If You Love Me (Part 4)
Stars jangled against the backdrop of deep space, each tiny pinprick seeming to glitter and, setting his hand against the thick pressure glass, Quatre could almost believe it was their brilliant tremors causing the minute vibration of the pane. It was the thrusters, though, driving the ship on its desperate shortcut to the waste satellite on a collision course with the sun.
"If only I had spoken out against that plan," Quatre sighed to himself, worrying at his bottom lip in an uncharacteristic nervous habit as he stared with troubled eyes into the lightless stretches beyond the thick glass.
Their ship was moving fast, and with thee course he'd plotted they should make it in time but still he fretted. He couldn't help it. It was within his nature to worry on behalf of the others, for his friends – if he didn't do his part, if he couldn't reach their Gundams in time, his friends would be seriously handicapped. They had to win this fight.
He shook his head. Why did it always come down to fighting? Why did men forever seek out more violence, and more deaths, in pursuit of something so intangible as power?
Quatre was also worried for Relena-sama. Against the unanimous advisement of her staff, she had gone to the colony largely unassisted and unguarded, except for a secretary. He wondered if she was frightened. He wondered, thinking back on the calm certainty of her placid, even features if she still believed steadfastly in Heero with the same innocent faith she had displayed when she had taken he and Heero under protection in the Sank kingdom.
"Relena-sama is strong," he murmured to himself. "Surely, her belief will keep her safe." Yet he was still worried.
"Quatre-sama?" Rasid approached with soft tread. "You're not still worrying, are you? Surely Trowa-kun and the others will be all right until we retrieve the Gundams."
Quatre turned from the window and gave him a bright tremulous smile. "I'm not worried for my friends, Rasid. They're strong and they've grown up fighting. I'm worried for Relena-sama, who's in the heart of this battle right now. I hope she'll be okay."
"Heero will rescue her, won't he?"
Quatre's smile faltered. He turned back to the window. "I don't know, Rasid," he replied, fixing his eyes on the brilliant sparkle that sped fast, but not quickly enough. Relena had discovered the true nature of Heero and Duo's relationship, and her reaction had been....unexpected, to say the least. Anger and pain could drive a person wild sometimes; he knew that better than anyone. In the wake of his father's death he'd been lost.
Relena-sama had continued without even acknowledging the loss. Almost, sometimes, as if things between herself and Heero were no different than before. In a way, they hadn't changed at all -- she still loved him. Or thought she did, Quatre amended. That she was infatuated was indisputable. And Heero still ignored her attentions, with one crucial difference.
He became rigid when she got anywhere near Duo.
That had been before. After talking to Duo so recently, he wasn't certain where things stood. Relena had been going about her duties for the past year, very much in the public eye. There had never been any news of a Gundam pilot anywhere near the Sank kingdom. Duo had been among the colonies. Absently Quatre wondered where Heero had been, and if it mattered. He had sent Wing Zero, so he was still alive...
With the current crisis, it was certain that not only was Heero alive, but he would be fighting. Quatre knew from before that he could not do anything *but* fight, when the situation called for it. He was an unstoppable force unleashed upon his presumed enemies, and a large part of the reason the Gundam pilots were so feared. He'd been blown up, shot, gashed open, fallen from thirty-story buildings, been beaten and tortured, and still he fought.
Maybe this interruption of the peace came as relief for him, Quatre thought sadly. He wasn't sure Heero knew *how* to do anything but fight.
"Relena-sama is important for our peace," he replied, voice low. He turned from the window and faced Rasid with bright but serious eyes. "I'm sure that Heero knows that. And I'm sure that Heero is fighting. So surely, he will fight for her, too."
Rasid gave him a short nod. "Now, Quatre-sama," he continued, "I want to talk about this idea of yours to launch *yourself* at the satellite and recover the Gundams without our help..."
"But Rasid!" Quatre gave him his best wide-eyed innocent look. "You must see that by doing it myself, I won't be putting any of you in danger..."
Rasid folded his formidable arms, not fooled. "It's *our* job to make sure you don't put *yourself* in danger, Quatre-sama. And I'm sure Trowa-sama wouldn't appreciate us letting you do so."
Quatre flushed. "That wasn't fair, Rasid," he objected. "Besides, this is something I have to do."
"For the colonies?" Rasid raised an eyebrow, familiar with the argument.
"No," Quatre returned, his answer quietly undercutting Rasid's intensity. "For my friends."
* * *
"Waha! Easy as picking the locks on a pair o'handcuffs," Duo gloated, sliding behind the controls of the Leo.
"Don't be stupid," Heero's expressionless face gave him that parting shot as the other Leo powered up and marched out of the hangar.
Duo facevaulted at him. "Maaan! You take all the fun out of my life!" He thumbed his nose at the mini-stoic Heero and flipped off the viewscreen. The American pilot cracked his knuckles and clumped out of the hangar, angling directly for the colony's interior. "This's gonna be easier than penetrating a well-lubed..."
Heero's face flicked back onto his viewscreen. "Don't be vulgar, Duo," he said tonelessly, then flicked off again.
Duo's mouth twitched. He restrained the childish urge to flip off the vanished little image of Heero. "A well-lubed engine," he concluded with relish. "So there. Bbeeeda!"
His smile fell away moments after leaving the hangar, with the continued radio silence. That time in his quarters earlier had been so short, so unreal, it was easy to believe it'd never happened. It was easy to believe the only reason Heero had sought him out was to fight the good fight. And he wondered.
He spotted a mobile suit crossing junctions and hurled himself into the fray. "Shinei!! Wahahaha!" Duo laughed maniacally, shaking free the suit's beam sabre and slicing the suit in half. The two pieces fell to the deck, shorting out. "Can't have you spotting me and sounding the alarm..."
Well, fighting the good fight wasn't exactly something he was well-equipped to resist.
Duo grinned tightly, the controls playing easily under his grip. It had been a year but he fell fast into old patterns, it seemed.
Happiness eluded them, and fighting was the only thing they could understand.
* * *
Dekim Barton thumbed the intercom, a shark's crafty expression sliding over his features, masked as quickly. "I understand. Thank you for notifying me so quickly."
So, two of the kamikaze Gundam pilots had thrown their lives at L7-X18999, had they? They would soon learn that they were far outmatched in old Leos when pitted against the more recent technologies of their own Gundam, and the state-of-the-art mobile suit the Trowa imposter had been given. It was time for those two to prove their loyalties and the price was dear indeed.
Dekim pressed another button. "Have Chang Wufei and Trowa Barton suited up for combat immediately."
That smile flitted over his mouth again. The introduction of the Gundam pilots into the equation was only a minor imbalance to his plans and he was coping. By playing the one set against the other, he could clear the way to begin the *true* Operation Meteor, dropping the colony onto Earth if they continued to resist Marimeia's ultimatum, and then in the mass panic and confusion that resulted, seizing the opportunity to take control by force.
The Gundam pilots did *so* like to fight, and they did it so well...even against each other.
Turning back to his desk, Dekim picked up the personal line. "Have Marimeia and her....guest....escorted to the helicopter. We will be leaving the colony shortly."
"Hai, Dekim-sama," the soldier responded at once.
Whether the Gundam pilots blew each other up, or blew up parts of the colony, it didn't matter. Enough would still remain to come spinning down onto Earth, once it was triggered.
* * *
"Good thing these are the only Mobile Suits left," Duo's voice crackled over the open line between them. He knew as well as Heero himself did that they were running out of time. "You're just as tough as ever!" A touch of admiration rang through his cocky tone.
"Save it for later," Heero returned shortly. "We have to keep going now."
"Ryoukai!" Duo returned, his tone unmistakably pumped with his battle vigor.
Heero pivoted to face his opponent, barely aware now of the controls as he focused completely on the fight and the thrum of blood that rushed in his ears, spread across his tongue, making him alive again. The firefight was starting to heat up and he'd taken out two mobile suits already, and turned to face the third...
"A new Mobile Suit...?" Duo's voice was getting fainter over the open line. "SHIT!"
Heero didn't have time for whatever strong resistance Duo had encountered, as his Leo was slammed against the wall by the uncoiling furl of the powerful Dragon fist. Shenlong.
Heero's brow contracted. "Wufei." His Leo was pinned but the Dragon Fist withdrew, and Wufei's Gundam stepped forward.
"I was hoping to fight you," Wufei's voice rang through the cockpit, grim.
Shenlong lunged into action almost faster than thought, spinning the tremendous beam staff in a swift overcut. Heero parried with the Leo's beam sabre, gritting his teeth. Wufei wanted a fight? In this battered old Leo it wasn't much of a just fight.
"What do you want, Wufei?" he demanded through clenched teeth. The gears in the suit were squealing as he strove to meet Shenlong's strength.
"Are you serious?" Wufei demanded, with overtones of justice ringing in his tone. He sprang back, the tremendous Gundam still powerful and fast. He was outmatched.
Was he serious? Meaning...was he committed to this fight?
"I said, are you serious, you bastard!?" Wufei shouted at him.
"Wufei, hit the self destruct," Heero ordered him. His suit should have been destroyed along with theirs.
Shenlong lunged again. This time the attack sliced off his suit's left arm and it spun away, useless. Fortunately Heero had the beam sabre in the right fist but he fired the suit thrusters to compensate for the heavy-handed attack, darting back out of range as Wufei pressed his advantage, slashing the beam staff across his suit.
Heero evaded the attack in the badly-damaged Leo then set it down, popping the hatch. He hopped out of the cockpit. "I'm telling you again, Wufei. Hit the self destruct."
"Hn," Wufei's snort of disdain echoed over the intercom.
* * *
Duo finished off his opponents and darted into the next junction. So close. He was almost there. Then gunnery fire lanced across his viewscreen. "A new Mobile Suit...?" He fired the thrusters and scuttled around the corner. "SHIT!" He was pinned down by gunfire.
He peered around the corner and nearly got the suit's head blown off. "This guy's good," he sighed, dismayed. His eyes narrowed. "This guy...his fighting style..."
Duo's head snapped up and he tried to pivot around the corner again, almost getting himself killed. An image of the new suit's double-tiered guns overlapped with a memory of Gundam Heavyarms spraying its double-tiers everywhere, destroying all targets. "It's you! Bastard! TROWA!" Duo yelled, launching himself back around the corner and throwing all the firepower the old Leo had.
"You must have mistaken me; I'm not Trowa," the merciless tenor informed him over the radio line.
Duo nearly swore again. It *was* Trowa; the voice only confirmed it.
A red light began to flash in his cockpit. He'd been sighted on.
Duo jerked as the shoulder missiles blasted off, heading straight for him.
"This must be it..."
A glancing second was all he had. Eyes wide open, he looked straight into the face of what was coming for him. ~There is a moment...a moment in time...~
~Heero, there's a moment where it was forever.~
* * *
"I'm not Trowa. I'm the nameless soldier who has been on the battlefield since I was born."
The boy who called himself Trowa Barton watched with calm, expressionless eyes as two of the missiles impacted behind Duo's Leo, tearing holes in the deck plating, and the other two sped down the gleaming metal corridor.
Silently he withdrew from the battle.
* * *
Wufei regarded his opponent. How foolish. He'd stepped from his mobile suit and now he tossed out orders as if he expected them to be followed. He, Wufei, would show Yuy the true meaning of a fight and how deadly serious he was.
Shenlong started forward smoothly. A sensor alarm started to flash.
"Eh?" His head jerked around, and in a white scream two missiles flashed out of nowhere. They plowed into Heero's Leo and exploded.
He jerked on the controls and moved Shenlong back from the blast. When the smoke cleared, Yuy was gone.
Wufei's mouth tightened.
"We *will* finish our fight," he swore. Then he turned his attention to his direct line. It was time to leave this colony; Dekim's main force was on the move.
* * *
Slender vanes of steel spun in the air, revolving at hummingbird speed and twice that, then the chopper lifted. Relena remained composed in her seat, hands folded, watching the little girl watch her with disturbing, unchildlike eyes. At this point she was resigned to her hostage status, still unsure what they had kidnapped her for; maybe for nothing more than a symbol.
She glanced out the window, and her world wrenched and spun.
That lean, well-muscled body; the jeans that clung to the long legs, the contoured muscles of his upper torso barely concealed by his omnipresent green tank...
~Heero! He's come for me! He came to save me...!~ her thoughts leapt and fluttered like startled birds, and her eyes continued to track until they saw... ~He came to save me with *him.*~
Their faces were lifted up to the chopper.
Barely, eyes straining, Relena could make out the shape of his mouth. ~We're too late.~
She wanted to leap up, to wring her hands and tear at her long hair and pound on the window. It wasn't too late; it was never too late! He had come for her and that was something; whether he believed in her or the mission or saving the Earth he had come and for whatever reason his actions were right. A part of himself was saved for her, only her – she was the only one who knew Heero this way. She knew that he didn't really want to fight. He wanted to end it, as she did. He had come to risk his life and the moment stopped around her.
Pieces of a letter blew somewhere faintly in the back of her mind and Relena ignored it. They were growing smaller in the distance. There had to be a reason.
~Heero,~ her mind traced over his shape, the chiseled features and fierce eyes she knew so well.
There was nothing she could do to stop the relentless advance of the helicopter. But sudden faith was a taste in her mouth, looking at him.
Heero would come.
He had always returned to her before, like a homing pigeon on the ragged edges of fate, given to her care. He could come, even if he didn't want to, even despite the slender black-clad Duo beside him. He had to.
Neither of them had latitude for choice, anymore.
"Daijoubu desu ka?" Marimeia's thin childish voice interrupted her frozen moment.
Relena's eyes tore away from the window, returning with hesitation to the uncanny composed child with her slight, cunning smile.
"Yes. I'm fine," Relena returned, fighting to regain her own smooth diplomat's facade. Seeing Heero again, in such circumstances after so long, had shaken her. "Why do you ask?"
Marimeia gave her a long, measuring glance, another frighteningly unchildlike habit of hers. "You looked like you had a great weight upon your shoulder," she replied at length with a glinting impish smile. "You look like you saw a ghost!"
* * *
"Ahh~h, no one can follow them at that speed!" Duo lowered the binoculars he'd used to track Marimeia and Relena's helicopter. His tone wasn't particularly disappointed, and he tossed a smirk of a grin at Heero. "They must be going to the spaceport. They seem to be in a hurry for just going back to Earth."
"They're probably escaping," Heero returned, his tone curt and quiet.
"Escaping?" Duo glanced over at him in astonishment. "Then why did they gain control here?"
Duo started to glare at him. He was tired of being ignored, more than thoroughly sick of it. "Oi, oi! She *is* Treize's daughter, isn't she?"
"I'm more interested in the man named Dekim Barton," Heero returned, his voice still low. "Dekim Barton is the man who I remember."
"Is he serious?" Duo felt a sudden tight feeling in his stomach. "Is he really going to do Operation Meteor?"
"Aa. But I won't let him. Never."
Duo nodded slowly. They both knew without speaking the words that their lives were forfeit to this, if it became necessary.
"Since we're too late to stop them from taking Relena, we've got to stop them from taking the colony," Heero shot at him, beginning to race up the hall, his acquired submachine gun tucked securely in his arms.
Duo followed swiftly, a tight pained ache assaulting his breastbone. Unfair. This was unfair. He was so adamant, his cobalt eyes so relentlessly focused on Relena and his mission there was no room for him and he was forced to confront the stark realism that there might *not* be room, anymore. After a year of broken dreams and the bitter parting and dealing with blood-drenched hands on his own, there was too much suspicion between them. Heero needed him now because penetrating L3 was a two-man job.
He certainly didn't need him for his stunning conversational skills, or a love for the feel of his body.
Duo scowled at the taut back as they moved up the corridor. To hell with the woman scorned; he was a lovesick teenage boy scorned, and *he* had a submachine gun.
Heero tossed an explosive ahead of them, around the corner, and they flattened themselves against the wall. Cries of pain and shock rang out in tune with the earsplitting burst and their eyes clicked, as they both moved in unison. Feet moving steadily, they covered each other with controlled bursts of gunfire, lacing a path through the off-balanced soldiers. Duo yanked the pin out of another explosive and tossed it ahead of them as they hesitated a beat, synchronous with each other, then raced ahead again.
They hit the doors to the control room, Heero fumbling for the release button, and the doors snapped aside.
Both of them froze in shock. The room was strewn with the red-clad bodies of Marimeia's soldiers.
"You're late," Trowa informed them calmly from the central control chair.
"Yare, yare," Duo sighed. "I guess you have the same purpose." He grinned a tight grin. After Trowa's missiles had conveniently scored behind his Leo, his doubts had been purged.
"Help me out," Trowa tossed out. "The system is locked heavily and it takes time to get back the colony's balance control."
Heero slid into a seat, his fingers moving instantly over the keyboard.
"Hey, hey," Duo sighed, dropping into the third chair.
"We'd better hurry," Heero noted, voice cold and precise as ever. "It seems that Dekim's main force has already started the operation."
"The last lock can't be canceled," Duo put forth. "The circuit has to be lined directly."
"I have an important friend on this colony," Trowa told them. "When I noticed that Dekim's purpose is the real Operation Meteor I only thought this way. But it took so much time to get this much."
The true operation meteor could only work if the colony's speed was increased, and its internal controls were reset to destabilize the Lagrange point, sending the colony crashing down into the atmosphere, and subsequently Earth. Duo's fingers flicked over the keyboard. He was a mechanic more than a hacker like Heero, but even he could tell that they were going to succeed in ruining the attempts to destabilize the colony.
"How 'bout Wufei?" Duo added, caught by a stray thought. "Did he also become a soldier of Marimeia to stop this?"
"He doesn't do it in such a roundabout way," Heero replied, teeth clenched.
"Yosh'. That's it," Trowa said, and his fingers ceased clacking over the keyboard.
Duo activated his headset to contact Sally and Noin. They had succeeded in preventing a whole lot of flaming wreckage from falling to Earth...but what about Dekim's main forces?
* * *
Once again, Relena Peacecraft was on a shuttle descending to Earth. This time, however, her visit would not be marked with a falling star. The only thing descending this night would be the tears of Earth's citizens, as everything collapsed to pieces around her.
"Drop the colony onto Earth!?" Relena exclaimed, leaning forward in her chair. She seized Marimeia's shoulders. "Stop this right now! You shouldn't do this!" She shook the girl, distraught.
"Relena, please calm down," the girl returned, her face eerily composed. The simple rationale of her next sentence struck genuine terror into Relena's heart. "I don't need to do this if all humans kneel down in front of me."
Relena slowly released the girl's shoulders. She was insane.
"Do you really think you can make them?" Her own tone was composed, too. With an effort she forced her mask back into place. Getting emotional wouldn't help, with this grown-up child.
"It's possible if you, as Queen Relena, the world nation president, give me the highest position," Marimeia pointed out, her blue eyes placid.
"You are trusted as Minister of Foreign Affairs by the other colonies. Your authority has much more powerful influence than you think."
Relena felt numb. "*That's* why you..." She subsided back into her chair. She wasn't a living symbol to them. Her capture wasn't the result of a child's curiosity. It had been carefully orchestrated.
"You got that right." Marimeia smiled and smiled.
* * *
Duo turned back to Trowa and Heero, gritting his teeth. According to Noin and Sally, Dekim's main forces were approaching Earth, and nothing could stop them now. Nothing in Earth's pitiful defense complement. Peace had softened everyone.
"We didn't make it." Heero's flat declaration had overtones of ritual suicide. Duo winced.
"Don't mind it. It's enough to save the colony," Trowa returned.
But not Earth...
"You're completely surrounded!" the muffled crisp voice penetrated the cell. "Come out!"
"This is it," Heero uttered, his eyes burning.
He felt panic for an instant, before his headset beeped. Mail. "No, not so fast!" he lifted a hand, relieved. "I got mail from Quatre."
He flicked on the viewscreen and hid a smile as Trowa's eyes softened.
The golden-haired boy looked back resolutely. "This is Quatre. Now the waste matter satellite is heading to Earth. It will be in orbit within twenty-four hours."
~Yatta!~ He wanted to cheer. Whoop it up. Shinigami, old partner...here we come.
"Send a mail to Quatre," Heero told him. "Tell him to shoot Wing Zero into a parallel approach course with Earth."
"Nani!?" Duo yelped.
"I'll receive Wing Zero in space. It's faster and I will go there and get it," Heero said very calmly, as if he weren't discussing a suicidal rendezvous. There were so many things that could go wrong with that kind of touch-and-go meeting. Like ships passing in the night, but space was an awfully big sea to get lost in.
Duo met his eyes, silently pleading. Heero returned the gaze without even seeming to really look at him. That was it. It was a momentary flare, but enough to realize that his feelings didn't matter. Not worth a damn.
He turned away and composed the message.
"Open it here. OPEN UP!"
"There is a shuttle," Trowa told Heero swiftly. "You can find it in the number four hangar."
"Duo, I have another thing to ask you."
Duo closed his eyes as he pushed himself up out of the chair. He didn't want to hear it. Heero had already asked too much of him. "As usual," he sighed, forcing cheer. "You ask me for so many things."
*My body. My life. My heart.*
"NANI!?" Duo couldn't believe he was hearing correctly. No...no, he definitely couldn't have heard him right.
"Open up, NOW!"
Duo gathered himself. This was the perfect opportunity to vent a little frustration, and here was the pretty face that caused it all. "All right. You have to be ready for it... Iku ze!" He swung his arm in a wide half-arc, putting his entire weight into it, and his knuckles crashed into Heero's cheekbone. The blow was satisfyingly solid.
Heero was nearly knocked off his feet but the next thing he saw was burning cobalt eyes before he doubled over, hung on Heero's hard fist buried in his gut. Sparks flared in his eyesight.
Duo crumpled slowly, his face registering only utter shock, complete betrayal.
"N-nani o..." he gasped.
~Heero. You bastard.~
An eye for an eye. A blow for a blow. Gawaine had gotten his blow in and now the Green Knight had felled him, and was going to run off and save the Princess, win the keys to the kingdom, get married and have four brats with Heero's sullen eyes and Relena's gold hair. Shit.
"Don't feel bad. Once is once," Heero whispered in his ear, then draped him into Trowa's waiting arms.
"Take care of him," Heero said to Trowa so quietly he wasn't sure if he heard him correctly. Then, louder, "I'm counting on you to take care of the rest."
"Aa," Trowa returned as Heero lay down on the cold metal floor and feigned unconsciousness.
~Nani?~ Duo wanted to twitch. He lay limp over Trowa's arm, unable to resist, wanting only for the black-edged sparks to swallow up more than his vision.
~Heero. What a helluva way to say goodbye.~
He felt sick to his stomach from more than the punch.
Trowa let the guards open the door. "Don't worry. I did it. They stopped the plan, though....." he dissembled quickly.
Heero scrambled up from the floor and took off, pursued by demons.
"Matte!" Soldiers ran after him. "Matte-o!"
Duo slumped and closed his eyes. He knew he would never see him again.
~Heero, there's a moment where it was forever.~
~But it's gone, now. And I don't think I can do this dance a second time.~
 -- "Die" in Japanese, and I know I spelled the romaji wrong but I
don't have character inserts on this word processor. ^_^;;; Nitpickers,
 -- In the Japanese culture, they believe when you're haunted by a
ghost it sits on your shoulder, and makes it hurt.
Shining silver wings stroked their brilliance against the dark. They beat a path through his brain, clamped as he was in the cramping interior of a shuttle failing on life support. The life support hadn't been the best to start with and Heero had suited up, partly in his preparation for the jump from shuttle to Wing Zero's pod, mostly to divert all the frayed power of the shuttle's systems to its thrusters.
Wide, pleading indigo eyes fluttered on the outermost edge of his perception as his fingers moved surely over the controls.
His vision sought to gray out and Heero forced a pause, taking slow, regular breaths. But the oxygen supply wasn't at fault. That shocked expression, grating disbelief of a whisper forced out over the fist in his gut played ragged on the refrain for his own personal collection of self-hate. Duo might never forgive him for this. Not even if...
Knowing that time spilled through their hands, with direct news that Dekim's main forces approached Earth, there was only one thing to do. He could put himself in their path but only by getting there as fast as possible. Intercepting Wing mid-flight, in a parallel course to Earth. And then, he could buy the time with his own life for the other pilots to arrive on the scene and finish it.
Maybe Duo had known the sacrifice he truly intended, or maybe he had only recognized the dangers inherent in the suicidal leap from shuttle to pod. Whichever it was, Duo had begged him with his eyes not to do it and that tore at his soul more than anything, knowing that this only way would hurt the young man he loved more than his life. And Duo would have tried to stop him, or join him on a certain path to death and above all he couldn't allow that.
So he'd punched him.
Starshine glitter glazed over the seemingly composed face as Heero's mouth tightened. He didn't need to close his eyes for instant replay to offer that moment to scrutiny. He deserved Duo's hate but maybe, if he was lucky...maybe Duo would understand once he died.
He hadn't intended for things to happen this way. Dekim had been a cunning bastard and moved his forces twenty-four hours sooner than his earliest estimate, dictating Heero's own movements in response. The original plan had been to stop Dekim cold at L3, or take off for Earth with Duo if Quatre managed to retrieve their Gundams.
Now he would die placing himself against the descending ships, and never know if Duo could forgive him or would live thinking he'd been betrayed.
A flicker's gleam of sun-limned metal cut through space and across his sensors. He was so close to Earth now, almost falling into its shadow. His fist slammed down on the controls and shunted all shuttle functions and remaining power to its thrusters.
Quiet and curt, he lifted his face to the sun-molten window as the little craft leapt forward. There were other words he would have preferred to utter, to a heartbreakingly beautiful boy with a naughty quirked grin and ready affection, but there had been no time. Maybe he'd already taken the best fate had offered them, and scorned the better happiness by not grasping it quickly enough a year ago.
The only thing he knew, eyes fixed resolutely on the long pod that cut a sparkling trail through space, was that as he made his last stand the best memories, the only ones with any hope or tenderness in his life, would be of Duo.
*Duo. I'm sorry.*
He bowed his head for an instant, teeth clenched, body strung tightly with readiness. A languid face swam before his eyes for an instant, familiar teasing smile crossing those lips. Gathering the long brown fall of hair into both hands, then sweeping the brush across it. Waking up to a wriggling warm bundle of sleep-mussed but still-smiling Duo.
His lips compressed tightly. *Duo...I never meant to break the one promise I made you.*
Fingers splayed over the control panel as he adjusted the shuttle's course to come as close as possible to Wing's pod without metal kissing metal. The crux of this shuttle-to-pod leap was exactly that -- it was a leap and if he didn't catch a handhold, he would spin into the deep black, unrecovered. That more than anything else, no doubt, had evoked Duo's protest. Duo hadn't known he intended to die, anyhow.
And he didn't know that Heero struck to prevent him from following his path. He only knew the agony driving into his solar plexus.
With light fingers he gingerly touched the mark Duo had left on *his* skin. Duo certainly hadn't pulled his punch. God only knew he hadn't deserved it, anyhow.
His mouth drew into a bitter-thin line. If he kept thinking on it, if he kept reliving that moment he would die sooner than he intended, making a mistake during the jump. Right now he had to be focused. Here and now, he lived to fight.
His fingers danced over the controls once more, coaxing the worn shuttle into a last burst of speed. This was it. This was his one chance. He made one last aleration to the shuttle, fixing its course, then turned to the hatch.
As it blew open all the minimal air gushed out of the shuttle in one blast and Heero used its force to fling himself across the gap, a dizzying moment of vertigo striking him head-on. He hit the pod and bounced a foot, his hands searching furiously for a handhold, meeting only smooth purchase.
Hopeless thought welled thick as he slid down the smooth gleaming metal, twisted in weightless space and saw the pod's surface roaring past him. He'd hurt Duo for nothing; he was going to die for something completely useless and now he'd managed to fail an entire Earth.
*Ganbatte...Heero, ganbatte yo!*
It was Duo's husky tremulous voice resonating at his ear and Heero's eyes snapped wide open. He *would not* fail.
Not this time.
He reached for the pod jetting beneath his space-suited body and his fingertips caught hold at last. A shaky breath of relief welled in his throat but he kept it back, clinging with all the strength of his body, muscles screaming as he worked open the hatch.
Heero spilled into the dark overheated space of the pod, relief clogging his pores. Alive. Duo's voice had brought him back, even at the instant he resigned himself to failing his jump and drifting to slow death.
Swiftly Heero climbed into the cockpit of his Gundam, shedding the constriction of the space-suit and breathing deep of the stale air. He shut off the pod's thrusters and powered Wing up, bringing the sleeping giant into readiness.
Shining silver wings cleaved the darkness, splitting deep space into pieces with their shards of white reflection. Wing Zero burst free of its constraints and the glittering metal feathers beat soundlessly, treading vacuum. With a fierce soundless cry Heero sped his partner into action, once more into the fight, with only one fixed intention.
In Death's eyes, redemption.
* * *
He lay on his side quietly where they had dumped him roughly, moments before. His stomach still felt sore and he tried to remember the last time he'd eaten, failed, and could only think that it had been sometime before the last time Heero had made love to him.
The last time.
"I think Quatre should be here any moment now..." he mused, turning his mind back to the problem at hand.
Duo's manacled hands lifted and he plucked free a few small metal strips from his hair, just behind the ear. The soldiers who had dumped him in here had searched him but not too thoroughly. The metal shackles dropped to the floor and he shoved them away with a foot, making a face in distaste.
He sat up and took a moment to re-orient himself. He and Trowa were still
here on L3, and by now Heero was gone. Heero... Almost involuntarily Duo's hands lifted to the neck of his red shirt and he pulled a thin body-warmed chain from beneath the fabric.
Duo huffed slow steady breath in and out, pursuing the progress of the pale glitter swinging from his fingers, catching the meager light that seeped through the crack under the door. After regaining breath with only a dull seeping ache of his gut memorizing the imprint of Heero's fist, he'd roused himself enough to realize Trowa wasn't going to conveniently let him out, so he had to do it himself. The dimensions of the cell they'd locked him in were small, and dark.
Not unlike the one Heero had rescued him from, when he'd managed to get himself captured a year and a half ago.
A hint of a smile uptilted his mouth as his eyes tracked the pendulum motions of the chain threaded through his fingers. At the base of each circuit the heavy weight of a golden ring concentrated the motion. Heero had saved his life at that time. He had to wonder, as purposeful as his partner's actions were, if this wasn't another kind of saving. Because damn if he wouldn't have followed him, if nothing else had stopped him first.
At least he'd been fair.
A chuckle dropped into the silence of the cell, shattering it. He fisted the gleam of chain and ring and rose to his feet in one lithe movement. More than fair -- Heero's high cheekbone would be decorated by now with a decent re-creation of his knuckles.
"Iku ze!" he declared, clutching the lifeline of his ring. Heero hadn't asked about it, before. Probably because he didn't want to renew promises before this was over, promises he might not be able to...
Duo's eyes dilated wider in darkness. "Kuso," he breathed, hands starting to shake. To occupy them he took hold of the chain again and slipped it around his neck. 'Forever together.' Maybe he hadn't renewed that promise, not because he didn't want to but because he thought he wouldn't be able.
Heero intended to die.
The realization made him snap back to attention, made the battle-fires burn more fiercely. No wonder Heero had k.o.'d him, because he *would* have followed. If only to prevent Heero from doing something so fatalistic. Only he hadn't counted on Duo's determination.
"Heero no baka," he muttered, tucking his ring back into the neck of his shirt. Moving to the door he slipped his lockpicks into his hands. He was mildly annoyed that Trowa hadn't seen fit to stop by and liberate him, but Trowa had always done things his own way. There was a prick of irritation, though, knowing that if it had been Quatre locked in a lightless cramped cell he would've been out of here in a jiffy.
He paused with the door wedged half-open by his foot and groped for the hidden ring, abruptly superstitious. "Saa... Ganbatte...Heero, ganbatte yo!" he spoke the words, voice growing thick and nearly stopping altogether. "Come back to me, willya?"
If anything, he reasoned as he darted up the corridor, making as a slim shadow to the shuttle bay, so that he could hurl curses at Heero like a shrieking fishwife for such a dirty trick.
Someone spotted him and sounded the alarm and Duo ran like hell, dodging gunfire as he barrelled into the shuttle bay, leaping in near zero-gee into the open door of the shuttle that was powering up. Time to make his escape.
"Yo!" Duo hailed the silent figure in the pilot's chair. Trowa had ditched the uniform of Marimeia and his arms folded as he waited patiently. "That was very kind of you. You could've at least helped me," Duo said cheerfully, letting only a little of his irritation color his voice.
"I wasn't waiting for you," Trowa returned.
"Oh?" Duo widened his eyes. Well, who else...?
"Okay, guys, I rescued all the colony hostages!" a feminine voice filled the shuttle. Duo blinked furiously as Sally Po approached the cockpit.
"Good, let's get going," Trowa said calmly, and began to coax the throttle forward.
"Hai, hai..." Duo sighed. "I see everything now." He put a hand to his head, expression growing abashed.
"Arigato, Duo," Sally turned her warm, almost amused smile on him. "For saving some leftovers."
"You better not mean that sarcastically!" Duo lifted his chin, tossing the braid around. He gave her a grin.
And now, truly, the only thing left was to fight the good fight.
* * *
Relena moved forward with hands clasped, head bowed. Earth was going to surrender, and there was no one left to fight. Heero...where was Heero? Had he written her off as a lost cause? He owed her his life and with it he'd never stopped fighting, so where was he now?
Marimeia's reign of terror would begin now, so barely after Christmas. The blonde girl pressed her face against her hands.
It was a delicately-wrought irony that this old-eyed child, Treize's daughter, sought to carry forward his obsolete power-grasping plans not only after Absolute Pacifism had become a widely-embraced ideal but after Treize himself had given up his intentions. Marimeia sought to uphold a truly finished ideal of domination.
Her back was still straight as she moved forward into the room, a new prison, ushered by soldiers. It made her want to laugh -- she was a *pacifist,* God knew...what could she do to resist them? It was times like this, though, that called her simon-pure ideals into question. By giving in, by not fighting, they subjected Earth to a reign of terror, of Dekim's puppet dictatorship. Yet the only way for peace to be preserved was by Heero's fighting spirit, by him and the others when she had urged him time and again not to fight. Yet what was the worth of a peace bought not by people and their true desires, but the strength of a sword or mobile suit?
If they didn't fight, Earth would fall.
If they fought, there was war. More death and suffering.
She had fought someone, before. A bitter metallic tang welled up at the back of her throat. She was still sickened by her own actions towards Duo Maxwell, more than a year ago. It only convinced her more firmly than ever that fighting was not the answer; could never be a solution and only bred more hatred and conflict. Heer had given her that stern lesson in the return blow that had splintered her vision into fiery shards of pain.
She continued to stare out the window at the stars. Really it was the only thing she could do.
"Heero," she uttered, quiet, against the silent frosted stretches of window that revealed an equally reticent stretch of sky. "Oh!!"
Relena lurched forward and braced herself against the sill as the entire mansion trembled and shook, rocking in its moorings like a ripping faultline had seized control. With wide incredulous eyes she watched the window swallowed up by turf, then earth, and then steel girters and plate rose flush against the glass as the building continued to sink.
When descent finally grated to a halt, they had passed through six gates into a steel bunker deep underground.
Relena regarded the dark opaqueness of the glass, so recently clear and showing starshine, with amazement.
Now, she wouldn't be able to see Heero's approach.
"Now my castle has attained perfection."
The thin childish treble pierced the air and Relena turned from the now-useless window to confront Marimeia's satisfied complacent eyes.
"Do you find it strange? That a shelter like this is necessary in a peaceful world, without arms?" Her tinkling laughter cut cruelly over the ears. "History can be compared to an Endless Waltz. War, peace, and revolution repeats itself like the triple time in a waltz...But history will change with my succession. I will rule over the Earth Alliance with the passing of the year A.C. 196. It will be the coming of a new era."
So reasoned. So logical. Relena regarded this little girl with the same astonishment of a clear pane turned dark.
* * *
The great gleaming bulk of Tallgeese had settled to Earth, buster guns temporarily exhausted. He had pitted himself, a lone fighter, against the advancing fleet but the threat of dropping the colony on Earth had been enough to force a retreat, eventually, despite his attempt to fight. Zechs Marquise stood on the open hatch of the cockpit, regarding the slender dark figure with astonishment. He had tried to stop Dekim's descending forces while still in space, and failed. Now the brunt of breaching the defense lines on Earth fell to him -- one of the few fighters left -- before it was indeed too late.
*Zechs Marquise! You're still alive...*
*No, I'm dead. But I sleep uneasily in the coffin so long as the ghost of Treize is still around.*
He shook his head sharply to dispel the strange fanciful sensation of that lingering spirit. It wasn't malicious. More...it was regretful. Treize would not have wanted *this.*
"Noin. I didn't ask you to join me, nor do I expect you to do so now," Zechs put forth, dropping down from the hatch to the ground. The words were curt and he regretted them the instant they left his lips.
Noin's face clenched like a fist. "I know that, Zechs-sama," she replied steadily. "I also know that despite even *your* reaction time, you can't expect to assault the defense lines of Dekim's forces alone and survive to reach Marimeia's stronghold."
"Noin, you've only got an old Taurus--" he began his protest, and was cut off.
"Zechs-sama!" she said sharply. "You are willing to lay down your life for Earth's freedom, for the peace your sister dedicated herself to build. Are you denying me the same strength of conviction?"
Her slender body vibrated like a taut bowstring, and her hands were fisted at her sides. He had the irrational conviction as she spat the words at him so fiercely that she would've shaken a fist in his face if she hadn't held him in such high respect. He stared at her, and saw the figures of men, her own students, who had fallen in battle. He saw the pieces of a life she had devoted to first his own, and then his sister's ideals.
"Noin..." he breathed, troubled. He'd underestimated her strength, again.
The young lieutenant continued aggressively, mistaking his emotion for doubt. "I have fought as a warrior as much as you. I have the same right to commit myself to the battlefield even when I can already judge its outcome. But Relena-sama -- iie, her peace -- deserves our true willingness to preserve it with our lives."
Zechs took the step that separated them and grasped her shoulders. "Enough." Noin angled her head and her eyes continued to glare at him, dark angry sparks.
"Zechs-sama..." she protested.
"Enough, Noin. Mou ie. You're right, and I have never doubted your commitment," Zechs interrupted her. "I didn't hink I possessed the right to ask you to throw your life away, nor do I think you should. But should you choose to follow me..." He gave her a searching once-over.
Noin gave him a quick nod, long dark bangs sweeping over her cheek like immense lashes. The angry flare of her eyes had softened to that worshipful shine he detested.
He wasn't worthy of her devotion.
"Should you choose to follow me, Noin, I can only urge you to do your best."
Noin's back went ramrod-straight and he could almost feel the military *click* of her heels. "Hai! Zechs-sama!"
* * *
*Have you come to watch the end of the world?* Sloe-dark eyes confronted him with passionate fury from a slim bronze face. *Have you come to fight ~against~ all you had fought for?*
The face lengthened, shifted, became an older, world-weary aquiline profile. *Would you destroy all we died for, young dragon?*
The drama had been playing against the insides of his eyelids for more than ten minutes, maybe more than twenty -- an immeasurable length of time, but Wufei was nevertheless alert. He drifted, Nataku a spot of light wheeling a dance at the Earth's edge thousands of miles above the ponderous ballet of the mobile suits seizing control on the ground below. Dekim hadn't ordered him to take watch here. He had taken it upon himself.
Heero would be coming.
His intermittent harsh breath was the only thing that interrupted the stuffy air. He wondered as he dozed, half a meditation, half a reliving of the moment when his colony had exploded, if Nataku would approve of the course he had undertaken now. These events, this dance had begun as a fight for justice, a continuation of Nataku's will, a woman fierce and unclaimed by evil. Now he had joined Marimeia's endless waltz of destruction because fighting was the only way he knew.
There was no home to go back to. No triumphal procession or honors to be bestowed. No Meiran to admit that he had measured up to he--to Nataku's standards.
No Treize, to admit defeat.
Without all this, there was no rest, as there was no rest for the wicked and so he continued to fight.
The cockpit lurched with light from the sensors. Someone approached Earth rapidly.
"There you are," Wufei muttered, teeth clenched, gleaming dark eyes flickering to fix on the approaching pinpoint of light. He flexed for a moment, muscles flowing into a state of battle readiness. Then he operated the inter-cockpit communications band.
"I can't allow you to go to Earth!" he hurled the words at Yuy as he fired up Shenlong's thrusters into an intercepting course, Yuy's Wing Zero rocketing straight for him and he simultaneously unfurled the Dragon Fist in a vicious strike.
Heero evaded the lash by mere meters, the tremendous glittering wings beating vacuum.
"Is this what you call justice?" Yuy flung back, the controlled edge of his anger burning over the open line.
That thorn had already been pricking his side and now it dug deeper. Wufei shoved those considerations aside. He was already locked into this fight. "There are always some victims when trying to achieve peace," he returned with cold precision, shaking loose his thermal staff. Green fire sputtered against cold space.
In response the beam saber snapped into Wing Zero's fist and it flared to life. Heero would fight him. Heero was committed, as he was, to this battle.
"Evil is the only option left to me," Wufei snapped, but it wasn't truly Yuy he was talking to and he knew it. It was a justification for Nataku's sake, of the actions that shamed him. "The world hasn't changed no matter what humanity tries to do!"
There would be other Marimeias, he reasoned. There would be more people rearing for war, thirsty for power, hungry to fight.
Wufei spurred Shenlong into action and struck overhanded; Yuy parried and they were locked for an instant before they spun away.
"The more you fight, the more victims for peace will die," Wing's pilot told him, voice rigid.
He *had* to fight. Wufei's brow furrowed. Yuy more than anyone should understand that. Fighting was all they two had left. In a way they, two fighters, had been heading for this fight all the time and the difference separating them was that Yuy thought he was fighting for peace.
He, Wufei, could admit that the only thing he fought for anymore *was* the fight.
And *that* was why he questioned if Yuy was serious. Seriously deluded.
"We have no reason to fight anymore."
Yuy's words rang hollow in his ear as he sprang, beam saber poised, to slash down and Wufei jerked the controls back, spinning the thermal staff. He struck again and was blocked. Again they wrenched away and put space between them.
"So you're saying we have no need for fighters anymore?" Wufei shouted. He would force Yuy to look into the teeth of their dilemma. "What will happen to all the fighters who know nothing but war!?"
"Soldiers have been fighting for peace," Yuy shot back. "Put some trust in the world that lies here now!"
"I'm fighting for all the soldiers, including you and me!" Wufei snarled, twisting the throttle and sending Shenlong forward to strike. Wing Zero dodged and he pressed his attack, slamming the thermal staff against the unyielding bulk of Gundam, slashing upwards. "We're both the same! Aren't we at our prime when in battle?"
Only silence answered him as Yuy responded defensively, the beam saber grating up against the long gundanium pole of the green-sparking staff. They plummeted into the atmosphere as he pressed his advantage. Wufei clenched his teeth and struck again.
Wing Zero wrenched away and they spun down further towards Earth.
The voice was quiet, an electronic pair of syllables reaching his ears.
"The battlefield is the only place where we can realize our existence!" Wufei raged at him, wanting Heero to admit it, wanting him to agree that he was right and fight *back* at him instead of just responding defensively. Because if Wufei admitted that *he* was in the wrong, then he was fighting, and people were dying below, for nothing.
"Wufei. Treize is DEAD. He defeated you!"
Wufei reeled behind the controls and Shenlong lurched forward in a clumsy attack. "Chigau! I'm still at war with him!"
Heero parried his clumsy attack and spun away again.
"Relena Peacecraft is wrong," Wufei tried to force his voice to sound reasonable. "Peace can't be gained by doing away with arms and soldiers."
"Is that why you support Marimeia's dictatorship?"
She fought. There would always be fighting, and Wufei could no longer live with anything less. "That's where all the fighters' souls rest!"
"Marimeia will do nothing but repeat this miserable history!" Heero shouted at him. "If we don't stop the flow now, it'll be necessary for more fighters like ourselves! The tragedy will repeat itself forever. Tell me, Wufei...how many times must we kill!?"
Heero closed his eyes. He could tell that Wufei was no longer listening to him; hadn't listened to him from the moment he had opened his mouth. Wufei was firmly locked into his own private battle and only he could extricate himself from it. *How many more times must I kill that little girl and her dog?* He wanted to turn his face away from fighting. He wanted it to end. *How many more times must I be torn from the one I love?*
*Heero...if you love me...*
*If I love you, what?*
It had been in Duo's eyes. The sum of his plea had been issued from those
expressive violet eyes, although he hadn't said a word. *Heero...If you love me,
you wouldn't leave like this. You wouldn't throw yourself into space.*
Heero cut power to the thrusters.
Wing screamed a path through the air as it plummeted, gleaming silver wings wrapping around the sheen of a blocky metal body. He knew Wufei was watching with astonishment and no small disdain. "Zero will not say anything to me. So tell me! Wufei!"
Once more the ocean reached up to enclose his failure.
Dimly, over the intercom, he heard the answer.
"The tragedy will repeat itself forever..."
* * *
Duo frayed the end of his braid nervously between his teeth as Quatre did the final check. They had gotten here so quickly but he had to wonder if they had gotten here in time. His eyes flickered of their own volition to the empty cradle that had housed Wing Zero. The other thing he had been doing, silently, fervently, since leaving L3 had been offering up a prayer for Heero's safety. It was the only thing he could wish for until they entered the battle themselves.
"Is everyone ready?" Quatre's determined voice filtered through all three
More than ready.
"Aa! Any time!" Duo responded at once. He was itching to enter the battle. He was nearly trembling with readiness to fight. ...And, of course, to see if Heero lived or had died.
"So, Operation Meteor was unavoidable..." Trowa murmured, his tone fatalistic.
Duo made a face at old Gloom-and-Doom. That was what they were here for, to lay down their lives in return for everybody's safety. They were here to *stop* Operation M.
It was almost laughable, really. He grinned tightly to himself. From the very start that had been their only purpose, Operation Meteor's execution. It had been the only reason he and Heero had met. And now here they were, fighting against it and the Barton group.
"Iki masu!" Quatre declared, hitting the shuttle bay door release. "Here we go!"
They spilled out into freefall, three bright spots of light plummeting to Earth like tailless comets.
*Please, Heero...please. Just don't die.*
* * *
In the strategy room of the mansion buried far below ground under steel girters and gates, an officer leapt up from his post, surprise scrawled across his features.
"Tallgeese and a Taurus broke through the third line of defense at point D!" he called out, shocked. They had expected no resistance.
"What can only two units do?" Dekim responded with contempt. "Move the attack force to point D!"
"Ryoukai!" the officer saluted crisply and signaled the communications officer.
"What a pointless battle," Marimeia smirked.
Relena eyed the little girl. There wasn't the slightest thought of defeat in her mind. But she knew it. She knew. Heero would come.
* * *
Tallgeese sped overhead and cut thrusters, dropping to the ground and slicing two mobile suits in half. Faster than thought Zechs pivoted, jetting forward once again, blasting away from the two remaining surprised opponents, who aimed their heavy beam guns at him and blasted away.
They were losing ground.
"This will never end," he noted, resignation filling his voice.
"It's not time to say goodbye just yet, Zechs," Noin's fierce voice reminded him, sounding wry. Her own Taurus still blasted steadily away at the defensive lines, as staunch as the woman who piloted it.
"Of course not!" he returned, his own fire returning to his voice. He sped forward again to slash and retreat, and out of the corner of his eye saw Noin lurch under a heavy barrage. He turned to go to her aid.
A descending mobile suit sparked, then an explosion burst from its torso. Noin and Zechs stared in surprise as it rained in fiery pieces to the ground.
"What just happened!?"
Her surprise and disbelief strained their open line.
Gundam Sandrock emerged from the smoke of debris and the rain of gunfire, its twin gleaming thermal crescents brandished and smoking hot.
"Quatre!" Noin exclaimed joyfully.
"You two have already taken out most of them," Quatre opened communications, his young tenor firm and determined. "You fought all this time and managed not to kill any of the soldiers. We appreciate that. This is only the beginning."
*A new beginning, to this fight,* Zechs thought, not without some gratitude.
Gundam Deathscythe soared overhead, a dark inky shadow that thundered to the ground. With a broad sweep of the blazing thermal scythe, he harvested the heads of four mobile suits. Spraying electric discharge, they fell useless to the turf. "I'll take you all down to Hell!" Duo shouted gleefully.
"Two hundred fifty left," Trowa observed, the twin sets of double-tiered guns spraying machine gun fire across the battlefield. Gundam Heavyarms vaulted into the air every bit as gracefully as the lean young pilot, then plummeted down behind a very surprised batch of soldiers. "That's fifty for each of us. We should at least get rid of all the mobile suits." He blasted the suits to pieces with the double-armed cannons.
Despite the bravado of the three young Gundam pilots, they were outnumbered and soon to be overwhelmed. Dekim's forces were not bad fighters and soon they were battered down by the superior numbers. After a half an hour of close fighting, the addition of the Gundam pilots began to lose its edge as more of Dekim's soldiers poured in to fill the gap of the already-fallen soldiers. Dekim feared the Gundam pilots. Looking around the field of so much scrap metal, wryly Zechs knew why. He had always known the boys were strong, perhaps stronger than himself. But they were starting to take a beating. The only option for him, though, was to continue to fight.
But these boys were too young to die.
"You Gundam pilots -- leave us two here and retreat!" Zechs shouted at them.
"R-retreat?" Quatre's boyish voice faltered over the line. "What's the point of us being here, then? I came here knowing the danger of this."
"Anyhow, there are still too many." Quatre's voice was cheerful again as he swiveled to slice a semi-circle of mobile suits closing on him. They crumpled, suits showering sparks.
"I would've retreated in the first place if we couldn't win!" Duo added cheerfully. "Though I've gotta admit this is one tough battle!" He chuckled, a sound that brimmed with dark humor. Deathscythe-Hell burst into the air then cut thrusters, plowing into two more suits as Duo used the butt of the scythe to take out one suit, then smashed the glowing green arc of the thermal blade into the other.
Gundam Heavyarms' cannons played over the field again and sputtered up empty. "The enemy is just like what we once were. They're manipulated under Dekim's orders."
"But--" Quatre protested.
"Maa, don't worry about it," Duo's voice was strangely gentle. "I'm not good at fighting losing battles anyway."
"Let's get this over with," Quatre's voice returned, firm.
Zechs listened to the boys in astonishment, and felt...humble. These boys, these seemingly fragile former pawns of the war, had turned up again stronger than ever. The ideals he fought for seemed engraved into their souls.
"Oi, Zechs!" Duo's cheerful voice snagged his attention as he crushed three more suits in swift succession, plying the whirling scythe.
"Aa?" he replied, distracted and firing the buster gun down a corridor crammed with the suits.
"Ne....Did you see Wing Zero on the battlefield? Has he entered the fight?"
Zechs frowned and turned to aid Noin, sweeping a mobile suit off her back with the muzzle of the long gun. "....No, Duo. Heero hasn't been fighting."
The reply was so soft it was swallowed by gunfire.
* * *
"Those brats!" Dekim fumed. "They refuse to stop, don't they?"
"Even if they destroy all our mobile suits, they'll never make it in here," Marimeia returned complacently.
The officer leapt up from his post again. "Sir! The Gundams have ceased their fire!"
Marimeia beamed up at Relena. "See?"
* * *
Gundam Heavyarms' cannons had been clacking empty for fifteen minutes. Duo swiveled and sliced through another suit, watching in dismay as Quatre's Sandrock nearly went to his knees under a heavy barrage. They were so close -- they had managed to punch through the line and reach the area where Marimeia's sheltered mansion was. But their suits were being slowly pounded to pieces.
"I'm out of ammo," Duo called back. He'd been out for even longer, but only now were they taking a true beating. "I can clear the remaining half with my self-destruction device."
Heero hadn't been here. Heero, who had come to fight. By now....if he wasn't here... Duo bit his lip and swung the scythe, screaming rage as he crushed through another wave of oncoming suits.
"We three are enough to die," Trowa warned. "Don't get anyone else in the blast."
"Ri--right." Duo's mouth firmed. He was ready. A grin curled his lips. *Heero. I guess I'll see you in Hell, after all.*
Sensors lit up, redlining all over his control panel. The alert shrilled a warning in his ear and Duo cursed, blasting back from his opponents to give him space to breathe. What the hell--!?
He heard Quatre and Trowa exclaim in surprise.
Duo scowled at the sensors. "Overhead!" His voice clogged in his throat as he lifted his face to the sky.
"Wing Zero!?" Zechs breathed the surprised cry in his stead.
* * *
Heero stared grimly down the long barrel of the buster gun. "Target...locked on."
As he opened a channel to the sheltered mansion below, he could hear pandemonium reigning in the control room. "Another Gundam detected!" someone cried.
Heero barely smiled, the taut expression flitting over his mouth then gone. He sent the request for connection.
"Dekim-sama...we received a message from the Gundam's pilot."
Relena's voice cried out in the background, as he received the visual input from the control room several hundred feet below. Dekim's upright figure was in the foreground, staring at him with hard eyes. Behind him, the diminutive girl, Marimeia, regarded him with a curious, strangely adult expression, completely composed. The blonde Peacecraft stood beside her, still in dress uniform.
"Let me verify," Heero gazed at them all with impassionate eyes. "The shelter shield is up?" He kept his thumb hovering over the trigger. The target was still within his sights.
"What are you thinking of?" Dekim demanded, suspicious.
"The shelter is complete, is it not?"
"Of course!" Dekim blustered.
"Show how powerless you are," Marimeia added.
He pulled the trigger.
Wing Zero jerked midair as the tremendous power of the buster gun exploded, a column of white-hot energy searing down to earth. It hit the steel target below and he had the moment's satisfaction of seeing uncertainty flit across Dekim Barton's features.
"Bring the serpent force here...!" Dekim ordered as Heero cut his visuals and the control room vanished from his screen. "Take down Wing Zero!"
Heero's hands flicked over the controls. On the battlefield below, he could see the tiny figures of the three Gundams, with Tallgeese, fighting the forces that were still left. An arrow of suits broke off combat and spun into the air. They were heading for him.
His eyes sought out the barely-visible shadow of Deathscythe-Hell before he wrenched his attention back to the controls. He increased the buster gun's tolerances swiftly, ignoring the alarms that rang through the cockpit, and fired again.
The buster gun exploded once more, its increased power burning a track to the shelter. He listened to the alarmed cries from the control room again, satisfied with the exchange as the force of the explosion blew off Wing's left arm. That still left him with the right arm to grip the gun with.
"Impossible!" he heard Dekim's vague cry as his sensors told him the shelter could only withstand one more hit. It would require diverting all of Wing Zero's remaining power to the buster gun, leaving not even enough of the mobile suit to land it.
A fair price to pay.
"Shield strength down to one-half!" the officer in the control room confirmed his own readings, probably unaware that there was still an open audio line between them. "...The shelter will collapse with one more hit!"
So would his Wing, but it didn't matter.
"Stop it! Relena Peacecraft is here, you idiot!" Dekim railed at him.
He sighted again.
His head jerked to the side, where a husky voice had startled him out of all context. Wide violet eyes stared back at him, then the heart-shaped face broke into a rueful smile. "Heero, if you love me..."
Shit. Duo must have been monitering. And his own Deathscythe's sensors would tell him that not only could the shelter not withstand another hit, but Wing would be blown to pieces, too. "What, Duo?" His voice cracked. His finger was on the trigger. "...Duo. Tell me. And this time I'll do it, I swear to you." Even if he lost this fight.
Duo scraped jagged bangs out of his eyes, and his face was resolute. "If you love me, you'll do your best. We can't turn away from this fight."
The sidescreen flickered and went blank, and with it Heero's breath left in a rush.
His eyes turned flat and grim. "Yosh'." His finger tightened.
* * *
Relena regarded the viewscreen where Heero's face had so recently played, her hands clasped, her face composed.
"Stop it! Relena Peacecraft is here, you idiot!" Dekim was shouting at the grayed-out screen.
Relena bowed her head, a small smile touching her lips. "Heero."
Beside her, Marimeia gasped.
There was a moment of eerie silence. And then, that faultline seized control again, as the room burst to pieces around them and the ceiling fell in. Fires broke out all through the control room as the building continued to shake. The shelter was collapsing.
Relena looked up in terror as a piece of smoking, charred debris began to fall, and then she was a body in motion, tumbling across the floor, the heavier weight of someone else pinning her down.
"Are you all right?"
She blinked in astonishment at Une. Lady Une -- one of the Preventors! But how... Relena coughed furiously as the smoke continued to drift.
"Who are you?" Marimeia demanded.
Relena choked, but with laughter this time.
Saved. Heero had saved her.
* * *
"There goes another self-destruct system to waste..." Trowa sighed.
Duo flicked his eyes sidewise at Trowa's Gundam, unsure how to take that. Then Quatre started to laugh and with relief, he joined in. His stomach was sinking.
Wing Zero had fallen in pieces from the sky.
"It’s over!" Quatre cried out, sounding flushed and excited. "It’s over, Heero did it and we’ve won!"
"Hai," a harsh voice returned, and a sensor warning beeped on Duo’s control panel. He slapped it; Wufei’s Gundam Shenlong was approaching. "Heero did it, and now there is no more need to fight." He sounded regretful, in a way, overlaid with a trace of cynicism but the bronze face that flicked onto all their viewscreens was resolute.
"Heero did it!" Quatre cried again, an excited smile taking over his face.
Duo dredged up a weary-scarred smile and gave him a thumb’s up. His attention was still fixed on the smoldering wreckage of twisted silver wings and titanic body parts that had rained down onto the periphery of the shelter.
*Heero.* From a distance, only using augmented sensors could he spot the lean tousled body emerging from the cockpit, tumbling to the ground and then hitching his way to the inward-bent, still white-hot edges of the hole he had punched through the shelter’s defenses.
*What the hell are you doing?*
* * *
Une's face was composed as she stood behind them. The communications section was still working, and cries of people from all around the world rang through the room. Cheers and support for the Gundam pilots who had saved them.
Gundam Shenlong had showed up at the head of a crowd of people who asserted their rights for peace.
"Thus Gundam is accepted among the people," Une murmured. "It is not the winner who moves peoples' hearts."
Relena smiled at the astonished, wondering look on Marimeia's upturned face.
"Silence!" Dekim thundered. "There is no defeat for us! The Barton family is the true ruler of the Earth Alliance!" He struggled upright, waving a gun around the char-filled air. "Marimeia-sama! You must ascend the throne immediately!"
"I...I am the winner..." The girl returned, her eyes dazed, as she began to move forward. "I must succeed my father's wishes..."
Une darted around her, swift, her face stormy. "Please forgive me!" she exclaimed, raising her hand.
Mouth drawn in a flat line, Relena beat her to the chase and smacked the little girl sharply across the face. This hysteria had to be stopped.
"Open your eyes to the world, Marimeia!" she ordered, her voice taut.
"R-relena..." Marimeia reeled, blinking her wide pale blue eyes.
"You have already learned to fear," Relena continued. "I'm sure you are able to realize your own wrongdoing as well."
The over-loud *click* of a gun being cocked startled her, and she swiveled to face Dekim's gun, aimed squarely for her heart. "Stop right there, Relena Peacecraft. Don't tell my Marimeia such foolish things."
"If you must, please shoot me," Relena returned, thinking with anguish only of Heero. She had made her mistakes. She, too, could admit where she had gone so badly wrong. "I'm ready."
Dekim fired and Relena lurched to the side, startled, as she was shoved violently by the slight body beside her. Marimeia fell in ghostly-slow triple slow motion, her tiny child's frame tumbling to the ground. Blood fanned beneath her body against the floor.
"Another Marimeia can always be created," Dekim said coldly as she stared in shock. "I'll kill this girl as well." His eyes speared her through with a glance as she lifted her head to scream at him.
"Dekim!" Une shouted.
The deafening report of gunfire shattered the room once more. Blood spattered through the air.
And Dekim fell.
The communications officer limped from the shadowed wreck of his post, reholstering his gun and saluting. "I apologize...for my betrayal to Madam Treize." He was looking at the fallen little Marimeia as he finished the crisp salute.
Relena fell to her knees beside the girl. She had been brilliant, the smartest little girl she had ever seen, but so dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. "Marimeia, hang on." The girl deserved a chance to be right.
Didn't they all?
The weak, small red head lifted. Blue eyes cracked open and peered at her. "I was wrong. Gomen ne."
Relena stared down at her, distressed. After going this far, if this child could admit her own mistakes, could she herself do no less?
"Marimeia..." she uttered, troubled.
"I'll put you at ease," a new voice rasped, filled with the promise of violence and gunmetal.
Relena jumped, startled. "Heero!"
Marimeia's eyes were fixed on the grim young man who had emerged from the shadows, bleeding but alive, his own gun trained on her head. "Arigato..." she whispered, looking mesmerized. Her eyes fell closed again.
Heero's face was drained of emotion, drained of sight and meaning and sanity. It frightened her more than any expression she had seen on his beautiful features before. It transformed him into a specter of death and pain she had never known.
She had never known him.
Heero pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked empty and she exhaled, realizing only then how tense every muscle in her body was. In her arms, Marimeia's head lolled as if hearing that tiny sound and believing its promise of death. But her breath still passed from her lips, shaky and fitful.
"I killed Marimeia," Heero grated. He looked at the gun in his hand with astonishment, as if it were the first of its like he had ever seen. "I...I don't have to kill any more." The weapon tumbled from his fingers, and with its release Heero crumpled like a string-cut puppet.
She darted up from the floor and swiftly interposed herself between Heero's falling body and the debris-littered floor. With both arms she caught him, and held him tightly as they sank to the ground. "Heero..." She stroked his hair. She had always wanted to touch it, to touch him. It was soft and silky and she wanted to bury her hands in it, smooth the tousled strands. But it was not her *right.* "It's all over now. Finally." She whispered the words like an incantation.
"Quick, to the medical room!" Une was shouting urgently, directing soldiers. "There's still hope!" A beautiful word. Relena held Heero against her and believed.
*It's all over now, Otousama. I can let you go.*
*Heero.....I can let ~you~ go.*
Return to Reiko-chan's Dirty Books