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Falling for the First Time

Lilias


"Come on, come on--yes! About time!"

The launch's engine coughed delicately twice before it caught, but then they were off. The white towers of the base faded into blue as they moved out to sea, toward the flat grey outline of a waiting cargo ship.

Heero wasn't entirely sure where they were going, and didn't like the feeling of uncertainty. This other boy, this unlikely guardian angel with the bizarre hair, might be an ally. Or he might not--and until he found out for sure, Heero did not enjoy being whisked out to deep water in a craft he wasn't even driving.

The boy at the controls turned to shout something over his shoulder, battling engine noise and crashing waves to yell some clarification. "That blast blew our suits pretty far out, but I've got some friends with a big boat--they're already working on a retrieval plan."

Friends? That in itself seemed like a deadly idea. This loose cannon clearly had no idea how to conduct a covert operation; the sooner he could collect Wing and get far, far away from this entire situation, Heero decided, the better.

It wasn't much farther, and the salvage operation was well under way by the time they arrived. The hoist grumbled dutifully as its heavy cables cranked one suit, then the other, up from the water.

Nothing much to do but wait, at least until he could get his hands on Wing and make repairs. And speaking of repairs--he had shut down awareness of his injuries for about as long as he could, but perhaps now was the time to do something about the various distress signals that kept nagging at the edges of his consciousness. Signals that would have had a normal soldier comatose with pain by now, if not long before.

First things first: that broken femur needed to be aligned, and soon, if it were to heal properly. Bracing his foot on the rail, he dragged the bones into place and tied them there with a makeshift splint. It wouldn't hold if he had to move quickly, but it would do until he could find a better reinforcement.

When he looked up, the boy in black--what was his name? Duo, that was it--was watching him with queasy respect. "I do not believe you just did that. Ugh. I'm going to hear those bones crunching in every one of my nightmares tonight."

Heero ignored him pointedly, mentally running a systems check: in addition to the leg, there were some broken ribs, badly wrenched knees, shoulder not quite dislocated, skull and spine apparently intact. No evidence of internal trauma. The damage was within acceptable limits. Except that he felt markedly unsteady, especially when he tried to stand; some kind of head injury? He was in the process of concluding that it was more likely due to after-effects of the sedatives they'd given him at the hospital, when unsteadiness turned into the disturbing realization that he was about to pass out entirely.

He swayed on his feet, fighting the gray-out all the way down. Falling, again. Like all the times before: out of the sky, into the water, down the side of the building. But this time, it was different.

This time, someone caught him before he could hit the deck. His last awareness was of being lifted, carried: not falling, after all.

 

I'm so cool, too bad I'm a loser
I'm so smart, too bad I can't get anything figured out
I'm so brave, too bad I'm a baby

 

It hadn't been a lucky save--Duo had to admit that, at least to himself. He hadn't just 'happened' to see the Amazing Chute-less Boy start to pitch over; he'd been staring, and trying not to look like he was staring, ever since the beach. So when those big baby blues went all woozy, he'd had plenty of time to get into position for a rescue.

Catching was one thing, though, and actually carrying him proved to be another matter entirely. /Christ, I keep forgetting that he's heavier than he looks. Of course, if he's made out of gundanium, that would explain a lot..../

None of the rest of the crew happened by in time to help, though, so it seemed they were on their own. /Great. Just great./ Duo cursed fluently under his breath as he wrestled the other pilot's dead weight down the narrow passageway to one of the ship's sets of sleeping quarters.

The bunks were narrow--mere shelves riveted to the bulkhead, really. Duo balanced his burden on the one closest to the door, pausing to pull off the other boy's boots before pulling the woolen blanket up and over him.

/That oughtta do it for now--Howard'll be able to figure out what to do next. It's times like these I wish we had a medic around here./

Duo had plenty to do topside, and there was certainly nothing more he could accomplish here--but still he found himself pausing, finally able to stare without risking a rebuke. His hand rose, almost unwillingly, to touch the very ends of the tousled hair. No one should be that beautiful, he decided. It just wasn't fair. Faces like that belonged on statues, in paintings, not on people mean as snakes and twice as cold-blooded.

But for all his remoteness, there was something about the guy--the precision of his movements, the assurance in his eyes, the sheer unbelievable indestructibility of this apparently self-destructive idiot--that had been taking up entirely too much of Duo's time ever since that first meeting on the docks.

Duo's thoughts would be ambling along perfectly innocently--need to find replacement fuses, what base am I supposed to hit next, when's lunch--and then run smack into some remembered image of this lunatic. Some speculation about his origin, his mission. It was unnerving.

And now--having him here, in this familiar place? It was too weird. /Who the hell are you, anyway? And what the hell am I going to do with you? You are not part of my plan, buddy./

The other pilot shifted on the thin pillow, making a muffled noise of discomfort. Duo started abruptly at the sound, jumping back as if he'd been burned. /Jesus, this is ridiculous. Get Howard and get to work on Deathscythe, Maxwell--stick to the damn mission before you get yourself killed./

Shaking his head in disgust, he headed for the repair bay.

 

I'm so fly, that's probably why it
Feels just like I'm falling for the first time

 

Heero woke up clutching the sides of the metal bunk, not sure whether his cry had been audible, or only in his mind. His throat was sore, his whole body hot. Every injury a distinct blazing sun of pain. He tried to sit, but found himself too light-headed to make it all the way up. Cursing, he subsided to regroup.

The small room's door swung open, and the other pilot stepped carefully over the raised sill to enter. "Thought you might be awake in here. How you holding up?"

Heero tried to glare, but it was hard to get his eyes to focus.

"Here. Drink this."

A metal mug, its sides beaded with condensation, pushed into his hand. Water. Nothing had ever tasted so good; holding the mug still was something of a challenge, though, and he spilled rather more than he was able to swallow.

"Hey, slow down--try to get some of it on the inside."

One hand steadied the cup, while an arm supported his shoulders long enough for him to gulp the rest of the water.

"Whatever knock-out drug they gave you seems to have come with a nice case of dehydration. Howard says you should keep ahead of it. I think there's a pitcher around here somewhere--I'll go fill it up, so you don't have to get up for more."

"I can manage."

"Not likely." Sitting down on the edge of the bunk, Duo leaned to lay one wrist against the glaring boy's forehead. "Hm. Still pretty high. Broken bones are one thing, but you can't walk around with that many lacerations and not court infection, y'know. Howard pumped you full of antibiotics, but it's going to take them a while to do anything about that fever."

It took a moment for Heero to recover--the cool touch on his forehead was so good that he turned blindly to follow it.

Duo regarded him thoughtfully, then swiped one hand over the outside of the mug before laying moistened fingers against the fevered cheek. The action was not unappreciated--his patient actually leaned into the contact, eyes closing.

The involuntary pleasure on that face was even more mind-bending than the guy's usual iceman routine, Duo decided. With his eyes shut, Ironman looked almost approachable. Definitely touchable. Lashes at least a foot long, and flushed as if he'd just been--

Duo caught himself before he started to drool. "Uh, I'll get that pitcher. Maybe a cloth or something." He managed not to stammer, but did almost break his neck tripping over the doorsill on the way out.

/Smooth, Maxwell. You are quite the cool one, ne? Managed not to ravish the half-conscious sick guy, though, so you should be pretty damn proud of yourself./

 

I'm so chill, no wonder it's freezing
I'm so still, I just can't keep my fingers out of anything

 

Duo was pretty sure this experience would be enough to qualify him for sainthood in spite of all his past transgressions. Throughout the next two days, whenever Short-Dark-and-Handsome wasn't sleeping (and looking damn good doing it, incidentally), he was demanding access to his gundam (and, well, still looking damn good). Between the temptation and the annoyance, that guy was a serious threat to Duo's sanity.

By the third morning, though, the patient's reluctance had become downright mutiny; one of the crew poked her head around the door of Duo's cabin with the information that the other kid was not only out of bed, but climbing all over his white mobile suit. Muttering dire threats, Duo headed for the upper deck.

"Hey, Mr. Fantastic! What do you think you're doing up there? Trying for a new concussion? They don't come cheaper by the dozen, y'know."

Heero glared down at him, but didn't bother to answer.

"In case you haven't noticed, that leg is still broken--you're never going to get back to a hundred percent if you don't give it a rest. Get back down here before you snap your neck. I'll get to your gundam as soon as I finish up repairs on mine."

"Nobody touches this suit but me."

"Oh, sure, like you built it yourself in the first place. C'mon, your hardware is almost identical to Deathscythe--I think I can figure out where all the pieces go. Sit down, Wonderboy."

"Why do you keep calling me that?"

"It's not like you gave me anything else to call you--but don't bother. You'd just hand me some kind of code name anyway, right?"

"You're too ready to throw yours around, Duo Maxwell. Walking breach of security, if you ask me."

"Hey, that name's my own invention, like the rest of me. You won't find me in any databases either, so you can stop glaring at me like that--unless it really is the only face you've got. And throw me that wrench, while you're at it."

Duo fully expected the wrench to hurtle at his skull with crushing force, and was pleasantly surprised when it landed exactly--and with a minimum of pain--in the middle of his waiting palm. "See? Being reasonable isn't so hard."

That earned him a deadly scowl, and Duo turned to his own repairs with a weary shake of his head. /Fine. Go out in a blaze of stupidity because you're too damn dim to know who your friends are--see if I care./

 

I'm so green, it's really amazing
I'm so clean, too bad I can't get all the dirt off of me

 

Hours later, Duo surfaced from the tangle of wires under Deathscythe's console to realize that his stomach had been complaining for some time. When he dug himself out of the cockpit to see about food, he found a wrapped sandwich balancing on the open hatch. Gundam-climbing was not among Howard's many skills, so how--

He looked up, puzzled, to meet a wary blue stare from the shoulder of the white mobile suit. "The guy in the--in the shirt--brought it."

"But you put it up here where I could reach it. Thanks."

There was no visible response for a long moment, then the other pilot spoke. "You're welcome."

Grinning in spite of himself, Duo settled into the curved hatch and peeled the paper wrapping back from his lunch. "So. How's it coming over there?"

Heero mentally tabulated everything that remained to be done. "The damage was extensive. I'm missing a lot of parts."

"Well, that's a problem. I mean, we can get them, but it'll take a while. You under new orders yet?"

Lanced through by yet another suspicious look, Duo was immediately sorry he had asked. /Geez, no need to deploy the death rays! Bet those eyes could vaporize rock./ But the other boy answered, if stiffly.

"Hai."

"Hum. Well, you can always take what you need from my suit--I don't have anything brewing for a while. By the time I need to move, we'll have had a chance to get supplies."

"You would do that for--"

"For another pilot? Why not? I'd like to think we're on the same side here."

"But you don't know, do you?" Heero watched him guardedly.

"I guess I don't. I mean, the suits are the same, but--" The implications of the conversation finally hit him, and Duo trailed off in troubled thought.

From his position atop Wing, Heero watched the animated face go still, the bright eyes darkening. He waited, annoyed by his own sense of regret. It was better to get this over with now, wasn't it?

Leaning forward on his drawn-up knees, Duo spoke at last. "There was a mission. An operation. And then there was a new mission. Which set of orders are you following?"

It was the right question. Not withdrawing his gaze, Heero replied evenly. "I am no longer accepting orders associated with the original operation."

The wide eyes closed briefly, then opened again to join the rest of Duo's face in the most amazing smile Heero had ever seen. "Me either."

Heero almost smiled back. It was a relief, he realized--being on the same side.

"So does this mean you can feel okay about swiping spare parts from my gundam?"

"I guess so."

 

I'm so sane, it's driving me crazy
It's so strange, I can't believe it
Feels just like I'm falling for the first time

 

It was past two in the morning when Heero finally snapped the last panel into place. Bending to ease the abused muscles of his stiff back, he climbed wearily down from Wing and headed out of the repair bay onto the main deck.

"You about done?"

Heero followed the voice to where the other boy sat, a dark shape against the dark rail.

"Almost. Stopping, for now." Heero stretched out on the deck, arms behind his head. The ship was operating under a blackout, and nothing dimmed the blaze of the stars overhead. The only sound for a long time was the lazy slap of waves against the hull.

"So you'll be off in the morning, then."

"Hai."

Another silence. Heero didn't realize he was dozing off until a low voice brought him back from the edge of sleep.

"You don't question it, do you?"

Heero raised an eyebrow, knowing the motion was invisible in the darkness. "Of course I do. I double-check data. I interrogate motives. I question all the time."

"Yeah. But always as part of the mission. You don't question the mission itself. The orders."

"Not since I abandoned the original Operation Meteor." Heero wondered idly where this was headed.

"And you don't question your ability to carry them out. You're planning to come out alive on the other side."

"If possible. Yes."

"That's what I thought. You'll probably make it, too." Duo pitched a stray bolt into the water, then another.

"Why? You have some other plans?"

This time the quiet lasted so long that Heero thought the other pilot might not have heard him.

When the boy finally spoke, his voice was distant. "I don't plan on surviving the war, no."

That made sense. "We all have to be ready to die in battle."

"Yeah." But his voice was tight with some unspoken emotion.

Heero sat up. There was more going on here than recognition of their mission's importance. "Something else."

"Nah. Not worth discussing."

"You brought it up. So talk."

"Or else, huh?" He laughed quietly. "Okay, I came down here to die. Nothing up there to make me want anything else. So I figured, might as well go out trying to make something worthwhile happen."

While understandable, it was a dangerous attitude for a soldier; but Heero didn't miss the irony of allowing himself to criticize someone else's death wish. "So when you go down, who picks up the slack?"

"Wasn't supposed to happen like that--didn't know there would be more of me. Just Shinigami taking out the bad guys who wanted Death for themselves, then boom--" He gestured, miming the flight of a crashing plane with one hand. "Blaze of glory, fade to black."

"Had this all planned out, didn't you?"

"Used to, yeah."

"Then what?"

"I met this guy who seemed to want to die even more than I did."

"Oh."

"Don't worry too much about him, though. He's not too good at the whole dying bit, as it turns out."

 

Anyone perfect must be lying,
Anything easy has its cost;
Anyone plain can be lovely,
Anyone loved can be lost

 

"I'm not trying to die."

"I know, I know. All for ninmu, and ninmu for all. Got it."

Heero looked at him quizzically. "So. What changed, exactly?"

"I started thinking we might be able to pull this off." /I thought maybe I wouldn't be alone anymore. And I've been alone for so long. You have no idea--then again, maybe you do. Maybe./

"Of course we can. We have to."

Duo closed his eyes against the danger posed by the moonlight glinting in those eyes. "I can't do this. Not again. Believing in things is--hard. It hurts." He barely realized he had spoken aloud, until he heard the other's answer.

"Then don't believe in things. Believe in yourself--that's all you can ever really count on, anyway."

/You don't get it, do you? I already have something better than that, and worse--I believe in you. And that's what has me by the throat--because everything I believe in comes apart on me, eventually./ When Duo opened his eyes, he was still the focus of that intent gaze.

"You should."

"What?"

"Trust yourself."

Duo snorted. "Coming from a guy who doesn't even trust me within ten feet of his gundam, that rings just a bit hollow."

"It shouldn't matter what I think." Heero spoke slowly, wary of the depths he found himself navigating.

"Maybe it shouldn't." /But it does, which is one of the reasons I know I'm in trouble here. That, and the fact that I cannot stop staring at you, even though you're awake this time and probably about to pitch me overboard..../

The watchful face under the tumbled bangs was not nearly as shuttered as usual, though, and Heero's next words seemed to be an attempt at reassurance. "Anyway, it's not a judgment of you, exactly. My gundam is--part of me. I wouldn't trust anyone with it. It's nothing personal."

"Sure."

But Duo didn't look convinced, and Heero grudgingly identified his own uneasiness as concern. He cast about for more words, and finally spoke. "You came to get me. Helped me, without asking what side I was on. I guess I can trust you, at least until I get information that convinces me otherwise."

Heero felt smugly pleased with the result of his efforts when he caught Duo's sidelong glance, the reluctant twist of the mouth that was almost a smile. But Heero still wasn't sure what to make of the thoughtful expression in those dark eyes--and while he was weighing the possible consequences of asking what else was wrong, things got decidedly strange.

Deciding life was short, and rational thought a crutch for the timid, Duo abruptly leaned across the space between them. "Thanks." He said it very quietly, very close--and then he stretched a little bit farther and laid his lips very gently against Heero's.

Startled, Heero at first went completely still. But when Duo made no move to push farther, Heero shifted slightly, fully intending to pull away--until the motion tipped his head just enough to change the angle of contact, and suddenly the light caress deepened into something else. Something he leaned into, involuntarily--something so fascinating that when Duo did start to draw back, Heero brought one hand up under the heavy braid, holding him where he was.

He captured Duo's slight gasp of surprise against his mouth, lingering there for a moment, then another. It was all a jumble of sensory information, random bits that his mind caught at only in passing. The taste of sea-salt, and mint, and the faint scent of something his memory obediently identified as juniper. And a warmth that spoke of shelter, even in the pre-dawn chill.

When at last he sat back, Heero's expression was as calmly speculative as if he were running equations in his head.

And then, incredibly, stunningly, he smiled. "You're welcome."

Totally speechless, and more than a little shaken, Duo could only stare as the other pilot stood up and headed back to finish his repairs. At last, moving like one in a dream, he gathered himself up and went in search of his bunk.

 

I'm so thrilled to finally be failing
I'm so done, turn me over 'cause it
Feels just like I'm falling for the first time

 

Duo woke up still buoyed by an unfamiliar feeling of elation. The world had been dismantled and rebuilt in a strange new pattern overnight, but he carried none of the weariness that should have followed such an effort. Instead, he only felt oddly raw--like a newborn, all his skin exposed to air for the first time.

So this was--hope? Hope. And something else, which he wasn't yet prepared to name.

He came up the stairs on legs gone coltish and unsteady. As soon as he climbed onto the deck, he knew what he had hoped he wouldn't see; the white mobile suit was gone, along with more than a few of Deathscythe's components.

Duo paused to acknowledge the twisting feeling of loss, the loneliness that swept up and over him with a chill that he couldn't blame on the early morning breeze. But then he gathered himself together, if gradually, and felt the grin coming before it made it all the way across his face.

/The Lone Gundam rides again, huh? Well, we'll see about that. You're not getting rid of me that easy, Wonderboy. Stay alive up there, and I'll be seeing you. Count on it./

 

What if I lost my direction?
What if I lost sense of time?
What if I nursed this infection?
Maybe the worst is behind

 

Wing arrowed through the opening dawn, moving low over the sea. Relaxed in the cockpit, Heero ran over the mission specifications in his mind, automatically reviewing measures and countermeasures. /Approach the carrier from the north; neutralize its anti-aircraft defenses before concentrating on the fuel stores; the sky in the extreme west is the precise blue of his eyes, and they were wide and startled when I--/

Full stop. Where exactly had that come from?

As if he didn't know.

Frowning slightly, he tried to begin the run-through once more. /Concentration was the first thing you learned, and should still be the easiest. Focus, and it'll go away. He'll go away. Has to--or else it's just a matter of time before you get shot down. There is no room for error here, no allowance for distraction./

He had almost managed it when his eye fell on Wing's control panel, on the outline of a sensor assembly that stood out from the rest of the display--it was black, for one thing, in contrast to Wing's unpainted interior. One of the parts he had stolen--no, removed-- from Duo's suit. It was functioning smoothly. In fact, there had been no change in Wing's performance since the alterations--if anything, his gundam was operating at higher efficiency with the borrowed hardware than before.

For the barest of moments, he considered the possibility that his own efficiency might not have been compromised by those other things he seemed to have appropriated from the other pilot. Things--feelings?--that seemed bent on becoming part of him, as surely as Deathscythe's circuitry had been patched into Wing's.

The very idea was ridiculous. And anyway, it wasn't as if he would ever see Duo again; in all probability, the idiot would get himself killed long before their paths had a chance to cross. Ignoring the pang that thought insisted on carrying with it, Heero slammed a mental door on the whole distracting mess and turned back to the task at hand.

 


 

Six weeks later.

The mission parameters were clear, and clearly required a carrier to transport Wing unobtrusively to New Edwards. This was easy enough to acquire.

The base's guards dispatched to unconsciousness, Heero moved without hurry to check the carrier over before loading Wing. A warning light blinked on the control panel, and he permitted himself a brief hiss of annoyance: the cargo hatch was open.

Wary, ready to take out whatever hapless guards had decided today was a good day to die, Heero made his way to the carrier's cargo hold. He halted, brought up short by the hulking outline of a mobile suit already occupying half the bay. A familiar black mobile suit. Here? How--?

Its pilot jumped down from the suit's open hatch, and Heero felt a lurch of recognition. Hard on its heels was something else, even less familiar--a strange lifting sensation, originating somewhere in the middle of his chest. Before he could think fast enough to shut his mouth, he had spoken. "Duo?"

The answering grin held a measure of disbelief. /Well, what do you know--he actually remembered my name./

 

And it feels just like I'm falling for the first time

 

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