Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warning:Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence, Christmas angst.
Duo didn't see him right away. Walking along the snowy street, he caught a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. Even though he was five years out of a war, he was still operating on a hair trigger. There were still people who didn't like Gundam pilots.
Duo's hand fell to the gun under his coat and he turned warily. There was a narrow alley between two buildings, hardly big enough for a person to walk through. An overhang kept the falling snow out, but not the freezing cold. The figure sitting there was huddled tight, head tucked down into a coat.
Having been in that situation enough times himself as a child, Duo couldn't convince himself to pass by. A person could freeze to death on an evening like that one and a shelter was close at hand. Turning his footsteps towards the alley, he called out softly.
"Hey, guy. Are you okay?"
A twitch of a shoulder and then the man looked up. Messy, chocolate hair almost made a curtain over dangerous dark, blue eyes. Those eyes became startled, though, as they both recognized each other.
"Duo," Heero said in a raspy voice, as if he could hardly believe it.
"Would you look at you!" Duo sighed, shaking his head and hunkering down beside Heero. He blew into his cold hands and eyed his one time war comrade. "I don't think much of your digs, Heero. I could have given you a place to stay, if you needed it."
Heero's eyes slid past him, glaring at the street and the other people passing by, and then he focused on Duo again; the soldier making sure that he was safe. "I didn't need a place... not until tonight." He shrugged and hunkered into his coat. "I ran out of credits."
Duo blinked and then tried to find something to say. Heero was thin and worn, his eyes pinched and shadowed. Not drugs, or drink, Duo concluded. The man's eyes were sharp and clear and he wasn't dirty, at least not much. There was a dark air about him though, more so than Duo remembered.
"There's a shelter down the street," Duo told him, but then knew that Heero was well aware of that. Something about the shift of his eyes alerted Duo to the fact that his shelter was a matter of choice. "I think you should come home with me, actually." He tried to sound upbeat, hopeful, but Heero looked down and he knew what Heero was going to say before he opened his mouth.
"No, I... I'm fine."
"Hell you are!" Duo snapped. "Let's stop shitting each other. Something's wrong and it's bad enough that you've given up, right?"
Heero was quiet and then he admitted, "After the war, I traveled. I tried to see how normal people lived. I wanted to try and live like that. Only... It never seemed as if I could... fit in. I felt like a ghost... or... two dimensional. Things that mattered to them, didn't matter to me."
Duo chuckled and Heero glared at him. Duo held up hands in a 'no threat' gesture and said, "Heero, you got it all wrong. When you're different... when you're nuts... you hang out with people just like you. Otherwise, you're going to be one lonely guy your whole life, 'cuz these people, " he hooked a thumb at the people passing by them, "are scared shitless of us."
Heero nodded, his jaw working, and then he looked up, his eyes bright. "Maybe... I'll try that."
"Good," Duo said cheerfully as he straightened, "but, for now, get the hell on your feet and come home with me."
Heero stood as if he were half frozen, but he was shaking his head. "No, Duo. I'll go to the shelter. I think I still need... time." His eyes met Duo's, intense blue showing an inner man that Duo had never seen before. "Thank you."
Duo grinned and winked. "Any time, buddy. Give me a call when you get done doing whatever you're doing. I'm always here for you, man."
Duo walked away into the swirling snow and then sighed as he sank his hands into his pockets. He wished that Heero had decided to come with him.
"Heero, what the hell?" Duo went down on his knees on concrete and shouted at Heero. "Get up, you asshole! You're freakin' bleedin' to death!"
Heero blinked at him, dazed and confused. "Duo?"
"Yeah, buddy," Duo growled, "Right here."
Heero was still frowning, looking around them. "How?"
"Pixies," Duo scoffed. "Where's your f'n partner? Where's backup?"
Heero made a vague gesture down a street. A bad street lamp was spluttering on and off. It gave the rain slicked street an eerie look, showing the slum in shadows and glaring relief at the same time. Heero's Preventer uniform was quickly staining with blood. Three bullets, Duo counted, all near his chest, but maybe high enough to have missed vital arteries.
"I outran them," Heero clarified vaguely as he pulled at his uniform and looked at his own blood. "Fei's too slow. Perp was getting away."
"And he had a buddy waiting to off you, I bet," Duo glared at him. "You've been in Preventers a whole year Heero. That's rookie shit."
Heero chuckled darkly suddenly and said, "You're always saving me, but then... stay?"
"Saving you?" Duo looked around for Heero's backup. "When was that? I've been with the sweepers..."
Heero frowned again. "That time... four months ago... I was in Sumatra... breaking up a drug gang... You came to my hotel room and told me not to go into a warehouse, because they had a sniper nest set up. You were right. Then, Sidney... and that time in ..." He tried to think it through. "But then you left..." He began to reach out, but then wavered and had to brace himself from falling over. "Don't go, Duo. I think I've had enough time."
"Yeah?" Duo grunted impatiently. "I think you're about outta time, Heero. Call your damned partner and tell him where you are. You probably lost them good and you need a medic, stat."
"Tired," Heero complained and blinked heavily.
"Fuck that!" Duo shouted at him. "Call your freakin' partner. Now!"
"Heero fished out his cell phone. "You call," he begged. His hand was shaking.
"You have to!" Duo shouted at him.
Heero looked confused. "Why..." he began to ask and then didn't have the strength to argue. He called Wu Fei.
Duo blinked and opened his eyes with an effort. "Yeah? About freakin' time!"
Heero was crouching by him, looking concerned. "You can't sleep," he warned.
"I know that, asshole!" Duo snarled as he sat up and pulled the dirty blanket closer around him. "Doesn't matter now that you're here, though. You know this is all your fault for convincing me to join Preventers, right? I could still be floating on Howard's barge in the nice warm sun, instead of freezing and starving to death in someone's goddam basement!"
Heero looked around him. "Where?"
"Fifth street and Hanson," Duo ground out, "But you know that. That's how you found me. I was jumped walking home and the two kids panicked. They though they'd killed me, so they stuffed me down here and padlocked the door. Did one of them finally fess up?"
Heero was looking confused. "No."
"Four days," Duo grumbled. "Can't even stand up. I kept yellin' but no one answered."
"Kids," Heero repeated.
"Don't say it! I'm not in the mood," Duo grumbled. "Last I heard, even Gundam pilots didn't have eyes in the back of their heads. Everyone will probably make rookie jokes to me for freakin' ever now and those two kids will get to say that they took down Duo Maxwell. Life sucks."
"Duo," Heero said and turned back to him. He crouched and studied Duo's face intently. "Something's wrong."
"Yeah, you're not getting me out of here fast enough!" Duo complained.
"No, think," Heero told him and then shook his head sharply. "No, I have to think."
"About what?" Duo demanded.
"Things have happened," Heero said, "That seemed odd. You've been there to help me, time and time again, but... how... You always seemed to be there... where I was... and then gone again. You turned my life around... gave me a life. You made me what I am today, yet you kept your distance and acted as if we were barely friends. You traveled, worked with the Sweepers, worked with Howard, and then joined Preventers in another department just recently."
"Because you called and told me that they needed me," Duo reminded him. "But what're you talking about... saving you? We hardly see each other. I thought you wanted it that way. You want different, that's good. I've been wanting different for a long time. We can get together... as soon as you get me the hell out of here, okay?" His voice trembled on the last.
"I can't," Heero told him sadly.
"Why fuckin' not?" Duo shouted back.
"Because... you're not real," Heero told him. "I've been dreaming you."
Duo gaped. "Are you zeroing on me, Heero? What are you talking about?"
Heero looked thoughtful. "Maybe that has something to do with this. We were both subjected to that system. It opened neural pathways. We could be communicating at some level... or it could be my imagination."
Duo felt himself and then scowled. "If anybody's not real, it's you. I'm the one that's freezin' and staving to death!"
Heero crouched by him and gave Duo an intense look. "Preventers assumed that you had left when you didn't report for work. I don't think that anyone there expected you to accept the discipline."
"So nobody looked," Duo swore, closed his eyes tightly, and then huddled in his blanket. "And you?"
"I made several calls, but no one admitted seeing you," Heero replied. "I expected that. We haven't been close friends. I thought, when you didn't approach me..."
"You do that stone face thing really well," Duo said, almost angrily. "You made friends, made a life, and got your shit together. I figured that maybe I wasn't someone that you wanted to take along on that new life." He scowled. "But I'm not real, right? What's it matter?"
Heero reached out and his hand passed into Duo. "It matters," he said as the room faded into darkness, "because," he said to his apartment bedroom as he sat up sharply in bed, "somewhere, it IS real."
"He'll be all right," the doctor said as he left Duo's room. "He needs to rest , re-hydrate, and gain some weight back. Make sure that he does all three or he'll relapse."
Heero nodded and then he quietly went into Duo's hospital room. Duo was in the lone bed, tubes snaking to bags and lines to monitors that were making certain that his vitals stayed stable. He turned his head at Heero's approach and looked uncomfortable.
"Thanks... for saving me," Duo told him. "Guess I'm going to be a joke."
Heero shook his head. "I don't think people care to laugh about an agent almost dying."
"Those kids," Duo began, but Heero cut in.
"Duo, it isn't important." He moved to the side of the bed and looked down at Duo. Duo was thin and haggard looking, his eyes bruised and his lips cracked.
Duo frowned. "I just feel..."
"I know," Heero told him. Very slowly, he reached out, daring a great deal, and wrapped a hand around Duo's. Gun callouses rubbed together roughly as he tightened his grip. Duo looked surprised, but not offended.
"How did you find me?" Duo asked in an uncertain, subdued voice as he stared at their hands.
"I don't know," Heero admitted. "I had a dream..."
"Dream?" Duo looked puzzled.
"I've had many dreams... with you in them," Heero admitted, feeling shy and joining Duo in staring at their clasped hands.
"Yeah?" Duo swallowed and then said. "Didn't think you cared much for me. You always had somethin' to do... places to go... a life to get on with. I've been pretty much the same since the war. A guy can want to leave that kind of thing behind him."
"I was stupid," Heero told him as he took his other hand and gently rubbed it across the top of Duo's. "I kept looking for my new life everywhere but where it was all along. Sometimes, you don't see your shadow."
Duo grunted. "I'm a shadow?"
Heero managed a nervous smile. "It's hard to live without one."
"I've heard that," Duo replied with a sudden chuckle. "So... is this some weird way of asking me out?"
Heero nodded, but added, "More than that."
"Took you long enough," Duo grunted. "I hope you don't take this long to decide to have sex... or move in together... or... am I going too fast for you? Should I blame it all on the drugs while you make your getaway?"
"No, I think I've had enough time," Heero told him, very seriously.
Duo blinked. "Weird. I feel like you've said that before."
"So do I," Heero replied.
Duo blinked sleepily and then closed his eyes. "Gotta sleep." he slurred. "If this is a goddam dream, I'm gonna go after you for real as soon as I get outta this hospital. Time, my ass, that's what I say. I've been waiting long enough."
Duo drifted into sleep. Heero leaned over and kissed him lightly and then said, "If this is the dream, then I never want to wake up again."