Author: Sunhawk
Warnings: Little angst, little sap, OOC, Duo POV.
Little birthday fic (my first!) for Sharon's B-day!
Standard disclaimers apply. They still don't belong to me, but I found this guy on Ebay that says he can sell me the ownership papers. He's got a pretty good price on bridges too!

'Till It's Gone

The God-awful rumble of the transport plane helps keep me awake. The damn things are loud, but I guess it beat walking. I lever myself up from my seat on the hard bench and make my rounds again. My team couldn't hear me if I called out for status, so I walk the aisle and check them by hand. My own leg is getting stiff and I can't quite hide the limp. I'd do better, I think, if I weren't fighting the sway of the old, stubby winged cargo plane. I move from handhold to handhold, and make my way to where my electronics expert sits braced between two backpacks.

I shake John awake and he glares at me, I flash him a grin and check his pupils again. He scowls harder and I pat his shoulder. He doesn't realize that it's his attitude as much as the head injury that has me worried about a concussion. I want to laugh and tell him that his glare needs work, but I don't.

I move past him and try to kneel down in front of Judith, but can't manage it, so I just lean over.

"How you doin', Wonder Woman?" I shout over the roar of the engines and she grins back at me.

"I'm fine, fearless-leader, but you look like shit!" she shouts in return. I ignore the crack and check the binding on her broken arm before moving on. She flashes me a quick wink and I can't help getting caught up in her blue eyes for a second. Blue, but not quite blue enough.

Will is my last stop, where we have him stretched out on the floor of the plane, and he smiles up at me as I bend to check on him.

"Give it a rest, kid!" he shouts before I can speak. "I'm old, but I'm not that damn bad!"

I snort, though he can't hear it, and we grin at each other.

"Wouldn't want to lose you this close to retirement, old man!" I yell back and check the temperature of his foot, making sure we don't have his broken leg bound too tight.

He graces me with a mock glare as I straighten to make my way back up front. He's barely ten years older than I am, but he had rather embraced the role when we'd started teasing him about being our 'old timer'. He's probably my right-hand man, his planning skills are second only to another teammate I'd had once, though I'd never tell him that, his head gets swelled enough sometimes.

I allow myself a groan that no one will hear anyway, as I settle my tired bones back on the bench. I glance at my watch and sigh with relief when I realize it shouldn't be more than another hour. I can't wait to get the hell home.

The mission had been... a piece of cake. The return trip, however, had not been all that great. Our plane had been forced down by a sudden squall that had seemed to develop in an instant for the sole purpose of striking us from the sky. It was a small miracle that we'd survived the damn landing at all; much less drug our sorry asses away from the crash site.

We had been attempting to make a small airstrip in the middle of freakin' nowhere when we'd bellied in, and after the storm abated, I'd managed to hike the rest of the way there to bring back help. By mutual consent, my team and I had opted to hire a plane to take us the rest of the way to base, rather than attempting to deal with the medical facilities in a place named 'Hope's End'. Though we were pretty beat up, there weren't any life threatening injuries, and we all just wanted to get back. We were already almost twenty-four hours overdue.

A shout from the cockpit draws my attention and I drag myself to my feet once more to go see what the pilot needs.

"Captain Maxwell!" he hollers, when I've settled my butt in the co-pilot's seat. "Your control tower wants some kind of confirmation from you!" And he hands me the headphones.

The headset blocks some of the damn noise and I sigh with relief as I put it on. "Control, this is Agent Duo Maxwell requesting permission to enter Preventers airspace," I say after a quick glance to make sure the pilot has the radio tuned to the frequency I'd given him.

"Captain Maxwell?" comes back the incredulous voice over the airways. "Hot damn!" There's more, but I can't hear it, as though the speaker has turned away from his mike. Then another voice takes over, sounding much more authoritative.

"Captain Maxwell," this new voice says. "Please verify."

I guess hot damn wasn't exactly by the books. "This is Captain Duo Maxwell, authorization code George Paul zero two dash zero two two eight, requesting permission to land at base Alpha Charlie zero one."

There is a short silence and then the original voice returns with an exuberant, "Permission granted, Captain Maxwell! Welcome home sir!"

I have to chuckle, but then the second voice returns to the mike. "Captain, what is the status of your team?"

"Present and accounted for," I am more than happy to report. "Though medical assistance on the ground would be appreciated." I can't help the sudden grin as I toss the figurative codebook out the window. "We're gettin' a little tired of dragging our sorry butts around."

I can hear a chuckle over the headphones, but I can't tell from which of the two voices it comes. "What is your ETA?" one of those voices asks me.

I glance at the instrument panel and tell them, "Approximately thirty minutes."

Then I hand the headset back to the grinning pilot, standing up to return to my seat.

"Do I get a tour of Preventers headquarters out of this?" the guy asks, and I quirk him a rueful grin.

"Not much to see but an office building, kid," I shout. "But if that's what you want... sure; what the hell!"

His grin spreads from ear to ear. "Maybe I'll even get to meet one of them Gundam Pilots!"

"Maybe so, kid!" I assure him. "There's enough of 'em around that place!" I'm still laughing when I get back to my seat.

Thirty minutes. I glance back at my team and figure they'll be all right for another half an hour, resisting the urge to make another round. I lean my head back against the side of the plane instead, and damn near fall asleep.

It's the change in the pitch of a sound that had been constant for hours, that rouses me, and I realize the landing gear has gone down. I force myself to my feet and go to make sure John and Judith are belted down. Then I make my way back to Will's side to ride the landing out sitting next to him.

"Almost home, old man!" I shout.

"Did they have any warning?" he asks and I nod.

"Thirty minutes out," I confirm, and have to grin at the look that crosses his face. "Plenty of time for the old ball and chain to get herself to the field," I assure him.

He flushes faintly, but only smiles.

There is anticipation on his face, and I glance up to see the look pretty well mirrored on the faces of the rest of my team.

Judith's boyfriend is a fellow agent and I have no doubt he is already standing out on the tarmac waiting for us to touch down. John's wife is more... timid, a civilian, and she'd be waiting with their son closer to the hanger. She wasn't the type to come running out to meet the plane before it even stopped moving, but she'd be there.

Will gives my arm a pat and I realize that my face has gone all somber while I'd been thinking, so I grin for him again.

I both hated and looked forward to these reunions. These homecomings.

Made me feel all achy inside, watching my people greeted and fawned over, hugged and fussed at. It reminded me every damn time that there was no one there to greet good old Duo Maxwell that way. When the dust settled, I'd be left standing there alone, and I'd go back to my office, file the reports and eventually would head home to my apartment. Once there, I'd tell my fish all about my day and then fall face first into bed. Then I'd do it all over again tomorrow. I sighed, because Will couldn't hear it anyway.

There was that familiar lurch in the pit of the stomach and before I knew it we were on the ground. My team sent up a ragged cheer, and I joined them.

Then came that whirlwind of activity, like it always happens, as the rescue squad comes onboard and my people are whisked out from under me. I wave them away when they come for me and climb down on my own to go stand where I can watch over things.

They'd all made it on time to greet us, the families of my teammates, and I get to watch as Will's wife bursts into tears, as Judith's fiancÚ sweeps her up in his arms to carry her to one of the waiting stretchers. As John's wife brings their little boy out to meet us, the little guy shouting "Daddy! Daddy!" at the top of his lungs the whole way.

I grin at them and watch to make sure the med-team is taking proper care of my injured.

I can warm myself at the edges of another's fire... don't begrudge me that. It's all I have, these glimpses into other people's lives... into what love is. Please don't begrudge me that. I'm careful; I smile. I laugh. They don't know... I don't dampen the flames... I just watch.

Then there is the sound of running feet and I turn in surprise when I realize they are heading my way. I barely get twisted around before I'm enveloped in a great bear hug and my feet completely leave the ground.

"Duo!" a voice is crying out, and I look up, shocked to meet deep blue eyes. Deep blue eyes that are awash with unabashed relief. "Oh God... they said your plane went down! We thought... we thought you were dead!"

I find my hands clutching at broad shoulders as I try to regain my balance. "H... Heero?" I stammer and I'm shocked to feel the body I am pressed against trembling.

"I thought I'd lost you," he fairly whispers and all I can do is blink at him. He looks terrible, eyes dark circled and blood-shot, hair and clothes rumbled, and I can't think what to say. Wrapped up in his arms, I can't think at all. And then he is kissing me, one arm holding us tight together, the other holding the back of my head as though afraid I'll pull away. It only takes me a minute to meet that kiss. Meet it and match it and do my damnedest to take it over. Pretty soon I'm trembling too.

He draws back abruptly, like a man waking from a dream, and I feel the arms around me loosening. He looks... shocked at himself. "I... I'm sorry..." he stammers.

"Well, I'm not," I growl and my arms are quite suddenly the rest of the way around his neck. I go back to try that kiss out again, and it's just as gut tightening as the first one.

When we break apart this time, I'm pulled into a tight embrace and I feel him let out a shuddering sigh.

"Damn, Yuy," I murmur next to his ear. "I'd have crash landed years ago if I'd known it would get me this kind of welcome home."

There is a quiet moment before he whispers, "Well, don't do it again... I'll welcome you home like this without the near death experience... if it's all the same to you?"

"That would be... an even better idea," I reply, and my voice is damn near steady.

"Can I take you home?" he asks, drawing back to look at me, and his isn't steady at all. It makes me suddenly remember where we are, but when I look, I am surprised to find we're alone on the field. I turn back and grin at him.

"That... would be good," I sigh and he draws away, keeping an arm around my waist to help me limp off the runway.

There is a warmth in my chest like I've never felt before. A tightness that is part nerves and part... something I can't name. I have a surreal moment of fearing that perhaps I am the one who took the hit to the head and I can't help the unconscious clenching of my hand on his shoulder.

"You all right?" he asks with a worried frown and I smile at him, daring to look at him. Tempting the edges of reality. I'm almost surprised when he stays... when he doesn't fade away under my scrutiny. I almost laugh, understanding for the first time what a ridiculous, sad thing it had been, basking in the reflected glow of another's fire. Understanding for the first time just how very cold I had been, and I shiver.

"I'm... just fine," I tell him, and I think I see understanding in his eyes.

Understanding... and maybe a little fire.


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