Drums of Heaven

Part Forty-Four: The Fortune Of Battles

Know'st thou not there is
but one theme for ever-enduring bards?
And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles,
The making of perfect soldiers.
--- Walt Whitman

Trowa's shoulders were set in a hard line, and Heero watched the taller man move silently down the hall behind Hilde. The young woman's leather-clad legs swished quietly as she walked, and she looked neither right nor left. They passed men and women in business suits, all of which had the good sense to clear the way.

Outside, the colony winter was refreshing despite the tension ringing between the three pilots. Duo's smile was cheerful, but his eyes were cold and watchful. Trowa's green eyes were trained straight ahead, and Hilde sighed as she turned to face the three men.

"You three... go do whatever you need. Enny and I are going to get a late lunch, and we'll see you back at the hotel." She held up the disk, studying its metallic surface for several seconds. "We'll get started. Join us when you're ready." She turned and stepped to the curb, hailing a cab. Enny followed silently behind, with a single warning glance at Heero. He responded with a raised eyebrow, and the girl pointedly turned her head away, and climbed into the taxi.

Duo sighed as the taxi left, and shoved his hands in the pockets of his long wool coat. "Okay, then, let's find a place to talk."

"The apartment," Trowa replied, but Duo shook his head.

"They're probably watching that place." Duo grinned tightly. "But I know another."


The bar was dark, a men's club atmosphere of dark wood and boston ferns. Heero kept his face blank as Duo led them to a side booth. Sliding in, Duo motioned for the other two to join him. He didn't appear surprised when Trowa and Heero seated themselves on either side of him.

"It's safe here," Duo said, hitting several buttons on the side of the table, but his eyes were cold. "We're in the clear. This is where all the hotshots meet, and they're not big on being overheard. The tables are installed with dampeners, too." He leaned back so they could see the blinking green light that indicated a lack of listening devices. A second blue light indicated the dampeners were on.

There was a pause, and a waitress drifted over. Duo ordered a beer, Trowa ordered tequila, and Heero ordered a double of whiskey. He had a feeling he was going to need it. His mission mask was in place, but he could feel the angry questions bubbling up, forcing themselves to the surface. Rather than open his mouth, he focused on the table's glossy painted surface.

When Heero looked up, Trowa was staring off at the bar, watching the waitress gather their drinks. Finally he turned, his auburn hair swinging out of his face as he pinned his green eyes on Duo.

"You never told me they knew," he said calmly, but there were chunks of ice floating through his words.

"I... " Duo shrugged, dropping his eyes. "The syndicate keeps good records, and has a good memory. Most people don't. They look for Duo Maxwell, not Day Waters. I've been going under different aliases on L2 for the past five years, anyway."

"You were... a Gundam pilot," Trowa replied evenly. "They know that."

"Of course they do," Duo retorted softly, defensiveness creeping into his voice. "Who do you think paid for Deathscythe? Penny collection boxes at the shopping malls?"

"Don't patronize me," Trowa replied brusquely. "It's the fact that they knew who you were... are. You told Qua--us... that this was undercover. The fact that the syndicate knows your identity doesn't constitute undercover in my opinion." The Heavyarms pilot's face was immobile, his eyes fixed on Duo.

"That depends on how you look at it," Duo muttered.

Heero snorted, and the waitress approached with their drinks. When she left, Duo grabbed his beer, but didn't drink it. Heero sipped at his whiskey, and watched, troubled, as Trowa downed his own shot in a smooth move.

"There's only one way to look at it," Heero said quietly. "What else do they know?"

"That's all they know," Duo replied, but his voice was clearer. "Hel's in the clear. I was the lynchpin. They accepted her because she said she'd bring me along."

"We fought for peace," Trowa said, and he fingered the edge of his shot glass. "I don't see how anyone could believe you'd help the syndicate, when they're no worse than the martial law that ruled this place before the wars."

"Fuck you," Duo hissed, his chin coming up. His eyes met Trowa's gaze with a sudden force. "You can't possibly understand. The syndicate is the only thing that's keeping L2 in one piece. We have businesses now... a good economy... people have jobs. Without the syndicate, we'd be back to nothing. We don't have much, but it's better than nothing." He shoved his beer away and leaned back, crossing his arms. "I just want... I want my home to be a good home, but I'll settle for safe and prosperous."

Before Trowa could respond, Heero leaned forward, staring into the amber liquid as he spoke. "I talked to the hackers yesterday. The syndicate isn't just running guns, but also drugs, prostitution... even code. If it can be bought and sold and it's illegal somewhere, they're doing it. That isn't helping L2."

"How would you know? The only time you were on L2, you were in Sector 1," Duo said hotly. "You have no way of comparing. Haven't you noticed we can walk down the streets in the middle of the night, and not be mugged? There's next to no crime, the streets are safe, and people have food to eat. This is a world away from what it used to be."

"You're rationalizing," Trowa observed.

"So what if I am." Duo glared at his beer. "We have no real industry here. We're completely reliant on the raw materials we can get from mining asteroids and shipped in from earth. If we were cut off tomorrow, this colony would starve in a matter of days."

"Let me get this straight," Trowa said, and his voice was dangerously cool. "I shot someone... someone who... " He paused, his eyes narrowing as he stared at his glass for a moment. He lifted his eyes to Duo, eyes that flashed with a haunted pain before shuttering again. "I shot someone... and now you're telling me that your heart is not in this?"

"I won't lie. It's not... entirely." Duo's voice was equally cool, but his fingers tightened around the beer bottle.

"Fine." The empty shot glass was tapped on the table, once, and Trowa stood. Then he leaned down, placing his hands carefully on either side of the beer bottle and lowering his face until he was nose-to-nose with Duo. His tone was a malevolent caress, and his green eyes were blazing. "I will continue my role. And I will get Jeet away from them, and then I will be gone." Trowa stared for a second, continuing in a conversational tone, off-handedly. "And if there is so much as a single hair out of place on Jeet's head, I will find you. And I will cut off your head, stick my hand down your throat, yank out your rib cage and use it as a shoebox. Have I made myself perfectly clear?"

Duo didn't flinch, but his eyes dropped. The barest move signaled his surrender.

Trowa stared for several seconds more, then pushed away from the table with a violent grace. Stalking off, he caught the waitress near the bar, taking the shot of tequila from her tray with out a word. He tipped it back with an elegant motion and set it on the bar with a sharp clank, never once pausing as he left the restaurant.

Heero gritted his teeth and turned to look at Duo, who was still studying the beer bottle in his hands. There were several minutes of silence at the table, during which Heero accepted the next shot of whiskey and sipped it without comment. Finally Duo shifted next to him, still cradling the full beer bottle.

"Sorry," Duo whispered.

"I don't want your apologies," Heero replied harshly. His lips twisted angrily. "Don't say you're sorry, just fix it."

"How?" The thief's voice was barely audible.

"Don't keep secrets from me, to begin with. And second, tell me why... " Heero downed the last of his whiskey and hissed as the liquor hit the back of his throat. "Tell me why, when we had two months together, you didn't see reason to mention any of this before."

"I... " Duo shrugged, staring off into the bar, watching other patrons joining friends at a table nearby. Their voices were muffled from the dampener, but it was obvious old friends were meeting. "I wanted to pretend."

"Pretend what?" Heero pushed the empty glass away, confused.

"For five years, I've had to deal with whispers following me everywhere on campus. Students... our age... mostly don't remember the details of the war. They were too busy ignoring it or worrying about their next meal, to think about something happening so far away. But the professors seemed to know. And the way they treated me, the other kids noticed. People don't approach someone when they see adults acting scared of that person." Duo shrugged, and fingered the edge of the paper label on the beer bottle. "I was the campus pariah, and most people weren't sure why. We were killers... for a just cause, maybe, but still murderers. A hundred years from now, we'll be the bogeymen that parents use to get their kids to eat vegetables." He sighed, a long slow breath.

Heero couldn't think of what to say, but he sensed Duo wasn't done yet.

"I just... wanted to be someone waiting tables, just out of college, with no history. I wanted to pretend," he said, and a hint of desperation crept into his voice. "Doesn't that mean anything to you? The only pretending I ever did growing up was about getting dinner when I hadn't eaten, but stomachs don't get filled with daydreams. I wanted to be someone... just working, you know, a normal life... bills, pizza, laundry, the stupid stuff... with someone... I... love. I knew it wouldn't last, and I kept meaning to tell you, but I wanted to pretend as long as I could... "

Heero frowned, sorting through Duo's tone and words carefully, weighing them. Duo craves normality, the small voice observed. Heero understood. It was the reason he'd fled to L1, but it wasn't really his home, and it certainly wasn't filled with people aware of his history or his role in the war. But as he reviewed Duo's words, Heero tripped mentally, stunned at the implications. His blue eyes wide, he lifted his head to stare at Duo, but the man's head was turned away.

"Look, I'm sorry... I really am. I should have told you both," Duo said. His lips were twisted in a bitter smile. "But now you know, and you're right, I won't do it again. You told me during the war that... " He pushed the beer away and stood up. "Fuck it. I'm sorry, okay? The rest of it... never mind." Duo dropped a handful of credits on the table. "There. It's on me. See you back at the hotel."

With that, Duo strode from the bar, his long wool coat billowing behind him like the spread wings of a carrion crow.


"Where's Day?" Hilde's voice was sharp as she opened the door to let Heero in.

He shrugged.

She frowned at him for a second, and then headed back to the room's living area. Trowa was on one of the chairs, with Enny spread across the loveseat, a notepad in her lap. Schematics were spread across the coffee table. Trowa looked uncomfortable, hunched over in the pink-and-green floral-pattern chair. He didn't look up at Heero, but Enny waved.

Hilde handed the dark-haired man a blank notepad. "Tomorrow morning, I want you and Day to go through the hotel's meeting room, and the rest of the hotel, finding holes in the system. Trey's going to be with security, finding out about the regular staff, the cameras... " Heero settled himself down to study the plans, the guest list, and the requirements for each guest, nodding at appropriate points as Hilde outlined the job.

Two hours passed as they discussed the details of the job. Enny was jotting down notes, and adding comments where helpful. Trowa's expression was sullen, but he reviewed the hotel's floor plan carefully and spoke up as he noted issues.

"We should use this conference room," he said, when Hilde paused. He turned the floor plan around to show her what he meant. "The cameras here, here and here look like they're aimed in this direction, and that will give us more coverage than this room. There's a gap, here." He tapped on the plan with a forefinger.

"Seventeen people, not counting personal bodyguards and assistants," Enny said. "That room can only fit forty-five people, if we do conference seating. That's fifty-one, total, assuming each person brings one bodyguard and one assistant."

"What about this room? It's nearly a ballroom, but then we could do a round. People won't feel comfortable with their backs to each other," Hilde pointed out. "Seating for seventy is more than we need, but that gives us room to work."

Trowa nodded, studying the security plans. Heero leaned forward, about to say something when there was a knock at the door.

"Shit. If that's not Day, I'm going to skin him alive," Hilde muttered, getting up to answer the door. When she opened it, Enny and Heero both raised their heads at her startled gasp. "Jeet?"

Trowa froze, and Heero could see the man's knuckles go white around the notepad in his hands. A second later Jeet stepped through the doorway, clutching his sketchpad and looking nervous. Duo sauntered in behind him, grinning expansively, but his eyes were flat.

"Some things are negotiable," Duo told no one in particular. "Jeet may have to be babysat during the convention itself, but at least he's around now to help us."

"Jeet!" Enny shot up from her chair, the spell finally undone. Her green-dyed bangs swung as she clambered straight over the loveseat to embrace the young man. "Are you okay? Did they do anything to you? You'd better--"

"No, I'm fine," Jeet replied, laughing self-consciously. "I was... supposed to start work tomorrow. You know, back on the job, where I belong." He shrugged, and grinned at the floor, his voice dropping to a mumble. "I figured Hel had decided I couldn't really help... "

"Don't be stupid," Hilde teased, her expression going flat as her gaze fell on Duo's tense form. She chewed her lower lip for a second, and then sighed. "Take off your coats and stay awhile. We were just about to order room service. Now that you're here, we can go over this one more time. Maybe you'll see if we missed anything."

It was three hours later before they pushed the papers back and declared it a night. Trowa immediately stood and left without a word to anyone, and Jeet followed after a moment's hesitation. Enny watched the two leave, then turned to Hilde with a wry shrug. Duo ignored it all. He had remained silent most of the evening, apparently content to listen to the others talk while he studied the plans.

"Day, what did you do?" Hilde's voice was cool.

"I had a chat with Alan about the proper persuasive methods to use for our team," he replied calmly.

"You'd better not have--"

Duo waved a hand dismissively. "I was the picture of politeness. I just smiled at him and explained it all in a pleasant voice. Jeet's back... until Friday morning. Alan could only compromise so far, despite my best attempts." His laugh was a low bark, and he stood up, grabbing his coat from the back of the chair. "I'm going to bed. Wake me only if you don't want to live to see the colony lights go up again."

When the door slammed behind him, Hilde turned a bewildered face to Heero.

"I don't know," he said, answering the unspoken question.

The two women stared at him for several seconds, then Hilde glanced over at Enny, who nodded. The pimp smiled, an unexpectedly sincere expression, and cocked her head at Heero.

"Maybe you should stay here tonight," she suggested quietly. "It seems Day needs some time to himself."

"You can take that bed, and we'll share tonight," Hilde called. "You two want to watch a movie before bed?"

"I am not watching a chick movie," Heero growled. He was too tired to deal with something that would make the girls cry happily.

Enny grinned widely and shook her head. "Do we look like girls that watch romantic movies? Nobody's giving us chocolates and flowers. Why should we watch a movie full of that crap?" She grabbed a pair of sweatpants from her suitcase and tossed them to Heero. "Those might fit you. I think there's a good car chase and explosion movie on."

Hilde launched herself onto one of the beds and stretched out on her stomach. "What's the body count?"

"Hopefully high," the other woman replied.

Heero, watching the two of them, could only shake his head. Somewhere inside of him, though, the small voice was telling him that both women deserved flowers, and chocolate, too. They deserved something for understanding so perfectly without him saying a word.


Tuesday morning, at ten standard time, a young man in black proceeded to infiltrate the hotel's staff areas. Heero, watching from the security office, was pleased to see that not only were there impenetrable areas, but that the majority of staff knew the faces of their coworkers for their shift. It took Duo considerably longer than Heero had expected, but when they met up at lunch, Duo brought evidence of making it into two different conference rooms. He'd also made it into the restaurant's cold storage and the women's locker room. The team discussed the holes he'd found, and Trowa spent two hours with the security staff going over the issues.

At three standard time, a second young man forced his way into the hotel, from the loading dock. Heero was careful to only disable the staff he met, informing each that he was part of a test on the security system, and telling them to stay seated. He was gratified to note that a number of the security staff refused to believe his explanation, but he made sure to leave them with no more than simple bruises as he knocked them out. Relying on his speed and the unexpected move of a frontal attack, he made his way from the dock, busted open two doors, but was stopped just before the conference rooms. In the hallway outside the doors, Trowa and ten employees joined him. Several of the staff brandished truncheons, and two had coshes.

A second meeting was held over dinner, and the team reviewed the staff listings. A number of the working employees were shifted around, giving the more complacent staff different areas or a different working day, as needed. Duo's and Heero's reports were placed against Hilde's and Enny's conversations with Alan's staff. Trowa, as security liaison, made notes for his break-in attempt, which would happen as the third shift came on duty at eleven.

Jeet listened carefully, his hand moving constantly as he did quick sketches of nearly every person in the restaurant. The team was in the back, with the table's dampeners on, but he had a clear view of most of the rest of the hotel's patrons. Heero glanced over, and was surprised to see a reasonably good sketch of Enny and himself, with their heads down over a notepad. The dark-haired man frowned and tugged at the sketchpad until the younger man released it.

"You've been drawing everyone?" Heero turned the pad around so the rest of the team could see it. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."

"I'll throw them away, or burn them or something," Jeet replied nervously. "I'm just practicing."

Heero studied the various unfinished sketches on the first sheet, and then flipped to the next. Several faces he recognized, but a few he didn't. He stabbed at one with a finger. "Who's this?"

"Theresa," Jeet said quickly. "She's the second concierge. She covers during Mia's lunch break."

"And this?"

"Uh... " The young man closed his eyes, and then opened them, smiling smugly. "Harumi. Works in the kitchen as a dishwasher."

"I thought you were with Trey all day," Enny interrupted. Beside her, Trowa nodded, studying the pictures silently.

"I was. But we were all over the place... " He shrugged. "What about it? No one knew I was drawing them."

"Did you draw them right then?" Duo cocked his head at the picture of the back of his head, the braid at an angle as he turned.

"Oh, no," Jeet replied, and grinned widely. "I wasn't going to do that. People get nervous."

"Draw... " Heero shoved the sketchpad back at Jeet while he thought. "Draw the front desk manager."

Jeet raised his eyebrows until they were almost hidden in the sheaf of brilliant blue hair, and grinned. Ducking his head, he was silent for a moment. The pencil's scratching was the only sound at the table. A few minutes later he flipped the sketchpad around to show them a small portrait of Emily. All of them recognized the woman, as she was normally at the front desk as they'd come and gone through the lobby.

"Shit," Hilde said, leaning closer.

Heero nodded, and realized the benefit of Jeet's abilities. The pictures had enough personality that it wasn't just his skills as an artist that made them valuable. It was the fact that they could work as police sketches, if needed. Someone could be identified from the image.

Glancing up, Duo's deep blue eyes caught Heero's. Duo tapped at the sketchpad, and glanced at Trowa, who raised his eyebrows. Heero watched closely, waiting, and after a heartbeat Trowa nodded, once. Duo's lips quirked, and he looked back at Heero, who narrowed his eyes.

"Let us in on the conversation," Enny said. She was looking back and forth between the three pilots, her expression baffled.

"Jeet, can you recognize faces and draw them from memory later?" Heero's voice was neutral.

"If I have several minutes to study them, yeah, I guess so."

"What about from photographs?" Hilde, catching the drift, leaned forward with an excited look in her eye.

"That's harder," Jeet admitted. "You can't see them move, and when people don't want to be recognized, they change the way they walk, or talk, or their facial expression." He glanced over at Duo before his eyes slid away, back down to the sketchpad in front of him.

"But you could do it, and remember, better than most people," Hilde pressed.

"I can try." Jeet glanced up, suspicious. "What are you getting at?"

Duo chuckled. "Alan wanted you to be babysat to make sure Trey stays in line," he announced bluntly. Jeet's eyes went wide, and he looked at Trowa in shock, who pointedly ignored them both. Duo shook his head. "But the biggest problem of security is making sure who isn't allowed past. When there's so many new faces, people get confused."

"What would you want me to do?"

"Stay in the security office," Enny said, a grin spreading across her face. "Watch the cameras, all of them, and tell us when you see a face you don't know."

"Or a face you've been told shouldn't be there," Hilde added. "Leah gave us a list of names of people that might cause trouble, that the security will have to keep out. The pictures are up in the room. But the staff can't go around accosting guests, and there's no way the employees can memorize that many faces in time. But if you see the pictures... and then see the people... you could alert staff."

"I can do that," Jeet said.

Duo sat back with a satisfied grin. "Guess I'm paying another visit to Alan tomorrow."


By Thursday afternoon, the busted doors had been repaired with solid replacements. Hilde announced them satisfactory after several failed attempts by Heero and assorted staff to break through. Additional cameras were installed; existing ones were checked and repaired as needed. Staff had been informed in two different meetings, led by Trowa and Enny, as to their new shift schedules and walking patterns. Many of the meeting's guests had begun arriving. Jeet was stationed in the lobby watching each group arrive and get checked in.

Duo had reported at lunch that Alan was intrigued by the team's use of Jeet's artistic abilities, and would argue for the young man's inclusion. Leah, the dark-skinned woman acting as Alan's highest manager, had stopped by with several videotapes and tested the blue-haired young man. She was pleased to announce he identified each questionable person correctly. Most of them were previously known spies or informants working for Preventers, and weren't likely to try again, but the syndicate preferred to have its bases covered.

Heero stopped by the lobby to check on Jeet before heading to the conference room. Hilde and Enny were conferring with the hotel's catering staff about the seating arrangements. Lunch would be served in the room, and a mid-afternoon snack. The two women had determined placements for most of the bodyguards that would be present, and gave Heero his badge to identify him as hotel security. He took the two for Duo and Trowa and headed up to their hotel rooms, where the two men were supposed to be reviewing the schematics on the duct and sewer access to the hotel.

The dark-haired man pinched the bridge of his nose as he got off the elevator and turned right towards their set of rooms. It had been a long day, and it wouldn't be over for several more hours. His mental voice had been silent most of the day, forcibly shoved away as he struggled to ignore the fact that they were going to be surrounded by the leaders of nearly every syndicate, mafia, yakuza, and kombinat. Everyone in one place, and the team had no way to discuss whether they could take advantage of it.

As the hours had passed, Heero had begrudgingly admitted there was little they could do. Their thorough preparations would make it impossible for anyone to get through. They were effectively pinned in place, a trap of their own design.

If Quatre were alive, he thought, and sternly squashed the grief.

There were two men waiting in the hallway as Heero turned the corner. He instinctively braced himself, hands out, arms lax, prepared to defend or strike, and then realized one of the men was Alan.

"Mr. Young," came the silky baritone voice, and the copper-haired man grinned. "We were wondering when you'd get here."

"Is there a problem?" Heero kept his expression steady, but his annoyance with the man was clear in his flat tone.

"Ah," Alan said, shrugging self-deprecatingly. "Perhaps. And we'd appreciate your help with it. You see, those questions we had... have been answered. One of our colleagues on earth has a good memory, and several pieces seem to have fallen in place."

Heero raised an eyebrow.

"I'll get to the point, then," Alan said, chuckling softly. "Trey Barlow was also a Gundam pilot."


On to Chapter forty-five

Back to chapter forty-three

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