He could feel each muscle as it tensed, then relaxed through the swing of his arm. The sword was simply an extension of his limb. His body moved in a rhythm it knew well, beyond conscious thought and command. His body curled instantly into a ball as he rolled through the air and sprang open in perfect time to land softly on his feet.
The anger was distracting him. His fellow pilots and comrades were beating around the bush as the saying went, and frankly he was disgusted. They had a mission, with clear parameters and no need for a night of thinking. At what point in the war did they ever question the mission?
He remembered Duo from weeks prior, his words ringing clearly in his head; this isn't war anymore, Heero. I'm not about to pull the trigger on someone who could be innocent.
Wufei frowned as he mopped at his sweat with the towel he'd brought with him to the courtyard. True to her word, Rei had emptied out a small room where he'd stashed a duffel bag of goods, mostly just clothes to change into and towels.
There was one other thing distracting him, and he turned his onyx gaze toward it now, the figure in the shadows at the end of the courtyard. "You aren't a very good spy."
"Who's spying? I own this place, remember?" Rei stepped into the moonlight, smiling at him, the twinkle of humor present in her violet eyes. Instead of the priestess outfit she had donned the last time she was wearing black yoga pants and a matching tank top, her long dark hair swept up into a bun on top of her head. "When I hear noises in the middle of the night I like to make sure no one is breaking in."
It was late, Wufei remembered, but he had been too restless to stay in the apartment. Training cleared his head more than anything else and at least gave him some distraction. "You've been standing there for at least twenty minutes. Wasn't sure it was me?"
Rei appeared a bit sheepish at that, and her eyes darted to the left when she said, "I like to watch you. When you move, it's graceful, effortless. It's pretty amazing." Her face turned red as she spoke, and in an attempt to save some face she added, "Pretty much the opposite of when you talk."
Wufei stared back at her, unsure how to take the sudden compliment despite the pegged on insult at the end. He took in the sudden color in her cheeks, her somewhat disheveled appearance that suggested she had rolled out of bed. Without the attitude that usually had her on a tangent arguing with him, he noticed how tiny she looked, and how young. A girl of seventeen, with thin arms and legs and a waist he could probably fit his hands around.
When her violet eyes finally flickered up to meet his again, they were glinting with that inner flame, refusing to back down, ready for a fight. This teenager was also Sailor Mars, and if Usagi's insane tale was to believed, a Martian princess reborn.
"If I had been an intruder, what would you have done? Surely you aren't going to take out anyone looking like that." He changed the subject in lieu of responding to her unexpected praise, taunting her instead. She smiled thinly and shrugged.
"I'm tougher than I look." That he didn't doubt. Wufei sheathed his katana and slung his towel over one shoulder, shaking his head. In the back of his mind he was trying to imagine showing up here again in the morning to arrest her and hand her over to the authorities. He wondered what the look on her face would be if he told her that they had Usagi captive back at the apartment.
"How much do I owe you? For using the room and the space." Rei arched an eyebrow at him as he shifted the topic of conversation again. He couldn't say anything in response that might tip her off to his suspicions, even though he was fairly certain that their suspicions were mutual at this point.
"Don't worry about it. The shrine makes enough money in tours and love spells for high school girls. Not to mention the tax breaks for being a historical site. This place is kind of a relic." The response made him uneasy, though he didn't show it. He didn't want to feel like he owed this girl a debt.
"Why didn't you sell it? Your grandfather left it to you, right?" Rei had a habit of smiling with no apparent joy behind it, with a touch of irony and bemusement playing in her eyes, like there was some private joke going in her head that she didn't feel obligated to share. She showed one of these at that question before she answered.
"I'm just sentimental, I guess." Rei unfolded her arms and glanced at his sheathed sword before turning away from him. "Good night, Wufei. Try not to come so late next time."
Wufei didn't respond. There wouldn't be a next time after tomorrow.
Duo arrived at the movie theatre to find that Minako had beaten him there. She was distracted by the phone in her hand and didn't notice his approach. Her blonde hair, usual impeccable and tied back with a bow, was pulled into a bun with a lock that had escaped. Every few moments she reached up to move it from her eyes.
As he moved closer her blue eyes flickered upward and caught his gaze. A smile spread over her face that he couldn't help but return, even as the stir of guilt disturbed his conscience and almost made his expression falter. She slipped the phone in her pocket and met him as he stepped closer.
"Just couldn't wait to see me?" She said teasingly as a greeting, referring to his spur of the moment invite, her eyes twinkling with mirth.
"Something like that," he responded with a sincerity that caused her face to flush and subdued her sense of playfulness from a moment before. Duo grinned at her reaction and continued, "Did you really want to watch the scary movie?"
"Ah, if you want to see it we can." Minako looked flustered for a moment, but when Duo raised an eyebrow she said, "Not really, no. "
"I think it's your turn to pick the movie. I won't torture you again." He started walking toward the ticket booth and she fell into step beside him, glancing at the line of movie posters as they walked by.
"Well, that's kind of you." They stopped across from the booth and joined the back of the line. There was a bit of a wait considering it was Saturday evening, and Minako used it to survey the list of movies and show times on the digital display above the booth. Duo took the opportunity to study her profile.
He expected her to choose the romantic comedy that was leading the box office. When she finally turned back to him she looked a bit sheepish and pointed at one of the movie posters that were closest to them. "There's this indie film that's playing this weekend only that is supposed to be really, really good. Do you mind?"
It was his turn to look surprised, but he brushed it off quickly a replied, "Not at all."
After they purchased tickets, they split up so that Duo could buy popcorn and she could find them seats. Minako looked around the theatre before choosing a spot near the top and settling in. There was movie trivia flashing by on the screen, since the previews hadn't even started yet, and she tried to concentrate on the questions but found herself fidgeting in her chair instead. She kept glancing between the screen and the entrance near the bottom of the theatre for Duo to appear, wondering why she was so nervous.
When the braided youth finally came around the corner, Minako noted the somber look on his face. It all but vanished when he glanced up and spotted her, and by the time her darted up the steps and fell into the seat beside her, she began to doubt what she saw. He offered her a giant tub of popcorn and a playful grin.
"Don't throw this one, okay?"
"Ha ha," she laughed dryly and took a handful of the salty snack just as the lights dimmed. The theatre was fairly empty considering her choice of film, but her nerves started coming back full force. While she tried to focus on the movie, her attention kept drifting to Duo's presence, and the warmth of his arm touching hers on the armrest between them.
It was late when they left the theatre, but the streets of Tokyo were still very much alive. They walked together down the sidewalk, close enough to wind through the crowds easily while discussing the movie. In what felt like no time at all, they made it to the street where she lived.
"Thanks for the movie," Minako said when they stopped, turning to face him. "Only problem is that now we don't have plans for tomorrow. Though I think you still owe me a rematch at the arcade."
Duo turned his head, but she didn't miss the dark expression that clouded his features. She thought back to his somber look earlier in the evening and knew she hadn't imagined it. He turned back to her with a carefree smile and said, "Yeah I guess I do."
"Duo, is something wrong?" She asked it with such earnestness that his smile faltered into a grimace before disappearing all together. He looked right into her eyes, all traces of humor gone from his demeanor. He stared at her wordlessly for a few moments while she listened to her heart pounding in her ears.
In a move faster than she could believe, he closed the distance between them. His fingers brushed against the line of her jaw before his lips covered hers, his other hand pressing gently into the small of her back and pulling her against him. Her breath caught in her throat as her heart fluttered wildly in her chest.
Before she could gain her bearings, he pulled back, his forehead pressed against hers for just a split second longer. Duo turned and shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked away, throwing a good night over his shoulder. Minako stared at his retreating back, emotions pulling her in every direction, rendering her motionless.
Usagi had been staring at the wall listlessly for what felt like an eternity, too anxious to fall asleep, too aware of the pair of blue eyes watching her every movement. Her mind had fallen into an empty hum that neither gave way to slumber nor entertained a stray thought. So when she felt the shift of weight on the mattress her whole body almost jerked upright in shock.
The bed gave a small squeak of protest as Heero settled in on the space beside her. She turned her head enough to see him in her peripheral vision, his back to her, taking up the other side of the bed. The bed was big enough that there was still a generous amount of space in between them, but she lay there, stiff as a board, suddenly hyperaware of everything around her.
"Don't think of trying to escape when I fall asleep. I will catch you." His voice came out as a low rumble as she shifted her head back to face the wall once more.
"I'm not." She responded. To do so she would literally have to climb over him, and she wasn't exactly known for her grace in normal situations. They both lay there in silence until she heard his breathing even out.
With nothing to do she thought again of her situation and tried to form a plan if they decided to turn her in. Would the Preventers buy into her story any more than Heero and the others had? Could she do something to prevent her other four senshi from being caught along with her if it came to that? Heero hadn't denied that they were Gundam pilots, leading her to believe that Rei's prediction had been correct, but what would that mean if they did listen to her story?
Maybe they could help, some small, hopeful voice whispered from her subconscious. It was true that the low level of the youma threat had been fortuitous in allowing her and her senshi to compensate for the double threat of the mobile suits, but the enemies kept getting tougher. She wasn't sure what enemy she was up against anymore, and the youma had yet to lead her to an organized force pulling the strings like they always had in the past. They had revealed no ultimate goal, no reasoning behind their attacks, and no search for some ancient power source or special soul or anything else.
The thought of having more backup, of soldiers who fought in the war and knew how to fight this kind of enemy, was more than she could let herself hope for. She was puzzled as to how they could have received such a tip about the senshi's former plans to form Crystal Tokyo or how they had ended up right in Juuban to search for the Sailor Senshi.
If the worst case scenario came true and they were all turned over to the Preventers, she knew the outer senshi would have to step up to take care of the youma threat in their absence. She wondered where Haruka and Michiru were at right now, unsuspecting of her predicament. Since her decision to absolve their future kingdom, she hadn't made contact with any of them. Chibiusa's sudden nonexistence must have been particularly hard on Setsuna and Hotaru, and the thought gave her a pang of sadness.
As her thoughts continued to drift through the possibilities tomorrow might bring, sleep finally snuck up on her. She had a dream of a tiny cell with no bars or windows, just white walls and endless silence. The only adornment in the room was a camera that hung from the ceiling, watching her with its digital eye. Her pleas for freedom echoed off the walls around her, until she heard the screams of her friends coming from the other side of the bolted door. Her fists met the door over and over again while she begged them to stop.
When her eyes snapped open, she was face to face with Heero. He was scowling at her, and after a moment she become conscious of the fact that he had both of her arms in his grip. She realized that she must have been thrashing about in her sleep.
"S-Sorry," she stammered, suddenly aware of how close they were. He finally released her and she scooted back toward the wall, giving them a comfortable distance once more. By way of explanation, she said, "I had a nightmare."
"So I guessed." Heero responded dryly, sitting up in the bed. After sleeping, his usual unruly brown hair stuck out in random directions, and Usagi had to bite back a laugh despite the circumstances.
The morning light had started to slant into the room through the slits in his closed blinds, and she suddenly realized that it was morning, and for better or worse their decision would be made within the next hour or so. The thought effectively squashed her mirth and weighed her down with apprehension. She watched Heero stand and run his fingers through the mess of brown on his head, but it did little to fix the problem. He seemed nonplussed by his bed head as he reached for the gun on his desk and tucked it in the back of his pants. They had both slept fully clothed.
"Have you made a decision?" Usagi asked as she sat up in the bed, running fingers through her own tousled blonde hair and keeping her eyes on him. Heero slid into the chair and opened his laptop, not bothering to look at her.
"We'll decide together."
"I know that, but surely you've already decided for yourself." She struggled with the tangles in her hair and watched Heero for some glint of emotion that might hint at his feelings on the matter, but he remained faithfully stoic as he clicked through the screens on his computer, saying nothing. After a stretch of silence, she finally gave up on his response and asked, "Do you have a hairbrush?"
Heero nodded toward the bathroom. His was the master bedroom in the apartment so he probably had the only private bathroom attached to the room. She made her way toward it, not sure what to expect but finding it surprisingly neat, immaculate even. Closing the door behind her, she went to work on redoing her buns.
In the bedroom, Heero stared blankly at his computer screen. He had opened the laptop out of habit, not really having anything to do. Had he come to a decision? Clearly not if he had to ask himself that question now. He leaned back in his chair and listened to Usagi moving around the bathroom; the sink going on and off, the toilet flushing, the tap of the hairbrush as she sat it on the counter filled up the silence of the room.
When she stepped out, her hair had been returned to the normal pigtails. She was young, normal-looking, every other teenage girl. It was the eyes, he thought, that set her apart. Now that she wasn't pretending to be some cheerful and carefree high school girl he could read it in the depths of her gaze, in the set of her jaw and the way she squared her small shoulders.
Usagi was a soldier. Not of the same make as him, not even close. But the girl had known death and war. She had experienced loss and sacrifice, defeat and triumph. If her story was true, and he believed that she had been honest, then she had stared unflinchingly into the void of nonexistence many times, and dived in headfirst without hesitation. For the sake of humanity. To save the Earth.
Perhaps he had already made his decision.
"Let's go," he said, rising from his seat and heading to the living room. Duo was slumped down in an armchair already, his arms folded over his chest and his dark indigo eyes closed. He may have been avoiding looking at Wufei, the only other occupant in the room at present. The Chinese boy had his back to them however. He was leaning against the back of the couch with his arms also folded, staring out the window at the cloudless blue sky, his expression giving way to nothing going on behind those black eyes.
Heero took the other available armchair without a word. The sound caused Duo to finally open his eyes, and he glanced at the brown haired boy across from him before turning to Usagi and offering her an encouraging smile. She tried to return the gesture but knew it must have looked uneasy. She felt a little queasy as she settled into the couch cushions, trying not to disturb Wufei or incur his wrath.
No one said a word. Usagi felt the thick atmosphere in the room like a smoke trying to choke her, but she continued to breathe normally and tried to calm her nerves. It seemed like a lifetime before she finally heard rustling from the other side of the apartment, the opening and closing of doors. Quatre and Trowa appeared in the room moments later, and they settled onto the couch beside Usagi wordlessly.
The silence continued for a while, and Usagi began to wring her hands in her lap, unable to look at any of them and trying to fight off the urge to scream. She wasn't sure if it were nerves or just a desperate need to end the hush in the room.
"So are we putting this to a vote or what?" It was Duo who mercifully spoke up, and Usagi felt herself let go a sigh of relief. The braided youth directed his question to Heero, sitting in the chair across from him. Heero returned the gaze but did not respond immediately, his stoic features saying nothing.
"We can vote," he began, glancing at the other occupants in the room, "but we all have to agree. There will be one decision and everyone will have to go along with it. That is the only way to guarantee this will work, and that one of us will not go against the decision later."
There was an uneasy silence after Heero spoke, and Duo looked pointedly at Wufei, who had not turned away from the window to notice, as he said, "Not sure that's ever gonna happen, Heero. We'll be here into retirement trying to come to a consensus."
"That's how it has to be. If we decide to turn Usagi in, one of us could disagree and try to escape with her. If we decide not to turn her in, one of us could easily turn around and hand over her identity to Doctor J. The decision must be unanimous." Heero spoke in a voice without inflection, not hinting at anyone in particular or even that he anticipated an issue, but Duo shook his head in frustration.
"So someone is going to have to man up and go with the majority decision or that's not going to happen."
"Can it, Maxwell." Wufei's voice came, sharp as his katana, from the back of the couch. Usagi shrunk deeper into the couch cushion and ducked her head to hide her expression. Duo was right; Wufei was never going to agree to let her go. "There's no use pretending you're talking about anyone but me so just shut up and let's vote."
"Fair enough." Heero spoke up before Duo had the chance to retaliate and start a full-fledged argument. "Duo, you can start."
"I vote we don't turn them in. The sailor senshi are clearly not a threat to the peace, if anything they're our only hope of keeping it. I'm not keen on fighting any slimy green monsters myself." Duo shot Usagi a mirthful grin and she mustered a grateful smile in response.
"Trowa and I have discussed it at length and we both agree with what Duo said, for approximately the same reasons." Quatre spoke up from beside the pigtailed girl but did not look in her direction, keeping his eyes focused on Heero. Trowa nodded his assent to the statement.
"Does no one care about the mission we were given?" Wufei spoke up dryly from behind the couch. He was outside Usagi's vision but she could guess he was looking at Heero when he said this, for everyone else in the room turned their attention to the Prussian-eyed youth, waiting for him to cast his vote. The air of confidence in the Chinese boy's voice suggested he fully expected Heero to align with him, and potentially change the minds of the other three.
"The mission stated we were to find and take out a rebel faction with designs on bringing down the current government and taking control of the Earth. The mission is no longer relevant. There is no reason to turn in the sailor senshi." Heero spoke evenly, still making eye contact with Wufei as he cast his vote, looking entirely nonplussed.
Duo, still slumped in the arm chair to Usagi's right, suddenly sat upright and burst into laughter. It may have been the look on Wufei's face, which the blonde could not see, or the sheer disbelief of what Heero had just said. The noise startled her, made her jump and sit upright on the couch where she had sunk in and tried to make herself as small as possible. Her blue eyes moved from the laughing boy, past Quatre's shocked expression, past the detectable surprise on Trowa's usual stoic face, to fix on Heero.
His hair was still comically mussed; even more so when matched with the seriousness in his expression while he continued to stare down Wufei. Yet they suddenly flickered to her, and she smiled, some kind of happiness welling up and spilling out of her in that moment. Heero had believed her, had decided to trust her, and now that he had she realized how much that meant to her. Usagi felt the tears collecting and blinked furiously to be rid of them. Wufei had yet to say anything.
Then, with a small sigh of resignation, she felt his weight leave the back of the couch as he stepped away. "I guess there's nothing to be done for it, then. We won't turn them in."
"So you agree." Heero returned his hard gaze over the top of her head, to the back of the couch where Wufei stood, the phrase more statement than actual question.
"I agree. What harm could a bunch of stupid women do anyway?" The last comment was meant to be snide, but it rang a little hollow as he moved around the couch and left the apartment. They watched him go in silence, and then Duo turned to Heero.
"Do you really think he will go along with this?"
"Wufei is a man of honor. He will not go back on his word." Heero said it with finality, leaving no room for further questioning on the matter.
"So what now?" Quatre asked tentatively. Usagi, still going through a rollercoaster of emotion, gathered her courage to speak.
"Actually, though it may be a bit bold given the situation, I would like to ask for your help." They all turned to her with varying expressions of disbelief, and she could feel her face grow hot, but she soldiered on anyway, "In all likelihood, whoever is working with the youma is human and the probability is high that they want exactly what you were accusing me of: control of the Earth. The sailor senshi have limited experience dealing with mobile suits and human enemies.
"I know it's crazy, asking for help when ten minutes ago you might have been arresting me, but I can't see any other alternative. I don't know if my senshi and I can do this on our own. At the very least, could you promise not to go until we know more? We will eventually uncover who is behind this, and it could be someone the Preventers or you guys want."
Usagi bowed her head to wait for their response, knowing she was nuts for asking but not really seeing another option. They could only keep this up for so long, and the mobile suits kept getting stronger. Who better to enlist for help than the Gundam pilots themselves?
"We'll think about it." Heero finally said, and she looked up, making eye contact with him again. Her smile returned, wider than before, and when they all stood she crossed the room in a second to throw her arms around him, unable to contain her joy. Heero stiffened at the sudden embrace.
"Thank you," she said, releasing him quickly and turning her smile on the rest of them, "all of you."
I feel this is a good place to end. I have a few plot developments for this story constantly stirring around in my head, begging to be written. So I may focus on this story a bit more, we'll see. I hope you enjoyed the chapter, please review!