by girl starfish
Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder and a little bit worse
Treize looked up with a slight grimace as J entered. His office was elegantly styled, in turn of the century luxury. It was tidy, oozed wealth and roses, and was a fitting place for the head of the Kushrenada Institute to reside. J-well, bluntly, J stood out like a sore thumb. Treize briefly considered offering him some fashion advice but decided against it. He had to have important news to even think of upsetting Treizeís decorating scheme.
"J," he said pleasantly. "What a surprise-"
"Security breach," J said immediately. "Someone has hacked into my files."
"My, my." Treize shook his head. "Did they find Heeroís records?"
"Well." Treize pressed a button on the panel on his desk. "We must see to this." As they waited he asked idly, "Any idea who?"
"Ah." Treize frowned. "This could be difficult. Still . . . the Winners have been encroaching on our territory lately-"
J grinned. "Mr Winner did turn down my application for funding-"
There was a sharp knock at the door.
"You wanted me, Your Excellency?"
Treize smiled. "Colonel Une. Just the person we need-"
My fingers slid over the wires. Why is it that whenever you want to do something quickly and efficiently, your fingers go to pieces and nothing co-operates with you? Add flying bullets to the mix, and itís a guarantee that nothing will go right.
"Shit, shit, shit-" I muttered, as the right wires finally came loose-
"Look out." Heero grabbed me, pulling me close to him. I was about to protest, when I heard the crack of guns. Heero stumbled forward-I realised from the impact of the bullets.
Heíd used his body to shield me?
"Concentrate on the light," he ordered me, his voice the most mechanical Iíd heard it.
His face was blank. I gulped, turning back to the light and trying to ignore the neat little holes in Heeroís back-if he hadnít been there-
Bullet fire continued around me. I worked the light controls trying to keep my mind focused only on that. Finally the light flickered off.
"Now the playing fieldís equal-" I turned to Heero. "Give me the gun. Youíve done enough-"
"Unacceptable. There is still considerable threat."
He didnít sound like Heero. "You were shot. Youíve got to stay out of this."
"Negative." It was all I could do not to yelp as Heero casually threw me over his shoulder-with the lights out, everyone was operating on sound. "You do not possess metal plating. I do."
"What are you doing?" I hissed. "Heero, put me down!"
"The shuttle is armoured. You will be adequately protected there." Heero opened the shuttle door and dumped me inside. As an afterthought, he tossed the gun in with me before shutting the door. I immediately tried to open it, only to discover it was locked.
"Heero!" I howled. "Let me out!"
There was no answer.
"Of all the rotten no-good-" I struggled with the door handle, temporarily choked for words with the extent of my rage. How dare he try and protect me! How dare he be out there, getting shot at, and lock me away in here-"The jerk!" I stabbed a finger in the general direction of the battle. "If you think Iím going to forgive you for being all brave and noble, you can forget it, Heero Yuy. You are going to be sorry for this!"
I felt slightly better, but apart from that my mini-tantrum did not have much effect. With a sigh and a few more unkind words directed against Heero I pulled out the first aid kit and began to get it ready. After all, this is where I usually wound up any time things got messy. Only difference being that it was usually Howard or one of the Sweepers who threw me in here.
I settled back to wait.
Times like this, you have to try and think about anything but what is happening out there. You do that, you go crazy. Trust me, Iíve worked myself frantic dozens of time, to no avail. I thought about the Winner job, evil things to do to Heero and what a jerk Wufei was. That led me onto thinking about the Heero problem.
Iíd thought about this quite a lot. Getting, um, the necessary parts, providing Heero survived and didnít get shot to pieces, wouldnít be a problem. Thereís plenty of pleasure houses that deal in mechanical partners, both sexes. It wouldnít be difficult for me to find, steal or buy whatever we needed. The problem was, well, connecting the parts.
No-one cares about a robot. They can be programmed to go through the necessary actions and reactions, but they feel nothing. I didnít want that. If Heero and I were going to have a relationship, it was going to be on equal terms, damn it. He would feel whatever a person felt, there had to be some way . . .
Problem was, I was a mechanic, not a surgeon. I had a fair idea where the major organs were, and that getting shot in any of them was a bad idea. At a pinch, I made a good medic, Sally saying I had good hands for being a doctor. But I didnít have the necessary knowledge for this . . . you know, connecting nerve ends and such and brain functions.
There was someone who did.
Someone who would be only too happy to assist me, to offer advice and work with me through every stage of this endeavour. The only problem was, that person was G.
The door of the shuttle opened.
"Duo! Get the kit out-Rogerís arm needs bandaging, and Short Jackís been hurt, we donít know how bad. George too, but if heís complaining about missing the circus tonight, then he canít be seriously hurt. The rest of you, get back to loading the generator."
I already had the bandages ready, Old Jack helping me cut away Rogerís sleeve to get at the wound.
"Heís still out there."
"Is he hurt?"
"He doesnít seem to be."
Well so much for him. It would be a different story after I got through with him, I thought smugly, unintentionally pulling Rogerís bandages so tightly he yelped.
Short Jack turned out to be not too badly hurt, and George would need Sally to patch him up. I picked up the first aid kit pleasantly relieved. Weíd been lucky. Encounters with the Fang usually turn out nastier than this.
I said so to Howard.
"You can thank your robot for that," Howard said. "Iíve never seen anything like it. Duo-" he pulled me over to one side. "Tell me the truth. Heeroís not a normal AI, is he?"
"No," I said. "Not normal at all."
"Boss, we need a hand-"
"Weíll discuss this later," Howard said.
I did not relish the prospect.
I took the first aid kit and went to find Heero.
"I hope youíre pleased with yourself," I said crossly. "Howard wants to talk to me later about you. Whatever you did out there, itís got his suspicions up."
"Unfortunate but necessary," Heero replied, still in that clipped tone. "You had to be protected. The best way to do that was to eliminate the threat."
"Eliminate?" I asked uneasily.
Heero nodded. "There is no one left who is a threat to you."
I didnít like this. Down here, we donít talk about this. Killing is sometimes necessary as a matter of survival, but no one talks about it. We just pass over the subject . . . Heero was rather too matter of fact about it for my liking.
"Are you hurt?"
"Iím functioning at 59% capacity," Heero reported. "There is a leak in my internal battery."
"Doesnít sound too bad," I said. "Iím sure I can fix that. Letís get back to the shuttle."
Heero walked steadily back to the shuttle without any need of assistance. For some reason that bothered me. If Iíd been shot three times, I wouldnít like to be walking anywhere. But Heero was unique, I guess.
Once we got to the shuttle he surprised me again. "Threat has been deemed satisfactorily negated. Operative mode Ďsoldierí will discontinue in two minutes."
"Groovy," I said. "What the heck are you on about?"
"I will perform an all systems check now before shutting down to await repair," he continued. He did so.
"Fine then, ignore me. See if I care." I sulked.
I didnít like this at all.
If even the fact that he had to pretend to be an AI around Howard and the boys upset him, what was Heero doing? He was behaving more like a machine than Iíd ever seen him-and I had no idea why.
More worrying was the fact that heíd left the gun with me. If I had the only weapon between us-how had he eliminated the threat?
"Kid," Howard said, sitting down opposite me. "We need to talk about your little find there. Spill. Whatís he really?"
"The truth?" I said bitterly. "I havenít the faintest idea."
When we got back to the fort, Howard gave me the run of workroom 7 without me even needing to ask. When I returned from retrieving the Shinigami sign from my room, I found heíd even sent in a toolbox.
I decided to thank him later. For now-
I opened the toolbox. Heero.
It was reasonably easy to repair the damage done by the bullets. Like Heero said, metal plating was a bonus. But the one that had managed to rupture his internal battery was causing more problems. Battery fluid had damaged the sensitive wiring around his central circuitry and without being bad enough to pose an immediate threat, it was bad enough I couldnít fix it on my own. Heeroís wiring was just too delicate. To replace it, Iíd need special equipment.
Then there was the rest.
J had been busy. Heíd not just left out some very important pieces, heíd made additions to--
"Duo? Duo? Braided idiot?"
I blinked. Wufei was waving a hand in front of my face, Trowa hovering at his elbow, amused. By the looks of things theyíd been at it some time. "What?"
"What were you doing?" Wufei demanded. "You were just sitting there, staring at the wall."
"I was thinking," I said grimly.
Wufei humphed, making an annoyed sound. "Perhaps itís as well the jobís off. We canít operate unless weíre all working at full capacity."
I ignored the slight. "What do you mean, the jobís off?"
"Exactly that. In fact, thatís why we came to see you, to let you know. We couldnít get through before."
"We were out on a sweep," I said. "Fang territory. Three injured, no casualties. On our side at least. Four if you count Heero."
"Why wouldnít you count Heero?" Trowa asked.
"Itís complicated," I said shortly. And it was. When Iíd taken him apart to repair him. I was appalled. And yet-fascinated.
If it was found out what Heero was-
"Will Heero be joining us?" Wufei asked with a smirk. He was looking to where Heero was lying on the bench, unconscious. Iíd put a blanket over him so you could believe he was sleeping . . . I shuddered.
Wufei leapt on the motion immediately. "Honeymoon over?" he suggested.
"Shut up," I snarled. "You know nothing about this, Chang Wufei. Nothing at all!"
I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing Wufei back down. Well, I can be vicious when Iím in a bad mood, and right then I was feeling particularly nasty.
"And if weíve got that settled," I continued. "Would you mind filling me in on the change of plans?"
Trowa answered. "Winner household was attacked tonight by persons unknown. There have been at least five casualties and great loss of property. The whereabouts of most of the family are unknown."
It was a shock to have someone elseís tragedy to think of. "Heeroís friend?"
"Unaccounted for," Wufei answered, sounding quiet.
There was only one thing to do in these circumstances. We went out to get smashing drunk.
"Love sucks," I said, wobbling sideways.
Trowa picked me up again. "Try and concentrate on walking."
I was more interested in sharing my epiphany. "Love sucks. You think itís all great, right? Not true. Want to know what it is?"
"Duo, watch the stairs."
"Screw the stairs," I said grandly. "Loveís a gigantic joke, you know that? A big joke. And the punch lineís not even funny."
Trowa sighed. "Remind me not to let you get drunk again. How did you manage that, anyway? I had the same number of drinks as you and Iím fine."
"I kept switching our drinks," I said happily. "Anyway, youíre not listening. Donít ever fall in love. Itís no fun at all."
"Right. And I suppose making sure you get home safely is fun." Trowa sighed again. "How did Wufei talk me into this?"
"Whatís love anyway?" I said, charitably ignoring Trowaís less than generous attitude. "You meet this groovy Asian guy with a great body and heís interested and then, bam! He turns out to be Wufei."
Trowa snickered. "Oh yes. And what happens after that?"
"Then you meet a hot Asian guy who has the bonus of having a likeable personality aní you think, this could be it. But is it?"
"And is it?" Trowa asked.
"I donít know! Howard said one day when Iím grown up etc, Iíd meet someone special and that would be that. He didnít cover robots or walking armaments. Hell, he barely covered sex. If Sally hadnít decided to-uh-whatís the word?"
"Enlighten you?" Trowa suggested with a smile.
"Iíd still think it was a mechanical operation." I snorted. "Friction caused by the interplay of two bodies, indeed!"
Trowa laughed a long time. "And I thought being raised by a knife-thrower was bad. Cathy may be a witch when sheís mad, but at least sheís not a mechanic."
"Laugh it up, all you like," I said with as much dignity as I could muster. "This happens to be my life."
"You should be. I happen to be in great personal turmoil," I sniffed, pulling away from him and wobbling homeward on my own. "At a time like this, it would be nice to have to support of my friends, but no, nobody cares that my boyfriend makes a nuclear warhead look like a Roman candle."
"I donít even know what youíre on about, but come here Duo. You canít walk home by yourself."
"No!" I stabbed a finger at him. "You donít really care and youíre not sorry one bit! You can stand there as smug as you like now, but let me warn you-true love is not just going to suddenly fall into your life and make everything perfect-"
"Ouch. Oh, goodness, Iím sorry!"
I watched as the blond scrambled off Trowa hastily trying to help him upright.
"Iím so unbelievably sorry-"
I looked at the blondís clothes (clean and apparently pricey) and then up, trying to work out where heíd fallen from. Nothing was immediately apparent. I looked back to where the blond was brushing dust off Trowaís coat (a losing battle).
"-terribly sorry, I was running and I slipped. I didnít hurt you, did I?"
"Nothing to speak of," Trowa said. "I didnít catch your name?"
"Oh, what a relief! I would hate to have hurt you-" The blond beamed at Trowa, then faltered. "Iím afraid I have to go now-"
"But wait-" Trowa sent him an agonized look as the blond turned and started to hurry away. "You canít go! I-just met you!"
"I canít stay. I canít explain, but itís dangerous. There are people after me. Iím sorry-" The blond hesitated then turned and ran away.
"Well, that was interesting," I remarked.
"Duo! Please-make him come back!"
I blinked. "What?"
"I heard! What makes you think I can stop him?"
"Youíve got more experience with upsiders, you can talk to him. Please Duo?" Trowa looked anxiously after the blond. "You know what will happen if we let him go--"
The pleasantly fuzzed feeling of the alcohol had worn off fast (trust Jarvis to water down the drinks) and I could imagine only too vividly what would happen to the upsider if we let him continue on his merry way. Sighing, I went after him.
It was easy to catch up with him. Heíd slowed down once out of our sight, and stuck to the well lit areas. Catching up with him without his knowledge was easy.
"So," I said, materialising at his elbow. "New to the downside? Let me give you a hint. Avoid the light-if you can see you can be seen."
The blond stopped. "Please, donít follow me. I donít want to endan-"
"Endanger us, I heard. But what about yourself?" I said conversationally. "Your clothes are far too clean. Anyone can tell you donít belong here. And youíre alone. Iím surprised you got this far without being robbed and killed."
The blond stopped and stared at me. "Killed?"
"Out of the light," I instructed him, pulling him over to a corner. "Yeah, lifeís a bit rougher down here. What happened-shuttle crash?"
He hesitated. "I canít say."
"Not too trusting-thatís good," I said. "At least that fall didnít knock you stupid."
He bristled. "Thanks for your help, but Iíll take it from here." He walked off, his shoulders set.
"Oh really?" I said, leaning back against the cracked wall. "Do you even know where youíre going?"
He turned around. For the first time there was a hint of doubt in his eyes. "I-I donít-"
"Come back with us," I said. "We know the landscape, we can hide you so that whoever youíre afraid of canít find you. Ya donít have to trust us-but you can stay with us till you get your bearings so to speak."
"I donít know-" the blond said slowly.
"Please come with us." Trowa stepped out of the shadows startling the blond. I shook my head, with reflexes that bad, he would not have lasted more than five minutes on his own. "I couldnít bear to think of you on your own out there-"
The upsider stared at him, then slowly turned pink. "All right," he said.
All right? I shot a look at Trowa who was becoming a similar colour.
"Oh great," I muttered. "This is just what I need."
It was a good thing we reached the Sweeperís fort and Sallyís infirmary quickly. If Iíd have had to endure any more of the looks passing between Trowa and the upsider Iíd have been sick.
"Let Sally look at your ankle. If it is sprained, a bandage will stop it getting worse-"
"You donít think sheíll mind?"
"Believe me, Sally lives to put bandages on people, the more the better," I said sourly. I was getting the starts of a headache.
Quatre looked enquiringly at Trowa.
"Ignore him," Trowa said. "Heís a little grumpy because his boyfriend turns out to be more robotic than human-"
There was a gasp from our visitor.
"Heero? You know where Heero is?"
Trowa and I exchanged glances.
"-maybe," I hedged.
The upsider suddenly became commanding. "Take me to him right away. Itís of the utmost importance."
Several things went click.
"Youíre not Quatre Winner by any chance?" I said.
He looked at me suspiciously. "You have me at a disadvantage, Mr-"
"Maxwell will do."
Trowa was frowning at me furiously. I ignored him.
"Well then Mr Maxwell, perhaps youíll be so kind as to take me to Heero."
"If you insist," I replied.
"I do." His reply had danger in it.
"Very well." I led the way back to workroom 7. "Wait here," I ordered at the door.
Trowa caught me by the elbow. "Why are you doing this?" he hissed at me. "Youíre acting like youíve been asked to help a copper."
"I donít like him," I said shortly. "And he doesnít like me."
"Donít be silly," Trowa said. "Thereís nothing not to like about him. And why wouldnít he like you?"
"He just doesnít," I said. "Itís something to do with Heero."
I pulled away from Trowa and slipped into workroom 7. "Heero? You awake?"
"Duo?" I was wrapped in a tight hug. "Duo-"
I blinked in surprise. "Heero? Whatís wrong?"
"I thought you were dead-I woke up in the workroom alone, and I couldnít remember what had happened and I thought that if you were alive you would have come for me and you hadnít so I thought-and after all Howard does talk about using me for spare parts so when I found myself in here-"
"Itís all right. Itís all right," I whispered, stroking his hair. "Iím safe, youíre safe-"
For the moment at least.
"You mean it? Youíre not hurt?" Heero took my face in his hands and brushed my hair back gently. "Youíre really all right?"
I donít think anyone had touched me so gently before. "Youíre back-" I said softly. "Youíre my Heero-"
"What do you mean?" asked Heero. "What happened?"
I stared at him. "You donít remember?"
"The light," Heero said. "We were going to turn it off. I was going to cover you. After that-I donít remember anything."
I swallowed. "You-Heero-"
Inexplicably, I felt tears welling up. Me, Duo Maxwell, who never cries, was getting teary for the second time in the same week-
"Whatís wrong?" Heero asked, gently patting my cheek.
"Iím afraid," I choked, clinging onto him. "Iím so afraid-"