"Shut up, Duo."
"Hey, just because you're in a bad mood, don't be taking it out on me."
"You started it."
Their last conversation while incarcerated had been of a similar level of sophistication. Tonight's cell was more opulent, but the guards outside the door had greater vigilance. Their pride had been stung by two pilots sneaking in under their watch. Heero thought they still could have escaped, if they'd wanted to put the effort into it. If they'd had the motivation. "...Do you think Quatre was right?" he asked pensively.
Duo remembered the last time Heero had asked that question. He wasn't so certain he wanted to go down that path again, but he played his part anyway. "What about?"
"Do you think we bicker like an old married couple?"
A different question, certainly, but perhaps no more reassuring a topic. "...Well, right there we were bickering like a couple of five year olds."
"You know what I mean."
He knew what he meant. He just felt better pretending, if just for those brief few seconds that Heero allowed him, that he had no idea. "...Why?"
"Just thought of it."
"Hm. Dunno. Dunno anything about married couples." And didn't want to think about it, either.
"If we had walked out of there... what do you think we would have done?"
Another question he didn't want to think about. Heero was on a roll tonight. "...Dunno. Found someone else's wedding to crash?"
"What a sad fate."
Any sadder than their fate until this point? He went for the silver lining. "But we'd be free to choose whose wedding to crash."
Heero wrinkled his nose in distaste. "We'd... be wedding crashers, Duo. Not exactly what I aspired to in my youth."
"Excuse me? You had aspirations?"
"Hn. You have a point."
Duo ignored Heero's soft sigh, and tried to ignore that soft spark of jealousy that had reared its ugly head at Heero's suggestion of hopes and dreams and thoughts of the future. He told himself to think of nothing much at all, and concentrated on studying the print on the faded wallpaper. The faint outline of paisley could be seen, if he was not mistaken. He'd half expected it to be roses.
"I wonder about Wufei," Heero mused, staring up at a corner of the four poster bed. What a glorious impracticality that canopy and those curtains was. But maybe it would be nice, he thought, to loosen the ties and let the fabric fall, to create a warm, dark little cave in which to hide. "I wonder how much of what he said, he really meant. And how accurate Mariemaia's assessment was."
"Lying to yourself is a bitch," Duo agreed. He didn't lie to himself. He just chose not to think about some things.
"I really didn't care two weeks ago. I don't think. I... I don't remember caring, anyway."
"What do you remember?"
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine where he would be right now if someone hadn't decided to jump him. A warm summer night. A weekday. A stuffy apartment. He thought he'd probably be doing the exact same thing, lying on a bed and staring blankly upwards, chasing after the elusive thoughts and feelings slipping around in his brain. Maybe he might be suffering a fit of old habit and exercising instead, still in that stuffy apartment, but trying to push himself to his limits, far enough to finally break himself. It never worked. "I remember the day I was attacked. I remember thinking that I would be glad if some danger took me in the middle of the street and put me down."
Duo laughed with a quietly morbid humor. "What made you fight back?"
"Bad habit, I guess." He could recall flashes of the fight, but nothing really concrete. Just action and reaction. "Since then... bad habits again, maybe."
"Are you lying to yourself?"
"I..." He had started far too many sentences like that recently. "Maybe Quatre's right. Maybe I am... maybe he's right. ...Maybe the same goes for you."
"Hey, don't drag me into this."
He opened his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows so he could study his companion lounging on a sofa he would have thought never belonged in a bedroom. "You're not? Maybe? Not even a little?"
A silence hung heavy in the air for a few moments before Duo was spared by a knocking on the door. They stared expectantly at the slab of wood, waiting for their visitor, then realized when another knock sounded that they were supposed to answer. Duo did the honors. "Yeah?"
Invitation enough. Relena opened the door and slipped inside with a smile. "Oh, good, I'm glad you're still here."
Heero blinked at her twice before letting himself fall back onto the bed, so once again, Duo took the responsibility of response. "Um, in case you haven't noticed, the two big armed guards standing outside the door?"
She glanced half over her shoulder at the closed door. "Oh, I know... But I don't think you'd still be here if you really wanted to leave."
Well, he was hardly going to deny such flattery. "Don't suppose you're here to spring us loose?"
She wandered into the room far enough to take a position behind a chair at a table, but manners made her not sit down until invited. "I'm afraid I can't do that. Until just a few days ago, I was powerless enough to be used as a mere figurehead, remember?" There was only the faintest hint of shame and bitterness tainting the gentle statement. "The government is busy right now trying to trace down the EUW and figure out exactly how far its plots went. It's a good excuse not to have to think about the two of you."
"Shit, if they'd just let us out, they wouldn't have to think about us at all. Otherwise, I'm sure we'd be delighted to help them track down these EUW people."
Heero snorted. "Maybe we can get expense accounts, too. I think we've borrowed enough of Marvin's funds already."
"Hey, you earned that money, fair and square."
"I've talked to them," Relena informed them. "I've told them that you're citizens of the world nation, too, and citizens of Sanq as well, and they can't just keep you hanging around here in limbo for as long as they please. They said they would have someone talk to you tomorrow to evaluate your cases."
"Ah, so we're not citizens. We're cases."
"You're both. You had an agreement with the government. You broke the terms of that agreement, no matter what the reasoning. Of course they're going to reevaluate the terms."
"They're going to reevaluate us, you mean. And they're going to find that we're an even bigger threat to the peace now than we were five years ago, thanks to all the shit this little program of theirs has been shelling out. Tell me, princess, when the EUW was still running the show, how many other people were there that went along with them? We had a little chat with that Dorothy of yours. She told us how completely your fancy Senate bought that story about us being on the lunatic fringe."
She cursed the politician's response that fell from her lips, but had no other recourse. "I can't say for certain since I wasn't there at the time..."
"This has just proved their theories right, you know. This is why they locked us up to begin with. They were afraid we'd get out and cause trouble, no matter if it's their trouble to begin with, or if we've helped them out. From what I gather, a big chunk of the government is falling apart right now, and they can easily trace it back to us. That's all that matters. They'll lock us up and throw away the key, given half a chance."
There was a truth to his words, she had to admit that, even if she didn't understand the extent of their original lockup. "Maybe they'll be able to figure out that you could be much more useful to them if you were allowed to help, rather than being shut away from everything."
"And what makes you think we'd want to help? We've been over this before."
"Then like I said before, what are you two doing here, if not helping?"
Failing a good answer, he fell back on Heero's answer from minutes prior. "Bad habit, I guess."
"Helping the world cannot just be a 'bad habit'. No matter what you've done over these last few years, you are still fundamentally the same strong, determined Gundam pilots I knew during the war of one-ninety-five. That goodness is still inside of you."
"'Goodness'? Like we've fallen to the darkside now, all of a sudden?"
"Maybe the real bad habit here is that you two don't even try anymore. The events of recent days have only proven that you have the ability within you. Maybe if you just tried, just do it whether or not you feel motivated to, maybe it would come back to you."
"You know, that's the same load of crap that our oh so kind case workers spewed at us, this notion of, oh, just try it. Maybe you'll like it. Hmpf. Yay. Let's spend another five years doing stuff I couldn't care less about just because someone else thinks that's what I should be doing. And hell, not even that. This is about fitting us into your worlds. Trying to force us into whatever little pigeonhole you think might work. I don't think so, princess."
It was good that a pilot be stubborn, but did he have to be frustrating as well? "I just want to help you, Duo. Tell me what you want, then. Tell me and I'll see what I can do."
"There's no chance of you just leaving us the hell alone."
"You are who you are, Duo. I'm sorry."
Heero shifted on the bed. "Relena."
Finally, a level-headed individual. "Yes, Heero?"
He sighed. "Just... good night, Relena."
At a loss, she looked at Duo, but he just shrugged and gestured toward the door.
They were, in a way, correct, but it should have been obvious that they would not be privy to or a part of that level of communication. It had been an hour since the government employees had brought their two separate interviews into the same room, and that hour had passed most unproductively, though no more unproductively than the rest of the morning and afternoon.
The frustrated, nervous workers had called for a short break, convening on one side of the room to whisper among themselves how to try and figure out the inscrutable pilots not far from them without pissing them off. It didn't help that Duo was watching them like a wolf lazily taking measure of the sheep. It was obvious that he would need to be carefully monitored. Perhaps he was not a threat to world peace directly, but he was an unpredictable element that needed to be kept under control.
On the other hand, Heero seemed the more difficult one to interpret. He sat quietly staring out the window, watching the sun slowly turn the sky a bloody red. The entire time they had spent observing him, it seemed the more he retreated into himself. He didn't seem as if he should be a danger to the peace, and yet he had been the one that had started this chain of events. He had, without even trying, precipitated significant changes.
Heero had taken a step out of his shell for a moment to try and point out that the problems in the government had existed long before it ever trickled down to his level, but they took little heed of the sentiment. No matter who had started it and why it had happened, Heero Yuy had once again become an important man in the world.
Their hushed conferences were broken by the entrance of one of their colleagues. "You have to watch this!"
A television was located inside a cabinet embedded in the wall, and the channel was flipped to a news outlet showing a public broadcast. The picture stabilized into an image of a man they did not recognize. "--the World Nation recognizes that they have taken the wrong path to peace. It is time for a change. We hereby deliver this ultimatum to them: we demand that they yield the government to members of our consortium. If, after twenty-four hours, they fail to relinquish their power, we will use our weapon to destroy the seat of their power, the capitol building, and force a turnover of power. We strongly suggest that all personnel evacuate the building, should the government fail to do the right thing. One by one, the symbols of their power will fall until we are in control..."
One of the men on the government team wailed softly, and it seemed like a signal to the others to break out into a gentle panic. Duo snorted dryly and commented to his companion. "Told 'em there was a weapon in the works somewhere."
He waved his hand in front of Heero's face. "Hello? Were you even listening?"
Heero batted the hand away without looking. "I heard."
He started to harass him further on the matter, but decided against it. He didn't know what he had expected Heero to do or how he would react. Heero was different now, and the world, well, it obviously didn't strike as sensitive a bone in him as did the topic of Relena. He spoke of more innocent matters instead. "Guess the interview's over for now."
"Think we should jump out the window while they're distracted?"
The corner of Heero's mouth twitched in a moment of passing amusement. "We could do that any time we wanted."
"Yeah, I know." He glanced over his shoulder at their hand-wringing adjudicators. "Maybe we should think about jumping some time soon, though. History has shown that these guys can't really think about two things at once. They're likely to shove us in a box until this is all over."
"It'll only be twenty-four hours."
"One way or another. How close are we to the capitol building? Hm, guess the blast radius won't get us." He looked more carefully at his companion. "Would you even care if it did?"
Heero's eyes remained fixed on the horizon. "Don't ask questions like that."
Thirty minutes later, the guardsman standing outside the door entered the room. "Yuy, Maxwell. The commander wants to talk to you."
"This is so not our fault," Duo muttered, taking the opportunity to escape their interviewers. The interview had entirely stalled, anyway. He wasn't so certain that the next interview wouldn't be distasteful as well, though.
They were escorted to Hawkins' office. The commander glanced up at their entrance and gestured them into the two chairs in front of his desk before transferring the signal of his vidphone to the large screen on the wall. The display was split four ways. Relena was in the bottom right corner looking worried. The other three were filled with senators who probably always looked that constipated. The balding man in the top right started immediately. "Did you watch the broadcast?"
Heero indicated his positive answer with a steady look. Duo shrugged slightly. After realizing that that was all he was getting, the man spluttered, but could not find the words. Relena stepped in instead and put it simply. "Will you help?"
Duo glanced briefly at Heero, already figuring what his answer would be, before speaking. "With what, exactly?"
The face in the fourth quadrant of the screen scowled. "Don't play games with us."
"No, really. With what?"
Always the peacekeeper, Relena filled in the communication gap. "They have a weapon and are threatening the world nation unless we hand over power to them. We have to stop them."
He scratched at his cheek idly. "Okay, so we only watched a bit of the end part. What sort of weapon was it again?"
"They've built an orbital strike satellite above Earth, with plans for an entire set of them. With the basic schematics they've given us to prove their ability, we predict that they'll be able to re-orient them and re-direct the beam in the direction of the colonies as well, after they complete their work, giving them the ability to carry out surgical strikes from orbit on nearly any point in the sphere."
"They got pushed ahead of schedule then, eh?"
"We forced their hand. Nevertheless, the power they have under their control currently is definitely enough to follow through on their threats."
"And they just want control of the government?" Why anyone would, he didn't know. Just went to show what idiots the bad guys were.
"That, and to prove the strength of their policy. We cannot allow them to succeed in this. It would undermine the true cause of pacifism."
Ah, politicians. Had to love their logic. "So in order to prove that weaponry capable of carrying out precision strikes should not be used for the sake of pacifism... you want to use a pair of weapons capable of carrying out precision strikes against them?"
Her brow furrowed in concern. "You're not weapons, Duo. I understand that. But--"
"Will you do it or not?" the balding man cut in loudly.
Duo found it amusing to ignore him and continued to address Relena. "What do you need us for?"
"We're exploring all the options now. You're just one of them. We're surveying our teams in the colonies right now to see who can put together a sortie with enough firepower to take out the platform, but we aren't certain we have the resources necessary to do that. Not to mention, our satellites in the area have located the orbital platform. Four mobile suits have been sighted in the region, as well as a defense grid."
"Honestly, their pilots aren't all that."
She smiled briefly. "By your standards, perhaps. Lu told us of your piloting exploits. If we had the time, we'd get you out there."
He smiled as well, but he showed more teeth. "If I agreed."
"If you agreed. Lucrezia and Milliardo are also seeing to putting together a strike force on the ground. We're not certain yet where they're hiding, but when we do find it, we can do something. Unfortunately, that runs the risk of their carrying out the threat early."
"If they're going to push the button, they're going to do it if it's us going in for you. In fact, they're probably more likely to push the button. It's gotta be a stronghold of some sort, right? Security's probably unsurprisingly crappy, just like everything else of yours is today, but they'd probably notice us sometime before we got all the way in."
"You could try. If there's something that the two of you have taught me, it's that we must always try."
"I take it you're not interested in handing over the government."
The bald man turned an unpleasant shade of pink. "Of course not!"
"Hey, take it easy, man. You're exploring your options, aren't you? I gotta ask, though. They're asking everyone to evacuate the building first before they blow it up, right? So, just where is the credible threat to your government coming from? You really that scared of the destruction of your pretty buildings?"
"Duo," Relena chided. "From buildings, they can go anywhere. They may be morally opposed to taking unnecessary lives, but the government cannot function if it is constantly fleeing from one location to another."
"Hm. So what's in it for me?
She should have expected that and refused to ask for clarification of the question. She knew what they wanted. She couldn't give it to them. "Duo..."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
The third man spoke up sneeringly. "Nothing but mercenaries in the end, eh? Miss Peacecraft, it seems your faith in these individuals was unfounded."
"It was not," she snapped, smoothing her expression soon thereafter. "It is only reasonable that they receive some sort of compensation for their services in return for what they can do for this world. In fact, it is more than reasonable, given what we are asking of them."
"Someone a little less concerned with his own self-interest would bargain after the crisis had been dealt with, not before."
"Surely they will have proved that they are willing to cooperate with the government, that they are not a threat to the world and deserve a little freedom."
"This attempt to extort the government only proves that they cannot be trusted."
"We are the ones that have done nothing to prove that we are worthy of their trust. What makes us worth saving?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Peacecraft. The world government does not bargain with terrorists that hold its safety for ransom just as surely as the EUW does. This interview is over." His corner of the screen flickered, then went blank.
When a second connection was terminated without further discussion, Relena turned pleadingly towards the remaining senator, who had, until this point, remained silent. "Senator Almaden..."
The man studied their two silent captives. "While I sympathize with your predicament, if you cannot do this simply as an act of moral obligation, then I cannot endorse these negotiations any further."
Relena winced, seeing Heero turn away at the words and knowing that the Senator had said exactly the wrong thing. When the two pilots said nothing, Almaden nodded once in polite farewell before taking his leave. She sighed, and imparted one last shot before leaving to rejoin her colleagues. "I'll be in contact with you two again."
They stared at the black monitor for a few long seconds before Hawkins broke the silence. "You two are despicable."
Duo laughed darkly. "I don't see you volunteering for the job."
"I don't have the skills you two do."
"They need to stop being hypocrites out here in the capital, yanno? Because there were more guys than just us with the skills we have. Only the government thought it might get its jollies trying to snuff us all out. They can't go changing their minds all of a sudden without consequence."
last modified : 1/19/2006 00:27:14 PST