Part I: Planes to Catch, Bills to Pay
Digging out a couple of bills from his pocket, Duo looked up at the flight information monitor and swore. The flight had been delayed... again. He turned his attention to the expectant six year old and passed over the money. "Go easy on this, Jimmy. Don't spend it all at once, and for God's sake, stay in sight!" the last bit nearly yelled to a quickly retreating back as the young feet made it disappear into the darken room full of flashing lights and sounds.
Duo sighed and looked at the monitor again, hoping he'd read the flight info wrong. "God damn it Heero. Why couldn't you have taken the company shuttle?" he growled to himself, and then glared at the woman who stopped in her tracks at his words. Mind your own business, lady. He shot a glance towards the arcade. At least Jimmy listens. He could see his son just barely tucked into the shadows, pounding away on the buttons of his favorite game.
He sat in one of the cushioned seats, glancing first at the arcade and then the flight information monitor before settling. An hour delay, not quite enough time to go home, but too long to stick around the spaceport. Duo found he was twisting the ring on his finger and dropped his hand. A quick look to the monitor showed unchanged flight data. Someone's discarded paper became his, and he scanned the headlines.
Terrorist Activity Building in the South Asian Quadrant
Duo snorted. When hasn't some sort of terrorist activity brewed? It's not like peace will reign forever. He stilled at the thought, lowering the paper. His eyes automatically shot to the arcade and he released the held breath. I wish... he shook his head. Wishes didn't do the job. Hell, Heero couldn't do the job and he damn near died twice trying. The thought of the man's name caused Duo to scowl once more. Fuckin' business trips. The paper rattled with an angry sound as he read over the headlines once more.
"Again? Damn, Heero, I thought you'd be able to live with us for a couple of weeks this time," Duo tried to joke, the words falling flat, sounding bitter.
Hands capable of bending iron, paused in their task. "You believe I'd rather not be here?" the question was asked softly. The hands resumed packing the clothes laid out on the bed.
A short laugh, and Duo sat on the other side of the mattress to watch. "Sometimes I don't know. You're gone so much of the time... and now." He reached out and grabbed one of the busy hands. "You know what Tuesday is, right?" his gaze steady, his eyes unblinking.
"Jeffery's birthday," Heero answered quickly, his own look unflinching.
"And you'll be gone... again."
Heero's eyes closed. "What would you have me do, Duo? Tell the boss I can't make it this time because of my kid's birthday party?"
"Jimmy would appreciate it, you know, you putting him first for once!" Duo's voice rose.
Pulling his hand out of Duo's grasp, Heero continued the packing. "I thought I was. Isn't that what I'm working for? To make sure he has all he'll need? To make sure we have what we need?" Finished, Heero closed the suitcase with more force than necessary.
Duo stood as Heero picked up the case. "What he needs is both of us in his life. Hell, Heero, you're barely here and when you are, you're locked up in your office. When will he have your time?" He followed as Heero set the case by the door. The look he was given nearly made him give up, but he'd done too much of that. "Can't someone else go, just this once?" he hated the pleading sound creeping into his voice.
"Duo," Heero began, a hand going to his arm. "We've been over this several times already. This is my account. This is my program, my idea. If I'm not there to support it, we could lose everything we've gained these past five years."
His eyes raised themselves from the middle button of Heero's shirt to meet the same intense gaze the other habitually wore. "And what would happen if you were to die, huh? The company'd go under? You ever think that maybe they should have someone else know what you know? That they'd have to share these trips, the meetings?" Heero turned away; it was an old argument. "Or do you want it all for yourself? To feel that you hold the control over everything again. Feel you alone can stop the forces of evil with your idea, your program. Feel the hero once more."
Duo trailed after Heero, down the short hallway to the opened office door, his words landing on the stiffened back of his lover. Not once did the man acknowledge what he said was getting through, that he was affected by it. The resentment boiled again as Heero sat and flipped his computer into active mode.
"Aren't you going to at least say something?"
He turned to look at him then, and Duo almost flinched away. His lover's face looked suddenly old. "We've been through these arguments too many times. No one ever wins them. You just get mad and my work doesn't get done. Unless you have something new to add, can we hold off until I get back?"
Heero's words, 'new to add', running through his mind, Duo blurted out the threat he'd harbored through the last couple of trips. "We might not be here when you get back!" He stared at the picture over Heero's head, unable to hold his gaze.
The complete silence drew his attention down once more. Heero's expression showed him the man had been calculating the weight of his words, his delivery and had drawn a certain conclusion. With their eyes locked, Heero announced softly, "You wouldn't do anything stupid like that. It's a threat unworthy of you, and makes you sound as if you were rehearsing for a soap opera." When Duo lowered his eyes, admitting the bluff, Heero returned his attention to the monitor.
Duo let out a breath and clamped his jaws together tight, making his teeth ache with the pressure. He turned away, intending to leave, to not say the words hovering on his tongue. At the door, he remembered why he's searched out his lover in the first place. He began as he turned, "Heero..."
"Damn it! What is it this time, Duo? How the hell am I supposed to get any work done if you keep after me?"
Anger surfaced. "Then I won't bother you again tonight." He spun on his heel and sped out the door. "Jimmy!" he called down the hallway. "C'mon, let's go." A clamor sounded, and the creator of the noise rushed to his side.
"Dad gonna come, too?" the boy asked, glancing in the opened doorway.
Without looking back, Duo answered evenly, "Not this time, pal. Maybe later." He dropped a hand to the boy's shoulder, steering him away. "Let's go get that ice cream before it gets dark and maybe we can stop by the park on the way home."
In the living room, the boy still hesitated, looking back. "Can I bring Dad back one?"
Duo's jaws worked as he fought the urge to say something regrettable. Instead, he shook his head, already opening the front door. "It'd melt before we got home, son. Next time. I promise, he'll come next time."
Duo looked up; the woman, in the next seat over watched him with amusement. As he puzzled through her words, he flushed and dropped his hand. He'd been twisting his ring again. "No, actually we've been married almost ten years," he answered in a low voice.
The woman's expression softened, almost erasing the hard lines mapping her face. "You must be really anxious for her to come home then." She smiled in a friendly fashion.
Not bothering to correct her assumption, Duo only nodded. "Yeah, pretty anxious." His eyes went to the arcade, seeking the boy. Once assured he remained in sight, Duo turned his attention back to the woman. "Are you here to meet family?"
At his simple question, she brightened even more. "Yes, I am. My daughter's coming home. She's been gone for over four years, can you believe it?"
Duo smiled. "I bet you're pleased. And at least she'll be here in time for the festival."
The woman nodded. "Yes, it's one of the events we've talked about visiting." Her expression saddened as it fell on the paper folded in Duo's lap. "It's becoming more common these days."
Noticing what she referred to, Duo nodded. "I sometimes doubt there'd ever been peace." He let out a short laugh when the woman gave an unladylike snort.
"There's never been such a thing as peace, and don't let those idiots running things convince you otherwise," she stated in almost righteous indignation. Duo smiled and dropped his gaze back to the news report. His finger traced over the headline, eyes thoughtful. The woman continued a moment later in a thoughtful tone, "Though, I did read in last month's issue of Omni AC, that a new intel gathering software was being developed."
Duo looked up in surprise. "I've heard of that. But thought it secret stuff. It was featured in Omni?" Briefly he wondered if Heero knew, but discarded it; Heero knew everything having to do with his project.
"Oh yes, they did an interview with the developer. You know, he was one of those ex-gundam pilots." The woman nodded her head solemnly. "He looked like such a nice young man."
"Hey Pop," Jimmy's voice drew his attention away from the woman. The boy ran the short distance between them.
"Walk, Jimmy," he admonished. "What do you need?" he asked, his hands automatically going to straighten the unruly mop of dark hair.
Jerking his head away in the familiar dance, the boy asked, "Can I have more creds? I ran out just when I was about to beat the goolian monster in the tenth level of Teris."
Unable to stop the smile, Duo pulled another couple of bills from his pocket. "We must rid Teris of the goolian monster at all costs."
Jimmy flashed a wide grin, and snatched the bills, shoving them into his pocket. "Thanks, Pop!" His feet had him turned and running before the he had finished speaking.
"Walk!" Duo called loudly and sighed when he saw it did nothing to stop the boy.
The woman was looking at him thoughtfully when Duo turned back to her. He gave her a slight smile, encouraging their conversation from before.
"You're Duo Maxwell, aren't you?"
Her question surprised him a little. For the better part of fifteen years, he had kept a low profile, and never drew attention to the fact he'd once been a colony terrorist. He nodded slightly, but offered, "Duo Maxwell-Yuy, actually." And he swallowed hoping the woman had sense.
"I didn't see the resemblance before, not until you smiled," she was saying softly. "Both my husband and I worked on part of that project, the one to build," she paused and looked swiftly around. Seeing no one in the vicinity, she whispered. "Deathscythe." She took his hand and squeezed it in a familiar manner. "You were such a rascally young child." And she smiled.
Duo blinked, trying to picture the wrinkled older woman with any memory he had of those from that time. "I'm sorry, I don't remember."
She patted his hand comfortingly. "Don't worry about it. It was a long time ago, and I left the project shortly after you arrived." Her expression faltered for a moment before she smiled again. "I'd become pregnant with my Janice and working with the types of materials we did, wouldn't have been good for a developing fetus."
"Ahhh.." Not sure what to say, Duo just smiled. "So, what are you and your husband doing now?" He extracted his hand gently, scratched a non-itch and dropped the hand over his other.
The woman's expression clouded. "My husband passed away in the war. He was one of the casualties aboard the Peacemillion." She turned from him, adjusting her purse in her lap.
"I'm sorry," he offered, uncertain of what to do. Even though nearly twenty years had passed from those hellish days, Duo still stumbled over someone greatly impacted by that war. Not one person had been left unscathed in at least some fashion.
"Don't be. He did what he had to do, what he wanted to do." She smiled and patted his shoulder. "I'm glad to see you've found happiness at least."
Duo's eyes drifted to the small body barely seen just inside the arcade. "Yes, I have," he replied softly.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "My daughter's flight has landed. I should go." Duo stood when the woman did, and she took his hand once again. "The outcome is often worth the sacrifices, though it might not seem so at the time."
As he watched the woman hurry to the reception area, he wished he could remember who she'd been. There'd been too many technicians, too many faces, too long ago to remember them all. His expression saddened. In a few years, no one would remember him either. Nearly twenty years ago, they'd all been household names, and now, only Heero and possibly Wufei, were still recalled regularly. The more recent heroes crowded out the ones from previous eras.
Taking his seat once again, Duo's gaze lingered on his son. He watched the swift movement of the little body twisting and turning with the game's graphics. His smile became fond even as his eyes softened. Some sacrifices are worth what they bring. For a relative time, there's been peace, and that memory of peace still lived.
The newspaper still in his hand, Duo opened it, his mind on the woman's words more than the printed page. Will it be worth it? His eyes scanning the headlines, picking up key words from the news reports, he heard the memory of Heero explaining to him what he wanted, what his dream had been. Will we survive?
Side by side they had sat, listening to the broadcasts with a new terror making its presence known. Duo stirred, restless in watching the news footage of the attack on a Preventer outpost. Heero's hand clutched his, in comfort, in sympathy, in equal fear. He spared a glance at his lover and watched as despair and rage warred over his features.
"They say good things don't last," he nearly whispered, his voice hoarse. "It's been pretty quiet for over ten years. A new record, wouldn't you say?"
Heero's sigh preceded the battle's end as an explosion made them both jump in their seats. "God," Heero breathed, his hand squeezing Duo's tighter.
The estimated casualty figures flashed across the screen. A hasty switch to a press conference in progress, and Commander Une's face appeared on the vidset. She looked old, haggard and as she relayed her news, she seemed to age even more.
"It's started again."
Duo stood, unable to sit still any longer. He paced the length of the room, and came to a stop behind where Heero sat on the couch. "Damn it! What was it all for then?"
Holding his hand up, Heero said quietly, "Quiet down, Duo. You'll wake the baby." He watched the drama unfold on Earth as question after question was asked, and answered or parried.
Not wanting to watch any longer, Duo had gone to stand in the kitchen entrance, turning his back to the images still being replayed on the screen. When he heard Relena's voice, he glanced over his shoulder to watch. Though older, she looked as young as she had when they'd first met. "She's been crying," he commented softly. Heero grunted. "Should we..." Duo came to stand behind him again. "I don't know, call or go to her or something?"
Heero shook his head silently, eyes still glued to the screen. "If she needs us, she'll call."
"Why didn't the Preventer's know of this? Why couldn't they have stopped it?" His voice rose with his anguish and a wailing cry sounded from the adjacent room. "Fuck..." Duo muttered under his breath, and went to open the door to the baby's room. "Shh, it's okay now, Jim-jim," he made his voice softer, crooning to the baby.
The baby's head turned, and he pulled himself upright, standing in the crib, large teardrops still clinging to his lashes. Lifting the child up out of his bed, Duo held him briefly in the air and brought him slowly down to blow in his face. The baby laughed and waved his arms, happy to be free of the crib. "How's Papa's baby boy? You hungry?" And though he felt like crying himself, he smiled for his son.
Having changed him into a fresh diaper, Duo carried the boy to the kitchen. "I'm going to feed Jimmy. Holler if something happens." He didn't want to watch, but couldn't tear himself away completely. Even with the sound low, Duo could hear specialists commenting on what groups would claim responsibility, and how the government should act, what they could have done to prevent the tragedy.
"Peas? Or would you like squash, today?" he asked conversationally, baby on his hip. Jimmy reached for the orange colored vegetable jar. "Squash it is, then. How about a bit of banana for dessert, hmmm?" He planted a kiss to the side of the baby's head, unable to stop the sudden tremor of fear. "Please, God," he prayed in a whisper, holding his son tightly.
Taking a deep breath, Duo opened the drawers and cupboards, pulling out bib, spoon and cup. Duo worked quickly, knowing the baby's hunger trigger would kick in as soon as he realized he was going to be fed, and the cries would start in earnest. He knew the tricks, now, of keeping the baby distracted by constant chatter and having everything ready before Jimmy knew what was happening.
"Pa pa pa pa pa," Jimmy repeated, reaching for the spoonful of strained vegetable.
"That's right, Jim-jim. Papa." Duo swung the spoon wide, holding it out of reach and swooping it into the baby's mouth quickly. Jimmy smacked his gums together and orange mush oozed from between them. "Ah, none of that!" Duo held the small fist before it found its way into the mouth. He scooped up the drooling mess, and fed the child again. "Got you that time, didn't I?" He kissed the top of the baby's head before getting another spoonful.
Duo was nearly finished when Heero came into the room. Their eyes met over the top of Jimmy's head. Heero gave him a slight smile and ran a hand over the baby's hair. Distracted, the baby turned and opened his one-toothed mouth in a smile. The little one offered up his fist full of banana, and Heero bent down, opening his mouth to take it.
"Here." Duo offered a handful of baby wipes before Jimmy's hands could reach hair. He was already clearing the tray away, rising to toss out the jar, and rinse off the dishes. "Did they have any real information? Any leads on who's responsible?" he asked from the sink.
"Da da da da da," Jimmy intoned.
"No, not particularly." Duo turned to find Heero holding the baby, rocking him from side to side. "There's been one group to step forward, but no one believes they have the manpower or the intellect to plan an attack like this."
He went to Heero and wrapped his arms around him, enclosing the baby between them both. "Does anyone know what's going to happen? Why it's happening?" His head pressed to his son's, he let the boy pull on his braid.
Heero shook his head without answering.
It had been the start of a long night. Settled once again on the couch, the baby asleep on Heero's lap, a news broadcast interrupted the program they were watching with another report of a second attack on a Preventer's station. This one in the heart of a major city.
Within the hour, a third report announced the bombing of the ESUN Peace Center, flattening several city blocks.
The death toll from the day's attacks was believed to be over ten thousand.
"They're keeping everyone off-balance, targeting the Preventer's first, then a political building," Duo said softly. "I'd say they've been planning this for a long time." He felt numb, recognizing some of the names identified in the lists of the dead.
Heero stopped stroking the baby's head and reached for his hand. "I don't want Jeffery to grow up how we did. I don't want him to know this... business of war." Heero's voice took on a new determination. Duo looked at him, finding Heero watching him already. "I have to do something about this."
Duo stared, fear crowding every thought. "You don't mean... you're not going to..." he couldn't give voice to the words he didn't want spoken.
"No. I swore I'd never kill again, and I meant that." He brought their joined hands up to touch Duo's face. "There's got to be a way to find out what these terrorists are doing and stop them before they get to this point." His gaze returned to their sleeping son. "For him. For us."
Duo closed his eyes, the old ache of that long day and even longer night still haunted.
It'd taken Heero two years before he could convince a software development company to let him run with his idea. It'd taken another three years to get it to the point of being useful. The number of attacks increased both terroristic and politically sanctioned ones. A short-lived war, lasting less than a year, began after a week of raids, bombings and attacks. The faction responsible numbered several thousand, most highly trained from the war, and in secret installations both on Earth and in space.
It was generally believed that the type of software Heero had developed could have pinpointed what was happening, and measures could have been taken to stop the attacks. With the investigation commission's report, Heero outlined his plan, and sold his idea. He showed how his program would have collected the data and analyzed it, drawing conclusions and listing scenarios for further investigation.
Duo grumbled, folding the paper, trying to focus on the article of the upcoming festival. He could feel the scowl marring his brow, and tried to smooth it away. For all the sorrow and loss experienced, it'd still been Heero who was saving the day, again. His eyes found the flight information monitor and he slumped further in his seat. Another delay. Fuck! He could have walked home by now! Duo had to grin at his own petulance. As great as Heero was, even he couldn't walk thirteen thousand miles through space.