Disclaimer: This is fanfiction based on the characters and universe of Gundam Wing.


Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Chapter 41


Heero knew what Duo was going to wear on Friday but he wondered if Japanese formal clothing could look better on Duo than full dress black. He'd worn the same outfit the first time Heero had kissed him. He really looked good. Heero felt underdressed, though, he gave himself proper credit for now owning another black dress jacket that he had purchased himself. It wasn't classic in the way that Duo's jacket might be. It might be considered retro, Heero supposed, but he wasn't entirely knowledgeable about fashion. He thought it was rather like jackets Relena had given him to wear to political functions a few years ago, long, and having decorative scrollwork on the lapels and cuffs, only this jacket was solid black. Heero supposed that the satin embroidered with silk against the wool made the jacket decidedly formal and perhaps fancy, though it was a solid color.

"Sure you don't want to be the Prince of Sank?" Duo asked.

Heero quirked a brow.

"You look the part."

"Relena is not Queen and you know how I feel..." Heero said seriously.

"Was jus' joking," Duo warbled. His eyes rolled, "'Sides, you ever ask someone who comes from Sank about all that? Sobi's from Sank and as far as he is concerned the Peacecrafts are royalty. If Millard abdicated in favor of his younger sister then she becomes Queen and her husband could become Prince."

"They have no nation," Heero said flatly. "There is only one nation."

Duo sighed. "Yeah, that's what Relena keeps saying in her speeches... well..."

"I am certain she will still give some speeches even though she has stepped down from her office. A lot of people are probably still concerned with her opinions."

"I hope she's able to have some fun Friday."

"We should go," Heero said. He clapped his hand to his thigh to call Koi. The dog bounded to his heel then looked up, awaiting an order.

"Taking the dog?" Duo asked.

Heero nodded then stooped to his bags for his sunglasses and Koi's harness.

"That works?"

"Frighteningly often," Heero replied, "Otherwise, if people know who I am, they simply overlook the rules. Koi goes where I go, when I want him to."

Duo sighed.

"Oh... I almost forgot," Heero whispered as he stood from fastening Koi's harness. He stepped in toward Duo and kissed his lips. "You look very good tonight, also."

"But I didn't say..." Duo whispered, eyes downcast.

Heero smiled. "You did. I am fortunate to have learned some Duoese. Or would you not expect a Prince of Sank to be terribly dashing."

Duo laughed. "Yeah, but that's not a word I thought you'd use."

"It entertained you," Heero said simply. He stopped only to check that a few necessary things were in his pockets and then went to the door. "We can walk from here and arrive timely and... unmussed."

Duo skipped into the hall and Heero turned back to shut the door after them. "I guess I am kinda anxious to go. I've never been to anything like ballet." Duo frowned. "I hope I don't hate it."

"I have never been before either. I hope I do not hate it."

"I thought...?"

"No. Made all the arrangements over the net. It's just... ever since the day you wore the tights and that skirt with the slit I have thought that I wanted to see ballet."

"Ah, and I recall Shizen said you had the build for clothing that conformed to your body."

"Girls do seem to find me attractive now... do you think they always did and I was unaware?"

Duo groaned, "Yeah, and not just girls, Heero."

"Thank you."

They arrived at the theater shortly. There was something about the fašade that looked off to Heero, but he couldn't place it exactly. The entire building was of one style and impressive in the was that old buildings on Earth often were.

They walked to the door and the doormen there directed Heero to a box office inside. They could see a rather grand lobby with various uniformed ushers and waitstaff and coat checkers. Heero presented the card he had used to reserve his tickets and tickets were printed.

"An Usher will meet you at the top of the stairs," the woman at the booth said.

Heero bowed slightly.

"They didn't even blink at Koi," Duo whispered. "Why would you need him if you have me on your arm?"

"I would not, but they most likely recognized us. I am most often recognized when we are together."

"Ah. Does...? Does it look... sorta not like you expected?"

"I know what you mean. It looks grand and old, but not as old as one would expect."

"Maybe they just decided to remodel. It is an old building right? Maybe things needed work and they decided to change it rather than restore it."

Heero nodded. But the fašade had looked wrong. Heero pocketed his glasses as they walked the stairs. There were several ushers above and Heero noticed as well that though the colors were the same the style of trim on the walls and rails was different. "I think it was bombed," Heero said.

"When was Moscow bombed?" Duo asked.

"I meant a bomb placed in the building, not that the city had suffered an air strike. I hadn't thought of it before now, but I think I read about it. It was a long time ago, when the Alliance was new. The Colonies were not the only place where people opposed being over-governed by the Alliance. That came after their parent nations did join."

As if to confirm this, when they came to the landing and an usher bowed to them Heero saw a large bronze plaque on the wall commemorating the AC 139 bombing of the theater and those who had died. Apparently several separate sections had suffered damage and people of the city had decided to rebuild in a slightly different style in order to better remember their tragedy.

Some people favored rebuilding damaged things in the same style, because they believed it showed determination or resistance against those who destroyed. Other people believed that what was destroyed should show some scars to remind people of their history. Heero did not suppose either approach was wrong.

"Man, is there anywhere not scarred by the wars?" Duo asked.

Heero did not answer. He was sure that if a place was not scarred by recent wars it was by past wars.

"It's like that Church in Berlin, ya know? I wonder what they'll do with Playa Del Stardust. Redo South Beach in something less Vegas but just as fitting a resort."

"Art Deco," Heero said.

"I guess," Duo said, not apparently familiar with Miami.

The usher gestured toward a curtained archway and the box beyond. They were in another section that looked newer than the rest, though this section was nearly 60 years old now. Heero stared for a moment then supposed he should perhaps tip the young man for helping them, so he quickly took some cash from a pocket and handed the usher a few bills of various currencies, that did not seem too much.

"Aw, we got a box? I didn't know they really still had theaters like this!" Duo said. He turned to the usher, "Was the stage ever damaged?"

All the staff must be well practiced in explaining the story to tourists. "The stage was not damaged directly in the 139 bombing or the fires started by that attack, but like all the remaining sections it did suffer slight smoke and water damage. All sections that could be salvaged were carefully cleaned and restored and damaged sections were gutted and then rebuild in a simpler style. In some cases walls and passages were moved and the theater now has additional seating equal to the number of casualties from the bombing."

"Your English is, like, perfect."

Heero pressed his lips together and tried not to laugh.

"Sorry, it's just, I bet you couldn't go to... New York or somewhere and find ushers to speak Russian so well."

"Sir? Are there not very many Russian-Americans in New York?"

"Oh... I guess there could be. Are there?"

Heero laughed. "There are even America-Russians in Moscow, but it makes no difference, we are all part of the same nation now and it does seem to be unification by choice this time."

"This was Khushrenada's box," Their usher blurted out, and then seemed to regret that he had spoken and not left them.

"I knew that, thank you," Heero said, clearly dismissing the man. He was not angry, he just felt there was no need for him to linger.

"Khushrenada's box?" Duo said quietly as he sat down in one of the chairs facing the rail.

Heero closed the curtains and then sat beside Duo. "Aa, it is possible in many theaters to buy season tickets. His family did have a lot of money. They could afford to hold season tickets in many theaters, or even in many cities. It is a good way to impress politicians or business men, I suppose, bringing them here."

"Yeah, or like a decked out sky box in Shooting Stars arena."

"Yanagi could only get me half court seats on the floor," Heero stated.

"OK, that's impressive," Duo said. "well, in a different way, the people who like basketball might not admit to liking ballet, or vice versa."

"We will find out," Heero said, warmly he thought. He lifted the opera glasses from the small shelf below the rail. "Do you want anything?" Heero pointed out the touch screen terminal, center of the shelf.

"Aw, we get drinks and stuff too?" Duo asked, excitedly.

"Yes, with our tickets quite a few are complimentary."

"Guess this place is good for impressing dates too."

"Duo," Heero sighed. Maybe he did sometimes sound very much in love when he said Duo's name. That time it had even been obvious to him.

"I know. I was already impressed. You do it just because you can. I think you rather like the freedom." Duo dropped his voice, "I mean, anyone would like having some money and being able to do what they want with it."

"I do feel happy," Heero admitted.

"Well, that's good! I would like for you to always be happy. You pretty much deserve it!" Duo made a tight smile and brushed stay sprigs of hair behind his ear.

Heero wanted to say that much of his life was under control and that he was pleased and that he would be most happy if Duo would promise to stay with him, but he did not really want to discuss relationships and trials again. He just wanted to enjoy the date. When outside forces did not interfere Heero did enjoy their dates very much. He smiled.

Duo grinned.

Koi put his head on Heero's knee, and Heero subconsciously pet the dog.

"Think I could pinch these?" Duo asked, looking through the opera glasses.

Heero shook his head.

"Take without permission," Duo whispered in explanation.

"They are like hotel robes. You can say that you want to buy them or you can take them and find your account charged when they are found missing."

"Oh."

Heero studied the opposite side of the theater through his own glasses. They magnified things somewhat, not quite so much as a good pair of military field glasses, but more than enough than they needed to follow events on the stage below. Heero thought they had a good view of the stage, somewhat below and to the right.

Heero could see the old and new sections, he was guessing there had been three bombs, the largest near the front of the building. If timed with intermission many people would have died, but otherwise, it seemed it would have been those in the most expensive seats as well as the lobby... possibly some cars outside. It was hard to tell sixty years after the fact.

"A lot of Romefeller used to be in Moscow?" Duo asked. Perhaps he had also observed with a soldier's eye.

"Aa. And it was known by those who bothered to investigate that Romefeller supplied the Alliance, though their involvement in the war was not apparent to the common people until late in the wars. They were in the business of making and selling arms. And, mostly they were from old money... aristocrats... and, yes, many did seem to live in Moscow. Weridge may be here. Relena's mother lives with him now she is widowed."

"Yeah, I knew that, I mean, about her mother."

"It was probably rebels who were trying to take out those they suspected of causing the Alliance to gain power here. Not all nations joined the Alliance at once, or peacefully."

"Right, but when they did, and their Colonies then rebelled over it..."

"Assassination would have been better. It is a shame to destroy culture in the process of trying to effect political change." Not that Heero liked killing, but he believed that if people were going to die anyway then it was better their knowledge and culture be saved. People that did not at least want to study what their enemy had known and made were fighting for the wrong reasons. Even Nazi's had possessed stylish design in architecture and uniform. Cruel as their means had been, people did ultimately benefit from their science.

Romefeller had made mobile suits and now people like Duo were building mobile suits that could be used in farming or terraforming.

"Yeah, a shame," Duo agreed, "Like we need more book burning or bombed theaters or schools and churches..."

"You need to stop dwelling on that," Heero said firmly. He wanted to add, "either of them," but he was not sure Duo was already thinking of both destroyed churches.

"I am trying, Heero," Duo said, head bowed, "It's just, it'd kinda be wrong to forget entirely, wouldn't it? Rhetorical question. I'm... sorry for being such a depressing date."

"Do not feel sorry on my account. You would be just as tolerant for me, even if we were just friends."

"So, is the show starting soon?"

Heero pointed out the countdown on the screen.

"Pretty classy that?"

"Aa."

The theater seats filled quickly after that. House lights flashed, then dimmed. Heero was petting Koi and thinking about the value of lives in comparison to information or art. Duo was reading the program.

"Hey, it says this ballet was first performed in Saint Petersburg," Duo said.

"Aa," Heero said almost automatically, "That seems to be a large difference between classical and contemporary music. The pieces are no longer associated exclusively with any one performer or group. Once written a concerto or ballet or opera may be in many productions involving various theaters, companies, orchestras, singers, conductors and choreographers."

"Yeah, yeah, well, they sure make it seem like this production is world class and all."

"Would you use a neutron bomb?" Heero asked.

"Huh?"

"You know what one is?"

"Yeah... and no. I mean, ya gotta be thinking it's a good thing in some cold logical way, because it doesn't destroy buildings, only the enemy. And the enemy are the ones that are trying to kill you I guess... only where would you really find that many of the enemy that you wouldn't also find fairly innocent support personnel and children and infantry in it to support their families."

"Sometimes an entire nation is trained to resist invasion," Heero said flatly, "Including children in schools and housewives."

"Ah... yeah... but it's still a weapon of mass destruction. Maybe if there was such a thing as a neutron grenade, ya know? Maybe. But not a bomb."

"Thank you, Duo... I had almost convinced myself I would do it."

"No problem," Duo said quickly. The music started then and Heero looked toward the stage.

The introduction was dramatic from the start and only after a minute of loud rapid sounds from the orchestra did it transition into something that Heero supposed might be described as pastoral before it grew again in sound to something more noble and courtly. It made Heero understand right then how music alone could invoke pictures in his mind. The music could tell a story.

But the ballet also involved stage set and dancers in costume. Heero had seen some types of shows and he thought that set and props were much less than some plays might have, because much of the story was related by the music and dance, but the sets were not minimalist either.

More dancers appeared as the Prologue began. Heero knew from the program that the Sleeping Beauty was presented in Prologue plus thee Acts. Heero believed that the overall body conscious clothing with addition of some elaboration in the skirts of female dancers and the jackets of male dancers was rather traditional of ballet productions. He felt that the dancers were beautiful. The way the moved, and the way their clothes moved with them was elegant and graceful and all the things people said ballet was supposed to be.

It was nearly a half hour before either Heero or Duo spoke, and that was when the curtain closed briefly prior to Act I.

"Ne, ne, ballet is pretty cool?" Duo asked.

"Aa. Cool," Heero agreed.

"I guess some guys do really look good in tights," Duo laughed.

"Aa... if their legs are toned by that sort of dancing."

"Or, if they're me."

Heero smiled. "I do rather like your legs. They are... I just like them."

Duo sighed dramatically and fell back into his chair. He folded one arm behind his head and turned to glance at Heero. "Guess I'll have to think up some new outfits to wear for you."

Heero felt a little embarrassed. He was not ashamed to admit he was attracted to Duo, but he was slightly uncomfortable with having admitted something that was so particular and so... silly. Of course Duo was by most standards an attractive and fit man overall, but sometimes when his hair moved a certain way and Heero saw the back of his neck, or when his legs were bare, or when he was changing clothes and his shoulder rolled a certain way, then Heero found him suddenly more attractive. He did not know why. It just happened. It was the indefinable nature that made Heero uncomfortable.

"Don't stare at me like that," Duo said, his voice gone low. That did it too, when Duo's voice dropped below its current adult and masculine depth to something even deeper. Heero felt warm inside when he heard it. It caused him to regard Duo with more intensity and with lower lids. "Not unless you wanna find out if I'll go down on you in a theater." Duo laughed.

Heero looked away, toward the stage. The first act was beginning. Duo he would accept anytime, but he was not sure about anyplace.

"I know this music," Duo said a short while later.

"It is the Waltz, the Sleeping Beauty Waltz. I would have known it."

"No, I mean... I think it was in a Disney movie."

Heero looked away from the stage to Duo.

"Yeah, only they had lyrics for it." Duo stared humming, and then singing, "I know you, I met with you once upon a dream... I know you, that gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam... and I know it's true that visions are seldom all they seem... but if I know you, I know what you'll do, you'll hold me at once, the way you did once upon a dream." He laughed. "Or something like that. It's been a while."

"That doesn't seem to fit exactly," Heero said, looking at the dancers.

"Well, it's the same... they just remixed it I guess. Yeah, and then this part here..." Duo paused. "I can't remember exactly, but Aurora is singing to some birds and animals... something about melody... 'to sing to... sweet things to' maybe it's that?"

"Aurora, then it was actually a movie of Sleeping Beauty?"

"Oh, yeah, that's what I meant. They sort of remixed a lot of this music for their movie and gave it all lyrics. Like that march they were playing before had a choir singing 'Hail Aurora' and stuff."

"But, was it good, that they just cut up the music?" Heero asked.

"Ah, I guess not as good if you had heard this first, now I think of it. But, it was good as a Classic Disney work in itself. They had three fairies, not just one."

"Oh."

"You think this Sleeping Beauty is most like that one? Prob'ly they based that on this one, huh? I mean, there's only a couple different people who actually wrote the old faerietales. Brother's Grimm, Perrault, and there was a woman too. Well, I guess actually a lot of people all over the world wrote various short stories and recorded folk tales, but those were the ones that collected European faerietales that were commonly told and wrote them all down. I mean, in some versions of Sleeping beauty she's the only one who survives the hundred years. Her parents and everyone die and the Prince is someone born years after her."

"I only vaguely understand the story... but isn't it one of those 'true love kiss' stories? How can someone born after she fell asleep be her true love? That is more disturbing than romantic."

"Well, not all faerietales are supposed to be romantic, but I guess it could be he's her soul mate, like reincarnated and it's love at first kiss..."

Heero smiled. "That is better. Romantic to wake and find your soul mate again."

"Yeah, if you believe in that."

Heero frowned. He wanted Duo to believe in it, because Heero was fairly convinced himself.

Heero watched the stage again, enjoying the show. Shortly after there was a change in the music, it sort of swelled up and grew loud. A climax before the maids of honor and young men began their dance. Heero liked the way it sounded.

During the final part of the first act Heero moved his opera glasses and his gaze away from the stage. The ballet had his attention, but he could not help from habitual checking of his surroundings for threats. And part of him pondered the fact that Treize had once had this same view.

Heero knew this had been the box Treize Khushrenada used; he had worked out plans to assassinate him here. He had worked out plans to assassinate him in many locations, but he had not found the opportunity to get close enough until... he did not feel he could go through with killing Treize anymore.

The people in the boxes, Treize might have looked out and seen them. They might be aristocrats without a kingdom. They might be businesspeople with stock in Zodiac Technologies.

Act I was ending. There was to be a short intermission. The music quieted, but Heero continued to look through his glasses, though he did not look at the stage. Then he noticed it, something that set off mental alarms.

A couple had meandered out from a box, leaving the curtains open, and then a single man had entered the same box carrying a briefcase. He had closed the curtain and then set the case down to open it.

Logically, it could have been many things, but Heero knew it was not any of the harmless ones. He just knew.

"Where are you going?" Duo asked as Heero rushed from their box.

"Stay here," Heero called sharply as he left. He took his phone from a pocket and set it on his head. He dialed the local emergency switchboard as he fast-walked around the ring of boxes and through the crowd of well-dressed promenaders. "This is Preventer Captain Yuy," Heero said giving his badge number and passcode as well, "Unconfirmed sighting of a shooter within the Bolshoi. No shots fired yet. Attempting to confirm presence of a gunman now. Request backup."

The dispatcher gave Heero the ETAs of available medics and security forces.

"Standby on Medic," Heero whispered, feeling the attention of people around him. He watched the curtains as he walked, looking for the far end of the row. Once he saw the end of the hall, with a door market as emergency exit, he counted back the number he had counted when across the theater.

The fourth box from the end.

Heero took half a second to listen then he moved. He slipped through the curtain and visually confirmed for himself that a man was seated facing the rail and was aiming an American make rifle, which he had assembled from components, across the interior to the boxes opposite. Heero kicked the nearest leg of the chair, hard. Chair and man tumbled. Heero grabbed the barrel of the rifle and forced it toward the curtains and then wrested it from the gunman.

A second had passed, perhaps one and a half. The struggle was not over. The gunman pulled a second weapon from beneath his jacket, one of those Colonial 10mm things, equipped with a silencer. A split second and Heero had calculated several possible moves for each of them. They were both on the floor. The gunman was sprawled, with a shoulder against one wall, his weapons trained on Heero's face. Heero was on his feet, as if in a lunge, his left hand holding the rifle to the floor and his right hand in midair, working as a counterbalance.

Heero went for the dive. His weight had already been poised for the shift and it was only as risky as everything else he had thought of. Heero dove into the hall, flipping monitor on his phone with his right hand. He lifted the rifle in his left hand and scrambled to his feet.

Heero looked through the slightly open curtains. The gunman wouldn't jump. Now, Heero was calling up virtual dossiers from mental file hierarchies. There was an assassin for hire that Heero had heard of that might fit this man's general physical description, MO and weapon choice. He went by the conspicuously inconspicuous name of Mr. Black. He would fire, even if he recognized Heero, perhaps even if he noticed the monitor had been flipped and the line was still active.

Whatever happened, dispatch had a picture of Mr. Black now.

Heero focused on the 10mm. He saw Black's finger flex and knew they would find out how fast Heero was. He spun back to his left, catching a glimpse of theater patrons noticing the rifle as much as the sudden movement.

Heero rushed to the section of wall between curtains, calculating that it would provide the best angle of cover from the shots that were tracking left from his last position, unless...

Heero saw the barrel of the weapon Black held come through the parted curtains, and then it was turned toward his present location. Heero ducked quickly, dropping the rifle neatly to the floor as another muffled shot just missing his head. Heero sprang up from his crouch, grabbing the 10mm and Black's hands. Heero quickly forced the clip to eject before Black could fire on him again.

They struggled either side of the curtains, neither landing a solid chop or punch to the other. Heero knew enough to understand that the older man had been in training since before Heero was born and that he had never abandoned the life of assassin as Heero had. Heero was fast and strong, but he knew he could not afford to make mistakes with Black.

He clearly knew moves from multiple martial arts schools, and one who had mastered these kinds of moves could defeat a stronger opponent.

Black smiled. Heero was holding back, a little, and he realized it. If Heero was willing to take a few minor hits, he could have gotten the opportunity to get one good hit on Black, but the truth was, he was not willing to risk that one of those hits wouldn't turn into a killing blow. He wanted to live too much. Black was not willing to throw his life away, but he surely did not have a boyfriend waiting that would be worried or upset if he showed up bruised with clothes full of knife gashes and bullet holes, either.

Black nearly landed a solid kick to Heero's knee, except that Heero recognized the stance used to shift for the kick and jumped to avoid it. Unfortunately, that split-second of fight time it took for Heero to save himself was time enough for Black to draw a knife from his left sleeve.

It was just a little more dangerous fighting someone trained to kill when they had a weapon that could stab, slash, smack or be thrown. Using the knife got Black to the back staircase.

The arriving local security and theater staff had blocked the hall, but Heero had known the fire stairs were Black's escape route all along. He raced down the stairs after the assassin.

Surely this attempt was a failure, and he was identified, but surely Black was known by one alias or another by authorities already and he lived in hiding. His professional reputation could be saved if he yet killed his target, and Heero did not know who that was. If Black did not fulfill his contract, someone else might.

Heero saw Black trip, fall down three steps and careen into a wall. It was only then did Heero see that someone else was in the stairwell, that it was Duo, and that he was pressing the end of his walking stick against black's spine, pinning him to the floor.

"I am the one you should have been worried about," Duo said and Heero did not know which of them he was speaking to. Duo's eyes remained on the walking stick; it occurred to Heero that Duo must have slid it between the rails from the flight below and caused Black to fall.

Heero remembered that his line to dispatch was still active. He flipped the monitor again. Looking around to identify his location Heero reported that an assassin was subdued and that they were in the rear stairwell near the backstage entrance.

As he received the message from dispatch he relayed it to Duo. "There are agents in the building already. They are on their way to our location." Heero heard a scraping on the stairs behind and turned slowly. It was only Koi, he saw. Heero wondered if the dog had also tracked him, if tracking was what Duo had done, or if Duo had managed to call a truce with Heero's pet long enough to send him after Heero.

It seemed likely then that Duo had not tracked Heero, but known that if there was trouble someone would likely try an escape at the rear exit and placed himself in ambush. Koi had actually tracked Heero through the building and crowds.

Heero told dispatch that they would await the agents and that things were under control. He disconnected the call. As he did, Duo's eyes fell on him for an instant. That look Heero had seen was cold. It made Heero feel cold.

Black was laughing.

Duo kicked him in the ribs.

Heero remained on the stairs and watched Duo. The kick was not really necessary.

"I thought you had gone back to your roots, Danshi. I always thought I would be killed by The Boy. But my contract was not tipped off. You happened upon me on a date, ne? You are still 'serving' the Preventers!" Black laughed the last words, having spoken to Heero in badly accented Japanese liberally peppered with American.

Heero shook his head, though Black would be unable to see.

Duo kicked Black again. "Teme..." Duo said, then hissed at Black, literally.

At that five Preventer agents in field uniform came upon them at once, from above and below, having their stun guns, restraints, tranks and gas canisters variously readied.

"I'm off duty," Duo announced, "I just pinned him and watched his hands, you guys can take care of searching him and the rest. Yuy's the one who made him." Duo lifted his walking stick after Black was in cuffs. "See ya. I'm missing the second act." Duo stepped over Black's legs then climbed the stairs.

He passed Heero without a word or a glance. He was more upset than Heero had guessed. Heero could feel the anger when Duo passed him. Duo pat his leg at the landing and Koi whined.

Heero turned, Duo was already moving up the next flight. "Guard Duo," Heero told Koi in combination of hand signals and voice command. He saw the dog turn then climb the stairs after Duo.

Heero found one of the agents waiting on him when he looked down the stairs again. "We have agents upstairs still. We recovered two firearms. Several slugs were in the walls. Will any of them be from your weapon?"

"I was unarmed," Heero whispered.

"Sir?"

"I had no weapon. The rifle and the 10mm semi-auto were on Black. I saw a knife too."

The nearby agent exchanged glances with another on the landing below.

"Maxwell passed me the knife across the floor. Our detainee was still armed and most of it does not look legal." He had several evidence bags with confiscated weapons.

Another agent was reading off a list of legal rights to Black.

"Do you know what his target was?" the agent asked Heero. "There were no injuries reported."

"I only had a moment to observe his activity before he was aware of my presence. I saw him aim the rifle across the theater. I think he was contracted to kill someone in one of the boxes, though I am not certain."

"Did you injure him?"

"We struggled," Heero said honestly. "I kicked his chair to stop him from firing. He drew on me. Then we struggled. He fired that Colonial make gun on me several times. He drew the knife. Then I chased him down these stairs and he fell. Then Maxwell pinned him."

"You will be submitting a report?"

"Of course."

"Copy it to Moscow substation Captain."

"I will," Heero said.

"Thank you for your help. We can handle this now."

Heero gave a nod and then went back upstairs. When he reached the fire door he found it propped open and he could hear the music. He was missing the ballet. The hall was empty of onlookers now. Order had been restored. Only a few local security officers and Preventer agents were moving about.

Heero went into the box where he had found Black, disregarding the tape across the entrance. An agent looked up from a mobile computer. Heero caught a glimpse of a facial pattern matching program and photos on the screen. "Captain Yuy? May I help you?"

"Have you found a likely target?"

"We have identified most of the people in the boxes, either from ticket sales or face matching with our records, but we can only speculate on who was a target or why."

Heero lifted the opera glasses. If escape had been the only concern, Black would have taken over the first available box near the exit. But that rifle had not been the very best quality weapon. Traveling with a weapon would have posed some challenges, and not all models were as easily disassembled and reassembled as others. It had likely been purchased locally. Black had worn gloves. It seemed like he wanted to leave it behind, perhaps to suggest others had committed the murder. And, that rifle, not being the best available would have been better used at a closer distance and within a narrow angle from the target, to be sure it only took one shot. Lights and laser sights would have been noticed too quickly in the theater, so Black needed to be able to get a very clear line of sight to his target.

His contracted target was probably someone very near Heero's box, as Heero had easily been able to see Black.

Heero looked up through the opera glasses. He saw Duo, watching the stage. He looked sad. Heero and Duo had not been targeted, or Black would have tried a lot harder to kill them.

Heero panned his view to his left. He recognized the man sitting there in the way he had Black. It was a face he had filed away once as relevant. Andrian Nikolayev. During the war he had been a member of Romefeller, though, the Nikolayev family were considered something like Black sheep within that group, because their money was too new. They owned, among other things, the leading Russian-based manufacturer of commercial computer processors and one of their lesser pursuits was software. Their chips were in automatic tea makers as well as Taurus mobile suits.

Scientists from their corporation had designed the hardware Tsuberov had used in the mobile dolls.

That might be reason for some people to hold a grudge, but, it didn't seem to fit all the facts. Andrian, more than his father or uncle, had been relatively innocent of those doings, and most people had put the war behind them. Besides, most people probably did not realize that Nikolayev was associated with mobile dolls. Andrian was more infamous for his suspected Mafia connections.

Though, Heero thought, the way Black had seemed to intend to plant the rifle would have made some people suspect a Mafia connection. Those who still dealt arms were in underground organizations and so the weapon would likely be traced back to some low-level Mafioso who had acquired the weapon at some point and recently sold it for more than it should be worth.

For a second Heero wondered if the attempt was some sort of internal Mafia conflict. No, he thought, it's only made to look like it could be. And badly, Heero added. Real present day members of Moscow criminal organizations wouldn't have hired an American hitman and wouldn't have disrupted the ballet.

Heero scanned the boxes. He recognized some people, but he just could not figure why some American hitman was attempting to kill any of them at the ballet. They were pop stars or local politicians and should have been well liked.

Why here? Heero wondered. It was so public and escape routes were limited. It was likely difficult for Black to smuggle so many weapons in. He must have found some way to con his way in through the back entrance.

Heero put the opera glasses down.

The incident made no sense to him at the moment and he was missing the ballet. Missing the show and Duo was angry with him.

"I am returning to my seat," Heero said, then left.

He walked slowly, listening to the music of Act II as it came through the boxes and doorways. He had not predicted that Duo would be upset, but Heero thought he did understand why.

It was that he had left Duo behind to worry and be kept safe, knowing in his heart that it was likely Duo was more of a help than a hindrance and that both were safest when they could watch each other and face danger together.

It was not like work. They had previously come to an understanding about work. If Duo had a mission or Heero had a mission or a test to perform, then the other simply had no choice but to trust the other to be good at their job and go about their business. They could worry, but they could not interfere with each other's work.

This was not work. Heero had become aware of a potential threat while Duo was with him and instead of ask Duo to back him up or at the least alert Duo of his suspicions he had run off, hoping to keep Duo safe and take all the risk.

Duo was comfortable with the idea of being pampered and cared for and even loved. He was OK with being restrained and fucked and taking orders from Heero. Duo could perform a myriad submissive roles for Heero and liked doing it... up to a point.

Clearly Heero had discovered precisely where that point was. Duo tolerated and even enjoyed all the pampering, punishment, bondage and control Heero felt like giving him... except when it meant Heero was exposing himself to real danger and preventing Duo from protecting him. Duo absolutely needed to be free to protect Heero when there was real danger and Heero had ordered him to remain behind.

It was no wonder why Duo was upset! "I only have until Friday and I am still failing him!" Heero said to himself.

He had to remember Duo's past. It was important. Heero was not dealing with just anyone. He was dealing with Duo, who was used to having people he cared about die and too used to feeling it was his fault for not saving them. However much Heero had come to value Duo's life and however much he felt a terribly masculine urge to protect that gorgeous, insane American boy, Duo was feeling it more, for Heero.

If Duo could not believe that he had a chance to keep Heero safe and alive then he could not stand to feel attached to Heero.

Heero had not intended it, but he had hurt Duo a lot. It would be wrong to think of Duo as fragile and tiptoe about his emotions, but it was also wrong to not consider Duo's very intense emotions.

Heero sighed, standing at the curtain. It was truly his wrong. He would have to apologize. Hopefully he could do it without sounding entirely weak. It was not any better to have Duo think Heero weak and unable to do his equal part in keeping them both alive and safe.

That was what Heero's actions likely made Duo feel, that Heero thought Duo was weak and unable to protect him.

Heero shook his head and then went into their box. Koi was seated and watching the curtain expectantly. Duo remained seated and staring at the stage.

Heero took his seat again. He took in a deep breath and watched the stage. He had probably missed a significant part of the second act. Duo might be able to point out where they were in the program, if Duo was speaking to him.

"Duo-chan," Heero started.

Duo turned his head and glared. He said nothing, but his eyes communicated that he thought Heero presently had no right to use that term of affection.

"Duo-chan," Heero started again, "I must apologize to you for something. I do not wish to distract you from the show any more, but it is important and if you listen to me there may be a chance we can both enjoy the last act together."

Duo made a soft sound to clear his throat then said, "I am listening to you, Heero." He sounded kind and his eyes were not so cold when he glanced away from the stage.

"Duo-chan, It was a mistake to tell you to stay here when I suspected there may be danger. I did not know that it was wrong when I did it, of course, I would not hurt your feelings like that, on purpose. I do realize now that I was wrong. I failed to understand your needs. You needed to be free to protect me and I did need your help this time..." Heero paused.

He just realized that it might also have hurt Duo to have to disregard his request. Heero did not think it was an arrogant assumption. Duo seemed to like that Heero could fall into being authoritative. He would have had a sort of fun showing Heero he was able to do what was asked, in other circumstances.

"Duo-chan, I was the one who put you in a difficult situation and I hurt your feelings. After all the times I told you to be quiet in the past, or thought you annoying, it hurt when you would not speak to me, but it is not just my pain that makes me want to apologize. I realized that I hurt you and that demands apology. Will you forgive me?"

Duo smiled, though it was more smug than kind, Heero thought. "Are you contrite?"

Contrite? Duo knew more obscure English words than Heero did. It probably meant 'sorry.'

"You have to say the words, Heero. I know you know you hurt me. I know you didn't mean it. Hey, I know it's hard to admit, but you have to actually say you are sorry. 'Must apologize' and 'demands apology' are not the same as actually giving the apology, eh?"

Heero sighed. Duo was infuriating. Heero found room to sit even more straight and looked steadily at Duo, who only casually met his gaze. "Duo-chan, I am sorry that I hurt you. Now that I understand I will not hurt you like that again. Please forgive me."

"Say that you are heartily sorry..."

"Duo-chan," Heero scolded, "I am man enough to admit my faults, but if you persist in testing me then I will be the one owed an apology."

Duo shrugged. "I do forgive you, I guess. Heero... you said you would not hurt me the same way again, but you have before. I thought you already understood... it makes you like, a repeat offender. I don't want to stay mad at you, but I think it really hurts."

"Duo... I do understand how you resented being left behind in the past, but I did not realize fully... Duo... there are things that are particularly offensive to you that would not bother other people so much. Sometimes it really is challenging to be with you. I want to make you happy and not hurt you, but it is difficult. I failed today." Heero shook his head. "I don't mean that I blame you..."

"I know," Duo whispered.

He had just hurt him again. "Duo."

"Stop," Duo whispered.

"What?"

"Can I...?" Duo started in whisper and then dropped his voice further, "sit with you?"

"You want to sit on me?" Heero asked, perhaps showing a bit much surprise.

Duo sighed, rolled his shoulders then turned to Heero and winked at him, "Or your lap could sit in me, Heero!"

Heero smiled and extended a hand in invitation. The humor and sex was a front for asking to be held, but Heero did not mind the pretense. What was important was that Duo wanted them to make up as much as Heero did.

Duo expertly insinuated himself into Heero's personal space. He spread Heero's legs, sat between them, crossed his legs over one arm of the chair and wrapped his right arm about Heero's shoulders. The position put his head about level with Heero's, though he did not block his view. Heero could see the stage as he had before, and Duo could now see it just as well if he turned his head.

Duo wriggled slightly. Heero placed his left arm firmly to Duo's back to support him. His right hand did seem to fall most naturally to Duo's lap, but Heero thought that might be inappropriate, so he lifted his hand and pretended to be adjusting his lapel, until Duo gave him his idle hand to hold.

Heero needed to remember this too. It was important. Duo really was a physically affectionate person. He needed reassuring contact as more than he needed any words from Heero.

Heero had worried that if he had returned and kissed Duo without a word that also could have sent the wrong message. Serious relationships were hard work, Heero thought.

"I forgive you," Duo whispered.

"Aa..." Heero was lost as to what part of the plot they were dancing.

"Sometimes it isn't your fault, ya know?"

"E'?"

"Sometimes... I'm sad and it doesn't mean you failed to make me happy. Sometimes it isn't you at all."

"I know," Heero said seriously.

For a while they did not speak. Duo nuzzled Heero's cheek and they watched the ballet. The second act was nearly ended.

"Why did that guy say you'd gone back to your roots? I'm sure he didn't mean your hair. Don't you think it was a clue to who the target was?"

Heero was a little surprised by the timing of the question. "I thought he was only referring to the fact that I had once been an assassin."

"Oh."

"He could have..."

"What?"

"'Roots' might have meant the sort of people Lowe had worked for."

Duo snorted. "He means, like, Mafia and all that."

"You could speculate so."

"So, he was saying that his target was the sort of person who would send you after him. Who would he think had the connections?"

"I do not even know how he knows me..." That was ridiculous now Heero really thought about it. Since the war his face had been spread across so many media that anyone who had known him previously under any alias recognized that that person was the same as the one who had piloted ZERO. There was a dangerous amount of information out there about him to be pieced together by anyone with motivation to do so. "You think he meant someone Colonial? I didn't recognize anyone as Colonial..."

"I did," Duo whispered, hiking his thumb to the box now to their right. That was the same box in which Heero had observed Nikolayev.

"The woman with Andrian?"

"Is that his name? You don't know Tereshkova?"

"Tereshkov? Vladimir Tereshkov was an aide to Heero Yuy and he died in the explosion that also killed Relena's adopted Father."

"Valentina's his daughter. She's on the council that decides what mobile suit manufacturer will get the MCP contract that Relena announced. Relena is still on the council also."

"You think she was the target?"

"She's a Russian Colonial that remained a pacifist throughout the wars, but she also supported Colonial Independence and arranged strikes and protests during the Alliance occupation... and was never arrested."

"Aa... those roots." During the war, when the Alliance had occupied the Colonies a lot of what might be called organized crime was coincidentally anti-Alliance. Heero thought Tereshkova had made connections without actually being within the organization. It was not like all Japanese and Russian Colonials were Family, just the ones Heero knew.

"Thought so," Duo said sharply. "She has the connections that she could have hired Lowe if she needed to, and so that Black guy would have assumed she could have hired you, since he's heard rumors about you dealing with Lowe's old associates since you returned to the Colonies." The sharp tone was for the fact that although this had all been obvious to Duo, Heero had never discussed the matter with him.

The inevitability of that association had been assured when Trant Clark had raped a Colonial Geisha and then boarded the same train as Heero. Outsiders might describe them as Mafioso or criminal, but they were just people who looked after each other and operated outside the law. Heero had become accustomed to operating outside the law.

Laws fluctuated with ruling parties while people largely remained of the same nature. They required a few vices and distractions, freedom of information and the ability to protect their families and laws did not always allow everything they needed.

"Duo...?"

"Yeah?"

"When did you recognize Valentina?"

"In the hall during intermission, when we heard the rumors about someone having a gun in the theater. She and that guy with her seemed pretty nervous."

"They seemed close?"

"Her and this Andrian guy? Yeah. Seemed like a couple."

"And she is a Colonial pacifist that sympathized wit the revolutionaries?"

"Uh huh."

"Her boyfriend was a member of Romefeller and an executive at the company that supplied microchips for Tsuberov's dolls."

"Well, not the Libras, which were made in the Colonies."

"Taurus suits. Their chips and software are in all Taurus suits."

"Andrian's his first name? He's a Nikolayev?"

"Yes."

Duo laughed. "Nikolayev is dating Tereshkova..." Duo sighed.

"Someone does not approve, but it must be love."

"Completely star-crossed. It's gotta be love. That would suck... your girlfriend being shot while on a date at the ballet, ne?"

"Yes. Someone wanted her dead and wanted Andrian to hurt."

"Ex-girlfriend?" Duo asked.

"I wouldn't know."

Duo laughed. "Hey, I bet it's not political or anything. Kinda nice, in a sick way. It's just an old-fashioned love matter and we haven't happened onto one more political or military plot!"

Heero smiled. "It does feel... good!"

"Except that you still had to accidentally foil an assassination attempt."

"I had some help."

Duo kissed Heero's face.

on to chapter 42

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