Drums of Heaven


Part Thirty-Three: Kneeling By The River

You were looking like Picasso
With a scar across your shoulder
You were kneeling by the river
You were digging up the bodies
Buried long ago
--- Emmy Lou Harris

The door swung shut behind them, silence thick as colony isolation shields, encasing them both in unspoken recriminations and questions. Heero slipped off his leather jacket and uncharacteristically let it fall to the floor, an admission of exhaustion. Duo didn't move from his place by the door. The longhaired man's head was down, as it had been since Heero shoved him into the nearest taxi, snarling at the protesting couple first in line.

The lights were off, and Heero glanced sideways to see Duo's profile. The other man's face was drawn, closed-off. Heero recalled that expression from the war. Duo was thinking, and Heero wasn't sure he wanted to hear what Duo had to say. Forestalling the rebellion, the dark-haired man decided to continue with the aggressive approach.

"Take off your coat," Heero ordered. Brushing past Duo, who was now regarding him with a startled look, Heero opened the fridge and pulled out the water. Drinking straight from the bottle, he replaced it as Duo finished hanging up both coats. Heero set the water back in the fridge with a sigh, shutting the door. The apartment was plunged back into darkness, and Heero allowed his eyes a second to adjust again.

The jester's smile was back on Duo's face, and he shoved past Heero to get a beer from the fridge. "All put away, nice and neat, captain. And I didn't know there was a curfew," Duo added, but the humor didn't permeate his voice anymore than it reached his eyes. "If my staying out late bothers you, I hear there's an apartment for rent on the first floor. I'll even help you pack... Friends do that."

He's just protecting himself, the inner voice observed, and Heero struggled to keep his temper in check. When he spoke, his voice was almost a growl, laced with frustration and confusion. "Duo." He exhaled sharply, and tried again, his hands clenching in fists. "I don't know whether to hit you, yell at you, or kiss you."

The young man froze, the unopened beer still in his hand. Duo's smile disappeared, replaced with a defiant scowl, then a guilty flush, followed by a hopeful gleam, finally settling into a wary solemnity. Heero stifled the urge to smile, suddenly recognizing what he needed to do. Silently he wondered what Enny might like as a thank-you present, and he chuckled softly as he stepped closer to Duo and took the beer from Duo, placing it gently on the countertop.

"Thought so," Heero said under his breath. A muscle flickered in Duo's jaw, but the Deathscythe pilot held his ground. Stepping close enough to get right in Duo's space, Heero studied the other man's rigid lips, then let his gaze trail back up the pert nose, the high cheekbones, into the indigo eyes, shadowed with apprehension.

The dark-haired man regarded the shorter man intently for several seconds before speaking again. "Let's get one thing clear. This... " Heero leaned forward, ghosting his lips across Duo's, and then pulled away just a finger-span as he spoke again. " ...matters to me. If it doesn't... " Heero leaned in again, and ran his tongue across Duo's lips, now softly parted, before he pulled back. " ...mean anything to you, tell me. Tell me now."

Duo didn't respond, but when Heero pulled back a little more, Duo leaned forward, seeking Heero's lips. The deep blue eyes flashed as Duo registered his involuntary reaction, and he jerked backwards, a line forming between his brows. Heero almost sighed, and didn't move.

Got to say it out loud, he reminded himself, and took a deep breath before he spoke.

"I made my choice," Heero stated calmly, fighting to keep from reaching out and embracing Duo. Instead, he settled for unbroken eye contact. "But part of that choice... I mean, when I made that choice, I realize... I won't share. I'm greedy," he added with a nearly imperceptible shrug of one shoulder. "I want the good, but I want the bad, too. If you can do that, I'm here." Heero took a long step to the apartment's front door, and opened it with a harsh yank. "If not, then you're the one moving out, not me. I said I'm staying, and I am."

"Staying," Duo repeated, but the sound was nearly lost in the rush of Duo's exhaled breath.

"What do you want?" Heero tilted his head, absently aware he was still holding the door open. The hallway's dim light flooded in, highlighting the planes of Duo's face, casting his eyes into deeper shadows.

Duo blinked, then frowned, his lips twisting as though he couldn't manage the words. His hands were twisting nervously at the hem of his black shirt, and it seemed to be only with considerable exertion of self-control that he stopped the nervous action. Duo opened his mouth, closed it, and frowned again, his eyes sliding away from Heero's. Dully, the longhaired man shrugged, a patently false nonchalant movement.

"Don't give me that," Heero snarled, his hand clenching tightly enough around the doorknob to put dents in the metal. The metallic complaint startled him, and he loosened his hold, but only by an increment. "If our friendship means anything to you, anything at all... you've got to talk to me."

"Why?" Duo's response was unexpectedly loud, the single word loaded heavily with bitterness. He blinked, clearly startled at the volume, and forced a laugh to cover, but the sound was brittle. "You never talked to me... it was all me, doing the talking, for two years. And then you left, and it was damn hard talking when you weren't even there."

The longhaired man grinned, a cruel expression, and grabbed the beer on the countertop, navigating swiftly around Heero to head into the living room. At the window he paused, opening the beer as he stared at Heero by the open door.

Duo chuckled, a coarse sound, and shook his head. "Now you want me to talk, when it's convenient for you?" His tone was light, and it didn't fit his words or the hard glare in his eyes. "Guess you were off learning to be a human being and crap, so now you think you need to psychoanalyze me, or something. Well, fuck you. What gives you that right?"

"Our friendship."

"Bullshit. This is you, thinking you can run the show, just like you always did during the war." Duo laughed again, his head canted to one side as he snapped his fingers once. "I get it, I'm your newest mission!"

Heero lowered his head, breathing slowly through his nose, and considered the situation. Duo's voice had risen in volume, the braid swaying as Deathscythe's pilot punctuated his statement by turning to face the window. Heero gritted his teeth and slowly shut the apartment door, taking a long moment to lock and latch it.

"I just want you to tell me what you want," Heero finally said into the darkness. "That doesn't mean you're a... mission." That's not true, the inner voice replied, even as the words left Heero's mouth. The acknowledgment made him pause.

"Everything's a mission with you, Heero," Duo hissed, all lightness gone. "Always has been. All business."

Heero spun on his heel, his eyes narrowed as he threw up his hands. "Duo, shut up," he snapped, then sighed again, running a hand through his hair, his shoulders slumping a little. "I'm... sorry. I know I seem... cold sometimes. I retain enough training that it's automatic to think in terms of outcomes. But it's not a bad thing. I'm never going to be someone who lives impulsively, without past or future. I set goals, and work towards them."

There was a pause, and Heero could see Duo turn his head away, silhouetted in the window. "Bully for you, asshole," Duo muttered.

Heero bit back his instinctive response, grimly reminding himself not to rise to the bait. Against the backlighting of the colony streetlight, it seemed to him that Duo was trembling, the braid quivering against the slender back and taut shoulders. The cords on the man's neck were visible, illuminated by the golden light seeping into the room.

The dark-haired man rubbed the bridge of his nose and rapidly measured his possible reactions, and the likely results of each. Unintentionally, he snorted, amused by the observation.

"What?" Duo half-turned, his tone suspicious.

Heero offered a half-smile as he moved to join Duo by the window. Letting down his guard, he regarded the other ex-Gundam pilot with an openly affectionate expression. "I just realized that in a half-second, I'd run through the permutations of each possible course of action available to me. So I guess you're right."

Duo's eyes were sharp, even as the corner of his mouth twitched slightly. Heero raised one eyebrow, and let his own crooked smile grow a little. Finally Duo relented, gradually, and the subtle trembling subsided as he turned to stare out at the colony.

"Beautiful, isn't it," he said. Heero recognized the words as a peace offering, and kept silent. Duo took a long drink before continuing. "We fought to protect this, and now it's getting along without us. And here... we can't get along."

"It takes work," Heero replied softly. "They didn't get it overnight. We won't, either."

"I just wish... " Duo's voice trailed off, and he didn't even react when Heero took the beer from him, drank, and handed it back. "I wish... things weren't so complicated."

"I don't believe it," Heero said. "You'd get bored without a challenge."

"Think you know me so well?" The quiet voice suddenly had a dangerous undertone.

"Only in some things." Heero set the beer on the windowsill and jerked his head in the direction of the bedroom. "For instance, I can't tell if you're tired. I am, though."

Duo grinned slightly, an abashed look as he ducked his head. "Yeah... Me, too."

Ten minutes later, in the bedroom, Heero was slipping under the covers as Duo lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. Heero wasn't surprised to find the slim, cool fingers reaching for him even as he settled into place on his side, facing Duo.

"Heero?" The word was a whisper, barely audible above the rustle of sheets as the longhaired man shifted under the blankets. "Did you... do you... mean all that... what you said?"

"Yes," Heero replied. "And I'm sorry for telling you to shut up."

"It's okay." The room was silent again, but Duo's breathing didn't drop into sleep. Instead, the profile was creased as Duo stared up, his eyes open wide. Finally he moved again, his fingers curling in Heero's palm. "It means something to me, too. It means a lot, or else I wouldn't have... the other night... " His voice trailed off.

Heero didn't move, stunned. Soon Duo's breathing had become the quiet purring sound that indicated he was asleep, and Heero slowly let out the deep breath he'd been holding.

Enny was wrong, he realized. If Duo was acting solely to protect himself, it wasn't planned or conscious. The idiot, Heero's small voice cried, honestly thinks the one-sided sex on New Year's Eve was a meaningful act. Sighing, Heero rolled onto his back and rubbed his forehead. Three hours until he had to get up for work, and he was still no closer to really understanding Duo.


The next afternoon was Duo's day off, and he was huddled over the laptop when Heero got home from work. Deathscythe's pilot waved with one hand as Heero stumbled over, but didn't say anything. Collapsing with a sigh on the other floor pillow, Heero scrubbed at his face and waited for Duo to take a break.

"Mike's really getting on my nerves," Duo finally said, and pushed the laptop towards Heero. The dark-haired man blinked at the screen.

"What's he doing?" Heero rubbed his eyes again, yawned, and quickly opened a second connection to the forum, but didn't see reason to jump through the hoops like Duo had done the last time they'd been on together. His dove's wing avatar was greeted with a flurry of private windows, each with questions, and Heero grinned ruefully as he glanced at Duo. "That's the bargain, Duo. They do the work, but I answer the questions in return."

"I figured that," Duo said. His expression was a little sulky, and Heero frowned, puzzled. "But Mike... he's like... obsessed with Deathscythe."

Heero laughed softly. "You have a fan."

Duo shrugged. "He's a kid. I don't want him to... "

"Know about what we did? Or know how to duplicate it?"

The other man snorted, but his eyes didn't meet Heero's.

"I understand," Heero said, although he wasn't completely certain. Duo's protective, too, the small voice suggested, and Heero decided that was probably it. "I suppose I'm not the only one who forgets sometimes that ignorance shouldn't be part of peace," he offered quietly. "Sorry. Just answer the questions you're okay with. I don't always answer everything myself."

"Like which ones?"

Heero tilted his head to the side as he stared at the screen, a little uncomfortable. His fingers continued to fly across the keyboard as he answered the latest questions. "I don't like the ones... about Relena, or anyone's private lives."

"That's cool." Duo raised his eyebrows as Heero leaned away from the laptop. "Done with Mike's annoying self?" When Heero nodded, Duo pulled the laptop back over and placed it across his lap. Duo typed for several seconds, then nodded at the screen as he began speaking. "The syndicate's server on L2 routes roughly eighty to a hundred and twenty thousand outgoing emails in a twenty-four period." The thief tapped the keyboard a few times, and threw Heero a quick Cheshire grin. "So when you told the hackers to get the emails and headers, they ended up with 717,399 separate files. Three days of skillful hidden downloading, and almost a week of scrambling to find homes for it."

"I remember," Heero replied. He'd gotten a note about it the last time he'd withdrawn money from his L2 bank account. "I assume they found server space."

"Eventually. Pinky and Snappy spent two days coming up with a program that will parse the contents of each email, looking for words and phrases. They came up with the hundred most common, flagged the emails with each, and all of them spent the next few days reviewing roughly a quarter of each flagged sets, trying to determine a pattern." Duo grinned again, an impish look, before getting serious. "Those phrases and words were then run against the entire set of emails, and the resulting flags were cordoned off into a separate list."

Heero rubbed his forehead and wished he could take a nap. Sighing, he got up and headed to the kitchen for a beer. Duo continued the explanation.

"Those hackers are a step ahead, or just second-guessing our goals. They're setting it up so the emails can be catalogued for use in a legal investigation."

"The emails wouldn't be allowed," Heero replied, standing by the counter as he drank. "Search and seizure, invasion of privacy, no warrants... "

"If they were Preventer agents, you'd be right," Duo pointed out, his tone amiable. "But they're not. What they found could be used."

"But they found it on our request--"

"You're not an agent, are you?"

"No, but you--"

"Aren't one, either." Duo moved the laptop off his lap and lay back, clasping his fingers behind his head. "I'm not on any payrolls, private records, nothing. As far as Preventers is concerned, I'm somewhere on L2 minding my own business."

"Good thing this is your business." Heero smirked and threw the empty bottle in the trash. "Get back to the email issue."

"Guess the most common phrase."

"I have no idea." The photographer strolled back to the living room and leaned against the windowsill, stretching his legs out in front of him. "See you soon? Attached please find?"

"No, and no," Duo replied, shaking his head. "It's 'unsubscribe me' and 'if you received this in error'."

"Electronic marketing."

"Spam." Duo laughed, and pulled his braid around to fiddle absently with the hair tie. "That cut out approximately one-third, leaving us with 478,266 files. Then they ran the program on the remaining files, went through the process again, and have used that to sort the headers into categories."

"What kind?" Heero yawned. He ignored Duo's raised eyebrow.

"Hope I'm not boring you."

"You're not. I just didn't get much sleep."

Duo didn't reply at first, but sat up and typed at the keyboard for a minute before turning to look over his shoulder at Heero. "Rat says they're about halfway through. There are approximately a hundred categories now. He's uploading it to the forum so we can review the file tree. It's broken into corporate and private emails, depending on the originating source. From there, the emails are divided by content. Political figures, geographic locations, company names, that sort of thing."

"Did they do any checks on number strings?"

"You mean like serial numbers, social registration, or... " Duo let the last word hang, turning the statement into a question.

"Gun models."

"Don't know. Hold on." He leaned over the laptop again, and his braid thumped against the floor as it slid off his shoulder. Annoyed, Duo automatically flipped it back over his shoulder without pausing in typing. "Rat says no, but he'll have Pinky modify the program this evening and start running it tonight. He'll have something for us in a day or two."

"Close out my window, would you?" Heero pushed away from the wall and stood up, stretching lazily for a long breath. When he relaxed, he noticed Duo was watching him closely. Heero gave Duo a half-smile and yawned again. "I need a nap. I'll be up in an hour."

"I'm going to go grocery shopping," Duo replied, not looking up. "How does Mexican and German sound?"

"At the same time?" Heero winced. "Burritos and sausages don't sound appetizing."

"That's disgusting. No, I meant dinner, then dessert. The local deli has Black Forest cake this week." Duo smacked his lips appreciatively, and Heero rolled his eyes.

"If you want it, get it." The photographer stretched again, then stopped. "I nearly forgot to tell you. We've got something to celebrate."


"The list is up for the convention. We're both on the floor staff."

"Fucking-A!" Duo shot up, coming to his heels as he pumped one fist in the air. "Shit, I will be so happy to never wait another table again in my life."

Heero was surprised. "I thought you like it."

"It's okay, but it's rough on the feet." Duo gave Heero a lopsided smile and shut the laptop's lid. He stood up. "There's got to be easier ways to make money. Anyway, this definitely means cake for dessert." He grabbed his wallet off the countertop, rifling through it quickly to determine how many credits he had.

"If you insist," Heero said, waiting until Duo had gotten close enough. He stepped forward, wrapping an arm around Duo, and hugged the young man closely, back-to-front. With his free hand, he pushed aside Duo's braid and planted a soft open-mouth kiss at the back of Duo's neck before he spoke. "But I was thinking of a different kind of dessert."

"Oh," Duo said, the exclamation turning into a soft moan. He pushed himself back a little, up against Heero, and moaned again as Heero continued to suckle the sensitive spot at the base of Duo's neck. Deathscythe's pilot wriggled a little as he spoke, his voice a husky whisper. "I like your idea better."

"Good," Heero replied, and let go. Hearing Duo's complaining whimper, Heero smiled wickedly. "I'm going to take a nap. See you in an hour."

"Tease," Duo muttered, but he was grinning.



On to Chapter thirty-four

Back to chapter Thirty-two

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