12-22-2002

Title: Somewhere Beyond Midnight
Author: Karen, The Huntress
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters
Category: AU
Pairing: 1x2
Warning: angst, language
Feedback: Always appreciated

Somewhere Beyond Midnight
by Karen, The Huntress

Part One:

Heero didn't remember much. He could recall the familiar hollow thuds as energy beams and other varieties of hurled missiles struck Wing Zero. He remembered feeling the Mecha shudder around him and smelling the stench of burned circuits as the cockpit began to fill with blue-gray smoke and choking fumes.

What was not as clear in his fog-enveloped senses was Zero's controls becoming sluggish, some not cooperating at all. As the smoke and fumes clouded his vision and clogged his lungs, it was not clear Heero Yuy was losing control.

A faint recalling of a sound strike rocking his Gundam had registered somewhere in Heero's failing consciousness. A shimmering memory of fighting to stay awake momentarily blazed in his mind, then nothing after that. He did not recall Wing Zero tottering, lurching heavily to one side. He didn't feel the trembling vibrations as his mock human warrior skipped across the treetops, snagging dangling "legs" on a large evergreen, twisting and spinning downwards.

The final impact as Zero plowed, shoulder first, into a rocky hillside, was not recollected in his hazy floating between some degree of awareness and total oblivion. He did not hear the awful scraping as his Wing Gundam pushed up a hefty mound of dirt and rocks before ending its jarring trip with a sudden jerk and an abrupt stop.

He didn't feel the tightening around his body as the restraint harness wound about him like a giant constricting spider web. Heero hung limply in the harness. The right strap pressed into his throat threatening to further compromise his already shallow breathing irritated and lessened by the fumes quickly replacing what small amount of breathable air remained.

Now a silent mist swirled about Heero's battered body. Shadowy images shrouded his mind. Icy fingers crept and clawed all over leaving behind a debilitating numbness he no longer had the strength to ward off.

Heero didn't know that the only warmth touching his body was blood oozing from minor scratches and many more major cuts, one in particular, above his left eye. The worse injury emitted a steady, free-flowing stream from a deep, nasty gash on his inner forearm. The redden rush had already slid down Heero's arm's length as it hung over the cockpit seat's edge. Its crimson flow had gathered for a moment on his grimy, sweat streaked palm before dripping in continuous droplets from his fingertips forming a small bloody pool on the floor.

Sounds of a different pitch and tone from the battle noises echoed in his hearing. The crackling and sizzling of burned-out circuits and relays. The whine of labored gears still operating but their driving force going nowhere.

The sound of a voice diminished greatly by the thick, armored plated hatch covering could not be comprehended by Heero's failing senses. The shape snap of the hatch seal breaking loose, the groaning of its stubborn resistance to being opened fully, none of the sounds were heard or understood.

A second sensation of heat joined the tacky, bloody flow. This time the warmth was of a human nature as a hand closed over Heero's shoulder. Its partner gently pushed aside damp, stringy bangs from Heero's chilly forehead. Something inside Wing Master's muggy mind told him he was being touched, but his sluggish senses couldn't respond to the tactical stimulation. Nether did his cloudy hearing perceive Duo urgently calling his name.

"Heero!" Duo's voice sounded again, "Shit, what a mess." he commented at the sight of Heero's scarlet soaked Preventers Uniform jacket.

Duo wiped his own watery, stinging eyes as they reacted to the noxious fumes. "I've got to get you out of here." he said more to himself than his lethargic fellow Gundam Pilot.

Duo knew, if the smoke was affecting him that strongly no longer than he had been exposed, Heero's lungs had to be filled to overflowing. The raspy wheezing rattling in his chest told Duo, without a doubt, the Pilot's lung's willingness to cope with the strangulating vapors had about reached their limits. The harness's pressure across Heero's windpipe further contributed to his extreme difficulty in breathing.

Duo reached into his pocket and retrieved a, thankfully clean, handkerchief. Folding the square into a triangle, he started at the point folding it upwards until a wide band was formed. Ripping wider the already rent jacket material Duo exposed the short, but deep cut. He wrapped end over end covering the hemorrhaging, then tied the ends tight enough to hopefully arrest the constant discharge without entirely cutting off the blood flow to the wounded extremity.

The acute angle at which the Gundam reclined into the hillside had predisposed it to a twisting of the frame. Duo knew, before he ever entered Zero, there was going to be problems.

Problem number one: Heero's tangled enclosure in the harness. His dead weight kept the emergency release from coming undone. So before Duo could free his comrade-in-arms, the tension on the bothersome straps had to be eased.

Slowly, carefully, Duo slipped his arms about Heero's slumping posture. Slower still he firmed up the hold and, as gradually as he could, shifted Heero's torso sitting it upright against the seat's back. A low, painful moan escaped over Heero's lips at the rearranging.

"Hold on, Heero." Duo pleaded trying his best not to make the pain worse.

The sound of Duo's voice, half-whispered in fear for his friend, forced its way through Heero's mind's muddled perceptions. Something, however slight, recorded its presence.

Heero forced one word to the surface of his mind's threshold, "Duo."

The name echoed in Heero's head but he wasn't at all certain it had enough power to be heard by the Deathscythe pilot he instinctive knew was with him.

"I'm here." Duo answered Heero's weak calling. "I'm sorry this is hurting, but I have to straighten you up to get you free. Just hold on a little longer."

With the tension relieved, the release gave up its sticking, but the sudden "letting go" only allowed Heero's limp body to sink further sideways. Duo shored up his hold supporting his friend's dead weight. Likewise, the sudden lose of pressure on Heero's throat restored the airflow but at an agonizing cost. The catching intake racked through Heero's chest sending waves of pounding pain coursing over his tormented system.

Duo leaned Heero forward letting his arms slid under Heero's arms, turning him until his body cleared the seat. Then, trying to keep Heero's back as straight as possible, he backed out of Zero dragging Yuy's battered body behind. The trip down the Gundam's warped frame was the most tenuous, time consuming part of the extraction operation.

Duo had to be sure of his footing. The last thing he wanted was to slip and send both himself and his injured comrade tumbling to the ground. The falling and hard contact, he knew, would be disastrous for both of them. Each step of the way, Heero moaned softly. Each shift of his body or change in direction caused more debilitating waves to engulf his feeble frailty.

Finally, the trip completed, Duo sat on the sandy soil holding his injury-racked comrade's shoulders against his chest. Heero's head rested on Duo's shoulder just below his collarbone. Duo could have easily laid his chin on the top of Heero's head.

Now Heero had begun to shiver. The late afternoon falling temperatures, cooling the dampness on his body and the previously unchecked bleeding from his arm had begun to take its toll. Duo removed his own Preventers jacket enfolding it snuggly around Heero's trembling form.

Problem number two: Where to find shelter as the quickly gathering darkness fell about the pair of Pilots. The easiest solution would have been to put Heero in Deathscythe and hurry back to the base. The biggest drawback to transporting Heero in the Gundam was, firstly, if Heero's condition went "sour" on the way back Duo could do nothing for him as he would be otherwise engaged in piloting the massive Mecha.

Secondly, with Heero stowed loosely in the limited space of the cockpit, Duo would not be able to fight. Should they run into any OZ patrols or other unfriendly Mobile Suits owned by other factions viewing the Preventers, the Gundams, and all they represented as enemies, Heero's bouncing around during the ensuing battle would make controlling Deathscythe next to impossible. Under those circumstances, Duo could not defend himself or Heero without risking further injury or death.

So the only course of action left opened to Duo was finding shelter on the ground as quickly as he could. The excitement, stress and worry over his fellow pilot were working just as hard on Duo. Now he, too, had begun to succumb to the chilling evening air. He, too, had started to shake; his breaths coming in tight gasps as the foul irritants from Zero's cockpit was affecting his lungs as well.

Pushing tousled hair from Heero's face, Duo leaned close to his ear, "Lay still for a minute while I make sure Zero is secure and the homing signal on Deathscythe is working properly." he instructed. "If the guys are going to have any hope of finding us in the hills that signal will have to be as strong as it can be." he added easing Heero to the ground.

Duo had no doubts Heero would comply with his wishes, in his weakened condition he had no other choice. But Duo also knew how crazy thoughts, prompted by injury and shock, could cause someone to act irrationally, endangering themselves and the others around them. He had seen it too many times to dismiss Heero doing or not doing anything. But he had to take the chance of leaving Heero for a few minutes, the homing signal was their only means of rescue. Once Deathscythe was located, Duo's fellow pilots could narrow their search pattern by following the secondary band signal emitted by Duo's personal communicator. But first they had to find the Gundam.

Duo shut Zero up and secured the hatch cover locking mechanism, then turn at attention to his Dark Angel Gundam. He checked the backup battery, twelve hours of reserve power. Probably only ten if the signal was set a maximum range. Ten hours, then it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

And to make matters worse, if they could get any worse, the battle damage to Zero had caused it to go off course sending it down at least thirty miles from its assigned extraction point. Combine the site remoteness, the hilly terrain and the dampening affect the night hours could have on the signal's strength and their chances of being located in a reasonable time span was just on the far side of impossible.

All the pilots, at one time or another, had been in more dire straights and survived. In fact this mission had been Trowa's first since he had been pulled from a heavily damaged Heavyarms not two months prior. And Duo didn't even want to think of Heero's suicidal lapse of judgment the time he self-destructed Wing.

"No, this wasn't so bad." Duo commented to himself as he closed up and secured his own messenger of destruction. Tucking his pistol into his belt, Duo started back.

Heero had rolled over on his side with his back to Duo. But long before Duo was close enough to see him clearly, he knew Heero's breathing had become more labored and the chills racking his slender frame had taken a stronger, more fearsome, hold.

"Come on we have to go." Duo said easing up the fallen Zero Master.

Heero tried to focus blurry eyes on his partner but was failing miserably in the effort, "Go where?" he whispered another stout shiver hitting him hard.

Bracing on knee on the ground, Duo pulled Heero into a sitting position, gave his rag doll like limpness a moment to adjust, then pulled up once more bringing Heero's up on wobbly legs.

"I'm not sure," Duo answered truthfully, "but we will find something before night falls." he promised struggling under Heero's almost dead weight.

"What time is it? came the strange question from Heero.

Duo paused trying to figure why the time would be important now, but glanced at his watch in compliance with his friend's request.

"Almost six. Why, do you have somewhere you need to be right now?" Duo teased trying to lighten the mood if only for a moment.

Heero forced a slight smile but offer no reply.

Duo leaned over placing his shoulder under Heero's chest sliding under and lifting his body over his own shoulder. "I sorry but this is going to hurt." he warned letting Heero's chest slid the rest of the way over.

He felt Heero draw in a quick breath, but his friend said nothing. Heero knew Duo was doing the best he could, besides protesting would not have changed anything except to use up what small measure of strength he had left.

As the skyline streaked over with stripes of pink and purple and gray, Duo took a deep breath, mustered all the fortitude he could and headed off across the clearing with Heero in tow. There would be somewhere for them, some shelter to protect him and his fallen comrade. Duo would not give up, not now.

Part Two:

Duo struggled under his fellow pilot's weight. Heero was not that much larger than Duo and didn't necessarily weigh that much more, but Mr. Yuy had a lot more solid muscle bulk on his slender frame. In a way it would have been better if the situation had be reversed. Heero probably would have had an easier time carrying Duo than the other way around.

But Duo had to play the hand fate had dealt him. One way or the other he was going to find some place of solace for his fallen comrade. But time was going short. The sunset kissed horizon was growing darker by the minute as the solar orb now slid quickly from sight.

Heero's upper torso moved against Duo's back with each step. For the most part his breathing was quiet but occasionally, if Duo walked to heavily on uneven ground, Heero would take in a catching breathe or moan. Duo winced in sympathy at each of Heero's involuntary sounds of discomfort but couldn't slow his pace or take time to rest. If they didn't find shelter before nightfall there would be no moonlight to guide Duo's steps.

The sky over the eastern mountains was growing darker, too, not from the wanning sun but from blackened storm clouds rolling in above the jagged peaks. The wind had also begun to kick up. There was a distinct scent of moisture mixing with the gathering clouds telling Duo that not only would they have to deal with the quickly dropping temperature but wind and rain as well.

"This is not looking good at all." Duo sighed under his breath as the rushing wind slammed into his back.

A hill, thankfully in a gradual incline, loomed ahead. Duo hoped against hope that on the other side was a valley or some wider plain and some sort of civilization. Focusing all his energy and mental fortitude, Deathscythe's Master started the climb.

The wind gusted once more its fitful blowing now speckled with cold raindrops. Duo stood atop the hill's chest peering down on a level expanse. A narrow dirt road snaked along the hill's bottom turning in an S-shaped curve before running into an intersecting roadway.

In the almost total darkness and the steady pelting of rain, Duo could just make out what had to be a structure of some kind. The building's unpainted wooden frame blended with the night but a rain slick tin roof betrayed its location. "Thank the fates." Duo said out loud starting towards he and Heero's refuge from the biting elements.

Standing all to itself in the center of a wide field, the building didn't seem occupied. There was no light showing through the grim streaked windows as Duo and his precious cargo approached. Once close enough for a more sure examination, Duo decided that it was not a human dwelling but some sort of barn or stable.

That was just as well. The last thing he needed to have to deal with was hostile people not taking a liking to him and Heero trespassing on their property. Being shot at by some irrational, irate or just plain angry householder was not Duo's idea of a pleasant end to an otherwise horrible day.

Three rough poles supported a rusted roof jutting out from the building's front. Old scattered straw covered the ground damp in places from the increasingly heavy dripping through the leaking tin. Duo eased Heero back over his shoulder trying to keep his body as straight as possible. But even his deliberate efforts to move Heero smoothly was rewarded with a sharper intake of air and a catching flinch. "Easy." Duo replied to his partners' obvious pain.

Twisting Heero around Duo sat him against the rough board wall being careful not to hit the ragged cut on his forearm. The crude bandage had done a fair job of checking the blood flow but the last thing Duo wanted then was to open up the previously free flowing gash.

It wasn't until Duo was free of Heero's heaviness did he realized just how tired and achy he had become. A tight painful knot had formed in the small of his back that no amount of stretching seemed to relieve. The seeping dampness and cold wasn't of much help either.

With a centering breath Duo grabbed the wide, equally rough, door wedging his cold cramped fingers into the narrow crack between the door and frame. There were two small holes where he assumed a handle of some kind must have been attached but, whatever form of grip was part of the original design, it has long ago broken free from the weather softened wood.

Slowly the space widened until more of his hand slid inside and finally, with a concerted effort, the portal swung back groaning on rusted hinges. The hinge's sharp squeak of protest told Duo it had been awhile since the stubborn door had been opened. The hesitant hinges caught once but soon gave into Duo's persistent pulling.

A dank, musty odor hit Duo in the face, seizing in his nostrils. A sucking breath induced by the foul smell traveled quickly down his throat. Eyes watering, Duo coughed and wheezed as the stench of decayed wood and mold assaulted his airway. Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand,he returned to his comrade. "Well it doesn't smell the best in there." he informed his partner wondering how much of his comment Heero was actually processing through his pain dulled mind.

"Come on, easy now." Duo instructed, "Let me do all the work." he continued slipping his arm around Heero's sagging chest. He was certain by Zero's Master's lethargic reactions that Heero wasn't going to give him any trouble. Once again the knot in Duo's back tightened up as he lifted Heeo's limp, almost dead weight.

"Duo." Heero called faintly moving about a little.

Duo staggered back as his partner's motion set him momentarily off-balance, "What?" Duo growled not really irritated at Heero as much as the trying situation's constant challenges.

"What time is it?"

Duo shook his head wondering why in the hell the time was so important. That was the second time Heero had inquired about the status of the hour. But Duo was too tired and fretted to waste any more energy wondering over Heero's reasons for wanting to know the time.

With some difficultly Duo twisted his arm around until he could see his watch. "It's almost 7:30." he advised. "Like I said before you got a date or something?" Heero just shook his head "no" seemingly satisfied with Duo's answer but apparently making the choice not to comment on Duo's sarcastic retort.

As Duo passed through the door it became apparent that the structure was a stable. To the left four stalls went from front to back the last ending at the far side. To the right, a larger room held an old two wheeled cart and several pieces of dry rotted leather harnesses and tacking used to secure the horse or horses to the cart.

Duo didn't know about such things, he had never been on a horse, nor did he ever wish to be. Heero could ride. Trowa had learned how in the circus and Quatre's family had always kept horses. He wasn't certain about Wufei since the subject had never come up with Nataku's pilot. But there were no horses in sight. In fact it seemed the only residents of the dilapidated dwelling were several gray rats that had scampered somewhere safe at Duo's entering and a pair of doves roosting in the eaves.

The air wasn't much fresher as he carried Heero down the row of stalls. The third appeared wider than the first two and there was a thicker layer of straw littering the floor. It's central location would also provide more shelter from the wind driven rain that was being forced between the wall's loose fitting boards. Duo did feel a drastic difference as he moved further into the rough enclosure.

With the side of his boot he heaped up a mount of straw to lend some support to Heero as he lowered him into the dusty leftover stalks. Zero's Pilot sank into the straw with a low moan as Duo slid his hand along his spine guiding his down slowly. Duo let his hand linger a moment on Heero's head making sure it would not flop to one side or the other. Carefully he aligned his neck until he was satisfied Heero's head would be held at the proper angle.

Duo again let his fingers curl in the dark tousled tangles of Heero's hair. The heavy tresses were damp from the rain and probably from some pain produced sweating. A tacky mass of rain refreshed blood had caused his bangs to stick to the cut above the left eye. The blue-black bruising on Heero's cheekbone below the same eye was swollen and taut causing the eye to be partly closed.

The storm had picked up pounding loudly on the tin roof like a Thunder God or some such deity was hurling stones from the angry heavens. The wind, too, had increased its fury slamming into the walls as if its intent was to topple the creaking structure on both Gundam pilots. Duo ignored the harsh noises concentrating instead on what he needed to do for Heero.

"It's not the best accommodations, certainly not the deluxe suite, but it was all I could afford on what they pay me." Duo announced trying to lighten his depressed mood. He knew his quite selfish attempt at humor was solely for his sake. If Heero was hearing him Duo knew he was not taking in many of the words and even less of their meaning.

At that point Duo wasn't certain Heero even knew he was there much less understood what was being said. Duo was becoming more and more concerned with his fellow pilot's unresponsiveness and he sure as hell didn't like the raspy sounds rattling in Heero's lungs or the ashen cast to his moist face.

"Damn, he fading fast." Duo observed with alarm, "I have to get him warm." he told himself pulling his hand from Heero's hair. "Hold on a little longer. Heero, you hear me?" Duo begged with a heartsick sigh.

He pulled the pistol from his belt laying it beside Heero's shoulder and surveyed his miserable surroundings. "There has to be something here I can use." he continued his self-discussion getting to his feet and once again wincing as his lower back ached with a spasmodic tightening.

Stepping from the stall's inadequate warmth, even though it's limited protection was still preferred to being totally expose to the hostile elements that seemed determined to find their way inside, Duo shivered as his own body heat was being rapidly depleted by the chilled wind and falling temperatures. He shook off the invading cold putting all his remain energy into finding some means to save his ill comrade.

Even though Duo eyes had adjusted to the limit light as night now completely swallowed up the daylight, he still couldn't see more than a few meters in front. He shuffled his feet more than walked feeling in way across to the stable's opposite side.

He really didn't like the idea of disturbing the heap of idle items that obviously not been used in a long time. The thought that a family of large, gray rats or some other vile creatures might call the dusty pile home was not at all appealing. Duo carefully lifted the first layer of moldy leather straps and harnesses ready to jump back quickly should something probably quite vicious strike out in an attack mode.

Nothing moved. "So far so good." he thought to himself testing the next layer. With a bit more confidence, but not dropping his guard, Duo slid the last of the discarded items aside. Beneath the tangled harnesses was what appeared to be a box or chest of some kind. Duo lifted the lid and leaned cautiously forward again ready to make a swift retreat should any beast be forthcoming.

To his amazement, as if fate had finally decided to lend a hand, Duo saw the chest held at least two heavy blankets. It was evident from the "horsy smell" on the thick woven material the blankets had been used on animals. But putting up with the unpleasant odor was a small price to pay in exchange for the warmth the blankets would provide.

Duo sighed pulling the blankets from the chest, then smiled with delight when he found a third hiding beneath the top pair. "We just might get through this after all." he proclaimed allowing the smile to widen a bit more.

Heero had slumped over when Duo returned. He realigned Heero's shoulders making sure his upper body was not lying too flat. He knew from countless previous experiences tending to one injured pilot or the other that breathing came a lot easier in a semi-upright position. His moving of Heero even though it was done as gently as he could produced a stiff jerk and a pitifully painful groan.

Duo's heart hurt as badly as Heero's body each time his partner's sounds of suffering touched his hearing. Daring to move Heero once more, Duo lifted his upper torso enough to slip one blanket behind his back wrapping it snuggly about his trembling frame. Another was spread over his entire length and tucked in as a second barrier against the biting cold.

Duo kept the third for his use. He couldn't help Heero if he allowed himself to succumb to the numbing chills that now also had a good hold on his own shivering body. Pulling the woven covering around his shoulders, Duo curled up beside Heero. Stretching one arm over his partner's chest Duo tightened his embrace hoping to add in own fading body heat to Heero's dangerously low core temperature.

Heero's let out a low groan but, much to Duo's relief, did seem to respond to the human contact. Heero with more strength than Duo believe he had turned to face Deathscythe's Master and with a long sigh rested his damp forehead against Duo's chest.

"Duo." he breathed out the name with a shaky wheeze.

"I'm here." Duo answered the calling tightening his enfolding arm.

Heero raised his dull eyes finding Duo face, "Are we there yet?" he asked reacting to whatever wild imagined notions his chill lanced mind was envisioning.

Duo brushed back the stubborn bangs determined to block Heero's sight, "Where are we going?" he replied hoping to get some idea of what muddled mental activity was floating among Heero's half-cognizant thought patterns.

"We have to get back to the base." Heero replied letting a sleepy sigh escape over his lips, "If we're late Wufei will really be pissed off."

Duo couldn't help but grin at the sight of Wufei impatiently waiting, as he had done so often in the past, for Zero and Deathscythe to return. He could see Wufei pacing, hear him mumbling under his breath, usually in Chinese, certain the tardiness of his brothers-in-arms was all Duo's fault. The result, no doubt, of the braided pilot's messing around, wasting time, just Duo Maxwell being prone to lateness in general. He could hear Wufei's strong, acidic comments and chiding, yelling up at his tardy friends before they even exited their mock human warriors, demanding an explanation for their delayed return.

Then Duo, in his easygoing style, would further prompt Chang's curse-laced reprimands happily telling the grumbling Chinese pilot to "chill out" accented with one of his high-pitched giggles Wufei so hated hearing. How Duo wished he could hear Wufei's stern voice again even if it was swearing at him and his nonchalant attitude.

"Don't worry about Wufei." Duo addressed Heero's concerns about Wufei's possible negative reaction to their overdue return. "I can handle him." he added to help ease Heero's worried apprehension.

But Duo knew Wufei, Quatre and Trowa not only wondering what had happened, knowing by now something was terribly wrong but frantically searching for some clue as to where he and Heero could be and if they were all right. He could see the distress and fear in dear Quatre's eyes, hear his quivering voice as he wondered aloud if Duo and Heero were safe and unhurt. Hear Trowa's quiet reply as he tried to comfort the frightened Sandrock pilot with reassuring words as he held his concerned lover in a comforting embrace.

There had been no time to contact the other Gundams before Duo had followed Zero down. He had set Deathscythe's homing beckon for the widest possible range and signal strength. The tracker band on his communicator was also sending out a steady signal.

Now all Duo could do was fight to keep Heero's battered body and cold benumbed senses from slipping beyond their reclaiming point. Wait and hope that his searching friends would lock onto the beckon and find him and Heero before it was to late.

Part Three:

A strong surge of wind driven rain slammed again against the weather-beaten stable. The quaking structure vibrated at the forceful onslaught, the tin roof rattling with the pelting assault of wind and water. Heero flinched at the roaring din, arms and legs drawing up in defensive posture. His drowsy eyes suddenly widened at the outside noise's stimulus bombarding his confused perceptions.

"Duo, look out!" he screamed flinging his arms wildly, grabbing at the thin air around him that offered no secure handhold in return.

Duo intercepted the anxiously waving appendages, one to keep clear of a solid hit should one of the swinging arms make contact and, secondly, to keep Heero from further injuring himself.

Duo was surprised at Heero's power as he fought against his gentle, but firm, hold. But Duo knew from his own experiences, when sudden fear took over, how an adrenalin rush could multiple one's strength and resolve to get away from the whatever threat loomed over you. And whether the threat was real or imagined, the results were the same.

"It's all right." Duo answered in a calming tone hoping the soothing sounds would break through Heero's raw panic. "Heero." he called, "Please don't fight me you're going to hurt yourself."

Duo's pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears as Heero continued to struggle in Maxwell's grip. "Pull back." Heero yelled tensing his entire body, "Watch your flank! Damn it Duo I said pull back!" he exclaimed his breathing coming in short labored gasps. A renewed sweating beaded on his forehead and his chalky coloring became even paler.

"Move to 2.33." Heero ordered believing he was totally immersed in the heat of battle. "Attack range 4.8, speed 160. Aptitude angle120 degrees." Heero shouted out battle configurations and coordinates. "Keep it close." he choked out the words now gasping acutely for air.

Duo pulled Heero nearer trying to rein in his flinging arms. Now kicking legs had joined the violent movements as Heero's startled reflexes fought the bizarre imaginary exploding in his panic-stricken brain. Heero tensed once more, this time holding the taunt contours for a long moment. Holding his breathe he maintained the stiff pose frozen in place.

Duo used the momentary pause to pull down Heero's arms sliding his own arms around Heero's chest pinning them to his side. Then Duo braced for what he knew would be a second wave as Heero's breath suddenly caught with a jarring shudder. "NO!" Heero screamed with an anguished wail, "NOOOO!" he repeated straining as hardened muscles pressed against Duo's forceful hug.

Then as quickly as the wave of terror flooded over Heero's tortured mind and pain racked body, the maddening visions and wrenching convulsions let go all at once plunging Heero into a downward spiraling tunnel. Falling into the cold black void, what light that had kept Heero's mind from failing altogether began fading rapidly away being swallowed up by an unrelenting darkness.

Heero's eyes rolled back into his head. His breath faltered, sticking somewhere in his lungs as they collapsed in his chest. With a rattled wheezing, stronger and tighter than before, Heero fought to suck in any air at all. Each labored breath pushed harder and harder against his encumbered system until he had no strength left to fight. One last weak gasp and Heero pitched over falling heavily into Duo.

Heero went slack, arms dangling loosely at his sides like a threadbare rag doll. His eyes closed and his body became lax as his entire system lost its fading resolution to the overwhelming heaviness entwining its icy tentacles stoutly about his senses.

"Heero?" Duo cried trying to push back Zero's Master to better see his ashen face. His observation revealed a frightening scene. The pallid hue left no color behind and Heero's lips had begun to turn blue.

"HEERO!" Duo screamed shaking his unresponsive comrade, "Oh God, Heero, don't do this to me." Duo beseeched his motionless partner. "Please, Heero, wake up." he wailed shaking harder still.

Heero Yuy offered on motion, nothing in reply to Duo's shaking and screaming. He laid against Duo his wobbly head sliding down until it rested on Duo's shoulder. Nothing moved. Not his head, his body and not his chest as no air at all filled his lungs.

Duo laid him back onto the blanket slipping his hand under Heero's neck, tilting back his head to straighten his bent airway. Leaning over his cold, still friend and brother-in-arms, Duo opened Heero's mouth and cover the gaping space with his opened mouth sealing his lips.

Duo breathed out a centered breath as hard as he could. Heero's chest rose with the invading air, then sunk back as still as before. Duo repeated the forced respiration. Again Heero's chest rose perhaps a little higher this time. The third attempt expanded his lungs more as Duo pushed himself and Heero's endurance to the limit.

Suddenly a solid tremor jerked in Heero's chest. The strong spasm caused a pulsating twitch then, mercifully, breath caught in Heero's throat traveling with reviving speed into his lungs. A hard gasp further encouraged his system to acknowledge the renewed oxygen flow. With a third trembling shudder air filled his aching chest. As Heero coughed, taking in a deep gulp of air, Duo sat him up to aide his lung's refilling.

"Take it easy." Duo instructed, "Now don't fight it you'll get strangled."

Heero grabbed Duo's arm with a painfully tight grip Duo was certain would leave behind a bruise at each of Heero's fingers contact points, but he didn't care. Nothing mattered but the fact Heero had come back to him.

"Relax." Duo ordered, "I said don't fight it." he proclaimed pulling Heero nearer. "Heero, look at me. Let me see your eyes."

At first Heero didn't response to the sound of his name, his senses still too baffled by everything trying to return to normal all at once. Duo called again this time putting a thumb under Heero's chin guiding his eyes in line with his wide violet and, quite misty, orbs.

"Heero." he said softly stroking a single finger over Heero's pale cheek. This time Duo's calling was rewarded with a shifting of Heero's blue eyes until they locked squarely with the caring centers of sight looking back.

With a shaky breath flowing over his lips, Heero leaned into Duo letting the dark God Of Death and, now, his savior, hold him securely. Resting his heavy head on Duo's shoulder, a second sigh helped to calm the shivers of both his battered body and his weary, confused mind.

"Duo." he whispered moving to turn his eyes upwards to better view Duo's face.

"Shhhh." Duo answered his partner's searching gaze. "I'm here. Don't worry you are going to be all right." he declared with certainty.

"What happened?" Heero wondered as the puzzle pieces of recent events, still scattered in his mind, offered no clear picture.

"Do you remember going down in Zero?" Duo inquired trying to find the starting point of his explanation.

Heero nodded yes.

"Do you remember coming here, the night and the rain?" Duo continued narrowing the field of understanding a bit more.

Again Heero nodded affirmatively.

"Did I pass out?" It was Heero's turn to steer the questions.

Duo couldn't help but smile with a sense of relief and amusement at Heero's understatement of his nearly dying in his arms. "You did a little more than pass out." he declared, "But you will be all right."

Heero sighed as Duo wrapped the blanket back around his shoulder, relaxing in the warmth and comfort of Duo's enfolding arms. Lowering them both down onto the straw, pulling another blanket over their legs, Duo curved his body bowing to form a secure place for his reclaimed friend to rest.

Running a finger under Heero's tangled bangs, Duo laid his flat palm on his forehead to see if it felt hot, hoping Heero's chills had not evolved into a fever. Cradling Heero as close as he could Duo rubbed his hand over Heero's chest trying to ease the tightness still stubbornly attached to Heero's rippling muscles, hoping the firm massage would take away at least some of the soreness and help his wheezing.

Heero made no move to stop the comforting strokes instead he pushed against the soothing caresses that were sending warm sensations over his entire body. Another content sigh flowed out as he moved his hand until it closed over Duo's hand, entwining his stiff fingers through Duo's supple grip.

"Duo."

"Yes?"

"What time is it?"

Duo rolled his eyes marveling at the persistency of the Japanese Pilot. "Damn! Yuy!" he exclaimed, "Is that all you think about? You would think after all you've been through..."

"Duo." Heero interrupted squeezing tighter on his hand, "Please, the time."

Letting out a clearly perturbed hiss of air, Duo once again raised his wrist to eye level. "Its a good thing these standard issue watches have a luminous digital read-out or you would be bugging me to rub two sticks together and start a fire just so I could tell you what time it is." he declared leaning closer so he could see, "It's 11:15. Are you satisfied now?" he grumbled.

"Yes, thank you." Heero answered ignoring Duo's under-the-breath, curse filled murmurings. Heero let his head slip down until he laid on Duo's chest where he could feel his partner's heartbeat even through the dense fabric of his Perventers uniform jacket.

"I think the rain has about stopped." Duo decided hearing only a steady dripping off the roof. The wind, too, had quieted down improving the dampness content in the old stable's musty atmosphere. Overhead the pair of doves cooed and snuggled on their lofty perch enjoying the respite from the fowl weather.

Duo smiled up at the feathered duet marveling at their naturalness, the way they found peace in the simplest things. How he wished his and the other Pilot's lives could be simple that way. How he wished the senseless conflict would end and there would no longer be a need to fight and shed blood.

Shoring up his arms about resting comrade, he studied Heero's strong features, how his high cheekbones accented his strong jaw line. His eyes were closed but Duo had no trouble envisioning their liquid cobalt luster. He had no trouble recalling their brooding stare that could easily be leveled at him when Duo pushed too far in his attempts to get Heero of loosen up. Remembered the intensity of their Death Glare as Heero set his sights on some unfortunate enemy Mobile Suit. Their resolute resolve as he protected his fellow Pilots in battle or defended their lives during ground missions especially if the assignment took a wrong turn placing them in danger.

Thinking Heero was asleep, Duo leaned forward letting his entranced sight linger on someone who had suddenly become very important to him. The crash of Zero, the stormy night, almost losing Heero, all those strange elements had combined to stir something wondrously captivating in his heart.

He now saw Heero Yuy in a new light. A glittering, bright aura of fascination. But something more had stirred to life in Duo's soul. Something more deeply rooted than friendship and the commonality of the war and their Gundams.

Duo had witnessed a similar connection between Quatre and Trowa many times. He had always felt a wonderment, a sense of awe, at the special bond Sandrock and Heavyarms Masters shared. They had an intrinsic union that went beyond just physical, sexual attraction. It was as if their love had been forged from the same iron will, a perfect link of mind and heart and soul.

Duo had often envied Trowa and Quatre's peace of mind and the surety of their relationship. Now a smaller sense of that same inherent nature, that basic pure essence, had touched Duo's heart and he knew, without a doubt, Heero Yuy was the reason for his sudden awareness. Had those feelings always been there, lying dormant in his heart's guarded recesses, or had they developed slowly over time? So slowly that Duo was not sure when they had begun to grow?

Duo leaned closer feeling Heero's soft breathing brush his face. Heero's placid countenance had lost much of its dispassionate, strictly controlled, mask. The Perfect Soldier's stoic facade had given way to a relaxed, almost peaceful, appearance. Heero moved causing Duo to pull back not wanting him to wake up and find his Gundam partner's face only inches from his. Duo wasn't at all certain what reaction his unrepressed interest might inspire. No better to keep what he was feeling to himself, at least for then anyway.

"Hell, what would I say?" Duo thought to himself as Heero's eyes fluttered open. "I can't just blurt out what I'm feeling. I'm not even sure what it is yet."

Despite Duo's tendency to be spontaneous, sometimes to the extent of getting him in trouble, this was one instant Duo Maxwell had enough sense to keep his impulsiveness in check. Heero sighed finally feeling warm for the first time since Zero had gone down. He knew the blankets and Duo's shared body heat was responsible for much of his kindliness but there was something else that had lent itself to his comfort.

The cold spot that was always present in his heart, the numbness left over from his strict, impassive training had faded somewhat. The discipline maintained to give full attention to duty and keep the remnants of his shattered world from fraying until nothing remained had eased. The emptiness had not been wholly exorcised but it had relinquished some of its suffocating grip.

Heero locked his still drowsy sight with Duo's wide, expressive eyes as violet tinted pools welled up. Heero took immediate notice of the gathering tears, "What's wrong?" he whispered.

Duo shook his head closing his eyes, forcing the salty moisture to spill over his cheeks, "Nothing I suppose," he replied, "at least nothing I can put a name to," he answered, "and everything." he sighed.

Opening his eyes Duo gazed intently at Heero then fully expected him to draw back from the keen attention. But Heero didn't move. He now, also, had uncharacteristically softened blue eyes locked on Duo.

"Heero, I...." Duo began.

Heero raised a single dirty finger pressing it to Duo's quivering lips, "I know." came the simple reply.

Duo leaned back puzzled by his partner's response, "Know what?" he asked after a moment's pause.

"That something between us is different. I don't know what exactly and I sure as hell don't know how it happened, but something has changed"

A slight smile floated over Duo's lips as he realized Zero's Master's highly perceptive instincts were still in force. Without allowing a moment's hesitation to sway he emotions. Giving no time for his nerves to lose their resolve or his mind to say it was wrong, Duo leaned forward pressing his still quivering mouth to Heero's. The tentative brushing of lips on lips, for some reason, didn't seem odd at all. Duo's breath tickled over Heero's chin as if feeling its way to a second, more ardent, kiss.

Heero slipped one hand under Duo's braid softly catching the nape of his neck; the other folded over his shoulder centering his body for the next meeting of their lips. Duo opened his mouth inviting Heero's tongue inside. Then he slid his tongue into the warm moistness relishing every taste of Heero's sweetness. As the kiss deepened Duo laid back letting his Japanese lover dictate both the mood and the intensity of the kiss.

Heero rested his weight pressing his stiff crotch firmly on Duo's own rapidly tightening sexual center. Duo's lifted knee added a rubbing friction to the already excited tautness. Moving up and down Heero metered out his own brand of grinding resistance feeling a hot sensation building between their trembling bodies.

A low, soft moan, muffled by mouths literally glued to each other, was Heero's reward for his precisely targeted attention. A second, more intense, noise coming closer to a breathless whimper floated from somewhere deep inside Duo's quivering frame. Duo pulled harder trying to press their bodies together as closely as he could. Heero took in a short gasp and winced as the soreness of his injuries reacted to the increased pressure.

"Oh, Heero, I'm sorry." Duo apologized letting loose altogether.

"I'll be okay." Heero lied not wanting his pain to interfere with their pleasure. "Damn war!" he swore under his breath in fretted exasperation. Duo could see plainly, from the pained expression in Heero's eyes, he was not all right.

"No, I can't do this not if its going to hurt you." he declared even though he, too, did not wish for their passionate session to end.

Heero slowly rolled onto his side with a good deal of effort as over extended muscles twisted and drew up. "It's all right." he declared, "I just need to take it slow."

Duo braced an elbow in the straw pulling a blanket over he and his partner. Partner, funny how that word suddenly took on an entire new meaning. "As badly as I want to be with you, it would not be best idea now." he stated not wanting to, in any way, risk making Heero's injuries worse. His concern for Heero's well being far outweighed his need to love him right then.

"Maybe if we do it easy." Heero answered wanting just as badly to respond to Duo's fervent, quite passionate, overtures.

"I couldn't give you everything you need, love you the way you deserve to be loved, if I was worried about hurting you." Duo stated with sincere regard for Heero's health and speedy recovery.

"I want our first time to be perfect." he confessed, "I want to give all of myself to you and for you to be able to give all of yourself to me. Is that being selfish?" he asked lowly touching Heero's cheek.

Heero sighed at the warm tingle of Duo's touch. "No." he shook his head raising his hand to take Duo's, " I understand. In fact I feel the same way, but I want this so badly." he confessed unashamedly.

For the first time since his training had begun many years ago, Heero Yuy let down his guard. He dared to let his heart run an emotional gambit, opening himself up to a full range of strange emotions, both frightening and wonderful, and all without fear of hurt or rejection. And that odd concept of trust, so long abandoned and forgotten, was reborn as Duo's mouth met his with a reassuring kiss that he had not surrendered his soul in vain.

Duo settled back once more pulling Heero nearer, tucking the blanket over his trembling body, trembling not from the cold, but from the extraordinary serenity as his heart's shackles fell away.

"Just hold me." Heero whispered glowing in the warmth of his lover's secure embrace. "That is all I need now. Everything else will fall into place when the time is right." he declared with unquestionable conviction.

Both content lovers closed their eyes. The storm had passed, the wind was still and the only sound was the doves cooing overhead.

"Duo." Heero whispered close in his ear.

"Hummm."

"What time is it?"

Duo stirred pulling back just enough to see Heero's face, "Will you please tell me why the time has been so important tonight? I mean with all the other things going on, what difference does it make what time it is?" Duo paused then let a sweet smile travel over his lips, "I swear, Heero, you can be so damned single minded sometimes." he finished up with a soft kiss on Heero's forehead.

Heero returned the smile but didn't let it distract his question, "Please, Duo, the time."

Again it took Duo a few seconds to get his wrist around where his watch could be seen. "It's a little after midnight." he sighed, "I still don't see the importance." he added wiggling down more snuggly.

Heero ran his finger through his precious partner's bangs smoothing them aside, "The time was so important," he whispered softly, "because I knew if you got me through this hell until somewhere beyond midnight, until the new day began, I would make it. We would make it."

"Heero, I......." Duo began, but footsteps outside and a thin stream of light glaring through the wall's wide spaces cut up his words.

"Stay down." Duo instructed retrieving his gun from the straw. "Don't move no matter what." he ordered touching Heero's shoulder.

Moving to the stall's corner, raising up on one knee, Duo braced into a ready stance both hands folding about the pistol. With steady, unfaltering balance, he took dead-center aim at the stable door. "We have come to far to lose each other now." he hissed.

"If OZ wants Heero they will have to go through me!" he exclaimed inhaling deeply to further sure up his shot.

The door began to move back, the rusted, rain damp hinges whining in protest at being disturbed. Duo narrowed his sight prepared to do whatever he needed to do in the protection of his new lover.

"If the soldier's numbers are overwhelming, if they get through my first-line defense." Duo growled under his breath, "They will not take either of us alive." he promised himself. "I'm sorry, Heero, if it might be wrong, but I couldn't go on with you."

The door eased wider, a single beam of light shone through the larger space. One figure moved cautiously, step by step. Behind the first silhouette, Duo could just make out at least two more human shapes. "Not bad odds." Duo decided as his finger tightened on the trigger.

The lead figure stopped, slightly shifting his approach angle. "Duo?" a voice called in a questioning tone.

Duo wasn't certain of his hearing at first. The voice sounded vaguely familiar but, with all he had been through, could he trust his senses?

"Duo, it's all right, it's us." the phantom voice declared.

Duo squinted as the bright light was redirected towards his face making it difficult to identify the voice's owner obscured by its blinding intensity. Then the voice's pitch and inflection snapped in Duo's mind.

"Trowa?" he half-whispered praying for both his and Heero's sake his was right.

"I found them." Trowa announced, with great relief, to his fellow Gundam pilots standing a little behind him.

"Damn Barton!" Duo exclaimed loudly throwing the pistol's barrel up towards the roof in a safer position, "That's a good way to get yourself shot." he proclaimed with a hard puff of released tension.

Quatre and Wufei joined the point man just inside the door. "Are you all right?" Quatre asked anxiously "Where's Heero?" he added to his urgent inquiry.

"Back here. He's beat up but he'll make it." Duo answered moving to Heero's side. "I was afraid Deathscythe's homing signal would run out before you found it." Duo continued flopping beside his koibito.

Heero shifted in the dusty straw, wincing at his body's stiff response but clearly pleased to see the trio of rescuers.

"How are you doing?" Wufei asked his deep ebony eyes sparkling with excitement. "The signal was weak when we arrived." he explained squatting down to get a better look at Heero's eyes. Wufei could tell a lot about someone's condition by looking at their eyes.

His eyebrows pulled together as he studied the Zero Pilot's pale features. But, after a moment's examination, decided that Duo was correct, Mr. Yuy would make it.

"I knew if you found Deathscythe you could follow my personal signal and find us." Duo stated with a long sigh of relief.

"Well, actually," Trowa spoke up, kneeling by Wufei for his own survey of Heero, "We never did pick up your signal."

Duo's eye's widened, "But then how, I mean....."

"How did we find you two?" Trowa finished the stammering sentence. He turned to Quatre reaching up and taking his hand, "Quatre felt where you were." he smiled guiding his soul mate to sit by him. "We followed his lead and he never once hesitated." he proclaimed planting a kiss of Quatre's cheek.

"Thank you." Duo said touching Quatre's arm. The shy Sandrock pilot offered his fellow flier a sweet smile and a nod in acknowledgment of Duo's heartfelt appreciation.

"Hey, you two, do you want to sit here all night and talk or do you want to go home?" Trowa teased as he and Quatre stood up.

"We." Duo began then paused as the concept of "we" had suddenly taken on a totally new significance in his life. "Yes," he stated taking Heero's hand, "we are ready to go home."

******

The first rays of morning light bathed the safe house in shades of pale pink. The same muted hues of dawn streamed through the window blinds painting narrow stripes of color over the walls and floor. Duo gently smoothed out the coverlet over Heero as he lay curled up hugging a pillow in an exhausted, but peaceful, sleep.

Soon after his kawairshii koibito had drifted off in the security of his own bed and Duo's comforting embrace, the God Of Death had quickly and quietly moved his meager personal belongings into Heero's room. As fatigued and hurting as he was, Duo knew he could not rest until he and Heero were, in every way, together.

From that moment on, Duo pledged, Heero would never be alone. Duo would not only share Heero's bed, but his heart and his life as well. Duo knew with his help and love, the lonely Perfect Soldier would someday regain some measure of his rent humanity. Duo prayed that some day Heero would be able to know the simple joy of living and loving as, together, they would tear down the self-imposed walls that had for so long imprisoned Heero's heart and soul.

Duo wearily stripped down to his tee shirt and boxers and eased in beside the focus of his life. Heero shifted in his sleep instinctively knowing his lover had joined him. Slipping his arm over Heero's waist, Duo snuggled close against his back.

Heero let out a long sigh turning over until his sleepy eyes found Duo's bright violet eyes. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." Duo apologized although he was glad that Heero knew they were together.

"It's all right." Heero replied, "I couldn't have slept soundly until you were with me."

"I'm here now and I always will be." Duo promised, "Now let's both get some sleep. As a matter of fact," he smiled cuddling nearer, "we don't have to wake up until we want too even if it is well into the afternoon."

Heero nodded his head, "That sounds wonderful." he admitted, "Duo?"

"Yes, lover."

"What time is it?"

Duo raised up on one elbow leaning over near Heero's ear, "Don't start that again." he whispered, "We have all the time we need." he declared kissing Heero's neck, "All the time...forever."

- End -

Somewhere Beyond Midnight--Karen Hickman--December 2002

Thank you for reading!!