Author's Note: There is not much Danie in this chapter because I wanted to give Relena-now out of the dark, hell yeah!-a chance to tell her story. You finally meet the protective and mysterious Nadia, a character who was inspired by Lena Olin's portrayal of Irina Derevko on Alias. I wanted to create a strong, protective female who could act as mentor for Relena. And Theodore, well, I want to kick him in the balls, too-don't you worry. He'll get his. *evilgrin
Everyone else will return in the next chapter, promise! Please read and review!
"So why are you here?" Heero asked when they were alone on the train.
Relena raised a hand to free her hair from under the unwieldy hat. Her usually golden tresses were a muddy brown. Washable dye, she'd explained. It had been Shannon's idea. Then she removed the sunglasses that had shielded her eyes from everyone before she replied.
"Shannon's history class usually takes a field trip to a historical monument every year before the new term begins," Relena explained. "This year they decided to come to Sanc." She shifted her gaze to the quickly passing scenery shown in the window. Voices of teenagers wafted toward them, reminding them of the innocence on the other side of the wall. "I figured that I had to come to terms with my own demise sometime. Ten years had been long enough."
"Does she know the truth?" Heero wanted to know.
After a moment, Relena nodded and sighed. "I…" She looked at him. "I thought that coming here would end it once and for all. End the clawing restlessness inside of me." She paused and leaned in closer to him. He caught her scent and felt a faint tugging in his heart. "Do you know how it feels to be confined in a facsimile of a life that you had no choice over?"
Heero briefly thought about his marriage. Yes, he knew how that felt. "More than you know, Relena. But I fail to understand how this all happened and how you are still alive while the world thinks you're not."
"It's all because of Shannon," Relena admitted.
At the mention of Shannon, a question arose in Heero's mind. "How did you…?" he started.
As if on cue, a girl bounded into the space, clad in a skirt and a navy blue polo shirt. Relena looked up from her coffee and something in her eyes changed then—Heero saw it. A measure of unease filled those cerulean depths, and it didn't take Heero long to figure out why. Even though there was no wedding ring on Relena's finger, the sudden sight of a strange man would be hard to explain, especially coming from a woman who had spent her adult life trying to make sure no one came after her and her daughter.
"Shannon," Relena began.
Shannon froze at the sound of her name, said with shock and a bit of fear, her face blank with shock. Her eyes, the color indecipherable from where Heero was sitting, switched from her mother to him. Then, without warning, she relaxed into a friendlier stance.
"How do you do?" she asked Heero. "I am Shannon. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Heero stared at her with slight wonder. It was quite jarring to see a young woman with some of Relena's mannerisms and poise but looked nothing like her. Yes, they were completely identical, he mused, thinking of Abigail Taylor. "Nice to meet you, Shannon," he said softly.
With the formalities out of the way, Shannon loosened a bit and looked to Relena. "Mother, who—?" she attempted.
"Shannon sweetheart, this is an old friend of your father and mine," Relena broke in, cutting off Shannon's question before she could fully ask it. "This is…" Relena trailed off, trying to make a decision.
"Henry Graham," Heero supplied, making it for her. "My name is Henry Graham."
"Oh," Shannon responded as if that wasn't the answer she had been expecting. "Well." She mustered up a smile. "I just wanted to check in."
"Yes sweetheart. Thank you. You may join your friends—but don't stray too far."
Shannon smiled obligingly and didn't protest. She bounded away in that energetic bounce of young girls. Relena sighed when she was gone.
"Thank you," Relena said. "I don't know what to tell her, what not to tell her…"
"You want to protect her. I understand." Heero placed a hand over hers. Her breath hitched. "Well. I suppose I have a story to tell."
"Indeed," Heero murmured, and prepared to listen.
A little over ten years ago.
When Relena had first laid eyes on the baby everyone in the Baxley household called Jane, it had been love at first sight. It was ironic to think now that a bit of irresponsibility had landed the baby in her presence, and if Theodore would have had his way, she would have never known about the beautiful toddler with the Elizabeth Taylor eyes until it was too late.
She had been sitting in the drawing room with Nadia and Theodore, who were discussing plans for her impending birthday despite her protests. A nice, comfortable blaze crackled in the fireplace and warded off the chill from the snowy late winter day. Theodore was making himself another scotch on the rocks, and Nadia nibbled on a mix of candied pecans, walnuts, and almonds in a gilt-edged bowl and sent amused glances in Relena's direction whenever he had his back turned or gaze averted. Relena returned those glances in kind, cementing her kinship with the older woman.
Theodore turned away from the bar and faced the women again. Classily clad in a maroon-checked black wool pencil skirt and black turtleneck, Nadia idly uncrossed and recrossed her bare, shapely legs.
"If Relena doesn't want you to make a big deal about it, then I don't think you should," Nadia said. "Besides, it's her birthday, not yours. If I know you, Theodore—and trust me, I can read you like a book—whatever you plan will be gaudy and pretentious as hell."
Relena pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. The truth was, Theodore was rather fond of his wealth, whether he liked to admit it or not. The longer she knew him, the more that particular affection came out. She didn't mind the cushion of money, but at the end of the day, it didn't matter. It was all rather trivial in her opinion.
Theodore raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to say that I lack any sort of taste?"
Nadia shrugged. She wasn't one to mince words, especially when it came to Theodore Baxley. "You can't help it. You're still a baby by my standards. You like extravagance, things that glitter to catch your easily-swayed attention." She held out a hand to Relena, who sat regally on a leather chaise longue in front of her. The silk dress she wore in a sangria hue was cut to accent her slim figure, and, coupled with sparse gold and pearl jewelry, the outfit made the young woman look older and more refined than her seventeen years. "But this rather…exquisite creature deserves something more meaningful than anything you can think up."
Relena clasped Nadia's hand with her own before Theodore could make a caustic comeback. "I appreciate the compliment, Nadia." Sensing Theodore's discomfort, she rose and turned to him. His face was blank, but frost and storminess were in his hazel eyes. "The truth is, Theodore, I haven't the time to embellish on my birthday this year. I'm scheduled for meetings all over for the next six months. Thank you for thinking of me and wanting to give me something special, but it would be a waste of time if I couldn't be there."
Theodore took a sip of scotch. "Oh nonsense," he demurred. "We'll have a birthday bash for you even if we have to drag every diplomat in the world to it." He nipped at her nose, and Nadia saw something flicker in her eyes. "Let me take care of it, huh? It's what I do."
Nadia sighed, not liking the look she saw in Relena's face. "Baxley…" she began.
"Let's not discuss it anymore," Theodore said in a tone that indicated that he was getting a bit irritated.
"Fine, we won't," Nadia agreed evenly. "In fact, we won't make any plans at all except for whatever Relena wants. It's her day, not yours."
Angry, mottled color rose in Theodore's cheeks. "Nadia—"
Relena shook her head, resuming her role as peacemaker between them. "All right, you two," she chided. "I think we should just change the subject and—" A crash from out in the hallway startled Relena made her break off her sentence. She sucked in a breath and her eyes went a little wide. "What was that?"
Theodore placed his drink aside. "Don't worry about it. I can go find out."
Before either one of them could speak, another crash ensued, but louder and closer this time, followed by the sound of shouts and infantile giggling. Theodore swore viciously under his breath and strode for the closed door.
"Theodore—?" Relena started.
"Stay here," Theodore ordered. He turned the knob on the door, intending to head out to investigate without Nadia or Relena. There was another shout, then, with one thud, Theodore was thrown off of his feet and the drawing room door came flying open. Nadia rose slowly. Relena stepped forward, ready to go to Theodore's aid when their unexpected visitor made her stop in her tracks.
She looked to be almost a year old. Her head was full of silky black hair, and her cherubic cheeks were flushed with exertion. The gap-toothed smile and outstretched arms in her direction made Relena forget all about impossible birthday parties and irksome men. She didn't heed the shouts, the profuse apologies from the people who had been trusted to watch the baby. Relena's world was suddenly filled with the toddling creature that squealed when she laid eyes on her.
"Oh goodness," Relena said breathlessly. "Hi there."
The baby stopped and held her arms out. "Up," she said happily.
Without needing any time to think about it, Relena reached down and hefted the baby onto her hip. Awed as well, Nadia drifted to Relena's side to gaze at the child. The baby reached out and touched Relena's golden mane as if it were a wondrous new sight. It seemed that the instant fondness was mutual.
"She's beautiful," Relena whispered as she brushed a fingertip along her smooth hair-clutching fist then moved to touch the baby's downy hair.
"She's Heaven on Earth," Nadia supplied, voice as smooth as cream but eyes unreadable. Her gaze switched to Theodore, who was applying ice to the now-busted nose that had been no match for the heavy wooden door. "Where did she come from, Theodore? One of your legions of girlfriends? Or was she left on your doorstep?"
"He later told me that she had been an orphan," Relena continued. "He spun out a story that made her sound like Little Orphan Annie and he was just a regular Daddy Warbucks. I didn't have time to ponder on it since I was traveling quite frequently for the next four or five months."
"And then we saw each other in Australia that July," Heero recalled.
Relena wrapped her hands around the coffee cup and nodded gently. "Yes we did," she murmured. Her eyes met his, and something stirred inside of him. Remembrance bound them to emotions they never explored, moments they never made. As feelings hummed in the air between them, Relena admitted, "It was seeing you that woke me up, Heero. It was talking to you that made me realize that I was wasting my time with Theodore. He used me and my influence. I deserved more than some man thinking he could bend me to his will for his own ill-begotten gains." She looked down at her cup. "And so did Shannon."
Heero studied her for a moment before speaking. "Something changed. What was it?"
Relena lifted her blue-eyed gaze to his face. "One night when I was in his study, I found the papers. The papers told me the truth, that Shannon—or Baby Jane as they referred to her—was nothing more than a test subject. He—along with a few of his powerful friends—were planning to test her skills and use them for their own gain. They operated under the guise of research at the Megaera, but what they were planning to do wasn't for medical science—it was for war. Once she was old enough, she was to be trained to be a contract killer. I should have noticed something odd about her from the moment I laid eyes on her but I…I was so drawn to her that I didn't want to question anything about her existence in my life." She chuckled and shook her head again. "Theodore came in and caught me. We had the most fantastic argument." She covered her mouth with her hand to hide an ironic smile. "Words were slung. Things were thrown. I'm very surprised that his staff didn't call the police. I broke quite a bit of bric-a-brac that night, and I think I threw a blotter and busted his temple open."
Heero couldn't help being a little amused. Cool, calm, and collected Relena incited to anger enough to throw things at someone with the intent to harm? She must have developed a more-than-usual bond to the toddler. He remained silent so that she could finish.
"I'd threatened to call the authorities and have Shannon removed, and in usual fashion he threatened her life. It was a low blow, but he knew it would get to me. So I could do nothing. My hands were tied."
Heero thought of the PDF document that he had been sent one month ago. "Eventually you came up with something."
Relena shook her head. "No. Nadia did."
30 July AC 198. Paris, France.
The opulent bathroom boasted six stalls, soft hand towels, and a plush waiting area that seemed more swanky than functional. Relena never really took much note of that sort of thing; once you had been everywhere and back again, one bathroom wasn't much different than the next. The chatter coming from in front the running basins and the classical music piped in from the ballroom provided the cover they needed for their conversation. Relena had been puzzled when Nadia had whisked her away from sight, an undertone of urgency in her movements.
Not that Relena had minded at first; things had been strained between her and Theodore over the past few months, and she had felt slightly off balance amidst him and his friends. Thankfully, her brother was there to add some measure of comfort, but it wasn't enough. There was something almost sinister in the way he regarded her now, and she couldn't figure out why.
Nadia gave her the answer.
"He's planning to kill you, Relena," Nadia said bluntly.
Flabbergasted, Relena placed a hand on her chest. It was suddenly very hard to breathe in the female-laden space. She had been expecting a storm of name-calling or ribald advice, but that simple revelation threw her off balance.
"What?" she managed. She looked down and shook her head. "But Theodore—"
"Is seething with anger over your discovery of the truth about that child," Nadia finished. She shook her head and grabbed Relena's hands. "You have to understand, Relena, that what Theodore is planning is bigger than you or me. And that poor toddler is in the middle of it. He doesn't intend to give her up without a fight." Nadia paused and studied her. "And as I look at you I can see that you won't either."
Relena inhaled, struggling to breathe normally. When her breathing was under control, she spoke again. "Theodore cannot get away with this unpunished."
"You cannot go up against him, Relena," Nadia said urgently. "He has connections in places that you would never dream of going, friends that are willing to look the other way if he hurts you." Nadia raised a hand to Relena's shoulder. "I cannot allow that to happen. I will not."
"Nadia had approached Millardo about this," Relena continued. "Millardo wanted to harm Theodore before he could get to me, but Nadia told him it would only complicate matters. People would get more suspicious if Theodore was harmed than if something happened to me." She shook her head with a humorless smile. "At first, I didn't believe her. But then…" Relena's mouth trembled. She waved a hand. "Never mind."
Heero wanted to press whatever was bothering Relena, but the need to understand the events that led to her death—faked, as it were—outweighed everything. "So Nadia helped you and Millardo fake your deaths."
Relena nodded. "Why let Theodore do it if someone else could do it first?" She sighed. "So Nadia and Millardo took care of the details. She had some friends in emergency services and in the morgue in Germany. They used corpses matching our physical descriptions, and due to our status, ordered a complete lockout. That meant no one except the coroner and trusted personnel were allowed near the bodies. The autopsy reports were faked, and the police were left to chase their tails. Noin had the bodies cremated."
I believe that no matter what happens, I know she is someplace safe. "Was she in on it?"
Her mouth twitched. "My brother wouldn't have it any other way." She allowed herself to smile. "I saw him two years ago. He told me…he was planning to take Theodore down." The smile trembled away. "I told him not to. But ten years is a long time to forget, he told me. And Theodore deserved nothing less for even considering the thought of harming me." Pause. "He isn't wrong."
Heero felt the same, but that was not what concerned him now.
"Who fired the shots?" Relena hesitated then, and leaned back. This time Heero did press. Danie's words were on his mind. You're…looking…at him…asshole… "Relena, who fired the shots that presumably killed you? I assume it wasn't Nadia as she was Warsaw at the time."
"Heero, it's not important," Relena said, anxious. "I'm alive, and the particulars hardly matter—"
"Bullshit," Heero countered fiercely. "Who. Shot. You?"
When she told him, his blood went cold.
The man in question read the report from his source and cursed. A moment later, a glass hit the wall and shattered.
"Upset, mon ami?" asked the observer from his chair.
The man attempted to stifle his anger, but it had reached the point of no returned. "Shut up, Miyori." Miyori raised an eyebrow as his friend picked up the phone and punched in a number. When he got someone on the other line, he said, "I need a plane ticket, please. London, England. One-way."
And meanwhile, at a table in the adjoining train car, Daniella Thomas, wearing a red wig and wire-rimmed eyeglasses, sipped tea out of a dainty cup with a gun strapped to her inner thigh, her eyes cool and alert. This ends today.
Holy Inner Thigh Gun, Batman! It looks like Danie's out for blood! Stay tuned...