Tania looked at the closed door of Liz’s office, it was so quiet in there. She wondered what could be going on. It had been over two hours that her boss had been closeted in there with that interesting young man with the black eyes and black hair. In fact, she sighed, looking at the clock on her desk, it was about time for her to be leaving for the day.
Tania stood and pressed her ear to the door. Nothing. She walked back to her desk and picked up her paperback romance and giggled softly. The blonde on the cover was swooning in the arms of a dark-haired hunk. She glanced at the closed door again and wondered if her sedate and serious boss was finally letting her hair down a little. It would be about time.
She decided to leave without saying good-bye.
As Tania walked down the hall, her mind full of romantic fantasies concerning her boss and her dark-haired visitor the phone started ringing.
Lady Une frowned as the phone rang and rang. Elizabeth, she thought, why don’t you answer?
The breeze coming in through the open window blew the papers off Linnea’s desk, swirling them around the empty room as the ring of the phone echoed in the silence.
Hilde worried about how Duo would react to the destruction of DeathScythe. Of course it had sat unused for nearly a year and the universe would be safer with the Gundams out of the picture. She sighed and thumped her head in mock anguish on the counter of their jointly owned space salvage business. She was on her own while he met with the others.
When, she wondered. When would he be ready to take their relationship to the next step? Couldn’t he see how much she loved him? Did he think she just hung around with him because she liked him and he was a nice guy? Maybe this would do it, maybe destroying the DeathScythe would set him free to start a new chapter in his life. One with her in it of course. Maybe he would tell her why he was always careful to keep his distance. She knew he cared about her, maybe even loved her, but he hid his feelings behind a mask of careless grins and little jokes.
“A girl like you doesn’t want to get stuck with me Hilde,” he would say, grinning at her and giving her a careless squeeze. A squeeze that would set her heart thumping and make her long for so much more. She wanted nothing more than to be stuck with Duo Maxwell, forever.
After she’d been injured in the final battle he’d been so sweet to her. She had really expected him to declare his love and the whole nine yards, but it had never gone beyond that. Something had happened on Earth, there had been someone else she knew that. But wasn’t she out of the picture? Linnea. Somehow she was coming between her and Duo. Was she dead and Duo blamed himself? What could it be? Wherever you are, Hilde thought, and whatever you were to Duo, why can’t you just go away now? Go away and let him start over. I can make him happy, I know I can.
We could have been happy, I know it, she thought to herself. What have I done?
Linnea rubbed her bruised wrists and shot a wary glare at the pilot of the space shuttle, Chang Wufei. He’d been honorable enough to cut her loose as soon as they were safely on course. She looked out the window, seeing her own face reflected on the blackness of space. Neither of them dared to break their silent truce with unnecessary words, leaving both of them to their own thoughts.
She either moved too slowly or too quickly, always making the wrong choice at the wrong time. Of course if she’d been with him Barton might have found a way to get to her eventually. That little piece of common sense was very little comfort however.
Over the months his gentle sapphire eyes and the soft touch of his lips on hers had rooted themselves in her dreams. Thoughts of Quatre were so peaceful and safe. She was finally starting to wake up with a smile on her face instead of tearstains and regrets. Nightmares of angry violet eyes and furious shouts intermingled with exploding mobile suits were bothering her less and less. Still, there had been tears when one night she’d tried to remember how it felt to sleep in Duo’s arms and found that she couldn’t bring the sensation back anymore.
Only her own cowardice in saying good-bye was holding her to him with a slender thread, a slender thread that still wouldn’t break. She’d picked up that phone a dozen times and once even let it ring until Hilde picked it up. Linnea still remembered the heat flooding her face as she listened to Hilde’s puzzled voice ask who was there.
“Wrong number,” she’d mumbled, her heart pounding a mile a minute.
She forced her thoughts away from her muddled personal life to the even more important question of what she was going to do now. There was only one reason anyone would want to see her this badly. It all tied in with what she had discovered earlier in the day. Mobile suits, someone was putting together a private army in space and they obviously wanted her help in doing it.
Linnea didn’t think her refusal to take the job was going to go over very well with the head of the Barton Conglomerate. She wished for the millionth time that her father had shared the details about who had been backing the Gundam operation. Now she realized that what she had known about their mission barely scratched the surface. Something ugly roiled underneath the honorable intentions she, at least, had striven for. The others had been working to safeguard the colonies too, she was certain, even Wufei over there.
She could play a game of pretended cooperation but she didn’t know if she had it in her anymore. Linnea didn’t want to think of what outright refusal could mean.
“Quatre,” she thought. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was ready to try.”
In the distance something far away moved, it was another shuttle, sliding gracefully through the sky. It seemed to move so slowly but she knew that in actuality it was speeding through the darkness at amazing rates of speed. She touched the image of the other shuttle with her fingertips, so close and yet so far away. She was virtually alone out here and a sense of loneliness and despair engulfed her heart.
She turned away from the window
Maybe asking Duo to go see Linnea had been a mistake. But after six months of waiting to hear from her even Quatre had finally grown a little impatient. He had even, despite suffering an intense case of embarrassment, asked Rasid vague, proverbial questions about women and relationships.
“Miss Linnea is a stubborn woman, forgive my saying so Master Quatre,” Rasid had said. “But in my experience many times women say one thing but expect another. Don’t hold off too much longer.”
How many times had he started to punch in the number on the card? The memory of his promise to wait always stopped him. Quatre kept his promises. Duo had asked about her, he hadn’t volunteered the information. Still, despite the confrontation between Duo and Linnea being what he wanted he didn’t want to think about it. What if ? Duo hadn’t said he didn’t care about her anymore and Quatre knew he hadn’t made any commitment to Hilde. What if?
He looked out the window of the escort shuttle they were using to make sure the Gundams made it out of Earth’s gravity pull without being retrieved or going off course. It was too dangerous to let them just float off toward the sun on their own. Far away in the distance was another shuttle. Seeing it there, close enough to see but too far to touch, reminded him how lonely space could be at times.
All the way back home Duo wondered what he was going to say to Hilde about where he was going. He decided eventually that although lying was definitely out, omitting the facts might be a good alternative.
There was a very good reason the God of Death never told lies.
He was horrible at it.
Hilde’s female intuition immediately went into red alert when Duo offered to take her out for dinner.
“He’s up to something,” she thought as she looked in the ladies’ room mirror, touching up her lipstick and brushing a hand casually through her becomingly tousled midnight-black hair.
At the restaurant he grinned at her, but his eyes wouldn’t meet hers. He kept them on the huge slice of apple pie ala mode he was busy devouring. A dab of the vanilla ice cream clung to the corner of his mouth. It wasn’t fair Hilde thought, a smile warming her face in spite of her strange uneasiness. He was too adorable to resist. She reached out with her finger and with a delicate touch scooped off the ice cream and put the finger in her mouth. She knew she was being deliberately provocative but she didn’t care. Hilde was getting tired of all this waiting. She ached for the touch of his lips on hers again . . .
“Umm, Hilde,” Duo blushed. He was so attracted to her but he didn’t want to hurt her. He had to be sure. “I thought you didn’t want dessert?”
“It was just a taste Duo,” she said, laughing at his red cheeks and grabbing a spoon and digging into his dessert.
“Hey, get your own,” he teased, pulling the plate away for a second before pushing it back towards her a little, inviting her to share.
“That’s quite a concession from you, you Bottomless Pit you,” she said. Then she dropped the bomb. “Why are you being so nice tonight anyway?”
Drat, she got me, Duo thought. Stupid women’s intuition. To think that some people thought it was only a myth!
He started stammering, feeling Hilde’s gorgeous blue eyes boring right through him as if she could see directly into his heart and soul. Those things should of been weapons he thought to himself, they caught you in their sights and never let go just like a heat-seeking missile.
“I’m waiting Duo,” her voice prodded.
He slid his hand across the table capturing her small one in his. As always she was surprised at how suddenly he could turn serious.
“Hilde, I need to ask you to take care of things here by yourself a little longer. I need to go to Earth tomorrow and take care of something. I’ve been putting it off too long already. I can’t move on until I’ve done this. Saying good-bye to DeathScythe today and talking to the other guys made me realize that. I don’t want to say what it’s about, hell, you can probably guess anyway,” he explained, his face reddening a little at the last words. “But Hilde, I promise that no matter what I’m going to come back here. Okay?”
She had wished for this moment since the end of the war. But now, the thought of it made her very nervous. What if she lost him now, after waiting all this time? What would happen when he saw her, that other girl in his life, again?
Linnea sat uncomfortably in a large, disgustingly elaborate office. She felt very small and insignificant in the silence, lost in a huge leather chair. If someone meant to make her feel intimidated they were succeeding, she thought to herself. She hated waiting and every nerve was on edge. She had gotten up to try the door once, finding herself face to face with an armed guard.
Finally a man entered the office. Linnea could see him struggling to maintain a vestige of control and cordiality on his face, a face as distinctive as one might see on a Pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt.
She felt like she should stand in his presence and cursed herself for automatically doing so. Damn Treize and his penchant for protocol, she thought, too much of it had rubbed off on her.
“Welcome to our operation Miss Lang,” the man said, eyes flicking over her disinterestedly.
Linnea’s eyes narrowed. “You are mistaken sir,” she said softly, trying to pattern her voice on the calm cool tones of Lady Une. “I am not joining your operation and I am not Linnea Lang. This forced meeting of ours is unconscionable and I demand--”
His face contorted with anger and a loud crack sounded through the room as he slapped her hard across the face, sending her reeling to the floor with the surprise blow.
“You are in no position to make demands. You are who I say you are and you will do what I tell you to do,” the man, who she presumed must be the head of the operation, continued. Linnea wisely kept her position on the floor, eyeing him warily.
He pushed a few buttons on a laptop on the desk and studied the image then glanced at the girl on the floor, pulling her up by the arm and shoving her toward the desk and the monitor.
“That is you, is it not,” he asked, as she looked in disbelief at a file with a dated picture of herself, perhaps at age 12 or 13. All she could do was nod mutely.
“Then, Miss Lang, there will be no questions and there will be no refusals when I give you my orders. Because you are my employee and always have been. Your absence without leave will be forgiven this once because you are necessary to my plans,” he said.
“Who are you,” she asked, prepared to dodge a blow for her insolence but curiosity gnawing at her all the same.
“Dekim Barton, the next ruler of the Earth Sphere United Nation,” he answered.
Duo glanced up at the red-brick edifice from under the brim of his black baseball cap, a slow, impressed whistle coming from his lips. She really had changed if she was in charge of all of this, probably even had her own limo too, he thought. And not for the first time he thought what a bastard Treize Khushrenada was for screwing with her mind the way he had. Did the real Linnea that he had once loved still even exist? Was there even any point in talking to her anymore?
He touched the brim of the hat and walked in, not bothering to scrape the mud and wet grass from the previous night’s rain off his shoes. To hell with Treize Khushrenada’s marble halls. He had to go on, he owed it to the old Linnea, he had to see if there was anything left of her inside Professor Elizabeth Evans. He couldn’t stop the pre-battle feeling of adrenaline from rising up inside as he wondered how he’d feel when he saw her again. It had been so long, more than a year . . .
For the second day in a row Tania looked up from her desk to see a young man asking to see her boss without an appointment.
But this time, unfortunately, she was going to have to disappoint. She was totally harried today, fielding endless calls from Lady Une and other officials. Plus Tania had no idea where Liz had got to, she hadn’t seen her since yesterday afternoon and now it seemed like she had disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Why did everyone in charge suddenly feel that Tania ought to know where Liz was? And why had Liz, who had always been so prompt and on time chosen today to play hooky? Tania thought it must have something to do with the dark young man who’d come in yesterday and irritated as she felt with her boss right now for putting her in this position she wasn’t ready to turn her in yet, so she continued to make the appropriate excuses to everyone, including the man in front of her. The one with the incredible violet eyes. She sighed unconsciously in rapt admiration as he hesitated before her desk, unsure of his next move.
Dammit, Duo thought, pondering his next move. Denied. He felt like that smarmy picture of Khushrenada on the wall were smirking at him victoriously. He hadn’t thought that she wouldn’t be here. Now what the hell was he supposed to do?
He noticed the infatuated gaze of the ditzy secretary, she’d said her name was Tammy or something. There were certainly more unpleasant ways to find information. He was going to track Linnea down today if at all possible, he didn’t want to admit to himself that he wanted to find her before he lost his courage and totally blew off Quatre’s request.
So he winked at Tania and said, “interested in going out for lunch?”
Unable to speak in the awe-inspiring presence of Shinigami, the little secretary nodded her blissful acceptance. He was absolutely gorgeous.
Linnea felt like breaking things, she was furious. The door was locked and there were even bars on the windows--it was like some kind of gothic nightmare. If he thought he could break her like this he was sadly mistaken. She was definitely not going to add her expertise to his engineering staff and there would be no more mobile suit designs like the Epyon. Moisture gathered on her forehead, with her eyes shut she could see the cockpit in her mind, could see the design schematics scrolling across a computer monitor rapidly and in precise detail.
She looked around the room it was musty and dusty and half the furniture was still covered in dust cloths. Angrily she yanked the one off the huge bed and coughed as clouds of dust swirled around her. She curled up on the bed and beat her fist uselessly on the feather pillow, surprised when suddenly her hand met something solid that definitely wasn’t made of feathers. She pulled out a book, a diary of some kind.
Irritated, she’d been hoping it was a gun at least, Linnea threw the book against the bolted door. It didn’t make her feel any better so she got up and retrieved the book. It might be someone else’s diary but maybe it would tell her something and God knew she needed a distraction before memories of Epyon got the better of her. In anyone that had ever been under the Zero System’s influence the sensation could sometimes reappear like it had just been lurking in the back of their mind, waiting to be recalled.
She flipped through the little book absently, merely trying to keep her mind off other things, until Treize’s name caught her eye.
THE JOURNAL OF LEIA BARTON
AC 188, 11 June
Among the wounded following a mobile suit attack on the colony today there was one man that I could not treat like the others, although it is my duty as a nurse to treat all patients the same. The stark white of the bandage around his head did nothing to dim the nobility and beauty of his face. He is like a god, I thought, immediately berating myself for such ridiculous ideas. He can be no more than a man, although his appearance certainly argues for my first impression of him. Of course if he were a god he would not have been wounded. So there you have it, there is my proof. Why must I repeat it to myself over and over to convince myself of this? Treize Khushrenada is not a god, he is only a man.
Yes, but such a man as I have never seen before and never will again. It was unethical but I made sure that I was put in charge of his room. When he awakes I will get to talk with him and see whether he is really made from better stuff than other men.--LB
Linnea gasped. The diary of Leia Barton lay face down on the bed calling her to pick it up again and she really couldn’t resist. She couldn’t help but wonder if there was a woman anywhere who hadn’t had the same initial reaction to Treize.
THE JOURNAL OF LEIA BARTON
AC 188, 15 June
He is leaving soon, I have amended my initial opinion and have decided that although he is not *quite* a god still he is yet more than other men somehow. Someone truly special in this world full of ordinary people. There is a flicker of interest in his eyes when his meet mine but he is not the type to love and leave. He has such integrity. As for me, I would not care if it were to be just one night with him. With such a man it would be better to love and lose than never to love at all. Today I brought a Hemingway novel to read aloud to Treize when I was on my break. I saw the understanding in his face, he too has heard of the famous love affair between the author and his nurse during some long-forgotten war. Our interests are the same it seems and we think alike.
I will miss him when he is gone.--LB
To be continued . . . Linnea gets immersed in Leia’s diary . . . meanwhile, can Duo pry any meaningful information from the brainless Tania?
BTW, ever seen the pic of Treize and Leia? I put one in this file if you wanna check it out!
AND to AVA, here’s a very kawaii pic of Wufei, I never thought he was much to look at either till I saw this, plus I try to be nice to the fans of all the G-pilots and describe them as hunks when I can ^_~ Check him out: