Duo waited on the bench, his eyes in constant motion. The small dog at his feet whined, tugged on its leash, wanting to run and play. He stroked the pup's head, still watching. His hand arrested its movement; an almost silent voice whispered in his ear. His target was in sight. The moment was right.
Standing, he clucked down at the dog, and started down the path. To time it just right, he watched until his objective was alone. Now!
"Van," he commanded, and the dog raced off across the grass, his leash dragging behind him. "Stop!" Duo called loud enough for the girl to hear. "Stop him! Catch my dog!" he yelled as he jogged over the grass.
The girl was startled, but acted immediately. She jumped for the pup as it approached, and snagged the leash. Immediately, the dog rolled over, presented its belly, and wagged its tail, begging for a rub.
"Whew! Thank you," Duo said, coming to a stop at the girl's side. He held his cast heavy arm close to his body with his other hand.
"He sure is cute," the girl told him. She'd squatted down and patted the pup as he wiggled under her. "What's his name?"
"Buster." Duo made an exaggerated grimace. "My own little girl named him."
"Buster?" the girl laughed, smiling up at him. She caught sight of his arm and frowned. "You hurt, mister?"
Duo held his arm out. "A little. Broke it a couple of days ago. That's how ol' Buster here got away from me." He smiled down at her; she was cute, too friendly, and too easy to push into his trap. "In fact, I need to get going, but hurt my arm chasing after him." She squinted at his arm. "You think you could walk Buster to my van for me? I'd sure appreciate it."
The girl looked at the dog, and leaned away from his exuberant kisses. Duo scanned the park. Still no one in sight. Time was running out. "Tell you what. You bring Buster to my van, and I'll give you money for an ice cream."
"I'm not 'sposed to..." the girl's eyes went to the colorful flags peeking from just over the hill. "Okay. Just to your car." She stood up, clutching the leash tightly.
"This way," Duo said, pointing toward the parking lot. The girl pulled on the leash, and "Buster" trotted at her heels happily. Duo followed, taking a last look around the park.
The van's side door opened as they approached and Buster broke free from the girl's hold. He jumped inside, and the girl after. The immediate cry of "mommy!" was cut off with the slide of the van's door. Duo jumped up front, slamming the passenger door shut.
He glanced at the driver. "Keep it steady. Don't do anything to draw attention."
A snort was given. "Like I don't know that already."
"Ah, Bess, you know what I mean." He pulled on the zip tag, unfurling the cast from his arm. "I hate these kinds of cases."
"I know." The woman's voice was softer now. "You saw the reports - the girl is going back to where she belongs."
Tossing the cast wrappings into a plastic bag, Duo shot a look to the back of the van, though little could be seen through the small opening. "But..." he rubbed a hand over his face. "I guess you're right. Just, that was her birth mother, you know."
"Who lost her rights when Celia was two," Bess's tone was sharp. "Natural doesn't always mean better, Duo." She turned the van into a mall parking lot and found the meeting spot. "That should be it."
Duo nodded and reached for the door's handle. "Don't open the side until I give the signal."
A well-dressed man emerged from a parked car, and stood waiting for Duo. "You got her?"
As skeptical as he'd been, Duo couldn't deny the hope, the anxiety hidden in the man's words. He nodded shortly. "She's in back." He grabbed the man's arm as he made for the van. "But." Gaining the man's attention, he stressed each word. "I insist you get in touch with the family courts immediately. That little girl shouldn't have to go through this again."
The man was nodding. "I understand."
Letting him go, Duo stood back and listened with half an ear to the reunion. The girl's mother had been waiting in the van, mostly to help keep the girl from hysterics. Her legal family, the couple who'd raised her for over six years, carried her from the van, and ushered her to the waiting car. The family had been given instructions on what to do once the girl was recovered: head for the border, and then their home country. "Buster's" handler waved to Duo as she slid the door shut and the van left. It would be scrubbed, and all evidence of its participation in the extraction would be nullified.
His car waited on the other side of the mall. Duo pulled his sunglasses from the front pocket of his shirt, and began to walk.
The sun was setting behind the mountain range; darkness almost instantaneous this close, but still he lingered on the balcony. Too early in the season for mosquitoes, he continued to look west at the dark silhouette. It wouldn't be long in coming, though each day felt a lifetime. If he'd only known then what he knew now...
The village stretched out below had long since quieted, most of its inhabitants in bed with the sunset. Most of the villagers worked in the coffee fields, or ran trade with the boat people; early mornings were standard. The village had stood for hundreds of years, nearly unspoiled in the race to space colonization, and the destructive wars that followed.
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Heero rose to his feet and snuffed out the lantern. He had books to read, a plan to finish. His eyes rose to the mountain's ridge once more before turning back and entering the house. Relatively closet-like compared to his European apartment, his house on the hill was double to triple in size to many of the huts below. And nearly every vacant space inside was littered with books, parchment centuries old, and artifacts of every shape and size from various periods.
Heero took a seat at the dinette, and drew the leather bound book closer. Peering at the scrawling script, he hooked a pair of reading glasses over his ears and adjusted the light with his other hand. The language was ancient Portuguese, and in an unknown dialect. Another word was recognized, and he wrote it in its place in the transcription notes.
Five years before, after being in South America for nearly a year, Heero didn't believe he'd ever make headway with the natives. The traders would offer any and everything, but information. Many on the river's edge were of multiple nationalities, but nearly all held loyalties to ancestral ways, ideas and knowledge. The very knowledge Heero sought.
His first break came by accident, but once the information had been gleaned, the few artifacts retrieved were carefully boxed and shipped back to his apartment for later investigation.
And now, he couldn't leave.
Murmuring a few phrases out loud, he carefully turned several pages back and reread a passage. Another word gained. Progress in centimeters.
It was too bright in the room, the music too loud for the conversation roar. Duo found a corner to watch from, tugging at his collar while trying not to look like he was doing just that. The party was by invitation only, and if Relena hadn't sent a personal note with his invite, Duo would have passed on the opportunity to rub elbows with the rich, the famous and the political.
Too many conversations were buzzing in his ears. He wanted a drink, but wanted to keep his wits sharp more. Not that he expected trouble; it had a way of tracking him down. On his way across the wide reception hall, he'd picked up a glass of ginger ale, and stood sipping it slowly. With as many jewels that were on display, a thief would have a field day.
"Maxwell?" his name was more a question than salutation.
Duo turned, instantly recognizing the voice. "Wufei." He nodded and held out his free hand. "I heard you were going to be at this shindig."
Wufei snorted and joined him holding up a portion of wall. "As many of these as I've been to in the past decade, one would think I'd be used to them." He turned to survey the crowd. "It's going to take another decade." A well-known holo-screen celebrity sashayed by, leading a pack of near-drooling followers. "More than a decade."
"Relena must be disappointed." Duo couldn't help the smile.
"She dislikes them more than I. She just hides it better." Wufei stood with his hands clasped behind his back - a general monitoring troops, or the new commissioner over the regional branch of Preventers.
Duo hid his smile behind another drink. "Speaking of which, where is the ol' ball and chain?" He gestured to the crowd. "If she hadn't specifically asked..."
"Relena," Wufei stressed, "is currently meeting with Saudi's president and his heads of state." Wufei's look scathed. At Duo's grin, Wufei snorted and turned away. "It has been a long time since we'd seen you last." He shot a quick look at Duo and back out to the room. "You were still living on L2, then, weren't you?" Duo nodded. "What line of work are you in these days?"
The well-practiced grin slid into place. "You might say, I have services for sale."
Wufei's sputter turned into choking words. "You're a hooker?" His eyebrows appeared to have taken flight into his hairline.
"No," Duo laughed. He glanced at his now empty glass. "Didn't Relena mention anything to you?"
Wufei rumbled something about conflicting schedules and twin tours before dwindling to a stop. "I apologize for jumping to an incorrect assumption."
With his cheeks as red as they were, Duo knew he hadn't meant it. He'd known when Wufei asked, but watching the normally composed man be anything but was too good to pass up. "Don't worry about it, man." He dismissed it with a wave. "I offer a dirty deeds kind of service. Security, recovering stolen goods, finding missing persons, infiltration-" at Wufei's raised brow, Duo added with a smile, "short of illegal operations."
"A private investigator," Wufei summarized.
Duo winced, but let it pass. "So, you don't know why Relena asked for me to be here?"
"No, I don't." Wufei looked at him closely, then. "But I have an idea. If you do what you say you do, her request would be because of Yuy."
"Yes, that Yuy." A sudden stir across the room had both looking. "It appears talks are over for the time being."
"Damn." Duo resisted the urge to rub his eyes. "She grew up nice, didn't she?"
Wufei laughed softly. "Were you expecting pink, maybe?"
He gave a slight shrug and a grin. The woman working her way through the party attendees looked nothing like the girl she'd been. In her long black dress, and bare shoulders, she proved she was not a girl.
"She is a mother, you know."
"Oh, right." Duo tossed him another grin. "And you're a father. Congratulations."
"Thank you," Wufei inclined his head. "Though Adrian is six and Andrea is eight."
Duo whistled. "That long, huh?"
Wufei only nodded, said, "I'll be right back," and took a few steps forward to his wife's side. "Relena, your special guest," Wufei leaned closed to murmur in her ear. Relena instantly turned in Duo's direction.
Her smile had been worth the wait. Duo nodded in acknowledgment and watched as she excused herself. "Relena." He smiled at her once she stood in front of him. It surprised him more than it should have that Relena was as diminutive as she was; she had parted the crowd, seeming larger than life walking across the floor.
"Duo," she said, holding out a hand. "It's so good to see you again." She squeezed his fingers. "I have to confess, I thought we would have time to speak but events prevent me from doing so." She looked to her husband and they shared a look. "I can offer the hospitality of my home for your troubles...?"
"That's okay, princess," Duo said. "I'm set up in a place not far from here."
She inclined her head. "Good." Holding both of his hands in hers, she squeezed them again. "I must return. But please, if you would be so kind, join us for breakfast tomorrow. Would seven be acceptable for you?"
Duo smiled at the implied acceptance. She was good at what she did. "Seven would be fine."
Wufei remained as Relena worked her way back through the room. "I suppose you'll be leaving now...?" the envy was heavy in his voice.
"You could come with me. Make up some excuse."
Though he hesitated, Wufei refused. "I need to be here in case Relena needs me."
"Right," Duo nodded, found an empty spot to drop off his glass. "Until seven tomorrow, then." And he nearly laughed making his way from the room, to the freedom offered outside the luxurious mansion.
The inside of the warehouse was hot, though the roof slats were propped open. A row of sturdy tables spanned the length down the middle, but only one was currently being used. All others were clean, clear of debris.
Heero wiped his wristband over his forehead. He'd been working through the hardened clay for hours, washing, saturating the clay into mud, and straining the mud for its tales. Most of what he found was mud. Sharpened stone and the occasional broken bit of wood rose, but little else.
The warehouse's only other occupant started on another story, and Heero tossed him an amused glance. For the past hour, the boy had done more leaning on the broom than push it. Still, the pennies the boy was paid meant far more to him, than Heero. Eager and friendly, the boy chattered about while he cleaned, and every once in awhile, a new nugget of information was gained.
Today wasn't going to produce much besides a headache.
"Alejandro," Heero wiped his hands on a towel. "Go home." At the boy's smile, he amended to, "Ir."
"Sim, sim!" the boy grinned and ran the broom to its closet space, leaving the small pile of dirt already swept where it lay. "Adeusinho!"
Heero waited until the door had slammed behind him before turning back to his tub. The small, clay block's tag identified it as being removed the week before. Supposedly, an old church had been erected, had weathered time and storms before giving the ground back to nature. One of the journals he'd found indicated an old mission had been along the river.
Over a month had passed from his trek down river in the attempt to locate the ancient site. He worked the lee side bank, and marked off five potential locations. His excavation foreman had been with him, making notations on his map, planning what and how samples would be removed, identified and transported back to the warehouse.
The first site had been a bust. The second was showing appearances that at least a hunting party had settled there for some time. If items of a more domestic nature divulged themselves, a more thorough examination of the site would be conducted. Arrows, cutting tools and possibly spears were not what he was searching for.
With a start, Heero became aware he'd been staring at it for some minutes without realizing what it was. Careful fingers swished clinging mud away. The coin was crude, hand worked and stamped; easy work in smelted gold. Heero didn't immediately recognize the markings, the outline of a face it once held. Once cleaned, he took it to the photograph table, documented it and logged it into his books with its tag number and site location.
The photo images he'd take back with him to the house for further study. Its presence at that site didn't mean the mission had been located there; it could have been dropped by travelers at any given time in history. He made a note in his book to review the flood and river flow for the past several centuries.
Wiping his brow again, he cleared his tub, ran fresh water, and picked out another clay sample.
It would be days only. Weeks had passed; he could wait a few more days. He would have to wait a few more days.
By the time breakfast was finished, Duo was ready to leave. Relena refused to speak of her urgent need of his services. Watching the family out of the public's eye, his appetite failed. A look from Relena stilled his bouncing leg; pushing his eggs around on his plate earned a frown from Wufei. He barely saved his orange juice glass when Adrian asked after his own little boy.
Relena led the way to one of the private family rooms, gave an order to not be disturbed, and closed the doors behind them.
"Sit." She indicated one of the overstuffed chairs even as she curled up in one corner of an equally overstuffed couch.
In looking at this relaxed woman, Duo could only smile and take the seat she'd pointed out for his use. The glamorous beauty from the night before was no where to be found; no make-up, cotton pajama pants, a simple tee-shirt, hair back in a clip and feet encased in furry, cartoon headed slippers. Wufei took a seat next to his wife. The couple shared a look. Duo felt a slight twinge, and wondered if breakfast had been too rich.
"About a week ago, I received a package from Heero," Relena began. Her eyes were clear, earnest in their expression. "It's not unusual for him to send little items on occasion. Things he thinks one or the other of us might be interested in." She gave a faint smile. "But this one was very unusual."
Duo looked between her and Wufei. He nodded his understanding and stifled the urge to bounce his leg.
"The... artifact included in the package is quite... remarkable..."
"It's disgusting," Wufei interjected, a lip curled.
Relena flashed him an amused look but nodded all the same. "It is quite a vulgar piece. Something I was certain Heero would never send." Her cheeks pinked. "His accompanying letter was quite incomprehensible as well. Not something Heero would write." She paused and looked down at her hands folded on her lap.
"So, you think someone is pretending to be Heero? Or Heero's gone off his rocker or something?"
"Oh no!" Relena jerked her head up to look at him. "Nothing like that. It's... well," she turned to her husband. "Would you bring the package to Duo, please?" Wufei nodded and rose. He went only as far as a storage cupboard along the back wall, and returned with an oblong box.
Duo accepted it, looked at the postal imprints, and instantly recognized the handwriting, though he hadn't seen it for quite a number of years. Holding the tab to open it, he looked to Relena. "May I?"
"Of course," Relena answered and sat forward to watch. "The letter he sent took me a few days to realize what he'd done, it had been so long." Duo glanced up at her but continued to open the box, and lift out its contents. "At one time when he used to accompany me on tours and visits, we used to play a game, rather a cryptogram sort." She nodded to the envelope Duo now held. "He'd done the same with the letter."
His heart rate was increasing, but Duo dismissed it to Relena sense of mysterious happenings rubbing off on him. Pulling the single sheet of paper from the envelope, Duo scanned its contents and snorted at the seeming gibberish it contained. "And what does it say?" He held it out for Relena to take.
She smoothed its fold on the couch arm, and skimmed over it. "In a nutshell, he's asked me to locate you and give you the artifact. He said you'd know what to do with it." She was flashing him a look, and Wufei started to chuckle.
The last item was heavily wrapped. Duo unrolled the padding and nearly dropped the object once he got a look at it. Wufei laughed aloud, and even Relena's cough was more a snicker. Holding the statue at arm's length, Duo examined it.
"And he said that I would know what to do with it?" He turned it around, and upside-down.
Relena nodded and pointed to the letter. "We'd use numbers to guide the letters. The first three would be used, the next two would be skipped, and next one used. Then back to three again." She grimaced at the note. "He's written birth dates that are not actual ones, and telephone numbers which aren't real."
Turning it in different angles still wasn't making the statue any better. Wufei had been right - it was disgusting. And as far as Duo remembered, not something Heero would have considered an appropriate gift for anyone, even himself. At just over a foot, the squat monkey was a caricature of anything real. One hand flat on its head, and the other on its rather inflated and exaggerated penis.
Nothing in Duo's memories of the man led him to a reason why Heero would send him an obscene statue. "The post mark is from some place in Ecuador." He looked at Wufei and then Relena. "What's he doing there?"
"Studying." Relena's response was immediate and Duo gave her a mild frown. "Well, officially he's working with the Historical Society of South America and their governance board of artifacts and museums, but actually, he's studying."
"Wha..." Duo turned from Relena's explanation to Wufei's smirking expression.
"After J died, Heero started gathering interests," Wufei supplied. "The old nut started him on a hunt of sorts to explore his horizons, and ancient history appealed to Heero." Wufei shrugged. "He's been to several archeological digs. Has found some interesting artifacts."
Duo looked at the artifact he held. "And crappy art interests him?"
"Actually," Wufei seemed to choke the word out. "His latest, and longest to date, interest happens to be the language origin of the Incas."
"Incas?" Duo looked at the artifact he held.
"During his visit last year," Relena took over. "Heero mentioned findings that indicated an as yet unknown origin. He's been looking for the proof since."
"He is looking for links of modern man's influence on the Incan language and how several dialects were splintered from it."
"I thought that was old news, ancient history. The conquistadors and all that." Duo looked at Wufei sharply.
Wufei lifted a shoulder. "It is the common belief. I can only repeat what Heero has shared."
He shook his head, chuckling softly. "Guess it's a way to pass the time."
"Heero took J's passing rather hard," Relena offered mildly.
Wufei snorted, moved Relena's feet over and sat. "Never understood it. Even if the old goat left him well off."
Duo looked up sharply. "Too bad he left him no taste."
"That's what we've been saying, Duo," Relena nearly snapped out. "Heero has taste. His letter indicated you would know what to do with that... that thing."
"But, I don't." Duo glared at the statue and hefted it in his hand. It wasn't heavy in the way something solid would be, but it wasn't light either.
"I don't understand why he thinks you disciplining it would..."
"What?" Duo demanded.
Relena's brows drew in the slightest of frowns. "He says you would know how to spank the monkey."
"You didn't tell me that!" Wufei cried, his expression between outrage and amusement.
Duo just laughed and looked at his acquisition once more with renewed interest. Pulling the box it'd arrived in closer, Duo grasped the monkey's penis and pulled down and out. Part of the monkey's arm and a good portion of his crotch fell off in Duo's hand, bits of plaster fell into the box; Duo added the monkey as well, its broken parts still on his palm.
"Duo!" Relena gasped. Wufei moved forward to watch.
His thumb and forefinger pinched at the plaster penis, crushing it into dust. As it crumbled, a tightly rolled paper emerged. Duo grinned at Relena's gasp and Wufei's snort.
"So you did know what to do with that obscenity."
His boat moved along the river at little more than a snail's pace. Heero checked his map coordinates and scanned the bank. The site was just up ahead and Heero began looking for a likely landing spot.
The grasses had grown thick and tall from his last visit. The steady rainfall combined with the healthy loam at the river's edge promoted such growth. Leaving his boat half ashore and tied around a large rock, Heero left most of his equipment; he could always retrieve it later if it was needed.
At the clearing, he pulled a map roll from his pack and spread it on a flat rock. Finding the topical landmarks matching a particular area, Heero slipped another map out and studied it lay. It was a composite of how the land looked hundreds of years prior. And it showed him where he squatted now, the river used to be. His original site was off by several yards.
He moved inland, one eye on the compass and one eye on his path. Given the sudden rise of ground, he should have known there'd been a shift in the river's course. The translated document hadn't been clear on where the old mission stood. The mountain base covered a lot of ground.
Field glasses helped narrow down his search; Heero was already walking in that direction even as he put away his glasses. Using scant telltale signs, he paced off where he believed the mission would have stood, staked the area, and used specially marked flags to let others know whose site this was. At one spot, his trowel went to work, though a sampler would have been better suited.
By his small square hole of bare earth, Heero sat back on his heels and rubbed the clay clump between his palms. Its treasure revealed, Heero reached for the plastic container in his pocket. Other than wear, they were exact in make. Heero couldn't help the smile; he had found his site.
Four days. Four days he'd been cooling his heels at some backwater shanty town waiting for his transportation upriver. Duo stood in the dubious shade beneath the drooping awning and squinted out into the street. No sidewalks to speak of, the place had one paved road heading out of town.
It hadn't taken Duo long to make his flight arrangements, gather necessary documents and money, and turn over immediate business concerns to his partner. During the long flight, he had to wonder how once again, he'd jumped when Heero asked. Of course, twice in the span of a decade and a half wasn't a bad track record.
Heero's note never left his person. He hadn't even shared its contents with Relena; assumed if Heero had wanted what little information he'd given known to her, he would have used that same code method. The instructions were simple enough, an agent's name to provide him plane tickets, travel money and an emergency passport if needed. Duo was to make one stop on the way, and bring the item retrieved with him.
Civilization, as he knew it, was a two-day drive in a truck with bad springs and holes in the radiator back down the road he came in on. His inquiries for travel upriver were met with blank looks, or worst, smiles and the assurance of "two hours". At least the beer wasn't bad, the music was lively and most everyone left him alone.
Barely passed six in the morning and already the heat was near unbearable. Duo stepped out into the street and headed for the dock. Three long blocks, each building, business or residence became more rundown and shabbier as he walked. Down the short hill, the waterfront was in view. Duo paused for a moment to study the new addition harbored dockside.
He began to smile. The day was looking brighter.
He was at the warehouse when the news arrived. His guest was down-river and would be on his way soon. He had received word when Duo had booked the flight through his agent, but nothing since. Though, it was Duo, and Heero was certain that if he asked, Duo would do everything possible to be there for him. The news confirmed his assumption.
Cataloging waited and Heero returned to work. He'd had plenty of time to make his arrangements, prepare for the eventual arrival. It was only after entering the same lot tag three times that Heero pushed his books away and boxed up the latest samples from the newest site.
His walk up the hill was delayed. The Señor was going to have a visitor, and not of the government kind. The concern and excitement shown for him, came as a surprise to Heero. After three years of living in the village, he was deemed worthy. The disruption to his day wasn't as bad as he'd thought it was after all.
The first lesson a man learns is in taking responsibility. For himself. For his actions.
A man stands on his own, takes care of his person, his possessions, and pays his debts. A man will own up to the results of his actions whether by word or deed. A man will accept equitable punishment for his actions if deemed necessary.
When handed a task, a mission to fulfill, a man will make it his focus through to its completion. Failure is only an option for the weak. A man has no time for the weak of will, weak of mind, and weak of spirit.
The bench was hard under his ass, but he'd walked the boat several times, and had given every timber, plank and nail a first and middle name already. His packed reading material became dog-eared and worn before his second day's stay in the village. Language had never been a barrier to him before. Now, he couldn't even hold a conversation with the boat's pilot, or his assistant.
As they passed another weathered dock upside a ram-shackled town that looked like the one they'd passed-by almost an hour before, Duo shot to his feet. In the wheelhouse, his guide kept his eyes glued to the waterway in front. Getting his attention was harder than Duo had thought it'd be.
"How much longer to Sujar a Água?" he asked. The man grinned, showing both rows of teeth and nodded. Duo resisted the urge to yell; a smile and a nod was all he seemed to get from anyone. "Sujar a Água?" he repeated.
"Sí, sí." another nod with a smile.
"No, how long will it be?" Duo asked again, a smile plastered on his face.
"Ah! Sí, dos horas." the man told him with a grin and an emphatic nod.
"Two hours," Duo mumbled back. His shoulders slumped. It had been the same answer he'd been given to every questions asked since he'd stepped out of the truck. Standing at the stern-side rail, Duo glared at the churning water. "Two hours my ass!"
The trip upriver had already taken most of the day; Duo had eaten lunch with the small crew and didn't welcome the idea of sharing dinner with them as well. Returning to his seat, he slouched down, and pulled his bag closer. There was one book he hadn't read.
A quick unzip, and the especially wrapped package was in his hand. Under the plastic was a slim leather bound book, rather similar to a journal. Duo hadn't look in it, was hardly curious at its contents when he retrieved it from Heero's apartment. Like any case he'd been hired to do, he went in, got the job done, delivered the results.
Duo put the package away and zipped his bag. He would discover the mysteries of the book only if Heero allowed him to. Lying back on the bench, he wondered if he really had two hours; it was a wonderful day for a nap.
In his house on the hill, Heero heard the dock bell. A special boat had arrived. He smiled faintly before closing his translation material and piling the books in a neat stack at the table's corner. There was time to walk to the dock before the boat unloaded, but Heero had instructed Alejandro to watch for the Yankee, to show him the way. Heero stood, capped his pen and removed his glasses. Waiting out on the balcony would show welcome without seeming too eager.
He had forgotten tonight was the celebration for one saint or another. The balcony rail was festooned with flower and paper garlands; the tile roofs below were dotted with painted devils. If he turned and leaned out far enough, he might be able to see the devil on his own roof. His neighbor had asked, and he'd granted permission as he had every time. He might not believe in the ritual, as pagan or as orthodox as it was, but he wasn't going to interfere with tradition.
Looking towards the village, Duo was easy enough to spot. Several of the villagers had taken it upon themselves to show him where to go. Alejandro led the way, wearing a smile, his chest puffed out; he was wearing his best, the white button-up Heero had given him at Christmas, and a pair of jeans his brother had outgrown after too few wearings.
Duo appeared too pale, almost drab amid the darker haired and skinned natives in their bright clothing. Festival night brought out the most colorful of garments, but color had always been a part of the culture. Someone had thought to educate Duo on this fact as well - a red flower had been tucked in his shirt pocket.
The procession stopped in the street under the balcony and Heero leaned over. Duo carried a small duffel and a pack slung over one shoulder. He shifted his weight to one foot and lifted a shoulder, staring up at Heero.
"Well," he drawled. "I'm here."
He had to laugh, and the almost invisible expectation tenseness evaporated. "Took you long enough," Heero commented.
"Yeah," Duo grinned. "The one horse was busy." He glanced around, his eyes sweeping the lingering villagers, the street lined in lights and decorations hanging from every house and building. "You throw elaborate welcome wagons for all your guests?"
Shaking his head, Heero smirked. "No, just you." At Duo's surprised look, he laughed again. "Why don't you come on up and we'll talk." He gestured behind him. "The door's unlocked. Just come up the stairs."
"Alright." Duo nodded to those closest to him, excused himself as he brushed by others and went to the door.
Heero met Duo at the top of the stairs, took the duffle from him and usher him inside. In a sweeping arm gesture meant to encompass the room, the kitchenette and the bedroom beyond the opened archway, he announced, "As you can see, it's small, but home."
"I like what you've done to the place," Duo told him, giving the room more than a glance. "Early grad-student?"
Though he laughed, Heero explained, "I do a lot of my work here. Some of the documents and manuscripts are too delicate to leave down at the warehouse."
Duo only nodded and followed Heero into the other room.
"The place only has one bedroom," Heero said from the doorway. "You'll be rooming with me, if that's all right." He sat Duo's bag on one of the identical cots in the room. "I managed to acquire another cot for your use."
"Isn't the first time we've shared." Duo unslung his pack and placed it next to his duffel. "And it's definitely not the worst place I've slept either." He tugged on the pack's zipper. "I'm sure we'll survive." Pulling the wrapped bundle from his pack, he held it out for Heero to take. "The reason I'm here."
Accepting it, Heero turned it over in his hands. "Thank you." He ran a hand over the smooth plastic surface. "There's a festival tonight, and I thought we'd have dinner there. But it's still hours off, and if you're hungry I can make something...?" he left the question open.
"I had lunch on the boat." Duo couldn't help the grimace.
Heero gave him a grimace of his own. "I've had their 'lunch' before." His smile was short, but pointed. "Then I'll prepare something light. Make yourself at home. I'm not used to having anyone around, so I'll forget to do the polite thing." At Duo's laugh, Heero smiled again. "Seriously, anything you want, just say something." He stopped at the door. "The bathroom is through this other door. The shower works most of the time, and occasionally so does the hot water."
"Sounds like my first apartment." Duo followed him into the other room.
"Well, it does the job." Heero watched Duo from over the edge of the refrigerator door. "I spend most of my time down at the warehouse or out in the field." He pulled a plastic container out from inside. "Tomato basil soup okay?"
Duo looked up from examining one of the metal disc artifacts and nodded. "Sure, anything's fine." He sat the disc back. "We're alike in that." He came into the kitchen area and leaned against a wall. "If I'm not out on a case, I'm at the office doing research or giving Bess a hard time."
Bread knife in hand, Heero glanced up. "Bess?"
"The old gal who does the books, a few other odd jobs." Duo shrugged. "The duct tape that holds the place together and the grease that keeps it smooth."
He didn't miss the fondness in Duo's voice. "I could use a Bess. The most I have is Alejandro and sometimes a couple of the guys from the museum lend a hand."
It was Duo's turn to question. "Alejandro?"
"The boy who showed you to my place." Looking up from slicing bread, Heero's glance was amused. "The little monkey is probably more trouble than help, but I couldn't ask for a better informant."
"Informant?" Duo frowned. "You in some kind of trouble here, Heero?"
A quick shake of the head, and Heero was instantly assuring. "Not in that way, no." He wrapped the bread, and put it back on the shelf. "It's just between the government officials, the museum officials and the locals, there are times I feel like I'm fighting off mobile dolls with one arm tied behind my back."
Duo took the bread plate, cutlery and butter Heero handed him. "So what kind of trouble are you in?"
Pouring soup into two bowls, Heero's eyes flicked upward and back. "There's more to the story than reasons for you to bring my primer down." He rinsed the pot and left it in the sink. "But there's too much to cover at the moment." His lips twisted into a wry gin. "I have the idea it's going to take a couple of days." Jerking his head toward dinette, Heero led the way. "You'll have to understand somewhat of why I'm here, first. And some days, I don't even know that."
Other than an appreciative murmur about the soup from Duo, talk suspended for a moment or two. "This story I can't wait to hear." Duo spooned another mouthful. "Cloak and dagger, secret decoder rings and what the hell was up with that monkey business!"
Heero dipped a piece of bread in his soup, and hid the slight smile in a bite. "I was certain no one would examine the statue too close," he said around the bread. "Letters to Relena are frequent enough it wouldn't raise suspicions. It was the only option since I take care of it myself."
"But the monkey?" Duo shook his head and took the last piece of bread. "Where'd you find that awful... thing?"
"I made it." Heero's statement caused a bout of choking. "A lot of what I have to do is plaster and clay models." He lifted a shoulder, and pushed his bowl away. "To make sure your note stayed hidden, I had to make it as outrageous as possible."
"Outrageous is right." Duo chewed some more and started to chuckle. "You should have seen the look on Wufei's face."
Heero started to smile thinking on it. "I don't think he's going to let me around the kids any time soon." Duo laughed out loud and Heero joined him. "I can only imagine what he thought when you figured it out."
"Hopefully it'll be the first - and last - time I spank your monkey." Duo grinned.
Heero watched as Duo finished off his soup, mopping the bowl with the last of his bread. In a glance, he took in his small house. Looking back to Duo, he wondered when the shift had happened. He touched Duo's arm. "It's good to see you, Duo."
Duo looked from his hand to his face. Turning his arm in Heero's grip, Duo grasped Heero's hand with his own. "I'll admit, it's good to see you again too, Heero."
The first of a night of firecrackers went off outside and both men turned towards the balcony door. "Time to get ready," Heero said though he let his hand linger in Duo's for a moment longer. He still had days, and this time, silence wasn't going to be the enemy.
The normally quiet streets were filling with people, villagers and local rural residents mingled, gathered in small and larger groups to talk, tell stories, drink and to flirt. Duo swivelled his head, trying to catch everything, see everything. This was not the lackluster town whose path he'd walked up hours before. Lights had been strung down the main streets, from balconies, windows and roofs. Decorations of every sort hung from trees, posts, phone and electric wires.
He didn't fail to notice how often Heero was stopped, how many greetings were called out to him, and how many Heero called out to others himself. Standing back to watch as Heero spoke the town's adopted language of a pigeon mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and Quechua, Duo also didn't fail to notice how much Heero had become a man. Taller than the last he'd seen him by a few inches, broader through the shoulders, he still had a narrow waist and slim hips. Reminders of a past life, Duo refused to speculate at what else had changed, and what had remained the same.
For now, he would get to know the Heero here.
Heero hadn't been joking when he'd told him dinner would be a choice in any combination of meat - chicken, beef, pork or sheep - and any number of native vegetable dishes. Bread and desserts were in abundance, drinks were as waterfalls. And Duo couldn't help but smile.
"You might want to go easy on that," Heero said, nodding his chin at the refill Duo accepted. "It might not taste like it, but it's pretty powerful."
Duo looked into the cup he held. The fruity mix reminded him of a daiquiri without the blended ice. He cocked a brow in Heero's direction. "So speaks the voice of experience?"
Even in the dim light of the swinging lanterns, Duo saw the flush creep up Heero's neck.
"Let's just say that if you have one too many, you'll wake up the next day in the middle of a forest, not quite dressed with a new tattoo on your chest."
"What?" Duo shouted with a laugh. He lunged toward Heero. "Where? Let me see." His fingers were already undoing buttons.
"Duo!" Heero held his hands. "Maybe I don't want to show it off."
"Ah c'mon, Heero." Duo was grinning at him, practically in his lap. "I'll show you mine, though not here."
Heero blinked and released his hands slowly. "How many of those drinks have you had?" He looked at the now empty glass and back at Duo; his shirt was half undone. "Here," he said, pulling the shirt to one side, exposing his left nipple area.
A finger touched the bright blue mark. "What is it?" Duo was frowning, almost glaring at the odd shape.
Removing Duo's hand from his chest, Heero quickly buttoned up his shirt. "It's an ancient symbol." He shot his cuffs home and was surprised Duo still sat so close. "For Death."
The mirth dancing about his lips was gone. Duo seemed to sober in an instant. "Why do you have that tattooed on your chest?" his voice was soft.
The flush crept back up Heero's neck. "They told me the next day I claimed to have a personal relationship with death." Heero took a long pull from his beer bottle. Duo was still staring at him. "I don't remember what happened."
Duo let it go, picked up his empty and called for another. It was a festival, after all.
The second lesson a man learns is to hold a certain amount of distance between himself and others.
A man must judge the degree of closeness to another with the value that person adds. If the value does not exist, then the person is deemed not worthy. A man avoids unnecessary complications involving others; saving time and energy better spent on worthwhile endeavors.
A man's worth is judged by his level of trust. The higher level of trust, the more his value and the less distant he will become.
His bladder ached, the need to go hammering. His body protested, his eyes refused to open, but sit up he did. And promptly laid back down. He groaned loud in his misery, and slapped an arm over his eyes. The sun was far too bright and demons began to tap dance on his head in time with the brass band playing behind his eyes.
"Duo?" Heero called softly from the doorway. "You awake?"
"No," he mumbled. He drew in several slow breaths. "Get the number of that truck?" Heero's chuckle was too loud and Duo groaned again. He rolled on his side and dragged his legs up.
"'Fraid that was a self-inflicted hit and run." He came into the room to perch on the cot opposite Duo's and sat there watching him. "You going to be okay?"
Duo blinked at Heero, trying to focus. The room swam in lazy circles. His "no" was weak and barely made it by his lips before failing. Duo snapped his eyes shut and put a hand over his mouth. A bucket appeared; Duo clutched its rim in a death grip, dropping to his knees on the floor to vomit again.
A hand held him steady and another pulled his hair from harm's way. "Oh fuck," he exhaled, dropping backward to lean against the bed. "Now I remember why I quit that shit a long time ago."
Heero's chuckle had lost decibel levels to the warring marching bands in his head. His arm was lifted and a shoulder boosted under it.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up and back to bed," Heero's voice was gentleness itself.
Duo groaned as he was raised upright. His legs wobbled, but with Heero's support, he stumbled to the bathroom. Heero even leaned him against the wall in front of the toilet - first things being first. He was half asleep again before the first drops hit.
"Shower or a wash?" Heero was at his side, keeping him on his feet.
Opening his eyes, and really seeing himself for the first time that morning, Duo nearly groaned again. Boxers and socks. "Shower," he mumbled wondering if he'd undressed himself or had help. And if help, whose it had been.
"The hot water should still be working," Heero was saying, guiding him into the small stall. Duo slumped against the wall and didn't even jump when the cold water hit him. "You going to be all right in here on your own? Or you need me to hold you up?"
Duo turned his head to stare at Heero. His eyes had been peppered with sand during the night and his lids grated. "You are far too amused for this situation."
"Right then, on your own." Heero grinned and shut the plastic curtain. "You want some coffee or juice? Something to rehydrate?"
"Coffee!" Duo gripped the curtain with one hand. "Strong and black." At Heero's confirming nod, he let go and shifted under the trickling stream of a shower.
It took him several tries, but he had his hair unbound and washed before Heero came back into the room. A large green mug was thrust through a slit and Duo gravitated to its smell. Clutching the cup between his hands, he gulped up its liquid twice and sighed.
"Damn, Heero. You make this headache go away, and I'll love you forever." He took another drink, and decided he would live after all.
"Careful what you promise, I just might hold you to it." Heero was laughing again.
Duo slid the curtain aside and held the now empty cup out. "Give me more, and I'll settle for loving you for today."
Heero shook his head, but accepted the mug. "I'll bring you some aspirin, and we'll save discussions of love for another day."
By the time he finished his second cup of coffee, his headache had almost disappeared and his legs weren't made of rubber any longer. The hot water ran out before he finished rinsing off. Standing on the bath mat, water dripped from his hair and body, and not a towel in sight. Heero had disappeared sometime after watching him swallow the aspirin.
Loathed to move and increase the already sizable puddle he was creating, Duo called out in a loud voice, "Hey Heero, where do ya keep your towels hidden?" He heard a shuffling from the other side of the door and stepped back.
A couple of towels were held out to him from the doorway. "There's a small closet just outside the bathroom door," Heero said from the other side of the crack.
"Thanks, man." Duo took the towels, but frowned at the door when it closed.
Heero returned to his seat at the table. His elbows on the table, he folded his hands and leaned his forehead against them. He had known the risks. He had accepted the risks. Nothing had prepared him for managing a drunk Duo who said too much and remembered nothing. Nothing had prepared him for the tattoo Duo sported just above his right pelvic bone.
A pair of wings - gundam wings. If they'd been black, he might have understood, but like his own brand, maybe there was nothing to understand.
"Okay, so you're telling me this drawing is the key to everything you've been doing here for the past five years?" Duo rubbed at his temples. Maybe he should have waited another day before hearing Heero's story.
"It is one of them, yes."
Heero began again, patiently explaining the generally accepted linguistic root to the Inca language. How he had discovered text, hundreds of years old, from pioneers in the field who believed the widely accepted knowledge was false. After spending months in futility trying to convince first the Peruvian government and then the Ecuadorian government of his theory, he'd used his own funds to search out and find proof.
"And now you're stuck where you don't want to be?" Duo'd switched to water, and even managed to eat something without an auto-reflex episode. "So, what's with the hush hush in my coming down?"
Reaching for Duo's glass, Heero took a drink. "I don't plan to let the government or the museum people know all of what I know."
Duo watched him stare at the enlarged map tacked to the wall above the dinette. Certain pieces of the conversation were beginning to make more sense. Besides, it was Heero, and of all the people on Earth and in space, he would be the one Duo would trust life, liberty and personal worth to. He grinned and slapped a palm down on the table.
As easy as that.
They spent the rest of the afternoon outfitting Duo. Some of Heero's older equipment, some of Duo's own things adapted to the environment and a few new items completed his set of "safari gear". Heero wasn't sure if his new nickname was a good thing or if ignoring the "Savannah Mike" moniker would have been more to his advantage.
Heero had planned an early morning, leaving before daybreak. The equipment and packs were already in the Jeep and the few arrangements necessary had been taken care of on their walk through the village that afternoon. For supper, they were back in the village, sitting in one of the outside restaurants.
"Ten years ago, I never would have figured you in a place like this," Duo said squinting down the road toward the river and the mountains beyond.
Looking up from his plate, Heero studied Duo for a moment. "Ten years ago I would have thought someone crazy if they told me I'd be doing this today." He wore an easy smile, fitting for the relaxed atmosphere after a festival night.
Duo turned his head to catch Heero's look. "Are you doing okay? Happy with what you do?"
He gave Duo's question a minute of consideration. "Depending on the definition of 'okay', I'd have to say that I am. And I enjoy what I do, get satisfaction at each new discovery. If that's happy, then yes, I'm doing okay there too." He took a drink from his glass of water and looked at Duo over its rim. "How about you? You happy?"
"Touchè," Duo murmured. He shrugged and flashed a quick smile. "There are times when work is rewarding. There are times I think there's something else I should be doing with my life." He shrugged again, leaned back in his chair and planted his boots on the empty chair next to him.
"What would you like to do?" Duo's answer hadn't been one he was expecting, but honesty was Duo's policy.
Duo squinted toward the mountain again. "I have no fucking idea." Dropping his boots to the ground, he sat forward suddenly, and snagged one of the paper cutouts fluttering from a garland string overhead. "Some nights it keeps me awake. Some nights not so much." He held the cutout by a wing and watched it flutter in the breeze.
"You'll find it, one day."
"Yeah," Duo said, and let the angel go. It was caught in a slight updraft and hovered above his head for a moment, swooped downward before the current blew it away, its wings giving it the illusion of flight. "Like that paper angel, I just flap my wings in the wind."
Heero studied Duo as the sun began to set. The restaurant was closing, the village readying itself for the night, and overhead, the long line of paper angels fluttered in the wind.
Duo staked the sextant rod in the ground and locked the sextant in place. Heero squatted at his feet, one of his condensed map books open and braced against his thigh. His first sighting determined the distance they'd already covered, the second, the approximate distance to the first landmark. As he called out numbers, Heero jotted notations in the maps' margins.
Where the old logging road ended more than a day's hike down the mountain, they left the Jeep in the safe keeping of an old man Heero knew. The night before had been spent in a clearing roughly at the mountain's half-way mark. By Heero's estimation, they would be spending the night out in the open, and should arrive at their destination before sunset.
Heero stood as Duo broke down the survey equipment and packed it away. Adjusting his glasses, he flipped through his book and studied the topography. He looked up, slid his glasses down and peered off into the distance over the tops of the lens.
"Have experience mountain climbing?" he asked, mentally running through the list of their equipment.
"Funny time to ask." Duo looked up from his position on the ground. Standing, he slung his pack back into place. "But the answer is, yes. G trained me some, had a little more a few years ago." He looked off to the shadowed mountain yet to cover. "Haven't done any in a couple of years, but it's like riding a bike, right?"
"Sure," Heero drawled. At Duo's look, he laughed. "We shouldn't have any problems. I'll help you along the way." Waving a hand down the mountain range, he added, "I haven't climbed this face, but there's a couple others down the line I've had no problems scaling."
"Alright." Duo faced their heading. "Let's get moving. I don't relish playing spider in the dark."
His rope creaked, and he grabbed another handhold, anchored his crampon and reached for the next hold. Beneath him, he could hear Duo swearing under his breath. If he'd known the face would be this difficult, he would have suggested working their way around it, even if the detour delayed them another day. Fifty feet. Another fifty, and they would be at the top; they would be safe. Heero risked a look down and that's when it happened.
His anchoring rope snapped.
Heero scrambled for the anchor, splitting nails on both hands. He bounced off the rock face, his cheek scraped against its surface. And he was plummeting.
"FUCK!" Duo's scream was in his ears. He was pulled up short, swinging in a pendulum arc; Duo had caught hold of the frayed rope. "Heero!" Duo shouted.
"Okay. I'm okay!" he shouted back up. He dangled more than double his height down from Duo. In a controlled crash to the mountain's face, he made a grab for the closest anchor. He attached his safety line, caught his breath and stared up at Duo. "You think you can lead us to the top?"
Duo nodded slowly. He continued to stare down at Heero, opened his mouth twice and shut it without a word. Heero didn't miss that Duo attached his rope to his harness. If he had another fall, Duo would go with him.
The climb was slow, Duo seemed to be taking extra care with the anchors, making sure Heero was locked on before he moved upward. When Duo lifted himself up over the face edge, Heero let out a slow breath, and began to climb in earnest. Hand over hand, he passed over some of the anchors, and charged the cliff. Duo braced himself at the top, clutching Heero's safety line. He only released it when Heero was close enough to reach down and haul him up and over the edge.
For several minutes they lay entwined on the relatively flat space inches from the cliff edge. Duo had his arms wrapped tight about Heero, adding to the difficulty he already was having just breathing. Between murmured curses, Heero picked out a few mild names - idiot being the preferred one of choice. Smiling despite the pain, Heero drew back enough to press his lips over Duo's, and silenced the man.
His hold tightened for a moment, and then Duo was shoving Heero away. "Asshole!" He smacked an arm, and glared at him. "You fucking scared me to death. What the hell is up with you?"
Taking Duo's hand in his, he pressed it flat on his shirt at the spot where his tattoo was. "I told you, I have a personal relationship with Death." He grinned at the black look he was given.
"And if that bastard shows up again, I'm going to kick his ass. Personal relationship or not." Duo rolled away and sat up. "Damn it, Yuy. Carting your stinking corpse back down this fucking mountain is not in my plans."
Heero pulled off a glove and touched his cheek. It didn't feel like it was bleeding, but he needed it tended to. "Not in my plans either." He unfastened his harness, coiled his rope, and packed the equipment away. "Let's move further in and set up camp for the night."
Though he nodded, Duo continued to sit, his harness still attached. Heero looked down at him and touched him on the shoulder. "Hey, you okay?"
His sigh was deep. Soul shaking. Heero thought. Duo didn't look up, and Heero crouched down behind him, one hand on his shoulder.
"The view from here is fantastic," Duo said in a near whisper. His hand crept upward and covered Heero's. "You know, paper angels might be able to fly somewhat. But in the end, they're still fragile. They will rip to pieces if tossed around too much."
Heero squeezed Duo's shoulder. "When given the right support, a paper angel can last until age turns it to dust."
Another sigh, but this time lighter. Duo nodded. "Yeah." He finally looked around at Heero. "Let's get moving to that camp you were talking about." He touched a gloved finger to the side of Heero cheek. "And get this hamburger cleaned up."
The third lesson a man learns is that he is fallible. But in his fallibility lies his strength.
A man believes in himself and his abilities. A man will use his strength to succeed; use his perception of limits to push himself beyond them.
A man's strength and belief in himself will draw others to him. A man will not allow their beliefs to cloud his objective. A man will not allow others to dissuade him. A man will not fail in what he does.
A simple touch, and he was awake; reactions still so deeply ingrained, his hand reached for what he no longer carried. It was Duo, close enough to wake him, but out of arm's length. He was crouched down next to Heero's sleeping bag, watching him come fully awake.
"Duo?" Heero's voice was groggy, if his mind more alert. "What time is it?"
Duo sat back, looking up at the stars. "About two." He shot a glance at Heero and back to the sky. "How's your cheek?"
Heero sat up, and with Duo's question, he touched the bandage. "Sore. Should be alright in a couple of days." He moved to sit next to Duo and bumped his shoulder into his. "What's up? Besides us, I mean?"
A ghost of a smile was aimed his way. Duo scrubbed at his face, and even in the dim light, Heero could see Duo's hand was unsteady. "What happened, Heero?"
He didn't try to deny he didn't know what Duo was referring to. Waking sleeping dogs had always been the risk in bringing Duo to Ecuador. "I don't know." He shook his head and snorted softly. "No, that's not really true." Duo was back to watching him, waiting. "We were too young. We drifted apart..." He lifted a shoulder and let it fall.
"You left." Duo's lips barely moved, but his words were clear.
"You knew I was going to leave," Heero reminded him. "I told you. I told everyone I had to make sure J was..."
"I know." Duo turned from him. "You ever think that maybe I might have wanted to go with you?"
Heero gaped, and shut his mouth with a snap. "And you could have asked. How was I supposed to know what you wanted? You never told me anything."
"I talked to you all the time." Duo's tone was sharp. "You never listened."
"I listened. You just never said anything." Duo started to speak and Heero held up a hand. "Oh you had plenty to say, but nothing you should have said." Duo stared at him, and Heero could see the idea churning. A minute passed and Duo's face began to lose its hard planes. The tense lines across his shoulders, down his back and in his arms relaxed.
At Duo's nod but continued silence, Heero began to chuckle. Duo glared, and Heero laughed. The absurdity struck him even more, and he punched Duo's arm with a soft fist. A decade old argument, one they should have had a hundred thousand miles away, on the colony where it began, instead of on the high side of a mountain, somewhere in South America.
"Okay, so we're idiots," Duo said. He was grinning, and jammed a shoulder into Heero's side. Duo went back to hugging his knees, and staring at the stars. Heero watched him for a moment and leaned up against his shoulder.
"You're one of the strongest men I know," he told him. "I know I can count on you despite all else."
Duo snorted, but rested his head on top of Heero's. "I'm not very strong, you know. It's an illusion." He tilted his head to the side and saw Heero smiling. "Most of the time I'm just too stupid to fall over. Too stubborn to give in."
"Well, then, that would be your strength." Heero deliberately didn't look at Duo. A shoulder rose, bumping into his ear, and he chuckled softly. He reached up and took one of Duo's hands in his.
"So what happens next?" Duo asked, turning his hands over and lacing his fingers in Heero's.
"More sleep." Duo's shoulder rose again and he squeezed his hand. "Let's finish this, first," Heero amended. "When this is done, we can talk, and listen."
Duo was nodding. "Good enough." He gave a short laugh and answered Heero's look with a question. "You think Alejandro would mind giving me his job?"
In the end, what he had been searching for the past five years was relatively easy to find. For months, Heero had assumed it would be like trying to find Atlantis. Even if they had a road map and a flashlight, he didn't think the drawing he'd done fifteen years before would have lead them to the front door.
Duo rapped a knuckle on a mossy covered stone. "This is it?" he asked, looking around. He lowered his pack and rolled his shoulders. "It looks like an outhouse."
Dropping his own pack, Heero squatted down and dug out his maps - his big maps. He compared the notes from his map book to the plot lines on the larger map. "This is it." A stone temple, like many others he'd seen up and down the Andes. He stared up at its entrance; at the stone pillars to each side; at the hieroglyphics carved into rock, and still highly readable.
"Your sources tell ya how to get inside?" Duo squatted down next him, opened his pack and pulled out a cereal bar.
"No," he answered. He shook his head at Duo's offer for a bite of his bar and reached for his old journal. He flipped through several pages, and holding the book flat, he compared some of the markings on the stones to the markings made in his drawing. They were the same, but different.
Duo stopped chewing and peered over Heero's hand. "What's that?" he asked.
"Didn't you look at it when you picked it up for me?" Heero asked, digging through his pack again, hoping he included one of his earlier translated volumes. He could feel the glare without having to look. Stopping his rooting for a moment, he turned his head. "What?"
"It's your journal." Duo's answer was simple. "I don't snoop in personal stuff."
"Oh." Setting aside his pack, Heero held the journal out to Duo. "I drew this about three months before Operation Meteor," he was saying. "It was from an old metal disc J had picked up from somewhere." He shrugged. "I never knew, never asked."
Duo wiped his fingers on his pants before taking the book. He looked between it and the stone temple. "And this is the key to that?" He thrust out his chin.
"I believe it's more the key to the Incan language origin." Heero pulled a slim volume from the bag, and began turning pages. "Not the key to get inside."
"Whatever happened to that disc?" Duo was turning the book in his hand, following the hieroglyphics as they wound round in wheel-like fashion.
Heero glanced up, hooking his glasses over his ears. "Not sure. Still floating out in space, maybe. Someone from OZ has it. I haven't seen it in fifteen years." He began studying the translations he could follow.
"Heero," Duo called softly.
"Hmmm," Heero muttered, and flipped a page.
"I think I know the origin you're looking for." Heero straightened and looked at Duo. Duo was holding the journal at an angle, but his eyes were on the temple entrance.
"You're not going to find it inside," Duo said rising to his feet. He grinned, and walked backwards facing Heero as he told him. "That disc was like a sextant, and this stone building its map."
Heero gained his feet slowly, his translation book held loosely. Duo spun about when he reached the entrance and slapped Heero's journal, drawing held at an angle in the center between the pillars.
"What does that make you think of?" Duo asked, keeping his eyes on Heero.
"It's..." Heero came closer, looking at the book and its corresponding axle points. "It's a fucking inter-universe map."
Duo was nodding. "During some training flights before OM, we were out in deep space, hiding from any stray Alliance ship and something flashed. Something like a communication burst. Only G wasn't interested in it. He had only wanted to see the results Deathscythe produced." He tilted his head to the side, lopsided grin in place. "I followed the burst to the source." Duo grimace, lowering his arm. "Or tried to. It made a few jumps into coordinates we only dreamt about."
He went to stand beside Heero, held the drawing out at arm's length. "I'd say the burst came from there." His other arm pointed to one of the center point markings on the right side pillar. Looking over his shoulder at Heero, he added softly, "The origins you're looking for came from space. From somewhere we have no knowledge of."
It was there carved in stone. Heero turned back to stare at the pillars. It tied with the myths, legends of the Mayans, of the pyramids of Egypt. "Twelve tribes," he murmured. Duo asked a question in a look. "In the Bible, it speaks of the twelve tribes of Israel. What if one of those points was the real Israel? Their language was garbled, passed down through generations until it was completely mutilated."
"You're talking thousands of years before the Incas, Yuy." Duo was watching him.
Heero dropped his book and shook his head. "Who's to say that there weren't many such landings? That there have been waves of intergalactic settlers?"
"And who's to say this really isn't an outhouse - a way stop for bathroom runs between one point and another." Duo smirked. Heero cuffed him with a soft hand.
"We have to find that disc," Heero stated. "Then we can chart the points and..."
Duo placed a hand over Heero's mouth. Inches apart, Duo's eyes commanded Heero's complete attention. "You said it yourself. The disc is gone." He held the journal out to the side. "I'm holding the only evidence it ever existed here." He lowered his hand. "Why?"
"To explore, to find out other life, to..." Duo was shaking his head.
"Heero, how did you come to think of this particular drawing now, when you've known of it for years?" Duo moved away, went to sit beside his pack and look up at Heero.
"I already told you, Duo." Heero frowned.
Rolling his hand in the air, Duo said, "just tell me again. Remind me how it happened."
"Alejandro was telling me stories one day. Stories of his ancestors and..." Heero stopped and spun around to face the temple entrance. "They've known all along." In three strides, he was at the temple's base. Using his pocketknife, he carefully scraped away layers of moss. The blackened stone was as he expected.
"I don't think they want everyone to know," Duo said softly from where he sat.
Heero wiped his knife clean, closed the blade and returned it to his pocket. "Then why me?"
"Because you were close?" Duo lifted a shoulder. "You earned their respect." He grinned. "You won't share all of your knowledge with the government or the museum people."
They had trusted him as they had no other. Heero took a deep breath and stood. "Let's go. We have a long hike back."
"Wait," Duo's voice was soft once again. He held out the journal, and raised his eyes to Heero's. "It's the only known link."
Heero nodded. Pulling his knife from his pocket once more, he cut the pages out and handed the book back to Duo. A lighter replaced the knife, and Heero bent close to the stone path, lit a flame and touched it to paper. When the paper was nearly charred, the flames biting at his fingertips, he dropped it, watching it turn to ash.
Duo stood and stretched. "Now it's time." Heero straightened, smiling slightly as Duo kick-scattered the ashes. Duo slung his pack over his shoulders and turned his back to the temple.
Smiling, Heero folded his glasses and put them away. Duo continued to walk down the trail they came up. Heero replaced his journal, packed away his maps. Duo's head disappeared over the low rise in the ground. Heero dusted off his translation book, slid it safe between two others and zipped his pack shut.
He lifted his pack, slid his arms between its straps and started to follow Duo's lead. A dozen steps away, he turned back for a last look. A shout had him laughing aloud.
"C'mon Savannah Mike. This is done, and we have some talking to do."