Drums of Heaven


Part Thirty-Six: Opening The Fist

I caught a petal, fallen from a cherry tree, in my hand.
Opening the fist
I find nothing there.
--- Ryu Yotsuya

Heero opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. The first thing he noticed was that the room was dark. The second thing he noticed was that his alarm had not gone off. And the third thing he noticed was that he was alone in bed.

He sat up, pushing the blanket off him, and squinted at the clock. Almost two in the morning, standard time. He shoved down the jealous conclusion that Duo had gone out to a club again just as he realized there was a faint light flickering from the living room. A gut instinct, the same kind that had saved him many times during war, was goading him to get up and check. Wary, Heero silently moved from the bed to the doorway, wishing he still had a gun with him. He might not plan to shoot, but he sometimes missed the comfort of its weight in his hand.

Heero was startled to see the laptop was on, a program running. Its blue light illuminated the small room, casting shadows behind the three floor pillows and a half-full bottle of beer. There was movement beyond them, and Heero glanced past to see Duo by the window.

The longhaired man was standing at the window; his arms crossed, his feet braced shoulder-width apart. He wasn't moving, and Heero narrowed his eyes at the sight, unwilling to startle the other man. Instead Heero stepped forward, hoping the window would catch the reflection of his movement. Duo caught it and turned his head, just barely. One look, and Heero froze.

In that split second Heero knew it wasn't Duo looking out from those deep blue eyes. It was Shinigami. The pose, the tilt of the head, the faint smile on Duo's lips, and his absolute stillness all came rushing into Heero's awareness. The Wing Zero pilot checked his movement, studying Duo's faintly rapacious expression, not even allowing his chest to move as he exhaled through his nose.

The laptop beeped.

Neither young man moved, but the moment had passed, and Duo's cold smile was swiftly replaced with a gentler expression. He turned in place, and kicked one leg behind him to prop himself against the wall. His voice was husky when he spoke, lowered in the dark room. "Did I wake you?"

"No," Heero replied quietly. Stepping forward, he glanced down at the laptop, then picked up the bottle and downed the last swallow. It was still cold. "I saw the light from the laptop, though."

"I've been reviewing the romchip files."

"What do they say?" His question was rewarded with a raised eyebrow. Heero shrugged. "Figured you'd want first look." Uncomfortable under Duo's piercing gaze, Heero looked away. He wasn't sure how to express the feeling he'd had that it was Duo's mission, and therefore Duo should be the first to see the job parameters. It didn't make the most sense, logically, the small voice pointed out, and Heero scowled mentally. He'd promised to stay, but he'd also promised to follow Duo's command.

"Thanks," Duo said dryly. He stretched, an economical tensing and relaxing of his chest and legs. He didn't fidget, nor did he uncross his arms. In the little light from the laptop, Heero could see the glint reflecting from Duo's eyes, and the sight chilled him.

Heero waited, silent, unmoving.

"The mission's changed," Duo said. Heero could feel Duo's eyes on him. "The L4 syndicate refused a preliminary meeting with the interstellar syndicate. We're already in place, so we're the ones to deliver the punishment. We're to take out at least two floors of the convention center. We're to aim for the highest amount of property damage we can manage, without torching the entire establishment."

"Controlled burn." Heero's voice was steady, dropping automatically into mission mode.

Duo nodded, a curt movement of his shadow against the wall. "There's more. There is a list of items that several L4 syndicate operatives always travel with, and we're to get those. Mostly technology-related. Disks, palmtops, a slimtop or two. L2 bosses want the information on those disks. If we can get it and don't take the hardware, that's fine. They just want what's in the files."

"That's all?" Heero was almost positive it wasn't.

"No." Duo didn't say anything else, and the silence stretched out for several heartbeats before Duo began to speak, a chilling sound in its calmness. "We have six targets. The names, pictures, and general identification information are in the laptop files. From what I can gather, these are all wives, lovers, or friends of L4 businessmen, and they are all expected to be present. Not all of the L4 businessmen are syndicate-related, but they're all powerful, and they all... in some way... have blocked the alliance between the L4 syndicate and the interstellar syndicates."

"Six targets." Heero's blood was turning to ice, matching the sound of Duo's voice.

"Including Iria Winner Marlowe."

"Oh, god... "

The soft cry was nearly a moan, and Heero struggled to keep from sinking to his knees. His fingers curled into fists, even as his mind battered at the oath he'd sworn. But he was trained for this. Of the four of them, he was the only one who could carry out six targets, each with increasing difficulty. An amateur could manage one or two, but six, picked out of a crowded party, would be impossible for any but an expert. Five years since he'd promised to never kill again, but of the pilots, he was the assassin.

You told Duo to make a choice, the small voice sighed. Look what kind of choice you have to make in return.

Heero flinched when he realized Duo was standing in front of him. The thief could still move with stealth to catch even Heero off-guard, and Heero closed his eyes, focusing on keeping his breathing steady. There was a soft touch on his arm, and when he didn't react, a second touch on the other arm, firmer this time. When Heero opened his eyes, Duo took the beer bottle and stepped away. Holding the bottle up as he stared at it, Duo spoke over his shoulder.

"If I thought it would work, I'd ask you to hit me." Duo snorted. "And then I'd lay you flat out and dump you on the first shuttle back to L1."

"Duo." Heero's voice was a quiet threat.

"You didn't sign up for this," Duo continued, as if Heero hadn't spoken. "It would be for your own good. You have a successful career. I don't want you risking that."

"Duo," Heero repeated, a little sterner.

"But I won't," Duo said, that strange frozen smile slipping into his voice. "If I did, your absence alone would compromise our team. And with Trowa under suspicion now, we can't risk more questions being raised. So we're both stuck." He swirled the bottle a few more times, as if admiring the way the laptop's blue light hit the amber glass. "Enny, Hilde, and Jeet will place listening devices the first day of the conference, and keep their ears open the rest of the time, just like we originally planned. I'll do the thefts, and place some of the explosives as I go. I'll need you to place the rest, and to supervise the three civilians. I'll also need you to make sure they're out of the way when everything goes down. Trowa will take out the targets."

"No." Heero paused, swallowed hard, and shook his head. "No. I was trained for this. Six targets will be impossible for--"

"I don't want to hear it." Duo's voice was icy. He strode to the kitchen, and dropped the beer in the trashcan. It hit with a thud, an echo of finality. "I know the promise you made. We all know it. None of us expect you to go back on that."

"There's got to be... " He shook his head again. His fists were clenched at his sides. Half of him wanted to argue, knowing if his skills weren't applied they risked botching the entire job. The other half railed against the notion of killing six innocent bystanders, the very people they were trying to protect and save in the first place. "There's got to be," he said again, and couldn't figure out how to finish the sentence.

"There isn't," the Deathscythe pilot replied. "If we could have stopped the war, either war, with the death of six people, would you have done it?" Duo leaned against the kitchen countertop, his arms crossed as he stared towards the window. "I would have. I wouldn't have hesitated for a second. Hilde started this to find out who killed Joe, but it's bigger than that. When Mariemaia took over, she did it through force and intimidation. We could respond with that, and we did. But now... someone is doing the same thing, but with stealth, and quiet corruption. The syndicates, allied, pushing their agenda... with the President backing them. Between all of them, they're tying the hands of the only remaining peacekeeping force in the Earth Sphere. I think six deaths are a small price to pay if it gets us towards our goal of untying that knot."

Heero gritted his teeth, then sighed, the tension flowing from his body, replaced by the calm silent center of his training. Duo was right. The bigger picture was what mattered. Six deaths would be a small price in comparison. But of them all, Heero decided, better he carry it, better he pull the trigger.

"You can't ask Trowa to kill Quatre's sister," Heero finally said.

"I don't have much choice. I would do it myself, but none of you have my skills for theft." Duo shrugged almost imperceptibly. It was a casually vicious gesture. "He was trained, same as us. He'll understand."

Heero was tempted to ask if Quatre also would understand, but the remoteness inside him told him that on some level, Quatre would pull the trigger himself if it achieved a greater good. It was the way they'd fought, during the war, and it was a way of seeing that would never leave them. Sighing, he rubbed his forehead, suddenly cold to the bone.

"Get some sleep," Duo ordered, but his tone was not unkind. "I'll be calling in sick tomorrow. We have a meeting with a smuggler at five." Duo paused, and when Heero didn't move, he added softly, "I'll be up a little longer." There was a rustling sound as the longhaired man's chin sunk to his chest, his arms crossed. A dismissive action.

Numb, Heero nodded, returning to bed without another word. It was a long time, however, before he could shut his mind down long enough to drift at the edge of sleep. And it was only once Duo came to bed, reaching out with fingertips to touch his hand, that Heero could let himself fall into true sleep.

For the first time in years, he dreamt of blood.


Work went by in a daze of dishes and wine glasses. In the early morning hotel rush, Heero had managed to push the mission change to the back of his mind. Without the restaurant's constant distraction, though, the awareness came barreling back at him full-force. Duo's words kept echoing in his skull, and Heero unlocked the apartment door with a barely-repressed sigh.

If I thought it would work, I'd ask you to hit me. And then I'd lay you flat out and dump you on the first shuttle back to L1.

The sole fact stopping Duo seemed to be that Heero's absence would raise the syndicate's eyebrows, and they couldn't afford that. Heero wondered if Duo would have thrown him out if the other man had thought the syndicate wouldn't care. It wasn't that he thought Duo didn't want him there. A part of him feared that, but another part was mildly hopeful that Duo would want him, and need him, during the mission regardless of personal feelings. What bothered him most, though, was simply the awareness that his own misguided attempts at protecting Duo in the past had not been forgotten, and clearly not forgiven.

He shoved away the regrets and unspoken explanations pounding in his head, vaguely noticing that Duo was sitting on the floor, staring at the laptop. Heero dropped his keys on the countertop, shrugged off his coat, hung it up, and headed into the bathroom with only a raised half-wave at Duo.

Fifteen minutes later he was showered, and dressed in casual black jeans and a white button up-shirt. He returned to the living room, seating himself across from Duo, and began putting on his socks.

"I've got a list of what we'll need," Duo said, turning the laptop so Heero could see it. "Spent the morning reviewing the plans for the convention center and the hotel. We'll take out the fifteenth and sixteenth floors, specifically the rotunda, the main suites, and the arboretum. In terms of financial damage, the hotel-top gardens alone are worth more than most of this sector."

"True." Heero scanned the shopping list. Duo's work, as always, was thorough. Sometimes too thorough. "Thirty-two C4 packs? For the square footage, we'll only need twenty." The list included a sniper rifle, five semi-automatic forty-fives, fifteen magazines, and ammunition for all of them. Duo had also listed two flame-throwers. Heero blinked. "Flame-throwers?"

Duo grinned. "Why not?"

"Duo." The Wing Zero pilot rolled his eyes, reread the list once more, and stood up. "Where's the meeting?"

"Sector Two. You ready?"

When Heero nodded, Duo shut down the laptop and stood up as well. He was dressed in his customary black jeans and black shirt, and pulled on his long black coat. Heero slipped into his boots, tied the laces around the heels, and grabbed his leather jacket. He was startled when Duo turned at the last minute, pinning Heero against the wall. There was a quick pressure of lips, and Heero opened his mouth, moaning softly as Duo pressed up against him, pushing a leg between his. They rocked against each other for a quiet moment, Duo's tongue battering at his, the taste of spice and mint mingling in their mouths, then Deathscythe's pilot pulled away with a quick Cheshire grin.

"Let's go shopping," Duo said, and led the way from the apartment.


The taxi dropped them off in the colony's warehouse district. Large buildings lined the broad street, their bay doors opening directly onto the street. Most of the buildings housed manufacturing, shipping, and mechanical businesses, with the upper floors for offices, storage, and other businesses like escort services, accountants, and computer technicians. Duo glanced up and down the afternoon street, nodded to Heero, and led the way to a large door to one side of a mechanic's garage. The sign on the door said Consolidated Atlantic Shipping in badly lettered Japanese kanji, with Russian, Hindi and English underneath. Leading the way, Duo pounded up the three flights of stairs, a strange half-smile playing on his lips as he whistled tunelessly under his breath. Behind him, Heero glared at the braid flapping against Duo's back.

Ridiculous looking thing, he thought. And yet, it was a single picture of Trowa that had rendered the acrobat instantly recognizable. Heero distinctly recalled the images of Duo being arrested during the war, five years ago. Yet all this time no one in the syndicate had thought to put together that teenage braid-wearing fool with this older braid-wearing fool. Heero sighed as Duo opened the stairwell doors and led them down the hallway.

"Four-oh-seven," Duo whispered under his breath, then smiled widely. "Here we are." He shoved the door open with his hip and led the way in, his manner causal and charming as he called out a hello.

Heero stepped in behind Duo, his eyes taking in the entire office in a single sweep. It only partially registered on him their reflection in the window opposite, and he was momentarily amused to consider that to an ignorant observer they would appear like two kids fresh out of college. Duo was in his traditional black; his chestnut thatch of bangs masking those deep blue eyes, with that perpetually cheerful smile on his lips. Heero's face was studiously blank. His dark brown hair fell in clumps across his face, a tousled contrast to the tailored white shirt, tight black jeans, and slim leather jacket.

The office wasn't much larger than their own living room, filled to capacity with a paper-covered desk, three straight-back chairs, and boxes piled up against the walls between overflowing filing cabinets. A second door along the left wall was ajar. A laptop sat on the desk, open, and the printer nearby was almost hidden under stacks of papers. A broken clock sat on one end of the desk, blinking the wrong time at them. There was a crash from the room next door, and a grunt as someone pushed the door open. A stack of papers appeared first, followed by a man as wide as he was tall. He looked at them over the tops of his reading glasses, grunted again, and stumped across to the desk. Dumping the armload of papers on the nearest open space, he sighed and looked them over as the two young men studied him in return.

His skin was a dark shade, reminiscent of southern Asia, and his eyes were a dark brown under a salt-and-pepper shock of short hair. The man's face was creased from age and space-burn, but his thick fingers, resting on the paper stack, were steady and strong. There were sweat stains under the armpits of his faded gray t-shirt, and he scratched absently at his belly as he waited for them to speak.

Duo seated himself in one of the chairs and motioned to the man with a hand.

"Take a load off," Duo said, and leaned back. "Pops sent us."

"Oh, right," the man replied, and his voice was a deep growl. "The kids from L2. Which of you is Waters?"

Duo tipped an invisible hat at the man, and grinned. Heero ignored the second chair and closed the office door behind him, leaning against a filing cabinet. He crossed his arms, but kept his body loose, ready for anything. Duo, on the other hand, seemed completely at ease.

"From the way you were described, I thought you'd be taller," the man said. "Name's Frank. You're here because... " He let the question hang.

"We want to cook a gourmet meal, and heard no one can beat you for quality tomatoes," Duo drawled.

Frank leaned over behind the desk, opening and closing several drawers. Heero tensed, but relaxed minimally as the man brought out a short metallic cylinder. He tossed it to Duo, who caught it one-handed, looked it over, nodded, and tossed it back. As Frank set it up in the middle of the desk, Heero recognized it as an item similar to the field dampener that Duo had used back on L2. It was a larger, less complex piece of mechanics than the one Duo had built, but Duo had seemed to find it acceptable. With another grunt, Frank surveyed the flashing lights, then settled himself into the chair behind the desk.

"What's on your grocery list?"

"Thirty-two C4 packs. One AR-15, five Kimber forty-five's, fifteen magazines, and ammunition for each. And two flame-throwers," Duo added, that cold grin flitting across his face as he ticked the list off on his fingers.

The man whistled and scrubbed at his hair. "Flame-throwers? Now that's one I haven't heard before. Not since the war, at least. How good's your credit?"

"I'll give you an account to charge when you prove you can provide everything."

"I can provide it, kid, don't you worry about that." Frank grinned, a lopsided look on his dark face. "Any modifications on the sniper rifle?"

"Don't exchange the AR-15's regular barrel for one of those stupid long ones, and modify the back stock like an XM177," Duo said, as if simply discussing the weather. "Won't need a bipod. I like the XM177E2 style modifications. I want a four-by-twenty millimeter cross hair, on a scope mount rail. I recommend filing the cocking handle to a t-shape. Put an M16A2 grip on it, too."

"That all?"

Duo appeared to think, then grinned. "I want it to take NPFC or CP-HW cartridges."

"I think I can do the CP-HW. If you really want the NPFC, it may take a few days. When's your dinner date?"

"January 27," Heero said.

Duo nodded. "But we'll want it all in place twenty-four hours prior."

"Of course," Frank replied smoothly. "And the Kimbers? Rare puppies. You set on that? I've got some Kotangs. Just came in last week." He leaned over to one of the boxes, and dragged it towards him. "They're surplus, from Sanq, before the standing army was disbanded during the Colony wars. The M1911A1 is a recoil-operated, semiautomatic, magazine-fed, self-loading handgun with fixed sights. Nice pieces of work, actually."

"Sanq," Duo repeated, watching the man dig through the box. "Never fired, dropped only once."

"Something like that," Frank replied, and laughed. It sounded like a Vernier engine firing up, the chuckling rumble echoing deep in his belly. "Here's one." He set a platinum-scored pistol on the desk, and pushed it towards Duo, the barrel facing the wall. Heero stepped forward without thinking, taking the gun in one hand and hefting it for a moment.

The room was silent, the two men watching as Heero methodically field stripped the weapon. He cocked the hammer, depressed the recoil spring plug and turned the barrel bushing clockwise one-quarter turn. There was a pause as he let the tension spring expand, then he flipped the recoil spring plug counterclockwise and removed it. His fingers flew across the metal surface, his face remaining as indifferent as it had been through the whole discussion.

Heero pulled the slide back, pushing it out from right to left, then flipped the gun upside down and drew the receiver to the rear, disengaging it. His hands cradled the gun even as he drew the recoil spring and its guide out of the slide, then removed the barrel bushing by turning it counterclockwise until he could lift it out. Twitching his head a little to get his hair out of his eyes, Heero seemed to barely pay attention, moving by rote. His fingers pulled the barrel out of the muzzle end and removed the firing pin with a fingernail. Carefully easing the firing pin out until the mainspring tension eased, he pried the extractor from the rear of the slide.

Pausing, Heero surveyed the gun's parts with a critical eye, then reassembled the entire unit in half the time it had taken him to take it apart. When he set the gun solidly back down on the desk and nodded curtly, Duo yawned in response. Frank's eyebrows were up to his hairline, glancing at his watch. The entire process had taken Heero fifty-three seconds.

"I take it you know what you're doing," Frank finally said.

"It was never in doubt," Duo replied smugly. The longhaired man cut his eyes sideways at Heero, who gave an imperceptible shrug. The Wing Zero pilot had noticed a weakness in the mainspring housing pin. The left stock was also too heavy, and would pull the gun to the side unless the user was used to the imbalance. Duo's eyes rested on the gun for a second, flicking up to Heero again with an understanding glance, then the deep blue eyes were resting on Frank again. "Don't like the Kotang," he announced, a distant smile gracing his features. "We'll stick with quality."

The old man sighed and leaned forward on the desk, and pushed a few papers around with one hand as he leaned his cheek on his other fist. There was a pause as he deliberated, and Duo's narrow smile never wavered. Finally the man waved his hand, agreeing to the silent demand.

"Fine, have it your way, but that means dealing with some major assholes. Just warning you." Frank leaned over, grabbing the gun and shoving it back into the box before he stood up with a cracking sound. "Damn knees," he muttered, and came around the desk. "Follow me... There's some L4 guys, non-syndicate, who run some real nice stuff. I think you're in luck, cause I think one of their reps got here from Earth this afternoon. One of the guys was telling me they're expecting some Kimbers, maybe some Rugers."

"Flame-throwers?" Duo asked hopefully, getting up as Frank opened the office door.

"Don't think so," the man said, and grinned. "Could I interest you in water balloons instead?"

"A man after my own heart," Duo sighed. "But I'd rather have flame-throwers."


The short man led them to another office down the fourth-floor corridor, near the back of the building. The office door was open slightly, and there were the sounds of several people talking inside. Their voices were deep and musical, and it took Heero a second to register that they weren't speaking English.

Frank rapped sharply on the door with his knuckles, and then pushed the door open. "Get to work, you lazy Colony scum," he called, his face breaking into a grin as he shook hands with one of the men by the door. The stranger was nearly as swarthy as Frank, but topped Heero by an inch or two. His jet-black hair was almost blue under the office lights, and his dark brown eyes were wide and friendly.

"Frank, what are you dragging in now?" The man leaned past Frank to look at Duo, then Heero, his gaze measuring for a second before the open expression returned. "Blue. Nice to meet you." He stuck out his hand, which Duo shook, and Heero ignored.

"Blue, leave 'em alone, they're cool," Frank ordered from behind the taller man.

Blue shrugged, stepping out of the doorway to let them in. He grinned at Heero, who stared indifferently. Duo nodded to a second tall man sitting on a tattered sofa, who looked like Blue's twin brother and introduced himself as Red. A third man, by the window, turned with a printout in his hand, and introduced himself as Green.

"Where's Purple and Orange," Duo asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Delivering groceries," Frank said with a laugh, pointing Duo to one of the few empty chairs in the room.

Heero leaned against the wall by the door, only his eyes moving as he took in the rest of the room. There were two doors, leading to other offices, and he could hear movement behind one. Duo seated himself, and kicked his feet up on the desk, crossing his ankles as he leaned back, looking for all the world like he was perfectly at home.

Frank settled himself on another open chair and leaned over to Blue, who had moved to sit on the arm of the sofa next to Red. "These kids want a pile o' forty-fives," the grizzled Indian explained. "Ammunition to boot, and if you've got it, throw in a few flame-throwers. My treat."

"No flame-throwers, old man," Blue said, and Heero was again startled to hear the rounded accent, and the soft lilt in the words. It seemed familiar, somehow, but he couldn't place it right away. Blue grinned at Duo and shook his head. "But we can do the forty-fives, no problem. Got some Kimbers in this afternoon."

"Rugers?" Duo asked.

"No," Blue replied, and shrugged. "We can do special order. How long can you wait?"

"We've got fourteen days to deadline." Duo scratched his head, and flipped his braid around to the front as he got comfortable in the chair. "Twelve, actually, since we'll want delivery on site prior to the day."

"That'll cost extra."

"We can pay."

Blue glanced at Frank, who nodded. Satisfied, the man leaned back and patted his hand against one of the side doors. "Hey, boss-man, we've got company." He leaned back, nudging Red and the two men shared a grin. Blue gave an apologetic look to Duo and Heero. "Jehshe's a little strange, but he's reliable. Got here just an hour ago."

"Run into any trouble?" Frank asked, a little too innocently.

"Of course not," Green interjected. "If he had, we would've come to visit you first thing. We pay you too much to keep customs quiet."

"And here I thought you just liked me for my looks," Frank replied. The men laughed, and Heero was distracted for a moment, until he realized another man was standing on the side door's threshold. He was as tall as Heero, dressed casually in a crisp white t-shirt and tight blue jeans. Heero noted distantly that the stranger was wearing black Chinese slippers, even as his gaze swiftly traveled back up the stranger's body to his face. The man's jet-black hair was long and loose, several stray locks reaching to his chest. The rest was tucked behind his ears, and he was wearing a small pair of reading glasses. The man pulled them off with an apologetic smile, and bowed to Duo and Heero, a brusque formal movement.

Heero checked his reaction. Pulse and respiration normal, and he stole a glance at the Deathscythe pilot. Duo was regarding the man with undisguised curiosity, but no familiarity. Heero's glance was pulled back as the stranger spoke, introducing himself.

"Zhishi Long," Wufei said. His light tenor voice was a smooth and lightly accented with a British cadence, a stark contrast to the heavily accented men now flanking him as he stood by the door. "I understand you're here to do business."


On to Chapter thirty-seven

Back to chapter Thirty-five

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