by: Kracken
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this
Warnings: Men being interested in men (The lemon is coming soon, honest). Graphic. Violence. Language.

After The Rain series + Part 10

He still wasn't awake. Heero crouched by Duo and checked his pulse. It felt ragged. Duo's skin was very pale and a slight sheen of sweat was on his forehead, his chestnut bangs plastered there. When Heero saw him shiver, he pulled out a thermal blanket from his pack and unfolded it thoughtfully.

Repairs to Deathscythe were not complete and night was falling fast in the mountainous forest. It shouldn't have happened. Heero had prepared for every eventuality, done computerized mock ups of the crash, estimated the damage, he felt, to the closest degree of accuracy. His guesses, he had found, had been extremely accurate, the parts he had told Duo to pack exactly what was needed. The time table he had set should have been met.

Heero covered Duo with the blanket and then stood, looking about at the darkening forest and then up at Deathscythe in its camouflage. Heero had prepared for everything, except Duo. The unpredictability of the pilot had caught him off guard again. Duo had modified Deathscythe, made security lock outs on the computer controls, and changed panels over sensitive areas to impassible ones guarded by code locks. Duo had learned his lesson well after the first time they had met and Heero had stolen parts off of Deathscythe for his own Gundam.

Heero knew that he could bypass all of Duo's security efforts, but his skin crawled when he imagined the time it would take. He had set up his parameters and he was driven to keep within them.

"Hn, Heero," Duo suddenly murmured.

Heero looked down, hopeful, and then kneeled by Duo when he saw the glitter of amethyst eyes under drooping lids.

"Am I dying again?" Duo wondered in a hoarse voice.

Heero checked Duo's pulse, fingers touching, shivering, clammy skin. "Yes," he concluded grimly.

Duo chuckled darkly. "Don't pull any punches, K?" He sighed. "Well, at least it's not in the mud this time."

"The doctors must have left something undone," Heero told him. "Something that would kill slowly, so that I wouldn't kill them for failing at the hospital."

"The headaches," Duo surmised and then went quiet.

"Yes," Heero replied. "The hike here must have stressed you enough to cause some internal failure, accelerating the damage."

"What a crappy way to die," Duo growled weakly. "I should have gone down with Deathscythe the first time and taken as many Oz soldiers as possible."

"That would have been preferable," Heero agreed.

Duo managed a grin. "Hah! Something in common! We both want to die in a blaze of glory. Next we'll be getting married and having test tube babies."

"Duo," Heero interrupted, keeping his confusion at bay with an effort and wondering if Duo was sinking into mental instability. Marriage? Children? Why was he even thinking such things now? In a few hours, maybe half way through the night, he would be dead. His pulse was that ragged and he was showing the first stages of shock.

"Yeah, I know, shut up," Duo retorted and rubbed at his head, the left side above his ear. "It's here," he said, "Whatever they did to me. It's like a goose egg, maybe full of blood."

"Hn," Heero grunted and felt at it. It was swollen there and it did feel like blood was collecting under the skin. It was confirmation of the end. "Give me the lock codes so that I can repair Deathscythe," Heero ordered.

"You're going to let me die alone?" Duo asked quietly. "If you're up there, fixing Deathscythe, then I'll be down here, breathing my last. "

"It's necessary," Heero replied and hated those two words. It was as if someone else was saying them, someone he didn't like.

"You'll take good care of Deathscythe for me?" Duo wondered.

"I will retrieve it," Heero replied. Duo nodded and gave him the codes. Afterwards, he closed his eyes and tried to deal with his pain, one hand caressing the gold cross under his coat.

The parameters of the mission beat through Heero's mind like a drumbeat, demanding his attention, demanding that he cut off any thoughts of the dying pilot. Duo was acting like a good soldier, for once, knowing he was done and that the mission still had to be completed. It was a dedication to the cause that Heero had doubted that Duo possessed. To see it now, that tense, pale face, that stiff, determined lip caught between teeth to hold back any moans of pain, caused Heero to experience a rush of respect for Duo and... regret... and... Heero closed his eyes, steeled himself against prickling, warning pain, and left Duo where he lay.

Heero made his repairs, but the entire time, he felt as if he were moving through mud, his thoughts not wholly on the task. He kept glancing down into the deepening darkness, trying to pick out the lonely figure of a dying young man.

Why? Heero wondered to himself. He had never cared for anyone before, not even the man who had raised him as an assassin, or Dr. J. who had given his life purpose after he had been left to fend for himself. To worry about an individual was completely foreign to Heero Yuy, a weakness he wanted to reject, but couldn't.

Memories of Duo at the school surfaced as Heero made last adjustments. Smiling Duo, laughing Duo, and joking Duo. Duo had fit in, made friends, played the part of normal teenager to a tee. Heero, trained in stealth, trained in infiltration techniques, had been the sore thumb, the fish out of water, the mystery everyone had wanted to solve. Heero had felt shyness for the first time, uncertainty, confusion, and... longing. He admitted it to himself cautiously and tried to analyze it. The conclusion was unmistakable no matter how many times Heero tinkered with variables. Duo was a good soldier, despite his emotions. He understood the enemy and excelled where Heero failed because of the humanity that Heero and Dr. J had dismissed as a liability. It hadn't made him weak. He was strong, dying in the darkness alone to allow Heero to complete his mission.

Heero had never before questioned his role, questioned the things he denied himself; had been told to deny himself. What else had there been to tempt him to another course of action? Nothing. Heero didn't have friends, didn't have family, had never become attached to anything in his life. Duty and sacrifice had filled the emptiness of heart and soul and had given a point to a pointless life.

The war was still all encompassing for Heero. It was still the most important thing in his life. Too many people were counting on him and the other pilots for that not to be true. Still, Heero thought as he gazed down at the darkness where Duo lay, Duo had cracked his impenetrable shell and Heero didn't think he could, or wanted to mend it. Duo had shown him another way, a way to win the war, yet have some life too and something else, something he couldn't yet acknowledge that had to do with the braided pilot; something that gave him a sudden reason for wanting back his humanity.

Dr. J had been wrong, Heero knew as he put away his tools. He had believed that a perfect soldier should be emotionless. The lack of family, loved ones, and friends was a plus, keeping a soldier's mind on the mission, not on staying alive to return to companions or a fulfilling personal life. Dr. J had called that distraction and weakness. Heero remembered the man telling him that he, Heero, had a soft spot deep inside and that it was best to stamp it out completely before it affected his performance. Heero had found it hard to comply. Dr. J had offered an alternative.

Heero's hand went to the back of his neck. He felt the thin line of an implant just under his skin, tendrils sunk deep to certain parts of his brain. Heero's first guardian had told him to follow his emotions. The man, himself, never had, offering Heero rough, unfeeling companionship at the best of times, but perhaps he had offered the advise out of regret and a realization that he had made the wrong choice, just as Dr. J had made the wrong choice.

Follow your emotions.

Heero picked up a small, hand laser with a very fine beam. He was feeling a rush, an epiphany, and the pain jolted him, worse than ever before, in an attempt to destroy it. "No," Heero grated, denying it, and began cutting into the back of his neck with the laser.



Heero took the command chair, slipping on the straps even as he began to check instruments.

"Heero?" Duo's weak voice said again. "W-What's going on?"

Tucked behind the command chair, wrapped in a blanket and head pillowed with Heero's jacket, Duo was pale and ghost like. His eyes focused with an effort, narrowed at the back of the command chair, and then saw the back of Heero's head as he leaned to his right to power up systems. He was covered in blood, a red stained bandage taped to the back of his head.

"What the Hell happened?" Duo demanded. "Were we attacked? Did you have an accident?"

"Neither," Heero grunted.

"Heero," Duo complained weakly. "I'm not in any shape for twenty questions! You're bleeding from a head wound, we're in Deathscythe, and I'm not dead yet when I should be. What's going on?"

Heero finished with the controls and then looked at Duo. "You were lying still and the cold slowed down your blood flow. You are still dying, but more slowly. Deathscythe is now operational enough to reach the transport. I will load it and then-"

"Go to a doctor!" Duo cut in. "Heero, I'm done! I'm dying! Forget about me. I want- I want you to take care of yourself."

Heero stared at Duo, perplexed, not sure what to say or how to react, his body tensed for pain even though he knew the cause of it was now gone. "Mission parameters have changed," he replied, feeling how inadequate that sounded.

"Changed?" Duo was sinking back into the blanket, his strength giving out, yet his determination still burning in his eyes. "I'll say it's changed! Mission scrubbed, is more accurate. Who would have thought that a hike through the woods could end like this?"

Mission scrubbed. Heero closed his eyes, every fiber of his being tensed, feeling the failure of Duo's words. "Tell me, "Heero breathed, "Tell me how- how you feel about the mission being scrubbed. Tell me how you accept it so easily, talk about it as if it were nothing much. I don't- I need to understand."

"Uh," Duo floundered, seeing Heero's distress and not understanding it. He tried to reply, tried to concentrate on the right answer, sensing that Heero needed to hear it, that the man needed the comfort it could provide. "I guess, I just accept it, because things like that are bound to happen. There's always variables you can't account for. The thing is to not give up, but to return and accomplish the mission better prepared."

"That can cost lives," Heero replied darkly.

"Yeah," Duo agreed. "but, Heero, nobody's perfect, nobody is infallible. I know that. You should know that. This isn't a failure, just a set back. If you give up, if you beat yourself up about it and not try again, then you can call yourself a loser and anything else you want. Haven't you ever failed before?"

"Yes, with you," Heero replied tightly.

Duo thought about that, thought about the emotion behind that statement. "Not before that? Huh, no wonder you want to get away from me. I ruined your perfect record. Guess I did it again, too."

"You are emotional. You make mistakes. You learn, better prepare, and return to complete the mission," Heero said as if he were reciting a lesson.

"Yes," Duo replied, mystified. He almost felt as if he were speaking to a child, a child set adrift and not sure what was up or down.

"What is your failure rate?" Heero demanded.

Duo rubbed at his aching head. His vision was going blurry. He didn't want to play question and answer. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep. His concern for Heero kept him from doing that. "Uh, well, sometimes you fail the next time too, but, like I said, nobody's infallible. Sometimes, the other guy is just better than you."

"I find that unnaceptable," Heero replied.

"Well, sorry, but it's a part of life, Heero," Duo sighed. "You just had a long lucky streak. It was bound to come to an end sooner or later, with or without me."

"I was taught, "Heero explained, "that emotions are a liability. I was taught that, if I trained and prepared meticulously, eliminating all distractions and dedicating myself to the cause, it would be impossible for me to fail a mission."

"That's... That's just so wrong," Duo replied softly, finally beginning to understand Heero. "Let's not get into how you should never give up your humanity, I don't think I have enough time. I will say that emotions are a plus, in a mission, as well as living as normally as possible. Those two things help you to understand the enemy, Heero. How can you prepare for all variables if you don't know how someone will react, how they will think, how they will plan based on how they feel, how much they are afraid, or how much they have, in their personal life, at risk? I infiltrated that base to get those codes, not by hugging the shadows and killing anyone who discovered me, but by blending in, being one of them, talking to them, understanding them... It makes me a better soldier, Heero."

Heero nodded. "I have come to that conclusion."

"Just now?"

"One hour, twenty four minutes, and eight seconds ago," Heero rattled off stiffly.

Duo's eyes were wide. "Well, you know what they say, sometimes a person can change all in an instant. You're just logical enough to come to a conclusion quickly. So, what made you reconsider your position in the middle of a recovery mission?"

Heero turned back around, almost fearful, and gripped Deathscythe's controls in white knuckled hands. No pain, no rein now on feeling things he wanted to feel. Knowing that Duo's way was the better one was something different from actually putting it into practice. Heero could change his thinking all in an instant, but not his training which made some things ingrained and automatic.

"Heero?" Duo said, curious at Heero's sudden withdrawal. "I don't have much time left, ya know? You better finish the conversation. I won't be around to pick it up later." Heero couldn't reply. Duo made an exasperated sound. "Okay, forget it. What's it matter anyway? After I'm gone, I guess knowing the inside of Heero Yuy's head won't be important. What is important, is that you get to a doctor. As soon as you stow Deathscythe, you will go for help. Got that?"

It was supposed to be an order said in a strong commanding voice, but it came out weak and thin. Heero remained silent as he put Deathscythe into motion. He wasn't following any orders but his own now.

"Okay, go ahead and fucking ignore me, Yuy!" Duo rasped. "I'll just shut up now and breath my last, mad at you, and-and "

"Don't die," Heero said harshly and his voice had the commanding snap that Duo's had lacked.

Duo found a slow grin that was both sickly and amused, "I don't think I can follow that order, Heero, but I'll try my best."

[part 9] [part 11] [back to Kracken's fic]