It wasn't working, I decided as I slowly thumped the back of my head against the smooth wall behind me, over and over again, in boredom and frustration. The tracking chip behind my ear should have broadcasted to any Preventer channel, my exact location. I had trusted it completely when I had opted not to take the time to inform headquarters that I had ditched all protocol to chase after suspected targets. I was paying dearly for that mistake now.
Once, I watched a few old movies, the ones where the well dressed agent does the impossible and comes out of his mission without a scratch. For some reason that I couldn't fathom, the bad people in the movies never simply killed the agent when they had him in their power. Instead, they always made the mistake of... well... doing exactly what my captors were doing now; allowing me to sit in a cell until I discovered a way to escape... or for someone to finally come to my rescue.
During the war it would have made sense. Extracting information was a time honored tradition. In my situation now, though, I didn't know anything worthy of a few more breaths of life. I was a distinct liability as a matter of fact. It gave me something to puzzle over as I waited for them to do more than slide my meals through a slot at the bottom of the one door and take the empty trays I slid back.
I had nothing to sleep on and there was only a round bowl with a button for a toilet. A heavy duty, bolted hatch, with a large warning sign painted luridly across it, told me that vacuum was beyond that protective metal and that I could possibly be spaced at any whim of my captors. Knowing that death was that close, could reek havoc on any man's psyche, but I had spent my entire life one heartbeat from death and it didn't even give me pause.
I found myself, not contemplating life and death, but thinking about something as mundane as paperwork and how much I would be reprimanded and made to fill out, in triplicate, my reasons for jumping into a spitfire jumpship and chasing down a shipload of suspected terrorists. It was a stunt worthy of Duo Maxwell; no thought involved, just adrenaline and some vague notion of breaking into an airlock and finding the modified beam cannon they were suspected of having on board. I think, at the very least, I had decided to give my life in an attempt to destroy it. A weapon like that could raze whole satellites. To put it out of commission had seemed a logical thing to sacrifice for.
The food slot opened up. A hand fished around, found the edge of the empty tray and pulled it through. For once, I heard voices and I held my breath to listen.
"That makes two," one man snorted as he shoved a fresh tray, with two bags of liquid and a freeze dried package of food, through the slot.
"One war hero and one long haired freak," another voice replied. "Boss man is telling Peacecraft to deal or else they get it. They'll never know it's not about them, it's about the --"
The slot closed and the voices were silenced. Beam cannon, I finished mentally. The chip had been working, I surmised, and 'long haired freak' could only describe Duo. My rescue had failed. We were both prisoners and Duo and I were being used as a smoke screen. The estimation of my reprimand and paperwork grew and I grimaced. Perhaps I'm arrogant, or overconfident, but, at that moment, I still didn't doubt that I would manage to foil their plans. I refused to work from a position of failure.
Someone tapped on the wall. I frowned, concentrating on the faint sounds behind my head, and easily picked out the code.
'Fellow prisoner here. Sorry. Didn't count on a welcome wagon at the service port of the ship.'
I could commend him on not revealing names to our enemies, or the fact that we were agents. I didn't think that he knew that my identity was already known. I wondered why he had been sent, though, and why Preventers had not simply ordered an assault on the ship. It came to me then and I managed to make even my tapping sound as angry as I felt as I responded, 'Are you alone?'
The answer was slow in coming. 'Yes. Heard a scrambled rescue beacon outbound from L3 and realized it was yours. Too faint for headquarters to receive. Sent them a booster signal and came in hot to get you out.'
I felt some relief. At least he had followed protocol. It rankled that I had been the one to buck procedure. 'Injured?' I tapped out.
'Yes,' came the reply. 'not mobile.'
I wiped a hand over my face in irritation, remembering a similar situation from our past. I had all but carried him in a rescue and it hadn't been pleasant. Duo Maxwell outweighs me, though he is not stronger than I am.... or as well trained... or as well disciplined... or... My mind formulated a plan where I left him behind for later retrieval, but I felt a sharp sense of wrong at that, and recalled that the thought of shooting the man had felt the same way that long ago time in an Oz holding cell.
'Serious?' I tapped back and didn't get a reply. That feeling that I couldn't quite identify grew stronger.
I left the wall, needing to think. I ate my meal and shoved the empty tray, with it's empty containers, back at the slot after I was done. Aside from bruising and a lacerated arm, I was mobile and still able to function at capacity. Medical attention hadn't been forthcoming though. My Preventer shirt was in shreds, used as a field dressing. If Duo was seriously injured, and he was receiving the same non treatment as myself, then we couldn't afford to wait much longer for rescue or to extract ourselves.
He talked, as much as it could be called talking, tapping incessantly as I tried to formulate some plan of escape. It was irritating and I told him to keep silent more than once. I was afraid that he would inadvertently give away information, but he seemed more concerned with other things. He talked about a baseball game, a cat he owned, and some party he was going to hate missing. There was humor in those small messages and I could picture Duo's grin and his lively eyes as I couldn't help but decipher each one. When he did grow suddenly silent, I didn't feel the relief that I should have. After several long minutes, I tapped, "Okay?"
"No, hand hurts," the reply came back and I imagined a chuckle going along with it.
I always wondered if his endless humor was faked. Once in awhile, I looked him in the eye and saw that they were flat and thoughtful. I had decided that he used his talk and humor to keep people off guard. It was a good strategy to allow people to think that you only have a handgun when you, in fact, have a beam cannon. I supposed Duo was a great deal like that.
"Hey," Duo said after another pause.
I was sitting with my back to the wall again, gritting my teeth against the pain of my injuries and becoming increasingly convinced that they were becoming infected.
I tapped an affirmative, annoyed that he even thought that I couldn't hear him.
"I want you to do something for me," Duo continued.
I sighed. "What can I do?" It was sarcasm but I couldn't convey that through taps on a wall.
"I got a boyfriend," came the reply. "Probably grosses you out... but I need you to tell him... I love him and all that... okay? You'll find out who he is when you get back."
I felt something clench my heart and my gut at the same time. He had a lover? I tried to imagine Duo Maxwell kissing another man, some blank faced apparition. I felt anger then and was surprised at my own response. What did I care?
"You're confident that I'll escape?" I tapped back.
"Yes," came the simple reply and the confidence in my abilities warmed me even while I was alarmed that our captors would understand what we were saying to each other.
"I'll tell him," I said, but still felt that clenching in my gut, wondering who it was. I couldn't remember Duo showing an interest in anyone. I added, because I wanted to believe that it was true, "We will get out of this."
Silence and then a reply, "Don't think so."
I was afraid then. Sometimes, it takes a shock to bring a person out of himself to consider his life and those around him. I suddenly knew that I didn't want Duo to die and that there was a particular reason for it. I choked on it, wondering at myself and my own blindness. Maybe it had lain dormant because Duo hadn't seemed to care about anyone? Maybe I had felt too sure that he would be there when I finally brought myself to realize...
I tried to clamp down on my emotional turmoil. I wouldn't be any good to myself or to Duo if I let myself become distracted. We could talk later, and I could discover what my true feelings for him were, when we were safe.
"We will make it," I repeated, but he didn't reply to that.
Maybe he slept then, I'm not sure. He didn't respond to my taps after that. I paced, despite my pain, crouching more than once at the door and considering how I could get beyond it. I kept seeing Duo in my mind, kept turning, over and over, the moments when we had been together. My mind was unable to stop from trying to decipher the puzzle of how I had gone from, 'He's annoying and unprofessional.' to 'I care deeply about what happens to him and I'm jealous of his lover.' It seemed madness and I wondered about my sanity as I pulled at the small door where my food was passed through. I considered whether they were drugging my food. Maybe it was a type of hallucination?
Duo tapped again. My mind put the inflection of his voice into the taps as I imagined him saying the words, "Remember your promise. You're a tough guy and you'll come through this. I'm not so tough, I guess."
I tried to tap back, feeling frantic, but, just then, the slot to my door opened up and a tray slid through. I was startled and I stood, heart racing, knowing that we couldn't communicate again until they were gone.
"Don't know why we bother to feed them," one of the men grumbled. "It's not like they matter."
Another voice grunted. "Hey, this one's a mess. Guess we don't need to feed him anymore." There was the sound of a door opening. "Yeah, he's a goner. Might as well pop him. Jeez! He bled everywhere!"
Two shots rang out. In fear and panic for Duo, I threw himself wildly against my door. Bolts stressed, but didn't give, as I pounded against it with both fists, shouting I didn't know what, as tears stung my eyes. I'd been a fool, I thought hazily, as I continued to pound against the door. I should have known sooner how I felt, should have said something to him while I had the chance. I shouldn't have been so wrapped up in himself and my missions. Now, it was too late.
More shots. Cries of panic and pain.
"Bastards!" a familiar voice shouted in anger. "You're paying for that! Nobody kills one of my friends."
More shots and then silence.
Standing, frozen, blood dripping from injured hands and a reopened wound, I was shocked completely when the door to my cell opened and Duo entered, wearing black fatigues and with a rifle cocked against one shoulder. I considered whether I had truly gone insane.
"Heero?" Duo said worriedly. I found it hard to reply. As I struggled with my emotions, he explained, going furious, "Preventers dropped me for infiltration. The bastards killed Agent Markson. Are you okay, Heero? You don't look too good. I'll call for immediate evac, All right?"
I couldn't stop my sudden grab for him, or my urge to take him into a fierce embrace. Burying my face into Duo's braid, I smelled gun smoke and sweat. He was comfortingly solid. "I thought you... I thought you were in the other cell," I explained unsteadily.
"Huh?" Duo slung his rifle back over his shoulder and tentatively returned my embrace. "So... you thought I was the one that died? Oh.... thought that'd make you happy?"
"No!" I exclaimed fiercely and hugged Duo tighter.
"Take it easy!" Duo warned, with a strangled chuckle that had a hard edge to it. "You're weirding me out, buddy. Let's get you to a doc and figure all this out later. Did you take a few rifle butts to the head, or something, Heero?"
"I... all right." I let Duo go, though it was hard to. The mission. Evac. We were still behind enemy lines. I needed to lock my emotions down, but my eyes stayed on Duo, drinking him in. Duo was a perfect study in confusion.
We made it to the evac bay just as other agents blew an airlock and poured in from a docked ship. A medical jumpship took us out of there, and away from the fighting, along with Markson's body. With it wrapped and on the floor between our seats, I found myself staring at it. Duo was watching the station slip away through a viewing window, his rifle resting on his knees. It could have easily been Duo, I kept thinking. The urge to forget his feelings and to chalk it up to stress, died. Markson had shown me how circumstances could snuff out a man's future and leave many things unsaid.
At Headquarters, Markson was taken to the morgue while Duo stayed to help me reach medical. Seated on an exam table in a private room, and waiting for xrays, I gathered the courage to ask Duo, "Markson had a lover. He wanted me to tell him something. Could you... could you find out who that is?"
Duo blinked. "I guess that would bother you. If you tell me, I'll let him know."
I frowned, covering my nervousness by fussing with my fresh bandages. "It doesn't bother me," I admitted. "Why should it?"
"Gay guys and all that," Duo said in a voice that sounded strained.
Meeting his eyes, I felt the need to say the words that were knocking at the back of my lips, just like Markson's incessant tapping. "Duo, I thought Markson was you. I felt so sure of that. When I heard the shots... I don't expect you to understand, or to say anything.... I realized something very important back there."
"What?" Duo's eyes were round now and he was leaning in, intent on my words.
I felt a flush of uncertainty.
"Go ahead and say it, Heero," Duo urged. "You can talk to me about anything. So, you were scared you were going to die? Is that it? Were you so happy that I wasn't one of those guys coming to shoot you that you hugged me? That's okay. Nobody likes to -- "
Leaning forward, I closed the small space between us and kissed Duo. It was brief, a glancing touch that I quickly ended. Retreating almost at once, I was afraid of Duo's reaction as I said, looking at the floor, "I wasn't afraid for myself. I thought... I thought you were dead. I was upset about that. When I saw that you we alive, I was so relieved, so happy, because now, I can tell you... how I feel."
I dared to look up then. Duo had one hand on his mouth, eyes shocked. "D-Did you just..."
Despite the pain, I stood. "I shouldn't have done that," I started to say. "I think I'm exhausted and not thinking --"
I was silenced by lips on my own, soft, firm, and sure. I closed my eyes, keeping them closed even when Duo pulled back.
"You're not taking that back, Yuy," Duo told me. "Not ever. Once you get stitched up, we're going to have a sit down and sort all of this out. One thing I don't have to sort out, though, is how I feel about you. I've always..." I opened my eyes to see Duo's warm smile and warmer eyes only inches from my own. "I just never thought you'd feel the same," Duo ended, swallowing hard on emotion.
Duo covered it by chuckling and backing away. "Like I said, get stitched up first, while I convince myself that I actually woke up this morning, and that this isn't some sort of demented dream, and we'll talk."
Hearing the shots in my mind, I felt, again, the moment when I had thought that Duo had died. "Don't go anywhere," I begged, hating how pathetic I sounded, "I need you... here, with me."
I was reassured by Duo's understanding as Duo sat on the exam table next to me. "I'm not going anywhere," Duo assured me and let our shoulders touch. "Not now."