Author: Sunhawk
2005-12-25

Silent Night

I didn't know until Duo mentioned it on that particular night, that it was Christmas Eve. I had long since lost the need to know the date, to know the season. It made very little difference to what I had become. I think, when I bother to dwell on it, that I went just a little bit insane in those long months of fighting after I lost my Gundam, before returning to space. Parts of it, to this day, are not altogether clear. There was just a drive to continue fighting. A need to not give up.

I think, sometimes, that I almost frighten Duo with that focus, not that he'd ever admit it, but he has a look that he gives me on occasion, that seems almost... haunted.

I don't really know how it came about that we ended up on so many missions together. Not like we were partners... none of us were. But we seemed to work well together, and I didn't question it. Didn't question that sometimes it felt nice having him beside me, knowing that he would watch my back when I'd lost the ability to care. Knowing that he would reach out and bring me back when the soldier J had made of me would have leapt right off a cliff in pursuit of the goal.

Somehow, over the months, Duo had become something of a safety net for me, and I wasn't sure how that had happened. Wasn't even sure if he understood how important he had become to me. How much of an anchor he was. He was just there, and I had found myself trusting him despite myself. Sometimes it was a relief... and sometimes it was just scary.

Like that night. That Christmas Eve.

We were in Kaunas, trying to stop the invasion of the Sanq kingdom. Romefeller was moving north, getting closer and closer to the border, keeping to the populated areas and making it impossible for us to meet them with Mobile Suits without ensuring that the civilian casualties would be... unacceptably high. They were high enough as it was.

Fighting as we were, on the ground, among the rebels... was something new for us. It was war on an entirely different level. It was somehow not as easy to ignore things when fighting on foot. In a Gundam, you never noticed the broken ruins of people's lives. Never smelled that metallic tang of blood mixed with smoke. Never heard the cries of the people as they searched for loved ones in the confusion.

Duo said it made him think of the stories told by the bomber pilots in the old wars. The pre-colony wars. Men who never had to set foot on the ground they destroyed. When Duo spoke of it, he looked... troubled. I didn't like to think of us as being like those men, and I don't think he did either. We didn't speak of that part, even though... I think we both felt it.

Duo and I had started out moving down what had once been the main street of town, with a squad of local rebels. Our goal had been to reach the city center where the enemy command post had been set up, and attempt to take out the commanding officers and break the communications net. We hoped the lack of direction would throw the occupying forces into enough confusion that Noin and her regulars could manage the job of pushing them back. Not that a victory at Kaunas would do more than delay the inevitable, but we were mostly buying time for Relena to hopefully win her own battle. A conquest on the floor of the council chambers, at the moment, was far more likely to help the cause than a win on the battlefield.

Somewhere between the river crossing and the downtown... we'd lost the other rebels. I don't know if they were killed in the fighting, or if we had just become separated. Or, perhaps, the men who had volunteered had decided that living to fight another day was the better part of valor, and had simply abandoned us. I'm not really sure, but by the time we passed what had been the public library five blocks out... it was down to just me and Duo.

I had taken the north side of the street, and Duo the south. We tried to keep each other in sight, but the debris and the abandoned cars made it difficult. Sometimes, as I looked across for him, he seemed almost part of the smoke and shadows. Our advance was slow as we tagged forward, laying down cover-fire for each other. I dropped down behind a pile of bricks that had once been part of a balcony, checked my load and took over firing at likely spots ahead of us. I distantly heard Duo grunt as he turned the firing over to me and made his run. He darted and dodged, running low in a way I hadn't mastered... managing to keep himself down while still exhibiting impressive speed. He passed my position, ducking into the shadow of an over-turned car. I knew he was in position when he unlimbered his rifle and began to fire.

I shouldered mine and followed, running parallel and seeking shelter in the shattered front of what had once been a pleasant looking café. We progressed that way a mere quarter-block at a time. From car to tree to pile of stone to stoop. Whatever offered us cover in which to shelter.

I was kneeling in the dust and dirt, firing methodically down our path, when I heard a sound from Duo that I had not heard before. I couldn't spare the attention to look his way, but I heard the cadence of his steps falter and his gait change. Some part of me knew that something was seriously wrong, but the rest was consumed with refusing to consider it. I put all my focus into my firing, doing my best to drive the enemy under cover, making sure Duo had the distraction he needed. He didn't move into the position I'd expected him to, but almost fell behind what had once been a raised planting bed, almost directly across from me.

When I realized he was under-cover, I dared to duck down to look his way. I could just make him out, sitting on the ground and leaning against that wall, all detail lost to the dark. Sitting. Facing the wrong direction. Just sitting. His rifle in his lap and not his hands. Just...

I ignored it when my hands began to shake.

'Duo?' I hissed and he responded with an odd little cough.

'Shit,' he muttered, almost as much to himself as to me. 'Ah... ooops?'

'Report!' I snapped, the anger coming easily to cover the fear. I hate it when he jokes to hide the truth. Hate it because it's always a truth that shouldn't be hidden.

'I... I...' he stammered, voice almost lost to the thirty feet or so of distance. It was very... unsettling to hear the thread of fear in his voice. Duo knew no fear.

'Are you hit?' I demanded, falling back on rote. I found myself leaning dangerously in his direction and had to force myself back under cover.

'I'm... evaluating,' he told me gruffly, so I waited and watched movement from him that I couldn't really make out. He seemed to be hunched in on himself and I feared what he would report.

'Gut shot,' he finally told me. 'I think I might be done with this running thing.' I growled my frustration, low enough that I didn't think he could hear, but there was a quiet little, 'sorry,' a moment later.

Is it totally insane that something happening to Duo had never entered my mind? I... can't really explain it; the logical part of me always knew that we were soldiers and soldiers sometimes died. But... not Duo. It was like watching the rock of Gibraltar crack.

My rock.

I dared a glance over my pile of debris and fired off a couple of shots, just to keep the enemy cautious. 'Are you mobile?' I asked tersely and could hear the soles of his boots as they scraped against broken concrete.

'Not to speak of,' he replied after a long few moments, trying to sound as though he wasn't the least bit bothered by the fact.

'Shit,' I muttered to myself and ran a hand through my hair.

'I believe I already said that,' he returned, but then ruined the affect with a cough that ended in a pained little wheeze.

A bullet came just a little bit too close to where my ass was parked and I quickly returned fire, shifting right after, so they couldn't home in on the muzzle flash. I wondered how long before staying stationary was going to get us very dead.

'You need to haul it on out of there, Yuy,' Duo said then, his thoughts mirroring my own. I shook my head, though I doubted he could see it.

'I'll never get the rest of the way alone,' I told him and was pretty sure I heard him sigh.

'I meant retreat,' he clarified. 'Reconnect with the rebel...'

'Shut up,' I cut him off, not able to hear him say it. 'I'm thinking.'

'Don't be an ass,' he said, managing a faint chuckle that almost sounded genuine. I didn't respond, and after a few minutes I heard him shifting around and then the sound of tearing cloth. I imagined him doing his best to stop the bleeding, and shivered.

Funny how the prospect of losing something, makes you reevaluate your priorities.

I was suddenly very much unconcerned with reaching the city square, and very much more concerned with reaching Duo.

'Do you think you can get in a position where you can give me some cover fire?' I asked. 'I need to get over there.'

There was an exasperated sigh. 'I'll give you the damn cover, but you need to get the fuck out of here. I doubt I can even stand up, much less walk. You're only going to get yourself killed along with...'

I snarled and fired off several rounds at distant shadows down the street, unable to hear him finish the sentence.

Bullets immediately pocked the ground around me, and I knew they were homing in. There was a long bit of silence before Duo dared, 'Heero...' in a gentle tone.

I didn't respond to it though, and he didn't seem to know what he wanted to say anyway. We were quiet for a moment, and I could hear the pained pant of his breath. 'You get ready,' I finally told him, not able to bear that sound. 'I'm moving.'

I think he growled outright. 'For God's sake, Yuy...' he began, but he didn't finish it, whatever the thought was, because we were both brought up short by the sound of distant bells. Not bells of alarm, not klaxons of warning, but church bells. They sounded very... surreal. After a moment, they were echoed from another part of the city.

Everything else just... went still.

'What the hell?' I muttered, and Duo let out with an odd little sound.

'It's... Christmas,' he told me, voice wistful and something else I couldn't identify. 'It's midnight... it's Christmas day.'

I blinked across where I could just see Duo's form, and for a moment, thought I might have met his gaze.

'Merry Christmas, Heero,' he said so softly I almost didn't hear it. I couldn't help it... I laughed.

It won me a spark of surprised laughter in return and then he was quiet for a bit. The whole town seemed to be silent for that moment, while we all listened to the sounds of the bells. They sounded eerie, echoing in a quiet that hadn't existed just moments before. I suddenly felt the cold I hadn't had time to notice before. I turned and sat down, mirroring Duo's position with my back to the enemy. I was just... very tired.

'You know,' Duo told me conversationally. 'There's an old legend that during one of the Earth wars, the soldiers on the two sides lay down their guns on Christmas Eve and sang Christmas carols together. They supposedly came out of the trenches, shared a few drinks and declared a truce for Christmas.'

I snorted. 'That sounds like an urban legend.'

'It does, doesn't it?' he said softly, and I suddenly wondered if he were fading on me. 'But I like to believe.'

I shook my head, not really able to disabuse him of his faith, and who knew? Maybe it was true. It didn't seem likely to me, but then... no one was shooting at me at the moment either.

Duo chuckled softly, almost to himself, and then I heard his rifle scrape gently against concrete. I turned sharply his way, sure that he'd just laid his weapon aside, but I couldn't see well enough to tell. I opened my mouth to admonish him, but then closed it again... thinking better of it. Somehow, it just didn't seem to matter. I wondered at myself, but wasn't quite sure where the soldier had gone.

'Look Heero,' Duo called out, and his voice held a spark of some childish awe. 'It's snowing.'

I looked up and found the flakes just beginning to come down, falling fat and wet, and so utterly silent. The bells still sounded, ringing merrily and I shivered.

'I love the snow,' Duo said with an air of serenity about him, 'Sister Helen used to tell us about snow, but I didn't believe her until I came to Earth and saw it with my own eyes.' There was something in his voice that was very calm, and I don't know why... but it frightened me. 'Have you ever been to midnight mass, Heero? The choir is so beautiful. Somehow... on Christmas Eve, it was like hearing angels sing.'

I didn't reply, but he didn't seem to need me to. There was a moment of the oddest silence, full of a strange... anticipation, and suddenly... Duo began to sing.

I had never heard him sing before, and I doubt I was hearing him at his best, sitting in a ruined city with a bullet in him. But... I thought his voice was as beautiful as any choir he might ever have known. Surprisingly deep, somehow mellow, and strong despite the obvious pain behind it. It should have seemed a foolish thing, but it didn't. It just felt right somehow.

'Silent night, holy night...' he sang, while I sat and listened like we were sitting in a church somewhere and not in the middle of a broken city. In the middle of a battlefield.

The bells still tolled behind Duo's voice and it flitted through my mind that perhaps the city wasn't so broken after all. I knew the bells had sounded first, but it seemed as though they rang only to accompany Duo.

'All is calm, all is bright...' and then somewhere ahead of us, somewhere in the dark, another voice joined in. Something in my chest felt... odd. Later, I would remember looking up and watching Duo's snow fall out of the dark, but I wouldn't remember the exactly moment I laid my rifle aside. I wouldn't remember standing up and starting the walk across the wide, exposed street.

Duo didn't falter, perhaps he didn't see me coming, and I'm just as glad because some part of me fully believed that he sang me across that street. That his voice protected me until I reached his side. A silly notion, I suppose, but that's how it felt... as though his voice were wrapped around me, and guided me across that open expanse.

I should have been afraid, but I wasn't.

I'd had the med-kit with me and Duo's voice faltered as I bent to packing his wound, finally stopping all together with a pained gasp. The shadow voice hesitated as well, seeming to stumble on the lyrics, and a third voice picked up the second verse.

'Shepherds quake at the sight...' and the bells still rang their silver thread behind the words. I picked Duo up in my arms, and I walked away from that place, our weapons left lying in the dust, slowly being covered by the snow.

Duo's head was heavy against my shoulder, but I could hear the bemused smile in his voice as he said, 'I think... maybe I believe.'

'You believe in your spirit of Christmas,' I whispered against the top of his head. 'And I'll... believe in you.'

end

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