Drums of Heaven

Part Nine: Drive Along The Pipeline

And they drive along the pipeline
They tango til they're sore
They take apart their nightmares
And they leave them by the door
--- Tom Waits

The trip back was uneventful.

Which translated, in Heero's mind, to positively, mind-numbingly, boring. He sighed and rolled over on his stomach. Five years ago he would've given significant body parts and a few years off his insignificant life to have peace and quiet when forced to interact with the other Gundam pilots. Now he was lying on a top bunk in a fast ship, listening to the shouts and crashes that indicated Trowa was kicking Duo's ass on yet another video game.

It was a lonely way to pass sixteen hours.


The ship's engines were reversing for landing in L2's loading station when Hilde waltzed into the bunkroom without knocking. Heero rolled over and looked down at her.

"We'll be out of here in fifteen," she announced. She was quiet for a moment, chewing on her lower lip. "We've voted. If you're up for it, we've got no problem with you staying on with us."

Heero grunted in surprise, then swung his legs over the bunk's edge, resting his chin on his fist as he stared at her. He wondered just how democratic the decision was, but figured it might have been two against one anyway. He sighed, long and deep, and rubbed his forehead.

"Still got a headache?" Her voice was sympathetic.

"A little," he replied. "I was wondering... how did I get back?"

"How badly were you hit, anyway?" Hilde stepped up on Trowa's bunk and hauled herself up to sit next to Heero. The girl gave him a rueful look. "I hate being short."

"I can relate."

"You're like five-ten. That's a half-foot taller than me."

"I wasn't always this tall."

She laughed, a bright sound, and Heero gave her a crooked smile.

"I never thought you'd be the joking kind," she told him, then grew quiet. "Day found you. We'd about given up on you, and he went back to check one more time, and there you were."

"Great," he grumbled under his breath.

"Hey," she said, with a smile. "You pulled a neat trick back there. Didn't think you had it in you. Trey's still in shock. I think he had another facial expression for a second there."

Heero raised his eyebrows. "That's some comfort, I suppose."

"Another joke?" Hilde shook her head. "You should get hit on the head more often."

He shrugged nonchalantly, some part of his brain beginning to understand what Duo had always seen in Hilde. She could roll with the punches, and keep grinning, much like Duo.

The engines growled from beneath the floor, and there was the inevitable thump as the loading station's tug locked onto the ship. The ship jolted, the engine sound faded, and they were being pulled into the docking bay. Hilde leapt down from the bunk, looking up once more at Heero.

"We'll ship out in three days, eight in the morning standard time. You're welcome to sleep here in the meantime, or stay elsewhere if you need the space. Your time's your own until then."

Heero wasn't sure what he'd decide. The reception so far had been less than enthusiastic, but he'd certainly felt more alive yesterday than he had in awhile. Photography put something in his life, but it couldn't replace what he'd been missing. He wasn't sure he'd get it from working with Hilde and the two ex-pilots, but it felt like he was on the right track.

He sighed and gave Hilde a rueful smile. "I'll be back, I think."

"Good," she said as she left.


The first thing he did was check the cell phone. It was fully recharged; a relief considering it'd died just before the big job, but no messages. Curious, he dialed Bernie's line as he waved down a taxi.


"Yeah." Heero realized he was relieved to hear Bernie's voice. It was a reminder of the fact that he had a normal life waiting for him back on L1. "Sorry... I've been out of touch."

"No problem," Bernie replied cheerfully. "You take as long as you want."

There was a long pause as Heero digested that comment. Finally he resorted to the best he could manage as a reaction. "What?"

"Mr. Winner explained everything to me. And your friend Mr. Chang has been by to check on your apartment, and to set up automatic payments for your rent and utilities while you're away."

"What?" Heero stared at the stopped taxi. The driver honked at him, annoyed. The perplexed man climbed into the backseat and gave the driver the location of Pop's diner before returning his attention to the conversation. "Bernie, what are you talking about?"

"Mr. Chang has taken care of your expenses while you're working for him," Bernie repeated slowly.


"Look, are you okay?" Bernie's tone turned solicitous. "Have you been hit on the head recently?"

Heero struggled to gather his wits. "No," he finally choked out. "I'm fine. Just... do whatever. I don't know how soon I'll be back, but I'll try to check in."

"You do that," Bernie said. "Take care of yourself, kid. Don't make me worry."

"Shut up," Heero growled, and cut the connection.

More questions.


Heero checked in first at Pops' bar. The boss was out, but the bartender figured he'd be back the next day. Frustrated, Heero wandered through L2's mediocre shopping district and tried to ignore the questions pounding at his head. He found a liquor store that sold a decent whiskey, checked into a hotel, took a long shower, and got stinking drunk. It at least beat thinking.

The next day he was back at the bar at noon, his headache retreating once he choked down a late breakfast and finished off a beer. The bartender was pretty sure Pops would be by eventually.

This sucks, Heero griped silently. Am I supposed to just sit here and do nothing all day? He ran his tongue over his teeth and wished he'd taken a second shower before he left the hotel. The bar's stink of day-old cigarette smoke was repulsive. He could feel it sinking into his pores.

Two more beers and an hour later, a cheerful voice spoke from just over his left shoulder. "You look familiar," it said, and a stringy green ponytail came into view.

Heero didn't say anything, tensed. He had to consciously relax his hold on the bottle, as someone sat down beside him.

"Enny." The girl re-introduced herself. "Yeah, I remember you," she said as she peered at him closely. "Man, you got a bruiser there." She reached out her hand and Heero jerked his head back with a hiss. Enny yanked her hand back and grinned. "Mood hasn't improved much, has it."

The man made a noncommittal sound and stared at his beer, wishing for some expensive whiskey. He thought of the morning's hangover and decided the beer would suffice.

"So you enjoying the work?"

He shot her a baleful look.

"Oh, come on." She chuckled and waved to the bartender, who nodded. "You're practically famous, getting invited back to work with the crazies."

"What are you talking about?" His headache was starting to return, and he chugged the last of his beer.

"Don't play stupid with me," Enny replied, pointing a finger at him in mock disapproval. "I've been playing it a lot longer than you, and I'm better at it." The bartender placed two beers on the table, and the girl slid one across to Heero before she spoke again. "Gossip travels fast in this Sector. The crazies liked your style."

He raised a single eyebrow.

"You turned them down?" Enny shook her head. "Bummer. Now we've got to find someone else just as bonkers as those guys."

"Isn't there somewhere else you could be sitting?" The glare wasn't working on her. He really wasn't in the mood for conversation. He was in the mood to kill something, actually.

"Sure," she said, smirking. "But you're more fun to pester."


"Why am I getting the feeling that you didn't like the crazies half as much as they seemed to like you?"

"They don't like me," he told the girl sullenly. "They didn't even let... " He looked away, taking a swig of his beer and grimacing at the dull flavor. "Never mind."

"Hey, this is Enny. You can talk to me. Everyone else does, but I never talk about what I hear."

"Seems to me that's all you've done is report what you've heard."

"Gossip isn't told in confidence."

Heero stared at the peeling label on the beer bottle. Maybe he could use one of the empty ones to hit her over the head. Unexpectedly his lips twitched as an amusing thought occurred to him. She noticed immediately.

"What's so funny?" Her tone wasn't defensive, but sweetly curious. It was odd, coming from a girl with green hair and orange-pink lipstick.

"Just... you remind me of someone." He shrugged. "More like... remind me of how someone used to be."

"Really." Enny's face was a little sad. "You hated her, too?"

"No." Heero paused, absently wondering why he was bothering to talk, and gave up. "I was in love with her."


"Yeah." He glanced over at her, his lips twitching in a half-smile. "Not implying anything about you, of course."

"Of course."

There was a long pause, and the two young people drank in silence. The diner was slowly filling up with the lunch crowd. Rough construction workers, a few badly dressed girls, and five or six thugs that were probably a local crew working for Pops. The girl shifted next to Heero, and he glanced over at her.

"You miss her?" Enny was looking off across the bar.

He thought about that for a minute. "Used to. But even back then... not as much as I thought I would."

"And that hurts even more, doesn't it," she replied quietly.

He glowered at her, purely out of habit. "You always this perceptive?"

Enny snorted. "You think I got to where I am without any people skills? I'm a pimp, man, it's my job to suss out folks. Like the crazies, for instance." She jerked her head towards the door, and Heero's gaze immediately followed her gesture.

Duo had just walked in.

Heero wavered between crawling under the table, glaring at Duo, or ignoring him completely. He settled for ignoring Deathscythe's pilot, only vaguely registering that Hilde was at Duo's side. The couple made their way to another table, near the back by the bar.

"Why do you call them that?" He kept his tone neutral.

"You can't lose three muscles and be sane," she explained matter-of-factly. "The first one never made it back in time after a job, and they left without him. Didn't even bother looking, I heard. He's never shown up. The second died from severe injuries when he took on sixteen men at once, trying to be the diversion factor from hell. And the third went drinking with them after a job and smashed up his bike on the way home. EMT crews had to scrape him off the sidewalk."

Heero winced slightly at the visual, and Enny grinned.

"You last three jobs, you'll break their jinx," she added. "That's the most anyone's managed with them."

"Thanks for the tip," he said dryly. His gaze darted to the back of the bar and away again, finally coming to rest on Enny's large brown eyes. Heero felt his skin crawl. He'd been almost certain Duo had been watching him. He shook off the feeling.

Enny was about to say something when the chair across from Heero was yanked away from the table and someone fell into it. The motion was abrupt, and Heero's instincts were immediately on guard. It took only a heartbeat for him to remember the face: Jeet.

An angry Jeet.

"Hey," Enny said, a calm greeting. "What's going on?"

"I remember you," the youth said, his blue hair standing a little on end. "You really did move in on my turf, asshole."

"What?" Heero raised both eyebrows, confused, and glanced at Enny. The girl shrugged.

"Jeet, your mouth is moving and sound's coming out of it. This is never good."

The boy shot her an irritated look and she quirked a smile at him. He settled back, a little less on attack, and his expression resolved itself into a pout.

"I've lost one of my best customers because of that jerk," he told Enny as though Heero wasn't sitting there. "You know he's with the crazies now?"

"I heard," she replied blandly. "What about it?"

"He's not just muscle," Jeet retorted. "He's gotta be doing more on the side."

Heero finally registered the implications. Jeet looked up to see the other man's icy glare, and shrunk back a little in his seat with a defensive frown.

"Well, it's true," the boy whined. Heero, annoyed, turned his head away.

"Jeet," Enny announced. "Shut up. Go find someone else, then."

"Fine, but if you don't get as big a cut today it's cause Day won't play. And he always tipped great, too," Jeet added as he got up from his seat. "Asshole," he muttered as he stood over the table. "Fucker moving in on my turf."

"Get over it," the girl said, her voice a little louder. "If you're not wanted, cope."

Jeet snarled something inaudible and stalked off towards the bar. Enny watched him go, and sighed.

"Sorry about that," she said softly.

Heero shrugged noncommittally, but his mind was spinning. Duo was one of Jeet's... Then he remembered. The kid had asked the biker about Day, and had said... That meant the biker was... Heero's face flushed. Enny giggled beside him, and he scowled.

"You just figure it out? Man, you're slow," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Shut up."

"Not gonna happen." The girl waved to the bartender again. "Two more, Terry!"

"This is not my week." Heero lifted his beer, noted it was empty, and set it back down again. "This is not my month."

"It bother you?"

"What?" The question wasn't what he'd expected, and he frowned at Enny, trying to figure out what she was talking about.

"That your teammate swings both ways." She pursed her lips. "Well, and the other crazy digs only guys."

Heero shrugged. "None of my business."

"Would you want it to be?" The question was low, and soft, and pitched to reach only his ears.

Heero glared at her.

"Thought so," she said, and chuckled.


Heero had switched to ginger ale after the last beer, but Enny had remained at his side. On some secret level he was enjoying himself, and fought to stay expressionless rather than let anyone realize he was starting to relax. He was finding it tougher than he'd expected. Enny was a charming talker equal to Duo, and Heero eventually found himself giving her little crooked smiles as she regaled him with gossip about everyone in the bar.

Everyone except the crazies, that is.

When he asked, she shook her head. "I told you all I can," she said quietly. "They keep to themselves, take the riskiest jobs, show up for a day or two and then they're gone. Sometimes for a few days, once or twice for a few weeks." Enny leaned forward, a conspiratorial gesture, and gave an almost imperceptible flick of her eyes towards Duo and Hilde, still at the back of the bar. "And they never, ever come by here and just hang out."

Heero grunted, studiously avoiding looking in that direction.

Over the past hour, he'd seen people gravitating towards the table where Duo and Hilde sat, and surreptitiously watched as Pops' other employees chatted up the couple and then moved on. No one sat down, but Duo apparently hadn't lost his ability to attract instant friends. At a few points he noticed Duo's and Hilde's heads close together, their body language indicating a quiet argument, or at least an intent discussion. He found himself wishing he really were a listening device, to know what they were talking about.

Probably him, he thought morosely. Duo was probably coming up with a hundred ways to kill him and a thousand ways to hide his body. For the fiftieth time since the couple had walked in, the Wing Zero pilot contemplated walking out of the bar and not looking back.

"Where'd you go?" Enny nudged him.

He shrugged, and turned back to her. The bar's low light softened her face, but he'd figured out she was a few years older than him and not the teenager he'd originally assumed. Her face was chiseled, the bones showing high and fine in her cheek and jaw, lacking the last baby fat of late adolescence. There was a fine vertical line between her eyebrows. It reminded him of Relena, and he smiled ruefully at the comparison: the crown princess of Sanc versus an L2 street pimp.

Any answer he might've given was interrupted by someone standing over their table. He looked up to see Pops grinning widely.

"Getting settled already," Pops said. "Enny, you do get around."

"Just making friendly," she replied with a cheeky grin. Heero realized just how close they'd been sitting, and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

"Hito, right?" Pops nodded at Heero's response, and jerked his head towards the back of the bar. "We've got some catching up to do."

With a nod to Enny, Heero dropped a handful of credits on the table and followed Pops to the back office.


"So tell me about your little trip."

"Which part?" Heero wondered whether Pops had access to the records from the bugs. "On ship, off ship, or the job itself?"

"Off ship," Pops replied evenly. "I've got the on-ship covered."

Yeah, you do, Heero thought. "Then you're aware the reception was less than enthusiastic."

"I heard," Pops said with a chuckle. He dug a cigarette pack out of his breast pocket. This time he didn't offer one to Heero, but just lit it. The old man took a long drag before exhaling slowly as he watched the photographer. "Off ship? Spend any time with those guys?"

"Not really." Heero shrugged. "An hour in a diner, going over plans for the mission."

"Like what?"

Heero was surprised, and took a minute to think before answering. "Hel... staked out the hotel for a day, and had maps of the local area as well. She gave it all to Day."


"That's all I saw. He took it and left. The day of the job he was up and gone before I woke up. Hel assisted me in the diversion, but left shortly after it'd begun."

"Left?" Pops pulled on the cigarette. The cherry glowed red and long in the small office. "You mean she abandoned you after agreeing to help?"

"No," Heero answered slowly. "She had some task related to the job. I don't know what it was. She left to do that once I had the situation under control."

"Out of control, you mean," the man answered with a dry smile. The smile grew wider when a smug look darted across Heero's face. "Rumor says the point of this one was to send a message. Seventeen rioting bikers in a downtown corporate hotel sure sends a message, alright." He chuckled.

"Rumor says," Heero repeated. "I thought the team was working at your command."

"Nope," Pops replied, unruffled by Heero's question. "I just relay what you tell me. The team's answering to the powers on high, and I'm not one of them."

"Ah," the photographer said. "Anything else?"

"Always got questions, but I doubt you have answers for those, yet," the man replied.

Join the club, Heero thought sullenly.


Enny was sitting at the same table when Heero returned. She'd propped her booted feet up on the opposite chair and was watching the bar with a lazy smile. When she saw Heero, she waved him over, and he took back his chair with a nod.

"That was fast."

"I didn't have much to say."

She laughed, a full-throated sound, and clapped Heero on the shoulder. "Yeah, I'd bet. Getting three sentences from you is like pounding gasoline from pavement. It can be done, but getting there is hard work!"

Heero rolled his eyes, shot a look at Enny, and ducked his head as his lips twitched into a smile. She caught the expression and grinned widely.

"At least you're not completely stone-face," she told him.

"I'm just not much for talking," he said.

"Had me fooled." She smiled as the bartender brought over a beer for her and a ginger ale for Heero. "Good thing you're back, though. Didn't think I could take much more."

"More of what?" Heero raised his eyebrows over the edge of his glass.

"The tension, man, the tension," she retorted, her brown eyes wide. "The sexual tension," she added, leering.

Heero started to glare, then gave her a helpless look as her words filtered in.

"You left, and shit!" She waved her hand as though fanning herself. "Could've lit fires off the heat radiating from the back table. Not that it wasn't strong before, but man... the looks I was getting."

"You don't look that upset." Heero regarded her teasing smile carefully.

"You're a good-looking man, and I'm one step up from a whore. You think I'm gonna complain if people think you're hanging with me?" She canted her head at him, then turned away to take a long drink from her beer.

"Hn." Heero stared at his ginger ale and tried to ignore that Duo was now talking animatedly to two large guys standing over his table. He saw a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. "Jeet's still here?"

"Kid's on break. He'll be gone in another fifteen minutes." She shrugged.

The bit of blue was definitely at the back table. Heero tried to focus on the ice in his glass while allowing his peripheral vision to pick up details. Enny noticed the change in intensity and nudged him again with her elbow. When he didn't react, she leaned close and whispered into his ear.

"Looks like Jeet's trying again," she reported.

Heero started, and she rewarded him with a secretive smile.

"It appears that Jeet's powers of persuasion are better than I thought." Her lips were very close to Heero's ear, and he shivered despite himself, fighting to keep his expression neutral as he watched condensation drip down the glass. A moment passed and she continued her reports. "Day's getting up... Jeet's saying something... Hel's nodding, now... oh, don't look now. Day and Jeet are standing awfully close," she crowed softly.

"They're coming this way," she murmured. "Jeet's draped across Day... " When Heero jumped slightly, she pulled away, her eyes wide in mock innocence.

"Spare me the details," he growled.

"Then I'll jump to the real curiosity," Enny replied mildly. "Day's grinning but his body language is tense." The girl tapped a finger against her lower lip as she ran her gaze across the room, nonchalantly studying Day as he stopped to chat up a nearby table.

"Why are you telling me this?" Heero shifted, glaring harder at the innocent glass. His fists were clenched in his lap.

"Because no matter how much you pretend otherwise, you really want to know."


On to Chapter ten

Back to chapter eight

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