Author's note:

Hello everyone and, as (almost) always a million apologies for the delay in updating. Moving to Italy turned out to be a lot more complicated than I had anticipated (though every bit as beautiful!) and I've spent the best part of the last two months without internet.

So here it is, finally: Chapter 24: Unravelling. (Best laid plans and all that…)

Thank you to everyone for sticking with me through thick and thin and I will do my utmost to make sure that Chapter 25 is published as soon as possible, preferably within two weeks.

Individual thanks to everyone at the end…so please read on and enjoy!

Last chapter: Bonds

Less than 24 hours before the charade would be over.

Wufei stared up at the ceiling, long ago having given up any pretence of working. He couldn't pretend that he wasn't glad that things would be over by this time tomorrow...but he also couldn't help the foreboding feeling that Dorothy and Quatre leaving would only be the beginning of an entirely new set of complications.

Across the dancefloor both Heero and Dorothy frowned almost simultaneously as they saw Relena greet the tall man. How on earth was Relena on such familiar terms with Treize Khushrenada?

Relena's smile faded as she realized how complicated things could get.


She had known him since they were children so she hoped that he would agree to her request.

"I want you to do a favour for me"

Treize started to grin, then stopped at the serious look in Relena's eyes,

"Is there something wrong?"

She shook her head vigorously, "Just, please, even if something seems a little strange please don't say anything. I promise that I'll explain everything later"

Dorothy's smile turned predatory as Relena and Heero disappeared into the crowd and she turned back towards her prey. He met her gaze with a challenge of his own.

"So, Mr Khushrenada, how exactly do you know Mrs Yuy?"

Chapter 24: Unravelling

Wufei lifted his drink off the bar and turned back towards the dancefloor. Trowa was a little further down, leaning against the bar and glaring at something or someone across the room. Wufei followed his line of vision to Heero's arm wrapped around Relena's bare eyebrow raised he took a sip of his drink.

This could be interesting; did Trowa like Relena or was there some other reason for his death glare?

He sidled down the bar but Trowa didn't even break the stare to acknowledge him.

"Is there a reason you're glaring at Yuy as if he killed your cat?"

Trowa turned towards him but his face didn't clear, "What do you want?"

Wufei held his hands up in false surrender as he shook his head,

"Just wondering...I'm sure that I'm not the only one who's noticed...and tonight's supposed to all about us showing a united front"

If anything Trowa's glare darkened, then he turned and stalked away.

Wufei shrugged and finished his drink. Arguments between the four of them were nothing new and it was none of his business at the end of the day, not unless it became something that could interfere in business.

Still, there was never any harm in a little information-gathering when his friends were involved. He nodded to the barman for a refill and began to investigate.

Dorothy's smile turned slightly predatory as Heero and Relena left her alone with Treize.

Instead of being intimidated he grinned back.

Though distant family they were little more than acquaintances. Despite this they had a moment of perfect understanding. He was a dangerous man, unpredictable and powerful, but Dorothy was no pushover either. If he chose to underestimate here it would be his downfall. One way or another she would get the information she needed.

"I wasn't aware you knew Mrs Yuy..."

Dorothy fished for information, knowing that Treize would hear her emphasis on Relena's name.

Treize didn't seem phased at all, "Yes, of course. Her brother and I go back a long time"

Dorothy's brain was working a mile a minute, trying to work out if Treize knew something and was deliberately trying to distract her...or if Relena's brother could somehow help to explain what smelled funny about their marriage.

Relena had never mentioned a brother, yet she and Treize were evidently close. Dorothy followed the logical steps: Treize's family moved in powerful circles, which pointed towards both Relena and her brother being people of consequence.

Granted there was a chance that they were simply friends from school...yet she had never heard a Dorlian family being mentioned. And if they were in a position to be close to the Khushrenada's she was sure that she would have heard something, especially as her own family was distantly related. Not only that but, if the Dorlians and the Khushrenadas were so close what was Relena doing married to their biggest competitor?

She clamped down on her facial expression as she noticed Treize watching her, his mouth quirked upwards in what could only be amusement.

He seemed to be enjoying her confusion,

"You know Milliardo Peacecraft?"

Dorothy couldn't help the shocked expression that crossed her face. Everyone knew the Peacecraft name, mostly because of the tragedy that had killed all but two members of a once large family. That and the rumours that the accident hadn't been an accident at all…suddenly a few pieces fell into place, although she still wasn't quite sure how they fitted into the larger picture.

"Relena's a Peacecraft. But Dorlian?"

"Her foster parents," Treize replied shortly, "Now, if you'll excuse me..."

He turned to reply to a middle-aged couple who had approached and Dorothy was effectively cut out of the conversation.

She didn't care – she had more than enough to think about with the information Treize had just revealed. Did it mean something? It wasn't until several minutes later that she realised that Treize had effectively distracted her from the topic of Relena and Heero's relationship and her chances of catching him alone again that evening were slim.

She glanced at her watch; the night was still young and Dorothy had never been a quitter.

By the end of the night, whatever it took, she would have gotten to the bottom of the mystery.

A hand on his arm...and Heero turned to find Relena standing next to him. Her face was slightly flushed though he couldn't tell if it was from the heat in the room, alcohol or some other reason.

"Um..." her flush deepened as she spoke, still avoiding his eyes.

"Is there something wrong?",

he spoke in a low voice so nobody around them would hear, his imagination already leading him to think of the worst possible scenarios.

Relena waved her hands in front of her in a gesture of negation, still seeming extremely nervous.

"I was wondering if..."

He lost the rest of her sentence as her voice fell too far for him to hear it.

"What?", he leaned forward, anxiety now gnawing at his stomach.

Relena beckoned for him to come closer and he obliged, just able to make out her next words.

"Can I have this dance?"

He was suddenly too hot, for a number of reasons which he didn't care to examine too closely.

Foremost were the kind of nerves he should have grown out of after high school...followed by a kind of embarrassment that he hadn't thought to ask her first.

He smiled genuinely and held out his hand, "May I?"

Relena let herself be led onto the dancefloor, hoping she was imagining the number of heads turning to watch them together. But as soon as Heero's arms came around her she focused only on him; the man who had given her a second chance at happiness.

Regardless of what tomorrow could bring, nothing could change that.

Duo was just sliding closer to Hilde to steal a sneaky kiss, when he spotted her. His jaw set and Hilde's smile faltered.

"Is there something wrong?"

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and tried to play down his reaction.

"It's nothing"

But his eyes were following someone on the dancefloor and Hilde frowned.

Seeing that she wasn't fooled he elaborated slightly.

"I've just seen someone who could cause a problem."

He pushed himself to his feet as he continued, "I'll be right back."

Hilde let out a frustrated huff as he walked away without so much as a backwards glance leaving her alone at their table.

Relena had been doing the necessary networking all evening and Catherine had appointed herself in charge of the children. She was currently on the corner of a dancefloor trying to teach Josh how to waltz while balancing Lila on one hip. She seemed to be having a great time and Hilde wished she had the confidence to join her.

Suddenly Hilde felt very alone; she didn't really know anyone here and Relena seemed to fit into her role as if it had been made for her.

She looked around the room only to find that she wasn't the only one who didn't seem to be having the time of her life. In fact, both Trowa and Wufei looked decidedly morose. Trowa was back at the bar after having disappeared for a while but, if anything, his bad mood was even more obvious than it had been earlier.

Wufei seemed to be trying to appear fascinated while one of the company's elderly shareholders droned on…but from the parts of the conversation that Hilde had overheard it seemed that the older man had forgotten to turn on his hearing aid…and Wufei's patience was wearing thin. If she were in a better mood herself she would probably have found it hilarious, but laughing seemed ill-advised when Wufei was still within earshot.

Quatre was another born diplomat, like Relena, and Hilde wished she could relax enough around him to like him. But he was also intelligent and she was constantly worried that she was going to slip up and say something that would give the game away. How Relena had managed the stress of living with them for the past week she had no idea.

Dorothy seemed to be circulating the entire room with the ease of long practice but Hilde couldn't help but be suspicious of her; she seemed far too interested in Relena and Heero's marriage.

Despite Hilde's own reservations about the situation she could never completely condemn something that made Relena happy...and the will-they-won't-they relationship between her and Heero was the closest Relena had come to happiness in a long time.

For Josh too; he was already at an age where he was asking questions and, although Hilde knew that Relena would never let him feel the lack of anything, a family would provide more stability for him.

More than anything she felt that Relena deserved the closest thing to a fairytale ending; she had already been through so much.

Heero was a more difficult one to read; when she was with him Relena lit up and Hilde imagined that she could see him softening too...but the charade for the Winner's had complicated matters.

For the sake of everyone involved Hilde couldn't help but wish for it to be over so the truth could come out.

When she found Duo beside a petite blond girl she glared daggers at the back of his head, hoping he could somehow feel them. He was another problem she had to sort out; getting a straight answer out of him was like trying to squeeze blood out of a stone...and Hilde was very fond of straight answers when it came to a relationship.

She narrowed her eyes as Duo led the other girl onto the dancefloor and called the waiter over. Two glasses of the complementary wine later, ostensibly for herself and her date and she was ready to go and reclaim her date. With drinks on the house she didn't need Duo with her to have a good night, but there was no way she was sitting back and letting someone else take him.

And while she was at it she might as well do something to help Heero and Relena on their way to getting together...and send Dorothy a few red herrings to keep her busy.

Hilde grinned as she stood up: she had promised Josh that she would help him and if she did nothing else she always kept her promises.

"Really I couldn't have imagined Heero Yuy as a married man but I must say she seems absolutely lovely"

Dorothy's interest sharpened, "You haven't met her before?"

The speaker was the wife of the acting head of one of Treize Khushrenada's subsidiary companies and Dorothy found it very odd that she hadn't met Relena previously. Granted, Heero had a bit of a reputation of avoiding as many social occasions as he could without causing offence but surely even he couldn't have avoided them entirely?

"No, I think this may be her first social event although I believe she attended a conference in a professional capacity just last month. No mention then of her being Mrs Yuy, but the husband is renowned for keeping personal matters private"

Dorothy nodded in agreement, already planning the next stage of her investigation. If she could only catch Heero on his own...

Duo tapped her on the shoulder before really planning what he was going to say so he had a moment of being embarrassingly tongue-tied before he could get his thoughts in order.

Sylvia just stood there with one impeccable brow raised and the barest of smiles touching her lips. She had always been like that; she could make anyone feel scruffy and uncomfortable without saying a word.

After a few seconds she held out her hand for him to take.

"Good evening Duo. Or is it Mr Maxwell now?"

He shook his head, "Whatever you like."

Her gaze turned thoughtful, "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

There was an edge to her voice that Duo wasn't sure he liked. Sylvia could cause major problems if she chose to and he was hoping that she didn't choose to...he had no idea how to prevent the disaster it could cause.

Duo nodded, not really listening as shecontinued the conversation; the most important thing was how to keep her away from anyone who mattered in case she messed things up. Perhaps he could invite her outside for a walk?

Unfortunately she continued without giving him the chance,

"I'm here as Oemreg's date of course...but I have to admit that I was very surprised to see the invitation."

Duo looked around but luckily nobody seemed to be paying any attention to them or theri conversation that was rapidly straying into dangerous areas.

Still, he could feel someone's gaze burning a hole between his shoulder blades so he shifted uncomfortably, hoping for the first time that it was a jealous date rather than anyone who had worked out Sylvia's connection to their company.

Sylvia asked the dreaded question,

"So, how long exactly has Heero been married? He mustn't have wasted much time after I left."

There was no mistaking the bitterness in her voice now and Duo began to sweat.

Luckily she didn't yet seem aware of Josh's existence or things would really get messy. His third birthday would have fallen quite squarely in the middle of time Heero and Sylvia had been together...and it could cause a disaster.

Duo held back a groan, imagining female hysterics and the sheer bad luck of someone he had never thought he would see again turning up at just the wrong moment.

Duo answered vaguely, hoping it would appease her, "It's been a few years now."

"A few years?" Her voice rose sharply, then she smoothed her expression and looked around in case anyone had noticed.

The only visible sign of her anger was the slow flare of her nostrils. Duo watched it carefully as his brain ran damage control scenarios...short of recruiting the others to keep her away from anyone involved in the charade or kicking her out of the party he wasn't quite sure what to do.

Suddenly her attention snapped to the dancefloor, "Is that her?"

Duo turned to see Heero and Relena together and his teeth began to hurt at the sweetness of matter what either of them said there was an obvious attraction between them. Unfortunately it was also obvious to the rather displease lady he was standing next to.

He nodded and Sylvia's mouth set in a hard line before it quirked into a grin. He knew that grin, knew she was planning something, but was powerless to do anything; apart from picking her up and carrying her outside he was completely out of ideas.

She turned back to him, "Duo, dance with me."

It wasn't a question and he couldn't think of any better way to keep her where he could see her...Duo shrugged and headed out onto the dancefloor.

"Mr Barton"

Trowa swallowed his temper, inwardly cursing whoever had managed to find him.

He had purposefully sought out the darkest corner of the outdoor balustrade to indulge in his bad mood. he hadn't been able to catch Heero alone all day, and even if he had he had no idea what he was going to confront him with; to do that he would first have to pinpoint his own reasons for objecting so strongly to Heero and Relena's relationship. And that...that was something he was still trying to work out for himself.

He turned slowly and the air rushed out of his lungs; the man's face was certainly familiar but Trowa had not expected to see him there.

Or ever again if he were completely honest.

"Dekim" he breathed, unable to hide his shock.

The older man clasped one of Trowa's hands in both of his own in a gesture of kindness.

Trowa fought the urge to tear his hands out of the grip, feeling nothing more than entrapment.

Just when he had hoped that he was free…

Dekim continued, the perfect image of a doting grandfather

"How have you been? And your sister?"

This was the man who had paid to put him through university and helped to support his sister when she was pregnant.

He was the closest thing to a father-figure in Trowa's life. And someone who belonged to a period of life that Trowa had thought he had put behind him a long time ago.

Some things were better left in the past where they belonged...but Dekim's presence made a joke of the life he had managed to build for himself

The fact that he was here tonight could only mean a few things, none of them good.

It seemed that Trowa's loyalty was about to be tested.

"Good evening Heero."

Heero started, slightly embarrassed to be caught still holding onto Relena after the dance had finished.

They were standing by the side of the dancefloor and he had been enjoying their few moments of peace together. After so much polite conversation she seemed to understand his preference for silence.

Yet, neither of them had made a move to let go of the other after the dance...and though he would never admit it out loud he was becoming increasingly fond of Relena's backless dress. Relena had relaxed into his arm around her, one small hand clutching his jacket and her cheek rested against his chest. Another thing he would never admit was just how much he enjoyed being the subject of her affection...and being able to return it.

"You tired?"

Relena shook her head, still not moving from her position. Her cheeks were flushed, and he still had no better idea of why.

She spoke so quietly that Heero had to lean closer to hear her.

"This is nice."

He had just begun trying to think of a reply to that when they were interrupted.

He turned to see one of the last people he had ever expected to see again, with Duo trailing behind, as evidently annoyed as he ever got in public.

Business mask firmly back in place Heero held out his hand,

"Ms Noventa. A pleasure to see you."

Sylvia laughed and he saw for a second what had sparked his interest in her years previously.

But theirs had been a relationship doomed to failure before it even got off the ground; they were both too busy to see each other very often and they wanted different things. The only reason it had lasted as long as it had was because they saw each other so little that it took some time before they realised how little they had in common.

"Heero, surely we're at least on a first-name basis?"

He nodded stiffly, then made a conscious effort to smile in what he hoped was a friendly manner. He didn't need Duo's agitation (obvious, luckily, only to him) to warn him that the situation required some delicacy. He would just have to explain things to Relena afterwards.

She surprised him by stepping forward and holding out her hand, "I'm Relena. Nice to meet you."

She spoke confidently, the perfect diplomat.

Sylvia smiled in return, although hers appeared more guarded, "Sylvia."

Relena smiled, "Of course, I've heard all about you from Heero."

With some effort Heero hid his shock, looking across at Duo to see a slow smile spreading across his face before he schooled it back to neutrality.

She was lying of course; Heero had never mentioned Sylvia to her, but her natural diplomacy seemed to be coming to the fore once again. And with it, Heero couldn't help but think that she may have salvaged a situation that could have caused them a lot of bother.

The two women chatted amiably for a few moments, then Relena excused herself to "let you and Heero catch up."

Sylvia seemed a little surprised, but took the offer graciously. Duo shook his head in disbelief as he escorted Relena away.

"Perfectly done", Relena returned his grin with one of her own, hoping she had managed to hide her misgivings about one of Heero's ex-girlfriend's turning up. It hadn't taken much for her to put two and two together when she registered Heero and Duo's reactions.

Duo ticked off points on his hand,

"Forestall bitchy comments, make good impression, show that you're not threatened...perfect! You deserve a bonus just for that!"

Relena's smile faltered slightly, both due to the reminder that she was simply doing a job she had been paid to do and from the slight uncertainty whether or not she should feel threatened by Sylvia's presence...or if she even had a position to be threatened in the first place.

Ushering Duo back towards Hilde she made her way towards the bar for a breather.

Except Trowa was already there, and he didn't look happy. Relena faltered, but she was already almost at the bar so she couldn't turn around now and walk away without it seeming like she was trying to avoid him. Yet she had been hesitant about approaching him all night because he was evidently in a bad mood and she had a sneaking feeling it was something to do with her.

He seemed to have forsaken the complementary wine for something stronger and his hair shadowed his expression. He looked up when she approached but his smile was gone as quickly as it appeared, showing the lie it represented. The emotion in his eyes stopped her in her tracks and her stomach lurched with nerves as she realised that whatever it was that was upsetting him was bigger than she had imagined.

But she had never been a coward and she was not about to start; she pasted a smile on her face and stepped forward,

"Trowa? How are you doing?"

She hoped that she wouldn't regret asking…and that the horrible feeling she had that everything was going to fall apart was just that, a feeling and nothing more.

Across the dancefloor Treize's eyes narrowed as he caught sight of Dekim, then he switched his glance back to the two at the bar.

He smiled humourlessly; now, things would definitely get interesting.

Hey again everyone – thanks for reading and hope this chapter didn't give you too much of the headache: this chapter and the next were two of the most difficult in the entire story for me to write because there's so much to be tied together. One more chapter of the party to go and then we're onto the best bit – what happens next after the Winners leave!

Apologies all around for a terrible updating speed though please believe that I have had very little access to the internet and have therefore been doing a lot of writing but very little publishing.

Next update will definitely be faster – hopefully within two weeks if not before!

Thanks again for reading and hope to see you all again soon!

Individual thanks below:

4everfanfic – always late but I will never abandon the story. Thanks for always reading and supporting and a special thank you for e-mailing me to give me a boot up the bum to get updating!

Sivren – sorry to leave you on a cliffhanger for so long and hope you're enjoying Dorothy's investigations. Things, I'm afraid, are going to get a lot more confusing before they get any clearer!

Heaven's girl – Dorothy is not a quitter…keep reading to find out what she finds out and what she does with her knowledge!

B.A.K11 – The situation is getting tense for everyone and, as they say, something's got to give – hope you keep reading!

NightsMist – Ashamed to have left the story without an update for so long. In good news, I passed all my exams with pretty good grades Hope to update again soon!

Wk- well, this might count as too long, right? Hope you manage to find my story again!

Purdy – Of course I remember you! Are you still writing too? I've been terrible at updating recently…hope my latest hiatus isn't enough to lose you as a reader and thank you for reading again! Really happy you enjoyed the last chapter as the last chapter, this one and the next have been the 3 most difficult in the story to write as there are so many different characters with different motivations and it's hard to tie it together into a cohesive narrative…but hopefully I've at least partially succeeded. Hope to see you again soon!

Chixydee – Yup, all the secrets are starting to come out now….just hope I can hold it together and let each character have their say! I'm afraid that Trowa's big revelation got moved into the next chapter (although it was originally in this one) as I felt I needed to introduce a few of the other players first. As for Dorothy losing the baby I didn't have a specific illness in mind but was leaning towards a problem with her immune system after an illness.

Anime-boy 12 – Yup, house is definitely more secure now! Sorry for the long delay and I will do my utmost to make sure it doesn't happen again!

Flipped – "bloodbath" was actually exactly what I was thinking…but there are still other complications so it should be a pretty big explosion when it comes, lol

Two-Bit Gortez – better late than never, right? Sorry!

Bloodfire87 – Happy you liked it and I can't wait to work my way through all the gnarls of the involvement of Treize, Milliardo and others…

Shadow Cat 17 – happy you liked it and hope to be back soon with an update!

Star Fantasy Writer – Doing my best to get explanations sorted in the next few chapters – hope you enjoy them!

Sangria24 – Milliardo will be about soon, don't worry. Should be a lot of backstory being revealed over the next few chapters as, believe it or not, there is a bigger story going on in the background of Relena and Heero's relationship…just hoping I can pull off tying all the threads together! Treize will get into a spotlight a bit more in the next chapter (the bits focusing on him and Trowa were originally calted for chapter 24 but I moved them into 25 to hopefully make things clearer)

Blissful trinity – not just Treize to worry about now…hope you keep reading!

Hououza – Trowa's mystery should get cleared up a little (and possibly deepened at the same time, lol) in the next chapter, and Treize will get a bit more time too. Just hoping that I can hold everything together until the big finale!

LilaW08 – Here it is, finally! Sorry it's so late!

C – glad you liked it and hope you enjoy the twists still to come!

Kawaii Selene – Afriad that things with Trowa are just going to get more complicated before they get any clearer – but I'm hoping that quite a few people will be surprised! And Treize has a lot more complications to throw into the mix! Hope you keep reading and enjoying – promise to be more prompt next time!

Grdiang31 – Trowa is still to make his big appearance…but there are clues in almost every chapter if you read back over them

YUIAyuNamieUtada – Thank you for cheering me on – next chapter will be more prompt!

Yame – Glad you enjoyed all of the chapters and thank you for reviewing each one – hope you don't mind just one reply? Sorry for the long break between chapters and hopefully will update much mire quickly next time!

IchikoKitsuneKoumori – Things will just get more complicated from here on in…until, hopefully, finally, things will get sorted out – hope you keep reading!

Mochabanana – I'm sure if Josh's father did enter the picture Heero would waste not ime putting him in hospital…but afraid that I am trying to limit events diverging majorly from the main storyline as it's already difficult to hold all of the threads together…maybe I can write it in a one-shot for part of the drabble collection Interview preparation? I'm kind of looking forward to Milliardo arriving and complicating things even further, lol

Kansa – Glad you're enjoying the story so far and really really happy that you like my characterisations as I've worked hard on letting them grow! Chapter length tends to fluctuate a lot but recently I have been trying to keep each chapter to around 3500-4000 words as that seems the easiest to keep to an updte schedule on without compromising the quality.

Knight with out heart S-K – Thanks for adding me to your favourites and sorry that the update has been so long in coming. Also, thanks for taking the time to review each chapter although it's a bit overwhelming getting them all at once! I will update more quickly next time!

Thanks again everyone and hope you come back for the next chapter – out soon!

Let me know what you think!