TB and Marsh
see part 1 for notes, warnings
Many Angels + Part 8
"Hot and Sour Soup, House special
Egg Foo Young, and Broccoli with Black Bean sauce," Duo said. He twitched
his curtain open a little further. "1179 Cathedral Street. Listen, there's
a guy in a blue Ford sitting across from the house on the left side of
the street. Have your guy deliver it to him. Yeah, the guy in the car.
He'll pay you. Thanks." He closed his mobile and dropped it into a pocket.
He let the curtains close, and resumed his seat on his couch.
It took half an hour; he was a long way for a delivery. But a half hour
after his call there was a tentative knock at his door. He ignored it,
and then heard it open.
Merquise came into the den carrying a bag. "You owe me eighteen fifty-three,"
he said, putting the bag on table. "Nice trick."
"I'm not a fucking stake-out," Duo said, and turned up the volume on his
telly. On-the-nines traffic news blared about a tie-up on Route 48. "Wreck,"
he added. "You're stuck here for a while. So sit down or find a hotel
this side of the bay."
"You're on suicide watch."
He looked Merquise in the eye. He said, "I'm not planning on dying tonight."
Merquise cocked his head. He gestured to the bag. "Are you sure? That
Duo leaned over to search it for the broccoli. "The smelly shit's for
Merquise squinted at the window. It was just finally dark, at nine. "Thanks,"
he said finally, and sat gingerly on the sofa cushion Duo had left open
for him. He silently accepted the carton of soup and a plastic spoon.
Duo found a nature documentary about seals eating penguins or something
like, and kept his eyes exclusively on his food and the screen as they
A while later, at some point, Merquise rose and left the room. The food
disappeared. Lights came on in the rest of the downstairs, the kitchen
and over the back porch. Merquise came back to the couch after a while
and handed Duo a glass of cool water. The seals became lemurs in Madagascar.
Duo said, "I kind of hated him a lot of the time."
Merquise turned from closing the windows. It was, Duo realised suddenly,
rather cool; another storm was coming. He pulled his knees to his chest
"Why?" Merquise had gone tense and tight. Duo glanced back at the television.
"He was a good man," Merquise went on.
"Not always," Duo corrected, automatically, and wished he hadn't.
"No-one is good all the time."
"Yeah." He wiped his nose on his sleeve. "That wasn't fair. I know."
Merquise drifted slowly closer. "I know what happened between you during
the war." His pale eyes moved away. He bent for the remote control, and
muted the box. "I wasn't surprised when you declined to work with him.
I was when you began an affair."
"It wasn't... " But he let it trail off. On the screen, a monkey leapt
from branch to branch, its small hands clutching at a fig. "I want you
to read the note."
"It's not mine."
"Fucking read it."
Merquise had it on him still. He'd added a transparent plastic sleeve
between the morning and the moment he pulled it from his coat pocket.
He offered it to Duo that way.
"You." He wrapped his arms about his knees and hugged them close.
Merquise seemed restless. He took the envelope from the sleeve and traced
the folded edges, the script on the front. He sat beside Duo, and tore
the envelope open with his pointer finger. There was a single sheet inside.
He read it, silently; he folded it closed again. When he finally spoke,
he had to clear his throat first, and his voice was husky. "Did you want
me to read it aloud?" he said.
Making Duo ask for it. Making Duo shoulder the responsibility. "No," Duo
answered shortly. He'd just wanted someone to read it, in case there was
something-- in case Stanley had wanted something done, some special arrangement.
Practicality, he thought. People who left notes thought of things like
that. They thought of all the things they hadn't said that they wanted
to, they got in the last punches, the last good-byes, the last blame.
Whatever Stanley had to say, Duo didn't try to imagine, and he didn't
want to read. People who left notes meant what they said to be the last
word. You couldn't argue with someone who was dead. They didn't want to
argue. They just wanted you to remember something you had no control over,
wanted you stuck with that for the rest of the life you were going to
keep on living without them. He knew the pathology. He knew what it did
to the survivors. Maybe Stanley hadn't--meant--to leave him any kind of
burden, but it would be, and right now all Duo had was a chance to save
his own back, or the choice not to.
It was silent again. The lemur show was ending. Merquise sat next to him
holding the letter, still waiting, maybe, for him to take it. Duo drew
in a breath, and let it out through his nose. He said, "I think I need
to take some time."
In the corner of his eyes Merquise nodded. "I'll push the paperwork through
"Do you have plans?"
"Are you safe to be left alone?"
He switched back to the news channel. "Yeah. You can go home now."
"I don't think that's what you want." Merquise finally folded the letter
and put it back in the sleeve. "You're alone too much."
Duo wiped his nose again. "If I'd stayed alone, he'd still be-- so maybe
that's just the way it is."
"Don't flatter yourself."
"Either it's my fault or it's not. Proximate cause makes you kill yourself,
not a decade of regrets."
"His letter says otherwise." Duo turned his head away, but Merquise laid
a hand on his arm and gripped him like he was going to shake. "William
Stanley is dead by his own hand," Merquise said harshly. "Are you going
to vaildate that by joining him?"
"I already told you no." He was cornered on the sofa, was what, if Merquise
decided it was going to get physical, and had two stone over him easy
and a head of height besides, and it was a massive effort to just hold
still when he'd put himself so out of position, curling up the way he
And Merquise was looking at him like he'd shatter under the slightest
touch. "He made me the same promise," he said rawly.
He had a headache making his hands shake. "Let me go."
"He was on that detail on my orders." Merquise was staring at him, and
Duo stared back, not comprehending that, not understanding what it was
about that that was supposed to be important. He'd not got his hand on
Duo's arm, but rather his sleeve, then. His fingers tightened on the fabric,
pulling it tight around Duo's wrist. His knuckles drained to white. "I
personally washed him out of the Specials when he was eighteen. He came
to me--he begged for a second chance. I sent him to the Lunar Base. A month
later I was out of OZ, and I didn't see him again until he transferred
here. I thought--I remember thinking--he was too soft. He wasn't Specials
material. He would never lead. He was a pleaser, not a soldier." His pale
eyes turned down, suddenly. To his hand on Duo's sleeve. He loosened them
convulsively, then moved both hands to his lap.
"Not everyone would call what he did a failure," he said, a little more
sanely. "But for Will-- I was sure he had the courage."
The revelation, the timing; he just felt ill with all of them. "What's
wrong with you people?" Duo licked his lips and turned off the television.
Everything went quiet except for the leftover hum of ions flying. "Everything
you do is just-- just so messed up."
"The war will never be over for some of us." Merquise set the letter very
precisely on the sofa between them. "You don't want to let go of it any
more than I do."
"This isn't my fault." Choked whisper, the best he could manage.
"No. No more than it's mine."
"Please just leave."
"Not this time."
"I'm not your fault either. Get out of my house."
"Get the fuck out!" He moved, this time, sprang to his feet and shouted
his bloody head off with an explosive burst of fury that left him almost
blind. "Fuck you and your tests! Was it an experiment for you, watching
this go down? One more mark he needed to be in the special clique? Well,
good for you, you proved that to everyone's satisfaction. And fuck Will
anyway, because he never could say no!"
"Evidently he could, in the end," was the quiet answer.
He wrenched open the end-table drawer. His holstered Glock was there and
he threw it at Merquise, the extra clips too, and the pair of sheathed
KA-BAR knives too. Duo eluded the grab Merquise made for him and turned
his back when he hit the kitchen bar. He lost an elbow when Merquise finally
caught him, but it didn't stop him reaching for the sleeping pills and
the aspirin out on the counter, the leftover antibiotics from the burn
months ago. A loose cap scattered tabs on the floor under their feet.
Zechs locked him down when he went for the kitchen knives, and did shake
him finally, so hard his teeth rattled. "Stop this!" he commanded. "Duo,
stop this now."
"Leave me alone!" He lost some skin freeing himself, banged his head good
and proper on the edge of the refrigerator that stuck out. "Take all of
it and get out."
"When you're calm." Merquise forced his chin up. "Are you?"
"I am not your responsibility."
"Maybe not, but I'm making it so."
Mobile. He had the mobile in his pocket still. He flipped it open against
his cheek and hit the speed dial. Merquise looked away angrily. The line
rang twice. When he heard the click, he didn't wait for a greeting. "I
need you," he said. "There's someone in my house who won't leave."
Merquise laughed bitterly, and released him. "Chang?"
Wufei heard. His voice, tinny and small in Duo's ear, demanded, "What
in hell's going on there, Zechs?"
Zechs plucked the phone from Duo's hand before he could answer. "Nothing,"
he told Wufei. "Sorry to have bothered you. It's under control here."
He held the phone between them, facing Duo. "Say goodbye to him."
Duo dropped his head back to the fridge. He said, "I'm asking for help."
He heard the click. Wufei hung up. He closed his eyes.
Merquise palmed his face again, gently, this time. "I'm here." He closed
the mobile, reached over Duo to put it on the counter. Both hands went
to Duo's cheeks, pushing his hair back. "Let me give it to you."
"Let me help you, Duo."
He hit a point of surrender, sometimes. Not often. But he didn't have
any reserves, not now. Didn't see a way out of the tunnel. Even the anger
"Whatever you thought you'd get from Chang," Merquise said. "I can give
Duo bent, and Merquise let him. The capsules that had spilled were the
sleeping pills he'd bought at the store, blue and white all over his wooden
floor. He picked up two, rolled them in his palm.
He said, "I'm just going to bed. Stay. Go. Whatever."
He did. He followed Duo to his room upstairs, too, without so much as
asking first. He took care of the blinds over the windows, and pulled
the duvet down. Duo lay face-down on his mattress, and a moment later
it creaked under Merquise's weight. He wormed an arm about Duo and pulled
Duo looked off into the dark beyond his bed. "I don't remember inviting
"You said I could do whatever I wanted. This is what I want."
"We never did this. You and me." Me and anyone, he thought, and didn't
think of Will Stanley, staring into the darkness until his eyes stung
from not blinking.
"First time for everything." Merquise dropped a kiss on his shoulder and
settled, warm and too intimate, against him. "Did you take your pills?"
He'd forgot. They were still in his hand, a little sticky now. He put
them in his mouth and swallowed them dry. "Don't talk any more," he answered.
He avoided the funeral.
Almost had--another--altercation in his kitchen over it, Wufei yelling at
him about being a coward. He'd yelled back, just for the chance to scream
at someone. It had been Merquise who'd decided it, hustling Heero and
Wufei out the front door and saying he'd check in later.
They didn't do graves in the colonies. Cremation was mandatory, and ejection.
He'd always hated the death culture on Earth, and it kept him awake thinking
about it, Will--rotting away. He'd had a nightmare about it, even through
the sleeping pills, and ended out walking so far along his beach he'd
hit the boardwalk downtown. The humidity didn't keep the crowds away.
The carnival was already swinging, blasting music at deafening tones,
bright coloured lights from the rides competing with the sunlight. He
walked between the shops and bars for a while, an anonymous body in the
hundreds crammed onto the sand. He bought a tea at Ai Mei Thai and sat
at a table along the back wall to watch the mid-afternoon turn into evening.
He caught a cab letting out a pair of diners at seven and slid into the
backseat ahead of a group of girls in slinky club clothes, ignoring their
protests. "Willow Run," he told the driver. "It's off the highway."
"What is that, an apartment complex?" the man asked, resetting his meter.
"Yeah. Grey buildings," Duo said.
He remembered the lobby code, and sweet-talked the front desk into finding
some boxes for him. He didn't have a key, but he jimmied the lock with
a credit card. Will's apartment was dead, full of stale unmoving air.
He tried a sink in the kitchen, but the water was off, too.
He emptied the refrigerator first, to turn it off. He put all the meat
in a trash bag but kept anything that was fresh and still good enough
to use, sheer economy of upbringing. The pantry didn't have much aside
from a few tins of vegetables and a mouldy loaf of bread. The crockery
all looked generically cheap, but he boxed it anyway, and the small set
of cookware too. There wasn't going to be anyone else volunteering to
do it, and he didn't want it to get lost in the shuffle. It wasn't much
of an apartment, but it was Will's, and he wanted it to be--important,
even if the things in it weren't.
The empty fish tank he wasn't sure what to do with, but he thought it
would fit in the backseat of Will's car. There wasn't a television or
anything, but he disconnected the laptop still propped open on the desk,
and the lamp, a ceramic horror of Floridian kitsch. He didn't know the
story behind it, but it didn't match anything else. He wished he'd asked.
Some books on a shelving unit. The Preventers Operations Manual, which
went into the trash, and a guide to the Bay, several years out of date
and obviously never used. Novels. Duo didn't know who ‘King Arthur' was,
but there were five books with his name on the cover. The pictures were
all of people in ancient clothes, women with long blonde hair and men
in ridiculous armour. He set those aside with the lamp, and the plaque
with Will's mother's medal.
No-one had ever said where exactly Will had--done it--but Duo decided to
leave the bedroom for last. That left only the bath. He flipped the light
and started with the sink. There were a few bottles, mostly empty, shampoo
and liquid soap. He binned them in his trash bag if they were low enough
and kept one never opened. The medicine cabinet was practically bare.
Bottle of aspirin substitute, toothpaste, brush, floss. Nothing illicit.
No meds. That left just the shower. Duo tossed a cake of soap and a nubbly
old flannel. A shaving razor and a little mirror were there, too. The
razor gave him pause. He brushed his thumb over the plastic lip of it.
He wiped his forehead dry of sweat, and dropped the razor into his trash
He was taking down the shaving mirror when he noticed the damaged tile.
Cracked right down the middle from an impact point, when the rest around
it were whole. He reached a finger for it on autopilot, and it wasn't
until he touched it that he realised what had broken it. He'd seen it
a thousand times. The little hole in the middle was from a bullet.
Everything else registered then in a rush. There was no shower curtain.
The overpowering smell of bleach. The stain in the grout down the back
of the shower. He'd been wrong about the bedroom.
He sat on the toilet in a light-headed rush.
There was a hairband on the deck of the tub. A black elastic. He stared
at it for a long time, not understanding what it was doing there. Will
had short hair. No, it was one of his. Even had a few broken hairs tangled
around it. He picked it up, feeling like he was swimming through molasses.
He couldn't think when he would have left one there. He'd never taken
his hair out here, even to bathe. Will would have had to have taken one
from his place. He wasn't really imaginative; he couldn't think why Will
would have done that, except as some kind of memento, but it was such
an odd thing. He couldn't imagine what it had made Will feel. He took
off the one he was wearing and put the old one on. Then he took it out
He said it in a mumble, feeling stupid. But sitting in Will's place there
was almost a banked kind of energy, an echo just under audio. Waiting.
He said aloud, "I'm not reading the letter. I just-- There's nothing you
could say that would make any sense out of what you did. I can't believe
you did this. I can't believe it was so bad you felt you had to die to
get away from it."
He wished there was going to be an answer. He wished he believed there
Into the silence, he said, "I'm sorry."
Zechs' pager buzzed for a full ten minutes before he had the opportunity
to check it. He finally got Une off the phone and reached for the offending
technology. When he saw the message waiting, he threw the file in his
hand to the desk without watching where it landed and whirled for the
He drove like a maniac to the hospital, swerving between lanes as fast
as he could manage in the heavy rush-hour traffic. He parked in the Emergency
Lot and went for the doors at a run.
Agent Kingsley intercepted him on his way to the desk. "Sir," she called.
"What happened?" Zechs demanded. "You were supposed to be watching him."
She straightened like a whip at his accusation. "They got ahead of me,
sir. I didn't realise what was going on until I saw the car. I followed
the bus here."
"Chang went to Maxwell's to pick him up," she explained. "They were headed
out on the highway. There were two other cars involved in the accident.
The word on the radio is that an SUV spun out of control. They must have
been right behind it."
An accident. The sheer relief of that was so stunning that he nearly missed
the rest of her story. He tried to keep his face impassive as he struggled
to re-order his thoughts. He matched her posture, clasping his hands behind
his back. "How bad is it?" he asked.
"Sir, I'm not sure--"
"Chang's in surgery. Maxwell, I'm not sure. They're not talking to me
"They'll talk to me." He strode away from her to the front desk and slammed
his badge on the counter in front of the nurse there. He met her frown
with a deep one of his own.
He said, "Commander Merquise. Two of my agents are in your care. I want
to speak to the attending surgeon about their condition."
She turned back to her computer with a show of ignoring his badge. "Are
"I am their commanding officer. I have every legal right to--"
"Not if you're not family."
"Your supervisor," he said immediately. "Not when you feel like it. Now."
"Mother of Mary," a voice behind him said. "Chill out."
It was Duo. He was bruised and bloodied on the side of his face, and his
left arm was wrapped and hung in a blue sling, but he was upright and
alive. Zechs crossed the lobby in what felt like a single step and met
him at the doors.
"Should you be walking out?" he asked, taking Duo gently by his uninjured
arm and trying to examine him in the bright overhead lights. He was wearing
jeans, but his shirt had been replaced with hospital scrubs. He squirmed
out of range when Zechs, forgetting their audience, would have taken his
"I'm fine," he insisted. "You wanna stop yelling at the staff?"
"They didn't cooperate." Duo gestured at a line of chairs against the
hall wall, and Zechs, also ignoring Duo's attempts to shake him off, helped
him to sit in one. "Are you all right? Truly?"
"I'm okay." Duo rested his head against the wall. He looked tired. "Wufei's
not so great. Punctured lung. They're working on him."
"That was my next question." He let his hand wrest on Duo's wrist. "What
"I wasn't trying to kill us both, if that's what you're asking." His tone
was bitter. "I wasn't even driving."
"That wasn't what I was asking."
"Someone blew a tyre. The SUV in front of us rolled. Guy in the left lane
swerved to avoid it, and hit us, on Wufei's side."
However inappropriately, he could only be glad that his gut-level assumption,
on reading that page a half-hour earlier, had been so very wrong. "Punctured
lung," he repeated. "I'll see he gets the best care possible."
Duo peered at him sidways. "It's not like they're giving him substandard
care because he's Asian."
"He's a cop, not a prince," Zechs retorted. "I want them to treat him
as if he were."
Duo rolled his eyes. "How many speeding laws did you break trying to get
"At least a dozen in three different communities." He was finally able
to crack a smile. "Duo, honestly. Are you all right?"
He couldn't help it; he was studying the man again, inch by inch, looking
for the lie. But the injuries really didn't seem to extend beyond the
rapidly purpling bruises and small cuts from glass that speckled Duo's
cheek and forehead, and it was his wrist that was encased in a gel cast.
Zechs reached to adjust the strap of the sling on Duo's shoulder, and
that was when he noticed Duo's hair.
"You've cut it," he said softly.
Duo looked away uncomfortably. He pulled the tail from behind his head
and held it almost protectively in his fist. It was no longer than his
shoulders now, held back with an elastic at the nape.
He knew Duo wouldn't like it, but he did it anyway, gently loosening Duo's
hand until he could take the tail for himself. He brushed his fingers
along the shorn edge. "That had to be hard," he said. "Tearing something
away to make way for the new." Duo wore a faint flush, and he let go.
"I never had the guts."
Duo twitched an almost-smile. "I got pretty shit-faced first."
"I believe it. When?"
"Yesterday. It just--seemed like time to stop--" Duo's eyes roved the hall
without settling. "Stop carrying around quite so much of the past."
"I. I, uh, found a therapist, too." Duo managed to look at him, that confrontational
stare that spoke more about the fear underneath than it did about the
courage to meet his gaze. "I didn't do a lot of research or anything,
but her website said she worked with vets a lot. So I set up some appointments."
That surprised him more than the hair. He touched what was left of Duo's
tail, sliding his thumb from the band to the end. He rested his palm on
Duo's shoulder. "Good," he agreed. "That's really good."
"Yeah." Duo cleared his throat. "Well, you've got bigger problems now.
Wufei's a crap patient. He's going to make it hell for everyone if he
needs physical therapy."
"Yes. Well. He's more Heero's problem than mine."
"He's got time. You've got time too."
"Yeah. I saved up a lot of vacation days. Was thinking I ought to actually
"That's not what I meant."
"I know," Duo said. "I'm dense, but I've got a fair grasp on metaphor."
Zechs let his hand fall away. "I'll be here. Whatever you need."
"Thank you. I appreciate that."
He leaned over to brush his lips across Duo's. "Is there a waiting room?
We'll stay put until Chang's out of surgery."
"Yeah. Up the corridor." Duo licked his lips after the kiss. "Thanks,"
he said again. Then, "And for not being a tool about it. I guess I haven't
been very nice to you. For a couple of years now. Though in my own defence,
you dumped me."
"I didn't want to," he reminded him. "But thank you." He released a cleansing
breath. "I knew what had happened between you and Stanley. I should have
had you in psych evaluations, at the very least, the minute he told me
you were sexually involved."
"My private life--"
Zechs cut his protestation short. "You have no private life when you work
for the Preventers," he said flatly. "And my job as your commander is
not to trust you to do the right thing, but to ensure that you do. I've
been asking myself why I failed to do that. I let my personal understanding
with you affect my duty toward you as my officer." Duo was watching him
silently. "It is, perhaps, not inappropriate to--share some of the blame
for what happened to him."
"You know what the irony is?" Duo fisted his short tail, then let it fall
behind his shoulder. "I get it now. What it feels like to stand by and
do nothing. And all I want is to be able to tell him that, that I get
it, that I--I don't blame him anymore." He bit his lower lip hard enough
to flush it dark with teeth marks when he released. "Grand, isn't it?
Reaffirms my place in the centre of the universe. His death has meaning
"I think he'd rather you healed yourself."
"Then he should have stayed."
He covered Duo's hand and held it.
A bearded man in scrubs passed through the Surgical Ward doors and aimed
himself at their seats. Duo clambered to his feet, and Zechs rose as well.
"I'm Doctor Bajwa," he introduced himself briefly, shaking Duo's hand,
then Zechs'. "I was Agent Chang's surgeon. It went very well. We reinflated
his lung and set two broken ribs. He's got a concussion, so we'll keep
him overnight, but we're bringing him out of anaesthesia now. I'll allow
a quick visit. He did ask about you."
"Go," Zechs urged Duo. "I'll wait here."
Duo nodded. "Don't terrorise the nurses while I'm gone." He hesitated.
Just a little more softly, he added, "I'm going to be okay."
"I'm glad," Zechs replied.
"I mean-- you can go. For real, if you want."
Zechs smiled. "Go reassure Chang. I'll wait for you."
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