Author: Sunhawk

Death Takes A Mission (cont)

He took my hand again and tugged until I got up and we moved forward again. I swept the light around inside the passageway we were getting ready to brave. I couldn't see the end, but it was large enough we wouldn't have to crawl. I had to shift Ito's hold on my hand to allow us to walk single file. We would have to stoop over.

"Ready?" I asked and stepped into the passage. The water swirled around our ankles.

"So, were you born on Earth?" I asked him when I felt the clutch of his fingers on mine.

"Born in Japan; yes." He responded, almost pouncing on the conversation, "You?"

"Born in the colonies." I confessed. "What family do you have waiting for you?"

"My son, his wife and my granddaughter Sarah, and my daughter."

I noticed the gaping lack. "I'm sorry, Makoto. How long ago?"

"Ten years." He sighed, "She's been gone ten years. You... you are very perceptive, my impertinent young friend."

I chuckled, "Some things I guess some people just think about."

He mulled that for a moment, "You have no family?" I guess I wasn't as obscure as I had thought I was being.

"No." I told him softly, "Not... not like you mean. I'm an orphan."

His mind was completely off the situation, which was a good thing, but I wasn't real crazy about the direction it was going.

"Not like I mean?" he quoted back to me, "You have someone then?"

"I have people who are going to be worried when I don't make it back when I said I would." I sighed, thinking about Heero and wishing I could get a message to him.

"I am sorry."

"Don't be." I grinned in the dark where nobody could see anyway, "It was my own stubborn pride put me here."

Then he was tugging at my hand, "Duo! Duo, I feel air moving."

I felt it too, as soon as he mentioned it. "I'm going to turn the light out." I warned him, voice automatically going to a whisper.

It took our eyes a minute, when the light went out, to adjust, but I finally could tell that there was the faint light of day ahead of us.

We crept forward, more slowly, not talking any more, keeping the flashlight off, until the light was more than just a dim promise.

I leaned in close to his ear and said, "We don't dare go any further until it gets dark. Do you want to go back where we can sit out of the water, or stay here in the light?"

I really hadn't had to ask the question, and so we sat down on the floor of the tunnel in the sluggish, unclean water, where Ito could see the light of freedom and we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more.

I was heartily sick and tired of being wet. I stank. I was getting hungry. At least the water wasn't particularity cold. But I was still worried what sitting around soaked to the skin was going to do to a man Makoto's age. Gods, we were so close. But I wasn't going to get careless now. I was going to get back to Heero, just like I had promised. I hoped that my jacket had gone unnoticed up there on the second floor. I hoped I still had my ace in the hole if I needed it. I hoped Heero didn't hate me.

I must have sighed, because Ito leaned in close and whispered, "Ok?"

I nodded, in the faint, faint light and tried to give him a reassuring grin.

He was getting himself together again, here in line of sight of escape, his fears held at bay by the light of a day we didn't dare venture out into.

"Don't let me fall asleep." I breathed back to him; to his questioning look, "No matter what else happens."

"Is there nothing I can do, that would allow you... " he questioned worriedly, as I pulled out the bag of pills again.

I shook my head, not able to keep the sad smile off my face, "Not unless you can figure out what magic, Heero... " damn; I was getting tired.

Ito looked at me oddly, and I bristled a little, "What?" I whispered, perhaps a little defensively.

"I... I suppose," he whispered back, "that means you have no interest in meeting my granddaughter?"

I almost choked to death trying not to laugh, "Makoto! You're granddaughter didn't look to be five years old."

"Oh." He smiled, "You had a very old picture. She is seventeen now."

I had to shake my head, but couldn't stop grinning at him; it really had lightened my heart a little.

"This, Heero," I guess Ito was just trying to return the favor of my earlier distraction, but I really wished he'd find another topic, "he can keep you from having the bad dreams?"

I nodded, closing my eyes for a second; they were getting so damn gritty. I wished the stupid pill would kick in.

"How?"

"He's just there." I sighed, lost in the remembered feel of it, "as long as he's with me, I don't dream."

I hadn't meant to say that. It was a little more personal than I had intended. I was thankful it wasn't light enough for him to see me blush.

He grunted softly, "Ah, I remember." His whispered voice grew distant, "Felt like meeting the other half of your own soul when you first met?"

I shivered pretty hard, and nodded, his words opening up a black hole of longing in the pit of my stomach.

He smiled across at me, his eyes kind, "You are very blessed, young one, to have found your soul mate in all this wide universe."

"Your wife... ?" I asked, feeling like I was treading on a grave.

He nodded sadly, and was quiet for a time, "Yes. She was everything about me that was bright and clean and good."

I couldn't quite fathom his reality with what I felt in my own heart, "Then, how... ."

"How did I go on when she... was gone?"

All I could do was nod, my heart frozen in my chest just thinking about trying to carry on if... if...

"By that time, I had other ties... the children; anchors that kept me... ." He looked at me in sudden sympathy, "Oh... I am sorry, my friend; I did not mean to... " he let it trail off and I waved a dismissive hand.

I really didn't want to talk any more, and just leaned my head back against the tunnel wall, contemplating the practicality of yet another pill.

"Duo!" Ito's voice was a little too loud, and I realized that he had called me more than once. I raised my head from the tunnel wall, and mumbled an apology. Damn, almost went over the edge.

I checked my watch, and was thankful to see that we were in the home stretch; I think I would be all right again once we started moving, but this just sitting around was killing me.

"How you holdin' up, Gramps?" I asked, trying to make my voice a little less thick.

"I am fine," He whispered, "Impertinent youth."

I snorted, and struggled for something else to talk about. He noticed, and threw another topic on the table.

"These nightmares, can you talk about them?"

"Damn, Makoto!" I blinked in surprise, "You don't freaking mince words, do you?"

"I am on old man," I was informed, "I do not have time to mince words."

I sat feeling like someone had thrown cold water in my face, which, I suppose, was what he had in mind... but; damn!

"Well?" he prompted when I didn't reply.

"No." I said sternly, "I can not. Absolutely, positively, no freaking way in hell. Do not go there."

I think I scared him a little. I hope I scared him a little; he was treading on thin ice.

"My apologies, young one." He bowed his head respectfully.

I snorted another soft laugh, "Forget it, old one."

He flashed me a wide smile.

I stretched my legs out and braced them against the opposite wall, pushing up with my arms and stretching muscles that were starting to cramp.

I was back around to the, I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm wet litany.

I realized after a bit that the light was starting to fade. I could have crowed.

"Is there a second shift that works on the second floor?" I asked, and received a negative shake of his head.

What had security figured out in the day I had given them? I was hoping that they thought Ito dead. I was hoping they hadn't found my jury-rigging in the tank room. I was hoping they hadn't found the body of the missing guard yet. I was hoping they hadn't found the jacket.

I was trying to decide if I should just try detonating it and running like hell. Maybe not the best idea, if they truly thought he was dead and the assassin long gone.

I continued to stretch and move, trying to get stiff muscles and sluggish circulation to respond.

Finally, when it was full dark out, I leaned across and found Ito.

"I'm going down to check out the entrance. Can you wait for me?"

There was a moment of frozen silence, and finally he whispered a shaky, "I think so."

"I'll try not to be gone long."

I slithered forward like some bizarre swamp creature rising up from the depths of a very bad movie.

The tunnel ran straight for another hundred feet or so, made a right angle corner and then I ran smack into a set of six or seven iron bars imbedded in concrete blocking me from the outside world. Shit. This was freaking going to take all night. I was not spending another night sitting in that damned tunnel. I reversed my course, and slogged back to Ito, risking the flashlight for a second when I thought I was getting close.

"Come on." I urged him up, "There's a slight complication, and we have a lot of work to do in a hurry."

He grabbed hold of my hand blindly, and I led the way back to the exit. I thought he was going to break down and sob when he saw the bars. He let go of me and grabbed hold of one to shake at it. It was solid as the stone it was set in.

"It's all right!" I hissed in his ear, "Stay calm."

There was a bit of light coming in from a clear night sky and the faint glow of distant streetlights. I bent and retrieved the knife from the sheath strapped to my leg under my pants and pulled the cutting wire out of the handle, pressing it into Ito's hands, making sure he had hold of it tight before pulling the mate to the knife out of the back of my jeans. I showed him out to wrap the wire around the bar and work it back and forth. He started on one end of the lowest bar while I worked on the other end. It was painstaking, and time consuming, and the small noise it was generating had my nerves on edge. More than once, I raised a hand in signal to stop, listening intently before bending back to work. It took me just over an hour to work through my end of the bar, and I thought my back was going to break and my fingers fall off.

I coiled my wire back into my knife and moved to take over Ito's end. I put my lips next to his ear and said, "Hold the bar, and don't let it fall."

He nodded, giving over his sawing with obvious relief. He was only about half way through. It took me another half an hour. He was able to hold the bar until I could catch it out of his trembling hands and put it carefully aside. I put the second wire away and turned back to him.

"Don't give out on me now; we're in the last lap."

He just nodded, and I moved passed him, getting down on my belly to worm my way partly out through the opening we had made to look around. The wall of the culvert sloped away below me, but there were ladder rungs embedded in the concrete wall rising above us. I was sure I could pull myself out and climb up the outside of the tunnel grate and reach the ladder, but I wasn't sure Ito could.

I withdrew my head and shoulders from the opening and motioned him to have a look. He went belly down in the slimy water without hesitation, yearning for the outside air, I'm sure.

He pulled his head back in after a few minutes and gestured up with a raised eyebrow. I nodded, and he looked doubtful. I leaned close, "Up or down. If we go down, I don't know how far we'll have to go before we can find a place to climb back out."

He looked grim and nodded sharply for me to go first. I gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and wormed my way outside until I was hanging on the lowest, uncut bar, and waited for him to join me. I clung to the bar with my good right hand, and got a fistful of his shirt when he finally got himself worked out of the tunnel, holding tight until he had pulled himself up high enough to get a good solid grasp of the bars.

"Hang tight." I warned him, and let go so I could pull myself higher, and with my feet now braced on the tunnel bottom, I grabbed him again, and helped hoist him up until he had both hands and feet on the bars. We were able to climb side by side until we got to the ladder itself, and then I stopped him for a moment and whispered, "When you get to the top, stay down. Crawl out of the way, but stay down."

He nodded, and I boosted him up, and followed close on his heels. But when he got to the top, not only didn't he crawl out of the way, he ducked back down and stared back at me with panic on his face. I pulled the detonator out of my pocket, keyed it, and hit the button before I had much time to think about it.

It was easily twice the power of the charge I had set off yesterday, and even with our distance from the site, I could feel the vibration of it right through the rungs of the ladder we clung to. There was shouting and cursing from a very frighteningly close range, but then the gratifying sound of pounding feet retreating from our area. After several long moments, I nudged Ito, and he again peeked over the edge of the culvert. This time, he pulled himself over the lip, and rolled away to make room for me. I climbed out quickly, and pulled him toward the cover of some scrub brush near the edge of the culvert. I could see flames in the distance, and grinned. There wasn't a sign of anyone around, and we had come out not three blocks from where I had parked the rental car.

I pulled him to his feet, and found him almost hanging on my arm, "Not much further." I urged him, "If our incredible luck holds a little longer, I have a car."

I ripped the Galitron insignia off his shirt as we staggered off, reaching back and pulling the tie out of my braid. I hadn't been seen, the only sign I had left behind that I was aware of was the credit card I had ordered the pizza with that might possibly be traced to the short haired Duo who had checked into that first hotel. I shook my head to free the hair from the last of the braid and concentrated on evening out our pace to something that didn't look like outright flight. In the distance, I heard the sound of sirens.

I almost cried when we came around the corner and the little rental car was still sitting where I had left it. I fished the keys out, grabbed my duffle out of the trunk, pushed it and Ito into the back seat and piled in behind the wheel. Then I pulled us sedately away from the Galitron building, even though I was shaking so bad, my teeth were chattering.

"Makoto?" It was an effort to speak at normal volume, and I had to call twice before he heard me.

"Yes?" He too had to force himself not to whisper, and he giggled a little.

"There's dry clothes in the bag, see what you can do for yourself."

I heard the sound of the zipper, and the rustling of cloth, and then the grunting sound of him trying to change clothes without sitting up. I hadn't had to tell him to stay down.

I kept to side streets and worked us slowly through the city, doing absolutely nothing that would draw anyone's attention to us.

At length, the back seat got quiet, and Ito said "Ah; that is much better. Thank you."

"No problem." I muttered, most of my attention focused on my surroundings and my driving.

After a minute, he said, "Duo? Are you... awake now?"

I laughed, "Adrenaline is a wonderful thing." I glanced in the mirror, but couldn't see him. It made for a bizarre conversation.

"You should get out of your wet things as well."

"After I get us out of the city. I don't want to stop until we're far from here."

He grunted.

"Makoto," I smiled into the darkness, "go to sleep. I'll be fine. If I start getting sleepy, I'll turn the radio on, Ok?"

It was very quiet after that, and I was left with nothing but the driving, which, of course brought back memories of Heero. After an hour or so, I actually had to look at the passenger seat to make sure he wasn't sleeping there beside me. My heart was a quivering mess in the center of my chest; he was going to be so mad. What if he didn't forgive me? What the hell would I do? I must have sighed.

"Duo?" Came Ito's voice from the back seat.

"I thought you were asleep?" I smiled.

"I was, for awhile." He did sound a little better, "Can I sit up now?"

I chuckled, "Sure. I think it wouldn't hurt. We're a couple of hours out of the city."

His head popped into view, and he looked around like a thirsty man at an open bar, dawn was just starting to color the sky. I wondered how long he had been in that place.

He glanced at me, after a minute and frowned. "You're still in those wet clothes."

I chuckled, "Yes, I am."

"You need to get out of them." His voice was, for all the world, a worried grandparent.

I grinned happily at him, "I was thinking that very same thing myself."

So the next touristy looking place we came to, I pulled in, gave him money and sizes, and sent him in for clothes, while I gassed the car. It was one of those twenty-four hour places, and not very busy at that hour, so no one got a close enough look at me to see that I resembled nothing so much as day old road-kill.

Ito came out with a huge bag that proved to hold not just clothes, but a couple of those gaudy beach towels, and a variety of snack stuffs. I crowed with delight when I found the can of Mt. Dew in the bottom of the bag.

He handed me the bag, and pushed me toward the backseat. "I will drive for awhile, you change and get cleaned up."

So I gave him general directions to our destination, and firm orders to keep the speed a good five miles under the limit. Then I crawled into the back and pulled out our riches. I found a bottle of tea in the bag, and passed that forward to Ito. He immediately opened it and sipped it with a sigh. I was already half through my soda. There was a box of chocolate donuts, and I opened that next, wolfing down a couple before I passed that forward as well. I fished my brush out of my bag, and started with my hair. It took awhile to get the tangles out, and there wasn't anything I could do about the fact that it was filthy, but I could at least braid it and not look like something the cat spit back out. All my muscles were protesting, my knee was throbbing faintly, and my fingers were stiff. I could feel the new cuts on my shoulder stinging, and I had to wonder about infection.

The clothes I was in weren't really wet anymore, but still miserably damp, and I stripped out of them with a happy sigh. I pulled out one of the beach towels, a bright orange and blue thing with tropical fish all over it, and vigorously rubbed myself dry. I found jeans and a green t-shirt with an emerald-eyed black panther on the front of it. All the wet stuff, I crammed in the now empty bag, and pulled on the clean shirt. I had to lie down to get the jeans worked on over my stiff knee; it felt good to stretch my back.

The next thing I knew was the sounding of my own voice, hoarse from screaming. I came awake with a convulsive lurch that threw me to the floor of the car. It took me long minutes to realize we weren't moving, and I could distantly hear the sound of Ito's voice calling my name in near hysteria. I struggled up, pushing past the pain, and managed to get myself off the floor. The driver's side doors were both standing open, and when I blinked into focus, I saw Ito standing outside, in the road, horror and blood on his face. Gods; he'd tried to touch me.

"Duo?" His voice was shaking as much as I was.

"Makoto? It's all right now, it's over." I finally managed to push through my raw throat, "Did... did I hurt you?"

He came slowly toward me, cautious for obvious reasons.

"Are you... are you all right now?" He finally asked, and when I nodded, damned if he didn't climb into the back seat with me and put his arms around me.

"I am very sorry." He told me gravely, "I did not think there would be harm in your sleeping out here where no one could hear."

"It's Ok." I muttered, and again, because he hadn't answered me the first time, "Did I hurt you?"

"Only a split lip." He smiled sadly, "Less than I deserved for being so stupid as to try and touch you."

"I'm so sorry..." I began, but he put a stop to that with a fierce hug.

"My child." He murmured, "My poor, sweet child." And he stroked my filthy hair and for a split second, I was consumed with bitter jealousy of little Sarah, whom I had never met. I could have lost myself forever in the comfort he offered me, so I pushed him gently away, and put on the everything's-Ok smile and told him, "We have to get moving; this looks suspicious. We're not out of the woods yet. Can you drive some more?" Because I sure as hell can't right now.

He nodded, gave my arm a last pat, and got back behind the wheel. When he pulled back onto the road, I realized just how close he had come to wrecking the car getting it stopped.

So he drove, and I shook and trembled and swallowed the pain. My fingers found the dry towel, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I rubbed the palm of my hand and just tried to get focused, and eventually, it faded some and I was able to look outside myself again.

The sun was high in the sky, and the clock on the dash said it was afternoon. Well, at least if I had paid the price for it, I had gotten as much sleep as I ever managed without Heero... with me.

I carefully reconstructed the happy idiot mask, and leaned forward over the seat, "Hey, Gram... Makoto; any of those donuts left?"

His eyes met mine in the mirror, and I could see I wasn't fooling him in the slightest. And then he surprised me.

"Gramps is fine." His tone was soft.

I blinked, mask slipping slightly off center. Damn; I must be really scary when I go off into la-la land.

He passed me a donut, and we ate in silence.

We made a shuttle-port that evening, and when I checked, there were a pair of open-ended tickets waiting under the usual code name. I didn't breath freely until the shuttle landed and we were greeted by a welcoming committee that contained a few vaguely familiar faces. I gave Ito his data disks back, and his little packet of precious belongings.

"Well... Gramps, looks like you'll be able to give this to Sarah, yourself, after all."

"I have much to thank you for, impertinent one." The old guy smiled up at me, standing there wearing a pair of my rolled up jeans, and that ugly yellow shirt, just as though there weren't five elite security guards huddled around us in a circle.

"Just doing my job, old one." I smiled back.

"When this... war is over," he smiled wickedly, "I'd still like for you to meet my granddaughter."

I laughed, and impulsively, he threw his arms around me.

"Shinigami really is my code name," I said softly in his ear, "If you ever need anything."

He drew back and looked up at me with a spark in his eye, "Does that make me the Grandfather of Death?"

We laughed together, until the Captain got past fidgety into annoyed, and they hustled him off, leaving me standing in the middle of the terminal with my duffle over my shoulder. I watched them go, and the last thing I heard was,

"My dear Captain, I am an old man and would appreciate it if you would adjust the pace
of ... "

I vowed to track his progress. I'd never had a Grandfather before.

I made my tired legs take me to the service counter, and I booked passage back... home. Back to Heero. Departure wasn't for a couple of hours, and I used some of the left over money to rent a motel room long enough to shower. Getting the last of the tunnel filth out of my hair made me feel a hundred percent better. I was able to set aside some of the gnawing worries for a little while. Later I would think about the ache in my knee, the burning infection in my back, the... nightmares; Heero. Now, I just needed to get my sorry butt aboard that shuttle on time. Concentrate on the small things.

The flight was uneventful, and a caffeine pill washed down with a soda ensured there wasn't any added in-flight entertainment. A cab trip found the jeep right where I had left it, and I drug myself in, and made the drive back to the estate, only weaving across the center line two or three times.

I parked the jeep behind the other cars, and climbed wearily down, dragging my gear with me. I'd been gone five days. I limped around to the front of the house and wound up just standing there staring at the door. I didn't want to open it. I was afraid of what I was going to find. I didn't want the yelling to start. What if Heero wouldn't even speak to me? I struggled to find a mask that didn't crumble as I reached for it. I was so tired. It all hurt so much.

In my head, the door flew open and Heero ran out and swept me up in his arms and held me and... and... but that was in my head.

In reality, the door stayed shut and I just stood like an idiot staring at it, not able to make up my mind what to do. I couldn't get my face under control, and my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest. I didn't think I could handle his anger. His anger was so... dark, so ... uncompromising. My hands were shaking and I reached to rub at the scar on my right palm. That last round of caffeine pills might not have been the best idea I had ever had. I took a deep breath and tried again, managing another step forward.

"It won't open itself."

I whirled to find him on the steps behind me. My duffle bag fell off my shoulder and hit the porch with a thump that seemed overloud. I had to work to hide how dizzy the sudden movement had made me. I knew my face was naked and open, because I couldn't gather my wits enough to piece anything together to cover my raw emotions.

He looked tired, and a little rumpled, and there was a hint of the dark anger in the back of his eyes, but mostly there was just plain, pure relief, and all my fears washed away in that instant, and I found myself in his arms, not sure how I'd gotten there.

I kissed him, long and hard and deep, savoring the taste and feel of him. His hands couldn't seem to stop moving over me as though assuring himself of my reality.

"Don't you ever... "

"You wouldn't have... "

"I know... "

"Hold me... ."

Arms were tight and warm and real around me, but the shaking wouldn't stop and he was starting to look worried.

"Heero... the nightmares... they came back."

His eyes widened with the implication, "Gods, love... "

My knees were turning to water under me, but his arms were solid and strong, and I stopped fighting it, and just let go. His horrified, "Duo!" was the last thing I heard before slipping away into blessed, peaceful, nothingness.

end

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