Chapter 24 - Drawing Near

[12/12/07 I repeat; I should so be asleep right now... ZZ Sorry for spelling/grammar errors. I checked, but I'm frikkin' tired. ;; Thank you for reading! And Happy Holidays. :D

WARNING: Kind of bland, poor writing style. Weird & faketechnical mumbo jumbo. Only vague yaoi hints, but it's still 1x2, 3x4, 5xM, 13x6...

Disclaimer: I have made no money from this.

The tight, apprehensive feeling in his chest was new; like the feeling of nostalgia when he heard Meiran's voice over the comlink. It's like preparing for battle; my nerves are strained, my stomach is tensed... But he knew, somewhat, that it was a completely different feeling than from any battle he had ever been in. A terrible, brand new sensation that broke over him in smothering waves when he stepped through the door into the Gundam II cockpit.

Relief? Or something he was inclined to believe was... happiness... especially as Meiran threw her arms around him and squeezed. A hug. Something he begrudged her usually, and she complained about repeatedly. Heero slowly, cautiously extended his arms and wrapped them around her. He kissed the top of her head. He felt her arms tighten and her shoulders start to shake. Crying again. He shook his head. Too emotional.

Duo's face appeared over Meiran's head; his beautiful eyes twinkling and his grin ever-present. He pried Meiran off, somehow, and passed her off to Wufei-- Heero's eyebrows crumpled in a warning frown-- then relaxed as Duo presented his hand to shake.

"Welcome back, 01." That feeling increased, clenching Heero's lungs, his heart. For a moment he thought he was ill, or falling apart. Then he was in Duo's arms, wrapped alarmingly close to the young man. He should have jerked back; his training would have put Duo in an arm lock and broken his kneecap. Duo's cheek brushed his, the loose strands of his braid tickled Heero's nose, and his lips brushed Heero's ear.

"I missed you...," Duo breathed, then pulled away, his eyes shining their mischief.

Heero realized he had been holding his breath; that's why his lungs felt like they would burst and he felt lightheaded.

It's so irrational-- how he makes me feel, he thought, trying desperately to calm his fluttering heart with breathing exercises and pure will power. Duo radiated warmth, even after he had released Heero. Not just his body; his aura, his personality. Everything is warm, and... welcoming.

Something heavy slammed into Heero's back; he lurched forward before catching his balance and whirling. Zechs had lunged at Treize, making the captain stagger back into Heero. Zechs followed Treize's attempt to dodge and doing his best impression of a windmill, all the while hissing out provocative slurs and insults. Heero was familiar with Zechs' "style" of combat, so he stepped in, bumping Treize out of the way and grabbing the blonde's flailing arms.

"You can't trust that traitor!" Zechs spat. In Heero's iron grip the man stilled, his attack halted but his mouth still railing. "He's after the Gundam so he can give it to Oz! Jettison him before he betrays us-- again--!" Zechs dove once more, but was halted by Heero's grasp. Treize merely sighed.

Quatre stepped in. His shoulders were straight, his back stiff and eyes blazing. "We're not going to jettison anyone-- you both need to be civiliz--!!" Zechs stuck his tongue out at Treize, who, with an air of utter superiority, mirrored him. Quatre rolled his eyes and turned to Heero while their bickering had halted.

"Heero," the Gundam II captain began. "I want to apologize, on behalf of all my crew and passengers, for leaving you during your battle with the Oz." Quatre's eyes met Heero's, as steady as his words and poise. "We would never willingly leave you like that. Relena--"

"That nutcase!" Duo interrupted, stepping up next to Quatre and folding his arms. His face screwed up angrily. "I never liked her to begin with, first class navigator or now. But Quatre's got a soft spot for crazies, if Wufei is any indication--"

Wufei snorted in indignation and swiped at Duo, who squeaked and tried to retreat behind Heero. Quatre continued, seeming slightly harried at his pilots' less-than-professional behavior, but determined to explain.

"Relena overrode the automatic hyperjump commands, and sent us into light speed early. When we found out how it had happened we were already coming out, at the edge of the Endless Waltz constellation. By the time we found her holed up in one of the circuit chambers, it was too late. She sent our coordinates back to Oz." Quatre shook his head once, shading his gaze with locks of pale hair. "I had no idea Relena was in league with them... She's been on the crew for a while, I should have felt something-- some sense of betrayal--!" His voice rose slightly and it sounded as if his throat had closed over his words.

Trowa placed a slender hand on Quatre's shoulder. "You can't know everything, Quatre," he murmured. He moved closer, positioning his body in a protective stance next to his captain. "She was obviously good at hiding things... she was Peacecraft's daughter, after all."

Trowa's low, soothing words carried well across the cockpit, despite Wufei and Meiran's quiet conversation, and Treize and Zechs' heated argument. They rang especially clear in the ears of the old Gundam Project comrades. Treize halted mid-hiss, spun on his heel and ogled-- Heero was quick to note that the heretofore unruffled captain straight out gaped-- at the loose circle of pilots. Friends, Heero conceded. We're friends.

"Peacecraft?" Treize demanded, eyes widening imperceptibly. He turned back to Zechs. "Was she--"

"My stepsister," Zechs finished, his face still set in a deep frown directed solely at Treize. He didn't even acknowledge the dumbfounded expressions of the rest of the pilots and passengers.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Quatre blurted. His face flushed slightly as he continued. "We had to knock her unconscious and imprison her in the brig. You didn't even move to help her..."

Zechs snorted, dismissing Quatre's attempt at reproach. "Our paths parted when Father joined the Gundam Project. I followed in the old man's footsteps and she did everything in her power to destroy our work." He paused to brush his long, silky hair over his shoulder; a nervous gesture. "She thought it would be more harmful for humankind to develop the Gundam than to leave creation well enough alone."

A long, stagnant pause followed Zechs' revelation. No one spoke, or even moved until he voiced the uncomfortable thought that had surfaced in everyone's mind...

"Relena wasn't too far off track..."

Heero was somewhat ashamed of himself at this point; his thoughts had split onto two different tracks. The current conversation concerning Relena's betrayal and Zechs' relation was a steady albeit less significant strain. The revelation that it wasn't their fault-- the crew of the Gundam II had not left him purposefully-- was like a light shining brightly in his eyes, blinding him to anything but that single, priceless fact.

He knew Meiran would never have left willingly. Heero blinked slowly, lowering his eyelids and letting his lashes brush his cheeks. He savored the tremulous peace that seeped in, past his squared shoulders and ramrod straight stance.

Duo cuffed his shoulder then; he had noticed Heero's inattention, however slight. Pilot 01's fists uncurled, tension seeped away, and the first calm in a long, long time passed over him...

The first since I was with my father, Heero admitted. That was a very old memory indeed. One that had been tucked carefully away in the deepest recesses of his mind. Jey, though he had tried and nearly succeeded in stomping out all of Heero's inclinations toward human emotion, caring, hope, tenderness... and love... the boy-- eventually the man-- Heero Lowe was much too strong to let his humanity be taken from him. I've hidden it well, though, he thought ruefully. I doubt I know how to find it again... But, it's there. Meiran proved that... They all proved it...

"I understand Relena's beliefs, but I think she was sorely misguided," Quatre declared. "The Gundam will be humanity's salvation." He smiled, confidence and cheer returned, and strode over to his station. "We're about 2,000kimets away from the wreckage, ETA 45 minutes. Everyone man your stations-- or, your respective visitor chairs--" He smiled brilliantly at Treize, Zechs, Heero, and Meiran.

"This is it."

Duo's raucous laughter ruined Quatre's solemn and rather cliché pronouncement, but Quatre just grinned at his gunner's antics. He checked the engine's thrust and began running through navigation and flight plans.

This is it.