Author: Dacia

Duoman: Ships in the Night + Part 7

+

Heero leaned back against that wall, allowing himself to slide down it 'til he met the floor.

"I think I'm getting too old for this."

Every ache and pain that he had been doing his best to ignore had abruptly come to the fore. He had an uneasy feeling that underneath his utilitarian garb every inch of his body was bruised and, as much as he hesitated to admit it, it hurt like hell. Wufei's reply was as unexpected as it was consoling.

"You and me both." The Chinese man collapsed bonelessly next to him. "I think when we get home I'll take that vacation I've been putting off for..."

"Forever?" supplied Heero. "I've never known you to take time off. "

"You're one to talk," snorted Wufei. "There were times I thought we were in some sort of competition for who could work the hardest."

Heero knew better than to deny the remark, though he had not consciously been aware of the truth of the statement until now.

"It would be good to get away," he said. "To not be beaten into submission for no reason..."

"To not see your lover's blood staining his pale skin... Yes, It would be good to get away."

"Lover?
"

Wufei had the decency to blush. He had not forgotten that not long ago Treize had been his enemy, nor the fact that it had, after all, been less than a day since they had met. "Hai. You know me, Heero. I never pull my punches."

"He appears to be a good man," commented Heero.

Wufei raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

In reply to his unspoken question, Heero said one word. "Zechs."

"Ah, yes. The golden beauty." His attempt to keep the jealous tone out of his voice might have worked if he had been talking with anyone else.

"It's over between them. You must know that. It's been over for quite some time. Zechs has set his sights on... another."

"Duo?"

Heero choose that moment to find his hands intensely fascinating. He studied them as if he had never even imagined such a complicated joining of blood and bone could possibly exist. "Hai."

"Are you ok with that?"

"You don't miss a beat, do you?"

"It goes along with not pulling my punches. But you didn't answer my question. Do you mind?"

"Strangely, no."

"But don't you..."

"So much that it hurts."

"Oh."

Heero looked up just in time to catch Wufei's wry smile.

"I respect you a lot, Heero. I even like you. But there are some things about you I just don't need to know."

Heero couldn't help but laugh. He laughed so deeply, it became a pain to add to all his others. He laughed for the suffering he'd endured, the sorrow and the confusion. He laughed until his eyes teared and still he could not stop.

Wufei watched Heero with what might have been termed affection if they had known each other better. "Was it something I said?"

Beside them, Dermail began to stir, bringing both of the young men back to their senses.

"I would have thought he would stay out longer," commented Heero as he stood, the picture of grace and ease as he relegated his pain to some future time when he could allow himself to give into it without endangering the lives of those near and dear to him.

"He's a tough bastard," replied Wufei.

"I have no doubt of it." He nudged the old man with his foot, none too gently. "Up."

Dermail opened his eyes.... and smiled. "Alpha. Beta. Omega."

His tone was not that of a defeated man and it was this more than his indecipherable words that caused Heero's shackles to rise. "What was that?"

"That, my dear Preventer Yuy, was me, winning."

As he spoke, the lights flashed from white to red, bathing their surroundings in a bloody glow as an alarm siren began to wail.

Wufei looked down on Dermail, unfazed by the activation of what was, in all probability, a self-destruct device that would blow them all to hell and back in the very near future. "Why is it that you winning always amounts to death and destruction?"

Dermail shrugged. "It's amusing."

"Don't get too excited. We're not dead yet."

"Aren't you, Preventer Chang? You have less than 15 minutes until a very powerful explosive renders this station into unsalvageable wreckage. Even if you were not 42 levels deep into its interior, you could not put enough distance between yourself and San Rommel to survive."

"Shut him up, will you?" interrupted Heero. "He's beginning to aggravate me."

Wufei nodded once in agreement before sending a very stunned Dermail back to unconsciousness with a swift and well-placed kick. He was satisfied to know that, if nothing else, Dermail had not seen that coming.

"Damn. Just when I was going to take time off, too. I do believe life is laughing at me."

"Not laughing at you, Wufei. Merely goading you. Give me a hand." He leaned down to grab Dermail's pinioned arms. "We're getting out of here."

"So we can die in the hallway?" wondered his Chinese counterpart.

"We're not going to die, Wufei. Duo will save us."

"Duo?" Wufei did not sound convinced.

"Aa. He's more than meets the eye."

"Even more than that? You're a lucky man, Heero."

Heero flashed him a shameless grin. "I know."

+

"You know, this is what I get for hanging around with Preventers. I could be home discussing metaphysics with the toaster oven's AI but noooo, I'm deep in the middle of a sugar-spun hellhole that's about to explode into a fiery ball of twisted metal."

"Duo..."

"I've been a good boy, done everything a good hologram should do..."

"Duo ..."

"Can't a guy get a break?"

Duo had been ranting nonstop since the sirens had started and it was only after considering all the options laying before him that Zechs made his decision. Leaning past Treize, who still lay dead to the world in Duo's arms, he kissed the braided boy with every ounce of feeling he could muster, effectively cutting short his tirade. [18] Quatre looked on, literally seeing sparks fly in the red-tinged darkness where the two met. When Zechs finally pulled away, he was panting from the effort it took to remind himself firmly that now was not a good time.

"What was that for?" Duo asked as he licked his lips. Zechs tasted vaguely of... watermelon? He doubted he had ever known anything as sweet.

"It was either that or slap you," answered Zechs. "Kissing you promised to be more fun."

"No argument there. I'm guessing this means I'm supposed to save the day again."

"If you wouldn't mind," said Quatre sweetly.

"It's not that I mind, Kat, it's that I don't know if I can."

"Pardon?"

"Quatre, do you remember me saying something about having fried Wing Zero's circuits? Well, that was a necessary understatement. Wing Zero is toast. But not dead toast. Living, breathing toast."

"I'm afraid you've lost me there," frowned Quatre, raising his voice so as to be heard over the alarm.

Duo grimace, growling as he jerked his head smartly to the left. The resulting silence echoed in their ears nearly as loudly as the sirens had.

"Think of Wing Zero as a brain. A human brain whose higher brain functions have been effectively terminated. But just because she can't think doesn't mean she's defenseless. Hacking into her was the hardest thing I have ever done. I swear I will see you die slowly if you ever tell Heero this, but I barely made it out. Now that she's been compromised, she'd little more than an undeveloped child, but one that will strike out at anything she sees as an invader with all the force she can muster. Going into her the first time, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Now I know exactly what it is that I left behind. I... I don't know if I can do it again, Kat."

Quatre and Zechs were stunned and belittled by Duo's heartfelt confession. Both of them, in their own fashion, cared for Duo, of that there was no doubt, yet still they had relied on him to such an extent that he might have been just another handy tool that they might use if ever they had need. While there was no denying that Duo was a force to be reckoned with, somewhere along the line he had become human. And he was scared.

"Duo..." Quatre approached him slowly, noting that even in this hellish light Duo's eyes were the shade of spring violets. He motioned for Duo to lay Treize down and, after he had done so, nestled into his arms. "Oh, Duo, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I thought it was all easy for you. I had no idea..."

Duo wrapped his arms around his friend and rested his chin on his shoulder. "It's ok, Kat. I wasn't going to tell you. You didn't need to know and I thought it wouldn't matter. I thought it was over. Going back into her... I know I have to do it, Kat, but, my god, I don't want to. If it were just me, I think I'd rather die." He held the blonde tighter, careful not to hurt him yet needing this closeness now more than ever. "But it's not just me. It's you and the beauty over there whose touch is more electrifying than I am. Hell, there's even this unconscious man at our feet who's apparently the true love of a guy I've only met once. And..."

"And Heero."

Duo pulled back. "Hai. Don't give me those puppy dog eyes, Kat. I'll be fine. You know me. I can do anything." He winked slyly and Quatre could not help but smile. "But do me a favour, will you kitten? If... well... if I'm not around to do it, could you give Heero this for me? I'd have blondie over there do it, but I think it'd just confuse Heero. He's... he's too sweet for his own good, believe it or not."

With these words, he leaned forward and gently covered Quatre's lips with his own. The kiss was so tender and loving that Quatre felt he might cry. The moment eventually had to end. When it did, both wished it might have been otherwise.

"Give him that, Kat, and tell him... hell, tell him whatever you want. You were always better with words than I was. Maybe you won't even need to. Maybe I'm getting freaked over nothing and it'll be a piece of cake. And if I do catch you kissing Heero there'll be hell to pay cuz you are just way too damn good at it."

He released Quatre in such a way that the smaller boy might never have known exactly how much it cost him if he hadn't noticed the difference in Duo's wreckless grin.

"Mind you, I'm expecting one hell of a reward when we get home." He looked down to Zechs who sat on the floor with Treize's head cradled in his lap. He moved closer to Quatre once more, breathing in the scent of him. "And tell blondie there I like to be on top."

It was as a pair of hazel eyes finally opened that Duo faded away, almost as if he had never been.

+

Duo's face was an emotionless mask as he strode to the room housing Wing Zero's main terminal. Despite the assurances he had given Quatre, he was sure that there was no way he would make it out of this alive. He could have traveled faster through the air, spreading himself so thin that by the time he left a place he was already where he intended to go, but just for a moment he wanted to feel the solidness of living. To feel, to breathe, to move -- these were things that connected him to life, things he would soon be forfeiting. He used his fingers to program his message into the system, assuring that those he was giving his life to protect would survive. His hands ghosted over the circuitry with the speed of thought for now, at last, there was simply no more time.

+

Wufei and Heero made good time, in spite of their burden. Any guards they came across were too busy running for their lives to bother with them, whether or not they recognized the man being manhandled by the two as Dermail. The cutting sound of the alarm had broken off only a few minutes after it had started and both knew they had Duo to thank for this slight reprieve.

Wufei straightened to stretch his back. "Even unconscious, he's a pain," he commented. "If I were a lesser man, I'd just kill him now and spare myself all the trouble his trial will inevitably cause.

"That's what you get for having principles," replied Heero. "Come on. We're almost there."

Wufei bent with an nearly inaudible sigh and grasped Dermail's ankles. He had not until this time considered Dermail to be a large man, but bearing his dead weight was wearing down Wufei's already depleted reserves. By the time they reached the shuttle bay, he was literally running on autopilot.

"Heero!"

Heero turned to find Quatre speeding towards them.

"You made it! Are you ok? What happened?"

"I think perhaps now is not the best time for this discussion, Quatre. When we've made it back to Earth, after I've had 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, six cups of coffee, and at least two bouts of mind-blowing, scream-inducing sex, then would be the time for this discussion. Right now, we just need to leave."

His declaration was met with a ringing silence and, as it turned out, an audience of three men with slightly raised eyebrows.

"It was the mind-blowing, scream-inducing sex part, wasn't it?" He shook his head fondly. "I think Duo's starting to rub off on me."

Quatre's expression turned from amused to stricken in the blink of an eye.

"Quatre...?"

"Damn it, Heero. Why did you... Why now? Why did you have to become human now?"

"Am I missing something here?"

"Heero, Duo..." Zechs could not bring himself to meet Heero's intense gaze. Not now. Later, when this was all over he would be glad to lose himself in those cobalt depths, but now... "Duo's not coming back, Heero."

"What do you mean, Duo's not coming back." Heero's voice was static and cold, more than ever like the machine he had always seemed to be. "Duo always comes back."

"Not this time. He... He gave his life to save us."

As Quatre spoke the damning words, Heero felt his heart stop in his chest, his breath freeze in his lungs. Duo....?

From somewhere far away he heard the sound of laughter.

"It just gets better and better."

The four looked up to see Dermail, unbound and upright, holding a gun pointed in their direction.

"It really doesn't pay to be a good guy," mumbled Wufei. "Although I am tempted to wonder why you're even endeavoring to escape, given the circumstances."

"It was a gamble, I warrant," said Dermail. "I knew that you had compromised Wing Zero, but I didn't know how. It really should have been impossible. It was only a calculated guess that what could be done once could be done again. Thanks to this Duo, poor brilliant damned soul that he is, it seems I have won after all."

"And so you go..." Wufei's voice was defeat itself as he watched the man who had darkened his life back way.

"And so I --"

Dermail blanched and clutched his hand to his chest, thick red blood oozing between his fingers as he fell to the floor. His eyes were wide and disbelieving as the last of his life slipped away through the hole in his heart.

The red lights began to strobe just as Heero dropped his gun which skittered away as if it had landed on ice. Without a word, he began to run.

"Heero!" Quatre started after him only to feel Zechs' restraining grip on his shoulder.

"Let him go, Quatre. Let him go."

+

Heero had yet to feel his heart resume beating. He had shot Dermail not in a fit of rage or from a need to see justice served, but simply because he was standing in the way. The others had spoken of Duo as if he were already lost, but there was a way. If he could get there in time... If he were not already too late...

His mind was too busy calculating to feel. It was rather a relief. The past 48 hours had seen him thrown headfirst into a whirlwind of emotion. It had been an exhilarating and terrifying experience for which he'd had no preparation and in which he no longer wanted to take part. A heart wasn't supposed to be able to break...

He ran faster than he ever had before. It seemed to take no effort at all. As long as he concentrated on the pumping of his legs, he felt he could fly, though the sensation was not as freeing as he would have supposed. Zechs' office came into sight and it wasn't a minute after that he threw himself in front of Wing Zero's main monitor and began to work furiously at the keyboard.

He knew now what Duo was facing. Underneath all of Duo's unforeseen and unpredictable eccentricities lay a solid foundation of logical programming. In order to completely disable it would call for extreme measures. He couldn't quite fathom how he had failed to see it before. Duo had beaten Wing Zero, but only barely. For Duo to return to the ruined remains of what had been the world's most advanced computer was no less than throwing himself headfirst into a blender. To bypass Wing's defenses, he would have to lose himself in the chaotic noise that was now Wing's interpretation of input. [19] He would retain enough of himself to do what had to be done, but then he would be unable to reintegrate himself. By that time, he would have been spread too thin. It was inevitable that he be lost...

Unless he had an anchor.

The amethyst-eyed boy had once referred to Heero as a 'Duo magnet'. At the time, Heero hadn't paid much mind, allowing Duo's usually idle chatter to filter harmlessly into and through his mind. But nothing Duo had said, no matter how trivial, had ever been ignored by Heero and it was this one concept that had lit a bright spark in his brain.

It was simple, really. Every fiber of Duo's being had its own personal signature. It had been necessary in order for Duo's body to have any sort of cohesiveness that the light atoms which made up his matrix recognize and gravitate towards one another as cells in a human body would do. Unlike his mortal counterparts, Duo could cause his molecules to separate and rejoin through will alone as long as he held on to some fragment of his own identity. To prevent the self-destruction of San Rommell, he'd had to forsake his own sense of self and, with it, any hope of becoming whole again.

But Duo wasn't the only one to hold the key to his identity in his hands. Heero, after all, had been the one to create it.

It was child's play to insert the marker into Wing's damaged core. Disguising it as random interference should have been impossible -- it would have taken any other man weeks to generate the matrices alone -- yet Heero accomplished the task in a few minutes.

It was a foolproof plan. Or it would have been if it weren't for one small detail. The self-destruct mechanism was still activated, and Duo was still their one and only chance of survival. He would have to wait until Duo completed his task to put his scheme into effect. If he acted too soon they would all die, yet if he waited too long Duo would become inseparable and indistinguishable from Wing.

As the red warning lights continued to flash, Heero observed that the heart he had thought stilled forever was now beating wildly in his chest. Every second that passed saw Duo farther and farther from him, and he felt the rift as if his own body were being torn asunder. His fingers were poised over the keys, kept from shaking only through the force of his will, and he began to move a split second after the lights flickered back to normal.

With a few keystrokes, it was done. Every part of Duo that still bore his mark would be drawn to the algorithm now meshed into Zero's system and then, in turn, to each other.

In theory.

The room was so silent that Heero absently wondered if he could still hear at all. Perhaps he was deaf. Perhaps Duo had failed and he was dead without even knowing it. Heero had never been given to flights of fancy, yet in the silence of that cold and lonely room he was assailed by every imaginable possibility. Sitting so motionless that he hardly seemed alive, his mind was spinning out of control until he became aware of one thing.

A sound.

A ragged breath being taken behind him, a whimper of pain.

Heero stood slowly. At first he could not make himself turn, yet after an eternal moment he couldn't help but look. As he found himself sinking deeply into amethyst eyes, Heero came to a decision. He took one step forward and then another, his eyes never leaving those of the boy before him until he stood bare inches away. With a courage greater than he had ever known, he leaned closer to Duo and kissed him, for the first time of his own accord. It was not a passionate kiss, hardly even a romantic one, merely the slightest touch of flesh on flesh before he pulled back. As he did so, Duo once again did the impossible -- he fainted dead away.

+

[18] Yes, I know. It's an old trick to shut Duo up by kissing him, but it's just so much *fun* ^_~
[19] I have *no idea* what I'm talking about. If I hadn't told you, would you have been able to tell?

[part 6] [part 8] [back to Dacia's fic]