“It is my honest opinion that this will do nothing but help the relationship between you two,” Isabelle remarked after Heero finished his narrative. “Don’t think of therapy as a sign that things have failed—think of it more as scheduled maintenance. Every now and again, we need to reveal our feelings in a structured environment.” She eyed the both before speaking again. “Do you keep any secrets from one another?”
Heero didn’t blink. Isabelle figured he could probably lie about the sky being blue without batting an eyelash. Danie just mustered up a slightly abashed look as if Isabelle’s question was preposterous.
“Secrets? No, we don’t have any secrets from each other.”
Heero slid another look in Danie’s direction, and she seemed to feel it. “I beg to differ.”
“Well, we all have secrets we keep from one another,” Danie amended. “Doesn’t everyone? But I don’t think that’s the problem.”
“Hmm,” Isabelle murmured. Really? she thought incredulously. With that remark, she made another “Bullshit” note. She glanced at the clock on the wall behind Danie and Heero and closed her leather binder. It was time to bring their session to a close. “I suppose that’s something to begin next week’s session with.”
* * *
Both Heero and Danie would not readily admit it, but their lives had become vastly different from five—or six—years ago when they had gotten caught up in the moment of meeting one another. Now, even as they both dressed for work, there were no affectionate pats or amorous glances at the other in various states of dress, just stiff conversation as a thin sheen over lack of affection.
Danie stood at one basin in front of the large mirror in the luxurious bathroom, her robe loosely belted in the front. At the other sink, Heero, on the other hand, was very nearly dressed in dark slacks and a white tank that showed off his highly toned arms. Heero flossed his teeth neatly as Danie gargled noisily.
A little bothered, Heero slid his deep blue eyes in her direction long enough for her to meet his gaze in the mirror. The sloppy gurgling stopped. Danie shrugged and spit it into the sink.
“Kristana’s birthday party is tonight,” Heero said as Danie screwed the cap more tightly on the mouthwash. “Crys said that she would love it if we were both there.” Danie set down the mouthwash with a soft bang, and the cap rattled a bit. Heero frowned as Danie turned away and slipped out of her robe, revealing the black lace underneath. Heero glared at her back, screwing the cap tighter on the bottle and swooping up her robe in two swift movements.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Danie called from the closet. “I have to be in New York at noon and hopefully that won’t take too long. We’ve got a meeting with some possible shareholders that just makes my eyes cross to think about.”
“Crys won’t forgive you if you miss this.”
Danie stuck her head out of the closet for a moment with her right eyebrow cocked. “Yeah, I know.” She disappeared back into the closet. “If I don’t know your sister by now, Heero, then I must be dumber than I look.”
Heero dropped Danie’s silken robe on its designated hook and stepped into the closet himself. Danie was now clad in a gray plaid pencil skirt and a black bra, and she was internally debating over blazers to wear. There had been a time where he would have come up behind her and kissed her on the neck, but now he just went to his portion of the closet for a dress shirt, his back to her.
“Did you get the present?”
Danie paused over a royal purple blazer, frowning. “I thought it was your
turn to get the present.”
Heero quickly shifted back over his memories of the past year…and figured out that Danie was right. It was his turn to buy Kristana’s present. Letting out a breath through his nostrils, Heero picked out a pewter shirt to wear for the day. He didn’t even glance at the label; the designer was meaningless to him. Danie, on the other hand, seemed to covet labels and the prestige that came with wearing them. He supposed that she was entitled being the executive assistant to one of the richest men in the world to her expensive style.
“I’ll get it,” Heero promised, thinking of the right person to ask. “Don’t worry.”
Danie finally selected a red blazer with black buttons to wear for the day. She slipped it on and bent over to select Ferragamo pumps in the same hue. She slipped into them and strode out while buttoning her blazer. She fixed her hair with the jeweled clip that Heero had given her for their second anniversary. Heero noticed the choice but thought nothing else of it. It could have just was well been a paper clip for all of the sentiment that Heero felt at the moment.
“Good. I should be done with that stupid meeting in time.” She turned to him, and the Daniella Thomas who could wheedle the Devil out of his very soul—if he had one—revealed herself. “Meet you here at seven and we’ll drive there together?”
“On the dot,” Heero said as he decided not to wear a tie today.
“Splendid.” She walked over and gave Heero a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. “See ya.”
“Bye, Danie.” Heero couldn’t help watching her as she strode away in her graceful model’s lope. A warmness settled deep inside of him, but it was so sequestered that it was promptly extinguished like a small flame in a cold, windy room.
A few minutes later, he turned out all of the lights and left the house.
* * *
Heero arrived at the thirty-three story high-rise that housed the home offices of the Winner Corporation a mere fifteen minutes after leaving his house with Danie on the outskirts of town. He passed by the front desk on the first floor without stopping or greeting anyone; by now the sight of Heero Yuy strolling into work was a rather mundane sight, and he liked to keep it that way.
He boarded the elevator going upward along with four others. He didn’t press a button for there was no number for the floor he was stopping upon. As far as the others knew, he was just getting off on some unknown floor. But they were too afraid of losing their jobs to ask. There had been those in the past who had inquired about the secret 33rd floor, and word had gotten back to Mr. Winner himself. It always did. There were rumors about what had happened to the unlucky gentleman, but so far there had been no evidence to support the claims.
So, in that, what Heero Yuy did for a living was truthfully known by six other people. If there were more, Heero didn’t know about them. But it was his honest opinion that no one else knew—because the other six would be summarily dispatched, and they liked their lives too much.
When he was alone in the elevator, Heero waited until the doors came together, then pulled out a special key that opened up a concealed panel. The buttons for the regular floors disappeared, sliding away to reveal a palm print scanner. “Please verify your voice print for identification,”
said the melodious automated female voice.
Heero placed his right hand on the scanner and spoke his name clearly and succinctly. After a moment, the voice told him, “Voice print verified. Good morning, Heero. Stand by for retinal and body scan.”
Heero did so without complaint or any discomfort. He understood that this was merely part of securing the rest of the world from knowing the things he did. It kept them safe. The innocent people needed to be safe, and the corrupt people didn’t need any access to their secret little world. It was enough that they existed in the first place. He, Duo, and their friends Quatre Winner, Trowa Barton, and Wufei Chang made up the Wild Wing Agency (the name was Nicole’s idea, put into effect a month after she was hired), and their sole existence relied on those who still terrorized the world with malicious acts. Heero had sworn he would never kill again, and so far, he hadn’t—that is, until the last job they had taken on.
Heero was cleared within two minutes. The controls whirled as it brought him to the top floor, and when the elevator stopped, Heero found himself in a long white hallway where he endured another scan to ensure that he wasn’t carrying any unauthorized weapons and positively identify him was one of the boys, as Nicole would tease.
As the secretary in this clandestine venture, twenty-three-year-old Nicole Smith was the sixth person entrusted with the knowledge of their agency and for that she had her employers’ immense respect. Heero would never admit this, however. She was way too annoying, and he was sure it would swell her head. He didn’t want to be responsible for that.
As usual, Nicole was fashionably dressed and impeccably coiffed, her long, dark hair (no weave, she’d tell you if you were bold enough to ask) pulled back from her face to reveal diamonds and oval-shaped tanzanites twinkling at her ears (a birthday gift from Quatre Winner, who was obviously too nice for his own good). She was in the middle of a call when Heero strode up, her expression indicating that she was dealing with yet another irritating customer.
“Yes, Mrs. Casey, I’ll give you a call… No, I’m sorry, you cannot talk to Mr. Maxwell. He is unavailable.” Nicole went silent at that moment, but her face changed into an expression Heero could only shake his head at. It was her Excuse me? look. When she spoke again, she went from mild-mannered, steely polite receptionist to street-talking, head-twisting black chick. “Look, do you want
me to come up to your house and bust a cap off in your ass lift? I’ve got your address so don’t play with me. I said you can’t talk to him. That means you can’t.” Pause.
“Okay, then say goodbye then. Damn.” With a roll of her brown eyes and an abundance of attitude, she jabbed a button with a French-manicured finger and ended the call. Shaking her head in dismay, she expelled a breath and noticed Heero coming near.
She greeted him grudgingly, but Heero didn’t take it personally. “Morning, Heero.”
“Good morning, Nicole. Any calls?”
Nicole gestured toward his box as she pulled out a couple of requests she had to screen. “You got a couple of calls about the Mallone job. Just a check-back I guess, but I honestly wouldn’t even bother calling back.” She eyed him meaningfully for a moment. “But I know you will anyway, even if it isn’t important.”
Heero retrieved the papers in his box and didn’t say anything to that. The Mallone job had taken up too much of his time and energy, and even Nicole had noticed the toll it had taken on him. The investigation into the apparent rape of a teenage girl had brought back some horrid memories of the rape of someone close to him. Nicole with her nosy self just plain stayed away from Heero for a week after the investigation was done and the then-unconvicted perpetrator was dispatched. She didn’t want for Quatre to have to explain to her mama about how there had been an “accident” because of Heero Yuy’s itchy trigger finger.
“Nicole? I need a favor from you.”
Nicole looked up from her writing and stared at him knowingly. “You want me to buy Kristana’s birthday present, don’t you?”
Heero blinked at her, surprised she would remember. “How did you…?”
Nicole snorted out a laugh. It took a lot to surprise him. “Heero, I’m not slow. Quatre’s been talking about the birthday party for like the past six months. You’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb or something to miss it. And I know for a fact that Danie bought the present last year. Remember?”
Truthfully last year’s birthday party was a pink-bombed, sugar-coated, twinkle-lighted blur. He could barely remember what happened last year except for the towering cake fashioned in the shape of a castle and Crys nearly impaling Duo to keep him away from it. But some form of that happened every year so that was easy to forget.
As if on cue, Duo Maxwell sauntered out of his office with a sugared donut in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. Heero could sense Nicole’s irritation without even looking at her. It was like radiation from the sun—which also meant he could only be in its path for a short time before it began to affect him.
“You better not get sugar on my desktop,” Nicole snapped. “I just cleaned up from the time you decided you were gonna have éclairs for breakfast and lunch. Now your stupid ass wanna come up in here with some more shit? I ain’t got Alice written on my forehead, so if you end up throwing that shit up you better get a mop.”
“And good morning to you, too, Nicole,” Duo said, not sounding in the least bit hurt.
“I’m just telling you. Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.”
“I didn’t come out here to listen to you complain, Nicole,” Duo explained, his tone as jovial as ever. He turned to his friend and greeted him. “Morning, Heero. How are things in Yuy Land?”
“However you think, Duo,” Heero responded vaguely.
Duo took a messy bite of donut and nearly gave Nicole a coronary. “You know, if I had your wife, Heero, I’d be walking around looking much happier than you do now. You look like someone just wiped your hard drive and torched your backup disks.”
Nicole fisted her hand on her hip and cocked her right eyebrow at Duo. “Duo,” she began in what they called her Mama tone where one word became a warning.
“What? Damn—I can’t talk to my best friend?”
“Not when it looks like he’s gonna stuff that donut down your throat. Oh,” Nicole added, jabbing a ballpoint in Duo’s direction, “and another thing. If Mrs. Casey calls up here again asking for you again, I’m gonna hang you on that coat hook over there by your boxer shorts. Read me?” The phone rang at that moment, diverting Nicole’s attention. Duo walked away, muttering under his breath, and disappeared into the bathroom. Heero, on the other hand, decided it was time to lock himself away in the confines of his office away from questions and prying eyes.
“I know something’s wrong. You can’t hide it from me.”
Heero looked up warily at the sight of Duo leaning on the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest. “Duo, you should stay out of it.”
“See—here’s the thing: I can’t.” Duo stood upright and walked up to Heero’s desk. “You and I have been friends for far too long for me to ignore the fact that you’re unhappy. I know you’re not the type to walk around singing ‘Zippity-Do-Da’ when things are especially awesome, but you seem like you’re dreading something, and I think Danie is that something.” After a thoughtful pause, Duo asked, “She’s not cheating on you is she?”
“No, she is not,” Heero responded tightly. Though, he couldn’t be too sure. She had been away from home as much as he had been these days, and something about the nature of her work—whatever it was that Takeshi Arashi subjected her to—had caused her to become withdrawn and overly secretive. From his vantage point, something—or someone—was hurting her and she wasn’t sharing it with him.
“She’d better not be cheating on you, though,” Duo was saying, “because Crys would tear her into a million Danie pieces, and then Quatre would have put back together so he could make her suffer for putting more stress on Crys.”
“My sister doesn’t need to worry about my marriage, and neither do you,” Heero told him. “Danie and I are working through our problems.”
!” Duo said triumphantly and pointed at him, making Heero wince at his words. “So you admit it—you are having problems! It’s a shame, too, because she seemed so happy to marry you—and you were finally getting laid regular.”
Heero’s eyes darkened. “Duo—” At that moment, Heero’s phone beeped, signaling a page from one of the other phones in the office. The light for location 06 lit up. Nicole’s desk. “Yes, Nicole?”
When she spoke she sounded slightly befuddled. “Um, Heero? There’s someone on line one who is very insistent on speaking to you. The person wouldn’t tell me why or who they were.”
Thoughts of Danie and Duo’s prodding forgotten, Heero put his hand on the receiver. “I’ll take care of it. Thank you, Nicole.” Pushing the button to take line one, Heero said abruptly, “This is Heero Yuy.” “Mr. Yuy, I have a message for you.”
Heero shared a look with Duo. Duo mouthed for him to put the call on speakerphone, but Heero gave a quick shake of his head and pushed another button to record and trace the call. “A message? About what?” “The truth will set you free,”
said the mysterious voice which sounded neither male nor female. It was Heero’s guess that it was being digitally altered.
“What truth? Who will it set free?” Heero pressed, mind racing to place the voice or the circumstance of which he or she spoke. “Vengeance will open the door to the suppressed, and conjecture will breed misapprehension, but the truth will set you free. Mark my words, Heero Yuy. Or you will lose the thing that you love most.”
With that, the call ended, leaving Heero in pensive shock. He woodenly placed the receiver in his cradle then placed his hands flat on the desktop. He stared off into space, trying to decipher the message’s meaning. Vengeance? What is suppressed? And what is “the thing I love most”?
“What was that all about?” Duo inquired.
Heero looked at the silent phone, still brooding. It suddenly felt like a ghost came up and brushed him on the ear, but whose ghost? “I don’t know. But soon I will.”
* * *
Some miles away, the aforementioned Mrs. Heero Yuy opened the file folder detailing her next assignment and found it empty.
Confused, she lifted her head and stared at the broad-shouldered, long-haired Japanese man looking at the Gracia skyline out from behind the treated window. He was not dressed for the corporate world, blatantly clad in a black Henley and gray slacks. It was one of his many quirks, one of the many things that made him the only person she could trust in this mystifying menagerie of events that her led her to this point. And that was the only reason why she didn’t bean him in the back of his head with the file.
“I assume there’s some explanation as to why this stupid thing is empty,” Danie remarked, her voice echoing through the empty conference room they occupied.
Kaneshi Tsukimori turned from the window and walked toward her. His handsome face was drawn into a mask of anxiety, and when he took a seat across from Danie, she could feel the waves of tension emanating off of him. Needless to say, such visible emotional turmoil coming from the normally cool Kane Tsukimori was quite disconcerting.
“It was Arashi-sama’s idea for me to give you the empty file,” Kane explained. “He felt like it would be symbolic.”
Danie found herself looking down at the file again as her brain tried to work out the logic behind Takeshi Arashi’s little gesture. She had known the man for nearly half her life, and she credited him for shaping her into the woman she was today. When she had found herself wallowing in despondence over ten years ago, he had given her the opportunity to seek revenge and to build the person she wanted to be—but the chance did not come without a cumbersome price; Danie had to work for him and do his bidding. Danie had to become an assassin.
She had killed dozens of people over the years. In their defense, in the defense of Arashi’s secret stash of handsomely paid cold-blooded killers, they had never delivered death upon anyone who didn’t deserve to die…except once. Danie thought about that particular instance, and even now, ten years later, she didn’t understand any of it—the why, the who, or the how. The ‘how’ troubled her most, but she wasn’t about to admit that.
Especially now that it seemed that her time had come.
“He sure gets a hell of a kick out of pulling our legs,” Danie remarked, examining the empty folder again before meeting his gaze. “So why didn’t he give me this himself? It would have made more sense to me.”
“You know Arashi-sama rarely does anything that makes sense to you and me. But he entrusted this task to me for certain reasons.” That I can’t tell you at the moment,
Kane finished to himself. He knew if Danie knew what he knew, she would probably kill him.
A frission of suspicion went up Danie’s spine and had her leaning away from him. “Kane…what are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is…” He trailed off and picked up the folder. Much to Danie’s surprise, he flung it across the room. There was fervor in his eyes that alarmed Danie. “Fuck all of this ceremony and symbolic shit. You know everything and everyone you need to know, you can do everything you need to know how to do. I want you to go out and achieve your vengeance against the bastards that took what was yours, Danie.”
“I’m really ready?” Danie asked him. “Do you really think I’m ready? I mean, I thought after the incident in Tripoli—”
“You were a little overzealous in Tripoli but you got the job done,” Kane broke in.
Danie sheepishly ticked off another one. “And then there was accidental explosion in Moscow—”
“It destroyed a Russian databank presumed to have Miyori’s picture from a security camera,” Kane reminded her, referring to Takeshi’s only son. “We didn’t need that getting out.”
“But what about the flood I caused in that nightclub in Miami—?”
“Don’t push it, Danie,” Kane interrupted, running out of excuses.
Danie exhaled. “Sorry. I just…” She shook her head wordlessly. She couldn’t quite describe what she felt at that instant; she was grimly satisfied that she was going to do something she had been waiting to do for ten years, but she also felt a nagging fear that she couldn’t explain away. Her sixth sense told her that as soon as she ventured into the mire, all hell was going to break loose—and then some.
“If you don’t do this now, then when would you?” He frowned and considered her for a few beats before asking, “You’re not worried about Heero, are you?”
Her qualms mounted tenfold at the thought of her husband. He knew nothing of what she did, of her perilous occupation and the blood that stained her hands. She knew of his past—what he chose to tell her, that is—and she feared he would disapprove. He had fought in war, had killed as well—but like this, with a layer of gloss and indulgence?
Danie swallowed the lump in her throat and spoke softly. “I haven’t told him fully about what happened ten years ago, Kane. I know at some point he’s going to find out everything, including what I really do for Takeshi Arashi.”
“You’re afraid he’d leave you because of it.”
Danie was not staggered that he figured that one out. She was transparent when it came to Heero—except to Heero himself. “Well, wouldn’t you?”
“What I’d do if I were in Yuy’s shoes isn’t the point,” Kane reminded her. “What is the point, Danie, is that he’s the man you love, even though you’ve been shitty at showing it lately.” Indignation took over Danie’s features and Kane had to stifle a grin. She was much more effective—and beautiful—when she was angry. “Maybe it’s time you broke down your walls.”
“I don’t want him mixed up in this,” Danie said firmly. “This is my situation, and it will be mine to rectify.”
“So what happened to What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours?” Kane wanted to know.
“I don’t think that applies to skeletons in the closet. I’m sure Heero hasn’t told me every little detail about his life. In fact, I know for certain.”
“I do think it applies to skeletons in the closet. Haven’t you ever believed in quid pro quo? Maybe Heero hasn’t told you everything because he knows you’re holding back from him, too.” Danie pursed her lips, a sign that she was getting tired of this topic of discussion. “Just think about it on your way to New York.”
Danie blinked at the change in topics. “I still have to go to New York?”
“Oh yeah…” Kane fished in his pocket and pulled out a black flash drive. “Arashi wanted to give you a head start.” He dropped the rectangle in her hand as her eyes went huge. “Don’t sweat it, kid—he gave us all one. Just don’t waste it.”
“I won’t,” Danie promised, and rose.