Crossing Paths Arc: Part 18

Part 18: Death
by Kracken

Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warning: Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language.

Duo came to as someone's lukewarm coffee was poured over his face. He winced and groggily started, rocks and bits of ground debris digging into every point of his body. His head was in agony, from the cut on his forehead and the drugs he had taken and not taken, and his back was on fire from the blow against the ornamental stone. Every fiber of his body, his stressed heart foremost, was screaming at him for relief.

Duo throttled all of those sensations and dug down deep for the grit and determination that had enabled him to survive as an orphan on the streets of L2 and in the cockpit of a Gundam throughout the war. He forced himself to wipe the coffee from his eyes and to sit up.

He hadn't been out long. The sun was still shinning and the soldiers were still searching the estate for the last two Gundam pilots. "This what you want?" a hard voice asked, making Duo freeze in the act of raising his head and looking around, especially when a clear bag, filled with six familiar bottles, was thrust into his face along with an electronic pad.

"Confess that you, and the other pilots, were part of an anti-unification plot, and you can have these," the voice continued.

Duo was riveted on the pills. He reached out to them, touching the bag with both hands, but the person who was holding them jerked them out of his reach.

"I said," the voice repeated, "confess and you'll get the pills."

Tears tracked down Duo's face. He couldn't help the surge of need at the sight of those pills, or the loud, gibbering mental voice that begged him to do whatever it took to get them. When the electronic pad was thrust at him again, he took it in shaking hands and stared down at the confession glowing on the screen. It was waiting for his voice and thumb print to authenticate it.

"I don't have a great deal of time, Gundam trash!" the voice lashed out. "If you don't authenticate it now, I'll shoot you dead."

Duo looked up, finally, with a sickly grin. "I remember you, now!" The big man glared back, one hand holding an empty thermal coffee mug and the other gripping the gun at his belt. He had only one soldier behind him with an automatic rifle. Too confident of his power, Duo thought, as he continued to speak as if he were talking about a pleasant memory. "I cut your pig face when you tried to kill me during an Oz interrogation!" Duo laughed, but it came out harsh. "Did you do all of this to get revenge on little me?"

"On all of you," the Senator snarled. "You're a disease; the soldiers of the Unification forces. Once you fall, they will too."

"That sounds pretty delusional," Duo retorted, "None of us have fought for the government since the rebellion. Did you say that for the benefit of the guard behind you? Are all of these men following you anti- unification rebels? You're too stupid to want anything but revenge, but not stupid enough to think that you could go up against us alone. I bet that you told these troops everything that they wanted to hear, just so that they would fight for you."

"You're a drug addict," the man replied. His sneer made his scar twitch like a red snake across his face. "I think you are the one having the delusions. Authenticate the confession, or die."

Duo cradled the computer pad in the curve of his arm as he said angrily, "You're going to kill me, and the others, anyway. Why should I make explaining our deaths to the government easier for you?"

The man replied simply, "I can make your death last a long time if you don't cooperate."

Duo grinned wider, his amethyst eyes glittering with daring, "Oh, but you said that you didn't have time."

Senator Santoro let out a shout of anger and did just what Duo expected. He lunged at Duo, hands outstretched to strangle him where he sat. That position made it very easy for Duo to fling the electronic pad into Santoro's face and to slide underneath his guard to yank out the man's gun.

"Bye!" Duo laughed as he twisted sideways, landed a bony fist into the surprised guard behind Santoro, and yanked off that man's automatic as the soldier fell with the breath knocked out of him. Duo began running backwards then, raising both gun and automatic to fire at anyone close enough, including Santoro. Unforunately, the man was gone already, gravel crunching to indicate which direction he was running, but various ornamental statues and shrubs hiding him from Duo's weapons.

"Shit!" Duo swore and turned on his heel, ignoring the violent pop of joints as he sprinted as best he could for Trowa and Quatre's last position. He didn't slow to even look as he rounded a statue. He knew that Santoro was already alerting his troops. He didn't have time for stealth or to second guess. As soon as he saw the groggy Quatre in the arms of a concerned Trowa, and the two soldiers, Duo began firing his automatic. The two soldiers fell in a spray of bullets, blood, and flesh without time to even realize what hit them.

"Fool!" Trowa snarled as Duo scrambled to untie him. "They are already coming! Run, now before-"

"Shut up!" Duo snarled between gasps for breath as he finished untying the knots. "I'm saving you! Now, get your own ass to safety!"

Trowa snatched up Quatre and an automatic rifle. Quatre groaned and held the side of his bruised and bleeding face, only seeming to be half aware of what was going on, as Trowa dragged him away to dubious safety behind some ornamental rocks. Duo stayed behind and Trowa didn't question that. The soldiers were already streaming towards them from all points. Trowa knew the drill. Duo would draw their fire and Trowa would try to slip away with Quatre in the confusion. Straws didn't have to be drawn or coins tossed to decide who would stay and maybe die. Duo was the worst in health and the least likely to be able to escape and live afterwards. They didn't need a meeting or a medical opinion to realize that.

Duo grinned from ear to ear, the adrenaline rushing through him as he kneeled and placed his handgun on the ground. Hefting his rifle, he said, with a dark laugh as he watched the soldiers running towards him and lifting weapons, "Come on! Time to meet Shinigami!"

Duo wished that he had more than an automatic. He wanted his life, and the lives of Quatre's people, to cost those rebel soldiers dearly. When his hand was pulled off of the rifle and something cold was placed into it, Duo jerked and tried to bring the rifle around with a shout of consternation. He froze when he saw Heero's grimly smiling face.

"I think that will be far more effective," Heero explained. "Be my guest."

Duo recovered and looked down to see what Heero had given him. His smile took on demonic proportions. "Ooo la, la, Heero! You give the nicest presents!" Heero had given him a detonator.

"Hurry," Heero urged him.

Duo's eyes shimmered. He blinked against tears and leaned to kiss Heero full on the mouth as he hit the detonator switch. Heero caught Duo as he fell, Duo's borrowed strength running out of him like sand as the earth jumped and shuddered, the air reverberating from the sound of multiple explosions.

"Duo!" Heero called frantically. "Don't die! You can't! I won't let you!"

Duo felt Heero lifting him up and holding him against his warm body. Duo smiled gratefully, but he couldn't hold his eyes open. His limbs were useless weights, the rifle falling from his trembling fingers. "Sorry," he whispered. "We didn't even get a chance..."

"Duo!" Heero sounded angry now, or on the brink of hysteria. He was walking. Duo could feel the jolt of it in his body as Heero ordered, "Use Wu Fei's techniques. Do it! You have to slow your heart beat! You have to steady your pulse! You're going to blow blood vessels and die if you don't!"

Duo could feel it, his wildly beating heart and the pounding blood in his ears, but he replied sadly, "I had to take a little 'soldier's helper', Heero. You know what that stuff does. Nothing can help now."

"No!" It was a choked sob. Heero was crying. He had stopped walking and Duo felt himself lowered, yet cradled close. Heero had sat down, ignoring his own danger, concerned only for Duo now. "Why do the people I care about keep killing themselves?!" Heero exclaimed in anguish.

Duo snorted. He wished he could see Heero's face, but his eyes refused to open. He felt as if his muscles were being slowly paralyzed from the neck down, yet he was still thinking clearly. "So, you did care about David," Duo sighed.

"I didn't love him!" Heero retorted and Duo felt Heero push his face against his own, kissing him and smoothing a hand over his cheek, "Not like you," he finished. "Please, don't die."

It sounded so plaintive, so tender, so lost. Duo couldn't imagine Heero saying such things. He almost doubted his hearing, his sanity, and that it was even Heero holding him. But those strong arms, banded with muscles that could bend steel, were unmistakable, so too that certain scent that Heero always carried, not an aftershave, but something particular to himself. It was a masculine scent, undefinable, indescribable, and it reached down deep within Duo and told him plainer than words, that Heero was 'the one'.

"I'll do my best not to die," Duo whispered, even then not willing to lie outright and give Heero a false hope. "You have to try and escape, though, Heero. We can't just sit here and wait for them to regroup and come after our blood."

Heero was very quiet. He didn't move. He kept his face pressed against Duo's and held him even tighter. "It's already too late," he admitted. "I stopped because they've surrounded us. I- I love you, Duo. I wish I had broken my training when we were in the war and told you that. We could have been able to be together-"

"No good in dreaming what could have been," Duo sighed. "We only have right now. Guess... Guess I love you too Heero. I always did. Always will." He chuckled bitterly as he began to slip away, "Such a damned shame! I'm dying a virgin after all, in heart and body!"

"Don't shoot!" a voice shouted.

Heero stiffened and Duo knew that he was going to disobey that voice, yet he stopped moving suddenly and Duo wondered why. "Milliardo Peacecraft," Heero said in surprise.

"Heero Yuy," Milliardo replied in acknowledgement. "Drop your weapons. I can save Duo Maxwell's life."

"You can't," Heero stated flatly.

Duo heard the sound of a plastic bag being shaken and the rattle of pills. "I know what these are," Milliardo said. "I have contacts with the lab who made them. If we act quickly and stabilize Duo, I can get him the treatment that will cure him of the addiction without killing him."

"No damned tubes and breather machines!" Duo groaned in protest, but he couldn't move and his voice was as thin as a ghost's. He doubted the two even heard him. "I won't live my life like that!"

"Why help him?" Heero asked suspiciously. "What do you have to gain? If you help Duo off of the drugs, you'll be breaking your own government's laws."

"He doesn't have time for us to argue!" Milliardo shot back. "My troops have secured the area and captured the rebels. My shuttle will fly us directly to a place where Duo can be placed in stasis. If he dies now, it will be your doing!"

"Why?" Heero repeated. "Why would Milliardo Peacecraft help Duo Maxwell, a convicted anti-unification criminal, off of his government mandated medication?"

There was a pregnant silence and then Milliardo said simply, "Because I love him and it's past time that I did the right thing."

There seemed to be an endless conversation going on around Duo, most of it arguments, hot words being flung across his body like an odd game of verbal ping-pong. Duo wanted quiet. He wanted to tell the voices to just shut up, but he couldn't. He felt as it something heavy was holding down all of his limbs and some terrible force had rendered all of his senses, except his hearing, inoperable. It was torture and, he suspected, the ones doing the arguing didn't know that.

"I don't trust you!" That was Heero: frantic, at his wit's end.

"You must trust me!" Milliardo: angry, desperate.

"Tell me how you knew about any of this, and I might," Heero shot back.

Milliardo was quiet for a long time and then he sighed and said, "It's a long story, Yuy." A chair scraped and Duo heard the sound of someone sitting down heavily.

A weight settled next to Duo, a dipping of the mattress registering on his sense of balance his only indication. Otherwise, he was numb, not feeling even the sheets on his body, or a surface against his back. Duo could have been floating in space and he wouldn't have known the difference. Only that dip of his inner ear, alerting him to a change in position, and the voices, gave the void he found himself in some solidity.

"I'm not leaving Duo's side. We have time, Peacecraft. Give me the information that I want," Heero demanded, "or I refuse to let you treat Duo further."

"That's madness!" Milliardo exclaimed. "He can't stay in stasis forever. His body will deteriorate past any treatment known to man!"

"That would be better than some of the Oz 'treatments' I've witnessed," Heero replied coldly.

"We don't have as much time for long tales as you seem to think," Milliardo informed him. "Duo has a leg locator. The government will find out he is here. Senator Santoro did escape. I'm sure that he will tell some tale that will take me some time to refute. He is a powerful man. There are many in the government who fear him and his influence in the army. While I am defending my actions, and making him defend his, it is possible that the government will order Duo taken into custody."

"They can try," Heero replied with a deadly tone.

That made Milliardo furious. "Where will you run to? The government is in alliance with the Colonies now. If you manage to get into Space, they will have you returned. It is much better to bring our case to the court and prove that Duo was being given more than sedatives. I have the pills and their government labels. I know where they were manufactured. It's proof positive that Santoro, and Duo's enemies, won't be able to argue against."

"You still need to explain how you are able to recognize the pills," Heero demanded. "They are just coded bottles."

Another long silence and then Milliardo admitted, "I recognize the code. They all begin with S.A.C.I. P. and then their lot number. The letters stand for Silent Assassin Combination Inhibitors. It was meant for eliminating enemies in unreachable positions in such a way that it wouldn't cause suspicion. The idea was to plant a doctor on a target's staff and then to slowly administer the inhibitors until they incapacitated and killed the target. Duo's dose was reduced so that it would take years instead of months..." Milliardo coughed as if suddenly overwhelmed and trying to cover it up. "Whoever made that decision... I can't think of a punishment strong enough for them."

"Then you don't know who's behind it?" Heero asked, jumping on that statement. "It's not Santoro, the man who attacked Quatre's estate?"

"Santoro is an opportunist, nothing more," Milliardo explained. "The conspiracy goes much higher."


"Which point?"

"Every point. Start from the beginning when Duo was arrested in bed with you. You do know that he doesn't recall much about that night?"

"No, I did not know that," Milliardo replied angrily. Duo heard cloth rustle and then the sound of someone, presumably Milliardo, pacing the floor. "I tried to seduce him early on in the evening, but..." Milliardo's voice became even more angry and Duo thought that he heard hurt as well. "He kept talking about you. He hoped that you would show up at the party. When you didn't, I was glad. I thought that I could make him see that I was the better man."

Heero ground out tightly, "Duo was only fifteen!"

"I wasn't much older," Milliardo snapped back. "You can't make the argument that he was a child. We are all killers. Soldiers. Men who never had childhoods. What better company than each other?" Duo heard him make an impatient noise. "Let us not argue about that. Suffice it to say, you didn't attend the party and the field was left open to me. If it hadn't been for my bothersome sister, Relena, I would have convinced Duo easily. As it was, by the time I was able to shake her off, he had gone to the front foyer to wait like a kicked dog for you. I'm not a fool. I saw that it was more than a quick roll in the sheets that he wanted. He wanted your heart, not mine."

"He waited.... at the door... for me?" Heero's sounded sad, guilty. "I wanted to forget about the war. I didn't want to be given medals and paraded as a hero. I needed quiet, solitude, to find my place in peacetime. I never imagined that Duo hoped for so much from me." Heero's voice sounded resigned as he added, "I wasn't ready. I couldn't have given him anything then. I was right not to go."

"Your logic was almost my triumph," Milliardo told him. "When you didn't appear, I suspect that Duo first became drunk and then angry enough to do drastic things. He showed up at my door, fell into my arms, and then tried to devour me alive. I didn't question my good luck. He threw off his clothes, rolled with me into the bed, and told me 'to take his cherry' because he didn't need to save it any more."

Duo felt ready to die, wondering if a person could survive the kind of embarrassment, anguish, and guilt that he was feeling: a guilt made even worse when he heard Heero make a small, helpless sound that was quickly stifled.

"I'm good," Milliardo bragged, as if he delighted in tormenting Heero. "I had him begging and shouting." There was a pause and then Milliardo admitted blackly, "But it wasn't me he wanted. He shouted your name, not mine."

There was dead silence and then Heero chuckled. It was half triumph, half strangled pain. "His heart is mine, not yours," he said, "and I intend to take very good care of it from now on. If you're helping him because of some hope of-"

Milliardo swore and Duo could see him in his mind's eye glaring with ice blue eyes at Heero in outrage. "I'm a better man than that! I am an honorable man. I won't stand by and let this wrong be perpetrated any longer. My love for Duo is beside the point. I am through allowing the Alliance to be corrupted in this way."

"You are not done with your explanation of events," Heero prompted, "As it is, taking advantage of Duo when he was drunk does not say much for your 'honor'."

"I was young," Milliardo retorted defensively, but then added guiltily, "I made many wrong choices back then."

"Are there more?" Heero demanded.

"Yes," Milliardo admitted. "Security interrupted Duo and me and they arrested him. I was taken to Relena. She called her advisors together, fearing a scandal, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not step back from the situation, and forget that I had ever heard the name Duo Maxwell, then I would find myself accused of the same crime and punished accordingly."

"Relena!" Heero said in such a way that Duo felt his blood chill.

"Well, don't be too harsh on her," Milliardo quickly said. "She hardly had a choice. The Alliance was still unformed and her position and power to make that happen was being threatened by me and by my association with Duo. She couldn't lose credibility by having a brother who was on the verge of being outed as an anti-unification sympathizer and... well, a Gundam pilot's love interest. To distance us both from the scandal, she gave Duo over to the Senate. Unfortunately, they had their own game of intrigue in play. Duo fit nicely with their plans. They were glad to put him on trial."

"Why?" Heero wondered.

"It seemed to me that they wished to discredit the war and those that had participated in it," Milliardo explained. "They feared the power such heroes could engender. They feared popular support that might make them leaders. They wanted to protect the new government from coup attempts by such people. Duo was the perfect poster child for their campaign. They orchestrated his downfall, his disgrace, and his debauchery. They made that disgrace last as long as possible, so that they could have years of pointing at him and saying, 'That's what the war does to a man. Don't make such men heroes. Look to us for leadership, not them.' Their plan worked perfectly."

"Where does Santoro fit into this?"

"An old enemy from the war," Milliardo explained. "He had a run-in with Duo that scarred his face. His need for revenge, and his hatred of the Alliance, made him climb to power to avenge himself and to secretly gather anti-Alliance soldiers. Proving that to the Senate will be difficult though, in light of the fact that, once again, they are being given an opportunity to smear and prosecute war heroes. It will be hard for me to prove that Santoro's military action against you was unjustified as well. Your reputations make such overkill seem reasonable."

"The pills," Heero prompted. "You still haven't explained how you know about them."

"The idea for their invention came from me," Milliardo admitted softly. "I was given the position of overseeing their development and implementation. The small factory that produced military chemicals and drugs was ordered to report to me. They continued to do so, even after the war, since they had never been absorbed into less deadly pharmaceutical pursuits. I wasn't aware that the staff there was still experimenting with new drugs and chemicals until I began to receive reports on their findings. I put a stop to it, of course, and reduced the staff to inventory control until the Senate could make a decision about the destruction of those materials. I never imagined that they would try to use the drugs themselves, until one of the dismissed scientists called me and told me that he had been tapped for his professional opinion on the matter. When an inventory clerk called me to sign off on an order for the drugs administered to Duo, I knew-"

"But you didn't stop it!" Heero suddenly exploded.

Duo wished that he could cover his ears, cringe, or protest in some way. He didn't want to hear any more about the people who had ruined his life. That knowledge wouldn't cure or save him. Milliardo had already said that he was still in the power of the Senate. He hadn't escaped them. At any time they could come for him and finish the job they had started and even Heero wouldn't be able to stand in their way.

"I was powerless to stop it then, and I am powerless now," Milliardo admitted. "I can only petition the Court and appeal to the people."

Heero said, harshly reminding Milliardo of the war and the great role of ordinary civilians in the colonies, "The people can be a very powerful force. If we gather proof of what the Senate has done, of the crime Santoro has committed, then we can publish it on the web, report it on the news, and go to the people. We can turn moral outrage into a weapon that the Senators will feel the sting of."

"Perhaps," Milliardo replied bleakly, "but I think you are being an idealist. First, before we can attempt any of that, we must save Duo's life. I've told you all that I know. Trust me to help Duo."

"I think you would anyway," Heero replied, "with my permission or without it and over my bullet riddled body."

Duo could imagine a smile on Milliardo's face, a soldier appreciating the honesty of another soldier, as he replied, "You are absolutely right about that, but Duo cares for you, as much as I wish that he didn't, and I won't have him hating me for your death."

"I don't have any choice, but to agree to your help, then," Heero said sourly.

They were fighting over him. That fact sunk in after all of the other facts that Milliardo had imparted settled in Duo's mind. Duo couldn't believe it, almost chalked it up to a trick played by his drugged mind, but then, he reasoned in confusion, if that was false, then so was all that Milliardo had just said. Duo contemplated that as bodies moved around him and all conversation stopped. He supposed that Milliardo had gone.

After a time, there were more voices. Strange ones. Heero replied to their murmured questions and then Duo felt the sting of needles pierce through his numbness and a tube snake down his gagging throat. The shock of its suddenness sent him swiftly down towards unconsciousness.

Heero's voice caught Duo on the very edge of oblivion. Duo strained to hear the words even as his panicked mind shut down. "I'll be here waiting for you, Duo. Please, come back to me."

Go to Part 19: Variations

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