and Soldiers, II + Part 8
"It is a request, Noin," Milliardo told her. "Please, be seated."
"Yeah, sit down!" Duo told her good naturedly. He and Heero were seated already, stacks of mission briefs strewn before them. "Have some tea, coffee, or whatever. You can tell us no, while you're relaxing."
Noin refused to look at him, or at anyone. "Sir, I believe that Relena Peacecraft has asked that I be returned to her service."
Milliardo sighed. "Is that what you want, Lucretia? Do you want to play babysitter to a contingent of palace guards your entire life?"
Noin's face went hard. "Aren't you asking me to play babysitter to your two star agents?"
Heero stiffened and looked... hurt, an emotion that he quickly hid behind a mask of cold indifference.
Milliardo scowled. "Did you feel like a babysitter on your last assignment?"
Noin's face went sour and she didn't say anything for a long moment. Finally, she ground out, "No."
Heero relaxed imperceptibly. Duo mouthed at him, 'You've got it bad, buddy.' Heero ignored him.
"You worked well together," Milliardo was saying to Noin, "and I need that same teamwork here." Milliardo regarded her stiff posture and then grunted and leaned back in his chair. "I can only offer the position as team coordinator. I can't order you, Noin. If you are that opposed to it, than I can only wish you a good trip returning to my sister's employ."
"We'll have a lot of fun!" Duo told her with a grin. "Come on, Noin! Beating up on the bad guys is a lot better than herding Relena from place to place." He made a shooting motion as if he were firing a gun. "Can't tell me that you didn't like being on a mission with Heero. Together, we'll show you the time of your life."
Noin looked as if she had eaten something bad. "This mission is an important one. Lives are at stake I fail to see what is so amusing about that or why you should-"
"Ah!" Duo pointed a finger at her. "You ARE interested."
Noin flushed and then she snarled, "While I protest my use in this operation, I won't chance it failing by refusing it. We are all highly trained soldiers. Not using those abilities when they are called for would be wrong... criminal in my point of view. Allowing my personal difficulties get in the way of doing what is correct, would be wrong as well."
"Honorable and selfless," Milliardo replied. "Those are two qualities that I have always admired in you, Noin."
"Me, too," Duo interjected.
Noin glared at him, but said to Milliardo, "I will return to Relena's service after this. I do consider that worthwhile service, whatever you think."
"It is worthwhile," Milliardo agreed, "but a waste for someone of your abilities."
Milliardo motioned to a chair across from him. After a moment's hesitation, and a glare at all of them, she did sit, but it was soon obvious, after an hour of briefing, that she was genuinely interested in the mission. She asked many insightful questions, her quick mind laying out a plan that all of them approved of.
Milliardo caught Duo's eye over Noin's head as she bent to look at a topographical map of the target area. Duo winked at him and grinned and Milliardo raised an eyebrow. Duo made a motion between Heero, who was also looking at the map, and Noin. Milliardo frowned, knowing that Duo was implying that he had set up things so that the two could be together. He shook his head, no, but Duo looked disbelieving and grinned wider.
"Care to share, Commander Milliardo?" Noin suddenly asked icily.
Milliardo suddenly realized that both Noin and Heero were looking at him, Heero in simply curiosity, but Noin in an edgy hostility. Duo snickered softly. Damn him anyway, Milliardo thought. His lover could be so unprofessional at the worst of times. Noin was looking for that professionalism now, needed it to save her pride, to help her to make a decision that she wanted to make anyway.
"Duo is reminding me that I should brief you on some things privately. Maxwell and Yuy have some other duties to attend to, "Milliardo said smoothly. Duo stuck his tongue out when the others weren't looking and Milliardo said sternly, "Agents, you're dismissed."
Duo sighed and walked with Heero to the door. "Come on, let's grab something to eat before we head out to the practice field."
When the door were closed firmly behind them, Noin said, as if she were continuing a conversation, "You even braid your hair like him. How am I supposed to believe in your ability to be detached on this mission?"
Milliardo touched his pale braid self consciously. He lowered his hand in the next moment and then said sternly, "Noin, our relationship is newer than our training and our shared violent history. We know our duty and we are used to sacrificing all that we hold dear. Having said that, I do realize that there may come a point where human emotion and frailty come to the fore. That is why I wish you to be the buffer, the failsafe in case of such a failure. I do not anticipate any, but I would be a fool to personally enter into the mission on the field and take any such chance."
"Wise," Noin said simply, "But I have never known you to give up autonomy on the field of battle. How am I to be any sort of 'failsafe' if my actions are not independent of your orders?"
Milliardo replied, "I have always trusted you, Noin, to follow my orders, but I have always trusted you to know right from wrong and to think for yourself."
Noin looked moved, but only briefly and then she was hardening again. She understood that Milliardo was giving her autonomy unofficially. She could ignore his orders if she thought that they were to protect Duo instead of the good of the mission. To put an officer in the field with such a directive spoke of implicit trust. To give that officer an official sanction would have triggered a mission scrub by any commanding officer. It was up to Noin to accept Milliardo's trust or to report him.
"I know my abilities," Noin said.
"So do I," Milliardo replied.
"I accept the mission," Noin announced.
"Shut up," Noin snapped for the fourth time as they made their way through the scrub brush and the rocky hills towards their remote target.
Duo glared and then rolled eyes at Heero, "She has no sense of humor. Why you like her..."
Heero blushed and hunched into his black coat. "Duo..."
"You are childish." Noin snarled.
Duo sighed, "Well, playing 'I spy' isn't the best idea in a place where there are just rocks and bushes, I admit. How about trivia? How many toes does an elephant have?"
"Four," Heero said promptly.
"You're guessing," Duo accused.
"No, I'm not," Heero retorted.
"Yes, you are," Duo retorted back.
"Shut up!" Noin shouted, fists clenched.
There was silence and then Heero asked under his breath, "If it isn't four, then how many is it?"
Duo looked thoughtful and then shrugged. "Heck if I know."
"Duo!" Heero exclaimed in irritation.
Noin stopped. She kept her back to them and her shoulders seemed to shiver. She straightened and adjusted her coat. Duo and Heero stopped and stared at her.
"Uh, something wrong?" Duo wondered.
Noin took another moment before replying, but her voice seemed oddly strained. "Make camp."
"Oh, okay," Duo replied, confused.
Noin bent and dropped her gear from her shoulders before turning and facing them. She wiped at one eye, but said firmly, "We'll take turns on watch. Me first, then Heero, and then you, Duo."
Duo protested, "You don't have to do that. I'll take watch all night. I can't sleep during missions."
"Why is that?" Noin wondered, displeased.
Duo lost his joker air all at once and his eyes went hooded. "Let's just say, I have first hand experience having Oz get the drop on me. I don't intend to let it happen again."
"I don't like this," Noin replied. "You need to be rested and mission ready."
"Don't underestimate the strength and endurance of a Gundam pilot," Heero told her.
"Yeah, what he said," Duo grinned as he unloaded his own pack. He half turned and touched the radio wand next to his mouth. "Come in Snow White."
There was a silence and then Milliardo replied from his command base, "Snow White?"
"Okay, how about-"
"Commander Milliardo will do," Milliardo snapped and Duo grinned.
"Yes, sir," Duo reported. "Setting up camp. No sign of targets yet."
Noin glared. "Reporting is my job, Maxwell. Set up the cook stove."
Duo quirked an eyebrow. "Yes, ma'am."
As Duo turned away he snorted at Heero, "I just have to hear his voice at least once a day."
Noin stared after him as she said to her radio, "Thank you sir, for saddling me with the most unprofessional loose cannon that I have ever seen. I should scrub this mission at once-"
"If you didn't know that Maxwell is the best operative a commander could hope for," Milliardo cut in, "despite being unorthodox."
"He is making me insane!" Noin complained.
Milliardo sighed, sympathizing. "Did he play, 'I spy' or sing '100 bottles of beer on the wall'?"
"The answer was 'rock' five times, Commander!" Noin exploded in exasperation. "He is insane!"
"And he is the best," Milliardo reminded her calmly. "When it is time, you will see that."
Noin ran a hand through her close cropped, black hair as she paced. "How you can live with him? Yuy is quiet and professional, a soldier's soldier, I would work with him any day, but Maxwell's constant..." She let out an exasperated sound. "My protests will change nothing, am I right?"
"Yes," Milliardo told her and then more softly, "Noin, work with him, not against him, and you will see him as I do."
"How do you see him?" she wondered waspishly.
There was a long pause and then Milliardo said, "Noin, I can't change what I am. I can't change the past. If your personal feelings for me and Maxwell can't be put aside, then I will have to scrub this mission."
"This mission should never have happened," Noin grated under her breath.
Purple eyes suddenly filled Noin's vision. She started as Duo blinked up at her. "Look, Lu," Duo said seriously. "Sorry for bugging you that much, I was out of line, but I know we can do this mission, okay? Don't let Mill scrub it because we have some axes to grind. When push comes to shove, I know you'll do what we have to do." He looked impish. "I know you don't like me being with Mill, but that won't make you let Oz fill me with bullets, or anything, right?"
"No," Noin said, offended at the very idea that she would let personal matters effect her decisions.
"Then we have no problems," Duo told her. He touched his radio, "Bye, commander. We're fine now."
Milliardo replied. "Report at first light."
"Will do," Duo replied and he broke the link. He gave Noin a very intense look. "Okay?"
Noin nodded stiffly.
Duo nodded back and then turned back to his work, he said good naturedly over his shoulder, "And it's all right to laugh at my jokes, Lu."
[part 7] [part 9] [back to Kracken's fic]