Chapter Fourteen: In Dreams...
by Casey Valhalla
He was standing on the edge of a cliff, a precipice jutting out over a low valley, green and smoky brown under morning sunlight. There was movement below, and as the sun broke through the early haze he could make out armies, two opposing forces leading out ground troops to face each other. From his vantage point, Quatre noted the formations of the soldiers; the separations of legions, two hundred men in the east, a rectangle of one thousand leading the throng, a wide line of four hundred on either side, a cavalry of six hundred forming a center square. He calculated the difference between the two easily; the dark gray uniforms far outnumbered the tan. However, the latter army had teams of beasts towing cannons that showed a technology superior to that of the dark gray troops.
He had played out the entire scenario in his head before the two masses on the fields below even met and converged. The foremost troops of the tan army would suffer heavy losses at first, but their cannons would decimate the back legions of the dark gray army before they could strike. The deciding battle would be waged hand-to-hand. With the loss suffered by the cannon strike, the dark gray army would eventually fold.
Numbers were not the deciding factor in war. At one time they might have been, when the differences between clans were simpler. Nothing was so cut-and-dried in the present. Now there was technology to take into account.
"Is it such an easy thing for you to stand here and simplify the fate of thousands?"
He couldn’t see the owner of the voice, but knew it was Zero. Quatre cocked his head into the wind that whipped past him where he perched on the precipice, but didn’t turn to see if the ageless one was near as he replied. "You yourself told me your gift was that of probability. If I am going to lead a war, why shouldn’t I be able to calculate the outcome?"
"That *is* precisely what you should do," Zero’s voice responded. "A good leader should be able to predict his own future and correct his own flaws." The voice lowered a notch and a touch of ice entered the words. "But a great leader would not be so detached from the conflict as you."
Quatre’s eyes widened. "What?"
Obediently, he returned his gaze to the battlefield. But he no longer saw the formations of two armies, neat rows of infantry or the calculated movements of legions and battalions.
He saw blood.
He saw men scream in agony. He saw swords ripping flesh, bullets tearing through bone and sinew. He saw bodies contorting in the throes of death. He saw battle-crazed soldiers hacking their way through the masses, not caring who or what they cut down. He saw pools of congealing blood, severed heads, scattered bits of bone and flesh.
Quatre fell to his knees and retched, the stones of the cliff’s edge cutting into his fingers. He huddled over his knees, trembling, willing the images away.
"The wages of war are death, young one," Zero spoke into the silence. "You must understand this if you are to go on. Many people will die at your command, both your own soldiers and the soldiers they are sent to kill. There is no beauty to war; it is a macabre dance of skeletons and the illusion of glory. Death comes for the deserving and the undeserving alike, for Death has never been known to discriminate."
The blond nodded slowly, eyes squeezed closed against the scene of the battlefield. His fists clenched against his knees, then relaxed when he felt a hand touch the back of his head, soothingly.
"You understand, young one?"
He opened his eyes to meet Zero’s golden gaze, staring evenly at the being that awaited his response. Quatre nodded. "Yes."
"Then, let’s try this again."
In the valley below the armies vanished, only to be replaced moments later. The tan uniforms returned in greater numbers, still with their battalion of cannons. The dark gray army was of a proportionate size, but in the air above them a fleet of fighter ships appeared. Quatre’s throat closed into a lump as he looked the battlefield over, taking everything into account.
Zero knelt beside him and spoke softly. "Part of understanding probability is being able to deal with every possible outcome, no matter how disastrous."
Quatre swallowed hard and stared down at his knees. "The gray army wins. The tan forces will be decimated beyond any recognition."
The ageless one nodded. "And?"
He looked out to scan the ranks of the two armies again. "The northern battalion of the tan army may be able to break away into the forests and avoid the damage. They may even survive, but there aren’t enough of them to cause the gray army any significant losses."
"But that battalion may be recovered, yes?" Zero’s gold eyes flashed as it looked the young Minister over. "Armies may be wounded easily, but they have an amazing power of regeneration, especially in their most desperate moments."
Quatre looked back at the being. "Am I allowed to hope, then?"
Zero shook its head. "Hope can be dangerous, especially when misplaced. No, what I am suggesting is possibility, and where there is possibility there is strength." It reached out with one finger to touch Quatre’s cheek, lightly. "Once you understand death, you must understand that all things are possible. In the realm of war, what is possible is always your greatest weapon. There is no room for doubt in the mind of a leader."
"But what if what is possible, only leads to annihilation?" Quatre’s sea-blue eyes were critical, the lines creasing his forehead emphasizing his careful thought.
"Then another possibility must be found," Zero replied. "There is never only one, and if you discover there is, then you realize you have made a mortal error in your strategy. In which case, annihilation would be a suitable end. I will not tolerate incapability in my students."
The Minister’s eyes narrowed dangerously. "Student? What the hell are you playing at?"
Zero sat back and folded its arms. "I will not lie to you, young one. The outcome of this war does not affect me in the slightest. I do not belong to this world, and therefore I care little for its fate. I was not granted the serenity of forgetfulness that your demon friend was." The ageless one smiled coldly. "Thus, it makes little difference to myself and my kind. However, you requested my assistance, and I find I need amusement."
"You will mold me into a great leader for no other reason than to humor yourself?" Quatre’s voice came out in a hiss.
Zero held up a hand. "Do not judge me so harshly. If you were not bound by time, the actions of mortals would seem insignificant in your eyes as well." It smiled again, more pleasantly and with a measure of warmth. "Be satisfied that I have taken a genuine interest in you and your affairs."
Quatre deflated and sat back on his heels, rubbing a hand over the bridge of his nose in resignation. "I suppose I should not begrudge myself a resource."
"No, you shouldn’t," Zero responded gently. "Just as you do not begrudge Duo as a resource, despite the fact that he is only assisting you at the command of his controller, and out of his own desire to kill. Never turn aside an ally due to impure motivations," Zero chuckled. "If all were pure, there would be no war to begin with."
This time, the dream wasn’t a memory.
It was dark – completely dark, a blackness so thick he struggled through it, as though he were walking through water. So dark he couldn’t see his own hands in front of his face. In the absence of sight his other senses sharpened, and he could hear the whispers of something that might have been wind passing by in the distance. His surroundings carried the faint scent of fire, and the darkness brushed over his skin like folds of silk.
It felt like that moment, the morning after the battle on Kaji. The strange, dream-like memory of comforting Duo, somehow, within the space of the Bond.
He wandered through the dark, not knowing why he was there, but his dreaming self failed to question his purpose. As he walked he caught the scent of something else, something familiar. He reached forward blindly, trying to feel his way along the featureless expanse of blackness, and he called out. "Duo?"
The whisper echoed hollowly in his ears, and the noise appeared to displease the darkness. It began moving around him, pushing against his movement to keep him from proceeding. At the same time he sensed a change in the air currents not far away. Someone else was there. He strained against the irritable dark, trying to quicken his pace, and repeated the call. "Duo?"
The smell was stronger now, the scent of blood and musk he knew so well. But his cry further agitated the darkness. It seethed, coiling tendrils around his arms to draw him backwards, away from the familiar smell. His hands tore at the writhing dark before him, feebly, searching. "Where are you?"
The sound of his own voice rang in his ears, and the dark constricted around him, leaving him immobile where he stood. The sound of his own breath was loud and harsh in the black surroundings, but he listened closely, waiting, holding his breath. The air movements changed again, and he knew there was someone standing in front of him, only a foot or two away. A hand touched his, and suddenly the tendrils of the darkness loosened and vanished.
He exhaled and closed his eyes. He could see nothing in the dark space of his dream, but he knew who was standing before him now, and sight wasn’t necessary. He had that form memorized perfectly.
He could sense Duo shifting closer, and felt the heat radiating off that slim body, now only inches away from his. He lifted his arms to draw the demon into an embrace, and one hand closed around the silken rope of the Relic’s braid. The other hand met only an expanse of smooth, sleek skin.
He jerked back in surprise. "Duo, what—"
The words were cut off by the feel of fingertips on either side of his neck, trailing up to curl in his hair and pull his head forward. He drew in a sharp breath just before a pair of soft lips pressed against his own, insistently.
He was drowning.
No, there was fire – he could smell fire, and blood, and his arms were wrapped around a warm body that moved demandingly along his. A cool tongue slipped inside his mouth and he shuddered, his fingers twitching and clutching at the skin of Duo’s back. Hands tugged at his clothing, located gaps in the fabric and slipped inside to tease at the flesh underneath. His ears were filled with the sound of his own heartbeat. All he could feel was the fire running through his veins, the skin under his palms, the caresses drawing electric lines along his body, the hungry mouth devouring his lips. The demon’s hips rocked against his, bringing their bodies into full contact, and he lost all sense of time and space.
He tried desperately to recover the scattered remains of his thoughts. ~This is a dream…~ His mind could only latch onto that one possibility. ~Only a dream… Isn’t it?~
He woke up.
Trowa had often described himself as a passable cook. Though the living quarters he and Heero had established on Dorobo was conducive to constructing a decent meal, the supplies they had brought weren’t quite up to standard. The elf offered a curse to the god of military rations, whomever he or she might be, and did his best to derive something palatable from the stores at his disposal.
Daxiel Chea watched from one of the kitchen chairs. The cadet’s hands were tied in front of him, resting complacently in his lap as he observed diligently, but nevertheless Trowa never once turned his back on the prisoner.
"What are you making?"
The elf shot an expressionless look at the blond cadet and quickly returned his eyes to the frying pan in front of him. "I am *attempting* to make omelets. My probable rate of success is two-thousand to one. Are you hungry?"
The cadet nodded enthusiastically.
Trowa sighed. "Good. Maybe you won’t notice the taste, then." Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Chea grimace, and chuckled softly. "We never claimed to offer reasonable accommodations, you know. Though you should feel somewhat satisfied that your captors are suffering nearly the same domestic discomforts as you are."
Chea snorted. "I’d like to see you cook with both hands tied."
"It’s been done," the elf commented dryly. "Here. As long as I have you in a compromised position, you can sample my culinary disaster. Open up."
The cadet wrinkled his nose, but accepted the spoonful of something resembling eggs from Trowa. His face contorted, but he swallowed nevertheless and gasped for air, gagging. "Your torture methods are abhorable and inhumane."
"Oh. It’s better than I expected, then." Trowa smirked and returned to the stove while Chea coughed and sputtered, trying to remove the taste from his mouth.
Another stretch of silence passed before the young cadet spoke up again. "I still don’t know your name, you know. I’m pretty sure you’re a Resistance operative, but I don’t know what to call you."
Trowa stayed his movements for a moment, holding perfectly still in thought. "Call me by my code name then. Nanashi."
Chea cocked his eyebrows at the elf. "Is it safe for you to give that name out?"
"It doesn’t make much difference at this point," the elf replied, returning to the task at hand. "The war is in progress. Secrecy is moot."
The cadet frowned slightly and cast his eyes at the ceiling, peering through his long bangs. "Nanashi… that’s the old language, isn’t it? I learned a little when I was younger. My father hired me an expensive tutor, to no avail." He grinned.
"It means ‘nameless,’" Trowa commented without looking up.
Chea stared at the elf for several minutes, as though expecting him to elaborate. When Trowa showed no sign of doing so, the cadet sighed and blew at his forelock with a huff. "Come on, humor me. You piqued my curiosity, and according to my superiors that’s a dangerous thing. Why do you have a code name that isn’t a name?"
For a moment it seemed he would get no response out of the elf, but after a moment of silence Trowa spoke. "My clan was disbanded when the ISG took over Niccon II. Therefore, technically, I no longer have a name."
The cadet blinked and rolled his eyes up as though he was attempting to look into his own brain. "I remember hearing about that… General Uhrel lead that invasion. He thought all the elf clans were Resistance spies." Chea snorted. "Delusional fucker, wasn’t he?"
Trowa’s green eyes bored a blank stare into the cadet’s face for a long, quiet space. Abruptly, the elf closed his eyes and smiled wanly. "Wing was wrong. You’re not an idiot."
Chea grinned again. "That’s good to know."
The elf turned from the stove and began mixing dough for biscuits, while the blond cadet tapped his toes against the linoleum floor and gazed out the window. Trowa’s voice was sudden. "Yes, General Uhrel was somewhat… misinformed. The only spy on Niccon II was myself. He accomplished little besides fueling the rebellious fire of the natives."
"The irony of it all," Chea drawled, slouching down in his chair to lean his head against the backrest and stare at the ceiling. "Okay, then, let’s call this an exchange of useless information." He shrugged. "You ask me something."
Trowa thought about his question carefully as he turned out the dough onto the counter and began kneading. "Why did you join the ISG? You seem terribly… disconcerted with the organization in general."
Chea chuckled. "Honestly, I could give a damn." He turned yet another blazing grin on the elf. "I was a sheltered rich kid, you know. Grew up on Sen’Darven with a laudable allowance and a custom-made land speeder that I crashed every week. I was supposed to be the clan heir, but my father despaired of me. All I wanted to do was pilot." His grin softened into a wistful smile. "When I turned sixteen I ran away and joined the ISG fleet academy. On my father’s tab, of course." He snorted, and started laughing, a ringing peal that echoed against the kitchen walls for a moment before dispersing. "He found out soon enough, cut off my finances, and I got kicked into basic training. I had to claw my way up from there, and I’m all the more tenacious for that." Chea sat up and tried to twist himself around to kick his feet up on the small table. "There you go, op Nanashi, that’s my story."
Trowa turned the cadet’s chair so he could lounge somewhat comfortably. "A soldier without loyalties is a rare thing."
"Unusual, perhaps, but not as rare as you might think. If you want to pilot, or escape from your lifestyle, and you live in the Outer Rim, there aren’t a whole lot of options. You join the military, or you get shipped off to a mining colony in the Sonata system." He laughed again. "I almost thought the latter would be my fate, during my formative years."
"Joining the Resistance never occurred to you?" the elf asked, rubbing flour over a rolling pin.
The cadet shrugged. "I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing that. And like you said, I have no convictions, anyhow. You seem to, though. Care to exchange any more useless information?"
Trowa began rolling the dough out methodically. "You want to know my reasons for fighting?"
Chea nodded. "Humor a man without loyalties."
The elf spoke slowly, forming his thoughts into words with careful precision. "At first, it was righteous anger. I saw how the ISG was systematically taking over the Niccon system, and offered my services as a spy to the Resistance. There was a small local force, and I had to infiltrate their base of operations to ‘get noticed,’ so to speak." Trowa smiled slightly at the memory. "The operatives were painfully close in those days. The ISG had no idea we existed yet.
"When Niccon II was invaded, and my clan was… disbanded… it became a mission of revenge. I dodged the command for my clan to report to the internment facilities, and ended up being hunted across the planet, and eventually the entire system. They never caught me, not once. The Resistance force wouldn’t grant me sanctuary. Too high profile, they said. One of the operatives set me up on a refugee freighter to get me out of the system. It’s a terrible thing to have to flee your homeland."
The elf fell silent, his fingers rubbing flour slowly across the rim of a glass. Chea waited patiently, and as Trowa began cutting rounds out of the dough he continued. "Years later Sabaku accepted the refugees, along with myself. I was finally able to renew my duties as an operative." He paused for a moment, staring at the glass in his hand, hovering over the rolled-out dough. "And I gained a new reason for fighting."
Chea’s eyes widened. "You work for the Winner clan?"
Trowa looked over to meet his gaze. "My loyalties are to Grand Minister Quatre Winner, and have been since the day I met him. No other."
The cadet swung his legs off the table, and they hit the floor with a loud thump. "He *is* a Resistance operative, then! I *knew* it!" He leaned backwards and grinned at the ceiling. "Ah, I *love* a good plot…"
The kitchen door swung open with a creak, and Trowa looked up from his work to see Heero stumble into the room. The assassin’s countenance was more than a little rumpled; his tunic had been discarded and his black shirt was mostly unbuttoned. His face was drawn into a closed, contemplative expression, and he took no notice of either Trowa or the cadet as he crossed the kitchen to fall gracelessly into a chair at the table and cradle his head in his hands.
If Trowa didn’t know better, he’d think Heero was suffering a hangover. "Java, Wing?"
The only response was an unenthusiastic grunt.
"I’ll take that as a yes." The elf slid the pan of biscuits into the oven and turned to the stove, removing a pot from the back burner and simultaneously reaching into a cabinet for mugs. "And you, Chea?"
"I’ll take it black, thanks," the cadet replied brightly.
Heero grunted again.
Trowa poured three cups, adding cream and sugar to two of them. "So, was my response satisfactory?"
Chea nodded with a grin. "Oh, yes, brilliant. It’s your turn again."
The elf thought about it, setting the full mugs in front of their owners. He began arranging dishes on the table, and spoke as he laid out the silverware. "If you had your own ship, what would it be?"
"That’s an easy one," the cadet chuckled. "A Guardian-class light cruiser. Self-modified, of course. Do you really expect me to eat like this?" He raised his bound hands, flexing his fingers.
Trowa raised an eyebrow. "What do *you* think?"
The cadet sighed in resignation.
Heero looked up when the elf set the platter of omelets on the table. "What is *that*?"
"Breakfast," Trowa replied dryly.
"It smells like sludge."
Chea laughed gaily, and Heero shot him a narrow glare. Trowa attended to his biscuits, retrieving a package of butter from the icebox. The assassin’s face scrunched into a perplexed look as he blinked at the room at large.
Janus had been glaring at the barricaded closet door for more than ten hours. She had lost count at that point, and glaring wasn’t making the door to her makeshift cell any more mobile. Instead, it had left her somewhat entranced, so she jumped when the sound of a lock turning grated against the silence.
Wing stepped into the dim-lit closet, casting a dubious gaze down at his captive. Janus refocused on him and resumed her earlier glare.
"Surprised to see me, Tzumara?"
She abruptly turned away. "I should have known it wouldn’t work."
Wing shrugged casually. "It was a nice trick, in any case. What if we *had* been captured? Your comrades would never have found you."
Janus stared down at her bound hands, and nodded. "I know."
She didn’t see Wing’s expression soften, but heard the note of admiration in his voice. "You’re far stronger than I gave you credit for, Cadet Tzumara."
Janus gaped at the floor in shock for several long minutes. She barely registered that Wing was untying her from the chair she’s been strapped in for longer than she cared to think about. She stood, shakily, her legs tingling with disuse. Wing steadied her with a hand, gently.
"Join us for breakfast."
It was neither a command nor a request, and Janus looked up into his blue eyes quizzically. "Us… Chea?"
Wing smiled, and it was a genuine look. "You’re not the only one who can bluff your way through an interrogation."