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Volume III

If there's one fic I consider my "signature fic," it's Tea Time. I don't think it's particularly good or anything but I do enjoy the premise immensely. I even commissioned art for it. So yeah, raise your expectations a bit for that then drop them back down an ocean canyon after.

[14]


"Say you're my bitch," said Relena, her voice demure as she took another sip of tea.

"I'm your bitch," replied Heero, biting into a cracker and ignoring Duo's wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of shock.

Dorothy sighed, her disappointment apparent as she dug into her purse for her checkbook. "Which charity do I write the check out to, Miss Relena?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied the former princess in the most eerie nonchalant fashion. "Send it to that nature preserve on L-5. I like the research they're doing to resurrect pandas."

Dorothy shrugged and began writing. An uncomfortable quiet reigned at the table. The only sound to be heard was the gentle crunch of crackers as Heero ate and sipped his tea. Relena was his mirror image, enjoying the light meal like nothing remotely groundbreaking had transpired.

As was expected, Duo shattered the strange silence. "What the hell was that?"

"Watch your language," scolded Dorothy. "It's tea time. That's what it is."

Quatre cleared his throat. "It's your first time here so maybe I should have warned you."

"You think?" blurted Duo. "Damn it, I should have brought Hilde. She'll never believe this."

"Enlighten him, Quatre," drawled Dorothy, her boredom apparent as she handed Relena the check.

"You see, Dorothy and Miss Relena have a long-standing deal that must be fulfilled once a month at tea time."

"I'll take it from here," remarked Dorothy, less than elated at how this month's entertainment had turned out. "Ever since Miss Relena refused to say unbecoming things on live television for me, we agreed that I would leave her alone on the condition that she performs a special task for me once a month. It's all in good fun. Her bleeding heart is satisfied whenever I donate to charity after she does something ridiculous, and my boredom is cured for a while. Problem is, she cheats."

"I didn't cheat," declared Relena, picking at the cucumbers in her vegetable sandwich.

"Then how exactly did he say something like that without so much as shock or a protest? Don't lie and say you didn't tell him about this beforehand."

"You're not the only one I make deals with," said Relena, finally nibbling at her sandwich before putting it down in distaste. "And my deal with Heero was in place before this month's task so it's not cheating."

"And what deal would that be?"

Relena shrugged, looking to Heero who was studying the china pattern on his teacup.

"I say whatever she wants me to say," replied Heero, setting the cup down on his saucer. "She doesn't abuse the privilege."

"And what's your compensation?"

It was Heero's turn to shrug, shooting Relena the same look she'd given him a few seconds prior.

"That's private," stated Relena, absentmindedly stirring another lump of sugar into her beverage. "Let's just say that I'm going to need the day off tomorrow to compensate."

Duo choked on his cracker, gulping down his tea as Quatre stroked his back. Relena's meaning wasn't lost on anyone.

'"Are all aristocrats this crazy?" asked Duo once he had regained the ability to breathe.

"Just Dorothy," sighed Quatre. "But we try our best to amuse her. If she ever gets bored enough, it could lead to nuclear holocaust."

Duo looked to Dorothy. She simply gave a faint nod and resumed sipping her tea.

[15]

"My secretary just resigned," sighed Relena, twirling her pasta around her fork with less than her usual enthusiastic flourish. "He was a good one, too."

Heero was hardly surprised at the news. Relena's now former employee didn't seem like the type to stick with a job like that. It was most probably how the man presented himself that clued Heero in. The creature had expertly styled hair in a shade of blonde not found in nature, a face that had definitely undergone some dermatological treatment to gain its glow, and teeth so white they could probably serve as a beacon in the dark. He also had well-manicured nails and, judging by how some of Relena's documents tended to have traces of some sticky pink residue smelling of tea roses, undoubtedly slathered his hands with moisturizer to keep them as soft as a woman's. It was also strange for a secretary to be able to maintain such fierce fashion sense considering what a job like that usually paid. A wardobe featuring a smart suit, pants just tight enough to highlight particular assets, and patent leather shoes so well-polished Heero could see his glare reflected in them would definitely have cost a fortune. The man was the personification of male vanity, metrosexual from head to toe.

"What was his job before you took him in as your secretary?" asked Heero, finally bringing a forkful of chicken to his mouth.

Deep thinking wasn't conducive to a healthy appetite. Beautiful men always set off warning bells within him. True, he considered himself an individual who fell into that category, but he hardly preened like a peacock. Vain men were the sort one had to watch out for. As far as he knew, there were only two positions that suited a man enamored with himself. One of these positions was as a leader of some sort, using charisma to maximum effect. Both Treize Khushrenada and Zechs Merquise fit this profile to some degree. It's hard to keep a beautiful man with intellect down.

And then there were those men who lacked brains, who only had beauty and the insane desire to maintain it for admiration's sake...

"He was a female fulfillment expert," she replied, picking at the basil in her spaghetti.

Those men could sometimes find success as models or actors but that wasn't too common an occurrence. Needing money to maintain themselves, those men were usually found in a position beneath women. Sometimes on their backs but mostly whatever she was comfortable with...

"You have no idea what that is, do you?"

"No. Sounds like it pays well though. He said he was going back to that career. More lucrative, more fun..."

She rolled her eyes. Being dumped by a nobody, even if it was strictly professional, left a bad taste in her mouth.

"You're right about it paying well. He never offered to service you, did he?"

"No. What on earth are you implying?"

"Relena, female fulfillment expert is a polite way of saying man-whore."

A meatball slid off her fork and fell onto her plate, splashing her pristine white blouse with red sauce. She hardly noticed.

"This is not a good time to exercise your sense of humor, Heero. I didn't hire myself an escort."

"That's putting it politely. Tell me what his full name was again?"

"Dickson B. Hardwood."

She paused. He watched with mild amusement as it all sunk in.

"Good lord! I-"

"You hired a male hooker as your secretary. To put it bluntly, the vice foreign minister hired herself a boy toy."

"But I didn't use him! If the press ever finds out- Oh hell..."

"Don't worry," he smirked.

She was adorable when she blew things out of proportion.

"He won't squeal," he assured her, trying to calm her before she exploded into full blown panic. "That profession is known for its secrecy. During the war, OZ tortured quite a few individuals in that business for information. They got nothing. Talking about your clients merits a fate worse than death."

"I wasn't his client!"

"Technically, you were. You just weren't his client as a prostitute. You still purchased his services as a secretary."

"Does that let me off the hook?" she groaned. "I mean you've got to see- It was completely innocent. I never-"

"Relax," he told her. "At the most, the tabloids will just have a comedy piece. Besides, as I said earlier, people in that trade are a secretive bunch. A lot's changed since the pre-colony age of sex scandals. Nothing will get out."

"I've lost my appetite," she declared, pushing her fork aside. "Why couldn't you keep me in the dark if you knew it wasn't going to get me into trouble?"

"And give ignorance free reign? Possibly let you slip up and cluelessly tell someone in the press you hired a female fulfillment expert?"

"Point taken," she sighed, still distraught over what she'd unknowingly done. "How do you know so much anyway?"

"I went undercover as one a few years back," he replied, taking another bite of chicken.

"You what?"

"I never took on any clients. Strictly for the mission. It was just for cover. I came home and tossed pocketfuls of business cards in the fireplace, remember?"

"And you took this mission without telling me?"

"I was going undercover, Relena. Telling you would defeat the purpose."

She bit her lip. "I should probably be more upset about this but..."

He observed a smile playing upon her lips as a blush crept across her face.

"But?"

He had some idea of what she was going to say. After all, he was her favorite stress toy.

"Did you learn anything applicable while on that mission?"

[16]

He carried her up the steps of the courthouse, her body slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She didn't bother to struggle, knowing her efforts would be fruitless. Besides, the recent downpour had left the steps rather slippery. The last thing she wanted to do was squirm and send both of them to their deaths.

She sighed. What was left for her anyway? When he put her down, her career would be over. How many photographers had gotten a shot of her being hauled up the steps by a Preventer? Would they see their vice foreign minister as a prima donna now?

She groaned. Maybe an unceremonious fall wouldn't be so bad. Her tragic demise would eclipse this embarrassment. There was also the added bonus of taking him to hell with her. At the moment, the only thing keeping her from any attempts to make him slip was the knowledge that he was very good at surviving falls. While she would probably break her neck, he would undoubtedly survive and continue lecturing to her lifeless body.

"You really should consider Preventer-issue combat boots," he told her, not missing a beat as he took each step up with annoyingly slow care. "They're built for traction."

"If they're built for traction, surely you can get up these stairs faster so I can get down," she forced out through gritted teeth.

"We can't take any chances."

"I'm running late!"

"You wouldn't be running late if you'd changed your footwear in the car as I'd advised."

"I am not going to wear your hideous boots with this suit. Are you insane? The press is here."

"What would have been less of a spectacle? A fashion don't or this?"

"I put them at the same level," she huffed.

"You really shouldn't have run, Relena. Dashing up wet stairs in high heels is insanity. The sheer physics of it is-"

"Women in heels have a God-given ability to defy physics. Haven't you heard?"

"You would have slipped and hurt yourself," he told her, ignoring her reasoning. "You could have died."

The concern in his voice was almost enough to melt her.

Almost.

"Heero, I'm not made of glass."

"I know," he replied, stopping just short of the last step. "I just don't want you taking any risks with your life. Your safety is my primary concern."

"I understand," she told him, eager to get out of his grasp. "Really, I do. Could you please put me down now? We can talk about this at length later."

"No."

"Excuse me?"

"We have one step to go."

"Then why don't you take it?"

"I want to make sure I've gotten across to you. I'm not going to let you brush me off. Next time, pack some flat shoes. Is that understood?"

There was silence on her part. Would she give in? Was she going to let him win this one? How late was she already? Oh hell...

"Relena, is that understood? We can stay here like this all day. Heavy as you are, I can stand my ground."

Did he just call her fat? Oh, it was on!

"Yes, sir," she said begrudgingly, eager to bring the pain once she'd freed herself of him.

He finally took the last step and set her down on solid ground. Before hopping off to her meeting, she impaled his foot with her stiletto. Apparently, Preventer-issue combat boots weren't all they were cracked up to be.

[17]

For the fifth consecutive time that week, Heero sat down to a lunch of instant cup ramen. It was almost funny how he alternated between such meager fare at noon and fine cuisine at Relena's estate come dinner time. He really didn't care what he consumed for nourishment. To him, the occasional dessert was the only thing he considered a culinary highlight. Of course, any sweet thing tasted amazing when he sampled it on her lips.

Quatre passed by Heero's table with his own styrofoam cup of noodles, asking to sit. Heero responded with a faint nod which his comrade took as a signal to settle.

"Thanks," sighed Quatre. "Cafeteria's packed as usual. Une should consider renovating to accommodate all the new recruits."

"Maybe you should donate," smirked Heero.

Quatre's eyebrow rose. "You know I can't throw money around indiscriminately anymore. Why else would I be eating plastic string in hot water?"

"Your wife's a big spender."

"My wife earns big money. Lost count of how many companies she's handling, Meanwhile, I subsist on the returns from my investments. One of them didn't turn out so well and, until my finances recover, I'm not asking her for cash. Last time I did... Being her personal manwho-"

"I get the point. I thought marriage meant shared assets."

"Pre-nup. My idea. No way were we going to let money destroy us. I wasn't marrying her because she was rich."

"Why then?" asked Heero, his curiosity piqued. He had always thought the Catalonia-Winner union was built on a financial alliance.

"The only good reason to marry a woman: I love her. Also, money makes a man lonely. You never know if the women in your life want you or that lovely piece of real estate you have in the Bahamas. With her...well, she's unique in her desires. For sure, money isn't what she wants."

Heero stared at the noodles floating around in his cup, trying to divine something in the meaningless patterns as the ancient Greeks sought the future in bowls of animal guts. Money... Well, Relena certainly didn't want him for that. The salary in his pocket was hers. She didn't earn much as a civil servant but the unfrozen Peacecraft assets as well as her inheritance from her deceased foster father helped fund Preventer. Thinking that he was financially dependent on her left a sinking feeling in his stomach. There was no way a girl like that would marry-

"Heero?"

"Hn?"

"Penny for your thoughts? I think I still have a few of those to pay for what's on your mind..."

"It's nothing."

"Miss Relena?"

Heero's eyebrow quirked. Had he become that predictable?

"You think too much," chortled Quatre. "Let me guess. You were wondering why she put up with you despite your...financial inadequacies."

"So the rumors are true," said Heero, irked at how easy he was to read. "You are an empath."

Quatre laughed. "I just know you better than most. Just don't think too hard. She loves you, Heero. It's as simple as that. Rich or poor, everyone seeks the other half of their heart. The rich just have a bit more trouble with it. Make it easy for her."

A loud beeping issued from Quatre's pocket. "And there goes my timer... Time to go back to work. Preventer assignments make good money. I'm quite sure you'll have a nice nest egg put away in a bit. Besides, money's not an issue with Miss Relena. If you bring it up, you'll only upset her. Best just not to think about it."

Quatre finished off his noodles, his face doing little to hide his disgust. Giving Heero a light pat on the shoulder for encouragement, the Winner heir left the table with a fervent hope that the perfect soldier would take his advice.

[18]

"I first saw him at the beach," remarked Relena, as she spoke loudly into her bedridden grandmother's ear. It was hard enough trying to play the part of a good storyteller when your audience was hard of hearing. Even harder when you're doctoring the truth into something more pleasant...

The Darlian matriarch, her foster father's mother, had begged to meet her precious granddaughter's significant other. It was all Relena could do to fulfill the dying woman's wish. Why did her mother have to let slip that she was dating someone?

"Granny deserves to know, Relena," declared Lily Darlian, leaving no room for argument.

"You don't like him, do you, Mother? Meeting Granny will only make him uncomfortable. How is he supposed to behave around her? You didn't happen to tell her what his job was? What he did during the war?"

"Of course not. As much as she tortured me while I was dating your father, I don't want her to die. At least not yet... As for not liking your boyfriend, you know very well that I only have one requirement of men who wish to court you. All I ask is that they not burst into flames upon crossing the threshold of a church. Your Henry-"

"Heero."

"I know he's a war hero. You don't have to keep telling me. Anyway, Henry was kind enough to take me to mass last week. You're marrying a nice boy."

"We're not at that stage yet, mother," Relena bit out. "We're taking it slow."

"Well, I think that it's best that you hurry up. Someone might take him from you. I'm quite the lonely cougar. The pool boy-"

"Mother!"

"Anyway, tell me if Granny likes him."

"Why do you care? You hate Granny."

"Exactly. Relena, do you really want to be with someone your grandmother likes? Did you see the string of women she tried to set your father up with knowing very well I was married to him? Rich bimbos, all of them. Your grandfather didn't have much between his ears either. I think he died inside when he married your Granny. It's a miracle your father turned out so well."


Ah yes, the rivalry between Granny Darlian and her mother was still alive and well.

"The beach?" asked the elderly woman. "A tad crude, don't you think? A Darlian like you picking up a beach bum. For shame... Anyway, do go on."

Relena heaved a sigh and looked to Heero. He hung his head, suddenly entranced by his feet. No help on that front. She'd have to slay this old dragon on her own. She tried to ignore her grandmother's last few biting comments. The toothless creature was still good at giving thorough tongue lashings but Relena being fazed wouldn't help anybody.

"Well, I came upon him at the beach while he was taking a nap..."

He was unconscious, and she honestly thought she was having her first encounter with a corpse.

"He woke up and caught me gawking at him."

He panicked and started covering his face like his life depended on it.

"You can only imagine how mortified I was. A handsome boy like that having his rest interrupted by a silly girl like me..."

He tried to blow himself up. Mortified was an understatement for how she felt.

"Still, he didn't see it as something I should be upset about. We soon got to talking. Lost track of time, actually. Before I knew it, he had to go."

He ran off and beat up the paramedics she'd called to tend to him.

"I called him a cab expecting never to see him again."

He hijacked the ambulance after incapacitating all the medical personnel and kicking the driver out of the vehicle.

"It was such a pleasant surprise when Sister Audrey introduced him as our new classmate the next day."

A surprise? Yes. Pleasant? No.

"How wonderful," declared the old lady, pretending she'd heard every word. Relena really didn't need to concoct a story. The old witch already had it in her head that nobody would be good enough for her granddaughter. "The boy... Is the boy with you? Step forward, boy."

"His name is Heero, granny."

"Hello?"

"Heero."

"Helios?"

"Heero."

"Herman?"

"Heero!"

"Hero, is it? That's a name that comes with a lot of expectations. Tell him to step forward. Didn't I already tell him to do just that? Is he as hard of hearing as I am?"

Relena sighed. "Come on over, Hero."

"Come closer, boy," her grandmother stated yet again. "Goodness, this boy seems to be missing something upstairs. How many times do I have to ask him to come over? Let me feel you. These old eyes aren't what they used to be."

Heero's steps were slow and reluctant. Fearless as he usually was, he thought it best to exercise caution in this situation. At first, he'd been dumbfounded by the woman, unable to move upon her request. Something inside him trembled in this creature's presence, left him thoroughly unsettled and unable to act properly. Hearing her disparage him in front of Relena sent a strange rush of pain surging through his heart. What if this woman didn't think he was good enough for Relena?

Finally, he reached the bed, bringing his head within Granny Darlian's reach. Peeved as Relena was, it was all she could do not to burst out laughing as her grandmother ran her wrinkled hands over Heero's face.

"Speak, boy," declared Granny Darlian.

"Mmph..."

Granny Darlian had clamped her gnarled hands over the poor boy's lips. "I said speak up. Speak, boy! Goodness, you are quite the dullard."

Muffled sounds issued from the perfect soldier as he spoke into the palms plastered over his mouth. He didn't know what to do. It would be rude as hell to shove the old woman's hands away.

"The silent type, eh?" sighed Granny Darlian, finally releasing Heero's head and hastily wiping her hands them on her sheets. "And he drools, too. Are you sure you want to be around this boy, Relena?"

"More than anything, Granny," stated Relena, her conviction so startling it made Heero stare.

"Speak up!"

"I said more than anything, Granny!" she yelled, her conviction now blended with rage.

"There's no need to scream!' admonished Granny Darlian. "Goodness, you must get your temper from that horrid Lily. I should have known. That Lily- She's- Her... Well, I hate her so much, I forget. What was I saying again?"

"I think it's time for bed, Granny," scowled Relena. Even when she'd been at the peak of health, the woman had been insufferable, openly showing her distaste for Relena's mother. Enough was enough. Relena needed to get Heero out of this slice of hell.

"Now, that's downright rude," said Granny Darlian, sinking into the covers. "All right. Fine. Go. But seriously, that boy- You deserve better."

Without another word, Relena dragged Heero out of the room. Granny Darlian hardly minded as she swiftly fell into slumber.

"Please disregard everything she said," she told him, once the door had shut behind them. "She's not of the right mind."

"I can see that," said Heero, wiping the back of his hand across his lips to eliminate the overwhelming aroma of camphor. "But she's still your grandmother, Relena. I don't have her approval."

"She can take her approval to hell for all I care. Mother likes you, and I love you. That's all the approval you need from the Darlians. Heavens, mother will like you even more once she hears about this."

He looked uneasy, far from convinced by her words. She stroked his cheek.

"Heero, when I first met you, it was an explosive moment, both literally and figuratively. I lied to her about something wonderful, knowing she would never understand it, knowing she would never accept you if I told the truth. Even when I spun our sordid story into a fairy tale, she still didn't accept you. Someone like that, someone who could never understand... She's not worth listening to, all right?

"Was that true?"

"What?"

"When you said you wanted to be around me more than anything. Was that true or part of the fairy tale?"

She looked at him, noting the seriousness in his eyes. She could build him up or break him down with a single word.

"Both," she smiled, leaving a gentle kiss on his cheek. "We'll never be a fairy tale, Heero, but I certainly have a happily ever after. That's the only part that matters anyway. You're my happy ending."