Wildflower
by Becca Abbott

Michael Yamada lay back among the cushions, eyes half closed and fixed on Arcane's shapely hands. The other man's movements were precise as he reduced the somatine rock to powder. First the quick chopping, the musical sound as the blade met the glass, then the brief whisper as Arcane gathered the powder into a pile. It lay, glittering and seductive. Arcane drew a long line with the golden blade and rocked back.

"Ready, love."

Michael accepted the ivory reed. Putting it to his nostril, he inhaled the drug, then fell once more into the softness heaped around him. Music came from the next room, a lilting, popular melody that he especially liked.

"So, Arcane, you said we would be entertained tonight."

"Indeed."

The blond man stretched out alongside him, lean, powerful form seeming to glow. The drug hit Michael like a tsunami and, for a moment he felt his eyes roll back. A shudder ran through him. Arcane's hands, so fine, rested lightly on his belly. Michael had asked him once about the old scars there, but Arcane had only laughed.

"The war," he'd replied, as if that explained everything.

"What of Yuy?" Arcane asked now. "Has he faced up to his new present?"

"He still refuses to see him." Michael sat up, regarding this most enigmatic and fascinating man with sluggish annoyance. "It's been over a month now."

"What do you think of him?"

"Maxwell? What's to think?" Images of that unkempt, filthy little savage rose in Michael's mind. "I believe the creature is working somewhere about the place."

It seemed to Michael that he missed something in the blue gaze that met his, but Arcane said only,

"Have you seen the 'creature' lately?"

Michael opened his mouth to dismiss Maxwell, then shut it again. Nothing Arcane said or did was meaningless. Nothing.

"No," he said. Arcane smiled and Michael, who could not help himself, smiled back. Then the fair-haired man sat up, saying loudly,

"Bring him!"

Straightening in surprise, Michael heard cursing, clanking and shouting. The door flew open and in a startling replay of Maxwell's first appearance, the slight figure was shoved forward by irate guards to collapse in a tangle of well-formed limbs and steel chains.

Today, however, the matted tangle was neatly combed and plaited into a hip-length, gleaming chestnut rope. The dirt had been scrubbed from a slender face just taking on the hard, clean lines of manhood. Beneath the black slave uniform, his body was lithe and muscular. This was the same youth dragged from the pits of Zoe?

Maxwell got to his feet, hands gripping his chains in fury tinged with no small amount of fear.

"God in heaven," breathed Michael, stunned. "He's perfect."

"Not quite, but very close," Arcane agreed softly.

Licking his lips, Michael leaned forward. "Come here, boy."

The young face lifted proudly; Maxwell didn't move.

Arcane laid a hand on Michael's shoulder, holding back the vice lord's angry exclamation. Graceful as always, he rose and approached the suddenly wary captive. Reaching out, he touched the boy's cheek and Maxwell flinched back, eyes narrowed and bitter.

"I thought I was Heero's."

"And yet," said Arcane softly, "Heero appears to care nothing for you."

That hurt. The violet gaze darkened and fell away. Arcane's little smile widened. Again he reached to touch the boy and again the boy recoiled.

"Don't," Maxwell whispered finally, but with little hope of being heeded.

"Why not? Would you prefer death? That's surely what awaits you if you leave Elion."

"Maybe."

"With all of Earth and Earth Sphere hunting you -- almost certainly," corrected Arcane. "You would not have escaped justice hiding on Zoe, but if you please us, not only will you live, you may even live in comfort. Or perhaps you enjoy handling other people's garbage?"

The slender jaw tightened. "It's cleaner than what you're askin'."

"You'll do what you're told!" snapped Michael.

Arcane said, amusement coloring his words, "Don't be foolish, boy."

"What's with you, anyway? Why make yourself up to look like Milliard Peacecraft?"

Michael caught his breath. Without missing a beat, Arcane slapped Maxwell hard.

"Maybe he just looks like me!"

The moment of ungoverned rage vanished as quickly as it had come. Bemused, Michael watched his lover, composure regained, smile again.

"Come to me," Arcane ordered, more softly yet.

But Maxwell only shook his head, taking a step backwards, then another. With seemingly inexhaustible patience, Arcane pursued. After all, thought Michael distantly, where could he go? Sure enough, in no time at all, the beautiful boy's back was against the wall and the misery in his gaze pronounced. When Arcane stroked the shining hair, he turned his head and closed his eyes.

You know what's coming, boy. Look at you tremble and scrabble for more defiance.

No response.

"Don't fight us, Maxwell," Arcane said softly.

He moved suddenly, this gundam pilot, almost as fast the assassin whose loyalty Michael Yamada was determined to win. Michael opened his mouth to shout a warning, but Arcane, to his surprise, was even faster.

The blond man caught the blur of fists and used the captive's forward momentum to pull him close. Maxwell fought like a wild thing, swearing with a fluency that lifted Michael's brows in reluctant admiration. Arcane held him fast, patient, until at last the struggles weakened.

"Leave me alone!" The hoarse voice ached.

Arcane quietly folded the slim, trembling body against his own. Michael's eyes narrowed on his lover's aquiline features. Indeed, Arcane's gentleness seemed sincere.

"But I cannot," Michael's lover crooned to the terrified boy. "You must do something for us, little one. You must make Heero fall in love with you."

No answer. The youth stood perfectly still in Arcane's grasp, looking at the ground.

Arcane reached under Maxwell's chin, lifting the white face.

"You're nuts, aren't ya?" whispered the boy. "Fucking out of your minds."

"Little prick!" Michael jumped to his feet, reaching for the crop that lay on the table beside the cushions.

But Arcane held up a cautioning hand and a dark look made Michael sink back to the pillows.

"I think you can do it," continued the man. "I think, perhaps, he already loves you."

Harsh laughter shook the black-clad form. "You are nuts! He thinks I killed his girlfriend! You might win his loyalty by lettin' him kill me, but love me? Jeezus!"

"I would suggest you try." For some reason, the angry replies seemed only to amuse Arcane. "And we will help you. After all -- don't they say that pity is akin to love?"

Now that strong arm tightened and fear flared again in the boy's vivid eyes. Maxwell tried to squirm from Arcane's grasp, but could not. Inexorably, he was led across the room to the pillows and Michael. With a sudden move, Arcane pushed him down on his face, a fist in the flimsy black fabric of Maxwell's shirt. It tore away, leaving the slim, well-muscled torso bare.

Michael leapt on the boy before he could recover, finding that absurd braid and wrapping it around his fist until his knuckles pressed against that slender neck. He pulled the lad up to his knees where he remained, rigid with dread. When Arcane sank gracefully to the cushions behind him, the captive flinched, pressing his lips together in a white line.

A pulse beat at the slender column of throat. Michael released the braid and leaned forward to taste the boy's white skin, vaguely aware that Arcane's hands had settled firmly on the Maxwell's shoulders, holding him still.

Duo Maxwell tasted of cheap, harsh soap, of sweat and fear and pain. Michael shivered at the pleasure of it and wanted more, but as he touched his tongue to the hollow at the base of the boy's throat, Maxwell was suddenly a maelstrom of movement again, tearing free of Arcane's grasp, smashing Michael in the mouth with his shackled wrists and snarling.

Pain shattered Michael's soma-enhanced senses and for a moment, he could not even scream. Dimly, he heard Arcane's roar of anger followed by an anguished cry. Michael lay where he'd fallen, the echoes of pain gradually fading. He sat up finally. Arcane had the little slut face down on the floor beside the cushions and was refastening Maxwell's wrists at his back while the youth bucked and struggled.

"The injector," ordered Arcane, holding out a hand while the other pressed firmly into the small of the thrashing slave's back. Michael wiped the blood from his mouth, wanting nothing more than to break the hellspawn's neck. Instead, he snarled and handed the item to Arcane, who set it against Maxwell's shoulder. Long minutes crept by, stretched by soma, and finally the boy's struggles ceased.

Arcane rolled him onto his back. Maxwell's face was wet. Tears seeped out of the corners of the wide eyes. Bruised lips parted.

"Oh, God..." Michael heard, the words a despairing breath.

Bending over the supine form, Arcane claimed Maxwell's mouth. There was no longer resistence. When the man drew back, there was no reaction. Michael took his turn then and the swollen lips parted under his at once. Michael felt his eyes rolling back in pure pleasure. He could taste Arcane in the boy's sweetness. Exploring deep, he felt the small whimper rising in the captive's throat and swallowed it.

At last, having his fill, he released the slave. The boy lay perfectly still between them, body loose, eyes hazed by the drug.

"There is nothing I would rather do," whispered Arcane, stroking his open palm down the boy's heaving chest, drawing delicate circles on that flat belly, "than to make love to you, to ease pleasure from your very depths, to see you dance with the joy of it. But alas, Duo, that is not to be."

Maxwell closed his eyes then and a shiver ran through him.

Leaning over the boy, Arcane deposited a chaste kiss on the thin, wet cheek. "Be sure to tell Heero about this," he whispered.

Then he turned Maxwell onto his belly. Together, they stripped the trousers from the youth, revealing a firm, round ass. Arcane took the crop from the table. The boy neither moved nor opened his eyes. Michael wet his lips, lust trembling through him as his exquisite lover lifted the whip and brought it down hard across the boy's scarred back.

Violet eyes flew open, blank with the shock of it. Ten times the pain, thought Michael, touching his own bleeding mouth. Nothing like somatine to put the edge on everything..

Different than your first taste of lash, isn't it, slut? One blow feels like five! Enjoy.

With Michael holding the brat still, Arcane beat him with delicacy and precision. The fourth blow fell, then a fifth. Drugged, his every nerve open wide, Maxwell finally screamed. At the tenth blow, he was begging them to stop. Arcane finally did, rocking back on his heels, flushed of face, eyes glittering.

Not one drop of the boy's blood had been spilled. Exquisite.

Michael was afire with lust. He watched, licking his lips as Arcane brought the shaking boy back to his knees. Then, calmly, Arcane opened his silk robe, revealing his own magnificent cock, rigid and seeping.

"Pleasure me, boy."

Maxwell stared at Arcane then lowered his head and opened his mouth.

Arcane purred, hands gripping that bowed head, holding it still while he began to move his hips. Michael watched, heart pounding, groin on fire, hearing the small, choking sobs of the slave as his mouth was raped. Then it was Michael's turn.

How wet and warm were the lips that parted to take him in, how exquisite the boy's struggles to breathe. Too soon, Arcane gently drew the lovely creature away from Michael. Feverish with soma-enhanced need, he watched Arcane push the boy back down on his face and lift the slim hips. Michael's lover, with a sly, upwards glance, parted those welted buttocks to reveal Maxwell's tiny, puckered hole.

There was no intent to prepare the youth for the invasion. His comfort was, after all, not at issue here. Quite the opposite. Arcane oiled Michael's aching cock for him, then guided it to that portal. The vice lord heard a muffled plea that he ignored and pushed hard into the boy.

Curiously, Maxwell made no sound under this new assault, but his hands knotted in white-knuckled agony. Michael soon forgot everything in the great, rolling waves of pleasure overwhelming him. Faster he moved, driving deep into the tight, tight sheath. He came at last, his exultant roar echoing through the chamber.

When he pulled out with Arcane's tender help, his cock was bloody. The boy lay unmoving among the cushions, harsh breathing the only sound he made.

Michael wet his lips. "God," he gasped. "Ah!"

Arcane kissed him gently. "Indeed," he whispered. "And now that's done, I want you, my love, not this child, but you."

Michael nodded, sighing as Arcane, with a sweet smile, cleaned him off. Then, with one foot, the blond man pushed the boy from the pillows. Maxwell rolled onto the bare floor and lay there. Forgetting him, Michael leaned forward and melted into his lover's arms.


Part 9

To get to the old C-Section, one had two choices. The easiest way -- and naturally the most dangerous for Heero -- was to go outside and around the colony to Section C's space dock. Unfortunately, the colony's exterior was well-covered by a video system he knew was monitored twenty-four hours a day. That meant taking the alternate route, through the dead zone itself.

There were no security cams in the dead zone's blasted corridors. He would simply have to be alert for hazards -- floating junk and jagged metal that could reach out and puncture suits.

Elion was a PGH. Noin had given him the specs before he arrived. This particular PGH had some custom work, tunnels that didn't show up on the standard specs. According to them, the best way into the abandoned sections was via one of the many old maintenance tunnels that ran under the city.

The docs thought Yamada was building armor or a weapon of some sort. It was a disturbing thought. Either one, fashioned from gundanium, would be a lot of trouble for the Preventers.

There was an access panel behind his bookshelf that led into the maintenance tunnels. This particular feature was the reason he'd chosen this apartment. The panel had been sealed a long time ago, but he'd opened it, then put his own security in place. Now, keeping the specs firmly mind, Heero made his way through the dirty, forgotten labyrinth, avoiding tunnels still used, back-tracking when a few were unexpectedly blocked. Finally, he came the massive wall separating this section from the next.

At the airlock, he had a couple of bad moments when it looked as if the controls wouldn't respond to his code. They finally kicked in, however, and he was able to pass without incident from the living Elion into the land of the dead.

Elion had been the site of a particularly gruesome wartime event, the Sunside Massacres. Alliance soldiers had stormed the colony, looking for rebels. To this day, no one knew if they had found them. No one knew who had starting firing in absolutely the wrong place. Three of the four station sections had blown out. Thousands had died instantly. If there were such things as ghosts, Heero thought, they would be here.

He got out of the maintenance tunnel as soon as he could for the more direct, if more dangerous, main corridors above. His helmet light illuminated an eerie, ghastly world of floating debris and even frozen bodies. Heero, intent on his mission, simply pushed them out of his path.

Once his objective was accomplished, there would be nothing in the way of justice for Relena. Heero had promised to bring Duo back to Sanc, but the more he thought of it, the less he liked the idea. Sanc had no death penalty. Instead, they had a grim fortress on the edge of a desert where the most evil of men were locked away.

Duo had served the colonies well during the war, been a brave and loyal comrade. He'd sacrificed as much as the rest of them for the uneasy peace that followed.

A lifetime alone in the dark -- Heero's soul quailed. Death was a much greater mercy.

Ahead, he saw light. Slowing his drift along the passage, he put out his torch and found his weapon. The light brightened as he got closer. His corridor turned. He saw the cameras mounted, covering the last few feet before the room beyond. Heero watched them track to the left and right, counting under his breath as they made their circuit.

Yamada might be careless of security within his complex, but here he was all business. Arcane's doing, no doubt. The cameras were out of sync, moving at random speeds. It was going to take speed, agility, but mostly luck. Heero hated depending on luck -- mainly because he rarely had any.

For a change, however, it was with him. He made it past the first set of cameras and into a long, narrow chamber with big doors lining the far wall. There were crates and barrels tied down to the deck to offer concealment. Even with his suit on, it was numbingly cold.

Now he had to wait, counting off the minutes before his pre-programmed worm began eating its way through the security files. Ninety-six, ninety-five, ninety-four...

...three, two one. He moved, pushing away from the wall with all his strength, sailing across the ice-rimed metal deck to the airlock. He punched in the code.

Nothing happened.

Heero swore softly and waited a few more minutes. Maybe his worm was taking more time than he'd reckoned. Sloppy. His concentration lately was shot to hell and he blamed that entirely on Maxwell. The son of a bitch. Heero had counted on the old adage, out of sight out of mind.

Maybe that was the problem. Maybe he should get Duo back, keep the baka under his watchful eye.

Heero had a sudden memory of his former friend and secret crush. They had been ordered to meet and get instructions for the next mission. The meeting place had been the beach, the day hot. They'd come in bathing suits except for Duo, who'd worn ragged denim cut-offs. Always different, Duo, always pushing at the limits of the docs' patience.

He remembered vividly how his heart had leapt at the sight of that slim, pale body, the unconscious sensuality in the way Duo had shrugged and given them all his beautiful, mischievous grin. Heero remembered -- oh, how he remembered! Flat stomach, ribs just barely visible. Tiny, rosy nipples. Heero recalled with a flush how he'd wanted to suck on them. It had been just an instant, a half-wish he'd banished at once. Even so, there had been an uncomfortable few minutes of trying to sit on his beach blanket so his interest hadn't been visible to the others.

Now Heero swore softly and bit hard on his lip to banish those memories. Duo had caused enough trouble in his life. He got what he deserved in this hell! And yet...

He entered the code again with angry, staccato pokes and, again, nothing. A chill ran down his spine. His worm had been detected. There was no other explanation. Skin crawling, he looked around, but saw no other surveillance devices. It was possible that the worm was discovered by some lowly tech who would assume someone had brought it in, unknowing. There might not even be an alarm raised, the tech not wanting his inattention discovered.

Putting his helmet back on, Heero tried not to be too disappointed. He hit the door controls, more in frustration than in any real expectation that it would open.

It opened!

He waited as the pressure equalized, then walked through and into the dock. His heart almost stopped.

It was a gundam -- or something damned close! But where their gundams had been massive, blockish things, this was almost delicate. Sixteen meters tall, and easily seven tons, its limbs were elongated and slender. He could not see where they joined the trunk, so seamless was the connection. The head reminded Heero of some mythical bird.

The left leg had been damaged and he saw evidence of clumsy repair. Repaired with gundanium.

Heart thumping, Heero palmed the control that turned his face shield dark. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself off from the deck and floated up to have a closer look.


Duo's life settled into a new rhythm. He worked hard by day, stomach knotted with dread as he waited for Arcane's next summons. Exhaustion became a fact of life. There were moments when he caught himself standing blindly in the middle of the room, machines clattering and thumping around him, and couldn't remember where he was or what he was doing. Then everything they did to him, everything they made him do, would come back.

The kids were a bright spot in all the misery. They rambled around the complex now at will, alert to all the dangers. It was just another mean street to them, just another perilous world in which to survive.

Duo did what he could to help, keeping an eye on the endless stream of junk coming through the conveyer belt for things they would find useful. Their little cubbyhole was quite cozy now, and if Duo didn't have goldies popping in unannounced to take him to the penthouse, he would have spent all his free time there.

His greatest worry was Wildflower's health. It seemed that she grew frailer as the days passed. Finally, he snuck into the infirmary and stole some antibiotics.

"She had pneumonia," explained SB. "I thought she was all better."

"When?"

"I'm fine."

"'Bout two months ago."

"I'm FINE!"

"Shut up and take your pills," Duo had roared. "I don't have any money for funerals, especially for little girls who don't know how to follow good advice."

She'd taken the drugs, but they hadn't seemed to help her.

"You need a doctor," he said now.

They were all sitting in Duo's little alcove behind the recycling bins, wrapped in tattered blankets, playing cards. Duo was teaching them poker. It was a frustrating exercise for SB, who had never learned to read or do arithmetic, but Wildflower caught on in a snap and was soon making Duo work for his victories.

"Damn straight," agreed SB. "You never seen no one as sick as she was. Shit, there at the end you looked dead."

"Yeah," she said, eyes going dreamy. "Yeah. There was an angel."

"Loony," SB jeered affectionately. "There wasn't no angel, that was me."

She giggled and set down a royal flush. SB wailed and buried his head in his hands.

Sadly, the bright moments became fewer and farther between. Arcane's summonses came more frequently. Several nights a week were spent in a drugged haze, with nightmarish memories the next morning. Duo would awake stiff and aching, usually just outside the recycling room, piled like the garbage he sorted by the door.

Sometimes, he woke in the infirmary.

Duo tried not to remember what happened to him in the penthouse, but the drugs always wore off, leaving him shaken and sick with humiliation. Yamada and Arcane. Over and over he saw them, felt their hands on him, watched himself reach eagerly to pleasure them, submitting to any indignity rather then suffer the punishment that came from disobedience. In fact, there was only one thing he refused them. He would not run crying to Heero! He would not beg that asshole for help.

It was Wildflower who found him one night sitting crosslegged in the middle of the room, all the machines stopped and garbage heaped at the end of the conveyer. It was so cold, Duo could see his breath when the little girl shook him awake.

"You're dreaming," she told him, "with your eyes open."

He nodded. What had he been doing? How long had he been sitting there, mind in shutdown?

"They're giving you drugs, aren't they?"

"Nah. What makes you say that?" He got to his feet, swaying, and started moving garbage again. Soon the incinerator was back up and running. His teeth chattered.

"You shake all the time now," she said. "Even when it's warm in here. Don't be an asshole, Duo. We know it ain't your fault. SB says Arcane's probably giving you somatine to keep you quiet."

"What do you know about Arcane?"

She didn't answer but turned toward the door. It opened and SB scooted through. Duo shook his head. He'd swear the girl was psychic or something. She always seemed to know when there was someone coming. It came in handy, what with goldies popping in and out.

SB had a box under his arm. Cookies. Wildflower squealed in delight and jumped on him. He held it out of her reach, teasing her. Duo watched the two of them with wistful pleasure. He remembered his own childhood and those moments when it didn't matter that they had no parents, no school or no home. They had each other to laugh with, to stand by, to care about.

SB claimed to have no memory of his parents. Duo knew he lied. On the other hand, Duo completely believed Wildflower's similar claim. There was something about those too-old eyes, the quaintly grown-up way she had of talking. Duo never quite knew what to make of her.

They ate the cookies, giggling. Duo told them stories of L2, of daring raids, narrow escapes, games you could play on rooftops and in alleys. When the two kids were around, he forgot who and what he was. He could be the old Duo, cracking jokes, laughing.

"You guys need to get off Elion," he said one night.

"Amen to that," SB agreed. "But how? You gotta have ID and an exit permit from Yamada."

"We could stow away," Wildflower suggested. They had just recently discussed Duo's exit from L2 all those years ago.

"Won't work -- at least not with Yamada so paranoid," Duo told her. "It was war in those days -- crazy -- no one was keeping a very close eye on stuff, ya know?"

"Where would we go anyway?" SB demanded. "They wouldn't let us live on our own, would they?"

"It isn't so bad letting people take care of you." Duo smiled, remembering Sister Helen chasing him around the church kitchen, trying to land him for a bath. "You could go to school."

SB made a face. "Don't want to."

"But it's fun. I was going to school before -- before..." Duo broke off and shrugged.

"SB's scared 'cuz he can't read and everyone will laugh at him."

SB turned bright red and said fiercely, "Wi! Not true!"

"Readin' ain't hard," Duo told him cheerfully. "Shit, I learned. If I could do it, anyone could do it!"

SB sniffed, but he looked pensive a moment.

"I'll teach you." Wildflower fluttered her eyelashes at him and he blushed.

"You can read?" he snorted. "Since when?"?

Wildflower, nose in the air, snatched up an empty detergent bottle that had fallen from a bin and proceeded to read off the label. Duo's eyes got round as the chemical names spilled easily from her lips.

"Yeah. She can read," he pronounced, adding to himself in chagrin, "better than me."


Part 10

Another drug dealer dead. The man was scum with six murders to his credit, including an infant, so why did Heero feel so damn filthy?

He walked moodily along the corridor. It was late. Thoughts of bed enticed, but Yamada had another job for him -- three of his biggest pushers were here and there was a party. Heero, who had just stretched out for a good night's sleep, resisted the impulse to tell his boss to go to hell. Instead, he got up, and in a black mood, got dressed again.

He reached the penthouse and was at once surrounded by drunken, drugged party guests. Again came the impulse to turn back and Yamada be damned, but the knowledge of what was hidden in the abandoned dock on the far side of the colony's curve made him hold his tongue and his annoyance. Damn, he hated this!

Heero heard the noise of the main party before he reached it, the loud laughter, the shrieks, the clink of glassware and, over it all, smelled the sweet miasma of drugs. He barely noticed the revelers as, discovering him in their midst, they scrambled hastily aside to let him pass.

Inside Yamada's quarters it was the usual scene of chaos, of half-naked and naked bodies, of spilled drinks, and indiscriminate groping. He tried to hold his breath against the drugs but it was futile. Instead, he located Yamada and headed through the crowd in that direction.

"Yuy!" greeted Yamada blearily, raising a glass. "Good man. Success, I assume?"

At his side, eyes clear as a summer day, Arcane watched. Trying not to let that eerie sense of familiarity spook him, a terse Heero made his report. Yamada cut him off with an expansive wave.

"Excellent, excellent! I knew you were the best investment I've ever made and soon..." The vice lord broke off, leaning forward, voice dropping, "we'll have a new job for you, Yuy."

"Yamada." Arcane's voice, smooth, soft, nevertheless made the vice lord straighten and flush. He threw a rebellious look at his lover, but it was his gaze that fell first.

"Thank you for your report," Arcane told Heero. "We'd don't expect any trouble tonight, but be vigilant."

"Sir." Heero nodded tightly and withdrew to a far wall, as close to the fresh air vent as he could get. There he stood, ignoring the occasional blandishments from passing guests and hoping he wouldn't have to break someone's hand. He tried not to breathe too deeply of the potent atmosphere. It was a half hour later when a commotion across the room drew Heero's attention.

Duo! The youth in the doorway did not lift his head. When Arcane tugged at the leash fixed to a collar around that slender neck, Duo stumbled after him.

What the hell?

Heero hadn't seen Duo for over a month and wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it sure as hell wasn't this. The brown hair was neatly braided and Duo wasn't as thin as he had been right after Zoe, but he cringed when Arcane set a hand on his slender shoulders. A tremor shook him when Yamada stood up and in front of the room full of people, claimed his mouth in a long, impassioned kiss.

Heero was entirely unprepared for the sudden and inexplicable rush of anger that made him straighten against the wall.

There was spotty applause. Yamada drew back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Seizing that braid, he spun Duo around, jerking on it to force the prisoner's white face up so everyone could see the expression there. Heero's throat closed.

"So, my friends, what do you think of my latest plaything?"

Duo blinked several times, as if coming to his senses, and tried to turn his head, but a savage tug forced it back. When Yamada, with a lusty roar, tore away the boy's brief tunic, Heero had to close his eyes. For the first time, it occurred to him that refusing the vice lord's "gift" might have had unanticipated consequences.

Whoever had used Duo before had not been gentle. He wore the angry welts left by whips or belts, the splotched scars that were the marks of a glowing end of a cigarette. Bruises were everywhere.

"He's very resilient," slurred Yamada, running a hand down Duo's nude, shrinking body. He seized one of the boy's wrists, pulling it back when Duo tried instinctively to cover himself. "I was wondering just how resilient and I thought-- aha! -- I know! Let my friends play with him!"

Cheers rose all around. Duo stared straight ahead, gaze slightly unfocused.

"How many of us can you take, little one?" crooned Yamada, releasing the braid to stroke back flyaway strands of hair. "Five? Ten? Twenty?"

No answer. The amethyst eyes closed.

"Ten!" someone shouted. "Ten before he faints!"

Another called. "My money's on six."

A guest pushed through the crowd, dragging a padded bench with him. Several more grabbed the prisoner and pulled him to it. The fog blinding Duo seemed to suddenly dissipate and he made a terrified sound. Spinning around, kicking, he knocked the man backwards. Uncharacteristically clumsy, he swung his fist, missing another man and connecting with third's chin.

It was a foolish effort, and futile. The guests, with howls of either anger or delight, converged upon him. Heero angrily pushed away from the wall and waded into the fray. As soon as the intoxicated guests realized who was pulling them back, they quit their protesting and hurriedly withdrew.

Duo curled on the floor beside the bench, arms over his head. When the blows stopped, he didn't move, but remained utterly still, utterly rigid, new bruises forming even as Heero watched. His breath was coming in shallow gasps.

Heero bent over and pulled Duo to his feet. The boy swayed in his grip and finally opened his eyes to see who had him now.

"Heero," he whispered.

Clearly, Duo expected no mercy and stood, trembling, lips pressed tightly together. Heero took hold of the leash. Turning, he stalked to the door, dragging Duo after him. From the corner of his eye, he saw Yamada open his mouth, face reddening. Then Arcane was there, putting his arms around the vice lord, pulling him back down to the cushions, whispering in his ear.

Outside were more guests who stared wide-eyed after Heero and Duo. Most of them had better sense than to comment, seeing it was the assassin helping himself to the evening's entertainment. Duo said nothing, walking after him. Through the complex they went, silent, and up the stairs into the quiet of Heero's apartment.

In the haven of his rooms, Heero took off the leash and threw it aside. He didn't trust himself to speak. Duo, misunderstanding completely, stood with his head bowed. When Heero stepped closer, he stumbled backwards. Coming up against the wall, nowhere else to go, he finally looked up. His eyes held equal part of pleading and defiance. His lips quivered.

"Whatcha gonna do with me, Yuy sama?" Duo whispered.

Heero had no idea. Maybe it was the drugs, but the entire scene at the party had affected him in a powerful way, above and beyond his anger. He was violently aroused and ashamed for it. Even so, without realizing what he did, he leaned forward and brushed his lips against Duo's.

Duo froze. Then the battered lips parted under his. Heero tasted blood and drew back. A sigh escaped the other boy. Tears crept out from under the lowered lashes. When Heero put his hands on Duo's shoulders, the other boy made no attempt to resist, to object, to do anything but lean forward and let Heero taste him again.

As he had been all too often lately, Heero was again struck by his own bewildering attraction to Duo. Back during the war, when Trowa and Quatre had started falling into each other's arms, he'd thought about Duo, but it had never come to anything because in the end, sex was a distraction and soldiers who allowed themselves to be distracted died.

However, this was not a gundam safe house and the war was over. The people back in Yamada's suite would not think twice about what he wanted to do to his Duo. And Duo?

"It's all right," came the soft, hoarse voice. "I'd rather you than all of them."

Nothing could have killed Heero's half-acknowledged lust so thoroughly as that faint, resigned voice.

"How often," Heero said finally, stepping back, "does that sort of thing happen?"

But Duo only shook his head and, as if standing required too much strength, slid silently down the wall to crouch at Heero's feet. Once again Heero was assailed by desire. It was the atmosphere of that hideous room, he thought desperately. It was the fog of drugs in the unhealthy air that made him reach down to stroke the bowed head.

Why had he never acknowledged to himself how much he wanted the other boy? How had he resisted the lushness of Duo's mouth or the graceful arch of his throat? How could he have ever resisted the slim, perfectly formed body?

"Stand up," he said.

Duo obeyed, leaning against him without a word, warm and pliant. Heero found it easy to wrap arms around him, to hold him gently, mindful of the hurts. It was nothing more than echoes of the war, Heero thought, when they had been comrades and he had half-carried the other pilot from the depths of the Oz prison. And yet...

"Rest," Heero said, setting him away. "We'll talk in the morning."

There was vague surprise and relief. "Okay. Th--thanks."

The American climbed into Heero's bed and, as close to the edge as possible, lay down.

"Move over." Heero said, fearing that Duo would fall off during the night.

The boy did as he was told. When Heero stripped down to his underwear and climbed in he was aware at once of the tensing body beside him, the sudden intake of breath.

"It's all right," he said, keeping his voice low and himself on the other side of the bed. "I won't touch you. Sleep." Duo stared at him so long Heero wondered if, for some reason, the other boy hadn't comprehended. Then Duo nodded and closed his eyes. Within seconds, it seemed, he was asleep.


Morning. Duo woke slowly, reluctant to do so completely and lose the dream of being on something soft, wrapped in something warm, safe...

NO!

He sat bolt upright knowing he was not safe! He was with Heero and Heero wanted him dead!

On the bed beside him, the dark-haired boy's eyes snapped open and, with the speed of a trained killer, he too was up, reaching out a hand. Duo shrank away.

At once, Heero sat back against the headboard. The boys stared at each other. Had he actually been sleeping in Heero's arms? Had Heero actually kissed him? Heero? Shit. Now he was really confused.

"I have to go to work," Duo said finally. "I'm already late."

"You're not going anywhere."

"You said you didn't want me."

"You killed Relena," Heero replied, low-voiced, "and you deserve to face justice, but damn it, this isn't justice."

Disappointment cut straight through him. Duo flew out of the bed then and fled to the bathroom, slamming shut the door. He heard footsteps pounding after him.

"Open the damn door!" Heero's voice was sharp with annoyance and the door shook under his pounding. "Maxwell!"

"Leave me alone! Let me go back to work! I don't want to stay here with you, damn it!"

There was silence, then the door crashed inward, knocking Duo back against the shower stall. Balance already uncertain, thanks to the remnants of last night's soma, he fell, banging his knee against the toilet.

"I don't care what you want," the Perfect Soldier said in that dead, cold voice. "What I want is to take you back to Sanc to face the people whose lives you've ruined. You're not dying here, Maxwell. It's too damn easy."

Easy? EASY? Duo thought of the men who had used his body over the past month, of the beatings and the loneliness. He thought of Zoe and of the cold and fear that dogged every step he had taken in that place. Closing his eyes, he decided that if he looked one more second at Heero's handsome face, he would smash it in.

Well, okay, he could try to smash it in.

"Get up," Heero said then. "I'll find you some clothes."

"Wouldn't you rather have me naked?" Duo inquired with false sweetness. He got back to his feet and faced the other pilot, fists clenched at his sides. "Save you the trouble."

"Of what? Do you really think I would lay a hand on you in that way? I was drunk on the damned smoke that was everywhere last night."

"Right." Duo gave him a wide, false smile. "That's why you kissed me. I got it."

Heero hit him then, which obscurely pleased Duo because it meant that, for just a fraction of a second, Heero lost control. Licking blood from his lips, he shrugged. Heero swore again, softly, and turned on his heel. Duo stayed where he was until he heard the apartment door slam. Then, feeling suddenly hollow and numb, he crept back to the parlor and curled up at the end of the couch. It seemed there was a permanent lump in his throat.

For just a little while last night, he had felt wanted, almost forgiven. Fool! Maybe he should just give up -- do whatever Heero said and face Zechs, Quatre, Trowa -- all of them. The need to weep nearly overwhelmed him. He clenched his teeth on it and took breath after deep breath until the impulse faded.

Still, it looked like the only way out of the hellhole was Heero. And Heero, it seemed, was not what Duo had thought him to be. He touched his mouth again, remembering the kiss.

Heero didn't come back. After a while, hungry and bored, telling himself he didn't give a flying fuck what Heero might do, Duo began to go through the other boy's things. He'd hoped to find a gun, but was disappointed. Well, hell -- like Heero would leave one lying around with him here.

Then, as he groped through the neatly folded clothes in the bottom drawer of Heero's dresser, he found something hard and flat. It was a picture of all five of them and Relena. Heero stood with the then-princess, his arm over her shoulders. The others flanked them. Duo looked at the picture of himself beside Heero. That other, younger Duo, smile wide and free as the sky, mocked him now. The boy returned the picture and closed the drawer. Then, finally, he wept.


Part 11

Heero was at Yamada's office in record time and with little memory of getting there. Somehow, things never seemed to go the way he wanted when Duo was involved. He thought about that yielding body against his in the night, the soft murmuring as Duo cuddled close against him.

No! The mission. The mission was important. Everything else was just disrupted hormones and neurotransmitters.

Arcane was seated behind his desk, Yamada nowhere in view. How much longer would the blond man be content to run the drug-soaked vice lord's operation from the shadows, Heero wondered? Who are you? I know you, don't I? DON'T I?

But none of his angry curiosity showed in Heero's face as he took a chair before the desk and pretended unconcern.

"I want you to see something." Arcane touched something on his desk top. On the wall behind him a screen appeared.

Heero's heart lurched. His blood flooded with adrenalin and it was hard-won control that held him in his seat. He watched himself floating across the bay with its startling secret, an anonymous figure in an anonymous pressure suit.

"What did you think of the mobile suit?" Arcane asked, not looking up. Eyes cold as the blue ice they resembled were fixed on Heero's face.

"What are you talking about?"

Arcane didn't bother responding to that.

"Is this a Preventer operation?" the man asked instead.

Exquisitely watchful, Heero shook his head. Arcane remained seemingly relaxed, elbows on Yamada's desk, one palm supporting his elegant chin. He showed no unease of any sort.

"You got a lot ice around some of your computer files," the boy said finally, "I noticed when Mr. Yamada had me sweep for viruses. I got curious."

"You got curious." Arcane's voice was flat, disbelieving.

Heero shrugged. "Sure. I like to know all the exits and entrances. Secrets make me nervous."

"You're paid enough not to be curious."

"No," Heero replied, fixing the man with a cold stare. "I'm not."

Silence stretched between them. Danger shrieked up and down Heero's nerves. On the screen, the tape ran through the loop once, twice, three times...

"Looking for a little extra to line your pockets?" Arcane asked finally.

"Why not?"

"Why not, indeed." Arcane's head fell back and he laughed. When he straightened, he nodded.

"Interested in taking that out for a spin?"

Heero's mouth dropped.

"We've been working on the cockpit and think we've got the basic controls. All we need is an extraordinary pilot -- say someone who used to fly a real gundam?"

"I -- hell, yes!" Excitement rose to push aside his fear. "What is it? A new design?"

"Who knows? We found it." Arcane leaned back, arms behind his head, grinning. "One of my people was heading back from the Outer Colonies and he started tracking something coming from the direction of Jupiter -- moving fast. It disappeared into the Takahashi asteroid field and, a minute or two later, he reported seeing an explosion."

"Jupiter?" The hair rose on the back of Heero's neck. "Are you saying this is an alien suit?"

"Could be. Want another, closer look?" Arcane invited, eyes sparkling slyly.

"Hell, yes!"

Fear, Duo -- everything was forgotten in the realization that he was on the brink of accomplishing his mission and in a way no one had expected.

Heero followed Arcane from the office, descending in a private lift to the docks where Yamada's personal transport was kept. He climbed in and sat down beside the blond man, skin prickling, but Arcane said little as they left the dock and began the quick circle of the colony. C-dock came into view. Lights flashed as the bay door slid open, admitting them to a familiar facility.

The mobile suit was where he'd last seen it, silent, solitary under its lights. The two men scrambled out of the transport and onto the cold decking, magnetized boots hitting solidly. At the far side of the room was a door and large observation window. Beyond was a lab. Heero had seen it on his first and apparently not so clandestine visit here, but hadn't wanted to linger long enough to explore it.

"What happened to the pilot?" he asked finally.

"That's a very good question. Come."

With a backward look at the mobile suit, Heero followed Arcane to the lab. Lights came on, several concentrated above a small, transparent cryogenic storage unit. In it was another mobile suit, identical in appearance to the larger one in the dock outside, but only four and a half feet tall. The helmet had been removed. It lay beside the suit and looked to be filled with a grey, spongy mass from which protruded several wires and tubes.

It looked like a severed head, Heero thought suddenly, skin creeping. Aloud, he asked,

"A robot pilot?"

"That's the most logical assumption." Arcane sounded faintly amused.

"You don't agree?"

Arcane was silent a moment. He stared down at the object in the case. "Maybe this suit held a living pilot, but not a human one. After all -- consider its possible origins."

"Then -- the pilot may still be alive?"

"That was my thought at first. So we labored to re-attach everything. We found, interestingly enough, that while the life support systems started working again, the suit remained inert. Even when we attached it to its ship, there was no reaction.

"The most obvious conclusion is that the pilot was killed when we disconnected the helmet. Rather like decapitation, I suppose. Still, there is another possibility. It's an unlikely one, but I'm a careful man."

Arcane's eyes became distant. Then he shook himself. His eyes cleared and he smiled brightly. Crossing the room, he opened a cupboard and came back with another helmet. It was covered with small electrodes and power cells. Wires fine as hairs crisscrossed its roomy interior.

"This helmet is designed for us ordinary humans. You will use this to control the alien ship."

Heero didn't much like the sound of that. He took the helmet.

"You'll be the first."

"Maybe I'd rather some one else did a little basic testing first."

"If you're afraid," smiled Arcane, "we can always use Maxwell."

Heero's heart lurched and stumbled. "No!"

"Why not? He's good."

"He's good -- and he'll run if he can. I - I'll do it," Heero replied.

Shit. A possible alien suit? His duty was damn clear on this one. Taking Duo to Sanc would have to wait. If he actually got the suit to work, he was gone!

"Excellent," replied Arcane, "and just in case you're thinking of making a run for it -- consider this. If you do -- I will have Maxwell sent to one of Michael's little establishments off-colony. There, he will be re-employed. Remember how he was when you found him last night? Imagine him subjected to that and worse every day."

It felt like a large hand wrapped around Heero's gut and squeezed.

"What do I care?" he managed.

Arcane's smile sent chills up Heero's spine. He knows how I feel, the young man thought and gooseflesh lifted the hairs on his body. He knows ... but how?

"Indeed," purred the enigmatic man. "What do you care?"

"I'll bring it back," Heero said flatly and meant it.

"Oh, I know you will." Arcane smiled beatifically. "Do enjoy yourself."

Heero nodded. Putting on the helmet with its alien technology gave him butterflies. The minute he felt danger of any sort, it was coming off. Then, checking the seals on his suit, he went out to give the mysterious mobile suit a try.


Part 12

It was mid-afternoon when Heero returned to his rooms, blood singing with triumph. The alien mobile suit had proved astonishingly easy to pilot. One more time out and Heero would have the system down cold and then -- then he was taking it to the docs and -- somehow -- Duo to Sanc.

He opened the door to his rooms to find the young man in question asleep on the couch, nude body tightly curled on the cushions. With a pang, he remembered that he'd promised to bring Duo something to wear.

Chestnut hair had come loose from the braid, spilling in an undisciplined mass over the edge of the couch to brush the floor. The sight was unbearably erotic and Heero nearly ran to his bedroom.

He soon discovered that Duo had been snooping. The picture wasn't quite where Heero had left it. Looking at the photo made Heero angry all over again, but when he stalked to the door, intending to wake Duo, he found himself simply staring. He realized abruptly that he was clenching his fists so tightly his fingers hurt. Looking at Duo's friendly, open smile in the photo, then at the thin, white face half-buried in the crook of an elbow, Heero again felt that inexplicable sense of loss. Nothing in either face revealed the murderous intent of the man who'd killed Relena.

Heero's rage evaporated like the dew. What if he was wrong? What if they all were? What if Duo was telling the truth?

I may run, I may hide, but I never tell a lie.

The evidence, although impressive in volume, was circumstantial. Duo might indeed have found Relena dead, might have stupidly pulled the knife from her body, might have panicked and fled. As a child of the streets, Duo Maxwell didn't necessarily think of the law as his friend.

Heero silently cursed Relena's relentless idealism. She had been adamant that it was trust that ended wars and conflict between people. To be an example, and against all advice, she had ordered the palace surveillance system removed. Had she left it in place, they would have known beyond a doubt whose hand had driven the knife into her breast.

A sound from the couch brought Heero back to the present. Duo sat up, blinking sleepily at him. Then the pale face shuttered. Heero turned on his heel and went back to his bedroom. He returned with a pair of his own jeans and a t-shirt.

"Here." He tossed them at Duo and retreated. "Get dressed."

The other boy said nothing, only got off the couch and began to pull on the clothes. His hair kept getting in the way and Heero watched him push it back dispiritedly again and again. Finally, unable to stand it another minute, Heero strode across the room. "Stand still!" he barked when Duo started to move away. "Sit down," he added, making an effort to moderate his voice.

Apprehensive, Duo nevertheless sat back on the edge of the sofa and waited, hands clenched tightly in his lap.

Heero brought the brush from the bathroom and watched Duo's eyes widen.

"I've always wanted to do this," Heero admitted, half-laughing and feeling foolish.

"You're kidding, right?"

"No."

"Oh." Then: "Don't pull too hard, okay?"

"Hai."

Taking a deep breath, not looking at all sure about this, Duo flipped back his hair and sat straight. Catching up a handful, Heero pulled the brush through it and almost immediately ran into a snag.

"Ow!"

Heero remembered a story Duo had told them about his braid and how he'd come to have it.

"How long did it take Sister Helen to make order of this chaos?" he asked.

There was a surprised silence, then a small chuckle. "Two hours."

"You're lying."

"Nope," replied Duo, adding piously, "She was a saint."

"She must have been. I'd have hacked it off first thing."

"Why don't you do it now?"

"Because I like it." Heero hesitated. "I, um, used to wonder what it would be like if my hair was that long."

"Why didn't you let it grow?"

Heero shook his head, remembering Dr. J.'s derisive snort. Certainly not! It would get in your way, it's conspicuous, it's a convenient handle for those chasing you, it's unhygienic, and you would look like an idiot.

"Doc J wouldn't let ya, huh?"

"How did you know?"

Duo shrugged. "He's a total bastard, that one."

One handful of gleaming hair was now smooth. Heero went to the next, drawing the brush through it, and watched more of the tension melt from the other boy. Before he knew it, Duo was slumped against the back of the couch, his head fallen back, eyes closed. Heero wrenched his gaze from those slightly parted lips.

"Damn, that feels great," Duo murmured. "You sure you wanna make me feel so good?"

"Sit up," retorted Heero, giving it a gentle tug. "It's time to braid."

Obligingly, Duo straightened, tucking his legs under him. "I'd have liked to have seen it."

"What?"

"You -- with a braid. Betcha all the girls would go wild. It's not like you're ugly or anything. In fact, Hilde told me once that she thought you were kinda cute. Of course..." Duo broke off, tilting his head up, eyes meeting Heero's. They held the old sparkle. "There's no accounting for taste."

Once, Heero would have called Duo baka and told him to shut up. Now he just shook his head and grinned.

Duo's hair, neatly brushed, was smooth as silk, heavy in Heero's hands. He began to braid, careful to make the strands even and precise. Done at last, he let it fall free. Duo seized it, pulling it around to give it a critical examination.

"Not bad."

"It's better than you can do."

Heero waited for the smart-ass retort, but it didn't come. Instead, Duo ducked his head, hiding his face and wrapping the braid around his hand. "Yeah," he said finally, subdued, "you're prob'ly right." He took a deep breath. "Don't hit me, okay, but -- why are you here, in this place, working for these people?"

"It's a job."

"Bullshit!" Duo was on his feet, braid swinging wildly, slender hands knotted into fists. "You've got skills and strengths no one else has and you're selling them to the slime on Elion? Sorry, dude, but this is me you're talking to. No way."

"I'm here, aren't I?" Heero's heart lurched and speeded up. He found it incredibly difficult to meet that direct gaze.

"Yeah, you sure are," agreed Duo, "but the question is -- why?"

"Yamada pays..."

But Duo continued to shake his head. "I don't believe it," he said flatly. "Just remember this, Heero Yuy -- I don't automatically assume the worst about other people. You're up to something and I wouldn't be surprised if you were really..."

Heero, acutely aware that he may not have neutralized all the surveillance devices in the apartment, shut Duo up the only way he could think of at that precise moment. Grabbing the other boy by the front of his shirt, Heero yanked him over and kissed him.

"Mmmg--mmmmmmm."

What started as a desperation attempt at silencing the baka turned into something else entirely. Duo, after his initial attempt to pull away, went still, opening his mouth, body melting against Heero's. The dark-haired pilot let go of his shirt, wrapping arms around him instead.

Needing at last to breathe, Heero pulled away, staring at Duo who stared back, pale except for two spots of color on his cheekbones.

"Heero?" Faintly.

"You always talk too much."

"Yup," Duo agreed promptly and kissed him back.


On to part three. Back to part one.