Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Lady Une sat behind a dark glossy desk that no doubt was one large touch screen. She looked cultured and elegant as she often did these days, straight brown hair worn loose. She wore a full uniform so far as Heero could see over her desk. She had the sage shirt worn with the navy tie and her uniform navy and olive jacket with ID displayed at her left breast.
Her office had a portrait of Treize Khushrenada hanging on the wall where a government official would normally have a picture of their current leader. Heero didn't fear Lady would do anything rash or mad in his memory. Actually, apart from giving approval to the assassinations of Darlian and Septem and setting Heero up to kill Noventa and his associates Treize had been a decent and honorable man.
"You saw Duo in the hall?"
"You may have a seat, Captain."
"Yes." Heero took a seat facing the desk.
Lady smiled across her desk, arms neatly folded on its top. "So, what have you to tell me?"
"First, this," Heero said. He opened his satchel and retrieved a disc. He placed it on the desk then gave it a flick of one finger so that it slid toward the Director.
Lady put the disc somewhere beneath the desk top. Her desk whirred. Heero smiled slightly. "No viruses?"
Heero knew she had just scanned the disc. "Why is everyone afraid to receive files from me?"
"Take it as a complement."
"I thought it was you," Une said plainly. She was reading his report on Preventer security on the monitor within her desk. "So far this all seems very accurate and well researched. I will read it thoroughly and then share the information with the other officers. I appreciate your effort."
"Thank you, but I won't be coming out of reserves."
"I suspected you would say as much. You've acquired access. You know your current status is known only to the Colonels and myself."
"Yes. In reserves and on a disabled list."
"You want off that list."
It seems the right thing to do."
"Well, how do you feel?" Une asked.
"Better. I would rather not, but I'll talk to someone from Medical Section if you order it."
"You feel that you could meet the demands of field missions, only you do not wish to be listed as a part-time or full-time agent, you wish to remain on the reserves."
"If something very terrible happens, I would want to do something to help, but day to day, I just can't do this."
"And yet, you would be doing fairly similar work in the private sector, as far as mission planning and techniques."
"Word does seem to travel."
"Preventers is Government work. It would be different on my own. I put my more destructive inclinations to constructive purpose. The world in general becomes more secure. I protect people. I get paid. I buy things. I am a contributing member of society and entirely not a secret terrorist agent."
"I don't disagree, Heero. I think you are doing the right thing. Of course, as Director of Preventers I would hate to loose a potentially exceptional agent."
"You can call me in. But only after you've called in everyone else."
"Very well." Lady made a tight smile. "Can I help you with anything else?"
"Perhaps. I have been away a considerable amount of time. Some things I was able to keep informed about. It was not everything. I need you to tell me about the mobile suits and something else."
"Of course. I can tell you this. Hilde Schbeiker is well informed on this issue. She would talk to you if you asked. What I understand is this: We tried to write the laws in a way that would prevent us from even having mobile suits. We realized that the way we worded the laws truly did punish some manufacturers and industries. We then rewrote the laws in a fashion that may have been more lenient than need be. As it is, there are a few ways trouble could start. We don't suspect the manufacturers themselves but we suspect others, potentially could use purchased mecha to disturb our peace. Of course, being suspicious, we know what to watch for. Do not worry. It will not be an army of mobile suits that next threatens us."
"And the other thing?"
"What thing are you referring to?"
"You must know. Wufei knew. Something that people on Earth don't presently know about despite all the travel and commerce between Earth and the Colonies."
Une nodded slowly. "There is something, but you must understand, the reason no one knows is that it is not entirely proven fact. There are theories and incidents starting to be reported. Sally is somewhat involved."
"Reports of what exactly?" Heero asked seriously.
"Resurfacing rumors of an individual named Flanagan who devised tests for something for The Family and that they may have placed children who tested positive with caretakers other than their parents under the guise of giving gifted children a better education. Here and there a story about a pilot who seems to see obstacles very far in advance, almost as if they see things before they happen. Objects and furniture moving around rooms without and gravitational fluctuation or aberration in colony spin."
Some of that sounded frighteningly familiar. Some of what Une described sounded like Science-Fiction series that Heero had read. Children with special abilities. Moving things by will? "Seeing over distances or reading minds?"
"How many people?"
"We have no reliable estimates. We haven't proven anything yet. Let me explain something to you."
"Sally Po was an Alliance Medical Officer. Now a Medic is not like a scientist or a doctor, but she saw strange things throughout her career within the Alliance and as a rebel soldier. You were one of her 'strange things.'" Heero was aware that he absolutely did have some abilities that were well above the human norm. Sally had had opportunity to witness this, as had several other people.
Lady Une continued, "Since joining Preventers Sally has not been a full-time agent. She has been attending medical school here at Side Four University. She is an intern now. In her work at the hospital here she has found more strange things. Only within this last year Sally has looked for these things. The other agents began to think her odd. Wufei I think is very accepting of her in this work. It surprised me, knowing his personality. I assumed he would be a voice of logic or reason for her, as her partner."
"But you found that Wufei believed."
"In fact Wufei seems to see things before they happen or over distance."
"It makes sense now." What Wufei had said in Moscow, everything, and it made sense. "Has anyone discovered why?"
"Not yet. We are not sure if it happens only in the Colonies or not or how often it happens. It does have the appearance of natural phenomenon."
"So, they were not all in one area as children or didn't eat the same cereal or anything like that?"
"All the Gundam pilots are suspected."
Heero nodded. He would have been more shocked if he had not already believed somewhere in his mind they were different.
"But not only pilots, it is not caused by the mobile suits. Whatever it is."
"And how has this been kept secret?"
"No one speaks of it."
"And this works?"
"And if some fragment of a story gets out the reporters think it to improbably to be true or rather they don't think their readers would believe it proof and so they report nothing unusual."
"I see. Then, I will not talk about it."
"I think that is wise for now."
"Do you require anything else of me?"
"Not at this time. Will you stay in touch?"
"I will try. No one has said what time Relena's party is."
"She said 'between lunch and diner' and 'informal.'"
"That gives me time to settle a few more things in the morning." Heero stood. Une stood and walked him to the door.
Heero thought about looking for Duo, but he felt getting to his new apartment and unpacking was now his greatest priority. Besides, he had sounded so lame when he had spoken to Duo. Heero had been reduced to one-syllable responses by Duo before, but he had never stammered. This was probably embarrassment. Yes, Heero did feel embarrassed.
He hoped no one else would find out that he had been so... flustered. He hated that Duo always found a way to sound cool. Even if it was a front, it was a front that kept Heero from understanding the real Duo and intimidated by that outward persona.
Heero took the tube trains through the colony to his neighborhood and went home. He unpacked what he had with him and cleaned up as best he could. He went to sleep then, planning to make several stops in the morning before going to Relena's house.
Heero woke the next day and showered in his small bathroom and made a mental list of the things he had to do.
Pick up kimono from shop on C street. Purchase wrapping materials. Wrap presents. Get belongings out of storage locker on E street. Purchase groceries. Question Vasili Yemon about Adin Lowe. Discover Midii's address. Attend Relena's party. Think of excuse to leave party if he began to feel very uncomfortable.
Heero decided to retrieve his things from storage first. He would need to hire a taxi to do that. The rest of his errands he might do as easily taking the trains below the artificial surface of the ground.
The things in Heero's storage locker had been there for over a year. Some were things Heero had gone and picked up from the old lab and apartment after the Eve Wars, after J had died. Some things he had collected for himself during the time he participated in the wars. The belongings included clothes, most which were outgrown, several computers, now somewhat outdated, manuals on weaponry and vehicles and the miscellaneous items, like his skateboard and his oshiwaku.
Heero got the crates back to his apartment but did not unpack them. It would take considerable time to go through all the items. His next stop would be C street. Heero checked his skateboard. The trucks were tight, the wheels looked good, they spun, and the board was without flaws. He took it with him for rides between trains and shops.
The trains ran through the tubes very quickly once passengers could get into them so the trip there did not take long. Heero rolled up to the door then stepped on the tail to break. He hopped off and caught the front truck and walked into the store. Gradually Heero was becoming readjusted to the mix of things that were Japanese and Colonial. They might have things that Heero associated with Japan, like sections of floor set apart from the rest with tatami mats or a piece of real cherry wood furniture or flowers arranged just so. But then the floor beneath the mats would be resin or cement. The cherry furniture might be against a wall of corrugated and sandblasted metal or perhaps silver paint. The floral arrangement might be atop a low tea table constructed from a salvaged shuttle hatch and some titanium legs. Some places had floor mats that were woven from recycled plastics and which had a sort of white shimmery color. To Heero that did look traditional.
Heero found the shop that he had ordered Duo's kimono from had a rather roomy showroom. They had a seating area and a register and many racks and shelves of new and traditional Japanese clothing. Also they had a large pane of acrylic in one wall that allowed those working in the shop to see customers approach as they were at their sewing machines and at the same time allowed customers to see how the merchandise was made. They truly made much of the merchandise in house and to order.
There were two women at various sewing machines. One was just a teenager really and the other likely her mother, or at least old enough to be her mother. They both looked at least as Japanese as Heero did, more actually. The older woman came through a hole in the acrylic hidden by a curtain and looked Heero over. She seemed to be deciding what sort of man he was.
She asked if she could help him.
"I hope so. I ordered a kimono to be made and I would like to know if it is finished."
"I will check our files," the woman said with gesture to the computers at the register area.
Heero tried to bow politely and she left him waiting. Before the woman had reached her keyboard the front door opened and bells sounded. A young man was lugging in a large plastic crate. "Ai-sama, you must help me!" he said urgently.
She tsked. "Vero-kun, what is it this time?"
He winced at the name, or most likely 'kun.' He might have been older than Heero was. Heero thought the woman was teasing him.
The other woman came into the front of the store and walked up to Heero. She had burgundy hair, it looked dyed, however professionally done. "Can I help you? She is going to have to deal with our other customer."
"I just want to know if my order was completed."
"I'll check. What is your name."
The girl had started toward the counter, but she turned back and studied Heero. She smiled. Then she extended her hand. "You can call me Sake, most people do."
Heero shook her hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Was it black?"
"I remember it. We finished it last night. Come over here." She walked toward the registers. "Mom, look who it is. It's Heero!"
The woman hardly bat an eyelash at Heero. She was pulling garments from the plastic crate now on the counter. "What do you expect me to do? They are ruined. What happened? All of them? The sleeves torn off like this?" She examined several more garments. "Who would do this to that girl? I made some of these myself and others were antique when I altered them. Who could show such disrespect?"
"Ai-sama," the boy pleaded, "Our house has had such ill luck." He was being a touch melodramatic and his accent was very Russian Quarter. He eyed Heero suspiciously. "I can't tell you. Honorable Father would kill me, even if we are blood. All I can tell you is every one of her kimono is like this and she refuses to wear any new furisode, not that Honorable Father is in a mood to buy new ones after this. So, I don't think he will buy her any new clothes at all. But she must wear something!"
"But what can I do? There is no seam here. The fabric is badly torn. I could not hope to match the patterns at all! They are ripped too high for me to make proper short sleeves."
Sake was now looking at the torn kimono and biting her lip.
"They belong to Ursula," Heero said quietly.
The young man, Vero, stared. "Ursula knows you?" His tone seemed rude to Heero and his choice of words.
"We have never met face to face, but someone who offended her recently had offended me in the past in another matter and I came across him a few days ago and arranged for him to be unable to offend others in the future with his presence or actions. Ursula and I have exchanged words through a mutual friend and she was the one who recommended this shop to me. She said it was the best in the Colonies. I feel so... regretful that this happened." Heero gave a nod toward the crate. Surely Ursula had ripped up her own kimono in a fit.
The older woman shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. "We finished a kimono for you last night but now I see you I think it is too big. You should not have ordered 'European length.'"
Heero shook his head. "It is not for me. It is a gift. I only followed directions when ordering."
"I am sorry, I should not have assumed..."
"Would she be upset if she was made to wear a kimono with long sleeves if it was obvious the sleeves did not match?" Heero asked.
"Eh?" Vero asked.
"I am not very knowledgeable about kimono or traditions... but it seems if Honorable Father is so upset he will not buy new clothes then he must mean for her to wear these as a punishment. But he agrees she cannot wear them as is, with ragged tears. Perhaps the ladies here could sew the sleeves of one garment onto the body of another and create a seam there. It would look like it was done on purpose, because the fabric would be different. Maybe Ursula would wear them if it was obvious the sleeves were out of place."
"Could you do that?"
"I could. I think it would look silly, but the only other alternative would be to ship the lot to S3 and sell the pieces as 'vintage kimono fabric' to the Americans. You could try to buy new fabric with that money then and start over."
"May I do it?" Sake asked.
"You had better," her mother said, "I want nothing to do with this mess. Vero, you tell your father it was all the doing of you young people."
"Sake, do you think she would wear them? I don't know what to do? They just sent me here."
"I suspect so," Sake said softly, "Go back there and have her call me. Leave the kimono here with me. I will study them and try to find matches in length and complementary colors. The sewing will not be very difficult, but the matching may be. I may need to add a strip of fabric to fit the pieces together without gathering."
"The sewing talk is over my head. Do what you have to."
"I will go get that kimono you ordered, Yuy-san. Shall I gift wrap it?"
"Do you want any other clothing to go with it. We have zori in many sizes," Sake said.
Heero looked at the shoes. "No, I wouldn't know the right size to get."
Sake brought a tablet from under the counter and began to sketch into the computer. "Do you know they say a cut sleeve can mean that one is homosexual?"
"That's a myth," Vero said.
"It is not a myth, it is a legend and I can tell you that for men in the Colonies it is true. We have had several special orders for men's kimono with one sleeve made shorter than the other and the men who bought them had perfectly normal proportions. I don't think that anyone would assume the same about Ursula. The sleeves would be there and at the same length, only unmatched."
"Why would a cut sleeve make someone homosexual?" Heero asked quietly.
"There is this story about an Emperor in China," Vero said.
"He was in love with a beautiful young man," Sake said.
"Who fell asleep one night resting partially on the Emperor's robes."
"In the morning," Sake said, "he did not want to disturb his lover's sleep so he cut his sleeve to free himself from the bed rather than pull the sleeve from under the boy and wake him."
"Just imagine how expensive an Emperor's robes would be," Vero said.
Very expensive. Duo's kimono was hardly the robes of an ancient emperor and it had been a lot more than Relena's angel statue. All kimono were at least designed to be dressy if not formal or ceremonial. Heero didn't think there were casual kimono anymore, except maybe in Nihon. In the Colonies people bought yukata and wore them as bathrobes; any other kimono they made, sold, bought or wore were usually for formal occasions. As specialty formal attire made of large amounts of rich fabrics they were quite expensive. Heero hadn't been able to talk himself into buying Duo anything lesser than formal.
Heero thought the story about the Emperor was nice. It demonstrated sacrifice for another's peace. Sake's mother came from the back and handed to Heero a wrapped package. It was cloth wrapped in plain paper but the paper was decorated with gold paint and the name 'Duo' written in roman lettering, which Ai-sama had made look as elegant as kanji, somehow.
"I didn't..." say that it was for Duo.
"I know," Ai-sama said with a smile. She turned to Vero, "You had better get home Yemon-san." She returned to the back room herself.
"Your name is Vero Yemon?"
"You are related to Vasili Yemon?"
Vero looked as if this was a really stupid question. "Honorable Father Vasili Yemon is my own father."
"I need to meet with him."
"Considering all that has happened he may agree. You should dress better if you want to see him."
"What should I wear?"
Vero shook his head sadly, "A black suit."
Vero was wearing a black suit with a white shirt, but his jacket was of a design that looked styled after traditional Japanese clothing. "Sake, can you recommend a jacket for me?" Heero asked.
She looked up from her tablet. "Try the rack there. I design those. Vero and the other young men favor them. My mother calls them 'Neo-Japanese' style."
"She seems to aim to be very traditional." Heero walked to the rack hung with men's jackets. There were several styles, all similar and in various sizes.
"Mother is a very skilled woman and I owe everything I know about sewing or fashion design or Japanese culture to her," Sake explained. "Mother remembers very clearly growing up at odds with the people that lived on Earth and that in anger people from all different nations on Earth claimed that Colonials were uncultured and selfish and... all the horrible things they used to say. She's very defensive about her work. She tried so hard to prove that she could be just as cultured as any lady in Nihon. Mother just doesn't feel comfortable trying new things."
Heero looked at the other racks of clothing. Most of the store was, although Colonial in decor, stocked with very traditional garments. Only a few small racks near the window had modern looking men's and women's clothing. Heero guessed that these were Sake's work entirely.
Heero thought he should say something nice. "I think you both do very good work."
Sake sighed and went back to her drawing.
Heero decided on a style of jacket he liked and found his size. He took off his overcoat to try on the jacket. It fit well he thought. "I will buy this," Heero said.
Sake typed at one of the keyboards. "Just charged to your account."
"You have a car, Vero?"
"Then you can drive me to the grocery store and to my apartment then we can go see your father."
Heero said nothing. Vero didn't seem to like him, but he seemed willing enough to follow orders. Heero wasn't going to argue with that. He didn't own a car.
Heero collected his purchases and followed Vero from the shop. He had a small electric car, but those were used almost exclusively in the Colonies. Vero drove and Heero sat in the passenger seat beside him.
"Do you know Duo Maxwell... I mean... since you fought together in the war, do you ever talk to him?"
"Yes. I know him. I was away for a long time but then I saw him again last night."
"I saw him once at a restaurant. He was having dinner with the Vice-Minister and some others. I think one of them was Chang."
"Does he have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend?"
"I honestly don't know."
"Maybe you aren't the sort to notice but... he's gorgeous."
"Hn." Somewhere in the world there were people who thought as much toward Heero. He was aware that being a celebrity sometimes caused others to form a sort of idol worship around one. There were young men and women who had never met Relena who imagined they wanted to have sex with her. It wasn't shocking that Vero Yemon desired Duo.
Whether any of those people would have a chance should they actually meet their idols was highly debatable. For all Heero knew Duo could think Vero 'totally hot' or something.
Heero hoped not. The idea just irked him. Duo? With this guy? He seemed attractive enough, Vero did. He wasn't scarred or deformed or suffering from any obvious sickness or blemishes. He had predominantly Japanese features, dark hair, and brown eyes. Heero might even say the young man had pretty eyes. But he seemed weak in character. Duo wouldn't want someone so weak. Heero would be disappointed in Duo if he did.
"There used to be a market two blocks ahead, is it still there?"
"Yes." Vero drove them to the market.
They shopped for food. It was strange, the way Vero just followed like a servant. Usually if Heero felt that people were treating him special because of his name he became annoyed or uncomfortable. He didn't feel that with Vero. It might be that Heero knew Vero did not like him, either for what he knew of him or what his name was, but Vero was willing to take his orders even when he did not like him.
It made him wonder at the connections Lowe had left him to The Family.
They found wrapping paper and ribbon in the large supermarket and so that was another task off Heero's list.
They took Heero's groceries to his apartment and after putting things away Heero changed his clothes. His one pair of dress shoes, black dress pants, white dress shirt with French cuffs and the new Jacket. Heero thought if he left his shirt cuffs hanging down from his jacket sleeves it looked somehow stylish. It could have also looked silly, but it amused him so he kept the cuffs loose.
He wrapped the teddy bear with a bow about its neck and they were off in Vero's car for several blocks into the Russian Quarter. Vero parked his car on the street outside a bar. Heero exited the vehicle and looked around. L street he thought. Much of the area was still familiar to him. Even during the day there were people in the bar and a man at the door.
Vero exchanged words with the doorman then pointed out a door beside the bar. They went inside and up a flight of stairs. There were several doors here marked as apartment numbers. Vero pointed out Ursula's apartment around a corner and down a hall. He suggested they go there first.
Vero knocked on the door. When the door opened Heero recognized Midii. She looked at one and then the other. "Met at the kimono shop?"
"Da," Vero answered, "May we see Ursula?"
"Are you staying here?" Heero asked Midii. She opened the door all the way and Vero passed by.
"For now, while she needs me," Midii whispered. She waved Heero into the apartment.
It was a beautiful interior. Heero knew he could enjoy something beyond a functional box with door and window holes. It was just that blend of Japanese and Colonial Heero had admired elsewhere, except here and there was something that reminded him of Russia. Where some people had wall scrolls of watercolor landscapes she had panoramic prints of telescope photos depicting distant galaxies. She hung prints of contemporary digital art beside ink on paper calligraphy. A few white flowers were arranged in a vase near a collection of snow globes. She had real cherry wood and stainless steel and painted composite board furnishings all mixed together.
"Heero, this is Ursula, Ursula, this is Heero Yuy," Midii said.
Heero's gaze settled on the girl kneeling amid plastic floor mats and writing with a brush and ink at a lap desk. She set her brush on a rest and looked up. "I am pleased to meet you," She said in English. She inclined forward as she bowed her head then straightened. "Do make yourself comfortable. May I offer you something to drink?" She did not look like the pictures of geisha Heero had seen but she created the impression of a young woman who was very cultured. She was beautiful besides. She had Heero's coloring, the dark brown hair, gray-blue eyes and skin tone that might be described as a warm beige, though, she did not resemble Heero in any other aspect. For example, the epicanthic fold was more pronounced over each of her eyes than in Heero's face. She was overall small and delicate in appearance; even compared to other women Heero would have found her small and also soft in appearance.
"I brought you a gift," Heero said. He sat on the floor opposite Ursula and offered the bear. "Will you take it?"
Ursula made a tight smile and a bow. Her hands left her lap and reached for the bear. The movement of her hands seemed infinitely graceful. Heero had seen impressive displays of strength and endurance and balance. He thought it might be said that he moved powerfully or with determination. This way of movement was beyond the grace possessed by Quatre or Relena and they had been very graceful. Ursula lived art, or she was art that lived. Absolutely everything she did looked elegant and beautiful. She really was a geisha.
She hugged the bear to her belly, held it against her large thick sweater and pet its nubby fur. "Thank you. It is a most appropriate and lovely gift. I will have to think of a place to keep it. Perhaps in the other room."
"Ursula, we have to talk to you about your clothes," Vero whispered, stooping down to address her more nearly on a level.
Her eyes closed. "Please, have your say."
"Heero may have found a compromise, but we cannot read your mind. You will have to tell us if his compromise will be acceptable to you."
"Heero, was it your business?" Ursula asked, always sounding sweet.
"I made it my business. Midii tells me it is a normal male trait to wish to take action to solve the problems others have, particularly the problems of women."
"I do appreciate your kind intentions. What compromise did you suggest?"
"I guessed that you did not want to be seen in that particular style of garment any longer and you were angry that you must want this and you tore your kimono. Honorable Father was distraught at the financial loss resulting from the injury to so many antique garments and did not wish to pay for new garments. I suggested that, perhaps, if Sake sewed the sleeves of one kimono onto the body of another that you might not feel so bad wearing that garment. The sleeves would be long, but it would be obvious they were out of place. It costs less than buying new clothing. The odd sleeves might be your mark of distinction and you could let observers speculate why you had it done without admitting anything."
"It is a well thought out theory at least. I am not entirely against it. I think I would have to see one finished before I knew if I would wear it."
"Please talk to Sake at the shop, Ursula," Vero said. "She offered to do the work on her own. Father and her mother will be upset if we do not work something out."
"It is the best solution I have heard yet."
"Thank you," Heero said.
"Heero, I think there is something you don't understand."
"Just one thing?" Heero asked.
Ursula made a soft laugh, touching her fingers to her lips as she did. "Yemon Vasili is not 'Honorable Father' to you. I am likely only as old as you, so I do not know the details first hand, but my mentor told me some things about you. You were Lowe's ward as I am Yemon's ward. It was not Lowe's house that served under Yemon, but the other way round. Because Lowe passed and you were taken in by that scientist and because others died in the war or were taken afterward Yemon's house gained influence. But you could not be considered their subordinate. It is not for me to judge, but if I understand our politics correctly, since you did leave for so long you would likely be judged their equal now, you couldn't fairly be above them as they moved up several ranks but you could not fairly be lesser. Vero knows this. He just didn't tell you because he enjoys being irksome."
Heero didn't like being drawn into anyone's politics, but at least now he understood Vero's actions.
"Vasili is your brother, in rank. Vero your nephew."
"Who is my father?"
"If he wishes you to know he will make himself known," Ursula answered. "Considering the things you did while away from us I suspect they are content to let you do exactly as you please so long as you do not intend harm here. The message you sent had great influence. As Lowe's successor, as one who saved the Earth and freed the Colonies, as one who is a Preventer. We do not wish to anger the Preventers. It was wrong to seek death, all of us see that now and agree. It is just that he lives without his freedom and forced to labor for those of us who can be peaceful with each other. I myself did not call for death. I..."
"I will tell him later," Midii said. "We will make sure it is done."
"Midii says you have plans today. Do not let me keep you. Vasili would like to apologize to you now."
"Yes. I should go."
"Do not stay away forever. You should visit your sister and your niece. It would only be proper to do so. We could not expect you to repay us for time spend entertaining or educating you. And if you ever need help with your new project, please let me know. I do possess some skills and influence."
"I have no doubt of your skills," Heero said. He made a bow to Ursula then stood up. "Midii, would you stay here or go to the party?"
"I would like to go if you think it acceptable," her tone sounded like imitation of Ursula. "I will await you here until you are finished with Vasili."
Heero gave a nod.
Vero escorted him into another apartment. There he met the senior Yemon. Like Vero he had many Japanese features but also some Caucasian features. His hair had some gray in it. He had gained more weight. "Brother Yemon," Heero said seriously and the older man knew.
"I am no threat to you," Heero assured him. "I do not wish to be involved in Family politics, but it seems I have already been involved. As things are I would be content if you ran things as if I were still absent. I have a sister now. She also wishes to be friendly with your house and with the Family as a whole. We should be strong allies, if you all act so honorably as Ursula. What shall my house receive for maintaining show of presence and support toward you while letting you remain in control of business?"
"That is all that I want," Heero said. This was not being social. This was politics. He understood politics to a point. Favors were paid with favors. Yemon wanted to know Heero would not disturb what he had recently gained. Heero didn't want Yemon becoming so paranoid he launched attacks against him. The obvious diplomatic solution was to be allies and allow Yemon the control he wanted in exchange for some token payments. Yemon could afford the payments. Heero didn't really want control.
Everything was worked out.
"Good," Heero said, "I must take my leave now. I will be late for the Vice-Minister's party if I do not hurry."
Heero disliked using his name, but if his name was already being used he did not mind throwing Relena's name in. Relena would not mind Heero claiming they had some connection or influence with each other. Heero figured he had suffered enough protecting Relena when she needed it that he deserved to act now and then as if he was under her protection.
Heero and Midii hurried the few blocks back to his apartment. Heero changed his dress pants for his black velvet jeans and left the rest of his attire as it was. He wrapped Relena's gift and put a bow on it. He put Duo's gift and his mobile into his satchel and carried the other gift box in his arms. Midii had also acquired a present to give to Relena and so they were both prepared, Midii having changed into a little black dress while Heero was in his meeting.
They got a taxi to take them into the English Quarter and to Relena's townhouse. They didn't notice anyone on the street. "You armed?" Heero asked Midii.
"Then see what they let you get past the front door with," Heero whispered.
He pressed the button for the doorbell. Shortly the door was opened. Heero recognized the man there. He was Relena's servant, sometimes butler, chauffeur or bodyguard. "Ah, Master Yuy... forgive me but you are older than that now..."
"Heero is fine, Pagan," Heero told the servant. He knew at least that this man was loyal to Relena and would take care with who he let into the house. "This is my associate Miss Une."
"Oh, by chance..."
"No relation," Midii said.
"Heero, our scanners show you both may be carrying several weapons. I will have to ask you to disarm."
Just then Relena came from a room off the hall. Heero recognized her of course but he was also a little surprised by how she looked. He had usually seen Relena in her work clothes, when he had seen her in gowns and dresses it had been quite some time ago. She was wearing a blue party dress, blue like the dress she had worn for her fifteen Birthday, blue like the bandages she had made out of it to wrap Heero's wounds, like her dress when repaired and they had danced until the school was under attack... blue like her eyes. This time, however, the dress was fitted and supported by spaghetti-thin straps. And this made it quite obvious how her body had matured over the last couple years.
"At least give him any guns and explosive devices you feel the need to carry," Relena said with a smile. Her hair was loose and even longer than Heero remembered and the locks framing her face seemed artificially lightened. "Pagan, if they have anything more than that we should let them hold onto their weapons. They will no doubt be used only in defense."
Midii was reaching into her dress from above and below to remove small firearms from concealment.
"Relena, may I introduce Midii Une to you? She is a recent associate of mine and she wanted to meet you very much."
"We've seen you on the news, Midii."
Heero walked toward Relena without handing over any weapons. "Happy Birthday," he said. He offered the present.
"Contrary to popular speculation I am not a secret girlfriend. Actually we discovered we are long lost siblings and royalty at that!"
Relena laughed. "You too?" Heero smirked and Relena beamed a smile for him. "You didn't have to get me a present," she said, "But I appreciate the kindness. You were not the only one, so let me walk you to the gift table and we'll find a place for it."
Heero offered his arm. He knew this, offering arms and bows and dancing, because his teachers had figured as hedonistic and aristocratic as Heero's enemy was, they better enable him to blend into his social circle long enough to attempt an assassination. Relena hooked a hand under Heero's right arm. A moment later Midii was at his left arm.
Heero let Relena guide them into her parlor, where she had come from. There was a very large table there, already covered with gifts. From the number of guests present it was clear many had come through the mail. Midii placed her gift on the table and then released Heero's arm so that he could also put his present on the table.
Heero felt Relena squeeze his hand. He moved his eyes to question her and found her gazing right at him. "Heero, in case you decide to take off without saying goodbye again... just know that I am happy you came to my party and that I like you being near. We are friends, I think, so if you need protecting or taking care of let me know. Try to have a little fun. I would like to see you happy."
"I'll try, but I may leave without saying goodbye."
Relena dropped Heero's hand and smiled. She was a beautiful woman. She wasn't haunting and infinitely elegant like Ursula but she was very poised and elegant and maybe vibrant was the right word. Heero did not know entirely what other women, like Ursula or Midii, were like on the inside but he did know Relena should be considered beautiful in spirit. She genuinely was kind and caring and generous among other virtues. "How about I take Midii around for introductions and we'll gossip about you and you can go on a mingling solo mission?"
Heero frowned at the humor.
Relena was still amused with herself. "I told everyone, no discussing politics, business or war on my birthday. You will all have to be more creative than that."
"Health leads to discussion of war and we don't exactly have weather here, you aren't leaving me much," Heero stated.
Relena laughed and shook her head sadly.
"Start a conversation about sex, Heero," Midii suggested, "That should be entertaining."
For her, because she knew how awkward Heero was with that subject. Not entertaining for him. "Relena."
"Heero. I would love to sit and talk to you all day. I seriously do want to do that, but I promised I would not be at all serious today because it is my birthday and I must be serious so much of the time. There's a few people you haven't met here, go stand near them until they introduce themselves."
"I wasn't trying to make you stay with me," Heero said, perhaps too sharply, "I mean, I think I might like to talk with you some time but that wasn't why I called to you. I just wanted to ask you if you knew whether Duo would be here or not."
"Oh! Yes! You know what happened? Our class had off school today but he'd missed a test a while ago due to being on assignment for Preventers so they let him go in and take his test today. He should be here soon."
Heero looked around. In this parlor he saw an exit into a dining room where a buffet was laid out. Heero recognized an older woman there as Relena's mother, from having seen her many times in pictures and in video. There was a man with her, even older and wearing a style of coat that seemed old fashioned. Actually, though Heero didn't try to follow fashion trends, he was observant of his surroundings and he knew that many members of Romefeller had worn these 'retro' styled jackets because they were aristocrats during the years average people had worn other styles. Now these retro styles were becoming popular with even young people, since the war.
In the parlor there were, besides the presents, various couches and chairs and a piano. Heero recognized Lady and then he recognized Hilde and Dorothy with her. Another girl was at Dorothy's side, on a small sofa; she looked distinctly Arab, but Heero did not know her.
Heero wandered into the hall. Pagan was there, looking alert. Heero took his satchel from his shoulder. "Pagan, excuse me, is there somewhere I could put this that it might be safe?"
"Of course. How safe must it be? Should its contents be in a safe...?"
"Just somewhere that there is no danger of it being accidentally damaged. I will need to access the contents later."
"Very well. I will take it upstairs to a guestroom. Some other guests have stored coats or parcels there. If you need it, you may let yourself upstairs, you will find the room on the left."
"Thank you." Heero turned over his satchel, containing his computer and Duo's gift. He wandered into the room opposite the parlor. Relena and Midii were standing and talking to a boy whom Heero did not recognize. In a corner Wufei and Mariemaia were sitting at a table playing chess and speaking to each other in seemingly animated exchange. It was such an odd sight. Sally and another young man Heero had not yet met were seated on a couch and holding game controllers.
Relena would be disappointed if Heero talked to her. Chess was clearly a two-player game and Heero suspected Wufei and Mariemaia both could beat him at that. Heero sat down at the end of the couch closer to the stranger and looked at the screen a few meters across the room. It was a fighting or role-playing game of some kind, perhaps both.
They seemed to be playing characters on a team against gangs of NPCs. Sally and the boy were laughing and calling to each other so it seemed they knew each other. From their reactions and the onscreen displays it seemed Sally was playing some kind of warrior woman dressed in red with blonde braids and a flaming sword. The other boy, who seemed to have tinted his dark hair with blue dye, was playing a character that had dark blue hair, as well as wings and many special moves, such as casting sleep and shifting into the form of another character and using their abilities.
"Heero, you want to play?" Sally asked, "Adin has the main controller, he can add you in."
His name was Adin. "Your name is Adin?"
"Oldest child, yeah. Do you want to play? We could even start over; it's just a game."
"Well, I don't know this game, I haven't played any games like this in a long time."
"Try it, Heero," Sally said, "I hadn't played this game either, but the controls are basically like most others." She laughed, "You just hit as many combinations of buttons as you can as fast as you can."
"We'll start over," Adin said. He lifted a controller from the floor and passed it to Heero, looking into his eyes for just a moment. He smiled. Adin then tried to quickly explain which buttons on the joystick and base of this type of controller did which action when in what particular mode of gameplay. Heero supposed he would figure things out as they went. Like many role-playing games there were many races and factions and trades to be a member of and this effected how the character would be treated and what abilities they would have.
Heero gave up trying to analyze the skills of the listed characters and figuring out how one race differed from another, it would take too much time, he thought. He settled on a character when he found one that he thought looked good in the start screen animations.
Heero began practicing his characters moves as did Adin, with the same blue-haired character, Morpheus, while Sally debated with herself as to what character she wanted to play.
"Well, pick a full Vampire, or a full Angel or one of the allied Humans, because we have a lot of the other traits and skills covered between our characters," Adin suggested.
Heero's character, Yukio, apparently had some spells and abilities natural to Angel, Wolf and Vampire races, but Heero only knew that because he had read it on the screen in the character's summary. Heero mainly thought he looked interesting because he was apparently albino, a ronin and wore white clothing and armor.
"OK, I picked, I'll try her."
"Leonore, Human, hacker. That's useful."
With all the magical creatures in the game Heero hadn't expected there would be technology also.
They started playing the game, Adin explained the controls along the way. Their party met other characters that offered information or goods or sometimes challenged them. They would fight then. Heero didn't mind killing in the game. He knew it was just a game. There was some animation of blood and gore, but not a whole lot.
Much of the time they moved around finding objects and information. It was a make believe world that loosely corresponded to the geography of the Earth Sphere and in which both technology and magics were used to accomplish tasks. Heero's character was versatile and his natural abilities allowed the party to sense and perceive many things they might not have seen with just a Human and a Half-angel. They didn't have elves, which Heero had thought were common in many role-playing games that did otherwise include magic and fantasy, but their Half-angels often functioned as Elves did in other games.
Adin's character had seemingly infinite skills and was nearly indestructible and could turn himself into just about any other character in the game. But, in games things were sometimes like that. They did sometimes have a few heroes that made gameplay easy. The drawback of playing the angelic characters was that they ate twice as much of the party's virtual store of food every day as a baseline Human would. Yukio, being whatever a Dracul was, could do his bite attack in a fight if Heero managed to remember the combination of buttons to press and then he didn't need to eat food that day. This meant that someone who was very much into the game would make sure they had a vampiric character to offset the costs of their powerful angelic character. Since each had weaknesses to opposite kinds of magic they could defend each other as well. Sally's character wasn't as strong as the Angel she had been playing before, but now they found a lot more information to tell them what to do and where in order to accomplish missions more easily. She also got good prices at most stores because she looked human in the game world stores were most often run by humans.
They were in a battle again. The were fighting humans belonging to some para-military group that existed in the game world and they were doing significant damage to Heero's character because they apparently really hated Dracul. Heero was using his best special attacks and his magical energies were being focused into his sword and heads were rolling, and Adin's character had put half their mob to sleep but the many bullet wounds were draining Yukio's life.
"I'm barely surviving using my shield talisman. Use your bite attack, Heero!"
Heero used the bite attack on one of the humans. His character cursed in Japanese and the fight paused to show an animation of Yukio turning green. "What's that mean?" Heero demanded. He looked at the screen. "drugged?"