breeze cool their skin, flushed from the warm sun. It had been a good day, a good memory.
He turned away from the picture, his frustration growing. There was no way in hell Relena would just up and walk away without telling someone, deliberately worrying her family and friends. But if she had been kidnaped, why hadn't the kidnapper made any demands for her release? The lack of evidence and demands for ransom, or even a call from the girl herself just didn't add up to her being kidnaped.
His cell phone chimed. Pulling it out of his jacket pocket he answered with a gruff hello.
"Any news?" It was Relena's brother. Again.
"No. None at all."
"Dammit." Milliardo paused for several moments. Then with a frustrated sigh he asked, "So where do we go from here?"
And in an instant, Heero knew the answer. "I'm leaving you and Noin to stay on top of this and investigate any new leads. Contact me if anything promising comes in and I'll return."
"Where the hell are you going?" Milliardo was understandably angry.
"To space. I've got another case I'm working on with Wufei."
"I understood that Relena's case was the top priority." "It was as long as there were leads to follow. Without a ransom demand or even a call regarding her fate, the case has ground to a halt. I'm needed elsewhere, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up. You have my contact number, call me if anything new develops."
"You can't do this Yuy."
"Yes, I can."
There was a long pause before Milliardo spoke again. When he did, his voice had changed from indignant anger to a tone of pleading. "Please, Heero, stay earth side just a few more days. I know something will happen soon, it has to. Perhaps her kidnappers are just waiting until the furor dies down. I'm begging you, don't go. Not yet."
Heero closed his eyes and with his free hand he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ease the growing ache that was coming on from lack of food and sleep. "Alright. I'll put off returning to space a couple more days," he said, capitulating to the other man's plea. Milliardo Peacecraft never begged for anything, and for him to do so with his former enemy meant that he was feeling desperate.
Wufei and the space marauders would have to wait a few more days.
"Thank you." There was the sound of relief in the other man's voice.
The call ended moments later and Heero looked down at the stack of files, notes on the case, all leading nowhere. Resigned, he sat back down at his desk and opened the top folder, intending to look for any clue to Relena's disappearance, or hint of who might have abducted her that he might have missed. He blinked with surprise, finding amongst the files a gossip magazine with Duo's image plastered on the cover. Damn but the man was good looking. Those blue-violet eyes seemed to be looking straight at him, and his playful smile hinted that he was barely holding back some mischievous thought. Duo's pose was relaxed even though he was wearing a dark blue designer suit. The jacket was carelessly slung over his shoulder, his sapphire blue tie was pulled loose and the top buttons of his white dress shirt were open. With one hand tucked into his pant pocket, a rakish grin and long braid of hair resting against his chest, Duo Maxwell was sex appeal personified, and Heero felt his body begin to stir at the image of the man he'd lost in a fit of anger.
Pushing past his regrets, he quickly leafed through the magazine until he came to a small article and large spread of photos of his former lover. He devoured every word written about Duo in a brief interview with the most sought-after bachelor on Earth and possibly the colonies. Without thinking, his fingertips gently touched a close-up photo of Duo's face and another wave of regret for what he'd lost washed over him. After all this time it seemed that the former Deathscythe pilot still owned a piece of his heart. Time and circumstances hadn't altered what he'd felt for Duo, nor did the pain of guilt and regret over what he'd done to him. Duo said he'd forgiven him, even suggested that they might be friends again, but he wondered if he'd ever forgive himself.
Glancing at his laptop, he wondered if he dared email the popular man. Duo had moved on with his life, had made a success of himself, even though it was in a completely different line of work than Heero had ever imagined him in. The long-haired man appeared as happy as he claimed he was. Would he be messing that up if he insinuated himself back into Duo's life? It was something to seriously consider before he took any action.
An idea came to him and he hit a key on his computer to bring it out of sleep mode. He typed Duo Maxwell into the search engine and he wasn't surprised to find a multitude of pages listing sites where his former lover was featured. He started with the first site and spent the rest of the afternoon viewing the photographic and written articles detailing Duo's life over the past couple of years.
By the time he finished and sat back in his chair, rubbing his tired eyes, it was dark outside. The paparazzi and gossip columns had more or less detailed Duo's life from the time he debuted as a model for Quatre's sister, only lightly touching on the fact that he had been a former gundam pilot. If nothing else was made clear after all his reading, it was that Duo had dramatically changed from the boy who had a cause worth dying for to a man who seemed to have nothing more important to do than pose for photographers, attend lavish parties and, once in a while, cause a scandal. What had caused the pilot of the gundam called Deathscythe, who named himself Shinigami in battle, to do a complete turnabout? It was a puzzle Heero took home with him that night and kept him awake for many hours as he tried to figure out the enigma that was Duo Maxwell.