Drums of Heaven

Part Forty-Nine: Down To Truth And Bone

I move through the day
in the rhythms that I've known
I've got this crazy dream
of stripping down to truth and bone
--- Heather Nova

There was a flurry of motion behind Alan, and Heero saw a flash of golden hair. Quatre, he thought, then realized Quatre was next to Wufei, within Alan's line of sight. Heero could see Enny, behind Alan, her mouth a round 'o' of shock.

"Drop it, Kessler," a woman's voice ordered. A single click alerted them all that someone else now had a gun ready to fire. Heero couldn't see who it was, hidden behind the taller man's form.

The man froze, then his face creased in a cruel smile. "Don't bluff with me, Relena. You're a pacifist," he snarled.

"Yeah, I may be a pacifist," she snapped. "But I'm not a fuckin' doormat. I will shoot. Now... drop... that... gun."

There was a pause, and Alan scowled, letting go of the gun with one hand. The agent grabbed the gun immediately, his face flushed as he glanced over at Une's steely expression. The agent holstered the gun and yanked Alan to the side, away from Duo. The move revealed Relena directly behind him, Enny's gun in her hand. The gun was starting to shake, and Enny took the gun from Relena quickly. The blonde barely registered the action, her eyes still fixed on Alan.

The agents started to shove Alan and the other man forward, but Alan gave Duo a final glare as he passed.

"Don't forget, we own you. And you will--"

"Alan, shut up." Relena's voice was weary, but she'd regained her poise, and her blue eyes flashed. "You owned a big toy and trained an excellent pilot, but my friend's soul was never for sale. And his heart is out of your reach now, too. I suggest you keep your trap shut, unless you want it shut between here and the Preventers' station. Accidents happen."

The threat hung in the air, and the agents escorted the two handcuffed men down the hallway. Heero watched, turning to see Duo's deep blue eyes fixed on Relena, shock warring with pride on his face. Heero's brow furrowed. He turned to Relena, who was smiling brightly.

"I believe we have a debriefing to attend, everyone," she announced serenely. Her head up, Relena led them all into the restaurant, and through it to the private dining room.


Une took the seat facing the door, with Wufei and Relena on either side. Quatre sat at Relena's left, with Duo next to him. Sally was on Wufei's right, with Trowa on her other side, followed by Heero and Enny. The fit was a little tight around the round table, but everyone squeezed in.

"First," Une said, "Enny's here because she's now a Preventer. The ink's not dry, but for the present she's in Sally's unit. Other agents are debriefing Hilde and Jeet separately, as both of them are private citizens." Duo shifted in his chair, and Une smiled tightly. "Gundam pilots are not, nor will ever be, private citizens."

She sat back in her chair, and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. Duo fidgeted until Enny elbowed him. Relena yawned, then smiled apologetically to Une. Wufei was watching Duo closely, while Trowa continued to study his hands. Heero glanced at Quatre, who also appeared to be studying his hands, but was stealing quick glimpses at Trowa.

"The real purpose of this meeting is to allow the undercover team a chance to ask questions, and get honest answers," Une announced. She flipped her hair behind her shoulder and leaned forward, crossing her arms on the table. One long finger tapped on the table, absently. "We have your reports, so we're pretty confident we know your side of the mission."

The announcement startled Trowa.

"Remember those regular updates to Quatre? They were really regular," Duo admitted softly, not meeting Trowa's piercing stare.

Une's eyes darted from pilot to pilot, assessing each before she spoke. "I'll be blunt. What is said in here may not be the final version of the truth, once we leave this room, depending on the spin required. My hope is that the Preventers will still exist, but that remains to be seen. You eight have effectively undermined the entire system, if for a good cause. Relena, if you'd please start."

"I've been an adjunct for the President's Council for a year now," Relena replied quietly. "After... Duo came to see... us, I decided to investigate the Council's stand on guns, starting with the President. It took a month, and Haune started letting me into his confidence. I kept at Quatre... "

"Pestered me endlessly," Quatre said, and Wufei snorted.

""So, I needed your help!" Relena rolled her eyes and waved their reactions away. "Long story short, I became a sort of personal advisor and mediator for the President. Seven months ago, he introduced me to Mr. Thepot, whom Mr. Haune described as a business associate. It took time, but the two men slowly let me in. I spent... " Her blue eyes shuttered, and there was a small crease marring her brow. "I spent five months being the personal mediator for the head of the North European Alliance... I got enough to make me curious, but never quite enough to see the whole picture. Everything could be explained as legitimate business. The most I could prove was that the President was using his position for business deals."

"That's still illegal," Duo observed.

"But it's not a count of murder. Those bastards shouldn't get off so easy," Relena told Duo. Her eyes flashed. "They... seemed to think I was tired of pacifism's illusion, and had accepted the reality of politics... and I let them believe that. They saw me as their protégé." Her lips twisted unhappily, and she looked away.

"About that time," Wufei said, picking up the thread, "I started investigating the President's Preventer guards. With Relena's reports, we had a suspicion that the President was using his guard for personal gain, but he covered his tracks too well."

"So we ganged up on Quatre," Relena added dryly.

"I hadn't been convinced there was reason to get involved," the blond added, clearly reluctant to say the words. "I'm sorry, Duo. They were saying my own foundation might be incriminated. That's why I dragged Heero into this. I wanted you to have the best backup I could provide. I didn't think the Maganacs would be enough."

Duo turned his head away, frowning. Heero glanced to Trowa, who simply sighed, not looking up.

"Heero, I'm sorry I didn't tell you everything." Quatre's eyes were level, but his expression was remorseful. "I didn't... I don't know why. I was still... hurt. I was being selfish."

"We didn't know it was anything more than a simple gun smuggling operation, at that point." Wufei shook his head, regret on his features. "Sally and I kept our eyes on the President's personal guard, but we didn't realize until the L4 convention... " He sighed and tucked a strand of black hair behind his ear. "When I brought the guns to L4... "

"On Une's orders?" Duo wanted to know.

Heero noticed Enny's eyes were darting between all the speakers, and he could tell the bright young woman was rapidly piecing together what little she'd observed, with the news she was getting. He doubted she was missing anything, and he smiled inwardly. She'd make an excellent Preventer.

"Not entirely," Wufei was replying to Duo's question. "Relena was aware that the President wanted something moved, fast, to L4. Une got the request from Duo, and a short explanation."

"An entirely too short explanation," Une added wryly. "It amounted to a statement of an upcoming job, the date, and a list of needs."

Wufei nodded. "Quatre was the one who thought there was a connection. He told Relena to tell the President it would be foolhardy to have the same Preventers deliver the guns and appear at the convention. So she suggested to them that I deliver, instead. Meanwhile, Quatre himself was scrambling to figure out what the guns were for. He had nearly completed his investigation into the President's and Council's email accounts, and was starting to make progress on the big picture."

"I wasn't scrambling," Quatre retorted, but his lips were curling into a smile. "I was in a controlled panic."

Wufei raised an eyebrow and turned his attention back to Duo. "It wasn't until a day before the event, Sally was invited to join the guard on a test basis... that's when we realized the true implications of Duo's purchase."

"The guard was there to kill you once you completed your task," Sally interjected, but didn't look at anyone as she said it. "The President would have been able to claim a quick resolution, bolstering the Preventers and covering up the syndicate's work at the same time."

"We had to work fast," Quatre added, a rueful look on his face. "The Maganacs located the shuttle, based on pilot descriptions. Auda and two of his best men stayed there, assuming that your team would use that escape route. The rest, you know."

Heero watched the three friends glance at each other, an unspoken series of questions and answers. Finally Relena nodded to Wufei and Quatre, and licked her lips, sitting up straighter as she spoke.

"Right after the L4... incident," Relena said, "Mr. Haune asked me to mediate a high-profile business meeting. That was on Monday."

"Tuesday, I heard from Rat," Wufei interjected. "I got that information to Quatre by Wednesday morning."

"That's when things fell completely into place," Quatre added. "Between the President's and syndicates' correspondence... we had enough to take down the entire network, in a court of law, beyond any doubt. But we still didn't have anything to tie the President to anyone's deaths, specifically. We were also afraid that your covers weren't going to hold for long once you moved into the elite ranks of the syndicate. You'd be dealing with too many people who were influential in OZ and the Alliance during the wars, and might have seen you before. We were beyond scrambling at that point." He paused, and chuckled ruefully, his blue eyes dancing. "I'd say we were damn near stampeding."

Wufei laughed softly, agreeing. There was a sigh, and the two friends looked to their third friend, sitting next to Une. Relena was studying the palms of her hands. Heero could see the set of her chin, and recognized the same subtle nervousness that had affected her during the meeting. The group waited patiently as the young woman arranged her thoughts.

"I traveled with Thepot and Haune, bringing Wufei as my personal guard. Quatre came separately. Fortunately he was well enough to travel... " She let it hang, knowing the pilots were aware that a point-blank shot, even with body armor, would leave massive bruising. A week's recuperation, though, was enough for any of them. Relena ran a hand through her hair, pulling out the ponytail holder. "We arrived the afternoon before. As you probably guessed, I recognized Trowa in the hallway, and unfortunately both men were with me, as was Mr. Kessler."

"I can't wait to hear this one," Duo muttered quietly.

"Duo," she said miserably. "The dynamics were clear. Now that L4 was willing to ally, L2 stood in the best position to come out on top. If I let Alan run the meeting, I'd never have a way to manipulate the President into admitting his involvement with the Preventers, or your friend's death, or anything else. I saw the chance, and I took it. I suggested to Alan that a Gundam pilot could be a useful bargaining point over the South European Alliance."

Trowa frowned slightly, his eyes lowered. He'd cleaned the blood from his hair, and the damp strands hung down in his face.

"I'm sorry, Trowa," Relena said softly. "I know it was a risk. I had to undermine the Earth syndicates and put L2 in a position of power, and then pull out the trump and undermine the colony syndicates."

"This isn't telling me how you got past our guard," Duo said. "We had this place locked up tighter than Treize's rose garden."

Une raised an eyebrow at the analogy.

"Jeet," Sally said, and grinned. "The Maganacs reported a young blue-haired man in the lobby. Quatre figured it out and made the call. It was a lucky guess, and finding Jeet alone was an even luckier break." The Preventer laughed cheerfully. "Hi, I'm here for an interview." She waved her fingers, and Enny giggled softly. Sally grinned at the newest Preventer. "You'd be surprised how many people don't question if you tell them you have an appointment. Actually, Duo, if anyone would know that, it should be you."

"He would, but he's been hit on the head too many times," Wufei said. He sounded annoyed, but his lips were twitching suspiciously.

"The head of security was upstairs supervising the computer crash," Sally continued as though Wufei hadn't spoken. "But the servers wouldn't override the basic video feed, and we had forty agents to get through the door," Sally explained. "So I held up a piece of paper that asked Jeet if he knew Trowa... Trey. He had no idea where Trowa was. But he drew me a map, and even wrote out the security guard crossover times and standing points. He also promised to keep the security guards upstairs, and gave me the clearest route from the loading docks to the conference rooms. The line remained silent, and no one knew."

"That young man kept his word," Une added with a smile. "From what I hear, he spent the next hour sending guards everywhere, on the premise that the computer system was sending the wrong messages."

"When it sent them at all," Sally said.

"I was waiting for the break," Relena said, picking up the thread. "The agents were supposed to enter as hotel staff, serving food. The problem was that I was afraid Kessler would trigger a warning to his men, and they'd either remove Trowa from the hotel or kill him outright... "

"They came close," Quatre muttered, but didn't look up. Heero frowned, and glanced over to see Trowa studying the blond diplomat closely. When Trowa noticed Heero watching, his gaze slid away, back down to the table.

"So I needed a way to find Trowa, and Heero became that way," the young woman explained.

"Mr. Thepot wasn't present," Heero said, and pinned Relena with a glare. "You weren't being a mediator. You were acting as the North European Alliance representative."

"That wasn't exactly planned," Relena said, abashed. "That was Wufei's idea."

"Not really," Wufei admitted. "I just said it'd be easier to manipulate them if she were in a position of power."

"I went to Mr. Thepot's room after dinner, on the pretense that I could more easily argue his position if he could explain his syndicate's priorities. It was nearly two in the morning before I had all the information... and an idea." She grinned, suddenly, and the change lit up her whole face. "I ordered room service. Tea and biscuits, actually."

"That was your grand idea?" Enny was skeptical.

"I put lemon in the cream," the blonde replied primly. When no one reacted, she sighed. "It curdled the milk for his tea. An hour later he wasn't feeling too well, and this morning he was completely incapacitated. I informed Mr. Haune that Mr. Thepot wanted me to speak on his behalf." Relena laughed softly, a hand over her mouth. "Mr. Thepot actually just wanted someone to shoot him and put him out of his misery. He was still complaining when the Preventers carted him out of his hotel room twenty minutes ago."

"So you just waltzed into the hotel, delivered lunch, and that was it?" Trowa was skeptical.

Enny laughed. "That's what it looked like from where I was. Hilde and I were hanging out, wondering where all the security guards were, and here comes this blond guy at the head of a long string of people dressed like waiters with break carts. I was about to ask him just how much food the hotel thought those people could eat, and he holds up a Preventers badge, and says... " She glanced at Quatre, who chuckled.

"Wanna job?" Quatre flashed a dimple at the green-haired girl, who grinned widely.

Duo laughed. Relena rolled her eyes, and Trowa even chuckled.

"So I said, hell yes!" Enny grinned. "Next he tells me, you've got it, if you lead us in. I unlocked the door and announced the break as planned, and the fake waiters came in... and kept coming in, until the whole room was surrounded."

"And someone took Relena hostage?" Heero narrowed his eyes at Enny.

"It was one of the bodyguards," the new Preventer replied. "And he didn't have a gun, just a knife. I took out his arm."

"Blood everywhere," Relena muttered. "Good thing I was wearing red."

"It was a madhouse, but over in thirty seconds." Quatre snorted. "Three bodyguards dead, eight wounded. No Preventers down."

The group was quiet, and finally all eyes came to rest on Director Une. She checked her watch. "It's five-thirty now, and we still need to get full statements from each of you. I'd suggest we start now, as this is only one of two secure rooms in the hotel." She sighed, and her smile grew sad. "I know this has been hard on all of you, and I don't know how things will work out. I must apologize that I was not in a position to assist any of you further... "

"We understand," Trowa whispered. "We don't like it, but we understand." He glanced at Quatre, fully aware he was echoing the other pilot's earlier words.

"Two more things, then," Une said, calm returning to her features. "The first is that the visual recordings of the meeting, from the hotel's videotape, are probably going to be used in court. And frankly, they'll have far more power if we can publicize them without censorship. This means at least three of you will have your identities revealed to the rest of the world... but it may go a long way to undoing the lasting residue of public perception that the Gundam pilots are terrorists."

The room was silent.

Une pursed her lips, and sighed. "One other thing. I'll need a lot of help, building a new Preventers organization that isn't so easily destroyed by private or political interests. I would greatly appreciate your assistance."

"You just want the PR of announcing the five Gundam pilots are now on the side of good," Duo muttered. He'd pulled his braid around, and was stroking it absent-mindedly.

"You are not just window dressing," the Director snapped, annoyed. "You each have skills, and the Preventers needs those skills. Badly. Agent Night," Une shot a quick smile Duo's way, "you have always partnered well with Agent Day." Une's eyes fell on Heero. He was again startled by the code name she'd selected for him.

"Partner the two of them," Wufei muttered sarcastically, "and all you'll get are missions done on a wing and a prayer. They're both all about acting first, to hell with permission on the details."

Une raised an eyebrow, but otherwise did her best to ignore Wufei's comment. "Agent Sky," she said to Trowa, "I have never forgotten your skills from the war, and your actions in this mission prove you haven't, either."

Trowa raised an eyebrow, and the two shared a quiet smile. Then the moment passed, and Une cleared her throat before continuing. When she spoke, her voice was stern. "As for you, Agent Earth, you need to decide whether to protect yourself behind the Winner organization, or to assist us in exposing the way your family's company was used to engineer this entire situation."

There was a long pause, and Quatre didn't answer.

"You choose," she said. "But I'm considering all of you back on Preventers' payroll for the time being."

"No," Heero said. He was surprised by the vehemence in his voice, but he kept his face impassive as the entire room turned to look at him. "I'm not doing it. I've done enough, and I... " He glared at Une. "No. I walked away from this five years ago, and once I give you my report, I'm walking out that door and I will not walk back in again." He stood up, surprised at the anger flooding his system.

He had the door halfway open when Relena shot to her feet as well. Her voice was a commanding bark. "Heero!"

The insistent tone halted him, and he turned with narrowed eyes to study the young woman. Her blue eyes were hard as flint, and she pointed at his seat. "Sit down." When he didn't move, she pushed away from the table. Striding around it, Relena slammed the door shut, wrenching the doorknob from his grasp.

"Now," she hissed.

Heero scowled, but returned to his seat. Relena watched, then returned to her own seat. She leaned forward, her jaw set in a firm line.

"You are a not a murderer," she announced coolly.

He frowned, a thin line appearing between his brows.

"Don't give me that," Relena told him. "You can be a single-minded idiot, but you were never only a soldier. You haven't changed that much. I know what you were thinking, so don't even try to deny it."

The Wing Zero pilot grunted, but didn't drop his eyes from hers. The rest of the group was silent, holding their breath.

"However, I'll have you know that I think you're also being a selfish bastard," she said, jabbing a finger at him. "You'd feel sorry for yourself--"

"Relena," Heero growled, a low warning.

"Oh, I know it's hard," she said, and her tone was sympathetic. "I can sympathize, but I will not watch you shirk the rest of the mission. If you do, you'd better not come near me, because I spent the past six months consigning possibly hundreds to their deaths."

Heero didn't move, frozen, his eyes wide. Relena swallowed hard, her eyes squinting with the effort hold back tears. Angrily she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. When she dropped her hand back to the table, both hands clenched into fists as she spoke through gritted teeth.

"Quatre found the records three days ago, with the hackers' help," she whispered, her voice quavering. "It concerned what I thought was a business deal I'd helped mediate. The company Mr. Thepot wanted to shut down... wasn't. It was the brokered death sentence for fifteen families who'd tried to fight the syndicate's extortion. The fact that I didn't know, doesn't change that there are now people... dead... thanks to my words." She lifted glittering blue eyes to stare at Heero. "And that's not the only time I gave advice that probably led... " She couldn't finish the sentence.

Heero's gaze shot to Quatre, who nodded. The Sandrock pilot's blond hair hung down, masking his eyes. Trowa's green eyes were wide with pain. Duo's face was turned away, studying the wall intently, his eyes blank. Enny stared at Relena. Sally and Wufei were both still, their jaws set. Une was watching Relena, worry clear on her face.

"I know you... and the team... were the ones on the front lines." Relena took a deep breath, and smiled, a fierce expression. "But you're not the only ones dealing with the consequences."

"The Barton Incident demonstrated the flaw in our peace," Wufei said, studying his hands. "People must assist in defending themselves, instead of relying on someone stronger. We're part of the people, too. We're not separate. What we have to offer... we must."

"That's what got us into this, in the first place," Quatre agreed quietly. "We trusted that the peace we could see was good enough. We weren't vigilant." He sighed, and raised his head to Une. "I'm in. I'll dismantle the entire Winner foundation, if I have to."

Une nodded, and her eyes drifted to Trowa, who also nodded, after a pause. The Director raised an eyebrow at Heero, who frowned slightly, dropping his gaze. He studied the table surface for a long moment before shaking his head.

"I don't know yet. I need time to think about it," he whispered. Standing again, he waited for Une's dismissing nod. He didn't meet anyone's eyes as he did so, keeping his head down as he left.


On to Chapter fifty

Back to chapter forty-eight

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