Author: pyrzm
(1-8-04: I've decided to include the Heero and Duo scene from BW (tinkered with yet again to make it fit with this reality) as Ch. 2A below, as it really does feed into the interactions 03 and 04 have with them later on. I may include a few other glimpses of that pairing in this story arc, since some of you have asked for that and I have a couple of scenes taking form in my mind. It makes a nice contrast and explains a few things, esp. about Heero, I think. P)

Lost Souls + Chapter 2
Duet, Interrupted

Corsica. February, AC 195

It was good to be a soldier again, and even better doing it from the cover of the traveling circus. Trowa wasn't quite certain what had drawn him there, but it felt like home, and the people there treated him with growing respect. It was good working with the lions. It was good listening to the crowd gasp as Catherine hurled knives at him. It was almost as good as blowing up OZ bases and Leo plants. That was the best.

Heavyarms still fought him. The controls were stiff as hell, but he loved the resistance. He'd always been wiry, but Heavyarms honed every muscle in his body. The huge Gundam was like a second skin to him, an impervious mask he wore to wreck havoc on the forces of domination. He hadn't succumbed to the crazy Barton Foundation party line, but now that he was here, in the thick of things with inside information in his mission assignments, he began to understand where they were coming from a little better.

It wasn't just the colonies that were threatened; it was all the free people in space and on Earth alike. Rich aristocrats thought they should rule, and had the money and power to take over. Treize Kushrenada. The Romerfeller Foundation. Specials. OZ. Trowa marked them all for destruction.

That was all well and good. But in the quiet of the night, in his little trailer behind the lion pens, or cold under the camouflage netting with Heavyarms, he discovered that deep down underneath all this, he was still just as dead inside has he had been a year ago, his nights just as haunted when he allowed himself to sleep. It was good to fight. It kept the dark thoughts and emptiness at bay for while it lasted.

It would be as good a way as any to die.

Or maybe Catherine's aim would be off some night. He wouldn't mind that either, really, not until he realized it would make her sad. The older girl had taken a liking to him, and he to her. No, better to die in battle.

His chance came sooner than he expected.

+

The only major design flaw he would admit to for Heavyarms was the ammo reserve capacity. As far as he knew, the Gundam was built for single combat against superior odds, but he found he ran through missiles and shells too damn fast almost every time. Factory raids were one thing, but when orders came through to attack a Leo plant on Corsica, he knew he might not come back.

And that's how it almost turned out.

They were waiting for him. In addition to the expected security and alliance fighters, there were Specials in those new black Aries suits. He took down a respectable number of them, almost got through, but finally the gats and missile launchers were sucking air and there were still heavily armored suits bearing down on him from all sides. He switched to his blade but was only a matter of time until he was overwhelmed.

Oh well.

Trowa settled back, awaiting the inevitable, when suddenly the air around him was full of shrapnel, a regular firestorm, from a whole different direction. From out of nowhere a unit of drab, unfamiliar suits waded in, guns blazing, escorting a single, huge, beautiful monster of a mobile suit; it was almost as gorgeous as Heavyarms himself. It towered over all the other others, and as he watched in awe, the newcomer leaped into the air, caught an Aries between two curved hand blades and severed it like a ripe melon, then touched down to face off with him. Even as he braced to attack, Trowa couldn't help admiring the speed and power of it.

It didn't fire on him, or go after him with those blades. Instead, they grappled, locked in a lumbering, metal screeching dance for dominance. Heavyarms groaned around him and came to a dead stop. They were perfectly matched, equal in strength, so similar in design, he saw at this close range, face to face, visor to visor.

Then the craziest thing happened. The chest hatch of the enemy suit opened and--

Trowa's heart stopped dead in his chest and his hands went numb on the controls.

On that platform stood a boy no older than him. A beautiful, golden haired, perfect . . .

Trowa's mind went as numb as his fingers. The kid was unarmed, but he just stood there, fragile, unprotected, dressed not in a flak suit or uniform, but loose, simple clothes that flapped around him in the wind as he called over to Trowa, "This is wrong. We shouldn't be fighting!"

Strong, high pitched voice, full of conviction, and no trace of fear, in spite of the fact that all Trowa had to do was reach down with one of Heavyarm's huge hands and squeeze or strike. The blade he still had deployed was three times as long as he was.

The next thing Trowa knew, he was standing at his own open hatch, hands raised in surrender and melting under the onslaught of the bluest eyes and the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen in his life. A smile for him? No, it couldn't possibly be for him, but the boy was looking straight at him across the gulf that separated them, under the arch of their suit's upraised, locked arms. He was smiling at him!

In that instant of recognition he felt something snap deep in his chest. It wasn't pain; he knew more than a little about how it felt to have his heart break. This felt like something snapping back into place, like a broken bone being set.

That smile grew wider as the other boy laughed and said, "Put your hands down. I was the first to surrender and come out, remember?"

+

A crystal clear flash of joy and longing arced across the empty air between Quatre and the other Gundam, even before the tall, dark haired boy emerged with his hands inexplicably in the air. It hit him again, crackling between them like heat lighting across a desert sky. It wasn't the usual little blip or ripple he got from people sometimes, either, part of the daily static of being a natural empath. No, this hit him like a beam cannon. For an instant he even saw himself through the other's eyes. That had never happened before. He often picked up on what others thought of him but this boy flashed him a view of himself, and he blushed to be viewed as looking so small and fragile and brave. Embarassed and oddly touched, he almost retreated back into Sandrock. Yet he didn't want to break even this tenuous contact with this tall, impassive rail of a boy hiding behind that fall of brown hair. Quatre had never seen him before, probably never would again, but looking into those wounded green eyes, he felt like he'd known him all his life.

It was weird. Just plain weird. Especially the way it made him want to leap that gap between them and peer more deeply into those sad green eyes, looking for some way to take that pain away.

// Who are you? Why do I feel this way? //

Why wasn't the boy saying anything, instead of staring at him like that? Why was his own tongue suddenly sticking to the roof of his mouth?

And how in the world, he wondered afterwards, had he ever found the courage to talk the stranger into coming back to his secret desert base? And yet here they were, sitting tongue-tied and nervous over tea on the balcony, watching the flamingos flock on the banks of the river and the sun set beyond the palms?

The longer they were together, the worse the awkwardness grew. He babbled on like an idiot again as he showed his silent guest around the house and grounds, all under the disapproving eye of Rashid. He could tell the Maguanac captain disapproved of his hospitality to this stranger, but his own heart kept picking up more of those wondering flashes from the other boy: curiosity, amazement, shyness, and the strong sense of a good but lonely heart--emotions that never reached that calm, almost disdainful face.

Calm, almost disdainful, very handsome face, he found himself amending over dinner.

After an agonizingly quiet meal, the boy finally spoke, asking if he could see the repair hangar and make sure his suit had been properly secured.

"Of course!" Quatre exclaimed, jumping up. Any excuse to move, get away from this table where they'd been forced to face each other with nothing to say. Had it only been this afternoon that they'd stood locked in combat, straining suit to suit, strength cancelled out and balanced perfectly?

And why did the memory of that brief skirmish send a giddy flutter through his belly?

+

Trowa was in freefall. That was the only way he could describe the way he felt in the presence of this amazing, beautiful creature the battle hardened fighters all called "Master Quatre". The other boy chattered on so easily, going out of his way to be friendly and welcoming. For the first time in his entire life, Trowa wished he knew how to make light conversation. But he didn't and could only hope that the other boy didn't think he was too dull or rude. He didn't meant to be, but words-never his strong suit anyway-just wouldn't come. He was grateful that Quatre filled the void and ridiculously glad to be there with him, in this incredibly opulent house in this beautiful, exotic place. Quatre was--Was-- He silently searched for some word to encompass this overwhelming little presence, but he still drew a blank.

Quatre spent the evening with him, showed him around the grounds, acting as if he was used to being in such a wealthy surroundings. "Of course he is," Trowa thought. The kid was obviously cultured, well educated, and probably rich. What the hell was he doing piloting a Gundam?

Tongue tied and rattled, Trowa felt a pang of regret when they finally parted for the night. He'd planned to sleep in Heavyarms, but Quatre had insisted on showing him to a richly appointed guestroom next to his own room.

Trowa had been in a few mansions before, places captured and half destroyed, but never as a welcome guest. He'd never slept in such a huge, soft bed before, either. The comforter was silk stuffed with real down, and the sheets were silky dark blue Egyptian cotton. Trowa experienced life most fully through direct sense, rather than words; this was heaven. He tried to stay awake to savor it all, but sleep overwhelmed him and for once, brought no nightmares.

+

Trowa slept late the next morning and found himself breakfasting alone in the huge dining room, under the suspicious gaze of two Maguanac attendants. He wandered in the garden for a while after that, wondering where his young host was, and if he'd had second thoughts and was avoiding him. Trowa blushed guiltily, knowing he'd been poor company.

Just after noon he was trying to find his way back to his room when the sound of music from a downstairs room drew him down a long corridor. It was some sort of rock/classical fusion with lots of strings and woodwinds, a sweeping abandoned sound that made his heartbeat speed up in appreciation. A door stood ajar and he slipped into a sunny, domed music room to find Quatre there, playing along on a violin.

Trowa wasn't formally trained, but he was a natural musician and had picked up skills on a number of instruments among his mercenary friends. He had a feel for music and recognized great talent when he saw it. Quatre played well, with great passion and style. His eyes were closed, his smile dreamy, his whole body swaying with the beat. Trowa watched him for a while, entranced. The boy was so at ease, so lovely and gentle and kind. It made Trowa want something he couldn't name. It was a little like what he felt for Heavyarms, and nothing at all like anything he'd felt with Barton or Ellicot's men. He wanted so badly to put a name to this new, wonderful sensation but couldn't. In the end, he could only let his body talk for him, as he usually did.

He went to the musical instrument cabinet against the far wall, took out an flute, and joined in, finding a wordless connection at last to how this sweet, welcoming stranger made him feel. While the music lasted, they had a common language.

+

Lost in the music, Quatre wasn't aware of his quiet guest's presence until he heard the sweet glissando of a flute behind him. The boy was a musician, and a very talented one! He didn't just follow the tune, but embroidered on it with skillful improvisations, just as Quatre was doing. Their eyes met for a moment, and Quatre felt rather than saw the tall boy's gentle smile and felt another flash of that quiet joy. They'd found a common language, one that needed no words.

They spent the entire afternoon improvising together and it was too wonderful for words. Quatre had never felt so in sync with anyone before in his whole life.

He'd grown up in a household full of older sisters, in the shadow of a father who never quite seemed to accept or approve of him. His empathic abilities had made school very difficult. The other kids, especially the boys, found him too odd. He was too smart, and not aggressive or competitive enough. He was too tender hearted and cried too easily. Some called him rude names behind his back and most excluded him from games and sports. When they found out that he could sometimes feel thoughts it only made things worse. By the time he was ten, he was home again, learning from expensive tutors and his elder sisters. At home, and now with Rashid and the men, he had people who loved and respected him, but he'd never had a real friend, someone his own age.

Glancing shyly at the other boy again, he wondered if this is what it felt like.

+

That night, for the first time since That Day, Trowa had a good dream about the Captain and his lost friends. They were smiling and laughing with him around a watch fire under the stars, playing music with him, teaching him bits and pieces of a dozen languages, just because it pleased them to coax the quiet boy to talk. He even had a brief flash of Lorca and Ortiz and Mac welcoming him into their shared bed on winter cold nights, and the whispered promises that one day, when he was old enough, he'd join their cluster as more than a friend and brother-in-arms.

He woke weeping in the darkness, face pressed into the sweet-smelling pillow. "I'm sorry!" he whispered, but this time he felt more cleansed than punished. "You were my friends and I should have known better. I'm so sorry! I loved you all." He'd let himself forget what that had been like, to really love. Why was it coming back to him now?

+

By the following day, they'd somehow fallen into an easy rhythm together. They worked with the men on Trowa's Gundam, played music together and, at Quatre's insistence, went for an evening hike to the nearby oasis, carrying a picnic supper. Overriding protests from Rashid, Quatre left his bodyguards behind, pointing out that he and Trowa were both trained to protect themselves, and were armed.

So they set off alone, carrying the handled basket between them. Trowa probably hadn't said fifty words all day, but Quatre just didn't seem to mind, or be uncomfortable. He hadn't even asked him for his name. Trowa was grateful, but he was still floundering to understand his own feelings. Listening to the little blond talking, watching him play, seeing how kindly he spoke to everyone in the household, as if they were his equals even though they all treated him like he was their master; all of that fed the strange, nameless yearning growing in Trowa. Being around Quatre made him want something--something good and nice, something he couldn't even imagine.

They ate bread and fruit on a blanket by the shimmering oasis pool. A warm, fragrant night breeze stirred the palm trees overhead, and a full moon made it almost as bright as day. Trowa found himself stealing sidelong looks at Quatre under his bangs, as that formless yearning grew. Quatre was telling some story about a dog he'd once owned, laughing over something it had done. The way it made the corners of his eyes tilt up did something to Trowa. That formless yearning grew stronger. It made him ache and want but for what?

+

Trowa wanted to kiss him. Quatre saw it in his mind's eye as clearly as a photograph and before he realized what he was doing, he'd leaned over and brushed the other's boys lips with his own.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, pulling back and trying to see under those long bangs to read his companion's reaction. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have--I don't know why--"

But Trowa just leaned forward and kissed him back. They were sitting almost a foot apart; nothing touched but their lips, and the brush of those long bangs across Quatre's forehead. This one lasted a little longer, though, and the warm breeze suddenly felt like an embrace.

Trowa sat back, looking as dazed as Quatre felt.

Quatre took a shaky breath. He felt funny all over, sort of shivery and cold and hot at the same time. "Gosh, I've never kissed a boy before."

Trowa tilted his head slightly and Quatre was thrilled to see the hint of a smile on those half parted lips.

+

"I've never kissed anyone," Trowa told him, and it was true.

The real Trowa Barton had wanted him to, and some of the other men he'd had sex with, but he'd never allowed that, any more than he'd ever allowed them to fuck him in the ass. He hadn't really understood his own aversion to kissing. Now he was really glad he'd waited for someone like Quatre to do this with. The only thing he could think of that even came close was sleeping with Ortiz and Mac. That had given him the same sort of safe, warm, happy feeling as kissing Quatre.

This felt so good, in fact, that he did it again and this time Quatre moved closer. It seemed only natural to put his arms around the smaller boy. He must have been right, because Quatre did the same and hugged him. When the kiss ended Quatre didn't let go, so Trowa held him closer, and let himself reach up to touch the golden hair that hung over the collar of Quatre's cotton shirt. It was just as soft as it looked, and smelled sweet and a little spicy, like the expensive shampoo and soaps in Trowa's bathroom back at the house.

Somehow they ended up kneeling on the blanket, bodies pressed together from lips to knees, hands shyly stroking backs and shoulders and hair. Quatre's lips were so soft and warm that Trowa couldn't help running the tip of his tongue across them. Quatre tasted sweet. It was probably from the grapes they'd eaten, but it tasted like something else, too, something sweeter. Trowa smiled against the other boy's lips as a word came to him, borne of all the longing and this unexpected kissing.

Quatre pulled back again, eyes dark and filled with happiness in the moonlight. "Meli? What's that mean?"

Trowa blinked in surprise, certain he hadn't said that out loud.

Quatre's smile faltered suddenly and he sat back on his heels. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm not a mind reader or anything. But I'm an empath and sometimes I pick up on strong thoughts, especially if I'm touching someone." He stood and walked to the edge of the water, hugging himself as if he were cold. "I should have told you sooner. I'm sorry. It scares people. I'm so sorry!"

Quatre jumped, startled, as Trowa came up behind him and touched his shoulder. He looked like he thought Trowa was mad at him. It hurt to see such a look on that sweet face. It made him look too young and vulnerable, and it was the look of someone who'd been hurt before.

Trowa wanted to punish anyone who'd ever put that look in those wide blue eyes. His body guided him as he took the smaller boy in his arms again and kissed away that sad look, letting himself taste those lips again.

"Meli is Greek for honey," he told him softly, holding Quatre in a gentle embrace. Something about Quatre made him want to be so gentle, to touch him with great care. "That's what you remind me of, and you taste sweet."

Quatre let out a shaky little chuckle as he relaxed against him. It felt so natural, holding him like this. Their bodies fit together just right; Quatre's head fit into the hollow just under Trowa's shoulder. His hair tickled softly under Trowa's chin. He stroked it back and kissed that smooth forehead the way Ortiz used to with him sometimes, when he was younger.

They stood like that for a long time in the moonlight, swaying a little in the breeze. Trowa would have happily stayed there all night, but then Quatre yawned and laughed a little and it was time to walk back to the house and their separate rooms.

The big leader of the Maguanacs, was waiting for them outside the compound gate. "We were getting worried, Master Quatre. It's late."

"I'm sorry, I guess we lost track of time," Quatre apologized, brushing past him and leading the way upstairs. Pausing outside his bedroom door he smiled up at Trowa and said softly, "I had a really nice time. Good night, my friend, and sleep well. Let's try that Mozart duet tomorrow?"

Trowa smiled and nodded. When Quatre's door had closed, he went into his own room and stretched out on the big bed. He'd left his laptop open on the desk and he saw a prompt light flashing there. S had a mission for him. Ignoring it for now, he lay back on the bed and touched his lips wonderingly, reliving that first unexpected kiss, and how it had felt, holding that small body close to his, feeling how they fit together so well. It made him feel warm all over. It made him wonder what it would be like to sleep holding Quatre, the way he'd slept with his friends.

He heard the door knob rattle just then and looked over, wondering it Quatre had picked up on that thought, too, and come in to join him.

Instead, Rashid and three other tall, bearded Arabs came in, closing the door softly after them. The look on their faces had Trowa on his feet in an instant, reaching for his gun, but Rashid raised his hands, showing he wasn't armed and didn't intend to attack.

"You're Gundam is repaired," he growled, keeping his voice low. "You will leave in the morning."

It wasn't a suggestion.

"All right. After I say good bye to Quatre."

"It would be better if he doesn't see you again."

Trowa should have realized that Rashid would send someone to keep an eye on them. He obviously knew what had happened at the oasis, and there was no mistaking the fury in those black eyes, or whom he blamed.

"Master Quatre is a fearless warrior, brave and pure of heart," Rashid went on. "He is from a fine, noble family, and has had a very sheltered upbringing. He knows war, but he has no experience with people like you."

"People like me?"

"He is very warm hearted and shows affection easily. Perhaps too easily." Oh, yes, Rashid had spies. "But Master Quatre is a very pure, innocent person."

"And I'm not."

"No. You are not."

"I would not do anything to hurt him."

"I will not have him dishonored. It would be best if you leave." Rashid's tone implied that he knew about every blow job and hand job Trowa had ever given or received and that in his eyes that made Trowa filth. At the oasis, when Trowa kissed Quatre, it had never occurred to him to equate that with the casual, meaningless couplings he'd known. It made him angry now that these men would, but there were three of them and probably more outside. It also made him angry that they might be right.

He jerked a thumb at the laptop. "A mission came in while I was out. I was going, anyway."

+

Quatre had just finished dressing the next morning when he caught sight of Trowa crossing the courtyard outside and his heart sank. How could he leave without saying good-bye? Had Quatre done something wrong?

Leaning out the window, he called down, "You're leaving?"

The other boy didn't look back, but he paused. Quatre caught the faintest flash of something. Regret? How odd. "Well, I won't try and stop you, but at least tell me your name! My name is Quatre Raberba Winner!"

The other boy turned and looked at him over his shoulder. "I have no name, but you can call me Trowa. Trowa Barton." Yes, Quatre could feel it; Trowa wasn't mad at him, and he'd rather stay.

"He had a mission," Rashid murmured behind him.

"Oh." He waved to Trowa. "Thank you, Trowa. We'll meet again!"

He watched Trowa climb into the borrowed transport truck and drive away. He sighed and sat down on the bed, suddenly lonely.

"Master Quatre, should we let him go like this?" Rashid rumbled. "He knows the location of this base."

"I wouldn't worry," Quatre said. "He's not much of a talker." He left unsaid that he'd felt too much of the other boy's heart and soul last night to worry about trusting him. Trowa was a troubled soul, with secrets, but he was honorable and kind, too. He would never betray them.

"He could attack."

"I almost wish he would," Quatre said softly. "Then I'd get to see him again."

+++

Chapter 2A
Distractions


March, AC 195. Earth-side, Northern Hemisphere

The intelligence on the Finland raid was fucked from the word go. It was supposed to be a simple Shinigami hit and run: touch down at dawn, smash the bejeezus out of a Taurus production plant and get the hell out. Instead, Duo found himself in the middle of a major shit storm, facing off against an entire squadron of Leos that shouldn't have been there. Their weapons might not be able to pierce Deathscythe's gundanium hide, but they were knocking holy hell out of his insides, and Duo's, too.

"Hey, you lazy bastards!" he yelled, firing off his last Vulcan rounds and deploying the energy scythe. "You're fucking with Shinigami and I'm pissed!" Wading into another wave of defenders, he tried to break through to the plant beyond.

The second worst thing that happened was a lucky hit by a Leo that overloaded Scythe's forward shield, blew out the circuits on the upper con panel and dropped the whole shebang on Duo's head.

The first worst thing, noted just before he blacked out, was the sight of Wing descending out of nowhere to save his bacon. It was bad enough getting his butt kicked by a bunch of tin cans on legs, without Heero "Perfect Soldier" Yuy there to see it . . .

+

Heero wouldn't have been happy to see any of the other Gundam pilots already attacking his target, but why did it have to be Maxwell? The snow around the facility was already littered with smoking wreckage in Deathscythe's wake.

This wasn't the first time they'd crossed paths on a mission; they'd already spent a few weeks together undercover at a private school and Maxwell had them posing as friends. That fast-talking, foul-mouthed, long-haired menace had insisted on it. If this was anything like last time, he'd want to chatter and joke through the whole battle, instead of paying attention to the mission, then try to buddy up to him afterwards.

It was unsettling. It was a distraction from the mission. Distractions were not allowed. If he lost focus again, as he had after the screw up in the L-1 base sabotage that had killed that little girl, Dr. J had promised even harsher retraining. It was for his own good, of course, and the mission. Heero didn't need another session. He knew his needs or feelings were irrelevant. He was a weapon, a means to an end, an instrument for the greater good.

As he powered up the beam cannon, however, he saw that something was wrong with Maxwell's Gundam. Heero had seen him fighting as he approached, but now Deathscythe stood frozen, energy blade flickering like a strobe light. Smoke was spiraling up from the top of the Gundam's head.

He opened a narrow com band. "02, status?" There was no reply. Not good, but Maxwell was going to have to wait.

He opened fire with the cannon, obliterating the central facility with two powerful blasts, and then switched to the shoulder-mounted machine cannons as the Leos closed in, mowing down those Maxwell had failed to take out. To his credit, he'd gotten a lot of them.

Heero exhausted his ammo, and then used his beam saber to dispatch the stragglers. Several tried to escape but he launched himself after then and sliced them in two before they got a half a kilometer.

Turning back toward the smoking blast site, he saw Deathscythe still standing stupidly in the middle of the wreckage field. He opened his com link again. "02, get the hell out of there!"

No reply, just static.

"02? Snap out of it! They've probably sent for reinforcements by now. There's a support base less than thirty kilometers to the south. 02!"

Had that idiot let himself get killed before initiating the self-destruct sequence on his own suit? Heero gripped the controls angrily. He didn't have enough power left to destroy the suit here.

The com crackled and Heero heard a faint "Oi?"

"02, status!" Heero snapped.

There was a long pause and more static, then a muttered, "Fucked," and more static.

Heero growled in frustration. He had a wounded pilot and a potentially functional Gundam on his hands. With no attack imminent, his duty was clear: save both valuable resources, if possible. If Maxwell died or was too badly wounded to save, he'd destroy both to keep them out of enemy hands once he'd powered up again.

He called up an area map on the shipboard computer, looking for the abandoned SAC base he'd noted during the mission briefing. It lay near the shore of a small lake, twenty kilometers to the north and deep in a heavily forested quadrant. If the missile silos were still accessible, they should be large enough to hide both Gundams. If not, they'd use the trees as cover. Even if they only made it as far as the forest, it was safer than staying here.

Stowing his weapons, he grappled onto Deathscythe and took off. There was no further communication from Maxwell. That concerned Heero, but there was nothing to do but keep going.

+

The base was in worse condition that Heero had hoped. Most of the buildings had fallen into ruin and all of the reinforced concrete silos had been sealed. Cursing under his breath, he set the Gundams down in the trees nearby, hunkered Wing and deployed the camo netting. Deathscythe lay on its back on a bed of snowy crushed trees like a broken toy.

Heero grabbed a survival pack and ran to Deathscythe. The entry port was open. Maxwell was still strapped in to the pilot seat, but unconscious. Heero scowled at the amount of blood covering the other pilot's face and the front of his black priest's shirt. Lowering himself down, he checked him for damage and was relieved to find nothing obvious beyond a long gash and bruising on his forehead, near the hairline. The thick, unruly bangs were sticky with blood. He looked around and saw that an overhead instrumentation panel had come loose. The idiot must have looked up just as it came down on him. It was big; he was lucky it hadn't broken his neck.

Maxwell's face was very pale under the blood, and his skin felt overly cool and moist, but his breathing was normal. Heero peeled back one of the young pilot's eyelids, then the other, noting the unevenly dilated pupils: concussion, with possible shock complications. Field training indicated anti-inflammatory meds, rest, fluids and warmth. Heero sighed. It would probably be better to spend the night here, and move him in the morning, when he was stabilized. Or not.

Heero unbuckled the unconscious boy, hoisted him over his shoulder and dragged him up through the open hatch. Maxwell hung limply, braid slapping the backs of Heero's legs and threatening to tangle his feet as he climbed up. Heero growled again. "Idiot!"

+

Duo came to with the unhappy knowledge that he was cold, upside down, and dangerously close to puking. Opening his eyes, he got a blurred glimpse of two long braids that both looked a lot like his trailing in the dirty snow below him, just behind four Spandex-clad legs. Duo blinked, choking back bile as his chin banged against a hard, green-shirted back. OK, Heero had him in a fireman's carry, and was running through a--forest? Where did that come from? Oh yeah, and he was hurt. His head felt like it was going to explode and there was blood on his dangling arms; they were leaving a blood trail. He knew he should either stab Heero for carrying him like a sack of dirty laundry, or warn him. Before he could do either he puked and passed out again.

+

Heero gritted his teeth as he felt Maxwell heaving, but kept running for the ruined buildings. Reaching the first silo, he kicked in a rusted metal door and sidled cautiously inside, pistol drawn. He was prepared to dump his unconscious burden at the first sign of trouble, but nothing moved. With the missile port sealed and the doors locked for who knew how many years, there probably weren't even pigeons in here. The silo was a huge echoing chamber, dark and chilly as a meat locker. Depositing Maxwell and the pack near the doorway, Heero checked his vitals again. No change, except for the sour vomit all over his shirt and in his braid. It had gotten on the back of Heero's clothes, too. Cursing under his breath, he changed into the spare shorts and shirt he carried, and then stripped Maxwell's shirt and the worn white tee underneath. Shock was definitely setting in. Maxwell was shivering in his sleep and his teeth were chattering. Heero pulled a thin primofleece blanket from the pack and wrapped him in it. At least there'd been no sign of blood in the vomit.

Maxwell stank, and it wasn't just from throwing up. In the short time Heero had known him, he'd discovered that L-2 kid's hygiene standards were lower than most. As far as Heero knew, Maxwell only owned one set of clothing and the terrorist lifestyle didn't allow for too many laundry days. Wrinkling his nose, he tugged off the black boots and unfastened the fly of the jodhpurs. Underneath Maxwell had on something similar to Heero's shorts, but shorter in the legs. It was an indistinct beige color. Between that and the form-fitting tightness, he looked almost naked. Heero shook his head. He was no fashion plate himself, but Maxwell's clothes were just strange. His opinion changed a bit, however, when he discovered the collection of lock picks, wires, tools, and small weapons Maxwell had hidden in the loose pockets.

"Hn!" Heero's opinion of the boy went even higher as he found a wad of explosive C-94 putty in the left side and a metal case of detonators in the right. He already knew about the knife in Maxwell's right boot, the small pistol in his left, and the throwing blade in a spring sheath strapped to his right forearm. It wasn't a bad array, actually. He set the weapons out with the rest of the materials. Maybe there was more to Maxwell than it seemed. But he still smelled bad.

Heero resignedly acknowledged that he was going to have to do something about that, at least the blood and vomit. There was enough in Maxwell's hair that if he left it to dry, he'd probably end up having to cut it off. It would be doing the guy a favor, he thought, gingerly picking up the soiled braid by its tufted end. Nearly a meter long, it was the most impractical, tactically hazardous thing he'd ever seen on a soldier.

"Touch the hair and yer dead man," Maxwell mumbled, not fully conscious.

Heero shrugged. He's suspected as much.

Leaving Duo's weapons in easy reach, Heero jogged back to Deathscythe and searched for rations, water, and another med kit. He also found a battery lantern, a blanket and sleeping bag, and a collapsible plastic water jug. Adding these to his take, he went back to Wing, double-checked the proximity alarms and his remote, and then scanned the outlying area for intruders. Nothing yet. For now, at least, they were relatively safe from attack. It was cold, though, and increasingly overcast. This far north more snow was still a possibility and neither of them had come prepared to camp out. At least they had shelter. A fire wouldn't be a problem, either.

He returned to the silo and found Maxwell curled on his side now. His legs had tangled in the blanket, pulling it down and leaving his upper body uncovered. He didn't look much like a terrorist now, just a sick, skinny kid. His ribs showed through his pale skin, and the knobs of his spine. Heero was thin, too, but more densely muscled and compact. He pulled up the blanket again and opened the med kits.

He cleaned the wound with antiseptic wipes and water from his canteen, then closed it with medical adhesive and some small butterfly bandages. There wouldn't be much of a scar but Maxwell was going to have one hell of a headache. The area was already bruising. Rummaging in the kit again, he found the acetaminophen and shook out three. He'd have given himself twice that, but Maxwell was a lightweight, without Heero's unusual metabolism. Maxwell came around groggily as Heero placed the pills in his mouth, saving him the trouble of poking them down his throat with his finger. He managed a few gulps from Heero's canteen, then closed his eyes again and lay back with a groan.

"You crashed my party," he mumbled, slurring the words.

"I saved your ass."

"Mmmm. Both of you." He was still drifting in and out but suddenly he grinned that crazed grin of his and chuckled hoarsely, mumbling something that sounded like, "Nice ass."

Heero blinked. His left hand had recently been in very close contact with the ass in question. He supposed it could be described as "nice." Maxwell was fit, and more muscular than he looked. His buttocks had been noticeably firm and lean . . .

Heero blinked again, startled by this train of thought. Distracting. Yes that summed Maxwell up all too well. Heero's current priority was to get him cleaned up and warm. It would be most efficient to carry him down to the lake and deal with it there. The water would no doubt be cold, but it was be faster than carrying water back and forth.

Duo opened one eye and scowled at him as Heero lifted him in his arms. "Crashing my party, Yuy?"

"Hn." Maxwell talked too much as it was; now he was repeating himself.

"Mouth tastes nasty."

And stating the obvious. Heero bent and snagged the dirty clothes. It was going to be a long day.

The lake was shallow, with a gravel beach. Heero threw the clothes in the water to soak. Tugging off the blanket, Heero waded in to knee depth and lowered Maxwell into the water.

That brought him around. Violet eyes flew open and he began to struggle, managing to elbow Heero in the face.

"Stop it!" Heero ordered, plunking him down on his backside in the water and holding him in place. "This will only take longer if you fight me."

"Wha' the fuck?" Maxwell blinked up at him, not comprehending the situation but seeming to recognize him.

"Washing." Heero proceeded to do just that, using a handful of the clean, fine gravel as a washcloth to get the blood off Maxwell's chest and back. He used his hand on the rest of him, careful not to cause him undue pain as he cleaned his face and swished the braid in the water.

The hair presented a problem. Worried about soaked-in blood, he pulled off the elastic tie and unbound the hair to clean it thoroughly. Maxwell was more alert and shivering, but it had to be done.

Maxwell had a lot of hair! He'd guessed as much, given the length and thickness of the braid, but as it came loose under his fingers and unfurled in the water, it seemed to quadruple in volume. He helped Maxwell lie back, supporting his head with one hand so he could wash the crusted blood from his bangs and forehead. The longer hair fanned out just under the water's surface like some exotic aquatic plant, brushing around Heero's shins. It reminded Heero of something he'd seen in a book once, when he was training with Lowe. It had been a children's book, with colored pictures; a reward for doing well in his training. The long, honey brown mass swirled around Maxwell's bare shoulders.

Mermaids. It had been a picture of mermaids swimming in a tropical lagoon. Peter Pan, that was the title. He'd lost the book years ago, hadn't thought about it since. The mermaid's hair looked like that, spreading out around them in the water. Just like this. His logical mind searched for the proper adjective and came up with "pretty." Maxwell's hair was pretty. But highly impractical, all the same. And distracting.

"Don't forget the conditioner," Maxwell grumbled through chattering teeth. He was shaking badly now.

"That's the best I can do." Heero hoisted him out, soaking himself in the process. He scowled at his own foolish move. He really hadn't thought this out. Then again, he'd never given anyone else a bath before, either. He didn't even have a towel. Maxwell's hair hung in a wet, heavy curtain against his arm and side, streaming water down his leg. His shoes were soaked anyway.

"Can you stand?"

"Yeah." Maxwell wobbled unsteadily but managed to stay upright, arms locked over his chest. His lips had a blue tinge and fine blue veins showed through his skin. His wet under shorts were nearly translucent.

Heero averted his gaze, though he wasn't quite sure why he should feel embarrassed. He seldom felt embarrassed about anything, so why should an indistinct pink bulge and the hint of dark hair at Maxwell's crotch bother him?

Increasingly irritated with himself, he grabbed the blanket and wrapped Maxwell in it head to toe, and then carried him back toward the silo.

Maxwell closed his eyes and rested his head against Heero's shoulder, face framed by the blue fabric of the blanket. "Don't feel so good."

"Nausea? I want a warning this time."

"Not yet. Head hurts and I'm cold!" He was whining! He shifted, as if trying to get more of his body against Heero's chest. "Stupid time for a swim."

"You'll thank me later. You had blood and vomit all through your hair. You smell better, too."

"Gotta comb it. The hair. Gotta get the tangles out before it dries."

"It's more important to get warm. We're both in danger of hypothermia and it may snow."

"Warm's good. But I seriously need a comb."

"Hn."

"Good. I'm sure you'll do a good job, since this is your fault."

Heero glanced down in dismay. Was Maxwell sulking? He was tempted to drop him on that nice ass of his and let him walk the rest of the way.

Just then Maxwell looked up at him and managed a lopsided grin. "Kidding, 'Ro. Don't listen to the idiot with the concussion. I'm still seeing double."

The smile made the corner of Maxwell's eyes slant up a little. The pupils were still different sizes, but less so. It made the left one look more blue, the other more violet. He supposed that "pretty" was a suitable description of Maxwell's eyes, too.

Maxwell blinked. "What?"

Heero looked up, not wanting to stumble on the uneven ground. "I'm going to leave you in the silo and gather firewood. Don't touch the other bedding until I get you dry. I won't be long."

Maxwell chuckled. "Yeah, me neither, after that ice water bath."

Clearly his mind was still wandering. That made absolutely no sense at all.

+

Heero found an ample supply of fallen branches without going very far. He built a fire for Maxwell with the first armload, and then went out for more. When he had enough to get them through the night, he went back to the lake for their clothing. While wringing them out, he found a large comb in a pocket of Maxwell's shirt. It was plastic, with long, widely spaced teeth. And it was pink. Shaking his head, he slipped it into the waistband of his damp shorts next to his pistol and carried the clothing back to dry in the silo. This was not how he'd pictured spending his afternoon when he'd woken up this morning.

He found Maxwell huddled by the fire with the wet blanket draped over his shoulders, holding a gun on him with both hands. He lowered it as soon as he saw it was him.

Heero tossed him the comb and spread the clothes on the dusty cement floor. "Pink, Maxwell?"

The other boy shrugged and went to work on his hair. "Beggars can't be choosers." His hands were shaking too badly, however. He dropped it several times and gave up, looking defeated.

Heero stripped off his own wet clothes and used the few dry places left on the blanket to get them both more or less dry. Using the dry blanket as a folded pad, he placed it beside Maxwell, close to the fire, then unzipped the sleeping bag and shook it out to its full size. Sitting down on the blanket, he pulled Maxwell over to sit between his legs with his back against Heero's chest, then draped the sleeping bag around both of them, leaving the front open to the fire's warmth. The skinny boy's skin was icy against his, and the wet hair was a problem. Heero pulled it forward over Maxwell's chest, hoping it would dry quickly.

"I need to assess your condition."

"I'm fucking cold, thanks to you, and my head hurts!"

"I already know that, Maxwell. I need to assess your medical--"

"Duo."

"What?"

"Call me Duo. I mean, if I gotta spend the night naked around a fire with you, you could at least call me by my first name, right? And quit talking like a fucking computer. It pisses me off!"

"Irritability due to lingering disorientation from mild concussion," Heero noted calmly.

Maxwell hunched forward, hugging his knees. "You're still doing it!"

"I talk the way I talk, Duo."

Maxwell, or rather, Duo, looked back over his shoulder. "Well now, that wasn't so painful, was it? And I'm always irritable when someone hits me over the head and tosses me in a lake."

"I didn't hit you. The bath was necessary."

Duo rested his face in his hands. "Like arguing with a wall. Where's my comb?"

Heero reached over and retrieved it, then pulled the wet mass of hair back again, shivering a little as it fell into his bare lap.

"What the hell are you doing?" Duo demanded.

"Combing your hair. Your hands are too unsteady, a side effect of the hypothermia. It will pass, but probably not before your hair dries."

He couldn't see Duo's face now to gauge his reaction to this, but he didn't object as Heero separated the mess into sections and started working from the ends up. It wasn't as tangled as Duo had feared and soon half of it lay damp and smooth over his left shoulder. Heero lifted it forward onto Duo's chest to dry.

As he started on the right side, Duo sighed contentedly. "Done this before?"

"Only my own," Heero replied, carefully working out a tangle. "This seemed a logical method and it's working."

"Logical." Duo was dozing off. "Gentle, too."

Heero had never been called that before, but assumed Duo was talking about his hair combing technique.

He finished with the right side, pushed it forward, and pulled Duo back against his chest. Duo fell asleep at once, head damp and heavy against Heero's left cheek. He'd warmed up and wasn't shivering much. Heero ran his hands over Duo's chest and arms. Yes, circulation was coming back. His back felt warmer, too. Heero let him sleep for a while. He was strong enough to support Duo's slight weight indefinitely, but after half an hour or so the fire needed tending.

Duo woke with a start as Heero got up and put the sleeping bag around him. "Whasat?"

Heero tossed more wood onto the fire, building up a sizeable blaze, and went to the silo door. "It's almost dark, and starting to snow."

"Aren't you cold?" Duo asked, peering at him from the depths of the bag. "I mean, being---uh-- naked and all?" He sounded a bit odd as he said that. Heero wondered if he was feeling the same illogical embarrassment he had experienced earlier. He'd never been inordinately modest himself, but perhaps Duo had been raised differently. Whatever the case, it couldn't be helped. Wearing wet clothing could be life threatening in this climate. Still, the thought of the normally cocky pilot feeling off balance for once pleased him a little.

"I'm aware of the ambient temperature, but now that my core body temperature is restored to--"

"Sorry I asked! Just get back here, will ya? I'm getting cold just looking at you."

"Not possible," Heero replied, and then smiled to show he was joking.

Duo eyed him warily as he settled behind him again. "Y'know, you look even scarier when you do that."

Heero chuckled in a manner he hoped was only a little scary and pulled Duo back against him again, running a hand over his hair to test its dryness.

"Uh, Heero?"

"Yes, Duo?"

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Sharing body heat, as you advised, and feeling whether your hair is dry yet. What did you think I was doing?"

"Uh, nothing. You just-- y'know, startled me a little. I never figured you for such a touchy feely kinda guy."

"Basic survival, Duo. Are you uncomfortable?"

+

'Depends on what ya mean by uncomfortable,' Duo thought, trying to decide if he was relieved or disappointed that Heero had stopped stroking-- Whoa, no, strike that! Had stopped testing the dryness of his hair.

Uncomfortable? Not really, he had to admit now that the shock had worn off, and he guessed that proved what he'd already known by the time they split up after that time undercover as students together; Shinigami had a little Heero Yuy problem.

Not that Heero Yuy was little, not even stark naked standing in a Finnish winter draft. That was one mystery solved at last. The school they'd hidden out at had had shower stalls, and Heero had never undressed in front of him, despite numerous reassurances that Duo had no problems with modesty. Apparently Heero didn't either this time around, and Duo hadn't been able to help sneaking a peek at his crotch earlier when he was parading around with his gun. Nope, Heero was not small at all.

Now, with that not-smallness pressed right against his backside, Duo was damn glad Yuy had his underwear on again. Sure, his head still hurt like a son of a bitch, and his stomach wasn't all that happy and his mouth still tasted like--well, puke, but he was still basically young and mostly healthy and hormonal and mostly naked in the arms of the guy he'd been having wet dreams about since the day they'd met. And how crazy was that?

It wasn't like Duo hadn't figured out he liked guys. That wasn't the showstopper here. You grew up fast on the mean streets of L-2, and around rough characters like the Sweepers. He'd messed around a little, nothing heavy, but enough to think that girls weren't what he wanted. Guys liking guys was no big deal.

No, the sixty four dollar question was: why was he falling for Heero Yuy, the guy who had hardly spoken six words to him since they'd met? Who'd have guessed that Shinigami would get the hots for the not-so-tall, dark, not-so-verbal homicidal maniac type? Currently braiding his hair, for fuck's sake! Then again, too much had happened so far today that was off the map for this latest development to even raise an eyebrow.

// Let's see, // he asked himself. // First he shows up to save my ass, 'cause let's face it, pride aside, if he hadn't ol' Shinigami would be either dead or getting a helluva lot less TLC from some OZ soldiers right about now. Then the medical care and a bath and getting called a 'mermaid'-fuck I know I didn't imagine him saying that! And then all this logical sharing of body heat--FYI, Yuy, you're 'snuggling' --and by the way, you can comb my hair 'logically' anytime you want, buddy, if you promise not to notice my hard-on. So what's a little hair braiding between comrades, after all that? //

And, he added mentally, he felt safe with Heero. He always had, even when he knew Heero wasn't going out of his way to protect him. Not that Duo needed protection most of the time, or asked for it ever, but there was just something about Heero that made the world seem like a calmer place when he was around, even in the middle of battle. That's why Duo coaxed him to talk, just to make sure Yuy knew he was there. Same went for those gorgeous eyes. Those dark blue eyes could be cold as ice, full of anger, but Duo still liked it when they were looking at him.

So yeah-- here, now with Heero Yuy? He felt safe.

And safe was good for a guy like Duo Maxwell. Safe was being able to trust someone to get close without worrying about attack. Safe was being able to sleep knowing the other would keep watch. Safe was letting someone touch him without having it turn into something ugly and violent and unwanted and a betrayal.

"Duo?"

"Huh?" He started, realizing that the feel of those freakishly strong hands on his hair had sent him off to la la land for the second time in twenty minutes.

"Are you uncomfortable?"

"A little. My butt's going to sleep sitting here." And that was awfully close to a lie. "I should probably lie down."

And that's when the proximity alarm on Heero's remote went off and the Perfect Soldier was back, making the world real again. Damn it. Heero grabbed the remote and checked the small screen, his whole body suddenly alert and focused as a hi-intensity laser beam.

Duo shivered, watching him, and not just because Heero had thrown off the sleeping bag.

"North sector, near Wing." Heero grabbed his pistol and ran to the door, still naked but all business. He moved like a cat on the hunt, muscles like smooth iron under his skin. "I don't see anything moving. Arm yourself. I'll be right back." He pulled on a pair of wet shorts, and then he was gone. Duo couldn't even hear his footsteps.

Gathering his wits, Duo grabbed his pistol and pulled the sleeping bag around his shoulders. Following Heero in his condition would cause more problems than it would solve at this point, but he'd be ready to hold the fort. He fed more wood onto the fire, then melted back into the shadows beside the door, ready to ambush anyone who came looking.

Time dragged by and it got darker outside. Chancing a look, he saw a few stars twinkling through the thick branches overhead. Finally he caught the sound of feet approaching. Bare feet. He knew it was Heero, making himself known, before the soft, "02, it's me! All clear."

"All clear here, 01." Duo sagged back against the cold cement wall and lowered his weapon. He noted with dismay that he was shaking again, and seeing double unless he blinked a lot. He closed his eyes and let himself slide down the wall, only to be caught in strong hands and lifted.

"OK?" Heero asked, carrying him back to the fire.

"Yeah, just woozy," Duo admitted, a little miffed at being carted around like a baby again. "What was it?"

"A reindeer."

"Seriously?"

Heero nodded. Jesus, he was strong! The arms that held Duo were steady around him as Deathscythe's con chair.

"You're cold again."

// And you're all Perfect Soldier again, //
Duo thought with a pang of regret. Heero was acting all logic and order and assess the situation as he checked Duo's vitals and made him drink from the canteen and take some more painkillers. Sitting side by side, Heero wrapped in the blankets, Duo still under the sleeping bag, they split a box of rations and Duo's stomach settled down. Yup, things seemed to be getting back to normal, right up until the moment Heero moved behind him and started pulling out the half-finished braid.

"I didn't finish this and now it's come loose," he said, as if it was the most normal, everyday sort of comment ever to pass between them. "Where's your comb?"

Duo's hands weren't shaking so badly now that he couldn't have done it himself, but he handed it to him anyway and closed his eyes, resting his chin on his knees as Heero ran the comb and those hands over his hair, smoothing it over Duo's shoulders and down his back. That warmed him plenty and he let the sleeping bag slide down around his waist, wanting more.

It was stupid, he knew. Heero had no clue the effect he was having, and Duo would have died of shame if anyone had popped in to explain it to him. He was quite certain that none of Heero's famous training exercises had included "Seduction 101." It didn't matter. Life was short, brutal and ugly and you had to grab the few good moments at they came and savor the hell out of 'em. Like that day on the Sweeper ship, right before Heero had ripped him off, the two of them lying on the deck in the sunshine, watching the gulls soaring overhead against that blue Earth sky. That was a good moment. Or playing basketball together at the last school they'd hidden out at. So was this. Why question it or try to make it out to be more than it was? "Carpe diem, baby."

"Latin. Seize the day," Heero said softly, lifting his hair to section it for the braid. His fingers brushed the nape of Duo's neck and he couldn't suppress a shiver. "But who are you referring to as 'baby'?"

Fuck. He's said that out loud. And Heero had stopped what he was doing with one hand resting on Duo's left shoulder, the other in his hair. He was waiting for an answer.

+

Maybe it was the strange turn the day had taken and Duo's ease with it all. Maybe it the surprising discovery of how nice Duo's hair and skin were to touch. Especially that hair. Heero had only meant to be helpful, to prevent what would obviously be a time-consuming problem later, by combing Duo's hair and putting it back into a more controlled form, i.e.; the braid. He saw the logic of that style now.

And maybe it was the mutual adrenaline rush when the alarm went off and the way Duo looked at him when he came back, but something had changed. When they sat apart to eat, even though they were less than a meter away from each other, Heero felt cold. When their fingers brushed, reaching into the ration box at the same time, it felt like an electric charge jumped from Duo's body to his.

There was no question; this was sexual attraction. He'd felt it before, and read about the act in both scientific and fictional formats. He'd watched porn online. He'd masturbated and climaxed. But he'd never felt anything like this. Duo Maxwell, 02, that obnoxious, noisy, distraction, was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his life and Heero was done pretending he didn't notice, Dr. J be damned. It felt strangely liberating to admit it. The question was, what was he going to do?

Ascertain the target's receptivity, his mission voice suggested.

Good plan.

There's been no question that Duo had enjoyed having his hair combed earlier. He'd left the job half finished before and now it was coming loose and tangling again. He moved back to his former place behind him and went to work again, sitting at a slight angle this time so he could see Duo's face in the firelight.

Even with the bruise on his forehead, he looked good, especially now with his eyes half closed and his lips slightly parted. Heero heard him sigh as he drew the comb, and then his fingers through the silky strands. His hair was almost dry, and it did feel like silk, in a literal rather than poetically metaphorical sense. It was very thick and heavy, too, and that added to the tactile appeal. Heero had never seen anyone with hair like this. Even if Duo had been ugly, or female, he would find this hair attractive. He wondered what it would feel like against his face.

Then he thought of the way it had felt with Duo's back against his chest, those firm small buttocks pressed against Heero's cock, with only a thin pair of briefs between them. That had been good, too. Skin to skin contact could only feel better.

Duo had gone very quiet, and his eyes were closed all the way, but he wasn't asleep. Heero could tell by the way his breath caught every so often, the way a casual touch of Heero's fingers made him smile or sigh. Looking down, he considered how small and hard Duo's nipples were. Arousal did that, but so did cold temperatures. Would the application of warmth alter their configuration, and if so, how?

// I would like to have sex with Duo Maxwell. // He grinned, amused by his own admission.

Then Duo whispered, "Carpe diem, baby," in the throatiest, sexiest voice Heero had ever heard.

Stunned to have his own thoughts guessed at so easily by a guy with his eyes closed, he fell back on logic, but only half seriously. "Latin. Seize the day." He brushed the smooth, warm skin at the nape of Duo's neck with his fingers and felt him shiver. He smiled, thinking Duo would find him very dangerous-looking if he opened his eyes just now. "But who are you referring to as 'baby'?"

Duo turned around and knelt between Heero's legs. His eyes were wide open now, and looked purple in this light. The pupils had equalized and were functioning normally, dilated as a reaction to arousal and low light. In short, Duo had the prettiest eyes he'd ever seen and suddenly he was getting a very close look at them because Duo was leaning forward.

And they were kissing.

Heero had read that first kisses were often awkward or unpleasant, but maybe this wasn't Duo's first, because he was very good at it. His lips were full and warm and felt wonderful as they worked gently against Heero's. It seemed only natural to respond in kind. And to undo all his work on the braid, too, loosing that long mermaid hair around Duo's shoulders and his own, so that it enveloped them like a cape. Then Duo was licking his lips and when Heero opened his to return the favor that tongue slid into his mouth. And that felt very good. So good that he pulled Duo into his lap and felt those long legs wrap around his waist, and Duo's arms encircle his shoulders. They were both still wearing their shorts, but he felt an erection as hard as his own pressed beside his and every time Duo moved they rubbed together. Heero groaned at the sensations overwhelming him and that only made Duo move more.

'Dry humping,' Heero noted, recalling the term from his research. He and Duo Maxwell were dry humping and Duo's hair was slipping and tickling all around him and Duo's tongue was in his mouth and life was very good indeed!

+

Duo wasn't thinking much. Feeling had pretty much taken over his brain. He was making out with Heero Yuy. He was messing around with the Perfect Soldier and the Perfect Soldier was totally getting into it! Duo wanted to say something clever and amusing about how far he went on first dates, and how splitting a box of rations wasn't the same as buying him dinner, but he had one tongue too many in his mouth at the moment to say anything at all.

Heero reached out one-handed and spread the sleeping bag on the floor, then laid back and pulled Duo and the blanket on top of him. They lay like that for a while, kissing and rubbing each other. Heero couldn't seem to keep his hands out of Duo's hair. That felt good. So did the way their legs tangled together and their hips rocked, finding a rhythm of sorts.

// I want to dance with you, Heero //
Duo thought. That would be hot, rubbing up against each other on a dance floor in a crowd. Like sex in public with your clothes on. No wonder people did that. He got it now.

"Beautiful!" Heero breathed, close to his ear.

"You too," Duo told him. "Feels good, and we got the whole night!"

Heero growled and rolled him over onto his back, then ran his tongue over Duo's left nipple. The sensation would have lifted him right off the ground if Heero hadn't been half on top of him. He arched up, seeking more, and found it. Heero licked both nipples, then nipped gently, and licked some more. It took Duo's breath away and every hot, sizzling sensation seemed to go straight to his cock. Yeah, he'd messed around before, but this? This was something else altogether! Heero shifted against him, seeking his lips and Duo felt that big hard, Spandex covered cock slide over his own again and that was it. Throwing his head back, he let out a yell and came with every fiber in his body.

He'd had hand jobs before and jerked off, and even had a blowjob once, but nothing had ever knocked him clean out of his body like this half-clothed body rub with Heero. It left him weak and a little disoriented. He might even have passed out for a second, because the next thing he knew, strong fingers were slipping into the waistband of his underwear, tugging them down, and a hot, hard, very naked cock was rubbing against his leg.

He forced his eyes open and looked up at Heero. He was panting, still horny as hell, his face all flushed and beautiful. Those eyes looked black now, with a million mile stare going. And he was naked, and now Duo was, too. With something like a whimper, Heero stretched out on top of him and tried to get a leg between Duo's, which were suddenly very tightly pressed together.

"Heero?"

"Duo!" It came out in a soft growl, then Heero had both hands in his hair, kissing the breath out of him. "Need you."

"Need--me?" Duo looked up again, suddenly not liking that faraway look in Heero's eyes. "Heero?"

Heero reached back now and pulled at Duo's thigh, still trying to get his legs apart. "Need it, Duo. So good. Really, really need--"

And suddenly it wasn't Heero on top of him, not the guy who'd just sent him express mail to heaven and back. Duo wasn't in a silo. The fire was gone and the Gundams and Finland . . .

He was in an L-2 alleyway, aged nine, face down over the hood of a vintage MG roadster with his pants around his ankles, about to be dry raped for the first of several times in his life, by a thin, good-looking blond man with white teeth and clean clothes and this great car, who'd just bought Duo the first ice cream he'd ever tasted . . .

And then he was back, with someone's scream still ringing in his ears and Heero was picking himself off the ground several feet away with blood spurting from his nose and what looked like terror in his eyes. The way he moved, it looked like someone had kneed him in the balls pretty good, too. Before Duo could put all the pieces together, Heero had grabbed his clothes and was gone.

By the time Duo figured it all out and found his clothes and staggered after him, tracking his footprints through the new snow to Wing, the access hatch was closed and Heero wasn't answering.

"Heero! Open up! Oi, Heero, I'm sorry!" Duo's voice was ragged in his throat. "I know you can hear me. Heero, please!"

+

Heero heard him, even with his hands pressed over his ears. He heard the voice, but didn't listen. It didn't matter. He didn't blame Duo for panicking and fighting back, because if he hadn't, Heero wouldn't have stopped, even though he'd heard Duo say, very clearly, "Please don't."

He'd forgotten his mission and broken training. He'd allowed himself to become distracted by emotion, and once again, someone had gotten hurt.

He didn't need punishment from J to know that he would never allow himself to make that mistake again.

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