Disclaimers: I don't own these characters and make no profit from my storytelling. Warnings: Heero may seem a bit OOC here, but I like to think they would all have needs and wants just like the rest of us.

Synopsis: The five pilots come together in a private school to prepare for a mission. An incident between Heero and Duo has the Deathscythe pilot questioning the other pilots' friendships. He decides to put them to the test.

A Test of Friendship - Part 8
Duo's Friendship Arc 4
by Dyna Dee

Final chapter

The evening had advanced by the time the three returning pilots had finished with their sullen comrade. They had initially been upset over Heero's failure to win his partner over. After all, they had given him the whole day to accomplish the task. Then Heero informed them the of the new orders. Quatre became more upset, not wanting the strained situation to go on. Trowa had been affected by his partner's reaction and became grudgingly angry himself. Wufei carried on his own tirade about the injustice of the timing. After berating Heero for quite a long while, they sat down at the never used dinning table to form a strategy and plan for the next few days.

Quatre looked at his watch, surprised by the lateness of the hour. He went to the bedroom expecting his friend to be either elated to see him, or furious, but definitely hungry. What he didn't expect was the bed to be empty, with the exception of the glowing lap top.

The others looked up and curiously watched him as he raced from the bedroom in a frantic search of the rest of the cottage.

"He's gone!" he announced in disbelief and worry as he returned to the table.

"Gone. Gone where?" Heero asked rising from his chair.

Quatre looked at him exasperated. "How should I know, he's just gone!"

Heero went into the bedroom to look for himself. A chill breeze cooled the room considerably and the sound of the first raindrops hitting the open windowsill. He moved towards it, and opening it wider, looked out the window to the ground below. "He went out this way ." he called back as he observed the broken and crushed flowers below the outside of the window.


Collapsing to the ground once again, Duo groaned as he grabbed his leg to massage the cramped muscles. He never realized how hard it was to hop....and keep hopping. It was dark now, and under the cover of the trees it was becoming impossible to see. And he was miserably wet, as the canopy of the trees above him did little to shelter his shaking form from the chilling rain coming down in sheets above him. In the distance he could hear the sounds of a highway. If only he could make it there, he'd have a chance. He knew that if he could hitchhike back to his gundam before the others could find him, he could escape Heero. At least in Deathscythe he'd have a fighting chance against the perfect soldier. It wasn't much of a plan, but the only plan at the moment was to stay alive. He would think things out more thoroughly once inside the gundam's safe confines. He knew G would argue in his behalf, if he could just communicate with him.

Pulling himself up the slick trunk of a tree, he paused at the sound behind him. Picking up the dropped tree branch that he'd found on the ground before sunset and, after breaking off unneeded limbs, formed a crutch that fit awkwardly under his arm. Pushing the wet hair out from in front of his eyes and shifting the crutch under his now sore underarm, he began in earnest to hobble through the woods once again toward the sounds of the highway.

He stumbled again and cursed his weakness. Between his injury, illness, and inactivity, he had become pathetically weak. As his exhaustion spread through his body, he felt the unnatural desire to weep with frustration. The elements were not helping as the rain beat down and the wind swept chillingly through his sodden clothing. Under his breath, he let go a steady stream of curses, but stopped suddenly when in the distance he heard his name being called. Looking back, he could see the flicker of flashlights through the trees.

In desperation, he pressed forward, fighting his body for every foot of ground he covered, and wincing at the noise he made in his desperate attempt to escape.

Whether they saw or heard him he didn't know, but he knew for certain that they had spotted him. Desperate times called for desperate actions. He tossed the crutch and began to run, well, more like hobbled quickly, using both legs. His face scrunched up as he tried to ignore the pain shooting up from his leg as the sounds of pursuit drew closer. Though it seemed to him that his movements were alarmingly slow, he was running fast enough that when his foot caught hold of an unseen root, he went flying through the air, landing hard enough to leave him breathless.

Even as the air was knocked out of him, he grabbed behind his shoulder for his back pack and swinging it forward, fumbled for the zipper. He managed to find it, and unzipping it, reached inside and quickly found what he needed. As the flashlights shone blindingly down on him, he rolled onto his back and drew his gun up defensively, releasing the safety.

"Duo, what's the matter with you?" Wufei's voice challenged him. But on seeing the gun and the American's panicked expression, he held still several feet away from the boy on the ground both hands lifting to show he was weaponless.

"Stay back." the injured boy warned, gasping for breath while his straightened arms and hands holding the gun shook from a combination of cold, pain, and dread.

"Why did you run away?" Quatre's voice identified him as one of the shadows behind the flashlights.

"Did you t.. th.. th. think I would j... j.. j. ust sit and let H.. H.. Heero blow me away?" he spat indignantly through chattering teeth.

"What? Why would he do that?" Trowa's voice sounded incredulous from the dark.

"New orders." Duo spat and blinked furiously as the rain sent rivulets of water down his face.

There was a long pause before Quatre spoke up. "You read his mission message, didn't you? From Dr. J."

"Is Heero with you?" Duo asked nervously, his eyes squinting against the lights as he tried to make out the silhouettes before him.

"No" Wufei answered. "We thought that he'd upset you today, so we told him to stay behind while we searched for you."

"Listen guys." Duo spoke rapidly. "You know Heero. He'll follow through on his orders. He'll complete the mission no matter what." There was an edge of pleading and hysteria to his voice. "Just, please, l..l..let me go. I know I can f..f..f.ight once my leg is better. It's ridiculous to eliminate me j..j...just because of an injury."

"I think you're mistaken." Wufei said, the tone of his voice was calm but firm. "We were just in a planning meeting and killing you was not a part of the agenda."

"Well the orders said Heero was to......" he stopped for a moment trying to remember the word Dr. J had used. "..obviate, yeah, I think that's the word, and to explain it to y..y.you guys after the fact why he h..h...had to do what he was ordered to do." He looked angrily up at the three somewhere in the dark shadows. "What does that sound like to you?" he challenged them, and cursed himself as his body shook from the cold beyond his control, the gun obviously wobbling in his trembling hands.

"I think" Quatre began slowly, "that we should give him the benefit of a doubt and ask him about the message and it's meaning. It could be that you misunderstood it."

The other two murmured their agreement.

Duo began to swing his gun back and forth. "No way. I'm not going like a sheep to the slaughter."

"We won't let him hurt you." Wufei's voice sounded a bit testy as he came out of the dark into the light of the others flashlights.

"Like you could stop him if he really wanted to kill me!" The Deathscythe pilot shouted.

"Duo." Trowa's voice was modulated for soothing the agitated pilot as he knelt down close to his feet. "We're your friends. If we say we won't let anything happen to you, don't you have enough faith in us to believe it?"

The braided boy froze as realization hit him. Here he had been demanding these friends prove themselves worthy of his friendship, which they had, and now Trowa had effectively turned the tables asking him to trust them. Was he as good a friend to them as they had proven they were to him, he wondered? He allowed his shaking arms to drop, the safety clicking on the gun.

"I trust you." he whispered tiredly as he put his life in their hands.

They each took turns carrying him back to the cottage where he was put in a hot bath to warm up and soak while the others dried off and talked to Heero.

Quatre knocked on the bathroom door before entering. Putting the lid down on the toilet seat, he sat on it, facing the sleepy boy, yet finally warmed up boy in the bath.

"Heero explained the message to us." he began, a serious look on his face. "He had submitted to Dr. J that since you won't be able to operate Deathscythe or travel for awhile, that he remove you and your gundam to a more convenient safehouse. Once we were gone he figured it would be impossible for you to get the necessities you needed at such a distance from a town. Heero was being given permission to proceed as he deemed fit and eliminate or "obviate" all traces of your being here. He was to tell us later as Dr. J knew we would want to stay to help you, and he needs us elsewhere."


A short while later, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, Duo lay on his side facing the closed door, alone and silently berating himself with his thoughts and regrets. He felt terrible he'd misjudged Heero so thoroughly. The house had been quiet for at least a half hour when the door silently opened and shut quickly. Yet in that short moment, Duo saw that the rest of the house was dark telling him the others had all gone to bed.

Heero appeared as a mere shadow as he moved across the room. There was a rustle of fabric being removed from a drawer and put on. Moments later, the weight on the bed announced that Wing's pilot had climbed into bed and slipped under the covers.

Duo lay still, trying to feign sleep. The only sound in the cottage was the falling of rain on the housetop. Suddenly, he felt strong, calloused hands reach out and take hold of him and abruptly, but not ungently, pulled him back against Heero's solid chest, and arms of steel wrapped securely around his body as if to hold him in place. A panicked thought ran through his mind that Heero was going to kill him after all. But as he didn't have any strength left to fight, he forced himself to lay passive in the other's grip. He felt Heero's face brush gently, almost soothingly, against the side of his face, his breath warm and smelling of peppermint on his cheek, then he pulled back.

"Have you given up on me completely?" His voice whispered in his ear, no longer sounding like the perfect soldier, but like that of a young, uncertain child.

Duo lay still, shocked, and not knowing quite what Heero's meaning or intent was.

"Don't give up on me yet, Duo." Heero quietly entreated. "I don't know much about being a friend, but I'll try...... if you'll show me. I......I...need you to be my friend." he said, his voice small and it almost had a pleading quality to it.

In an instant, memories flooded the braided boy of another time and place. Of the desperate need of a small child to have someone touch him in reassurance that all would be well, that he really wasn't alone in the struggle called life. Heero's hold on him now had the feel of such a touch. He sensed the platonic embrace was Heero's way to make a connection with another human being, just as he had with Solo, Father Maxwell, and Sister Helen. He counted himself fortunate to have had those few fleeting times to give him the memory that he'd had what every child craved, if even for a short span of time, a sheltering, comforting embrace. An hold similar to that of Quatre's.

A recollection of a conversation between Quatre and Heero flashed in his mind. Quatre had greeted the all to a safehouse with a smile and a quick hug, and Heero alone had the balls to ask the Sandrock pilot, in his usual blunt manner, why he did that.

The blonde smiled, completely unembarrassed, and told the four that he was the youngest child and only male in a very affectionate family with twenty-nine sisters, and that hugging was a great part of his family and culture. His people, even the men, embraced each other warmly in greetings or farewells as a show of brotherhood. Even a kiss on the cheek was acceptable, though the Arabian teen said he'd not impose such a tradition on his friends, their being raised in a culture different from his. He said he'd refrain from the hug if it really bothered any one of them. As far as the Deathscythe pilot knew, not a one of them protested as Quatre kept up his tradition for greeting them or saying goodbye. It wasn't hard for Duo to catch on and began hugging the others also, though with a lot more restraint. It was usually one arm slung around the others shoulders, or a sound slap on their backs. He'd found the small physical contact filled a deep, longing need in him for affection.

And now, the hugging affliction seemed to have caught on as the boy they'd dubbed the Perfect Soldier was holding him against his chest. Duo sensed the other boy's need to be close, yet quite different than Quatre's reasons for hugging. He couldn't shake the feeling that it all felt hauntingly similar to feelings he'd had as a child when he struggled to survive on the streets of L2. It was a need to cling to someone who was stronger than you when life was unsteady and frightening. A silent promise of protection. And the most amazing thing of all was that Heero was following his emotions, even though they were as foreign to him as a lady's tea party, and he really had no clue as to how to go about it. Heero, it seemed, had chosen him to be that steady anchor when times got rough. What a precious gift of trust that was from one friend to another, and dammit, he wasn't going to let Heero down.

"I'm sorry for hurting you. I won't do that again...... I promise." Heero's soft voice cut through his thoughts, and Duo felt him pull his head back slightly, even as he kept his arm hold of the slight body in front of him.

The braided teen finally exhaled, letting out the breath he didn't know he was holding. Reaching up, put his hands over his friend's, resting on his ribs, and patted them. "Thank you, Heero. I need you to be my friend, too, and I'll try to be a better friend to you." he promised.

Soon both boys drifted off into a deep and peaceful sleep, strangely content in the unfamiliar embrace that was warm, comforting, and new to both of them. It seemed a physical symbol to both of them of their covenant of a new and renewed friendship.


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