Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warning:Male /male sex, graphic, language, violence.
Duo could hear Heero lifting weights behind him; the grunts, the clank of weights, and his labored breathing. After twenty minutes, Duo imagined that he would have a sheen of sweat and that the damp locks of his dark hair would be hanging in his dark, blue eyes.
Don't look, Duo thought to himself sternly. Keep your back turned. Don't listen to him. Don't think about-
"Maxwell! What the hell is the meaning of this fax you sent me?!" A tall, dark man, in a crisp Preventer uniform, was waving the fax almost in Duo's face and he looked furious. "If you think I like these jokes of yours..."
Duo grunted as he let go of the bench press and straightened. He took the fax and growled. "At least you know it's a joke, Ramen."
"I have three kids, a wife, and an ex wife," the man snarled back. "I do think you're intelligent enough to know that I'm not a homosexual."
"Someone was playing a joke on me," Duo explained as he crumpled the fax and tossed it behind him.
Ramen's anger suddenly turned to humor. He laughed. "About time! Payback's hell, isn't it, Maxwell?"
Duo glared. "Actually, this has nothing to do with my jokes. Besides, I never went over the top like this. This person is breaking a dozen regulations and possibly compromising agents."
Ramen sobered. "That sounds serious. Any idea who's sending them?"
Duo scowled. "Yeah, by all accounts, I am. Someone hacked into my personal contact list. They were good. They rigged my computer just long enough to send and then they burned their way back out."
"I'd hang them by their balls," Ramen swore as he turned and left.
"That would be a little hard," Duo grumbled under his breath. "Rachel doesn't have any."
"Hey, commander!" Sally panted from her ski machine. "Isn't there a saying that a commander doesn't ask his troops to do what he won't?"
Duo threw her a look over his shoulder to retort, but the words he had been able to say died in his throat as he saw Heero beside her, shirtless, flex all of his upper body muscles to lift an incredible amount of weight. He remembered last night, getting Heero to his apartment, getting him down to his underwear and a shirt, and then tipping him into bed. He hadn't thought much about it. A drunken fellow agent and a duty to make sure he was all right. Now... Duo could feel his groin tighten. He dropped his sweat towel into his lap self consciously. Sally snickered, understanding very well what was making him look suddenly uncomfortable.
Heero was oblivious, a frown line between his eyebrows and his eyes looking at nothing, as he flexed and let the weights down with a clank. If he had a hangover, he wasn't showing it.
"Point taken," Duo grumbled and turned back around to start exercising again.
Heero's apartment had been a surprise. No at all what Duo would have expected. A pale carpet, dark brown, leather furniture, and computer room with some state of the art toys. Heero had decorated with a very masculine flair; chrome and glass, pictures of the inner schematics of mechs, a display of medals and accommodations, a gun cabinet, and a bedroom that had a low bed, dark blankets, and a dresser mirror pinned all a round the frame with pictures. Duo had found himself in several of them, as well as his fellow agents.
Heero had a home and it was... human, warm, and a place Duo wouldn't have minded living in himself. The thought was strange and he felt embarrassed, knowing that he had imagined Heero in a place with four bare walls; a place he might go to sleep, but nothing else.
Duo snarled at the strange agent in front of him, "If this is about those faxes and emails...!"
The young man blinked, startled, and then replied, "No, sir, your traveling orders."
The man handed Duo a slim case and Duo took it, his mouth hanging open. In the next moment he was shouting to the others, "Saddle up, people! Marching orders!"
There were shocked exclamations, but they didn't take time to question him. Duo was already jerking his cell phone out of his duffle, speed dialing Une, and putting it to his ear.
"Une,"She answered tightly.
"Maxwell," Duo bit out.
"You better be on your way to the transport, commander," Une snarled. "You have twenty minutes to lift off."
Duo jumped from his exercise machine and began running along with his team, phone still at his ear. "Explain! Why now?"
"Thing's have heated up," Une explained. "Ready or not, Maxwell, you and your team are online."
"Shit!" Duo swore.
"Exactly," Une retorted and the line went dead.
"Twenty minutes!" Duo shouted to his team and they scrambled to get their gear.
They all kept mission gear in bags in their lockers. After retrieving them, they ducked into the showers and did the bare minimum to get the sweat off. Dressing in tough, unmarked cold weather gear, they stopped to collect their personal weapons before running full tilt to the hanger and onto the Preventer airstrip. There, men were scrambling to load a transport with speed and efficiency. Duo and his team entered the cargo hold, dodging the packs that the crew were tossing from one man to another up into the ship.
"You're ten minutes late, Maxwell!" A pilot snarled from a doorway. "Get your lead butts in your seats. I'm taking off!"
They strapped in while the crew jumped down from the ship and closed the hatch with a motorized clang. The transport's engine was already revving and hot. They braced when it lurched into motion and gripped their straps when it began racing down the airstrip. Take off was at top g force.
"Asshole!" Duo gritted and felt a headache starting.
The ship leveled off and Duo sighed as he checked his teammates. Sally grinned at him as she tossed him a protein drink. He caught it deftly, popped the top, and drank it down as he sweated in his gear.
"You look green,"Sally said, "You okay?"
He'd had zero sleep, because of taking care of his drunken teammate, followed by a workout, and topped off with a skipped lunch. "I'm fine," he shot back as he unbuckled from his seat. "Everyone unstrap and check your gear," he ordered. "We only have an hour until drop off and I want to make sure they packed everything."
Milliardo began checking several long range, laser sighted, rifles. They were heavy, but he had the strength of arm for them. Heero was checking their survival gear and Duo was glad of that. If the ground crew had miscalculated, or packed the gear wrong, they could easily die in the rugged mountains before they reached their target. Sally checked the medical supplies. Wu Fe was checking their guidance and communications systems. Duo began checking over their jump gear.
Duo checked Heero over with his eyes. The man was wearing a pale parka with a fur rimmed hood pushed back. Duo was certain it hid a dozen weapons. His own white parka did as well. It brought Heero's dark hair and eyes out in sharp relief and made him look very intense and very dangerous. His eyes were bright and his hands were steady. He didn't hesitate as he checked every survival item they had and Duo saw him muttering accurate calculations for food usage based on weight, energy level, and mission requirement for each team member. Duo was impressed. How a man could go from a complete, breakdown drunk to a fully functioning, in top condition, agent, in under a few hours, was phenomenal.
Could he keep it up though? Duo made some mental calculations of his own, shuffling team members in his head based on their abilities. If Heero did crash and burn later, he needed to be ready to replace him. His eyes and hands went over the drop packs as he continued to think. When Heero leaned close and said, "I am not impaired," it startled him.
"Huh?" Duo was very sure that Heero wasn't a mind reader.
Heero grimaced and looked at their other teammates. He kept his voice low, and the roaring of the engines almost drowned him out as he said, "Last night was not usual."
"Didn't look that way to me," Duo ground out as he checked the fuel level of each pack, not bothering with a gauge that might prove faulty.
"It doesn't degrade my performance," Heero sidestepped.
"Yet," Duo retorted and glared. "Look, this is not the time. I'm trusting you. Don't let me down. We'll have a visit with Sally and psych when we get back, kay?"
Heero looked angry and walked away to separate the survival packs and hand them out.
"Fuck you anyway, doing this to me," Duo grumbled under his breath, but hated himself for saying it in the next moment. They all had their moments of falling below what was required by their dangerous jobs. This time it was Heero. Duo knew that he had to stop being pissed, mop up the mess, and hand out discipline later. Heero couldn't go into a mission distracted about how he might feel towards him. That thinking had to be shut off at the cargo door.
"Maxwell? You ready, or you need more time?" the pilot called over the intercom. 'More' was said in a sarcastic tone.
"Ready when you are, Phelps!" Duo shouted back and glared at his people. They scrambled to get their gear on and strapped down before getting into their drop packs.
Duo put on his packs and couldn't help walking behind Heero's back and checking the man's gear. Sally saw him do it and smirked. Duo shot her a bird and turned away.
"Get in your happy place!" Duo warned. "Say your prayers! Kiss your good luck charms! Check your ammo!"
Duo stood facing the cargo door, flicking his hands and wrists, trying to stay loose. His teammates lined up in front of him. Duo wouldn't jump himself until he saw everyone off the ramp.
Duo tucked his braid into the back of his parka and zipped it up tight, angry at himself for forgetting. He adjusted his straps one more time. The time before a jump was always nerve wracking for him. He hated gravity, hated that fear of something malfunctioning and falling to his death. He supposed space wasn't much better. There, a person had to be afraid of a suit leak.
A red light began flashing.
Duo tried to calm his heart beat. Wu Fei looked as if he were about to fall asleep, relaxed and uncaring. Milliardo was eager, a large, confident presence at the front of the line. Sally looked matter of fact, as if she did it a hundred times a day. Heero was tense, but with a tension that wasn't fear. It was anticipation. Adrenalin junkie, Duo thought with a snort.
A yellow light flashed and the cargo hold ground gears. "Ready to jump?" The pilot called.
"Ready. All go!" Duo responded.
The cargo door swung down and they were hit with freezing cold and the sight of blue skies. The decision to use packs had been a good one. They would get down quicker than with a chute and be less noticeable.
"Jump!" The pilot ordered and a green light flashed.
"Jump!" Duo ordered.
Milliardo went out, leaping gracefully from the ship. Wu Fei followed, simply letting the drag of air pull him out. Sally was all military, perfect in her execution. Heero grinned and jumped as if he didn't care whether he died in the next instant or not as long as he could feel the rush. Duo gritted his teeth and swore, as he tucked down his chin and threw himself into a maelstrom of cold wind and took the long fall down to earth.
The anti grav jets were harsh and hot strapped to such small power pack and the packs were notorious for failing. Still, when the mission was important, they were the best for getting a man down quickly and under cover. Duo sweated even in the cold, feeling the metal of the distributers heating up along his back. The pack would only work at certain altitudes and it seemed an eternity to reach it, to wonder if it would work, to make peace with his god in case it didn't.
Duo counted slowly in his head to distract himself, hating the freezing cold wind against his face. He refused to watch the mountains rushing up to meet him and refused to look for his comrades. There was a very thin line, he felt, between determination and panic. He didn't want to accidentally cross it.
An alarm sounded in Duo's ear and a green light flashed along an arm of the pack. Time. "Come on, God, " Duo muttered under his breath as he hit the switch. "Be nice to ole' Maxwell for once."
The anti grav kicked in and took its sweet time slowing Duo down from the bone crushing speed of his descent. He hit the sweet spot on the target area perfectly and grinned as he approached the others. They were all off their mark, except for Wu Fei, who was managing to look smug about it even as he swept the area with his instruments to pick up any sign that the enemy had noticed them. He gave the all clear sign as they hid their gear under the snow in the gap between two jagged rocks.
Heero was checking his glock. Milliardo was settling his gear on his tall frame, and Sally was checking her medical equipment.
"Good to go," Heero said impatiently.
Duo popped gum into his mouth and began chewing as he checked their position relative to their target. It settled his nerves and the butterflies in his stomach from the long drop.
"Go," Sally announced.
"Go," Milliardo echoed, strapped with their ammo and extra weapons.
"Go," Wu Fei said as he shut down the satellite feed on his instruments and nodded at Duo. "All clear."
"Okay guys," Duo drawled as he took the lead. "Fall in. Keep it down, keep it low. We don't want the target to know we're here until we're up their shorts."
Sally snickered. Wu Fei looked annoyed. "Maxwell," he grumbled, but didn't say anything more as they began walking into the mountains.
"Keep that proximity alarm red hot," Duo said to Wu Fei.
"I know my job," Wu Fei retorted.
Duo collared him and brought him into line behind him. "Then do it close to me," Duo told him. "I want to be the first to know, instantly, if they see us."
Wu Fei merely grunted and kept his eyes on his instruments as he kept in step with Duo, trusting his commander to lead him safely.
It was a grueling walk and the cold was bone chilling. A wind picked up early on and they all tucked down their chins and zipped their parkas tight.
Duo eyed the lowering sky. "Weather report?"
Wu Fei checked a reading and then swore. "System moving in."
"Shit!" Duo swore. "How long?"
"An hour," Wu Fei estimated. "It's forming up over that peak.
" He motioned to their left
"Still can't predict the weather," Sally grumbled, "Especially up here."
Duo checked his GPS. Their first cache site was still several miles away. It was taking a chance, banking on the storm not being severe enough to hurt them. It was his call.
"Heero?" Duo asked.
Heero eyed the sky. His expression was tense and thoughtful, as if he were gauging the weather by the feel in his bones. "We can make the cache," he finally said.
Heero knew the land and knew his own capabilities. Did he know theirs, though? "Can we all make it or just you?" Duo wondered bluntly.
Heero frowned at him. "Weather is unpredictable," he replied, echoing Sally.
"You're my Second," Duo snapped. "Act like it!"
Heero almost came to attention. He said in a tight voice, "Estimated chance of success, seventy five percent."
Duo nodded. "Good enough. Let's go people!"
Their mission was important and time was short. They couldn't waste it being bogged down by a storm. They had to push through to the cache and, hopefully, be able to travel again soon after that. Duo wouldn't order them into a suicide situation, but he couldn't balk if there was a chance of success either. They had all known the risks when they had signed up.
The thin air and the falling snow had everyone panting and struggling. Duo kept an eye on his team and an eye on his GPS, leading them to safety. He ignored his own discomfort, his frozen hands and feet, and the way his head ached and pounded with every step. Just a little more, he told himself, like a litany.
They scrambled across a broken stretch of rocks, jagged and slippery, and then found the sensor chip. Half blinded by the sting of the pelting snow, they searched until they found the entrance to a low cave. It was blocked by snow and small rocks, but it only took a little effort to make enough space for them to crawl inside.
Like the inside of a snow globe, Duo thought as his light shone on ice and rock all around them. The space was very small. They barely had enough room to set up their heat and light tabs and arrange their gear to give them room to lie down.
"Check your feet and hands," Duo ordered as he sat and began pulling off his snow encrusted boots and gloves. It was awkward, his fingers were numb.
When everyone was done and checked out, Duo allowed himself to relax. Wu Fei came in after setting up perimeter alarms and they ate a warm meal, from meal packs, before settling down to catch what sleep they could.
Duo set his watch alarm for four hours. It was as much as he could allow them. The next part of the journey was even more rugged than the first and it didn't get better the closer they came to the target. As Duo rolled up in his sleeping bag, he hoped that the weather lifted and gave them clearer skies. As time wound down, they would have to travel, bad whether or not, and Duo didn't want to see any of his people suffer with frostbite, including himself..
"Hey boss man," Sally said in Duo's ear. He twitched and then turned his head to frown at her.
"You're supposed to be resting, medic," he berated her in a harsh whisper.
Sally was monitoring him with a handheld device, though, and looking worried. "Saw you struggling, commander, so shut up and let me work."
Duo shut up, face flushing hotly.
"Low level fever and some sensitivity to the thin air," Sally diagnosed at last as she shut her medical pad."Looks like Heero gets to be First now."
"Like hell!" Duo hissed. "I'm not staying behind. I'm a colony brat and thin air does not bother me."
"Filtered, canned air, maybe, but Earth air filled with Earth crap, yes, it is bothering you, boss man," Sally told him regretfully. "This must be your first time this high up."
"No," Duo snapped back.
Sally eyed him. "Then first time carrying a heavy pack, while in a snowstorm, and suffering from a fever?"
Duo gritted his teeth and then bit out, "I'm not staying behind."
"I'll be watching you," Sally warned him. "First sign you're not competent and I'll take the decision out of your hands, got that commander?"
Stung, Duo watched her go back to her sleeping bag. It was impossible for everyone not to have heard her. He saw glittering eyes appraising him in the low light.
"I'm a Goddam Gundam Pilot," Duo growled at them as he rolled over and faced a rock wall glowing with ice. "I am not going down because of a freakin' fever."
see Kracken's original, published yaoi fiction, The Angel Within, at amazon.com under Kracken
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On to Chapter five
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