The first sensation I become aware of is the cold. Why does it always have to be cold? Why can't I wake up for once to nice silk sheets like at Quatre's place or even warm, fuzzy puppies licking my face? Doggie drool would have been an acceptable trade-off for waking up on a cold metal floor. In the dark. In some god forsaken colony prison. Fuck.
And then I move and a sharp, nearly agonizing pain rips through my side. I taste blood in my mouth and I cough as I try to draw breath, which in turn leads to more agony as my ribs heave with the effort. Double fuck. Suddenly just being cold doesn't sound too bad.
Still, pain means I'm alive and being alive means I live to fight another day. Right the wrongs. Bring justice to those who have none. Rob from the rich, give to the poor. Tu-ra, tu-ra. Where are my merry men when I need them?
I take a deep breath, cursing every cocksucker on the damn colony as pain rips through my side. Which I guess includes myself if you think about it, but I'm in too much pain to worry about technicalities. I bite my lip until blood wells in my mouth, reopening the split generously provided by someone's fist a few hours ago. I gag as I reflexively swallow the blood, trying not to cough. I move my arms and legs into position, then push up, grunting in silent agony, my breath stolen by the pain as I push myself over to lean with my back against the cold steel cell wall.
I sit there, panting for some moments, while the ghost of Heero Yuy smirks down at me from the other side of the cell. I want to ask him what he finds so amusing, but I'm too busy trying to breathe glass to say anything.
He doesn't bother to wait for me to say anything. "Not looking so good, are you Shinigami?"
I growl in his general direction, trying to find a more comfortable spot against the unyielding wall. I seriously consider if the pain would be worth my trying to give him the finger, then decide it's not. Must control the pain to breathe, after all. I'd hate to give OZ the dissatisfaction of having a dead Gundam pilot on their hands before they execute me in public fashion. Heaven forbid.
I close my eyes and swallow, sighing as the pain recedes slightly. "Shit, they really worked me over," I whisper, hearing Ghost Heero laugh at my predicament. Bastard.
I glare at him, hovering over me like a, well, ghost. "Shut up," I bite out, deciding to risk the pain to tear that stupid bandage off my nose. It's starting to itch and I'm afraid if I sneeze I might puncture a lung. "You're the one who got me into this mess."
"What makes you say that?" the phantom retorts, now standing by the door.
I bang my head gently against the cell wall. "Thought I'd follow your lead and take out some Ozzie bastards with me when 'Scythe couldn't fight anymore. But then the stupid self-destruct button didn't work." I sigh, risking moving my arm to cradle my side. "Guess it's for the best," I continue, now talking to an empty room as the phantom has vanished. "Didn't want to look like a copy-cat."
I'd like to say that as I sat there I concocted a daring plan to pick the lock on the cell door, overpower the guard with the really big, scary gun and burst my way off this godforsaken colony with a jig and a smile. Sadly, all I can think about it the pain and how wretched my life had been until this point. No, that's not true. I thought about Heero, too. I *know* I saw Wing with 03, just before that Chang kid and I took off into space, and before Quatre...
I sniffle. I try to pretend it's just the cold. I hate this fucking war. I hate losing friends. And I hate the fact that I allowed myself to make those friends in the first place. That hadn't been part of The Plan. The Plan had consisted of me and 'Scythe, wreaking havoc upon OZ for the sake of the colonies, before fading into the night to begin again the next morning. Fear my wrath! Mwuhahaha.
Should've known, though. Life doesn't always go according to The Plan.
Never counted on there being more than one Gundam, but I should have known. Being designated "02" by the media means there's got to be at least one other out there, right? I never said I was a quick learner.
Never counted on meeting the others, much less getting along with them. I'm sure they had all sorts of training I didn't have and could probably hold a gun before they could walk. Well, maybe not Quatre, but the other three, Heero especially… they seemed the type. Me? I stole the damn thing. Go me.
Never counted on making friends. Never counted on having anyone to depend on me or for me to depend on. Never counted on falling in love…
Never counted on death. Which is rather ironic, if you stop and think about it. I smile ruefully in the darkness. Death not counting on death. Slap my face and call me Shirley. On second thought, don't. Not sure I could handle any more bruises to my pretty face.
First I'd lost Heero, then Quatre. I've really got to stop caring for people; it's bad for their health.
An overwhelming sense of grief sweeps over me and I try to pull my legs up, only to give that idea up quickly when my side protests vehemently. And underneath all that grief I can feel something worse – hope. I know I saw Wing on my monitors. Was it Heero? Or was it a replacement? Part of me is saying that there is no way Heero could have survived that explosion in Siberia. And another part of me is saying that if anyone could have survived, it would have been Heero.
I want to try and believe that Heero is somehow alive, but I can't let myself hope that he is. To learn otherwise would be too devastating. And this time, I don't have Quatre to fall back on.
It would be so easy to imagine that Heero's not dead. That he's on his way here now, to rescue my pathetic ass like I'm some damsel in a fairy tale, on his white steed, or in this case, Gundam, and all. I close my eyes and picture him, sneaking onto the colony, finding his way through a maze of corridors and duct work, subduing the guards with the BFGs and opening the door to my cell…
The door at that moment chooses to slide open. I'll be damned.
I blink as the light hits my eyes. I can only see a silhouette in the doorway – an oddly shaped silhouette until the figure moves and I hear the dull thud of a body being thrown onto the ground. I raise my hand, forgetting the pain for a moment, willing my eyes to adjust. I should be surprised to see Heero standing there. But I'm not. Either I'm hallucinating or it's real.
"What a surprise, Heero," I say, finding my voice. I try not to wince at how scratchy it sounds. A couple hours of screaming will do that to you. "You really are superhuman," I whisper mostly to myself as he steps into the cell. Superhuman, phantom, hallucination... who knows, really?
If I'm hallucinating, I must be in pretty bad shape, possibly dying. If he's real, then he's here to kill me. I'm not stupid to think that my dreams of an elaborate prison break could become real. Despite all his declarations of love and promises whispered in dark dorm rooms, I know Heero puts the mission ahead of me.
He proved that in Siberia.
I don't blame him. I never made any promises to him, save one. I am a liability now, one that needs to be silenced. If I were in his shoes, I'd do the same thing. I was fully prepared to kill him when I broke him out of that Alliance hospital. Maybe. I think. Who cares now? It's over for me. I see him raise his gun and I smile. So predictable, my Heero.
I refuse to die huddled against a dirty wall, however. I may not have a lot of dignity left, but I'll be damned if I'll die without what little I have. I push the pain aside, moving my legs, gritting my teeth. "You're just in time," I grind out, sweating at the effort. "They were gonna use me and my Gundam for their plans." Fuckers. I brace my arms against the wall behind me. "If I'm gonna die, this seems like the way to go." It's only appropriate after all. Only a dead guy can kill Death. He'll kill me so I can be with him. I swallow a scream as I push myself up, panting, straining in the effort.
"Go ahead and shoot me." I close my eyes, not wanting to see him pull the trigger, wanting only his image to be the last thing on my mind when I die.
I hear him cock the gun. I hold my breath. Good-bye, cruel world! My last thought is that I hope it doesn't hurt too much.
My thought after that is to tell myself to stop being a baby.
My next thought is wondering if my life will flash before my eyes before I die.
Then I think I hope not. There are some parts I don't care to relive.
My next thought is that it's taking an awfully long time for me to die.
Curiosity overrides my cowardice and I crack open one eye, then another to see Heero still standing there, gun in hand, his lips pressed tightly together. How I wish I could have tasted them one last time.
"Hey, you're seriously gonna shoot me, aren't you?" I ask. I really am a coward. I don't want my death to be long and drawn out. What a miserable end to a miserable life. Heero is enough of a marksman to make sure I don't suffer. What's taking so long?
Then I figure this must be some hallucinatory dream. My Heero wouldn't hesitate. He hadn't hesitated in Siberia, when he pressed that button and my world ended in a blaze of white-yellow fire. I sigh in defeat. Looks like Death doesn't get an easy death after all.
The phantom in the doorway takes another step closer. "Is that what you want?" he asks, almost too softly for me to hear. I blink at him. He takes a breath. "I assume your right hand is still okay?" he asks, as he lowers the gun and tosses it to me.
I catch it on reflex, surprised by how smooth and real it feels in my hand. I must really be in bad shape if I can actually feel the gun in my hand. Then Heero is there, warm, alive and smelling vaguely of sweat and whatever it is that makes Heero's scent so unique… I breathe deeply, wondering how I could have forgotten what Heero had smelled like. He puts his arm under mine, supporting me, holding me carefully as he bends to pick up the fallen guard's gun, then helps me take those first few steps towards the open door of the cell.
My heart feels like it wants to pound its way out of my chest. My breathing catches and my vision blurs. This isn't a dream. No dream could be this painful and this wonderful all at the same time. He's here, really here, not burned, not dead, but alive and here. Oh god! When did I stop believing in miracles?
I clutch the gun in my hand until it hurts. It's the only thing keeping me from throwing myself at Heero, either to slug him or kiss him or hold him… I'm not sure what. But now's not the time. Save it until we don't have a colony full of Ozzie bastards on our tails. Heero came here to silence me – one way or another. I could either help or be a hindrance. Helping Heero was the choice that was least likely to get us both killed. Guess what I chose?
He pulls me out the door of the cell, looking both ways as if we were simply trying to cross the street instead of staging a daring prison break in the middle of the day. I take that moment to lean my head against his shoulder a little bit, pushing away the pain in my side. Is this really real? Or am I losing my mind? I'm so tired of trying to figure out my stupid psyche. I've dreamed about Heero being alive, only to wake up screaming night after night… I want so much for this to be real, but I don't dare let myself truly believe that he's here. Keep that little bit of myself that Heero holds still tucked away, just for a little bit longer. Get through this, then sort everything out. I'll have to. It's the only way I can cope.
I sigh. "Heero…"
I lift my head, trying hard to focus on the task at hand. "Where's your Gundam?"
We hear footsteps, not close, but Heero pulls me a little way into the shadows of the cell until they pass. "I left it on Earth. It would stick out here in space. I didn't want to get caught… like you."
I snort. "Yeah, well pardon me." Some of us didn't have the luxury of a functioning self-destruct button. I bite my tongue on that. No need to let him know I tried to break my promise. "So, big guy, how are you gonna get us out of here?"
I see him look at me from the corner of his eye, feel him stiffen a bit as he tightens his hold around me. I hiss, but he doesn't hear. "I came here to kill you. I hadn't thought up an escape plan yet."
I try not to laugh. It would hurt too much. That's Heero for you. I resist the urge to tell him to leave me behind if I'm that much of a liability. He just might do it. And I really don't want to die today, if I can help it.
"And if we don't make it?"
"It's as simple as silencing the two of us."
Before I can ask just how he plans to do that, he lifts his other hand and I see the glint of a detonator as he presses the button. The ground beneath our feet shakes and I can hear the rumble of an explosion somewhere nearby, though far enough away to send any OZ personnel in our area running to investigate. We take off down the hall in the opposite direction of the hurried footsteps. I will my feet to move even as my body screams in protest. Heero doesn't drop the detonator. He must have more devices planted elsewhere. I grin ruefully. Doesn't have an escape plan, my ass.
"It's always the quiet guys who are the flashiest," I mutter as we run through the empty corridors.
We round the corner and come to a dead end — a doorway blocked by steel bars. Footsteps and shouted voices can be heard nearby. Before I can ask how he plans to get through, he hands me the detonator and whispers into my ear.
"Hold onto me," he says, letting go of my waist. I have no problem following his order. I don't ever want to let him go again. Call me selfish. But I let him go once and he tried to die on me. Not again. Never again if I can help it.
He grabs hold of two of the bars and starts pulling. I stare at him, incredulous. "You've got to be kidding me," I mumble, as he pulls the bars apart enough to pull me through.
He just smirks at me as we half-run, half float down the corridors, away from the voices in the distance. We're running for our lives and all I can think of is, 'Holy shit. My lover can bend steel bars!' I feel a little foolish as a sense of pride washes through me. I'll never be able to make superman jokes at Heero's expense again. Damn it.
I keep the gun close to my chest, ignoring the pain, eyes darting around us, ready to fire if needed. The adrenaline helps. My steps become surer and I find if I bite my lip I can run/float without hunching over. Much. We come to an elevator and Heero lets go of me as the doors open and we hurry inside. He punches one of the buttons and the elevator begins to move. I drop to my knees, winded, happy that Heero knows where we're going. I doubt I could find my way out of a paper bag in my condition.
He doesn't look at me as the elevator descends. I look up at him through my messy hair, still half wondering if this is all a dream and I'm going to wake up cold and alone in that cell.
"How did they get you?" he asks, startling me. I sigh, trying to ignore the hint of disappointment in his voice. I describe my less-than-heroic capture in short order, still rankled at how easily those new suits seemed to take me down. Not one of my most stellar moments. Then again, I've not had a lot of those lately.
Heero just nods his head, as if expecting my answer. "Mobile dolls," he says, still staring straight ahead.
I go cold. Mobile dolls. I've heard of those. Soulless automatons. No human emotion to hold it back. Killing machines. This is bad. This is very bad.
"So those new models were mobile dolls," I murmur, trying to wrap my brain around what that meant for us, for OZ, for the colonies. "No wonder their reaction time was so fast." Too fast, even, for 'Scythe. My poor 'Scythe…
"Once they're locked onto a target, there's no escaping," Heero continues.
I feel a cold, empty space inside of me. Suddenly my future looks bleak. Well, bleaker than it did before Heero got me out of that cell. "How are we gonna get away then?" I ask, pushing myself up as I feel the elevator begin to slow down.
"I'm not thinking about escaping."
The doors open and the air is filled with the scream of bullets flying past us. Heero waits a moment until the air clears before leaning out and firing back. He glances at me and calls my name. I lift the detonator that's still in my hand, pressing the button. The air is suddenly filled with smoke, heat and debris. For a second I flash back to that day in Siberia, but Heero grabs me and pulls me out of the elevator, around a corner and down another corridor as the air explodes behind us.
The corridor opens into a hanger. Transport shuttles line one side, with a handful of Leo suits on the other. No time to waste taking the stairs down to the bottom. Heero pulls me over the railing of the catwalk and my heart skips a beat as we fall slowly down to the ground. I must have been on Earth too long. I'm not quite used to low gravity again. My stomach performs some spectacular queasy flip-flops as we drop. I glance at Heero, who is looking around with interest.
"We can use this," he says, mostly to himself.
"Use what?" I ask, biting back a cry as the landing jars my side.
Heero grabs my arm and pushes me toward one of the shuttles. "I'm going to clear the way for us. Think you can remember how to fly one of those?" he asks, nodding in the shuttle's direction.
I snort. "Easy as riding a biker." Heero frowns at me, then pushes me again. I roll my eyes. "Okay, okay. I'll start 'er up. But you'll have fly." Adrenaline can only take you so far. The pain is returning, in force. I feel faint and cold. I'm probably going into shock, but I don't tell Heero. We've enough to worry about at the moment.
He looks at me sharply.
"I can barely move my arm, Heero," I say, not lying, not quite telling the whole truth. "You'll have to maneuver the ship. There's no way I'll be able to do it."
Heero hesitates for a moment, then nods. "I'll be a few minutes. Find an astro suit. Don't take off without me."
"Wouldn't dream of it," I reply, mostly to myself as Heero takes off toward one of the Leos.
The rest of what happened is still pretty much a blur. I am not really sure how I managed to get that suit on in my condition. I remember stuffing my hair down the back and jamming the helmet on my head before making my way to the cockpit. I remember bringing the shuttle controls online. But I don't remember much after that. I don't know how long I waited until Heero returned. I think I may have blacked out for a few minutes because the next thing I knew, Heero was beside me, taking control of the shuttle, and we were blasting down the launch shoot and out into the black emptiness of space.
I must say I'm surprised no one followed us. I let my head loll back against the shuttle seat, looking at Heero. "What in the hell did you do back there, Yuy?" I ask, fighting unconsciousness. Knowing him, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd asked pretty please to let us escape. On second thought, yes I would. Heero doesn't say 'please' too often.
"The mobile dolls will lock onto a target, ignoring everything else. I gave them a target," he says, not looking at me, intent on piloting the shuttle away from the colony.
"And an astro suit."
It takes me almost a full minute to process that. Damn but my brain feels sluggish. I make the connection and sit bolt upright, cursing Heero and whatever gods put him in my life as pain floods my side and I realize what that means. "Shit, Yuy! You could have gotten yourself killed! Again!"
"Necessary risks," he says, his voice still cold and uncaring. Fuck. What happened to him after Siberia? He was the one to bring my walls down before that. Now his were locked around him tight like a Gundanium shell, making it impossible for me to read him.
Cold dread fills me as the thought of Gundanium reminds me of 'Scythe. Oh double fuck me sideways backwards on the horse I rode in on. "Heero, I left my Gundam behind. I've gotta destroy it." Much as it pains me to admit that, I can't leave 'Scythe in OZ's hands.
"The Gundams are worthless," is the only reply I receive.
"What?" Is this the same Heero who stole parts from *my* 'Scythe to fix his baby? The Heero I knew before Siberia would have decked the first person to call his Wing "worthless."
"Dr. J and the other scientists who designed the Gundams have all been caught by OZ."
Shit. Why can't I ever get any good news? Like, 'Oh hey Duo, congratulations. We've found your parents and they're loaded. You don't have to fight anymore and can now live in the lap of luxury.' Or even, 'Hey, Duo. There's a cheeseburger with your name on it in the galley.' Nope. Always death and destruction and people kicking puppies. Welcome to my life.
"I'll kill them all."
I look over at him, alarmed. "Heero…"
"I must eliminate all obstacles," he says, unlatching his helmet and letting it float away behind him. He reaches out to set the autopilot, then unbuckles himself, pushing his way into the tiny corridor behind the cockpit.
Oh no you don't, Mr. I-Can-Bend-Steel. You are not running from me now. I yank my helmet off, then fumble with the straps holding me in. My hands are so cold now they're shaking and I can feel cold sweat beading on my upper lip. Definitely shock. I claw at the straps, feeling half out of body, knowing that I'm starting to panic, but helpless to stop the feeling of terror as my body betrays me and I can't seem to get it to move they way I want.
Strong hands reach down from behind me. I hear his voice in my ear, "Shh. Stop struggling. Let me help."
I let my body go limp, too exhausted and numb to fight him. He releases the straps and pulls me up, cradling me against him for a moment like a child. I think I may have clutched at the front of his astro suit had I been able to move my arm without pain. I could almost cry from being made to feel like this — helpless, weak and dependent.
"You're not any of those things, Duo," Heero says, setting me carefully on my feet as I realize in horror that I've just said that out loud.
"Fuck you, Yuy," I lash out, suddenly angry — more at myself than at him. "I'm the one who got caught. I wouldn't have been able to get out on my own. I can barely stand and I left my Gundam behind!" I try to pull away from his strong embrace, but he won't let me go. "I'm a screw-up. You should have just left me behind!"
I expect him to either agree with me angrily or coddle me with reassuring words. He does neither; instead, he helps me through the shuttle and into the tiny alcove that passes as a sickbay.
He lets me go and I lean against the bulkhead, watching as he peels off his astro suit. The world around me takes on a surreal flavor, as if I'm watching everything from a great distance. The edges of my vision are tinged with black and gray. I swallow hard, trying to keep from slipping to the floor. I want more than anything to be out of my own suit, but I don't have the strength or energy to help myself. Pathetic. That's all I am. He really should have left me in that cell.
He looks over at me, huddled against the bulkhead. "How are you feeling?" he asks, stuffing his astro suit into a recess in the wall.
I grunt. "Fucking peachy," I manage to reply through chattering teeth. I raise my hands, cursing under my breath as they tremble. I tug furiously on my gloves, wanting them off. Damn things seem to be clinging to my skin like a... well, glove. Even with my palms all sweaty I can't seem to get them off. I bite my lip in an effort to keep my hands from shaking, pulling one glove off and letting it fall. I expect it to hit the floor like a dead fish, but forget that there's no gravity. I blink in amazement as my glove floats up and hits me in the face.
Heero chuckles softly and is at my side in an instant, pulling the other glove off my cold, shaking hand. I watch him catch the floater, staring at his back as he turns to stow them.
My entire body shakes with the effort to stand now. Every breath feels like glass in my lungs. I think I might have a broken rib, maybe two. But I push the pain away, thankful my lung isn't punctured. If it had been... Heero would have had leave me there. He should have, really. That's not me being noble. That's me being practical. If anything had gone wrong, the others would have been out two pilots instead of just the one.
"That was a damn, stupid thing to do, Heero," I say softly, letting one arm drop to cradle my side. Heero turns back to look at me, his expression first gentle, then hard. "I calculated the risks. Your skills are to valuable to be wasted."
"So are yours," I snap back.
He gives me a little smirk. "Double or nothing, Duo. I learned that from you."
"Eh?" Since when does Heero speak in riddles?
He doesn't say anything for the longest time, intent on helping me out of my suit, peeling the heavy material from my body in slow, deliberate movements in order not to cause me any more pain. It's a nice gesture, if futile. I blink away tears of pain as he tugs the suit over my hips and down my legs, helping me to step out of it.
"In your room at school. Remember?" He turns to stow my own suit and I lean against the bulkhead, smiling softly. Right. Poker night. One of the few times I ever got Heero to let go of the soldier façade, outside of bed of course.
He had been studying. I was bored. There was no hope for him, really. I taught him how to play poker. He told me it was the first game he'd ever learned. Even with all the shit I went through as a kid, there was always a moment or two for games. Solo had taught me the cards. It was my turn to teach Heero.
Poker quickly degenerated into strip poker. Heero was losing terribly. The boy can't bluff. He gets this crease right in the middle of his brow when he's frustrated. Barely noticeable, but I can see it.
Anyway, there we were. He was down to his briefs. I had only lost my shirt. That's when I bet him.
"Double or nothing, Heero," I said, shuffling the cards.
"What?" Poor kid. Sitting there, nearly naked, shivering slightly. God, but I wanted him.
"Double or nothing. I win, you lose that," I said, pointing at his tighty whities. "You win… you get me."
I could tell he was interested when his whities got even tighter. I lost, but I didn't complain.
"I remember," I whisper, letting my eyes drift shut. I hear Heero grunt, then close the locker door. I open my eyes to grin at him. "I cheated, you know."
He's in front of me so quickly I hardly see him move. He leans into me, pressing me against the bulkhead until I can feel the heat of his body flush against mine. Some of the cold in my bones is pushed away. I feel his hot, moist breath against my lips. His eyes search mine and he whispers against my mouth, "I know."
Then his mouth is on mine, hard, demanding. I make a noise, desperate, in the back of my throat and open my mouth to his and then he's crashing into me, body hard against mine, tongues twisting together, locked in an endless struggle. My hands fist his shirt. His rest flat against the bulkhead, trapping me between sold metal and warm steel.
I try to fuse my body to his, not wanting to let go, half afraid I'm still in that cell and when I open my eyes, I'll be trapped in that nightmare where Heero is dead, burned and bloodied. He tastes just how I remember him. Salty sweet. I slip a hand under his shirt to run fingers over velvet-smooth hardness. He hisses into my mouth, his hand on me, moving under my arm, down my side…
I cry out, a pathetic cat-scream, as his hand touches my side. I cringe away, doubling over, not realizing I've slid halfway down the wall, my arm clutching protectively at my side.
Heero squats down in front of me, looking slightly shocked and… scared? I whimper as he pulls my hands away, not realizing I'm shaking until he slides an arm under mine to help me up.
"What hurts?" he asks, maneuvering me to one of the bunks.
I gasp for air as I suddenly become aware of every injury, every scrape, every scratch, every bruise. I had managed to push most of the pain away during our flight from the colony. But now, free and clear, my body demands payment for those couple of hours of needed respite and is collecting in full. With interest.
I let Heero push me down on the bunk. I allow myself to drift out as he carefully removes my tattered clothes. I come back to myself as he starts poking and prodding. My face burns with shame as tears stream down my face. Heero brushes my hair back, making soothing noises, or at least I think they're soothing noises. He could be humming under his breath "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts" and I wouldn't be able to tell. My mind is demanding to let go, away from the pain, away from the humiliation of my tears, away from a reality that might not actually exist.
"I'm here," I hear Heero say in the graying darkness.
"But you weren't before." I listen to myself as if from a great distance.
"I know. I'm… sorry."
Someone groans. Probably me. "Thought you were dead."
"I think I was."
"Everybody dies." My mouth is moving on its own. I can no longer control my thoughts, my words. I feel something prick my skin. Moments later the sharp agony softens to dull ache, and I feel myself floating. High like a balloon. I wonder if I'll bounce against the ceiling.
My hand reaches out and grabs him. "Don't go." Don't leave me. Don't let me be alone again.
A warm hand covers mine. "I'll stay."
I try to shake my head, but it feels full of cotton. "Please. You left me before. Quatre left me. Everyone leaves. Everyone dies." Everyone…
"Zero Four. He was… he helped me when…" I can't continue. I just want to let go.
"Duo, Quatre Winner is not dead. I saw it on the news feeds. He's with his family."
Not dead? Heero, Quatre… both alive? I struggle to draw in a ragged, shaking breath. Alive. Not victims of my curse. Breathing. Living. Alive. Oh god…
I let myself fall into the blackness, holding on to that one shining thought. Alive.
The first thing I become aware of this time is the soft, clean smell of cotton. I linger in that place between sleep and awake, warm for once, and comfortable. Whatever I'm lying on is soft. I sigh, stretching, languishing in being warm, until my side catches and I wake up, cursing.
I blink in the bright light of the room. A plain white ceiling hangs above me and the sheets wrapped snug around me, though clean, have a vague antiseptic smell to them. I close my eyes against the light, concentrating on my body, making small, hesitant movements to assess the damage. I hiss sharply when my side catches again, though the pain is considerably less than before. If I'm careful, I can stretch fully. I breathe in deeply, thankful that it's easier to do so, then sigh and relax against the pillow.
A small sound catches my attention. I turn my head, both surprised and not surprised to see Heero sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, watching me intently. The thought that he might have been there the whole time, just watching me sleep, makes me feel slightly giddy and lightheaded… though that may be whatever drugs that have been pumped into my system. My vision is a little fuzzy and my mouth feels full of cotton. I smile at Heero, closing my eyes to wallow in the feeling. Damn, this is good stuff. I really must get a supply…
"Are you awake?"
I open my eyes again, blinking at him. My vision is still a bit fuzzy, but his voice pulls me back to the waking world. I groan softly, trying to swallow, almost gagging as the back of my throat sticks together. Ew.
I mouth 'water' at Heero, who stands and picks up a glass on a table next to the bed. He helps me sit up, bolstering me against the pillow, then sits next to me, helping me to hold the cup as I gulp the cool liquid down.
Jesus. Drinking that first glass was almost better than sex. Almost. Okay, not quite. But close.
He pulls the cup away against my protests. "You'll make yourself sick."
"Don't care. Want more." Huh. Apparently my time in prison has reduced me to some kind of caveman mentality. Not that it was a long trip, really.
Heero gives me some more, allowing me to drink in short sips, until most of the water is gone. I lean against the pillow with a sigh, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Heero leans over and places the cup back on the table.
Neither of us say anything for a long while. We don't even look at each other. I stare out the window at the colony, wondering which one we're on, and Heero stares down at his hands. I fidget. He plucks invisible lint off his jeans.
Suddenly I'm overwhelmed. Like the past few months come screaming back all at once and I find myself hyperventilating, gasping for air, sobbing without tears. Heero clutches my arms and distantly I hear him ask what's wrong and if he should call a doctor. I manage to shake my head, but I raise my arms to clutch at his shirt.
"Y-you're alive," I gasp, pulling him closer.
"And… and Quatre…"
"He is too, last I heard."
I lean my forehead against Heero's shoulder. Quatre is alive. I thought I would lose my mind after I saw Sandrock explode on the tarmac of that base in a near perfect imitation of Wing over Siberia. He had been my anchor in a time when I was adrift. Without him, I probably would have put a gun to my head at some point during those dark weeks after Heero's "death." Losing Quatre too, I had been ready to die, and would have had my self-destruct button worked. Of course, I'm grateful now that it didn't. But at the time, I didn't feel like life was worth going on, having lost the two people I…
But I hadn't lost them. Heero is here with me. Quatre is somewhere, but alive. At the thought of Quatre my mind wanders back to the night Quatre and I… the night we helped each other through our own dark place.
//When you find your someone, Duo… tell him//
I swallow hard, shaking now, and scared. I had thought I'd dreamed that, but nevertheless, I had made a silent promise to Quatre that I would tell Heero I loved him, either in this life or the next. I had figured it would be in the next, and I could tell him without fear.
I never expected I'd be in a position to tell him while we were both alive. I start to shake, afraid of what I want to say, afraid I won't be able to say it.
He looks at me, frowning. "Is something wrong?"
I nod, then shake my head. "Heero?"
I swallow, my mouth dry as a bone once more. "There's something I… I have to tell you."
This is it. I'm going to tell him. I should have told him a long time ago. Maybe if I had, he wouldn't have pushed that button and I wouldn't have had to live with the knowledge he was gone. But that doesn't matter any more. He's alive and so am I and I am going to tell him that I love him.
God! Why is this so hard? Three lousy little words. That's all I have to say. What's so hard about that? But the words seem stuck in my throat.
Argh! Say it already!
"I… slept with Quatre."
Oh. Fucking. Hell.
Tell me those words didn't just come out of my mouth. Please? I couldn't have possibly have said that out loud, could I?
I feel Heero stiffen slightly beside me, and with a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realize I have. Shit.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Heero stands abruptly, walking to the other side of the room to pick up a jacket I had not noticed lying there. Panic fills me, dread creeping through every corner of my being. I reach out to him, sliding my legs off the side of the bed, too weak to stand, too scared to just let him go.
"H-Heero?" My voice shakes, but he pauses with his back to me.
"It is of no consequence, Duo," he replies, but his voice is cold and void of emotion.
"I-I'm sorry, Heero. But... I thought you had... I didn't know and he was there and I wanted you but you were... and he was there and I wanted it to be you, but it wasn't you and I..." The words tumble from my mouth in a rush. I can't seem to put a complete thought together, but I have to get this out, have to explain.
He turns abruptly, facing at me but not looking at me. "I understand, Duo. This is war. You take your comforts where you can."
I feel tears forming in my eyes; my heart is heavy and I shake my head. "But I didn't..."
"Duo," he says, interrupting me, his voice barely above a whisper. "It does not matter." He pulls on his jacket, then raises his eyes to me finally. "My shuttle will be leaving for Lunar Base in an hour." He opens his mouth as if to say something, then shakes his head as if he changed his mind. "Just stay here. Rest. Heal."
My heart aches. The pain my body is in is nothing compared to what I feel in my heart right now. There are so many things I need to say, but can't find the words – or the courage – to say them.
I look at the ground. Looking at him is too painful. "Did you say the Lunar Base?" I ask softly, suddenly even more afraid, if that's even possible.
"That's right." I recognize that voice. He's in "mission mode." I have always hated that voice. It has haunted my dreams for the past month. "A large amount of Gundanium alloy is being brought to the Lunar Base factory. It's probably for making a new type of mobile suit."
I stare at the tiles on the floor, dejected. I've only just gotten him back. Please don't let him leave me again. "So what are your plans?"
"Just stay here," he says again. I wonder if he's afraid I'd try to follow him. I wonder if I would have the guts to try. "You'll get in the way."
I wince. That hurt. My gaze flies up to meet his as I frown. "What do you mean?" I try to haul myself to my feet, but my ribs protest – loudly – so even if I had wanted to follow him, I couldn't. I sit heavily back down on the bed, clutching my stomach. Stupid, weak, pathetic body. "Look, I'm gonna need time to recover, considering all that's happened." And the understatement of the year award goes to Duo Maxwell! "But you know, you could be a little kinder to me every now and then," I say, sarcasm dripping from my voice, even though I desperately want him to say something, anything, to keep me from panicking about my confession, to know that the Heero I knew and loved – love – is still in there somewhere.
But you know me. Fight fear with sarcasm and a smile. Or try to, anyway. Doesn't seem to be working for me though, lately.
Heero turns away again, staring out the window of my room. "Why not go to school instead of me? I've already got the admission taken care of, under your name."
My name? Heero…
My heart is aching but I don't want to let it show. Call it a self-defense mechanism, but I honestly don't know what to do or say. I'm at a loss… something I realize I only ever am with Heero. I don't like it, but I don't know really how to deal with it.
"You've got to be kidding," I say, trying not to let my voice betray how much I don't want him to go. "I mean, I know your name would kinda stick out here, but…"
Heero throws an almost angry glare in my direction. "Instead of complaining just rest and get better!"
I blink at him, then hang my head. God, I feel like such a shit. Heero isn't dead but he's leaving and I'm doing nothing to stop him.
"Heero…" I say softly. "Look, I'm… I'm sorry." I bring my braid around to my front, twisting it nervously, a old habit I haven't indulged in in a long time. "After you… after I thought I lost you, I almost followed." I sneak a glance at him, through my hair. He's turned his back to me, facing the door. I lower my eyes again. "Quatre… he helped me get through the worst of it. He made me realize some stuff..."
//When you find your someone, Duo… tell him.//
"We need to stop, Duo."
I look up at him sharply, his back still to me. "What?"
"What we were doing, before…" He shakes his head. "We need to stop."
I inhale sharply. My body suddenly feels cold and numb, just as it had back in the desert, before Quatre had found me in that hallway. "Did you not mean it then? When you said you loved me?" I ask softly, not wanting to hear the answer.
He doesn't reply for a long time. I count my own heartbeats in the space he takes to answer, each one a promise not kept… fifteen, sixteen…
"I love you," he says, so softly I'm not sure I hear him. "But I can't allow myself to love you now."
"Why?" God, please no. He may not be dead but you're taking him from me all the same!
"Because… I almost didn't push that button in Siberia… because of you." He walks to the door, not looking back. "Your Gundam is gone and useless. You have an out now, Duo. Take it. Live a normal life."
"Heero…" Oh god… I can't breathe. "Heero, please…"
"Duo…" He pauses, turning to look at me.
I want to say something to make him stay, say I love him, say that I need him in my life, even when he's not with me, but the words get stuck in my throat I'm powerless to stop this. I've fought all my life not to be powerless, to be in control, but one look from him and I lose it.
He shakes his head, as if he's thought better of what he was going to say. Maybe whatever it was got stuck in his throat too, but then I've never known Heero to be at a loss for words.
He looks at me for a long moment before dropping his eyes and placing his hand on the doorknob. "Live a good life, Duo."
And then, he's gone.
Part of me wants to launch myself at the door, regardless of the pain or the damage I may do to my body. Part of me wants to curl under the sheets and die. A vast emptiness fills the pit of my stomach and I'm glad some kind nurse has put a bed pan within easy reach because the next thing I know I am clutching it to my chest, retching and gagging into the cold stainless steel bowl.
I must have passed out afterwards. Probably from the pain of aggravating my ribs while puking into the bed pan. There's a sour taste in my mouth, but the sheets are clean and I'm underneath them. The bed pan has been removed so someone must have been in to check on me.
Without a bed pan, I am forced to make my way out of bed and shuffle to the tiny bathroom nearby to relieve myself. I don't turn on the light. I don't want to take a chance of seeing myself in the mirror. I'm afraid I may hate what I see.
I can't stand the thought of going back to bed, so I hobble to the big window, sitting gingerly on the ledge and looking out over the colony. I can't tell which one I'm on. I can see a shuttle port in the distance and wonder if Heero has gone already, into danger, away from me…
"Don't overdo it Heero," I whisper to my reflection in the glass. I snort then. What am I saying? Of course he'll overdo it. The only question is, will he be able to escape death once more? Shinigami is stalking him; I could see it in his eyes and feel it in my bones.
I lean my head against the cool glass, closing my eyes. The ache inside has dulled, though I think I've been medicated again. But the emptiness… the emptiness is almost unbearable, even worse, perhaps, then when I thought he was dead.
I feel myself start to hyperventilate. I open my eyes, looking down at the street, and let the vertigo of being up so high wash over me, calming me a little.
Minutes pass, hours maybe. The feeling of being utterly lost and alone threatens to overwhelm me. I have no Gundam, no mission, no Heero. Nothing to live for, nothing to die for. Somewhere there's a school with my name on the attendance records, but despite Heero's plea for me to live a normal life, I don't think that's possible. How can I live a normal life when I don't even know what "normal" is?
My ribs begin to ache from my position on the window sill. I limp back to the bed, easing down on it.
I have nowhere to go. I'll stay in this room until my ribs heal, but after that…
I feel like an empty bottle tossed without thought into the sea. I'll bob up and down for a while, holding my neck above the water line, but if someone doesn't fish me out… I'll eventually sink to the bottom.
What to do, where to go… I can't wrap my brain around these thoughts, not yet. I idly wonder if I can steal a vile of morphine, make the pain go away forever. But… Heero's voice, pleading with me to live… I almost don't want to give the bastard the satisfaction of doing what he asks. But I know I won't. He'll only blame himself, and I know what that feels like. I don't want him to ever have to feel that way over me.
I lie back against the pillow, deciding to let the rest of the drugs do their work, too numb to really think. I'll sort it all out in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. I have the time.
Heero and OZ have both seen to that.
My last conscious thought is a prayer – something I haven't done lately – praying that whoever or whatever watches out for children and fools will take care of Heero and keep him safe.
He is both, after all.
The wind whips down the alley and I pull my coat a little closer to my body. We're on a colony for Christ's sake. Why do we need wind? I kick at a stone in my path, listening as it careens off the wall and into the gutter. I can sympathize with the rock.
I lean against a brick wall to catch my breath. My ribs still haven't healed completely, but I couldn't stay in that clinic room for very long. I snuck out at first opportunity, taking time only to hack into the school record Heero had set up in my name and delete it. Continuing on in his stead was impossible. I don't even know why he suggested it. There are pictures of me plastered all over the fucking colony. In anger I rip one off a nearby storefront, crumpling it into a ball. The least those bastards could have done was get my good side.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, probably an aftereffect of the pain killers I was given in the clinic. Even though it's freezing bloody cold, I stop at a streetside vendor to purchase something wet, cold and with a lot of sugar. I need to build my energy, even if I don't know exactly what to do yet.
Heero wants me to have a normal life, to get out of this godforsaken war. In truth, it sounds nice, but I've never lived a normal life. I wouldn't know what a normal life was if one slithered up behind me and bit me on the ass. All my life I've been fighting… fighting OZ, fighting the streets, fighting just to stay alive. I don't know anything different. Normal life? Not for me. I'll keep fighting. I just don't know what to do… yet.
The thought of somehow getting ahold of Howard crosses my mind when a voice overhead catches my attention. My gaze is drawn up to one of those big screen vid sets on the side of a building, announcing the top pilot candidates for some program or another. I snort. Betcha I could take these guys blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. Me 'n' 'Scythe could have had these pip-squeaks for breakfast and been home in time for brunch.
A wave of longing fills my stomach as I think of my poor buddy, battered and broken and left in the hands of people who couldn't appreciate him. Perhaps that's what I should do. Try to get him back. Maybe I could infiltrate those little upstarts on the screen… Not a bad idea if I hadn't had my picture plastered all over the friggin' Earthspehre.
I notice people around me stopping to watch the screen, hanging on every word of propaganda dripping from the announcer's oily voice. I shake my head, sighing. Why are they all going along with OZ's every word? I want to scream at them, shake them, make them open their eyes. They've been blinded to the truth, seeing only what they want to see.
A collective gasp from the crowd draws my attention back to the screen. A rookie pilot seems to be doing quite well with the tests OZ is throwing at him. His style reminds me a little of Heero's. Huh. Perhaps OZ has some talent working for them after all.
A final test is announced. I stare in horror as a familiar dark figure hovers onscreen. No… I feel my soda splash at my feet as I drop it, my fingers shaking too hard. It can't be.
The announcement is made. My Deathscythe, my buddy, my proud and noble warrior is to be destroyed, executed.
I start to shake, my eyes riveted to the screen. "Hey. 'Scythe. Don't give up too easily," I whisper, to myself, to my buddy on the screen. "You'll be okay, right? You'll come out fine, right?"
I want to believe it. 'Scythe is strong. He wouldn't let a little punk in a training suit get the better of him. Right?
The order is given. The shot is fired. I struggle to comprehend what I see before me. My 'Scythe, shattered, broken… and then, gone.
For the second time in a week my world is swept out from underneath me. I throw my head back and howl my denials, heedless of the people around me. I let my feet carry me from the crowds, my heart hammering in my chest. I catch myself against a dirty alley wall, bending over, breathing hard. I blink furiously, trying to clear my vision.
'Scythe, gone. Heero, gone. One gone for good… the other…
Rage fills me, anger at OZ for what they have put me through, what they did to 'Scythe, what they did to Heero. I push away from the wall, my hands clenched tight in fists.
I'm sorry, Heero. I cannot do what you ask. I don't want to. Live a good life? Not for me. Sorry, buddy. But you can't expect me to do what you tell me to do and then leave me.
My anger swings from OZ to Heero. I cling to it like a lifeline. Better anger than emptiness. That little bastard. He's responsible for this – for me, now. How dare he leave! How dare he expect me to try to live a normal life – a life without him! A life glued to news casts, waiting for word of his death, or worse… waiting for news that never comes. He broke me, tore down my walls, made me care about him when I'd sworn never to care about anyone ever again. There's no way I'm going to let him get away with that.
But first, I have to find him.
The moon base, eh Heero? Sounds like a good place to start. Maybe while I'm there I can extract a little vengeance for 'Scythe. Two birds, one really pissed off stone.
I push away from the wall, turning down the street, my hands knotted in determined fists. Time to start planning.
Look out OZ. Shinigami is coming for you.