Beyond seeing to her own comfort, however, she was at a loss. "I tried talking some sense into them. We're really not coming to very many viable options. Mil and Lu are working very hard right now. While they've gathered the necessary men and service weapons for a decent squad, we still have nowhere to send them. We've mobilized teams to search the homes of all known EUW members. They're still going at it; so far they've found nothing. Ships were sent out to the Moon Base and the mining asteroid where Mil was being held. The facilities have been emptied. Some evidence left behind, but no clues."
From his sprawled position on another sofa across from her, Duo yawned. "Still waiting for the punchline here."
She frowned, trying to decide whether he was being obnoxious or not. "Fine. Things aren't looking very good. No matter how this turns out, pacifism is going to take a major hit, either because someone took control of the government by means of force, or because the government protected itself by means of force. Unsurprisingly, the EUW refuses to be talked down from its position. Things are going to get ugly, and maybe the only thing we can do is to minimize the casualities. You two are unfortunate enough to be a part of that plan."
"Only your plan, I would assume. The rest of those guys up there would still rather have us locked up."
"You're the only people I know that have a chance of getting in there to do what you have to and succeed at it. We've tried talking to Wufei."
Duo turned his choked laugh into a cough. "Um, excuse me. Go on."
"He refused to discuss the matter with us."
"I've tried to win some concessions from the government on your behalf. They're willing to bend a little. You'd still be monitored, with regular appointments, but they would take a more hands-off approach."
"Gee, that's kind of them. Changed their minds, did they?"
"Some of the other senators were willing to back me, and together we were able to convince some of the hardliners. I was surprised and encouraged by the support, really, though I worry if it maybe means that they're getting more desperate."
He held his hand up. "Wait. Lightbulb. I get it now. Forget it."
"What? Why? Consider it. They need to be reassured of your good faith before--"
"Not that. Not that I believe in these concessions of yours. But other than that. It's really more than I would have given them credit for, but I guess this is how you pacifists get things done. Kudos to them."
"What are you talking about?"
"You don't really think they're suddenly so willing to believe in us, do you?"
"Well, of course. That's why there would have to be a probationary period."
"Don't be na´ve. They don't plan on giving us anything if they can help it. They're more willing to send us in than anyone else because we're expendable. And they know the bad guys know they don't trust us, so if we get caught in there, they can claim we just got loose and decided to go after the bad guys ourselves, so don't take that out on them. Hell, they could probably say you were acting on your own, too. I'd be surprised if you weren't considered something of a rogue agent yourself these days."
A shiver ran down her spine, but she protested anyway. "Duo, that's absurd. They wouldn't think things like that."
Despite her objections, he continued. "If we get killed in there, great. If we come back from it alive, they can always lock us up again then, if they don't just kill us outright and claim we died on the mission."
"Duo! That's terrible."
He shrugged. "Why not? It'd solve a couple of their problems, wouldn't it?"
"That sort of thing might have happened in the old days, but we have a different philosophy of governance now."
"Which you said yourself is going out the window right now. More so, the more panicked they get. Deadlines, you know. The stress will get to a guy. And it's not that far a reach from what they've been doing over the last five years anyway, right? They've always wanted a way to quietly get rid of us."
"But..." The more she thought about it, the more wickedly possible it seemed. There had been precious few of her colleagues that agreed with her on how the Gundam pilots should be managed, and even they considered them as resources to be managed more than world citizens or even human beings. She had thought that desperation might win its way past their irrational fears and allow them to see the pilots for what they were, but maybe it had only loosened their morals and driven them to extremes. And yet the world was still in danger.
"Duo," she said softly, staring down at her hands. "You may be right about that. It may be that the senators are prepared to dispose of you somehow. As you've said, it isn't too far different from what was done to you before, only more crude. Yet... that doesn't change the fact that there are people out there trying to bring about a revolution. I know the current government hasn't been kind to you, and that it may be trying to kill you off somehow now. But think about what the EUW has done, and decide for yourself whether you would really want the world under their rule. I know this is a lot to ask of you. I know it may seem irrational to care about people that obviously don't care about you. But you're the only ones now that I can ask to do this. I can't promise you anything..."
"Hey, now," Duo cut in hesitantly. Good lord, were those tears hovering on the edge of her voice? "Um, you know, it's not like we ever really fought for people that gave a damn about us. And it's not like we ever really expected much in return for it." He backpedaled hastily when he saw her look up with hopeful eyes. "Not that I'm saying we'll do it or anything. I mean, just don't feel bad, princess. It's not like this shit is any different from the shit we normally get."
He glanced over at Heero, half expecting to hear him send a rebuke across the room for his language, but Heero remained in statue-like repose, leaning against the wall beside the window and surveying the grounds by moonlight.
Relena also looked in that direction, and with a murmured pardon, walked hesitantly to his side. Her hand rose to touch his arm, but stopped short of making contact. "Heero..."
He made no move to acknowledge her, leaving her in an awkward silence. Behind them, Duo got up quietly and tactfully slipped out of the room, which helped ease her apprehension a little. She took a breath, gathered her thoughts to her, and started anew. "Heero. I'm sorry." There was the slightest twitch of his head in her direction, and it encouraged her to continue. "I... I know I've been making things difficult for you. I've... been expecting things from you. Trying to fit you into a mold for which perhaps you are not suited. Not anymore."
"Not ever," he breathed, barely giving the reply any substance.
"I'm sorry." The words were wholly inadequate. "I... I never meant to make things difficult for you. I didn't even see it for the longest time. Maybe... maybe it's arrogant of me to say, but I think perhaps you... just might care for me some way, in some measure, and I think I've abused that long enough. I think you hold yourself to a very high standard of performance. I don't know if this matters, but... no matter what you do... you will never disappoint me, Heero. You've done so much already, for me and for the world, for so little in return. You deserve something, some peace, some happiness, some personal gratification."
His gaze dropped before he turned to her. "Relena..."
This time she did touch him on the shoulder. "You always look like you're hurting, Heero. Many times because of something I've said something that hurts you. I'm so sorry. I wish there was something I could do to make that go away."
He shook his head slightly. "It's not your fault, Relena. It's not your fault that I am who I am. And I can't stop being that, it seems, no matter how hard I try."
"It's not your fault either, Heero." She wasn't even certain how he was taking the blame upon his faltering shoulders, but he was, she was sure of it. She'd always seen him as responsible, upstanding. Now she was seeing him as too responsible for his own good. "You're only human. No, you are human, and it's no flaw to be human." She sighed, feeling all too human herself these days. "You know what I need to ask of you. I also need to tell you that I'll understand, no matter what you choose. Duo's right. You will likely get nothing in return for this, and it's unfair of us to ask it of you. It's our mess, after all. We should learn to clean it up by ourselves. And yet... I can't in good conscience not ask you. So I have to sincerely apologize for giving you this decision to make."
His head shook, more strongly this time. "I don't know if I can do it, Relena."
It hurt to hear it, but she smiled anyway. "That's okay, Heero. We'll find a way, then. We'll get through this, and hopefully be stronger for it."
I won't, he mouthed, deeming it fortunate that she could not read his lips.
Dorothy smiled. "I'm just visiting my cousin."
"Isn't it way past her bedtime?"
"There's a world crisis, Mr. Maxwell, one with a ticking clock. There is no bedtime."
"Hn." He'd wanted to go stalk somewhere alone, glad that their guards had been dismissed to somewhere less conspicuous as a gesture of goodwill, not run into this jackal in the halls. He tried to step around her, but she slid over a few centimeters and blocked his way. "Shouldn't you be, I dunno, out corrupting the young again or something? Or are you just done for the night?"
"Keeping a Khushrenada apprised of the world's political situation is in no way a corruption, my dear. It's necessary for her to blossom into her true potential."
"She's already tried to take over the world. Where does a girl go from there?"
"To success, of course."
"Hn. So what's her political philosophy? What would she do if she ran the world?"
"She would certainly respect the warriors such as yourself. She has her father's aesthetic, though she never met the man. I wonder how much of that is thanks to Chang."
"Ah, the irony," he murmured. "Chang is not quite a respectable warrior these days."
"I beg your pardon, my dear, but neither are you. Nor your charming companion."
He took more offense on Heero's behalf than he did on his own. "There's nothing to be a respectable warrior about these days."
"World crises don't count?"
"It's not our crisis." It was barely even their world.
"You went after Zechs and Noin."
"That was personal."
"And you have nothing at all to gain by joining in the fight now?"
"You know, I'm getting a little tired of having this conversation over and over again. If you all are so interested in saving the world, maybe you ought to go jump into the fight yourself. Just because we saved the world once, we're gonna get stuck with the job for the rest of our lives? That's bull."
"You saved the world twice."
"Whatever. You were a bad guy, weren't you? Aren't you supposed to be interested in watching the world go up in flames?"
"You were a good guy. Don't make me state the obvious."
He was losing this argument, and losing badly. He didn't like that. "How is it that they let you run around free, huh? Shouldn't you have been locked up with the rest of us?"
"Maybe. Fortunately, I bat my eyelashes better than you do."
He made a face. "Eww. I don't wanna think about this anymore."
"I know how to play the game, Maxwell. I was just a flighty girl, badly influenced by my grandfather's politics, dabbling in war. What harm was I?"
"You skewered Quatre, didn't you? Not to mention the mobile doll army. They know that, don't they?"
She shrugged elegantly. "Maybe. So long as I kept with my frivolous pursuits, maybe they didn't care. I know how to keep my head down and bide my time, how to feign neutralizing myself so they wouldn't have to. I'd almost say you do, too, only I'm not so sure you were feigning. I read your dossier, and now I've seen you for myself."
"My dossier, eh? What else does it say about me?"
"Personally, I find Heero Yuy's file to be far more interesting, especially in combination with the contrast of how he's been doing since getting out."
"Leave him alone."
"My, protective, aren't we?" She had barely made a move in Heero's direction, and already Duo was warning her off.
He frowned, wondering at the answer himself. He decided it was a 'there but for the grace of God' sort of thing. "Hey, the guy's got a tough time being him. Cut him some slack."
"I can barely believe Noin's account of men behaving badly when I look at him now."
Yes, things had sort of slid downhill from there, hadn't they? Maybe it had been Quatre's analysis. Maybe it had spooked him. Maybe it was the Sweepers, with their whispers. Maybe it was Relena, and her expectations, and what he no doubt considered his failings. "Don't go poking at him, Dorothy. That's not what he needs right now."
"He needs a lot of things to be put back to right. Uncle Treize would be so saddened to see him now."
Duo suppressed a growl of annoyance. No one would shed a tear if they knew how far Duo had fallen. No one, a little voice whispered to him, except for Howard. He shook the thought off. Howard was better off staying away from him. He wasn't worth it. "That's bullshit, too."
"Yeah." He left rather than explain. Everyone was just sad because Heero wasn't who he used to be, or who they expected him to be. It seemed wildly unfair that no one was sad for Heero because the poor guy was lost as hell and close to his breaking point.
last modified : 1/19/2006 00:27:14 PST