Drums of Heaven


Part Thirty-Eight: In The Streets Below

I hear pounding feet in the streets below,
and the women crying, and the children know
that there's something wrong
--- Jane Siberry

"You look goofy after you've come."

Heero snorted, and swatted Duo's hand away. He tried to scowl but couldn't wipe the crooked grin off his face, and instead tucked himself back into his jeans. The dark-haired man closed his eyes, felt a breath against his cheek, tried to ignore it, and gave up. He opened his eyes to see Duo leaning over him, a smug smile on the other man's face.

"Heero, relaxed." Duo's smile grew wider, a cheeky expression. "There's a rare sight."

"Shut up." There was little force behind the words.

"Make me."

Heero grunted negligently and sat up, the day's events rushing back to his mind. He frowned and pushed them away, trying to stay focused on the after-effects of pleasure. Duo caught the look and sat back.

"What's wrong?" Duo's voice was unexpectedly tentative.

Heero pilot shook his head, and pushed himself backwards until he was resting against the wall. He leaned his head back, and brought his legs up, resting his elbows across his knees. "Just... distraction only works for so long."

"Oh." Duo shifted in place.

"Come over here." Heero patted the floor next to him.

The longhaired man smiled shyly and crawled over, turning to sit next to Heero. The two leaned against the wall, staring at the wall opposite, silent for several minutes.

"It's not over," Duo whispered, his tone neutral, acknowledging a fact.

"No." Heero closed his eyes, trying to let the relaxed state last a little longer. It wasn't working. "The only thing we have now is proof that there's correspondence leaving L2 that deals with gun smuggling."

"Correspondence from six months ago, on top of that," Duo pointed out.

Heero nodded. "We don't know who was on the other end, or who was running the operation. Unless Quatre can find something on his end, the only thing we've achieved is successfully completing Joe's mission."

Duo sighed, a long controlled exhalation, and his head dipped forward onto his chest. After a pause, he turned his head sideways to watch Heero. "Which means we haven't really achieved anything."

"I wouldn't say that."

"I would," Duo replied firmly. "The instant Une presents proof of gun smuggling, the President would yank the Preventers budget. Une wouldn't have the money to pay agents to do the paperwork, let alone prepare for trial."

Heero rubbed his forehead. He'd wanted to return the blowjob, but the mood had not only passed, it had been drowned in the reality of what they were facing. His mind skipped to a different topic. "I presume you wrote Quatre about the change in the mission."

"Who, him?" Duo made an irritated noise. "We needed unusual guns, not diplomatic immunity. I wrote Une."

"Une." Heero's eyebrows shot up as he registered what Duo had said. "How the hell did you manage that? She's got to be watched as closely as anyone."

Duo grinned, and it was an honestly pleased expression, not the cold exterior he'd worn most of the day. "I remembered she said something once about being a fan of some television show. I did a search, and found several forums for the show. It wasn't hard to figure out which alias was hers, and I sent her a private message."

Heero rolled his eyes. He didn't need to ask, certain that Duo would explain.

"Her screen name was 'two-minds' and she even had a short biography. Sketchy, but if you know her history... " Duo shrugged. "She was online, which was a relief. Time was crucial. I gave her the basic picture of what we needed, and she said she'd arrange the rest. Then I hacked the forum and erased the messages we'd sent."

"That's all?" He waited.

"Well... so I dropped a virus or two on the forum at the same time. But that's only because they're one of those stupid ones that requests all sorts of information before you can post anything. Bastards." Duo shook his head, clearly disgusted.

"Duo," Heero said, hesitating for a second. How do I put this, he asked himself. He licked his lips, and tried to organize his argument. "Do you think the rest of the team is aware of the change in plans?"

"Hilde's gotta be," Duo replied. "She's on L2, so she's right there for any romchip deliveries. I don't know if they would have included Trowa. Syndicates tend to leave you out of the loop if they think you're a snitch."

"After that job on the asteroid, Pops asked me about Trowa," Heero recalled, his brow wrinkling as he remembered the conversation. "He was suspicious about how Trowa ended up captured by the union. And then he brought up the gap in Trowa's cover."

"So we're talking previous history on this nervousness," Duo observed. "Ironic when you consider this is supposed to be Trowa's specialty." The longhaired man got up and shut off the kitchen light, returning with a beer from the fridge. Taking a long swallow, he handed it to Heero and sat back down. There was a hand's span between their shoulders, and Heero found himself wishing Duo were the kind of person to sit closer. Sighing, Heero picked back up the thread of the conversation.

"Hilde and Trowa won't have any warning about the actual implementation."

"Yeah, well... " Duo lifted one shoulder and dropped it, an indifferent gesture. "Hilde, Enny and Jeet will be doing what we'd originally decided. Trowa's part... " He grinned suddenly. "Hotel staff has access to back areas. Figured I'd get back stage and talk to Trowa at some point."

"He's going to need more than a half-hour's warning, for... what you want him to do. And you don't know the dancers' schedules, only their onstage schedule."

"I'll find out." Duo's tone indicated that he knew exactly what Heero was getting at, and he didn't like it.

Heero moved to a different topic. "Next day off, we go over the time tables."

"Agreed." Duo was silent for a minute. He shifted to sit cross-legged, his hands loosely clasped in his lap. "There's no way around any of it."

"I know." Heero's voice was tired.

"If we duck and run before we've got enough to shut down the syndicate, we'll be hunted down and shot like dogs." Duo's voice was glum. "And with the Preventers' hands tied by the President, any protection pretty much... wouldn't be."

Heero grunted, somewhere between a curt laugh and a sound of agreement. He took the bottle from Duo, drank, and handed it back. Exhaustion was setting in, and he covered his face with his hands, holding them for a long moment before dragging them away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Duo watching him, concern written all over the man's delicate features. Heero raised an eyebrow.

Duo swirled the beer in the bottle, then finished it off and set it aside. "Let's talk about something else."

Heero smiled, a crooked twitch of his lips. "You have something in mind?"

"Tell me about your life on L1. What's it like? Where do you live? Do you have an apartment of your own?"

Heero grunted. "Make up your mind."

"Heero." Duo shot Heero a mock-annoyed look, and the photographer gave him a lopsided smile.

"Hn." Heero thought for a moment. "My apartment's about four times the size of this place. Just as empty, too." He laughed softly, a harsh sound in his ears. "A lot of windows, high ceilings. It's all one open space, but I have shoji screens that separate the bedroom." Heero thought about it, and took a second to identify the strange sensation in his chest. It's not homesickness, he realized. It's disconnection. I said good-bye, at some point, and I can't remember when. Haltingly, he picked back up the topic. "There are clothes lines hanging across the space. I hang new prints when they're drying. Bernie used to... " Heero's voice trailed off.

"Bernie?" Duo prompted.

"My agent... used to tell me he didn't see how I could get from one to the other without running into someone's face." Heero grinned ruefully. He'd just gotten used to navigating the hanging pictures, and never gave it much thought.

"Do you have a stereo? Television? Furniture?"

"You see awfully curious about this." Heero turned his head, still leaning against the wall, to look at Duo.

"Just... trying to picture it. I've been trying to figure out what your natural habitat would look like." He pulled his braid around to the front, cradling it in his hands, then laughed self-consciously. "Sorry. I guess it's a stupid thing to ask."

"I don't have a television or stereo," Heero replied, ignoring Duo's comment. "I had a college roommate who left the television and the stereo both on, all the time. When I moved into my own place, the quiet was such a relief... and then I got used to it, I suppose. Never gave it much thought."

Duo chuckled. "I can't see you living with someone else and not killing them."

"I can't either," Heero replied, and then realized what he'd said. Trying to sound nonchalant, he added, "We haven't done too badly."

"We're hardly ever here at the same time."

Heero nodded. "What about you? Your apartment's on L2, right?" He swallowed hard, and wondered why he felt nervous.

"Not really. It's not home, if that's what you mean... just a place for when we need to be off-ship," Duo said wryly. "All my real stuff's at Howard's. Not that I have a lot. Just some boxes... things I didn't want to throw out. The rest was all student junk. Not worth keeping."

"Ah." Heero returned his attention to the wall opposite, the nervousness growing in the pit of his stomach. There's a conversation here, that we're having, he thought numbly, and I don't know what we're really saying. He was too tired, and too stressed, to pry the pieces apart to see inside Duo's words.

"What do you plan to do, when this is over?" Duo's voice was soft, not even a whisper in the silent room.

Heero was startled, and said the first thing that came into his mind. "I hadn't given it much thought. I guess I'll go back to L1 and pick up where I left off."

"Oh." The word was barely audible, and Heero frowned, uncertain. Duo winced, and shot Heero an embarrassed look. "Sorry. I'm full of stupid questions tonight."

"I don't think so." He shrugged. "It's just... I don't know if... " His voice trailed off, not sure what he was planning on saying. He yawned, then blinked, surprised at himself. "What time is it?"

Duo glanced at his watch, flicking the button to light up the dial. "Almost eleven."

"That late? I've got to get to sleep," Heero told him. He slowly got his legs under him, pausing as he crouched next to Duo. "Thanks... for earlier. Sorry I didn't... "

"It's okay," Duo said, waving him away. "I got what I wanted. You go to sleep. I think I'll watch a movie or something."

Heero hesitated, then stood up with a nod. "When's your next day off?"

There was a line between Duo's brows as he counted under his breath. "Seventeenth. I think that's three days from now." He glanced up at Heero and grinned. "Assuming I don't have to work to cover for whatever lucky sap covered for me today."

"Ah. Good night." Heero didn't wait for Duo's response. In the bedroom, he stripped off his clothes, pulled on his sweatpants and a T-shirt, and crawled into bed.


The next day was non-stop rush during work; the hotel business had picked up after the post-holiday lull. At four o'clock, Heero was letting himself into the apartment, his entire body aching. By the time the colony lights powered down, he'd finished reading one of his books and eaten the leftovers from the night before. He dug through his growing pile of paperbacks, annoyed to discover he'd read everything in the stack at least once. Settling back on his haunches, he considered going out before the local bookstore closed.

When he stood up, he turned to look across the room, and froze in place at the sight of his own reflection. He half-expected to see Duo, beside him, that strange cold smile playing on the thief's lips as they met with the gun smugglers. The street lamp's familiar light cast long shadows in the living room as Heero moved to the window, watching the late-night taxis crawl past, searching for passengers. Sighing, he brought his hands up in front of him, staring at them as though seeing them for the first time.

Pull the slide back. Push from right to left. Flip the gun upside down. Draw the receiver to the rear and disengage it. Draw the recoil spring and guide. Push the barrel counterclockwise and lift it out.

Five years, and his hands knew precisely what to do. Dr. J's instructions whispered in his ears, but he refused to listen.

Blankly, Heero continued studying his hands, turning them over to look at the backs. He flexed the muscles, drawing his fingers into fists, then uncurled them and flipped them over to stare at the palms again. The calluses from piloting a Gundam were still there, marked indelibly. He wondered which was the lifeline, and whether the scars of war could alter one's destiny simply by being imprinted on one's hand.

Raising his hands before him, he mimed holding a gun, and visualized pulling the trigger, then sighed and let his hands drop. In college, he'd taken the obligatory philosophy course, but refrained from speaking the day the professor introduced the ancient argument of one versus many. As someone who'd lived and almost died for the concept of killing a few to save everyone else, Heero hadn't felt he could reasonably participate. He understood, intellectually, both sides. But he knew all too well the fact of the decision that isn't a true decision, when it's kill or be killed. He knew the moment before firing, when all things were possible, and the moment afterwards, when only one course remained. He knew the moment when the blood ran down one's face and onto one's hands.

All the words in the world won't wash the blood from my hands, nor can it make right or wrong of what I've done. Now it's only history.

He stared out at the dark colony and thought about his conversation with Duo. The other man knew as well as he did that they were trapped. Their discovery about the email was a breakthrough, but only if it led to proof of a connection between the President and the syndicate. Heero reminded himself that Quatre had also requested that they track down financial records. To do that, though, they would definitely have to be at the source. They hadn't gotten close enough yet. This job is big enough, Heero told himself, and doing it successfully will put us where we need to be.

And that meant six people had to die.

Quietly he groaned, rubbing his forehead as he struggled with the decision pushing its way to his awareness. Their task had to be successful. There couldn't be any chance the syndicate would think they'd purposefully botched the job. Any risk to their success had to be put down as brutally as they had all risks on the previous jobs. Anything less would be seen as failure, and retribution would be swift and sure. The veiled threats about Trowa were clear sign of that. Their progress in the syndicate would stand or fall on what they did in thirteen days.

Trowa's a crack shot, Heero told himself. But Trowa was trained as a mercenary, not an assassin. And he's in love with the man whose sister is on the list of targets.

Heero leaned against the window, pressing his forehead to the cold glass, and let a heartbeat's longing wash over him. I could use Zero's divination now, he murmured silently. Who are my enemies? Who are my friends? Quatre played me like a fine instrument, pushing the buttons of protectiveness and loneliness to make me rush off after Duo and Trowa. Lady Une would help, but her hands are tied and she's trapped in radio silence. Wufei is bringing us the very weapons that will create a bloodbath of a business dinner. And Duo didn't even warn Quatre of his sister's impending death.

He turned to lean against the wall and slid down until his cheek rested on his knees. Wrapping his arms around his shins, he stared unseeing into the depths of the apartment, a cold fear leaking into his heart.

On some level, Heero recognized that warning any of the rest of the Gundam pilots was a huge risk. Not only for the possibility that a message would be intercepted, but because any preventive measures taken would only make the team's job that much harder. Iria's sudden withdrawal from the event could trigger suspicion in an already skittish syndicate, who might blame the sudden change on Trowa. The situation would only be compounded if Quatre tried to get all the targets to cancel their attendance. Heero ticked off the list of possible results. The syndicate might order other targets killed instead. The team might be expected to perform six separate assassinations to make sure the message was still heard. Or Trowa, and possibly the entire team, would simply be eliminated.

That's the most likely option, Heero realized, his chest aching. He didn't need Zero to tell him that. Joe's death was a message, no matter who actually switched the Carn lines. Trowa's inconsistencies were one more point against them. They wouldn't get a third.

He covered his head with his arms, trembling. I don't want to kill anyone. I don't want to put the lives of my teammates at risk. I don't want to decide who lives or dies. He pulled his legs in closer to his chest, his toes overlapping each other as he curled in on himself, fighting to keep his self-control. It was never my decision, he told himself numbly, his forehead on his knees. I was following orders.

The argument in the philosophy course drifted back to Heero's awareness, and he took a minute to turn it over in his mind. One girl had raised the question of personal interaction, saying that a random stranger's death, to prevent war, would be far easier than sacrificing someone she knew. Heero had scoffed quietly at this statement. In wartime he'd had no qualms about sacrificing anything and everything that would stand between him and success.

That's not true, the small voice abruptly muttered. Heero sighed and turned his head to stare out at the dark room, remembering. He'd stood in the prison doorway, his gun out, the hammer down, ready to shoot Duo, and he couldn't do it. He'd gripped the controls of Wing, beam cannon primed, aiming straight for Relena, and he couldn't do it. Neither had been a true risk to his mission, and he'd been saved from making the choice, in the end. Even now he couldn't say what he would have done, had their deaths been ordered. Even as he struggled to assure himself that he could not kill someone he loved, some spark of brutal honesty denied the claim.

Heero moaned, and buried his head against his knees. He wasn't sure whether to grieve, or be relieved that after five years he might be able to put the mask away. After so long, could he be the truth of himself, he asked silently, underneath his daily life of suggesting wines or developing negatives or studying for exams. Hito Yuy was as much a mask as Duo's jester smile. Under it he could feel the Soldier he'd been trained to be, and under that, the assassin he'd been raised to be.

The apartment felt cold, and too empty, without Duo's warmth. Heero shivered. Duo made him smile, made him laugh, made him moan in ecstasy. But that's not who I am, he thought sadly. I was never like that before Duo. Vaguely he was aware he was missing something, but fatigue and a sudden loneliness made it nearly impossible to look at the thoughts head-on. Too much was swirling in his brain, and he longed for the simplicity he'd had once. Gain the contract, study the parameters, fulfill the mission, return to start to await further orders: only the tool, nothing more.

Failure on this job would put four lives at risk. Hilde. Trowa. Heero shrugged at the notion of his own death, his mind settling comfortably into considering himself an insignificant tool as though five years hadn't passed since his last command from Dr. J. But the final name on the list made him stumble.


I can't do it, he cried quietly, his hands nearly bruising his own legs as he tried to shrink in on himself, away from the decision he was about to make. I can't do anything that would mean Duo's death, and the pain faded as his mind latched onto this final awareness. Duo has to survive this, after somehow enduring every unbelievable insurmountable situation during the war. I'll make sure of it, Heero promised himself. And if I have to kill every man, woman, and child at the convention, I will, as long as it means Duo survives.

The colony lights were powered down, and Heero struggled to his feet, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand but filled with a strange sense of peace. Tomorrow he would begin preparing for the job, reviewing the information and memorizing the faces. In the meantime, however, he decided he could enjoy one last dime novel, and pretend that he was still the person that had smiled at Duo the night before.


Returning to the apartment an hour later, he shuffled the bag of books to his left hand and dug around in his jacket for his keys. Instead of pulling out his keys, though, he pulled out the little camera. He'd taken another several hundred shots over the past two weeks, downloaded them onto the laptop, and then returned the camera back to the interior coat pocket.

Heero unlocked the door, shut it behind him with one foot, and set the bag and the camera on the countertop next to his keys. For a long moment he stared at the camera, before finally picking it up and turning it over in his hands. It was a delicate, miniature piece of equipment, and his chest ached, his fingers itching. I miss my antique camera, he thought, his expression wry at the confession.

He stood for a long time in the darkening kitchen, tapping one finger absently against the camera body before coming to a decision. Setting himself before the laptop, he downloaded all the images he'd taken on L4, as well as the pictures from the asteroid and L2. They were all of people, buildings, and crowds. There was nothing to identify him, or the people he was now with, and only someone who'd traveled to the same locations might recognize a pattern in his movement around the colonies. Despite that assurance, Heero hesitated, then set his jaw and downloaded everything onto a disk.

Putting his coat back on, he tucked the camera and the disk into his pocket and headed back out again.


Bernie. Here are the latest pictures. Sort them and use what you like. Guess your cameras came in handy after all. Take care of yourself.

The note was terse, but Heero didn't have much time to write it while the postal store worker packaged the camera and the disk. He hesitated for a moment, then added:


He didn't sign it.


On to Chapter thirty-nine

Back to chapter Thirty-seven

Fiction : GW :

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