Gundam Wing is the property of Bandai/Sunrise. No copyright infringement intended.
1x2, yaoi, close calls and bad words.
Cross My Heart
by Becca Abbott
The door to the Acting Head of the UESN's Preventers was almost indistinguishable from the other offices that lined the quiet, gleaming corridor. Only the small gold nameplate set it apart. "Lucrezia Noin, Acting Chief," read the title in modest print. A stranger might be forgiven for walking right by it.
Heero Yuy, however, was no stranger, and he pushed open the door without hesitation to greet the handsome young man behind the reception desk. A quick, rather apprehensive smile crossed the secretary's face. He said nervously,
"Please go on in, Mr. Yuy. Noin is expecting you."
No one called Noin "Chief" or "Acting Head" except Relena, and then only when the Vice Minister was feeling especially officious.
Noin was alone, her back to the sprawling skyline of the Tokyo metroplex. She watched the slight young man stop before her desk and stand, at ease, waiting. Her mouth turned upwards into a wry smile.
"Heero," she greeted him, wasting no time on pleasantries. "Sit down."
"Noin," he replied and sat.
"We've got problems on Mars," she said bluntly. "I need a good undercover man."
Heero nodded. "What's the mission?"
"Have you heard of Stellar Enterprises?"
"They're contracted to administer the penal labor colonies on Mars." Heero's brows drew together slightly. "Formerly chief munitions suppliers for Romefeller Foundation."
"Correct." She hesitated. "They're constructing several biodome complexes just south of the Geryons. The project is one of the largest on Mars and dead on schedule, too, by the way."
"Problems with the prisoners or the corporation?"
"The latter. Maybe." She leaned back, frowning slightly, tapping the polished wood of her desk with one long, slim finger, expression thoughtful. "We have reason to suspect that Stellar may be trying to build up munitions for a possible rebellion on Mars."
Heero's brows shot up. This was a surprise. In the aftermath of Romefeller's defeat, there had been sporadic attempts at resistance by various entities within that organization. Mariameia's abortive coup had been one such that had ended happier than most. Since the Kurshenada heir had been brought into the fold, however, everyone else had fallen neatly into line.
"Rigorously." The corners of her mouth turned down. "If they're doing anything, they're hiding it damn well."
"What makes you suspect them?"
"A few things I can't tell you about," evaded Noin, "and this."
She pushed a manila envelope, unlabeled, at him. He took out a sheet of paper and gave it a cursory glance. Then he frowned. "Is this right?"
"I don't know." Noin didn't question how an eighteen year old with no formal education could read and understand planetary mineral data. "We asked for clarification and were told it was in error -- mis-entered data by one of their students. They provided us with a follow-up reading and the information was gone."
"The molecular structure is very similar to lead . . ."
"Very similar, but not identical."
Something she said suddenly hit him. "Student? I thought it was a prison."
"Stellar has a special corrections program; it's both a prison and a school that offers classes in engineering, technology and medicine. It's considered quite innovative. Stellar gets prisoners from all over the UESN -- all of them young men ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-five. They attend classes part of the day; the remainder of the time is spent doing clerical and data entry work for the entire corporation."
"Has anyone talked to the student?"
Heero's eyes narrowed.
"Stellar Correctional Institution handles disciplinary cases by assigning the troublemaker to a brief stint out in the field, doing heavy construction. They say a dose of that usually convinces the student to mend his ways. The boy died in an accident. It happens."
Noin sighed, looking suddenly tired. "We have to proceed with care on this one. Stellar is very influential. Stella Anderson is one of Relena's close friends and advisors these days. If we're going to accuse of them manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, we'd damn well better be able to prove it. It's too bad. By all accounts, Stellar has been, well, stellar in their administration of projects, their prompt submission of reports, and cooperation with inspection teams. It would be nice if something was what it appeared to be for once."
Their eyes met and, for the first time, Heero smiled. "What are the chances of that?" he asked drily.
Noin laughed, a short bark with little of mirth in it. "Anyway -- I'm sending you in to have a look around. See if you can get into their databases, find anything that sets off alarms."
"We'll have a suitable cover for you, of course, and we've got a contact inside."
He nodded again, lifting his eyes from the printout when she said nothing more. Her gaze was troubled.
"The contact -- it's Duo Maxwell."
Something inside Heero changed gears. He felt an uncomfortable twinge in his mid-section. Suddenly, inexplicably, it was difficult to breathe.
Her lips twitched, but again, her eyes were sad. "Bar fight in Celestia City."
"Bar fight and he's in prison?"
"The guy he beat up was Marcel Anderson."
Such was Heero's disconcertion that, for a second, the name didn't register. Then, "Anderson? Related to..."
"Stella? Yes. Son and heir."
"Good one, Shinigami," Heero muttered even as he grappled with the idea of that volatile, vibrant young man locked up.
"Anyway -- Duo was more than willing to cooperate in return for a shortened sentence."
"I'll bet." Heero said. Miraculously his voice was steady. "Does he know I'm coming?"
Noin shook her head. "Will that be a problem?"
It was probably a lie. Heero figured that if Duo didn't try to kill him on sight, it would be a miracle. Still, the American was nothing if not practical. Heero was sure that, given a moment to reflect -- probably while Heero had him in a choke-hold -- the other pilot would see the wisdom of letting bygones be bygones.
"Good," she said. Touching a button on her desk, the huge window behind her darkened. Heero swivelled around in his chair. On the wall to his left, part of the wood paneling slid aside. Another touch turned off the lights.
"Now," she said, "here's the layout of the facility..."
Urqhart was trying again. Duo walked along the corridor toward the data processing room, outwardly at ease, never looking back, braid swinging jauntily. He'd pegged Smith, Randall and Shi back by the grunts' lounge. Ice prickled up his spine. Three this time. Urq was learning.
Duo rounded the corner. Ahead, several prisoners stood by a coffee machine. They saw him, grinned, then saw his pursuers. Whitening, they turned away. Duo smiled bitterly. In this place, for all its outward civility, the rules of any prison still applied. Don't make waves. Look the other way or next time it might be you getting raped or your throat cut.
Another corridor ahead, this one empty. He heard the footsteps behind him quicken. They were ready to make their move. Calling for help was useless, of course. The only time a guard would lift a finger to help him was when Warden Shermer was within sight. Most of the prison staff knew who signed their paychecks and were in no hurry to antagonize the Andersons. Well -- fuck them, too.
A whoosh. The one on the left was moving up fast. Duo's muscles tightened, but he kept from clenching his hands until he knew the guy was right behind him. Then, without warning, he spun around, kicking up and out, catching Smith in the gut and sending the thief stumbling into Shi. A rapid fire volley of punches took down Randall. After that, Duo ran. He heard shouts and swearing behind him, but if there was one thing Duo Maxwell, terror of the L2 streets, could do, it was run like wildfire. Racing down the corridor, he skidded around a corner, nearly running into one of the supervisors.
"Maxwell!" The reprimand was sharp and, obediently, Duo slowed to a walk. The supervisor, Rajavic, looked past him to see Smith and Shi. They, too, stopped short. Rajavic's jaw tightened. He looked at the two and then at Duo.
"Get back to work," he told the latter shortly. "You're late. And where are you three supposed to be?"
Leaving Urq's goons to stammer their excuses, Duo ducked into the huge GDE room, half-running down the long aisle to his terminal. Heads lifted, then ducked again as he passed. He slid into his chair, breathless, heart pounding. Got away again, but for how much longer?
The in-basket beside his keyboard was stacked to overflowing with disks and folders. His spirits sagged. There were at least five hours of work here. Lifting his head briefly, he looked down the long line of bent heads to the far end of the cavernous room. On a low stage, behind a large desk, sat Brannon, supervisor of the General Data Entry department. Brannon glared at him.
The man was staff, maybe even one of Urqhart's pals. Had he known about Randall and company? Duo swallowed his anger and jammed his identification card into the slot next to his terminal, logging himself into the system. He plucked a file from his basket. Personnel records again. Damn.
He was two hours into his work when the message icon flashed on his screen. It was a summons to the warden's office. He drew a deep breath and stood.
Brannon, seeing the same message, scowled. "Get out of here, asshole." His voice rang through the room, interrupting the gentle percussion of keyboards. "And don't think this will get you out of finishing your quota. You get your ass back here after he's had his fun with ya."
Eyes flickered up to Duo, then quickly back to their tasks.
"Yes, sir." Fuck you, sir.
Duo stuck his card into the slot again and waited while the computer updated it. His chest was tight with fury and humiliation. He tried not to see the snickers and sly grins on the faces of the other students as he hurried toward the door. He paused to make sure Urqhart's boys were nowhere in sight. They weren't. Feeling a little better about it, he headed off to Administration.
Going from the prison to the Administration block meant passing through three security points. At each, Duo handed his ID card to a guard who checked it for proper authorization. The man at the second point had a rude comment to make as he handed Duo back his card. Duo had learned, painfully, to ignore such slights.
He was aware of the gossip matching him up with the warden. It was absurd, of course. Shermer had a young wife and baby he adored. On the other hand, it was a handy explanation for why he had been summoned to Shermer's office so frequently these days.
A smirking receptionist buzzed Duo into the warden's office. Duo, who genuinely liked Shermer, grinned as he walked in.
"Hey, Jeff -- think you can call Brannon off? I've missed supper three days in a row 'cause he keeps pilin' on the work. Yesterday, he . . ."
The words stuck in Duo's throat. He forgot about Brannon, forgot about Shermer and even Urqhart. Instead, he gaped at the young man standing beside the warden's desk, bulky Admissions box clasped to his chest.
"Heero Yuy," Duo said finally, flatly. "What a surprise."
Heero looked exactly the same. Taller, maybe, than a year ago. Slender, as always. Hair just as dark and unruly. He wore the prison school uniform of grey slacks and white, long-sleeved shirt. SCI was embroidered in tiny block letters on the breast pocket.
"You know each other?" Shermer looked from one young man to the other.
"We do," Heero replied. "And the name is Heero Takashi, Maxwell."
"Fuck!" You almost had to admire the bastard's nerve.
"And I thought my luck couldn't possibly get any worse."
"I'm prepared to work alone," Heero said coldly to Shermer. "Maxwell would have to be confined for the duration of the operation, of course."
Duo, mouth hanging open, could think of nothing to stay. His brain seemed to have frozen.
"Is there a problem, Duo?" Shermer asked.
"No." There was nothing else Duo could say. He knew Heero meant exactly what he said and solitary confinement was not fun. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"For the moment, nothing much. You'll be cell mates."
"Yu -- Takashi's already used my computer to neutralize the listening devices in your cell so you two will be able to talk freely. You'll be reporting to him from now on. The Preventers didn't want my position compromised by your being constantly in and out of here."
Duo swallowed his fury and nodded.
"Takashi's assigned to Geology. Show him where your cell is, then show him around the school."
"Sure." Duo thought his head would explode. Heero -- a Tech? Figured. "What about my work? Brannon said..."
"I'll straighten it out with Brannon."
"Let's go," Heero said when Duo didn't move.
Giving himself a little shake, Duo nodded. He handed his ID card to Shermer who updated his pass. Then he stalked from the office. In the hall, he waited for Heero to have a few more quiet words with Shermer, then, in silence, he started back.
Every nerve tingled. Hyper-aware of the youth behind him, Duo passed through two checkpoints, then he turned right. Another, different checkpoint and they were in the students' residential block.
"How's Quatre?" Duo asked when he could trust himself to speak.
"Does he know?"
Damn you, thought Duo, and said nothing more.
They came to the first commons area, with its vending machines, a ping pong table for which there were no paddles. It was a grunt room, of course. The Techs had their own elite facilities, accessed by a set of double doors that required a special pass to access. Duo pointed it out in a cool voice.
"Recreational and study rooms. You're the elite, but what else is new, huh?. Come on."
They walked through the dining room with its monotonous grey-green walls and long, vinyl-topped tables, past a couple tv rooms, a small library with a few broken computers and a handful of books -- again for the grunts. The entire place was deserted. This time of day, all the inmates were at work.
The lockdown section appeared, barred entrance open.
"We're up at four-thirty. There's an hour to do homework, then breakfast. They lock us down again at ten -- just before lights-out.
Through the gate and into a wide, concrete corridor. The first of the bedrooms appeared to the right and left. They were cells, really, exactly twelve feet by ten feet. Like the gate, the cell doors remained open during the day and were locked at night Containing two narrow bunks, one atop the other, a sink and toilet, two large drawers built into the wall, and a plastic bar to hang clothing, it was cramped for one person, let alone two. Duo stood in the doorway and watched Heero pace the length of it, then turn around. He looked at the bunks.
"I'll take the bottom one."
"Not any more." Heero set his Admissions box on the bunk in question, ignoring Duo's stare of disbelief. Opening it, he whisked away neatly folded white shirts, grey slacks, socks, and the large, heavy prison handbook. There was also a computer; all Techs got them, but Duo suspected Heero's was more than it appeared.
"That bunk is more private," Heero said shortly. "You can have it back when I leave."
Duo swore under his breath. There was a god, he decided suddenly, and that god hated him.
"Put your stuff away," he said. "I'll show you the classrooms."
This was stupid. He had to get control of his emotions and fast. This deal would cut his sentence considerably. Noin had promised and she, at least, kept her promises. If he alienated Heero right away, they might decide he was a liability.
"So what's up with the guys?" he asked while Heero put his underwear and socks into the empty drawer.
"Not much." The drawer banged shut.
"C'mon, man. Will it kill ya to give me a little information? I really want to hear about 'em. Where are they? What are they doing?"
Heero's eyes narrowed on Duo's face. Almost imperceptibly some of his stiffness faded. He shrugged.
"Trowa's still in the circus. He and Catherine have their own now. It's in Algeria."
Algeria -- two miles from Quatre's palace. Quatre. Duo swallowed the sudden stab of anger.
"Wu Fei is still in the Preventers," Heero went on. "He and Sally are getting married."
"No shit? Chang's gettin' married again? Man. Wish I could be there to see it, but he probably wouldn't have invited me anyway. What about Quatre?"
"He was elected Chief Representative of the Three Arab Pillar states, Morocco, the Saudi Republic, and Egypt."
"Wow. Sucks. You guys must not get to see each other much these days."
"We don't see each other at all. There. I'm done. What about these classrooms?"
Duo's world shifted slightly underfoot. He asked, "You split up?"
There was a forbidding scowl on Heero's face. His eyes angrily dared Duo to say a word.
They walked in silence through the residential block to the next checkpoint and presented their cards. Past it, they entered the school. It, too, was quiet and empty. Classes ran from morning to noon. Afternoons were spent in the WF. Head spinning from Heero's revelation, Duo showed him the labs and the lecture rooms.
"What kind of schedule do you have?" he asked finally, feeling he should say something.
"Math, physics and chemistry." Heero stopped and peered into a classroom and down the neat lines of desks to the blackboard facing them. The place was spotless.
"Students do all the custodial work and light maintenance," Duo explained when he commented. "But as a Tech you'll be able to get out of that. Now you get to see the really fun place. The Work Facility."
Heero and Quatre separated? Duo was dying to know the particulars, but even he, brash as he was, didn't dare ask.
Ahead, two figures appeared, sauntering toward them. Duo came abruptly out of his preoccupation. Randall and Shi. Not again.
"Friends of yours?"
"Nope," Duo replied evenly. "If you go on straight, the next checkpoint will let you into the WF."
A third and fourth youth stepped out of a classroom ahead, joining Randall and Shi. They looked the worse for wear after the earlier encounter -- and pissed.
"Who are they?"
"What do you care? This is none of your business. Nothin' to do with your fucking mission, all right? Just go."
Heero's too perceptive gaze fixed on Duo again. The corners of his mouth twitched. "Only four of them."
There was the sudden, ominous tilting upward of Heero' lips. Then the Japanese youth was moving forward with the easy grace that presaged utter destruction. In spite of himself, Duo felt a sudden stir of real excitement. Falling into step with Heero, they went to meet his startled tormentors.
Thugs -- all four of them -- and inconsequential as far as Heero could see. The boys gathered together, stringing out across the corridor. Two leaned indolently against either wall. The others stood in the middle of the gleaming floor, arms folded. Heero and Duo stopped and faced them across an invisible line.
"Who are they?"
"And Urqhart is..."
"Construction foreman. Handles the inmate disciplinary unit." Duo hesitated, then added lightly, "He has a crush on me."
Heero felt a sudden, unexpected surge of anger. Duo's smile was tight.
"Where do you think you're goin', whore?" One of the boys, taller than the others, with broad shoulders and a thick, muscular body, pushed away from the wall. His eyes brushed across Heero, widened slightly, then narrowed. His smirk remained in place however.
"That's Randall," Duo muttered.
Heero bristled while Randall's hot, insolent gaze raked up and down Duo's body.
"Showin' the newbie around," replied Duo out loud. "Got a problem with that?"
"Tell you what." Randall looked Heero over with that same lecherous stare. "I'll have one of my guys take over for you, Maxwell. Mr. Urqhart wants to see ya."
"Yeah? Well guess what, genius? I ain't coming."
Duo was adjusting his balance, preparing to fight. Heero looked at the other three boys. Two were almost as big as Randall. The third was small and skinny, but he had the same coltish grace as Duo. A street fighter. Maybe the most dangerous of the bunch.
"Careful, grunt. He didn't specify what shape you're in when we deliver ya."
There was no more talk after that. The four punks were on them. Heero took one down in the first twenty seconds. He spun around to face the smaller youth. As he'd suspected, this one was fast and tough.
It was another minute and a half before he turned to see Duo knock down Randall. With a snarl, the boy drove his heel into his fallen attacker's gut and suddenly Randall was struggling desperately to breathe, unable to even scream. Heero grabbed Duo, pulling the wild-eyed pilot back. From the corner of his eye, he saw the fourth boy running away.
"Stop it! Duo!"
Duo went still in Heero's hands, shaking, never taking his eyes off the gasping Randall.
Nodding, Duo tucked his shirt back in and tossed his braid defiantly. Some color stole back into his ashen cheeks.
"Thanks," he said, voice shaking. "C'mon."
The Work Facility was a collection of huge, barn-like rooms filled with computer stations and boys in white shirts and grey slacks. All of them were eerily quiet except for occasional announcements over the loudspeaker or a shout from a supervisor at a lagging worker.
"This is grunt-land -- General Data Entry," Duo explained quietly. "C'mon. You'll be working in the next section, the high rent district."
Another hundred feet up the well-lit hallway they walked, past windows looking out on the small space of green lawn that marked the bio-dome's interior. It was almost impossible to see the dome itself because the clear material absorbed the light and filtered it. Beyond was the barren Martian landscape. Grimly forbidding, it was as effective a barrier to escape as the dome itself.
"Here it is. The Technical wing."
They'd reached another checkpoint. This time, Duo's identification card was not accepted.
"Guess I'll see ya later," he said, pushing his hands into his pockets. He turned and walked back the way they'd come.
Heero went on through the checkpoint.
"Ahead to the next corridor and turn right," he was told. "Room Fourteen."
These rooms were smaller than the gymnasium-sized ones in the previous wing. There was an almost collegiate air about this section of the prison, with bulletin boards on the walls advertising gaming tournaments, science clubs and a party. Heero, finding room fourteen, poked his head in. A man in a white coat saw him and came to greet him.
"Takashi Heero," Heero introduced himself.
"Takashi," the man said, sticking out his hand. Heero shook it. "I'm Chris Valenick. We're expecting you. Come on in."
Valenick walked Heero up to the front of the room. There were only five terminals here, four already manned by other prisoners. He introduced Heero, then showed him around the adjoining lab. After that, the newcomer was taken back to the first room and shown his terminal. Unlike those Heero had seen in the GDE, there were personal touches in all the little, low-walled cubicles -- photos, stickers, newspaper clippings. It almost looked like a normal office.
Heero's tasks were simple. Crunch geological data and turn them into intelligible graphs and tables.
"Your records indicate some background in the physical sciences," Kline told him. "So it shouldn't be too difficult for you. Just don't make trouble and everything will be fine."
Heero got the hang of it immediately, dutifully tapping in the numbers while his mind ranged.
Duo's problem was a complication he didn't need. Heero thought about going to Shermer. Maybe Duo would actually be better off in solitary until Heero was finished here. He wasn't entirely sure what sort of help Duo was supposed to be to him, but with this Urqhart on Duo's case he doubted how effective the other boy's assistance would be. On the other hand, it wasn't Duo's fault he'd attracted such toxic attention.
A memory rose to the forefront of Heero's thoughts, unbidden -- of slim, strong arms around his neck, lips pressed to his ear, Duo's silk curtain of hair brushing his face. Heero remembered the way Duo's pale skin had felt under his hands, how the supple body had bent so easily, so trustingly, at his direction. Fingers faltering on the keyboard, Heero swore under his breath, then corrected the error. The past was the past. Leave it be.
He made no effort to start hunting for Noin's information. If anyone was watching, Heero wanted his presence to seem as unremarkable as possible. There was plenty of time and opportunity to seek out the encrypted files and locate the ones he wanted. So he continued the monotonous job of entering data on mineral deposits, density readings and topographical sketches.
"Processing complete!" the computer screen announced several hours later. Around Heero, his fellow Techs pushed back chairs and stood up, stretching and talking. Heero found himself surrounded by a knot of curious young men. In no time, he was being pumped for information -- where he came from, of what he'd been convicted, and so on. Still, it was done in a friendly enough fashion and he was able to draw on the character sketch compiled to answer just such questions.
"Hacker, huh? Yeah. Same here. Tell you what -- c'mon back with us," one of the boys offered. His name was Charlie, the de facto leader of the Geo crew, as they called themselves. "We have our own tables in the dining room -- unless you want to eat with the grunts."
Heero shrugged. He went with them back to the residential block. They walked straight to the Tech lounge. The difference between it and the rooms he'd already seen was eye-opening. This lounge had a large-screen television, shelves lined with more books than he'd seen in the grunts' pitiful "library," and several gaming stations.
"Officially," Charlie said, throwing himself into a comfortable chair, "we're supposed to take part in the janitorial work, but you can usually use your PP's to hire one of the grunts to do it."
PPs. Privilege points. Heero remembered that from his Admissions handbook. They were doled out in reward for good grades, exceptional work performance and good behavior. Techs, naturally, received more than the grunts.
"So who's your cell mate?" someone else asked.
Someone whistled. "Man, there's a nice piece of ass."
For some reason, the smirks and licking of lips around him irritated Heero.
"But off limits," someone else interjected.
"How do you mean?"
There were looks back and forth. Charlie shrugged,
"Dieter Urqhart. He runs the Disciplinary construction unit. You fuck up here and you end up out on the surface for a good month of hard labor. He wants your friend, and he ain't very nice to people who try to horn in on his action, ya know?"
"I don't think Maxwell will go for him."
There was scornful laughter. "Yeah. Like he has a choice. The last guy who decided he didn't "go" for Urqhart died in the infirmary."
Heero's blood ran cold.
"Frankly," someone else chimed in. "I'm surprised he hasn't trumped up some excuse to get Maxwell assigned to his unit. That's what he did with his last bitch."
Heero knew why. For the moment, Duo was useful to the Preventers. But afterwards...
The dinner bell rang some time later. He went with the other Techs to the dining room and, sure enough, discovered that they did have their own tables -- right at the head of the room within easy distance of the food line. Looking around the rapidly filling room, he didn't see Duo.
Students remained in their chairs until another bell signaled the end of dinner. According to the schedule in Heero's handbook, that was the time for students to head off to their janitorial duties. When the day's assignment sheet was flashed up on the dining room wall, Heero saw his name in the list of those assigned to sweep and mop the corridor outside the classrooms.
Once the assignments were displayed, a group of boys came to the Tech tables. Heero watched as they crowded around, vying for PPs. Heero, too, was approached and, from the soft eyes and pouts on some faces, cleaning wasn't the only service they were ready to provide the handsome new prisoner.
He looked around for Duo again.
"I'll be happy to do your assignment tonight," one boy said, jostling to the front of the others and catching Heero's attention by laying a hand on his arm. Heero jerked away and saw the disappointment.
"Sure," he said hastily. "Ten PPs?"
He dug into his pocket. PPs came as small data-wafers that could be inserted into the vending machines. He found a ten PP wafer and handed it to the boy who nodded happily and hurried off. There was still no sign of Duo.
"So," he asked Charlie. "What do we do before lights out?"
"Anything you want. We're having a game of Wanton Destruction in the lounge. You play?"
Heero shrugged. "I think I'll pass tonight. Kinda tired."
"Yeah," Charlie agreed sympathetically. "It's hard to take it all in at once. See ya tomorrow."
Heero returned to the cell. After transferring all the junk on his bed to the upper bunk, he slid into it. As he'd suspected, by sitting with his back to the door, he could successfully block anyone's view. Taking his computer from his drawer, he booted it up. It was wireless and, theoretically, configured to access the company's data core to allow its owner to work while in his cell. Heero's came with a few extra bells and whistles.
He logged into the system and activated his special little cloaking program. Now he would be invisible to the security program.
Shit -- the site was huge. With a sigh, he began exploring.
The cells were locked down at ten -- two hours away yet. Eight-thirty came and went, then nine. Heero heard footsteps and voices through the open door as the other prisoners finished their evening tasks and returned to their cells for the night. It wasn't until almost ten, however, that Duo appeared. No sooner had he hurried in then the door automatically slid shot and locked with a sonorous clang.
Duo gave Heero a hard stare, then climbed up into the top bunk without a word. He looked dead tired and in a bad mood. Heero, hearing the rustle of paper, got out of the lower bunk. Duo was sitting, cross-legged, head bent to keep from bumping into the ceiling. Unwrapping a candy bar, he glanced up.
"I looked for you at dinner."
The fine mouth tightened briefly. Then Duo took an angry bite from the candy bar.
"I had to finish my work," he said, adding resentfully, "Shermer said he was going to fix it with Brannon, damn it, but he didn't. I was in GDE so long, I barely got the fuckin' bathrooms cleaned! That's all I need. Another month of no PPs. Shit."
Finishing the candy bar, he threw the paper on the floor and began unbuttoning his shirt. He glared at Heero. "You want something?"
"Did you have dinner?"
"Yeah. It was delicious," retorted Duo, looking pointedly at the candy bar. "Now, if you don't mind . . ."
Heero wrenched his eyes from the slim, muscled torso revealed as the shirt came off and landed on the floor next to the candy wrapper.
"I'd appreciate it if you restrained your usual tendency to sloth," Heero said drily, "and kept this place clean, at least as long as I'm here."
"You took my bed, so don't push it, Takashi."
The lights clicked out, leaving them in darkness. Heero got a sudden face-full of fabric. He swore, tossing aside Duo's trousers. They would have it out tomorrow, he decided -- get the rules established before he ended up killing the other boy.
Heero got undressed in the uncomfortable silence. His eyes quickly adjusted to the dark. The only light in the room now came through the narrow observation slot in the door. Hanging up his shirt, folding his pants and putting them neatly into his drawer, he turned to look at the top bunk. All that was visible was a lump beneath the thin grey blanket and the long, heavy rope of Duo's braid.
"Duo . . ."
"Look -- it isn't going to help anything if you're going to sulk the whole time I'm here, damn it!"
However, the breathing coming from the top bunk was slow and even. Duo really was asleep. Heero sighed and climbed back into his bunk. Dragging out his computer again, he continued exploring Stellar Industries' complex computer system, but in spite of his best intentions, he kept thinking about the boy sleeping above him.
They hadn't been together long, he and Duo. Now, when he looked back on that brief, catastrophic affair, Heero could not believe he had been so stupid. He prided himself on his emotional self control, but his infatuation with Quatre had done what love always did -- at least according to Earth's poets and novelists. It had shattered that self-control as if it were glass, made Heero act in foolish, unconsidered ways.
What a mess that had been, both he and Trowa vying for the beautiful blond pilot's affections. As for Quatre -- to his credit, the young prince had never meant to be so fickle, so indecisive. Everything he did was motivated by kindness. His inability to make up his mind had more to do with not wanting to hurt either Trowa's or Heero's feelings by choosing one over the other.
Of course, that had resulted in acrimony and hurt feelings. Heero, in frustration, had turned to Duo and Duo, who had so far managed to stay above the fray, had fallen hard.
Heero closed his eyes briefly, not seeing the little grey screen. Quatre had made his choice soon after that and he'd chosen Heero. Later, with the kind of hindsight that was twenty-twenty vision, Heero realized that he had taken up with Duo partly to force Quatre's hand. Like all his missions, it had been successful. Heero had dropped Duo without a second thought.
Shortly after that Duo had disappeared. Wrapped up in Quatre, Heero hadn't even noticed.
He knew he couldn't work anymore. Heero closed his computer and slid it under the bunk. He pulled his blanket to his chin. Living with Duo had been messy, noisy and fun. That's what he had missed. Fun. Duo had laughed a lot, talked nonstop and seemed filled with a boundless enthusiasm for living. Heero felt a twinge in the vicinity of his heart. Now Quatre was gone and Duo -- Duo's life was in ruins and the laughter was gone.
Heero rolled over and buried his face in the thin pillow. If only J's training had prepared him for the havoc that romantic feelings could wreak. If only he had been more experienced in the matter of love. Maybe -- just maybe he could have prevented the whole wretched disaster from happening.
Maybe -- just maybe, he'd still have Duo.
Duo woke to the sudden blast of light against his eyelids. He sat up at once, swearing, and banged his head against the ceiling. Swearing again, miserably, he fell back on the mattress and stared at the concrete above him. At least in the lower bunk, the light wasn't so intrusive. Damn Heero.
There was stirring beneath him. Duo pushed back his blanket and slid to the floor, grabbing his clothes and throwing them on his bed. Heero emerged, yawning. A bell rang and their door slid open with a crash, the sound echoing down the hall as door after door opened. Stripping off his briefs, snatching his towel from the rack by the sink, Duo flew from the cell and made his way with other yawning, naked boys to the big common shower.
Duo always chose one of the showers closest to the entrance. It was harder to grope guys right in front of the goddamned door. Standing under the hot water, combing his fingers through his long, wet hair, he reflected that maybe being overworked was a good thing. He'd fallen asleep hard last night, exhausted, and hadn't been plagued by sleeplessness or the kind of heart-breaking dreams he'd expected with Heero so close.
'Hey, babe," someone said, deliberately brushing against him.
Duo growled, but the boy was past. One of the damn Techs, of course. Maybe he should take one of them up on their propositions and charge the jerk big-time for the honor. For some reason, the thought brought a lump to his throat and the sudden, unnerving memory of making love to Heero.
He spun around, ready to deliver a stinging rebuke and saw the object of his thoughts. Clamping his lips together, he nodded shortly.
"Are you going to talk to me, Maxwell?"
Damn it. Heero was still fine as could be. Duo dragged his eyes from that nude, beautiful body.
"I don't know. There was a time when you wouldn't shut up."
"There was a time when I was happy," retorted Duo without thinking, "when I thought I had friends. When I thought I had a lover. Everything changes, eh?"
Wrapping his mass of hair angrily into a rough knot, Duo left the shower and Heero. In their cell, he dried himself hastily and pulled on his clothes.
The speaker built into the cell's ceiling blared.
"The following students will report to Mr. Nielson for breakfast duty. Jim Lord, Jason King, Duo Maxwell, John Smith, Okaba Loong..."
Oh, what a surprise.
But Duo's day was about to get even better. He turned, hearing a noise at the door, and saw Shi.
"If you take Mr. Urqhart up on his offer, Maxwell, you wouldn't have kitchen duty anymore."
"Go to hell." Angry enough already, Duo was perilously close to punching Shi, but the boy suddenly stepped away and walked off. A moment later, Heero appeared, water dripping from his hair. Duo turned his back.
"What did he want?" Heero asked, watching Shi's retreating form.
It was Duo's habit to sit down on his bunk to braid his hair, but it was Heero's bunk now, so Duo stood with his back to the wall and began to plait the heavy mass. He would not look at Heero, fingers flying through the familiar task.
"We need to talk," Heero said shortly. "About work."
"Maybe so, but I gotta get to the kitchen." Duo snapped a rubber band around the end of the braid and started toward the door.
Heero stopped his progress with a long arm. Duo tried to shake him off and got pushed right back against the wall.
"You're supposed to be helping me," Heero said in a low voice and a backwards glance at the open door.
"I'm supposed to be in the kitchen," Duo fired back, but he made no further attempt to get away. Like he was going to end up with any PPs this month anyway.
"Shermer says you do inventory updates."
"Yeah. Thrill a minute."
"I need to know if there are any irregularities."
"Huh? How the hell would I know if there were? Check under the Gundanium column?""
Heero ignored the sarcasm. "A few months ago, when you were picking fights in a bar, there was an assassination."
Duo shrugged. "There's always an assassination. Will you let me go?"
Heero released him abruptly. "This was here on Mars -- of a UESN site inspector. The man who replaced him is an old Oz officer -- just like Stella Anderson."
"You guys do think there's a weapons factory here, don't you?"
"Just keep your eye open," was Heero's terse reply. Turning away, he slid back into the bunk and pulled out an organic chemistry book.
Duo thought about his own class assignments -- several of them overdue. He closed his eyes, entertaining the bright, attractive image of himself punching Heero into the floor, then, with an inward sigh, left for the kitchen.
Heero roared through his schoolwork, acing everything without sparing much actual brainpower to do so. He didn't see Duo at lunch, so he ate with the other specialists. Discreet questions elicited the information that Duo had probably been instructed to use the hour to catch up on his missing assignments.
"He's always in study hall," laughed Charlie. "In fact, I was real surprised to see him here yesterday at lunch. The guy's cute, but not too smart."
Heero noticed the small, hot sting of anger inside himself and was vaguely surprised at it. Duo was very smart and they were fools to think otherwise. He remembered Duo's complaint about someone called Brannon. Later, on a whim, he logged into one of the files he'd found -- prisoner work assignments. He called up Duo's and his jaw tightened.
It was patently obvious that the other boy received twice as much work as any of his peers. The list was staggeringly long. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that Duo was almost as fast at data entry as Heero, it was likely that he'd be working far into the wee hours of the morning every day.
Dinner came and went without a sign of Duo. Heero ate, then hung about in the Tech lounge, carefully asking questions to see what the others boy knew. Not much, as it turned out. None of them remembered the student who had generated the mysterious file. None of them gave a rat's ass about Martian politics.
Heero left Charlie and his friends around eight-thirty, made a brief stop at the vending machines, then headed for his room where he spent another fruitless hour combing the geology archives. The lights flickered to announce lockdown and still Duo didn't come.
The doors slammed. For the first time, unease touched Heero and he thought again about Dieter Urqhart and his cronies. He logged into Prisoner Records and read the man's file.
Psycho, thought Heero, and his concern slid up a notch. Urqhart was serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of several teenage boys. And Stellar put him in charge of a disciplinary unit of young prisoners?
The lights went out. Heero found he could no longer concentrate and closed his computer. No sooner had he done so when the door opened and a slender body stumbled through.
"Bastard!" snarled one of the two guards standing silhouetted in the doorway. "Next time you can spend the night in the Hole!"
The door slammed.
No answer. Heero's eyes adjusted quickly to the dark. He watched Duo make his way to the sink and heard water splashing.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"Laundry." Duo stripped off his clothes and, as usual, left them lying on the floor. Heero watched the pale blur of his half-naked body as he scrambled into the bunk. There was a crunching sound. Duo said something, quickly cut off. Heero grinned faintly into the dark.
More rustling and crackling, then, "What the fuck?"
"Is my bed a goddamned snack cupboard these days? Shall I start sleeping on the floor -- sir?"
"Did you have dinner?"
Sudden silence. "Um, no."
"You do now. Eat and shut up."
A face appeared, upside down over the edge of the top bunk. A braid swung wildly in front of Heero. He was tempted to grab it and yank.
"These are for me?"
"You aren't going to be much use if you faint from hunger."
"I -- right. T..thanks!"
Duo's face disappeared followed by the sound of wrappers being eagerly torn off sandwiches. Heero leaned back, closing his eyes.
There was silence for a long while, broken only by the periodic crumple of shrink-wrap and the small noises made by the wrappers as they hit the floor. Heero bit back his annoyance, remembering their apartment in Tokyo and himself shouting at Duo for leaving messes everywhere he went. For some reason, now, it wasn't annoying, it was kinda funny.
Finally Heero heard a satisfied burp. To his surprise, Duo slid out of the top bunk and, in the wan light from the observation slot, began picking everything up.
"Thanks, man," he said again, throwing the mess into the disposal chute. "I really appreciate -- ah, fuck!"
Toe catching on his discarded shirt, Duo stumbled wildly forward. He tried to catch himself on the edge of the bunk, hands flailing, then with another curse, fell into Heero.
There was a moment's confusion and:
"Sorry," muttered Duo, extricating himself at last. In his haste to return to his bunk, he lost his balance again, ending up on the floor. His face was a pale oval in the dark. Heero leaned forward and without even thinking about it, caught that face in his hands and kissed that beautiful mouth.
God, it felt good -- the soft lips parting under his. There was something like a sigh from the other boy, then, abruptly, Duo tore away, breathing hard. A moment later, he was up in his bunk. The silence that followed sparked.
Heero fell back onto his mattress, heart pounding. What the hell was he doing? Limbs trembling, wanting Duo with a ferocity that scared him, Heero pulled up his blanket. He waited for the blistering tirade to begin.
But no sound came from the boy overhead and, finally, thoughts in turmoil, Heero fell asleep.
Continue to next section