Author: Calic0cat
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Fragments + Chapter 23

As we slipped through hallways, ducking into rooms as necessary to dodge security, I struggled to keep my mind where it belonged - on our escape - rather than letting it drift to worry about Duo. I avoided looking at him as much as possible; the guilt I felt whenever I saw his pain-drawn face and bloodstained shirt was overwhelming. I couldn't allow myself to dwell on his condition or the fact that I was the one responsible for it; I needed to stay focussed on getting us safely out of here. Apologies would have to wait. I was just thankful that we were able to take a more direct route heading back to the ships than the one I'd taken during my systematic search. We were well over halfway back and the second half should be covered quickly though I was expecting trouble at the loading bay. It was the obvious place for us to be heading after all.

As we moved from the small hallways of the office areas into one that met the wide hallway joining the manufacturing areas to the loading dock I slowed our pace to a walk again. I had been able to hear Duo's breathing becoming more laboured over the past few minutes but I hadn't dared slow down before this; we were too exposed in the hallway we'd been in before. Behind me, I heard Duo stumble as he slowed. I turned and demanded, "Status?" I was afraid that he was pushing himself too hard; he should have at least let one of us assist him.

"Fine," Duo replied abruptly.

I bit off the protest that he sure as hell didn't look *or* sound like he was "fine" and made myself turn and continue on. The way that I'd treated him as I started to remember my training had already damaged the relationship between us quite badly; I couldn't risk making things worse by nagging at him now. At least he would have a chance to catch his breath once we hopped a ride on one of the loads of machinery still being towed down to the ships.

Assuming that he could handle that part of our escape. Duo's lack of response to my explanation of the plan worried me. I let it pass for the moment and kept a close eye on him. Sally slipped back to join me, touching my arm lightly to catch my attention. She gave Duo a worried glance. He was leaning his good shoulder against the wall, eyes gazing blankly towards the corridor junction ahead of us. She silently mouthed "Blood loss... fever... dehydrated... dizzy..." I swallowed hard and nodded my understanding. She was telling me that she didn't think he was up to this. Sally gave me a stern look, silently ordered, "Watch him," then slipped back past Duo to rejoin Wufei at the corner, ready and waiting for their opportunity.

I observed Duo carefully while he watched Sally and Wufei dash out and hop on their "ride". Hopefully he would admit it if he wasn't up to this; I was of the same opinion as Sally. He had hit his limit; the bullet wound had taken too heavy a toll on his strength for him to keep going.

Duo's shoulders tensed and, as Wufei and Sally vanished from sight, he admitted softly, "I don't think I can do this. I'm too dizzy."

The weary defeat in Duo's voice increased the guilt I was already feeling. He had to be in very bad shape to admit that. And it was all my fucking fault. My fault for listening to my damn training instead of my emotions. My fault for shooting him.

He glanced over his shoulder at me and flinched. He looked away again, leaving me wondering what was wrong and wishing that he would tell me what was bothering him. I kept my silence while I struggled to get my emotions under control again; I was furious with myself right now over this entire mess and needed to calm down before I ended up making a careless mistake.

The next load of dismantled manufacturing equipment approached our location. I hurriedly draped Duo over my shoulder in a fireman's lift, silently apologizing for the pain this would undoubtedly cause his wounded shoulder. His only reaction was a sharp hiss of breath between his teeth. I dashed into the corridor and jumped onto the loaded cart, quickly crouching and sliding Duo off my shoulder. As I eased him down, he met my eyes for an instant and mumbled, "Sorry." Then his eyes rolled up and he went limp in my grasp.

Frantically, I fumbled to check his pulse. It was there but far too shallow and rapid to suit me. And he was burning up with fever. I cautiously shifted his suit jacket away from his wounded shoulder and grimaced. Fresh blood was beginning to soak through the already bloodstained shirt. The last thing he needed was more blood loss but there was nothing I could do for him right now. I hoped that Mattis's fancy little yacht had a decent emergency kit on board for Sally to make use of. Duo had gone without proper treatment too damn long already; I didn't want him to have to wait till we could get him back to a colony hospital.

I arranged Duo as comfortably as possible for the ride to the ship, propping his head and shoulders against my legs as I knelt. If I had to move quickly, I could slip clear of him or pick him up easily yet the position also provided him with at least a bit of protection from the rough ride we were taking. Every seam in the metal flooring jolted the cart badly.

Stroking my fingers gently over his pale, stubbled jaw as I steadied him against me, I wondered how the hell I was ever going to make up to him for all the mistakes I'd made. Both in the past and on this mission.

How I was going to make up for shooting him. For mistrusting him. For pushing him away and hurting him time after time. For not being able to make myself vulnerable and tell him how I felt long ago.

And for the fact that I still didn't know whether I would be able to manage that without his own confession of love having already taken place. Without knowing that he'd already admitted that he loved me both as my usual self and as "Odin".

Despite the circumstances that admission had taken place under, I had to believe that it was the truth. That he hadn't said it just to prevent "Odin" from running off into danger. He had been so careful in the way that he worded it, so precise in making it clear that he loved *me*, not just a part of me... I really didn't think that he'd only said it as part of our cover. God, I *hoped* that he hadn't only said it as part of our cover.

Convincing Duo that I felt the same way about him and that I wouldn't suddenly freeze him out again might take time and effort but I didn't care how long it took or how difficult it was now that I had hope things would work out. Once Duo understood that I wouldn't shut him out intentionally - or for very long on the occasions that the conditioning kicked in before I realized what was happening - I hoped that he would be willing to help me learn to open up emotionally. To at least treat *him* the way that "Odin" had even if I could never learn to be that open with everyone.

Duo deserved more than I could give at the moment and I really did not deserve for him to give me a chance after all the mistakes I'd made. But it had been years since the war ended; he'd had plenty of opportunities to find someone else and he hadn't. I was going to be decidedly selfish and ask for a chance. Whether he would give it to me or not... Well, I was just going to have to hope for the best.

As the jitney towed us into the loading bay, I hoisted Duo over my shoulder again, holding him in place with one hand and drawing a gun with the other. The jitney lurched to a halt as a shot rang out. I swore silently and risked a peek around the edge of the equipment sheltering us. Armed security guards crouched amidst scattered crates on one side. I glanced around the other side and spotted Sally for an instant as she darted from behind one support pillar to another. Wufei provided covering fire from behind the shelter of a huge packing crate as she went.

I flicked the safety back on my gun and slid it back in my waistband. The shots would all be coming from behind me; I needed both arms free so that I could carry Duo cradled in front of me. Carrying him over my shoulder would leave him in too much danger. It was my fault that he'd been shot once already; I wouldn't let him be hurt again. I held him close while I waited for my opportunity to make the first dangerous dash towards escape. Before launching myself from our shelter, I pressed a single kiss to his sweat-dampened bangs, wishing that there'd been a chance to do that while he was still conscious. And then it was time to run. So I ran.

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