Live Man Walking
I wasn't sure what I was expecting. It wasn't what I was hoping for, and it couldn't have been much worse - but he was still alive when I finally found him. One of the barkeeps remembered him from my description, and that narrowed the search area considerably, given the state he'd been bounced in.
Which was, frankly, ugly. He had crashed on a splintered crate down a passageway, half leaning against the wall, arms slack along his sides, eyes closed and a thoroughly plastered grin on his face.
I wanted to yell at him, bitch him out.
I did, but at least I cared enough to tap his foot repeatedly and wait for him to dazedly acknowledge me. "So, here you are, you sonuvabitch! God, have you any idea how worried I've been?!" His surprise, panic and deep frustration flashed me in quick order as he challenged his balance to keep upright against the brick wall behind him, but I was on a roll. "Why the hell did you run, Heero? We could have talked this out - all of it! There wasn't any need to-"
It had been a while since he'd glared at me like he wanted me dead - and was willing to see it happen expediently, messily and with great pain. It made me falter.
Softening his assault, he closed his eyes and sagged down. Rubbing my forehead, I gathered resolve. "Fuck, Heero - do you know how many creases you've put on my forehead in the last few months - the last few hours?"
He eyed me again, formed a crooked smile and slurred "I'll let you know as soon as there's only one Duo to talk to, not three of you all swirling around..."
Muttering a curse, I went down on a knee, pulled him away from the wall and hugged him. At least he could only feel one of me. "Heero..." I started, unsure what his absolute unresponsiveness meant. "Let's go home, okay? Let's just go home."
I sensed him stiffen at that, then relax. His nodding rubbed my cheek.
It took me a moment to pull back, to steady him as I struggled to my feet, catching a fair whiff of his breath on the way. I grimaced. "How much did you drink, anyway?"
Fighting himself into focus, Heero raised his left hand, tentatively splaying three fingers.
"Three glasses?" I said with traces of hope in my voice, briefly wondering if Heero was more delicate than I thought. Then, he dispelled that fantasy by raising his right hand, fingers tightly clutched around the head of a bottle. The brown paper bag slid off as he held it up and turned it over, shaking it to show it was bone dry. Three bottles, then. Maybe more. My brows furrowed again, and the throb in my head increased to border on a headache. "God, Heero..."
"Yes, my son," he blurted out, started a snicker and embraced my neck for support.
I balled my free fist, steadied him as best I could, relieved as he let go of the empty bottle. "That's not even funny, Heero." With some effort, I managed to stand up straight, something my sidekick had trouble replicating, one arm draped around my neck. I grabbed at a belt loop on the far side of his waist, took a tentative step forward to see if he could keep up - and was relieved as he did. "I don't really believe in God, but just in case he does exist, I don't think it's all that smart to piss him off."
"You do it all the time," he muttered sullenly, disgruntled that his joke had failed.
I couldn't help the wry grin. "Yeah, but I'm betting I'm already sided with the other guy."
He gave me a long, blank look. "Me too..."
Together, we shuffled homeward, opting not to speak. That could wait for a little while. I'd just make sure not to leave him unguarded or unchained until we had a chance to talk properly.
Then again, the guy could bend steel bars and snap necks like it was nothing. If I was lucky, there'd be just enough affection left to make him hesitate in killing me - and that'd be all the break I'd need to counterattack.
I couldn't help but wonder if my fair stats against him in combat practices - and less peaceful engagements - was partly a result of that.
I'd muted my cell, but felt it vibrate in my pocket. I wanted to answer, but didn't want Heero to overhear - or mistake - what could be said. Catching a break, we rounded a corner and found a bench and a phone booth. Heero seemed relieved at the break in walking and sagged onto the bench, slouching over, but staying upright - for the most part.
I jogged over to the phone booth, checked my cell - Hilde - glanced at Heero, glad the walls were made of glass. Of course, it wasn't as if he was in any shape to run off.
After filling Hilde in and agreeing to meet up back at the yard, I called Wufei to let him know the search was off.
"Want me to come over?" he asked.
Again, I looked at Heero, who was by now listing forward, steadying himself on his knees, skin pale even under the low lights of colony night. "That's... probably not a good idea, Wufei. Leave it until tomorrow - I'll call you first."
There was a pause at the other end. He was no doubt analyzing my every word. "Okay."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, man - oh, and could you call Trowa for me?"
"Why? Want me to tell what's happened?"
I thought about it for a second, then dismissed it. Trowa would tell. "No, that'd just drive Quatre crazy, and then they'd both be here by morning. Just let him know... that I took his advice."
Again, that short, but telling break. "What advice?"
"The good kind," I said, smiling to myself, almost picturing Wufei's frown.
"Fine," he acknowledged.
"And tell him... he's right," I added.
There was snort at the other end. "I figure he'll know what that means too, even though I haven't got a clue what you're on tonight?"
"Right," I said with a grin.
Slight laughter came through. "Okay, I'll let him know, Duo - but keep me posted. Call me if you need me for anything, alright? Anything at all."
"Yeah. Thanks, Wufei." Not waiting for a final bye, I hung up and went to pick up Heero. The brief respite didn't do much to increase our pace, but every step after got us closer to home.
Hilde had obviously lost her infamous patience, given how she met us halfway there. I didn't quip about it, just relieved she'd shoulder Heero's other side for the last leg.
We didn't speed up, though. Instead, we took one leg at a time, sure but steady, waiting for Heero to drag his feet along rather than carry him outright. His ego had taken a serious blow, and we saw no need to add more to his punishment.
Sometimes the misdeed itself handles that more than adequately.