Beating your wings and feathers,
you broke free from this cage.
Rising up to the sky, you attained the world of the soul.
You were a prized falcon trapped by an Old Woman.
Then you heard the drummer's call
and flew beyond space and time.
― Jalaluddin Rumi
Heero almost didn't turn around, before he realized the call was for him. The cry came again, and he did turn, to see Mike heading towards him, two Preventers in tow.
"I have to catch a flight back," Mike announced. He shoved several papers at Heero. "These...uh, these are for Deathscythe," he said, a bit shyly. "It's the steps I followed to find him the first time."
"Ah," Heero said, glancing down momentarily before folding the papers and putting them in his back pocket. "I'll make sure he gets them. And call him Duo. We don't have our Gundams anymore."
"Bummer, isn't it," Mike said softly.
Heero blinked, then smiled despite himself. He gave the kid a shrug. "Sometimes, I guess."
"You're still Wing 'n Deathscythe to us," Mike said, and his gray eyes were large and anxious. "An' all the rest of you. You don't need a big machine for that."
"I..." Heero closed his mouth, and frowned, wondering what he could say. He glanced at Mike, who dropped his eyes, and Heero nodded. "I can't speak for the rest of them, but if you want to call me that...you can."
"All right, Wing," Mike replied.
Heero gave the boy a crooked smile, and glanced past him to the two agents.
Mike's eyes followed Heero's gaze, and he grinned. "I tried to explain everything," he whispered, "but I don't think they got a lot of it. I think I lost them when I got to the part about how to log into a secure channel."
"I suspect they'll turn your report over to the appropriate department for translation," Heero replied.
"Actually..." The kid blushed deeply, surprising Heero. "They want me to take the tests to come work for the Preventers." His gray eyes searched Heero's face anxiously. "Do you...do you think it's a good idea? It's better than a shoe store. Hell, anything is! And I'd guess my mom would like the idea, but..." He made a face, ducking his head.
"I doubt all your tasks for Preventers would be nearly as exciting as this one," Heero acknowledged. He paused, thinking of Wufei, and smiled wryly at the thought. "But I hear it's a good place to work. You could do a lot of good."
"I dunno." Mike scratched the back of his head as he pondered. Heero nearly choked at the resemblance to Duo, but somehow managed to keep his face straight. Mike didn't seem to notice. "You think they'll get mad about all the stuff we did for you?"
"If they do, they can take it up with me," Heero replied. I'll just put it on the list of consequences, he thought, and the realization made him suddenly aware of just how exhausted he was.
One of the agents coughed politely. "Mr. Yuy, Mr. Anders, I'm sorry to interrupt." He smiled at Mike, and looked at Heero. "We need to get your statement, Mr. Yuy."
Heero nodded absently. Mike hesitated, then stuck out his hand. When Heero didn't respond immediately, Mike's smile wavered for a second. The dark-haired man smirked and took Mike's hand, shaking it firmly.
"Good working with ya, Wing."
"Same to you, Hand."
Mike beamed widely and backed up, nearly running into one of the agents.
"Mr. Anders," the second agent said. "We've got a ride waiting for you. Right this way."
"Cool," Mike drawled, walking backwards to wave at Heero before turning to grin up at the agent. His voice trailed off as they headed down the corridor. "Is it a Preventers car? Can I sit the front? Can we turn on the siren?"
By nine forty-five, Heero was done with his statement. Hilde was waiting in the hallway for him as he left the room.
The petite brunette smiled, clearly exhausted. Without saying anything, she threw her arms around the surprised man and hugged him tightly. "It was good working with you," she whispered. "And before you say anything, Duo told me...about the President. And Joe."
"As well as can be," she said, releasing him. Her laugh was tinged with bitterness. "Death is too good for him. He should rot, for a long time."
"I'm sure you'll make it happen," Heero said, and startled her with another hug. "I was proud to be on your team," he added, and kissed her on the forehead.
She pulled away, blushing a little, but gave him a pleased smile. It faded quickly into a sorrowful look. "Heero...I'm sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" Heero gave her a puzzled look.
"For not telling you right away," Hilde replied, dropping her head to stare at the floor. "For making you wonder...for shutting you out. And for punching you," she added, giving him a worried look.
Heero could feel his lips curling up into a half-smile. "I understand now," he told her, as the expression grew into a true smile. "But you had me as confused as all hell at the time."
"Oh, like you didn't have me completely upside down," she cried indignantly. Hilde swatted him in the shoulder, and Heero ducked away, laughing softly. Hilde put her hands on her hips. "I was ready to throw both of you in a room and let you figure it out, or fight it out. I never am sure what to do with you Gundam pilots."
"Us Gundam pilots?" Heero did his best to look innocent, but he knew she could tell he was teasing. "It's not like we're a species. We're all very different."
Hilde shook her head. "You're all proud, stubborn, hardheaded men who have the damnedest hard time trusting other people." She sighed, and threw her hands up in the air dramatically. "Look, I don't know how you'll take this, but I've kinda gotten used to thinking of you as one more brother. And I just...I saw when they came out of the room, after you left. You five need to talk." She waved a hand in the air, vaguely. "Y'know, square things away."
"We will," Heero promised. "But we're all exhausted. Now probably wouldn't be the best time."
"Not saying it has to be this minute. But you'd better do it, and don't be putting it off," she told him firmly. "Or I'll come to L1 and kick your ass."
"Is it going to involve wearing my balls for earrings?" Heero kept his voice perfectly bland, and was secretly delighted to see Hilde turn scarlet.
"I was playing a role," she hissed, her blue eyes wide.
"You had me convinced," he told her, and just barely managed to keep his face completely neutral as she sputtered. "Sure you don't want to go into the Preventers? You'd be great at undercover."
Hilde gave him a suspicious look, blinked, and grinned widely. "No way. I did my time in uniforms." She shook her head. "No, Howard's retiring. His friend Bart is taking over the Sweeper operations, and I have a standing invitation to move in as Bart's replacement on his run. Howard's been telling me for awhile he thinks I should run my own ship."
"You'd be great at it," Heero said. She glanced at him, her eyes narrowed, and he raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"I can't always tell when you're teasing and when you're serious." Hilde shook her head. "You were always serious when I met you, between the wars."
Heero frowned. "I wasn't that bad."
"Oh, yeah, you were," she retorted. "You were all business!" Hilde grinned, and put her arm through his, tugging him close. "I like you better with the head injuries," she teased. Heero rolled his eyes, and she laughed. "I do. Whatever happens, don't go telling yourself you're just an out-of-work Gundam pilot. I've seen what you really are, and I like it." She stopped, releasing his arm as she stepped back with an abashed laugh. "Sorry. Didn't mean to get all..." Hilde shrugged, embarrassed.
"It's okay." He gave her an equally embarrassed look. "You're the second person tonight who's told me I'm not just...what I used to be," he finished, uncertain how to phrase it.
"Good. Maybe eventually it'll sink in." Hilde's smile flashed across her face, brilliant enough to make Heero smile in return. She glanced up and down the hallway, chewing on her lower lip. Heero recognized the sign, and waited for her to speak. "So...Duo said something about you planning to go back to L1. Get back to that photography life, hunh."
Heero's eyes slid away from her gaze, and he shrugged, a forced casualness. "I...haven't been there in awhile. I need to get back, and get my life in order."
"And your head, too," Enny's voice came from behind them. The two turned to see the new agent's sad look, and Enny smiled as Hilde stepped away, giving them room. The green-haired young woman embraced Heero tightly, kissing him on the cheek. "You're leaving, even after you promised you wouldn't live up to your nickname." She stepped back with a wry smile. "All that work on you's been wasted, heartbreaker. What a pity."
Heero grunted, annoyed.
"You're still an idiot," Enny said, and poked him in the shoulder, grinning when he winced. "Don't go running back to your old life and lose what you gained in your new one, Hito." With that, she dropped an arm over Hilde's shoulder and the two strolled down the hallway. Heero could hear Enny's voice floating back towards him. "What we really need is some good music, and a few tall drinks with umbrellas in them..."
Heero hung up the lobby phone, and ran his fingers across the vidphone's surface before stepping away from the phone stand. He was startled to find Trowa leaning against the corridor wall. The man's arms were crossed, and his head was down. His hair was in his face, but he twitched his head slightly and his hair slid out of the way, revealing one green eye studying Heero intently.
"Heading back tonight," Trowa observed quietly.
"Yeah." Heero shrugged, and stuck his hands in his pockets. His stomach flip-flopped, and he wondered why he felt nervous. "I gave my statement." The agents made it clear they expected Heero to keep in touch. They would likely have more questions, once the preliminary reports were compiled.
Trowa nodded, and they were both quiet for several seconds.
"What are you planning on doing now?" Heero felt peculiar, asking the question, and doubly so when Trowa shot him a surprised look.
"Don't know yet." Trowa closed his eyes, and shrugged, then opened his eyes to fix his gaze on Heero. "I saw Une a few minutes ago. She's willing to assign me to L3, so I can finish veterinary school." He sounded amused. "Don't know what value there is for small animal husbandry as a Preventer, though."
"Search and rescue dogs?"
Trowa brightened, and the corners of his lips curled up. "Hadn't thought of that."
Heero returned the smile. The two were quiet for a few more seconds. Someone left one of the conference rooms down the hall, and the motion caught Heero's gaze. He watched the agent head away from them. "Duo still in his interview?"
"Think so," Trowa replied. "Saw Enny. She's already packed, and is flying out in three hours with Sally and Wufei. Une wants her in the next round of Preventer basic training."
"Une works fast." Heero frowned. "I had planned to talk to Wufei," he murmured, under his breath.
"There's always later. I doubt any of us are up to major conversations right now."
"You speak from personal experience?" Heero risked a glance at Trowa. He noted the lines creasing the taller man's face, and the exhausted angles of Trowa's shoulders.
Trowa nodded, his expression rueful. "Yeah...but it's not that bad."
"How's the oxygen level?" Heero wondered if Trowa would get the reference.
The man's green eyes were suddenly bright. "A little better." His smile turned wry. "Until I got to the part about Jeet."
"Enny wants to send Jeet to art school," Heero commented. He moved to stand next to Trowa, leaning against the wall shoulder-to-shoulder with the taller man.
"And one of the best is on L3." Trowa's face was inscrutable. "I...care about him, too," he added, his tone soft, almost tentative. "We...put him through a lot. He's not like us, but he stuck it out."
"Yes, he did," Heero said thoughtfully, as the corners of his lips quirked up into a crooked smile. "A crash course in dealing with Gundam pilots."
"Crash being the operative word. Didn't think I was going to get out of that last one," Trowa whispered.
"As Duo would say, we have the devil's own luck."
"Don't let Duo know I agreed with him," Trowa replied. "He's going to have a big enough ego once Quatre and Wufei are done with their private apologies."
Heero laughed quietly, remembering Hilde's comments. "Perhaps we should put those three in a room together and let them hammer it out. If you'll do the honors, I'll buy the drinks while we wait for the explosions to stop."
"Tequila," Trowa shot back. "None of that crap you drink."
"Whiskey is not crap," Heero retorted, bristling slightly. "At least my choice of evil doesn't come with an insect in the bottom."
"A worm is not an insect."
The dark-haired man grunted, unwilling to concede on principle. He wondered what time it was, and sighed. "Hilde said she was ready to throw Duo and me in a room together. Perhaps..." He let the implication hang in the air, curious.
Trowa stilled, tension suddenly thrumming in his body. A muscle flickered in his jaw, but slowly he relaxed, shaking his head. "No. Don't think it'll be necessary. Just...time." He caught Heero's look, and turned to stare at the wall opposite them. "Not for me. For him. I'm going to L3, and I'm going to finish my degree. If he really wants me, he knows where to find me." Trowa glanced at Heero, his expression defensive, and looked away again. "He can come and get me."
Heero nodded, considering Trowa's words carefully. "Seems to me, Tro, he already did."
He stood at the elevator, waiting for several minutes, before giving up and finding the stairs. Pulling the door open, he shut it softly behind him and began trudging up the metal stairs. His boots echoed on the steps, and his mind rolled backwards over the last four hours. Pausing on the second-floor landing, he stretched momentarily as the interview with the agents came back to him. He'd been an hour into the meeting, and all he could think of was how much he wanted dinner and a hot shower. The agents fed him, and Heero figured that would have to do. It had taken three hours for Heero to record his entire statement, but he'd been judicious about some of what he'd explained. Unfortunately, the two agents were sharp enough to catch some of the gaps.
"Just a few more things and we'll call it quits for the night," Agent Leaf had told him. A broad-shouldered woman, her tone was brisk, but her smile was weary. "You met with Pops on the...seventeenth of November?"
Heero had stared at the remains of his dinner and tried to arrange his thoughts. "The day after we returned from the first job I had with the team."
Agent Leaf nodded and tapped several times on the screen of her laptop. "It was then that...Pops...mentioned the suspicions about Mr. Barton's past, or was that later?"
"Later, after the Asteroid job," Heero heard himself answering, but his mind was far away.
Should I join Preventers and help?
"You originally had the hackers tracing banking systems..." Agent Star's deep rumble penetrated Heero's thoughts briefly.
Should I go back to my other life?
"Yes, but we dropped that in favor of tackling the emails to find a connection." Heero rubbed his forehead. They'd been over his steps of the past four months. He paused briefly to consider that it was four months and one day since he'd been in Paris, shocked to see Quatre, Relena and Wufei waiting for him.
Will Duo join the Preventers?
"You mentioned that Agent..." Agent Leaf coughed politely. "I'm not sure of her new title. Enny."
If he joins, will he want me there?
Heero shrugged. "What about her?"
Can I be what Duo wants?
"On January fifth, you said she came to visit, but you didn't say why." The woman's eyes studied Heero closely.
Who am I, really?
"Personal reasons," he said, giving her a low-key glare, but too tired to push it. "She's a friend."
Is Duo still my friend, now that the job is over?
"It wasn't a professional visit?"
Am I really Hito Yuy, photographer?
Heero considered being offended, but shook his head instead. "No. Just a day of shopping and going out to eat. She left after midnight."
Am I someone Duo loves?
"There's just one thing I've been wondering about," Agent Star said. The dark-skinned man pushed the dinner plates out of his way and leaned his elbows on the table. "How the hell did you get a bunch of reprobate hackers to help you?"
Could I love Duo? Do I?
"Ah..." Heero grinned crookedly. "They found out I was a Gundam pilot."
Am I only a Gundam pilot?
The two agents shared a look, and both frowned. Agent Leaf's voice was slightly disapproving. "Agent Day, why didn't you mention that the first time?"
I should pack, and head back to L1...
Heero shrugged, not having an answer. "I was trying to give you the highlights."
Wonder if Bernie's given up on me by now.
"I'd say that's a highlight," Agent Star said dryly.
Maybe I'll tackle a series of color digitals of L1.
"So they just took your word for it?" Agent Leaf had set aside her laptop, and was looking at Heero with frank curiosity.
I wonder if Duo's staying on L2.
"Not exactly." Heero managed a half-smile. "They tested me on things they thought only Wing would know."
L2 is Duo's home, and it's where he's always gone when things are over.
"I guess having a Gundam pilot in your hacker's forum is pretty impressive," Agent Star said. He chuckled and raised his eyebrows at Heero.
I can't be so unfair as to expect him to abandon his home to come with me.
"Still, they did huge amounts of work," Agent Leaf pointed out. "And just because a Gundam pilot asked them to?"
Maybe I should just go, and get in touch with him...later.
Heero shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Not entirely. It was a trade, of sorts."
I need Duo, but I don't know if he needs me.
"A trade?" Agent Leaf's eyebrows shot up.
Does he need me, too?
"For every...mission," Heero explained, a bit abashed at the word choice, "I'd answer a question in return."
I want Duo.
"What kind of questions?" Agent Star grinned. "Off the record. Just curious what those hackers would find so interesting."
Does he want me, too?
Heero shrugged. "They had questions about how I hacked into Oz, and where I was at school during the war." He didn't mention their questions about Relena, or the Zero system. "And a bunch of questions about Mercurius and Vayaete. The programming systems," he added, casually.
I...I think I'm in love with Duo.
He didn't remember much else of the meeting, too stunned and terrified by that last realization. Heero closed his eyes, ignoring the cold steel of the steps, and leaned against the wall. He felt numb, the same bone-chilling emptiness he'd felt since the day he'd picked up a gun and killed, for the first time in five years. The only moment of life, from then until this moment in the stairs, he knew, was kissing Duo fiercely in the alley.
Heero shoved away from the wall with a sigh, and trudged up the last flight of stairs to his floor. Staring at the number emblazoned on the door, he set his shoulders, and pushed the door open, stepping into the lushly carpeted hallway.
What happens now?
Heero leaned his head against the door, taking a deep breath before unlocking the hotel room door. Duo should still be out, he told himself. He'd asked around after leaving Trowa, but an agent reported Duo was still giving his statements. Heero debated telling the other man goodbye, and decided against it.
Maybe it's better to just leave, he thought. Take some time to decide if Relena was right.
Heero had closed the hotel door behind him before he realized someone was sitting on the edge of the bed. The shape was dark in the unlit room. The figure's head lifted, and Heero could see the braid trailing down the chest, glinting in the colony's streetlights through the window.
"You're leaving, again," the Deathscythe pilot whispered.
"Yes." Heero remained where he was, then took a breath and switched on the desk lamp. It provided little illumination, but it was enough to find his belongings and return them to his duffel bag. He silently started to fold a shirt, realized his hands were trembling, and gave up. He tossed the shirt in the bag, telling himself to worry about wrinkles later. Annoyed, he grabbed another shirt from the dresser.
"Guess you learned more than just the latest hacking skills from me," Duo observed. He hadn't moved. "Looks like you also learned to run and hide."
"I am not running or hiding," Heero said flatly.
Liar, the little voice whispered in his head.
Heero stared down at the shirt in his hands, realizing it was the blue Chinese silk shirt. He tilted his head as something occurred to him. Turning, he held it out so Duo could see it. "Did you...were you the one who got this for me?"
Duo nodded shyly.
"I like it," Heero said, brushing one hand over the knot work at the neckline. "I like it...a lot. It means...everything to me." He sighed, and let it drop in the bag, and let his mask drop at the same time. Waves of emotion suddenly crashed over him, and he started shaking. Blinking, he struggled with the pain, anxiety and exhaustion flooding his senses, along with something else he couldn't identify immediately. Fear.
Heero ran his hands through his hair, panting. Stumbling a little, he turned, just barely making it the six feet before crumpling at Duo's feet. The longhaired man watched, his eyebrows up, but didn't move.
"Duo..." Heero whispered, frightened by Duo's lack of response. "Duo...I..." He paused, unable to meet Duo's wary eyes. Those deep blue eyes that shaded into purple with anger, or passion, were now simply waiting. Heero hesitantly put his hands on Duo's knees, a supplicating gesture as he knelt, looking up. "In college, I read fairy tales for a class, and it was like the war. Mission accomplished, happily ever after, right?" Heero ducked his head. "I'm scared, Duo. I don't know what to do, after that. I don't know how it works. I'm not an easy person to be with. I'm only a decent cook, I don't know anything about movies, I'm not very sociable, I don't always know what to say..."
"I'm willing to wait until you do," Duo said.
Heero froze, his next words caught in his throat. Slowly he lifted his face to see Duo smiling at him. Tentatively, Heero gave the other man a crooked smile.
"What happens now?" His voice was plaintive, to his own ears, but Duo's smile simply grew wider.
Without another word, Duo leaned over, placing his hands on Heero's cheeks. The braid slithered across Duo's shoulders to land against Heero's chest, as their lips met. The touch was gentle, nothing further but a silent communication of lips and skin. Duo's thumbs caressed Heero's cheekbones. A thunderous heartbeat pounded in Heero's ears, and he opened his mouth, inviting Duo in.
The kiss deepened, and Duo slid off the bed to kneel before Heero. When the kiss ended, with a soft final pressure of lips, Duo studied Heero's worried face for a long time.
"I don't know," Duo whispered. "The best part about the end of fairy tales and missions is that...we decide what happens after that."
"Hush," the longhaired man said, and laid a finger on Heero's lips. "We make our own choices, from now on. We are who we are, admiring public or conniving syndicate be damned. As long as we're not alone..."
"Duo," Heero said, and kissed Duo again, uncertain at what he wanted to say.
The kiss lasted for several minutes, fingers fisting in hair, clasping skin, bodies pressed together, before Heero could find the words he'd been seeking. They pulled apart, their foreheads pressed together, dark blue staring into steel blue.
"Duo, you were right. I need to run and hide. I can't figure out right away what I want to do. I just need some time..." Heero kissed the line forming between Duo's brows, and smiled as he added, "but I want your help, deciding. I want...you to come with me."
Duo's hurt expression faded quickly. His lips twitched, a hopeful look coming into his eyes. "Only if it's a place with shoji screens."
Heero's eyebrows went up, a baffled expression.
"And has big windows," Duo went on, the smile growing on his face. "And clothes lines with pictures hanging on them, that you run into if you're not used to them."
"I think I can manage that," Heero said, giving a shy smile in return. "Is that all?"
"I'm just getting started," Duo said, and kissed him again, a quick peck on the nose. "We have the rest of our lives to write this epilogue."
Whew, it's done. Never thought it'd happen, didja. One comment. Duo Priest asked something that others have mentioned: "Where does the title come from? What are the Drums of Heaven?"
It's from a line in a Midnight Oil song, and the quote was used for ch48. The idea of the song is that things have come to the point where they can go no further, and there's a decision to be made. That's been sort of the theme through the whole story, although I've highlighted it with a number of the choices for the opening quotes. Like Rumi's "say yes, quickly, if you know" and Peter Gabriel's "did you think you didn't have to choose / that I alone could win or lose" ...
I wasn't certain I'd even end up using the actual quote that gave the title, let alone on the 48th chapter! But it seems to fit, since the cliffhanger revolves around the notion that someone is going to have to choose action. There's also the metaphor of drums being the pounding of the heart, and the notion that all five pilots fell from heaven in the original series, bringing with them the retribution of the colonies. Those five pilots are the drums of heaven, themselves, forcing those around them to make choices.
And, of course, the final element is of Heero, as the heart of the pilots. The choice he has to make, of repeating his history, or changing things, and the choice to stay or go, and to fall in love or run away. The metaphor is of the drumbeat of his heart, not just in the physical sense, but the emotional.
Once again, thanks to everyone who commented and reviewed over the past fifty chapters. It was a long, hard road, but you made it worth it, and here's hoping you like the revisions.
Whew! Done! *doing the snoopy dance*