The Cost

Chapter 15:Core


by Kracken


Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warning:Male/male sex, duosufferitus, angst,violence, language

The Cost


It was rough. Everyone of Duo's bones ached by the time they reached the point of no return. He had to use his oxygen far more than he liked, but the cough medicine was his lifesaver. When it was time to address his squad, he was able to take off the mask, and speak clearly and strongly.

Heero unstrapped Duo and wheeled him to face the long line of his squad, armed to the teeth and ready to unstrap as well. "I expect everyone to stay sharp, " he told them."Follow Heero's orders, they come straight from me. Any one of you fails to do that and I give everyone a chance to kick your ass, if you're still alive, that is. I'll be the first in line. If you think a cripple can't cut it, I'll introduce you to my sadistic therapist. She'd make Oz torture seem like a tea party. If I can take her twice a week, I can take anyone of you down."

The squad laughed. They were glowing; too young and too full of adrenaline. Duo eyed each of them, trying to gage each personality, trying to predict how they were going to react when they were put into a serious combat situation. Tango gave him a slight nod, confidence in his squad, trying to tell Duo that they would meet any challenge. Duo nodded back, wheeled around, and barked, "Saddle up. Drop off in five!"

He would go first, alone except for his aides. Heero and the others would go down with the team. That begged a question. Duo eyed Quatre. The most important man in space and on Earth, hadn't been out from behind a desk in years.

Quatre smiled gently. "I know I'm not a field man. I'll be defending the pick up point and the ground communications array. That will free up more of your people."

"Good. Do that," Duo agreed, relieved. He hadn't wanted to be the one to tell Quatre that he wasn't qualified any longer.

The drop pod had all the aspects of a bug with boosters. It was a ride to hell in thirty seconds flat, taking a team down in a hard g, controlled crash, to land in any terrain. Duo was strapped down at every point by Heero, given a hard, fierce kiss, and then left with Heero's eyes burning into his own, willing him to survive this in one piece, as the hatch doors shut.

"Go!" Duo ordered sharply and closed his eyes tightly as they fell from the transport and the thrusters kicked in.

Duo counted, panting through the pain and fear as bones stressed and took weight they hadn't managed since the accident. The G's increased until he was sure that his bones would be crushed, and then, when he reached 32, they were down, the long metallic legs straddling and gripping onto trees and rocks as it made itself as level as possible.

"Scan!" Duo barked and people unstrapped to fling themselves at instruments. Duo flipped his viewer into position, ignoring everything but his need to get in contact with his team.

"Heero?" Duo demanded.

"Here," Heero replied as Duo was given a view of his team scrambling out of a hover ship. Rain was pounding down and the gloom made visual difficult.

"No chatter!" One of Duo's aides reported. "We're down clear."

"Not yet," Duo growled. The ship still had to get out.

"Get your team to point Charlie," Duo ordered Heero.

"Yes, sir," Heero replied promptly and Duo was given a view of Quatre, soaked with rain, setting up his array under a camo tarp. Quatre gave Heero a thumbs up sign, and then the visual jogged sickeningly as Heero and the team moved out of the drop off area.

"Drop ship away!" an aide announced. "Still no chatter. The rain's giving us good cover."

"Good," Duo replied tensely

"Trowa!" Heero barked. "Confirm?"

Duo saw Trowa's rain soaked face for a moment, before he nodded and was gone.

"What?" Tango wanted to know, a figure on Heero's right.

"Quiet, boy," Wu Fei growled. "Sentry drone, maybe."

"Don't call me boy... sir," Tango grated.

Wu Fei's reply was lost as Trowa returned and made a sign to be silent. They all ducked down and huddled for orders.

"Infrared, of course," Trowa reported. "I doubt there are motion sensors in all of this jungle, though. They'd spend all day chasing bogeys."

"If it goes down, they'll know we're here," Tango said unnecessarily and then offered, "I doubt they'll think much if a tree branch drops on it, though."

Heero looked at the others. Trowa was smiling. Wu Fei was arching an eyebrow. Heero replied, "Do it. Who has climbing experience?"

"Trowa," Duo replied. "Send Trowa."

Heero relayed the order and Trowa slipped into the gloom again. They waited. Heero didn't fill the time with asking how Duo was, though Duo knew that he longed to. Instead, he was all mission. "Once we get past point Charlie," he said, "and we reach the concrete barriers, we'll have to set up tarps to use the lasers."

"You'll have to take out any sentries," Duo replied, "I hope those babies are ready for cold blooded murder. Maybe they're fine when someone is shooting at them, but can they kill someone before they even know we're here?"

"I'll take care of it," Heero assured him.

"They need to," Duo argued. "If they want to do this line of work-"

"This isn't the place to test them," Heero whispered, too low for anyone else to hear. "We can't afford-"

"They've seen combat, just not this kind," Duo grunted. "It's now or never."

Heero wouldn't let the mission fail, Duo knew, but he couldn't do it all. He had to make Heero understand that.

"Heero, follow my orders," Duo told him firmly. "Tango will be point man."

"Yes, sir," Heero responded, but he didn't sound as if the issue had been resolved.

"Tango?" Duo switched links.

Tango was ahead of Heero, scanning the surrounding forest and chewing on something. Jerky, Duo decided, as his hand made a hard motion and he saw the strip in one fist.

"Sir?" Tango responded around his mouthful.

"Are you still a growing, boy, that you need to eat, agent?" Duo snarled at him.

"No, sir," Tango chuckled as he put the jerky away. "Yes, sir?" he queried.

"You realize what's ahead?" Duo asked.

"Yes, sir," Tango replied and sounded as if a weight was on his shoulders. "I'm ready. Don't worry about me."

"I'm not asking you to be hard, or to act like it's nothing," Duo told him, "I'm just asking you to be point and get the job done."

"Good as done, sir," Tango replied promptly. "Anything else, I'll save for the priest after the mission."

Trowa returned, objective completed. "Moving out," Heero announced softly and they began easing through the thick forest.

Reaching Point Charlie, they rested, checked their connection with Quatre, and then moved out. The barriers were next and Duo wished that he could pace.

"They are fools," Wu Fei growled from his position near Heero. "They have lights on."

"Over confident, or something to be confident about?" Trowa wondered.

Heero grunted, went thoughtful, and then motioned to Tango. "Recon. If an opportunity presents itself, take them out."

Tango motioned to two team mates, a man, Peters, and a woman, Kelly, and slipped into the darkness. Wu Fei frowned at the choice, but Trowa whispered, "Don't say anything about women being too weak."

Wu Fei glared at him, and then whispered back, "Women can be very ruthless. It was her low marks in hand to hand combat that I'm concerned about. We need speed and silence."

"Tango chose her for a reason," Duo was certain. "He knows his people."

They waited while the rain poured down on them, lightning slicing open the darkened sky occasionally. At last, Tango returned with a wounded Peters and Kelly, who was cleaning her bloodied knife on her thigh.

"Targets eliminated," Tango told them. "The barrier is ours." He looked tense and pale, and Kelly was frowning very darkly as she sheathed her knife. Peters was still mobile, but he looked the most emotionally disturbed.

"Leave him," Duo ordered. "Move out and leave the man in command of the barrier station."

"Yes, sir," Heero replied.

There wasn't anything to hint that things were not as they should be. They had met the expected resistence, barriers, and terrain. They weren't overconfident or careless. That the targets had allowed their men to die, to make sure that they had their enemy completely at their mercy, was not something anyone foresaw. That level of ruthlessness was few and far between.

A tow line snagged on the command pod and the powerful force of a land crawler, yanked them off of their perch. Computers struggled to compensate, legs moving wildly, but it was far too late. The pod crashed down between trees with a force that threw everyone into a wall, and dazed them long enough for a grappler arm to take out their communications array and laser open their hatch.

Duo rolled, survival instinct over riding his concern for his body. As shots rang out and peppered the deck, he was hitting one of the emergency escape hatches and free falling downward. His aides, armed, began shooting back as Duo snagged a dangling set of power lines and halted his descent. He swung there as huge grappler machines crawled over the carcass of his pod ship, the invading force intent on overcoming resistence inside.

The darkness was his friend, as was the heavy rain. Duo used his upper arm strength to reach the ground and roll into the thick undergrowth. Then, it was just a matter of silently thanking his therapist, and all the agonizing arm exercises she had forced him to do, as he pulled his body away from the fighting. A part of his mind called him a coward, but he knew that, unarmed, and far outnumbered, he would only have been staying to get a bullet in the head.

"Heero!" he hissed into his com unit. The visual was broken, but he hoped that the man could hear him without the pod's booster.

"Under fire!" Heero replied promptly. "Falling back. Duo? They were ready for us."

"The command pod's gone," Duo told him. "Take cover. I'm having Quatre bring in the calvary."

"Commander!" Tango's voice came suddenly. "We need to lay down cover fire or none of us is getting out of here. They have us backed up against the far side of the barriers and they are positioning a big gun to smear us into the next life."

"Confirmed," Heero said. "Your orders, sir?"

Time to chose who lived and died. That was part of command. Duo kept crawling, ignoring pain, ignoring love, ignoring everything except his clear knowledge of his squad's strengths and weaknesses.


"Here, sir!" his anguished voice replied. "I managed to get away with a portable unit, but the signal is shaky. I may not be able to confirm contact with our backup."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut. "Make the call. This mission is toast. Heero?"

"Yes, sir?" Heero's voice came through the intense sound of gunfire.

"Order Tango to take point and get my squad out of there," Duo ordered. "I want you, Trowa, and Fei to make those bastards pay for every inch of ground and drop of blood. until they get away."

"Mission accepted," Heero replied without hesitation. "Duo?" His voice couldn't afford softness, but he would say what he had to. "Love you."

Duo swallowed hard. "Love you."

The com stayed open. Duo heard Heero shout his orders, Tango's argument, the sound of a blow, and then Tango giving in and taking most of the squad to a chance at safety. Only a chance, Duo thought. There were no guarantees.

Duo found a likely hiding place. He wasn't the only one to think that the clump of rock and fern was a good place, though. He found himself staring into the barrel of one of his aides guns. The man was wide eyed in the almost nonexistent light.

"S-sir?" the man gasped.

Duo reached out and moved the barrel of the gun aside. "Report?" he ordered.

"Tyson and Grogen's gone, sir," the man replied. "I dived through a hatch." That bothered him, Duo could see, the same as it had bothered him.

"No choice," Duo soothed. "I called for backup. Our squad's pinned down. It's a waiting game now. You up for some hide and seek?"

The man nodded shakily.

"Good. Take the gun and get the hell out of here," Duo ordered. The man looked shocked.


Duo tried to make himself more comfortable in the mud and wet loam of the forest floor. "As far as I know, I've done permanent damage," he told the man. "That's war, kid. I'm not walking anywhere. You can. You have the better chance of surviving this."

"It's not a war," the man protested.

"No?" Duo grimaced and then grinned. "Us against them is the definition of any war. Follow orders. Go."

Sounds came to them, shouted orders, and the crash of troops going hard through underbrush. The aide put the gun into Duo's hand. Their eyes met and the agent said, "I know you're a better shot, sir."

Duo nodded, knowing their chances were not good at all now. It surprised them both when the troop of men passed them by at a fast run, in total panic.

The sound of pods dropping, and the roar of the transport ship overhead, came to their ears. Duo fell back, sighing, as rain pounded into his face. "Cavalry's here."

Duo hoped that there was someone left to rescue.



On to Chapter sixteen

Back to chapter fourteen

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