Crossing Paths + Part 18 (cont)
Death

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There seemed to be an endless conversation going on around Duo, most of it arguments, hot words being flung across his body like an odd game of verbal ping pong. Duo wanted quiet. He wanted to tell the voices to just shut- up, but he couldn't. He felt as it something heavy was holding down all of his limbs and some terrible force had rendered all of his senses, except his hearing, inoperable. It was torture and, he suspected, the ones doing the arguing didn't know that.

"I don't trust you!" That was Heero; frantic, at his wit's end.

"You must trust me!" Milliardo; angry, desperate.

"Tell me how you knew about any of this, and I might," Heero shot back.

Milliardo was quiet for a long time and then he sighed and said, "It's a long story, Yuy." A chair scraped and Duo heard the sound of someone sitting down heavily.

A weight settled next to Duo, a dipping of the mattress registering on his sense of balance his only indication. Otherwise, he was numb, not feeling even the sheets on his body, or a surface against his back. Duo could have been floating in space and he wouldn't have known the difference. Only that dip of his inner ear, alerting him to a change in position, and the voices, gave the void he found himself in some solidity.

"I'm not leaving Duo's side. We have time, Peacecraft. Give me the information that I want," Heero demanded, "or I refuse to let you treat Duo further."

"That's madness!" Milliardo exclaimed. "He can't stay in stasis forever. His body will deteriorate past any treatment known to man!"

"That would be better than some of the Oz 'treatments' I've witnessed," Heero replied coldly.

"We don't have as much time for long tales as you seem to think," Milliardo informed him. "Duo has a leg locator. The government will find out he is here. Senator Santoro did escape. I'm sure that he will tell some tale that will take me some time to refute. He is a powerful man. There are many in the government who fear him and his influence in the army. While I am defending my actions, and making him defend his, it is possible that the government will order Duo taken into custody."

"They can try," Heero replied with a deadly tone.

That made Milliardo furious. "Where will you run too? The government is in alliance with the Colonies now. If you manage to get into Space, they will have you returned. It is much better to bring our case to the court and prove that Duo was being given more than sedatives. I have the pills and their government labels. I know where they were manufactured. It's proof positive that Santoro, and Duo's enemies, won't be able to argue against."

"You still need to explain how you are able to recognize the pills," Heero demanded. "They are just coded bottles."

Another long silence and then Milliardo admitted, "I recognize the code. They all begin with S.A.C.I. P. and then their lot number. The letters stand for Silent Assassin Combination Inhibitors. It was meant for eliminating enemies in unreachable positions in such a way that it wouldn't cause suspicion. The idea was to plant a doctor on a target's staff and then to slowly administer the inhibitors until they incapacitated and killed the target. Duo's dose was reduced so that it would take years instead of months..." Milliardo coughed as if suddenly overwhelmed and trying to cover it up. "Whoever made that decision... I can't think of a punishment strong enough for them."

"Then you don't know who's behind it?" Heero asked, jumping on that statement. "It's not Santoro, the man who attacked Quatre's estate?"

"Santoro is an opportunist, nothing more," Milliardo explained. "The conspiracy goes much higher."

"Explain."

"Which point?"

"Every point. Start from the beginning when Duo was arrested in bed with you. You do know that he doesn't recall much about that night?"

"No, I did not know that," Milliardo replied angrily. Duo heard cloth rustle and then the sound of someone, presumably Milliardo, pacing the floor. "I tried to seduce him early on in the evening, but....," Milliardo voice became even more angry and Duo thought that he heard hurt as well. "He kept talking about you. He hoped that you would show up at the party. When you didn't, I was glad. I thought that I could make him see that I was the better man."

Heero ground out tightly, "Duo was only fifteen!"

"I wasn't much older," Milliardo snapped back, "You can't make the argument that he was a child. We are all killers. Soldiers. Men who never had childhoods. What better company than each other?" Duo heard him make an impatient noise. "Let us not argue about that. Suffice to say, you didn't attend the party and the field was left open to me. If it hadn't been for my bothersome sister, Relena, I would have convinced Duo easily. As it was, by the time I was able to shake her off, he was gone to the front foyer to wait like a kicked dog for you. I'm not a fool. I saw that it was more than a quick roll in the sheets that he wanted. He wanted your heart, not mine."

"He waited.... at the door... for me?" Heero's sounded sad, guilty. "I wanted to forget about the war. I didn't want to be given medals and paraded as a hero. I needed quiet, solitude, to find my place in peacetime. I never imagined that Duo hoped for so much from me." Heero's voice sounded resigned as he added, "I wasn't ready. I couldn't have given him anything then. I was right not to go."

"Your logic was almost my triumph," Milliardo told him. "When you didn't appear, I suspect that Duo first became drunk and then angry enough to do drastic things. He showed up at my door, fell into my arms, and then tried to devour me alive. I didn't question my good luck. He threw off his clothes, rolled with me into the bed, and told me 'to take his cherry' because he didn't need to save it any more."

Duo felt ready to die, wondering if a person could survive the kind of embarrassment, anguish, and guilt that he was feeling; a guilt made even worse when he heard Heero make a small, helpless sound that was quickly stifled.

"I'm good," Milliardo bragged, as if he delighted in tormenting Heero. "I had him begging and shouting." There was a pause and then Milliardo admitted blackly, "But it wasn't me he wanted. He shouted your name, not mine."

There was dead silence and then Heero chuckled. It was half triumph, half strangled pain. "His heart is mine, not yours," he said, "and I intend to take very good care of it from now on. If you're helping him because of some hope of-"

Milliardo swore and Duo could see him in his mind's eye glaring with ice blue eyes at Heero in outrage. "I'm a better man than that! I am an honorable man. I won't stand by and let this wrong be perpetrated any longer. My love for Duo is beside the point. I am through allowing the Alliance to be corrupted in this way."

"You are not done with your explanation of events," Heero prompted, "As it is, taking advantage of Duo when he was drunk does not say much for your 'honor'."

"I was young," Milliardo retorted defensively, but then guiltily, "I made many wrong choices back then."

"Are there more?" Heero demanded.

"Yes," Milliardo admitted. "Security interrupted Duo and I and they arrested him. I was taken to Relena. She called her advisors together, fearing a scandal, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not step back from the situation, and forget that I had ever heard the name Duo Maxwell, then I would find myself accused of the same crime and punished accordingly."

"Relena!" Heero said in such a way, that Duo felt his blood chill.

"Well, don't be too harsh on her," Milliardo quickly said.

"She hardly had a choice. The Alliance was still unformed and her position and power to make that happen was being threatened by me and by my association with Duo. She couldn't lose credibility by having a brother who was on the verge of being outed as an anti- unification sympathizer and... well, a Gundam pilot's love interest. To distance us both from the scandal, she gave Duo over to the Senate. Unfortunately, they had their own game of intrigue in play. Duo fit nicely with their plans. They were glad to put him on trial."

"Why?" Heero wondered.

"It seemed to me that they wished to discredit the war and those that had participated in it," Milliardo explained. "They feared the power such heroes could engender. They feared popular support that might make them leaders. They wanted to protect the new government from coup attempts by such people. Duo was the perfect poster child for their campaign. They orchestrated his downfall, his disgrace, and his debauchery. They made that disgrace last as long as possible, so that they could have years of pointing at him and saying, 'That's what the war does to a man. Don't make such men heroes. Look to us for leadership, not them.' Their plan worked perfectly."

"Where does Santoro fit into this?"

"An old enemy from the war," Milliardo explained. "He had a run in with Duo that scarred his face. His need for revenge, and his hatred of the Alliance, made him climb to power to avenge himself and to secretly gather anti - Alliance soldiers. Proving that to the Senate will be difficult though, in light of the fact that, once again, they are being given an opportunity to smear and prosecute war heroes. It will be hard for me to prove that Santoro's military action against you was unjustified as well. Your reputations make such overkill seem reasonable."

"The pills," Heero prompted. "You still haven't explained how you know about them."

"The idea for their invention came from me," Milliardo admitted softly. "I was given the position of overseeing their development and implementation. The small factory that produced military chemicals and drugs was ordered to report to me. They continued to do so, even after the war, since they had never been absorbed into less deadly pharmaceutical pursuits. I wasn't aware that the staff there was still experimenting with new drugs and chemicals until I began to receive reports on their findings. I put a stop to it, of course, and reduced the staff to inventory control until the Senate could make a decision about the destruction of those materials. I never imagined that they would try to use the drugs themselves, until one of the dismissed scientists called me and told me that he had been tapped for his professional opinion on the matter. When an inventory clerk called me to sign off on an order for the drugs administered to Duo, I knew-"

"But you didn't stop it!" Heero suddenly exploded.

Duo wished that he could cover his ears, cringe, or protest in some way. He didn't want to hear any more about the people who had ruined his life. That knowledge wouldn't cure or save him. Milliardo had already said that he was still in the power of the Senate. He hadn't escaped them. At any time they could come for him and finish the job they had started and even Heero wouldn't be able to stand in their way.

"I was powerless to stop it then, and I am powerless now," Milliardo admitted. "I can only petition the Court and appeal to the people."

Heero said, harshly reminding Milliardo of the war and the great role of ordinary civilians in the colonies, "The people can be a very powerful force. If we gather proof of what the Senate has done, of the crime Santoro has committed, then we can publish it on the web, report it on the news, and go to the people. We can turn moral outrage into a weapon that the Senators will feel the sting of."

"Perhaps," Milliardo replied bleakly, "but I think you are being an idealist. First, before we can attempt any of that, we must save Duo's life. I've told you all that I know. Trust me to help Duo."

"I think you would anyway," Heero replied, "with my permission or without it and over my bullet riddled body."

Duo could imagine a smile on Milliardo's face, a soldier appreciating the honesty of another soldier, as he replied, "You are absolutely right about that, but Duo cares for you, as much as I wish that he didn't, and I won't have him hating me for your death."

"I don't have any choice, but to agree to your help, then," Heero said sourly.

They were fighting over him. That fact sunk in after all of the other facts that Milliardo had imparted settled in Duo's mind. Duo couldn't believe it, almost chalked it up to a trick played by his drugged mind, but then, he reasoned in confusion, if that was false, then so was all that Milliardo had just said. Duo contemplated that as bodies moved around him and all conversation stopped. He supposed that Milliardo had gone.

After a time, there were more voices. Strange ones. Heero replied to their murmured questions and then Duo felt the sting of needles pierce through his numbness and a tube snaked down his gagging throat. The shock of it's suddenness sent him swiftly down towards unconsciousness.

Heero's voice caught Duo on the very edge of oblivion. Duo strained to hear the words even as his panicked mind shut down. "I'll be here waiting for you, Duo. Please, come back to me."

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