by Dev-Aki Basaa
Duo stared at the slow red blinking light of the lounge coffee machine and its perfect pattern of 3 seconds on and then 5 seconds off. It didn't matter if the coffee was brewing, if the pot was simmering on the hot plate, or cooling with just an inch of over-cooked joe and a layer of grounds. It still blinked on for 3 seconds and off for 5.
He'd really been sitting there too damn long.
When he'd stormed out of Une's office, Quatre had followed, close on his heels, directing him into the lounge for a cup of coffee and a chance to calm down. Now the heat bleeding through the mug, warming his palms, had waned and the steam was no longer rising and tickling his nose. He hadn't spoken a word for almost an hour and it was no longer just him and Quatre sitting in silence. Trowa joined them soon after, saying nothing, just sat down and idly thumbed through a well-worn copy of 'Pacifism Weekly'. Later, Wufei and Sally came in and so did Noin, engaging Sally in conversation - something official about Io and Titans' upcoming mission. Wufei now sat on the divan talking with Trowa and Duo caught the occasional softly-spoken 'Catherine', 'Charitable Donations' and 'Quatre' - all of which summed up Trowa's life these days, if not in that particular order. If it weren't so sad, Duo'd laugh. There they all were, the most important and influential agents of the organization, ambitious soldiers, ex-Gundam pilots and one-time mercenaries behaving as if none of them had anything better to do than hang out, chit-chatting in the staff lounge. Duo didn't know whether to feel flattered or pathetic. He was leaning towards the latter. For his part, Quatre was staring at Duo as intently as he had been staring at the coffee machine. His 'uchuu no kokoro' prompting him to take on this over-protective watch, sensing just how much Duo hated himself right now.
If only he hadn't left. Why had he turned tail and run from a job he loved, an organization he believed in? Had it really been that difficult being there without Heero? It wasn't as if being alone in their apartment hadn't been just as hard - probably more so. There wasn't an inch in that apartment where they hadn't screwed - and there were only a handful of places they'd screwed at Headquarters. So, why did he leave?
Well, he'd claimed to be pissed at Une for sending Heero on the mission - his stress level had been up, so had his blood-pressure - prompting Sally to suggest the leave. But Une never twisted Heero's arm to go, now had she. Duo slammed a fist against the counter top, sending droplets of lukewarm coffee to splatter against his skin. The hum of conversation stopped. Quatre reached out, placing his hand over Duo's forearm. Duo thought he'd heard Wufei scoff, an almost silent puff of disapproving air. He obviously didn't understand why Duo was so upset, but for that matter, neither did Duo. He just knew he was living at the sharp edge of his emotions, had been for two years now, but being at Headquarters seemed to put him over that edge, drowning in a wash of intensity and confusion. If he'd only been stronger, if he hadn't run away, maybe he'd be the one on his way out to find and rescue his koibito - not some cocky rookie assholes, full of themselves and their na´ve idealism.
The lounge door opened, creaking loud enough to make him flinch, but Duo didn't turn around to see who else had joined them. He wasn't sure he cared. Quatre looked up, his fingers on Duo's arm slipping a little with his distraction.
"Ah, Agent Air?" a young male voice spoke.
"Yes?" Noin answered, sounding slightly irritated at the interruption. Duo shook his head. Her moods were far touchier than they ever used to be. She was in a high position within the organization, almost a second to Une, behind Sally and Wufei, and would have been second for certain if she'd stayed around. Her and Zechs' excursion to the Mars Teraforming Project - short-lived that it was - had caused some damage to her career, her status slipping just enough to be noticeable. She claimed not to care, but Duo felt she cared a lot more than she let on. Or maybe it wasn't the job at all. Maybe it was Zechs.
Noin had returned from Mars before Zechs had and neither has ever spoken of what went on there. Sure they'd discuss the progress of the program - it's pros and cons - but never about what had occurred between them. They were still friends and very comfortable with each other, but, as Heero had once commented, it wasn't the same as it had been during the war. He relayed how she'd behaved towards Zechs in Antarctica - a devotion that rivaled Relena's obsessive tactics. Things were obviously different now. Perhaps Zechs had fallen off his pedestal; perhaps he'd forced her to let him step down.
"We just received a transmission from Government Central," the agent continued. "Vice Minister Dorlian wants an update immediately."
"There's nothing to tell, yet," Wufei griped, then mumbled "crazy onna" under his breath, well out of Sally's earshot.
"I'll handle it, thank you." Noin waved the agent away and waited until the door closed before she gave a heavy sigh and spoke again. "For someone who has an almost non-existent relationship with her brother, she sure is quite demanding of information on him."
"You know it's not about him," Quatre said, shaking his head.
Duo knew then, without even looking, that all eyes were on him.
"I don't even want to hear it!"
In the answering silence, Duo returned to watching the blinking light. On and off, on and off. He'd have to remember to grab his toolbox next time he was home. He would fix that damned thing, if it killed him.
"It's time to make our move, make our resistance known."
Heero wanted to curse, not softly to himself, but loud, uproarious, screaming it from highest point above sea level he could find.
And Duo's favorite, Jesusfuck!
There had been many times when Heero had wondered if Reth knew who he was, really knew it all - Wing, Dr. J and his life as Pilot 01. There were looks, leading questions and loaded statements - all seemingly for his benefit, because he never toyed with Zechs in this manner, that was a certainty. Whether it was because he made no connection there or he was willfully blind when it came to the object of his desire, Heero could not say. He speculated that it was the latter since Reth hardly desired him; he barely tolerated him, in fact, and, therefore, held no illusions where he was concerned. Zechs was another story. Perhaps he'd considered him a rival for his, Nodin's, attentions? Heero began to scoff at that, then stopped. It wasn't that absurd of a thought and Duo had certainly made his fair share of less-than-appropriate comments along that avenue. Who wouldn't drool over Zechs Merquise? Heero shook his head; he was getting off-track. All his suspicions about Reth's knowledge of him were coming to a head - rival or not - and the idea of 'home' seemed very far away right now.
Reth stood before them, pacing across the bunkhead of an old control panel. His tall, broad build more impressive for the gained height, his green eyes were glittering in the low resource lights. The entire group had crowded into the wide expanse of the bunker's main hall, shoulder to shoulder, the arching dirt and strut ceiling reverberated with the rising voices, amplifying the mass anticipation as Reth's speech continued.
"But our target won't be something as mundane and unimaginative as, say, the President. We will make a greater impact, we *will* be known. So, instead," he paused for dramatic flare, "our first strike will be our former Queen of the World, Miss Relena Peacecraft-Dorlian."
Heero sighed - he saw that coming. Jesusfuck. Beside him, Zechs tensed, his hands curling into fists. He wasn't so na´ve as to not have expected that either, however, he had probably hoped his influence on Reth had still remained, if only a little. He had once talked him out of an assignation altogether, explaining how it would backfire on them, incensing the public instead of uniting it. Apparently Reth had changed his mind, confirming that all their efforts had truly been wiped out.
"That's absurd, Reth," Zechs spoke up, his voice at ease, belaying none of his certain agitation. "She's nothing these days - some Minister of something."
Reth grinned and nodded, probably expecting this particular dissention. "She's the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, in fact. But she was and will always be the only royalty our society has ever known. She's the most recognizable political figure alive. Even the little kiddies in school may not be able to tell you who the president is, but they know who Relena is." He slammed his fist into his hand and the excitement of the crowd spiked, hanging on his every spoken syllable and slightest gesture. "No one's death could have a greater impact than hers. She WILL be our target. And our greatest sharpshooter will be only too happy to take the job. Isn't that right, Keb?"
And it was that right there that prompted Heero's desire to scream curses to the sky. The trap had been laid and the teeth of its iron jaws cut him deeply. He'd have to accept or jeopardize the mission - the latter not even an option. Not only would he have to accept, but to miss would be the equivalent of declining. They'd seen him in action - he didn't fail, he didn't miss. He'd have no choice but to kill her because they'd settle for no less. As with a miss, an un-fatal wound would be unacceptable as well. He would be instantly suspected and they would kill him on sight. They would kill Zechs too. With his fallen grace and association with him, he'd be good as dead. And... Duo. It wasn't so simple to press the self-destruct button anymore; he had left that life behind when he showed up on L2, knocking on Duo's scrap-yard door, asking to be a part of his life. He had promised he'd return to him, vowed to himself that he'd never willfully leave him and he meant it. Pain ripped through his mind. Yet he'd vowed to protect Relena and he had meant that as well. So many lives were at stake, all lying precariously in the palm of his hand.
"We're waiting, Keb, my boy."
Heero raised his gaze to Reth, seeing a devious gleam in his eyes. He knew what he was asking of him, the bastard.
"Of course. That's what I do, isn't it?"
The crowd cheered and it sickened him, he could have vomited right there in the center of them all if he'd allow such things of himself. Hands clapped on his back, the older men mussing his hair like the child they forever saw him as - trained assassin or not. He stood still, allowing them to celebrate around him, a statue to their bumps and handshakes and squeezing embraces.
A hand fell on his shoulder, heavy and different from the others, lacking the joviality of their touches. Heero looked up to see Zechs staring at him, his grip tightening. His eyes were on fire, a grim determination in the way he hardened his jaw. They had to talk; they had to be a team again. They would stop this.