" I swear Quatre - one day I'm gonna MAKE you tell me how you managed to survive out here so long," Duo choked as he placed one stumbling leg in front of the other, forcing himself to move. One step. Two step. Pause. Falter. Regain balance. One step. Sink to the knees.
" DAMN!" Duo swore as his strength gave out again. Panting heavily, keeping his head down to avoid inhaling the sand, Duo wondered again just HOW he'd gotten into this predicament in the first place?
" 'Easy mission', I said. 'No problem', I said," Duo chuckled raggedly, the harsh sound rasping his throat and making him desperately wish he had aglass of water, and not a non-existent lake as his fevered vision would havehim believe was directly in front of him. _Damn mirages_, he grumbled as sure enough, the blissful-looking paradise vanished. His vision blurred slightly; he raised a hand to rub his eyes and then took a deep breath.
" Come on Maxwell, don't just think it - DO IT!" Duo lurched to his feet, cursing the fact that he even deigned to get out of bed that morning....
" It's too hot for a mission!" Duo whined, seating himself in front of the industrial-sized fan Quatre had graciously ordered for their room. He pulled off his customary black jacket and white t-shirt, breathing a sigh of relief as the cool air danced across his heated skin. " Okay that's it - I'm not moving and you can't make me."
Heero smirked at him. " Wanna bet?"
Duo stuck out his tongue and leaned back against the protective grating of the fan, trying to get as close as possible to the breeze. Heero snorted and turned back to his laptop.
" It's a short one Duo - a manufacturing plant about 40 miles from here. It supplies nearly 65% of all the parts needed by the OZ base 160 miles from here."
" Why not just have me attack the base?" Duo grumbled, not bothering to open his eyes.
" Because this particular plant supplies parts to almost every base on this continent," Heero said patiently. " Taking out the distributer makes more sense. Hitting the base is like slicing the head off a hydra--"
" Two more come back for each one ya cut off - I know Heero, I sat through the same mythology course you did. Three times," Duo added reflectively. He grinned - they knew some courses better than the assigned teachers, thanks to their multiple school jaunts. " I get it - plant important, me important, me take out plant." He gave Heero a mock salute. " Mission acknowledged captain!" He scowled. " Why in this heat? We coulda' gone to a nice ski ranch - why Quatre's desert prison?
" Of the mission, I know, I know." Duo slouched down again. " Gonna be sweatin' too much to operate the controls..."
Heero rolled his eyes as he watched his lover relax against the fan. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
" Still...maybe I should come--"
" What for?" Duo opened his eyes and glowered at the Perfect Soldier. " You think I can't handle a manufacturing plant?" The pain and sarcasm lacinghis tone was not missed by Heero.
" No, baka," Heero said as he stalked towards his lover. Duo 'eeped as Heero grabbed hold of his braid and used it as a method of dragging Duo's head towards him for a rough kiss. Duo 'mmphed as he tried to pull back a little and then shrugged - 'what the hell, he thought - and returned it eagerly. Heero lost some of the intensity and ended the kiss on a gentler note, drawing away from Duo's mouth slowly. Duo blinked at him.
" What was that for?"
" For being a baka," Heero said, letting the loose strands at the end of his braid slip through his fingers. His tone held a faint note of reproach that Duo detected immediately. " I never thought you couldn't handle it on your own." His eyes glowed softly. " I just don't want to let you out of mysight."
Duo smiled back at him, leaning forward impishly and darting a quick kiss to his nose before resting his forehead against Heero's.
" I'll be fine," he said quietly, a serious light in his violet eyes. " Trust me."
" Always," Heero breathed as he leaned closer.
" You've seen my Gundam! Now you DIE!!" Duo's half-crazed shriek boomed over the loudspeaker of his Gundam as the black and white machine tore through the plant's defenses with ease. Several of the factory's personnel watched with horror as the mecha descended upon them, black metal wings of razor sharpness extended out, giving the impression of winged death coming to play. The glowing scythe held in it's Gundanium grip didn't help matters either. Duo cackled as he sliced through the building.
Having only minimal defenses, Duo decided not to bother sneaking in to plant explosives. This called for some hands-on work.
" At some point in time, all must fear the reaper," he intoned in a chilling voice. " The time is at hand!"
Executing a tight spin, he whooped loudly, slashing and cutting the few mobile suits that fired bravely. As much as he hated killing, this was war - and Shinigami didn't mind. That was the perk of having two completely different mind sets - it was one of the few things Heero admired him for. Bullets bounced off his armored hide and Duo blanched.
" You dare ding my Gundam?" he asked incredulously. " Oh man, you are SO dead!"
He turned the full fury of Deathscythe Hell on the poor unfortunate. About to obliterate the machine to a mere grease spot, he suddenly realized he'd been tricked - and cannon fire exploded at Deathscythe's back, driving the Gundam to its knees. Duo struck his head on the main console as he bounced about in his harness. Spots flashed in front of his eyes and he felt a stream of warmth, trickling down the side of his head. He tasted the coppery tang of blood in his mouth and he rubbed his arm against his lips brusquely.
" Aw, shit," he moaned as he noticed the damage level on Deathscythe. " And I just had her waxed...."
More guns struck the Gundam and Duo hissed in pain as he was thrown headlong into some destroyed mobile suits. Shaking his head slightly to try and clear the cobwebs, he fought to regain a standing position. His attacker made a grave error by allowing him to move instead of pressing his attack. Now facing the suit, Duo's eyes gleamed as his lips curled up in a feral smile.
" Sayonara, sucker!" he hissed and activated his scythe. Green fire flashed and the mecha exploded, neatly sliced in half, partly melted from theweapon's intense heat. Duo breathed a sigh of relief and glanced at hismonitors - a quick look confirmed the destruction of the plant's bases. Thedamage he'd sustained however...
" 'Least I got enough juice to waste this place," he sighed and with that thought in mind, he proceeded blow up the main building before activating his thrusters and beginning the trek home.
A light flashed and an alarm sounded. Duo groaned - he didn't have enough power left to activate both the radio and the stealth mode to keep any suits from tracking him. He toggled the switch to the frequency he knew the safehouse was under. Wufei answered promptly.
" 05, this is 02. Mission accomplished, and all that jazz."
" Acknowledge 02. Status?"
" Some damage, nothing serious. I'm gonna be losing the radio though - I have enough power to activate the stealth but not for both. See you in a bit,'kay?"
" End transmission."
Duo grinned at the curt tone in Wufei's voice as he reached to turn off the radio. It fizzled, sparks showering the cockpit. Duo blinked at it stupidly.
" Talk about your perfect timing," he murmured, eyeing the smoldering radio with some mock trepidation. Still, stealth mode was activated and everything was--
Another alarm sounded and Deathscythe's huge frame shuddered and began tilting towards the earth.
" What the?!?!" Duo fought to regain control of the machine as it heaved to. Duo saw the ground rushing up to meet him. " Aw, shi--"
All Duo could do was curse at his own stupidity for not monitoring the damage meter sooner. He trudged forward, pain radiating through him at the rough landing. According to his calculations, he was approximately twenty miles from the safehouse. The good news was that while everything was damaged on Shinigami, the stealth mode was still kicking. Feebly, but kicking.
The bad news, was that he was stuck, wounded and dazed, marching through the sand in the hot sky. He'd left his jacket back with Deathscythe, keeping the light t-shirt he wore beneath it to offer some protection from the sun. Even more bad news, no one was coming to get him. _Except possible soldiers from the base_ , he amended but he wasn't too worried. Still, that was the primary reason why he couldn't stay with his Gundam - and blast Dr. G for not fixing the self-destruct button! He'd just have to reach the safehouse quickly, and send someone out to retrieve it for him.
His vision swam again and he hit the ground and rolled. Flat on his back, he closed his eyes panting, inhaling great gulps of air to try and cool his body temperature. But the air was moist and humid and he felt like he was swallowing tepid tap water. Gagging slightly, he rolled over and tried to make himself move.
" Damn it..." he croaked, eyes filled with tears brought on by the hot sand blowing in his eyes. " I am NOT going out like this!"
His ribs protested as he pushed himself up, and he could feel the wound on his head re-open, having nothing to bandage it with. His skin was red and flushed and he knew he was going to have the MOTHER of all sunburns by the time he made it. If he made it.
" Can't think like that," he slurred. Gasping, he finally made it to his feet. Hunched over, he began to walk doggedly, eyes focused on an unseen destination. " Gotta be positive. Think of Heero rubbing you with that pink stuff Rashid recommended for burns...ugh...think of Heero just rubbing...."
The solitary figure struggled on, the sand blowing back against him.
Heero glanced out the window of the safehouse for the umpteenth time, scanning the sand-filled skies for some sign of the American pilot's return.
Wufei watched him from the doorway.
" No sign?" he asked, coming to stand beside him. Heero shook his head. Wufei frowned.
" He should have been back by now...."
" Was he all right?" Quatre asked, looking up from where he was playing cards with Trowa. " He wasn't hurt, was he?"
" He said he wasn't, and he sounded fine." Wufei folded his arms and looked out the window again. " We can't even contact him because he shut his radio off in order to keep the stealth activated."
Heero's eyes were drilling a hole through the glass.
" He should have been back by now," he echoed Wufei's earlier statement. Quatre took his turn looking out the window - and gasped.
" What?" Heero snapped his head to look at the Arabian. Quatre's hands were pressed to the glass.
Heero growled and grabbed his windbreaker on the couch before exiting the room. They didn't bother to ask him where he was going - they all knew. Minutes later, they heard a rumbling echo through the complex and then Wing Zero flashed by the house as Heero headed off in the direction of the plant to find his braided counterpart.
" I-I'd...kill..for a...d-drink...right now..." Duo garbled as he continued to try and talk to himself. Darkness was tugging at the ends of his vision and he knew if he went down again, he wouldn't be getting back up. Tired, in a great deal of pain, dehydrated and still at least twelve miles from the safehouse, Duo knew it would be a miracle if he survived. The winds had picked up - at first it had been a blessing to the overheated pilot. But then the grains of sand, soft beneath his feet, had become tiny, hardprojectiles, striking every inch of his body. " Guys'll come," he panted. "S-should've been....back..."
Duo's knees gave out and he crashed face first into the sand. _Gotta move_, he told himself, but a wave of sleepiness washed over him.
Duo slipped into oblivion as the winds reared up violently for a minute. The last thing Duo remembered before the darkness claimed him was hearing afamiliar sound. Like an engine.
" He's back!" Quatre pushed off the window and darted out of the room. Trowa and Wufei spared a second to look out the window in time to see Wing Zero carrying Deathscythe Hell towards the hangar area. They bolted for the door.
Quatre skidded to a halt in front of Wing Zero - and watched with horror as Heero carefully cradled a limp figure in his arms as he climbed down from the Gundam.
" Is he--" Quatre couldn't finish his sentence. Heero brushed by him.
" Get the medic," he said tersely. Quatre nodded frantically and rushed off. Trowa and Wufei let Heero pass them silently, following him as he headed toward his and Duo's room. Once inside, he deposited the unconscious boyonto the bed, handling him as carefully as if the boy had been made of thefinest china. Both watchers ignored Heero's apparent rudeness - it was theanxiousness speaking. Trowa couldn't help but shudder - he'd be the same wayif it were Quatre.
Quatre hurriedly ushered Dr. Raul into the room who took one look at Duo and began setting up an IV from the stand of medical supplies being brought in behind him by Rashid.
Heero watched silently, though his eyes spoke volumes. " Will he be all right?"
" He's suffering from severe dehydration and heat stroke," the man said briskly. " We've got to get liquids into him and cool his body temperature down." He nodded to where Rashid was pulling ice packs out and handing them to Trowa and Wufei who twisted them, breaking the inner seals and handing them back to Rashid who began to pack them carefully against Duo's body. On the exposed areas, red, blistered skin glared angrily at all of them and the doctor took a salve from the black kit under the medcart.
" All of you, please wait outside," he said, gently but firmly. Heero looked as though he were about to protest and Quatre lay a hand on his arm, tentatively drawing him away.
" Let the doctor work, Heero," he said quietly, insistently. " He's a good doctor - trust him. Trust me!"
Heero took a deep breath and nodded, allowing the blond to tug him out of the room, throwing one last glance behind him as Trowa closed the door.
It had been thirty-two minutes and forty-five seconds. Heero didn't move from his position in the hallway, facing the door to Duo's room. He could vaguely hear the low murmurs of the doctor within and he glared hotly at the inanimate wood, willing it to open and the doctor say his lover would be fine....
He remembered Wufei trying to dispel the quietness asking him, " Where did you find him?"
Heero remembered his heart slamming into his throat at seeing the devastating condition Deathscythe had been in, the worry when he'd found the Gundam empty, and the panic that rose within him as he began a search for the braided baka. Only a chance glimpse of light reflecting off a small metal cross....
Heero swallowed. He'd almost missed him. If he'd found Duo any later....
The door opened and Heero bolted upright. The doctor met his gaze calmly.
" He'll be fine, " he assured the blue-eyed pilot. Behind him, Quatre gave sigh of relief. Trowa smiled and even Wufei looked relieved. Heero brushed past them into the room, leaving the others to deal with the doctor.
Inside, he moved slowly to the bed, gazing down at his long-haired lover. Duo seemed so much younger, so much more innocent when he was asleep, all traces of the manic pilot of death they knew so well. His eyes lingered on the loose bandages covering the burns, the pale skin of his chest where the t-shirt had mostly protected him. Duo's face was red with faint traces of blood lingering at the temples where the doctor had failed to be thorough when cleaning the head wound. Heero picked up a washcloth from the bowl of cold water and gently dabbed at the crimson stain. Duo whimpered and he froze.
" ..h-heero....?" the voice was so faint and whispery he almost missed it - but Duo's long eyelashes fluttered.
" Duo, can you hear me?" Heero's heart pounded in his chest.
"...'c'n hear you..." Duo mumbled as he squinted painfully. Heero reached out and turned off the lamp shining in his face. The outside light still shone through but it wasn't glaring enough to hurt. Duo's cracked lips parted and his tongue slipped out weakly, licking them. Heero reached for an ice cube in the glass on the night stand and gently moistened his koibito's lips.
" Better?" he asked thickly. Duo nodded slightly and opened his eyes, seeming a bit more awake.
" Hi," he whispered. Heero swallowed.
" Hi," he managed and then, slowly, ever so slowly, leaned down and rested his head on Duo's chest, staring into the concerned violet eyes.
" Y'okay?" Duo asked, worried. Heero bit back a sharp laugh - Duo was worried about him?
" I'm fine," he said, reaching up with one hand to run his fingers through Duo's bangs - his favorite pastime. " I'm just glad you're all right."
" Can't kill death," Duo yawned, smiling as he felt the breeze from the fan wash over him. " Had to stay alive - kept thinking of you giving me a massage with that sunburn stuff Rashid keeps around..." He blinked at Heero impishly. " Interested?"
Heero chuckled. " You don't even have to ask," he said. Duo nodded and then yawned again.
" 'm tired, Hee-chan," he murmured, eyes drifting shut.
" Sleep koi," Heero whispered, closing his own eyes. " I'm not going anywhere."
" I know," Duo said, half-asleep. " S'why I love you..."
When the doctor came in to check on Duo later that night, he saw the scene - Duo asleep with Heero's head resting on his chest, one of Heero's hands intertwined with Duo's; Duo's other hand gripping Heero's hair loosely to keep him from slipping away. The doctor smiled - and exited quietly. He could always check on the boy later....