"The Sword and Shield of the Earth"
Heero couldn't sleep.
After almost forty minutes of restless turning and gazing up at the stars, he finally gave up the fight and slid out from the sleeping bag. Treading carefully so he wouldn't wake those still awake, he wandered aimlessly across the clearing and into the woods, wrapping his arms around himself at the chill of the night, grateful for the long-sleeved shirt he'd purloined from the hospital.
He walked for about ten minutes, heading in a northwest direction, until the ground became a mix of rock and sand and he emerged from the trees and found himself on a bluff. He glanced around at the slim shelf of rock, and spotted a figure in the moonlight at the edge of the cliff.
Squinting in the darkness, he stepped closer, sand scraping against his shoes.
A night breeze swept by, causing the boy's shoulder-length hair to fan out, and Heero recognized him at last. "Atreusio."
The figure didn't move or respond, so Heero approached slowly.
"What are you doing?" He wasn't sure why he was even talking to the boy; obviously he was still grief-striken, and he wasn't the type to comfort. But something about the small, morose figure drew him nearer.
The seer turned his head just slightly, glancing at Heero out of the corner of his dark eyes. "Heero-san," he greeted in a murmur. "You couldn't sleep?"
Heero came a halt a few yards away, and shook his head silently.
Atreusio turned his head away again, gazing out at the trees below. "Me neither," he whispered.
Silence descended, and for a time neither of the two boys said anything. Heero glanced towards the woods, wondering if he should try to get to sleep and leave the boy alone, but Atreusio's quiet voice gave him pause.
"What do the stars tell you?"
Heero looked towards him. Atreusio didn't look back at him; his chin was tilted as he gazed up at the star-strewn sky above, the shadows of the night hiding his expression.
"...Nothing at all," Heero answered.
Atreusio gave a small breathless laugh, almost too quiet to hear. "They tell me lots of things," he whispered.
Heero frowned. "Such as...?"
Atreusio's voice was a mere murmur. "Would you like to know why you were born?"
Heero blinked, not sure how to respond. "What?"
"Do you believe in fate?"
Heero answered honestly. "I don't know."
The seer was quiet for a moment before saying softly, "Everyone is born for a reason. And those who carry the stars in their eyes are destined for great things."
Heero tilted his head slightly, frown deepening. The cryptic words of a seer... he wasn't sure how to respond. "Is that a boast?" he demanded after a moment.
He faintly saw the boy's lips curve in a humorless smile, his voice toneless. "Some say it is a curse..."
"Why is that?" Heero couldn't help asking. Suddenly he didn't want to know, but Atreusio was already answering.
"..Would you like to know how you are going to die?"
Heero was silent.
Another breeze wafted by, brushing the young seer's hair aside as he turned his face to look at Heero.
Heero took in a sharp breath.
There was such deep, intense pain in those fathomless eyes that for a minute Heero couldn't speak.
"Neo was such a jerk to everyone," Atreusio whispered. "He could be almost cruel sometimes... he would say things to me sometimes that made me feel so useless. He would always apologize afterwards... as if he had spoken without thought. I always forgave him." He shrugged minutely. "I couldn't hate him. Ever. And I think a part of me knew he felt something for me because..." He smiled humorlessly again, "No matter how many times we argued..or how angry he got with me.... He never struck me."
Heero blinked, surprised despite himself. The fact that Neo had been able to reign in his short temper around the smaller boy was something he hadn't expected.
"He was right about one thing, though," Atreusio said softly. "I am alone. Without him.. I am alone. No one wants me."
"Oi," Heero said sharply. "What about Avarion? And.." he forced himself to say it, "Duo."
Atreusio's expression didn't change. "I am a seer," he said simply. "Do you know what happened to Juniper, Heero?"
Heero hesitated, unsure if he wanted to know, but Atreusio continued anyway. "She lives alone. She has been alone since she was a teenager. Because even the most kind hearted of people feel uneasy around a seer. Because you see, seers- especially those who are Old Souls -only hone their gift as they age. So they separate themselves from covens, from friends. Because they can not risk blurting out the future to just anyone. No one should know too much about the future. And people feel..better not knowing, in the end. Seers make them uneasy. It's partly why Neo insisted we leave Avarion, actually." He smiled sadly. "He got angry at the way I was treated. Some of them asked me too many questions...others acted nervous around me." He turned his face away, contemplating the stars once more. "And so no matter what you or Duo may think now... in the end, it has to be that way. I will have to leave. And without Neo.. who understood me, who...loved me..." he swallowed thickly, "I will be lonely." He shifted his foot, and small rocks, disturbed by his movement, rattled down the side of the cliff. It was a long drop.
Uneasiness curled in Heero's gut. "Atreusio," he said quietly but firmly. "Come back to the campsite. Get some sleep."
"I am ready to sleep," Atreusio agreed, his voice weary. "I want to...forget all of this. I want to escape and..." he turned to glance fleetingly back at Heero, smiling a very small, sad smile. "I want to see Neo again," he whispered.
Heero stepped forward instinctively, his heart pounding. "Wait-"
Atreusio stepped forward.
Heero rushed to the cliff edge, but his hands snatched nothing but air. He fell to his knees, hands gripping the rocky edge as he stared downwards with his heart in his throat. Atreusio's small form tumbled into the darkness far below without a sound.
Heero knelt there for what seemed like hours before the coolness of the night dragged him back into reality. Scooting away from the edge, he sank back onto his heels, staring numbly up at the stars, mind a blank sheet of shock and regret.
What do the stars tell you?
They tell me...
Heero rose slowly and dusted himself off. With one last brief glance towards the cliff, he turned his quiet footsteps towards the camp.
They tell me you will see Neo again.
And you will finally be happy.
Duo jolted awake with sweat on his brow.
He sat up quickly, breathing harshly as he looked around warily at his surroundings, at the other slumbering bodies scattered on the ground. He took a few deep breaths to calm his pounding heart, relief washing over him. A nightmare. Just a nightmare.
Of what? He frowned deeply, struggling to remember even as the memory of it slid away like tendrils of smoke.
Red eyes... He could remember red eyes boring into him with such malice that it had made him want to run away and hide like a child. And someone calling for him desperately in a familiar voice.
But before that... hadn't there been another dream? Something about..a girl...
Then the dream was gone, and he could remember no more. Frowning, he rubbed his temple wearily, holding up his other hand to check his watch in the moonlight. Almost one in the morning. He'd slept maybe six hours. Sighing, he rose to his feet and made his way carefully to the falls. Maybe a drink of water would help him sleep. He paused by Quatre and Trinity to check on them, relieved to see both their faces relaxed in peaceful slumber, before continuing on to the gurgling water and crouching to scoop some of the cold liquid into his cupped hands.
Wiping water from his chin, he shook his hands to dry them and rose, glancing up at the moon before beginning to pick his way through the bodies towards his own sleeping bag.
He was passing Quatre and Trinity's spot when Quatre suddenly sat bolt upright, blue eyes wide, mouth opened in a silent exclamation.
Duo jumped, startled, and crouched by him quickly, heart pounding. "Quatre," he hissed, seizing the boy's shoulders. "Daijabou? Did you have a nightmare?"
But the gaze Quatre turned on him was not frightened, but stunned, as if with some revelation. "Duo," he whispered, "I figured it out. It just came to me."
Duo blinked, puzzled. "Ara? What are you talking about?"
Quatre pushed his bangs impatiently from his face, reaching over to shake Trinity awake. "I was trying to sleep and I kept thinking about something Wufei was telling me earlier when he was filling me in on all that's been going on while I've been gone. And I think I know what we're supposed to do!"
Duo stared at him uncertainly. "You mean how you're supposed to save the earth?" he guessed.
"Yes," Quatre said, nodding firmly as Trinity sat up, rubbing at his eyes sleepily. He turned a fervent gaze on Duo. "Wake up Wufei, Trowa, and Heero. Might as well get Ash and Silverwolf, too. We need to tell them where we're going."
Duo rocked back on his heels, a little off-keel from Quatre's quick, intense words and excited mood. "Where are we going?"
Quatre rose to his feet, glancing around to make sure the others were still asleep. "We're going to save a life." He smiled up at Duo ruefully. "We're going to save the one person that can protect this earth."
Realization dawned on Duo, and his jaw dropped. "Masaka," he whispered. "You mean.. Jesus, of course! Why didn't I think of-"
"Duo," Quatre said impatiently.
"Ah- hai!" Duo scrambled to his feet. "Take Trinity to the edge of the trees," he whispered. "I'll get the others."
Quatre nodded and led a sleepily confused Trinity away.
Duo turned and hurried towards where his partners were sleeping, heart pounding with excitement.
How ironic, he thought wryly as he bent to shake Heero's shoulder. And yet, it made sense...
Heero woke at Duo's light touch, staring up at him with unreadable cobalt eyes.
"Heero, get up," Duo murmured. "Go get Ash and Silverwolf." Heero looked like he was going to argue, so he hissed impatiently, "Quatre figured out what he and Trinity are supposed to do."
Heero stared at him for a moment, then slid carefully from his sleeping bag and rose to his feet silently.
"Where's Atreusio?" Duo asked suddenly, glancing around. "I think he should come. To see this whole thing finished at last and know Neo didn't die in vain."
He saw Heero freeze out of the corner of his eye and frowned at him in question. "Nani? Have you seen him, Heero?"
Heero hesitated, refusing to look back at him. "Iie," he said after a moment, voice barely audible. "I don't think he would want to come, anyway."
"Eh?" Duo made a face. "Why no-"
"Wake the others," Heero interrupted sharply. "Don't worry about Atreusio." He set off to find the two coven leaders without another word.
Duo frowned at the other boy's back, but there really wasn't any time to argue with the guy. He crouched by Trowa and shook him awake. "Oi," he whispered with a little grin when Trowa's eyes fluttered open. "Go wake up lover boy. We're going on a little field trip."
"A field trip," Trowa repeated tonelessly, sitting up to stare at him. "Where?"
Duo smirked. "You'll see."
Griffin lowered the small pouch Silverwolf had given him when she had asked him to go with the six pilots. He turned and nodded at Quatre, who was looking calm now that he was so close to his goal. "All right," he said, "all the guards are asleep. Lead the way."
Quatre walked past him, Trinity at his side, and the others fell in behind them.
"Trinity has destroyed the earth's most recent, deadly threat in killing Davarius," Quatre said quietly as he pushed open the main doors and strode boldly inside. "And now it is my turn- to make sure earth will have a protector for many years to come."
Walking beside Duo, Heero frowned a little, glancing sideways at his partner.
Duo grinned, but didn't look at him. Behind them, Trowa and Wufei were silent.
Quatre led the way up the winding steps, walking carefully around the slumbering guards as he headed unerringly for a door flanked by snoring guards. "Trinity," he murmured.
Trinity walked up to the door, barely touching it with his fingertips. The lock clicked, and the doors swung open of their own will with a near-silent squeak. The seven boys trooped into the dark room, and the door shut quietly behind them.
Heero glanced around at the bedroom they had entered, frowning suspiciously. Why were they here?
"Fire." Quatre's voice was a mere whisper. A candle on the bedside table lit suddenly, casting a dim glow on the bed, and they stepped closer, careful not to make any noise.
Heero gazed down at the girl asleep on the bed, her brow wrinkled just slightly with pain. There was an IV attached to her arm, and two bottles of painkillers- both nearly empty -on the table beside the candle.
"She must have fought against going to the hospital," Wufei muttered, his eyes not without pity as he looked down at the young politician. "Though they'll have to bring her in soon. She looks like a ghost."
"She's dying," Quatre said simply, walking around to the side of the bed.
Trinity took in a little breath at his partner's calm words, anguish flickering in his eyes. "Relena-sama..."
Griffin glanced at him sideways, but said nothing.
Heero stiffened as Quatre pushed the blankets away and took Relena's limp, pale arm in his hands gently.
"You're going to try to heal her," he said sharply, his suspicions confirmed. He shot a look at Duo. "I thought Davarius said wiccans can't heal things like cancer."
Duo nodded, looking at Quatre questioningly. "Is it because you're an Old Soul?" he asked.
Quatre hesitated, as if unsure how to explain it. "I think it has more to do with fate," he said finally. "I regained my memories and my powers because of this. This is what I am here to do." He looked at each of them solemnly. "Trinity's job was to destroy the one who threatened earth. It's *my* job to give earth her greatest protector."
"Wait a minute," Wufei growled. "As Gundam pilots we protect the earth just fine. We're the sword of the earth- and of space."
"Yes, we are the sword of earth," Quatre agreed quietly. "But Relena is the shield."
Wufei blinked, nonplussed.
"Sometimes fighting is necessary," Quatre explained, gazing down at the frail-looking girl. "Sometimes it is the only way to accomplish things. Brute force can do a lot to push people in the right direction. But there is something stronger than force, Wufei. I would think the old ones of your colony would have tried to tell you as much." He gazed at them all steadily. "Words," he said softly, "and passion can be ten times more powerful and effective than a raised fist, an unsheathed sword. People may rebel against those that come into their lands and their houses to wage war. They may feel driven by their basest fighting instincts to bite back. But people are rational creatures. Why do you think a man is more afraid of a dog than another man?" he demanded.
"Because humans can be rationalized with," Trowa said quietly, eyes flicking towards Relena with reluctant understanding.
"Yes." Quatre nodded. "You can plead with an angry dog until you turn blue in the face, but he will still bite you. But you can rationalize with another man, in a way that he understands, and give him pause. Perhaps even cause him to change his mind." He looked towards Duo, the one among them who had always disliked Relena the most. "Relena's power as a politician gives her the position to talk to those who are powerful enough to start wars or end them. Her love for this earth and its people shows in the emotion behind her arguements- people sense this, and they listen to her. You may not like her much as a person, Duo.. but as a politician, as a leader, she is very powerful. She has talked men out of war more than once, and her words and ideals are what keep those in power firmly in line. People respect her, and that is a great advantage."
Duo nodded slowly. "I understand," he muttered. "You're right. I should have thought of it sooner... If she lives, she'll be able to protect the earth for a few more years at least, if they keep her in her current position."
Quatre glanced towards the others expectantly. Wufei frowned, but nodded slowly, and Trowa's green eyes were calm with agreement. Griffin nodded shortly, as if it was the best plan he'd heard in awhile.
Heero stared silently down at Relena for a long moment as the others watched him, waiting for him to speak. Finally he looked up at Quatre, his eyes dark in the candlelight. "Do it," he said simply.
Quatre smiled and nodded, then closed his eyes and took a deep, slow breath, fingers flexing on Relena's pale arm.
Duo stiffened at the electric feeling that filled the room, centered around the still form on the bed. He instinctively grabbed Heero's sleeve, watching breathlessly as the look on Quatre's face tightened in intense concentration. Relena's body seemed to glow faintly, as the tension in the air thickened. Then suddenly it was gone.
Quatre released her with a heavy sigh and took an unsteady step back, looking exhausted. The pain on Relena's face disappeared, and she stirred, frowning slightly.
"Relena-sama." Trinity appeared at the side of the bed, gazing down at her.
Relena's eyes fluttered open, and she looked around dazedly at the boys grouped around her bed. Fear flitted momentarily across her face before she spotted Heero, then recognized the other pilots. She stared up at Trinity in blank confusion. "Trinity," she mumbled, reaching up to rub her eyes. "What's going on? Daijabou?"
Trinity's smile was warm and soft with relief. "Hai," he said gently. "How do you feel?"
Relena blinked, looking down at herself with an almost puzzled expression. "I feel...good," she said hesitantly. "Better than I have in a while..." She looked around at them all quickly. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"
"Nah, don't worry, ojousan," Duo said with a cheeky grin. "Just came to check on you, that's all. We're about to move again, and we just wanted to say bye, that's all. Till we see each other again."
Relena blinked at him, then smiled hesitantly, but not without honest warmth. "Aa. Arigato," she said almost shyly, obviously not quite sure how to react to his unexpected friendliness.
"Relena-sama," Trinity said, getting her attention. "I would advise that you not seek the Gundam pilots so often from now on. It has put not only them, but yourself at risk a few times in the past from what I've heard, and will in the future."
"You've led enemies straight to us because you keep trailing after Heero," Wufei added with a frown, but Trowa elbowed him softly, and he shrugged off his irritation. "Get some sleep," he advised instead, voice not unkind.
Relena stared at them all, understandably confused by their strange behavior and appearance, but seemed to sense that they would not explain, because she said nothing.
Trinity bent to press a gentle kiss against her forehead. "Oyasumi, Relena-sama," he said softly with a smile. "I'll visit you again when you're feeling better. Daijabou."
They all turned and filed out of the room silently.
Relena's quiet call gave Heero pause, and he turned to look at her. The others had already left, but Duo, still in the doorway, lingered to eavesdrop.
Relena was sitting up, gripping her covers with nervous fingers, her eyes swimming with a silent plea as if begging him not to leave her again.
Heero gazed at her for a long moment before speaking. "Relena." His voice was quiet. "Get well. Protect your earth..but don't try to protect me." He cut her off as she opened her mouth to protest. "I will always protect you," he said softly. "Even if you don't see me. I will be your sword for your people, but that is all I can be."
In the doorway, Duo swallowed at Heero's words, awed as always at the affect Relena had on him, the tenderness she brought out in him.
Relena looked as if she were going to say something, but shut her mouth, her eyes wet with unshed tears as she looked sadly down into her lap. She took a shaky breath and forced herself to look at him again. It was then that Relena did the bravest thing she had ever done.
She smiled. "Hai," she whispered. "I understand. Good luck, Heero. I will not chase you anymore."
Heero inclined his head towards her in silent farewell and turned away, exiting the room and shutting the door quietly behind him.
Duo was waiting for him. He reached out, wrapping his hand around Heero's, calloused fingers flexing just slightly against his in response. Silently the two Gundam pilots walked downstairs to rejoin the others, leaving earth's protector to a restless sleep.
Relena had given up on Heero. She was safe and healed, and Juniper's prophecy had finally been fulfilled.
At the bottom of the stairs Duo raised Heero's hand and pressed it softly to his mouth, staring into deep cobalt eyes.
"Let's go home," Heero mumured.
Duo gave a small smile. "Aa," he agreed, and turned to face the others. "I need a vacation."
Quatre laughed quietly and led the way out into the moonlight.
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