the_goldenpath: (Gundam Wing Fics - Pilot a Gundam)
[personal profile] the_goldenpath
Title: The Totality of Zero
Fandom: Gundam Wing
Pairings: to be established Heero and Duo
Genre: AU, fic deviates from canon after episode 42
Warnings: some foul language, especially from Duo.
Summary: The ZERO system became sentient on July 27, AC 196. Its effects were disastrous to the five Gundam pilots, having experienced the system themselves. ZERO operates completely self-aware and is in command of the Gundams who are now on a random rampage, sending the current war into a bitter and harsh struggle for survival. Three Gundam pilots are alive and at large, one is presumed dead, and one is comatose. Earth and the Colonies are literally at the edge of total annihilation…

Key: ----------------- = scene change





Prague, Czech Republic

Queen? Trowa watched the apparently happy reunion apprehensively. “Duo,” she kept repeating his name. “Duo, it’s really you!”

“It’s very nice to see you too, Relena,” Duo said in return, unperturbed.

Relena? Trowa arched an eyebrow. Duo knew her?

“Duo,” she said again, almost out of breath, “do you have any food with you? Clothes? Blankets?”

“We have some supplies in the car,” Duo answered, albeit hesitantly. He glanced at Trowa.

“Help me take it to the children,” Relena immediately said.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Trowa protested. “You just can’t commandeer our provisions! We need those to survive!”

She looked at him, not haughtily, but with calm authority. “We are young and strong,” she said. “Those toddlers need protection from the cold and they need food in their bellies. We have to help them.”

“I don’t think…”

“Jaroslav gave us a lot of fresh produce,” Duo interrupted. “It’s too much for the two of us, Trowa, and we wouldn’t want it to go to waste. Besides, you don’t go against the orders of a Queen.”

“She’s not my Queen,” Trowa gave back.

“I apologize, we haven’t been properly introduced,” she said, showing him a kind, yet determined smile. “Relena Peacecraft. I’m not a Queen. Pleased to make your acquaintance…”

“Trowa Barton,” he said and stared for a second at her extended hand before taking it into his own, turning it slightly upwards and brushing a kiss past her fingers. He didn’t know what moved him to do this, but she looked pleased and slightly embarrassed at the same time. “I’ve heard of you. Weren’t you with the Romefeller Foundation?”

“I was, yes,” she answered. “Not something I wholeheartedly agreed to do, however. I had a choice to make, and I choose the best option to save the most people.” She gave him a hard, piercing look as if she dared him to question her decision. As he didn’t respond, she turned towards Duo again. “Please help me to take it to the children,” she repeated.

“Where are they?”

“In a nearby church.” Her eyes traveled to the Skoda. “You don’t want to leave that behind unguarded. Do you know your way around the city?”

“I’ve been to Prague before,” Trowa said. “Give us the street name and we’ll meet you at the church.”

“Tsk, tsk,” Duo said and opened the car door for Relena, making an inviting gesture with his arm. “The Queen gets in first.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said and she seemed rather uncomfortable as he held the door for her, but she stepped into the car anyway, taking the backseat. Duo climbed behind the steering wheel and Trowa rode shotgun as usual. They followed Relena’s directions and Duo had to turn a couple of times due to the bad roads, broken up and demolished when the mobile suits had invaded the city. After a while, they reached the outskirts of Old Town. A small church, practically unscathed and surrounded by a tall wall, stood amidst the rubble of destroyed buildings and dwellings.

“There’s an enclosed space behind the church,” Relena pointed out. “You can park the car there.”

Duo maneuvered the Skoda into the small space between the church and the wall, and ended up in a backyard, or rather a junkyard: the place was filled with rusty bikes, old household equipment, something that looked like a market stall, and a lot of metal crates and boxes. He parked the car and turned off the engine. Relena jumped out and walked to the backdoor of the church, waving frantically and hollering “To je ve pořádku, to je ve pořádku!”. Her accent was extremely heavy, but Trowa got the gist: Everything’s all right. The door went open and two elderly ladies came out, welcoming Relena and casting curious glances at Duo and Trowa.

“They’re with me,” Relena said, smiling. “We brought food!”

“You were away for so long,” the woman on the left scolded her, the genuine worry and fear in her voice barely covered by her anger. “We thought something had happened to you!”

“Who are these young men?” the woman on the right asked curiously.

“Duo Maxwell and Trowa Barton,” Relena said, but didn’t tell who was who. Names didn’t matter much in these circumstances. “It’s all right, they’re with me,” she repeated. “They’ve brought food.”

The left woman narrowed her eyes, insecurity mixed with suspicion, but the lure of food was stronger. “Come in,” she said and stepped back. Relena made an inviting gesture with her arm.

Duo was the first to step inside and Trowa followed him, tripping over the high threshold. It was dark inside the church and he needed a precious minute for his vision to adjust. Duo had stepped over the threshold with an almost reverent motion; a faint smile ghosted around his lips, much to Trowa’s surprise. From what little Duo had told him, he knew that he had grown up in a church, but apparently he saw every church as ‘home’?

“This way,” Relena said. She led them through the church lounge deeper inside the building, a chilly wind clinging to their bodies. Most of the candles were unlit; no electricity, no running water, no heat. The cold was crippling; no wonder Relena had asked about clothes and blankets. He couldn’t make out as to where the church belonged to; the Czech Republic had been dominantly Christian until its steady decline, and now it had one of the least religious populations in the world. He didn’t recognize anything; the complete interior had been overhauled, and not for the best. All of the pews had been removed and cut up in crude pieces to fuel two large campfires, in the middle of the nave.

A bunch of young children huddled around the campfires with hollow, scared, eyes, their mismatched clothes smudged and soiled. Hope flared up on their faces when they saw the visitors, only to die down quickly again. Trowa recognized that defeatist look; that little bit of hope, anticipation and anxiety had raced through his body too when he was much younger… only to feel betrayed that his parents hadn’t showed up, that nobody came to see him, that no one would care for him. He had cherished the same hope until he closed himself off, vowing to not let the pain get to him and hurt him over and over again. These children were still toddlers, too young to understand and to have their hearts completely numbed yet.

“Where are their parents?” he inquired.

One of the women shook her head. “Gone. They were either killed or fled, leaving everything behind in blind panic. This is our youngest generation. Someone has to teach them how to survive and to rebuild the city.”

“Why haven’t you left?”

“We’re the old generation,” the other woman replied. “We have lived in Prague for over seventy years. No one’s going to chase us away, young man. Not even a Gundam.” She spoke the last word with such hatred and bile that it made his stomach turn upside down.

“My name is Evelína,” the woman who had spoken first, introduced herself. “And this is Gabriela. There are more of us, and we take shifts looking after the children, providing care around the clock. What kind of food did you bring?”

“Potatoes, spinach, carrots, eggs and bread,” Trowa listed off.

“Vegetables and protein - you’re a Godsend! Don’t worry, we won’t use up everything.” Evelína tugged at the shawl around her head, covering her grey curls. “I guess you and your friend want to leave right away?” She sounded defeated.

“We have a very specific destination in mind,” Trowa said. He couldn’t help himself, he had to ask. “Have you… have you seen the Gundam?”

“Oh yes, lots of them,” Evelína said. “Hulking monsters with awful, big guns. I was at the market…” she plucked frantically at the shawl, “… when suddenly the sky darkened and all these Gundam arrived. Everything exploded, people screamed...”

Trowa didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. He hadn’t found any signs of a Gundam in the city so far, and he couldn’t fault the woman for describing every mobile suit as a Gundam, not knowing the difference between a Leo and any other model. HeavyArms hadn’t been in Prague, and it somehow comforted him. Stop torturing yourself. “Is there anything I can do?”

Evelína patted him on the shoulder. “Just sit down and relax. I’ll get you a bowl of bramboracka right away.”

He wanted to point out that he’d been sitting in a car for hours, but decided against it. Instead, he sat down and stared in front of him. The children were far too silent, they should be chattering and playing, yet he was glad that no one came up to him for some company. He wasn’t in the mood for small talk. One extra day of rest was welcome, as a soldier he had to get his rest whenever it was possible. First thing tomorrow morning, he would leave with Duo, continuing their journey to Sanq Kingdom. He pondered the possibility of Relena coming along. Would he object? It wasn’t a fun road trip, but an arduous, dangerous journey. There weren’t enough provisions for the three of them, and she probably wasn’t used to living in the rough like that. A church with a solid roof was a far more stable environment than a clunky Skoda. He didn’t know how much gas they had left, and a third person would add extra weight. Perhaps… someone held a bowl in front of him, startling him out of his thoughts.

Bramboracka,” Relena said. “It’s a surprisingly hearty, filling soup, thanks to your potatoes.”

“Ah… eh, thank you.” Trowa took the chipped bowl from her.

“Do you mind if I sit next to you?”

“No, of course not.”

She sat down, carefully balancing her own bowl. From a deep pocket of her skirt she pulled two thick slices of bread, a little stale at the crust. Duo had been right; Jaroslav and Irina had given them far too much produce for just two people to eat. It was better to share, and Trowa felt he had to apologize.

“I’m sorry about yelling at you earlier,” he said. “About you commandeering our provisions.”

“I appreciate it,” she said, “but it’s not necessary. I would’ve done the same. This world has turned into a harsh environment and whatever you can salvage, you keep for yourself.”

Trowa dipped the bread into the potato soup, using it as a makeshift spoon. “Where do you know Duo from?”

“I stood in his way when he shot Heero,” she said, smiling wistfully at the memory. “I didn’t know they were Gundam pilots.”

“Ah yes, the infamous shooting accident,” Trowa said. It was one of Duo’s favorite stories to dish up, but he hadn’t retold it in quite a while. Come to think of it, he hadn’t spoken about Heero in a long time, not since he had woven that black scarf into his braid.

“The next moment I saw him, he had enrolled with Heero at the same school I attended,” she continued. “I was ecstatic to see him… Heero, I mean. Things were so different back then. Easier, simpler. Ah, to be in school and to only worry about getting your birthday party invitations out in time.”

Trowa had never experienced the luxury of a birthday party. He could see her worry about that, in another lifetime perhaps; now her clothes looked worn and torn, and her strawberry blonde hair, put in an easy ponytail, was matted and tangled at the root ends, the large part covered up by a shawl way too large for her. Yet, the way she was comporting herself, her natural and peaceful calmness, convinced him why people saw a Queen in her. This girl… no, this young woman wasn’t going to mope or sulk in a corner, no, she stepped up to the plate and made her own decisions, not to be held back by anyone or anything.

“The women and children in this church… was this your idea?”

“No, I stumbled upon them by accident.” She took a bite of the soaked bread, grimacing as she got herself a large piece of garlic. “The women have been here for months, scouring the city for survivors, taking in the poor little ones. I found them after the battle was long over. Zero attacked the city without prior notice, it just had Leos stomping all over, and for what..? For chaos, for demoralization, to scatter everyone? To show its power? Gabriela and Evelína are too old and too stubborn to leave. They immediately took care of the children. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed… and as I’m younger, I’ve been wandering around the city for food and other supplies.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you end up in Prague?”

Her hands rested around the bowl, the remnants of the slice of bread on top of the soup, soaking up the thick liquid. “I was on my way to go into outer space,” she said. “To talk to Zechs. He had destroyed Barge, and I wanted to try to reason with him. He’s my brother. Milliardo Peacecraft.”

Trowa was taken aback by the news. He had known the man only as Zechs Merquise. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

She gave him a warm smile. “You’re really compassionate for a Gundam pilot,” she said. “Heero was like that, too. Compassionate. Passionate. Everyone saw him as the Perfect Soldier, but he was just a young boy following his emotions.”

“Relena, we… we don’t know where he is, but we assume he’s alive.”

She looked at him quizzically, then it dawned to her that she had spoken in the past tense. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him. I miss him. I certainly could’ve used his support… but that wasn’t your question. At the same time Zero became sentient, I was in Brussels for a diplomatic meeting. My chauffeur, Pargan, saved my life. Zero had chosen Brussels as a target, seeing as it’s a political capital. Ironically enough, it was Wing Zero, Heero’s Gundam, who tore the place apart. Pargan thought that it was looking for me. I’m not sure what Zero knows or thinks about me, but we didn’t stick around to find out.” She put the bowl to her lips to sip. “We drove, and we drove… until a Leo got us off the road. Pargan… he didn’t make it.”

Trowa had that sinking feeling. “He was a good man, for getting you out in time.”

“Yes, he was. I can’t drive, so I had to leave the car behind… I had to leave Pargan behind. I couldn’t even give him a decent funeral.”

“You were alone and under fire from the Leo,” Trowa said. “Don’t fall yourself so hard.”

She shivered, the bowl shaking in her hands. “I sat in the burning car until I was sure the Leo was gone,” she said, her voice dropping to a mere whisper. “The smoke… the heat… and I kept praying that Pargan had been instantly killed from the impact, instead of burning to death.”

“It seems that Zero has managed to take something away from every one of us,” Trowa said bitterly. He finished his bowl; the last bite had actually been too hot, scalding his tongue.

“What did it take from you?” Relena asked.

He didn’t answer, and she didn’t ask again. He didn’t want to tell her about his diminished eyesight; what kind of a Gundam pilot would he be without proper vision? They both remained silent.

“You want some more?” Gabriela popped up with a huge pan in her hand and a wooden spoon in her other. “Thanks to you, there’s plenty of bramboracka to go around.”

“Yes, please.” Trowa held out his bowl. It was a good soup and he enjoyed the taste. Relena passed.

“Your friend’s really good with children,” Gabriela said as she ladled the soup into his dish.

“He is,” he simply said. He had lost track of Duo since he had entered the church. “Did he eat?”

“I made sure he had soup,” she tilted her head slightly, “and I also gave him a couple of hard-boiled eggs, but I saw that he gave them to the children. I’ll give him a few extra slices of bread.”

“Thank you.” He watched her retreating back, as she wandered off to dish out more soup to anyone interested.

“You’re looking out for each other, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I found Duo by accident in Paris.”

“He’s not the same as he used to be.” Relena pulled the shawl tighter around her head, the two big campfires unable to chase the chill away. Her sadness was obvious. “What did Zero take from him?”

“His sanity,” Trowa said.

“I thought as such.” She was sharp and very alert. “His reactions are so different. Even his voice is different. Yet when he greeted me, I thought he was still the same… that exuberance, that warmth.”

“He still shows signs of his old self,” Trowa said. He didn’t know why exactly he wanted to reassure her. Or was he trying to reassure himself? “But often… unfortunately… he shows signs of a totally different Duo.”

“That’s why I’m happy that you’re looking out for each other.”

Soldiers in arms. “We’ve been traveling together for quite a while now. We’re searching for the other pilots.”

“What’s your destination?”

“Sanq Kingdom. We want to go up north, as there’s no known activity from Zero or the Gundams in…”

“Don’t go there,” she interrupted him. “I had to dissolve the nation in order to keep the people safe. Dermail forced me into making a choice. I did what I had to do.”

“Sanq Kingdom doesn’t exist anymore?”

“As a country, no. Maybe as a legend,” she said wryly, “the legend of a lost Kingdom that rose and fell too soon.” This news was… bad, and a serious hitch in their plans. “You’ll find nothing there. That’s why Zero doesn’t care for it either.” Relena rose to her feet abruptly. “Get some rest, you need it.”

“I’ll take first watch,” Trowa said. “The car…”

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll keep watch. I know how sleep is important to you.” She walked away before he could protest. Trowa finished his second bowl and decided to search out Duo. He found him at a side wing of the church, tucking in some of the youngest children after their meal. The chilly wind didn’t reach them here; the lit candles didn’t flicker. Trowa waited for Duo to finish. The beds, a heap of mattresses in all shapes and sizes with blankets, comforters and duvets on top, were arranged in such a way that the children slept together, finding solace and comfort in each other’s presence. Duo got up and dusted off his knees as he’d been hunched over. He walked towards Trowa.

“Do you want to leave?” he asked, also reducing his voice to a soft whisper, as the church had excellent acoustic and would amplify even the lowest sound to a tenfold.

“There’s no need to leave soon,” Trowa answered, not wanting to burden Duo with his feelings of fatalism. “You’ve been driving all day. Get some rest.”

“I’ve operated a seven ton Gundam,” Duo said vehemently, “I’m not tired of driving a goddamn Skoda for a couple of hours!”

“It’s okay,” Trowa shushed him. “Do whatever you want. I’d like to see you get some rest, but if you feel fine…”

“All right, all right.” Duo muttered, but suddenly his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “What do you think of our Queen?”

“She’s not a Queen, Duo. At least, not anymore,” Trowa said. “She had bad news about Sanq Kingdom.” He relayed her exact words to him. “We can’t go up north anymore. We have to adjust and determine another destination.”

“We have to take the Queen with us,” Duo said.

“Well, if she wants to come…” He hesitated. He wasn’t really sure if Relena wouldn’t slow them down. Three were harder to move around than two. What if she wanted to take Gabriela, Evelína and the children with her? On the other hand, people would follow her. They had believed in her. She would make an excellent figurehead of the resistance. Maybe setting up a reliable and resourceful resistance would be better than to search all over Europe in vain. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow morning.”

Duo grabbed him at the sleeve of his shirt. It was easy to forget how strong he was, as he didn’t look particularly buff - but Trowa knew he’d have trouble wrestling himself free if Duo really put his strength into it.

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “We have to take the Queen with us.”

Trowa took a deep gust of breath. Easy. Take it easy. “Why, Duo?”

He let go of him, smiling. “Because she knows the way to the ruined city.”

---------------------------------




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