Last month one of the girls that does housekeeping for me broke up with her boyfriend of five years. It wasn't a pretty sight. I wasn't sure at first what was going on, when I finally made it back to my bedroom after a tediously long meeting with tedious politicians, an hour and a half late, and she was still there, standing in the corner by the bathroom door, staring at the vacuum. When I asked her if she was all right, I got a short, clipped, yes, and then she packed up the vacuum cleaner and was out of the room so quickly I swear her skirt actually went woosh.
Three hours later I found her and two of the other staff in the kitchen deliberating over a bottle of scotch, all three of them in tears. Why was I in the kitchen? Needed a glass of milk. Really.
I didn't stay to hear the details. Nor long enough to need the scotch myself.
This same girl, today, asked for a night off so she could go out to dancing with her new man. I gave it to her, since her work has been quite back to normal since that night. Her face lit up when I did, too, and as she left later I could hear her gossiping with a security guard about the new top she had bought just for tonight. Why that guard should have had any interest in women's clothes is beyond me, but who am I to judge my employees? I let him keep the ridiculous long hair, after all.
Oh, you know who I'm talking about do you?
That's right, he's part of my staff now. And guess who I have to thank for that.
It's a long bloody story.
Three years ago, my name was on the front page of every other magazine in the supermarket checkout. I was seventeen years old, attractive, doing splendidly in my highly public political office, and to top it all off I had some of the most gorgeous and not to mention famous arm candy on the planet. You know who I mean. Blackish mop? Eyes too blue to be moral? Abs to make even the worst prude's mouth water? Heero Yuy was a terrorist, then a saviour, and now he was my boyfriend. And boy, if I thought I was in love with him when he used to utter death threats and other such sentiment, it was nothing for what racked me when I saw what happens to those eyes when he smiles.
That's the kicker. There he was on my arm, dressed to the nines and making nice with people who may or may not have been on his hit list once or twice, and he was smiling. Not at them. At me. He wanted to be there, not because of the bodyguard work or even the champagne, but because of me. That's right. After three years of very embarrassing infatuation with the guy, here he was in love with me. And I with him. In every picture of us, just by the way, I've got on a big smile.
I wish I had clued in at the time how happy I was. My life up to that point was in ribbons, even the most innocent memories tarnished by doubt and betrayal. Now here I was, successful and in love, and looking back I ought to have quit work and lived off my Peacecraft inheritance for a bit while the air was still sweet. Mind you, had I done that, I wouldn't be here today, but you get my meaning.
Love is such a miracle. I've always thought it and you can think me a romantic if you want, I stand by it even today. There are billions of people in this world, in this extended concept of planet we call the Earth Sphere, and sometimes you find someone who you want to be with forever. How amazing is it that sometimes that person wants the same thing? How miraculous is it that you find each other? Nothing in this world can compare to the feeling that bubbles out of your heart when you reach out your hand for someone's for the first time, and they reach back, and squeeze.
One can get very, very used to that feeling.
I did. Oh, I appreciated every moment I got with Heero. A political career and a history of violence will do that to you, and did to both of us. What time we had, we made good use of. We were neither of us experienced in matters of love, but learned each other with such certainty it brought tears to my eyes. He made me feel safe, like I could be whoever I wanted to be without judgement from the media or the public, least of all him. He said I made him feel like a normal person, not a monster. He said when I looked at him and told him he was a person worthy of love, I made him believe it. This was so far past mooning on coastlines, it made us laugh. And his face would light up in his amusement, and I would cry because my love for him was too big for my body to contain. And he would hug me tight, and whisper in my ear. So beautiful, he would say, and kiss the tears.
For over a year, we were perfect for each other. People who read about us in the magazines were jealous because the magazines said so, and people who actually knew us were jealous because it was true. Aren't you sick of each other yet? they would grumble good naturedly when a cell phone would ring and one of us would hear I just wanted to hear your voice. And we would laugh and say, Give us a few years.
And then one day, he told me he couldn't do it anymore.
Just like that.
And then I was alone.
Ok, so looking back I can see where the fault lines were, but still. There's nothing like getting dumped on a weeknight, especially by someone who will be there when you get to work the next day. It didn't seem real all morning, all afternoon, it wasn't until I was leaving in the evening, and Heero wasn't waiting for me in the car that it really sunk in that he'd meant it. I was lucky to have a driver, or I would have sat in the garage all night trying to get my head around it.
I made the driver take me to Heero's.
He wasn't surprised to see me at the door. I think he might have been expecting me really, the way he threw together a meal for two. We didn't say much, except carry on the mundane work conversation we had been falling back on all day. What was there to say? This was Heero. When he tells you something, he means it. I had no delusions about him changing his mind. Though that didn't keep me from staying the night.
Nothing happened. I lay beside him, my head on his shoulder like it always was, but there were two sets of pyjamas between us, not to mention a thick wall of unsaid words. I felt his chest rise and fall under my head, listened to his heart thump away under my ear, like I had so many nights before, and somewhere around three thirty, it finally hit me, and I had to get out of bed and go hide in the bathroom to keep my tears from waking him up.
But, well, you try to cry quietly when your world has just fallen apart. My heart was in pieces on his bedroom floor. It made the quality of rest of the downstairs neighbours seem a little inconsequential.
He came in after I had been blubbering for about ten minutes. After the racking sobs had passed, into the dry heaves and splitting headache, I was sitting on the closed toilet seat shaking in one of his threadbare t shirts in the cold bathroom. I pretended not to notice when he walked in and sat on the edge of the tub beside me, tried not to notice when he touched my shoulder, and had to fight back a fresh wave of pain when he pulled me over into his arms. It didn't work. I shook like crazy, but at least he was warm. I let him get me to my feet, take me back to the bedroom, wrap me in a blanket and put me back into bed. I think if his tiny apartment had had a couch, he would have gone and slept on it, but it didn't. Instead he curled up impersonally at my side. It was another half hour at least before I managed to fall asleep.
I really don't know how I made it through the next day at work. I must have looked a wreck. Heero didn't look much better, which made me wonder if he had managed to sleep at all after I had woken him up. I slogged through my miraculously light schedule with the tunnel vision only shock can give you. Once I walked past a desk of a secretary on one of the other floors and saw an open magazine on her desk. It was one of those star-watcher pages. There was a picture of Heero and me at on the Vancouver seawall from a few months ago, we were there for some... some political rally of some description. I blinked at the image of a happy young couple holding hands and ice cream cones in the sun and wondered who they were. I didn't recognize them anymore.
That night he called me and asked me if I was all right. What could I say to the man who knew me better than anyone? I'm dealing, I told him. Albeit poorly. It got me a smile--I could hear it in his next words.
I still care. My heart twisted painfully in my chest. Don't ever think I don't care anymore, Relena. I don't want to see you hurting like this.
What could I say to that? He's a great guy, Heero Yuy. But he's an idiot sometimes. Still when I told him he was taking a three-week leave to avoid seeing me in pain, he didn't argue. It would have to do. At least then I didn't have to see him everyday.
Now I had seen people go through break-ups before, and come out more or less back in one piece after about a month. A week of no Heero was a challenge, I admit. I may have dialled his number a couple of times, but only waited for him to pick up once. I think I asked him why he was home and not on vacation or something. He told me, with a hint of what might have once been sap, that everything he needed was in the city. I gave up and went back to work.
The second week was easier. I was getting used to being by myself. I had Dorothy Catalonia over for a small dinner, having not seen her in nearly a year. She asked if Heero was out of town, was that why I was suddenly so social? Her sharp eyebrows went up an inch or so when I told her Heero and I were done, but for once, she let well enough alone. Women are smart that way. I went running, got a lot of things done that I had been putting off for months on end.
By the time the third week wound to a close I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was self-sufficient again, a fully functioning member of society. I was even feeling pretty happy. Duo Maxwell showed up at my office with a self-deprecating grin and a resume, and I hired him to feel the thrill of having done something nice for someone else. Not that he wasn't qualified or anything. His presence reminded me of old days, of Heero as a young soldier before his sharp edges were softened. But I managed--I was dealing!
I wasn't ready for it when that next Monday I looked up and there was Heero at the coffee machine. The time off had agreed with him; he had a hint of a tan, and had gotten his hair cut. He had obviously gotten more sleep in the last few weeks than he had in a while. What else is there to say? He looked great. He turned, saw me looking at him, and smiled.
Who was I trying to kid? There was no way in Hell I was over the guy. Whatever black paint I had managed to layer over that part of me melted away and thankfully my body knew the way to my office, since my head had forgotten. I locked the door automatically, sat down at my desk, and tried to hide in the ink blotter.
As the days passed, I became more and more able to talk to him. We moved up from awkward nods in passing to two-word greetings to formulaic exchanges of pleasantries that would sometimes even extend into the realms of personal interest. I found out he was taking meditation classes. He learned I was up to ten kilometres in one go in my running. Six weeks or so since he had returned to work, we went to a cafe for lunch. I was in a good mood that day, and I described a growing lobby group for gun control I was backing. This group had managed great things in many other regions--I was excited to see what we could accomplish working together here. Gestures and big words. I was in fine form.
I missed you, he said suddenly.
I missed you. Its been too long since I saw you smile. He was smiling himself the bastard. Never mind that half the reason I was in such a good mood was that I was out for lunch with Heero. That leave I gave him was a very good idea, but my judgement had suffered in his presence since then.
You could take me out more often, I suggested with a grin. His smile broadened.
Maybe I will.
I had nice dreams that night.
And when I woke up, I put on colours for work, feeling suddenly very sick of the greys and browns I had been wearing. A necklace he had given me for a birthday present. He smiled when he saw it, and my heart did a little flip.
You know where this is going don't you? After a few days I took him out for lunch, and when I could hold it in no longer, I asked him out.
He choked on his coffee.
You're not serious.
That was not the reaction I had been hoping for. Why wouldn't I be?
Relena... Even under that tan, he had gone a little bit pale. We've both changed. You must know things weren't working, for either of us.
I did, but that didn't stop me. I'd take Heero's arms and the occasional fight over single hood any day.
We aren't who we were anymore. It wouldn't work.
We can try again. Pretend like we were never together before. I was ridiculously confident in my argument. Whoever you've become, Heero, I've fallen in love with him, too. You might find the same thing happens to you.
His face fell then, and my little pink and fluffy world tilted a little. He covered his face with his hands, scrubbed at it, then dropped his hands into his lap and stared at me. And it hit me all of a sudden.
You're dating someone aren't you?
His silence was answer enough.
I could tell he didn't want to answer. The longer he was quiet the less I wanted to know. Slowly the pieces came together in my head. Stories about his violent past, laughing accounts of unlooked-for camaraderie in a sham of a high school semester. My stomach knotted and held.
Oh my God. You're dating Duo aren't you.
At least he had the decency to look away when he said it. Yes.
I thought I would faint. For how long? I demanded. Had Duo moved here knowing something I hadn't? What exactly had gone on with that strange trip to L2 in the spring that Heero had taken? For how long?!
I think he caught onto my train of thought. Only a month or two. Its not like you're thinking, I swear. A bit of colour had returned to his skin, and he managed to channel his unease into drumming on the table with his fingers. It just happened.
My head was spinning. Heero and Duo? My Heero? And Duo Maxwell?! The thief, ex-terrorist? The boy?
Bullshit, it had just happened. How long had those two been friends? How long had he been trying to get out of our relationship? How long had he been looking at my body and picturing his?
Excuse me, I said, and got up. Heero caught at my arm and tried to say something, but I couldn't hear him over the roaring in my ears. I made it into the ladies room and threw up the turkey on rye I had just paid a pretty penny for. Should have been glad I hadn't finished the couscous.
For some reason, that over with, I felt pretty calm. I straightened my hair and skirt, pinched some colour back into my cheeks and reapplied my lipstick. Hero tried to say something three times, as we finished our coffees, but gave up after the last glare. Don't ask me why he was being so cooperative, it wasn't like him. Despite the fact that I loved him for his frankness, I was glad he was willing to keep his mouth shut. He kept it shut all the way back to the office, all the way to the end of the day. I made sure he didn't see me leave.
I realized as I ate my supper and pored over paperwork in pyjamas that night, that a certain part of me wasn't surprised by Heero's new romantic direction. We had talked about sexual preference at great length one balmy night, just because. He had said he had no qualms about men with men, and saw it as a situation-subjective thing. Then he had turned to smile at me and told me, For instance, I happen to be in love with you, and you happen to be female. I had smiled back and teasingly thanked him for noticing. You're welcome. So, in another situation, the person I loved might be male. It would make no difference to me, I think.
What--or who, as it were--people do is of no consequence to me, I admitted. Still, I don't think I could do a woman.
We had laughed, and moved onto other things, but once or twice I had seen him talking to Duo on the phone, and heard his voice soften, watched his face relax like it did when he was around me. At the time I thought nothing of it. I was just happy he had a friend he was so comfortable with. He told me once that Duo was living with a girl he had met piloting a Taurus, and they were running a salvage company together. I just assumed he meant they were involved. I had joked that she must be a strong woman to be able to put up with Duo's loud and exuberant way of living. Heero had laughed, his eyes had gone a little soft, and he said, Oh, Duo's pretty easy to live with, really. All the same, not as easy as you.
He was talking through his hat a bit there, as we were not living together at the time, nor did we ever, though we frequently travelled together or haunted each other's homes. I just grinned and kissed him, and we went on our merry way.
Duo was the only other person in the world that Heero trusted implicitly. He's honest to a fault, and it gets him in trouble, he admitted once after relating a humorous story of Duo getting, indeed, into trouble. It means you never have to guess with him. And I came to realize, watching their long distance friendship--the only other real friendship Heero had, as far as I could tell--that Duo cared about my boyfriend as much as I did. Once in a while we would talk on the phone when Heero didn't get to answer it in time. Since we had no other common interests, we talked about Heero. In the occasional short exchanges, it became clear that Duo would indeed follow Heero into Hell. And I was glad he had another soul watching his back.
But this... This was just different somehow.
I called Heero that night. It was awkward. I spent the whole time wondering if I was interrupting something, caught between not wanting to be rude and hoping I had just to be spiteful. I kept that to myself though.
After a few stupid minutes of beating around the proverbial bush, I just out and asked him when he had realized he didn't love me anymore.
That got me a long silence. Finally, he said, Maybe around the time we were in Vancouver? I don't know.
Vancouver? That was months before we split up! What the hell kind of game had he been playing? Why didn't you say something?
I thought maybe it would pass, he admitted awkwardly. I didn't want to hurt you only to find out I could have done differently.
Fair enough. I guess. And when... When did you start thinking about Duo instead?
You heard me. Answer the question, Heero.
I could tell it had caught him off guard. I imagined watching his emotions go from confused to angry to conceding and back again. What happened in L2? I pushed.
Nothing, he finally said. That is to say, nothing that changed me. We talked for a long time. He knew I was feeling iffy about you and me. But he tried to talk me into staying with you! None of this is his fault, ok?
Yeah, right. For one thing, why did Duo get to know something was wrong before I did? You were so messed up when you got back from that, I pointed out. Explain that.
Well... I had a lot to think about! He was getting uncomfortable, I could tell. A long sigh shook out of him after a moment. He told me... he told me he... liked me. Loved me. Whatever. It was confusing.
Nothing happened, huh?
No! Right. He kissed me. Thought so. But he was mad at me at the time. He was making a point. He didn't mean anything by it.
And how was it? I demanded sourly. Good enough to make you think, obviously.
Would you let it go, Relena? he growled. It was something to think about, yes. But do you honestly think so little of me that you think I would sink to infidelity?
What else do you call this? But he was right, I didn't want to think of the man I loved cheating. The Heero I loved and the Heero I was talking to were becoming two very different people in my head. There was a stinging in my eyes and a catch in my breath that meant tears weren't far away.
I don't know what you want me to say, he told me quietly. I just want you to know I never even considered cheating on you. Whatever else there was between us, I was yours until the day we split up.
I could barely answer through the block of tears. Until the day you left me, you mean.
Yes. But even in my haze, I could tell he wasn't happy about it. Until the day I left you. It was better than lying.
I am embarrassed to say I broke right down when he said that, and Heero was subjected to listening to me gasp and whimper for the next minute or so as I fought to get my voice back under my control. Lie to me! I hurled at him in a break when I could. Make me believe you! Anything but this Heero. Nothing could be worse than this.
No! I would hate myself! he grated. Don't you get it?
I hate you! That was a big lie, but I couldn't help it. Damn you! Stop trying to be the victim here! This is all your fault! Stop saying things that sound like the Heero I love, and let me hate you in peace.
There wasn't really anything to say after that, nothing which bears repeating, anyway. I managed to apologize before he had a chance to absorb what I had said, and then I gave up and just cried into the receiver, and the asshole stayed on the line. At least he didn't say he was sorry or anything. It was past midnight when we finally bid each other an exhausted goodnight and I crawled into bed with a headache that made my vision blur.
In the weeks that followed--yes, weeks, I really am bad at this dealing thing--I got to spend more time in Duo Maxwell's company than I ever would have dreamed in my worst nightmares. Not that he was in my company, but he was always around, flirting with secretaries, standing in line at the deli, idling by the coffee machine looking for number six filters... It seemed like every time I turned around, there he was. Why, oh why had I ever given him a job?
Features that I had once never noticed, or even found charming became irritating or incriminating. I hated him for being so cheerful, so athletic, so unapologetic about everything he did. Once upon a time I might have enjoyed his company. Now all his little idiosyncrasies only served to point out just how different he and I were, and thereby, how inferior I was.
It's silly, I know, to base one's own perception of self on the judgment of someone else. That didn't stop me from constantly wondering just what about me had turned Heero off, what aspect of my personality had disturbed him so much that he went looking for my complete opposite. It also didn't stop me from seething over it. How dare he? What right did he have to judge me? Wasn't he the one with the dodgy past? What right did he have to affect me this much? What right did he have to make major decisions in my life, such as whom I was dating?
As for Duo, what right did he have to witness me going through all this?
This, of course, in time became easier. Maybe I was getting calloused, or just plain getting over it, I don't know. Once I managed to hold a civil conversation with Duo for a whole three and a half minutes--while Heero wasn't around. It was easier when he wasn't. Heero and I, or Duo and I, or Heero and Duo (though I still choked a bit on the last one), were all fine and dandy, but the three of us in the same room was just awkward. I never saw them so much as punch each other in the shoulder, thank God. But being around them together still made me uncomfortable. I couldn't imagine what Duo must have thought of me. He must have heard about my nocturnal phone calls, my begging Heero to come back to me. And those were just the cringe-worthy aspects I knew about. Who knew what other random Relena-stories Heero had to get off his chest?
Still, Heero and I slowly became comfortable enough to be friends again, of a fashion. Ironically, it really was easier knowing he didn't want me back. At least I never had to wonder. Slowly I came to understand just how imperfect our relationship had been. He became terrible about calling me back. In general he mellowed out and seemed to care less about everything. I realized I hated his apartment; it was small and cold and I had spent nearly all my time there in his bedroom. I made the mistake of following him in there on one occasion, and the condom wrappers in the wastebasket were plenty of reason not to go in again. After that I limited my occasional visits to his cold kitchen or cold den, and tried not to want his arms around me, for their thermal value, among other things.
Once the two of us went out to dance at a pub we had frequented in happier times, and Duo was there with a few friends. I chided Heero for not telling me Duo would be there. Why is it so important? he asked me. Duo is a part of my life now--you're going to have to get used to him being around from time to time.
Given that he was working in my building, eating his lunch at the same deli I tended to, even sometimes running in the same park I did, not to mention sleeping with my ex, I felt this was a little unfair. Sure he was going to be around, but did I have to always, always, always be prepared for him? Christ, Heero, I feel like if he knocked on my bedroom door in the middle of the night, I should just be moving over and making room for him under the covers. Is there nowhere I can go to not be on guard for him?
Even then, there were times when it seemed like only days ago that we had been together, only hours since I had been left. Every once in a while, a glimmer of who he had been would surface, and I would want to reach down his throat to pull it back out, bring back to life the boy I loved, even if it was only a tiny sliver for me to bottle and put on a shelf. It was hard not to fall in love with those glimmers all over again, and I may have done once or five times. Nothing an hour of running couldn't cure. I soon was in tiptop shape from that alone.
And sometimes nothing would have changed, but I would just feel the sting of betrayal like a fresh wound. Usually this was late at night after a long day at work, but sometimes they came without warning.
I managed to get my ass in gear and go on a date. Admitantly, Nicholas was a guy I had distantly known for years, who knew what was going on. He was a great guy, and a long-time friend of the family, and he was considerate and chivalrous to a fault. I allowed myself to enjoy the evening at the theatre, the drinks after. I even allowed myself to envision a possibility of attraction, of seeing this young man more often.
And so I did. Of course, everyone was very happy for me, except maybe Heero, whom I hadn't told. Fearing he would care? Or worse, that he wouldn't care? I don't know. But this evening, over a delicious dinner of my favourite lamb shank and turnip soufflé, I found my eyes filling with tears.
Relena? Nicholas replaced his cutlery delicately on his plate, and put his hand over mine. Are you all right?
After several breaths, and a sip of wine that was more of a gulp, I was able to answer, yes. I just--this just...
I sighed. It's stupid. It was. Really, really stupid.
So? Tell me anyway.
I feel like I'm cheating on him. God, that was lame. It had been nearly a year. I feel like I'm betraying him somehow.
Nick smiled sadly and squeezed my hand. Relax. You've made him no promises.
But I did. My voice was catching and there was nothing I could do to stop it. When I was seventeen I promised to love him forever and I've been keeping it ever since. I couldn't take the look of sweet understanding that was on Nick's face. This isn't fair to you, to pretend I'm here just for you. You shouldn't have to put up with this--with me coming out with you just to forget about him. You deserve better.
We skipped dessert, and he just took me home. Gave me a kiss on the cheek, and told me I could call him when I was feeling more outgoing. But I could tell from the look on his face that he knew as well as I did that it wouldn't be anytime soon.
I had a shower, put on the ugliest sleeping t-shirt I could find, and crawled under my covers with a trash novel and a box of cookies. If I was going to be miserable, I would damn well enjoy it. Somewhere between the fourth and sixth chapters, I fell asleep without noticing.
* * *
Something is moving in the hallway. It pulls me out of my doze slowly, as I have never been good at reacting to potentially threatening stimuli. The clock reads two fifty-two AM, and outside the window, the security lights cast a pale orange glow over the garden I never go in. Who the hell is up at this hour?
Wait... Is there someone on my balcony? I roll out of bed to my unsteady feet.
Before I can give it any thought, my doorknob is turning, and the door swinging open. For a fraction of a second I entertain the idea that my fevered dreams are coming true, and Heero is sneaking into my bedroom to redeem himself. But I know better than that, and the second neuron to fire sends me into a small panic.
And then all of a sudden, Duo Maxwell, that horrible, good looking, always smiling, boyfriend stealing son-of-a-bitch is pussyfooting into my freaking bedroom. It's three in the morning.
"What the fucking hell, Maxwell!" I squeak at him. Oops. Meant to shout.
I'm even more confused when he shoots me a rather serious look and puts his finger to his lips. A few more choice words boil to the surface, but I guess he knows the signs, because the look intensifies, and he hurries past me, opens the balcony door with barely a whisper, and darts on the ledge with inhuman speed and grace. Too stunned to do anything else, I stand there in my ugly shirt and uglier knickers, trying to rationalize what in Gods name is going on.
There is an exclamation from outside, and then a cry and a sickening thud. I rush onto the balcony, but Duo holds me back before I can look over the edge. "Don't look, Princess," he tells me roughly. "You won't like what you see."
He pulls out his cell phone and in seconds is jabbering away in some language only military and police understand. I venture a peek over the railing and can see a leg and maybe an arm sprawled on the grass. They aren't moving. A few feet away is a gun. I begin to shake. Whoever this was, they probably didn't bring that gun to assassinate the cook.
"Princess? Are you ok?"
"Huh?" Yeah, I'm a diplomat all right. "Oh. Um. Yes. I think so? Ah- what just happened?"
Duo smiles ruefully and slides his phone back into his holster, along side the gun I hadn't seen before. "Our friend thought he'd make a name for himself. Guess he didn't count on Wonder-boy here."
I blink. "Wonder-boy?"
"Heero, of course." He shrugs, then looks uncomfortable. "By here, I mean there. On the phone. He's in contact with the fuzz. The police."
"And - our friend in the bushes? Who is that?"
"Beats me. Some fucktard with an automatic weapon. Sorry," he mumbles, blushing. "Some- idiot. What I mean is, no one to worry you. Heero would know if there was some intrigue or plot to kill you."
"Oh." I search for something appropriate to say, having gone from spur of the moment necessity for speech to the awkward remembrance that this is the guy I can't look at without feeling a tiny bit ill. What do I say now that he's essentially saved my life... aside from, Why me, oh God? "You can swear if you want. Its not like I've never heard it before."
He looks up from where he was fiddling with his jacket zipper and shies a grin at me. "Yeah, actually, you popped a pretty good mouthful yourself when I came in. Good on ya."
Its my turn to turn pink, but I feel more like I have my feet under me, at least, and I motion for us to go back inside. He follows me back into the room, where I pull on a pair of sweatpants, and offer him a chair. I perch on the bed across from him, and we stare at each other for a few moments.
"Thank you," I say finally. "I don't want to know how you knew to be here, or how Heero knew or whatever, but thank you all the same."
"Hey, no problem," he waves a hand at me, the other engaged in drumming on his knee. Is he always this jumpy, or is this setting special? "That's my job, yeah?"
"You're off duty right now!" I accuse, and he shrugs. "You saved my life!"
"Aww, I don't think he would have shot. Didn't have the balls." Duo cracks his fingers nervously. "He jumped about a foot when I came up behind him."
"All the same-" I demure, feeling very uncomfortable. It seems awfully silly to be unable to talk now, when I've managed perfectly well before. The sounds of his booted feet tapping nervously on the carpet, the rustle of his windbreaker are all amplified in the silent bedroom.
Finally my irritation with the whole situation breaks free of decorum, and I throw out, "This doesn't mean I hate you any less!"
To my surprise, this earns me a full, honest laugh. Absurdly, I'm glad I said it. Duo rides it for a few moments, wipes his eyes on his sleeve. "Oh, Princess," he manages through the last of his chuckles. "I always wondered what he saw in you. Now I get it. Fuckin' eh! You didn't need me here to save you, you would have eaten that little cocksucker for breakfast, just to show you could!" He favours me with a wide grin. "You don't take shit from no one, do ya?"
I blink at the rapid stream of profanity he manages to cram into one sentence. Experience has taught me that ex pilots cuss when under stress or full of adrenaline. I am unsure which situation is at hand here, and begin to wonder if maybe a little more tact might have been prudent. "Er- Can you forget I said that?" I ask.
"Fuck, no! That was awesome." He sobers slightly, and leans forward in his chair to look me in the eye. "I understand, Princess, really I do. It's a lot to ask, to put up with me. Don't think I'd do as well as you're doing. If I'da known what all was gonna happen between me and Heero, I prolly wouldn't have applied to work for you. I know its awkward and Heero- well, he's an idiot. He thinks that if everything is working out for him, it must all be working out for the rest of the world, too. So don't feel bad about hating my guts. In your position, I'd hate my guts too."
It must be the late hour that makes my eyes sting suddenly. Certainly it can't be this jerk in my room showing the most sympathy I've gotten in ages. "Give me a break," I force out. "You did hate my guts, admit it."
"Maybe just a little." Obviously it doesn't bother him. "Nothing personal of course."
The silence that follows is strangely comfortable.
"If he's an idiot, why do you like him so much?" I demand finally.
"What? Oh," he scratches his head. "I dunno. I love him, you know? Have for years. You must know he's an idiot." And at this he meets my eyes, and his lips curl at the corners. "And do you love him any less?"
"No," I admit. "Not in any way that's useful to me, anyway."
It gets me another laugh. Who is this guy? If I were him, I'd hate me. I can't believe he's still here, laughing at my lame attempts to feel less stupid. His phone starts to ring, a tune I recognize from my time in boarding school as something so poppy even I hated it. He grins at my expression, and flips it open, and answers, "Hey, wonder-boy."
Ah. Well, Heero always did have strange taste in music. I tune out the present half of their conversation by instinct, listening instead to the sounds of cars pulling into the driveway in front of the building. The police must be here, I suppose. Do I have any proper clothing within reach? Though a part of me says, they're cops. If they can't handle sweats and undershirts, they need a new job. It must be late for me to care this little. A quick glance at the clock-three eighteen-confirms it.
"Nah, I'll give a statement," Duo is saying when I tune in again. "I had a coffee on the way here. Let Relena get back to bed, though, yeah? Yeah, ok, I'll tell her. See ya in a bit." The phone disappears into its holster again, and Duo gets up and rolls his shoulders. "That was Heero," he tells me needlessly. "He says the cops can get a statement from you in the morning. I should fuck off though, before wonder-boy has a heart attack worrying about you."
"He worries about me?" I'm so tired and hypnotized by his babbling that it comes out like a little girl.
"Well, yeah. Why do you think he keeps an eye on your place?"
That's new. "He does?"
"Yup. Doesn't trust anyone, not even me, which is why I need to go. Nice talking to ya, Princess. Hope you can sleep in tomorrow. Hell," he scratches his hair again. "I wish I could sleep in tomorrow. Oh well. At least now I know how to use the coffee machine, I guess."
"Wasn't it you who fixed the coffee machine?" I am so bewildered.
"Well, yeah," he admits, on his way out the door. "But I was me who broke it, too. G'night Princess."
The silence he leaves behind him is vast, punctuated only by the sound of distant sirens and voices approaching the garden under my window. I close the balcony door, and the curtains, shut off the light. Three twenty. Good God.
Something indefinable in my half-asleep state moves my hand to the phone I keep on the bedside table in the dark. With unconscious ease I dial Heero's number.
"Yuy," he answers, obviously too caught up in his job to recognize my number.
"Hey. It's me," I murmur.
"Relena. Are you all right? Did Duo make it in time? I was afraid he wouldn't be able to find your room."
"I'm fine. Thank you." The concern in his voice seeps slowly into my groggy brain, rendering me only more open. "Look, can you tell him for me-tell him to take the morning off tomorrow, ok? With pay. And you, too. Go out for breakfast at noon or something."
"Do- do you want to come with us?" His voice is quiet, cautious.
"No. I'll sleep in, and come in in the afternoon. Besides, I'll need to talk to the police, and the media, I expect. You two go. Take the whole day, ok?"
"Ok." A moment of silence, then, "You're sure you're all right?"
"Yeah. Good night, Heero."
"Good- good night."
I hang up and crawl under the blankets. Three twenty-two. I'll have very strange dreams tonight. This morning. Whatever.
Nothing is different.
Nothing is resolved.
Well, it's good to know someone's still watching my back. Maybe I'll call Nick tomorrow. Just to let him know I'm ok. He'll be worrying.
And maybe someday, I'll be comfortable enough to go out for breakfast with Duo, and his Heero.