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.

Sanctuary + Chapter Two

In a perfect world, he wouldn't be sitting out in the open like that, waiting for his visitors to show up and kill him.

In a perfect world, he wouldn't be thinking assassination might be preferable to being hung over like this, either.

Rubbing his eyes again, Zechs reflected on the stubborn imperfection of the world, and considered throwing up again in protest.

Seagulls mocked him cheerfully, going about their business as if the morning wasn't already unspeakably bright, even though the sun wasn't quite up yet. At some point, he had vowed vengeance on the gulls, but they remained unimpressed. He wasn't particularly happy with the way the ocean kept seducing the land into moving up and down like that either, but he doubted the sea would be any more intimidated by the Zech Merquise Death Glare than the birds had been.

Stupid planet.

He sat at the top of the short length of stairs from the deck to the beach and waited for the latest handful of painkillers to work. The first batch hadn't stayed down, but he actually felt better now, so they must have done some good during their brief visit. He could keep the water down, at least, and that was supposed to be a good thing.

After all, he didn't want to make a bad impression on his guests. Although, considering that they were uninvited and possibly here to kill him, he'd only gone to a minimum of trouble to make sure they were welcomed properly.

Once he'd convinced himself that there really was a plane overhead, and that it was coming down nearby, Zechs had eventually pried himself up and gone inside to see if he was still alive. The mirror had offered no convincing evidence either way: pale skin, pale hair gone wild, and bloodshot eyes. After a moment's contemplation, he'd decided that actually being dead probably didn't involve quite so much pain.

Sadly, choosing life meant he actually had to do something, instead of just standing there and groaning about it.

He'd found a shirt but was too apathetic to button it. Footwear was out of the question, since bending over to pull shoes on would probably make his head explode. The hair he was usually so proud of went back in a loose, unraveling braid, since he didn't have anything to tie it off with and couldn't manage to care.

Oh, and the gun went in his waistband. Uncomfortable? Yes. Hidden by the shirt? That too.

All the while, some part of his battered, absinthe-abused brain had been tracking the sound of the jet overhead, noting that it was coming down to the north, estimating where it would land, and deciding that the most likely path from there to the house was along the beach. That part of his brain had also moved him around the house, getting him a bottle of water to slowly work into his system, forcing more pills down his throat, taking him back out on the deck to confirm where the plane had landed, and then sending him back inside with his bedding from the previous night.

That was about all the purposeful activity he'd felt capable of.

So he went back out to where the cool breeze was, sat down, and waited. He tried not to brood, but he was genetically inclined towards it, and helpless in the face of his heritage.

He was in an isolated house that only he and a scant handful of others knew about. He had gone to every effort to make sure that no one had known where he was going. Yet, here he was, at the crack of dawn after the single most drunken night of his life, nursing a possibly fatal headache, waiting for visitors on this morning, of all mornings.

How unfair was that?

He knew he wasn't taking this seriously enough, despite the soldierly part of his brain. He was a tempting target. Killing Zechs Merquise would satisfy quite a few people, and Milliardo Peacecraft was technically a government official these days, whatever else he'd been born to do. The list of people who might want him dead was longer than he wanted to think about. According to the Preventers, it included "ex-members of OZ", "Romefeller sympathizers", and "persons resentful of the Libra incident". Potentially, that meant everyone on the planet. No wonder no one wanted permanent assignment to his security details.

He should be taking precautions, heading out to see who was on their way, getting the jump on whoever was out there. Training and duty mandated he make an effort.

But then, survival wasn't the highest priority on his list lately, was it?

He sighed and drank as much water as he could manage. The effort of keeping it down distracted him just enough to help divert his attention.

He chided himself. No need for those thoughts, now was there? He hadn't decided yet. He hadn't even decided to start making the decision yet. He had been a soldier his whole life, and he was nothing if not methodical. If he was going to kill himself, he wasn't going to do it on the spur of the moment. Nor, he found, was he much inclined to let someone else do it for him.

If he did, there would be no regrets.

But, enough of that for now.

He had made all the preparations he was likely to, and he needed his few remaining wits about him. Shading his eyes against the increasingly blue sky, he scanned the beach again.

Ah.

No attempt at stealth at all, really. Two of them, probably men, moving down the beach at the tree line at a fairly slow pace. Zechs squinted, trying to make out details. One of them seemed to be having a harder time walking in the sand than the other, and he stumbled once or twice. He didn't seem to want any help, if Zechs was reading his body language right. Interesting. Did they need help? Why stop here, then, if he was well enough to walk? By air, the nearest airport was no more than thirty minutes away, and there was nothing else nearby.

Then the injured man fell, and Zechs caught sight of his long braid swinging wildly as the other man caught him.

Ice-blue eyes widened in shock.

*****

"Yeah, yeah. You have an admirable sense of melodrama. Just go, for Christ's sake."

"Twenty minutes, no more."

"Take as long as you like. He's not going anywhere."

"Hn."

Okay, Duo Maxwell thought blearily, that last part was definitely Heero, but who was he talking to? He considered opening his eyes, but that seemed like a lot of effort, and he wasn't sure he wanted anyone to know he was awake just yet. Not until the fog in his skull cleared a bit more and he figured out where he was.

There were footsteps, and the faint creak of a neglected hinge; someone was leaving the room. Was that a good thing, or not?

"One thing..." Heero said.

A loud sigh sounded from somewhere near Duo's head. "Yuy, if I was going to, I would have killed both of you outside, where it would be easier to clean up. Go."

That man sounded exhausted and irritable, which was not, in Duo's experience, the best mood to deal with Heero in. He tried to brace himself for whatever violence came next, but that also seemed like a lot of work, and before he could, Heero just… left. The door didn't shut, but he could hear the quiet footsteps receding, and the atmosphere in the room changed.

Leaving Duo alone with whom?

Shiiiiiiiiit.

He trusted Heero more or less, based on their history together. To be honest, though, he didn't really know much about what the guy was like these days. And his recent behavior had been a little... extreme. But Heero wouldn't do anything flaky, would he? Like leaving him with someone dangerous?

Duo carefully flickered one eyelid open quickly, knowing that it wouldn't be seen unless someone was looking directly at him.

Zechs Merquise was looking directly at him.

He looked away quickly, gathering himself. He remembered where they were now. And how much it pissed him off when he got caught trying to be stealthy. "Fuck."

"Hn," the former pilot said, in an eerie imitation of Heero.

There wasn't anything good to say to that, so Duo opted for trying to sit up instead.

No go. He could feel sealant pulling on wounds all up and down his left side. With a quiet hiss, he eased himself back down, trying not to think about the man calmly watching him. He didn't like appearing weak in front of anybody, much less someone who was pretty much his opposite in every major way.

Who also had a gift for killing people.

Not that Duo was one to hold that against a guy, though.

He surveyed the room slowly, taking in white walls, a wood plank floor, and a window showing a lot of sky. Nice enough, but kind of barren. He was in a bed, but there was a sleeping bag around him instead of sheets, and the pillows were kind of musty. Wherever he was, it didn't get much use. It reminded him of some of the safehouses he'd hidden in during the war, the summer homes of the rich that they'd taken over for a week or a few days. It smelled of dust and uselessness.

"You need help?" Zechs asked abruptly.

"No," he said, unhappy with the quaver in his voice.

"Good."

Blinking, he turned to see Zechs slumped down in a wooden chair next to him, his head tilted back, and his hair reaching almost to the floor. Even from his poor vantage point, Duo could see the deep shadows beneath the man's eyes. He could also smell something pungent, like alcohol and sweat.

"You look like shit, man," he said after a moment, not really sure what else to say.

"Thank you for letting me know," Zechs said, not bothering to move again or open his eyes.

"What's wrong with you, anyway?" Duo said, noticing belatedly that he himself was naked except for a pair of briefs. He lifted the sleeping bag and saw shiny, opaque sealant film holding him together in patches all along his left side, from his calf to his shoulder. The sealant was also a short-term analgesic, so the pain wasn't too bad right now, though experience said he was gonna be hurting like hell later on.

"Don't worry about me," Zechs said, and there was something about the dry humor in his voice that made Duo look up from his survey. "I'm not the one who just had a pound of shrapnel pulled out of him by Yuy and Merquise, amateur surgeons."

*Merquise*? Duo thought absently. He'd thought the tall man had changed his name or some symbolic shit like that. Whenever he was in the news, it was as Ambassador Peacecraft. Well, whatever.

"So what's my damage?" he asked. "*Doctor*."

A faint snort of self-derision. "Muscle, bone, and cartilage damage, a fair amount of blood loss," Zechs said. "I cannot imagine why you thought walking down the beach was a good idea."

"Better than Heero carrying me."

"Ah."

There was silence for a while as Duo finally settled back against the pillows and Zech tried to will away the feeling that someone was driving a spike into his left eyebrow with a sledgehammer.

Duo shifted, more uncomfortable with the situation than with his injuries. He'd been wounded lots of times. Being naked and not particularly welcome in a near stranger's bed was not something he was used to, though.

"Did Heero tell you why we're here?" he ventured, a bit unhappily.

"Master Yuy told me a lot of things, but most of them had to do with fixing you, and the penalties for not helping him do it," Zechs said with faint amusement. "And before you ask, he's bringing in the rest of the gear from your plane."

Just like Heero, Duo thought, leaving the negotiations to him, even though he was flat on his back. He thought about making Heero do it anyway, but then changed his mind. In the old days, Heero would have shot Zechs, or just tied him up if he was going to be useful. Duo wasn't sure how much his homicidal friend had changed since then. It was probably better for him to do it himself.

"Uh… we need your help. I know this is pretty freaky, since we're not exactly buddies or anything..." Duo started, wishing he wasn't the one trying to explain this. He felt like hell, and his customary reckless charm wasn't exactly at his disposal at the moment.

Zechs sat up and turned to look at him, flustering the younger man a little. Despite his disheveled state, Milliardo Peacecraft, or whatever he was calling himself these days, still had quite a presence about him. Even bloodshot, his eyes were piercingly blue, a much lighter shade than Heero's and more vivid. There was something about him that made Duo feel like the absolute center of the world just then, as if there was nothing more important to Zechs than listening to what he had to say.

Well, the man was a prince, now, wasn't he? The real thing. And what he had to say was pretty damned important, actually. Regardless, Duo felt miserably tongue-tied for a moment, and hated it.

"We ran into a little trouble at your sister's house," he started lamely.

"A little?"

"It started that way..."

*****

[flashback]

The invitation to lunch had been extremely elegant, printed on paper like stiffened silk and tied with a formal ribbon and seal. Duo Maxwell did not receive invitations like that, generally speaking, and he'd stared at it, noting that he'd gotten greasy fingerprints on the cream-colored paper already.

Lunch at Relena's residence.

Right.

He'd thrown it away. It had only been sent to him so that Relena could have a full set of Gundam pilots on hand for whatever the occasion was. It had happened before. He was on Earth, so he was handy, but he doubted he'd ever get invited if he hadn't been a pilot.

Quatre always fit right in, and Trowa could blend in wherever he chose to. Wufei… No one knew where Wufei was, anyway, so that was easy enough. Heero was doing Preventer stuff, last Duo had heard, so he might be up at the mansion every other day already.

But Duo... He had no important connections, and he wasn't much for diplomatic conversation. In the eyes of the world, he was eternally a 15 year old: brash, charming, and loud, but not to be taken seriously. He had his doctorate now in Engineering, but no one referred to him as "Dr. Maxwell", and he didn't think anyone at one of Relena's parties would care. After five years, his entertainment value had to be wearing off by now. He'd doubted anyone really cared whether he was there or not.

So it had been a surprise two weeks later when he'd gotten a formal legal summons to appear. Same place, same date, same time. Apparently Relena wasn't kidding about lunch.

Something about it had amused him greatly. That was the kind of invitation he was used to getting. It had been easier to go than not to go by then, and his curiosity had gotten the better of him.

On the big day, he'd shown up, been searched, and been seated at a small table on a very large veranda. A colonnade surrounded it, heavily hung with flowering vines, offering a glimpse here and there of wide lawns spreading out beyond it. The table had been shaded beneath a wide tree, and spread with exquisite tableware. Servants had seen to it that he was holding a glass of very fine wine within a minute or two; they attended to the guests with a military precision.

The scenery had been interesting, at the very least.

As had the fact that he'd been wrong. There had only been seating for five. As it turned out, that meant himself, Relena, Heero, and two members of the Security Council.

So genteel, so pleasant. Excellent food, delicately seasoned. Relena's chatter, with no mention of the legalities enforcing his presence. The cool breeze taking the edge off the day. The accents of the two Council members had been telling of their origins: one had been hiding an outer colony drawl, while the other spoke with a lilting, rolling pattern that made Duo think of grassy plains somehow. Heero's watchful silence had been broken only when he was addressed directly. The rest of the time he had simply watched, taking in everything around him, keeping the core of himself quiet and hidden.

Duo himself had been pleasant and friendly because that advanced the conversation. Much of his attention at first had been taken up by Heero, who he hadn't seen in a couple of years, but there had been nothing forthcoming there, and Duo had been too wary to press it. He had watched the interplay between Relena and the Councilors with a practiced eye.

Duo was good at watching people. He had known the knives were out for him well before the first hint of steel had broken through the elegant façade.

They had waited until after lunch was eaten and the security guards pretending to be waiters had cleared the remains away. Then the hammer had come down.

The ex-colonial had said it, laying down the law, and Relena had tried to ameliorate everything with light words and promises of help in relocating. The other councilor had followed hard on her heels, making it clear what the "concerns" of the Security Council were.

Duo had been evicted before. This was, however, the first time he'd been thrown off a *planet*. It was a new high, or a new low, depending on how you looked at it.

There were only two Gundam pilots left on the Earth, as far as anyone could tell, and the powers that were wanted them gone.

Certain documents had been discovered recently. The once unbreakable security on them hadn't been updated since the end of the war, and technology had surpassed it. The files were not complete, by any means, but the picture they gave of Heero's training and conditioning frightened the government. Not to mention certain unpleasantness about Duo's past and his own training. There were hints of Trowa Barton's true past, and an evaluation of Quatre's health after a test flight had left him with several broken bones. It was rough and raw data, full of the kind of harshness no one wanted to think about these days. Training. Conditioning. Experimentation. Augmentation. Violence. Murder. The original plans for Operation Meteor. All spread out for them to see.

"What did you think we were?" Duo had asked almost plaintively, seeing their fear and their contempt. "Jesus Christ, we were 15 years old. Did you think they just pulled us out of high school one day?"

They hadn't had any answer for him but that one: get out.

Not Relena, never Relena, but she wasn't the one in control there, and the misery in her eyes had told Duo everything he didn't want to know.

Duo had lost it.

He didn't even mind the idea of a free trip back to the colonies, but he was going to be *damned* before those miserable fucking cowards threw him out like garbage. He stood up, shouting and brandishing his fist, using his gift for profanity freely.

Security guards had been stationed all along the colonnade, hidden and waiting for trouble. Despite his anger, Duo wouldn't have done any harm if he'd been given a choice. The guards, though... they were *afraid*.

Afraid of him. Afraid of Heero.

Fear had made them take things farther than they had to, driving them the way fear usually drove men. Shots had rung out, narrowly missing Relena and taking a slice out of Duo's forearm. The wound had hurt, pushing Duo from anger to outright rage, but effect it had had on Heero was simpler, and far more drastic.

Blood had spattered across Heero's face. Duo's blood.

Even through the noise, the screaming, and the shooting, Duo had heard that one tiny gasp, that sharp little intake of breath. Heero had gasped, as if waking from a dream, and then everything had blurred into a torrent of intent and motion.

[End flashback]

*****

"How many dead?"

Zechs' voice cut through the small silence that followed his narrative, and Duo blinked, trying to concentrate. He hadn't told Zechs about Heero's reaction, but that little sound was very much on his mind just now.

He closed his eyes and thought.

"Five," he said finally. "The Council guys were both injured by their own security, the morons. I don't know how badly. Heero got Relena out without a scratch, and me... I'm a fucking misery magnet, you know?"

Duo's short bark of laughter turned into a wracking cough. A moment later Zechs was next to him, one hand on his back lifting him forward. When the fit eased, a glass of water appeared in front of him, and Duo drank from it, gratefully. Zechs withdrew, leaving him the glass until it was obvious Duo couldn't hold it any longer without his hands shaking. It was deftly taken from him then, and Zechs held it until he'd drunk his fill.

The oddness of being dependant on this man, of all men, struck Duo, but he was too tired to contemplate it. He probably should have lied, but that wasn't what he was like, even now. Besides which, there simply was no good reason for himself and Heero to be there except the truth. Everything in Duo's life had suddenly gone wrong a few hours ago, and now they needed Zechs Merquise to let them stay, to give them shelter.

The alternatives sucked. The two of them might be able to force the issue, but Duo didn't want to think about what keeping Zechs hostage would be like. Heero could kill the guy, of course, but this morning Duo had woken up as one of the good guys, and he'd kind of like to keep it that way. Besides, this wasn't wartime, no matter what fucked-up thing happened earlier.

And unless Heero had a back-up plan he hadn't told him about, they really needed some place to stay. At least until they figured out what the hell was going on.

"How did you get injured?" Zechs' voice was soft and rough at the same time, a pleasure to listen to. Duo wondered idly why he was noticing that, and chalked it up to exhaustion. Or insanity. Whatever.

"No. Asshole security managed to hit a fuel cell just right and the fucking thing blew up right next to me. Next thing I knew, we were airborne. Stole someone's private jet."

"And is Relena alright?"

"She was last time I saw her," Duo managed before a jaw-cracking yawn overtook him. "Her own security took over from Heero."

"So that leaves the last question," Zechs said, standing up somewhat unsteadily. Dehydration and exhaustion were eating away at him, and there were certain facts that had to be faced. "Why did you come here?"

"Don't think he knew you were here," Duo said sleepily. Zechs watched the younger man struggle to stay awake. It was a losing battle, of course.

"Sleep," he said with a faint smile. "He'll be back in a few minutes."

"Where you goin'?"

"To pound my skull against something hard until it feels better," Zechs said, turning in the doorway.

"Good luck with that," Duo said, snorting lightly before breaking into another gigantic yawn.

"Hn."

"Zechs?"

Zechs paused, looking at the battered man in his bed. He hadn't seen much of Duo during the wars or after; Fate hadn't brought them together often. Still, he felt a kinship with him at the moment. They had both piloted machines that had few equals in the history of humankind. They had both wielded power no man should have. And peace had ultimately brought them no rest.

"Yes?" he asked quietly.

"Sorry..." Duo murmured as he fell asleep, the weight of wounds and one of the worst days of his life overcoming him.

Despite the pain in his head, despite having his quiet little house invaded by noisy, bleeding fugitives who were at the very least in deep shit, Zechs smiled.

It was his duty to turn them in.

Zechs went to find Yuy, to see how much duty was worth these days.

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