Warnings : Yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized
characters, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading above and beyond the call of duty!
Thanks to Aya and Yume for opinions rendered.
Feed-back is a dream I have…
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
So is there anybody out there who didn’t guess that
I would end up in the salvage business? I mean, what the hell else was I
going to do? Run back to L2? I don’t think so; if I never saw that
place again as long as I lived it would be entirely too damn soon. The Preventors?
Seemed perfect for Heero and Wufei, but when the war was over, that was
the last thing I wanted; more intrigue, more fighting, more pain. I couldn’t
handle it. Quatre had offered me a position on his staff, working as a consultant
to his security team, but I knew he’d only done it to be nice. I loved
the little guy like a kid brother; but charity is still charity and damned
if Duo Maxwell needed any handouts.
So off I went, running back to Howard and the Sweepers. I
worked with them for a while, taking various second jobs at night until
I accumulated enough money to buy myself a small ship, then branched out
on my own. For a time, I threw myself into the task of building my own reputation
apart from the Sweepers, letting it be my whole focus. I christened my ship
‘Maxwell’s Demon’ and set out to take on all the jobs
that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole. I didn’t bother
with an apartment, but lived on my ship and spent every waking moment that
wasn’t taken with the job working on her.
It allowed me no time to think beyond the moment, allowed
no time to reflect on the past.
I worked with Howard’s crew sometimes, when the job
was bigger than my small ship could haul. There were no hard feelings between
the Sweepers and me when I left to start out on my own. I wasn’t taking
business away from them after all; the jobs I took were ones that Howard
wouldn’t touch anyway.
It took me a couple of years of throwing myself at suicide
jobs but I finally developed a reputation as the pilot who could bring back
anything. So, in those years that things were getting lean for most salvage
operations, I was still doing all right for myself.
That’s what brought me to Howard’s office one
fine day, contemplating a job that my former mentor was calling insane.
Calling insane even as he was trying to figure out how to accomplish it.
As I said…times were lean.
‘That’s a hell of a job offer, Howard,’
I told him, my eyes drawn to pick out all the strange little pictures on
his horrendous Hawaiian shirt. Was that a picture of a flying pig in a grass
‘If I was nuts,’ he retorted, passing me a bottle
of beer from the little fridge he kept in his office.
‘Well,’ I drawled, accepting the bottle with a
grin, ‘we’ve both been accused of that before.’
‘I’m not sure even I’m that crazy.’
He sighed; opening his own bottle and dropping wearily back into his creaky,
old desk chair, the one with duct tape holding the stuffing in the arm rests.
‘Then, do you mind explaining what I’m doing here?’
I smirked. It was him after all, who had called me.
There was another heavy sigh and he tilted the bottle back
and took a long drink. ‘The business is in trouble.’
I glanced back down at the specs that lay on the desk in front
of me, oddly intrigued and knowing what an asinine thought that was. ‘And…?’
An almost angry look crossed his face, not directed necessarily
at me. ‘I guess I just wanted another junk man to tell me how crazy
this job is. I need somebody else to tell me how stupid it is so I can stop
thinking about how I could keep from going out of business if I took it,’
He was being tempted to take an incredibly lucrative, totally
suicidal job as a last minute, desperate act…and wanted me to tell
I swallowed a gulp of beer and looked at him soberly, ‘I
could do it.’
Howard does not have the kind of face that should ever gawp,
it isn’t pretty, but that’s just what he did. That and spit
I laughed from the sheer fun of watching him. That and seeing
the hope begin to glimmer that he might be able to pull this off and save
his ships and his yard from bankruptcy. I did, after all, owe this man and
his crew a couple of times over.
‘Duo…’ he muttered, wiping beer off his
front, ‘don’t be an ass.’
‘Not with my ‘Demon’,’ I told him,
setting down my beer and picking up the papers to leaf through them again,
‘But if you could supply the ship…’
That was generally how we worked together on the occasions
when we did; he brought the equipment and the manpower to the table and
I brought the piloting skills and the…total lack self-preservation
‘The fuel alone…’ he murmured and I grinned
at him, knowing that he’d started considering it despite himself.
‘I was thinking about that,’ I prompted. ‘If
we used a slingshot launch…’
He cut me off with a scowl, ‘That would add two weeks
to the out trip…’
‘So?’ I leaned back in my chair and tilted it
on two legs, propping my feet up on his desk; I knew I had him. He would
end up letting me do this; I would save his business, clinch my reputation
and make a tidy profit to boot. Assuming I pulled it off.
‘That would make it four weeks in space, total. The
target is in a damned dangerous area, in an erratic orbit. It’s crazy
Duo…’ I could tell he was trying to convince himself now, though,
and not me.
Yeah, it was a nasty looking little job. One of the last left
over from the war. You could say that much about wartime, it had made a
damned lucrative pastime out of salvage. But the pickings were getting lean
with almost three years gone. This one had lain untouched all this time
because nobody had been inclined to go after it with easier spoils available.
But there she was, a small command cruiser abandoned in the asteroid belt
when her engines had been damaged in battle. There was more than just scrap
metal there; there was data as well. That was what prompted our soon-to-be
client to offer the hefty salary for bringing her back. They didn’t
care about the ship itself, which meant the material salvage would be pure
I shrugged off Howard’s concerns, ‘What’s
a month in space?’ I asked, ‘I don’t have plans for the
weekend and dangerous territory is what I do.’
He gave me that look that tells me he’d like to smack
me up the side of my head. Howard has a tendency to treat all his men like
‘You won’t have a lot of contact,’ he informed
me. ‘No real backup; the communication window is only going to be
about an hour a cycle.’
I tilted the beer bottle up and drained it to cover the grin
that was trying to spread all over my face; I’d won. I heard it when
he went from ‘could’ to ‘would’. We were about to
cut a deal. ‘You know I work alone,’ I told him when the beer
In the end we agreed on a fifty/fifty split, though Howard
didn’t want to take that much. He outfitted his best ship and agreed
to dock my ‘Demon’ until I got back, with the understanding
that she was his if I didn’t.
So, a week after our little talk, I packed my books, my music
and my own vacuum suit and climbed aboard Howard’s primary ship, the
‘Randy Wench’. I more than felt the weight of the hopes of the
entire Sweeper gang on my shoulders. My success or my failure would mean
their futures in the business. Howard’s second, Kurt, was the last
man out the lock before lift off. He paused there, his face hesitant and
embarrassed. I’d learned a lot of what I know about ship repairs at
this man’s elbow.
‘Duo,’ he muttered, fidgeting with something in
his hands, ‘the guys and me…we want you to know that…well,
Appreciate…and felt guilty as hell that none of them
could bring themselves to make this run with me. But that was what I was
here for, damn it; they all had families and responsibilities to go home
to. If something happened to me, there wouldn’t be any hysterical
widow or orphaned children left behind. Not even an abandoned dog. So I
cut him off with a grin, ‘Hey, man; I’m getting a cut of this
He ducked his head and only cleared his throat; I apparently
didn’t have any of them fooled about the real reason I was making
this run. That was another lesson I had learned from this group of guys;
the value of friendship and that you did what you had to when people needed
you. Suddenly he was thrusting something into my hands.
‘We wanted you to have this…for luck.’ He
was gone before it quite had a chance to register what it was he had shoved
into my hands. Howard and his men had served during the war, maybe not as
full-fledged, commissioned enlisted men, but kind of behind the scenes;
as far as I was concerned, where it really mattered. Kurt had lost a leg
not six months before the damn war was over. Dangling from my fingers on
a leather thong was his special service award. He wore the damn thing like
I wore my cross; I’d never seen it off him. I felt cold standing there
holding it in my hands; it was like some kind of damn sacred trust. His
way of assuring himself that I’d come back in one piece I supposed.
I slipped the medallion around my neck and tucked it inside my shirt beside
Father Maxwell’s gold cross and vowed to bring it back to him.
We had settled on the slingshot launch, using gravitational
fields to send the ‘Wench’ outward, toward the asteroid belt
that was my final goal. It would save on fuel costs but cost more in time.
The trip was a week on boosters, but three using this method. I really didn’t
care. It’s not like anybody was racing me to the salvage site. I had
all the time in the universe and then some.
For the first couple of days, the communications channels
were just fine and I talked to Howard or one of the guys fairly frequently.
Spacers don’t like the idea of a man on his own for extended periods.
Some guys just couldn’t take it; drove ‘em stark raving mad.
Free-fall fever they called it, or vacuum disease, or spacers madness. Used
to be worse in the early days of space travel, when the trips between the
planets took freaking years instead of weeks and months. You never went
by yourself; every ship had at least a pair or trio of partners. I think
it unnerved the guys that when I had gone out on my own I’d never
picked up a second. But then, I don’t suppose they ever stopped to
think about the rarity of personality types that could stand being cooped
up with me for extended periods of time. Ask any of the guys who used to
share safe houses with me; I am apparently…an irritating sort.
Howard would continually give me last minute pointers and
little reminders of things to watch out for. Kurt, at least would play games
of chess with me. He had a board set up and would call the moves as he made
them, moving my pieces as I called my moves. He thought I had a board set
up on the ship; I didn’t tell him I was just doing it in my head.
That kind of thing sort of unnerved them even when we were all living together.
I figured out early on that you just kept some things to yourself. The fact
that I could comp a launch trajectory in my head was not something they
needed to know, so when I wasn’t by myself, I used the computer to
do it. Maybe that was one of the reasons I didn’t want a partner;
it was kind of nice not having to worry about people watching me. I didn’t
have to keep up appearances out here. Nobody to fool meant I didn’t
have to keep up the grinning façade.
I’m honestly fairly used to spending my time alone;
I have my books and my music after all. So I let them think that I slept
a lot more hours than I actually did so that I had some time to prowl over
the ‘Wench’, learning all her secrets. A ship really is like
a lover. If you want to be able to count on them in a pinch, you have to
expend some effort building the trust. The ‘Wench’ is an…interesting
ship. Mechanically as sound as anything in space; all of Howard’s
ships are. But her innards showed the hand of a group of very diverse guys.
The galley, for instance, is painted the most God-awful shade of canary
yellow. What? You were expecting austere steel gray? Come on; when you may
have to stick a crew in a ship and leave them there for weeks or months
at a time they need those little things like color. The galley on my ‘Demon’?
Since you asked, it’s painted like a cloud scudded blue summer sky
and the floor is green so that every meal is like a picnic. Well, that was
the intent anyway. The effect might be better if I spent the funds to stock
it with more than military ration bars.
So I spent the out trip getting to know the ‘Wench’,
listening to Howard advise me on how not to get my ass killed, and playing
chess with Kurt. Until the communications window began to fade and I was
down to that hour, then the chess games stopped.
When it wasn’t my designated hour of check-in, I had
my music on the speakers and it flowed through the whole ship, with me where
ever I went. I don’t mind the being alone part, but I do mind the
quiet. Voices come to fill the silence if you don’t fill it with something
else first. So I played my music and talked to the ‘Wench’ and
read my books and sailed on. I can’t wait until they advance things
enough to make a voice response system for ships. Like in that old vid-show.
I will program in the most kick-ass, sexy voice I can find and record the
most smart-ass remarks. I entertained myself for an entire quarter cycle
thinking up tag lines for different situations:
‘Wake up, sunshine! We’re about to hit the biggest
damned asteroid you’ve ever seen!’
‘You call yourself a pilot? Watch where you’re
‘What do you mean we ran out of fuel!?’
‘The stuffy air you are noticing would be because somebody
needs to clean the air filters.’
But then I started think about who the sexy voice would actually
sound like and all the comments started to have the word ‘baka’
in them. I quit that game.
After I’d been over the ship pretty much from end to
end, I spent most of my time reading. I was working my way through the classics;
had just finished everything written by Dickens and was starting on Poe.
The contrast was rather amusing; though by the time I got through the ‘Tell
Tale Heart’ I was starting to long for something a little more…lightweight.
Poe was a seriously deranged man.
Howard laughs at me and my books. Doesn’t understand
why I don’t just use electronic copies like everyone else. But I like
the feel of the books in my hands; it reminds me of growing up in the orphanage.
Any material that passed through there had to be real, bound books. Father
Maxwell could never have afforded anything as expensive as a computer. He
and Sister Helen treated anything that came to them with a certain reverence;
books were a luxury and very few of them came our way. I had devoured whatever
I could get my hands on, determined to learn everything I could of the world
outside the hellhole I lived in.
I bought my books in batches, as I could afford it, but you
can’t keep a lot of that sort of thing when you live on a space ship.
As I finished them, I packed them off and donated them to several orphanages
on L2. Shipping was a bitch but it made me feel better thinking that I might
be giving some little kid a window on another world. I had sent off the
Dickens collection just before I had lifted off. The collected works of
Poe was with me, and aboard my ‘Demon’ waited Rudyard Kipling
and Lord Tennyson. After a week of Poe, I was starting to wish I had brought
The last couple of days before I hit the turn-around point
and began my deceleration, I think that Howard was starting to regret the
whole thing. His voice when we talked sounded strained and I think if he
could have aborted the job, he would have. I didn’t get to talk to
anyone else during that hour anymore. Howard was on the whole time and spent
most of it making sure I didn’t forget anything crucial. I usually
had a headache by the time the window closed.
‘You’re sleeping ok, right?’ he questioned.
‘You have to be at a hundred percent when you get there…there’s
no room for mistakes.’
‘Yes Daddy.’ I tried teasing but most of it went
right passed him.
‘She’s a soft touch on the boosters, did I tell
‘Only about fifty times so far.’ I tried to just
lay back and let it wash by me; I really didn’t need him making me
nervous right now.
‘You retest all the tether lines, you hear me?’
I could always tell when the hour was almost up from the faint rise in his
I resisted the urge to say, been there…done that, and
gave him a hearty, ‘I’ll get right on that.’
It was two days to target; there would be only one more communication
window before it all came together. Howard was not handling the strain of
this very well.
‘Duo…you be damned careful; you hear me?’
He sounded really upset. ‘I…I shouldn’t have told you
about this damned job…I wish I’d never…’
I was shocked; this didn’t even sound like the Howard
I knew. The last minute was ticking away. ‘Howard. Calm down, I’m
fine. What the hell’s wrong? We speced this all out together…everything
is going to be…’
The clock told me that he probably didn’t hear anything
after everything. I sat in the pilot’s seat for a while, too stunned
to move. What in the hell was going on with him? Howard is a worrier, sure,
but this seemed a little extreme. Yeah, it was a dangerous job, but that
had been my specialty for the last three years. Even when I was still with
Howard’s crew full time, I had been the prime pick for the delicate
jobs. The guys used to tease me about my ‘gentle touch’ on the
controls. I found that I was not looking forward to tomorrows talk with
I spent the rest of the cycle making sure everything was stowed
and battened down; wouldn’t do to have one of my books come sailing
through the cock-pit at some critical moment. I went to sleep a little early,
just to appease Howard, and ate a decent breakfast when I woke. I sat down
in the pilot’s chair at the designated time with a heavy sigh and
a pouch of strong coffee.
It wasn’t Howard’s voice I got when the window
came clear though;
‘….Duo?’ It was Kurt, sounding…a little
‘Hey buddy!’ I almost crowed, relieved that I
might escape the hour-long lecture I had been expecting. ‘What’s
He chuckled, ‘What’s the matter?’ I could
hear the wide grin even through the static and across the miles, ‘Expecting
‘Well…’ I chuckled in return, ‘he
has been dominating most of the conversations.’
‘The guys and me, we thought we’d…rescue
you.’ I could hear that there was an underlying story here.
‘What have you done?’ I queried in mock severity.
‘Drugged Howard’s beer.’
I laughed so hard I almost spit coffee all over the controls.
‘You have to be kidding! He’s going to kill you!’
His reply sounded rueful and I could imagine the hangdog look
on his face. ‘I know. But he’s making himself crazy worrying
The laugh wound down to a chuckle and I sighed, ‘Tell
me about it.’
Howard would throw a fit when he woke up. Tools would be hurled.
Curses would be delivered. I knew Kurt would take sole blame, because he’s
about the only one of the crew that Howard wouldn’t fire over it.
‘Thanks, man,’ I told him and tried to put the
warmth in it. ‘But…what in the hell has him so damned edgy?’
There was the slightest hesitation. ‘He’s been
having nightmares. He feels guilty about letting you go.’ I could
almost hear the shrug, ‘He found out that we aren’t the first
crew to go after this wreck.’
For a minute I thought he meant I was racing someone else
to the job site but then the tone of his voice hit me and I knew what he
‘Why the hell didn’t he just tell me?’ I
Kurt sighed heavily. ‘He knew he couldn’t convince
you to call it quits and was afraid it would just make you nervous.’
‘Who was it?’ I asked, most of the people in the
business know all the other people in the business.
‘Sanderson,’ he told me; a small, family run team
that had folded and gone under about a month ago.
‘Was this the job that took them down?’ I knew
even as I was asking, that it had to be so.
‘Yeah,’ Kurt confirmed. ‘Lost the oldest
and the youngest son. The old man just didn’t have the heart for it
‘Damn,’ I muttered, the Sanderson crew had been
a decent lot. Had beaten me out of a couple of jobs early on. Old man Sanderson
was a hell raiser from the word go but had been proud as hell of those boys.
That would have left him with just his daughter. I didn’t envy her.
‘Listen Duo,’ Kurt was saying, ‘me and the
guys want you to know that we’d understand if you turned back…’
I snorted. ‘Hell Kurt; I’m almost there. Might
as well at least scope it out.’
He sighed again; he wasn’t surprised. ‘Well, don’t
tackle it if things look too bad. Just walk away from it, understand?’
His voice was gruff; Kurt was not a guy who had ever gotten
all emotional about things. Even when he lost his leg, he had just gone
on, sure and steady Kurt.
‘I thought you drugged Howard to save me from the lecture,
Papa Kurt,’ I observed dryly and he laughed.
‘Ok, squirt,’ he chuckled, calling me by the much-hated
nickname the Sweepers had used for me when I first started with them, ‘I
We just talked for a bit then, about nothing in particular
and I was able to relax a little. When the hour was winding down I was actually
sorry for the first time in days.
‘Tell Howard that I checked all the tether lines, got
a good nights sleep and went potty before I got here.’
He laughed for me, ‘Will do.’ But then the laugh
was gone, ‘You be damn alert out there, Maxwell; we expect to see
you back here in a week.’
‘And I expect at least a steak dinner when I get there.’
If he had a reply, it was lost in the static.
Then it was time to buckle down and get serious. Time for
Duo Maxwell to do his job.
I was still a couple of hours out but the location was finally
within sensor range and I pulled up every aspect of it I could. I put visual
on the main view screen and ran scans on every level imaginable. The heat
scan showed nothing untoward. Radiation, just the normal smattering of natural
phenomenon out here in the belt. Audio found the looped distress call still
playing after all these years. Meant the ship still had a bit of power in
her, which might make this go faster. Scans for mass and gravitational pull
came up a little nasty; there was something out there with a lot of pull
that was causing a ‘wash’ that was effecting the path of everything
around here. Like putting a bump in the road. Or maybe more of a pothole.
I also found the scattered debris field of the Sanderson ship. Ouch. There
wasn’t enough left to go after. If I had to guess, I’d say either
they hit the wash and got thrown where they weren’t expecting or something
else hit the wash and found them. Either way, they had to have taken a direct
hit to the engines to have blown the ship to shrapnel like that.
Erratic orbit didn’t begin to describe what the target
ship was doing. It came closer to aimless wandering. I almost wished I had
brought my ‘Demon’ after all. Just gone in for the data and
gotten the hell out. Hindsight and all that.
I finished my scans and didn’t find any other surprises.
Time was ticking down; I went to suit up.
This was going to take flying by the seat of my pants to a
whole new level.
Back in the pilot’s seat, secure in my vacuum suit,
I settled in and took over control of the ship.
‘Ok, ‘Wench’ it’s time to play,’
I addressed the console in front of me as I switched off the autopilot.
I’m always vaguely disappointed when the ships I fly
don’t answer me. I think Deathscythe was the only thing I ever piloted
that I would have sworn, sometimes, voiced a quiet chuckle at my cracks.
It didn’t stop me from holding up my end of the conversation with
whatever I was in the seat of though.
‘Wench sounds so…disrespectful.’ I made
a couple of minor adjustments to my course, as much to get a feel for the
way she handled as anything. ‘Mind if I call you Randy?’
I hit the jets and slowed further, alternating between watching
the visuals and watching the radar. The asteroid belt is a truly sucky place
There was the beginning of the hiss of dust scouring the hull;
not the universe’s most pleasant sound. It would only get worse.
I needed to catch the damn thing; get close enough to grapple
onto it and pull the ships together so that I could get aboard. Top priority
was the data and I was heartened by the distress signal that was faintly
broadcasting. If the ship still had some power I wouldn’t have to
waste a lot of time trying to trundle emergency generators over there to
get things up and running.
The crew, when they abandoned her, had tucked her in tight
to a large chunk of asteroid; she was orbiting around it while it made its
own irregular way through space. The asteroid had afforded her some small
amount of protection from other objects and though I could see that she
had taken more than one hit over the years, she was surprisingly intact.
She wouldn’t hold an atmosphere but at least I wasn’t trying
to pick up pieces.
‘Ok, Randy my girl; let’s go make a living.’
I had a side screen displaying the gravitational fields in
a lovely blue and green spectrum and I checked our location compared to
the gravity wash. I spared a moment to key in a five-minute proximity alarm,
‘Don’t let us hit that, Ok M’lady?’
Then it was boosters and jets, curses and sweat, and I didn’t
have the time to tell ‘Randy’ much of anything. Closing on the
asteroid was fairly easy compared to what I had ahead of me yet; no worse
than flying inside a damn pinball machine. You’ve seen all those old
space opera movies? They came pretty damn close to getting the asteroid
belt right. Except for the dust. I’d never seen anybody get that part;
that constant, almost static hissing sound. I settled at length into a parallel
orbit near my target and took a break, just spinning through space sucked
up tight to that big honking piece of rock out there, and watched the other
ship tumble along beside me.
Target. Other ship. I tried to dredge up the name of the damn
thing; it’d been military, it was something pretty flat and expressionless…ah;
‘The Londonderry’ that was it.
‘Randy…meet Derry,’ I muttered and wished
I could wipe my brow. In the back of my mind I could hear Howard screaming
for me to get the hell out of here. And honestly…I should have. This
was going to get nasty; Kurt would be telling me to walk away. I’m
not really sure why I didn’t. My shoulders were already aching with
the strain and I hadn’t really even started yet. I glanced at the
chrono and sighed. Two hours into this; couldn’t back out with a two-hour
He was tumbling…no, not all ships are girls. Derry sounded
like a guy’s name and besides, Randy prefers men, and since I was
planning on practically mating them together, Derry was going to be a guy.
Standard procedure said the next step was to stop that tumble. It requires
getting a grappling tether on the target and using the boosters to counteract
the spin. I didn’t get a warm fuzzy thinking about that. One of the
little voices in my head kept whispering that they didn’t like the
idea at all. I zoomed in the visual and looked him over; I could make out
the damn serial numbers on the hull at this magnification, then I finally
saw it; there was a broken tether line attached near the stern, trailing
along behind Derry like a tail.
So, the Sandersons had gotten that far. That far and no farther.
They’d followed the book and tried to stop the spin and their ship
had been ripped apart. No one will ever know just what it was that went
wrong; the evidence was months scattered and irretrievable. Had something
hit them? Or was it just a simple miscalculation? I couldn’t even
guess. But it confirmed for me that I wasn’t going to follow the book
on this one. I wouldn’t try to stop the spin…I would match it.
That was two lines, simultaneous attachments and a feather-light
touch of the boosters. No big deal…really.
‘What you think, Randy? Care to dance?’ I watched
Derry turn lazily beside me and settled on my attachment points. I would
follow his spin, trailing slightly, launch the lines and then pray like
No time like the present, I reasoned, and tapped the jets,
lining us up. ‘Cross your fingers, hon. We’re goin’ in.’
My heart was pounding in my ears so loud that I wouldn’t
have heard it if the damn ship had replied. I won’t ever tell this
to anybody, because I don’t think I could ever explain it right and
I’d just come off sounding like I needed to be locked in a loony bin
somewhere. But…I miss the war. Ok; not the war. The adrenaline. The
rush. The feeling of being something to be reckoned with, something to be
respected. That’s why I do what I do. There aren’t a lot of
things left that will give you an adrenaline kick in the ass after you’ve
piloted a Gundam into overwhelming odds and come out on top. So I threw
myself at these impossible jobs because the only times I felt like I was
truly alive was when I was flirting with the ragged edge of disaster, every
part of my body tingling with electricity and I felt like I could just fucking
do anything. And the voices in my head stilled while every ounce of my attention
was on the job.
The hiss of dust intensified for a moment to an almost hail.
I waited for us to pass through it before I prepared to fire the tether
lines. I marked my attachment sites and watched them spin by under/in front
of me for several rotations until the timing was as much a part of me as
my breath. My sight was tunnel vision narrowed to the screen in front of
me, my shoulders were on fire with the tension. Again, I wished I could
wipe sweaty palms on my pants leg. Five…four…three…two…launch!
I watched the lines streak out in twin arcs, my finger hovering over the
release button in case I didn’t get two good connections. They hit
as perfectly as I could have hoped and I had my hands wrapped around the
yoke fighting to maintain the distance and not get snapped off into the
belt somewhere. There was the thrumming feel of the lines drawing taut and
I nudged and babied the boosters, crowing with delight as the two ships
decided they just might like each other after all…and then the proximity
alarm screamed in my ear. Shit! Five minutes to the wash. Shit. I ground
my teeth and cursed. I had no choice; I was not riding out a trip through
a gravitational flux tied to a dead weight. I hit the release button and
pulled back to a safer distance. Well…this would be a different experience.
It was exactly like hitting a bump in the road. Going a hundred
miles an hour. Randy bucked and fought me, wanting to answer the siren call
of gravity. In my mind’s eye, I could see the Sanderson ship caught
in the flux, tethered and trapped, smashed against the asteroid itself most
likely. I could hear the voices of the two brothers screaming their last.
Not a real spiffy way to go. No thank you ma’am.
‘You don’t want to go there, Randy-girl,’
I growled and wrestled with her, boosters and jets, sweat and curses.
It was over in a matter of minutes and we were out the other
side. I adjusted my orbit, verified that Derry was still with us and collapsed
in the damn seat. Ok, I hadn’t been expecting a cakewalk out here
but I have to confess I was starting to wish I had a partner. Somebody to
rub the back of my neck, if nothing else.
‘Don’t suppose you do massage therapy?’
I sighed and watched the Derry with dismay. The orbit had been altered subtly
and I was going to have to completely realign.
It took me upwards to three more hours. I had to jockey and
adjust to get the two ships back into alignment then pick an entirely different
set of tether positions. Neither of my next launches were as perfect as
the first one, and it took two tries before I had the ships tied together,
turning languid circles around each other. My hands were shaking and my
knees felt weak by the time I made it.
‘Son of a bitch; but I’m getting to old for this
shit,’ I murmured and had I been in Deathscythe, that would have won
me the shadow of a ghost of a chuckle. Randy refrained from comment.
Since I had managed to not smash the hell out of my ship,
I allowed myself the quick luxury of slipping my helmet off so I could wipe
at that damn sweat. I went so far as to trot down to the galley for a cold
drink while I was at it; suit water is just disgusting. Never cooler than
Palate cooled, heart rate at something more like normal, I
re-suited and made my way down to the air lock. Here’s where things
got really fun.
I had the two ships within yards of each other, the tethers
keeping them together, the force of their spin keeping them apart. Now I
had to take a walk and go see if I could get aboard the Derry. This is the
part that would make Howard’s skin crawl. Hell…it was making
my skin crawl. Outship was not a place I much cared to be in the middle
of the damn belt. So, in typical Duo fashion, I intended to do it fast.
I could see the airlock on the Derry; the exterior door still
standing wide from the evacuation. I’m fairly good in zero gee, all
part of the whole Gundam training after all, so I bypassed the personal
tether line for a handheld ‘spurt-gun’. I did my trajectory
calculations, fired my personal booster and shot across that hundred-yard
space yelling the whole way. Free-fall is one thing; it takes a certain
mind set to be able to deal with the total lack of ‘up’ and
‘down’, but free-fall out between the stars is something else
all together; it rips at your belly on a primal level. Something far beyond
the fear of falling. There is no fathoming falling from a height that doesn’t
exist. It’s almost more of a fear of being…lost. Not lost exactly…there’s
just no explaining it. It just shoves you right in the face of God and points
out to you just how fucking infinitesimal you really are; how very little
you truly understand the universe.
I was more than a little relieved when I got my magnetics
locked to the deck in that air lock. A vacuum suit will only take so much
of that rain of dust out here. The interior door wouldn’t open of
course; it had been that kind of day. So I had to take the time to pop open
the control panel, short out the circuit and open it manually.
‘Knock knock.’ I grinned as the panel finally
slid open and I breathed a gusty sigh of relief when I was able to make
my way inside.
It was almost pitch black, the occasional dim, idiot light
glowing here and there. I knew this ship from stem to stern from studying
the blueprints and I wasted no time in heading straight for the bridge.
I passed more than one hull breach, not that I was surprised, but it’s
just something that will make any spacers blood run cold just on general
I drifted through the corridors feeling just a little weirded
out, if the truth be told. I might very well have been involved in the battle
that disabled this ship. It’s funny the things that will take you
back in time. Smells will get me quicker than anything. There’s a
smell that only comes off a ship that has made a hot planetary reentry;
that one whips me back in a heartbeat. There’s a certain, nameless
brand of I’m not sure what…deodorant? Cologne? That rushes me
back to long, lonely nights in a shared dorm room. The sight of this ship
was taking me back; making me remember old missions and assignments that
I’d just as soon forget. I shook it off; now was not the time to be
daydreaming about old comrades and the ‘good old days’.
I should have been prepared for the bodies. I wasn’t.
Too many years removed from a war I typically tried not to think about.
I had conveniently ‘forgotten’ that this ship had been abandoned
under duress. Evacuated under fire.
Things do not deteriorate in total vacuum. There are no scavengers.
Time is pretty much meaningless. I did not scream when I kicked off and
sailed through the doorway to the bridge and almost collided with the first
‘Shit!’ I cursed and hit the first surface I came
to, pushing away from that thing I didn’t really want to come in contact
I stopped my flight near the ceiling and hovered there, shining
my spotlight and looking around the bridge. There were five bodies, all
suited up and drifting about the room in the strangest, otherworldly dance
I had ever witnessed. The sound of my own heart in my ears was thundering.
It only took me a minute to get my head together, then I kicked
off and floated to the first one. I avoided looking it in the faceplate
but I got the name and insignia off the suit’s breast. I moved through
the bridge and collected every one of the names, committing them to memory.
More than likely all these names had been registered KIA a long time ago
but on the off chance that there was still some family somewhere wondering
what had happened to their loved ones, I’d have the answer.
Then I turned my attention to the control panels around me.
The first thing I did was turn off the distress signal. I was pleased that
I had guessed right; there was still power to some of the panels. I had
been given all the last known access codes and I set to bringing up and
logging into the ship’s main system. It was almost anticlimactic.
I patched the feed into my suit’s com unit and sent the data merrily
off to Randy.
‘Record this for me, will you Randy-girl?’ I grinned
and just tried not to think about the dead eyes watching me from around
the room. They made me feel like a damn grave robber.
I debated going down to the engine room for a look around;
if I could get the engines on-line, I might stand a chance of getting the
ship out of here along with the data. But I knew there wasn’t likely
anything I could do on short notice to a set of engines that were damaged
enough to make a crew abandon ship. The Captain’s cabin wasn’t
far from the bridge, so I did decide at the last minute to make a stop there
to see if there was a private log or some such. I had somehow come to the
conclusion in the back of my mind that I wasn’t getting the ship out
of here. Once the choice to take the data and run made it’s way to
the front of my mind and informed the rest of me, I just suddenly wanted
off that floating graveyard and back aboard the ‘Randy Wench’.
I had to pry open the panel to the Captain’s compartment
and when I did, I wished I hadn’t. The good Captain had decided to
go down with his ship. He had not, however, chosen to die the slow way from
suffocation or starvation. He had blown his brains out. The body was…moored…to
the deck chair, one foot wedged under a rung. The rest of the body was drifting
idly in place. It reminded me of nothing so much as seaweed. The flash frozen
blood crystals wandering around the room were what made me back-peddle into
the corridor and say the hell with it. Goddamn but I wanted out of there.
Enough was enough; I had what I had come for.
I wasn’t three yards down the corridor when my conscience
bit me in the butt and made me go back. A man who shoots himself rather
than run away with his crew more than likely left a damn message. I found
the journal in the top desk drawer. I had it out and stuffed in my utility
belt in a second and was heading for the door again when it happened.
There was a…thrum. A sound that wasn’t a sound
but a vibration carried to me through the doorframe I had my hand on. Then
the whole world tilted and bucked and I found myself sailing into the corridor,
almost out of control. I managed to grab a zero-gee handhold and keyed on
the magnetics in my boots. Wouldn’t do to get thrown around so bad
I damaged my suit.
‘What the hell are you doing, Derry-boy?’ I muttered,
hanging on for dear life and fearing I knew exactly what was going on. I
expended a little of my attention to analyze the movements the ship was
making under me. It didn’t take long to figure out that something
had hit one of my tether lines. Of all the stinking luck; something out
there in all of space no bigger around than my damn thumb and it had to
get creamed with a stinking piece of space debris.
The second tether wouldn’t likely hold out long. Getting
left on this side of the line was unthinkable. I killed the magnetics and
began hauling myself hand over hand down the corridor. I’d take my
chances with damaging the suit; it beat the hell out of the alternative.
I was actually within sight of the airlock when I felt the
vibration of the second line giving way and there was an immediate cease
to Derry’s bucking and twisting. I made the trip to the hatch anyway;
I fully intended to launch myself across space and use my spurt-gun to chase
after Randy. But it was already too late. Those little guns aren’t
meant for more than just minor adjustments and short-term use. It would
never get me where I now needed to go. The two ships had been spinning around
each other and when the lines had given out, they had been thrown in opposite
directions. Randy was nothing more than a pleasant memory…and I was
I just stood in the damn airlock for a long time and watched
her drift away. I resisted the urge to swear at her; it wasn’t her
fault after all. When the adrenaline rush faded a little, I just felt numb;
I’d never actually been dead before.
Well damn. Wasn’t this a revolting development?
At length, I shook myself and turned back to Derry. There
might, after all, be an escape pod left or something else I might be able
to make use of.
I searched that ship from top to bottom, front to back and
all I came up with was another ten names to add to the five from the bridge
and the Captain’s. There wasn’t so much as a workman’s
sledge in the hold.
I’d been onboard for close to six hours and my suit
was nearing the end of its air supply. I was going to die out here in the
middle of the belt and spend eternity with the ghosts of the crew of the
Londonderry and the Sanderson brothers. I don’t really think I was
feeling it yet; probably wouldn’t until I was sucking on the last
of my air. But I was still close to twelve hours from my communications
window. I couldn’t stand the idea that Howard and the guys would never
know what happened. I’d come so damn close too; the stinking data
was already downloaded to Randy. I could have burst it tight-beam back to
Howard during the next window. I might have had to break it into two transmissions
but God damn it to hell I could still salvage the job if I could just live
until the window opened. I pinged Randy just to make sure she was undamaged
and was pleased to get an echo back. Now, how to survive the next twelve
hours? I thought hard about what I had seen while I had been desperately
searching for some sort of transport but kept coming up empty. Standing
on the bridge, it took one of the corpses drifting in front of my face to
engage my brain. The Captain hadn’t been wearing a suit.
I kicked off and glided back toward the Captain’s cabin.
His suit was still hanging in its niche by the door and I pulled it down
to check the tanks with shaking hands. The tanks registered full. I didn’t
have a lot of choice but to trust them. I disconnected the tanks themselves
and hauled myself back to the bridge; the Captain’s corpse got to
me more than the faceless ones on the bridge.
I waited until the last possible second, milking my own supply
for all it was worth before jerking the coupling and making the switch.
The air flooded my suit, stale and bitter cold, but it was breathable. That
bought me another eight hours.
But my brain was engaged now and I looked around the room
at my new shipmates; not all of them had suffocated. The third body I checked
had died from a holed suit. There was six hours of air left in his tanks.
That would get me through to my window. I took the tanks and went to belt
down in the Captain’s chair. A body at rest will use less oxygen.
I did my best to nap a little, setting my alarm to wake me a half an hour
before the com window opened.
Instead of sleeping, I found myself trying to figure out how
in the hell I was going to tell Howard. I could feel Kurt’s medal
where it rested against my chest and I felt like crap, hearing his gruff
voice telling me to just leave it go and turn around. Getting the data back
would make up for it some; they would at least still be able to feed their
families at the end of the week.
It’s funny; I couldn’t really seem to work up
to being truly frightened. I should have been; I was about to die in a rather
ugly manner. The way the Sanderson brothers had gone out would be preferable
to this slow, inexorable slide into nothing. But thinking over my life,
I wasn’t really leaving all that much behind. My ‘Demon’
was promised to Howard and I suppose the few personal things I had, could
go to him as well. I didn’t own all that much; my books, some photographs,
my music, some clothes. There wasn’t much to parlay out. My belongings
would probably fit in a half a dozen cardboard boxes. My bank account was
a tidy little amount; nothing to write home about, but respectable. I had
to think about that for a while; maybe I should have Howard give it to Kurt.
Maybe that would make up a little for my not bringing him his medal back.
I never did sleep; it seemed a horrendous waste of the last hours of my
life. It was just as well; I had set my alarm for the check-in time, not
the time when the Captain’s air would have run out. I might have sat
there and suffocated had I fallen asleep. I must have been a little more
rattled than I thought.
It was Howard’s voice that came through the suit’s
speakers when the time came, sounding anxious and worried.
‘Duo? Are you there?’
‘Hey, Howard,’ I said softly and all the lines
I had prepared went right out of my head.
‘What’s wrong?’ He heard it in my voice
‘Listen…I have a list of names…are you recording?’
I pushed the rest of it off for the moment. I learned that from Wufei; one
thing at a time.
There was a moment’s pause, then he came back and said,
So I rattled off the list of names, starting with the Captain,
omitting the fact that he had killed himself. I only said that he had deliberately
gone down with his ship. The instant I was finished, Howard pounced like
a cat on a string.
‘Duo; what the hell is wrong?’ His voice was rising
and I thought I heard someone else in the background.
‘Listen…Howard…I kinda had an accident.’
There was the sound of a groan and suddenly it was Kurt talking
‘Tell me what happened, Duo,’ he told me in his
calm, sure voice.
‘The tether line got cut somehow…with me on the
wrong end of it.’ It wasn’t much of a joke and it sure as hell
didn’t get a laugh.
‘God…Duo…’ That from Howard.
‘Ok, kid;’ Kurt was cool as ice, sounded like
we were working on an engine together. Ok, kid; hand me that wrench. I wanted
to laugh, ‘What kind of shape is the ‘Londonderry’ in?
How’s the life support? What…’
I cut him off; he’d made a couple of false assumptions,
‘Kurt, stop it. There is no life support. The ship is holed in a dozen
places. I made it this far on borrowed tanks. I’m…running out
‘Fuck,’ he muttered.
In the background I heard Howard start yelling for men to
get a ship ready to launch, his voice fading as he moved away.
‘No!’ I shouted at them, ‘There isn’t
any damn point in sending anybody else out here to die! I only have about
four hours of air left. I’m gonna be a corpsecicle long before anybody
can get here.’
There wasn’t an immediate answer, so I bulled ahead,
‘I got the data downloaded before the…accident. I’m going
to tight beam…’
‘I don’t care about the fucking data, Duo Maxwell!’
Kurt snapped at me.
‘Damn it! I’m dying for this fucking data…’
I stopped. There was no way in hell I was going to have my last words to
this man be in anger. I took a breath and started again, ‘Kurt…I’m
sorry, man. I know this sucks but done is done. Tomorrow I’ll be gone
but you guys will still have mouths to feed and house payments to make.
Let me do this.’
There was a long silence and for a moment I thought something
had gone wrong, that I’d lost the window somehow or something had
happened to Randy.
‘Kurt?’ I finally called into that silence.
His voice when it came again was that gruff one, ‘Ok
squirt. How much air do you have left?’
‘Four hours in this tank,’ I told him.
‘Is that the last tank?’ He wanted to know and
I had to admit I wasn’t sure.
‘Well find out, damnit!’ he snapped. ‘If
I give up this window to download data, then I want another one to…to
say goodbye! The guys…will want to…’
He stopped and I was just as glad; this rush of emotion from
calm and cool Kurt was a little overwhelming. ‘All right,’ I
conceded meekly, ‘I will scrounge through the ship from end to end
and I will do my best to make it another day. Can I start the download now?’
There was the sound of a heavy sigh. ‘Promise me.’
I grinned despite myself. ‘I promise.’
‘All right…go ahead.’ His voice sounded
I sent the commands to Randy to burst the data before he had
a chance to change his mind. Then I went to rob the graveyard again. While
I was at it, I towed the corpses down the corridor to an empty cabin; it
was starting to be too hard not to look at the faces. In the end I came
up with just under thirty hours of air. I got lucky and stumbled on another
couple of unused suits to add to my supply of ‘corpse’ air.
Then there was nothing to do but sit on the bridge and try
to breathe shallowly, constantly resetting my alarm to remind me to change
tanks. I finally did doze off sometime after the download finished; I’d
been up for over twenty-four hours after all. The body can only take so
much stress before it just doesn’t care anymore.
I hit the damn gravity flux in there somewhere and woke with
a curse, clinging to the arms of the Captain’s chair until Derry and
I rode through to the other side. When things settled, I frantically pinged
Randy and felt weak in the knees when I got a response; she was my only
link to the rest of the universe.
The silence was starting to get to me and I had to stop myself
from singing more than once; used too much extra air. My suit was struggling
with waste management and the air was starting to take on a musky tang no
matter whose tank I was breathing out of. I longed for a cool, fresh drink;
the recycled water tasted brackish and warm. My stomach was complaining
rather loudly that I had missed a score of meals now and I was actually
starting to feel a little shaky from it. Extreme hunger is one of those
triggers that takes me back to my childhood on the streets of L2. I could
almost hear Solo laughing beside me as we ran through the crowds, our pockets
full of stolen ration bars.
I checked the chrono and found that there were still hours
to go but only about thirty minutes before time to change tanks again. It
didn’t seem worth trying to doze back off.
I found myself thinking about Solo and the other scrappers
and scrabblers that I had grown up with. It’s kind of funny when you
think about it really; some of my life’s earliest lessons had taught
me that there was safety in numbers. I wondered how I had come to be here
at the end of my life all alone. If I’d had a partner, someone on
the other end of that line, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Of course,
if I’d had a partner, I probably would never have taken this job.
Isn’t that a strange thing? I had sense enough to know that this was
a suicide job when it came to someone else’s life, but not enough
sense not to tackle it myself.
I suspect, sometimes, that Freud would have had a field day
with the inside of my head.
Solo would be cursing me rather resoundingly right now; I
could almost hear his voice.
‘What the hell were you thinking, you idiot? How many
times I got to tell you never go where the bastards can get you cornered!’
I’d broken that most basic of rules when I had made
the leap to the Derry without a clear path back. I’d let myself get
cornered. Now I was going to pay the price. I just had to make it to the
next window and say my goodbyes; make things easier for those few people
I was leaving behind. I would have the time to give the final instructions
for the dispersion of my meager, worldly belongings. Could hopefully make
things better with Howard then get on with the business of dying.
I changed the air tanks again and it suddenly came to me that
I had more than enough to make it to the appointed time. It really didn’t
matter how long I lasted after that. The silence was gnawing at me again,
beginning to fill with the voices of my dead. So I went ahead and sang;
let the music drive the demons away. I sang a few of the hymns that Sister
Helen had taught me, because my thoughts had been drifting through those
years. But that only served to depress me, so I switched to the street songs
that I had picked up before I had even understood the words. I was sitting
in the Captain’s chair, belted down and singing for all I was worth
when the channel went live in my ear.
‘…Duo? Do you read me…Duo?’
I blinked in total surprise. ‘Quatre?’ What in
the world? The shock of that voice after all this time was almost enough
to make me forget where I was. ‘Qat! Hey man; what are you doing there?’
I tried to imagine bright, sweet little Quatre in Howard’s radio room
surrounded by hulking, gritty Sweepers and almost laughed.
‘Duo!’ The relief in his voice was plain and it
brought me back to my plight; I was instantly embarrassed and cursed Howard
in my head. Why in the hell had the man called Quatre?
I didn’t know what to say. I had planned out all the
reassuring things I needed to say to Howard. I had settled on what to do
with my money and my things. I had practiced an apology to Kurt over the
medal that was even now weighing heavily on my chest. None of those things
fit the situation now.
‘Duo, how’s the air?’ he asked me then,
all business and I grinned. This was the Quatre from the war; calm and sure
and in charge. Took me right back to that time and place. But…he wasn’t
getting me out of this one though.
‘I’ll last out the hour,’ I told him blandly;
I really didn’t have time to sugar coat things.
‘That’s not what I asked, mister.’ His tone
was firm and I did laugh at him then. What the hell was he going to do?
Come and smack me?
‘About six more hours.’
‘This is what I need you to do…’ he began
and I sat in my empty ship and gawped at nobody.
‘Quatre…this is nuts…where’s Howard?’
I could not fathom what he thought he was doing.
‘I’m here, Duo.’ came Howard’s voice,
sounding oddly hopeful. ‘Listen to him…do as he says.’
I didn’t say anything for a long minute and I thought
I could hear the hint of a muttered conversation.
‘Guys. Listen to me. It. Is. Over.’ I was a little
surprised at the grumble of anger that rumbled through my belly.
‘No it is not,’ came a new voice, just as firm
as Quatre’s but deeper. I recognized it in an instant. Shit, what
was this, a fucking reunion?
‘We’re here, Duo,’ he told me, then said
the most ridiculous thing I had heard all day. ‘We’re coming
‘That’s insane!’ I barked at them. ‘I’ll
be dead in six hours! What in the hell do you idiots think you’re
doing? God damn it all to hell; nobody else dies because of me! Do you hear
There was a stony silence, then, very softly, Quatre said,
‘the ship launched yesterday. It’s already on it’s way.’
What had come over these people? I had known them all a long
time and had never thought that any of them were this freaking stupid.
I struggled with the words to make them stop this lunacy.
‘It’s a nightmare out here,’ I told them bluntly. ‘The
ship is in an elliptical orbit. Erratic as hell. There’s some sort
of damn gravity wash throwing crap around. I do not have the air to survive
that long. Please…please…do not do this.’
It was Quatre who spoke to me next, ‘Duo. It’s
already done. The ship is on the way…we have an idea that might get
you through until…’
I cut him off, feeling the snakes of anger and fear coiling
around each other in my gut, ‘I won’t have this. I will not,
fucking well have this. I screwed up. I did this to myself. Nobody else
is going to die because of my mistake. I am going to pull the line and end
this right here…right now.’ My hand was actually on the airline
as I spoke.
‘We’re coming after you alive or dead, damnit!’
Kurt’s voice suddenly came out of nowhere, loud and clear. I imagined
him shoving Quatre away from the transmitter. ‘You can’t stop
us! I won’t have your...body…out there…’
Someone spoke softly and he just shut up. I was shocked; he’d
been doing that to me a lot lately. I resisted the urge to call him Papa
Kurt. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. They
were bloody well serious; they were coming for me even if I died right now
while they were listening. I sat and blinked at nothing.
‘Duo,’ came Quatre’s voice again, ‘I
need you to take whatever tanks you have left and go down to engineering.’
I found myself unbuckling. ‘O…Ok,’ my voice
I went on some kind of autopilot, returning to the old days.
The war days when following Quatre’s commands had become second nature.
He guided me down to engineering and it quickly came clear
what he intended. He only had to get me started and I was able to finish
the job myself. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of this. I’m
not sure how I felt about the fact that they had thought of this.
Quatre had me tie my suit into the ships filtration unit.
It was a simple process, really, easily accomplished. Not so easily lived
with. I was tied in place now, with a veritable umbilical cord connecting
me to a system that was neither tried nor true. There was nothing around
me that I could reach and I could do nothing but float in place at the end
of my line. There was no port here in the depths of the ship; it was pitch
black when I didn’t have my flash unit on. The batteries in it were
growing weak and I had to keep it turned off to conserve them.
‘Done,’ I told them when the job was complete,
and I didn’t even know whether to hope the system was still functioning
I think I imagined a collective sigh of relief. ‘All
right then.’ Quatre told me soothingly, ‘the ship launched yesterday,
within two hours of your last transmission. You’ve already got almost
a day behind you.’
I was suddenly very weary and a little irritated that they
could ask me to continue like this. Four more full days with no food and
no water other than the vile, tainted shit my suit was producing. Shut away
in the dark…in the cold…alone with the voices. Waiting for a
rescue that was probably going to fail; then there would be more than just
my corpse to add to the growing collection.
‘Quatre…’ I sighed, ‘I’ve done
as you asked, now let me get this said…’
And I detailed my last will and testament. There wasn’t
much to dispense with but it made me feel better to not leave any loose
I instructed them to send the books off to the orphanage and
gave them the address from memory. I gave my bank account to Kurt, quoting
the account numbers and pass codes; I knew they would be recording this.
I had been planning on having Howard pack the little box of pictures off
to one of the guys; they were mostly of the war years after all. But since
Quatre and Trowa were right there, I told them to take them and do with
them as they saw fit. I gave them directions to where the box was kept aboard
There was an odd silence then and I supposed that I had made
I felt weird not really knowing who all was on the other end
of this open transmission but my time was ticking away.
‘Howard…you listen to me, man; this is not your
fault.’ I tried to pretend it was just him and me sitting here, talking
in his office, ‘I took this job with my eyes wide open. You know the
kinds of missions I take; it was only a matter of time before I hit one
that hit me back.’
But Trowa and Quatre had handed him a platter full of hope
and he wouldn’t hear any part of it. ‘We’re going to get
you out of this, kid,’ he told me, sounding like the Howard I knew
and loved, not the broken, guilt-ridden man from yesterday.
I sighed and felt that vague irritation again. I had come
to grips with this; why the hell couldn’t they?
I stopped trying to convince him, he wasn’t hearing
me anyway and I was just wasting my breath and the last of my time.
‘God.’ I muttered, ‘I can’t believe
you’re asking me…’ I cut it off; I hadn’t meant
to say that out loud.
Quatre’s voice came again and if I was expecting a little
sympathy, I wasn’t getting it here. ‘Suck it up, Maxwell. You
got yourself into this, now you’re going to do whatever it takes to
get yourself out.’ There was the sound of a couple of shocked gasps
in the background.
I did my best to throw my head back, and I laughed long and
hard, ‘Yes sir, General Winner, sir!’
‘That’s better,’ he said then and I could
hear the soft smile in his voice.
I drifted at the end of my umbilical tether and stared off
into the dark, ‘Quatre?’
‘If anybody else dies because of me I’m going
to come back and haunt you till the end of your days; you understand that…right?’
There was a dry chuckle, ‘If that happens, I’ll
make up the guest room myself.’
The little shit won another laugh but I don’t think
he heard it; the window closed and I was suddenly alone in the dark.
Damn. I hadn’t even thought to ask who in the hell they
had sent after me.
I drifted, not even aware of the movement unless I bumped
into the wall. I’m not sure what was making the difference but I was
cold. Either the heating system in my suit was failing or it just wasn’t
enough to counter being connected to the almost-dead ship. I didn’t
dare use my failing light any more despite the fact that it was pitch black
down here; I might need the last of that light at some point. The bridge
had made things a little easier, with the view port and the few little indicator
lights left alive. There was nothing down here; I couldn’t see my
hand in front of my face.
But the worst was the frozen silence. Even my own voice, when
I raised it as a shield against the dark, seemed weak and deadened.
‘Well, Derry old boy…I hope you don’t mind
me staying for a couple of days. I feel kind of bad showing up here uninvited
and all, though.’
Derry didn’t seem to mind and I decided that we might
learn to get along after all.
‘Wish you’d paid the electric bill though…’
I muttered under my breath, not wanting to offend. ‘And sorry you
didn’t get on with Randy better,’ I told him. ‘Don’t
be too hard on her for bugging out though; it is kind of a tough neighborhood.’
Derry wasn’t any better at conversation than Randy had
been. Kinda made me miss Deathscythe.
I went back to singing for a while until I finally felt sleepy
enough to doze. It was so damn cold down here; I really hate being cold.
You’re cold almost all the time on the streets, so being chilled always
reminds me of my days of scrabbling for a hidey-hole to sleep in, someplace
out of the wind and the rain.
I could almost see Solo, looking at me from under that fall
of dirty blond hair, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, ‘What
kinda mess you got yourself into this time, kid?’
‘Nothing you can get me out of, rat-boy,’ I muttered.
‘Suit yourself, baby-rat,’ and he faded away,
laughing at the old joke.
Vacuum suits are not meant to be worn for days on end. I could
feel mine starting to rub sores on the tops of my shoulders and at my elbows
and knees. You cannot squirm in a suit. You cannot rub or scratch in a suit.
You cannot ease or adjust things once you are committed to hard vacuum.
All you can do is sit and stew in your own juices.
I checked the chrono and almost groaned; time had apparently
stopped dead in there somewhere when I wasn’t looking.
I was thirsty but the suit water tasted so damn bad I had
to force myself to swallow it. It didn’t help assuage my thirst much
and only made me start worrying about throwing up. Now there has to be one
of the nastiest ways to go in the known universe; choking to death on your
own vomit in a sealed vacuum suit. I shuddered and tried to think about
I could always think about my hunger. There was certainly
something to take my mind off how thirsty I was, the possibility that my
stomach could actually wrap around my backbone and digest it.
I could hear Solo’s voice again, coming to me from quite
close; ‘Get used to it, kid. Hunger’s just one’a those
facts of life. Nothin’ to worry about until you don’t feel it
Solo always had been something of a philosopher. He’d
been tough on us kids, though he wasn’t much older than the most of
us. But he’d made us tough too; had taught us what we had to know
to survive on the streets. Called us his rat-children. Had turned us into
a gang and taught us a little something about self-respect. When the high
and mighty on the streets, those people who actually had homes to go to
at night, had called us ‘street rats’ we’d learned to
grin with unabashed pride. Yep. We’re Solo’s Street Rats and
don’t you forget it!
‘Did you know that, Derry?’ I called out into
the darkness, ‘I’m nothing but a street rat…still don’t
mind me staying the night? Not afraid I’ll steal something?’
I blinked; where in the hell had that come from after all
these years? That bitterness? I had to sigh; there were some things, I guess,
that just never went away.
Then I had to laugh; I’d been stealing from him for
the last two days. Stealing the air from his dead crew.
‘Relena would have warned you!’ I shouted. ‘Once
a rat-boy thief, always a rat-boy thief!’
I shivered in my rank, cold suit. God. I hadn’t thought
about her since the damn war. What the bloody hell was wrong with me? I
thought I heard a distant, disdainful and all too familiar sniff. Only Relena
Peacecraft could deliver so much meaning with nothing more than the delicate
exhalation of air through her nose. Her stuck up little nose. I had to chuckle
at myself; you’d think I could get over being snubbed by her majesty
after all these years. Wonder what Freud would make of that girl? Isn’t
the Princess supposed to fall for the guy who saves her, not the guy who
tries to shoot her?
God it was so cold. I had to force myself to stay relaxed
or I was going to start shivering. The cold made my burn scars ache. Why
in the hell had I let them talk me into this? Why hadn’t I just said
my goodbyes and pulled the plug like I had planned? I couldn’t make
it four more days. I already felt weak and vaguely sick, almost light-headed
I never could say no to Quatre. God only knows why. He’s
just so damn…fucking wide-eyed or something. I accused him once of
still believing in Santa Claus. He’d just smiled that damned wise
and innocent smile of his and almost had me believing too.
I was glad when he’d finally gotten through that tough
guy shell of Trowa’s. Glad they’d found each other after everything
that we had all gone through. I’d known that Quatre was in love the
first time I’d seen them in a room together. We’d talked about
it once, during the war before they’d hooked up. He’d turned
the most delightful shade of red when he realized how obvious it was. But
then he’d made me turn just as red with an observation of his own.
I hoped they stayed together. They needed each other. Everybody
should have someone they can count on, someone to be there in the dark.
‘There’s nothing in the dark to be afraid of,
little Duo,’ said Sister Helen near my right ear and I smiled.
I remembered when she’d told me that; I’d laughed
out right at her. Didn’t she know anything? The dark was where the
monsters were! She’d never understood; you would have thought living
in the neighborhood the Maxwell Church was in would have taught her a thing
or two about the streets. But she’d never understood that the monsters
in the night were the same people she brushed elbows with in the daylight.
The predators that went prowling in the safe cloak of the darkness. Street
kids weren’t safe in the night; of course we feared the dark. She’d
never understood the way we tended to clump together, the way we would sleep
under the beds more often than not. Could never seem to fathom why we ran
and hid when we got hurt, why when we cried, the tears were always silent.
She just told us stories about Angels watching over the children and the
I knew better. Solo and half the gang had died in the plague;
both the children and the weak; I didn’t believe in Angels. I believed
in death. I believed that if there truly was a God he had a very twisted
sense of humor.
‘Yeah…this sit’ation you’re in right
now is pretty damn funny,’ drawled Solo in my left ear.
‘Shut up, asshole,’ I muttered back.
‘Duo! Watch your language!’ Sister Helen admonished,
her voice sounding shocked.
‘Yeah Duo!’ jeered Solo and he and the good Sister
wandered off together to argue about my morals.
I felt the memory of a tingle on my left arm and wished I
could reach to rub my hand across the scars there. How many were there now?
Thirteen? Had Solo really been gone thirteen long years now?
I shook my head. ‘You know, Derry…if you were
any kind of host at all, you’d at least offer me something to drink.’
My throat was starting to feel like it was stuffed with cotton
batting and my lips were split in more than one place. I made myself swallow
some more brackish water.
I tried very hard to doze some more, just to make the time
pass and I think I managed it. My dreams were very strange though, and I
woke to the frantic sound of someone calling my name.
‘Solo?’ I called muzzily, ‘is that you?’
‘Duo?’ It was Quatre, his voice sounding very
upset. ‘Duo…answer me!’
‘Hey, Quatre,’ I called and knew that my voice
sounded hoarse and pathetically relieved to hear him. God. I’d made
‘Hey,’ he said back and the relief was pretty
plain in his voice too. ‘Duo…who the heck is Solo? Are you all
‘S’rry…I was dreaming.’ I muttered,
trying to get my head back on straight.
‘Listen to me, Duo.’ He was using his mission
voice again and my attention perked up despite myself. ‘Do you still
have that last air tank?’
I thought about it long and hard. ‘I brought it,’
I told him but I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. I
finally broke down and flicked on the light for a moment and found it not
far from me, drifting lazily a couple of feet off the floor. ‘Yeah…it’s
‘Get some fresh air into the suit, Ok?’ And when
he said it, it made perfect sense. I should have been doing that all along.
I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it on my own. I should have been
doling the air out in increments; refreshing what the ship was filtering
for me every…every…I couldn’t fucking do the math.
‘Quatre…’ I failed to keep the rise out
of my voice as I realized just how messed up I was. ‘How much?…I…I
‘It’s all right,’ he soothed. ‘How
much is left in the tank?’
I had to flick the light on and off again. ‘Just under
‘Two hours a day,’ he told me and it was so simple
after he said it. ‘Set your alarm for every twelve hours.’
I went ahead and hooked the tank up, feeling better within
a matter of minutes. Not great…but better. I set the chrono alarm
right then before I had a chance to forget. God…I couldn’t do
this. I just was not going to be able to do this…
‘Yes you can,’ came Quatre’s sharp reply
and I blinked stupidly for a minute. I hadn’t thought I’d said
that out loud.
‘Please…Quatre…talk to me…’
I felt myself flushing at the sound of my own pleading.
‘What’s wrong, Duo?’ he asked softly.
‘It’s…so damn cold,’ I muttered, ‘and
quiet…so quiet…just talk to me, Ok?’
So for a little bit he did; talked to me about what he was
doing with the Winner foundation, told me about one of his sisters or other
breaking into the art world with her watercolors and getting written up
in some sort of journal. Every little while he would ask, ‘You still
And I would laugh and tell him he hadn’t put me to sleep
yet. But I was clinging to the sound of his sweet voice with everything
After a while he stopped and said, ‘Now you talk to
me a little bit. How are you doing?’
I sighed, what the hell was there to say? I was freezing.
I was starving, so damn hungry I could have cried, I was so thirsty I was
starting not to notice the taste of the damn water. I wasn’t sure
the filtration system was working. It was pitch black and silent as a tomb,
and I was starting to hear voices and fucking see dead people. Ducky…I
was just ducky.
I heard a tiny sound in the background that I thought might
be Kurt, but Quatre was talking again, not waiting for me to reply.
‘You’re half way there, Duo. I know it’s
hard; you just have to hang on a little longer.’ His voice sounded
I grunted. ‘I’m fine,’ I murmured and again,
because I couldn’t remember if I’d said it out loud, ‘I’m
Someone spoke to him then and there was the sound of a heavy
sigh, ‘Duo…we’re almost out of time.’
‘Quatre…please…please...just let me go.’
I couldn’t believe I’d found the nerve to ask it; was shocked
at the desperation in my own voice. I was just so damn tired.
‘Duo…’ Quatre said, voice as soft as a sigh
and I could tell he didn’t know what to say to me.
Kurt’s voice cut across his, harsh and almost angry,
‘Don’t you fucking dare do this to us!’ he snapped. ‘I’ve
never known Duo Maxwell to be a quitter!’
I chuckled for him but got no answer back. The window was
gone. I almost cried.
Solo wandered through about then, nibbling at a ration bar,
just to remind me that, ‘Boys don’t cry, rat-boy. Remember?’
‘Fuck you king rat,’ I told him and he meandered
off laughing uproariously.
It was so quiet I could hear the sound of my own heart beating
slowly in my ears.
‘You know, Derry;’ I yelled, ‘as a host
you leave a great deal to be desired!’
He seemed relatively unconcerned about that fact.
The quiet was far worse after the brief, bright sound of Quatre’s
‘Why don’t you just fucking let me die!’
I shouted and did break down a little bit then and wept the silent tears
that street rats and orphans learned to shed.
‘Who the fuck now?’ I growled, blinking the tears
furiously out of my eyes. I almost laughed out loud at myself. I was sitting
here in a darkness as complete as the inside of my pocket worrying about
figments of my imagination seeing me cry.
‘Just hang on a little longer,’ the voice said
and I couldn’t clearly identify it. It sounded familiar but the tone
‘Solo?’ I called. ‘Are you back rat-boy?
Stop fucking with my head.’
His voice came from close beside me. ‘Oh…I don’t
need to fuck with your head…you’re already pretty well fucked.’
I snorted at the joke and had to grin, ‘Yeah…I
suppose you’re right; this is about as fucked up as you can get.’
‘Hey!’ he complained, acting overly wounded, ‘At
least you’re still alive! I personally think that being dead is pretty
‘I suppose when you put it that way.’ I thought
about it, looking at him, ‘Hey; did you know you can see figments
of your imagination in the dark?’
‘No shit?’ He was delighted with the idea and
proceeded to twirl his way around the room.
‘Too bad you don’t just bloody well glow in the
dark,’ I muttered and he came to a stop in front of me.
‘You Ok, kid?’ he asked softly.
‘No, asshole; I am not bloody well Ok.’ I told
‘Why don’t you just pull that line and let’s
I stared up at him. It’s funny; he didn’t look
the way he had when he’d died; he looked like I imagined he would
if he’d lived. I looked at him for a long time and he waited patiently
for me to answer.
‘I…I want to Solo…I really do. But I…I
‘Why not?’ he asked, his face looking openly curious.
‘I just can’t. I promised Quatre…Howard’s
blaming himself as it is…I can’t do that to them.’ I met
his gaze and tried to make him understand.
He just shrugged and straightened away from me. ‘S’ok
kid. I can wait.’ He walked toward the door. ‘Y’know…if
you’d had a partner…’ He smirked then and was gone.
‘And just who in the hell’s fault is it that I
don’t have a partner, you shit!’ I screamed after him, ‘You’re
the one who fucking died on me!’
His laughter drifted back to me.
‘Come back here, rat-boy!’ I shouted.
‘You shouldn’t talk to your friend like that,
Duo,’ Sister Helen admonished gently.
‘Damn,’ I muttered, ‘I wish you guys would
stop sneaking up on me like that.’
‘Duo! Language!’ she snapped, sounding really
‘Don’t tell me to watch my language, damn it;
you are just a figment of my overly fertile imagination. You are not Sister
Helen any more than that was Solo.’ I tried to glare at her and failed
‘I know, dear,’ she said calmly.
I grunted, ‘Well; as long as we have that clear.’
And just tried not to sound so damned petulant.
‘Go to sleep, my little Duo,’ she sighed and I
could almost feel her fingers brushing through my hair. So I did; what the
hell else was there to do? I woke when my alarm sounded and had a panicked
minute of not being able to remember where I was.
‘What the hell?’ I muttered and groped around
until I smacked my gloved hand into the wall. It sent me drifting to the
end of my tether and it all came back to me. ‘Shit.’
I found the tank and hooked myself back up, flooding my suit
with new air. Note, please, that I didn’t say fresh air. I don’t
know that you can call three year old air fresh. I was actually kind of
surprised that I was still alive at all.
The alarm sounding meant it had been twelve more hours. I
tried to remember what day I was on and wasn’t sure, the third? Was
it the fourth yet? I didn’t think I was going to make it either way.
I needed to stay awake for the next hour, to disconnect the
tank again and reset the alarm. I was kind of afraid of another visit from
my imaginary friends; it was really starting to freak me out how real they
were beginning to seem.
So I took to singing again, softly at first, a little afraid
of attracting attention to myself. I sang a couple of the street songs Solo
had taught us and I vaguely remembered a lullaby that Sister Helen had sung
a lot. I love music, all kinds of music. The other pilots always found it
irritating somehow; I never understood why. Everybody likes some kind of
music or other, don’t they? I always kept the hard stuff for when
I was in Deathscythe, usually alone in battle. But they had never cared
for anything I played. I eventually quit listening to it around other people.
I used to sing a lot more too…I tried to remember when I had stopped
and really couldn’t. It just seemed to be something that had died
along with the rest of my soul.
Ok…where the hell had that come from?
I was getting introspective again and I knew what that meant.
‘So now your soul is dead?’ came Father Maxwell’s
gentle, amused voice.
‘Yep.’ I grinned up at him. ‘Dead soul.
‘Now Duo, don’t you think you’re being a
little…melodramatic?’ He smiled down at me from the towering
height I remembered from my childhood.
‘Melodramatic? Me?’ I chuckled. ‘I suppose
I am…but come on Father; you’re dead. Solo is dead. Sister Helen
is dead. If I ever had parents at all…they’re dead. Can’t
I be a little melodramatic if I want to be?’
He laughed then, ‘well; I suppose you can be at that.’
‘So…you’re in the crowd who knows, is there
a heaven? Do I at least get to know what it’s like before I take the
express elevator straight to hell?’
He clucked his tongue at me. ‘Now, don’t be silly;
that would be telling.’ He winked at me.
‘Well what the hell good is it to spend the last hours
of my life with a bunch of ghosts if they can’t tell me anything?’
‘I thought we were figments?’ he said wryly and
I had to chuckle again.
‘Figments…ghosts…whatever,’ I sighed
and wished I could lay my head down someplace. ‘So…you here
to take my last confession or something?’
‘Do you think you need to confess?’ he asked and
I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not.
‘Well, let’s see…never done a confession
before. You’re supposed to tell everything you’ve done wrong
since your last confession, right? Does that mean I have to tell everything
I’ve ever done wrong?’
He considered it and then grinned, ‘Yep.’
‘Shit,’ I muttered and he laughed at me.
‘I think you can skip the one about the language…I
think I already know about that one.’
‘Let’s see…I don’t have to get real
specific, do I? We could be here for a real long time.’ I glanced
up at him again and watched his face suffuse with a wide grin.
‘I think we’re going to be here for a long time,
anyway. But…no, you don’t have to get specific.’
‘Good,’ I muttered, ‘Ok, stealing. Lot’s
of stealing. And the language, like you said.’ I grimaced, thinking
about it. ‘Uhmmm…taking the Lord’s name in vain; that’s
not good…right?’ He only glared down at me. ‘That whole
murder thing; lots and lots of that. How bad are…impure thoughts about
I looked up at him through my sweaty, oily bangs and I felt
myself flushing, ‘Never mind, I don’t want to know,’ I
He only towered over me and looked down accusingly.
I smirked, ‘Goin’ straight to hell, huh?’
He never did answer me.
‘As a figment of my imagination, you’re not one
of the better ones. Solo’s a better conversationalist even if he is
He faded away and it was time to shut off the air and reset
the alarm. I slept some more after that.
I woke again to someone anxiously calling my name.
‘I’m awake,’ I moaned, forcing the sound
out through a throat that was starting to feel tight.
‘Good morning, sunshine,’ Kurt drawled at me.
‘What?’ I croaked, ‘not still mad at me?’
‘I’m not mad at you, squirt.’ he said and
his voice sounded warm. ‘You just frustrate the hell out of me.’
‘How are you doing, Duo?’ came Trowa’s soft
I blinked for a minute. ‘You guys still there?’
‘Where else would we be?’ He chuckled and I had
to think about that.
My alarm beeped then, making me jump.
‘What the hell is that?’ I heard Howard yelp.
Must have surprised them too.
‘Time to add a little air to my…suit.’ I
had almost said ‘coffin’.
I killed the alarm. plugged up the tank and took a couple
of deep breaths. Remembering at the last minute to reset the timer.
My fingers were clumsy with the chill. ‘Damn,’
I muttered when it took me several tries to get the thing set.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Quatre, his voice
‘Cold,’ I told him before I had a chance to think
about it. ‘My fingers are getting numb.’ I wished I hadn’t
said it; my hands have been sensitive to temperature changes ever since
I burned them. Burned them saving Quatre’s life. It upsets him a great
‘You should be moving around while you’re disconnected
from the ship,’ he commanded, using that voice again.
I only laughed. ‘Quatre…I…don’t have
the strength left.’
‘Duo…’ he said and it sounded anguished.
‘I know it’s in your nature to hold on to hope
for all it’s worth,’ I told him, knowing my voice was harsh;
forgetting for a minute that the whole damn crew was probably listening
to us. ‘And I’ve always loved that about you but…damn
it, Qat; you have to face the hard facts here. I’m not going to make
‘You are so, Duo Maxwell!’ he snapped at me, his
voice sounding pained. ‘You’re too damn close to give up now!
It’s only another day and a half…Heero and Wufei…’
‘What?’ I practically yelled, that name snapping
me into sharp attention. ‘Damn you, Quatre! What kind of game are
you playing at? There’s no way in hell those two would ever come out
here for me! I drive them both insane…why are you lying to me? Why
are you making me suffer like this if there isn’t…’ I
was losing the vestiges of my voice on the crest of my anger. What in the
hell was he doing? How many other lies had he told me? Heero and Wufei?
Not in this stinking lifetime! Neither one of them could stand to be in
the same room with me; no way in the seven, bloody hells would they be coming
after me. I couldn’t process this. What was Quatre doing? What did
he have to gain from telling me shit like this? Why drag this out and make
me sit here in agony if there wasn’t any rescue coming?
‘No…Duo…’ he sounded panicked and
I imagined that he was envisioning me ripping the airlines out, ‘you…you
didn’t let me finish…’
I waited, giving him a chance to explain and there was a strange
sound over the line. It was suddenly very quiet, like the link had been
‘Q…Qat?’ I whispered and felt a thrill of
fear when he didn’t answer me. The connection was gone. It wasn’t
time! What had happened? Then there was another click and I again heard
the faint sounds that told me of people moving about. I had to bite back
a moan of relief.
‘Settle down, Duo.’ It was Trowa’s voice
that came to me calm and steady. ‘Quatre was going to tell you that…Heero
and Wufei were reporting from the launch site. They’re in communication
with the outbound ship.’
‘Oh…’ I said and felt like an idiot. ‘I…I’m
‘It…it’s all right,’ he told me softly,
voice sounding tense.
I wasn’t able to talk much after yelling at him, so
they talked to me for the little bit that we had left. When I knew that
time was winding down, I had to try again and it was starting to feel like
some sort of ritual.
‘Quatre?’ I ventured, cutting into whatever he
had been saying.
There was the sound of a heavy sigh and I knew that he had
guessed I would ask this again, ‘What, Duo?’
‘Please…give me permission to pull the plug?’
‘No,’ he said and his voice was firm. He’d
known I would ask and had been ready this time. ‘We are not giving
up and I will not allow you to give up either. You’ve come too far
to quit this close to the finish line.’
The transmission went dead and I was all alone in the dark
Well; almost all alone.
‘Did I notice s’mbody gettin’ all aquiver
at the sound of a certain name?’ Solo was grinning like an idiot and
drifting around me, trying to make me turn my head to watch him.
‘Shut up, Solo,’ I muttered and just concentrated
on getting the line switched back to the filtration system. He was surprisingly
quiet while I finished. Or, maybe not so surprising since it was my own
over-worked brain that was producing him. I guess multi-tasking was a thing
of the past.
‘What’s the matter, rat-boy?’ He grinned
in that malicious way he could have sometimes.
‘Please leave me alone,’ I asked him, my voice
coming gravely and rough.
‘Nah. This is too much fun. Who is it makes your little
heart go all pitta-pat?’
‘None of your business, you damned sadist!’ I
‘Heeeero!’ he sang to me and I thought I would
break down and weep.
‘Leave go…Solo. For the love of God…please
leave it go.’ I looked up at him imploringly. ‘We were closer
than brothers once, you and I…don’t do this to me.’
He stopped and looked down at me, his face getting serious.
‘I’m sorry, kid. I didn’t know he meant that much to you.’
‘He did…does…always will. But…’
I just shook my head and hoped he’d drop it.
But he squatted down to look into my faceplate, ‘Damn;
rat-boy,’ he murmured sympathetically, ‘you got it bad.’
I snorted. ‘Since the day I laid eyes on him,’
I confirmed in a small voice.
‘And I take it he don’t know you exist?’
He cocked his head off to the side in that way I remembered.
‘Worse…’ I whispered. ‘He thinks I’m
‘Sorry kid,’ he chuckled at me. ‘Wouldn’ta
teased you if you’d ever said somethin’.’
‘I don’t like to talk about it, Ok?’ I told
him and had to stop for a minute while I tried to clear my throat. ‘It
just…hurts, you know?’
‘Yeah.’ He stood up then, ‘I know.’
And he was gone.
Sister Helen came back to whisper softly to me again until
I dreamed that someone was reading the ‘Jungle Book’
to me. I thought it might have been Sister Helen; she’s the only one
I can ever remember reading to me but the voice didn’t sound right.
It was gone when I woke to the sound of the alarm again.
I almost couldn’t feel my hands and feet at all and
I was nearly in frustrated tears by the time I got the line switched over.
I started thinking about not being able to get switched back to the ships
systems and shuddered. I decided to use the last of the air now and only
make the switch one more time. I didn’t think I’d manage it
Quatre leaned over me to check my connection. ‘Good
thinking,’ he said, reaching to pat my shoulder in a gesture that
never quite connected.
‘What the hell?’ I mumbled. ‘You’re
not one of my ghosts.’
He laughed at me. ‘Why do all your figments have to
be dead people?’
He had a point, I guess. God, I hoped I wasn’t in for
a fresh parade of people; I’d just gotten used to having Solo and
Sister Helen around.
‘Just a little longer, Duo,’ he whispered close
to my ear and I imagined I could almost feel the brush of his breath.
‘I’m so tired Quatre…it hurts…everything
‘No!’ he snapped and his eyes flashed angry and
dark for a moment.
I sighed in defeat and he faded away. I dozed for a bit and
woke in a panic; I’d forgotten to set the alarm to switch from the
tank to the filters. I had to flick the light on and check the air tank.
I was on the last minutes. I’d come damn close to sleeping through
my own death.
‘Shit,’ I muttered and began fumbling with the
‘Careless, Maxwell,’ I heard and blinked up to
see Wufei standing over me with that condescending expression on his face.
‘Oh bugger off,’ I snarled and forgot him while
I got my lines changed. I shoved the empty tank in his direction, once I
had it disconnected, causing me to drift backward into the wall. He vanished
with a wry chuckle.
‘Great,’ I grumbled. ‘Now the live ones
are going to come for their pound of flesh. As if the damn ghosts weren’t
I was so cold; I wanted to curl up somewhere. That’s
just not a possibility in a vacuum suit. I tried to force myself to sip
at the water tube but I honestly didn’t think the filters were working
at all anymore. It tasted like drinking pure urine. I gagged and just said
the hell with it.
‘And just how do you know what urine tastes like?’
Trowa asked me with a chuckle from where he leaned in the doorway.
‘I know because I’ve been drinking it for the
past three days, that’s how.’
He snorted and moved toward me, walking just as though we
weren’t in zero gravity.
‘Trowa…’ I scrabbled for words; I wasn’t
sure what I wanted to ask him; why won’t Quatre let me give up? What
is he lying to me about? What the hell is going on? Who is on that ship
coming after me?
But he didn’t wait for me to articulate my questions,
just squatted down in front of me. ‘You’ve always been the survivor,
Duo. You just have to hang on a little longer. Don’t give up. Less
than twelve hours more, Ok?’
I just looked at him, because I thought he might not leave
me until after I answered him. But his eyes wouldn’t let me just sit
‘Trowa…God…I don’t know if I can.
I just want it to be over…I just don’t care any more.’
He looked at me sadly and faded away.
‘You know;’ I called after him, ‘the ghosts
are better fucking conversationalists!’
‘Duo?’ And it was the voice I had been dreading.
‘Heero?’ I whispered, caught between joy and pain.
My heart, despite my every effort, soared with just the sound of him. But
I didn’t want to hear the curses; couldn’t stand him calling
me a ‘damned baka’. Then I chuckled; this wasn’t Heero
any more than the rest of them were real. ‘Or should I call you Figment?’
He snorted softly. ‘Heero will do.’
‘Come to tell me how bad I screwed up?’ I wanted
to grin at him but he seemed to be playing a different game than the others;
I couldn’t find him.
‘No,’ he said gently. ‘Just wanted to tell
you it’s going to be all right.’
I blinked into the dark. Well…this was unexpected.
‘What?’ I said lamely.
I could hear the amusement in his voice. ‘I…came…to
tell you that you’re doing ok. I came to tell you to hang on.’
I didn’t know what to say and in the silence I heard
the faint sound of Wufei’s voice hissing, ‘Yuy; be careful!’
That didn’t make any sense. Great. Now my figments were
losing their minds as well.
Heero just seemed to ignore him; I wondered again why he wouldn’t
come out where I could see him. ‘You’re tough, Duo. You always
have been. You’re going to come through this. I know you will.’
I grinned despite myself. ‘I was wrong,’ I told
him. ‘You’re not a figment…you’re a damn fantasy!’
For a little while I couldn’t seem to stop laughing
but Heero stayed and talked to me until I calmed a little. I managed to
keep it from turning into hysteria. I was kind of proud of that, because
I was right there on the edge of it.
‘Are you hooked back to the ship?’ he asked when
I had quieted.
‘Yeah…’ I confirmed and thought that was
odd; Quatre and Trowa had just looked.
‘Can you sleep some more?’ he said softly.
‘I…think so,’ I replied and closed my eyes.
‘You’re a nice figment of my imagination.’
‘Baka,’ he murmured and his voice sounded downright
Sister Helen didn’t even have to come and whisper me
I woke to Quatre’s voice calling me again and it was
hard to drag myself back to consciousness.
‘Duo!’ He sounded near frantic and I wondered
how long he’d been calling me.
‘Oh God, Trowa…he can’t…’, His
voice got muffled then and I imagined him with his face buried in Trowa’s
I opened my mouth to speak and ended up coughing. It wasn’t
what I had intended to say but it let them know I was still among the living.
‘He’s alive!’ Kurt shouted and I had to
grin from the sheer exuberance in his voice.
‘Barely,’ I managed to croak out.
‘Duo, it’s time to switch back to the air tank;
have you done that yet?’
I frowned; we’d talked about this already.
‘Used it, ‘member?’ I muttered.
‘What?’ he asked, incredulous and I felt kind
of bad. Maybe I hadn’t made the right decision after all if Quatre
was this upset about it.
‘Hands are numb…didn’t think I could switch
twice.’ My frown deepened as I tried to think it through, ‘you
said…good idea when ya looked.’
There was a long silence then and I was just as glad; talking
‘What…Duo…’ His voice sounded…strange.
‘Never mind,’ Trowa told me calmly and I let the
frown fade away. ‘It’s all right. It was probably for the best.’
That eased my mind a little and I closed my eyes again; it
didn’t matter, there was nothing to see in the dark anyway.
‘How are you doing, Duo?’ Trowa asked me gently.
‘Fine,’ I mumbled. ‘Not even hungry any
Nobody said anything and I realized that I’d done something
to upset them, so I tried to make it better. ‘It’s even a little
Quatre made a funny noise. I didn’t think it was a good
noise and I sighed heavily. Maybe I should just shut up; I couldn’t
figure out why they kept getting so distressed.
‘Gonna sleep now,’ I told them and was really
sorry that I couldn’t seem to stay awake to talk more.
‘No, Duo,’ Quatre told me, his voice tinged with
concern. ‘Try to stay awake…they’re almost there. Just
a little longer.’
But I just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
The last thing I remembered hearing was Kurt yelling at me
but even that wasn’t enough to bring me back.
After that, it got very strange. Light woke me; light and
Heero and Wufei; only this time I could see Heero but not
‘Duo…Duo…can you hear me?’ Heero’s
voice was patient and calm and I opened my eyes to find him right on top
of me, working with my air connections.
‘Hello again, Figment,’ I muttered, blinking my
eyes open, then had to shut them again. I’d been so long in the dark;
the light from his flash was piercingly bright.
‘Hello, Duo,’ Figment Heero said softly.
‘Was that…?’ Wufei’s disembodied voice
‘Yes,’ Heero confirmed, ‘he’s alive.’
‘Thank God,’ Wufei sighed and I almost blinked
my eyes open in surprise.
‘Damn,’ I coughed, ‘mus’ really be
on death’s door for you not to be yellin’.’
Suddenly, fresh air was rushing into my suit and I couldn’t
help but gasp for it, sucking in what I could.
‘Steady,’ Heero was telling me, ‘don’t
pant…slow and steady breaths.’
For a brief moment, everything came into sharp focus and I
was awake and alert and dazedly aware that these were not figments of my
‘What the hell?’ I muttered, trying to reach up
and finding that even in zero-g, my muscles wouldn’t obey me.
Heero chuckled softly, ‘Not hell,’ he told me
firmly. ‘Not today.’
But there was more wrong with me than could be fixed with
just a tank of clean air, and I found myself slipping away again.
My next near coherent memory was suddenly finding myself with
water running over me. I came awake in a panic and tried to fight my way
clear but there were strong arms around me, holding me up, because gravity
existed again. Not full Earth gravity, shipboard showers won’t work
in zero-g, but much more than I had been drifting in for the last week.
I could barely move.
‘You’re all right,’ a soothing voice told
me and I was vaguely aware after a moment that Wufei was holding me and
Heero was washing me. Shit.
‘Don’t fight us,’ Heero told me gently and
I gave it up and just sank into Wufei’s arms, drifting on the edges
of consciousness. Wufei’s chest felt fever hot against my skin. There
were places all over my body that stung under the spray of the water.
‘He’s nothing but skin and bones,’ Wufei
said softly to Heero who grunted.
‘Careful how you hold him;’ he admonished, ‘He’s
lost a lot of bone density…’
I felt like a toy doll in their hands. That was my last articulate
thought before I faded away again.
I roused next to find myself sandwiched between two warm bodies
and for the first time I was aware that I was aboard my own ship. When I
opened my eyes, I could see ‘Demon’s’ black ceiling with
the constellations painted across it.
I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. I was vaguely
aware of a stinging, pulling sensation on my right arm and I tried to shift
my left hand to rub at it. Fingers closed over mine.
‘Leave it alone,’ Heero said quietly from where
he was curled at my back. ‘It’s your IV.’
The back that my cheek was resting against rumbled under my
ear. ‘He’s awake?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Heero responded and it slowly
seeped down into my brain just what position I was in. I flushed and struggled
to pull away.
Hands were on me, holding me down. ‘Hush,’ Heero
said. ‘You were near hypothermic; we need to get you warmed back up.’
I became aware that every blanket I owned was spread across
us and both Heero and Wufei were slightly damp with sweat. I, on the other
hand, still felt like I could break out in shivers.
I tried to speak again but he only hushed me, ‘Shhhh…go
back to sleep. Just rest.’
I let my eyes drift shut.
‘Yuy; we need to get some food in him.’
‘Fluids are more important right now,’ Heero said,
his voice lowering as he thought I had gone back to sleep. ‘I’m
afraid solid food will make him sick. He doesn’t have the strength
Wufei grumbled. ‘Wish to God we’d known he didn’t
stock the galley with anything but damn military issue rations.’
Heero just grunted. They grew quiet and I drifted away.
My next awakening found Wufei gone but Heero still in my bed,
still wrapped around me. I didn’t feel like I was going to tremble
myself apart from the cold anymore. There was, in fact, a light feel of
sweat on my own body and a few of the blankets had been thrown back. I just
lay for a bit and listened to Heero’s soft breathing, staring at my
star-spattered wall and trying to think.
This was real. These weren’t just the voices in my head.
These weren’t figments of my imagination. These weren’t ghosts.
Quatre hadn’t been lying to me.
What the flaming hell? Of all the people in the known universe,
these two were the last ones I would ever have expected to be on that rescue
ship. We had gone through a war together; fought side by side and neither
of them had rarely had a word to spare me that wasn’t laced with annoyance.
I had driven them to raging distraction. They had found me to be ‘unprofessional’
and a liability to our cover with my big mouth and what they termed my ‘antics’.
I had never been able to get across to either one of them that they were
the ones who drew the attention. They had never learned the art of blending
in. I may have been loud and somewhat obnoxious; but that’s what people
expected out of guys our age back then. Nobody gave me a second look. They
were the ones who got stared at, with their sullen glares and refusal to
go with the flow of whatever was going on. Always having to show people
Maybe I’d pushed a little too hard because of it; trying
to make them see how people accepted me, how they didn’t give good
ol’ ‘Duo the idiot’ a second thought. Things had just
never gotten any better between us. And it sure as hell didn’t help
that somewhere in there, I had fallen head over heels, break your heart
in love with Heero Yuy. I loved him with every shard of my black and broken
soul. I always had. I think I always would.
Waking up in my own bed, with his warm, muscular chest pressed
against my back, his arm thrown carelessly across my hip was every God damn
wet dream I had ever had rolled into a reality that threatened to send me
screaming back into the dark.
This I could not do. This was so fucking unfair I damn near
broke down and cried where I lay. He was offering me this comfort because
of what I’d been through, not because of any damn feelings he had
for me. I couldn’t even fathom that he had bloody well come out here
after me. I could not, could fucking not, allow myself to start thinking
that there was more to it than that.
The arm on my hip slid on around me and pulled me close. ‘You’re
all right now,’ a sleepy voice murmured. ‘You’re safe
now…it’s all over.’
I realized that he had reacted to my body tensing and tried
to relax but I was just too near the ragged edge of…something….and
found myself desperate to get out of his arms before I did something extremely
He came fully awake then and his hands were gentle but firm
and he resisted my efforts to get away.
‘Duo,’ he called to me, ‘it’s all
right; it’s just me…it’s Heero. You’re Ok now. Everything’s
I didn’t have the strength to stinking raise my arms,
much less struggle out of his grasp. I felt like I’d been turned wrong
side out, scraped empty, then turned back. Hollow. Newborn kittens had more
muscle tone than I did. It was all I could do to turn my head and try to
look at him. He raised himself up on one elbow to bring his face where I
could see him.
‘You really awake this time?’ he asked, his lips
playing with a tiny smile.
I should not have looked. It was like getting kicked in the
gut…really hard. He is…still…drop-dead gorgeous. The typical
tall, dark and handsome - only without the tall. Thick dark hair, eyes so
damn blue you could lose your mind staring into them. God made nothing else
in the universe that particular shade of blue; that color is Heero’s
and Heero’s alone. I think I might have gained an inch on him in the
last couple of years but it was a little hard to tell lying down. But he’d
gotten…lean. He was all angles and planes and I finally had to close
my eyes to keep them from roving all over him. God; I’d missed him.
Had thought I was getting over him.
‘Duo?’ he questioned gently, voice sounding concerned.
‘Are you all right?’
I shivered. I hadn’t been getting over shit. I’d
only buried the heartache under all the work, hidden behind the job so that
I didn’t see what I didn’t know how to handle.
‘I…’ I croaked, throat still feeling like
it was full of cotton balls, ‘I’m ok.’
He chuckled at me. ‘Oh…you’re just fine.’
The sound surprised me into opening my eyes; he was leaning
over me, smiling warmly down. Maybe I was wrong…maybe this was still
Figment-Heero. This couldn’t be real.
‘Did…did I dream Wufei was here?’ I finally
managed to croak out.
‘No,’ he told me, making no move what so ever
to pull away from me, lying with his hand resting on my hip as though he
did it all the time. ‘He’s bringing Howard’s ship; we’re
I brightened, forgetting for a moment that he was making my
pulse race and my nerves run fire. ‘You saved Randy?’
He smiled a little wider. ‘Yes, we retrieved…Randy.
Wufei is piloting it back.’
I sighed and had to let my head fall back, even in the low
gravity, my neck muscles were trembling with fatigue just that fast. ‘Good.
She was Howard’s primary ship; I felt really bad when I lost her.’
His hand left my hip and came to touch my forehead in that
classic ‘checking temperature’ gesture. ‘Well,’
he told me, ‘Howard was a little more concerned with losing you than
the damn ship.’
I flushed darkly and didn’t say anything, just stared
at the wall.
‘Duo,’ he said softly then, ‘do you think
you can try to drink something? We need to get some food in you.’
I could see my own arm lying sprawled across the sheets and
it looked like it belonged to somebody else; stick thin and frail looking.
I sighed heavily, ‘I should try,’ I told him.
‘But we’ll need to go into the head. I’ll throw up. I
always throw up the first time I eat after I haven’t for a couple
There was a strange silence and I suddenly realized how that
must have sounded, like I make a habit of it. I didn’t know what to
say to make it better and he didn’t say anything either, just threw
the rest of the blankets back and climbed out of the bed. He was wearing
nothing but a pair of the soft ‘ships pants’ that you typically
wore under your vacuum suit. That was when I realized I wasn’t wearing
anything at all. I blushed what was probably a very amusing shade of red
and thanked God that my body was too traumatized and stressed to react to
his physical presence the way it usually did.
He grinned down at me, ‘You lost so much weight; nothing
we found would stay on you.’
I did my best to glare up at him but it lacks something when
you can barely move. ‘There’s some shorts in the bottom drawer
that have a draw-string waist,’ I grumbled and he went to find them
for me. But then he magnified the indignity when he had to help me put them
on. I couldn’t believe how much weight I had lost. I could almost
count my own ribs.
I made to slide my hand to the edge of the bed to pull myself
out but he snorted a strange little laugh at me, unhooked the IV bag from
its hook and simply picked me up in his arms. I didn’t have the strength
to even hold my head up and had to let it rest on his shoulder.
‘Heero…’ I tried to complain but he only
chuckled at me; there was obviously nothing else to be done. I couldn’t
have gotten myself out of bed if my life had depended on it.
‘Stop trying to be so damn tough about it, Duo,’
he scolded, his voice calm and soothing. I wanted to ask him just what in
the hell he had done with the real Heero Yuy.
He took me into the head and sat me down before retrieving
some water. This was the one part of the ship where I had spent some money
strictly for luxuries’ sake. I lived aboard this vessel both docked
and in space, so the head functioned as a normal ‘bathroom’
with a normal tub, shower and toilet, and also in low-gravity with the sealed
units. Heero perched me on the side of the tub and lifted the lid on the
toilet before handing me the water. I looked at him expectantly, waiting
for him to leave me alone, before realizing he had no such plans.
I opened my mouth to object but he cut me off before I could
even speak, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not going anywhere.’
I sighed, decided the hell with it and took a couple of big
gulps of water.
He frowned and reached for the bulb. ‘What are you doing?’
he blurted, ‘Not so fast…’
I raised a hand to stop him and shook my head. ‘Better
than the dry heaves.’
Then it was too late and I was spewing the water right back
up into the waiting toilet, only happy that we weren’t in zero-g where
the crap has to be vacuumed out of your damn throat. As soon as I finished,
I swallowed some more and it came back up as well. On the third try I managed
to keep down a couple of sips. I used the towel that Heero handed me to
wipe my face and gave him a weak nod.
‘A…all done,’ I managed and passed out cold.
When I came around again it was to find myself back in my
bunk, nestled against Heero’s chest, the IV line snaking upward across
my line of sight to the hook over the bed. I had equipped the ship with
a lot of little things like that; I was usually in a position where I had
to be able to care for myself.
‘…for a little while. We tried to get a little
water down him but he threw it all back up,’ Heero was whispering
‘Damn,’ came Wufei’s equally quiet reply
over the speaker above the bed, ‘You have to get him to eat.’
‘I know,’ Heero told him, voice sounding worried.
‘I wish we had something milder to feed him; those damned rations
aren’t exactly the easiest things to…’
‘It’s what I eat,’ I informed them and it
came out a little flat. ‘My system doesn’t have a problem with
‘Duo?’ Wufei’s voice rose to a normal level
and he sounded…relieved. ‘Dogs and starving coyotes have a problem
with those damn things.’
I had to chuckle. Heero’s hand came to feel my face
again, then slid to pick up my wrist and I realized he was taking my pulse.
‘You guys are just spoiled on those huge Preventor’s
salaries,’ I told Wufei, trying to ignore the feel of Heero’s
hands ghosting over me.
Wufei snorted softly. ‘Maxwell; Hamburger Helper is
a step up from that crap.’
Heero suddenly interrupted the banter. ‘We’ll
call you later. I’m going to try feeding him.’
Wufei chuckled at us and signed off.
I sighed again, wishing I had the strength to just push away
and go take care of things myself. This was getting rather embarrassing.
He shifted out of the bed and helped me ease over on my back,
sitting beside me on the edge of the bunk. I could feel the places where
the vacuum suit had worn sores pulling and stinging wherever they came in
contact with the sheet. The troubled look on his face fairly well took away
the flippant comment I had been working on. His hand came to touch my cheek,
almost seeming to move there without his knowledge.
‘God…’ he sighed, his eyes tracing over
me. ‘You look so…fragile.’
The blood rushed to my cheeks and I couldn’t meet his
I hated feeling this out of control and I didn’t know
what to say to him.
‘Do you think you could try to eat something?’
he asked me softly and it was so hard when he spoke in that tone of voice
not to let my imagination paint in more than was there.
‘I should be fine now,’ I informed him, looking
over his shoulder and trying not to meet those piercing blue eyes. ‘If
I’m careful and take it slow… I usually don’t throw up
He frowned at me outright and finally got up the nerve to
ask me, ‘What do you mean? How often…?’
I stopped him, ‘Not in years. But as a kid…growing
up on the streets.’ I left it at that.
He cocked his head to the side. ‘With Solo?’ he
asked quietly and it was my turn to frown; I didn’t ever remember
telling any of the guys about Solo.
‘Yeah…’ I confirmed, ‘with Solo and
the other kids.’
I waited for him to question further but he let it go.
I decided to change the subject. ‘If you’re intent
on feeding me,’ I said, knowing that it was something that had to
be done despite that fact that I was not the least bit hungry, ‘here’s
what you do.’ And I told him how to make Spacer’s stew. I laughed
outright at the disgusted look on his face, stopping when I felt my lip
‘That sounds…vile,’ he informed me and I
grinned at him.
‘It’s the closest thing to broth we’re going
to come up with.’
So he went to heat the water and shave a ration bar into it,
coming back fairly quickly with a mug of the stuff. I was surprised at how
much I had missed his presence in the five minutes or so he was gone. I
realized when I thought about it, that he had been keeping himself in almost
constant contact. If not touching, then at least within sight.
He sat the mug down on the desk and came to help me prop up
with the pillows and wadded up blankets. I tried to push myself up but he
didn’t give me the chance, simply leaned down and bodily lifted me.
‘Heero…’ I grumbled but he only smiled down
‘Hush,’ he said in mock warning. ‘You need
to save your strength.’
‘I’d save it, if I had it,’ I muttered and
won a laugh from him.
He retrieved the mug and I tried to reach for it, but my hands
were shaking too bad.
‘Let me,’ he said and I had no choice but to allow
him to feed me.
I managed only a few bites and he frowned, obviously upset.
‘Heero,’ I sighed, ‘it’s been over
a week. It’s going to be slow or I’m going to throw it all right
He capitulated and started to set the mug aside but then a
strange look came over his face. Cautiously, he raised a spoon-full and
‘Duo…that is the most disgusting thing I have
ever tasted,’ he told me with a wry grin and I couldn’t help
but grin back; though more mindful of my cracked lips.
‘You must not get around much, then,’ I laughed.
‘There’s a whole lot worse out there.’
He shivered dramatically, then did set the mug aside.
‘Don’t try to save it,’ I told him. ‘It
dries as hard as cement after a couple of hours.’
He cocked his head and looked down at me with an unreadable
expression. ‘Can I get you anything else?’
‘I’m fine,’ I murmured.
A tiny frown flitted across his face but he didn’t argue,
just reached over my head and made some adjustment to the IV. ‘I wish
you’d try some more water.’
I nodded and he pulled out a squeeze bulb from somewhere and
I was able to raise my hand to take it but not able to hold it up. His hand
wrapped around mine and held it steady while I sipped.
I caught him looking at my hand. He noticed that I noticed
and he dropped his eyes.
‘You…’ he said after a second, ‘had
the scars worked on.’
My burn scars. They had made Quatre so upset that he almost
cried every time he had seen them. I had taken to wearing gloves quite a
bit toward the end of the war just to keep him from having to look.
I snorted softly, ‘I got tired of Quatre looking at
me like he’d done it to me himself. It made him feel better.’
I glanced up, a little embarrassed. ‘He…paid for the surgery.’
He looked at me oddly. ‘You didn’t want it done?’
I shrugged, looking down at the hand still lying on the bed.
I flexed the fingers while I tried to think how to explain it.
‘It never bothered me what it looked like…it was
the nerve damage…and that can’t be repaired.’
His face took on that unreadable expression again. ‘The
surgery had to have been…painful…why…?’
I grinned up at him and stopped trying to explain. ‘I
never could say no to Quatre.’
He offered me another sip of water and I took it not because
I wanted it but because he wanted me to drink.
I was suddenly exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open.
He was right there, shifting the pillows and pulling the blankets out, sliding
me back down in the bed and preparing to crawl in with me.
‘You don’t have to stay with me,’ I told
him with a tongue that was already growing unwieldy with drowsiness.
‘Yes I do,’ he told me simply and I found myself
back in the shelter of his arms, shocked at how quickly I had grown accustomed
‘I’m fine,’ I mumbled thickly.
‘Of course you are,’ he soothed, ‘but you
just spent a week in what amounts to a sensory deprivation chamber. You
Ah. It was starting to make a little more sense now. In a
way I was relieved that the world was back on its axis. At the same time,
I felt my heart shatter all over again. Damn. I had let that little bastard
‘hope’ get a finger-hold in the back of my head despite myself.
I’d known better; I’d fought against it…but I was just
too tired; too worn down. Regardless of my best efforts, I had started to
harbor the hope that he was treating me like this, was being so attentive
and so concerned, because he cared.
I fell asleep wrapped in the warmth of his arms feeling as
lonely and hurt as I have in a lot of years.
I woke up in the dark. The air was stale and cold again. I
couldn’t feel my fingers. Shit.
‘Hey rat-boy.’ Solo said, leaning over me. ‘Thought
ya weren’t gonna wake up that time.’
‘Solo?’ I said stupidly, not sure which was the
reality and which was the dream. ‘I thought I was safe…’
I tried to look around but couldn’t move. ‘Heero came for me…’
Solo laughed derisively. ‘Heero came for ya? Come on
kid, tell me which is more likely.’
I blinked at him and thought about it. ‘You’re
right.’ Heero come all the way out to the damn asteroid belt to save
my ass? Not bloody likely. ‘Solo…help me with this damn airline.
I’ve had enough.’
‘Now you’re talkin’, kid!’ he crowed,
then straightened and looked off into the dark. ‘But ya waited too
‘What do you mean?’ I looked where he was staring
but couldn’t see anything.
He edged away from me. ‘Sorry kid,’ he murmured
low, just before he faded, ‘the Derry crew wants their air back.’
I looked again and saw the suited up corpses coming down the
corridor, arms out-stretched and murmuring unintelligibly, led by their
Captain. The one with no suit and only half a face.
‘Solo!’ I screamed, ‘come back here you
son of a bitch! Get me loose from here!’
He didn’t answer me or appear again. I started cussing
a blue streak, hoping that Sister Helen might show up to lecture me about
‘Duo! Wake up! Come on, Duo…it’s all right…I’ve
got you…I’m here.’
I came awake panting, sweating and struggling with Heero’s
arms holding me steady.
He eased his grip when he saw my eyes open. ‘It’s
Ok now. You’re safe…it’s all over.’
I couldn’t speak for a long minute and shivered when
the sweat began to dry on my skin. There was a mind-bending moment while
I sorted out which was the reality and I couldn’t do anything but
lay and blink up at him.
He frowned and his hand came to hold me by the chin, forcing
me to look him in the eye. ‘This is real. I am real. It is all over.
You are safe.’
It was all I could do not to throw my arms around his neck
and weep like a frightened child. I closed my eyes to escape his gaze and
finally managed a sharp nod.
‘Sorry,’ I murmured, trying to force myself to
His fingers lingered on my face, not holding so tight. ‘Are
you all right?’ he sighed not far from my ear.
‘Fine,’ I managed, ‘I’m fine.’
There was a long silence and I could feel his eyes on me.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’ he asked softly
and I just shook my head.
‘Was just a stupid nightmare,’ I told him and
reached to try to pull the blanket up. He took it from my trembling fingers
and tucked it gently around my shoulders.
His arm came back under the blanket and hooked my waist, pulling
me close again. ‘I’m here if you decide you might want to…talk.’
I didn’t know what to say. I was too caught up with
not letting the feel of his arms make me believe in something that wasn’t
true. I finally managed a weak, ‘Thank you.’
I lay awake for a long time after that, afraid to go back
to sleep. Afraid that this was the dream and the other was the reality.
It would sure as hell explain the surreal matter of Heero Yuy sharing my
bed. I lay very still though and tried hard to pretend to sleep. He could
break me, so easily, on a rack made of my own shattered dreams and never
‘I know you’re awake,’ he said softly, after
a while. ‘I can feel your heart pounding.’
I sighed but didn’t open my eyes. ‘Not sleepy,’
His hand left my waist and gently stroked up and down my arm,
carefully avoiding the raw sore on my shoulder. ‘Duo…tell me
what you want?’ he said softly.
To turn over and wrap myself all over you, I longed to tell
him…but couldn’t, so instead I said, ‘It…it’s
just so quiet. I usually have my music playing. Could…?’
‘Of course,’ he smiled, sounding almost relieved
that I had given him something to do for me.
I thought I would have to give him instructions to the files
but he sat up and reached over my head to the ships controls. ‘Which
set do you want?’
‘The…the folder labelled ‘Night’ will
be…ok,’ I murmured and he keyed it up, adjusting the volume,
then slid back down to lie beside me.
The familiar nighttime sounds washed through the cabin and
I felt myself relaxing despite everything.
‘What is that instrument, anyway?’ Heero asked
after he was settled.
‘Hammered dulcimer,’ I murmured.
He grunted. ‘It’s nice…I was surprised.
Not the kind of thing I remembered.’
I didn’t answer; just lay there with a sudden overwhelming
sense of horror. It had not hit me before now; but Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei
had spent a solid week out-bound to the belt aboard my ‘Demon’.
Living in the heart of my most intimate place. This ship was…oh hell,
this ship was me.
I thought about all the oddities aboard. Thought about all
the customizations I had made. The pilot’s seats were from the same
designs that the Gundam cockpits had been made from. I wondered what they
had made of that? I had painted the ‘Demon’ with my own hands,
every brush stroke. I had searched until I had found a thick blanket, black
as the night and had stitched the silver stars across it myself. It matched
the walls, floor and ceiling of my cabin. The galley with its blue-sky ceiling
and walls, clouds dusted across it in fanciful shapes of dragons and castles
and paladin’s horses. The cockpit was edged all around the ceiling
with copies of every photograph I had been able to get my hands on of the
five of us and our Gundams. Some of them had been lifted from the newsreels.
Some of them from secure Oz files. There was a picture up there of me in
irons; face caked with dried blood. The cockpit itself was painted that
very color; I’d spent hours matching it. I only hoped they hadn’t
had reason to go down into the cargo bay where the floor to ceiling mural
of the five Gundams stood, with the image of the burned out remains of the
Maxwell church on the wall opposite it.
I’d cleared a lot of shit out of my head in the years
I’d been working on my ship. My shattered heart and broken soul were
poured out in glossy brush strokes on every square inch of bulkhead.
And they’d been living here for an entire week. Free
to poke and prod. Free to go through my music, look through my files. I
positively felt exposed and …violated. Shit.
‘Damn it, Duo,’ Heero said; so close his breath
stirred the hair against my temple, ‘why can’t you let me help
‘I’m all right,’ I muttered automatically,
suppressing a shiver at the intimate feeling.
He sighed. ‘No,’ he said rather firmly, ‘you
It irritated me a little. ‘What the hell do you know
His hand had stopped stroking over my arm and had settled
against my chest. I realized that he was using my own heartbeat to gauge
my reaction to what he was saying and right now it was pounding in double-time.
I tried to push his hand away but didn’t really have the strength.
‘I know,’ he was telling me and I very suddenly
just wanted to get away from him. I felt like I was on the edge of some
ragged breaking point.
‘I have to use the bathroom,’ I blurted and dared
him to deny it.
He started to; frowned down at me and opened his mouth to
argue the point, but then only sighed and got up.
I tried to struggle up before he had a chance to lift me but
it was a pretty ridiculous attempt that only left me dizzy. It garnered
me a fierce frown though.
‘Stop it,’ he commanded.
‘You can’t keep carrying me everywhere,’
He took the IV bag down, plopped it on my stomach and slipped
his arms under me, lifting me easily in the low gravity. ‘You can
walk when you get a little strength back.’
‘How the hell am I going to get my strength back if
you won’t let me do anything but lie here?’ I pointed out, pleased
to take the conversation down this path and away from where it had been
‘By resting and getting some food in your system,’
Then we were in the bathroom and there was an awkward moment
while, I swear to God, he considered taking my shorts down and ‘helping’
‘Do not even think about it,’ I growled and he
blinked at me in some small amount of surprise.
‘Set me down and get out,’ I commanded, doing
my best to sound firm and authoritative.
‘Duo…’ He hesitated. ‘The last time
I brought you in here you…passed out.’
I felt myself flush. ‘Heero…’ I warned and
he finally gave in with a sigh.
‘I’ll be right outside.’ He frowned at me.
‘If I don’t hear something every couple of minutes…I’m
coming back in.’
I only glared at him. He went. There was an undeniable lifting
of some…pressure to be ‘all right’ as soon as the door
slid shut behind him and I let myself slump forward for a moment; just sitting
there on the damn toilet.
There are almost no mirrors aboard the ‘Demon’;
I’m not overly fond of them. The only one, in fact, is there in the
head. I spared a glance in that direction and had to bite back a shocked
gasp when I met the eyes of the skeletal wreck sitting there staring back
at me. Damn. No wonder the guys were treating me like I was made out of
spun glass…I looked like I was made out of spun glass. I tore my gaze
away and bent to the task of working my shorts down without falling over.
‘Duo?’ I heard before I was half done.
‘Damn it!’ I snapped, ‘I’m ok!’
He subsided and I started a count in my head. After that,
I called, ‘ok’ every forty-five seconds.
I really did have to go but this would be the first time since
they’d gotten me back. It took a couple of minutes and some concentration
and when it finally started to flow, I had to stuff my hand in my mouth
to keep from crying out.
Damn, but it burned! When I was finally done, I blinked the
water out of my eyes and glanced down into the toilet. The urine was tinged
pink. I sighed, either a bladder or a kidney infection. I struggled and
got the shorts pulled back up, spared another glance at the haggard man
in the mirror and gave up the tough act as I reeled where I sat.
He was in the room almost before the last syllable was out
of my mouth. I nearly fell into his arms.
‘It’s all right;’ he soothed, ‘I’ve
got you. I’m here.’
My gut twisted; God…he sounded so tender…I wanted
to believe so badly…
He gently lifted me back up and I was so wasted, all I could
do was loll in his arms. He took me straight back to the bed and settled
me down, rehanging the IV bag from its hook.
‘I need you to get something, if you don’t mind?’
I murmured, having trouble keeping myself focused.
‘Anything,’ he told me, carefully tucking me back
into the bunk.
I blinked up at him for a moment, again left with that strange
feeling that he just wasn’t bloody well real.
‘I have some sort of infection,’ I told him and
was taken by surprise by the fearful look that washed across his face. ‘There’s
some antibiotics in the med-kit…’
‘Where?’ he interrupted me and when I gave him
directions, he fairly ran off after them.
I lay while he was gone and stared up at the ceiling, tracing
the tiny, hand-painted constellations with my eyes. Why was he acting like
this? Could he really harbor some feeling for me? I wanted to believe that
so badly…too damn badly. I knew better. Why in the hell did I keep
letting this hope build inside? I had thought I would not survive the death
of hope the first time. Had thought that when the war ended with my never
managing to get much more from him than a cold glare, that I would go off
somewhere and just curl up and die. Why was I letting myself resurrect that
same damn hope? I didn’t think I could take the total destruction
of my heart a second time.
I dug deep under the old scars and dredged up the sound of
his voice the way I remembered it; ‘Go away, Duo.’ - ‘Shut
up, Maxwell.’ – ‘Damned baka.’
That was the Heero Yuy I remembered.
So who in the hell was this?
He came back with the whole damn med-kit, wordlessly injecting
a dose of the stronger, liquid antibiotics into the IV line, then brought
me water to take a couple of the tablets as well.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you had this?’ he
admonished and when I looked, he was holding a tube of antibacterial cream.
‘What for?’ I muttered somewhat groggily.
He sighed, sounding a little exasperated. ‘Duo; you
are covered with suit burns. Or didn’t you notice?’
He was pulling the blanket back as he spoke and began to gently
rub the cream into the large sore on my shoulder.
I hadn’t been expecting it; was still feeling woozy
from the trip to the head and my breath hissed sharply.
His fingers stilled instantly and he met my eyes. ‘Gomen,’
he said softly.
‘Who the hell are you?’ I blurted and felt my
face flame. Had that just come out of my mouth? Shit.
He stared at me a minute and I think for a frozen heartbeat
he thought I had lost my mind. Then he looked faintly embarrassed.
‘It’s just me,’ he said softly, his fingers
going back to their task with feather-light strokes.
In for a penny, in for a pound I suddenly decided. ‘I…I
don’t think I know you.’ I scowled and his fingers moved to
the sore on my elbow.
He smiled almost impishly. ‘Then allow me in introduce
myself; my name is Heero Yuy.’
I gaped up at him and for a second I thought he would stick
his hand out for me to shake.
‘I’m not playing, Heero,’ I told him and
my voice was on the rise. The drowsiness that had been stalking me was all
His smile faded and he looked down at me as he worked, eyes
looking shadowed and a little pained.
‘Why are you here?’ I asked, amazed at my own
He looked away and there was a tiny shrug as his fingers shifted
to the sore on my other arm. ‘Someone once told me…never leave
a man down,’ he said very quietly.
I tried to pull my arm away from him but it was a pointless
There was the ghost of one of those old, irritated expressions
on his face as he forced me to hold still.
‘Why can’t you let me help you?’ he said
suddenly and I don’t think he had meant to say it any more than I
had meant to blurt out what I had.
‘I just don’t understand what you…’
I stopped. I wasn’t sure what I had meant to say; what you’re
doing here? What you mean? What you want from me?
His hands just wouldn’t stop working over me. I was
a little taken aback that he wasn’t even looking for the sores; he
already knew where every damn one of them was. I just couldn’t stand
it any more and I dredged up some last remnant of strength somewhere and
pushed away from him. I managed to get myself across the bed and braced
in a near sitting position against the wall.
‘Duo!’ he yelped and my imagination painted fear
for me into his voice. ‘You’re going to hurt yourself!’
‘Stop it,’ I tried to growl but it came out a
He was frowning at me, his hands fidgeting with the stupid
tube of cream. ‘Let me help you,’ he said and he’d regained
some of that calm.
‘I’m fine,’ I ground out even as I was realizing
that a few more minutes was going to see me pitching to one side or the
other and I’d better decide which.
‘You are very far from fine,’ he said and it sounded
sad. ‘I know what you need; why can’t you let me help you?’
‘What makes you think you know what I need?’ I
snarled, my anger helping to keep me upright.
‘Damn it, Duo,’ he sighed, his hand lifting as
though he might reach for me but then falling back into his lap, ‘I’ve
I wanted that hand to reach for me. I wanted it so bad I could
have screamed when it didn’t. What the hell was wrong with me? Did
I fucking like sticking my heart in the fire? Was I insane? I couldn’t
process what he was telling me, been there?
‘What…?’ I managed stupidly.
‘When…I…When Wing was destroyed,’
he explained patiently and I flinched with the memory.
How could I have forgotten? I hadn’t, of course, just
buried that memory as deep as the rest of them.
‘I wasn’t adrift near as long as you were trapped,’
he was telling me, voice gentle and soothing, ‘but I know how I felt…afterward.
I know what I needed.’
The sudden resurgence of those memories, of that other time,
was almost enough to break through my tenuous grasp on the last of my control.
It did wash away the last of my anger, leaving me coldly confused again.
‘I’m fine,’ popped out, my mouth on autopilot.
‘You need to let go, Duo,’ he said softly. ‘You
were there for me. Let me be here for you.’
I was very near to losing it all and couldn’t believe
he’d just said that. ‘There for you?’ I cried, my voice
sounding harsh and distant in my own ears. ‘I was a fucking half a
world away trying to drink myself into obliv…!’ I snapped my
mouth and my eyes shut at the same time. Too late to stop the confession.
He ignored it and went calmly on. ‘In my head,’
he said softly. ‘It was your voice I heard. Teasing me, calling me
back. It was your voice that got me through.’
I couldn’t answer him, just sat braced against the star-speckled
wall and shook.
‘Let me be here for you,’ he told me again, voice
soft as a sigh. ‘You need someone to hold you…to anchor you.’
There was a moment’s silence, ‘A partner.’
‘I can’t,’ I said and it was near to being
a sob. ‘I can’t,’ I said again and felt myself falling.
‘I can’t…I can’t…’
His hands did come to touch me then, catching me and easing
me down, untangling the IV line and pulling me close again.
‘You can,’ was the last thing I heard before sinking
back into the darkness.
I woke alone and didn’t know whether to be relieved
or terrified. I shifted and found that there was a warm spot next to me.
A tiny shiver ran up my spine; I hadn’t dreamed him. He’d been
here and he wasn’t far away.
I thought about the previous…night’s? Day’s?
Conversation. Hell, I didn’t even know what day it was. Didn’t
know how long I’d been off the ‘Londonderry’.
A partner. He’d said that; I remembered it quite clearly.
What had he meant? Someone to hold me. What was he offering me? Could I
truly be mistaking what I saw on his face when he looked at me? It bothered
him to see me in pain. He worried about my falling. He knew where all my
hurts were. Could he…was it possible that the concern I saw in his
eyes was more than just my damn imagination?
‘Don’t be such a damn idiot, rat-boy.’ I
heard Solo say, ‘Ya don’t get no second chances more’n
I reached up, peeled the tape off my arm and pulled the IV
out. I wasn’t really even thinking about what I was doing; I just
wanted to find Heero. Maybe just for the reassurance that I hadn’t
It was a difficult climb out of that bed but I managed it
and went slowly out into the corridor, clinging drunkenly to the zero-g
handgrips the whole way. Once out of my cabin, I could hear his voice coming
from the direction of the cockpit.
‘…sleeping. He’s still very…weak,’
he was saying and his voice sounded drained.
‘Are you all right?’ came Quatre’s voice,
in full mother hen mode.
‘Just a little tired,’ Heero replied. ‘It’s
been…a long couple of days.’
‘Are you sure he’s all right, Heero?’ Quatre
said then, voice worried. ‘I mean…he was out there for a long
He was asking about my mental state. I grinned to myself as
I hauled my ass down the corridor and thanked God the ‘Demon’
wasn’t any bigger than it was. I was shaking so bad I don’t
think I could have made another ten feet. I listened for Heero’s answer
and was surprised how long it took.
‘I…I…don’t know,’ I heard just
as I came to the cabin door. Heero was sitting in my pilot’s seat,
his knees drawn up to his chest, his hands tangled in his hair.
I blinked at the picture he painted.
I must have made some sound, some shifting of my grip or shuffling
of my feet, because he unwound from that seat like a spring snapping and
was across the cockpit in a heartbeat.
‘Duo! What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
he reproached, but the concern in his eyes took the sting away.
‘Duo?’ I heard Quatre call, sounding a little
‘Hey Qat,’ I said as Heero caught me around the
waist and took me to sit in the co-pilot’s chair. A place that hadn’t
seen a lot of use over the years.
There was an eruption over the commlink when I spoke and for
a second I thought something had happened to my transmitter. Then I realized
it was cheering. I blinked up at Heero and he grinned down at me. Damn.
The whole Sweeper crew must have been crammed into Howard’s
‘H…hi guys,’ was all I managed. The sound
of their collective, enthusiastic, so damn familiar voices washed away the
last of whatever I had been clinging to. It felt like something inside my
chest just freaking gave way. The tears started to flow and I couldn’t
I turned to Heero and found his arms open and waiting. I threw
myself into them with the last of my strength and just gave in to it.
‘That’s it,’ Heero whispered in my ear,
‘let it go…Just let it go. I’ve got you… I’m
here. I…I’ll always be here.’
‘Heero? What’s going on?’ Quatre’s
voice came, full of worry. ‘Are you guys all right?’
‘We’re fine,’ Heero said over my head, bending
to ghost a kiss against my temple. ‘Everything is going to be all
A sob threatened to tear it’s way through my silent
weeping and I began to struggle with it, terrified they might hear me. It
was bad enough that Heero was seeing this.
He caught me up in his arms and said rather tersely in the
direction of the radio, ‘I’m sorry Quatre. Duo came up here
on his own; he’s exhausted himself. We have to go. We’ll talk
to you tomorrow.’
‘O…Ok, Heero,’ came the confused reply.
He took me out of there, back to the star field comfort of
my cabin where he laid us down together in my bunk.
‘Stop fighting it…let it out,’ he crooned,
his fingers stroking over my hair. ‘Let go of the fear…let go
of the hurt. Let me take it.’
It was impossible to stop anyway. I’m a child of the
streets, the dirty, mean streets. You learn to hide your pain and all your
tears had damned well better be silent ones. Any sound of weakness will
bring the predators down on you in a heartbeat. I don’t cry. I certainly
I did both in his arms, in my bunk, in my ship, in the middle
of nowhere. I wept bitter tears of pain and sorrow that I had held tight
in my heart for so long it felt like lancing an infected wound.
For his part, he held me, stroking gentle fingers over my
hair and face and whispered soft things to me. Made promises I couldn’t
half believe. Promises that I pinned my heart on before I could quite stop
I cried myself into utter collapse and fell asleep with my
head pillowed on his chest, listening to the soft rumble of his voice, feeling
the steady beat of his heart. What had I done? What in God’s name
had I let happen?
He was still there this time, when I woke. He hadn’t
stayed in bed the whole time, because my IV was back and the blankets had
been straightened and smoothed. But he was still there. Still running his
fingers over my hair and whispering quietly. My music was playing softly
in the background.
I lay still on his chest for a bit, letting myself have the
moment…just in case it was the last.
‘Don’t offer this to me unless you mean it,’
I told him, wishing my voice were steadier.
His fingers stilled and came to rest on my waist. He didn’t
say anything for the longest moment, then very softly, ‘I do mean
it. God…like I’ve never meant anything before.’
I repressed a shiver and closed my eyes, ‘You can’t
stand me,’ I said flatly. ‘You spent a war pushing me away…’
The arm around me tightened and I felt his heart quicken under
me. There was another of those silences.
‘I pushed because you frightened me,’ he said
at length, his voice sounding far away. ‘You made me want things…things
that were forbidden. I had to keep you at a distance.’
I didn’t speak, didn’t ask the questions that
were storming through my mind but let him say what he needed to say.
‘I always thought…that there would be time to
figure things out…after it was all over. If we…lived.’
We both lay still and thought about that one. I’m not
sure about him, but I had never figured to make it through to the other
side. Had honestly not been able to imagine an end to a war that had been
going on for most of my memory. I still sometimes woke in the night and
couldn’t make myself believe it was truly over.
‘But after the war…you just took off.’ His
voice softened even further. ‘I thought there was no hope. Thought
that by then you must have hated me.’
‘Never,’ I blurted, unable to stop myself.
‘I kept track of you,’ he whispered, as though
revealing a deep secret, ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about you...’
As I had kept track of him despite myself. I had tried so
damn hard to forget. To throw myself into the job until there wasn’t
a spare moment to waste pining after something I couldn’t have. But
I’d always, somehow, known where he was and what he was doing.
‘When I got the call from Quatre…’ His voice
quavered and he stopped speaking for a moment. ‘I thought…I
thought I would lose my mind.’
I dared to reach for the hand that rested on my waist. His
fingers came to meet mine; taking my hand in his and gently arranging us
so that I didn’t have to hold my arm up.
I sighed. Did I dare believe in this? This was the dream I
had cherished in my heart until I had watched it turn to ashes in my hands.
I tried to dredge up all the old hurts, brushed my thoughts across the scars
in my head. But I found I couldn’t truly work up any anger or resentment
over them. We’d been in a war; we’d all done things that we
had regretted afterward. Could you count the things that were said and done
during those kinds of times? When each hour might be your last…sometimes
your head just wasn’t screwed on right.
Hell…I didn’t think my head was screwed on right
to this day. The war had fucked me six ways to Sunday. Like I said, Freud
and his field day.
I tried to raise my eyes to look at him but couldn’t
keep my head up for more than a couple of seconds. He rolled me over and
laid me flat on the bed so that he could look down at me.
‘I’m…afraid to believe,’ I whispered
and watched hurt flash across his face. The confession twisted like a knife
in my gut, the root of most of the pain in my life.
‘I…I want you to be able to believe in me,’
he said, his face as earnest and open as I’ve ever seen it. So different
from the cold hard mask I remembered. Was I seeing the real Heero for the
first time? Had this been there all along?
I slid my hand from his and reached to touch his cheek. My
fingers trembled and shook. I didn’t have the strength for this…this
emotional wrestling match. I was exhausted and I hadn’t been awake
more than fifteen minutes. I felt myself wanting to flee into the darkness
again; wanting to retreat into the safe blankness of sleep. I didn’t
know what to do, I didn’t know what to say; I closed my eyes.
‘Don’t run away,’ he whispered, his breath
warm against my cheek and suddenly, I felt him moving closer. His lips brushed
mine; I gasped in surprise and froze. He gently did it again, just the barest
contact. The most tender of touches, cautious of the still healing places.
I whimpered. I didn’t mean to, had not felt it happening and was surprised
when the sound escaped me. I wasn’t even sure if I was asking him
to stop or to do it again. It was electric; my lips tingled when he drew
I opened my eyes and my vision swam, ‘I…I don’t
know that I have the strength…’
‘You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met,’
he told me, gazing down at me intently. ‘Please…let me care
for you…let me be here for you. I have so many things to make up for…so
many wrongs to make right.’
I had beaten this dream to death and locked its broken body
in a secret box, throwing away the key. The questions skittered around in
my overloaded brain, could I? Did I want to? Was I strong enough? Was this
real? Could it work?
I wasn’t sure I could handle letting the dream out of
the box. What if things didn’t work out? I didn’t think I could
bear watching it die again. I think it would shatter me beyond repair.
I thought about that and suddenly realized that I had never
really killed the dream; it was still alive inside that box…had always
been there; twisted and bloodied…but patiently waiting. I thought
about going back to my life the way it had been these past few years and
found that prospect every bit as frightening as believing in the impossible.
I met his hungry, searching gaze.
‘I…I want to try,’ I told him, voice and
He smiled and it was like watching the sun coming out. ‘We’ll
do more than try, my love.’ He sighed and let his fingers come to
stroke over my face, feather-soft; touching as though he couldn’t
believe in my reality. The road ahead of us looked long and steep and bumpy…but
it wasn’t so frightening with the promise of Heero there at my side
at long last.
On to Chapter Four:Abrasians
Back to Chapter Two:
Fiction : GW :