Author: Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warnings:Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language,

Princes and Soldiers, II + Part 10
Tell it Like it Is

It all happened quickly. Enemy forces were suddenly not there and Preventer troops were pouring in, wearing blast armor and face shielding. Noin was shouting orders as soon as they came into view. Her target was taken and whisked off to safety. A transport was called to take them all to a hospital. While they waited, a medic kneeled by Duo and began hurriedly trying to save his life while demanding to know their status at the same time. Troops continued to pour in and the mop up operation was in full swing. Only then did Noin and Heero relax enough to answer questions.

"Negligible," they both said at the same time.

The medic spared them both a glare. "Why don't I believe that?"

"Status!" a familiar voice barked over Noin's com unit.

Milliardo had waited long enough, had only allowed himself to call them when he was certain he had completed his duties. Noin found it hard to speak. She looked at Heero, who's eyes were on Duo, his world under his hands and the future of that world frail and uncertain. It was Milliardo's future as well, Noin thought, but that thought didn't have the same bitterness it once had.

"Duo is injured, several shots," Noin reported. "He is scheduled for immediate evac. The transport will be arriving shortly. The Target has been acquired and is in transport to Preventer headquarters. Units are still engaged."

"Duo," Milliardo said in a choked voice and then pulled himself together. He gave a string of orders for the units and then said, "You will accompany Heero and Duo to the hospital. You are all three off the field as of now. You will give me your full report as soon as you are checked out."

"Yes, sir," Noin replied correctly and then said, "He will be allright. We'll make sure of that..."

An empty promise. Noin couldn't offer Milliardo anything more, but she saw Heero nod tightly as if agreeing with her, as if he had the power to keep death away from his dearest friend.

The ride to the hospital was something that Noin wished to forget. Once Heero was out of the field, he changed. He clung to Duo, his hands wrapped around one of his friend's and his entire being became centered on that limp figure now covered in needles, plastic tubes, and monitors. The emergency crew worked feverishly around him, not dislodging Heero from his place, as if they realized just how dangerous that could be.

Watching Heero from her of the transport, Noin couldn't help painting a broader picture, one that made her heart clench. Heero's entire being was wrapped up in Duo. Where was there room for anything else... for anyone else? She couldn't see it; couldn't see herself coming inbetween that, when she dared to imagine it at all. It was love that they had for one another, perhaps not sexual, as they both claimed, but love nonetheless, and a love so strong that separation might mean death for the both of them, she feared. It was in Heero's eyes, a promise of tragic consequences if Duo didn't pull through.

"No," Heero said when someone noticed his bleeding arm. "Take care of Noin. I will be allright."

Noin started at that notice and she felt confusion. Heero's eyes had not looked at her, his attention hadn't wavered, but he had asked that she be taken care of. She didn't know what to think. It seemed at all odds with her assumptions. How did Milliardo deal with this? How did he cope with being first in love, but second to this deep and abiding friendship of theirs? Was a seconds' worth of caring enough for him? Was knowing that his lover wouldn't live for him, but would die without his 'other half', acceptable? Somewhere, deep down, she wondered if it was acceptable to her.

"Jeez, look at all these scars..." one of the emergency crew muttered as he cut the rest of Duo's jacket and shirt away to attach more medical equipment and to look for more wounds. One of his men grunted in question and the man traced something with his finger. "Can't barely seem them unless you have a strong light like this." He tapped the over head, bright light. "He must have had them worked on, but there are a shit load of them."

"Just work," Heero grated.

A man bent by Noin and began helping her pull off her jacket. Bullets clattered to the floor, shaken loose from the tough protective fabric of her gear. A few had breached it, but they had only grazed flesh here and there. That begged a question.

"Why didn't Duo have on his gear?" Noin snarled in anger.

"He did," Heero replied tightly. "He took a hit early on from someone with a plasma round." He lifted up Duo's shirt and jacket without moving his gaze from Duo. There was a large hole in both articles of clothing and the edges look burned. "He barely had enough time to get the mesh it was lodged in off before it melted to his skin," Heero continued. "I took the man out and, luckily, he was the only one equipped with that kind of weapon or we'd all be dead."

Noin swallowed hard. Plasma guns were banned and for good reason. They would melt through anything and were damned unstable.

"Luckily I didn't have my nipple ring in," Duo snickered weakly and the emergency crew chuckled.

Heero's full attention snapped back to Duo and Noin could see that he wasn't going to acknowledge anything else anytime soon. Duo was still among the living, still cracking jokes, and still able to lighten even that grim situation.

"Mill?" Duo asked softly.

"He knows," Heero assured him.

Duo made a small sound, "He'll worry."

"Yes," Heero agreed.

"Damn..." Duo drifted off again.

"He'll be at the hospital," Noin said to no one in particular. "Then you can both stay with Duo." She hadn't meant the words to mean anymore than that, but they did, and they were tinged with pain.

+

They landed at the hospital and Noin was left behind as Duo was rushed into emergency. Heero was allowed into the inner sanctum to be with Duo, some sort of paperwork giving him special dispensation. Noin could understand why. She didn't think that anything short of killing the man would get him away from Duo even in surgery.

Noin was stitched and bandaged by a competent nurse and then left to wander cold hallways. She found the commissary and managed to eat, though she couldn't remember what is was. Once 'refueling' was out of the way, she took up a station by a hospital room, one that a nurse had assured her would be Duo's once he was out of surgery. it was private and someone was already inside removing things.

"What are you doing?" Noin asked and her voice came out hoarse and weary sounding.

The male nurse grunted as he rolled a cart out of the room. "One of our patients doesn't like hospitals. I was given orders to remove anything sharp that he could use as a weapon or as a means to escape. Isn't that nuts? Must be a criminal or something... " He eyed her rough appearance. "Are you his guard?"

"No, I am," a voice said behind Noin and she turned with a start and saw Milliardo striding towards her. He was a tall man and his flowing white hair and crisp uniform coat made him seem larger than life in the confines of the hospital hallway. His blue eyes studied the nurse and the cart. "Very good," he commented with a nod. The man grunted and wheeled his cart away.

Noin felt her heart sink. "I suppose that I should be going too. Permission to return to headquarters, sir."

"Denied," Milliardo replied, but then amended, "I was told that you weren't seriously injured, but if you are tired..."

"Orders, sir," Noin said cutting across that and forcing herself to straighten.

Milliardo considered her and then nodded. "Duo doesn't like hospitals. It is possible that he will regain consciousness, not realize the situation, and attempt to leave."

"War flashback?" Noin wondered.

Milliardo's face went hard. "No, he was attacked by former soldiers of Oz after the war and spent some time in an institute under criminal conditions. Heero protected him, but he still carries scars from the ordeal, mental and physical. He doesn't trust, Noin, but it is imperative that he stay and undergo treatment."

"Do you know how the surgery is going?" Noin asked, remembering the medic talking about scars and understanding now, some of Duo's darker comments.

Milliardo looked pained. "They have stabilized him, but he lost a lot of blood."

Noin studied the tall man before her, saw the fear and the frustration. "How do you do it?" she wondered and couldn't helped the bitterness. "He's in there with Duo," she said, meaning Heero, "and he has more right than you do to stay by his side."

Milliardo stared at her for a long moment and then said carefully, "Lu... If you were in a tight spot, a pitched battle, and you felt that you just might die... would you rather that I was with you, unarmed, or that you held a weapon to defend yourself?"

Noin blinked, her mind working on this new idea, this insight into his relationship with Duo and Heero.

"No matter how much you cared for me," Milliardo pointed out, "I would be useless to you. You might die. I might die. Heero... Heero is like a weapon and a shield. He is also Duo's dearest, closest friend. Duo gives Heero's life direction and purpose. He gives Heero the means to live this new life of keeping the peace and being something other than a soldier. Heero in turn, keeps Duo safe, watches his back, and gives Duo the understanding that he needs when the past haunts him. You've watched them work..."

"Like two parts of one machine..." Noin replied thoughtfully.

Milliardo nodded. "Yes, that's it exactly. You can't imagine them separately. One has the exact abilities that the other needs to work perfectly. That's the way they are on a mission and in life, Noin. It was hard, but I had to understand and accept that. Duo comes to me for love. He is in my arms at night. There are times, though, when I'm not enough, when he needs that other half of himself. I have to let go then." He smiled gently. "It isn't so hard, Lu. Heero is a man who is very easy to like. I know I can trust him with Duo. I know that he will be there when I can't. "

"You have to share," Noin said, uncertain what the hard lump in her gut was telling her, whether she found that acceptable or not.

"I have to share," Milliardo affirmed. "I have to have two men in my life, not one." He seemed to search for words and then he said, "You have to decide, Noin, whether you truly love. It isn't about OWNING someone exclusively. It's about caring... about caring enough..."

Noin scowled. "How is this about me?" She snapped.

"Isn't it?" Milliardo replied with an arched eyebrow.

Noin's reply was cut off by the approach of a group of hospital staff, Heero, and Duo . Milliardo forgot her instantly and rushed to Duo's side. Stretched out unconscious on a gurney, he seemed pale and lifeless. The hand Milliardo clutched, was lax and fragile seeming as he walked with the others into Duo's room.

"He went through the surgery well," the doctor was saying as they put Duo into his hospital bed and began hooking his lines to IV stands and monitors. "Amazing, truly amazing... he stabilized with incredible speed and his vital signs are strong. I've heard about the phenomenal physical abilities of Gundam pilots, but I never believed them until now." He checked Duo's pupils and his pulse. "I had to give him enough morphine to take down an elephant, but even with that, I think he's beginning to come around. He'll be in pain. "

Their presence in the room wasn't questioned. Milliardo's rank, and being in a Preventer hospital, gave them a great deal of freedom they otherwise would have been denied in normal circumstances. Duo's of times violent aversion to hospitals seemed well documented as well and the doctor was more than willing to have help dealing with him after glancing over his chart.

Once everyone was gone, Heero and Milliardo moved to stand on either side of Duo's bed, looking down at the pale, unconscious man with twin looks of worry.

The lump in Noin's gut turned very bitter. She felt ... alone... outside... useless. She turned to go, thinking that they wouldn't notice, but Heero suddenly shivered and his eyes looked so pained that she stopped and her heart clenched.

Milliardo reached across the bed and squeezed Heero's shoulder in support and comfort. His comfort was brief, though, his attention on Duo, and it was then that Noin saw a lack. Heero was, in essence 'outside' as well. Milliardo had to make room for Heero and that said it all, 'make room for him' because he wasn't really loved as Milliardo and Duo loved each other. He was the 'best friend' and, though he could live with them and share a life with them, he would always be the 'outsider' to their love. Noin saw it, finally. Heero was alone, just as she was. He was in Duo's soul, but he wasn't in Duo's heart. When Duo awoke, Noin knew that his eyes would turn to Milliardo first, not to Heero. That was the difference both Milliardo and Duo had been trying to explain to her.

Noin looked at Milliardo, at the tall handsome man that had stolen her heart... but, had it been her heart or only her admiration? He had never been hers. The look he was giving Duo would never be hers either. That feeling they would never share. When she looked at Heero though, at the young man who had been her enemy during the war, yet, never truly an enemy, she felt the difference, felt that leap of heart, that connecting of soul that told her, here was someone who could be a part of her, a part that she had been needing for so long, but had never known it until she had met him. All that she had to do was give up the past, forget her bitterness, and bend her stubborn pride to stop the loneliness for the both of them... if he would accept... if he would have her...

Noin felt as if she were stepping into a nest of enemy mobile suits. It seemed to take the same kind of courage as she forced herself to move forward to Duo's bedside. She stood beside Heero, feeling his warmth, sensing his anguish, for long moments and then, cautiously, she reached out and took hold of his tanned, calloused hand. He started and looked at her in surprise. Noin almost feared rejection in the way his hand tensed, but then it relaxed and gripped back, hard. She saw the echo of her feelings in his deep, blue eyes and felt, suddenly, as if she had just come home.

"Good," Duo murmured, his face grimacing and his eyes slightly hazed with drugs as he looked at the people standing over him. " 'bout time you idiots came to yer senses... Now we can be a damned family... "

The lump in Noin's gut released itself suddenly and she felt tears in her eyes as she nodded. Yes, that was it, that's what they were; not strange, not out of the ordinary, not breaking all the rules... family.

The End

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