by: Sunhawk


It was another one of those out-in-the-middle-of-no-where safe houses. A little retreat in the woods. Pleasant enough to start with but after being stuck there for five days with Wufei, I was starting to pray for a call to battle.

I missed Heero. I was worried about Heero. I was bored. I was sick to death of the vegetarian meals that Wufei cooked and he wouldn't let me near the kitchen. I do not understand that man at all; he'll eat meat if somebody else cooks it but won't cook the stuff himself. I had prowled the house from one end to the other until I had found all the secrets it had to hold and there weren't very many. It wasn't a very old place and not very big, barely a story and a half, so had none of the interesting quirks that houses attained with age. I had made Gundam repairs until there was nothing left to do with the possible exception of a wax job. I had wandered the grounds and though the area was actually rather lovely, it was also fairly unremarkable. Read that... boring.

There was almost no electricity in the house; just one outlet that had obviously been added years after the place had been built, not even in the wall straight and looking terribly out of place. Cooking was done over a wood-burning stove; light was from candles and coal-oil lanterns; heat from a fireplace. Primitive to the extreme. Thank the Gods someone had converted one of the upstairs closets to a small bathroom, so we at least weren't bathing in the damn creek. We had regulated to that whole rising with the sun, going to bed when it got dark thing. I felt like I should be plowing some field somewhere and butchering hogs. Or something equally archaic.

Wufei worked on his Gundam, did his katas, or read. I had nothing left to do to my Gundam and had already read everything in the house. I did wind up spending a couple of hours a day doing some of the exercises I had been taught in therapy after my knee surgery. That left a whole lot of empty hours, with nothing much to do but wonder where Heero was and if he was still all right.

After a couple of days, Wufei took pity on me and hauled me out of bed in the morning to go with him to do his kata. Or maybe he was just curing his own boredom by torturing me. I didn't care; it was something to do. I think I surprised him a little with my willingness to learn. It took me three or four repetitions but as long as I could keep him in sight, I could fairly well follow along. There were a few moves that I just couldn't manage yet. Though my knee had come back to near normal strength and seldom failed me any more; I hadn't regained the flexibility in it that I'd once had. When I got to the parts I couldn't quite handle, I stretched until I couldn't any more and held the position while he finished the move. I fell back into the routine on the return motion and continued with him. I think it took him a couple times to figure out what was going on. I caught him looking at me one of the times that I stopped and I flushed hotly. He didn't say anything, just letting it go. It embarrassed me though, just driving home how much weaker I was than him and I vowed to stick with him until he finished. I was really kind of regretting the impulse after the first hour. At an hour and a half I was starting to doubt I'd be able to keep the vow. I'd never really bothered to pay much attention to Wufei when he did his exercises and sure as hell had never timed him but at the two hour mark I was starting to suspect that he was trying to outlast me. I swear he'd never spent this much time out here before. But I am nothing in this world more than I am pissy-assed stubborn and despite the fact that my scarred leg was shaking under me like I was a newborn foal, I refused to stop. I matched him move for move, following his lead like we were doing some strange dance together. Granted; I was probably pretty sloppy but I was keeping up. He finally called a halt himself and it was all I could do not to moan with relief. He picked up the towels he had brought out and tossed one to me, using the other to wipe the sweat from his brow. I buried my own face in the welcome softness, swiping my sweat drenched hair off my face and tried to hide the fact that I was panting like an asthmatic. When I looked up again, Wufei was just standing there regarding me with a completely alien expression on his face. He caught my eye and bowed to me slightly. I awkwardly returned the bow and must have looked like a deer-in-headlights as he walked away. Respect. That had been a hint of respect in his eyes; I'd almost swear to it. I'm glad he left before he figured out that I couldn't follow. I had to sit down on the low stone wall for a good five minutes before my wobbling leg would carry me back inside.

I met him on the patio the next morning without him having to call me. I got a look of faint surprise and another grudging bow. He didn't go quite the full two hours again after that first day. It became part of my morning to go out there with him. It gave me one more thing to do and for those couple of hours each day, I could put my anxiety over Heero out of my mind. It was quite a gift; I knew how much Wufei valued his privacy and understood that with me there, he wasn't quite able to reach the same level of almost-meditation that he usually obtained. I wished I could express my thanks, I wished that I could let him know that I understood what he was sacrificing for me and I wondered if he knew the dark thoughts he was helping me keep at bay.

The morning of the seventh day found me getting pretty restless. It was a crappy, rainy day, which only furthered my feeling of entrapment. Not even a nice thunderstorm, which will catch my attention to this day but just a cold, drizzly, it's-gonna-rain-forever kind of day. It had kept us inside and there just wasn't enough room indoors for the katas. I guess I was pacing; I wasn't paying that much attention. Wufei was curled in one of the big, overstuffed armchairs in the living room reading; had been for a couple of hours. I had started out by the window, watching the rain but had gotten chilled and wandered over closer to the fireplace. Once warmed, I had gone back to the window to watch outside some more. Wufei calls this pacing.

"Maxwell, will you settle yourself somewhere and find something to do?" He grumbled at me, sounding faintly irritated.

"There isn't a whole lot to do in this place." I complained in my turn, sighing heavily and leaning against the window frame.

"There is an entire bookcase full of books over there... find one and sit down." He suggested a little testily, his own copy of 'Great Expectations' dropping in his lap as he looked up at me.

"I've read them all." I muttered, wrapping my arms around my shoulders for warmth. One thing's for sure; no electricity made for a damned chilly house.

He raised a disbelieving eyebrow, "All of them? We haven't been here that long... "

"Not here." I growled, getting a little irritated myself, "But I've read every damned book in this whole bloody place. Trust me, I've looked three times."

He stared at me for a long moment and I could see the total lack of belief in his eyes. It pissed me off a little bit, "What?" I snapped.

He glanced away, looking back down at his book, "I just wouldn't have expected you to be the type to read Dickens and Tolstoy and Poe."

I was too moodily unhappy to work up to getting really angry with him. I suppose I don't exactly cultivate an aura of the learned scholar like Wufei does or the cultured world traveler like Quatre. I am, after all, just an orphaned street rat; what the hell do I know about the works of Dickinson and Chekov? I closed my eyes and heard the lilting voice of Sister Helen,

"At the time when I stood in the churchyard, reading the family tombstones, I had just enough learning to be able to spell them out. My construction even of their simple meaning was not very correct, for I read 'Wife of the above' as a complimentary reference to my father's exaltation to a better world; and if any one of my deceased relations had been referred to as 'Below', I have no doubt I should have formed the worst opinions of that member of the family."

I quoted with all the bemused tonal inflection that the good sister used to put into it. I had found that particular passage terribly funny when she had read it to us. I still don't really know why, it just gives me the most vivid mental image and never fails to make me smile. Of course, that amusement is tempered with the bittersweet pang of remembering Sister Helen, dead these long years. I sighed, looking out at the rain again. She had loved it when it rained; said God was doing his washing. Damn. Wufei was right; I really needed to find something to do. Maybe I could break something on Deathscythe just so I could fix it.

I turned from the window, deciding a trip into the woods where the Gundams were hidden wasn't such a bad idea after all. Rain or no rain; I needed to get out of this cabin.

The look of total consternation on Wufei's face as I turned was priceless. He looked like he wanted to leaf back through the pages to see how close I had come to getting it right. That look made up for the earlier irritation. I grinned at him; "I can quote from 'The Summer of '42' as well; the sprinkles scene, if you'd like." And I breezed out of the living room, stopping in the kitchen long enough to grab one of the long drovers coats hanging by the back door.

"I'll be back before dinner." I called and went out the door. All I caught of Wufei's probably caustic comment was "... rain... "

There was a small brick patio out back, where we always worked out and there was a stone walk leading around the cabin. At one time it had been nicely landscaped with a lot of those big decorative rocks and a whole bunch of different ground covers. It was gone rather wild now but I found the effect rather pleasing. I left the stone path and headed into the woods, the collar of the long coat turned up against the chill wind and the drizzling rain. Once under the cover of the trees it wasn't as bad but I was still soaked by the time I made my way to where Deathscythe was hidden. He seemed to be looking at me from where he was sitting in the rocks next to Nataku, under the cover of some camo netting and a lot of tree limbs, as if admonishing me for leaving him out here alone in the rain.

"Hey old buddy." I said softly and keyed my password into the remote, popping the hatch. I clambered up over his outstretched 'legs' and climbed into the open hatch. It's funny, sometimes getting into that pilot's chair feels like crawling into the comfort of the womb... and sometimes it feels like crawling into a coffin. Today, it was more of a comfort.

I tinkered for a bit, adjusting things that didn't need adjusting, straightening things that were already organized to a fault. I checked the harness for signs of strain, looked through the med-kit to see if I needed to resupply, even though I knew I'd done that just last week. I pulled out my handgun to check the load and finally admitted to myself what I had come out here for.

I booted up the onboard system, calling up the internal monitor files. I wound my way through a myriad series of folders, hunting for one of the copies of the file I had replicated and hidden away. My recording of Heero, sitting in Deathscythe when he didn't know he was being monitored. It was buried deep and password protected six ways to Sunday.

Heero would kill me if he knew I still had it.

During that first mission I had undertaken after my surgeries, quite honestly, still recovering; Heero had taken to talking to my Gundam. Surprised the hell out of me. I would never have guessed the level of anguish my going off on that mission was going to cause him. I knew he was going to be angry with me, had known he would be upset but I never in a million years would have pictured him climbing into my Gundam and hugging my flight suit with tears in his eyes.

I played the recording now and listened to him tell Deathscythe how much he loved me, how much he missed me. Heard him say again how scared he was that I wouldn't come back to him, how he couldn't carry on without me.

Sounds really morbid, doesn't it? I wasn't listening to the damned thing because I liked hearing the pain in his voice. I was just listening to his voice. It was the only recording of him I had. It wouldn't have mattered if it were a recording of him reading the damn New York phone book. I just needed the sound of his voice. It was a guilty pleasure, that recording, which is why I jumped like I'd been shot when Wufei's voice rang through the external pick-up,

"Maxwell! We've been called; we have to go!"

I scrambled to shut off the playback and popped the hatch, climbing out to talk to him face to face.

"Where? What's the assignment?" I felt a little guilty that I was actually relieved to be heading out and getting away from this place.

"I'll patch the coordinates through to you from Nataku." He informed me, "We're meeting up with the others to stop a supply convoy carrying raw gundanium ore in-system."

I couldn't keep the grin off my face and flushed when he answered it with a knowing smirk, "Take it easy going out of here, we're coming back to this safe house after the mission."

I didn't care; I was going to get to see Heero for the first time in over a month. I just managed to keep from laughing out loud until after I was back in the pilot's seat and the hatch was sealed. Then I let myself crow with delight while I powered up my Gundam.

Five hours later, the crowing had changed to cursing as I found myself hip deep in the worst firefight I'd seen in months. Several of my control panels were spitting sparks and there was a two second delay in the response time from the servos controlling Deathscythe's arms. It was making swinging my scythe a royal pain in the ass. It was taking every bit of my concentration to translate that delay into my own movements just to stay in the fight.

We were all five here, out past the moons orbit, engaging the enemy in a no-holds barred fight to the death. They were desperate to keep this shipment intact and had devoted an unbelievably large escort to it. We were whittling it down and it was really only a matter of time before we broke their defenses and blew the transport but they were going to see to it that we earned the hit, by the Gods.

I could hear Trowa warning Quatre back from a potential pinscher maneuver, his voice sounding weary over the comm. Quatre didn't even take the time to answer, just blasting clear before the twin attack closed on him. It was a rough one and we were all tired, fighting with all we had.

I took another hit on my left and heard the whine of servomotors under stress. Damn. My two-second delay changed to something closer to five on the left side and I was rapidly losing the ability to swing my scythe at all. All around me, Leos were seeing my weakness and moving in to exploit it. Damn again.

I shifted the scythe to a one handed grip and redoubled my efforts, still fighting the two-second delay. The effectiveness of my attacks was leaving a great deal to be desired.

"Duo!" I heard Heero shout, "What the hell's wrong?"

"Losing sync!" I shouted back, not having a lot of attention to spare.

I took a hard shot from a pulse weapon, finding myself wrenched against the harness hard enough to knock the breath out of me. Damn! I was really getting into some trouble here.

Past the swarming mobile suits, I could see Wufei finally break through and get a shot off at the transport. It was a perfect hit and the shuttle went up with a lovely red and gold display. Mission accomplished. It didn't do a lot, however, to improve my situation.

I flailed about almost wildly; not really able to control the scythe but managed to throw off a couple of my attackers. They had figured out that my left side was pretty much useless and I had several suits trying to come in on that side to get me pinned. In my left ear, the servos kicked up their whining to a nerve-wracking scream. Five second delay or not, I was forced to try those servos or risk getting tangled up so badly they'd bring me down with sheer weight of numbers.

"Hold on!" I heard Heero shout, at the same time I heard Quatre yell my name. I must really be in some serious shit here. I wrenched the left 'arm' as hard as I could and managed to throw off the Leo that had just gotten a grip on me. It was probably the last thing I was going to do with that 'arm' though, as I heard the motors screech into overdrive and then somewhere above me, something gave with a grinding crack and I found myself drenched with hydraulic fluid. It was all too fast and my eyes were flooded before I even realized what was happening. I forgot all about the suits around me as I fought to get the shit out of my eyes. I'm fairly certain I screamed as the burning started and I was suddenly lost in blurry darkness. I heard Heero swearing as Deathscythe suddenly ceased to struggle against his attackers.

It only took me a moment to scrabble around and get hold of one of the water bottles packed in the emergency kit. I got the bottle open and poured the whole thing over my eyes. The burning eased but the darkness didn't. Damn. I was really in over my head now.

I pulled my shirt up and did my best to wipe the crap off my face. I was rocked hard by another hit. I could only guess from the feel what was going on out there. I fumbled the second bottle of water out and poured it over my eyes as well, a little slower and the burning backed off a little more. That was all the water I had.

"Guys?" I called, trying to keep my voice from quavering, "A little help here?"

I got my hands wrapped around the controls again and started to swing the scythe but was taken with a sudden numbing fear. I didn't know where the others were; what if they had moved in to help me and I hit one of them instead?

"I... I've lost external sensors!" I yelled, not wanting to panic everyone, "Is anybody close to me?"

"We're clear!" Quatre hollered at me and I swung for all I was worth, feeling the weapon bite into a couple of somethings that had to be Leos.

"Backswing!" I heard Wufei's voice suddenly, "Eight o'clock to one o'clock!"

I complied instantly and was rewarded with a loosening of the feeling I had of being pinned.

"Turn 10 degrees to your right and execute move number three!" He yelled again and I complied the best I could, moving myself through the now familiar kata, only having to guess at the angle. He didn't know, of course, that I couldn't see my internal gages.

"Hit thrusters!" He shouted, "Three second burn! First move; second set!"

I let him lead me in this strange dance, throwing my trust into the sound of his voice, feeling like my guts were going to churn right up the back of my throat.

"Freeze!" He was telling me, "Trowa's almost to you."

It took all my control to stop flailing around and hold still, trusting the guys to get me the hell out of this mess.

"I'm here." Came Trowa's calm voice and all I could do was squeeze the pilot's grips hard enough to bruise the palms of my hands.

They got quiet then and I took another hard hit, feeling my shoulder harness bite. If I lived through this, I was going to have a lovely set of contusions.

"Hang on, Duo." I heard Heero's voice then, trying to sound calm.

"Somebody tell me what the hell to do?" I pleaded, feeling like my nerves were going to come crawling out through my skin.

"Don't swing the scythe, Duo." Wufei told me, "Trowa and Heero are too close to you."

I wished I had another bottle of water. I could feel my eyes watering all over the place and I could only hope it was helping.

"Duo," Wufei was commanding me again, "Power down your weapon."

It took a little work, finding the controls without accidentally moving it but I suddenly felt the absence of the subtle vibration the scythe generated.

"We're coming to get you." Trowa said quietly and the tone of his voice told me I must be out of the woods. I heaved a shaky sigh and waited for them.

"I'm behind you." Heero said, his voice holding relief, "Extend your right 'arm' and we'll guide you out of here."

I did as he asked and heard the loud clangs as Wing made contact.

"Can you do the same on the left?" Trowa asked.

"Left side's dead." I told him, "Don't know if it's seized up or not."

My voice was shaking and I pushed down the terror trying to claw its way up out of my stomach. Now would not be a good time to throw up.

"Ok, hold on... " He told me and after a minute I heard the sounds of his Gundam connecting with mine. There was a complaint from the servos over my head and then Trowa said, "Got it. Let's go."

I had felt the buck of the pilots grip under my hand as he had moved the 'arm' manually and I knew that we were moving now, though I couldn't feel anything yet. In my head, I could see them on either side of me and it was a hell of a comfort. I wished for more water and tried really hard not to think too much about my eyes. They still stung and were watering profusely and... I still couldn't see.

We moved in silence for a bit and we must have picked up speed, because I started to feel the g-forces a little.

"Status?" Heero called after a few minutes and I heard a quartet of 'clears'. I hesitated; I didn't want to scare Heero, didn't know how in the hell to tell him I was... I was... didn't know how to tell him I couldn't see. But, it was going to become a major issue when we got to reentry.

"Duo?" He called when I didn't answer immediately and I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. I settled on, "Unsure." And proceeded to give them a list of problems... with my Gundam.

"Left 'arm' is immobile. No external sensors." Here came the sticky part, "Total black out in the cock-pit."

There was the sound of deafening silence and then a chorus of,


I would have laughed, except I didn't think I'd get it stopped.

"That about sums it up." I agreed and was pleased that my voice had leveled out and sounded downright normal.

"One thing at a time." Wufei's voice came, calm and cool as ever, "We'll get you back to the reentry point. Do what you can with repairs in the meantime."

I was just thankful that no one was questioning me further. If I had to start telling them stupid shit like, no, I don't have a flashlight and yes, isn't it odd that life support is still working, I really didn't think this little charade would hold up. I was soaked from pouring water all over myself and the rain earlier and was getting cold. I unbuckled the harness, hoping I could feel my way back into it when the time came and groped around for the drover's coat that was still in here somewhere. I found it and struggled into it. The shivering eased a little but didn't go away entirely. My blood pressure was probably doing a decent impression of a roller coaster ride. I found that if I kept my eyes closed, they didn't water quite so much.

Above me, there was the beep that told me a tight beam call was coming in. I had to very carefully feel for the communications unit and mentally do the calculations to figure out the number of times to hit the button to run up to Heero's frequency. It was a small assumption on my part but who more likely? I remembered to keep the video off.

"Heero is that you?" I called softly and was rewarded with his gusty sigh. I'd got it.

"Yes, love." He told me and I could almost feel his arms around me just from the sound of his voice, "Are you all right?"

"Doin' Ok." I murmured, settling back in the pilot's chair now that I had pulled the coat on.

"Do you think you can get things back on-line?" He asked and I had to sigh. I cracked an eye-lid open, only to find things still as black as they had been.

"No." I told him bluntly, "I really don't think I can."

"I think we need to get you out of there. We'll hide Deathscythe in orbit or something. Bring you across and get you dirt-side in my Gundam... "

I had to cut him off before he got too far into the plan, "Heero... I'm not suited up." And I should have been. We had left in such a hurry, I hadn't bothered with it, "I don't think I can get into my vacuum suit without... in the dark." At least, not without any way to test the seals before blowing the hatch and taking a leap of faith in my ability to don one of the complex suits by touch alone. I shivered at the thought.

There was nothing for long minutes while, I'm sure, his mind ran in circles trying to come up with another way out of this.

"Somebody's going to have to talk me down, Heero." I could tell he wasn't happy and if truth be told, I wasn't really looking forward to the experience myself.

The seconds ticked by and still nothing from Heero, "Come on, love." I teased softly, trying to make things all right, "I thought you liked telling me what to do."

I didn't win the laugh but he finally answered me. "Wufei should do it."

"What?" I blurted, a little alarmed and not really sure why. I had just assumed that Heero would be the one.

He sighed and his voice was unsteady, "In the battle... he was so calm and you were able to follow his direction so... easily." There was a pause during which I really, really wished I could see his face, "I don't think I can maintain that... detachment."

It was my turn to sit in silence. Maybe it was just as well; if the landing went badly... he wouldn't be able to blame himself.

"All right." I finally told him and my voice in that great big darkness sounded very small.

"Duo... " His voice was thick.

"I know." I told him, "Me too."

We switched back to the open comm. and Heero gave Wufei his new assignment.

It cost him. To ask Wufei to do this; to admit he couldn't do it himself. It cost him dearly and I think Wufei could hear it in his voice as well as I could.

There was a brooding silence from Nataku and then a terse, "Accepted."

"We're almost there." Came Quatre's quiet observation, "Duo, are you ready?"

Gods; so soon? "Not strapped in." I told him and scrambled to find all the buckles and straps in the dark. Trying to sort it all out, I was positive that I had made the right decision not to try the vacuum suit.

"Any luck on those repairs?" Trowa asked me gently and I tried to crack a stinging eyelid again. I had trouble getting it open; it felt gummy. When I managed it, things were still blurrily not there. I was getting really scared about that.

"Nope." I told him, glad that my voice wasn't shaking as much as my hands were.

He only grunted.

"Maxwell?" Came Wufei's calm voice and I suddenly understood Heero's wanting him to take this job, "Go to tight beam."

I did my calculation again and punched up to his frequency, missed it and had a panicked moment before I recalculated and landed in the right place.

"You there?" I called that second time and relief washed through me, leaving my knees weak when I heard his voice.

"I'm here." He told me, making his voice soothing.

"So... you up for this?" I tried to make my voice light but my quivering hands were still fighting with the straps and buckles, trying to work the twists out of them and the trouble I was having was making me doubt that this was going to work.

"I am if you are." He told me blandly, "Are you... up for this, as you say?"

I stopped everything and took a couple of quick, deep breaths, "Fei... I can't even get the Gods damned harness back on."

"You're panicking, Duo." He said quietly.

"I'm well aware of that." I told him in my turn.

"What don't I know?" He asked, point blank.

"It's not the instruments, 'Fei." I told him, needing to tell this to someone, "It's me. I can't see."

There was a cold silence and then, "Son. Of. A. Bitch."

I laughed out loud, though it came out sounding like something different and I had trouble making the sound stop, "Yeah."

"Why... ?" He began, after a moments thought but I cut him off.

"Heero would have had a screaming fit."

"He's still going to, when we get you grounded."

When. I caught that careful wording. Not if... when.

"But by that time, he'll be able to get his hands on me and not be stuck two Gundam widths away... not able to do anything."

[cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]