Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
The docking hatch between the two identical ships popped open and Duo Maxwell, dressed head to toe in black, walked through it with a broad grin as he greeted the older man he'd come to think of as family. "Hey, Howard!" The two men briefly embraced each other with loud slaps to their backs. Stepping away, Duo grinned at his friend. "So this is really it?" Hope danced in his violet eyes.
"Hilde sent a note stating that Relena fully understands L2's plight and is sympathetic to the people and deteriorating conditions there. Let's hope the girl can live up to our expectations."
"She has to, she's our last hope," Duo replied soberly. "It's hard to believe nearly a month has passed since I went to Sanq to get her. I was actually sitting on the garden wall, waiting for the house lights to go out, when she came tip-toeing out of the house and climbed over the wall. She made it all too easy for me to snatch her off the street."
"You took a big chance snagging a princess."
Duo shrugged. "With the UEC basically ignoring L2, we were running out of time and options. We took this action out of desperation and knew we could trust our contacts on L2 to take care of her. I didn't think she would speak out for L2 unless she experienced for herself how god awful it is there. We would have taken her out of there if she really couldn't handle it or if she became ill."
Howard clapped him on the back. "And now it's almost over. The embargo, the injustice, the marauders and the raids. And just in time. I think I need a vacation."
"I hope you're right, Howie," Duo said with a sigh. "I can't keep this up much longer, not with Heero dogging my heels."
Duo looked into the older man's twinkling eyes as he answered. "Not about Heero being back in my life, but it complicates things. He's smart and damn close to figuring out that I'm somehow involved in this. If we quit now, I might have a chance at pulling this off and not losing him again." A look of fear flashed in the braided man's eyes as he added, "I can't lose him, Howard. I just can't."
Howard didn't know what to say to the younger man. He wasn't convinced that allowing Heero back into his life was the wisest decision Duo's ever made, considering their violent breakup. But instead of voicing his opinion, he simply changed the subject. "I've got an extra passenger for you to take back to Earth."
A cinnamon eyebrow rose in question, to which Howard answered, "I've got the AWOL Preventer sound asleep next to the girl."
Howard pointed his friend to the front of the shuttle's cabin and Duo made his way there, stopping at the front row to look first at Relena, wrapped in a blanket and sleeping deeply. He then turned his attention to the sleeping Chinese man. Seeing his former comrade's face, placid now in his drugged induced sleep instead of his usual serious expression, Duo smiled fondly at him. "He sleeps like he doesn't have a care in the world." Then studying the man more closely he observed, "He looks all right. His wound is healing?"
"He's good. A little sore but I think he'll be able to cover up the fact that he was shot."
Glancing up at Howard Duo asked, "So what gives? Why is he drugged?"
The older man leaned against the back of Wufei's seat. "If my hunch is right, we won't have to supply food and water to L2 once Relena is returned to Earth. Quatre and Trowa thought Wufei might be able to salvage his job if he returned with her and the explanation that he never saw his captors and wasn't sure who abducted him. He'll recall his ship had mechanical problems, which Trowa took care of before they dropped it off, but he won't remember exactly where he was when he was taken, only that he was pursuing a hunch near the shipping lanes of L1. His lack of memory and ability to ID his abductors will hopefully be enough to keep him above suspicion."
"Heero will be hard to fool," said Duo, looking worried.
"Wufei is more than capable of handling Heero. Give your friend some credit."
"And I suspect you sedated him so he wouldn't know I was the one bringing he and Relena back to Earth."
"Exactly," Howard answered. "He has my word, as well as Trowa and Quatre's, that you're not involved in this operation. We intend to keep him ignorant of your involvement."
Duo shook his head and combed his hand through the loose hair over his forehead. "So many lies," he said in a defeated tone. "I've lied to Heero and Wufei. Quatre and Trowa lied to them, too."
"Sometimes a lie between friends as well as lovers can be justified, as long as it's for a greater good and you don't make a habit of it."
There was a look of sadness on the young man's handsome face when he said, "I never used to lie, Howie. In fact, since the fire at the orphanage, I've made a point of being honest as a way of honoring Father Maxwell and Sister Helen."
Howard nodded, recalling the story of Duo's life shortly before he stowed away on one of his ships. "And I've always respected your honesty, but everyone lies at one point or another, Duo. I think saving the lives of the people on L2 is worth a lie or two, don't you? And I'll not see any of you go to prison for your humanitarian work if I can help it. The authorities might see what we've been doing as breaking a law, but sometimes we answer to a higher law, one that requires us to care for one another."
"So it's all right to pick and choose which of God's and man's laws we follow? I think I recall one about not lying and another about not stealing?"
"The one I'm thinking of is higher up on that list," Howard said in all seriousness. "Love thy neighbors as thyself. Besides, we didn't steal; we paid for everything we took."
"You two could continue debating the right and wrong of lying all day," Trowa said coming out of the cockpit door, "or we could make better use of our time by getting these two unloaded so that I can get back home before Heero comes looking for me."
"Hey, Tro," Duo greeted his friend with a tired smile as he turned to give the taller man a quick embrace. Pulling back, a weary sigh escaped the braided man. "Ya know, when this is all over I think I'm gonna need a long vacation. How about getting together for some down time without any talk about shipping lanes, embargos and starving people."
"That's exactly what Quatre needs," Trowa replied. "I'll call you as soon as the embargo is lifted. How does a vacation sound?"
"If it includes a deserted beach and warm tropical breezes, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered," Duo replied with a growing grin. He then looked at Howard after feeling a hand pat his shoulder.
"It's time to go, kiddo," the older man stated. "Why don't you carry Relena and I'll haul Wufei over to your ship."
"No, I'll carry him," Trowa interjected. "You're getting a little long in the tooth to be hauling around dead-weight."
"Long in the tooth!" Howard exclaimed, taking a playful swing at the younger man and smacking him against the side of the head with the flat of his hand. "There ain't nothing wrong with my teeth nor my reach." Hearing the two friends chuckling at his reply, Howard unfastened Wufei's seatbelt and with an ease that belied his years, swung the unconscious young man over his shoulder with only a slight grunt for his effort. "There," he said, his voice slightly strained as he straightened. "Nothing to it." He turned and staggered a step or two as he retreated to the back of the shuttle, to the tube that connected the two ships.
"Show off," Trowa commented with a grin.
Duo leaned down to unfasten Relena's seat belt before picking her up, blanket and all, and put her over his shoulder in the same undignified manner that Howard had Wufei. "Howie's got his pride, though I'll bet he's cursing it right now." He straightened and gave his friend a tired grin.
Trowa's expression was serious when he said, "I don't have to tell you to be careful returning them, do I?"
Duo snorted. "Believe me, I know how important it is that I'm not discovered. Wouldn't that be the worst luck, to get away with what we have only to get caught on the last run? Don't worry, Tro. I've got it all worked out up here," he said with a crooked grin and a tap of his finger to his temple. "I'll just toss Wufei into the mix. No problem." He turned to follow Howard, but paused to look back at his friend to ask, "You'll call me and tell me how the visit with Heero went? He seemed pretty calm when he left my place but he's been worried about Wufei. I guess I just need a heads up if he suspects anything more."
"I'll call," Trowa assured him.
With that, the two friends parted. Duo carried Relena into Wraith and set her in a seat identical to the one she'd been sleeping on in El Diablo. Howard was buckling Wufei into his seat and covering him with a blanket while Duo began to follow his actions with Relena.
When he finished, he straightened to see Howard regarding him. "You better stop frowning, Duo, or you'll end up looking like me, wrinkled and old before your time."
Duo chuckled. "Can't have that now, can we, old man?"
"Not when someone is paying a ridiculous amount of money putting your handsome mug in all the magazines, selling one thing or another."
Duo shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Well, as far as that's concerned, I don't think I'll be working in the modeling trade much longer. I think it's about time I find myself something else to do."
"What line of work could pay better?"
Duo shrugged. "Sure, the money is great but having to deal with the insecurities and egos in the trade as well as the press dogging my heels, it's just not the kind of life I want to live. Besides, I'm sick of eating salads and Taylor is ready to get back to having a life of his own."
Howard chuckled. "Yeah right. That kid's got it made. Do you really think he's ready to have his own face back and give up all the comforts and attention? Until you came along and gave him the job as your double and the opportunity of a lifetime, he had nothing."
"I never intended to do this forever, Howard, even to keep Taylor happy. I initially began this career for the quick money, and later it helped me contribute my part in saving L2."
"Heero Yuy's the reason why you're thinking of quitting now, isn't he?" With a keen eye, Howard noticed a slight pinking of Duo's cheeks.
Shrugging, the braided man answered, "Somehow I can't see Mr. Straight-laced Preventer settling down with a male model. Can you?"
Howard frowned. "What does it matter what your profession is, Duo? I don't think I need to remind you that your choice of job was the very problem that broke the two of you up in the first place. Is he pressuring you about being a Preventer again?
So help me if he is I'll..."
"No, Howard," Duo rushed to interrupt his friend. "He hasn't said anything like that. Listen, we don't have time to debate this. I've got to get these two back to Earth and tucked into a safe place before they wake up."
"All right," Howard surrendered his argument for the moment. "But I have one last word of warning, Duo. You tell Heero that if he ever hits you again I'll send the entire network of Sweepers after him. One of us will pull him out from whatever rock he tries to hide under and I won't be responsible for what happens to him after that."
Duo didn't smile at the comment, knowing by Howard's serious expression that he wasn't kidding. "Glad to know you've got my back, buddy. But honestly, I think I can trust Heero from here on out. He's changed, you know. And it's a good change."
Howard studied him for a long moment, then nodded. "You know best. Now get the hell out of here. I've got a couple of men back at the satellite anxious for news of what's happened without them. I've arranged to intercept one last freighter while Heero's visiting with your friends, making sure the three of you have a solid alibi, just to throw your boyfriend off track. You take care now, you hear me?"
Duo clapped the older man on the shoulder. "Loud and clear, old man. Be safe."
The two friends parted, both with a task to perform. Each man hoped for an end to several years of dedicated risk taking, hoping their lives could finally go back to something resembling normal.
Once the connecter tube between the ships had been detached and secured, the two shuttles drifted apart from each other. Duo entered the cockpit and motioned Abdul to move from the pilot's to the co-pilot's chair. With the engines humming smoothly and the cloaking device activated, he set their course into the navigation computer, taking the Wraith back to Earth. Duo looked up in time to see El Diablo waver before his eyes and then blink out as the stealth unit was activated. "Okay, kiddies. Hold on tight. We're in for a quick and wild ride dirt-side," he called over his shoulder to his slumbering passengers. He then pushed the buttons on the console that shot them forward. Everything was good to go.
Five minutes after delivering the unconscious Preventer into Duo's ship, Howard returned to sit in the cockpit next to Trowa. Believing their roles as marauders were almost over, both men felt more calmer than they had been in a long time. Howard set a course for the satellite, where Trowa would take a single person speed craft back to L4 while he and his men made one more raid and delivery to L2 while waiting for any news regarding the sudden and hopefully unexplainable return of Relena Peacecraft. On the trip back to the resource satellite, the two men talked of Relena and their hope that she would live up to their expectations and immediately set out do something about the blockade, freeing them to return to their own lives. After that, they traveled in quiet contemplation, each man considering how their lives were going to change now that they no longer needed to act as the marauders, desperately trying to save the people of L2. It was a time they both looked forward to, and thankfully, it was only hours away.