by: Shoori

The Beginning's End + Part 10

It's a real good thing that I never signed on as a soldier in any kind of organized army. If this is how commanders treat their ranks, I'd never have been able to stand it. I'd have been court-martialed in about fifteen minutes.

There's been nothing for over a day. Trowa made his dramatic exit, Une followed him with orders to stay where we were…then nothing. We sat in that damn room for over two hours, before some flunky trotted in to tell us that we were "free to go" and that "the Commander is busy - she will brief you on events at her convenience."

It's a good thing the Commander is good at hiding. I tore the damn base apart looking for the officious bitch, or for our secretive teammate, but I couldn't find either of them.

I'm going to kill them both myself.

Then, an hour ago, we get orders to go back to the little conference room where they ditched us in the first place. The chairs were arranged in a little circle again. I took it upon myself to rearrange them.

Wufei sticks his head through the door and calmly surveys the room, noting the places the chairs have landed after I threw them against the walls. "Are you finished?" he asks.

I glare at him. "Sure," I mutter. "Come on in and join the party."

He strolls in, followed by an apprehensive-looking Quatre and an equally uneasy Heero. Wufei picks up a chair, rights it, and motions Quatre into it. He places another for himself, leaving Heero to choose his own seat.

I glare again at them all, sitting docilely in their chairs. "What the Hell is going on here?" I snarl. "Where's Une? Where's Trowa?"

"We know nothing more than you do, Maxwell," Wufei informs me, the edge in his voice belying his calm behavior. Well, I hope he's edgy. I'm certainly edgy. I don't see why other people should be calm and relaxed.

What the Hell could Trowa have gotten from that broadcast that he could only tell Une? Where have they been all this time? Why couldn't he tell us?

I don't want to believe the only possible explanation. He doesn't trust us. More specifically, he doesn't trust me. His suspicion of me just can't go so deep that he can't even share military information with me. Can it?

It can't. I know it can't. I'm sure he was on the verge of, if not forgiveness, at least of thawing a bit. He'd convinced himself that I didn't love him and never had, but I think his anger was cooling into hurt. Hurt I can deal with. Hurt can be fixed. Righteous indignation just irritates me, and I say stupid things that just bolster it up. There's the Maxwell interpersonal resume - bad at soothing, great at comforting.

But where is he?

Just as I'm about to start throwing chairs again, the door opens and Une strides briskly in. She ignores the state of the room, and takes her place at the front by that damn screen. She's alone.

"Where's Trowa?" I snap.

She ignores me completely. That really pisses me off.

"You'll recall that yesterday, we listened to the intercepted broadcast between the unknown Gundam pilot and colony XV78770," she begins briskly. "We have identified the Gundam pilot."

Sensation. If Une was looking for a reaction, she got one. I don't think she could have caused more commotion if she announced that Relena was on her way here to supervise. Well, maybe that would cause a little more commotion.

"Who is it?" Heero demands harshly, his voice cutting through the rest of our questions and exclamations.

Une hesitates. "Trowa Barton," she says finally.

In contrast to her first little revelation, this one is met with absolute silence. "What?" Quatre finally asks. "That's…"

"Stupid," I finish for him, scowling at Une. "He was with us all this time, remember, Une? Tall guy, green eyes, pissy attitude…"

"Not him," Une snaps, scowling back at me. "The original Trowa Barton. Dekim's son. Mariemaya's uncle."

The original Trowa Barton? That can't be either. He's…

"He's dead," Wufei says flatly. "He's been dead since before any of us ever landed on earth six years ago."

Une nods at him. "That's what we all believed," she acknowledges. "But it appears that we were wrong. Trowa - our Trowa - recognized his voice on the intercepted broadcast."

If anyone would recognize that voice it would be Trowa. Barton has been a recurring feature in his nightmares for years. I don't remember how many times I woke up to him thrashing around, muttering that name. When I'd wake him up from those dreams, he was very cold - he'd roll away, spurning any comfort, and pretend to go back to sleep. But he would never sleep again on a night he had one of those dreams.

He'd never tell me about it. All he'd ever say was that the original Trowa Barton was an evil man, and that the world was a better place because he was dead. I never pressed it because I was a little hurt at his dismissive manner when I questioned him. I figured that when he was ready to tell me about it, he would.

I'm starting to really wonder what the hell has been wrong with me all these years. Trowa never really told me anything about his past. And I just never pushed it. How can we have been together for so long, and I know so little about him? He knows all my stories. Well, some of my stories. But I never made him tell me his. I never even asked him to share his past with me. Shit. No wonder he thinks I don't care about him.

Wufei and Heero and Quatre are arguing with Une, explaining all the reasons that our mysterious pilot can't possibly be the heir to the Barton empire. They're wasting time - if Trowa recognized the voice, that's who it is. New data means reconfiguring old beliefs.

"We're wasting time," I interrupt. All eyes turn to me, startled. "If Trowa and Une think it's that Barton bastard, we have to operate on that belief. What now, Une? Do we attack the colony?"

Une shakes her head. "We don't know anything about what kind of force he has accumulated," she points out. "And we don't have enough troops to waste on exploratory sallies." She sighs heavily. "We have to make more suits."

Quatre winces. Wufei closes his eyes. Heero blanches. "Relena's going to have a fit," he predicts gloomily.

"Relena isn't being told of this," Une admits grimly. "We've already begun production."

"Is that where Trowa is?" I ask. I need to go talk to him. This must have shaken him badly. Even if he's still angry at me, I have to try to help.

Une looks around at all of us, her gaze shifting rapidly from one of us to the other. She moistens her lips and rubs her hands together.

My eyes narrow. Nervous mannerisms and Une don't go together.

"Where's Trowa?" I demand.

"We need to manufacture more suits," Une repeats. "We need time to do that. We can't let Barton find this base until we are more adequately prepared."

"So where's Trowa?" I press, refusing to be sidetracked on issues of headquarters security.

Une sighs. "Trowa believes that much of Barton's goal is revenge on him, for stealing both the original Heavyarms and Barton's place in the sun. Trowa thinks that he will be able to distract Barton from searching for our base long enough for us to mobilize better."

"Distract him?" I interrupt over Quatre's cry of distress. "You don't mean that he's planning to go to that colony?"

Une looks down. I start to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. "He can't," I say harshly. "He can't go there. Barton will kill him."

Une looks up, and stares straight at me. Her brown eyes show sorrow and regret, but these emotions are overshadowed by an expression of rock-hard determination. "He's already gone," she says clearly. "He left yesterday. He should have arrived at Colony XV7870 several hours ago."

I don't hear the angry protests everyone else hurls at Une. I hear a rushing in my ears, and my vision narrows, tunnels, until all I see is Une, in the midst of a reddish haze.

With a sudden roar, I launch myself across the room at Une. This act is unforgivable. She will be punished for sending Trowa out alone to face our enemy.

However fast I am, though, there's always been someone whose reflexes are even faster. Heero catches me halfway to my goal, and tackles me.

"That won't help, Duo," he says clearly, holding me to the floor.

"Let me up," I snarl, glaring at him. "I'm going to -,"

"That won't help," he repeats. He pulls me up, but keeps a firm hold on my arms.

"When are we launching the rescue mission?" Wufei is asking Une, who looks, for once, slightly startled.

She darts a trepidatious glance my way before answering. "We aren't," she replies. "I promised him I wouldn't."

"Wouldn't rescue him?" Quatre asks, his voice trembling.

Une sighs. "He said if anyone were to go with him, or try to rescue him, they would be killed," she tell us. Her voice is tired. "He went there alone, to save all of you. Don't make his sacrifice worthless."

"His sacrifice?" Heero repeats.

I laugh bitterly, and everyone looks at me again. "Yeah, his sacrifice," I agree. "Tell them what he's sacrificing, Une."

Une looks down again. "Trowa believes…" She stops. "He said to wait a month for him. If he's not back within that time, we are to mobilize, and attack the colony after another week has passed."

"But if he's still on the colony…" Quatre begins.

Une shakes her head. "He said if he's not back within the month…"

"He won't be coming back," I interrupt. I see the looks of horror on Quatre and Wufei's faces, feel the sudden surprised slackness in Heero's arms holding me back. But I don't move. "If he doesn't return here in a month, it's because he's dead."

Une says nothing.

"We have to save him," Quatre insists.

"We can't," I say, ignoring the appalled expression he bestows on me. "All of the troops will be tied up producing other suits, as will our resources. And how long will it take to produce these other suits, Commander?"

Une doesn't speak for a long moment. "Just over a month," she finally replies.

I laugh again. "So we're to build all these suits, then attack the colony, where Trowa will already be dead. He's never coming back."

Une is silent.

"He's going to be killed," I press relentlessly. "Barton will play with him, torture him, hurt him and then he'll kill him. And while he's doing that, we will stay here and build mobile suits."

"Did he leave us any message?" Quatre interrupts. Tears are rolling down his face, but he ignores them.

Une shook her head slowly. "Just, not to follow him."

I feel a searing pain tear through my chest, threatening to diminish the anger I feel. Trowa left, to go to his certain death, and he didn't even say good-bye.

"You bitch," I say quietly. Une looks at me steadily, her face impassive. "You cold-hearted bitch. Treize certainly trained you well, Lady Une."

She flinches at that. "It had to be," she says quietly, with conviction. "It was the only way."

I make a sound of disgust. "Whatever. What you mean is that sending Trowa to die alone at the hands of a man he's had nightmares about for six years is the only way for you to conveniently rebuild your armies your way. Ever think of pulling in other colonies to help do this faster? Of asking us to help? Of getting Howard here?"

She looks suddenly stricken. "Nightmares?" she whispers weakly.

"Oh yes, but how could you know that, Lady Une?" I ask sarcastically. "You thought Barton was just a psychotic killer who wanted to drop colonies on the Earth and had a grudge the size of the Peacemillion against Trowa. You didn't know that Trowa was actually afraid of him, so it's okay you sent him off there alone, without giving us the chance to help him or even say good-bye. Don't let it keep you up at night," I advise, sneering at her.

"Duo…" she entreats, her voice breaking.

I have to get out of here. "I hope you're happy, Lady Une," I tell her coldly. "I hope you're very proud of all this."

I slam the door behind me and blindly take off for my room. Trowa is gone. Trowa is going to die. Trowa left without saying good-bye to me.

Trowa is gone.

_________________________________________

I straighten, leaning back against the hard, unyielding frame of the wooden chair that I have just been shoved into. I shake my head slightly, so that my hair rests in its proper place over the right side of my face, and look up impassively at the man glaring down at me.

Rather than bring me down here himself, Trowa Barton sent me with this man. He claims that he wants to try to retrieve my travel coordinates from my mobile suit. Without even asking me, he knows that I erased them before I exited the suit.

That's not what he's doing, though. He's allowing anticipation to build. He wants me to go with this person, bear whatever is forthcoming from him, while waiting, and fearing, the inevitable confrontation with Barton.

All the Bartons have always been rather predictable.

This man, though, is as yet an unknown.

"Do you know who I am?" he asks abruptly, his brown eyes narrowed as he stares intently at me.

Should I? I shake my head in the negative.

"My name is Oslo."

"I'm sorry," I murmur before I can help myself. I've definitely spent too much time with Duo. I squelch that thought before it's fully formed.

A spark of anger flares in his eyes, and he backhands me hard across the face. My cheek aches dully, and I taste blood in my mouth, but I make no sound.

"You don't remember me?" he presses.

I shake my head again.

"I served directly under Quinze," he boasts. "I am White Fang."

White Fang. That explains a lot. It's always rather worried me how completely they seemed to fade away. Fanatics never give up their cause, even when they are defeated on so grand a scale as White Fang was.

"Why did you betray us?" he asks abruptly.

I can barely keep myself from sighing. There it is, the rallying cry of White Fang. They believed that the Gundams, as representatives of the colonies, should have joined them, should have fought with them against the earth. They didn't see that with their desire to eliminate the home planet, they made of themselves tyrants as fearsome as OZ or the Alliance ever were.

"Why?" he repeats, his voice growing more angry.

"Destroying the earth was not part of my mission," I reply calmly.

With a sound between an enraged bellow and a disgusted snort, he slaps me again. That's getting a bit tiresome. I flex my hands behind me, but the knots he tied are holding together well.

"It was part of the mission!" he half-screams. "It was the entire focus of Operation Meteor!"

Operation Meteor. The mission that would have killed two billion people, and brought untold wealth and power to the Barton family, the uncrowned kings of the inner colonies, kept in check only by the regulatory powers of Earth.

The White Fang have always been fools. If they're now siding with Barton in an attempt to revive the original Operation Meteor, they're bigger fools than I thought. They've chosen as their leader in their fight for freedom the very man who wants to enslave them all.

"Well?" he demands, glaring at me.

I don't reply. There's nothing to say. Obviously he doesn't want to hear my true opinion, and I've hardly got the inclination to apologize for ruining Operation Meteor.

"Traitor," he spits, sneering at me.

That's obviously quite an insult in his mind. I don't feel overly chastised, though.

"Why are you here, traitor?" he presses, shifting the topic.

I don't reply.

"Why are you here?" he repeats.

Again, I don't answer.

"Answer me!" he orders sharply.

I lift one shoulder in a half-shrug, a gesture which I have learned really irritates a certain type of personality.

I calculated correctly. He's that type of personality. I lean to the side and spit on the floor, unwilling to swallow all the blood pooling in my mouth.

"I'm asking you one more time, traitor," he says in an ugly tone. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see who made such a crappy copy of my Gundam," I reply bluntly.

He reddens. "Your Gundam? Don't you mean the Gundam you stole from Mr. Barton, along with everything else that was his?"

"The Gundam was given to me by its creator."

"Its creator." Oslo looks like he's going to spit. "S. Another traitor. All those scientists were traitors. Weak and vacillating old men."

I let him rant. I really have little to add, and he doesn't seem in the mood to be contradicted.

He shifts tactics. "How did you find out where we are?"

I smile slightly.

"What?" he demands, catching the expression.

I shrug again.

"What's so funny, Nanashi?" he questions, obviously expecting a reaction to his use of my old ‘name.'

"Nothing, Oslo," I return, stressing his name. His eye twitches slightly. That must be a sore spot.

"How did you find this base?" he repeats.

I sigh. "Haven't you figured out yet, Oslo, that I'm not telling you anything?" I ask wearily.

In a moment, I'm hauled to my feet, Oslo's hand bunched in the fabric of my shirt. "Oh yeah?" he half-whispers, his face so close to mine that I feel his breath brush my cheek. "We'll see about that."

He draws his arm back, preparing to punch me. I see no need to prolong this little Q&A session. Oslo is not impressing me. As his arm swings forward I bend my neck, moving my head so that the blow catches me hard across the temple, rather than across the jaw as he'd intended. There's a bright explosion of light behind my eyelids, and then everything fades away to black.

__________________________________________

[cont]