Part Forty-Seven: Except The Rolling Ocean
And the lightening strikes and the wind cuts cold
Through the sailor's bones down to the sailor's soul
Til there's nothing left that he can hold
except the rolling ocean
--- Dougie Maclean
In the space of a single heartbeat, Heero made several decisions.
Relena must survive. No matter where she stood now, he had gone through too much to let her be killed in crossfire.
Duo had to stay out of it. The syndicate believed Duo to be their puppet. Regardless of the man's true sympathies, Duo had to make it out in one piece.
There were seventeen representatives and six assistants, most of whom were unarmed. Whatever their personal histories, he'd killed enough people on this mission. He wasn't going to carry more lives on his shoulders if he had say in the matter.
If he pulled his gun, the room would descend into a bloodbath instantly. The bodyguards were trained, too, and would respond to the escalated threat of a gun the same way he would, by pulling their own.
There were seventeen bodyguards, all armed with a variety of handguns, and probably a few knives. Their combined firepower would rip him to shreds, now that they were registering him as a threat.
Heero knew his real strength lay in hand-to-hand combat, even given the fact that his left shoulder was not entirely healed. If he remained visibly unarmed, he'd have a better chance of fighting his way past, if he had to.
The heartbeat was past.
Heero stepped forward as Relena finished speaking, and the bodyguards came to their feet, watching his movements warily. He walked with his eyes focused on nothing in particular, prepared for an attack from any side. He stepped down from the riser, dropping the two feet easily and coming instantly upright, his weight balanced on the balls of his feet.
Several of the bodyguards stepped forward, placing themselves between Relena and the ex-Gundam pilot. Heero was absently pleased to see that she would be protected.
"I claim this man for the North European Alliance," Relena's calm voice announced, as though she'd just commented on the weather. Heero glared at her, but she merely waved a graceful hand in his direction. "Could several of you please... "
In that instant, three men stepped forward. Heero drove his fist into the first man's stomach and instantly dropped, ducking the second one's punch. Swinging in a low circle, he spun to miss the third's strike, kicking out with a foot and slamming the second man in the side of his knee. Coming back upright, Heero shoved the heel of his hand against the third man's nose.
Stepping back, he ignored the blood now coating his right hand, and waited for the next set of bodyguards to make an attempt. The first three pulled back, and another three stepped forward. He smirked; the bodyguards weren't used to fighting in tandem, and any more than three would get in each other's way.
Then a chair hit him across the back.
Heero fell forward, catching himself in time to duck just as one man's swing clipped him on the cheek. Turning, he caught the second man by the arm, evading the punch and sending the second man flying into the third. Blocking several quick strikes, he retaliated with punches and low kicks. Sensing a threat behind him, he spun to find himself facing Wufei.
The Chinese man leveled him with a lightening-fast knife-hand blow on his right shoulder. There was a pop, and Heero fell to his knees, pain flooding his system. His right arm was dislocated. He grunted and struggled to his feet, only to be caught by the collar. His right arm dangled uselessly, but he clawed at Wufei's arm with his left hand, his eyes wide.
"Enough," Wufei hissed, shaking Heero just a little.
The Altron pilot bared his teeth and spun Heero with a smooth shove. A hand reached into the back of Heero's pants and yanked the Ruger from its holster. His arms were instantly taken by two of the larger bodyguards, and he choked back a groan as his right arm was cruelly twisted behind his back. Stumbling forward, he gritted his teeth as he was brought up sharp, only a foot away from Relena.
Her sky-blue eyes drilled into his for a long minute. Many of the syndicate dignitaries were on their feet, and a few were still half out of their chairs, frozen at the sight. Heero could barely make out Duo, by the wall, his arms crossed, looking away. Heero exhaled sharply and met Relena's stare evenly, with his chin up.
She chuckled, canting her head as she studied him. "I remember you," she said, softly. "You were the one who came to the Libra to rescue me." The young woman reached out as if to brush the dark brown hair away from his eyes, and Heero jerked his head back, away from her touch, still glaring. She shrugged. "You look so different when I can finally see you without that airlock suit in the way."
Heero caught himself before he blinked. She knew exactly what he looked like. He kept the glower on his face, his mind moving rapidly. He stifled a groan at the pain shooting through his body, every time he shifted against the hands holding his arms.
"I suggest you restrain him, gentleman," she ordered.
Behind him, Heero could hear a clinking sound, and felt the old familiar weight of OZ-style handcuffs. They clasped his forearms from elbow to wrist, pinning his arms behind him, fingers clasping elbows. He hissed as his right shoulder screamed against the tension.
"Mr. Kessler, you said you have the other Gundam pilot somewhere?"
"You can't suggest trading!" Vincent's thick Italian voice came from somewhere on Heero's right, an indignant shout.
Relena smiled and shook her head. "I wouldn't deprive you, Mr. Fiori. But I believe there may be those among the Asian syndicate who would donate more to our joint purpose, for a chance to retaliate for the loss of their kin on Hawaii."
Several voices murmured in agreement. Heero curled his lip, unwilling to show more than a derisive reaction. Relena caught the look and returned it with a wide-eyed innocent expression. One of the bodyguards shoved Heero sideways, and he nearly fell, catching himself in time. He threw a glare over his shoulder, ignoring the deep throbbing as the neck muscles pulled around his dislocated shoulder.
"Just one thing," Relena said, as the conference room doors burst open. Hilde and Enny froze in the doorway, shoved to the side as Joe and Tiny pushed past them. The men on either side of Heero didn't move, waiting to see what the young woman wanted.
She bent her head, pulling her ponytail to the side as she reached up to unclasp something from around her neck. When she raised her head again, Heero could see she was pulling a pendant out from under her blouse. She held it up for everyone to see. It was a twisted hunk of metal, a little longer than her thumbprint, a quarter-inch thick. Heero could see a bit of blue paint still clinging to the surface.
"This is a piece of the Libra," Relena announced. "This was what you fought against, and what you conquered. Consider this my belated thanks. What we have now, and where we are, is all due to you."
She delivered the last line gently, almost intimately, but her expression was amused. Stepping forward, she ignored Heero's attempt to twist his head away. One of the men squeezed his shoulder and he slumped against the pain. It was enough time for Relena to drop the necklace over his head. Pulling at his collar, she dropped the pendant inside his shirt. The metal was warm from her skin, and he growled, trying to back away.
Relena patted at his chest, where the pendant lay, then smiled triumphantly. "Keep him in relatively one piece," she instructed. "He's not worth much if he's broken. Mr. Kessler?" She asked, turning.
The copper-haired man gave her a small mocking bow, and then smiled, shaking his head. "I suppose this is the reason Mr. Thepot sent you as his representative," he said. "I was wrong to have underestimated you."
"All is forgiven. Place this man with your pilot, and we'll deal with them both later." Relena smiled distantly to the two men holding Heero, and strode back to her seat at the head of the table.
Heero twisted his head to watch her go, his teeth bared in a snarl. A hand caught his chin and jerked his eyes back around.
"She's out of your league," Alan said, his charming smile back in place. "She's out of all our leagues." The copper-haired man snapped his fingers. "Tiny, Joe. Take this man to join Mr. Barlow."
Heero was unceremoniously pushed forward again. Two new sets of hands took him by his elbows, shoving him across the room, passing Hilde's and Enny's stunned expressions that quickly hardened into business-like masks. The two women didn't look him in the eye, but followed him out, shutting the door behind them.
"Where you taking him, Joe?" Enny's voice came from behind Heero, and he was halted for a moment as Joe turned to face the woman.
"Somewhere safe," Joe replied, grinning. "I'm sure they'll make great company." He yanked at Heero's right arm, and the Wing Zero pilot gritted his teeth as he went in the direction he was led.
"I don't think we should put them together," Tiny said under his breath. "We had plenty trouble the last time we checked on that other guy. One Gundam pilot per room is bad enough, don't you think?"
"It's not like the hotel is full of holding cells," Joe replied sharply. "My day has done nothing but sucked, so far."
"You're still cranky about those kids?" Tiny's voice rumbled with a stifled laugh.
"Shut up. You try sitting security at the bar for two hours while stupid kids keep playing some computer game the whole time. Nothing but explosions and random pre-recorded shouts, with that damned music over and over again. Deet-deet-deet-dee-dum-dum," he drawled, mimicking a video game's theme music. "And worst part was, I couldn't fuckin' drink. On duty," he muttered, punctuating the last words with a shove to Heero's back.
The two fell silent, guiding Heero down the hall to the staff elevator. Swiping their pass cards, the elevator doors opened and Heero was shoved inside. A few minutes later the elevator settled on the hotel's bottom floor, opening to reveal the kitchen storage areas.
Heero ran through the hotel's map in his head, recognizing that they were under the left wing of the building, near the kitchen's designated loading dock, cold rooms, and storage areas. His rubber boot heels muffled his steps on the concrete floor, but the two men holding him had dress shoes. Their heels clicked, echoing off the walls and floors until it sounded like sixteen men were escorting him. He was halted abruptly outside a metal door.
Tiny held him while Joe punched a code, and the door popped open with a gentle hiss. Then Joe turned, his red hair bright in the fluorescent lights, and he grinned widely as he punched Heero in the stomach, hard.
Heero doubled over, coughing, and the blow was immediately followed by an uppercut to his forehead, throwing him backwards. The bones in his arm grated against the ball joint, and he fell sideways, unable to focus long enough to get his breath. A second blow came to his ribs, and then a kick to the side of his leg, the dress shoes sliding down his pants, scraping against his shin.
Tiny barked something to Joe, who nodded. As Heero was turned to face the darkness of the storage room, the redhead threw one more strong punch to Heero's kidneys. He choked as his vision went dark from the pain, and he stumbled forward, falling to his knees a few feet past the threshold.
The door slammed behind him.
Heero remained where he was, kneeling, and slowly leaned forward until his forehead was against the cool concrete floor. Gasping, he let himself fall onto his left side, groaning slightly as the action made his right shoulder shift. Curling up into a fetal position, Heero closed his eyes, letting his awareness slide away.
He was awoken by a gentle touch on his head, long fingers running through his hair, and ghosting down his arm. The touch disappeared when Heero hissed. A soft baritone whisper greeted his ears.
Trowa, Heero's mind supplied. He coughed, trying to roll onto his knees so he could sit up. The motion made his shoulder throb, and he groaned softly, unwilling to force himself to move.
"Status," came a soft command.
"Right arm dislocated," Heero said, grunting as he tried again to sit up. Gasping at the pain reawakening along with his senses, he came up on his knees. "Blow to the kidney, bruised stomach and ribs, scraped shin, cut to the forehead, minor concussion."
"Relena announced I was the infiltrator, not you." Heero spat, the taste of blood sour in his mouth. He instinctively looked around, trying to focus on something in the nearly pitch-black room. Blinking several times, he realized a thin slice of light was creeping under the steel storage room door.
"She what?" Trowa's voice was disbelieving. "She's with the syndicate?"
"That's what it looks like. Wufei, too." Heero grunted, pulling his legs out from under him and sliding backwards until the metal handcuffs clicked against the concrete wall. Sighing, he stretched his legs out and let his head drop.
"The three of them... " Trowa's voice came closer, until a warm body was alongside Heero's left side. The dark-haired man could make out the vague shape of the taller pilot sitting with his knees bent up, his arms stretched out, and elbows on his kneecaps. Trowa sighed. "If those two are with the syndicate, we're fucked."
"I think we're fucked, either way," Heero replied bluntly. "No one knows where we are, except Joe, Tiny, Tariq, and Alan. Unless someone else was in the party that brought you down here?"
"Just those two," Trowa said, but his next words were colored with a smile. "And two others that probably won't be talking much for awhile."
"Tiny said something about having trouble with you. You're not restrained, are you."
"Nope. I came peacefully. Unlike you, it looks like. Besides, I wasn't the one with the problem when they paid a visit." Trowa's shrug brushed Heero lightly. "Tiny brought two guys down for their idea of fun. Broke one's arm, and the guy was out. Heard a few cracks on some of the body punches I gave the other guy." The Heavyarms pilot chuckled softly. "All that effort, and turns out the guy had a glass jaw. Got him once in the face and he was down for the count."
"Hn." Heero grinned, despite himself. "What happened?"
"Tiny came up behind me with a taser, got me in the kidneys."
There was a pause, and Heero shifted, unable to find a position that didn't cause something to ache horribly. He closed his eyes, the attempts to focus on darkness starting to give him a headache as well.
"Status," he said.
"Bruised ribs, contusion, possible concussion, cuts to my shoulder, cheek, split lip, and twisted wrist."
Heero grunted, then started to laugh. Beside him, Trowa turned. The dark-haired man could almost feel the confusion from the taller pilot, and it only made him laugh harder, despite the complaints from his bruised diaphragm.
"What?" Trowa finally said, bewilderment fighting annoyance.
"We're too old for this."
Trowa laughed out loud, a lively sound. He quieted as he settled back against the wall. "That crap I told Duo about not wanting to be retired so young? I take it back," he said, bemused. "I think I'd rather be in class right now, trying to stay awake while some old bastard drones on about animal euthanasia."
"I'm just telling myself this is just like being in the dark room again," Heero replied dryly. "If I could develop negatives with a dislocated shoulder and my hands behind my back, that is."
"You're a professional, right? This should be a piece of cake for you."
"Yeah." Heero laughed again, a harsh sound that devolved into coughing. Trowa waited as he recovered, and Heero leaned back again with a sigh in his voice. "Do me a favor?"
"Sorry, I'm all out of whiskey at the moment."
"Shut up." Heero's short laugh choked with another cough. "Take this necklace off me."
"It's a necklace. I want it off."
Hesitant fingers brushed Heero's shoulder, and there was a rustle as Trowa turned to face him. Fingertips glided up to Heero's neck, seeking the thin metal chain, and then the necklace was being dragged over his head.
"Now throw it away," Heero ordered. "I don't want that thing anywhere near me."
There was a long silence, and Heero realized he hadn't heard the clink of metal hitting concrete.
"What are you waiting for?" His voice was an irritated hiss.
"Where did you get this... " Trowa's question trailed off in an astounded breath.
"Relena gave it to me," Heero said bitterly. "She said some crap about everything being thanks to me. It's a piece of the Libra."
Trowa laughed softly. "No, it's not. It's a piece of Heavyarms."
"Did you say... " Heero hardly dared breathe.
"Heavyarms. I gave it to Relena... before I left on this mission." Trowa's voice was positively bubbling with delight. "It's not just a piece of Heavyarms, either. It was a request that she'd look after... " He paused, and Heero could hear him swallow. When Trowa spoke again, he was subdued. "That she'd look after... everyone I left behind. And there's a transmitter inside it, so whomever is being her guard can always find her."
"A transmitter?" Heero's head came up sharply, and he gasped as the action made his shoulder throb deeper. "Fuck. Damn shoulder."
"What exactly did she say?" Trowa's tone was suddenly serious. "Do you remember?"
"She said... " Heero focused on the exact phrase. "This was what you fought against, and what you conquered. Consider this my belated thanks. What we have now, and where we are, is all due to you."
"Cryptic," Trowa replied wryly.
"We were surrounded by syndicate people, so if she's still on our side, she wasn't going to say it out loud," Heero told the other man. "But if she is on our side, then a lot of it makes sense."
Slowly, Heero filled Trowa in on the meeting: Relena's nervousness, Duo's observation that she was stalling, and the skill with which she'd led the syndicate representatives into supporting her claim for power over Alan's. He concluded with the note that it was Wufei who'd dislocated his arm.
"Wufei's good enough to know when any of us are favoring," Trowa observed. "If they haven't gone over, I can see him doing that to shut you down with minimal damage. Your left arm isn't strong enough yet, and without your right arm... "
Heero grunted. "Bastard. Didn't save me too much, did it."
"What, would you rather be dead?"
The question startled Heero, and he took a moment to ponder the question seriously before answering. "No... Duo's still alive."
"I don't know... " Trowa was quiet for a minute, before he whispered, "Part of me won't believe it happened, and part of me refuses... because I was the one who did it... "
The room was silent for a little longer, and Heero could hear the clink of metal running against metal. He could barely make out Trowa's movement, hands moving restlessly as he ran the necklace from one hand to the other.
Heero switched topics. "So they follow that signal," Heero said, "and they find us. I don't get why she named me, though."
"No one knows where I am," Trowa pointed out. "And you said she was stalling. Wondering what she was waiting for."
Heero wondered as well, reviewing the meeting in his head. Relena had maneuvered the conversations around a number of different points before her final grandstanding act.
"There's a lot going on I don't know," he finally admitted. "The computer system started going haywire just before lunch, and a half-hour before the break, the door system unlocked and relocked. Then ten minutes after that, the comm went dead."
"Strange," Trowa murmured. "Any hope it's the good guys?"
"I doubt it," Heero answered. "Sometimes systems crash without much reason."
"And other times, it's because a Gundam pilot's involved."
"But only during wartime," Heero shot back. He sighed, and the moment passed as his mind jumped to another topic. "There's one thing I can't figure out. Why were Preventers at a conference for L4 business development?"
"You said President Haune is in charge of keeping the Preventers out of syndicate business, right? And L4 was one of the last holdouts," Trowa said. "Maybe the President was double-crossing the syndicate."
"If they were there for security, they did a lousy job of it," Heero muttered.
"Maybe they were there to do our jobs, if we couldn't," Trowa mused. "But if Quatre... recognized them, they had to play the role of Preventer, not assassin."
"I have no idea," Heero admitted, wriggling his fingers to get feeling back. The sleepy feeling in his elbows started to fade, turning into a stinging tingle that distracted him for a moment. "Were you here all night? This concrete is killing my ass."
Trowa chuckled softly. "Actually, no. I spent the night locked in a staff overnight room. Then they moved me here in the morning, after breakfast. It was getting boring until you came along to liven things up."
"How long since I got here? Any idea?" A light flashed on, and Heero blinked. Then the light was gone, and he scowled. "You had a watch on?"
"It hardly qualifies as a weapon," Trowa replied amiably.
"We're Gundam pilots." Heero snorted. "A can-opener could be a lethal weapon in our hands."
"I'm flattered you think so, but I don't have any can-openers with me, either. Anyway, you arrived at quarter to four, standard time. It's been twenty-five minutes."
"Break should be over by now."
"Yeah. Wonder if Hilde and Enny are okay." Trowa sighed. "Jeet... how is he doing?"
"Having too much fun," Heero said, his tone mildly disapproving. "I think he just liked getting on the line so he could say 'roger' and 'over and out'. Kid thinks we're just playing cowboys."
"He's young. He wasn't cut out for this."
Heero knew what Trowa meant, and neither needed to say it. They were raised and trained, nearly from infancy, for this life. The awareness was tinged with sadness, and the dark-haired man registered a small touch of envy for Jeet that he quickly squashed. Any naïveté Jeet once had, Heero thought, is gone now, between the L2 streets and the blood on our hands...
"So what happens next?" Trowa exhaled slowly, and sat up. "Times like these, I wish I had Duo's skill at picking locks. Your arms can't be comfortable."
"I'd rather have your skill at dispensing drugs. I guess if the Preventers break down that door, then we know Relena and Wufei were playing everyone, including me. If some fat Italian shows up and hauls you out of here, then we know they're not on our side."
"I see you're going with the pragmatic approach."
"I never was one for daydreaming about the future. We need Duo for that." Thinking of the longhaired man, Heero felt something in his chest clench. Almost thirty minutes since he'd been hauled out of the meeting, and he had no idea where Duo was, or if the other man was okay.
What if the other syndicate leaders decided Duo should also bear the burden of a region's retribution? Fear trickled through his system at the notion. L2 had been losing points quickly. They might try to make up for it with another trade and give up their last Gundam pilot.
Trowa's quiet rumble seemed unexpectedly close to Heero's ear, and he started. The abrupt ripple in his muscles made the pain shoot through his chest. Heero gritted his teeth, focusing on pushing the aching twinges to the back of his awareness.
He was still trying to formulate a response when the steel door swung open with a clang. Heero blinked against the light, ducking his head as his eyes adjusted. Heavy footsteps charged into the room, passing him, and there was a grunt as Trowa was yanked to his feet. A crackling sound filled the air, and Heero could see the arc of blue electricity. When both stopped, Heero looked up to see Trowa hunched over, panting desperately as he was shoved forwards.
"Come on, Louie," a voice hollered. "You gonna do it, do it now." Heero realized it was Joe, and looked up to see the man standing in the doorway. Trowa was being pushed out the door, and Heero struggled to his feet. Joe glanced in, and shook his head, a wild grin on his face. "Don't worry, you're next."
"Shit," Tiny's voice called from the hallway. "There's no way you'll get him out of here."
"Shut up and help me carry him," Louie retorted. "Those other guys weren't supposed to work him over that good."
"You put a taser on him for five seconds, what do you expect," Joe barked. "No way you'll get him out. Just do it and let's get out of here. Then you tell your dad it's done and shut up already."
They'd left the door open. Heero forced his heartbeat and respiration to slow down, then clambered to his feet, stumbling to the doorjamb. There was another burst of taser crackling, followed by the loud thump of a body hitting the floor. Heero cautiously poked his head around the corner. With his arms behind his back he had limited resources, but he could still kick, he reminded himself.
What he saw sent cold dread straight down his spine.
Trowa was kneeling on the floor. He was facing the kitchen loading dock doors, and his hands were on his thighs as he leaned over, shaking from the repeated taser bursts. Louie was standing just past the door, his back to Heero, and his arm was outstretched. There was a gun in his hand, and it was trained on the back of Trowa's head.
Heero gathered his strength, coiling the last of his energy into his legs. Before he could move, the elevator bell rang. Heero paused, startled.
A single gunshot echoed down the hallway.
Blood exploded from Louie's shoulder. The report thundered in the hallway, the sound bouncing from every surface. The man spun, firing randomly as he stumbled sideways, falling in a heap opposite the storage room door.
Three more shots rang out.
Joe went down, clutching his thigh. Tiny immediately formed a second bloody pile, a gun still clutched in his hand. He'd gotten off one shot before going down.
Heero pulled back at the sound of footsteps pounding down the hallway. They echoed, rattling in the concrete spaces until the sound deafened Trowa's panting. He watched, uncertain, as Trowa climbed to his feet, turning around to face the latest challenge.
Trowa's face went completely white. The overhead lights turned the drying blood on his forehead a dark brown, and the man's green eyes seemed to glow against his skin's sudden pallor. Heero was about to launch himself forward, ready to somehow catch Trowa, even with bound arms.
But he was stopped by a single whisper from the Heavyarms pilot.