Ever so slowly, Duo attempted to open his eyes, mind barely beginning to dawn from the night of slumber - and all was white. Unbearably white, and bright, which to his still dazed brain meant one of two things; either he was dead and in heaven, or alive and in a hospital. He wasn't all that sure which was the better choice; 'alive' and 'hospital' always meant- And then his headache-threatened mind became alert enough to receive nerve impulses from the rest of his body, carrying one message only: Pain.
He cringed, clenched his teeth, and suppressed a whimper. The pain was only really bad for that first fleeting moment, in the rush of reawakening. Afterwards, he could adjust - a little. He blinked rapidly, pupils contracting to limit the blinding light from fluorescent tubes reflecting in the ceiling panels above him. On impulse, he tried lifting his hand to shield his eyes, only to find a slight resistance holding it back, weight which vanished just as quickly. Duo blinked again, tilted his head and saw someone sitting in a chair next to his bed. Drowsy eyes slowly realized the jeans-and-sweater-clad person was actually Heero. He was so much harder to recognize without of his regular spandex and tank top uniform.
Duo forced a tired grin, recent events starting to come back to him; being captured by OZ, interrogated, locked up - and rescued by someone who had evidently planned on being an executor, but changed his mind in the final split second. With an overly strained smile and a voice as hoarse and dry as his throat could make it - need to act at a minimum - he mumbled "Ship... out of danger?"
Beside him, Heero flagged an eyebrow to complement his mild frown, not entirely convinced the combination of drugs the injured pilot had been given wasn't also affecting his mind - something the doctor had said wasn't likely. "Barge is still operational... Why would-"
Duo gave a few chuckles, each of which bothered his parched throat. "No, you don't understand. It's a joke, a line from-" He caught one glance of Heero's mildly confused expression, and rolled his eyes in defeat. "Oh, forget it. Unless you've got a set of fake patch-on pointy ears I don't know about, you wouldn't get it."
That certainly didn't help Heero's confusion. "Pointy ears?" He blinked, shook his head and figured he was better off not knowing. Duo's obsession with an era long gone made for some occasionally bizarre references and inside jokes. It was usually easier to ignore than attempt to understand; obsessions are best comprehended when shared, and Heero felt more compelled to deal with the present than the past - at least at this particular moment. "Never mind."
Tentatively, Duo licked his lips with what little moisture he had left in his mouth, regretting it as soon as his tongue graced several splits barely begun to heal. Another wince. "Status?" he croaked out, slumping back on the pillow, rubbing the back of his skull deeper in the soft material, as if any soft outside touch could diminish the sharp stabs of pain on the inside. Five minutes. If it didn't vanish by then, he would humble himself to ask for a couple of aspirins.
"We're secure. You've been out of it for about fourteen hours. You have some injuries, mostly big bruises and small cuts. You should heal quickly."
Duo grinned at the firm, determined tone of voice. Heero almost made mere information sound like an order. "Where-"
"A private hospital, run by the Barton Foundation. Your doctor and two nurses know who we are. No one else are permitted in here. Quarantine sign on the door, just in case."
"They've all been cleared. I wouldn't have taken you here otherwise."
Heero shook his head. "I don't know anything about the whereabouts of the other pilots. I know Trowa went to space too, but I don't know where, or if he brought his Gundam. I don't think so, though."
After a nod to accept the information, Duo tried raising his arm again, though he barely had the strength to lift it a few inches off the bed. Almost letting it fall back down a few times, he got it as far as across his chest and to his neck, where he put it down to rub his sore throat.
Heero reached over at the clip-on metal table next to Duo's head, and brought back a plastic container. Duo's lax hand caught it, and he closed his lips around the straw lodged in the sealed lid. The few sips of water did wonders, and the fact it was still fairly cold - and thus presumably freshly tapped - was an added blessing. Stale hospital water was most definitely not on his list of favorite beverages. He tilted the bottle enough to ensure nothing would spill. Cheap plastic seals were only so good. "Thanks."
Grin, clearing of throat. "For saving my butt, I mean. Don't think I could have gotten off Barge without help."
Heero was back at stoneface. "You'd be wise to remember I didn't come there to help you."
Dark chuckle. "Yeah, I know. I've got quite the vivid memory of staring down the barrel of your gun one more time." He took another sip of the water, careful not to get the straw close to any of the more painful splits his lips had attained during his stay with OZ. No need to add to the signals of hurt his body kept transmitting. At least the headache had faded. Maybe he would hold out on those aspirins. "Still felt good to see you, though. For a moment there, my rattled brain thought you were a damn angel."
The elevated eyebrow returned, and Heero wondered if it were the drugs talking. Then again, the braided pilot was known for being a bit... chatty at times - at least compared to the rest of them.
Duo grinned, momentarily ground his head back in the pillow as he slid the bottle aside. "Don't give me that look. It wasn't exactly one of my most lucid moments. The room was real dark, and you had the light from the hallway behind you, giving you this really creepy white haze. The gun just amplified the 'angel of death' image - modern edition."
Heero appeared to consider that for a few seconds, lowered the brow, faint snort and briefly closed eyes dismissing the idea. "I can't accept the thought of being an 'angel of death' in your mind."
"Hey, told you it wasn't one of my best assumptions."
The faintest of smirks crept across Heero's lips, the strangest dim glint in the corner of his right eye. "You misunderstand. I can't accept because you constantly call yourself the 'god of death', and I guarantee you, I'm not your minion nor your subordinate."
Duo's face fell just a bit in surprise, before the line was processed enough to make him laugh. "I'll be damned - you made a joke! A bad one, but a joke!" Ignoring Heero's slight grunt of indignation, Duo pushed himself up on his elbows, and with some struggles, he managed to sit up. Heero got up from the chair to help, but Duo dismissed Heero's assistance with but a mild glare. "I'm not helpless. Maybe I don't go about setting my own broken bones, but I think I can handle this much..."
Focusing on keeping his balance, Duo nearly missed something that looked remarkably like sadness, or even hurt, fluttering in Heero's eyes. He blinked, saw only the familiar stoneface. No, had to have imagined it. A silent curse went out to drugs messing with his mind, however little. "You did save me, though."
Grunt. "Don't mention it."
Chuckle. "Gee, thanks for making my life sound so valuable."
Early signs of oncoming frown. "I didn't mean-"
Disarming smile and eye glint. "I'm just kidding." Eye roll. "And here I almost thought you'd suddenly grasped the concept of humor."
The halted frown came, full force, complete with glare.
Duo wasn't bothered the slightest, and far from done. Using one arm for support, he searched out the tip of his braid with the other, brushed his fingers across the end of the bound strains. "You know... since you saved me..." Grin met glare. "That kinda makes you..." Duo lowered his jaw a little, blinked his eyes rapidly, forming an as coquettish and overacted an expression as he could muster. "My Hiiii-ro!" he near screeched, attempting to stretch his arms out for added effect, not quite succeeding, and almost losing his balance in the process.
Heero recoiled, jumped back a bit at the sudden shrill outburst, taking the chair with him the few inches backwards, insulated steel tube legs grinding against the metal floor. He automatically reached for his gun, stopping himself just in time. Frown gave way to clenched teeth and a near pained face. Duo's roaring laughter didn't ease tensions one bit. "Don't. Ever. Call me that again. Not like that."
Duo continued to laugh, delighted at the reaction he'd caused, only to throw himself into a coughing fit. He lurched a bit forward, only to be met with Heero's palm on the front of his shoulder, supporting him, the other firm hand rubbing circles at his back, warmth seeping through the thin, itchy hospital gown. With some effort, Duo recovered, only to wonder why Heero suddenly seemed to care so much. Wasn't he about to kill him just yesterday?
Nod. "Yeah, thanks."
"You should lie back down."
Duo shook his head. "I can handle it, I'm not a goner just yet..."
Mild frown. "You'd recover faster if you let your body rest."
Grin. "Oh, I've taken a beating and come back for more more times than I care to remember, Heero. I'll be just fine."
After hesitating for a moment, Heero sat back down in the chair with an annoyed grunt.
"Haven't been able to do anything like you, though."
Heero folded his arms across his chest, leant back a bit in an effort to at least look relaxed. "What do you mean?"
Smile into sigh. "Come back from the dead."
There the darn brow went up again, and without needing a complementary word, awaited an answer.
"I mean when you self-destructed. Quatre and I retreated to one of his hideouts after that - we both figured you for dead. Couldn't get any information that suggested otherwise, either - and the vids we got of the explosion, as well as OZ' documentation on the wreckage didn't make for high hopes of your survival. The pilot wasn't mentioned in any reports, other than as 'missing' or 'presumed dead'."
Half a smirk. "I probably would have died, but Trowa saved me and nursed me back to health. He taught me... quite a few things." There was no immediate reply, so Heero pushed on. "You said it was a surprise to see me when I got to you on Barge. I didn't think you meant- Didn't you ever get reports of-"
"Yeah, we eventually found out your Gundam had been put together again, and there was something about a battle in Antarctica - but they didn't say who the pilot was. Even when I saw the vid reports of your attacks on the spaceports, I couldn't shake the feeling whoever your puppeteer is had sent a replacement pilot."
The smirk lasted. "Doctor J would never trust Wing to anyone but me. As far as I know, he never trained a backup pilot." He dared a chuckle, and ignored the fleeting surprise in Duo's eyes. "I guess we're supposed to be invincible."
Fatigued snort. "I'm not even supposed to be alive now..."
Heero's smirk vanished, and he began studying the pattern-less far wall, doing his best to avoid Duo's eyes. Making up his mind, he decided to ask. Might as well get the thoughts out of both of their systems. "The public execution they scheduled?"
Soft snicker. "Yeah, that too. Forgot about that." Duo failed to note how Heero momentarily tensed, upset with himself at having brought it up. "No, see - I wasn't supposed to get captured."
"Are any of us?"
More subdued laughter. "Hey, I didn't mess up, not really - I was actually trying to copy your little move."
Heero straightened up, placed his palms on his knees, leaning forward. "You mean self-destruct?"
Nod. "Yeah... Only, the damn system malfunctioned. I guess old man pestilence tampered with it and disabled the doomsday device." He shrugged. "I should have checked it more carefully, but for some reason I always hesitated. Didn't like the thought of a gadget designed to kill me working perfectly."
Diversion of topic. "Pestilence?"
Duo chuckled, ignoring the mild suffering it caused. "My own puppeteer. Professor G. We have a little nickname bonding thing going. I'm the elusive and enigmatic demon to his grim rider of plague."
Traces of the smirk came back. "Sounds disrespectful."
Cheshire-cat grin. "That's kinda the whole point."
Another grunt, threateningly close to being a sole chuckle. And then there was silence.
Duo mulled over the little information Heero had given him earlier, tried figuring out what to do next. Obviously, he was out of commission for a while - not only was he in less than perfect health; he was short a Gundam. Either destroying it, or getting it back and repaired was top priority. From somewhere in his abdomen, a rather intense sting of pain surged up to his mind. He clenched his teeth, did his best not to make a visible wince out of it, determined not to show any more weakness than absolutely necessary.
Okay, maybe Deathscythe was top priority after his own recovery. Just maybe.
"So... The remaining four of us are all in space..."
Again, Heero's brow reached for the ceiling, and he leaned in just a little closer, almost fearful of asking. "Four?"
Duo nodded, grin long gone now. "Yeah... Quatre pulled a Wing on the spaceport."
Heero's jaw went slack, and only after working it a bit did he manage to close it. "You mean he-"
"Boom. Yeah. Did it so Wufei and I could escape into space. The HLVs were just too damn big and slow to get into space without cover. No onramp or launch catapult to help the heavy-lift cargo haulers..." He shot a weary glance at Heero. "I guess that's another reason you left your suit behind, right? Too damn hard to get into space without help?"
There was that bothersome silence again. Heero didn't know what to say, and in lack of knowing what to say, he chose to say nothing, not wanting to add anguish. The debt of someone saving your life was never easy to carry, even when you'd gotten the chance to repay it. He knew that well enough, already owing two of the four other pilots his continued existence. He had a feeling it'd be something he'd experience even more times before the end.
He finally noticed the dullness in Duo's eyes, something faint far behind seeking any word of comfort possible. Survivor's guilt; another thing he recognized. "I..." he began mumbling. "We don't know if he's dead." He straightened up a little, strengthened his voice. "If I can survive a self-destruct, why wouldn't he?"
The dullness went away, a distant spark at the back of the purplish blue relit. Duo sighed. "You're right. Would be dumb to give up hope, but..." Pained grin. "Well, I never saw him put his broken leg together again, tie a spanner to it and walk away as if nothing happened..."
When no answer came, Duo shot a glance at Heero again. Stoneface - only, there was the funniest little twitch close to his right eye. Maybe morbid humor wasn't the best right now.
"Anyway... Did you know Quatre was one of the L4 Winners? You know, the zillionaire family?"
Near grunt in relief of the changed topic. "I didn't know that." There was a slight pause. Duo took another sip of his water, relishing the sooth of cold liquid. Heero leant back a bit again. "Makes sense, though. He didn't strike me as someone trained to be-"
"Hey, wait just a minute - Quatre might not look like a damn terrorist, but he knows his stuff. He didn't buy his way into the pilot seat, if that's what you're implying. Underestimating him could be the death of you. Certainly has been to enough stupid Ozzies."
Sigh. "You're right. I'm sorry."
Even in victory, Duo didn't want to relent. "Quatre's really good, and the gang he's got backing him up follows him with so much loyalty there has to be something more there than just a pay check." Grin. "At first, I thought his parents had sent him bodyguards, but then he mentioned his family had disowned him for fighting." Smile to sigh. "Made me wonder just why he chose this, though. I guess he's just being noble - I think he's the kinda guy that can't help but do the right thing, whatever it is." Duo tilted over, saw a straight near-smile on Heero's face, and it mildly annoyed him. "What?"
"Nothing. Just glad you're saying 'he is' and not 'he was' now."
Duo's turn to grunt. "Yeah..." Another quick sip of water. "Hope. It's a wonderful thing."
Quiet. Passing footsteps in the hallway.
Duo hesitated. He had a question that had been tumbling around in the back of his head since he woke up, but didn't quite know if he wanted to know the answer. He looked down at the water bottle, shook it a little, confirming it was still half full.
"Heero... Why didn't you kill me back there?"
Shrug. "You were still mobile. Given time, you'll recover. At this point, we need all the help we can get, if we're to get anywhere near a victory." He hesitated, stood up, began pacing across the small room. "If we're going to die, I wish it'd be while taking them with us. I got a second chance. Now you've gotten the same." He briefly paused, before adding "Don't count on it happening more than once."
Duo smiled a little, shifted arms to ensure he kept upright. "So, you've adjusted your 'life is cheap' philosophy."
Heero stopped, leant up against the drop-down desk sticking out of the wall next to the door. Other than the bed and the chair, all other fixtures was hidden in the walls in similar solutions. The colonies were riddled with such compact features. Space was at a premium these days - at least the habitable parts of it. "I've learned... that sometimes, life is worth living. I still think life isn't worth much, but it shouldn't be wasted without a purpose."
"I'll be... What caused that little epiphany?"
"Trowa and Catherine showed me how pointless giving up and just wasting your life is. He misunderstood something I told him, and almost got himself killed. Catherine knocked some sense into him. Literally, from what they told me."
"A girl at Trowa's circus. They seem close. She's a knife-thrower, and Trowa's the target on the board. Trowa said she'd only grazed him once." Half-shrug. "At least with a knife. His cheek got a nice coloring from the lesson."
Grin. "A knife tossing act? Now, that, I've got to see... Maybe share a professional secret or two - I'm good with knives, most of the time."
Low chuckle, near whisper. "Maybe later, when you get better..."
"Nothing." Before Duo could ask again, Heero reached inside his back pants pocket, took out two photographs and began studying them intently."
"What are those?"
"Satellite photos. The scientists were brought to Lunar Base. I'm going there to investigate."
"Did you say Lunar Base?"
Heero nodded. "Yes. There's a large amount of Gundanium alloy being brought into the Lunar Base factory. It's probably for making a new type of mobile suit."
Return nod. "So, what are your plans?"
Mild frown. Heero knew all too well what Duo was hinting at, and he would have none of it, not now. "You'll get in the way. Just stay here."
Getting a bit angry with the blatant rejection, Duo started getting up. "What do you mean-" And stopped, groaned from pain, caught onto his tormented side by instinct. He forced himself to relax, and sighed in defeat, Heero's point clearly demonstrated. "Considering everything that's happened lately, I am gonna need time to recover - but don't you think you could be a little kinder to me once in a while?"
Fighting his warming cheeks, Heero wanted to swap the topic. Outwardly, he gave a dismissive glance out the window. "Why not go to school instead of me? I've already got the enrollment taken care of - under your name."
Anger returning. "What?! You gotta be kidding! Sure, your name would stick out too much here, but still - I mean-"
Heero sighed, put away the photos. He knew taking Duo's name had been a bad idea, but when he needed an alias quickly, one that Doctor J's capture and potentially successful interrogation wouldn't jeopardize - which eliminated all his prefabricated alternative identities - Duo's was the first name that came to mind. He'd added his own details afterwards - and he had only borrowed the name, not stolen it. He was giving it back now, wasn't he? "Instead of complaining, why not spend your time resting and concentrating on getting better?"
With a dim growl, Duo admitted defeat once more. He didn't like theft when he was the victim. First Gundam parts, then his name. What was the next thing Heero would steal from him? He had an idea, one precious item already well underway to be lost, but he'd never admit it to anyone, let alone the thief. This wasn't the time. It never was. "Lunar Base, huh?"
"Gundanium and the scientists in a factory..."
Heero nodded, walked back to his chair and sat down.
"So... You're going to kill all of them, aren't you? Not just destroy whatever they're building - forced to or not? Puppet cutting the strings?"
Determined nod. "If I have to."
Sigh. "And here we go again... How come whenever I get anything even remotely close to family ties, it's just yanked away by... fate, God, Murphy's law, bad karma, Grim Reaper claiming infringement, whatever..."
Knitted brows. "What do you mean?"
Sullen face. "Professor G might be a lot of things, but all in all, he gave me a chance to matter, a chance to become something more than what I started as. That kinda made him my adopted fa-" Pause, quick headshake. "No, that's too close. Uncle, maybe?" Flash grin. "Anyway, every time someone gets close, they end up dead. I just keep getting orphaned - first from my real parents, whoever they were, then from Solo and most of the street kids in the plague, then from the rest of the kids when they got adopted and I didn't - not for long at a time, anyway..." Pause, sigh. "Then there was Father Maxwell, Sister Helen and the last few others who knew my name when the Maxwell Church got destroyed..." Duo momentarily closed his eyes, shook his head. After another sigh, he tilted his head to lock onto Heero's eyes. "That's one reason I figured you for dead so quickly - why I keep fearing Quatre is dead, too. Everyone I ever meet, seem to end up dead."
"Everyone dies, eventually."
Grim chuckle. "Yeah, but in this case, they all die so soon... Almost makes me feel like I'm carrying some sort of plague or curse."
Heero remained silent, unsure of the proper response.
Duo sighed again, lay back down and ground his head back in the pillow, briefly closed his eyes. "Guess it'll just be another in a long line of orphanings... You'd think I'd have gotten used to the idea of living out my life alone by now, wouldn't you?"
Heero leant in a little, lowered his voice. "I didn't die..." Straightening up, he added "I'm here, and the others are out there, somewhere - You're not alone, Duo. You still have the rest of us pilots."
Another brief, dark laugh. "No offense, Heero, but our life expectancy isn't all that great these days... And you're about to go straight into the damn lion's den again, without backup."
"The only way to kill the dangerous lion, is to seek it out and challenge it."
Fatigued grin, one stumped chuckle. "Point taken... Just wish you were heading in with more than a pocket knife and your wits."
The pesky silence returned, neither of them knowing quite what to talk about. Minutes past. Heero checked his watch. Duo took another sip from his water.
"Time to go?"
"Not yet, still a few hours left." Pause. "Will you be okay?"
Grin. "Yeah, I'll be fine, I can handle myself, most of the time." Duo put the bottle aside again, bit his bottom lip while trying to determine whether or not to ask the other question that had popped into his mind. All he risked was a little bit of dignity, but that was still a big deal. "Uhm... Can I ask you something?"
"You just did."
Duo shot Heero a mild glare, eyes growing sad when he noticed Heero's stoneface; he hadn't been joking, merely stating a fact. "Look, I've got a favor to ask, and I know how incredibly stupid and childish this is going to sound, but..." He nibbled on his lower lip again.
Stoneface mellowing, faint curiosity. "What?"
"Promise you won't ridicule me for asking, okay?"
"Okay... Could you - could you sing me a lullaby?"
"A... lullaby?" There went that right brow again, reaching for the skies and tilting Heero's face into a near condescending enquiring look.
Duo groaned, closed his eyes and slumped back against his pillow. "Just forget I asked..."
Heero blinked the nasty expression away, leant closer. "No, I just - why?"
Duo dared a glance, glad to see the condemning glare gone. "Well... See, back at the Maxwell Church - have I ever told you about my time at the orphanage there?"
"Just a few bits and pieces. You keep mentioning Father Maxwell and Sister... Helen, was it?"
Nod. "Yeah, Sister Helen. I think most of us kids thought of her more as 'mother' than anything else, though. She used to sing lullabies for us too. I don't know why, but everything always felt so much better after that... All the bad thoughts of the day went away, none of them lingering to become nightmares by the time we fell asleep..." Faint smile of remembrance, sigh of same. "It just felt so safe..." Another deep breath, blinking of eyes. "Look, I know it sounds incredibly childish, but I miss that... The safe feeling a lullaby could make. Everything else didn't matter, when you had those few soft tones and words of comfort to cling to during the night. Haven't really had that since the church was destroyed - it just doesn't work if you try to sing for yourself. Not good enough, anyway." Duo paused, waiting for a reply, any reply. None came. "You think I'm a big damn baby now, don't you?"
Heero's jaw worked a few times before the words came. "I... No, I don't."
Grunt, distant smile. "Your explanation made me think differently."
Grin. "Go, me. I managed to defend one of my crackpot suggestions..." Silence returned, a minute past. "You didn't answer, though."
Heero shifted uneasily in his chair. "It's just... I - I can't..."
Briefly closed eyes, slow exhale in the same moment. "I can't sing."
Duo's face went from puzzlement to mild amusement. "Everyone can sing, Heero. Not necessarily good, but everyone can sing - It's like whistling, you know - 'just put your lips together, and blow'?"
Heero's blank expression gave every sign he didn't know.
Duo rolled his eyes, suppressed the urge to snicker. "Have you even tried singing?"
Clenched teeth, headshake. "I don't know any lullabies either. Such things weren't considered... relevant, during my training."
"You mean 'crappy excuse for a childhood'." He waved Heero's reply away. "I know, I've been there myself. Plenty of things about being a kid that I never experienced I'm still learning about. Plenty of things I already know that I really wish I didn't."
Other than a quick nod in agreement, Heero didn't answer.
"You could still try, though."
Blink of eyes.
Amused smile. "Yeah, try. No pressure at all, just try to sing."
Heero fidgeted in the chair again. "But I told you, I don't know any songs - at least not lullabies."
Grin. "Well, we'll get to that later. First, just try to carry a tone - get one out in the open. Think you could manage that?"
Heero shot a glance at the door, then at the window, as if making sure both were closed, and that they were alone in the room. He frowned a little when he returned to see Duo's amused expression. When he wiggled his eyebrows to boot, Heero found himself rolling his eyes, giving in, sighing. "Fine, I'll try... Just - just give me a moment..."
Duo knew better than to cheer in triumph, but he couldn't contain the Cheshire-cat grin as he studied Heero's concentrated face; eyes closed, taking deep breaths as if steeling himself for some incredibly arduous task - which, for Heero, it might very well have been.
First times are never easy.
And, as most first times, when the long-awaited performance finally happens, the outcome is so-so. Heero did produce a sound; carrying the tune well - but it was sharp, flat, and a bit nasal. Even so, it wasn't entirely unpleasant to Duo's ears. It definitely had silence beat. Or bludgeoned to death, depending on perspective.
Closing his mouth and opening his eyes, Heero awaited the verdict. A few seconds of nothing later, he grew restless. "Well?"
Duo dimmed his grin a little, not wanting to give Heero the wrong idea. "I'm not going to lie to you - Sister Helen was a better singer..."
Grunt, faint smirk.
"It wasn't all that bad, Heero. I think you just might be able to sing, after all - you just need some practice." Seeing the quick nod and firm stoneface, Duo was almost certain it had been registered as a remote mission objective; 'learn to sing'. He chuckled to himself. Maybe there was still hope that Heero would loosen up enough to live eventually. "Thanks..."
"I didn't sing a-"
"I know. I think that was enough, for now."
Three rapid knocks at the door startled them both. Heero sent Duo a short-lived frosty glare, and with barely a second thought, Duo had it deciphered. It spoke of annoyance; of dim anger that he had been distracted. Had Heero's attention been on his surrounding and not his voice, Heero would undoubtedly have heard the footsteps coming to a halt outside the door, and not have been taken by surprise. As the nurse entered and closed the door behind her, Duo idly wondered how he had come to understand the specific meaning of a mere variation of Heero's many cool glares. Maybe it was because Heero's expression mimicked his own feelings; that of letting your guard down - and why had he allowed himself that in the first place?
The plump, middle-aged nurse picked up the can, and lightly shook it, producing only a few faint splashing sounds. "Thirsty, I see, Mr. Maxwell. I'll refill this for you." With a courtesy smile, she walked to the tiny adjoining bathroom.
Heero watched her go, and as soon as running water could deafen his words, he stood up. "I have to go make a few phone calls. There are still some things left to straighten out before I leave. Is anything about what we discussed earlier unclear?"
Duo shook his head. "Nah, I think I got it." He got a nod in acknowledgement. "Uhm... Will you drop by again before you go?"
Faint smirk. "If nothing unexpected happens, I should be back right after you finish your sponge bath."
Disbelief. "My what?! Look, I'm not about to let some big matron treat me like I'm a helpless baby. I'm not-" Duo stopped rather abruptly when he noticed Heero's eyes fixed at a point behind him, a near grin on his face. Duo sighed. "She's standing right behind me, isn't she?"
"Not quite, Mr. Maxwell," came the voice from the bathroom doorway, "but certainly within earshot - and while you'll be free to tend to your own sanitary needs if you are up to it, you will most likely still require some assistance walking to and from the bathroom for the next day or so. Your body has quite a stretch of the road to recovery left to travel." She paused, her previous smile replaced by a grim, narrow line, an aura of expectance on her face.
Duo understood all too well what she was waiting for. He lowered his head and muttered "I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"
"Quite all right, Mr. Maxwell. I've been called a great number of things in my years, mostly after giving injections, setting up catheters or giving other kinds of gloved hands-on treatment." She gave a quick chuckle - the 'rolling down into darkness' kind which gives uneasy patients the creeps in a hurry. "Oh, well - Since you're awake, I'll go get the doctor. I'm sure there's a test or another he'd like to administer, now that you're up." And with that, she departed.
Heero took a few steps in pursuit, but paused when his hand reached the door knob, smirk still there. "Sure you want to give the sponge bath up? I'm sure she'd-"
Feeling impish, Duo stuck his tongue out at him, and huffed out "Oh, go charm the pretty nurses, Heero. Get out."
Smug gave way to mildly confused. "Why would I want to do that - charm the nurses, I mean?"
Duo gave a grin, rolled his eyes. "Sheesh. For someone so smart, you sure act dumb sometimes. Just what kind of place did they keep you cooped up in until you got sent to Earth?"
Stoneface. "Actually, it was several places. A basement lab on L1, a-"
Snicker. Evidently, one of the two didn't have a firm grasp of sarcasm just yet - and Duo was confident it wasn't him. "Forget it, Heero. I should have known better than to- never mind."
"And the nurses?"
Grin. "Why don't you just go and find out, wiseguy?"
Heero shrugged, opened the door. "I might. See you later." Without waiting for a reply, he left, carefully closing the door.
Duo crashed back on his pillows, stretched for the refilled plastic container and took a few potent sips of fresh, cool water. He was glad the nurse didn't tamper with the temperature in revenge. Of course, following the excessive prodding and probing of the doctor's visit some time later, he couldn't help but feel she was getting her revenge anyway; second-hand, and with all the subtlety of a freight train. He made a mental note - Next time, no hospital - and no nurses.
Though he tried to follow the doctor's advice of 'getting some rest', Duo didn't manage to fall asleep. All the aches of this body kept him awake. Certainly, they had diminished in strength since he woke up; partially numbed away by his own will. Still, it was too much of a nuisance for sleep, since he wasn't really tired, and there was too little physical suffering for him to replace pain of body with bruising of ego by humbling himself to ask for pain medication. The nightmares that might be waiting for him, wasn't an incentive to catch some sleep, either.
By the time Heero came back, Duo was counting lines in the ceiling, desperately trying to keep boredom at bay. Heero soundlessly closed the door and sat down in the chair by Duo's side. "Still awake?"
Slow nod. "Too awake to sleep just yet."
"Well, you were out for fourteen hours..."
Grin. "Yeah, but I like sleeping in when I get the chance - shouldn't have been a problem."
Mild huff. "By the way, thanks for the tip."
"'Charm the nurses'? That one?"
Duo lit up instantly, first struggled his way up on elbows, then fully upright. He waited for Heero to continue, but there wasn't even a knowing smirk of playful delay on Heero's face, merely the desert of expressions. "What happened? Did you get lucky?"
Shrug. "I guess so..."
Eyes widening in surprise, grin matching. "Tell, damn it!"
Stoneface obviously didn't quite get it. Idioms can always be such a bother to comprehend. "Tell you what?"
"Tell about the nurses, damn it! What did you do - corner one in a broom closet for a quickie, or just make out with one in the hallway? Details, man! Details!"
If there was the slightest of doubts Heero didn't understand, his new perplexed expression removed every last ounce of it. "I..." His jaw worked, but nothing but a flush came to him as assorted idioms fell into place. Duo's snickers brought his control back, along with his common, all-purpose frown. "I didn't mean it like that, damn it! Why do you always have to choose the seediest-"
"It's nature, Heero. Human nature - but, naturally, I can't expect you to know much about that, oh great superhuman..."
The glare turned truly frosty. "Do you want me to share, or not?"
Duo got his snickers under control. "Okay, okay, I'll stop."
Affirmative nod in reply.
"So, what happened?"
"I learned something."
"Like what? Something to cure your anti-social streak, how to clean bedpans, what?"
Dim smile. "I'll show you - just stay quiet for a bit, okay?"
Duo nodded. What happened next, caught him by considerable surprise. Heero cleared his throat, and began singing. Granted, still with that sharp, flat, nearly nasal voice of his, but it was starting to grow on Duo. The song itself made no sense, though. The words - if they were that - were totally foreign to his ears, and he had never heard the melody before. Yet, it sounded familiar, soothing, serene. And then, almost before the surprise and preliminary analysis was dealt with, the short song ended, replaced by stunned silence. Duo answered Heero's thin smile with an astonished grin of his own. "Just - What was that?"
"That was a lullaby? Didn't sound like any lullaby I know..."
Thin smile waning. "You didn't like it?"
Empowered grin. "I didn't say that... Hey, just where did you learn that one, anyway? Just a little while ago, you didn't know any lullabies."
Heero nodded. "True. That's where the nurses come in."
"They taught you that weird song?"
Negative headshake. "No, but I asked one of them where the closest payphone was, and she thought I was attempting to escape from the group."
Grin slightly confused, but holding. "What group? Could she tell you were a psycho on the run from therapy sessions just by looking at you?"
With lightning speed, Heero grabbed one of Duo's pillows and landed it on his head - not particularly hard, just sufficiently hard to hammer in a point of revenge for the joke. Never accuse someone of something unless you want to give them the chance to assume the action of the guilty.
Duo laughed. "Okay, you tell the story - I'll shut up this time, honest."
Heero looked less than convinced, but continued anyway, putting the pillow back. "There's a group of teens here at the hospital, a visitation group. That's-"
Duo waved the oncoming explanation off. "Yeah, I know. I was in juvie hall for a while, and went on that type of field trip a few times. Visit retirement homes, hospitals and places like that to keep lonely people company, right?"
Heero nodded. "I insisted on being showed the payphones. The nurse probably thought I was trying to ditch the group assignment and call a ride home. I nearly lost my temper with her, so in hindsight I can understand her reasoning for thinking I was a delinquent." Thin smile, mildly embarrassed face. "She gave me quite the lecture - I didn't just walk away - I'm sure she'd have caused even more of a scene, and public attention is not something we can afford right now."
Chuckles. "I so wish I could have seen that. The high and mighty Heero Yuy, told off by a nurse." With a thin smirk, Heero reached for the top pillow again, but Duo beat him to it, clutching it to his chest, grinning. "Oh, no you don't." Heero relaxed back into his chair, and Duo put the pillow back, just in case he'd feel dizzy again. It never hurts to have a soft landing to look forward to, in case one should waver and fall. The opposite most assuredly would, given the rigid hospital mattress, alternately the cold metal floor.
"Anyway, the nurse shooed me into a room a few corridors down to keep an old woman in post-op company for a while, until her family arrived."
Broad smile. "Heero Yuy, the social worker."
Slight frown, sigh. "Do you want me to tell the story, or do you want to be on the losing end of a pillow fight?"
"Ok... Lesse, a mad tumble in the pillows with a guy who can bend steel, or the story of how that same guy learned how to sing lullabies... Tough choice, but I think- Heero, is something wrong?"
"Your ears just went really red."
Indeed, they had gained some color. Heero quickly put his hands over them, verified the heat, and surmised the rest. He struggled to keep it from spreading to his cheeks, or worse places. Diversion. "Your answer?"
"Fight or story?"
Grin. "Oh." Duo shrugged. "Story, I guess."
Heero nodded, fought the light embarrassment away, feeling a little angry. Whether it was on Duo for his choice of words or his own reactions to a select few of the same, he wasn't quite sure. "The nurse closed the door behind me after quietly but firmly ordering me to go sit by the patient's bed. I did. I thought the old woman was asleep, and after a few minutes, I was busy plotting my escape. I was sure that nurse would be quick to catch me again if I wasn't careful. I got up and walked over to peek out the door when I heard a hoarse, wrinkled voice ask 'Leaving so soon?'"
Grin. "Oooh - Wicked which voice!"
Mild snort. "Your words, not mine."
"Of course! So, what happened next?"
"I... felt a little guilty, so I sat down again. We talked - I mostly listened. Other than my name and age, she didn't ask questions, and I didn't offer anything. I think she realized I wasn't very talkative."
Chuckles. "Yeah, well... That doesn't take a genius to figure out."
Dim resentment. "I talk - I just don't say much unless there's a point."
"Yeah, I know." Pause. "So, what did she talk about?"
"Her family and her operation, mostly."
"What's she here for?"
Shoulder slump. "Damn... How old was she, again?"
"She never said - I figure she was in her late eighties or early nineties. She-"
"Geez - poor Grams. Replacing a kidney at her age? Can't possibly be a good sign. Why can't they just figure out how to make a kidney re-growth pill or-"
Heero sighed, growing weary of Duo's constant interruptions - and more so of these drifty ramblings he seemed to have such a good supply of. Heero wondered if he had gotten a new dose of pain medication, but expected the answer was 'no' - or as Duo would have put it, 'hell, no!'. "You got it all wrong, Duo."
"She wasn't getting a kidney, she was giving one away - to her granddaughter."
"What?! That's ridiculous - Quit trying to yank my chain, Heero. Joking about things like that is not funny, it's-"
"Could you let me finish for once?" Pause. "I'm not joking, just telling what Eloa told me. That's her name. Her granddaughter couldn't wait any longer for a new donor, and the only family member with a match was her. She chose to make the offer - she looked in remarkable good health for a woman her age. I think I can understand why the doctors approved."
"Ah, a fighter, then."
Thin smile. "I suppose so. Eloa was in the middle of describing her great-grandchildren when she just stopped talking, reached out and took my hand, and asked me what was on my mind. I must have let my guard down. Not only did I let her touch me, I also answered her, without thinking."
Duo suspected he had the rest figured out. "And you told her 'lullabies', right?"
Nod. "We talked a bit on that subject. I think she was surprised I didn't know any, but she didn't ask. Instead, she said she'd teach me one - a special one."
"The one you sang?"
Again, a nod. "I probably got some of the words wrong, but at least I think I got the melody right. Didn't have all that much time to rehearse."
"What was that song, anyway?"
Heero's slightly amused smile broadened a bit. "That's the funny part. Eloa didn't really know either. She had heard the song in her childhood, and she wasn't entirely sure what all the words meant."
Duo gave a low groan, rolled his eyes. "Did she at least know the language it was in?"
Shrug. "She didn't really say. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a language from somewhere in the Pacific."
Curiosity still not sated. "Okay - and what was the song about? What did it mean? Just the pacific version of Rock-a-Bye-Baby or something?"
"I told you, I don't know-"
Grin. "I remember, you don't know any lullabies... So, it isn't about dropping kids and cradles from tall trees, right?"
Puzzled frown. "That's what this rock-thing is about? Why would anyone make a lullaby depicting child abuse?"
Laughter, shrug. "People are strange, Heero. That's all the reason I can give you for that one."
Vague grunt in agreement.
"So, what was it about? Do you know?"
Nod. "Kind of. I asked pretty much the same thing, and Eloa told me what she could translate, aided by old memory. The song is about a girl singing her younger brother to sleep, telling him not to cry, not to be sad that their father is dead, because he's watching over them from the afterlife."
"Orphans... I can relate to that." Grim smile. "Pun not intended." Pause. "Still is a bit depressing for a lullaby, though."
"As I understand it, Duo, not all songs are about happiness or love."
Snicker. "Yeah, and thank God for that. Wouldn't be the same without a full range of mood music." Duo paused, tilted his head to look Heero straight in the eye. "Thanks, Heero. This kinda made my day - and if you see Eloa again before you go, tell her thanks from me, too."
"I will." Heero lips curled ever so slightly towards a smile. "And don't mention it." Smile complete. "Count it off as something on the 'be kind to me' list."
It took a few seconds for Duo to remember. He grinned. "Duly noted."
They fell quiet again. Heero glanced over his shoulder, out the window. He tugged at the sleeve of his sweater and looked at his wristwatch.
Deep breath, slow exhale. "Time to go?"
"I see..." Duo hesitated, momentarily bit his lower lip. "Heero, I-" False start, more lip nibbling. "Heero, just be careful, okay? Don't overdo it. You're only making a quick run in and out, right?"
Sigh. "If all goes as planned, yes - but how many times have our plans survived even first contact with the enemy? I'm pretty sure I'll have to ad-lib a bit once I get there."
Short grim chuckle. "Yeah, I guess you're right... Good luck, pal."
Heero nodded, and was about to get up when Duo raised his hand, cautioning him to wait.
"Before you go... think you could sing that weird lullaby one more time?" He didn't pause, despite the surprised mild frown washing over Heero's face. "If you do, I'll be a good little pilot and get some rest, just like you wanted me to, promise." Almost as an afterthought, Duo added "And if you don't, I'm coming with you." Grin. "That's a threat."
Frown, to grunt, to smirk. "If that's what you want..."
And so he did. Not once, but twice, then thrice, each time a little softer, a little quieter. Duo's eyes were closed at the first rendition, and his breathing calmed considerably on the second pass. By the time Heero finished the third time, Duo appeared fast asleep, possibly only a snore missing - but not missed.
Heero smiled. As quietly as he could, he got up and took stealthy steps towards the door. With his hand on the doorknob, he glanced back at his resting friend. He could hardly believe Duo had actually fallen asleep, especially after only being awake for a few hours from his previous lengthy nap - but he was; sung asleep by a lullaby - his lullaby.
Heero hesitated, took one step back towards the bed. Another, tempted. A third. While he had never heard a lullaby enough to remember - other than Eloa's - he had picked up some other associated phenomena to this situation. He leant down over Duo, brushed the sleeping boy's bangs aside, and gently placed his lips to the revealed forehead. "Good night, Duo," he whispered as he barely graced the side of his index finger over Duo's cheek, hardly more than mouthing the words. "Sleep well." As quietly has he had approached, he went back to the door. He threw a last glance in before closing it, a thin smile on his lips as he shook his head. "The things you make me do..." With a chuckle, he was out and walking briskly down the hallway, wary to avoid any contact whatsoever with meddlesome nurses. Next time - if there was a next time... No hospitals, and most definitely not any nurses. He only had one quick visit to make before leaving; two thanks to give for a lesson well worth it.
No sooner did the door close and the knob click into place again, did Duo tentatively slit one eye open, peeking to make sure the coast was clear. With a slack hand, he touched his forehead, and grinned. "Thanks again, Heero," he mumbled to himself while turning over on his side. "Definitely some progress in kindness there..." Dim chuckle, yawn. "Just make sure you get back to me, or I'll come after you, Heero. Into hell itself if I have to - that's a promise, pal..."
And finally, he let himself fall asleep, Heero's singing voice lingering in his ear.