Fish on a stick never tasted so good as it did that morning.
It was a fairly small fish, maybe seven inches long, that Heero gutted with his knife and pushed onto a stick, allowing Duo to cook it over the fire until the skin was curling at the edges and the meat was done. The little fish had been accompanied in the trap by a decent sized crab, and two prawn, each of which was impaled on sticks and cooked. They shared the fish, one little half each, and broke the crab down the middle of it's shell, evening out their meal. Last, they had a shrimp apiece, then tried hard to be satisfied with just that. At least it was food.
The trap seemed to be moderately successful - hopefully they could continue to catch things to eat that way. After finishing their seafood meal, Heero gathered up the crab shells and the fish skin and head, and threw them back into the trap - bait for the next catch - since the bird was looking sorry enough that even he was a little put off by it. He buried the waterlogged carcass in the sand after putting the fish remains in the trap. Then getting to his feet, the Japanese boy was off and down to the water to tether and submerge the trap once more. When he returned, Duo was tending his injury once more.
"We need to search for water again."
That was all the boy said before he was already making his way across the beach. Duo finished putting on his boots and got up, then ran after Heero, and the two set out to find the precious element that would mean the difference between their lives or their deaths.
That day, the sky was cloudy, overcast with threatening dark gray clouds. The cold, damp wind was back, and it made the skin on Duo's body erupt with goosebumps, since he was still going around shirtless in an effort to keep from ruining his shirt from the mess that his injury was causing. They went further down the beach this time, to find a different area of the thicket, and the further they went, the rougher the winds got.
"I think we're in for a storm," Duo said aloud, more as a statement to himself than to the other boy.
"The fire will get put out if it does storm. How many more flares do we have?" Heero asked. His eyes never made contact with his friend's, and he watched the treeline instead, searching it carefully.
"We need to find shelter."
Duo stopped in the sand. "Well, no shit, Sherlock!" Heero turned and glared at him, annoyed, before Duo backed down. "Sorry."
They continued on for quite a while in silence, still walking the beach, still finding nothing but sand and ocean on one side and trees on the other. Then finally, Duo broke the silence again.
"You know, Heero, you really should talk more. I mean... relax around people." Heero didn't seem to be listening. "I know that deep down inside, you aren't as high and mighty as you think you are. Everybody has limits, Heero. Everybody needs at least one person to be friends with."
Heero stopped. "So, what are you telling me?"
"Oh, nothing, man," Duo smiled, flashing brilliant eyes at the other boy. "Only that it's just the two of us here and I figured we could at least try to be friends. You know...talk to each other, more than about catching fish or finding water."
Heero started walking again.
"You're just...you're different, I guess, and I'm not used to that." Duo said, sighing. "Where I'm from, we all had friends. Our friends were our survival. Hell, we didn't have much of anything else, but there was always a friend to bend an ear with. Kinda made you feel that at least to that person, you mattered, know what I mean?" A pause. "No, I guess maybe you don't."
Duo's statement momentarily struck a silent chord with Heero. Friends. Friendship. One of life's critical things that he'd been denied thus far. Having friends was never an issue before. He had what he needed to live; he had people to care for him until he was old enough to do it himself. Although he'd never given it much consideration, Heero thought for a second that Dr. J was a "friend". But then thinking of him in the context that Duo had explained, J didn't fit that. J was...J. A guardian, a caretaker, an instructor, but not a friend. A friend wouldn't have forced him into the position that he was in - essentially being a soldier, and at the tender age of only fifteen. He'd been in training his entire teenage life for this, and missed out on everything that the other kids had, like friends. Was he really that out of touch?
His mind reeling now, more thoughts began pouring into his head as Heero led Duo still further down the beach. Hadn't it been merely two days before, that he'd come clean to himself, that he'd acknowledged the fact that he did, really, need other people, some of them, anyway? When push came to shove, and he truly thought he was going to die, when he thought that there would be no morning after, he regretted not having allowed himself to get closer to Duo. He recognized the fact that he was beginning to consider the other boy an occasional companion and a comfort, depending on where their missions led them, but here he was, choking on those words. Choking it all back when a simple acknowledgement would mean the world to Duo, and probably to him as well. For all he knew, becoming closer friends with the other boy might actually be...nice. He might learn something, like how to be a normal fifteen-year-old guy.
When they'd gone so far that the campsite was long out of view, and the scenery still hadn't changed much, Heero thought that they should venture into the wood and see if there was anything different to see in this part of the brush. The winds continued to howl, damp and unwelcoming, and the temperature was beginning to drop. It was definitely going to rain. Noting that there were no birds out flying, Heero suspected that they might be in for a storm, the birds all finding shelter to sit out the bad weather. As the two boys began their trek further into thicket, a fine mist began to appear in the air, chilling them.
"Great," Duo said, sarcastically as fine beads of vapor coagulated on strands of his bangs, making his hair get frizzy. "We need to find someplace to get cover from this rain."
"It's only rain," the other boy answered curtly.
"Yeah, but, I really enjoyed being dry for the past two days after the soaking we both took. I don't want to be cold and wet again."
Duo sighed, and continued following Heero. Their little adventure was quickly wearing old for the colony-born teen, and he anticipated when they'd somehow manage to get off this...island, place or whatever it was. Hardly any food, no shelter, and now a brewing storm - not exactly Duo Maxwell's way to spend a retreat. But of course he reminded himself once again that no, this was not a retreat, they were stranded, and usually, being stranded was pretty inconvenient. If it weren't, it wouldn't be called "Being stranded". Plodding along behind the Japanese boy, Duo sighed again as the light mist turned into a noticeable drizzle, but he refrained from saying anything. There was nothing Heero could do to improve the situation, and Duo thought better than to annoy the other boy with incessant whining about things that could not be helped.
Heero stopped abruptly.
"What is it?" Duo asked.
"Shh!" The Japanese boy listened carefully, and Duo began to do the same, not really sure what they were listening for. "Hear that?"
All Duo could hear was wind and the sounds of light droplets pitter-pattering all over the tree canopy. He faced the other boy, and looked at him with question. "What?" Duo whispered.
The birds were silent, and there was no movement in the wood, other than what the rain shower was causing, and Duo listened very hard, turning his body to hear in different directions. They were well out of range of the ocean, so it wasn't that. Then through the surrounding rhythm of raindrops on leaves, very faint, he heard something else.
"Water? Flowing water?"
A hint of a smile appeared on Heero's lips. It wasn't loud, and it didn't sound like more than a trickle, but there was flowing water somewhere near them. Their only hope now was that it was fresh water, and not a pool fed by the ocean, but as Heero had suspected before... the birds... they had to be drinking something.
The boys took off in the direction from which the trickling noise came, stopping every minute or two to listen again, making sure they were still headed the right way. The further they went, the louder the sound became, until they could clearly make out what was probably a stream or very small river. Heero pushed through underbrush efficiently, Duo immediately behind him, and they made their way toward the source of the water they heard, until the stormy skies gave way and opened, turning the light drizzle into a downpour, drowning out any other sound that itself.
"Aw, Hell," Duo exclaimed, already soaked to the bone from the deluge that poured down upon them.
"Lets keep going this way," Heero suggested loudly, pointing ahead of him. "We can't be too far." His hair slicked back, saturated, his clothing weighed with rainwater, the Japanese boy wiped rain from his face.
"Hey...Heero," Duo tugged the other boy's shirt since he doubted he could hear him in the downpour. Heero turned, and Duo motioned for him to watch as he held his arms out, cupping his hands, and in a few seconds time, some rainwater had gathered. He pulled his hands to his lips and drank the water that had collected in his hands, and reached out to do it again.
"'slong as we're looking for water, might as well use what we DO have!" The thundering skies drowned out Duo's voice, but Heero understood him anyway as he stretched out his own arms, hands cupped, and began to do the same.
The rain fell and fell, quite heavily at times, and for a while, the two boys stayed where they were in the middle of the wood, gathering and drinking as much rainwater as they could. Neither of them had realized just how thirsty they really were, until that first mouthful of water was swallowed, waking their bodies up to its need to be quenched. They had been over two days now without clean water, and as they drank, their thirst grew, rather than dissipated. When finally each boy had drunk enough to nearly fill his belly with cool rainwater, they continued on as best they could, still searching for the stream that would hopefully feed their thirst in the coming days.
They found a joyous surprise. A thin, freshwater brook, and it flowed from within the crevices of a cavern in the side of a hill or mountain. With the rain still pouring and the skies black it was impossible to see anything beyond what was right in front of them, but there was a hollow in the stone surface where the water emerged from, only considerably larger. Looking at each other with both uncertainty and curiosity, the boys ventured to the opening of the cove, carefully picking their way over rocks and stones. Reaching the opening, they were startled when a few frightened birds came bursting out of the little space.
Heero cautiously entered the space, straddling the flowing water and climbing up to where there was a slightly wider berth. He could almost stand inside the space, but it was pitch black, and he couldn't see a thing. He was relying on feel only as he inspected the crags and surfaces inside the little cave.
"You can climb up... be careful. It widens up here and we can sit."
He fumbled around reaching for Duo in the blackness, grabbing his hand when the other boy came into reach and helping him up to the area where he was. Breathing heavily, Duo climbed over the loose shale on the sides of the stream and made it to crouch next to Heero, where the two of them rested.
"I guess we can wait here until the storm passes," Duo said as he felt his way around to find a more comfortable sitting spot without sharp rocks poking through his clothing and into his skin. He could hear Heero fidgeting around as well, trying to create a smooth spot to sit but pushing away the loose shale to uncover smoother surfaces.
From their little hiding spot inside the hill, Heero and Duo could look outside and see faint remnants of gray daylight, and the torrents of rain that fell. The water fell so hard on the rocky surfaces outside the cove that it sounded like the applause of a huge audience, clapping after a great play or concert, but from inside it all sounded very distant, noise deadened by the density and depth of stone. They could hear each other's stirrings and breathing, as well as an occasional howling gust of wind that came billowing into their shelter, blowing cold on their wet bodies.
Huddling down, Duo rested his forehead on his knees, trying to make himself sleep to make the time pass quicker. Breathing hot breath into the little cavern that he created with his own body, the boy felt the warmth of his breath as it passed over his chest and stomach and thighs, and he tightened his human ball, to try to prevent this little bit of heat from escaping him. His bangs drooped over his propped arms, which were wrapped loosely around his head, and they acted as a canopy covering the "air escape route," and the boy breathed deeply, exhaling slowly, continually replenishing his feeling of warmth. For many minutes Duo remained like that, warming himself as the wind gusts repeatedly blew past and stole his comfort, until he could hear the shivering louder than the wind.
Duo looked up. "Heero."
There was no answer, and the shivering stopped momentarily. Before long, though, the sound had commenced.
"Heero," Duo called again, once again ignored, so he unwrapped himself from his warm little ball and began feeling his way in the dark over to where the other boy was sitting. Duo touched Heero's arm - he was cold and clammy all over again. <
"You need to be warmer, Heero. I don't think you've quite recovered from the other day." Duo slid himself close to the wet, shivering boy until their bodies touched.
"I'm f-fine," Heero said arrogantly, leaning away from Duo.
"You're not. You haven't had enough to eat since you woke up to be fine. That's why you're shivering again."
"And y-your not c-cold?"
"Hell yeah, I'm cold, but I'm not shivering like a jackhammer, with skin like a cold fish. Now lemme help you, OK?"
Much to the other boy's disapproval, Duo crept closer and positioned himself so that he was behind Heero, his body draping over the other boy's back. Heero never moved as Duo slid in behind him, but when the other boy wrapped his arms around him, he froze in place, his heart leaping into his chest, bothered by the closeness. Duo kept his legs bent but let them lean on the boy huddled between them, noting that Heero felt completely non-accepting of what he was trying to do. But after a few minutes, the warmth of Duo's breath on the back of his neck and heat being generated by their touching bodies began to quiet him. The shivering lessened some, and Heero lost his rigidity and tried to relax, welcoming the increased warmth - both kinds of warmth - that he was feeling.
Duo whispered behind him. "It's OK, Heero, to do this. Really. To help each other, when there's nobody else to help." There was a sadness in his tone. "We used to stay like this all the time in the winter, when all we had for shelter was an alleyway or a basement, and all we had for warmth was each other. Only I used to sit where you're sitting now, since I was younger then."
Heero didn't stir at all, listening carefully to what the other boy was saying, his eyes closed and his body slowly warming. Friends. The words kept flooding his mind, as did thoughts of their experiences the past two or so days.
"We had to rely on each other for everything, and somehow, we got through. But really, I don't want you to feel funny or anything, because it's OK to be like this... ya know... for me to hold you like this. We all have to do what we have to, to get by."
With that, Duo rested his chin on Heero's shoulder, snuggled tighter to him, and closed his eyes to sleep. Before he dropped off though, he felt one shaky arm slide out from under his and then wrap around it and hold tight. They stayed like that the rest of the day and into the night, listening to the storm rage outside the little cave.