by girl starfish
What had once been the finest residence in the upside lay in rubble, smoke still weaving its way in and out of the charred remains. Two figures walked through the smoky maze, one grinning in cruel satisfaction, the other with a rose scented handkerchief to his nose.
"I must congratulate you, Treize! It looks like the job was done pretty thoroughly."
"No thanks to me, J. Une is the one you should direct your praise towards."
As if one cue the sharp click of the Colonel's military boots could be heard approaching them. "Gentlemen," she bowed.
"We're waiting with anticipation to hear your report. It went well?"
"Yes sir. They were caught entirely by surprise. We've eliminated all who might have been involved in the investigation into J's files. No one remains who knows of your plans."
"Very good." Treize appeared ready to leave.
"And Quatre?" J remained where he was.
"Winner's son? What about him?"
"He was Heero's friend. It's likely that he knows."
"He eluded us at first, but some of my soldiers found him and chased him as far as the downside."
"The downside?" Treize shook his head. "Poor child. Well, we need not worry any further about that particular problem. The downside is sure to have taken care of him for us."
J smirked. "Serves him right. Little brat was always trying to undermine my influence over Heero."
Lady Une nodded. "I called off the search for him after two of the twelve soldiers I had searching for him were killed. If my elite forces can't defend themselves down there, Winner's spoilt heir won't have lasted more than five minutes."
"A drink then?" Treize suggested. "To the success of this venture--and others?"
The other two agreed happily.
Although I had never been what one might term charitably, much less affectionately, inclined towards my care-giver, I'd never felt dislike towards him so strongly as in this instant. How could he have left me so poorly equipped when placed in a situation such as this?
Duo was leaking fluid at an alarming rate and all I could do was hold him and rather stupidly repeat "It's all right."
It was not all right.
Something had made Duo extremely upset. And I meant extremely--he'd been cocky throughout robbing J, then dived several storeys without a second thought. Howard giving him the gun had thrown him, but he'd accepted it without a hint of unease. Now . . . he was afraid?
This could not be a good sign.
I pulled Duo towards me and kissed him once on the forehead.
"Tell me," I said. "What happened."
He nodded, seemingly calmer. "The battle. I got the light off. You protected me--you don't remember?"
"Not at all. Did I get hurt?"
Something in Duo's face tightened. "You sure--you don't remember?"
"Nothing. Did I do something wrong?"
"I'll say you did!" Duo yelled. "Heero, you jerk! You moron! You complete and utter twit! You deliberately went and protected me, all the while very selfishly putting yourself in danger, you, you--"
As Duo's vocabulary slipped into the more profane I frowned in puzzlement. After all, unless I was missing something, Duo was being unnecessarily aggrieved.
"I don't understand," I confessed, once he'd stopped hurling expletives. "I risked myself to protect you. Shouldn't that reassure you--to know I regard you so highly?"
"Idiot! I love you! The entire time you were out there I was worried something was going to happen to you! It was torture!" Duo paused, a little breathless after his admission. I was equally thrown.
"You love me?"
"Yeah." Duo's breath was a little shaky.
"You love me," I repeated.
Quatre had told me love was the term used for the deepest kinds of affection. J had told me it was a weak notion perpetuated by fools.
Duo loved me.
I took my time responding. I did not want to spoil this most precious of moments. "That is why you are angry--and afraid?"
Duo nodded. "I've never felt this strongly about anyone before," he confided softly, resting his head against my chest. "It scares me--but that's not as bad as the thought of anything happening to you. I couldn't bear it if--"
"I feel the same way about you," I told him. "You don't have parts I can replace, or a pattern of behaviour I can predict. If something went wrong--" I shook my head. I would not let that happen--
"I guess I'll let you off acting like a jerk--this time," Duo said waggling a warning finger at me. "But you do it again and I personally will use your parts to make a coffee grinder."
I smiled at him. "Why a coffee grinder?"
"Hey!" Duo shrugged. "It was the worst fate I could think of at short notice. Have you seen the state of Howard and the guys' coffee grinder? I don't think that thing has been cleaned once in its entire existence--"
"A truly terrifying threat. I shall bear that in mind."
I felt a flush of warm happiness as Duo laughed. It meant something to know I'd made him smile. "So are we all right then?"
Duo hesitated. "Not quite. That's kinda just the tip of the iceberg."
"That doesn't sound good," I said.
"You would not believe--" Duo broke off as there was a thud at the door. There were voices, muted, from the corridor.
"--let Maxwell handle this. I understand Heero was hurt--"
"He's hurt? Then I've got to see him!"
"Just wait, Quatre."
"Fine. But it has been an awfully long time--"
Duo motioned to me to remain silent and tiptoed over to the door. I grinned as he flung it open, causing the two people on the other side to fall in a heap as their means of support disappeared.
Duo smirked. "Why Trowa, I always thought you were a second date kind of guy--"
"Shut up," the tall guy with the long fringe said, hastily pulling himself away from--
"Oh, Heero! I'm so glad to have found you!"
I grinned as Quatre hugged me. I had missed my best friend a good deal. "You came looking for me?"
"Not exactly, although I have been searching for you." Quatre ended the hug, looking at me seriously. "Heero, I've got something very important to tell you."
"Tro--you can't leave us a moment, can you? This is kinda--personal," Duo asked.
The lanky Trowa looked startled but after a wistful glance at Quatre, he left. I raised an eyebrow--what was going on there?--but didn't have time to make inquiries. Duo and Quatre were looking at each other as if they would happily rend the other limb from limb.
"I do not believe this matter is any concern of yours, Mr Maxwell," Quatre said.
"I believe it is," Duo replied just as coolly. "At any rate, fancy pants, I already know."
"And just what exactly is it you think you know?"
"Come on!" Duo snorted. "Heero can't be packing two dirty secrets, can he?"
Dirty secrets? I thought indignantly. However, I realised I had to act now before their little spat became open warfare.
"Quatre? If it's all right with you I'd like Duo to stay. After all, whatever it is will probably affect him just as much as me."
Quatre did not look as though it was all right with him but acquiesced. "Fine then. Heero--everything about your life up till now has been a lie."
Trust Quatre to be dramatic.
"What do you mean?" I said.
"He means that J conveniently forgot to tell you couple of things," Duo said conversationally. "For example, along with your regular parts needed for everyday life, he included enough weaponry to take over a small nation."
I blinked. "What?"
"Not how I would have put it," Quatre conceded. "But accurate nonetheless. Heero--J made you with money supplied by the Kushrenada Institute. Their intention was to create a perfect weapon--a soldier with the strength and capability of a machine but with the reasoning power and creativity of a human--and none of the compassion."
My skin chilled. "No."
"During the battles--you weren't acting like yourself," Duo said. "You were--kinda machinelike. You said something about an 'operative mode soldier'."
"I don't remember any of this at all," I said, growing steadily more concerned.
"Let me guess--you, when you were with J, you often had times like this when you couldn't remember anything," Duo said.
I hesitated. "Now that you mention it--he said it was a normal occurrence, I shouldn't be concerned."
"And yet you told me your memory was more accurate than any computer's--" Duo frowned. "That's probably when he trained you--"Damn it--it was so clear when Duo made me think about it--
"How could I have been so blind? J--I trusted him--"
"How could you know?" Quatre consoled me. "As far as you knew, it was normal behaviour."
I still wanted to beat myself up. Or J. Come to think of it, I'd settle for J.
"What else didn't he tell me?" I demanded. "If he didn't think I needed to know that he'd used me to create some sort of killing machine or should be able to have a serious relationship or sex, what else did he leave out?"
"Discretion, maybe," Duo sighed, while Quatre turned an interesting shade of pink. "Heero, we gotta work on that."
Work--a new thought occurred to me. I turned to Duo. "Could you remove the parts?"
Duo blinked. "Heero--J built them right into you. I couldn't do that without taking everything apart--I'd have to build you a new body--I don't know if I could acquire the parts! Not to mention putting you back together again--I've got some more bad news."
"The internal battery?"
Duo nodded. "I tweaked it the best I could, but I can't fix the wiring here. We need someone with more specialised equipment. I do know a guy--" he grimaced. "We don't get on."
"Your internal battery?" Quatre asked. "What happened?"
I explained briefly what I'd gathered from Duo and what my own sensors told me. Quatre was horrified.
"This sort of thing happens a lot down here?"
"You could say that," Duo stifled a yawn.
I was instantly concerned. "You depleted your energy stores in the battle--you should be resting."
"I'm fine," Duo protested. "I'm not the guy who just had the shock of his life."
"Although I must admit you do seem to be taking this rather calmly," Quatre said. "Are you all right?"
I considered that statement carefully. "I've just been informed that a good deal of my body has without my knowledge been fitted with a large amount of arms and you ask me if I'm all right? Quatre, that is quite possibly the most inane statement I've ever heard you say--"
"Although some of the connection work is downright sloppy," Duo muttered.
Quatre and I looked at him.
"I could reduce power use by 30% just by rerouting the side cannon to use the same connection as the retractable laser," he continued. "And man, those bolts are just begging to be tightened--"
Quatre and I continued to stare.
"What?" Duo protested as the weight of our looks got through to him. "I can't help it! I'm a mechanic!"
"Perhaps you should go to bed," I suggested.
Duo looked adorably reluctant.
"I'll join you later," I said, and kissed him on the top of his forehead again.
"Okay," he said, yawning again. "Night."
I watched him go, smiling fondly. It was hard to let him out of my sight for even a minute, but I had things to talk to Quatre about.
"Quatre--" I began.
Quatre was also looking after Duo but he was frowning. "Just how did you meet him?"
I blinked, a little taken back by the abrupt question and by Quatre's tone--he was usually so polite.
"He broke into J's apartment and--"
"He was the one that kidnapped you?"
Kidnapped me? "No," I replied coldly--what was Quatre thinking about Duo? "That was my idea."
Quatre stared at me. "You mean you came here of your own free will?"
"What is so surprising about that?" I demanded. "You're here."
"Not entirely by choice," Quatre's calm faltered a moment.
I was concerned. "What happened?"
"Someone attacked my family tonight. They were armed, they gave us no warning, they just came in and--" Quatre shook.
I put my hand on his shoulder gently. "I'm so sorry Quatre, I didn't know--"
"I'm not sure but I think we were attacked because someone found out we knew about you," Quatre continued, ignoring my sympathy. I think he felt that if he allowed himself to feel for a moment, he would not be able to carry on. "They targeted my father and the data collecting staff. I was chased and had to escape by climbing down one of the old lift shafts. They followed me and I had to keep running and somehow I ended up where Trowa and Maxwell found me."
I said nothing, just pulled Quatre into a rough hug. I was horrified by what he had told me--but it was likely that my creators would chance attacking on of the upside's most influential families, in order to keep hidden what they'd created a super-weapon in me . . . More, I wanted to protect Quatre from that. It was the same feeling I'd felt towards Duo, less fervent, but just as strong--Quatre was a good person. He should not be hurt because of me.
"I had to find you," Quatre said. "I had to tell you and warn you, and that was the only thing I could think about. But now--" His voice shook. "I don't know where to go, or what to do. I want to go home--"
"You're safe now," I told him. "Howard is a good man, and the Sweepers will look after you. Or Wufei and Trowa will find you somewhere different to stay."
"I can't stay here!"
"Heero, have you even looked around this place? It's a dump!"
"Well I'll admit, it is rather untidy, and the plumbing has a lot of room for improvement . . . food could be better too, and I really hope Duo was kidding about the rat population--but it has its good points too."
"Such as?" Quatre asked sceptically.
"J's not here," I answered promptly. "And Duo is."
My friend frowned. "I don't like the hold he has over you."
"What hold?" I asked coolly. "Duo is very special to me, and he cares about me a good deal." Exactly what Duo said I did not want to reveal to anyone. That was mine.
"So he says." Quatre sighed. "Heero, I don't like to say this, but you've only known him a week. You know he's a thief, how do you know he hasn't been taking advantage of your naivety in emotional matters to make you feel obligated to him? He's thoroughly unsuitable for you, in temperament, upbringing and habit--"
"What exactly do you mean by that?" I demanded, struggling to remain calm. Quatre was after all my friend, and trying to act in my best interests--
"Well, compare the two of you! He's reckless and careless and, well, rude! And I know I smelt alcohol on him before--you don't need someone like that--"
"I disagree," I replied. "I happen to think I need someone like him very much. I may only have known him a week--but you've only known him a night. You can't say those things about him--you don't know whether they're true or not. I'm not going to argue with you because you've had a horrible experience, but if you ever speak to me about Duo that way again--" I turned away. "Goodnight, Quatre."
Trowa was hovering outside the door. I nodded to him as I left--Quatre would need someone with him tonight, and Trowa seemed concerned for him. Duo spoke highly of him, so I was sure I could trust him to look after my friend, better than I could trust myself. Quatre's words still made me mad--
Duo was curled up on the bed in his singlet and shorts. I changed to join him, smiling as he automatically snuggled up to me. I'd come to like the snug fit of the single bunk. But more--curling up next to Duo was coming home. I needed that. After everything that had happened, knowing I could still hold Duo while he slept was like--hot lemon drink to someone with a cold.
I didn't turn off. Instead I kept my programmes running at a minimum so as not to disturb Duo, and let my thoughts return to our discovery. I would need a lot of time to process that.
Hours later, I had, if not decided what to make of it, accepted it. I could see that it would change a lot of things. One thing was for certain, I would not return to J. The other thing I was sure about was Duo. I would not leave him--and I was reasonably certain he would remain with me. He hadn't spoken of leaving--in fact, he'd seemed quite concerned about me last night. He'd said 'we' when talking about getting me fixed--he'd said he loved me and he'd known about the weapons. I wasn't an expert on relationships, but I thought they were good signs.
J was not going to give up looking for me. And whoever paid my bills was likely to wield considerable economic and political power--it was pure chance I'd lighted on the one hiding place they could not reach. But even the Sweepers could not hide us forever and Howard and the others did not deserve to be endangered on my behalf--
We would have to find something else.
Duo tossed fretfully against my chest. His breathing had quickened and I was concerned when he made an unhappy whimper--had he been hurt and concealed it?
Although not outright dishonest, he was careless with his own safety. I decided the only way to be sure he was unharmed would be to check myself. I pulled back the blanket, relieved to see Duo's slender legs revealed unharmed. His arms were likewise undamaged, aside for a splattering of bruises along one upper arm. I ran my finger over them, dismayed--small as they were I did not like the fact that Duo was susceptible to harm--it invited possibilities I did not want to consider. What if he got seriously hurt--had to leave--
I shoved those thoughts aside, lifting up Duo's singlet to check the skin beneath. All clear, although I checked for a bit longer than perhaps necessary. I did not see how I could check his back without waking him but thought that if he was sleeping on it, it could not be too badly hurt.
That left his shorts.
J had taught me never to leave a task unfinished. Although at odds with my former teacher, the habit was too deeply ingrained.
That and I was curious.
I pulled the shorts down slowly, hoping not to disturb Duo--pausing as he again moved restlessly. I gradually eased the boxers onto his thighs, leaving his parts clear. There was no sign of injury.I hesitated at replacing the boxers. Although I'd seen Duo's parts before--briefly in the showers--I'd never had a chance to really examine them. I wanted to know what was so important about them.
They were rather odd looking in my opinion--it was not readily apparent what the point of them was. But they were exceedingly soft to touch. Highly sensitive too apparently, as Duo's body jerked under my careful touch. He did not wake. After a moment, I proceeded again with my explorations.
I made several discoveries. The first was that Duo could be remarkably vocal even while asleep. Further explorations had elicited a series of noises, the closest equivalent I could think of was the sort of mewing noise a cat makes when it wants something. What Duo seemed to want was my touches, his body sort of jerked up into them.
The other thing was that I'd worked out what one of his parts was for. My investigation had stimulated flow of blood to this particular part, causing it to become swollen and hard. Touches to this part seemed to be what Duo wanted most. I was happy to oblige him, eager to acquire more knowledge about the processes involved in sex--until his hand seized mine.
"Heero?" Duo looked up at me, panting slightly. "What are you doing?"
"Um--" I hesitated, turning red. "I didn't realise you were awake."
"That's not answering my question."
I felt extremely guilty. "I was worried," I said hastily. "You made a sound and I thought you might be hurt so I decided to check but then when I checked your parts I though this might be a good opportunity to find out what was so special about them. Then you seemed to like it so I continued--was that wrong?"
"Not wrong exactly. No--parts of it were pretty good. But--you're going to have to stop that now."
"Why?" I asked. "Don't you like it? I thought--"
"I liked it, Heero. But--I don't think it's fair for me to have what you don't." Duo sat up, stroking the side of my face. "If you can't experience this, then I'm not going to either. It's both of us or nothing, understand?"
I was delighted by his vehemence, and kissed him.
Duo kissed back happily before pulling away with a sigh. "Damn, now I'm going to have to have a cold shower! Thanks, Heero."
He didn't sound really grumpy.
I stopped him from rising to match action to words by throwing a leg over his. "What if isn't possible? What if this is the closest we get?"
"Heero--" Duo looked up at me, a kind of danger lidded in his eyes. "How much do you lo-care about me?"
'Why?" I asked, feeling my heart speed up.
"I know a way we can do this. Change you. It'll be dangerous."
"I don't care."
Duo nodded. "Then let's go now. Before Howard wakes up or I change my mind."