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Sub Rosa
Chapter Five

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He fell to the floor, dropping himself like a rock and successfully avoiding all of our bullets. I snarled and tried again, but he'd already popped his ass back up and begun running. He launched up into the air and snatched the rung of the helicopter. Then he turned and fired at us again.

“Down! Down! Down!” Wufei cried, and Neil shoved me onto the ground when my knees refused to give. Bullets ricocheted around us, slamming into the concrete. One of the Hulks grunted sharply. Neil hissed. I felt blood splatter my face.

“Neil, are you okay?!” I snapped.

“N-Not too damaged,” he answered. The helicopter's blades whipped the air into an absolute frenzy, deafening me, but the sound was getting lighter and lighter, harder and harder to hear.

“Duo?” Wufei's voice came to me from Neil's link. “The tracking device has successfully latched onto the second helicopter.”

“The one Heero isn't on, right?”

“Right,” he affirmed. “Now, status report!”

A chorus of 'not too damaged's and 'all clear's hit our ears. Neil and I gave our own reports. The Hulks – apparently not at all related, with names of Smith Brogan and Brian O'Donnell – were both injured. It seemed that, for once, I was the only one coming out unscathed.

Then all of us stood up and looked around and sighed. The badly injured ones were lucky – they would be heading back now, to think about their failure only after waking up from the anesthetic. Those of us with fairly minor scrapes and burns – lucky ol' me – would be able to think over every minute of the failed mission while searching the building for the other cyborgs unimportant enough to be left behind.


We must have shot down fifty damn creepers before we dealt with the cyborgs at all. Wufei had been packed away, burned-ass body and bullet wound too much for his followers to ignore, along with Neil and the two Hulks. Neil had taken one right to the back – one that would have gotten me, damn damn damn my luck. One Hulk had taken an arm, and one had taken a leg.

I might've been able to go to the hospital on a pity service if I'd told anyone Heero'd clipped me on the head before I blew us both... before I blew up the room in which we'd stood, harming somehow only myself... but it would help me out, and that wasn't right.

And it wasn't surprising that I'd managed to go without telling them – after all, cyborgs were only half robot. Everyone had so much blood and gunk on them it was a wonder we didn't light on fire when we moved.

So I got to stay behind and think about all the times I'd aimed my gun at Heero Yuy and thought very hard about killing him. Honestly, it didn't matter that it wasn't him, or that the real Heero was dead, or even that this would be what Heero wanted. What mattered was that I was going to kill that body, and that body, to me, was Heero.

But, of course, I was nothing if not stubborn, so instead I would force my mind away from such thoughts, and I would instead try to think of something better, something I could hope to look forward to. Like my death, for instance. Killing Heero was such an outrageous sin that I had to be absolutely certain I paid for it. My death would have to be slow, agonizingly slow, but quick enough that no one could save me in time. That would be fairly simple – there were plenty of places to hide in this world, and if worse came to worse, I could just fly out on my Wing. She was still docked in port on Preventor's money (ha ha, that's right, like hell I was paying for it). She was just waiting for me, practically all healed after her disastrous meeting with Harlow's little bitches. I could just go to her.

Then, of course, I had to decide just what I would do to myself. It sounded masochistic, and also somehow sadistic at the same time, but I had to think about it now to think of the best thing to do. I wouldn't torture myself, that was just sick, but I would kill myself slowly, with something that would specifically kill me slowly. I kept thinking about it, over and over, but my mind just kept falling back to poisons. I know they were supposed to be a lady's weapon, but damned if they didn't do their work.

And of course, if I wanted to go painfully, I should probably go for antimony or arsenic or even – and here even I shuddered – strychnine. Of course, thallium had been my first idea, but I couldn't take the idea of losing my hair, even though I should hurt myself. It was just that... Heero had loved touching my hair. Even if the cure was called Prussian blue (and that was why I'd thought I should take thallium), I couldn't stand to let myself die in a form that Heero hadn't loved. Maybe I was a little crazy.

So I helped pull the bodies of the creepers into a truck to be taken to an old site where they crushed old metal and thought about which I should take. There were other poisons, but I'd been given immunities and those other poisons didn't have a one hundred percent success rate with me. And any other way wouldn't be as slow a death as I thought it should be.

The creepers were heavy, the work monotonous. I let my mind slip to Wufei, blissfully knocked up on morphine in the Preventor's own private hospital. I really did hope that he was okay. Wufei was always the one to come in and save everyone <i>else</i> from injury. I could count the number of times I'd seen him hurt on one hand, and two of those times would be since I returned. I kind of hoped he stayed in that hospital for a while, conked out on pain meds. It would save him the horror of the memories.

“Strike,” a man called, “we have five men with the cyborgs now. Orders?”

“Don't get killed,” I mumbled under my breath, then, “be careful. Leave them inside whatever device holds them until you can get a good estimate as to their comprehension. Try to explain who you are and what you intend to do – show no sign of violence until they show some toward you. Oh. And it doesn't hurt to smile.” I grinned at the man.

He gave me a bemused look and copied my instructions over his link. Damn, it was a pain not to have mine.

Strychnine was the best, I thought suddenly. Even though it was only a few hours, the pain was unbelievable. I would bend and twist like a wet noodle, and I would be conscious when I died. Of course, balancing on my head and tip-toes didn't sound very good, and because of the pull on my muscles, I might die smiling. But maybe that suited my Jester mask?

I loaded the last of the creepers into the truck and turned to go inside to help with the cyborgs. Strychnine would be the way to go. Slow, agonizing death, death while conscious, bouts of body-pretzal-ing torture that got worse and worse after every pause. Better yet, the jaw locked during those bouts – I wouldn't be able to scream. (1)

The cyborgs had been stashed in the labs on the ninth floor, just under the top floor. Most looked human, and we offered them all assistance. Une had even said that, if they passed the psych evaluations and other tests, they could potentially join the Preventors. If they wanted death, she would give them that, too. If they wanted to resist, we would offer them the second option, but not the first. We ended up killing about four out of five, and only about twenty percent of <i>those</i> wanted to try the evaluations. Predictably, the last portion looked wholly human, the first portion a bastard mix, and the middle portion more robot than man.

A Prevntor officer who had randomly proclaimed to me to be eighty percent pure Puerto Rican – whatever that was – came up to me, wiping his hands on a greasy shirt. His chest was covered by nothing than his Kevlar. “We're about done. Only a few more, then we can go check on our comrades, eh?”

I nodded, still kind of lost in thought. I wasn't really a big fan of pain, so wasn't this extremely stupid?

“Is something wrong? Have you had any trouble?”

“Nah,” I answered, looking over. One cyborg looked a little odd, with one leg a little thicker than the other. He had informed myself and an agent named Railiff that it was because that leg had two bowie knives underneath the synthetic skin that could be pulled out without compromising the ability to run. He wanted to sign up with the Preventors.

“That's good. It's been nice on our side, too, except for that fool with the assault rifle. (2) But you've had your share, too, eh?”

“Yeah. Irritating little shits,” I said automatically, not thinking at all about my words.

“Tell me about it. Look, I'm going down, seeing if maybe I have some coffee left in my car. Old and stale by now, but the caffeine's still there, right?”

“Right,” I said unknowingly. “We've got our priorities.”

“Yeah. It's just a bitch running all the way back there.”

“I know.” I didn't really think about it – I'd hitched a ride with Wufei. He'd given me the keys, so I was free to take his car. It wasn't much of anything to run to Wufei's car – only a couple of blocks away. I was always in great shape.

“Well, take care, Strike. It was nice to meet you. You know, I don't think you're nearly as crazy as some people say.”

I laughed, but only because his tone said I should. “I get that a lot.” Where could I find strychnine? Well, I supposed there was some sort of structure for whatever rumor old Mr. Puerto Rico had heard, because someone searching for a poison to kill themselves was definitely crazy. I was suddenly very curious as to how that particular rumor got started. Who exactly were these 'some people'?

“Feeling well?” I asked that last cyborg. At his affirmative, I brought him down the elevator with me. Except for his bowie knives, he was stripped of all weapons, while I had my MP-40 in my hands at the ready, a safety precaution we'd warned all cyborgs of before giving them their choice.

We were silent on our way down. We each had our own thoughts, I guess, and neither of us were willing to open up to some stranger in a tiny little elevator booth. The elevator smoothed to a stop, and the doors were opening before I realized that the 'borg was supposed to ride in a Preventor's van. “You got your ride?”

“Yes,” the cyborg assured me. I let that go without asking anything else.

He and I didn't say good-bye as we went our separate ways. There was no reason to pretend to be normal, polite people. He was a cyborg who had gone through hell, most likely with minimal anesthetic. And I was a killer. Alone with only one another, there was no need for false pleasantries.

I thought about Wufei, alone in the hospital and spitting mad, and forced myself to jog to the car.


“Maxwell, you and I need to talk.”

Wufei was propped up against pillows and the tilted bedpost. He'd come out of surgery about an hour before I'd arrived, suffering through it with a local anesthetic, unwilling to wait unconscious for himself to heal. With his wound, though, he was pretty much out of action. He took to that about as well as I had.

He and I had been bantering fairly lightly about nothing, carefully avoiding hot spots, when Wufei had sighed and pulled out that little number. I merely looked down to my lap.

“Maxwell, we haven't spoken much since... Heero died.”

I hissed out a breath. Wufei was right – I had to see Heero as dead. At least he was having the same trouble I was.

“Duo,” he said gently, “what do you plan to do?”

I cleared my throat. Telling Wufei I had finally been able to decide upon my choice of poison probably wouldn't be a good idea. It would probably be better to stay on short-term goals. “I'm going to kill him.”

“Which one?”

I knew he was referencing both Heero and Mr. Giraffe-Neck. “Both.”

Wufei sighed. “And after that?”

“I'm getting drunk.” Poison and alcohol was always an interesting mix, after all. And if I was sober, I just might chicken out and drink cyanide, a quick-killer, instead.

Wufei sighed again; I figured he knew I was hiding something. “I may want to join you on that. But, bluntly, Duo, my question is: how are you planning to kill yourself?”

I recovered damn quickly. I'd suspected Wufei had known, and I'd suspected, he'd try to talk about it if he did. I hadn't expected him to just throw it out there like that. Especially not like that. “Wufei?”

“Don't 'Wufei' me. I've seen it in your eyes. I know what it is because I've felt the same way. I feel like I've failed him, and in failing him, I have failed myself. In the worst way.”

“Well you didn't fail him nearly as badly as I did. I'm the one who got him killed, after all. But I am kind of pissed with you.” I saw Wufei flinch, but I ignored it. His room was pristinely white, as all hospital rooms were. The window was right beside him; Preventors didn't like having a hospital with a lot of people in the room. Une said it was a bacterial disaster. So Wufei had his own little room with his own little window. All I could see out there from my position was a tiny bit of cloudy sky. “You did something I was never brave enough – or well enough,” I chuckled mercilessly, “to try.”

He didn't seem to have much to say. He knew, of course, that I was talking about that long-ago mission he'd had with Heero. But then he recovered and grabbed my arm. Even though he was injured and burned and wrapped similarly to a mummy, the grip was as strong as steel. “Duo. You absolutely cannot kill yourself. Neither can I. You understand that, don't you? There's just too much we need to do. We're still needed here, if only because we'll be missed.”

“I agree,” I said slowly, being very, very careful about what I said. “Wufei, you're a top-class Preventor. You have subordinates who look up to you. And I have my merc job.”

Wufei's eyes flashed a quick flurry of emotions. I'd gotten a bit better at reading him over the months; he looked a bit stricken. “Duo, we don't... I don't,” he corrected, “want to lose you again. And I don't think Heero would want-”

“Heero can't decide anymore,” I said harshly. Fuck it; I could make the strychnine myself. “He's dead.”

Wufei flinched a bit at that. “But you would honor his memory,” he said quickly, throwing that word in my face.

“I'm not honorable, Wufei. That goes into your field, not mine.”

Wufei took a second to glare at his IV. Maybe he was getting some medication from it? That might explain why I was actually beating him in a persuasive argument. And maybe he knew it.

I leaned back in my seat, balancing on two legs. A nurse would kill me. “Besides, I didn't say I would kill myself.” And I didn't say I wouldn't, either. “Yeah, I've thought about it. Even planned it out and everything. But it's not like I'm throwing away my life.” I'm just giving up on it. Life isn't trash to be dumped, but sometimes people feel like maybe it's not worth wasting the world's oxygen supply for, either. I was the latter.

“Duo, promise you won't kill yourself.”

“You first,” I said firmly, smacking the chair down. “You didn't do anything wrong. You were with me. You did everything you could to protect as many as you could.” Too bad the 'many' in this case just happened to be me instead of Heero. We picked the wrong person to protect.

Wufei was staring sardonically at me, then at the chair. He quirked an eyebrow at me as if to ask me if I was asking to be kicked out. I just shrugged and grinned for him and sat back in my seat again. “I won't kill myself, Maxwell. I still have to beat some sense into Barton.”

I figured he was referencing Trowa's less-than-stellar attitude towards my existence. “Eh, he'll either get over it or he won't.” I hesitated. “If I do decide to go out into space again, I will visit.” But I had absolutely no intention of 'going out into space again,' so the point was moot.

Wufei looked at the legs of my chair again, seemingly unhappy with my little arrangement. Good grief, he was like Heero in mother-henning. I couldn't see why; he was the one in the hospital bed. This time. “Now you, Duo. Promise.”

I grimaced. Even if I hadn't sworn to Sister Helen that I wouldn't lie (which had somehow scarred me so that I just couldn't lie), a promise to a friend was a sacred oath. And even if I miraculously managed to kill my conscience on that score, the idea of Wufei blaming himself for believing me would guilt-trip me into hunting him down wouldn't be too hard for now) and tell him the truth. Of course, carefully skirting the issue would probably cause the same thing. But I didn't want to suffer through life anymore. I'd caught my minute of joy. It was gone forever now.

Thank God, but a nurse came in and saved my sorry hide. I gave Wufei an apologetic look (and the nurse the same after she glared at my seat) and left the room.



  1. Yeah... I actually looked this shit up. Check out <http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A4113983> for more inspiration.

(2) I've been watching my brother play Fallout 3. You can thank him and the makers of the game if you want.

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