Thirty Feet Over
Quatre stepped out of the elevator and into the large subterranean cavern his Maguanac Corps had developed into a secret base, their work hidden beneath rock and shifting sands. Given the late hour, the sizable space was almost vacant, and except for one corner of the main chamber, the lights were dimmed close to the point of being off.
There were no guards down here tonight. At his orders, the nightwatchmen was doing double duty at the entrances instead. There had never been a breach of security here, but the Maguanacs knew the damage traitors and saboteurs could do - and thus swore to be ready for this eventuality as much as any other.
And still, they trusted Quatre's judgement in inviting total strangers. Trowa had been the first - but not the last.
As he walked towards the light, the proof of that became more and more evident - both through the looming, black suit, the sounds of metal against metal and the occasional huff and curse from the guy working half inside an access panel in the side of the huge mobile suit, the end of his long braid secured in his belt to keep it from falling every which way as he worked.
Quatre was almost by Deathscythe's feet, and was ready to think he'd finally been able to sneak up on his friend - only to be proven wrong by the lift winch almost hitting him in the face, just like the grin from above definitely did. "Hiya, Quatre," Duo called down as he swiped the worst grime on his hand off at his once-white T-shirt. "Come on up, I'm almost done!"
Nodding, Quatre put a foot in the stirrup and activated the winch. It went a bit fast for his tastes, but then again it was all adjusted to Duo's preferences.
"Want to have a look at the adjustments I made before I close it up?"
He shook his head as he stepped onto the ramshackle scaffolding at Deathscythe's waist.
Duo shot him a disappointed glance, but shrugged it off with a wan smile. "Suit yourself, then..." He rubbed his palms dry with an old rag, tossed it aside and went for the armor plated access panel. Securing a hold, he let go a grunt as he struggled to get it up and into place, leaving a final growl for when he managed to shove the plate in over the corner bolts. Duo slammed his fist against the plate for good measure, then scanned the surroundings for the wayward nuts.
Leaning precariously against the railing, Quatre had long since folded his arms. "Duo..." he finally started. "Are you okay?"
Duo found one nut, weighed it in his palm - then tossed it into the air, recapturing it before it could fall to the floor far below. "Yeah..." He put the nut to the top left bolt and worked it on. "Yeah, I'm fine. I mean, we all know our most likely fate, don't we? We're soldiers - terrorists, even. You can't exactly say we've got the best of life expectancies." As much as he tried, he couldn't get the nut wound tighter by hand. Giving up, he put his arms akimbo, glancing over his shoulder at Quatre. "He was a good guy. He shouldn't have gone that way." The next nut caught his eye, and he dived for it.
Quatre cocked his head ever so slightly, unfurled his arms in favor of securing a grip at the scaffolding. "Are you sure?"
Straightening up with his find, Duo gave him a big grin. "Yeah - I might run and hide, but I never tell a lie." Quatre's consequent look of scrutiny made him snicker, then add "Except the occasional fib and little white ones." He flipped the nut once, put it against the bottom left bolt and spun it inward. "I just can't believe he's dead, you know... The guy seemed positively invulnerable." He paused and sent a smile at Quatre. "I should know - I shot him twice, and he barely even noticed." The nut was in. Duo stood up, sighed as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "Well, life goes on." He turned around to flash another grin at Quatre. "At least for some of us, huh? Gotta be ready for whatever stunt OZ pulls next, right? We'll get to avenge Heero while we're at it. Perfect, isn't it?"
He couldn't quite meet his friend's eyes, and his grip on the railing tightened. "I guess..." He stepped out of the way as Duo went for the third nut, resting against his heel. Tempting as it was, Quatre refrained from nudging it off the scaffolding and into the abyss. He watched as Duo brought the nut against the bottom right fastening. "Heero was a great guy, wasn't he?"
Pausing for a second, Duo nodded and secured the third nut. He found the last one beside his knee, grabbed it and slammed it against the top right bolt, working it on.
"I was thinking... maybe we should hold some kind of memorial service."
Again, Duo stopped for a moment, then finished with the last nut, not letting it go until his hand hurt.
The railing felt clammy. "Rashid and I are trying to track down Trowa and Wufei. We haven't been able to determine where they're hiding yet."
Duo said nothing as he picked up a spanner and went back the access panel.
"You knew him best, Duo."
He stopped, tapped the top left bolt twice, let go a faint huff. "Yeah, guess so... Except maybe his puppeteer," he added with a touch of bitterness, locking the teeth of the wrench at the nut. He started to add leverage. "We never met, but I got the impression he and Heero go way back." He pushed harder, took a breather to look in Quatre's direction. "Not saying they didn't have their share of conflicts - we all have grudges with our mentors, don't we?"
Quatre chose not to argue the point and nodded along.
Duo gave the spanner another fierce yank, finally satisfied the nut was secured. He knelt to the next bolt. "Can that idea, Quatre. Heero wouldn't have wanted it. He'd want us to pick up where he left off - and that's exactly what I'm gonna do." He grinned wide as he worked the second nut tight as could be, metal screeching. "With what I've done here, I'll probably have boosted Deathscythe's base power by ten, maybe fifteen percent, easy. I even fixed the arm joints so they'll swing faster." He got to his feet. "This Grim Reaper is definitely gonna claim his share of Ozzies." Duo shot a glance at Sandrock. "Uh, I know you have Rashid and the guys looking over your suit for you, but shouldn't you make sure everything is top notch yourself?"
With a quirky smile, Quatre let go of the railing, testing the balance of the scaffolding again. "Some of us don't mind others touching their mobile suits..."
Duo gave his friend a long look, then shifted his attention to the top right bolt. He stepped around Quatre to get to it. "Yeah..."
Quatre watched him work in silence, ignoring the curse that slipped from Duo's mouth the way the wrench almost escaped his grip. He pursed his lips once, hesitated one more time before finally speaking his mind. "We both know how much your smiles can hide, Duo..."
His palms almost lost the spanner again. Regaining control of himself, he finished the third nut and got to his feet to face the last one.
Quatre pressed his attack. "If you don't want to show how you really feel about all this, Duo, that's fine - but the trouble with burying things deep down is that every time you do it, you dig up all the old, cold, half decayed stuff. I'm sure you have more than one thing buried in your past you'd rather not revisit. Even I have."
Duo made a grimace. "Thank you very much for the lovely image of you and your shovel, Quatre..." He sighed, added a muttering "...and yeah, got plenty." He shrugged, tightened his grip of the wrench and yanked down hard. "I can deal with it. Always have."
"Are you sure?"
Metal cried out. "Positive."
Quatre gave him a brief moment of reprieve as he studied the last bolt, but no more. "I've sometimes watched over you while you've tried to sleep, Duo."
His expression turned sour, but he didn't answer; he simply glared at the bolt and secured the spanner around the last nut again.
"They sounded like nightmares..."
He wrung the nut with all of its might, but it wouldn't budge any further.
"Who is Sister Helen, Duo?"
That finally did it; the walls came down, and the molten fury hidden behind the acidic grimace flowed forth. "Want me to show how I feel?! I'm pissed, that's what! He's dead, Quatre! Heero's dead! He freakin' pulled a primetime suicide on us, just 'cause his pal in the sky said so!" With far more might than was necessary, he threw the poor wrench at the toolbox, making sure all of it flew off the scaffolding, a good three dozen pieces crashing against the dark floor far below half a heartbeat later. Duo didn't care. "I just don't get why, you know? Why the hell did he do that? He could have fought his way out of that mess easily-"
"OZ held colonies at gunpoint, Duo. The rest of us hesitated because of that - but he didn't."
Duo bit his lip, nudged his forehead against Deathscythe's cold surface. "They wouldn't have done it..." he growled. "If they had, the colonies would have unified in an instant, and they'd probably have rallied with the Alliance space forces to boot." He pushed away from the suit, gave Quatre a mad glare, smile to match. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, right?"
"We don't know that, Duo," Quatre tried to calm him. "There is quite a bit of animosity between individual colonies and the colony clusters too."
He ground his teeth together, folded his arms and leaned back against Deathscythe. "That's the trouble with those damn what-ifs. You never know which one is right."
Quatre took a step closer, approaching Duo as if he were a wounded predator. "You have the right to miss him, Duo."
"We all have," Duo waved him off. "He was a good friend."
This was, of course, the core of the matter. Quatre felt himself faltering, losing the courage to say what had to be said. "Duo..." he asked gently, seeking his attention, getting it. "Are you going to deny him now?"
Duo gave him a blank look, blinked, then continued as before, acting oblivious.
Quatre knew better. "You two were a bit more than just friends, weren't you?"
He frowned softly. "What you gettin' at?"
He took a bold step forward. "There were times when... you had this faint glow about you, Duo - and more often than not, Heero simultaneously showed the same symptoms. I don't think that was coincidental."
Duo's wry grin sent a shiver down Quatre's spine. "You know, everyone hates perceptive little runts like you..."
Curling his fingers repeatedly, he defensively muttered "I'm not that small..."
Duo's snicker bordered on evil. "Good for you, then. I'm sure you'll make some princess real happy someday."
Quatre looked away, rubbing the back of his hand.
"...unless you want me to take your wearing of pink as a stereotype and not a sign of male confidence?" Duo went fishing. "You in the market for a prince too?"
He gave a weak smile that said all the things his didn't voice aloud. "Maybe..." he ventured, but quickly decided to turn the tables back around. "So I'm right about you and Heero?"
Duo started to say something, but it stuck in his throat, becoming a sigh as his face started to fall. "Yeah... We were... close," he mumbled with a wry grin before shaking his head and letting go a chuckle. "But I never could get him to tell me how he got that weird scar across his ass. I'm sure there's a hell of a story there."
Quatre flagged a brow and smirked. "Long time?"
He scratched the itch at the root of his braid. "I didn't even know the guy couple months ago, Quatre."
"First sight?" he teased.
Duo snorted at that, shook his head. "At first sight, I shot him. Twice. You know that."
He nodded affirmative. "I know - but don't all great relationships start off on the wrong foot?"
That earned him a look that lasted a little too long. At length, Duo intertwined his fingers, flipped them around and cracked his knuckles. "Until death do us part..." he muttered, kicking at the single screwdriver that had thus far avoided the big plummet.
As the clatter died down, Quatre put a hand on Duo's shoulder, gaining his attention. "You wanted him to live."
Duo balled his fists and glared at the hand, at Quatre. "Of course I wanted him to live! What sort of stupid question is that?!"
"You wanted him to live for you," Quatre reinforced.
He clenched his teeth, tore his shoulder away from Quatre's lax grip, took a few steps away.
"He chose this, Duo - both for himself, and to give us a chance to retreat - regroup. I'm sorry he did, but-"
Duo spun around as Quatre talked, and he braced himself for a fist in the gut or at his face. The powerful embrace took him by surprise, as did the palm cradling the back of his head, crushing him against Duo's shoulder. He smiled faintly as he felt cool, wet droplets touch the back of his neck, just in the spot his loose shirt collar didn't cover. "I know, damn it..." Duo said, voice close to sobbing. "I know..."
Quatre tentatively returned the hug, but kept his mouth shut as the minutes past, did nothing more than be there, perhaps shift his palm against Duo's back from time to time. Even as Quatre tested the waters for stepping away, Duo strengthened his grip.
"A little while longer..." he whispered.
Quatre nodded. He was long past caring about the grease, grime and sweat Duo was undoubtedly rubbing off on him, could easily ignore the dull ache the awkward angle of their embrace gave him, could accept the trickle down his back without question.
He had one friend to bury as it was. There would not be another, succumbing to rash revenge or distractions from grief.
They had a sacrifice to honor - with living on.