So finally, after a little clean up, we're posting. ^_^
Title: Cold Cuts
Authors: Stephanie and DaMoyre
Setting: Peacemillion, toward the end of the first war.
Status: Prequel to Light as a Feather
Warning: 3+4, A wishful Duo - 1+2
From a distance, Duo watched Trowa, seated in the observation room of Peacemillion. He was leaning back in a ratted old chair with his feet propped up on a makeshift coffee table, staring into the void of space. He held himself as if cold, which seemed a habit for him ever since Quatre had brought him back from the circus.
Even now with his memory back, Trowa was somehow changed. Though many of his manners were still the same, and he talked about as much as was normal for Trowa - which was to say only when necessary - there was still something different. A vibe that was off, maybe. Duo had not yet determined if this was a good or bad thing.
It was so hard to tell with Trowa. But there was something softer in his deep-set emerald eyes when one looked into them now. Especially when he was around Quatre. When before there was nothing, Duo thought he could see a glimmer of... of... something. Affection, maybe. Though not so blatant. One would have to know Trowa to see it.
But if the great Silencer could return from the dead with something of a heart, well then maybe Heero...
He saw Trowa shivering as he brought his arms tighter around himself. Duo
half expected to see Trowa's breath when he exhaled, he seemed so cold.
Man, Trowa, just how long were you floating around out there in space?
"Hello, Duo," Trowa said, still staring out of the observation window.
Duo was startled, but only for a moment. He could play at Trowa's cool game. "Heya, Trow! Thought I'd come in here and see if ya wanted ta eat." He lifted up the tray of food he had procured for himself: a foot long sub-sandwich, a bag of chips and a 24 ounce bottle of Sarsaparilla.
Trowa turned to look at the sandwich on the tray as Duo bounded into the room. It was Duo's special, containing a variety of mystery meats and cheeses slathered with mayonnaise and pickles.
Trowa nodded. "Thank you."
Duo's eyes widened. He had not counted on Trowa accepting his offer; no one
ever did when it came to one of his masterpieces. Now he would have to share his dinner for one.
He's just trying to keep me off balance. Two can play at this...
"Great. Then we'll... share!" Duo set the sandwich down on the coffee table and cut it in half, offering the slightly smaller half to Trowa. "Uh, I uh, forgot the glasses, do you mind sharing a bottle?"
Trowa shook his head slightly and took the sandwich offered.
Duo took a big bite off his sandwich and then tossed back a handful of chips, making little crunching sounds as he ate. Only a few seconds later, he was pretty much bouncing on his seat, one of his legs constantly moving, his boot tapping on the floor. He set his sandwich down and looked at Trowa.
"What is it?" The taller pilot asked quietly.
"Oh?" Duo smiled for a moment and shrugged. "Um...nothing, why do you ask?"
Trowa shook his head a little and then looked down at his food. He picked up a potato chip and took a tiny bite, while his half of the sandwich remained intact.
Duo hesitated for a moment and took a deep breath. After a few moments, he finally made up his mind. He would talk to Trowa. It really couldn't hurt. If nothing else, he was sure he could trust the green-eyed pilot to keep their conversation to himself.
"We’re friends... right, Trow?"
"The best of," Trowa paused and lifted his eyes to meet Duo's. If Duo had not known better, he would have thought there was a trace of amusement in them. "I'm told."
"Um, yeah..." Duo laughed nervously, remembering his introduction to Trowa when the Heavyarms pilot still suffered from amnesia. "You know... I've been thinking lately...what do you think about Heero?" Duo's eyes brightened at the sole mention of the Wing pilot. It was not secret that his feelings for Heero went far beyond simple camaraderie. "I mean, do you think there might be a chance? You know, sorta like you and Quatre?"
Trowa ceased from taking his first bite and turned his one visible eye to Duo. He looked at him for a moment, and then as if dismissing the question, turned his attention back to the sandwich.
Duo studied him for a moment, unsure about his reaction. Perhaps he shouldn't have asked this of Trowa. He knew that the tall pilot and Heero were close. He had seen them talking alone on several occasions, but perhaps this time he had pushed a little too far. "Hey buddy! I'm kidding!" Duo masked his face with one of his trademark grins. "Sheesh! Can't even start up a friendly conversation around here. I tell you..." Duo trailed off, shaking his head in mock disgust.
Trowa took a bite of the sandwich and then set it down, showing no visible sign of what he thought of the monstrosity. "I think you're good for Heero," he said, picking up from Duo’s initial line of questioning."But you need to back off a little."
"So you think I'm good for Heero, huh?" Duo smirked, completely recovered from his brief lapse of uneasiness. "Funny you'd say that, Trow, 'cause I happen to think so too, you know?"
Trowa put his feet back up on the edge of the table and set his hands in his lap. "Did you hear the rest of what I said? You need to take it easier, Duo."
Duo scratched his head looking genuinely puzzled. "Okay... like what do you mean exactly?"
"You need to calm down a little. Heero likes you, but you also...irritate him." Trowa said with what Duo took as an implied hint that the rest of them felt the same. "Your exuberant amount of energy is... intense."
"Huh?" Duo asked, looking a bit confused.
"You bounce when you talk," Trowa clarified. "It's a little overbearing for someone like Heero."
Just for Heero, huh? Duo smiled inwardly. If his energetic aura was irritating to Heero, he must be down right unbearable to the even quieter Trowa. Well, Trowa was being such a good sport now, he could toss him a small bone this time.
"Okay! I'll try not to bounce around too much when I talk. I'll just sit like this..." Duo sat straight back in his chair and folded his hands neatly on his lap. "How's that?" he smiled. "You know, Trowa... it's really nice of you to talk to me about this... because...I really like Heero."
Trowa nodded. "Heero is. . . a great man."
"Yeah." Duo looked into Trowa's visible eye for a moment. "You have a thing for him too, don't you?" It would not surprise him if Trowa did. He and Heero had spent a long time together on Earth, and Duo knew there was a camaraderie that the two of them shared, whether they admitted it or not. He could tell by the icy glares they gave each other.
For the first time since Trowa had regained his memory, Duo thought he saw a startled look across his face. Trowa picked up the sandwich again and turned it around, looking, no doubt, to see if there was an edge that did not have a wad of mayonnaise dripping off of it. He set it back on the dish as if defeated by it. "Not in the manner you mean," he finally answered. "I love Quatre. Heero I admire."
So it was just admiration between Heero and Trowa? He could see that. There was a clear level of trust between them, confidence in each other's capabilities. "You and Quatre make a nice couple, Trowa," Duo said quietly.
Trowa gave a slight nod and then looked back out the window, seeming to fix his gaze on some specific star Duo could not pinpoint from his position. After a few moments of silence, Trowa, uncharacteristically speaking before spoken to, said, "You seem a little more settled."
"Well, I'm thinking right now." Duo replied. "Don't think that just because I talk a lot I don't listen too," he playfully admonished. "I mean, I was paying attention to everything you said. A guy has got to ponder once in a while, you know..."
Duo thought he could see something of a smile on Trowa’s lips. "I know," Trowa responded.
"Yeah," Duo nodded. "You seem to be pretty understanding there, Trowa. Quatre's a lucky, little guy!"
"It helps that Quatre is also...very understanding," Trowa said quietly.
"Quatre's understanding and kind. He's one of the best people I've ever met." Duo agreed.
"Yes," Trowa bowed his head, and this time Duo knew he had seen a smile. "He's very fond of you too," Trowa offered. "He also thinks you are... good for Heero."
Duo was about to respond, rather excitedly, about how Quatre had keen insight, when Trowa turned around toward the boy in the doorway.
"Sorry to interrupt," Heero said as he walked into the room.
"You didn’t," Trowa responded. "Hello, Heero."
Duo grinned widely as Heero entered the room, almost hoping that he had over heard Trowa’s last words. "Hi, Heero! We were just... talking," he said and winked at Trowa, who seemed indifferent to the gesture.
"Coming back from a mission?" Trowa asked.
Heero shook his head. "I was working on Wing Zero."
Trowa nodded and wrapped his arms tighter around his body. Duo wondered if the taller pilot had the same misgivings he did about the ZERO cockpit system.
"That thing needs to be blown up, man!" Duo snarled. "It's not for humans. The thing is evil!"
"It’s a good system," Heero calmly replied. "Useful once you learn to control it."
"It's better that one of us has it," Trowa added. "Now that Heero and Quatre have mastered it, we have a defense against Epyon and any other mobile suit that Romafeller or White Fang come up with."
"Exactly." Heero nodded
"How is it operating?" Trowa asked.
"I fixed a few glitches that had been left over," Heero informed them. Perhaps more for Duo’s sake than Trowa’s. "It should now allow the pilot to have more control over the Gundam. The target will be clearer."
"I still think that thing should disappear," Duo stammered, crossing his arms in defiance. "We really don't need it. We can do fine with our suits alone. We don’t need that system! Deathscythe and I are fine on our own!"
"No, we must keep it, Duo," Trowa stated.
Duo shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He had thought he saw something in Trowa’s gaze that disapproved of the ZERO system. Perhaps Duo had misunderstood disapproval for indifference. He should know better, Trowa was a soldier, his own opinion laid buried beneath the mission objective - if he had an opinion at all.
"Treize built his own Gundam with a ZERO system," Trowa continued. "He didn't have a blue print like Quatre. If people see the reality of such a weapon, they will try to replicate it. If we destroy it now, we risk crippling ourselves. It is regrettably the only way."
"The ZERO just shouldn't exist," Duo muttered then turned to face Heero and Trowa once again. "I'm actually surprised that Heero and Quatre can pilot with that thing on. It's just too much for a human."
"Maybe we just aren't human," Heero replied.
"Perhaps both of you are right," Trowa added, pushing the sandwich slightly in the direction of Heero as if to offer. Heero shook his head curtly.
"That Gundam was a mistake." A saddened voice came from the doorway where Quatre now stood. His head was bowed as though in shame. "But it has become a necessary evil."
"Quatre. . ." Heero said his name as though they had had this conversation and settled it already.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Duo reluctantly admitted. "I'm just glad I don't have to pilot that... thing. I didn't like it. It was just not a good experience, you know! It felt like being in a very rough rollercoaster right after a full meal."
Trowa nodded, but said nothing.
"Great!" Duo exclaimed, picking up on Trowa's silent affirmation. "I'm glad someone finally agrees with me on this. No wonder Heero keeps falling out off the cockpit and landing on his head! I mean, who can actually walk straight after being on that thing?"
Heero frowned a little, casting an icy glare towards Duo. Maybe he did like him after all!
"I can't help but think that it's my fault," Quatre said as he entered the room and stood at arm of the couch near Trowa. "Wing Zero exists because of me. I should have destroyed that suit..."
"But you didn't," Heero quickly countered. "In the end, the Zero system might be our only hope to win."
"But don't you see, Heero?" Quatre insisted. "Because of Wing Zero, Epyon was built. Others will be built because of Epyon. It is an obstacle to true peace."
"Quatre," Heero argued, "ZERO is not an obstacle to peace. It's our main weapon."
"And our enemies will seek a weapon more powerful than the ZERO system," Quatre rebutted. "I understand that we need it now, but I wish I had never built it." Quatre once again bowed his head. Duo thought he could see tears welling in the kid's eyes. "I don't want to be the cause of any more pain and bloodshed."
"You shouldn't feel remorse," Heero spoke in his softest monotone. "If you had not built it, somebody else would have. Or they would have come up with something even more powerful. We should be glad the Zero is in our hands and that's all. As long as there's a war, there will always be bloodshed and death, Quatre. With or without the ZERO system."
Trowa took Quatre’s hand in his and pulled him close. "Heero is right, Quatre. It's better that a kind person like you can pilot Wing Zero. I've see the way you've learned to handle it, both of you," he said, turning to include Heero in his gaze. "Others would not be as careful and the atrocities committed would be staggering."
Duo looked at Quatre and Trowa, forgetting for the moment the talk of war and weapons of mass destruction, and smiled. "They're so cute together, aren't they, Heero?"
Heero merely nodded, but the sight of the Wing Zero pilot giving romance the time of day made Duo nearly leap for joy. Now if only Heero would allow for love in his own heart...
Duo turned back to look at the couple just in time to catch the red hit full bloom on Quatre’s cheeks. He struggled to hold in his own laughter at the embarrassment of the slight pilot. Trowa’s expression had remained neutral, but the length of the stare Duo was receiving from him told Duo he might want to reconsider pressing this matter.
Trowa then shifted his gaze down to the uneaten half of sandwich on Duo's plate and then back to Duo. His eyes widened as it occurred to him that with all this talk of love and war, he had forgotten to eat! He picked the sandwich up and took a large bite, dripping mayonnaise and pickles back on to the plate as he did so.
Trowa turned away to face Quatre and Heero. "Has anyone seen Wufei?" he asked.
"I saw him going out a couple hours ago..." Duo piped in again as he was still chewing on his last bite.
"Do you know why?" Quatre asked, seeming to avoid a direct look at Duo and his dinner.
"Why, what?" Duo questioned back as he dipped his sandwich into a small pool of mayonnaise that had fallen to the plate. "Why he was going out? Well, you know Wufei. He wouldn't tell me where he was going..."
"He likes to work alone," Heero stated evenly.
Trowa simply nodded. "Hn."
"Trowa, man, you gonna eat that sandwich or just let it go to waste?" Duo blurted out eyeing the perfection he had given up to the boy earlier. So much for trying to help the kid out through his self-sacrifice!
Trowa looked down at the plate. "Sorry Duo, I guess my eyes were..." His voice trailed off as he watched Duo now adding the potato chips to the rest of his sandwich and smashing them down under the bread. "...uh, my eyes were larger than my stomach." He turned to Quatre and pointed to his half of the sandwich. "Would you like the rest of this?"
He’s giving it away! He can't do that! That sandwich was a gift, it should go back to me!
But Quatre shook his head... and looked a little white. Duo hoped the little fella wasn't coming down with anything.
"If you will excuse me," Trowa then said as he gently moved Quatre to the side as he got up and headed for the door.
"Hey, Trowa! Where are you going?" Duo took the final bite of his sandwich and licked the mayonnaise from the corner of his mouth as he tilted his head back over the couch to see Trowa.
"Is everything alright, Trowa?" Quatre asked.
Trowa turned back around to face them as he stood in the doorway. "Yes. I'm just going to check on the news from the colonies. I’ll be in my quarters if I’m needed." He headed back out the door, arms crossed.
He still looked so...cold.
"Is he alright?" Duo asked Quatre. "He doesn't look good to me. Maybe we should go check on him?"
"Just leave him be," Heero cut in. "He probably just needs to rest. This is the first break he's had since we liberated the colony in L3 a few weeks ago."
"But he's been like this ever since he came back to us," Quatre insisted. "He's always cold now and he hardly sleeps or eats," he said, pointing to the sandwich for a second before his eyes caught sight of it again and he blanched.
"He will be fine, Quatre," Heero simply stated.
"I don't know Heero..." Quatre shook his head, his brow was creased and Duo could tell that the quiet and introverted Trowa was weighing heavily on Quatre’s mind.
* * *
Wufei stood in one of the corners of the room, arms crossed, eyebrows slightly furrowed in a gesture of pure concentration, as he waited for Heero Yuy to finish downloading the intelligence report they would require to fulfill their next mission.
"What do we have?" Quatre inquired, and Wufei shifted his gaze from staring into nothingness to fix on the blond pilot.
"Intel from Dr. J," Heero said flatly. "A new mobile doll production line
in a satellite close to the L5 cluster," he added, lifting his eyes to look over at Wufei.
"Upgrades," Quatre sighed.
"Do we have a visual?" Duo walked over to the couch and stood behind Heero, slightly leaning forward to look at the video screen.
"Hai," Heero nodded. He pressed a few keys on his laptop, immediately producing the image of a mobile suit, vaguely resembling a Virgo, yet much larger.
"Those dolls keep getting stronger," Quatre pointed out.
Indeed, they were, Wufei thought. White Fang seemed to be getting stronger by the day, producing complete lines of mobile dolls and piloted mobile suits in a time much shorter than it took any of them to repair their Gundams after a single battle.
It was very clear that they were outnumbered, and Wufei couldn't help but wonder if fighting together was in fact their best approach to this war. Was it wise to move in groups, to present themselves as an easy target for Oz and White Fang to annihilate, not one, nor two, but all five of them at the same time? He could work much faster on his own, without having to coordinate his missions with anyone else. The enemy was stronger than them. Even as they worked together, their resources could not compare to those of Oz or the White Fang. The Gundams were powerful weapons, but they were not invincible.
"What is your plan, Yuy?" Wufei asked, moving away from his corner in the room to approach the group.
"If we can destroy the base and extract all the planning from their computer system, we will delay their plans for several weeks, if not months," Heero stated, closing his laptop.
Wufei looked at Heero for a moment and shook his head. "And what makes you think that we can destroy their base so easily? If this is their new project, it will be highly protected."
"I'm aware of that," Heero said, a slight frown forming on his forehead. "No mission is guaranteed to succeed. It would be too much for a single Gundam, but if we work together... this might be our best shot at it."
Wufei considered Heero's answer for a moment, and then he gave a single nod of his head. Heero was right. Attacking a White Fang base with a single Gundam would be suicidal, but perhaps working as a team this time around would prove beneficial.
"When do we leave?" Quatre asked.
"Immediately," came Heero's reply.
"Guess we better get rolling then!" Duo added and when Wufei turned to look at him, he thought he saw a spark in his eyes, the fire that always seemed present in Duo's eyes right before a battle.
"Read the report on my laptop," Trowa's voice chimed in as he entered the room. Wufei turned to look in his direction. His weight had been dropping dramatically for the past few days, making him appear much taller than he really was. He had not been himself for a long time. He was no longer the Trowa Barton he'd met in the past, the strong pilot who had taken him back to his hideout after his painful defeat with Treize.
He seemed... different now. Wufei wondered why he'd even bothered coming back to fight with them after losing his memory, wondered why he had not simply stayed back at the circus with the woman, Catherine, whom he called his sister. He'd seemed insecure at first, almost fearful in battle, something that Wufei could not recognize in him. Perhaps it had not been just his memory loss, because even now that he'd recovered it, he still did not seem the same person.
He spent what Wufei thought was too much time around Quatre, and perhaps even around Duo. Socializing was but a waste of time when they were in the midst of fighting a war. It was time that could be better spent exercising his body back into prime physical condition, preparing for the next battle. But Trowa didn't seem fit for any of it. He was pale, his face gaunt, his eyes sunken into his skull. His eyes, they had been green once, but now they seemed too dark, and did not shine the way they had in the past. The light was no longer there.
"I was going to ask Quatre to fill you in the details of the next mission," Heero said. He walked a few steps over to Trowa and examined him for a moment.
"Maybe you should stay here for this mission, Trowa," Quatre said, his voice clearly shaded with what Wufei knew was concern for Trowa. "You look tired."
And Quatre was right. It was plain and obvious. Trowa was not in any condition to accompany them. It would do for better for everyone if he simply stayed back.
"I'm going," Trowa said quietly.
"I need you to stay here and do something else," Heero said, moving over to a printer on the table to pick up a stack of papers he handed over to Trowa. "Look over it. That's what I need you to do."
Trowa looked down at the papers for a moment and then looked back up at Heero. "You're better at hacking. Why me?"
"Because I need to go in and unlock their servers from the matrix. You can extract the files remotely." Heero turned around and looked at the rest of them. "Duo, Wufei and Quatre can take care of the fighting outside. As soon as I come up, we blow up the base."
"Check!" Duo said. "I'll go grab a few things I'll need, and we'll wipe out all those mobile dolls before they even see the light!" With that, he quickly walked out of the room.
"How heavily guarded is the area?" Trowa asked.
Wufei turned his attention to him. That was the first question that had come to his mind when Heero revealed his plans. Perhaps Trowa was not fit to fight physically, but with his memory back, Trowa seemeed as sharp as ever...at least mentally.
"Pretty heavy. They will protect their new dolls like dogs. But we have the benefit of the surprise attack. They don't expect us. This is a secret project and only the people involved, the scientists and the mechanics, have been informed. The soldiers don't know what they're guarding."
Quatre nodded. "We'll get the job done one way or another."
"Let's go," Heero said, his eyes lingering on Trowa for a moment.
Wufei frowned slightly. He couldn't help but wonder what Heero really thought about all this. He would have to be blind not to realize that Trowa was sick. That was the word. Sick. Trowa Barton wasn't healthy and everyone would be better off if he returned to his home in the circus. Maybe this is why Heero had asked him to stay back. To keep him out of the battlefield.
"I'll handle things here," Trowa said.
"Take care, Trowa," Heero said, as he walked out.
"You too..." Trowa replied. "Take care of yourselves. All of you," he said, now looking over at Quatre and Wufei.
Wufei looked at Trowa for a moment, restraining himself from voicing his thoughts. He'd told Trowa in the past that he was not fit to fight, but he'd promised himself he would not do it again, even when deep within he wanted to scream for Trowa to go home. It would be no use. Trowa would not listen.
Wufei shifted his eyes away from Trowa and walked out of the room without saying a word.