Part 6 - Unraveled
Lost to the world, Heero felt as if he was swimming, floating, flying through a thin milky-white ethereal mist, all that could reach him from the world outside forming distant, garbled voices, whispers, nothing comprehensible. What happened? he asked himself, but couldn't answer. Whatever had happened, he couldn't remember. The fog darkened, the voices grew less distant - and his senses came back, one by one.
Pressure. Pressure along his lurching side and left cheek. He was laying nearly face down on something. Something cold and gritty. Concrete, his cheek told him. Around his ankles and wrists, the sensation of enclosing metal. Shackles.
Slowly inhaling, the slightly damp, mossy fragrance of whatever room he had been tossed in, infiltrated his nostrils, along with small whirls of dust bringing him to the edge of a sneeze, barely not pushing him over.
The dust instinctively triggered a desire to lick his parched lips, but before his tongue moved, it informed of the dryness of his mouth, as well as giving a bitter aftertaste of blood and bile. Strange... I can't remember being hurt...
Tentatively, he opened his eyes, gradually adjusting to the dim lighting, taking in the view of the dusty, chilled concrete floor he already knew was there.
Two voices behind him, arguing. Long before Heero began listening attentively, he closed his eyes, made sure he didn't move, and slowed down his pulse to fake unconsciousness. He did not want to attract the attention of the two men sitting on the bunk behind him, that much his blank mind was certain of.
"...should interrogate him, now!"
"Leave him be, Larry. They told us to keep an eye on him, not to start-"
"I don't care! We're as much prisoners here as he is, and it's his fault!"
"Calm down, would you? Look, that kid doesn't have a braid, he isn't the same that-"
"Then he was the one who knocked us out!"
"That kid? Larry, do you really think the sarge would buy that story any more than he accepted the truth?"
"Look, they pulled this guy out from under the prototype wreckage. He couldn't have been the one who set off the bombs in the computer nexus. The faggot with the ridiculous hair probably helped him."
Involuntarily, Heero clenched his fist, halting only as his nails were on the verge of piercing skin and drawing blood. Neither action nor pain ever truly registered within his blurred sense of awareness.
"We don't know that. Regardless, it doesn't matter. If he's out there, they'll capture him too - and when they do, we're in the clear. Let's just sit tight, and things will work out just fine."
The voices continued their argument. Ever so slowly, Heero recognized the most irate one. The bickering voice of the tall guy who had surprised Duo last time - now identified as Larry - was as condescending and irritating as ever. How somebody so apparently eager to pick fights and quarrels even made it through boot camp, was a mystery.
Still, the newly acquired knowledge might have best be left unlearned, as the memories from that point up until the present slowly cleared, one after another. Most pleasant, but the last few made it a distinctly sour experience. He had failed. No, not completely. His original idea of destroying the backup systems and then find some way to destroy the prototype and escape in the confusion had been literally blown apart. On the other hand, all objectives were terminated, the data was safe, Duo was safe, the mission in general a success, if with one possible casualty - himself. Even so, the idea of having made such a foolish move as getting caught alive - again - was not something the do-or-die soldier within could cope with, and his mind began brooding on it, so much so he didn't notice his breathing became erratic again - but Larry had.
The tall, brutish man had ended his argument with his partner, walked over to Heero's fallen body, and reached down for his head. Grabbing a fistful of unruly hair, he yanked the boy up to a kneeling posture. Larry shouted something at him, but Heero's mind was already too far gone in its own recursive loops over the issue of failure, all things outside unable to breech the one mantra singing through his brain. I failed.
"Can you hear me, kid?" Larry yanked Heero's head back further, but got no reaction at all. No wincing of pain, no whimpers, no angry or upset glares. If he didn't know better, Larry might have thought he was holding a dead man, considering the unexpressive face and glassy, dull eyes. Grabbing Heero's arms, he pulled him up to shout directly at his face, as if that might be more effective. Of course, it wasn't. Over at the bunk, the other soldier had had enough of this foolishness.
"Let him go, Larry. He's probably confused, or scared, or still hazed by drugs or painkillers or something. Leave the interrogation for the others, we don't need to get in any more trouble than we're already in."
"Shut up, Henry. I'll do exactly as I see fit."
For a moment, none of them moved, Larry glaring angrily at Henry, slowly absorbing the potential harm of his actions. Admitting defeat, he let go of Heero, causing the kid to fall flat on his ass. Only Larry's swift, utterly instinctive and unconscious reaction to grab him prevented his head from slamming into the concrete.
The inner mantra became stronger, and though nothing outside could get in, the mantra reached out.
"What was that, pipsqueak?"
"I failed," Heero mumbled again, wide open eyes still glazed.
"What's he saying, Larry?"
"Think he says he failed or something."
Henry snickered. "Well, he got that right."
"I failed," Heero repeated, pulling his knees to his chin, folding his chained arms around his legs, holding them tight, close. Larry let go of him as he slowly began rocking back and forth, every so often quietly mumbling the new mantra.
"Okay, he's lost it," came Larry's diagnose.
"He's probably in shock. Leave him be, nothing we can do about it."
"I could always-"
"No. We were told to watch him, make sure he didn't choke on his own blood or vomit, or otherwise come to harm. Right now, his only risk is falling backwards, smashing his head on the concrete." Henry took off his coat, bundled it, and offered it to Larry. "Here, place this behind him. Should he fall, he won't get hurt."
Taking the offered bundle, Larry tossed it on the ground behind the near-catatonic Heero, bundle unraveling slightly as it landed. "You're growing too soft, Henry."
"Look, I've got a daughter about his age. Think I'd be able to sleep tonight knowing my inaction caused the death of someone that young?"
This was more than the tall soldier could tolerate. "He's the enemy, damn it! He and his pals just blew up half the base! Don't you give a damn about that?!"
"Of course I give a damn - I lost many good friends today, we both did. I just don't want to bring my anger out on a mere child."
"That one's no innocent little kid. He piloted the prototype, don't forget that. No ordinary youngster can do that, not as skillfully as him."
"Perhaps - but that's for the interrogation staff to find out, not us. We're just to keep him imprisoned and alive until things settle down outside. Once the fires have been put out and the survivors accounted for and treated, it'll be his turn."
Larry calmed down, and sat down on the bunk again. Sighing, he looked down at the concrete floor, then over at Heero, still slowly moving and mumbling, then at Henry.
"Think he's faking it?"
Henry shrugged, and stood up, feeling a need to counter the staleness inertia had begun causing in his slightly over-dimensioned body, and began pacing. "Maybe. I don't think so, though. To me, he looks far gone."
Henry surveyed the room that had been his quarters for the past two days. Concrete walls everywhere, no windows. One door, solid steel, bars in the tiny window within the steel frame, a shutter on the outside, closed. Two metallic bunks held up by chains along two sides, door in the third, a makeshift bathroom along the fourth side. Just two days, and he already felt the walls creeping in on him. At least the barred ventilation system was operational. Fresh air made the brig doubling as a detention cell that little crucial bit more bearable. If only the company had been the same.
As he paced towards the door for the fifth time in the cross-room one-man race, something happened to make him briefly crouch, half-expecting the roof to come down, or at least flake off a bit as it had done earlier that evening; a not too distant explosion could be heard very well, felt slightly as the concrete walls shook, giving the dust particles once part of the roof another brief rotation and - after a short while - smelled as scents of gunpowder, fire and dust came though the vent. On the other side of the door, running feet and shouting could be heard. The shutter slid aside just as Henry approached the door, the stern face of his sergeant appearing on the other end of the bars.
"The fires in the hangar reached the main munitions depot. Blew the roof right off. We got everyone to a safe distance before it went, though." The sergeant paused while looking past Henry and surveying the room, stopping when his eyes reached Heero's rocking form. "What's with him?"
"I think he went into shock. He's been like that since he woke up a few minutes ago. Went completely unresponsive. Looks like the explosion didn't faze him one bit."
The sergeant nodded. "Uh-huh. Okay, keep watching him. If he goes unconscious, call for paramedics. I don't want that kid to die before we've had a chance to talk to him." Looking past Henry again, the sarge's glare fell upon Larry. "And you. I don't want anything added to the kid's injuries, is that clear?"
"Yeah, sure..." Larry mumbled, eyebrows closing as he looked away in defiance.
"Come again, private?!" stated the sergeant, motioning Henry to step aside.
Larry stood up straight, faced the sergeant, saluted and said, loud and clear "Yes, sir!". Satisfied with this, the sergeant nodded and closed the shutter. Immediately after, Larry made certain to give the door a one-digit salute, before sitting back down on the bunk, muttering an assortment of profanities, often mixed with assorted designations such as 'sergeant', 'bastard' or 'incompetent, fast-tracking traitor'.
Henry just shook his head, all the while doing his best to hide a smirk and drop the 'I told you so' speech he felt itching in his throat to come out. "You ought to have lost that thorn in your side by now..."
"I can't help it. I hate the guy's guts."
"Just because he got promoted, and you didn't?"
"I was just as qualified, damn it!"
In Henry's mind, the reasons for Larry's failure for promotion got listed up one by one - however, Henry had no desire to let even one of them slip out. The first item on the list; 'no temperance whatsoever', was a good reminder why it was best not to anger his partner unnecessary. The knowledge of Larry's prowess with fist-fights also served as a good restraint. The tall brawler wasn't dumb, though. Just a bit lacking in grace and social skills.
"How come you haven't gone beyond private yet? No offense, but you're a bit old for-"
Henry laughed. "Oh, I'm old, all right - I'm way past forty. A whole year past, actually." The sarcasm of his voice did reach Larry, inept in conversation talent though he could appear.
"Sorry, didn't mean it like that."
"Oh, that's all right. I'm used to it. Didn't I tell you I was drafted?"
"Yeah, 'brought back into the line against my will', I believe you phrased it."
Bringing all his bulk down on the bunk next to Larry, Henry snickered. "Yeah... Shit, I never thought they'd haul me back to active duty. First, I drop out of the Alliance forces, a good fifteen years, a marriage and a family later the Specials single out my record and pull me back for 'duties not finished'. What a load of bull."
"Who did you piss off to get that treatment?"
"Nobody. I guess they just needed people who weren't completely loyal to the Alliance - the kind who wouldn't blabber about what's going on here to an Alliance officer." A tired smile came across his face. "I guess I might get discharged after this. Not like the base is 'secret' anymore. You'll want to be reassigned, right?"
"If things here are suspended, sure. I have no plans of leaving the forces."
Henry sighed. "You should. Consider it, I mean. There are great wars on the horizon, this base is proof of that - and in war, people die. Very easily, I might add."
"So? I intend to stay alive, I have no intention of dying on the battlefield."
"You think anyone do? Larry, I don't know you too well, and you don't know me too well. We've worked together for over a month, but we never talk. You know why?"
"Because you're a pain to talk to, and you're obsessed with proving your worth. Trust me, you don't prove your worth on a battlefield. You might prove it by coming off of it afterwards, and go on living."
Larry scoffed. "Have you ever been on a battlefield?"
Henry hesitated for a moment. "I was on L2 when the Alliance first took control of the colonies some twenty years ago. My family was lucky, we weren't hurt, nor made homeless. Just a few weeks later, one of the first plagues to sweep the cluster killed my father. Mother died not long after. I was an only child, so I was left with no ties. I wanted to get away. Easiest way was to sign up for duty in the Alliance, not that they were too fond in recruiting colonials. Anyway, I got in - through sheer persistence, I guess. Not long after getting to the training camps on Earth, they kicked me out. My 'lack of enthusiasm' was the reason, of course. I didn't give a damn about a military career. They'd gotten me down to Earth, literally, which was all I wanted. I felt free. Got a part-time job at a warehouse, met Barbara a year or so later... Things just fell into place. Until they found the nerve to drag me back here." He paused, dreary eyes trying to judge if his listener was still following. "Other than the L2 takeover, I've never been on a battlefield, never as an active fighter. I've seen what war can do, though. It isn't pretty, and certainly nothing to go dreaming about finding glory in. There's no glory there, only misery - and if it doesn't find you right away, it'll creep up on you when you least expect it later."
Larry snickered, shrugged. "So, you're a pacifist. Figures."
"No, I'm not a pacifist," Henry countered. "I'd kill anyone deliberately trying to harm my family. That is why I want out of here. I can't protect them from here, I can barely provide for them, far less talk to them, due to the communications blackout."
"Because I don't think a career, a medal or glory is worth risking death for - and you appear to be in search of just those things. Don't be in a hurry to die. If this war intensifies, you risk ending up six foot under with that attitude."
Larry never got to finish that sentence, as the cell door creaked open, revealing the white-clad brown-haired lockpick behind it, holding a gun aimed at them, finger over his lips.
"Keep quiet, and I won't kill you. Keep still, and I won't kill you," Duo said with a strong whisper. A second after the instruction, Larry recognized him, as made evident by the sudden grimace of hatred that came across his face.
"You!" he yelled, standing up, shaking and pointing an accusing finger. Had not Henry grabbed Larry's other still relaxed arm, holding him back from conducting a futile assault, Duo would undoubtedly have fired. However, as he saw the figure sitting at the center of the room, knees held to chin with a deathgrip, gently swaying back and forth and still mumbling incoherently, any thoughts of vindication temporarily fled his mind.
"Heero!" Without a thought, he ran over, only underway taking in the strangeness of not getting a reply, and remembering there were two others in the room. Duo sat down next to his partner, facing the two other occupants of the cell, raising his gun to remind them to keep their distance and silence. With his free hand, he grabbed Heero's shoulder, shaking it slightly. It didn't stop the mantra from being whispered over and over again.
"I failed... I failed..."
"Hey, Heero. Heero!" Noticing the glassy, empty glare, he waved his hand before the wide-open blue pools. No reaction whatsoever. Redirecting his focus to the two OZ soldiers, he stood up, anger overcoming him again. With a lowered, ominous tone to his voice, gun held with both hands, aim constantly shifting between the two potential targets, he nearly shouted "What the heck did you do to him?!"
Fortunately for both privates, Henry spoke first. "We didn't do anything to him. He went catatonic the moment he came to. He's been muttering the same thing over and over again ever since. I think he's gone into shock or something - they shot him up with painkillers, this could be a side-effect."
Hesitating for a moment, Duo looked back at the rocking form, suddenly noticing the crumpled jacket behind Heero. Eyes growing wide, mind racing and jumping to conclusions, only the slightest nagging thought that gunfire would attract unwanted attention prevented him from immediately discharging his weapon. The barrel froze as it pointed at the spot directly between Henry's eyes; aimed to kill the only soldier lacking a jacket.
Again, the middle-aged man would be saved by his wits. He had noticed where the enraged young man's gaze had fallen, and bit by bit, he traced Duo's thoughts. As calmly as he could, he said "Now, son - put away that gun before someone gets hurt. Nobody has been so far."
"The jacket is there to prevent him from hurting his head, should he fall backwards. We haven't done anything to him." Duo appeared less than convinced, but hesitated. "Look," Henry continued, "You met us in the hallway two days ago. You heard Larry's opinions. I know at least one of you found my wallet - it was missing quite a bit of cash. You couldn't have gotten to that without seeing the photos. Neither of us would ever do what you suspect, I assure you." The gun began trembling slightly. A single despairing tear streaking his cheek, Duo stepped back next to Heero, crouching down.
"Stay put, and stay quiet!" he commanded the two soldiers.
The second the watchful gaze was off him, Larry's hand began moving, signaling as fast as it could to Henry. Let's attack while he looks away. Henry just gently shook his head, mouthing the words We wouldn't make it. Stay put. Larry clenched his fist.
Duo virtually screamed into Heero's ear. No reaction.
He pinched Heero's arm, hard. No reaction.
Looking down at his free hand, he reluctantly brought the palm in fast across Heero's cheek. No reaction.
"Heero, snap out of it, damn it! We have to get out of here!" For a moment, he considered just taking the chained boy over his shoulder, and make a dash for it. He knew that would probably be futile unless he could get another vehicle than the awaiting Caped Crusader. He wouldn't be able to steer, throttle and hold on to Heero at the same time. Momentarily remembering he wasn't alone with Heero, he looked over to the OZ troopers still sitting in silence as instructed. Good, so they aren't all idiots. Gun still in his right hand, he put each hand on a shoulder, shaking his partner fiercely. "Wake up, damn it!"
As Henry spoke again, Duo swiftly turned to reacquire the target. "Son, he's in deep shock. Whatever it is he considers failure, it obviously overloaded his mind trying to accept one."
Taking in the words, Duo looked back at Heero. "Failure. Always obsessed with failure and success. Damn you, Heero." He brought his free thumb and index finger to pinch the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for thought for but a second. Aw, hell. Treat shock with counter-shock, came his mind's answer. Quickly, he snaked his left hand around Heero's neck, tilted his head, leaned in and kissed him. And kissed him. And kissed him. Seconds passed, growing to a minute. Over by the bench, Larry's hand was desperately signaling, but constantly warned off in return.
At last, there was a reaction.
Heero blinked, bizarre pleasantness of the moment overcome by the need for air as he pried Duo off of himself with chained hands. "D-Duo - what-"
"Heero! You're back!" Smile as wide as the moon, Duo hugged him.
"What- where-" Heero mumbled, head still a bit fuzzy, courtesy of lack of oxygen and Duo. In a fury, the thoughts came back. I failed. As Duo's hold of him tightened, the thoughts intensified. Oh, shit. I totally failed. Again, he pushed Duo away. "What the heck are you doing here?!"
Duo brought his gun back to bear at the other two inmates, left wrist rapidly swiping across a moist eye. "Saving your butt, what does it look like?" The shackles on Heero caught his attention again. "Here, hold this," he said, tossing the gun to Heero, who instinctively grabbed the loaded weapon, aiming it at Larry and Henry. Duo reached for the same lockpicks he had used on the door not long before, and set to work on the shackles linking Heero's ankles. Nary half a minute later, they were off. The handcuffs followed clanking to the concrete shortly after.
Heero had stopped himself from reminding Duo he could have broken the shackles with sheer force. It would serve no purpose to distract Duo with such things now, not at the rescuer's moment of glory. Besides, the brute force method would have left the clinging metal on him indefinitely, and losing that minute feeling of imprisonment could do nothing but good.
"Where's your wind jacket?" Duo asked, noticing its absence.
"I don't know - they must have taken it when they took my gun." My gun! Immediately, he brought the barrel to Larry's forehead, wanting to make it a quick inquiry rather than extensive interrogation. "Where?!"
Larry was a bit too shell-shocked to say anything coherently. Henry answered on his behalf. "Either at the sergeant's quarters or at the infirmary. If you want to get out of here, I suggest you abandon any thought of retrieving-"
As he was speaking, both Heero and Duo were out the door, bringing the steel construction to a close behind them. Duo bent down to tinker with the lock again, while Heero glared through the opened shutter. "You two, stay put, and you'll live. Move, or call for help, and you'll die. Got it?"
"Got it, son. Your friend already told us as much." Henry replied dejectedly.
The shutter closed. Not before had the footsteps outside grown distant, Larry jumped up. "Okay, they're gone. Come on, we have to warn-"
"No, Larry. We don't."
That comment earned Henry an enraged glare and a threatening fist. "What?! They're escaping! We have to-"
"No, we don't have to do anything. We'll sit tight. We won't do anything to aid their capture."
If it were possible, the tall brute would undoubtedly have turned even more furious. "You traitor! They're terrorists, damn it! We have to stop-"
"You fail to see something, Larry," Henry calmly stated, leaning back, folding his hands behind his head. "They didn't kill us two days ago. They didn't kill us now. They could have done it so easily both times. Last time, they might have had something to lose, I don't know. This time, they had nothing of the kind."
"That's their mistake! I'll-"
"No, you won't. Larry, they didn't kill us, so we won't do anything to kill them. The violence has to end somewhere, friend."
"Don't you dare call me that. They murdered-"
"Yes, they did - but we're alive. If you're ever to survive, as a soldier or just in life, learn to make compromises. You can't win them all." Pausing a moment to see if his enraged fellow inmate calmed down, Henry continued. "Regardless, if they run to the infirmary, they'll pass at least two security cameras, and you know the sarge has one in his office. Somehow, I don't think they'll bother with stealth now, so we should have the evidence we need of one braided terrorist being at the base." He smiled. "Sometimes, the truth does set you free, Larry."
Larry was still fuming, but much less so. He sat down on the bunk again. "I don't like this plan. The sarge would never believe us - and what if they spot the cameras and destroy or avoid them?"
"In that case, we play our other hand. We - discretely, of course - blame the sarge for the break-out. After all, he left two unarmed soldiers incarcerated for disciplinary reasons to guard a violent, obviously strong terrorist. How do you think the higher ranks would react to that little tidbit? Court-martials can be so scandalous..."
"Okay, and just how do we convince any investigating committee we didn't aid the terrorists in escaping?"
Henry turned to him, still smiling. "Ah, that's where we'll have to compromise truth to remain free, friend. We'll say that the long-haired kid came in, threatened us at gunpoint, freed his apparently very good pal..."
"Well, that's truth, isn't it?"
"Yes, but here's the compromise. We say the terrorists knocked us out, and by the time we woke up," Henry said as he looked briefly at his watch, "some ten minutes from now, the cell door was locked, and the two young men long gone. That's when we notified security."
For the first time for the day, Larry actually appeared a bit amused, giving a half-smirk. "And just how do we make that story convincing enough?"
Henry sighed. "Well, you're good with your fists, you figure it out. Given time to prepare, I think I could give you a solid, convincing bump on the head, too."
"We might trick an investigation committee with that, but the sarge would never fall for it."
"Sure he will. As you're so fond of pointing out, the man's a fool."
Larry gave him a surprised look.
"Hey, it's the truth. He's a good soldier, but he's an idiot. Some things just can't be denied."
And they both laughed, albeit quietly.
The visit to the infirmary had produced Heero's missing outer clothing, and the precious gun had been retrieved from the sergeant's quarters not long after. All that was left, was to get away, leaving the two boys running towards the exit. As they came to another corner, Heero overtook Duo in their informal race to the finish. Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', Duo thought. Will that guy ever cease to amaze me? He did his best to keep up, as he saw Heero's back getting even more distant. Why do I keep saving this guy's butt anyway? he silently mused. As his gaze dropped, the answer was revealed. Duo grinned to himself. Because it's worth it, that's why.
They came to yet another intersection. Heero was already running straight down the corridor; the wrong way. "Hey, this way!" Duo shouted, motioning down another hallway. Skidding to a halt, Heero turned and followed him down the new passage.
At last they emerged into the night of the slowly dying blizzard. Remarkably, the hallways had been empty, as was the immediate area outside the side entrance they went through. In the distance, the bright flames of an extensive fire could be seen licking along one side of the hangar. The few soldiers not already busy digging through the demolished hub of the research complex for survivors, were desperately trying to douse the flames with whatever they could find, and move anything that could be moved away from the hungry fire. Another blast produced a tongue of red as it engulfed another ammunitions crate. Heero looked at Duo, one eyebrow raised, smirking slightly. "Your handiwork?"
"I wish... No, mark that one down to OZ incompetence. Sheesh, placing so much ammunition in a unshielded area. I've said it before and I'll say it again - they're all nuts."
"As opposed to you?"
"Hey, watch it. Don't insult your ride for the day," Duo warned. He guided Heero along the complex wall.
"Ride?" Heero asked as they kept running.
"Yeah, I parked the Caped Crusader just around this corner," Duo said, turning his head just long enough to flash Heero a significant grin. Heero just looked puzzled back at him, and shook his head.
"Caped-... I don't even want to know..." He mumbled. Against all odds, he was heard, though not by anyone willing to grant the wish. They rounded the corner, and the snowmobile with the tarpaulin-and-iron-bar cape appeared.
"This is the Caped Crusader. I put the tarp on to mask the tracks. Like it?"
"Love it, as long as it gets us out of here," Heero replied.
Duo straddled the seat, started the engine and put his hands on the handlebars, revving the engine. Heero sat down behind him. "Hang on tight, Heero - this might get a little bumpy."
So commanded, so done. Though Heero only kept his arms casually around Duo's waist at first, the lock intensified as the madman in control of the vehicle drove at an insane pace along the fence, twisting and turning to avoid debris from the explosions. Suddenly, Duo turned right towards the center of the compound. "Hey, what are you doing?" Heero shouted, hoping he was heard over the thunderous roar of the engine. No wonder Duo had picked this vehicle. It's a freakin' twin spirit; loud, flashy, fast and completely reckless. His grip around Duo tightened even further, just in time too, as the vehicle was brought into a tight turn, sending the rear and the cape skidding along the thin layer of snow in the open compound yard. Okay, I can tolerate reckless, if only it includes wreck-less, his mind added as he dared open his eyes again. The engine roared once more, and the Caped Crusader raced with unprecedented speed towards one section of the fence. What the- Heero barely had time to notice the fence had a gaping hole in it, snow from the outside creating an onramp to the thick coat of white outside the compound. He stomached a scream while Duo let loose a rebel yell, as they both flew through the air on a machine never intended for flight. Or rough landings. Heero whimpered slightly upon the impact. Duo chose to curse, just a little.
After completing a large half-circle to avoid any prying eyes from the base, Duo turned the Crusader to head for the safehouse. After asking Heero to relax his deathgrip just a little, another thought suddenly began bothering him.
"Why aren't we followed?"
Heero, still doing his best simply to remain aboard the wild ride, answered with a clever "Huh?"
"I said, why aren't we followed? Those idiots in the cell should have sounded the alarm by now."
"You think the alarm hadn't sounded already?" Heero retorted.
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know - but you shouldn't tempt fate by asking."
Indeed, Duo shouldn't have, for but minutes later, the unmistakable sound of a bullet zinged past them.
"There's your answer," Heero said, reluctantly releasing one securing arm to reach for his gun. Turning around, he glimpsed three snowmobiles in pursuit, all manned by just one, giving them a speed advantage over the overloaded Crusader, cape, two passengers and all. Well, that isn't necessary anymore... Heero grabbed one of the corners stitched to the seat with what looked like chicken wire, and ripped the whole thing clean off, letting the tarpaulin cape and a chunk of seat cover flutter as it fell away, forcing the pursuers to evade.
"Sheesh, are you making it a habit to vandalize my vehicles, Heero?"
Heero completely ignored the comment, he had more important things to deal with than exchange clever comments with the braided jester. He tried aiming at the closest of the pursuer, fired, and missed by miles. The angle and movement made even his marksmanship insufficient. He tried again, missed again. The three soldiers closing up on them were fortunately equally inconvenienced, each bullet missing them, none even coming close to graze them, far less hit. Still, even the worst of shooters can get lucky. Getting enough of the odd, twisted firing angle, Heero turned front again, free left hand slapping the elbow of Duo's left arm.
"Up," Heero commanded. As Duo complied, Heero put his right foot on the seat, used his left arm to grab Duo's right shoulder, and twisted himself around Duo, straddling his lap, facing backwards. Letting his arms snake around Duo's waist yet again, Heero rested his chin on Duo's left shoulder, raised his gun, now with both hands, and fired. The increased stability helped greatly, but it wasn't enough. He drew his arms tighter, using Duo for support as much as possible. Aim. Fire. Hit. One of the pursuers fell off his vehicle, clutching his right arm. The other two backed off slightly, but soon regained their nerve.
Shifting slightly, Heero aimed again. Fire. Miss. Return fire. Big-time miss. No wonder, really. The soldiers following them had to both steer and shoot, something not too easy to do. They still had the advantage of numbers and speed, and judging by the way they were rapidly approaching, zigzagging to avoid Heero's shots, they knew it too. Again, Heero shifted his position just a bit, trying to get a perfect line of fire without obstructing Duo's control of the vehicle. Fire. Near miss. Again, he moved. Resting his head on Duo's shoulder at least gave him an ability to speak to the driver. What could possibly be the danger in distracting the driver at this point? Another shift.
"Duo, quit poking me already!"
The voice did distract the driver. Duo looked over Heero's shoulder, down at his hands, both firmly gripping the Crusader's controls, and was left a bit puzzled. "What the heck are you talking about? I'm tryin' to steer here, if you haven't-" Heero moved again, and suddenly, Duo got what Heero was getting at, blushing slightly. "Damn it, I can't help that! Adrenaline rush, heartbeat rate through the roof, this weird outfit and you wiggling in my lap, rubbing against me - how the heck did you think my body would react?!" He yelled back in Heero's ear.
"Control it, just will it away," came the flat statement. "I'd rather not get distracted from my job at the moment."
As if you didn't just make me darn distracted - aw, shit. Duo made a sudden turn, narrowly avoiding a wide breech in the snow blanket, disguised with fresh snow as it was. Heero was nearly thrown off in the abrupt motion, leering dangerously to one side before a joint effort brought him back in balance.
"Don't you ever do that again!" he screamed, as he again rested against Duo to fire.
One of the pursuers failed to see the covered gap, and drove straight into the small chasm, snow swallowing the vehicle and giving the driver a three-second flight. Two down, one to go. Heero aimed. Fire. Miss. Counter-fire. Grazer. The hole in the outer fabrics of his wind jacket was definitely not a source for celebration. Even so, it still missed the target - him - something that he should indeed be thankful for. Must take this one down before he gets his lucky shot... For a few seconds, Heero closed his eyes, trying to focus his mind. Using his ears, he tried to hone in on where the pursuing snowmobile was, tracking it. Opening his eyes again, he balanced the barrel as best he could, and pulled the trigger. Hit. The pursuing soldier clutched a wound in his abdomen, bending slightly forward, slowing down to a halt. Success. At last, a veil that had shrouded his mind, that nagging thought of failure, was lifted completely.
He took a few minutes to compose himself, as well as to ensure they were well out of the firing range of the wounded soldier, before letting Duo know they'd shaken their tail. The Crusader slowed down a bit, but not much. Heero kept his tight grip on Duo for that exact reason. Still...
"Okay, you can get off now."
Heero didn't appear to hear him. Duo repeated the statement. "Heero, you can get off now."
"Hm?" came the distanced reply. Duo considered pushing the issue, but if Heero wasn't complaining... hey, who was he to argue - as long as he managed to steer the Crusader despite distractions, that is.
Only several minutes later did Heero appear to emerge from whatever faraway place his thoughts had brought him. Not thinking, he leaned a bit back, wanting to speak to Duo face to face, yet nearly causing them to topple over as Duo lost sight of the invisible road between the hidden rifts in the snow. Realizing the mistake, he returned to rest his head on Duo's shoulder, gesture returned on his own. Stability was recovered, and the drive resumed. For a few moments, Heero forgot the question that had bothered him. As it returned, he was adamant to get an answer. He turned slightly to face Duo's ear better.
"Duo, why did you come back for me? I thought I ordered you to get the disc to safety, no matter what! Mission first, remember?"
The reply was laughter. "Heero, if you really think I'd ever bother listening to you unless it served my own agenda, you're seriously mistaken. No way I'd just abandon you in there, you ought to know that."
"Have abandoned you."
Duo grinned, slightly biting his lower lip before answering. "Somehow, I don't think so - when we got here the first time, you told me to meet up with you at the entrance - and just who came to get me out of the tight spot I'd strolled right into, hm?"
Heero didn't answer.
"Heero, you'd better get used to the idea - I'm your partner, not your subordinate." He paused for a second, smirking. "And I mean that in just about every possible way."
Upon hearing that, Heero again leaned back, this time to direct a slight glare at Duo. The Crusader slowed down, first to a crawl, then, as Heero more or less attacked Duo's lips with his own, to a halt.
Taken slightly by surprise, Duo was the first to suffer respiratory problems, breaking the kiss. While he was busy trying to regain his breath, Heero again twirled around him, resuming the seating behind him. As the arms of gundanium wound their way around Duo's waist yet again, Heero leaned in close to whisper in his white-clad dark knight's ear "Want to fight over it?"
Regaining his senses, Duo turned slightly to reply. "Fight over it? Sheesh, aren't you the traditional caveman..."
Heero's lips nibbled at his earlobe. "Ogh, ogh. You mine. Go cave."
Again, Duo laughed. "Well, you might be stronger, pal - but I'm a lot more agile, and I dare say I've got a tad more creativity than you. I think I could make do, should we ever have that fight."
Heero smirked. "Guess we could call it a draw."
"Meaning, we'll do whatever comes naturally. I don't want to push you into anything you don't want to, Duo."
"Likewise, pal - but I might surprise you yet. With you, there's a great number of things I could consider trying..."
Smirking at the thoughts provoked, Heero could feel his cheeks flush for what seemed the hundredth time in the last few days. This time, however, he didn't bother try to control or hold it back. After all, what was the point in that?
"We've rested long enough. Let's get back to the safehouse, Duo."
"Aye, aye, sir. Go-go-Duo-mobile!" Duo shouted, as he revved the Crusader's engine, delighting in the noisy engine's roar into the dark quiet night. "Hang on tight, flyboy." He nearly missed the comment murmured in his ear, which would have been a pity, considering the amusement it provoked when combined with one guiding, pointing index finger.
"To the cave, batman..."
They had nearly reached the loghouse when the tranquility of the night - if you disregarded the snowmobile - was broken by the wailing of a grenade shell, missing them by far, but creating an impressive white volcano as it impacted and detonated on the plain of snow. They both turned around to identify the new threat, but couldn't make any enemy silhouette out from the darkness. Heero reached into Duo's inner jacket pocket, searching for his collapsible binoculars. His own hadn't been at the infirmary nor at the sergeant's office. Presumably, they had been broken in the fall, and the OZ troopers had simply discarded them.
Even with the enhanced perception provided by the binoculars, it took some time to locate the source of the shell.
"Three Tragos suits. Figures. Their hovercraft legs make them a lot better suited than the Leos out here."
"Well, that's just dandy. We'd better get to our gundams before they learn how to target - hold on, Heero, I'm about to see just how fast this thing can go!" And with that, the Crusader threw itself forward faster than ever before. Heero resisted the urge to scream. Fine, I'm riding with a damn suicidal maniac. Ah, hell. If we die, we die together. And for some bizarre morbid reason, that prospect didn't sound all that bad.
The Tragos suits weren't that fast, nor were they really adapted to night or frontline combat. They were designed to act primarily as artillery support, and for that reason these suits lacked any real close-combat or precision weapon. The sheer explosive power of a single shell was more than a serious threat for two unshielded humans on a skimpy vehicle, however.
Three more shells were lobbed their way, two landing far ahead, creating massive craters the Crusader barely swerved enough to avoid. The last landed not far behind them, sending a mist of powdered snow over them. A mixed blessing it was, as it obstructed the aim of the pursuers, though nearly caused the Crusader to topple over as its driver got taken slightly by surprise at the sudden snow shower.
"Heero, get ready, we're almost there."
Heero tightened his grip around Duo's waist slightly, affording himself one more hug before loudly mumbling in his partner's ear "Don't bother to stop - I'll let myself off..."
Before Duo could turn to argue, he let go, jumping off the Crusader and rolling along the snow, slowing down to uncurl to a halt at Wing's feet. On the speeding vehicle heading for the black sentinel, he saw Duo glaring at him, waving a warning fist. Okay, so maybe I should have waited for his reply..., he thought with a slightly pained half-smirk, affording a swift rub on a battered elbow before scaling the huge war machine, seating himself in the giant's bowels, waking the powers stored within.
The makeshift tarpaulin hallway was ripped apart as Wing's left arm rose its shield to deflect the next barrage of Tragos fire. Though the block had been done on reflex, the lack of power in the impact told him something the monitors showed him seconds later - it wasn't Tragos grenades, but Aries rifle rounds. Great, reinforcements arrived after all. No matter, they didn't bring enough. They never do.
Out of the dark skies, through the scattering sky cover, three OZ mobile suit carriers appeared, hornet's nests spewing out their occupants - Aries suits - as if these were wasps; usually only fatal in large numbers, but plenty bothersome as just a few. Bright beam of Wing's buster rifle serving as a flyswatter, two of the inbounds met their fate. The rest scattered, one coming in much too low, earning vivisection by scythe.
Heero turned his attention back to the Tragos as another artillery shell landed between Wing and the cabin, causing considerable collateral damage to the latter, southern log wall shattered to splinters. Seeing the feeble furniture within ablaze triggered a fire within Heero, a strange feeling of loss overcoming him as the bed he and Duo had shared for two nights - pillows, quilts, blankets and all - became flame fodder. Wing's engines lit up, sending the suit hovering fast across the white plain, intent on removing the perpetrator.
On one of Deathscythe's monitors Duo saw his partner race across the snow, and as Wing moved, he saw the damage done by whomever Heero was going after. Damn it! I wasn't done with that bed, Duo's mind fumed, as he brought his scythe down and through yet another wasp coming much too close for its own good.
The soft plain was definitely not the ideal place for Deathscythe to fight - without more than limited flight capacity and no good footing, the black giant was at a distinct disadvantage. Jumping sideways to avoid incoming missiles, the suit slid when impacting the ground again, falling on its rear. With a flash in green eyes, the giant's head turned, twin vulcan cannons avenging the insult. Seven down, fourteen to go, Duo briefly reasoned, before revving his big pal's engines to raise to the skies again, reaper's swoop claiming yet two more Aries in the large arc of the jump, snow sent flying anywhere upon meeting the ground again.
The defenseless Tragos trio could but attempt a retreat before being cut to metal ribbons by beam saber, desperately hurling shells toward their previously elusive target, to no avail. Aries twins attempting to intervene, was served the same sentence. Securing a footing, Heero brought the buster rifle to bear at the nests high above turning to escape the battlefield. One wide beam pulse ensured two of them never would. Taking aim for another shot, the last carrier was fortunate enough to duck behind one of the few remaining clouds. Still, it would not be enough. Changing Wing to flight mode, Heero went into pursuit.
By the burning cabin remains, Duo was busy fending off yet another trio of Aries intent on his hurt - something they were ever so slowly able to, sheer rate of fire causing the tiny bites to become noticeable as their numbers increased. Undeterred, Deathscythe crouched before leaping like a tiger into the air again, beam blade drilling into one suit, powerful swing of the scythe sending the punctured Aries hurling into a companion, sending them both crashing into the ground, fiery wreckage melting a crater in the white.
From his point in the sky, Heero noticed the threat Duo did not; two Aries suits landing in the distance, readying what looked like a huge beam rifle. A space laser, Heero deducted, sending Wing flying down to intervene, one hand reaching to activate the communications systems.
Whirling vulcans wrought wide holes in the thin armor of one Aries, while the glowing blade of a scythe cleaved its nearby sibling in two. Nineteen, Duo mentally noted. Now where's the last- Heero's agitated voice over the comm line rattled him out of his thoughts.
"Duo, look out!"
Long before he could react, however, the light of the space laser streaked towards him, white-hot horizontal pillar ready to strike Deathscythe's turning form, when Wing crashed into the black giant, sending both suits tumbling sideways, though not before the hungry beam found its meal in Wing's side, albeit for but a second. But it was enough. Wing crashed on its side, flakes of gundanium flying everywhere as it halfway buried itself in the snow.
"Heero!" Duo yelled, not taking the time to listen for replies, as he sought out the two missing from his count. From its seated position, Deathscythe raised its left arm, and sent the buster shield flying, bright plasma shining between spinning teeth as it soared through the air, whirling up the thin top layers of snow as it homed in on its targets, drilling through the last two enemies in one swoop.
Duo's breath was erratic, his forehead covered in sweat, heart pounding from the surge of adrenaline, now empowered further by concern, fright, even terror. As the dimness clouding his thoughts cleared, he slowly retraced the last few minutes in his mind. "Hee... Heero?" he near whispered, not getting any answer. On his right screen, he saw the light in Wing's eyes fading away, hatch of its cockpit slowly opening - and its pilot tumbling out and down on the snow, coming to a complete halt on the cold, white blanket, apparently asleep to the world outside. For the second time in a night, the hero had fallen.