Title: Atonement: To Love, Protect, and Forgive

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Drama/Romance/Action

Disclaimer: -_- I don't own Gundam Wing, but I do own the new characters in the story.

Summary: What is atonement? For five young men who bloodstained their hands for peace, they can't find the answer. In AC 197, one vengeful man strips Heero away his certainties and the girl he loves, leaving him to search for the answer to atonement.

Author's Note: I had to do a total revision of this chapter. Hopefully, as I say again, this portrays the characters as I want them to be.

Chapter 3: Confession

               Akito Asagao stood rigidly before the desk, his brooding hazel eyes expecting an answer from the man sitting behind it.  Glenn Caldwell paid no attention to his superior's dark gaze as he connected the blue and green wire carefully together, smiling triumphantly when the device began to buzz.  Akito's right-hand man was not the kind to be easily distracted from his work, but there was mutual respect between employer and employee, and Akito was not fazed by Glenn's way of doing things.  Finally, pushing away the stray blond locks of hair away from his hardened blue eyes, Glenn looked up at Akito.

               "Six days will be fine.  By then, it'll be finished."

               The other made an approving nod.  "I trust whatever you are doing will help our Jinchuu."

               "Yes, of course," Glenn scoffed, and turned his attention back to the strange mechanical contraption.  Surrounding the middle-aged man were jumbles of wire and cluttered devices.  Computers and similar machinery were station to his left and on the right were covered rows of unknown objects.  The lack of ventilation in Glenn's basement office caused the air to be extremely thick with putrid and metallic smells.  How the intelligent and physically fit man like Glenn could work in such an environment was a mystery (though not a concern) to Akito.

               The taciturn mafia boss turned around and ascended the stairs, leaving his assistant to his own devices.  The air become cleaner and lighter, and as he reached the ground floor, he inhaled deeply.  He was nearly in his office when he heard his name.

               "Lord Asagao!"

               His head swerved to the direction of the shrill voice and saw two heads, one brunette and the other raven, come into view down the hallway.  The two people he'd been expecting for had arrived.  The brunette was a tall, slender Romanian woman by the name of Delia Eftemie, who had called his name when she spotted him.

               "How are you?" she grinned seductively, her bright green eyes sly and shrewd.

               He considered her with a pair of cold, detached eyes.  "I'm fine, Delia.  How was your flight?"

               "Smooth—I didn't get in trouble.  Security was pretty tight, but I was able to evade it," she grinned and patted her silent companion on the shoulder.  "I brought him here for you."

               He turned to look at the middle-aged German.  "Edel Lughaidh."

               "Akito Asagao," the dark-haired man acknowledged quietly.  The two men tensed suddenly, their gazes measuring the other's strength and possible weaknesses.  It was a natural habit of the mafia.  Delia shifted her feet from side to side, wondering if the exchange of glares would break into a fight.

               The phone in Akito's office rang.  The connection was broken as both men's eyes flickered to the opened door.  "The battle will be in six days," Akito informed them.  He pointed down the hall to his right.  "Your rooms are down there.  Please feel free to do what you like in the remaining days.  My office is right here when you need me.  Now, if you please excuse me..."  He left them in the hallway, shutting his door with a resounding click.

               "Now what just happened there?" Delia stared at her comrade in askance. 

               "Nothing that matters to you," Edel responded coldly as he turned away from her.  Delia sniffed at his rude reply and with an indignant flip of her wavy hair and an irate mutter, followed behind him to their rooms.

               When Akito seated himself at his large armchair, he flipped the switch on the ringing videophone.  The screen lit up brightly, viewing the face of the last member he had also been expecting.  Among the four, she was the most skilled, highly proficient in the arts of stealth, weaponry, and piloting.  Her delicate features and frail figure was deceiving to the normal eye, and she was not one to be taken lightly.

               "Hello, Midii," he said.

               Those emotionless silver eyes gave no greeting back to her comrade.  "Target's location is annihilated and message sent," her voice clipped like that of a born-soldier.

               "Very well." His compliment didn't change her cold expression.  "Will you report to the hideout on time?"

               "Negative, I fight in space."

               Frowning at her defiance, he asked, "Why?" 

               Her wintry gaze was unwavering to his menacing hazel ones as she snapped, "Do remember that you lead the Jinchuu group up until the plan takes effect.  Our mission was done by your orders, now this—is our own battle."

               There was a long pause before the thin grim line of Akito's mouth broke into a smile as brittle and fake as his amity with his colleagues.  "Then do what you may choose."

               She didn't reply, but a malicious smile crossed her lips and the screen flickered off as the line disconnected.

               Akito stared at the blank screen for a moment before leaning back on his chair as it creaked under his weight.  He sighed.  "Their lust for the Gundam pilots' blood is so great that they are like puppets under my string...  It's pathetic."  His eyes wandered to the lone picture frame on the desk, the picture of an auburn-haired girl smiling warmly back at him.  His fingers strayed to touch the cold glass of the frame, imagining that he was truly touching his sister's beautiful face.  His eyes softened as he looked at her.

               "But it doesn't matter, sister, as long as you're here with me...always.  Just you and I, for eternity."    Tears slipped down his sallow cheeks and he bowed his head, a sob convulsing his body.  His fingers curled into a tight white-knuckled fist.  "Why..."

               "Why did you have to die?"

               The image of Yukino kept on smiling.

~~~***~~~

               "You ready?"

               Hilde zipped up her bag and looked up.  She froze at the sight, her heart pounding in her ears.  Duo was leaning against the stark white wall, the adjacent window streaming soft light onto his lean form.  His eyes were a serene and gentle amethyst, so clear and bright that she felt herself drawn to them. 

               He blinked in puzzlement.  "Hilde?"

               The spell was broken and she looked away, cheeks tinted with pink.  "Yeah, let's go."  With a grin, she threw the duffel bag at him.  He caught it one-handed with ease.  "Darn," she pouted playfully.  "I was hoping it would hit you in the face."

               He grinned back at her.  "No chance, babe."

               She glowered at him, "Duo..."

               "Oops, I mean, err...My sunshine?"

               With a frustrated sigh, she pushed him out the door.  "Never mind, I give up."

               Their easy banter continued down the parking lot until Duo suddenly grabbed her arm.  "What?" she asked, her expression puzzled.

               Laughter twinkling in his eyes, he said, "Can't you remember which one's our car?"

               Bewildered, she gestured at the parked cars in the lot, "But...I don't see..."  Her sentence trailed off as he pointed out the car.  Her mouth was wide open in shock and disbelief as she stared.

               Last she had seen it, their old Honda Accord was so dusty that its color looked more like a rusty brown than its original dark blue.  Various scratches and dents were supposed to be there, courtesy of Duo's daredevil driving skills.  But now, what was parked in front of Hilde was so different that at first, she couldn't even recognize it.  It was a shiny blue Honda, so flawless it looked like it was bought straight from the dealership if it wasn't for the rusty license plate.

               She shot him a skeptical glance.  "Are you sure that's the right car, Duo?"

               He dangled a pair of keys over her eyes mischievously, "Well, what do ya think?"  He opened up the trunk, revealing a jumbled mass of papers, water bottles, and tools, which left no doubt in Hilde's mind that it was really their car.  He tossed in the duffel bag and slammed it shut.

               "Why did you fix it up?" she asked as they got into the car.

               "Oh, it's your birthday present."

               A pause.  "But wasn't my birthday two weeks ago?"

               He scratched his head sheepishly.  "Well, it took longer than I thought."  As he turned on the engine, he cocked his head at her boyishly.  "Miss my driving?"

               The response he received was a flurry of movement as Hilde hastily fastened her seatbelt, adjusted her passenger seat, and held firmly onto the available handles.  She slightly winced as a small shot of pain went through her ribcage, but she inhaled a deep breath and looked at him straight in the eye.

               "Bring it on."

~~~***~~~

               Running a hand through his blond hair, the over-stressed Arabian picked up his empty coffee cup for the sixth time to get a refill.  However, as he walked down the hallway, he spotted the familiar braided pilot and a petite dark-haired girl coming through the elevator.

               "Hey, Quatre!" Duo waved his arm, grinning.

               Quatre smiled as they approached.  "Duo and Hilde, how are you guys?"

               "Great, man.  How about you?"

               "I've got a lot of things on my mind, lately, and," his congenial tone turned serious as he pulled Duo to the side, "I need to talk to you alone in Trowa's office."

               Duo shook his head, "Hilde has a right to know, as well, buddy-boy."

               Quatre protested, "But she doesn't have to suffer—"

               A wry smile crossed the other man's lips.  "Trust me, she already did."

               Quatre's aquamarine eyes widened in surprise and question, but he gave in.  He glanced at the both of them grimly and gestured to follow him into the office.

               Minutes later in the office, after Quatre had told them of the current news, Duo dropped his head with moan into his arms, which rested on the top of the reversed chair.  Likewise, Hilde visibly slumped in defeat.

               "So you mean to say that..." Duo's voice was muffled by his black shirt sleeve.  "Wufei's an ass, Heero's a dumbass, and Trowa's just stuck in the ass."

               Unfazed by Duo's crude summary, Quatre defended, "Wufei's helping us.  He's in charge of the investigation behind the mysterious supplier of the Barton Foundation's Serpents.  It's just that he doesn't want to get involved with Heero and his personal matters—"

               "Right," the Deathscythe ex-pilot scoffed, "Everyone's already involved.  Whatever's happenin' with Heero hell ain't personal anymore."

               "Heero just needs some time alone—"

               "Heh, like I don't—"

               "Trowa can't come to Earth because the colonies are being threatened.  He'll come as soon as the matter's finished."

               "Not that I have anything against Trowa, but dammit...this sucks."  He lifted his head, frowning.  "Where's Heero?"

               "He's in my office with Miss Relena," Quatre raised his eyebrows.  "Why?" 

               Duo stood up from his chair and stormed out the doorway. 

               "Wait, Duo!  Are you going to disturb him?" Quatre protested as he caught up with him.  Hilde followed closely behind.

               "He needs a good punch," the other man declared as he pushed Quatre's office door wide open.  He found Heero resting on the couch and Relena beside him on another chair, holding his hand.  The honey blonde head turned to face him with a finger poised on her lips to quiet him, but he didn't see her.

               Duo froze in disbelief at the sight.  He had hoped that Quatre's words were not true, but the proof was right there.  Those Prussian eyes had no spark of life; it was just a blank.  His throat tightened and he looked away, his hands clenching hard until the knuckles turned white.  He wanted so much to punch Heero across the entire continent at that moment, to wake him up and be the Heero Duo had always known.  But for the sake of Relena and the others that were there, he held back.

               And deep down, he knew that even if he did hit him, it wouldn't make things any better.

               Frustration mounted from this helplessness until he couldn't take it anymore.  Duo flew out of the room.

               Her eyebrows furrowed in frantic worry, Hilde followed after him. "Duo!"  She reached to touch his shoulder, but he abruptly turned around, mauve eyes hardened with fury and hysteria.

               "Did you see him?" his voice choking.  "Did you?"  She lowered her eyes in answer and he leaned against the wall with a loud thump, a hand covering his eyes.  "I've never seen him like that.  I wanna kick his ass so bad, but...it just...  Shit," he cursed.  "Shit, shit, shit..." with each profanity making him sink lower to the floor.

               Hilde's midnight eyes softened in sympathy, but she didn't want to see any more of his self-created anguish.  With her eyes hardening resolutely, she caught him by the arm and roughly dragged him up.  "Pull yourself together, Duo," she muttered angrily as she shook him by the shoulders.  "It's not going to make the situation any better if you're going to act like this.  We have to go through with this together and we will.  Now calm down and do what you need to do."

               He looked up at her, trying hard to take the strength she had.  His eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to clear his mind with resolve.  "We'll...get through it.  Heero won't end up like this," he said slowly, more to himself than her.

               Her head nodding, Hilde grasped his hand in hers and led him back into the room.  Biting his lip hesitantly, Duo came to stand next to Quatre, who had exchanged a few murmured words with Relena.

               "Well?" prodded Duo.

               "I don't know," Quatre sighed in frustration.  "He has all the answers to the questions, yet he's not answering to them at all.  We can't leave him alone now...we need those answers and I don't think we have much time left to get them."  Just when he finished the last word, Heero suddenly erected from his resting position, dull eyes blinking.

               "Heero...are you all right?" Relena's fingers rested on his arm as she gave him a worried glance.

               He slowly turned to consider her, a flicker of an emotion crossing his eyes before it disappeared in the void depths.  Listlessly, he stood up from the couch.  Relena stood up from her chair as well.  He was silent for a long minute, glancing at the expectant people in his room, before he hesitantly spoke, his hoarse voice barely above a whisper.

               "There's something...I need to talk to you about."  No one could say anything, and the colorless words drifted away like a wisp of a cloud.

               Until...

               Relena let out a soft sigh as she pushed her questions to the back of her mind and found in herself a comforting smile.  "You can tell us later.  You were bleeding when you came back.  Are you sure you're all right?" she lightly touched his cheek.  He bolted suddenly and his eyes grew slightly wide.

               Her fingers are warm and soft...they're real...

               He closed his eyes and caught her hand in his calloused one.

               I don't know the answer to retribution.  I don't know how to end these nightmares. 

               But...

               "Heero?" she was startled by his shaky grip on her hand.

               All I can do now is to protect what is real, to succeed in what I had failed before.

               Holding her hand in his, he straightened and his sapphire eyes, just as intense as before, gazed at those around him.   He spoke in a calm resounding tone.

               "I need to talk to you all...about this, from the beginning to the end."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~***~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Long Author's End Note:

               =_= Sorry for the chapter being short.  It acted as a short bridge from the beginning to the flashbacks.  Just to clarify, the next two chapters are about the past and it will answer the questions of Yukino and Akito.

               I am very happy of the feedback because my heart is very much into this story.  These young men just can't kill dozens of people, walk off whistling innocently and then go into big humorous/angsty romances automatically, be it Heero/Relena or Heero/Duo.  In fact, they have so many post-war issues to deal with I just had to write this sort of thing. 

               Of course, there are many of the authors (and perhaps the readers too) who could write this better than me, but I try.  ^_^; What I want to achieve in this story is to reach people with these questions of atonement...even if my writing's horrible, I'm content to know that readers can understand what I'm trying to say.  Just a side note, however, ^^; Heero and Relena's romance is just an addition, but I wanted to develop their relationship further than what the anime and manga did.

               Writing and dialogue will get a little different from here on, if you know what I mean.  ^^;; I sure sound cryptic.

               As I continue to write, please keep on reading.  If you find enough little thematic details in the story, you'll be rewarded with a big hug, an imaginary replica of Relena's teddy bear Hee-chan, and an extras chapter (which consists of a question/answer section and a cute little epilogue) at the end.  =)

Thank you to the reviewers, you really encourage me.  *bows* Please review...

Seshira – ^_^; I think I really need your help with the actions scenes...I'm kinda stuck on it....

Wing – The questions you ask in your review makes me really happy to know that you understand the themes.  =)