Author: Ravengirl
Rating: R
Pairings: 1x2x1, 3x4
Warnings: very bad language, AU (within the GW-verse), violence, BL or yaoi or whatever-they're-calling-M/M-this-week, lime-ish... or perhaps glossy lemon... grapefruit maybe?? *snort* Pick yer citrus of choice.
Disclaimer: Not mine.

READ THIS FIRST: 'Unexpected' is a wartime fic, the first in a possible series. Aside from characterization, it is not canon. It is, however, very firmly set within the GW-verse, so you might say it's *altered* reality, rather than alternate.

For my purposes, a number of the major canon events after ep. 16 begin to take a turn for the different, if not for the worse. At least I don't think so. And that's all that really matters 'cause I'm the one writing the damn thing for my own whacked-out entertainment. Read at your discretion.

Unexpected

1

For Heero Yuy, dealing death was easy as one, two, three.

One...

The snap of a neck's vertebrae permanently separating.

Two...

The loud crack of a spine detached from its pelvic bone by a titanium-hard kneecap.

Three...

The wet-leather *pop* of ribs puncturing a lung.

Heero looked up from his would-be killers and dispassionately surveyed their terror-frozen underlings.

"Stupid of them," he remarked, tone devoid of expression.

Turning, he lifted Duo from where the braided boy lay, sprawled like a broken doll across dark-tiled floor, uniform half-ripped from his wiry body. He'd only taken a few steps when he sensed faint movement behind him. He stopped.

"If any of you moves within the next half hour, I'll find out. Then I'll kill you too," he stated calmly.

Restless feet fell silent as the acrid odor of urine and fear washed the deserted hall.

Resuming his measured pace, Heero gained their room in just under a minute. He had perhaps fifteen to get them out of this school. The remainder of Duo's tormenters wouldn't be moving for at least ten. Not after watching their comrades expire in front of them.

Even then, they'd slink back into their holes and try to forget what they'd seen rather than report the incident. Heero didn't subscribe to the pack mind-set, but he did understand it. Those who attacked as a mob were individually little more than bullies and cowards.

Placing Maxwell on one of two narrow beds, he methodically packed a single bag for both of them.

At twelve minutes and counting, 02 slowly opened an eye... the one not swollen shut.

"Hey Hee-man... sorry 'bout that." His voice was slurred and he coughed a little, choking on the blood filling his mouth. Must've bit through his tongue. "They got me cornered before I knew what was goin' on."

"Idiot. You should have been paying attention." Heero stopped in the middle of zipping the duffle to glare at his partner. "What the hell was wrong with you tonight? You always pay attention!"

Solitary violet closed.

"Sorry."

It was a whisper and Heero Yuy hated it. Maxwell should be laughing. He should be bouncing back like rubber on a racquetball court.

He wasn't.

Heero was uncertain how to react, an unsatisfactory feeling with which he'd been unfamiliar until he'd met Duo. He wanted... well, he wasn't positive what exactly it was he wanted to do, but he did know that a friend would offer more than just physical assistance in situations such as this.

The boy lying limp across that bed was one of maybe five people in the Earth Sphere who were something more than prospective targets to Heero. He'd defied not one, but two direct orders from J for the L2 Kid, and that, he supposed, was as close to friendship as he got.

Inevitably, the Soldier in his head informed him that Duo was now a liability and, as such, should be removed from the equation.

"Unacceptable," he muttered.

Maxwell gave a brief, muffled exclamation of surprise when Heero threw the other boy over one shoulder and grabbed the duffle with his opposite hand, but that was the extent of Shinigami's protests.

"If I get you to your Gundam... can you pilot?" Heero panted, double-timing it down deserted halls.

"It's... debatable," Duo mumbled from somewhere around his friend's ass.

And a very fine ass it was, too.

Duo frowned as well as he could around a gashed eyebrow, split lip and possibly-fractured jaw.

Didn't matter how good Yuy's butt looked. That was more than clear by now. Heero Yuy didn't indulge in distracting and inconsequential behavior. Sex definitely came under those headings.

Never compromise the mission, especially not for a quick fuck. That was pilot 01 in spades.

On the other hand, there were two instances Duo knew of in which said pilot had deliberately sabotaged his own mission... which was why they were presently dirtside instead of colony hopping in an attempt to avoid roving MS patrols.

The return to earth had been somewhat precipitous. Duo was still in crappy shape and, due in part to Heero's successful retrieval of Deathscythe, the colonies were positively crawling with OZ soldiers and Romefeller agents. A change of scenery had seemed the healthiest option.

Besides... attempting to hide an MS like 'Scythe on L1 was damned near impossible.

'Acquiring' an earth-bound shuttle had been surprisingly easy. It was only once they hit ground that things got complicated.

Finding Howard, who -- according to Duo's Sweeper contacts -- was in possession of Wing's dismembered body, had been the least of their problems. By the time they located and touched down on the floating repair barge, they'd been on the run for nearly two weeks. Hauling around an inert chunk of Gundanium while hiding out from what felt like the entire freakin' universe was not something Duo ever wanted to repeat.

Howard had been patently surprised by their appearance and appalled by Deathscythe's condition, ranting under his breath about ungrateful, clueless punks who'd no idea how to treat a work of art. Duo had trotted out his embarrassed-but-contrite expression for the occasion, meekly agreeing with any denigration thrown his way.

Keeping his trap shut paid off. By the time they'd parted ways, the old Sweeper had promised them a new-and-improved Deathscythe, plus Wing's fully restored body, within four weeks. All that remained was finding convenient cover while they regrouped and Duo finished healing.

When it came down to it, they were barely sixteen - way underage in most Western societies - and worse, they looked it. School was about the only place outside the world's slums where they could move around freely without provoking suspicion.

So, following a lengthy debate over logistics, Heero had arranged a 'transfer' to this all-male, Romefeller-funded, quasi-military academy for budding homicidal maniacs.

At the time, it had seemed an inspired idea. Hiding in plain sight, as the saying went.

But after a month of fighting off his fellow students -- some of whom felt kicking his ass for his 'girly' appearance was their bounden duty, others who just wanted to screw said ass into the nearest mattress -- Duo was beginning to reconsider his options.

Tonight's fatal episode had simply accelerated the process.

Heero picked up the pace, his shoulder digging with agonizing regularity into Duo's abused abdominal cavity.

/Jesus. Can't take... much more o' this.../

Then all motion stopped and Duo slid gratefully to the ground, suppressing a whimper. Cracking his one working eye, he recognized the seventh-year Physics instructor's prized BMW cycle. Trust Yuy to pick the priciest item available.

"Maxwell."

While he'd been having a close encounter of the asphalt kind, 01 had secured their duffle to the bike and hot-wired the damn thing.

Mounted on humming, beautifully crafted German engineering, Heero held an impatient hand out to Duo, pulling him up and onto the seat with a minimum of fuss. 'Scythe's battered pilot was obviously a mere cipher to muscle stronger than steel.

Biting his lip until he drew blood, Duo leaned against Heero's taut back, feeling his insides shift uneasily against damaged ribs.

"Hey Yuy."

"What?"

"Make this a fast ride, huh? Think I got a few busted ribs and 'm not sure how long I'm gonna last without passin' out."

Amidst profuse amounts of Japanese invective -- to say nothing of the sudden flurry of lights and movement in the school behind them -- Heero revved the bike to life and they rocketed out of the lot like half of OZ was breathing down their necks. Then again, even if the govvies weren't on their tail at moment, they soon would be.

Gritting his teeth to keep from screaming, Duo locked his arms around his partner's waist and prayed to a less-than-attentive god that he wouldn't fall off.

+

Afterwards, Heero couldn't remember another situation which scared him more.

Considering the last ten years of his life, that was really saying something.

But even as a shell-shocked child, trailing along after his assassin-guardian and learning the man's bloody trade, he'd never felt the mind-bending terror that gripped him when Maxwell's fingers began to slip from their hold on his waist.

Drop from L1 in an experimental pod which might or might not protect him and his Gundam from the burn of entry? No problem. Single-handedly take on an entire military base positively crawling with LEOs? Sure thing.

Continuously save the life of an addled female whose hobby it was to find the most dangerous possible situations then run blindly towards them? Absolutely.

Lose his unexpected and, up 'til now, unwanted partner to the brutal ministrations of a bunch of sadistic fucks who should have been strangled at birth?

Hn. Heero thought not. He hadn't lied gratuitously to J before pulling Duo out of an OZ prison, only to watch him die.

Transferring control of the cycle to a single grip, he jammed 02's hands down the tightly-fitted front of his uniform trousers to the wrist.

"Maxwell!" he shouted over the roar of the bike and displaced air, "Hook your feet over mine! We're almost to the turn-off, don't you goddamn fall!"

There was no verbal response and that scared Heero worse than anything else. That weird old guy who'd rebuilt Deathscythe and Wing had once remarked that it would be a cold day in hell before Duo Maxwell lost his snark. At the moment, 01 would have bet his last credit that Satan himself was wearing gloves and a sweater.

After interminably long seconds, a booted foot lodged itself against his right ankle. The next followed even more slowly.

Relief pouring over him in chilling waves, Heero accelerated, pushing the bike's limits. By the time they skidded to a halt on a deserted North Atlantic beach, Maxwell was hanging limp from his anchors.

/Shit. I guess Wing'll be carrying two extra passengers tonight./

Detaching both duffle and pilot from the cycle, Heero sent the Beemer to its final rest beneath the waves and summoned Wing from his watery slumber. Only then did he dare look at Duo. He abruptly wished he hadn't.

The other boy twitched restlessly on the sand, rounded cheeks hectic with fever, dried blood trailing from mouth and nose.

/At least it's not fresh./

Crouching beside his partner, Heero brushed sweat-soaked bangs from shuttered eyes. Duo groaned softly and his lids fluttered, attempting to open, while his body did its damnedest to achieve an upright position. Heero held him in place, not liking the rasp of labored breathing or the fiery heat radiating from the slim form.

"Stay still. I just need your remote."

"...lining...cap..."

"Got it."

Pulling Deathscythe's paper-thin activator from the inside of Maxwell's trademark hat, Heero pressed the ID imprint to one limp, clammy finger. A few minutes later, the black Gundam rose from the ocean to settle beside Wing, it's newly acquired batwings folding gracefully around it.

Howard hadn't lied when he'd promised improvements. Both Gundams' speed and reaction time were up by nearly 45%. Duo's beloved thermal scythe was now a two-bladed instrument of terror. Wing's firepower had quadrupled. And they both possessed a new ability: long-distance flight without transformation.

Extracting a couple of shirts from their bag, Heero ripped them efficiently into strips and bound Maxwell's ribs as tightly as he dared. He didn't think there was damage to 02's lungs, but his expertise was killing, not healing. Better to be safe than sorry.

Once more hooking the duffle's straps over his shoulder, Heero lifted Duo as gently as he could manage and hiked across gritty sand towards the towering mechas. As he passed Deathscythe, he glanced up at the inscrutable, metallic face.

If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn the stern, inhuman lines were rife with disappointment.

'I gave him to you and you let me down,' Maxwell's Gundam seemed to say.

Shaking off the ridiculous whimsy, Heero keyed his own remote and waited as Wing's hatch hissed open and the winch-line descended. With Duo a dead weight, it was going to be a bitch getting both of them up to the cockpit, but in situations like this, the unnatural strength granted him by J's renegade geneticist came in very handy.

Black humor wrenched a deaths-head smile from resistant lips.

If J could see what uses his training and unholy tinkering were presently being put to, the good doctor would undoubtedly build another Gundam, find another pilot, then instruct said pilot to blow one Heero Yuy to kingdom come. For all Heero knew, he'd already done so.

Lucky for him, he had his doubts the old man was still alive. The last transmission Heero'd received had been right after he'd retrieved Duo. Word was, OZ had J and his four co-conspirators locked up somewhere, designing a new line of mobile suits.

Barton would probably know. According to Duo, he and Winner had met up with 03 around the time Heero left earth. The unholy triumvirate had subsequently decided that 04 would stay dirtside and mind the shop while the other two took off for OZ-land: Trowa to infiltrate and pass on information to Duo... who would then act on that information to the best of his abilities.

Heero conceded the ingenuity of the maneuver. It had worked very nicely until Duo got caught. Between the Braided Terror and Circus Boy, they'd managed to destroy two MS manufacturing satellites and at least twenty weapons transports.

04 was right. They could do so much more damage when they all cooperated. Just the thought of those three working in concert...

The winch-line reached ground level. Hooking Maxwell into the utility belt he never used, Heero shoved a foot into the stirrup, grabbed the thick wire and held on tight as they were pulled rapidly upwards.

He tried not to think of what would happen once he got Duo to one of the Rebellion's outposts. Tried not to imagine unchecked internal bleeding and ruptured organs.

"Yuy..."

Maxwell's faint tones distracted Heero's mind from its grim speculation.

"Yeah?"

It must have hurt like hell when Heero pulled Duo into Wing and strapped him to the jump-seat behind the control station, but 02 only grunted, a whoosh of pained air escaping his chest.

"Scythe... docking ports... back."

"I know. We've done this before, remember? Maxwell?"

Duo's head lolled to one side. He'd passed out again.

Good.

Heero dropped into the pilot's chair and punched in Wing's ignition codes.

At least he won't feel this, he thought as the white Gundam's new thrusters powered up and Wing sprang to life, locking fluidly with Deathscythe before shooting skyward.

2

"...hemorrhage. A perforation of the stomach's wall..."

"Do it now."

"...Heero. He's just trying to give you..."

"Now."

The words were far away and without meaning. Consciousness came and went at will, leaving him with no clear idea of where he was or how he'd got there, and only the vaguest of notions that he was safe. He went with the feeling, drifting aimlessly through the hazy fog of his mind, detached curiosity his only emotion.

"...is clean, we can close this up."

Muted fire licked him, but it seemed distant... an echo of pain rather than the real thing.

Then a low, silky voice murmured, seemingly right above him.

"If he dies... so do you."

+

"That's it. C'mon, kiddo. Come all the way back."

Feeling like one of those career drunks the street gangs on L2 used to roll for kicks, Duo clawed his way to awareness.

Damn, but he hurt.

"Come on, Hot Shot, open those pretty eyes. Yuy told me they're something else. And if the kid actually bothered to say so, they must be."

Heero? Heero had said...?

Blinking blearily, Duo attempted to focus on the face that swam into his clouded sight. He was somewhat startled when it smiled with sudden incandescence.

"My, my... Heero-boy was sure right. God, what I wouldn't give to know the genetic factors that went into creating those babies."

"Steady diet a' toxic waste and hella unholy mutation," he croaked painfully, wincing at the sound of his voice.

What the fuck had happened? He couldn't... he didn't... and then he did. A barrage of violence and excruciating agony broke the memory barrier.

His eyes darted back to the person beside him as confusion played a quick, messy game with his metal faculties. Obviously, his grey matter had picked the losing side today, 'cause the last thing he remembered was passing out in Wing's cockpit.

Whoever this was, he'd never seen 'em before in his life.

She. It was definitely a woman, curves well-defined even beneath baggy cammos. Red-gold hair framed delicate features, its muted fire coiling prettily against either side of her face.

"Where's 01?" he grated, not sure who this fem was and not about to give away any more personal information than he absolutely had to.

"Yuy? Took off as soon as you were officially out of the woods. Declined two missions, as it was."

Duo's sense of displacement grew exponentially. That didn't sound like his partner, but...

Unbidden, his mind returned to a deserted hall and the psychos who'd gotten the jump on him. Heero... Heero had killed the fuckers with his bare hands. For him.

Not that they hadn't saved each other's lives any number of times already, but that was battle. This had been personal. Yuy had descended on Duo's attackers like the wrath of some ancient god, and when his partner got like that, it was murder and mayhem first, questions later.

Or not at all.

Heero had been righteously angry, and that was something Duo Maxwell had witnessed only once before. Seeing as all that pissed-off-ness had been aimed in his direction, he wasn't like to forget it, either.

Seemed that damage to pilot 02 was now on par with damage to Wing. I.e. Something That Was Just Not Done If You Wanted To Keep Your Parts In Working Order.

Fuck all, if that didn't shock the hell outta Duo. It was very like Yuy to spring this kind of thing on him then up and disappear. Reminded him of the time Deathscythe damn near got scrapped for Wing's revitalization.

He wondered just where Heero was at the moment and how good the odds were of his finding out.

"Don't get clever, Maxwell, you've got a couple weeks worth of healing to do. If you leave now, you'll end up unconscious and compromised in some backwoods town with Yuy on the warpath, looking to string me up. I like my head attached to my body, thank you very much."

He darted a guilty look at the woman next to him, sure she'd seen straight into his skull. Her full lips had a sardonic curve to them and her sharp gaze informed him that any rebellion on his part would be summarily squashed.

"Fine," he sighed gustily. "Don't suppose batting these here eyes at you would do any good?"

Grinning widely, he fluttered his (absurdly long for a boy) eyelashes at the pretty lady...who laughed and grinned right back.

"Nice try, Cute Stuff, but once upon a time, a great many people called me Major. I've had all kinds of adorable little soldier boys try to sell me any number of creative ideas on what I should do to and with them. I'm a damned persnickety customer."

Grin dwindling to a rueful smile, Duo shrugged. Or tried to, before the ill-advised movement pulled on his abdominal muscles and the pain he'd barely registered was suddenly fully present and accounted for.

"Worth... a shot," he gasped, as the woman reached forward to help him into a more comfortable position.

The strawberry-blonde doctor rolled her eyes and made a disgusted noise.

"This is exactly what I was talking about. Heero had me take you off the morphine drip, but..."

"No!" He preempted her hand before it reached the call button. "No... he was right. I don't mind taking something to kill the pain, just... not that. I can't... it always..."

"It takes away your control. And god knows you boys wouldn't want that. Yuy was exactly the same, although his system burns off whatever's put into it frighteningly fast."

Duo grinned weakly.

"That's Heero. Always pushing the bounds of possibility. Y'know, the second time I met him, he broke his leg, then set it all by himself. Right in front of yours truly, too. Thought I was gonna puke, but he just splinted it, got up and raped my Gundam for spare parts."

She was laughing again, the sound warm and friendly, and Duo decided he could get to like this woman.

"So what's the deal, Doc? Got my orders ready?"

"Your orders, young man, are to stay in bed until I say otherwise," she said sternly. "Yuy informed me that he'd send you coordinates in two weeks' time. You should be mostly healed, by then."

"Yuy has spoken, so shall it be done." Duo scowled. "I guess now all us good little minions had better scurry to do his bidding. Bet he took my lap-top, too."

"He left it with me, along with your other things. But," she held up a hand to stop his demands, "I'm to give it back only after I sign your release form."

"Deathscythe-,"

"Your Gundam is safe, 02. Did you really think 01 would leave that to chance?"

"Guess not. Not after all the trouble we went to gettin' him back up and on his feet again." Duo looked up hopefully. "You got 'im on base?"

The doctor shook her head at him, that annoying amusement still evident in her expression.

"The new activation codes are on your lap-top... which you'll get once I'm sure your sutures will hold."

"Well, shit."

"That's quite a mouth you've got there, Maxwell. You want I should clean it out for you?"

Duo shuddered as best he could without pulling any stitches.

"No thanks, Doc. Been there, done that, ain't goin' there again. By the way, what's your name? Don't think you said."

"I'm Sally." A slim, strong hand firmly grasped his callused fingers. "Under different circumstances, I'd call it a pleasure. As it is... let's just say I'm glad you're still breathing."

"Don't make me laugh, Doc," Duo wheezed. "I'll bust something back open."

"Can't have that."

Settling more comfortably into her chair, Sally Po ran a satisfied eye over her patient. Like Heero Yuy, this boy was a fast healer and incredibly resistant to all kinds of drugs. Unlike his comrade, though, Duo Maxwell seemed to have some grasp of life beyond wartime.

And a sense of humor, thank god. Sally was rather fond of pilot 01, but she would have to concede that his overall personality left something to be desired.

"So how'd you meet ol' 'Suicide Boy' Yuy? He's never mentioned you before... but then, getting him to tell you what he had for breakfast is like trying to squeeze credits outta a govvie. Absolutely friggin' pointless."

Sally knew she was doing something embarrassingly between a giggle and a snigger, but she couldn't seem to help herself. Duo knew it, too. He was grinning offensively at her from his bed.

"How did I meet Yuy?" she said when she could finally breathe again. Reaching over to the table next to her, she poured a glass of water and retrieved two pills from a white bottle. "Take your meds like a good boy, Maxwell, and I'll tell you a bedtime story..."

3

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckitty, fucking fuck!"

Duo Maxwell was not a happy camper. In fact, he was as far from that state-of-being as a boy could get and still keep from slitting his wrists in the throes of advanced aggravation.

On leaving his mouth, every vituperative 'fuck' punctuated the squelch of ankle-deep mud releasing its messy hold on one of his boots.

"I just replaced the damn things," he moaned to the uncaring rain pelting mercilessly down on his shivering body. "Five-hundred credits worth of hand-crafted leather down the toilet."

Heh. A small portion of G's ill-gotten gains had gone towards something useful, for once. He'd just have to 'appropriate' some more funds from the old man's accounts and buy another pair.

It was their game. Duo carefully covered his tracks and G pretended not to notice. It worked well for both of them.

A flash of lightning and its accompanying thunder caught him unawares, pulling him from his thoughts with an unwelcome jolt.

Unfortunately, his startled jump brought one damply-shod foot down on a slippery patch of ground, and he abruptly found himself sitting on his ass in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere... otherwise known as Quebec.

Propping dirty elbows on bent knees, Duo rested his forehead against crossed arms and cursed everyone and everything he could think of who might, even distantly, have had a hand in bringing him to this god-forsaken field.

He loudly reviled Quatre for calling an unscheduled meeting at a so-called 'rustic hunting lodge' in this back-asswards bit of Canada.

He impugned Sally's honor for pronouncing him physically ready for duty.

He grossly insulted Barton's nonexistent lineage for allowing his blonde demon-of-a-lover free rein in choosing their transient contact coordinates.

He cursed Wufei and his ancestors to the nine hells and back for... for...

Come to think of it, Nataku's pilot hadn't done anything lately, but Duo didn't let that bother him. Give Chang a day or so, and he'd be on the official Maxwell shit-list, too.

As for Yuy, who believed that pilot 02 was put on this earth to do his bidding, provide free Gundam parts at will and follow wherever 01 dictated...

Well. Heero Yuy had another thing coming.

/And that's why you're sitting on your bum in a lake of mud, ya chump. Yeeeeaaaaahhh./

At this point, if a platoon of OZzies showed up, he'd throw himself on their mercy and beg them to either put him out of his misery or toss him in a cell. At least that way he'd be dry.

Unfortunately, even OZ soldiers were smart enough to stay away from flooded patches of nowhere, and wasn't that a sad commentary on Duo Maxwell's mental capacity?

On the other hand, he could swear he'd been listening to a set of squishy-sounding footfalls fighting the good fight against soul-sucking mud for the last few minutes. Hard to tell for sure over the roar of the rain, but...

"Maxwell? What the hell are you doing down there?"

Raising aggrieved eyes towards the voice's source, Duo found himself staring into amused obsidian.

Unlike himself, Wufei had dressed appropriately for the elements in a voluminous oilskin slicker and sturdy hiking boots. L5's most unstable byproduct smirked down at Duo, his expression as self-satisfied as a snooty Siamese who'd just frolicked through a field of catnip.

"What does it look like I'm doing, Chang?" he growled. "I'm fucking communing with goddamn nature. I fell, you twit! So either give me a hand here, or shut the fuck up and go away!"

Chang kept laughing like the utter moron he was, so Duo pushed himself precariously to his feet, snarled at the Chinese pilot and stalked off as well as he could on the treacherous ground, very much on his dignity.

As much dignity as one may possess when liberally coated with mud, that is.

"Hey Maxwell!"

"What!?!"

"Just thought you might want to know that you're going the wrong way!"

Well, he'd been right about something, at least... the Maxwell shit-list had just got longer by one.

+

"Great gods, Duo, you're frozen! Trowa, go start the downstairs shower."

Standing in the great room of 04's attempt at neutral ground, Duo tried to control the shaking of his limbs through sheer willpower. His efforts weren't notably successful.

"Come on, you need to strip down."

Chang had vanished upstairs on arrival, and now Quatre seemed determined to drag Duo into the house's shadowy bowels. They stopped halfway down a dim hall; light and steam poured through an open door, and Duo could feel the pulse of heat against his numbed skin.

Then two pair of competent hands were ridding him of his icy clothing and pushing him towards hot, pounding water that shattered the aching chill shrouding his body.

"Christ, he's cold."

"I know... didn't Heero tell him what kind of weather he'd be flying into?"

"You know Yuy... bare essentials and little else. Although in this case, it was pretty stupid of him not to elaborate. Maxwell's not completely healed. Pneumonia would probably kill him off."

Duo stood under the shower's harsh stream, eyes closed, and listened to the low murmurs from the hall. Quatre and Barton. Joined at the hip whenever Trowa's OZ duties brought him to earth. Lucky fucks.

Someone sighed. Q, probably.

"I'm not sure he was thinking straight when he sent the message. Lately when I've spoken with him, he's seemed... preoccupied. And tired. I can't help but feel that he's pushing himself too hard. Something's going to give."

"Hope it's not him." Barton's voice turned grim. "Yuy's been on a hair-trigger damn near his whole life. Even Siberia didn't kill those impulses. He's a walking time-bomb looking for a place to detonate."

"Yes." The word was spoken so quietly, Duo could barely make it out. "I just hope when he does, he doesn't take Duo with him."

"Now you're getting melodramatic." This time, Barton's tone was warm with amusement and affection, and something in Duo ached just hearing it. "Maxwell has more common sense in one finger than you, Yuy and Chang put together... not that that's saying much."

"Why you...!"

It didn't take much imagination to figure out what that pause meant, and a genuine smile touched Duo's lips for the first time in months.

The two in the hall were sexy as hell together. Their subtle happiness instilled calm and ease in those around them, things their occasional comrades were sorely in want of.

"Mmmn... you were saying?"

"Um? Oh. Not sure. What was I saying?"

"You were saying that you're about to go make me some coffee, Q-man," Duo called, feeling mild regret for destroying the lovebirds' moment, but enjoying their embarrassed silence too much for real guilt.

"Of course, Duo. I'll just, um, go do that right now, shall I?"

"Sounds good. Be out in a sec."

As expected, Barton was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, when he emerged from the steamy stall.

"Sorry," he mumbled through the towel over his head.

"I knew you'd listen. You've got ears like a bat. I'm sure it's nothing you haven't heard before, though."

Dropping the towel, Duo looked the tall acrobat straight in the eye.

"I'd say it's none of your business... but we both know that ain't the truth. Anything any of us does affects the others. If you've got a problem with the way me an' Yuy run our operations, damn well say so."

Barton's shoulders rose and fell in an almost imperceptible movement.

"I don't. And I won't until you give me good reason."

The warning implicit in the toneless words was clear. Nodding curtly, Duo grabbed a dry piece of terry and began ridding his leaden hair of excess water.

"By the way... Yuy commed me two days ago. He'll be here in the morning."

Duo didn't bother to reply. 03 was already gone.

+

Even with correct coordinates, pinpointing one isolated cabin in a heavily forested, unpopulated area was never easy. Attempting to do so in the lightless murk of pre-dawn made such a feat nearly impossible. He'd managed it though, landing Wing a half mile from ground zero and mechanically going about the business of camouflaging the white Gundam.

Professor G had been smarter than J when it came to coloration, he mused. Deathscythe's blacks and greys blended in well, while poor Wing stuck out like a sore thumb. Maybe he should talk to Howard about a new paint-job.

Laughing in slightly hysterical silence, he shook his head to clear it. After a week of sleep deprivation, even Heero Yuy's thought processes got a little wonky.

By the time he reached the darkened house, the comprehensive shut-down his body had been courting the last forty-eight hours finally descended. Fighting waves of mind-numbing enervation, he picked his way carefully through furniture-shaped obstacles towards the nearest empty bed.

The first door he tried was locked. The second led to a bathroom. The third...

Standing in the half-open doorway Heero listened to the reassuring patterns of Duo Maxwell's breathing. Stumbling forward into the room, he shut and locked the door, dropped to his knees and passed out on the floor, head resting on his pack.

[cont]