Heero was down the stairs five minutes later, and Trowa met him at the bottom, shaking his head. Without a word, the two left the house, Heero tossing the keys to Trowa. Down the driveway, and Liddie was on the front steps of her house, waving, as they passed.
"Called her, too," Trowa said.
"Ah," Heero said, his head down as he studied Trowa's phone. If Quatre and Wufei were out of touch, who did that leave? He frowned. "How do I review the numbers called?"
"Pound-seven," Trowa replied, turning right at the bottom of the driveway, heading for the main road.
Heero stared at the number, and shook his head. "Fucking unbelievable," he whispered.
Trowa shot him a surprised look.
"Duo called Relena." Heero waved Trowa's response, the phone already to his ear as he dialed. After a minute, he hung up, frustrated. "Can't get a signal." He set the phone on the dashboard, reminding himself to try again in a half-hour, when they were clear of the worst of the mountain range. He was a little surprised that Duo would have remembered Relena's private line, but it didn't surprise him that Relena would've given Duo the number at some point. Heero had always assumed he was the only one to call it, but Duo and Relena had been good friends for a long time.
"Lay back and take a nap," Trowa told him. "I'll wake you when we get to the Saint-Croix highway."
Forty-five minutes later, Heero tried again. Relena answered.
"Hello," she said.
"Relena," he replied, and was startled at her response.
"No, I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number," she told him, and hung up.
Heero stared at the phone in consternation, then realized Trowa was waiting impatiently. Heero laughed, a bit awkwardly. "Relena hung up on me," he explained. "She said something about a wrong number."
"Something's going on," Trowa replied. "She'll call back, then."
When she can, Heero thought, and wondered. He set the phone back on the dashboard, and lay back. Sleep didn't come, but daydreams did, restless and anxious. His chest ached, and the passing miles of whiteness, a countryside blanketed in snow, did nothing to ease his worries. Trowa was driving at the Jeep's limit, but even Wing could not have gone as fast as they wished.
An hour later, the phone rang. Heero was awake instantly, sleep-heavy eyes fumbling with the phone to hit the button to answer.
"Hello!" His jaw cracked as he yawned, vaguely aware he'd been dreaming of building a house while trying to stop someone from burning it down. "Yuy," he added belatedly.
"Heero," Relena whispered. "What's going on?"
"You tell me," Heero answered. "I've got your number on Trowa's phone. Seems Duo called you."
"Yeah, he got here three hours ago. He's a complete wreck... " She paused, and Heero waited. Relena's voice dropped even lower. "I don't want to wake him... I stalled him as long as I could, and convinced him to take a nap in your old study."
"Is he okay? What did he tell you?"
"He's not okay," Relena replied, a bit sharply. "He was practically in tears when he got here. It was like... I don't know," she said, giving a bitter laugh. "I've never seen Duo cry, but he was having a hard time not doing it when he got here. He wants me... he wants me to take him to Bremen."
"Thought so," Heero said. He gave Trowa a nod, and the other man sighed, his hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. Traffic was getting heavier, but Heero leaned back and closed his eyes. "Any idea what he plans?"
"I don't know," she replied, her voice edged with worry. "He promised me... he said... he didn't really promise... but he said he wouldn't kill anyone. I guess... Oh, Heero." Relena's voice broke. "What's going on? I haven't heard from you in months, and Duo's in the study, sleeping... " Her voice hitched. "I checked on him a few minutes ago, to take him a blanket... and he's sleeping, curled up in the tightest ball... with that blue sweater I gave you on our last anniversary, and a green shirt. I... think the shirt is Trowa's. I don't understand."
Heero was quiet for a minute, listening to the familiar sounds of Relena's breath catching, and he knew there were tears running down her face. He couldn't think of what to say, his mind too caught on the fact that Duo had taken something of theirs. A part of him wondered if that was a good sign; a part of him was frustrated and angry Trowa and he weren't there in person, for Duo.
"We don't know what he's planning," Heero finally said. "So we don't know if we need to stop him, or help him. If he's sleeping, let him sleep. Are you at your city residence?"
"No, I'm near Liege, for the Agricultural Conference." Relena sighed, and Heero could almost see her running a hand through her shoulder-length hair, brushing it absently away from her face. "Duo asked me to arrange transportation and gave me Howard's information. Howard found a Sweeper in the area, who took Duo to the airport... and why did he tell me to call him Deo?"
Heero blinked, caught off-guard by the abrupt change. "Trowa, head north to Liege," he said, then returned his attention to Relena. "It's a nickname we gave him. Just use it for now. So Duo... Deo arrived by plane?"
"About forty-five minutes ago. If you're driving, you won't be here for another two hours," Relena said. "Hold on... Marie," she called, and then her voice was muffled for several minutes. "Where's the nearest city to where you are now?"
"Coming up on Nancy," Heero told her.
"Pull off there. I'll have Marie arrange a charter. Take it straight to Bremen. Hopefully you'll get there about when we do." Relena paused, then came back in a rush. "I'll stall as long as I can. Please hurry. I don't know what's going on, but I hope you'll fill me in later."
"I will," Heero promised. "Relena... thanks. Love ya."
"You, too," she whispered, relief in her voice. "Give Trowa my love, too, and tell him I'm sorry that last assignment was hell. The asshole's gone."
Heero chuckled, a little surprised at Relena's crisp tone. "I'll let him know." He shut off the phone, giving it a fond look before setting it back on the dashboard. "Take the exit for Nancy," he told Trowa. "Relena's arranging a shuttle for us to get to Bremen."
"What's the news?"
"Duo's sleeping, but is likely to push for Bremen the minute he wakes up," Heero said. "I suspect Relena will insist on going with him, but... " He repeated Relena's comments, and Trowa was silent for several minutes.
"She is an amazing woman," Trowa said. Heero nodded, then scowled as Trowa followed it up. "Even if she's got questionable taste in men."
"Maintain 180 knots or better to the marker," came the Tower's voice.
"Roger that," Heero replied, flipping several switches as Trowa prepared the shuttle for landing.
Ten minutes later, they were touching down, and Heero sighed as they began the interminable wait for taxi clearance.
"Hold short," the Tower operative said for the third time, and Heero contemplated punching the speaker. He glanced at Trowa, but the other man's attention was fixed squarely on the tarmac in front of them, and the three planes slowly trundling past. After another minute the Tower's new instructions came across the line, and Heero gritted his teeth and thanked them as the plane taxied towards its spot by the hangar.
On the ground, Heero shouldered the bag while Trowa called Relena's assistant.
"Marie, we're in Bremen," he said, his voice raised over the wind whistling against the mouthpiece. "What's the location on Relena and Duo?" He was quiet for a minute, one finger pressed to his ear, then said something else Heero didn't catch, and hung up the phone. He slipped it into his jacket with a worried expression. "They're at the prison," he told Heero.
"Let's move," Heero replied, and waved down the first taxi he saw. Ignoring the people in line, he flashed his Preventers badge and jumped in, barely waiting for Trowa as he yelled at the driver to head for Bremen's International Court Prison.
Once again, Heero was stuck waiting while someone else drove, but this time, Trowa's hand slipped into his, and he clung tightly, welcoming the reassurance. He didn't look over, though, his eyes fixed on the passing scenery. Somehow, it seemed, if he didn't watch, they wouldn't keep moving, and everything in his body told him they needed to be with Duo, *now*.
At the prison, Heero and Trowa took the steps two at a time, but were brought up short by an older guard who put out his hand. He looked tired, his white hair standing on end as the winter wind whipped it into a halo around his worn, brown face.
"Yuy, Barton," the man said. "Officer Konkosko. I'm afraid you missed them."
"Relena," Heero ground out.
"Yes, she and Mister Maxwell." The man sighed, and shoved his hands into his pockets when it was clear neither Heero nor Trowa would be offering their own. "Why don't you come inside, and I'll fill you in. Minister Darlian's assistant said... " Konkosko shrugged. "Come on, men. It's too cold out here for an old man like me."
Bewildered, and frustrated, Heero and Trowa followed the man into the prison. They weren't asked for their ID; the man's nod to the guard at the door seemed to be permission enough. Down a long hallway, past several quiet offices where other old men shuffled papers and drank coffee, Heero and Trowa were led into a small meeting room. The concrete walls were windowless and bare, and a single fluorescent light hung overhead. Konkosko pointed to the coffee machine on a counter running along the wall.
"Help yourself," he said.
While Trowa poured coffee for them both, Heero took a chance to study the man. Konkosko looked to be about in his fifties, with sharp gray eyes the color of the winter sky. His shoulders were slumped, and his hands were lined. There was a scar across the back of two knuckles, which Heero guessed was from a knife blade. The man seemed laid-back and friendly, but Heero knew from dealing with Duo that such appearances were sometimes deceiving. They could even be life threatening, if one chose to fall for the illusion. Heero stayed on edge, accepting the coffee from Trowa without taking his eyes off Konkosko.
"Maxwell and Minister Darlian left twenty minutes ago," Konkosko said. "I don't know where they headed. Marie--- Miss Strauss, I mean, only had a few minutes to pass along a message from Miss Darlian. She said Miss Darlian had slowed things as much as she could." He spread his hands out, in a gesture of surrender. "I remember Maxwell's reputation from the war. He can be very persuasive."
Heero nodded. Trowa didn't move, his coffee untouched as he waited.
"I'm the head warden here. I've been doing it for forty years, and frankly, if I lose my job over this, I don't give a damn." Konkosko sighed again, leaning back as he crossed his arms and stared at the concrete wall. "If I had a say in the matter, those men in those holding cells wouldn't be facing five, six years of trials and appeals. They'd be dead already." The man shot Heero a look. "Oh, I read the records. They're sealed against the media, but not to me. And those men are slime. So." He shrugged again, and smiled ruefully. "When Maxwell told me he wanted to speak to them, I saw no reason why not. I couldn't let him into the cells - for his protection, not theirs. And not at his insistence, but at Miss Darlian's. She was adamant, but Maxwell didn't seem fit to argue. He simply told me he wanted to talk, and I believed him."
Trowa stirred, glancing at Heero, who nodded. Trowa exhaled sharply, and returned his gaze to Konkosko, who was watching them closely.
"There's a main aisle, where we have holding cells for those on trial, on the base floor. Makes it easier to get them in and out, everyday. The floors above are for the longer-term inmates. It's Bremen's only major prison, so we're maximum security, if temporarily while prisoners are sentenced and moved onto permanent arrangements." Konkosko smiled, a little bitterly. "Which means that when Maxwell walked into the aisle, he had the ears and eyes of men who will eventually reside at nearly every major prison in the European continent."
Heero raised an eyebrow.
Konkosko pursed his lips. "I stayed behind the doors. I'm the warden. It's not my job to escort people."
"Did anyone escort them?" Heero narrowed his eyes.
"Only Maxwell went in," Konkosko said. "If Miss Darlian had said she'd go with him, I was going to insist on guards." The man's eyes narrowed, and he glanced from Heero to Trowa, and back again, assessing them both. "Maxwell has eyes like yours. If anything happened, my men could do no less than him. I know his reputation, but seeing him... I believe it." He grinned. "Besides, nothing was going to happen... but I still had snipers trained on the space around him, every minute he was in there."
Trowa relaxed, a little.
"Maxwell walked along the aisle, where the forty-eight men are being held. Whatever he said to each cell was too quiet to hear, and honestly, I'm wondering if he really did say anything. He stood there for a long time, and then he finally talked... only he talked not to the men waiting for their trial... but to everyone else." The older man's voice had gone hushed, and reverent. "I heard rumors, during the wars, about Deathscythe. How it could sneak up on you, and you'd never know what got you. Wasn't ever sure if it was propaganda or the kind of tales soldiers tell each other before bedtime, like the wartime version of ghost stories." Konkosko's face had gone pale. "But if Maxwell had half the power in a Gundam that he had, alone, in that aisle... I'd never want to meet him in battle."
"What did he say," Trowa whispered, the intonation making it less a question, and more a plea.
Konkosko leaned back with a sigh, and began to repeat Maxwell's words. The cadence, the inflection, Heero thought, mimicked Duo completely. He suspected Konkosko already knew he'd remember the words for the rest of his life.
*I am Duo Maxwell. During the war, I flew Deathscythe.*
The prisoners had yelled, some protesting that a kid like him was no Gundam pilot. Others, familiar with the news broadcasts, argued in support of Duo's statement. Still others, seeing the braid, had shouted about terrorists. But most had yelled and beaten the bars of their cages, refusing to listen to a pipsqueak on the wrong side of the division.
*Who here has killed twenty men?*
Some of the prisoners fell silent.
*Who here has killed forty?*
The yelling died down, and only a few still catcalled.
*I am twenty-six years old, and in my lifetime I have killed over three hundred and seventy-two people. I am Shinigami.*
The prison was completely silent.
*These men are mine. I claim these forty-eight men in the name of my vengeance. But I will not let these men go gently into a peaceful rest that they do not deserve. I have a request to ask of you, if you will hear me.*
Two or three prisoners shouted their willingness, and Duo turned in a circle, staring up at the open aisles above him. The inmates, on the balcony aisles above, took up the agreement. The hammering and rattling of the cages made the floor shake. Duo raised his hand over his head, waiting for silence, and eventually the inmates gave it to him.
*Death is mine to give, and mine only. Do what you will to these men, in any way, at any time, with no fear of repercussion from me... so long as you _let them live_. Let them wallow in their suffering, because I am Shinigami, and I will not bless them with death.*
Miss Darlian had swayed at that, stepping forward. Despite the distance - four inches of bulletproof glass, and fifty yards - Duo turned as though he knew, and silenced her with a look. The prisoners were quiet, too. Konkosko and his men, safe in their offices, and the snipers at the lookouts, all held their breath.
*Whoever kills one of these forty-eight men will take his place. Because I have determined that these men shall _suffer_, and I will have my vengeance.*
Shinigami, one of the prisoners cried. Another prisoner, on an upper floor, screamed the name as well. The prison walls shook with the cries.
"He had something under his sweater," Konkosko added. "It hadn't shown up on the security system, and when he pulled it out, for a minute... " Konkosko shuddered a little, rolling his eyes. "Saw my long and boring career go past my eyes, then, I'll tell you!"
"What was it?" Heero shifted, growing impatient.
"A whip," Konkosko replied. He seemed a little bewildered, and scratched at his head absently. "Maxwell held it up, then tossed it onto the ground in front of one of the cells. And then he turned and walked off. He said nothing else to me, or Miss Darlian, but... the look in his eyes." Konkosko exhaled, in a shaky breath. "If I were in doubt before that he could kill so many... I'm not, now. I've seen those eyes before." He looked at Heero, then Trowa, as if to say: you, too, gentlemen.
The room was silent, and Heero could hear the echoes of Duo, slipping into Konkosko's gravelly tone.
*I have determined that these men shall suffer, and I will have my vengeance.*
He was brought back to the present by a beeping sound, coming from a pager on the older man's belt. Konkosko muttered something under his breath, and stood up. "I have to go, gentlemen. Emergency already, so I'll just show you to the main desk, and Roberts can escort you out from there. If you need a cab, let him know."
Trowa nodded and stood, and Heero picked up the hastily packed bag, wondering for a moment where they would end up rushing to, now. He felt tired, and still worried, but somehow at peace. He hadn't wanted Duo to live with the knowledge of more deaths, and he had feared, just as much, what it would have meant to Duo, had Duo tried and failed. Heero wondered if Relena had suggested any part of it, and wasn't sure. Duo had promised no death, after all. Perhaps he'd had this in mind, the entire time. Heero kept his head down, jogging along behind Trowa and Konkosko. Another man stepped out of an office, his dark face creased with wrinkles and worry.
"Boss, two down, already," the man said.
"How bad? Where?" Konkosko paused, and Trowa and Heero stopped behind him.
"They were jumped in the showers. Concussions, contusion, one broken leg. One guy's got two dislocated shoulders."
"It's starting," Konkosko said. He turned, his eyes steely, and his face gave away nothing. "Showers are more dangerous than people realize, gentlemen. Roberts is right down there. Have a safe trip."
"Thanks for your time," Trowa said, and Konkosko waved a hand.
"Smashed kneecap," the man was saying in the background. Past him, Heero could see another man hang up the phone, and stand up.
"Boss, five more, taken out in the kitchen, severe burns. We'll need more medics," he called.
"Going now," Trowa said, grabbing Heero's arm. He dropped his voice to a whisper, as they strode towards a young man waiting at the front desk for them. "There's nothing more we can do here. Shinigami did it all."
*I have determined that these men shall suffer, and I will have my vengeance.*
The phone rang as they waited for the taxi to arrive. Trowa pulled it out, looked at the number, and handed it without a word to Heero, who accepted it with a mild frown.
"Yuy," Heero said.
"Tell the driver to get you to the Bremen Court Hotel," Relena said, her tones frantic and rushed. "Please hurry. I didn't know where we were heading or I would've told Marie to tell you, but Duo--- Deo--- just suddenly told me to stop. We got two rooms, and he's locked himself in his. I don't... I would... but... "
She trailed off, and Heero knew she was remembering the nights he'd had nightmares, after they'd married. He'd slept in the study, unable to handle another person too close. She'd learned quickly that sometimes he'd needed the space, and now Duo's behavior was bringing those memories back. Relena sounded like she was close to breaking, and Heero swore under his breath as the taxi pulled up.
"What's the room number?"
"Four-oh-seven, end of the hallway."
Heero repeated the address to the cab, piling in beside Trowa. "Rel, get a second door key from the front desk, and leave it in an envelope outside the door to his room." He lowered the phone to look at the cabbie. "Estimated time?"
"Twenty, mate," the cabbie said, pulling away from the curb.
"Make it ten, and we'll triple your fare."
"Pay any tickets I get, too, and you've got a deal."
"We're on our way," Heero told Relena, and hung up.
The envelope was outside the door, and the hallway was quiet. Heero glanced at Trowa, who nodded and took a breath as Heero slid the card-key into the slot. The light blinked from red to green, and Heero cautiously pushed the door open on silent hinges.
"Deo," Heero whispered, stepping into the room, letting his eyes adjust.
He could hear muted bedsprings creaking, and the rustling of fabric. A dark shape moved on the bed, backlit by the city lights coming in through the window. Trowa stepped in behind Heero, dropping the bag by the door, and letting the door close.
"Figured you two would show up eventually," Duo replied. His voice was muffled. "Relena must've called you."
"If she hadn't, we would've called her," Trowa said. He moved to a chair, near the bed, and sat. Heero leaned against the dresser, his arms braced on the cool wooden surface. Trowa's voice was calm, but faintly sad. "Why didn't you tell us? Why didn't you want us there?"
"I had to do it, myself. On my own." The figure on the bed shifted, and Heero realized Duo was almost completely under the covers, hidden but for his face. "I never needed someone watching my back, before. I've got to get used to that again... "
"We always watched each other's backs," Heero told him. "We're friends. That's what we do for each other." He snorted, suddenly feeling the exhaustion of crossing four countries in eight hours, chasing one man from the mountains to the city. "We did it even before we were friends, but we were always brothers-in-arms."
"Yeah, comrade," Duo said. "Well, it's done. I didn't kill anyone, but I was tempted. Do you feel better, knowing that?"
"It's not for us to say," Trowa replied evenly.
"Sure." Duo moved again, and the blankets whispered as they slid over his huddled form. "I'll stay here tonight, and tomorrow I'll head back with Relena. Howard's waiting for me in Paris."
"Deo... " Heero swallowed hard. He glanced at Trowa, who nodded, and Heero gripped the dresser's edge tightly, as if holding on. "Did we do something? Was it something---"
"Heero," Duo sighed. "Don't make me give that crap cliché about it's not you, it's me."
Trowa raised his head, staring at Duo's pale face, swathed in the blankets, pale in the darkness. "If it's you, then, we want to---"
"No," Duo snapped. "There's nothing you can do. It just *is*. And being around you isn't going to make it go away, or make it any easier."
"Make what any easier, Deo?" Heero idly pondered how much longer until he broke off an edge of the dresser in his hands, and whether Relena's credit would cover the cost. "We... I don't understand."
Duo sat up with a start, throwing off the covers. "I'm in *love* with you two, damn it!"
Trowa opened his mouth, but Duo shook his head violently.
"No!" Duo pushed his hair out of his face, and scrambled off the opposite side of the bed, backing up until he was against the wall. His eyes were wide and frightened, darting back and forth between them. "No, don't you say it. Because I'm *not* in love with you, neither of you, no fucking way. It's not ME," he shouted, the sound abrupt in the dark room. "Not ME! Get that through your heads! It's all what the stupid training says, what those assholes wanted. And I won't do it! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
Heero opened his mouth, and closed it, hanging his head. Trowa didn't move.
"I don't know who I am," Duo whispered, sagging against the wall. He turned his head, and Heero looked up to see Duo's profile against the skyline. "I don't know what I want... or if what I want is just more crap beaten into my head. I want to be happy again, and not be so... empty all the time. But the only things that make me happy are the things those bastards wanted, and I can't... I won't... do that. I won't play that game. If I'm going to do something, it'll be because *I* want it. But I don't *know* what I want... or if what I want is what they want."
"I understand," Trowa said, gently.
The words sounded inadequate against Duo's cries, Heero thought, but he couldn't think of what else to add. He could only nod, because he also understood, even if he had no words. Duo watched them both for a few long minutes, then turned towards the window again, his eyes on the distant skies.
"I'm going back to space," he said, very calmly, as if discussing the weather. "Don't come looking for me. Don't try... don't try to be anything but what you are, for each other. I want to... I want a lot of things, but I don't trust that what I want is what *I* want. I don't... I don't trust myself. And I don't trust that I won't fuck everything up between you two---"
"You can't," Heero protested, unable to hold back.
"I don't KNOW!" Duo spun, a hand out. Heero couldn't tell if it was to form a fist, or thrown up to ward off a punch. Duo froze in that position, then slowly lowered his hand. "I... there are a lot of things I wanted to say. But I can't, now. I just don't trust myself, to not say something wrong and ruin everything. I don't know what's right, or wrong, at all. It comes and goes... and I feel so very small." He lowered his head, his hands clenching and unclenching against his thighs as though looking for something to hold onto. "I'm sorry. I... I have to go."
"Deo," Heero tried, one more time, but didn't move as Duo came around the bed, grabbing a bag from the dresser. Heero turned his head, watching Duo move to the door, then stop. For a moment, Heero's heart soared into his throat, almost certain that Duo would change his mind, would turn around, and come back. But Duo didn't move, one hand on the door, his head down.
"That's not my name," Duo said, softly. "I'll see you two again, someday, and when I do, I'll have my name back. I promise."
And with that, he left.
End Part 30
On to Chapter thirty-one
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