"Duo?" Heero's voice came over the com, the signal crackly and uncertain.
"Backup is coming in hot, Heero!" Duo shouted into the com. "Retreat or lay low!"
"Opening to escaping shuttle. Permission to target and capture?" Heero replied.
Duo gritted his teeth and then ordered, "Permission granted, target and capture."
"Roger that," Heero replied.
"Sir?" Duo's companion said and Duo looked over at the man, who was doing a good imitation of a drowned rat. Agent Keegan, that was his name, Duo remembered. "I should help you get to the pods. They may not find us in all of this."
Duo took stock of his body. It hurt like hell. A small voice said, 'Give it up. You're never coming back from this one.', but Duo swore at it under his breath and said instead, "Yeah, let's see if we can make it. If not," he warned, "You are to drop me and get the hell to safety. Got that? The enemy was on the run, but they may be looking to make some corpses on the way out."
Keegan nodded shakily and carefully slipped arms around Duo's upper body. It was hard to get footing in the muck of the forest floor, but he managed to get them on their feet... or at least on his feet.
"Anything broken, sir?" Keegan asked.
"I don't know," Duo replied. "Doesn't matter. Get me to the pods however you can manage it."
The man's lips went into a tense, thin line, and then he dragged Duo through the forest. It was a temptation to try and walk, to put weight on joints, to at least limp forward to help Keegan, who was essentially risking his life for Duo, but Duo throttled the urge.
"This was a bad idea," Duo said.
Keegan grunted, frowning his question.
"A cripple shouldn't go into the field," Duo clarified. "I-"
"Managed to get out of a pod that was being attacked," Keegan cut in, "Managed to still command. Managed to save my life. Managed to keep coordinating the mission.If you think that's not up to speed, sir, then I'd hate to have my performance reviewed by you. I'm not that good."
Duo chuckled. "Agent Keegan, flattery will get you a punch in the mouth."
Keegan laughed and then saved his breath for dragging Duo.
The com came back to life with a crackle. "You are under arrest!" Heero's voice shouted as sounds of enemy fire almost drowned him out. "On the floor, weapons down, or you will be shot!"
"Power down the goddam shuttle, pilot!" Wu Fei's voice shouted.
"Secure the pilot!" Heero ordered.
"Why do you feel the need to order that?" Wu Fei replied in an offended tone. "You've been working with new agents too long, Yuy." and then with a snarl, "Hands above your head or you will lose it!"
"Strap them!" Heero ordered.
"Sir," Trowa replied and then, "That's a very bad idea, soldier." There was the sound of more gunfire.
"Heero?!" Duo exclaimed. "Report?"
"The men are secure on the rescue pod, Commander Maxwell," Tango's voice over rode Heero's, probably using the backup pods transmitter. "Agent Winner has been retrieved. Orders?"
"Shut up!" Duo snarled. "Heero?!"
There was only loud sounds and then Heero's voice, "Secure, no casualties, sir. Permission to transport prisoners to the backup pods?"
Duo closed his eyes for a brief second of relief and then he replied, "Permission granted."
"Roger that," Heero responded.
"This was fun," Trowa said casually. "We should do missions together more often."
Duo almost laughed, but then remembered, and didn't. He doubted that there would be any more missions for him.
"So, those are the results?" Duo asked as he looked anxiously at the two envelopes Heero was holding. Sitting on the bed, in their apartment, he had chosen it over hospitalization once the doctor had told him that he had managed, by some miracle, not to break anything. Deep bruising and muscle strain were rampant throughout his body, though, and bed rest had been a requirement of his release.
Heero unzipped his coat, took the time to toss it onto a chair, and then sat on the bed beside Duo. "Did you have lunch?" he asked.
Duo tried to pluck the envelopes from Heero impatiently. "You left a sandwich and vitamin drink next to the bed. I managed," he growled sarcastically.
Heero smiled and moved the envelopes out of reach. "We're sharing this."
Duo let out an exasperated sound and moved closer to Heero. "Okay... just... hurry."
Heero kissed him and then opened the first envelope. It was clear that he didn't know what it contained as they both scanned the pages of the medical report.
"Full body scan...," Duo murmured as his finger traced the results. He grinned. "The grafts and regen is A okay. I've rebuilt bone mass. I'm good to go for walking therapy."
Tears welled in Duo's eyes. He wiped at them with both hands. They hadn't been sure if the mission had caused a setback, or had wreaked havoc on his regenerated and strung together bones. To know that he could still attempt walking, was something that he had not dared to hope for.
"Second envelope, love," Heero said as he shored Duo up with a brief hug and then opened it.
Une's review of Duo's mission was terse and to the point. Her list of failings was long. Seeing her list, at the bottom of the page, of corrections and suggested training modules, was a shock after that. It was a nod to further missions, a way of telling Duo that he was still in command.
"I didn't know she was an idiot," Duo growled. "She should can me."
"She knows your talent, in and out of a wheelchair," Heero replied. "You managed to not only bring your team out of a very bad situation, but you still managed to capture the targets."
Duo scowled at Heero."You did that, you and the guys."
"We did it," Heero reminded him sharply. "We are a team, after all, or do you have an ego so large, that you think that you are the sole force in whether a mission succeeds or fails?"
Duo blinked and then winced, "You're right. I'm being-"
"Damned critical of yourself," Heero finished. "Stop it."
Duo smiled as Heero put away the envelopes. "We should celebrate," he suggested.
Heero smiled back and began unbuttoning his shirt. "I was thinking the same thing. Now that the doctor has cleared you for duty..."
"Duty?" Duo snickered as he began pulling off his shirt. "Is that what you call it now?"
"Extracurricular activities?" Heero tried again as he kissed down Duo's neck and began untying the waist band of Duo's sleep pants.
"How about 'having sex like maniacs'?" Duo breathed as he leaned back and pulled Heero down with him.
"So, you're going to just... follow behind me, wait on me, hold my towels, wipe my chin...?" Duo wondered as Heero pushed the reinstatement form away from him. Sitting at the kitchen table, dinner finished and empty plates stacked, Duo had decided it was the perfect time to have a talk with Heero that was long overdue.
"Now isn't the time," Heero told him. "Who's going to take you to walking therapy?"
Duo snorted. "A cab. Heero, I roll into a room, they put pressure on both of my legs a few times, and then I roll back out. This is going to take months. There's no reason why you should kick your heels in the meantime."
"What will you do the rest of the time?" Heero wondered. "You'll be alone."
"You know, Heero, I did have a life before you showed up," Duo retorted as he slid the papers back at him."I do have a team to train, too.. Une gave us a lot of modules to go through. I'm not going to be sitting here staring at the walls."
Heero's jaw worked. Duo reached across the table and gripped his hand.
"I'm not saying I don't need you," Duo told him, "You're everything to me. I'm not saying I want to get away from you. I'd love to have you by my side, twenty four seven.That isn't good for you, though. You're not a nurse, Heero, you're a guy who needs action. This can't work... we can't work... if you don't start thinking of what you need too."
Heero sighed and rubbed hands over his face. He said, with sudden honesty, "It was good, getting back into action again."
Duo grinned. "I liked it too. That's who were are, Heero. We want that kind of life.I'll have it any way I can, even if I have to do it from a wheelchair, so I can understand that you need it just as much. Sign the papers. Turn them into Une. Go back to work."
Heero picked up the papers and studied them. "I won't go on travel assignments... not yet."
"Okay," Duo agreed, "But you will, later on."
"When you're walking," Heero stressed.
"Yeah," Duo chuckled. "That'll be before you know it."
"Ready?" Quatre asked as he looked over Duo's head at Wu Fei.
"Of course," Wu Fei replied irritably.
"I feel ridiculous," Duo growled as he crossed his arms over his naked chest. "I look like white roadkill."
"You needed to get out," Wu Fei growled, "Now be quiet while we get you to the beach."
"Heero isn't going to like this," Duo told them as they tried to find firm handholds on his wheelchair.
"Of course, not," Quatre agreed, "Which is why we didn't tell him."
"He imagines that you'll drown," Wu Fei snorted. "Foolishness."
"I don't like doing things behind his back," Duo complained.
"Then don't," Heero said from behind them as he took hold of Duo's chair along with the others. "Thank you for leaving the note, Duo."
They all blinked at him and then Duo gave a guilty grin, "Come home for lunch, Heero?"
"Apparently," Heero replied sourly. "Une wasn't happy when I called her to say that I wouldn't be coming back to work today. Going to the beach is not an acceptable excuse."
"No shit," Duo laughed and then stifled it when he saw that Heero wasn't joining in. "You aren't happy either, are you?"
Heero stared out at the sparkling water, eyes narrowed against the bright sun and then said, "Leave the chair. The sand will get into the bearings." He piled a few bags onto Duo's lap and then lifted him bodily.
"Okay he-man," Duo grumbled. "I guess you're going along with this, but you do have two other people to help you."
"Why should I trust them?" Heero wanted to know as he negotiated the sand with Duo's weight, the others following. "They didn't trust me."
Duo winced. "I didn't either. I really thought you would try and stop us."
Quatre set up a low beach chair near the water and Heero lowered Duo onto it. He made sure that Duo was stable, fussing and tossing the bags in his lap off to one side, before he looked Duo in the eye and replied,"Why would I stop you? No wheel chair access, filthy beach water, a weak swimmer in rough water, a chance for a fall during transport, skin not used to constant sunlight..."
"Maybe I was just trying to avoid you saying all of that," Duo grumbled, but then relented when Heero looked hurt. He ignored the others standing behind him guiltily, and cupped Heero's cheek with one hand as he said, "It was a nice day. I was overworked from the modules and frustrated with therapy. I needed to get out an relax and I was pretty sure we were going to get back before you left work. I love you, and the way you take care of me, but you've been over doing it. Yeah, the water is full of sea crud. Yeah, the guys might have fumbled me and put me on my ass in the sand. They might even think's it's funny as hell to let me flail around out there, but they would never, actually, let me drown."
"I know that," Heero replied irritably. "I just..."
Heero looked frustrated, biting down on his lip, trying to stifle a deep emotion.
"You want me to walk, as much as I do," Duo finished for him, pulling him in close for an embrace. "And you don't want me to jeapordize that. I wouldn't, Heero. This is okay."
Wu Fei looked annoyed, arms crossed over his bare chest. "Yuy, your lack of confidence in us is appaling. Didn't we recently accomplish a difficult mission together? This is mearely an 'outing'."
Quatre was more blunt. "Get your head out of your ass, Heero, and stop spoiling our fun. Get your swim suit on and join us."
Heero had his trunks and a towel in a bag slung over one shoulder. He tried to save face, as he straightened, by growling, "You have a hundred men, waiting on you, hand and foot, Quatre Winner. You could have retained a few to help you."
Quatre made a face. "That's part of 'playing hooky', Heero. We're running away from all of that, for a little while."
Heero looked at Wu Fei with a raised eyebrow. "Playing hooky?" he repeated, not believing that the duty conscious man would do any such thing.
Wu Fei shrugged and looked off towards the water. "I did have all of my paperwork filed..."
Duo grumbled, "Shut up, all of you, and get me into the water so I can swim."
"Yes, lord and master, Duo," Quatre snickered.
"Don't make me do it myself," Duo chuckled.
"You would try, to," Heero retorted. He pointed to a small restroom down the beach. "Let me change first." He glared at the others. "Don't move him until I get back."
"Yes, Yuy," Wu Fei replied with a sarcastic tone.
Quatre rolled his eyes in disgust.
Heero continued to pin them with his glare and then, satisfied that they would comply, he strode quickly away.
"Bets that he'll break the sound barrier getting there and changing," Duo snickered.
"I hope he does," Quatre snorted. "It's hot. I want to cool off in the water."
Duo reached down, grabbed a handful of sand, and lobbed it at them both. "Get out of here and swim, then. I'll wait here for Mr. Over Protective."
Wu Fei and Quatre exchanged uncertain looks.
Duo felt a flare of annoyance. "Don't you two start. I'm fine. Get out of here."
Wu Fei smiled. "All right, my friend."
Quatre was relieved. "Good. Now, don't run any marathons or save people from burning zepelins while we're away."
Duo grinned. "Promise."
They would stay in sight, Duo knew, their willingness to leave him on the sand based on the knowledge that the beach was wide open, almost deserted, and appeared perfectly safe for a crippled, ex Gundam pilot.
It was almost painful to watch them both run for the water, strong, capable bodies effortlessly moving to their will, and diving with the grace of dolphins as they reached deeper water. Duo found himself rubbing at his eyes angrily, telling himelf that it was just sand and salt, as his friends began swimming strongly into the waces.
Duo started and looked around. A little tiny girl, barely two years old, perhaps, was staring at him with one finger stuck in her mouth. She had on a frilly bathing suit with some cartoon character princess on the front, and her curly blonde hair was tied up in a ribbon
."Nana yyge," she slurred around her finger.
Her eyes were wide and uncertain, taking Duo in with acute fascination. Long white limbs, scars everywhere, and a face that was frowning and still marked by a few of the more vicious scars, the ones that not even surgery could smooth away, must have seemed strange to her. Her attention was quickly diverted by a seagull, though, as it called out to its fellows and winged low over the surf.
"No," Duo told her as he looked frantically for the little girl's parents. They must have been over the dune. No one was in sight.He could imagine them, taking chairs, towels, and umbrellas out of their car, distracted enough to miss the absence of their child.
The little girl tottered over the sand towards the surf.
"No!" Duo said, louder. "Get back here!"
The little girl didn't even glance at him, her complete attention on getting to the water.
"You rotten, little..." Duo snarled and then shouted, "Quatre! Chang!!"
His friends were having some sort of swim race, both of the arrowing away from him in the water, unable to hear his call. Only a few moments, he was sure they were thinking, What could happen?
Heero was a dot in the distance, making his way back to Duo. He wouldn't be in time. A body that small could be sucked under in seconds.
"Hey!" Duo shouted, hoping to get the attention of the parents. "Somebody help!! Your little kid is about to drown!"
No one came. If the parents had noticed their child's absence by now, they were probably frantically searching around the sand covered beach lot, among the cars parked there.
"Shit!" Duo snarled and was out of his chair and belly first into the sand without waiting another moment. He crawled as quickly as he could towards the girl. She turned and saw him, a strange looking man who was moving with all the awkward grace of a sea turtle, and giggled. She came back towards him and climbed onto his back.
"Go horseee!" the little girl crowed in delight and kicked him with her heels.
Duo looked back at his rider with a glare. "I hate kids!"
A man and a woman, presumably the parents, came pelting over the dune and reached Duo at nearly the same time as Heero, and a wet Quatre and Wu Fei.
"What are you doing with our little girl?" the man snarled as he snatched up his daughter.
"Are you some kind of pervert?" the woman accused Duo as she snatched the girl from the father and hugged her so tightly that the child began crying. "Daniel, call the police!"
"Duo!" Heero exclaimed, kneeling by Duo anxiously. "Are you all right?"
"I'll call an ambulance!" Quatre shouted as he dived for his beach bag and began looking for his cell phone.
"I'm all right!" Duo told them. He reached out to Heero and the man helped him sit, hands gentle and cautious."I didn't hurt anything."
"Be quiet!" Wu Fei snapped at the parents. "We are Preventer agents. Allow my comrade to explain."
The parents didn't look as if they believed him. The woman half turned away with her daughter while the father stood protectively between her and the men. "Explain, then!" he demanded."Why did he have my daughter?"
Heero checked Duo over, concentrating on his legs as he snapped back, "He did not take your daughter, he isn't capable."
Quatre held his cell phone, waiting for Heero to tell him whether it was necessary or not, "Duo needs a wheelchair. He can't walk," Quatre explained.
"Listen!" Duo interrupted as he pushed Heero off. "I'm fine! Everyone stop yelling and panicking! You're scaring the kid!" He turned to face the parents. "Your brat was going straight for the water. Where the hell were you two? You're supposed to keep an eye on kids that small!"
The woman looked guilty, burying her face in her daughter's neck as she tried to soothe her. "We... we were arguing...I didn't see..."
The man made a sharp, cutting motion with one hand. "I didn't see you 'saving her'!"
Duo glared and then said in an exaggerated, happy tone of voice, "Hey, kiddo? Wanna ride the horsee again? Come on, stop your crying..."
The girl sniffled, brightened, and then reached out towards Duo. "Ride the sea horsee!"
"Yeah, I'm such a monster," Duo grunted. "Look, I crawled on my hands and knees after your daughter to keep her from going out with the tide. She thought it was a game. Do you get it now?"
The father looked guilty. "I..."
"Got nothing to say, now, yeah," Duo sneered. "Why don't you go down the beach, now, and leave us alone? I wanted to relax, not do your job."
"T-Thank you," the man replied, stumbling and uncertain. "Come on, Gene." He hooked an arm around his wife and they went back over the dunes.
Heero, Quatre, and Wu Fei crouched around Duo, looking at him in clear frustration.
"Heero was right," Quatre said.
"I suggest a room padded with cotton balls," Wu Fei said irritably as he checked over Duo's arms and brushed off the sand.
"With twenty four hour guards," Quatre added as he brushed sand off of Duo's back.
"This was not my fault," Duo snapped back. He dared to look at Heero, then, but Heero was relaxed and didn't look upset with him. "So, no lecture?" Duo wondered. "No talk about how this was a bad idea and how I should stick to smoothe sidewalks and hallways, and never go anywhere without twenty aides to help me?"
"No," Heero replied, and his expression warmed, "You are the bravest man I know, Duo. It scares me, I will admit, but it's who you are."
Not getting the fight he anticipated, Duo was left with a confused expression. Heero laughed at it.
"Ready for a swim?" Heero asked him.
"Huh?" Duo's eyes went wide.
Heero lifted him up easily. "That is why you came, correct?"
"Yeah, but..." Duo floundered as Heero carried him toward the water.
"You're all right," Heero said, "and I'm not ready to put you in a room padded with cotton balls... not yet."
Duo grinned. "Just keep the kids away from me, and I'll be okay."
"We'll make a kid free zone for the rest of the day," Quatre assured him.
"Count on that," Wu Fei vowed.