The Ones Who Go On
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They didn’t go straight home; instead, Duo led Heero on a meandering journey through the greener, quieter blocks downtown, past libraries and galleries and campuses. The color gradually returned to Heero’s face and the shaking dissipated, but Duo mentioned nothing about it. In fact, he hardly said anything aside from a few comments about how good it felt to get out of the house or the last time he’d seen this part of town. It was a stark difference from the effortless conversation they had been carrying earlier that day.

Duo glanced furtively at his watch as they ambled across a park. “Well, I dunno about you, but I’m startin to get hungry. You wanna grab somethin in town or just head back to the house?”

“Thank you.”

Duo, caught completely off guard, performed an amazing array of facial acrobatics. “Huwhut?”

Heero stopped walking and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “For what you did back there,” he said, staring straight ahead. “How you handled it. I’m . . . grateful.”

“Uh.” Duo suddenly forgot how to make words with more than one syllable. “Um, sure. No prob. I mean, you’re good—welcome.” He closed his eyes and put a hand to his face as a litany of self-inflicted expletives rolled through his brain.

Heero, thankfully, didn’t notice or didn’t care. “I guess I owe you an explanation,” he said quietly. “I appreciate your discretion . . . and your patience. I know this hasn’t been easy for you. If it makes you feel any better, it hasn’t been easy for me, either.”

“Good God, wouldja just get to the point,” Duo groaned. “It’s not like you to be this evasive. I get it, you’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable, we’re both stewing in uncomfortabil—”

“I’m trying to find my parents.”

Tires squealed in Duo’s head. He turned and stared at Heero’s face; it was naked and honest.

“Oh,” he said softly. “That’s . . . uh.” Many adjectives ran through his mind, but they moved so quickly that he couldn’t seem to grasp onto a single one.

“I’m trying to find out who they were, actually,” Heero clarified, returning to a slow walk. Duo followed at his side, matching his steps. “I’m certain both are dead now.”

“Oh, I—I’m sorry.”

Heero shrugged. “I don’t remember much about them. Not my mother, anyway. My father, on the other hand . . .” He frowned pensively. “I have a theory, but no hard evidence to substantiate it. That is, until now.”

Duo opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated. The cranking of his mental gears was practically audible. “The disk? But it’s. You said you got it from Alliance Intel. Why would—” Pause. “Wait. Are you sayin . . . y-your parents?”

Heero nodded. “Possibly. That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“Damn,” whispered Duo, shaking his head. “That’s a helluva note. Can . . . can I ask why?”

“Why I suddenly decided to find out who my parents are?”


“It’s a long story,” said Heero. “We’d better sit down.”

Roughly half an hour later they found themselves occupying a booth in the back corner of Denver and Daisy’s, a busy diner known for its hamburgers and boisterous, friendly atmosphere. Heero and Duo were old customers, having long ago discovered a mutual appreciation for its fries and the constant ambient noise that facilitated private conversation. It was for the latter reason that they chose this establishment over the other restaurants on the colony—that and because Duo was in the mood for a good burger.

They both ordered their usuals—cheeseburger and fries for Heero, Denver’s Special for Duo—and sipped their drinks in silence, avoiding eye contact and trying not to think about all the conversations they had shared here over the years.

“You always wanted to know about my past,” said Heero finally, “and I always told you it didn’t matter.” He paused and looked at Duo, waiting for his response.

“Do you still believe that?” asked Duo, meeting his eyes.

“Not entirely. The past is important because it shaped us into who we are today, but we’re not meant to dwell there indefinitely. It’s something that needs to be acknowledged and reconciled in order for us to freely move into the future. You tried to help me realize that and I was unwilling. I apologize for being so narrow-minded.”

“Uh. Apology accepted,” Duo murmured, astounded.

Heero lowered his gaze to the table. “I’ve spent my life trying to erase the mistakes of the past by living solely in the present. I thought my future depended upon my actions in the now, but I was mistaken; the past is just as active as the present. I tried to convince myself it was dead and useless to me, and as a result I became unbalanced. I spent years off kilter, ignorant as to why I felt such inner conflict. After the war, my present was suddenly my future and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was no longer in control—the momentum of my life was pulling me apart and the only way I could keep it together was to build a wall around myself. I thought that in isolation I would find a new purpose, be able to separate the future from the present and create a place where I could exist as I wanted . . . but all I did was end up hurting those closest to me. And it wasn’t just you, Duo, although you got the worst of it. I’m sorry.”

Duo swallowed hard and looked out the window to his right, blinking rapidly as the hot congestion of tears rose to his sinuses and knotted in his throat.

Heero threaded his fingers together and concentrated on them. “I finally began thinking about my past, asking the questions I’d always been afraid of. For years I had allowed myself to believe I was Heero Yuy, a mission, an ideal, a means to an end. I was nobody’s son. I was the offspring of war and machines, so dissociated from the human race that I could barely remember how to live among them. I wanted to believe I’d always been that way, strong and superior—never weak or frightened. Never an infant in need of his mother’s care. It was easier to pretend I was invincible; I foolishly thought that if I believed it hard enough, so would others. And most of them did, for a time. But deep down I knew the truth. I knew it was there since the very beginning, and it wasn’t going to go away. I hated it. I tried to kill it, bury it, and run from it as long as I could, until I found myself so far from the past that there was no future ahead of me.”

Duo, with a rising sense of horror, found the words spilling from his mouth: “You tried to kill yourself, didn’t you.”

“No. But I considered it. I put the gun in my mouth once to see what it felt like, if it would affect my thoughts. I didn’t feel anything. In fact, I had stopped feeling altogether. That’s when I realized I had to yield to the past if I ever wanted to have a future.”

“Why . . .” Duo clenched his fists under the table. “Why didn’t you tell me you were goin’ through this, Heero? I coulda . . . y-you shoulda told me!”

“And have you discover that I’m vulnerable and flawed?” asked Heero, his tone full of self-contempt. “That I’m so much less than the Perfect Soldier everyone thinks I am? No, Duo. This was something I had to confront all on my own. I needed to focus. Going to you would have been too much of a distraction.” He added gently, “I mean that in the best of ways.”

Duo looked at him, not knowing whether to smile or scowl or sob, although he felt capable of all three simultaneously right now. All he could do was give his head a slow, wondering shake. “So what did you do?”

Heero folded his arms on the table. “I went to Earth with a backpack and a couple canteens and spent two months walking from Hiroshima to Higashidori. No compass, no watch. I don’t remember much about it. Subconsciously, I think it was one final attempt to make myself feel something.”

“And did you?”

“The last day,” said Heero after a thoughtful pause. “The trees parted and I found myself looking at the sea. I had been hearing it for days, but I couldn’t see it until then. I sat down in the sand and stared at it for hours. I thought about my parents, whoever they were, all the people who have come and gone out of my life . . . about those who have the courage to call me their friend. I sat there and cried until dark. Then I walked along the shore until I reached civilization, collapsed outside a hospital, and slept for the next 43 hours.” He sighed and sat back. “I don’t know what it was I felt, but I knew it was real. When I woke up, everything was crystal clear. I knew what I had to do. As soon as I was able, I came back to L1 and began the search for . . . whoever I was before I was Heero Yuy. So far it’s led me to Earth, L3, back and forth between the colonies, to Earth again, and now, finally, to you.”

Duo sat motionless for a few moments, studying the man who sat across from him now, trying to imagine him ragged and tattered from weeks of travel, sitting on a beach in Japan and weeping into the sunset. It was difficult to envision—nearly impossible to believe—but he knew it had to be true. Even though Heero was certainly capable of lying, he had never lied to Duo, and there was no reason why he would start now. Especially about something like this.

Just as Duo opened his mouth to speak, the waitress arrived with their food. She set their plates before them, asked if they needed anything (they didn’t, thanks), and cheerfully hurried along her route. Heero reached for the mustard in the condiment caddy and passed it to Duo before taking the ketchup for himself.

Duo accepted the yellow bottle with a dazed look. “You’ve spent the last God-knows-how-many years in a state of extreme personal crisis,” he muttered, “suffered it all by yourself, practically walked from one end a Japan to the other . . . and yet you still remember I like mustard on my fries?”

Heero squirted a dollop of ketchup onto his plate. “I try not to forget the important things,” he said flatly.

Duo stared.

“Don’t let your fries get cold.”

Conversation stalled for several minutes as they dug in to their meals. The jukebox and the bustle around them filled the empty space where their words had once passed each other, sparing an awkwardness that in a quieter place would have been overwhelming. Duo’s burger was awesome as usual, decked out with bacon and pepperjack cheese and the tangy sauce he once claimed he could guzzle straight out of the bottle, but he couldn’t really enjoy it; he was too preoccupied thinking about what Heero had told him, marveling at his uncharacteristic wordiness and worrying what other ugly slices of inner darkness he was going to drag out into the light today.

“You aren’t talking much,” said Heero, putting down his cheeseburger and wiping his hands with a napkin. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Duo said automatically, then corrected himself. “No. Well, it’s . . . just a lot to take in. Disturbing news, y’know, it’s not the kinda stuff you wanna think about your—uh, other people goin’ through.”

“I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“That’s not the point. You hit bottom and you were all alone. There was no one to stop you from pullin that trigger.”

“I stopped me.”

“But what if you couldn’t? You’da done it, and then where would I—where would, it, it would be a helluva different day today, that’s for fuckin sure.”

“Yes, it would. But I didn’t pull the trigger. I’m sitting here and having lunch with you.”

Duo sat back and laughed—it was a fluttery sound, full of disbelief and scorn. “You just don’t get it, do you? Not ten minutes ago you were tellin me how damn important it is to be in touch with your past, and here you are now, tryin to sweep it all under the rug again! God, you couldn’t find your way outta that Perfect Soldier bullshit if it was a direct order!”

Heero’s face went positively blank. Then his eyes narrowed, his brows inverting as they drew together and lifted. Duo didn’t think the human façade was capable of expressing the computational intricacies of a critical processing error, but he was certain he was witnessing one now. He reached across the table, touched Heero’s hand, and began to backpedal furiously.

“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean. Look, you’re not—”

“No,” Heero murmured, still perturbed, “you’re right. That’s exactly what I was doing. I’m so sorry, Duo.”

“No no no, don’t apologize—God, please, dammit.” Duo covered his eyes with his free hand and wished he were dead. Or at least slower to anger.

“I lost sight of the past again,” said Heero. “It’s a problem I’m still working to correct. Thank you for setting me straight.”

Duo didn’t reply. He sat there cradling his head despondently.

Heero slid his hand out from under Duo’s and reenacted the original gesture, adding a gentle squeeze. Duo raised his head. He looked angry, remorseful, and utterly exhausted. Heero did his best to smile, but it fell short of his intentions. “Don’t give up on me, Duo.”

“Hnf. I’ve been tryin to give you up for the past five years. What makes ya think I’ll suddenly succeed?”

“Even a blind man will hit a bullseye if he shoots at the target long enough.”

Duo grinned sourly and pulled his hand free from Heero’s. “Sounds like somethin Trowa would say.”

“He did; I just borrowed it.”

“Huh? Get outta town. When did you talk to Trowa?”

“A few weeks ago,” said Heero. “He and Catherine were in Munich when I was completing my business in Prague, so I stopped by to see them.”

“What for?” Duo asked, picking up a fry. “I mean, you two don’t talk much to each other as it is, and unless she had a change a heart recently, Cathy wouldn’t hand you a glass a water if you were on fire.”

“Catherine and I have settled our differences over the years,” said Heero. “And I’ve always appreciated Trowa’s company, even if we don’t say much. He has an inner serenity about him that I find reassuring.”

Duo tried to ignore the little barb of jealousy that pricked his ego.

“But specifically, I wanted to get his input,” Heero continued. “So far Trowa is the only one among us who’s come back from the void of familial obscurity. I wanted to know how he felt about suddenly discovering who he is, if it changed him for better or worse—or at all.”

“Well? What did he say?”

“He told me to go forward with my search. Even though his parents are dead, he said that knowing who they were gave him a sense of closure he hadn’t realized he needed.” Heero watched Duo take a large bite of his burger. “What about you? Haven’t you ever wondered who your parents were?”

“Sure,” said Duo, one cheek bulging as he chewed. “But I don’t care enough to find out. Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were there for me when my parents weren’t. I got to experience their love—and I remember it. It’s one a the few things I decided to carry with me forever.” He swallowed. “Selective baggage, y’know? If ya gotta drag somethin around with ya the resta your life, why not let it be somethin good?”

“Sage advice,” Heero agreed. “But what if you’ve got no good baggage?”

Duo pulled his lips into a sideways grimace.

“That’s my situation. I’ve got no points of reference, no family or childhood friends on which to gauge  my emotional experiences. All I’ve got is facts. Maybe I’ll end up feeling differently once I know for certain, but I . . . think I’ve got to at least try.”

“You said you had a theory,” said Duo, sipping his soda. “One about your father.”

“Yeah.” Heero paused, as if gathering his thoughts and arranging them for the most efficient expression. “When my mother disappeared, a man named Odin became my guardian. It might have been a code name, I’m not certain; I never knew him by any other name. He suddenly appeared one day, before I even knew my mother was gone, and took me away. He told me something terrible had happened and I couldn’t go back home, that there were bad people looking for us. He said he’d teach me how to hide from them, like he was doing. I was probably four or five when this happened.

“I can’t think of a reason why anyone would do what Odin did, taking on the responsibility and liability of looking after a child during an already complicated time of his life, unless he was my father or perhaps a close friend of my father’s.”

He glanced up at Duo and found him leaning forward slightly, eyes wide and expression earnest—the very definition of fascinated.

“For the next four years, Odin trained me rigorously,” Heero went on. “Firearms, espionage, martial arts, survival tactics, sabotage, surveillance, dozens of other skills. He said they were necessary for me to learn if we hoped to avoid being caught by our enemies—whoever they were. I never discovered the identities of the people we were running from, but I suspect it might have been the Alliance. I believe Odin might have been an operative of theirs who defected, in which case, there should be a record of him somewhere.”

“Like Alliance Intel in Prague,” finished Duo, his eyes shining.

Heero nodded. “That hard disk you’re working on contains detailed dossiers of every Alliance soldier from A.C. 160 to A.C. 185. Or it did at one point, I’m certain.”

“And you think this Odin guy’s file might be somewhere on the disk?”

“That’s what I’m hoping. I collected over twenty hard drives from the site and was able to recover partial artifacts from a few of them, but the rest were too damaged or degraded for me to access the data. I knew this was your specialty, so I came to you.”

“I appreciate the confidence,” said Duo slowly, “but what if I can’t recover the data? What if there’s nothin to recover?”

“Then I’ll start over,” Heero answered. “Wipe the slate clean and try a different avenue. Maybe you can help me with that, too.”

“Depends if I want to,” Duo countered, meeting Heero’s intense gaze. “Maybe by the end a this I’ll have had all I can take and just wanna walk away.”

“Maybe,” agreed Heero. “You have every right, and I won’t blame you if you do . . . but I hope you won’t.”

“Because you need my expertise.”

“Because I need you.”

Silence fell. The waitress appeared, topped off their drinks, disappeared. Duo tapped the side of his glass with his fingernail, staring at the bubbles as they wiggled around ice cubes in their journey to the surface.

“I’ll have to think about it,” he said softly.

“That’s fine,” said Heero.

The walk home was wordless and tense. The afternoon light threw shadows across their path, tired ghosts stretching lean silhouettes over concrete and asphalt. Whatever effervescence that had existed between them earlier in the day had faded—now they were back to the beginning. Or the end. Or wherever they were on this long journey they had started together back in A.C. 195.

They arrived at the house around 16:30; Duo unlocked the door, turned the security system from AWAY to HOME, then took the bag containing the SATA cable and SCSI connectors to his workbench in the garage. He shut the door behind himself, leaving Heero alone in the living room.

After a few indecisive moments of standing around and listening to Duo rummage through toolboxes, Heero took off his jacket and placed it on the back of the couch, then walked over to the bookcase in the corner. He stood in front of it for a while, gazing blankly at Duo’s collection of reading material. Most of it consisted of computer manuals and amateur radio magazines, but there were some books for leisure and entertainment. He picked up a techno thriller, read the dust jacket, and took it to the couch.

He was four pages into it when the monitor at Duo’s main workstation in the living room clicked on. Heero observed the pointer moving across the screen, opening folders and transferring files, and gathered that Duo was remoting in from his radio PC in the garage. Heero returned to the book.

Suddenly music faded in from the computer speakers, a shimmery cascade of synthesizers that slowly grew in volume. A chorus of voices announced, “Domo arigato, misuta Roboto, mata au hi madeee!

Heero sat up, looking almost alarmed.

“Domo arigato, misuta Roboto, himitsu wo shiritaiiii . . .”[1]

The song launched into the first stanza, and a smile unexpectedly found its way to Heero’s lips. He laid the book in his lap and leaned back, listening.

I’ve got a secret I’ve been hiding under my skin
My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM
So if you see me acting strangely, don’t be surprised
I’m just a man who needed someone and somewhere to hide
To keep me alive, just keep me alive . . .

In the garage, Duo queued up several other albums on the playlist and returned to his workbench, mumbling along with the lyrics.

Somewhere to hiiiide, to keep me alive . . .

He turned on the soldering iron and let it warm up while he clipped the connectors off the SATA cable with his wire splitter. He stripped the protective outer casing, baring the wires, and carefully separated the individual strands. What relief there was in manual labor, to be preoccupied with a tangible puzzle, something he could fix with his hands. It spared him the agony of trying to figure out how he was going to handle the delicate, complex situation that existed on the other side of that door. He was pretty sure he understood the implicit nature of what Heero was trying to tell him back at the restaurant, but he wondered if he could trust his own perception. So much had changed about Heero since the last time they’d seen each other. Midlife crises usually do that to people, and Duo had heard of quarter-life crises thanks to the numerous self-absorbed pseudo-journalists on the EIN[2] these days, but nevertheless, it was all very suspect . . . not that he didn’t want to believe, of course.

Duo grinned, recalling Kilroy’s fanatic fondness for a popular precolonial television serial about two government agents on an endless quest for the truth. One of them had a poster in his office of a flying saucer hovering over the trees with the phrase I WANT TO BELIEVE stamped emphatically on the bottom. Kilroy had a replica tacked to the wall in the back room of his store.

“I want to believe,” Duo murmured, opening up one of the connector heads. What was the other apothegm from that show? Ah, yes. “The truth is out there.” Duo could believe that; but finding the way “out there” without getting lost or going crazy, and living to tell about it—that was the hard part.

The time has come at last (secret secret, I've got a secret)
To throw away this mask (secret secret, I've got a secret)
Now everyone can see (secret secret, I've got a secret)
My true identity . . .

It was after 20:00 when the garage door opened and Duo emerged, rubbing the cricks out of his neck and shuffling to the kitchen for a drink. The living room was dark, the fluorescent light over the kitchen sink the only source of illumination. Duo grabbed a Hard Rock Café souvenir glass from the cabinet and filled it from the tap. In the background, a dead Englishman sang mournfully about wild horses and a heartache that went soul-deep.

Duo drained the glass and trudged down the hall to the bathroom to take a leak, mentally staging everything he had to do now that the connector heads were attached. The result had been crude and ugly—Mary Shelley’s Frankencable was an adequate description—but that was the nature of jury-rigging in general. Necessity is the mother of invention. Or maybe desperation was. Duo wouldn’t mind having a pithy keepsake like that hanging on the wall above his workbench.

He flushed the toilet and turned off the lights and made his way through the dark living room, heading for the garage door, still rubbing his stiff neck. He wondered where Heero was. The door to the spare bedroom across the hall had been open, revealing an unoccupied interior. He had probably gone out again.

Then Duo saw the pair of boots sitting neatly on the floor by the couch, side-by-side. Heero only took his shoes off if he was showering or sleeping—sometimes not even then, depending on the situation—so Duo softened his steps and peered over the back of the couch.

Heero was stretched out on the cushions, Michael Crichton’s Prey spread pages-down on his stomach—it looked like he was more than halfway through it. His eyes were closed, his breathing deep and regular. Fast asleep. He looked peaceful, content. Fulfilled. Ninmu kanryou.

From the nearby computer speakers, Mick Jagger continued to croon:

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind . . .

Maybe it was the song. Maybe it was the sight. But Duo’s heart hiked into his throat and refused to be swallowed. He looked away, his eyes and cheeks burning like an overloaded furnace. If he kept looking he would give in and give out, and he wasn’t ready to do either. Not yet. He tried to remind himself how much pain Heero had caused him, all the heartbreak and anger and frustration he’d endured, the days of slamming doors and stubborn silences, nights of hard kisses and hollow pleasure. He tried to remember the strong, confident promises he had made to not fall for these old tricks again. He was twenty-goddamn-one-years-old now. This shit had gone on long enough.

And then, with a cool, sharp-edged sense of understanding, Duo realized he was getting tangled in the same trap Heero was trying to avoid: locking oneself into a narrow period of time and compulsively worshiping it, disregarding all other events and contexts, unwilling to accept the present (or the past, in Heero’s case). Disfiguring the future to make it conform to the comfort zones they were so reluctant to leave.

That’s when I realized I had to yield to the past if I ever wanted to have a future.

Belaying his better judgment, Duo turned his head and looked down at Heero’s face: a man who mistrusted the present analyzing a man who ignored the past. What a pair they were, Duo thought. He wondered if his inability—no, his unwillingness—to yield to the present had put his own future in jeopardy. If so, they needed each other right now—

There you go again, makin excuses. You’re just dyin to jump on his dick again, aren’tcha.

No, it wasn’t like that. This was a legitimate yin-and-yang situation, two broken machines missing parts that the other had in abundance. Shit, no wonder they’d had so many problems back then; they were truly living in different time periods—

Hindsight is 20-20, fucker.

—but now, having identified the source of their strife, knowing what needed to be done to fix it, everything was changed. Maybe there was a chance. Maybe they could work it out. Maybe, if they tried . . .

I understand the difficulty involved. I understand that it’s going to take time and there’s a good chance it may all be for nothing. But I’m asking you to try, Duo. Please.

God, could that have been Heero’s intention from the very beginning? Was this hard drive business nothing but an attempt to reconnect, reestablish communications?

Then I’ll start over. Wipe the slate clean and try a different avenue. Maybe you can help me with that, too.

Duo stared at Heero’s long eyelashes, admiring the way they cast soft shadows on his cheeks. Ol’ Zero-One was a master of manipulation, but to go this far would be outrageous, even for him. He hadn’t come all the way to L2 to rekindle the flames, that just wasn’t Heero’s style . . . but he hadn’t poured his heart and guts out to Duo for no reason, either. There had to be some truth to both sides. It was the only explanation . . . wasn’t it?

Duo shivered and rubbed his bare arm. Damn, it was cold in here. There was an alternating vent in the garage ceiling that pumped cool air inside when the exterior door was down, but it was still several degrees warmer in there than the interior of the house. Going from one to the other was always something of a thermal shock.

Before he fully realized what he was doing, Duo had walked over to the adjacent chair and grabbed the throw blanket from the arm, unfolding it with a quiet flap. He returned to the couch and spread the blanket over Heero’s body. It didn’t cover him completely and Duo had to pull down the bottom a few inches to cover Heero’s feet, but it was better than nothing. He probably didn’t need it, probably wouldn’t care about the gesture, but so what. Duo felt better knowing that Heero wasn’t lying out here in the dark in short sleeves with the AC slowly refrigerating him into a cryogenic state.

God, what was he still doing standing here? It was 20:35. He had things to do.

Duo turned and walked toward the garage, shutting the door behind him slowly and quietly.

Seconds later Heero’s eyes opened, fully awake and alert. He stared up at the ceiling and listened to the music play on the computer, his cool skin growing warm beneath the blanket.

Sometimes Duo marked the passage of time with a clock. Other times he accounted for it in resource redistribution cycles, typing speed, or bladder capacity. Still other times, like tonight, he measured it in songs. So far he’d burned his way through Led Zeppelin’s Greatest Hits, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, an assortment of popular singles from the pre-globalization period, including Journey, Van Halen, Depeche Mode, and Scorpions, and the entirety of Electric Light Orchestra’s Time. And his playlist was barely at the halfway mark. The concept of “enough music” never occurred to Duo Maxwell.

After running a continuity diagnostic on the new cable and discovering that it was in fact working, Duo had decided to try plugging the drive in to his radio PC to clock the data rate. It meant cutting off the tunes and nixing the psychedelic screensaver, but there was no other way around it. He shut down all extraneous programs, reconfigured the processors to allow for the maximum allotment of available resources, slipped off the side panel of his PC, and plugged the disk into the motherboard. When he rebooted the system, the geriatric drive lit up, whirring and clicking.

“It’s ah-liiiiiiiive!” Duo declared to the empty garage, raising his hands above his head and casting dramatic shadows on the wall. “Alright, Frankie-baby, time for your checkup . . .”

He initiated a comprehensive virus scan on the hard drive and kept the log active while it ran, allowing him to view some of the larger directory listings that flashed onscreen. It was exciting at first, peering down the throat of the Alliance and catching a glimpse of its ugly guts, but much of the hard drive seemed to contain standard program files and applications that weren’t the least bit extraordinary; it wasn’t long before Duo was slumping onto the desk, staring at the screen with a dull, sleepy look in his eyes.

He must have dozed off at some point because the sound of squeaking hinges brought him back to full consciousness. He turned his head and saw Heero standing by the door, his hair sticking up in tufts and clocksprings. He tucked his hands under his arms and narrowed his eyes at the brightness of the desk lamp. “It’s after midnight,” he said.

“Yeah, I know,” sighed Duo, slouching back in his chair and massaging the tendons in his neck. “I got it plugged in and workin. I’m runnin a scan now.”

“How’s it coming?” Heero asked, moving over to stand behind Duo and observe the monitor.

“Slow as hell, just like Kilroy said, but it’s comin. If everything checks out I’ll take it in to my main computer and start the recovery process. It’s a lot faster than this thing.”

Duo felt Heero touch the back of his neck, pushing his hand away. Heero gripped his shoulders firmly, pressing his thumbs into the tense trapezii muscles and beginning to knead them. It felt wonderful. Duo’s eyes fell half-closed and he went limp, allowing his body to move in rhythm with Heero’s ministrations.

“Have you been timing the process?” Heero asked, still fixated on the screen.

“Started to, but then I”—a ligament in his neck creaked—“ugh, yeah, then I musta dozed off.”

“You should go to bed. You’ve been staying up late the past several nights.”

“I focus better at night. I’m a night owl.”

“I know. But you’ve also been getting up the same time as me every morning, which means you haven’t been getting your normal eight-and-a-half hours. If you’re not careful, you’ll become sleep deprived.”

“Eh, I’ll live,” said Duo, shrugging. Something cracked in his upper back. Heero withdrew his hands. Quiet disappointment came over Duo, then Heero’s left arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding him tightly, his breath a warm whisper against his ear. He felt Heero’s hand press between his shoulder blades, then came his low, smooth murmur: “Deep breath.”

Duo closed his eyes and relaxed, filling his lungs with all the air they could hold. They reached capacity, he held for a second, then Heero gave a quick thrust, popping every thoracic vertebrae in Duo’s back. The air was squeezed from his lungs with a surprised whoosh, a small groan riding in at the very end.

“Ohh God I needed that,” Duo groaned, letting his head fall back. He smiled gratefully. “Domo arigato.”

Doitashimashite,” Heero answered, gazing at Duo’s upside-down face.

The smile faded from Duo’s lips. His heart began pounding against his ribs as a million-chemical cocktail shot across his synapses like napalm, lighting up his nervous system.

Something passed over Heero’s face, relaxing the sharpness of his features, softening his eyes and his mouth. He leaned down and kissed Duo’s lips—lightly, tenderly, with a gentleness Duo never realized Heero possessed. It was a subdued gesture, hardly more than a touch, but its echo rang with more ardor and affection than the sum of all their past encounters.

Fireworks blazed through Duo’s veins, sparkling and singing. The dim, dying star of his heart promptly went supernova. Pep-talks and promises disintegrated in the heat. Emotions were distilled in the bright, blinding explosion, all impurities melting away and leaving behind only one shining, irrefutable truth.

Heero slowly pulled away, straightening his back and rolling his lips inward—wetting them or tasting them, Duo couldn’t tell. But he looked terribly self-conscious, even slightly guilty. Whatever he was feeling, it was clearly unbearable—he turned to leave.

Duo spun his chair around and grabbed his wrist. “Don’t you dare,” he muttered. “Don’t you run away again.”

Heero went stock-still. He didn’t turn around, didn’t say a word.

“I never stopped loving you, Heero,” said Duo in a strained voice. “And . . . and whenever you’re ready, whatever you decide . . . I’m here, regardless.”

The hard drive clicked and chattered as it was scanned. Fans whirred, cooling the CPU. Then the wrist in Duo’s grasp slowly twisted, turning so that their hands could clasp one another.

“You deserve better than me,” said Heero flatly. “I’m a mess.”

“Who isn’t?” Duo scoffed. “We’re all fuckin broken inside—it’s the human condition. It doesn’t mean we deserve to . . . to spend our whole lives in emotional quarantine, keepin ourselves locked away ‘cause we’re afraid of infecting others with our misery. In fact, it’s a helluva lot easier walkin down Bad Luck Boulevard when you’ve got a friend with you.” Duo squeezed the hand he held. “And if that’s all I can ever be to you, Heero, then I’d consider myself one a the lucky ones.”

A few moments passed before Heero finally turned and faced Duo. His eyes gleamed in the lamplight. “No,” he said roughly. “I’m the lucky one.”

Duo stretched out his arm toward Heero, beckoning. A tear tracked a silvery line down Heero’s right cheek as he kneeled, planted himself between Duo’s legs, and fell into the embrace. They squeezed each other tightly, scents and shapes of the familiar past merging with the emotions of the present; lost pieces finally fitting together, falling into place. It felt good. It felt right.

The virus program beeped, alerting the user that it had encountered missing or corrupted files that could not be scanned. CONTINUE OR ANALYZE FURTHER?

Reluctantly, Duo pulled back and twisted in his seat, selecting CONTINUE and resuming the scan. When he turned around he found Heero staring solemnly at the monitor, the bluish-white glow reflecting in his eyes. Duo touched his cheek, bringing him back.

“Think you’re ready for this?” he asked softly. “The future?” He paused. “Us?”

Heero inhaled deeply. “The future is coming whether I’m ready or not. As for us, well . . .” The corners of his mouth curved up. “I think we finally have a reason to look forward.”
Chapter Endnotes:

[1] Thank you very much, Mister Robot, I want to know your secret

[2] EIN: Abbreviation for Earthsphere Interconnected Network, the digital communications protocol used by Earth and the Colonies which replaced the Internet as a more efficient means of computer networking in the early days of colonization.

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