"Let me guess," Duo snapped as he rounded on Milliardo. "He's sacrificing himself to guard your retreat?"
Milliardo lifted a pale eyebrow, amused, looking cool and collected even though his face was cut and full of bruises and he was moving at a fast trot. "Of course."
Huddled in on himself and moving quickly in makeshift shoes of tied cloth, a coatless Wu Fei said, "It is an honorable way to die."
Duo suddenly stopped retreating with them and scowled. "He can be honorable under someone else's command. I'm going to go get him."
"That is also honorable," Wu Fei snorted, "and expected."
Duo glared. "I'm not that predictable! Both of you get to the jump point and leave Heero to me. Don't wait." He jerked a thumb at Wu Fei. "Carry him. Chang weighs as much as a shoulder held buster rifle, so I know you can manage, Peacecraft."
"Less," Milliardo chuckled as he grabbed an indignant Wu Fei and slung him over one shoulder. "Unless you want frostbite, I suggest that you assist me by being still," Milliardo growled when Wu Fei tried to get back down again. "Why did they take away your shoes? Did they engage in toe torture?"
As Duo began jogging further down the trail, he heard an angry, muffled retort from Wu Fei. Duo couldn't help a fierce grin, but it quickly dropped off when he heard a spate of gunfire up ahead. He whistled in code and didn't expect a reply as he made his way to where he thought Heero was hiding. He was off by a few yards and a few boulders, but he was soon staring down the barrel of Heero's gun, the fierce blue eyes of his team mate glaring at him from behind the site.
Heero managed to look both frustrated and relieved. Duo jokingly looked wary and asked, "You're not going to kiss me again, are you?"
Heero blushed and looked away towards where Duo assumed the enemy was hiding, waiting for a good target. "That was... I..." Heero scowled darkly and decided not to continue.
"Later," Duo replied, but a devil made him add, "When I can appreciate it."
He saw Heero start out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't have time to spare for anything more than getting Heero past his embarrassment and back on his game. As for himself, he was beginning to worry, especially when he felt the need to sit down and simply try to breathe. If anyone was going to stay behind, he decided, it was going to be himself. He didn't think that he could make it back to the jump site, running and in a gunfight. Convincing Heero that it was necessary was another thing.
"No," Heero suddenly said.
"Huh?" Duo started.
"You can make it," Heero told him confidently.
"Think so?" Duo grinned, the fact that Heero knew him that well, making him feel warmer than his fever.
"I know so," Heero replied with a smirk, and then aimed his gun and fired off two shots.
Duo wiped the sweat from his brow. "Did you actually see a target?" he wondered as Heero reloaded with a new clip.
"No, just a best guess," Heero replied as he checked his load.
"What'cha got left?" Duo asked and hated how he couldn't say the words properly. He was fading and running out of time.
"Just this clip," Heero replied. "You?"
Duo shrugged. "Nothing that can blast through rock. We're going to have to move. If I fall, don't stop. That's an order, Heero."
"Yes, sir," Heero replied and sounded sincere in his response.
"You're bull shitting me, aren't you?" Duo panted as he levered himself onto his feet with Heero's hand under his elbow.
"Yes, sir," Heero replied in the same tone.
"We'll talk about charges of insa-insab- whatever, later," Duo said with difficulty. "Now... move your ass agent, and let's bug out."
Heero fired another shot at the distance and then Duo was suddenly being hauled forward at a run by Heero's tremendous strength.
They made the jump point, but Duo didn't remember much of it. He was seeing red and his heart was hammering in his chest. He felt the sting of a bullet kissing skin twice, and fell full length once. Heero kept him up and moving, though, and all but threw him into the open hatch of the ship. It was hovering just off the ground, engines roaring and heat blasting into their faces. Duo felt the g of lift flat on his back on cold metal, and the wet of a snow flurry in his face, and then his mind passed into no man's land and he couldn't tell what was real or what was a fever dream.
There were moments when Duo almost regained consciousness. He remembered hearing voices arguing and wished they'd be quiet. He felt needles prick him and the dragging pain of an IV and a catheter. There was a smell, antiseptic and harsh, and hands that turned and lifted him occasionally. Finally, things slowly drifted back into focus and he heard voices he recognized.
"Is there a reason why the nurse isn't doing this?" Wu Fei's voice. Duo could almost imagine that lifted, thin eyebrow and the arrogant expression on the man's face.
"The man was too rough," Heero's voice replied. Something slid over Duo's skin that felt cool and strange. Water? Alcohol? It tingled."
"Heero, this is most unlike you," Wu Fei said and sounded worried. "You've hardly left this room. Duo is in capable hands. Do you feel that you owe him a debt for your life?"
Something Wu Fei would understand, Duo thought blearily.
"We're soldiers... agents," Heero replied. The wetness let off and a dry towel began passing over where the wet spots lingered. "You don't keep score like that."
Wu Fei was quiet and then he wondered, "Does he know?"
Know what? Duo wondered and tried to open his eyes. They felt sticky and as heavy as lead weights.
"I... I think so," Heero replied. "He said that we would... talk about it later."
"Then you don't know whether he is...interested?" Wu Fei seemed very uncomfortable by the subject.
"Then, perhaps you should reconsider administering his next bath?" Wu Fei said disapprovingly. "It is one thing to have an impersonal nurse do that task, but someone he knows? Someone under his command? Do you see the potential for... awkwardness..., Yuy?"
"I only wanted..." Heero stopped and Duo could hear him moving as if to leave. "I suppose you're right."
Duo found the strength to reach out. He found flesh and closed on it weakly. "No," his voice was papery thin. "Don't go. Tell me... what the hell happened?"
Duo's body didn't have the strength to think much of a sponge bath, even by someone he was attracted too, but it still made him blush to know that Heero's hands had just been all over him. When Heero settled a blanket over him, he was glad for the security, the warmth, and the embarrassing distraction. He needed to pull himself together. He needed to focus. He needed...
"Duo?" Heero said and Duo could tell that he was leaning close, offering it's own kind of distraction.
"Present," Duo said, but then coughed in the next moment and found a great deal to cough up. Heero held him until he finished and then eased him back onto his pillow. Duo's lungs ached.
"You contracted pneumonia," Wu Fei informed him. "You're stabilized now, but very weak. You're being fed fluids and antibiotics intravenously. Down time, estimated three months."
Duo's eyes flew open, given strength by his outrage. "Like hell!" he snapped back hoarsely.
"It's necessary," Heero told him. "They have very good treatments, but you will be very short of breath and tire easily until they are effective."
Duo tried to remember their evac. "I was shot..."
"Grazes," Heero assured him.
"Now they're going to think I'm a candy ass," Duo grumbled. "Duo Maxwell, taken out in the mission by the flu."
Wu Fei snorted and slipped on his jacket. "I see that he's safe and in good hands, Yuy. I think that I will spare myself the wining stage of our commander's recovery."
"Sure, run..." Duo groused weakly and then sank back into his pillow, the room spinning.
"Duo?" Heero called anxiously.
It was a moment before Duo could respond. "Okay... Just tired."
"I'll tell the others that you've decided to stay among the living," Wu Fei said and then Duo heard the click of his shoes retreating and the swing of a door.
"He's damned confidant," Duo replied, "I don't feel that good."
"Should I call the doctor?" Heero wondered.
"Nah, just don't like feeling like this," Duo replied as he rubbed at his eyes with a shaky hand. "Is Doctor Groenig taking care of me? He's my favorite. He's the only one who knows what the hell he's doing."
"Yes, I'm taking care of you." A doctor with a computer pad was suddenly looking down into Duo's eyes. He was East Indian and wore a pair of round glasses.
"Shit! Didn't know you were here," Duo exclaimed, blinking eyes at him. He smiled in relief in the next moment. "I'm glad you're here, doc. You know I trust ya. You always get me patched up fast."
The doctor coughed and held up a fax. "Yes, well, I am a married man, Agent Maxwell, and while I am flattered by your interest..."
The door swung open and a male nurse came in to collect the bathing supplies. He saw the paper in the doctor's hand and laughed, "Hey, I got one of those junk mails too. What a nut job."
Duo frowned, his mind slowly lining up and making sense out of something that had been putting two and two together in the back of his thoughts. "You're not on my address book. Why did you get one?" The man shrugged. Clarity punctured the fever fog and Duo's hand gripped Heero's arm tightly.
"The scientists got them too... and our little traitor..." Duo squeezed his eyes shut, trying to battle weariness and stay focused. "That means it's propagating through email address books. Everyone I know and everyone they know..."
Heero was suddenly alert and pulling out his cell phone. "That means that we can pick up the virus and find it's footprints. We can find out who else might have been helping inform the enemy of our movements."
Duo heard Heero talking on his cell, informing headquarters to begin the search. The virus may have eaten up its source, but it wasn't eating up its trail to other computers and fax machines.
"Duo?" The doctor checked Duo's temperature. "Time to let your partner there take care of things. You need to rest. Your heart rate is too elevated."
"'kay," Duo mumbled, exhausted now, by even that effort. "Good to know I can solve a case even mostly dead. Heero can take care of it now. The guy's a rock... my rock... my Heero... That's why... That's why I love the guy..."Duo heard his own slurred voice say that last as if someone else were saying it. Everything went very quiet as alarm made his heart thud. He hadn't meant to say that. His exhaustion had made his mind forget to keep it inside his brain.
Heero was suddenly there in his fading vision, dark blue eyes intense and needy. "Duo, sleep. We'll... We'll talk later... love."
Later, Duo thought as he was dragged under into unconsciousness. When was it going to be later? He wanted it to be later now.
On to Chapter nine
Back to Chapter seven