4-18-2003

TITLE: Rescues, A Round Robin
BY: Nessa-chan, Sakti Kedar, jana, KM, Dev-Aki Basaa, 0083, and Caroline
PAIRING: 1x2, 3+4
CATEGORY: yaoi, angst, action, TWT, lemon
RATING: NC-17
WARNINGS: profanity, slight reference to failed NCS, some gore
DISCLAIMER: none of the authors own Gundam Wing, this was purely for fun. No monetary compensation was garnered by any of the authors.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please! The author of each individual part would love to hear what you thought!
NOTES: In the nature of a Round Robin, this wasn't so much a collaboration, as a passing along of the story. As each part was written individually, expect varying styles and a twisting, rollercoaster plot line. A huge thank you goes to Kittikass, DC Logan, Sharon, and Dacia for their support in this project! Also, thank you to Sakti for the beta.

* _ * indicates italics // _ // indicates thoughts

~~~~**~~~~

PART ONE
By Nessa-Chan

~~*~~

The soft click-clack of fingers striking a keyboard echoed in the otherwise silent room. The blue-white glow from the screen threw strange inky shadows over the walls, scrawling across the unmade bed, dancing in the corners when the computer's sole operator chose to shift position. Outside, the wind was howling furiously, dragging over the roof and wrenching a scream from the wooden beams and shingles. Heavy snow and hail assaulted the window.

The constant click-clack went on unabated, furious like the storm outside, until Heero could take the silence no more and slammed his fist down on the table in frustration. Irately, he shoved his chair away from his desk and stalked to the door, throwing it wide, marching into the hall.

"Quatre!" Heero bellowed, leaning over the rail of the staircase. In seconds, the short blond came scurrying from a room downstairs - the kitchen, Heero's mind noticed idly - and looked up at Heero, an expression of worry on his sweet face. Heero snorted. Quatre should be worried! They *all* should be worried. Before Heero could confront Quatre with his questions, however, the Arabian said in his lilting voice, "Heero, you shouldn't shout. You'll wake everyone else up."

Heero bit back a strangled cry of frustration. Sometimes the pilot of Sandrock was worried about all the wrong things. Heero realized his hands were clenched tight, white against the dark brown railing, and his teeth were grinding together with the effort of trying to keep his patience. Slowly, he counted to ten, calming his breathing. When he could see clearly again, he looked down at Quatre - the other boy still had that concerned countenance - and nearly shouted again: "Where the *hell* is Duo?"

The blond looked at first taken aback, but a small knowing smile graced his features as he looked up at Heero on the second floor landing. If Heero hadn't been so angry, he might have noticed the fleeting look on the blond pilot's face.

"Well," Quatre began slowly, frowning. Now that he thought about it, where was Duo? He chewed his lip as he continued quietly, "He said he wanted to go out to the lake. See the snow falling on the lake and the mountains."

"In this storm?" Heero snorted incredulously. "You wouldn't be able to see three feet in front of you." Narrowing his eyes, Heero asked, "Did he take the car?"

Quatre shook his head, his blond hair swishing in his eyes. "He went on foot."

Oh, wonderful. Heero ran a hand through his hair, his fingers tangling and snarling the chocolate brown strands; this just kept getting better and better. As he heard himself snapping, "When did he leave?" He thanked his lucky stars that Duo was his partner. None of the other pilots could ever suspect Heero's feelings; any concern on Heero's part would be construed as the soldier wanting one of his best assets to be all right and in working order. Or at least, he hoped so. While Duo was indeed his best asset, he was also the object of his affection and therefore a distraction, a potential liability, easily exploited. Recently Heero had caught himself taking one too many risks on the battlefield to cover Duo’s ass. *No,* his mind corrected him, *to protect him.*

The perverse side of his mind supplied Heero with a reminder of what else he'd like to do with Duo's ass.

But Quatre was answering him; Heero forced himself to focus on Quatre's voice, relying on the other boy to pull him out of the daydream he'd almost fallen headlong into. The young blond was saying that Duo had left several hours ago, and he hadn't been wearing a very heavy coat.

"Bakayaro," Heero muttered under his breath, his mind providing an image of Duo, smiling, even in the face of Heero's silence or derision. He stood and listened to the raging storm outside. What had Duo been thinking? He was probably out there, freezing to death, lost in the storm. Gundam pilot or not, visibility was poor, the temperature was *low,* and Duo didn't know the area well enough to go out wandering alone in the dark, in a *storm.* Oh, god, what if Duo had fallen into the lake?

With a low growl, Heero slammed his fist into the wall. It would be the perfect irony for a soldier to escape death on the battlefield only to find it during his down time.

Quatre jumped, and a muffled crash emanated from the room beyond the wall Heero had punched. Heero could hear someone angrily muttering base, profane words that Heero never thought he’d hear coming out of someone who was normally just as silent as he was.

The door to his immediate left was flung open so hard it hit the wall and bounced back. A bleary-eyed, rumpled-looking Trowa stood in the doorway, fists clenching and unclenching reflexively. Heero heard Quatre chuckle downstairs, but kept his eyes on the brown-haired bundle of anger in front of him.

"It's three in the morning, Heero," Trowa said, his voice slurred but clearly annoyed. "Go back to sleep, or shut up!" With that, the door slammed shut, leaving a stunned Heero on the landing and a giggling Quatre downstairs. Those giggles snapped Heero out of his stupor and he bounded down the stairs, grabbing a heavy parka off one of the coat hooks near the door and throwing it on.

"What are you doing?" Quatre asked softly. Heero knew very well that Quatre knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t grace the boy with an answer. He walked to the front door of the safehouse and twisted the knob quickly, wrenching the door open and letting in a flurry of snow and hail, gusting in on the wind. He started walking out when a firm hand on his arm pulled him back.

"Heero, you'll just get lost, too. We have to wait for the storm to clear up." The calm, quiet reason in that voice begged to be listened to. But Heero's usual pragmatism was swiftly seeping out of him, overridden by his sudden fear for Duo. Lost? Drowned? Dead?

That did not bear thinking of.

Heero shook his head, pulling free of Quatre’s half-hearted grasp. "We can't wait," he snapped, "Duo won't last that long. You know how cold he gets, even when it's really warm." Mentally kicking himself for that last bit, Heero again made to leave. Again Quatre restrained him, and Heero nearly died of shock from the Arabian's words.

"I know you like him, Heero. But is it really worth...would he want you to do this?" Quatre knew he was playing a mind game, but he didn't want Heero to go out into the storm and get lost.

Heero turned and gave Quatre an icy, angry glare, rivaling the gale outside. "I'm the Perfect Soldier, aren't I?" he sneered, tucking away the hurt his own words caused him for another time, "I can handle a little snow." With that he pulled away from Quatre again and ran out into the snow before the blond could say another word.

He heard Quatre calling his name as he tried to remember where the nearest lake was, tried to get some sense of direction amidst the swirling, changing white. Eventually, the shout he had heard so clearly became a hum on the wind, and he wondered vaguely how he was going to find his way back. Shaking his head, Heero focused on finding Duo.

~*~

Cold. So damn cold that his teeth were chattering, chattering so damn hard that he was afraid they’d just jump right out of his mouth. Slowly, Duo pushed his way through heavy, wet snow that came just above his knees. His clothes were soaked through and his arms had gone numb as he clutched them around his shivering body, trying to hold in what little warmth was there. He couldn’t see from the snow that was weighing down his bangs; his braid felt like a lead weight, sopping and heavy on his head. Several times he had caught his eyes drooping, but Duo just gritted his teeth - for as long as they would stay gritted, anyhow - and forced himself awake.

It had been stupid to go out alone, on foot, and try to find an obscure lake to look at as the snow fell on it. Duo cursed his sentimentality. He caught himself muttering, "Baka," to himself every now and again. Baka. Ha. Oh, if only Heero were here... Heero'd chew him out, that was for sure. If his body wasn't threatening to go completely numb on him, Duo might have laughed at the sudden image of Heero standing over him and screaming at the top of his lungs.

Heero. Despite the fact that he was cold, tired, hungry, and utterly lost, Duo found himself thinking of the Japanese pilot fondly. The color of his eyes, for instance, and the way they got darker sometimes when he looked at Duo. The way Heero's silence never made Duo uncomfortable, and the only reason he talked through it was because he thought Heero was really listening - and someone would probably suspect something was up if Duo, the champion chatter-box of the world, was suddenly silent.

Would he see Heero again? Or would he just collapse and die out here, never to be found, buried under a mound of snow, written off as a casualty of war?

It seemed the latter was in store for him; Duo stumbled and fell to his knees, the snow unable to cushion the blow. Sharp spikes of pain lanced up Duo's legs as his arms, numb as they were, shot out to catch him from falling face-first into the stinging, cold snow. Before they sunk into the wet whiteness, Duo caught sight of his hands, of the raw, bleeding skin around his fingernails, his knuckles. He couldn't even feel it.

Duo tried to push himself back up, but his legs wouldn't budge, his elbows seemed intent on locking. He was tired, too tired, and his eyelids threatened again to close weightily. Suddenly nothing mattered; the war didn't matter, his precious Deathscythe didn't matter, the other pilots didn't matter. All that mattered was sleep, and release from this damned relentless cold.

On the edges of unconsciousness, Duo faintly heard someone calling his name, but dismissed it, accrediting it to his sleep-deprived mind. He was glad when he couldn't hear anything anymore.

~*~

"Duo!" Heero shouted into the wind. He'd been searching for at least an hour, maybe more, and there was no sign of Duo anywhere. Heero could barely see in front of him, could barely hear above the shrieking wind. An unfamiliar feeling wormed its way into Heero's gut; it took him a moment to realize that he was on the verge of panicking.

"Duo! Goddamn it, Duo, where are you?" he screamed. He peered into the sticky white gloom, trying to get a sense of where he had come from so he could go back if... if...

*No.* Heero set his jaw, oblivious to the bone-chilling cold that wrapped around him. He was *not* going to leave Duo out here.

Head down, hands holding the parka close to his body in a death-grip, Heero trudged through the deepening snow, ignoring the chill, ignoring the wet. He was on a mission, and he was going to accomplish it. There was no alternative.

~*~

For the first time in his life, Heero knew real, all-consuming panic. It was getting light out; the storm hadn't let up but he could see more clearly. He had stopped shouting a while ago, his voice hoarse, his throat in scorched agony. Who knew how long he'd been searching? Shaking his head stubbornly, Heero refused to just give up. He was terrified of what he'd find - *if* he found Duo - but he clung to the desperate hope that his friend was still alive and waiting to be found.

Luck - or maybe God, who knew - was on his side; as he walked around the trunk of a large, dead oak tree, Heero caught his foot on a buried root and went sprawling into the snow, landing with an "Oof!" Resurfacing, Heero spied the tail end of an unmistakable rope of hair not two feet from his face, and felt his heart swell with relief. Scrambling to his hands and knees, Heero crawled to Duo's side and dug the American out of the thin layer of snow that had fallen over him.

"Kuso," Heero muttered as he pulled Duo up, brushing snow from the boy's thin jacket. The idiot! What had he been thinking? Duo's face was frightfully pale, and for one heart-stopping moment Heero thought that the longhaired boy was dead. But a soft cloud of condensation puffed out of Duo's parted lips, and Heero sighed. Standing, adrenaline pumping through his veins like wildfire, Heero hefted Duo up over his shoulder and started marching back in the direction he guessed he had come from. He needed to get Duo back to the safehouse. Now.

~*~

"Hey!" Heero shouted, his voice graveled, as he slammed open the front door of the safehouse. The sound of the door hitting the wall reverberated in the silent house, and very soon two sleepy, curious heads poked out of their doors.

"Whazzat?" Wufei mumbled, his hair disheveled and his eyes bright with sleep. Trowa just glared out of his room. Heero glared back impatiently and took the stairs two at a time, dashing into his bedroom and flicking on the lights.

Quatre came bustling in; it was obvious the boy hadn't slept at all, waiting for Heero to come back in out of the storm. Heero started shouting for blankets while he and Quatre peeled Duo's wet clothes from his clammy skin. When they had stripped Duo down, the two boys looked at each other, and in that brief moment of eye contact Heero knew that Quatre hadn't been lying earlier when he had told Heero that he knew. A slight nod from the Arabian, and Heero started pulling off his own clothes, the parka heavy with water, his tank top and spandex - which earned a disapproving glare from Quatre - gone instantaneously.

Gently lifting Duo, Heero carried the unconscious American to the bed and hurriedly lay him on it, sliding in beside him and pulling the sheets and blankets up over them both. A minute later Wufei and Trowa, who was looking rather cranky, came in carrying comforters and knit blankets. As they piled the warmth onto Heero and Duo, it distantly struck the Japanese boy that he was lying, in his bed, with Duo in his arms, naked as the day they were born. He knew once that would have turned him on immensely, but the only thought in Heero’s head was getting Duo’s temperature back up to normal. Making Duo better. Making him all right.

They lay on the bed, the other three pilots hovering anxiously nearby. Quatre got up and ran downstairs to stoke the fire that had been reduced to embers, and Trowa and Wufei also slowly exited, their faces - or at least, Wufei's - showing their deep concern for their comrade. Several minutes later they returned, with Quatre and a pot of steaming coffee.

Heero rubbed the flats of his palms up and down Duo's arms, trying to aid his circulation. He stared into that beautiful, unconscious face, and started talking, much to the other pilots' surprise.

"Duo, wake up," he whispered, his pained voice refusing to come out much louder. "Don't you dare die, Duo. You're not allowed to die now. You're supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, right? You're supposed to go down fighting, Duo, goddamn it, you're not supposed to just give up!"

The other three boys were stunned by the intensity of Heero’s voice; they'd never heard it so full of emotion. As for Heero, he didn't quite care; he figured, if Quatre knew, then the others were going to find out. It wasn't his first concern at the moment.

They all jumped, startled, when the phone rang loudly in the nearly silent room; even the wind had died down and the only sounds were the slurping of coffee and Heero's whispered words. Quatre leapt up and ran for the phone, leaving Trowa and Wufei to watch over Heero and Duo.

Sudden and silent, Trowa stood and started taking off his pajamas. When Heero glanced at him, eyebrow raised, the European boy shrugged and said, "You were out there, too. I doubt very much that you're warm enough to help." With that he stepped out of his flannel pants and slid in under the covers, pressing himself against Duo's back after pulling the cold, wet braid out of his way.

Wufei snorted and sipped at the black coffee in his mug. If they expected him to jump in, they were in for a surprise.

Quatre came abruptly into the room, disturbing once again the quiet that had settled. He looked angry and worried, and when he finally opened his mouth to speak Heero knew why.

"It's J," the blond panted breathlessly. "He says he has a mission for you, and it's urgent."

~~~~**~~~~

PART TWO
By Sakti Kedar

~~*~~

"Fuck," Heero muttered without moving. "Why now, of all times?"

Quatre shook his head silently as Heero released a sigh of exasperation.

"Can you hand me my robe, Quatre?" Heero asked before lowering his forehead to rest against Duo's frighteningly cold cheek.

"Sure thing," the boy answered, snagging the robe from a nearby chair and handing it to Heero.

Sitting up in bed, Heero slipped the robe on, tying it loosely. He looked back down at Duo long enough to brush his still damp bangs out of his eyes.

"Keep him warm," Heero said to Trowa. "I'll be right back."

Trowa nodded, pulling the blankets tighter around Duo and himself after Heero stood up. "I'll see if I can get out of this," Heero grumbled, walking out of the bedroom, "but I doubt I can."

~*~

Heero reached the hallway vid phone, his fingers still numb, fumbling to release the hold button.

"Yes?" Heero's annoyance obvious in the one word.

"Yuy, I have a mission for you-"

"Can it be postponed?" Heero asked, cutting Dr. J off.

"What? Postponed?!" J snorted in dismay. "Do you think if the situation weren't imperative I'd have contacted you?" He waved his hand in the air, dismissing Heero’s question. "This is war, Yuy, and you have an obligation."

"I understand Dr. J, it's just that there has been an unexpected problem."

"What sort of problem?" J asked, crossing his arms impatiently.

"Well sir," Heero began, tracing a finger along the hallway table as he spoke, "I'm not sure if you're aware, but the weather here is quite terrible...nearly 3 feet of snow." Heero shook his head at himself, not sure what he thought he would accomplish be any of this. "Anyway, Duo Maxwell has been here at the safehouse as well. He was lost out in the snow for nearly 12 hours. I went out searching for him, but it did take me a significant amount of time to find him. We've been back not even an hour."

"Are you injured or sick?" J questioned, a hint of concern flashing across his face.

"Not sick or injured," Heero said with a sigh, "But I am still quite cold...nothing I won't recover from. But it's Duo I'm worried about, sir. I'm sure he's slipped into hypothermia."

"That's quite unfortunate. However, G's boy is not your concern."

"But-"

"I'll give you till tomorrow morning to recover from the cold, but no later...understand?" Dr J's words held no sympathy.

"I understand."

"Good. I will email you the mission details tonight for you to look over. Send me a report as soon as you return."

"Yes sir," Heero answered before slamming his hand down on the disconnect button with a defiant 'bang'.

Annoyed as he was, Heero hadn't expected any different. He was a soldier and this was war. He couldn't let his feelings for Duo get in the way of the mission. He scolded himself for not reigning his emotions for Duo in, before they'd gotten this strong. With a sigh, Heero turned and headed back toward the bedroom with a new course of action in mind.

"How is he?" Heero asked as he entered the room.

"The same," Quatre said quietly. "What did Dr. J say?"

"I have until tomorrow morning," Heero said, annoyance creeping back into his voice. "Let’s get Duo into a warm bath. Quatre, can you go run the water?"

"Of course."

~*~

A few hours in a warm bath had brought Duo's temperature back up to normal and even elicited a few mumbled words in his sleep. Heero had sat watching over him the whole time, forcing himself to ignore his own exhaustion. With Trowa's help, he had dried and dressed Duo in his pajamas before carrying him back to his bed and getting in with him. He would need at least a little sleep before heading out on his mission. J's emailed briefing could wait till morning, he’d decided.

~*~

Heero woke just as the sun was beginning to rise. Duo lay pressed up against him, breathing deeply in sleep. Heero allowed himself a few moments to watch the beautiful boy next to him, reaching a hand up and trailing his fingers along his cheek. Duo seemed to instinctually turn his face into the caress. It was that moment he stopped scolding himself for his feelings toward Duo. How could such an exquisite creature *not* have captured his heart?

With a sigh, Heero forced himself to get out of the warm bed to check the email from J, tucking the blankets back in around Duo before he left. He sat down at his laptop and skimmed the message; routine information. Nothing he couldn't handle in a matter of hours, however it was an annoyance to have to leave Duo right now. But he had a mission to take care of, and the sooner he left the sooner he could get back. It was time to go.

Heero gathered up his few personal belongings, taking one last lingering look at Duo before heading out of the room and shutting the door quietly behind him. He was surprised to see Trowa standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall as if he’d been waiting for Heero to come out. They stood gazing at each other in silence for a moment before Trowa spoke.

"I wanted to know how he was."

"Still sleeping," Heero answered. "Do me a favor."

Trowa cocked his head slightly, a hint of curiosity in his eyes.

"Watch over him till I get back."

The barest hint of a smile curled Trowa's lips. "I will."

Heero nodded his thanks and started past the other boy.

"Heero..."

He paused, turning to look at Trowa.

"Good luck."

Trowa always seemed full of surprises, as far as Heero was concerned. Silent as he was himself; one minute seeming indifferent to everything around him, and the next showing as much concern as Quatre did...in his own way, of course.

"Thank you," Heero said at last, then rushed down the stairs and out the door of the safehouse.

~*~

Duo stretched out on his side, just barely out of a deep sleep, not bothering to open his eyes. He was so warm and comfortable, wrapped in a cocoon of sheets and blankets, that he considered going back to sleep. His thoughts traveled lazily, trying to remind him of the events leading up to the sleep he'd just woken from. Drawing a blank, he tried thinking harder. He didn't remember even getting into bed to be honest. Duo frowned, brows furrowing as he pushed the blankets down to his waist and opened his eyes.

What Duo saw caused him to be even more confused than he'd been just a minute ago. For one, he appeared to be in Heero's bed...with Heero nowhere to be seen. However, Trowa was sitting at the end of the bed, leaning back against the footboard.

"Trowa...?"

"How are you feeling?"

"Um. Confused."

Duo suddenly found himself growing slightly annoyed by his current situation. How did one just *happen* to wake up in someone else's bed with absolutely no memory of getting there?! "What am I doing in Heero's bed? And what are you doing just sitting there staring at me?! It’s kinda creepy ya know..." Duo’s words trailed off as he rolled over onto his back mumbling something about waking up to seeing only one beady green eye staring at him.

"You don’t remember?" Trowa asked, ignoring Duo's last comment.

"If I fucking remembered, do you think I'd have asked you?!" Duo’s head was pounding and his mouth felt like cotton. He ran his tongue over his teeth and the roof of his mouth. "Bleh. Can you get me some water and painkillers...and tell me what the hell is going on? In that order?"

"Sure, Duo."

Duo lay watching as Trowa stood and left the room. He sighed loudly, his breath ruffling his bangs, then sat and propped himself up with the pillows.

A few minutes later Trowa returned with a glass of water, Quatre in tow with the bottle of painkillers. The blond boy was grinning broadly, causing Duo to become even more annoyed.

"What...you couldn't carry both at once so you had to enlist the help of another Gundam pilot?"

They all turned toward the door as Wufei entered.

"Ugh!" Duo grabbed the blankets, pulling them up over his head in exasperation.

"So you finally decided to wake up, did you?" Wufei's voice was tinged with amusement.

"What is going on?!" Duo demanded, shoving the blankets back down and glaring at each of them in turn. "If this is family hour, where's Heero?"

The three glanced amongst themselves before turning back to Duo.

"Don't you remember anything?" Quatre asked.

"No!" Duo shouted, "For the second time, I don't have a clue what’s going on!"

"Heero’s gone." Trowa began, "He had a mission to go on."

"Ok." Duo said, shaking his head, "That still doesn’t explain what I'm doing in his bed and why the rest of you are hovering over me."

"You got lost out in the snow, Duo," Quatre explained, taking the glass of water from Trowa and handing it to Duo along with the painkillers. "You were gone for hours...Heero went out after you."

Duo took the glass and bottle as if in slow motion. The snow. Yes, he remembered now. He’d gone out just to watch the snow, but the weather had gotten bad so quickly that he’d become lost trying to find his way back. It was as if he could feel the bitter cold and the overwhelming despair all over again. He had truly thought that he would die out there...never even imagined that Heero would come looking for him. Yet, even as he sat there in Heero's warm bed, he could vaguely remember hearing the other boy calling to him over the howling wind. He had thought it was a dream or some sort of hallucination, but it must have been real. Heero had risked his life to save him!

"What did you think you were doing out there anyway?!" Wufei broke the silence, startling Duo back to the present.

"I..." Duo began quietly, shaking his head a little. "I just wanted to watch the snow falling on the lake."

"Baka!" Wufei scoffed, "Didn’t you stop to think that the lake would have been frozen over in this temperature?!"

"Well...I didn’t really think-"

"That’s for sure!" Wufei interrupted. "You’re as bad as a woman...wanting to see something as silly as snow falling on a lake. A frozen lake at that!"

Duo glared at Wufei, as the other boy began to laugh quietly.

"Shut up, Chang, or I swear I will get out of this bed and-"

"And what, Maxwell?"

"C’mon, you two," Quatre cut in, seeing Duo glare daggers into Wufei.

A low growl emitted from Duo’s throat and the Chinese boy burst out in full-blown laughter.

Duo didn't know if he were more surprised or annoyed by uncharacteristic laughter from the other boy. He sat unmoving as Wufei neared the bed to sit down and ruffle his long bangs.

"Only you, Duo," Wufei said between laughter, "Only you."

"Shut up," Duo said half-heartedly, shoving Wufei’s hand out of his hair. He couldn't quite manage to hide the grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. He had certainly pulled a brilliant one this time!

~~~~**~~~~

PART THREE
By jana

~~*~~

Strong gusts of wind sent the uppermost layer of fallen powder to swirl and fill the frigid air around him as Heero made his way through the nearly knee deep snow. At his current pace, he estimated that it would take nearly an hour to reach Wing on foot. The journey there had taken considerably less time as the five has arrived en masse, and seemed still slower now as he made his way alone through the frozen silence.

Heero had reread Dr. J's message over twice this morning before deleting it, committing most of it to memory at first glance.

The mission seemed relatively straightforward and there was little in the way of background information that J was able to provide him with this time. Had it not been for the simplicity of the instructions, Heero might have been concerned. Over the years, J had remained consistent in his delivery of orders to Heero. Even now, the young man was at a loss to discern any emotion behind the old man's words. He found it unsettling that neither J's mannerisms nor the language he used gave any indication to the possible threats a particular mission entailed. Sometimes, Heero wondered if J himself knew.

Satisfied that he had mentally accounted for the possibility of there being less than optimal entry and egress conditions at the base, Heero tucked all thoughts about it away and focused his attention on his ailing comrade.

He hated having to leave this morning with Duo still in an unconscious state. It left him open to more distraction than he cared to start a mission with. He was thankful that their previous assignment had been as group, allowing all five of them to meet at the safe house as they did. He knew for certain that Duo was in capable hands, but it did not stop Heero from wishing that he could be there when Deathscythe's pilot finally woke.

It would have taken quite a bit of self-control for him not to lecture Duo on the stupidity of his actions. Heero thought then, that perhaps it was better for Duo if he was *not* there. He acknowledged with a smirk that none of the others were going to allow his ridiculous stunt to go without mention either. Knowing him the best of the four as he did, there was a good chance that Duo would be able to see the something more that hid behind his anger. He feared that even the smallest of changes in his mannerisms would most likely not escape Duo's attention.

It had surprised Heero yesterday that Quatre knew of his feelings for Duo and that he had admitted as much to him. His actions once he had brought Duo back into the house had probably given the others cause to suspect as well. He would not be able to shrug off this most recent episode of obvious concern that he exhibited toward Duo. He would have to deal with it when he got back to the house tonight; one way or another.

~*~

Duo took the vigil his fellow pilots held at his bedside in stride.

He had eaten two large bowls of oatmeal at Quatre's insistence shortly after he woke, and had managed to hold back several fairly clever mother hen references that the fair-haired pilot's behavior brought to mind.

Wufei had taken over after breakfast and their conversation had pretty much picked up where it had left off earlier.

"Are you warm enough?"

Duo pulled the mountain of covers up further over his semi-reclined form. "Yeah. I'm fine."

"That was one of your more classic stunts."

Duo sighed. He did not know why Wufei had chosen to bring the whole matter up again. He had given the three as much in the way of an explanation for his behavior as he planned to. It was awkward though; the two of them just sitting there in silence. There was normally minimal downtime; little time for much personal talk. Though not totally understanding his reasons, Duo was able to find some logic behind Wufei's decision to rehash the morning's conversation.

"I needed some time alone." Duo knew that of all of them, Wufei would require no explanation for his desire to seek solitude. Their last mission had been unusually difficult. The ones that involved civilian casualties always were.

Wufei nodded in silent agreement rather than giving Duo a verbal reply.

Duo spoke again, taking away the possibility that Wufei would use the opportunity to remind him of the various errors in judgment he had made last night. They were all too obvious in hindsight. "I should have dressed warmer. I should have told someone I was leaving."

Wufei nodded again. He seemed pleased that Duo acknowledged how the current situation could have been avoided. Wufei had not been witness to the events that led to Heero's venture out into the blinding storm to retrieve the missing pilot, but he had been woken by the commotion that ensued when Heero reentered the house with the unconscious and frozen young man in his arms. Heero's behavior from that point on all but stupefied Wufei.

"I have never known Heero to show fear until last night."

"Heero? Afraid?" Duo chuckled softly. "Unlikely."

Wufei rose and walked toward the tiny window on the opposite side of the room. "He was afraid, Maxwell." He turned to face Duo then. "We were not sure that you would survive."

Duo smiled. "Fei... the five of us are barely enough to keep OZ at bay. Four would be..."

Wufei was quick to cut him off. "It was not that."

Duo thought for a minute before responding. "Whatever his reasons were, I'm glad he came out after me." Duo yawned then. "My plans include sticking around until we win this god-forsaken war."

Wufei approached the bed and smiled as Duo's eyelids began to droop. "Get some rest."

Duo nodded and shifted to a horizontal position while tucking the thick pile of blankets up under his chin. "Mmm... don't forget to wake me up for lunch."

Wufei responded with a small sound of affirmation, turned off the light and quietly closed the door behind him.

~*~

Heero punched the coordinates for the LaDaera Base into Wing's navigation system and loosened the top button on his jacket before settling back into his seat and securing his harness.

Even with the high speeds his Gundam was capable of, the trip would take him a minimum of two hours. The task of retrieving the information that J had requested would take far less time than that. Heero focused his attention on maneuvering Wing from its hiding place, carefully avoiding contact with the other four machines nestled beside it as he stepped Wing out into the open. He reached forward to turn on the heating unit, then engaged the dual rocket thrusters and made his vertical ascent.

He spent the first hour of the flight devising a more detailed plan of action, calling up a precise layout of the base from Wing's onboard computer system. Heero could only make an educated guess at the number of guards that would be on watch at the perimeter in mid-afternoon. If what J suspected was correct, security would most likely have been increased. Heero mentally upped the number to twice his original estimate and proceeded to plot a course through the base. Satisfied that he had accounted for even the smallest of upsets, Heero located a suitable clearing four miles west of LaDaera and set Wing's course for the outcropping just outside the bounds of OZ's radar.

With Wing on auto-pilot, Heero relaxed back into his seat and allowed himself to rest for the next 45 minutes. If everything went according to his calculations, he would be home before nightfall.

~*~

Duo woke to the loud slam of a door. He shifted slightly, a little disoriented as he brought himself to a seated position. His stomach rumbled, and he turned toward the clock. "Just noon." He stretched a little before lying back down and rolling over onto his side. Food, rest and warmth had gone a long way to restore his lost strength. There was a marked improvement in his condition from just two hours ago when he had given in to his body's request for sleep.

He thought back to the short conversation he had with Wufei just before he fell asleep. Specifically, to the part where Wufei had shared his views of Heero's reaction to the condition he'd been found in. Duo would have liked to be able to believe it; that Heero cared enough about him to be phased by the possibility of his death in the way that Wufei had described. It was far more likely that Heero's concern stemmed from something related to their goals, rather than to Duo himself. He was on friendlier terms with Heero than any of the other pilots, but that was not saying much.

"You awake, Duo?"

Quatre's voice flowed softly into the room and Duo smiled as he turned onto his other side to face the doorway. "Hey, Quatre."

"You up for some lunch?" he asked.

Duo sat and pushed the covers off to the side with his feet. "Yeah. Just give me a few minutes and I'll come down."

"I can bring it up if you want."

Duo stood and slowly stretched to assist in bringing his body to a full state of wakefulness. "Be there in five."

Trowa, Quatre and Wufei were already seated around the table in the center of the tiny antiquated kitchen by the time Duo had made his way downstairs. He eased himself down into the empty chair beside Trowa and responded to the three sets of eyes that had followed his movements since he'd entered the room. "I'm fine." He was unable to hide the embarrassment he felt over what he'd done and the full realization of what they had mostly likely gone through to warm him during his bout of frigid unconsciousness. "Umm... thanks, guys."

Trowa was quick to remind him that it was Heero who had taken charge of his predicament and that thought caused the heat in Duo's cheeks to rise. He sought to change the subject and did so successfully. "When is Heero due back, anyway?"

"Tonight sometime. He said the mission was routine."

Duo nodded and the four continued their meal without further reference to what had happened the previous day.

~*~

The temperature had warmed considerably during the first few hours of the morning. Heero exited Wing and removed the outermost layer of his clothes to shed one of the two layers of lighter clothing he wore beneath. He slipped his coat back on and took one last look around the area before heading due east to his target.

Arriving shortly before noon, Heero hid himself in the low brush just outside the main compound and lying flat on the ground took out his binoculars. There did not seem to be an excessive amount of armed personnel on duty. Heero studied the movement of three men for several minutes, attempting to gauge their stride and tie down their pattern of motion. There was a window of about one minute when a small area of the perimeter fence went unguarded. Heero knew that he would have no difficulty making the short sprint and searched further for a suitable place to take cover once he was inside the base. Locating a storage shed just 100 yards to the left of where he would enter, Heero gave his plan a mental nod and tucked his binoculars into the pocket of his jacket.

He checked one last time that he had brought a disk with him, and that the safety on his gun was engaged before rechecking his timing and making a mad dash for the 6-foot high fence.

~*~

It was just before 4 p.m. when Quatre suggested the four of them start thinking about dinner. They had spent the better part of the day doing nothing and thoroughly enjoying it. Duo had volunteered to prepare their evening meal and waved off everyone's concern with a flick of his wrist. There were minimal after-effects of his experience, and Wufei's suggestion of keeping the fireplace going despite the already high temperature inside the tiny house had succeeded in taking the remainder of the chill from Duo's body.

He had found little in the way of ingredients and ended up preparing a quick tomato sauce with pasta. The four had finished dinner at around 6 p.m. and settled on the couch in the living room in front of the small black-and-white television. Trowa stood bent over the TV and manually turned the knob back and forth through the five or so channels they had decent reception for until finding something relatively interesting. Quatre excused himself an hour later and Duo watched as he seated himself in the chair across the room and propped Heero's mobile computer up onto his knees.

No one had checked the mail since Heero had left and Duo wondered if Quatre was at all concerned that Heero had not returned yet. As far as Duo knew, Heero had not given anyone the specifics of his solo mission, only alerting them to the fact that it would not take him long to accomplish it.

"Any idea where he was headed?"

Quatre looked up from his task to find Duo turned toward him and shook his head. "He didn't say." Quatre looked down at the screen briefly before looking back up at Duo. "He deleted the message as well."

A look of acknowledgment with undertones of worry passed between the two.

~*~

Inside the main building, Heero descended unnoticed into the lower levels of OZ's base. He searched the seemingly abandoned area in near darkness, hugging tight to the wall and peering quickly into each of the open doorways. The low murmur of voices in the distance caught his attention and Heero paused to determine where they were coming from. He slipped around the corner as two uniformed men exited a room half way down the corridor and waited until the sound of their footsteps faded before seeking entry into the room they had just abandoned.

Finding no one inside, Heero searched the room and locked the door once he determined there was a computer inside. He seated himself, quickly finding a way to override their security system, and began to search the mountains of data for any file that had been accessed within the last two weeks. Collecting all data which met his requirements, Heero transferred them onto his disk and tucked it away in the inside pocket of his jacket. He worked quickly then to cover his tracks, setting the time back an hour and rebooting the unit to assure any traces of his breach of the system would not be immediately detected.

Heero rose to make his exit and had taken only two steps toward his escape when he became aware that he was no longer alone. He reached for his gun as he stepped off to the left and successfully crouched down to hide himself low in the darkness, taking slow, shallow breaths as to not give away his position. The lights inside the room remained off, and it was several minutes later when Heero finally determined that whoever had entered the room had now taken their leave. He exhaled in relief and successfully brought himself to his feet before succumbing to a sudden sharp pain at the base of his skull and the blackness that ensued.

~~~~**~~~~

PART FOUR
By KM

~~*~~

//Where could he be?//

Duo stared out of his bedroom window, an anxious expression on his usually cheerful features, and peered through the flurries of snowflakes outside searching for any sign of Heero's return. He did not need to look at his watch to know that it was well past midnight, and he knew, he just *knew* that something had gone wrong during Heero's supposedly "routine" mission.

Tapping his fingers against the frosty glass, Duo tried not to think of the possible explanations for Heero's continued absence, but the images came to him unbidden, flashing through his mind like a horrific slideshow.

Heero being held prisoner, locked in a dank, lightless cell, left to die alone in the darkness.

Heero being tortured endlessly, too stubborn and too much of a soldier to end his suffering by giving up any information.

Heero self-destructing...

A violent shudder coursed its way through Duo's body, and he pulled his legs up onto the chair and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin against his knees. Tugging on the hem of his soft flannel pajama pants, he tried to reassure himself. //No. That couldn't possibly be what happened. It's just your imagination, Duo. He's probably fine, the mission just took a little longer than he expected. Quit overreacting.//

A quiet knock at the door pulled him from his ponderings and at the sound of the door opening, Duo turned his head to get a look at his visitor.

"Hey Wufei. Isn't it past your bedtime?"

The aforementioned pilot raised a dark eyebrow and retorted smoothly, "This coming from the idiot who wandered out into a blizzard to look at a lake."

Duo heaved a heavy sigh and rolled his eyes. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

"Not if I have anything to do with it," smirked Wufei. "That's just too good to not mention at least once a day." Perching on the edge of Duo's bed, the Chinese boy inquired, "How are you feeling?"

With a shrug, Duo returned his gaze to the window and gently wiped away the condensation that had formed on the glass. "Aside from a seriously bruised ego, I feel fine. Physically, anyway..." He trailed off, unable to find words that would accurately describe his emotions.

However, Wufei seemed to be able to read Duo's mind. "You're worried about Heero, aren't you?"

"Heero doesn't need me to worry about him," replied the American pilot with a halfhearted chuckle, trying to dodge the question.

Seeing past his friend's sidestepping, Wufei repeated himself. "Aren't you?"

Duo glared. "Leave it alone, alright? I don't want to talk about it."

Undeterred, Shenlong's pilot pressed on. "It's a simple question, Duo; stop evading." At Duo's continued silence, he persisted, "Why don't you want to admit that you're worried about him? It's nothing to be ashamed of. If it makes you feel any better, Heero was quite concerned when you went missing."

"It's not that I'm ashamed; it's just that... I don't know, maybe I'm just overreacting. I mean, it is Heero. He knows how to take care of himself. I almost feel stupid getting so worked up about it."

Wufei shook his head. "I don't think it's stupid at all. I'm quite worried about him myself. If it were just a routine mission, he wouldn't have been gone this long. He should have made contact hours ago."

"Something must have happened to him." Duo bit his lip in a nervous gesture. "Do you think he was captured?"

"It's a possibility. But we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Dr. J could have given him new orders. Let's not assume the worst." Wufei stood and put a comforting hand on Duo's shoulder. "Don't stay up too late waiting for him. You need to get some rest."

Duo nodded. "You're right. But what about Heero? Shouldn't somebody wait up for him, just in case?"

With a laugh, Wufei headed for the door. "We'll leave the light on for him. And if he's not back by morning, we'll..." He paused a moment, his brow furrowing slightly in thought. "Well, I'm not sure what we'll do, but we'll think of something. Now go to sleep. Please. You look rather pathetic staring out the window like that."

"You need to shut your mouth before I do it for you, Chang."

"Bring it on, snow bunny."

Ducking out the door just in time to miss the pillow aimed for his head, Wufei headed off to his own bedroom, leaving Duo alone once again. With a mighty stretch, the braided pilot stood up from his window-side vigil and turned off the nearby lamp before settling into his bed. He wrapped the thick comforters around himself and closed his eyes, hoping to drift off quickly. However, his worries would not be dispelled so easily.

Flopping onto his back, Duo opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. //Just let it go! There's nothing you can do about it now anyway, so it's useless to lose sleep over it. Besides, maybe Fei's right. Maybe Heero got new instructions. That's probably it. He'll most likely be here in the morning. Go to sleep.//

Yawning, Duo shut his eyes once more, continually reminding himself that everything would be fine in the morning. But no matter how much he tried to ignore it, he could not shake off the growing feeling of dread that gnawed at his stomach.

~*~

Silence.

The complete absence of sound was the first aspect of Heero's surroundings that he became aware of when he regained consciousness. No humming of machinery, no distant voices, no footsteps. Just total silence.

As he blinked his eyes open, Heero next became aware of the darkness that surrounded him. He lifted a hand in front of his face, and although he could feel his own breath, he could not even see the outline of his fingers. It was almost as if he'd fallen into a vacuum.

For a moment, he thought that the blow to the head he'd suffered had paralyzed his senses, but he quickly dismissed that idea once he realized that he could hear himself breathing. His joints popped as he pulled himself into a sitting position on the hard steel floor and he stretched, checking himself for injuries at the same time.

The third thing he became aware of was the intense stabbing pain he felt in the back of his head. He touched the spot delicately, easily finding the large knot that had developed at the point of impact. The dried blood that matted his hair indicated that the skin had been broken, but how long and how much it had bled he could not determine.

His muscles ached, but there were numerous explanations for that pain. The cold temperatures that he'd been exposed to, both inside the cell and outdoors, for example, or the intense strain he'd put on his body sneaking onto the base, or the fact that he'd been lying on a highly uncomfortable surface for an indeterminate amount of time.

Realizing that he had no idea how long he had been unconscious, Heero felt his wrist for the watch that he usually wore, only to find it missing. After a quick search, he discovered that the disk he'd been carrying was gone as well, not to mention his gun and his binoculars. His captors had even confiscated his jacket, leaving Heero shivering in the chilly emptiness of his prison.

Heero reviewed his mission in his mind, trying to uncover any flaw that could have led to his failure. //I'm sure the perimeter guards didn't spot me when I came in over the fence; they were well out of range, and they would have been firing at me the moment they saw me. I didn't encounter any personnel until I came to that last hallway. It must have been one of those men I saw coming out of that room; one of them probably came back and found me in there. But I don't remember hearing anyone come in the room, and I'm positive I locked the door behind me. Was someone still in there when I came in? How could I have missed them? I checked the place thoroughly, I know I did. And I was certain that I was alone right up to when I was knocked unconscious. Was there a hidden entrance that I missed? Maybe I'm just getting incompetent. Or perhaps I was distracted...//

At that thought, Duo's face appeared in Heero's mind, but he pushed it aside for the moment, not wanting to end up blaming his failure on his attraction to his fellow pilot.

//It doesn't matter how I screwed up. All that matters now is that the disk is gone, I've been captured, and I've got to figure out how to get myself out of this mess.//

Still unable to see anything but murky black, Heero pushed himself backwards a few feet until his back met cold steel. He carefully rose to his feet, using the wall to support himself. Toeing off one of his shoes to use as a starting point, he walked along the perimeter of the cell, attempting to ascertain the dimensions of the room.

The cell walls were paneled with steel or a similar, equally strong material, and there was no clear indication of where the door was located, since it blended in perfectly with the other panels. As he felt his way around the room, Heero could find no sharp corners or loose parts; nothing he could use as a weapon. It seemed to be a perfectly built cage for a dangerous prisoner.

//They must have been expecting me.//

He came to a stop when he tripped over the shoe he'd left behind. Slipping the sneaker back onto his foot, he mentally estimated the size of his cell. It was square shaped, approximately fifteen feet on each side. Heero felt that he could use the room's somewhat large size to his advantage, but since he had no idea where the entryway was located, he resigned himself to wait until someone came for him.

Moving into the middle of the cell, Heero sat back down on the cold floor, grateful that he had thought to wear long pants for this mission instead of his usual spandex. He had just begun to formulate his escape plans, which primarily relied upon taking out the first unlucky bastard that opened his cell door, when a sharp /hiss/ sounded behind him. Near blinding light flooded in from the open doorway before a man shaped shadow cast darkness over him once again. Heero waited until his eyes had adjusted before turning to face his captor.

//Shit.//

Though Heero was only able to make out the man's silhouette, the light that glinted off his captor's silver mask was more than enough to reveal his identity.

"Heero," Zechs greeted smugly, the smirk evident in his tone. "So nice of you to join us."

~*~

After a fitful night's sleep, Duo arose to the sound of voices downstairs.

//Heero?!//

Practically leaping out of bed, the American dashed down the hall and took the stairs two at a time in his haste to see if the missing Gundam pilot had returned safely. He ran through the empty living room and into the kitchen, slamming to a halt in the doorway as he took in the scene. There were only three people gathered around the table, none of them Heero.

All his hopes dashed, Duo felt his heart sink. //He's not here.// Trudging despondently over to the table, he plopped into a chair and searched the faces of his comrades for any readable emotions. Much to his dismay, the other three pilots seemed to be equally downhearted.

"I stayed by the computer all night," began Quatre, the dark circles under his eyes confirming his statement. "There was no word from Heero."

Trowa spoke up next. "We've been discussing our options, going on the assumption that Heero was captured during his mission. Obviously we want to rescue him, but he deleted the email from Dr. J containing his instructions and he didn't mention where he was headed."

"We don't even know where to begin to look," Wufei added dejectedly.

The four pilots sat in uncomfortable silence, each mulling over their choices, hoping for some kind of plan to develop from the maddening absence of clues.

The moment of quiet was broken suddenly as Duo abruptly stood up, nearly knocking over his chair in the process. Darting out of the kitchen, he headed back upstairs, calling over his shoulder to his bewildered friends, "I think I've got an idea!"

~*~

"I'm afraid you picked the wrong day to infiltrate this base, Heero."

The captured pilot glared defiantly at Zechs, cursing the shackles that bound his hands and feet. "I didn't expect you to be here, Lieutenant. I guess I need to check my information more thoroughly."

The OZ officer chuckled, leaning back almost casually in his chair. "Don't be so quick to blame your sources. LaDaera was due for a surprise inspection; the personnel here didn't know I was coming, so it's no surprise that you were not informed."

Heero chose not to respond, instead testing his bonds until he noticed Zechs tapping his pistol against his thigh.

"It's useless trying to escape. Even if you do manage to break out of those handcuffs, you've still got to get past me, and don't think that I won't shoot you. It's not something I want to do, of course."

"Oh, of course," the Japanese boy muttered, fighting off the urge to roll his eyes. He glanced around the small interrogation room, taking in the steel paneling on the walls, making the room look eerily similar to his cell. The fluorescent light overhead filled the room with harsh brightness, making the two occupants of the room squint from the glare. The close quarters did not make for an easy escape, and getting past Zechs and his gun would be nearly impossible, as the imposing blonde man had made clear just moments before.

Zechs cleared his throat to get his prisoner's attention. "So, Heero... What did you come here for?"

Keeping his eyes downcast, Heero ground out, "You've got the disk. Figure it out."

Raising an eyebrow under his mask, Zechs stood up from his chair, his tall frame intimidating, even to Heero. "I know, but I'd like to hear it from you."

"I'd rather not say. Sorry to disappoint you." The dark-haired boy tilted his head up to look at his captor. "So what are you going to do with me? Kill me?"

Zechs smiled faintly. "No, you're not going to be killed. Not by me, at least. You'll probably be transferred out of here to some high-security facility until a trial can be scheduled."

Heero narrowed his eyes. "Oh, so I get a trial after all. I thought that OZ would rather have me dragged into the street and shot."

"Well, that could happen. It would be regretful, but it could happen."

Shifting in his chair, the Japanese boy smirked. "Then I guess I'll have to find a way out of here before one of your crazy underlings takes me out for my day in court."

"You're not getting out of here, Heero," responded Zechs, shaking his head. "Not this time. I'll escort you to prison myself if that's what it takes."

"You underestimate me. I *will* get out of here." //Somehow...//

Pushing off the wall he'd been leaning against, Zechs walked towards Heero, the heels of his high black boots clicking against the steel floor. Stopping a few feet away from the young pilot, he asked, "How? Do you honestly think that your friends will risk their lives just for you?"

Heero clamped his jaw shut and turned his head away, doing his best to shut Zechs out, but the blonde lieutenant pressed on.

"You are all alone and nobody's coming for you. Those other pilots aren't stupid. It would be suicide for them to attempt any rescue. You're stuck here."

Fuming, Heero whispered under his breath, "You don't know them."

Zechs took a step closer. "I know that they're not idiots, and they won't jeopardize the fate of the colonies just to save one person."

//They will come. They're my friends; they'll come for me. Duo will come for me...//

"No. You're wrong, Zechs."

Coming closer, Zechs leaned over Heero, and whispered menacingly, "They're not coming, Heero. Nobody will save you this time."

His dark blue eyes blazing, Heero jerked at his shackles and growled, "No! Duo will come for me! I know he will!"

Immediately after the words left him, Heero regretted saying them. Defeated, he hung his head, feeling disgusted with himself. //I can't believe I did that. Why did I let him get under my skin?//

At Heero's unintentional admission, Zechs smirked. "I'm surprised, Heero. I didn't expect you to give up any information that easily." He stood upright and walked back to his seat, trying to keep the bounce out of his step. Leaning forward in his chair, Zechs began a new line of questioning. "So, *Duo* is going to be your savior? He's the one with the braid, right? You've got taste, I'll give you that."

Heero glared, but kept his mouth shut, determined not to give Zechs anything else that could be used against him or his fellow Gundam pilots.

"Well, since you are so sure that you will be rescued, I'll just have to prepare for it. When and if your friends do come," Zechs grinned, "I'll be waiting for them."

~*~

Rummaging through the duffle bag that held most of his belongings, Duo finally found what he'd been searching for. Keeping a firm grip on the hand-held device, he made his way downstairs once again, a smile splitting his face.

"Guys, I think I've got a way to find him!"

The other three pilots met Duo at the foot of the stairs, eager to know what the American had up his sleeve.

Taking a seat on the steps, Duo showed his friends the palm-sized contraption. "Okay, don't get mad or anything, but a while back, I put some, uh, tracers on your Gundams. It was just a safety precaution; I didn't really know you guys and I sure as hell didn't trust you, so I thought it would be a good idea to keep tabs on your whereabouts." He looked up to gauge the others' reactions, hoping they wouldn't be too upset. Fortunately, they seemed to be more concerned with finding Heero than anything, so he continued. "So anyway, if this thing works like it should, I'll be able to tell where Wing is located."

Wufei looked suspicious. "Have you ever used it before?"

"Well..." he scratched at the back of his head, "I used it a few months ago-"

"Wait," interrupted Trowa. "Who were you tracking then?"

Duo's cheeks tinted pink and he coughed, mumbling something incoherent under his breath.

"What was that, Duo?" prodded Wufei, "I don't think we caught that."

Ducking his head, Duo answered, "I was tracking Wing."

"Oh, so you were following Heero?" asked Quatre with a slightly devious smile. "Do you track him often?"

"God, I never should have told you guys about this," muttered the embarrassed pilot. Trying to get back on topic, he said, "As I was saying, we should be able to find Wing using this locator, and Heero's sure to be somewhere within a five- to ten-mile radius, most likely at the nearest OZ facility."

Not giving the others a chance to comment, Duo powered up the tiny device, relieved when the digital display lit up. //At least it still works...// Pressing a few buttons, he set the gadget to locate Heero's Gundam. He held his breath for a moment as the thought of Heero self-destructing came to mind, but his fears were put to rest when a little dot began flashing on the small screen.

"Thank God..." he breathed out in relief. Reading the coordinates and factoring in the flight speed of their four Gundams, he guessed that the distance could be traversed in around two and a half hours. Pressing another button, Duo used the coordinates to find the nearest base, assuming that Heero would probably be there.

"Wing is about four miles outside of the LaDaera Base. I'm willing to bet that we'll find Heero there."

Trowa patted Duo on the back. "Good job, Duo. I'm sure we'll have no problems finding Heero. Don't worry; we'll bring him back safe."

Duo furrowed his brow, confused. "Yeah, I know *we* will bring him back, because *I* am going along with the rest of you."

Quatre shook his head. "I'm sorry, Duo, but I don't think you need to go on a strenuous mission when you haven't fully recovered from being out in the snow storm."

"This is ridiculous!" cried Duo angrily. "There's no way in hell that I'm staying behind! Heero saved my life and I plan on personally returning the favor. Besides, I feel fine, and I'm perfectly capable of performing any mission."

Wufei stepped forward. "You should listen to us. We only want what's best for you. We don't want you to get hurt again."

Duo fumed. "What's *best* for me is to go find Heero and get him out of OZ's hands. And don't you think that we'll need all the help we can get? If Heero got captured, there's got to be seriously tight security at that base, and it will take every one of us to get past it. I'm going along, and that's that. Now, let's quit wasting time. Heero's waiting for us!"

~~~~**~~~~

PART FIVE
By Dev-Aki Basaa

~~*~~

Duo shoved past Wufei and slipped between Quatre and Trowa, stomping into the living room, his braid swinging wildly across his back. He yanked open the front door, then turned to face his fellow pilots.

"Are we taking our Gundams or not!?" Duo shouted at the three still standing, seemingly frozen, at the foot of the stairs. Indeed Shinigami lived and there was no point in arguing with Duo when he was in this state. They could only hope he was as recovered as he claimed to be.

Finally Quatre shook off his paralysis and nodded.

"Yes, I think we should cover as much ground as possible in our suits." He relaxed even more as he fell easily into the leader role, commenting to Wufei and Trowa now as much as Duo. "We can land a safe distance from the base - not too close to where Heero has Wing, though, just in case they've discovered it already - and take the rest of the distance on foot to scout the place."

"Fine." Duo's voice had calmed down, but his words still sounded ground out. "I'll verify Wing's exact coordinates when we get closer and then send you all the optimal coordinates from Deathscythe for our own landing. Okay!?"

No one would have dared say no anyway.

"Fine," Duo repeated and then turned and stormed out the door, bee-lining it for his Gundam.

The three stood in their place at the foot of the stairs for another moment, not moving, staring at the spot Duo'd just vacated.

Wufei broke the silence first.

"Do you think he'll do something stupid?"

Trowa shook his head. "No, not stupid. Insanely brave, perhaps."

"Yes," Quatre agreed, his shoulders heaving with his long sigh. "I think that worries me more."

They then took off after Duo, running for their own suits. The sound of Deathscythe already coming to life, roared in the distance.

~*~

Zechs had Heero marching down the hall again - a prisoner on display. OZ soldiers lined the corridor, standing at attention, in full salute. Zechs didn't once tell them to ease. They were deep in the gut of this base. Even if Heero could make a break for it, cuffed and shackled as he was - it would be a long pursuit to any possible exit - real or created. Besides, a part of Heero felt he deserved this display. He'd been fool enough to let Zechs rattle him and leak a name of a fellow pilot - Duo, no less - and perhaps rotting in an OZ prison cell awaiting trial or a beaten death would be what he deserved. *He* was a liability now. He should shoot himself! He would do nothing more to betray them - betray *him* - but if some OZ officer decided to beat information out of him, perhaps he should just let the attack kill him. His only regret to that...would be never seeing Duo again. Perhaps that's why he had not made a suicidal run for freedom yet. Maybe he still held hope to what he'd told Zechs - that Duo *would* come for him.

The corridor continued to be eerily silent, sans the soft scuffing of his own shoes and the echoing click of Zechs' boots. With so many soldiers lining the halls - in a heightened state of inspection - there was no need to keep guards at his sides; all these soldiers were sufficient. If he dared to lean the wrong way, it'd be reason enough to shoot him. His body would be easily pelted with a hundred bullets and probably a special one, complete with his name carved into it, shot point-blank into the base of his skull courtesy of his captor.

There was nothing gentle about the hand the Lighting Count placed on Heero's shoulder to halt his progress just then. Such a crushingly strong grip lent itself even more to the deathly success of the pilot of the Tallgeese.

Heero stopped as expected, eyeing the harsh glares aimed at him from the soldiers lined further up the hall. Their bodies blocked every door and junction with other halls - the idea of escape became increasingly bleak.

"At ease, Lieutenant," Zechs said and the tall thin man before him settled into a relaxed, but formal position.

"I need a monitored interrogation room for this prisoner," Zechs continued. His voice had a hard edge to it, almost gravelly in its viciousness. "I want full record-able surveillance, video and audio both."

"Yes, sir," the Lieutenant responded immediately, then added in a meeker tone, "but sir, we don't have anything like that ready. We're not a prisoner facility."

Zechs seemed to growl. "Then I suggest you do whatever is necessary to meet my request as soon as possible. You have a prisoner _now_, Lieutenant!"

The Lieutenant snapped into a salute. "Yes, sir. Of course, sir." The Lieutenant turned as if to start barking orders, but Zechs spoke again, halting him.

"In the mean time, I'd like to use Room 187."

A puzzled look crossed the Lieutenant's face, a lock of his light brown hair falling into his eyes. "But sir, that doesn't have any kind of surveillance or windows."

Zechs paused. "Precisely," he then said.

Heero didn't miss the small gasp of inhalation from the Lieutenant. He almost winced himself. "Y-yes, sir. Immediately, sir," the Lieutenant responded. "Private Morgan!"

Another soldier, stouter and rounder about the middle, snapped to an even more ridged salute. "Yes, sir!"

"Escort the prisoner to Room 187 and stand guard until Colonel Marquise returns."

"Yes, sir!" Morgan replied and broke away from his place lining the hall. His hard grip replaced Zechs' and Heero found himself moving far quicker down the hall than before, vicious glares greeting him as the faces sped by. He could just barely hear the voice of the Lieutenant asking Zechs to specify what kind of equipment he should be making ready for him before it grew too distance to be heard.

After a right, a left and then another right turn, Heero found himself shoved against the wall and held there, gripped at his neck while Morgan keyed a code into the access pad for the room. Room 187. The pressure to his windpipe was enough to let him breathe, but only shallowly. Through all of this, though, shit was pouring forth from the Private's mouth.

"I don't blame the Colonel for wanting a little time alone with you," he said with a salacious grin on his face. "You're pretty enough to be a girl. Who would've thought a mindless killer like you would look so pretty." The man flung open the door and grabbed Heero by the hair, fisting it so tight his eyes stung with tears, and threw him into the room. Heero wouldn't let himself fall; he jerked against his bonds and caught his balance. His shoes slid on the cement floor before he steadied himself in the center of the room. He looked up then, glaring at the Private.

This was his chance, he realized. Subdue this man and he could increase his chances of escape. He had a three-corridor lead on anyone else in the facility. The soldier stalked forward, an ugly gleam to his eyes.

"I'd bet you'd be tight, a pretty little boy cunt like that. I wonder how much time we have before the Colonel arrives." Morgan paused, standing just before Heero and reached out, running his fingers down Heero's jaw line, his fingers rising up just about to brush across his lips. Heero prepared to spit in the man's face and knock him down. Just one more second, the perfect position was coming as the man slowly lowered his face to Heero's, as if to kiss him.

The door flung open suddenly, banging hard against the interior wall, the impressive form of Zechs Marquise filling the threshold.

"Private! What the HELL are you doing in this room?!"

Morgan snapped to immediate attention, his back instantly rigid. "Sir! Nothing, sir!"

"Then get the FUCK out of here and back to your post!"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

Morgan couldn’t scurry out of there fast enough. Zechs watched him until he must have disappeared down the hall, then he turned and slammed the door, locking both himself and Heero inside.

"Bastard," he growled and Heero couldn't help but be surprised. Logically, he had figured that the Private wasn't too far off his mark as to why Zechs would want him alone in a room like this. Either to take him or beat him. Zechs honestly sounded disgusted.

He turned to face him, his metal mask dull in the dim lighting of the room. "Tell me, Heero. Did he do anything inappropriate?"

Heero just glared and said nothing.

With a nod, Zechs sighed. "I understand. You have no reason to trust me, but please be aware, we are not in this room for any reason you might suspect. We are here so you and I can speak freely."

"Speak freely?" Heero questioned, his gaze narrowing.

"Yes," Zechs answered. "I'm here to make you an offer."

~*~

They'd landed thirty minutes ago and, in silence, had been hiking, waiting for sight confirmation of the base. Trowa, ahead of the spread-out group, whistled from the distance and the rest followed the sound, leading them up a hill to the edge of a small bluff. They stood there, looking down over the sprawling OZ fortress for a moment before they laid down on their stomachs, gathering together to discuss their next move.

"Wing is about thirty minutes from here to the West," Duo whispered, shifting to get, if just somewhat, comfortable on the ground. He paused as he freed a stone from the hard clay that had been sticking him in the gut and sent it rolling back down the hill. Returning his gaze towards the sight beyond, he continued. "This has got to be the base Heero's at." He let out a fast sigh. "Christ, look at it. It's crawling with Ozzies!"

"Someone will need to go down and scout a little closer," Quatre piped up. "We need more information before we can set a strategy."

Wufei nodded. "I'll go."

Duo turned towards Wufei, his motion so quick it dislodged a few more stones and sent them rolling down the hill. "Nuh uh!" he snapped. "I don't trust you. Your idea of recon involves exploding barracks!"

Wufei's face crumpled in anger as he hissed out his words. "Shut your mouth, Maxwell, or I'll shut it for you!"

Duo opened his mouth to grind out another retort when Trowa's soft voice cut through, diffusing the argument.

"I'll go."

Quatre only hesitated for a second. "Okay, Trowa. Gather as much as you can, and... and be careful."

Trowa flashed Quatre a small smile before he shoved off from the ground, vaulting over the bluff and disappearing into the brush below. There was no answering sound or sight to confirm that Trowa had even been there.

"Damn," Duo said after a moment. "He's good."

~*~

"You're going to help me escape?!" Heero couldn't believe his ears, or even his eyes as he still rubbed his now freed writs and stretched his ankles, the cuffs and shackles now a heap on the floor. He glanced back towards Zechs. He could easily overpower him now, but an almost morbid curiosity kept him there as Zechs continued to explain himself.

"I know you don't believe me," he said, "but you don't have much of a choice in the matter. Either you trust me, or you suffer the realities of imprisonment here - and I can't keep Private Morgan from you forever. There is no justice in men like him."

Heero shook his head. "I have no reason to believe you."

"I know," Zechs sighed, turning away. "Everything is changing - nothing is as it was even a few days ago. OZ is not the same," his voice sounded wistful. "But that doesn't matter," he continued, shaking his head and pacing further away from Heero. "All that matters is that I have seen it fit to let you free. My reasons matter only to me."

He waited for any response from Heero, but when none came he continued, telling Heero his plans - what there were of them.

"In a few moments, I will be creating a diversion. You will exit here and head South. The gate at the end of that hall will not be guarded. After that, you're on your own." He paused again, giving Heero the chance to speak, perhaps knowing he'd probably not take the opportunity. "I know you are inclined to question my offer," Zechs said then, "and you have no choice but to trust me. Just know that I wish for you to live so that we may fight another day. My tenure with OZ shan't be much longer."

"Then why would you still want to fight me?" Heero finally spoke and Zechs seemed to be grinning under that mask.

"For the pure adrenalin of it," he answered. "Surely you understand that, Heero? Are these simple Leos and Taurus really any match for you? Don't you desire to fight me again, purely for the sake of the fight?"

Heero nodded, adding, "I fully intend to kill you on the battlefield."

"That's what I like to hear," Zechs said, nodding as well. "Fine, be ready, a distraction is coming. You can decide what to do with it. I'm going to leave now under the guise of checking on that room I requested. I'll leave this door unlocked. You won't miss the distraction."

And with that, he was gone. Heero stood staring at the closed door, knowing that Zechs hadn't lied, he'd not paused to re-lock the door. What an unexpected turn of events. Was there far more to this than a rivalry?

Heero had nothing left to do but wait and see how this played itself out.

~*~

Trowa had returned and Wufei and Duo listened as he briefed Quatre on what he'd seen. After Quatre asked for a little space to trouble out a plan, Trowa turned toward the others and added to his report, "I'd have to say they're under some kind of inspection. That's why the place seems so alive."

Duo scoffed. "They're pretending to be busy."

After a few moments, Quatre snapped back around and waved them closer. "Okay, I've got it figured out. Trowa said there was some kind of delivery taking place at the North end. If we hurry, we can join in on the tail end of that process, blend in with the delivery crew and get access that way, a simple way in." He fixed each of them in turn with a focused stare as he continued to explain his plan. "After that, we'll need to still stay close and scout a bit more, trying to pinpoint Heero's exact location. Having any prisoner - even if they don't realize he's a Gundam pilot - is news enough. The place should be buzzing with more information." Quatre leaned closer then. "Stay near without seeming to be together. We can't lose another of us inside that base." He tilted back then, steepling his fingers under his chin. "Any questions?"

Duo shook his head. "Sounds good, Quat!"

Quatre gave a nod when the other two didn't add any dissent. "Okay then. Check your weapons and then we'll go."

Wufei and Trowa both turned away, pulling out their weapons, checking the ammo, guards and safeties. Quatre caught Duo before he'd started in on his own check.

"Listen," Quatre began, seeming to consider his words before he continued on. "I know you're worried about Heero..."

But Duo cut him off.

"We're all worried about Heero," he said, pulling out his gun and checking the clip, only half paying attention to Quatre.

Quatre nodded, and then added, "But not like you are."

Duo glanced up sharply, his eyes widening with surprise. "What? How can..."

This time Quatre cut him off. "Don't misunderstand me, Duo. Yes, we're all very concerned about Heero, but I..." Quatre paused, again seeming to select his words very carefully. "If it were Trowa," he said finally, "our roles would be reversed."

Duo began to shake his head, his expression tightening. "I..."

But Quatre cut him off again. "All I ask is that you don't try to do this all yourself. We still have to function as a team, no matter how strong our emotions might be about the task at hand."

Duo relaxed then, nodding in agreement. "I get it, Quatre. I'll be a good boy. We've just got to get Heero out of there!" he said, his free hand curling into a fist.

"I know," Quatre said, "and we will."

Wufei walked up to the pair, giving them both a stern glance. "You guys ready?"

Duo quickly gave his gun a final check, and then looked up catching Trowa's attention and confirming readiness. Duo's face twisted in a manic grin as he growled his next words. "Let's kick some Ozzie ass!"

~~~~**~~~~

PART SIX
By 0083

~~*~~

Four bodies moved silently, almost ghosting along the edges of the darkness. They were headed north to make their entrance into the base as stealthily as possible without making nary a nose. In their minds, stealth was the number one priority in rescuing their comrade. Yet, as they approached the North entrance, their plans for stealth went right out the window.

As soon as they approached and were within eyesight of the delivery trucks lining up for inspection, a sudden and loud explosion shattered their strategy to bits. Somewhere from the west end of the base, an orange ball of flame, sooty and dark with smoke, exploded out of the buildings. There was a sudden pause as everyone, Gundam pilots included, stared at shock at the most unexpected turn of events.

Then everyone was moving, shouting, scurrying towards the explosion, weapons drawn and alertness at its height. The delivery site was soon abandoned in favor for the west side of the base and the boys were left looking at a completely open north entrance.

"Well, if that doesn't beat our strategy right out of the fucking water..."

Duo's muttered comment jump started the paralyzed unit of four into movement again, this time letting go of the silent slinking for outright running with weapons at ready. They had no idea what had happened, but it would be remiss of them not to take advantage of this fully.

To no one's surprise, it was Duo who ran into the base first, his pistol held lightly in his right hand, running in a fast gait with his shoulders held low. His eyes seemed to absorb the fluorescent lighting of the hallway; the usually bright violet eyes now a black hole of concentration. Those eerie eyes swept the hallway once before signaling to the others that it was safe. Wufei joined Duo first, the look on his face grim.

"Duo, this could be a trap for us."

Quatre nodded in agreement as he and Trowa trotted in behind them. To the blond warrior, this seemed just too perfectly timed for it to be a mere coincidence, but who would have known that they were coming at this exact hour?

"I can hear your head spinning, Quat my man. Quit it. Even if this is a trap... we've come too far to back out now."

"You’re right," Quatre replied with traces of resignation, "but it doesn't mean I have to like this."

"Let's just hope Heero wasn't caught in the explosion."

Duo threw a look that could only be described as horror mixed with indignation at Wufei. He had not even considered that Heero could have been there. Catching the look and the dawning panic within Duo, Quatre quickly motioned all of them into different corridors for investigation, trying to keep Duo from thinking too far ahead. It would do them no good if Duo went on a rampage of panic and grief at this stage.

~*~

Heero sat quietly in the cell, almost disbelievingly waiting for this 'distraction' the Lightening Count had mentioned. Would this be yet another trap for him? Did he have any choice in the matter? Countless thoughts jumbled in his head as he stared at the unlocked door of his cell, but at the forefront was Duo for some reason. Would Duo take the chance?

Shaking his head, he tried to get rid of those unwanted thoughts. He needed to focus, not dwell on his partner, if he ever wanted to get out of here alive. If he wanted to see Duo again...he had to be a soldier, not a lovesick fool.

Heero was in the middle of berating himself for thinking of Duo when an explosion rocked him. The ground shook and he swayed lightly, trying to get purchase on his balance. If anything, that had to be a distraction. Smiling grimly, Heero opened the door slightly ajar and looked at the corridors. They were empty as promised, the soldiers probably having headed to that explosion. Couldn’t miss it, could he? Zechs had to be extravagant in the distraction, didn't he. It was practically what Duo would have done, loud and flashy, too obvious yet successful. The grim smile turned into a smirk as he thought of Duo again and Heero took off towards the South entrance.

He quickly routed his way by recalling the map of the base in his head, hoping that it was not out of date like the recon data was. He had to make it out of here so he could go back and yell at Duo one more time.

Running silently and quickly, Heero made a right turn into the corridor that would eventually lead him to the south exit. He could practically smell his freedom and he picked up his pace, still keeping a vigilant watch about him. His soldier instincts took over fully and that was what saved him when shots were fired towards him.

Heero didn't even think, but rolled and ducked into a narrow corridor just to his left, watching as sparks flew around him. From the spread pattern, he construed that the shooter had a semi-automatic, fully convertible to an automatic at the flip of a switch, and he was firing from forty feet, straight ahead. The shooter had no cover from what he could remember from the layout of this corridor, but that did not matter. Heero had no weapon. He could not fire back and if he stepped out, he’d be a sitting duck. In the back of his head, he could hear a voice that sounded very much like Duo saying 'if that Lightening Count really wanted you to escape, couldn't he have left you a fucking weapon?'

~*~

Wufei ran alongside Duo, searching for Room 187. Quatre and Trowa were not too far behind them, keeping up rear guard. For all their readiness and alertness there was no one around to test them. It was as if the entire base emptied out to the west end. It was almost too easy and it made all of them even more tense.

"Quat, you sure 187 is where they got him?"

A slight nod was all Duo needed to pick up his speed and outrun the rest of them. Wufei picked up his pace also, but knew that Duo, being the fastest and having the most endurance for running, would leave him behind in his own dust soon enough. A turn here, a turn there and when Wufei, Quatre and Trowa had finally caught up with Duo, they found their long-haired friend staring into Room 187.

Puzzled at Duo' strange pause, Quatre peeked over his shoulder to get a look into the room. Was Heero in such bad condition that Duo could not look away? His aqua eyes swept the concrete room once, twice, then once more to make sure he was seeing right.

"What the..."

Duo spun at Quatre, grabbing the smaller man by his shoulders in a non-gentle grip.

"Quatre, you said he'd be here, damn it. You said HE'D BE HERE!"

The aqua eyes filled with worry gave him some comfort, but no answers. Duo could not believe this. Where was Heero? Why had they come all this way only to find an empty room? He was about to shake Quatre for answers he knew his friend didn’t have when a logical thought clicked into his panic stricken mind.

This was Heero they had come to rescue. Heero, the guy who was practically indestructible; a perfect soldier in every respect. Well, shit.

Laughing imperceptibly, Duo let go of Quatre and gave him an apologetic look. Confused even more, Quatre gazed at Duo, hoping that this smile was a good sign, not a sign of loose screws in his head.

"Sorry, man. I lost it! You know me."

Trowa exchanged a look with Wufei. Yes, they knew Duo, and the Duo they knew, as reckless and emotional as he seemed, would never, ever lose his focus on a mission.

"See, this is Heero! Shit, he probably got himself out when the explosion went off! And here we are, trying to rescue an already fled man."

"Are you sure, Duo? Maybe he was-"

"I’m sure, Wufei."

The glare that accompanied the short answer was enough for Wufei to stop continuing with his grimmer lines of reasoning. This Duo who believed in Heero's abilities so completely would never be swayed to think otherwise. He almost missed the fool who had run out into the snowstorm, for he could have talked logic and sense into that Duo. But this one, the one who would not shake in his resolve, in his belief, and perhaps even in love, this Duo would never be convinced that Heero might have died already.

"Well, what are we standing around here for, eh? Let’s go find Heero on the loose!"

"And where," Trowa jumped in a bit suddenly, "do you want to find him, Duo?"

"Think about it Tro. We came in from the north end, the explosion was the west end and from here, I'd say south is the closest, don’t you?"

"Yes," Quatre said with understanding, "and Heero would go towards south. It would be the most logical way."

"Yeah. And Heero's nothing if not logical, right?"

Duo swiftly turned towards south and began running, not bothering to wait for them to follow. Wufei followed almost immediately after Duo, but he could have sworn that he had heard a wistful sadness in Duo's last statement.

~*~

Heero crouched, waiting for the right opportunity to get out into the corridor and immobilize the shooter. He didn't have very many options unless the shooter got closer.

"Going somewhere, pretty boy?"

The recognition was instantaneous. It was that disgusting excuse for a human being and a soldier. Morgan. Heero smiled coldly and waited for the bastard.

"You didn't think you'd get away so easy, did you? Well, now let's see...the things I can do to you when I get my hands on you."

'Just get closer, you asshole,' Heero thought, knowing that if Morgan got close enough, he'd be a dead man.

"This time, the Colonel isn't here to protect your pretty little ass."

'Don't you mean to protect you?' Heero recognized that his thoughts were running a bit like Duo's. Arrogant banter and bravado in the face of certain death.

Then Heero was staring at the barrel of a semi-automatic as Morgan leered at him from the corridor. Schooling his features to look somewhat defeated, Heero stood slowly with his hands in front of him, a perfect form of surrender. Morgan's leer got more pronounced and he actually licked his lips as he used the gun barrel to shove Heero into the wall.

"Not so tough without your Gundam, are you."

Heero ducked his head in what seemed to be submission, but he was gauging his distance from Morgan and thinking of ways to kill him and get loose. Not knowing that one of the most deadly men in space and earth was plotting his death, Morgan moved in closer and clenched his left hand around Heero's neck. The gun barrel was moved aside slightly as he moved in closer with his face.

"This will be an experience you'll never forget, pretty."

Morgan then let go his gun in favor of grabbing Heero's hip with his right hand. That was all Heero needed.

Before Morgan could even process what was happening, Heero viciously kneed him in the groin and shoved the man back with his strength. As Morgan staggered in surprise, Heero used that small moment to launch his attack. Straightening the fingers of his right hand, he stiffened them, locking the joints, and shoved all four fingers into the tender spot between Morgan's carotid artery and his trachea. His fingers broke through flesh and muscle and grasped onto Morgan's throat from the inside. Blood ran down his arm in fast rivulets, dripping on the floor at an alarming rate. Morgan went slack and his eyes held fear instead of lust.

"Oh, I won't forget this. Trust me."

Smiling in malice, Heero stared into the man's dying and panicked eyes as he wrenched his arm back. In his hand were the ruined remains of the man's throat, crushed and mangled beyond recognition. Morgan fell backwards and his body hit the floor with an audible thud. As Morgan gurgled in his own blood, Heero carelessly tossed the bloody mess in his hand away and wiped his hand on Morgan's Oz uniform. Then he took the gun Morgan had used on him and took off towards the south exit without looking back.

~*~

Four bodies skidded to a halt as they came into view of the carnage. Just a few feet before them was a man who had his throat ripped out.

"Damn. This had to be Heero alright."

Duo whistled low and circled the body, noting the missing gun and the efficient manner of the kill. It was definitely Heero.

"He must have gotten out. That means we should as well."

Nodding at Quatre, Duo quickly thought about the situation. Most likely, Heero was out and headed for Wing. Once he got to Wing, it would only be a matter of time before Heero blew the hell out of the base. After all, he didn't know that they had come to rescue him at this particular time and even if he knew... Well, who could say. But then, what if Heero hadn't gotten out as cleanly? What if he was injured and limping towards his Gundam like an open target he liked to make himself?

That made up his mind.

"Okay, you guys head back north and get to your Gundams. I'm going out this exit and tracking Heero down."

"Have you lost your fucking mind, Duo?"

Duo gave Wufei a look of 'well, yes' before he patted the Chinese man comfortingly on his shoulder.

"You know me, Wu-man. And besides, Deathscythe is parked closer to this exit than the north one like yours are. So get going. I'll be fine."

"That is not the issue Duo," Quatre said, his voice a mixed study of concern and leadership, "going by yourself is unsafe from every strategic angle. We should stick together."

"And leave Heero to his own devices? No thanks! I'm going south and you are going north."

Quatre started to argue some more, but Trowa put a hand on his shoulder and threw him a meaningful look. Duo had no idea what their silent communication was about, but in the end, Quatre relented and turned back towards north. Wufei reluctantly followed, but he looked back at Duo.

"Don't die, Duo. Or I'll come and kill you myself, Ice Popsicle."

"Aren't you the ball of fuzzy affection, Wu.. Now get going. We're running out of time."

With that, Duo left his friends to run north and he took off running towards the south exit. Heero wasn't too far ahead judging from the body he had left behind - it was still warm and had not yet been set into a stiff board by rigor mortis. And Heero wasn't as fast as he was.

"Well, Heero," Duo mumbled as he ran, "you better be fine or... or..."

Duo didn't bother finishing the thought and he concentrated on finding Heero. Now that he had gotten the guys to agree with him, he realized that he had not the faintest clue where the hell Heero might have landed with Wing. Was it even near this exit?

"Man, the holes I dig for myself for the love of that suicidal idiot..."

He was too busy running and scanning for Heero that he missed his little slip of tongue. Had he noticed it, he might have stopped fully in his tracks to reassess his sanity at saying such a thing out loud, even if no one had been around to hear it. But he ran on, oblivious to his own mistake, looking for any signs of Heero. The explosion in the west end would not keep the troops occupied for much longer and he needed to get out before that happened. Where he was now was just an open field and once the Ozzies got their shit together, it would be an open season on pilot 02. "Shit, Heero, where the hell have you gone?"

There was minimal cover out here on the south quad of the base, just open space. And towers set up for shooting random intruders. The scenario was ugly, but he had gotten into this mess so he would get out of it. By finding Heero. There was no other option.

Then he heard it. A groaning, metallic sound somewhere west of him. Duo smiled and changed directions toward it. It was Wing, he was sure. And if Wing was operational, then so was Heero. It was time to high tail it back to Deathscythe and show the Ozzies a taste of Shinigami. As he ran towards his own Gundam, Duo saw Wing stand out of the cover of trees, the magnificent Gundam looking pissed off as it rose from hiding.

"Duo...Duo...are you at Deathscythe? Did you find Heero?"

Duo heard the static laden sound and turned on his communicator to speak.

"Shit, Quat, can't you see Wing? Heero's fine! I'm three minutes out of Deathscythe if I run like hell."

A brief pause.

"Quat, how did you get to your Gundam so damned fast?"

"Duo," Wufei replied in Quatre's stead, "we ran straight here. You probably zig zagged all over the place looking for Heero."

There was an implied 'you silly idiot' somewhere in there, Duo was sure. But none of that mattered. Heero was out, the guys were safe in their Gundams and he was happy with the things as they had turned out.

"Hey, can you guys contact Heero and tell him to lay off while I get out?"

"Not a problem Duo. Just get to Deathscythe."

"Gotcha, Quat. Over and out."

Duo ran on, nearing Deathyscythe with every step. Wing stood still and Duo knew Quatre had gotten a message to Heero. Letting out a whooping laugh at the success of this rescue mission, Duo sped by the south quad towards the fencing. As soon as he was over that, Deathscythe was only a couple of miles out. Three minutes was an estimation that was really contrived on his part, but he had not wanted the guys to worry.

Then without warning, Wing moved. Duo looked behind him to see Wing, not even forty feet off, swing the saber towards a Leo that had somehow gotten to him.

"Shit, Ozzies have their shit together now..."

That thought didn't last long as Wing's beam saber cut through the hapless Leo like butter. It exploded in all the colors of the red spectrum, outshining the orange ball of flame that had began this strange rescue operation. Then without warning, a piece of the Leo came flying towards Duo at a high speed and it was all he could do to roll to one side before he was sheared in two by the metal.

Before the dust cleared, Duo was up. Then he crumpled to his knees as a sharp pain kicked him viciously in the stomach. There was a large piece of metal, perhaps two feet long and couple of inches wide, piercing him through his stomach and out his back.

Coughing up blood, Duo managed to get up to his feet anyway. He had to get to Deathscythe. He had to get out. He had to see Heero again.

"Well, if that don't beat all..."

Ignoring the searing pain, Duo pulled the metal out of his body and nearly passed out, but managed to keep his consciousness. Swaying, he took off running as fast as he could, his blood rushing around his head in loud swishes. Two miles...two miles...

Behind him, he could hear Wing go into battle and the other Gundams joining the fray.

'Keep going, Duo. Keep going...'

Ahead, he could see the faint glimmer of Deathscythe. Smiling grimly, he picked up his pace, knowing that he was losing too much blood.

"Duo, you there? Where are you?"

With a bloody hand, Duo turned on the communicator.

"Heero, man. You're fine and here we were, trying to rescue you... You are amazing, you know?"

"Never mind that," Heero said crisply through the radio line, "where are you and Deathscythe?"

"Be there soon...soon..."

A brief hesitation came through the communicator before Heero spoke.

"Are you... okay?"

Duo smiled briefly as he opened up Deathscythe and clambered in awkwardly. He sat at his chair and closed up his metal partner and started the systems. He noted absently that he was getting blood all over Deathscythe’s cockpit.

"I said, are you okay?"

Heero's voice sounded nearly concerned...if not a bit worried. Well, no...Duo smiled wanly. Heero was not concerned about him. It had to be the blood loss echoing in his head.

"DUO! ARE YOU OKAY?"

"I'm...fine...Heero. Lay off...okay? I'll be there soon..."

Without waiting for Heero's reply, Duo shut off the connection and got Deathscythe to move towards the blazing Oz base.

"I'll be there soon...Heero..."

He moved the controls automatically to shear an Aries that had suddenly appeared before him.

"Be there...soon...Heero..."

Before he had even gotten fully into the base, Quatre's voice broke through the cockpit.

"We're done here. Let's go."

Sighing in relief, Duo punched in the coordinates for their safe house and let Deathscythe take over. Blood was now only a trickle from his gaping wound and did not even hurt that much.

"The shit...I get into...for you, Heero..."

Just before Duo passed out, one last image flitted before his eyes.

"Be there soon, Heero..."

~~~~**~~~~

PART SEVEN
By Caroline

~~*~~

Quatre was the first to land. He maneuvered his Sandrock into the clearing and set it down gently, careful to leave enough room for the rest of the pilots to land. He was out of the cockpit and repelling down to the ground as Heavyarms and Shenlong made their descent. Even though Trowa had told him over the comm he was all right, Quatre wouldn't be able relax until he could see for himself the green-eyed pilot was all right. He knew exactly what Duo must have been going through when Heero had turned up missing. He didn't know if he could have handled himself as well had Trowa been the one captured.

The blonde pilot walked briskly to the foot of Heavyarms, trying not to appear too eager, and waited for Trowa to appear. The tall boy did quickly, and Quatre breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that Trowa had nothing more than a couple of bruises and a small scrape over one eye.

"Are you all right?" Trowa asked, looking him over as well.

Quatre nodded, secretly pleased Trowa appeared to be just as worried over him. He turned to Wufei who just waved off his concern.

"Did anyone verify Heero's condition during the flight back?" the Chinese boy asked, scanning the snow-gray skies for Wing.

Trowa nodded. "He said he was fine but that Duo wasn't answering his comm."

The blonde watched the other boys' eyes widen slightly. Then Wufei shook his head and snorted, "That baka. Probably got his communications array knocked out again."

Quatre frowned, closed his eyes, and looked inward. "I don't know. I think… something is off. I…"

He was interrupted by the loud scream of Wing's maneuvering thrusters as the giant metal bird hovered over the clearing, transformed, and landed with an earthshaking thud. The cockpit hatch was open before Wing's systems were powered down completely. Quatre winced as Heero all but threw himself out of the cockpit and down to the ground, not bothering to use the lift cable.

"Duo's hurt," was all he said as he moved off from the others to search the sky.

"Heero, you don't know that," replied Wufei. "He could be having equipment failure. Hell, he could be ignoring you for running off and getting captured like that. Don't jump to conclusions, Yuy."

Heero just turned and glared at the Chinese pilot.

A familiar whine in the distance interrupted anything the Japanese pilot might have said. Quatre watched as Deathscythe approached. As soon as he saw the sleek black Gundam come into view, he knew immediately something was not right. Duo was an excellent pilot, almost graceful in his maneuvers. But as Deathscythe roared into the clearing, Quatre could see that the Gundam was moving strangely, almost mechanically as if... as if there wasn't anyone at the controls.

"Something's wrong," someone else muttered as Deathscythe landed gracelessly next to Heavyarms.

Heero was off and running before Deathscythe had even powered down. Quatre glanced at Trowa before following, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't "feel" anything from the black Gundam which meant Duo was either unconscious or...

He shook that horrible thought away before it could form, not willing to think the worst. He took off after Heero who was halfway up Deathscythe's leg already, thankful for every rock climbing lesson he'd ever had as a child.

Heero had just finished keying the release sequence to the cockpit hatch as Quatre reached him. The door swung open, releasing stale air and the smell of blood. Quatre sucked in a breath as he saw what lay inside. Duo was slumped over the Gundam's controls, his seat restraint the only thing holding him in his seat. His hands were covered in blood, as was most of the cockpit floor Quatre noticed as he moved to help his injured friend. At least he hoped Duo was only injured. The long-haired American was awfully still...

He breathed a sigh of relief as he felt for Duo's pulse. It was faint, but there. He glanced down, trying to see where Duo was injured. He spied a torn, ragged hole in Duo's clothing and leaned down for a closer look.

"Oh, Allah," he breathed as he glimpsed the extent of Duo's injury. Very carefully he slid a hand behind Duo's back. Sure enough, there was an identical gaping wound. Something had pierced the boy in his side. And with the amount of blood that had been lost... Quatre knew Duo wouldn't be able to last much longer. He fumbled for the harness release, cursing under his breath as his hands slipped on the blood covering the device, causing him to lose his grip.

"Heero, get in here and give me a hand," he said as the harness finally came free and Duo's dead weight fell against him. "Heero..."

He glanced behind him to see the Japanese pilot staring at the blood, at Duo.

"Heero, come on!" he cried, struggling to gain a footing in the cramped space with Duo collapsed half on top of him.

Heero didn't move. Quatre noticed how pale the usually stoic pilot had become, how white Heero's knuckles were as he clutched the side of the open hatch. "Is... is he dead?" he whispered so softly Quatre barely heard him.

"No but he will be if we don't get him to a hospital." That seemed to snap Heero out of his daze. Quatre heard him suck in a breath as his shoulders slumped forward in relief. "Heero, we have to get him out of here *now*," Quatre said again. "He's lost too much blood. Stalling up here isn't going to save him."

Heero stared at him a moment longer, then nodded his head. He leaned forward and reached for Duo. "Here, give him to me."

Even after it was all over, Quatre still wasn't sure how they managed to get Duo out of his Gundam and down to the ground without aggravating his injuries. Wufei and Trowa were waiting for them at the bottom to take Duo from them as soon as they were low enough. They laid the injured pilot gently on the still partially frozen ground, then Trowa began to check him over while Quatre and Heero disentangled themselves from Deathscythe's lift cable.

"He needs a hospital," the tall pilot said shortly, looking up at Heero.

"Have you lost your mind?" Wufei said. "In case you haven't forgotten, we just blasted our way out of an enemy base. They're bound to be looking for us. We need to get out of the area as soon as possible."

Quatre shook his head fiercely. "He won't last that long. He needs immediate medical care."

"We can take him to the safe house, do some patchwork field care, then see about getting him to a medical facility once we're out of enemy territory," Wufei argued. When Quatre gave him a horrified look, he continued. "Look, I care about him, too. But it's too risky, not just for us, but especially for Duo. He won't be able to defend himself in a hospital. And..." Quatre could see the Chinese boy's eyes glisten with unshed tears. "And... I think it's safe to say, Duo would rather be dead than captured by OZ."

Trowa looked away as though torn between agreeing with Wufei and wanting to help his injured friend. Quatre just shook his head again.

"No. No! I don't think that's what Duo would want," Quatre said vehemently. "I don't think a field dressing will help him. He won't make it to the next safety point!"

"And standing here arguing like a bunch of idiots isn't helping either," Trowa snapped. Quatre blinked. He'd never heard Trowa use that tone of voice before. Duo's condition was obviously affecting him more than he cared to show.

Quatre shook his head again and turned to the one member of their team who hadn't voiced an opinion yet. "Well, Heero. What do you think we should do?"

The Japanese pilot had been staring down at Duo during the whole argument, looking almost as pale as his injured friend. When Quatre spoke his name, he looked up at him sharply, as though startled out of some deep contemplation. He looked at each of his fellow pilots' faces, then turned his attention back to Duo.

"Take him to a hospital," he said, after a moment of silence so long Quatre thought he'd have to ask his question again. The blonde sighed in relief.

"Heero," Wufei began, but was interrupted before he could voice his protest.

"No. We can protect him at the hospital. Besides, I don't think OZ will be looking too hard for us," he half-murmured as if remembering something. "I'm - *we're* not going to lose him. Not now. Not before I..."

Quatre could feel Heero's pain as he broke off whatever he had meant to say. He nodded, understanding the situation. If it had been Trowa lying there instead of Duo, he'd feel the same way.

"Okay. Let's go. Wufei, can you stay here and move the Gundams?" The Chinese pilot nodded. "Good. There's a hospital about twenty minutes away in town. Trowa, you take Duo..."

"No, I'll take him," interrupted Heero.

Quatre hesitated, then nodded. "All right. Trowa can drive. Wufei, meet us there when you get done."

The blonde Arabian watched as Heero gently lifted Duo's body into his arms, then headed into the woods towards the safe house and the stolen vehicles waiting for them. Quatre followed quickly, glancing behind him once to make sure Trowa was behind him. In front of them, he could see Duo's braid swinging limply over Heero's arm. He prayed to Allah that it wasn't too late to help his friend. Because if anything happened to Duo... well, Quatre was afraid instead of mourning one lost friend, they'd be mourning two.

~*~

Cold. Everything was so cold. Not the biting chill of winter, but an all over body numbing cold. It was so cold it almost hurt, but he was too numb to really feel anything. And it was dark, too. He tried wiggling his fingers in front of his face just to see if he could see them, but it was too dark. Then again, he was so cold and numb, he wasn't even sure if he was moving his fingers at all.

He didn't like this cold, dark place. He didn't know how long he'd been there, or even how he'd gotten there. There was something tugging at the back of his mind - something he was supposed to remember. But the darkness had swallowed his memories, swallowed his mind.

He couldn't even remember his own name.

He would have screamed if he could. But he was so cold... so cold...

~*~

Heero had never felt more helpless in his life. Even when he'd been wandering around in the snowstorm looking for Duo, he hadn't felt this useless, this helpless. He stared through the glass window of the trauma room where men and women dressed in hospital smocks and protective masks scurried frantically around the gurney Duo was lying on, hooking the injured pilot to all kinds of machines and tubes. He could only watch as a nurse cut away the ruined, bloodstained clothing to reveal the damage - a gaping, bloody hole about five centimeters in diameter on the right side of him stomach.

A hand descended gently on his shoulder. "Heero, perhaps it would be better if you didn't watch this," Quatre said, trying to draw him away from the window.

"I'm not leaving," Heero replied, shrugging off the hand.

"Heero..."

"Why didn't I tell him?" the Japanese boy said suddenly. "I thought I'd lost him in the snow. I should have told him when I found him. I should have said no to J and not gone on that mission. I should have stayed until he was better."

"Heero, it's not your fault."

Haunted blue eyes turned to look at him. "Don't you see, Quatre? It *is* my fault. If I hadn't gone, if I hadn't let myself be captured, Duo wouldn't be lying there right now, fighting for his life."

"He's the one who made the decision to come after you, Heero. If he...if he doesn't make it, it'll be as much our fault as it is yours for not stopping him."

Heero shook his head. "He wouldn't have had to come after me if I hadn't screwed up." He turned back to the window. "I can't lose him, Quatre," he said so softly the blonde barely heard him. "Not now. Not before..."

He trailed off as the doctors inside started yelling at each other, near pandemonium breaking out inside the room as the heart monitor above the boy's bed flat-lined.

~*~

He drifted, cold and alone, and so terribly afraid. The void was so empty, so lifeless. He wondered then if this was what death was like. Was he dead?

The memory hit him like a bolt of lightning. There had been a battle. He was a soldier. There was something that had been missing, something important. Had he found it? He couldn't remember. There was an explosion. There had been pain. Had he been killed?

A pair of blue eyes appeared in the fragments of memory. A name drifted just out of his grasp. He reached for it, but was too tired to hold on to it. The memory drifted away, leaving him in the cold, empty void once more.

Then... the void wasn't so empty. A tiny pinprick of light appeared in the distance. His terror vanished, replaced by a soothing kind of calm. Something told him that where there was light, there had to be warmth. He willed for the light to come closer.

The speck grew larger, the light gaining in intensity. At first he though the light was white, but as it approached, he could see it was made of all the colors, in all the shades and hues, and even some he had never seen before. The light was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life.

And then he knew. All he had to do to reach it... was just let go.

~*~

Heero burst into the room, nearly knocking over one startled nurse, as the machine above Duo's head continued to whine.

"Get the paddles!"

"Charge to 250!"

"Charging."

"Clear!"

Heero's own heart nearly stopped as he saw Duo's body arc upwards from the jolt of the current being shot through his body in an effort to restart his heart. He leapt towards the table, trying in vain to get to Duo.

"Sir! You can't be in here!" someone said, trying to keep him away from the gurney.

"Charge to 300!" the doctor yelled, still holding the paddles.

"Charging!"

"Duo!"

"Clear!"

"Heero." Someone grabbed his arm. Quatre. "Heero, come with me now."

"No! I can't leave. He... he can't leave."

~*~

Something was wrong. The light was getting brighter, but he was still cold. Shouldn't he be getting warmer? The light pulsated with heat... but he couldn't feel it. The light was getting brighter but he wasn't getting any closer.

Something was holding him back. Something... someone... He couldn't remember. Why couldn't he remember? He needed to remember.

A pair of blue eyes. A tousle of brown hair. A name.

Heero.

Heero!

The light pulsed once, as if in regret, then began to fade. But he didn't care. Heero wasn't in the light. Heero was... elsewhere.

The light went out, leaving him once again in the darkness. He tried to call out Heero's name, but his voice was frozen.

Mute. Blind. Cold. Alone.

Where was Heero?

Heero...

~*~

"You have to let the doctors do their work, Heero."

The Wing pilot could hear the strain in the other's voice as they both watched Duo being shocked one more time... heard the heart monitor beep... then beep again... a rhythm established...

"Right. He's stable. Let's get him up to the OR before he crashes again."

Heero let Quatre push him out of the way as Duo was rushed out of the room, presumably on his way to be operated on. He stood with the blonde pilot beside him for a long moment after Duo had been taken. Then, without a word, he pushed away from Quatre and through the trauma room doors, past Trowa and Wufei, and continued down the hall to disappear around the corner.

"Should we follow him?" Trowa asked as Quatre stepped through the doors.

The Sandrock pilot shook his head. "No. Let him be. He'll come back when he's ready. He won't go far."

~*~

"I think he's coming around!"

The darkness had become gray. The shape in front of him slowly began to come into focus. Quatre's worried face peered down at him.

"Duo? Can you hear me? Duo?" the blonde asked in a rush, leaning further over the occupant in the bed.

"Jeez, Quat. I'm not deaf," Duo rasped weakly. He raised his hand to brush away a stray lock of hair from his face, wincing at how much energy it took to do so. He noticed the tubes in his arm. "What happened? Where am I?"

"You're in a hospital. You got hurt on our last... mission. You gave us a little scare, but the doctors say you'll be okay. Do you need anything?"

"Maybe some water?" He tried to swallow, but it hurt like hell.

Trowa moved forward with a cup and spoon in his hand. "Ice chips," he explained as he spoon-fed some of the cold chips into Duo's mouth. "You're not allowed water until the doctors check you over."

Duo nodded and sucked the ice gratefully.

"How do you feel?" Quatre asked.

"Like I got run over by a Gundam," Duo groaned in reply as he tried to sit up. A sharp pain shot through his stomach as he did. He whimpered and collapsed weakly against the bed, suddenly deciding that *not* moving was his best option for the moment. "How long have I been out?"

"Three days. You nicked a kidney. The doctors have been keeping you sedated to allow you time to heal," Quatre answered.

"Three days? What happened?"

"You don't remember?" Trowa asked, setting the cup of ice aside.

Duo blinked at him, then gasped as the memories came flooding back - getting lost in the snow, Heero's failed mission, the rescue attempt, the exploding Leo...

"Heero! Quatre, please. Where is he? Is he hurt?"

"Shh, take it easy Duo. Heero's fine. He's got a couple of bumps and bruises from the mission, but please believe me when I say he's in a lot better shape than you are right now."

"Then where is he? He didn't get called away again did he?" Duo struggled to control his emotions. Heero was a big boy. He would. Not. Panic.

"He's... around here somewhere. Shall I see if I can find him for you?" Quatre asked.

Knowing he wouldn't feel better until he saw that Heero was indeed no worse for wear, Duo nodded his head. "Please."

"I'll go," a voice in the corner said. Duo looked over to see Wufei standing in the shadows.

"Thanks Wufei," Quatre murmured. The Chinese teen just nodded his head and walked out the door, closing it softly behind him. Duo heard Quatre sigh as the door clicked shut.

"What's wrong with 'Fei?"

"I think he feels guilty," the blonde answered.

"Guilty? Why?"

Quatre shot a look at Trowa across the bed. "He and Heero... had a minor disagreement after we pulled you from Deathscythe." The Arabian paused as if hesitant to go on. "Wufei... didn't want to bring you to the hospital, not at first. He thought it was too dangerous."

Duo closed his eyes, feeling suddenly very tired. "I understand. I'd probably have argued the same thing."

"No, you wouldn't have," Trowa remarked.

Duo gave him a little smile. "No, I wouldn't have. But it was the right thing to do." He frowned. "We aren't in danger are we?"

"No. OZ doesn't appear to be looking for us."

"Still, why am I here at all?" he yawned. "We all know the risks. I should have been left behind if I was a danger to you."

Trowa snorted. "Tell that to Heero. He refused to leave until you had gotten medical attention."

Duo's eyes would have opened wide if they hadn't been weighted down with sleep. "Heero refused? Why..."

Quatre smoothed back his hair and smiled down at him. "Ask him yourself when he gets here. It may take Wufei a little while to find him. Why don't you get some rest until he arrives?"

"M'kay," Duo mumbled sleepily. "Promise to wake me up when he gets here?"

"I promise, Duo. Go to sleep."

Duo didn't have the energy to disobey.

~*~

When he woke, the sun had long since set. Light from outside was streaming mutely through the translucent curtains, casting the room in an eerie gray shade, all save a speck of blue that burned through the near darkness.

"Heero?"

The figure rose and stepped out of the shadows to stand next to Duo's bed.

"You should be sleeping."

"I told Quatre to wake me up when they found you."

"I told them not to," the other boy replied. "You need to rest."

Duo smiled. "I suppose I should thank you. If you hadn't insisted on brining me here, I'd have most likely died."

He could feel Heero tense beside him. "I wouldn't have let that happen."

"Why?" He burned with the desire to know. "Why did you do it? You risked us being caught just to save my sorry ass. It was my fault I got hurt. I was the one who insisted on going after you. You didn't need my help, and I only got in the way. You should have just left me for being so stupid..."

Heero slammed his fist down onto the pillow next to Duo's head and leaned forward, eyes glittering dangerously. "Don't you ever do that again, Maxwell."

Duo cringed. "I... I'm sorry, Heero. I know I fucked up. I...next time, just leave..."

"No. That's not what I meant." Heero leaned closer still. "Don't you ever, *ever* scare me like that again."

Duo blinked, but before he could reply, Heero's mouth covered his own in a hard, bruising kiss that stole his breath and left his head spinning. Then, as quickly as it began, the kiss ended. The two pilots stared at each other for a moment before Heero turned on his heel and walked swiftly out of the room.

~~~~**~~~~~

PART EIGHT
By jana

~~*~~

Confusion.

Delirium, even.

That was the only logical explanation he could come up with for what his obviously deranged brain advised him had just happened. Mindful of the IV tubing, Duo brought his left hand up to touch his forehead. He didn't feel warm, then again, he reasoned, he would be unable to accurately judge his own body temperature. "The meds." He said aloud. "Must have been the meds." He looked over to his left and smiled in relief. "Morphine drip. That explains it."

He sighed, satisfied that he had found a valid reason for his apparent hallucination and ignored the tingling sensation that remained on his lips.

~*~

Trowa and Quatre had wandered back into Duo's the room a few hours later and in time to witness their friends expected reaction to his first meal since waking. The three spoke briefly about the aftermath of the events that had taken place at LeDeara and continued to make small talk while Duo ate.

"So how long until I'm outta here?"

"At least another three or four days," Quatre replied, cringing at Duo's sour response to his reply. "They wanted you to stay for an entire week."

"A week?"

Quatre nodded. Duo did not know for certain, but guessed that it was Wufei who was insistent about the early release. Despite the fact that there were no indications they were in any immediate danger of being discovered by Oz, the less time they spent in a group in plain sight, the better.

"You are lucky to be alive, Duo," Trowa reminded him.

"Yeah," Duo said solemnly.

"Did Heero stop by yet?" Quatre asked.

Duo looked up, but did not reply and so Quatre continued. "He said he was going to. That was a few hours ago."

"He did," Duo told him. "At least I think he did," he quickly amended.

"You think?"

Duo laughed nervously. "I'm not sure that I was in my right mind this morning," he admitted.

"What makes you say that?" Trowa asked.

"You guys would never believe me if I told you."

Trowa looked toward his lover and then back at Duo. "Try us," he said.

~*~

Heero had practically bolted from the hospital room after kissing Duo.

He hadn't been sure of how Duo would react to the sudden show of emotion and his momentary glance into Duo's confused violet eyes gave him little clue. His actions were not premeditated, instead, Heero suddenly found himself unwilling to let another moment pass without making his feelings known. They had come so close to losing Duo, and Heero never would have been able to forgive himself for not telling the braided boy how he felt. Whether Duo understood what Heero meant was still unclear. If nothing else, he had managed to let Duo know of his concern, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would not allow anything bad to happen to him. It was by no means an admission of his feelings for Duo, but Heero honestly hoped that his words in conjunction with his kiss had alerted Duo to his true emotions.

He had not apologized to or thanked Duo either. He felt partially responsible for his partner's condition. If he had not been careless and gotten caught, Duo would not have been injured. He needed to let Duo know that his efforts to rescue him were appreciated.

~*~

"Heero!"

Heero turned at the sound of his name to find Trowa and Quatre making their way down the hall toward him. He paused and waited for the two to catch up. "You going to get a bite to eat?" Quatre asked. Heero nodded and the three entered the elevator together.

"Duo seems to be doing pretty well considering everything," Quatre spoke aloud. "He mentioned that you stopped by earlier, Heero."

Heero stiffened slightly, doubting it was apparent to either of the other occupants in the elevator. "Yes. He looked much better this morning."

The elevator doors opened and the three exited and followed the signs to the hospital cafeteria. Heero hoped that no more would be mentioned about his visit with Duo this morning. The silence that had accompanied the last 10 minutes was broken once they had chosen their meals and sat.

"Duo said you kissed him."

Heero looked up at Quatre and sheepishly nodded. Heero knew that his feelings for Duo were no longer a secret to Quatre. Once privy to that, Heero figured that the blonde had most likely shared that information with his lover. The discomfort he felt over discussing the situation was not diminished by that knowledge.

"He thinks he imagined it."

Heero's eyes widened. "He what?"

It was Trowa who spoke this time. "He thinks it was the morphine they have him on." Heero could feel his face flush.

"You're going to have to go talk to him, Heero," Quatre informed him.

Heero had known this even before Quatre told him. He owed it to both Duo and himself. The fact that Duo did not acknowledge what had happened between them made Heero uneasy. For the past few hours, he was going under the assumption that Duo was thinking about his words and the kiss and that the next time Heero saw him, Duo would mention it; allowing the two to talk more in depth about it.

This latest revelation left him back at square one.

~*~

Heero paused outside of Duo's hospital room and taking note of the room number, smiled. "121." He spoke softly. He knocked lightly on the partially closed door. "Yeah?" came the familiar voice.

"It's Heero. Can I come in?" Heero asked.

"Sure. I'm decent," Duo called back.

Heero entered and crossed the room to watch as the technician finished drawing blood from Duo. "Hey," he smiled. "Have a seat. We're almost done here. Right?" he questioned the young woman on his right. She nodded and Heero turned his eyes away from Duo's.

The anticipation of the conversation that was going to take place made Heero nervous. Knowing what he wanted and needed to say was different than actually saying them to Duo's face... his very beautiful face, Heero noted with a slight smile.

"What's up, Heero?" Duo asked, rolling over onto his side to face Heero.

"I thought you could use some company," Heero told him.

Duo smiled. "You mean some more company," Duo said hesitantly. "I mean... you were here earlier, right? I couldn't have imagined all of that," he laughed softly.

Heero stood and walked to Duo's bedside. "You didn't imagine any of it," he told the bed's occupant. He reached down and took Duo's hand in his. "I was here," Heero told him. "And I did kiss you," he admitted with a slight blush.

Duo looked startled and rightfully so. His mouth remained slightly open and his eyes stayed focused on Heero's. Heero squeezed Duo's hand and smiled. "And I would like to do it again, if you would let me."

~*~

As promised, Duo was released three days later and the four remaining pilots were given strict instructions on how to care for their still recuperating friend. As expected, Heero had laid claim to the job of Duo's primary caregiver and received no argument to the contrary. He was, however still recovering from his own, small, but painful injuries and allowed Wufei to play doctor with him when the dark eyed pilot became overly insistent.

Duo had easily gotten over the shock of Heero's admissions to him and was happily playing the role of newfound lover to his partner as much as his injuries allowed.

"I appreciate your attempt to rescue me," Heero told Duo. "I am sorry that things worked out the way they did."

Duo smiled. "Don't worry about it, Heero. You would have done the same for me."

"I would have been responsible if something happened to you," Heero told his lover. His voice showed signs of strain as he spoke those words. "I'm not sure I could have lived with that."

Duo stretched his neck upward and kissed Heero on the cheek. "But nothing did happen."

Not wanting to relive any of the memory, but curious about Duo's behavior once they had left the base, Heero spoke. "Why didn't you tell us that you were hurt?" Duo had communicated with both Quatre and himself after sustaining his injury, but failed to mention it to either one of the.

"It was more important that the rest of you got away. Stopping to come back for me would have been foolish. You know that, Heero."

Heero nodded. That would undeniably have been his decision had his first duty been to the mission. "Right or wrong. I would have come back for you."

The two let the impact of those words sink in for a few minutes.

"Wufei told me that you were scared that night," Duo reminisced as he snuggled further into Heero's embrace. "I denied that it was because of what he was implying."

Heero bent down, placing a kiss on the top of Duo's head. "What did you think he was implying?" he asked.

"That you cared about me. ME," he reiterated. "Not the mission. Me..." Duo trailed off wistfully.

Heero tightened both of his arms around Duo's waist, carefully avoiding his lover's wounds. "I think you were the only one that hadn't figured it out by that point," Heero said. "Quatre figured it out first."

"Must be that space heart of his or something," Duo replied with a chuckle. "And you can't blame me for not noticing, Heero. I was unconscious!"

"About that..." Heero started.

"Enough lectures, koi. I think I can safely say I won't be doing anything like that again."

"I will not be so forgiving next time. I cannot bear the thought of losing you." Those words reminded Heero that even with the current respite from battle, their war against Oz was far from over. They would be in far more dangerous situations. How would things be different now that they had become lovers? There was certainly much more thought that he needed to give their new circumstances. Heero imagined that Quatre and Trowa would be able to help in that area. He would suggest to Duo that the four of them sit down and talk soon.

"So, we're alone now, hm?" Duo asked quietly.

Heero nodded. The three remaining pilots had been called out on a light surveillance mission earlier that morning and were not expected home until nightfall. He had surprised them all by outright refusing J's orders. His injuries were minor and while he could have sighted them as reason for declining the mission, he did not. Heero had no intention of making the same mistake more than once.

Heero could feel Duo turning in his embrace and looked down at his smiling lover, effortlessly reading the spark of lust that darkened Duo's eyes. They had thus far refrained from anything that might prove stressful to Duo's injuries, but the rising temptation was becoming so much more difficult to resist.

"It seems a shame to waste such a perfect opportunity," Duo practically purred.

Heero leaned forward, bending down to press his lips against Duo's. His tongue slid easily in between Duo's parted lips and the pair moaned as the kiss grew more urgent. It felt right to finally be holding Duo in his arms.

"There will be plenty of time for that," Heero assured his lover as he reluctantly pulled back from the kiss. The disappointment was evident in Duo's eyes. "It's not like I'm happy about it either," Heero reassured him, gently rubbing Duo's upper arm.

Duo nodded and allowed his eyes to close. Heero's arms were warm around him; so warm in fact that Duo was able to completely dismiss the memories of the deep chill that had began this whole nightmare.

owari

duo: that's it? heero: it says owari duo: i can see that heero: hn duo: we got gypped out of a lemon and all you can say is 'hn'? jana: he says that a lot heero: i do jana: ever think of making a hn to english dictionary? duo: don't try to change the subject. where's the lemon? jana: there is none. you're still recovering duo: i'm recovered enough! jana: sorry duo: that's it? sorry? jana: pretty much, yeah duo: that's... that's... injustice!! heero: you've been hanging around wufei too much -jana snickers- duo: you tortured us. i almost died... twice. i want a lemon heero: he has a point jana: how about a slice? duo: a slice? jana: yeah. yanno, part of a lemon duo: half jana: one slice... duo: a quarter? -jana glares at duo- heero: we'll take the slice -duo sighs- fine. it better be a good slice though

~~*~~

Duo shifted on the couch, nuzzling Heero's neck and placing a soft kiss just beneath his jaw. "I'm feeling much better today."

"Is that so?" Heero asked.

"Mmm... it is." He stretched up, covering Heero's mouth with his. Duo had been home for nearly two weeks and Heero had adamantly refused all of his sexual advances. Duo was convinced that it was more than his state of health that was keeping Heero from furthering their intimacy. The subject had not come up, but Duo was certain that Heero was as inexperienced as he was and unlike himself, was liable to let his naiveté stand in the way of things progressing to where they obviously both wanted them to. He was becoming more and more frustrated by Heero's behavior, though and had just about reached his limit. "Just touch me with your hand, Heero," He pleaded softly, "Please." Without waiting for Heero to respond, Duo took Heero's hand in his and guided the two downward to his growing need. Heero obliged, tentatively stroking Duo's cock. The soft sounds of pleasure that Duo was making encouraged him and Heero unfastened Duo's pants and slipped his hand inside.

Heero's hormones were screaming nearly as loudly as Duo's. He stroked Duo to full arousal, teasing the slick tip of it and earning more deep groans of appreciation from his lover. He moved his hand lower, rubbing the palm of it over Duo's balls and squeezed them gently a few times before returning his attention to Duo's cock. Heero was very much affected by Duo's reactions to his touch. His own cock ached, trapped in the too tight confines of his jeans.

"You feel so good in my hand."

Duo reached up to pull Heero's head down to meet his own, initiating a passionate kiss as he thrust his hips upward into Heero's hand. It wasn't long before the rapid breathing and increase in the rhythm of Duo's hips alerted Heero to his lover's impending climax. He pulled back from their kiss and focused his attention on Duo's face, watching the pleasure of his actions sweep across each of his beautiful features as Duo's body trembled in his arms.

"Mmmm..." Duo moaned a minute later. His eyes opened to look up at Heero and found him smiling. "See? I'm fine."

"Just fine?" Heero asked with an amused lilt.

Duo shifted from Heero's embrace and carefully turned onto his side. "Mmm... more than fine." He said, reaching to unfasten the button at the top of Heero's jeans. Heero watched as Duo continued his quest, holding his breath as the zipper was lowered on his jeans. "Hips up." Duo told him, and Heero complied, watching as Duo freed and revealed his erection. He looked up at Heero then. "Gorgeous." He said softly. Heero felt his cheeks flush slightly and glared at his lover, hoping it was softer than usual.

"Fine." Duo said. "I won't tell you anymore... " He lowered his head and swiped his tongue across the moist tip of Heero's cock. "... but it's true." He whispered, opening his mouth and taking the entirety of Heero's length inside of it. Heero to let out a low moan and reached with both hands for Duo's hair, burying them in the silken mass at the very top of his lover's head.

Duo's mouth was warm and his tongue moved in a slow circular motion around the crown of Heero's cock. The feeling was altogether different from anything Heero had felt and he found himself lost to the incredible new sensations. His hips lifted up of the couch in response to the pleasure Duo's mouth provided and made no attempt to stifle the sounds his lover was drawing from him.

"Duo..." He called out softly. Duo did not respond though, sucking hard and moving still faster up and down his length. "Unh.. Duo!" Heero called out again. "I'm going to come." Heero felt Duo's hand snake down in between his legs and take hold of his hardened sac. He gasped, feeling his cock twitch as Duo tightened his lips around it and then he came, crying out as he released his passion into Duo's waiting mouth. Duo swallowed everything, continuing to suck and kiss his cock until it had softened.

Heero fell limp and settled back in the couch, looking over at Duo once he had brought himself upright again. "I enjoyed that..." Heero began. "... a lot." He smiled, leaning to his right and kissing his lovers upturned lips.

"Mmm.. there's a lot more to enjoy too."

Heero was very much interested in the more, especially now, but Duo's health was more important. "When you're fully healed." Heero added.

Duo agreed with a nod and a yawn.

owari... for real this time

~~*~~