He was certain this was a dream. Duo stood in the protective circle of Heero's arms, feeling the other boy's mouth on his hair, the hard, strong hands sliding under his shirt, pulling it right back off again. Everywhere Heero's fingers touched left a delicious heat.
Wing's pilot nuzzled Duo's throat, then stood back, eyes moving over the half-naked boy hungrily.
"Heero..." Unexpected panic rose in Duo and he fought it down. This was Heero! This was the guy he'd been fantasizing about for years!
"Shhh." Heero's lips touched his, the briefest of caresses, but again enough to silence him. Duo closed his eyes, feeling the other boy's mouth move down to the hollow of his throat, then to the soft flesh around his armpit. He lifted his arms, locking them behind his head, body arching into the insistent lips and tongue.
If he pleased Heero...oh, God!
Heero's tongue lapped at one nipple, hardening it to a pebble and making Duo whimper. His knees turned to water and he fell backwards onto the couch. Heero was after him, pushing Duo's hands away when he tried to get up, bending over him instead, continuing to suck at those tiny nubs.
"Ahhh!" Heat flashed through Duo in waves, "Heero!"
"You sure this is okay?" the other youth asked hoarsely.
The sight of uncertainty in that dark blue gaze left Duo momentarily speechless.
"Y-yeah," he stammered. "Sure, it's okay."
There was a quick flash of a grin, something rarely seen. The boy sank to his knees beside Duo on the couch. Bending forward, he seized Duo's chin and tilted it up, covering his mouth with kisses.
Shivers ran through Duo. When Heero drew back and plucked once again at his nipples, he managed,
"Not bad. Have you been practicing?"
"Instructional tapes," Heero replied, utterly serious, rolling Duo's aching nubs between his fingers. Duo made a small sound, the pressure in his groin nearly unbearable.
Heero was kissing him again. Duo's mouth opened. The other boy's tongue went deep while sure hands slid down Duo's chest and belly. He felt them unsnap the jeans. There was a confused moment, both of them breathing hard, as he got them off and kicked them away. Hungrily, Heero kissed him again.
Gently but inexorably, those roaming hands nudged Duo's legs further apart. Strong fingers wrapped around his stiffening cock. Duo gasped, hips thrusting helplessly into Heero's grip.
Duo felt his eyes roll back, Heero's kiss getting deeper, more intimate. The other boy lifted his head, looking into Duo's wide, dazed eyes. He smiled and Duo's heart turned over. Then Heero lowered his head and pressed his lips against Duo's swollen nipples. His cock already prisoner in Heero's unbreakable grip, this new attention sent shockwaves of heat through him.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?"
"No," whispered Duo, then gasped, feeling teeth sink gently into his nipple. "Oh!"
Heero's other hand moved silkily over Duo's balls, caressing them briefly. Duo trembled when he felt those long, slim fingers push against his hole.
And then, hideously, a voice rang in his head:
I said wider, little fuck! WIDER! I'm ready to go again!
Duo pushed Heero back, unable to breathe.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Duo managed a cocky grin while his heart banged and crashed about in his chest. "I want to try somethin'."
He slid from the coach as Heero, bewildered and trembling with need, shifted around to stare at him.
"Sit back," Duo advised, "feet on the floor."
So Heero slumped back into the cushions, legs akimbo, Duo knelt between them. Heero caught his breath when Duo unzipped his jeans. He lifted his hips at the whispered order and made a small, eager sound when his pants were removed.
Naked, he didn't resist when Duo pushed his legs apart and slid callused hands down the soft flesh of his inner thighs. The Perfect Soldier sat open and waiting.
"You okay, Heero?"
Heero nodded. His sex was hard as a rock. Duo bent forward and, delicately, teasingly, ran his tongue up the swollen vein on its underside. Heero's hips jerked and he nearly slid from the couch. When Duo took the hard, heavy sex in his mouth, the other boy moaned, head falling back against the cushions.
Who would have known, thought Duo distantly, that Yamada and Arcane's cruel tuition would be so useful!
A light sheen of sweat gleamed on Heero's skin; his muscles were strung fine as wire. Duo gently attended to his most private of places, lips caressing the taut flesh, tongue laving cock and balls until he whimpered.
Now Duo seized his knees, pushing them up, forcing Heero to roll back. Instinctively, the dark-haired pilot seized them, holding himself open and ready for whatever Duo chose to do.
"Good boy," approved Duo and his tongue traveled down to the exquisitely sensitive flesh under Heero's balls.
Heero jumped. Duo's hands continued a gentle stroking of the tense thighs, then Heero's narrow buttocks, gently pulling apart the latter. His lips whispered along the cleft. Instinctively, Heero shifted, exposing more of himself, Duo's tongue teased around his anus.
"What are you... Duo... Ahhhh!"
Duo's tongue forced its way past the muscular barrier to probe inside. Heero shook and shook. Abruptly, he lost his grip on his legs. He sat up, hands catching Duo's face between them.
"I -- wanna fuck you." Heero's voice was a rasp. He trembled and there was a wildness to his gaze that both frightened Duo and excited him. Yet, even as his body ached for Heero, dark fears teased at the edges of his thoughts.
If he refused, would Heero get mad?
"A--all right," said Duo and stood up. Feeling Heero's gaze burning into his back, he went to the bathroom and returned with a tube of genium jelly. Heero was sitting up now, feet on the floor, knees open. His eyes didn't move from Duo.
Without speaking, Duo handed the lube to Heero. This would be hard, but hell, he should be used to it by now and if Heero decided to keep him....
"Tell me how you want me," he whispered.
Something flashed in those indigo eyes. Heero stood and Duo was kissed again, most thoroughly and with much more confidence. The caress left him tingling.
"Into the bedroom," came the husky command.
Duo obeyed, acutely aware of the other boy at his heels. He reached the bed and, without being told, lay himself face down across it. He heard Heero's sigh. When he felt those strong, hard hands kneading the twin globes of his ass, he almost lost it, the panic like a storm of darkness.
This is Heero. This is Heero. It was a mantra that kept him from shivering apart.
He opened his legs. For a moment, the hands drew away. Automatically, well-trained, Duo lifted his hips, pulling his knees under him. He moaned as a slippery finger pushed into him, then another. It was a little sore, but not too bad...
Heero's fingers found the sweet spot.
"Is that it?
For a long time, Duo could do nothing but writhe helplessly as Heero acquainted himself with the American's responses. Again and again, he stroked the prostate until Duo's breath was coming in shallow gasps. Not once had Arcane or Yamada cared for his pleasure like this.
Then those devilish hands lifted away and something slick and much bigger than those two slender fingers pushed against Duo's hole. Again came the fear and again he desperately pushed it back.
There was a grunt from Heero, a moment's stab of pain, then the other boy was inside him.
"So good...." whispered Heero thickly.
Duo was beyond speech. Heero was so big! He could do nothing but cling to the rumpled bedclothes as the other youth held still a moment, hands sliding up and down Duo's flanks.
On countless lonely nights, when their missions had them scattered across the face of the earth, Duo had dreamed of something like this, of being filled by Heero, of that narrow hand moving over his skin. Such things had been very much on his mind when he'd lain on his bare mattress in some deserted house, listening to Trowa and Quatre in the next room. Hell, who was he kidding? He'd wanted Heero for a long time.
Be careful what you wish for... The hands gripping Duo's hips tightened suddenly, convulsively. Heero slammed into Duo with such force that pain shocked him to breathlessness. He clenched his jaws on his instinctive cry of protest -- held himself still when every instinct shrieked at him to throw off the invader, to run like hell.
He tried to breathe and couldn't, body shaken by the strength of the young warrior inside him Once, twice, three times, Heero drove deep. Finally, with a hoarse cry, he pushed as far into Duo as he could.
That final thrust pushed Duo across the bed, dragging him past his threshold of control. He buried his cry in the sheets, feeling the all-too familiar sharp pain that meant trouble. He gritted his teeth against the spasms of the cock inside him as Heero spent himself. Then, the almost-pleasure long since gone to pain, he prayed desperately that Heero was happy and that it was over.
Heero had never imagined sex could be like this. He lay on Duo, feeling the other's racing pulse begin to slow. Finally, carefully, he pulled away, rolling onto the bed beside the boy. He felt as if he were floating.
"Uhhhhh." Duo stirred.
Heero sat up, enjoying the warm languor that filled him. He looked down at himself and froze.
His softening cock was covered with blood. There was more blood on the sheets. Stunned, horrified, Heero couldn't speak. Heart pounding again, he got to his hands and knees. "Duo!"
"I hurt you!"
There was silence. Duo's eyes were fixed on the wall beside the bed. "Musta torn open again," he said finally. "Sorry. It'll stop soon."
Heero was sick with dismay and shame. He remembered the party, the familiarity with which Arcane had fondled the boy in front of all those people. What the hell had he been thinking?
Abruptly, Heero got out of bed and left the room. When he returned, wet washcloth in hand, Duo's head was buried in the crook of his arm.
Without a word, Heero cleaned the blood from them both. It seemed like an awful lot. "I'm getting the doctor."
In shock, Heero saw Duo scramble up, pain twisting the beautiful face. He seized Heero's hand.
"Don't! Okay! There's no...."
"Safety for me there," the boy whispered. "Please, Heero! I'll be fine, honest!. It'll stop in a little bit. It always does! If -- if you just gimme a few days -- shit, I give pretty good head, right? -- and -- and tell them not to touch me, I'll have a chance to heal."
"K'so!" Heero pushed away from the bed, anger tight in his throat. "How often do they rape you, Duo?" The other boy's mouth opened and closed. He gave a helpless, angry little shrug.
"No more," Heero said finally, grimly. "They brought you here for me. I'm taking you back."
Duo said nothing. Once, Heero thought suddenly, regretfully, the American might have argued, or teased.
Heero went back to the bathroom. When he returned, he handed Duo some pills.
"Painkillers," he said soberly when Duo stared. "Take 'em."
Duo's hands shook slightly, but he did as he was told.
"Why didn't you stop me?" Heero burst out.
Violet eyes were bleak. "And have you give me back to them? You think I'm stupid?"
Had Duo enjoyed any of it, wondered Heero miserably, or was he as bad as that slimy Yamada?
"If -- if you promised to confess and face Sanc justice, I'd take you away now and the hell with everything else..."
"Everything else. What is everything else?"
Cold reason brought Heero up short. There was something about Duo that encouraged others to underestimate him -- to their peril. The survivor of L-2 was sharp as nails.
"None of your business," he snapped before thinking.
"Come on, Heero. I know you don't want to talk about it, but I don't think there's anyone to overhear. You did a good job on the bugs."
Heero's initial disquiet faded, replaced with the old, familiar feeling of amused exasperation.
"There may be more."
Duo shrugged. "I doubt it. You ever been down in the sub-basement of this place? It's a fucking rats' nest of broken cables, burned out circuits, corroded junction boards. Shit. I dunno where the hell Yamada's putting all his money, 'cause it sure ain't here."
Heero knew. He said, "I gotta go -- a meeting with Yamada. I'll be back soon."
"What about me? Do I have to sit around here all day? Doin' the goddamned recycling is more fun!" Heero's mouth tightened, but he resisted the impulse to fire back. Instead, he said cooly, "I'll have groceries sent up. You can cook dinner. Make the stew, the one with the apple juice."
Duo opened and shut his mouth. "You -- you remember that?"
"Sure. I liked it."
He left Duo staring and headed off to Yamada's offices.
To say Duo was surprised by this turn of events would have been to indulge in understatement. He was flabbergasted. He leaned against the door after Heero had gone, dazed, his mind in a whirl. Heero remembered the stew? Wow.
They had been in one of their many safe houses, just him, Heero and Quatre, waiting for Oz to move out of the area. It had been autumn, cold and clear, with mornings that brought low, grey clouds racing across the empty fields. They'd found an abandoned cabin in an orchard. Heero had gone for supplies and come back with some beef and onions.
Sister Helen had taught all the orphans to cook. As she might have said, Duo had used what the Lord provided that day. The result became a favorite by unanimous agreement.
And Heero remembered.
Again Duo was faced with hope that he desperately pushed away. Too many times he'd been wrong. Too many times his dreams ended up dashed to pieces at his feet. It was best if you simply didn't let hope get a foothold.
Duo showered and after that, with little else to do, dressed and lay down on the couch. He found himself strangely reluctant to use Heero's bed without permission. Lying on his side, he tried to sleep, but his gut hurt in spite of Heero's pills, and when he got up to use the bathroom, there was more blood. It stained Heero's jeans. Christ. It was worse than he'd thought. He should never have let Heero fuck him.
Like you had anything to say about it, slave.
He didn't want to go back to Yamada's doctor, god in heaven, he did not. The man would patch him up, but for a price and in the only currency Duo possessed.
In the end, Duo stuffed toilet paper between his buttocks and "borrowed" another pair of jeans. After that, he lay down again, figuring he might stop bleeding if he didn't move. He drifted in and out of restless, hag-ridden sleep, only to wake at the sound of his name. "Duo! Duo! Wake up!"
He lifted his head and frowned. The loud whisper came from nearby, but he saw no one. He must have dreamed it. Sitting up, sudden dizziness rushed through him. His ears buzzed. He just made it to the bathroom and this time, there was a hell of a lot of blood. Ah, shit. Just when things were looking up!
Back to the couch Duo limped, but this time he heard a knock on the door. For a second he wondered if the sound was a hallucination, like the voice, borne of the heat in his blood. He checked anyway and found himself facing a slave with a box full of food. Duo took it and got it to the kitchen before weakness dropped him to his hands and knees.
Take deep breaths. Get back to the couch.
There it was again, but louder, and this time, he recognized the voice. Wildflower?
"Where the hell are you?" he croaked.
"Here!" came the high, light voice. "Here, Duo!"
He crawled because it was easier and the distance to the other room was short. A small wooden bookshelf stood against the wall. He leaned against it, pushing it away from the wall -- a job that was more trouble than it should have been. Behind it was an access panel. A shiny new bolt held the panel firmly shut. Heero's careful work, no doubt about it.
"Here!" came Wildflower's voice again, very close now. His hands shook violently, but he got the bolt open, watching in vague amusement as the ragged child tumbled into the room. Duo reckoned it would be another five minutes before SB appeared, looking for her.
"It's the mole," he greeted her.
"What's a mole?" She brushed off the usual adornment of cobwebs and dust.
"A rodent," he replied, "that lives in burrows and tunnels underground. Earth animals. None up here."
"You're sick again," she announced. "Me and SB heard that the assassin took you back."
"You don't look in much better shape."
Her delicacy was turning to transparency. The skin around her mouth and eyes seemed almost green. Then dizziness washed over Duo again. He folded to his elbows and felt blood running, hot and wet down his leg.
"I'm just a little tired. Just a sec, okay? Gotta go to the bathroom."
Small arms came around him. Bewildered, he tried to look at her, but the girl was stronger than her frail appearance suggested. Either that, or he was weaker.
"Be still," Duo heard and, in his weakness and confusion, it seemed as if the words were inside his head. "Let me heal you, little Duo."
Little Duo? He laughed, breathless. "You being so big and all..."
Warmth suffused him. He could not see nor hear, wasn't sure if he was breathing -- god! Reason melted. He was simply there, a kernel of consciousness held in something powerful and gentle and deeply angry.
"Let me heal you...."
A wave of heat raced through him, focused on his gut. His eyes flew open.
And there was no more pain. It was gone. Completely gone. He lifted his head and was presented with a pair of small, denim-clad knees.
"Wi?" Profoundly reluctant, he nevertheless raised his eyes to meet hers. There was a look in them he'd never seen before. He was reminded of an ancient expression -- "not of this Earth."
"Who -- who are you?" he whispered.
She settled, cross-legged, beside him and set something down on the floor nearby. Her little hands helped him to sit. The something was a glass of water. Duo drank greedily. She was wheezing, as if what she'd done had taken strength from her.
"I wasn't sure if I could do that..."
"Wi, you're scaring me." His heart was pounding. "Just who the hell are you?"
"A traveler -- here by unfortunate accident. My ship crashed on an asteroid in your Takahashi Belt. Several critical systems were damaged so I was not awakened as I should have been."
"Lemme guess," Duo said. The pain might be gone, but he felt weak, wrung out. "Yamada found you."
"Arcane." She spat the word with loathing. "He's the clever one. Yamada would never have known what he found, never got past the security system and into the cockpit!"
"What do you want with me?"
"I need you to pilot my ship."
He stared. She laughed shortly, the adult expression jarring on that small, piquant face.
"I know you can do it. I've even figured out how to rewire the navigation system for your species -- I hope. You've piloted a gundam and my ship is very similar."
She nodded, her small mouth quirked in a crooked smile.
Duo wrestled with the basic concept. He wasn't sure whether to be scared out of his wits or fascinated. "You're a real alien? Honest to God? You look just like a human."
"This is not my body." The girl plunked her narrow behind on the carpet and regarded Duo with her direct, unnerving stare. He noted absently that a fine mist of perspiration glistened on her face.
"This poor child's brain had ceased functioning within seconds of my finding it. It was extraordinary luck. Another minute and a half and it would have been completely useless. As it is..."
"You steal bodies?" Duo swallowed hard. "W--what do you really look like?"
"We have no form," the not-child said patiently. "When we're not on our own world, we occupy constructs call drins. You would call them very sophisticated, miniature mobile suits, I suppose. At any rate, when Arcane succeeded in opening the cockpit and finding my drin, they attempted to dissemble it, destroying the neural connections in the process. I was forced to flee."
Duo tried to picture this in his mind and failed.
"On other worlds and in space, to be without a drin is almost a death sentence. I would have literally dispersed had I not found Wildflower's body. It is failing, however, greatly weakened by its previous owner's illness. Furthermore, it's been a long, hard job trying to re-arrange the neurology in order to activate what you call my extrasensory abilities. I'm afraid, in so doing, I've damaged it even more. My only hope for survival now is to get it into stasis. There is an emergency container in the ship for just such a situation. That's why I need you."
"You -- you can read minds?"
"Yeah, but only lately. Even so, it's harder than it should be."
"You -- you saw everything that -- that's happened to me?" Duo's chest hurt from the pounding of his heart. His hands were clammy and he curled them into fists.
"I saw." Suddenly there was pity in her voice. "You've had a hard life, Duo Maxwell."
He laughed at that. "So you want me to take you home?"
She shook her head. "It's not possible. As I said it was an -- an accident that I'm here at all. What I'm asking, Duo, is for you to take the Typha and me -- get us out of Arcane's hands and hide us somewhere. I can stay in my stasis chamber indefinitely and you will be free."
Free. Like hell.
"Okay. Suppose I do help you. Suppose I find someplace to hide the ship -- although where the hell that would be I have no idea! What will you do then?"
"In stasis, time stops. Someday, maybe a thousand years from now, our people will find me. The moment I crashed, a signal went out, undetectable by your technology. It will eventually reach my system and my people, if they can, will come for me. But it will be a very long time..." she broke off and shrugged, looking sad.
Duo took a deep breath. "M-man! This is a lot to hit a guy with, Wi. I -- I guess I could help, but if I stay, there's a good chance I can convince Heero to help me clear my name, or at least...."
"SB's coming," she said abruptly.
A few seconds later, the boy's head poked out of the maintenance tunnel.
"Hey! This is cool!"
With a rattle and thump, SB arrived. He grinned at Wildflower and Duo. "What's goin' on?"
Wildflower's small mouth closed, ends down-turned.
"Huh? Somethin' wrong?"
"What about him?" Duo asked, fixing Wildflower with an earnest stare. "He kept you alive."
She looked away. SB, now acutely aware something was up, looked from one to the other with growing disquiet.
The little girl gave Duo an angry look. He remembered the way it felt to have her in his mind, the way she had healed his broken body.
"Think about it," she said. "C'mon, SB! We gotta go."
"What? What the fuck is goin' on!"
"I'll tell you everything," she said impatiently, "but not now." Her eyes glinted with a warm, sly, very adult light. "Duo has dinner to make."
Heero knew he should be concentrating on plans to steal the alien ship and get it back to the docs. He knew he should be worrying about contacting Zechs to arrange for Yamada's arrest, for Duo's return and trial. Heero should have been thinking about any number of important things. Instead, he thought about Duo.
Duo laughing, Duo in a fight, Duo with his arm around Quatre, teasing the sensitive boy out of another storm of guilt.
Why Duo? Of all the obnoxious, careless, impulsive creatures, the young American was a poster-child for disaster. Why didn't he feel this way about Trowa, who was so like himself in many ways? Or Quatre, delicate and kind as a woman? Even Wu Fei -- but no. It was Duo of whom he thought. Always now.
God, he hoped the baka was okay. The blood on the sheets had scared him. Worse was the way Duo had accepted it -- no surprise, no anger, just resignation. Well, that shit wasn't happening again, God damn it!
Heero smelled the stew as he got out of the lift. It permeated the gloomy corridor and his step got lighter as he approached his door.
Duo was in the front of the stove, stirring a large pot, the source of the heavenly fragrance. He looked around, startled as Heero came in and slid arms around his waist. Flipping aside the braid with his nose, Heero nuzzled the nape of that slender neck.
"Hey, man! How'm I s'pposed to fix dinner if you're gonna do that?"
"I don't know. I don't care. Shut up."
There was a chuckle from Duo who lowered his head and laid the spoon carelessly on the stove-top. Heero continued his leisurely tasting and touching, grinning wickedly when Duo reached a trembling hand to adjust the flame.
"Oh, Jeezus, dude..."
"I -- are you sure this okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. I just -- well I'd rather not do that, you know?" Duo's voice trailed away and he shivered.
"No! Not unless you say it's okay," Heero promised, adding, "I want to try something else anyway. I promise it won't hurt."
Duo nodded, eyes very large and apprehensive.
Allowing his fingertips to brush Duo's heated flesh constantly, Heero undid the braid and let that gleaming mass explode in a cloud over his back. Hands sliding up under Duo's shirt, Heero moved closer. The shirt came off. Duo shook back his mane, long tendrils of hair falling into his eyes. Kissing him before that motor-mouth could get going, Heero pushed him away from the stove and against the wall.
Duo trembled a little when Heero began kissing his throat and chest. He gasped at the touch of tongue and teeth on his nipples. Heero felt the sudden tension and withdrawal.
"It's okay," Duo whispered. "It's okay."
Heero released Duo's wrists in favor of unsnapping the jeans at that narrow waist. There was another sound, lost in Heero's mouth, as his hands moved lower. He could feel Duo's racing pulse in the sex he grasped.
Last night, Duo's mouth on his cock had sent Heero to paradise. He wanted to return the favor -- and make up for inflicting such pain. He dropped to his knees.
Heero heard the bewildered note in Duo's voice and ignored it, pulling down the other boy's jeans until they were bunched around Duo's thighs. He groaned when Heero began to lick the hard, heavy penis that trembled, erect, against his belly.
A milky drop leaked from the head of Duo's organ, then another. Heero felt a tremor run through the other boy. Duo's knees gave out and Heero caught him, lowering them both to the kitchen floor. There, he finished taking off Duo's jeans.
Sprawled on the scuffed flooring, Duo raised his knees and let his legs fall open. Heero knelt between those slender, sinewy thighs, unable to take his eyes from Duo's cock, pulse beating frantically in the heavy vein, or the scrotum stretched tight over swollen testicles.
Heero leaned forward and felt Duo's long fingers slip into his hair. The other youth gasped when Heero began to lick his balls. Time vanished. All that existed for Heero was under his mouth and hands. Duo whimpered and groaned as Heero's attentions became more insistent, more specialized. He was finally forced to hold Duo's hips hard against the floor to keep him still and when Duo's balls suddenly began to pull up and tighten, when the boy arched his slender back, hair pouring over the dull tiles, Heero felt a hot rush of pride and affection.
Duo's astonished, exultant cry echoed through the small apartment. He trembled as Heero drank him dry. Then he lay, glistening with sweat, tiny nipples still erect. His eyes opened. They were filled with wonder. Heero smiled and, for the first time in a long time, received one of Duo's radiant grins.
"Not bad," Duo said breathlessly.
Heero helped Duo to sit, watching all that hair fall around his shoulders like a cloak. His own groin ached. When Duo, through coquettishly lowered lashes, reached for his cock, stroking it through his clothes, Heero, without thinking about it, pushed his hips forward, opening his knees.
Duo's experience far exceeded his. His clothes disappeared soon afterwards, but he didn't remember losing them. The other boy knew exactly where to touch him, knew where sensation after exquisite sensation could be coaxed. Heero writhed and moaned, brought to the brink again and again, reason fraying until he was no longer a soldier, no longer a killer -- only a man lost in the throes of pleasure and -- something more.
Even as he sought to identify the latter feeling, orgasm overwhelmed him. He shouted and in the violence of the climax, his body jerked wildly. Everything splintered into incandescence.
Gradually, awareness returned. He was lying with his head in Duo's lap, Duo's fingers stroking gently, soothingly, through his damp hair. The other boy bent over, seeing Heero's eyes open. His hair fell around them both in a protective curtain.
"You're pretty good, Yuy."
"Ohhhh," whispered Heero, struggling to sit, Duo supporting him. "Oh."
The wide smile became shy. Bright eyes lowered then lifted again, appalled.
They sat naked at Heero's little dining table and ate cider stew with store-bought biscuits ("The bread thing is too complicated for me. I can't ever get the shit to rise.") Heero said little, thoughts filled with the past. Duo, too, was quiet. Heero caught the other boy looking at him from time to time as if wanting to say something, but Duo remained quiet, shoveling in the food.
What if I don't take him back to Sanc, thought Heero suddenly. There are small satellites, abandoned places that could be fixed up. No one would find him there. I'd bring him food -- things to do...
And yet, even as Heero thought these things, he knew that such isolation would crush Duo as surely as the fate that waited for him in Sanc. The guy was a murderer, damn it! What the hell was wrong with him?
He looked up to see Duo looking back.
"This changes nothing," said Heero.
The light went out of those remarkable eyes. Slender shoulders slumped briefly, then straightened. That stubborn chin lifted and Duo said,
"Yeah. Sure." He rose, empty plate in hand, and vanished into the kitchen.
Heero sat, the stew gone to ashes in his mouth. Pain, shame -- and then anger flared. Resentment coiled in his gut. How dare Duo make him feel guilty! The bastard had stabbed a defenseless, gentle girl repeatedly, uncaring of her screams or pleas for mercy! Then, to compound the heinousness of his crime, he'd fled, craven, from justice.
Abruptly, Heero pushed back his chair and strode into the kitchen. Duo had put on the jeans and was struggling to confine his hair. The well-formed body bent gracefully; Duo lifted his arms, hands behind his head as he struggled with that profusion of bright silk. Heero raged at the attraction.
Swearing, Duo clumsily braided it, then stooped to retrieve his shirt. He was shaking. But when he tried to push past Heero in the doorway, Heero grabbed him and shoved against the wall. Duo made a sound deep in his throat and became still, head down, arms wrapped tightly around himself.
Heero's rage vanished. He picked up his own clothes and left the kitchen. By the couch, he dressed, then sat staring across the room at the other pilot.
"I didn't do it," Duo said softly, voice emotionless and terrible. "I didn't do it, Heero. You and the others knew me better than anyone in the world. Why? Why don't you believe me? Why won't you have faith? Was I that big an asshole?"
"What did you fight with Relena about?"
"Before you killed her. You were heard fighting with her. What about?"
Duo laughed, a harsh, ugly sound. "Jeezus. I suppose that's some of your fucking 'evidence'."
"We were fighting about you."
"Me? What the hell?"
"It was after you left. After the business with Treize's kid, Mei-mei or whatever the hell. Relena was busy cutting off every defense she had against the crazies in the world. I mean -- no security cameras? Get real." He smiled mirthlessly. "Anyway -- it was real clear she was heartbroken about you taking off like that and too proud to hunt you down and beg you to stay. And, christ! -- she needed someone to watch her back. Anyway, that's what we were arguing about."
"Bullshit," Heero snapped, even as part of him thought it plausible. "That sure as hell won't stand up in court."
Duo said nothing for a long time. Then he sighed.
"What do they do to murderers in Sanc?"
"You won't be killed. Sanc believes in total pacificism, remember?"
Heero shrugged even as the image of Sanc Fortress rose in his mind, grim, unforgiving, a black-granite hell on the edge of the desert. He could not imagine Duo there, locked in the dark, deep in the earth, surrounded by stone. Heero steadied his breath against the sudden, sick twist of his gut.
Don't take him back. Hide him. Keep him safe. So what if he's a killer? We're all killers, all five of us, and that sanctimonious bastard, Zechs, too!
"Get out," he shouted then, unable to deal with the squall of emotions inside him. "GET OUT!"
Duo fled, door slamming behind him.
Why was he always so damned stupid? Jesus Christ!
Duo walked blindly, bare feet taking him to the roof. He'd even been thinking of turning Wildflower down, of staying and working through the mess with Heero. Like the fucker said -- baka, baka, BAKA!
It was cold. Duo could feel edge of space in the chill and knew without caring that Elion was inching bit by bit toward complete breakdown. If he got Wildflower away and hidden, then what? Zoe again? It was a hell he knew, at least, and one in which he had freedom of a sort. Shit. That was a choice?
He was so goddamned fucking tired. The last year and a half had been hell and it wasn't gonna get any better. The old days were gone forever. Treasure them for what they were. He should meet whatever fate God gave him and make the best of it.
Duo found a place behind a heater housing that radiated a bit of warmth and hunkered down there, hugging his knees tight, brushing the long hair from his wet cheeks. There was strange sense of resignation when he looked into his dark future, a kind of acceptance that settled over him and left him empty but still. After awhile, he stood up, brushing bits of asphalt from his jeans and went back inside.
Walking past Heero's door without looking at it, Duo went down, level after level, to the recycling room. Servants had been in there during the day, but it was cold and empty now. Habit made him grab a blanket as he passed. He went into the water treatment room and knocked on the kids' access panel. Wildflower looked out at him. Behind her was SB, pale and scared.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
SB was staring at him, too.
"Yes," replied Duo. "I'm ready."
Heero was a man whose brief lifetime had been dedicated to control -- control of his actions, control of the situation -- and he was good at it, damn good. So what the hell was happening to him? His stomach churned, his chest was tight and it felt like his heart would burst through his rib cage. He was literally trembling and for what? Maxwell was a killer. Period. There had been no one else in that corridor, no one found lurking and covered with blood.
Why? That was the question that nagged at all of them. Why did he do it?
Maybe Duo'd been crazy when he'd killed her, like Quatre had been that one time. Maybe he'd just snapped for a little bit, then got better. Even after that attack on the old Raberba satellite, Quatre still walked around, free and admired. They all did, all but Duo.
Heero sat on the edge of his bed -- the edge Duo had slept on. He could still smell the other boy on his fingers. Oh, god. Dropping his head into his hand, Heero tried desperately to banish the image of that thin face, eyes much too big and shadowed by pain. Duo. Why the hell did you have to kill her?
Duo swinging down from his gundam, grinning from ear to ear.
Duo running down a corridor, smoke and fire at his heels, laughing.
Duo by the campfire, eyes wide as saucers while Quatre told a ghost story.
Why don't you believe me?
Why didn't they?
K'so! Heero jumped up and went to his closet, pulling out his gear. He'd wasted enough time. He knew where the damn ship was, knew how to fly it well enough to get it to the moon labs. It was time he was on his way.
Bag at his feet, Heero sat down at his computer and logged into Yamada's so-called security files. Duo wasn't going anywhere -- not while he was on Elion. Heero stuffed his flight suit into the duffel and opened the apartment door. Let Zechs get Duo if he wanted. Heero was outta there.
"SB goes to Earth or there's no deal."
The girl scowled fiercely, but she nodded.
"And also, I was thinkin' -- lying in stasis for a billion years isn't your only option."
"Don't listen. Look."
She closed her eyes, expression doubtful. Free of pain and fever, he felt a definite tickle at the edges of his awareness. A chill ran up spine.
Wildflower opened her eyes. "All right," she whispered. "We'll go to these scientists you know, but I hope you're right."
"If anyone can build you a new drin, it's them. But before we go anywhere you've gotta do something about this." Duo said pointed to the lump in his shoulder.
From the corner of his eye, Duo saw SB, quiet and scared, his precarious universe turned upside down. Still, the boy managed one of his cocky grins.
"We took care of that while you were having dinner." She held up an object much like the injector that had put the pellet in him.
"Where the hell did you get that?"
"We figured the head goldie knew where it was so I took it out of his memory. Then I distracted him while SB got it."
She set the extractor against his shoulder, frowning in concentration. Heat flared. There was an audible pop and quick sharp pain. Wildflower sat back and Duo watched the bloody bit of metal roll across the storeroom floor. He touched the wound on his shoulder. It was already cauterized and throbbed a bit.
"You know where your ship is?" he asked. It was out! It was really out! His heart hammered erratically.
"I think so. Me and SB overheard lots of stuff and people say there's something funny going on near the old Section C."
"Great. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get there from here."
"But you know the design of this colony, right? I saw drawings in your memory."
This was nuts. Out of the corner of his eye, Duo saw SB. The kid was trying real hard to stay on top of it, to be cool, but he was scared to death.
"'Course you did," Duo replied with a wink. "Lottsa good stuff in there, eh?"
Wildflower gave him a startled look, then she, too, glanced at SB. Returning her gaze to him, she stared a moment, then said,
"How would you get there?"
Duo pictured the dead zone, the miles of ruined corridors, the floating debris.
"We'll go outside. Come with me."
There was an emergency closet in the sorting room. With SB's help, Duo dragged crates and barrels away from it. Inside were ten space suits. The safety date on all of them had expired. Still four had enough oxygen and all the seals looked okay. He helped the kids into them, adjusting them as best he could for their small size.
"Help her with her helmet," Duo told SB, mind working busily. "And double check all your seals."
His own helmet under his arm, he hurried back to the water treatment room and a large, round tank at the far end of it.
The purification system operated by collecting all the waste water in one set of tanks and letting the sediment sink to the bottom. Then water was drawn off and sent to another tank for chemical treatment. The sludge in the first tank was ejected. Once upon a time, it would have been caught and sent on for fertilizer processing. Now it just froze and scattered through space.
"What are you doing?" SB, holding Wildflower's gloved hand, appeared at his elbow.
One of the first-stage filtration tanks was completely disconnected from the sewage pipes and no longer used. Its ejection mechanism, however, still worked.
"The only exit I know that isn't security wired is this. I figured it out a while ago, but with that damned pellet in my shoulder, I still wouldn't get very far before the goldies took me down."
"We gotta get in there?" SB's voice was tinny through his helmet. He looked appalled.
"Relax. It's been empty for years. Once we get inside, our weight should be enough to open the hatch and dump us out."
"Yer kiddin', right?"
"How does it work?" Wildflower asked curiously.
"When the weight sensor is activated, the tank cover will seal. There's about twenty seconds before the chute opens. Decompression will suck us out. I reckon the chute's about twelve feet long and then we're clear."
Duo put on his helmet and checked the seals automatically. He went to the tank's manual control box and pulling off the panel, did a little quick re-wiring. Then he ran back to the tank. The top spiraled open showing a empty, corroded interior.
"C'mon. We've only got a few seconds!"
They jumped in. There was a loud crash and the tank lid began to close. They sat waiting, with more miserable profanity from SB when the secondary seal locked into place.
"Whatever you do," Duo warned, only half joking, "never puke in your helmet."
"Thanks a lot..." came SB's feeble voice in the dark.
The tank was closed and sealed. It was utterly dark. The floor shifted.
"Banzai!" Duo shouted and the bottom dropped out from under them.
There was an eternity of falling, of banging against the sides of the chute, of both SB and Wildflower shrieking in his ears. Then they were out.
Duo's body adjusted automatically to the sudden weightlessness, twisting around to snatch SB's flailing hand, then twisting again, using their momentum to reach Wildflower and keep going. The colony's wall rushed to meet them, overwhelming their vision.
His gloved fingers sought the magnet controls on either small wrist. He clicked them, then his own. Their boots hit solidly on the colony's metal surface.
"Wow," breathed SB, looking around. "Wow!"
Duo tried to get his bearings. The section idents should be printed on the wall in massive, block lettering, visible from ships coming toward it. He started along the wall, following its curve. A minute later he saw it -- a wide swath of faded paint. Section B. Christ. Miles away. The fastest, easiest way to get there would be to jump, but that took a certain amount of skill. Still, even with two youngsters on either side, they could still make better speed than by walking.
SB loved it once he got the idea, gripping Duo's hand hard and laughing aloud as Duo propelled them up and along, then brought them down with an easy rhythm of magnetizing and de-magnetizing. To his surprise, Wildflower laughed right along with the boy.
They reached Section C at last. Beside the great docking bay door was what remained of a cargo bridge. Duo opened the panel accessing the emergency door controls. The PGHSes had a pretty basic set up and the manual overrides could be manually reset if you knew the trick. He knew the trick. Tapping in a barely remembered code, he waited. Sure enough -- the outer door slid open. Duo clambered in, helping the others in after him.
The second door of the airlock emptied them into a dark corridor. There was a moment's panic from SB until the helmet lights flashed on.
"This way," said Wildflower suddenly.
"How do you know?"
"The map that was in your head."
"Yeah," Duo sighed. "Of course."
Wildflower moved ahead of him. It was eerie watching her make use of memories he could barely access himself.
"Hold it!" he said suddenly.
Ahead was another airlock, but here there was new wiring, and a camera in the shadows.
"How far?" he asked.
"Just on the other side if those specs were right."
"Then we have to move fast. We'll set off alarms -- there's no help for it. We get to your ship, we get in, we go."
And all bets were off if there were human guards, he thought, but didn't say so. There was no turning back.
Wildflower coughed and suddenly he could feel her weight against him.
"Wi!" SB cried.
"I -- I don't feel so good," she whispered. "The kidneys are failing."
Duo heard that with a sharp stab of alarm. Great timing. He picked her up and hit the door control with his elbow. It slid open. The three of them hurried in and stood waiting while it clanged shut and pressure equalized. The other one slid aside and they walked into atmosphere and light.
A brief corridor led to a lobby. Once, this had been a commercial shuttle dock. Duo pushed through the next door and out onto the metal deck. He nearly dropped Wildflower, who squirmed from his grasp to stand, clinging to him.
Duo stared in amazement at the mobile suit standing in a barrage of spotlights.
"That's yours?" SB gasped.
"Yeah." The pride in Wildflower's breathless voice was audible. "That's the Typha."
"Are you going to make it?" Duo asked worriedly. She continued to cling to him.
"Sure. We just need to get -- my drin -- my life-support suit. Your scientist will need some sort of prototype."
"Yeah, but where the hell is it?"
She pointed a trembling finger. Across the dock was an observation window. Under normal circumstances, that was where the docking crew worked, but he could see that it had been remodeled into a lab.
"Wait here," he said, easing her to the ground. She didn't protest, but knelt, head forward, pale hair hiding her face. SB trotted after him.
In the lab, Duo saw the suit at once. It was about four feet tall and lay like a decapitated doll in a glass case between two laboratory benches. While SB wandered away, helmet clutched under his arm, peering here and there, Duo had a look at the case. It was wired, of course and someone had done a decent job of it, but he was Duo Maxwell and there wasn't anything electronic he couldn't figure out. And -- just to add icing to the cake -- the benches were littered with parts and instruments. He selected a pair of needle-nosed pliers and started in on the case.
Something in SB's voice made the pilot drop the pliers and get up. Across the lab, a door stood open. Beyond was a brightly-lit room, very long and narrow. Reaching it, Duo recognized it at once for what it was -- a morgue. His heart jumped into his mouth. SB stood, one of the drawers pulled out, the white, frozen corpse of a child lying on the slab. He seemed paralyzed.
There were almost fifty drawers. Duo yanked one out. The bodies of three children of varying ages were tangled together in macabre embrace. Ice crystals on their faces glittered like tears. Duo slammed shut the drawer.
"Let's get out of here," he snapped.
SB sobbing at his heels, Duo ran back into the lab. Discretion be damned. With his gloved fist, he smashed into the case and grabbed Wildflower's drin. He reached the lab door just before the other boy. Slamming it open, he stopped dead. The end of a gun was rock-steady in his face.
"I should have known."
"Heero." Duo's whole world came to a crashing halt. Looking past Heero, he saw Wildflower on the floor. She looked terrified. SB was right at his elbow, frozen.
Heero was clearly on his way out, duffel and computer sitting in the middle of the deck. He, too, wore a pressure suit.
"The sexpot routine was good, Maxwell. I gotta hand it to you."
"Who's he? Your boyfriend?"
"No! Fuck you!"
Shit! This was disaster. The gun didn't waver and there was black rage in Heero's face. Duo's stomach knotted painfully. Still, he met that glare without flinching.
"His name's SB. She's Wildflower. They're street kids, orphans -- kids your fucking boss was rounding up and murdering! If you're curious, there are a bunch of bodies in the morgue back there. I'm -- I was taking the kids to the docs before they're morgue-fodder, too."
"What?" Heero was dumfounded. He jerked his gun, the signal for them to move past. "You expect me to believe that?"
"I don't expect you to believe me if I told you your name was Heero!" Duo retorted bitterly, then stopped and took a deep breath.
He watched Heero's finger tighten on the trigger. This was a mission! Heero was here to steal this suit! Christ, they were dead if he couldn't find a way out of this!
"Why take them to the docs?" Heero asked.
"It -- it's her ship."
"Jesus! It's a long story. Look -- they aren't safe here! I've gotta get them to the docs one way or the other. If I can't take them, you've got to!"
Heero's mouth dropped. It wasn't often he was taken completely by surprise. "The hell I do!"
Duo heard something. It grew louder. Alarms!
"SHIT!" Heero snarled.
"Heero, please! I know you're taking the ship to them -- it couldn't be anyone else! I'll do whatever you want -- give you whatever you want -- if you'll just take the kids with you!"
"Duo!" SB cried.
"You've got nothing I want, Maxwell," Heero said harshly.
"Oh, yes, I do." There was buzzing in Duo's ears. His heart pounded and his mouth was dry as bone. His decision terrified him even as he decided upon it. "I'll confess."
The words froze Heero. His gun lowered slightly. "What?"
"I'll confess. To you, to Zechs, to the universe. Whatever you want. Just get the kids to safety."
Heero said nothing, only stared so long at Duo that he began to think he'd said something terrible. Then the guns lowered.
"You killed her."
"Yeah, I killed her." His voice was hollow. Something inside shriveled. Heero looked at SB again.
"Deal. Bring the suit. You two -- get in."
What the hell was he doing?
Heero looked over at his prisoner/passengers. Duo was wrapped protectively around the boy and girl in the small amount of extra space remaining in the cockpit. Even after two years, Heero thought irrelevantly, Duo wasn't much bigger than the children he was protecting. Heero wanted to ask the other pilot why he was doing this, but there wasn't time for chit-chat.
Once he got free of the colony, thought Heero, he'd contact Zechs and let him know what was happening.
Don't take him back. Tell them all you killed him and get Maxwell away from here. Find him a new identity, a place to live, something to do.
Heero swore, earning frightened looks from his younger passengers. Duo just ducked his head lower and hunched his shoulders. Heero forced himself to focus on the task before him.
He felt the ship greet him. There was the moment of disorientation and the systems locked onto him. It was, he thought, not unlike Wing Zero, only without all the attendant bullshit.
Sending a command to the ship, he sensed it transmit the pre-arranged code to Yamada's automated security. In the bay outside, the claxons continued their urgent howl. Great beams of steel and titanium crashed as the bay door began to open.
He could not afford to be distracted by any of this until he got the hell out of Elion. Whatever his opinion about Duo, his duty was clear. Blocking the other youth from his thoughts, Heero handled the incoming stream of information coming the from the alien suit's computers. Most was gibberish to him, but he recognized the data he needed. Ahead, the dock doors were open.
There was that moment of confusion; he was ready for it, having experienced it on his first run in the ship. A moment later, everything stabilized and they were streaking out of the bay and into space. He felt the ship transform, the arms and legs rotating, folding back until it was a sleek, narrow craft cutting through space like a needle.
Enemy to port.
Tauruses -- two of them -- Yamada's top of the line defense. It hadn't taken the vice lord long to figure out what was going on. Probably Duo had set off the alarms.
The alien ship did have weapons, although he couldn't tell precisely what they were, only their general function. He thought a command to port, sensing the presence of a gun.
"He can't pilot this for shit!" announced the little girl. "And if you try to fire the plasma ray while you're holding the darbonic adjuster, you're going to blow us all up! Let Duo pilot!"
"No," he said shortly. "Tell me how it works." Her small, blue lips drew back in a snarl. Duo put his hand on her head.
"No," he said. "Help him. Please."
Something touched Heero's mind. He recoiled, but it didn't let go. There was a hot flash of contempt followed by a sudden, clear image of what he must do. Then he was alone in his head once more, thoughts reeling. He looked over, blinking watering eyes. The creature had her face pressed against Duo's suit.
He got an incoming communication from the Tauruses. They were demanding that he identify himself. It only took two shots, bright, white-hot balls of energy, to disable both mobile suits, then the alien ship was gone, streaking out past sensor range and away.
Duo stared at the screen as the runway rushed up to meet them. He turned and looked at Heero, who sat, jaw clenched, guiding the alien craft down to Earth.
"Hey," SB said suddenly, "what's goin' on? I thought we were goin' to the moon!"
Duo couldn't see the boy's face, only give him a reassuring squeeze.
"I don't understand."
"The assassin thinks Duo killed someone," said Wildflower. Her voice was weak, but implacable. "He's wrong."
SB squirmed against Duo, trying to turn around and look at him, but their space was too small.
"It was the deal," replied Duo simply. "Sorry. It was the best I could do."
"Just -- just go with it, okay? Don't forget -- you owe me a favor." Duo was too tired to argue. Perhaps SB sensed that, for he fell silent, but his slight body was rigid in the pressure suit. Wildflower, too, was stonily mute.
The Typha leveled off, descending slowly to the pale gray runway. Ahead, Duo saw a crowd of people. He felt the all-too familiar tightening of his throat and chest, the sudden, uncontrollable acceleration of his heart.
Heero had already contacted Zechs and Duo saw that it had taken the prince no time at all to make preparations. The ship settled gently to the ground. Outside, the figures resolved into soldiers. With a sudden rush of misery, he saw the pale-haired man in their midst. Zechs!
They had landed.
"Well, guys," he forced cheerfulness into his voice, "guess this is it! Looks like my welcoming committee is here. Maybe there'll even be a banquet reception, eh?"
"Who are they?" SB asked, but it was Heero to whom he directed his angry question. Heero turned his head and tripped the hatch. It opened.
"Stay here," Heero told the two kids. His voice was unexpectedly kind. "I'll be back in a minute."
"I -- I want to stay with Duo!" Wildflower cried.
"Oh, no you don't," Duo replied with feeling. "You'll be okay. Just tell the docs everything."
God, I hope I'm right. I hope they'll be okay.
Heero pulled off his helmet. He shook out his thatch of black hair.
"C'mon," he said to Duo. Then, to Wildflower. "If you try to take the ship, you'll only make things worse for him."
Then he vanished, swinging out and onto the tarmac. Duo twisted awkwardly and managed to extricate himself from their small space. SB started to come after him, but Duo pushed him back.
"It'll be okay. Really."
The boy gave up, settling back, wrapping his arms tight about Wildflower, who hugged him back. He turned his face away when Duo said goodbye and didn't answer.
The American crawled out and scrambled to the ground. He took a deep breath of cool, fragrant Earth air as Heero grabbed his arm. Numb, he made no effort to resist and let the other boy pull him toward the advancing soldiers.
Suddenly Zechs was running, leaving his soldiers behind. The look on his face made Duo's already broken heart shatter into much smaller pieces.
"Zechs!" Heero shouted, unexpectedly leaping to stand between them.
"Out of my way, Yuy!" Zechs' lean, strong hand was balled into a fist, his arm already drawing back to deliver the blow.
Zechs and Heero stood in an angry face-off.
"No," Duo heard Heero say again, voice cold and flat. "I brought him back to stand trial, not to face your personal vengeance."
For a second, Duo was sure Zechs would explode into murderous action and there would be blood on the pavement. But Zechs only set his jaw and uncurled his fingers
"You're right," he said grimly. "This time he won't get away, no matter how much he protests his innocence, justice will be served."
Zechs looked to Duo. "You admit killing my sister?"
Throat too tight to speak, Duo only nodded.
The prince jerked his head in brief acknowledgment and shouted for his men. Then they were surrounded. His hands were roughly seized and bound. Soldiers pushed and jostled at him. Duo lost sight of both Heero and Zechs as he was hustled across the tarmac toward a line of police cars and more angry people. He looked over his shoulder. Heero was walking back to the alien ship, shoulders straight, head high.
Someone hit him and Duo went to his knees. There was laughter and cursing. They hauled him back up and marched him on to his fate.
Dr. J. was ecstatic. "I knew you could do it, boy! Well done!"
"What about Duo?"
"What about him?" was the indifferent reply.
Heero went to Dr. G.
"What about Duo, Dr. G?"
"I suppose something like that was inevitable," replied the man who'd turned Duo into the God of Death, then threw him away. "You have to expect some failures. Good work in bringing the Typha and Ms. Wildflower. We're learning some very interesting things!"
They didn't care -- none of them. He watched the scientists swarm eagerly over the Typha. Dr. O was speaking with Wildflower. The sight of the grown man in such earnest conversation with such a small girl was disconcerting. But Wildflower was not really a small girl. She sat straight in the wheelchair, hooked up to a variety of devices that were keeping her alive.
Heero wasn't sure what to think of the alien. She clearly disliked him for his mistreatment of Duo -- a sentiment for which he blamed her not at all. Yet he couldn't be easy around her. Fifty six small bodies had been taken from the morgue in Arcane's secret facility. Maybe the crazy son of a bitch had figured out that a small alien would go for a small body, something to fit neatly into the cockpit of its ship. Had Wildflower known why the kids were disappearing? Heero suspected she had and, in his darker moments, worried about what he'd really brought to the labs.
Now he wandered through the familiar corridors to the room that was assigned to him whenever he was here. It was small, bare and utilitarian -- comfortless. As he set a hand on the latch, he heard,
He turned. SB. The boy was pale and clearly unhappy. He'd kept to his own quarters in the week they'd been here, trusting no one, not even Wildflower. Afraid. Duo had cared about this kid. They'd had a lot in common, growing up in the dangerous, heartless streets.
"What's gonna happen to me? I ain't no alien. They don't want me around, do they?"
"Don't worry about it. You're lucky they're not interested in you," Heero was suddenly, bitterly, angry. "I know someone who'll help you out. His name is Quatre and he's one of the kindest people alive. You'll be all right, SB."
"What about Duo?"
"Duo -- has to pay for what he did."
"I don' believe it." SB looked and sounded close to tears. "I don' believe he'd kill anyone!"
"His name in the war was Shinigami," Heero replied more harshly than he'd intended. "Duo killed almost as many people as I did."
He left the boy and went to the communications room. It didn't take long for him to push through the prince's protective buffer of aides and ministers. Quatre agreed at once.
"Of course, I'll take him! Will you be at the trial tomorrow?"
"Yes," Heero lied."
"I'll send someone for the boy," Quatre said, "and I'll see you in Sanc."
After that, Heero drifted through the complex, ending up in the observation room staring at the stars and the orbiting band of colonies and satellites. He found himself suddenly imagining what it would be like to stand here with his arm around Duo, both of them looking up, Duo rattling on about the silly names given to the constellations...
He spun around. It was Wildflower, looking up at him from her chair. The hair rose on the back of his neck.
"Why did you take him there?"
"It was my duty. He murdered a friend."
"You don't believe that."
Heero couldn't answer.
"It doesn't matter what I think. The evidence..."
"Do you believe he killed the girl?" Her voice was harsh with the effort of speaking.
"No," Heero said, hearing the wobble in his own. "No."
She said nothing for a long time, staring out into the spangled dark. Her small mouth tightened. Vertigo hit him without warning and the observation room melted away.
He was walking swiftly down a hallway in Sanc Palace. He saw familiar pictures in their gilded frames, the windows that revealed the palace gardens. Heero was angry, but it wasn't his anger, it was fierce and hot. Duo! These were Duo's memories!
Duo rounded a corner, almost running and then stumbled to a shocked halt. Ahead was a small, open place, marble floor shining, chandelier glittering overhead. In the middle of the chamber were two figures. One lay on the ground, surrounded by a spreading, crimson pool. The other hunched over the first. Horrified, Heero saw the knife rising and falling, heard a low stream of ugly ranting.
The figure over the princess straightened and Duo, who had started forward, halted again, frozen by the hideously scarred countenance that turned to him. He watched the lipless mouth stretch into a feral grin and the creature drove the knife into the still form one final time, then turned and ran.
Paralysis held Duo for an eternal moment, then he ran to Relena's side She was covered in her own blood. Looking up at him with eyes already going dim, she whispered:
"Oh, God, Relena!" He started to pull the knife from her, but she somehow found the strength to wrap icy fingers around his wrist and hold it back.
"No -- no, Duo -- there's no time...." The words bubbled and she was wracked with coughing. Blood spilled from her lips. "Must -- you must find him, tell him..."
"Relena, don't talk!
"No! Duo -- you were right! I -- I should--- should have looked for him." The bright eyes were clouding over. "Heero -- I love him so much. Take care -- take care of Heero..."
"NO! RELENA! PLEASE!"
Pain ripped through Heero, but it was Duo's pain.
"Don't die! Don't break Yuy's heart, damn you!"
A shudder ran through the slight figure in his arms. Duo reached down then and pulled the dagger from her breast. With his other hand, he gently closed the wide, dead eyes, his own filling with tears.
"HEY! YOU!" Duo looked up. Guards! He rose and then, only then, remembered the knife in his hand. He dropped it at once.
"Someone's killed the princess!" he cried and started to run in the direction the scarred killer had taken, but the guards closed around him instead, laying hands on him and throwing him to the ground.
"No! It wasn't me, dammit! You've got to listen! He'll get away."
Then blinding pain hit, shattering his thoughts. Another boot, another kick.. Oh, god...
Suddenly, Heero was back in the observation room, breathless, shivering.
"Not true!" he croaked. "I don't know what you did, damn it, but it's not true!"
"Has anyone really looked for the real killer?" she asked, "or was it just easier to blame Duo? Was everyone, yourself included, too angry? Did you need someone to take away the pain and your guilt?"
Heart pounding, sick to his stomach, Heero took a deep, unsteady breath. She was right. In the year and half since Relena died, the publicity and the official investigation had focused on the missing gundam pilot almost exclusively. After all, it was common knowledge that they were all nuts, those gundam pilots, dangerous and liable to go off for no reason.
And what was their excuse, he wondered bleakly -- those selfsame Gundam pilots who had found it easier to believe Duo guilty than to face their own shame in failing to protect one of Earth's most valuable resources?
Duo would confess as he promised. He would be locked up and the key thrown away. Earth Sphere would breathe a self-righteous sigh of relief and go on about its business.
What could he do? Storm the courthouse and abduct Duo? Beg Zechs for clemency?
Heero turned and reluctantly met that cold, inhuman gaze.
"You love him."
He nodded mutely. It was a long time before she spoke again.
"I haven't much strength, but I love him, too. There may be a way to deliver him, but I need your help."
His guards beat him out of sight of the cameras. Duo had expected it and did what he could to avoid the worst of their blows, but it wasn't enough. When he regained consciousness, he was lying on the cold floor of a cell, hurting everywhere. The worst pain was in his heart. Without the energy or desire to move, he simply lay still, trying to stop his thoughts, refusing to look at his memories. He focused only on the pain because, in the end, his body's hurts were the least of all the terrors he faced.
He couldn't even blame them for their anger, not really. If he had Relena's killer in his grasp, God only knew what he would do. Duo closed his eyes tightly, a sudden image of that face rising up out nowhere. The murderer had looked like a monster from some cheesy horror movie, face so scarred, body so twisted as to be barely recognizable as human. And clearly insane.
God, he hadn't even told Heero about Relena's last words. Maybe, after he was safely locked up, they'd let him write a letter to the other pilot. It was cowardly not to tell him face-to-face, but Duo no longer cared about things like courage or honor. All he wanted was to be left alone.
He drifted in and out of consciousness. The guards came back. He heard someone cursing them for beating him so badly. When they lifted him, he cried out and fainted again. He woke in a hospital room with people working over him. The doctors were cold and efficient, offering nothing but medical care for his wounds.
They brought Duo a prison uniform after that and stood around while he dressed, fumbling and slow. He realized then that they'd cut his hair. It was a careless job, as if someone had simply hacked off the braid. The straight, heavy stuff fell into his eyes and over his collar. He should have been angry or sad, but he felt only a vague wonder at how light his head seemed.
A man appeared as he finished dressing. He explained that he was a lawyer and appointed to provide Duo's defense.
"I confessed. Why defend me?"
"It's the law," the man said, his distaste clear in his face. "Don't worry. I won't drag it out."
"Thanks," Duo whispered, earning a sharp look.
Everything blurred again. He had no idea how long he sat in his cell after they were done patching him up. Maybe he fell asleep. Then the men in uniforms were at the door again, shouting at him to get up. He obeyed out of reflex, not even flinching when they shackled his hands.
They hustled him along surreal corridors that ended at a great hall filled with people shouting at him. Guards were there to shield Duo against the rage. Tall doors opened in front of him and he was in the courtroom. Duo saw the others, Quatre, Trowa and -- and WuFei! For a second, a spark of joy penetrated the deepening dark of his soul, then he was pushed past them toward the defense table. For a moment, his surroundings tilted wildly.
Afterwards, Duo would never remember any of it in detail. He sat, silent. as the witnesses were called, his confession read. The worst was being led to the witness chair, to hear the question asked "Did you kill Relena Peacecraft?" -- to hear himself say, "Yes" into a silence that echoed.
He was taken away to sit alone in a small antechamber. His lawyer said the jury was deliberating. Not for long. In no time at all, he was called back to the courtroom. Even though he'd expected it, hearing the jury foreman pronouncing him guilty seemed to drive steel through his chest. It was a familiar pain and he endured it, listening as the judge repeated the verdict.
Heero. Where was he? He should be here, rejoicing in "justice."
But there was no sign of Heero.
Duo was escorted from the dock, back through the courtroom, back to the welcome silence and isolation of his cell.
It will be over soon. Maybe -- maybe they'll forget about me. Maybe they'll leave me alone after that.
But when the steel cell door slammed, something else slammed shut inside him. He sat alone on the narrow bench, head down, and waited for the sentence.
Heero flew into the Sanc fast and hot. The ship responded beautifully, but why not? He had a clear imprint now of everything it did and how to do it, thanks to the being tucked into the life support container in the hold behind him.
He'd taken the alien mobile suit and Wildflower outright, not even bothering to ask permission from the docs. Their outraged howls still echoed in his ears. K'so! They would make him pay for this, but it was too damn bad!
The landing strip appeared. Outrage chattered at him from the control tower. He kept tersely requesting Commander Noin. Finally, they got her.
"Heero!" Her voice sounded odd coming through the Typha's strange audio receivers. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Trying to save a friend! I need landing permission now and a fast vehicle to the courthouse. Wheel-chair accessible."
There was silence, then, "All right, but this had better not get me in trouble."
Noin was as good as her word. He got the go-ahead from the tower and brought the ship in for a smooth landing. He swung down from the Typha in time to see men already running a wheeled platform across the tarmac. From the corner of his eye, Heero saw a black van racing toward him. He thought a command at the Typha to open the hold.
Jumping onto the platform, he stopped its ascent midway up the ship. A large, circular opening had appeared, beyond it a hold where Wildflower sat in her chair, surrounded by a survival-bubble.
They told him Duo's trial had just ended and there was a verdict. Guilty.
Of course, thought Heero bitterly. He'd seen to that! The knots in his gut were as tight and painful as those that had sent him on that single-minded mission of atonement for Noventa's murder .
"They're waiting for the sentencing," Noin had said. "You may have an hour to get there before they do. But why?"
He hadn't taken the time to answer. They would all know soon enough.
The bubble vanished. Wildflower took hold of Heero's wrist, bringing him back to the present. He looked down at the small arm, wires and tubes connecting it to the chair. Even with her life support, Wildflower was struggling to keep the little body alive.
"You ready?" Heero asked as steadily as he could manage.
"Yes." Her voice was a thread, but she sat straight in her chair.
He nodded, scared that this wouldn't work, terrified that Duo would be lost to him forever. Then, taking the chair, he pulled it out of the Typha and into the sunlight.
The latch rattled. Duo, who had spent the last hour preparing himself for the inevitable, straightened, determined to present a brave face to the others when the sentence was read. The door opened and two guards stood without.
"Come," said one of them. For some reason, they both seemed shaken. Maybe the prosecutors had shown the jury the autopsy pictures again. Duo's spirits edged lower.
The boy scraped up the rags of his dignity. He nodded and rose. Refusing to cry, he walked out of the cell, past his silent guards and down the corridor. Outside the courtroom there was pandemonium, shouting and bright lights flashing.
Inside, however, it was dead quiet. The onlookers, the jury, everyone seemed breathless. Duo would not look at the corner of the room where the other gundam pilots sat. He could not look at Zechs, into whose vengeful hands his life would be given.
Duo stumbled. Not only Heero, but Wildflower! He stared at them, trying to stop, but the momentum of his guards pushed him on.
Bailiffs took him to the dock and left him. Duo was oddly lightheaded, staring up at the judge. Was there sympathy in the lined face? For his youth, maybe, but he doubted if anyone in the room wasted a moment's compassion on Relena's murderer.
It was so damn quiet!
The jury foreman rose, clearing his throat nervously. Duo realized suddenly he didn't want to see their faces when they read the sentence. He looked down at his shackled hands, his fists so tight he could feel his bitten nails cutting into his palms.
Be over. Please be over soon.
"Your honor, we the jury, upon considering the new evidence provided by Ms. -- Ms. Wildflower, agree that charges should be dropped. We hereby amend our verdict to not guilty." Not guilty. The words sifted down through Duo's numbed brain. Not guilty. Not guilty.
There was a rushing in his ears. Had he heard wrong? He lifted his head to meet the jury foreman's anxious smile.
"Duo Maxwell," the judge said. "Your friends have just presented some evidence that, although highly unorthodox, was damned convincing. I feel I must warn you that this very unorthodoxy may result in legal challenges to the verdict, but it is the judgement of this court and jury that you are not guilty of the murder of Relena Peacecraft. You are hereby released from custody. Good luck to you, young man."
It was over. There was more, but Duo never heard it. The rushing became a roar. He thought he heard Heero call his name. The room dimmed and, without another word, he crumpled into a small heap on the floor and was still.
Heero sat outside the hospice room, head bowed, elbows on knees. The door opened. The attendant came out. She smiled gently on the boy who waited. He had been here every day religiously. She must think he was crazy, but Heero didn't care.
"Go on in," she said.
As always, Duo was in his chair in front of the window, chestnut hair brushed and carefully plaited into a short braid. He was a thin, motionless figure, his empty eyes fixed on the park outside. Heero pulled up a chair next to him.
According to Duo's docs, the drugs had been the worst in terms of physical damage -- four different, highly addictive substances force-fed to the boy on Elion. They'd done what they could to repair that, too. Like everything else, they told Heero, recovery was a matter of time and Duo's innate strength.
There was no answer, of course -- hadn't been one for nearly two months now. The others still came, too, but less frequently now.
"It's not Duo," Quatre had said finally. "It's a just an empty shell."
Heero had only nodded, but he came every day, regardless. Now he pulled over the wheeled table. Duo's dinner sat on it. Picking up a fork, Heero speared a carrot.
"Time to eat, Duo. Open."
Obediently, those pale lips parted and Duo took the carrot, chewing mechanically. His eyes never left the trees outside.
"SB won the math contest yesterday," Heero said. "He sent a letter. It's on your computer."
Duo accepted another carrot. Outside, a line of clouds swept across the sky. They were light and fluffy and would do little more then make the sunset spectacular.
"I got a look at Wildflower's new body. Guess what? It's male! Wildflower's a guy."
Heero kept talking as he fed his friend. He talked all the time now, if only to Duo. He told the other boy about the Preventers storming Elion, only to find Yamada dead, his throat slashed. Heero didn't dare reveal that Arcane had slipped through the net, that there were guards around the hospice because of it. But nothing Heero said elicited a reaction. Doggedly, he kept trying.
"I was talking to the doctors about you getting out of here for a little while," Heero said, "and maybe going somewhere for a day -- like Trowa's circus."
Another carrot. Not even a blink in response.
Heero felt a deep emptiness. He set down the fork and bowed his head. His eyes burned.
Duo stared off at something only he could see. His slim hands, once always in motion, sat idly in his lap. When the young American had regained consciousness in the courtroom he had been like this. Simply gone.
"He's hiding," Wildflower had told Heero, angry and accusing. "There's too much pain! He's forgotten that there's anything else!"
He wanted to take Duo into his arms and hold him, but he was afraid of what might happen. When Zechs had come to the hospice, Duo had become wild and agitated, crying, speaking incoherently, and finally had to be sedated. It was the resemblance to Arcane. Heero knew that and explained it to the devastated prince, but it had been little comfort.
If only Duo would smile again.
Heero's throat closed and that odd, scratchy feeling in his eyes made him turn away, trying to swallow. Maybe he was doing more harm than good in coming here. Maybe Duo was hiding from him. The last meeting with the doctors, one of them had suggested it.
"Duo," Heero said finally, heartsick. "They told me maybe I shouldn't come any more. That I may be making it worse for you. Maybe they're right. I -- I didn't want to, but I think maybe I should do what they ..."
More words piled up in his throat, but it was too tight to let them pass. So Heero lifted Duo's limp hand from the denim-clad thigh and put it against his cheek. His vision blurred. He closed his eyes and tried to memorize the feel of Duo's skin against his, assailed mercilessly by memories of the two of them making love, laughing in the little kitchenette.
Duo's cold, slender fingers tightened. Heero's heart stopped. He lifted his head. Violet eyes were fixed on his face.
"Heero?" The low voice was little more than a rasp.
The other boy looked back at him, gaze very wide and confused. He made no effort to withdraw his hand from Heero's, only looked slowly, dazedly around.
"Am I in prison?"
"No!" Heero replied, heart leaping. "Don't you remember? Wildflower showed them your memories -- you were found not guilty!"
"Not guilty? But you said I should confess..."
"No." Heero's voice shook and he slid from his chair to sink to his knees at Duo's feet. "I'm sorry, Duo. I'm so sorry. You didn't deserved any it."
Duo looked down at him, bewildered. "Not guilty," he said again, wonderingly. "Really, Heero?"
Duo's head bowed. Tears seeped from under the long lashes. He abandoned his chair to join Heero on the floor.
The doctors' opinions forgotten, Heero wrapped protective arms about him, mouth against his warm hair. He made no sound as he wept, none at all. Heero held him tightly, feeling the shudders that wracked the slight body. "Duo," Heero whispered over and over, "it's all right now. Everything's all right."
But it was not all right and might never be all right again.
Suddenly Heero could no longer speak. A lifetime of harsh conditioning shattered and he, too, was crying. Someone opened the door, then hastily withdrew, shutting it again. Heero sat, Duo in his arms, tears running down his face, losing track of time, not caring about anything else. Finally, the other boy quieted. His shaking stopped. The slight body relaxed, becoming limp and heavy against Heero's. Making no effort to move away, he nestled closer, putting his head on Heero's shoulder.
Heero rested his cheek against the soft hair. He heard his name, very faint.
"Shhhh," he said.
After a long time, Heero drew back. Duo, eyes very wide on his face, lifted a hand to touch his wet cheeks. He said nothing. only looked back at Duo, words trembling on his lips -- so many words and he didn't know how to arrange them coherently.
"You were crying."
The Perfect Soldier gave a little shrug, trying for nonchalance and failing. Then, to his utter surprise, Duo leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.
"You saved me."
"No. No..." Heero refused to accept that. Wiping his hand angrily across his eyes, he stood, holding out a hand to Duo and pulled the boy to his feet. When he would return Duo to his chair, however, Duo's fingers tightened in his.
"Do I live here? Do I have to stay?"
"No. Of course not! You're free. Where do you want to go?"
Releasing Heero, Duo walked to the window. He stood, looking down, arms braced against the window frame.
"Free?" he repeated. "It doesn't seem real. Like, any minute now, I'll wake up back in Zoe or -- or Elion. and everything will be the same. I have nothing. Where can I go?"
"You can come home with me."
"You sure?" Reflected in the glass, Duo's smile was sad, self-deprecating. "You don't have to feel sorry for me, ya know. I can find somethin', a mechanics job or -- or salvage again. It's not like I haven't had bad patches in my life before. I'll get by."
"Shut up, Duo."
Pale lips tightened. Duo wrapped his arms around himself.
"I'll be back," Heero promised and flew from the room.
He returned with the doctors. Duo, sitting on the edge of this bed, greeted the sight of him with relief. The baka probably thought he'd been abandoned.
Heero listened with half an ear to the docs. They were arguing with Duo, urging him to stay. Duo, however, kept shaking his head, looking more panicked by the second.
"He's staying with me!" said Heero finally, voice sharp. "Leave him alone!"
They reluctantly backed down. The gratitude in his Duo's eyes was painful to see.
"He should come in for counseling. Please encourage him to do so."
Heero nodded, barely listening. All he wanted was get Duo away from this place.
"Ready?" he asked now, looking at the other boy who stood, clutching a small bag containing all his worldly possessions.
"Yeah," replied Duo with a wan smile. "Lead on, buddy."
Heero smiled and refused to let the other boy see how much the pale attempt at lightheartedness hurt. It would be all right, he told himself fiercely. He would make sure of that, even if it took years.
The rain came down in sheets. Duo stood in front of the window and watched the water run down the glass. He heard a hoot from the kitchen. Trowa. Quatre's voice followed, merrily taunting. There was laughter. Duo turned away. A shining blonde head poked through the study door.
"See ya, guys!" Quatre called. "Don't oversleep!"
"Yeah, right," Duo returned. "Like I'm gonna miss out on a free trip to Hawaii!"
Quatre's grin lit up the room. There was another shout from Trowa, impatient, and the young prince left. Duo heard the door slam. Barton was a lucky guy.
Behind him, Heero turned off the videogame, yawning. There was popcorn all over the floor where Quatre had kicked over the bowl.
"I'm off to bed," Heero announced, "See you in the morning."
Then he, too, was gone. Duo looked back at the rain, at the lights of the city in the distance, blurring into a scattering of haloes.
There were moments still when the past came back to him. He was getting better at handling those memories, but even so, after almost a year... Leaning his head against the glass, Duo closed his eyes. Heero had asked him only once to make love. Duo had agreed immediately, wanting it as much as Heero. Then, in bed, to his own complete mystification and embarrassment, he'd panicked. No. Panic was too small a word. Duo had gone stark, raving gonzo with tears and curses and apologies that had ended in outright hysteria. Heero hadn't asked again.
His shrinks told Duo it was to be expected. Here, away from the danger, away from his desperate scrabble to survive, his true feelings would gradually come out -- all the horror any sane person would feel after being brutalized so thoroughly and for so long.
"But I love Heero!" he'd confessed, anguished.
"It doesn't matter," they'd replied. "It will take time, Duo. Experiences like yours can leave scars so deep that recovery takes years. You'll have to work at it, but you're strong. Don't give up."
They must have told Heero that, too, because he had never once stopped being kind, patient and protective. It was so unlike the Heero Duo remembered that he sometimes wondered if he was living with the same man. He'd even spent the first few weeks pushing the other pilot, being a complete and utter asshole, trying to prove --- God knows what. He turned from the window and made his way through the spacious apartment. It was the kind of place that Heero was least likely to keep, but Duo loved it and, as he was coming to suspect, that was why they were here instead of the small, utilitarian Preventer apartments downtown. Hell, Duo thought with a sudden grin, the Perfect Soldier had actually brought home a picture the other day and stuck it on the wall.
Duo rounded the corner. Ahead were the bedrooms, his and Heero's. As always, Heero's door was slightly ajar. Duo stopped, just like he did every night when the other boy went to bed first. He stared at it.
Try, Duo. One step at a time. I promise that the rewards will be infinite.
Wildflower's words. Shit. No. Not Wildflower anymore. It was Wilder now.
He should listen to his alien friend, damn it. After all, Wilder had been in his freakin' mind -- and the doctors, too, although in a different kind of way.
And still Duo hesitated, staring at the door. Outside, thunder rumbled. His heart began its painful pounding. His mouth went dry as bone. The hand he lifted shook.
Mistakemistakemistakemistake, screamed his mind, lost to sense.
He pushed it open. Lightning flashed, illuminating Heero's room. The computer was on, numbers scrolling endlessly past on the screen. Duo saw the dresser and the bed, everything neat as a pin. Heero was a lump under the covers, spikes of black hair stark against the white pillow case. Duo swallowed hard and started to close the door, nerve failing him.
Heero sat up. The blankets slid off and Duo caught his breath at the sight of the beautiful young man, at the steadily broadening shoulders, the smooth, muscular chest.
"Duo, are you all right?"
Alarm was in the deep voice. Heero swept aside the blankets, swinging long legs over the side of the bed. He was wearing only briefs.
"I -- um -- I..."
This was the worst of it for Duo, wanting Heero and knowing that the minute he tried to act on those feelings, they just evaporated.
"Is it the storm?"
"Nah. I kinda like it -- all the chaos and the noise. Reminds me of old times, ya know, with the battles and all..."
Duo's voice trailed away. He sounded banal, even to himself. He took a deep breath and summoned a cocky smile, pretending it didn't desperately matter.
"Actually -- I was kinda wonderin' if you'd like some company tonight. I mean just, ya know, sleeping. I don't think I'm ready for anything else yet, but I figured -- hell -- gotta start somewhere, huh?" The words tumbled out. Babbling. He was fucking babbling. Duo began to back away. "I -- never mind. Sorry. It was a dumb idea."
"I'd like that. Just sleeping."
Words fled. Duo stood, trembling.
"I won't hurt you, Duo, never on purpose. And if I do, you've got to tell me, because sometimes I just don't know my own strength."
"Sheesh. Never noticed."
Heero grinned, but made no move to get off the bed. He waited, knowing as well as Duo that it had to be Duo's decision.
"I want you," Heero admitted. "But I can wait. As long as it takes, Duo -- honest."
"Really?" Duo's throat was tight. He tried for the grin again, but it had fled. "Are you sure?"
Heero nodded solemnly and lay back down, moving over to the side of the bed, holding back the covers.
Duo walked to the bed and sat, taking off his shirt, then his jeans. He lay down on his side of the mattress, pulling the covers up to his chin. He thought about Elion, about Arcane, who was still at large, about Yamada killed by his cruel, dangerous lover. He thought about Heero and the tiny apartment on Elion, about the other boy's mouth on his. Duo took breath after shaking breath.
"So," Heero said. "What do you want to do while we're in Hawaii?"
Gratefully, Duo seized on that safe topic. It helped that the room was dark and that Heero couldn't see his face.
"Probably just lay on the beach and give myself skin cancer. You?"
"I'd like to go surfing. Have you ever done that?"
"Me? Hell, no. You?"
"Wow, something you've never done."
"I'm not superman, Duo."
"Coulda fooled me."
Oh, God. There he went again.
"You're tougher than I am." Heero's quiet voice was matter-of-fact.
Little by little, the fear receded. It was easier to breathe. He said, "Sorry. Didn't mean it the way it sounded."
Silence fell between them. The storm was moving away, the lightning less frequent, thunder a fading rumble. Only the rain kept up, hissing against the glass of Heero's big window. Duo rolled onto his side, facing the other boy. In the diminishing flicker of the lightning, he saw Heero looking up at the ceiling, arms loose at his sides on the blanket.
Hesitantly, Duo put his hand over Heero's. The dark-haired boy looked over at him, startled.
"I -- do you mind?" Duo asked, immediately assailed by doubt and insecurity.
The look on Heero's face was so glad that even Quatre's gigawatt smile paled in comparison.
"Of course not." His fingers laced through Duo's, loose, easily shaken off. "Whatever you want."
Whatever I want. What I want is to make love to you, to feel you inside me, to kiss you until you can't say anything but my name.
One step at a time.
Duo took a deep breath. Heero's fingers tightened briefly.
"I've always liked you, you know," Heero said quietly, looking back at the ceiling. "Even in the old days when I used to call you names -- I liked you."
"Yeah, I liked you, too. Except when you cannibalized Deathscythe to fix Wing that time. Then I woulda kicked your ass, no problem."
The silence this time was less threatening somehow. Duo's heart rate had almost returned to normal.
"You could never kick my ass," Heero said finally. There was laughter in his voice. His hand was warm and hard in Duo's.
"Maybe not, but I bet I could do some major damage."
"You'd try like hell," agreed Heero. "That's one thing about you. You don't know when to give up."
Another silence. The rain was slowing, barely a whisper on the glass.
"Don't give up on us, okay?" Heero asked.
Something warm wrapped itself around Duo's mending heart.
"I won't if you won't," he whispered and, daringly, brought Heero's fingers to his lips.
"Deal." The new Heero-smile widened. He took his hand away long enough to touch Duo's face before returning it. "However long it takes. I meant it."
One step at a time, Duo thought drowsily.
Hand in hand, they slept.