Wildflower : White Rose
by Becca Abbott

Prologue

AC 196

Alarms shrieked through the facility. They echoed over and over in her head. She screamed, clamping hands to her ears, reeling against the sterile white walls. Ahead, Oz blocked her escape. Her screams changed, going from mindless terror to an equally unreasoning rage. Even the bullets streaking through thigh and shoulder did not deter her.

Their horrified faces filled her with glee as she tore past them, ripping at their flesh with clawed hands as she went. By the time she reached the elevators, she was trailing blood and gibbering with fury. The soldiers fled, unable to withstand her power.

She saw images, faces, buildings. The elevator wasn't coming. Frantic, she hurled herself again and again at the stairwell door until the metal buckled and she was through. Even then they tried to stop her, unleashing their dragon. Fire seared her flesh, blackening it. Pain howled through her, but she laughed and hugged it close, staggering up the stairs, shedding charred skin and hair as she went.

At the top, she fell into darkness. Night-cool air did little to soothe her agony. Never mind. She knew where home was. Reaching the end of the alley, she saw her sanctuary, high on the ridge overlooking the sea, towers and long walls like a beacon shining. Light blinded her and a horn blared. She flung onward while behind her were shrieking tires and the sound of crashing, crumpling metal.

Home, she ran, never looking back. Home -- and with catastrophe hard at her heels.


Part 1

AC 199

Sacked again. The eighth job in twelve months. It would have been funny if it wasn't so utterly demoralizing. Duo stood at the gates to the apartment complex that was his home and looked up the winding drive. Lilacs crowded it, fragrant with the last of the early spring's blooms. From here, it was just possible to see the small, stone bridge traversing the stream. Willows lined the banks, obscuring all but the peaked roof of the faux-Victoriana building beyond. He could see a flash of window here and there as the branches moved in the updraft from the valley.

"Go back to school." Quatre's voice echoed in Duo's head.

It was a sensible option, but how the hell could he concentrate on schoolwork if he couldn't even keep his mind on putting a phase engine back together? Besides, he would be noticeably older than the other kids at his level.

Shit.

He couldn't blame Elion anymore. That whole nightmare had ended more than a year ago. Sure, he continued to have bad dreams and sex was still scary, but sometimes he could go for a whole day without thinking about what had happened to him there.

A horn honked behind him. He jumped, then stepped off the drive. A blue BMW roared past, the woman behind the wheel glaring as she passed. Duo resisted the impulse to give her the middle finger salute. The bitch was a neighbor and, as Heero had pointed out, your security was better if your neighbors liked you.

Of course, he sucked at that, too.

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, he trudged along the drive, pausing in the middle of the bridge to look into the little stream rushing underneath. Duo really, really didn't want to tell Heero about losing yet another job. Heero wouldn't get mad, of course, but he would get that disappointed look and be extra nice -- the way you were to small, disobedient children, for instance. Maybe, Duo thought dismally, since he was going to ruin Heero's evening anyway, he might as well confess that he hadn't been going to the doctors, either.

Hell.

Leaving the bridge, his steps grew slower as he approached the parking lot. Across it, over the high hedge and the roof of the long veranda, the sun reflected off their big living room window. He didn't see Heero's car anywhere. I could make his favorite food for dinner. Chill him out a little.

Another horn blast. Swearing, he whirled around, not caring who it was and stopped dead. His anger was gone in a heartbeat as a cherry-red convertible zipped around to stop beside him.

"Wilder! SB!"

The doors flew open. Tall, almost unbelievably handsome, Wilder unfolded his long body from the car while SB bounded out with half the dignity and twice the energy.

Duo grinned and there was hand wringing and shoulder thumping all around. It had been nearly two months since he'd seen either of them. Wilder spent most of his time with the docs at their main labs in California. SB lived with Quatre on the other side of the world. Their visits to Sanc were too few for Duo's liking.

The kid had grown yet again. They were eye to eye now, even though SB was almost three years Duo's junior. He was packing some muscle, too. Duo knew that Trowa was overseeing the boy's physical education -- acrobatics and martial arts. The results were visible in the broad shoulders and long, strong legs. Most importantly, there were Quatre, Trowa and Quatre's crowd of sisters to fawn over him, a novelty the boy confessed to Duo that he treasured above all things.

"They care about me. You can feel it. They'll take care of me -- protect me. They do things just to make me feel good. Not 'cuz they have to but because they want to! I -- I never really knew what that meant."

Duo was happy and a little jealous. He cuffed the dark head with rough playfulness. "You asshole. You're gonna to be taller than me. Everybody's taller than me!"

"Anyone who judges you by your size is a fool." Wilder's smile stroked Duo's battered ego.

Duo looked up at the handsome alien. If it weren't for Heero, he could go for Wilder in a big way. That beautiful body might have been grown in a test tube, but it's basic stuff was human and Duo had no doubt about the existence of Wilder's soul.

Alien, telepathic, Wilder was in truth formless, a sentient form of energy loosely restrained by a magnetic force too weak to hold him together outside his cloned body. But what a body! Tall, lean, the alien had an androgynous beauty that Duo found a little unnerving. In certain ways, he strongly resembled the child whose body had been his first host -- little Wildflower. The features were delicate and perfectly symmetrical, as if chiseled by some master craftsman. His face was saved from outright femininity by a strong, straight jaw. Hair the color of dark wine and fine as silk wisped around his collar and over his high forehead. Duo's heart beat a little faster.

"What are you guys doing in Sanc?"

"Business," replied Wilder, leaning back against his car. He had wanted eyes the same dark violet as Duo's, he claimed, but what he got was a breathtaking, vivid lavender. They rested on Duo now, seeing more than was comfortable. "SB's on his way back to school -- he flew in from Algiers with Trowa this morning."

Duo heard that with a little twinge. For just a second, his smile faltered. If Trowa was planning on being away from Algiers for a while, that probably meant a special Preventer operation. Heero hadn't said a word about it.

"Well, whatever -- it's great to see you guys!"

"How about coming with us?" Wilder invited. "We'll grab some dinner and listen to you babble for a while."

"About what?" Duo grinned crookedly. "My latest fuck-up? Anyway ..."

He broke off. At the far side of the parking lot, almost hidden by a large van, was Heero's vehicle, a zippy little black flit that handled roads and sky-lanes with equal ease.

"He's home? Bring him along." Wilder followed the direction of his gaze.

From the corner of his eye, Duo saw SB grimace, then quickly arrange his features into an interested grin. SB hadn't exactly warmed up to Heero. In fact, when Duo had been eager to resume his friendship with the other pilots, SB had held off, even being cold to Quatre.

"You're not his friends," the youngster had accused the young Arab soon after arriving in Algiers. "If you were his friends you would have believed in him! You would never have treated him like he was some kinda mad dog! And as for that fucking Yuy, I'll never forgive him for hurtin' Duo like he did!"

Duo remembered the day Quatre had told him about SB's rant. He and Quat had been sitting on the veranda of the Winner mansion. Out on the lawn, SB had been wobbling his way across a low tightrope under Trowa's eagle eye.

"And what did you say to him?" Duo had asked, pretending only the mildest of interest.

"That he was right. That we should never have turned our backs on you -- that if you hated us, you had every right."

"Well, yeah, but -- it did look pretty bad and it wasn't like I was the kind of guy who would never kill anyone, right?"

"It did look bad, but that's no excuse, Duo. You were innocent and we treated you horribly. The life you led, the terrible things that..."

"Hey, Quat! It's over, okay? We all make mistakes and, well, I never really stopped thinkin' of you as my friends, you know?"

And for some reason, after that remark, Quatre had quickly turned his head, eyes suspiciously bright.

SB did eventually come to accept the others, of course -- all but Heero. Duo wasn't sure what to do about it, so he did nothing.

"I'll go up," he said now, ignoring SB's reluctance, "and see if he wants to come."

Duo ran into the apartment building and up the stairs to their apartment. Heero was in his room, bent over his computer. He gave no sign of knowing Duo was there.

"Hey, Heero! Guess who's here?"

Heero looked up and out the window. Directly below, Wilder's red convertible seemed to glow in the fading afternoon, its two occupants lounging against the side of it, talking.

"Uh, yeah. Anyway -- they wanted to know if we wanted to go grab something to eat?"

"Go ahead," said Heero shortly. "I've got work to do."

It was not an unexpected response, but disappointment bit deep anyway. He knew Heero didn't care much for Wilder.

"What are you gonna eat?"

Heero shrugged and didn't answer, returning his attention to his work.

"Well -- I don't have to go..."

"Why not? They're your friends. You don't see them that often. Go ahead. I'll be fine."

Duo stared at the back of his friend's head, the dark brown hair in its usual state of disarray, slender shoulders hunched as if to ward off unwanted advances. Swallowing, Duo said, "Okay. See ya later, huh?"

"Hn."

The young American trudged back down the stairs. At the door, he took a deep breath, found a cocky grin from someplace and stepped outside.

"He's says go ahead," Duo greeted the other two. "He's trying to finish up something for work."

"Too bad," Wilder replied politely and opened the passenger door. "Whoa!" Duo pretended shock at the courtesy. "Service!"

One of Wilder's stunning smiles appeared. "Nothing's too good for you, Mr. Maxwell."

"Shut the fuck up." But Duo's heart glowed. He jumped into the car and immediately lunged for the radio.

"HEY!" SB objected from the back. "I like that song!"

"Duo's the guest," retorted Wilder blandly. He slid in behind the wheel and revved the little car's powerful engine. "So where are we going, Duo?"


Part 2

Heero watched the convertible roar off, skid wildly around the hairpin turn at the head of the drive and vanish behind the trees. He looked back at the screen but didn't see the numbers scrolling past.

It was stupid to feel like this.

Just because Duo wanted to have dinner with some friends didn't mean he didn't want to be with Heero. So what if Wilder was beautiful enough to give him nightmares. It was Heero Duo lived with, Heero that Duo claimed to love. Never mind that sometimes, lately, Heero wondered if that was still true.

Duo was getting better. Sex was a problem, but he almost never had nightmares anymore and more often, he was the old Duo, effervescent and optimistic. Still, there were bad days -- days when Duo would be withdrawn and nervous, when he would fly into a towering rage only to plunge almost immediately into tearful remorse.

The shrinks had warned Heero early on to expect a long, arduous process of recovery.

"There will come a time when he will stop being grateful and start being angry -- not the little tantrums you see now, but real, hard, hot anger. Acknowledge that anger, Heero, but don't react to it. When the time comes, we'll work on it together."

But Duo had stopped seeing the shrinks and, worse, hadn't yet told Heero about it. It seemed the only person Duo seemed to trust completely was Wilder, with whom he regularly corresponded.

"You're losing him," Heero said aloud. His words hung in the silent room. "You're losing him and you fucking deserve it."

His hands went to fists on the keyboard. His program sputtered and crashed. Heero cursed miserably and banged the keyboard again, then rested his head on his knuckles, trying to swallow past the tightness in his throat.

What would he do if Duo took off? Duo had said nothing about it -- again -- but Heero knew that Wilder had offered him a place to live in California and that Duo also had a standing invitation to go to Algiers any time he wanted.

And if he leaves you? What will you do then, Heero Yuy?

The answer was simple, of course. Heero sat up and rebooted his computer. If Duo left him, he would simply go on as he had before. There was duty. Even if everything else fell apart, he would always have that, immutable, relentless -- as familiar as his own heartbeat. For a moment, the computer screen blurred in his vision.

The phone rang. He sat, listening to it before awareness truly sank in.

"Hey." It was Trowa. "We're going to move on the Morita Clinic, the one on Elandra Boulevad."

"Okay."

"We're supposed to meet at five a.m. for the briefing"

"Okay."

There was silence, then: "Heero, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I'll see you then."

Heero hung up before Trowa could say anything else. Maybe this was what he needed -- an easy operation -- in and out with just enough excitement to take his mind off things.

The Preventers had been hunting for Arcane throughout the year, but without success. In the course of that hunt, however, they had discovered several small clinics operating on the shady side of legal. An anonymous tip had claimed this Morita Clinic was treating unreported gunshot wounds and secretly performing plastic surgery on members of the underworld. Hell, there was a chance, however slight, that it might be the place that had turned Arcane into Zechs' unsettling doppelganger.

Heero pushed away from his desk and wandered through the spacious rooms, automatically picking things up as he went along. In his memory there was an especially vivid image -- of Duo standing mutely in Heero's tiny Elion apartment, beaten and half-starved, listening to Heero sentence him to a hell on earth. Those violet eyes had been filled with more pain than Heero had ever imagined it possible to see.

Heero fell into an armchair by the big window in the living room. Outside, the moon just brushed the top of the trees and in the distance, scattered like jewels tossed by a wilful child, the lights of New Port City flickered on.

"Duo?" he whispered aloud in the empty room, but the dark kept its own counsel.


Duo was stuffed. He fell back in his chair and swiped at the last of the whipped cream on his dessert plate. Looking up, finger in his mouth, he caught Wilder's amused glance. Sheepishly he grinned.

"It's good."

"You can have more."

"Nah. I can't eat another bite, really. So what's this about Quatre? Marriage?"

"He's a Winner, a political bigshot. Of course he's going to get married. It's just a question of when and to whom."

"Um -- and Trowa? What does he have to say about all this?"

"He accepts it," shrugged Wilder. "It's political and has nothing to do with the two of them."

"I dunno." Duo frowned. "Zechs is a friggin' king and he isn't married."

"Zechs . . ." Wilder's gaze turned briefly inward, seeing only his own, mysterious thoughts. It was a habit of the alien's that never failed to disconcert Duo. "Earth's Chief Representative is a law unto himself. He ... SB -- do you want another piece of cake?"

"Um, yeah, can I?"

"Another piece! Shit, SB!" Duo looked at his friend, awed. "Five pieces of chicken? You eat more than I do!"

"I'm a growing boy!"

"Yeah, yeah. Now all we need is to find you a girlfriend."

"Like I have a chance to meet girls at that damn school," growled the boy, turning red.

"So?" Duo leaned forward on the table. "Sneak into town. What's the matter with you, anyway?"

"Children, children!" admonished Wilder, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out his wallet.

A waiter appeared to whisk away Wilder's credit card. Duo dropped his chin into his hand.

"How is school goin' anyway?" he asked.

There was brief silence.

"Well?" Wilder prodded, eyebrows lifting. "Tell him, SB."

SB scowled. "A bunch of assholes kept hassling me because I don't know who my parents were. Just 'cause they're all rich fucks who can trace their moron ancestors back a thousand years, they think they're hot shit."

"You sent two kids to the hospital."

Duo smiled sympathetically, remembering his own brief time in school on L2. "Pacificism is all well and good, but some people will only respect a fist in their face."

Wilder snorted. "I hate to burst your bubble, tough guys, but two gentler beings don't exist. Now -- if everyone's ready, let's go. I've got a plane to catch."

Wilder dropped SB at his hotel. Outside, on the sidewalk, the boy solemnly extended a hand to Duo who took it and said, "See ya. Good luck in school."

"Thanks. I'll need it."

"Email me, okay?"

"You bet! See ya, Wi!" The boy turned and ran into the elegant structure.

What a difference from the scrappy child Duo had taken out of Elion. He smiled faintly, then turned back to Wilder. The tall, elegant man leaned against the car, dark hair shining in the street lamps.

"You know," Duo offered, "I could catch a bus here." He had enough money for bus fare. Maybe.

"Don't be ridiculous. It's just a short hop to the terminal from your place."

That was true. Duo could see the airport from his bedroom window. It was a constant reminder of not being in the pilot's seat, not cruising the space lanes. Duo wanted that more than anything, but Arcane's legacy still lingered. The drugs he had forced on Duo had done more damage than anyone had dreamed. Duo had failed his last two attempts at passing the pilot's licensing physical. He was afraid to try again.

They rode in silence through the streets and up into the low hills on the western edge of the city. The apartment's gate was closed for the night, but Duo had a remote control. It opened silently, letting the car speed through. Wilder pulled into an empty guest spot in front of the building.

Was Heero there? A light burned behind the drapes of his bedroom window, but the rest of the apartment was dark.

He got out of the car. "Thanks for dinner," he said, but to his surprise, Wilder turned off the engine and got out, too. In no hurry to face Heero's bad mood, Duo asked, "Wanna come up?"

"No. I haven't got much time."

"Okay, well, I guess I'll..."

"Duo."

Something in that deep voice made the young man pause. Wilder came around the car to stand in front of him.

"I want to talk to you."

"Uh, isn't that what we've been doin'?"

"This isn't something I wanted to discuss in front of SB."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing -- not really." Wilder's voice held a tinge of sadness. "How are you and Heero doing?"

Duo made a valiant effort not to look up at the apartment again. "Fine."

"You're lying to me. Why?"

Heart lurching, Duo remembered belatedly that Wilder was telepathic. "Hey! Stay out, man!"

"I'm not reading your mind," retorted Wilder. "You would know if I was. What I cannot help, however, is getting drowned in your emotional overflow. You're transmitting like a deep space beacon. Is that bastard treating you all right?"

"Yes!" Duo realized his hands were clenched and carefully opened his fists. "He's been great. Any problems we have are -- they're my fault."

"Oh, Duo..."

"No! It's true! Elion just keeps popping into my head! Especially when he and I -- when we're trying to..." Duo broke off, trembling. "Damn it! Why'd you have to bring this up? We were havin' such a good time, too."

Wilder regarded him solemnly, saying nothing. Then he gave a quick, fluid shrug.

"I worry about you."

"You don't have to."

"I can't help it." And suddenly, Wilder was very close. He set a hand on Duo's shoulder. "I think about you all the time."

"Well, I appreciate it, Wi, but..."

Long, slender fingertips under Duo's chin lifted his face to the street light. The young human tried to speak, but the words stuck in his throat. Slowly, unhurried, Wilder bent and covered Duo's mouth with his own. The next instant, he had Duo in his arms, holding the youth tightly, almost desperately.

Wilder's mouth over his was warm and sweet. The press of that perfect body against Duo's inevitably set every nerve to tingling. Somehow, the young man found the strength to push away, to stand panting on the sidewalk, his already precarious emotions all a-jumble.

"I love Heero," he said, voice shaking. "Please, Wi! Don't make this hard!"

Wilder said something low and bitter. Then he seemed to get hold of himself.

"Sorry," he said finally. "I -- it's just that when I'm near you all these feelings race through me. How the hell do humans get anything done?"

A chuckle was startled out of Duo. "Um, sometimes we don't, Wi."

"It's a damned inefficient way to run a species." Wilder's voice was steadier, but he was pale and there was a sense of emotion held in precariously in check. "I guess I'd better go. I'm sorry."

"No. It's okay. Really." Duo's mouth twisted. "Just be glad it's Heero, not you, who has to deal with my craziness."

Wilder opened his mouth, then closed it again. He squeezed Duo's shoulder once more, then turned and got back into his car. Duo watched until the tail lights vanished. Then he turned and went inside.

Wilder's confession had shaken him profoundly. Theoretically, Wilder had all the necessary drives and urges, but Duo had certainly never expected to be the object of the alien's desire!

"Stupid," he said to himself. "His body is as human as mine."

The living room was dark when he let himself inside. Almost at once, in spite of the gloom, he knew he wasn't alone.

"Heero?" Duo switched on the light.

Heero sat in the armchair by the window, staring out. Duo could see his reflection in the glass, face white and set.

Oh, god. He saw.

"Have a good time?" Heero's voice was cold as ice.

"Yeah. Listen, Heero -- you weren't lookin' down, were you? Er, if you were..."

"You could have told me."

"Told you what?"

"That you wanted Wilder."

"I don't want him! Damn it, Heero -- he kissed me, not the other way around!"

"Right." Heero stood up. "We'll talk tomorrow."

"No! We'll talk now!"

"Tomorrow." Heero started to brush past, but Duo, feelings already chaotic, gave him an angry shove back.

"Why? So you can fucking brood all night?"

"Might as well," Heero replied. "It's not as if my lover wants to share my bed. What's the matter, Maxwell? I'm too human for you?"

"Oh, man. Heero..."

With a rough bump, Heero pushed Duo aside and started down the corridor.

"That's not fair!" Duo grabbed him by the shoulder to turn him back around. "Heero!"

And suddenly he was flying through the air to sprawl on the floor. Heero stepped over him and continued on to his room, slamming shut the door. Duo flinched at the sound, throat too tight to swallow, much less call out.

He got to his feet and limped past Heero's door to his own room. Inside, he threw himself across his bed. There, staring up into the ceiling, arms tight around himself, Duo fought a losing battle against despair.


Part 3

Just past three. In another hour or two, Heero had to leave for Preventer headquarters. There was nothing he wanted to do less than that. Lying rigid on his bed, he stared at the pale illumination leaking through the drapes from the security lights outside.

Heero ran through option after option. None of them were pleasant. Probably, in the end, it didn't matter how he walked out of this.

Obviously, Duo didn't want him. Their sex life was going nowhere and Duo was lying to him. What else did he need? Why should Duo love him, anyway? The way Heero had treated the other pilot on Elion was hardly the kind of foundation upon which to build a good relationship. What the hell had he been thinking?

He wasn't going to get back to sleep. Might as well get up and hit the shower -- go down to HQ early and run through the operation files.

Twenty minutes later, clean, but unrefreshed, he got dressed and opened his door. The hallway was empty and dark. He looked toward Duo's bedroom, then thought again of Wilder -- the way the alien had held Duo so close, kissed him so passionately. Angry again, he headed down the hall.

"Heero?"

Heero clenched his jaw, took a deep breath and turned around. Duo was peering out of his room.

"Where are you goin'?" As hard as he tried to hide it, the panic came through.

"Work."

"Right now?"

"Why not?"

"Hey." Anxiously, Duo came out into the corridor. "Let's talk."

"Why? So you can tell me you got fired -- again? You've dumped the shrinks? You're in love with Wilder?"

"STOP IT!"

"Look," Heero was finding it hard to keep his own voice steady. "We'll talk when I get back."

"I'm not in love with Wilder!"

Duo crossed the space between them, reaching for Heero who knocked his hand roughly aside. Eyes suddenly blazing, Duo grabbed the other youth, jerking him around.

"I am not in love with Wilder, damn it!"

Heero again saw Duo wrapped in Wilder's arms. Wilder -- beautiful, brilliant, cloaked in a romantic mystery against which dull, pragmatic Heero could not compete.

"Leave me alone."

"No! I . . ."

The rage came roaring out of nowhere. Heero grabbed Duo's wrist and, using his momentum against him, sent him flying down the corridor. This time, lithe as a cat, Duo twisted, keeping his feet, spinning around, his own eyes raging.

"Fuck you, you self-righteous son of a bitch!"

Then he was on Heero, both boys reeling back to crash against the wall. Heero absorbed a good punch before his fist connected with Duo's diaphragm, driving the breath from that slim body. Duo evaded his grasping fingers, stumbling away.

Heero leapt after him like lightning, catching Duo in the living room. Again, he lost his grip, but Duo, disoriented, ran into a chair. Both chair and boy crashed to the floor. Heero was on Duo at once, pressing his wrists against the carpet over his head, weight pinning him to the floor.

"Heero!"

A year of pain, guilt and frustrated desire shook Heero like a firestorm. When Duo, cursing, bucked wildly to free himself, Heero released his wrist long enough to slap him across the face. Duo made a sound of shock and pain and became absolutely still. The mark of Heero's open palm was starkly crimson on his thin cheek.

"If you're so starved for affection," snarled Heero, "let's get it on right now!"

"Heero..."

Heero silenced the baka by claiming his bruised mouth, forcing it open with his tongue, ruthlessly invading the sweet, moist opening. The next instant, he was jerking back, swearing and tasting blood.

"You bit me, you son of a bitch..."

"HEERO! STOP! Oh, please -- please DON'T!"

Duo's eyes were squeezed shut, breath coming and going in quick, shallow gasps. He shook under Heero like one fevered.

Sanity returned in a cold rush. Heero rolled off Duo, body trembling in reaction. "D-Duo?"

There was no answer. The boy was rigid, lost in the hell of his memories Heero's rage drained away, leaving him profoundly shaken.

Finally, voice was thick with misery, Duo said, "I was gonna tell ya 'bout the doctors and -- and the job, but I was afraid you'd be mad." Violet eyes opened. They held Heero's, desolate. "And I was tellin' the truth about Wilder, honest."

Heero shifted around and saw Duo flinch. Something squeezed his heart.

"I swear," Duo whispered. "I swear to God."

Heero tried to speak and couldn't. He turned his face away sharply, soul cut to ribbons. He was shocked and sick at what he'd almost done. For a long time, there was no sound but their own harsh breathing. Then he looked around. Duo had levied himself to his hands and knees. Now the boy rocked back on his heels and wiped wisps of hair from his wet face.

"I don't have very much money," he said finally, eyes on the floor. "So -- I dunno how soon I can find another place, but I'll try to stay out of your way. The rents down by the docks aren't too bad and I hear they're desperate for mechanics over in Wilcox..."

"No!"

"I won't stay just 'cause you feel sorry for me."

"Duo, that's not the way it is."

But Duo seemed past hearing. He dragged himself to his feet and righted the overturned chair. There was defeat in every line of his body. Heero shook off his paralysis, jumping up -- and watched Duo cringe, eyes going wide, his tenuous composure blasted apart by Heero's sudden movement. One slim hand flew up as if to protect his face and he stumbled backwards to end up against the wall.

Fear. It was there, always, and had been ever since Elion. Heero realized with cold shock that he had become so accustomed to seeing it in Duo's face that he'd stopped thinking about it -- had accepted it as normal. He was such an inept asshole. Belatedly, he lurched toward honesty.

"Duo -- I'm -- I was jealous. He's really sexy and I -- I..."

Duo tried to laugh. "Yeah, but so are you. In fact, you're so damned close to perfect that..."

"STOP IT!" Now Heero was trembling. "I'm not perfect! I've never been perfect!"

Mouth clamped shut, Duo was silent.

K'so! thought Heero. Where was his damned self-control?

"S-sorry..."

"You don't have to be sorry! None of this is YOUR FAULT!"

Heero couldn't believe he was shouting again. What the hell was going on? Did he need a shrink, too? Duo was smart to be afraid of him. Even now Heero could feel the frustration churning just under the surface, waiting for an excuse to explode into anger.

Turning on his heel, he crossed the room and yanked open the drawer in the entertainment unit. He brought out handcuffs, Preventer issue he had tossed there one night when he'd been picking up the room. Then he turned back and saw Duo staring at him with disbelief. Wordlessly, Heero shoved the cuffs at his lover.

"Here."

Duo swallowed visibly, white as milk, and didn't move.

"They're for me!" explained Heero. "Go ahead. I -- I'm not doing this well, damn it! I can't talk to you if you're scared of me. It makes me crazy."

"I ain't scared of you." A bit of bravado crept back into the unsteady voice. "I just wish you wouldn't hit me."

"So -- we make sure I don't!" Heero shoved the handcuffs closer. "Take 'em!"

"Now this is crazy, dude..."

"Just do it!"

Duo bit his lip and took the cuffs. Heero turned around, crossing his wrists behind him.

"Go ahead."

The fingers that brushed his skin were icy and shook almost too hard to fasten the restraints. It occurred to Heero that he was being stupid. He felt the steel lock around his wrists, felt Duo step away. Heero turned around. They faced each other. Then Heero went to the couch and slumped onto it. The metal cut into his wrists, uncomfortable. Duo followed him, sitting at the other end.

"This is really weird, Yuy..."

"I know." Heero shook his head.

He'd learned a lot about feelings over the past few years. The education that had begun with the friendship of the other pilots had taken great strides since Elion, but fear and anger were still too difficult to separate in his heart. His training told him there were only two ways to handle that kind of pain - destroy the source of it or flee, but obviously, his training was incorrect. Ordinary people seemed to manage. Why couldn't he? Miserable and scared, he waited.

The wild light in Duo's eyes subsided. His breathing eased. He managed a wobbly smile.

"Damn," he said finally. "What the hell was all that about?"

Heero opened his mouth, then shut it again. He felt as if he'd come shivering apart at any second. Duo's eyes rested on him, lashes glittering with unshed tears. Then he smiled Heero's favorite smile -- sweet and filled with light. Sliding across the couch, Duo set hands on Heero's shoulders and kissed him.

Instinct made Heero reach for the fey creature he wanted so much -- only to be reminded by the sharp cut of the handcuffs that he could not. It was a curious sensation. Duo released him. The two boys stared at each other.

"You want me to take 'em off now?"

Heero shook his head slowly. "Could -- would you kiss me like that again?"

"I thought we were gonna talk." But the sparkle was creeping back. This time, their kiss was deep and lingering. An idea came to Heero, dim and half-formed in the chaos that was his heart. Perhaps it had occurred to Duo, as well, for when the boy drew away this time there was a mischievous gleam in his eye.

"Ya know, this is kinda interesting," Duo whispered, fingers moving from Heero's shoulders to trail down his chest. "I could do anything I wanted and you couldn't stop me."

"That's true," lied Heero.

Duo's mouth twisted, knowing perfectly well that a single pair of handcuffs wouldn't hold Heero Yuy if he didn't want to be held. The gleam brightened.

"I could, for instance, take off your clothes."

Heero's lips parted. Heat rushed through him. Duo jumped to his feet. Head tilted, hands on his hips, his legs akimbo, the boy ordered: "Stand up!"

Heero obeyed, awkward without his arms for balance. He stood silent under Duo's hot gaze -- watched those dark violet eyes rake over every inch of him. "You like this, don't you?" Duo said softly. His hands closed to fists on Heero's shirt. He yanked with sudden, startling strength and the fabric gave way with a loud rip. The air swept, silken, across Heero's bare chest.

"You are so hot." Duo's admiration ran like fire through Heero's veins.

Duo pushed the tattered garment off Heero's shoulders to tangle around his shackled wrists. The sensation of his lover's hands sliding over his skin made him tremble. There was another savage jerk and Duo dangled a long piece of cotton from negligent fingers. He lifted it to Heero's face.

"Stop me," he said then, in all seriousness.

"No."

Duo stared at him a long time, eyes gone hard and unreadable. Then he blindfolded Heero.

In the dark, wrists confined, Heero experienced a queer flutter of apprehension that only seemed to add to the fire in his belly. Belatedly, he remembered the Preventer operation.

Fuck that. This was more important. He could live without the Preventers. He couldn't live without Duo.

"Do you remember Elion -- right after Yamada gave me to you?"

"Yes," Heero whispered. His heart hammered at the sudden memory. Shame made a lump in his throat.

Duo's stroking didn't stop. His hands were cool, sliding down Heero's belly. One closed over the growing bulge in Heero's jeans. Without conscious intent, Heero pushed his hips against Duo's fingers.

"Did you have fun beating me up? Did you enjoy throwing me to the wolves?"

"Duo...." Hearing the anger creep into Duo's quiet voice sent a frisson of ice through Heero and he tugged at the handcuffs. He could get out of them -- couldn't he?

"Did you enjoy it?" The hand over his cock suddenly tightened. Heero gasped, trying to flinch away, only to have Duo grab the waistband of his jeans and pull him back.

"No -- yes -- I don't know!"

Heero remembered the shrinks, remembered what they said about Duo. His strong instinct for self preservation was howling at him. He ignored it, feeling his way through the emotional minefield all around him.

A rough tug and his jeans and briefs were pulled down around his ankles. He nearly fell, struggling to step out of them. Duo moved away.

Heero stood, acutely, vividly conscious of his nakedness. He could imagine Duo standing just within reach, examining him. Fear and desire made him whisper, "Duo?"

The blow was entirely unexpected. It knocked his head back and split his lip. Head spinning, he gasped.

"Do you know how often I was raped?" Duo's voice was almost unrecognizable.

"No, I -- Duo..."

Suddenly there were fingers clamped around his cock, the grip vise-like. Heero nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Do you know," continued Duo, implacable, "how often I stood in front of those two bastards, wondering what the hell they were going to do to me? How much it was going to hurt this time? Do you know how often I thought of crawling back to you in that hellhole and begging you for mercy?"

Heero's throat was tight. He could hear all the rage, all the pain. He was in danger and he knew it. Duo began pumping Heero's sex, rough, angry strokes. Heero groaned, hardening in that unforgiving grasp.

"Duo, stop it."

"No! I want you to know what it was it like, damn you!"

"Uhh..." Heero trembled, struggling against the cuffs, wishing he could see. He tried not to respond to the manipulation of his sex, but it was impossible. Helplessly, he shoved his hips against Duo's hands. At once, Duo let him go. Heero almost cried out, whether in protest or relief even he couldn't say.

Duo moved around to stand close behind him. Reaching back to press shackled hands against Duo's groin, Heero measured the hard length of his lover's erection beneath the loose jeans. Duo hissed and Heero was alone again, listening to the whisper of feet moving away.

When he heard the snick of a door closing, Heero began pulling at the handcuffs. They were heavy-duty, but he could feel a slight give in the steel.

Minutes crawled past. Where was Duo? What the hell was going on? Never particularly imaginative, Heero's brain was suddenly presenting him with a flood of possibilities, none of them pleasant. His wrists throbbed, but he kept at it doggedly, stopping only when he heard the door open and Duo return, his footsteps quieter than before. Bare feet?

"Duo?"

"Shhh." A finger was laid against Heero's lips. "Make me feel good and I'll let you go."

Heero heard something in Duo's voice that told him the deadly fury had passed. His own barely-acknowledged panic subsided. He waited, wary, fists knotted tight.

"All right," he whispered, "Whatever you want."

"That's what I like to hear."

The finger pressed harder against his mouth. Lips parting, Heero took it in, caressed it with his tongue. Another joined the first. He tasted salt and soap. Then Duo set his hands on Heero's bare chest and pushed.

Startled, Heero fell, sprawling across the carpet. For a second, he saw stars. Duo came after him, pushing him back when he would sit up, one bare knee knocking his legs apart. Heero was so aroused he thought he would come right there and for no other reason than thinking of Duo looking down at him, enjoying the sight of him, naked and vulnerable.

"You're so sexy," Duo said hoarsely. "I want to fuck your brains out."

"Please!" Heero agreed, desperate. "Do whatever you want!"

"Whatever?" Duo leaned close, breath warm in Heero's ear. Electric shocks traveled from those soft lips straight to his gut.

"Yes." He could barely form that single syllable.

Laughter, rich and dark, sent shivers through Heero.

"Ya know," whispered his invisible tormentor, "I did learn a few things from Arcane. Shall I demonstrate?"

Fear squeezed Heero's heart again. The way Duo said Arcane's name scared him all over again.

"Duo..."

"No talking or I'll gag you."

Heero shut his mouth and swallowed hard. His skin tingled. He could feel the subtle variations in temperature and air current as Duo bent over him -- the warmth of the other's hand as it approached. When that hand rested on his chest, he nearly cried out. The thick carpet was rough against Heero's ass. His steel cuffs pressed uncomfortably into the small of his back, making him arch it a little.

Duo dropped to straddle him. Feeling warm breath on his lips, Heero opened his mouth, submitting to another rough invasion. How good Duo tasted!

Then his lover's kisses were moving away, laying delicate, butterfly caresses along his jaw. He groaned helplessly, turning his head, inviting Duo to trace that erotic line down his throat. When, wickedly, the other boy licked the hollow at the base of it, he sighed, fingers curling under him.

"Duo...."

No answer.

Oh, god! He wanted to seize Duo, to feel those lips around his aching cock. The handcuffs held him obedient to the other's will. It was a terrifying sensation for a man who had always been taught to seek control. Terrifying and, yet . . .

Duo's belly rubbed along Heero's cock as he slid down, his lips and tongue waging a relentless onslaught against that control. When, teasing, he touched his mouth to a nipple, Heero sobbed aloud.

What next? Heero could not say, only respond. Duo's sharp teeth caught the captive nub, held it just tight enough to hint at pain. An audacious tongue slid over the morsel's tip. Heero heard himself moaning Duo's name. Gentle one second, rough the next, Duo suckled and savaged until Heero was tossing his head from side to side, past reason.

"Oh, god! Stop! I can't -- I can't..."

There was laughter, soft against his skin.

"Do you like it?"

"Yes," Heero rasped. "Please! Please don't stop!"


Part 4

Duo was hot and cold by turns. Watching Heero's slim, powerful body move at his command was more erotic than he could have dreamed possible. His cock was so hard it hurt. He wanted to turn Heero over and fuck him. The desire was almost impossible to resist.

So often over the last year he'd wanted to have sex with Heero, only to have those feelings evaporate at the last moment. This time it felt different. Duo couldn't remember such heat. He couldn't remember feeling this lust and anger and need. The one man he loved and feared the most lay helpless, making no effort to get away, ready to accept whatever Duo did to him.

It was an epiphany and for a moment, Duo couldn't even breathe.

"Duo? AH!"

Duo bit the nipple under his tongue and watched a shudder run through his lover's body. He kissed it, then began working his way down the flat stomach. A flick of his tongue in Heero's navel and he moved lower. Heero was breathing his name again, twisting narrow hips.

Long legs splayed wide, sex swollen and quivering, Heero was Duo's to do with as he wished. Duo lay his curved palm gently against the other boy's balls. Heero became absolutely still.

"What shall I do to you, Hee-chan?" Deliberately Duo used the much-despised nickname. He slid fingers between the swollen testicles, separating them, tightening the thin, delicate skin. A violent jerk greeted his touch. "Hmmm?"

"W--whatever you want." The words were so soft, Duo had to lean forward to hear them.

With an impudent finger, he drew a line up Heero's erection. He watched Heero's face, the bruised lips slightly parted, dark hair falling in spikes over the ragged blindfold. The beautiful body was taut, muscles sharply defined. His tiny nipples were stiff, still glistening from Duo's attentions.

I could not have dreamed such beauty.

Running his hands up the other's open thighs, Duo listened to his name in those soft gasps. Tenderly, he kissed the sensitive flesh between those wide-flung legs. He drew one ball into his mouth, then another.

"Duo!" Heero's cry was an aphrodisiac. Duo licked up the length of his prisoner's cock to tease the head unmercifully.

"No," he breathed against it. "You are mine. You do only what I want."

"H-hai."

Duo stood up. For a moment he did nothing but feast his eyes on his sensual captive. Sweat gave Heero's skin the muted sheen of silk. His hair clung damply to his face, his mouth enticed. Duo bent and, grabbing a handful of that hair, hauled Heero to his knees.

For a second, Duo was back in Elion, but it was Arcane who knelt at his feet, head bowed, breathing hard. He blinked and blinked. Not Arcane. Heero. It was Heero.

Duo touched the damp hair, ruffled it. Heero lifted his face; his lips parted.

Wrapping his hand loosely around his own cock, Duo massaged its aching length. Then, his other hand gently holding Heero in place, he brushed the weeping head over those waiting lips. The pink tip of Heero's tongue appeared, licking away the glistening droplets there.

"Ahhh, Heero..."

Slowly, savoring each small shock of pleasure, Duo slid his cock into the warm, wet sheathe. Heero's tongue wrapped around the shaft. He choked a little as Duo pushed harder. Fingers tightening in the dark hair, Duo began a slow thrusting.

This was unbelievable. Wave after wave of pleasure racked him. He was getting lost in it. The working of Heero's strong throat muscles, the inexorable pressure...

"No!" Duo gasped and pulled away.

Heero trembled, his cock twitching frantically, head purple and wet with his need. Duo walked around to crouch behind him. In a moment, Heero's hands were free. The blindfold followed.

Standing again, fingers fisting in Heero's dark hair, Duo tipped the other boy's head back and saw indigo eyes gone wide and soft. Beautiful...

"Don't get any funny ideas," warned Duo, laughter a ghost in his voice. He took away his hand and, with one bare foot against Heero's back, sent him sprawling onto his belly.

"Ass in the air!" he snapped, letting his voice harshen.

Heero struggled to obey. Duo kicked his legs apart and stood back. How did Heero feel, Duo wondered, knowing himself completely at another's mercy? Did he feel like an object whose only purpose was to please?

Duo dropped to his knees. Lifting a hand, he brought his open palm down hard against one lean buttock. The crack sounded like a gunshot in the still room. Heero jerked and a faint sound escaped him. He buried his face in his arms.

Duo's palm burned, but he struck again, harder this time. His hand quickly numbed, but from the sounds and trembling of his captive, Heero's ass did not. First one cheek, then the other -- Duo turned them both crimson. Only after Heero began to whimper ceaselessly did he stop.

Bending forward, cradling his throbbing hand, Duo kissed the curve of Heero's ass. The taut skin was hot under his mouth. He licked the sore flesh, ignoring the inarticulate pleas tumbling from Heero's lips. When he tired of that, Duo sat back and pulled open the other boy's buttocks to reveal his tiny, puckered entrance.

Heero groaned helplessly when Duo ran his tongue along the crack. When he pushed roughly against the ring of muscle, the dark-haired youth gasped.

Duo knew neither of them would last much longer. His gut was close to explosion. He reached for the lube he'd brought from the bathroom earlier. Slathering a liberal amount on his fingers, he inserted one digit into Heero.

Deep he went, prodding and stretching. Another finger. He found the node with unerring precision and began a gentle stroking. Heero was pleading, sweat running off his body.

Finally, Duo lubed his cock, nearly coming at his own touch. Then he set the head of it teasingly against Heero's asshole.

"Oh, god! Duo! Please!"

"Beg."

"Fuck me," whispered Heero, voice breaking. "Please, Duo. Fuck me! Fuck me hard!"

"You better believe it," Duo promised softly, and drove deep.

Heero's body bent like a bow. He cried out hoarsely. Duo, eyes half closed with pleasure, had a brief, icy memory of himself in that position, helpless. He drew his cock out, rested it against the rosy ring, then plunged in again.

"Yes," he heard. "Oh, god, yes!"

Elion was in the past. This was Heero. Heero who begged him breathlessly to continue. Heero -- who had given up control and now writhed under him, reveling in submission.

Reaching under the other's hips, Duo's slick fingers found Heero's neglected cock. The moans became a soft, endless litany as Duo fucked him, hand moving in cadence with the thrusts.

All too soon, it seemed, Duo felt the edges of himself begin to bur. The invisible barrier that separated him from Heero melted away and he could no longer tell where he began and Heero ended. Climax came suddenly, the waves of pleasure transforming into a single tsunami that drove him up and up until white light exploded around him. He heard an animal cry. Was that himself?

Time stopped. Dimly, distantly, he was aware that his hand was wet and that the body under him had collapsed. He lay atop Heero, his cheek against soft, damp hair.

"Duo..."

Just a slight turning of his head and Duo's mouth brushed Heero's cheek. Heero lifted a trembling hand to touch his lips. Duo kissed those slender, callused fingertips.

"I love you," he heard. "Oh, god, Duo -- don't leave me."

"No," said Duo, so happy he could barely breathe. "I can't. I love you, too."


It was one of the palace's smaller ballrooms, too small given the number of people who attended the reception. The air conditioning was struggling gamely, if inadequately, to keep up and Zechs was losing his patience. Still, he stood in a little knot of dignitaries and their wives, smiling and playing the diplomacy game. Say not what you think, but what they want to hear. Make sure that unpalatable realities are referred to only in the most fleeting of terms. Deflect the uncomfortable questions by redirecting....gah! He hated it.

Sometimes, in his darker moments, he decided that Relena had possibly stabbed herself to get out of such a nightmare. That was stupid, of course. His little sister had adored this nonsense. When and if her true murderer was uncovered, he would personally do everything in his power to make the miscreant suffer at least as much as he -- not only for the loss of his beloved sister, the last of his family, but for propelling him, willy-nilly, into the treacherous world of international politics.

Through the crowd he saw Lady Une. She was one of the small contingent of people invited to the reception to meet representatives of the Doloro Colony, the latest to join the UESN. The colony was small, but prosperous and democratic -- exactly the kind of applicant the UESN adored.

Une caught his eye and turned to speak to her lover, Bill Dunn, one of New Port City's most successful detectives. The man looked as if he'd been sucking on lemons all night. With them was an attractive young woman. Une looked up and met Zechs' gaze through the crowd. The next instant she had abandoned her lover and, with the young woman in tow, made her way through the glittering crowd in his direction. Treize's right hand. He tried to like her for Treize's sake, but it was hard. Still, he bowed politely as they reached him.

"Your Excellency," Une greeted him, all formality. "May I introduce the Lady Katherine Deitmar. She's the widow of the Sixth Earl of Danzig, Heinz Deitmar -- and she's CEO of Inter-System Medical Products, Inc."

Zechs braced himself for the newest wrinkle in the game -- the marriage market. Although his royal title was meaningless to anyone but other inhabitants of Sanc, it nonetheless drew wealthy, well-born women in droves. They flirted madly with him at parties. The parents of aristocratic virgins dropped hints as broad as a barn. Wealthy divorcees had their lawyers send discreet and carefully worded propositions. It was driving him crazy.

"I believe I knew the Earl," he said now, racking his brains for the connection. "Lady Dietmar has, in the time since assuming control of ISMP, tripled the value of her company," Une interjected, "and currently sits on Bavaria's governing board."

"An impressive resume for someone so young and beautiful," he said gallantly.

The platitudes slipped out more easily every day. He chatted with the handsome young woman, both of them keeping the subjects light and impersonal. Zechs heard a discreet beeping. From the corner of his eye, he saw Une half turn to lift her phone to her ear. Her mouth thinned into an annoyed line.

"Trouble?" he asked her.

She frowned slightly. "A Preventer matter. I'd better find Bill. You will excuse me, your Excellency? Lady Dietmar?"

"You must come to Danzig sometime, your Excellency," Lady Dietmar said after Une had vanished. The light in her eyes warmed perceptibly. Alarms went off in Zechs brain, but he smiled and muttered something noncommittal. Shortly after that, they were joined by Doloro's governor and his wife, a small, bubbly creature who engaged Lady Dietmar in lively conversation. It was easy after that to murmur his excuses and withdraw.

He made his way toward the bar with vague thoughts of getting something cold and extremely alcoholic. A commotion drew his attention across the room where the tall doors were thrown open to the corridor. Zechs' eyes widened. Striding through the crowd in his direction was none other than Wilder Smith, alien being. Heads turned, eyes widened and several of the well-born maidens who had been hovering around Zechs all night now stared after Wilder with languishing gaze and parted lips. He was, as Noin was fond of teasing, "even more beautiful than you, Lightning Count."

Zechs found Wilder disquieting. While he appreciated the alien's help in clearing Duo Maxwell and could not deny the value of the technology Wilder was giving them, too many questions remained. Technology was all fine and good, but why no information about his people? Their culture? Were they warlike or peaceful? Was Wilder's presence here truly an accident or part of some alien plan of invasion?

Yet, other things about Wilder pulled at him on levels Zechs didn't understand. Wilder's appearance was as close to perfection as could be imagined. The docs had done a remarkable job. There was an undercurrent of sensuality that tantalized. It reminded him of Treize. The knowledge that this creature had the capability of looking straight into his innermost being both excited and repelled Zechs, making him wonder if Wilder had ever cared enough to try.

"Zechs," Wilder greeted him immediately. There were startled looks all around. Zechs found it hard not to grin at the use of a name Earth's Chief Representative no longer officially used. Although the alien had learned a great deal about human behavior in his year on Earth, there were still some rough edges. "Wilder? How are you?"

Behind the alien, two security guards were plowing doggedly through the crowd in their direction. Zech's lips twitched.

"You weren't invited, you know," he said bluntly. "You've managed to upset the Commissioner. Why are you here?"

Oblivious, Wilder said, "I need to talk to you."

"I'm listening."

"Not here!"

"I can't leave right now."

He was treated to a fierce, angry look. Then, from behind came curious, cultured tones. "Good evening, Your Majesty."

Zechs turned. The guards, seeing the invader was apparently no danger to the amused king, turned and made their way back to the door. Zechs barely noticed, seeing a greater danger much closer. He took a deep breath and bowed. "Lady Brandenburg. How good to see you again. You look lovely, as always."

"And you're as big a liar as always, Your Majesty. Still, manners are always a welcome surprise in the young. You remember my lovely great niece, Elise? Make your curtsies to His Majesty, dear."

Zechs' automatically turned his smile on the pretty little blond hovering at the old woman's elbow, but Elise's attention was elsewhere. Her eyes were wide as saucers and fixed on Wilder.

"Delighted to meet you, Miss Elise," Zechs said, taking her limp little hand and bowing over it. "And may I present Mr. Wilder Smith? He's chief engineer for Sanc Electronics."

Zechs received a startled glance from Wilder, whose knowledge of social niceties was purely academic. The docs were hardly the arbitrators of etiquette.

"Invite her to dance," hissed Zechs, even while wondering what it would be like to be held in Wilder's arms.

The alien blinked. Recovering, he bowed awkwardly and stammered out the invitation. Elise lit up like the dawn and eagerly took his arm. Lady Standish stared after them, brows drawn together.

"Who is he?"

"A young genius I discovered on a remote colony. He has a gift for quantum mechanics."

"I see. A scientist." There was slight distaste in her voice. The unspoken "but no title," hung in the air.

"A scientist who, in the past year, has acquired fifty-nine patents and a considerable fortune," Zechs countered smoothly.

Lady Standish considered. "Exactly how large a fortune?" she asked finally.

That was too much for Zechs. He threw back his head and startled everyone in a ten foot radius with his unrestrained laughter.


Part 5

"Why the hell did you make me dance with that girl?" Wilder stood in the middle of Zech's private parlor and glowered at him. The last guests had departed, allowing the king to retreat with his unexpected visitor to the family wing of the palace.

"You were at a ball -- one to which you were NOT invited, by the way. When at a ball, one dances."

"Hmph. You didn't."

"I'm different. I was the host and there only to shake hands and make deals."

"Good."

"Good?"

"You didn't enjoy yourself either." Wilder was smug.

"Oh, you're wrong about that," grinned Zechs, remembering the sight of the alien negotiating the intricate steps of the dance while avoiding the adoring stare of his partner. "So, Wilder, what brought you so precipitously to my side?"

"It's about Duo."

Ha. Little surprise there. Still, the reminder did much to deflate Zechs' good mood.

"I did hear there were more editorials," he said finally.

"Fortunately not here in the city, but he was fired from yet another job."

"What do you do, Wilder? Spy on him?"

"Yes," came the frank reply.

"Why?" Zechs was unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, although he wasn't sure why he cared. "He's got Yuy to look after him."

"That adolescent psychopath? The blind leading the blind."

Zechs laughed, startled at the accuracy of the picture.

"I can't do anything about that, Wilder. Didn't we go around and around on the concept of personal freedom?"

Wilder made a helpless, frustrated gesture. He had beautiful hands, like Treize's had been, long and fine, with strength in the large bones. Zechs looked away.

"It's keeping my secret that continues to make his life a hell." Wilder moved restlessly to the window and stared down into the street. The vulnerability in his expression caught at Zech's heart.

"Do you honestly believe it would help if we were to reveal your existence to the world?"

Wilder's smile appeared, wry. "Probably not. It could become even worse for him, but there must be something you can do. You have power in this place. Give him back his pilot's clearance, at least!"

Zechs was suddenly angry. "There's a limit to what I can do before my favor alone draws unwelcome attention. I've broken the laws I'm duty-bound to uphold to give him this much! I've sealed verdicts and thwarted legal challenges to the trial three times already. If I give Maxwell his license back, the press will almost certainly find out. And if they get hold of his medical record..." He stopped and took a deep breath. "...we'll all be in trouble."

"Then re-open the murder investigation!"

"It's never been closed! Unfortunately, my sister was killed three years ago. There were no other clues! The only weapon found at the site was the knife with Duo's and Relena's fingerprints on it -- no one else's. The only traces of tissue or hair were his or hers! If I reopen the investigation, what clues do you think survived?"

Wilder's shoulders slumped. "If there was a gate in this god-forsaken galaxy, I would take him home, but it's likely he'd be no more accepted there than here."

"Why not?"

Wilder looked around, startled.

"Why not?" Zechs stood, arms folded over his chest. "You've been with us a year, Wilder. You've been giving us technology, for which we're grateful, but we still know practically nothing about you or your people. This business of trust works both ways."

"I'm giving you some technology, Peacecraft. None of it will lead to my people." The amethyst eyes glinted.

"We mean you and them no harm."

Wilder moved so fast that Zechs, whose own reflexes were not unimpressive, was caught completely by surprise. He found himself staring into the alien's handsome face, Wilder's hands on either side of his head, holding him still. Bright eyes filled his vision and in his mind he felt a stirring, a sense of "otherness". Swearing, he tried to move and found strong resistance. With a burst of fury and fear, he tore away from that grip and stood, breathing hard, his fight-or-flight instinct at full roar..

He expected defiance, but Wilder simply stared at him, hands still raised. The knock on the suite door broke the suspension of breath. It was a servant.

"Please show Mr. Smith to his room. See that he has whatever he wants."

"Majesty." The man bowed.

Wilder opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. He bowed slightly. "Majesty," he echoed softly.

There was an electrifying second of sensation, as if every nerve in Zechs' body was bathed in light. Then the alien was gone and Zechs was left to stare at the closed door and wonder if he'd imagined it.


"Stop it!"

Heero, checking his pistol for the last time, looked over at Noin. "Ma'am?"

"Stop grinning."

"I'm not grinning."

A snort from Trowa who stood directly behind him in the Preventer locker room, strapping on a laser rifle.

"I think we can guess why you were late," said the occasional circus performer.

More snickers, including from their commander. Heero made an effort to school his expression, to adopt an icy demeanor. Noin burst out laughing, Trowa chuckled. Wu Fei gave him a slightly disgusted glare and left.

"Admit it," hissed Sally, pushing past him to follow Wu Fei to the briefing room. "You're in love, you silly puppy."

"Puppy?" he objected, shoving his pistol into the holster under his arm. He grabbed his cap and pulled it down over his hair. The logo for a heating and air-conditioning company was printed above the brim. A matching emblem decorated the breast pocket of his serviceman's uniform.

"Puppy," repeated Trowa, his single visible eye glinting wickedly.

Heero refused to dignify that with an answer. He put on his best glare and buttoned up his jacket.

Trowa smirked. "C'mon, puppy -- show time!"

The sun was a half-circle peeping over the distant horizon. A brightening sky showed traces of violet -- the same pure, deep shade as Duo's eyes. Heero climbed into the driver's seat of his van and drove across town. Although he couldn't see them, he knew that the rest of the unit was following in plainclothes vehicles. At the mission briefing, he'd been given his route. He followed it now, coming to within a block of the clinic. There, he pulled into an alley and shut off the engine.

Noin's plan was simple. In ten minutes, the Preventers, armed with a court order, would begin turning the clinic's main electrical feed on and off. Fluctuations like that were normally caused by a short between the receiver and the transformer. Heero turned on the two-way radio, picked up his styrofoam coffee cup and sipped at the cooling beverage. What a beautiful morning, he thought, then grinned.

Trowa was right. He was dizzy with love. What had passed between him and Duo last night had been beyond anything he'd ever imagined. Why hadn't he thought of it before? Part of him cringed a little knowing that he found violence against himself to be so pleasurable, but Duo's fear of being forced had vanished when the cuffs had gone on. Granted, Heero was still a little sore, shifting his weight frequently on the seat of the van. In spite of that -- or maybe because of it -- the entire episode had been incredible!

Tonight, he promised Duo silently, you can tie me to the bed.

His radio crackled.

"Green Heating Systems just got the service call," reported Chang. "Wait fifteen minutes, then go."

"Yokai."

Exactly fifteen minutes later, he pulled the van out of the alley and into the street. Traffic was just heating up and he was several minutes late arriving at the Morita Medical Clinic. It was not yet open, but the staff's cars were already filling the far parking spaces. He was let in by a smiling nurse who took the news of the clinic's electrical problems in stride.

"It's always something," she told him cheerfully. "You can wait over there until Mr. Loring comes in. He has the key to the electrical closet."

Mr. Loring was a rotund, rosy-faced individual squeezed into a suit a size too small. He beamed at Heero.

"Amazing! One of you guys actually showed up on time!"

Heero nodded crisply. He followed Loring down into the cellar. There, the man unlocked a grate behind which stood transformers and the main circuit breakers. "I'll leave you to it," Loring said. "Have the receptionist find me when you're done and I'll sign the service slip."

"Yes, sir," Heero agreed.

Loring left him after that. Heero looked at his watch. In another five minutes, the Preventers would have full power restored. He worked fast, disabling a few key circuits, then left the electrical cage.

Their anonymous tipster had insisted that somewhere in the cellar was an unlicenced surgery and a couple of hospital beds not registered with the Sanc Medical Board. Heero prowled from room to dusty room, but the cellar was empty of anything suspicious. Two doors were locked, but when he opened them he found only stacks of pharmaceuticals -- all legal -- and other medical supplies. There was no hint of a hidden operating room or any sign of illegal activity.

He returned to the electrical cage, prepared to restore the electricity when he noticed something underfoot. A tattered rubber mat had been laid over the floor, but he felt something underneath. Heero bent and pulled up the mat. A trap door.

The concrete floor here was cracked and clumsily patched around the square opening. Heero pulled at the recessed steel ring. With considerably more ease than he'd expected, he lifted the trap. A stairwell led down into the dark. He took his flashlight and examined what he could see of it. The walls were cracked and blackened, as if by some past conflagration.

Flashlight guiding him down the crumbling steps, Heero descended. At the bottom, he pushed open another door. Expecting to find a grimy, clandestine operating room, he was faced with another corridor, this one quite wide, leading off into darkness. There was more evidence of fire. The corridor was lined with doors. Its dusty floor bore the traces of recent passage. Heero paused, the nape of his neck prickling, but he heard nothing. Peering through a door left ajar nearby, he saw an empty room, even the light-fixtures removed, the wires dangling from the ceiling. There was no trace of fire here, only soot. This place had been abandoned for years.

Maybe he would take Duo out to dinner. Just the two of them. Gratzi's was a good place, elegant, decent food and a great wine list, at least according to Quatre. That was something else he needed to work on, thought Heero -- making little gestures to show Duo he was serious. Duo liked model cars, kid that he was. There was a hobby shop on the way home. Heero decided he'd stop there and find something Duo might like.

A sound behind him jerked him from his reverie. He spun about, half expecting to see an outraged Loring. Instead, there were two grinning strangers. One of them lifted his hand. Heero saw the taser too late. He threw himself to one side, even as he heard the whine of power-up. There was a moment of vivid pain, a flash of light, then nothing.


On to part two.