Drums of Heaven

Part Twenty-Three: If The World Is Made Amiss

Which ever wins I am happy, for God will give me bliss,
but no-God will absolve me from all I do amiss,
and I need not suffer conscience if the world is made amiss
--- Louis MacNeice

Heero shifted on the sofa cushion, trying to get feeling back into his legs. He spoke in a whisper, a faint question: "Pops said Hilde and Joe were engaged."

"Yes and no. Joe hadn't formally asked her. He got all old-fashioned and asked me, first, for her hand." Duo's expression was haunted. Just as quickly, though, the mask fell into place and he tossed Heero that quick smile. "I never told her, until... we found the ring... after he died."

The dark-haired man nodded, and waited.

"Joe was cool," Duo said, quietly, his eyes unfocused. "Black guy with great dreads." He laughed softly. "Not as long as mine, though... Jamaican heritage, raised on L2. Tall as Trowa. Quiet. Athletic. He had that soft lilt. Everything he said sounded like he was singing." Duo's voice had gone softer, and his eyes were half-closed as though replaying the memories as he spoke. Heero watched, fascinated, and somewhat disturbed.

The computer beeped, and Duo glanced over. "We're done here," he said, his face shuttering. "The computer's outside the perimeter, so the little ears just picked up the sound. Brace yourself."

Duo picked up the dampening device, spun its base, and dropped it in the satchel. With a yawn and a popping sound, he stood up, throwing his braid behind him even as it slid forward again each time he stooped and picked up the broadcasting boxes.

"Take whatever comics you want," Duo said. "And you owe me ten credits for finishing off all my drinks."

"Day," Heero impulsively announced. "I don't think you're an asshole."

"Oh?" Duo was surprised enough to stop in the middle of dropping the blue boxes into the satchel.

Heero set his expression to neutral. "You're just an asshole when it comes to me."

"Only 'cause you deserve the best, baby," the thief retorted, teasing. His eyes, however, were flat. "Come on, this took two hours. We've got to get back so we can start planning."

Five minutes later everything was packed, the lemonade bottles were thrown away, and Heero was on the street, waiting on the motorcycle. Duo threw Heero the keys and climbed on behind the Wing Zero pilot. Heero looked over his shoulder at the oncoming traffic, then pulled out and away from the shopping strip.

The afternoon traffic was heavy, and it took longer to get back to the station bay than Heero had expected. He pulled up and let the engine idle as Duo got off the bike. There were so many things he'd wanted to ask, to say, and they were still rolling around in his head to the beat of the engine's rumble. Heero realized Duo was still standing there, the satchel over his shoulder, waiting.

"I'm... " Heero started to say, then stopped. "I'll be back shortly. Errands," he added curtly. Without waiting for Duo's response, he pulled away from the curb, his destination firmly in mind.


At Enny's corner, Heero pulled up and waited for the pimp to appear. The cluster of girls gossiped quietly. The dark-haired man straddled the bike, letting the engine purr between his legs as he stared indifferently at their high heels and exposed cleavage. After a minute, one of the girls looked past him, and Heero instinctively turned his head to see. Jeet was coming up behind him. There was a sullen look on the kid's face, and he kicked at a piece of gravel as he came alongside the bike.

"Jeet," Heero said. "Where's Enny?"

"Around," the blue-haired kid said, but his tone was soft. Heero looked closer, seeing the circles under the kid's eyes, the dull brown eyes, the blue fading into a natural blond at the roots. "She'll prob'ly be back in a while. You gonna wait?"

"Not if you can answer the question," Heero said. He sat back, letting his hands fall to his thighs, and watched the street's traffic roll past. A minute passed before he spoke again. "When Day looks... who does he see? Can you answer that?"

"Yeah... "

Heero glanced sharply at Jeet. The kid wasn't looking at him, but at the ground. Jeet's shoulders were slumped. "Better to show you," Jeet finally said. "You know where Day's apartment is, in Sector 3?"

"By the Chinese herbalist?" Heero was surprised. Duo must have cleaned out the apartment of all furniture once he took over Joe's mission.

"That's the one. Gimme fifty credits and I'll tell you whatever I can." Noticing Heero's frown, Jeet shrugged one shoulder. "Enny's gotta have her take, and this isn't a short story."

Heero nodded, and Jeet climbed on the bike behind him. A minute later he was back in traffic, threading his way through and back to the same building he'd left only an hour before.


Heero resettled himself cross-legged on the sofa cushion as Jeet dug into the box of comic books. Quietly and methodically the boy lifted out handfuls of books, setting them aside as he worked his way to the bottom. When the box was nearly empty, Jeet brought out a black book, wider than it was tall. He placed it gently on the floor in front of the photographer, and pulled the second cushion close.

"Back when Joe was still alive... " Jeet swallowed hard, and knelt down on the sofa cushion next to Heero. The boy smelled like oranges and cigarette smoke, and his voice was soft and clear in the empty apartment. "Enny and Hel were friends, back then, and Enny told me about this. Day brought me here once, when he was drunk... a few months ago, I guess. He passed out, and I found this."

Jeet leaned forward and flipped the book open.

"That's Joe," he said, pointing at the first picture.

A tall man, skin the color of honeyed walnuts, slender but with broad shoulders. Joe's head was cocked, his dreads swinging to the side. He'd been turning around just as he was caught by the camera. His t-shirt was yellow, and his jeans were light blue, ragged at the seams. The picture was glued onto the page, and there were no notes or comments. Blank space was around each photograph, marooning them on the black pages.

"All three of them," Jeet said, his finger pointing at the next picture.

Duo was sprawling on a beat-up dusty blue sofa. Heero noticed it matched the cushions he and Jeet now sat on. In the picture, the kitchenette could be seen behind the sofa. Joe was lying on the sofa, his head in Duo's lap. One of his hands lay across his chest, and the other was raised to rest on Duo's shoulder. Hilde was leaning over the back of the sofa, one hand reaching forward. After the picture was taken she'd probably fallen straight onto Joe's lap. Her hair was flying about, and Duo was grinning, looking at her rather than the camera. Joe was looking at the camera. Hilde was looking at Joe.

"They were really close," the kid whispered. "Enny said when word came back about Joe, it was bad. Really bad."

The next shot was of Duo sleeping, his mouth open. Joe's hand was in the corner of the picture, holding a pen as if about to draw on Duo's face.

Jeet turned the page.

The left-hand picture showed Hilde waving her arms madly as smoke poured from the stove. Heero's mouth quirked up at the edges, finally understanding the validity of her threats about cooking.

The next picture showed Joe and Duo leaning against each other, standing in front of a green and red shuttlecraft. Duo was holding an air compressor nozzle. There was paint on Joe's face, and he had a crooked half-smile on his face as he looked at the camera. Duo looked like he'd been in the middle of saying something.

Jeet turned to the next page.

Hilde, sitting on Joe's lap.

Joe, lying on the sofa watching television.

Duo and Hilde, both laughing, standing by the apartment's front door. It looked to Heero as though the two friends were wrestling. The girl's expression was wicked, much like the look she got when trying to distract Heero during the video game. The Wing Zero pilot wondered if Hilde had been trying to tickle Duo when Joe took the picture. Heero wondered if Duo was ticklish.

Jeet turned the next page, silent, respectful.

A flyer from some band was pasted to the left side, and Heero reached out, carefully unfolding it. He stared at the band name, not recognizing it or the location of the performance.

"Joe sometimes played," Jeet said. "He could sing, too. Enny said Joe sounded like marmalade. I'm not sure what that is."

"Citrus fruit that's been cooked with sugar to form a jam," Heero said automatically. That small voice in his mind woke up long enough to ask how a space-living pimp would know about an Earth sphere breakfast spread.

On the right page were two smaller snapshots. Duo and Hilde, in the kitchen. Duo was at the stove, and Hilde was talking about something as he worked. She was looking at the camera, grinning. Duo's head was down, looking at the pot in front of him.

Joe and Duo, playing cards. Joe was looking at the cards; Duo was looking at Joe.

"That's who he sees," Heero said, finally getting it. His deep blue eyes dragged themselves away from the scrapbook, meeting Jeet's sad brown eyes.

"Yeah," Jeet said. "Enny said... " The kid shrugged. "No matter what happened, someone was gonna be hurt."

Heero nodded, watching as Jeet flipped slowly through the next several pages. Joe, Duo, Hilde: alone, or in pairs, or all three. Some serious pictures, a number of candid shots, and plenty of the fooling around that comes with a friendship of three. A shot of Joe balancing a bag of rice on his head. Hilde folding clothes, wearing only her bra and underwear at the Laundromat. Duo asleep, with a brown hand holding scissors, and a pale feminine hand holding up the braid. The next photograph was a blurred shot of Duo, fleeing the scissors.

The photographer smiled, a little, imagining the scene as Jeet turned the page. The blue-haired boy paused, his hand retracting slowly as he exhaled. Heero looked down at the pages, and his own breath caught.

Joe, with his arm around Hilde. His crooked grin was replaced by a sweeter smile, and Hilde's chin was down. She was staring shyly at the floor, not at the camera, tucked into the space between Joe's arm and his ribs. The top of her head barely came to Joe's chin.

Hilde and Duo, on the sofa. Duo, at one end, his legs cross-legged and pulled up, his arms around his knees as he studied a piece of machinery. A screwdriver was tucked behind the thief's ear. Hilde, at the other end, was looking off-camera, also curled up. Perhaps she was watching television. Neither seemed to be aware that Joe had taken their picture. Heero wondered what they looked like, in the next moment, after they heard the camera click.

Heero studied the next picture. Duo, smiling, out on the street, in front of the herbalist shop. He was wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, and black jeans, and his hands were wrapped around several textbooks as he approached the camera. He was smiling.

He stared, frowning, at the last picture of Duo for several seconds longer. A heartbeat passed and he sat back with a barely perceptible sigh.

"You can see it," Jeet said.

"Yeah," Heero replied.

That picture was taken after Duo knew, Heero thought. After he knew Joe had fallen for his best friend, and not him.


When Heero pulled up to Enny's corner, the girl was back. Jeet slipped off the back of the bike, took the fifty credits, and ducked away before Enny could holler at him. Seeing the girl wave, Heero paused and waited as she trotted over. She was wearing thicker leggings and a heavier coat, but under it he caught flashes of the sparkly blue tube-top she'd been wearing when they first met.

"Broke down and gave in," she trilled.

Heero glared at her and shook his head, letting the engine idle drop to a low moan. "I wanted to know about Joe," he finally said, quietly.

Enny's eyes dropped to the ground, and slid away to focus on something up the street. Her expression was serious, and all of a sudden Heero glimpsed in Enny what he'd seen in the faces of those who fought during the wars. He wondered what Enny had done to earn her wartime eyes.

"He showed me the scrapbook," Heero added, his fingers clenching on his thighs as he held the bike upright between his stretched legs.

"Makes sense," Enny replied, absently. "The three of them were... " She didn't finish the sentence, her eyes empty with remembered pain.

"It was obvious from the pictures," Heero said.

"Maybe to you, now," the girl said, with a small smile. "It wasn't to them, not when it was happening." Enny shrugged, and her green ponytail bobbed for a second with the movement. "Even good friends can be really blind."

Heero didn't know what to say to that, other than to nod. It was true, he thought. But if you're a friend, you take the time, make the effort, to be forgiven, to be worthy of being forgiven... and a friend gives you that time.


Trowa was in the kitchen making coffee when Heero came up the ship's main corridor. Heero could hear Hilde's voice, but couldn't make out what she was saying. He shrugged off his coat as he grabbed one of the beers from the fridge.

"Marching orders are decrypted," Trowa said, and popped the top off Heero's beer for him. "Ship out in two days, maybe three."

Heero nodded and followed the taller man into the gathering room, letting his coat fall on the chair. Hilde was lying on the sofa on her stomach, her face pressed against a set of printouts as she stared at the wall across from her. One arm was draped across the sofa to hang down to the floor. Duo was sitting at the console, his feet up on the ledge as he drank straight from a frosted glass bottle.

"Hito," Hilde said, lifting her hand from where it lay on the floor. She waved listlessly and let her arm drop again.

Heero nodded in response and leaned against the wall as Trowa strolled over and lifted Hilde by the ankles, one-handed. Pulling slightly, he pulled her sideways until her knees hit the floor. The girl yelped indignantly and threw herself back on the sofa, this time laying on her back and planting her feet in Trowa's lap. The acrobat shrugged and leaned back, his drink balanced on Hilde's shin.

There was a long silence, during which Duo took a few more long swallows from the bottle. Hilde stared at the ceiling, while Trowa sipped his drink. Heero watched Hilde from under lowered brows, his blue eyes dark with uncertainty.

Something is definitely wrong, the little voice was worrying. This isn't the way they reacted to the other assignments.

Heero was startled out of his reverie when Duo's feet came off the console, a solid thud as the boots impacted the metal floor. Duo's voice was tight, a low pitch. "There's no way," he snapped, as though continuing an argument. "We can find some other way to do this."

"Orders are orders," Hilde replied. She turned her head, seeing Heero's raised eyebrow, and sighed. "Shit, just read it." The girl rummaged under her head and pulled out the pages. Heero leaned over, setting his beer down before taking the printouts from her.

The room was silent again while Heero flipped through the pages, his eyes growing wider as he registered the implications. The team was to infiltrate a celebration being hosted by one of the syndicate families on L4.

Heero glanced at Trowa, one eyebrow raised. The Heavyarms pilot appeared to be lost in his own thoughts, his eyes closed as he sipped his drink without reacting to his teammates' emotions. Heero went back to reading, noting the schematics for the hotel resort in Sector 7 on L4, the guest list, the entertainment schedule, and the meeting room arrangements.

It dawned on him what the pages were saying, but doubting his intuition, he re-read the information. The only social meetings, in private locations, were for the organization leaders, accompanied by prostitutes and dancers. Heero scanned the information another team had hacked from the hotel's hospitality files. Prostitutes of both genders would be present, provided by two separate companies. One had an L4 address; the other had an L1 address. Dancers on the stage would be flown in from an L3 location.

That's the oldest trick in the book, Heero thought, grumpy despite his cool exterior. Screw someone to get past their guard, hope they talk in their sleep, get lazy and start spilling their secrets. Of course, his insolent voice whispered back, people tend to speak freely even around whores. What doesn't deserve respect doesn't qualify as human, doesn't deserve to even be noticed or registered. A prostitute as cover is the oldest, and most successful, the voice said.

"We'd need Enny and Jeet," Heero finally said. Hilde looked up, a line forming between her brows. Duo swung away with a disgusted snort, propping his feet loudly back up on the desk as he leaned back for a long swig from the bottle.

"Wire them, and have them circulate as back-up listening," the Wing Zero pilot continued.

"Why bother?" Hilde sat up, kicking her feet against Trowa's thighs to get leverage. She ignored his scowl, and looked past him to stare steadily at Duo's back. "We've got two right here who have the whole song and dance memorized. Just play it from the other side of the table, guys."

Trowa's eyes narrowed dangerously. The words were hardly out of Hilde's mouth, though, and Duo was already standing, the bottle in one hand as he cried angrily, "I am not a whore, and I am not playing one for anyone!"

Hilde was on her feet just as quickly. "You could've fooled me! Dress you up in leather, slap some lipstick on, and you'd beat Enny for looks. Send you in by yourself," she yelled. "You'd seduce 'em all, bar none!"

Heero gripped the papers tightly, his eyes darting from Hilde to Duo, standing ten feet apart, their nostrils flaring like two dogs bracing for a showdown.

"Fuck you," Duo screamed, throwing the bottle against the wall.

It smashed, and Heero blinked as drops hit his cheek. The light glittered on the shards lodged between two books, and on the rest scattered across the floor. Liquid dropped slowly from a shelf, soaking into a game's paper cover. Heero blindly reached up, wiping the drink from his cheek, not even thinking as he lifted his fingers to his mouth. His tongue darted out to his fingertips, and he immediately recognized the taste. Vodka. Cheap vodka, he corrected himself.

A mere heartbeat had passed since Duo had thrown the bottle. Heero was vaguely impressed that Hilde hadn't flinched at the action, or the shattering sound behind her. Trowa, meanwhile, had remained seated, his eyes fixed on a point in the middle distance. The Heavyarms' pilot's knuckles were white, holding the coffee mug.

"You play their game if you want," Duo was shouting. "Not me. I quit."



On to Chapter twenty-four

Back to chapter twenty-two

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