Drums of Heaven


Part Thirty-Seven: So Receive Me Brother

I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
or will we leave each other alone like this
--- Bruce Springsteen

"He's got a whole list," Frank was saying, and Heero's gaze swept the room a third time.

Wufei was standing by the door, with Blue and Red on one side. Green hadn't moved from the window at Wufei's other side, and the man smiled as he turned his back on the room to continue reading the printout in his hands. Heero's gaze measured each, carefully, nonchalantly, before putting the pieces in place. Maganacs.

Of course, the small voice whispered, who else would be so firmly entrenched that they could run under the radar of the L4 syndicate?

"Frank said he can get us the modified AR-15," Duo told Wufei with an expansive grin. "And the C4. But we need five Kimbers, fifteen magazines, and the ammunition for each, plus more if you've got it."

Wufei nodded, and glanced at Frank, a question in his eyes. The old Indian chuckled, a deep rumbling sound, and grinned as he leaned back in his chair.

"Guess I'll get Tom's group to do the mods on the sniper," he told no one in particular. "I'll peruse the docks and pick up the rest in small batches. Satisfied?" He slanted a grin at the Asian man, who nodded again.

"We'll do the handguns, then," Wufei replied, his gaze falling on Duo, who hadn't moved. "If you would step into my office," he said, stepping aside with a small gesture of welcome.

"Said the spider to fly," Duo drawled, coming to his feet in a smooth move. It was a simple act, an uncurling of muscles, but it hinted at more. The careless power wasn't lost on the watching men, and Heero could feel the tension in the room shifting as the players reevaluated each other. Heero waited until Duo had strolled past, and fell in behind him. Wufei followed, with Blue and Red in tow. Outside, Green was speaking softly to Frank, who replied with another belly laugh.

The side office was spartan, holding only a long conference table and several chairs. A briefcase was set at one end, a closed laptop next to it. Beside those was a metal carrying box. Wufei snapped the clasps on the box and flipped the top up. Silently he lifted out a Kimber 1911AX, setting it on the table and moving away. Again, Heero automatically stepped forward to field strip it thoroughly while Duo settled himself at the other end of the table. When Heero was done reassembling the unit, he hefted it in his hand for a few seconds, and then nodded thoughtfully. Duo caught the look, and smiled at Wufei, a pleased iciness.

"Acceptable," he said.

Wufei appeared to be thinking, then nodded. "Forty-five hundred credits, for everything."

"That's only enough for one box of ammunition. Make it two."

The Chinese man shrugged. A lock of black hair fell forward, down his chest like a streak of ink on the white T-shirt. "Forty-six hundred credits, then."

"Done." Duo pulled a sheet of paper from his coat pocket and slid it across the table. Wufei opened it, glanced down at the numbers written there, and nodded.

"I'll charge this tonight," Wufei told Duo. "Location?"

"We're still determining the best drop point. One of us will let you know as soon as we decide."

"Good. Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of," Duo replied, and grinned. "But if you have some coffee, that'd be great."

"I don't drink coffee," came the solemn answer. There was a strange pause, and the room held its breath.

"Too bad. You're missing out." Duo's head lolled to the side, breaking the mood. His eyes were wintry despite the cheerful expression. Shrugging, he stood, and nodded to Heero. "Let's go, before all the taxis tuck themselves in for the night."

"One of my men can--"

"No, really," Duo said, tossing a hand over his shoulder in a half-wave as he headed for the office door. "Wouldn't want to inconvenience you."

Heero gave Wufei and the other two men a single curt nod, and followed Duo from the room. The outside office was empty, and the two didn't speak as they departed. Two blocks away they flagged down a taxi, and remained silent the rest of the way back to the apartment.


The kitchen light was on, and its yellow tones cast a strange pallor over the apartment as Duo fixed dinner. Heero sniffed, and couldn't help his stomach growling. Duo's Indian curry seemed appropriate, after the afternoon's meeting.

"Duo," he said, before realizing the thief couldn't hear him over the sizzling pan. Getting up, Heero made his way to the small kitchen and leaned against the end cabinet. "Duo," he said again, waiting until the other man nodded. "Why'd you ask Wufei for coffee? I've never seen him drink it."

"Oh, that," Duo replied with a shrug. "It's an old joke... it's supposed to be, at least." He seemed uncomfortable.


"I spent my spring breaks in college on Earth, staying with Wufei or Quatre," Duo said. His concentration was on the paneer bubbling in the deep oil, and he took a second to check it before continuing. "We had a running thing, Wufei and I. I'd ask him out for coffee, and he'd say he didn't drink it. Then he'd offer me tea, and I'd say I didn't want any. Then one of us would order beers for both. Kirin for me, Qing Dao for him."

Heero was temporarily distracted by the new information. "You drink Kirin?"

"When I can get it."

Wufei hadn't offered tea in reply, Heero thought. He wasn't sure if it was because of the situation, and the cautiousness it provoked, but Duo's offer now made more sense. It had been a try at a peace offering, and it appeared to have been refused. The realization prompted a wave of sorrow in the photographer, and he sighed as he crossed his arms and stared at the living room, so devoid of personality. The laptop's sparkling screen saver caught his eye, reminding him.

"I talked to the hackers the other day," he announced.

"And?" There was a splashing sound as Duo rinsed the spinach.

"Rat thinks it's all a dead end. They're more than halfway through the headers by now, and have run searches on every possible variation of word choices. No significant number strings, no repeating words or phrases. He described it as mostly noise made by lobbyists, although it does demonstrate a great deal of interaction between L2 parties and the Council's ISP."

Duo nodded, and began spooning the paneer from the oil, setting it on a cloth napkin to drain.

"We're missing something," Heero admitted quietly. "I don't think it's feasible for the connection to be on vid-phone."

"Too many holes in the security in vid-phones," Duo agreed.

"And flying people back and forth to relay messages is too risky."

"Not to mention time-consuming, and puts a delay in any action, and it's fuckin' expensive. Do you like your curry hot? I'm in the mood for really spicy tonight."

"Hot's fine," Heero replied, and chewed his lower lip as he contemplated the hackers' report. "The hackers were saying they're sure they're missing something. I know what they mean. It's like it's something so obvious, that it's right in front of our noses... "

"Have you ever wondered about that expression?" Duo tossed a grin over his shoulder at the dark-haired man, and went back to chopping the spinach. Leaning over, he took a minute to stir the rice. "You'd think a nose would be an annoying thing, right there. Unable to avoid it, because, hey, right between your eyes. It should get in the way, but it's the sort of thing... " His voice trailed off.

Heero glanced over to see Duo frozen over the spinach, the knife raised in his hand, forgotten. Duo's lips slowly curled, pulling back not in a grin but a grimace, even as his eyes brightened.


"What?" Heero frowned, uncertain.

"Fuck. I can't believe it."

"Duo," Heero said, a little louder.

Duo rounded on him, knife in his hand, then blinked, looked at the knife, and set it on the countertop. His eyes were shining, and his entire face was lit up in delight. "Heero, Heero, it's the spam."

"Spam?" The Wing Zero pilot raised his eyebrows, feeling incredibly stupid.

"The fuckin' advertisements, the shit we said wasn't important. No one pays attention to it... and neither did we."

"Holy... " The phrase was cut off as Heero blinked, staring at Duo. A smile started to spread across his face, and he grinned widely, then began to laugh.

Duo pointed at Heero, gaping. "You're laughing."

"Yeah, and?" Heero laughed harder at Duo's shock, leaning against the cabinet for support.

"Fuck, wonders never cease," Duo choked out, shaking his head as he continued to laugh. "And you laugh loud, too."

"Fuck you," Heero replied. He tried to snort indignantly, but it came out wrong and they both laughed harder. Suddenly Heero's nose twitched, and he glanced past Duo. "Dinner's burning, I think."

"Shit!" Duo spun in place and yanked the pot of spinach from the burner. "Oh, damn, that's hot!" Yelping, he dropped the pot on an unlit burner and turned, thrusting his hand under the sink at the same time he turned the cold water on. "Shit, shit, shit," he cried. "Stop laughing, you bastard, I think I burnt my hand."

Heero grinned, doing his best to stifle the chuckles. Duo wriggled his fingers under the water, checking his palm thoroughly, and Heero started laughing again. "For crying out loud, Duo, you've been through war, and you're moaning over one first-degree burn?" Heero shook his head, and barely ducked in time to avoid the sponge Duo threw.

"To hell with you," the young man retorted, but he was grinning. "You are such an asshole."

"But I'm your asshole," Heero replied, stepping away from the kitchen a few feet in case Duo decided to retaliate further.

"Yeah, and don't you forget it," Duo told him smartly. "Now leave me alone so I can bind my wounds and finish dinner."

"Have it your way." The dark-haired man grinned, trying to hide the sudden flip-flop of his stomach at Duo's words, and the way fire had shot straight to his groin. It was an unexpected feeling, but pleasurable nonetheless. He blinked, then grinned again, rewarded with a mock-glare from Duo.

"Set the floor while you're over there, would you?"

"Aye, aye, captain," Heero said, and started laughing again when Duo nearly dropped the rice in shock.


Dinner wasn't a quiet affair, but the only conversation consisted of various curses and gasps as each young man reached for their beers between nearly every bite. Duo was grinning widely, despite his eyes watering badly.

"See, that's hot," he told Heero, who looked pained.

"I'm going to hate you later," Heero informed Duo, who sputtered in response.

"That's gross, Heero."

"It's the truth."

"It's still gross."

Heero rolled his eyes and finished off the last of his beer, wiping his mouth with back of his hand. Pushing the empty plate away from him, he leaned back on his hands and sighed.

"Want me to log on?"

When Duo nodded, Heero pulled the laptop over and fired it up. A minute later he was in the hacker's forum. Rat, Snake, Pinky and Mike were present, along with Snappy and Rosie. Heero waved the dove's wing avatar at them, and started typing. Duo scooted over to sit closer, watching the scroll as Heero explained Duo's theory. The hackers were silent for a moment, thinking about it.

"Hide in plain sight," Rat finally replied.

"Exactly," Heero typed, giving the laptop a crooked grin. "Did you save any of the spam?"

"Zipped and set aside," Snappy said. "I'll upload a batch now, if you want to take a look."

Duo leaned over and poked Heero in the side, eliciting a squeak from the startled dark-haired man. It was immediately followed by a scowl as the thief fell over, laughing again.

"Duo, be serious," Heero chided, trying to keep the grin off his face.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Download the file already."

"It's downloading." Heero made room for Duo to watch. When the file was complete, Heero clicked on it, opening a batch of several hundred emails. He then moved aside at Duo's nudge, and let the other man take over.

"Deathscythe here," Duo typed into the hacker's window. "I'm going to take a look. Be back shortly." He logged off, and started perusing the email files, opening, scanning, and closing them one at a time, huddled over the keyboard.

"What are you looking for?" Heero leaned over, curious.

"Don't know yet." Duo's braid slid across his shoulder to hit the floor. He flipped it back over his shoulder with a muttered curse and kept skimming files.

Heero nodded and took their plates to the kitchen. When he was done washing the dishes, Duo was still typing rapidly, his face intent on the screen as his fingers flew across the keyboard. Heero shook his head and began on the pots, then dried everything and put it away. Duo was still typing, so Heero headed into the bathroom and cleaned the sink, toilet, and shower. Coming back out, he realized thirty minutes had passed. Shaking his head, he returned to the living room with two beers. Duo took one, drank a long swallow, and then put it back down with a sigh.

"Thanks," he whispered, snatching a quick kiss. "That hit the spot. The beer, and the kiss." Duo grinned, and sat back so Heero could see the screen. Sixteen email windows were open. Heero looked them over, and frowned.

"They're all gibberish."

"Right," Duo said, an impish look on his heart-shaped face. "Some programs create advertisements automatically. You put in the information, the intended recipients, and the email is created for you. Sometimes the programs backfire or are mangled by servers, and the result comes out complete nonsense. Most people ignore them, just as they'd ignore any other email. And sometimes spam looks like that because it's expecting your email reader to use a different encoding for the characters, like Eastern instead of Western."

"You think there's something in there?"

"I know there is." Duo hit a few keys, and a second window opened. He typed a series of commands, copied an email's content into the window, and hit return. There was a pause, and a series of lines appeared. Heero's blue eyes went wide as he stared at the message. One sentence jumped out at him.

Shipment coming June seven. Two hundred boxes, RE300A1 series .45 ammunition. Confirm delivery.

The rest of the email was related to employee changes, guard duties, and expected customs bribes at the destination.

"Hn," Heero said, barely able to breathe.

"That translates to... " Duo pretended to think, a finger against his lips. "Oh, I got it. That means, Duo, you are so wonderful and brilliant, I shall have to treat you to chocolate cake and mad passionate sex!"


Duo's face fell. "No chocolate cake?"

Heero smirked. "First things first. How'd you de-encrypt?"

"I ran a variant of Pinky's program, the one that looked for commonly occurring words. Going on the assumption that the original messages were in English, the most common words of three letters or more are: the, and... " Duo paused to think. "you, that, was, for, and are."

"You said 'and' twice."

"Smart-ass." Duo twitched, barely suppressing his excitement as he turned back to the laptop. "So I compared that list to the most common three-letter words in the garbled emails. When they matched up, I set up a quick program to then apply those correspondences with the rest of the emails, to see if I could get anything. Turns out it's one of the easiest and oldest. Take the alphabet. Add the ten numerals zero through nine to the end, and shift everything two steps to the left. The letter A becomes--"

"The number eight," Heero finished, then sat back with a groan. "That's too simple."

"But it works," Duo protested. "And the reason it works is because it's so damn simple. Anyone looking for a connection would do the same thing we did. They'd look for the hidden meaning, the secret messages. No one would think to look in plain sight, right there, with a code so easy a second-grader could come up with it."

"You figured it out. What does this say about you?"

"I'm a kid at heart." Duo grinned and flicked his tongue at Heero.

"Or something. Log on and tell the hackers so they can get on the rest of the spam, and start organizing it by content as well."

Duo opened a new window for the forum, the smug expression back on his face when his entrance was greeted with a sudden yelp from Mike. A wicked look crossed Duo's face as he promptly booted the young hacker twice in a row before settling down to explain his discovery. It was greeted with incredulity, and then laughter as the avatars shook, wriggled, and waved various parts.

The Deathscythe pilot paused, his fingers hovering over the keyboard, and looked at Heero. "Should I tell them to ditch the rest of the emails? Or continuing working on them?"

"Tell them to save what they've done and set those aside for now. Focus on the new task. Oh, and tell them I only want the core group working on it. There may be information in there that I don't want becoming public."

"Got it." Duo obediently typed the directions to the forum's hackers, who decided unanimously to get started right away. He uploaded his rudimentary decryption program, and then logged off. He sat back on his hands with an exhausted but pleased expression before turning to Heero. "So about that chocolate cake?"

"Anything you want," Heero replied lazily. "You deserve it." His eyes were still on the laptop, its screen saver a lurid green from the kitchen's yellow light. His distraction ended abruptly as he was shoved backwards, and he barely kept his head from hitting the carpet with a thump as he looked up to see Duo perched on his chest. Duo wiggled in place, shoving his crotch at Heero's ribs.

Heero raised an eyebrow. "Do I look like chocolate cake?"

He bit his lip as Duo scooted down farther to settle on his thighs, Duo's nimble fingers making short work of the buttons at his jeans. The dark-haired man's next words were drowned in his throat as he moaned, unconsciously thrusting upwards as Duo's hand wrapped around his quickly stiffening erection.

"Yeah, and I want the icing, too," Duo growled happily before lowering his head.

The rest of Heero's thoughts were lost as his hands clutched the carpet, his entire being focused on the way Duo's lips and mouth were pulling at his cock. The jeans were tugged down further, and Heero lifted his hips to help, groaning helplessly at the feel of Duo's hands on his balls. The warm wetness of Duo's mouth was unbelievable. Heero found himself grinning at the ceiling, awash in the fire shooting down into his groin. He closed his eyes, content.

It's good to be chocolate cake, the little voice whispered.


On to Chapter thirty-eight

Back to chapter Thirty-six

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