A Final Solution

Chapter Eight

She wasn't quite aware of how long she sat there in silent tears. Even if she had the strength to leave, the door was shut, and the only window Relena saw was tiny and barred. No, she was stuck here, a prisoner bound to her fate. She was stuck in the same room with the one man she would give anything to forget. All she could think to do was sob; sob and hope she would find escape soon. It was disheartening, to continue to be tortured into death. Especially when she had previously thought it was the only way out.

Eventually, though, her ghostly tears ran out. Eventually, she straightened, only to find Heero had not moved at all from his former position. Head tilted back against the wall, reclining on the battered and cluttered couch, Relena could almost think him asleep. But, no. Just as if they were connected even now, his head lifted forward almost right after she had looked up. He stared at the far wall for a minute, then stood, walking slowly but steadily to his laptop computer, which had been diligently giving the room its only source of light for a while now, in steady blue flickers.

She couldn't help but to watch him. Besides the messy apartment which didn't seem to suit him, despite the hopelessness she had caught in his eyes, he still seemed the same. Strong, steady, determined . . . single-minded. It looked, still, like he walked a sharp edge between life and death, never fearing and yet never giving in to either side. There was still death in his eyes, but instead of the usual threat of it, as Relena had known his gaze, it was now only there as a habit, almost; it resided still because of Heero's simple acceptance of it.

Though she would never admit it, though she knew with all her heart it was true, she had missed him. Terribly. His presence, his sense of rock-iron strength and security: she dearly missed it, even if he seemed unconscious of it himself.

After a moment, he took to typing on the laptop's keyboard; the gentle tip-tap of his fingers filled the room, and Relena closed her eyes, remembering for just a moment. Time passed slowly. Relena stood, and, since she had nothing better to do, and in an attempt to get her mind off the very commanding persona of the man in the corner, walked around the room and surveyed the different parts of it. There was little more to see than she already had seen, though.

She wondered how Quatre was doing, longing to go and see him. She wondered how the Preventers were holding up in their investigation. She wondered who the White Doves were, and what their purpose was in all of this. She wondered and wondered, to no avail. As keen a mind as she might possess, without answers, there was little she could do but speculate. And, with the little information she did have, she speculated poorly. What did she know? One, The White Doves were, no doubt, a terrorist group. Two, they had some sort of virus which they were using to threaten the community. Three, the threat was great enough for politicians to hold an emergency conference on earth to discuss the problem, rather than simply let the Preventers deal with it. Four, they obviously wanted something from the world leaders. What? Relena had no idea. Five, they might have infiltrated government positions. Proof? At least one, if not more, of the Preventers could not be trusted. Six, they had sprung up after her death, or coma, so perhaps that in some way had triggered their rise . . . And then, Seven. Seven? Well, she couldn't think of a Seven . . .which just went to show how little she truly knew.

A knock on the door startled her, making her wandering mind stop in its tracks. She realized after a moment that the soft tap tap of Heero's fingertips had muted. She glanced at him then, and somehow, his shoulders seemed tense . . . surprised.

Still, he didn't move, and after a moment the knock sounded again, this time accompanied by a voice.

"Heero, buddy, you better open up now."

Relena blinked. Heero still didn't move, besides to lower his head ever so slightly. His fingers resumed their typing.

Relena wrinkled her brows in confusion, glancing at the door once more. Heero looked oblivious to the fact that someone was on the other side.

A moment passed, then the knocking resumed, stronger this time. "Heero! I know you're in there!"

Heero still didn't seem ready to respond.

The knocking stopped briefly, and Relena heard a growl from the other side of the wood. Then, "Don't say I didn't warn ya." There was a pause, and then a soft rustling and a familiar click. Then, abruptly, came a loud, miniature explosion that made Relena jump and yelp. The lock, smoking, fell out of the cheap wooden door. A moment later, the door swung open effortlessly and a figure stood in the light of the doorway, his black clothes and sunglasses a stark contrast to the light of the hall. He raised an eyebrow, leaning on his left forearm on one side of the door frame.

"Why do you always have to do things the hard way?"

Heero paused in his typing, then calmly reached over to switch the monitor off. When he turned, his face was cool, collected; nothing of his former grief seemed visible. Relena could still see it, though; it was hovering, just under the surface.

"You're paying for that," was Heero's only answer.

"Yeah. Whatever." The man in black took a step into the room, idly shutting the door behind him. He pulled back his coat, slipping the gun back into an empty holster on his waist, then crossed both arms over his chest, not at all intimidated. "Don't tell me this is where the Hell you've been all along." Strangely enough, the man who had been responsible for the deaths of thousands wore a priest's collar.

Heero didn't bother to respond to the inquiry. "What do you want, Duo?"

"Oh, I don't know. Though I might come by and ask what the fuck you think you're doing."

Relena raised both eyebrows, standing from her seat. She'd never heard Duo in a temper before. It seemed . . . somehow uncharacteristic. Somehow, they were all beginning to seem uncharacteristic. What was going on?

Heero's returning gaze was a simple warning. "It's none of your business."

"Really?" Duo strode in, shutting the door behind him. Heero's gaze didn't seem to faze him; then again, perhaps he was too angry to notice. He plopped himself down on the couch rather calmly, in the same spot Heero had occupied earlier. Consequently, it was the only other clear seat in the entire apartment.

Heero just watched him sit, not saying anything. Duo raised one hand and began to tick items off his fingers one by one. "You disappear off the face of the earth in the middle of a crisis." One finger. "Nobody can find you, and even a network-wide call from Une herself doesn't bring you out." Two fingers. "She could be dying." A third. Was that a wince, Relena caught out of the corner of her eye? The stoic Heero displaying emotion? "You're usually in the front line to stop stuff like this from happening, especially when it's about her." Another finger. "And yet suddenly it's like you don't even care. And she is dying, Heero." Hand completely open now, Duo paused to glance at it, sigh, and then let it drop back into his lap. "So everyone's come up with two possible explanations. One, you died. Or two, you're workin' with the enemy." Duo paused significantly. "Since you've survived drowning, self-destructing in a Gundam, twice, and jumpin' off a cliff, guess which explanation the majority believes?"

Heero wasn't watching him now; in fact, Heero wasn't watching much of anything. His gaze was stuck fast on the floor, and he suddenly seemed . . . defeated. That was the only word Relena could think of. Defeated. When had Heero ever been defeated? Something ice cold gripped her heart for a moment, and she wondered what was wrong. Heero?

Duo's short burst of temper had run it's course, or at least had put itself in hiding again, and now he suddenly looked worried. Questioningly, he began, "Heero?"

"There's a third option."

The words spoken so suddenly and so quietly that it took Duo a moment to realize he'd been interrupted. Eventually, though, he replied wisely, ". . . Huh?"

"There's a third explanation." Heero's face rose slowly; he drew in a breath carefully, steeling himself for something. Then, "It's because . . . It was all my fault."

Duo's reply was, once again, brilliant. ". . . What?"

Heero's countenance turned irritated. Relena knew very well how much he disliked repeating himself. "Relena." A pause. "It. Was. My. Fault."

Duo raised one hand to scratch the back of his head, perplexed. "So you're saying you're the guy that slit her wrists? Doesn't that go against . . . I dunno . . . your entire life's purpose or somethin'?" But Duo, despite many attempts to convince people otherwise, was not an idiot. He was buying time, Relena could see. The wheels in his head were turning, trying to process the few tidbits of information he'd been given. Already, the corners of his lips were turning down.

Heero growled, then stood, looking frustrated. Duo simply raised both eyebrows, unafraid. Heero's anger seemed untargeted, however; it was pointed randomly, fired wherever his gaze swung. Heero ran both hands though his hair and walked to the kitchenette, then back, restless and unnerved.

Finally, "No. No. I might as well have, but . . . She did it . . . because of me."

There was a pause. Then Duo leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. He looked relaxed . . . relaxed the way a lion looked before it was about to strike. Duo's violet gaze was every bit intense as Relena had ever seen it. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously low: no fiery frustration here. There was merely simple, cold calculation. "This would be the part where you get real good n' specific, buddy."

Heero turned back to face Duo fully, and his stance changed slightly. No longer was he facing a somewhat annoying, though trusted, friend. Now Heero knew he faced an opponent. His face became a set slate, and as he spoke, the words were flat, emotionless. He sounded as though he were giving a scientific report.

"She came to me about a month before . . .everything. It was right after we'd gotten over that car-bombing scare. I had that temporary apartment in Sanq that Une had required for the mission. It was late. I wasn't expecting her."

Relena sat down heavily once more, staring at Heero, too shocked to say a word. Not that it would've mattered if she had screamed something, yet still. Heero was telling this to someone? To Duo of all people? Stop it! Her mind cried out. That's private! What are you doing? Heero! How can you tell someone, anyone, about what happened between us? You can't tell!

"It was a bad night. It started raining after she came in. I offered to take her back home, but she refused. Said she wanted to talk.

"So, I let her stay. But she didn't talk, not really. Eventually she admitted that she was still shaken up over the near-death incident, as I had originally suspected."

And what did you say, Heero? Relena asked him quietly, watching him. What did you say to me?

'You don't ever have to be afraid so long as I have breath to protect you. I'll always look after you.'

And like an idiot, I believed you. I smiled. I hugged you. Why? Why did I do that? Yet . . . you know what, Heero? You hugged me back.

"So?" Duo spoke up, prompting Heero to break the pause.

"I tried to comfort her. I . . ." Here, Heero's confidence seemed suddenly to fail. Suddenly there were cracks in his iron-clad walls. His fortress was no longer impenetrable. His voice shook ever so slightly. "I think that's . . . what she wanted. I don't know why she came to me. I wasn't prepared to deal with it. I was still a little shaken up over the close call. I wasn't . . . Things got out of hand. Neither of us were in our right minds . . ."

And you kissed me back.

"So you slept with her." Duo's words seemed just as matter of fact as Heero's, just as stoic. Like it was the weather that they were discussing. 'So then it rained.' Relena wanted to shake them both. This was still her life, too!

Wasn't it?

Heero stopping moving, though didn't deny it. He let out a breath slowly, tense. "It was a mistake."

Duo deigned not to answer for a moment. Then, "Still, it doesn't really seem like logical reason for suicide." 'Still, didn't think it would hail.'

"No. She did it . . . because of what happened after."

"Oh?" Duo's voice seemed almost mocking. "What happened after?"

Heero was struggling with himself again. Lips compressed, he began to pace, agitated, restless: a tiger pacing in his cramped cage. He seemed to be looking for the right words. "You have to understand . . ." And now, he was talking to himself as much as Duo, "There's a reason this had never happened before. There's a reason I never asked her out on so much as a date. We've always . . . I mean . . . " A man of few words, Heero growled, spinning around again. " . . .I've always known that she . . . felt something for me. And it's because of that I tried to stay away."

"Right. Makes perfect sense. Everybody I know always tries to avoid the person they love."

"Damn it! What the hell would we talk about on a date, Duo?" He made the word sound foreign. "The five most vulnerable parts of the body? Which store-bought ingredients make the best bombs? Or, maybe, decorations for her new house or current political debates." His arms were clamped tight against his side; tense, so tensed . . . "Do you get it? We just don't fit."

"If your best excuse is that you've got a limited source of conversation topics . . . that's just pathetic." Duo straightened on the couch, crossing his arms over his chest. "You barely talk anyway. All of us have gotten used to having to hold up the bulk of the conversation already."

Heero glared at him. Relena had a feeling Duo was purposefully trying to prick a nerve, though she couldn't fathom why. He still hadn't regained the friendly demeanor that always seemed to be about him.

Still, Duo shut up at the look and continued to wait expectantly. Heero regarded him a moment, then turned away, sitting back down at his laptop again. Resolutely, he jerked the thing open and began to bring up files. "I've been researching the group that calls themselves the White Doves. Something about them doesn't pan out."

"Heero?" Duo asked, standing slowly.

Heero merely continued. "Their ideals obviously contradict their actions, but there's something more sinister here."

"Heero." Duo stated a bit more strongly, coming to the other man's shoulder. "What happened?"

"I think the Preventers are on the wrong course for tracking them down. The men they've got under suspicion for controlling the group are just lackeys. I've found evidence that this goes way deeper than--"

"That's great, Heero." Duo snapped, cutting him off. "But all I want to know right now is what happened between you and Relena."

"It's inconsequential," Heero replied smoothly. His grace, his calm facade, was back. He seemed to be in complete control again. Calmly turning back to the computer, Heero pointed towards an article he had brought up on the screen. "As I was saying, I think the group goes deeper tha--"

Moving much faster than it seemed possible, Duo reached over and snapped the laptop shut. Lightening-quick reflexes were the only things that let Heero remove his hand in time. Heero glared back dangerously, his entire stance quite suddenly dangerous, as he rose into a half-standing position.

"Whoops." Duo said. The two men squared off, deep blue eyes piercing into violet ones, both silent and waiting.

Relena stared. This was... this was not the Duo she knew. She had never seen him with so short a temper, and never so... stressed. And Heero? Heero looked ready to kill him. Well, he always seemed ready to kill somebody, but rarely did the danger seem so immediate. If she could've, Relena would've picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1. She was certain one would kill the other.

"Duo..." Heero began in a low, warning growl. Duo's eyes narrowed even further in response.

"Look. I don't really care what your issues are right now. All I know is that there's a very important woman lying in that hospital, and she ain't waking up. And you're tellin' me you might've put her there. So if you have a clue as to what's goin' on or how we can help her, that is what you need to start talking about. Everything else can just wait for now."

Heero's gaze became icy. "That's what I--"

Suddenly, there was a sharp knock on the door. Both men froze, glancing in that direction. After a moment of silence, the knock came again, more insistent.

Duo glances back at Heero, his voice flat. "I really wish you'd ask me for a favor right now." Heero grunted, his eyes flashing back only briefly. Relena was absolutely lost. Favors? What did that have to do with anything right now?

Still, the men no longer seemed to be facing off against each other. As one, they turned towards the door, ready to face this new, possible enemy. The knock sounded again, this time accompanied by the jiggling of the knob. The door immediately swung open, the lock still broken from before. The man behind it looked shocked to see it move, his other hand still half-raised to knock again.

Some of the tension in the boys seemed to fade. Relena regarded this newcomer curiously; he was middle-aged, with a slightly rounded stomach, balding a bit on the top of his head. Despite his age though, he carried an air of strength, though the look was more of brute strength than the smooth grace of the soldiers Relena was familiar with.

Dropping his hand, the man cleared his throat, regarding Heero. "Mr. Smith. I'm sorry to bother you, but some of the other tenants thought they heard gunshots earlier."

Heero grunted, opening his mouth, but Duo beat him to the punch.

"Who are you?" The braided man demanded curiously.

The man straightened, addressing this newcomer. "I'm the landlord here," He stated, drawing himself up. "And we have a pretty clear policy on weapons--"

"Oh, I gotcha." Duo began to fish around in his jacket, chuckling slightly. "Sorry to bother you, but it's standard procedure-- ah, here we are." Pulling out his wallet, Duo flashed his badge. "Preventer duty; I'm sure you understand."

The landlord looked shocked. "You're a Preventer?" He asked suspiciously, eyes narrowing. "I'm not sure you guys are allowed to just use guns whenever you--"

Duo cleared his throat, smoothly closing the distance between them as he re-pocketed his wallet. "My mission here is top priority, so unfortunately I'm not allowed to explain it to civilians." He rolled his eyes and sighed as if cursing the orders himself. "I gotta say, though, I'm real impressed you responded so quickly. Shows real character, your responsibility to protect your tenants."

Relaxing somewhat, the man nodded. "We've really gotta be careful 'round here. Had a few close calls in the past."

Duo nodded, putting his hand on his chin. "You certainly seem like a man who knows how to handle such situations."

"Well," The man stated slowly, rubbing the back of his head, "Ya can't be too safe, ya know..."

"Oh, believe me, I know." Duo nodded. "In fact, I've got a few questions for you, if you wouldn't mind..." Smoothly, Duo drew the man back out into the hall, closing the door behind them.

Crisis averted, Heero turned away, calmly beginning to unplug his laptop. In a short amount of time, he had the wires and the laptop itself packed away in a small carrying case. Relena watched as he pulled out a small suitcase, beginning to throw in his few other possessions. His movements lacked the normal precision and organization that they normally contained. Instead of carefully folding up his shirts as he placed them in the case, the garments got thrown in haphazardly, carelessly, and Relena noticed quite a few wrinkles on the shirt he wore now. It seemed so strange to see a man who was usually so neat be so... sloppy.

They were alone again, but for how long? Sighing, Relena sank down again, unable to keep her eyes from watching him. Even now...

At least he hadn't told Duo everything. She wondered what Duo would've said. Would he still have thought her an idiot for what she did? Would he at least understand? Relena knew it didn't really matter, but quite suddenly, she very badly needed someone to know and understand. She didn't want pity. She wanted comprehension.

Just as Heero was clicking the small suitcase shut, Duo reappeared with a sigh, the door swinging shut behind him. Only a few minutes had passed. The smile he had put on so briefly was gone again, and now he merely looked tired, shaking his head.

"Finally got him to go back home," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Took a while. I'm just not as good at leading people. Now, Quatre--" But he cut off quite suddenly, a pained look crossing his features.

Heero said nothing for a long moment. Then, "Have they found an antidote yet?"

Duo barked a short, mirthless laugh. "Nowhere near close enough. These damn White Doves constructed one hell of a virus, and the worst part is, the medics still don't even know how he got infected. I mean, he'd been guarded the entire time..." Trailing off, Duo shook his head. "Wufei's pissed. He wants to put the blame on his team, but he knows they didn't do anything wrong. Well, not really. Trowa..." Duo paused for a moment, then continued, "Trowa's almost taking this personally. I've never seen him like this. He seems to be on an even shorter string than Wufei lately, and this man usually has the patience of an elephant."

Heero didn't reply this time, except for a small sound of acknowledgement. He returned his attention to the case containing his laptop, which Duo just seemed to notice.

"Glad to see you're packed," Duo murmured, raising both eyebrows. "Our shuttle's leaving in two hours or so."

Heero shook his head. "I'm not--"

"You sure as Hell are," Duo stated calmly, "even if I have to hold a gun to your temple and flash my badge the entire way. And I will."

Heero straightened, seeming ready to fight again.

"It's for the best." Duo murmured, not about to take no for an answer. "Believe me, if I don't bring you back, Une will issue a man hunt for you, and you don't want that. Just come back with me, Heero. You can sulk after Une's done with you."

"I am not--"

Relena jumped about three feet into the air as gunshots erupted in the hall. Both men froze, and Duo moved for his gun, but the pounding of footsteps on the other side of the door moved too quickly.

The door burst open, and men in white uniforms poured in, guns trained on the two Gundam pilots. Duo's gun raised to fight off the first incoming men, but it was blasted from his hands with a cool shot from a slender figure just behind the first three. Duo swore, yanking his hand back; blood splattered against the ground.

More men continued to pour in to fill the tiny room, blocking off all exits. Heero didn't bother to reach for the gun Relena knew he perpetually carried on him. In fact, Heero didn't move at all, merely regarded this intrusion with a ready air. Not that fighting would've done any good; there were twenty armed men in the room and more out in the hall. All wore a strange white uniform that seemed familiar to Relena in some way, but she couldn't place it.

Relena stared at her friends, backed into a corner. Mentally, she pleaded with them to run, to fight, to do something other than stand there as twenty gun barrels were aimed directly at their hearts. Relena couldn't understand how any of this could be possible. The men moved like soldiers, but the war had been over for years. How could this be happening?

One man with dark brown hair motioned to one of the soldiers behind him. Carefully raising his gun just a tad, he addressed the blue-eyed pilot.

"Heero Yuy?" He demanded, as the soldier behind him handed him a small, thick piece of paper.

Heero said nothing, only watched them warily. Duo was glaring.

The man glanced at the paper, then at the silent pilots, then back again. "Yes," He murmured, nodding. He handed the sheet back and motioned, off-hand, towards Duo.

"Take care of him."

Relena stared in horror as one of the white soldiers calmly lifted a long gun and aimed it as the braided man.

The gunshot, somehow, didn't seem as loud as it should've been. That was all Relena could concentrate on as Duo jerked back, as if he'd been hit with a sledgehammer, a stunned look on his face. Relena could do nothing but watch as he hit the side of the desk and, almost in slow motion, slid to the ground.

She watched, and no one heard her scream.