Author: Kai Michi
Rating: R
Warnings: Still apply.
Disclaimer: The devil made me do it.

Lonely + Chapter 2
Better Than Dead

The scream tore itself from Quatre's lips, but the raw pain that ripped through him disassociated his senses; he didn't even know he was screaming. It was so much worse than any physical pain he had ever felt. Worse than the time he had fallen from Sandrock's hatch, worse than the time, he had, as a young child, stuck a fork into the inviting depths of the electrical outlet; this pain rushed through his very veins, burning each individual cell, until his whole body was aligned and aflame.

Clutching his chest, he gasped for air, unable to think, to feel; he wasn't even sure if he was breathing or not. His vision was consumed by white flame, forcing him to the cold metal console, where he laid gasping and twitching for what seemed like an eternity, unable to tell what was his and what was not.

Damn it all. He didn't know his spaceheart could do that.

Ever since the five gundams met up the first time, Quatre had felt that he had a special tie to all of them; indeed, that they all had a special tie to each other, but he hadn't realized just how strong that tie was until every bit of Heero's pain and confusion flooded through him. And then Duo's. He hadn't known their names before, but now he learned them, along with all of the feelings they had for each other. Friends, partners, Duo loved Heero. Heero didn't know how he felt for Duo, except that he cared. Heero felt no regret as he pushed the button, he thought Duo hated him. Duo was rapidly going insane.

Quatre was drowning in their emotions. He was Heero, then Duo... oh god, His head spun as he struggled to remember his own name. Duo Winner, Quatre Yuy, Heero Reberba Maxwell, Maxwell Yuy, Duo Heero... it was all wrong, all wrong, why couldn't it stop?!

And then it did.

Heero consciousness fell out of his mind as though it were never there. Duo was still there, but without the raw feeling of Heero dying in his mind, Quatre was able to shut the other pilot out. Sprawled out over Sandrock's console, the safety harness the only thing holding him to the seat, Quatre gulped in air. He had never done that before. Never absorbed two people so fully through emotions alone. All of their thoughts, their feelings... ugh, he felt sick. No, feverish. He wasn't sure anymore. "Sandrock... voice activation mode," he whispered hoarsely. He wasn't sure he could even sit up, much less push the keys in the required sequences.

"Incoming transmission," sang Sandrock's electronic voice.

"Can you hear me? We've got to get out of here. NOW."

Quatre raised his head. "Trowa? Trowa, is that you?"

"Yes. It's time for us to make a choice. He made it clear for us."

Duo broke in angrily. "But the colonies are in danger!" I don't know what you're fighting for, and I don't care. I fight for the colonies.

"We can't keep fighting any further," Quatre argued weakly. At least, I can't... The matter was suddenly clinched when the Tallgeese backed off, and Lt. Zechs broke into their transmission.

"Hurry, get away! How could I possibly fight you now?!" he exclaimed, his voice full of shame. "There is no honor in what was done. Get away while you have the chance!"

Quatre watched as Trowa left with Heero's body cradled in Heavyarm's hand. He turned to talk to the other pilot, Duo, but he had disappeared. Quatre shrugged ruefully. Calling the Maguanacs, he gave the tired order to retreat.

+

"Look, is that...?"

"Yes, that is Gundam Zero-Two. Should we contact him...?"

"Of course."

"Ahoy there! Can you hear us? Hello?"

+

I can't believe he did it... I can't believe it... How... why... He left me... He LEFT me... There was a strangled whimper from the huddled form in the cockpit, and an insistent beep in the background. Beeping.. Interrupting his thoughts. Every few minutes, a loud, annoying tone. What was it? What was it? Slowly, Duo came to himself, realizing that it was his communications console. Two messages, and one still online. He pushed the last one, not thinking of how he looked. G's face entered the console. "....shit."

Duo blinked. Shouldn't that have been his line?

G's mouth tightened into a firm line. "I take it you got involved."

Duo scowled. "Not as involved as you're insinuating. Don't get excited G, I can still do my job. I had warning after all... I didn't think he could go a whole month without trying to kill himself. And I work alone."

That hurt... putting down his dead partner that way. Show some respect for the dead... he was doing his job. Would you... Could you have... Why did HE have to do it?

"You're getting a new partner."

Duo's frowned, and he opened his mouth to argue. No! No, No, No, nonononono... I can't handle this!

"No ifs, ands, or buts about it," G interrupted. "I'm sorry to have to do this to you. But you need two people for this next part of the mission. It's... not going to be pretty for a while."

"I didn't sign up for pretty," Duo snapped. He reflected. "That was just a bonus." Still quipping. Sling 'em out lightening fast, you're not hurting at all, are you? Just run of the mill stuff. It's another of Maxwell's casualties. You could work for the enemy and be just as effective. Maxwell's Curse.

G nodded slightly. "I'm transmitting your missions. Any changes will be transmitted securely, as usual. Specs on your new partner as well. I suggest you search him out before your first mission, but if you don't, you'll meet up at the assigned rendezvous before the mission, got it?"

"Of course I got it, G! It's not like this is new to me!"

G's face softened marginally. "I know this is hard on you, Duo. Just remember what you're fighting for. G out." And he was gone. The cockpit was semi-dark, lit only by the few screens and consoles still running standby functions. Duo brought up the next message. It was from 04, inviting him to spend some time at a secure retreat before their next mission. The co-ordinates were transmitted in code. Duo accepted the offer, programming the co-ordinates into the system. Then the last message. From Heero. Duo stared at the blinking signal for a long time before opening the message. It was simple audio recording.

<< "I'm sorry I wasn't... better." >>

He could feel it breaking inside. That thing. That part of him that threatened to shatter the coping mechanism. The thing that screamed at him that he was just a child, the thing that wanted to break down and cry and not get up again. The little tiny thing that still wanted a family, still needed a home. The mostly-ignored thing that wanted tactile comfort, the thing that needed hugs and reassurances that he was a good boy. The thing that wondered what family felt like. The thing that wanted to fade away and die every time he shot someone point blank and in cold blood. The thing that Shinigami never let come to the forefront. The insignificant little thing that he often considered to be his soul. The thing that, even now, he was going to ignore.

"Let's go meet the temp, eh buddy?" He suggested aloud. "We all know you're my only partner, 'scythe. You're not going to be leaving me."

+

Duo scowled as yet another plane enemy scouter flew over the landscape. Deathscythe still had a few cloaking abilities left after the heavy fight, but she wasn't able to hide in plain site, not without repairs first. He glanced at the timer that was running on one of the screens. "Clock," he growled. The computer recorded the time, and calculated an average. "Scouters running at an average of every five minutes? There's no way I'll be able to do anything here. And the nearest base to steal a cargo plane is on the other side of the desert, damn it all."

An alarm warning flashing on one of 'Scythe's screens brought him up to full alert. Had he been spotted? No it was the blonde pilot, Zero Four.

"I'm glad you decided to take us up on our offer. There is a sandstorm that should be approaching shortly. Under that cover, we can cross."

Duo nodded. "But where do we go from there?"

The boy frowned. "There's a military base that belongs to a neutral country. They should have no problem sheltering us for a while."

"A military base?"

"Mmm. Come, it's time to cross!"

"Where is this place? All I see is sand."

"See for yourself."

Duo looked in time to catch a gate opening in the sand. "An underground base?"

"Let's go!" The blond one called, not-quite-cheerfully, but his tone didn't match his somber eyes.

Duo nodded, watched Sandrock enter the gate, then followed.

Under the gate, in a hangar, Quatre accepted the greetings of his friends.

"Welcome back, Quatre!" boomed a large man standing on platform.

Quatre smiled as he received a hearty handshake from the large commander. "It's been a long time, Commander Sadaal."

Sadaal nodded. "I've been following your brilliant achievements."

Quatre blushed. "It's not really me. It's all thanks to the Maguanac Fighters. Thank you for all the help."

Sadaal smiled. "No need to thank me. They helped you because they all support your cause."

"If we had been more helpful, we would've dealt more damage to OZ," Rashid grumped.

Sadaal's face clouded in anger at the mention of the enemy. "I can't believe they would be so dishonorable as to take the colonies hostage!"

"It was a flaw in our strategy. We weren't careful enough," Quatre said thoughtfully. Not that any of us ever dreamed Oz would do such a thing...

"He's right," Duo put in from the hatch of his gundam, "It's our fault." My fault... Heero blew himself to pieces... why didn't I do a better job?

Sadaal fussed. "Don't say that. No one can blame you. Now, come over here."

Rashid stopped him for a moment. "Quatre, we'll leave and let them maintain the Mobile Suits, is that alright?"

"Yes, and Rashid, our guest's..."

"I'll make sure that both Gundams will be well maintained." Rashid interrupted.

Quatre thanked him with a smile, before turning to Duo. "Is that alright with you?"

Duo shrugged. "Of course. Thanks."

Quatre blushed suddenly, realizing he knew Duo's name, but Duo didn't know his. "I'm sorry. I haven't introduced myself. My name is Quatre Raberba Winner."

Duo started. "Winner? The Winner, as in the wealthiest family in the Arab kingdoms?"

Quatre nodded. "Yes, but the Winners are peace loving people. It's more than likely that I'll be disowned by my father."

Duo sighed. "Everyone has his own story... I'm Duo. Duo Maxwell. He runs, he hides, he does everything... But he never lies. Duo Maxwell."

Quatre nodded. "A pleasure to meet a fellow fighter." He took Duo's hand. "Please, come this way."

Duo let himself be led through the heavy doors of the
hangar, and into the underground city. "What's this? A festival?" he asked in surprise.

"It's a welcome party for all of us, the Maganac Fighters," boasted one of the fighters. Rashid nodded. "This country has been standing against OZ and the Alliance for many years. The Maganac Fighters are the guardians of its freedom."

Duo frowned. "The guardians..."

Suddenly two girls appeared with flowers and dragged some of the protesting fighters away.

Duo smirked. "They look more like heroes to me."

"These people are always together for a final victory," Quatre said sagely. "That is the strength of this country."

"The unity of one goal shared by the whole nation..." Duo mused.

"How about us?" Quatre asked. "Does that apply us?"

Duo shrugged, letting the question roll away. "There's lots of things I want to talk about, Quatre..."

"Of course. This way."

+

The room was small, but homey, furnished sparsely, but carrying a warm feeling about it nonetheless.

"We'll have privacy here," Quatre said, propping open a window.

"So, there are just five of us. ...Four of us, now."

"Yes. When we were at New Edward's Base... that was all of us."

"Do you know any of the others?"

Quatre nodded. "Zero Three is Trowa. He's from a colony... L3."

"I'm from a colony too. L2."

"Me too." Quatre plopped down on the bed. "L4. Everyone is so much alike, the five of us. The Mobile Suits, the operation and the objective..."

"Oz is the reason I'm here. My mission is to get even. 'Don't look back. Just destroy before you are destroyed.' " Duo quoted, surprised that Quatre joined in as well.

"The same order, huh?"

"Exactly," Quatre confirmed.

Duo frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "You know, I thought it'd be better to die in a battle than to be dominated by OZ. It's the only way I've been able to keep fighting... To keep pulling the trigger, to keep swinging my scythe. Every time I thought I could just give up, I thought about my home, and how much better it could be. And I kept fighting."

"But then you thought about death."

"Heero died. Just like that." Duo made the motion with his fingers. "Kaboom. No more Heero." Duo shook his head. "I thought nothing could kill him. He was... superman, y'know?" Duo's voice hitched as he continued. "We were.. partners. I really liked him..." He buried his face in his hands. "I loved him," came the muffled admission. "I really think I did. I think I do."

"Duo.." Quatre got up and touched Duo's shoulder comfortingly. He didn't expect Duo to respond, but was surprised when, after a moment of almost painful stiffening, the other boy accepted his hug.

"'m sorry," Duo sniffled into Quatre's shoulder.

"Sorry?" Quatre asked, leading Duo to the edge of the bed.

"....I should have been better."

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