Drums of Heaven

Part Twenty-Nine: They Say That Venus She Rises

Baby, when the bands and the barkers go home
They say that Venus she rises
From out of the foam
--- Marc Cohn

Life returned to its normal working schedule the next day. Heero spent the afternoon braving the cold to take pictures, only to come home, eat dinner, and read until falling asleep before midnight. Duo returned sometime around two in the morning. The sole change in the pattern was when Duo crawled into bed, beside the barely alert Heero.

Duo's hand slid over the sheets, stretching across the gap between them. Heero wondered if he should pretend to be asleep. A few minutes passed, and when Duo's breathing had evened out, Heero's own hand shyly found its way to the thief's.

The next night, Heero had his hand out, waiting, when he heard the front door unlock.

Neither was comfortable talking about their relationship, and it didn't help that they didn't have much time. But they had grown secure with falling back into the patterns from being wartime roommates, with a new factor the second time around. Now they slept, every night, holding hands.


Forty days to mission start, when Duo's evening off finally arrived. Heero came home to find his roommate had splurged on out-of-season vegetables at the grocery store. He watched as Duo put everything away, listening politely to the young man's nonstop chatter about the latest evening shift gossip. Heero was surprised to find himself enjoying the chance to listen to Duo ramble. Since his last day off seven days before, the closest thing they'd had to a conversation were notes left on the kitchen countertop.

Later that afternoon, Heero logged into the hacker's forum while Duo cooked dinner. Duo glanced over Heero's shoulder at random intervals to make comments he wanted passed along to torment Mike the Hand. Heero ignored both his roommate's mocking threats and the hacker's intimidated bluster.

Rat reported it had taken three days to work past the complex security systems around the Unified Earth Sphere's server systems, and another day to break into the email cache for the service provider created for the President's personal residence. Once they were in, it had taken another three days of judicious and skillful maneuvering through low-risk areas to find a back door through which to download the cache files.

The two ex-Gundam pilots celebrated the minor progress by renting four videos from the rental place down the street. Unable to agree on their preferences, they flipped for the first choice and traded off.

Heero's choice led the evening, followed by Duo's. Heero's second choice was being ignored by the time the opening credits finished rolling. The two young men were lying on the futon, fully clothed, kissing through soft sighs and inarticulate murmurs. By the time the third movie was done, both had fallen asleep, victims to too much beer, full stomachs, and the comfort of security.


The next day was Heero's morning off. He slept in, did laundry, and Duo made lunch before the pilot left for work. When the door shut behind the longhaired man, Heero flipped open the laptop and logged into the hacker's forum. Scrolling down the list of avatars, he opened a window with Pinky.

"Have you continued to monitor the Maxwell bank account?"

The avatar wiggled its pigtails. "About once a week. Want me to check for you?"

"Yes," Heero answered. Pinky went on stand-by, and Heero filled the time answering various Gundam-related questions from some of the other hackers involved. It had been over a month since he'd had the time to do so, and he figured they'd waited patiently for long enough.

Pinky returned an hour later, and opened the private message. "Nothing since last month, but I'll monitor the account."

"Send me an alert if there's activity."

He spent the rest of the day working quietly on the laptop, familiarizing himself with the hacking and decrypting programs Duo had installed. As the days grew shorter, heading for the colony's falsified equinox, Heero spent more of his afternoons indoors, carefully dismantling and rearranging the programs Duo created each night. He wasn't certain whether Duo knew of his work. Heero figured he'd be surprised if Duo didn't; yet flattered if he'd slipped past the thief's notice.

It didn't matter, in the end. They shared the laptop, this second time around, and there were fewer secrets. Besides, Heero was catching up rapidly. Like shooting and fighting, hacking came back easily.


Three days later, Heero received the alert from Pinky.

"Transfer yesterday, around eleven in the morning standard time." There was an address, and Heero logged onto the forum to access the file. What he saw was the last thing he expected.

It was a picture of him, sleeping. Heero's fingers paused over the keys, stunned, taking in the drift of the sheet across his chest, the white nearly glowing in the long shutter time. His hair was in his face, obscuring his closed eyes, and his lips were softly parted. One hand was draped across his chest.

Heero realized Pinky was messaging him again, and he pulled his attention back to the window. "Is this the complete file?"

"The whole kit," came the response.

"Thanks for getting it. I'll be back in three days for the regular check-in." Heero logged off. He saved the picture file to his own protected file, and sat back, bemused and flattered at the same time.

He made short work of narrowing down the possible algorithms to decrypt the picture. It was a combination of having learnt the more recent programming fads, and the previous two weeks of reacquainting himself with the other young man's personal style. His third choice cracked the code, and Heero sat back on his heels with a satisfied smile as the file resolved itself into a watermark. Running the file through an image-processing program, the two layers divided. Reversing the image to black-on-white, he enlarged the image for easier viewing.

"Hey 04," Heero read. "Waiting tables. That's right, waiting tables. Preparing for L4 shindig, end of January. Made 350 credits Saturday night."

He whistled under his breath. So that's why the idiot refused morning shifts. He made a note to speak to Frank about switching his schedule. His daily take, on average, was only 275 credits.

"It's not a lot. Pickpockets have it easier. Make the same amount, and don't have to stand up as much. HS still on L2, doing odd jobs for Pops. Might come to L4 around New Year's to visit but isn't sure."

HS... Hilde Schbeiker, visiting over New Year's? When was he was planning on letting me know, Heero wondered. He frowned at the laptop screen.

"03 got the gig with the dance troupe on L3, but not performing over New Years. HS wants him to come to L4, too."

We'll need a second futon after all. Heero sighed and scratched his head. Duo hasn't mentioned any of this, he grumbled. Perhaps Duo thought it would make a great surprise.

"Hope you and 05 are doing well. Give RD my love."

Heero blinked. RD. Relena?

"01's hackers broke your track bots, if you were wondering. Thinks you've got your goons tailing us. What did you think that would achieve?"

And just how did Duo expect Quatre to respond, Heero mused. Or perhaps the Deathscythe pilot had grown accustomed to the rhetorical questions, and asked them if only to let Quatre know none of it was lost on Duo. A progress report full of last words, on every issue raised.

"Big party on L4, New Year's Eve. Thinking of joining it, but it's at the hotel. Too bad RD's not here to give me tips on party crashing etiquette."

Heero paused, trying to remember what he'd heard from the rest of the staff. The hotel owners were hosting a New Year's Eve celebration. It had a theme, the small voice reminded him, being the part of his mind that always seemed to track the trivial details. He shook his head.

"Using hackers to search for connection between Top Dog and L2 snakes. Some headway getting into servers. Will send another report when we hear more."

That was it. No other explanation, no closing statements. Heero re-read the image once more, then shut the file down and locked it away in his protected personal folder. After a minute, he re-opened the folder and deleted the file. If Duo wanted in, he'd get in, Heero was certain. Carefully he cleaned out any indication of the file or his work decrypting it, and shut the laptop down.

The letter was chatty, disorganized, and most of the information was completely between the lines. Even the image itself carried a message, after what Duo had said about the falling-out that led to Trowa joining the mission instead of Quatre. What was he telling Quatre with a picture of Heero, sleeping? Why didn't Duo send a picture of himself, instead?

Shaking his head, Heero filed the information in the back of his head and decided to wait until their next day off together. If Duo hadn't said anything by then, the two of them would have words. There was no way he would be happy about unexpected guests. He'd suffered through a month and a half of sharing a ten by fifteen foot space with Trowa, and now that he had some semblance of daily privacy, he'd be damned if he was going to share it with anyone other than Duo.


Both young men had worked three days past their expected days off, between sick co-workers and shifting schedules. The days had tumbled on top of each other, the colony's winter settling completely by late December. Even in space, winter holidays required hospitality workers on the job. It was with some relief that Heero woke up on December twenty-seven at five in the morning, stared at the ceiling for several minutes, and fell back asleep.

At ten in the morning, Heero came wide-awake, his mind automatically tallying the date. Thirty-one days to mission start. He rolled over to see Duo watching him.

"I get the shower first," Duo announced, yawning as he stumbled to his feet. "Thought I was going to pass out last night while brushing my teeth." He grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt from the closet, tossing them over his shoulder as he left the bedroom. Duo paused in the doorway with a strange half-smile on his face. "Message for you on the laptop's main window. Email from Hilde."

Heero rubbed his eyes and scowled at his roommate's departing back. Five minutes later he was dressed and waiting for the coffee to perk, starting up the laptop with barely concealed irritation. He'd managed to stifle the urge to strangle Duo for not saying anything earlier, but it had been a close call, a few times.

Then again, Heero admitted to himself, sometimes he contemplated strangling Duo for the smallest of reasons. The amount of hair in the shower each morning was usually enough to prompt a short but satisfying fantasy involving scissors.

The coffee pot chirped, and Heero got up to pour himself a cup before settling back down in front of the laptop. There, on the desktop window, was an email from Hilde. Almost as chatty as Duo's report to Quatre, it too contained no real information but plenty of subtext. Rereading it several times, Heero realized it meant she and Trowa would be arriving at the L4 shuttle bay on December thirtieth.

Three days.

When Duo got out of the shower, Heero was perched on the kitchen countertop, pouring a second mug of coffee next to his own. Duo was fully dressed in his usual long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans, but he hadn't braided his hair. It hung like a damp rope down his chest as he wrapped a towel around it, wringing the dark brown mass thoroughly. Throwing the towel over his shoulder, Duo took the coffee mug with an appreciative nod, stirring in two sugars and double milk before raising his eyebrows at the staring man.

"What?" Duo scrunched up his nose. "Did I not get all the soap out of my hair again?"

"Idiot," Heero growled, but it wasn't an angry sound. He was finding it harder, over the past two weeks, to stay angry for long once Duo turned those wide indigo eyes his way. "It didn't sound like this was an impromptu idea from Hilde."

"Not really," Duo agreed, pulling the towel off his shoulders to wring his hair a few more times. "I invited her awhile back, but she didn't know if she and Trowa could make it until a day or so ago, I guess."

"Where were you planning on putting them?"

"Putting... " Duo looked up, surprised, then shrugged. He tossed the towel across the kitchen, and it hit front door and slid to the floor. Heero made a face, and Duo grinned. "They'll be fine sleeping on the ship. You didn't think I'd let them stay here, did you?"

Heero scowled, but didn't say anything. Duo grinned again, an impish expression, and leaned forward to plant open-mouth kisses along Heero's jaw line.

"I'll admit you had me worried," Heero muttered. Duo pulled away, a line appearing between his brows as he canted his head at the dark-haired man. Heero shrugged. "I like Trowa and Hilde, but... "

"I got it," Duo said, and grinned. "What's on the agenda for today?"

"Two things. First, I need to go shopping."

There was a pause, while Duo digested his roommate's announcement. He made a show of cleaning out his ears with his forefingers, after which he looked expectantly at Heero as he replied. "Come again?"

Heero crossed his arms. "You heard me fine the first time. I need socks."

"Well, I hope you also meant for groceries, because we're out of beer again. I'll make a list." Duo set the coffee down. A few minutes later, he'd worked his way through the little refrigerator and cupboards, while Heero dutifully wrote down everything Duo listed. Duo studied the last cabinet door thoughtfully before turning to Heero with a puzzled expression. "Did you ever say what the second thing was?"

"No." Heero's lips twitched, and he hopped down from the countertop. A minute later he returned from the bedroom with two packages, both wrapped in gaily-colored paper and tied with red ribbons. "This was the second thing."

"Second and third, looks like." Duo grinned shyly, and knelt down by the sink, digging around in the lower cabinets. A minute later he stood up, holding a shoebox-sized gift wrapped in white paper and stuck with a large blue bow.

The two young men stared at the gifts in each other's hands, and without further conversation, seated themselves on the pillows in the living room. Sliding the gifts towards each other, both stared for a few seconds more. Heero fiddled nervously with the bow before carefully removing it, then he bit his lower lip and tore the paper off the box. Duo, busy trying to undo the tape off his larger present, raised his eyebrows at Heero's unexpectedly exuberant ripping.

"You got me a pair of shoes?" Heero frowned at the box, but Duo noticed the way his lips twitched. Heero ducked his head, lifting the box lid to find three new science fiction novels in the series he'd just started, two pairs of wool socks, and a paper-wrapped box a little longer than his hand but no bigger around than two fingers.

Setting the books and socks next to him, Heero watched as Duo finally set aside the neatly folded wrapping paper. The dark-haired man wrinkled his brow at the action. "Are you planning on saving the paper? You don't need to... "

"I know," came the young man's soft reply. "But this way I feel less guilty for not re-using it." Duo fingered the two new work ties in his hands, a pleased smile on his lips, then set them aside to open the smaller present. Inside the box was a silver chain. Duo lifted it up, his indigo eyes going lighter with surprise to an almost twilight blue. The charm on the chain was a little devil, its wings spread. "You got me a demon," Duo chuckled, then leaned over to give Heero a quick peck on the lips. "Open yours."

Heero made short shrift of the package in his hands, stunned to discover it was a slim wooden box with a top that lifted up. Opening it, he found two delicately carved wooden chopsticks.

"They're bento chopsticks," Duo explained. "I know you're a Colonial, but I remember you used to read a lot about Japan when we were in school. And I heard in Japan people carry their own personal chopsticks around with them."

Unable to voice his feelings, Heero settled for smiling.


Day twenty-eight, Heero thought. December thirtieth, and Hilde and Trowa should be on the colony by now. Heero was on schedule New Year's morning, but would have the night before free. He'd only found out the day before that Duo had managed also to get the night off. In the locker room, Heero could hear several of the wait staff wondering out loud who Duo had slept with to get New Year's Eve. Heero scowled at the gossip, tired after six tables of eight people each and not interested in overhearing people joke about his roommate's sex life.

Coming out of the employee's dressing rooms, he caught sight of a familiar braid. "Day!" Heero snagged the pilot by the elbow. "Are they here yet? Did you leave them at the apartment?"

"Yes and no," Duo replied, grinning. "They're here, but out doing errands in Sector Five. We're going to a party tomorrow night, and Hel said we'd need stuff. They're coming back to the apartment for dinner. I made plenty for lunch so you can have the leftovers tonight. Gotta run or Frank'll have my ass."

"Then run," Heero said, his eyes narrowed. He dropped his voice to barely above a whisper. "I'm the only who gets your ass."

Duo's eyebrows shot up. He had just barely recovered by the time Heero was already gone.


When the knock came, Heero shut down the laptop screen and opened the door to find Hilde, Trowa, and four large shopping bags. Hilde's face was red from the colony's winter chill, and she kissed Heero quickly on the cheek. Trowa smiled in greeting behind her, his expression amused as he followed the brunette into the apartment's warmth.

"What is all this?" Heero scratched his head as Hilde started pulling clothes out of the bags.

"Costumes," she replied, nodding in clear satisfaction as she held up a pair of pants against Heero's legs. "What does it look like?"

Behind her, Trowa pulled a large hat out of one of the bags, and smoothed the ostrich feather before setting the hat down on the countertop. The taller pilot upturned the bag, and a pair of pants tumbled out, followed by a shirt, a long sash, and a pair of boots.

"I can see they're costumes," Heero replied, still bewildered. "Did you buy all of them today?"

"Of course," the petite brunette said. "Look, just tuck the price tag into the outfit, make sure you don't spill anything on yourself, and Duo can return it all on his next day off. Tell them none of it fit. Except the shoes. You'll have to keep those. Once you walk in them, it's hard to hide that."

Heero nodded, numbly, then frowned again as Hilde turned him around and pressed another garment up against his chest. She was obviously matching it for fit, but all he could see was black cotton, and ruffles on what looked like the sleeves. He twisted around, trying to see what she was doing. "You still haven't told me why you got them."

"The party tomorrow night," Trowa finally said, shaking his head as he did his best not to laugh at Hilde's frenzied searching through the bags. "It's a Fairy Tale-themed costume ball, and Pops gave us a one-evening job. We're to infiltrate."

"Infiltrate? As what, circus freaks?"

"Trowa might be happier then," Hilde said, laughing. "I'm Princess Kaguya, Trowa's Puss-in-Boots, you'll be the Highwayman, and Duo's Robin Hood."

Heero raised his eyebrows, and thought hard about that. Vaguely he registered Trowa was speaking in the background, but the majority of his mind was preoccupied with remembering what few fairy tales he could. Robin Hood was the one in green, that small voice chattered, and something about drunken monks.

"The syndicate wants a warning shot fired off at the L4 organizations," the taller man was saying as he sorted through the costumes. "We're to leave a series of notes around the party location, just to let them know we could have done more, had we chosen to. Hilde's got the box of them, ten for each of us. The notes include dummy listening devices."

"Robin Hood," Heero finally stammered. "He was the one who lived in the woods?"

"Steal from the rich, give to the poor," Trowa said.

"And he wore tights," Hilde added from where she knelt by one of the bags. Pulling out a pair of green leggings, she waved them in the air over her head, chuckling mischievously.

"Duo's going to kill you," Heero said in a flat voice.

"That's what I said," Trowa replied.


On to Chapter thirty

Back to chapter twenty-eight

Fiction : GW :

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