Soldiers and Fools
Part 09 -- Reunion
(kodoku na okami)
(Sometimes friendship surprises the most careful soldiers.)
Duo woke, but kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady. He liked to think of that skill as one of Heero's little gifts to him. Maybe if they didn't know he was awake they wouldn't try to interrogate him again. As the rest of his brain slid into consciousness, he realized something wasn't right. Several somethings were not right.
The faint tapping of fingers on computer keys stopped. /That's one of the somethings./
Flat, cold voice. Pieces of recent memory fit together. "Heero!" Duo jerked up in the bed. His shoulders made it maybe an inch off the pillow before pain and exhaustion slammed him back to the mattress. He winced. At least it was soft. /Ah! That's was another something. No hard slab for a bed. ... Heero's here./ It was an oddly comforting thought.
Footsteps coming closer. The ever-present aroma of cordite. A bullet being chambered. Duo's eyes popped open. A familiar green tank top. Heero was standing over him holding a gun! Butt first finally registered.
"I need to get more medicine for you. I'll be back in about two hours."
Duo shook his head. "Heero ... don't leave me alone." He was too tired, too scared. The plaintive tone in his voice irked him. /I am a Gundam pilot, not a child!/
Cold blue eyes narrowed, sizing up this obstacle to their mission. /Duo always needs everything spelled out for him./ "You have bruises over 70% of your body, three broken ribs, lacerated kidneys, hairline fractures in both hands and forearms, more cuts and abrasions than I wanted to count, most of which are infected..."
Duo waited, eyes rolling impatiently while Heero recited the rest of the damage report. He was in worse shape than he had thought.
"... You need the medicine. Take the gun. I'll be back in about two hours."
"Damn it, Heero!!" Duo's voice came louder and angrier than he had expected. He charged ahead anyway. "I just spent a week in an Oz prison. The only people I saw or heard or touched were soldiers who were supposed to be interrogating me but were a lot more interested in getting payback for their buddies we killed back on Earth than finding out what I might know. Right now..." He drew a breath, hissing in pain halfway into it. /Damn ribs!/ "Right now, I need a friend I trust ... to be here with me so I'm not alone again."
Reading Heero's expression was rarely a problem for Duo -- he'd learned all the little signs, was it only a few months ago? But now Heero's face was shattered with stunned surprise. It took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. "Just sit down and... uh... just hold my hand so I know you're there." /Weak, weak, weak./ The begging child had returned.
Heartbeats passed. The cracks in the ice froze again leaving no sign they had touched Heero's face. He nodded once, still staring at Duo, then hooked a chair over with his foot and sat, putting the gun on his lap. He had never forgotten the first thing Duo had ever taught him -- about butt-holsters and sitting positions. He laid an arm on the bed beside Duo.
"Thanks," Duo sighed, taking the offered hand, giving a poor imitation of his usual grin.
A violent shiver racked his body, drawing a moan of pain. Heero extricated his hand and pulled another blanket over Duo, then took Duo's hand again and slid their arms under the covers. "Don't go into shock. I can't treat that properly."
/Cold, practical, that was Heero./ "Mmm." /That isn't all that's cold./ "Your hand is..." He blinked, realizing Heero's hand was touching bare skin on his hip. "Hey, where are my clothes?"
"I threw them away. I bathed you three times before I got all the stink and blood off. Washed your hair, but it was a mess --"
The braid! It wasn't beneath him! It wasn't beside him! Shinigami rose in Duo's voice, "You cut it off!?!" Then yelped and retreated as he tried to lift Duo's free hand to his head. Somewhere in the damage report, Heero had mentioned a cracked shoulder blade. That must be the one.
Heero reached over Duo's head, pulled a bit of matted mass down and continued as if Duo hadn't said anything. "I hung it over the headboard. I figured you'd know what to do with it when you woke up."
"Oh. ... Um... Yeah. ... Thanks." He eyed the hair Heero dangled before him. "Looks like at least two bottles of conditioner to fix that mess. Ugh. And at least an hour with a hairbrush. I feel tired again just thinking about it." A softer shiver shook him.
"Drink." Heero held a glass with a straw for him. Duo drank. The water flowed down his throat, wetting tissue that had been dry too long.
"Eat." Heero held a self-heating soup packet for him. Duo sucked, feeling the salt in the broth burn against cuts inside his mouth. It felt good, though. It made him feel warm inside. He'd been cold inside for a long time. Ever since Heero had died -- almost died. It wasn't a time he liked to remember. It was too full of despair. But Heero wasn't dead and he had rescued him from the prison and he was here now.
"Sleep," Heero said, reaching for another blanket.
"Mmm." Duo's eyes were already closed.
Heero sat, watching him fall asleep. He had underestimated the loud-mouthed fool -- again. He never would have expected such determination from the boy, especially when he was in that kind of pain, especially not directed at him. /Especially not for a hand to hold./ "You trust me." He murmured, shaking his head. Why would anyone trust him?
/Good question,/ the soldier whispered.
/Strange how "loud-mouthed fool" doesn't have quite the same bite in my mind,/ Heero thought. Then... /Friend?/ That thought occupied him much longer. The soldier didn't like it, but Heero didn't care. It was important, somehow. Duo's breathing had shifted to a slower rhythm by the time Heero said, "I almost did kill you in that cell. Would have if I hadn't remembered -- If you hadn't reminded me of --" He stopped. Whatever lost memory had Duo stirred within him had hidden itself again. Or had been hidden. He remembered -- or thought he did -- that, for a moment, that other him, the one he didn't understand, had stepped forward and pushed the soldier aside until it was too late to do anything but finish dragging Duo out of the prison. Had the soldier been tricked? The soldier was silent in reply.
Duo's hand twitched and he began a soft snore. It had been months since Heero had heard the annoying sound. Now it seemed right.
/Young and helpless,/ Heero thought, studying Duo's face. /Certainly not what I expect of the Angel of Death./ He sighed, confused. Time to get on with the mission. Duo needed medicine. And at least two bottles of conditioner, and a hairbrush.
He tried to reclaim his hand, and discovered that Duo's grip, while not painful, wasn't going to budge without breaking the boy's hand. He considered. One more injury on the long list didn't seem like much, but Duo already had too much recovering to do. Breaking his hand would definitely wake him up, which would mean explaining...
Heero amended his mission plan. He sat... and waited... and watched... wondering what it was Duo had reminded him of in that prison cell.
Somewhere far beyond his awareness, a war-ravaged, blue-eyed child smiled for the first time in a decade.
Duo woke again. He was pretty sure a few hours had passed. He felt Heero's hand in his. Smiling, he opened his eyes and, for a moment, thought he glimpsed the faintest hint of --
Ice. "Will you be OK alone now?" Heero asked. The cold metal of the gun was warmer than his ice.
"Yes." Duo released Heero's hand. "Thanks, Heero." /Was it my imagination or was Heero smiling just then? Not that terrible smile he smiles in battle, but a real smile. And his eyes. They looked warm, like deep water instead of ice./ It was hard to say. For all that Duo had learned to read Heero's minimal expressions, he'd never seen him smile when he wasn't fighting. He had no context for comparison. He filed the sight away. If he ever saw it again, he would know. He hoped he'd see it again soon, because it was beautiful. For a moment, the memory stirred a whisper of hope in him.
Heero stood, shrugged, nodded, shades of uncertainty played across his features, then he turned for the door. "There's soup on the table beside you. Eat. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
"Ninmu ryoukai," Duo muttered to the closing door. Eat. He felt like he could eat a warehouse. Laying the gun on the bed beside him, he reached to the table, stifling a groan. /Couldn't make it easy for me, could you? And one soup pack probably isn't going to put a dent-- Naaniiii?/ There were three packets of soup on the table. Duo grinned and bit down on the end of the first packet to start the warm cycle. "Ninmu ryoukai!"
<sigh> This part has some of my favorite lines. It is also the first-written part of the story.