by Dev-Aki Basaa
Duo sat down on the edge of Une's mahogany desk, glancing around at her office with its sparse furnishing and floor to ceiling windows. Nothing had changed in all the time he'd been gone, it looked the same - all of it. Une's office, the halls, the briefing room, even the lounge with its hard uncomfortable chairs and quirky coffee machine, still blinking a red light that no one could determine what it indicated. Duo knew he could have found out if they'd simply let him dismantle the stupid thing. He scoffed, huffing, as disgusted about it now as he'd been two years ago. Spoil-sports.
He looked up and watched people trickle into the office from the briefing down the hall; watched Sally and Noin approach two agents and redirect them into here. The briefing had been for all Preventers, a general update and status meeting, but the real discussion - the intimate details of the mission and proposals for further action - would take place in Une's office. These two, singled out, must be the agents assigned to the case. Duo let his fingers tap idly on the glass-covered top of Une's desk, staring at the strangers' faces. There were so many new agents. Une's brainchild continued to flourish and gain support, both public and official, putting out fires that pacifism pretended didn't exist. The organization had become an unchallenged necessity. Duo cocked his head to one side, still tapping away, watching Une greet the agents that had just joined them. They were rookies, quite obviously, in fact - young (though, probably not much older than himself), fresh and just out of Academy, salivating for a taste of action. He'd observed them during the briefing - maybe not these exact two, but some just like them. They had had an excitement in their eyes, like eager children hearing a fairy story, giving the cold facts of a mission gone awry the same rapt attention they at one time held to mystical stories of knights and dragons, spaceships and aliens. It fascinated him a little, their idealism he'd once known - but disgusted him too. Perhaps he had become too jaded to care about them and their inexperience, to be touched by their enthusiasm - as Une and Sally and Noin so obviously were. But really, theirs were not the new faces that intrigued him the most. It was the others. The ones that weren't green and idealistic; the ones who looked aged in the eyes, as if they'd seen a lot of life already - life far beyond the number of years they'd actually lived. It was these new additions Duo couldn't help but notice and silently connect with.
These new members were not unlike themselves - the former Gundam pilots - experienced soldiers from maybe OZ or the Alliance, maybe from small bands of rebels and mercenaries he'd only heard rumors about. Hell, they could even be previous members of the Treize Faction, White Fang, or former followers of Dekim Barton. Whatever their past had held for them, they were all fighters, warriors at heart, trying to fit into a pacifist's world while still making a difference. They were driven, committed to a cause and needing the focus of its worthiness. It was that which had pinned them against each other during the war and now brought them together. Preventers. They found the organization to be the closest likeness to their service as a soldier, protector of an ideal. They desired peace but couldn't kill the fighter within them. They were just like him. Just like Heero.
Duo's fingers curled into a fist and he punched sharp and quick at the desk top, a heart-aching pain ripping through his mind. Heero. A rattle and thump followed his action and he glanced down to see he'd knocked over a red frame with a black backing. He picked it up and tilted it, avoiding the glare of the lights that obscured the photo. The glass cleared and a little red-headed girl smiled up at him, her face as bright and cheerful as the sun that shone in the background of the picture. Duo smiled. Who today would recognize this young girl as the famed Marimeia who'd tried to disrupt the peace they'd fought so hard to obtain. Duo set the picture back on the desk. No one. Not after this second chance at childhood, not after these five years of nurturing care she received at the hands of Lady Une.
"Are we ready to begin?" Une's abrupt voice jerked Duo's attention back to the moment. He turned to find himself almost face to face with her, her brow raised, a questioning expression on her face. He could smell her perfume, a strong musky scent that seemed to suit her, but threatened to make him sneeze. She glanced down, pointedly looking at his seat on her desk. So Une's a little possessive. Duo shrugged and slipped from his spot, brushing past her and taking a seat next to Quatre and Trowa. Extra chairs had been brought in for the meeting and set into rows, facing the desk. They were sitting right up front. The chair squeaked as he sat, sounding overly loud in the midst of such silence. Duo grimaced at the noise, but settled the rest of the way into his seat, folding his arms across his chest and sliding low. He kicked out his feet, his heavy black boots clunking together. He wished he had somewhere to rest them, finding the position more comfortable than sitting stiff in a straight-back chair. Duo sighed, somewhat dramatically - he wished he were more comfortable in general. All eyes had been on him since he'd gotten there; still were - he could feel it like pin pricks of lasers boring into his skull. Any other time in his life, he probably would have taken advantage of the attention, cracked a joke or pulled a stunt, but right now he only felt conspicuous and unnerved, bothered by the attention. He'd been able to avoid talking to anyone since arriving at Headquarters. Wufei had ushered him into the briefing room and flashed a scowling glare at any attempts to approach him. Not to say that would have stopped Quatre. He and Trowa were there waiting for him when he arrived, their presence one more of support than as the agents they so rarely were these days. Who can take on missions when you're the head of the Winner Corporation conglomerate? As for Trowa, to be close to Quatre he'd focused on his extensive work with charity, thus giving him the free time to save Quatre from himself. Workaholics need that kind of care. But still, they were there for him and Heero and it obviously was killing Quatre to leave him alone. He'd have to thank Trowa for that later since only his intervention could have curbed the former pilot of Sandrock. So, however reluctantly, everyone was giving him his space and he couldn't have asked for anything else. Except, maybe, a little less staring. Take a picture folks; it lasts longer.
Une stood at her desk, leaning against it just where Duo had been sitting. She sighed, heavy and loud, reaching back to rest her hands on the desktop.
"Before I delve into mission details, there are a few more bits of intelligence we need to gather." She looked to the first row of chairs.
"Duo," she began, sounding as if there was more to say, but waiting for his full attention before she continued.
He looked up, his face crumbling with a puzzled expression and a frown. What additional info could he provide? Everything he knew about the mission and its subsequent deviation, she or Wufei had told him. Anything else could be found in his or Heero's files. He made a little impatient noise, encouraging Une to continue.
"When was the last communication you received from Heero?"
"What?" Duo jolted in his seat. She wasn't supposed to have known about that - about the BBS and their coded messages. Heero had been told outright not to contact Duo at all - the mission directives had stated that explicitly as well. They had just not accepted that particular order. And yet, they'd been so careful; he hadn't told a soul. She couldn't have found out.
Duo shook his head. "How did you..."
But he let his words fade at the sight of Une's lips curling slightly. Idiot. He'd just walked into the oldest trick in the book.
"You just told me," she said, confirming his suspicion, her voice a little warmer than its usual tone. "So?" she prompted with a nod.
Duo settled back into his seat, his frown more severe. He hated getting trapped like that. Heero'd be disappointed.
"Two and a half months ago," he answered, his words mumbled as if speaking them unclearly somehow lessened his divulgence.
Une nodded again and paused, seeming to consider her next words. When she looked up, her expression had turned colder and for as humored her words had sounded a moment ago, her next came out completely flat and impersonal.
"I need you to tell me exactly what he said."
The sensation of hot flames rushed up Duo's skin and he swallowed hard. His face had to be burning bright pink from his neck to his hairline, the tips of his ears blazing as if on fire.
"Ah..." he stalled, crossing his arms tighter to his chest as if to hide within his own presence. She didn't really need to know that, right? Didn't she realize what a personal question she'd just asked? Duo glanced around the room - and why was everybody staring at him as if he'd just confessed to a crime?! No, they couldn't be serious. Hell, he'd jerked off to the last message, it had been so fucking erotic. Heero had reminisced in killer detail about this little thing Duo had done with his tongue the last time they'd been together. There was no goddamned way he'd be relaying THAT info.
"No can do. Too personal," he said simply, then clenched his jaw tight and hard, the pressure echoing through his teeth, making them feel fused together, sealing his silence.
"Duo!?" Quatre's voice rang in his ears sounding shocked and accusing. He could hear it in his voice - Duo looked around the room at the new agents, at Wufei - he could see it in their faces. They *were* serious and they did think he knew something - something crucial - and was keeping it from them.
"Quatre!" Duo snapped back, turning to look directly at his friend. Quatre's eyes widened, maybe a little surprised at the intensity in Duo's face. "You don't seriously think we've been discussing mission details, do you!? Giving me information beyond what he officially reported?" He threw his glare around the room at all the faces - some suspicious, some disbelieving - pointed at him, questioning him. "Do you!?"
He didn't care that he was yelling, that maybe he should just calm down and explain. It was purely the fact that they were even considering his liability. How dare they!? How could they even suggest that he was withholding information that might bring Heero back to him sooner - might bring him back at all!
He shook his head again, his breath quickening. "If I start rattling off the contents of those messages," he continued to yell, "I'd give Wu-man over there a severe nosebleed. And probably you too!" he shouted directly at one of the nameless agents who'd been giving him a particularly harsh glare. The man sniffed and looked away, fussing with the papers in his lap. Duo scowled at him and then back up at the catalyst of all this shit, Lady Une.
"They're private and personal and have nothing to do with why the love of my fucking life is missing, okay!?" He wanted to storm out of there, to jump up from his seat and tell them all to fuck off, he'd find Heero himself. But he couldn't move. His anger coursed through his body, making him shake, making him want to lash out. If he stood now, he might do something stupid. What a wonderful reunion with Heero then - some conjugal visit in the local prison. Or mental hospital.
A soft cough, Sally clearing her throat for attention, broke the heavy tension that thickened and congested the air.
"Duo's right. That's probably not the information you were looking for, wouldn't you say, Une?"
Lady Une looked suddenly abashed and shifted in her spot against the desk. Her gaze didn't quite meet Duo's eyes as she addressed him.
"No, of course not, I didn't think..."
She shook her head and straightened her shoulders, her gaze now meeting Duo's full on.
"I'm sorry, Duo, I shouldn't have assumed so much."
"S'okay," he grumbled, not quite able to release his anger so quickly. He'd covered a gambit of emotions in such a short time, momentary highs of memory followed too soon by the hard crash of reality, a rollercoster ride that sucked at his energy to cope, stole at his sanity.
"In which case," Une continued, business-like again, "we have all the information we need and can continue." She reached behind herself and picked a large red envelope off her desk - a very familiar assignment envelope. With a flick of her nail she broke the seal and pulled out the sheets of directives, reading to the room exactly what Heero and Zechs would have received.