Author’s Note: Apologies for the hold-up on this part, it’s still not flowing like I’d like it to, so please be gentle and stick with me. But at least it’s a really long chapter ^_~
Love is a Battlefield
by Midii Une
It had simply been a brief encounter in the battle to end all battles.
She had been through much worse in her career, but it had been a nasty episode by any standards. They were lucky to get out with their lives, she and Duo and Quatre. Gundam vs. Gundam. Lover vs. beloved. Right vs. wrong.
Noin was shaking. She couldn’t stop shaking. She wrapped her arms around herself to stop the tremors that quaked through her body but nothing could stop the shaking. She let her body slide down the wall she was leaning against until she was sitting on the floor in the darkened room.
Zechs was gone.
The Zechs she had known, loved, worshiped. The Zechs she had trusted to always be there, the Zechs she had believed could never betray her or his own ideals. Where was that man now? Was he lost to her forever? He couldn’t be. Despite everything she would never give up, never let go of her love for him.
Noin impatiently brushed scalding tears off her face with the back of her hand. She looked at her hand. How many nights had she envisioned him taking her hand in his and drawing her close against him for a kiss, for an intimate embrace? How difficult it was to conjure up images like that now. Should she see it as a hopeful sign that in the end he hadn’t been able to kill her after all? Or was the gesture a final remnant of the chivalrous knight he had always been, a shadow of the courteous tenderness he had always shown to her? Or had he merely forgotten her presence as an adversary in his mad desire to destroy the Gundams, to destroy the Earth?
Sobs wrenched from deep within made her shake even harder as she relived the horrible battle between herself and the one she loved most in this world. The one whose life and dreams meant even more to her than her own did.
“Zechs, oh Zechs,” she whispered over and over. As she whispered his name she wondered how long she could hold out on the side of right. How long before she turned from her allies, turned from Quatre and all the rest? How long before she joined Zechs in his insane quest? She knew it was only a question of time. It was impossible to pit herself against the man she loved. It would be easier to plunge a knife into her own heart.
She knew that she would travel to hell with him and even into the mouth of madness. Even if he didn’t want her to come along. Her loyalty to him was such that she’d follow him anywhere, commit any crime. Yes, follow him even to hell, even though her heart knew what he was doing was so wrong.
He was in hell and she had created it.
Because he’d dared her to.
Duo saw her face, wet with tears. His face was close to hers, close enough for a kiss.
“Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” he said.
“Knock yourself out.”
Linnea was nothing if not thorough and efficient. He knew that better than anyone. Knew better than anyone exactly what she was capable of. He could have stopped her.
But he hadn’t.
He hadn’t counted on Zechs Merquise being the pilot either.
“Build the best Gundam in the world and if it comes against me I’ll destroy it.”
He walked over to his toolbox, the one he’d left with Howard the last time he’d been in North America. He’d been in such a hurry for a mission he’d forgotten it. Duo swallowed and opened the lid for the first time in all those months. It was still there. He’d ripped it out of a yearbook in the school library. A dirty, worn-out scrap of a photograph, he’d carried it in his pocket until it had threatened to disintegrate altogether and then he’d put it in the toolbox. Linnea Lang, the girl most likely to . . . He’d ripped it out quickly while the vigilant librarian’s back was turned and the rest of the sentence was missing. He forgot what it had once read.
The girl most likely to break your heart, a voice inside his head prompted.
Howard watched Duo sympathetically as he crouched over the toolbox, still in his spacesuit. Watched him almost toss something in the trash can then change his mind and place it carefully back in the toolbox.
He was motionless for so long that Howard had to go over and see if he had fallen asleep.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked the pilot.
Duo shook his head negatively. “No,” he choked out. “I’m no good at talking about important stuff.”
He visibly shook himself and snapped out of it, a lopsided grin appearing on his face.
“Thanks Howard. Catch’ya later man,” Duo said, slapping the older man on the back and leaving the hangar.
“Crazy kids,” Howard muttered. He looked at the battered Gundams looming around him in the dark room, surveying the heavy damage.
Everything really had gone crazy, Howard thought to himself. The sudden appearance of the White Fang, Zechs’ decision to lead them. How could the man have changed so much, the technician thought. He analyzed all the moments he’d spent with the pilot dubbed the Lightning Count but nothing in those memories gave Howard a clue as to why Zechs was acting the way he was now. When he’d known him so recently he’d been like a lone knight of justice determined to promote peace. But now . . .
And then there was Epyon. A nightmare in Gundanium. Linnea Lang had obviously outdone herself. He wondered how it was possible that something as horrible as that machine could have been brought into existence by the girl he knew. No one had to tell Howard she was smart enough or had the capability, he knew it better than any of them. Only he was technologically advanced enough himself to see her real potential. But there’d been something broken in her eyes when he’d talked to her last. Some hurt that had expressed itself in the Gundam she’d created.
He wondered if all this was happening because it was the only way for the battles to end. He had the feeling Zechs knew that deep down and was sacrificing himself to bring about peace the only way he knew how. Not as a Peacecraft, but as the personification of Vengeance.
“Is that what you’re thinking Zechs,” Howard wondered. “If so it may be that the threat of White Fang could be just the unifying force the rest of us need to end this war, once and for all.”
Finding Duo on this labyrinth of a battleship was like wandering in a nightmare, Hilde thought as she crept through the quiet, shadowed hallways of the Peacemillion.
She wondered why the security on the ship was so lax. She had boarded the ship without a moment’s anxiety. The only dangerous part had been evading the hordes of mobile suits gathering in space.
The World Nation.
All gathering for a monstrous battle. With everything Hilde cared about caught in the middle.
The future of the colonies.
Duo. He made the future more important to her than it had ever seemed before. She thought of having a home together, a life together, even children maybe, all the traditional things that had been important to people as long as there had been people. As long as there had been an Earth. As long as there had been war . . .
She slid through the halls unseen, alert for a glimpse of him or the sound of his voice. She knew she must be nearing the hangar area, where he was most likely to be. Just then she caught the sound of his voice. It had the power to make her heart somersault almost painfully.
“No,” she heard him say to someone. “I’m no good at talking about important stuff.”
She’d never heard him sound like that, his voice choked and dejected sounding. The voice of defeat. Her heart ached for him and her arms yearned to hold him. But the words themselves rang true. He wasn’t any good at talking about the important stuff. Sure, he talked a lot. But despite all the words he managed to say to her, not much of it was ever important or meaningful.
Hilde looked at him from the dark corner of the deserted hallway and her heart dropped as she saw his face lose the carefully placed grin and grow darker than she’d ever seen it. She almost gasped as he appeared ready to punch the wall, but he pulled back at the last moment and walked away.
She squared her shoulders and followed after him. She wasn’t going to let Duo go into battle again without letting him know how she felt. Without letting him know she would be beside him.
“Duo . . .” she said tentatively, made suddenly shy by his strange mood.
He rounded on her quickly and she drew back from him involuntarily. In her mind’s eye she could see his Gundam whirling to attack, the deathscythe flaring and the eyes of the mecha glaring venomously. And she thought that whoever had built that thing must have known him so well, so intimately.
“Hilde? What the hell are you doing up here,” he questioned her angrily. “How stupid can you be?”
She hadn’t expected him to be angry, well maybe a little, but certainly not like this. Her wide blue eyes brightened suddenly beneath a film of tears.
“Duo? I-I’m sorry. I had to come. I’m s-sorry. I . . .” she stuttered.
The sudden anger faded from his face and the snapping fire died out of his dark blue eyes as he saw hers fill with tears.
“Oh shit. Shit, Hilde,” he said penitently. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry. It’s just that it’s dangerous up here. So dangerous. You shouldn’t have come and you have to leave. Leave right now.”
He brushed his hand over her pale cheek and pulled her close against him. Duo ran his hand softly through her hair and she pressed closer, breathing him in.
She took a deep breath and said determinedly, “I won’t leave.”
“Hilde . . .” he said.
“I’m not leaving. I can help. I’m a soldier. A trained soldier. And this group needs all the help it can get,” she said firmly, gaining confidence
He couldn’t deny that they needed help. But not from Hilde. He tightened his arms around her. Not Hilde.
“Come in here,” he said, pulling her into his room. He shed his spacesuit and sat down heavily in a chair. She rubbed his shoulders trying to ease the stress she felt there, the strained tautness that seemed to clutch his whole body. He looked up at her face and saw the determination there. Saw again the intense and determined OZ soldier he had felt so drawn to.
“Think, think what to say,” he said to himself. “Don’t say the wrong thing now. Not again.”
He pulled on her hand until she was sitting in his lap. She wanted to argue with him that she was going to stay but he looked so tired and it felt so perfect to be in his arms, her body molded against his that she kept quiet for a moment. Hilde buried her face in Duo’s neck and nuzzled against him. They held each other tightly. They sat silently like that for a quite awhile.
“Please Hilde,” he finally said. “One person more won’t make a difference. Please go home.”
She jumped out of his arms. Her eyes blazed nearly as fiercely as his had earlier. It may have been awhile but she was a soldier too. She may not be a Gundam pilot but her mobile suit skills had been among the most commendable in her unit. She could make a difference. She would make a difference.
She felt like storming out but one look at his face told her what he was really meaning to say. He was talking to her, really talking to her. Maybe this was their chance to get closer. Hilde knelt down beside his chair and wrapped her arms around him.
“Duo,” she said. “Please understand that I want to help and I have to be a part of this. You showed me yourself that this is the right path and now I can’t help but follow it to the end. It’s dangerous I know, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something for the cause I believe in, the cause we both believe in so much.”
He remained silent. Duo knew that she was right. But it was a blood-soaked, no-holds-barred nightmare out there. How could he sit back and watch her fly out into the middle of it? If he had his way it would be only him and DeathScythe against them all. He had always known that was his mission to fight. He fought to keep others from fighting, it had always been that way for him, ever since the massacre at Maxwell Church.
It was morbid but since that day, when so many others had died and he had escaped he’d felt Death was watching over him. That Death was waiting until it was good and ready to come for him and until that time came he was untouchable.
“I might as well be the one to do the dirty jobs,” he had thought that then and he still thought that now.
Hilde studied his far away look. He was thinking about his past, she could tell. The past that was such a secret from her.
“Please trust me Duo,” she said, pressing her forehead against his lowered head. “Tell me everything about yourself. I’ve known you for so long and yet I don’t really know you at all.”
Only Linnea knew much about him and he’d even kept secrets from her, Duo thought. And despite their parting of the ways he knew she’d always keep what he’d told her locked in her heart, a sacred trust he knew she’d never break. He looked at Hilde and thought that every time he opened up to someone it felt so right, but eventually he would lose that person. Like he’d lost Sister Helen, like he’d lost Linnea. They’d known him and loved him and been there for him. It was as if Death had granted him the strength for battle but denied him the peace that came from loving someone and receiving their love in return. He’d always fought so hard, but when it came time to save the ones he loved the most, he’d failed. Failed.
But Duo couldn’t deny what he saw in Hilde’s eyes. She cared about him, she really wanted to know him, to understand. And maybe he owed her that. She meant so much to him, still he wasn’t at all sure what he was going to do about that. But he should tell her, open up to her. At least about some things.
She tightened her arms around him as he began to speak to her about his past.
Linnea stared at the calculations and without much hope of changing the outcome she typed the qualifying circumstances concerning the probability of victory of the Tallgees II in again and pressed the enter key. The disk drive churned the information through the inner mechanisms of the computer and spit out the same results. Probability of victory: LOW.
But that was unacceptable. The Tallgees II was a beautiful and powerful piece of machinery but putting it up against the mobile suits that existed on the battlefield right now was just short of suicidal. Gen. Treize would be better off if he let her upgrade and repair Wing. She glanced over at the damaged Gundam that had been abandoned on the European coastline by Heero Yuy. Yes, that would be the way to go, if only she could convince Treize.
She reviewed in her mind, the arsenal gathered in space. For starters there was Libra, with enough firepower to destroy anything, including the Earth itself. Then there were the upgraded versions of DeathScythe, Sandrock and Shenlong of course. But to her knowledge the 05 pilot was unaccounted for and Trowa’s Gundam was also unaccounted for. And then, of course, there was the Epyon of course and its Zero System counterpart the Wing Zero.
It defied imagination that between them she and Quatre had produced the two most horrifying and destructive mobile suits in history. It certainly hadn’t been in their minds that morning in the hangar, sitting companionably side by side at her terminal and clicking their coffee cups together. She excused Quatre, he’d had his reasons. He’d been suffering so. But herself she could not forgive and now she was caught in the momentum of doing something nearly as wrong. Sending her pilot out to battle in a suit that had so little chance of success, despite his determination. Linnea thought a moment and then pulled up the repair files she had put together for Wing and gave the order for work to start. She had to make Treize see somehow that it was the right direction to take.
If she’d put the possibility of her chances of convincing him through her computer program she would have received the same answer she received to her earlier question. Probability of victory: LOW.
Linnea steeled herself for disappointment and knocked on Treize’s office door softly before entering. She swallowed as she looked at him there, he still had the power to make her tingle, despite herself and thoughts of their few, but memorable, romantic encounters played themselves in her mind as they always did when she saw him. She never knew when his official, professional manner would give way to a burst of passion. It was always a surprise when he’d enter her room in the middle of the night to brush the tip of a rosebud across her cheek and wake her up with passionate kisses. All like a dream, except in the morning the rose would be lying on the pillow beside her. Her thoughts left her unable to say anything at first.
She finally found her voice but without even looking up at her he held up a hand to keep her silent as he continued listening to the angelic voice of an operatic soprano discourse on tragic love. Linnea kept her silence and stared at the carpet as he continued to ignore her presence until the aria came to its heartrending conclusion. Then she heard him tap his pen impatiently on the desk. “Do you have an update on the Tallgees, ” he prompted her with the question.
“I came to ask you to let me go ahead and upgrade the Wing, Your Excellency,” she said, her voice growing more confident as she realized how right she was. He just had to see that. “My calculations have shown that the new MS just doesn’t give us the best probability percentages. The Wing is a much better alternative. Please--”
“You misunderstand my objectives,” Treize interrupted. “From what I’ve seen the Tallgees II is perfectly suited for this battle.”
He rose from his chair and advanced toward her slowly. For some reason she felt herself backing away until the wall was at her back and he was closing in on her in a predatory manner.
“One-on-one combat,” he murmured softly, raising her chin to look into her face. “One-on-one combat is the only way to find satisfaction.”
“But, Your Excellency,” she tried again. “Treize. Please listen. I want you--”
He stopped her protests with a kiss. He knew what she meant to say and he knew it was all true, to her way of thinking. But she was incapable of understanding that this time defeating the opponent was not the way to victory. Her analytical mind would not let her see this from his point of view. He felt a bit sorry for her that she could not see the beauty of the upcoming battle, it would be something not to be forgotten.
She slept beside him restlessly following his little demonstration of the pleasures of one-on-one combat. But Treize could not sleep, it disquieted him to be misunderstood, and despite having closed the subject with her he knew that Linnea still did not believe in what he was going to do. What made her so talented with all things mechanical stopped her from being able to share his dream. She saw it all in terms of power, speed and defensive structures. These things were important of course. But more important to him was the battle, the honor in it and what could be accomplished by it.
Zechs would understand, he thought. But even Treize did not have the audacity to contact his former friend turned enemy for a pre-battle heart-to-heart. The situation was not that civilized, despite the way he wished things to be. But Zechs would accept his challenge to a duel. He could not have changed that much from the man he had known so long.
But there was one other. One who had always understood, or unlike Linnea, she had put up the pretense of understanding and then made it her business to comply. And she was here now, nearby in an infirmary room, back on Earth after the destruction of the Fortress Barge. Talking to Lady Une, voicing his thoughts to her, would set everything back into place in his mind and erase the tiny doubts Linnea’s opinions had raised there.
And even if she couldn’t answer him, he would know that he had her support, both in her mind and in her heart.
Unlike Treize, Milliardo Peacecraft had no one to discuss his inner turmoil with. He stood before the observation portal on the Libra, his military posture emphasizing his imposing height, his arms folded in an attitude of confidence. From the outside he appeared to be calm, determined and set on his course. But on the inside he was as shaken as Noin was. He had never meant to come up against her. She and Relena were the only loyalties that remained in his heart. Yet today he could have killed them both. He fixed his eyes on Earth. He had to stay strong and focussed, couldn’t let any weakness get to him. The weakness that threatened to pour in through the tiny crevices in his armor made by Noin and his little sister. Focus on the purpose, he told himself. Destroy the Earth, the source of all the conflict and then my Father’s goals will be realized.
“I must let nothing stand in my way,” he said suddenly, aloud. Not Relena and not Noin, he’d avoid hurting them only if he could do it without compromising his goals. He gazed at the Earth and blocked out everything else.
Dorothy Catalonia stood in the doorway of the Libra’s bridge watching him. She felt an almost sexual thrill as she heard his words. The thrill came not from the beauty of the man her eyes fell on. But from the cruel note of determination she heard in his voice.
“Oh,” thought Dorothy, clasping her hands together ecstatically. “The battle to come will be the pinnacle of everything and here I am, at the center of it all.”
TO BE CONTINUED . . . Next time on Love is a Battlefield . . . Vier finds out who’s sleeping in Treize’s bed but Linnea regains the upper hand . . . Hilde discovers a way to make a difference . . . Wufei and Heero reappear from fanfiction no-man’s land . . .