by: Kracken
Disclaimer: I don't own them and i don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Guys suggesting sex with guys. Graphic. Violence. Language.

Support a starving artist, buy Kracken's book, The Storm, under Della Boynton at amazon.com. To all of you who did, thank you! Big Hugs and Luv! ^_^

After The Rain series + Part 9
Down Below

"Cotton fibers?"

"No."

"Rubber?"

"No."

"I did kick you with my rubber soled boots. Are you sure it's not rubber?"

"Yes."

"Yes, it is, or yes, you know it isn't?"

"...."

"What does that mean, exactly?"

"We hike from here."

"Really? You said all of that with one disgruntled sigh?"

"Baka!"

Duo grinned as he shoved open the door of the transport and climbed out. Heero had driven it off the road and into a stand of pine trees. It was well hidden, but Heero was still breaking branches, placing them about the transport, and trying to do a better job.

"They'll turn brown and someone will notice," Duo pointed out, even though he began to help as well.

"You won't be gone that long," Heero replied. "Stick to the mission plan that I set out for you, and take Deathscythe to the hanger Quatre has set up for you West of here. You have the coordinates memorized; acknowledged?"

"Yessss," Duo replied sarcastically as he finished with the branches and then pulled his pack out of the cab of the truck. They were both dressed in green and brown camouflage, but Duo was wearing dark sunglasses with a military cap hiding features Heero thought far too recognizable. His long braid was tucked into the back of his uniform, the lump under his clothing hidden by the pack he slung onto his shoulder. A good disguise for someone trying to pass for an Oz soldier scouting a forest. A lousy disguise for a slim, young man, with a memorable impish face and two unique purple eyes.

"What'chya lookin' at, Yuy?" Duo wondered with a smirk. "I don't think I have time for another bump and grind, but, maybe, after the mission we could-"

"There won't be any more contact between us," Heero stated coldly and turned away. That statement was met with unusual silence. He looked over his shoulder and saw Duo staring at him with a frown. Some pained emotion was quickly smoothed out and Duo lifted his happy- go- lucky mask again.

"Your loss, Heero, " Duo retorted. "There are a lot of perks that come with being Duo Maxwell's buddy."

"I work alone," Heero replied and hefted his own pack. He began to walk away, but Duo's startled voice stopped him.

"Where are you going?"

Heero said tightly. "You will complete your mission alone. Most of the Oz patrols have pulled out of the area. You are skilled at stealth. I don't believe that you will have any trouble retrieving Deathscythe. I have my mission to return to and complete."

"Uh, Heero."

"Duo?" Heero snapped impatiently. It was happening again, that feeling of not wanting to be separated from Duo, of worrying about him, of not wanting the loneliness and silence back in his life. He throttled it hard.

Duo was struggling to admit something, but masculine pride was getting in the way. He finally said, "I was planning on you coming along and giving me a hand."

"What led you to believe that I would be accompanying you?"

Duo sounded angry now. "I don't know, maybe all the planning and personal time you put into the mission! Maybe that was stupid of me, assuming you'd-"

"Are you saying that you are not competent to accomplish the mission alone?" Heero interrupted, cutting to the quick.

Duo hissed angrily but then he was forced to admit, "Yeah, I have to. I was in my deathbed not too long ago, Yuy! You can't expect me to go running up and down big rocks like a damn mountain goat, carrying a pack weighed down by tools and parts, and not need help!"

Heero turned and closed the few steps between them. He glared into Duo's eyes. "You compromised this mission by giving me false information! If you are unfit, there isn't any choice but to scrub the mission and return to base of operations."

"Unless you go with me and help me," Duo corrected. "How long can it take, Heero? A few hours hike and we're there! I'll get Deathscythe operational and you can leave me after that. I'll make hamburger out of anyone that gets in my way."

"No, unacceptable!" Heero seethed.

Duo blinked. "Is it?" he wondered. "Why?" he pressed harder, sensing a sudden vulnerability in Heero and wondering what it was. "Explain your reasoning."

Heero couldn't without giving up personal information. His training wouldn't allow that. "We are incompatible," was as much as he could divulge.

Duo narrowed his eyes. "You don't like me, is that what you're saying?"

"That isn't a mission consideration," Heero retorted.

"Good," Duo replied, "because I wouldn't believe you if you told me that you didn't like me. You're as cold as a rock in space, Yuy, but I can still tell you like being around me."

"My likes and dislikes aren't-"

"-a consideration," Duo finished. "Ah- hah! Then you aren't denying it." He grinned. "That's okay, Heero, I like you too, a lot, as a matter of fact. I don't know why either, because you certainly aren't Mr. Personality and you aren't my type. I like willing and able, not cold and impossible to get." He held out his hands, as if inviting Heero closer. He looked a bit embarrassed and Heero realized that Duo was telling the truth and, while he said that he didn't lie, he was more likely to evade a question than offer the truth. "See?" Duo continued. "I can admit that I find you likable. Can't you do the same for me?"

"No," Heero growled. "This conversation doesn't serve a purpose. Your inability to carry out the mission should be the topic."

Duo sighed and dropped his hands. "Okay, fishy, if that's the way you want it," he winked, "but both of us know you spread your legs for me."

Heero felt the bite of anger. He almost raised a fist, wanting to plow it into Duo's smug face. He held himself back with an effort. Duo had managed to hit something sensitive deep inside of him and it hurt. It was Duo's attitude, his cheep treatment of that moment in the garden when Heero had felt something strong between them, something he didn't yet understand, but that he felt strangely protective of, that bothered him, hurt him, and made him angry.

"It's not important!" Heero growled and knew he was saying it to himself. "Stop thinking about it. Stop talking about it. Focus on the mission. The mission is everything. Bodily weakness is not to be tolerated. Emotions are a liability. I am a weapon. Duo Maxwell is only a tool!"

"Huh?" Duo was looking pale and startled, eyes wide. He blinked and then sucked in a long breath before saying, "Geez! What was all of that? Are you such a fanatic to the cause that you don't get that the ends don't justify the means? Or didn't the people who brainwashed you get it? I'm not a 'tool'. You're not a 'weapon'. We may have to sacrifice our lives so that the colonies and Earth can have freedom and peace, but I at least am not willing to sacrifice my humanity too. I'm Duo Maxwell, a living, breathing, feeling person. I bleed red blood, I feel pain, and I have a lot of emotions. I still get the job done, Yuy, and it doesn't get in my way of blowing up Oz ass. " Duo hitched his pack up on his shoulder, "I'm sorry I wasn't straight with you about my physical condition. I guess I'm just a proud, inefficient, frail human who wants his big toy back. So, I need your help. I promise not to grope you or inflict you with my friendship, if that's the way you want it, but we have to do this together, okay?"

Heero much preferred an angry Duo to the friendly one. It made him angry in return and eliminated the danger of unwanted reactions and emotions. He still had to wonder how Duo was able to shake his perfect control. The pain had always been a deterrent. It had made him a sexual and emotional eunuch. That Duo could reach him, make him feel things, make his body and mind ignore the threat of that hellish agony, by simply smiling, by simply being friendly... but he couldn't think about that, couldn't wonder why, couldn't solve the mystery without courting the pain again. It was better to be angry and not analyze why an imp faced young man with purple eyes could shake the very foundation of his training as if it had all been built on sand.

Heero nodded curtly, still scowling darkly, still allowing himself to be angry at the position he had been forced into, of escorting a weak Duo to reclaim a Gundam he, perhaps, wasn't fit to pilot.

Duo recaptured his grin, but it was edged. He was still angry too, but unwilling to show it. He was used to men and women falling at his feet and falling under the spell of his charm without fail. Heero had rebuffed him in the worst way and he was stung and floundering. He didn't like someone stripping him of his humanity with a few words and stripping his h- . Duo froze on that thought. He was thinking, heart as well, but was unwilling to follow through with it. He cut it off and buried it. Heero had been just another chance for a conquest, another willing body in his stable, another fuck, pure and simple, right? It was a lie, but Duo didn't have any compunction about lying to himself.

"Well?" Duo prompted, "Go with me and make sure I get my Gundam out safely, or go about your business and take the chance that I'll collapse in the forest, get captured by Oz patrols, and spill my guts about where Deathscythe is."

Heero's hand twitched to his gun, but he didn't draw it. Duo's face tightened, knowing what that motion meant. Heero was ready to kill to keep him silent, but he was more willing to suffer Duo's dangerous presence and make sure his mission was successful.

Duo forced a grin and turned to begin walking into the forest. Heero followed without a word. Duo's grin became less forced and he relaxed. "Polyester socks? Maybe they made you pass out?"

"I wasn't wearing polyester socks," Heero replied, confused that Duo was returning to their earlier topic, as if the entire conversation afterwards had not occurred.

"Neither was I," Duo admitted thoughtfully.

Maddening, Heero thought, and wondered if Duo was mad. "Why did you draw that conclusion then?" he wondered.

"Well, you won't tell me the real reason you had a fit and passed out," Duo explained, "Even though you know what caused it. I thought, if I irritated you enough with stupid guesses, you would crack and just tell me."

"Then why reveal your plan?" Heero wondered, even more confused.

"Because I just decided that it would be far more irritating to let you in on the plan," Duo chuckled. "So... bright sunlight?"

"There wasn't any," Heero replied.

"That's right, there wasn't," Duo agreed. "How about-"

"You're plan isn't going to work," Heero interrupted irritably. "I won't reveal any information about myself to you."

Duo glanced back over his shoulder, grin genuine now. "You already have."

"Explain?" Heero demanded sharply.

"You say you don't want to be with me, but here you are," Duo explained. "You say I'm just a tool, but, if you really thought that, you wouldn't be replying to my stupid conversation. You have some feelings inside of you Heero as much as you try to deny it."

"I'm not denying it," Heero replied, "but I can't allow them to effect me in any way."

"Did they give you a choice?" Duo asked in a voice heavy with sympathy and some small horror.

"Choice?" Heero echoed.

"Did they come up to you and say, 'Hey, Heero, do you mind stripping away everything that makes life worth living to be our Gundam pilot?' or did they just do it?" Duo wondered.

"There wasn't a choice," Heero replied and then said noting at all, refusing to listen or be drawn into any more of Duo's conversation. It made him angry, Duo's words, but it wasn't Duo his anger was directed at. There were better targets, targets from his past and his present, the men who had molded him into what he was now.

Duo was rubbing at his forehead. Heero noticed it, as he noticed everything with machine like precision. He suffered from the headaches still, Heero surmised and began to wonder if the doctors had purposely made a mistake that would kill the pilot of Deathscythe slowly. Darkly, Heero appreciated that kind of stealth, but again worry gnawed at his subconscious. Logically he thought that the war couldn't afford losing a Gundam pilot, but losing Duo in general twisted Heero's gut unpleasantly. It made his anger grow and still it wasn't directed at Duo, but at a group of doctors. Heero felt the reward feeling kick in, flooding his system in response to the anger, but it wasn't indulgent. Too much anger could jeopardize a mission as well.

Duo made the hike to Deathscythe without trouble, but he was sweating and flushed. The camouflaged Gundam made him grin and he patted a gundanium leg affectionately, but he was also sitting down and putting his head in his hands.

"J-Just give me a few minutes, k, Heero?" Duo breathed through what must have been great pain.

Heero nodded as he began to unpack Duo's tools and parts, laying them out in a methodical manner and making an inventory. When he was done, looking up, he saw that Duo had fallen asleep sitting up, his face very pale and beaded with sweat.

Heero straightened and slowly reached out to touch Duo's skin. It was clammy and Duo didn't react. Duo was a soldier. He should have reacted, should have at least drawn a weapon. He hadn't just gone to sleep, Heero surmised. He had fainted.

Mission failure. Heero throttled that realization and refused to accept it. Duo would rest and wake up, ready to pilot Deathscythe. He simply needed time. meanwhile, Heero could make the Gundam fit for travel.

Stretching Duo out on the ground on a bed of dead leaves, Heero found himself brushing Duo's sweating bangs away from his face. Relaxed, Duo looked very young. He had a few scars, one especially under his wide lips. War related or something from his childhood? Heero touched it, smoothing a finger along it's tiny surface. Duo shivered under that touch, but he didn't wake up.

Heero withdrew his hand, suddenly curious about Duo's past. He wanted to know more about Duo and it wasn't just for mission purposes. The pilot intrigued him with his knowledge of people, his stealth, his wiles, and his ability to manipulate others, Heero especially. It was only right that Heero wonder at what life training had given Duo those skills, wasn't it? if Duo died, then all of that information would be lost to him. The mystery that was Duo Maxwell would never be solved and Heero found that he very much wanted to solve it.

"Don't die," Heero whispered, ignoring the threat of pain in his own head. He mollified it by leaving Duo to work on Deathscythe, but his thoughts didn't leave with his body.

[part 8] [part 10] [back to Kracken's fic]