Disclaimer – Gundam Wing is not mine. Duh.
Let's get this straight right off – training to be a gundam pilot was damn hard work. And even though I was picked up
by Professor G a bit late in the game, I was still trained for years. Some people think that not being in a battle situation
deadens the training. Maybe they're right; maybe I just hadn't been a civilian long enough to get to that point.
Nevertheless, my training was still as sharp as ever. I would sometimes react to the subtle change in my ship's sound or movement
even before the alarm sounded. I would know where my target was in a room with me even though I consciously had no idea how
So I woke up at the same time my captives did.
Don't ask me how I knew. There may have been a sound, maybe a subtle change in my ship's vibration due to to their movements.
I shouldn't be able to hear them. I shouldn't feel such tiny shifts. It didn't matter how, though, right?
I sighed, knowing that they would now be loud and irritating. They would try to threaten me by telling me that Jack Harlow
was going to get me.
Jack Harlow would have to try damn hard.
I got up from my floating sleeping position and made my way to my galley, studiously ignoring all those damn poems on the
walls. Not for the first time, I swore I was going to paint over the damn things.
I dumbly thought of the threat to my life now, thought of dying. It was pathetic how my chest seemed to lighten at the thought.
I ignored the feeling and took it a little further. Would I get a funeral, or would my body just lay wherever it happened
to fall? And if I did get a funeral, what would happen? Quatre would fund it, of course. He's such a good guy. And because
Quatre would attend, Trowa would be there.
Would Hilde attend my last hurrah? Would she cry with loss or would she stare in triumph or hate? Would she attend in a black
dress, and if not, why not?
What about Wufei? He and I had never been close. Would he go to my funeral, say some last words about the irritating Maxwell?
Or would he ignore my death? Wufei was a man of honor – it was hard to guess what he would do.
But what about... Heero? What would he do?
Well, at least I'd be dead – no way to be upset about his decision. At that point, it wouldn't matter.
I blew my bangs out of my face and grabbed a couple more bulbs, then went to the cargo bay. I ignored my captives' screaming
and squirted some water on their faces (an almost impossible feat). They shut up when I threatened to take the water away.
Once watered, they started right back up again. I made sure their binding were secure and left them. I would feed them when
they shut up. See how long it took them to figure that one out.
The little hallway was filled with little poems, all of them blood-red. It was hard to ignore them in the “meadow”
I had painstakingly created.
I returned to my galley and ate a ration bar, not in the mood to try anything else. The music washed over me. I hardly heard
it, but it helped me to keep from concentrating on other things too much.
At least now I didn't really have time to think about Heero and the others and the exact probability of each of them showing
up in a suit to the funeral made for a little ol' street rat.
The feeling of relief at dying was pushed safely out of mind.
I had turned on my rock music, the music that was almost impossible to understand. Some of my music was very... personal in
its lyrics. I couldn't stand to listen to that right now.
So I listened to those voices long dead screaming something about “you” and “cold” and ignored the
flash of cobalt that entered my head.
Checking my coordinates was easy, readying a message fir Une a bit more complicated. Admitting to being a target of one of
your targets is just bloody humiliating. Then I set a scan to notify me of an incoming... something within ten mile. Yes,
ten miles. My Wing is just fucking awesome like that.
Besides, in space... ten miles isn't really all that much.
I had a few files on our dear Mr. Jack Harlow, and I brought them up to look at them closer. Mr. Jack Harlow wasn't terribly
bad-looking, for a motherfucker. He was in his early thirties – my files differed on either 31 or 32 – with short-cropped
dark brown hair and dark eyes. The picture I had of him had him in a gray tuxedo. And a smile.
A nice smile, too, for a motherfucker.
I read a long, disturbing list of all the things the Preventers knew he was doing and couldn't do anything about. Murders,
weapon engineering, arms development. What use were the Justice Departments if they couldn't deliver justice? Too bad for
everyone, too, that I had just helped this bastard. The thought made me vaguely sick.
Reading this file only served to tell me how much I had to lose by not completing this mission. I added a little footnote
on my letter to Une telling her that I would continue the mission. I wouldn't accept money until it was done. Once and for
Besides, if Jack Harlow was so stupid as to send those losers in my cargo bay after me, he didn't stand a chance. That almost
That done, I closed my eyes and let my body relax. Time to look at things that I didn't want to see.
Where to start? Since I was probably going to be dead soon, I had to fight harder to see what I didn't want to see. Not just
the good things, but also the bad things.
The one that was constantly slapping me in the face was the desire to die. I hadn't truly thought I would feel such a way,
but obviously I did. The question was: when did it start? And even more importantly: why?
There were probably a lot of reasons, if I looked for them. Heero. The estrangement from the guys, starting long before I
decided to leave. Hilde. Gods, I should be looking even farther back than that, shouldn't I? Solo, the loss of all of my brothers
and sisters, so much closer to me than any blood kin could ever be. Then Sister Helen and Father Maxwell and...
I found myself breathing heavily and tried to stop. And that brought up something else, something I'd been pushing aside because
boys, especially boys who just happened to be bounty hunters, couldn't afford to have fears. But I was afraid – I was
terrified – that I truly was Shinigami. That everyone I touched... everyone I got close to... died. I was scared for
Quatre and Heero and the others. The Sweepers. Howard. Hilde. If I had stayed with them, would they still be alive? Wasn't
it better for me to suffer than for everyone to die because of me?
I sighed, wishing finding myself meant finding someone... better... than who I was seeing. A suicidal coward. Pathetic.
But these past three years had shown me some good things. Maybe I wasn't as honorable as Wufei (hello? Pickpocket much?),
but I still found myself being... truthful, though I often hid truths within other truths. Was that lying? Meh. People have
done worse. I believed in justice, though I thought the judicial system was total bullshit. On the streets, you took care
of your own. And you sure as hell didn't wait for the police to mete out justice. And we did just fine, thank you very much.
And we didn't have to worry about courts. Only where to hide the bodies.
I wouldn't call myself righteous, but I saw what was right and what was wrong. Wufei, I think, had black and white on the
brain, while I'm a more gray kind of guy. But there are lines a person crosses that I can't forgive.
Killing a priest, for example.
And I often visited orphanages, whenever I could. I gave most of my excess money to those kids. I couldn't really do much
else – getting close to those kids would be far too dangerous for them. And, maybe, for me as well. Orphanages brought
back memories. Some were good, but... they would always remain bittersweet.
But giving to orphanages... that was good, right?
And let's see... what else... oh yeah. I was loyal. Yup. That one had blindsided me one day while I was sitting in my galley
thinking of the other gundam pilots. It had hit me so suddenly, in fact, that there was a poem on the walls commemorating
it. I didn't have to look at it – I knew each word by heart. It was one of the hardest poems I'd ever written.
“You can trust me,”
The snake told the Servant,
“I will love you forever
And protect you from pain.”
And the angel, she trusted
His words easily.
And foolishly, this angel
Gave the serpent full reign.
She opened her heart
To the snake's waiting fangs,
And when she was poisoned,
It was by him she was stained.
And now this poor angel's
A bitter, wilting thing,
And the beauty once shining
Is now dust in the wind.
I'd ended up naming the damn thing Poisoned Lies. Why not? But it showed just how loyal I was... how foolishly loyal I was.
I just had to decide on whether that was something I wanted to work on or not. I figured I should start with the fear and
the suicidal tendencies first. You know, the important ones.
So. Yeah. Other things about me. Let's see... well, I'm stubborn. I'm headstrong and rebellious. Taking orders rubs me. Being
given a job, though, is something else entirely. I'll finish the job, and I'll finish it better than you wanted me to. I put
that extra effort into my work that most people just shrug at. But I like loose parameters. Une had once tried to tell me
how to take out an enemy. I'd done every single thing, even the tiniest detail, differently. And I'd still pulled the damn
thing off with flying colors. And then I warned her that the next time she told me how to do something, I'd be tempted to
leave the shit to her.
The crazy schizo had laughed.
And by the way, I know multiple personality isn't common for schizophrenics. Don't preach to me.
That's another thing about me. I'm smart. I act like a dunce, I understand that, but that's one good thing about being out
here all alone all the time – there's no one to pretend for. I can be me... whoever I am... and not have to worry about
what I look like to others or whether anyone sees through me.
And I guess that's another thing to look at. Why do I care so much about what others think of me? I don't mind if people think
I'm an idiot. Stupid and harmless was a necessity during the war. I just... don't like others looking at me strangely. Like
And... worse... I hide, but I want to be found. I was hypocritical, selfish. And a part of me wanted to be a martyr.
I jumped up when I stopped hearing vague sounds from my pathetic little captives and went to the galley to get them some food.
Rations for them. No good food – hah. They were prisoners, not guests. I would be more than happy to drop their sorry
asses off at Preventer HQ. Damn but they were annoying.
They seemed to get that whining wasn't going to win them into my good graces. I was granted a reprieve from their fussing
the rest of the time until I went to sleep.
As dreams went, the one I had wasn't spectacular. It was a rerun. I hate those.
I was in a dark hallway, one hallway of a million hallways I've infiltrated. I can feel the rush, the kick of adrenaline in
me. It's such a powerful feeling. When I was younger, I had thought it akin to invincibility. The feeling that no one could
touch you. That you were lightning without the raucous, stumbling impediment of thunder, fluid and dangerous.
I moved with that assurance, that knowledge that I was faster, better than my enemy. That I would win.
The hallway had doors on each side and seemed to last forever. A dream hallway. I ignored the doors, knowing instinctively
that who I searched for was not to be found in those rooms. No. He was further down, waiting for me. Waiting for Shinigami.
I was arrogant enough to think he was waiting for death. I wanted to taunt him, to call out to him – do you know who
I am? Do you fear my face? But I stayed silent, moving with coy, slinking grace, as the fox when he corners the hens in their
pen. Licking his chops and wondering curiously who he will eat.
Curious. Not afraid. Too assured of his victory to be afraid.
Then, as only a dream can do, he was in front of me. My prey. The man I was to kill.
Suddenly emotions flooded in, the emotions I always feel around this man. The emotions I had quickly learned to hide.
Love. Fear. Pain. Hurt. Hopelessness. And the willingness to accept all that pain.
He's in front of me, his eyes dead cold. A gun was in his hand. It didn't shake. He didn't hesitate.
He never did.
My eyes snapped open with the sound of the gunshot still echoing in my ears. But this time it wasn't a gunshot – it
was an alarm.
I cursed resoundly and got to my cockpit as quickly as I could – which was damn quick. The screens were blazing red.
I shut off the alarm and quickly scanned the screen. Shit. An incoming ship. It was unregistered. I brought it up on my screens
and hissed. It had weapons.
I sat in my seat and snapped the gravity on. I would need to have my balance. I heard yelps from my cargo bay and knew my
captives didn't appreciate the landing. Like I cared.
I changed my music to music with an “I don't care” attitude and listened to Limp Bizkit scream about ripping people's
heads off. I switched the controls to manual override and cursed again. The fucker was on me.
I did a crazy corkscrew, pumping out my fuel, just as twin beams shot out at my ship. I let my mind blank, let my hands and
fingers move without thought. Thought would make me hesitate. I didn't have time to hesitate.
For one short, infinitesimal moment, I felt bad for my captives. They were gonna have bruises because of this.
I swerved a hard right, then immediately banked left. I put my thrusters through hell, jarring the ship with spurts and stops.
I evaded every single beam with a skill I had gained years ago. Sweat fell into my eyes, poured down my neck. I found myself
reaching for weapons controls that I didn't have.
The enemy ship was big, but not too big. Like one of those Ford trucks to a Chevrolet. Or a punch buggy. Not a tractor trailer,
but still bigger.
And goddammit, it had weapons.
Killing the enemy would be difficult without weapons. I had a feeling the enemy knew that, as well.
We were out in the middle of nowhere, two ships fighting desperately. My only chance would be to escape, evade and get out
of there to the point where he couldn't follow. But there was absolutely nothing out here to direct his attention –
to hide me. Shit. Shit! If it were a suicide crashing mission, it would be easy shit. But the fucker had weapons!
In the end, I realized without hope, it would all come down to who had more gas. And depending on where this guy came from...
I was dead.
I gritted my teeth. “Not without trying, fuckers,” I growled, and dodged the newest attack.
The ship, I noted, was completely black. Its outline was difficult to see, its shape hard to decipher. I doubted it was a
model on the market. The market doesn't allow weapons.
Now, some people think it's easy to make ships do these amazing acrobatics out in the middle of space. Bullshit. Doing loop-de-loops
and somersaults is practically impossible. The best a person can do is turn and use those thrusters to do the most insanely
fast maneuvers ever made possible. This guy knew how impossible it was to loop the ship.
What he didn't know was what thrusters could do.
He was the average good spacer – he could turn, he could chase. And, like any good soldier, he knew how to fire his
But he couldn't maneuver like I could.
Back during the war, we gundam pilots shocked the fuck out of the military by swerving around their missiles. There were a
hell of a lot more missiles then than now. This, comparatively, was easy shit to dodge.
But it used up gas. And I had no where to run. Suicide was out of the option – I may be suicidal, but I'm not gonna
try it. No way. Besides, with my luck, he'd live, anyway.
So my job was to use my thrusters to get me as far away from the fucker as possible and hope for two things: one, that no
other ship would unfortunately plunge into our battle, and two, that the motherfucker would give up and go away.
The first never happened. The second took an hour of evasion dancing. My fuel had been starting to get critically low, to
the point where I was in serious danger of not making it back to Earth. The thought of being stranded out in space was not
a comforting one.
But the bastard finally left.
I waited to make sure he didn't pull anything fancy before heading to Earth. I didn't have the gas or the weaponry to successfully
chase him, and honestly? Now that he was leaving, the adrenaline was starting to fade. I was just content for it to be over.
I set my course back on track and settled back in my seat for a few moments. Thank God and little baby cherubs that that was
I reflected on what might have made him leave. Anyone with a brain knows that energy is used up for the weapons. Maybe the
ship hadn't been properly formatted to the weapons. The energy shouldn't have been sucked up that quickly. But if that were
the case... that meant that, though they were working up weapons, they didn't quite know how to use them.
Or, more likely, the fucker just realized that he wasn't gonna fucking hit me.
I made Godsmack stop talking about how much he fucking hated someone and turned my music to some happier stuff. Fluff music
– Cascada or Superchick or Trapt. Linkin Park. Billy Joel. He was the one singing now – Billy Joel. Singing about
how it was still rock and roll to him. I sang along for a moment, my eyes closed. Then I went to check on my poor, bruised
They weren't happy, of course, and remained so despite the fact that I'd returned the ship to zero-g. Or maybe they didn't
like the fact that I had turned the ship back to zero-g. I guess the fall didn't make them too thrilled.
Of course, when they found out that their boss hadn't given a rat's ass about their lives, they were shocked and outraged.
Whatever measly information these men had, I could almost guarantee that they would give it to the Preventers. Ah. You gotta
love the need for revenge.
I went back to the galley and fixed myself a quick drink. With my luck, the guy would be coming back with reinforcements.
It would be a miracle to make it to my port on Earth safely – and make it to Une's without meeting at least twenty men
after my ass. I considered my increasingly obvious mortality. That funeral was looking... definite.
I fed my sulking captives and introduced them to a portable potty. They weren't thrilled with that, but I had to pick the
thing up and toss it into the shoot, so I had no fucking clue why they were complaining.
My course would leave me only a few extra gallons of gas – not enough to spit with, here in space. If I was attacked
again... well, nothing to do about it now.
Too tense and wired for sleep, I could only look at my files of Jack Harlow again and sing along with Ricky Martin about living
the crazy life. I didn't think about the lyrics and I ignored the words on the wall.
My half-hour warning came in so suddenly that I jumped. I was so shocked to not be attacked again that I just sat there in
my galley for another two minutes before getting my ass up. I had no doubt about what this meant – that man, Harlow,
had men waiting for me at the port. I spared a second to curse, then got my captives, trussed them up separately, and slammed
them into the other seats in my cockpit. I only had six seats altogether, more than some but just barely enough nonetheless.
I warned one smart-mouthed motherfucker to be happy he was getting in that seat at all. I also left his harness just that
tiny bit loose. See if I cared.
I switched my music again, knowing what the ports expected of me – blaring rock music that pissed everyone in the near
(and far) vicinity off. I settled on Trivium's “Blinding Tears Will Crack the Skies” and settled myself in.
I'm not going to say entering Earth's atmosphere is easy shit, but I won't say that it's too terribly difficult, either. I
heard astronauts could do it back in A.D. If they could do it, almost anyone could.
With that said, I'll also add that I can do it practically with my eyes closed. Some people think I have a hard time with
it. And yeah, I sweat – re-entry is hot – and I have to concentrate like hell because of all the variables in
landing on Earth... but it really isn't difficult. I almost messed up this time, though, because of my worry about having
enemies camped out. I almost scratched my poor Wing's paint. My scans were already waiting to check the perimeter and blinked
on even as I finished my landing. Thank you, O gods of wireless electronics. I heard that long ago people had to use wires
for everything. I can't even imagine how inconvenient that must have been.
I logged myself in to the port, knowing the proper protocol demanded prompt time, then unstrapped myself and grabbed a pistol
and semi from my secret stash in my room. My captives stewed on my seats for a while as I put on a Kevlar vest and basically
got ready for battle.
I returned to find my screens coming up with only one person. Jack Harlow himself? He wouldn't make things that bloody simple,
I was shocked as hell to find that the mystery man wasn't a man at all, but a woman. And a woman I knew pretty well.
“Well, well, well, boys,” I murmured with a grin. “Looks like the head of the Preventers came all this way,
just to meet you. Aren't you special?”
The men were silent, but the change in the air around me told me everything I needed to know. I chuckled darkly and left them
in their seats. “Now, now,” I warned them all, my Shinigami smile neatly in place, “don't try to run. It
would probably hurt when I shot your legs.” I flicked the semi hanging off my shoulder before releasing the hatch for
I was still extra cautious as I made my way to Une, though I didn't think she'd be out here unless all the men had been taken
care of. I disliked getting assistance from those paying me. It made me feel like I wasn't earning the money.
Une only raised an eyebrow at my obviously battle-ready attire. “I see you already know what had happened.”
I grinned rakishly at her. “Yup. I have a pretty little message waiting to be sent to you on my ship. Want me to send
it to you?”
The woman only shook her head, seemingly used to my antics now. “Not necessary. I have a more important message for
Her tone implied that it was a message I'd rather not receive. “Oh?” I questioned, keeping my voice light.
“Jack Harlow, as you know, already organized all of this. We fell into his trap.”
“I did,” I said smoothly as she motioned four men closer, apparently to make a last sweep of the grounds. I told
her about my captives and she sent two to retrieve them. When they were gone, I continued. “I accepted the mission,
and therefore took responsibility for getting it completed properly.”
Une merely moved me forward toward a waiting car. We were silent until we were inside and the window between the front and
back seats was up. “That doesn't matter,” Une snapped, apparently not wanting to argue the detail, despite how
she seemed to not agree with me. “What matters is that Harlow has now decided that you are his most important target.”
“I noticed,” I said dryly. I gained a sharp glare for that remark.
“You are too important to lose,” she added, and that managed to shut me up. She smirked, but I was too shocked
to respond. “Because of your importance, you have now become our number one priority. We need to protect you and get
rid of Jack Harlow. Now that he has targeted a civilian,” she said that last word as dryly as I had said my earlier
comment, “who has given a statement,” she gave me a look that said I had better agree with that, “we can
go after him.”
“Yeah, here's a statement for you – the bastard sent a ship with beams after me.”
She stared at me for a short while before nodding her head. “That'll do.”
I wasn't happy about this. “But I don't need your help. I'll complete the mission on my-”
“I've already put two of my best men on this case,” she told me, as if I hadn't spoken a fucking word. “They
will accompany you and assist you in the full completion of your mission.” She glared at me when I began to protest
again. “I won't lose you to ego. I understand your precious manhood's at stake, but this is bigger than you.”
Well, the first part pissed me off, but I couldn't argue with the second. So I sat and fumed for a minute or five.
“Your men will most likely get in my way,” I told her irritably, thinking of having to deal with two bumbling
idiots who would be squeamish about entering sewers or grates. Maybe someone claustrophobic. Or someone afraid of spiders.
Une suddenly had one of those creepy “I-am-an-insane-woman-so-don't-even-fucking-think-about-messing-with-me”
looks on her face. It was a mix of a sneer, a smirk, and a smile. I watched her warily but didn't say another word.
We were taken up to the very front of Preventer's Headquarters, a massively huge building that would intimidate the lesser
baddies into going straight. Three men were there to guard Une as she exited the car, two more to flank me, ready to protect
or deflect as necessary. I glared at them and managed to get one to back off and one to move closer. Une seemed to find that
I was led through a side entrance – I never let myself go in through the front – and up Une's private elevator
(good God the money us poor tax payers were putting into this place) to her private office. I wondered if she were an executive
hermit and tried to imagine her in a cabin up in the hills. The picture didn't suit her at all.
She sat behind that desk with more authority than any president of that United States country that used to exist. And some
of those men were said to be pretty fucking arrogant. That was an authority that a hermit just didn't fucking have.
She looked at me as I took my regular place by the door, leaning against the wall with my arms lightly crossed. “Strike,”
she said, referring to my code name, my hunter name, “you know as well as I do that Harlow must be stopped.” I
said nothing, only kept my eyes on her. She hadn't needed to say that to me.
She continued, knowing that I wanted her to get to the point. “Whether you want to do this alone or not, we can't afford
to have you go out there and fail.”
Funny, I thought silently, since that was one of my plans.
“The two men I've put on this case are my absolute best. They won't get in your way, and they're a necessary asset to
this. You'll need to work together to kill Harlow – which is the mission.” I felt a quick surge of relief. “Of
course, if you can take him alive, that would be great, but right now the main goal is to just get rid of him.” In other
words, think before you fire. I sighed.
“I understand,” I said, the words thick on my tongue and hard to get out. Damn but I hated the idea of working
with other people. I had a momentary twinge of fear that I would rely on them. “I'll work with them.” And hopefully
wouldn't end up on the outside like I am with...
I got a sick feeling just as Une smiled at me and picked up the phone on her desk. “Let them up.”
I stared at her with blank eyes as my chest tightened. She said they were her absolute best. Her best. She wouldn't stick
I heard their voices, low but still distinct, as they walked down the short hall to Une's office. I stiffened. I know Une
saw my sudden tensing, knew her eyes went thoughtful, but I couldn't care enough for that right now.
I watched the knob twist, watched the door open as if the true God of Death were about to enter, were about to come for me
to take me to hell.
“I'm certain he is honorable, Yuy,” Wufei was saying when that door swung in. He was the first to step in. He
was taller, leaner, even more sinewy. His hair was still back in that severe ponytail, his cheekbones still sharp, his eyes
still coal black. But those eyes weren't as sharp or cold, and there was a small smile on his lips. He'd mellowed, if just
Then came him... Heero. My blood drained from my face as I saw him again for the first time in so long. He was taller, as
well. He and Wufei were about the same height, which just had to be a few inches taller than me. He, too, was lean and honed,
his face a bit sharper. More adult. His eyes were still that shockingly dark blue, but they, too, were warmer. There was an
emotion in them, like distrust and worry together, a shock to see after so long without having many emotions in those eyes
at all. His hair was still a wild mess, still fell into his eyes. They both wore black outfits with the Preventor insignia
They had changed... but they were still so very much the same.
They both saw me at the same time and froze in shock. The door slammed behind them. I might have flinched.
None of us moved, staring at what might as well have been ghosts or figments. Their eyes were wide. They didn't move for the
longest time. I was too shocked, too scared, to think of anything witty or stupid to say, something dumb that they expected
of me. Of the me that wasn't me. But I could say nothing.
Finally, it was Wufei who broke off from his frozen pose, who took a cautious step forward, as if drawn to a Siren or Seductress.
His hand reached out like he wanted to touch, but paused in midair as if expecting his touch would make me disappear. “Maxwell?”
he breathed, a curse, a plea. His eyes showed what I couldn't believe – hope, wonder. Maybe even joy. “Is that...
you?” Then, a split second later, with confusion lacing his features, “are you... Black Strike?”
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