Chapter 1: L2
"Love comes in various forms: romantic love, parental love, brotherly love... but the greatest of all is Godly love! It's the love that God had for mankind when He sent Jesus into the world to become a sacrifice for our sins. There is no greater love!" An old priest's voice vibrated throughout a small church. Candles flickered as though bowing to his passionate sermon. It was twelve days before Christmas and the humble house of worship was decorated for the holiday. A modest Christmas tree stood on the elevated altar, twinkling with colorful ornaments.
"That is the kind of love this world needs to know," the old man continued; "It's the very love that caused Jesus to leave Heaven for earth and become our Savior! This is the kind of love that will redeem us all!"
A few worshipers in the audience nodded their heads in blind agreement. They were men and women of all ages, ethnics and sizes; their only common factor being that they belonged to the same congregation living in a rundown urban neighborhood on Colony L2-V08744, more commonly known as "The Slums of Space". Some sat in shabby clothes and dirt-streaked faces: the homeless. Others wore blue-collar work attire under their ragged coats; hands filthy and callous by hard labor. A longing, haunted gleam shone in their weary eyes as they looked up at the altar, drinking the old priest's words hungrily.
"How can we come to know what true love is?" the priest questioned his followers; "Are we listening to the media or to our Holy God?" he paused, letting his audience ponder the question, before he continued his heated lecture; "Hate dominates our world! It has contaminated mankind for centuries! People are living with hatred. Look at the Anti-Colonists movements flooding Earth's streets with racism as they sermonize about hatred towards us... look at the numerous murders they've committed! Look at the awful carnage of Christmas AC 203! It's a world drunk with violence! Eight years of peace they say, but nothing is peaceful. The world only knows how to hate."
More heads nodded keenly, agreeing with his every word.
"We should all look at an "out of this world" example if we wish to find salvation. We should all look at Jesus Christ – he showed us and taught what real Christian love is. We know love by understanding Jesus' death!" he roared, and the crowd nodded in agreement. "We give gifts to those we love at Christmas, but no one has ever given, or will ever give a better gift than God gave when He sent Jesus. And no one will ever love us more than God loves us!"
Comfort washed over many faces in the small crowd seated on the benches. A few people smiled. Only one face remained indifferent to the priest's words. Hard cobalt eyes glared at the old man, seething with bitterness and abhor.
"Jesus said that no man could have a greater love than that he would lay down his life for his friends; and then He laid down His life for His enemies so that they might become His friends. Our puny minds cannot begin to fathom the depths of this love. We can only fall to our knees and worship Him, praise Him, adore Him, for His excellent gift."
Cobalt eyes rolled backwards in a subtle display of insolence.
"John 3:16 – 'by this we know love' – is the briefest and best definition of love there is! Don't be fooled by what you hear, see and read in the media! Don't be misled by your misguided hearts! We could not know love apart from God! God is love. And if we do not know love – His kind of love – then we don't know love at all. All other affections, no matter what we call them, fall short and incomplete of what they could be, if not based on this kind of love. Love God first, then you will know how to love others. This is the cure of mankind and what better time to embrace this truth than on Christmas! Let us celebrate eight years of peace by showing our fellow men that we love and accept them. Only then will the violence finally end!"
An old woman began to cry silently and a few others were also tearing up. Seated by the weeping old woman was a young man in his mid-twenties. While others around him were deeply moved by the sermon, this young man sat still and rigid, glaring daggers at the priest. He stood out in the crowd for another good reason: his appearance. He was well dressed; his dark blue jeans, clean white shirt and slick black leather jacket clearly gave him away as an outsider. His hair, a rich chestnut color with a healthy shine, was clean and well groomed, gathered into a thick long braid tucked into the back of his jacket. His features were round, hale and hearty; set in a hard, defying expression. The only item that hinted at his connection to the church was the plain silver cross pendant hanging from his neck by a thin chain, peeking behind the open trims of his leather jacket. He sat with his fists clenched over his kneecaps, listening to the sermon while fuming silently with rage.
The service ended and the crowd gradually scattered, each returning to their gray and bitter little lives. The old priest retired to his chamber at the back of the church. The braided young man remained seated at the bench, staring numbly at the candles burning by the altar. After a minute or so he finally stood up, crossed his heart, and followed the old priest to his retreat. He marched down a dimly lit hallway, a determined expression set on his hard face. As he approached the closed door at the end, he reached a hand to push his jacket aside slightly, revealing a polished police badge pinned to his belt, as well as a pistol in a concealed carry-holster above his belt. His hand hovered above the weapon as he pushed the door open without warning and stomped into the room.
The old priest, who was leaning over his desk, jumped back in fright. On the desk, among Holy Scripture and scribbled notepads, lay a plastic CD cover and on it piles of pale-pink powder, divided into two lines. The old man was holding a magnetic strip card in his hand, its edges soiled with pink powder. He looked up at the young cop in surprise, before his expression fell with relief. He offered a nervous smile and said: "Christ, Duo, you scared the bejesus outta me!"
"How about you put that shit away before I see sumthin' I ain't s'posed to?" Duo offered and pushed his leather jacket aside to show his L2PD badge and gun more clearly. The old man nodded eagerly and hurried to hide the evidence of his misconduct under a thick book. He wiped the powder off his hands by rubbing them together hastily and then turned to his visitor with a wily smile.
"I didn't think you'd bother coming for the whole service," he said; "Did you enjoy the sermon?"
Duo glared at him impatiently, crossing his arms over his chest. "I ain't here to give you any hail Marys, Father," he snapped; "Now you got sumthin' for me or what?"
The old man sighed. "I was thinking about you when I wrote it," he confessed quietly as he turned to rummage his desk, opening drawers in search for something.
"Sure you were," Duo scoffed.
"I'm sure that at least some of it was familiar," the priest insisted, looking up hopefully at Duo as he stood by the open desk drawer. "Father Maxwell was very fond of that verse..." he added quietly as he reached into the drawer; "He always brought it up at around Christmas, remember?" he finished with a wistful sigh as he handed Duo a small plastic bag, no bigger than a sugar-pack.
"All I remember is you two arguing all the time," Duo muttered gruffly and snatched the bag from the old man's hand.
The old priest let out a pensive chuckle. "Yeah, I was young... still passionate. Those were good times. I miss our debates."
Duo glowered at the old man, his eyes burning loathly. It looked like he had a lot to say, but was restraining himself.
"That the new poison everyone's jabbering about?" he asked coldly instead, waving the small bag in front of the light above to examine its content closely. It was filled with tiny pinkish-white crystals that shone in the light.
"It's pure magic," the priest nodded to confirm, smiling dreamily; "The purest out there."
"So I hear," Duo sighed and shoved the small bag into his pocket. "Don't suppose you know where I could go if I wanna extend my compliments to the chef?"
"Sorry, not this time," the man apologized; "but I'll keep an ear out in confession," he promised and Duo rolled his eyes. "Good cooks like to brag."
"Can't believe people confide in you..." he mumbled, shaking his head in disapproval.
"What can I say... I'm a man of God. People trust me."
"Talk about the blind leading the blind..." Duo grumbled, glaring at the dusty pinkish remnants on the men's wooden desk. He turned to leave.
"You hear about Jesse?" the old man called after him. Duo stopped dead in his tracks and whirled around, angry.
"What about him?" he growled.
"He's in The Pit again," the old man elaborated, casting his gaze down sadly; "Thought you should know."
"Fuck," the young cop hissed, fuming.
"It's the Magic... it really got him hooked this time. He's been back in the habit for a while. I hear he went into The Pit a few days ago and never came out..."
"Stupid junkie," Duo grumbled. "Fuck!"
"You'll get him outta there, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure... don't I always..." Duo heaved a long sigh and rubbed his face tiredly. "Thanks for the info, Father," he finally said and turned to walk out of the small office.
"What about you?" the old man called after him and Duo stopped at the doorway, tensing, his rigid back facing the priest. "What about me?" he grunted defensively.
"Keeping clean? I haven't seen you in group for a while."
"Yeah, been busy," Duo muttered tiredly and then finally left, stomping out of the church.
He threw himself into his car, sinking into the driver's seat in exhaustion. The battered brown sedan was parked in a dark lot in front of the small church, the only bright source of light in a shady slum neighborhood. Duo pulled a cigarette box out of his jacket's pocket; it was a white/blue box branded 'Winston Blue'. He fished out a smoke and a lighter. The flame's soft halo washed his face with a warm glow, casting menacing shadows on his grim expression. He took a long, relaxing drag and leaned his head back against the headrest, eyes closed as he released a long column of smoke into the air.
For a long while, he remained completely motionless, the cigarette burning away in his hand. Finally, he sighed and straightened back up. After placing the burning butt between his pressed lips, he reached into his pocket again and pulled out the small plastic bag he'd been given by the priest. He toyed with it in his hand, feeling the small pinkish crystals rubbing against the soles of his fingers as though to tease him, taunting him into their allure. He stared at them long and hard, fighting temptation. It was a sick game, one he played often: dancing with danger, walking a fine line between right and wrong... testing his resolve again and again. The rush was hardly the same as actually surrendering to temptation, but it was all he had now that he was clean, going on eighteen months now.
His cellphone rang; an old melancholic rock song disturbing the perfect silence as the ringtone played. Duo ignored it and continued toying with the small packet, shifting it between his fingers like an expert thief or magician. The cellphone kept ringing. Releasing a peeved sigh, Duo shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled it out, glaring at the display. It was an unknown number, which was not unusual. Mostly snitches had his unlisted number and they all concealed their caller ID when calling. His number was sort of a 911 for local criminals; they trusted him with their shit and in return for his help, they offered theirs when he called in a favor.
Duo stared numbly at the phone, wondering how long it would take the snitch to give up. The longer the phone rang, the more urgent the call. He counted the beats, waiting for the exact moment before the call will be directed to voicemail – playing chicken with whoever was calling. The caller wasn't giving up, which meant that it was important. Duo took the call, yielding to the chicken game because he had to. He was one of the good guys after all.
"Maxwell," he huffed into the phone and took another drag on his nearly burnt-out cigarette, waiting for an answer. None came. He frowned. "Hello?" he grunted impatiently; "Start talkin' or I'm hangin' up."
"Da fuck is this?" Duo hissed; "Jesse you fuck – that you? I'm gonna bust your stupid junkie ass, you hear! Father Dixon told me all 'bout you breaking bad again! What'd I tell you?! Next time you're on your own! You better not be in trouble, got it – cuz I'm DONE!"
Still no answer; whoever it was – he wasn't talking. Duo strained his ears, listening to whatever clue that would give the caller away. He could hear faint breathing, shallow and irregular.
"Fuck!" he cussed and hung up the call, throwing the cellphone to the passenger's seat. He shoved his keys into the ignition, started the car and sped off, tires screeching.
No matter what time of day, L2PD station was always bustling with activity; chaotic and noisy. Phones rang off the hook, cops rushed in and out, escorting punks, criminals, junkies and whores. Morning hours were relatively calm, but only to the trained eye.
Duo strode hastily through the crowded mess, holding a paper coffee cup as he headed towards a desk marked 'Detective D. Maxwell'. He settled heavily into his chair and began shuffling through a mountain of paperwork while sipping his beverage.
"Maxwell!" a gruff male voice called loudly; "Get your ass in here – NOW!"
The familiar, all too frequent shout, was coming from the Department's Chief's office. Duo sighed and walked over there resignedly. He closed the slat-blinds-covered glass door and turned to face the grumpy old man seated behind a hefty desk. He waited wordlessly to be admonished.
"Da fuck is that I hear you were snooping around The Pit last night?" the Chief burst heatedly the moment the door closed. "That place is off limits! No one goes near that drug lair until I say so – and I dun give a flying fuck if you useta be a fancy pilot or whatever! We don't do solo missions here, Maxwell!"
"I got a tip about Jesse," Duo stated calmly, unfazed by the man's menacing act. "I was just taking a look around. I didn't breach surveillance protocols or nuthin'."
"It's enough that my men saw you. Who knows who else did! Fuck, Maxwell, what were you thinking?! We lost three men down there last week. Ain't that enough? The place is off limits – period!"
"Yeah, yeah, heard you the first time, Chief," Duo sighed, rubbing his face tiredly. "Are we done?"
"I got 'nough of Earth breathing down ma neck for that crazy new shit floodin' their streets. L2 Magic they're callin' it! Fuckin' assholes want the whole damn world ta know where their shit's comin' from! I don't need you bustin' my operation. The DEA is all over me as it is! Do I have to remind you what would happen if shit hits the fan and Earth cuts off support to L2? Do you want the whole colony to look like The Pit?! Is that it?! You wanna singlehandedly turn us back into God forsaken slums?!"
"No, sir... of course not," Duo mumbled, casting his gaze down in an attempt to control his temper and avoid an insolent outburst.
"Then get that stupid brain of yours workin' or I swear to God I'll—"
"Chief," a female officer opened the office door and peeked into the room; "the governor's on line one."
"Shit," the older man cussed, shaking his head as he reached for his phone. "I'm not done with you," he warned Duo, waving a reprimanding figner as he picked up the receiver. "Now scoot," he ordered and motioned the young cop to leave.
Duo turned to the door, his fist clenched tightly around the doorknob; he yanked it open. He stopped at the open doorway, his head bowed low and his back still facing the Chief. "Jesse was Joe's kid," he reminded his boss quietly; "I'm just looking out for what's left of my partner."
The Chief sighed, his harsh expression softening slightly. "I know," he whispered softly, his finger hovering over the button that will connect the governor's call. "But there's only so much we can do for someone who doesn't want to be saved," he concluded grimly and then finally pressed the button. "Robert! Well this is a surprise..." he greeted in a much more pleasant voice, spinning his chair around to face away from the doorway; "What can I do for you?"
Duo left the office, slamming the door shut behind him. A small crowd was gathered around the TV set hanging on the wall in the far corner of the large room. Frowning at the unusual sight, Duo approached; curious to see what the commotion was all about. Looking up at the footage, he saw some kind of press conference being held in front of a bustling crowd. A smartly-dressed female spokesperson was addressing the media from a press podium on a stage. A row of law enforcement personnel sat behind her. There was a Preventer insignia on the screen behind them, along with a New York City seal.
"...Meanwhile, we are doing everything we can to ensure that the population remains alert of the situation," the woman addressed her audience. "There is no need for panic, but caution is advised."
"Does this mean there might be attacks on the general population?" one reported interjected. "Are we dealing with a terrorist or a serial killer?"
"That has yet to be determined," the woman explained calmly. "So far there's no clear indication of national motives behind the killings, but given the victims' nature, the possibility hasn't been ruled out completely."
"Is that why Preventer is taking over the case?" another reporter asked; "Don't these murders fall by nature under NYPD's jurisdiction?"
The woman nodded, already prepared for the question, and leaned into the microphones. "A joint taskforce has been appointed to the case. This way the investigation will benefit from the expertise of both parties."
More reporters bombarded the woman with simultaneous questions. Duo watched the chaos numbly, not really interested in Earth's problems; they had enough of their own up here on L2.
A movement in the corner of the screen caught his eyes. A figure walked up hastily to the stage, moving in a brisk and familiar pace as it passed behind the spokeswoman and headed towards one of the officials sitting behind her. It was a young man, dressed in official type-A Preventer uniforms: black dress pants and a black jacket with khaki shoulder patches and a 'P' insignia on each sleeve. His brown hair was short yet messy at the front; a heap of unruly bangs concealing his face as he leaned down towards the older man he had approached, whispering something to him. He handed the man, his superior no doubt, a mobile phone and the man accepted it quietly. Duo watched, his eyes agape, as the young agent straightened back up, preparing to leave the stage. Before he did, he paused, just for a moment, his eyes catching the camera's lens. A pair of fierce Prussian blue eyes stared directly at him and Duo's breath hitched in his throat. He couldn't breathe. His heart thumped wildly. He watched, stunned, as the young agent turned on his heels and left the stage quickly, walking out of the camera's range.
"Can you believe this shit?" one cop approached Duo from behind and patted him on the back. "Them bitches just can't keep their hands off our turf," he grunted; "God damn Prevees. They don't think The Fives can catch that guy."
"What's this shit about anyway?" Duo huffed gruffly, not really interested.
"Some psycho runnin' amok, killing off their agents. Some fanatic or sumthin', but they keep saying he's a terrorist or whatever. It's been all ova the news lately, didn't ja hear?"
"Da fuck do I care what's goin' on over there!" Duo exclaimed bitterly; "Fucking utopia..." He turned away from the TV. "We got real work to do up here," he grunted and stomped back to his desk.
"Amen to that!" his colleague called after him, laughing.
A couple of guys from work offered that he'd join them for a beer after hours and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, like always. Ever since Joe's death, his peers did whatever they could to try to get him out more. He wasn't the socializing type; hasn't been one for a very long time now. He preferred to keep to himself, drinking alone in his apartment. It was easier to be alone, that way he didn't have to be reminded by every little thing how much it hurt to love and depend on someone.
Dr. Gavin – the damn psychiatrist he was forced to visit weekly ever since Joe died – said that he should go out more, make some new friends. For a year she's been nagging him to go drink beer with his fellow cops, go out on dates... form relationships. Bullshit. The guys he worked with would never go to the kind of bars he'd enjoy, and he couldn't risk anyone finding out. Like his hair wasn't a dead giveaway... cops were whispering about him in the locker-room all the time. The last thing he needed was to give them some solid confirmation. It would be the end of him. People weren't so open minded on L2; Joe was one of the few who knew and were actually okay about it. Now, he was dead.
Duo had no need for friends on the force; not anymore. He couldn't afford to have anyone... they all tended to die at one point or another: a bank robbery, gang-fights, drug busts... an L2PD cop's life expectancy wasn't a very long one. Now with that new poison on the streets, it was getting harder and harder to keep track of all the killings. Cops were dropping like flies. So no, he didn't need anyone; he was fine drinking alone. And as for romantic relationships... he was fine without those too. The last person he had dared opening up to spat in his face, crushed his heart and dumped it out the nearest airlock. So yeah, he was fine being alone, repressing shit, hurting and drinking in the darkness of his living room until memories of loneliness and rejection became just another bitter sting on his tongue.
He was in a fouler mood than usual today, so his peers had to practically drag him with them to their regular hanging joint – a small pub frequented by cops. They sat him at the bar with a jug of local beer and didn't leave him alone until he drank it. L2 brew was hard to swallow, but that was the point. You weren't a part of the place if you couldn't keep it down.
Soon enough his fellow cops were pretty tipsy. They joked around, jeering and taunting each other in a friendly manner, telling dirty jokes and laughing drunkenly. Duo sat quietly, hunched over his beer, brooding and glaring at the polished bar surface.
"Check that one out," one of his peers said and elbowed Duo in the ribs to get his attention. "Red dress," he pointed out; "Man, that must be a seven or an eight."
Duo looked up, glancing briefly at a girl standing at the other side of the bar. She was a pretty brunette wearing a tight red dress and too much makeup. He looked back down at his drink, his expression sullen. "A six maybe," he muttered and took a long gulp, after which he added: "but definitely not an eight." He took another swig of beer.
The young cop laughed. "We should definitely have a talk 'bout your taste in women!" he joked and took a sip from his own beer. "That broad ain't nowhere near a six!" He placed his empty beer jug on the bar, beaming with confidence. "I'm makin' a move."
Another cop, an older man, shook his head, laughing. "You gotta 'nother thing comin' for ya if you think you stand a chance next to that guy over there."
That got Duo's attention. He looked up, his eyes fixing on the young man standing next to the girl in the red dress; he was a dark and strapping man of Latin origin. Duo studied him quietly, his eyes lingering far too long for his gaze to remain innocent. He sighed and cast his eyes back down. He took a swig of beer, emptying the jug quickly, watching his peer through the glass as the young cop left to make his flirtations anyway. Having a will of their own, his eyes slowly drifted back towards the handsome young man standing next to the girl. He watched him from behind the shelter of his beer mug. Once he realized he was ogling, Duo quickly looked away. He set the beer down and signaled the bartender to approach. "Get me sumthin' real to drink," he demanded bitterly; "Jameson, straight up... and keep 'em comin'."
A powerful and scalding shower stream beat down against Duo's muscular back. The tanned skin on his well-toned backside was tarnished with faded traces of scar-tissue – old welts. He stood under the showerhead, resting his forehead against the cool white porcelain wall. His arms dangled lifelessly at his sides, water sliding down his sturdy limbs. His long hair was undone, wet and plastered over his well-toned backside. His shoulders were slumped in exhaustion and his eyes were closed as he allowed the hot water to wash over his naked body.
Images flickered like a dying flame behind his closed eyelids: Memories of sleek nude male bodies, taut, needy and wet, moving together in clumsy passion under the shower stream inside a narrow, shady stall. Hungry hands and mouths exploring... touching... everywhere. Nothing was ever close enough, never good enough, but still... there was an effort to connect, an attempt to answer burning needs and unidentified desires. Fierce blue eyes burnt with lust as steely hands gripped him by his hips, pulling him closer, about to devour him. The sex was desperate; brutal, hot and furious. It was so good, so primal and so... so long ago.
Duo shuddered under the water stream, groaning helplessly as he came into his own hand. He kept his head pressed against the wall; his eyes clenched tightly until his breath evened. He turned off the water and shoved the shower curtain aside. He was immediately faced with a fogged mirror reflecting his blurry image. He stood still, staring at it numbly, his eyes seeing something else entirely. His eyes saw Heero; no longer a teenage boy, but a man: tall, strapping, dark and intense. Jesus Christ... Heero must have been on that screen for less than fifteen seconds and that was more than enough to send Duo spiraling back into a past he tried so hard to put behind him.
Duo blinked and the image of Heero's piercing blue gaze was replaced with his own reflection. The steam has cleared and Duo could now see his image clearly. It was not the same image that flickered in his mind just now. This body was older; fuller and taller. He too was no longer a boy; no longer worshiped by those steely hands; no longer looked at by those fiery Prussian blue eyes... except for today. Today those eyes seemed to look straight at him, as though seeing only him through thousands of miles across Earth and Space. He felt that gaze as if it was really on him. He shuddered at memory and then froze, angry with himself. He glared at his reflection, his eyes full of reproach.
"Fucking stupid," he hissed and then snatched a towel, refusing to look at himself any further.
Duo sat at his desk, sipping black coffee from a paper cup while working on his computer. The usual commotion bustled all around him, but years in the force have taught him to tune it out and concentrate on whatever he was doing. Currently, he was browsing the Preventer database, or at least the small portion of it he, as Colony law enforcement, was allowed to access. He was sifting through personnel files, looking for a particular name. It wasn't easy to find and some light hacking was required, something that might get him in trouble if anyone found out, but he didn't care. Let curiosity kill the cat; he had walked much finer lines in the past and was still breathing, so who cared.
Finally, he reached the file he was searching for:
PERSONNEL FILE NO. 72531101 / AGENT YUY HEERO
Duo pointed the cursor on the link that would open the file, but stopped, hesitating. His finger hovered over the mouse's button. He tapped on it anxiously, but never hard enough to actually click it. He stared at the file name until his vision blurred and he could no longer make out Heero's name. Finally, as though developing a will of its own, his finger pressed down. The page loaded slowly. Duo took a deep breath and straightened in his seat, suddenly nervous, as though by entering the file he was about to actually meet with Heero for the first time in eight years. Stupid, but there was no denying the anxiety he felt.
The file finally loaded and suddenly he was looking straight at Heero's face, the familiar harsh features glaring at him through the monitor. For a second, Duo froze, unable to shake off the feeling of being face-to-face with the man he tried to forget for so many years. Those intense Prussian blue eyes were peering straight into him, so fucking real, even though it was just a damn passport photo.
The photo must be recent, Duo gathered, because Heero looked pretty much the same as seen on TV: a devilishly handsome twenty-four year-old man, dressed in type-A Preventer uniforms and glaring at the camera with a brooding expression and penetrative blue eyes capable of warding-off anyone who dared looking into them. Matured into his twenties, Heero seemed even more intense. God damn him, he was even more gorgeous as a man than he's ever been as a teenage boy... a deadly and irresistible kind of gorgeous. Fuck.
It was a while before Duo was able to tear his eyes off the photo and skim through the file. Most of the information was concealed, censored because it was classified information to anyone accessing via this specific connection, but the service record still contained enough information to paint a sketchy picture of Heero's post-war life:
PREVENTER HR: PERSONNEL FILE NO. 72531101
SECURITY CLEARANCE: TS/SCI
Name: Yuy, Heero
Born: N/A, Est. AC 180
01.23.197 Recruited as agent no. 72531101 at the European HQ, Brussels, Belgium, ESUN.
No training required.
01.24.197 Served under the Operations Branch – Counterterrorism Division – National Security Branch – European HQ, Brussels, Belgium, ESUN.
Appointed Field Agent, Special Agent.
04.16.199 Transferred to the Operations Branch – Counterterrorism Division – National Security Branch – North America HQ, Washington DC, United States of America, ESUN.
Appointed Field Agent, Special Agent.
12.27.202 Inactive: Paid medical leave.
02.07.204 Returned to active duty. Not cleared for field duty.
02.12.204 Transferred to the Cyber Division – Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch – NYC Field Office, New York City, NY, United States of America, ESUN.
Appointed Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge.
11.02.204 Cleared for field duty.
Transferred to the Violent Crimes Section – Criminal Investigative Division – Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch – NYC Field Office, New York City, NY, United States of America, ESUN.
Appointed Field Agent, Special Agent.
05.15.198 Medal for Meritorious Achievement
02.22.200 Shield of Bravery
04.07.201 Medal of Valor
12.30.202 Preventer Star
It was quite an impressive track record, but there was not enough information to satisfy his curiosity. From what Duo could gather Heero started off just where he had left him in Brussels after The Second Eve Conflicts ended back in Christmas AC 196. He continued to save the world while working for Preventer's National Security Branch, serving under the Counterterrorism Division. He was later honored with a Medal for Meritorious Achievement, which meant that he had taken part in something big – not surprisingly – and was awarded for "extraordinary and exceptional meritorious service in a duty of extreme challenge and great responsibility"... whatever.
Then he was transferred to DC's Counterterrorism Division, right around the time – if Duo recalled correctly – Relena Darlian was elected as a member of the ESUN Parliament situated in Brussels. It was an educated guess, because he never bothered following Earth's affairs, especially when it came to politics and even more so if it had anything to do with Ms. Darlian. In fact, he avoided news about her like fire. So Duo opened a new browser window and looked it up to confirm his suspicion. It turned out he was right, which meant only one thing: the two split up in April AC 199. She stayed behind in Europe and Heero fled to the other side of the planet. Duo almost smiled. He wished he'd known that sooner. Then again... would it have made a difference? Probably not.
Heero stayed in DC for a few years (probably the longest he's ever stayed in one place), during which he was awarded with more medals: one for "brave and courageous acts occurring in the line of duty associated with the highest priority cases", as explained in a footnote; another "in recognition of an exceptional act of heroism or voluntary risk of personal safety and life in the direct line of duty", as another footnote mentioned; and lastly he was awarded with the Preventer Star, which was awarded "for serious injury sustained in the direct line of duty from physical confrontation that would require comprehensive medical treatment for a sustained period of time" – Duo didn't even have to read the footnote for that one, because it was pretty clear that whatever happened in Christmas AC 202 had rendered Heero inactive for the whole year of AC 203 and then some.
Then, in AC 204, he returned to active duty and was transferred to New York about ten months ago, serving under a different branch, one responsible for investigating all types of crime, as well as overseeing all computer-based-crime related to counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal threats. Since he was serving as an A-SAC in the Cyber Division, Duo could only conclude that whatever happened to Heero also dictated that he'd fill a desk job position upon his return to duty. It was only a few weeks ago that he was brought back to active field agent duty, under the Criminal Investigative Division, Violent Crimes Section. Duo couldn't help but wonder if it had anything to do with the killings everyone was fretting about. Why else would Heero be at that press conference?
Heaving a melancholic sigh, Duo leaned back into his squeaky chair, one hand tapping on his desk restlessly. He stared at the file in front of him, his expression numb, pensive.
His own service record paled before Heero's. If Preventer's superstar Agent Yuy ever bothered looking it up – which Duo was pretty certain that he had at some point – all there was to find was pretty damn standard: Joined the L2PD force in AC 198, promoted to sergeant in AC 201, made 3rd grade detective in AC 204, got a few official reprimands noted for reckless behavior and endangering fellow officers, and that's about it. No fancy decorations or anything. Duo was done saving the world and shit. He contributed to his community by working as a detective in the slums he knew so well, fighting crime, drugs and prostitution – which were just as bad as world-threatening terrorism! He was basically a rugged street cop, nothing fancy like Heero's line of work as a top-of-the-line super-agent. Duo found his fulfillment saving the lives of a few street kids here and there; nothing big, but still very rewarding. It was enough. Anything more would be unbearable.
He had built himself a new life on L2 and deliberately lost touch with anything and anyone who tied him to his role as a Gundam pilot. His goal was to begin anew and put his past behind him. To do that, he kept busy – extremely busy. If he wasn't working, always pulling extra shifts, then he was volunteering at the local homeless shelter or youth center. He used every other spare minute to work out, practice at the shooting range or drop like a timber on his bed and sleep like a log. That way, there was no time left to think and process horrors, even though he encountered vicious reminders of his childhood on L2-V08744 every single day. If he had nightmares, he was oblivious of them; he was too tired to dream, which was probably why he hadn't seen even the slightest hint of Heero's face in almost eight years.
And now he was digging around Heero's service record! What the Hell?!
"Jesus," Duo exhaled in self-reproach and hurried to close his browser software. Heero's photo vanished from the screen. Out of sight, out of mind, Duo decided. That was enough self-flagellation for one day. He had cases to work on... and a seventeen-year-old kid to get out of trouble before it's too late.
As though reading his mind, his cellphone, resting by the keyboard, started ringing. Duo turned to look at it, his eyes glued to the words 'N/A' displayed boldly on the screen. It was an unknown number. His stomach churned uneasily. He had a bad feeling about this...
He picked up the phone, his finger hesitating a moment before touching the "accept" button. He brought the phone to his ear and greeted: "Maxwell," with a brisk, cold, tone.
This time, the reply was immediate. "Would that be Duo Maxwell?" a deep male voice asked; smug and creepy. Duo straightened in his seat, alert.
"Yeah, who's askin'?" he demanded harshly.
"A friend of a friend," the voice replied in a disturbingly imperturbable tone. "I won't take much of your time," the man promised; "Just answer me this, if you will:" he paused for dramatic effect and then resumed: "how much do you care about him?"
Duo scowled darkly. "About who?" he spat, then gasped; "Jesse? Is this about Jesse?!" he exclaimed, suddenly flustered, and jumped out of his seat.
"He's going to need your help," the spine-chilling voice continued; "Will you come through for him?"
"Listen man, if he's in some kinda trouble I can fix it. I'll pay up or whatever – I got the doe! Just tell me what, when and where and I'm there, man – no funny stuff, I swear!"
He was answered by a long silence, which hopefully meant that the man was contemplating his offer.
"Christ, man... He's just a kid..." Duo urged him, almost pleading. "There's gotta be sumthin' I can d—" he couldn't finish his argument, because the man on the other line hung up.
"Shit!" Duo called and fell back into his chair. He slammed his cellphone against the table, banging it loudly. "Dammit!"
He was tempted to drive by The Pit on his way home, but soon regretted it. The Chief was right. He couldn't go in there without a plan... without backup. He was walking a fine line as it was, and that was why he eventually turned home. The Pit could wait; Jesse wasn't going anywhere. He will come up with a plan first, then get him the Hell out of that Hellhole.
He parked his car in front of a rundown apartment building; an enormous tenement complex typical of L2's former slums. Moving routinely, he placed a sturdy steering-wheel lock on the wheel. Once out of the car, he put an adjustable wheel-lock on the front tire and only then turned to take his things out of the car, locked it and headed towards the building. L2-V08744 didn't exactly have an uptown or a downtown. Every neighborhood was pretty much 'the wrong side of the tracks'; some were just worse than others. Duo's apartment building was located in a more or less quiet urban neighborhood, but one could never be careful enough on L2. The old sedan might look pretty crappy, but it was still a target for local delinquents.
Duo climbed up the stairs leading to the top floor, holding a hefty paper bag full of groceries in his arms. He steadied the bag in one hand before reaching his free hand into his pocket to fish out his keys. The set of keys jingled softly while swinging in his hand and he whistled a vague tune to go along with it.
Two flights of stairs later he finally reached his floor and headed towards his apartment down the hall. He halted when he noted a little boy standing next to his closed door. He was a dark haired child of Latin origin, about six or seven years old, dressed in shabby clothes, a hungry look in his dark brown eyes... the eyes of a neglected puppy.
Duo fought to put on a smile and resumed his approach. "Hey Tomás!" he greeted cheerfully; "What's the matter? Your momma accidently locked you out again?" he asked, even though the answer was quite clear. He could hear the unmistakable moaning emitting from the door of the apartment next to his as he passed by it. The boy's mother was hard at work, which was why she had locked him out.
The boy just kept looking at him with big sad eyes. Duo's strained smile faltered and he turned to unlock his apartment door.
"How about dinner? Sounds nice?" he offered and a small, shy, smile graced the child's lips. "Yeah, bet it does!" Duo called a bit too cheerfully and opened the door, letting the boy in. "I'll get right on it," he promised as he marched towards the small kitchenette and switched on a light. He placed the grocery bag on the small kitchen counter and reached a hand to rummage through its contents, finally pulling out a chocolate candy bar. He handed it to the boy.
"Don't tell your momma I let you have dessert before dinner, huh?" he said with a wink. The child smiled, for real this time, and nodded shyly, accepting the snack with eager hands. He settled on a chair by a small kitchen table, enjoying his snack while watching Duo unpack his groceries. The last two items Duo pulled out of the bag were two frozen TV dinners.
"What will it be tonight," he presented the boy with his choices: "Mac and Cheese or chicken curry?"
The boy contemplated the question quietly, before pointing at the box with a picture of rice and red chicken curry.
"Excellent choice!" Duo complimented the child, still smiling like an idiot; he couldn't help it, children made him uncomfortable, especially the quiet ones.
"I woulda gone with it too... the Mac and Cheese don't look too edible... da fuck did I buy it anyway?" he chattered on, filling the silence with useless words because otherwise it would become too disturbing and remind him of what he tried to forget: ever since his mother was attacked by one of her clients, Tomás stopped talking. The bastard had raped her brutally without payment, right before the boy's eyes. The only reason the two were even alive was because Duo heard the screaming and stormed into their apartment in the middle of the night, gun drawn, ready to protect and serve – which he had, and just in the nick of time. Ever since, Tomás's mother made sure that her son was safely out of the apartment before accepting clients. But the boy had nowhere to go while she worked. If Duo didn't take him in, the boy roamed the streets and that would eventually lead to one thing – some gang will get its hands on the boy and recruit him into their ranks. That was unacceptable, so Duo tried to help whenever he could. It sure beat spending the evening brooding alone. Now that he thought about it, he should really get a pet...
The microwave oven beeped to signal that the meals were ready. Duo served them to the table and the two sat down to eat.
Later that night Duo was sitting on his sofa, watching TV in the dark. Tomás was lying curled against him the couch, covered by a blanket, his head resting in Duo's lap. Duo had one arm resting over the boy, wrapped around him protectively and holding a remote. His other hand was holding a half-empty beer bottle. One empty bottle was already resting on the coffee table; the green glass reflecting the flickering TV light. Duo sipped his drink quietly, his numb cobalt eyes staring mindlessly at the television screen as he flipped through the channels with no sound on.
He was changing stations so fast that it took his brain a second to process an image that caught his interest: he was pretty certain that he saw footage of the Brooklyn Bridge at night. He flipped back a couple of stations until he found it again. It was some sort of newscast featuring New York City. A title at the bottom of the screen read: 'Breaking News: a 7th body found in NYC'. A young woman, a pretty redhead with freckled white porcelain features and bright green eyes, was talking to the camera, a microphone shoved in her face. She was dressed in Preventer uniform and standing by the riverside, the Brooklyn Bridge somewhere far behind her. It was very windy, because the few red locks of hair straying from her up-do were being tousled wildly by the wind. She tucked them repeatedly behind her ear as she spoke to the camera, shouting over the wind. Duo turned the volume up slightly so he could hear.
"...and that's about all we know at this point!" she concluded, sounding a bit peeved. The camera shifted to the side, revealing a male reporter holding the mike. The man looked squarely at the lens, his expression grim.
"So there you have it, Todd," he opened dramatically; "as mentioned by Agent Shaw here, the crime scene is still in initial stages of investigation and as you can see there's a joint NYPD and Preventer force scouting the area," he gestured at the scene behind him and the camera turned to show the many police officers and Preventer agents working the scene as the reporter continued: "But from what they've gathered so far," the man stated sternly, "it looks like he's hit again."
The news anchor in the studio was asking something, but Duo stopped listening. He couldn't. His brain stopped working the second his eyes spotted a familiar figure walking through the crime scene: Heero. He was dressed in Preventer uniform and speaking to an NYPD officer while taking notes. The redheaded agent who was just interviewed joined him, also addressing the cop.
The footage changed to old archive footage of the case; cops scouting various crime scenes.
"They call him the Redeemer," a dramatic female voice narrated the item; "and he's been terrorizing New York City for over three months..."
Next appeared a picture of one of the victims, or so Duo assumed; it was a stills photo of a young Latin woman smiling at the camera.
"Jessica Gomez was found dead on September AC 204 and is assumed to be the first in a long line of victims," the female narrator continued; "Jessica left her husband and children one Tuesday morning and went missing for over—"
There was a knock on the door. Duo sighed and carefully maneuvered Tomás off of him so he could get up and answer the door. A young woman waited there; a tall and skinny Hispanic woman dressed in a black-satin robe that barely concealed her sexy black-lace lingerie. Her long brown hair was a mess and she was looking up at Duo with a pair of dark bleary eyes.
"Is he here?" she asked with a husky, tired voice.
"Yeah," Duo replied solemnly. "He's sleepin'."
The young woman peeked into the apartment, her eyes searching for her son. She spotted him lying on the sofa, covered by a blanket.
"He had dinner, watched some TV, showered and then bed," Duo informed her and she turned to him with guilty eyes.
"Thanks," she whispered; "Anything I can do to make it up to you for your troubles?" she asked carefully, shifting to a more suggestive pose. She was offering her services, obviously. Duo shook his head, sighing.
"How about you get some decent rest and come back when you ain't completely wasted," he offers harshly; "Tomás can sleep here tonight. Ain't no biggie," he added with a smile. She hesitated, but eventually took him up on his offer and left, nodding gratefully.
Duo locked the door behind her and walked back to the sofa. He tucked Tomás tightly under the blanket and picked up the remote. He looked back at the TV. The story about the killer in NYC was still playing. The narrator kept talking over footage of the case. Duo spotted Heero in quite a few of video clips, always with the redheaded agent. Duo couldn't tear his eyes off him. So engrossed in the images flickering on the screen, he barely noticed that his cellphone was ringing; the sound was coming from the kitchen.
He sighed. Only a snitch would be calling at this ungodly hour. He stomped to the kitchen and snatched the phone off the counter, his eyes quickly catching the 'N/A' ID on the screen; typical of a snitch.
"Hang up on me one more time and I'm done talkin'," he hissed without greeting once he answered the call. He was sick of games. "Tell me what you want and make it snappy."
For a moment, there was only silence. Duo waited impatiently, pacing his small kitchen. He didn't have the nerve to follow up on his threat and hang up. Not if this was really about Jesse.
After a moment's pause, a male voice finally spoke: "I wasn't talking about Jesse," it said in the same eerie tone from before, referring to their last conversation.
Duo ceased pacing, his back tensing visibly. "Then who da fuck were you talkin' 'bout?" he demanded angrily, glancing briefly at the sofa to make sure the kid was still sleeping; he was. Duo turned back around and leaned into his phone, whispering: "Da fuck do you want anyway!"
"Information," came the short, haughty, reply.
"Yeah, well, this cop ain't sellin' any!" he hissed darkly; "But I'm on the market if you got anythin' good to tell me. Maybe sumthin' 'bout Magic?" he added a careful suggestion, venturing a guess about the strange caller's motives.
"I am not in that line of business," the man replied calmly.
"Then da fuck you want with me! Who gave you this number? One of the snitches, right? Only they have it, so don't try to bullshit me!"
"Acquiring your number was not a problem."
"Then what da fuck is your problem!"
"A dilemma," the man replied slickly; "An enigma only you can help me solve."
"Gee, can you be a little less cryptic?"
Silence; he had given the wrong answer. Snitches were funny that way. You had to say the right thing or they bolted. Duo sighed. "Okay, okay, ask away," he said instead, playing into the man's game just so he could see where it might lead. "I'll do my best to answer."
"Good," the man approved. "You have to promise to be truthful."
"I never lie."
"Very well," the man sounded pleased. He paused briefly before raising his question: "You accessed his record today. Why?"
Duo's heart jumped into his throat. The man had to be talking about Heero's service record. He swallowed, hard, his hand shaking slightly. Could this be someone from Preventer's Cyber Security Division? Holy shit, were they onto him already? It was just a small hack... he didn't even look at anything fishy! But he had lingered for too long... that was stupid.
"I, uhm, I'm not sure what you mean..." he murmured in avoidance and resumed pacing the kitchen nervously.
"You said you never lie," the voice accused.
"It ain't no lie," Duo hurried to defend himself; "Clarify your question."
"Alright," the man agreed; "I'll rephrase: Why did you access Heero Yuy's service record today at ten thirty a.m. L2 time?"
Duo stopped pacing. He turned to look in the direction of the sofa, looking quietly at the slumbering child. He sighed and turned away, flopping tiredly into a kitchen chair.
"Because I was curious," he replied quietly, closing his eyes in shame. "I was curious to see what he's been doing since... since I've last seen him."
"Because you saw him on TV?"
Duo's head jerked up, his eyes snapping open, flashing with anger. "What?! Da fuck should I know! What are you – a God damn shrink?! Jesus! Look, if you're looking for a security risk – you ain't gonna find it! If you're who I think you are, then you already know who I am and you know exactly why I was snooping around his file! I'm sure he's done the same with my record at some point, right? Right? So back off!"
Silence, and then:
"Why do you assume that he would look at your record?" the voice asked calmly.
The question had Duo stumped. "Huh?"
"Why would Heero Yuy bother checking up on you – an L2 cop?"
"Hey! I don't like what you're insinuating here! I'm as straight as an arrow – an honest to God cop!"
"You're an ex-terrorist and an ex-junkie who could barely make detective because he could not be fully trusted," the man corrected in a harsh and arrogant tone. "It would be very naïve of you to assume that no one has been keeping an eye on you over the years, Zero Two. But then you now assume that out of all people, it would be Zero One who checks up on you. Why?"
"What—? I—I don't know!"
"But you're certain that he has."
"Yeah, so? What's it to you anyway?"
"Why do you assume he cares? Why would he care about a man he hasn't been in contact with for almost eight years?"
The prick was touching way too many raw nerves. Duo burst: "What da fuck is this?! I wanna get some ID confirmation before I answer any more of your stupid questions! Gimme your badge number or I'm hangin' up! I'm a Colony citizen! You have no right to grill me over shit! This is way off of your jurisdiction, dickhead, so give me your Preventer identification code – now!"
"Thank you for your cooperation," the voice said calmly; "I have what I need." The call was disconnected, replaced by a monotone dial tone.
Duo stared at his phone for a few good minutes, completely shaken. What the Hell was going on?