Death Takes A Mission
(Part 6 of the Road Trip Arc)
Heero was in the hanger, working on his Gundam and the others
were all out of the house when it finally happened. I got an assignment.
Damn. The last week had been such a paradise after the week before, that
I had all but forgotten that I had returned myself to the active duty list.
And worse, I had never quite gotten around to telling Heero that little
piece of information. He was going to be severely pissed. He was going to
kill me. He was not going to let me go. He was going to take the mission
All this flashed through my mind as I scanned the mission
detail report. A simple infiltration and extraction. I wouldn’t even
need Deathscythe. I had a ticket waiting for me at the shuttle port to take
me a thousand miles from here. There would be a packet of ids and credentials
waiting for me at the Post Office drop site. I shouldn’t be gone two
or three days.
Suddenly, it was very important to me to do this. I couldn’t
let Heero protect me forever. I was losing myself in this blissful world
of peace and tranquility. How the hell long had it been since I’d
handled a mission? Three months? I was supposed to be a soldier; I was supposed
to be helping win this damn war.
Thank whatever there was to be thanked, that I had checked
my mail before going down to the gym; it was still early. With a little
luck, I would be long gone before anyone realized anything was up.
I packed my duffle, stowing a change of clothes and a set
of my black ‘working’ clothes. In went my laptop, with all the
pertinent information downloaded on it, and whatever ‘tools’
I thought I might need.
Then I sat down at the desk and tried to figure out what to
say to who. Gods; they were going to be pissed off at me. Heero was going
to go into hyper Mama-Yuy mode. The note, I decided, should not be to him,
there was only one person in the house who might half understand my doing
‘Wufei, I got a job this morning. I’m sorry I
didn’t tell you guys, but I returned myself to active duty. I meant
to tell you, but somehow it never came up. Please don’t worry, it’s
not a big deal; just a little bit of sneak-work, my specialty, remember?
Please, don’t be mad, but I have to ask you to keep
an eye on Heero. He’s going to be really, really upset. I know he
is, and I’m sorry, but I have to do this. I think you understand.
It should only take me a couple of days, three at the outside.
I want to thank you for putting up with my shit. I was glad
you were there more than once. Take that kind of care of Heero for me?
I folded the note and wrote Wufei’s name on it and went
and put it in the middle of his bed. Then I went to Heero’s room and
tried to figure out what to say to him. How could I leave him a note and
say what was in my heart? I was half afraid he would be so mad at me that
he wouldn’t get over it. Running off like this…I had to leave
something. Then I saw his laptop sitting on his desk and went and opened
and booted it up. I could leave him the sound of my voice. Maybe that would
make it a little easier. Once it booted, I started recording,
‘Heero…I’m so sorry. I…I meant to
tell you, but the time was never right. I…I returned myself to active
duty the night after the fight at the mall. I…God, love, I’m
so sorry…I have to do this. I got an assignment this morning. I knew
you’d try to stop me. But, please try to understand…if I let
someone else go in my place…and something went wrong…I can’t…I
couldn’t handle that. Ok? Please don’t be mad. It’s an
easy mission, I swear. I’ll be careful. Shouldn’t take two or
three days. Heero…I love you. With all my heart and soul. I’m
coming back, love. I promise…I’m coming back.’
God, I almost didn’t save it. I did everything but beg
him not to stop loving me. But I didn’t have time, I had to get out
of here or I’d never make it, so I hit the save and put the file in
the middle of his desktop where he couldn’t miss it.
Then I got my gear out of my room and booked. Wufei had the
maroon car, and Quatre and Trowa had the gray, so I had to get the jeep
out of the garage. I sweat bullets until I was clear of the driveway, but
Heero never heard me, and I didn’t pass anyone else on the access
road to the house, and I carefully took an alternate route to town.
First stop was my pick-up point where I collected the information
packet that contained my fake id, shuttle tickets, and a hefty little chunk
of cash. I ditched the jeep six blocks from a car rental place where I picked
up a vehicle that I drove to the shuttle-port. There was a little bit of
time before my shuttle left and there was always the possibility that the
guys would figure out I was missing before I anticipated they would, and
try to follow me. The more twists I put in my trail, the better. Once the
shuttle lifted off, there wasn’t going to be a lot they could do,
but I was fairly vulnerable until I got to that point. I turned the rental
in at the shuttle-port and got a strange look from the clerk when she checked
me in. I guess people don’t generally rent cars for a ten-mile drive.
I had over an hour, so I went into the gift shop and picked
up a hideous, bright yellow t-shirt with the local college logo on it, a
matching ball cap and a pair of sunglasses. Then went into the restroom,
where I changed into the new shirt; definitely not my normal choice of color,
coiled my braid and stuffed it under the cap and slipped the shades on.
Not anything that would pass a close inspection, of course, but I hoped
I might fool someone running through a crowded shuttle-port frantically
looking for little ol’ Duo, until it was too late.
I have to admit, when the shuttle boarded without the cavalry
thundering into the terminal, I felt a little stupid, but what the hell?
Didn’t hurt anything, right?
The shuttle wasn’t crowded, and I was able to sit and
read over my mission instructions in relative peace.
I was after information. In the person of one Makoto Ito.
He was, apparently, a bloody genius who was developing a new refining process
for gundanium ore. He was currently in the employ of Oz, but wanted to defect
to our side. Objective number one was the data. Objective number two was
the good professor. Objective number three, if the first two proved impossible,
was the elimination of same professor. The information was that important.
Get it. If you can’t get it, keep the enemy from getting it.
There was a picture of Mr. Ito taken at a family gathering,
smiling, with a little girl perched on his knee. Had to be a granddaughter,
the man looked freaking ancient. I studied his face until I knew I could
pick him out of a crowd, and then turned my attention to the blue prints
of the installation I would probably be hip deep in by this time tomorrow.
There were a number of possible entries, but fewer exits. Especially if
I were towing a sixty year old man. So far, he wasn’t under any suspicion,
but obviously well guarded due to his importance. That would help some,
if they still trusted him.
By the time the shuttle landed, I had been over everything
once, and was beginning to formulate a plan. I wanted to see the building
though, without drawing attention to myself. I stopped off in the shuttle-port
cyber café, ordered a sandwich and jacked my laptop into the net.
I called up a map of the city, located my building, and found a hotel on
the opposite side, ensuring a taxi ride from here to there would go right
by what I wanted to see. I flipped to the hotel web site and made a reservation
for the night. Then I returned to the city map and studied the area surrounding
the hotel while I ate my sandwich.
Then I jacked out and called a cab.
I asked stupid tourist questions from the time I got in the
cab, so there was nothing unusual in my conversation when we passed the
‘Galitron Corporation’ building. The building was massive; had
it’s own water tower, for crying out loud. It was well landscaped,
but all new growth, no tall trees or substantial, Duo-hiding shrubbery.
The cabby informed me they had their own generator in the basement and the
whole area was fenced and guarded. His cousin had a friend whose brother
worked there. Claimed it was practically a self-sufficient town in the center
of the city. This might take a little longer than I had projected.
The cab let me off at the hotel, and I tipped the man, though
not enough to make me stick in his memory.
I went into the hotel lobby, still wearing that Gods awful
yellow shirt, and walked up to the registration desk. There was a pretty
young girl working, and she smiled coyly at me. I almost laughed out loud;
Honey if you only knew!
I babbled to her about amateur photography and wanting to
take pictures of the city sky line, and she, in an attempt to make points,
gave me a room with a view of the city and, coincidentally, Galitron.
I swung through the hotel gift shop and picked up shampoo
and a few other things I had neglected to pack, and then headed up to my
room. It was a nice room, two beds, they all seemed to have two beds anymore,
didn’t anybody travel alone? A big, comfortable chair and a nice sized,
round, conference table. I dumped my gear on the spare bed and the mission
pack on the table, and checked the room over end to end out of ancient habit.
Checked the bathroom and the closets, and under the beds, and anyplace else
that an enemy might be lurking. Then I kicked back in the big comfy chair
and had to grin. This was bliss. This was solitude. I could spend an hour
in the shower washing my hair if I wanted, I could walk around naked afterward,
I could watch cartoons, I could order pizza.
I absolutely basked in it. If I could have taken ‘solitude’
and thrown it on the floor, I would have gotten down and rolled in it. It
lasted about five minutes, six, tops. Then the guilt hit me like a ton of
bricks. Damn; guilt sucks.
So then I sat there for awhile and felt like shit. The guys
damn well knew I was gone by now. Had probably known for some hours. Heero
was probably frantic…and really, really, really…pissed off.
I could not even imagine what he was doing. Trying to find
me? Possibly, unless Wufei intervened on my behalf, and I’m not sure
even Wufei is that suicidal. After all, he gave his oath to Heero to watch
over me. I didn’t have his oath; all I had was a pathetic little note
begging him to pretty please keep Heero from imploding. Finding me now should
not really be possible. The details of missions are strictly confidential
between base and each individual agent. We usually shared them, but that
was our own call, and in this case, I hadn’t shared anything. All
they should know is what little I left for them; a mission of infiltration
of some sort. They would probably find the jeep, but I left it in the middle
of nowhere, with no ties to where I was heading. Even if they figured out
the rental car, they had no idea what name I was traveling under and they
should get stopped cold at the shuttle-port, if they got that far. I was
out here on my own, just like I had wanted.
It was almost dark out, so I went ahead and took that shower,
and damn it; I took my hour and I lathered my hair up freaking twice and
even used conditioner, and there wasn’t anybody to yell at me for
using all the hot water. But I kinda missed their voices. And yeah, I stood
in the dark, naked as the day I was born, by the window combing my hair
out, but all I could do was think about Heero combing my hair for me. There
aren’t any cartoons on that time of night, and I really didn’t
want pizza. Guilt really, really sucks.
So I sat in the dark for a bit and watched the building through
my binoculars, timing guard changes and noting when lights went on and off.
The cabby had over stated things a bit, or perhaps his cousins, friends,
brother had; there was a guard station at each entrance, but the grounds
didn’t seem to be patrolled. Though there did seem to be interior
patrols, the building seemed to have closed at five for regular business,
but lights turned on and off throughout the building in what developed into
a regular pattern. I studied and timed it until I knew it by heart. Once
an hour, each floor got a walk through; one man or possibly a team per two
floors. Start lower east, go west, go up, come back east, and back down.
Indicated a guard station on every other floor. Possibly one on each floor,
but only every other floor was manned at night.
The building was six stories, and the top floor was the one
that intrigued me, because it was obviously still occupied. The comings
and goings there were random, and the lights stayed on in certain rooms.
I suspected that the top floor was residential, and if that were true, that
was where my quarry would be.
The floor plans I had been given were just that; floor plans,
and didn’t tell me a thing about what I would find in that maze of
rooms and hallways. The lab area seemed to be below ground, based on wide-open
spaces on the blueprint, and the first five floors seemed to be executive
and office areas. Then there was the presumably residential sixth floor.
The water system interested me; they obviously had their own
water supply, but didn’t have their own water treatment system, and
had to connect into the city sewer system somewhere. In a pinch, that might
be my way in. Though I much preferred the front door, thank you.
Much as I did not want this to drag out, I also did not want
it to go sour on me. I was trying to prove I could still handle myself,
right? Getting my ass caught or killed wouldn’t go very far toward
stating my case. This seemed to warrant a little more observation, and unfortunately,
a little more time. I would not let my desire to get back to Heero push
me into doing something stupid.
It was well after eleven, and I went ahead and ordered that
pizza, having only eaten the one sandwich at the shuttle-port, all day.
I cleared my gear out of sight before the delivery driver got there, and
remembered to pull my pants on at the last minute. I engaged the driver
in idle conversation while I made a show of digging around scraping money
together. I learned that he had indeed delivered pizza to the ‘really
big’ building across the way, and yes they were really good tippers.
No he didn’t think he would be delivering pizza forever, and yes it
paid Ok, for a night job. He was really sorry I was down on my luck and
it was really cool that I was blowing the last of my money on one big weekend
in the big city in this classy hotel, and yes, they were always looking
for new delivery drivers. I tipped him a couple of bucks with an apologetic
smile, and he laughed and almost gave it back. He went away, and I sat down
to eat my dinner.
Ok; a couple of possibilities, though the pizza delivery thing
was older than dirt and might not get me past the guard gate anyway, but
one always had to look for alternatives.
I finished my pizza, stripped off the jeans and crawled into
bed with the curtains left wide open. I dozed off watching the guards make
their floor check; east, lights on, lights off. West, lights on, lights
off. Up west, lights on, lights off. East again, lights on, lights off.
Back down. Better than counting sheep.
It was almost four in the morning when the nightmare hit me
in the gut like a sledgehammer, and I woke up screaming my damn fool head
off. Control kicked back in within minutes, and I staggered to the television
and switched it on, turning the volume up loud. I let it run for a few minutes
while I got my breath back and then switched it off and called the front
desk to complain about the damn defective set. I would expect the stupid
thing to be replaced tomorrow, damn it! And what were they trying to do?
Give me a heart attack? Stinking volume control stuck on high for Gods sake!
The night clerk apologized profusely, and assured me that the thing would
be replaced first thing in the morning. In the background, I could hear
the ringing sound of phones, the neighboring rooms, calling, I’m sure,
to complain about the noise.
I hung up the phone and collapsed on the bed. Dear Gods, this
was the first time I had slept alone since…since…damn. Damn.
Damn! Damn it to hell! The nightmares weren’t gone; Heero had just
been holding them at bay.
I hurt so bad I was shaking, and curled up there on the end
of the bed like a frightened child and bit my lip to stop the moaning. It
burned like fire and I was trembling so badly now my teeth were chattering
together. I groped for the blanket and pulled it over me, it was so damn
cold all of a sudden. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding in my ears,
and it amazed me that I had managed to get up to perform that little bit
of maintenance control on the phone.
I wrapped my arms around myself and struggled to stay in the
here and now; I had no anchor, nothing to hold me here. When I closed my
eyes, they were right in front of me; the bear and the blond, leering and
making those obscene noises. I rubbed at the scar on the palm of my hand
and forced myself to not reach down to feel the blood on my thighs. I refused
to let me eyes close; took deep, regimented breaths, and tried to hear the
sound of Heero’s voice. But it was too far away, too hard to hear
over the other voices. It took over an hour before I was able to get up
on wobbling legs and stagger to the bathroom, and when I looked myself in
the face in the bathroom mirror; I promptly threw up in the sink.
A shower was necessary to wash away the stink of my terror.
I washed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more, letting the water run as hot
as I could stand it. Eventually, things calmed down to a dull ache, and
I climbed shakily out and went to wrap myself in the blankets from the bed
and sat by the window to resume my watch on the building.
The intelligence report told me that Ito was a permanent resident
of the place, living and working there, never far from the protection of
his guards. But the rest of the place was on an eight-hour shift schedule,
and I sat down to watch workers begin to arrive. It was eight in the morning.
I was surprised to see that there was a small amount of outgoing traffic.
So…there was a third shift. No office workers; must be limited to
the technical departments. Maybe a late working IT staff. I memorized a
couple of license numbers. Security wasn’t that tight; the gates were
opened at seven thirty and there was a single guard at the little hut, the
cars slowed as they passed him and he would glance at the stickers on the
windshield, but he never left the stool in the little shack he sat in, and
vehicles weren’t searched.
Traffic trickled down to nothing by eight thirty, and concentrating
on the mission had helped me focus and my trembling had subsided to the
point I thought I could function again. I got up and dressed, braiding my
hair and stuffing it back up under my hat. I packed my gear and went down
to check out. I got more apologies from the front desk for the defective
television and actually got a reduction in my bill. I almost laughed.
Out on the street, I hailed a cab and had him find me a car
rental place. Once I had wheels, I drove around until I found another hotel,
one with a different vantage of my goal. The hat come off, and I unbound
my hair and went in to get a room, using a different id than the one I had
used in the last place. This time, I complained about needing the morning
sun to wake up in the morning, and the bored clerk gave me a room on the
desired side of the hotel without argument, I think just to get rid of me
so he could get make to his game of solitaire.
I went up to the room, stowed my gear and immediately went
back out to find a mall. A plan was starting to formulate.
To my delight, I found another cyber-café, this one
supplying more than just Internet jacks. I ordered some breakfast and sat
to work. I quickly scanned the system I was using for monitoring programs
and disabled the logging. Then I went out to the DMV and spent a little
time hacking in. Next I ran a search on the license numbers I had memorized
that morning from the cars of the third shift folks at Galitron, opening
another window to pull up a map of the area. I needed somebody who didn’t
live too far away. I was starting to get worried that I might have to abandon
my half-formed plan, when I hit the proverbial pay dirt. It was actually
one of the vehicles in my top five most wanted, so I was doubly delighted
to find that the gentleman in question only lived about a half a mile from
work. I closed all my windows, pulled up the log file and entered enough
false data to account for my time on-line, re-enabled the monitor utility
and went shopping.
I bought a new jacket and a bottle of caffeine pills; a big
bottle. Found a pair of those leather gloves with the fingers cut out, and
even bought one of those spandex knee support things while I was in the
Back at the hotel, I dropped off my purchases in my room and
headed right back out for a walk. It felt truly bizarre, walking around
with the wind playing with my loose hair, but I knew what a difference having
it unbraided made in my appearance. I walked up the ‘back’ side
of the building and went on a couple of blocks, turning and coming back
down the other side, looking around in a confused, dumb kid in the big city
manner. I stopped not far from the guard shack, my eyes taking in every
detail I could manage, while I did my little, help-me-I’m-lost routine.
The sucker wouldn’t budge his ass off the stool long enough to step
outside and ask me if I needed help, so after a minute, I ‘noticed’
him and walked over with a patented Duo Maxwell idiot smile plastered on
‘Hey!’ I exclaimed in a relived tone of voice,
‘can you help me?’
The guy was having trouble taking his eyes off my hair, looking
at it like he’d never in all his life seen long hair on a guy before.
‘What can I do for you?’ he smirked, and I leaned into the window
of his little inner sanctum.
‘Man! I am so lost!’
There were four monitors set into the desk in front of him,
one showed this side of the building, the second showed the opposite side,
the third showed what was probably the front lobby, and the last one was
flipping through a series of cameras that had to be in the parking garage.
Of course, I didn’t look directly at them.
‘What’ja looking for, kid?’
He had a holster on his right hip, and a nightstick hanging
from his belt on the left. He did not look like your typical out of shape
‘Somebody at the hotel told me there was a nice like
burger joint down here, but I’ve looked everywhere.’
The corner of my eye was counting the rotating views in the
parking garage, one, two, three, four.
‘You’re too far over, kid, you need to go that
way,’ he gestured vaguely to the east, ‘a couple of blocks.’
Five, six. Six cameras in the garage.
‘That way?’ I asked, turning as though I could
see the restaurant from here.
‘Yeah, just go over two blocks and then head back toward
downtown, you can’t miss it.’
‘Thanks, man!’ I gushed, swinging my hair and
turning back to shake his hand vigorously, ‘You’re the first
friendly face I’ve seen around this town!’
He laughed and I moved off, following his directions and finding
the little bistro without any trouble at all. I went ahead and ate lunch
there, not that I thought he would check on me, but what the hell, I was
Then it was back to the room where I waited out the rest of
the afternoon, using the binoculars to watch the sixth floor intently, and
I’m not sure, but I may have seen Ito come into his rooms around five
thirty. Regretfully, I formatted the hard drive on my laptop before I packed
my gear again, made a last use of the facilities, and went down to the front
desk and paid for the room for an additional two nights. Never hurt to have
an extra bolthole. I reclaimed the rental car, drove it back and turned
it in, and took a bus back down to the mall. Once there, I found a restroom
and braided my hair, getting out the sunglasses again and went to find another
car rental desk. A third id, one of my own disposable ones, and not one
of the ones I had been given for the assignment, and I drove out in a little
white sports car.
I drove through my target neighborhood once, finding the house
of one Mr. James N. Hewlett, driver of one dark blue, mid-sized pickup truck.
Then I circled back and found a place to park the new rental, a couple of
blocks from the Galitron building, where I didn’t think anyone would
notice it sitting for a couple of days.
It was full dark now, and sitting in the car, I changed into
my ‘working clothes’, with the pockets full of everything I
could think I might need, from my lock picks, knives and gun, to a small
flashlight and the caffeine pills. The later removed from their noisy bottle
and dumped into a zip lock bag, I went ahead and took one while I was at
it. My braid was tight against my back, under my black t-shirt and black
vest, and I put the new gray jacket on over the whole thing. I pulled on
the gloves, mostly for support for my weak left hand. The knee support was
already on under my jeans. What was left, I stuffed back in my duffle bag
and locked it in the trunk.
Then it was off to pay Mr. Hewlett a visit. Or, at least,
pay his truck a visit.
Shift started at midnight, and when our loyal Galitron employee
came dashing out his front door at ten minutes till, he didn’t see
the passenger he had up underneath his truck, braced carefully and as solidly
as I could manage on the truck frame, and hoping to the Gods he wasn’t
running too late.
It was a harrowing trip, and I thought I was dead more than
once, may the inventor of the speed bump rot in hell. But, just about the
time I thought my left hand was going to fail me, and not a moment before
I was cooked by the exhaust system, we slowed, and I heard the voice of
my friendly gate guard laughing,
‘You still got three minutes to clock in, Jimbo!’
and then I was hanging on with the last of my strength as Jimbo sped his
truck around three turns into the bowels of the parking garage. The door
slammed, and there was the sound of running feet. Gods! I had to pick a
guy who was perpetually late to work!
But I was in.
I eased down slowly, still clinging to the frame; nothing
would attract the guard’s attention to his monitor faster than a sudden
movement. I looked out to the right and then to the left until I finally
spotted the camera for this level. It was panning the garage slowly and
I grinned; I loved those. I could see that it never was going to come around
low enough where it would pick me up under the truck, so I finally let go
and dropped to the ground with in inner sigh of relief. Good thing Jimbo
didn’t live any further away; might have had a little Duo road kill.
I lay very still, and counted out the timing on the camera.
One good thing about hitching a ride with Mr. I’m-late; I hadn’t
had to hang there and hide from a bunch of co-workers; he was apparently
the last one in, and second shift seemed to be already gone. I lay there
listening for a bit anyway, just to make sure. Besides, my screaming muscles
needed a minute.
Then, I caught the camera at its apex, and bolted across the
garage toward the elevator bank, counting in my head. At twenty, I ducked
behind a car and counted the next ten before jumping out again and finishing
I didn’t dare use the elevators. I checked the stairs
and found the doors locked. There were more than likely, motion sensors
in there. There were four elevators, and I went to each in turn, prying
the doors open enough to see if the elevator car was there. On the third
one, I got lucky, and pulled the door back far enough to slip inside. Then
it was out the top of the car through the escape hatch. Out came the flashlight
and I found the air duct I was looking for a good ten feet over my head.
I checked my watch; I had thirty minutes left before the guards started
their walk throughs. I memorized my route up, and switched the light off
and put it back in my pocket. I cast a tiny prayer to the heavens that nobody
arrived late to work and used this particular elevator, and began the climb
up the shaft. The grate on the duct proved to be secured with a simple thumbscrew,
and I was up and in, but the fit was so tight, I had to go in feet first
in order to be able to close the grate behind me. Out came the light again,
and I squirmed my way in the only direction I could go. It’s lucky
I’m not claustrophobic. I came to a T intersection after twenty feet
or so, and was able to send my feet around to the right in order to get
my head going to the left and was a lot more comfortable going forward.
I could see the dim outline of a grate ahead of me, and I checked my watch
again, noting that time was getting tight for the next guard round. I opted
to turn off my light and wait for it. Five more minutes passed, and light
flared briefly through the lattice in front of me, and I heard muffled voices
‘…stupid, is what it is; nothing ever happens
around this place.’
‘Hey, you get paid for sitting on your butt half the
night don’t you?’
‘I’d rather get back out to where the fighting
‘You’re nuts! What in the hell would….’
Then they were gone. Enough to tell me they were not just
security rentals, but true Oz soldiers. Which was bad. But obviously on
a dead job for so long they were getting complacent. Which was good.
I counted it out in my head, and when I was sure they were
gone from this floor, I moved again, and slipped out onto what should be
the second floor.
I cat-footed through the place, and found a coat rack to leave
my jacket on. Then went in search of a PC to hack into. I found a likely
candidate on a desk with a lot of photos of a little kid, and found the
kids name on a piece of refrigerator art tacked to the cube wall. Sure enough,
when I sat down to the PC, the password for ‘cgunn’ turned out
to be her kid’s name. Every time.
I quickly went out to the Internet, and called up the web
site I had gotten off the pizza box last night. On-line ordering; wonderful
idea. I used the credit card for the id I had quit using when I checked
out of the first hotel, and ordered three pizzas to be delivered to each
of the guard stations in two hours, with a note about appreciation of passing
a hundred hours with no job related injuries, signed with the name of an
obvious executive garnered from a memo on the desk in front of me. Then
I logged out and put everything back where I had found it. Back to the air
duct, back to the elevator shaft, and a Gods awful climb in the dark up
four more floors. My left hand was cramping so bad by the time I got there,
I thought I wasn’t going to make it. There was a gut wrenching moment,
where I had to hold on one handed while I worked the air duct grate open,
and then I just pitched inside and lay still as a stone until my heart slowed
and I had worked some of the pain out of my hand. Then I began the slow,
difficult backward squirm along the shaft until I was able to make the intersection
and turn myself around. I was going slow now, because I fully anticipated
Ito was below me somewhere in his apartments, and I didn’t know if
he would be alone. I came to the first grate and inched forward until I
could peer out into the room. The lights were out, but my eyes were fully
adjusted and I appeared to be looking out into a living room, and I could
just make out a line of light under a door down the hall. I checked my watch,
it was near two in the morning, and I would have expected Ito to be asleep,
he had no way of knowing I was coming, and it should have been business
as usual for him, he had to work tomorrow morning.
I decided to work my way on down the air duct to see if it
was possible to see into the room with the light on. This might not even
be the right set of rooms. Going was slow with the pressing need to be as
silent as the air stirring around me, and the crawling was starting to get
to my knee. I paused midway between the two rooms, and worked the bag of
caffeine pills out of my pocket and took another one. I was starting to
feel the effects of my aborted sleep the night before. Now was not the time
to get groggy and careless. I could see the light coming through the grate
ahead of me, and I slid forward until I could see out into the room. It
was a bedroom, Ito’s, in fact, because he was lying there in bed asleep,
a book fallen closed on his chest. I debated climbing down in the bedroom,
but thought better of it, so I worked my way backward to the living room
grate and eased it open. I jumped lightly down, and almost went the rest
of the way to the floor when my knee protested the treatment of the last
several hours. I bent and rubbed it for a minute, before running a quick
reconnaissance of the apartment, finding a kitchen leading off to the left
before the hall that ran to the bedroom. There was a second room off that
same hallway to the right that looked to be a study or a library. Ito’s
room was at the end of the hall, next to the bathroom.
Gun in hand, silencer in place, I crept down the hall and
gently pushed the door open. Makoto Ito was still asleep on his bed, reading
glasses sliding down his nose, book lying on his softly rising and falling
chest, and I had to push aside the knowledge that this was somebody’s
Grandpa. This was a mission; he was an objective.
I moved swiftly to the side of the bed and bent to cover his
mouth with my hand, he was instantly awake, eyes flying wide, and for a
split second I worried if I might have given the old man a heart attack.
‘Makoto Ito,’ I whispered low, ‘Shinigami
has come for you.’
I don’t know who dreams these stupid code phrases up,
but I imagined them sitting around a table, drunk on their asses trying
to out do each other with utterly inappropriate shit.
His eyes never left mine, and he shivered, but managed a nod
and I took my hand away.
‘I…I would embrace the coming of the God of Death.’
He stammered his code in return and I had to roll my eyes.
‘Sorry, Gramps; I don’t make this shit up.’
I grinned at him, and moved away from him while he got himself together.
He set the book aside, took his glasses off his nose, and pulled his dressing
gown to rights, never taking his eyes off me.
‘Listen, Gramps, I would rather get out of here tonight,
but walking out the front door is preferable to how I got in here.’
I said, ‘Are you free to leave the building at any time?’
‘No.’ He told me flatly, having gathered his wits
rather faster than I had thought he would, ‘Not since the rest of
my family left the planet.’
I grunted; nobody left to use as hostages to keep the old
guy in line. I wondered how they had managed to slip free of Oz security.
I moved about the room, poking into drawers and looking in the closet. ‘We’ll
have to do this the hard way then. Get dressed. Dark clothes, comfortable,
easy to move in.’
He just kept staring at me, from where he sat on the side
of the bed.
I stopped and looked at him, hard; I really didn’t want
to have to kill him. ‘We’re kinda under a time limit here, Gramps.
I gave him a minute to work up to whatever question he was
going to ask and finally he blurted,
You’re my rescue? All by yourself? You’re just
I almost laughed out loud. I moved closer and bent down to
look him in the eye, and let Shinigami speak through me, soft and cold,
‘I haven’t been a child for a very long time.’
He shivered, but his mouth popped open again anyway, I held
up a finger and said, ‘One more question, Ito; make it good.’
He worked at it, and I saw him pass over several of the obvious
ones, until he arrived at, ‘How do you plan to get us out of here?’
I nodded; pleased that he hadn’t wasted my time with
the stupid questions, but all I could tell him was,
‘There are several options, depending on what you are
capable of. Now get dressed, the first of my distractions is scheduled to
happen in about thirty minutes.’
Finally, he seemed to come to the decision to throw his lot
in with the crazy kid, and got up to find clothes.
‘My first plan,’ I told him, ‘was dependant
on you being able to come and go as you pleased.’ I made the half-assed
effort to stuff pillows and the discarded dressing gown into the shape of
a body in the bed and threw the blanket over the whole thing, ‘Plan
two depends on whether you can move about the building as you like.’
He stuck his head out of the closet and gave my artistic efforts
a horrified look and I had to grin at him.
‘Don’t sneer.’ I said, ‘sometimes
it’s the little things that get you through. Can’t hurt.’
He looked only a little reassured, but didn’t loose
the thread of the conversation; good, his mind, at least was sharp.
‘I can go down to the labs anytime I want.’ He
quirked me an odd smile, ‘They do not have a problem with my working…over
He finally emerged from the closet, dressed in what almost
looked like surgical scrubs, only in a dark hunter green. There was a Galitron
logo on the left breast, and I moved to quickly inspect it; it would be
easy to remove. They would work for getting us out of here, but once in
the real world, they would stand out as…odd.
But Ito just smiled at me, and pulled the neckline down to
reveal another shirt beneath the green one. I flashed him a full power grin,
‘Oh; you’re going to be good at this.’
He sat on the bed to put on his shoes, and I finally had to
broach the subject I was afraid he was going to get pissy about, ‘Gramps,
do you have any notes or data in this apartment?’
But I needn’t have worried; he had obviously been thinking
about this for awhile, and produced a CD case from under his mattress, turning
it wordlessly in his fingers. ‘What…’ he looked at me,
really looked at me for a moment, ‘what do I call you?’
I noted that he hadn’t asked me to tell him what my
name was, and maybe that’s why I went ahead and said, ‘Duo.
Call me Duo.’
‘I wiped all the data off my system here in the apartment,
and there never were any notes here. Everything is downloaded on this set
I sighed, and turned dead-on facing him, ‘I have to
ask you to let me carry that.’
He too heaved a tired sigh, and handed it over, looking away
and just saying, ‘I know.’
I took it, and made it disappear inside my vest of infinite
holding, then I checked my watch and decided to take a minute to sit down
beside him on the bed.
‘Look Gramps, you’re not stupid and neither am
I. We both know that this data is my first objective, but you are my second,
and I am not inclined toward failure. If I can get you out of here, I will
He gave me a grateful, tired smile, but surprised me with,
‘But if you can’t, my life is forfeit.’
I couldn’t lie to him, he knew already, and there wasn’t
any point, so I just nodded and told him, ‘I’ll do the best
I can to make sure it doesn’t come to that.’
Then he surprised me again by patting my knee.
‘Ok, now quick, tell me everything you can about this
laboratory you’re going down to.’
He gave me a brief, concise layout, thinking on his own to
tell me where all the security cameras were located. The elevators would
not stop on any floor but his and the basement at this hour, and he could
not access the stairwells either.
I checked my watch again, ‘Time to go.’ I glanced
around the place that had obviously been his home for some time, ‘If
there’s anything you can’t live without, and it’s small
enough to fit in a pocket, get it now. You won’t be coming back here.’
He had been thinking about that as well, and produced a small
paper packet that he started to put in his pocket and then hesitated and
handed to me.
‘If it…as you put it; comes to it, will you see
that this gets to my granddaughter?’
I almost made him keep it, but the possibilities were too
real, so I wordlessly took it and slipped it into one of my inner, zippered
I had to drag a kitchen chair out in order to climb back up
to the air duct, instructing him to close the grate behind me and put the
He stared at me, unbelieving, ‘All the way up six floors?’
I grinned and shrugged as best I could as I slid into the
‘Wait here and count to one hundred before you leave
the apartment. I’ll meet you in the lab.’
He closed the grate behind me, watching me disappear like
a drowning man watching a boat rowing the wrong direction.
I hurried as fast as I could, afraid that his fear would make
him count faster than I had calculated, but I made it back to the elevator
shaft before he got there, and was able to ride down this time, on top of
the elevator car. I was profoundly glad, because my left hand felt weak
and twitchy, and I don’t know that I could have made that climb again.
I left the top of the car for the relative safety of an air
duct as quickly as I could on the off chance that the elevator wouldn’t
stay on the lab level.
Now, it was gonna start to get interesting. According to Ito,
there was a guard station on this floor, manned by a lone sentry. He was
going to have to go.
I checked my watch again; the pizza should be here. Distantly,
I heard Ito exchange a friendly greeting with the night watchman, their
voices sounding tinny through the metal ductwork. I crept that way, wanting
to get a look at the guard station if I could manage it. It wasn’t
far, probably in near the same position architecturally speaking, as Ito’s
spare room had been upstairs. I lay still as death and watched them through
‘You got insomnia, Ito?’ the guard grinned jovially,
and as I compared him to tiny, ancient little Grandpa, I realized the man
was freaking huge.
Ito chuckled along with the joke and said, ‘I guess
I get some of my better ideas at night, is all.’ And I had to hand
it to him for keeping his cool. His voice was calm and collected as if this
were just any other night and the man in front of him was not going to die
before it was over. But then, maybe he hadn’t figured that part out
I was just debating shooting the guard through the grate,
when his phone buzzed and he picked it up with a frown as though this didn’t
happen very often. But then his face brightened, ‘No shit?’
Ah; the pizza was here.
‘Really? We went that long?’ You had to bless
corporate morale building mechanisms; they’re so similar from place
‘Come on, man, bring me some down.’ There was
a pause, during which the man’s eyes flicked in Ito’s direction,
and the gutsy old guy winked and grinned and whispered, ‘Go ahead;
I won’t tell.’
‘Fine then, you lazy shit; I’ll come and get some.’
And he hung up the phone, returning Ito’s wink and went for the elevator.
‘Thanks, Ito. I’ll bring an extra slice for you.’
The guy was amazing, he actually called after the man, ‘Make
it cheese, and make it two slices.’ I thought I would choke to death.
I popped the grate as soon as the elevator noise indicated Mr. Nightwatchmanguy
had disembarked on the first floor. I hopped down, and I thought Grandpa
was going to jump a foot in the air.
‘Relax, Gramps, it’s just me.’ I hit him
with one of the patented, blinding flare, Duo grins, ‘We have a date,
He just kinda sagged against the guard desk; I don’t
think he really believed he’d see me again.
I patted his arm as I moved around to get a better look at
the monitoring equipment on the desk, ‘You’re doin’ great,
Gramps; don’t freak on me now.’
‘He…he won’t stay gone long. How…how
did you know…?’
I grinned as I used the monitors to examine the floor we were
on, ‘The pizza? I ordered it. I told you; sometimes it’s the
‘But how could you have known…?’
‘I never know how it’s going to work out, you
just set things in motion and go with the flow.’ My fingers found
the garrote in one of my many pockets, and his eyes widened even further.
‘No more time for questions, Gramps. We have to get
into position. Take me to where it would be logical for you to be when he
He led me to the lab, and I had him sit at a table, opposite
side from the door, at a computer terminal, with a couple of large pieces
of equipment between him and where the struggle would be. I could just shoot
the guy, but I had not yet been discovered, and I really didn’t want
the mess, the longer I could drag this out without it turning into a firefight,
‘When I jump him, you get down. He may have orders to
kill you before he lets you be taken by the enemy.’
He nodded, and I don’t think it was information he hadn’t
already thought of.
‘Try not to look at me when I move, Ok.’ That
garnered me a slight frown, and his eyes flicked from my to the garrote
and back again.
‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Serious as death, Gramps.’ And I turned without
another word and took up my position near the door, out of sight. I scanned
the room, making sure there was no reflective surface that might betray
me, and crouched low. I didn’t have long to wait, he came barging
into the room, balancing a paper plate of pizza in one hand, and carrying
a can of soda in the other. Ito, had bent over his work, but smiled up at
the man as he came in, calling, ‘Ah! Dinner arrives! Food is the fuel
of the creative process!’ Gramps got points again; he was trying to
provide me with a little covering noise, and his eyes never so much as twitched
in my direction.
I made my move, ghosting up behind the man just as he sat
his burden down on the table. As I padded into position, I opened up and
let Shinigami come out to play and we made the leap onto the guys back and
had the garrote in place before he even knew we were in the room. We did
our best to pin the man’s arms to his sides with our legs wrapped
around his middle, and managed to catch one. We saw Ito drop to the floor
and scurry under the table, and then it got ugly. We hung on, hands twisting
the garrote tighter as the panic stricken watchman scrabbled at his throat
with frantic fingers. We had his gun hand trapped, and for a second, we
thought he would just stand there and die, but then he finally seemed to
realize where his real problem was located and turned around and rammed
us into the wall as hard as he could. The breath went out of us, but our
hands stayed tight on the metal wire biting into our quarries neck. He tried
again, actually having enough mind left to aim at an angular piece of equipment,
and we lost a couple chunks of skin from back and shoulder, but we noticed
the impact was lessoned from the last one, and this time, when he rebounded,
the momentum took him over sideways and we crashed to the floor. We held
the wire in place until there was absolutely no doubt he was dead.
I climbed to my feet, and coiled the garrote and returned
it to my pocket. I went through the man’s pockets, coming away with
a gun, some keys that went to Gods knew what, and a pass card. Then I took
him by the heels and drug the body back out to the front lobby area. I saw
Ito hesitantly come out from under the table and follow me.
I sent the elevator back up to the sixth floor, forced the
doors open after I was sure it was there, and shoved the body into the empty
Then I went to go eat my pizza. I was rather surprised when
Grandpa sat down across the table from me, and ate his slice. Though I noticed
his hands were shaking, when he opened the can of soda, took a sip and passed
the can to me.
‘We need to wipe out whatever we can down here.’
I told him, around a mouthful of dinner.
‘I was formatting the hard drive on this system, when…he
came back.’ He told me, and I grunted in surprise.
‘Young man, don’t you think I have thought all
this out?’ he kind of frowned at me.
‘I don’t know you. I can’t assume anything.’
I raised an eyebrow, ‘Did you think of backups?’
‘Yes. I began altering the data months ago. What they
have in their backup files is totally useless.’
I let myself laugh out loud this time; there was no one down
here to hear me, after all, ‘Damn Gramps, if you need a job after
we get out of here; I can get you into my line of work.’
He smiled, very faintly, but then his eyes flicked to where
the body was hidden, and he said, ‘I don’t think I would be
very good at your line of work.’
He finished the format, and shut the system down. It was more
of a ruse than anything if the data wasn’t accurate anyway. Let them
think what they had was good enough that we had tried to destroy it.
‘Ok,’ I tried to sound cheerful, ‘this is
where the plan gets a little…fuzzy.’
His eyes widened.
‘Do you know anything about the sewer system in this
‘The…the…sewer system?’ He was starting
to look like he had just made the biggest mistake of his life and didn’t
know how to undo it.
‘No going back now.’ I told him, not too unkindly,
and pulled out the section of the blue print I had saved and brought with
me. ‘Our road out of here is going to have to be underground.’
I showed him the blue print. ‘I want to go here.’ And pointed
to the area on the map.
I rose and headed toward the door and I heard his voice, kind
of small, hesitantly call my name, ‘D...Duo?’ It was the first
time he had used it, and no doubt he wasn’t sure if it was even my
He sounded odd, and I turned back, expecting him to suddenly
try to tell me he couldn’t do this. But it was me he was looking at,
and he informed me, ‘You’re bleeding.’
I grunted, vaguely remembering hitting something sharp in
my struggle with the watchman. And, of course, as soon as he drew my attention
to it, I felt the sting in my shoulder and back.
‘This way,’ he commanded, ‘there’s
a first aid kit in the bathroom.’
I started to argue, but checked my watch, and realized that
the guards were making their four o’clock rounds, and I really didn’t
want to make my next move until they were back at their stations, so I let
him lead me there.
Once in the stark, white room, under the glaring lights, I
took off the vest, and pulled the t-shirt over my head. It felt good to
get my braid free; sweating had started to make it itch back there. I turned
my back to the mirror and assessed the damage, a couple of nasty looking
cuts, but nothing more, they really weren’t even bleeding any more.
What Ito had seen had been already starting to dry.
‘It’s nothing.’ I proclaimed, starting to
pull my shirt back on, but Grandpa stopped me.
‘If we’re going into the sewer system, at least
let me put some antibiotic cream on them.’ It made sense, so I let
him smear the stinging crap all over my back and shoulder and then suited
back up. I caught him looking at the still livid twelve-inch scar on my
abdomen, but he didn’t ask, and I didn’t volunteer.
I took a minute to pull out the pack of caffeine pills, and
swallowed another one. Wish I’d taken the time to read the label;
wonder what an overdose consisted of? I pulled out Ito’s little folded,
paper packet, and sealed it inside the bag before I zipped the whole thing
back up in my vest.
I turned to find him staring at me.
‘Gramps, it’s been a rough couple of …days,
Ok?’ couple of months would be more like it, ‘It’s just
I headed for the door, had a thought, and dug through the
first aide kit, pocketing the rest of the cream, the bottle of pain pills,
and a roll of gauze. You never knew.
He gave me an odd look, but then smiled and said, ‘I
know…it’s the little things.’
I had to grin back.
I checked my watch again as we came into the huge room that
they must use in their ore refining experiments.
There was a central tank and a whole lot of really large equipment.
It stank with what had to be the reek of raw gundanium ore. Who would have
Ito went over with me what he knew about the workings of the
system, and it gave me hope that this might actually work. The central tank
was only half full, and I could see the top edge of a grate that looked
suspiciously like the air ducts I had been moving through for most of the
bloody night. After being told that the water in the tank wasn’t caustic,
but don’t drink it, I went in. The grate opened a little harder than
the air ducts, and the shaft was a little bigger, but I was able to swim
forward with the aid of my little flashlight, and get the layout of the
I returned, gasping for breath, to a near frantic Ito, but
pretty sure this would work.
‘Can we drain the tank?’ I asked him as soon I
had the breath, ‘Without setting off any alarms?’
He shook his head and I climbed out of the tank.
‘Show me the alarm system.’ I commanded, and he
led me there. The system was simplistic. I had it jumpered out in under
five minutes, and set the water to draining away.
Grandpa shook his head in wonder, ‘Is there anything
you can’t do?’
‘Cook.’ I smiled at him, ‘They tell me I
He laughed, though it was shaky.
‘This is what is going to happen.’ I told him,
hoping to get him to focus a little, he seemed to be getting a little frayed.
‘I’m going to drain the water out of the tank. I’m gong
to start it filling back up; we’ll have a couple of minutes to get
down to the shaft seal. We go through there into the lower system. I intend
to hole up down there, if there is a likely place to do it, until pursuit
is thrown off. When things settle down, we’ll continue through the
system until we come out at the culvert that leads to the city system. Understood.’
He looked like he had swallowed something really vile, but
nodded. I checked my watch again, and then the tank. It was time and it
was empty. A sign from heaven that my plan was good, right? I helped Gramps
climb down into the tank, then ran back to the control panel to start the
process of filling the tank back up. I scurried back, and leaped into the
tank, almost falling down next to Ito as my knee gave way. He didn’t
even notice, staring into the duct in front of him. I pulled out my little
detonator, and keyed it open.
‘What…?’ he blinked up at me.
‘You didn’t think I was just fondling your underwear
earlier, did you?’ and I pushed the button that set off the explosion
in his bedroom on the sixth floor. Then I shoved Ito toward the hole in
front of us. The water was swirling around our feet.
He grabbed my arm, ‘Duo…I’m not sure I can
do this.’ And his eyes were wide and a little glazed, ‘I’m…I’m
‘Now is not a good time for this, Gramps!’ I looked
down at the water rising around us, ‘We’re kind of committed!’
I went into the shaft feet first, and pulled him in after
me. ‘Just…just shut your eyes!’ I don’t know if
he did or not. We were running out of time, and going backwards was slowing
me down. I kept banging my knees on the wet metal. I had his one wrist in
a death grip, but he wasn’t resisting, and finally I felt my foot
hit the lip of the door seal, just as water started to trickle past us.
‘Hurry!’ and I jerked us through the hatch as the water started
coming in earnest, and we practically fell through into the unknown other
side. The hatch sealed with a hiss behind us, and we were one hundred percent
committed to this hair-brained scheme.
I still had Gramps in a vise like grip, but felt around with
my free hand. There was floor under us for a good distance, and the echoing
sound indicated a large area. I could reach up and not touch anything. The
air was close and dank, and things felt of concrete now, instead of metal.
Beside me, Ito made a tiny sound, a kind of whimpering.
‘You Ok, Gramps?’
It took him a minute to get his voice under control, and I
could hear him working at it. ‘Ok? Yes…maybe.’
I chuckled, ‘You’re doin’ great. You’re
doin’ just fine.’ I reached and took hold of his hand, letting
go of his wrist, and maneuvered him to where he was holding on to my vest.
‘Got me?’ I asked, before letting go, and his
answer was a grip that large bison could not have pulled free of.
I pulled out my little flashlight, and shone it around, getting
my bearings. Comparing what I saw with the sketchy blue print in my head.
We were faced with probably a quarter mile journey threw this labyrinth,
before we saw daylight again. I wasn’t sure Ito was going to make
it. I looked at him, in the glow of the flashlight, and his eyes were squeezed
tight shut, and his mouth was open in a hard pant.
‘Gramps, I have a light. Would it help to see?’
I reached up and patted his hand.
His eyes snapped open, and his mouth snapped shut. It did
help; I could see it in his eyes, at least a little. It probably helped
that the area we were in was not such a tight fit as the shaft had been,
but we were still Gods only knew how far underground.
Well, I could certainly understand fear.
I pulled us up together, and started off in the direction
that presented itself, limping hard, and trying not to show it. He was already
scared; I didn’t need him panicking, thinking that I couldn’t
‘Come on, man,’ I told him, ‘just think
of getting back to that little granddaughter of yours. What’s her
‘Sarah.’ He bit out.
‘Sarah? That doesn’t sound Japanese?’
‘Her mother is not…from Japan.’ A little
panting, but he was working with me.
‘I saw her picture,’ I confessed, ‘she’s
cute. Looks Japanese.’
‘She is…beautiful.’ He said softly, finally
starting to sound as though the distraction was working. We had worked our
way to where we needed to climb down to another level. I went first, so
that I could hold his ankle, and not entirely break contact.
‘Come on, Gramps. We’re doing just fine.’
I tried to sound relaxed, like we were strolling through the park. He came
down beside me and we stood for a second while he caught his breath.
‘You are the most impertinent young man I have ever
met.’ He chuckled wryly.
I grinned back, mostly at his effort, ‘They usually
say I’m impossible. What’d I do?’
‘I am not your Grandfather. My name is Makoto. Could
you try using it?’
Well, this was an improvement, ‘Well, we never were
actually properly introduced…Makoto.’
He shook his head, reasserted his grip on my vest, and we
started off again. I checked my watch; we weren’t going to make it.
‘Listen, Makoto. I have to tell you something, and you’re
not going to like it.’
He went kind of still beside me, but didn’t say anything.
‘We have to leave under the cover of darkness. We’re
not going to get out of here in time. We’re…we’re going
to have to stay down here for the day. Try again, tonight.’
His breath went out in a sigh. ‘Duo…I can’t,
please…I can’t.’ I could tell he was instantly ashamed
of the admission, and I didn’t know what to tell him.
I had one more ace, but I looked at my watch again, by the
time we found our way to the culvert, people…civilians would be trickling
into that second floor office area where my discarded jacket hung. The jacket
lined with enough explosives to blow out the side of the building. I remembered
the pictures of the kids on that desk I had sat at, ordering pizza. I wouldn’t
make those kids orphans.
‘Gra…Makoto. There just isn’t any way. I
understand, and I’m sorry. It’s going to be a long damned day
for the both of us. But there is no way we’re getting out of here
We had stopped moving while we hashed it out, and I pulled
off the glove on my left hand to reach out and take hold of his hand. Skin
to skin contact. A message that said, I’m here, in the only way I
knew how to send it. I moved us on.
‘So, are you joining the rest of your family after this?’
I asked brightly, and I thought I heard a tight chuckle.
‘I hope to. I…I’m partly afraid that I am
just moving from one prison cell to another.’
‘It’s not been my experience that the resistance
works that way.’ I tried to reassure him.
I felt his thumb move across the back of my hand, ‘What
are these scars?’ he ventured after a bit.
‘Had a mission go sour a couple of months ago.’
I grunted, ‘Banged it up pretty bad and had surgery.’
‘Is that why you limp so badly?’
So he had noticed. ‘Yeah, surgery there too.’
‘It seems a desperate move…to send an operative
out in such a condition.’
I had to stifle a bark of laughter, ‘Well…I sort
of…over estimated my condition.’
We were wading in grungy water nearly to our knees now, and
the light from the flashlight was failing us. Ito’s grip tightened
‘It’s Ok, I’ve got spare batteries.’
I shifted his hand to my vest again, ‘shut your eyes while I change
them. It’ll be easier.’
Careful of my hold on everything, I switch off the light,
dumped the spent batteries into the slowly flowing water, and fished the
fresh ones out of their place in the vest. When the light flared on again,
I bid him open his eyes.
‘Ok?’ I queried, and he nodded sharply, taking
my hand again, now that it was free. We moved on.
‘Since…since we’re in no hurry now,’
he said at length, ‘could we find a dry place and rest for a bit?’
I groaned softly, ‘That sounds like a great idea.’
And I shone the light around looking for a likely place. At the edge of
my beam of light, I thought I saw something, and moved toward it, finding
that our path lead to a wall, and our little creek of dirty water was flowing
into a large round tunnel. Ito balked.
‘We’ll rest here.’ I told him and just waded
over to sit on the edge of the channel we had been walking in, not caring
any more if we rested with our feet dangling in the water. I slumped back
against the wall and closed my eyes for a minute. I was getting extremely
tired. Ito, still attached to me by one hand, sat beside me, but after a
moment, he surprised me by letting go, and suddenly his hands were on my
knee. My eyes snapped open, and I jerked, but he was just applying pressure
to several places around my knee, fingers splayed wide.
‘What the hell…’ I began, but was stopped
but the sudden absence of pain. I gasped with the abrupt relief.
‘Acupressure.’ He told me, continuing to press
‘Damn…I’ve heard of that, but I always thought
it was a crock.’
He laughed, distracted from his own thoughts again, ‘Some
practitioners are not…true to the art.’
The lack of pain, however was making me feel how reelingly
tired I was, and I reached into my vest for my little bag of magic pills.
Ito caught my hand, ‘Duo, what are you doing?’
‘I can’t fall asleep.’ I told him, a hint
of threat in my voice, that he chose to ignore.
‘We aren’t going anywhere for hours. Why not sleep
if you can?’ he wanted to know, hands shifting to a different position
and pressing down some more.
‘Look, Gramps.’ I grimaced at the look I was given,
‘…Makoto, we don’t dare let me fall asleep. I have nightmares,
Ok? Screaming-to-wake-the-dead, nightmares. You-don’t-want-to-be-in-the-same-room-with-me,
He looked at me kind of like he had suddenly found himself
sitting next to that legendary alligator in the sewer, and I tried to smile
He just shook his head at me. ‘How could you come out
here, on a mission like this, knowing…’
I was getting a little irritated, ‘I thought I was over
them, all right?’
‘So you don’t have them all the time? Perhaps
it would be worth the risk…’
‘No.’ I told him rather forcefully, and swallowed
the caffeine pill under his glare. ‘There is…there are certain
circumstances under which I do not have problems sleeping. This particular
situation does not meet the…requirements.’
He just said, ‘Oh.’ And let go of my leg. There
was an ache that came back when the pressure let off, but the gnawing pain
‘Thank you, Makoto.’ I said solemnly, rubbing
lightly at my knee, trying to take the sting out of my other words.
He grunted, ‘You do have some manners.’
‘Are you ready to try the tunnel?’
He sighed, ‘You shame me, my friend.’
That took me aback. ‘I didn’t…’ I
‘Not with your words, but with your strength. How can
I not go on in the face of what you are willing to deal with?’
You could have pretty much knocked me right off the damned
ledge with a breath. I blinked at him kinda owlishly in the dim light, and
struggled with words that wouldn’t form.
He took my hand again and tugged until I got up and we moved
forward again. I swept the light around inside the passageway we were getting
ready to brave. I couldn’t see the end, but it was large enough we
wouldn’t have to crawl. I had to shift Ito’s hold on my hand
to allow us to walk single file. We would have to stoop over.
‘Ready?’ I asked and stepped into the passage.
The water swirled around our ankles.
‘So, were you born on Earth?’ I asked him when
I felt the clutch of his fingers on mine.
‘Born in Japan; yes.’ He responded, almost pouncing
on the conversation, ‘You?’
‘Born in the colonies.’ I confessed. ‘What
family do you have waiting for you?’
‘My son, his wife and my granddaughter Sarah, and my
I noticed the gaping lack. ‘I’m sorry, Makoto.
How long ago?’
‘Ten years.’ He sighed, ‘She’s been
gone ten years. You…you are very perceptive, my impertinent young
I chuckled, ‘Some things I guess some people just think
He mulled that for a moment, ‘You have no family?’
I guess I wasn’t as obscure as I had thought I was being.
‘No.’ I told him softly, ‘Not…not
like you mean. I’m an orphan.’
His mind was completely off the situation, which was a good
thing, but I wasn’t real crazy about the direction it was going.
‘Not like I mean?’ he quoted back to me, ‘You
have someone then?’
‘I have people who are going to be worried when I don’t
make it back when I said I would.’ I sighed, thinking about Heero
and wishing I could get a message to him.
‘I am sorry.’
‘Don’t be.’ I grinned in the dark where
nobody could see anyway, ‘It was my own stubborn pride put me here.’
Then he was tugging at my hand, ‘Duo! Duo, I feel air
I felt it too, as soon as he mentioned it. ‘I’m
going to turn the light out.’ I warned him, voice automatically going
to a whisper.
It took our eyes a minute, when the light went out, to adjust,
but I finally could tell that there was the faint light of day ahead of
We crept forward, more slowly, not talking any more, keeping
the flashlight off, until the light was more than just a dim promise.
I leaned in close to his ear and said, ‘We don’t
dare go any further until it gets dark. Do you want to go back where we
can sit out of the water, or stay here in the light?’
I really hadn’t had to ask the question, and so we sat
down on the floor of the tunnel in the sluggish, unclean water, where Ito
could see the light of freedom and we waited. And we waited. And we waited
I was heartily sick and tired of being wet. I stank. I was
getting hungry. At least the water wasn’t particularity cold. But
I was still worried what sitting around soaked to the skin was going to
do to a man Makoto’s age. Gods, we were so close. But I wasn’t
going to get careless now. I was going to get back to Heero, just like I
had promised. I hoped that my jacket had gone unnoticed up there on the
second floor. I hoped I still had my ace in the hole if I needed it. I hoped
Heero didn’t hate me.
I must have sighed, because Ito leaned in close and whispered,
I nodded, in the faint, faint light and tried to give him
a reassuring grin.
He was getting himself together again, here in line of sight
of escape, his fears held at bay by the light of a day we didn’t dare
venture out into.
‘Don’t let me fall asleep.’ I breathed back
to him; to his questioning look, ‘No matter what else happens.’
‘Is there nothing I can do, that would allow you…’
he questioned worriedly, as I pulled out the bag of pills again.
I shook my head, not able to keep the sad smile off my face,
‘Not unless you can figure out what magic, Heero…’ damn;
I was getting tired.
Ito looked at me oddly, and I bristled a little, ‘What?’
I whispered, perhaps a little defensively.
‘I…I suppose,’ he whispered back, ‘that
means you have no interest in meeting my granddaughter?’
I almost choked to death trying not to laugh, ‘Makoto!
You’re granddaughter didn’t look to be five years old.’
‘Oh.’ He smiled, ‘You had a very old picture.
She is seventeen now.’
I had to shake my head, but couldn’t stop grinning at
him; it really had lightened my heart a little.
‘This, Heero,’ I guess Ito was just trying to
return the favor of my earlier distraction, but I really wished he’d
find another topic, ‘he can keep you from having the bad dreams?’
I nodded, closing my eyes for a second; they were getting
so damn gritty. I wished the stupid pill would kick in.
‘He’s just there.’ I sighed, lost in the
remembered feel of it, ‘as long as he’s with me, I don’t
I hadn’t meant to say that. It was a little more personal
than I had intended. I was thankful it wasn’t light enough for him
to see me blush.
He grunted softly, ‘Ah, I remember.’ His whispered
voice grew distant, ‘Felt like meeting the other half of your own
soul when you first met?’
I shivered pretty hard, and nodded, his words opening up a
black hole of longing in the pit of my stomach.
He smiled across at me, his eyes kind, ‘You are very
blessed, young one, to have found your soul mate in all this wide universe.’
‘Your wife…?’ I asked, feeling like I was
treading on a grave.
He nodded sadly, and was quiet for a time, ‘Yes. She
was everything about me that was bright and clean and good.’
I couldn’t quite fathom his reality with what I felt
in my own heart, ‘Then, how….’
‘How did I go on when she…was gone?’
All I could do was nod, my heart frozen in my chest just thinking
about trying to carry on if…if…
‘By that time, I had other ties…the children;
anchors that kept me….’ He looked at me in sudden sympathy,
‘Oh…I am sorry, my friend; I did not mean to…’ he
let it trail off and I waved a dismissive hand.
I really didn’t want to talk any more, and just leaned
my head back against the tunnel wall, contemplating the practicality of
yet another pill.
‘Duo!’ Ito’s voice was a little too loud,
and I realized that he had called me more than once. I raised my head from
the tunnel wall, and mumbled an apology. Damn, almost went over the edge.
I checked my watch, and was thankful to see that we were in
the home stretch; I think I would be all right again once we started moving,
but this just sitting around was killing me.
‘How you holdin’ up, Gramps?’ I asked, trying
to make my voice a little less thick.
‘I am fine,’ He whispered, ‘Impertinent
I snorted, and struggled for something else to talk about.
He noticed, and threw another topic on the table.
‘These nightmares, can you talk about them?’
‘Damn, Makoto!’ I blinked in surprise, ‘You
don’t freaking mince words, do you?’
‘I am on old man,’ I was informed, ‘I do
not have time to mince words.’
I sat feeling like someone had thrown cold water in my face,
which, I suppose, was what he had in mind…but; damn!
‘Well?’ he prompted when I didn’t reply.
‘No.’ I said sternly, ‘I can not. Absolutely,
positively, no freaking way in hell. Do not go there.’
I think I scared him a little. I hope I scared him a little;
he was treading on thin ice.
‘My apologies, young one.’ He bowed his head respectfully.
I snorted another soft laugh, ‘Forget it, old one.’
He flashed me a wide smile.
I stretched my legs out and braced them against the opposite
wall, pushing up with my arms and stretching muscles that were starting
I was back around to the, I’m tired, I’m hungry,
I’m wet litany.
I realized after a bit that the light was starting to fade.
I could have crowed.
‘Is there a second shift that works on the second floor?’
I asked, and received a negative shake of his head.
What had security figured out in the day I had given them?
I was hoping that they thought Ito dead. I was hoping they hadn’t
found my jury-rigging in the tank room. I was hoping they hadn’t found
the body of the missing guard yet. I was hoping they hadn’t found
I was trying to decide if I should just try detonating it
and running like hell. Maybe not the best idea, if they truly thought he
was dead and the assassin long gone.
I continued to stretch and move, trying to get stiff muscles
and sluggish circulation to respond.
Finally, when it was full dark out, I leaned across and found
‘I’m going down to check out the entrance. Can
you wait for me?’
There was a moment of frozen silence, and finally he whispered
a shaky, ‘I think so.’
‘I’ll try not to be gone long.’
I slithered forward like some bizarre swamp creature rising
up from the depths of a very bad movie.
The tunnel ran straight for another hundred feet or so, made
a right angle corner and then I ran smack into a set of six or seven iron
bars imbedded in concrete blocking me from the outside world. Shit. This
was freaking going to take all night. I was not spending another night sitting
in that damned tunnel. I reversed my course, and slogged back to Ito, risking
the flashlight for a second when I thought I was getting close.
‘Come on.’ I urged him up, ‘There’s
a slight complication, and we have a lot of work to do in a hurry.’
He grabbed hold of my hand blindly, and I led the way back
to the exit. I thought he was going to break down and sob when he saw the
bars. He let go of me and grabbed hold of one to shake at it. It was solid
as the stone it was set in.
‘It’s all right!’ I hissed in his ear, ‘Stay
There was a bit of light coming in from a clear night sky
and the faint glow of distant streetlights. I bent and retrieved the knife
from the sheath strapped to my leg under my pants and pulled the cutting
wire out of the handle, pressing it into Ito’s hands, making sure
he had hold of it tight before pulling the mate to the knife out of the
back of my jeans. I showed him out to wrap the wire around the bar and work
it back and forth. He started on one end of the lowest bar while I worked
on the other end. It was painstaking, and time consuming, and the small
noise it was generating had my nerves on edge. More than once, I raised
a hand in signal to stop, listening intently before bending back to work.
It took me just over an hour to work through my end of the bar, and I thought
my back was going to break and my fingers fall off.
I coiled my wire back into my knife and moved to take over
Ito’s end. I put my lips next to his ear and said, ‘Hold the
bar, and don’t let it fall.’
He nodded, giving over his sawing with obvious relief. He
was only about half way through. It took me another half an hour. He was
able to hold the bar until I could catch it out of his trembling hands and
put it carefully aside. I put the second wire away and turned back to him.
‘Don’t give out on me now; we’re in the
He just nodded, and I moved passed him, getting down on my
belly to worm my way partly out through the opening we had made to look
around. The wall of the culvert sloped away below me, but there were ladder
rungs embedded in the concrete wall rising above us. I was sure I could
pull myself out and climb up the outside of the tunnel grate and reach the
ladder, but I wasn’t sure Ito could.
I withdrew my head and shoulders from the opening and motioned
him to have a look. He went belly down in the slimy water without hesitation,
yearning for the outside air, I’m sure.
He pulled his head back in after a few minutes and gestured
up with a raised eyebrow. I nodded, and he looked doubtful. I leaned close,
‘Up or down. If we go down, I don’t know how far we’ll
have to go before we can find a place to climb back out.’
He looked grim and nodded sharply for me to go first. I gave
him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and wormed my way outside until I was
hanging on the lowest, uncut bar, and waited for him to join me. I clung
to the bar with my good right hand, and got a fistful of his shirt when
he finally got himself worked out of the tunnel, holding tight until he
had pulled himself up high enough to get a good solid grasp of the bars.
‘Hang tight.’ I warned him, and let go so I could
pull myself higher, and with my feet now braced on the tunnel bottom, I
grabbed him again, and helped hoist him up until he had both hands and feet
on the bars. We were able to climb side by side until we got to the ladder
itself, and then I stopped him for a moment and whispered, ‘When you
get to the top, stay down. Crawl out of the way, but stay down.’
He nodded, and I boosted him up, and followed close on his
heels. But when he got to the top, not only didn’t he crawl out of
the way, he ducked back down and stared back at me with panic on his face.
I pulled the detonator out of my pocket, keyed it, and hit the button before
I had much time to think about it.
It was easily twice the power of the charge I had set off
yesterday, and even with our distance from the site, I could feel the vibration
of it right through the rungs of the ladder we clung to. There was shouting
and cursing from a very frighteningly close range, but then the gratifying
sound of pounding feet retreating from our area. After several long moments,
I nudged Ito, and he again peeked over the edge of the culvert. This time,
he pulled himself over the lip, and rolled away to make room for me. I climbed
out quickly, and pulled him toward the cover of some scrub brush near the
edge of the culvert. I could see flames in the distance, and grinned. There
wasn’t a sign of anyone around, and we had come out not three blocks
from where I had parked the rental car.
I pulled him to his feet, and found him almost hanging on
my arm, ‘Not much further.’ I urged him, ‘If our incredible
luck holds a little longer, I have a car.’
I ripped the Galitron insignia off his shirt as we staggered
off, reaching back and pulling the tie out of my braid. I hadn’t been
seen, the only sign I had left behind that I was aware of was the credit
card I had ordered the pizza with that might possibly be traced to the short
haired Duo who had checked into that first hotel. I shook my head to free
the hair from the last of the braid and concentrated on evening out our
pace to something that didn’t look like outright flight. In the distance,
I heard the sound of sirens.
I almost cried when we came around the corner and the little
rental car was still sitting where I had left it. I fished the keys out,
grabbed my duffle out of the trunk, pushed it and Ito into the back seat
and piled in behind the wheel. Then I pulled us sedately away from the Galitron
building, even though I was shaking so bad, my teeth were chattering.
‘Makoto?’ It was an effort to speak at normal
volume, and I had to call twice before he heard me.
‘Yes?’ He too had to force himself not to whisper,
and he giggled a little.
‘There’s dry clothes in the bag, see what you
can do for yourself.’
I heard the sound of the zipper, and the rustling of cloth,
and then the grunting sound of him trying to change clothes without sitting
up. I hadn’t had to tell him to stay down.
I kept to side streets and worked us slowly through the city,
doing absolutely nothing that would draw anyone’s attention to us.
At length, the back seat got quiet, and Ito said ‘Ah;
that is much better. Thank you.’
‘No problem.’ I muttered, most of my attention
focused on my surroundings and my driving.
After a minute, he said, ‘Duo? Are you…awake now?’
I laughed, ‘Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.’
I glanced in the mirror, but couldn’t see him. It made for a bizarre
‘You should get out of your wet things as well.’
‘After I get us out of the city. I don’t want
to stop until we’re far from here.’
‘Makoto,’ I smiled into the darkness, ‘go
to sleep. I’ll be fine. If I start getting sleepy, I’ll turn
the radio on, Ok?’
It was very quiet after that, and I was left with nothing
but the driving, which, of course brought back memories of Heero. After
an hour or so, I actually had to look at the passenger seat to make sure
he wasn’t sleeping there beside me. My heart was a quivering mess
in the center of my chest; he was going to be so mad. What if he didn’t
forgive me? What the hell would I do? I must have sighed.
‘Duo?’ Came Ito’s voice from the back seat.
‘I thought you were asleep?’ I smiled.
‘I was, for awhile.’ He did sound a little better,
‘Can I sit up now?’
I chuckled, ‘Sure. I think it wouldn’t hurt. We’re
a couple of hours out of the city.’
His head popped into view, and he looked around like a thirsty
man at an open bar, dawn was just starting to color the sky. I wondered
how long he had been in that place.
He glanced at me, after a minute and frowned. ‘You’re
still in those wet clothes.’
I chuckled, ‘Yes, I am.’
‘You need to get out of them.’ His voice was,
for all the world, a worried grandparent.
I grinned happily at him, ‘I was thinking that very
same thing myself.’
So the next touristy looking place we came to, I pulled in,
gave him money and sizes, and sent him in for clothes, while I gassed the
car. It was one of those twenty-four hour places, and not very busy at that
hour, so no one got a close enough look at me to see that I resembled nothing
so much as day old road-kill.
Ito came out with a huge bag that proved to hold not just
clothes, but a couple of those gaudy beach towels, and a variety of snack
stuffs. I crowed with delight when I found the can of Mt. Dew in the bottom
of the bag.
He handed me the bag, and pushed me toward the backseat. ‘I
will drive for awhile, you change and get cleaned up.’
So I gave him general directions to our destination, and firm
orders to keep the speed a good five miles under the limit. Then I crawled
into the back and pulled out our riches. I found a bottle of tea in the
bag, and passed that forward to Ito. He immediately opened it and sipped
it with a sigh. I was already half through my soda. There was a box of chocolate
donuts, and I opened that next, wolfing down a couple before I passed that
forward as well. I fished my brush out of my bag, and started with my hair.
It took awhile to get the tangles out, and there wasn’t anything I
could do about the fact that it was filthy, but I could at least braid it
and not look like something the cat spit back out. All my muscles were protesting,
my knee was throbbing faintly, and my fingers were stiff. I could feel the
new cuts on my shoulder stinging, and I had to wonder about infection.
The clothes I was in weren’t really wet anymore, but
still miserably damp, and I stripped out of them with a happy sigh. I pulled
out one of the beach towels, a bright orange and blue thing with tropical
fish all over it, and vigorously rubbed myself dry. I found jeans and a
green t-shirt with an emerald-eyed black panther on the front of it. All
the wet stuff, I crammed in the now empty bag, and pulled on the clean shirt.
I had to lie down to get the jeans worked on over my stiff knee; it felt
good to stretch my back.
The next thing I knew was the sounding of my own voice, hoarse
from screaming. I came awake with a convulsive lurch that threw me to the
floor of the car. It took me long minutes to realize we weren’t moving,
and I could distantly hear the sound of Ito’s voice calling my name
in near hysteria. I struggled up, pushing past the pain, and managed to
get myself off the floor. The driver’s side doors were both standing
open, and when I blinked into focus, I saw Ito standing outside, in the
road, horror and blood on his face. Gods; he’d tried to touch me.
‘Duo?’ His voice was shaking as much as I was.
‘Makoto? It’s all right now, it’s over.’
I finally managed to push through my raw throat, ‘Did…did I
He came slowly toward me, cautious for obvious reasons.
‘Are you…are you all right now?’ He finally
asked, and when I nodded, damned if he didn’t climb into the back
seat with me and put his arms around me.
‘I am very sorry.’ He told me gravely, ‘I
did not think there would be harm in your sleeping out here where no one
‘It’s Ok.’ I muttered, and again, because
he hadn’t answered me the first time, ‘Did I hurt you?’
‘Only a split lip.’ He smiled sadly, ‘Less
than I deserved for being so stupid as to try and touch you.’
‘I’m so sorry...’ I began, but he put a
stop to that with a fierce hug.
‘My child.’ He murmured, ‘My poor, sweet
child.’ And he stroked my filthy hair and for a split second, I was
consumed with bitter jealousy of little Sarah, whom I had never met. I could
have lost myself forever in the comfort he offered me, so I pushed him gently
away, and put on the everything’s-Ok smile and told him, ‘We
have to get moving; this looks suspicious. We’re not out of the woods
yet. Can you drive some more?’ Because I sure as hell can’t
He nodded, gave my arm a last pat, and got back behind the
wheel. When he pulled back onto the road, I realized just how close he had
come to wrecking the car getting it stopped.
So he drove, and I shook and trembled and swallowed the pain.
My fingers found the dry towel, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I rubbed
the palm of my hand and just tried to get focused, and eventually, it faded
some and I was able to look outside myself again.
The sun was high in the sky, and the clock on the dash said
it was afternoon. Well, at least if I had paid the price for it, I had gotten
as much sleep as I ever managed without Heero…with me.
I carefully reconstructed the happy idiot mask, and leaned
forward over the seat, ‘Hey, Gram…Makoto; any of those donuts
His eyes met mine in the mirror, and I could see I wasn’t
fooling him in the slightest. And then he surprised me.
‘Gramps is fine.’ His tone was soft.
I blinked, mask slipping slightly off center. Damn; I must
be really scary when I go off into la-la land.
He passed me a donut, and we ate in silence.
We made a shuttle-port that evening, and when I checked, there
were a pair of open-ended tickets waiting under the usual code name. I didn’t
breath freely until the shuttle landed and we were greeted by a welcoming
committee that contained a few vaguely familiar faces. I gave Ito his data
disks back, and his little packet of precious belongings.
‘Well…Gramps, looks like you’ll be able
to give this to Sarah, yourself, after all.’
‘I have much to thank you for, impertinent one.’
The old guy smiled up at me, standing there wearing a pair of my rolled
up jeans, and that ugly yellow shirt, just as though there weren’t
five elite security guards huddled around us in a circle.
‘Just doing my job, old one.’ I smiled back.
‘When this…war is over,’ he smiled wickedly,
‘I’d still like for you to meet my granddaughter.’
I laughed, and impulsively, he threw his arms around me.
‘Shinigami really is my code name,’ I said softly
in his ear, ‘If you ever need anything.’
He drew back and looked up at me with a spark in his eye,
‘Does that make me the Grandfather of Death?’
We laughed together, until the Captain got past fidgety into
annoyed, and they hustled him off, leaving me standing in the middle of
the terminal with my duffle over my shoulder. I watched them go, and the
last thing I heard was,
‘My dear Captain, I am an old man and would appreciate
it if you would adjust the pace of …’
I vowed to track his progress. I’d never had a Grandfather
I made my tired legs take me to the service counter, and I
booked passage back…home. Back to Heero. Departure wasn’t for
a couple of hours, and I used some of the left over money to rent a motel
room long enough to shower. Getting the last of the tunnel filth out of
my hair made me feel a hundred percent better. I was able to set aside some
of the gnawing worries for a little while. Later I would think about the
ache in my knee, the burning infection in my back, the…nightmares;
Heero. Now, I just needed to get my sorry butt aboard that shuttle on time.
Concentrate on the small things.
The flight was uneventful, and a caffeine pill washed down
with a soda ensured there wasn’t any added in-flight entertainment.
A cab trip found the jeep right where I had left it, and I drug myself in,
and made the drive back to the estate, only weaving across the center line
two or three times.
I parked the jeep behind the other cars, and climbed wearily
down, dragging my gear with me. I’d been gone five days. I limped
around to the front of the house and wound up just standing there staring
at the door. I didn’t want to open it. I was afraid of what I was
going to find. I didn’t want the yelling to start. What if Heero wouldn’t
even speak to me? I struggled to find a mask that didn’t crumble as
I reached for it. I was so tired. It all hurt so much.
In my head, the door flew open and Heero ran out and swept
me up in his arms and held me and…and…but that was in my head.
In reality, the door stayed shut and I just stood like an
idiot staring at it, not able to make up my mind what to do. I couldn’t
get my face under control, and my heart felt like it was going to pound
out of my chest. I didn’t think I could handle his anger. His anger
was so…dark, so …uncompromising. My hands were shaking and I
reached to rub at the scar on my right palm. That last round of caffeine
pills might not have been the best idea I had ever had. I took a deep breath
and tried again, managing another step forward.
‘It won’t open itself.’
I whirled to find him on the steps behind me. My duffle bag
fell off my shoulder and hit the porch with a thump that seemed overloud.
I had to work to hide how dizzy the sudden movement had made me. I knew
my face was naked and open, because I couldn’t gather my wits enough
to piece anything together to cover my raw emotions.
He looked tired, and a little rumpled, and there was a hint
of the dark anger in the back of his eyes, but mostly there was just plain,
pure relief, and all my fears washed away in that instant, and I found myself
in his arms, not sure how I’d gotten there.
I kissed him, long and hard and deep, savoring the taste and
feel of him. His hands couldn’t seem to stop moving over me as though
assuring himself of my reality.
‘Don’t you ever…’
‘You wouldn’t have…’
Arms were tight and warm and real around me, but the shaking
wouldn’t stop and he was starting to look worried.
‘Heero…the nightmares…they came back.’
His eyes widened with the implication, ‘Gods, love…’
My knees were turning to water under me, but his arms were
solid and strong, and I stopped fighting it, and just let go. His horrified,
‘Duo!’ was the last thing I heard before slipping away into
blessed, peaceful, nothingness.
Go to Chapter Seven:Release
Back to Chapter Five
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