by: Kracken
Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, Graphic, violence, language

Crossing Paths + Part 28
Shake Down

"What took you so long?" Duo grumbled as Heero entered his cell, gun drawn.

Heero looked with distaste at the sterile metal box with it's slab of metal for a bed and a plain, metal bowl for a toilet. Nearly a week, Duo had been there, the marks of his frustration denting every wall and, what was hopefully food, slung and swirled into obscene words disparaging Relena Peacecraft and her brother Zechs.

Duo stood with fists clenched, tangled bangs in his eyes and his one piece, white detainee uniform adding to a pale, sickly pallor to his skin. "The guards," Heero asked, "Did they mistreat you?" It was said in a tone that implied that, if they had, Heero would turn unconsciousness to the sleep of death for the two men sprawled on the floor outside the cell.

Duo repeated, shaking a little, "What took you so long? My trial is in two days. Those jerks out there were laying bets on what mode of death I was going to get!"

"It wasn't easy infiltrating the security locks and by passing security without killing," Heero told him, "This isn't the war, Duo. I had to wait until you were put in solitary and for your guards to relax. Your reputation as a Gundam Pilot had them carrying laser rifles and mounting a guard twice the number than usual. Once they realized that you weren't going to pull apart your cell and escape, they relaxed their vigilance."

Duo looked pained and bitter as he began to limp out of the cell. "Tell that to them," he growled as he jerked a thumb at the two unconscious men. He kicked one as he passed. "That's for taking my food, you shit!"

Heero went cold. "They starved you?"

"Only when Zechs had something special delivered from his table," Duo growled back. He stopped and rubbed a hand up and down one arm, not looking at Heero. "He came down here and tried talking to me, but I don't give a damn what he has to say."

"He told me his plan when we were captured," Heero told Duo.

Duo turned, amethyst eyes narrowed angrily. "Oh, he actually had one? What was it?"

Heero put a hand under Duo's elbow as he helped him down the narrow corridor, telling him, "He wanted all of the Gundam pilots together so that he could launch us at Santoro and his sympathizers, just as we had guessed. He separated you from us so that he could strengthen you, gain your trust, and convince you that revenge against Santoro was both desirable and possible. He knew that you could convince us to help you get your revenge. "

"So an enemy gets eliminated, the Gundam pilots either come out looking like heroes or murderers, and Relena and Zechs get to stay out of it and look as pure as the driven snow," Duo surmised. "What was the motivation to have me locked up?"

"To keep us from condemning them in public," Heero replied tersely, "and to threaten us with your death to force us to execute Santoro."

There were more unconscious men at a checkpoint. Duo stepped over them, glaring at one man in particular. "Just once, I'd like to met a guard who just does his job and doesn't abuse the prisoners because he's bored."

Heero turned to Duo in concern. "Duo, if they hurt you-"

"Save it," Duo sighed as he pulled Heero along with him and left the men behind. "A few punches and some verbal abuse won't give me nightmares. Let's save the kicking butt for the guys in charge of the goons."

"We'll be meeting up with the other pilots at a safe house not far from here, " Heero explained as he guided Duo through a breached wall and out into cold, crisp air. Duo shivered and Heero threw a warm arm around him as he also emerged. "They'll be checking their atmosphere alarms and expecting us to make a run for freedom, not make our operations so close by."

"Sounds good," Duo said and then let out a long breath as he collapsed, unconscious. Heero caught him and picked him up as if he were a child. He was as light as one and Heero hurried to his waiting black SUV with his heart turning to a lump of fear in his chest.

Putting Duo in the passenger side seat and buckling him in, Heero then quickly climbed behind the wheel and drove off, one hand turning on the heat as his other spun the wheel back and forth to negotiate a winding, mountainous road at high speed.

Duo awoke not much later, blinking and confused as he lifted his head and found himself in motion and in a strange vehicle. His eyes were wide with panic until they settled on Heero. "What happened?' he mumbled, rubbing at his face and trying to see something in the darkness outside.

"I don't know," Heero replied in concern and reached out to touch fingers to the pulse at Duo's throat. Duo held still until he had finished counting. "A little fast," Heero told him and," he glanced at Duo's face, "you're pale."

"I guess I was too mad at the damned guards to eat much," Duo admitted, "and the sudden fresh air and change in temperature kind of threw me for a loop. You don't get locked in a metal box for a week and not come out a little messed up."

"There are some protein bars and an electrolyte drink in the bag at your feet," Heero told him. "Eat. We'll be driving for a least a half hour more before we abandon the vehicle."

Duo pulled the rations out of the duffel bag and grimaced. "Yummy," he said sourly, but had sense enough to eat and drink to regain his strength.

When Duo was through eating, he felt better, but Heero told him firmly, "Sleep while you can."

More good advice. Duo moved to curl up against the side of the passenger door, the warm air flowing out of the vents counteracting the chill of the window. When he felt Heero's hand, he started uncertainly. Heero took hold of Duo's arm and pulled. Duo allowed it, curious as to what Heero intended. When he pressed Duo up against his side, Duo smiled.

"Miss me?" Duo asked with a chuckle.

"Yes," Heero replied and draped his arm over Duo as Duo curled against his warmth. He sighed and said, "This is the way it's supposed to be."

Duo puzzled over that, but then, as Heero gently caressed his bangs out of his face and touched his face lovingly, he understood. They were in a dangerous situation. The old Heero would have shot him after he had fainted and escaped to infiltrate or destroy the enemy later. The old Heero wouldn't be taking time to allow a long haired young man to distract him and he wouldn't be indulging himself in comforting and being comforted. It was the greatest admission of love that Heero could make to Duo, that he felt okay with doing those things now, that being close to and loving Duo was more important than anything just then.

"I'm sorry I scared you, fainting like that," Duo said reassuringly. "I'm not going to die on you, Heero."

"Shhh!" Heero said softly and hugged Duo with a strong arm. "I was frightened. I saw a life without you stretching in front of me and I didn't want that life. I spent a week worrying about you, wanting you with me, wondering how you were being treated. Let me have this half hour of peace with you before we have to run and maybe loose each other again. Don't say anything. Just be with me."

Duo nuzzled against Heero's side and tried to rest as a silly grin formed on his face. If he had died in the next instant, he would have died a very happy man.

Duo did manage to sleep again and he realized how little he had slept or ate in the sterile metal cell. It was good to feel the warmth of the heater on his face and to have Heero's breathing, comforting presence against him. Duo felt safe, something that had been lacking throughout his captivity. The guards had made threats and promises, loving to torment their only captive by making him wonder whether they were serious or not. One guard had made darker insinuations under his breath and Duo had been fearful of being left alone with the man. He had often picked fights just to avoid it, making his guards nervous enough to always post more than one guard. The constant tension had worn Duo to the bone though, and, though he would never admit it to Heero, he had been glad to hear that Heero's plan had not included immediately attacking Santoro. Duo was sure he would have failed.

"Here," Heero said simply and then sighed with regret as he turned off the engine and opened his door. Duo straightened, blinking sleepily. When the passenger side door opened, and Heero reached in to take his bag, Duo forced himself to slide out of the SUV and into the cold night air.

They were in a heavily wooded area. Heero took camo netting from the back of the vehicle and covered the SUV up with quick, efficient motions. When he was done, Duo blinked, unable to see the vehicle as anything other than a darker patch of shadows under the evergreen trees.

Heero didn't chance a light. A moon was their only illumination as he led the way into the forest, one hand in Duo's to guide him and his other feeling in front of him to keep them both from running into tree trunks. Duo didn't ask Heero how he knew where he was going. The man seemed inhuman in his abilities. It wouldn't have surprised Duo if Heero was finding his way by sense of smell or small clues on the bark of trees.

The walk warmed Duo somewhat, but he was still shivering with cold and his feet were numb and uncertain on the rough, rocky ground.

"Duo?" Heero whispered back at one point,

"Operational," Duo replied and they were both silent again. When Duo's foot hit the boards of a sagging porch and he heard Heero's shoes thud, he knew they had found the house. Following Heero onto the porch, Duo stood and waited while Heero gave a coded tap on the door.

There was a familiar click near Duo's head. A gun's safety was being put back on. "Trowa?" Duo guessed.

"You two sounded like a troop of elephants," Trowa replied quietly.

"Duo's ill," Heero explained. "He needs to get in out of the cold."

Duo bristled irritably to be singled out as the weak link, but he was grateful when he felt Trowa's arm drop over his shoulders and pull him forward through the opening door.

There was low light and the windows were shielded so that even that small light couldn't be seen by anyone looking for Gundam Pilots. Quatre stood from where he had been sitting on an old couch and Wu Fei moved out of the shadows with a pensive expression.

"Duo's hurt?" Quatre asked in concern. "Take him to your room, Heero, and get him warmed up. I'll make some broth and hot tea."

"Not hurt," Duo protested, "Just tired... the food sounds good though." His mouth was already watering and his stomach was tightening in anticipation.

"Did you have any trouble releasing him from prison?" Wu Fei asked Heero, reminding him that Duo wouldn't need to be cared for if government soldiers had followed them.

Heero looked troubled, the small light making heavy shadows on his face. "It was simple to release him. No one followed us."

"You're suspicious?" Wu Fei pressed.

"Yes," Heero replied. "Milliardo and Relena went to a great deal of trouble to threaten us with Duo's safety. It seemed strange that he was so lightly guarded. They know our skill."

"It is possible that the opposition allowed you to free Duo," Wu Fei suggested.

"Santoro?" Duo guessed and felt a twist in his gut. He squinted through the gloom at his long time companions. "I have to know right now. Are you guys going to help me take him out? My life is shit until that happens. He'll follow me, him and the people around him. They won't let me live free on Earth and they'll hunt me like a dog if I run to Space. I know it's not your fight, but-"

"It is," Trowa replied.

Quatre looked sad and his hand rubbed at his chest as he said, "It became my fight when they attacked and killed my people."

"I will always fight for justice," Wu Fei announced nobly and inclined his head to Duo.

Heero looked around the room and then he looked at Duo, a small smile playing on his lips as he said, "I'll fight for you, always."

Duo felt embarrassed. Quatre broke the moment by moving forward and urging Duo up the stairs, "You're shivering. We have maps, explosives, supplies, and enough equipment for a small war. Wu Fei's ship is hidden nearby. All that is lacking is for you to be well enough to lead the mission."

Duo balked and looked into Quatre's eyes. "I know killing bothers you..."

Quatre gave him a hard look in return. "Not when a man has condemned himself by his own actions."

Duo smiled. "It's up to us to save everyone. It feels good to be the hero again. I missed that even though I don't miss the war." He turned to Heero and saw Heero nodding, "That's why you never stopped doing it," Duo said to him. "You couldn't wean yourself off of this feeling."

"I won't deny it," Heero replied defensively.

"Good," Duo said as he went up the stairs. "It's what makes you Heero Yuy, I guess, and maybe that's a good thing for everyone; that you are willing to repeatedly save the universe."

Duo stumbled on the top step. Heero's hand on his elbow steadied him and Heero didn't drop the hand until they had entered his bedroom. He led Duo through a spartan room with a single bed and a plain table with a laptop computer. The bathroom held soap, a medical kit, and a generic shampoo.

"Nice place you have here," Duo joked as Heero sat him on the closed toilet and then turned to begin filling the tub with water. Steam began rising up and filling the small bathroom with warmth. It felt good, but Duo shivered even harder in reaction, his joints hurting painfully with tension.

When Heero turned to open the medical kit, Duo protested. "You don't need that."

"I don't?" Heero wondered doubtfully.

"No," Duo replied. "I just have bruises."

Heero's blue eyes assessed him critically and then he made a decision and reached out to help Duo undress. Duo gripped his hands and swallowed hard, stopping Heero from continuing.

"I can take my own bath, Heero."

"And if you pass out again?"

Duo tried to think of a retort to that, but he wasn't quick enough as Heero pulled his hands free and began undressing Duo again. "I'm not a baby," Duo said at last as Heero pulled the prison suit down his arms to his waist.

"Did I say anything to that effect?" Heero wondered.

Duo grabbed Heero's hands again. Heero was staring at his narrow torso, at the stark bones of Duo's collar bone, at his long wiry arms with their knobby elbows. "Don't like what you see?" Duo hissed and felt his face turn red with shame and anger.

Heero pulled his hand, still clasped in Duo's, downwards until he touched a dark, purpling bruise in the shape of a military boot. It was spread over Duo's right side. Heero touched many more, examining them, his expression going darker and darker. The worst bruises were on Duo's arms, presumably where his guards had tried to restrain him. Fingerprints littered his skin from shoulder to wrist on both arms.

"Just the usual," Duo said and shrugged, trying to pass it off. He nodded to the tub. It was getting dangerously full of water. "Better do your job if you're going to be my bath servant."

Hero grunted and twisted to turn off the water after Duo released his hands. When he turned back to Duo, Duo was already standing, holding the bottom of his prison suit up with both hands.