Stanley completed a lap across the Preventers training pool, dove for the wall, and flipped under water. A push of his legs shot him several feet back out, and he surfaced with a gasp and a splash of his arms.
Duo watched him from the bleachers through another few laps, waiting for his presence in the otherwise empty pool to be noticed. When it didn’t happen, he unhooked his pager from his belt and typed out luk up dumass. He sent the message. A moment later, Stanley’s pager, sitting prominently on top of his towel at the side of the water, started beeping loudly.
Stanley immediately made for the edge. He slicked water from his hair and popped his goggles off, then read his pager. Duo stood up, letting Stanley find him as he scanned the room.
Stanley pushed himself out of the pool and wrapped himself in the towel. He climbed up to meet Duo, and sat next to him on the bench. “What’s up?” he asked, wiping off his face. “Problem?”
Duo propped a foot on the bench below him. "We're on a team together,” he said. He stowed his pager away and dropped his elbows to his knees. “Which of us is going to tell Merquise it's a bad idea this time?"
That took longer to parse than the pager message, somehow. Stanley wiped his forehead again. "We're on a mission? How?"
"It happens, occasionally, when you serve at the same base," Duo retorted sarcastically. Stanley was staring at him. Duo scratched back a wisp loose from his braid, and took out his pager to occupy his fingers against the twitching they wanted to do. "Apparently, they need a pilot and a linguistics expert at the same time. We’re relieving a unit in Turkmenistan."
Stanley pulled his towel around his shoulders and finally stilled. "Are you going to refuse again?"
"I don't know."
“We’re in a relationship,” Stanley began.
“We’re not in a relationship,” Duo corrected him.
“Yes, we are,” Stanley said stubbornly. “You’re fucking me. You respond to me. You seek me out.” He softened his tone when Duo turned to glare at him. “We talk. It’s a relationship.”
“We don’t,” Duo said. “Talk.”
The silence that developed between them was humid as the summer air, a sodden and uncomfortable thing that didn’t want to be shaken.
Then Duo shrugged. "Well, so we make it work."
Stanley had the nerve to smile. “Really?"
"Oh, god," Duo said, disgusted. "Don't get sappy on me. I plan on ignoring you the entire damn time. I might even leave you behind."
“Sorry. I didn’t mean—sorry. Maybe I'm out of line."
Duo rolled his eyes. He didn’t look back while he walked away.
“Go away,” Duo mumbled, and turned his head out of the sun.
“Duo, come on.” Will shook Duo by the shoulder, trying not to dislodge him, or the sniper rifle he was holding, from the precarious perch he’d made for himself on top of several duffles and crates of equipment in the tiny sliver of shade provided by their plane. Duo groaned at him but did finally sit up, shoving up the shade visor of his helmet to squint blearily at him.
“What can you possibly want?” Duo demanded.
Will put his back to the Osprey’s baking metal plates. Despite the burning heat where his back touched titanium, the shade did alleviate the unrelenting glare of the sun.
“Weren’t you gone somewhere?” Duo said a moment later.
“I had tea with the headman’s second son.” Will made sure the nearest duffle was solid, and sat on the edge of it. "This isn't going like it should."
“So?” Duo said.
"So, there's going to be trouble."
Duo rubbed at his eyes, and settled his rifle higher on his thighs. "So?"
Will tried not to be irritated. "Just be ready. Okay? Trust me on this."
Duo grumbled out a little sigh, and unstrapped his helmet. He dropped it to the sand and scratched his hair thoroughly with both hands. He was sweating from the heat, as Will was. Though they’d only been in Ahal Province for nine days, his face was already thinner. He was suffering the conditions, more than any of the team. "It's not about trust,” he said. “I can't do anything until something happens, and until something happens, I'm not going to know what something is."
"The headman’s son,” Will repeated. “He said something that made me nervous. Some of the nomadic tribesmen have been watching us since we got here. They don’t like soldiers. A lot. He thinks they've got friends. And they're coming. Tonight. Or maybe near dawn.” Duo rubbed lib balm over his chapped lips, and tossed the little container into Will’s lap. Will waited for some sign of acknowledgment, some gratifying indication that Duo was at least listening to him, but got none. “Are we ready to fly?"
Duo used his sleeve to mop his face. In a low mumble Will had to strain to hear, he said, "Commander's been asking too. There's a problem with the main engine. I landed on auxiliary. It's not common knowledge, so don't spread it around, but it'll make any sudden movement problematic."
Shit. He didn’t know how Duo could be relaxed enough to sleep, sitting on news like that. It made the back of his neck itch, and no-one was even looking at them.
"This is a set-up,” he said. “I feel it."
"Are you always this jittery?"
"I'm always this careful."
“Stanley!” It was Commander Markov. He came toward them across their camp of tents. He was walking with one of their native guides, a young Turkman in plastic sandals and a plaid dress shirt who looked nervously around him. “Good you’re here,” Markov said to him, as Will and Duo stood quickly. “We could use an interpreter.”
Suddenly Duo looked eager. “He said he could find us a replacement cylinder,” he explained softly to Will.
“I find,” their guide said anxiously. “I find.”
Markov put a hand on Will’s shoulder and squeezed tightly. “Ask him where,” he said.
“Salam aleykum,” Will greeted the man briefly. “You did find them a replacement?”
“I have a cousin with a store in Ashgabat,” he said. “It’s not for the same model plane, but your pilot said it didn’t matter.”
It made him wonder how they’d talked to the man, without him to do the translating. “Not the same model,” he told Duo. “Will it work?”
“It could. It should.”
“Where is it?” he asked the guide.
“In the town. Five, six kilometres from your camp.”
“I can go now, Commander,” Duo said immediately.
Markov was nodding in agreement. "Get your ass back here as soon as you can. Who do you want with you?”
“Stanley,” Duo answered.
That surprised Will, but Markov accepted it without comment. “Make it fast,” he told them both. “If your suspicions are right and something’s going down tonight, I want to be mobile. Get moving.”
Duo hooked a hand under Will’s arm and pointed him toward the back end of the plane, and the outskirts of the village they’d camped near. "We're just going to walk away, like you're talking to him more about the area."
Will obeyed the suggestion, and engaged their guide in a conversation about a local holiday the headman’s son had mentioned, a celebration of the ancestral dead. Duo walked casually along with them while Will translated, not listening to a word. Markov didn’t follow, and they struck out into the desert and out of their secure perimetre.
The guide’s jeep was parked just out of eyesight of the camp. “I’ll drive you,” he told Will, displaying his keys. “You won’t be able to carry the cylinder.”
“Fine,” Duo agreed. Will took the front passenger seat with their guide, leaving Duo the rear-facing bench in the back. Duo clambered in after them, and their guide started the engine. It puttered weakly, but responded to the gas, and sand sprayed as the guide wheeled about and stumbled back onto the lip of the unpaved road. Will lowered his visor against the glare of the sun, now starting to descend in the late afternoon.
They bounced over a rut, and Will felt a hand on his arm again. He turned to look at Duo.
"Are we going to get back before the team gets hit?" Duo asked him.
If it weren't such a critical thing, he'd wonder why Duo was even asking him. He was pretty sure Duo felt like he was alone on this op, and that he’d only been chosen because Duo didn’t want word about the engine to spread any further.
"No," he said. It was a guess, but he thought he was right.
The guide glanced at them from the corner of his eyes. When Will caught the look, he hurriedly turned his head back to the road.
“We need the plane,” Duo said in his ear. “We need the cylinder. No-one gets out unless we get back."
"I don't think the target is in the camp." It dawned fast and frightening, that realisation. The guide was too nervous, had been since Markov had brought him in. Preventers special ops ran small teams. They didn’t have another pilot if Duo were incapacitated. As much as they needed the plane, it wasn’t going to do them a damn bit of good without someone to fly it. And if Will could think that, so could their enemies.
Duo’s eyes evidenced a dangerous fatalism. “Okay,” was all he said, and he sat back in his seat.
They’d entered the outskirts of the little village. Scattered farms became orderly rows of houses, almost all abandoned. Frequent action between Afghani insurgents and the unit Will’s team had replaced had all but emptied the area of anyone who could afford to get gone. People like their guide who relied on a local business hadn’t been so lucky. Maybe they were unlucky now. The outgoing team had warned them when they landed that there was suspect travel over the border, right on the road they drove down now.
They went further than five kilometres, by Will’s estimation, skirting the market and taking them down narrow alleys. Sand-coloured buildings leaned over them, and every broken dark window looked like a malignant eye, to Will’s suddenly active imagination. The jeep caught every imperfection in the street, jarring them to the bone.
They stopped abruptly. The house looked suspiciously empty. Ragged lace curtains blew from a front window over a tumbled garden wall. The front gate had been knocked askew and hung open.
“Part inside,” their guide said in accented English. “We go inside.”
He looked scared. Or conflicted, maybe. He turned off the jeep.
Duo climbed down the car. He offered a shoulder to Will as he stepped out too, and fixed the strap of his rifle so the muzzle pointed down and ready. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Duo murmured to him. “But if it’s you or me, you're the expendable one here." Then an almost excited grin broke out of his face. "Try not to get shot."
A witty retort hovered on his lips. Will didn’t say it. Instead he nodded, and followed their guide inside.
“Shu tayda,” the guide called out. It was dim inside, dirty and wrecked. Will gripped his own rifle tightly when he crunched down on a broken ceramic lamp. He heard Duo shuffling behind him. “Ahey!”
He jumped when a door banged unseen. A ratty looking man in a muddy dishdasha emerged from a backroom. He observed their guns, and spoke rapidly in a local dialect peppered with corrupt Russian to their guide.
Duo drew even to Will’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow. "He's the one," Will interpreted, trying to piece the conversation together and think at the same time. “I think they're going to try to take you."
“Is the cylinder real?” Duo asked sharply.
Will interrupted the two natives. "Is our equipment ready?"
It was the guide who answered. He nodded several times and gestured repeatedly. "Here in the back room," he said. He was starting to sweat. It gleamed in rivulets down his face in the shifting light from the curtains.
“Wait here,” Will told Duo, taking an imperious tone to make it obvious to the men watching that it was an order. Duo immediately took his hint and dropped back, ducking his head. If he really was the target, Will didn’t want him going off into a dark room first. “Show me,” he told the guide, and walked ahead as confidently as he could.
The ratty man lead the way. They crossed a cramped little hallway of cracked walls and one conspicuous bloodstain at head-height. He opened a door at the end of it and went through. Will wrapped his pointer finger through the trigger of his rifle.
“Here,” the guide said.
Will entered cautiously. There really was a cylinder. It was sitting on a table, right in plain view. And stretched out underneath it were three bodies, very obviously dead. The headman’s son was amongst them.
The ratty man pulled a gun from under his robe. “This is our country!” he shouted, and aimed at Will.
A shot rang out, but it came from behind, while Will was still raising his rifle. The ratty man stumbled and fell, blood erupting from his neck. Duo.
“Who was he?” Will demanded from the guide. “Who—“
He didn’t make it any further. The guide knew he was found out, and he panicked. Babbling madly so fast that Will couldn’t make out individual words, he dove for his dead companion, and grabbed his sidearm.
“Put it down!” Will shouted. He levelled his rifle, but the guide was beyond hearing reason.
“I didn’t mean it!” he pleaded, even as he grabbed Will’s jacket and forced him back to the wall. Will tried to knock him back without shooting, but the man was wild. “He threatened my family, there are more waiting for you—“ He pressed the gun to Will’s chin under his helmet.
Then Duo was there, on them in seconds. He ripped them apart and disarmed the guide, then held the gun on his head. A crash sounded behind them in the house. Shouting. People were coming running, with a chaotic clash of metallic equipment that had to be guns.
Duo spoke to the guide in a low, reasonable voice, refusing to be hurried. "We understand,” he said several times, until the guide finally nodded. “I want you to tell me how many people are coming. I want you to tell us where they're coming from. And then I want you to help us get out of here, and we'll protect you." He looked to Will for translation.
Will hurriedly repeated it. The ratty man was very dead, he thought, and the gun he’d been using was Preventers issue, which didn’t speak well for the unit they’d relieved. He barred the door they’d come from while the guide began another frantic spew of muddled words. “Mukaddes,” he repeated again and again, “Ozbashdaklyk—“
“Clerics,” Will interpreted. “The Independence Party.”
Duo’s eyes were on Will, not the man he held at gunpoint. He was waiting for a sign.
“It’s the truth,” Will said.
Duo nodded, and stuffed the gun away in his camis. “Help me with the cylinder.” He grabbed the guide by the shoulder. “We’ll protect you and your family if you help us,” he said. “Come on.”
A shot hit the door and splintered the wood, missing them by sheer chance. Duo fired back, right through the wood, his sniper rifle earning muffled yells from the other side. Will ran back for the cylinder, and the guide finally came to his senses enough to help. They wrestled it off the table and over to the window. Will broke it with his elbow, raining glass on the street below, and together they heaved it out. “Come on!” he called Duo.
Duo fired twice more, and all voices stopped. “How many more?” he demanded of the guide, running to their window. He helped boost Will out of it.
“He says he’s not sure,” Will translated. He caught the guide as he came out next, and then Duo was jumping down. There were more cars on the street now, where it had been empty before, but it was quiet. He didn’t propose going back in to be sure. Duo grabbed one side of the cylinder and Will the other, and they went running for the jeep with the guide on their heels. The keys were still in the ignition. They got the cylinder in the back of the jeep, and Duo pulled the guide in with him. Will ran to the front.
“Will you fucking drive already?” Duo demanded as Will settled into the drivers’ seat.
They were pattered with shots high and from the right. A second group. Duo returned fire, and Will slammed the jeep into motion. They hurtled forward, and he peeled around a corner into an alley between two houses. When they emerged from the other side, all they could hear was distant shouting, and then they were out of range even for that.
“Does he know how many?” Duo asked Will then, and Will shouted it over his shoulder in Turkmen.
“He says they’ve been coming into the village for days,” he reported, translating as fast as the guide could tell him. “There’s a cleric leading them. He’s an Afghani. They took some of the women and held them until everyone agreed to help. They were behind the attack on the old unit. He thinks there’s as many as twenty of them. They told him—“
A shot shattered the windscreen. Will ducked instinctively. Duo was on his feet again, the rifle hovering over Will’s head as he wrestled with the wheel. He heard a scream, and Duo leaned over him.
“Told him to hold onto the cylinder until they were ready for us.”
“What about the camp?” Duo latched a hand to the metal support that had once held the screen, swaying with the jeep as Will turned another corner. They were heading toward the market. Will tried to keep to the edges, unwilling to endanger innocent bystanders, and knowing that if they got stuck in a crowd, they’d be sitting ducks for slaughter.
“The camp?” he demanded from the guide. “Tonight. With the darkness. They brought their own weapons, and he thinks they’ve got a missile of some sort.”
His little side street opened out into a wide main road, and an ambush. The retort of Duo’s gun was thunderous right above his head. Will felt the right-side tyres leave the road as he swerved on instinct, shooting right through someone’s garden yard and crashing through a wooden shed. Duo almost fell on top of him, and the guide was yelling at him to take the street coming up, and bullets were everywhere, spraying bits of brick and plaster as they careened away.
Duo dropped his rifle to the seat next to Will and grabbed up Will’s instead, checking the clip. "Are you taking the long way or what?"
Will could barely breathe. All the buildings around them looked the same, and the guide wouldn’t stop nattering in his ear about streets and directions. "Keep your knickers on, would you?” he retorted. “Three clicks out."
Duo ignored his answer anyway. He had his pocket com out. “This is Shadow, come in, Base. Base, come in. Base, this is Shadow calling for Command.”
Will listened tensely.
Duo gave up after an interminable minute of silence. “I think we’re late to the party.”
"It wasn't supposed to happen that way. Damn it." He reached back awkwardly and caught the guide by his shirt. “There must be more than twenty,” he said in Turkmen. “How many really? Where were they hiding, not in the village? Where were they?”
The guide didn’t answer. Another chuh-chuh-chuh of shots sprung from behind, and Duo stumbled, almost falling over the front seat. Will yelled his name in alarm, but Duo was protected by his kevlar under-armour, and was already back on his feet, firing at the roof of a building as they sped past. Will saw a body fall in his review mirror.
“Where were they?” He grabbed the guide by the arm and shook him. “How many? Tell me now!”
"Will?" Duo said.
“They’re following,” Will realised. “They’re tracking us.” The guide’s eyes were wide and blank, staring into Will’s. He swallowed, and let the man go. “He’s bugged,” he told Duo. “Get rid of him.”
It took only long enough for Duo to shift into position. The gun went off, and Will winced as blood sprayed the side of his face. Duo opened the door and kicked the body out onto the road.
He climbed into the front then, and slid into the passenger seat next to Will, one foot on the dash to support the muzzle of his gun. He glanced at Will, and said, "You okay?"
He almost laughed at that. He wiped his cheek and didn’t look at his hand after he’d done it. “Fine. You?"
Duo clapped him on the shoulder. He was chewing fiercely on his lower lip, Will noticed, and his face looked flushed. He held the gun lightly, a practiced tender touch that would let him react with that lightning speed. He looked a little manic.
"I should have figured it out sooner,” Will said. “All the signs were there." He looked at Duo sidelong again, as they left the residentials and headed out into the desert. "I have no idea what we're walking into at base camp."
"You did your job. We'll do it again when we get there." Duo felt inside his coat, and came back with two full clips. He changed the one in Will’s rifle and handed it back, then fetched his own and loaded. "You're with me. The only thing we have to do is protect the plane."
‘We have a team in that camp, Duo."
"And if none of them survive, that will be very sad, but on the off chance they do, they're going to need a ride home."
"I understand my priorities." Duo didn’t settle again. He was leaning over the backseat to check the cylinder. “Duo. You can trust me.”
Duo looked at him. They were almost there. Will could see the curve of the Osprey leering up behind a dune.
"You'll do what you have to, I guess," Duo said. He crawled over the seat, leaving Will alone in the front.
"Damn it, Duo. I'm not going to betray you again."
Duo’s face swam in and out of the rearview. Then suddenly Duo had his rifle to his shoulder and he was shooting again, just seconds before he was hit, flung back to the seat. If the swearing was any indication, he was all right, but Will couldn’t risk looking back to be sure. Men were rising up out of the sand with ample firepower, running toward them, toward the camp. It was barely sunset. Their guide hadn’t delayed them long enough, and the insurgents were making their move.
Will ducked low to the dash and drove straight at a man who ran into the road to block them. They hit, bouncing the entire jeep sideways, and Will slammed down the gas pedal. They shot ahead, and then they were in camp, skidding past tents and the empty perimetre watch. The camp was definitely under attack, and Will made sure his helmet was strapped as he wheeled for the plane. The Osprey was set to one side, and their lone car barely attracted attention away from the milling confusion as Will drove for it. He swung around to the back near the engine hatch, and threw the gearshift into park so hard they lurched forward. He scrambled to help Duo lift the cylinder out of the bed, and then up the ladder steps in the side of the plane to the engine. Duo ripped it open, hauling the cylinder into place. “Tools,” he called breathlessly over his shoulder, and Will jumped to the ground and ran for the fuselage. There was a set just behind the cockpit. He paused long enough to get a view of the action outside. He saw bodies, most of them in dusty grey—insurgents. There were Preventers down. More had taken refuge behind one of the hummers. He could hear them shouting.
He clutched the tools to his chest, and dove back into the heat to run them up to Duo. Duo was a tempting target, draped out of the engine like that and unable to use his own rifle, slung over his back. He was trying to do alone and in minutes what took mechanics an hour. Will couldn’t even help, not without a second ladder.
Then, amazingly, Duo emerged, smeared with oil and grinning ear to ear. “That’s what a little prep work will do for you,” he told Will. “We’re go. Let’s round up the men.”
“Commander took a bullet to the right femur,” Cameron told him. “You never saw a guy bleed like that.” He still seemed shaken. “We got a tourniquet on him, but it doesn’t look good.”
“The medic said you got it in time,” Will assured him. “Come on, Markov’s not going to die in a place like this.”
They’d made it on a cylinder of questionable origin and insanely fast installation and no test run across hundreds of kilometres of Karakum Desert to the northern city Dasoguz and the extensive miliary base there. And they’d made it with only five wounded, and no-one dead. The Turkmeni army were going out of their way to smooth their sudden arrival. They’d already been given the use of two barracks, and mechanics were working on the Osprey.
“They’re setting up mess for us,” Will said to Cameron. “Go wash up and get something to drink. You’ll feel better.”
“Yeah.” Cameron scrubbed his face. “Yeah. Come on with me?”
“Sure.” Will made sure their packs were zipped and stacked with everyone else’s where the Turkmen were offloading all their equipment. “Let me just ask—“ He bounced off someone who hadn’t been standing behind him a moment before, and Cameron steadied him.
It was one of the corporals from Logistics. He had a rusty streak of dried blood down his face. He said, "Where the fuck were you when it went down?"
"Excuse me?" That stunned him.
The corporal moved into his space, bumping him back into Cameron. "I said where were you?"
"Stand down, okay?” He stepped out from between the two of them. “I was doing my job. Just like the rest of you."
"I didn't see you anywhere," the corporal went on stubbornly. They were drawing attention from the team and the Turkmeni military still standing around. Will tried to discourage their looks, but the corporal went on in a strident voice pitched for everyone to hear. "Hiding in the corner? We've got wounded, and you could have been there doing your part."
Will put his fingertips on the guy’s shoulder and moved him back. "I was covering all of your asses,” he retorted coldly. “Not that I have to answer to you."
Duo was coming toward them. Oh, God. For the first time he honestly wanted Duo to be far, far away, not witnessing something that was bound to make him look like more of a loser than Duo already thought him.
Will made it two steps. The corporal grabbed his arm. He got out one word. “OZ—“
Will shoved him. The corporal took a swing, and Will managed to block it. He ducked the next one. “Don’t you dare pull that,” he said, and made a swing of his own.
Then Duo was there. He pulled Will out of the way, and hit the corporal in the face. Twice.
The corporal fell with the second punch. He sprawled back. Duo shouted at him, “What’s your name?”
“Duo,” Will said. He tried to take Duo’s arm, but the other man shook him off.
The corporal was holding a bleeding nose. He wiped his face. "Sergeant--"
"What's your name!"
God. Everyone was staring, afraid to intervene. “Duo,” Will said again. “That’s enough.”
Duo ignored him. "You're on report,” he yelled at the corporal. “I want your name. You make me ask a third time and I'll make sure you're transferred to fucking Pluto, you shitface."
The corporal climbed to his feet. No-one helped him up. He straightened sullenly. “Coulter, sir."
Duo seemed satisfied with that. He turned away. Will made to follow, relieved it was over; then Duo turned back. He said, "I don't care if he's a fucking Nazi, he's your teammate. We're in this together."
Coulter wiped his nose again. "I can't believe what I'm hearing from you. You had a whole different attitude toward this bitch a month ago."
Duo was on him before he’d even finished his sentence. He shoved Coulter so hard that he hit the men standing behind him, and they only barely held him up. "This bitch saved your life,” Duo snarled. “All your lives."
"Duo.” Will didn’t let Duo shake him off this time. “Come on. We have a briefing."
Duo was shaking. That shocked him. Duo was literally shaking. He raked blazing eyes over Will, and for a moment, Will honestly wondered if Duo even recognised him.
Then Duo disengaged. He stalked off without a further word. Everyone parted to let them pass.
Will didn’t speak again until they’d left the hangar and the rest of their team behind. The night outside was quieter, cooler than inside, a nearly full moon beaming down on them like a beacon. He tried to remember that it had been a stressful day. A stressful week. That Duo had been fighting the heat, and that he’d killed two people at close quarters only hours ago, flown under fire-- acted in all respects like the hero he was.
He caught Duo’s arm again, and pulled him into the shelter of an unoccupied van. He said, "You didn't have to do that."
"Fucking stick up for yourself then," Duo hissed back.
That wasn’t fair. "I was handling it, Duo. Now all they see is I'm a pussy and you--" He stopped himself with an effort. "Thank you."
Duo licked his chapped lips. His eyes evaded Will’s.
"There's going to be divisiveness between ex-OZ and ex-rebels,” Will tried again. “It doesn't help to respond to it when someone acts like an ass."
Duo freed his arm, and crossed both over his chest. "I never cared that you were in OZ. That wasn't the reason."
Duo shook his head.
Will exhaled. "Thank you. Okay? I appreciate it."
Duo’s eyes dropped, and he walked away.
He woke with a fright, and couldn’t see anything. There was a hand over his mouth. Then it moved, curling down around his jaw.
Duo. Will sat up, rubbing his blurring eyes. He could just see Duo’s outline in the dark of the barracks. "Hi," he said, bemused. “What’s up?”
He tossed Will his boots from the foot of the bunk. "Come on,” he whispered.
He shoved his feet into them obediently, fumbling with the laces. "Duo. Come on? It's—“ He checked his watch, and managed to hit the small light on the face. “Three thirty."
Duo just gestured impatiently, and headed for the door. Will gave up trying to tie his boots, and hurried after him.
The base was dead quiet, especially the small section of it they’d been given for the duration of their stay. Duo was still fully dressed in his camouflage, though his jacket was open to the breezy night air. Will was chilled quickly, in just his undershirt and trousers, but he didn’t protest. Duo seemed to know where he was going. They ducked between buildings and passed what Will thought was a mess hall, all silent and locked down, and then they were on an old basketball court, the green-tinted cement black in the moonlight and run through with cracks by the hoops. Duo crossed the court and headed straight for a little concrete building. He glanced around once, and went inside. Will followed.
It was a set of showers and a few open urinals. They were empty, and from the look of things, a long time out of use. Duo locked the door behind them.
Will was fully awake now. "What's up?”
Duo kissed him, quick and hard, and walked him backward toward a wooden bench along the wall.
So it was about sex. Or Duo’s odd, angry, dysfunctional brand, anyway. Will was almost disappointed. But Duo’s hands were warm on his chest and back, curling in his hair, and he didn’t resist.
Duo didn’t even wait for them to fully undress. He pulled Will’s trousers to his knees and pushed him onto the bench, and then he knelt between Will’s legs and went down on him like his cock was magnetic. Will couldn’t hold back a groan, and was embarrassed when the sound reverberated through the empty bathhouse.
"Oh, god, Duo,” he whispered. “Your mouth is so hot." He rubbed Duo’s shoulders, caressed his neck with his thumbs as Duo’s head bobbed up and down in his lap. He felt nails in his backside, and his legs began to tremble with a rushing feeling in his head. "I'm not going to last if you keep doing that," he said hoarsely.
Duo sucked harder. It wasn’t fancy. But it was hectic, and amazing, and Will slid his fingers through Duo’s soft hair. In a few minutes, he warned Duo, and closed his eyes against the stars.
He came out of it to the sound of Duo spitting. Duo wiped his mouth on his hand, and leaned up to kiss him.
Will licked his lips after. “Let me do you now." He palmed Duo’s cheek.
Duo nodded. His breathing was laboured. He slipped onto the bench in Will’s place, shoving his trousers down a little further. He was ferociously hard, his thighs flushed. Will knelt between his boots, and swallowed as much as he could.
Duo squirmed and held his head down, forcing himself another inch into Will’s throat before he stopped himself. Will ghosted his hands up the insides of Duo’s thighs, urging his legs as far apart as they could go in the confines of his pants. He grazed Duo’s prick with his teeth. Duo jerked and shoved at his head again.
“Shit, fuck,” he whispered tightly. “Gonna—“
Will did not spit it out. He swallowed it, and kissed Duo’s thighs, his nose buried in damp, musky-smelling skin until Duo’s breathing evened out.
He stood, and fixed his clothes. Duo sat limply against the wall, his eyes closed. He looked exhausted, almost sick. Will touched his cheek again.
“Did you sleep at all?” he asked. “Come on. You can still get a few hours.”
Duo nodded. He put himself back together with sluggish movements, letting Will wrap an arm about his shoulders and kiss him twice. Finally he stood, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets.
"I can't defend you again," he said suddenly, and awkwardly.
Will knew what that meant. He kissed Duo again. "It's okay, Duo. You never had to." It was too dark to read Duo’s expression. "Just because I don't fight them, doesn't mean I'm weak."
"How am I supposed to know that?" Duo challenged him bitterly. “Weak people don't speak up when they should.”
Will let him go. “I guess you're just going to have to trust me."
Duo just stood there breathing for a minute. Then he said, "You remember the way back?"
"Yeah." He looked away first. "Good night."