"Moments of Peace" continues the sub-story begun in "Fanning the Fire".
Soldiers and Fools
Part 04 -- Moments of Peace
(kodoku na okami)
(Sometimes soldiers and fools relax.)
The light changed and they continued north. On the open road, Duo leaned forward on the bike, dragging Heero with him, and opened the throttle. "Wooooooo-hooooooo!" His braid flew behind him over Heero's shoulder, flapping in the wind like the tail of a dragon.
/It's almost like flying,/ Heero thought as he lay pressed tight against Duo's back, feeling the wind rip through his hair and down his neck, filling the back of the denim jacket -- and ignoring Duo's talk. He peered over Duo's shoulder and saw they were doing... seventy? There was no way they were doing only seventy.
"Huh?" Duo looked at the speedometer. "Just over seventy. Oh, that's /miles/ per hour. Something like..."
"116 kilometers per hour."
"Yeah, that sounds about right." Duo trusted Heero's math. "Not fast enough for you?" The pitch of the engine rose and the gauge moved up to one-hundred. "One of Howard's engineers helped me rebuild the engine. I've had her up to 195, 200 before, but she was a bitch to handle. He knew engines, not steering."
"Hn." Heero decided he didn't want to watch the speedometer any more. The concept of an accident at this speed was... unpleasant. He did a quick calculation. "Turn left in two kilometers."
Duo slowed the bike, taking most of the distance to do it, and turned onto a narrow trail Heero pointed out. The bike wasn't built for off-road use. He drove at a crawl for another fifteen minutes of trails, twists and turns until they reached Wing, laying among the trees under a tent of camouflage netting.
Heero swung off the bike.
"I'll be back in about an hour, maybe less" Duo said, looking at his watch and pushing buttons on it. He turned the bike around and headed back the way they'd come.
Heero didn't stop him. An hour without Duo chattering would be a welcome respite. As the sound of the bike faded back up the trail, Heero walked around Wing, looking for his tell-tales -- a leaf here, a stick there. They were all exactly where he'd left them. No one had found this place. He retrieved his toolkit from the cockpit and set about replacing the sensors.
Forty-eight minutes later, he was removing the cover plate on the third sensor when the faint whine of an engine pierced his concentration. He listened, thinking it might be Duo's bike. It wasn't. It was a mobile suit. "Damn," he muttered, diving into the cockpit. He punched buttons in rapid succession, activating Wing's passive sensors and bringing the active systems to standby. Nothing. He slapped the console in front of him. Still nothing. The sound was getting louder. He climbed out of the cockpit, listening, orienting. There, to the west, about six klicks away. Then the sound faded, engines shutting down. Heero drew his gun, checked the clip and flicked off the safety. He was turning back to the cockpit when the ground shuddered. He grabbed the door, bracing himself. A branch snapped no more than 100 meters away. /How did they get so close so fast?/ He hid behind the cockpit door, gun ready as one hand reached back to bring Wing's systems to full ready. Maybe he could get the beam rifle on line before--
If he hadn't been looking at it when it happened, he never would have believed it. Deathscythe appeared out of nowhere, laying down among the trees in front of him. A bleeping started in Wing's cockpit. Heero poked his head in and saw the display confirming his eyes' report. "Now you tell me," he muttered, backhanding the offending monitor and deactivating the alert. /He must have hellacious countermeasures,/ Heero thought. /They even suppress the engine noise./ He hit the shut down switch and walked from behind the door, looking at the other Gundam. It seemed somehow... vague.
Duo wasn't. He saw Heero, waved at him, then set about pulling camouflage netting from a compartment in Deathscythe's leg. Heero shrugged, satisfied that Duo would do an acceptable job concealing his machine and clambered back up to the third sensor.
He was soldering the most difficult joint of the connection when sound erupted. "Dies Irae..." The voices startled him. The soldering iron slipped, searing the tip of his finger. Heero hissed and put the burned finger in his mouth, sucking on it, listening to the music. Male voices interwove with female voices in a complex interplay of harmony and counterpoint. It seemed simple on the surface, but he sensed there were depths to it that only the composer understood. He should have known Duo wouldn't be able to endure the quiet woods.
After replacing the damaged sensors, Heero replaced the three good sensors. Duo had stolen plenty of parts and they had better resolution and sensitivity than the old sensors. The music changed several times before he finished, jumping from the heavy classical piece Duo had started with through rock, jazz, J-pop, blues and folk in a seemingly random pattern. Heero decided Duo's musical tastes were best described as eclectic if not outright chaotic. Somehow it didn't surprise him.
He looked up, seeing that twilight had unveiled the first stars of the night. Deathscythe was an indistinct, dark mass among the trees a short distance away. The voice singing from the Gundam's speakers was the same spellbinding soprano Heero had heard from Duo's headphones six days ago. He was almost certain it was the same song. A few meters away, Duo had pitched a tent and was cooking something over a small fire. It smelled like fish. Heero ducked into the cockpit and ran a diagnostic on the sensors. They picked up clear infrared images of everything except Deathscythe. "Hellacious countermeasures", Heero said to Wing's monitors. Motion on the screen caught his eye. Duo was beckoning to him. His hands began shutting down the Gundam. They didn't need him to guide them through the familiar task. That left him free to think about what he was going to do next.
It had been a long day. He was tired. He was hungry. He was angry.
He wanted to make Duo take him back to the dorm tonight, but he knew that would involve a long argument. He didn't want a lot of talking right now. He wanted to walk back to the dorm on his own, but it would take hours, and Duo would probably wake up early just so he could arrive an hour after Heero got back. He decided to stay. Duo had a tent -- he could sleep. Duo had food -- he could eat. Two out of three problems solved.
He secured the cockpit and jumped down from Wing and walked over to the campsite. Duo had arranged two folding canvas chairs so they could face each other across the fire. Heero sat as Duo handed him a plate of fish and flat cakes of bread that looked like they had been cooked in the frying pan. He noticed Duo had traded the jeans and leather jacket for a pair of black, knee-length shorts and a black tank top with arm holes that reached to his waist. The design on the front was hand-painted. The words "Fallen Angel" underneath a naked, black-winged angel, swinging a scythe. It looked suspiciously like Duo, right down to the violet eyes and braid. A tiny "DM-194" ran vertically beside the "L" in "Angel", but Heero wasn't sure what it signified.
"Um, sorry I startled you with the music. I always like to listen to a little K626 after a mission." Duo only mustered a half-smile.
"Is that who the first one was?"
"Sorry, I forget not everyone knows Mozart. K626 is the 'Requiem Mass', the one he died writing. 'Dies Irae', 'Kyrie Eleison' and 'Requiem Aeternam' specifically." He frowned faintly.
Heero nodded. Catholic and Death. Duo. For all that he claimed to like it, the music apparently disturbed him. Heero chose not to pursue it, tasting a bite of the fish instead. Fresh, hot and delicious. He hadn't known Duo could cook.
"You, uh, get the repairs done?"
"Yes." The bread cakes were a little salty for his taste, but not too much so.
"They worked out OK, huh?" Duo said around a mouthful of bread.
Heero stared over Duo's shoulder at the Gundam he couldn't really see though he knew he was looking straight at it. "Well enough. Hiding them this close together is risky."
Duo was still getting used to Heero's sudden shifts in conversation. "Ummm, only to Deathscythe. I rigged up a solar panel and a battery so he can run limited stealth even when he's shut down. And if that fails, there's the camo-net." He stuffed another bite of fish in his mouth. "Awmd Wiwmk--" He chewed and swallowed. "Wing's hidden well too. I never would have found you again without the coordinates." He held up his watch showing a GPS display.
"Besides," Duo added, "this way I can give you a ride when we get our next mission."
Heero shrugged. If Wing couldn't detect Deathscythe, even with the new sensors aimed right at it, he knew Oz wouldn't find the other Gundam easily. He drank a gulp of the coffee Duo had made and ate the rest of his dinner in silence.
Duo had learned to recognize Heero's "angry and hiding it" behavior three days into their shared assignment. He'd spent those days provoking Heero non-stop, but anger was always the easiest, and most useful, emotion to know in your partner. Now, he knew Heero was angry -- and it wasn't about him relocating Deathscythe. Heero rarely talked about why he was angry. It was time to fix that little problem.
He took Heero's empty plate. "So, uh, why are you mad at me, Heero?"
Heero's eyes were colder than Duo had ever seen them. He thought, perhaps, Heero would ignore him, or maybe threaten to kill him. /Or maybe just kill me, period./ Finally, the words grated out. "You followed me."
Duo almost dropped the plates he was holding. "I did not!" The icy glare didn't change. "You don't believe me. You have got to be one of the most conceited people I've ever met. Like I have nothing better to do than follow you around town all day..." He rambled on as he set the plates down and pulled his backpack out of the tent, digging through it. "Here." He pulled out a plastic bag and tossed it to Heero. "I went shopping. I actually /paid/ for that. See the receipt. Then I was heading for the lab and looked over and, hey, there's my old buddy Heero. Betcha he's going somewhere, maybe the same place I am, though he'd never talk to me about a mission. He'd much rather ignore me and do things the hard way. I bet he could use a ride wherever he's going." Duo's monologue continued as Heero opened the bag and found a black silk robe with violet dragons embroidered on the collar and back. There was a receipt in the bottom of the bag.
"The jacket." Heero interrupted.
"I saw it at the store and knew you'd look great in it." Duo blinked, hearing what he'd said. "Uh, anyway, check the receipt. It's there. And before you ask, I caught the fish in the river," he pointed to the fishing rod Heero hadn't noticed, "and yes, I keep camping gear in Deathscythe. You never know when you'll be stuck out in the middle of nowhere wishing you had a fire and a meal. Satisfied?"
Duo had never seen that look on Heero's face before. He stashed it in his list of unidentified expressions.
Heero handed the bag back to him. He shrugged. "I believe you."
/He believes me? Is that all he's going to say?/ Duo realized it was. It was also the closest he'd ever heard Heero come to apologizing. He'd actually admitted he was wrong. Mollified, he filed the face under "sorry" and smiled. "It's forgotten. Um, help me wash dishes?"
Heero nodded, picking up the frying pan and coffeepot, and followed Duo to the river. He realized he was no longer angry. /Three out of three. Duo is beginning to scare me./
After the cooking gear was packed away, Duo suggested they lay around the fire and watch the stars.
"I'm going to bed." Heero said, taking off his tank top. Duo shrugged, watching as Heero undressed, and stifling a grin when he saw Heero was wearing the grey cotton boxers he'd slipped into his drawer. He knew better than to say anything as Heero climbed into the tent. Duo lay watching the stars and listening to Heero's breathing as it slowed into sleep. "Heero," he whispered.
"Nothing." He'd wanted to know if Heero was really asleep. He spent the next hour marking off the constellations as they moved above him and trying to match his breathing to Heero's sleep-like rhythms.
He heard Heero move in the tent, then saw Heero's head above his. "You're awake."
Duo grinned. "Just practicing."
"Hn. It's late."
Duo nodded. Star-gazing was more fun when you had someone else gazing with you. He joined Heero in the tent.
The next morning, Heero helped Duo install the new sensors on Deathscythe, then Duo insisted he learn how to fish. Heero resisted. After five unsuccessful minutes with the rod, he waded in the river, stared into the water for a moment, grabbed and threw a small fish up onto the shore. "Satisfied?"
Duo gave up. And added hand-eye coordination to his list of enhanced things.
Back at their hiding place, they split the remaining sensors and added them to their spare parts boxes. While Duo changed into his jeans and leather jacket, Heero stowed the camping gear in its compartment in DeathScythe's leg, then walked over to the bike. Duo was searching his pockets for his keys. He looked up and saw Heero, dangling them in front of him.
"I'm driving," Heero said.
Duo opened his mouth to protest, then said, "Sure," and slid back on the seat. Heero put on the green jacket and straddled the seat in front of him. "Just be careful with her," Duo said in his ear, trying to ignore the scent of cordite.
Heero nodded as he started the engine and pulled on the helmet. "Ready?" He felt Duo's arms close around his waist, then the voice came through the speaker in the helmet. "Yeah. Ready."
He drove them out of the woods at a cautious pace. At the old highway, he stopped, considering. He'd chosen this road when he hid his Gundam because it was rarely used. A new, six-lane road eight klicks to the east offered a more direct line between the town and the rest of civilization. Now, the gently winding coast road was an opportunity. He turned north, away from town.
"Hey, town's the other way," Duo said.
"I know." Heero leaned forward, accelerating. Duo leaned with him until they were flat against the bike, legs tucked up beneath them. Heero took five minutes to bring the speedometer up to 170, stepping through the gears, getting a feel for the handling. Duo pressed against his back like a second skin.
"Wooo-hooo!" Duo yelled, the wind pulling his braid out straight behind him, arms tight around Heero's waist. "I never woulda guessed you'd be a speed freak."
An hour later, Heero slowed, stopped and turned them back to town, flying. "I just wanted to get a feel for a real motorcycle."
At first Duo thought Heero was complimenting his bike, then remembered what little he'd guessed about Heero's past. "Naaniiii? You've never driven a bike before?!"
"Simulators. Part of my training." The arms around his waist pulled even tighter.
After he parked the bike in Duo's hiding place near the dorm, Heero had to help him back to their room. His legs were a bit unsteady.
For those who don't know Latin, Duo's selections from K626 were, "The Day of Wrath", "Lord Have Mercy" and "Eternal Rest" -- the first three movements in reverse order. (Don't ask me. Duo picked 'em.)