By Xero Sky
Warnings: NC17 For the whole story. Expect lemon, lime, blood, violence, sarcasm, and profanity.
Pairings: (6 x 2) x 1
AN: Post EW. Possible OOC, but not intentional.
Disclaimer: All copyrights remain with their original holders. No profit of any kind is intended from this work of fan fiction.

My sincere apologies to everyone who has been waiting for an update to this fic, and my thanks to anyone who remembers it!

Sanctuary + Chapter Four

Duo woke up with the worst headache of his life.

Staring through narrowed eyes at the miserably white ceiling of this miserably white and sunny room, he idly compared this headache to others in his life the results of concussions, hangovers, and various viruses. This one, he decided, took the goddamned cake.

Trying to sit up, he felt the room lurch around him and grabbed handfuls of the bedcovers steady himself. He gritted his teeth against pain and nausea until the crisis passed, closing his eyes tightly against the blindingly sunlit room.

"Fuck!"

"You're dehydrated," a man said, and an arm was slipped around his shoulder, steadying him. "Steady."

Heero.

He didn't really know Heero anymore, if he'd ever known him. There had been a time, though, when he'd had to trust Heero with everything. Heero hadn't failed him then, and he was willing to take a chance on him now. Not that there was much choice. Duo relaxed and leaned against him.

"We've got an IV running, but there's not much solution. See if you can keep some of this down," Heero said gently. A water bottle with a straw appeared in front of Duo, and he tried sipping at it. The water was cool and felt good in his dry mouth, so he drank slowly, knowing better than to gulp it.

He stopped when he felt the first faint hint of nausea. "Thanks," he said hoarsely.

"Status?"

Yeah, that was vintage Heero, but it was okay, too. It was a pleasantly familiar question, but a fair one, too.

Duo shifted around, peering at his bandages and noting how stiff and sore he was. His right side and shoulder were likely to be a problem: he could move them both, but there was a lot of damage to the meat. That arm was relatively uninjured, though he had a scattering of small burns down to his elbow. Considering how sore his right hip and ass were, he assumed he'd caught a fair bit of hell down there too.

He related all this to Heero as clinically as possible, then summed it all up in a soldierly fashion as "Estimated readiness: 60%"

Heero frowned and nodded once, sharply. "Understood. However, you need to know that we have limited medical supplies."

"How limited?"

"One comprehensive emergency kit and one basic first aid kit. If we can keep your injuries free of infection, we should be able to treat you adequately. However, we only have four days' worth of antibiotics if we give you the proper dose. Without infection, the supply of painkillers should be sufficient for the next week."

"Great," Duo said, slowly leaning back against the pillows Heero placed behind his back. His head still hurt, and now that he was fully aware of himself, everything else seemed to hurt too. "What's the situation?"

Heero sat down opposite the bed and scrubbed his hands over his face. He looked almost more tired than Duo felt. It was odd how Duo could see the exhaustion there. He remembered the stoic, implacable teenager he'd been teamed up with, the one who'd verged on the inhuman more often than not, and was somehow relieved to see this man in his place. He didn't think he could take that soldier just now.

"The plane suffered damage to the landing gear when we came down," Heero said. "I'm uncertain about the possibility of repair until we can inventory this house. Zechs doesn't know what is in storage here, but there may be something useful. There's enough fuel left to get us to... wherever we want to go." "Yeah, that's the problem, isn't it?"

"Yes."

The memory was bitter and Duo grimaced. "Unsuitable for citizenship." "A clear danger to the continued stability of the Earth Sphere." "Unlikely to ever be assimilated by decent society."

Decent society.

It was just another bunch of fuckers in suits, telling him that he wasn't good enough, and that nothing he'd done had meant anything. He'd worked so goddamned hard since the wars to establish himself, to make something that was all his. He'd gone by their standards gone to college and started his own business. He employed almost 20 people. He paid his taxes. What the hell did they want from him?

His attention suddenly shifted back to Heero. If he was the disreputable one, Heero was the freak. "Incapable of reintegration into society." "Engineered for an obsolete purpose." "Psychologically dubious."

Like he was some sort of product, a tool that they were throwing down and kicking away.

He'd been fifteen years old. Christ, they both had been fifteen, with a trail of bloodshed stretching back behind them further than either one could remember.

"Don't let it get to you," Heero said. Duo blinked, his train of thought broken. "It's already done. Now we go forward."

"Yeah..." Duo said with a sigh. He smiled a little, trying to shift gears. Heero was right. They couldn't change what had happened. Now they had to deal with the results of that massive clusterfuck at Relena's. Speaking of whom...kinda... "How's Prince Charming doing with all this?"

Heero smiled thinly. "He's taking a nap."

"A nap..." Duo repeated dubiously, blinking.

"A nap."

"Oh."

Duo waited for the rest of the joke, or for the other shoe to drop, but Heero just kept looking at him steadily until Duo couldn't take it any more. "What the fuck is his problem?"

"He's hung over. I don't think he'd give a shit whether we killed him in his sleep or not," Heero said, his smile fading. "There is something wrong with him, though. I just don't have enough data to guess what it is. I'm still not sure why he's here, but I don't think there's an immediate threat."

"Shit, Heero, how many times did he try to kill you during the war?"

"How many times did you shoot me?"

Duo shut his eyes and leaned back, tired. "Okay," he sighed, "so if you trust me, we might as well trust him."

"Do you trust me?"

The question was quiet, but not tentative, and Duo opened his eyes again, frowning. He met Heero's gaze steadily, struck by the intensity of his look. "Yeah, I guess so. Is there a reason I shouldn't?"

"We don't know each other very well."

"This isn't the first time we've been on the wrong side of the law together, though. I've got your back, man, if you've got mine," Duo said, hoping that he could count on Heero. The man was right: they didn't know each other very well. That had also been true back then, though, and it had all worked out, hadn't it? Kinda?

"I've got you," Heero said, and Duo smiled brightly, even as his eyes drifted shut again.

"Great. Now, about those painkillers..."

Heero smirked and pulled a tray out from under the bed. It was ornate and engraved with the crest of the Royal House of Peacecraft, but right now it was stacked with bandages and meds. He cracked the seal of an analgesic patch and carefully placed it just below the elbow of Duo's good arm. He watched as the tension began draining from the man's body as the pain ebbed. He remembered Duo well enough to know that he must have been in a lot of pain to have asked for the drugs.

He waited, watching over him, until Duo was asleep again.

It was the least he could do, after all.

He remembered the moment when he'd actually realized how badly Duo was bleeding. The man had sat beside him with those injuries for how long, without saying a word? When he'd focused enough on the present to realize Duo was hurt, the amount of blood had sickened him. He was one of the last damned people on the planet who would be nauseated by the sight of blood, but the sheer gaudy volume of it had made him want to vomit.

It had been a florid accusation, a symbol as well as a result of his incompetence.

He stood beside Duo's bed for a long time, thinking about how close he had come to losing the only friend he had left, and wondering if he could even call him that.

*****

Zechs yawned hugely, spat out the mouthful of water this earned him, and finished rinsing his hair out. He had been surprised at how quickly the water had warmed up, considering how long it'd been since anyone had used it. The water had stunk, at first, of the chemicals that kept the pipes clean, but it hadn't taken him long to run that out. He'd woken up warm and sweaty from his nap, with the sour stench of alcohol clinging to him, and nearly run for the shower. It felt like heaven.

He watched the last suds circle down the drain and flipped his hair back, enjoying the clean, light feeling of it. He'd brought his own toiletries, of course. A man with hair down to his waist didn't generally forget shampoo and conditioner, even if he didn't remember packing them. Vanity demanded certain concessions, and compulsive hair care was one of them.

Treize had given him a ration of shit about it over the years. What kind of professional soldier had that much hair? How could he be that vain and still have time to pilot? Considering that the man teasing him had his cologne custom made and never forgot to bring it along, even on campaigns Zechs hadn't been too devastated by Treize's verbal jabs.

Besides, Zechs had been no vainer than any other officer in OZ. His pride had withered lately, but habit still kept him upright and well- groomed, if nothing else. He would make an aesthetically pleasing corpse, if the occasion arose.

As long as he was careful with the knife, of course.

"Feh..."

His impatience with such thoughts and his morose indulgence in them killed his enjoyment of the shower, and he stepped out, grabbing a couple of towels to dry off with.

The towels had been a pleasant surprise. Vacuumed sealed in plastic bags, they had come out fluffy, with the clean scent of fresh laundry. He'd been under the impression that the house had been completely abandoned, but he supposed he should have known better.

A royal residence, however rustic, was not a simple vacation house to be stripped bare at the end of each season. His father's visits to the villa had apparently been sporadic and spur of the moment, so preparations had been made to welcome him whenever necessary. Zechs had found a closet full of linens, carefully stored to await the next visit. The image came to him of family servants packing each towel and each sheet away.

It made him uneasy, and he nearly dropped his towels on the floor before folding them neatly over the rack. No one would be along to pick them up, but he'd been trained to be polite to those who served him. By accident, or fate, he'd grown up to be something of the man he was supposed to have been, in manners at least.

He'd been born into a world where servants were unremarkable. After that, his impeccable dress and fine manners had been part of his duties as one of Treize Kushrenada's officers. Treize had been all steel under his lace, and so had his officers been.

He owed his aristocratic veneer to the man who'd taught him the arts of war. His blood might have given him the title, but Treize had shaped him.

The man or woman who had neatly packed away that towel for the use of whichever Peacecraft might want it, had had no idea that in a few years the royals would be dead or scattered, hidden under false names and bearing the burden of vengeance.

It was a small miracle that Relena hadn't been old enough to remember. If they'd been closer in age, would she have taken his path? He'd spent years hating himself for his failure to live up to his family legacy. Yet how many Peacecrafts had seen their parents slaughtered? He had been a child. Pacifism had meant nothing to him.

Treize had been there for him when no one else had. The Kushrenada legacy had nothing to do with peace. For Treize, Zechs' lust for revenge had been absolutely reasonable, even obligatory.

Treize had always brought out the worst in him.

Zechs shook his head, trying to kill this train of thought too. It was useless to brood about these things. That fact rarely stopped him, but there were other things to be thinking about now, weren't there?

Like the Gundam pilots across the hall.

Fate had a sick sense of humor.

He was not a stupid man, or a dishonest one. Harboring Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell had a lot to do with the fact that he was borderline suicidal. He'd gone AWOL from his job, his delicately negotiated position, to come out here and see whether he still wanted to live. Those two were the most dangerous men he knew of, peacetime or not, at the controls of a mobile suit or not, and their situation was harsh. Some small and gleeful part of him thought this was an excellent opportunity for his morbid depression to either put up or shut up. It was time to live or die.

He brushed his damp hair and thought, unaccountably, of the way Maxwell's hands had moved, playing with the end of his braid. It was an odd thought, and he wasn't happy with it.

Even wounded and exhausted, Maxwell was handsome, and Zechs was neither blind to it nor bothered by it. He had always been attracted to beauty and strength, regardless of gender, and it was no surprise that he'd noticed that Duo had both.

What disturbed him was how protective he suddenly felt.

He wasn't sure if he himself cared enough to live. How could he manage to feel anything at all about whether Duo Maxwell lived or died? And why?

He snorted and brushed the bangs out of his face, peering at his haggard face in the mirror. Vain or not, he looked like hell, with dark patches under his eyes and bloodshot eyes. He looked, in fact, like a man who was no longer comfortable inside his own head.

Or one who still had a hangover.

"You're an idiot," he informed his reflection.

Maybe he'd been alone too long. Maybe that was it. Now that Noin was gone, there was no one close enough to tell him whether he'd lost his mind or not.

Such a pity.

*****

Duo was asleep, and Heero was in the front room, sitting on the floor in front of his laptop, which he'd set up on a small table. To one side and somewhat behind him, Zechs sat on the small couch they'd found and dragged into the living room.

Neither man looked particularly comfortable.

Their meeting in the hallway had been awkward, and their sporadic attempt at conversation had been nearly painful. Both had been brooding about intensely private matters, and it was hard to focus on someone else, especially someone you'd had such a complicated past with.

Heero's suggestion that he hook into the net and see if he could find some news of what was happening out in the world. There must be something out there by now; at the very least, the shots fired at Relena's estate must have drawn attention.

Zechs fully expected to find a press release claiming that the two Gundam pilots were terrorists and enemies of the state, at the very least. He wasn't sure how long it would take for his own absence to be officially reported, but he thought he might have a few days left.

He stared blankly at the various sites Heero was scouring for news, vaguely gaining respect for the man's ability to ferret out information. He waited, taking tiny sips from a bottle of water and willing his headache to go away.

And there was nothing.

Nothing.

There was simply not a single word on the news nets about the incident at Relena's residence, the theft of the plane, or the search that must still be on for them. Heero tapped into every private and secure net he could find a way into, searching for some sign of the hunt that must be going on even now.

It was bizarre.

Heero nearly growled as his last search came up empty. He didn't fail at this stuff. It was his thing, the talent he hadn't rejected, and it didn't let him down. It looked like there was simply nothing out there, but he couldn't accept that.

"What about the Guardians of Gaia?" Zechs suggested, leaning back.

Heero snorted. "The nutcases?"

"Relena calls them my fan club," Zechs said. "Paranoia's their art form. If there's a whisper of anything out there, they should have picked up on it and blamed me for it by now."

Heero smirked slightly and began looking for the Guardians' private message boards. He'd heard of them, but they weren't exactly a trusted news source. A very loose group of people in all walks of life, the Guardians considered themselves the last defense against the conspiracy they were certain still threatened the earth. A lot of them were ex-military and government types, and, from what Heero had heard, some of them still were.

It didn't take him long. They'd put in some serious effort to keep their boards private, but they'd wanted their members to access them. That made the boards vulnerable to someone with bad intentions and elite skills, both of which Heero possessed.

The pages were ugly but functional, and once he'd gotten access, Heero skimmed through the message headers. It was a busy place, and he had no trouble guessing what the Guardians' main obsession was. Or rather, who.

Heero smiled grimly as he looked through a few threads. "These people seriously don't like you."

"I've noticed," Zechs said.

"Or... your mother," Heero added after another minute or so. The theory that Zechs was illegitimate was apparently quite popular. Among the popular candidates for his "true" father were Dermail, Quinze, and through some logic Heero couldn't grasp, Treize Kushrenada. "Wouldn't Treize have been...?"

"Five years old. Yes."

"Okay..." He kept looking.

It was fascinating, in a way. Zechs had been right about the rampaging paranoia. The Guardians seemed to comb the news and their own sources every day, looking for the smallest hints of the coup they were so sure was coming. Preventers' job postings, police activity, changes in Relena's travel schedule, and thousand of other bits of minutiae were reported, analyzed, and debated over.

There were hundred of images, most of them of Zechs. They all seemed to be taken from news footage, though, which meant his Preventers security detail must be worth something. Every image had some sinister and often bewildering meaning attached to it.

"What is this about?" he asked, pointing at an image. In it, Zechs was apparently about to enter the back seat of an official car, and the camera had caught him looking across the roof straight into the lens. His hair had fanned out in the breeze and fairly glowed in the bright sunlight, and his eyes were extraordinarily intense. It was a striking photo, all the more so for not being posed.

The caption read Merquise, would-be King of the World, on his way to a meeting with the Cabal.

"I'm supposed to be conspiring with a number of bankers and secret arms dealers. They're funding my super secret plot to conquer the world."

"Oh," Heero said lightly. "And are you plotting to conquer the world?"

The next image was a timeline comparison of Zechs' off-world travel and the fluctuations of the world currency markets.

"Of course. What else would I do with my time?" Zechs said. His tone was light, but his smile was thin. His long fingers worried at his water bottle, twisting the cap back and forth, but Zechs didn't seem to notice. When Heero glanced at him, their eyes met for a moment as they assessed each other, and then Zechs looked away.

Their fragile, faintly uncomfortable truce stayed intact. There was no need to mention the past when the future was so uncertain and the present was so... weird.

Heero turned back to the computer and finished paging through the recent messages. There was nothing useful there, either, though he could see an advantage to keeping an eye on the site. Despite the fixation on Zechs' evil plans, there was also a lot of information to be had. The Guardians had a good, if highly unorganized, intelligence network in place, and Heero wouldn't be surprised if the first hints of the situation turned up on their message boards.

"No luck," he said finally, sitting back. "I'll check back later, though. Nice fan club you've got there."

"Don't get cocky," Zechs said. "They don't like you very much either."

Zechs stood up and stretched, the muscles of his lanky body standing out as he eased the tension out of them. He yawned and shook his hair back before going to the window to look out at the sea.

"For any reason in particular or just the whole Gundam thing?" Heero asked absently, shutting down his equipment and putting it away. He wasn't really interested. He'd gotten hate mail in his mail at Preventers nearly every day he'd been there.

"You're my secret lover," Zechs said. He turned to look at Heero, a faint smirk lightening his features.

Heero blinked, taken aback both by Zechs' answer and by how he looked just then. In the sunlight, with his hair shading his face, he looked very much like the photograph they just seen, the one that had called him "King of the World". It was a strange moment, and even stranger for him to be taking notice of anyone's looks, much less this man's appearance. He stumbled a little over his next words.

"Your l-lover?" He felt his face flush a little, realizing that he sounded embarrassed.

Zechs snorted lightly but turned back to the window before answering. "You didn't kill me, so obviously you must have been in love with me. You quit Preventers abruptly, so obviously you're running my sinister network of spies now."

"That doesn't make any sense at all."

"Does any of it?" Zechs asked, but he'd already turned back to the window.

There was definitely nothing else to add to that line of discussion, and so Heero concentrated on finishing his clean-up. Still feeling a little awkward, he looked around for something else to focus on. He and Zechs had dragged furniture into the front room, but it was mostly barren still. He could see through the open door into the kitchen, and that sparked an idea.

He was appalled that he hadn't really thought about it before.

"What do we have in way of provisions?" he asked over his shoulder, as he went to investigate. There was nothing set out on the counters, and a quick investigation revealed empty cabinets and drawers.

Zechs came in and leaned against the counter. "Enough to supply me for a couple of days. Unless there's a secret stock of food around somewhere, I'll have to hike out to the caretakers' house and ask for some. That's about an hour away. Other than that, the closest source would be somewhere in Turain, or one of the other little towns east of here."

"Are the caretakers reliable?"

"They're an elderly couple who firmly believe I'm the rightful king of Sanc," Zechs said mildly, as if that said everything Heero might need to know about them. "However, it's probably better if they don't know I have guests."

"Alright, then... so we think the water supply is safe, right?" Heero said, moving on.

"Either a well or an underground tank, I'm guessing, and the pipes were treated before they were sealed, so it should be good. After the first couple of minutes, the water seemed fine to me."

"Just food, then. There's a survival kit on the plane with basic rations. We've probably got a week's worth total, if we're careful." Heero said finally. "Do you think we can get more medical supplies from the caretakers? That's our most critical need right now."

"Possibly," Zechs said. "They live quite a distance from the nearest town, so they should have something on hand. However, if I go down there to ask, they'll obviously know I have someone injured up here. Do you want that knowledge out even that far right now?"

"Not unless we run out of other options."

"We might have already done that, you know. This is my first trip here, and I wasn't expecting anyone, much less people in such high demand. You might be better off patching him up and taking him out of here," Zechs said.

"You want us to leave?" Heero asked, and Zechs watched the way Heero's weight shifted as he took up a subtle defensive stance. Was that on Duo's behalf, or his own? Zechs wondered if the man even knew he had done it. Some habits were hard to break.

"No," Zechs said. "I offered you whatever sanctuary I can provide. But this might not be your best answer."

There were certain thoughts that had to follow from this, certain things that both men knew had to be taken into consideration. Some level of trust was forming between them, and there would have to be more; Heero needed to decide if it was worth the effort. If it was not, then Heero had to decide if he could take another life in this fiasco, even to cover their tracks.

He couldn't do it, damnit. He couldn't *decide*. He felt himself going numb, and knew it was some part of his mind trying to ease the stress by diverting his attention from what had to be done. It was the same old thing, the thing that had nearly let Duo die from neglect. He wanted to withdraw, but Zechs was standing right there, and he had a remarkably Duo-like look in his eyes, all nonchalance underlain with hopefulness. Zechs didn't really want them to go, Heero realized, and suddenly the numbness began to recede somewhat.

He really didn't want to be alone. Maybe it was better to have an ally, someone else to help him with Duo, with everything. Maybe that was alright, this time.

"It's better than we could have hoped for," Heero said slowly, trying to pick his way through a minefield of words. "If you're willing to have us stay. Whether or not your psycho friends online have picked up on it yet, there's people out there looking for us, making up lies, rallying the troops against the freaks. I'd like to get a feel for their movements before I make any plans."

Zechs smiled at him, and Heero blinked, a little dazzled by the wattage. "We're agreed, then," the older man said briskly. "Now let us decide our next course of action: do I go visit my elderly friends or not?"

Heero swallowed and tried to focus. "What about the other rooms?" he asked abruptly, remembering his survey of the house earlier.

"What rooms?"

"The floor plan doesn't match up to the outside of the house. There has to be a concealed space, at least 10 or 20 square feet. There's also the garage."

Zechs was surprised, and Heero had to remind himself that, for all his skills, the prince hadn't graduated from the Odin Lowe School of Survivalist Techniques and Advanced Terrorism.

"The garage is empty. I haven't seen anything suspicious inside... not that I would recognize it," Zechs said a bit sheepishly. He didn't add that yesterday he couldn't have cared less about such a secret even if he'd tripped over it. Funny how 24 hours, a hangover, and what was still probably an epic case of bad luck could do to a man's attitude.

"Let's go see what we can find, then. Maybe we won't have to bother your friends at all," Heero said. He was still uncomfortable about the spacey moment he'd had before, and it was good to have something specific and useful to do. "I'll show you what to look for. We should get a move on before Duo wakes up and eats half our food supply."

"Big eater?" Zechs asked, following Heero out into the living room and watching as the younger man began scrutinizing the walls.

"Easily bored. There's not a lot else for him to do right now."

"Ah... He's going to be a bad patient, isn't he?"

Heero ran his fingers over the edge of a strip of wainscoting. "You have no idea."

Zechs didn't find the low laughter that accompanied that statement very reassuring at all.

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