In the number three med bay of Peacemillion, the glare of medical equipment and two dim lighting panels fought the darkness. Only slow breaths, the occasional sigh and the steady beeping of the monitors broke the silence. The bulkheads felt like they were closing in from all sides.
To Duo, the place felt like a tomb.
He mustered half a smile. At least they were still short a dead body. He clutched Hilde's hand, adjusted his seating. After this many hours, the barely padded chair was getting very uncomfortable - but ever since Hilde had gone unconscious, he'd tried to be at her side. If nothing else, he hoped to apologize to her. His crass words weren't caused by anger, but more of concern. He'd expected Hilde to stay safe and sound at the salvage yard until this was all over, but no... She had to go prove herself, had to go to Libra and-
He cut the thought short, took another deep breath to relax, shifted his hands to cup Hilde's.
They had assured him she had not gone comatose - she was just sleeping, recovering from concussion, exhaustion and blood loss. She had definitely earned the rest.
The hiss of the door came first, the light from the hallway against the far wall immediately after. Duo didn't have to turn around to recognize the faint silouette. "Hey, Heero..." he said meekly in greeting.
"Hi," came the reply. Pause. "No change?"
Duo shook his head. "No. She's still sleeping. She's stable now, though. She'll be fine, given time."
The head of the silouette rustled in a shadow of a nod, accepting the information.
"I told you what she said when I picked her up, right?"
Again, the shadowplay.
Duo swiped his thumb back and forth across the back of Hilde's hand, his voice growing weak. "You don't think she did it for me, do you?"
Quiet followed for a few long moments. "You'd have to ask her," the shadow answered, then paused to reconsider. "But I don't think so."
With some effort, Duo managed a sad smile, sighing through it. "Yeah... She's a soldier in her own right. Headstrong and stupid, just like I used to be."
Snort from behind.
Half a chuckle. "Hey, I've matured..."
A faint smirk Duo never saw.
"Anyway... I guess she just did what she wanted to, despite what I told her. I mean, if she had just stayed home until we finished sorting out all this mess, then she wouldn't have gotten hurt, and-"
"You don't know that," Heero cut in as he stepped into the room, abandoning the door frame. "And in a way, you could say she stayed true to her new calling - she certainly salvaged our operation. Her information on Libra is valuable - priceless, even."
Full chuckle this time. Duo clutched Hilde's hand again, felt Heero's land on his shoulder. He looked up at the shadows on the wall. It seemed more detailed now, more real. The dark echo of the helmet tucked under Heero's other arm bothered him, though - even if he had expected this to happen. "You're going, aren't you?"
The fingers on his shoulder tensed for but an instant. Still, the answer came slowly. "You know the answer to that already... You knew that as soon as you told me..."
Hesitantly, Duo nodded in agreement. "Doesn't mean I like it... Thought we agreed to cut down on the unecessary risks."
Heero frowned. "She's being held-"
"-captive, but by her brother, fercryingoutloud!" Duo half-yelled at the shadows, momentarily deafening the heartbeat monitor. "You really think Zechs would hurt his own sister?"
Heero glanced down at Duo, then stared into the wall as if it were a mirror. "Milliardo, not Zechs. There's a difference. Zechs wouldn't harm her. I'm not so sure about Milliardo. Besides, I plan to destroy Libra somehow - not necessarily this time, but very soon. I would rather not that Relena was still aboard the ship at that point - and if I have to kill Milliardo, I'd prefer she didn't witness it."
Duo looked at Hilde's peaceful face again, reached out to put a stray lock back into place, soon returning to cradle her hand in his. "Or had a chance to intervene, you mean."
Heero hesitated, then gave a quick, firm nod. "That too."
Duo shook his head, sighed, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "Women... Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em."
A lopsided smirk, but no reply. A soft clenching of palm to shoulder, twice, then a final pat. Heero turned and started walking to the door.
The steps were loud in the small room. Duo wanted to say something to stop him, but knew he couldn't. They'd had an agreement. Still... "You're not planning to take Wing Zero out for a spin, are you?"
Sudden stop. Apparently, the answer was yes. "Why?"
"They'd see you coming from lightyears away," Duo told the wall. "I thought we'd already proven we can't just battle our way to Libra easily. There are way too many mobile dolls flying about out there right now."
Pause. "And what do you suggest I do instead?"
Duo shrugged. "I dunno... Sneak in somehow, maybe. Make a roundabout way and hitch a ride with one of the supply ships - a ship Libra's size needs lots of supplies, and I bet they didn't stock up before going operational. Probably still need steady shipments."
The shadow shook his head. "That would take too long. Even if I took one of the one-man shuttles and left now, crossed checkpoints and sneaked my way through their security sweeps to reach one of their supply bases, it'd still be a gamble to when the next shuttle left for Libra. Could take days."
Sigh. "I know..." Duo paused. He had an alternative, but it was nowhere near as subtle - but probably better than swooping in with Wing Zero. It would get him there, but it gave little promise of Heero's return. Silence on that matter came hard to him, though - he owed Heero much; this option was one of them, no matter how little he liked it. "There's another way... You could take that Virgo carrier we captured, and head straight for Libra. If you send a distress signal, they might fall for it - at least long enough for you to make a crash landing. That'd get you there quickly."
Hesitation. "...but they'd certainly know I was there, and getting back would be a lot trickier."
Duo made a contorted smile. "As if you ever plan that far ahead during jail breaks..."
Tight grip of hand. "I want to come with you."
Duo saw the shadow's head shake a negative. "Your place is here, with her. After what she did for us - for you..." Quick bite of lower lip. "Don't you think she deserves to wake up to a friendly face?"
Duo could find no good counter for that. "...so, I'm just supposed to let you walk away to your almost certain death, am I?"
Shrug. "You've done it before."
Gritted teeth, soft sweeps across the back of a hand. "Doesn't get any easier."
Heero frowned towards the door. "And you think watching you fight Mercurius and Vayeate alone was a breeze?"
Duo sighed. "I didn't mean it like that... I know we're in a war, and I know we promised we wouldn't do anything to stop each other's missions - that we'd just try to stay alive until the end of it all. Well, we're getting there, and fast. I'd really hate to lose you now, you know. That's all..."
"I know..." Heero mumbled, balling his fists. "All too well..."
The beeps of the heartbeat monitor became deafening, sounding a dozen times unchallenged. "I won't make you promise to come back... but I swear, I'll kill you if you don't."
Heero dared half a smirk at that. "Deal," he agreed, and started walking again, if slowly. "You could always pretend you didn't notice me leave..."
Even then, neither of them turned around. They didn't have to. Heero could almost feel the faint grin on Duo's face - and he certainly heard it in Duo's voice. "Maybe I will... You're still standing behind me, Heero. Watching my back, supporting me. Always."
"Always," Heero faintly echoed.
The door whooshed to a close, and the light against the wall vanished, the shadows dimming to a blur in the dusk. Duo freed one palm to make a quick wipe of his eyes. They were moist, but there were no tears. Real men don't cry.
When the hand trapped in his palm twitched to life, one real man came close.