Swallowing painfully past a throat on fire, Duo cracked sleep-encrusted
eyes and pushed himself into a sitting position. He immediately regretted
it. The hacking and sneezing were bad enough, but his entire body felt
like it had been on the losing end of a bare-knuckle brawl and every cough
jarred his aching muscles.
"You sound like shit."
Caught mid-cough, Duo blinked rapidly to clear streaming eyes and peered
over the edge of the bed. Below him, sprawled full-length across the floor,
was Heero Yuy. Still in his flight-suit, the other pilot had one arm flung
across his eyes and a duffle for a pillow.
"You ain't lookin' so pretty yerself, Yuy," Duo croaked, then grimaced.
His throat was fucking killing him! Goddamn colds.
"At least I'm not doing my damnedest to expel my lungs." Lifting his arm,
Heero examined his partner. "I told Po it was too soon."
"Whatever, man. 'S your own fault I'm sick... ya didn't tell me I was
gonna be trompin' through the second comin' of the Flood just to get here!"
Surprise flickered briefly in Yuy's eyes, followed by some other, nameless
"If the data I sent was incomplete, I apologize. It was an oversight on
Curling his body upwards, 01 rose agilely to tower over Duo, whose brows
shot skyward. When did Yuy get so freakin' tall? They used to be the same
height, dammit! He would have said something to that effect, but his nose
twitched violently and the machine-gun sneezing resumed.
Grabbing his bag, Heero rifled around in it for a moment, producing a
pack of tissues and thrusting them towards Duo.
"Blow. Sniffing won't rid you of whatever's attacking your immune system.
I suppose Winner wants us all in one place today?"
"Thnnggs," 02 replied stuffily from behind a handful of tissue. "Nnd,
yeah... grehd rrmm 'rrnd tnn-undrud."
"Good. I have time for a shower."
Slinging his bag over one shoulder, Heero turned quickly to hide a faint
smile. Maxwell couldn't help how he sounded.
"Dun' teg 'll th' hod woddrr."
Heero made hastily for the door, but his smothered mirth escaped before
he could, emerging as a choked snort.
"Y'y." Duo's clogged tones sounded gravely suspicious. "'R y' leffigg
"Absolutely not," Heero assured him, then fled, retreat being -- in this
instance -- the better part of valor.
Yawning blearily, Wufei pushed the kitchen door to and stumbled through
it... then did an abrupt about-face with intent to stumble back out.
"Don't go Wufei." Winner's voice was a bit muffled. "Trowa's just trying
to work a few of the kinks out."
"I am sorry." He kept his back to the room. "It was not my intention to
"Your tea is already prepared, 05."
Barton's even tones informed Wufei that he'd better take his Oolong like
a man and not embarrass Winner for being the recipient of a much-needed
shoulder rub. Wufei decided that oh-eight-thirty was not the time to get
into it with Heavy Arms' intimidating owner.
He shot a sidelong glance at the couple as he gave them a wide birth on
his way to the stove.
Barton looked as he always did -- tall, dark and forbidding in jeans and
a sweater -- but his blonde companion wore only a pair of loose exercise
pants. Seated at the table, 04 had his head resting on crossed arms while
his lover's strong fingers dug and kneaded the knots from his muscles.
Wufei allowed himself a brief twinge of envy. Right now, he'd kill for
a comprehensive massage. Or a good acupuncturist. After spending two months
as OZ's reluctant guest, his meridians sure as shit needed realigning.
His mouth quirked. At least he'd had the satisfaction of blowing that
bloody base all to hell on his way out. Stealing Nataku's successor from
those meddling doctors had only added to his feeling of justice served.
He wondered, momentarily, if they'd made it out. After Barton had arranged
for his escape, he'd been too busy staying alive to give anyone else more
than a passing thought.
Pouring tea into a thick mug, he waited as the fragrant steam cleared
before adding half a crushed capsule of ginseng and a single mint leaf.
Stirring slowly, he walked to the table and sat down opposite Winner,
who'd assumed an upright position and acquired a shirt.
"Anyone know when Yuy's getting in? I'm leaving tonight and I'd like to
hear what he has to say, first."
"Last night. Or very early this morning, I should say," Winner replied,
reaching for his own mug.
"Oh-one-forty-seven, to be precise," a calm voice remarked, and they all
turned to see the man in question standing just inside the doorway.
Winner's face broke into a wide smile.
"Heero! It's good to see you looking... rested."
The blonde ran a calculating eye over their Japanese compatriot. If Wufei
didn't already know the depths of Winner's devotion to Barton, he'd have
thought the other boy was sizing up a prospective lover.
Yuy grunted noncommittally and dropped into the single remaining chair.
"Say what you mean, Winner. You're just glad I didn't fall asleep at the
Barton retreated to the coffeepot, pouring two cups and setting one in
front of Yuy before reseating himself. 01 threw him an eyebrow of gratitude
before burying his nose in the aromatic black liquid.
Yuy's lips quivered against the rim of his mug.
"Attempting to drown his bout of influenza in an effulgence of steam and
Wufei did his best not to snort very expensive tea and herbal extract
straight up his nose.
"Oh dear... Trowa, would you be a love and fetch a towel?"
He had the oddest feeling he'd missed something.
The five of them had gathered in the great room a few minutes before ten-hundred,
armed with lap-tops and, in Quatre's case, data-discs. But... none of
the other four seemed able to meet Duo's eyes.
Not even Yuy.
This was serious. And it only got worse every time he opened his mouth.
He was driving himself crazy trying to figure out why.
Sure he sounded a little funny... colds could do that to a person. Wasn't
any reason for the entire room to turn red whenever he said 'the' or 'no'.
He had the sneaking suspicion that 01, that traitor, had made some kind
of snide remark in his absence.
Turning his head slightly, he caught the faintest of smirks on Yuy's face,
confirming said suspicion. After leveling a glare at the other pilot that
by rights should have singed his messy hair, Duo virtuously directed his
attention back to Quatre.
"You all know why we're here. Certain information is better relayed in
secure surroundings... even the cleanest frequency has the possibility
of being tapped. None of us can afford that, especially now that so many
of our sources have been compromised. I think it's safe to say that any
communiqué received from our trainers is not, at present, to be
trusted." Quatre paused, meeting four pair of intent eyes, one after another.
"So... who's first?"
Barton and Chang exchanged glances and the Chinese boy made a 'go-ahead'
"Vigilantism's the norm now, on-colony," 03 said in his blunt manner.
"Overall unrest, discontent, and calls for armament have provoked demonstrations
and riots throughout, especially in the older settlements. They know they've
been screwed and they're pissed. Much of the Lady's force was spent on
'peace-keeping' duties. Only those of us being trained for the new MS
squad were exempt."
Trowa's eyes cut towards Shen-Long's pilot, silently indicating for him
"I didn't see much of that," Chang began slowly. "My ship was taken almost
immediately when I landed on L1. I spent most of my time in military enclaves,
waiting for the higher-ups to decide what to do with me.
I can give you the strengths and weaknesses of the bases where they kept
me. Mostly intelligence and R&D installations. If any of us is going
back to space, they'd be good places to hit. They're all OZ, though --
or were -- and since Kushrenada was imprisoned, Romefeller is the bigger
"I'll second that," Trowa said quietly. "It's still uncertain as to whether
Lady Une survived the lunar base's destruction, but part of the reason
we so easily achieved that objective was the in-fighting between her men
"Mmph." 05 gave a derogatory snort. "That bastard nearly killed me...
cut the air to my cell-block. Damn good thing Barton knew how to circumvent
the master controls."
They sat silent for a few moments, mulling over past events and possible
outcomes, before 01's voice broke the stillness.
"And the doctors? Did OZ have them, after all?"
It was the first time any of them but one had heard Barton's laugh. It...
wasn't a pleasant sound.
"Ah, yes... our revered mentors. Certainly, they were there. They designed
two new MS lines for OZ, while carrying out their own research on the
side. Those schematics the Sweepers used to reconstruct your Gundam, Maxwell?
Sent straight to their database by G. O took the opportunity to refit
05's MS while he was on base, as well. J, though... I believe he was put
directly in touch with Kushrenada. The less said about his project, the
"How'd they even get the old bastards to cooperate?" Duo asked.
Trowa's smile was mirthless.
"Une evacuated a small satellite in the L2 cluster. Then she had it blown
to pieces. She informed the good doctors that the next one would still
be occupied, and you know their modus operandi... anything for the colonies."
"Yeah... I think we got that part loud and clear," Duo snapped. "Even
if 'anything' means leaving us bare-arses-to-the-wind in hostile territory."
Shooting Maxwell a quelling look, Heero turned back to Quatre.
"What are our options, Winner? How comprehensive is Romefeller's infiltration
of the planetary governments?"
"They've taken over all the OZ bases," Quatre said, meeting Heero's gaze
steadily, "and they are expanding Kushrenada's empire. Europe, Africa,
Russia, the Middle East, China... they control all of them.
The Americas are still holding out, along with Australia, New Zealand
and Japan. But mobile dolls are now in mass-production. As their numbers
increase, the free nations will fall."
The statement was bleakly undeniable and they all knew it.
Tilting his head backwards, Duo stared unseeing at the ceiling's cracks.
"It's all a fucking lie. Everything they told us we were fighting for.
This is one big political game and the docs are just as bad as the rest."
"Yes," Trowa returned evenly. "But can any of us lay claim to pure motives?
We are none of us without personal agenda. You call yourself 'death'...
you're hardly an injured innocent."
The pointed chin jerked downwards and amethyst eyes glittered dangerously.
"Oh yeah, Barton... I came down here to blow shit up. That there's my
'personal agenda'. How about the rest of y'all hmn? Wanna compare kills?
'Cause the last time I checked, we were all pretty bloody, you self-righteous
"That's enough, Maxwell." Heero's sharp tones cut through the swelling
animosity. "Name-calling will get us nowhere."
The braided pilot scowled ominously, but threw himself back down in his
seat, eyes burning a furious hole in the floor.
"For what it's worth, I think all of us have had to move beyond whatever
our original motivations were," 05 stated. "Which is why I am here. I
am not so arrogant that I cannot see how five may accomplish what is impossible
Heero's head tilted to one side as he studied the other boy.
"I know someone who could use you. She's based in the States for now,
but she's remained in contact with the rebel cels in China. Eventually,
they'll retake the country... or die trying."
"Po." Wufei's mouth curved. "Still fighting."
The two pilots smirked at each other.
"Guess this is where I tell you guys that I'm headin' back to the black."
Heero's head whipped around, his cobalt gaze meeting and holding violet.
"What are you talking about, Maxwell?"
Duo's grin was lopsided and oddly affectionate.
"Talked to Howard, soon 's I got this baby back." He rapped his knuckles
against his terminal. "He's leavin', too. Offered me a chance to make
things go boom."
Duo shook his head.
"Know what you're gonna say Quat, so don't bother. You guys all got stuff
goin' on down here. We gotta have at least one person up there. Can't
afford not to. Might as well be me."
"Maxwell." Duo's eyes returned to Heero's. "I don't... this is not a sound
plan. You are not-,"
" 'M fine, Hee-man." The laughing caress was back. "I've got a cold...
so what? It'll clear before we hit the burn. The rest of me ain't gonna
be any better or worse, wherever I am."
Heero opened his mouth again, but a soft beep from Quatre's wristband
halted his words. The blonde's brows puckered in a puzzled frown as he
studied the flashing code.
"I'm terribly sorry... this is a private transmission. If you all will
"He's so freakin' polite it makes my teeth hurt," Duo groused as soon
as the blonde had disappeared.
"I suppose you'd prefer a heavy dose of profanity, Maxwell?" Wufei inquired.
"At least I'd know what to say back."
Duo grinned insolently as Chang rolled his eyes then caught the disc Barton
"Contact information," the green-eyed pilot said. "The Winners' reach
is long and the Maguanacs have a lot of pull in certain places. If you
need to reach Quatre or myself, or have to go to ground, that will help.
Destroy the disc after you download."
"No shit." Duo's tone was sarcastic, but his smile was genuine. "Thanks
man. 'Preciate it."
Chang looked down at the silvery sliver he held, turning it in a gentle
circle and studying the resulting sheen.
"Do we know where Merquise and Kushrenada are?" he asked, the question
01 and 02 exchanged glances.
"Kushrenada is still in Spain," Heero said slowly. "I believe Romefeller
has him confined to one of his estates. Merquise... the Sweepers helped
him get off-world after he told them where to find Wing. That's all I
When Wufei raised his head, his eyes were utterly blank. Duo's skin crawled
at the sheer nothing in their dark depths.
"Let us hope things remain as they are, then," 05 said softly, and rose.
Midnight sought cobalt.
"You will be visiting Europe, I believe. Give my regards to his Excellency
and I will relay yours to... the Major."
Something that might have been a smile played about Heero Yuy's lips as
Chang Wufei bowed to the room in general before turning on his heel. The
remaining three listened to his retreating steps until a soft noise from
the hall's archway claimed their attention.
Quatre stood there, one hand gripping the frame. His face, always pale,
was completely bloodless, his lips retaining not a hint of color.
Trowa moved even as his lover swayed, catching Quatre before the blonde
hit the floor. Lifting the slighter boy, he deposited him on one of the
couches in a sitting position, holding his head between his knees.
Duo dropped down in front of his friend, worry evident in his eyes.
"C'mon, man, breathe." He rubbed a hand over 04's back, sweeping strokes
meant to calm. "You gotta slow it down, Quat, you're hyperventillatin'.
Look at me, 'kay?"
The golden head rose and hazy sky-blue blinked rapidly.
" 'Kay, now watch me... here." Grabbing one of Quatre's hands, he placed
it on his chest, just over his heart. "Feel it? Like that, man."
The blonde's panting breaths slowed, steadied. Cloudy eyes focused.
The black-clad pilot grinned widely.
"Yeah, Q. Christ, you scared the shit outta me... Tro and Hee-man too.
What the fuck?"
To the horror of his companions, two crystalline drops welled in Quatre
Rabera Winner's eyes. Sandrock's dauntless pilot was... crying?
No further tears followed those first, though, and Quatre raised a glistening
gaze to Trowa's.
"The transmission... it was my sister, Iria. She said... she told me...
he's dead. They killed my father."
"Never change, do ya, Yuy? Always gotta sneak off without even a 'later,
Closing the cabin's front door quietly behind him, Heero stepped forward
onto the porch and turned to face the slender form posed negligently against
one log wall.
"I did not wish to disturb Barton or Winner. And you were not in the room."
An exasperated sigh escaped the braided boy as he shoved away from his
prop and slunk over to stand beside Wing's pilot.
"Was doin' my wash. Wouldn't a' been that hard to find me." Tilting his
chin slightly, Duo studied Heero's face. "Didn't notice before but...
you've put on some height. Couple inches, pro'ly. Gotta look up at ya,
Heero shifted uncomfortably.
"We're not even sixteen, Maxwell. You've got years before your growth
The other boy shrugged dismissively.
"Mebbe so. But I also got years a' starvation and malnutrition behind
me. Can't say I expect much from this here body. Was a runt from the get-go,
anyway. 'S what Solo used to call me."
"Yeah." Duo's grin shone white against the dusky twilight. "Either that
or 'kid'. Didn't really have a name back then."
There was any number of questions Heero wanted to ask. Why didn't you
have a name? What happened to your parents? Who was Solo?
But he knew from personal experience that the answers would not be pleasant
for either of them. Better to leave well-enough alone.
Stepping around Duo, he dropped from the porch onto spongy soil, his boots
sinking a bit into the still-sodden loam. As expected, his companion hopped
down beside him, ambling along in Heero's wake, hands shoved deep into
the pockets of his odd jodhpur-style pants.
When the ground beneath their feet began to tremble, both boys paused.
The low rumble grew to a roar and Chang's Gundam rose suddenly from their
wooded surroundings, a sleek slash of white and scarlet against the horizon's
Wind whipped their hair and the trees, and fragile greenery flattened
as Nataku went airborne. They watched it's trajectory until it vanished
before resuming their trek.
"Chang got some damn nice hardware upgrades, doncha think? The docs are
good for somethin', I guess."
Heero snorted at 02's cheerfully dismissive words.
"As you say."
Duo slanted him a look from under thick lashes.
"You pissed at 'em, too?"
The words touched a raw place inside Heero he hadn't even known was there.
He halted abruptly in his tracks, surprising a startled yelp from Duo,
who nearly ran into him. He didn't even notice; his sight turned completely
"I followed orders. Did as I was told. What good did that do? Noventa
and the rest of the doves... dead. The best hope for peace between the
colonies and earth just... gone. My fault.
In Siberia, I believed J's decision for the best. I was selfishly relieved
that my part would finally be over. Barton didn't agree, though, and when
I woke, there were no easy answers... no clear direction. So I did what
I felt was right."
Turning, Heero found deep violet fixed intently on him, a small frown
of concentration between Maxwell's winged brows.
"J sent me to kill you," he continued awkwardly. "I did what I thought
was right then, too. What you said, earlier... you were correct. There
is no good or bad in this war, only a huge political grey area. And until
I know who I'm fighting and why, I refuse to kill, simply because I was
Duo cocked his head to one side.
"What the hell you been doin' all month?"
"Reconnaissance. And... I was in Sanq for a while."
"The Peacecraft girl?"
Nodding, Heero pushed forward through a stand of firs. He could feel Duo
moving in synch with him, a silent but steady presence at his shoulder.
The silence was odd. The solid reliability... wasn't.
Over the last few months Heero had come to realize that he depended on
the other pilot for many things and reasons, not the least of which was
simply to be there. To exist. A universe without Duo Maxwell in
it was inherently wrong and Heero Yuy had no intention of inhabiting such
"Uh, Yuy... your stop."
Startled from his thoughts, Heero looked up to find the edges of Wing's
camouflage nets confronting him. Duo was already running forward, shoving
at mesh and leaves, agilely scaling one shining gundanium limb.
"C'mon, it'll go faster with both of us!"
It didn't take long for them to uncover the white Gundam. Heero had left
Wing in a reclining position, submersing the distinctive coloration within
the trees' protective skirts.
"Man, you really need to do something about your paint job. I don't have
even half this much trouble with Scythe."
The corners of Heero's mouth canted upwards.
"I was thinking that, myself. How much do you think Howard would charge
Duo squinted at the brilliantly white mecha.
"Well, you'd want something that'd blend, so that would mean at least
three different shades. Add in the detailing... I dunno. I mean, you're
lookin' at several thousand credits, easy."
If Duo hadn't heard Yuy's strangled choking just this morning, he'd have
thought 01 was having an attack of some kind. Now he knew better. That
weird noise was just his so-called friend enjoying a laugh at Duo's expense.
"Well, you asked," he snarked in a voice that tried to be haughty, but
came out more stuffy than anything else. His nose was still leaking, damn
"It was a joke, Maxwell. You know... like those off-color one-liners you
love to throw around."
Flushing, Duo glared at Heero's backside, which was presently helping
his legs propel him up Wing's chest towards the cockpit. Plopping himself
down on the mecha's wide shoulder, Duo watched the other boy swing himself
into the open hatch.
"Think you could answer me somethin' afore ya bug out?!"
Heero stuck his head back out of the hatch.
"Come up here if you want to talk, Maxwell. This isn't the time or place
for a shouting match."
Grinning like an idiot, Duo scrambled to the highest point on Wing's shoulder
and leaped, launching himself forward into empty space. Before he could
grab the cockpit's protruding edge, hands like titanium fastened around
his wrists in a brutal grip and yanked him bodily through the hatch.
When his head stopped spinning, he found himself sitting on a tiny patch
of floor beside the command chair, with a thunderously furious Heero Yuy
swearing at him in Japanese. Well, he was pretty sure it was Japanese.
Couldn't be positive, seeing as he didn't understand a damn word of the
lingo, but since this was Heero...
"...bakayaro! Ahondara mubo!"
"Yeah, yeah, I got it... I got it, Heero! Damn. Shut up already, you're
givin' me a headache."
"You... you American!"
Duo laughed. Then laughed some more. Laughed until his now nonexistent
stitches felt like they'd tear open.
"Oh fuck... omigod... Heero you shoulda seen your face when you said that.
It was just too goddamn perfect."
Heero's expression froze. The dark-haired pilot turned so that he faced
away from the provoking death-wish sprawled across his cockpit.
Duo's laughter trailed off as he noticed the rigid set of Heero's shoulders.
The other boy's fists were clenched so tightly, their knuckles had gone
Well, hell, Duo thought, wonder an expanding warmth within his chest.
Yuy was... scared. For me. I totally scared the shit out of him.
Rising carefully, he took a step forward and cautiously extended one hand.
"Yuy? Heero. Heero, I-,"
Yuy whirled before Duo's fingers could touch him. Enraged cobalt stabbed
icy fire through Duo's cringing core.
"Never mind the fact that you are barely healed. And forget that you've
had no real PT for three months. That was still one of the stupidest stunts
you've ever pulled, Maxwell. You know better than that!"
Duo's temper, never his most stable of components, rose to meet 01's ire.
"Oh yeah? Well, what the fuck gives you the right to pass judgment on
me, Suicide Boy?! I didn't see a whole lotta good sense involved
when you jumped outta a twenty-odd storey building... without opening
your damn chute!!"
"Right? I've killed for you, Maxwell. You, not the war. Don't talk to
me about rights. You have no right to spend what's mine."
"Oh, for chrissakes, don't point that old 'save a life, it's yours' saw
my way, Yuy, I don't even get why you did that-,"
Thin, strong fingers whipped out, grabbing the shorter boy by his shirtfront
and hauling him so close, their noses nearly touched.
"Because they hurt you, Duo," Heero hissed. "They. Hurt. You.
I did it because I care what happens to you, you insane baka!"
"If you care so much, then what the hell was that bit with the self-destruct
bullshit all about, huh?!"
"It was about honor! Something ignorant gaijin like you have no
The Japanese pilot's voice rose to a shout on the last word and Duo, fury
at the boiling point, hauled back and landed a solid right hook across
one elegantly-sharp cheekbone.
Heero staggered backwards into the console as Duo slumped against a curving
gundanium wall, horror growing inside him along with the blossoming contusion
on the other boy's cheek.
"Heero." He licked suddenly dry lips. "Heero, I'm..."
Slim digits explored the blood-infused swelling, probed gingerly at bruised
bone. Faint surprise filled the dark blue eyes that searched out Duo's
pale, worried face.
"Direct hit, Maxwell."
Shock was the only thing Duo could feel as -- perhaps for the first time
in his existence -- Heero Yuy smiled. Really honest-to-god smiled. And
shock was what kept him from protesting when those glittering, deep-ocean
eyes narrowed and he was once again seized and lifted and... kissed.
like nothing else
in his life, it was
wrapped up in one
small, wiry form, it was
perfect, it was
"I don't want you going back up there."
"Have to, babe... Tro's gotta report in for duty in two days if we wanna
keep an inside eye on Romefeller, Chang's in Montana and you're headin'
back to the Continent. That leaves little ol' me to make sure Q doesn't
do somethin' stoooopid, y'know?"
"Your face is too well-known in the colonies. And if you won't cut your
"You know I won't."
"Look, how much trouble am I gonna get into on L4, surrounded by a private
army? Wait, don't answer that... okay, laughing's even worse. Ya know,
I almost wish you were still missin' your sense a' hummph."
"I've found the correct procedure for shutting you up, it seems."
"Works for me. I -- uh -- guess I should... let you get goin', yeah?"
"It is not necessary that I leave right this moment. Unless you'd prefer...?"
"Hell, no, I wouldn't! Now who's bein' a dumbass?"
"Look, do ya think...?"
"Spit it out, Maxwell."
"Keep your shirt on, Yuy. Or don't, in this case. Just... stay. For tonight,
"That is acceptable."
"Yeah? Cool! You can sleep in the bed, this time."
A wry glance.
"My back thanks you."
There was a snort of laughter and quiet descended briefly, only to be
breached by a sleepy tone.
" 'S nice, yeah?"
"Yes. I... did not predict that aspect."
"Sexual congress has not been like this before."
"Raw. All encompassing. And yet... peaceful."
"Sheesh, Yuy, don't go all poetic on me."
"I am not. It is only... you are unexpectedly important, Duo Maxwell.
And I find I like that."
"Glad to hear it Hee-man. Now shut up and let me go to sleep. You're seriously
failing in your duties as pillow."
"Forgive my dereliction. I'm feeling... somewhat distracted, at the moment."
"Oh. Ah... I -- mmmm -- see. Well, then, soldier... carry on."
Fin... for the present.
to Ravengirl's fic]