The Beginning's End + Part 14 (cont)

"Squadron leaders, report."

Une's voice crackles through my headset.

I flick on the video feed.

"Pilot 01, reporting." I say crisply.

"05, here." Wufei's face flashes across the vid.

"04, reporting." Quatre's face appears briefly, his features determined.

"02, ready for battle!" Duo crows, his eyes gleaming maniacally from the screen. "Make way for Shinigami!"

God, I'd forgotten how much that irritated me in the middle of a battle.

"Squadrons one and five, open fire on the colony!"

I press a button, pull a lever, and feel the suit around me come to life, swooping down toward the colony where our target waits.

I've activated the 360 radar, and various images flash across various screens. My squadron forms a sweeping line to either side of me as we approach the colony from the east. I see Wufei's line approach from the opposite direction. I feel a familiar calm detachment radiate through me. A blankness fills my mind, and all that's left are the sensory images surrounding me, the images of battle.

I am a soldier again.

Une's voice resounds through my cockpit.

"Fire!"

We all release our weapons at the same time. The colony seems to vibrate, the shield buckling under the concentrated onslaught.

"Again!"

Again, we fire. Small fissures open in the shield.

Suddenly, the lock begins to peel away, and a line of suits pour forth from the colony.

"Squadron five! Eliminate the suits as they surface. Squadron one! Pull back!"

I yank backwards, feeling the suit rise away from the colony. I see Wufei move forward, surrounded by several of his men, and pick the suits off one by one as they emerge.

Maybe this won't take long after all.

Suddenly, my suit is rocked from the force of an explosion beneath me. I feel the suit somersault backwards, and fight to regain control of it.

"Squadron one! Squadron one! Pull away!"

I stabilize my suit, and flick a switch, concentrating radar detail on the area the explosion came from. Suddenly, the sky there is full of enemy ships, and flaming bits of wreckage mark the demise of several of my squadron members.

There's a huge hole in the side of the colony. Barton blew out his own shield. He focused our attention on the men coming out of the lock, then shot his way out directly beneath us. He used his own men as a decoy.

I feel my eyes narrow, as I make a slow sweep of the situation beneath me.

"Squadron two! Back up squadron one!"

I target a line of suits still appearing from the fractured shield. I sweep down, moving directly in front of them, firing the guns as I approach each. Six down.

"Jesus Christ, Heero, what the fuck are you doing?"

Duo's face flickers onto the screen. He looks furious.

"Six down," I reply calmly. "I'm going down for another sweep."

"Heero, you're in a fucking Taurus, remember?" he demands angrily. "Let me do the up-close and personal stuff, ok?"

When we'd left the base, Duo had calmly climbed up into the cockpit of the Gundam, strapped himself in, and asked for take-off coordinates. Noone had really wanted to argue with him about it. He's the best pilot anyway. He flew the machine to XV7889, declared that Trowa had been absolutely correct in deeming it crap, and spent three days straight fixing it, while the rest of our troops were relayed from the base. I have the decided feeling that it isn't that crappy any more.

And he's right. He can withstand a lot more fire in the Gundam than I can in a Taurus.

"Affirmative," I say reluctantly.

"Squadron four! To the east!"

I hear Wufei swearing steadily in Chinese. I see flames and smoke rising over the dome of the colony. I guess they breached the shield over there in the same way they did over here.

"You should have surrendered when you had the option!" Quatre's voice roars, and I see the light of more explosions.

I briefly consider reminding him that we hadn't offered them the option, but I'm concentrating on the suits that are hurtling toward me, intent on my destruction.

Soon, it seems that the suits have all come from out the colony, and the battle is pitched. There are hundreds - maybe thousands - of suits. I had no idea Barton had managed to gather such a force.

Quatre's squadron has worked their opponents westward, and I can see the entire battle commencing on my radar.

Wufei cuts broad swathes through enemy troops - concentrating on first one area, then another, his pattern seemingly random.

Quatre swoops through the sky, and I can tell that he's employing several different strategies at once. He eliminates several suits, lingers in position exactly long enough for an enemy to target him, then hurtles suddenly away, leaving behind him another enemy suit to take the fire intended for him. He's getting the enemy to kill each other.

Duo moves wildly from one place to another, first opening fire with one of the suit's huge guns, then sending a missile into a cluster of enemy suits, then almost negligently sliding the huge knife through some hapless fighter who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His laughter echoes through the comm, and he critiques and criticizes enemy technique, offering them facetious pointers as he shoots them out of the sky.

I'm almost mechanically eliminating suits as they approach me. I'm alert for one thing.

Barton.

He's got to be here somewhere.

I register the barest flicker of movement in the screen monitoring the sky behind me, and barely manage to pull myself up and away in time. A blast from an enemy suit glances off the foot of my Taurus, pushing me off course and shaking me violently.

"Damn!" I shout. "I'm hit!"

"Are you operable?" Quatre demands.

I run a quick diagnostic. "95% capabilities," I report. "Good enough."

I scour the screens, trying to identify the suit that hit me. As my gaze moves over the battle, I zero in on Wufei.

"05! Behind you!" I shout.

His Taurus moves away just in time, as a suit fires on him from behind.

Eyes narrowed, I put a track on that suit, in time to see him hurtle toward Quatre.

"04! He's on you," I yell curtly. "I think we have our man."

"Barton!" Duo's voice echoes weirdly - he must be overwhelming all the radio lines, trying to get Barton's.

"Barton! Still hiding? Too afraid to face the God of Death?"

I rapidly scan through all the signal channels, trying to pick up on the frequency the enemy is using. Suddenly, a strange face appears on my screen. I stare intently at it as I fend off the suits attempting to surround me.

It's a rugged face, the features boldly and harshly excised. The mouth is heavy, and, right now, sneering with contempt.

"The God of Death?" he repeats scornfully. "That might scare new recruits, but it'll take more than that to impress me."

"Really," Duo says tightly. "How's this?"

And suddenly, he's on top of Barton. He grabs the suit and shakes it, then uses one finger of the giant Gundam to flick him off into space.

I hear a snort of laughter. Oh, how nice. Wufei is amused.

"Don't play with him, Duo, just kill him," I snarl.

"Oh no," Duo breathes. "Playing with him is going to be the fun part."

"I see. Not exactly sporting odds, is it?" Barton's face appears on the screen again. Now he looks angry. "You have my Gundam, I have a Taurus."

"I thought you liked odds like that," Duo purrs. "You like one person in the position of power, one helpless to fight back. Oh! I see!" Duo slaps a few approaching suits out of his way. They collide with one another and explode. "You like to be the one with the unfair advantage. Isn't so great to be the one at the other end of the stick, is it?"

"You must be Maxwell." Now the voice is amused. "I get it. You're avenging Nanashi. Isn't that sweet." Barton's suit twists to the side, and he eliminates two of our fighters.

"Une!" I bark. "Keep our suits away from him! It's Barton!"

"Kill him!" she orders crisply.

"Tell Duo," I grind out.

"You know, Maxwell, we really have a great deal in common," Barton continues. His voice is oily and suggestive. "We should compare notes. I like to take him from behind best - he's so tight and…"

The roar of rage that bursts from my lips joins three others. I see the Gundam charge toward Barton. I cry out again as it crashes into a line of enemy suits that suddenly appear in front of Barton. It rebounds off of them, undamaged by the force of the collision that has caused most of them to explode.

"Une! Get their damn frequency!" I shout. "He's not using the one he's talking to us on. He's trying to distract us again!"

"We don't need it," she snaps back, and her voice is irritated. "If you'd all start paying attention, you'd see that we're winning. Take Barton out, and the battle is done."

She's right. There's far fewer enemy suits than there were just a few minutes ago, and our troops are aggressively removing more and more of them.

"Good job, Barton," Duo says, and I yank my concentration back to that particular battle. "I forgot how willing you are to sacrifice your own troops."

"There's more where they came from," Barton replies, his voice heavy with warning.

Duo laughs contemptuously. "Bullshit," he says clearly. "This is all you've got, isn't it Barton? Without your Gundam, and all those other ships you lost, you're fucked. It's over, man. Might as well give up."

"Give up?" he repeats incredulously. "You think I'm going to surrender to you? You're crazier than I thought!"

"Remember that you were given the chance to surrender!" Quatre shouts from behind Barton. "It is not our fault that you chose not to accept our generosity!"

He fires, and the shot hits Barton where the arm of his suit connects to the body. His image fizzles out as the comm equipment explodes, but the suit itself remains mostly intact. As it starts to fall downward, Duo reaches out with the huge arm of the Gundam and guides it toward one of the holes in the shield.

"Good shot, Q-man," Duo says tightly. "I'll take it from here."

"I'm going with you," Quatre says determinedly.

What? Where the hell do they think they're going?

"No. I'll finish him myself," Duo insists. I press a button, and his face appears on one screen, Quatre's on another. They both wear identical expressions of stubborn determination.

"I'm helping. It's my right," Quatre insists.

Duo's eyes narrow. "How do you figure?" he demands.

"I have loved him too," Quatre says simply.

There's no doubt as to who the ‘him' is.

"Commander, 04 and I are going to the colony," Duo says abruptly. "We'll be up soon."

I feel myself scowl as I target and blow up a small string of Barton's troops.

"Negative, 02," Une replies emphatically. "Repeat, do not penetrate the colony shield."

"Wait just a minute, here." Wufei's voice breaks through. "What are you doing?"

"What do you think?" Duo demands impatiently. "We're going after Barton."

"Quatre shot him down," Wufei protests. "He's dead."

Even Wufei sounds unconvinced at this argument.

"Wrap this battle up, boys," Duo says firmly. "We'll be back."

"Wait," I order harshly. "I'm going too."

"Me too," Wufei adds, abruptly giving up the attempt to convince us - and himself - that Barton is dead.

"No," Quatre says firmly.

"Why…" Wufei begins hotly.

"It is our duty - and our right," Quatre says, more softly this time.

Now I feel indignant. Quatre may have ‘loved' Trowa in the past, but I…well, I…I hope that….soon…he'll…I'll…

I spend too much time waffling over words, trying to put my startling self-discovery into place. Duo and Quatre move through the hole into the colony, and disappear beneath the cloud of smoke and escaping atmosphere, ignoring Une's shouted orders to remain.

I swear under my breath and click off everything but exterior radar. Time to get this skirmish finished.

Duo and Quatre will finish the other, more important, battle alone.

I hope they make him bleed.

TBC

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