Author: Sunhawk

Sanctuary (cont)

"Swordsmanship requires finesse, Maxwell; something you sorely lack."

Quatre tossed down my pack and then Duo's much lighter one. I caught them and shouldered them both.

"Heero... " Duo glared at me.

"Don't argue with me." I commanded.

"Heero, damn it; my weapons were all I salvaged." He growled at me, "Please tell me you're not sending me out unarmed."

"Heero." Wufei said quietly, not looking at me, as he distributed his own guns in various places about his person, "You're being an ass again."

Trowa and Quatre were coming down the stairs, armed and ready to go.

"Heero," Quatre told me with a tight little smile, "I already put everything of his but the bare essentials in your pack anyway."

"It's a freaking conspiracy." Duo snapped as he jerked his pack off my shoulder and pulled out his knife sheathes, strapping them to thigh and forearm and belting on his gun harness.

Marion just shook her head and gestured us toward the pantry.

"The pantry door is the most exposed... " Trowa began to argue with her, but then saw that she was leading us down into the cellar.

"Give me some credit, boys." She grinned at us as she started down the stairs.

I was bringing up the rear, and heard the faint but unmistakable sound of distant engines. "Move it. I hear them."

She led us to a narrow break in the wall behind the water heater that I would not have noticed without a thorough search.

"It's low; keep down." She whispered, not having to be told to keep her voice low. "This runs straight away from the house and comes out under cover in the woods."

I heard the safety click off on her rifle, and then she was in the tunnel and moving forward at a surprising rate. It was, of course, single file, and badly as I wanted Duo in the center of the column, he wound up with me bringing up the rear, though he didn't even try to argue with me about which of us was last into the tunnel. It was pitch black down here, and we went by touch, each of us with a hand on the one in front so we wouldn't plow into each other if there were a sudden halt. The tunnel was dirt and bedrock, and I felt the brush of cobwebs more than once; so not often used. I wouldn't want to be down here if our pursuers used explosives.

I had been subconsciously counting off the strides, and estimated we had probably come a quarter mile, and should be nearing the edge of the woods by now. This tunnel was impressive and I had to wonder about its construction. I'm sure Marion would miss this house now that it had been compromised. I thought about all the things she had left behind. Her pack was smaller than several of ours; she had walked away from everything without a backward glance. I thought about the animals with a pang, but doubted that Oz would bother with them.

Our little column slowed and then halted, there was a faint gleam of light coming from ahead of us. A hand signal came back the line to remain in position while Wufei did recon.

I turned my back on them, to keep my sight adjusted to the dark and kept my eyes and ears trained on our back-trail. There was the longest wait while I heard absolutely nothing in either direction, which was a good thing, then Duo squeezed my shoulder and passed the sign to move out. We crept forward, waiting the standard ten heartbeats between runs. I saw Marion moving as easily and silently as any of us, keeping low and finding cover. Then Trowa, then Quatre, finally Duo, and I kept my eyes roving about the landscape until I saw him safely settled, then I made my move and eased out of the tunnel seeking a stand of scrub that would cover me and allow me to keep an eye on both Duo and Marion.

Damn. We were not dressed for this; Marion was the only one even in camouflage gear. Duo and Quatre were both wearing white t-shirts and tan shorts, both of them pale skinned. I saw Duo notice suddenly and grimace, reaching down to at least smear some dirt across his face. I pulled the pack around to see if I could find something he could slip on quickly and found his camo pants and a dark shirt. I eased from my place and crawled toward him, passing the clothes to him. It garnered me a look somewhere between a grin and a glare, that clearly told me thanks, but it should have been in my pack on my back to begin with.

I guarded him while he slipped into them, pulling them on over the other clothes and quickly transferring his weapons. I glanced across to see Quatre preparing to do much the same thing, waiting until Duo was done so that there were not two of us so vulnerable. I moved back to my patch of scrub and scanned the group; we weren't perfect, but we were much better.

Wufei, who had been at the far edge of our circle, where he could see the house, moved back and waved us together.

"They're at the house. Two trucks. Easily thirty men. We have to move before they find that tunnel."

"Let me go trap it." Duo said, and got enthusiastic nods from the group before I had a chance to object. My mouth wasn't open yet, but I was thinking about it, then Marion was suddenly in charge.

"Do it. Wufei, go with him. No chances and nothing fancy, no more than three minutes." They went, scrambling and low. My heart was in my throat as I watched them disappear back into the gaping black maw of the tunnel.

"Heero." She was snapping at me, "Get your head together. Take Wufeis point position."

I blinked at her, and blushed red, crawling away to take over watching the house. Behind me, I heard orders being issued to Quatre and Trowa, but her voice was tight and low and I didn't hear it. Where the hell had Mama-Marion gone?

Below me, across the meadow where we had picked flowers for the dinner table, armed men were swarming around the house. It took all my will to keep my eyes where they belonged and not on the mouth of that tunnel.

They kept it barely to the time limit, scuttling back out of the tunnel almost on the three-minute mark, Duo with a feral grin on his face. Marion directed the retreat, using the standard hand signals as though she had invented them. Somehow it never occurred to us to argue with her. She carried her rifle with all the signs that she knew how to use it. She wove us and wound us through the woods and I had to admit that she knew what she was doing, going fast but not careless, silent as any of us and obviously knowing just where she was going. Ten minutes into the march, the trap in the tunnel exploded and she went to double time. She held it for close to a half an hour before I started to see the signs that she was finally wearing down, the occasional noise, a faltering limp. I called a halt, usurping her authority. I waved Quatre in to check on her, and he helped her ease to the ground, where she sat and panted quietly, and I could see that she was arguing with Quatre about something. I ignored the exchange, signaling Wufei to check the back-trail, and moving to check on Duo. He was taking advantage of the stop to do all the little things you do when your body is objecting to what you've been doing to it, stretching and bending, trying to keep his muscles from stiffening and cramping.

I moved up beside him, giving him my arm to lean on as he grabbed first one ankle and then the other, pulling his legs up behind him, stretching thigh muscles.

"You all right?" I asked him softly.

He nodded sharply, but his face showed concern, "If we stay still too long, everything's going to seize up." He admitted to me, and I knew he wouldn't have mentioned it if it weren't a serious, performance fear. Then he jerked his head in Marion's direction. "How's she doing?"

"Not sure yet." I told him, my eyes scanning the forest even as I held his arm while he stretched and moved. "Can I do anything for you?"

"Not that I can think of." He grimaced and then brightened, "Kiss it and make it better?"

I grinned with him over the shared memory and risked a quick brush of our lips.

I left him to check on Quatre and Marion.

"She says we're about ten minutes from a pre-arranged pick-up point." Quatre greeted me before I had a chance to open my mouth.

I grunted and looked at her critically. "At what pace?"

"Our present one." He said meaningfully. Our present pace being the one we were no longer able to maintain.

Wufei came jogging back to us. "Move out. Now. They have dogs."

The look on Marion's face became positively feral, and she unlimbered her rifle. "Get the hell out of here." She ordered tersely and beside her Quatre just sat and blinked in surprise.

"Marion," I reached for her, and she actually snarled at me.

"Move it, soldier." She snapped, making all the signs that she was getting ready to dig in.

"We're not leaving you here." Trowa said softly, his eyes flicking between her and the direction we had come from.

"I got you into this." She stated darkly, "I will get you out. Now run, damnit!"

Duo came passed us all and bent and took her arm, saying something low in her ear and her shoulders sagged in defeat, but she struggled up and they started away together, setting a pace that wasn't quite double time, but still faster than I had imagined she could make.

Wufei caught my eye and I shrugged; I hadn't heard what he said either.

"Lock and load." He grinned at me, and we followed after.

It was getting toward dusk, making the going tougher, as the forest floor became a jumble of shadows where roots reached to grab at ankles, and limbs slapped at faces. Bringing up the rear, I could actually make out the sound of our pursuers, not bothering to be quiet, but shouting back and forth and crashing through the brush. At the head of our column, I saw Marion get some kind of second wind, letting go of Duo's support and moving forward a little faster. It made it easier on Duo as well, and he moved away, pacing her, but staying close, gun in hand now. Our speed had improved, but they were still gaining on us.

Then I suddenly realized the trees were thinning, and we had run out of forest.

"Shit!" I muttered, but Marion had stopped at the edge of the trees and was waving us to her.

"This is it. There should be a chopper here any minute." She panted, face beet red and blotchy looking in the failing light.

Wufei glanced behind us, at the glimmer of flashlights following our trail unerringly through the trees. "Not enough time." He said tersely, looking at me for direction.

I wished the damned dogs would bark; their silence was eerie. "Spread out and take cover." I commanded looking around; at least the ground was rocky, "Marion, give me your rifle. Quatre, get her under cover as close to the landing zone as possible."

She turned an angry glare at me, but I offered one of my handguns in return, and reluctantly, she gave the rifle over. I needed something with some range to it

"Marion," I told her gently, "this is what we do. Let us do it."

Wufei, Trowa, and Duo were already dispersing; vanishing into the trees. Quatre pulled Marion further up the tree line, toward an outcropping of rocks with at least two lines of retreat.

I stood for a moment in the silence, listening hard, but heard no sound of incoming chopper blades. I ghosted back the way we had come; maybe if I could get the dogs I could slow them down.

I found Wufei on the back trail, "How many dogs?" I asked.

"Three." He told me, face grim.

"I'll be back." I checked the load and the safety on the rifle, "Don't wait for me."

He only grunted.

I needed to put a little distance between me and our location; the muzzle flashes would give away my position as soon as I began firing.

I moved as silently as I have ever moved, going first straight back before veering off to the right and breaking into a run parallel to our original route. I found a position and waited for the dogs and their handler to come into view. And damned if I didn't feel bad about the stupid dogs. In the distance, I thought I heard the heart beat thrum of the chopper. Shit; now it shows up.

Then the time was right, and I took my shots. Four shots; four hits, and I was gone from there.

It took them a moment, and then rifle fire was tearing up the scrub in the vicinity of my former position. I had cut directly across their trail, was completely on the other side of them, and was heading back the way I had come. They held their position, returning fire into the night for several long minutes, before realizing that no one was firing back. I hoped they would waste time looking for a body.

It really didn't matter now; I might as well have saved myself the trouble, the sound of the incoming chopper would lead them straight to us. I just put my head down and ran. Duo wouldn't let them leave without me or else he'd stay behind. Damn. Again with the life's lessons about soldiers and entanglements.

Sure enough, as I pounded back up the trail, I heard Duo and Wufei cursing at each other in low growls. I could guess what about. The sound of our ride out of here was definitely getting closer. I whistled the signal sharply, to avoid getting ventilated by my own teammates, and the argument stopped dead in its tracks.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Duo snapped, as I rejoined the group.

Adrenaline was still coursing through my system and I recklessly grabbed him around the waist and pulled him close enough to hiss in his ear, "Worry sucks, doesn't it?" Letting him go almost instantly to stride on by to give Marion her rifle back.

"They're close." I informed the group, "But without their dogs, and being a little more cautious than they were."

I turned to Marion, the question unspoken, but clearly understood.

"There." She pointed, "In the center of this arm of the meadow."

The rotor noise was near enough now that I could tell it was one of the large troop transport ships, great-grandson of the old Jolly Greens. It was almost here.

"Time to go, boys." Marion told us, just as I arrived at that conclusion and we moved out of our tree line cover and ran for the landing zone.

The ship hove into view ahead of us, running treetop low and coming to meet us. I honest to Gods thought we were going to make it, when the first shots rang out behind us, and Wufei faltered. Duo was right there, darting in and catching him before he hit the ground, and I breathed again when I realized he was still moving partially under his own power.

I turned, and fired almost blindly at the tree line. They had rifles, and the range advantage, not moving out of their cover, but well able to pick us off. But it was too late; we were committed, there was nowhere else to go. Behind me, I heard the crack of Marion's rifle, and damned if a body didn't fall out of the trees. I turned back and continued my run, finding her sprawled on the ground in a snipers position, firing shot after shot into the trees. I moved to cover her.

She laughed harshly as I dropped down beside her, "The idiots are too stupid to turn the damn flashlights off!" and I saw another body fall, and a third light fall to the ground in the trees.

I grunted, and she laughed again, "What's the matter, Cub? Think I carried the gun just 'cause it went with the outfit?"

I did my best to shield her with my body as she returned fire; our best hope, as the rest of us only had handguns and I doubted, even as I fired, that my shots were getting to their target.

I glanced around, finding us all on the ground, returning fire as we could. Duo had Wufei on the ground and was sprawled across him, using his body to protect him as best he could. My heart turned over, but I realized it was no more than I was doing myself and I had to bite my tongue. Then there was the wind of the chopper blades, and we suddenly had real cover fire from the side gunner on board.

"Move out!" Trowa screamed over the roar of the blades, "Chopper on the ground! Move out!"

I hauled Marion to her feet, and shoved her that way in front of me. I could hear the damned bullets singing in the air. I got her to where Trowa and Quatre were waiting to boost her in, and turned back to find Duo and Wufei. They were on their feet, Wufei hanging in Duo's grasp as they stumbled toward us. I could see them arguing even as they came, and I would have laughed if my heart hadn't been in my throat. I ran to meet them, grabbing Wufei from the other side, and we sprinted for the open side of the chopper, staying clear of the side gunner and Mama-Marion's rifle.

We handed Wufei up to Trowa's waiting hands, and then we were making the scramble ourselves as the chopper lifted away in a dizzying sudden turn and lift.

I just lay on the damn floor; Duo sprawled across me with one hand clinched on my belt in a death grip. The machine gunner finally stopped firing and we were flying through the dark with just the sound of the roaring blades.

"Status!" I yelled over the noise when I had my breath back.

"Heero; will you fucking grab hold of something!" Duo was screaming at me, and I realized that my legs were still dangling over the edge of the deck. I drug myself around and sat up against the wall behind the pilots cabin where there were straps to hang onto. Duo had himself already anchored there, and I finally figured out why he had his hand permanently glued to my belt.

"Sorry, love." I mouthed at him with a grin, and he just glared, not moving his hand.

"Status?" I yelled again, looking around at our little group and waiting for the replies to come.

"Clear." Quatre was the first to reply, and it meant he had come through completely unscathed.

"Clear." Coming from Trowa, who was bending over Wufei's leg.

I got a hesitant, "Not in danger." From Wufei, indicating wounded, but non-life threatening.

There was a moment's silence, and I felt Duo finally let go of me and then he grunted a dismal "Unsure." that brought me around in a panic. He was looking down at blood-covered hands, and when he saw me looking at him, slowly turned his back to me. His shirt was blood soaked across his shoulders, and I felt four pairs of eyes on me waiting for my assessment. I just grabbed his t-shirt collar in both hands and ripped it off. It was a bullet crease. Clear across his shoulder blades, bloody and ugly, but not bad. I had to clear my throat.

"Not... not in danger." I managed to choke out and my hands were suddenly shaking. Why in the bloody hell was it always Duo? He turned back to face me with a faint grin, "You?"

"What?" I grunted, confused.

"Status, Heero; what's your status?"

I had to stop and think about it, looking down at myself to be sure, and finally, Duo was shoving me first one way and then the other checking me over thoroughly, before pronouncing me "Clear."

Duo glanced up then to the opposite side of the transport where Mama-Marion was sitting and watching us quietly.

"Mama-Marion?" he hollered at her, "What's your status?"

She flashed him a smile and ducked her head a little before telling us almost sheepishly, "Uhmmmm... not in danger?"

It's a wonder the pilot didn't lose control of the chopper from the sudden shift in the weight as Trowa and Quatre both scrambled to her side. She turned out to have a bullet in her right arm and sat quietly smiling around at us while Trowa cleaned and bound it up. Quatre stayed with her when they were done, while Trowa came with the med-kit and set to work on Duo.

I helped him strip off the remains of the shirt and Trowa cleaned out the wound before applying gauze padding and wrapping bandages around Duo's torso. Then he returned to Wufei so that each of our wounded had someone with them.

The door gunner sat in his harness, perched almost outside the choppers side, eyes on the ground and hand on his guns, but there wasn't another attack. I didn't envy him his exposed position. Had he not been sitting there; a stranger in our midst, I would have had Duo in my arms, and I think he would have been there. He looked tired, and I could tell from his slow movements that his muscles were painfully cramping and stiffening up. We sat side by side, though I was leaning against the cabin wall, while Duo sat hunched forward, protecting his back, we let our legs touch, the best we could manage.

Wufei lay with one hand draped in a harness strap, his injured leg stretched out on the deck, eyes closed. I couldn't tell if he was asleep or not. Trowa hovered over him. Quatre was just sitting with Mama-Marion, lightly holding her hand and letting his eyes wander across the group much the way I was. While Mama-Marion just sat and smiled around at us, simply happy, I think, that we had all come out alive. It took several hours, and it was full dark, before we got to a base and the chopper finally landed.

We got our wounded out and on the deck, both the gunner and the pilot coming to give Mama-Marion a hug as though they knew her, before vanishing into the hanger. Trowa supported Wufei and I supported Duo and we walked out of there under our own power. We could have waited for the medics and the fuss, but that's just not the way we did things. We were soldiers just like everyone else on this base, but we were Gundam pilots and that set us off somehow; we never quite fit in. You walked into a mess hall where they knew what you were, and the conversation would stop. Tended to make us hang together.

Mama-Marion walked just ahead of us, Quatre at her elbow, smiling around the base as though she was coming back to place she knew well, but hadn't been in awhile. She greeted more than one person with a 'sweetling' or a 'pup' or a 'bright-eyes'. Those people so graced, would grin and come hug her, and call her 'Mama-Marion' and fuss over her bound up arm. She just waved them off and led us into the depths of the base toward the infirmary. We were met half way there by a puffing commander Worthington and a grinning Lt. Noin.

Worthington looked relieved to have caught up to us, looking rather like a man who had opened a box of chocolates only to find it full of shit. I wondered if this was the man who had determined that we had been 'at the end of our ropes'.

"Marion," he seemed genuinely happy to see us all in one piece, but I scowled at him anyway just on general principle and the fact that he was slowing down my efforts to get Duo and Wufei medical attention. "So glad to see you made it."

"Not unscathed, however, Bertie," Mama-Marion patted his cheek as she breezed by, catching his arm and dragging him along, "You wanna talk; walk with us. I want my boys in the sick-bay."

Duo had to lean his forehead against my shoulder to stifle his laugh, and we bowed our heads together pretending it was a sound of pain.

Commander Worthington glanced at us and matched his pace with Mama-Marion's, "Of course."

Duo didn't raise his head until the mans back was turned, and then the look he got from a near giggling Noin almost made him lose it again. We were getting close to our destination, and I swept Duo up in my arms, careful of his back and let him bury his face in my shoulder where he could grin all he wanted.

It really was rather funny; the man seemed such a pompous ass, and Mama-Marion was treating him not like a base commander, but like another one of her brood of children, almost as though she ran things around here and not him.

When we barged into the infirmary, it was just as though she did run things. She started throwing orders around, and people jumped like she was using that rifle still slung over her shoulder to threaten them.

She had 'her boys' deposited on beds in a matter of minutes, directing the medics and nurses like a five star general. I caught Trowa's eye, and we moved in on either side of her. I took the rifle away and passed it to Quatre and then we turned her away and headed her toward an empty bed, "Enough, Mama-Marion. I think they know how to do their jobs."

She grinned at us, patting first my face and then Trowa's, "Of course, Poppets." And meekly let us settle her, her pack still clutched lightly in her good hand and when Trowa tried to take it from her, she resisted a moment, before passing it to him with a soft, "Keep an eye on it for me, won't you Angel?"

Somewhere in there, Commander Worthington vanished, and once he was gone, Noin was pushing passed us, grinning from ear to ear and hugging Mama-Marion for all she was worth.

"Hellcat? Is that my little Hellcat?" Mama-Marion beamed at her and finally had her attention diverted and the medic was able to move in and start to work on her arm. Trowa and I faded back, leaving them alone.

The nurse was unwrapping Wufei's field dressing and I finally got a good look at his wound; fairly clean, through the calf, missing bone and major blood vessels, thank the Gods, but bleeding still and obviously damned painful, Quatre was by his side, trying to comfort, while Wufei was busily not needing comfort. I didn't think Wufei would ever change. Trowa stayed with them, and I moved on to check on Duo.

He was sprawled on his stomach, head pillowed on folded arms, grinning from ear to ear while he waited his turn to be poked and prodded.

"Hellcat?" He snickered, watching Mama-Marion and Noin deep in conversation.

I squatted by his bed and smiled at him, "Don't laugh; you're Kittling."

He blinked and blushed lightly, "Oh yeah, that's right... Cub." And his impish grin was back.

I grunted and let my fingers brush lightly across his arm. The intensity of his grin faded to a warm smile meant just for me, and his eyes told me he wanted much, much more than just that small touch.

The medic came then and he hissed in irritation, as he looked Duo over, "What the hell did you do?" He questioned me, "Drag him here?"

I grunted again and resisted the urge to explain to this man that it was hardly my fault; I had not been the one to throw my partner off a stinking cliff. Instead, I moved back and gave them room as a nurse came up and began helping.

One look at his battered body, and they sent him to x-ray and then ran an ultrasound. I heard mutterings about Gundam pilots being made out of gundanium, and Duo was finally settled in a bed, sprawled on his stomach, pumped full of pain killers and pretty much passed out cold.

Wufei had endured stitches and was ensconced in the bed next to Duo, an IV in his arm, asleep as well.

Trowa, Quatre and I sat on a couple of the nearby beds, the place was empty except for us, and waited for Mama-Marion to come back from surgery. The doctors had left, either to surgery or to their beds, and there was one lone nurse on duty, but she gave us a wide berth. I fully intended on sleeping in here tonight, and was relieved to see that I wouldn't get any trouble from her. She came near our end of the room only when her job required it.

A second nurse wheeled Mama-Marion back into the room about a half an hour later, dressed in one of those ridiculous hospital gowns, with her upper arm swathed in clean, white bandages. She directed the nurse to the bed she had chosen for herself and insisted on climbing into it unaided even though the three of us and both nurses were hovering there to help.

"I'm old, sweetlings," She informed the room at large, "Not helpless."

She settled herself and directed us around with a certain amount of glee; after all, she had been waiting on us for... for... a while.

She retrieved her pack from Trowa with a slightly relieved look, sent one of the nurses for water, sent Quatre to fetch an extra pillow and had me adjusting the head of her bed. We were delighted to attend to her.

After a bit, the extra nurse left the room and the on duty one returned to her desk across the room.

"Come here, Cub." She said and had me come and sit on the edge of her bed. Trowa and Quatre stifled yawns and she waved them off to sleep.

"Go on, little ones; go to sleep." Trowa just chuckled and shook his head. At his normal height, he towered over her small frame. They each came and gave her a soft peck on the cheek, looking almost surprised at themselves, then went to find beds near Wufei and Duo.

"So, tell me, my little wolf Cub;" she asked once they were gone, "How is our Duo?"

"He's Ok." I smiled at her, "Damned sore; but Ok."

She patted my hand, "And my little Dragling?"

I grinned; Duo was going to get so much mileage out of these pet names. "Resting. Bullet missed anything major."

She nodded once, in seemed satisfaction, and then looked at me critically, "And you, Cub?"

I snorted, "I'm fine."

"Don't look fine." She retorted, "Look damned tired."

I shook my head ruefully and repeated, "I'm fine." With a little more emphasis.

"You're not responsible for everything, wolfling." She gave me a mock glare, "Stop taking the whole wide world on your shoulders."

I quirked an eyebrow at her, "Oh? You have room to talk." I grinned, "Or did you think I wouldn't know why you picked the bed between us and the door."

She had the decency to blush slightly, "Hmmm, busted, huh?" she grinned, then gave me a calculating look, "But then, I just realized you took the bed closest to the door back at the house. Some reason you recognized what I was doing?"

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Sunhawk's fic]