Author: Gloria
See Ch. 1 for other warnings, notes, disclaimer

Summary: It shook Duo to think suddenly he was not the first to feel this rage: Salvation shall come from the hills, Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote. From the blood that flows in me, I say from the same tree, a son shall rise. And his duty shall be to lead and save the people.

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is the property of its creators. I do not own this franchise and no infringement is intended or profit gained by the writing of this fanfiction.

Pairing: 1x2, more may follow

Spoiler Warning: Scattered Duo-isms from the series.

Alternate Warnings: Rating MA is for violence, swearing and adult sexual situations, which include, but are not limited to, homosexuality. Also contains characters dealing with serious subjects like death, war and grief, so standard angst warnings apply.

Author's Note: Firstly, I'd like to thank Link for all her help beta-ing this chapter. She's been inspirational and whip smart since helping me take on this story. And a continuous thanks goes to everyone who takes the time out of their day to read this story, and doubly so for those that leave feedback.

This chapter presented several challenges. It was emotionally exhausting, for one. Some of the books and articles I read to help me research the content introduced in this chapter did everything from throwing me into fits of rage, cause me to weep for hours, or to simply sit in mortification. At the close of the chapter, I will post a few of these works in the event you are interested in reading them too.

It was also technically difficult. I struggled with the pre-brief and ended up writing a scene and a closing scene wholly different from what I had outlined. I like the edit, however, a lot better than I did the original draft. I hope it was written in a way that you enjoy it too. Thank you again for reading.

Prerequisite + Chapter 9: The Sum of Its Parts

AC 203

Duo's mind felt like ash. Cold, so wear a jacket. Release the salute on base. Fasten the harness, jump from the gunner. Sign in, put on the uniform, make coffee. His duffel was lighter this morning than it had been all weekend. Eckhart had received his books back with a silent solemnity Duo appreciated. Heero had watched the exchange quietly, unobtrusively, but inquired nothing. Duo appreciated that too.

Like ash. Dry and fallible, at the barest touch a give that would crumple everything inward. Duo remembered that ash could look like snow, could look like winter, could look like Christmas on the colonies. Fitting after the fires that raged in his brain, when he began to comprehend more than he ever wanted to know. He never wanted to know. He never wanted to care. He'd turned his back on this, hadn't he? Turned his back on it when Deathscythe exploded at the hands of Trowa Barton and the crowds cheered. Continued fighting, yes, because never let it be said that Duo Maxwell left a thing undone, left a thing unfinished. It was finished. He didn't have to care anymore. Didn't mean that he wouldn't.

The Victoria file was nothing but paper.

There was a blinking beside his monitor. Duo followed his gut and closed his office door behind him, flattened the blinds so that it was dark. Nothing but the black brightness of the monitor for the computer that'd been hacked--and Duo could count on one hand the number of people that could hack him. Duo set down his too-light duffel, loosened his absurd yellow tie he wore as a 'fuck you' to the prat that told him it might seem more professional should he agree to wear one to the briefing this morning. Used the tip of his pinkie finger to nudge the mouse, stirred the static.

Must be late on L4. Trowa slept in Quatre's chair, waiting for him obviously. Duo felt a jolt of awareness, an undercurrent of affection for Trowa Barton. Impossible not to, seeing him asleep, unaware, unguarded. Maybe not too hard to think why Quatre kept him around even if they hated each other now. Hell, maybe they could have a thing or two to chat about over beer nuts one day. They seemed to have enough in common, now.

We've found, Quatre had said, that the sex is remarkably better when we can't stand the sight of one another.

Duo turned on his audio, murmured a good morning, watched Trowa spasm into alertness and fought a sigh. Trowa looked at him--looked at him longer than maybe appropriate--his mouth that thin line in his face, his eyes greener than anything merely human, just looked at him. Finally, a nod and: "I'll get Quatre."

He was gone, replaced just a half a minute later by a sleepy-eyed, rumpled Quatre Winner. That made Duo smile, a little, because he remembered, too, the bunkers under the sand, the cheerful, friendly faces of the cave-dwellers, the bright sashes and the doting dancing girls, the little slice of safety during the chaos of war. And he remembered the bed-messy blue eyed, blond boy that could befriend anybody, that could take a piss and sell it as currency. The one who'd look twice at Duo, bent that friendly smile on him. Shared the warmth of a blanket, a friendship, a family with Duo. Quatre wasn't awake enough yet to smile at him now.

"Hard to find you, ass," Quatre grumbled, accepting a teapot and china from someone with wrists too slender to be Trowa's. "Had to pull some strings."

Duo snorted. That meant nothing more than berating Wufei into giving him Duo's hardline. "How's the weather up there, Sunshine?"

"Blow me," Quatre retorted. "You could've called or something. Hilde won't stop hassling me for news."

"You don't need to actually talk to me to get a rundown."

"Ok, so maybe I just wanted to hear your melodic voice. I've missed you, and rumor has it you could use a friend." Quatre drained his first cup of tea, wincing as it burned his mouth, and poured another.

Duo frowned. He didn't like the sound of that. He didn't like the sound of gossip circulating their sudden band of brothers routine. They weren't a goddamn boy band separated on tour. "Wufei can choke on it. I'm fine."

"Don't insult me because you're still sore with Wufei," Quatre said, not bothering to even look at Duo. Quatre was bent over something on his desk, pushing papers around so that he could settle the tea tray less precariously. "How's Heero?"

"If you want to know about Heero, you can hack into his computer." Duo sunk his fingers into his hair, massaged his scalp.

"That bad, huh?" Quatre was looking at him now.

"We got a dog," Duo mumbled, sipping his coffee. "Pit, ex-fighter. Not ironic, so don't even go there. Name's Ash." Ash. The Devil's Christmas in space.

Quatre was still looking at him. Not really with the energy or intensity with which Trowa looked at him. Not with the sense that he was about to say something that would rock Duo's world all the way to the beams and rafters. Just looking, waiting. "That's nice," Quatre said. "Nice to have a buddy." Sad when a dog takes my place, that translated.

"I never thought to ask," Duo said, and even to him it felt like a violent slash across the atmosphere. "I never thought to ask why you two broke up. Never wanted to know what could tear you apart. I'm sorry. I should've asked. I'm a shitty friend."

"You did ask," Quatre murmured. "In Madrid."

"Not like I would've if I wanted an answer." Duo looked up at the screen, into the void between them that reflected Quatre's bottomless eyes back at him. "You think you'll survive it, whatever it is. You think you'll make it? The two of you?"

Quatre smiled a little self-deprecating smile, his eyes going all distant and inward, considering something Duo couldn't fathom. "Of course," he said. "Because if I don't, we definitely won't. Don't think I'm ready for that. Don't think you're ready for that, either." Quatre paused, snuggled deeper into the blanket around his shoulders. "Because whatever you think of us now, us five, we're still...exceptional. And no one really gets to choose their family, Duo. It comes in its little, broken imperfect box with its little tattered bow and you can either deal, or you can turn it away, or you can find the beauty in it and be grateful."

Duo put his coffee mug on his desk, sat back in his chair, in the dark, with the ash still crumbling in his brain, and stared at the vidphone. "You really believe that, do you?"

"Only sometimes." Quatre smiled again, and that smile made Duo think of bunkers under the sand and bright sashes and doting dancing girls. "Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't."

The Victoria file was nothing but paper. It discussed coordinates and political agendas and just about a decade's worth of history, but the damn file could make better fire kindling. It told Duo nothing of Kenya that he wouldn't have already guessed. Blah blah, Kenya perimeters Victoria on the eastern side, blah blah, and Victoria is a necessary base command for ESUN in that part of Africa, blah blah, and Uganda and Tanzania might have stayed quiet too if Kumbaki had never made a fuss, blah blah, and now ESUN has to figure out a way to fuck Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in a way that makes them believe they're actually getting the better end of the deal, blah blah snore. Good fucking luck.

Duo knew it was a bad idea, but Duo wouldn't have ever crawled into a Gundam if he hadn't meant it. He wouldn't have ever taken anyone's orders and submitted himself to torture and fought for a cause nobody but half a dozen people agreed with if he hadn't believed in every switch flipped, every jerk on the stick, every destructive slash of beam scythe. If he hadn't trusted in his gut that what he was doing was for the better, even if they didn't win. Even if they didn't win. Duo knew it was a bad idea, but he had to give a good goddamn. He had to know.

It was in his blood to know where he stood before he threw a punch, before he pulled the trigger, before he protected or destroyed anyone. He had to know. And, in a sense, fighting for L2 was easy, even when they cheered while Deathscythe burned. It was easy because he understood L2. He understood how the cluster breathed, how grease and oil and sweat was more precious than blood. When even though it was rare anybody stood up for the little guy anymore, there was still an 'us' and a 'them' because 'us' were here first, and fuck you, you can't eat my food and sleep in my bed and get to point that gun in my face while you're doing it. He understood them and their hate and bitterness like he understood why bees stung when threatened.

Duo didn't know anything about Africa. He didn't know anything about Kenya. He didn't know what they bled, or how they breathed, or who would keep whom in their ideal world if they were allowed to dream up their own special utopia.

'Course, just not knowing wasn't ever enough for Duo Maxwell.

Quatre peered at him over the rim of his teacup. "What's bothering you, Duo?"

"You think its Heero," Duo said. "It isn't Heero." Duo paused, and then amended that. "Not really."

Because, of course, that first night he'd gone into Baltimore and found a bar with a pretty selection of no faces he was too busy laughing that he was back to fucking in random bathrooms with random strangers to actually do anything. It was profoundly irritating. Duo wished he could say it was because he saw Heero's imaginary wounded expression in his mind, except that seeing Heero's imaginary wounded expression in his mind never deterred him before. Maybe it had more to do with knowing there was a point of no return and that Duo wasn't ready to go there yet. Maybe it was because some stupid adolescent notion, some childish compulsion to hope for the best in a relationship that was deteriorating so fast it was making his head spin that prevented him from infidelity. Which was absolutely, one hundred percent, fucking ridiculous. Heero didn't goddamn own him.

Duo spent a great deal of his evenings, now, in bars with a pretty straight selection of no faces. Couldn't possibly get himself into trouble that way.

"Mission?" Quatre inquired, in that subtle way of his that drove straight to the heart of a matter without being too cocky about it.

Duo chewed at a thumbnail. "What do you know about Africa?"

Quatre sat back in his chair, his eyes going a little wide with comprehension, and then a little tight in the corners as he calculated a response. "Well," he said. "There isn't a whole lot I can tell you that you probably haven't already figured out for yourself."

Because, of course, just not knowing wasn't ever enough, Duo had hacked into HQ mainframe, rootkitting anything and everything on file, ever on file, about the countries surrounding Victoria. Once upon a time, nearly three hundred years ago, Kenya was colonized by Great Britain. There was an uprising, a fight and victory for independence, the crumbling of an infant government too corrupt and riddled with politicians who fought for coffers to stand on their own without intercession. Alliance took them in as a vassal nation. OZ made them resentful. And now they want the endless waltz. Now they want independence again.

And there was more. There was so much more. Rumors of troops moving across the countryside, just on the edges of Preventer vision, slipping in and out of Congo, in and out of Uganda, disappearing for months in Tanzania and then, in a bewildering act of voodoo, appearing again in northern Kenya. Circling Victoria. Rumors of troops made up of natives, made up of people that made Duo's blood run cold because it was one of the oldest stories in the history of mankind--one of the oldest cruelties--and Duo Maxwell himself was no stranger to it.

Preventers didn't have knowledge of these troops because they ever saw them, or because anyone living in the villages had been willing to report them. Preventers knew about the troops, the new rebel armies, because these phantom fighters raided the villages -- brutalizing families and abducting recruits. Recruits between the ages of ten and fifteen, several as young as five years old.

Common, terribly common before Alliance. OZ had spawned a new core of them, enlisting at fifteen. OZ seemed more brutal, too, than anything the rebels could think up. Preventers thought that the recruits came willingly at first, and Duo was inclined to agree. No one forced him into a mobile suit. A force, then, for OZ to contend with -- ignored abruptly when Shenlong exploded onto their bases, rattling Victoria to its deepest recesses. Suddenly, then, no more Alliance, no more OZ -- which wouldn't have hesitated to shoot a child in the face to advance the battlefield -- and replaced by ESUN, which would definitely, absolutely hesitate...because ESUN desperately depended on public relations. Recruiting was forced now, because there were Ugandans and Kenyans and Tanzanians who wanted to take everything back, by force if necessary, because it was with force that it was taken from them. Even if Alliance had provided them a sense of autonomy, OZ had raped it from them when they placed sanctions, built factories on their farmland, refused relief aid to the starving and the sick. No votes, no money, no food. Couldn't even fight for the country that was theirs by right.

The Victoria file was nothing but paper. There was so much more happening.

"I can say, and of course this is just my opinion," Quatre said. "If I am reading Kumbaki correctly, he's serving as a catalyst for the...absolute mayhem that is going to happen there anyway because he wants to begin with diplomacy so he can end it with diplomacy. He wants Preventer aid."

"Relena probably thinks so too," Duo murmured, thoughtfully tracing his index finger around the rim of his mug. "Her presence in this speaks volumes."

"It does," Quatre agreed.

Knowing the history wasn't enough for him either. It still didn't tell him what they bled, or how they breathed. All it told him was what had happened before, and what was likely to happen again. Saturday morning had found Duo arguing heatedly with the MP at the barricade of Fort Meade's South Gate.

Don't make me pull rank on you, Duo had said to the man. I've not had to yet, and I'd really rather not now. Just get Eckhart.

The good General had picked him up in his shiny, cherry red vintage truck thing and had handed Duo a coffee without prompt or propaganda before driving him to the bowling alley parking lot. It took barely anything, just an honest conversation, a direct request, and not a single trace of bafflement. One book Eckhart took from his personal library. The rest they found at Archives. Novels, mostly. Memoirs from before Alliance, stories and tales of an Africa as rife with turmoil as it'd been since the dawn of time, but gut-wrenching too. Because it threw Duo to find that cruelty and barbarism was a language spoken by all people in all places, and that home and hearth and heart was something cherished, yes, but there was a zeal here that took Duo by storm. A zeal that demanded respect, a ferocious pride by a people that knew in their fingernails, in their minds, in their souls, that they were the oldest people on the
planet, from the oldest civilizations, from the oldest origins -- and if they could be uprooted and displaced, anyone could. It shook Duo to think suddenly he was not the first to feel this rage.

Salvation shall come from the hills, Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote. From the blood that flows in me, I say from the same tree, a son shall rise. And his duty shall be to lead and save the people.

Other scripts told countless stories of child armies, specifically formed because they were more easily replaced, certainly more disposable, than the grown men of an organization or the officials that sat behind their desks and ordered people to their deaths. Capable of desensitizing and drugging children, of forcing them to perform hostilities, unutterably horrible acts of violence -- often against their own people. Some were rehabilitated, most were not. On Sunday, Duo read in the kitchen while Heero sat by the bay window and watched the rain:

I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone. Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world.

Duo had stared at him after and wondered if that was really why Heero was here.

"Are there rehabilitation centers available?" Duo asked very quietly. "You would know, wouldn't you?"

"For children of war?" Quatre inquired, and Duo had to wonder how he was able to follow the sporadic line of someone's thoughts even on the other side of the moon. "Yes. I didn't know you were planning an extraction."

"I'm not," Duo said. "Just wanted to know."

Quatre looked suddenly alarmed. "You think that will become an issue at the negations?"

Duo just looked at him, and Quatre saw in his face everything he needed to know. There was a knock on his office door, Heero murmuring that they were ready for a pre-brief. "I have to go, Quat."

"Of course," Quatre said, even as he looked drawn and abruptly aggrieved. He looked older than he should, like that. "Duo?"

"Hm?" Duo stood, shouldered his duffel.

"You know that they expect everything from you but for you to do well, don't you?"

Bright sashes and doting dancing girls. Duo felt a genuine smile creep along his face. "I do."

"Give 'em hell," Quatre said, a bemused half-smirk hovering, an attempt at cheer that seemed to physically wear on him. Solo had said, give 'em hell.

"'Course I will," Duo replied. "It's me."

Quatre cut the feed, and Duo was left in the total blackness of his office.

+

Duo was aware of Heero as they marched through HQ to the command base for SPG. Aware of him in a molecular way. He could hear him breathing, anticipate the sway of his messy hair as it draped menacingly over his face, feel the heat of his body. This hyper-awareness wasn't really new to Duo; in fact, it was what had always made Heero so damn sexy to him. But Duo concentrated on it like he hadn't in a while. Concentrated on him, wrapped his thoughts around him like seaweed around an anchor, tried to inhale only when Heero did, matched him step for step.

No one greeted them at the door, but Heero didn't hesitate. It was uncomfortable how effortlessly this came to him. Duo watched Heero transform into the iconic Preventer just like he'd morphed into a super soldier child pilot when they were young. Duo didn't want to think if Heero ever had a choice like he once did, back in the day. Duo wanted fiercely to believe that Heero wasn't a victim like the children being abducted from their homes in Uganda, forced into a conflict they didn't understand.

Duo wasn't very good at lying, not even to himself.

They met in a conference not very dissimilar to other conference rooms designed to accommodate military strategy. There were several men and women seated around a long oak table, including Wufei and Sally, who were the only two Duo already knew, all staring at them expectantly as they entered the room. Duo felt hot under the collar, but forced himself to listen for Heero's breathing. At the far end of the room were several massive screens, blank for now, but Duo assumed they would be showing maps and building structures very shortly. In the center of the large oak table were numerous mechanisms Duo recognized with the ability to project three-dimensional assimilations.

"Welcome," the Deputy Director for Plans said, a sturdy man whose stitch labeled him as Geoffrey. "Ladies and gentlemen, our resident PFO's Apollo and Blackbird."

"Better late than never," a man with cropped black hair and bright green eyes muttered flippantly.

Duo zeroed in on him, distracted only by Heero's light touch on his elbow.

"Thank you, Major," Geoffrey said, a subtle note of long-suffering in his voice. Duo stared hard at the man called 'Major', unsettled because the man wore a Preventer's jacket and not a military uniform. "Gentlemen, please have a seat. We're joined by representatives from Transnational and Space Reconnaissance and the Office of Transnational and Space Issues."

Duo saw the tilt of their heads as their division was announced, and could fairly assume who belonged to what. Heero made no move to sit, so neither did he. Duo's eyes swept the room again, settling on Sally, who waved cheerfully, and Wufei, who watched them with a muted, guarded expression. Duo wondered, idly, why the International and Colonial Counterterrorism Center couldn't make it. He nodded at Geoffrey to continue.

For half an hour, Geoffrey lit up the center of the table, using his laptop to guide them through the operation. He talked a lot about the island the ESUN envoy would land on before being transported to Nairobi where Kumbaki and his men would greet them. They were to meet inside the city hall, controlled, technically, by ESUN, but that was semantics. Whether they had felt threatened or wanted to project a sense of goodwill to the native Kenyans, only a few representatives and only several dozen Preventers remained to staff the building. Duo had been unaware of the understaffing, and wondered if ESUN's dwindling presence in Nairobi had been required for Kumbaki to be willing to meet with Relena Peacecraft. It hadn't been in the file, either, and Duo had never thought to check.

Oddly, Geoffrey made no mention of the Independence Retaliation Army, otherwise known as, creatively, the IRA. He did, however, give a thorough review of who would be positioned where, the timetable of the entire operation down to the second, and so forth.

"Excuse me," Duo said. Though he'd interrupted the Deputy Director mid-sentence, he was actually making an attempt to be polite. Wufei looked warily at him; most seemed simply shocked he had spoken aloud.

Geoffrey looked swiftly at Wufei and then back again, which briefly irritated Duo, but he should have expected that. Quatre was probably right. Quatre was usually right. "Blackbird," he said, giving the floor to Duo.

Beside him, Heero breathed in and out, in and out. "I understand that this mission is formatted like a simple envoy guard -- I get it, I really do. But I'd rather talk about why you seem to think doing this in Nairobi is a good idea when we're outmanned in a hostile environment." Duo licked his lips.

Several men and women sat up straight, and one or two seemed insulted. The man, Major, gazed at him with shadowy eyes but it was Wufei and Sally that surprised him. They were peering at him with a heady mix of severe interest.

"Listen, son," one man said, who hailed from OTSI. "Kenya isn't considered hostile yet -- "

"Yet is right, because of Kumbaki's diplomacy," Duo agreed. "But I think you ought to give the man a little more credit. He's trying to tell us something, and hell, your people should have reports on it already."

"Blackbird," a minor Paramilitary Operations Officer interjected. "You're out of line."

"Whose line?" Duo shot back, feeling warmed up. "Yours?"

"Wait, stop." That was Wufei, holding his hands up peaceably. "Blackbird, explain yourself."

Duo unzipped his duffle, retrieved a disc and tossed it to Geoffrey. As he loaded it onto his desktop, Duo continued, stepping closer to the table. "IRA was last seen in Sudan, and before that Uganda, terrorizing the countryside." Duo took in their blank faces and wanted to say something really foul to wake them up. "I can't believe you people don't know this. IRA could be in Turkana by now. Look," Duo pointed at the screen, now showing the information Geoffrey had downloaded for him.

"Circling Victoria," a woman said.

"They could just be going further north," some other idiot suggested.

"No, they're propagating," Major interrupted suddenly. "I've seen this before. They're creating unrest as they go. Stanvil's right; they're circling the lake. They're dropping down from the northwest because they know they can't get into Kenya through Victoria. Nairobi's weak, but the lake is still ours."

Wufei was listening to him carefully. "ICC should have a report on this."

Major looked at him and shrugged unapologetically. "Zimmerman had a group tracking IRA at the Ugandan/Sudan border. We lost touch with him about a week ago."

"Zimmerman's team is dead," Duo said, and then amended: "Probably."

Major turned his lancing green eyes on him. "Thank you for your assessment, PFO. You have any other pearls of wisdom?"

"Yeah," Duo replied. "Like we ought have the negotiations on that island instead of Nairobi."

Several people began shaking their heads, muttering things about funding and we're not politicians and Kumbaki would never stand for it -- but what really got under Duo's skin was: "Ms. Peacecraft gave her word. She's not going to renege."

"And this is the girl that couldn't remember the stove was hot when she'd just burned herself touching it; people, come on." Duo circled around the table to stand behind Wufei, reaching forward to grasp the remote and flip the monitor. "And it's going to cost a helluva lot more in machinery and personnel to facilitate the city with an invasion coming. We move the location or the whole thing's off."

"You're not qualified to make that sort of decision, Blackbird," someone said, but Duo didn't look to see whom. He continued flipping the images, searching for one in particular.

"And you're panicking on a hunch," another said.

"We have enough officers to extract the ESUN envoy should the situation become hostile," a woman in the back murmured. "That's why we're going with them to begin with."

Duo chuckled darkly. "What are we gonna do, leave Kumbaki and his men to slaughter when things go bad?"

"That depends entirely on how the negotiations are going," Major answered breezily. When Duo sent him a dark look, the man smiled. "We can thin out our forces at the perimeter of the city," Major added. "We'll at least have enough warning to handle the situation, should it become necessary."

"Why can't we move the location?" Duo said through his teeth, forgetting the remote and lowering it momentarily. "We're talking about an entire city of people, here."

Major gazed back at him, unfazed by Duo's mounting temper. Duo turned on Wufei, looked between him and Sally. "Why can't we move?" he repeated.

It was Sally who answered him, looking suddenly drawn and overtired. "Kumbaki insists on allowing his people to witness the occasion. He wants them to trust him."

"He'll get them all killed," Duo said.

"Maybe," Sally answered, as gently as she could. "But then again, nothing could happen and everyone goes home happy. You have to remember that Relena's safety is our priority."

Duo stared at her. "I'm not overreacting," he whispered to her.

"I don't think you are," she whispered back, and smiled.

"The point is Kumbaki is also anticipating it too," Heero said abruptly, in that quiet monotone of his. "Nairobi in general has a low population lately; perhaps that was intentional. I think Kumbaki is going to ask for asylum until the IRA is diminished."

Duo looked over at him. Quatre had made a startlingly similar assertion. "You think he's staging it?"

Heero shook his head. "Kumbaki is anticipating it. Probably believes IRA will kill him if Preventers do not intercede, and then Kenya will have no diplomacy at all."

Wufei fell back in his seat with a dull thud, the shock of comprehension causing him to stare off into space. Sally was beginning to look grey, and Duo had to empathize with her. It couldn't be easy being a doctor, knowing a terrible thing was about to happen and not being able to do anything about it. Everyone else simply sat there dumbfounded.

"If the IRA is planning an attack on the city, we can stave them off," Geoffrey murmured to no one in particular. "We could hold the city."

Funding was mentioned again, and so was low manpower.

Duo finally found the picture he was looking for: an old photo of a twelve-year old African boy holding a rifle and staring woodenly at the camera. "I can almost guarantee you the bulk of their army is going to be made up of these little fellas, Geoff," Duo said softly. "You really think your men are up for that? Killing children?"

Duo looked away at his shoe, at Wufei, at anything, anyone, but Heero. Geoffrey was ghostly quiet. Everyone was ghostly quiet. Major was looking thoughtfully at Duo. Duo lifted his eyes to him, and then swiftly away. "We move the location, ladies and gentlemen, or we evacuate the city. I refuse anything less."

"Kumbaki will insist on Nairobi."

"Kumbaki insists on Nairobi because he wants to leave when Preventers leave. Probably doesn't have anything to do with citizens trusting him." Man in the back who hadn't spoken before, with a bitter expression and an Armani suit. Duo barely spared him a glance before Wufei spoke up, his eyes dark and calculating and edged like a knife.

"Actually," Wufei said, "it's probably both. A man who stands and fights for his city, even if he loses, will win the affection of his people."

+

Duo spent the afternoon beating the hell out of a sandbag until his knuckles were bleeding through the fabric he'd haphazardly wrapped his hands in before he'd started. The bag was leaking piles of sand on the floor before he realized he was being watched.

There were phone calls to make, for the people whose job it was to make phone calls. Letters to write, faxes to send through, paperwork to sign. Heero and Duo had been dismissed -- or at least realized they'd been dismissed when the people in the room began throwing names and codes around that bewildered both of them, and heatedly arguing politics they didn't give a good goddamn about until they abruptly realized no one was paying attention to them anymore. It would take hours for the information to be passed along, then for a decision made by diplomats and a re-briefing organized. Heero had left the conference room first, Duo had followed minutes later, noticing Major was watching the meeting in front of him with clinical interest. Heero had vanished from the hall, off to do whatever Heero-the-Preventer thought necessary to do to prepare for his new mission of protecting Relena Peacecraft. Duo made a beeline for the
gym and hoped to God they'd at least evacuate the city.

Duo turned around, fully expecting Heero standing there like a statue gazing at him with that dead expression he favored lately, or maybe even Wufei, come to try and amend and make peace and say whatever Wufei-the-Preventer thought necessary to convince himself Duo's head was still in the game. The fact that it was neither--the fact that it was Major--baffled the hell out of him.

The man lounged on the bench next to Duo's hand towel and water bottle, not even looking at him as he scratched around a nasty, enflamed looking cut on the back of his hand. "That looks infected," Duo said, because it was the first thing after 'The fuck?' that popped into his mind.

"It's healing," Major said dismissively, but let it alone anyway, glanced up at him with his bright green eyes. Bright green and piercing, where Trowa's were subtle and watchful. Cat-like, nearly. "OZ trained me to be a soldier," he continued, as if answering an inquiry. "But I fought with White Fang."

The fuck? sprang back into Duo's thoughts. He wandered over to the opposite end of the bench, found new, clean wrappings and set to work peeling off the bloodied ones, his breath short and painful after the sudden lack of exertion.

"I remember when they asked you to lead us; I remember that you said no."

"Actually," Duo said, wincing a little as he poured water over his left knuckles to rinse the wounds before sipping from the same bottle. "I think I said something more along the lines of 'fuck no'."

Out of the corner of his eye, Duo saw Major smile. "I left before Merquise left. I joined Preventers before he did. Doesn't make any never mind to anyone but me, but there you have it."

Duo's mouth turned down; Major was actually beginning to irritate him now. "Why the hell are you talking to me about Zechs? I never knew him."

"I didn't know him really either," Major said, his tone turning weirdly thoughtful. "But it was interesting to me that he was an Earther, and that he fought on the side he did."

Here we go. It wasn't the first time a Preventer had approached him with the 'back in the day' angle. Kim had that right all to himself. Except -- except mostly they all ran that angle from the rebels' side. Major was the first to be forthright about being on the side that lost, White Fang, OZ, Barton or otherwise. Duo sighed, then, used his teeth to knot the new wrappings to his left hand. He began the other. "So what colony do you hail from?"

"I don't," Major said. "I'm from Piedmont, North Dakota."

Duo paused, finally looked him full in the face. Major was looking back at him with a level gaze, his expression patient. The man was older than him, but not anywhere nearer to thirty than a couple of years. He had the posture of a man much older, though--the posture he recognized in Wufei, and even, admittedly, in himself. Of a veteran, despite his youth, of having witnessed things he'd like to forget, knowing probably he never would.

"You waited," Duo said slowly. "You helped them fire on the planet, and you're from Piedmont, North Dakota. The hell kind of childhood did you have?"

Major shrugged slowly. "The kind that made me recognize corruption and feel zealous enough to do something extreme about it." He paused. "I had been inspired by you -- not you specifically, but you as in what you were, what you were fighting for. I thought I was helping. Left when I found I wasn't." Major fell quiet again, and then: "I threw up for an hour, after we fired on Earth. I was naive, because I did not think we'd actually go that far. Or that we would need to."

"You didn't," Duo said coldly. "Need to."

Major just looked back at him. He didn't seem particularly sorry, but Duo supposed the time had come and past for him to be sorry for what he'd done, that he'd already moved on to the part in his life where he tried to make up for it -- but in a coolly, self-aware way that did not wallow in self-deprecation. Duo sort of, perhaps, maybe, respected him for that. "You never met him," Major said finally, after some time, "but you call him by his name."

"No, I don't," Duo said. "I call him by OZ's name for him. I know even less about Milliardo Peacecraft than I do about Zechs Merquise. All I know is that he was some crazed Earther, fucked a little too hard by Trieze Kushrenada and manned White Fang in some desperate attempt to rebel against him." It occurred to him briefly that he was tossing around sensitive material in the middle of the gym. At around the same millisecond he decided he didn't care.

"That's an astute observation," Major replied, "if not entirely correct. Do you ever wonder, though, if things might have been different if you'd agreed? If we hadn't been forced to look to Merquise?"

"Nope," Duo said, "because that's stupid, and useless. And fuck you, by the way; what a fucked up thing to throw in my face. You so incredibly certain I wouldn't have beamed the planet?"

"You went rogue on Operation Meteor."

"You're not even supposed to know about that," Duo said, his anger mounting suddenly. "Who the hell are you?"

"Preventer Major," he said, "and I've been doing this as long as Officer Chang. I know things because I pay attention to the fine print." Major stood, lazily offered Duo his towel, which Duo surprised himself in taking. "You started giving a shit long before anyone expected you to," Major continued in a quiet voice. "Thank you."

"For what," Duo demanded incredulously. "Giving a shit?"

Major didn't answer that. He put his hands in his pockets, bemusedly looked down at the streams of sand still trickling out of Duo's abused punching bag. "They're going to ask you to do something, and I want in on it. I want in on it because I want to make sure you don't accidentally kill POW's when you agree to do it--and I know you'll agree to do it."

"Do what?"

Major was already turned to walk away. Duo was completely and utterly thrown until Major paused to answer Duo's next question.

"What exactly do you do, Major?"

"I plan strike missions, strategy. I'll be the voice in your earpiece in Nairobi." Major turned around, then, looked back at Duo with the first honest expression he'd seen him wear. The man looked exhausted. "Even if they evacuate, it will only be advisory and there will still be families that refuse to leave, merchants, the poor. It's going to be a disaster, no matter what we do."

"Yeah." Duo held up his knuckles, sore and stinging from his hours-long boxing round. "I know." Duo knew the moment he'd made the demand, saw the pained look on Wufei's face, the sad smile from Sally, that the best they could hope for was fifteen percent, twenty if they got really lucky. Duo didn't think Preventers got that lucky on anything.

"I'll see you in the morning," Major called over his shoulder.

Duo watched him leave, but then didn't have the heart to continue hitting the bag, even after re-wrapping his hands. Duo never thought in a million years he'd befriend a jaded Earther White Fang veteran.

~*~

A/N:

'Salvation shall come from the hills. From the blood that flows in me, I say from the same tree, a son shall rise. And his duty shall be to lead and save the people.' ~The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. A novel. Weep Not, Child by the same author seems similarly interesting, but I have honestly not read it yet.

'I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone. Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world.' ~A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

And a particular article that moved me was a BBC journal about Ugandan John Ochola, and his story about life with the Lord's Resistance Army, and life after. Article can be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5129350.stm

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