Wildflower : White Rose
by Becca Abbott

Part 6

Heero woke to find himself bound, in the dark, and in motion. He kept his breathing even, trying to get a sense of where he was and who had him. His head ached and his tongue felt a couple sizes too big for his mouth, but other than that, he seemed to be okay.

Duo.

Damn it! He was in this mess because he'd let himself be distracted by thoughts of the baka! A part of Heero marveled at that while the other wrestled with his more immediate problems.

His senses righted with typical speed. He was lying on the floor of a van or a truck. The cuffs on his wrists were heavier than the ones he and Duo had played with -- last night?

It didn't feel like he'd been drugged, only knocked out. Heero flexed his wrists, but there was no give to the steel. Maybe it wasn't steel. Maybe someone knew what they were getting when they got him.

Set up. But by who?

Heero rolled over, working his way to the wall of the van. There were no windows. Light leaked in through small cracks here and there. He eyed the doors speculatively.

A lurch sent him rolling across the length of the floor, coming up hard against the back doors. They shuddered, but didn't give. Reinforced steel. Tough, but not impossible.

Heero maneuvered himself around to kick at them. He did it until his knees ached from the repeated impact. Then he lay, catching his breath, running over various options. The van turned sharply, went over several bumps, then slowed. Heero smelled truck exhaust and ocean. With desperate strength, he gave the doors one more kick.

They flew open. He had a confused impression of a narrow road snaking out behind him, ramshackle buildings on either side. The bay was a blue glitter in the corner of his eye.

Wasting no more time, Heero rolled out, hitting the road with bone-jarring force. For a second, dazed, he simply lay still, head ringing. There was a loud blaring of a horn and the scream of tires. He was dimly aware of a truck swerving wildly to avoid running him over. Gathering his wits, he staggered to his feet. Something warm and wet ran into his eyes. He shook his head impatiently.

"HEY! Hey, kid!"

The van had slowed, but seeing the growing snarl of traffic piling up behind them, his kidnappers lost their nerve. They speeded up again, careening around a corner and out of sight.


Duo woke to find the sun was shining hotly through his big bedroom window. He stretched sensuously and smiled into the bright ceiling.

God, what an amazing night! Remembering, Duo's hand crept between his legs. Semi-stiff, his cock responded instantly to his touch. Quickly, he withdrew his hand. Why settle for second best?

He threw back the covers and bounced out of bed. Unfortunately, a quick search of the apartment showed that Heero hadn't returned. Groaning, he went off to the shower. Afterwards he dressed and, standing in front of the mirror, wondered what the hell Heero saw that was so attractive. Duo's mouth twisted into a small, rather sad smile. His short stature, almost fragile build, that stupid nose -- why would anyone want him? Wistfully, he started brushing his hair.

In a year, it had grown fast, falling to the middle of his back. There were times when he caught himself reaching for his old braid, only to have his fingers grasp nothing. Now he set the brush down and left the heavy, chestnut waves to fall free across his shoulders.

There wasn't much in the refrigerator and Duo had no money. His idea of cooking dinner later faded. He wandered around the apartment, picking it up, and began to wonder where the hell Heero was. What was this operation that had Heero bolting from the apartment at four-thirty in the morning?

Maybe he'd head down to the docks. Someone not fussy could usually find a temp job hauling cargo on and off the ships. It was a hard work but honest. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. As he reached for the handle, however, he heard a scrabbling sound on the other side.

Duo's heart lurched in automatic reaction.

Stop it! It's probably just housekeeping getting ready to vacuum the corridor.

Even so, his heart was racing as he put his eye to the peephole. Nothing. Shit.

Not once in the past year had there been so much as a hint of Arcane. The bastard might have dropped off the edge of the world for all anyone knew. Yet Duo still found himself starting at shadows, jumping at unexpected sounds. He lay his forehead briefly against the door, trying to get his intellect to override his gut and not having much luck.

The noise came again, a scraping sound followed by a thump against the door. Duo whirled around and raced to Heero's room. Going straight to the adjoining bath, he dug through the neat stacks of towels under the sink and found the handgun. Back to the living room he raced. Flattening himself against the wall beside the door, he lifted the gun in one hand and, with the other, unlocked and flung it open.

"Heero!"

The dark-haired boy, battered and bloody, fell into the apartment. His hands were cuffed behind him, his clothing torn and stained. He sprawled, face first, at Duo's feet.

Duo tossed the gun onto the couch and kicked the door shut.

"What the hell?"

He lifted Heero gingerly and got him to the sofa. "Handcuffs," he observed lightly. "Ready to go again, eh, Hee-chan?"

As he'd hoped, the corners of that grim mouth tilted. "Hn."

Duo checked the cuffs more closely. They were not regulation. In fact, from the color of the metal, he'd guess they were gundanium.

"Think ... think you'll need your kit."

Agreeing, Duo trotted off to his room where, after digging through messy drawers, he located his lock-pick set. There were two locks on the heavy manacles. Someone had been taking no chances.

"What happened?" he asked when the shackles fell away.

Heero slumped into the couch, rubbing his galled wrists, eyes drifting shut. For a second, Duo thought he'd fallen asleep. Then they opened again.

"We got a tip -- about an illegal medical clinic. . ."

Duo listened in alarmed silence as Heero described the ruined underground complex and what had happened to him there.

"You think you interrupted somethin' -- maybe smuggling or drug running?" Like most international harbors, such things were not unheard of in New Port City.

Heero shook his head. "Where's the phone? I need to call this in. They took mine."

Duo found it in the kitchen. He sat in silence while Heero called the Preventers and spoke briskly to someone on the other end. Leaving him to it, Duo retreated to the bathroom, collecting first aid supplies. He returned to the living room in time to see Heero struggling to his feet, determined eye fixed on the computer.

"Oh, no you don't!" Duo planted himself squarely in his roommate's path. Startled, Heero went sprawling back into the cushions. "Idiot."

"I want to check something," Heero retorted, trying to get up again.

"SIT DOWN!" Startled, Heero did as he was told. Duo, smirking, took hold of Heero's chin and tilted the other boy's face up. The right eye was blackened, the right cheek scraped and raw -- as if from a slide across pavement. Jeezus.

"Nice job, Yuy. Self detonation didn't do this much damage."

"Baka."

But Heero sat without too much fuss and let Duo clean him up. Duo was just finishing when there came a banging on the front door. Involuntarily, he started.

"The guys," Heero said.

Sure enough, Duo opened the door to find Chang Wu Fei and Trowa Barton standing outside. He returned to the sofa, perching on the arm beside Heero as the other two Gundam pilots found seats.

"No sign of the van," Trowa announced immediately. "We're rounding up witnesses, but most of them so far only remember watching you bounce across the road."

"Did you go back to the clinic?" Heero asked.

Trowa nodded. "Noin and Dunn are there now. They found the underground complex. There was evidence of recent activity, but it was deserted by the time our people got there. If there was contraband, they managed to get it away."

"Whoever got you took you out through the old sewers," Chang continued. "The place might be a smuggler storehouse."

"Maybe. What's the building's history?"

Trowa shrugged. Unwinding his long body from the chair, he went to the computer and turned it on. Text rolled up on the screen.

"Morita Clinic was built two years ago on the foundations of another place -- The White Rose Research Institute. Virology." Trowa frowned thoughtfully at the screen. "It burned down three years ago. The case was never solved."

"No shit?" Duo jumped up and went over to have a look.

"Yeah. It looked like the Institute had been using the underground complex as an illegal genetics lab."

Duo read down the brief case summary. Something about the record bothered him. It must have bothered Heero, too, because he went to Trowa's side and scrolled back through the police file.

Three years ago.

"This was a set-up," Heero said shortly. "Someone meant for me to find that trap door. They were waiting."

"Maybe," Chang temporized.

"If I had startled smugglers, why did they kidnap me? Why not just kill me right there and dump my body into the bay?"

"Guys," Duo said. "Didja notice the date of the White Rose fire?"

Three faces turned toward him. He took a deep breath and gestured toward the screen. "Interesting coincidence, huh?"

Three years ago. August 19. A national day of mourning in Sanc. The day Relena had died.


Part 7

Heero slid the pasta from the pan into the bowl. The pot was heavy and Heero's mending shoulder twinged. He set it down in front of Duo with a flourish. Eyebrow lifting, Duo regarded it with deep suspicion.

"What is this?"

"Pasta with marinara sauce."

Duo poked at the red mass in disbelief. "No shit?"

Heero gave him an offended look. "I followed the recipe exactly."

"Uh-huh. Lemme see."

Heero slapped it down in front of his unappreciative roommate.

Duo frowned at the print-out. "Uh-oh. It doesn't tell you how long to cook the pasta, does it? -- just: 'al dente'."

Inklings of a problem occurred to Heero. He had a smattering of the various Earth dialects and knew vaguely that 'al dente' had something to do with teeth. "I did think those instructions were imprecise..."

"Eight minutes, tops. I like it cooked just so your teeth meet a slight resistance."

Heero poked at the congealed mass with an assessing finger. It broke mushily apart at his touch. "Oh."

Duo chortled.

"Fine," snapped Heero. "You cook!"

He was treated to a smug smile.

"It's your week. Unless you're actually suggesting we break with routine."

"I am not that rigid!" Frustrated, Heero snatched away the pan. "I'll call out for pizza. Fuck it."

Duo took himself off, chortling. Heero glared after him, then looked at the disaster waiting to be tossed into the garbage disposal. The corners of his mouth tugged upward in spite of his annoyance. It did look pretty disgusting. Maybe there was something to be said for division of labor. Duo was the better cook and Heero was eventually the one who cleaned up anyway.

The pizza boy arrived promptly, familiar with the address. Duo was on the floor in the living room, back against the couch, long legs stretched out before him. He was watching TV, hand in a mostly-empty bag of potato chips. Putting it down, he accepted one of the boxes with a crumbly grin.

The two lit into the food as if their last meal hadn't been mere hours ago. Duo gave up first, burping and leaning back with a contented sigh.

"Now that's dinner!" He was silent a moment, then he snickered. "Al dente."

Heero shook his head, polishing off his last bit of crust. He tossed his box onto Duo's and moved over until their shoulders touched.

"You goin' to work tomorrow?" Duo asked.

"Sure. I should have gone in today."

"Jeezus. You get fuckin' knocked on the head, throw yourself out of a moving vehicle into the middle of busy traffic, stagger across town handcuffed -- that's gotta be worth at least three days off!"

"I want to find the White Rose evidence summary. There should have been something in the case file and there wasn't," Heero replied. "Sloppy."

"Maybe there wasn't any real evidence," Duo said, picking up the remote. He began to flick through channels. "The place burned down, remember?"

Duo's chestnut hair needed brushing, the long, fine strands lying in disarray over his shoulders. Heero's fingers itched to touch them. Thoughts of the investigation fled. He remembered the feel of Duo's hands on his skin, of himself naked and kneeling at Duo's feet.

"Can we talk about the other night?" he asked before thinking.

"Uh, sure. Which night?"

"The night before last -- when you and I..."

Color crept up Duo's face. He looked away.

Heero's heart thumped. "I liked it."

Duo's head whipped back around. "You did?"

Now it was Heero's turn to feel his face heat. He forced himself to keep his gaze unwavering and nodded.

"Wow. No shit?" Duo seemed completely taken aback.

"Do you think that what we did was wrong?"

Duo blinked. "I dunno. It felt good, but maybe it shouldn't have, ya know?" He tilted his head to look at Heero who was getting more insecure by the moment.

"You didn't like it?" Heero tried not to sound disappointed.

"Yeah. Yeah, I did, maybe too much."

Heero waited, heart in his mouth.

Finally, Duo said, "I -- I hurt you. It was scary as hell."

"It wasn't that bad. I happen to know you can hit a lot harder -- but you didn't. Besides, I hit you first, so we're even."

Duo shrugged, obviously unsettled.

"Well, I just wanted to say," Heero said finally, "that if that's the only way that works for you, it's okay with me."

Duo stared at him a long moment. Wondering if he was digging himself into a pit, Heero kept doggedly on.

"When we tried to make love before, there was always fear behind your eyes. You're not so good at hiding that stuff, Maxwell. I don't want you to be afraid of me. I can accept the anger -- God knows you have every right to it -- but not the fear."

Duo inhaled sharply. "Don't discount the anger, Yuy."

"I'm not, but I'm not very breakable. Anyway, I don't believe you'd really hurt me -- not really."

It looked for one precarious moment as if Duo would take offense. Then the crooked smile appeared. "You're gettin' deep, Hee-chan."

Heero was treated to one of those smiles.

"Okay. Since you put it like that -- stand up."

Heero's heart did a little leap. "Why?"

"I want you to take off your clothes. I want to see you naked."

"Here? Now?"

"Sure. Why not?"

It was astonishing how such a simple suggestion could elevate his pulse so quickly. Heero got to his feet, looking down at his lover and, with a faint smile and a shrug, peeled off his t-shirt.

"Jeezus," Duo said, shaking his head.

Heero looked down at his skin and the bruises that still mottled it. "It doesn't hurt."

"Good." Duo's grin was positively lascivious. "Fondle yourself."

"Uh - what?"

"Just do it. Pretend it's me touching you."

Heero took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He ran his hand down his chest and imagined it was Duo stroking him. Hard as a rock, his erection strained against his jeans. As his fingers brushed his nipples, he felt a small shock and they stiffened at once.

"Go ahead," Duo encouraged softly, "play with them. You look hotter than hell."

Heero swallowed hard. He pinched the small nubs, rolled them between thumb and forefinger. They were rigid now and he licked suddenly dry lips. His breath quickened.

"The jeans..." Duo's voice was very low and thick. Heero opened his eyes.

"No! Keep your eyes closed!"

Obediently, Heero closed them again and unsnapped his jeans, but before he could take them down, he felt Duo's hands there, pulling the constricting garments down around his ankles. He stepped away, wishing he could open his eyes and see Duo's reaction. A hand rested lightly on his hip, then fell away.

"Beautiful," he heard, little more than an exhalation. "Let's see how quick you can come for me."

"Duo!" Heero's eyes flew open.

Duo shook his head. Heero sighed. Eyes shut once more, he reached down, fingers wrapping around his aching cock. Slowly, he dragged his fist up the length of it. Even with his eyes closed, he could imagine Duo's face, rapt, the tip of his tongue just barely visible between parted lips.

Heero was no stranger to masturbation. In the dark and lonely nights of the war, he'd pleasured himself, more to release tension than for any other reason. This -- this was different. Shocks of electricity seemed to follow each stroke and his breathing harshened.

"Play with the head," Duo said. "Tease it for me."

Heero obediently slid his fingers over the tip of his cock and trembled helplessly. They came away, slick with the moisture that gathered there. He thumbed the rim of the glans and his control nearly broke.

Suddenly there were hands around his wrists, pulling them away. Heero made a small sound of protest, eyes opening. Duo stood facing him. The slender youth brought Heero's fingers to his lips and kissed them.

"Undress me," he commanded.

It was like unwrapping a gift and one of Heero's favorite things to do He unbuttoned Duo's shirt and slid it off, fingers lingering on the fine, pale flesh. Leaning forward, Heero touched his mouth to the small nipples and felt them turn to pebbles under his tongue. Then he knelt, pulling off Duo's socks and kissing the long, narrow feet. Duo made an inarticulate noise.

Unsnapping the other boy's jeans, Heero removed them. Duo's sex, released from its prison, quivered against the lean belly. Seizing those tight buttocks, Heero squeezed gently and ran his tongue up the underside of Duo's erection.

"Oh, god, Heero!"

Long fingers knotted in his hair, pulling him away. Heero growled and would have returned, but Duo dropped to his knees.

"Lie down," he whispered.

Obedient, Heero stretched out on his back, but instead of kneeling between his legs, Duo turned around and straddled him, facing in the opposite direction. Heero's wide eyes were suddenly confronted with a sight that raised his temperature another few degrees.

Duo's breath was warm on his genitals. Long hair brushed Heero's hips and thighs, a kiss of silk against his heated skin. Without thinking, Heero reached to capture the balls dangling so close to his lips, stroking them gently, lovingly. Then he drew first one than the other into his mouth. There was answering pressure around his cock and he thought he would come on the spot.

The sensation of Duo's mouth on him, of his own mouth around Duo, sent Heero's senses into overload. He was dimly aware of writhing under his lover, pleasuring and being pleasured. Duo's skill was demonic, the glissando of pressure and heat around Heero's cock making every second an exquisite, exhilarating fight for control. Then Duo did something that sent a shockwave through him, a kind of deep-throated hum that destroyed what fragments of control Heero still possessed. He cried out, the sound muffled by the burgeoning sex in his mouth, his body arching helplessly.

Heero came in long, violent spasms. When his senses cleared, he was limp, weak, his body soaked with sweat. Duo moved away.

"Duo."

"Shhh. Stay there."

As if he could move! Heero floated, body heavy and languorous. He was dimly aware of Duo getting to his feet and walking away, returning a moment later. Though tear-spangled eyelashes, Heero saw the tube of lubricant. He smiled drowsily.

"Roll over, pretty boy," came Duo's command, soft and filled with smiles.

"Yes, sir."

Duo's arm scooped under his hips, lifting them -- a good thing, since rolling over had exhausted Heero's pathetic remnant of strength. He remained where Duo arranged him, eyes closed. When one slick finger slid into him, he sighed blissfully.

"You are so beautiful," he heard, "and I love you so much."

"Love you more."

Duo chuckled. Another finger joined the first, stretching, oiling. Utterly relaxed, Heero's muscles gave little resistance. The fingers were withdrawn. He braced himself a little as Duo eased into him, filling him, making him gasp.

"Are you okay, Hee-chan?"

"Mmmm. Don' call me that."

"Hee. Chan! Hee. Chan!" The teasing note was pronounced, each languid syllable accompanied by a slow thrust in or out. Heero shifted a bit and, squeezing, successfully silenced the idiot.

Faster and harder Duo took him. The warmth grew and Heero began to move with his lover, to angle himself instinctively so the head of Duo's cock pushed against the sweet spot inside him. It was incredible to feel like this, to be owned and cherished so completely. When Duo suddenly cried out, driving deep and holding, Heero smiled in triumph. His lover's damp body collapsed onto his and they lay in a sweaty tangle amid the pizza boxes and pop cans.

Finally Duo slipped out of him and rolled over to lie, staring up at the ceiling, face flushed, hair clinging charmingly to rosy cheeks. Heero slid closer, laying an arm across Duo's chest and kissing his shoulder. Through half-closed eyes, he watched the other boy's profile, the slightly parted lips, the eyelashes dark and long as a girl's.

"Wow..." Duo's exclamation, soft and breathless, was a benediction.

Heero snuggled closer, wrapping arms and legs around this most amazing of creatures. Duo smiled, taking one of Heero's hands and kissing it. Heero smiled drowsily, stroking the wet hair from the other boy's face.

"Twice in a row," Duo said finally. "Ya think maybe I'm cured?"

Heero kissed his shoulder again. "I think we'll have to run a few more tests before we can say for sure, ne?"

"Oh. Damn."


Part 8

Heero was up and out early the next day. Duo dragged himself from bed reluctantly and, coffee in hand, spent an hour parked at the computer hunting for jobs. There wasn't much. He looked wistfully at the space salvage positions. There were several of them, highly paid and with excellent benefits -- jobs for which he was exceptionally qualified.

But space was closed to him since Elion, thanks to Elion. After a short lifetime spent roaming the space lanes, weightlessness now made Duo violently ill. His physicians had told Duo he had a remote chance of recovery and the boy clung to that reluctant admission, unwilling to accept that he would be forever planet-bound.

Oh, hell. If he stayed in the apartment all day, he'd do nothing but worry about his life and his lover. Time to get out and check on a few of the possibilities he had turned up.

Duo was broke, of course, and had forgotten to wheedle some money from Heero. That meant doing the sofa-dive. For some reason, Heero could not keep change in his pockets. Sure enough, after a determined assault on the furniture, Duo retrieved a dozen credits or so in small change -- enough for the bus and maybe a sandwich later.

It was late in the morning and the bus only a quarter-filled, allowing him to retreat to the back and sit, staring out as the city passed. His mind, however, was not on his impending and probably futile hunt for employment.

White Rose had been an illegal genetics lab. Just what did that mean, exactly? Cloning and post-natal genetic engineering were legal enough, although he thought there was probably a bunch of rules and regulations involved. He knew, for instance, that cloning was ferociously expensive and usually only possible for governments or powerful, wealthy families like the Winners. Post-natal engineering, or PNE, occurred more often, but even it was heavily regulated.

Heero had been engineered. J had taken an ordinary child and transformed him into a dynamo of super-strength and endurance. Duo suspected that what had been done to his lover would be considered illegal now. Was there some connection between the White Rose Institute and Heero?

Several bus transfers got Duo across town to the bay and the sprawling port district of the city. Armed with his print-out of job openings, he got out and made his way toward the first of his prospects.

Four hours and six rejections later, discouraged, his stomach snarling, Duo threw in the towel. He found a noodle cart on the end of a windy pier. His pocketful of change allowed a small bowl of sesame noodles. He took it and retreated to a bench along the rail. There were a couple more names on his now dog-eared scrap of paper. Maybe tomorrow he would be more successful.

Someone sat down next to him. Duo gave the stranger a cursory glance. Everything stopped. His heart lurched and began an erratic, panicked pounding. It was no stranger. Smiling at him, as beautiful and malevolent as ever, was Arcane.

Duo was paralyzed. Sapphire eyes held his. The handsome mouth tilted in a malicious smile. It was like looking at Zechs -- only not really. Arcane had dyed his hair -- it was a black now -- and there was a broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his brow.

"Hello, Maxwell," came the velvet purr. One lean, elegant hand suddenly locked around the boy's wrist. There was a terrifying, enervating tumble of horrific memories. Duo opened his mouth but nothing came out. Flee! shrieked every fiber of his being, but he was rooted to the bench.

"As adorable as always," continued the demon, gaze drifting familiarly up and down Duo's trembling form.

Duo's paralysis broke. With an incoherent curse, he tore himself from Arcane's grasp and leapt to his feet. He stood, hands clenched in fists so tight his knuckles ached. He could barely breathe, meeting that fell gaze, speechless with rage and terror.

"Relax, boy," said the man, eyes glinting. "Don't you want to know who tried to steal your beautiful assassin lover?"

"Wha..."

"Sit," invited Arcane, smile broadening. "At least pretend that all is well."

"What do you know about the people after Heero?"

"Sit." Arcane's voice took on an edge that lifted the hair on Duo's neck. He sat.

God, the man hadn't changed. The almost ethereal beauty Arcane shared with Milliardo Peacecraft was enough to disorder the senses. Zechs, however, didn't have the cold glint of cruelty in his blue eyes, or show the subtle signs of dissipation.

"Just say what you have to," Duo grated. "Bein' near you makes me sick."

"Tsk. Cut to the quick." Arcane leaned back against the rail, eyes gone heavy-lidded and dangerous. "My information comes at a price, you know."

"You can go to hell!" Duo started to move away. Arcane's hand streaked out once more, grasping Duo's arm. Moving so quickly, the boy had no time to react, Arcane pulled Duo back and into his lap. Hard lips came down on Duo's. There was pain, sharp enough to bring tears, then the man lifted his head. Duo tasted blood and his mouth throbbed. He was dimly aware that several people nearby were staring.

"Find out about the Brannigan scandal," whispered Arcane, "and I'll be back in touch." He pushed and Duo was on his feet again, dizzy. Swiftly, gracefully, Arcane got up and strolled away. Duo stood a moment, trying to gather his scattered wits, hearing the rising murmur of shocked comments around him. He licked his bitten, bleeding lips. Somehow -- he was never quite sure how -- he got out of there.


Part 9

Heero raced up the stairs to their apartment. He found Duo sitting in the corner of the sofa, hugging his knees, deathly pale. Remembering the hushed, panicked tones over the phone, Heero's heart faltered.

"Duo? What's wrong? Why did you call me?"

"I saw him," whispered Duo. "Jeezus, Heero..." He lifted anguished eyes and Heero knew.

Cold shot through the young Preventer and he sat down abruptly. Duo shifted around and came straight into his arms. The other boy was shaking, his flesh icy to Heero's touch.

"Where? Tell me everything."

Heero listened in alarm as Duo recounted the afternoon's adventures. "Baka! You should have run! K'so! He hurt you!"

Arcane had put his hands on Duo! Heero's entire universe tilted. He tore his eyes from the other boy's sore mouth, anger molten inside him.

"I'm okay." Duo seemed a little heartened by Heero's reaction. "Arcane says he knows who took you!"

"Stay away from him, Duo. He's a psychopath."

"Of course he is. You think I don't know that? But what if he's telling the truth?" Duo leaned back, fixing Heero with an earnest stare. "If he knows who tried to kidnap you, shouldn't we at least listen?"

A chill ran through Heero. How the hell had Arcane known? Was he watching them?

"What does he want in exchange for this information?"

"I don't know." Duo sagged back into Heero's embrace and lay his head down on Heero's shoulder. "He told me to check out something called the Brannigan scandal and that he'd be in touch. You ever hear of it?"

"No," replied Heero. "I'm sending you to Quatre."

"WHAT?" Duo sat up straight, eyes wide. "Quatre?"

"The Maganac will keep you safe until we find him."

"The hell they will!" There was outrage in every line of that slim, straight body. "I'm not some kid you can send packing when things get risky, damn it!"

"I can't focus on the mission if I'm worrying about you, Duo."

"Then don't worry about me." Duo's eyes were narrow, mouth set in the obstinate line. "I'll check out this Brannigan thing. What'd you find out about the White Rose Institute?"

"Duo. . ."

"No. Fucking. Way."

Frustrated, Heero glowered at the other youth. Duo, unfazed, glowered back.

Heero took a deep breath. "I did some checking. There was physical evidence gathered in the case. I can't find a summary file, so I have to go out to the police warehouse and have a look at it. I was going there when I got your call."

"Cool," Duo replied. "Go check it out. I'll see what I can dig up while you're gone."

"I'm not leaving you here alone."

"Then I'll go with you. Don't fuckin' look at me like that, Yuy! You've got people after you, too, remember? You ain't the only one worryin'!"

"Son of a bitch!"

Duo's smile turned cherubic. "Yeah," he smirked and before Heero knew what he was doing, leaned forward and snatched a kiss. "But I'm your son of a bitch."


The NPC police warehouses were on the edge of the commercial docks on the north end of the bay. The air was heavy with the tang of the harbor, of old rope, metal and ozone.

"Lock the doors," Heero ordered, getting out and dragging a ragged old satchel from the back seat. "I'll be back in a minute." He paused, then handed something to Duo. It was his handgun. "Lock them," he said again, and was gone, striding across the street toward the building marked "#6."

Duo slouched low in the seat. His fingers closed around the gun and he felt marginally more secure. Even so, he kept a wary eye in the mirrors and on the street before him. The minutes ticked by -- five, ten, fifteen . . . Just as he was thinking he'd get out and go see what was keeping Heero, the dark-haired youth emerged from the warehouse. Striding swiftly across the street, Heero opened the car door and tossed his satchel into the back.

"Mission successful?" Duo asked, twisting around to have a closer look. There was steam rising from the pack. "What the hell is that?"

"You're too honest to know," was Heero's odd reply.

They didn't go back to the apartment right away. Instead, Heero drove into town and stopped at an overnight courier station. Once more, he left Duo in the car with the gun. When he came back out, his satchel was limp and obviously empty.

"Now what?" Duo asked.

"Home. Let's check out this Brannigan business that Arcane mentioned. We'll pick up something to eat on the way back."

They returned to their apartment without incident. Armed with Chinese take-out and a six-pack of soda, they booted up their computers. It didn't take long to find something.

"Got it!" crowed Duo. Heero got up from his desk and went over to the bed where Duo sat, portable computer on his knees. He'd found a news archive. The story was twenty years old.

"What the hell?" Duo asked finally.

It was not a remarkable story. Duo read of the Brannigan Agricultural Conglomerate, a global corporation based in Rumania. He read about the corporation's attempt to offset rising labor prices by developing fully functional adult clones. So what? Cloning was old news, wasn't it?

"Sure, but not what they were trying. Even clones have to grow up in the normal way and this guy wanted a full-grown adult straight out of the vat," Heero said. "Except it's impossible. Apparently there's no way to clone an adult brain. Time and experience are essential to neurological development."

"What about Wilder? His body is adult." Boy, was it.

"Wilder's an alien with abilities we don't have -- including the power to effect limited changes in matter. From what I understand, he was able to create neural pathways using that power."

"Hmmm. You're right. Still, even though this Brannigan thing was a stupid waste of money, I don't see anything that looks like a scandal." Duo flicked the screen back to the archive index. "Ah. There's more."

The next article was dated a year later and here, at last, came the scandal. Along with the adult clone experiments was the development of something called a "synthetic." Synthetics were classified as machines, but apparently they were so human-like, that when the corporation tried to get them patented and classified as property, a hue and cry was raised. Brannigan's market share plummeted. Shortly after that, the corporation announced a discontinuation of all its cloning and synthetic development.

Heero reached across Duo's knee and scrolled to the next page. This one had photographs of some of the research staff and a picture of an enormous room filled with rows of narrow vats, each containing a murky fluid.

"Well," Duo said finally. "That's interesting, I guess, but I don't know what it has to do with you or Arcane."

There was no answer. He looked over at Heero. His lover was lying rigid beside him, gaze fixed on one of the photographs. Duo's eyes narrowed and he felt a chill straight through.

Like a coiled tiger, Heero erupted into motion. He sat bolt upright, pushing Duo aside to zoom in on the photo of the three scientists in charge of the projects. Two of them were strangers, but the third man was all too familiar. There were no goggles yet, and both hands were still attached to his body. Even so, there was no mistaking Dr. J.


Part 10

"Heero?"

Heero heard the soft, uncertain voice from the living room doorway. He clenched his fists briefly, then forced himself to relax aching fingers. "What?"

"Watcha doin' up? It's three in the morning!"

"I -- I'm thinking."

"Sounds dangerous."

Heero watched Duo abandon the doorway. He loved the other boy so much it hurt. How had that happened? How had simple desire turned into something so consuming? When Duo sank to his knees at Heero's feet, looking up at him with worry in those velvet eyes, Heero found it difficult to swallow past the lump in his throat.

"Duo," he whispered, bending forward to clasp Duo's face in his hands. "Go back to bed."

Duo accepted the kiss, but didn't move. "What are you thinkin', Heero Yuy?"

"Nothing," Heero replied wearily. "Are you sure you won't go to Quatre?"

"Positive. Now quit tryin' to change the subject, damn it!"

Heero just shook his head. Duo sighed and got up onto the couch. Curling up beside Heero, he wrapped his arms around the boy.

"Jeezus," he whispered finally. "You're shakin'."

"It's cold in here," lied Heero. Duo held on tighter.

"Didja call J?" he asked finally.

Heero shook his head again.

"It was years ago, Heero. Betcha none of us would stand too close a look at our pasts, eh?"

"Guess not."

"When did you say you met him? When you were six?"

"Eight -- about a year after my guardian died."

"How?" Heero shrugged. "He was just standing in an alley one day. He had some food. I was hungry. When he offered to make me the perfect soldier, I figured it was as good a way to spend my life as any, so I went with him.

"Was he lookin' for you, do you think?"

"I don't think so . . ."

Heero had always assumed that their meeting had been fortuitous chance. Now, suddenly, he wondered.

"You know you're gonna have to call him and ask him 'bout this."

"I know."

"Scared?"

"No."

"Heh." Duo smiled faintly, sadly. His lips brushed Heero's clenched jaw. "Liar."

"Fuck off, Maxwell!" The words came out rougher than Heero intended.

Duo flinched a little, then released him.

Offended, he said evenly, "Okay. 'Night."

Well done, Heero told himself bitterly after Duo had stalked off. Still, if he could get Duo angry enough, the baka might just take himself to Quatre's and safety.

Or into Wilder's arms.

Heero swore, the sound loud in the silence. That image of Wilder in the parking lot, of the beautiful alien kissing Duo, was uncommonly vivid. They had looked so right together, the tall, handsome man and the smaller, slighter Duo. Duo's head had come to Wilder's shoulder. Heero remembered how the long-haired boy had fit so neatly in Wilder's embrace. And Wilder had never meant anything but good for Duo -- something Heero could not say about himself.

"K'so!" Leaning forward, Heero buried his face in his hands. He couldn't concentrate on anything as long as he had to worry about Duo. Heero saw again that night on Elion when the consequences of his bad judgement and inattention had been so horribly demonstrated. He remembered that miasma of drugs, the lust-filled howls of Yamada's twisted court. He remembered Duo, naked and chained in the middle of it all, the stark hopelessness that had darkened those beautiful violet eyes to black. . .

I did that. I condemned him to that misery. How could Duo even look at Heero without remembering those days, without hating him for permitting such cruelty and degradation?

Standing up, feeling infinitely drained, Heero found the phone and called the docs' California labs. It was just past midnight there, and the answering machine picked up. Heero recorded a brief message, then left the front room for his bed. To his surprise, Duo was in it, asleep, body in the usual knot beneath the covers. Ever since Heero had known him, Duo had slept like that, as if trying to make of himself as small as bundle as possible. It was only when Heero lay beside him that the other boy seemed to completely relax, to sprawl all over the bed and Heero with equal abandon.

Heero almost turned and went back to the couch -- or even Duo's empty bed -- but he discovered he was powerless to do so. Instead, he pulled aside the covers and crept in carefully, hoping not to disturb his lover. Duo murmured, but didn't wake, his body uncoiling as Heero's warmth melted into it. Slowly, inexorably, Heero felt his own muscles begin to relax. It felt so normal to be like this; he had become accustomed to Duo's presence, the solid strength of the other boy in his life. Could he let Duo go if he must?

"To save you from Arcane I would do anything," he whispered into the warm, tousled hair.

Duo snuggled closer, one leg flopping over Heero and in spite of his aching heart, Heero smiled.


Morning. Duo lay in bed, bemused by sleep, listening to the muffled clatter of pots, smelling the rich, unmistakable aroma of brewed coffee. Mmmmm. He closed his eyes. They flew open again a moment later. It was Tuesday. What was Heero still doing home?

He got up and padded on bare feet through the apartment. His lover was peering into the toaster. Heero looked around and saw Duo in the doorway. The dark blue eyes lit up.

Damn, thought Duo. Life is good. Then he remembered Arcane and everything greyed.

"Duo? Duo, are you okay?" Heero's voice was sharp with concern.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Smells great, dude. How come you're not at work?"

"I called in. Took some of my vacation time."

Duo stared at him. Vacation? Heero Yuy, workaholic, was taking vacation?

"It's because of Arcane, isn't it? You don't want to leave me alone."

"That's right." Heero straightened and gave Duo a challenging glare. "Got a problem with that, Maxwell?"

"I can take care of ....mmmglg!"

Heero was at his side in an instant, kissing him hard. Duo, breathless, found all his resentment fading like mist before sunlight.

"O - okay," he said, pressing fingers to throbbing lips. "Guess that's okay."

Heero grinned, dropped one more quick kiss on Duo's nose and returned to breakfast. "Sit down. It's ready."

Duo pulled out his chair and, with a mischievous look at his partner, put his hands together and prayed.

"What are you doing?"

"Asking God for protection," Duo replied as a puddle of scrambled eggs landed in front of him.

Heero scowled, then saw the twinkle in Duo's eye. "Baka."

The eggs weren't bad and the bacon only slightly underdone. The coffee, on the other hand, was superb.

"Trust you to get the drugs right," Duo said, pouring a liberal dollop of milk into his mug. Heero rolled his eyes. "So -- whatcha doin' today, Mr. Life of Leisure?"

"Talking to J, I hope." A shadow crossed Heero's face. His mouth tightened, then he shrugged. "You?"

"There are a few more jobs I should check on. That should only take me a couple of hours, though. Maybe we can do somethin' later -- take in a movie or hit the arcade. I hear they've got a new shooter game that uses Gundams."

"I'm coming with you this morning."

"Heero..."

"I'm coming with you." Heero was implacable, eyes boring into Duo's, his mouth a tight, obstinate line.

Duo glared, but there was no retreat in that dark blue gaze. "Fine," he gave up. "Suit yerself, Hee-chan."

His annoyance didn't last, however. For one thing, with Heero around, Duo had a chauffeur. No boring bus ride through New Port City today. For another -- there was Arcane, a presence that sat like a dark cloud on his horizon. Duo had already resolved to keep to crowded venues as much as possible -- just in case. With Heero at his side, most of his apprehension disappeared. At the first job, a cargo warehouse for a major maritime shipping line, Duo talked Heero into remaining in the car while he went in to fill out an application. The clerk at the front desk was a teenage girl who popped her gum and with an admiring smile, sent him in to see the manager. The manager recognized him straightaway.

"Duo Maxwell?" he said, lifting his eyes from Duo's application. "The bastard who killed Queen Relena?"

Duo turned around and walked out.

"That was quick," Heero observed as Duo got back into the car. Duo grimaced.

"The job sucked," he said. "Let's check the customs warehouse on Longshore."

This time, he didn't even get to see the manager. The secretary took his application, read it with narrowed eyes, then picked up the phone. When she hung up, she said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Maxwell, but we've just filled the position."

Fine. Fuck you. Duo nodded and stalked out.

"Still no luck?"

Duo shook his head and stared bleakly through the windshield. Heero shot him an inquiring look. With an effort, Duo found a grin.

"Didn't pay enough."

"Awfully fussy, aren't you? Where next?"

The next prospect on Duo's list was a maintenance job for one of the airlines. Aware of Heero's puzzled glances, Duo tried to relax as they left the bay and headed toward New Port City's bustling airport.

Heero pulled his car up to the curb in front of the airport administration building. Duo took a deep breath, told himself this time would be different, and got out. "See ya in a bit."

Inside, the waiting room was crowded with a dozen hopefuls. The airlines paid very well. Duo went up to the desk and got an application from the clerk, then retreated to a corner to fill it out. He was chewing on the end of his pen when he noticed that the conversation around him had died away. Hearing his name, he looked up.

Four rough-looking young men were standing nearby, staring at him. The silence widened. Heart suddenly thumping, Duo ducked his head and continued writing.

"Don't bother filling that out, motherfucker. You aren't getting the job."

Duo's throat tightened. His fingers clenched on the pen. He didn't lift his head, only stared at the legs that had appeared in front of him, wool slacks pressed and crisply tailored, shoes polished to a high shine...

"I'm talking to you."

Duo set aside the application and stood up. A man in a suit scowled down at him, making Duo wish he wasn't so damned small. From the corner of his eye, Duo saw the waiting room door open. Heero. Great. Just what he didn't want -- Heero to see this shit. He took a step toward the door and his friend, only to have the man block his way.

"Not so fast, scum!"

Duo took deep breath, keeping his voice light. He was getting better at not punching people out. "I'm leavin', okay?"

The man spit in his face. Duo stood, shocked to immobility while others in the waiting room laughed. Someone said something about friends in high places, but the roaring in Duo's ears drowned it out.

Suddenly, there were startled curses and people were jumping quickly aside. A hand locked around Duo's wrist and he was pulled, stumbling, through the hostile room and back out onto the sidewalk. Taunts followed them. The street swam in Duo's hot, angry tears.

Heero wiped away the evidence of the man's contempt with gentle fingers. "Duo?"

Pulling from Heero's grip, Duo started walking, not caring if it was in the right direction. It wasn't. Heero took his hand again and forced him to stop.

"This way," he said quietly. Duo nodded, unable to look at him, keeping his eyes on the ground, doing everything he could to keep from crying. He didn't remember getting to the car.

"Duo?"

They were moving. Duo's eyes burned and, for a moment, despair was a sickness in his belly.

"Duo -- talk to me!"

Duo shook his head. He couldn't have talked if he wanted to, the lump in his throat was so big. Heero drove in silence, not pushing Duo, waiting for him to regain his composure.

"Sorry," Duo said finally. "Looks like I'm gonna have to leech off you a while more, Yuy-sama."

"How often does that happen?"

Duo shrugged. "Some people are nicer than others." Heero stopped at a light and looked over at him. "I didn't realize that you still had to put with that sort of thing."

Shaking his head, Duo stared miserably through his window.

"It'll get better," he said, forcing hearty cheer into his voice. Under his breath, he added, "It's gotta get better, right?"

Heero said something unintelligible and turned sharply.

"Hey! Where are we goin'?"

"You're done job-hunting for today."

"Huh?" Curiosity made him sit up in his seat.

Heero stared straight ahead, face set, brows drawn together in a forbidding scowl. His fingers on the steering wheel were white with the strength of his grip. "If I ever see anyone treating you like that again," he said at last, voice low, hard and very deadly, "I'll kill them."

Duo opened and closed his mouth. "Uh -- yeah," he said, disconcerted. "That'll help."

Heero's mouth twisted grimly. The car purred smoothly along the expressway, following the coast south. After about ten miles, he left the main road for another, narrower one. After another few miles, he turned off into a drive marked by a sign that read, "Peacecraft Ocean Park."

Inside the park, Heero got out of the car and stood while Duo did the same. Without a word, he held out his hand. His fingers were warm, strong and reassuring as they clasped Duo's.

"Like -- are we goin' on a walk?"

Heero, who had started off toward a small woods, now stopped, releasing Duo and looking faintly uneasy. "You don't like walks?"

"I, um, well, you just never -- we . . ."

"There are a lot of things I've never done with you," Heero replied. "I'm not much of a lover, am I?"

"Don't say that!" Duo retorted fiercely. "You're the best lover there ever was!"

Heero stared at his feet a moment. Duo retrieved his hand. "Heero?"

The dark head lifted. Heero's faint smile appeared. "They say lovers like to take long walks together. I thought I'd see if it's true."

"Okay," Duo replied, delighted. "Where shall we walk?"

Heero pointed to the path that wound off through the trees. On their left, the sea lay placid and glittering in the midday sun.

"The Dark Woods," Duo intoned in a sepulcher voice. "What danger lurks?"

"Baka."

Duo knew Heero was armed and he himself had his knife tucked into his boot. If there was danger, they were ready for it.

Heero squeezed Duo's fingers and they set off, stepping into the cool, green shade. The path was soft with a dense carpet of pine needles. Somewhere a bird sang, its song a silvery trill in the hush of the deserted park. The knot in Duo's heart loosened.

They followed the path through the trees and down a steep ridge toward the water. Rough steps had been cut into the hillside, worn from the passage of many feet. At the bottom was a small half-moon of a beach, golden sand shining. The waves lapped gently at the shore as the two young men stood, side by side, at the edge of the water.

"I think this is where we kiss," Duo said finally, slanting a hopeful, sideways look at his lover.

"You're sure?" Heero asked solemnly. It took Duo a second to realize he was teasing.

"Too slow!" crowed Duo then, and threw his arms around the dark-haired youth. He planted a large, sloppy kiss on those startled lips. Heero, taken by surprise, stumbled backwards and somehow lost his footing. Down they went, sprawling in a tangle of limbs and laughing curses on the sand.

"Sorry," chuckled Duo, but his attempts to regain his feet failed when Heero simply tightened his embrace and rolled Duo over. Dark blue eyes laughed down into deepest violet. Heero's weight was warm and solid, pushing Duo into the sand.

"Klutz," Heero said. He lowered his head and kissed Duo again.

It was a long, long while before Duo was released, Heero sliding off to lie beside him. The sun was very bright and warm on their faces. Then Heero jumped up and, reaching down his hand, hoisted Duo to his feet. Arms around each other, the two wandered along the beach, saying little.

Duo usually found silence uncomfortable, but not today. There was nothing strained or expectant about it. He loved Heero and Heero loved him. He didn't even care that Arcane might be somewhere nearby, watching. Apart, he and Heero were vulnerable. Together, nothing could stop them. The rest of the world could screw itself.

They came upon a small finger of land stretching out into the bay and clambered up over the wet rocks to the end of it. While Duo scrounged around for pebbles, Heero found a seat nearby, watching Duo try to skip them across the tranquil water. Gulls wheeled and shrieked overhead. Further out to sea, past the breakwater, surf sent sparkling spray into the air.

"Maybe we should leave Sanc," Heero said unexpectedly. "We could ask Zechs for jobs in his Imperial Guard and live somewhere where the Peacecrafts have property. I think there are places in Scotland or Hong Kong."

"Leave the Preventers?" Startled, Duo looked around.

"Why not? One job is as good as another, ne?"

"Maybe. I just can't see you -- or me, either, for that matter -- guarding a stupid castle from tourists all day long. Besides," he added soberly. "Arcane will find us anyway."

Arcane. A shadow seemed to move across the sun. Duo threw another rock.

"What would you like to do?" asked Heero.

Duo didn't have to think long about that. "Go back to space," he said wistfully.

Heero got up and put his arms around Duo, resting his chin on Duo's shoulder. "We'll go together someday," he said, "just as soon as you're better."

"Yeah," smiled Duo sadly. "That'll be cool." He took a deep breath and turned to look at Heero. "I'm starvin'. Too bad we didn't bring a picnic lunch."

"You want to go home?"

Duo nodded.

"Okay," Heero said, grin turning wicked. "Race you back to the car -- loser makes lunch!"

"Deal!" retorted Duo and leapt past Heero, slipping and sliding over the rocks to the beach. Being really hungry and in the mood for something edible, though, he made sure to lose.


Part 11

There was no reply from J when the two boys got back to their apartment. Frowning, Heero went into the next room and called California again. The answering machine was still on. Odd. He hung up before leaving a message.

There were delicious smells drifting from the kitchen. Heero resorted to emailing J, marking it urgent, then went to investigate. Duo was shoveling something around in the wok -- there were chicken and peppers and some spices. It smelled heavenly. Heero decided he would just move in quietly and snatch something from the pan when the baka's back was turned . . .

Rinngggg!

Phone again. Maybe it was J! Heero ran into the other room.

"Heero Yuy?"

Not J. "Who is this?"

"Guess."

Heero's blood ran cold. "Arcane."

"The very same. Shall we talk?"

"You stay away from Duo!"

"Heero?" Duo, hearing Heero's raised voice, appeared in the doorway, spoon in hand, eyes wide.

"I'd be happy to," replied the soft, oily voice, "but for a price. Shall we meet? Say -- that charming little beach where you whiled away the morning with that oh-so-sexy boyfriend of yours?"

"It's him, isn't it?"

Heero ignored Duo. "No," he told Arcane. "Someplace more public. I don't trust you."

"How sad. Very well -- the New Port City flea market -- by the food court. One hour."

There was a click and a dial tone. Heero carefully set down the phone. Duo's arm crept through his. "Heero?"

"I'm going to meet him."

"Okay." Duo turned around and dashed back into the kitchen. He reappeared a moment later.

"Turned off the stove," he explained.

"You stay here."

"You're startin' to piss me off," Duo stalked to the door and held it open. "Comin'?"

Heero glared, but Duo was unmoved, standing with barely restrained impatience while Heero ran through various options, one of which was knocking the baka over the head and leaving him there. He abandoned that one quickly when Duo lifted a fist and his eyebrows.

"All right," capitulated Heero. "But stay close."

"No problemo."

The New Port City flea market was a massive, hangar-sized building on the edge of the industrial district. It featured a wide variety of trash being sold as "antiques" and was stuffed with booths and people. Heero kept a firm grip on Duo, oblivious to the curious stares of the crowd through which they passed.

The food court was at the far end of the building. By now, it was well past lunch time and the court was all but deserted. There was no sign of Arcane.

"Heero," Duo said calmly. "You're hurting me."

With a start, Heero loosened his grip on Duo's arm. "Sorry," he said shakily. "Let's sit over there."

They sat. Heero's gun was a hard, secure lump under his shirt.

"How 'bout me gettin' somethin' to eat?" Duo said finally.

Absently, Heero dug into his pocket and pulled out some credits. He kept his eyes unwaveringly on Duo as the other boy wound through the tables to the counter.

"Sexy little son of a bitch, isn't he?"

Heero turned his head sharply. In a light coat with a high collar turned up and a broad-brimmed hat that shaded those perfect features, Arcane was smiling across the room at the back of Duo's head.

The man sat down uninvited, his back to the wall. Ice ran up Heero's spine and he looked anxiously toward the counter. Duo, glancing over his shoulder, did an immediate about-face and came hurrying back. He gave Arcane a poisonous glare and sat down next to Heero. Arcane winked at him. Only Duo's hand on Heero's shoulder kept the dark-haired youth from leaping over the table and driving his fist through that smirking countenance.

"What did you think of the Brannigan affair?" purred Arcane. "Interesting, don't you think?"

"Not necessarily." Heero regarded the fiend from beneath half-lowered eyelashes. "Why should I care about failed experiments twenty years ago? Get to the fucking point."

"Very well. Four years ago, in that self-same cellar where you were almost taken, one of the old Brannigan genetics team, Dr. Shields, finally achieved the impossible. He found a way to get past the limitations of neurological development and created four clones, of which I am one. Sadly for him, his training regimen worked all too well. After a year of trying, I finally escaped them and found Michael Yamada. As long as I was under Michael's protection, Shields didn't dare come after me. Thanks to you two, however, that protection was removed."

"You killed Yamada," Heero accused.

"He knew too much about me. I couldn't risk having him spill the information to the Preventers. The White Rose has spies everywhere. I've spent the year since dodging them and I'm damned tired of it."

"Gee, you're breakin' my heart," Duo said with malicious enjoyment. "Makin' your life hell, are they?"

Arcane's smile became frosty. "Don't forget," he reminded the long-haired boy, "they want Yuy, too."

Duo sobered abruptly. "Why?" he asked.

"I have no idea and, frankly, I don't care. The only one I'm worried about is me. I'm offering you a deal. Shields is with the White Rose. I'll tell you where you can find him. Destroy him and your boy here is safe from me forever. You have my word."

"Your word is worth nothing," Heero retorted harshly. "For all we know, you're lying through your teeth about all of this. And if you lay one hand on Duo, I will hunt you down and cut off pieces of you. It will take months for you to die."

"What happened to the others?" Duo asked. "You said there were four clones?"

Arcane shrugged. "During my escape from the Institute, one of the guards fired his gun in a most unfortunate location. As a result, there was a terrible fire. I got out, but I suspect the others didn't."

"You know what I think?" Heero asked, fingers curling around his gun, "I think you've been alive too long."

Arcane's lean hand moved under the table. Heero glanced down and saw a laser pistol aimed squarely at his gut. Duo hissed in alarm. Arcane smiled sweetly.

"You didn't think I was stupid enough to come unarmed, did you? Shields says I'm insane, but he never doubted my intelligence! Think long and hard before you refuse my offer, Yuy. It will not be extended again. You'll be looking over your shoulders for the rest of your lives, always wondering whether it's me behind you or them. A smart man would reduce the number of his enemies any way he can."

"You're right," agreed Heero, and, with lightening speed, drew his gun and fired.


On to part three. Back to part one.