Chapter 11 a book in a library

I awoke to an unfamiliar ceiling. I push the thought to the edge of my mind, freshly released back into the world and changed out of uncomfortable, hospital-issue clothing.

It has been three days since I jolted awake to the sound of a nurse adjusting a monitor knob beside my bed, mistaking it for another gunshot. But there is little way to know many more I spent in the dark, half-living.

I move quickly through the streets now, as if walking faster could make up for the time lost. Careful not to glance too often over my shoulder or paint on a severe look, I move through downtown with a mind that moves even faster than my feet. The comfort of being half-dead is being free from your own mind. But for now I am alive enough and it races, furiously trying to recover lost grounds.

The laptop was in the dormitory. Hidden, but still not safe. The accounts were settled; the school administration may bar me from the door and attempt to arrest me on sight, but they can't ask for their payment in full. My Gundam still lies in that forest, unattended.

I twist my neck to glance back up the road, scanning for any unwanted companion, before doing my best to casually stroll across the street and look unhurried as I make my way back to the school. I stuff my hands into my jacket and drop my chin.

My body is not in good condition, but there is a pain unrelated to the puncture of a bullet when I finally begin down the walk to the gates. It makes me hesitate, then my teeth grit and my hand sneaks up to my chest. I clutch tightly at the edges of the wound, which turns white-hot all of a sudden and cleaves my empty stomach in nausea.

It is enough to make me put a hand to the wall of the nearest building and have a moment of weakness, but not enough to stop me. I am tired of the feeling, and the sooner this weakness leaves me, the better chance for survival I have.

I glance over my shoulder, see no one taking notice, and step quickly inside the school grounds.

The first unnerving detail of the room is the silence. Unnatural. It's as if it hasn't been touched at all, though it is impossible that the authorities at the school, which is most likely supplemented by government funds and likewise allied, did not rip through it. The walls are smooth and without a single flaw. Even the tiniest punctures from tacks where Duo would rip magazine pictures and stick them to the wall are now gone. Filled in, covered up, erased. And there is not a sound from the surrounding dorms, not an echo running up the hall from some boisterous voice.

Not even Duo's. Not the sound of his words curling around the filter of a cigarette, slinging out a cheeky snub without hesitation, smirking at some unwitting civilian.

It was easy enough to actually enter the dorms. There was no guard of any kind, and the students did not give any sort of notice that I was there, so it was safe to assume that word of the incident had not reached their ears. The school was doing all it could to keep the news of a shooting and two rogue terrorists infiltrating should some of their private investors loose their faith, and word spread no faster nor more ridiculously through the mouths of teenagers.

Students wandered in small groups around the grounds, sitting in the grass beneath the intermittent trees, and only a few sat inside the dorms. I passed two boys sitting in the stairwell, reading and talking, and met no others on the remainder of the way to the third floor.

Our room—the room was at the end of the hall. The windows were bright with sunlight as I passed them, but something felt intrinsically wrong when I stopped at the door.

And I told myself it wasn't because I was there alone.

But now I can see the small traces of interference. The beds are fractionally maligned, the carpet scuffed at the edges of the walls, the desk a little too clean. They've scoured every inch of this place, it's obvious to see. And now they have the laptop.

A minor inconvenience—it is impenetrable save for me, and all information stored away safely—but the sight of the room makes something cold settle into my stomach.

The calendar is still on the wall. There are five days unmarked by Duo's garish red marker.

And there I see him again, half-kneeling on the edge of the mattress, permanent marker in one hand, reaching up towards the calender, and etching a thick red line through another day beneath a wide-eyed kitten in a meadow. I can still see his lips parting in a laugh, something too carefree to be completely genuine, and baring a grin at the subtle irony of marking off days he could not guarantee he'd ever live to see.

I feel sick again, but it's not from the constant, dull burn of my wounds.

Something makes me step inside anyway, knowing full well it may still pose a danger to do so and I won't find my laptop, nor any trace that Duo or I were ever there, but I do anyway. I am sitting down on the foot of my bed in a moment of physical weakness when I see the slip of paper taped to the inside of the door.

I push the door quietly close and pull it off to read it.

I grimace. That reckless fool. He didn't even encode it.

'Got it. Meet you later. You know where. – 2'

There's a cigarette burn in the corner. At least he had some sense not to leave a fingerprint.

But in the back of my head, I couldn't care less about his mistakes and that part of my brain takes control as I take the piece of paper and move quickly back out of the dorm with only one goal in mind. The two boys on the stairwell are laughing loudly now, and one socks the other in the shoulder, face taken prisoner by the large smile he wears, and do not give me the slightest notice when I pass by.

I have to stop at the door, clutching again this time at my stomach. My teeth grit hard, almost so hard I fear they'll splinter and bleed, just to keep the sound pressed down, and I push the door open and keep walking.

My knees are raw from hitting the pavement, my elbows and hands red and tender, my body white-hot and thundering with blood from loosing my balance and having to stop repeatedly on the journey here, but I am finally here. It is dark by now, and I can barely see through the dusk to the prints I have made behind me in the muddy trail. I leave them. I don't have the energy to think about them now, and I'll be gone before the sunlight sinks completely away.

I am two miles into the woods blanketing the low foothills outside of the city, beside my camouflaged mobile suit.

Duo is standing only twenty feet from where I stop and my knees lock weakly, feeling my breath hiss between my clenched teeth.

My shoulder aches from holding my weight up, clutching at the nearest tree trunk, feeling the fiber digging beneath my nails. A line of sweat breaks free and curls down my face. The soles of my feet throb. Something small buzzes in my ear and nips at my neck, and my joints feel like they're filled with sawdust. The afternoon heat lingers here in the forest, captured by the trees, and makes the air stifling and thick as I pant it in. It makes my head spin, so that I don't see him approach, only when he appears before me. It's so thickly warm that I can barely separate the body heat from his hand from my feverish skin when he touches me.

The side of my face, touching the corner of my mouth.

I lift my head to look back into his face. Again, the dim light blurs his face and he looks surreal, like an angel come to usher me to a gentle death. His eyes are still violet and they still make every part of me want to turn and run. But I look into them for what could be forever and do not tear away. I am just afraid of never seeing them again as I am of what opinion or emotion is behind them when he looks at me.

His hand rests on my cheek and he takes it away when it starts to shake.

"You left too early," he says in a cracked way. "You're too damn stubborn to see you're about to hit the ground, half-dead. It's insane."

"Do you have it?"

He doesn't answer my question, and I am a little upset, for those were all the words I could stand to muster without my vision turning patchy black and spinning. In fact, he shakes his head, lowering his eyes, and laughs. It's a sound that is so retching I feel sick to my stomach.

"Heero," he says, still looking down. "You—" He lifts his hand to his face and rubs it, grimacing and grinning. "You're… just too you, you know that?"

His shoulders give one last shudder before he sucks in a deep breath and sniffles harshly. He lifts his head again, doing his best to look perfectly fine and says, weakly gesturing towards Wing, "Yeah, everything's there."

And then gazes back into my eyes for another short eternity, as if he could read them. Was it eight, or nine seconds? Or only one eternal moment?

It is then that he drops the heavy, false expression on his face and I see his true emotion, not just hidden in his eyes. The light does not soften the way his brows hitch tightly, the corner of his mouth curls backward, and his stable posture withers. I feel terrible for him and feel my throat burn as I rasp out his name a moment before he put his arms around my shoulders and his forehead to mine, his shoulders wilting and his body slumping in exhaustion. I never close my eyes even as I put my mouth to his face, just watching him, softly pressing my lips just below his eye, then at the corner of that mouth, willing away whatever pain I can. I linger there, then press my first to his mouth, he presses back, and a sob breaks forth.

He presses his face into the crook of my neck and shoulder now, forgetting caution and throwing himself against my body, despite my wounds. I am mildly surprised that I am not as flustered as I would have predicted, but my mind is far from myself. I tighten the hold and Duo's shoulders move again, jerking erratically.

I know what he's thinking.

So I knot my fingers behind his back, willing my body to hold out just a second more to keep holding him, and tell him in a voice only he could hear, "I'll see you again."

He barks out a half-laugh, still shaking against my shoulder. His tone is twisted and difficult to speak in. "In this world?"

I nod.

"Don't make a prediction you don't believe, Heero," he says. "If you die tomorrow, I'll be very disappointed in that promise."

"I know."

He waits. There is nothing but dusk and crickets around us as far as I am concerned. I am not a terrorist child. I am not an orphan who never knew his name, at least not for right now.

"And quit being so damn stubborn, will you?" he whispers, lifting his face from my shoulder to look at me.

"Only if you quit those dangerous things," I answer him.

He looks at me, eyes scanning my face, and then I see him smile only inches from me. And it was worth almost dying to see it before we were separated again by the dictations of our lives.

I don't leave him for the rest of the night. He is gone, though, when I finally wake up, in the early morning hours, and feel the cold absence grow too unbearable. The front of my shirt is damp and wrinkled and the grass beside me slowly returning to its natural shape, the impression fading.

I don't allow myself to feel too much, but busy myself with getting to my feet, wounds still burning, but less so, and staggering over to my Gundam. Thankfully, my mind and body settle into their familiar rut, allowing me to unhinge the camouflage nets from the ground and climb onto the mobile suit without thinking once about the way Duo had slept against me that night, how small he looked, curled up and defenseless in front of me, how utterly tired—not once.

But I cannot resist it when I find a book sitting, waiting for me, in the cockpit.

I feel my heart twist despite me. I have a feeling that these hours, days, weeks between now and the next time I will hold Duo will not pass as quickly as the time it took for him to completely and wholly steal me away. I am determined to love Duo for however long it takes to see him again, and I realize now that this resolution slept, waiting, in me long before I ever set my eyes upon a book in a library.

But I sit down and open it up on my lap and read it again just to be reminded and pass the time.