There was a dragon in his sea, and it was drowning.
"Hey, buddy," he said, even as he banked, "look over there, willya?"
Duo clambered over his shoulder and up part of his neck, using his spines as rungs. They weren't kitted out for open warfare today, recon at best, and his harness was light enough that there was nothing there for his human to secure himself to; it was a good thing Duo was agile like a monkey. (Then again, humans, monkeys, not much of a difference, eh.)
"What the hell are they doing to her?"
There was a ship, too. Alliance, by the look of it, which made Scythe growl low in his throat, and smoke puff in a little curl out of his nose, but Duo swatted his neck with the flat of his hand and he dropped it, for now.
He was more interested in the other dragon -- sleek and deep blue, in his weight class or thereabouts. Also, drowning. There were little floating boats all around her, and for a moment he thought they were trying to sink her and bristled all over.
"They're tying lines to tow her," Duo said, and oh, yeah, so they were. Well. Guess he didn't need to melt them down into slag just yet.
They circled the ship from afar, low enough that some of the cresting waves sprayed them. It was no effort, he discovered, to let his hide keep up that slow-moving pattern of mottled gray-green-blue-white he'd been playing with, so that at a distance human eyes would see nothing but another patch of sea. (Radars would see nothing at all -- he had no armament onboard today to show up on scanner, and shed no body heat. And Duo had his bodysuit on under his clothes, of course; or else he'd be bitching up a storm about his incoming hypothermia every time Scythe dumped him in the drink.)
It was strange that a dragon, whose body was riddled with air sacs from head to tail-tip, could ever float as badly as she did. Maybe they'd hooked too much shit to her harness. Nevertheless, he and Duo almost turned tail and left them to it -- they seemed to have the situation well in hand, and it would be stupid to get noticed before the first attack and ruin all that nice advantage of surprise.
Only then the dragon beat her pale gray wings over the surface, once, twice before sinking again, and suddenly he was stiff all over and for a second he didn't know why, just that he'd felt Duo go tense like a strung bow, legs tightening on his neck.
"Motherfucker." Duo swung a leg on the other side of his nape and slid backward down Scythe's neck on his heels, serrated spines whizzing past just under his very unarmored crotch. He wasn't holding on with anything but Scythe didn't even think to dump him.
"Did I just see...?"
"Deathscythe, stalking pattern three. Fall back, don't lose them." Duo didn't bother saying 'We can't afford to lose them,' but it came clear anyway.
Her wings, at first glance, seemed mottled cloudy-gray, or maybe those patterns were some very strange, full-wing scar tissue.
At second glance they were merely covered in godfucking motherdamned feathers.
Deathscythe felt a shiver of excitement run through him, and for a brief instant his own unnatural, gene-fucked hide sparkled with reds and yellows.
"Heero, what are you doing?" said the unknown girl, composure wavering.
Wing closed her eyes, even as her rider whirled away from her, aimed his gun at the intruder. Wing had seen her following her rider, but she was so obviously not an operative in her party dress; she had ignored her, hoping that...
Hoping, guiltily, that he wouldn't notice the intruder until it was done, until Wing didn't have to care anymore (care that he would be seen, that someone might tell and betray him and get him in even more trouble. Didn't have to care -- to mind -- that he would follow her into death as soon as he disposed of her body. There was always lots of kerosene on a base and her rider was a very efficient person and she knew what the fastest way to get rid of both liabilities would be.)
"What are you -- that poor dragon! You can't mean to--"
But the girl -- the civilian? -- had spoken and distracted him and stopped him before he could put Wing down, and Wing's throat was thick with the need to keen out her guilt, her grief, her relief.
Her side hurt, pain pulsating in red flashes even through the numbing cream an enemy doctor had slathered on earlier. She wished she could have found enough air to fight back against the red dragon that raked her with his claws and knocked her clean out of the sky, to drown and be captured by the enemy; she wished she could have fought at least once, not made this trip down to Earth and their purpose -- the whole reason she had been hatched at all -- into such a total failure, such pointlessness.
Instead she was too injured to fly and a prisoner, and soon they'd realize the patchwork of breeds she represented wasn't due to being feral and mutated but to having been tailor-made that way.
She heard the report of a weapon and her eyes flew back open, because it had come from too far away to be Heero's.
Her rider was on his knees. The scent of his blood hit her and she reared up, hissing in sudden fury. The chains holding her secured to concrete screeched, threw sparks, but held, and she thrashed furiously in her bonds, even though she could feel her stitches tearing. Someone was shooting her rider -- someone was shooting her rider!
Through the blood beating in her temples she barely heard a young, male, human voice, the flippant, "Are you alright, ladies?" but it was enough to pinpoint the attacker. She breathed in. And in, and in. Chains kept her chest from extending fully but who cared, at this distance it would be enough--
Something landed on her back like several tons of bricks.
She wheezed, squirmed around in her bonds like an eel, fangs bared. A heavy, dark wing curled over her eyes, blocking her line of sight and offering no purchase for her fangs. She clawed and clawed again, it hurt, she felt dizzy, she couldn't stop.
A second shot. A splash. The girl screaming.
"Shit -- Scythe, incoming!"
Light blinded her, and a whirl of colors. The strange dragon lifted off her, beating thick black wings, snatched up the killer, and was gone; and it took too long, much too long, for Wing to follow the track of her rider's blood on the dock, for bolts to shear off under her relentless pull and loosen her bonds enough that she could drag herself to the edge and see her rider floating limply face down in the water.
When the OZ platoon swarmed the area they found her with her front paws extended over the edge as far as they would go.
Her bonds wouldn't break all the way, and she couldn't reach far enough to fish him out, and then the enemy men went in the sea and they took him away.
"No, seriously, what did you expect? That your dragon would magically pop up and pick you up straight from a cliff face? Dragons ain't eagles, they can't dive that close to friggin' rock, even if she weren't friggin' injured and also not here. What the hell happened to her anyway?"
Heero didn't bother speaking to the boy who had first shot him and gotten him captured, and then later broken him out; the offshore boat was loud enough that Heero could pretend he hadn't heard, could just spare a single glare for a person annoying enough to attempt a conversation in those conditions and then ignore him. As for the boat's driver, an adult man in his thirties, he'd been studiously pretending not to pay attention to either of the teenagers ever since he picked them up, like he wanted to be able to say he didn't remember any details about either of them later on. Heero had no issue with it.
Wing could have picked him up, actually. Heero just hadn't...
Heero just hadn't even thought that far.
He hadn't thought at all. Mission failed, couldn't afford to be caught and spill his secrets, and under torture everyone broke, eventually. One very obvious solution. And then free fall, making everything so simple, so blindingly obvious.
His life was not his own. He'd been hasty, wanting to discard it without first making sure there was no other way. (Still he couldn't help but wish the Darlian girl had not screamed, so that he wouldn't have remembered his duties.)
He looked up when the roar of the motor changed pitch and the boat slowed, tense until he could determine with a glance that the other teenager hadn't noticed his lapse, his moment of inattention. Then he looked ahead.
Huh. Not a bad setup; they were approaching an old drilling platform, repurposed into a base for a flotilla of salvage ships -- probably all very legal and mostly aboveboard, so that when inspectors came poking around they didn't leave with anything more than the expected piddling bribes to ignore infractions no one truly cared about.
It wouldn't be very easy to steal a boat and escape, if the boy had lied, but Heero would do it anyway, escape at all costs. At worst he could also find a dark corner under the docking platforms and drown himself -- properly, this time around. It wouldn't be pleasant but what did it matter?
They circled around -- the platform was U-shaped, barracks and hangars encircling an inner harbor, and...
And a black dragon sunning himself on an inner deck, long-bodied and muscular, covered in spines, tail hanging negligently over the edge, and in the water underneath a streamlined night-blue head and a long blue-and-white neck.
"Aw damn, what is she doing in the drink. Hey, Scythe, you lazy bastard!"
The black dragon looked up at them, flicked a paw at them in a way that could have been a wave. "Lazy bastard yourself, I was back years ago. What took you so long?"
"Well sorry if I had to break through several layers of security, and you just had to swoop in and swoop back out."
"Sorry, just what? Do you have any idea what she weighs? She's almost as heavy as I am!"
Heero tuned them out. The man driving the boat had cut the motor so that they glided along on their own momentum, progressively slowing down. Wing had taken over a submerged floating pier to support her upper body -- likely it hadn't been submerged beforehand, at that. When the man started to direct them to another ladder to dock, prudently out of reach, Heero tensed, fists clenching. But he couldn't swim well with a broken leg, and it was useless to bother, he could see from here that she was alive and conscious and there was nothing more to be done; he would merely reveal a weakness.
The boy with the braid had cutting eyes, too knowing by half; Heero stared back blankly, refusing to give anything.
"Davey, man? Actually, just go straight ahead, I get the feeling she'll come to us if we don't come to her."
Heero turned away from him, refusing to acknowledge whatever would be on that face, smugness or calculation, or worse, pity.
The boat bobbled a little as it turned again. Earlier Heero would have scoffed at the thought that Wing might bound up to them like a badly trained dog; but when he looked he could see the way she stared at the boat, at him, her neck stiff with tension, you would have had to be blind to miss it. It -- felt weird.
"See?" the black dragon rumbled, self-satisfied, and rested his head on his crossed paws at the edge of the deck. "Toldja my partner would fetch him for you."
Heero and Wing stared at each other in silence as the boat slowed down, as the boy stopped its momentum with a boot pressed to the ladder. She didn't arch her neck to sniff at him; he didn't reach out to touch her hide. They just watched each other.
Alive; injured, but nothing that wouldn't heal. Take care of that, and then they would be free again.
Free to try to fulfill their mission and perhaps fail again. He wasn't sure what he felt about that, but his feelings had never been included in the debate.
"Let's get you up on deck, yeah?"
Heero wasn't sure who the boy was talking to, but he didn't care much; he didn't need his held-out hand. He turned to face the deck. Wing slipped her nose under him and lifted him up on the deck, and he barely wobbled at all when she set him down and his broken bone shifted under his skin; and when she climbed after him she didn't make a sound, even as blood flowed away with the streaming water.
Duo had slept by Scythe as far back as there had been a Scythe; farther, even, because the place they kept the egg was the warmest in the whole bedamned station. Stupid war funds, allocated to weapons and training before fixing the stupid insulation. When Scythe hatched he started sleeping on Duo's chest, which they kept up until the spines hardened, a week in; after that there were a couple weeks of side-by-side, my leg on yours, your wing on my face, which were awkward as hell because Scythe kept rolling around (his spines itched!) and steamrolling Duo. (Duo was now the proud owner of a series of amusing dotted scars where his own dragon had almost pincushioned him to death.)
Now Duo slept on Scythe instead, in the smooth hollow between his wings, but he still had the hard-won hair-trigger waking reflex.
Scythe was perfectly still, but Duo knew he was awake. Duo didn't move either, staring at the hangar's roof with his arms tucked under his head, waiting for his dragon's cue.
When it came it was in the form of a purring, mock-disappointed whisper. "Now, now. Don't make me eat you."
The silence acquired a sudden layer of even more silence somehow. Duo gave in to curiosity and leaned over the rough, pebbled edge of his dragon's wing.
The other boy was standing there, unmoving. Duo had to admire the ballsiness it took to get into a staring contest with a dragon when you were well in jaw's reach. He hadn't let go of Scythe's harness either.
"... Oh, fuck you, you were gonna steal our rig?" Duo asked in pure disbelief. "After we risked our asses to get you guys out?"
"Leaving us in their hands would have attracted attention to you as well," the boy retorted tersely. Duo growled and started feeling around the hollow for his shoes, so he could throw one at his head. Perhaps a nice wrench.
"There's no choice," the feathery dragon said. Her partner snapped, "Wing!" at her to shut her up, but she only glanced at him and ignored it. "We have a mission. We need combat gear and weapons."
"That's information they don't need," the boy gritted out.
Duo straightened up and stared. "What? Recon's one thing, but fighting? She's injured!"
"It isn't that bad," she replied, voice utterly bland. Yeah, sure, and Duo was Queen of Machu Picchu.
Duo stared at them a little longer, then he raked a hand through his bangs and tugged. "Argh!"
"You'll pluck yourself bald, monkey-face," Scythe said, nudging him gently with his nose and sending him flopping on his side. Duo thwapped his muzzle as revenge and threw himself off Scythe's back, sliding along the wing. He landed and immediately went stomping to face the dragon and her boy.
"Listen, you idiots, has it even occurred to you two to ask us to help?"
"It's our mission", the boy snapped back, hostile. Duo rolled his eyes.
"I meant with getting back her rig. She cut it off herself when she crashed, yeah? So they'd think she was a feral? That was smart," he said as an aside to her. Wing looked startled that he'd figured that out, but it was the only thing that made sense, and way obvious beside. A trained operative wasn't going to ride a fighting dragon in hostile territory bareback. "I dunno if you've noticed, but Scythe has no feathers to get stupidly waterlogged, and he can stop breathing for two hours and thirteen minutes last we clocked him."
Scythe puffed up his chest and tried to look modest. Duo crossed his arms, glowered. The boy scowled back, but then again that was his default expression.
"We're on the same side, okay? The side of not their side. And I know it doesn't mean we have to be allies, but it's not like it'll stop being a target-rich environment out there!"
"I don't want to owe anyone."
"Oh, like you don't owe us for saving your asses yesterday. Mmh, yeah."
Aha, and that was a nice little eyetwitch. "I didn't ask you to."
Duo stared at him a while longer, trying to figure out which end to handle him from. The guy was stubborn and crazy enough to jump off cliffs and ignore his parachute (and then not even die!), or straighten his own goddamned broken bones with his own hands (this would never not be disgusting). He wasn't gonna stop until Scythe sat on him, but after that he'd be pissed, too, and they would have made him an enemy. Rather a thief than a beggar...
Heh. Not that Duo had any clue at all about that sort of mindset. Not at all, Mr. Policeman, sir. Actually, going right up to a dragon to steal his stuff was exactly the kind of ballsy Duo approved of, on principle.
Still, he had his own pride to take care of, here.
"Scythe's gear won't help you much, anyway. There's only so much you can do with adjusting straps before the whole rig slips off, and in combat you can't afford that."
Still a stony glare; the guy knew that but he also thought he had to take the risk.
"... I'd grant you it might perhaps work if they had the same overall body type, buuuut." He gave a little hand signal; Scythe obligingly lowered his main pair of wings, raised the secondary. Much smaller; perhaps three times Duo's own body length stretched out, and, he knew, pretty much invisible amongst the spikes until he used them separately, which he didn't bother with unless it was time for serious acrobatics.
They didn't even get a blink out of the guy; Duo put his hands on his hips and glowered, disgruntled. Scythe looked a little thrown at the lack of reaction, sneaking the other dragon a look. She merely tilted her head and started preening her even-more-incongruous white feathers, totally ignoring him.
"... Yeah, well, you can't even swim!"
Her head darted back to face him like a snake, and she hissed, right against Scythe's nose, "I can break Mach 1."
Duo couldn't have helped laughing if he'd tried, and he didn't even try. "Aw man, yours can't have been out of the shell that much longer than mine. How long's it been?"
At that clearly unfounded accusation of childishness, the feathered dragon sniffed her disdain and went back to preening herself. The glowery teenager kept glowering, though it had an edge of confused surprised to it that was swiftly squashed when he noticed Duo noticing.
"Alright," Duo said, sobering up. "I get why you won't apologize, but if you want our help this time around you're gonna have to say please."
Yeah, cold day in hell, Duo thought as he watched his face get somehow even more non-expressive.
He still had one card to play, though, and it if it didn't work, well...
... well. Then he'd know a lot more about his not-ally than he did right now.
"Injured like she is, she can't maneuver as she should. If she goes without her gear and support weaponry, she'll get killed. I think you know that, or you wouldn't have bothered trying to steal ours."
Silence. The wind was cold at this hour, rushing in from the sea. The whole complex was quiet; Duo wouldn't have been surprised if they were the only ones awake; he pegged the time at dark o'clock in the morning or thereabout.
"What do you want from me?"
His voice was quiet, a little raspy, his head bowed so that Duo couldn't see his eyes anymore behind those dark bangs. Duo quieted his own voice to match. "Just for you to say please."
Duo wasn't going to prompt him anymore. If they both survived a while they might run into each other again, and Duo needed to know how far he could throw him.
He understood risking your own life rather than losing your pride -- but risking your dragon's, now that he refused to get.
"I'm not that hurt," said the dragon. The teenager's hands clenched.
And as Duo started to relax, the boy's chin lifted, his eyes piercing, burning with determination.
"But we go now."
Duo sighed, considered his arguments. 'I'm cold.' He would be sitting his ass on a goddamn firebreather. 'I'm sleepy.' Yeah, good for you, I'm sure the bad guys out there will wait until after nine o'clock to bother you.
'She's still injured.' Yeah, so was her rider, and he used that leg like it hadn't been broken yesterday. Hell, maybe his boss had tinkered with more than just the dragon. Duo sighed and gave in. Better to go at night, anyway, less of a chance of being seen.
"Alright, fine, let us kit up." He looked up at the feathery dragon. "You got the coordinates?"
She did, of course, down to the square inch or almost. When Scythe asked about her carrier pigeon grandmother Duo wasn't even surprised that she bit him.