Because everyone has their own definition for the plain and the exceptional.
April 7th 198 – Saturday – Plzeň, Czech Republic – Early Morning
“Good morning, young man!” Calista called out.
The blonde teenager blinked, then turned and smiled back at her, looking a little sheepish. After a considering glance, he shrugged and walked over. Calista felt her smile widen; she could see him smelling the air now in a happy sort of way. Another customer.
As he reached the stand, he folded his hands into his pockets in an oddly… formulated way. “You must be having a good morning,” he decided.
“It’s always a good morning,” she returned happily. “I’m still here to greet you, aren’t I?” She allowed him a moment to react to that, which had him shrugging, before moving onto business. “What can I get for you?”
He blinked as though confused for a moment before glancing at the menu above his head and frowning. “I’m afraid I can speak the language but not read it… what would you recommend?”
“Are you new to the area?” she asked curiously.
He shook his head, and for a moment that looked as thought that was all he would say, but then he admitted, “I’ve never stayed long, is all.”
“Ah.” Well it wasn’t any of her business in any case. “How about some koláce?” When he only tilted his head slightly, she smiled and started putting it together. “It’s a kind of pastry, very traditional…”
Kaelyn shared a smile with Suzanne across the diner as she brought breakfast over to the group of young people at table three. It was a fairly busy morning, but not so much that she couldn’t appreciate their antics. They had been overly excitable from the moment they came in, trying to tease her as readily as they were each other… and it was a nice change from the usual taciturn morning crowd that stared into their coffee mugs without break.
“Here we are,” she murmured as she came up and one of the men smacked another in the arm for something he had just said, while the rest tried not to break out snickering again. “Spinach and Mushroom Omelette, one Breakfast Sampler, a Viva La French Toast Combo-”
“Traitor,” the blonde man quipped, making the others snort even as the other stuck out his tongue and happily took his breakfast from her.
“And one Decadent Dally Blueberry Stack,” Kaelyn finished, saying the silly name of the pancake entrée with a bit more flair than she normally did, winking at them… and laughing herself as the youngest-looking of the men winked back at her. Feeling a little silly herself, she set the plate down in front of the one girl in the group as if it were something precious, which set the blonde woman giggling a bit helplessly as she eyed the five inch tall stack in pure disbelief.
“Oh my God… how did you talk me into this?” she asked as she stared at it.
“That is definitely decadent,” the youngest decided as he speared a sausage off his plate.
“I can’t eat that much,” she protested. “I’m not even sure how to cut into it without the whole thing falling over…”
“Carefully,” the blonde returned easily, and she rolled her eyes.
“Extra carefully,” added the man across the table, cutting into his French toast.
“Extremely carefully,” the youngest continued, not missing a beat.
The woman started to giggle again as the blonde reached across the table and smacked a piece of toast out of the youngest’s hand… and stuck it in his own mouth. “You have no manners, Lin.” He started rooting around in his pockets.
“He’s already eating!” he protested, gesturing at…
“Oh my goodness!” Kaelyn protested, staring in dismay at the plate that she would have sworn was already halfway empty – though most of it seemed to currently still be in his mouth. The man looked happy as a clam, though… “I’ll get you folks some more coffee,” she muttered as she realized their mugs were low and that she was just standing there watching them.
“David is a lost cause,” she heard the blonde continue behind her, still around the toast. “And in any cashe he’s eading French toasht, ja traitor…”
“Ah rike rensh shoast, uck oo,” the man returned, not even pausing. The woman’s giggles were getting more high-pitched.
“Aright, let’s top you all off,” Kaelyn muttered, having come back with the carafe… and blinked at the candle now sticking out the top of the pancake stack. The blonde man dropped the toast out of his mouth onto his omelet and flicked open a lighter.
“Alright, Dave, now prove you can swallow without losing it all on me this time, so you can sing…”
“You promised no singing!” the woman protested.
“Gross!” the youngest protested, looking like he wanted to edge away from David, then panicking upon remembering he was trapped on the inside of the booth.
“And he promised me he’d never eat that in front of me again, to stave off the trauma,” the blonde retorted. “And I said I wouldn’t sing. I’m making him sing.”
“It’s your birthday?” Kaelyn asked a little more loudly than she might have otherwise, catching the attention of all the other servers.
The young woman hid her face in her hands and groaned.
L2 – Late Morning
“I’m home,” Leia called out as she stepped inside the house, turning to close the door behind her. “Marie?”
“Just a minute,” her daughter called back distractedly. “Just let me finish translating this sentence.”
Leia smiled, moving to her room to change out of her scrubs; at least she’d only had a few clinic hours to take care of that morning. Thankfully, Odin had been all for widening the scope of Marie’s education to include more formal subjects, especially when she had suggested German. The practical uses had probably helped with that, of course, but she wanted them to agree on things whenever possible… so she wasn’t going to insist on things like Marie’s need to fully understand formal grammar and essay writing for a while yet. So far, her daughter was entirely willing to go along with whatever Odin insisted on, and Leia wasn’t interested in testing her boundaries just yet.
Meagan had raised her far more than she had, after all; Leia had always been the one Marie came to for fun and pure love, never discipline. She didn’t think her daughter would reject her or be obstinately disobedient, but she still wasn’t confident enough yet to believe that being more authoritative wouldn’t lose her some degree of her little girl’s affections.
She really appreciated Odin’s role in their lives. Without that degree of separation, using a go between or a teacher, she and Marie would have had to find new boundaries for their relationship more quickly than either would have been comfortable with… and given how independent they both were, she imaged there would have been a few violently emotional missteps while they put their lives back together. His presence – and the need to look after him during his surgical convalescence, giving them a mutual concern and goal – had eased the way considerably.
Marie was walking into the bedroom as she came back out of her closet. “We can pick up the pottery tomorrow, right?”
“Probably,” Leia temporized. “They said they were busy, so they might not have room in the kiln until around closing tomorrow.” It had been a fun little thing to do; there was a shop a little ways away that had you paint unfinished pottery in whatever design you liked before they glazed and fired it so it was normal and glossy. And of course, it was quite a novelty to girls raised in high society, where they had never washed dishes, let alone made them.
Marie nodded a little to herself, thinking for a moment, then met her eyes again. “I found a recipe I want to try for dinner later, but we don’t have everything we need in the house.”
Leia smiled. “Well, let’s go to the store, then.” Walking back out to the kitchen, she added, “Though we should check for a few other things we’re low on first and make a list.” She pursed her lips. “When did Odin say he would be back?”
“Another three days at the soonest, six at most.”
She didn’t question how immediate that answer was; after all, the two of them had been practically inseparable since they had met. And really, after having him in her home for the past three months, it was strange to not come home and see him laid up on the couch, showing Marie something off the computer or out of a book.
Nothing good ever lasts, though, she thought wistfully. Once he came back from Earth, he would likely only stay for a handful of days before leaving again, and this time he would take Marie with him, German textbook and all; it would be safer, that way. Now that he could move about more easily again, it was best for them both to stay at least somewhat on the move… though she had already extracted promises from both of them about keeping in touch while they wandered about Odin’s business.
She was decently hidden, living as she was, but it any long-term habits meant less security. Heero Yuy was a ghost, and had already proven he could keep Marie safe from any who would seek to harm or use her for their own ends. Even if he wasn’t keeping her up on her education the way he was more than happy to, having someone like him guarding her daughter would have been work pulling her out of school. Not that that’s really a factor anyway. The two of them had taken the core GED tests last month, and while Odin’s knowledge was bizarrely specialized, Marie had scored well across the board – she really had been attending one of the best schools in the colonies, before Dekim kidnapped her. We can talk secondary schools after everything stabilizes a little more; she’s only twelve. That was advanced even by colonial ACET standards.
As it stands, traveling with Odin works like an apprenticeship. He was teaching her useful life skills – just not traditional ones. All the same, they were skills that Treize would have wanted her to have. Things he would have liked to teach her himself, even, she mused, pushing away the grief once again.
There’s no use in dreaming of what could have been. Better to simply count your blessings. Odin would protect Marie with his life, and he was already teaching her everything he knew – though with ethical boundaries, thank goodness. He had brought those up before Leia could question him.
‘I’ve done a lot of things I never had much choice about, and sometimes, I’ve hated myself for it. Sometimes things happen and you don’t get any say, but… knowing more lets you limit the damage. Being able to do more means you have more opportunities to make choices, instead of just fighting to stay alive. With how Marlé’s already had people trying everything away from her; she should know how to fight back.’
In any case, his reaction when she had asked him about what he intended to do with Marie’s increased sharpshooting abilities had been what sold her: pure offense that she thought he would put the girl in a position where she might be forced to kill. Knowing Mariemaia, it would likely come to that eventually – she was so much more like Treize than herself – at some point, Leia knew she would choose to take a life rather than let a friend or an innocent die… But Odin agreed with her in that the longer that event could be put off, the better.
However odd the boy is, he’s good, through and through. But oh, how strange he could be, sometimes.
“Three to six days left to ourselves,” Leia mused, sitting down to pull her shoes back on. I’m just going to make the best of what time we have. Smirking, she admitted, “It feels weird, now, to not come home and immediately get bombarded with questions about, say, why I wanted to pain the walls red – as if it’s the strangest thing he’s ever heard of.” She huffed out a laugh, offering her daughter a conspiratorial smile. “I’d only just gotten used to his odd questions, and he runs off on some intergalactic errand with no warning.” Marie grinned broadly at her, so she added, “Shame on him, mixing me up just when I’d gotten firm footing again.”
Marie giggled. “It’s what he’s good at, Mom.”
Prague, Czech Republic – Around noon
He couldn’t help but cringe a little as the other teenager gave him a disbelieving look. Okay, that sounded a little stupid… Before he could think of something else to say in recovery, though, the blonde simply returned it. “Hi.”
…Still giving no opening to start any kind of real conversation. And it wasn’t like they had any kind of real connection, or even knew each other’s real names. The only thing he knew that they probably agreed on was politics, and that was not a conversation to have in public.
He’d only been told enough to understand that relations with this guy were important, but not why. So he figured he’d do his best to make a decent impression and do good at the job of escorting him out to the hidden hanger, despite the fact that he almost never left his desk and computer and had never done anything like this before. He’d tried to protest when Po handed him this mission, but she’d said he was the only one on hand who was both not working on something critical and had no record to be recognized for, which eliminated most of the risk of being caught out. Then it had been noted that they were about the same age so they should be able to travel as friends or cousins without anything seeming odd about them…
But someone had forgotten to mention how odd the guy was. And he refused to believe that they hadn’t known, because it was way too obvious to be missed.
He blinked as he realized that the guy’d said something, ran it back through his head… “What? Why?” Why would he think I wasn’t okay?
He blinked back. “You’re… skittish.” When Neil decided not to even try responding to that one, he frowned slightly. “I don’t know your name.”
…Po wants him to blend in with this guy? “Neil.”
The blonde smiled a little. “Odin.” After another moment, he added, “You’re not used to carrying.”
His heart stopped. “What?” he demanded in a hiss.
Odin leaned back slightly, looking surprised at Neil’s reaction to being casually told he was carrying a gun when they’d only known each other for maybe three minutes. Neil was carrying, and yeah, he didn’t all that often, but-
“You need to keep it somewhere less obvious, or wear baggier clothes,” the blonde continued casually. “The bulge shows.” He gave Neil an expectant look. “We’re not going anywhere until you fix it.”
Neil stared at him for a moment, mouth dry, trying to decide if he was being belittled… or if ‘Odin’ was honestly trying to be helpful.
“You’re a risk to Po’s operation too when you make mistakes like that, not just yourself.” He tilted his head slightly. “Find somewhere private and I’ll keep watch so you’re not caught out.”
He had the sinking feeling that this was going to be a long day.
“Kay!” Heavy steps clambered up the staircase. Amos swung through the doorway with a grin as Duo looked up. “Customer needs you,” he explained cheerfully before focusing on the suddenly awake infant. “Oops.”
Duo rolled his eyes and threw back the blankets; he’d only just gotten her to sleep too. “Congratulations,” he informed the war orphan as he handed over the grumpy infant. “Have a baby.” Amos just sighed a little resignedly as his teacher jammed his feet into his shoes. He’d been almost asleep too… He really hadn’t needed the nap, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t groggy from being jolted back awake.
“Hey, Nene,” Amos cooed, bouncing the little girl slightly before trying to tuck her more against his chest… and she was just tired enough to not resist too much. Duo smiled a little at the image. Amos, unlike Nolan, was good with kids – which made sense, seeing as he had half-raised the younger ones at the church. Melissa’s little brother just didn’t have the patience for Renee… or really for anyone beyond his textbooks, half the time.
Speaking of… “What time is it?”
“Um… two something.” The boy tried to settle Renee into more of a horizontal position, but she wasn’t having it. “Two twenty?”
Huh, he’d only been actually dozing for maybe ten minutes. And Nolan’s not due back for another hour or so, so Nee should be down by then. “Thanks.” He pulled on a sweater as he stepped out on the landing. No one was in the little entry area, so he hurried down the stairs and swung into the garage with a smile. “Can I help you?”
Melissa offered him a little smile as the customer, a man who looked like he was somewhere in his thirties, gave him an appraising look. “You’re Kasey von Koll?”
“Sure am.” A slew of other things too, but he’d settle for plain Kasey. “Did someone recommend you to us?” Referrals were gold, and he tried to make it up to the people who’d given them; it was good business.
“Ah, yes,” He gestured to a piece of equipment resting on the table. “Your wife here said you were familiar with this model, but it’s a tricky thing, and the last guy I asked pretended he was better than he was.”
Duo frowned, moving around to look. “Who did you go to?” Reading the brand name, he fought off a grimace. “Oh, yeah, the Keirens can be nasty… slapdash construction, bad coding, you shift one thing and half the time you fuck up something else, and the parts aren’t standard so you have to alter any replacement components. Mm, this is an 1840-IS? I’ve played with the 1840-F model more than a few times, this one shouldn’t be much different… I think the main difference was supposed to be a shift in the fan arrangement, but I can look it up tonight to be sure.” He met the man’s eyes. “How soon do you need it back? Anything from Keiren is probably going to take me more than a day, even if it turns out you only have one issue to work though.” He let out a little chuckle. “Right, I’m sorry… I still need to ask what it’s hurting for in the first place, huh?”
The man let out a deep belly laugh, obviously pleased. “Well, Raymond did say you knew what you were about: you’ve about won me over.” He shook his head a little. “I don’t need it for a few more weeks, really, but the sooner I get it back the better. Can you get me a price estimate?”
Melissa stepped back out from the office – she’d left the garage while he was eying the pile of scrap that had the nerve of trying to pass itself off as viable technology – with the paperwork they had for everyone they worked with. “We have a base set price for looking into it, then with jobs like this we normally get in touch with you once we find the problem and know if we’re going to have to get any parts, or if it’s-”
Renee let out an utterly pitiful wail, overhead. Duo sighed and gave ‘Liss a tired look. “Are you sure she had a full bottle earlier? She didn’t pass it off on our invisible dog or something?”
Melissa sighed a little herself. “I think she’s started teething.”
“No,” Duo decided.
“No?” The Dutch woman looked amused. “How do you know?”
“Because it needs to be something I can fix, like needing more solid food because she’s still hungry after a bottle.”
Their customer let out another belly laugh even as the baby started screaming outright; whatever Amos was trying, she was not impressed. “Well, her lungs sound healthy… I wouldn’t have thought you had a little one up there though. How old?”
“My niece,” Duo explained. “She’s ten months, now. My sister headed out to work an hour ago, so we’re watching her. Normally she’s a dream, but…” He shrugged.
The older man chuckled. “It’s around that age when they usually start to really be a handful,” he confided. As Renee let out an even louder scream, he shook his head. “I trust you know what you’re doing, I can iron out the rest with Mrs. von Koll now if you need to look after your niece.”
He offered the man a grateful smile before leaning over to peck Melissa on the cheek. “Thanks.” Dashing back through the door, he called, “Amos?”
“I have no idea!” the fourteen-year-old protested. Stepping out on the landing as Duo made his way up, he looked bewildered. “She’s just mad.”
The older teen grinned, shaking his head as he held out his arms and the little girl tried to practically leap out of Amos’ grip into his own. “Nah… she just likes me better.”
Amos scowled as Renee immediately went quiet and even went so far as to flop against his chest, breathing like she’d just run a marathon even though she’d barely started crawling. “That’s so not fair,” the kid grumbled. “Abby didn’t do that…”
“Abby’s always been used to anyone and everyone constantly poking her or picking her up,” Duo reminded him, patting her back gently… wishing he’d grabbed a rag because he was positive she was getting baby spit all over his shirt. No, even better, toddler spit. He tried to remember what she’d eaten so far today and how likely any of it was to leave a stain. “Nee’s not against other people, but she’s really only used to a few of us really handling her, and when she’s dumb tired she usually only takes to me or her mom.” Eh, at least it’s a dark shirt… It’ll just be baby spit crunchy. He’d actively stopped wearing light-colored shirts around Renee after he couldn’t get the damn carrots out of his white one.
“Why’d you hand her off then?” Apparently the orphan was altogether annoyed… maybe he and Nolan were friends for more than just the fact that they lived together.
Duo rolled his eyes. “Because I didn’t know she was that tired. Go help Melissa or something.” Maybe she’ll crash now that she’s tired herself out yelling. Toeing his shoes back off he headed back for the futon, glancing down at the again quiet child as he rubbed her back. “You wanna play favorites, huh? You hurt his feelings, you know. Yeah, nobody likes getting yelled at, sweetie. Gotta try and be nice, huh?” She didn’t really move in response to him talking to her, so he carefully sat back down on the blankets and shifted her weight, only to feel a soft tug…
She was chewing on a thick wrinkle of his sweater.
Damn it, she is teething.
China – 10:00pm
“And you used to complain about me working too much…”
Shui didn’t look up. “I’m only working eighteen hours a day once a week or so; you were doing it every day.” He shook his head a little, leaning back in his chair to meet Wufei’s eyes. “I’m still not sure how you were doing that; you were only sleeping four hours.”
Wufei shrugged, slipping out of his shoes. “I’ve never needed much sleep.”
“Yeah I can tell,” Shui noted tiredly. “You still barely sleep – now you just get better food.”
The other teenager snorted. “And yet, I’m never sure if the food is really worth Xiu Juan’s company.”
“Must be, with how much time you spend over there.” He grinned a little. “You always complain, but you still follow Kailì home all the time. You should bring some back for me.”
Wufei snorted. “If I have to brave Lao and his family, you’re not getting the benefits for free.” Dropping onto his bed, he added, “You can go annoy Kailì enough to make him tase you all by yourself.”
Shui just sighed. “I need to find people who aren’t insane to cook for me.”
“Don’t we all?” Leaning forward, he glanced over the page his roommate was working on. “So what’s this now?”
Brussels, Belgium – Evening
Jake sighed a little as he stepped out into the courtyard, looking around. He knew she was out here, but he couldn’t strictly see her…
“I don’t want to come inside yet.”
He let out a morose chuckle as he made his way over, hands in pockets. “Even if I go thrash your brother for you?”
She wasn’t looking at him. “He’d have you taken away from me.”
Jake sighed again and shrugged, even though she couldn’t see it. There was a fair chance that she was right… and even though he would be back fairly fast, the fact that Zechs had done it in the first place would hurt her deeply.
The prince had not been impressed with either of their judgment after Amsterdam.
At first, it had been an almost moot point, recovering as he had been, and Relena too, having had a relapse after the strain from the riot. Then there had been the physical therapy, and starting to teach Relena to ingrain defensive responses. They had begun to leave Brussels again for short trips at the end of February: doing the surveying of the hydroponics houses themselves instead of just sending Dorothy, checking in on areas Zechs grudgingly approved for her… His concern and paranoia had been obvious, but it was only to be expected after the riot – though Jake maintained that it could not have in any way been their fault, or at all predictable. It was smothering, and patronizing as fuck, but he had been gritting his teeth and bearing it out, even as he hated being dismissed…
And then Heavyarms had shown up.
If he had found Zechs’ attitude obnoxious before, Relena had found it nigh unbearable, even as she had fought to spend more time with her brother to gain his trust back, or to just get to know him… But the man didn’t trust her. In truth, he probably never had, really… and the fact that Relena was smart enough to realize that just hurt her all the more. Jake had always known that Zechs never trusted those around him – that he honestly couldn’t make himself lean back on those closest to him – but sweet, loving Relena couldn’t even imagine thinking like that. Instead of confiding in her, the prince had locked her up and handled her with kid gloves, acting as though he cared while he stopped listening to her altogether... even though she was anything but a little girl after Amsterdam.
And in the month or so since Heavyarms’ appearance, he had given up even any pretense of listening to her. Even canceling something as simple as have dinner with her on her birthday when he had nothing pressing occurring, despite having promised… He wasn’t even willing to give her the kind of loyalty you would offer a precocious child now. He avoided her in passing, and had ordered his aides to simply turn her away.
The colonel had been hoping his old friend would at least make an exception for today, even for just an hour… But instead, when Jake had tried to yell at him for it, the man had calmly told him he was sure Relena understood his duties, and left him to pick up the pieces.
He hadn’t protested when she asked for some time alone.
Coming up behind her now, though, he grimaced out past the eaves at the falling rain. At least she has common sense when being morose. If she’d been actually standing in the pouring water he would’ve had to protest. “You must be cold enough by now,” he noted instead.
“Cold enough,” she agreed quietly. “Not quite numb yet, though.” She looked over her shoulder to give him a wry look. “You know, three years ago I would have insisted on standing out in that.”
Amused at how she was more or less mirroring his own thoughts, he gave her a tired grin of his own. “But you probably also would have given in and come back inside by now,” he argued.
She chuckled slightly. “True.” Sighing, she turned to face him a bit more and gave him a sad smile. “At least the rest of the day was fun.”
“Yeah.” Grinning slightly, he noted, “How long do you think it’ll be before Dorothy forgives me for her jacket at lunch?”
She laughed at that, and his grin widened. Dorothy really had been asking for it, in his opinion – though some might argue that he’d had a little too much fun making mischief today. “I wouldn’t focus on forgiveness,” Relena advised. “You should watch out for revenge.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Falling quiet again, he stepped back to lean against the wall and watch the rain pattering down into the courtyard, lost in his own thoughts as he let his friend return to hers.
The imagery did suit their moods.
He shifted his shoulder, testing its range of movement and stretching subtly; recovering from an injury was never as simple as they tried to make it out to be in books or movies, and it was even worse when you were used to having a higher level of performance than was normal. He was healed, but the joint was still a long ways from what he deemed acceptable, let alone conditioned to the degree he demanded of his body.
I wonder if Zechs is done healing from whatever was wrong with him yet. The prince had said before that he expected to be better by now, but so much had happened since then that could have disrupted the process… Some small part of Jake wanted to believe that the prince was brushing his sister off so much because he was trying to hide that weakness the same way a wild animal would. That maybe he was being so avoidant because he was terrified, or clueless, and didn’t want to risk anyone realizing it. That maybe he was on some kind of medication that was affecting his moods.
But at the same time, he recognized the rationalization for what they were. And even if they were true they were still only excuses, if possibly good ones… and excuses didn’t really matter in the long run – just effort and results. If Zechs couldn’t grow up enough to not only acknowledge his mistakes, but step forward and do his best to actually change what was happening, whatever the cost to himself, then there wasn’t any point in him or Lena wishing. The Lightning Count was nothing if not stubborn.
And… Jake found himself not really caring what state of health his old comrade was in. He’d had plenty of chances to back down or change already, and Jake had tried to help too. Zechs made his bed several times over now; he can lie in it.
It was nearly ten minutes before Relena spoke again. “Jake?” She didn’t turn away from the rain to look back at him.
He did her the same courtesy of not focusing on her; the pattering rain was soothing, in a way. “Yeah?”
“…I’m not sure I can stay here any more.”
He did focus on her at that – but she hadn’t moved, and still seemed calm, so he waited.
“He doesn’t really care, Jake. He doesn’t care, and he’s holding me back, and sooner or later if I stay here I’m going to lash out at him and find myself even more entrenched.” Turning to meet his eyes, she decided, “I need you to look into potential places where we can go, that he’ll allow but have little reach.”
Her face was dry, and though her eyes were sad… She had that same steel he had seen in her ever since waking up after his surgery in December: that same deep resolution. How can Zechs not see this? To be so willfully blind, to miss that she wasn’t simply being strung along by her heart without her head to follow anymore, to think her still a willful child…
He gave her another sad smile. “Your brother is a moron.”
Her returning smile said she appreciated the opinion.
April 8th 198 – Sunday – Eastern Carpathian Mountains – Early Morning Hours
Sally looked up as her office door opened, glancing at the clock and realizing she had lost track of time as she knew who this was… Only to stifle a little laugh when Neil, one of her more normally techie-inclined fighters, came in first, looking absolutely wrung out. Heero, it seemed, hadn’t lost his touch – or lack thereof – with people. A moment later, none other than Heero Yuy followed him in, eyes sweeping the room and cataloguing all the details, she was sure.
He was taller than she remembered, and shockingly blonde – though it suited him well enough – but the main difference she could immediately suss out was his almost casual bearing. He was more… loose-limbed; his body language didn’t immediately scream that he was trained to be lethal, which made sense, if he’d been hiding for the past two years. Then he met her eyes and smiled… And for a second or two she was surprised enough to simply stare instead of smiling back.
She suspected, then, that far more had changed than his appearance.
Smiling broadly back now – it was nice to see him show more emotion – she greeted, “You look well, Heero. I was starting to wonder if Chang had just dreamt meeting you last summer.”
He shrugged a little. “I was busy. It took time to finish what I was doing and wrap up a few other loose ends.” He tilted his head slightly. “I assumed that if you were in charge, your group would still hold some power by the time I was ready.”
She nodded her head slightly, and gestured for both boys to sit; Neil had probably been through enough today that he deserved to know what service he’d done in bringing Heero into the fold. She’d worried about sending someone more recognizable, and Neil had played the guide well even if he appeared to be at wit’s end. “Xutao said you had thought he was Wufei?”
The gundam pilot shrugged. “I caught a glimpse of him in Jerusalem, after hearing him talk. They have the same accent, same build, and once I started following his hunters they were always referring to him as Chang.” He frowned a little, looking to the side. “Quatre had disappeared two months before that… I suppose I was overly hopeful that I could find one of the others.”
Well, that answers one question. “Wufei and Xutao share a large number of traits,” she agreed. She took a deep breath before phrasing her next question. Here goes nothing; he always did prefer the blunt approach. “Is there any chance that you might be able to recreate the Zero System?”
He blinked; she got the impression that he hadn’t been expecting that question. “I have the information to do so,” he admitted after a moment. “But not the means.” He appeared to think for another long moment. “I have the backup information from both Wing Zero and Sandrock, the blueprints to rebuild both the machines, but Zero… That’s trickier.” He frowned again. “You’re aware that Treize is alive?”
Neil was gaping now as he realized exactly who he had spent his day being tormented by, and Sally couldn’t help a little smile. Heero had never looked like much, but he was damn good at knocking people’s feet out from under them. “I am,” she assured. “I’m just not sure h-” An alarm starting to chirp cut her off. Standing, she beckoned to the young man who had once fought toe-to-toe against Zechs. “Heavyarms is on final approach,” she explained over the noise. “Neil, you’re dismissed.” Exiting the room and walking towards the actual hanger, she continued explaining. “We’ve been taking control of all satellites capable of sensing it in this hemisphere in order to hide where it’s coming home to as well as installing it with cloaking abilities, and we’re hoping they follow the cue we’ve left that there really is no change on control with the satellites. So far, they think we’re using the same kind of stealth systems as Deathscythe. Unfortunately, we haven’t had any luck figuring that one out, in all reality. We’ve been trying, but apparently Professor G deserved his title of genius.”
“We’ve been trying, but apparently Professor G deserved his title of genius.”
Which means she hasn’t found Duo yet, Odin concluded, grateful as the volume of the klaxon started to decrease. Sally went on to explain what they would have heard if the approach had looked risky, or like the base might be in danger of discovery, and he carefully tucked the knowledge away as he continued to drink in the sight of the encampment around him.
They were organized and strong, that much was obvious. Far better equipped than he, Trowa, or Wufei had been before, and possibly better than even Duo or Quatre. Po was explaining now that this was one of several bases that MS could return to, each with the same precautions against being followed, while he had always been forced to find naturally shielding environments for shelter. The cloaking systems on the gundams other than Deathscythe had been nothing to laugh at, but not as reliable as one could hope.
Having some kind of home to return to was a luxury he was only just beginning to understand, but one he found he rather liked. Trowa had chosen well.
I wonder how well set up Treize is.
People were watching them curiously as they walked, though none approached. Most appeared to be a little bemused as to why Po was focusing so completely on him, but then he met eyes with one and saw recognition hit a moment before the man cursed and ducked down a different hall.
He snorted slightly; Marie would probably appreciate hearing about that. She would probably also find the details of his slow traipse across Europe today funny in ways he didn’t entirely follow as well… and would spend an hour or more afterwards trying to explain. He was actually looking forward to it; Neil had been beyond frustrating to deal with, and a little light shed on the situation would be more than welcome. Curious, he watched to see if anyone else reacted. One more did, though he was shadowed by the first, so had likely been told… And another looked highly calculative. He was probably worth keeping in mind.
They entered the hanger just as the doors began opening to the darkness, and he looked to his watch. It had taken time to travel inconspicuously all the way out here, and it was getting close to three in the morning; dawn wouldn’t be upon them for another four hours or so yet. It had been a good time to conduct a raid, though he didn’t know the target yet; it was likely only just now hitting the news.
A few repainted Tauruses flew in first, carefully maneuvering into their docks, before he saw Heavyarms again. The modifications were far more obvious with it so close, moving slowly. Again, he was struck by all the differences that he had been pointing out to the Bartons over the last month… It’s hardly even the same machine, at this point. Then again, if he never got more of his memory back, why would Trowa have bothered to keep it the same when it was ill-suited in any case? Soon enough the hangar doors were closing again, and he watched as the Taurus pilots finished their shutdown sequences and exited their cockpits…
Why brown? It made sense to repaint the suits – he assumed they were out of the stock that Po’s resistance had been stealing from the Regime practically since its inception – but it was an unusual choice. The Tauruses were done in the same dark chocolate brown as Heavyarms now sported as a base color instead of white, with pale tan and bright red sections accentuating the dark bodies. Focusing again on Heavyarms, he realized it wasn’t the same shade of red as before either. Something symbolic?
Trowa… hadn’t ever really been the type to fight with lesser support at his back, before.
A medical team was helping one of the Taurus pilots out of his machine, holding a seeping cloth to his head even as mechanical crew was crawling into the machine at the same time, wanting to begin assessing damage to the suit as soon as possible. That one looked as though it had taken a good beating overall. A few of the others showed some signs of damage as well, but only as much or less than he assumed the Maguanacs had incurred on a regular basis… and even as he thought that he focused on another of the pilots, wearing a traditional red cap and pulling at his long mustache in agitation.
She has the Maguanacs? His opinion of Sally Po ratcheted up another few notches. She had mentioned that they had good relations at one point when he was on Peacemillion with her, and of course Quatre was missing and the Maguanacs had been a fighting force to reckon with long before they had banded behind him and Sandrock, but… How did she convince them to work for her? Po had shown time and again that she was obviously a good leader, but the Maguanacs, for all their talk of righteousness and equality, only followed those who were true warriors as well as compassionate. Rashid and Quatre had both in spades, but while Sally led well, she wasn’t a terribly good fighter.
The immediate answer was that they might have taken to Trowa… but he dismissed the idea almost as soon as it came to mind. Trowa didn’t have any of the qualities the Maguanacs valued in great enough amounts for them to have considered it. He and Quatre had greatly appreciated each other’s company both before and after Winner’s psychotic episode, but Trowa would never be a leader; he lacked both the charisma and the staunch loyalty to singular ideas.
No… something else was going on here, and he was beginning to think he was about to be as caught off guard by it as he was by Xutao’s face last July. He had missed something important. He’d made a jump of logic or an assumption somewhere along the line that had skewed all his predictions, his expectations.
He watched, feeling almost like he was in a trance as the cockpit doors unfolded from the chest of the red and brown mobile suit, and a lithe figure waltzed out confidently, brushing back dark bangs. Dark clothes, hair in a ponytail falling to mid-chest, the pilot stepped quickly into the foot saddle of the lift cord as it immediately began to lower at an accelerated rate, jumped off when it was still two feet off the ground, then turned to face them properly, moving at a brisk, predatory walk…
And smiled at the sight of him. “Hey, Heero! It’s good to see you. It took you long enough.”
He never would have imagined her with long hair. Just the same, he couldn’t stop the grin that tugged at his lips at the friendly, teasing greeting. “It did,” he agreed. “It’s good to see you too, Noin.”