Solo always had been something
of a philosopher. He'd been tough on us kids, though he wasn't much older
than the most of us. But he'd made us tough too; had taught us what we
had to know to survive on the streets. Called us his rat-children. Had
turned us into a gang and taught us a little something about self-respect.
When the high and mighty on the streets, those people who actually had
homes to go to at night, had called us 'street rats' we'd learned to grin
with unabashed pride. Yep. We're Solo's Street Rats and don't you forget
"Did you know that, Derry?" I called out into the darkness,
"I'm nothing but a street rat... still don't mind me staying the
night? Not afraid I'll steal something?"
I blinked; where in the hell had that come from after all these years?
That bitterness? I had to sigh; there were some things, I guess, that
just never went away.
Then I had to laugh; I'd been stealing from him for the last two days.
Stealing the air from his dead crew.
"Relena would have warned you!" I shouted. "Once a rat-boy
thief, always a rat-boy thief!"
I shivered in my rank, cold suit. God. I hadn't thought about her since
the damn war. What the bloody hell was wrong with me? I thought I heard
a distant, disdainful and all too familiar sniff. Only Relena Peacecraft
could deliver so much meaning with nothing more than the delicate exhalation
of air through her nose. Her stuck up little nose. I had to chuckle at
myself; you'd think I could get over being snubbed by her majesty after
all these years. Wonder what Freud would make of that girl? Isn't the
Princess supposed to fall for the guy who saves her, not the guy
who tries to shoot her?
God it was so cold. I had to force myself to stay relaxed or I was going
to start shivering. The cold made my burn scars ache. Why in the hell
had I let them talk me into this? Why hadn't I just said my goodbyes and
pulled the plug like I had planned? I couldn't make it four more days.
I already felt weak and vaguely sick, almost light-headed and groggy.
I never could say no to Quatre. God only knows why. He's just so damn...
fucking wide-eyed or something. I accused him once of still believing
in Santa Claus. He'd just smiled that damned wise and innocent smile of
his and almost had me believing too.
I was glad when he'd finally gotten through that tough guy shell of Trowa's.
Glad they'd found each other after everything that we had all gone through.
I'd known that Quatre was in love the first time I'd seen them in a room
together. We'd talked about it once, during the war before they'd hooked
up. He'd turned the most delightful shade of red when he realized how
obvious it was. But then he'd made me turn just as red with an observation
of his own.
I hoped they stayed together. They needed each other. Everybody should
have someone they can count on, someone to be there in the dark.
"There's nothing in the dark to be afraid of, little Duo," said
Sister Helen near my right ear and I smiled.
I remembered when she'd told me that; I'd laughed out right at her. Didn't
she know anything? The dark was where the monsters were! She'd
never understood; you would have thought living in the neighborhood the
Maxwell Church was in would have taught her a thing or two about the streets.
But she'd never understood that the monsters in the night were the same
people she brushed elbows with in the daylight. The predators that went
prowling in the safe cloak of the darkness. Street kids weren't safe in
the night; of course we feared the dark. She'd never understood the way
we tended to clump together, the way we would sleep under the beds
more often than not. Could never seem to fathom why we ran and hid when
we got hurt, why when we cried, the tears were always silent. She just
told us stories about Angels watching over the children and the weak.
I knew better. Solo and half the gang had died in the plague; both the
children and the weak; I didn't believe in Angels. I believed in death.
I believed that if there truly was a God he had a very twisted sense of
"Yeah... this sit'ation you're in right now is pretty damn funny,"
drawled Solo in my left ear.
"Shut up, asshole," I muttered back.
"Duo! Watch your language!" Sister Helen admonished, her voice
"Yeah Duo!" jeered Solo and he and the good Sister wandered
off together to argue about my morals.
I felt the memory of a tingle on my left arm and wished I could reach
to rub my hand across the scars there. How many were there now? Thirteen?
Had Solo really been gone thirteen long years now?
I shook my head. "You know, Derry... if you were any kind of host
at all, you'd at least offer me something to drink."
My throat was starting to feel like it was stuffed with cotton batting
and my lips were split in more than one place. I made myself swallow some
more brackish water.
I tried very hard to doze some more, just to make the time pass and I
think I managed it. My dreams were very strange though, and I woke to
the frantic sound of someone calling my name.
"Solo?" I called muzzily, "is that you?"
"Duo?" It was Quatre, his voice sounding very upset. "Duo...
"Hey, Quatre," I called and knew that my voice sounded hoarse
and pathetically relieved to hear him. God. I'd made another day.
"Hey," he said back and the relief was pretty plain in his voice
too. "Duo... who the heck is Solo? Are you all right?"
"S'rry... I was dreaming." I muttered, trying to get my head
back on straight.
"Listen to me, Duo." He was using his mission voice again and
my attention perked up despite myself. "Do you still have that last
I thought about it long and hard. "I brought it," I told him
but I couldn't remember what I'd done with it. I finally broke down and
flicked on the light for a moment and found it not far from me, drifting
lazily a couple of feet off the floor. "Yeah... it's here."
"Get some fresh air into the suit, Ok?"And when he said it,
it made perfect sense. I should have been doing that all along. I was
surprised I hadn't thought of it on my own. I should have been doling
the air out in increments; refreshing what the ship was filtering for
me every... every... I couldn't fucking do the math.
"Quatre... " I failed to keep the rise out of my voice as I
realized just how messed up I was. "How much?... I... I can't think...
"It's all right," he soothed. "How much is left in the
I had to flick the light on and off again. "Just under six hours."
"Two hours a day," he told me and it was so simple after he
said it. "Set your alarm for every twelve hours."
I went ahead and hooked the tank up, feeling better within a matter of
minutes. Not great... but better. I set the chrono alarm right then before
I had a chance to forget. God... I couldn't do this. I just was not going
to be able to do this...
"Yes you can," came Quatre's sharp reply and I blinked stupidly
for a minute. I hadn't thought I'd said that out loud.
"Please... Quatre... talk to me... " I felt myself flushing
at the sound of my own pleading.
"What's wrong, Duo?" he asked softly.
"It's... so damn cold," I muttered, "and quiet... so quiet...
just talk to me, Ok?"
So for a little bit he did; talked to me about what he was doing with
the Winner foundation, told me about one of his sisters or other breaking
into the art world with her watercolors and getting written up in some
sort of journal. Every little while he would ask, "You still with
And I would laugh and tell him he hadn't put me to sleep yet. But I was
clinging to the sound of his sweet voice with everything I had.
After a while he stopped and said, "Now you talk to me a little bit.
How are you doing?"
I sighed, what the hell was there to say? I was freezing. I was starving,
so damn hungry I could have cried, I was so thirsty I was starting not
to notice the taste of the damn water. I wasn't sure the filtration system
was working. It was pitch black and silent as a tomb, and I was starting
to hear voices and fucking see dead people. Ducky... I was just ducky.
I heard a tiny sound in the background that I thought might be Kurt, but
Quatre was talking again, not waiting for me to reply.
"You're half way there, Duo. I know it's hard; you just have to hang
on a little longer." His voice sounded strained.
I grunted. "I'm fine," I murmured and again, because I couldn't
remember if I'd said it out loud, "I'm fine."
Someone spoke to him then and there was the sound of a heavy sigh, "Duo...
we're almost out of time."
"Quatre... please... please...just let me go." I couldn't believe
I'd found the nerve to ask it; was shocked at the desperation in my own
voice. I was just so damn tired.
"Duo... " Quatre said, voice as soft as a sigh and I could tell
he didn't know what to say to me.
Kurt's voice cut across his, harsh and almost angry, "Don't you fucking
dare do this to us!" he snapped. "I've never known Duo
Maxwell to be a quitter!"
I chuckled for him but got no answer back. The window was gone. I almost
Solo wandered through about then, nibbling at a ration bar, just to remind
me that, "Boys don't cry, rat-boy. Remember?"
"Fuck you king rat," I told him and he meandered off laughing
It was so quiet I could hear the sound of my own heart beating slowly
in my ears.
"You know, Derry;" I yelled, "as a host you leave a great
deal to be desired!"
He seemed relatively unconcerned about that fact.
The quiet was far worse after the brief, bright sound of Quatre's voice.
"Why don't you just fucking let me die!" I shouted and did break
down a little bit then and wept the silent tears that street rats and
orphans learned to shed.
"Who the fuck now?" I growled, blinking the tears furiously
out of my eyes. I almost laughed out loud at myself. I was sitting here
in a darkness as complete as the inside of my pocket worrying about figments
of my imagination seeing me cry.
"Just hang on a little longer," the voice said and I couldn't
clearly identify it. It sounded familiar but the tone wasn't right.
"Solo?" I called. "Are you back rat-boy? Stop fucking with
His voice came from close beside me. "Oh... I don't need to fuck
with your head... you're already pretty well fucked."
I snorted at the joke and had to grin, "Yeah... I suppose you're
right; this is about as fucked up as you can get."
"Hey!" he complained, acting overly wounded, "At least
you're still alive! I personally think that being dead is pretty
"I suppose when you put it that way." I thought about it, looking
at him, "Hey; did you know you can see figments of your imagination
in the dark?"
"No shit?" He was delighted with the idea and proceeded to twirl
his way around the room.
"Too bad you don't just bloody well glow in the dark," I muttered
and he came to a stop in front of me.
"You Ok, kid?" he asked softly.
"No, asshole; I am not bloody well Ok." I told him.
"Why don't you just pull that line and let's go?"
I stared up at him. It's funny; he didn't look the way he had when he'd
died; he looked like I imagined he would if he'd lived. I looked at him
for a long time and he waited patiently for me to answer.
"I... I want to Solo... I really do. But I... I can't."
"Why not?" he asked, his face looking openly curious.
"I just can't. I promised Quatre... Howard's blaming himself as it
is... I can't do that to them." I met his gaze and tried to make
He just shrugged and straightened away from me. "S'ok kid. I can
wait." He walked toward the door. "Y'know... if you'd had a
partner... " He smirked then and was gone.
"And just who in the hell's fault is it that I don't have a partner,
you shit!" I screamed after him, "You're the one who fucking
died on me!"
His laughter drifted back to me.
"Come back here, rat-boy!" I shouted.
"You shouldn't talk to your friend like that, Duo," Sister Helen
"Damn," I muttered, "I wish you guys would stop sneaking
up on me like that."
"Duo! Language!"she snapped, sounding really angry.
"Don't tell me to watch my language, damn it; you are just a figment
of my overly fertile imagination. You are not Sister Helen any
more than that was Solo." I tried to glare at her and failed miserably.
"I know, dear," she said calmly.
I grunted, "Well; as long as we have that clear." And just tried
not to sound so damned petulant.
"Go to sleep, my little Duo," she sighed and I could almost
feel her fingers brushing through my hair. So I did; what the hell else
was there to do? I woke when my alarm sounded and had a panicked minute
of not being able to remember where I was.
"What the hell?" I muttered and groped around until I smacked
my gloved hand into the wall. It sent me drifting to the end of my tether
and it all came back to me. "Shit."
I found the tank and hooked myself back up, flooding my suit with new
air. Note, please, that I didn't say fresh air. I don't know that you
can call three year old air fresh. I was actually kind of surprised that
I was still alive at all.
The alarm sounding meant it had been twelve more hours. I tried to remember
what day I was on and wasn't sure, the third? Was it the fourth yet? I
didn't think I was going to make it either way.
I needed to stay awake for the next hour, to disconnect the tank again
and reset the alarm. I was kind of afraid of another visit from my imaginary
friends; it was really starting to freak me out how real they were beginning
So I took to singing again, softly at first, a little afraid of attracting
attention to myself. I sang a couple of the street songs Solo had taught
us and I vaguely remembered a lullaby that Sister Helen had sung a lot.
I love music, all kinds of music. The other pilots always found it irritating
somehow; I never understood why. Everybody likes some kind of music or
other, don't they? I always kept the hard stuff for when I was in Deathscythe,
usually alone in battle. But they had never cared for anything I played.
I eventually quit listening to it around other people. I used to sing
a lot more too... I tried to remember when I had stopped and really couldn't.
It just seemed to be something that had died along with the rest of my
Ok... where the hell had that come from?
I was getting introspective again and I knew what that meant.
"So now your soul is dead?" came Father Maxwell's gentle, amused
"Yep." I grinned up at him. "Dead soul. Dead heart."
"Now Duo, don't you think you're being a little... melodramatic?"
He smiled down at me from the towering height I remembered from my childhood.
"Melodramatic? Me?" I chuckled. "I suppose I am... but
come on Father; you're dead. Solo is dead. Sister Helen is dead. If I
ever had parents at all... they're dead. Can't I be a little melodramatic
if I want to be?"
He laughed then, "well; I suppose you can be at that."
"So... you're in the crowd who knows, is there a heaven? Do I at
least get to know what it's like before I take the express elevator straight
He clucked his tongue at me. "Now, don't be silly; that would be
telling." He winked at me.
"Well what the hell good is it to spend the last hours of my life
with a bunch of ghosts if they can't tell me anything?" I groused.
"I thought we were figments?" he said wryly and I had to chuckle
"Figments... ghosts... whatever,"I sighed and wished I could
lay my head down someplace. "So... you here to take my last confession
"Do you think you need to confess?" he asked and I couldn't
tell if he was kidding or not.
"Well, let's see... never done a confession before. You're supposed
to tell everything you've done wrong since your last confession, right?
Does that mean I have to tell everything I've ever done wrong?"
He considered it and then grinned, "Yep."
"Shit," I muttered and he laughed at me.
"I think you can skip the one about the language... I think I already
know about that one."
"Let's see... I don't have to get real specific, do I? We could be
here for a real long time." I glanced up at him again and
watched his face suffuse with a wide grin.
"I think we're going to be here for a long time, anyway. But... no,
you don't have to get specific."
"Good,"I muttered, " Ok, stealing. Lot's of stealing. And
the language, like you said." I grimaced, thinking about it. "Uhmmm...
taking the Lord's name in vain; that's not good... right?" He only
glared down at me. "That whole murder thing; lots and lots of that.
How bad are... impure thoughts about another guy?"
I looked up at him through my sweaty, oily bangs and I felt myself flushing,
"Never mind, I don't want to know," I murmured.
He only towered over me and looked down accusingly.
I smirked, "Goin' straight to hell, huh?"
He never did answer me.
"As a figment of my imagination, you're not one of the better ones.
Solo's a better conversationalist even if he is a shit."
He faded away and it was time to shut off the air and reset the alarm.
I slept some more after that.
I woke again to someone anxiously calling my name.
"I'm awake," I moaned, forcing the sound out through a throat
that was starting to feel tight.
"Good morning, sunshine,"Kurt drawled at me.
"What?" I croaked, "not still mad at me?"
"I'm not mad at you, squirt." he said and his voice sounded
warm. "You just frustrate the hell out of me."
"How are you doing, Duo?" came Trowa's soft baritone.
I blinked for a minute. "You guys still there?"
"Where else would we be?"He chuckled and I had to think about
My alarm beeped then, making me jump.
"What the hell is that?" I heard Howard yelp. Must have surprised
"Time to add a little air to my... suit." I had almost said
I killed the alarm. plugged up the tank and took a couple of deep breaths.
Remembering at the last minute to reset the timer.
My fingers were clumsy with the chill. "Damn," I muttered when
it took me several tries to get the thing set.
"What's wrong?" asked Quatre, his voice sounding concerned.
"Cold," I told him before I had a chance to think about it.
"My fingers are getting numb." I wished I hadn't said it; my
hands have been sensitive to temperature changes ever since I burned them.
Burned them saving Quatre's life. It upsets him a great deal.
"You should be moving around while you're disconnected from the ship,"
he commanded, using that voice again.
I only laughed. "Quatre... I... don't have the strength left."
"Duo... " he said and it sounded anguished.
"I know it's in your nature to hold on to hope for all it's worth,"
I told him, knowing my voice was harsh; forgetting for a minute that the
whole damn crew was probably listening to us. "And I've always loved
that about you but... damn it, Qat; you have to face the hard facts here.
I'm not going to make it."
"You are so, Duo Maxwell!" he snapped at me, his voice
sounding pained. "You're too damn close to give up now! It's only
another day and a half... Heero and Wufei... "
"What?" I practically yelled, that name snapping me into sharp
attention. "Damn you, Quatre! What kind of game are you playing at?
There's no way in hell those two would ever come out here for me! I drive
them both insane... why are you lying to me? Why are you making me suffer
like this if there isn't... " I was losing the vestiges of my voice
on the crest of my anger. What in the hell was he doing? How many other
lies had he told me? Heero and Wufei? Not in this stinking lifetime! Neither
one of them could stand to be in the same room with me; no way in the
seven, bloody hells would they be coming after me. I couldn't process
this. What was Quatre doing? What did he have to gain from telling me
shit like this? Why drag this out and make me sit here in agony if there
wasn't any rescue coming?
"No... Duo... " he sounded panicked and I imagined that he was
envisioning me ripping the airlines out, "you... you didn't let me
I waited, giving him a chance to explain and there was a strange sound
over the line. It was suddenly very quiet, like the link had been cut.
"Q... Qat?" I whispered and felt a thrill of fear when he didn't
answer me. The connection was gone. It wasn't time! What had happened?
Then there was another click and I again heard the faint sounds that told
me of people moving about. I had to bite back a moan of relief.
"Settle down, Duo." It was Trowa's voice that came to me calm
and steady. "Quatre was going to tell you that... Heero and Wufei
were reporting from the launch site. They're in communication with the
"Oh... " I said and felt like an idiot. "I... I'm sorry
"It... it's all right," he told me softly, voice sounding tense.
I wasn't able to talk much after yelling at him, so they talked to me
for the little bit that we had left. When I knew that time was winding
down, I had to try again and it was starting to feel like some sort of
"Quatre?" I ventured, cutting into whatever he had been saying.
There was the sound of a heavy sigh and I knew that he had guessed I would
ask this again, "What, Duo?"
"Please... give me permission to pull the plug?"
"No," he said and his voice was firm. He'd known I would ask
and had been ready this time. "We are not giving up and I will not
allow you to give up either. You've come too far to quit this close to
the finish line."
The transmission went dead and I was all alone in the dark again.
Well; almost all alone.
"Did I notice s'mbody gettin' all aquiver at the sound of a certain
name?" Solo was grinning like an idiot and drifting around me, trying
to make me turn my head to watch him.
"Shut up, Solo," I muttered and just concentrated on getting
the line switched back to the filtration system. He was surprisingly quiet
while I finished. Or, maybe not so surprising since it was my own over-worked
brain that was producing him. I guess multi-tasking was a thing of the
"What's the matter, rat-boy?" He grinned in that malicious way
he could have sometimes.
"Please leave me alone," I asked him, my voice coming gravely
"Nah. This is too much fun. Who is it makes your little heart go
"None of your business, you damned sadist!" I growled.
"Heeeero!" he sang to me and I thought I would break down and
"Leave go... Solo. For the love of God... please leave it go."
I looked up at him imploringly. "We were closer than brothers once,
you and I... don't do this to me."
He stopped and looked down at me, his face getting serious. "I'm
sorry, kid. I didn't know he meant that much to you."
"He did... does... always will. But... " I just shook
my head and hoped he'd drop it.
But he squatted down to look into my faceplate, "Damn; rat-boy,"
he murmured sympathetically, "you got it bad."
I snorted. "Since the day I laid eyes on him," I confirmed in
a small voice.
"And I take it he don't know you exist?" He cocked his head
off to the side in that way I remembered.
"Worse... " I whispered. "He thinks I'm an annoying...
"Sorry kid," he chuckled at me. "Wouldn'ta teased you if
you'd ever said somethin'."
"I don't like to talk about it, Ok?" I told him and had to stop
for a minute while I tried to clear my throat. "It just... hurts,
"Yeah." He stood up then, "I know." And he was gone.
Sister Helen came back to whisper softly to me again until I slept.
I dreamed that someone was reading the 'Jungle Book' to me. I thought
it might have been Sister Helen; she's the only one I can ever remember
reading to me but the voice didn't sound right. It was gone when I woke
to the sound of the alarm again.
I almost couldn't feel my hands and feet at all and I was nearly in frustrated
tears by the time I got the line switched over. I started thinking about
not being able to get switched back to the ships systems and shuddered.
I decided to use the last of the air now and only make the switch one
more time. I didn't think I'd manage it again.
Quatre leaned over me to check my connection. "Good thinking,"
he said, reaching to pat my shoulder in a gesture that never quite connected.
"What the hell?" I mumbled. "You're not one of my ghosts."
He laughed at me. "Why do all your figments have to be dead people?"
He had a point, I guess. God, I hoped I wasn't in for a fresh parade of
people; I'd just gotten used to having Solo and Sister Helen around.
"Just a little longer, Duo," he whispered close to my ear and
I imagined I could almost feel the brush of his breath.
"I'm so tired Quatre... it hurts... everything hurts... please...
"No!" he snapped and his eyes flashed angry and dark for a moment.
I sighed in defeat and he faded away. I dozed for a bit and woke in a
panic; I'd forgotten to set the alarm to switch from the tank to the filters.
I had to flick the light on and check the air tank. I was on the last
minutes. I'd come damn close to sleeping through my own death.
"Shit," I muttered and began fumbling with the fitting.
"Careless, Maxwell," I heard and blinked up to see Wufei standing
over me with that condescending expression on his face.
"Oh bugger off," I snarled and forgot him while I got my lines
changed. I shoved the empty tank in his direction, once I had it disconnected,
causing me to drift backward into the wall. He vanished with a wry chuckle.
"Great," I grumbled. "Now the live ones are going
to come for their pound of flesh. As if the damn ghosts weren't bad enough."
I was so cold; I wanted to curl up somewhere. That's just not a possibility
in a vacuum suit. I tried to force myself to sip at the water tube but
I honestly didn't think the filters were working at all anymore. It tasted
like drinking pure urine. I gagged and just said the hell with it.
"And just how do you know what urine tastes like?" Trowa asked
me with a chuckle from where he leaned in the doorway.
"I know because I've been drinking it for the past three days, that's
He snorted and moved toward me, walking just as though we weren't in zero
"Trowa... " I scrabbled for words; I wasn't sure what I wanted
to ask him; why won't Quatre let me give up? What is he lying to me about?
What the hell is going on? Who is on that ship coming after me?
[back to Sunhawk's fic]