Challenge #104: Dropped in the Jungle

I smiled. The expression felt unreal, plastic. It had been so long since I'd smiled that the idea of it was something I could barely understand any more. It hadn't been a particularly amusing joke, anyway. Humor was something Heero simply didn't do.

I laughed, a bit wooden, then pulled the bandage away from the burns that covered his leg from ankle to groin. It peeled away, wet and stinking. He made a shuddering sound halfway between a growl and a whine, the muscles of his belly rippling under his grimy tank top. I hadn't wanted to put bandages on him at all, but it was the only way to keep the insects off.

“Next time,” I told Heero, “Try to pick somewhere more hospitable to crash.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” he said, his eyes wide, pupils dilated until they threatened to swallow the blue of his irises.

I pulled the last of the bandages from the inadequate first aide kit, the only thing I'd salvaged from the crash, and laid them over the burns once more. Even as gently as I could, the movement made his hands clench, ripping moldy splinters from the tree, felled in the crash, that we had made into his bed. Gentleness had never been my forte anyway.

As I sat back, I met his eyes. “How bad is it?” he asked. “Tell me the real answer.”

I stared at him for a long moment, then answered. Heero was a man that would die of thirst in a lake of lies. “Bad,” I said. “It's already infected.”

He closed his eyes, his lips in a tight grimace. “Shit.”

“'The jungle is an incubator of misery,'” I quoted. “'Life springs from death unending, new plants eagerly drinking the blood let in war.'”

Heero snorted. “Duo's right. You are a cheerful fellow.”

“I suppose,” I said, with a humorless but required chuckled. “I once had the knack, but I think I've forgotten.”

“He laughs enough for the both of us.” Heero reached up with a shaking hand, scraping at his straggles of sweat-soaked hair. I leaned forward and wiped them away for him. “He's going to be upset.”

I hesitated, but the heat made for loose tongues. Anything was better than the relentless pressure of the jungle, its hot breath made fetid by the shallowly buried bodies of our comrades. “Is it true, then?” I asked.

Heero gave me the tired parody of a glare. “Yes.”

I nodded slowly. With a war so long in the fighting, it was hard to find room for anything but killing. “Alright.”

“Alright?”

“Contrary to what Duo might think,” I replied, “I prefer people to be happy. Any candle in the night is worth fighting for.”

Heero's mouth pulled into a small, crooked smile, so like Duo's that my breath caught in my throat. “You believe that people ought to be happy... except for you.”

“Did Duo tell you that as well?”

“I figured it out myself,” Heero said. “Wufei... if I can't, tell Duo... I'm sorry.”

“I promise,” I said. I wouldn't waste his time with false assurances.

Satisfied, his eyes slipped shut and he passed out, at last escaping the heat. I laid my hand on his chest, over the unsteady flutter of his heart, then placed an uncertain kiss on his burning, salty forehead. After that, all I could do was wait, listening to the distant rumble of the choppers.