LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD
By Midii Une
. . . after Returning Favors
Author's Note: Finally I'm getting Zechs-sama into this story! Noin jumps up and down and does a little happy dance . . . then starts a cheer GIMME A Z . . .
He was Milliardo Peacecraft. Zechs Merquise was no more. Yet sometimes it was hard for him to discern who was the better man. At least Zechs had been a loyal and talented soldier. Milliardo was nothing but a tormented man. His soul was tormented by the things Zechs had done as well as the things that had happened to him when he was but a small boy. Yet, hadn't those things that happened been what had created Zechs Merquise?
He leaned back in the deep chair, drumming the tips of his long, aristocratic fingers together. His long pale hair gleamed against the faded brown leather of the chair in unearthly fashion in the dim light of the room. He no longer deserved the Peacecraft name, yet he was no longer Zechs. It was as if he was waiting for something to show him who he was, what he should do, what direction his future should take. He had had that once. Someone who had told him what to do for so long, someone who had combined the commanding presence of a superior officer with the strong but subtle tug of deep friendship. Treize Khushrenada.
He continued to sit silently, deep in thought. Thinking of those he had called his friends and the girl who was his only family. Milliardo was alone now, although once he had been the hero of OZ, the closest friend of Treize Khushrenada and the inspiring leader that the troops would be only too happy to perish for. He thought of Otto and Walker and all the men who had died for him. And of all of them there was really only one who knew him, maybe even better than he knew himself. Noin. He never called her Lucrezia, although the name fit her confident, strong beauty. She was always Noin to him, a leftover habit from their academy days when last names were de rigeur.
His thoughts were interrupted by an incongruous voice that shattered the vision of his comrade, his friend, the one that meant more to him than he could ever let her know.
It was Howard, the Gundam technician he had so fortuitously come across. "That suit's ready for a spin whenever you're ready," the bearded man announced. Milliardo rose slowly and walked out into the hangar. He fixed his ice-blue gaze on the Wing Zero. "
Soon," he said. "Soon."
Lucrezia Noin planted her hands on the stone railing of the balcony outside the music room of the palace of the Cinq Kingdom and leaned forward a little. She gazed at the black velvet sky with its diamond pattern of stars and colonies as if she could find something precious there. Violin music wafted out into the quickly cooling night air. The music touched her so that she could almost feel it caress her heart as the air was caressing her face and brushing back her hair.
The music perfectly expressed what her heart was urging her to do. Her heart was telling her to leave the Cinq Kingdom, find Zechs. She felt he needed her somehow. That he was on the verge of doing something that would adversely affect his life and therefore hers. But she couldn't leave, not when he had asked her to stay. Asked her to care for his sister Relena, to care for the Cinq Kingdom. He wanted her to give herself over to protecting a dream of his that he no longer felt worthy of dreaming, but loved nonetheless. Still the feeling persisted, pulling her painfully in two directions at once.
There was a good reason that the music of the violin touched her heart and matched her feelings so neatly. The musician was feeling the same emotions that Noin was. He should drop everything and find Linnea and somehow convince her to come back to the desert where he could hide her from war and pain and danger. Quatre thought that he would promise anything to make her come back. Promise never to mention love, promise never to look at her with his heart in his eyes, promise to only be her friend. If only she would let him back into her life, let him protect her again.
A movement caught his attention in a corner of the room. It was only Miss Noin, she had come in from the balcony and closed the french doors. She was leaning against the wall with her eyes closed and her arms folded. She looked somehow as if she was thinking about someone, someone she cared about as much as he cared about Linnea.
She glanced over at him as he continued to play. How could he know? How could he know so perfectly how she felt? His empathy with her was so deep it bordered on the uncanny. And then she knew. They were two people, two very different people. But they shared the same deep pain, the pain of unanswered love.
Linnea's hand tugged impatiently at the fall of lace at the collar of her blouse and she sighed a little as the neck fell open a little. Gen. Treize insisted on appropriate attire for all members of the Treize Faction and she wanted to please him, but as soon as he was out of sight Linnea would shrug off the jacket and open her collar and go happily back to her work. She unconsciously ran a hand over the top of her head loosening her perfectly pulled back hair and a few strands fell forward over her face.
Epyon was nearing completion, she glanced at it towering over her from a dark corner of the hangar. A shiver went through her as she looked at it, whether from anticipation of the Gundam's completion or from a touch of disbelief that it had actually sprung into existence from her design she couldn't tell. Hadn't she once thought it should never be constructed? It was difficult to remember why she had thought that now. She was almost too tired to think, so she refilled her coffee cup and let her thoughts wander a bit as she watched the curls of steam rise up. For some strange reason she thought suddenly of Quatre. Most of the time now her heart and mind were sealed off from the painful memories of her former allegiances, her former love, her friends. It was a combined result of being engrossed in her project and an inner defense mechanism to block out things that were too painful to bear. But something about Quatre stuck with her, had anchored itself in the back of her consciousness. Would she be here right now if she had only talked to him before running blindly from the Cinq Kingdom? She blinked a little, trying to shake the feeling and continued to stare at the swirling steam. "
Ma'am," Officer Vier said, pulling her attention from her thoughts. "
Yes," she said absently. "
The technicians wanted me to inform you that the Epyon is prepared for the virtual reality simulation. Shall I contact Gen. Treize?" he said. He resented her for taking his place but he couldn't help admiring her genius and her beauty. Without the jacket he could see the shape of her body through the thin white blouse she wore and his eyes went to the open collar that gave him a peek of even more. The loose hair around her face tempted him to brush it aside for her. But she paid no attention to anyone but the General and there seemed to be an unspoken order that Miss Linnea was off limits. "
No, no," Linnea said tersely, downing her coffee in a quick gulp and jumping out of her chair, barely favoring him with a glance. "His Excellency will be here soon anyway. I always do the first tests on my mobile suits. It's a personal tradition. What kind of combat program is available? Epyon needs a worthy opponent." "
Gen. Treize has obtained data on the Mercurius and Vayeate Ma'am, but I don't think you . . ." Vier started, wondering why he was trying to tell her anything. When had she ever taken his or anyone's advice when it came to Epyon? She thought she knew it all. "
Don't be ridiculous," she snapped, tired but anxious to move the project along. "I am a more than adequate pilot and it is just a simulation Vier. It would be a foolish waste of time to try Epyon against anything less."
She positioned herself in the cockpit and closed the hatch. The instruments lit up and Vier's image appeared on the screen. "The program will start with a mobile doll attack and then proceed to the arrival of the two Gundams. Are you sure we shouldn't wait for the General?" "
Just start the simulation," she said sharply. She was anxious to test Epyon's power and there was something else. The Gundam pilots had said the Zero system showed you the face of your enemy. And she desperately wanted to know who her enemy was.
The mobile suit performed magnificently, even though the cockpit wasn't designed for her she felt like she was invincible as the mobile dolls surrounded her and disintegrated easily under the fire of her weapons. A wonderful feeling of elation swept through her. She was untouchable and her enemies didn't have a chance. Epyon was all-powerful. She smiled grimly and continued. Suddenly Mercurius and Vayeate appeared. The engineer in her gave them a quick study and she found them wanting compared to her own creation. Still, perhaps together . . . then, don't let them work together. An impulse shot through her brain. And Epyon's heat buster rifle evaporated Vayeate. One on one now, how do you like that, Linnea said aloud as the Zero system started to take her over.
Treize had come in and was watching in the control room. He was a little surprised that she was so brutal, but then she had always said that Epyon had almost too much power. To match it against the inferior mobile dolls, machines without human influence would produce such an effect. Epyon was more than he dreamed, if even Linnea, who was a far cry from a professional mobile suit soldier was destroying OZ's mobile dolls so efficiently and seemingly without effort . . .
Then it happened. She was battling Mercurius, slowly, inexorably overpowering the other Gundam, when her mind seemed to separate itself from her body and she wasn't the pilot anymore. She was observing the battle from a distance.
She heard a voice. "Go ahead Linnea, knock yourself out. Build the best Gundam there ever was and if it comes against me I'll destroy it . . ."
And Epyon was battling DeathScythe. Only Linnea could have produced such a perfect simulation of the battle without a program, using only the darkest, most horrible fears in her subconscious. She had created them both.
From the outside, it appeared that she had suddenly increased power and destroyed Mercurius. But she kept fighting as if there was something else there, an even more powerful foe that pushed Epyon to its limits. "
What's going on?" Treize asked Vier. "Is there a discrepancy between what we're seeing and what she's seeing?"
Vier shrugged, her mind always seemed to be going at a totally different frequency than his and he didn't know what the hell she was up to. Showing off he supposed.
She watched the battle as if watching a dream. She didn't know where it was taking place or why. Duo was the superior pilot but Epyon was the more powerful Gundam. And the Epyon destroyed DeathScythe. The Linnea that was observing the battle was speechless with disbelief, unable to scream or cry. Then the Epyon's cockpit opened and the pilot hopped out and landed lightly on the ground. The pilot walked over to the fallen mobile suit and pulled off her protective helmet, tossing it to the ground. The pilot's hair was blonde and wavy and she shook it out and ran her hand through it casually. She nudged the DeathScythe with the tip of her boot and said, "Poor Duo. I guess there was still room for improvement."
Linnea turned around and faced her alter-ego. "You see," she said to herself. "You see, the enemy is you. You'll destroy everything you touch, everything you ever loved or cared about. You are your own enemy . . ."
A spinning flash of light and she was back in the cockpit. Her eyes were wide and staring. "You are your own enemy . . .," she repeated softly, over and over and her hand reached for the self-detonation device.
A bright red light in the corner of the hangar sparked into life. "My God," Vier muttered. "She's trying to self-detonate. What is going on in there?" An orange light on the control panel flashed, and a mechanical voice kept repeating self-detonation control currently disabled--self-detonation control currently disabled--self-detonation control currently disabled-- as in the cockpit Linnea pressed the button again and again.
Treize's image appeared on the communication screen, but she stared through it unseeing and unhearing as he called her name. Tears of frustration welled up in her eyes and she tightened her grip on the self-detonation device willing it to work. Epyon had to be destroyed. She had to be destroyed. "
Get her out of there now," Treize ordered, wondering what could have gone wrong. They opened the hatch manually but the technicians couldn't pry her hand off the device and she stared right through them as they tried. Finally Treize climbed up. "Linnea?" he said, shocked by her appearance, her white face and her empty eyes that didn't seem to see him. He slid his hand under hers and pried it off the self-detonation control. She seemed to look at him then. Relieved, he cupped her face in his two hands. "What happened," he asked. "Duo," she said, not seeing Treize, but someone else. "Duo I'm sorry. It was just one kiss. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be. You're the one I love . . . Duo." Her eyes met his. "I killed him," she whispered. "I am the enemy." And then she fainted.
He looked at her curiously. It seemed he had her body and mind but he still didn't have her heart. She reminded him of Zechs Merquise suddenly. He had believed his victory was perfect but the deep emotions of the past had overridden Zechs' loyalty to him. Would Linnea be the same? She moaned a little in his arms and he told Vier to get a doctor. He pulled her close against him once they were alone and looked over the top of her head at Epyon. He was almost afraid of what it would show him, when his time came.
Her heart jumped as a hand touched her shoulder. "
Need some help there?" a familiar voice asked. Hilde looked up in happy disbelief to see Duo looming over her as she struggled to change the flat tire on her motorcycle. Changing a motorcycle tire was even more difficult than changing a car tire. She had felt hot, tired and overwhelmed but that all changed when she saw his face. "
Duo," she said. "I've never been so happy to see anyone in my whole life. How in the world did you end up back here?"
He had to admit to himself that he was happy to see her too. She always made him feel that everything was right with the world somehow. Being with her gave him a glimpse at normalcy. Duo had been back for a couple of weeks now but he had avoided Hilde. He knew there had been the beginnings of something more than friendship between them and that was something he couldn't face right now. He didn't have to be faithful to Linnea anymore. But he wasn't sure he wanted to leave her behind, find someone else and forget she had ever existed. But, he had loved her. No, he did love her. Oh shit, he didn't know what he felt. All that he knew for sure was he never wanted to hurt Hilde, never wanted anything or anyone to hurt Hilde, the way he had hurt Linnea. He didn't want to see Hilde's eyes ever looking at him like that, filled with pain and shock. But he couldn't help wanting to be with her, to have some sort of relationship with her, even if it was only friendship.
Hilde studied his face and sensed something had changed about him. Her only wish had been that he would come back, that she would see him again. But what if that wasn't enough? She wanted to ask what had happened on Earth, why he had come back alone? But although he wore his habitual grin and his eyes shone with obvious happiness to see her, she instinctively knew that she shouldn't ask.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Next time on Love is a Battlefield . . . Will Duo break his rules concerning Hilde? . . . What exactly does Epyon show Treize?