Crossing Paths + Part 29 (cont)

Duo was panting and slipping in and out of a red haze as he finally reached the car. Collapsing into the front seat, he fumbled under the dash for the spare cell phone. Dialing the secure number, Duo was surprised at the quick answer. Before he could speak, Heero was shouting frantically, "Don't ever hang up on me again!" When Duo continued to pant and not answer, his anger turned to concern. "Duo?! Are you hurt? Has something gone wrong? I have in-"

"Fine," Duo managed, cutting him off. "Tired. Pick up in twenty. Mission complete."

Duo hung up again and tossed the phone into his coat pocket. Leaning his forehead on the steering wheel, he started up the car. It was long moments between that act and regaining enough strength to pull onto the road.

Duo's heart was hammering with exposure and exhaustion. He was chilled, but numb, and he knew that was a dangerous sign. Still, he had to make the pick up point, and look competent when he arrived, or they would cut him out of the mission. Duo flipped on the heater and tried not to cry in relief as the warmth washed over his frozen body.

"I can do this," Duo growled to himself and rubbed at his eyes to clear them as he drove. No one was going to keep him from his revenge, not rapists, not bad weather, and not his own frail body.

Duo left the car where he had stolen it, a partly abandoned track of stores and dilapidated houses. Shouldering his pack, he walked through the pouring rain to a covered gas station pump, rusted with age and attendant asleep in the small booth, and waited for his pick up.

"It must be fate, or damned good luck," a voice said behind Duo. Duo whipped around, pulling his gun at the same time, but an iron hard hand closed on his wrist and the weapon was jerked out of his grasp. Duo stared up into the smiling face of Santoro.

Duo crouched, ready to break the man's neck, but the man suddenly dangled something in front of him. It caught Duo's eyes and he froze. It was a gold cross on a long chain. Duo recognized it instantly, wondering how he could have forgotten it. His cross! It was as much a part of him as his braid.

"Come with me," Santoro ordered and Duo found himself complying without resistance, all of his attention on that glittering representation of his past. Santoro was pleased. "Seems those doctors did their job. Can't help yourself can you? It's like a carrot on a stick to you. Did you think all of those sessions with the psychologists were for your benefit? I had them brainwashing you every step of the way. You'll do what I say as long as I have this trump card to play. If you hadn't surprised me at Quatre's estate, I would have used it then. It would have saved me all of this trouble, trouble you're going to pay dearly for, Gundam pilot scum."

Santoro walked ahead of Duo and led him to where a convoy of black limos was lined up on a road very close by. Men stood outside in the rain, guns drawn and aimed at Duo. It was obvious to Duo that he had been spotted as they had passed close to the station.

Santoro was too early, Duo thought in a small part of his brain that still seemed to have some free will left. He cursed himself for hanging up on Heero. He had expected the man to complain and worry about him. He should have known better. He was certain now that Heero had been trying to warn him of this very thing.

"Were you waiting for the other pilots to arrive?" Santoro wondered as a man opened the door of a limo and he slid inside. Duo followed his cross and sat on the seat next to him, eyes large and unblinking. Santoro played with him, moving the cross about and watching with amusement as Duo helplessly turned to watch it. "I think your companions have other concerns besides picking up a little murderer like you. I'm sure they're even now descending on the bridge Relena and her brother will soon be crossing; the bridge you so conveniently rigged with bombs."

Duo felt a chill. It must have registered on his face. Santoro laughed. "Oh, yes! Understand now? You were set up, fool! We've been watching you every step of the way! I spent four years getting my men and my plans ready. You were the bait, you and some carefully leaked information about weapons that could penetrate Gundanium. Once I attacked Quatre Winner's estate, I knew that I had given you Gundam pilots every reason to attack me. Zechs attempted to use you for his own ends, but I'm smarter than that fool. We're going to go to the site of you ambush and I'm going to allow you to set off your bombs... prematurely." He held up a transmitter. "I've already had men change the frequency. I'm in control of the timing now, not your 'friends'. Relena and Zechs won't know what hit them. My troops will move in and destroy your friends, they will be blamed for the assassination, and I will quickly take control in Relena's place."

Duo knew all about brainwashing techniques. He knew that a strong will could break through it. Duo knew that he definitely had the will. As rain and sweat dripped down his face, he tried will all of his determination to break free of Santoro's compulsion.

The barrel of a gun rested against Duo's temple. "I'm not stupid," Santoro growled. "I won't underestimate you. Relax, boy, and enjoy the ride. There will be some pretty fireworks in a very short time."

Duo couldn't speak. He could only stare and want his cross. Take it! He shouted it at himself, but his body refused to respond. It felt as if he were tied hand and foot as the car moved inexorably towards the site where Relena and Milliardo were about to be assassinated. He had to save them! Saving them meant saving his friends. If the government troops imagined that the Gundam Pilots were attacking Relena and her brother then they would be slaughtered out of hand. Heero would be slaughtered!

Duo relaxed suddenly. Santoro nodded. "Good, about time you gave up and faced the inevitable. A few more minutes until we reach the bridge, Duo Maxwell. A few more minutes until I blow up a bridge and the last obstacles in my path to power. I have you and your comrades to thank. I wonder how I should show my appreciation?" His eyes glittered. "Maybe I'll take my time getting my revenge and let you live long enough to see me take power?" Santoro placed the gun in his lap and then drew a thin knife from his coat. Still holding the cross up where Duo could see it, Santoro started bringing the knife towards Duo's face.

The man was going to cut his face, Duo realized in a panic, scar him as he had scarred Santoro so long ago. Move! Duo shouted it at himself. He could see up ahead, see the rain soaked bridge coming into view and another convoy of white limos approaching it in front of Santoro's vehicles.

"She's always so punctual," Santoro laughed, "Even when she's running away." His expression went cruel. "I still have time. Don't worry. It will only take a moment to give that face of yours a new beauty mark."

No! Duo thought. He couldn't let this happen! He couldn't let it all end with his dearest friends dead, the government overtaken by a madman, and his body mutilated. Duo concentrated. He pumped adrenalin through his body by sheer force of will. His heart raced and his pulse hammered in his ears. The memory of doctors sitting in front of him with his cross hanging from their hands, monotonous voices hypnotizing him and setting the compulsion, bled through the mental blocks that they had used to cover their tracks. Used! Used again and again! The anger Duo's thoughts of outrage generated burned through him and burned through mental restraints, setting him abruptly free.

Santoro's one hand held the remote and Duo's cross, both prizes Duo had to have. Duo forced a grin. The knife hesitated as Santoro registered the expression with confusion. "Why are you smiling?" the man asked suspiciously.

"Because I know something that you don't," Duo replied hoarsely.

"I doubt that," Santoro growled and then demanded, "What?"

Duo pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and held it up. It was turned on, the light obvious to Santoro. "You really are stupid, you know that?" Duo sneered.

Santoro lunged with his knife, face purple with fury and an incoherent shout of rage coming from his lips. Duo ducked. The knife buried itself into the upholstery. The heel of Duo's hand caught Santoro on the chin even as he reached and snatched the gun out of the dazed man's lap. Bringing it up, he fired straight towards Santoro's chest. The man was already in motion. Eyes wide with panic, he managed to twist out of the way in a move that seemed impossible for his size. The bullet hit the driver instead. The man slumped over the wheel with a splatter of blood and the car jerked sharply towards the river.

Santoro looked frightened and then he whipped back around, rage over taking him again. "I'm going to break every one of your skinny bones, you little bastard, but first I'm going to blow up that bitch Relena!" The man pushed the button of the remote and Duo heard bombs explode. The car shuddered.

Duo saw the bridge erupt in fire and smoke, but he didn't have time to see if the white limos were a part of it as he brought his foot up and caught Santoro in the gut as the man rushed him. The air left Santoro in a whoosh! but his momentum brought him down on top of Duo. Duo felt as if his bones were being crushed and he cried out even as he brought his gun in line with Santoro's head and fired.

The door suddenly opened and Duo fell backwards. The bullet hit the ceiling of the car as Duo suddenly found himself inches from the ground, the grass of an embankment rushing beneath this head, his braid whipping along the ground. Santoro was leaning over him, eyes wide with glee, his hand on the handle of the door and his other still gripping Duo's cross. Duo's hand, wrapped in the man's coat, and Santoro's weight on his pelvis, was the only thing keeping Duo from falling.

Gritting his teeth, Duo brought the gun to bear again. Santoro had expected him to panic and drop it, but Duo was a trained soldier. He didn't panic. He calmed his mind, ignored his danger, and narrowed his eyes as he tried to take aim. Santoro sneered and simply removed his weight, shoving Duo's hand off of his coat. Duo fell.

It was as if everything stopped. Duo seemed to have an infinite amount of time to think as the rain soaked ground rushed towards his head and back. It was going to be ugly, he thought. He was about to be very messily dead. He decided not to die in vain. In the seconds before oblivion, Duo brought his gun to bear with both hands and fired into Santoro's face. He saw the man jerk and die instantly. Duo also saw his cross tumble from the man's suddenly slack hand. The golden, glittering reminder of Duo's past fell towards him as pain exploded against his back and neck.

Duo didn't die. Shocked, he felt himself sink into deep mud as the wheels of the car churned past his body, spraying him with more mud as it crashed into the river and was swept away by the strong current. The cross hit Duo's chest, bounced, and then went slithering down the embankment after the car, heading towards a similar fate.

"No!" Duo choked out as he gasped for air, rolled to hands and knees, and then flung his numb body after the cross. He slid in the mud, scrambled, and frantically clawed towards the fast moving glitter.

Another body was suddenly there and scrambling along with him. Duo didn't flinch or care who the stranger was, he only knew that, if that cross hit the water, he would dive in after it and probably die. It wasn't a psychologist's compulsion that drove him this time, but his own emotional need. No matter what the stranger intended, Duo wasn't going to falter from his course.

Duo used every ounce of the strength he had left to throw himself forward for one last effort. Just as the cross reached the water, his hand closed on it, as did the hand of the stranger. As both of them grasped the precious cross as hard as they could, they sat up, panting and shaking. Duo looked into the mud covered face opposite him, expecting the face of an enemy. Instead, he met the cobalt blue eyes of Heero.

Duo fell against his lover, sobbing. His cross was released into his care and Heero's strong arms wrapped around him and held him tight. "I thought that I lost you!" Heero kept sobbing, over and over again, against Duo's mud covered hair. Duo pressed his cross close to his heart and simply sobbed in return.

They both calmed after a time, shivering with the chill and reaction, and Heero held Duo back from his chest to look into his face. "I heard Santoro on the cell phone. I saw you fall out of the car. I jumped out of the ship's hatch to reach you in time."

"Why you didn't break every bone in your body, is beyond my understanding," Wu Fei said as he and the others approached. Duo and Heero turned to face them , startled. "You've done some impossible things, Yuy, but that was incredible! I thought that you were a dead man when you didn't wait until I reached a proper altitude."

Quatre made a face as he stepped through the deep mud, and Trowa picked his way as delicate as a cat, behind him. "Uh, guys," Quatre said anxiously. "I know that was a very emotional moment for all of us, but there is a troop of soldiers wanting an explanation. They want to know why Santoro called them, why a bridge was blown up, and why we were there to stop Relena and her brother from being on it when it happened."

Duo came back to himself with an effort. He slipped the chain of his cross over his head and centered the cross over his breast. He suddenly felt whole again as he asked in disbelief, "You stopped them? How?"

"Wu Fei landed the ship in front of Relena's convoy," Trowa explained. "It received some damage. A car wasn't able to stop in time and broad sided it."

"I will be sending her the bill," Wu Fei interjected sourly.

Duo looked anxiously at Heero. "She'll have me arrested again, Heero," he said as he put a hand in Heero's and squeezed tightly. "We need to get out of here."

"Arrested?" Wu Fei raised a dark eyebrow. "You saved her life, Maxwell! You're a hero, as are we all. The Gundam pilots have cleared their names. Our honor is restored."

Quatre was more skeptical, "You aren't a politician, Wu Fei. She may owe us and Duo, but-"

Wu Fei nodded to the skies. Everyone looked up. The rain had reduced itself to a drizzle and clouds were breaking. Clearly they could see a troop of hovering ships with vid show logos on their sides. "She can't cover this up. She'll have to acknowledge it. It's in her best interest as well. Santoro, I assume, is dead, and his movement can now be safely eliminated as well."

"I suggest that you not stay long enough to test that theory," Trowa said seriously, wiping the dripping water from his beard. "Lions are lazy after they've been fed, but they get hungry and vicious again soon enough."

"Is your ship space worthy?" Duo asked as he shakily stood up. Heero rose with him and put an arm around his waist. Covered in mud and faces drawn and emotionally exhausted, they looked almost like twins at that moment.

"Yes. The only damage it received was to it's beauty," Wu Fei replied. "It's still fueled and supplied for a long space flight as well. If you're intending on using it, do so with my sincerest compliments."

Duo smiled warmly. "Thanks, Wu-man! Those were my thoughts exactly." He laughed softly at Wu Fei's disapproving frown at the nick name as he looked up at Heero and asked, "Coming, love?"

"Of course," Heero replied. "I can save the universe in Space as well as on Earth."

Duo chuckled and then turned to his friends and held out his arms. Wu Fei hesitated, but then was forced to take hold of Duo as Duo staggered on uncertain legs. Duo hugged him hard around the neck and Wu Fei stiffly returned it. Quatre and Trowa were less reserved. As they joined the embrace, Quatre was openly weeping and Trowa was smiling ever so slightly as he clapped Duo on the back.

"Bye, guys," Duo said as he broke the embrace. "I don't think I'm coming back here again, I'm too much of a space baby and the locals were less than hospitable," he said bitterly. "I want to see you once in awhile though, so get in your damned ships and visit, K?"

"You're so sure that Relena will give us clearance?" Heero wondered.

"Can't tell about women, but let's find out, shall we?" Duo was flushed under the mud, anticipation giving his exhausted, wounded body, the energy he needed to return to Heero's embrace and begin the walk to Wu Fei's ship. The others followed behind, mud squelching beneath their shoes, faces solemn and dangerous, ready to protect themselves and their friend.

Troops had the area surrounded. Milliardo and Relena were standing outside of their limo, a servant holding an umbrella over their heads as they talked to a troop commander and surveyed the missing bridge with shock. As the mud covered pilots approached, guns began to be drawn.

Milliardo growled, "Stand down! They saved our lives!"

Duo smiled. Relena looked prim, but he could see fright in her eyes at her close call. Both of them were dressed in their formal senate clothes. Relena was dry, but Milliardo was wet, his white hair plastered to his body. Duo imagine that he had exited the limo to coordinate the troops, not stood on the sidelines with Relena. It reminded Duo that Milliardo, while a scheming politician, was still a brave man.

"It seems that we owe you our thanks," Relena said formally. "I-"

Duo shook his head, his mud covered braid swinging heavily with the motion. "I'm too tired and sore to stand here and listen to a pretty speech. I want off planet, now. Give me clearance."

Relena looked concerned. "I'm sure that the courts will agree to give you that clearance once we present them with proof that you are not a sympathizer with-"

"No more courts!" Duo snapped, his amethyst eyes glowing with temper. "No more waiting! I saved your life. I want clearance and my freedom in return, now."

"Is this man threatening you?" the troop leader growled and his gun nosed out of its holster. "I'll arrest him at once, ma'am."

Milliardo gave a curt hand sign. "He's a hero, captain. All of the former Gundam pilots are. They single handedly saved our top government official. I think a pardon is well within reason, don't you sister?"

Relena still hesitated, blonde eyebrows drawn down in disapproval. "There are certain channels that have to be adhered to. We can't just ignore the law and-"

Duo nodded to the ships hovering with their cameras. "If you don't, I'll kiss Zechs right now and announce our marriage to everyone of those ships. Ready to pose for pictures honey?" Duo said with a humor he wasn't feeling. Anger was seething through him instead, anger for the system that Relena was so ardently defending; the corrupt system that had made four years of his life a hell.

Milliardo could have declined to go along. Instead, he smiled tightly. "Certainly, 'darling'. Have we set a date yet? I'll defer to you, of course."

"Well, April, I think," Duo began. "Well have bridesmaids in pink and purple and pink roses would look rather nice-"

"You have clearance!" Relena suddenly erupted, her eyes wide and her cheeks as pink as her dress. She turned to the captain. "He has leave to go, Captain."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll inform communications." The man bowed curtly and left.

Duo nodded and then he smiled at Milliardo. "Sorry, I guess I'm a fickle bride. I've fallen in love with Heero, you see."

Milliardo nodded to Heero. "I do see. Lucky man."

"I think so," Heero replied, but he frowned at Duo as he led him away towards the ship. "We will not be married with pink and purple flowers!"


After taking leave of their friends and taking quick sonic showers in the cramped quarters of Wu Fei's ship, Heero and Duo both dressed in Wu Fei's spare clothes and then prepared for flight. Duo sat in the pilot's seat. He was wearing a shirt of Wu Fei's. It hung on his slight frame, as did the black pants. He looked like a child in the high backed, leather chair. As Heero took position in the co pilots' chair, he couldn't help asking worriedly, "Good to go?"

Duo nodded and smiled reassuringly, eyes sparkling in anticipation. "It would take me more than four years to forget how to pilot. I want to be the one at the controls when we hit zero g."

"You fell out of a speeding car and you have just finished a difficult mission," Heero reminded him.

"And I'll pass out later," Duo agreed. "Not now."

Duo touched his cross and his braid, stroking both. He reached out to Heero and caressed his arm. "I have everything that I've ever wanted, except one thing."

"Then Heaven is only minutes away," Heero chuckled. "Let's do it, Love."

Heero set off the thrusters and the ship rose sharply upwards. Duo's stomach dropped to his toes and the g force made his head spin, but he was a professional pilot and a good one. He compensated, adjusting the controls to make the thrust constant. He felt a joy rush through him. It was almost as good as sex with Heero, he thought, to pilot again and to know that he was about to burst through the atmospheric envelope of Earth.

Wu Fei's ship slipped through the turbulence easily. Duo resisted the urge to close his eyes against the pressure. Instead, he watched the view screen and witnessed their entry into space. As the blackness surrounded them and he felt the gravity of Earth release his bones, Duo shouted with joy, tears floating from his eyes like fiery crystals.

It was a long time before Duo could speak again. Heero had unstrapped him, holding him close and whispering soothingly into his ear as they floated weightlessly in the cockpit. Finally, Duo sighed and, smiling happily, he said, "I don't ever want to forget this moment."

"Neither do I," Heero replied as he lovingly looked into Duo's eyes. He kissed Duo deeply and then said, "You have wings again, my Shinigami. Let's fly."

Duo held Heero close. "We'll fly together. Always together."

"Always," Heero agreed softly and Duo set the ship's course to take them to freedom.


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