T-minus 2 months and counting
"Engine shutdown on my mark... three, two, one, mark." Jun's voice was crisp as he issued the command.
"Engine shutdown confirmed. Reactor temperature stable." Duo replied from his station in Ops, quickly cycling through the screens. "Sail rotation stable. Cabin rotation stable. Ops requests that crew knock on wood on my mark...three, two, one, mark."
Janey snorted, then reached over and knocked on his head. He grinned back at her. There was no response from Jun, but then again, none was expected. The stick shoved up his ass only seemed to be lodged a little tighter since the accident. Elena was the only other person to respond; he could hear her low laugh through his headset. The other two crew were as silent as Jun.
"I hope this works." Janey muttered, then said in a clear voice, "Backpressure in coolant tanks nominal. Lifesupport green all the way."
"Would Newton lie to us?" Duo muttered back before continuing, "Stage 1 braking maneuver complete." He pulled off his headset. "It's all you, Toots."
"Don't go too far. We'll be getting another set of personal messages after the braking data is sent."
He raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think I'm going to sit here and let you read over my shoulder?" He didn't get up, though.
She laughed. "I just want to see if you get a message from your boyfriend." She shot him a sly look.
"Heero is my friend." Duo replied, refusing to rise to the bait.
"Your sexy friend with the deep voice." She grinned.
"You're a pain in the ass, you know that?" He scowled in mock annoyance.
"Yes, but I'm the lady with the comm." She said, smugly satisfied. "And look what I have here. A message for Mr. Maxwell from a Mr. Yuy."
Duo lunged for the board and with a few keystrokes, sent the message to his terminal. He bailed out of his seat and after flashing Janey a quick grin, headed off to the crew cabin.
T-minus two weeks and counting
"Holy shit! When'd you get your ears pierced?" Duo knew that wasn't the most graceful way to begin a conversation, especially since it was the first real-time call he'd had with Heero in over a year, but the sight of the small silver hoops had startled him. His own hand strayed up to touch the stud in his own left ear in an unconscious gesture.
"I had them done last week." Heero said, smirking. "And hello, Duo."
Duo flushed in embarrassment. "Sorry! It's good to see you, Heero. The earrings surprised the hell out of me. They look good, though." Really good, he thought. And kicked himself. I have got to stop listening to Janey, he grumbled silently.
"Thank you." Heero smiled, clearly amused. "You seem distracted. Should I call back another time?"
"Har. You're a funny guy, you know that?" He scowled in mock-annoyance for a moment before grinning. "Two weeks, man, and we'll be out of this tin can. Can you believe it? All I ever dream about anymore is hot showers." He paused, considering. "And coffee. And walking, too. Hell, everything."
"Walking?" Heero laughed.
"You got that right. I've had enough of living in a box, thank you very much. Although it'll be creeping until I get used to the whole gravity thing again." Duo said with a rueful shake of his head. "Think you're up to creeping around with me? Walker and all?"
"I'm sure I can pencil you in." Heero's response was dry.
"Will you pick me up at the port? Debriefing and med check out will take a week or so. I'll have to call you when they let us out." Duo gave Heero a hopeful look, then blinked. "Damn. My apartment. Everything is still in storage. Do you mind if I crash with you a few days until I get it sorted out?"
"I'll pick you up." It seemed to Duo that Heero looked and sounded smugly pleased with himself. "And you can stay with me as long as you need to. After all, you're going to need someone to put together your walker for you."
"Hey now buddy-" The thirty second warning sounded. "Damn. Three minutes goes fast, doesn't it?" Duo grumbled. "At least I had a chance to say more than 'hey, how you doing' with the recorded messages. Oh well, I shouldn't bitch too much. Two weeks!" He couldn't seem to wipe the goofy grin off his face.
"Two weeks and the long ride home from Mars." Heero said.
"Go ahead, Yuy, and try to rain on my parade. Two weeks." Duo laughed, then noticed the timer and cursed. "Shit! Out of time! Take it easy and I'll talk to you next week."
"I'll talk to you then, Duo." The call disconnected.
Duo pushed away from the com station, letting his fidgeting crewmate take his turn. The earrings really did look good, he thought. He frowned thoughtfully. They looked like the kind of rings that some Sweepers would get after completing an apprenticeship. He hadn't been able to get his own ears pierced until after the wars; the rings were considered "identifying marks." Like wearing a priest's habit and sporting a long braid weren't, but Heero had been the only one to complain about that.
Damn, he though. I forgot to ask Heero what project he was working on with Howard. He shook his head, pushing the thought away. Two weeks!
T-minus two days and counting
The monitors didn't do the sail justice, Duo thought as he watched the thin web slowly fold in on itself. Janey was sitting beside him down in Ops, both of them uncharacteristically quiet as they monitored the sail retraction. The cables weren't visible on the monitors and it looked as if a luminous sea creature was about to swallow the tiny craft whole.
The quiet mood held until the sail had completely folded in on itself and was anchored securely to the hull. "Sail retraction successful. We are inertial." He waited for Janey's acknowledgement, then powered down the control module for the sail. Collapsing back in his seat, he pulled off his headset and rolled his head to the side to give Janey a lopsided grin.
"Two days." She sighed. "These are going to be the longest two days of my life. Just who have I pissed off to make time go so slow?"
Duo snorted, imagining a B-movie witch doctor sticking pins into a model of the ship. "I don't know, but I wish you'd make nice with whoever it is so we can get home." He closed his eyes. "We keep on saying two days, but it's going to be another couple of weeks until we actually get home. There's still the ride home once we dock with Howard's ship"
"Shut up, you."
T-minus two hours
"Odyssey, we are on final approach." The tinny voice in his earpiece sounded entirely too relaxed to Duo. There tension in the ship was so thick that he almost expected one of them to snap and start bouncing off of the walls.
"Acknowledged." Jun's reply from the command chair was clipped.
Duo stared at his board in Ops, trying to will time to go faster. There wasn't much to do; rotation wouldn't be halted until thirty minutes before docking. All non-essential systems had already been shut down and the crew was to remain strapped in until the docking tube was attached. Final shutdown procedures would be taken care of by the rescue ship's crew. Janey's voice drew him out of his fierce contemplation of his blank screen.
"So did you find out why Heero missed his call last week?"
He frowned at her. "What?"
"Help me out here, Duo. I'm trying to pass the time. Why didn't Heero call?"
"He sent a message. Said he was sorry he missed the call, but was traveling and couldn't get to a com." Duo shrugged. "He hasn't left the city for a couple of years, as far as I know. Must have been something big." Duo hadn't mentioned it to Janey, but missing the call with Heero had bothered him more than he expected. She hadn't said anything, but he was sure his moping around had been noticed.
"Huh. Maybe he had to go pick up a case of air freshener for his apartment. God knows we all reek." She sounded amused, but Duo could hear her fingers drumming out a nervous rhythm on her armrest.
Reaching over, he put his hand over hers, stilling the tapping. He smiled. "Almost over, Janey. Besides," he said, teasing, "I'm sure there's enough degreaser and sanitizer on the Kingfisher to take the edge off of us."
The rest of their banter was cut off as their commander's voice came over the com. "I would like to take this time to say a few words about our journey..."
"Shoot me now." Janey muttered as Jun's voice droned on. She slouched down in her seat, apparently trying to sink through the bulkhead.
"I told you to make nice with whatever higher power you pissed off." Duo wished he had some earplugs.
T-minus two minutes
"Kingfisher, we are ready for docking." Duo said, eyes roaming over his now-active board. His hands moved confidently over the boards. The past two months has been spent reviewing this procedure until he was sure he'd be dreaming about it for the rest of his life.
"Acknowledged. Docking grapple deployed on my mark." The low voice on the com was so shockingly familiar that he almost froze in place. Only long practice kept his fingers moving over the keys.
Janey leaned over and punched him on the arm. "Hey, isn't that..."
"Three, two, one... mark." The clang of the docking grapple catching the hull rang through the ship and there wasn't any more time for talk. Duo and Janey concentrated on the docking procedures, exchanging terse comments as connection between the two ships was completed. Although Duo's mind was focused on his task, that impossible voice made him feel as if every hair on his body was standing on end.
"Grapple secure, Odyssey. Confirm?"
"Confirmed, Kingfisher. Grapple secure. Awaiting clearance for hatch release." Janey replied. 'Is that him?' she mouthed. Duo shrugged helplessly.
More muffled noises could be heard through the bulkhead, then the voice responded, "Docking tube pressurized. Hatch release at your discretion, Odyssey." Duo was certain now. Why that smug bastard, Duo thought, shaking his head in amazed disbelief, a smile tugging at his lips.
"It's about damn time." Janey grumbled, then hit the hatch control. "Hatch release in five seconds. Four, three, two, one."
T-plus twenty seconds.
"Why the fuck isn't the hatch opening?"
"Give it a minute or two before you go nuts, Janey."
"Fuck that, pretty boy. If that hatch doesn't open in the next thirty seconds, I'm chewing my way through."
Janey had just reached the hatch, the largest spanner she could find clutched in her fist, when the hydraulics released with a hiss. The hatch swung slowly inwards, followed by a wild-haired young man in a flight suit. Janey didn't give him a chance to speak.
"Took you long enough to get the damn door open." She poked him in the chest, and then pushed off from the opening, floating through the docking tube towards the Kingfisher. The rest of the crew followed her, one after another, until only Duo and the young man remained, staring at each other from across the cabin.
Duo unbuckled his harness, pushing out of his chair and drifting across until he was an arm-length away from the other man. Steel blue eyes stared back at him uncertainly.
"So. 'Working on a project with Howard?'" Duo asked softly. Heero nodded in reply.
"'I'm in transit,' eh?" Duo murmured, giving Heero an arch look. Heero nodded again, one side of his mouth quirking up in a smile.
"'I'll pick you up?'" He couldn't hold in the delighted laugh any more. "You sure do know how to make an entrance, you smug bastard." Duo poked him in the ribs before throwing his arms around his friend for a fierce hug. Heero's arms wrapped around him, grasping his shoulders tightly. The tension of the last few days drained out of him as Heero chuckled against his hair. The embrace felt shockingly intimate, their legs tangling together as they floated just inside the hatch.
Duo pulled away after several long moments of reveling in the close contact. "Lets get out of here." He said, hand lingering on Heero's shoulder. They pushed off together, heading towards the lighted hatchway at the end of the docking tube.
Nodding at the suited figure waiting for them to leave the Oddysey, Heero pushed Duo in ahead of him secured the hatch. "You weren't kidding about the shower thing, were you?" He asked, then cycled the airlock sequence. Duo's indignant yell and Heero's answering laugh were lost in the hiss of pressurized air.