Buried in Dust
Two weeks turned into two months. They'd made progress, but not enough to counter the risk, and Heero couldn't wait any longer.
Wufei's new office was on the 68th floor. No one looked twice at him on his way up. The Syndicate thugs who populated the building were either accustomed to him, or just accustomed to looking the other way. If you were a hatchet man, you pretended not to look too close to anyone with a bit of shine in their ear. If you had that shine, you were brothers, invisible because you were family. Trusted.
The thick pile of the carpet rendered Heero's boots silent. He stopped near a low couch upholstered in dark red leather, slinging his weight against the back of it and fixing his gaze on Wufei's back.
"You've made your choice," Heero said.
Wufei didn't turn from where he stood looking out the window, but Heero knew the answer before he heard it. A cigarette smouldered in the ashtray on Wufei's desk. Meiling's plum-coloured lipstick stained the filter.
"I thought as much," Heero said. Triggering the commands to disable and disconnect, he waited for the faint readouts to fade from his vision before he removed the earring.
"I paid a visit to Tanker," Heero said, pushing off the couch to skirt Wufei's desk. Wufei turned slowly, his features fixed in an unreadable mask. "Persuaded him to tweak this to your specs. He didn't have the tools to properly rework the system so he duplicated it instead. There's a pressure plate in the stem of the leaf. Trigger it with something thin like a needle and it should tune to your brainwaves instead of mine."
Heero dropped the earring into Wufei's palm, as glad to be rid of it as he was angry at Wufei's stubborn insistence to continue on with the mission. "It'll feel weird at first, so don't activate it unless you're alone. I've programmed a brief tutorial to run on start-up which you can disable once you're comfortable with the commands."
"I didn't expect this," Wufei said.
"Your girl had better be worth it."
Heero woke with a start, one hand splayed at his chest where Wufei's bullets had struck. In reality, he'd been wearing a vest and bloodpacks. In his dream, the shots had ripped straight into him.
He cursed, smoothing his hands down his face and trying to clear his head of the echo of voices that were purely from memory now.
"Toss him in the water. As is."
"He's gonna float, boss."
"Better if he does. Messages don't get read if they're at the bottom of the harbour."
"Fucking hell," Heero muttered again. He tried not to wonder if they'd found Wufei in the water. The image stuck and he couldn't rid himself of it. In his head, dark eyes stared blankly at him from bloated, ashen flesh. He pushed aside the thin layer of blankets and swung his legs over the side of the low cot. The metal gridwork of the floor stung his bare feet with their chill as he stumbled to the small bathroom. He stood there, hands braced on the edge of the sink for a long, long time.
Loneliness and longing slammed into him with the same vicious impact of those bullets. He'd never felt so mortal before, not even when recovering from Zero's broken-winged plunge into atmosphere. When splashing water on his face did next to nothing, Heero buried his face in a towel and breathed out a long, frustrated groan.
Rinsing his hands a second time, he almost missed the red light pinging on the panel beside the door to his room. Wiping his palms off on his pants this time, he swiftly crossed to the door, hitting the button to open it, and asking, "Problem?" as it slid aside with a soft hiss.
"With me or with the ship?" Duo replied. He shifted his weight onto one hip and propped his hands on the frame on either side of the door. "Either way I suppose the answer is loads of, but then, that's par for the course."
"So this is a social visit then."
"It could be," Duo said. He smiled slowly and didn't aim for subtle, his eyes flickering down so his lashes fanned dark before his gaze wandered back up again. "I hope it is."
Heero's hands itched. He wanted to just push them up under Duo's shirt, or into his hair, get their mouths together and drag him directly to the bed. He wanted to feel skin against skin, and lose himself in an act that required no thought whatsoever.
Instead, he stood there with his heart in his throat.
"Couldn't sleep?" Duo asked, noticing the damp streaks in Heero's hair and the shadows under his eyes.
"Yeah," Heero said. It wasn't quite a lie, there was just more to it. Bad dream aside, sleep hadn't come easily. He'd never feared death for his own sake, but what about everyone else? Dying became a hell of a lot more complicated when you started thinking about who got left behind.
Duo's mouth quirked, but he didn't crack a smile. Instead, he leaned a little further in. His long fingers drummed against the painted metal and his gaze wandered around the room before gravitating back to Heero. "We going to keep standing here like this or are you going to invite me in so I can stop pretending I'm not looking for a fuck."
"Is that all you ever think about?" Heero said. He took a slow step backwards, a handful of Duo's shirt clenched tight between his fingers.
"A leopard can't change its spots." Now Duo cracked a smile, a lazy twist of his lips as he let Heero tug him close. But before Duo's eyes became nothing but a blur, Heero caught a flicker of sadness there, a dark echo of the hurt lingering in the pit of his own stomach.
As their mouths drew close, Heero took Duo's face in his hands, fingers splaying and thumbs brushing over the high arch of his cheekbones. Cinnamon hung spicysweet on Duo's breath. He'd taken to chewing gum after working at the docks hooked him on cigarettes like the rest of the blueshirts. Funny that he'd claim a leopard couldn't change its spots when a dozen times over he'd proven that he could adapt, recover, improve.
"I left him there," Heero said. Duo didn't have a clue what went down, but just saying it eased some of the burden. The hands settled near his hips squeezed lightly, wordless acknowledgement that told him even if Duo didn't know, he understood.
For a moment they stood there, foreheads pressed together and their breath mixing, nothing more. When they moved they moved as one, mouths crushing together hot and desperate, no time for anything but the raw push of tongue against tongue. Heero's hands slid down until they framed Duo's jaw, fingers sliding beneath Duo's ears to thread into the loosely bound mass of his hair.
Something fluttered behind his ribs as he discovered Duo's face fit puzzle perfect between his hands. Though it was something he'd always wanted to do and now it would be so very simple, Heero didn't try to work Duo's hair free as they kissed. He just let the fine hairs wisping free at the nape of Duo's neck tickle against the pads of his fingers. Kisses slowing, Heero dragged his mouth away from Duo's and down past the point of his chin, thumbs pressed into soft flesh to tip Duo's head back and expose the long line of his throat.
They'd made it to the bunk by slow inches, in shambling half-steps that left a broken trail of Duo's boots and socks behind them. Duo reached up blindly, feeling for the rack set above the bunk and holding on as if his legs were about to give out. He shivered every time Heero's tongue traced over his pulse and he gasped out a low, "Fuck, Heero, I missed you," just before making this gorgeous sound, a shuddering groan that had Heero's fingers tightening.
There was stillness again, time slowing to a crawl as Heero dropped one last kiss on Duo's skin and lifted his gaze. He opened his mouth, a matching 'I missed you, too' shivering on his tongue, but the space between them proved too thick to bear it.
Duo caught his wrists as his hands fell away. "Hey," Duo said, "no strings if you don't want them."
So, Duo still held that attitude towards him. A faint smile curved Heero's lips. "Can't fuck with our pants on," he said, shaking his hands free of Duo's loose grip.
Duo dropped down to sit on the edge of Heero's bunk, his knees spread wide and arms draped over them. "Sure we can, it'd just be messy," he said. He dragged his shirt off over his head and tossed it away, reaching out immediately after to snatch Heero's pantleg and tug. "I like messy," he added, running his hand up Heero's thigh until he found a beltloop to tug at even harder.
Heero went easily, and then they were a tangle of arms and legs and tongues again. The bunk offered little room to roll around and kept them close. Heero gasped when Duo slid cool hands under his shirt. Duo pushed it up and over Heero's head, then urged him back down to let bare skin meet. Heero kissed every inch of Duo's body he could reach, always conscious of the ache in his groin but wanting this to last.
"You're so fucking hot," Duo said, voice thick and low. His hands kept as busy as Heero's mouth, sweeping over Heero's shoulders, down his back and up along his chest. His touch left little smouldering trails, and he made that same gorgeous sound when he pushed his fingers one after the other into Heero's mouth.
Lips closing on the third digit, Heero balked. He forced Duo's finger out of his mouth with his tongue and closed his eyes. The cold shower of reality hit him full blast in the face. "Shit, what are we doing?"
Beneath him, Duo shifted, and the feathery puff of an amused breath hit Heero's throat. "I've got my pants down and now you're asking this?" Duo snorted.
"No, I mean, what the fuck are we doing? What about your wife?"
Head raised halfway off the pillow, Duo went completely still, even the hand resting light on Heero's back no longer traced idle circles.
Heero's eyes blinked open in time to see Duo dropping back to the pillow, teeth flashing as a genuine laugh rippled up from his belly. "Ah, man, the pictures, sorry. You got it all wrong," he said. He looped both arms around Heero, the amusement on his face turning to chagrin. "I forgot you didn't know the whole story. I just did the deed."
"All the perks and none of the responsibility, hm?" Heero said, not sure if relief was quite the right word for the feeling flooding through him.
"Well, not quite all the perks. A turkey baster got some of 'em." Duo froze again, this time his face scrunching up. "I shouldn't have brought that up."
"Still jealous of it, are you?"
"What? No. Oh, Jesus, no! The girl is like my sister."
Heero felt a sudden disconnect, reduced to an interloper, welcomed but not belonging. From the moment Duo had showed up as his door -- if not before -- he practically had curtains picked out. He didn't even know the people who were important in Duo's life now let alone whether or not Duo wanted anything more from him than a simple fuck.
He rolled onto his back thinking he should ask for a bit of time alone, but Duo moved with him and he couldn't bear to push that intimacy away.
"You thinking about it?" Duo asked, voice hushed to a whisper. He nestled closer. "Wufei, I mean."
"Yes," Heero lied.
"I can't get it out of my head, either. Never figured he'd be the first of us to go."
Heero made a low sound. Dwelling on this wasn't any better, but despite being more immediate and raw, it seemed easier to mend.
"Don't know why, but I always thought it'd be you or me."
"Me too," Heero said. "It's a bit selfish isn't it?"
"Yeah. No one really wants to be the one left alone."
Heero screwed his eyes shut, guilt twisting his lips down. "I just --"
Duo's hand came down onto Heero's mouth, silencing him. He dragged himself up, sliding his fingers aside to replace them with his lips. His mouth brushed softly as he spoke. "He made his choices, Heero, and you can't stop all bad things from happening," Duo paused, and Heero felt him smile. God, he'd missed that smile. "It isn't fair to the rest of us mere mortals if you get to save the world more than once, you know."
"This should be weird," Duo mumbled, voice slurred and sated. His lean body tucked in a curl under the curve of Heero's arm. Half of his hair had fallen out of his ponytail, the scattered strands clinging to damp skin. Heero could still feel the ghostly echoes of it brushing against his chest from Duo hovering over him, hips rolling rhythmically and thighs pressing tight to his sides.
He suppressed a shiver and said, "It is, a little."
The weight of Duo's head on his bicep and the leg slung over his own slowly put Heero's limbs to sleep. Even so, he could stay in the same spot for the rest of the night. He felt strange, yes, but also warm and relaxed, and as tired as his body claimed to be, he felt very alive.
"Yeah, but it's good, too, isn't it," Duo said. He shifted and his leg slid away, but if anything he ended up sprawled even more over Heero. He folded his arms on Heero's chest and fixed him with a languid stare. The angle of the light made his eyes look pale, close to translucent. "Breakfast is gonna be awkward if I stay or if I go, so what do you say to just fixing some breakfast now?"
Heero curved a hand over Duo's shoulder in a slow caress. "Moving wasn't high on my list of things to do anytime soon, but I could eat."
"You can always eat."
"As if you're any different," Heero said. He eased his weight up onto an elbow, careful not to jostle Duo too much.
"Gotta be honest with you though: options are limited," Duo warned, nibbling at Heero's collarbone. He tongued a slow path up to Heero's throat.
"Aren't they always," Heero said. He tipped his head back inviting the marks Duo started to suck onto his skin. Breakfast could wait if Duo wanted to go another round.
Duo got up onto his knees again and inspected his work, his weight resting snugly against the tops of Heero's thighs. He walked his fingers from one love-bite to the next. Heero tried to catch those quick fingers with his mouth as they stroked along the line of his jaw.
Duo laughed when he finally did catch them, and a second later, his eyes were heavy-lidded as Heero sucked gently. "Well, severely in this case," Duo said between quickening breaths. "Your options, sir, are reconstituted eggs or pancakes."
Heero let Duo's fingers slide out of his mouth and kissed the centre of Duo's palm. "Which one can you make without burning?" he asked. His lips skimmed the fragile skin of Duo's wrist as Duo's hand pushed up into his hair.
"Neither," Duo said without skipping a beat. He slunk down, kissing Heero lazily before sliding off to lie beside him. With wordless urging, he invited Heero to roll on top of him. His arms wound loosely around Heero's neck. "Although the pancakes come in fun shapes."
Heero smiled softly, turning his head to press a sucking kiss to the bend of Duo's arm. "Well, when you put it that way," he murmured, and moulded their bodies together, "how can I choose anything but?"
They'd worked up a proper appetite by the time they dragged themselves out of bed and to the ship's galley. Heero perched on the edge of a padded stool firmly bolted to the floor as Duo tended to fixing the pancakes. Every third blueberry found its way into Duo's mouth.
"There aren't going to be any left by the time the batter is ready," Heero said.
"Too bad for you then, huh?"
Chuckling softly, Heero stole a few for himself out of the small bowl. When he didn't eat them fast enough to escape Duo's attention, he shrugged apologetically.
"Guys are gonna kill me for eating them all, but that's the perk of being in charge."
"Having your men kill you?"
The words had dropped out of Heero's mouth before he could stop them. He paled and squeezed his eyes shut. It all just kept creeping back, the cold chill of mortality plucking at his spine with bony fingers. "Fuck."
The batter sizzled as it hit the pan and then the metal on metal thud of the bowl being set down rang hollow in his ears. Duo's fingers found his, but he shook them off, not particularly feeling like gentle touches were going to help. Not dissuaded in the least, Duo caught his hand again.
"Stop being a dick and look at me," Duo said.
It took a lot more effort to open his eyes than it felt like it should have, but Heero did. Duo wore a flatly serious expression, his wide mouth set in a line. "You feeling guilty?" he asked
Voice catching even on such a simple word, Heero nodded curtly.
"Good," Duo said, equally curt. He released Heero's hand and turned away, grabbing up his spatula to flip the pancakes.
Heero surged to his feet, hands smacking down hard on the countertop and his fingers pressing to white. "Good?"
Duo turned his head just enough to be able to see Heero out of the corner of his eye. "It's normal, Heero. Getting over guilt like that won't be easy, but it means you cared."
He'd battled with guilt before. He supposed they all had when they'd each killed so many people fighting in the war. But while some of those deaths may have had names, they'd never been this personal.
Sinking back down onto the stool, a frustrated sound forced its way out of Heero's throat. Duo cut him off before he could say anything though by sliding a plate of steaming pancakes in front of him. They really were in shapes: little stars and hearts and something that Heero couldn't see as anything other than a cock and balls. He laughed shakily and picked up a fork, picking out one of the blueberries staining the shaft of the phallus and holding it up questioningly.
Duo shrugged his shoulders. "Figured it might help keep your mind on the important things."
Duo's cooking had vastly improved since Heero had last choked it down. He really did used to burn close to everything. Either that or he just made each mouthful feel like it scorched your mouth with the amount of peppers and spices he'd throw in. Heero wondered who'd taught him, or if he'd just learned on his own.
"If it isn't classified or anything, I'd like it if you told me what Wufei died doing," Duo said softly.
Heero had been expecting that question. He'd already done a mental rundown of the information likely to be released and likely to be filed in the basement.
"The assignment was breaking up a black market slave ring. Human trafficking. On certain colonies girl children are still seen as little more than extra mouths to feed. No one looks twice when they stop coming to school or to work. It's terrible." Heero poked at what remained on his plate, slowly choosing his words. "Wufei was inserted into the Syndicate as a broker. Low level at first, though he shot up in the ranks unnaturally fast. I don't know how he managed it, but by the time I got out he was well on his way to making the inner circle."
Duo sat there quietly as he went on, asking questions occasionally, but mostly just listening. Heero ended up saying more than he'd intended, sharing theories and conjecture with a willing ear to hear them. He stopped himself eventually and just shook his head.
"He succeeded in providing enough info to take down half the organisation, but he should've gotten out." Heero smoothed his hands down his face, dragging in a slow, deep breath. "He wouldn't leave behind that girl though. Meiling. Hell, I didn't even think to ask Une what happened to her."
"You know," Duo began, "when he and I shared that OZ cell and thought we were gonna die, he told me he'd been married. Did you know that? Can you believe it at the age we were then? I didn't, but he was so serious. Said he'd wished that he'd had a photo to show me. I don't know much more than that, but maybe..."
"Hey, you remember when he visited us?"
Heero smirked. How could he forget? It had never crossed his mind that the place he and Duo had shared was smaller than small or that even with two of them working to pay the rent, they were considered at the poverty level for most colonists. Wufei had been appalled and tried so hard to convince them to move; he'd hated to see them 'wasting their potential'.
But the Titan virus had hit L3 hard, and leaving wasn't an immediate option. Not when the healthy emigrated in droves the minute they were cleared from quarantine. Duo had the pockmarks from an earlier strain that proved immunity, and he'd stood watch when Heero's temperature spiked and his body fought off the illness in mere days. Staying ended up being their great social project, even if all they did was bury a lot of neighbours.
"You know he apologised to me about that later," Duo said. He pushed away his plate and stood up. Reaching his arms over his head to stretch pulled his shirt up enough to expose a sliver of his belly, and he groaned as his back popped loudly. "The first time I contracted for Preventer on something they needed kept quiet, he called me on the vid and told me I should've stuck with you."
"Sounds less like an apology and more like regretting that Une kept giving us assignments together."
"Probably," Duo said. He skirted the counter and squeezed into the space in front of Heero. He slowly slid into Heero's lap and hooked his booted feet into the rungs of the stool for leverage. Leaning back, he touched a hand to Heero's face. "But part of me thinks he was right."
Heero was about to respond, if only with a kiss, when they were interrupted by an unsubtle cough. He turned to see McKenzie standing just inside the room with a small, grease-covered part in one hand.
"Christ, Captain, the look on your face is disturbing," McKenzie said. "You turn into a lovesick girl and I'm off this tub."
Duo gestured at the part the man was carrying. "Problem?"
"Nothing major, but I wanted to keep you on top of things. Didn't mean to interrupt you keeping on top of other things, though."
Heero hid a smile as a touch of colour sprang to life across Duo's nose. "Okay, now it's weird," he whispered into Heero's ear as he got back to his feet. Duo loosed his hair, redoing it into a short braid instead of the ponytail, and strolled over to find out what McKenzie wanted him to take a look at. Heero fought another smile.
He could almost pretend that the last five years hadn't happened, make-believe that they were still sharing that dive on L3. Their kitchen in that place had been smaller than the Blackjack's little nook. Heero couldn't escape that things had changed though, and a good deal of them for the better. If faced with losing Duo again, he wouldn't stand back and say nothing. He wouldn't settle for second best and the easier path to travel. Duo had always meant so much to him, it just took time and distance to realise it.
If he faced the choice now, he would follow.
The next day went quickly because he kept busy. Usually intercolony transport dragged, and space didn't even offer the benefit of scenery to make the miles feel less like one endless blur.
Duo put him to work in the cargo hold with Liz, sorting through salvaged Alliance goods. The woman proved reticent when it came to conversation, but that suited him just fine.
Hauling around those crates left him feeling like he did after a lengthy workout, and Heero came out from a brief shower refreshed. As he dragged on a fresh shirt, he wondered if Duo still sat at the controls of the ship. As much as Duo loved running a crew, Heero could tell it was piloting his own craft that he loved the most.
The red light pinged on the door panel, interrupting his wavering as to whether or not to go look for Duo.
"Another social visit?" he asked, as the door slid open to reveal Duo standing there.
"Answered the door pretty quickly there, big boy," he said.
"Preparedness first," Heero said. He hooked a finger into Duo's front pants pocket to drag him inside, but Duo clasped a hand around his and didn't budge.
"We're a little over twelve hours out," he said. His thumb rubbed little circles above Heero's wrist. "If I don't do it now, I never will, and if I never do, I'm gonna regret it."
"Don't do what?"
"This," Duo said. Instead of allowing himself to be dragged inside, Duo pulled Heero out into the hall. He shot a furtive look in both directions and towed him in the direction of the hold.
"What are we doing?" Heero asked. He wasn't thinking much above the belt, but back when they used to fool around Duo played coy half the time.
"Closure," Heero repeated.
The cargo hold was empty, and Heero wondered why it felt as though they were sneaking around when it was Duo's ship to begin with. He understood when they approached the coffin and Duo pulled a knife from his boot. Duo sliced neatly through the paper seals, pointing out when Heero started to protest that orders were to jettison the thing, not deliver it to some bureaucrat with a stick jammed up his ass.
He studied the locks next and Heero stood back, arms folded. "A hairpin isn't going to work on those," he said.
"Could try a crowbar or a laser cutter," Duo replied. He slid the edge of the blade under a panel, prying the metal free to unveil a nest of wires. He began separating them by colour and thickness.
Realising Duo really did intend to see this through, Heero stepped in and put a warning hand on his arm. "Duo, that's enough."
"No it isn't," he said tightly. He shook off Heero's grip and propped his hands on the smooth metal. His eyes were shadowed, guarded. "You don't need to stick around, but I have to see him. I don't care if it's messy or whatever, it just isn't going to feel real until I do. I thought it would, but it doesn't."
Duo held his knife between his teeth and stripped off his jacket. His arms were pale against the deep violet of his sleeveless shirt.
Heero felt torn. Breaking into the coffin seemed fundamentally wrong, disrespecting the dead and more importantly, their friend's wishes. But, he couldn't deny that he, too, had a morbid desire to see for himself. "Striped yellow wire," he said once Duo had correctly stripped the blue.
"Had it, but thanks."
Nothing happened when Duo struck the two bare wires together, and Heero lungs ached; he'd been holding his breath. Duo struck them again, still with no result.
"...the Hell?" Duo muttered. He took the knife from his mouth, wiping his spit off the steel before prying it under the entire panel. The effort it took to loosen the panel had his muscles cording tight. He peeked at the underside and his face twisted into a frown. "Why would you need a decoy panel on a --"
Heero heard the near-silent click and whirr of an unknown mechanism and pulled Duo back. A rush of compressed air hissed from the coffin, and out of instinct, Heero clapped a hand over Duo's nose and mouth. His pulse raced, adrenaline carving through his veins, but he loosened his hold on Duo the moment he spotted the print scanner.
Duo didn't miss it either, and wriggled out of Heero's arms to take a closer look. Shrugging, he put his thumb to the reader and another set of locks clicked free. The lid swung open easily when he gave it a push.
"What the fuck is that?"
"It's an envelope."
"Thanks for the demonstration of your astounding powers of observation, Heero, but what I meant was, what the fuck is an envelope doing in Wufei's coffin?" Duo turned to him, sarcasm giving way to a much more sober tone. "You don't think it's all that's left of him, do you?"
Heero shook his head; he recognised that envelope. It was a set of sealed mission orders. Eyes only.