by Dev-Aki Basaa
Heero rubbed his tongue across the roof of his mouth, reveling in the feel of the ball sliding along the slick skin. A few times it bumped into the back of his teeth with a 'click'. He looked up to the sky, sucking on the silver bar in his mouth, the black-blue expanse was perfectly clear, the stars filling the sky, swirling together. He had no trouble seeing the center of the galaxy tonight. He let the ball under his tongue tap against his bottom teeth and watched a quick dot of a light fly among the stars, a satellite in orbit or maybe a shuttle heading for a colony. He wondered if Duo was looking at the sky right now.
"Would you stop that."
Heero looked over to see Zechs glaring at him, wisps of his red hair blowing into his face, caught in the gentle night breeze. He could see hints of platinum roots, a stark difference that made his long hair look detached from his scalp, hovering like an aura. Heero cocked his head to one side, unsure of what Zechs meant.
Zechs raised a brow at the unspoken question. "That damned bar through your tongue. You keep playing with it and it's noisier than you'd think."
"Oh," Heero said as he stuck his tongue out and looked down. He could just see the navy ball at the lower extreme of his vision, slightly blurred. He'd been contemplating keeping it, lately. It'd been two years; he was almost used to it. Besides, he knew what a twisted kick Duo would get of such things, even knowing he'd never get one of his own. Heero grinned. Silly, isn't it, that the self-proclaimed God of Death could be so squeamish about pain?
Heero stretched his legs out in front of him. They were on watch duty - again - hunkered down, sitting on a dirt pile 50 miles into the middle of no where, cold rifles lying across their laps. There wasn't a soul who knew they were here; the posting was just to get them out of the way. Two months ago the group's leader, Reth, made the completely unexpected decision to go underground. Literally. In a matter of days, they moved the entire, 200+ organization, into an abandoned bunker near the center of what had once been Montana. They were living off waning battery power and rations. The only thing they had plenty of was water... and time. Especially now since they were being excluded from all the internal and planning meetings. The trusted place Zechs, as Nodin, had held at Reth's side soured and the two of them were practically outcasts again. At first, they thought they'd been found out and were prepared for a confrontation, but nothing more pointed to that suspicion. To the best of their knowledge, Reth turned on them, now disliking the attitude the two of them had towards the groups more violent ideals. They even had begun to get through to many influential voices of the group, but, on the turn of a dime, all the work they'd put into infiltration and conversion towards peace was gone. Lost. But as far as Heero was concerned, failure could have been avoided. Zechs had jeopardized the mission.
Heero tilted his head, hearing movement from behind them. He could hear the dirt shift underneath Zechs as he turned around. Someone was coming up from the bunker below.
"You boys want some coffee?" a feminine voice asked.
It was Idande. Zechs', no, Nodin's mistress. Heero didn't bother turning. It was too easy to keep up this distant and aloof role. He didn't want to get involved and felt satisfied that was Zechs' role in all this, not his. He just wanted to fully complete the mission - if that were even possible now - and get back home. To Duo. He grunted his response, knowing Zechs' would interpret for him.
"Keb will decline, but I'll have some. Thank you, Idande."
Heero could hear him lean over and kiss her. He kept his eyes on the wide blanketing sky before him. Zechs had gotten too involved. Not personally, but emotionally. He had to become personally involved in these people's lives to complete the mission objectives, but he should have known better than to take so much of it to heart. He was playing a fool and their failure had been written on the wall 6 months ago. It had been plain to Heero, if to no one else. But how could he have reported that? How, with the cold facts of mission statements, could he have relayed the dynamics of this group and their leader? How could he have described the haunting familiarity of Reth and his methods? How could he have complained to his contact and, thusly, Une, that Zechs should have fucked Reth when he'd had the chance? Instead, he turned down the offer that would have completely insinuated them into the loyalties of Reth and his followers. No, instead he shacked up with this girl - infuriating Reth even more. Sealing their fate even then.
"I'll see you later," Idande murmured and she slipped back down into the bowels of the bunker, dirt breaking away, leaving a dust cloud behind as she climbed below.
With her gone, Heero turned to glare at Zechs for a moment and then looked back to the sky. Zechs' sigh was weary; he must have known what Heero had been thinking about.
The silence that followed, punctuated with the chirp and crackle of insects and the soft sound of Zechs drinking from the thermos cup Idande had left him, dragged. A single puff of wispy cloud floated across the sky, caught in the breeze that was stirring and gaining strength. Maybe a storm front would be moving in soon.
"Would you have done it?" Zechs finally asked, setting the empty thermos cup to his side, breaking the silence, both the night's silence as well as their verbal silence. They'd barely spoken to each other since the move underground.
"For the good of the mission?" Heero answered with a nod, "yes."
Zechs looked at him, his glare accusing.
"You would do that to Duo?"
Heero's hands balled to fists and he closed his eyes. How dare he even turn this into an issue of betrayal? This was exactly how Zechs had been too emotional of late. This was the mission - their job as Preventers. Duo knew his heart; he would understand.
"That's not even the point," he responded. "I would still do it and Duo's ALIVE." Then he added, "He's dead, *Wind*," the title hissed through his teeth. He opened his eyes again, focusing on the flicker of a faint star above. "I don't know what you're holding on to."
"He's not as dead as we thought though, is he?" said Zechs, pointing down the hole behind them, into the darkness that lead to the bunker below. "He's living and breathing right down there, if in another body."
And that was the crux of it all. Reth might as well have been Treize Khrushrenada. In appearance, only slightly, but his manner, his leadership style, the devotion he inspired, everything about him made them both shudder with forgotten memories and repressed emotions - but different ones for each.
Heero knew what another so beloved leader like Treize could do to pacifism - mangled beyond recognition if it were his desire. He could be a figurehead to terrorism the same way Relena was a figurehead to pacifism. He had to be stopped, one way or another.
What Zechs was thinking, Heero really didn't know. He just knew he was haunted. For as close as he allowed himself to become with Reth as a comrade, he wouldn't take the final step that would have secured their mission, giving true access to Reth's heart and mind. His emotions got in the way. And yet, they still could have succeeded, they weren't out of the group's circle. But Zechs did them one worse on top of rejecting the leader. He placed that girl as some sort of sexual barrier to hide behind. Reth had finally had enough of the chase and of his friendship.
"We need to end this conversation, now." Zechs said, the sharp tone of his voice booked no argument. The tension between them was too thick and Heero wouldn't put much past Zechs at the moment, angry at himself and his past. He didn't need an insubordination charge on top of all this failed mission shit once he got back home.
He almost didn't even want to think about it. About Duo. About Mari and their apartment. He had never known what it meant to have a home before Duo taught him. The idea that it all might be soon in coming only made him ache for it more. Headquarters hadn't heard hide nor hair from them in two months thanks to Reth's move underground. They were isolated, cut off from the outside word, and contacts and reports with Preventers had been missed. If they weren't already, they'd soon be considered Missing In Action. Then Preventers would respond, aborting the mission and coming after them. Heero stared at the sky again, the wind rustling his blonde bangs.
"They're only days away, you know," Heero said after another long breath of silence.
Heero gave a sigh and closed his eyes on the sky above him. Home. It'd been two long years.