Disclaimer: I don't own or have any relation to Gundam Wing or any other Gundam series. I'm not making any profit from this, nor have permission to write it.

Pairings: 1x2, 3x4 and likely 5x6, since quite a few people object to 5x6x13. Anyone wants to pick out someone for Treize then?

Princes and Thieves

Chapter Six: Persuasion and Manipulation

"He's so hurt, Quatre."

The blond had to look away from the pain in Duo's eyes. "I know," he said quietly. Trowa's hand found its way into his, and he gave his lover a small smile before turning back to Duo again. The other boy was lying on his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, the picture of despair. When Quatre had dragged Trowa to look for Duo, he'd envisioned pulling Duo out of what he'd thought was a sulk and spending the rest of the night coming up with outlandish plans to snare Heero… but he hadn't realized how low Duo's optimism has sunk.

He hesitated, but then had to ask, "Do you still… do you think… do you still want to help him?"

Duo sat bolt upright and the expression on his face was fierce. "You never have to ask me that question. The answer will always be yes."

Quatre's smile was bright, his cheerful self back again. "What are we waiting for then? Let's come up with a plan! Let's see – we could always announce that we're starting a new harem for him, though of course, it'll be a one-man harem – unless we put Wufei in it too, and then Heero can gift him to Zechs. Or we could disguise you as a box! And pack you into one of the carts… oh, you could be a –"

Trowa sighed and pressed a hand to his forehead as Duo burst out laughing, cutting Quatre off mid-sentence. Pleased, the blond watched as the braided boy gasped for breath amidst his laughter. Something had been building in Duo, something dark, but now it was gone.

He glanced at Trowa, who was watching him. When the taller boy saw him looking, he gave Quatre a small nod of approval. When Quatre gave him one of his immensely satisfied 'I'm-not-Heero's-chief-diplomat-for-nothing' smiles, he snorted a little and shook his head.

When they heard a small cough, they looked back at Duo to see him smiling amusedly at them. "You two make such a sweet couple that if I were an ant, I'd eat you up," he informed them lightly. He finally won the first full smile he'd seen on Trowa and a blush from Quatre, as Trowa tugged the blond to his side and etched a small bow.

I can do this, Duo told himself as he found chairs for the two other boys to sit. Heero still trusts people like Quatre after all, and I have him on my side. I can do this… for Heero's sake.

And that said it all, really. It was for Heero, so nothing was impossible.

When they had all settled down, Duo remembered that the couple before him still didn't know of his new horse master position, nor of Wufei's doctor's aide role. He related the incident to them, and they agreed that their case was secure enough that not even Heero should be able to do anything about it.

"Since we have your jobs settled, we need to arrange your housing next," Quatre decided. "I want you to spend as much time around Heero as possible, so we need to find some legitimate reason…"

"Riding," Trowa murmured.

Quatre clapped his hands in delight. "Yes, that's it! Riding! You're Heero's new riding partner," he told Duo firmly.

"Uh… what's that?" Duo said, bemused.

"Well – every week Heero insists on having these riding sessions, and usually it's the three of us and Zechs. The two of us spend most of the time together, though, and Zechs is too much aware of his subordinate role as Heero's subject to properly ride with him. Heero's too nice to say it outright, but I think he wants some real competition… he has these full-out gallops with Wing, sometimes, and we two can barely keep up, let alone Zechs." Here he broke off to beam at Duo. "But after seeing Scythe… I believe you can."

"I should be able to at least match his speed, and I don't lack daring, either," Duo agreed doubtfully. "But will he let me ride with him? How about Zechs?"

Inspiration made Quatre grin. "Oh, we can ask Wufei to ride with us too! Then we can tell Heero that since Zechs will be occupied with Wufei, we thought it'd be better if he had another riding partner to take Zechs's place."

Duo laughed. "So you really do plan on matchmaking Wufei and Zechs!"

"Hey, I prefer to think of it as… helping to forge new bonds."

"Uh huh. Will you let Heero know?"

Quatre's grin was feral. "Of course… so he can be occupied with the relationship between those two and not pay so much attention to your friendship." At the flicker that passed through Duo's eyes, Quatre's expression gentled into a smile. "Or should that be… more than friendship?"

Duo tensed. "I don't –"

"We support you," Trowa interrupted before Duo could get any denials out. Quatre just beamed and nodded.

Purple eyes stared at them for a long moment, and the couple could almost see the thoughts chasing each other around his head. Finally Duo smiled. "So the boy wonder speaks," he said lightly.

That surprised a laugh out of Quatre, but he quickly sobered. "Yes… and when he does, he really means what he says."

Duo nodded slowly. "I… thank you." Then he quirked them a grin. "What are the odds, though, that the three most powerful men in the country are… you know."

"Four, since Zechs is quite influential in his own right," Quatre put in. "At least we know Treize is with Une…" Seeing Duo's questioning look, he explained, "Treize Kushrenada is the Commander of the king's Army, and Une's his secretary. After Treize, Zech's the next highest in command."

"Ah. So… now that I'm horse master, I technically come under the supreme command of the Commander?"

"Yes, that's right, but Wufei's under Sally's command – she's the head of the doctors in the palace. Oh! That's right… we still haven't decided where you're going to stay."

Duo hesitated, and then ventured, "I heard the nobles usually have… some sort of personal manservant."

It took a moment for Quatre to realize what he was hinting at. "Oh! Yes, but… Heero doesn't like that sort of thing. He usually does things for himself – but now… he can't," he said slowly in realization. "That arm of his – Duo, you're a genius!"

The boy flashed him a grin. "Thank you, thank you… I try."

"You'll stay in the tent next to his – there's a flap that can be opened so that the two are linked. I'll tell the soldiers to set it up; we bring it along out of habit but don't normally use it, see. Trowa and I are on the other side of his tent."

"How about Wufei?"

"Wufei… we'll put him under Zechs's command for now. We'll let the good Captain be his guardian."

They shared an evil grin.

"I don't think this is a good idea."

Surprised, they turned to look at Trowa. He was frowning a little. "Shouldn't we give Heero some space? You're setting it up so that he'll have no respite at all… he might end up pushing us all away instead if he feels trapped."

While Duo was still digesting the fact that Trowa could indeed speak in paragraphs, Quatre pouted at his lover. "That's the whole point, though, isn't it? To leave him no escape route so he'll have to surrender sooner or later."

"He's just as likely to self-destruct as to surrender."

Quatre narrowed his eyes. "Trowa… you're just protesting out of a misplaced sense of guilt, aren't you?"

"…"

The blond considered him for a moment, and then smiled softly. He leaned in and whispered for a while into Trowa's ear. Duo watched, puzzled, as one green eye widened and then shuttered.

When Quatre finally sat back down, looking pleased with himself, Trowa was smiling his small smile. Catching Duo looking at him, he shook his head. "Why do I even bother?" he said in the tones of a rhetorical question asked too many times. "I feel sorry for Heero."

"What did he threaten you with?" Duo asked, unbearably curious. To his amazement, a faint blush spread across Trowa's cheeks, and Quatre's cat-ate-the-aviary grin got even wider. "Okay… on second thoughts, I don't want to know."

There was a knock on the door, and it was Wufei's head that looked in when Duo called a 'come in'. "Ah, my lords – I mean, Quatre, Trowa. Duo, too… I had a feeling you'd all be here."

He entered, and Zechs followed behind him. "Zechs and I have been thinking about the plans, and we decided that we should try to just let things flow a natural course. Of course, Duo and I will continue to work in our respective roles, but other than that…" he trailed off at the sheepish look on Quatre's face and the entirely too amused smiles on Trowa and Duo's. "Okay, now what?" he said in resignation.

Their expressions changed over an impressive range when the trio's newly-formed plan was revealed. "Manservant!" Zechs yelped. "Treize will have my head for letting some unknown boy become the king's manservant. And both he and my lord Heero will have the rest of me when they hear about the riding partner thing!" He sagged against the wall he was leaning against, mourning the imminent loss of his job.

"Don't be silly," Quatre said impatiently, "I won't let anything happen to you."

"They'll kill me," Zechs said to himself, oblivious to all. "They'll kill me and feed me to the horses. They'll kill me and use me to fertilize grass. They'll kill me and serve me up as one of those fancy dishes with godawful names. They'll kill…"

"Zechs!"

"Both of them are going to want to hold someone responsible. They'll want someone to blame. And since you two are untouchable – it'll fall to me," Zechs declared morosely to the room. "I'm going to lose my job. I'm going to lose my life. They'll kill me and leave me for the –"

"It sounds very far-fetched, and very tentative," Wufei interrupted. "There are so many ways my lord can react, and so many of those ways can go wrong. Someone can protest our being named to such important roles – riding partners with the king for heaven's sake! – or object to our dubious backgrounds – or our competence – I really don't see how it'll help things," he said skeptically.

"I know Heero," Quatre said firmly. "I don't think things will turn out as badly as you think. And besides – you'll have Trowa and I vouching for you… that should be sufficient for anyone questioning your credibility."

Wufei gave up on convincing the blond and turned to Duo – but one look at the determined expression on the braided boy's face made him throw up his hands in exasperation. "If it fails, I will say 'I told you so' in an annoyingly smug manner and you will not be able to hit me for it because I will be right," he informed them very precisely.

"Sure thing," Quatre said cheerfully.

Duo, however, was more serious. "Please, Wufei, I have to try everything I can," he said earnestly. "You will help in every way you can, right?"

The Chinese boy sighed. "Despite my objections… of course I will. You know that."

As Duo smiled his gratitude, Quatre turned to the last man in the room. "Zechs?"

"I suppose being used to fertilize the plants isn't such a bad way to go," he said with a half-smile.

Quatre grinned back. "Then we're set."

-thisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisalinethisisaline-

Crap... the lines I normally use to separate the different parts aren't working. Drat this editing thing.

Okay… now that the plans are set, we're all ready to rrrrrrumble!

Or not.

I managed to get this little bit out to tell you HELLO I'M ALIIIIVE and that I'm going to die again for one month or so. After which my very very important exams will be OVER and I will write to my heart's content, and just let anyone try to stop me. I'll distract them with brownies and kick them in the nuts while they're salivating.

Whee!

Next Chap: Duo shows up at Heero's tent! Lalala .

Any complaints, criticism, censure, condemnations, compliments, condiments or cookies… feel free to reCcount them (or Cook) them!

Ashen Skies
"Or we could disguise you as a box!"