by Anria Lalumin
Disclaimer: I own . . . nothing. Not even the OC in
this fic, and you'll see why.
Warnings: yaoi, eensie bit of angst, sap,
pointlessness, SPOILERS for Episode Zero.
Pairings: 1x2, 2x3 (in a very skewed way), 5xS.

Clone

Duo stepped into the dark room and wrinkled his nose. Cigarette smoke hung thickly on the air, as well as the musty smell all homes seemed to take when their occupants live in them for a long time and don't air them much.

"You really need to open some windows," he said as an opening comment.

There was a snort from a corner of the room. The occupant was seated and only lit by the glowing end a cigarette held carelessly in one hand.

Duo traversed the littered floor with infinite care. Old newspapers, empty bottles and the half-eaten remains of TV dinners lay strewn across its surface. "You also need to clean up a bit in here," he added.

"Bit hard to clean up when you're stuck in this thing." There was a metallic ring as the other person slapped his hand on his seat. "Why do you bother coming any more?"

"Because I owe everything to you," Duo snapped back. "And even if you want to live like an invalid recluse who doesn't even watch TV, I'm going to come here and bother you once a month, every month, whether you like it or not. I owe you that much."

Silence reigned for a moment, then Duo spoke again. "Things have got a lot better," he said, somewhat awkwardly.

"Oh, really?" the wheelchair-bound man said in a tone of complete disinterest.

"Yes, really," Duo replied firmly. Damn it, he was not going to be allowed to ignore everything. Not while Duo was still alive. "Relena Peacecraft has taken the opportunity we gave her and flown with it. Y'know, I always used to think talking was useless, but you should see her dance around with words. She's settled many a peaceful deal by thoroughly confusing the guys she's talking to and turning their own logic against them until they'll just sign the damn thing to get her to leave them alone." Duo snorted. "It's certainly amusing to watch."

"And of course you can follow all her arguments."

Duo nodded. "Some of them don't even make sense, they're just couched so that they do. And by the time the other guy has figured that out, she's ready to spring another whopper on him before he can object. Pretty funny."

"How're the others?"

"Wufei's his usual grumpy self. Him and Sally are going out on missions for the Preventers all the time now. Personally I don't see how she can just sit there and smile and nod when he gets into one of his justice rants -- and he's quietened down from how he used to be. Quatre -- well, he surprised everyone. We all expected him to take over Winner Corporations, you know, since the war's over and it gets passed down in the family. And with his grasp of tactics and all that, he'd be a great businessman, but he turned it over to his sisters, saying they were all better at it than him. Then he went off to join the Preventers with Wufei, saying he wanted hands-on action. I spoke to him, and seems like his training affected him more deeply than any of us lot saw -- he just can't get the lust for some sort of confrontation out of his mind. He hates those impulses even though he deals with them well, but he figured it was better to join the Preventers than go out and pick fights in bars. For one thing, it wouldn't be plastered all over the news next day."

Duo paused for a moment, as though pondering. "Trowa's in hospital right now. Nothing serious; just Cathy's hand slipped when they were doing their act. She said the look on his face surprised her, so I joked and said he never has any look on his face, and she said that was just it, he did. He was smiling, and he looked so . . . alive. I think Trowa's finally starting to heal. More than all of us, he's had a tough life."

Duo slipped into silence again, thinking. After a moment the other person in the room coughed slightly, then asked, "What about you?"

For a moment nothing was forthcoming. Then, "You'll laugh."

"Tell me anyway. I need a good laugh."

Duo took a deep breath. "I'm a stand-up comedian."

Dead silence.

It started out slowly, small snickers making their way out of the form in the wheelchair. Then they turned to giggles, then chuckles, then full-out laughter. The cigarette stub was snuffed out when the chair-bound man wrapped his arms around himself and laughed harder than he could ever remember doing.

"Er, what --"

"It's just that --" he wiped tears from his eyes, forcefully getting himself under control so only a few giggles escaped "-- I can actually see you doing that."

"Oh."

"You'll have to give me some tapes of you on stage."

Duo's smile nearly split his face. He was showing some interest in something!

The hidden speaker suddenly calmed and took a deep breath. "You haven't mentioned him."

Duo hesitated. "I know you don't like it," he began.

"Oh, screw that. I want to know. Call it morbid curiosity."

"I'm sorry."

"Damn it Duo, how many times do I have to tell you not to be sorry! It's not your damn fault!" The man smashed his fist down on the arm of his chair.

Duo sat frozen. "You called me Duo," he whispered. "You never call me Duo."

"It's your name, isn't it? The one you took for yourself?"

". . . Thank you."

"Don't thank me, tell me about him. How are you two?"

Duo took a deep breath. It always seemed like he had to prepare himself before answering any questions he was given. "We're . . . really happy," he said simply. "I -- I love him very much." The last was said in a near whisper.

"Does he love you?"

". . . Yes."

"Then stop tiptoeing around it as though I'm going to break if you give me a straight answer. I'm stronger than that. I proved it, didn't I? I'm still here, aren't I?"

". . . Yes."

"What's he doing?"

"He's in the Preventers too. One of the top agents."

He snorted. "Why am I not surprised?"

Duo was silent for a moment, then he burst out, "Why don't you come see all of them?"

"I have."

"No, I mean come and talk to them instead of hiding in the shadows? After all, I owe you --"

"-- Everything, I know. You keep saying that. Why the sudden offer?"

"Because you're slowly killing yourself here!" Duo said vehemently, leaning forward to peer into the darkness shrouding the other form intently. "I don't like it. You don't deserve this."

"You're more confident now," the other person remarked. "Good. I suppose he's the one to blame."

"We help each other with stuff like that."

"I can imagine."

"What do you say?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I have no reason to see them."

"Of course you do."

"No I don't."

"We're not going to get into the pointless and childish 'No I don't' 'Yes you do' syndrome. They would love to meet you."

The other person froze. "You . . . haven't told them about me, have you?"

"No, I haven't. I will if you want me to."

"I don't. I'm happy here, where nobody bothers me."

"Except me."

"Well, you always were nosy."

"Too right. And I'm damn glad I was. Come meet them."

"Why?"

"Because of you they all have the opportunity to live and be free. Wufei's loosening up gradually -- he smiled at me the other day. Quatre's happier knowing his tendency to violence is being used constructively towards peace. Trowa's staring to live again, smile again, and more than that, want to live."

"And then there's you two."

"Yes. We would never have been able to find happiness together, corny as that sounds, without you. Please, please, come and talk to them. Come meet them."

". . . If I say yes, will you shut up?"

"Yes."

"And leave me alone for another month?"

"Yes, as long as next month when I come you come with me to see them."

"Hmph."

"I can always start singing if you want."

"Agh! No! The last time you did that I couldn't get 'Sit On My Face' [1] out of my head!"

"So you'll come?"

". . . Oh, all right."

"Sugoi!"

"You said you'd shut up."

"Ziiiiiipp!"

"Now bugger off."

Duo smiled and rose, making his way across the tiny one-room apartment to the door. When he had the door half-open, he paused and looked back at the room's occupant. "You know, if you're not here or dead when I get here next month, I'll either take your body or track you down and drag you. You know that, right?"

Snort. "You expect me to go back on my word? We both know I don't lie."

Duo smiled. "Thank you." Then he disappeared out of the door.

+

"Does anyone know why Duo wanted us to meet here?" Quatre asked the other pilots and Sally as they gathered in one of the Preventers' private meeting rooms.

"No," Wufei replied. "Greetings, Winner," he added, almost as an afterthought.

"Hello, Wufei," Quatre replied absently. His brows drew together as he frowned in thought, contemplating the reason for Duo gathering them there today. "Any ideas, Heero, Trowa?"

"None," Trowa replied. Heero just smiled mysteriously, which instantly latched the blond's attention onto him. "You know why, don't you, Heero?"

Heero said nothing, but his smile grew oh-so-minutely wider.

"Heero!" Quatre never bothered with tactics around his friends.

"Let's just say . . . it's about time."

Before Quatre could attack the Japanese boy for more information, the door opened and Duo stepped inside. He left the door slightly ajar, looking slight flustered.

"Hey guys," he said, before anyone could greet him. "I've got someone for you to meet."

"Well, where are they, then?" Quatre demanded. Trowa covered a smile with his hand.

"Calm down. I've gotta explain something first, and don't interrupt me, k?" Puzzled, Quatre nodded his acceptance as the others did. "I'm gonna talk about .. . myself, in third person. Don't bug me about why.

"When Duo . . . that sounds so strange, now I'm saying it. But what the hell. When Duo was young, there was a plague on the L2 colony he was staying on. Duo wasn't known as Duo then, he didn't have a name. It was taken in remembrance of Solo, who had taken care of Duo when they first came to the colony and before that. Solo died of the plague, like all of the others. Duo was alone, and at first it didn't seem like he'd get the plague. He'd stolen some serum from an OZ facility a little while before, but his own cowardice made him leave it too late for the others -- they took the serum, and still died. So Duo felt like it was his own fault, and he didn't take any serum.

"He started wandering around the colony, looking for a spot to stay, some food to steal, stuff like that. It was a lot harder without Solo and the others there to help and share what they'd all managed to get. After a while Duo started getting sick.

"When he snuck on board the Sweepers ship he was close to dead as could be and still walk, and the Sweepers caught him pretty easy. G, having trained as a doctor and not being completely heartless, took a look at him and basically decided that if he ever survived he'd be paralyzed from the waist down and have respiratory problems all his life at the very least. But when he ran a few tests on Duo's blood, he examined the DNA out of habit and found that if he wasn't so ill, Duo would be just about perfect to pilot the Gundam, and it was pretty damn hard to match up to G's standards, and he'd even been considering creating his necessary pilot from a zygote with mucked-about chromosomes. But cloning . . . was a lot cheaper."

The others were all staring at the man they knew as Duo wide-eyed. He spread his hands. "I think you got it -- I'm the clone."

"Get on with it, baka," Heero said affectionately.

"I have all of the original Duo's memories from the memory dump. I might technically be twelve years younger than him, but physically I'm just about the same since G sped up the growth process as quick as he could. Took me three years to go from zygote-clone to fifteen-year-old-clone."

Duo took a deep breath. "So, after much nagging, I finally managed to convince the original to come in here and meet you guys."

The door got nudged open as a wheelchair with the distinct metallic sheen of Gundanium barged its way through. Its occupant was skeletally thin, with the pasty skin of someone who doesn't often see natural light. The braid was pulled over his shoulder to pool in his lap, the bangs having grown so long that they virtually covered his whole face. His legs were thin and wasted.

But nobody dared say anything, because when he came through the door he had this look on his face which screamed louder than words 'Don't pity me or wheelchair or no I will reach down your gullet and feed you your own liver.' He might have been bound to a wheelchair and he might have looked like something dead a week, but he was undoubtedly Duo.

Heero walked over and held out his hand. "Hello," he said.

"You weren't in the least surprised," Quatre accused.

Heero looked at him. "Of course not," he said. "I got the story out of Duo a long time ago."

The original Duo looked up at his clone with a wry face. "He talks more than you said."

"Oh, he'll shut up now," Duo said cheerfully. "He's used up his word quota for the day."

A very familiar sly grin spread across the too-pale emaciated face. "I'll bet you could make him create a lot of noise if you tried," the wheelchair occupant said.

Suddenly Wufei groaned and buried his face in his hands. "Two of them," he muttered.

"What?" Sally asked.

"There are two Duos! Injustice!"

Both the standing and seated Duos burst out laughing.

That essentially broke the ice. The paralyzed Duo was a little wary of the others and especially didn't like them all gathering close, towering over where he was trapped in the Gundanium wheelchair, but thankfully they got the hint when he started glaring and backed off.

Sally drilled the two Duos on the medical procedure until they told her to lighten up -- simultaneously.

After some three hours of talking and telling the original Duo about the events the clone-Duo had either not had the opportunity to tell him or had simply forgotten about, clone-Duo announced that it was time they split up. "Gotta get grumps here back before the mental asylum here comes looking for him," he said cheerfully.

"Looking for me? You're the one who escaped!"

Despite his flippant reply, the original Duo was glad. He wasn't used to expending energy on this level, and it was taking its toll, which he had no doubt his clone had noticed. He thought this with a certain fondness, like the other him was a son or favorite -- but annoying -- little brother.

"Will we get the chance to meet you again?" Quatre asked, and he could tell the blond who still hadn't hit his growth spurt really did mean it. Duo felt dizzy -- somebody wanted to spend time with him for him -- for who he was! It wasn't just because he was the original Duo, not the clone!

"Yes, I think you will," he heard himself say, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Heero smile. His heart nearly stopped -- no wonder Duo was so crazy about him!

"We'd best be going," he said abruptly, and swung the wheelchair around and out of the door before that could go down a line of thought he wasn't quite ready for. Besides, there was no point in speculating on 'what might have been'.

He got all the way through the Preventers' building and to the car without speaking to the man trotting complacently behind him. He even managed to ignore him as he helped him into the car, storing his wheelchair in the back.

They were almost to the apartment when he suddenly said, "Thank you."

Duo glanced at him before returning his attention to the road. "What for?"

"For making me leave that room."

Silence reigned until they got up to the door in front of the apartment.

"Did you mean it?"

"Did I mean what?" Duo leaned forwards in his chair to insert the key in the lock -- nostalgia of the poor colony he had grown up on made him keep a manual lock.

"Did you mean you would meet them again?"

A smile curved his lips. "Would I lie?"

There was a short silence, then, "How does this weekend sound?"

"It sounds great."

"Oh, and Duo?" The wheelchair's occupant turned and looked up at his twin -- he refused to think of him as a clone any longer -- with a serious expression on his face as he contemplated the other.

Then, "Don't call me that. That's your name now."

Duo blinked. "Wha?"

"I'll find a new name. You suit that one."

"But --"

"I said," the now-nameless man said gently, "I will find a new name."

Duo blinked at him repeatedly, then sat down on his haunches so he was slightly shorter, but they were still roughly the same height. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly.

"I'm sure."

"Then I have one more thing to owe you for."

"You already had the name. I just finalized it."

"Still. Before I was only borrowing it. Now I have an identity to completely call my own. A life I would never have had if not for you."

He smiled at Duo. "It was worth it, if only to see how I would have turned out if not for that plague and my own stubbornness."

"Are you disappointed?"

"Not in the slightest."

There was a moment of perfect understanding between the two as they smiled into their own face. Then Duo broke it.

"You might want to consider these," he said, standing, and dropped a couple of leaflets onto his twin's lap, turning and walking away without another word.

He turned the wheelchair and entered his apartment, letting the door swing shut behind him. For a moment he surveyed the room the way Duo must, and then made his way decisively to the window and threw the curtains open, unlocking the window and shoving it open. It stuck, having been shut for so long, but eventually was persuaded to open.

And with the sunlight on his face and the wind blowing through the open window, washing out years of lonely depression, he looked down on the leaflets on his lap.

'Nerve regeneration -- helping those with severed spinal cords to walk.'

'The New Technique for Paralytics'.

'Walking is not just for the lucky'.

It took him a while, but he read through every leaflet and looked up everything on it to make sure that it wasn't just a hoax, that there was really a chance he might be able to walk.

Then he called the numbers given.

+

Four years later, the man now known as Allein [2] stood beside his twin as he cooed into the cradle holding Wufei and Sally's new daughter, Linnea [3]. Quatre was bickering with Wufei over what they would feed Sally for lunch, since Wufei wanted to feed her some sort of godawful nutritious thing and Quatre argued she needed a good strong fried meal to get her going. Heero leaned against the wall a little way away from them and smirked, occasionally throwing in a comment to escalate the argument without making it seem like he was involved at all.

Trowa came up behind Allein and took his hand, smiling at him. Allein smiled right back.

Silently, he once again thanked Duo for making him leave that room. If he hadn't, he might never have regained the use of his legs. He would never be totally healthy, as there was nothing to be done about his respiratory system, but he had a job, he had friends, and he had a lover.

What could be better than that?

Well . . . one thing. . . .

"Oh no you don't," Trowa suddenly whispered to him. "Not in public."

Allein pouted at him. "Please? It would stop Wufei and Quatre arguing."

"Because Wufei would faint and Quatre would run off screaming."

"Precisely."

"At least wait until we get home before you jump me."

"Why?" Allein's eyes were glittering now, and he was edging closer and closer.

"What about the baby? She's very impressionable," Trowa said, somewhat desperately.

"Children don't start remembering things until they're three years old. The mind isn't formed enough."

"Yeah . . . well . . . what about Duo?"

"If he and Heero don't do this on a regular basis I'd be very surprised. Now shut up!"

"Mmph!"

Duo looked around when he heard a loud thud, then stared. And giggled. "Hey, Wu, look at this!"

"What are you talking abo -- ARGH!"

"Eeep!"

Allein's predictions proved to be completely true.

~ Owari

[1] Yay! Go Monty Python!
[2] Allein is 'Sole', as in the sole whatever, in German.
[3] There was a Chinese girl called Linnea Chung that I knew when I was growing up, so I figured the name fitted. ^_^

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