Quatre was waiting for Heero in the hotel lobby, where the rest of the team had set up their temporary command center. The blond man's business suit was dusty and disheveled, as if he had been wearing the same clothes for the past 24 hours. Despite his obvious weariness, he smiled as he greeted Heero.
The two men caught up with one another as they strode through the lobby, down a hallway toward a large conference room on the first floor. Much of what Quatre had to say, Heero already knew from talking to Une, Duo and the others. Unfortunately, there wasn't much new to report.
Heero wanted to probe Quatre on what he had learned from Relena - about her working with Quatre, and Trowa, and this strange guy named Paul - and find out what, exactly, Quatre knew. Because if Relena had even considered marrying this other man, for whatever reason, Heero felt he deserved to know the full story.
And Heero, being Heero, broached the subject the best way he knew how.
"So what's the deal with Paul?"
"Paul?" Quatre's brows went up along with his voice. "You mean Paul Montgomery?"
"Yeah, that guy," Heero muttered as they walked along. "Relena told me she was… involved with him." He looked askance at Quatre. "But you've been working with him as well?"
"Very little," Quatre said quickly. "Mostly online. I assisted Relena and Trowa with this… project as much as I could." He frowned in Heero's direction. "How did you find out about it?"
"Apparently I wasn't supposed to," Heero answered with a slight smirk. "Relena told me."
"Ah," said Quatre, his cheeks turning pink. "I don't think she ever wanted to keep it a secret from you, Heero, it was just… sensitive. But I-"
"It's fine," Heero cut him off. "We were separated; we weren't really talking about anything, unless it pertained to our daughter. Anyway, I want to know what you think of this guy Paul." Heero frowned. "Should I trust him?"
"I don't see why not," Quatre responded. "I've never had any issues while working with him. Although, again, I only did remotely. That is-" They came to a stop outside a large set of swinging doors. "Until today…"
Heero could feel his skin prickle. "So he's here?"
Quatre nodded toward the doors. "Yes. Inside."
Heero's frown deepened. "Hn…"
"Listen, it'll be fine," Quatre said, his voice and eyes insistent. "He's extremely knowledgeable, and has been very helpful during this entire investigation." He forced a smile. "I'm sure you two will get along just fine. The situation with Relena was… not exactly what it seemed."
Heero didn't respond to that, just stared at Quatre unblinkingly for a moment. Until Quatre's eyes went round.
"Wait a minute, Heero… did you say were separated? So does that mean you and Relena are back together?"
Heero just gave a curt nod.
Quatre's mouth formed a perfect "o."
"That bad?" Heero asked with a frown.
"No, it's great! It's wonderful, actually!" All of a sudden Quatre was a little too cheerful, in Heero's mind. "I'm really happy for you both… I guess we should've all seen it coming, after you rescued her and all." He beamed a smile at Heero before his face faltered. "I just-"
But the double doors swung open before Quatre could answer. A tall, thin man, who appeared to be in his early to mid-forties, with an unruly shock of sandy blond hair, emerged. He wore a tweedy suit that was in a similar state as Quatre's, with a pair of black glasses perched on his nose. He had the look of a harried college professor.
"Quatre, we-" His clipped British accent stopped mid-sentence as he took in Heero. "Oh! Pardon me for interrupting…" The man let the doors swing shut behind him as he held out a hand to Heero. "My name is Paul. You must be Heero Yuy."
Heero's brows shot up, just for a second. He swung his eyes over to a sheepish-looking Quatre. "Yeah, that's me." Heero realized he was a beat late in accepting Paul's handshake. Before he could remedy the situation, Paul dropped his hand, then somewhat awkwardly shoved both of his hands into his blazer pockets.
"Erm, well, it's nice to finally meet you." Paul's face broke into a grin, much to Heero's surprise. "I suppose it was high time we did, given the circumstances..."
Heero glanced warily to Quatre again, but his friend's face was impassive. "Yeah, I guess," Heero answered Paul with a shrug. He was hoping to get the awkward exchange over with, so they could move on to business. There were plenty of more important things at stake, and exchanging niceties with the man Relena had been spending so much time with over the past year was, frankly, the last thing on Heero's to-do list.
Paul released a nervous chuckle, removing one of his hands from his jacket to rake it through his messy flop of hair. "I mean, considering you're the father of my fiancé's child…"
"Fiancé ?" Heero echoed. That title didn't match up with Relena's version of events… Either Paul was jumping the gun, or Relena had, in fact, accepted his proposal. Beside Heero, Quatre's face colored.
"Oh… oh, my." Paul's eyes widened behind his spectacles. "Oh dear God, I'm so sorry… Relena hasn't told you, has she?" He frowned and tapped his chin. "I could have sworn, she told me she had, just before she got on that shuttle. But, then, a lot has happened in the past twenty-four hours…"
"She did tell me," Heero said flatly, keeping his expression neutral as he assessed the other man. "I just… forgot," he lied. He gave another careless shrug. "It's been a busy day."
Quatre said nothing as Paul nodded. "Ah, understandable. And there's still so much to be done. Well, then, lads…" He gestured to the room behind them. "Shall we?"
Heero and Quatre exchanged another quick glance before following after Paul.
Clearly, Relena and Paul hadn't spoken since she and Heero were... reunited. But what if they had? Heero felt his gut starting to coil. What if Relena hadn't told Paul yet?
And, if not, what was she waiting for?
Relena sat at the long rectangular table in the small room within the ship's control room, her hands laced in front of her, the sleeves of her new Preventers jacket pushed up to her elbows.
Oh, Heero, if only you could see me now… It was difficult to keep from smiling or giggling in amusement, but interrogations were no laughing matter.
Relena was giving her first official Preventers assignment her all. Even if the suspects she was charged with interviewing weren't making it easy for her. Alicia and the two air policemen, whose names, Relena learned, were Anders and Griffin, were proving to be about as conversational as brick walls.
Alicia, especially, gave off an iciness that rivaled her pale blue eyes.
"For the last time," she sighed in her seat, sounding almost bored, "I don't know anything about this trafficking ring. This is the first I've heard of it."
Relena glanced to Trowa beside her, hoping he'd be more successful in getting Alicia to crack. He peered at Relena through the corner of his eye before addressing the suspect again.
"So you never met Roy Bennett, AKA 'Aloysius,' or the man calling himself his brother, Aldous?"
Alicia rolled her eyes. "I've already told you, no, about a dozen times." She sighed again, leaned back in her chair, and started picking at her nail beds.
"Well," Relena started with a sigh of her own. "Given your lackadaisical attitude over this whole thing, I'm inclined to believe you're guilty." She gave her new "partner" a smile. "Wouldn't you agree, Agent Gamma?"
"Absolutely, Agent Diamond," Trowa readily agreed. Relena smiled even wider at the use of her new, official codename. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Greek numerals most of the others went by - it just so happened to be her birthstone - which made her like it even better.
"Oh, please." Alicia's eyes seemed permanently glued to the ceiling. "You're not 'Agent' anything," she snapped at Relena. "I know exactly you who you are, Foreign Minister Darlian."
"And you were working with this Aloysius character to take me down, then, weren't you?" Relena beamed a triumphant smile at the other woman.
Alicia's eyes snapped to hers.
"Look," she said testily, "I was coerced, just like the others. We are all ESUN employees, and we were all forced to go along with this whole stupid charade." She let out another laborious sigh.
"And how were you forced, exactly?" Trowa asked. Alicia shot him another icy glare.
"I already told you-"
Trowa cracked his knuckles in front of him. "Again, if you don't mind."
"He threatened to kill all our families," Alicia answered with a shrug. Relena quirked a brow.
"And that didn't scare you?"
"Nope. I don't have a family."
Trowa and Relena exchanged a quick glance. That was all too common among people their age, as many were orphaned during the Eve Wars.
"But you went along with it anyway," Relena surmised, frowning. "Why?"
Alicia laughed drily. "What choice did I have? Then that psychopath would've made an example of me." A dark look passed over her face, and she visibly shuddered. "Like Graham…"
Relena closed her eyes as the gruesome image of Graham's final moments immediately sprang to mind. She forced back the tears that automatically came with the thought, and faced Alicia again. "And yet you didn't show any remorse, or fear, or even grief when he was killed," she said hotly. Alicia winced. "Wasn't he your captain? Your colleague? And therefore your friend? Weren't you the least bit upset that he died?"
"Of course I was!" Alicia shouted, lunging forward in her chair. Trowa held up a hand in warning.
"Careful. We will use force to restrain you, if necessary." His eyes flashed.
Alicia obeyed and returned to her seat. "Of course, I was upset," she said more calmly, even as her voice started to shake. "I was furious."
"Then why didn't you do something?" Relena asked quietly. She watched as a few tears slid down Alicia's cheeks.
"What could I do?" she whispered hoarsely. "Fight him? You saw how huge he was…"
"Trust me, I know," Relena said softly. Her body bore the marks of Bennett's brutality, and she could still remember the feeling of being flung as if she were a ragdoll. Never mind the gunshot wound that still pulsed in protest whenever Relena moved a certain way. She reminded herself that she was due for another round of painkillers soon…
"Look, I'm sorry I don't have any more information." Alicia's tone was tired and defeated. "And I'm sorry if I pissed you off during this whole 'questioning' process. I'm just exhausted, and starving, and I'm sick of being cooped up in here when I've done nothing wrong."
Trowa shook his head to the side. "Unfortunately, you aided and abetted what is being treated as a terrorist act. Coerced or not, you're guilty by association."
Alicia gaped at him. "What about 'innocent until proven guilty'?"
Trowa's eyes gleamed. "Not in this jurisdiction."
Alicia slapped a hand on the desk in front of her. "That's not fair! I want to speak to a lawyer-"
"In due time," Relena cut in. "For now, I'm afraid you're going to have to sit tight." She glanced back over to Trowa. "Unless you have something more to tell us."
Alicia let out a groan. "No, there's nothing."
"Are you sure?" Trowa asked. Alicia gave him a look that indicated she thought him quite stupid.
"Yes, I'm sure," she snapped.
"I don't think she likes me," Trowa quipped to Relena. Now it was her turn to roll her eyes.
"Trowa, not everything revolves around whether or not a woman likes you…"
"It doesn't?" he asked with mock sincerity.
"Enough, please," Alicia moaned. "Can I go now?"
"Go where? Back to your cell?" Relena motioned around the room with a sweep of her hand. "Isn't it much nicer out here? We might be able to get you some food or something, if you cooperate with us just a little longer."
Alicia looked blankly at her. "I've already told you everything I know."
Relena pursed her lips. "And you're positive you didn't hear anything about a possible base, or Aldous's whereabouts?"
The other woman shook her head vigorously. "Not a bloody thing."
"You didn't overhear anything when Bennett - Aloysius - was talking to him?" Trowa prodded.
"Nothing that would even suggest a possible location," he plowed on. "A hint. A code of some sort. Anything that sounded even slightly 'off'..."
Alicia pressed her hands to her temples. "I-I can't remember anything like that."
"Think, Alicia," Relena said gently. "It could be anything."
They went on like that for a while, but Alicia was either being tight-lipped or honestly didn't know. Relena still couldn't decide if she could trust her. It was clear they were going to need a lot more time to continue probing. And at least a few more pots of coffee...
After what felt like forever, she and Trowa left the small interrogation room. Agent Okeda had been observing from the one-way mirrored window, and at some point, Sally had joined him. She looked just as defeated as Relena felt.
"Well, that looked like a dead-end," Sally sighed after Okeda led Alicia back to her cell. "We're really coming up empty when it comes to finding any clues on these guys. I hope Heero and the rest of the team are having more luck on their end."
"So do I," Relena murmured. The strain of the day - it felt like days - was beginning to wear on her. "Any news from Brussels?" she asked Sally hopefully. "Has anyone heard from Une lately?"
"Not for a while," said Sally. "I may have the, uh, communications officer check in with Commander Gold soon, though, if we don't hear anything first."
Relena blanched, remembering who that was.
"Well," she went on, willing herself to think of anything else, "not to keep adding to our growing to-do list, but I wouldn't mind checking in with Une myself; I'd like to try to get another message to Ellie, or Noin…"
Sally gave her a sympathetic nod. "Let's just wait a bit longer before reaching out ourselves, in case they're swamped down there," she said. "But, you know…" Sally's face went flush. "Ah, I know you're not gonna like this idea, but…"
"What is it?" Relena asked warily. Trowa's eyes had drifted to the ceiling, and his hands were stuffed in his pockets as he made to stroll away from the conversation. Relena had a sudden, sick feeling of what Sally was about to suggest, and her friend was right- she didn't like it.
"Our communications officer could connect you to the safe house, without having to contact Une first." Sally winced, as if she expected Relena to lash out at the suggestion. But Relena just stood, very still, and weighed Sally's words. The senior Preventer seemed to take this as her cue to go on. "There's some kind of backdoor channel we can use. It's kind of Raq- er, the officer's specialty…"
"It's okay, Sally; you can say her name," Relena sighed. "It's kind of unavoidable…"
"I don't know about that; I happen to be very good at avoiding women when I want to," Trowa said from the other side of the room, where he'd taken a seat at one of the workstations, his eyes trained on the screen in front of him. "I could give you a few pointers…"
Relena and Sally shared a look. "Shut up, Trowa," they said together.
"Never mind, then," he said with a shrug. "Just trying to help."
Relena sighed and turned back to Sally. "Isn't this something Heero could do?" She spread her hands. "Set up a backdoor, I mean…"
"Sure, if he has the time and the tools, but not with that ancient mobile of his." Sally rolled her eyes derisively. "Can't get him to upgrade if we beg. I suppose he could always use Zero, but he would probably say it's too risky."
"Way too risky," Trowa echoed from his corner.
"Thanks Trowa, that's really helpful," Sally said with obvious sarcasm.
"Oh, God," Relena groaned. "You make it seem like I have no choice…"
"Not true," Sally said quickly. "You could always just wait for Une. I mean, I'm sure it won't be too much longer…"
Relena shook her head. "No… It's been hours since Heero sent his last message, I'm sure. And even longer since either one of us has been able to speak to Ellie." The realization twisted her heart. "I need to talk to my daughter. She needs to hear from one of us, at least, that both of her parents are still okay."
Sally nodded her understanding, but she looked as if she was dreading the inevitable just as much as Relena. "All right, then, I'm going to page Agent Morena," Sally said with some reluctance. "Apologies in advance if she's less than thrilled with the idea, and lets us know it."
"Fuck her," Trowa muttered.
"Oh, I'm sure you'd like to," Sally said sweetly as she reached for the communicator in her pocket.
Trowa grimaced from his station. "Sloppy seconds? No thanks."
"Trowa!" Relena gasped, her face growing hot. He immediately looked sheepish, and tried to backtrack.
"Ah, sorry; that wasn't directed toward you in anyway…"
"Of course it was," Sally snapped. "Not to mention it was sexist. And just plain gross."
Trowa pulled a face. "It wasn't meant to be. Anyway, I am sorry…"
"Please, just drop it." Relena held up a hand. "Do me a favor, and please refrain from referencing my ex-husband's extracurricular activities as much as humanly possible, all right? It's bad enough that I have to come face to face with one of them…"
"He told you there was more than one?" Trowa's brows shot up, as did Sally's.
"Seriously?!" she screeched. "Good God, Yuy…"
Relena dropped her face into both her hands and groaned. "Ugh, you guys, I am so sick of talking about this…"
Just then the metal door behind the women blinked and whirred before it slid open. And the topic of the conversation waltzed on through.
Relena removed her hands from her face just in time to see Raquel's disapproving glare. The two women maintained uncomfortable eye contact for a beat before Raquel turned abruptly to face Sally.
"Well. You paged me?"
A/N: I'M BAAAACK. Wait, I already said this in, like, every other update I've posted on here. OH, WELL. HI GUYS!
Sorry it's taken me so long to post an update of this, but I want all of you loyal readers to know how much I appreciated seeing your reviews and PMs while I was away! I missed all of you! Thank you for sticking around to see this story through! I confess it's taken me a while to get back into this "world" since I stepped out of it for months, but I'm slowly easing back in. It's crazy how much whatever you were planning to write before just flies out the window when you sit down to write something again after stepping away for a while... That means I have pretty much scrapped the rough outline I had in mind for this story... in fact, if you saw my original notes, you'd probably be shocked to see how much the final version has evolved! Basically, I decided to just keep writing and let the characters take this and run with it, and that's what it is going to continue to happen until I think we've reached the finish line. Sound good?!
I hope you enjoyed this update! Much more to come!
And it's still Sunday Funday! Yasssssss :D Let's call this a soothing balm for the Sunday scaries ;)
Have a great night/day, wherever you are!