see ch. 1 for warnings. notes
Claim + Chapter 8
Duo looked around the room
with a sense of familiarity so strong it threatened to choke him. How
many days and nights had he spent in rooms like this, with blank walls
and narrow beds, the only things to recommend them being cheap rent, landlords
and landladies who asked no questions, and proximity to whatever the next
mission happened to be?
The only sign of the room's occupant--indeed, that it was occupied at
all--was the laptop computer sitting on a table. Cautious, listening for
Heero's return, Duo sat down gingerly in the rickety chair and opened
the computer's lid.
He turned on the machine and waited, only to discover his access blocked.
Duo grumbled, but he'd expected it. Leave it to Heero to give everything
layers of protection. Still
his fingers danced across the keyboard,
his mouth smiling faintly. Heero might be great with computers, but he
had no imagination. Duo grinned a little at some of Heero's passwords.
It was only a matter of time before Duo hit on them all and got into the
files he wanted. It became a puzzle to him, and he lost himself in the
sheer joy of the challenge.
Caught up in solving the next level, Duo ignored the prickle between his
shoulder blades for a little while. Not for long--he'd lived by his gut
feelings for too many years to discount it now. But by the time it penetrated
his awareness that his nerves screamed "danger!" it was a little
The quiet snick of a safety being removed validated Duo's instincts. Cold
gunmetal pressed against his neck, and Heero said, "You're lucky
it's me. The others would have shot you on sight."
Duo tried to shrug, although it was hard to manage with a revolver digging
into his skin. "Nobody else would've have gotten this close in the
"You changed clothes."
Duo blinked and looked down at the shirt and pants he'd stolen to replace
his OZ clothing. "Oh. Yeah, the uniform
"Yes. The uniform." Heero's voice sounded as though he were
reading a verdict.
"Heero, it's not
" Duo stopped. It was what it looked like.
"I can explain--"
"I'm sure you can."
"Get away from the computer."
Slowly, Duo drew his hands back from the keyboard. The chair shivered
as though it would fall apart when he scooted it back. He stood, facing
Heero with his hands open and arms spread wide, showing him that he didn't
have a weapon.
"Heero, we need to talk. Nothing's like we thought it was."
Duo glanced back at Heero's laptop, then at his gun. "Look, I can
guess why you're here. What your mission is. And--"
Heero gazed at him steadily, eyes cold and hard as deep blue ice. "My
mission hasn't changed."
Under Heero's icy glare, Duo felt his own heart freeze as well. "Well,
that's a damn shame, because in case you haven't noticed, the world changed
"OZ might have won. But they're still vulnerable."
"Listen to me, damn it!" Duo clenched his fists, wondering if
it really was possible to beat sense into someone. "They aren't what
we thought. What we were told. They don't want to run the Colonies--they're
helping them hold elections and build their own governments! Isn't that
what we were supposed to be fighting for--the Colonies being free to run
Hesitation flickered behind Heero's eyes. "How do you know?"
"I--" Duo swallowed. He would have to tell the whole truth eventually,
so he may as well start now and get it over with. "Look, I know how
this sounds, and I wouldn't really believe it if somebody else were telling
it, but it's the honest to God truth, I swear it is--"
"What I just told you. That Treize and Zechs are trying to bring
peace--real peace, with the colonies in charge of their own destinies--to
Earth and space. I don't really understand the whole thing, but
I know there's guys who don't want them to, and they'd like to get rid
of Treize and probably Zechs, too, and I think that's who you're working
Heero held up a hand to stop Duo's avalanche of words. "Slow down.
Tell me how you know all this."
Duo looked down at the floor, suddenly taking a great interest in the
scarred wood. "I
well, I've kind of been following Zechs around
a lot lately."
"So I noticed."
"Look, I was a prisoner, okay? A-a hostage
Zechs was my warden--"
Duo faltered at Heero's faint, disbelieving sneer. "What?"
"You're going to have to do better than that."
"He was. He claimed me--he didn't want to, but those old guys,
Romafeller, they wanted me, too, and not just 'cuz I'm a hotshot pilot,
and so he--" Duo stopped and took a deep breath, uncomfortably aware
that he'd started to babble again. "Look, Heero
have I ever
lied to you?"
"No." Characteristically, Heero had to qualify his answer. "Not
that I know of."
Duo rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I haven't, and you know
it. I'm not lying now, either." He drew himself up and faced Heero's
gun, determined even though his stomach ached from the tension. "You
can take my story or leave it. Believe me, or shoot me. Just make up your
fucking mind, because I'm tired of trying to argue with you."
"Hn." Heero glared at him for so long that Duo began to think
he was going to shoot after all, but then he slowly lowered his gun, although
he still sounded unconvinced. "What makes you think it's the truth?
Why would they let you see what they're really up to?"
"No reason not to--as far as they knew, I wasn't going anywhere.
It's not like they tried to get me to do anything. He
felt himself blush slightly, aware that he betrayed himself. "
he emphasized firmly, "weren't trying to use me. Trying to keep me
from being used is more like it."
Finally, Heero's gun disappeared and Duo sagged in relief. He hadn't really
thought Heero would shoot him
Heero sat down stiffly in the rickety chair, his body between Duo and
the laptop. Duo smiled a little. Okay, so Heero didn't trust him that
"All right, then," Heero said. "Tell me all of it."
Zechs stood alone on the balcony
of the palace suite that served as OZ headquarters. He looked out over
the city, studying it intently as though he could single out one small
figure in the thousands who were coming and going.
Where was Duo? Zechs' men had searched all night, but they'd found nothing.
He'd simply melted into the city. Zechs berated them, then apologized,
remembering how easily Duo had slipped through their defenses during the
war. He could lose himself now just as easily.
Try as he might, Zechs couldn't keep his mind on the practical matters
of Duo's escape, nor on the political implications of it. Every thought
he had of Duo was intense and utterly personal. But was it personal for
Duo? Had all of it, every moment of warmth between them, truly been a
device to secure his escape? He clenched his fists, tensing as though
he might strike out again in frustration, but no one came close enough
to serve as a target. Behind him, his men went about their duties with
quiet efficiency, all too conscious of their commander's black mood to
Zechs raked his hand through his hair. He thought back over the last few
weeks, searching for something that might give him the key to understanding
the slender spitfire he'd reluctantly claimed. He replayed every memory
of Duo, from his stricken, lost look when Zechs told him he'd been claimed
to the moment he'd grabbed his shirt and run from Zechs' rooms in the
palace. One image returned over and over to haunt him, that of Duo's first
night, when Zechs had found him huddled, shivering, asleep on the floor,
too stubborn and too frightened to sleep in Zechs' bed.
In spite of his pain, he smiled a little at the memory. "Silly, stubborn
kit. As if I'd have hurt you
" Zechs mused, still staring sightlessly
at the play of light and shadow on the tiled rooftops below. Duo had been
proud and headstrong from the first, but it had almost always been a cover
for his fears. Why should last night have been different? Duo had barked
and snapped because he was afraid of something. Zechs muttered a curse.
He ought to have recognized it then, but he was too ensnared by his own
fears and frustrations to see it. What had he missed, ignored? What had
happened to make Duo suddenly doubt him?
Driven by his own desires, he'd gone too quickly, tried to push Duo into
something he was not ready for, physically or emotionally. It was hard
to remember, sometimes, that Duo was inexperienced that way, when he'd
had so many other experiences that were beyond the grasp of most young
men his age. Of most men of any age, for that matter. But Zechs been so
certain his need
his love would convince Duo and allay his fears.
He did love Duo, of that he had no doubt now. In the agonizing hours since
Duo had run, he'd had time--too much time--to think. He'd mentally totaled
up his feelings, the beguiling mixture of tenderness, admiration and protectiveness,
added in the blazing fire the pilot ignited in him, and he could no longer
ignore the meaning of the sum. In Duo Maxwell, he had found all that he
ever wanted or needed. Found him, and then ordered him away.
Zechs shook his head, disgusted with himself. Duo was not the only stubborn
fool. Treize had seen it, had tried to tell him, but he'd refused to accept
the truth. His own pride had kept him from admitting to himself, much
less to Duo, that he'd fallen in love with his prisoner. And if he'd refused
to see it for himself, how could Duo possibly know? No wonder he had fled.
He'd acted so thoughtlessly he didn't deserve a chance to tell Duo that
he loved him. Still, he would find him or die trying. Grimly, Zechs realized
that was a distinct possibility, if the reports he'd read earlier in the
morning were accurate. For the first time, a real pattern began to emerge,
names, places, connections
he'd felt genuinely ill when he confirmed
that some of his own men aboard the Libra, his own officers, were part
of the plot to murder Treize and him. He suspected that the same men had
been responsible for trying to abduct Duo. The forces against him and
Treize gathered; he could feel them, as oppressive as an impending thunderstorm.
But until they knew who in Romafeller was the head of the conspiracy,
they dared not move.
Zechs remembered watching the gardeners in this very palace when he was
a small boy. Once, he'd asked one of them why he worked so hard to dig
up the roots of weeds when it was so much easier to snap off the stems
and leaves. Because, the man had said, if you didn't dig out the root,
the weed just grew back, sometimes even bigger and stronger than before.
Enemies and their plots were the same. Dig them out, root and all, or
they grew again, their purpose strengthened by your attack.
He blinked, and the city came into focus again. The conspirators were
out there, waiting. He could feel them. And somehow, Duo had gotten tangled
up in their web. Zechs sensed that time was running out for both of them,
and he'd already wasted too much of it in pointless pride and anger. He
turned his back on the city and returned to his men.
Two soldiers exchanged glances, then the higher-ranking one spoke. "A
lead, sir. I don't know how promising, but it's something."
Zechs put a quick damper on the relief that sprang up at the man's words.
"What is it?"
"A house in the old city. Some of the suspects have been seen going
in and out. We're certain they're using it as a base."
"And Duo?" Zechs winced. The question came far too quickly and
with too much hope.
"Nothing." The man hesitated, clearly waiting for Zechs' fury,
but when the colonel remained quiet, he offered a hesitant, "I'm
"Yes," Zechs responded stiffly, with automatic courtesy. "Thank
perhaps if we searched the house. There might be a clue,
or someone to question--"
Zechs nodded. "Yes. Yes, you're correct. I'll take some men with
"I, lieutenant." Zechs' expression forbade the man to question
any further. He knew it was unorthodox for him to go into the field like
this. But he had to do something or go mad. "I'll take six men. It's
not our purpose to engage the entire group, but to search the house and
possibly capture a suspect for questioning."
"Yes, sire." The lieutenant frowned. "But we'll be ready
with backup, just in case. Sir."
Zechs nodded, turning to the other soldier who had maps of the area surrounding
the house. "If we use this street to approach them, it's unlikely
we'll be seen." Zechs scarcely needed a map. This was his city, and
he knew it as well as he knew himself. No, he corrected. He knew the city
far better than he knew his own mind and heart, because he'd never been
afraid to look at its scars. Never been afraid to admit he wasn't whole
unless he was here, caring for his people. Never been afraid to admit
he loved it. He'd thought his father's land filled the need in him that
most people fulfilled with a lover. He'd seen others, even Treize, lose
their hearts, and he had felt both superior and excluded. But always,
he'd thought himself immune. How little he had known, after all.
"There's an alley we'll need to watch, here--"
Duo perched on the edge of the narrow bed. He started at the beginning,
when he was alone in the cell on the Libra, and how angry and abandoned
he'd felt. Heero's mouth twitched at that, and Duo thought he might say
something, but he didn't, and Duo went on with his story. He explained it
all, even about Treize and Wufei. Heero did have something to say about
that, and Duo had to sidetrack for a few minutes to calm him down. In the
end, Duo made only one omission, that he'd fallen in love with his warden.
No point in telling that to Heero. It would only make Heero suspicious all
over again, and anyway, it didn't matter. Zechs wasn't in love with him,
and besides, Duo was never going back there. He would stay where he belonged,
in the shadows, doing what he could for peace--for Zechs. He would keep
his secret, a sweet memory to warm himself on bleak, lonely nights. What
could it hurt if he held those few days of happiness in his heart and never
told anyone? For the first time, Duo looked into Heero's eyes and told him
"That's all of it."
Heero stayed quiet, his face thoughtful. "There's still a lot I don't
but it does make a kind of sense."
Duo grinned, finally. "'Course it does. Heero, think about it. We've
finally got a chance--a real chance--to do what we set out to do, to make
things right for the colonies. OZ will help them get back on their feet,
but the colonies will still run themselves, make their own decisions.
They'll have what they need to fix things up, clean up the shit that all
these years of war have left." He quit seeing Heero's pensive face
opposite him, looking away to an almost unimaginable future. "Think
about what that will mean for the people
for the kids
Heero nodded slowly. "It could be an opportunity to build something
new instead of endlessly repeating the same mistakes."
"Yeah! Yeah, that's it, exactly." Excitement burbled up inside
of Duo, despite a hard, sharp pain that remained over Zechs. "We
can really make a difference this time. On our own, without anyone giving
us orders, pulling our strings--"
"That would be
preferable." Heero frowned, clearly still
thinking. "But--" His voice cut off at the sound of the street
door opening and closing, followed by footsteps on the stairs.
Duo held his breath as the heavy tread--men, but how many?--drew closer.
Heero's gun appeared in his hand again. Duo opened his mouth to speak,
but Heero shook his head. For a second, Duo thought that the men would
go on by, up to the next floor, but that proved to be wishful thinking.
His heart thumped so loudly that it drowned out the creak of the door
opening. Three men entered, their eyes fastening immediately on Heero
and Duo. Duo smothered a dismayed gasp as he recognized one of them as
the man who'd grabbed him in the corridor of the Libra. After a moment
of equally startled recognition, the man broke into a sly, smirking smile.
"Good work, Heero. You caught Merquise's bed toy."
Heero's eyes narrowed, and he glanced sidelong at Duo. "He's not
their prisoner any more. He escaped."
The man from the Libra glowered. "Don't trust him. He's sleeping
with Zechs Merquise."
Heero turned to Duo at last, clearly waiting for Duo's denial. Duo hesitated,
then blurted, "I'm not Zechs' lover. He was my warden, I told you."
Heero still said nothing, but the man snorted. "Warden
Ask him where he slept."
Heero's gun pointed at Duo's ribs again. "Well?"
Duo swallowed. He felt his face burn, but he lifted his chin and answered
the literal truth. "In Zechs' bed. I'm not ashamed of that. But we
didn't do anything." Not in the bed, at least. He glared rebelliously
at the man from the Libra. "I'm not anyone's toy."
The man stepped closer and raised his hand, as if to strike Duo, but Heero
said, "I'll lock him in the other room. We'll decide what to do with
Duo twisted to look at Heero. "No
Heero, don't. You can't--"
"Get up." Heero's voice sounded odd
almost gentle. "I
don't want to have to shoot you."
Duo stood, rather unsteadily. "Heero--"
Heero didn't speak again. He prodded Duo with the nose of his gun, nudging
him toward an open door to another room. Duo had briefly investigated
it earlier, found it sparsely furnished like the first but otherwise empty,
an anonymous sleeping room. It also made a decent cell, with its narrow,
wire-covered windows and its stout door and heavy lock.
Duo turned to face Heero as he shut the door behind them. "Listen
"I did listen to you. 'That's all of it,' you said."
Duo looked down and scuffed at a scar on the bare wood floor. He knew
Heero was waiting for him to deny what the man had said. He could do it,
and Heero might just believe him. He could tell the truth--he wasn't Zechs'
lover. But it would be the truth in only the most literal sense, because
he did love Zechs, whether Zechs loved him or not, and Duo would do anything
to save him. Even lie to Heero, and Heero must know it.
"It doesn't matter what I say, I'm screwed. If I tell you I wasn't
Zechs' lover, you'll think I'm lying to save myself. And if I tell you
I was, then you won't believe anything else I say, because you'll think
I'm lying to save him."
"I'd say that sums it up pretty neatly."
"God damn it, Heero, it wasn't that way!"
Heero turned away, but he paused with his hand on the worn brass doorknob
as if he were waiting for something.
Duo tried again, desperate. "Maybe I didn't tell you all about Zechs
and me, but everything else I said was true. Check it out--there have
to be news stories about elections in the Colonies. Do that much, at least."
Heero looked back at him with eyes that suddenly seemed much older and
sadder. Duo flinched. He'd seen that same expression too many times in
his own mirror when he was tired--tired of orders, tired of war. Tired
"I wanted to believe you."
Duo's voice shook. "Don't kill him, Heero. Please."
Heero smiled a little, weary and wistful to match his eyes. In that same
strange, gentle voice, he said, "I have my orders, Duo." Then
he was gone, and Duo was alone.
He beat his fists on the door. "Heero! Listen to me! Don't do it!
Heero!" No one came, even when Duo slammed his slender body against
the door in a wild attempt to break it down. He sank to the floor, shaking.
Heero was going to kill Zechs.
It had been more than twenty-four hours now since he'd eaten, longer than
that since he'd slept. Not so long ago, such things wouldn't have slowed
him down, but now, he couldn't seem to make himself think, much less move.
He could only replay that same thought: Heero was going to kill Zechs.
A wave of helplessness broke over him, and he pressed his cheek against
the door, almost deceiving himself for a second that it was Zechs' broad
chest he leaned against. That he would feel a strong hand smoothing his
hair, hear a velvet voice soothe, "Now, kit. Don't be afraid."
"I can't help it. I am afraid," Duo whispered, hugging
himself. "I love you, and now you're going to die."
The cold, black waters of his memory rose up, and for a little while,
he was in danger of being caught in the undertow and pulled down. Everyone
he loved died. He'd forgotten that
how could he have forgotten that?
From somewhere deep inside, a small voice began to wail, the voice of
a little boy who'd been given glimpses of love and security and had them
snatched away, again and again. Duo sniffled, dragging his arm over his
It was fate that everyone he loved should die. He couldn't fight fate,
Duo lifted his head. Like hell, he couldn't. If anyone could fight the
inevitable, it was him. Every day he'd stayed alive, he'd challenged fate.
So what was he doing, sitting here feeling sorry for himself when Zechs
was in danger? Not just Zechs, but Treize, too, and their dream of peace.
He pulled himself to his feet, swaying a little from exhaustion.
Duo surveyed the room critically. He could escape any jail, and this was
just a bedroom, not even a real cell. The door and windows were made to
keep thieves out, not lock prisoners in. They'd expected this to
hold him? He laughed out loud. Heero, of all people, ought to have known
Experimentally, he lifted the sash of the ancient window. It stuck a little,
the wood swollen from the heat and humidity, but he managed to push it
open far enough that he could go to work on the wire mesh. Using makeshift
tools fashioned from bits of metal pilfered from the bed frame, Duo began
the tedious work of prying the mesh loose. Some of the nails had rusted
and loosened, but a few were clearly new and held fast.
He was sweating by the time he'd loosened one corner. The air grew stifling
as the late afternoon sun beat down on the windows, and if he stood too
quickly, the room had an unpleasant tendency to dip and sway. Still, Duo
worked doggedly, and by the time the sun sank lazily toward the rooftops
of the old city, he'd made enough of an opening that he could squeeze
He paused, listening for signs that Heero or his other captors had returned.
Nothing. The building was quiet, almost as though it napped in the last
warmth of the day. Duo wiped the sweat from his face and went back to
work. The stiff wire mesh cut his hands as he pushed it back, but he ignored
it, forcing his shoulders through the opening as he wriggled out the window.
It was a tight fit, and sharp ends of wire snagged at his clothes. As
Duo stopped to free himself, he froze. Downstairs, the street door opened
and shut, followed by cautious footsteps on the stairs. He began to worm
his way out of the window again, aware that time was running out. Even
if Heero hadn't found Zechs yet, how much longer would it be? Not long.
Heero was too good at getting into places without being noticed. And Zechs
didn't know Heero was in Sanc. Duo had kept it from him, his loyalties
Cursing, Duo tugged on his shirt as it caught again. The fabric ripped,
and he squirmed until half his body was through. He looked down from the
second-story window at the alley below. It was a drop, but he could make
it. He leaned out as far as he could, scanning the alley and the street
beyond before making the leap. There were footsteps scuffling in the other
room now, and he twisted his hips, trying to wiggle through without falling
to the pavement below.
The doorknob jiggled. Panting from his efforts, Duo remembered the loathing
in the eyes of Heero's comrades. Without Heero around to stop them, they'd
probably kill him and say he was trying to escape--which, of course, he
was. Then he remembered something else--the way the man had pressed and
pawed him on the Libra. Maybe they wouldn't kill him first. Maybe they'd
couldn't finish the thought. He tore at the wire, his hands trembling
more wildly than before.
The door reverberated under a heavy kick. Even as he worked frantically,
Duo managed a tiny smile. Heero must have taken the key. Good old Heero.
He'd done what he could for Duo without jeopardizing his mission. Guess
he realized these guys were slime after all.
The door shivered again, and this time Duo heard the wood giving way.
One more solid kick, and they'd be in. He was out of time.
He could fit through the hole now, but he was going to have to make a
dive for it and hope the landing didn't kill him. No time for finesse.
Behind him, the door crashed open. He took a deep breath and launched
himself like a slender projectile.
And went nowhere.
Even as he felt hands dragging him back in, he kicked and clawed, fighting
like a feral cat, blind with rage and terror. Damn it, he'd make them
work to get him. He wrenched one hand free and swung wildly.
"Duo! Duo, stop it. It's me. Stop--" A soft grunt cut off the
familiar voice as Duo's blow connected.
Duo blinked and froze in shock as his eyes focused again. Instead of the
dark, saturnine face of his captor, he looked up at a tall, blond man
in a red uniform coat. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came
out. He tried a second time and managed to croak, "Zechs?"
Zechs nodded, as though Duo needed the confirmation. His hands still gripped
Duo's arms tightly. "Are you going to fight me?"
"Fight you?" Duo forgot everything in that moment. Nothing else
mattered except that Zechs had come for him. His prince had rescued him,
just like in his dreams. "Why would I do that?"
Zechs smiled a little. It made Duo realize how tense and tight his expression
had been. "I can't think of a single reason."
"You came for me! You really did." Duo clung to Zechs, half
laughing, half crying in amazement. Finding warm and solid flesh far more
satisfying than rough wood and imagination, he pressed his cheek against
Zechs' chest, rubbing like a kitten.
"How could I help it?" Pain and worry flickered in Zechs' eyes
as he touched the bleeding scrapes on Duo's arms. "You're hurt."
"It's just a scratch."
"We'll go back, and I'll take care of them." Zechs studied him
intently, his hand cupping Duo's cheek, the other arm around his waist.
"You haven't eaten, have you? Or slept
oh, kit--" His voice
shook. "Never run from me again
I'm sorry." Duo's throat tightened and ached.
it wasn't because I didn't
" He gave up and
threw his arms around Zechs' neck. "I won't do it again, not ever.
He could hear the smile in Zechs' voice as he murmured, "And I'll
never be foolish enough to tell you to go."
Duo grinned. "We did pretty much act like idiots, didn't we?"
Zechs wrapped his arms around Duo's waist. "I'd much rather make
a fool of myself loving you." His smile widening, he lifted Duo and
swung him in a half-circle.
For a moment, Duo was left breathless. Then the realization of Zechs'
words sank in. "You'd rather what?"
"I'd rather love you, my brave, foolish, beautiful kit."
"Oh!" Duo's hands clenched around fistfuls of Zechs' coat. Hopeful
and afraid at once, he looked up into the prince's face. Had he said
it couldn't be. "You
you love me?"
"With all my heart."
Duo thought he must be asleep, because dreams didn't really come true.
Not his dreams, anyway. But here was Zechs, an honest-to-God prince, more
handsome than any fantasy of a handsome prince he'd ever spun, and not
only had he come for Duo, Zechs loved him. Still only half believing,
Duo turned his face up for a kiss.
Zechs' arms tightened, and he bent his head. Duo's eyes closed of their
own will, and he waited to feel Zechs' mouth on his. But the kiss seemed
a long time coming, and he opened his eyes. "Zechs?"
Zechs didn't answer, but a voice behind Duo spoke, so thick with hate
he almost didn't recognize it.
"Little bastard, you led him right to us. Should've killed you the
first time I had the chance."
Duo twisted in Zechs' arms. The officer from the Libra stood between them
and the door to the hallway, his gun aimed at Duo's head. With him was
a man Duo didn't recognize, but from his age and the antique richness
of his furred robe, he assumed it must be one of Romafeller's inner circle.
He, too, looked at Zechs and Duo with undisguised hatred.
"Tuberov. I should have known
" Zechs thrust Duo aside,
and for a sinking moment, Duo thought that Zechs was ashamed to be seen
with him, even by his enemies. But then he heard the crack of a revolver,
and Zechs staggered back.
oh God, no
" Duo scrambled across the floor on
his hands and knees to Zechs' side as the prince fell. A small hole, the
edges blackened, marred his coat halfway between his right shoulder and
his breastbone, just at the height of Duo's head. Duo tried to sound reassuring
as he gabbled, "It's okay
it's not so bad
His fingers crawled across the still form until they touched flesh. He
reached under the cornsilk hair and found a pulse. Weak with relief, he
pressed his cheek against Zechs' face. "I'll get you out of this,
"It's rash to make promises you have no way of keeping."
Duo looked up, tearing his eyes away from Zechs. The ugly Romafeller aristocrat
sneered down at him. "Pity. You'd have made such a pretty plaything
when we were done with you."
"Why?" Duo felt the cry torn from him. He didn't mean the question
for himself, and Tuberov seemed to realize it.
"He betrayed us. His class. We are the only ones capable of ruling,
we're entitled to it." Tuberov looked at Duo as though he were a
piece of filth that someone had forgotten to clear away. "His fascination
with a guttersnipe like you proves how unworthy he is."
"You seem pretty fascinated yourself." Duo tried to gather Tuberov's
anger to himself, to distract him from Zechs. And where the hell were
Zechs' men, anyway? He didn't come here alone, did he? Stalling desperately,
Duo returned Tuberov's sneer. "Says something about your taste, too."
"Don't flatter yourself. We'd have used you, not kept you as a pet.
What do you think we are?"
"Fucking crazy, that's what!"
Tuberov's sneer twisted into a vicious snarl. With barely a glance at
his companion, he ordered, "Shoot him."
Duo stared into the barrel of the revolver. Another shot, deafening in
the small rooms, and Duo flinched, his body tensed and waiting for the
bullet. But the burning pain didn't come. Instead, the gunman's fingers
loosened and his eyes widened in surprise before he pitched forward. Behind
him, Heero turned his gun on Tuberov.
"I'll kill you, too. Don't move."
More boots pounded up the steps, and Zechs men arrived, drawn by the gunshots
and voices. Heero's eyes met Duo's the instant before the soldiers grabbed
him. Almost immediately, they hustled him and Tuberov roughly toward the
stairs, and Duo cried out as though something were being torn from him.
"No, wait--" Duo reached toward the soldiers, but they ignored
him in the confusion. "He wasn't helping them, he saved us--"
Zechs drew a wet-sounding breath. Duo forgot Heero utterly, conscious
of nothing except his prince who lay in a growing pool of his own blood.
He touched the bullet hole, and when his fingers came away wet, he frantically
pulled open Zechs' coat. Underneath the jacket, red soaked the front of
his shirt. Duo pressed his hand on the wound. "Oh God, you're bleeding
" 's jus' a scratch." Zechs' eyes opened, slowly, as if it took
great effort. He whispered, "Duo
A sob wracked Duo's body, and he struggled against its successor, finally
managing to say, "I'm here." He groped for Zechs' hand, squeezing
his fingers with gentle pressure. "See? I'm right here
Zechs smiled wearily, a short-lived smile that faded as the effort to
hold on it became too great. "
" Duo sobbed again, not sure who he railed
against. "What'd you have to go get in the way of a bullet for, anyway?"
he was going to
had to stop him
couldn't let you
Zechs coughed, and Duo could hear blood in his lungs. "
Duo's vision blurred, and he clung more tightly to Zech's hand. "Hush.
Don't try to talk. Help's coming." He looked up at one of Zechs'
men, his eyes pleading. "Right?"
The soldier nodded. "An ambulance is on the way."
Duo tried not to think about the crowded, narrow streets and how long
it could take an ambulance to navigate them. Somehow, the calm that always
came over him in an emergency eluded him. He couldn't stop shaking, and
his fingers kept slipping off Zechs' wound. Zechs groaned, and Duo swore
at his own clumsiness. After what seemed an eternity, he heard the siren,
and then more footsteps.
The soldier who'd spoken to Duo earlier pulled him gently away from Zechs'
side. "They have to take him now."
"No! I'm going with him!"
Duo struggled, but his strength evaporated. When they lifted Zechs, Duo
felt a great, tearing pain, like when the soldiers had taken Heero away,
only a thousand times worse. He tried to fight his way to Zechs' side,
but they wouldn't let him. Duo reached for his prince, but he was too
far, and then they took him away, carried him down the stairs to the waiting
ambulance. The soldier's grip loosened, and Duo broke free, running down
the stairs, but not fast enough. Just as he reached the sidewalk, the
ambulance pulled off, sirens blaring.
Duo stood on the sidewalk as the ambulance disappeared over the hill,
struggling against his tears. He had to find out where they were taking
him, had to get there
he whirled as the remaining soldiers came out
of the building, meaning to demand they take him to Zechs. Suddenly, the
street dipped and swirled around him, and his angry order faded into a
weak mewl, like a hungry kitten's cry. Dimly, he knew someone caught him
as he fell, but as darkness folded over him, he whimpered, "Zechs
and surrendered to the cold comfort of oblivion.
[ch. 7] [ch. 9] [back
to RazorQueens' fic]