Chapter six: Perfect
"OK, I'm off!" The windows seem to rattle with the force of the shout.
I follow Duo to the door after he's said his goodbyes to the other pilots. The mission he is going on is short but dangerous, and he has to do it solo. This is inadvisable in my mind, but the mission is necessary and requires a mastery of stealth so I assigned it to him. Duo has not argued and is preparing to leave with his usual enthusiasm.
"I should be back in eight hours. You'll be gone by then, right? That three-day mission over near the border?" He flashes a grin at me.
"Well then blow up some dollies for me, and I'll see you again in three days time! Be good!"
I scowl inside. Be good?
/What is that supposed to mean./
The black-clad figure before me -always in constant motion, graceful, turning, bobbing, leaning over, tossing a braid aside - suddenly stills for the first time in ten minutes as violet eyes blink at me. A grin stretches into a smile.
I am surprised, had my expression betrayed my irritation.?
"What I *meant* was... "
Duo breaches the four steps between us in his usual fluid movement, putting a careful hand on my shoulder, and, in the instant he feels my reflexes quiet -
/Proximity- 02, not a threat/
- so he won't be instinctively decked -
/What does he think he's-/
- but an instant before I can react and brush his hand away in irritation, he leans forward.
Warm lips press lightly over mine in a caress.
"Love ya, soldier. Be perfect!" The words are a whisper in my ear.
I instinctively dodge the braid that goes flying over his shoulder as Duo pirouettes back towards the door, swooping low to catch his duffel in the same movement, other hand patting his holster automatically.
"Play nice children! See ya all soon!"
The door slams, and the house seems to expand. The extra space is carpeted wall to wall with silence. It seems to drink in the eventual whine of Deathscythe manoeuvring out of the hangar near the safe-house. A small rumble, a vibration in the floor as much as a sound, signals his departure.
My footsteps seem suddenly muffled as I walk back towards the stairs. I pass the small common room on my way. Chang is going over his mission specs. Barton is going through our first aid kit and ammo thoroughly. Preparing, I realize, for the worst case scenario when Duo returns. Winner is helping and watching Barton.
I frown. That didn't compute.
I have been observing Duo Maxwell closely for many months now. He does not say as much stupid things as I first thought, as others still believe. The tone of voice was teasing, but I detected a current of deeper meaning beneath, especially with those last two words.
We've been pursuing intimate physical relations for three months now, whenever mission parameters and other factors have allowed it. It is a natural release from sexual tension. It has one advantage over manual satisfaction. The presence of another during the act quiets another animal instinct that might otherwise interfere with proper functions. Humans are social creatures. Occasional physical intimacy can be as important as sexual release.
Many more months previously, I freed pilot 02 from an OZ prison instead of executing him. That decision had been made on very few parameters and had seemed only tenuously logical at the time. Since then I have been watching him carefully, in an attempt to judge if that decision had been correct.
I have since re-evaluated my opinion and confirmed it with more data. If I was placed in the same position again I would not hesitate this time. I would not pull the trigger unless there were absolutely no other solution. Duo is a valuable asset to the war. The 'baka' fa‡ade he chooses to wear no longer disturbs me, though I make sure my irritation is still apparent to avoid any escalation in his antics. All in all, the association with such a loose canon is satisfactory. Duo is a much more efficient, deadly and potent weapon than I had first estimated.
But now I am worried I have underestimated him in one aspect. I do not like to think he is foolish enough to have formed an emotional attachment to me.
In the room we share in the safe-house I hesitate to return to work. Blue prints of the base I am to observe over the next three days, then attack when the mobile dolls are unloaded, are scattered over our small desk. My laptop is blinking, the satellite recon results are back and awaiting analysis.
This is a mission, and top priority. But it fits into the overall mission that is my life at this time. I hesitated to let other people become part of this mission, though the gains have far outweighed the risk up till now. But that does not mean I can become lax. I need to know more about what Duo is feeling, I need to analyse this, incorporate the new data into the parameters of the overall mission, and make sure it and we are not affected in any negative way.
But how to access this data? Wait until we are both back here and interrogate him?
No. Any direct question will bounce off the jester's mask that Duo uses as part of his camouflage and infiltration techniques, a move so ingrained since earliest childhood he keeps it up even here, in the safe-house. He keeps it up even with me sometimes, though less and less frequently. But I think he will use it if I try to access his feelings directly, as he will be unsure of my own reactions, and will not like that uncertainty
If this was technical data it might be stored on Duo's laptop; a challenging hacking job -
/60% success rate anticipated/
- Duo's programming skills are as adept as his stealth and infiltration abilities. But I doubt he keeps this kind of information in binary form.
Uncertain how to proceed, I put the harder task of hacking his computer aside for now. It is easier to start going methodically through his possessions. I do so attentively, to avoid any traces of disturbance. I have neither hesitation nor qualm in obtaining necessary data, but I know that Duo will not respect this and so I am careful.
I do not know what I am looking for. But I find it after ten minutes; a piece of paper torn from a notebook, slipped into Miyamoto's Book of Five Rings that I had lent him.
The date at the top of the page was three weeks back. Duo had left for a particularly arduous mission. Chances were good that either he or Chang would not come back. Wing had been damaged, Winner had been setting up an RV with the Maguanacs and arranging a new safe-house, and Barton had been needed for another mission. I had not objected. Neither had 02 or 05. I had been busy repairing Wing when they'd left, rushing to make it air-worthy at least as minimum precaution against discovery of the safe-house in the event of their capture. Duo had waved from the cockpit of Deathscythe. And apparently left this letter as well.
It was written in pencil, with several corrections, in a script that was much more tight and deliberate than Duo's usual looping scrawl, though the punctuation and grammar ran a bit ragged at the end.
If I buy it, you'll probably burn my stuff, but you might want to get your book back so I have a chance you'll find this. People I knew died sudden. So I know that I need to get the words out now, because unlike me, death is one great silence. No more words.
You're probably wondering why I'm bothering. With this letter. With you. This probably won't compute. I'm not writing this to your fucking laptop though, I'm writing this to a little part of you that will one day understand this.
Don't get me wrong! I love your laptop! *a smiley face had been scrawled onto the page* I love your dedication to what you do, cause I know how much it hurts. Yeah the baka can guess a lot more about you than you think. I know how easy it is for you to die for the colonies and the mission. I know how hard it is for you to live for them in the meantime. Ne?
I am the god of death so that I can deal with the irony of me of all people making more orphans. It'd be tempting to become my own last victim. But I won't, not as long as I don't give up that last inch of me that can look at the stars and see something other than targets. I know there's a speck in you that's still like that. After the war, it might become more than a speck. Right now I know I'm a handy screw to you but I think the reason it's me and not some other hole in the wall is because I can see that tiny percent of you that's not just the perfect soldier. You take what you want from me, I'll take that speck in you and call it mine. I think it is. Even if you don't realize it.
Now don't go running back to J for more torture. What I'm talking about is not a glitch in your system, perfect soldier. And you are perfect. And I love you. So I won't hesitate to pull that trigger on you if you're the one captured and I can't get you out. Because you are the perfect soldier I respect. And because of that little piece of you that is mine, and that I'll keep within me always, even if it hurts.
That's why I'm writing this. I want that bit of you to remember me *the words 'if I' could be barely seen on the paper, written and then rubbed out* after OZ finally nails my hide to the wall. I think as long as you keep that small part of you, a little of me will live on as well. *some more words had been rubbed out* Damn got more to say but time to go. Chang yelling at me.
/After the war?/
We had intimate physical relations. That was already a small risk to him. The way Shinigami stalked me showed me he was fully aware of this. And willing to risk it. He could provide me with relations with someone who had a good chance of surviving even if I slipped up. And also provide stimulation for the mind as well as the body, as our sparring and play-stalking had developed into good exercises of wits and physical abilities.
I would never have allowed any emotions to become involved in this however. I would have broken off all relations at once if I'd thought that was a possibility.
/What does he mean, *after the war*...?/
I had looked for this data, the information contained in this letter, to see if this breaking off was necessary. I'd found the data, but I didn't understand what it meant.
Now I don't know what to think.
/There is nothing after the war./
Only a bullet, the last bullet, to eliminate the last threat, and give some measure of compensation to all the victims. Then an unmarked grave.
Instead of analysing Duo's feelings for me, it seems that this small piece of paper is trying to get me to analyse my feelings for Duo. So that leaves two big questions.
Is Duo in lo- developing feelings towards me, and will this impair his efficiency?
And is Duo's analysis of my attitude towards him correct, and is this really not a failu- not an impairment to my mission?
/There is nothing else after the war./
My hand trembles ever so slightly, making the paper twitch. I frown at it, surprised, and it stops.
There is a third question, actually. How should I respond to this? If I could formulate an adequate response, this could limit the damage of whatever it is that is potentially developing between us.
Then the first two questions would not need to be addressed.
/At least not yet./
On to chapter seven
Back to chapter five