Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
Heero found himself in the formal living room of Quatre and Trowa's home after being greeted at the door by the middle-aged, properly attired, dark, tall and thin maid. She'd welcomed him, the promptly left him sitting on the chintz divan while she left to prepare him a glass of ice tea.
He tried to make himself comfortable, but the formal piece of furniture he was sitting on wasn't designed for comfort as much as it had been for appearance. He could, however, imagine Duo stretching out on it, one leg over the edge and his arms folded behind his head, pillowing it comfortably while wearing a saucy grin on his face.
Damn, he had to quit obsessing over the American.
Forcing himself to think about something, anything else, he turned his attention back to the interior of the room and quickly decided the ambiance was as stiff and formal as the furnishings. He doubted whether he could ever be comfortable living in such an elegant setting. How long had it taken Trowa to adjust, or had he? Knowing the former Heavyarms pilot's mercenary history, the odds that Trowa would find himself as a lover to one of the wealthiest men in the universe were astronomical. Well, until you factored in that the wealthy man had also been a gundam pilot and head over heels for Trowa at first sight.
The maid returned with his tall glass of tea, served on a silver tray along and accompanied by a plate filled with small, crust-less sandwiches, which, Heero admitted to himself were delicious. Feeling quite hungry, he ate every last one of them and silently wished there had been a few more. Slowly sipping his tea, he was quite content to sit and wait for one of the two men that lived there to greet him.
A half hour passed from his arrival before Quatre came rushing into the room, an apology on his lips. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, Heero. I left the office as soon as Malina called to tell me you were here. How was your trip to L1?"
"Not as successful as I had hoped," he replied as Quatre sat on the other end of the divan.
"Oh?" The blue eyes appeared curious, but not overly so, Heero decided.
"I was trying to track down any large purchases of metal during the past five years that might have been used for building a shuttle, one with stealth capabilities. The metal suppliers were less than forthcoming."
"So where does that leave you?"
"I've asked around for Howard, but it appears he hasn't been heard from in at least a year. Has Duo mentioned anything to you about him?"
The blond man frowned in thought. "I recall he and Duo having some disagreement after the war. Something to do with his having blown up his gundam, I think."
"It seems rather uncharacteristic of Howard, doesn't it?"
Quatre leaned back into the chair and shifted his body, trying to get comfortable. "Well, I can't say I got to know Howard very well, regardless of the fact that he was an enormous help to us during the first war, so I don't know what to say about his reactions or if even his disappearance is irregular or typical. Have you asked Duo?"
"I told him I wanted to speak with Howard, but I'm not sure he'll take too well to my probing into his friend's business matters," Heero answered.
Heero turned and brought his left knee up to rest it on the sofa. "Duo and I are just testing the waters, so to speak. He gets a bit testy when I mention Howard, so I was trying not to rock the boat."
Heero had an inkling that the other man knew more than he was letting on. "If Howard is involved and if he rebuilt the stealth system used on Deathscythe, it's more than likely he would have needed a financial backer. Building a shuttle takes more than what he had in his bank account three years ago."
A blond eyebrow rose. "Did you actually acquire a warrant to search Howard's financial records at his bank?"
"No, I didn't. I'll admit giving into my curiosity by tapping into his bank accounts, or at least, the ones I could find. At a glance it appeared that nothing had been withdrawn or deposited in over a year, which validates Duo's belief that he's on a Mars run." Heero leaned forward in his chair, his eyes locked with Quatre's. "My question to you is this; do you know of, or have you heard any gossip to the fact that someone with money from the colonies ordered the building of a stealth shuttle?"
Quatre looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Well, there's certainly enough money in the colonies for a number of individuals or businesses to buy such a ship. You could narrow your research by going to the library and looking up the subject in the magazine titled Colony Business Today."
"I got the information online," Heero interjected. "What I need to know is who of those top twenty wealthiest people and philanthropists in the colonies has an acute interest in L2, enough to invest in a costly stealth shuttle?"
Quatre's gaze was steady as he answered. "Those in the top twenty include myself and several of my family members, Heero. I can't read anyone's thoughts nor do I give credence to gossip at dinner parties. What I do know is that everyone on that list is colony born. Though none of us have come out to openly oppose the UEC government, fearful of the consequences, but we have certainly voiced our concerns and have used whatever influence we have to work towards lifting the embargo on L2. There's not a one of us who can forget the strangle hold the Alliance used in controlling the colonies before the Eve wars. We all grew up in fear and dread of Earth's government back then, and those memories are hard to put aside. As for who might have an interest in L2, I would say that everyone on that list does. The suffering on L2 could become the fate of any other colony should the UEC see them as a threat."
Quatre's answer resonated as being truthful to the Preventer. As a colonist, even as a young child, he had been taught the history and politics of each colony and their struggles with the Alliance. Could he blame any colonist now for trying to free their sister colony from an oppression that mirrored the not-so-distant past?
With his friend's gaze still fixed on him, Heero debated whether or not he should risk being blunt and ask the other man outright if he was involved in any way with the marauders. Quatre was a person he greatly admired, and he was Duo's best friend. He didn't want to ruin the chance he'd been given to be a part of their lives again by casting accusations that might be false.
"I can tell you're troubled about something, Heero," Quatre said, interrupting his train of thought and indecision. "If you want to ask me something, go ahead. I'll answer to the best of my ability."
Heero sighed. This was more difficult than he thought it would be. "I value our past, Quatre, and the fact that you're willing to let me be a part of your life again."
The blond sat serenely, his hands at ease and his blue eyes gazing at him with a mixture of curiosity and patience. Heero paused for only a moment to wonder whether or not he was about to lose his tentative friendship altogether with his former comrades, but he knew the answer almost immediately, knowing he really had no choice. Yet just as he opened his mouth to ask the question he dreaded the answer to, the other man spared him.
"Do you suspect myself or Duo of being involved with the building of a stealth ship?"
Heero let out the breath he'd been holding. "No, not really. But you do have the resources and I know both you and Duo well enough, or at least I used to, and neither of you can tolerate standing by when others are suffering. It's my job as the Preventer in charge of this investigation to question everyone until I can determine who is involved with these attacks."
Quatre's face remained placid as he replied. "I know you're only doing your job, Heero, but you just answered the question yourself. I'm a law abiding citizen and Duo has found a comfortable niche in life, at least for the moment. Why would we jeopardize what we have for something that is legally sanctioned by the UEC?"
Heero contemplated that question for a moment. He couldn't come up with a reasonable answer to Quatre's question other than recalling that five very different, colony-born teenage boys who had offered up their lives when they'd accepted the job as gundam pilots, to fight against a common, seemingly unbeatable foe, Earth's government. What could possibly be more valuable than the life Duo or Quatre had built? Certainly not a job or money. Yet it wasn't too much of a stretch for him to imagine his three former comrades sacrificing everything once again to help a sister colony.
A long, awkward moment passed before the blond spoke again, deftly changing the subject. "Any new leads on Relena or who took her?"
Heero shook his head. "Nothing new. It's as if she slipped off the face of the planet."
"It's a curious thing," Quatre mused, looking thoughtful. "Why would someone take her and then not ask for a ransom or demand some kind of action for her return? Even if she was taken for some sort of political leverage, the media would have been contacted to carry the message. It's certainly a mystery."
"Yes, it is."
After a long moment of silence, Heero felt that Quatre was waiting from him to introduce the next bit of conversation, and so he asked, "Is Trowa here?"
With an apologetic expression the other man answered, "No. I wanted him to attend a business meeting for me at the company's branch on L3 for me. I expect him back later tonight. If you want to speak with him, I think tomorrow at breakfast will be your best chance."
"All right. I'll give him a call."
"You aren't staying with us?" Quatre looked surprised.
"No. I'm still actively investigating the marauders. As I told you before, it's better that I remain on my own, at least until I meet up with Wufei."
"I see." Quatre's voice displayed more than those two words that he was disappointed. Heero realized that he'd upset the other man, having promised during their last meeting that he would stay with he and Trowa as a visiting friend, and not business. Though he hated to make Quatre unhappy, there really had been little choice in the matter. He had his job to do and this assignment to carry out. That should be more important than pleasing a friend, shouldn't it? Then why did he feel so badly about the unhappy expression on Quatre's face.
In that awkward, drawn-out moment both men unknowingly came to the same realization, that a new, hopefully temporary, barrier had been drawn up between them, caused by each man's strong sense of duty. They both silently experienced regret and disappointment as they acknowledged the new setback in their healing relationship, and hoped it wouldn't continue for much longer. Heero stood, signaling his readiness of depart, and Quatre saw him to the front door. Their goodbyes were brief and without promises.
Feeling better after taking a shower and dressing in fresh clothing, Heero wasted no time in turning on his computer. A message stating he had a new email popped up on the screen. He read the contents of that message and quickly typed his response, which he immediately sent to Director Une. He closed his lap top once again, glancing longingly at the neatly made-up bed he was just going to have to do without. He then turned his thoughts to the next unpleasant task. Checking out of a hotel room half an hour after checking in was not one of his favorite tasks, though flashing his Preventer ID card lessened the sour expression on the front clerk's face, but only slightly.
The Preventer shuttle was fueled and ready to go by the time he reached the docking port, thanks to his boss having pre-arranged for it to be ready for his departure. A space freighter had been hijacked just short of L1 not more than an hour ago. It transmitted an SOS after the field blocking their communications disappeared along with the space thieves. If he flew out immediately and, barring any complications, he would rendezvous with the captain and crew of the boarded ship on L1 in a little less than eight hours.
Having communicated with the captain of the Komodo, Heero casually made his way to dock number twenty-eight, ten minutes before his scheduled appointment with Captain Tennyson Childers. As usual, being back on L1 always brought back memories, both good and bad. This time he couldn't help but think of his unusual childhood, raised by an assassin, Odin Lowe, who dragged him from colony to colony, training him as his apprentice in the art of killing. Though the man hadn't been unkind to him, Heero now believed that had his first trainer lived, he deserved to be thrown in prison to rot for teaching him how to kill another person with such efficiency. While those skills had helped him in more ways than one in the training he'd undergone with Dr. J, and the wars that followed, Heero would have given anything to have been just a normal boy.
He also thought of Doctor J., his intense training and physical manipulations that, even though he was still a child, they made him stronger than most men. Yes, returning to L1 always brought back memories of the past. Perhaps the reason Duo had sworn never to set foot on L2 again was because of a similar problem with his memories returning. Having learned from Duo some of the details of his life as a child on the streets of that colony, there were very few good memories of that time, and those that were less than awful were clouded over by tragic endings.
Captain Childers met him at the boarding hatch. He was a portly man sporting at least a three-days' growth of beard on his round face. The captain had an explosive temper, which was amply demonstrated when he commenced to rant and rave for over an hour about the audacity of the pirates to board his vessel.
After the captain calmed sufficiently enough to let Heero ask him about the attack, the flushed and sweaty man threw himself down into a chair in a dramatic fashion and told the Preventer an almost identical story to that of the other ships' captains who had the misfortune of being waylaid by the marauders. The attack had been sudden, with no ship having been detected on their scanning system or visually. A shot had been fired over the bow as a warning and an audio message was received, ordering the Komodo to stand down and prepare to be boarded. Three individuals came aboard, dressed in black with their faces obscured by masks of the same color. There were no overt threats of violence, and the lead man - disguised like all the others, was tall, thin and had a craggy voice -presented a large bag of credits in exchange for the selected cargo, which was quickly and efficiently loaded into the marauder's ship. The entire operation lasted less than twenty minutes.
With the statement recorded, Heero returned to the Preventer shuttle and spent the next couple of hours pouring over every word the captain and his small crew had said, looking for some small detail that might lead to an identification of the marauders.
Slumping wearily back into his chair, he dragged the fingers of both hands through his messy hair and tugged at the coarse fibers in frustration. There was nothing new in the Komodo captain's statement that would help identify its attackers. The marauder's practiced efficiency, leaving no trace of who they were or where they came from, which covered their tracks perfectly.
Having two unsolvable cases was enough to leave the normally patient man feeling frustrated; Heero had never felt more "normal" than he did at that moment. Without any clues to follow, both Relena's disappearance and the ever elusive marauders remained mysteries yet to be solved.
A sudden thought occurred to him that perhaps the two were cases were related. He dismissed the idea as quickly as it had come. The marauders had kept their activities centered in space and only to freighters carrying goods to well-supplied colonies. They paid for what they took. Relena's kidnapers, assuming that she had been kidnaped against her will, had acted on Earth, with no ransom or demands made for her return.
With nothing else to go on, Heero decided it had become imperative that he track down Howard, and the sooner the better. He entertained the thought that perhaps the brilliant engineer might have been forced to turn over the schematics for a stealth system, then killed when he no longer proved useful. But hadn't Duo said that he'd heard from him a few months back?
With a frustrated grunt he sat proper up to face his computer and brought up the familiar files in order to study the logged reports he'd made from conversations and observations from his interviews with other shuttle captains and crews during his brief stay on L1 as well as the brief comments given in reply to his questions regarding Howard. He had no proof, but somehow his instincts were telling him that the brilliant engineer was involved, voluntarily or coerced, in the reconstructing the stealth system the marauders were using. Proving that, however, was going to be as difficult as finding the missing man.