Disclaimer:Don't own them and don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, Graphic, Violence, Language.
"You are not going to lay there until every muscle in your body atrophies!" Milliardo Peacecraft shouted as he pulled off Duo's blanket.
Duo curled up around himself convulsively, bone thin body shivering despite the heat of the bungalow and the pair of shorts and white tank top he was wearing. After finally leaving the ship and returning to dry land, Duo had suffered such a bad bout of sickness and disorientation that it had renewed his hatred for Earth's harsh gravity.
"I still don't feel good!' Duo moaned and tried to pull the blanket back over himself. Milliardo jerked it out of reach, grabbed a thin, brittle wrist, and pulled Duo off of the bed after it. Duo staggered, almost had the dry heaves at the sudden, upright position, and then fell to his knees bonelessly.
"You are such a bastard!" Duo snarled, glaring at Milliardo. He felt as if the rough wood of the floor had taken off the skin from his knees.
"When you've commanded men in battle, like I have, you need to be a bastard," Milliardo replied tersely. "Do you think that wears off because I spent four years behind a desk placating idiots?"
"What do you expect me to do?" Duo snapped back as he tried, almost without success, to simply sit without falling over.
"I expect you to start taking care of yourself!" Milliardo replied as if he were indeed commanding a lazy soldier to order. "You've been allowed to rest for nearly a week now, doing nothing more strenuous than listening to the seagulls and sitting in the sun. That can't be allowed to continue if you hope to regain your strength."
"What 'strength'?" Duo wondered angrily. "I heard the doctor talking to Quatre. I'm sure you spoke with him too. Old Duo Maxwell isn't going to ever be anything, but a pitiful-"
Milliardo reached down again and hooked an arm around Duo. Helping him to stand, he forced Duo into the bathroom, sat him on the toilet seat, and then turned to leave. "Wash yourself, do your business, and do something with your hair! I'm leaving orders that the men are not to help you any longer."
Milliardo wasn't expecting the kind of expression that crossed Duo's face. Duo looked as if he had been given a death sentence, one that he had been waiting for. "What are you thinking?" Milliardo demanded.
Duo pushed his tangled bangs out of his eyes and turned hard, purple eyes on Milliardo. "I was wondering when you were going to get back at me for rejecting you."
Milliardo's lip curled. It still hurt, that word 'rejection'. It hurt even more to see Duo's lips speak it. He refused to reveal that to Duo, refused to show a weakness that would allow Duo to ignore him and indulge himself further. "You think too much of yourself," Milliardo replied in contempt and left him there.
"Too much?" Duo snorted. The bungalow was small. He knew that Milliardo could hear him. "You're giving my self esteem too much credit."
Duo did feel dirty and his hair was almost matted at the back from sweat. He didn't smell good either. Duo unbraided his hair and ran his fingers through it, trying to loosen some of the knots while he planned a strategy for cleaning himself up without hurting himself in the process.
Hands and knees, Duo decided, since his legs wouldn't hold him and he became too dizzy when he straightened up. Pulling off his tank top and slipping off his shorts, Duo eased himself onto the hardwood floor, ignoring the sharp pangs of his still heeling ankle.
The bathroom had a deep, almost oval tub with a handheld shower head that had to be taken down from a holder high on the wall. Knowing that he couldn't reach it, Duo settled for a tub bath. Turning on the water, he struggled to get his body over the high, porcelain edge. Surprising himself when he finally accomplished it, Duo settled back with his legs stretched towards the drain.
Duo watched the water rise. Sighing at the soothing warmth around his aching joints and his sore ankle, he prematurely congratulated himself on having accomplished the feat of taking a bath by himself. When Duo decided that the tub was full, he tried to lean forward to turn the spigot off. Instead, he lost his balance and slid underneath the water.
Duo flailed, wildly attempting to get his weakened arms and legs underneath him to push his head out of the water. It seemed like such an easy thing to do, yet Duo slid again and again, panic completely disorienting him.
A strong hand grabbed Duo and pulled him up. Duo gasped for air, sobbing and spluttering at the same time. When his panic subsided at the realization that he was safe and not drowning any longer, Duo's eyes focused and he found himself looking into Milliardo's stern face.
Without a hint of compassion, Milliardo said, "You almost drowned in a bathtub, pilot. Are you ready to try and regain your strength or should I let go and let you finish drowning?"
Duo wiped at his wet face with a trembling hand. Unable to speak, he held out his arms to Milliardo and let the man save him.
After a few weeks of Milliardo's grueling exercises and insistence that Duo do things for himself, Duo almost wished that he had drowned. Duo wanted to succeed, wanted to regain his strength, and wanted there to be something for Heero to want when he returned. Not as important, but certainly something Duo wished for strongly, was the desire to find Santoro and the shadow figures in the government who had decided to destroy his life and commit murder. Wanting, though, and doing, were turning out to be even harder than Duo imagined.
"Five more!" Milliardo demanded.
"Go... to... Hell!" Duo panted, sobbing.
"Five more, Captain Maxwell!"
"Did you cry when Dr. G trained you?" Milliardo asked in disgust. Sitting at his ease in a chair, with legs crossed and wearing a starched uniform of white and red, he looked cool and collected. His eyes, though, were like glaciers as they rested on the sweating, panting, and sobbing figure of Duo at his feet. "Somehow, I don't think a ruthless man like that would have given you a Gundam if you had."
Duo gave a wordless growl of fury and surged up off of the wooden floor in a push up. He whined. He hated that he did it, but he couldn't help it as tortured flesh screamed at him. Sweat dripping into his eyes, he blinked rapidly as every part of his body shook like a leaf in a storm. When he let his body touch the floor again, he sobbed, but didn't pause as he surged up once more; fueled by pure adrenalin. He didn't know how he made it to five, or even if he did. He stopped only when he heard Milliardo grunt, "Enough!"
"Shit!" the word exploded out of Duo as he curled up in a fetal ball and just tried to breathe.
"Too slow," Milliardo said critically as he examined his stop watch. "You did better last time."
"L-Last time I-I wasn't half d-dead!" Duo panted and then whimpered as his entire midriff knotted in a spasm.
"Stop wasting breath," Milliardo growled. "You must know by now that your complaining doesn't affect me. I am not going to make it easier for you."
Duo recalled Heero's slow and patient training sessions. The man had let Duo go at his own pace and had always stopped before pain had become too unbearable. For someone who had months and months for rehabilitation, Heero's method would have worked. Milliardo, as cruel as he seemed, was doing what was best for Duo in the time that they had before Heero and the others, hopefully, returned to Earth. Duo knew that, but it didn't make it any easier for him. He couldn't help hating Milliardo for forcing him to do the exercises and endure the pain. He couldn't stop himself from shouting, cursing, and balking at every step. It was human nature to avoid stress and pain, not to seek it out. Duo wasn't any different, even when avoiding them could possibly cost him his life.
"Rest for exactly fifteen minutes and then join me outside," Milliardo ordered. "I expect you to do ten laps around the property and I expect you to walk much more quickly than you did last time. It is an exercise, not a chance to gaze at scenery." Milliardo stood up and walked away, tinkering with his stop watch as if he thought that there might be something wrong with it.
Duo stared daggers after Milliardo as the man left the room, long legs moving in an unconscious, military style and white hair swaying along his back. "Die," Duo breathed, and, at that moment, he meant it.
The bungalow was run down, the furnishings and the comforts sparse. Their guards kept themselves on the perimeter of their lives and Duo and Milliardo were left in each other's company far too long. From the time he woke in the morning, until the time he collapsed into bed at night, Duo was confronted by a calm, collected, and impeccable Milliardo. The man watched, in seeming dispassion, as Duo sweated and cried. Like a white haired devil, Duo thought one day, and began to think that he had died and was in some sort of Hell reserved for Gundam pilots. Just like some sadistic demon, Milliardo never let up and never stopped ordering Duo to new efforts. He timed every one of Duo's exercises, measured the caloric and vitamin content of every mouthful of food, and criticized Duo's every effort.
The exercises should have become easier in time, but Milliardo stepped them up a notch each day and pushed Duo to the limit of what his sickly flesh could endure without compassion and without an ounce of the love that he professed to feel for Duo. He was the worst kind of boot camp sergeant and, as Duo began to feel as if his body were being worn away and destroyed by Milliardo's demands, he began to think that the man, far from trying to bring him back to health, was actually trying to kill him.
It was an insane thought. There was nothing in the exercises that was out of the ordinary if a person were completely healthy, yet the idea began to gnaw at Duo and over take any common sense he might have had. He was exhausted. His mind wasn't processing things as it should. Self preservation instincts began to kick in, especially when Milliardo lost patience and made the mistake of reaching out to Duo and taking hold of him to force him back to his feet.
Something snapped. Duo wasn't sure what happened next, except that one moment, he had been on his knees and feeling as if he had breathed his last in the front yard of the bungalow, and in the next, he was thrusting away and then coming back at Milliardo in a perfect karate kick to Milliardo's head.
Duo had a glimpse of flying white hair and surprised, ice blue, eyes, before Milliardo ducked the kick and then struck back with a martial arts move of his own. Duo blocked it, whirled, and then kicked again, his body responding in a way that it hadn't been able to in far too long.
Duo was screaming; a wordless expression of utter frustration as he rained blow after blow on Milliardo. The man blocked repeatedly, falling back and almost stumbling in his haste to avoid Duo's chops and kicks.
Given room, Duo might have killed the man, but Milliardo was a soldier too. He didn't allow Duo the space to launch a killing move. Instead, he suddenly threw himself forward and tackled Duo to the ground. Pinning him there beneath his greater weight, Milliardo stared down into Duo's face angrily.
Duo glared back at Milliardo, chest heaving, blood boiling, and mind lost in a fog of fury and pain. "Why- Why don't you just kill me quickly instead of-of by slow torture?" Duo panted.
Milliardo's expression suddenly changed from anger to stunned concern. "You really think that, don't you, that I'm attempting to kill you?" Duo didn't reply, but his angry face said volumes.
Milliardo's hair hung about them both and they were panting, bodies heaving against one another as they tensely waited to see who would make the next move. It was an impasse. At first, Milliardo tried to simply hold onto Duo until he regained some sense. When it was apparent that Duo was only waiting for Milliardo to relax his hold to attack again, Milliardo tried a different tack.
"I'm helping you," Milliardo said. "I don't know why you don't understand that. Sympathy can be a two edged sword. I think that your comrades were indulging you, because they felt sorry for you; because they didn't realize, as I do, that you are capable of far more than most healthy men."
"I spent a lot of time screaming and puking when I tried to get off of your stinking Oz drugs!" Duo spat back, voice stronger now that he had caught his breath. "After I was hooked up to a respirator and IVs, I think a full body work out stopped being an option!"
"I know that they had attempted to make you stronger before you stopped taking the medication, but it didn't seem as if they had much success," Milliardo replied, but then conceded, "Not that it would have mattered much without the treatment. The drugs were made to be fail safe. They would have killed you without the treatment."
"I was getting better," Duo remembered in confusion. "Before Quatre's estate was attacked, before I took the 'soldier's helper', I thought... I felt like I was getting better."
"The cessation of some of the drugs might have led you to believe so," Milliardo explained.
"So, you saved my life by getting the treatment for me," Duo whispered, tense muscles suddenly going lax.
Milliardo gave him an edged smile, "I've saved your life several times, as I recall."
Duo went distant, considering that. He felt a flush of shame. "Sorry. I guess... They've knocked me down to ground level for four years, Zechs. They took control of my life away from me and made me suffer, day after day, even questioning my sanity. The drugs... I was chained to them and my life revolved around them. Do you know how hard it is to NOT grow up? To stay small? Too be thin? I stayed a teenager while my old buddies from the war grew tall, strong, and sprouted beards. Even little Quatre... even he managed to grow up. I want to be like that. I want to be strong! I want to do every hellish exercise you set up as easy as I used to do them for Dr. G. You've got nothing on that sadistic bastard, Zechs! Your routines should be walks in the park to me..." Duo sighed and closed his eyes tight, hating self knowledge. "I'm afraid, pure and simple. I don't want to fail. I don't want to know what my limit is, how much I will never be able to do again. I want to think that you're trying to kill me, that you're setting up impossible tasks, just so I don't have to realize that... that it's me who is failing."
"Duo, I-" Milliardo began, moved by Duo's confession.
Duo went gruff, turning his chin away and refusing to look at Milliardo, maybe afraid of seeing disgust. "I'm just a freakin' whus, I guess. A chicken shit. I'm even talking like some damned girl, confessing my 'feelings'."
Milliardo caught Duo's chin in one hand and turned his face towards him. Duo opened his eyes, frowning, but Milliardo said intently, "You just made me back up, Captain Duo Maxwell. I wasn't pulling my attacks. You blocked them, you countered them, and you made me think that my life was in danger."
Duo stared and then he said softly. "It was."
A hand grabbed hold Of Milliardo's shoulder. The fingers were strong, strong enough to bend steel, and they dug harshly into flesh as the owner of that hand flung Milliardo off of Duo. Milliardo hit the ground, rolled, and tried to regain his feet as he faced the intruder.
Heero stood, breathing hard with emotion, facing Milliardo with one fist clenched and the other griping a gun. He was glaring, nostrils flaring, mouth set in a hard line, and eyes dark wells of blue that had a look in them; a look that was usually the last thing men saw before Heero killed them.
"Heero," Duo whispered, stunned, not sure if he was hallucinating or not.
"Duo," Heero replied, not taking his eyes off of Milliardo. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, no, I mean..." Duo trailed off, confused. He stood shakily, arms clutching himself around the waist in pain as his body let him know that Milliardo's tackle hadn't been without consequences. "Shit!" he groaned, feeling as if his ribs had been bruised bone deep.
Heero lifted his gun and aimed it at Milliardo. Milliardo gained his feet, uniform coat full of dirt and debris from the ground, his white- blonde hair a tangle over his face. "You are assuming the worst," he said carefully and then to Duo. "Explain to Heero the situation."
"Heero," Duo said, not sure he wanted to let Milliardo off the hook yet, "What are you doing here? How did you find us?"
"I tracked a shipment of K rations to a ship registered off the coast," Heero explained, "I infiltrated the ship and discovered messages between the captain and Milliardo. It was simple to follow crew movements until some of them came to this place to rotate guard duties and deliver the rations."
Duo nodded and made a face of disgust. "Zechs thinks k rations are nutritionally complete. I think something only loosely resembling food shouldn't be eaten."
Heero's gun twitched. He frowned. "I need a status of the situation," he finally said and Duo sensed a deeper meaning. He realized that his flippant joke had changed Heero's assumption about the situation, that now he was assuming something else.
"Heero..." Duo began to explain, but then stopped. He felt angry suddenly, angry that Heero wasn't looking at him, angry that the moment he had longed for, had thought, in his worst moments of pain and exhaustion, would be warm and wonderful, was instead ruined by Heero's assumption that he had been rolling with Milliardo on the ground for all the wrong reasons.
Milliardo spoke quickly as he realized what was going through the ex-pilot of Wing's mind as well. "I ordered the k- rations in case we were forced to hide in more remote areas. I find it amazing that you could scour an entire planet and pick out such a small detail. It seems I am continually underestimating Gundam pilots." He paused to ascertain Heero's reaction. Heero only narrowed his eyes. Milliardo went on nervously, eying the barrel of Heero's gun. "I thought it was wise to rehabilitate Duo while we waited here for you to return. I set up a rigorous training schedule, knowing the time constraints, but Duo was not only refusing to cooperate whole heartedly, he just now attacked me in anger and-"
"And?" Heero echoed with a raised black eyebrow.
"I think his exhaustion was clouding his judgment," Milliardo finished, not wanting to elaborate further than that.
"He almost died before we met you!" Heero grated. "Not once, but several times! Where is his doctor? Why did he allow you to-"
"He's dead!" Duo cut in. They both looked at him, Heero for the first time. Duo saw Heero's face register shock at all the dirt, at the way Duo's bangs were plastered with sweat to his forehead, and at his drawn, exhausted expression. "He died saving me. He died helping me and Zechs escape." Duo paused. He swallowed in a dry throat as Heero's eyes searched him for... Duo knew what he was looking for. "Guess you believed some of the stories about me," Duo finished bitterly.
Heero went pale. "No! That's not true!" he protested strongly. He glared at Milliardo and then looked back at Duo with an intenseness that made Duo almost afraid. "Every minute, every second that I was away, " Heero said, "was time I wished that I could have spent with you. I came here because my mission was accomplished. Quatre's people are safe. I wanted to be by your side again. I didn't want any more wasted moments slipping away from either of us."
"So," Milliardo snapped angrily, wanting to break the moment between Heero and Duo and wanting to stop the inevitable from happening; the moment when Duo left him again and rejoined Heero. "How many red flags did you send up before you reached this place? How many government officials or local citizens saw you and wondered where the intense young stranger was going? You may have compromised our security!"
Heero ignored him, all of his attention on Duo. "Tell me," he said at last. "Tell me that you want me here."
Duo knew that his heart was in his eyes, but he was still angry and ready to be contrary. He growled as he began to turn away, "I can't think. I need a bath and something besides k-rations. I'll let you know after that."
It was revenge of sorts, but the stricken look on Heero's face negated any pleasure in it that Duo might have felt. Heero was afraid, Duo realized in amazement. His reaction to Milliardo was suddenly understandable. Heero wasn't simply jealous, or doubting Duo's fidelity, he was, instead, doubting himself and doubting that Duo wanted him over the Prince of Sanq.
Duo stopped and began to turn back. It was all wrong, he realized. It shouldn't be like that between them. He had to mend it, he felt, turn back the clock and try and recapture the dream of how he envisioned they would meet again.
Duo suddenly felt dizzy. He stumbled and felt Heero catch his elbow to steady him. It happened all at once, a slick wet rush from his nose that could only be blood. Duo put up a hand and confirmed it. His fingers were coated in crimson. He stared at it in morbid fascination and then the world went dark as fell unconscious into Heero's arms.