Mister Chang Dances
Duo leaned against the refreshment bar, and ordered another lime soda. He turned with the glass in hand, and looked over the large room, smiling softly. It had been rather a quiet night for the most part, especially as parties went. Formal, yet relaxed as only Relena can throw them, he hadn't felt out of place once.
Moving from his brief perch to a spot along side a wall, he continued to watch the ebb and flow of the finely dressed party-goers. He took a drink and grimaced - too much lime. His eyes on an older couple, sitting close together by the patio doors, he didn't detect he'd picked up a companion until the man spoke.
The nod was more reflexive than truthful. "Mostly. The music leaves a bit to be desired though." Duo shot a glance to the man at his side. "Where've you been, Wufei? Haven't talked with you tonight."
The Chinese youth slid his gaze away. "I wasn't sure I'd be coming. Had to wrap up a case."
"Sally's been here almost as long as I have." Duo pointed out.
"Leave it, Duo," Wufei responded quietly. He nodded at the glass Duo held. "I thought you didn't drink."
Duo grinned. "I don't. Just club soda with a spot of grenadine, man." He took another sip and hid his distaste. "Not much of a designated driver if I get drunk too."
Wufei gave a short jerk of his head, and turned back to the swirling crowd. Duo watched him as his eyes scanned the room. He noted the man's formal dress, his hands clenched tightly together behind his back. He took another drink and narrowed his eyes, sucking in an ice cube. When the young man gave a slight start, Duo traced his line of sight to the dance floor.
"I think there's food left, if you're hungry," Duo offered, pulling the man's attention back to him.
With a quick shake of his head, Wufei added, "I ate before I left the house." He cleared his throat, seeming aware of Duo's scrutiny. "Has business been good?"
"Fair," Duo grinned again, darting a look out to the dance floor to check on the progress of a certain young woman. "You could say a bit better than fair, but for just starting out, we've got plenty of clients to keep us busy."
"Security consulting does seem to suit you," the young Preventer said, shifting his stance to keep an eye on both the dance floor and his companion. "Working with Heero hasn't caused any problems?" There seemed to be more to his tone than Duo could decipher.
Taking a moment to ponder where the question was going, Duo drank the last of his club soda. "Nope. We're doing good. Always have, though." His eyes sought out his partner and he watched him dance for a moment before looking back at Wufei. "And you? How's it working with the new position? Like being a team leader?"
Wufei snorted softly, and tugged at his collar. "I would say I dislike working with the young recruits, but most are older than I am."
"Yeah, we run into that all the time at work." Duo gave him a half laugh. "Most folks think we should be old men, given our experience, but..." He shrugged. "We get the job done, and done well."
"I can imagine." Wufei gave him a partial smile. He turned his attention back to the dance floor as a new song started up and Duo almost missed the near silent indrawn breath. He also didn't miss the side-step on speaking about himself.
Under the guise of returning his glass, Duo excused himself for the moment. Walking back, he watched the too quiet young man adjust and readjust his cuffs and collar several times. He already knew who the man watched intently, the dark eyes hardly leaving their target since they'd spotted her. Nodding to himself, Duo rejoined Wufei in their secluded corner.
"Why aren't you out there?" Wufei asked, nodding to the floor.
Duo cast a glance around the turning, swaying bodies and looked back. "Not my kind of scene." He grinned. "Don't dance. At least not in public like this." That got Wufei's attention.
Brows puckered, the Chinese youth stared at him. "I would have thought you to be an exhibitionist dancer."
Giving him a lascivious smile, Duo said in an undertone, "Oh, I am." He winked and chuckled when the other man flushed. "But only for one person, and in the privacy of our home."
Wufei snorted again and fell silent. Duo continued to watch him surreptitiously. As another song started up, Duo almost chuckled when the man started forward and then stepped back. He looked to the dance floor for confirmation, and smiled, humming the song lightly under his breath.
"I thought you and Yuy were together," Wufei said brusquely.
It wasn't hard pretending nonchalance, having expected something of the sort for some time. Duo murmured an affirmative, and examined his nails.
"This is the fourth dance he's had with someone, and not once has he come to see how you're doing." The indignant tone was almost laughable.
Duo looked out to the dance floor, spotted Heero and smiled softly. "It's the sixth with the same partner, and the tenth of the evening, I think." He pondered, screwing his lips in an odd pucker and then shrugged. "Could be more. Haven't been paying too much attention."
"And yet you don't worry?" Wufei fretted.
"Nah, Heero c'n take care of himself."
"But..." Wufei seemed at a loss, grasping for words that wouldn't come. "He's dancing with Relena."
Glancing back at the dance floor, Duo nodded. "Yep. Just like always."
"What do you mean?" the Preventer demanded. "You know how she feels about him, and yet you let him lead her on in such a way." His tone had become harsh, tempered anger.
"Huh?" Duo's surprise wasn't faked. "Relena and Heero?" He started to laugh and choked it off, knowing his friend wouldn't take it the way he meant it to be.
Wufei scowled at him, his thin brows bristling. "Yes, Heero and Relena. The Minister has always held your..." his nose twitched, "boyfriend in high regard. And it seems he's treating her and you most dishonorably and you do nothing?"
Fighting to keep the grin from sprouting, Duo faced his friend. "He does it for her," he told Wufei quietly. "So she doesn't have to dance with more than two or three other dignitaries who'd rather put their hands where they don't belong." Wufei blinked and shot a glance to the floor as if he could spot someone doing such a despicable thing. Duo watched his boyfriend twirl the young blonde woman in a mild waltz. "You have to admit, they do look good together, don't they?"
The stifled snort told him what he needed to know.
"This..." Wufei struggled to find a word. "Subterfuge works?"
"Uh huh." Duo rocked on his heels, stretched his calf muscles and resisted the urge to yawn.
A frown was turned in his direction. "Then why don't you dance with her?"
Shaking his head, Duo responded immediately, "Don't do the public dance thing, remember?" Wufei nodded. "'sides, Heero loves to dance, and he and Lena do it well together." His voice took on a soft quality, its cadence tranquil and its pitch low. "You know, most folks saw the two of them getting together after the wars, being the fairy tale couple of old. You know, like Arthur and Guenevere?" At Wufei's slight nod, he continued. "Neither Heero or Relena felt that way, really." He gave a little sigh and shook his head. "Sure, a couple of years ago, she thought she did."
"I thought she still does," Wufei whispered, his eyes tracking the dancing couple.
Duo nodded shortly. "Most folks do." He shrugged again. "When we saw some of the trouble Lena was having with a few of her more ardent admirers, we cooked up a plan to keep 'em under control." His grin turned feral. "You remember a few months ago, Heero hardly ever left her side?"
"Yes," Wufei said almost thoughtfully. "I'd assumed he'd finally accepted the bodyguard job Commander Une offered."
"Nah." Duo shook his head. "He'll do it as a friend for her, but not under Une's orders." He scrunched up his face for a moment. "You know, there's very few people Lena will trust any more. Ever since that one guy... you know." He fell quiet watching Wufei's hands clench and unclench.
"That despicable cur! Merely locking the man up did not serve justice for what he did," the words were forced through compressed lips.
Duo took a step back. "What he wanted to do. He didn't get away with anything." He gave his friend a weak grin. "Relena's got a mean right hook when she needs one..."
"She shouldn't need one!" Wufei near shouted, causing several people to look their way. He lowered his head and stared hard at the floor. "She should be protected. Held reverent and never suffer sordid acts from delusional men."
"Uh, yeah," Duo hedged, surprised at the venom in his friend's voice. He cleared his throat. "So, anyway, between Heero and me, Lu and Zechs, we sort of take turns looking after her." Duo scanned the room quickly. "Well, we all did until Zechs decided Lu couldn't, being pregnant and all." He frowned when he didn't find the gestating woman. "Funny, she was here a few minutes ago."
Wufei was already nodding. "Merquise has been quite protective of his wife for the past couple of months. Insisting she remain on desk duty."
Suddenly finding Wufei in his face, Duo took a step back. "Yeah, well, it's the reason I went with Lena on the trip to L1 a couple weeks ago. Heero couldn't go, and Zechs wouldn't let Lu."
His eyes dark, contemplative, Wufei asked softly, "Is it only the four of you she trusts? Why hasn't Une found someone worthy to protect her?"
"She did, but they mostly got left in the dust." Duo shrugged. "Lena likes to do things her way."
Giving an agreeing snort, Wufei nodded. "She's the most stubborn, pig-headed, foolish woman I know."
Duo snickered softly. "I didn't know you knew her that well."
Though Wufei opened his mouth, no words came out. He closed it with a snap and glared suddenly at Duo. "The Vice Minister and I have had meetings on more than one occasion."
"Ah," Duo acknowledged. The orchestra struck up a new song, and Duo searched out the couple he'd watched all night. His lips twitched, seeing the young woman laugh and Heero smile.
"It's been enlightening, Maxwell. Now if you'll excuse me," Wufei turned to Duo for a moment, bowed his head slightly and took a step towards the dance floor.
"You're leaving?" Duo cried in surprise.
Wufei paused and half turned. He gave a grin more at home on Duo's face than his own. "I'm going to save a damsel from distress."
More than a little bemused, Duo watched as the young Preventer strode purposely through the swirling bodies, making straight for a certain young couple. He saw Wufei approach, and tap Heero's shoulder. Duo smiled at the confusion on Relena's face as she looked from one man to the other. Heero stepped back, and Wufei took his place, one hand picking up hers, the other firmly planted on her back. Duo's smile widened, watching Heero's retreat from the floor. His lover would take a few steps, and turn to watch his former dance partner spin off in a new direction under another's lead.
"Do you know what that was about?" Heero asked Duo quietly once he reached his side.
Duo grimaced. "I'm not certain, but I think Special Agent Chang has more than a crush on our Miss Peacecraft."
Heero raised a brow. "Our Miss Peacecraft?"
"Yeah," Duo chuckled. "I sort of put a bug in his ear."
"What'd you do?" Heero frowned and shot a look out to the floor, seeking out the couple.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Duo pulled on his collar and avoided Heero's sudden interest. "Nothing, really. Just told him that Relena doesn't trust many and dances with even fewer." Heero's frown deepened. "It's the truth. I just sort of made it sound..." Duo raised a shoulder, "a little more desperate than it really is."
Heero snorted and, touching Duo's hand, he gave him a slight smile. "Okay, Mister Romance, seeing as I'm now free, how 'bout you and I take a little walk around the gardens?"
Duo's grin was back. "Sure. Supposed to be a warm night with a full moon. I think I could handle it."
The pebbles under her shoes shifted making the barest hint of sound. She stopped on the path, suddenly, clasped her hands behind her back, and stared up at the moon. "Do you miss it?" she asked her silent companion.
He'd stopped when she did, a step or two in front of her, but instead of watching the moon, he watched her. "Miss it?" he asked, slightly puzzled.
She gave him a small smile and gestured skyward. "Space. Your home..." He shook his head curtly.
"My home is here now." He turned from her and looked up. "Space is still there, and will always be there whenever I need to go back to it again."
Looking back to the stars, her voice softened. "Sometimes I wish I could..." She gave a slight laugh and brought her attention back to the ground. "Space has always fascinated me. I loved to go on visits to the colonies with my father." Without waiting for her companion to comment, she continued their walk.
"There is something soothing about space," the young man at her side said quietly. "It is the one place where you can be who you are without recriminations."
She nodded without saying anything, her expression thoughtful as she looked upon his face. He remained silent, and she walked a few more yards with him at her side. His sudden appearance on the dance floor had startled her; his dancing ability shouldn't have surprised her, having seen him perform his kata on a couple of occasions, but it did. Though she'd never lacked for dance partners, over the past few months, there had been a selected few with whom she did dance. And for Heero to hand her over to this man, she knew he could be trusted.
"Next Wednesday, I travel to Zurich for a conference," she said in the quiet between them. "I know Millardo is busy, and Lu cannot travel." She glanced in his direction, seeing his eyes intently on her, she continued, "I've called upon Heero and Duo so often this past year, they've spent too much time apart, and with their company getting as busy as it has..." she drew in a deep breath.
"I'll do it," he told her quietly. She flashed him a startled look, and he snorted. "I'll have to clear it with Commander Une, but Maxwell tells me you've had a few less than optimal candidates." She smiled, quick and startling. He glared at her. "I will tell you now, if you think you can waltz all over me like you do the others, think again. I will tie you to a chair if you so much as step out of line or off the itinerary."
Her laughter told him it would be an interesting trip. "Thank you, Wufei. I will try." And though she empathized try, he had doubts.
"What's the conference about?" he asked after another few steps, and nearly laughed as her nose wrinkled up in distaste.
He scowled. "I didn't think it would be resurrected as a hot topic needing its own peace conference."
She shook her head. "Oh, the conference is labeled adequately enough, and the delegates will discuss ending hunger in underdeveloped countries," she gave him a dry look, "for about five minutes. Then they'll spend the next two days arguing back and forth over weapon controls and stock pile disarmaments."
"Isn't that a good thing?" he asked, puzzled.
"It should be." Her shoulder lifted, and she stepped carefully around a mud puddle in the path. "Since the manufactures have a large lobbying force, it becomes an ugly mess. Instead of focusing on disarmament, they force handgun control taking away inalienable rights. It's all just smoke screens to keep big businesses making money on weapons production, and the general populous agitated on lawmakers taking away their rights to protect themselves." Her voice held a bitterness he'd never heard before.
"You believe in gun control?"
"Yes!" she said adamantly.
"But it is every citizen's right to protect themself from potential harm," he bristled at her tone.
"Agreed, but additional controls are needed to keep those who intend harm from getting weapons."
"The criminal element will always be able to get their hands on what they need. It is our duty to keep those..."
"Wufie!" She put a hand on his arm, staying his words. "Please, I'll have enough of this next week. I'd rather not start here."
He nodded and forced himself to relax.
The graveled walkway took a bend, by a small grove of ancient trees and around a small pond. Indicating an open grassy patch before the water, she asked smoothly, "Would you care to sit with me for a few moments?"
As if her voice was unexpected, he started, caught himself and scanned the surrounding area. "I wouldn't be opposed," he hesitated, "but your dress..."
She looked down at the nearly form-fitting evening gown, her brows drew into a slight frown. "Well, it can't be helped, I suppose. I have to rest my feet." She lifted her gown, and showed a delicately sandaled foot with its thin heel and thinner straps. "Not the most appropriate footwear to be traipsing the grounds in."
He took in the criss-crossed strap and jewel studded fashion of torture and nodded. Taking her hand, he led her down the gentle slope to a thick patch of grass. "There should be benches out here," he grumbled in an undertone.
She allowed him to assist her in sitting, and smiled up at him. "This park is supposed to be as undeveloped as possible." She bent her legs, and pulled off her sandals, sighing as she did so. "That feels so much better." With the skirt of her dress hiked up around her thighs, she rubbed the soles of her feet in the grass, making light, pleasurable sounds.
Smiling indulgently, he watched her and then looked away, his cheeks flushing. "We should be heading back, soon. Before someone misses you."
"Those who would miss me have already left the party. And the ones responsible for my security know I left with you - a well respected member of the Preventers force." She rested her arms on bent knees. "Please, Wufei, sit down."
At her request, he dropped to the ground in effortless grace. "I should have left you with Yuy," he mumbled quietly, not looking at her.
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" she asked with deliberate sweetness.
He glanced at her quickly, flushed and looked away. "You should..." he struggled for a moment, "be out here with some young man."
"I thought I was," her reply was low.
When he looked at her again, he found her staring at him, the moonlight soft on her face. "Y-you," his voice choked and he swallowed. "You are." He held her gaze for several long heartbeats before letting his eyes notice her as if for the first time, and he realized how much of the girl she used to be was no longer present. For some time, her long hair had been cut and curled at shoulder length. Her face still naturally fresh, and barely touched with makeup, only the smallest amount to enhance the eyes and smooth out the color. Her neck long, and regal, her shoulders and arms bare and exposed. He dropped his eyes. She was no longer a girl, but fully a woman.
"When I was a girl, my father would often walk with me on these same paths." With her elbows on her knees, she rested her chin in her hands. "Sometimes we'd bring a lunch, and sit there on the other side of the pond to eat."
He turned to watch her again, and found himself trying to picture her as a child. "I have read that he was a great man."
She nodded and closed her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she turned her head to lay a cheek upon her hands, and looking at him, she asked, "What of your parents? Do you have many memories of them?"
"No, not many." She gave him a questioning look and he elaborated. "I was apprenticed at a young age - to be a scholar, to train as a warrior." He stared at his folded hands. "I had very little interaction with my family."
An owl hooted in the trees, and both heads turned. Smiling sadly, Relena commented, "It continues to amaze me how similar our lives are." He watched her hook straying hair behind her ears. "Each of the five of you are without family, except for Quatre's sisters. But then, he didn't grow up with them." She tucked her legs underneath her skirt and leaned toward him. "Even though I was raised with love and indulgence, I was often alone, just as all of you were."
"We are no longer alone," he stated matter-of-fact, and shifted under her stare.
"Aren't we?" her words a mere whisper. He started to say something, and stopped. She nodded briefly. "We have each other we can rely on, but..." she rubbed the side of her nose briefly. "Those our own age cannot relate, and those who are older, either resent or condescend."
"I have had the same occur." He frowned slightly. "But you wouldn't have seen behavior like that." She chuckled softly and gave him a genuine smile. "Everyone believes in you. You're their ..." his hand gestured in the air, "peace symbol."
"That might be true, but I am still young. While my friends were dating and trading makeup secrets, I was planning strategies to implementing peace programs, Colony treaties, reformation and war recovery acts. Hardly common ground."
"Do you regret your path?" he demanded almost harshly.
"Never!" Her eyes hardened. "My role might not have been the catalyst, but it contributed to what we enjoy today. A few unfulfilled selfish memories are nothing in comparison."
His expression softened and again he tried picturing her as she could have been. At first he'd perceived her to be weak and foolish. Knowing she had been to a certain extent, failed to please him; it saddened him to think she had missed out on something intangible. He thought of what she'd said, and found many similarities, both before he'd become a pilot and after the wars. Now there were friends who understood him more, but no one shared his experiences. Thinking of his friends, his fellow pilots, none of them had anyone who shared that bond.
"Hear the wind? My father used to tell me it was nature's symphony playing just for us." She smiled at him, almost shyly, as though she knew what thoughts ran through his head. "In the summer, the rushes are so thick the wind sounds as though someone were playing a flute."
He let the night noises come to him, then, hearing the wind blow through the grass and water reeds, hearing the insects buzz, hum and chirp. The individual sounds of the small patch of nature surrounding them did remind him of a concert - woodwinds, percussions, and strings. The only pieces missing would have been the horns, and they might have blown the serenity.
On impulse, he rose to his feet and took several steps forward facing the pond. He raised an arm high, and as if he held a baton in his grip, he pointed out to the various groups, signaling their turn at music. His feet moved on their own, sliding this way and that; his other arm keeping a descant beat, snapping his fingers. With his jerky motions, and vigorous action, his hair came loose from its confining band, falling into his face and obscuring his sight.
"Oh bravo!" Relena clapped as he bowed to her. "Just like Von der Schmidt would have done." Her eyes were alight and shining in the dark.
"You know Von der Schmidt?"
"Of course," she replied, smiling happily. "I try to catch his concerts whenever he's conducting." She shivered and wrapped her arms about her chest.
"You're cold," he stated, pulling his jacket from his body. "Here, put this on." He leaned down to hand it to her, and their hands touched briefly. Her fingers trembled under his and her breath caught. "Relena," he whispered, dropping to the ground beside her. "I have tickets to see him in Brussels next weekend, would you care to go with me?"
She slipped his jacket around her shoulders, appreciating in its warmth. For some reason, she couldn't meet his gaze and stared instead at her fingers twisting the fabric of her skirt. "Are you..." she hesitated, "asking me on a date?"
Her question stopped him cold and he drew back slightly. Giving her a bare nod, he told her quietly, "Yes, I believe I am." At her smile, he knew he'd said the right thing.
"Then I accept."
She looked up at him, and he realized how diminutive she must be. Even when they danced with her in heels, they weren't at eye-level. Her strength, her intelligence and her tenacity led him to believe her to be larger, taller than she was. Seeing her now, he knew her for what he perceived, and what she was; he took a step closer to the edge. The moonlight reflected in her eyes, her mouth parted, and the thumping of his heart drowned out all other sounds. She kissed him.
He pulled back, in surprise and shock. "Relena," he breathed. But his hand was already touching her cheek and he stepped off the ledge. Lowering his head, he kissed her back, briefly, a bare meeting of lips and he let her go. She released a breath, and it scudded over his skin, along his jaw and down his neck. "Why?" he asked, watching the play of expressions on her face.
"Because I knew you wouldn't." She gave him a smile and dropped her head to his chest, moving closer for warmth or comfort, he wasn't sure.
Shifting a little, his arm slid around her waist, his fingers rested near her hip. "We should go back," he told her, not wanting to move.
"Yes, we probably should," she answered, sliding her bare feet under his thigh.
"Where do you think they've gone?" Duo asked, looking out into the darkness. Absently, his fingers picked off the leaves of a twig he held.
Heero rose from a bench to join him at the balcony rail. He looked out into the night, his eyes tracked the path Wufei and Relena had taken but lost the moonlight's shine on the pebbles. "My guess would be the pond," he said softly, his fingers brushing along his lover's back. "Relena loves to go there."
Nodding, Duo dropped the twig, and dusted off his hands. "You think they'll be all right?"
"Duo," Heero frowned. "Wufei is quite capable of taking care of himself, and Relena is more than adequate in deciding who to trust." He turned his back to the night, and leaned against the balustrade. "If you're so worried, why did you egg him on?"
The longhaired young man shrugged, gave a twisted half-smile and rested a hip to the rail, facing Heero. "Guess I wasn't sure, but thought what the heck. They could use each other."
"They could," Heero agreed, smiling a little.
"You ever wonder what..." Duo paused, brows drawn down. "I mean, if we hadn't gotten together, where we'd be?"
Heero turned a questioning look in his direction. "Are you ...regretting?"
"No!" Duo hurried to reassure. "Never. I just sometimes wonder, is all." His eyes darted over Heero's face, reading his expression.
"I'd imagine if I hadn't shown up on your doorstep, you'd still be with Hilde working the scrap-yard and hating your life." Heero watched him from the corner of his eyes. "And I'd be locked into something I didn't want, and not sure how to get out." He leaned over and gave Duo's lips a quick brush of his own. "I've never wondered where or why, it just is." At Duo's surprised look, he smiled, straightened and started towards the balcony steps.
"Where ya going?" Duo asked, startled at his abruptness.
Heero stopped and half turned. "It's time to go home," he told him with a lift of a brow. "You haven't danced all night."
Duo laughed, catching his meaning, and pushed off from the rail when Heero disappeared down the steps. He chased after his lover, thinking of ways to show how glad he was that Heero had walked back into his life.