Ahmed watched the elevator doors thud shut through squinted, tear filled eyes. The sound was appropriately fatalistic, seeming to echo the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was under no illusions now. His only chance had run away with his cousin's wife. Derwint was to arrive in only three hours and there was no way he could get the girl back in such a short amount of time. The entire security staff would be on alert and eager for a chance to make amends for the earlier intrusion. He was under no illusions now. He knew what Romus' flunky would do to him. He had too many failures against him and no successes at all.
Groaning painfully, he levered himself up off of the plushly carpeted floor and staggered for the open door. At least there had been no witnesses to his painful unmanning. He was slightly puzzled as to how the girl had managed to get away from Marcus. He found the large man still unconscious in the bathroom, blood seeping from a wound on the side of his head. Taking great care not to slip himself, Ahmed made his way out of the room. There was only one thing that he could think of that might get him out of this disaster. He swallowed against the bitter taste in his mouth. He'd have to appeal to his cousin. But first he needed a bargaining chip, something to offer in exchange for his forgiveness. And Derwint's head on a platter, figuratively speaking of course, just might be the ticket.
The ride back to the house seemed to stretch out forever. Knowing that Quatre was in a extremely tense emotional state, no-one tried to make conversation with him, and the car was silent. But it wasn't an oppressive silence; rather, it was anticipatory. Sitting in the back seat with Heero, Quatre was deep in thought. Questions were tumbling over and over in his mind and he didn't know which one he wanted the answer to first.
Heero was pecking away at his laptop, keeping one eye on his quiet friend. He had found something of note when he hacked the registry computers at the shuttleport. There was a J. Derwint listed on a flight coming in this evening. He had put a flag on that name, thinking it might pay off. His deep blue eyes narrowed as he considered the implications of Derwint's arrival. Zahra needed to know about it, first thing. He cut his eyes over at the still silent Quatre and made a decision. His friend had enough to worry about without this information. Besides, it was really a matter for the Preventers. The car began to slow, and Heero looked up in surprise. They had reached the house already? Rasid must have broken every speed limit on the road to get here so soon. They were drawing up to the front of the house.
Quatre was out of the car before Rasid had even stepped onto the brakes. Stumbling slightly, he recovered his balance and raced up the steps to the front doors. He burst into the foyer, startling the butler, who had been on his way to open the doors. Ignoring everyone else, he sprinted for the family room. By the time he made it there, he was breathing heavily. He paused, sucking in a deep breath in an attempt to steady his nerves. Then he pushed open the door.
Leila was sitting on the sofa, Iria on one side and Ilona on the other. But he would remember that at another time. At that moment, she was all he saw. He stepped into the room and she scrambled to her feet, green eyes wide and beginning to fill with tears. Unable to speak, he crossed the room and pulled her into his arms. He could feel her shaking; or was he shaking? It didn't matter. He buried his face in her hair, breathing in deeply of the spicy sweet perfume she always wore. He held her tightly, almost afraid to let her go. Iria, sensitive as always, began to shoo everyone out of the room, giving the reunited couple some much needed privacy.
"Leila, oh, Leila," he whispered, running his hands up and down her back. "I was afraid, so afraid I'd never see you again. I love you so much, I don't know what I would do if anything ever happened to you." She stiffened, pulling away to look up at him.
"Quatre…" She was unable to continue, struck speechless by his admission. He blinked, realizing what he had said, then smiled warmly. He brought his hands up to cup her face, looking down into her eyes.
"It hit me so suddenly, I didn't quite know how to deal with it," he said wryly. "And I didn't know how to admit it, either."
Leila closed her eyes, savoring the words that she had wanted to hear for so long. "I know," she whispered. "I felt the same way."
"Say it, then," he said softly, tilting her face up toward his. "Look at me and say it. I want to see your eyes when you say it."
Leila's eyes flew open, tears pooling. "I – I love you too, Quatre. I love you so much that it's impossible to imagine being without you."
He sighed at her admission, resting his forehead against hers. "I feel like I've been waiting forever to hear you say that."
She shivered slightly, a thrill running through her body. "There's – there's something else that I have to tell you," she said, wondering what his reaction would be. To her surprise, he smiled down at her.
"I know," he said, smiling down at her. "I found the papers you had hidden away, and Iria told me everything when I confronted her."
Leila bowed her head. "I – I'm sorry, sorry I didn't tell you sooner," she said quietly. "Are you… are you very angry with me?"
Quatre blinked, surprised by her question. "Angry? How could I possibly be angry right now??" He grabbed her under the arms and swung her around, startling a squeal out of her. He laughed, hugging her close. "We're going to have a baby! A baby!!" Leila smiled as well, delighted by his reaction.
"I just wish I could have surprised you like I wanted to," she said. "It wasn't fair to you to have to find out the way you did." She wrapped her arms around his waist and held on tightly, never wanting to leave the haven of his embrace. They stood like that for several seconds, two young people in their own little world, before Quatre pulled back. A question had just occurred to him.
"How did you get away?" he asked, amazed that she had managed to escape from her abductors. To his astonishment, she grinned mischievously, her green eyes dancing.
"A childhood prank, actually," she replied lightly. "With a bit of improvisation."
While Leila told Quatre about her escape, Heero found Zahra and informed her of his findings. The Preventer agent eyed the ex-Gundam pilot a bit suspiciously as she looked over the information he had brought her. "I won't even bother to ask how you got the information out of the airport computers," she said dryly. The corner of Heero's mouth lifted slightly in wry acknowledgement.
"We've been watching Derwint and his employer for quite some time now," Zahra continued, pacing back and forth across the floor. "They're suspected in some shady dealings but all our efforts have come up with nothing. And informants and witnesses have a disturbing habit of… disappearing." Heero nodded, but said nothing. He knew all this already, from his own investigations. He couldn't help but to wonder if Zahra knew that Winner Enterprises had been in direct competition with the Romus Corporation lately. Not to mention the fact that when the new mining suit came out, it was going to put a big dent in Romus' profit margin.
"And you say you found evidence that Ahmed was dealing with one of Romus' companies?" Heero asked, an idea coming to him.
"Yeah," Zahra replied, frowning at that admission.
"Interesting," Heero said slowly. "Ahmed was trying to build illegal suits for Romus, which were destroyed. So if the suits are no longer available, why would Derwint still be coming."
Zahra's eyes widened. "Surely you don't think…" She trailed off as the pieces clicked in her mind as well. "That son-of-a-bitch!!!" she fumed. "I'll kill him myself for this!"
"Not if I get to him first," Heero muttered.
Zahra hissed through clenched teeth as she reined in her temper. "I hate to say this," she said, taking a deep breath, "but we could use Ahmed to get to Derwint."
"My thoughts exactly," Heero said, nodding in agreement. "Let's see if Leila's up to talking. Time is short."
They found Leila and Quatre still in the family room. The couple looked up when Heero and Zahra entered, both smiling. Heero hid his amusement. It seemed that the truth was out all around.
"I know this is soon and all, Leila," Zahra began, "but it would help us out a lot if you tell us what happened."
Leila nodded; she had been expecting their questions. Holding tightly to Quatre's hand, she started from the time she had entered the master suite. When she told them about the young man coming off of the elevator, Zahra and Quatre both frowned.
"Can you describe him?" Zahra asked.
"He wasn't very tall," Leila said, her forehead wrinkling as she concentrated. "Taller than I am, but shorter than you, Zahra. He had a goatee, dark hair and eyes. He was skinny, too, but he looked like he had lost weight quickly. He was really scruffy looking overall."
Quatre exchanged a significant look with his sister. "Ahmed," Quatre said tonelessly. His sister nodded. Leila's face reflected her sympathy for the siblings at the admission.
"What hotel did you say it was, Leila?" Heero asked. "If we're lucky, we can follow him from there."
"It was the Oasis," Leila said slowly. "I was in such a hurry, I didn't think to check the room number."
Heero smiled slightly. "Don't worry about it. You did a good job." And from Yuy, that was high praise indeed. He glanced over at Zahra, who nodded.
"We'll take it from here," she said, standing. She flashed a quick smile at her brother and his wife. "We'll be back later."
Quatre hugged Leila again and rose to follow them. Heero turned immediately. "Where are you going?" he asked tonelessly.
"With you," Quatre said, giving his friend a stubborn look.
"No," Heero replied. "Your place is here. With your wife. This is Preventers business now."
"Heero," Quatre said, clenching his teeth. "In case you've forgotten, this whole mess was my business to start with. I want answers, even more than you do."
"And you'll get them, Quatre," Zahra interrupted. "But right now, Leila needs you. Let us take care of it." Quatre looked back over his shoulder at Leila. She was trying to act strong, but he could see her hands trembling. He felt his heart twist in response.
"You're right, both of you." He sat back down on the sofa, and pried Leila's clenched hands apart, lacing their fingers together. "We'll be waiting here for you."
In the car, Zahra confronted Heero. "All right, Heero," she said. "Why did you have a flag on Derwint? There's something you're not telling me about your involvement in all this."
Heero kept his eyes on the road, but answered. "Do you remember about six months ago, when the ESUN Council passed those new environmental resolutions?"
She nodded. "As I remember, there were a lot of unhappy corporations when they passed."
"Romus was at the head of those corporations," Heero explained. "And Vice-Foreign Minister Dorlian was the driving force behind the new resolutions."
"What happened?" Zahra knew something of the history between the ex-pilot and the diplomat, and was sure that Heero had been keeping a discreet watch over her.
"Romus tried to have Relena assassinated," Heero said, scowling fiercely.
"The shuttle accident?" Zahra gasped, surprised.
Heero nodded. "I was able to arrange a delay, make her miss the shuttle, but I wasn't in time to prevent the shuttle from taking off." He gritted his teeth. "Romus killed one hundred thirty five innocent people, just so that his companies could make a profit. I'm not going to let him get away with it."
The Preventer in Zahra couldn't help asking. "Do you have any evidence?"
Heero shot her a wry grin. "Nothing that will stand up in court. If I had, Une would have gotten it right away."
"That's good to know," she replied, tightening her grip on the steering wheel. "Family or not, I'm going to personally make sure Ahmed pays for this." She grinned ferally, white teeth flashing. "And if we can take Romus down with him, that'd be icing on the cake. I've heard rumors about the way he does business. There are a lot of people who's lives have been ruined by him. But he's messed up. He tried to harm MY family, and now it's personal."
Ahmed stared at the blinking light on the videophone and swallowed convulsively. God, it was sticking in his craw to have to do this, but time was growing short. He was supposed to meet Derwint in half an hour. If he was to do this, it had to be now. He cleared his throat, straightened his askew tie and stared solemnly into the lens of the transmitter.
"Quatre," he began. "I'm sending this message to you in hopes of clearing up any misunderstanding between us. Everything I've done, I've done for our family, cousin." He smiled, trying to make it as ingratiating as possible. "I learned of Romus' interest in our businesses and have been trying to gather evidence in hopes of stopping whatever plans he had in progress. In about," he glanced down at his wristwatch then continued, "twenty-five minutes, I'm going to meet with Romus' assistant, Derwint. If you hurry, you can probably catch him. I'll append the meeting place onto the end of this recording. I'm sorry about your wife, but it was all arranged by Derwint. Romus wanted a bargaining chip to use against you. I would have told her of my plans and helped her to escape if she hadn't taken matters into her own hands." He peered down at his watch again. "I'll contact you in half an hour or so to see if you've gotten Derwint." He smiled again, as sincerely as he could. "Take care, cousin." He typed in the location of the arranged meeting and leaned back in his chair. That should throw his bleeding heart cousin off the trail. And by throwing their attention onto Derwint, he could take all the money he had been hoarding and disappear quietly to Earth, start a new life under a new name. They'd never find him…
He hit the "transmit" key and reached down for his briefcase. Humming under his breath, he shut down all the electronics and turned off the lights. He strode for the door, confident in his plans. The door swung open just as he reached for the doorknob. Stumbling backward, Ahmed stared incredulously at the tall, skinny figure backlit by the hallway light. "Duh… Duh… Derwint!" he managed to gasp out as his knees buckled.
Light reflected from the man's round glasses, obscuring his eyes eerily. "Hello, Ahmed. I hope I haven't caught you at a bad time? I know our meeting wasn't scheduled for here or now, but important matters like the ones we're concerned with just can't wait. I hope you don't mind?" Ahmed shook his head dumbly as the other man entered, closing the door behind him.
"Quatre!" Rasid burst into the sitting room with considerable force. Quatre and Leila, both stared, startled.
"What's wrong, Rasid?" Quatre asked, half rising off of the couch.
"A message for you just came in, Master," Rasid said, grinding his teeth. "It's from Ahmed!" Quatre's face paled, then turned bright red in fury. Leila's eyebrows knitted together in a concerned frown as she watched him shoot to his feet. "It's being sent to your private line now," he continued, following the younger man around behind the desk.
"I'm sending this message to you in hopes of clearing up any misunderstanding between us. Everything I've done, I've done for our family, cousin." Leila shivered slightly at the sound of Ahmed's oily voice oozing from the speakers. Quatre's jaw clenched tightly, his hands fisting of their own accord as he fought with his temper. "--twenty-five minutes, I'm going to meet with Romus' assistant, Derwint. If you hurry, you can probably catch him. I'll append the meeting place onto the end of this recording. I'm sorry about your wife, but it was all arranged by Derwint. Romus wanted a bargaining chip to use against you. I would have told her of my plans and helped her to escape if she hadn't taken matters into her own hands."
Quatre snapped into action at the end of the message. "Rasid, get someone to trace this message. I want to try and catch Ahmed. He's a bigger fool than I thought if he thinks I'll fall for this story." He pushed away from the desk. "Gather as many of the men as you can to come with us. Send Zahra and Heero the coordinates of the meeting place. Hopefully they'll catch Derwint. But Ahmed is ours!"
Leila could no longer sit quietly. "I'm going with you," she declared, rising up off of the couch. Quatre blinked, as if he had completely forgotten her presence. "I want to come with you," she repeated, lifting her chin in mute defiance.
Quatre shook his head, walking over to clasp her hands in his own. Rasid made a discreet exit to implement Quatre's orders. "Leila," Quatre said, staring down at her stubborn face. "You know you can't go." She opened her mouth to disagree and he placed a silencing finger on her lips. "Think about our baby." His words took the fight right out of her. Silver tears welled up in her jade green eyes and she nodded. "Besides, I'll be able to concentrate on the matters at hand much better knowing you're here and safe. We've had the house gone over with a fine toothed comb. There's no-one here that we don't know personally. And I'm leaving Rasid here to protect you and our families."
She couldn't trust her voice, so she nodded again. "Hey," Quatre said softly, sliding his finger down her chin and tipping her face up to his. "I'll be very careful. After all, I have a family to consider." He smiled softly then lowered his mouth to hers. She leaned into the sweet gentle kiss and wrapped her arms around his waist. He pulled away and rested his cheek atop her head for a second. "I love you," he whispered, making her shiver.
"I love you too," she replied, holding him even tighter.
(Author's Notes: gasps in shock I did it!! I've only had this thing sitting incomplete on my hard drive for months now. . Took me forever but it got done!! I think I'm back in the saddle again, folks!! I apologize for the length, tho. I know it's shorter than most of my past chapters, but hey shrugs this is where it wanted to end. Hopefully there won't be such a loooooong wait for the next part!! Chapter twenty eight will be interesting!! Promise!! I sincerely hope this was worth the wait all, and thanks for hanging with me for so long!! You guys (and gals!!) are the BEST!!!!)