Last updated: July 28, 2003

Title: Metamorphosis
Author: Karen, The Huntress
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters
Pairing: 1x2, 3x4, Wufei and Zechs alone
Warning: angst, language, violence, adult situations
Feedback: Always appreciated

Author's Note: Hello. Here is a new offering for your reading pleasure. I decided that since Zechs doesn't get included in many stories that he should have a part in this one but don't worry Duo and Heero are still together. Please enjoy your reading. Take care. Hugs. Karen, The Huntress.

Metamorphosis: A Tale of Transformation
by Karen Hickman

Metamorphosis--A striking alteration in appearance or character.
Transformation--To change in nature, disposition or heart.

This is a story of individuals who, by fate's intervention or perhaps intercession, face trails and by those tests of character find strength, hope and peace. And discover that we do not always find love, sometimes it finds us.

********

Part One:

Heero Yuy paused short of the tree line. A glint of sunlight flashed across the pistol pressed to his chest as the weapon's silver finish shone in stark contrast to his dark jacket. In fact, his totally black outfit blended perfectly with the forest's shadowy border surrounding the OZ compound.

Just a month ago if someone had told Heero he would be risking his life to rescue Zechs Merquise, he would have said they were crazy. He would have never considered such an act.

"Merquise can rot in the depths of OZ Detention." Heero would have declared. Yet here he was, barely outside of "no-man's land" wondering how in the hell he came to be there in the first place.

To add another odd twist to the plot, Quatre and Wufei were also lurking at other locations along the Compound's perimeter. And Trowa, acting as rearguard in his Gundam Heavyarms, hid behind the hillside on the northern edge.

Heero's fellow pilots were also asking themselves the same questions and each, no doubt, had different answers concerning their involvement with the Lightning Baron.

What was stranger still---How Zechs became a prisoner of his own organization.

********

Flashback:

Zechs' turning from OZ Officer and Ace Pilot to aiding the Rebel Forces had not happened overnight. Over many months he had slowly become disillusioned with OZ policy. Political favor-trading and treachery among high ranking Officials, as they vied for power and position, had eaten away at Zechs' commitment just as the in-fighting in the ranks had long ago eroded the original purpose for which OZ was established.

When through dubious means Treize Khrushrenada, Zech's Commander and friend, set himself up as one of the most influential men in OZ, Zechs questioned the ethics involved in the promotion. Still his loyalty to the cause came first.

But when Treize put his thirst for power before loyalty and withheld his aide leaving Zechs at the mercy of Mobile Suits dispatched by the Rommefellar Foundation...helpless in space to fight and die alone. Yes, after that ultimate betrayal, Zechs vowed he and Treize's friendship was void forever. Now Trieze was his enemy, someone that he had sworn to destroy.

With the shattering of the mask Zechs wore to separate the Oz Soldier, Zechs Merquise and the Pacifist, Millardo Peacecraft he had begun a new life that would turn his world upside down.

********

Zechs knew that it would not be easy to earn the five Gundam pilot's confidences. He silently suffered through weeks of their cool contempt, endured their mistrust, their doubts concerning his real motives for coming over to their side. He could not blame the pilot's skeptical suspicions for Zechs, himself, had initially questioned his own reasons for the unnatural alliance.

Heero had been the staunchest member refusing to even consider that Zechs was sincere. "A leopard does not change its spots." he believed.

But unexpectedly, through fate's harsh intervention, the rebel colonists whom Zechs once viewed as traitorous enemies became reluctant allies.

Duo had willingly accepted a solo mission for his commitment to ending the escalating conflict went beyond mere duty. Duo Maxwell had experienced firsthand the destructive power of prejudice and those past events has firmed up the self-proclaimed Shinigami's resolve to free the Colonies.

But when the mission went sour Duo was captured, beaten and turned over to OZ. After days of unreliable recon reports Duo's heartsick comrades had little hope that they would ever see him alive again. It was then that Zechs had, without pause, offered to exchange himself for the young man who he knew had so much potential.

Even if the braided boy had been nothing more than a simple Mobile Suit pilot, without his Gundam Deathscythe's awesome power, Zechs would still have made the same choice.

The Lightning Baron had not purposed the exchange to impress anyone and it was not a death wish although there was a time, when Zechs felt himself unworthy to claim the Peacecraft name, that he had entertained the idea of death. Once during a battle he had strongly considered shutting down his weapons and letting the end come mercifully in a single fiery instant.

No, Zechs' surrender to those in OZ who labeled the rogue ace a defector was the fulfillment of his subconscious need to show that he had indeed changed. He needed to confirm that the OZ puppet who blindly followed orders maiming and killing anyone who dared to oppose him was indeed sincere. To prove that the man who once believed that the end justified the means was capable of a genuine transformation.

If risking Court Martial and possible termination for treason meant he could save Duo then that was how Zechs Merquise would prove to the others and himself he had truly become a better person.

Of course none of the Gundam pilots trusted the OZ Officials to keep their word. There was no guarantee that they would not take Zechs then keep or kill both men. It was only after Heero announced his intensions to bring Wing Zero along as backup did the High Command, not wanting their compound leveled, give into Heero's quite sincere threat of destruction and only then did the pilots believe Duo would be safely returned.

End flashback

********

Now as Heero knelt in the wood's dim fringes he remembered how he had sat in Zero's cockpit and watched Zechs Merquise voluntarily step through the stronghold's main gate. He vividly recalled how bravely the Lightning Baron faced OZ's wrath. That fateful day Heero's doubts of Zechs' loyalty began to fade.

As two sentries led him passed Duo the former OZ Ace paused to touch the freed but unresponsive prisoner's shoulder. Zechs was visibly shaken to see Duo's face so badly bruised and swollen. He pushed back Duo's sweat-damp bangs only to find his usually bright violet eyes veiled, like clouded windowpanes, in a foggy curtain of pain and confusion.

Heero shut his eyes as he also remembered how his own heart ached for Duo and then for Quatre as he ran to meet his brother-in-arms. Duo didn't turn towards the sound of Quatre's voice calling his name and in Heero's mind's eye he could still clearly see Quatre's shock when his comrade's blank expression showed no sign of recognition.

Numbly Duo offered no acknowledgement that he felt Quatre's arm encircle his waist as he supported and guided the dazed shell of his friend to a waiting vehicle.

During the days and nights that followed Duo's rescue all the pilots hurt together whenever he would suddenly rouse from his catatonic stupor into soul-gripping panic. They shared their helpless frustration each time he woke up from a night terror screaming and crying and begging someone to "Make Them Stop!"

Knowing "them" were OZ Interrogators who enjoyed their job too much, no one wanted to imagine what agonizing torture that Duo had suffered by their hands.

Duo Maxwell had always been the "easy going" Gundam pilot, the only one who had appeared to conquer the lonely and chaotic childhood that they all had in common. Of the five young men Duo was the most vocal of the sometimes manic group. Unfortunately, his acid tongue and stubborn disposition also made him the most vulnerable, the one most likely to become the target of OZ's abuse.

Heero and Trowa, upon finding themselves "guests" of OZ, would have employed their training's cold detachment to shut down and resist any brutal questioning.

Quatre's intellect, his ability to "think" his way out of trouble, would have served to perplex the OZ lackeys who were easily befuddled.

Wufei would have withdrawn into a deep meditative state. This transcendental trance taught by his Clan could easily block all of his inquisitor's efforts to pry into his thoughts.

But Duo Maxwell's reaction to any undesirable situation was to happily "go-with-the-flow", never give a straight answer and usually receive a beating for his insolent attitude.

Although Duo was equipped with both the physical toughness and mental tolerance to ward off the majority of OZ's interrogative techniques, even Shinigami could not withstand the debilitating effects of inhuman medical examinations and painfully intrusive mind probing. And knowing the average Security Captain's inclination to absolutely break a prisoner's will, Duo would have endured sexual violations as well.

********

The pilot's worse fears concerning OZ's policy of forced submission was affirmed soon after Duo's return. One afternoon as Heero smoothed out the rumpled bedcovers twisted and snarled from Duo's constant agitation, his hand brushed lightly across Duo's genitals. This ever-so-slight touch sent his partner into a full-blown fit of terror.

Drawing his knees together, Duo bent at the waist curling into the tightest "ball" he could manage. Throwing his arms up to cover his face he desperately tried to shut out what he perceived as another attempted rape.

"NO! PLEASE!" he screamed breaking into a cold sweat. "PLEASE!" he implored again.

The more Heero tried to calm Duo's alarm, the more fear-induced hysteria set in. Heero could do nothing but keep a watchful distance by the bed until Duo's feeble strength gave out. Then in quiet consolation Heero eased down beside his partner and embraced Duo's trembling body until he slept.

********

Heero had insisted on being Duo's principal caregiver but the pressure of his daily duties, his nightly interrupted sleep and his resistance to let the others help quickly took its toll. Finally giving into his own pain, his rage at Duo's endless suffering, Heero lost his temper.

Pounding the wall with both fists until his knuckles were bloodied, Wing's Master screamed and cursed wildly. "Damn them!" he exploded, "Damn them all to hell!"

When Trowa tried to intervene, as blood splattered everywhere, the Japanese madman took a swing at his friend. It took both Trowa and Wufei to tackle and pin their enraged comrade on the floor.

Struggling and swearing, Heero fought to free himself but his colleagues held firm. "I'm going to get Wing and kill them all. I will have my revenge!"

"Zechs is there." Trowa replied hoping to give Heero a reason not to follow through with his destructive intensions.

Heero tensed pushing against Trowa's firm grasp on his wrists, "Zechs is probably dead my now." he hissed, "Probably better off than we are."

"We don't know that." Trowa answered hoping against hope that Zechs was alive.

"As soon as you calm down," Wufie stated wrestling with Heero's flinging boots, "we will formulate a rescue plan. We have to for both Duo's and Zechs' sake." he added.

"Duo?" Heero questioned, "What can Zechs do for Duo?"

"Zechs put his life on the line for Duo." Trowa stated, "We can not abandon him now."

Wufei picked up Trowa's line of thought. "Zechs has been with OZ from the beginning he might know something we can do to bring Duo back."

With each passing hour Duo was withdrawing further into his own private hell. His increasing unresponsiveness was plunging him into a mental void and his physical fortitude was fading fast.

Trowa drew in a shaky breath, "If we don't do something soon we are going to lose him."

Heero's glaring sight locked with Trowa's green eyes, "Lose Duo! NO!" he yelled as the fury within boiled up again, "No." he repeated weakly as the last of his strength gave out.

As mental fatigue joined his waning energy in its swift retreat, Heero collapsed in Trowa's arms. Hard sobs shook his worry-worn body. Trowa tightened his embrace. "It's going to be all right." he whispered rocking back and forth.

********

The sunset tinted room was eerily quiet. Trowa lay on the floor staring up at the ceiling's dim light panel as he struggled to come up with a feasible rescue plan. Wufei, too, was lost in contemplative planning as he kept his silent vigil beside Duo's bed.

Heero had finally become too exhausted to cry. Numbly he shifted onto his side, draped an arm over Trowa's chest and buried his tear-tracked face in his comforter's shoulder. Even though Trowa couldn't see Heero's face he guessed from the rhythmic rise and fall of the Perfect Soldier's breathing that he had finally fallen asleep.

Trowa had always known that Heero had a softer side and that Duo was the only person who had ever broken through the stoic man's harden facade thrown up against the misery of his shattered world. But now Heero Yuy's lifeline in his sea of turmoil was being swamped by rapidly rising physical and mental deterioration and a former enemy might be Duo's only hope of recovery.

Trowa knew if Zechs was not rescued, if he could not turn the deadly tide, that Duo would be forever lost like the sailors who could not resist death's Siren Song.

Part Two:

"Heero." a voice called in a faraway tone. "Heero wake up."

Heero blinked bringing a fuzzy image into focus. Quatre leaned closer, his silky blond bangs slipping over one eye.

"Come on, get up. We have rescue plans to make."

The quartet of rebel pilots sat around a large table overspread with site maps and a rough sketch of the OZ Compound Headquarters. Since time wouldn't permit any extensive area reconnaissance, the plan for Zechs retrieval had to be kept as simple as possible.

Sending someone in a Gundam for a "fly-over" was discussed, debated and quickly dismissed. In spite of Deathscythe's stealth capability, even if the "Death Angel from Hell" didn't register on the radar monitors, they could not take the chance it would be detected.

If OZ had the slightest notion that something was not right they would go on the defensive. If so, they might transfer Zechs to a maximum security facility making the rescue more difficult and dangerous, if not impossible. Zechs newly found allies had to come to a decision fast and implement a workable plan without delay.

"Nothing we do goes off exactly right anyway." Heero announced with a frustrated sigh.

Trowa slouched in his seat stretching his long legs, "I still can't believe what Zechs did. I understand his reason...but...I just don't know." he conceded to his confusion.

"The only reason OZ agreed to the exchange is because Zechs is a far more valuable prize." Wufei declared, "They can use his Court Martial as an effective example of how OZ deals with traitors. What better way to dissuade any further dissension in the ranks."

Trowa sighed rubbing his temples as stress, lack of sleep and eyestrain combined into a nagging headache, "Hell the propaganda value alone was worth giving up Duo."

Quatre shook his head in agreement as his fretted sight was drawn to Duo's pale form. "Do you think we will find Zechs alive?"

Trowa pulled in his legs, "Yeah, OZ can't get the necessary "Brass" together for their flashy pseudo-trial sooner than four or five days. I guess this is one time it is to our advantage to be in the fringe sectors.

Anyway they can't afford to kill Zechs. If he is dead they couldn't parade him around to show off their prize trophy. No, he's alive, but what kind of shape he'll be in when find him, well, we will deal with that when we get him out."

********

Bent into a compact fetal curl Duo panted in labored breaths. Heero had worked for over an hour to cool him down. Despite his best efforts he knew by the asthmatic wheezing rattling in Duo's chest that the stubborn fever was making another assault run.

The anxiety of losing his friend had stirred strange sentiments in Heero. Before Duo's release he told himself that it was the strain of worry. "When we get Duo back," he augured against the disquiet sensations, "everything will be all right."

But the odd emotions had not faded with Duo's return. Certain passions lingered in a tenderness that, until then, Zero's Master had successfully kept shrouded in his soul's darkest regions. These resurfaced feelings were no longer compelled by fear but by a genuine sense of caring. As Heero's partner faded away and he could do nothing to halt the dire downwards slide he found it was harder to guard his heart.

This ardent intensity had aroused an uneasy sexual reaction that had taken Heero completely by surprise. Yet in its pure, innocent simplicity the newly discovered sensuality seemed the next natural step in Duo and Heero's maturing relationship. The next phase in their journey to, perhaps, becoming lovers.

Sitting on the bed, Heero held Duo's limp hand. Despite his constant care nothing seemed to ease the horrific hallucinations that Duo's fever-struck mind generated. Nothing vanished the OZ induced visions plaguing each psychotic dream.

Wringing out a cool cloth Heero wiped over Duo's hot forehead. "Shit he's burning up." he hissed as his frustration boiled to surface. He had to find a way to fight the steady deterioration before dehydration claimed Duo's body and madness claimed his mind.

Driven by desperation Heero gently brushed his mouth over Duo's parched lips. "Duo." he called.

Duo's eyelids parted but his dull eyes displayed an unfocused stare. Sliding his hand under Duo's shoulders Heero used a second kiss to encourage his feverish friend awake. "Duo look at me." he ordered moping back damp bangs from his partner's vague sight.

Duo's once bright violet eyes slid partly shut then reopened with some marginal improvement. "Heero?" the name struggled through a raspy throat.

"Drink this." Heero urged softly pressing a glass of water to Duo's dry mouth.

The first taste of liquid washed over running away at his mouth's corner. He elevated Duo's head a little higher and tried once more. The next drink trickled inside gathering at the base of his tongue. He slowly increased the flow until enough water pooled inside to allow Duo to swallow.

Duo's dehydrated system begged for more moisture, the meager amount triggering his thirst response. A trembling hand enfolded over Heero's hand. Shaking with frantic pleading in his touch Duo applied persuasive pressure tipping the glass too quickly. The water coursed down his throat before his impaired reflexes could cope with the flood.

Strangulated contractions, to keep the fluid from his windpipe, racked Duo's frail body with rattling fits of chocking. The strong gagging retched through his throat threatening to bring up what little water Duo has already swallowed.

Heero tightened his support as a violent shudder followed each pain-laden seizure. "Take it easy." he whispered shoring up his embrace, "Come on Duo, breathe!" he ordered as each gasp for air stuck in Duo's restricting throat.

Heero rubbed Duo's back, "Damn it breathe." Gradually the spasms decreased in severity. Slowly he began to take in more regulated respirations.

Suddenly Duo's eyes widened and his entire body tensed. "Make them stop." he begged weakly raising a quivering hand to ward off his recurring delusional mental mirages.

"Shhhhh." Heero sighed hoping that his comrade's almost depleted stamina would not abandon him totally. Intercepting Duo's hand Heero intertwined his fingers. "I'm here, I won't let anyone hurt you." he pledged.

Giving into his own fading fortitude Heero collapsed resting his forehead on his frail friend's clammy arm. "Duo please don't leave me." he implored finally giving in to his helplessness.

That night Heero moved to Duo's bed. Every night after that he cradled his gentle comrade's fragile body. In the darkness Heero would lay awake watching Duo twitch and listening to him moan as he battled his twilight demons.

And each night Heero Yuy would hold Duo's cross and do something he seldom did...pray that the lost wounded warrior would soon find his way home.

********

Heero's communicator's open channel hissed with static, "Wufei can you hear me?"

Heero had felt an acute sense of urgency since the rescue team left the Rebel Base. He knew that Duo was in good hands, Sally Po promised she would not leave his side until the team's return, still each passing moment multiplied Heero's worry.

The overwhelming desire to get back to Duo tugged at his mind and heart but he couldn't let the vexing sensations cloud his thinking. All his mental focus had to be sharp if the mission was to be successful.

"Chang!" he called again. "Where in the hell is he?"

Quatre's voice popped over the com-link. "Are you ready to go in?"

"Yeah, but I can't reach Wufei."

"He's taking the long way around." Quatre advised, "The hills are blocking the signal."

Heero checked his watch. "I can wait much longer."

"I'm moving in now." Quatre replied, "Go on, Wufei will catch up."

Heero paused where the forest and the enemy's real estate met. Several portable storage units, thoughtfully stacked by some considerate OZ lackey, provided the perfect transition point from outside to inside.

The gradual introduction was just as well, Heero knew he and his teammates would have to dodge the "unfriendly" residents soon enough. It was certainly a comfort to know that Trowa and Heavyarms were standing at the ready should his Gundam's ruthless destructive force be needed.

But Trowa would have to hold his place until Zechs' detainment cell was located. They couldn't risk Zechs being hurt or killed as the result of "friendly fire" from Trowa's massive mecha.

The Gundam quartet and eight men from Quatre's personal Maganac Corp, merged into the compound from each side. Stealthy, carefully, the freedom fighters narrowed the circular dimensions of their encroachment.

Checking his watch again Heero peered around a building's side. Soldiers, techs and Officers mingled among the steady traffic moving around the stronghold's center. A few meters in any direction and Heero could "reach out and touch" any brand of OZ employees he wished.

However becoming "pals" with OZ was not Heero's wish or goal, finding Zechs was. But how to pick out the correct location among the twenty or so structures without being caught, now that was the trick.

The trespassing insurgents had been equipped with Tracker Bands. These handy devises "linked" through a scrambled signal allowing everyone to know where each member was at all times. Much to everyone's frustration Zechs was not wearing a Tracker so his prison location remained a mystery.

Before the exchange of Zechs for Duo, Heero had debated, rather harshly, about Zechs wearing the devise. Heero augured if the Tracker was found Zechs would be put in more danger. He further contended that the Lightning Baron could not afford to antagonize the OZ Officials because most of them would just as soon shoot the rogue Ace on sight.

Zechs had angrily countered stating that the decision was his alone to make without some hotshot Gundam flyboy's opinion.

Trowa's cooler head prevailed. He pointed out if, even with Heero's threat of total annihilation at Wing Zero's hand, OZ might still retract their deal and keep Duo. If Zechs gave OZ any reason, no matter how lame, to suspect him the High Commander might accuse Duo of being a coconspirator putting both prisoners in the same dangerous plight.

Considering that Heero's was always methodical in his actions, that he did not do anything without thorough planning for every possible contingency, he was surprised to find himself resisting the urge to snag the first OZ soldier he encountered, press a pistol to his head and say the hell with planning.

Suddenly the strangest thought flickered through Heero's mind. He recalled an argument that he and Duo had just a week before the failed mission. Ironically he had been irritated with Duo's lack of patience.

Heero had pointed out that Duo's tendency to make spur of the moment decisions was his major weakness and that explained why he often got the worse of the fight. Patience, after all, was not Duo Maxwell's most virtuous quality.

Duo had stood there with a smug smile and refuted Heero's critical analysis. "Lighten up." he replied to his partner's opinion concerning his lack of prudent restraint, "Sometime you have to stop listening to logic and trust your instincts."

Instincts. The advice echoed in Heero's head. He had to put his intuitive powers to work to ferret out Zechs. "Find Zechs." he mumbled drawing back into the shadows as a land transport passed near his hiding spot.

"What is the easiest way to find Detention?" he asked lowly under his breath. "To find detention you get caught."

*This is not a game.* Heero's inner voice warned against any reckless action.

"I know." he whispered. "But I have to find Zechs to save Duo and I can't wait. Forgive my impulsiveness." he begged his council's pardon as the gripping sense of urgency intensified.

Heero's cobalt eyes flashed with a malevolent glare. "Get ready you bastards, I'm coming."

Laying his pistol by the building's corner Heero Yuy set aside his logic, took in a steadying breath and stepped out into an uncertain future.

Part Three:

Zechs laid on his side against a damp wall, inside a windowless room, somewhere in the center of the Security's makeshift holding area. In this case "somewhere" was the best description for his exact location since he had been semi-conscious when the guards roughly "escorted" him through the door.

********

Flashback:

Zechs' state of half-awareness began in Commander Rico's office as three over-zealous Captains, at the Commander's pleasure, took their hatred of the OZ traitor and turned it into a thorough beating.

The next step in losing more of his physical soundness and much of his mental coherency was Zechs' stop at the interrogation center that Security conveniently shared with the medical labs.

"Convenient" being the catch word because no questioning was done without the generous usage of one or more potent synthetic drugs combined with artificial stimulus and painful mind-warping techniques.

Have the afore mentioned "forms of persuasion" administered by specially trained, skillfully proficient Manipulators, add enthusiastic Med-Techs and it was no surprise that a large number of liberated prisoners couldn't remember their own names.

OZ's Rebel "turncoat" laid on his back on a clinically cold metal examination table. Zechs' nude body was secured in an overextended spread-eagle posture by leather straps attached around his wrists and ankles

Several Techs stood at a monitor station manning an assortment of electrical equipment. Probe patches, attached at various critical locations on Zechs' body, sent Function-Feedback Data directly to the main computer.

The patches also served as contact points for whatever brand of misery the "brain benders" wished to dispense. An IV line secured in his arm issued a steady dose of whatever "drug cocktail" that the Med-Techs had added to their horrendous menu.

At least two hours had passed but after the first thirty minutes Zechs had lost all comprehension of time. A tacky film clouded his eyes blurring the overhead light panel's glare into an opaque haze. The same distortion gave vague misrepresentations to his surroundings.

A foggy figure leaned over checking an electrode probe attached in an uncomfortably close proximity to Zechs' exposed crotch. The female technician, noticing his shock-induced erection, laughed then commented to everyone within hearing range just how well the muscular pilot's anatomy was "hung". But Zechs' dazed senses didn't register the female's flattery as each word broke apart, splintering into indistinguishable bits of noise.

What made the rebel Ace's shame and agony even more difficult to bear was that no one seemed interested in asking any questions. Clearly the purpose of Zechs' torture had nothing to do with interrogation. No, the Manipulator's exuberant indulgence in the barbaric savagery was done solely for their own brutish pleasure.

As each electrified jolt coursed through his fettered limbs, Zechs' writhing body drew up against the raw anguish. Leather straps dug into his wrists and ankles leaving bloodied lines and deep bruises.

Each time Zechs felt as though his distended joints were about to pop the surging current would abruptly stop causing him to go limp. The sudden relaxation was just as excruciatingly painful.

But through all the torment the proud Heir to the Sanc Kingdom did not cry out. If his silence was all he could control, was all that remained of his dignity, then Zechs Merquise would be damned if OZ would break his mute defiance.

Struggling to catch his breath, Zechs was quickly being overcome by hyperventilation. Not one inch of his nakedness was dry. Sweat glistened on his pallid skin soaking his silver mane well pass the hairline. Secondary seizures from muscle tension, short-circuited nerves and evaporative chills made the tortured prisoner shiver violently. He clenched his teeth fighting the electrical discharge's residual aftereffects.

The Med-Techs had performed their duty with cold-bloodied expert efficiency. No matter how hard Zechs tried to force himself to pass out the carefully managed drug dosages produced an effectual combination to keep their "prey" passively submissive, yet alert enough to experience every awful moment.

Then, without warning, the harrowing episode ended. Patches were ripped away, the IV removed. Arms and legs freed. Still Zechs couldn't move. His pain-racked frame was frozen in a stress-locked embrace.

Zechs needed time, just few moments, to ease into some state of recovery. Just a few merciful moments. However, the impatient Security guard was not inclined to grant his prisoner's requested recuperative moments.

"GET UP!" the guard exclaimed grabbing Zechs' arm and giving it a wrenching jerk.

A horrid, nauseous wave raced over bringing on another bout of cold sweat. Zechs quivered from faintness and oddly, for the first time, fear as the thought that his deadened legs might never move again stabbed at his mind.

The trembling shudder must have stirred the blood flow. A thousand prickling barbs spiked through Zechs' flesh. Gradually warmth returned to his numb extremities. With great effort Zechs pulled in his knees. With the same labored struggle, he sat up flopping still heavy legs over the table's side.

The guard jerked again, "Come on you rebel bastard, I don't have all day to waste."

Zechs could do nothing more than ease down on the cold, dirty floor. In his natural condition the room's air-flow turned icy on his moist skin causing another shiver to course from the inside out.

The hostile watcher gathered a bundle from a nearby counter tossing Zechs' clothes and boots on the floor beside the table. "Get dressed!" he hissed.

As Zechs started to dress he bowed his head letting stringy, unkempt hair shield his face from the guard's sight. Certain that his long locks offered a small measure of privacy the Epyon pilot gave into his utter exhaustion. Tears streaked down pale cheeks. His breathing pounded hard as Zechs fought to hide the seizing sobs from the watcher's intrusive gaze.

A heartsick pang tore at the very core of Zechs' soul as he truly understood what Duo must have endured and realized it was a miracle that young man was alive.

"Duo." he whispered his heart finally breaking altogether. "Why?"

End flashback

********

Despite Zechs' torturous encounter he had been spared the worse of the Manipulator's "brain bending". The partial reprieve did not reflect some merciful gesture but practical common sense. He would be of little use for OZ's propaganda purposes if all he could do was stare blankly and drool. They wanted more than an obedient drone.

If Zechs' mind was mush, if the great Lightning Baron was unable to comprehend his humiliation, it would also deprive his captors of their enjoyment of his complete degradation. In that case he would quickly outlive his usefulness and both the pardon and the Rogue Ace would be immediately terminated with Commander Rico's blessing.

Without the continued medicative reinforcement, Zechs' drugged stupor was rapidly wearing off. The synthetic narcotic's potency had helped mask not only the ill-affects of his recent abuse but the injurious aftermath of the Commander's Captain's beating as well. The rapid withdrawal sent another nauseous wave crashing through Zechs' insides.

His head felt heavy, clogged with cobwebs. A dull throbbing began behind both eyes gathering with vigorous force at his crown. His right eye's vision was dimmer than it should be. Zechs hoped the haziness was from the puffy swelling and would not be permanent.

Shallow intakes of air was all his aching ribcage would permit. Any attempt at a full breath triggered spasmodic seizures so strong they produced immediate faintness.

Zechs knew he was hurt. How badly? That he didn't want to know. If the injuries were internal and serious..."Well," he reasoned, "his bleeding to death would save him from OZ's demeaning plans."

What better way to get in the last parting shot at his former organization so hell-bent on prolonging his tortured existence? No, better to be dead than in bondage.

********

A wide shaft of light flooded the gloomy room. Zechs squinted at the blinding brightness stabbing through his pulsating brain.

Pistol in hand, a Security Captain strolled to the prone prisoner. Zechs' crop of long silver-white hair hid his face. Several sections clung to his cheeks damp with pain produced sweat.

Kneeling by Zechs' shoulder the Captain inquired in mock concern, "Are you hurting? I could make you feel better." he cooed twirling silky platinum strands in his fingers.

One blue eye stared out through Zechs' bangs. "Go to hell." he whispered hoarsely.

"Been there and back." the Captain grinned, "Speaking of hell." The smile grew wider. "I can give you pleasure or pain or both depending on how you cooperate."

The Rebel remained silent, shutting his eyes to block out the Captain's leering grin and return his sight and mind to the soothing darkness.

"Both ways." the black uniformed Officer continued lifting a handful of the tangle tresses to reveal Zechs' pale features, "I bet you like it both ways. Let me find out and I might put in a favorable word with the Commander. And if you are very good Rico may take you for his personal "pet"."

Zechs did not react pressing his eyes tighter against the increase brightness that his raised hair allowed.

The Rebel scum's disdainful refusal of the Captain's wishes to have his pent-up sexual excitement relieved only served to heightened the his lustful desires. Willing or not, he decided, the tall, muscular man was going to service his needs.

"Hey! I'm talking to you!" the Captain shouted bringing his pistol in line with Zechs' temple.

*Go on shoot.* Zechs' mind begged as another jagged pain lance through his brain.

********

Heero, his hands shackled in front, moved in long fluid strides before two heavily armed OZ watchers. For some reason the compound's guards had taken a dim view of the Gundam pilot's uninvited and quite brazen infringement into their territory.

"MOVE!" one guard ordered prodding Heero along with the business end of his rifle.

"Watch it!" Heero exclaimed. The angry glare that always proceeded some deadly action flashed in an explosion of cobalt sparks.

Lowering his shoulder Wing's master plowed into his right-side escort knocking the startled man off-balance. But before Heero could make good his escape, the second of the watchful pair grabbed a fitful of hair and used a quick downwards tug to throw him to the ground.

Because of his bound hands Heero was unable to block his backwards fall. He landed with a bone-jarring crash as the hard contact knocked the air from his lungs and gave his head a sound jolt.

Stunned and winded, the unwelcome intruder offered little resistance as the guards jerked him to his feet. With a groggy stagger the now more sedate detainee reeled between the sentries as each held up his sagging body.

********

"Well, what do we have here?" Commander Rico declared as Heero flopped into a chair by Rico's desk.

Heero's cockeyed sight still wanted to swim making the room spin. This rotation brought on a intoxicated dizziness preventing him from fully taking in his surroundings. And, just maybe, the lightheadedness would also serve as a deterrent to keep Heero's spontaneous tendency to strike first and then consider the damage after the fact in check.

"We found him by the East Border." one soldier dutifully reported.

Rico leaned forward studying the youth prisoner. "You are either brave or stupid to dare to come into "My Camp"." Rico proclaimed.

Rico stood and studied some more, "Or maybe you are just crazy." he finished not believing any sane person would not be so bold.

Heero straightened locking his still shaky sight on the boastful Commander. "Want to find out just how crazy I am?" he hissed through clenched teeth narrowing his eyes until only blue slits remained.

The Commander's features took on a mixture of surprise and puzzlement at the youthful intruder's recklessly defiant attitude. If he was frightened, the brash lad hid it well.

"Stand up!" Rico ordered with a wave of his hand.

Heero kept his centered pupils fixed on the compound's Administrator and did not move.

"Please." Rico pleaded in a mockingly polite request. A head nod prompted a guard to grab Heero's jacket and haul the stubborn man to his feet.

Walking around his desk, the Commander's fascination sparked hot. Running his eye's lustful sight the length of Heero's slender frame, long legs and all, Rico suddenly found himself more and more powerless to resist his prisoner's boyishly seductive charms. Stopping beside, Rico's wandering eyes once again caressed Heero's surprisingly mature body.

"What a beautiful man-child." he purred stroking Heero's tousled hair that added an even more alluring enticement.

Heero swayed slightly but never relinquished his icy glare.

Noticing the beautiful boy's unsteadiness, Rico reconsidered acting immediately on his increasingly compelling stimulations. "I believe that I will wait until you are stronger...have more stamina, then I WILL find out just how beautiful you really are." Rico announced with perverted delight.

"After all, I wouldn't want to hurt the such a fetching young thing." he continued running his flat palm over Heero's firm buttocks before pausing to fondle between his legs, "Unless he likes his loving that way. Tell me are you a virgin?"

Heero's eyes flashed. His hands curled into angry fists. Ignoring the dizziness and pain he straightened sharply and spat squarely in the Commander's face. Everyone held their breath.

Then with his rebellious stare still in force Heero stood staunchly, ready to suffer whatever retaliatory punishment his contemptuous act might inspire.

"Well, well." the Rico's edgy voice finally broke through the tense silence.

Rico moped the warm spittle from his cheek and chin with the back of his hand. "You have spirit." declared wiping the wetness on his uniform jacket.

Heero stood firm.

Suddenly the Commander's deceptively calm facade shattered. His hand flew free. Heero braced for the blow it was about to deliver but the swift strike missed with only inches to spare. Instead of a stinging backhand slap, Rico's fingers grabbed Heero's hair at the nape of his neck.

With a powerful jerk the angry Commander snapped Heero's head backwards tilting the youth pilot's deep blue eyes in line with his black rage-enlarged pupils.

"Yes, spirit." Rico hissed pulling in on his tangled grip. "But you will soon learn respect and it will be my pleasure to teach you." he sneered licking his tongue over Heero's lips.

With another rough yank, Rico released the pressure. Lowering his hand, his trembling fingers brushed lightly over Heero's flushed cheek. "Take him to Detention. The boy needs time to think about his lack of manners and I want him well rested before I find out how good he is."

The maddened Commander's thumb lifted Heero's chin making sure he had the head-strong captive's attention. "I assure you," he sneered, "you will need all the strength you can muster to handle my special brand of depravity." he promised leering down at the Wing pilot. "Yes, I'm looking forward to feeding my carnal appetite."

Twirling around Commander Rico shoved a finger in the nearest soldier's face. "And make damn sure no one else touches him!" he growled, "I want to be the first!"

"YES SIR!" the guard answered snapping to attention.

After Heero and his attending pair left Rico eased down behind his desk keenly aware of his rigid manhood pressing anxiously against his uniform pants.

"Beautiful." he sighed.

Part Four:

"Here's another one." the guard announced shoving Heero inside the dimly lit holding cell.

The Captain stood up pushing the pistol into his belt. With a curt snort he put everyone on notice he was clearly annoyed at having his "courting" interrupted.

"I'm giving you fair warning." the guard stated as he removed Heero's shackles. "You keep your hands to yourself with this one, he's reserved for the Commander's personal use."

*Is everyone in this fucking hellhole horny?* Zechs wondered upon hearing the guard's stern warning.

The determined soldier was not about to let the addition of another warm body interfere with his passionate plans. "No problem." he shrugged, "Besides this sweet young thing is not my type." he declared nodding his head at Heero before redirected his sight to stare lewdly at Zechs "I like mine bigger."

The second sentry blocking the opened door glanced at Zechs then at Heero appearing bored with the Senior Officer's egotistical display of his questionable alpha-male dominance.

Shouldering his rife he strongly suggested, "Maybe you should leave with us. If the Commander thinks for one minute you might mess with his property he'll have you shot on the spot."

The Captain let his hungry sight rest on his soon to be paramour's tight pants that were bulging in all the right places. "All right but just until you take the boy back to Rico" he proclaimed, lustfully ogling Zechs' crotch. "I'll see you later, lover." he promised winking at the well-endowed prisoner.

********

As the cell door slammed shut with a hallow clang Heero eased down favoring his right side which had received the brunt of the damage during his failed escape attempt.

A totally bewildered Zechs shook his head, "What in the hell are you doing here?" Heero Yuy was the last person he had expected to see.

Heero shifted to find a comfortable position on the stone floor. A subtle smirk flickered across his lips, "Someone had to get you out and now that you mention it, you look like hell." he observed.

"Hell sure is a popular subject around here." Zechs stated remembering his earlier conversation with the excessively aroused Captain. Then he displayed a smirk of his own as he recalled his "suggestion" that the anxious Officer immediately take up residence in the Nether World's lowest regions.

Zechs forced a thin smile, "You don't look much better." he commented noticing the discomfort etched on Heero's face, "Well, maybe not as bad. What happened here?" he wondered.

Lifting Heero's hands for a closer inspection, Zechs studied their black-blue bruised knuckles. Zechs frowned as he imagined what degree of force it must have taken to cause such injuries.

Heero absentmindedly glance at his hands. With every other part of his body hurting, his swollen joint's soreness had become so intermingled with the pain that it had been forgotten.

"This." he replied with an uncharacteristic self-conscious grin, "I lost a battle with a wall." But added no further details concerning his lost temper and his subsequent swing at Trowa.

Clumsily Heero tugged on Zechs shoulder helping him to sit against the wall. The former OZ Ace winced and let out an involuntary low moan as too long stationary muscles and tendons protested the position change.

Zechs rubbed his throbbing forehead. "So you came alone to get me. You can't even take care of yourself." he muttered.

"No, Wufei, Quatre and a handful of Maganacs are here sneaking around somewhere and Trowa brought Heavyarms to liven up the party."

Hoping that a posture rearrangement would help alleviate his dull headache Zechs bowed his head and let an exhausted sigh flow over his lips. Stingy hair fell like a silver curtain around his face screening a renewed bout of sweating. Then his shoulders shook as the vision of Duo's unresponsiveness on the day of the exchange replayed for the thousandth time in his mind. "How is Duo?" he asked even though he dreaded to hear the answer.

Heero flinched as painful pangs, trigged by the unexpected question, stabbed thought his heart. "He's not well at all," he half-whispered, "and he is getting worse by the hour."

With his hope fading Heero grasped at the last straw he had to save Duo. "Trowa believes with your knowledge of OZ's brainwashing that you can help bring Duo back. I believe you are our only hope." he declared locking his worried sight on the only person who might be able to pull Duo back from his hellish void.

Suddenly Zechs shuddered as a lancing chill grabbed hold clawing through his rapidly fading endurance. Heero leaned nearer pushing aside the damp veil of hair. He didn't at all like the profuse sweating that washed Zechs' face in clammy moisture or his skin's chalky cast or the weakness in his eyes.

"Zechs." Heero called not bothering to hide his concern.

"I'm...all...right." But Zechs' shivering body and stammering speech betrayed the lie.

Heero grabbed onto Zechs' arm to help keep him upright. "Hold on the Wufei and the others will be here soon."

Epyon's master tiled his head, blinking uncooperative eyes to chase away Heero's wavy image. "How will they find us?" he wondered resting his heavy head on the wall.

"I have my Tracker Band."

Only silence. "Zechs?" Heero couldn't tell whether his fellow rebel's perception had slipped beyond understanding or if he had fallen asleep or passed out.

"Zechs!" Heero loudly repeated shaking his arm.

"I hear you. You don't have to shout."

Wing's Captain settled beside his friend catching a glimpse of his disoriented stare. Another quiver, stronger than the first, ripple down Zechs' slumping shoulders. He eyes closed again as he braced against the convulsive attack.

*OZ really screwed him good.* Heero mumbled under his breath. "Come on Wufei where in the hell are you?"

As Zechs was quickly becoming as addled as Duo, Heero's agonizing worry over his partner was reinforced with a foreboding darkness in his soul. Silently he pleaded with the fates that ruled man's destiny that he would be allowed to return with the man who was Duo's last hope.

But Zechs' waning stamina told Heero that the road home to Duo would be long and difficult. OZ's former Ace had been trained, conditioned, to withstand the rigors of operating a Gundam in combat and Heero didn't want to think of what the Manipulators had done to ruin such steadfast strength of mind and body.

Time passed slowly. Fragments of moments into moments. The passively dormant Epyon pilot didn't moved except when quivers jerked his arms and legs. More and more Zechs' actions were beginning to mimic Duo's agitated movements, his awareness copying a similar pattern of deterioration.

"Wufei where are you?" Heero repeated as stress worked overtime to deplete his own reserves.

********

Heero wasn't certain but he must have drifted off carried into a drowsy, inanimate state by an acute dose of battle fatigue. A snap, as the cell's door-latch came undone, jolted him out of his half-sleep with a startled jump.

An older man sporting a Lieutenant's insignia on his uniform jacket stopped midway from the captive pair. Following on his heels, a young Junior Grade Ensign, probably still in training, flanked his Senior Officer.

The obviously "green" trainee couldn't have been any older than Heero. He moved with a haughty swagger befitting what he thought was his importance as a soldier in OZ's service.

"That's the one Captain Rogers wants." the J.G. stated pointing at Zechs.

Evidently the enamored Captain had decided a change in environment, no doubt, another holding cell might make Zechs more agreeable to the Officer's copulatory overtures. The privacy would also insure that the Captain could use any means necessary to force Zechs' consent. Yes, Rogers had decided that whatever it took his alluring prisoner would not spurn him again.

If Zechs had been well he would have feigned gracious acceptance of the Captain's kind invitation. Then, when they were alone, he would have promptly altered the functional performance of the reproductive organ responsible for the Officer's overactive sex drive.

But Zechs could barely sit up without a wave of vertigo bathing him in a cold sweat and the lecherous Captain knew that Zechs' frailty would make it easy to "have his way".

"Get up Rebel!" the Lieutenant order grabbing a fistful of platinum hair.

Heero pushed up from the floor then experienced his own bout of lightheadedness. "Stop! Can't you see he's hurt?" he yelled ignoring his own shaky equilibrium.

The Ensign flipped his rifle aiming the butt at the base of Zechs' skull. "No prisoner will disobey a direct order." he announced hoping his impending actions to readjust the insolent bastard's disobedient attitude would prove his commitment to duty.

"I'll show him hurt!" the Ensign hissed drawing back to deliver the incompliant Rebel's punishment.

"NO!" Heero screamed jumping between his comrade and the dropping weapon.

The enraged Ensign pivoted about smashing the rifle sharply aside Heero's jaw. The stunned prisoner didn't feel himself going down until his hands and knees hit the floor. Black dots danced over his vision. The rapidly swimming spots merged into a swirling gray mass shrouding Heero's last sight of Zechs and he barely heard Zechs calling his name before he blacked out.

"Shit! You've done it this time!" the Lieutenant exclaimed.

"Done what?"

"Knocked out the Commander's whore!"

The wide-eyed Senior Officer stare down at the semi-unconscious man's crumpled form then he became more upset when he saw blood dripping from a cut on Heero's cheek.

"You damn idiot!" he shouted whirling around to face the incompetent underling, "What are we going to do now?" he growled.

The Junior Ensign's face went pale as he, too, noticed the oozing crimson line etched on Heero's cheek. "Well...Sir...I..."he stammered wishing he was anywhere but where he was. "I know." he paused trying to pull some workable idea from the sucking whirlpool that used to be his brain.

The panic-stricken lad swallowed hard to wash down the dry lump clogging his throat. "We'll tell the Commander...ah...tell...him...that Captain Rogers did it." he reasoned staring down at the limp body lying at his feet. "Everyone knows that Rogers has a bad temper. We'll say that the prisoner refused his advances and that the Captain hit him to make him cooperate."

Eyebrows pulled together in a studying scowl, the Senior Man considered the lie wondering if his Commanding Officer would believe the explanation. If their betrayal worked, if Rico came back on Captain Rogers, well, that would be the Captain's problem. This was one time that the Lieutenant was glad he was on the lower rung of the pecking order.

Heero moved and groaned then went silent again.

"All right, that's the way we'll tell it." the Lieutenant declared, "We'll swear the boy was already in this condition when we arrived. Then we will "suggest" the Rogers probably lost his temper and beat the shit out of him."

"Yeah, that sounds logical to me." the still nervous J.G. agreed, "The guards beat prisoners all the time. If we stick together, present a united front, there won't be any trouble."

"The only thing saving your sorry ass," the livid Lieutenant announced as he stepped out into the corridor, "is that we are stuck in this together. You stupid son of a bit..." The rest of the stern swearing was cut off by the closing cell door.

*******

Gradually realizing that Heero was laying by his outstretched legs, Zechs' clouded thinking struggled to make sense of his comrade's curious location. But when he saw blood the red flow caused something in Zechs' muddled mind to snap into place.

Calling on his disciplined willpower Zechs pulled in his legs and knelt by Heero's lax form. "Heero." he called leaning down to push tousled bangs aside.

A slight twitch answered the gentle touch. Heero's eyelids fluttered, fighting to stay open. A groan rose from his throat. "What...happened?" he wondered huskily finally seeing Zechs' face hovering above him.

Zechs slid his arm under his rescuer propping up Heero's battered body against his chest. "Stay still now." he ordered softly.

Heero's hands covered his pounding head as nauseous waves crashed inside and now he was sweating as badly as Zechs. "You know we make a good team." he stated peering up through his wet bangs, "Right now neither of us is worth a damn."

Zechs forced a thin smile knowing that, unfortunately, Heero was absolutely correct.

"All right!" Zechs hissed through clenched teeth. "We've wasted enough time. Trowa, Quatre and Wufei are coming; we just have to hold on until they get here." he declared, "For Duo's sake we have to hold on." he sighed binding up his supporting embrace.

Part Five:

Zechs lay beside Heero who had finally stopped fighting to stay awake. "Rest easy." he whispered pulling Heero's back against his chest. Heero sighed and shifted in his sleep curling into the curve of Zechs' body.

Laying in the detention cell's morbid gloom, Zechs resisted the urge to hold Heero too tightly. Twirling a few strands of his exhausted friend's hair in his fingers, Zechs raised up to study Heero's handsome face and the strangely peaceful smile that poised on his lips.

Gently running his thumb over the tacky redden line on Heero's cheek Zechs saw, like Rico had before, just how beautiful the Japanese youth was.

********

Heero had a stubborn independence developed from a childhood that never allowed him to be a child. Street smart and resourceful, Heero Yuy relied on no one. However Zechs believed Heero's detachment and deadly serious attitude was often used to mask deep-seeded hurt and fear of rejection. If Heero was always serious when dealing with people, he never had to let anyone too close to his heart.

Heero's transformation from teenager to terrorist each time he took Wing Zero into battle was yet another manifestation of his constantly repressed fears. The Perfect Soldier's merciless combat mirrored a metamorphic safeguard designed to protect the few people he truly cared about from his erratic nature and possibility save Heero, himself, from total madness.

********

But Zechs had his own heart and mind to protect as he struggled to tame his wildly tangled thoughts. Bizarre memory mirages, planted by OZ's Manipulators, threatened his grasp on reality. Oddly, though, in some surreal way Zechs found the gargled, often grotesque, imagery both fascinating and frightening.

"Concentrate on Duo." he told himself searching for any means to neutralize the "mind benders" powerful influence. Zechs knew that to negate the neurotic affects it would take all of his willpower. For Duo and Heero's sake he couldn't permit the illusional hallucinations, the abstract apparitions, any sway.

The beating and drugs had already taken their physical toll. The mental probing had severely compromised Zechs' basic reasoning abilities and the resulting slower reaction time and hesitant indecision jeopardized everyone.

Zechs swore under his breath. He hated being so out-of-control. The Lightning Baron, once the pride of OZ's elite "Specials" now fought to maintain the simplest line of thought. Pushing aside stringy silver hair Zechs sighed heavily. Giving into his confused emotions he ignored his own council and held Heero tighter snugly cradling the youthful pilot in his arm's sheltering enfoldment.

For an hour, minutes, whatever time they had, Zechs yearned to feel the smallest comfort. Just for awhile. Pulling the beautiful boy nearer, the Heir to the Sanc Kingdom gently kissed the cut on Heero's golden cheek. The warm brush of Zechs' lips caused Heero to stir with a low groan. His eyes blinked sleepily. The contented smile widened.

"How do you feel?" Zechs whispered as he ran a single slender finger through Heero's bangs.

"Tired." Heero responded with a heavy sigh.

"I don't know how much longer we might have before they separate us." Zechs stated rearranging his arm to better support Heero's head and shoulders.

Heero winced. His jaw was stiff, his head hurt. Tension-stressed muscles drew tight at the base of his skull. Again a clammy hands rubbed across his sore forehead.

First, in an effort to help ease Heero's headache Zechs let his fingers lightly caress Heero's sore temples. His fellow pilot closed his eyes. Next, with firmer pressure, Zechs kneaded the tense fibers along Heero's shoulders to his neck.

"That feels good." Heero announced with another husky groan as he leaned back into Zechs' strong massage.

Putting his mouth near Heero's ear, Zechs gave expressly clear instructions. "Relax and let me do all the work."

Heero obeyed giving in completely to his comrade's masterful strokes.

Now chocolate tresses and a silver mane tangled as Zechs bent over letting his tongue trace sensual patterns on Heero's ears and neck. In a daze of desire Heero turned his deep cobalt eyes upwards. His mouth searched for Zech's parting lips. Zechs Merquise's passion, once kept at bay, flowed freely. The kiss was hard and hungry.

One hand slipped from the young pilot's shoulders moving quickly until anxious fingers tugged Heero's shirt free from his pant's waistband. Sliding beneath the loosened shirt, Zechs' flatten palm drug across Heero's smooth chest. Letting his fingers wander they soon rubbed squarely over taut nipples as each, in turn, was caressed with expert fondling. This teasing touch produced a lower, more feverish, moan.

Heero raised his hands grabbing Zechs' hair as he sealed his moist mouth over the Lightning Baron's lips and tongue. Body against body, the Gundam rebels gave themselves fully to their fleshy desires.

With one arm tightly encircling Heero's waist Zechs' free hand undid Heero's pants and lowered the zipper. Heero's swollen erection strained against the already taut material causing the zipper to part widely. Trembling fingers slithered under Heero's boxer's top, slipping easily under the elastic band. The hand pushed down until it closed over his Gundam partner's aching genitals.

The firm groping caused Heero's to push forward so that his manhood fit snuggly in Zechs' wrapped hand. "Damn!" Heero moaned louder before the passionate sound was muffled by another insistence kiss.

Then in an unexpected response Heero broke the kiss then eased his quivering body down until his head centered between Zechs' legs. Pressing his face into Zechs' cloth clad crotch, into skintight pants that bulged where his erect penis strained with anxious intensity, Heero nuzzled the protruding fabric.

With both hands holding Heero's head, the Lightning Baron moved hard against the firm pressure as his entire frontal area had already become damp from the steady trickle of his excitement.

Zechs' hand continued its skillful manipulation of Heero's hot arousal gliding from base to head and back again along the harden shaft. Rubbing his thumb over the tip, his tactical senses were rewarded as warm creamy fluid bathed his fingers.

Heero's hands were just as busy as they clawed at the zipper interfering with his attempt to pleasure his totally aroused comrade. Eager fingertips slid inside the open zipper stroking Zechs' warm, wet erection. A shudder tingled through Zechs' hot manhood produced by Heero's insistence probing just before Heero's lips parted taking in the swollen member entirely.

"YES!" Zechs panted breathlessly tangling his fingers in Heero's hair as Heero pulled up his lips bringing his tongue teasingly along the way.

Now both pilot's masterful caresses were set in perfect rhythm quickly bringing them both to a thundering climax. Zechs bowed his back. Silky silver hair slipped over his shoulders. Trembling fingers held tighter to Heero's head guiding his mouth down again.

Through his stimulated haze Zech's half-closed eyes caught sight of the dim overhead light. Then bare, cold walls and a door bolted against their freedom sprang into vivid view. With his sudden realization of their imprisonment, Zechs pulled back.

"We can't do this." he declared through labored pants of euphoria and frustration.

Heero's ardent sight locked on Zechs' flushed face. "Why not?" he hissed as his own frustration at the loss of the wonderful sensations produced an angry response.

Zechs reached out cupping his hands about Heero's sweat damp face, "Don't get me wrong." he qualified his statement. "I would like nothing better than to love you." he sincerely proclaimed still panting from his excitement. Leaning closer he pushed back tousled bangs so he could see Heero's liquid blue eyes, "But the guards may return at any time and we must have our minds clear if we hope to survive this hellhole."

Heero shook his head puffing from his own acute stimulation. "I know, but........."

"Shhhh." Zechs whispered pressing a finger on Heero's reddened lips. "Maybe later, when this is over." he paused gazing deeply into the Perfect Soldier's haunting eyes. "When we win, and we will win." Zechs continued pushing aside damp hair clinging to Heero's face.

Heero caught Zechs' trembling hand gently kissing his open palm. "Maybe." he sighed closing his eyes as Zechs' torrid touches still burned hot on his skin. Then lowering his eyes, Heero's expression suddenly took on a sad, pitiful gaze.

Zechs immediately noticed the pensive look. "What's wrong?"

Tears welled up spilling over Heero's cheeks. "Duo." he reverently whispered, "I can't betray Duo's trust." Wing's Master sorrowfully declared.

"I'm sorry." Heero begged Zechs' pardon fighting to keep his voice even. "I shouldn't have...I got caught up in the emotions...I...." Hard sobs chocked off the last of his words.

Zechs placed a thumb under Heero's chin guiding his tear stained face upwards. "I understand, I got carried away, too." he confessed. "Come here." he invited, gently taking Heero's hand, "Just lay with me and let me hold you."

Holding Heero's hand, Zechs ran his thumb over Heero's bruised, swollen knuckles. Breathing in perfect rhythm with his suffering friend's heartbeat as Heero drifted off to slept in his arms, Zechs let himself become lost in the warmth.

Then Zechs made the mistake of shutting his own misty eyes and allowing himself to relax. Stress and fatigue took over plunging him into a suddenly calm, sedative state. With a soft sigh Zechs gave into the claiming slumber as his overwhelmed system gave out thoroughly.

********

The cell door's unlatching stirred Zechs from his restive slumber. Pushing up on his elbows he squinted at the bright backwash shining in for the corridor. Two soldiers dressed in the black and crimson uniforms of Commander Rico's private Executive Guard marched inside. As one guard held his rifle at the ready, his counterpart approached the rebel pair. Zechs knew that Rico sending his personal henchmen meant only one thing...they had come for Heero.

As the cell door slammed shut behind Rico's goons, an adrenaline rush quickly overcame Zechs sleepy daze. A hardened glaze settled over his narrowed sky blue eyes as strong determination showed itself in Epyon's master's steely stare.

Getting to his feet, Zechs stood defiantly, his resolved tenacity set firmly in his mind. If he had to suffer further injury to protect Heero, then so be it, but he would be damned if anyone was going to touch his friend.

Part Six:

The sun late afternoon dipped lower. Long purple shadows elongated copying their hosts. Quatre and Wufei knelt at the compound's dusky border and both were fretfully aware of Heero's impetuous exploit.

Trowa, from his lofty perch in Heavyarms' cockpit, had seen Heero in the "company" of OZ Security. From the slouch of Heero's body it was obvious that the Perfect Soldier had managed to get on the guard's bad side.

"Shit!" Wufei exclaimed upon hearing Trowa's report.

Trowa tried to put the unforeseen situation in the best light. "At least we will have an idea where Zechs is. In a compound this size there shouldn't be but one Detention Unit." he reasoned, "So wherever they lock up Heero it should be in the same building as Zechs. Follow his Band signal and, hopefully, you'll find them both."

Wufei couldn't find fault in Trowa's logic. "We can't do anything about the baka's stupidity." he declared, "We are going in. Stand by and we'll let you know when we find them."

"Then you and Heavyarms can rain down some much deserved havoc on those spawns of Sheol." Quatre added his ardent expectations of OZ's impending destruction.

********

An unguarded side door provided an easy entry point. Quatre held his automatic pistol by his hip as he carefully cracked opened the door and peered inside.

Wufei's sidearm was tucked into his belt. He had never been as ready as his fellow Gundam pilots to use weapons. His personal protection choice was his superb natural fighting ability enhanced by years of Martial Arts training. And of course an occasional bout of swordplay was never refused.

In this case, however, there was a very pragmatic reason to abstain from using guns: "GUNS MAKE NOISE--NOISE ATTRACTS ATTENTION"

The whole idea of sneaking in was to avoid "dancing" with the compound's personnel. Quiet infiltration was not only advisable but absolutely necessary. A hefty measure of judicious prudence concerning their "visit" was vital to the mission's successful completion because getting caught or killed would not be helpful to anyone.

The corridor was vacant but distant voices sounded somewhere in advance of the trespassing pair. Quatre took the lead. Wufei, copying his comrade's watchful attitude, served as rear guard. At the corner Quatre's pistol became a natural extension of the outstretched arm as he leveled it at the unseen voices.

A shadowy form moved down the hall. Quatre silently let his gun slid down palming it in his hand. If the person decided to come his way Sandrock's master was prepared to quietly and efficiently "lay him low" with a single blow. Luckily for all parties concerned the lone figure took an opposite route from their location.

"It can't be much further." Quatre declared as the small green dot on his Tracker that matched Heero's band signal flashed faster. When Heero's location was pinpointed the light would emit a continuous glow.

"I hope Zechs is with Heero." Wufei whispered.

Quatre nodded in agreement as straight ahead the voices grew louder.

Three Security guards were supposedly on watch but their lax posture conveyed an apathetic attitude. Their indifference stemmed from boredom supported by routine duty and lack of any hope of change. One nonchalant soldier puffed on what appeared to be a roughly rolled cigarette. From the strong odor drifting in the air, Quatre and Wufei had no doubts that the cigarette's ingredients were of the illegal variety.

The soldier drew in deeply, holding the bluish smoke in his lungs for as long as he could. His slow exhaling sent another cloud to join the foul haze swirling just below the ceiling. The clearly unfocused glaze over the watcher's eyes told the Gundam duet that he was floating somewhere between relaxed and very relaxed.

"Maybe this will be easier than we thought." Wufei commented watching the guard rock back on his heels with a wobbly sway.

Bracing his shoulder on the wall, the stupefied consumer inhaled once more drawing the burning end almost to his fingers. Snorting the last of the smoke through his nose, the stoned sentry flipped the spent cigarette against the hall's opposite wall where it expelled a spray of red sparks then bounced out of sight.

Quatre drew back pointing at his Tracker. "Two doors to the right.' he announced as the light glowed steadily.

With a noticeable totter the tipsy guard leaned over to retrieve the assault rifle which had slipped from his drug-loosened grasp. One of his fellow troopers grabbed his arm keeping his teammate from pitching over on his head.

Hauling the staggering man upright, his supporter cursed wildly. With creatively vulgar language the trooper voiced his slanderous analysis of his co-worker's questionable lineage. Finally the swearing soldier's scathing descriptions concluded with an equally curt comparison to some lab generated asexual sub-species.

Quatre rolled his indigo eyes at Wufei, "We don't have time to put up with this foolishness." he proclaimed as he poked his sidearm into his belt and stepped out in plain sight.

It took the distracted trio a few seconds to decide if the young man standing before them was real and if he was indeed flesh and bone what in the hell was he doing wandering around the Detention Unit? Their confusion doubted as a second mysterious figure stepped out of the shadows. Wufei issued the first summons to action gliding smoothly into a defensive stance. Hands held high at fighting level the Lone Dragon narrowed his black pupils staring down his opponents.

The guards looked blankly at each other, each waiting for the other to move first. Finally the intoxicated soldier raised his rifle, the barrel weaving as much as his body.

Wufei cocked his head with an air of obstinate pride. "You don't want to use that." he smiled nodding at the weapon, "What's wrong, can't take me without it?" he inquired with a saucy wink.

A puzzled vexation crossed the rifleman's face as the weapon drooped in his hand.

"Ah, come on." the Chinese pilot teased, "We don't have all day to duel."

Wufei's insolent demeanor quickly produced the desired results. Two guards started forward figuring to make short work of their smart-ass challenger. Wufei waited patiently giving no indication that he was either going to charge or back down.

As the rushing pair reached Wufei's attack range, he suddenly exploded into a flurry of strikes and kicks. With a blood chilling "KIAI" that echoed along the hall, the first foe was neatly dispatched with a mid-level lunge punch followed by a spinning snap kick sending the dazed trooper into the wall.

The thoroughly trounced man's partner in their ill-fated charge was stopped short by Wufei's graceful execution of a perfectly targeted and extremely lofty flying jump kick. Now two senseless soldiers laid one atop the other. One moaned; his fallen crony offered no sound or movement.

Quatre didn't bother to use the finesse of Wufei's stylish Martial Arts skills instead he reverted to simple raw, "street fighters" combat. Ramming his boot into the last guard's crotch he abruptly halted the man's forward progress. Yelping in pain the wounded watcher bent over grabbing his aching groin.

In a most sincere attempt to ease the man's misery Sandrock's master followed through with a solid uppercut under the chin swiftly ending the brawl. The cold-cocked trooper went down in a heap near his bested companions.

Satisfied with their silently accomplished victory Quatre offered his Chinese comrade a pleased smile. Chang bowed from the waist in a show of respect for a job well done.

"I hope we are in the right place." Quatre stated as he relieved one loser of a Code-Card that would unlock any of the cells.

Wufei stepped over the limp form closest to him scooping up a discarded rifle, "And that Heero and Zechs are together." he added starting off down the hall.

********

Zechs stood his ground. Unfortunately Rico's Executive troopers did not seem impressed or threatened. Even though the longhaired man swayed, bombarded again by lancing chills, his rage-enlarged pupils never lessened their piercing glare.

"Stand aside traitor." one guard ordered bringing his weapon to bear directed on Zechs' chest.

The Rogue Ace did not move.

Rico's thug raised the targeted rifle higher, more in line with Zechs' face. "No, better yet, stand there." he stated narrowing his sight, "I would like an excuse to execute OZ's most famous renegade. So please indulge me."

The guard took a step forward. "Just give me one reason."

The second Executive stooge shook his head in agreement. "Go on shoot him." he urged, "With the bastard gone Rico's new "pet" will be completely alone. It will make it easier for the Commander to break the boy's spirit."

A leering grin broke across the sentry's lips. "And who knows, as quickly as the Commander gets bored with his new "toys" this fine, ripe plaything might end up servicing our entire squad."

"You know," the guard with the weapon trained on Zechs continued, "even for a Rebel this one's not a bad piece of ass." he grinned poking at Zechs' groin with the business end of his rifle.

"Maybe if we keep Rico happy by delivering his "pet" in good condition, he will let us have some fun."

"I heard Captain Rogers already has his sites set on this one." the second guard stated with a hint of disappointment in his voice.

"Yeah, maybe, but with the right request the Captain might share. What do you think Rebel? Do a good job and you might live longer." he finished reaching for Zechs' invitingly silky hair.

Zechs raised his fist batting away the sentry's hand. "I would rather be dead." he announced with an icy glare.

A strange half-smile tugged the guard's lips. "Yeah but then you couldn't save your lover boy."

"I will kill him myself before I let you touch him." Zechs swore sincerely.

"Really?"

The Lightning Baron's eyes narrowed into steel-blue slits. "If I have too."

Without warning the rifle came around. The length of the cold, hard barrel caught Zechs under the jaw. A shockwave coursed up from jaw to temple in seconds before the sharp jolt ended in an explosion in Zechs' brain that rocked him backwards.

As Zechs' legs gave out, the guard grabbed a fistful of silver mane using the gathered tresses to force Zechs to his knees. Another hard yank pushed Zechs' face into the guard's pant's front.

"Like I said." the man declared using a rougher jerk to keep the rebel's head centered. "Do a good job and you might live a little longer."

"Hey!" the sentry's partner called. The grip on Zechs' platinum locks twisted sideways turning his head so he could see to his right. The second soldier copied his counterpart pulling Heero into a seated posture by a firmly attached handful of hair. A tug snapped Heero's head back sharply and held it while a pistol was pressed to his temple.

"You're so damn anxious to protect your lover, even to the point of killing him. Let's see just how far you're willing to take this." he hissed, "Do you really want your whore dead?" Well, make up your mind, I don't have unlimited patience."

Zechs' sight locked on Heero's pain-glazed eyes. There was no pleading in their dull pupils. Nothing to show fear of dying or, maybe, the fear of living knowing what abuse awaited both him and Zechs.

Zechs closed his eyes hoping that if he hesitated the guard would make the decision for him and free his friend from a fate worse than death. Then he drew in a breath knowing deep in his soul that he could never hurt Heero...that the sentry had indeed called his bluff.

If there was even a slim chance they could escape, if giving into the lustful sentry's wishes might buy some time. If Zechs could stall just long enough to give the Heero's comrades a chance to rescue them. If that's what it took.

"Well!" The guard jerked Zechs' head back around.

"All right." Zechs whispered then began to unzip the guard's pants.

Heero struggled against Rico's trooper's firm grip. "Zechs, no." he whimpered weakly. Ignoring the painful pull on his hair Heero gritted his teeth as the pistol bore deeper into his temple.

Zechs didn't turned away from his impending duty. He could not let Heero see his anguished expression. What he was about to do was for Heero's sake and, perhaps, it would buy the extra time they needed.

"No." Heero begged as he could do nothing but watch the horror unfold.

"Damn it Heero, shut up!" Zechs growled, "Just shut the hell up!"

Tightening his tangled fingers, keeping Zechs' face centered the guard literally purred in anticipation. That's right play nice and we won't hurt the boy." he grinned with a licentious gleam in his eyes.

Zechs' fingers fumbled with the unzipped fly pulling the seam apart. The sentry's penis sprang from the opening swollen and already wet. The lecherous man thrust his hips forward stopping inches from the submissive Rebel's mouth.

"All the way in." he ordered with a hard tug on Zechs' hair. "And do it slow I don't want to come too soon."

Zechs' hand wrapped around the hot, quivering center of sexuality. The guard tossed back his head in an expectant posture eager to feel Zechs lip's supple fondling.

Suddenly the enamored trooper straightened sharply but not from Zechs touch. The controlling hand slipped from his mane with a startled release.

"If you don't want your shit-for-brains splattered all over this room." a familiar baritone voice stated, "You will drop the rifle."

Wufei's face appeared over the shocked sentry's shoulder. His ebony eyes were filled with fire and his angry expression made Zechs glad he wasn't in the guard's shoes.

"Are you all right?" his Chinese comrade asked.

Zechs let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "I am now."

Quatre, pistol in hand, stepped up beside Wufei. His normally gentle eyes locked onto the man still grasping Heero's hair with an angry acidic glare. His pistol's hollow end, with unwavering aim, fixed its sight's dead center between the Executive guard's eyes.

"I'll kill him!" the desperate man shouted shoving his already targeted weapon harder into Heero's temple.

Quatre stone cold stare never wavered as it bore straight into the quaking man's soul. "If I get the slightest notion you are going to do anything to Heero." he stated with a chilled edge that cut through his words, "I will take you out so fast that your heart will stop beating long before the rest of your body realizes you are dead."

The guard, now totally convinced of Quatre's sincere intentions to do bodily harm, fully complied with the no-nonsense request. Without moving a muscle except to loosen his grip and let the weapon slip from his quivering fingers he signaled his unconditional surrender.

Still too stunned to comprehend his freedom, Heero make no attempt to move. With his weapon keeping its deadly aim Quatre moved to his comrade's side and offered his hand. "Come on Heero let's go home."

Heero blinked then realization flickered over his confused sight. "Quatre?"

"Give me your hand."

Cautiously Heero lifted his hand. Quatre took it in a firm grasp and pulled his brother-in-arms to his feet. Then without any encouragement from Quatre, Heero scrambled to the side well out of his former captor's reach.

With extra effort Zechs stood up and moved forward until he was face to face with his OZ tormenter. The fear-struck soldier drew back as he saw sparks flash in the Lightning Baron's steel blue eyes. But his retreat was promptly cut short as he bumped into Wufei.

"This is for Heero." Zechs growled plowing an anger-clenched fist into the trooper's stomach. "And this is for me." he finished with a powerful punch that impacted with a sickening crunch.

The sputtering soldier's head snapped sideways with a sharp POP. Color washed from his face just before vacant eyes rolled backwards and his limp body hit the floor with a bone-jarring thud.

"Is he dead?" Wufei wondered leaning around his enraged friend.

Zechs directed his pitiless sight at the heap of flesh and bone crumpled at his feet. He shrugged poking the twisted figure with the toe of his boot.

"Who cares." was all he said before turning towards the door.

"Let's get out of here." Wufei instructed as he guided Heero in line behind Zechs.

"What about this one?" Quatre called after his exiting teammates.

Zechs slowed his pace but didn't look around. "Do what you want."

A broad smile curled the corners of Sandrock master's mouth. "What I want." he repeated with a strange sense of delight in his voice.

The unarmed trooper, helpless on his knees, swallowed hard but the dry lump wouldn't go down. Quatre took two long strides. Now he stood only inches from the quaking OZ trooper.

"Please." The single word was whispered through a throat constricted with fear.

Quatre's callous stare remained fixed. It gave no clue as to his impending actions, revealed nothing to tell the petrified soldier what revenge was to be visited upon him.

"Please...don't." the trembling trooper begged.

"I bet Heero asked the same thing." The pistol rose in line with the guard's colorless face. A peculiar gleam flickered in Quatre's deep indigo eyes.

Now totally terrified the man was held spellbound by the blond boy who seemed so much older than his years. There was a ruthlessness mirrored in Quatre's hardened gaze that was borne from his loss of innocence and tempered by the fire of combat.

"Prepare for your punishment." Quatre announced with an icy tone that sent chills coursing up the soldier's spine.

Like a striking snake Quatre's foot sprang up with a front kick that hooked under the OZ employee's nose. Blood gushed with such force that it splattered his boot with tiny spots of crimson. The man let out a throaty grunt, balled up then pitched over without another sound.

A satisfied sigh flowed over Quatre's lips. "You don't always have to kill to prove your point." he stated as his trailed his fellow rebels down the hall.

********

At the forest's edge, well clear of the compound's interference field, Wufei contacted Trowa who was waiting impatiently in Heavyarms.

"We have them." Wufei's succinct message announced through the cockpit's speaker.

Trowa straightened in his seat. "Are they all right?"

"They're a bit ragged around the edges but they'll live." his Chinese comrade reported.

Quatre's voice sounded over the open channel. "Give those OZ bastards a taste of hell for me lover."

"Coming in hot!" Trowa exclaimed.

Part Seven:

Without warning a tall ecliptical shadow loomed above the northern hills. A thunderous roar caused every compound personnel's head to turn towards the clamorous din.

Gundam Hearyarms cleared the hilltop setting, with surprisingly supple ease considering its massive tonnage, just inside the main gate. Like an ancient colossus, the towering collection of mayhem and destruction stood still and muted staring with murderous malice in its vacant "eyes".

But the Gundam's statuesque poise didn't last long. Quite the opposite of Trowa Barton's impassive nature, the burning emotions of war boiled inside the Mecha's Gundanium guts. With startling speed the walking mechanical demolitionist began its version of total genocidal renewal of the OZ stronghold.

The nearest building literally disintegrated moments after a micro-missile found its way inside. Its neighboring structure quickly followed suit encouraged in its explosive incineration by Heavyarms' machine cannon.

At the compound's farthest end, momentarily spared from the Gundam's attack, panic-stricken pilots climbed aboard Aries Mobile Suits. Like a swarm of hornets, the MS Squad flew in a modified "cluster" formation.

On the Squad Leader's command they fanned out aiming to strike Trowa's terrorizing titan from all directions at once. Unfortunately their stinging assault had little impact on Heavyarms' ruinous rampage and the mission rapidly became a bout of suicidal futility.

Trowa's bloodthirsty beast threw out an all-encompassing spray from its gatling gun. The angry "bees" began to drop like swatted flies.

A few pilots, more loyal to themselves than OZ, decided that the great military organization was not worth their lives. A trio broke off the foolish charge. Banking to the left, climbing to avoid the deadly spray, they took refuge behind the outer perimeter buildings.

Heavyarms continued its focused agenda to level the entire complex with the least amount of effort. With unrelenting tenacity, Trowa's Gundam walked straight down the compound's center turning its torso to fire left then right.

Briefly it would pause, no doubt to sight in a distant target, then the ammo would fly hot and heavy. Now only a few structures on the furthest fringes had not either been blown up outright or had become victim to the flinging debris and unchecked fires.

********

Heero and Quatre crouched by a retaining wall as sparks and ash rained everywhere. Across the "street" Zechs and Wufei maintained a similar protective posture. Their retreat had been temporarily cut off by Heavyarms' compound rearrangement but they were quite content to wait out Trowa's calamitous playtime.

"He's really raising hell!" Wufei yelled above the ground rocking explosions.

Zechs nodded deciding not to try to shout over the noise.

The entire area quaked once more. "Do you think we ought to move?" Wufei wondered loudly as stony pebbles and dirt vaulted over the wall.

Zechs covered his head leaning closer to the wall. "Might be a good idea." he stated shaking grit from his lengthy hair.

"I think a rapid relocation is in order." Wufei yelled to his teammates across the way.

Quatre's head tilted upwards, his neck craned at an odd angle. "That relocation better be quick." he announced as blue shade from an Aries slipped over the rebels.

The Soldier Suit hovered just above a flaming rooftop. Orange reflections tinted the MS's faceplate obscuring the pilot sitting inside. Now the Gundam quartet crouching squarely in its gun-port's sights had no doubts of its intension to fire.

Trapped between the narrow confines with a building on one side and the wall on the other, the fugitives were "fair game". Knowing it would not do any good but solely out of desperation, Wufei raised up on one knee determined to empty his pistol at the enemy MS.

"Run for it!" he shouted as bullets ricocheted off the suit's front.

"What in the hell are you doing?" Zechs yelled as a bullet ricocheted above his head ripping out a chunk of concrete.

Wufei stood up squeezing off another set of shots. "RUN!"

The Aries leaned forward centering its Chain Rifle on the pesky and, in the plot's opinion, foolhardy man with the pistol. By the increased humming, loud enough to be heard even above Heavyarms' havoc, everyone knew that the Aries' rifle was "powering up".

"Wufei come on!" Zechs called realizing that his fellow pilot had not made any attempt to join in the retreat.

"I said run, damn it!" Wufei yelled out the order.

Zechs swore softly under his breath. "Not this time."

Staying low he ran across the open space, skirting beneath the Mobile Suit that was taking dead aim at Wufei. "GET DOWN!" he screamed grabbing the brash Chinese shooter around the waist and throwing his slim body sideways.

A bright burst turned the smoky twilight blue-green, then orange, before a section of the retaining wall blew apart. Everyone hit the ground as flying debris pelted everywhere.

A second blast, however, took on a different form. As the fire-tinged haze whipped up in a swirling funnel cloud Heero and Quatre strained to find where the Aries had been.

Heavyarms' head and shoulders showed through the tree branches. A twisted blackened frame was all that was left of the Mobile Suit. "Withdraw." Trowa ordered over the outside speaker, "I'll cover your retreat."

As the dust cleared, Heero, Quatre and the headstrong Wufei, realizing they had survived, sat up in their various spots on the litter strewn ground. The Aries's blast had blown out a large part of the wall and the building's side. The explosion had spread a field of rubble and wreckage at least ten meters in all directions.

It took the stunned group a long moment for their brains to bring their thoughts into some semblance of order. It would be even longer before the ringing in their ears stopped.

Heero sat in place brushing off his dusty clothes. Slowly, by measured degrees, he began to make sense of the destroyed surrounding. Then panic grabbed hold as he did not see Zechs anywhere. Rushing to his feet Heero's knees wobbled. Standing too quickly made his blood rush backwards producing a cold sweat, leaving him dizzy and weak.

With an askew wobble he forcefully fought for control not for his sake but for his missing comrade-in-arms. "Zechs?" he questioned reeling again.

Wufei took Heero's arm steadying his friend. "Take it easy."

Heero's cobalt eyes blazed as he jerked away from Wufei's grasp. "Let me go." he growled. " Damn it Wufei this is all your fault!" he shouted as a wave of alarm crashed over.

Clumsily Heero sidestepped his Chinese comrade. Not caring if more Aries might be lurking nearby he began picking his way through large chunks of broken wall. In his increasingly fearful state Wing's master found himself grasping and flinging aside much heavier pieces of rent material than he thought he could lift.

"Heero!" Quatre called afraid that Heero would hurt himself among the maze of shattered stones and crumbling concrete.

Heero ignored the calling as he staggered further inside the littered labyrinth. By the wall's far end a trace of platinum hair, coated with a dusty white overlay, was almost completely concealed as the pale shades blended perfectly.

"ZECHS!" Heero screamed.

An equally encrusted body, arms and legs bent into a compact curl, lay on its side. Zechs' face was partly covered by more of his lengthy mane that was also sprinkled with pale powdery residue.

"Zechs." Heero choked out Duo's savor's name.

Resting one knee in the powdery grit, an anxious hand reached for the long strands covering Zechs' face. Heero's fingers paused just short of their goal, hovering in midair, afraid of what they might find beneath the Epyon pilot's tangle tresses. A reddish hue had already tinted the hair laying directly on Zechs' forehead turning the silver tresses an odd russet color. Was the bleeding from minor cuts and scratches or would Heero find bone-bare gashes spilling out a rushing crimson flow?

Heero took in a shaky breath then exhaled with a hard centering puff. The drawn back bangs showed several long abrasions. One deeper slash above Zechs' right eyebrow, oozed out a fresh scarlet stream. The bleeding did not come gushingly but the discharge was steady and didn't seem inclined to stop on its own.

Heero used his grimy thumb to mop away some of the blood before it ran into Zechs' eyes. Despite his gentle touch Zechs flinched. A sucking intake of dust-laden air brought on a raspy wheeze. A rattling cough caught in Zechs' lungs. The wrenching congestion seized tightly causing him to bend inwards at the waist.

Heero dropped to both knees taking hold of Zechs' jacket. Sliding his friend's contraction contorted frame against his chest, Heero propped up Zechs' sagging shoulders as best he could. Wrapping his arm about his middle, Heero drew in tighter to bracing Zechs' bowing spine as a stronger convulsive fit swept through his insides.

The Rogue Ace doubled over with a quivering breath falling limply over Heero's arms. "Zechs! No!" Heero begged, "What in the hell am I supposed to do with you?" he hissed struggling under the larger man's unbalanced weight.

Still weak from his own battle with OZ the Perfect Soldier had no choice but to lower Zechs' lax body to the ground. Pushing back stands of matted hair, twice as dark from a mixture of sweat and blood, Heero leaned over his fellow pilot. Sweating and shivering Zechs gave no response as Heero again called his name. Whitish lips pressed together as piercing pain lanced across his ribcage.

"Don't do this," Heero pleaded, "Please, not now."

A low moan sounded in Zechs' throat. One grit stained hand lifted slightly only to flop across his stomach. Eyelids, heavy with weakness, couldn't open to picture Heero's worried face. The calling of his name, floating somewhere outside his perceptive range, jumbled into a fuzzy roar.

Wing's master laid his hand on Zechs' forehead. The moist skin felt hot, much warmer than his ashen cheeks. "He's burning up." Heero mumbled as his frustration at the injustice being forced on he and his comrades wormed its way through his gut.

Heero was afraid that Zechs was too sick to be aware of what was going on around him but somehow he had to find a way to break through the feverish confusion. "Zechs how are you going to help Duo like this?" he sighed as his own strained system was quickly giving out.

Quatre knelt on one side of Zechs. Wufei squatted on the other side laying a hand on Zechs' hot forehead. "You are right this is my fault." he whispered lowering his eyes away from Heero's anxious face.

"Wufei...I" Heero began.

Wufei raised his free hand signaling for silence. He closed his ebony eyes. Inhaling slowly, exhaling with a steady hiss of air, his breathing took on a measured rhythm. Eyes pressed tight in concentration Chang Wufei summoned up his Clan's meditative techniques of mind and body control.

Opening his eyes the Lone Dragon converged his physical and mental focus into a single mindset. Starting in his fingers he began to gather Zechs' fever, to pull the elevated temperature through his hand, his arm. As the hot currents rose higher into his shoulders beads of sweat broke out on Wufei's brow. His breathing quickened as he put all his concentration into cooling Zechs inflamed body.

Zechs twitched. Heero took his hand. A second jerk squeezed hard enough to hurt Heero's fingers. "Please Zechs fight, fight for Duo."

Zechs lethargic eyelids fought to open. Wufei's focused eyes, as black as the backside of the moon, held their trance-veiled stare. "Zechs." he called softly.

Slowly Zechs eyes opened then aligned directly with Wufei's piercing orbs. "Wufei." Zechs mouthed out the name.

A slow blink ended Wufei's sightless stare. "He will be all right." he announced with a slight quiver in his husky voice.

Zechs shifted his sight until it focused on Heero. A weak smile showed that he recognized his brother-in-arms. "Welcome back." Heero said squeezing his hand.

********

Satisfied with Zechs' return to some degree of normalcy, such as could be expected under the circumstances, Heero turned to Wufei. Holding out his hand he more ordered than asked, "Give me your gun."

Wufei hesitated as he wondered what had prompted the unexpected request. A peculiar smirk, bordering on bizarre, flickered across Heero's lips. "Trust me."

Reluctantly Wufei gave into his comrade's mysterious requirements as he slapped the pistol into his outstretched palm.

Quatre was not at all comfortable with the peculiar gleam in fellow pilot's eyes, "What are you going to do?"

"Take care of some unfinished business." the Perfect Soldier stated pivoting about to leave. "Get Zechs back to the rendezvous point, I'll join you in a few minutes."

"HEERO!" Quarte called after the exiting pilot. Wing's master didn't respond. Quatre started to call again.

"Let him go." Wufei advised, "There are some injustices that can not go unpunished."

With Quatre on one side and Wufei on the other, Zechs was supported and guided to back to the rescue team hiding in the forest. Now a bit more lucid Zechs sat under a tree content to let one of the medically trained Maganacs tend to his injuries.

Wufei leaned against a second tree, arms folded across his chest in a pseudo calm posture. Trowa kept his place in Heavyarms' cockpit just in case any OZ stragglers decided to renew the fight. But judging by the dense columns of smoke spiraling from the compound and the red-orange hue that tinted the sky, the band of rebels reckoned that no more challenges would be forthcoming.

Quatre paced along the tree line, paused, checked his watch then asked again for the third or fourth time. "What to you think Heero is doing?"

Each time Wufei would shrug in a noncommittal fashion and each time Quatre would cut his eyes at the irritating Chinese man, let out an exasperated sigh and begin his back and forth circuit again.

********

Heero slipped silently along a heat-scorched wall stalking his quarry with predatory grace. Moving like a cat, Heero's muscles rippled and tensed as he closed in on the object of his hunt.

He knew, deep in his instinctual gut, that the brutal Commander had not succumbed to Heavyarms' carnage. He could feel Rico's evil permeating the entire area. Yes, Duo's avenging dark angel could taste revenge and it was sweet.

Commander Rico hurriedly loaded a box into a truck then ran back into his office to gather up the last of his personal belongings. In his heightened stated of trepidation Rico's foremost thought, his single goal, was escape.

Heero Yuy stopped by the partly opened door as all of his senses told him that Rico was inside. With a single solid kick the door crashed back hitting the wall, its hinges snapping with a keen crack, resounding like a pistol shot.

Before the OZ Commander could think much less react, Heero's hand clamped about his throat. The enraged soldier's storming momentum carried both him and the shocked Officer to the opposite wall where Rico was slammed with sufficient force to make him see stars.

In wide-eyed terror, Rico grappled against the Perfect Soldier's powerful grip. As Heero closed his hand and the High Commander began to strangle the barrowed pistol was jabbed under Rico's chin and angled straight at his throat.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't splatter your damn brains all over this wall?" Heero hissed curling his finger tighter on the trigger.

Rico's windpipe began to collapse. Knees began to buckle. A sickly gray shade washed over his skin.

"Or maybe I'll just squeeze you lustful, fucking, worthless life out one speck at a time." Heero growled through anger-clenched teeth.

Letting the pistol hold Rico's head in place, Heero suddenly released his grasp around his throat. The Commander wheezed sucking in a forceful gulp of air. His chest heaved as his nearly asphyxiated lungs struggled to refill.

Keeping the sidearm centered, Heero reached into the top of his boot. The orange glow of fire shining through the window shimmered across a slender bladed knife that Heero had hid away for such occasions.

With a throaty growl Wing's Master pushed the knife's razor sharp point into Rico's throat with enough pressure to break the skin. Bloody droplets began to bead from the puncture.

"Or maybe...." Heero continued displaying the same leering grin that Rico used earlier when he had "propositioned" the object of his lascivious debauchery.

With the same anticipatory lewd sneer Heero put Rico on notice of his reciprocal intensions to "pay back in kind". "Maybe I'll teach you to keep your impotent genital desires under control." he announced drawing back the lethal blade.

"NO! PLEASE!" Rico pleaded as the knife slashed out with a deadly flash of silver.

A high-pitched wail rose with such volume that even the Gundam teammates waiting at the border heard it echo through the tree line. Then nothing...not a sound.

********

Heero materialized out of the gray smoky smog. Wufie's pistol was carried in one hand, the blood-bathed knife dangled loosely from equally scarlet stained fingers.

"Where did you go?" Quatre demanded obviously fretted from his endless pacing.

"To visit an old friend."

"Rico." Zechs stated with surety as a peaceful sense of completion soothed his battered body and eased his weary mind.

"Did you kill him?" Wufei wondered as Heero retuned his pistol.

Heero glanced back in the compound's direction. "Commander Rico was alive when I left him." he stated matter-of-factly.

"Heero?" Wufei questioned as he was becoming more disturbed by the sheer savagery in the Perfect Soldier's eyes. "Heero what did you do?"

A twisted smile bloomed on Heero's lips. "Let's just say," he beamed wickedly, "that the stallion is now a gelding."

Part Eight:

Quatre shared the front seat with Wufei as he drove back to the rebel's makeshift headquarters. Heero and Zechs occupied the back seat. Trowa and Heavyarms escorted the convoy of several vehicles matching their speed as he hovered protectively overhead.

Zechs rested his heavy head in Heero's lap. As Heero absentmindedly fumbled with the Lightning Baron's silky hair his anxious thoughts were centered on Duo as he hoped against ever-narrowing odds that his lover would be alive when they arrived at their safe haven.

"I want to tell you what to do to help Duo." Zechs spoke before a weak sigh broke off his words.

"Rest now." Heero insisted, "You can tell us when we get there."

Zechs' head nodded insistently causing his long hair to slip through Heero's fingers. "No, as feeble as I am I may not be able to tell you then." he stated knowing that he was growing weaker by the moment. "I have to tell you now."

Heero nodded.

"From how you have described Duo's erratic behavior, the agitation and confusion, I believe OZ must have fitted him with a Probe Chip."

Quatre turned quickly in his seat staring back at the rebel pair. "Probe Chip? What kind of shit is that?"

"Sometimes the Manipulators don't want to do a total "brain bending", don't want to wipe out the entire thought process, so they use a Probe Chip designed for the specific purpose of "refining" certain parts of the brain. That way the mind raping bastards have control but still allow their "prey" to keep the knowledge and skills OZ wants to exploit."

Zechs sucked in a shallow gulp of air then winced as his shaky fingers trailed over his throbbing head. Heero placed his hand over Zechs' entwining his fingers. "Take it easy."

Zechs squeezed Heero's hand, "Please let me finish. The Probe is a thin, flexible square chip about the size of you fingertip. It is slid under a flap of skin at the base of the skull. Twin Senor-Tipped Probes, one on each upper corner, press into the spinal cord's nerve-endings.

These sensors can "short-circuit" impulses traveling to the brain, this causes an interruption in the signal. Then the Manipulators can feed any input they wish into the various isolated areas and relay the distorted mental "Prints" to whatever section of the mind they choose."

Heero tensed as he realized exactly what Zechs was saying. "You mean that Duo has a damned Probe in his neck? Why didn't we find it when he was examined?"

"When the Probe is inserted correctly, you wouldn't notice it even if you ran your finger over it. Except for a reddish line where the skin was cut you couldn't find it unless you knew where to look and Duo's thick braided hair hid it perfectly.

What I believed happened is that the exchange took place before the "Benders" completed the process. That is why Duo had been so agitated and easily frightened." Zechs declared.

"With the chip not fully fine-tuned, Duo's brain is constantly receiving scrambled messages. His mind can't focus on anything for very long before the signal skips. This instability is why he had been so unpredictable."

Zechs shifted, "I also know," he sighed lowering his eyes away from Heero's face, " that the Security Sentries would not have hesitated to take advantage of Duo's confusion for any physical pleasure they might decide he could provide."

Heero closed his eyes remembering with heartbreaking clarity Duo's fear, his pleading to "Make them stop." Duo." he whispered as tear welled up blurring his sight.

"But why go to all that trouble?" Quatre wondered. Not much of anything was making sense right then, "I mean what does Duo have that OZ wants so badly?"

"His Gundam and him to pilot it."

"But Duo would never fight for OZ!" Heero proclaimed angrily "He would self-destruct before doing anything like that."

Zechs shook his head, " If the Manipulators had completed the programming Duo not only would have done anything OZ asked of him but he would have thought it was as natural as breathing. If fact they could have made him believe that taking Deathscythe out against you was his own idea."

"I don't believe that. No matter what OZ did Duo would never betray us. No!" Heero stated emphatically, "NEVER!"

"Believe what you will," Zechs replied, "but I think you are damn lucky they didn't get a chance to follow through," he stated locking his sight with Heero's livid glare "or you might have had to destroy Duo and Deathsycthe yourself."

"So what you're saying," Quatre began trying to get his facts straight, "All we have to do is take out the Probe and Duo will be all right."

As he looked over at Quatre, Zechs' eyes were angry, too. "I wish it was that simple." he declared his voice quivering over each word, "I'm afraid that Duo's mind has been flooded with so much dissimilated information it won't be able to realign its thought patterns without help."

"Help!" Heero exclaimed, "What are we supposed to do go back to OZ and ask for their help? I bet if we make a really polite request the bastards will fall all over themselves to save Duo." he proclaimed as acute sarcasm hissed in his voice.

"I say," Wufei finally spoke up breaking his silent reflection, "we go back, get the Gundams and force OZ to make everything right. I will, for Duo's sake, personally pilot Deathscythe so "he" can share in the extraction of justice."

"No." Zechs shook his aching head, "We have the means to "make things right" as Wufei says. "All we need is Wing Zero."

"Zero!" Heero declared, "How in the hell will my Gundam help?"

Zech winced again as he pushed up on his elbows until he was able to lean against Heero's shoulder. He blinked twice but the vehicle's interior still wanted to blur and spin.

Before Heero could comment or suggest that Zechs rest he licked his dry lips and continued. "What I purpose to do is feed the Zero System Integration Programs into a computer then we can modify the data so we control the feedback speed.

The Zero System can capture Duo's skewed sensory patterns, analyze the brainwaves, correlate and return the edited information directly into his neuro-mechanism. Hopefully this will allow his scattered thoughts to "merge" together. By controlling the interfusion rate we won't have to worry about the Zero System's overload factor. If everything works right Duo should make a full recovery."

Quatre leaned over the front seat's back. "Sounds like a workable plan but how do we link Duo and the computer?"

Heero's face brightened as he began to understand the process. "The sensor-pads we use when we have mental practice sessions with the Zero System so we don't have to actually sit in the Gundam?"

Suddenly the pilot trio understood. A long collective sigh was breathed out in unison. "I believe we will beat those bastards after all!" Heero proclaimed with a rare smile shining on his face.

********

Heavyarms stood like a silent sentinel by the abandon warehouse serving as Sally Po's temporary headquarters. Trowa held the door as Quatre and Wufei half-carried Zechs inside. Heero fell in behind as his own batter body set his sluggish pace.

Halfway to the sleeping quarters a Field Medic met the slow moving group. It didn't take a high degree of medical training to see that the Epyon pilot was hurting and on the verge of passing out.

"Bring him in here." the Medic ordered stepping inside a small examination room.

The Lightning Baron groaned as his weakness-weighted body reclined on a padded table. Now a profuse sweating ran down his face. His arms folded in a cumbersome fashion over his chest. Languidness of both mind and body was rapidly setting in and Zechs had little reserves left to fight off the encompassing exhaustion.

As the Medic began his preliminary examination, a feverish flashback invoked repressed demons lurking in Zechs' subliminal memory. Their awakening brought into sudden focus his horrendous suffering at the OZ Security Interrogator's hands.

Zechs' entire body jumped as phantom electrified currents wrenched already strained muscles. Raw terror seized his mind. Suddenly arms flew forward to block the imagined, but menacingly real, physical invasion. Trowa jumped back barely avoiding the flinging extremities then caught hold of the arm closest to him. Quatre intercepted the other. It took all of their combined strength to restrain Zechs in his adrenaline charged alarm.

"Shit!" Trowa yelled struggling to keep his balance.

Daring to brave Zechs' thrashing onslaught, Wufei took the frightened man's face firmly in his hands. Again a meditative calm caressed his black eyes. "Zechs." he called so softly that Quatre and Trowa wondered if their frightened friend could hear his name.

Once more Wufei spoke never lessening his soothing tone. "Look at me." he ordered firming the pressure to persuade Zechs to listen. "Zechs, tell me who I am."

Zechs jerked rigidly bowing off the table. Wufei spoke once more but instead of raising his voice to command Zechs' attention, he simply breathed out his name.

As if a peaceful breeze brushed his face, Zechs suddenly settled into a state of composed serenity. His body relaxed. Arms drooped in his holder's grasp Wild sight shifted to take in Wufei dark pupil's placid gaze.

"Wufei." he whispered in a distant tone. "Duo" he said with more power. "I have to help Duo."

Contrary to the Medic's advice, Zechs slowly sat up swinging his legs over the table's side. "We can't wait." he announced with a sense of urgency accenting his words. "Give me some Medophene."

"Sir." the Medic responded shaking his head, "In your weakened condition I don't think that is a wise idea. If your system can't handle the stress......"

"Look!" Zechs interrupted clearing not in the mood to debate his condition or the strong stimulant's possible dangerous side effects. "Just give me the damn shot, just enough to keep me going an hour or so, then I promise," he swore raising one hand in a solemn oath, "I'll cooperate and collapse."

Still ardently protesting the Lightning Baron's demands, the Medic dispensed a forced-air injection into Zechs' upper arm. "I WILL NOT be held responsible for any injurious consequences." the upset Medic loudly proclaimed as he exited the room.

"Take me to Duo." Zechs ordered still relying on Wufei and Trowa's help to walk.

********

Heero hesitated at the door to Duo's room trying to summons the courage to face what he knew would be the hardest thing he would ever have to do. For some time his heart had felt Duo slipping away. Even the miles of separation had not broken his and his soul mate's intrinsic bond.

Despite Zechs' faith that Duo could be saved, Heero knew his friend, comrade-in-arms and lover was almost beyond reclaiming. But if they had only moments more together Heero knew his sweet soul mate would not die without feeling his tender embrace, without knowing how much he loved him.

Heero also knew that if Duo did find his way home to a peaceful place free from war and suffering that Heero's heart would travel with him and keep him safe. At the journey's end, when Heero's soul had gone to dwell with dear Duo the empty hole left behind would be refilled with hate. The avenging Perfect Soldier would then wreak Wing's vengeance on OZ until nothing remained of the Spawns of Hell.

Soon after the retributive vendetta was fulfilled, after his spirit was spent, Heero Yuy, himself, would employ Wings's self-destruct system and he and his Gundam would join Duo forever.

Heero prayed that his terrifying premonition was only a product of heartsick worry. That the grave omen was inspired by fear and magnified by an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

Zechs' plan would work. It had too!

Duo could not leave...not now when Heero finally realized just how empty his life would be without Shinigami's saving grace.

Part 9:

Trowa sat on the floor leaning against the wall by Duo's bedroom door. His long legs were bent to his chest, his hands folded loosely over his knees. He stared at his boots quiet and unmoving. His fellow pilot's approach rallied his attention. Impassive green eyes rested on Quatre.

"How is he?" Quatre whispered not bothering to hide his fear.

Trowa took a shaky breath fighting his own emotional upset. His eye's stoical gaze hid well his underlying pain over Deathscythe master's steady decline. "It's not good." He stood up placing a hand on his lover's shoulder, "Try to be strong." he encouraged following Quatre inside.

**********

Sally Po slumped in her chair resting her head on Duo's bed. Throughout her faithful vigil she had cried until her tears dried up. Feeling helpless to stem the ruthless tide swamping Duo's frail system, Sally's emotions had run the gambit from worry to fear and now, rage. Her fingers clutched the bedcovers in an anger-clenched grip. "DAMN OZ!" she hissed.

Dark purple blotches under Duo's eyes were the only color in his ashen, angelic face. Stringy chestnut bangs caressed his long eyelashes closed in comatose sleep.

Sally's trembling fingers lifted the wet mop of hair from his forehead burning with fever. "Duo please don't give up."

At ever turn OZ's deviously cleaver "Brain Benders" has strategically placed cerebral "blocks" to hinder and frustrate the medical staff's efforts to reverse Duo's downhill slide into death's moribund darkness. The demented Manipulators had designed their psychic obstructions so that the hindrances produced a prolonged but relentlessly persistent deterioration. Just simply letting Duo die peacefully and painlessly was not in OZ's vicious nature.

**********

Footsteps caused Sally to turn toward the door. With the Medophene beginning to take affect Zechs was not as dependent on his helpers as he walked through the door. Quatre, Wufei and Trowa came after.

Heero paused to summon up his courage. As the ominous foreboding plaguing his soul swelled inside he fought to control the breaths stabbing through his heaving chest.

Sally's puffy eyes held Heero's stress-worn features in their misty gaze. "Heero." her bottom lip quivered, "Oh Heero." she whispered as her tears flowed freely. She stood as he reached the bed. "I'm so sorry." she sighed embracing Heero's trembling body, "he's dying."

Jerking away Heero shook his head. He did not want to listen...would not let himself believe that Duo was too far gone to know he was there.

"NO!" he screamed staggering backwards.

An indomitable glare replaced the despair in the Heero's brooding sight. This time instead of dispensing the Grim Reaper's justice, the Perfect Soldier was going to fight the Soul Harvester with all the venomous tenacity he could muster.

Carefully sitting on the bed he took his lover's hand and was shocked by how cold it was. "Duo." his grief-chocked voice whispered.

Sally sat down beside Heero lightly rubbing his back. "Duo "dreamed" all day after you left, tossing and shivering, fighting the demons OZ left to torment him. Every time he'd open his eyes he would call your name but..." a shaky breath trailed off her words.

"I suppose when you didn't answer he gave up and allowed himself be carried off by a languishing current. He gradually became quiet, sedate, then just stopped fighting altogether."

Sally lowered her eyes not wanting to see the desperation in Heero's misty pupils. "We've done all we can, tried everything, but OZ won't let us in."

"Not everything." Zechs announced angrily. Just like Heero's dogged determination this was one battle that the Lightning Baron was not going to lose.

Heero leaned over pushing aside sweat-soaked bangs, resting his cool hand on Duo's hot brow. "You hold on!" he ordered, "Damn it, Duo, you hear me! Hold on!"

Lovingly Heero gathered up his lover enfolding his arms tightly about Duo's too thin frame. If the will to live could be inspired by sheer moral courage then Heero would give Duo all his soul, use all his strength to guide him back home.

Zechs touched Heero's shoulder. "We have the solution, I know we do." he stated with utmost surety, "Come on, let's get to work."

"Hold on." Heero implored gently kissing Duo's sallow, damp cheek, "Please." he whispered brushing his lips over his beloved partner's mouth.

Suddenly Heero didn't want to let go. He was afraid if his and Duo's physical bond was severed again that Duo would perish from the rending disunion. The Gundam pilot that once believe that "life was cheap" was now frightened that the breach between their hearts might grow too wide to cross. But he had to take the chance and let go because if he didn't Heero knew that Duo would indeed die in his arms.

**********

Duo's saviors wasted no time. Inside Wing Zero's cockpit Heero downloaded the Integration Data letting his "perfect grade" Gundam and an external computer communicate in their own electronic language.

Zechs and Wufei manned the main terminal, reprogrammed the incoming data. The computer hummed as it reconfigured the thousand bites of information cascading through its system. Trowa, using Quatre as a test subject, check out the practice sensor-pads making sure they were operating correctly.

Even with the Medophene's aide, Zechs found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Quivering fingers more and more punched the wrong keys. Finally he turned the process over to Wufei then gave explicit instructions as the Lone Dragon finished the job.

Heero, too, was fighting his own scattered attention. Visions of Duo lying so pale and motionless kept reappearing in his mind. But he could not dwell on those frightening pictures. He knew a single mistake could be catastrophic. Everything, every detail, had to be perfect. There was no room for error, not with Duo's life hanging in the balance.

**********

Two hours later, with the prepared programming fed into the Zero System, four resolute soldiers encircled Deathscythe master's bed. Sensor pads were attached to Duo's temples and various pulse points. As Zechs ran a final system's check Wufei and Trowa held Duo's legs, Heero and Quatre his arms.

Zechs was not certain what responsive transformation that another intrusion into Duo's battered brain might produce, what reflexes might or might not be stimulate and he certainly didn't want Duo hurting himself should the reprogramming trigger a violent reaction.

"Ready?"

Everyone nodded affirmatively. Heero placed a comforting kiss on Duo's cheek. "I'm here." he whispered close to his lover's ear.

"I'm going to gradually pace the input." Zechs informed. "Duo's system can't absorb too much at a time so don't be overly concerned if it is awhile before we see any concrete results." he warned.

Zechs closed his eyes, took a concentrative breath and exhaled as his sight returned to Duo's frail form. Poising his finger over ENTER the converted Rogue Ace depressed the key and prayed all their efforts had not been an exercise in futility. Duo twitched. Everyone held their breath.

**********

The first forty-five minutes were unbearably slow. Time passed without so much as a flicker of awareness. Heero held Duo's hand hoping that through the familiar touch his partner would sense that he was there. During the next thirty creeping portions of time Heero thought he felt an ever so slight pressure increase in dear partner's fingers. Twenty more painfully extended divisions and a low moan sounded.

Duo's eyes moved jerkily under his eyelids as they viewed the Zero System's kaleidoscopic waves in his "mind's eye". Fifteen minutes, muscles stiffened. A loud groan proceeded a sharp intake of air. The sudden rush of oxygen made Duo's entire body tense. Fingers curled and arms and legs fought against his comrade's gently but firm restraint.

"Duo." Heero called close to his ear. His lover's lips parted. A wispy sigh blew on Heero's cheek as Duo relaxed.

Heero repeated the calling and was rewarded when Duo firmed up the pressure on his hand. "Duo." Heero replied to the squeeze. "Follow the sound of my voice." he pleaded, "Please come back."

Then leaning nearer still, Heero Yuy readily made his committed feelings clear. Unashamedly he confessed himself before his loyal friends. "Duo I love you."

Weakness-laden eyelids fluttered twice before they opened to find Heero's concerned cobalt sight gazing lovingly back. Without hesitation Duo's soul mate closed his mouth over his precious partner's pale lips. With a surprisingly strong response Duo returned the kiss.

"Heero." Duo barely breathed out his lover's name.

Duo's voice's soft tenor was the sweetest sound Heero had heard since his childhood. Not since Odin Lowe tucked the frightened young boy in bed and told him everything would be all right, had Heero felt that someone cared.

Heero bent over his newly awaken lover. "Welcome back kio." Then sealed the greeting with a second warm kiss.

"Good." Zechs smiled obviously pleased with Duo's "rebirth". "Now let's get that damn chip out of his neck." he instructed as he began unhooking the sensor pads.

**********

An exhausted Heero shared Duo's bed cradling his more alert lover against his chest. As his fingers fumbled with Duo's heavy braid the slow metered strokes brought on the urge to sleep in both Gundam masters.

As soon as Zechs was sure that Duo was all right he had stayed true to his word. He weaved once to give Quatre and Trowa fair warning then collapsed just like he had promised he would.

With his silver hair spread out over the pillow and the refreshingly cool sheets covering his naked chest Zechs rested in an adjacent bed. Sleep also crept in like a comforting friend. Just before he gave into the Sandman's invitation to slumber he offered a satisfied smile to the reunited lovers then drifted off into perfect nothingness.

***********

The next morning:

For the first time since his reclamation from the OZ-induced demons Duo slept peacefully. The Medic had established an IV to replace fluids and provide nutrition for his starved body. His temperature was normal, his breathing regular and his cheeks were a healthy shade of pink.

After sleeping soundly through the night, Heero, too, was feeling stronger. He had eaten a hardy breakfast and was now propped up on several pillows beside Duo watching his soul mate in his restful slumber.

Zechs had felt well enough to go to the mess hall and share his morning meal with Trowa, Quatre and Wufei. Refreshed and well fed the rebel quartet quietly entered Duo's room.

Heero checked his lover and eased out of bed to join his friends. "Please sit down," he urged with a wave of his hand at a nearby table.

Admitting to anyone that he was wrong went totally against Heero's nature nevertheless Zechs Meriquse and the other Gundam pilots were about to have the rare opportunity of hearing Heero Yuy recant his pervious mistrust of the Lightning Baron.

Since Heero's answer to any attempted interaction usually manifested itself by refusing people's care, rewarding their concern with indifference and displaying an attitude that bordered on pure rudeness to have Heero rescind any opinion, especially one rooted in suspicion, was a landmark event.

"Zechs I was wrong." he stated solemnly, "Even when you offered to exchange yourself for Duo I still believed that you would betray us. I thought that you would use Duo to get back in OZ's good graces.

But there is not a trace of doubt in my mind now. You suffered terribly and put your life on the line for Duo and me. You are a soldier in every way that matters and I am honored to call you my comrade. Can you ever forgive me for my skepticism?"

Zechs was gracious in his acceptance of the Perfect Soldier's apology. "Remember our battle between Wing and Tallgeese?" he asked as he mentally recalled his and Heero's first encounter.

Heero nodded. "I remember that day."

"It was a shame that then the only common ground we could find was our Gundams." Zechs declared.

Leaning nearer Zechs continued. "That day you told me you had never shaken anyone's hand before you shook mine. Would it be possible to bend your rule one more time?"

Heero Yuy locked his blue eyes on his former opponent with renewed conviction that with a united effort OZ could be defeated. One day, he now believed, their world would be whole and at peace.

Heero reached across the table gladly offering his hand. "Arigato." he replied to Zechs' congenial reception of his apology.

"You are welcomed." the Lightning Baron smiled as he firmly shook his comrade-in-arms hand.

Epilogue:

It had been over a week since Duo's reclaiming. After the first night Zechs had moved to another room to give Duo and Heero some much deserved privacy. Duo's recovery had been steady encouraged by Heero's devoted attention and care.

Heero lay beside his lover holding his hand as Duo slept peacefully snuggled in his protective embrace. He marveled at the serene contentment on Duo's angelic face, the way the early morning sunlight sparkled on his chestnut bangs and gave his creamy skin a golden glow.

No doubt sensing his guardian's gaze Duo sighed. As he opened his eyes his sleepy sight found Heero's bright smile greeting him.

"Good morning my koibito." Heero whispered before brushing a gentle kiss over his soul mate's mouth.

Duo's lips bloomed into a wide smile and his dazzling violet eyes lit up with pure happiness. "Good morning to you my love."

Heero tightened his arms, "How are you feeling?"

Duo winced as he shifted to ease the kinks in his stiff muscles, "I'll be all right. I've just been still too long." he replied then noticed how intensely Heero was watching him.

Heero's focused gaze, while quite flattering, caused Duo to wonder, "What are you thinking about?" he inquired of his attentive lover.

"I don't know what I would have done if I had lost you." Heero sighed fighting against the tears welling in his eyes.

"But you didn't," Duo stated assuredly, "and we will never be parted again." he declared sealing his promise with an anxious kiss.

Keeping his lips close enough so that his breathy request feathered over Heero's chin Duo issued a passionate invitation. "Love me."

Heero eased back so he could fully see Duo's face, so he could tell by looking into Duo's eyes his state of recovery.

Even though Duo's eyes were bright and his color was very much improved Heero was still concerned that his precious partner was not strong enough to make love. "I don't want to hurt you." Heero began worried for his lover's well being.

Duo read the hesitation in Heero's eyes. "Please." he begged, " I need to feel your touch. Please show me how much you love me."

It had been so long since Heero and Duo had been together. Sure Heero had suffered from sexual frustration but the cuddling and pillow talk was what he had missed the most. Still he was not certain that a full session of lovemaking was wise. "Maybe we should just hold each other." he replied fighting the overwhelming urge to give in.

As an added incentive Duo pushed his knee between Heero's legs until it rubbed, with demanding pressure, against his partner's sexual center. Heero closed his eyes as a tingling wave rushed up both legs and spilled over his crotch.

"Please." Duo cooed nuzzling Heero's neck. Suddenly Shinigami had complete control and the Perfect Soldier offered unconditional surrendered.

Heero pressed his mouth over Duo's parted lips. Two tongues slipped passed each other on their way to taste the tantalizing sweetness. As the kiss deepened, Duo displayed surprising strength as he flipped Heero over on his back and straddled the startled Japanese man.

"DUO!" Heero exclaimed in shock at the unexpected move.

A mischievous grin curled at the corner of Duo's mouth and lustful fire flared in his love-glazed eyes. "Relax lover I'm going to take you on an unbelievable flight."

Helping his lover remove of his tee shirt, Duo began planting moist kisses over Heero tanned chest. Hands and lips joined in the caressing of taut nipples. As fingers rolled one nub, Duo's tongue teased the other producing a low moan from his willing partner.

Heero retuned the favor, pulling Duo's shirt off then used supple fingers to stroke Duo's own hardened nipples. Now hands and lips explored every inch of the two writhing bodies locked in a torrid embrace.

Heero pulled the tie from Duo's braid and moaned again as the unfurling chestnut strands played lightly over his sensitive skin. As he let his animal instincts guide his body; Duo shook loose his wild mane like an amorous lion on the prowl.

Duo's tongue continued its downward trek in slow, sensuous degrees. Heero tangled his hands in Duo's hair twitching at the wondrous feeling that the silken strands trailing along his stomach produced.

Stopping at the waistband of Heero's boxers Duo locked his sight with Heero's desire-dazed eyes. With winded panting Heero nodded "yes" as he was much too excited to speak.

Duo wasted no time stripping off Heero's boxers then followed suit until his own underwear was added to the rumpled pile of discarded clothing on the floor.

As he took in the luscious, unashamed display of Heero's nakedness Duo almost drooled in sheer delight. His lover's rigid erection twitched in anticipation and the head was already weeping out its creamy fluid.

Marveling in the perfection of his koibito Duo could not keep silent. "Beautiful." he breathed in utter fascination.

Duo reached under the mattress's edge extracting a tube of lube. Heero couldn't help but smile as he realized that Duo had planned the seduction all along.

"You have been thinking about this I see." Heero announced nodding at the tube.

"That is all I have been thinking about." Duo admitted moving in for another kiss.

Squeezing a generous amount of lubrication onto his hand Duo leaned forward into the passionate kiss. "Are you ready?"

Heero nodded, "Yes." he growled shifting his body to align himself under his excitingly lustful lover.

Not wanting to take the slightly chance of hurting Heero, Duo let one

slick finger circled his tight anal opening. Easing the finger inside, Duo took all deliberate care to make his partner as comfortable as possible. After giving Heero time to adjust, a second finger was added then finally a third was slowly worked in and out.

With each movement of the enticing digits, Heero wiggled his hips to aid in Duo manipulations. Shallow puffs accented the focused exertion.

"Please. Now." Heero insisted then bucked as Duo's fingers brushed that special spot. "Oh, yes. Please."

Withdrawing his fingers Duo quickly coated his quivering manhood taking a few second to enjoy the feel of his own touch. Heero lay still, spellbound by Duo's quickened breathing as he momentarily pleasured himself.

But soon Duo's undivided concentration centered on the erotically seductive man beneath him.

Sliding his hands under Heeo's hips he raised them higher hoping the elevated position would give him the most pleasure possible.

Sensing his lover was ready, Duo slowly pushed into the tight anal passage. Heero winced at the insertion. Duo stopped giving his body a chance to adjust. Then carefully pushing again Duo continued until he was fully sheathed inside.

Heero closed his eyes completely lost in the overpowering ecstasy bombarding all his senses at once. Duo felt Heero's entire body quiver as he pulled halfway out and eased back in inch by tormenting inch.

With urgent pleading in his love-dazed eyes, Heero bowed his back pressing back into each centered thrust. Each stroke of Duo's hardened shaft now grazed the same gratifying spot sending starbursts across Heero's sight and hot tingling through his passion tossed body.

Curving one hand under Heero's buttocks Duo held and supported his quivering frame. The second hand, slick with leftover lube, closed around Heero's hot, wet, manhood.

A groan rose from Heero's throat as Duo matched his expert stroking to the rhythmic pumping of his enlarged member as he increased the speed and forcefulness of his thrusts.

Heero closed both hands over Duo's guiding his hand up and down his aching manhood. From base to head and back against, over and over. Duo's rubbed his thumb across the tip setting off a shiver in Heero's limbs and firing off shooting stars in his sweat soaked body.

"OH DUO! OH, PLEASE MAKE ME COME!" Heero choked out the breathless begging urging Duo's masterful manipulations toward a releasing conclusion.

Heero's whole being shook hard as a pulsating tingle rushed through his manhood and hot creamy fluid bathed their encircled hands. Duo screamed out as the impending thunderous climax stabbed in fiery waves leaving no part of his passion throe body untouched.

"HEERO!" he called loudly not caring at all who might hear.

Duo bowed his back gritting his teeth with a deep guttural growl as his lover's muscles tightened with his release.

One thrust and Duo could feel the building pressure, a second brought on a coursing pulsation. One finally stroke and Duo came exploding in an orgasmic culmination sending the same shooting stars throughout his quivering body.

"Heero." he whispered this time, as he was too exhausted to scream.

"Please Duo don't move." Heero pleaded not wanted their union to end.

Duo braced his weight on the bed staying still at his lover's request. For precious, perfect minutes both bodies and souls savored their most intimate connection.

"Heero, I'm sorry but my arms are getting shaky." he regretfully declared.

"It's all right." Heero answered with a soft sigh.

Gently pulling out, Duo slipped off gliding down on his side by his sated and hopefully completely fulfilled and satisfied koibito.

Heero curled into the curve of Duo's slim frame bent in a loving embrace as he pulled the bedcovers over both damp lovers. Then Heero locked his sight on the one person he wanted to forever share his life and soul. His friend, comrade-in-arms and, now, his most marvelous soul mate.

"I love you Duo Maxwell." he proclaimed kissing Duo's hand as he entwined his fingers.

"I love you too." Duo declared, "More than my life."

"Will we be together always?" Heero whispered the question his breath tickling over Duo's chest.

"In this life and the next." Duo promised knowing with assured certainty neither time nor death would hold any power over their love.

"Always." Heero repeated as sleep tugged at his depleted senses.

Duo encircled his arms about his tired lover pulling him as close as physically possible. "Sleep now." he urged.

 

Setting his breathing in time with Heero's heartbeat Duo closed his eyes. Soon both Gundam freedom fighters, sure of their future together, drifted off into tranquil slumber entwined in each other's arms.

End Epilogue

Metamorphosis--Karen Hickman--July 2003

Thank you for reading!!!