Disclaimer: I do not possess any rights to the show Gundam Wing or its characters.
"They're coming around for another attack sir," the Preventer officer exclaimed, before realizing that their end was inevitable.
Breathless: Chapter 1
By Crystal Delphina
Created: October 16, 2003
Revised: June 21, 2009 & June 14, 2010
Wednesday March 29, A.C. 200 Wednesday 14:01~
"So what's this conference for exactly?" Hilde asked. Her skills at dodging the numerous agents and staff that filled the third floor main hallway of the Preventer base, while still managing to maintain a conversation, were quite astounding. While people quickly moved aside for her companion, she was not nearly as respected to receive the same treatment, despite her standing as a senior officer.
"An emergency meeting was called on that new colony in the L4 cluster. Apparently, the populace is dwindling and government officials are blaming it on the failing industrial economy. I'm expected to go help mediate the situation." Relena stepped onto an already waiting elevator and pressed the button for level six as Hilde moved to stand beside her. "Because I'm only supposed to help lay the foundation for ongoing talks, I shouldn't be there for more than a few days."
During lunch breaks, new recruits and lower level agents would gossip and speculate over who was lucky enough to visit level six. They would contemplate when, or more importantly if, they would ever be granted the opportunity themselves. Venturing up to level six, much less working on the floor, meant that you had passed the strict security clearances necessary to operate directly under the top Preventer agents, the liaison officials of the current government, the chief commanding officer and director Lady Une, and the Vice Foreign Minister herself. Most Preventer agents and staff were relegated to the third floor, which operated as the central nervous system for Preventer Headquarters.
"Only a few days? Well that's not too bad I guess. Just don't forget that your birthday is next week. You did take a couple days off around then right?" Hilde questioned as they stepped off the lift and started down the hallway towards Relena's office. As the sheepish smile spread across Relena's features, Hilde halted her stride to stare in disbelief.
"You mean you didn't take any time off?" Hilde stared blankly at her friend with a deadpanned expression. "Relena, it's your birthday! For fuck's sake!"
Relena quickly clamped her hand over Hilde's mouth to stop her friend's rant and inappropriate vernacular in the public setting. She also pointedly ignored the peculiar looks she received from a few agents passing by the pair. Instead, Relena chose to glare at her friend, which didn't dissuade Hilde from glaring right back at the blonde. Wishing to have her mouth back from the steel-trap of Relena's hold, the officer stopped long enough in her attempts to berate the politician to give her a chance to explain herself.
"I took the day off, so calm down. I have an important delegation meeting two days after and I need the day before to prepare." Deciding that was a sufficient explanation, Relena removed her hand to allow Hilde the full function of breathing and continued striding down the hall. The former Oz soldier glared a moment longer at the Vice Foreign Minister's retreating back until she quickly jogged to catch up. She knew better than to comment further on the situation. Doing so would only result in an icy dismissal of any and all of Hilde's ideas and suggestions for at least the next two weeks, which just wasn't worth it – for the time being at least.
"I'll see you later Relena. There's a meeting with Une soon and I'm going to be late." Hilde gave a small wave before turning down an adjacent hallway. "Bye," was the soft reply and farewell Relena murmured as they parted ways. Brushing aside the minor dispute with Hilde from her thoughts, she entered the waiting area for her suite and gave her assistant a nod before marching into her office.
The afternoon sun danced off the pale yellow walls and reflected off framed pictures with other diplomats and artwork given to her as gifts, which lined the walls of her spacious office. Laying the few files and papers she was carrying down on her polished mahogany desk, she made her way around the large piece of furniture to peer out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. They provided her with a panoramic view of the city that the Preventer base overlooked.
"Too bad Hilde had a meeting she had to get back for, otherwise we could have gone out into town for lunch," Relena lamented to herself while turning back around and seating herself in the large leather chair at her desk. Looking at the workspace, she had to resist the temptation to flee the office and go enjoy the rare pleasant early spring day; the urge to bolt was particularly strong today. Instead, she removed her jacket and pulled her hair back. After first assessing the state of her desk, which was dire considering that it was covered in papers, and then triaging what business items were pressing, she finally settled down to start reviewing one of the latest colony trade agreements.
Lost in her work, she jumped when the intercom interrupted her productive silence.
"Ms. Relena." The voice filled the room, distracting the lone occupant from working on the third file she had almost finished. Slightly flustered, she pushed down the small plastic button on her desk that would connect her to her assistant.
"Ms. Relena, Commander Une has asked you to report to the meeting they're having in SW 632."
Relena had risen from her chair the moment she had heard the name 'Une', already having a good idea regarding the rest of the message. Poor Patrick literally jumped in his seat when his employer, instead of responding through the intercom as he expected, strode directly past his desk instead.
"Tell Une I'm on my way," she said to the startled Patrick as she proceeded to march out of the office suite.
"Uh... right Ms. Relena," he managed to utter before she disappeared down the hallway.
"We have a problem," Une announced as she walked around the table, where her top three Preventer teams were seated. The meeting had started in the small conference room upon Hilde's arrival, surprisingly with no one commenting on her tardiness.
"And what would that problem be exactly?" Duo asked as Hilde took her seat next to him. She mouthed a silent thanks when he slid her a copy of the document that Une had distributed at the beginning of the meeting but had not yet explained.
"We have reason to believe that threats have been made against Minister Darlian – again – and other representatives scheduled to visit the L4 colony."
Duo rolled his eyes. " So what's new?" the former gundam pilot asked as he leaned back in his chair, looking as if he was ready to kick his heels up on the table and begin dealing out a good hand of poker. Une fixed the agent with an icy stare, one that immediately caused him to frown at the non-verbal admonishment.
"Maxwell, I would hope that I would not be required to remind you, a senior agent, that all threats to officials, especially those against Minister Darlian, are taken seriously." Her seemingly cool and calm reply dripped with venom, adding a particularly painful sting to the obvious reproach on his flippant demeanor. When Duo looked away and wisely decided not to make any further comments, Une returned to addressing the entire table.
"Unfortunately, we cannot verify for certain that this information is reliable or if the supposed group will make serious attempts. The reason why I find cause for concern in this particular instance…" She eyed Duo pointedly, who responded by defensively folding his arms across his chest. Pleased with his continued silence, she resumed the debrief. "…is due to the fact that we have had significant intel indicating that colony residents have been receiving specialized combat training."
Hilde regarded her superior with suspicion. "Why hasn't this matter been dealt with already? And why are we only hearing about this now?" It was rare for such obviously large security threats to go unchecked, rarer for those gathered in the room not to be aware of them, and utterly ridiculous that they wouldn't be informed about it until the day before a scheduled delegation meeting.
Une heaved a sigh, and wove her hand in the air, gesturing towards some invisible entity. "You know how this new government works. ESUN officials didn't want to stir up trouble without definitive and undeniable evidence of an actual rebellion. We can't shut it down or make a move until they move first. They're untouchable for the time being because they haven't done anything illegal yet. At least not that we know of..."
"So what you're implying then is that this would be a perfect chance for them to strike," Sally casually commented as she leaned forward to place her elbows on the table. She briefly surveyed the document in front of her that outlined sporadic and seemingly insignificant reports made on the colony and its operations. The worst infraction on the list was a poorly calibrated colony stabilizer that had almost resulted in the colony crossing gravitational paths with one of its neighbors. However, there was still a substantial number of the so-called "minor" infractions.
"Yes, but they don't have enough power or large enough numbers to cause any major damage. Subsequently, Preventers hasn't investigated into the matter further," she paused. "Mostly because of recent budget issues," she finished with a sigh. Une winced when she began to hear the customary grumbling of her subordinates. Not even the top agents had managed to survive budget and department cuts unscathed. The C.O. raised a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose in agitation when the momentary bitch fest began to target in on the hot topic of inadequate emergency support for in-field and undercover operatives.
"Look," she snapped, attempting to bring focus back to the meeting. "There's no use in discussing what hasn't been done up until now. Our immediate concern is adequate protection for this colony meeting. We just need another Preventer with Relena, preferably one of you." Une wrapped up her briefing by leaning forward onto the table with her arms outstretched and looking around the table expectantly, making her point clear. She let her gaze linger longer on one person in particular before resuming her perusal of the room's occupants. However, her lingering had not gone unnoticed.
"So, any volunteers?" Sadly, her expectations weren't high and she didn't foresee any of them immediately raising their hands to take the assignment. All of them would willingly do anything for Relena, including putting their life on the line without question or hesitation. However these types of threats had become standard, and typically the greatest harm the minister had suffered was a runny nose and severe orbital time jet lag. Standard mundane body guarding was not something that these agents had a tendency to jump at, and frankly, felt that it was below their pay grade.
When no one made a motion to take the new mission, eyes slowly began to shift towards one section of the table expectantly. By this point in their careers, the three teams were close enough that they made no attempts at subtlety. The target – as expected – caved.
"Fine, I'll do it. Is there anything else that needs to be discussed?" Heero gave no indication in his answer as to whether he was okay with the outcome or not. Une did not feel the need to inquire one way or the other.
"No, we just need to notify Relena on the present situation." With a decision reached, Une switched on the intercom behind her.
"Ms. Darlian's office. This is her assistant, Mr. Loretz."
"Loretz, this is Une. Ask Ms. Darlian to join us in SW 632 please."
"Yes, of course, Ma'am."
"Thank you." She shut down the link and surveyed the room. Her agents waited patiently for their orders.
If she dealt with her current subordinates in a similar fashion as the troops she had commanded during her time with Oz, she might have subjected her agents to training outside tomorrow during the impending freak spring snow storm – without thermal adjustment suits. However, despite how aggravating their lack of willingness was for a mandatory job, she wasn't the woman she had been in the past – lucky for them. She dismissed her thoughts of punishment and took her seat at the head of the small conference table. "Then it's settled: Yuy, you'll stay. The rest of you are dismissed until further notice. Don't forget mission updates are due by 1700. And I'm expecting to hear about headway on that L1 fire that's been smoldering for too long now. Got it?"
Scattered acknowledgments of "Ma'am" were heard as the Preventers saluted, collected their documents, and took their leave. Once in the hallway, the small group dispersed to resume their previous tasks. Sally and Wufei returned to their shared office, quietly discussing the difficulties they foresaw with a new mission involving Neo-Brazil and civil disputes on water. Meanwhile, Trowa, leaving his partner behind, headed towards his office to start designing the new security system upgrades, hoping that Heero would have time to provide input before he left on his impromptu trip. Finally, Duo and Hilde headed towards the hangers to complete repairs on their shuttle.
They entered an empty nearby elevator and headed for the basement level. "So why were you late?" Duo questioned as he leaned against the metal paneling as they quickly descended.
"I wasn't that late," the woman retorted, taking a stance against the elevator wall similar to her partner's. "I was having lunch with Relena. The exec dining hall was more crowded than usual."
"Well did you guys have a good lunch? If I had known where you were, I would have eaten with the guys instead of waiting in the hanger for you."
Hilde chose to ignore the pout that the former gundam pilot was giving and left him to his sulking. Deciding to change the conversation before he found an excuse to begin whining about his lonely lunch break, Hilde gave a shrug. "I found out something though." The young man looked up and cocked his head perplexed, prompting the skilled female mechanic to share her information. "Relena didn't take off her birthday next week."
Duo's face fell in disappointment, expecting juicier gossip than an already infamous and well known work-a-holic choosing to forego birthday celebrations. "So?" he asked nonchalantly as they exited the elevator and made their way over to an awaiting tram that would take them out to the hangers on the other side of the base's compound.
"So...Relena needs more of a break than that and next week is the perfect time. You can't tell me that you haven't noticed those horrible bags under her eyes she's been getting. Much less the fact that she keeps yawning every few minutes. She loves her job and everything, but being Vice Foreign Minister for so long and at such a young age is weakening her. Hell, all of us are really young. We should all be in college right now like normal young adults," she complained in exasperation, emphasizing the last part by throwing her hands up and rolling her eyes. Hilde began walking off the tram as the doors opened to a long hallway. Duo was only a step behind, now definitely intrigued. Before she could get too far ahead, he grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her to face him.
"Are you saying you'd rather quit all this and go to school instead?" he asked her in all seriousness as his cobalt blue gaze bore into hers, concern etched into every aspect of his expression. Hilde promptly looked away, refusing to make eye contact. She recognized the weight and importance that her answer, and careful deliberation in her response was necessary.
"No..." She momentarily hesitated before going on. "It's just that realistically, we're so young. But we were all thrust into military life so quickly that we can't quite let go of it. Debating infiltration strategies of secure bunkers is a normal casual conversation topic for us. Cleaning and reassembling a Lunar 9MM blindfolded is something so automatic that we will take bets on who can do it fastest. The Preventers have allowed us to hold onto that part of the past that we're familiar with. However, I remember when I was ten that I wanted to go to school and work on designing mobile suits that were better equipped to handle the different environmental factors on Mars.
"I don't want to give all this up..." Her hand swept around the room, indicating the hanger and base at large. "However, I sometimes question if I want to continue on this path without obtaining a greater education." When Hilde finally looked at her partner, the fire in her eyes momentarily ruffled him. However, he couldn't dismiss how her gaze seemed to be locked on something far away, something that wasn't contained in the walls of the hanger they currently stood in. Hilde shook off Duo's hold on her and continued to the door of the hanger bay.
He stood frozen and unsure, quickly trying to process the barrage of new information and new desires his closest companion had just expressed. He purposefully avoided thinking about the possibility that he didn't know the girl as well as he thought he did; it was too unsettling of a consideration. He'd save reflections on their relationship and his ability to read people for the next time Quatre was in town and the other man could join him at the bar and split a pitcher. Duo operated under the philosophy that personal insight was easier when intoxicated and when the most empathic person in the space quadrant was your bar buddy.
However right now, he needed to respond in some fashion to what Hilde had just divulged; something effective and at least somewhat meaningful and validating of her concerns.
"I know what you're talking about," he called after her, and he got the results he wanted when she paused. "And you're right about Relena. We can try, together, to get her to take off at least one day next week after she gets back from her meeting."
Happy that he would help in her goal of trying to get the Vice Foreign Minister to celebrate the day of her birth, Hilde gave a small smile of relief for other reasons. Duo wasn't going to pursue the delicate topic she had just dug up, at least for the time being, and she was relieved there wouldn't be a confrontation on the matter. She wasn't sure if she was ready to delve into the implications of her sentiments yet either.
She pulled a wrench out of an interior pocket of her jacket and tossed it at him. He effortlessly reached up and caught the metal tool in midair.
"Let's get going Duo!"
The shorter girl sauntered away towards their shuttle after flashing him a dazzling smile. Duo marveled at how that single gesture swept away the tension that had been building. Recovering from his stupor, he jogged after his partner and promptly began whining about how lonely his lunch break had been.
Relena's pace quickened as she made her way down the final hall that lead to the conference room. Her knuckles hit the gray polished metal surface in a sharp knock, waiting for permission to enter. She had made the mistake only once of walking in on a confidential Preventers meeting, and the backlash she had received from all agents present, including Une herself, had made it clear that her presence was not always welcome without invitation.
The metal door slide aside with the press of a button and Relena stepped inside. As the door closed behind her with a quiet hiss, she noted that the only occupants of the room were Commander Une and Agent Yuy. Professional as always, Relena was quick to get down to business.
"I heard you requested my presence. What's the matter?"
"Please sit." Une indicated a chair across from Heero near the head of the table where she herself was situated. Relena gracefully took the appointed seat and folded her hands on the tabletop, awaiting whatever news that had been important enough to drag her away from her desk and work.
"We have reports indicating a potential threat against your welfare. Agent Yuy will be accompanying you to the colony meeting as an additional safety precaution," Une said formally, informing the young woman of the addition to her entourage. Relena sat unfazed, glancing down at her watch while she waited for further information. The older woman couldn't help the small frown that formed. Shouldn't one be slightly more concerned when there's a threat to their life? Une decided it was best to continue instead of pondering the subject for too long. "Yuy is not to leave your side while you are there. In addition, at night he is to be positioned in a nearby room making sure there are guards at your door. Is that clear?"
The two nodded their heads in silent agreement without argument. Their willingness to accept the circumstances and orders, without so much as a question of concern or probe for more information, was unsettling.
Une quirked an eyebrow but chose not to say anything regarding their impassive manner. "You are free to go then. I'll be sending you orders and information later tonight Yuy." She looked down at the papers in front of her, examining them again as she listened to their departure. She heard the small screeching sound that emitted from the floor as the metal legs of the chairs moved upon it, the footsteps of two of her coworkers leaving, and then the final hiss of the door as it opened and closed after them. She pursed her lips and stood from the table and placed her hands on its cluttered surface, her head downcast.
She prayed for the first time that her intuition was wrong and that the threats were just as meaningless as all of the others had been over the past few years.
"So how severe are these batch of threats?" Relena asked while they walked down the hall together, her tone casual and unconcerned. The senior agent lifted his shoulders slightly in a shrug.
"I don't know. She wouldn't say," he replied evenly while keeping his eyes trained at the end of the hallway.
"Well then I really don't need the protection."
Raising a lone eyebrow, he spared a glance to the side to look at her. "What do you mean?" he cautiously inquired, trying to ascertain her reasoning for such a statement.
"Threats are nothing new Heero and you know that. Thankfully, they've dropped dramatically since the ESUN was first formed. Despite that, if I had to be guarded at all times by you, or any of the others, none of us would ever be able to get work done. You'd be doing crossword puzzles out of sheer boredom and I'd be constantly distracted by your habit of chewing on all pens and pencils in a three foot radius." She smiled momentarily before gently elbowing him in the side. "And that'd just be a waste of tax payer money."
"Hn," he muttered noncommittally while attempting to cover up a smile of his own and blatantly ignoring her teasing at his expense. Regardless, his demeanor sobered and his fleeting smile vanished as he chastised the politician. "It doesn't mean you can take them all lightly either. I'll pick you up tomorrow at 07:00." Without further adieu, he turned down the hallway that led to his office, leaving his newly assigned charge to finish the walk to her office on her own.
Upon entering the small office, Trowa immediately waved Heero over to review the new security plans.
Fatigued and sore from being chained to an office chair all day (that was purposefully created to produce bad posture), she crawled under the covers of her spacious bed, more then ready to succumb to sleep and her dreams. After finishing out the day signing and reviewing trade documents and terraformation proposals, she had come home to pack for her trip. Her suitcase sat open in the corner with clothes haphazardly thrown into it. Folding her designer suits and casual slacks and blouses required far too much energy, much less zipping the bulging monstrosity.
Much to her chagrin, Hilde had called after dinner to inform Relena that they would be seeing each other on Saturday. Birthday plans would be one of the main topics of conversation.
"I knew she wouldn't just let it go," Relena mumbled to herself as she stared up at the ceiling above her. After some thought, she gave a small smirk. "Though of course, what else are friends for?"
"They're just worried about you, you know," a low voice murmured from the corner of her darkened room. While others might be alarmed at the sudden appearance of another uninvited occupant in the room, the diplomat remained unperturbed and gave a subtle smile. Pushing herself up to a sitting position, she hugged her knees and stared at the corner of her room, waiting patiently for her visitor to reveal himself. The only illumination in the room came from a few pale streams of moonlight that shone through her curtains and lit up the hardwood flooring. This of course left the rest of the young woman's room almost in complete darkness.
Heero hesitated a second before finally strolling out of the dark corner. He stopped in front of the window so that she could fully see him.
"You know I hate it when you do that. Do you always just break into young ladies' rooms at night Heero?" Relena gave a lopsided smile as she saw him come out from hiding. Always a man of few words, he just gave a small grunt in reply as he stepped forward and sat down on her bed.
"So what about you then?" She felt the bed shift slightly when he readjusted himself to be more comfortable before giving her a confused look concerning her question. Sighing, she fell back on her bed, but rolled to her side and propped her head up by her hand so she could still look at him. "You said that the others are worried about me. But I want to know your take on it: are you worried about me?"
"It doesn't matter what my opinion is on your welfare."
"It always matters," she muttered in exasperation. She did a good job of concealing her surprise though when he broke their staring contest first, considering the fact that it was so rare for Heero Yuy to back down from a challenge. When he still gave no indication of answering the question though, she shifted the conversation and tried probing in a different manner. "So why are they worried?"
He looked back towards her, his dark blue eyes regarding her carefully. She knew without a doubt that he was taking stock of her current condition, examining every minute detail and looking for any signs of physical or emotional distress. She had learned recently that the poker face that she had worked hard to cultivate and utilize in the political arena no longer fooled him. She felt painfully exposed and tried not to visibly squirm under his close scrutiny.
"They think you're working too hard."
"Oh – that argument again." She couldn't help but roll her eyes. "I'm fine. Besides, I'm taking time off next week. There's no need for concern." She was unwilling to say more on the topic, and he was not inclined to push. So with that, the subject was closed. The minutes ticked by as they sat in a comfortable silence with Relena picking at the stray threads of her comforter and Heero merely gazing out of her window.
The nightly visits had become more frequent over the last year. At first, they had occurred when there were serious threats and he felt the need to stand personal guard over her, whether assigned or not. Then his nightly vigils expanded to seeing her the nights before major trips and delegation meetings that would require an extended leave. Most of the time he stood by the window or sat at the end of her bed. On very rare occasions, he would actually permit himself to lay down beside her, such as when Mrs. Darlian had died a few months back; there was no hesitation on his part to comfort the crying girl when she lost the mother that had raised her.
Either way, they would talk quietly into the night. He provided her the space to safely vent about the idiotic bureaucrats she was forced to contend with daily. Or they would launch into debates regarding the effectiveness of the latest methods to obtain peace. She provided him with company that didn't make demands of him. Although he never was there in the morning when she got up to start a new day, he always stayed until she fell asleep, even if it meant he didn't depart until the wee hours of the morning.
Tonight, Relena believed that he seemed agitated (or perhaps she was just projecting), or at least more agitated than normal over a threat to her safety. She put an end to the silence, still picking at the various jade green threads of her bedspread. "Am I in any real danger during this trip, or is everyone just overreacting?" She made no attempt to mask the exasperation she felt from her tone of voice, and Heero took note of her disdain of the circumstances.
"You're always in 'real danger' Relena. And we are never overreacting when we take the actions we do," he murmured, exasperation creeping into his voice as well. How many times did people have to have this debate? Was the concept, that all threats to her safety and well-being were serious, really so hard to grasp? "Didn't we already have this conversation earlier?" he asked, nearly rolling his eyes. Lost in thought though, Relena ignored the rhetorical question completely.
"I'm always in danger…" Her whispered words were not a question but a haunting statement of fact. "How can anyone lead their life like that Heero?" she asked quietly, raising her eyes away from the comforter to find him staring at her intently. They both remained silent as the question hung over them with want for an answer.
So remember that time I wrote a story eight years ago and then didn't touch it for seven years after that? And remember how terribly written it was? Well, while cleaning out old storage boxes this summer, I discovered that I had actually written the entire story, and had only needed to type it up. But then, while reading it, I recognized what I wrote eight years ago was by no means literary gold, and decided to remedy the situation. Not that it's of any quality now, it's at least understandable and bearable. So, I revised the first three chapters I already had posted, reworked some of the subsequent chapters, and completed a story I had no intention of ever completing. Hopefully you'll enjoy it, hopefully it's better than what it was before if you read it, and hopefully there's still readers around who still love Gundam Wing and the Heero and Relena pairing in a plot that I can't claim is innovative or novel, but I hope is still worth a read. Enjoy.