Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
He never realized just how sexy the poses were until he saw the photos on the screen. Cerise was using a professional digital camera and her mobile computer was set to generate low-res thumbnails of each shot, so that she might decide whether or not she wanted more shots of the same pose. Sometimes one of them moved or blinked. Sometimes Cerise changed her mind about where she wanted to shoot from or where a light should be positioned. Even the flawed photos looked somewhat impressive.
The photos that were not flawed were always more revealing than Heero had thought, even when they wore a lot of clothing.
Heero did not really know how it happened. When Cerise was capturing photos of Duo and him, he did not really think about looking sexy or possessive or unearthly beautiful. It just happened.
One of Fred's assistants was helping Duo dress while Fred himself touched up Heero's makeup with another assistant standing by. Heero still had the bruise on his face and the photography lights were bright, so he understood the need for some products on his skin, but he suspected they were using more than was absolutely necessary.
They had not given him mirrors; they relied on their own opinions of Heero's appearance and did not need Heero's opinion. He had submitted to the hands fussing with his skin, hair and clothing. He had taken direction from Cerise or her assistant. Heero had not tried to act or pose any more than he was instructed to.
He did not really understand why he had this particular look in the photos. He did not think it had been directed. This look...it was something natural the camera merely captured and could not create. Duo was often looking like he knew a secret no one else did, while Heero came off looking like he would kill anyone who looked too long at Duo.
It was not threatening exactly, Heero decided. It was possessive. The stylists' and photographer's skills guaranteed that he was shown at his most attractive. Somehow, Heero made sure it was communicated that Duo belonged to him.
That secret Duo knew probably had to do with knowing that he was happy to be possessed, but Heero thought it might have a little more to do with the knowledge that Heero was as much his as he was Heero's.
Heero looked up from the chaise to Duo. The dresser seemed intent on having Duo's red Cheong-Leen shirt drape just so. It was true: Heero belonged to Duo. He was in Duo's service. Of course, Duo was also in Heero's service. It was like they...
No, Heero thought and denied the thought. Not like that.
He glanced to Duo again and he saw that look the camera had seen, only more. Duo knew. He knew exactly what they were like to each other. Heero felt he must have been blushing as Duo looked at him, with that grin and that glint in his eyes.
"Shinigami", Heero said quietly. Maybe it was like a prayer. He did not really want to die, he was just not sure he wanted his soul to belong to anyone else so much.
Heero heard another voice inside his head, it was also his own. "Do not be afraid", it said.
Heero looked down at his hand. He was holding the sapphire ring. Oh, just take all of me, he thought.
Heero thought he heard someone say, "I will", but he realized there was no direct speech or telepathy involved. He had only sensed Duo's feelings. I do not want him to do it because we 'may as well' or he 'wants it over with', Duo was thinking, One day Heero will want to do it, and then I will say, "I do", too.
Not too soon, Heero thought. He had to really know, with absolute certainty. Or he had to wait until he could go completely on faith, even if they were already like people who were married.
Cerise directed Heero to go stand near Duo. He rose from the chaise, Fred stepping out of his way. The furniture had been rearranged and there was a drape on the wall to provide the sort of backdrop Cerise wanted. Earlier it had been a sort of greenscreen, because Cerise was going to superimpose their image over a CG background later. Heero had seen a rough version on the computer's screen. They had seemed to be on Coruscant.
As Heero moved across the room, Duo reached out and grabbed him. Heero did not fight, much. In a general way, he liked Duo touching him. His back was drawn to Duo's chest and Heero looked forward and saw Cerise smiling behind her camera. However they seemed, it amused her to capture the image without posing them.
Heero knew that this time Duo was going to seem both possessive and full of secrets.
A short while later Cerise said that she was done. It occurred to Heero that he had already been informed that the last costume change was to be the final one. The photo shoot was finished. Heero felt Duo's hand slip from his stomach to the crotch of his velvet jeans. His fingers felt too hot where they touched Duo's other arm.
"You want to say goodbye and tell everyone to get outta the room?" Duo asked.
If it was simply a matter of what he wanted then...
"Or do you just want to make a run for the bathroom now?"
Heero smirked involuntarily. "Read my mind."
He could feel Duo's teeth on his right earlobe. "I think Fred shares my fetish."
Sacreligion? Being fucked?
Duo's tongue moved up Heero's ear. Heero's eyes closed to slits and Cerise looking at thumbnails and the stylists packing up cosmetics all blurred. Oh, the makeup. Heero did not really know what he looked like right now, but Duo clearly liked it.
Heero appreciated Duo's appreciation. He was sure there must be some pressure point on the ear that activated pleasure or painlessness. Someone putting their tongue on your ear should not feel this good.
Heero twisted away from Duo, put his left hand to the wall and followed the wall blindly to the bathroom. As he reached the open doorway, he heard someone call out behind him. "Don't be too long in there, boys. We have work to do." It was Yuki.
"All work and no play, ya know?" Duo said.
Yuki can go play with himself, Heero thought, but he said nothing. He waited for Duo to reach the door. A moment later, they were shut in the bathroom and Heero was pressed between the vanity and Duo's body. He put his hands to the edge of the vanity to brace himself and pushed away. The height of its top cut right across his pelvis.
Heero was not entirely sure if he should be grateful that Duo put a hand between Heero and the vanity and not sure backing into Duo was what he most wanted to do. Either way, it all felt good. It was just he felt out of control.
"Oh, Heero," Duo whispered at his left ear. "Open your eyes and look at me."
Heero raised his eyes to look over the reflection of his shoulder to Duo's face. Then, he happened to notice his own reflection. "What did he do?"
Duo sighed. "Looks like lash tint and iridescent bronze and green eyeshadow."
"It is green eyeshadow!" Heero said, leaning his upper body over the vanity to get a closer look at his face.
"God! You look so good right now!" Duo ran his hand up Heero's bare arm. "I just wanna..."
Heero knew what Duo just wanted to do. "No." He shook his head as he took one hand from the vanity top. Heero twisted, put his hand to Duo's chest and pushed. That push gave him room to move and Heero then put both his hands on Duo and pushed harder.
Duo backed up against the small area of wall behind the door. Heero strode across the space to stand close to him. He said nothing, looked up at Duo's face calmly and then slowly removed his shirt.
"It's even better", Duo said quietly.
Heero nodded briefly, then kept his eyes on Duo's as he reached to bind Duo's hands in the length of the designer shirtsleeve. Duo was unable to take his hands from behind his back then. Heero leaned in closer, weight on the balls of his feet. The fingers of his right hand went to the fly of Duo's pants. His left hand slipped beneath Duo's clingy shirt.
Heero's fingers found the nipple rings. He worked button and zipper.
"I love you", Duo told him.
He twisted Duo's left nipple. "You will wear some leather pants again when I have time to appreciate them."
Duo's pants and little briefs were pushed toward his knees. Heero moved his right hand to open his own pants. That done, Heero pressed closer still to Duo and lifted his right hand to Duo's braid of many smaller braids and pulled him close enough to kiss.
"Who is your god?" Heero asked quickly.
Heero kissed Duo then, as roughly as he could ever remember doing it. He was angry that they had not only the magazine crew to deal with but also the guards and extra guests. He was not angry at Duo, but right now Duo was going to have to feel how angry he was.
The way Duo gasped, bit and thrust toward Heero said he was feeling just as angry. He wanted to make those people pay for creating a situation that stole their private vacation time, but until the price was taken from them, stealing these moments back to be with Heero communicated his defiance.
In a closer to ideal world, they would have purposely taken a very long time to do this. It would have been quite defiant. They were more honorable than that, and the world was flawed. They would take no more time than they needed, so that they could get back to pursuing those that had offended and endangered them.
It was Duo that broke the kiss, Heero wondered why at first. He had wanted to suck at Duo's mouth a while longer. Then he noticed the way Duo stared over Heero's shoulder...at the mirror.
Heero was not upset about the kissing anymore. He bowed forward, putting his mouth to Duo's collarbone. He still had one hand in Duo's hair and another beneath his shirt. Knowing that Duo was watching him, made Heero highly conscious of the movement of his pelvis, the grinding caused by the flexing of powerful muscles. It was good that Duo watched and it was good that their cocks rubbed against each other.
Heero exaggerated the movement.
"Oh, Baby, Uh... nnnn... I need this!"
Heero clenched his jaw, hissed a breath. "Tell me what you need," he said then.
"I need to see you come for me," Duo said desperately.
Heero looked steadily into Duo's eyes. "Same to you." What Duo really needed was not an exaggerated movement. He needed this...tight circular movements that pressed their bodies together. No wild thrusting, just steady undulation.
"Ah! Heero! Don't stop!"
Like he was stopping?
He felt so much. Warmth, friction, the soft movement and scent of Duo's breath as he fought to steady calm his breathing, the perfect smell of his body when he was aroused, the sweet-salt taste of his skin and the look in his eyes that said, "I'm with you on this one, Buddy."
Heero felt the smile form on his lips. He was letting go, losing the world but for Duo and himself.
"Baby, I could come from this." That was the idea, but Heero knew exactly what Duo meant. He was not annoyed when Duo stated the obvious. "Mmmm, a quick rub is good with you, huh?"
It would have been annoying that Duo made that a question if they had not actually been having sex. As it was, Heero was just lucid enough to suspect he was out of his mind. Duo had gotten his right leg free of his pants and wrapped it around him. "You smell so good!" Heero did not even wonder why he had said that or why it had nearly been shouted.
Heero put a hand to Duo's thigh and took his other hand from Duo's hair to slip beneath Duo's shirt. He felt Duo nuzzling his hair and lifted his face to kiss him. It was consuming, yet they each gave as much as they got.
Duo moaned from low in his throat. Heero felt his jaw go slack. He tasted sweat on his lip.
"I wanna touch you so bad."
Heero could feel the straining in Duo's body as he tried to free his arms. He did not get loose.
"Touch me. Please. More. Just a little more?"
"I need you."
"Lover, c'mon!" Duo groaned. "It might take a little more!"
Heero pulled at the ring through Duo's left nipple then bit at his throat, hard. The way Duo stifled the shouts he wanted to make and the way his body went rigid gave Heero just what he needed.
They ended up on the floor, Heero sitting between Duo's legs, Duo's arms still bound. Heero could see Duo leaning against the wall, struggling to raise his eyelids. Heero's eyes were wide open. It happened sometimes, if he did not feel sleepy. His chemistry was just going to be off one way or another.
He felt so full of energy.
He smiled at Duo. "That's going to leave a mark."
Duo raised his hand to his neck. Heero craned his neck and saw the green shirt tucked behind Duo, while his arms were free.
"Mmmm, just now," Duo said, seeing Heero's search.
Heero continued smiling and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "When I get you alone again, it will be good. My pet will get everything he needs."
"Got some ideas for you too. And not just trying to fuck you, if that's what you think."
"I will let you know when I want it. It will be obvious."
Duo grinned, seemed to regain his energy. "You have more costumes!"
Heero nodded slowly.
"Man," Duo swore softly.
"I want you right now."
Heero smiled again. Duo was beautiful. "It is very romantic." Heero leaned forward and placed a kiss just beneath Duo's jaw. "You are half dressed and sweaty on the bathroom floor and I want to stick my tongue in your mouth and suck your dick. That is love."
"It's good chemistry," Duo said. He lifted his arms and folded them behind his head. That just made the scent of his sweat seem stronger.
Heero cocked his head and smiled at Duo.
"We should clean up a bit before I decide the bathroom floor is any more sexy."
Duo managed a low laugh.
Heero climbed to his feet and wet a washcloth at the sink. He heard Duo move behind him. In the mirror he walked into the shower. Heero turned as he was wiping down to see Duo directing the handheld spray onto his body. They looked like a better idea, though Heero had thought he would be tempted to stay too long, if he got in the shower.
He risked it and joined Duo.
Duo leaned into a wall of the shower with his weight in his elbow and watched Heero spay himself with warm water. "A little more sexy than the floor."
"I am trying to think of it as... utilitarian."
Duo flashed a grin. "I'll make the water a little colder."
Heero agreed with a nod.
They left the bathroom shortly after, wrapped in towels. Yuki looked up from the chaise. Heero tried to ignore him, but Duo must have noticed a particular look from Yuki. "Yes, we had sex!"
"Are the other's still...?" Heero started, turning toward the door in time to see Quick walk in.
"The others are waiting in the living room," she said.
"I'll just pull some clothes on." Heero went to his trunk and found some jeans and a tank. He saw Duo put on the clothes he had worn during the interview.
"We need to get back to work", Yuki said, standing.
"Don't worry. Heero actually has a theory."
"You should have told me sooner", Yuki stated.
Heero shrugged. It was only a theory and informing the others earlier would not have made a large difference. He had no evidence.
"I want some lunch!" Duo stretched his arms over his head as he sauntered into the living room. Heero put on his hotel slippers and followed.
Cerise approached Heero when he came into the next room. She handed him a disk. It was the photos she had agreed to give him copies of. Heero thanked her and saw Duo whispering something to Fred, at which the designer smiled.
Duo said a quick goodbye to Daniel and Cerise then went into the kitchen. "You want me to make tea? We got tea!" Duo called to him as Heero was seeing the magazine crew to the door.
"Yes. Thank you." Heero went to the couch then. Koi lifted his head as Heero stepped around the coffee table. Heero sat then scratched Koi behind his ears.
Yuki claimed the armchair and opened his computer to look at its screen. "Miko is not talking. The other prisoner also is not talking."
"I do have a sort of theory. I was up reading last night and I came across an article about European drug cartels and the theory that they have links to terrorism, specifically that drug money funded the terror attacks."
"I tend to consider that anti-drug propaganda, when I see it", Quick said.
"I do not think the publisher had that motivation, specifically; it was more they wanted readers who may chose to use drugs to be aware who they were buying from and what those parties supported."
"And...?" Yuki asked.
"Romeo may have chosen his target to begin with, because he already suspected their terrorist links. If that is true, then we can make a better educated guess what his next move was to be and that may tell us where Lapin, Janice rather, has gone."
"It's quite a stretch", Yuki said.
"I regretfully must agree with Crash on that one", Quick said flatly. Yuki glared at her for use of that name.
Duo came into the living room from the kitchen. He put a tray of food on the table, and then stepped over Johnny to join Heero on the sofa. "If we are getting nowhere with hovercars, ballistics or prisoners then it can't hurt to give Heero's theory some time", Duo pointed out.
"I started looking at passenger lists from TKI that day," Quick said, "but it is possible the airport job was cover and Janice left Paris by other means."
"Technically, it is possible she never left", Duo said. He poured cups of tea for Heero and himself.
"She could have hidden in plain sight, but I believe the risk involved would have led her to leave Europe." Heero lifted the warm cup of tea and blew across the surface of the greenish liquid.
"If she was being logical, right?" Johnny asked. "Sometimes character motivations are not logical but emotional..."
Duo made an amused smile then lifted his head and smiled for Johnny. "I think a girl like that does fall back on logic, even in a panic."
"We must follow her path backward. Decide a location we suspect Romeo would have continued his work if we were him. See if Janice could have reached that place."
Quick shrugged and reached for a croissant.
"Well, it is true our other leads are dead ends", Yuki admitted.
Heero took an apple from the table, bit, chewed, swallowed. "If Romeo did suspect this particular cartel was connected to terrorism, then he did not intend to keep the money, but was planning to use it in the most ironic or just way he could imagine. Maybe...some sort of victims' fund, a donation made in the name of the drug lord."
Duo laughed. "I can see that!"
"But Janice is the one in control now...she would want everyone to know where the money came from, so she would probably arrange a new article or press release or try that marquee trick again."
"How would she 'arrange' a news article?" Johnny asked.
"Printing machines, net archives, TelePrompTers, audio and video broadcasts are all largely computer controlled", Quick told him sweetly.
"You could do that? Just get reporters to say what you wanted?"
"In theory", Quick admitted, "I have not tried before. To do it without later discovery or retraction is another matter. Did you want a good review for your next role?"
Johnny laughed happily. "Really? Not that I would want you to... but you could?"
"Oui, no problem!" Quick laughed softly. "It is a good way to communicate secretly."
"You could do it legitimately by placing personals ads", Heero said. "If you arranged a code in advance it would be improbably anyone would see the ad as anything but seeking a person."
"It is probably more fun the other way", Quick said.
Duo was laughing.
"You reading the personals!"
"Locations where Janice could arrange the account transfer and affect the news", Yuki announced. "It seems it could all be done from remote."
"Yes, but she would want to feel safe and also have some way of observing the outcome", Heero suggested.
"Not Brussels. Too close to Paris, don't you think?" Duo asked.
Heero nodded agreement.
"Colonial Capitol?" Yuki asked.
Heero shrugged. He was not sure. He drew his feet up and then brushed the fingers of one hand through his hair.
"You are thinking something, Heero?" Quick asked.
"I just have this feeling that Janice has orchestrated all of this. Not the murder of her boyfriend of course, but everything since then. Miko tipped off the cartel, but not the others, the 'spooks'. She might have instructed Miko to appear to betray her. Quick, can you remember the exact order of events? How much did Miko tell that Romeo had not already made public himself?"
"I do remember that Miko was friendly with dealers before Romeo died. But I do not know that he ever spoke to them about anything other than the dealing. Romeo was the one who started telling others what his latest project was. I think it was after Romeo was killed that Miko talked about Janice and Romeo."
"John did approach me about staying in the flat", Duo reminded them.
"That was what I was thinking."
"Why would Janice want the thugs from the cartel to know where she lived?" Yuki asked.
"I do not have it all figured yet, it is just I have been thinking that Janice set many events into motion. She must have known about Romeo's work. When she found him dead she got rid of her computers and got out of town as fast as she could, but she must have wanted his killers caught. The members of the cartel became pawns and we too perhaps. She put us in her flat so that we could begin to see the people involved and that they were after her. She used the cartel to draw out the spooks, because Janice would have no reliable way of tipping them off and thus controlling what they knew. She must have understood the financial connection and tipped off the cartel so that the serious professionals would worry that the thugs would expose the entire operation and be forced to come out again, as they had when they killed Romeo."
"It sounds plausible, but it is just theory", Quick said.
"I will check passenger lists arriving in the Colonial Capitol. We still do not have a better idea where to search..." As Quick was explaining, some music played in the bedroom.
"My Phone!" Duo leapt over Johnny to get to the bedroom doors.
"I can look over passenger lists to Brussels, though I suspect Janice is not there."
"You think she would use a name any of us could recognize?" Yuki asked.
"Yes. I think she arranged our circumstances and would choose a name we would recognize as false and hers."
"It's probably Alice Hartz or Louise Carroll or something like that", Duo said casually as he stood in the doorway holding his phone to his ear. "It's Wufei", he mouthed to Heero.
"How is Wufei?" Heero asked quietly.
Duo shook his head and Heero began pulling up and searching passenger lists. He had basically found Midii and Trant Clark this way: looking for passengers who were not who they said.
"We're sorta on a case now", Duo said, presumably to Wufei. "We're going home when we're done. Better be soon. I got a lot of work to do. Hey, you haven't heard anything about my transfer, have you?"
Heero continued his searches; only half noticed that Duo moved back into the bedroom and lowered his voice.
A few minutes later Duo returned to the living room. He walked around Johnny and sat back down on the sofa. He did not have his phone. "Everything OK? How was Wufei?"
Duo said nothing, but gave Heero a look that said he would explain to Heero when they were alone. Heero was frustrated that Duo knew something he was not sharing, but he did not sense on any level that Duo had bad news. For the others Duo made a convincing show of opening the computer Quick had repaired for him and asking if he could help with searches.
Quick and Yuki volunteered the Preventer databases and security clearance they had been using. Quick was searching Colonial ports starting with the capitol. Yuki was searching lists departing Paris.
"I'm going to search X18999," Duo told them.
"You think Janice is there?" Yuki asked.
"That is where they had that crash... right?" Johnny asked, "They show it on the news sometimes, the construction the are doing there."
"Yeah, we tend not to try to watch that, but I'm aware they have started the reconstruction phase."
"It seems fast", Quick said.
"No. Colonial construction is modular and standardized. They had the curtains down during the collision to restrict the damage to one section, so they just had to disassemble everything up to the end of the last undamaged module and ship in new building materials. The frames and surfaces are all very standard in size, buildings there just look different from the surface treatments."
"Like building in one of those simulation games?" Johnny asked. "All your walls have to be a certain amount of units long."
Duo laughed. "Right. No half sizes."
They might be in construction already, but Heero was sure that the beach had not been restored. Without the beach, the area would probably seem dead, even if the shops and casinos were restored. Even with the beach, people might be afraid to travel there, because they were afraid of terror attacks.
Duo laughed, loudly.
"Found her, didn't you."
Duo turned his head and grinned at Heero. "Alice Heart, hack job ID, arrived on a flight from TKI...looks like Quick's work kept us from finding the departure. You guys want to help me see if she's still there?"
"I'll check if she's using that same ID", Quick offered.
"I will contact the Preventer substation in that area", Yuki told them.
"I am on the hotel registrations", Heero alerted them.
"Good thing someone suggested searching there."
Heero glanced to Duo. He was no bragging; he was saying that Wufei had called to tell him that they would be visiting X18999 again soon.
They had to say goodbye to Johnny at the spaceport. There would be Preventer agents to meet then in the Colonies, but as everyone agreed IT was needed on this case, Yuki was being dispatched from the Paris office, and he had been able to justify having Quick as an official civilian consultant to his superiors. Even Duo had not been able to come up with a rationale to explain bringing an American actor along on an official Preventer mission, and if any of them had been able to do so, it would have been Duo, as their superiors had now put him in command of the mission.
As it was Heero had been approved as a civilian consultant, though he had his own Preventer rank, and they had arranged for Mikolaj to be released into their custody with the reasoning that he could be used in contacting their target and might yet be convinced to give them information.
Five of them boarded the Preventer space shuttlecraft along with two assigned pilots, Koi, their luggage and gear. Heero could tell Duo was feeling anxious about being in a command position again. Heero was not certain why they had chosen Duo. They could have as easily instructed them to report to some other officer within the Colonies.
Duo had charisma and he was intelligent but his mind just did not think in a way that lent itself to strategy involving a team of many. Still, this mission would not involve space battle, more likely it would involve their commander recognizing how to contact a frightened witness without scaring her off or alerting the competition. Heero had to admit this sounded like the sort of mission Duo could handle. His piloting skills were legendary, even if those skills lent themselves more to solo missions than staying with a wing, but he was their ace of social engineering.
When he thought about it, in their superiors' place, Heero would not have chosen Yuki or himself to lead this mission. They were like Duo in his mobile suit: much better performing the impossible tasks a commander demanded of them than trying to direct others to do anything.
Heero saw that Koi was secured then strapped himself in beside Duo. Taking a Preventer shuttle meant there was little to distract them during the flight. Their transports were optimized for speed and maneuverability and not passenger comfort or recreation. They might find some water and dehydrated rations and there seats and bunks that provided some comfort but there were no couches or game tables as in Quatre's or Duo's custom shuttles. Even The Zero had enough open space to get some zero g exercise in; this shuttle was all seating and cargo bay filled with Preventer issue gear.
Duo had already begun reading some Burroughs and Heero saw that Quick and Miko were sitting in sets nearby. Quick had never been into space before and Heero wasn't sure Miko had. Yuki, of course, had been into space, but not since he'd been arrested for crashing that weather control system. Actually, Heero was somewhat worried about that. Yuki had looked surprised when they had been told he would be continuing to work with them in the Colonies, as if being grounded had been part of his sentence, along with working for Preventers.
Heero looked back as casually as he could, as if checking on Koi, and saw Yuki seated several rows behind. He turned forward again and spoke to Duo in a low voice, "If you do not command to the very best of your ability for the duration of this mission, I will make you pay. I will use a whip."
For a few seconds, Duo reacted as if he had not heard, but Heero knew he had. Eventually he lowered his book and turned his head slightly, to view Heero from the corners of his eyes. "Did you do the same for Quatre?"
"Quatre? I do not know what you are speaking of."
Duo's lips curled in a smile and he appeared to read again. "Quatre never took command; he was always placed in command by someone who recognized him as a leader, Rasid and those guys, or you, or even Trowa sometimes. You did something for him. You made him understand that we needed him to give commands, even if we didn't think we wanted him to. You made him do it, because you knew you were not the one with the ability. I know you did it. You were the power behind the throne."
Heero smirked. "Are you calling me a queen, Duo-chan?"
Duo smiled, still appearing to read his book. "If the shoe fits...and better make that 'Lieutenant', Mr Yuy."
"You know I do not..."
"Let's compromise. We'll just use surnames."
He gave a nod, and then Heero thought Duo really must be reading.
"Cinderella?" he asked after a full minute had passed.
"A shoe that fit. It was Cinderella?"
Duo laughed softly. "Yeah, but I always figured Relena more the glass slipper type. I rather like you in geta."
"Do they show agents training videos on sexual harassment?"
"What are you gonna do, Yuy, sue me, or whip me?"
"Whichever you deserve."
Duo sighed. "That makes it all worthwhile."
"You really do have to do a good job, Duo," Heero whispered, "I will be busy keeping Crash away from weather controls and making sure the other two don't get hurt...I will not be able to watch out for you."
"No. You really won't, Yuy. Right now, all of you are my responsibility. You won't watch anyone's back unless you hear from me. You just do your job. Once we get the launch over with, there is something I want you to work on. And when we get to the Colonies, I will rely on Miss Klein and Special agent Prunier for technical expertise; I need you to for other work. I need you to blend."
"I can blend."
"I need that skill, Yuy. Consulting or not, there is no one else who is better suited to this task. I need you to do fieldwork while I keep watch over the flock. Understand?"
Heero understood perfectly. Duo would assume responsibility for protecting and supervising the weirdly socialized and dangerous teenaged computer experts in their search for Janice and her trail and Heero would be alone and exposed in the field, attempting contact with Janice and hoping the competition had not also learned her location.
Fieldwork was what Heero wished to avoid these days and Duo really did not want to be in command, but given their specific areas of knowledge and abilities, the roles made sense for this mission. The other three would not work well together in Heero's presence, not with Duo gone. Heero would have seemed a peer.
Though travel through space to various parts of the Sphere might seem to take a relatively short time to those who had grown up in space colonies, the distances covered were astronomically large and even with advances in propulsion, shuttle trips from Earth to the Colonies could take many hours or even a day.
Heero tried to get as much rest as possible during the flight. It had always seemed sensible, to sleep when such opportunities presented themselves. It conserved air supply unless one was prone to nightmares and tossing, and passed the time. When he was awake, Heero was aware of the others moving about the cabin.
Duo had not been able to sleep, for he did have a prisoner to mind, an associate he did not fully trust and a space virgin to deal with. Quick seemed to be handling the travel well. Further research had told them Miko had been born in the Colonies before moving to Earth, so he was not so much a worry. There were two separate phenomena to deal with in short duration space travel: the g forces created by acceleration and the weightlessness after escaping Earth's gravity well. Heero remembered Midii had handled the acceleration with only anxiety and no physical side effects. The weightlessness had made her feel queasy, but she had not gotten sick and learned ways to deal with the feeling.
From what Duo had said, Quick had actually passed out during the launch. It still happened to some people. Heero was not one who would make a controversial statement and say that Colonials were more highly evolved; Milliard Peacecraft was that sort of person. But, Heero knew of infants who could handle launches from Earth, while there were otherwise fit adults who blacked out.
Now weightless, Quick was strapped into a seat and typing at her computer.
Miko had moved to the row behind, where Duo was looming over him. Duo did know how to be threatening when he had to be. "Listen, Kid," he said, "either you really sold her out and don't give a shit about Le Lapin either way," he made bunny ears over his head with his fingers, "in which case you shouldn't mind if we do help her, or you have been working with her all the while, in which case you'll do all of us a favor if you help us help her, so just tell me what you know."
They boy said nothing. He was at least two years younger than the rest of them, with untidy dark brown hair and brown eyes framed by remarkably long dark lashes and rather bushy eyebrows. Apart from the tousled hair and ability to glare intensely Miko did not resemble Heero. He was much taller and skinnier than Heero had been at the same age and his features were decidedly Slavic and not remotely Japanese.
Heero supposed he was attractive if one liked hyperactive skinny teenagers. Certainly the boy was frustrating Duo by not talking. Heero did not think it would help if he talked to Miko; the boy seemed to think the others were all traitors or sell-outs for aiding the Preventers.
"Man, sometimes I wish Romefeller or Barton had won!" Duo sighed dramatically, "then this kid would be dealing with an OZ enforcer rather than a Preventer and I wouldn't even have to ask Yuki to leave the cabin before I beat him."
Yuki stood, the magnetic plates in his shoes keeping him oriented with the floor. "I will go check on our pilots."
"You can't!" Miko said loudly, but he was talking.
Duo grinned. "Up to now, I thought it had to be one of the other two options, but maybe you just set Lapin up because you're the bad guy here. And I am a Preventer...do you know what we do to bad guys? We've all kinds of special directives that kick in when someone is a threat to the peace."
"You are just trying to scare me."
"He is not going to fall for the Gestapo act, Lieutenant", Yuki said.
Duo shrugged and seemed to lean against the seat across the aisle from Miko. "No, we're much more special police. None of those vulgar practices. We can just rearrange a few ones and zeros and do something really horrible...like delete all your High School credits."
Duo extended a hand and Quick handed her computer to him.
"Look at this. A 75% in Algebra! I thought you were a Space Baby, Kid. Do you know how many Arabs and Greeks fought to survive against ignorant northern tribes so Algebra wouldn't be lost to Western Civilization? You think we'd have space shuttles if we were still working with Runes or Roman numerals? You owe it to all those men who guarded their mathematic manuscripts to score better than three-quarters of perfect!"
"A 60% in Modern History?"
"It's better than half!"
Duo laughed. "You gotta keep off the drugs, or take some better ones! How would you feel if I said the pilot landed the craft safely 60% of the time? What's your code look like?"
"He is better at acquisitions than writing code."
"A haggler, right. So, what do you want in exchange for information on Janice."
"I'll tell you what I know if you guarantee my freedom and clear my record."
Duo probably would have done that anyway. Since it was looking unlikely that the cartel were the ones who had killed Romeo, there was no conspiracy or abetting charge. Preventers wasn't really concerned with his small time drug habit. They didn't want to keep feeding him. Miko had no criminal record, except for buying drugs and possibly passing along pirated media, he had not done anything illegal.
"All of that is in my power, but I cannot guarantee your request now. I do not know what information you have. I suspect you may be able to help, but it is possible all you know is what Lapin wanted you to believe and we've already figured out more than you have."
"I doubt you can find her without me."
They went on from there, Duo devaluing the potential information and Miko talking up what he knew, while Miko stuff to his asking price and Duo reminded Miko of the crimes he could possibly be charged with and which would be difficult to convince his superiors to pardon.
Heero felt that Miko was good at bargaining, but Duo had relied on his bargaining skills for survival during his life. Neither was easily swain.
Eventually Duo accepted Miko's original terms, on the contingency that his assistance directly aided their locating Janice and being able to persuade her to surrender herself to their protective custody. Duo gave less than he had intended to in the first place and Miko felt motivated to be helpful.
Heero said nothing that would contradict the assumption that Duo would have had Miko charged. "Just in case his information is not of use, we should work on our alternative approach."
"My information is useful!"
"It may be, but a boy who was smart enough to earn better grades in school would understand that it is only wise to continue to develop our contingency plan", Duo informed him.
"She's using the name Alice. Alice Heart."
Duo's expression betrayed no previous knowledge of the name. He returned the computer to Quick. "Miss Klein, check that information."
"It'll be verified! She told me that would be the name."
"Well, we shall see. That might not be enough to go on."
Heero would have expected Miko to hold out longer, but then maybe he was underestimating the horror High School held for some teenagers. It was going to be interesting seeing Duo deal with a teenager of his own.
Duo checked his watch. "Yuy, I need you to place a personal ad for me."
"Gay Asian Male seeks..." Yuki started.
"No", Duo said calmly, "in code. Code Janice will understand without it being prearranged. Prunier, you will arrange for ad banners on 'net sites and local marquees to be switched, Miss Klein can assist you."
"Since we're working with a deadline, I will need Yuki's access to make sure we can get away with it. I do not have time to do this carefully...I could..."
"Of course. I was not questioning any of your skills", Duo said, "I assigned you to work together with reason, so just get started."
"Maxwell, any ideas on exactly what this ad we will display to the Sphere should say?"
"Yeah, I figured the first part out. 'Old School construction worker with an interest in Morse code seeks...'"
Heero opened his mobile to write the ad. Quick was laughing. "Janice will get that?"
"'Morse' is French for 'walrus'", Quick told him.
"Walrus and the Carpenter. She should get that. It sounds so weird, she'll think about the ad, and she'll get it. The rest should describe her, so she's sure. We'll place the ad legitimately with the dailies, though these guys will make sure it's the ad shown in advertising the personals service. If we can get it up on a marquee that'll also reassure her that we're the right people to meet with."
"And we check the mailbox provided by the daily to see if she has contacted us?"
"We could just meet with the local agents, go to her hotel and take her into custody."
"Yeah, if we want the competition to know exactly where we all are! They are not amateurs. They must know we left Paris on a Preventer shuttle. There is time for them to send a party after us or at least contact associates in the Colonies. If they find Janice first...well, they just can't be allowed to. The other agents will have enough to do. The meeting has to be secret secure. That's why you have to go meet her, Heero."
Duo had forgotten to address him by his surname; he must be worried that he was sending Heero into danger.
"I know. I would have volunteered if you did not give me the assignment. It is the most logical choice."
"That doesn't help", Duo whispered. But he appreciated that Heero had said it; Heero knew he did.
"You do not have to worry. I got excellent marks in all the schools I attended."
"Yeah, your oral reports were so disturbing they wanted to pass you as soon as possible."
When their shuttle docked at X18999's main port the ad had been placed and the automated scripts of several 'net sites and big screens above major intersections had been adjusted. If Janice was still here, she would see it.
They progressed into the Colony in two parties, Heero with Quick and Koi and Duo escorting Miko and Yuki. They checked into separate rooms at the Star on North Beach, where Janice was registered, and rendezvoused in the room Duo had been assigned before local lunchtime.
By that time, Heero was starting to feel a little like he was subconsciously trying not to feel anything. It had to be subconscious, because he had never told himself to avoid the associations he had with this location. Relena had been held captive here once, and he had failed to catch up with her captors in time. He had fought Wufei here. He had run through corridors firing machine guns and breathing smoke and particular debris from all the grenades Duo had been tossing. He had knocked Duo unconscious here and fed his neurosis by letting Trowa take him to a cell. Oh, he had helped a little to stop a colony from falling on Earth here, but he had also returned this year and found bodies floating in orbit. He had seen the devastation here. Walked through the ash and mud here. Worn holes in his boots and gloves trying to help people here. And he had helped some people, but now he was back here again and another girl was in danger.
Heero was only half conscious of the conversation around him. Yuki was complaining that the people in the lobby probably thought he was into young boys and Miko was protesting that he wasn't that young or innocent and Yuki better understand that he wasn't even into guys. Quick was informing the others that the room they had been assigned had some kind of antiquated Japanese décor. Heero was thinking that the rooms were not assigned; someone had selected the rooms from those available.
Duo's room had some sort of Neo-Victorian-Gothic décor, with ornately wrought metal furnishings, dark rich fabrics and candles. Duo had made the reservations under assumed names, Scarlet for one room and Plum for another.
There was a knock to the door and Yuki went to answer it, allowing two plain clothes Preventers to enter the room. Heero recognized April Barton, though he did not know her very well. She said her partner was Luis Fitzgerald.
Heero felt like he should be doing something. He went to the window, Koi following at his left side.
Heero peered through the lace curtains.
"Away from the window, Yuy!"
Heero turned slowly and looked at Duo. "I did not let anyone see me. It would be normal for someone in the hotel to look out a window."
"Only if they are an exhibitionist. Just come over here. Barton is going to go over the armaments she has brought you. Promise you won't kill anyone on my watch."
"I do not want to kill anyone", Heero said quietly.
Duo spoke to him again, not like he was giving an order; it was softer this time. "I'll send you out there soon enough. You'll see just what it looks like. For now just stay here and let me be sure you know how to use these weapons."
Heero was certain he was familiar with the entire Preventers defensive arsenal, but he had no objection whatsoever to sitting next to Duo right now.