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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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?"
2] [part 4] [back
to Sunhawk's fic]