Disclaimer: It's not mine! STFU!
Aside from a few bruises – namely on my arms and wrists – and a couple of scratches
from the grenade I had haphazardly launched there at the end – I was without injury. Wufei, too, had managed to avoid
injury. As soon as he'd heard my capture over the communication link, he'd gone into hiding to wait for the opportune moment
to spring me free.
We were even quieter on our way back to Preventors than we'd been going out.
Heero. Heero was alive. And just as my mind told me that, reveled in that, it also told me that
the Heero I knew, my Heero, the Heero I loved more than anything else I'd ever seen or heard or imagined, was dead.
Beyond dead. He was a walking corpse. He was what he had always despised. He would hate himself for what he'd become.
I knew, deep in my heart, that the one thing he would want of me now was his death.
The only problem was that I wasn't strong enough to do it.
“Maxwell.” Wufei finally spoke. Though his voice was low and soft, it sounded like
a gunshot in the silence.
“This is too big for just us.”
We said nothing again until we reached Une's office.
We had our little mini-army set up within the next twenty-four hours.
Une had been stone-faced when we'd turned in our little report. She and I both knew a part of
me felt it was her fault that Heero was in this position. We also both knew that I wouldn't stand to let anyone else kill
I was alone now, alone because I had to be to prepare myself for the next day, when we would
storm the place once more. Because if I wouldn't let anyone else kill him, I had to.
I had to kill Heero.
So I was sitting alone in my little room next to Une, locking others out like a child. Because
I couldn't imagine it. I knew, logically, with my mind, that it wasn't him. Not anymore. But every single time I tried to
imagine cutting his throat, or shooting him, or burning him to ash in an explosion...
I bent over the waist, hand clasped to my mouth. Yeah, every time I thought of that I threw
The table I sat one was sturdy oak, dark, almost like mahogany. The chairs around it –
only two – were the same, and they had dark red, faded padding. Then there was the couch, the chair. Everything was
dark red, faded. Even the carpet. I went over to the bathroom down the hall and used the sink. At least no one had seen me
in my moment of weakness.
I laughed over the sink. I sounded like Wufei.
He was dead. Or at least he might as well have been, except his body was being used by the enemy,
which was worse than dead. Only I couldn't help but see that face and remember those smiles he'd given me, or those fingers
touching me so gently. I hated myself even more for having waited, for not even having had those three years before... before
this. Now I only had a couple of months, months that had been ruined over and over again because I had been attacked over
and over again.
I knew I could blame whoever I wanted. I could blame Une for sending him out there alone. I
could blame that sneaky Giraffe-neck scientist for changing him. I could blame every single cyborg, every single malformed
creature and every single soldier for capturing him. But I knew who was really at fault.
Me. It was all my fault for putting him through this.
If not for me, he wouldn't have faced Caribol at that time, and he never would have needed to
go alone. He could have been rescued, just as Wufei had been about to rescue me. He shouldn't be partnered with me.
He should have been partnered with Heero.
But I didn't dare say his name aloud. I couldn't. I absolutely couldn't. If I did, it would
make all of this too real. Right now it was like a dream, a very, very horrific dream with way too many details. If I could
just hold on to the dream, maybe it would be easier to do what I had to do. If not... then at least I'd be able to do it.
If I thought about the reality of it, I would throw up again. And maybe I would start crying. I wouldn't let myself do that.
I had no right. Instead I had to go and kill him... his body... and take down Caribol. Then Une. Maybe. At least I'd seen
the woman suffering when she read our report. Maybe I would let her live. Then I would die. I could spend the rest of eternity
crying in hell.
I was ready.
Well, we were all ready, out of the vans that had taken us all two blocks away from that damn
building – an in arrogance Giraffe-neck had stayed in the place – and we were all setting up. I didn't know any
of the members, since I'd holed myself up like a hermit, but Wufei told me they were the best that could be gotten, that no
Preventors agent couldn't take care of himself. Personally I couldn't imagine Une letting a man get through without testing
his balls for supreme durability, but if Wufei was willing to back them, they had to be good. I let him know I had
no problem with them, just as long as they let me do what I had to do. He understood.
So here I was, about to break into the building once again. I'd already accessed all of the
newly-made passwords – obviously the fools hadn't thought to ask Heero... Heero's body... to make them – and had
them all memorized and passed down amongst our troop. How many? I think Wufei had said about fifty people, each armed with
armor-piercing bullets. Whatever. As long as they didn't get in my way.
Wufei's voice came over our link. “Everyone in position? Over.”
We each called out our respective numbers and positions. “Red Alpha,” I said, “in
position by the West entrance.”
When we were all done, Wufei called out his own position. “Black Alpha, in position by
the East entrance. Go on my signal. And...” I took a deep breath, not letting myself think about my own personal mission.
I surged forward, low and lithe, taking in the front guards – three this time –
one my own, then leading the eight men with me inside. We didn't bother with stealth; it would be impossible with this many
people. We just charged in with guns blasting and the ridiculous-looking apparel of killers.
The halls were filled with creeps after only two yards. Heero's doing, I was sure, since these
people seemed about as strategically brilliant as cockroaches. The halls had been cleaned before we'd returned; plaster had
been put over the previous bullet holes. They wouldn't be able to redecorate the room now. Chunks of the walls were gone.
The creeps were mostly defects, weaponless. From the other side of the building I could hear screams. They were taking out
one side at a time.
I snarled. They could kill everyone else if they wanted, but they couldn't kill Wufei.
“Wufei, stay on the line with me,” I called tersely. Some blond guy came beside
me and shot down a full-fledged cyborg. The man faltered back a step, but kept coming forward. The blond had only hit his
right chest, a place made fully out of metal. It had slipped through his body, but it hadn't caused irreparable damage. I
shot the man through his human eye. With a scream and a gurgle, he fell.
“Nice kill, Strike,” the blond whooped. He shot down a half-formed creeper and taunted
another. I'd have to keep an eye on him. He probably shouldn't die, either.
“I'm fine. We're in the stairwell.”
Fuck. They had to go up, most probably into a trap. “Back-up one, explosives in the second
floor East wing. Back-up one, send explosives to the second floor of the East wing.”
Wufei didn't argue, so he knew I was right. Was he trying to get himself killed? Stupid bastard.
His honor code must be skewed again. How dare he live beyond his partner and all that jazz. Guess I'd have to add 'pep talk'
to my list of things to do before I died. I was never good at that sort of shit.
It was a while before we could follow him up. A couple of guys, when we finally did, were sporting
injuries. Neither complained. Wufei had been right about their training.
Blondie was faring all right. He'd used up a bit more ammo than everyone else, but he'd kept
charging into the front to attack. Mister Gung-ho was never actually in the war, but he was strong and he was quick and he
snapped me out of my self-induced stupor for seconds at a time, so I couldn't begrudge him his eagerness. I remembered being
eager myself, before all of the deaths started piling up too heavily in my mind.
I took a deep breath. I wouldn't have to worry about it for much longer. Nope.
We hurried up the stairwell, requesting cover fire. Back-up two took care of it this time. Back-up
one had been found shortly after laying cover fire for Wufei's team. I told back-up two to spread for a few minutes; Heero
would pinpoint their location if they stayed together. I told them not to hide too hard; Heero would look in those places.
But what I didn't tell them was that when it came to strategies, Heero had both me and Wufei beat by miles. I would just have
to hope I got to him first.
“Go for Giraffe-neck,” I told Wufei, letting blondie go ahead of me. “He can
be yours if you want him bad enough.”
“I want him.” Wufei's voice was dangerously calm.
“All right. I'll go after my own target.”
“Yeah.” I couldn't say anything more than that.
We moved through the second floor, but there was nothing able to twitch, let alone gun us down.
The third floor was the same, charred and demolished by our cover fire. That left the fourth floor, the floor that seemed
to be taboo. I knew from the updates we'd all received that Wufei's group had made it to that floor and were being extra-cautious.
“Be careful,” I warned my own group. “Take care on this floor, but remember – Lab One is mine.”
A chorus of “roger”s accompanied my words.
The fourth floor hadn't suffered any damage, not from my previous visit nor from today's. There
was no one on the floor, so once again everything was empty and silent. I recognized the layout distinctly now. I could swear
I was taking the exact same steps I'd taken before. But I forced myself off of the path I'd taken earlier. If he was going
to wait for me in the lab again, he could damn well wait for me while I blew up the creepers in the storage area.
The storage room was locked with a tidy little metal door that might have kept out a third-rate
pickpocket. I got it in a few seconds.
Blondie waited with me while I opened the door for reasons one hundred percent foreign to me.
And when I stopped abruptly and glared at the empty room, he spoke up.
“Strike, how many steps ahead do you believe Yuy is?”
I hissed. “That's not Heero.”
“Uh, right, right, because he was a psycho kinda guy but really upright, I know, but how
many, do you think?”
I searched the room thoroughly, but there weren't any traps and we could safely shut the door
without blowing ourselves up. “Oh, probably about five steps ahead on a twenty-step board.”
The man whistled. “Yeah, we always knew if we had Agent Yuy on our team we could expect
everyone to be going home to dinner with family.”
I let my brain shut down then before it cracked my facade. “Yeah. Smart bastard.”
I led us away from the room.
“I'm Agent Callig. Neil Callig. I think we're around the same age.”
“Is this really the time to be a groupie?” I asked, not in the mood for pleasantries.
“Why not? I might die soon.”
That surprised a bark of a laugh from me. “Don't be too optimistic.”
“I won't, sir. Where should we go now?”
There wasn't any point in going anywhere. If Heero lived, we died. I felt my chest clench. I
quickly fixed the thought – if Heero's body lived, we would all die. When I felt my chest settle a bit, I spoke.
“You should clean off this floor. No one's going down, so all we have to do is work our way up. Just like a video game.
If you leave enemies below you, you'll have to worry about both sides. Best to make sure you don't have to watch
your back now than be watching it later.”
“Gotcha. I'll relay the message.”
“And I know this'll be hard, Callig, but it would be best to kill everything. Cyborgs,
creepers, and humans.”
Callig's eyes were a nice hazel-brown, but they were dead serious, even in that almost boyish
face. “Roger that.” And he went off down the pristinely white halls. I swore to myself that I would never own
a house with white halls – and laughed. Of course I wouldn't.
It was only a few familiar steps over the lab. Today I would destroy the place, no matter what.
I would move past this floor and continue up, all the way, until finally I could see that bastard's face pale and bloated
on the ground. I would do it. Today.
I have no idea how long I stood outside that laboratory.
My heart was going crazy. My lungs wouldn't work right. I knew I had to charge forward, to just
keep moving, just as I have been. But for the life of me I couldn't open that door. What is he was on the other side?
What is he was waiting for me right now? Would I have to shoot him with those eyes looking right at me?
My entire body clenched then.
Three deep breaths had that going away so I could stand without so much discomfort. I had to
open the door eventually. Wufei was waiting for me. I had to move. I had to do this and move on, because there were other
people who were waiting for me to kill them...
This was not the time or the place to get weepy, but there I was, standing in front of the fourth
floor laboratory and fighting back the crunching of the chest and the burning of the eyes that signal the onset of tears.
My hands shook. My finger trembled on the trigger of my gun. I wanted to scream.
My right hand, free of any weaponry at the moment, reached up and touched the keypad. Cool.
The keys were cool to the touch. I took another careful breath, held it for a moment. And when I released it, I keyed in the
password. The door slid open with a soft whoosh of chilly air.
He wasn't there.
It was the first thing I noticed, the first thing that mattered. The room was just as white
and pristine as the rest of this damn place, but I couldn't help but notice that there were not a billion creatures or body
parts or sleeping cyborgs in here. The tubes sat clear and empty along the walls of the room, the walls by the doors still
had shelves all along them. But they were all empty.
Heero's doing. He'd cleaned out this entire floor.
The others on my team confirmed it; blondie sounded particularly frustrated and disappointed.
I reminded myself that his name was Neil Callig.
“We're going up to the next floor,” I reported to Wufei. “Where are you?”
“Fifth floor, about to move up. You can skip it, Maxwell. There's nothing there. They
“For us,” he agreed.
“Then what was with the welcoming party?” But I thought I knew. “Distraction.
They were planning something and only just now got it finished.” As I said this, I silently ordered one of our men to
get the two men guarding the stairwell and move them up two floor with us.
“I agree. The only question is what they could possibly be planning all the way up here.”
“There are still about ten floors.”
“This was a lot easier when we could stomp on these buildings,” Wufei sighed.
I definitely agreed with that. “Oh, well.”
“Maxwell.” And he hesitated. “You okay with this?”
“I'll do it.” Which was the only important thing.
Another short pause. “All right.” Wufei knew. He definitely knew I was killing myself
after all this. I wondered if he was going to try to stop me, or if he would want to join me. But I didn't want him to die.
That was probably selfish, since he probably didn't want me to die, either.
The staircases had the same white walls, white stairs, brown, wooden handrails. But when we
busted down the door to the sixth floor, every single one of us froze for a heartbeat. Everything here was black, the walls,
the ceiling. Even the floor, completely wooden, was painted as dark as a moonless night.
“Everyone back back,” I whispered, then with a shout, “now!”
We shot back into the stairwell just as bullets started flying. I heard a very familiar scream
of pain from the communication link, echoing from the other end of the hall.