Author: Bane's Desire
see chao. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

A Grudging Seduction: Chapter Sixteen
Lost and Found

The throbbing in his head was the first thing Duo sensed as consciousness returned, followed by the knowledge that he was pinned down. He lay still, resisting the urge to moan as he stretched his senses out to get a grasp of the situation. It was quiet and he was still too damn cold. Remembering that he had fought without a stitch of clothing on, he tried to discern whether or not he was in the same bare state. There was definitely a blanket over his body and the roughness of it indicated that he was indeed naked beneath it.

Heero.

His breath caught in his throat as his thoughts turned to his partner. Did he get out? Was he hurt? He supposed he'd only learn the answers to his questions when he quit playing that he was sleeping. Opening his eyes, he blinked to clear his vision and saw a stark white ceiling above him. With a turn of his head he realized he was in the same cell as before, the only difference being that he was alone. The blanket that Heero had worn lay on the other bed, in the same position from where the other boy left it when he'd attacked the soldier nearest him during their desperate attempt to escape.

His head and eyes turned up to see his wrists were handcuffed to the metal railing of his bed. There wasn't and easy way that he could pick the locks, but maybe if he dislocated his thumb he could slip his wrist out of the restraint and then unlock the other cuff.

"I see you're awake." The doctor he'd met earlier that morning spoke to him from behind the cell door. Keying the commands, the lock opened and the man entered the cell seemingly without fear.

"Where's 01?" Duo asked.

"The other boy?" the doctor asked, then shook his head and frowned deeply. "The commander will tell you what he wants you to know."

Fine, Duo thought. Two people can play the silent game. He clamped his mouth shut and glared at the man.

"Are you warm enough?"

Duo set his chin stubbornly, not willing to give the man the satisfaction of an answer. He figured that if the idiot couldn't see the goose bumps on his arms he was too stupid to be acknowledged.

After studying him for a moment, the doctor went to the other bed, retrieved the blanket, brought it over and placed it on top of him.

"No need for you to be more uncomfortable than you already are," the man said, his voice and face neutral. He brought out his stethoscope, put it in place in his ears, and pulled down the blankets just enough to listen to his patient's heart and then his lungs. Duo refused to look at the man and pressed his lips firmly together when he was asked how he felt and refused to cough or open his mouth when asked. With a dissatisfied sigh, the man gave up and left the room. The braided teen's thoughts were then free to turn back to worrying about his partner again. After a few minutes he decided that worrying would get him no where, he put his mind to work on how to get out of the situation he now found himself in.

Ten minutes later the base commander stood at his cell door, his forehead furrowed deeply with displeasure as he unlocked and entered the cell room. He paused as he glared down at the boy handcuffed into place, formulating his thoughts and emotions before speaking. He cleared his throat and said, "It's unfortunate that my men decided to act against my orders," he began, not sounding particularly apologetic. "But more unfortunate for your friend who decided to make a break for his freedom. It cost him his life and me the chance to turn him over alive for questioning." He then smiled balefully, causing a chill to go up Duo's spine that had nothing to do with being cold. "But I still have you, don't I?"

The sudden pain that shot through Duo's heart at the man's announcement almost caused the American's facial mask to slip and show his emotions, but seeing the OZ commander standing above him and studying his face for a reaction, he held it in check.

The commander continued. "He got as far as the foyer before he attacked a soldier and was spotted by another guard out front. He was shot repeatedly as he exited the building. If it's any consolation, it took eight bullets before he went down." The man spoke in a cool voice, his manner detached as Duo's stomach rebelled at the idea of Heero being dead. "What the hell do they feed you colony brats to make you so damn tough?"

"Hardship and pain," Duo replied angrily. "It's our steady diet."

The commander sighed with impatience and looked at his watch. "Only a couple more hours and my responsibility for you ends. As far as I'm concerned, it can't come a moment too soon," he added with a frown. "I'm afraid if you're hungry or have to use the bathroom facilities, you're going to have to wait until they arrive. I won't be taking any more chances with you." With that said, the commander then turned to leave.

"Yet another denial of simple human rights and necessities." Duo spat out in anger. "OZ is no different from the Alliance. Same horse, just a different color."

The man's steps paused and his body stiffened at the insult, his back to the boy. Then after a brief moment, the commander proceeded out of the cell without turning or giving the boy a reply as he shut the cell door firmly behind him.

The hours of waiting until the expected arrival of the specialized team seemed to go by painstakingly slow for the American, especially with his body fastened to the bed and his arms prickling from the numbness caused by their uncomfortable position over his head. While he lay there, Duo repeated in his mind the information the man had given him. He determined that he must have been out of it for quite a while after he'd been knocked out. He'd heard nothing of Heero's attempted to escape other than seeing him fighting with the other soldier and the yelling in the room as he lost consciousness. If the commander could be believed, his friend had been shot down in his attempt and was dead.

In his mind, he could picture the scene the commander had related to him. The vision of Heero falling to eight bullets brought with it an overwhelming feeling of grief and pain that began in his chest and seemed to spread throughout his body and mind. He cursed his handcuff and jailers, wanting nothing more than to curl up on his side and scream at the unfairness of Heero's death.

Heero. Just thinking about the other boy caused him to swallow down a choking sob. As far as Duo was concerned, Wing's pilot the best of them all, the hope of the colonies and their unspoken leader... and he was gone. Moisture began to prick at his eyes and he valiantly fought to contain it from spilling over to form tears. He couldn't give into his grief and appear weak in front of the enemy. For all he knew there might be a hidden camera focused on him, watching his every move and response.

While suppressing his grief, Duo's thoughts circled round and round in his head, coming up with the conclusion that he'd was a miserable failure. His mission had been to keep Heero from dying, and he'd botched it big time. God help us, he silently prayed, yet not quite sure what he was looking to deity to do in helping with the situation. He kept his eyes focused on ceiling above him until his vision grew too blurred to see anything. He then closed them, his mind frantically going over his immediate circumstances. What were they going to do now? He was in OZ's hands, his fate uncertain and Heero was dead. He didn't know if the other three gundams pilots could win the war by themselves, but he knew without a doubt that even with Heero and himself having been taken out of the picture, the other's would fight to the bitter end.

No! He firmly scolded himself, stopping that train of thought. He wouldn't think in negative terms. One of the last things Heero had said to him was to believe that he would survive, not to let his mind doubt his goal and give up. He would honor Heero by escaping, and he would add yet another reason for his vengeance against those who persecuted the colonies to his already long list of reasons for fighting.

With blurred vision, he looked up to his right hand, caught up in cuffs above his head. He concentrated for a moment, willing himself to put his grief over Heero's death on the back burner until he had time to grieve privately. He pulled his thumb forward and then down, his body flinching slightly at the pain as he pulled his thumb out of its socket. He'd done this several times before when he'd found himself in a tight spot, but practice didn't diminish the fact that it hurt like hell to pull a dislocated thumb through a tight metal cuff.

A short time later and with a bruised, scraped hand, his right arm was free. Duo reached back to his messy braid and searched through the thickest part to find his picks. His fingers paused with a feeling of disbelief. Not finding anything, he began to systematically search one-handed through his braid for the stiff objects he'd always hidden in his hair. Nothing, he thought with dismay. They were gone. He looked up to his other hand and grimaced at the idea of repeating the painful process of freeing it, but at that point in time there was no other alternative. He was set on escaping his cell and getting the hell out of there before the arrival of the specialized team.

Two minutes later saw the pilot of Deathscythe sitting up on the bed and rubbing his sore hands after popping the two thumb joints back into place. His long hair was free of its braid and fell lazily down his back. Wrapping one of the blankets around his shoulders, he approached the cell door and began to study it, trying to figure out how he could get it open. He knew, after only a few moments had passed, that without his tools he would never be able to break open the lock. The frustration he felt at that realization, along with the grief he experienced from losing Heero had built up until he couldn't think rationally, and unwanted tears began to fall from his anguished, red-rimmed eyes.

He covered his face with both aching hands only to find the image of Heero implanted in his mind's eye. Along with the haunting picture of Wing's pilot in action, he mentally replayed Heero's attempts to woo him, of the sweet, chaste kisses that turned fiercely amorous and of Heero's touch that had sent his pulse racing. All those memories produced an painful ache in his heart and caused his throat to tighten.

He should be angry instead of sad, he thought. Heero's importance to him and his passing had caused the orphan from L-2 to re-visit those feelings he'd never wanted to feel again: the crushing pain of grief and loss. It was almost unbearable. An overwhelming feeling of regret filled him for what had and hadn't happened between Heero and himself. If he had to do it all over again, he'd give into Heero's advances and offer him the affection and devotion he desired without second guessing himself. But there were no do-overs, no future for Heero Yuy, the kid soldier from Colony L-1. He was now destined to be yet another haunting memory in his mind, becoming one more person in his mental shrine that he'd dedicated to his deceased loved ones killed before their time. With a stifled sob, he suddenly realized how much the other teen had come to mean to him and that this revelation had, unfortunately, come much too late.

Despite his determination not to cry, his body shook with the emotions he struggled to suppress over the what-might-have-beens that were running through his grief-stricken mind.

After a few moments of allowing himself time to grieve, the American pulled himself together as an icy resolve took over and a look of determination formed on his face. He was going to escape and exact his revenge. He would once again become Shinigami and destroy his enemies because they'd made him feel this way again. With the palm of his hands he harshly brushed away the moisture that wet his cheeks and considered his options. Whatever he could do to escape, he'd do it in order to prevent OZ from keeping him prisoner. His mind re-worked the possibilities, and putting thought into action, he flipped the mattress from off his bed and set to work.

Duo knees and hands ached as he continued to focus his full attention on the locking mechanism on his cell door even as the light outside the barred window darkened. His fingers ached as he worked with the wire he'd pulled free from the bed frame. He'd been left alone for the remainder of the day with OZ believing he was either too dangerous to be checked on or that he was secured enough that they needn't bother.

The click of the door of holding the cells signaled his time for escape was nearing an end. He rose on shaky legs and scrambled back towards his bed, now put back in order, and sat down on it. There was no need to hide the fact that he'd slipped the handcuffs off; he'd let them spend time wondering how he'd done it, but he did wrap the blankets around himself, hoping to maintain some modesty. One blanket was tucked around his hips and legs and the other over his shoulders.

He looked up to see five men dressed in standard khaki-colored uniforms that signified OZ on the Earth's sphere. Looking at a piece of paper in his hand, one of the men keyed in numbers, unlocking the cell door. All five entered. Two of the men carried guns in their hands and another two were armed with long metal poles with rubber grips on the handles, their fingers poised above a red button. The man in the lead position was tall, powerfully built and had black hair and a thin mustache on his lean, angular face. He walked into the cell with an air of authority and confidence that Duo had come to attribute to being a typical OZ leader.

"Quite a prize we have today, fellas," the lead man said to the four behind him while never taking his eyes off the long-haired boy. "We have the notorious pilot 02. We've been looking forward to getting our hands on you for a long while now, kid, and now the party begins."

Duo refused to cringe or back away like a frightened child. He faced the man coming towards him giving him a steady glare that stayed intact until he was abruptly and without warning, backhanded across the face, his head whipping to the side with the force of the blow. His eyes watered in reaction to the pain, but slowly, he turned to face his attacker again, his eyes blazing hatred.

"Not so tough now are you, little boy? Without your Gundam, you're just a child." Another sudden yet solid blow to his head sent his mind reeling.

"Is this violence really necessary?" The familiar voice of the doctor broke through the tense atmosphere of the cell room.

"Did you see what he did to those guards at the Messato plant?" the leader asked angrily.

"I did," the doctor replied from outside the cell. "But they were at least quick kills, they were not tortured. There are conventions of war we must adhere to," he reminded the man who was obviously in charge.

"Just mind your business, old man," the soldier standing over Duo snarled derisively. "We're trained to handle these five kids and we'll do our job within the parameters of our orders."

Duo had thick saliva pooling in his mouth and the taste similar to copper, which meant his lip or inner cheek was bleeding, he couldn't tell which because his entire mouth stung from the heavy-handed blows. He spit the offensive liquid out and onto the floor, then looked up at the arrogantly smirking man towering above him once again, readying himself for the next hit and hoping it might knock him out and make him forget about his loss that day.

"Now let's see, where were we?" the man mocked him as the four standing behind him chuckled darkly. Despite his attempt at dodging the blow, the soldier's hand fell once again against the Duo's face, almost succeeding into knocking the boy over. Then grabbing hold of the teenager's arm, he hauled the wounded boy up to his feet, ignoring the blanket over his shoulders that fell to the floor as he planted his fist into the American's unprotected stomach. Duo retaliated by trying to hit back with hand and foot blows that seemed all too ineffective when deflected by the trained ebony haired man.

After several minutes of hand-to-hand fighting, Duo coughed and spat out more blood-tainted saliva and readied himself for the next attack as well as he could on unsteady legs. The man beating the crap out of him had received only minimal damage from his own attempts to strike back, while he was breathing heavily and his entire body was in a cold sweat and in pain from the thorough beating. His only satisfaction was seeing one of the man's dark eyes was red and swelling and a trickle of blood was dripping from his nose.

In a moment of clarity, Duo realized he hadn't been asked any questions and that there had be no tirades about the killing and damage attributed to him or the gundams in general. It was suddenly clear that these men were focused solely on causing him bodily harm, not gaining information or revenge. He looked up at his attacker to see the man still wearing a satisfied smirk, absently rubbing the knuckles of his right hand that had been having a good work out.

"If you'll just stay down the next time I knock you down, I'll stop... for a while," he said condescendingly.

Duo thought darkly that the only way he'd stay down was if he was knocked unconscious or dead. He wouldn't give the arrogant son of a bitch the satisfaction of taking the easy way out. Despite his pained body, he straightened himself and stood poised, ready for the next attack. He felt a bit distracted by the blanket slipping from around his waist, but decided to let it go. He'd have more mobility if his legs were free anyway.

The man shook his head, his nefarious grin still in place. "Well, I'm happy to accommodate you," he said in reply to Duo's stance, then flew into action.

The blanket fell from his hips and Duo used his new freedom to full advantage and leapt, landing a blow to the man's stomach with one foot, then dropped and with a quick spin, attempting to knock his assailant's legs out from under him. His plan was stymied by having his ankle grabbed and twisted, flipping him to land with a loud smack that echoed slightly in the cell as his bare flesh slammed hard onto the cold linoleum floor. He kicked and squirmed, trying to loosen the hold, but the grip was painful as his bones in his ankle were ground together.

"I've had enough," the man fighting him suddenly announced in a grim voice. "Hit his legs."

Frantic as to what that meant, Duo turned his head to see the two men with the metal rods approach him, the cold metal poles hit the back of his thighs and then with twin clicks sounding as the buttons were pushed, dual jolts of electricity shocked his limbs, making his body spasm as it coursed through him. He was only vaguely aware that he involuntarily screamed from the pain. Then suddenly it was gone, though the numbness and pain lingered. Duo lay on his belly gasping for air as tears stung his eyes. He was horrified to find his legs were completely numb and useless to him.

"As you've probably figured out, his whole exercise was to render you incapable of trying to escape," his main attacker said in a blase voice. "We know from past experiences that you pilots will go to extreme measures whether in battle, gaining information or trying to escape, to get what you want. This just ensures that we safely transport you to Moscow without any trouble or attempt by you to escape."

Duo closed his eyes in defeat. What could he say? The man had done his job well. The lower half of his body was numb and completely useless and his upper body was beaten so thoroughly that he doubted he could move. He let go, willing the approaching darkness to ensnare him. But as he found himself at the edge of unconsciousness, he heard a distant siren go off, and then another one followed a moment later.

"What the hell is going on?" the lead haired man growled out.

"I'll find out," one of the other men answered, and the sound of footsteps signaled that he left the cell rapidly.

Feeling his arm grabbed, Duo offered no resistance as he was pulled up by rough hands from the floor. He wasn't able to stifle the moan that escaped his lips at the overwhelming pain the movement brought. With guilt he hoped that he'd soon slip into a state of oblivion in order to escape the reality of what was happening to him.

In the distance he thought he heard yelling and guns being fired. Rapit footsteps came again and an anxious voice hissed. "It's a Gundam!"

"Shit!" The leader swore. "Help me get this kid wrapped up in the blankets. We can try to make a run for the transport."

With his eyes closed, Duo vaguely wondered who was attacking the base. Heero was dead, he thought numbly, so it couldn't be him. Maybe Relena had contacted Quatre earlier than requested and he had traced them to this base and was attempting a rescue. Too late, he thought glumly to himself, and his chest tightened with his grief. Heero was dead, the rescue was too late.

He couldn't feel much, his body being numb from the waist down and the upper half hurt too much from the beating to distinguish if one area hurt more than any other, but he was somewhat aware that he was being placed on the floor again and that the rough blankets were being wrapped around his naked, limp and battered body. He found it disconcerting that even his head was being covered up, but couldn't do a thing to prevent it.

Before his mummied-wrapped body was picked up to leave the cell, a loud, terrible and grating sound, like that of metal being ripped apart and shredded, rent the air. The men surrounding him shouted in fear and alarm as small unseen objects hit his blanket-wrapped body. Duo dimly noted that hands touching him were suddenly gone and he sensed that he'd been abandoned, probably left behind looking like a rolled-up rug, he thought and would have laughed at the mental picture if it wouldn't have hurt.

The floor beneath him trembled as he felt something slam into the its surface not far from where he lay. Then something large and cold began pushing his trapped body around, as if testing to see what lay within the confines of the blankets. He moaned as the pain caused by the movement became almost unbearable and inched him even closer to the welcoming darkness as he continued to hover at the brink of consciousness. The surface beneath him shifted as he felt himself being lifted up along with the flooring. He could feel the objects on either side of him being pushed away as well as the linoleum he'd been laying on as he was settled onto something solid, cold and unyielding. The sensation of being lifted higher into the air was felt along with an enveloping cold that seeped through his blankets. He knew without a doubt that he was being held in a gundam's protective hand, even before the fingers of that hand wrapped around him, sheltering him like a cocoon.

His body began to tremble and he knew it was from a combination of being in shock, cold and feeling relief at being rescued. He smiled at feeling the familiar vibration of the unidentified gundam as it powering up seconds before it bolted into the sky, leaving behind the base and OZ pathetically firing their useless weapons at after it. The sudden pull of g's on his battered body quickly brought him over the edge into unconsciousness, a state in which he remained throughout the flight in the unknown gundam's hand.

Through layers of darkness, pain and the approach of haunting memories, Duo felt himself being drawn out of the numbing voided he'd been in by a welcomed and enveloping warmth. He felt as if he were immersed and surrounded by heat as it slowly permeated the cold that went much deeper inside of him than just his bones. It was a most otherworldly feeling he was experiencing as he balanced on the borders of a dream-like state and reality.

As he edged closer to wakefulness, his body stirred of it's own accord. His mind registering that his legs felt odd, numb and rubbery as he tried to move them. The muscles in his thighs twitched oddly and ached fiercely. He dimly wondered why his body felt both heavy and yet weightless, and it seemed as if he were floating in the warmth that surrounded him. That warmth strangely comforted him. He wondered for a moment if what he was feeling was anything like what a baby experienced in its mother's womb: being secure, protected and safe.

That feeling fell away much too quickly as his memories came back in a rush. He remembered now; Heero was gone. That painful memory accompanied mental clarity. He realized that he was partially submerged in warm water and that someone was behind him and there were arms that came around his body from under his arms, keeping his face just above the water's edge.

Panic ensued with that new knowledge and his heart began to pound furiously. He wondered if he was going to undergo some weird form of OZ torture. Maybe they would hold his head under water, and that idea terrified him after his experience just a few nights ago when he and Heero had crashed a boat into a buoy. Acting instinctively, he suddenly lunged forward in an attempt to escape his captor. His blurred eyes snapped open to see that he was in an enormous white bathroom with mirrors all around the large bathtub he was sitting in as the hands behind him grappled for purchase on his wet body.

"Duo."

His heart rose up and seemed to get stuck in his throat as he recognized the voice coming from behind him. With stunned disbelief he turned to look over his shoulder. Through moisture-filled eyes he saw Heero, his chest bare as he sat at the back of the bathtub looking healthy and whole. Without thinking, Duo threw himself against the Wing pilot's chest, ignoring the large splash of water that he caused, soaking their faces and slapping over the top edge of the bathtub onto the tiled floor. Wrapping his arms around the other teen's neck, the American held tightly to the boy he thought he'd lost, fearful the body he was holding might be an apparition that could slip away.

"Shh," Heero soothed the boy in his arms, rubbing his wet, calloused hand in a comforting manner, up and down on Duo's bare back. "I've got you. You're safe." He held the trembling body against his chest, careful of the numerous bruises and stroking the long, loose hair that fanned out behind Duo as it floated on surface of the deep bath water.

"They told me you were dead," Duo whispered in a tight, emotional voice. "I thought I failed, that I was left alone again."

"You didn't fail. I got out of the cell during your diversion," Heero replied. "But when I saw you go down I realized I couldn't escape with you being unconscious, so I decided to make a break for it. I got out of the cell door and shut it behind me, locking the three soldiers in with you, then took down a guard in the foyer of the detention center, stole his clothes and escaped the base. I went directly to Wing and came back to get you." Guilt sounded in his voice as he added, "I'm sorry I didn't arrive sooner, that I didn't prevent them from hurting you further."

"I don't care," Duo whispered, his voice hitching slightly. "As long as you're alive, I don't care what happened."

They sat there for a long while, just holding each other. Duo didn't ever want to leave this comfort and warmth that he'd felt so seldom during his fifteen years of life. But reality came back to him as the water slowly began to cool. With his head resting comfortably and heavy on Heero's shoulder, he took a look at the room they were in and asked in a bemused voice. "Why are we in a bathtub? Where are we?"

Heero's steady heartbeat was the principle sound under his right ear that offered continued comfort while he listened for the Japanese boy's answer. "We're in a vacated home in Singapore that belongs to friends of the Winner family," Heero explained, then continued. "I couldn't seem to get you warm up after we arrived. Your lips and extremities were bluing and even unconscious, your body shook from the cold. I presumed you were in shock from the beating, and being flown in Wing's hand for forty-five minutes also took its toll on your body. I decided a hot bath would heat you up more quickly than blankets on a bed."

Duo let a hand stray down to feel his hip, and found nothing covering his skin. "Any reason why I'm naked?" he asked, hiding his flushed face against Heero's neck.

"How else do you take a bath?" Heero replied without humor. "Frankly, you were only dressed in blankets when I found you and they wouldn't be too comfortable in here with us, would they?"

Duo moved to lean his head over the side of the bathtub to see the two familiar blankets on the bathroom floor. They were spread out, and it was obvious to him that Heero had unwrapped him like a Christmas present only to find him naked as a J-bird. He felt his face getting hot with embarrassment. Nothing like being mortified to chase away hypothermia, he thought to himself.

"What?" Heero asked, sensing his mood change.

"This is a bit awkward," Duo answered.

"I don't feel awkward," Heero replied casually while nuzzling his nose against the side of Duo's head.

Tread carefully, Duo's mind warned him. Though his first impulse was to deny his growing need for his fellow pilot, he reminded himself how he'd felt earlier that day, of the things he'd said to himself when he believed that Heero was dead. 'Am I really that fickle?' he asked himself. 'Do I really not know myself or my mind? Have my feelings for Heero changed now that I find he's was very much alive and sitting naked in the over-sized bathtub with me?'

He felt Heero's lips ghost over his temple to place a chaste kiss there, causing a shiver of desire to begin in his belly and travel to the rest of his exposed body.

"Are you alright?" Heero asked, concern laced within his question.

Other than having questions running through his mind like a herd of wild horses, Duo didn't know how he was. He took a moment to assess the condition of his body and realized as he focused on it that he felt terrible. His body ached as if he'd been run over by a transport truck, and though his chilled limbs were warming, his legs still tingled uncomfortably and felt rubbery. There was also a nagging hollowness in the pit of his stomach that was no doubt the result of a lack of food for that day. All in all, he felt like a wrung-out, thoroughly used wash rag. "I feel like hell," he admitted at last, and fervently hoped that he wasn't going to be asked to move from his comforting position in Heero's arms.

"Here, maybe this will help." Heero stretched his arm out to the inside rim of the bathtub and depressed a button inlaid into the fiberglass form. From jet's set around the inside of the tub, water burst into motion, shooting out with considerable force and sending bubbles across the surface of the water. Heero angled their bodies around so that he could still hold onto Duo while the valve behind them would massage the bruised and battered body.

It was painful at first, the forceful flow of water hitting his abused flesh, but after several moments of getting used to it, Duo relaxed and began to enjoy the therapeutic aspect of a jet-fitted bathtub.

After quietly relaxing for several minutes, Heero shifted them both again so that the pulsing jets on the side would be made useful on the bruised legs.

"Damn, but this feels good," Duo moaned, sinking further into the water, knowing without a doubt that Heero wouldn't let his face slide under the surface. The warmth and the steady pulsing made not only his body feel lethargic, but his mind also. He let his limbs float to the water's surface and concentrated on relaxing his body and mind.

He didn't know how long they lingered in the decadent bathtub before Heero stopped the jets with a push of a button. "We should get out now," he told his partner in a quiet voice. "I'm sure you're hungry and thirsty."

"I'm starving," Duo agreed sleepily. "But I think I'm too tired to do anything about it."

Heero tilted his bath companion up and forward into a sitting position and when he was sure Duo could maintain the position, he climbed out of the tub where he quickly dried off and placed the towel around his waist. Then with another towel draped over his shoulder, he bent over the large step to the deep basin and put out his hands. "Give me your hands and I'll help you get out," he instructed the half-asleep American.

Duo nodded and didn't bother stifling a large yawn as he complied with the instructions. He moved to get up on his knees, then reached out and put his hands into Heero's more than capable ones. Slowly, he stood on shaky and unstable legs and let the other boy help him exit the cooling bath water.

With his hands braced against the towel rack where Heero had set them, Duo breathing slowed and he struggled to keep his eyes open as Heero patted a towel down his wet hair and skin. "I don't know, Heero, if this partnership is working out," he began in a tired voice attempting to be humorous. "Working together seems to be hazardous to my health."

Heero's hands paused for only a moment, then began working again, wrapping the long towel-dried hair in the large bath towel. He then spoke as he began to dry off the other pilot's damp body, beginning at Duo's shoulders. "I don't think it's so much working with me that's causing your injuries as it is the acceptance of our missions. Fighting a war is not for the faint of heart. We get hurt because we accept the risks we don't want anyone else to take."

As Heero spoke, his towel-wrapped hand slowly moved across Duo's chest, gently patting away excess moisture from his solar plexis, his underarms and then moved to the flat area of his belly. As his reply ended, he moved to tackle the rest of the body under his hands with the intent of thoroughly drying every inch of the American's bruised and damp skin.

After his chest and back had been carefully dried, Duo remained resolutely still, valiantly attempting to control his shaking legs and breathing as he leaned heavily against the wall while Heero, most likely aware of his condition, continued with the same methodical system of drying him off. Duo thought for a moment that he should be embarrassed, or at least self-conscious at the other boy's close proximity and scrutiny of his body. He was, after all, on the thin side, almost skinny in comparison to Heero's more muscled body. Or maybe he should be repulsed by Heero's intimate touch, that he should be feeling something other than the growing warmth that was currently filling him.

By the time Heero had worked his way up and down Duo's legs, the long haired teen was trembling, his legs feeling even more like rubber than before. Heero took another towel and wrapped it around his waist and carefully tucked it in to secure it. He then put his head under his partner's raised arm and wrapped his own around the slender waist.

"What are those identical round bruises you have on the back of your thighs?" Heero asked as he started to move them out of the large bathroom, leaving the discarded blankets and damp towels on the floor.

"Some sort of stun gun," Duo mumbled his reply. "There were two of them, and whatever the hell they were, they shot electrical jolts through my legs. They still feel funny. My muscles are twitching involuntarily and they're weak."

"Some rest and time should take care of that," Heero assured him as they entered the bedroom.

Duo's fumbling steps faltered even more upon passing the doorframe, and they came to a stop as he took in the expansive and luxurious room. "Hell's bells," he whispered in awe, taking in the white bedding, delicately adorned with a pale gold fleur-de-lys pattern and laying on top of the largest bed he'd ever laid his eyes on. His eyes strayed to the tall narrow windows and the heavy curtains that matched the bedspread. Looking upward, his mouth dropped further at the sight of an impressive-looking crystal chandelier. Wide eyes surveyed the rest of the room to see white furniture with delicately carved legs placed against the walls, the gold trim and knobs of the dressers and stands looked to the American to be made of the real thing, and knowing this home was owned by someone who was a trusted friend of the Winner family, it probably was. Heero moved to take a step forward, but Duo's feet remained planted.

"I don't think I can stay in here," he told his companion in an uncertain voice, not taking his eyes from the expensive decor that was so foreign to him.

Heero turned to look at him, a questioning expression on his face. "Why not? What's wrong with it?"

Shaking his head, Duo answered with a worried frown. "Nothing's wrong, but I'll get it dirty or something. What if I accidentally broke something? I could never replace it."

Heero gave the worried boy a reassuring smile. "Quatre wants us to stay in here. You're going to need some time to recover and he wants you to be comfortable."

"Isn't there a room with less..." He searched for a proper word to describe his need. "ritzy stuff. I mean, I'm just not used to this kind of living. All this white makes me feel nervous. Shit, look at this freak'n carpet. Who in their right mind buys a white carpet?"

"People with more money than they know what to do with it," Heero answered, looking at the room with the same simple-man's eyes as Duo. "But it is a gift from Quatre and we don't want to offend him." Heero started again for the bed and this time Duo went along, no longer resisting.

"No, can't offend Quatre. He'd be hurt if I made you take me to a hotel, wouldn't he?"

"Yes, he would. Despite being a Gundam pilot, he has a very sensitive nature."

Heero set Duo on the bed while he pulled back the covers and took the sham off the fancy pillows to reveal a soft gold, satin-encased pillow underneath that matched the sheets.

"Are you sure I didn't die at that base and that this is heaven? Not that I expect to ever see that place," Duo rushed to say. "Maybe this is some weird kind of hell, where I'm being shown things I've never even dreamed of only to have it all cruelly taken away from me. You know, like the saying, 'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone'."

Heero knelt down in front of Duo, putting his hands on the thoughtful teen's knees and looking up at him through the long fringe of dark brown hair falling in front of his eyes. "Am I one of those things you've dreamed of?" he asked, his eyes searching and guarded.

Duo swallowed nervously. He again remembered his earlier statement, that if he had a second chance, he'd act differently, return Heero's affections without second guessing his own emotions. "When I was told you were dead," he began his answer, and was surprised to hear so much choked emotion in his voice. "I had enough regrets to fill a resource satellite. I realized then how much you mean to me." He leaned forward, eyes intent on the other boy. "I know a relationship like the one you want is risky," he said. "Emotionally at least. I've begun to understand with the way my body reacts to your touch that I'm probably not completely straight, but that doesn't mean this is any easier for me." He paused to lick his lips, his mouth suddenly dry. "But I do know that I need you, Heero, that I'm drawn to you like no one else. I guess it's an pretty good indication of how I feel about you when my heart felt like it was breaking when I thought you'd died and left me behind." He leaned even closer to Heero, whose face was tilted temptingly up towards him, until their lips were only inches apart. "Don't leave me, Heero," he whispered in a low voice. "If I fall for you, I'm going to fall hard. You'll be my only safety net, so don't you ever leave me behind." He then followed his instincts, just as he told himself earlier that day that he would, and eagerly pressed his lips to Heero's.

The kiss was more than just physical contact to both boys, it was permission for Heero to proceed with his advances. With that in mind, the kiss instantly became passionate and desperate, their mouths and tongues began working furiously against each other's.

Heero was trying to be careful, but it was difficult now that Duo was willing to let him continue pursuing him. Yet as their desire for each other mounted, the moans coming from Duo came more from his discomfort than from any pleasure he might had enjoyed earlier. The darker haired boy pulled back, breathing heavily as he tenderly brushed Duo's flushed cheek with his fingertips.

"We have to stop. You're in no condition to continue this."

Duo nodded, not knowing whether to feel disappointed or relieved. Even as battered as he was, Heero's nearness and touch almost overcame his discomfort. He let Heero guide him back onto the bed and to rest his head on the pillow. Once he found a comfortable position, the blankets were pulled over the rest of his body.

"Rest, or sleep if you feel like it," Heero said in a voice that continued to surprise Duo with its softness. "I'm going to see a bout acquiring some clothing for us and prepare you some food. Quatre will most likely come in to check on you, so don't be alarmed if he should suddenly make an appearance."

Duo's eyes opened wide. "You mean he's here?" he asked with dismay. "Is anyone else here? Did they know we were taking a bath together?" He felt himself blushing with embarrassment at the idea of the other pilots knowing about Heero and himself.

"Quatre and Trowa are here, Wufei will arrive in a few days," the other boy answered. "And no, they have no suspicions about us. I informed them that I was going to warm you up in a bath. I didn't tell them I was going to be warming up with you."

Duo relaxed slightly, a movement that was visible to the Wing pilot. His blue eyes darkened as he fixed his gaze on the other teen. "Does a relationship between us trouble you so much that you still feel a need to keep it a secret?"

He wasn't sure, but Duo thought he detected a hint of hurt in Heero's question. "I've told you before, Heero, I just need some time to get used to it myself. Let's see how it goes between us before we involve anyone else in our personal business."

Heero continued to stare at him for a long moment, keeping his thoughts to himself before he abruptly turned on his heel and while still dressed in only a towel wrapped around his waist, he left the room.

Reaching his hand up to his towel-wrapped hair, Duo sighed. This relationship business was certainly complicated. He sensed that he'd either hurt Heero's feelings by not wanting the others to know about them, or he'd somehow disappointed him. Damn, but his hair was going to be a mess to brush out, he thought unhappily as his fingers snagged in a few of the tangled strands that had come free from the towel. At the moment, he was just too damn tired to do much more than frown at that unhappy fact. Feeling a deep weariness coming on, he gave into it and closed his eyes and let himself relax.

If Quatre came to check on him, Duo was blissfully unaware of it as he slept. A full hour passed by until Heero gently shook his shoulder in order to wake him.

"You need to wake up, Duo. Just for a short while," Heero urged the sleeper. "I've brought you some food and you need some water."

The sleepy-eyed teen woke up reluctantly and sluggishly. His stomach felt like it was pressed against his spine and not even his need for sleep could overcome his need for food. Pillows were propped up behind him to make him more comfortable and he gratefully leaned heavily against them as Heero placed grapes in his hand, followed by a cup of broth. After he finished a bottle of water, he also managed to eat two slices of buttered wheat bread. Though not completely satisfied, he'd had enough of the bland and 'safe' food to sate his gnawing hunger as sleep beckoned to him once again.

His eyes were closed as he took his last bite of food. The pillows behind him were carefully removed and he felt himself being lowered down onto a sinfully-comfortable mattress a moment before his head came to rest again on the soft, luxurious pillow. He was deeply asleep a moment later and didn't feel Heero removing the loose towel from around his head and gently placing the long, damp hair out across the adjoining pillow. Nor, in his state of slumber, did he feel the gentle pull of the brush through the lower strands of his hair as the other pilot began the arduous task of brushing the thick mass until it was free of knots and tangles and lay as soft and smooth as the silk pillowcase it lay upon.

[ch. 15] [ch. 17] [back to Singles a - k]