Two out of Three
Chapter 8: Come Hell or High Water
"What's with the dead bodies?" I asked, hoping like hell that the pair of limp figures a couple of goons I'd never seen before in my life were hauling out of the hall and into the bedroom were just knocked out and not actual casualties.
"They're not dead," Howard replied, giving me a look that questioned my sanity. "How're they gonna fool the heat sensors in this damn place and make everyone think you an' Trowa are still in here if they're dead?"
"Um, yeah. OK," I mumbled around my relief. "So... if they're gonna be us" I gestured to Trowa and myself. Trowa was standing so close we might have been joined at the hip. Literally. There was a militant gleam in his eye that made my pulse spike. Damn. Was it just me or did the guy keep gettin' freakin' sexier? "then where are we gonna be?"
This I asked as the goons dumped the unconscious guys on our unmade bed. I assumed the poor schmucks were legitimate emergency workers but who the hell knew. Maybe they'd been hired specifically for this task. There was no time for curiosity, so I stuck to the script.
Howard tossed us a pair of hazmat suits. Neither Trowa nor I moved to put them on. Although I'd known this was the plan and I'd worked for it, I couldn't appear too willing or they might consider leaving the other guys behind. I focused on being friendly with Howard, but wary of the situation in general. Trowa was just plain wary.
"You're coming with us," Goon Number One said, reentering the living room.
"Suit up," the second ordered.
I stiffened out of pure reflex. Nobody tells Duo Maxwell what to freakin' do!
"And if we don't?" Trowa challenged softly.
Goon Number One pulled out a riot-control-grade Taser which was pretty much self-explanatory. I turned to Howard for an explanation. "The hell, man?"
"I'm sorry, kid, but I need your help. Someone's gotten a hold of your Gundam."
On cue, I boggled at him. "Someone's got my buddy Deathscythe?" Which I'd left with Howard for him to hide and keep hidden at all costs after the war.
Howard nodded reluctantly.
"Who, goddammit?!" I didn't ask ‘how' or ‘why'. I was pretty sure this was just Howard's idea of a ruse to get me to come along peaceably. If someone really did have my ‘Scythe, it could only be because Howard had freakin' given it to them, and if that was the case... Yeah, he and I were gonna have a nice, looong chat about that.
"Dammit, Duo," he wheezed. "There's no time. They're rerouting power and the sensors are gonna be on-line any minute now!"
"Shit," I complained. I never once considered refusing, but I hesitated as if I were waffling over it. It wasn't as if I could say no, not with the bait Howard had dangled. Deathscythe was my responsibility and if I didn't make sure it was secure people could die. So, in the end, I complied, pulling the white, plastic suit on over my clothes. Trowa waited for me to finish suiting up before he stepped into his. I smiled grimly; yeah, that was Trowa all right always watching my back.
I stood still while he stuffed my braid down the back of my hazmat getup and then I turned toward him and tucked his distinctive bangs behind his ears as best I could. Then the hazmat helmets went on and we were outta there. A goon lingered to fiddle with what looked like one of those hack-‘n'-crack laptop deals. I'd only ever used them when I'd had room in my pack or I'd been expecting exceptionally tight security. Usually, popping the lid on the lock and hotwiring the damn thing was sufficient, but in this case an external power source was also needed. Hence the fancy gizmo.
I was dying to ask about the others, but didn't. We moved quickly, heading for the emergency stairwell. The hall was lit with yellow lights which blinked along the floor in a flow pattern, leading building occupants in the direction of the stairs. Normally, the stairs were locked down and you had to take the damn elevator. Given the condition of the premises, however, it swung open without protest and we clamored down each flight to the ground floor.
The goons flanked Trowa and I as Howard took the lead. I tried not to stare as Bret – wearing a gas mask – flagged down Howard and the old guy headed in his direction for a chat. The goons kept moving us through the lobby, in the direction of the front doors, but I glimpsed Howard's lips as he spoke.
"... suits are damaged. Takin' ‘em out for medical eval..."
Bret was nodding in completely non-suspicious agreement and I wondered if I'd ever cross paths with the guy again. If I did, I'd damn well better hope he didn't recognize me, so I guessed this was goodbye. I spared a passing thought to giving him a farewell salute, but I wasn't cocky enough to actually do it. I just kept my head down and concentrated on where the hell I was going.
We passed several other hazmat guys on the way out. No one studied us. No one noticed that we weren't one of their colleagues. No one did the comical-yet-dreaded double-take which normally heralds a shout of discovery. Trowa and I were led out to an ambulance and herded into the back of it. The instant the doors closed, both Trowa and I had the stupid condom hats off and were looking over the space. He tested the latch on the backdoor; it was locked. I checked the panel separating the back from the driver's seat; it was welded in place.
I turned toward Trowa and he gave me a slight shake of his head. Glancing at the door handle, I had to agree with him. It was a completely closed system. There was no way I could pick the lock from this side of the door. It was nothing but painted steel on the inside with a lever protruding.
There were no windows. Thanks to an overhead light, we could see what the hell we were doing, but there didn't seem to be much that actually could be done.
In silence, we checked the cubbies beneath the benches. They were all empty of useful things like syringes, gauze, sports tape, IV line tubing, antiseptic spray... You get the idea. We had zero weapons except for our flimsy hazmat suits and what we'd walked out of the apartment wearing. We were stuck in a small detention cell on wheels.
And then we started moving.
I glanced at Trowa before joining him on his bench. As long as we were moving, it wasn't likely we'd be attacked. Of course, when we eventually stopped, it'd be better if Trowa and I split up. Although I knew Howard and I trusted Howard, I didn't know who these other bozos were and they hadn't earned my trust. Trowa's either. It was us against them until they proved their intentions were sympathetic toward us. They could hardly expect anything else from a pair of guys who were purportedly so dangerous that a freakin' War Tribunal had considered euthanizing us.
As I had no idea how long this trip was gonna take, I figured we might as well spend it not silently rehashing the unknowns and uncertainties in our heads.
"If someone found Heavyarms," I began in a soft, somber tone, "would they be able to get in the cockpit?"
"Maybe," he allowed, frowning. His hair had tumbled back into place when he'd taken off the hazmat headgear and I studied his profile, watching the emotions cross his features. "They wouldn't be able to activate the main computer or armament systems." He glanced at me. "Deathscythe?"
"Same," I concurred. "I sure hope nobody tries to force their way in because my buddy doesn't take kindly to strangers." Even if someone managed to pop the hatch and get into the cockpit, trying to hack the system without the elaborate pass codes I'd implemented would only prompt the suit to defend itself. Aggressively.
"You miss it?" he whispered. "Piloting?"
"Hah. Only every minute of every damn day," I confessed. There was nothing nothing – like the roar of thrusters and the rush of acceleration; the G-forces that could tear you apart or merge you into one being with your mobile suit; the perfect synchronization of your thoughts and the suit's movements, as if your fingers were the neurons connecting the two of you. One mind and one body.
"You?" I asked Trowa.
He didn't answer immediately and I blinked him back into focus. "Yes," he eventually said and then turned his gaze toward me and took his time studying me from the top of my head to the tips of my white plastic booties. "But not like I used to."
"Married life agrees with ya, babe?" I teased him, leaning back against the side of the fake ambulance.
He turned a bit to better keep me in his line of sight. "Stop smiling," he ordered playfully.
I felt my brows rise in challenge. "Or else what?"
"Your husband will go insane."
"Insane's a nice place. I've been there lots of times." I leaned my knee against his and tucked my hands behind my head. "I highly recommend it."
"My budget's tight," he retorted and I grinned maniacally.
"I think you'd be surprised how far that can get you."
He leaned closer. "Offering to show me around?"
I shrugged. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to see?"
His green eyes glittered and his gaze burned a trail down my body. "Landscapes."
"Hm, that's pretty non-specific. Suppose the place I've got in mind doesn't fit the bill?"
"Try me," he growled and, just this once, I didn't mind that it was an order. I also didn't mind that he turned toward me fully with a supple twist and then threw a leg over mine. My breath caught in my throat as Trowa straddled my lap.
His hands settled on my chest and I dug my fingers into my hair to keep from reaching for him. He bent down and pressed his lips to mine. I felt a tug on the front of my plastic jumpsuit and then the soft growl of the zipper being pulled down. Trowa's lips parted and I mirrored him, shivering when his tongue hesitantly investigated my mouth.
"Mmm," I complimented him, my hips jerking.
He rolled his in answer and I was pretty sure my toes curled but I was too busy tingling to really pay attention. This was so not the place, but then again maybe it was. I didn't know what was gonna happen when we got wherever it was we were going. Who knew when I'd have the chance to touch him like this again? I vaguely recalled a time when I'd been flabbergasted by my urge to touch, taste, and tease him. I didn't question it anymore. I simply couldn't not want him.
His thumbs brushed over my nipples through the fabric of my red shirt and I decided I'd better rein in his explorations. I yanked my hands out from behind my head and fumbled for his hazmat gear zipper. In two seconds flat, I had my hands under that damned green turtleneck and was bunching the fabric up over his belly as my fingers quested up his chest.
He shivered as I brushed his sides and then I was leaning forward, my hands locking together at the small of his back as I pressed my mouth to his bare sternum.
"You're supposed to be showing me someplace I'm not familiar with," he reprimanded me breathlessly.
I wasn't deterred. "Oh, but you'd be surprised how a change of perspective can make something you took for granted fascinating."
"You're conning me."
I looked up from the warm skin I'd been nuzzling and smirked. "Whatcha gonna do about it?"
Note to self: dare Trowa to take the initiative more often. I clutched his shoulders as he swooped down, tugged the neck of my shirt aside, sealed his mouth over the juncture of my neck and shoulder and proceeded to suck until I groaned. Damn. He was fuckin' marking me. I should be irritated. I should tell him how obnoxious he was being. I wasn't a freakin' tree stump in his territory.
But the wood in my pants was kinda working against me there.
"Oh God, Trowa. You've gotta stop..."
"Or else what?"
"Nuh..." I managed, luxuriating in the feel of his hips rocking against mine, his breath puffing against the damp love mark on my skin. "Or else I'm gonna use your shirt for a towel."
He chuckled darkly. A single fingertip traced the bruise he'd just coaxed onto my skin and mused, "Now who's marking whom?"
Oh, yeah. He was mine. There was nuthin' like a big smear of, er, stuff across his chest to announce it to the whole damn world. I chuckled and looked up at him through my lashes, "We seem to have wandered into the realm of your primeval, caveman fantasies, haven't we, baby?"
He narrowed his eyes at me. "You call me ‘baby' one more time and I will not be held accountable for my actions." Trowa's dangerously sensual purr did very noteworthy things to my libido.
"Tease," I informed him, grinning.
He leaned down and breathed into my ear. "You know you love it."
I shivered. Trowa seemed to be waiting for me to think up a comeback. Trouble was, I was more interested in massaging the length of his toned thighs.
"Duo," he admonished. Or, he tried to, but it came out as more of a moan of invitation.
"What have you done to me?" I whispered, awed. Here we were, captives of God-and-Howard-knows-who, going God-and-(hopefully) Howard-knows-where, and all I could think of was stuff I was pretty sure was for mature audiences only. "Why can't I get enough of you?" I demanded as if it were all his freakin' fault.
Trowa's teeth gleamed as a smile of pure joy stretched his lips and, damn, it was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. His eyes squinted with happiness and glittered with hope. He might have laughed or he might have answered my question if the ambulance hadn't started to slow then.
Instantly, we were both on high alert. Regarding the backdoor of the vehicle with a guarded expression, Trowa eased off of my lap and moved to the opposite bench. He tugged his shirt down; I zipped mine up. The icy, predatory light in his eyes mirrored mine and I wondered if we were gonna be facing a fight when those doors opened. I was kinda lookin' forward to that; a dark part of me wanted to see Trowa in action.
I could imagine it: his Silencer and my Shinigami, battling side by side. Silence and death: did one cause the other or did the second beget the first? One thing was certain; they were inexorably entwined, like yin and yang, like the two sides of a single coin, like day and night. One could not exist without the other.
Damn, that was almost poetic. It was too bad now was not the moment for impressing Trowa with my philosophical genius.
The sound of footsteps reached us, but it was muffled by the metal doors. I couldn't begin to guess how many people were approaching, if they were walking on concrete or neo-steel. All I could do was brace myself, try to stay out of Trowa's way, trust him to look after himself if it came down to a fight—
The latch swiveled downward. The door creaked open. Light spilled inside and then—
"H-hilde?" I stuttered, gawping at her bright smile.
"Who else, dumb-butt?" she teased me.
"Well... damn," I muttered. "Yeah, I guess it only makes sense they'd assign you to the welcome committee."
She rolled her eyes at my lame observation and then turned toward my silent companion. "Hello again, Trowa."
"Hilde," he replied, his tone carefully neutral. Damn but it was hard to believe that, not five minutes ago, he'd been freakin' sitting on my lap, smiling with delight. He was all soldier now. Which was what I also ought to be doing instead of sittin' here reminiscing.
I cleared my throat in order to regain Hilde's attention. "So, um, you look good. New haircut?"
She sighed with fond exasperation. "Jeez, Duo."
Yeah. My one-liners were pretty epic. I was well aware of this.
"Well, c'mon out of there. We're on a schedule." With that, she swung the door wide open and I took in our surroundings with a glance. We were inside a flight hangar and a shuttle was parked nearby. A flight crew was going over it, clearly just wrapping up their pre-flight maintenance. I spotted a few goons, but no one was pointing automatic weapons at us. What a letdown.
"Is that our ride? Can I pilot?" This I asked excitedly as I swung myself down from the back of the pseudo-ambulance.
Hilde smacked me on the arm. "Knock it off, buster. As I'd rather get out of here in one piece, I'll be captaining today."
"Hey, I'm a fantastic pilot," I retorted, a tiny bit stung. I reached back and helped Trowa down. Not because he needed it, but because I wanted to be clear that wherever I go, he goes.
"And it's been four years since you've been behind the yoke," Hilde pointed out.
"Rubbing it in are we?" I rejoindered. "When did you become so cruel?"
"It was inevitable without your sparkling influence to keep me on the path of light and rainbows."
I laughed. Oh God but I'd missed her. I took a step forward and gave her a brisk hug. "You're somethin' else, Schbeiker," I informed her, patting her on the back as I set her back on her feet.
She smirked. "So my better half tells me." Before I could ask who that might be and if I knew him if not, he'd have to be Duo-approved, you understand she pivoted toward Trowa and gave him a sweet smile. "So now it's up to you to keep this one out of trouble?"
He nodded solemnly.
My Trowa. He was such a kidder. I daringly threw an arm over his shoulders but restrained myself from ruffling his hair. I think I might have sprained something trying to keep the impulse in check, but, by God, I managed it. "Don't let him fool you," I told Hilde as she led us toward the shuttle. "He secretly loves it."
"Well, you're very lovable," Hilde rationalized, winking at Trowa.
Now, Trowa wasn't nearly as scary as Heero, but I was impressed as hell that she was taking his stoicism in stride.
"Make yourselves comfortable," she invited, gesturing us into the shuttle.
"What's the in-flight movie?" I quipped, scanning the inside as Trowa took in the goings-on within the hanger one last time.
"Space, the final frontier," she replied. "Enjoy the view."
Hell, she had no idea what a novelty it was gonna be to sit next to a bonafide window and watch the scenery pass by. At least until we were free of the Earth's atmosphere. Even then, it'd be a marvel. Damn, but I'd missed space.
"Look, Hilde," I began, speaking quietly. "I don't wanna cause trouble but... who the hell are these guys?"
She frowned slightly. "I can't exactly give you names and references at the moment, Duo." She held up her arm and shook her wristwatch meaningfully.
"Yeah yeah, I get that we're on a schedule here but, do you trust them?"
"Do you know how many laws I've broken on your behalf?" she replied earnestly. "Just today?"
I could hazard a guess. She continued before I could quote a number between one and a hundred.
"We need all the help we can get. Now, unless you want to have a chat with some Preventer agents and their boss a former Commander Une whom I believe you're acquainted with? we've got to hit the runway."
"What about the others?" Trowa asked.
"Heero, Quatre, and Wufei? Howard's taking care of them." Hilde didn't have to tell me that it was better for everyone involved if we split up. That way, if one group was caught, the other might still have a shot at gettin' airborne and space-bound.
"OK," I allowed and finally stepped into the shuttle. I chose a seat in the emergency exit row and Trowa sat beside me. Hilde disappeared into the cockpit and, sure enough, a half dozen goonish-types wandered in and belted up a few seats away from Trowa and me, obviously flanking us.
I could tell Trowa didn't really like this. Hell, now that I was here and it was happening, I didn't like it much, either. Still, bitching about it wasn't gonna win me any points with our potential allies. Or future enemies. Whichever they turned out to be. Probably the latter.
"You're not a fan of former Commander Une?" Trowa asked drolly, obviously turning his thoughts away from the same dark avenue that mine were also wandering. I think he was trying to be teasing, but it was hard to tell what with his shoulders so stiff and his eyes constantly moving behind the fall of hair.
"She's not a fan of mine," I corrected. "And, call me immature, but I'm still not over that public execution gig she scheduled me for."
Trowa's lips twitched. "Is that all?"
"Hey, you're damn lucky I don't hate you for tryin' to blow up my buddy Deathscythe... on live television, pal."
"Better it than you, Duo."
He was right, but I didn't want to admit it. I crossed my arms and muttered, "Well, at least I got some sweet upgrades outta it."
Suddenly, he leaned over and pressed a kiss to my temple. When I glanced over at him, he was giving me that silent, laughing smile. My lips were helpless against the pull to answer it with a grin.
Takeoff was uneventful, although yes, dammit, I did enjoy the scenery of the surrounding airport and tarmac. Hilde ploughed our way through the Earth's atmosphere with competence and a certain measure of haste that I could identify with. The flight was long and, for most of it, I leaned my shoulder against Trowa. He had his arm around me and, despite the weightlessness of space, I was probably squishing him – or at least putting pressure on a nerve cluster – but he never fidgeted. He would just alternate between scanning the shuttle's passenger section and sighing out a breath against my hair.
I had no idea what it was that made him content to be so openly affectionate with me. His habits and mannerisms certainly hadn't changed with regards to anyone else. In the end (well, after thinking about it for half an hour or so), I chalked it up to the fact that we were still married and still supposed to be acting like it.
It was nice when his fingers drew little patterns against the leather of my jacket sleeve. It was even kinda cool to see the end of my braid wound around his wrist to keep it from floating all over the damn place. Plus, Trowa was warm. That was the one thing about space travel that you always had to deal with: the cold. It didn't matter if the shuttle's climate controls were set to replicate the average summer day in freakin' Dubai; just seeing that blackness beyond the window and the chilling, white starlight which didn't twinkle out here – no, it damn well glared at you – made you want to shiver.
"You weren't born on a colony, were you?" I mused.
"I don't think so."
"What made you choose it? Space, I mean?" I pressed.
For the first time since we'd gotten engaged hell, for the first time since he'd regained his lost memories during the war he looked uncomfortable with a topic of conversation. "I figured it had to be better than Earth."
I remembered his personnel file and the references to the band of mercs he'd spent his childhood with. Yeah, space was quieter in those days. Not much fighting with bullets, anyway. What would be the point when a stray missile could result in decompression, killing everyone on the whole damn colony? Hell, nobody wanted to die that way which is why the attack on Maxwell Church had been such a rallying point for years afterwards in L2. Those damn ground-loving Alliance officers could have wiped out the whole frickin' colony with a single, poorly calibrated targeting system. Naturally, people were flamin' pissed about that. The fact that the Alliance had taken out a peaceful church community had only added righteous indignation to the already towering inferno of rage.
They say space colonists are outta their minds to live in a tin can, zooming through freakin' vacuum, but we have a healthy respect for the unforgivable nature of space and we are not in the habit of poking the sleeping bear in the eye, thank you very much.
"Was it?" I asked after a long moment of companionable silence. "Was it better than Earth?"
"I don't know," he answered softly and I had to be satisfied with that. It was clear he wasn't gonna volunteer anything else.
The flight took almost thirteen hours by Trowa's wristwatch and, in my opinion, that was about eleven hours too freakin' long.
"Where the hell are we?" I griped, staring out the porthole window at the small colony just coming into view. It was clear we were headed there; there was nothing else around for freakin' hours' worth of shuttle time. And if this wasn't our destination, I was gonna start bouncing off the damn walls. Hilde really should have let me pilot. It would have given me something constructive to focus on.
"I'm not sure..." Trowa murmured but, from his tone, I figured he could make a pretty good guess. He didn't sound particularly happy about this being our final stop, either.
I gave him a look, practically ordering him to spit it out. He tilted his head slightly toward the goon across the aisle who was scrolling through something on a digital tablet. It was probably porn.
I sighed and shut the hell up. I'd figure out where the hell we were when we got there. One thing was for sure: this place hadn't even warranted a pit stop during the war. Hell, it hadn't even been a blip on my navigation charts. So, either it was a brand spankin' new colony or it had been in lockdown at the time. I'd certainly never enjoyed a layover here. I'd never hidden my Gundam in its shadow or refueled by syphoning fuel from the colony reservoirs.
As we got closer, I could finally make out the ID number painted on the exterior skin of the floating city: X18999.
Never heard of it.
But, by the way he stiffened, Trowa knew a thing or two about this place. "Damn it," he gritted out and I took my time studying his tensed posture and clenched jaw. Yeah, I'd have to watch my step while we were here. If the denizens of this colony weren't an ally of Trowa's, then I highly doubted I'd be able to trust them.
It wasn't as if I hadn't expected that all along, but it was kind of a buzz knowing we were heading into actual enemy territory.
"You ready for this?" Trowa rumbled softly in my ear, his fingers tightening on my arm in warning.
I chuckled darkly. "Whoo, baby. I was born ready."
"Luckily for me," he muttered almost too softly for even me to hear. But I did hear him, so I elbowed him in the ribs and cackled.
"Hell hath no hormones like a 20-year-old guy," I remarked, earning myself a playful shove in retaliation.
Docking seemed to take for frickin' ever and I was kinda surprised that I was this hyped up after thirteen hours of dozing fitfully and alternately sucking down packaged protein shakes and staring out the window. The novelty of the latter still hadn't worn off yet.
By the time the hatch had been vacuum-sealed and was swinging open, the only thing keeping me in my own skin was Trowa's hand in mine. I think I was clutching him a little too hard, but he didn't complain. The goons waited for us to exit the ship first. I led the way, but I could feel Trowa's hand on my lower back, ready to grab ahold of my waistband and pull me out of the way of oncoming bullets. Or so I imagined.
Hilde was still running through the post-flight checklist, so it looked like Trowa and I would be setting foot in unfamiliar territory all by ourselves. I could hear the six goons behind us, herding us toward the hatch and I hated that Trowa was between me and them. I had no idea who we could trust here. I mean, I trusted Hilde, but did she even know who these people were or what they wanted from us? Just how aware was she in the midst of all this?
Both excellent questions. Too bad I hadn't had the chance to ask her.
We cycled through the airlock together, waiting for the sensors to approve us and whatever bacteria we were inadvertently carrying. By the time the lights finally blinked green and the door slid open, I'd imagined every possible scenario awaiting us: an automatic-weapon-toting army, a colony bureaucrat complete with smarmy smile, AC 199's freakin' Miss L2 waving from a parade float... Every possible situation except for the one that actually greeted us.
I blinked at the young girl – I guess she was about ten or twelve years old – with short, vibrant red hair and eyes which blazed with something more than just youth, something just about as inspirational as Quatre's We-can-and-we-will! persona. She was wearing a simple but very pretty light green dress. Her hands were clasped tightly in front of her and I imagined she would have been fidgeting with excitement if not for the formal mannerism.
"Welcome to X18999," she said, her luminous gaze moving from me to Trowa and back again.
"Er, thanks," I replied, wondering where the army, the bureaucrats, the beauty queens were. Oh, and Howard and the other guys.
She must have noticed the way Trowa and I swept the transport bay with our gazes because she said, "The others will arrive soon with your friend Howard."
"What's the ETA?" I asked her. I wasn't sure if she could answer this question with any degree of authority. She was only a child, after all, but there was something about her that warned me not to treat her like a little girl despite the disarmingly innocent getup she was in.
"Two hours, fifty minutes," she answered immediately. "I'll take you to your rooms so you can settle in."
"Um, OK." I know it wasn't very intelligent, but it seemed like some sort of response was required and that was the best I could come up with.
She turned on her heel as if to dance away from us toward the exit. It occurred to me that there was still a lot that I didn't know. First and foremost—
"Hey, hold up. You obviously know who we are, but who are you?"
The young girl pivoted around gracefully on her patent leather shoe and curtsied. "My name is Mariemeia," she informed us.
I inexplicably felt as if I should have recognized her. I didn't.
"You'll like your rooms!" she continued with bizarre amounts of confidence. Christ, she might as well have been royalty the way she carried herself. Just watching her, it was easy to forget that Trowa and I were being hidden on this out-of-the-way, all-but-invisible colony from the authorities. I mockingly wondered if we'd be knighted in exchange for defending her honor.
Fairytale princesses in green dresses aside, I still had no idea who had helped Howard and Hilde smuggle us outta Winner Enterprises, Inc. Nor did I have anything except Hilde's assertion and this child's word that the other three guys had been extracted, too. And, to top it all off, nobody was cluing me in on what the hell these yet-to-be-revealed boss-type-bozos were gonna want from us.
Although, I was pretty sure they we weren't here to sign autographs.
As Mariemeia began to lead the way again, Trowa and I followed, sticking close to each other but trying not to be too obvious in our suspicions. The goons trailed behind us half a dozen paces, probably trying to be non-threatening. They failed epically.
"Are you a guest here, too?" I asked our cheerful guide since Trowa didn't seem inclined to say much.
"Oh, no. This is my home."
As I hadn't seen much of it so far, I couldn't really comment on that. Hopefully, this was a normal, functioning colony with other kids her age and schools and summer festivals and crap like that. There was something about little Mariemeia that made me want an idyllic world for her.
"Do you like it here?"
"Hmm..." she began, drawing out the note as she thought out her answer. "It has a lot of potential."
"Is that so?"
"How many people live here?" I charmingly interrogated her. I kept the conversation ball merrily bouncing along as we marched (or, rather, as we were marched) down the neo-steel halls. Mariemeia was so disarmingly enthusiastic when speaking of her home here that I could almost believe we were in heaven on-Earth-orbit. Almost, but not quite.
See, every populated and industrious colony in existence has one thing in common: the ever-present hum of machinery hard at work, serving the humans who maintain it. There's a pulse – an artificial and precise heartbeat – that permeates every nook and cranny of a colony. Whenever you passed by an air vent, you could hear it whooshing. Whenever you walked barefoot or pressed your palm against the metal walls, you could feel it vibrating, shaking to a beat from an inaudible orchestra. A colony was a machine and the only time it was ever silent was at the end of its life, when wear and tear and damage too great to be repaired overtook it. In space, silence spelled death, not only for the machine, but for its people.
We were currently strolling down a corridor in a place just like that. Although I could feel air moving and there was a distant hum of power and productivity, it was off-key. Too quiet. As if X18999 was a colony in a coma and we were inside its sluggishly beating heart.
I didn't for a moment believe that this place could be anybody's home. And that meant I couldn't trust our liar of a guide. No matter how innocent or well-meaning or charming she appeared to be.
"Your rooms," Mariemeia suddenly announced, dancing to a graceful halt.
I let out a breath of relief and Trowa's shoulders visibly relaxed as the single door she'd indicated whispered open. I'd been assembling my arguments against putting us up in separate rooms, but it looked as if I wouldn't be needing them. I peered through the doorway and took in the very comfortable suite beyond.
"Please make yourselves at home," she invited.
Neither Trowa nor I budged.
"I'm gonna wanna see the others when they arrive," I told her. I made sure my expression and tone made it clear that this point was nonnegotiable.
"Of course," she agreed easily. "But I imagine they'll be tired after the shuttle ride."
I highly doubted they'd be too tired to want to see Trowa and me, but Mariemeia continued happily, "Let's all have dinner together. I'll be back at eighteen hundred hours to show you the way."
I glanced back into the room, noting the presence of a clock which appeared to be accurate. "Sounds good."
"Have someone inform us when they've arrived safely," Trowa commanded softly, interjecting a wealth of assumptions into that single sentence.
Mariemeia didn't even blink in response to the implication that she was in a position to not only tell someone to contact us, but ensure that the others remained unharmed. "Certainly!"
And there was really nothing left to do but get outta the damn hall. Feeling like I was trading one prison cell for another, I strode across the threshold with my accompanying Trowa-shadow.
The door slid shut behind us and, naturally, that was precisely the moment when I "remembered" something I should have asked our guide about earlier. I jogged back to the door as Trowa looked on from the center of the nicely furnished living room, and hit the lock release button. The door immediately whooshed back open and I was mildly surprised that we weren't locked in after all.
But I had a question to ask and, as it was a relevant one, I knew I'd better get on with spitting it out instead of standing here marveling.
"Miss Mariemeia!" I called, poking my head back into the corridor. She and her entourage had only gone about a dozen steps down the hall where they had paused. The girl appeared to be quietly speaking with a random goon and I was struck by how the ginormous oaf leaned toward her, differing to her in telling silence and subservient body language.
"Yes, Mr. Maxwell?" she asked, looking for all the damn world as if she were delighted at the prospect of being helpful.
"Er, if we need anything, who do we buzz on the comm. unit?"
"Oh! Yes," she began, agreeing that I'd asked something pertinent, indeed. "Just open the line and tell the operator what you need. You'll be connected with someone who can help you."
"Ah, great. Thanks. See you at dinner." I waved and stepped back into the suite.
"Nice," Trowa complimented me as he eyed the state-of-the-art entertainment set. I knew he wasn't remarking on the luxuries because his gaze shifted momentarily to the door behind me.
"Yeah. Lots to keep us outta trouble until the others get here," I volunteered, playing along as I looked over the room with an eye toward spotting surveillance equipment. I was pretty sure we were being watched hell, if I were the guy in charge of busting us outta WEI and whisking us off into space, I'd want to keep an eye on us but it'd be nice to know which angles and what kind of cameras they were using.
"Eighteen hundred hours," Trowa reminded me and my lips twitched into a knowing grin.
Yeah, I'd caught that, too. Little girls didn't normally go around using military time in casual conversation. Even in the colonies, where you'd expect people to adopt a more pragmatic approach to life in general, they stubbornly stuck to the a.m. and p.m. system. Not because they felt any kind of connection to Earth, but because it suggested a certain level of mastery over the great, beastly void of space beyond. We decided when it was morning, afternoon, and evening. We controlled our lives. We had nothing to fear from the infinite realm of the universe out there.
So, something was clearly up. The military-oriented telling of time was strange all by itself, but the way Random Goon had all but bowed down before her had just capped off my bottled up suspicions. And then, of course, there was Trowa's initial reaction when he'd identified this colony as our destination. Something was up and I bet he could tell me a thing or two about this place, but I wasn't sure if it was anything he could say in a compromised room. He'd volunteer whatever he could, if he could. Meanwhile...
"Eighteen hundred hours," I agreed in a significant tone, letting Trowa know that I was on the same page as him and reading between the same lines.
We worked the rooms, going through all the drawers, closets, and cabinets; looking under, in, and around the furniture; inspecting electrical outlets. The only room with windows was the bedroom and I took it upon myself to pull back the curtains. I fiddled with the blinds, listening to Trowa rummaging in drawers behind me. I'd just gotten the hang of the archaic pulley-system – and let out a crow of delight at my accomplishment – when Trowa snapped at me.
"Stop playing around."
The words and his tone were so reminiscent of an early-wartime Trowa Barton that I turned and gaped at him. He slammed the bedside bureau drawer shut and straightened. A brief look of apology crossed his oddly flushed face before he stormed into the attached bathroom.
Curious (and, yeah, maybe a little stung), I reached out and opened the drawer that he'd just abandoned. He had in fact shoved it shut so quickly I wondered if it contained a nest of poisonous snakes. Of course, once I figured out what I was seeing in there, I understood his reaction completely.
I gawped. A wide variety of condoms, a selection of lubricants and no less than three dildos – all still in their retail packaging – plus a pair of cock rings stared back at me.
I shut the damn drawer twice as fast as Trowa had and then I went looking for my partner.
"You're forgiven," I informed him, stepping up behind him in the bathroom. He was staring into the mirror over the sink as if it had the power to divulge the secrets of the universe.
I stood up on the balls of my feet, wrapped my arms his waist, and propped my chin on his shoulder. It was kinda inconvenient being noticeably shorter than your supposed spouse, I decided. But it wasn't as if I could go back in time and correct a decade of malnourishment. Hell, even if I'd had two or three square meals a day like Trowa had as a kid, I still might have been shorter than him. So, really, there was no point in dwelling on it.
I figured Trowa wasn't all that keen to discuss the assumptions our invisible hosts had made about our sex life, so I turned my face toward him and pressed a kiss to the side of his neck.
"What do you think about us getting a cat?" I asked instead and a beat of silence echoed between us before Trowa actually threw back his head and laughed.
It wasn't an echoingly loud belly laugh or a crass guffaw or anything like that, but his whole body shook with mirth.
I grinned in triumph of the accomplishment.
Relaxed now, Trowa met my gaze in the mirror and responded, "I think you're insane."
"And you like that about me," I declared with cocky confidence. "I can tell."
Trowa turned in my embrace then and, leaning back against the counter, he tugged me forward until I was straddling his casually crossed legs. Chest-to-chest, he kissed me. Maybe it was a reward for sussing out some of his thoughts or maybe it was retaliation for teasing him. Whatever it was, it was damn nice. His hands rested on my hips and mine grasped his waist and holy-damn-wow it was hot. I found myself remembering our interrupted make-out session against the wall yesterday evening, recalling the heat of him against the inside of my thigh when I'd hooked my knee over his hip and wondered what he'd do if I...
"Ah, God, Trowa...!" I informed him mid-kiss. I was frickin' nanometers away from begging for mercy. I couldn't fight the way I felt when he touched me anymore, but I couldn't let myself forget that we were each playing a role here. Our marriage wasn't real and when this mission was over with...
"I could kiss you forever," Trowa rumbled.
My eyes popped open – damnitall, why was I always closing them? and I shivered at the earnest look he gave me before lowering his mouth to my neck and returning the kiss I'd given him a few minutes earlier. "Yeah?" I struggled to say. "Pretty sure that would defy the laws of physics."
"Hmm," he agreed, pulling me closer and fitting his hips against my crotch. "Sounds like a challenge."
"Oh? You like those, too, huh?" This I asked as my fingers delved beneath the hem of his shirt.
"I like you," he retorted, punctuating the sentence with a brief, hot lick. "Or did you already forget that?"
"Short attention span," I admitted, my hips grinding against his. Oh, God. This could not be comfortable for him but damned if I could make myself stop.
"One flying tackle coming up."
I don't know why I didn't expect him to make good on that, but, well, I didn't. I yelped when his hands grabbed my ass, hefting me up as he straightened. "Dammit, Trowa!" I cussed, wrapping my arms and legs around him to keep from falling. "Put me the hell down!"
"Keep your shirt on," he rebuked and then, pausing, amended, "Or... don't."
I couldn't think of a comeback in the time it took for him to cross the three meters between the bathroom and the spacious bed. He didn't toss me down on the mattress and beat his chest like I half-expected he would. (Well, OK, it was highly doubtful that Trowa would ever beat his chest like some kind of Amazonian caveman, but I was having some very interestingly mixed feelings over the mental picture it drummed up.) He laid me down gently, following and flowing with the colony-spin-generated gravity until he was blanketing me. My legs were still wrapped around his hips; we were both still fully clothed; we still hadn't finished looking over the room for wires, bugs, and cameras...
"Someone might be watching," I breathed into his ear. I sounded desperate even to myself. Shit. I was a total lost cause and I knew it.
"I don't care," he breathed back. He picked himself up off of me a bit, bracing himself on his elbows, and looked down, meeting my gaze. "I want you," he confessed and I could see how dark his eyes were and that glow of hopeful-wanting-something was back in full force.
"Ah, fuck it," I said, caving. "Me, too, baby." I reached for the hem of his shirt.
He groaned my name and damned if it wasn't the sexiest fuckin' thing I'd ever heard. If we'd had a change of clothes, we might not have bothered shedding the ones we were wearing, but, to hell with it. Skin on skin was better anyway. There was something necessary and irresistible about peeling off those layers to get to the essence of your lover underneath.
Damn. Trowa and I were lovers. I wasn't sure what I'd thought we were before. Maybe friends with awesomely sweaty benefits? But, hell, there was no denying it now. We should have been finishing up our sweep of the place instead of enjoying a little horizontal mambo. And I did enjoy it – hell, when Trowa ran his fingers over my balls, I nearly screamed – even though it wasn't real. Couldn't be real. When the mission was over, so was this and I didn't think I wanted it to end, but I didn't think I could handle it if this went on indefinitely and oh shit what was he doing with his tongue?!
I clutched his shoulders as he licked my navel, my hips rocking against his chest. I was desperate for friction and equally desperate that he not quest any lower with that mouth. I couldn't—it wasn't—I just didn't want—!
"Kiss me," I gasped out, pulling on his arms. I was freakin' inundated in a wave of relief when, with one last nuzzle and sucking kiss, he slid back up to me and joined our lips. Oh, yes. This was where his mouth belonged. Oh, God. I'd kill for him to do that lip-sucking thing again... ooohhh... yes. Just like that.
His hips surged-thrust-ground against mine and I locked my ankles together at the small of his back, my hands grabbing and clutching whatever part of him I could reach. He was groaning as his tongue moved over mine and I messily kissed him back. Eventually, I had to give up. My concentration was required elsewhere. I was dimly aware of my legs falling open, of my hands reaching for his ass, and then he moaned with abandon, stiffening in my arms. The sight of his lips – wet and puffy – falling open as his eyes unfocused sent me over the edge right along with him. I hissed his name between gritted teeth as pulse after pulse blew me away.
"Fuck," I remarked some seconds or minutes later when I realized I was still alive and in one piece. Sort of. "Super nova."
"Hmm," Trowa agreed and I tried not to laugh. Damn, was he always this freakin' docile after sex? Oddly enough, it made me feel like it was my turn to watch his back, like I couldn't just nod off like my body was begging me to do because how could I leave Trowa bare-assed defenseless?
Still draped over me, he dozed off. Somehow, he just freakin' ignored the goop sandwiched between our bellies and commenced with the classic crash ‘n' burn. I think he even drooled on the pillow next to my shoulder.
I gave him fifteen minutes, and then I started running my hands up and down his back. He didn't wake up at first – which just goes to show you how deep he'd gone under – and I wondered again where all these scars had come from. I kept hesitating to ask. Asking meant I thought I was owed an answer and this was personal, a helluvalot more personal than why he'd come to outer space or why he'd saved my damn braid during the war. These scars were his and his alone and if I asked him to share that with me, I'd be expecting him to share himself by extension. Our arrangement didn't give me that right.
Even though I kinda wanted it.
Now, wasn't that a kick in the balls?
Unsettled by the direction of my own thoughts, I called his name. It took a few tries but he stirred a bit. Taking advantage of his near-conscious state, I rolled him off of me. I made a face at the mess that was revealed and then I dashed into the bathroom for clean-up supplies.
"Why is it, if you're the janitor, I always end up with mop-up duty?" I halfheartedly complained as I wiped and dabbed.
"Hmm," he replied. "Just lucky, I guess."
I rolled my eyes and tossed a blanket over us now that we were mostly clean. The towels got dumped on the floor and we'd both need showers before dinner, but to hell with it. I could lie here for a bit. My eyelids drooped, but I kept myself awake by combing through his red-brown hair, ostensibly counting the strands.
A call came in not long thereafter and I picked up the handset on the bedside bureau to take the call. Some faceless goon informed me that the others had arrived. I insisted on speaking with them. Quatre was the one who picked up the handset.
"You guys OK?" I checked, both wishing for a video feed and glad I wasn't subjecting Q-man to the sight of a rumpled me wearin' nuthin' but a snazzy blanket.
"Yes. We're all fine, Duo. Confused, but..."
"Yeah. Maybe we'll get answers at dinner. We'll be seeing you guys there, OK? Eighteen hundred hours."
And then we hung up.
When I rolled back toward Trowa, I watched his sleepy green eyes drift shut again and I knew he'd gotten most of it.
At five o'clock, I shoved his ass outta bed and commanded him to get into the damn shower. I was expecting bitchy resistance, which was what I'd have responded with, but he merely hummed, kissed me deeply, and wandered into the bathroom. After I got done feeling all warm and fuzzy, I picked up his forgotten clothes and tossed them onto the bathroom counter for him.
Once he was done, it was my turn and a quarter to six found us sitting on the sofa in the living room, dressed and ready to go. I was leaning on Trowa, my cheek against his temple as I sat on my knees on the cushions. He was fiddling with the zippers on my leather jacket. Neither one of us had much to say. Pretty much everything that could be said in a potentially insecure room had been said. Now we were just waiting – conserving our strength – for whatever might come to light at dinner.
Part of me just wanted to stay here in these rooms forever. I didn't want to think about the future or the past. I didn't want to worry about crazy mad bastard egomaniacs out to cause trouble and maybe start a war.
I sighed. I'd started this freakin' mess and now it was up to me to clean it up, even if it meant that I really did have to face a madman with death and glory on the brain.
My heart sank when our doorbell chimed at eighteen hundred hours exactly. Damn. Back to real life.
I once saw an image of a smiling and laughing Trowa in an official Gundam Wing art book and that inspired the smile he gives Duo in the back of the ambulance and the laugh in the bathroom. Although Trowa does laugh once during the series, it's kind of creepy since he and Heero are chatting about effective methods of suicide. *shudders*
There are several references to events in the Gundam Wing series here as well as a few nods to the Episode Zero manga. If you have any questions, PM me or leave a signed review and I'll get back to you. Basically, all references to their pasts are canon.
I'm totally making up the flight duration. It takes four days (give or take a few hours) to get to the moon with our current technology, but I'm assuming that in the world of After Colony civilization, things have sped up considerably.
Also, in the series, it looks like there actually was fighting on the colonies before the Gundams went to Earth to cause trouble for the Alliance, but that never made much sense to me. What if a laser, bullet, or missile punctured the hull? Would they stop fighting long enough for it to get patched before decompression destroyed the whole place? How long would that take, anyway? Long enough for someone to suit up in a mobile repair unit and do something about it? Hm. Anyway, in this reality, ammunition and colonies don't mix.
We are now getting into my re-make of Endless Waltz. Lots of events will be different, although I think the cast of characters and their motivations will remain unchanged. For the most part.[ ch. 7 ] [ ch. 9 ] [ back to The Manwell's fic ]