Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : Hints of 1+2, OOC, angst, Duo POV, death of an OC... so it's a little depressing. After war.
Don't own. Don't make money.

When the Bullet Hits the Bone

There is no one who puts me first. I figured that out in a hospital bed after a particularly nasty mission failure.

I'd been point man on the team that went in after a kidnapped politician's son. I'd had only one job... get the kid. The rest of the team was to do the neutralize routine. There had been not a breath between the shout of 'Freeze! Preventers!', and the gunshot that had hit me squarely in the hip. I hadn't let it stop me, but damn it... it had slowed me down just enough that...

Like I said; mission failure.

As fucking failed as you can get.

The kid had died under my hands.

I call him a kid, but really, he wasn't any younger than I'd been when I'd piloted a Gundam in the war. But these were new times, and hell... he really had been just a kid. A stinking damn kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It wasn't much consolation that none of his abductors left that building alive. Failed is still failed. Dead is still dead.

The wound in my hip wasn't that awful; I think it was just the impact that made me falter. That lost me those fatal few seconds. Landed me in the hospital for over-night observation though; mostly because they had trouble getting me to wake up from the anesthesia after they got the bullet out. I don't know if they figured out that I just didn't want to wake up or not. When I was asleep, I couldn't see those wide, frightened eyes staring up at me as the light slowly went out of them.

And it was when I finally couldn't force myself to hide in that drugged stupor anymore that I figured it out. Wee damn hours of the morning, staring blankly at a white ceiling and seeing eyes looking back at me that weren't really there.

While there had been visitors who came and patted my shoulder or even stroked a hand over my hair, who brought me water before saying their good-byes... there wasn't anybody holding my hand when I woke.

There wasn't anyone who put me first.

No one who knew me well enough to see past the pain of the physical wounds.

I don't let that happen to my friends. I'd never consciously thought about it before... never really stopped to analysis what I did, but I gave them all priority.

Oh, I can't say that there's a one of them that I would put ahead of the rest... not since the one who might have been more, up and disappeared on us. But I would put any one of them ahead of myself.

So I lay in that bed and stared into the eyes of that dead kid and I thought about sitting with Wufei on the first anniversary of the destruction of his colony even after he told me to go the fuck away, and I remembered how he'd ended up crying while he'd leaned against my shoulder and I'd pretended not to notice.

I remembered listening to Quatre while he'd torn himself apart over his family and his father's business. Passed him beers while he talked himself into doing what he had to. Had his back while he explained to his eldest sister that he wasn't going to just conveniently vanish into the history books for her.

I thought about standing between Trowa and his sister, keeping him from doing something stupid when she'd told him about the trapeze artist she'd fallen in love with and the little event they were expecting together. I remembered having to jog to keep up with his long stride when he'd stormed out, and how I'd had to slow my steps when we'd come dragging back after he'd talked it out with me hours later.

I remembered the hours I'd spent with Hilde, going over books and records and helping her save her Uncle's scrap-yard after she'd inherited it and then almost let it go bankrupt. It was the money I lent her that kept it afloat until we'd gotten the accounting straightened out.

The accusing eyes of that little boy wanted to know why, if I was such a good friend, I was lying there all alone.

So I explained to him that friendship wasn't a game of fair. It wasn't about taking, it was about giving.

After the ghost of his mocking laughter faded, I admitted that I was feeling sorry for myself, got up, disconnected the IV, dressed and checked myself out.

The nurse wasn't happy with me, but you know... they really can't stop you.

Walking was painful, but not impossible, and the unhappy nurse was kind enough to call a cab for me, even while she muttered things under her breath that I don't think were particularly flattering.

The cab-driver's name was Lenny. He was a really nice guy and we talked on the drive about his mother's hip operation, and I tipped him pretty well even though I wasn't sure he wasn't just fishing for it. Hell... maybe his mother really did need surgery.

And then I was home in my own little place where I could be petulant and depressed and cranky, and there was no one to see. No one but the damn dead kid who'd followed me home from the hospital like some little lost puppy.

I had pain pills that I didn't really need, but I took them anyway because they made me sleepy. I stripped out of my blood-stained clothes and was finally able to clean myself up. I'd hoped that washing away the last of the kid's blood might break his link to me, but when I looked up into the mirror in the bathroom, he was still there looking at me with a disappointed air. So I went and ate ice cream right from the carton until the pills started to kick in, and then I went and crawled into my bed.

I knew I was lost to the self-pity when it crossed my mind that I needed to buy myself a teddy bear... just to have something to hold on to in the dark.

The kid told me that he'd give me a hug if I didn't mind the blood and that was when I finally burst into tears and fell asleep not long after.

Sometimes... I really hate my job.

Drugs work funny with me. Kind of unpredictably. A lot of things take twice the normal dosage to even begin to think about working, while other things... mundane things, just fuck me sideways.

I decided when I roused up next, that I would probably be flushing the rest of those pain pills down the john. I felt rather groggy and weirdly rubbery, but worse... the pills had given the kid enough substance that I swear to God I could feel his weight on the side of the bed.

I felt vaguely bad for a minute; he'd probably gotten pretty bored waiting for me to wake up, but then I got a little aggravated... it wasn't exactly as though I'd invited him home with me. 'Go be dead, kid. Le'me alone.'

He chuckled faintly, and it was scary how real he sounded. 'I think I'll stay,' he said, and it just about made me jump out of my skin. I jerked and rolled to face him, hissing when the sudden movement sent a sharp pain through my hip.

'Take it easy,' Heero told me. 'Sorry... didn't mean to scare you.'

I blinked at him for a couple of long minutes, trying to make my head function and then I felt compelled to tell him, 'Damn... those are some seriously screwed up pills.'

His smile was kind of amused and he said, 'I think it's as much the other stuff still in your system, Duo. I went to the hospital first... you're supposed to still be there.'

He was an amazingly detailed hallucination, and I just stared at him for awhile, until he looked a little bit concerned and spoke my name again.

'You're nicer than the kid,' I told him. 'You don't have blood all over you. Not that the kid isn't nice enough... he was a good kid. He's around here somewhere, but he must not like strangers.'

Heero looked a little bit confused for a second and then a little bit pained. 'Then I'll stay and make sure he doesn't come back.'

That just seemed... terribly sad and I said so. 'But I don't think he knows where else to go, Heero,' I was surprised to find that I wanted to cry again. 'And it's my fault that he's dead and all... it's ok if he stays.'

'Damn,' Heero muttered. 'You're a mess. Come on... you need to go back to sleep. I'm here now...'

'God, I wish,' I said, wondering that he still seemed so clear and solid. The kid had been kind of... ghostly. Though I suppose there was a difference between ghosts and hallucinations. But then Heero took hold of my face, stilling me while he leaned down to look right in my eyes. I couldn't help it... I gasped out loud.

'I'm here,' he said firmly and I kind of had to believe it. I don't think figments can touch you.

'H...Heero?' I whispered and he just looked sad.

'It made the news,' he soothed. 'I came as soon as I could...'

I raised a hand to touch his arm and blinked some, just to see if he'd disappear. When he didn't, I opened my mouth and blurted, 'I don't want a teddy bear.'

It was his turn to blink and he let me go then, using his thumb to wipe at my cheeks. 'Ok,' he agreed, though he didn't really look like he understood. 'Go back to sleep now... I'll be here.'

And then... he took hold of my hand.

I looked up at him, wide-eyed, I'm sure and said, 'But, nobody...'

'No,' he corrected, his confusion suddenly gone. 'Somebody.'

He took it quite in stride when I grabbed hold and threw my arms around his neck. Just enfolded me in his arms and shifted me so that my weight wasn't on my hip.

'Somebody?' I had to ask, starting to believe he was really there.

'Yes,' he said firmly. 'Me.'

Some part of me wanted to ask him where he'd been. Wanted to know why he'd left in the first place. But the rest of me was just happy with the affirmation that he wasn't going to fade away. And not sure I wasn't going to fade myself.

Because here was the person that I really would put first above all else, and nothing mattered but that he said he would still be there when I woke up again.

Nothing mattered but the fact that wherever he had been, he'd known me well enough to see past the surface, and he'd known to come and hold my hand.


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