Title: Life In Three Steps
Author: Karen, The Huntress
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters
Warning: Shounen ai, sorry no lemon this time
LIFE IN THREE STEPS
A Gundam Wing Trilogy
Part One: Aftermath
The silence was almost as deafening as the battle roar that had sounded its full fury only moments before.
Duo's head rested heavily on the cockpit seat's headrest. Sweat and grit, the usual dust thrown up during combat, ran in shiny stripes over his face. Long bangs damp well passed his hairline stuck in the oily film streaking his cheeks. One clump of the chestnut tresses was matted with blood from a gash above his eyebrow.
Frayed strands feathered out from his unkempt braid tangling on his jacket front. With more effort than usual Duo gathered the lengthy mane tossing it back over his shoulder.
His entire body ached. Swollen hands clutched the control rods but his numb fingers were no longer sure of their grip. Taking in a labored breath, sucking more gritty residue into his already scratchy throat, Duo exhaled slowly. The soft sigh that followed further accented his weary condition.
The cockpit stank from stale air. Burned out circuits and relays still smoldered causing his lungs to seize with each intake of the foul fumes. And, of course, the envior-exchange was yet another system that didn't seem to the functioning properly. But judging from the array of flashing red warning lights there was not much on the battle scarred Deathscythe Hell that was left in working order.
The ebony blanket of space, studded with a thousand flickering pinpoint of starlight, was strewn with all manner of debris. Rent material from Taurus and Leo suits, scattered among the traces of at least twenty Mobile Dolls, drifted aimlessly in all directions.
Duo tried not to think of the human remains mangled within the twisted wreckage floating in the same death-cold silence that lingered his cockpit's small confines. Parts of Mechas that had not been vaporized by the his Gundam's weapon's searing heat offered mute testimony to the terrible carnage of war.
So many dead. Lives snuffed out in a single fiery instant, with one sizzling slice of his beam scythe.
Fighting the sickening sensations the morbid scene produced Duo reminded himself that he and his fellow pilots had not started the fight. The OZ forces had picked the time and place for the apocalyptic encounter.
He had defended himself, nothing more. After all what was the OZ Flight Commander thinking? What did he expect? That Duo would give up.
Surrendering to circumstances or fate's oftentimes fickle moods had never been in Duo Maxwell's nature. Not during his childhood on the streets of L2 or after the destruction of the Maxwell Church and certainly not in the face of any Alliance threat.
No retreat was not his style. OZ had issued the challenge. Duo had merely took the hand they had dealt him and played the game out to its final, fatal conclusion.
Hands cramped in protest as stiff fingers released their stress-constricted grasp on the control rods. Wiping stringing sweat from his eyes Duo blinked twice before his tear-blurred vision cleared.
"02," a voice sounded through the communication monitor, "are you there?" Heero asked anxiously as the grainy imaged of Duo's friend and fellow freedom fighter popped on the screen.
Duo once again moped away the stubborn film clouding his sight. Another hard breath rattled in his chest before he could reply.
"Yeah I'm still here." he answered hoarsely.
"Are you all right?" Heero wondered not at all satisfied with the wheezy resonance rising through Duo's throat.
"I will be." Duo declared even though a raspy cough shook deep in his clogged lungs.
Heero steely cobalt eyes stared through the dusty screen trying to better see Duo's pale features. "You don't look good." he observed, "Are you hurt?"
With extra effort Duo straightened his sagging posture leaning at a lopsided angle into the restraint harness for much needed support. The rearrangement placed him closer to the monitor as he strained to see if Yuy had suffered any ill affects from his part in the enemy confrontation.
"It's nothing that won't heal." Duo decided, "Eventually." he added with a forced smile.
"Nothing can keep the great Shinigami down." he boasted clasping his hands behind his head then winced as a sharp pain grabbed across his battered ribs.
"As soon as Quatre, Trowa and Wufei get here," Heero stated, "we will head back to Earth. We are going to need some serious quality "down time" after this battle."
"I know." Duo agreed gazing out at the sea of blasted and broken Mobile Suits parting on either side on Deathscythe Hell's wake.
"Damn what a mess." Duo sighed.
Forcing, quite persistence, recurring memories deeper into the dark recesses of his mind Duo hoped he could once more keep at bay the demons of death and destructions. That once again the God of Death could ward his soul against the senseless war's menacing madness.
"Just one more time." he whispered as he guided Deathscythe in line behind Wing Zero, "After all nothing can keep Shinigami down." he repeated praying the brittle bits of his sanity would not break away altogether.
Part Two: Questions of War
Heero's boots struck solidly on the maintenance bay floor as he walked among five Gundams cradled securely in a latticework of steel beams and cables. Cold currents blowing through the open receiving doors brushed bitterly over his face. An eerie quiet as chilled as the steady gusts accompany his solitary crossing.
He raised his head craning his neck to gaze up at Wing Zero's full height. Pushing heavy hair from his brooding eyes Heero stared at the towering titan aligned shoulder to shoulder with its fellow "mock human" warriors. The Mecha's vacant "eyes" stared back with a cold fixed gaze that sent a phantom shiver through Yuy's soul.
Alone in the building's otherwise vast emptiness Heero could clearly hear the weary sigh that escaped over his lips. The rush of air, despite its whispered tone, almost seemed to echo above the hollowing wind. The sigh's hissing, drifting back into Yuy's ears, was as harsh as if he had given into his mind's pressing urge to scream out loud.
Earlier Heero Yuy had engaged yet another OZ enemy. Their destruction had been dispatched with his usual cold detachment, the same distance the Perfect Soldier always maintained in the heat of battle.
With the Zero System as his "eyes" and "ears" it was easy not to be blinded by the raw energy explosions. Easier still not to witness the resulting disintegration of both the machines and the men inside. It was simple to shut out the high-pitched hum of discharging beam weapons. To become deaf to the whine of severed metal and the screams of human travails.
So why, this time, did he not feel the same numbness that always set in after the fight? Something uncomfortable gnawed at his gut, a nagging sadness that wouldn't go away. An emotional response so foreign, so disturbing that it's very nature threatened to negate all his stoic training.
"Heero." Duo called as he traversed the labyrinth of Mobile Suits, "There you are."
"Heero." he repeated sensing that although his comrade's body was there his mind was focused elsewhere.
Duo paused as the locked upwards gaze of Heero's narrowed eyes directed his sight to level a lingering look at their mechanized Soldiers of Death.
"What are you thinking about?" Duo finally wondered aloud after the silence between them demanded the question.
"That they should have never been built." Heero answered letting another uncharacteristic sigh mingle with the chilling breeze.
"It's not the machines that maim and kill." Duo declared reading Heero's mind with a sudden empathetic connection that took him by surprise.
Duo laid a hand on Yuy's arm keeping the intruding touch light, "It is the men who can't find any other means to sort out their differences that destroy lives. It is their pride that ruins peace."
Heero turned slowly to face his friend. The brooding cast in his cobalt centers of sight now centered on Duo.
"Are we those men?"
Duo shook his head, "I don't know. Maybe." he confessed his own confusion, "But we didn't start this conflict. Most of it began before we were born."
Now Duo's liquid violet eyes locked with the puzzling, almost painful, aspect of his partner's steely stare. "I guess, somehow, we got stuck in the middle of all this madness and now we have to fight our way out."
Heero shook his head returning his sight once more to the indifferent death machines. "Has all these technological nightmares allowed men to become so detached from the killing that they no longer recognize death as the final outcome? Have we become so jaded by the impersonal contact that we have forgotten about the human factor involved?"
Duo stepped around studying the normally impassive pilot. There was a strange faraway look in Heero's eyes that Duo knew emanated from his troubled soul.
"This isn't like you, Heero." Maxwell said still studying his friend's face as he searched for the source of Yuy's unusual philosophical examination of mankind's warring habits.
Heero didn't reply, his attention held fast by his Gundam's features fixed in its unemotional, quite apathetic, form so much like his own harden heart.
"Will there ever be a time we won't need to fight?"
Duo shrugged his shoulders perplexed by both the spark of Heero's humanity that had suddenly surfaced and his own heartache over the lives Shinigami had claimed.
"Yeah. Someday." he answered his voice barely audible above the moaning wind as it sounded so much like the cries of forlorn souls that were as lost as he and Heero.
Heero heard the crying, too and his heart answered back with the same desperation.
This time Duo could offer no sure answer. He shrugged again as his eyes met the merciless malice in his Mecha's gaze that bore straight into his soul.
Part Three: One Small Comfort
Twilight surrounded the Earth encampment. Nestled in a grassy clearing, bordered by thick timber stands, the abandoned warehouse that now served as a makeshift Operations Base loomed darkly against the dusky sky.
The sun had only moments before disappeared below the horizon leaving tinted traces of the sunset hues. Wispy clouds, streaked with colored layers ranging from dragon's eye red to purple and finally pale pink, were quickly becoming scattered by the constant wind.
Three campfires threw up wavy shadows over the tree line as their flickering flames made a feeble attempt to ward off the increasing dampness and night chill. Some thirty meters away five giant Gundams remained hidden, tucked in securely for their evening repose.
The Mecha's five pilots had received a warm welcome as both the war-weary soldiers and the displaced refugees showed their gratitude for the brave young men's role in the earlier battle.
Although the combat had been waged in space they all knew the importance of the victory. One more stinging blow had been delivered to OZ. One more venomous head had been severed, one more enslaving limb amputated.
While everyone knew this battle by no means ended the war it had rallied his or her hope.
If they could continue to cut off more limbs, slice through more arteries the resulting trauma might so weaken the one part that the whole of the murderous organization would be critically debilitated. If each pocket of resistance could cut away one piece of OZ perhaps in time the entire body would bleed to death.
The evening meal had been simple fare but the limited menu really didn't matter as none of the pilots had much appetite. As an ebony nocturnal blanket shrouded the camp and a canopy of stars blinked out one by one, the Gundam Masters had sought out some privacy as they tried to put the battle demons to rest at least for the night.
Heero sat alone where the forest's shadow-veiled fringes met the firelight's faint glow. He had deliberately moved away from the fire's illumination. Away from the people and the voices that no matter how soft their tone seemed to grate along his tense temples and bounce inside his head.
His back slumped against a tree trunk. His head was bowed as mental pictures of the fierce fight were replayed with terrifying clarity over and over again.
Rubbing his hands over stress-knotted muscles bunching up at the nape of the neck Heero tried to exorcise the troubling thoughts that would not let him have the simplest peace. So absorbed in this exercise in futility he did not notice Duo's approach.
"Do you want to be alone?" Duo inquired as his shadow falling across Yuy's face redirected his friend's attention.
Deathscythe's Master kept a measured distance not assuming that Heero wanted or needed his company.
Again Heero ran his hands over his face pushing sweat-damp hair from his eyes, "No join me." he invited patting the ground beside him.
Duo settled down using the same tree trunk for support. Tilting back his head Maxwell allowed his mind to wander, momentarily mesmerized by the shuddering leaves rustling fitfully overhead. Between the quivering branches Duo caught a fleeting glimpse of the moon rising for its nightly flight.
"It was rough today." he stated with a heavy exhalation knowing Heero understood exactly what he meant.
Heero nodded but offer no verbal response.
"I hope we don't see that kind of action again anytime soon." Duo wished continuing the one-sided conversation.
Heero's shoulders sagged further. Burying his face in his hands his lean body shook slightly as he fought fatigue and tears welling behind his tightly closed eyelids.
Noticing the sudden posture change Duo leaned nearer, "Hey are you all right?" he asked in a concerned tone, "You're not sick are you?"
"I'll be fine." Heero lied opening his eyes before the salty moisture spill over and ran down his cheeks betraying his false claim.
Duo leaned forward to better see his partner's misty blue eyes through stray strands of chocolate tined hair.
"Did you know pilots that OZ had recently pressed into service manned a large number of those Mobile Suits?" Heero whispered, "That most of them received little training before being sent into the fray?"
Duo shook his head, "I hadn't really thought about it." he honestly admitted.
"Well I have!" Heero snapped back catching Duo completely off guard with the harsh reply.
"Unfortunately OZ does not care about the innocence of people only their cause." Duo reasoned trying not to sound too cold in his observation.
"We didn't have any more choice than they did." Duo declared reminding Heero that they had become soldiers by the callous calculations of five scientists who had their own selfish agenda.
"We didn't make the rules, we just followed them. We did what had to be done so that the generals and damned bureaucrats would not have to get blood on their hands." Duo paused realizing that his sentences were beginning to run together. "We had no choice." he repeated lowly with a heartsick sigh.
"I don't know how much more I can take of this madness." Heero proclaimed as another shivering wave coursed over.
Now Duo was truly frightened for his friend. Heero had always been so strong in both body and mind. But for some time Duo had sensed that the carefully crafted facade Heero presented to the world had begun to crack.
This hint of vulnerability had stirred something deep within Duo's heart. The same protectiveness he had developed for the orphaned "street rats" of his childhood, the same sincere caring he had held for Father Maxwell and Sister Helen had been wakened once more in a most unexpected way.
Without a second thought, without considering the consequences or future implications of his actions, Duo cupped his hand under Heero's chin gently guiding his face upwards. With unusual softness is his own eyes Duo locked his sight with Heero's tear-glazed sight.
"It will be all right. I promise I will make it all right." he swore on his soul.
"I promise." Duo repeated then reaffirmed his pledge as he lightly brushed his lips over Heero's mouth.
Duo fully expected Heero to shrink back from the flirtatious gesture. He even gave strong consideration to moving away before Yuy's fist flew free in response to the presumptuous show of affection.
But to Duo's surprise Heero did not move. Whether Heero was held in place by shock, puzzlement or a deliberate desire not to withdraw he did not offered any resistance or threat of retaliation from the subtle caress. Instead his widened eyes were locked with Duo's loving gaze.
Duo's free hand wrapped about Heero's neck to steady his head. This time the full kiss was deeper, filled with more passion. Heero's arms slid around Duo's waist pulling them closer as his mouth parted to invited Duo's tongue to slip inside.
Breaths coming in excited pants and tongues entwining in eager exploration the friends, partners and, perhaps one day soon, lovers shared a magical moment. For one meager measure of time the war and all its suffering was forgotten. For that brief moment the hurt disappeared as they took one small comfort in their closeness.
When the kiss ended and their mouths parted with one last teasing taste Duo eased back enough to study Heero's flushed face.
Heero raised his fingers lightly tracing the tear tracks streaking Duo's silky cheeks. For the first time he was aware of how beautiful Duo was. Possessing both a striking outward attractiveness and an undeniable inner strength Duo Maxwell was far from his image of the vengeful Shinigami.
"It WILL be all right." Heero declared sure for the first time in his life he would not have to face whatever fate decreed alone.
He now had a soul mate. In Duo he could share his innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of ridicule or rejection. For the first time he was truly free.
Duo nodded in agreement as he, too, was experiencing his own self-awareness. "Together we can face anything." he announced with certainty of he and Heero's future as friends and lovers.
"It's getting late and we both need to sleep." Duo stated pushing to his feet. He offered Heero his hand helping him to stand. Intertwining his fingers with Heero's they once more shared a feathery kiss.
"Tomorrow will be better; I believe that with all my heart." Duo smiled Will you stay with me tonight?" he asked encouraging his partner with another kiss.
"Tonight and every other night afterwards." Heero announced his intensions to always have his koibito at his side.
End Part Three
Life In Three Steps--Karen Hickman--November 2001
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