Nico Santelli stood and stretched for a long moment before walking off down the hallway, rubbing blearily at his eyes.
He could only think of *one* reason why Quatre Winner would have asked him to knock at the door at 0330. He stifled a smile as he knocked lightly at the door. For the world's most fearsome terrorists, these teenagers were terribly cute!
A soft "thanks' filtered through the heavy door, followed by a light giggle. Santelli shook his head -- he could just see the slight, blond pilot, turning to his companion with a decidedly un-angelic gleam in his eyes
Santelli laughed as he walked back to his post. Some things were just better left unimagined.
Treize groaned as he rolled over and buried his face in the pillow. He could hear the sound of the shower running in the adjoining bathroom, and two deep, sexy voices. That thought was enough to make him open his eyes and sit up.
Wufei and Zechs together in a steamy shower was not a spectacle he wanted to miss, after all. Rising and wrapping the sheet around himself for warmth, he padded to the bathroom door and silently let himself in-
His mouth went dry, and he dropped the sheet.
Suds ran down muscled chests as the two showering figures kissed - Zechs had hoisted Wufei to eye level - the smaller teen's powerful legs were wrapped around Zech's trim waist tightly. The scene was entirely too enticing; lips dancing while Zechs rubbed jasmine-scented shampoo into Wufei's hair, then ran sudsy hands down the teen's back to hold him even tighter as he tipped him back into the steaming spray.
"God, I wish I was a loofah."
In the shower, Zechs' eyes opened, and he pulled back from the kiss he was sharing with Wufei. "Treize?"
The ex-General's voice had a sexy burr to it. "You gentlemen have definitely discovered one of the more pleasant ways of waking a man up. Pity the tub isn't larger."
Wufei kept his eyes squeezed shut to keep from getting shampoo in them. "Pity we don't have more time. I'm *sure* we could fit all three of us in here if we tried hard enough."
Treize laughed. "I don't think things being 'hard enough' is a problem at this moment, Dragon, dear."
Zechs' laugh was a deep, velvety sound. He slowly lowered Wufei to the ground, making sure to rub against him the whole way. He grabbed the conditioner and quickly worked it into his companion's hair. Treize could only imagine the evil smirk on the blond's face, though, as Zechs reached for the upright proof of Wufei's enjoyment with his conditioner-covered right hand and began to stroke the younger man.
Wufei's groans went straight to Treize's groin he felt almost light-headed as he watched the two touching and kissing, one hand straying down to stroke his own hardness. Treize could not tear his eyes away as Zechs began stroking both of them, all the while plundering Wufei's lips like a starving man.
The Chinese teen clung to his taller lover -- he knew he would have collapsed to the ground without Zechs' support. He was thrusting into that teasing hand, his breathing harsh and shallow as he felt pleasure building up inside of him
Treize moaned and increased his pace as Zechs dropped gracefully to his knees. Wufei's fingers were digging into Zechs' shoulders as the blond tasted him. Wufei was moaning incoherently by now, breath hitching in his throat as he threw his head back with a loud shout. Shivers ran all through Treize as he watched his younger lover reach his climax and go over the edge.
Zechs somehow managed to get them both rinsed and out of the shower in record time; he wore a sly, sated grin that made Treize's heart rate double when he saw it. The blond was staring at him with a promising glint of playfulness in his ice blue eyes. Said blond was turning to his raven-haired companion and whispering something. Both were approaching him --
Before he could react, though, Treize found himself tossed over Zechs' shoulder and carried back into the bedroom. He yelped as he was deposited on the bed and joined by his two lovers, who wasted no time in touching him water was falling from their hair onto his flushed warm skin, so cold by contrast
Wufei was kissing his way down Treize's chest, making sue to tease the older man whenever possible.
Treize's last coherent thought, as Wufei moved lower over his stomach, was, "we're going to get the bed soaking wet."
Wufei looked back up at his two lovers and smirked. "So what? It will be dry by the time I get home again." Licking his lips, he lowered his head.
Something was tickling his nose.
"... wake up, Shinigami..."
Something soft was brushing his cheek.
"... time to wake up, sleepyhead..."
Someone was whispering in his ear.
"... come on beautiful. Open your eyes..."
Someone was kissing him.
Someone was kissing - Duo's eyes snapped open, and met the darker blue of Heero's. With a contented sigh, he returned the kiss, drawing back enough to nibble on his lover's lower lip.
"Time?" he asked softly, a moment later, noting that Heero was already dressed.
"Five a.m., koi. I let you sleep as late as I could," the Japanese pilot replied, smiling softly.
"Heero," Duo said seriously, "I want to see you off. Please, take me to the hangar? I need to be there. I have to see you..."
"I don't know, Duo," Heero replied, concern plain on his face. "It's too cold and windy. You can't even leave your bed yet. It could make you worse."
The injured teen grabbed the hand brushing down his cheek. "Please, Heero!" he said desperately. "I need this! You can carry me! I..."
"Shhh..." the other boy replied, climbing next to his lover and trying to calm him. "Alright, we'll take you over. Sally is going to kill me though."
Duo kissed him deeply. "Thank you... thank you for understanding."
Heero gave Duo a teasing kiss on the nose. "We'll bundle you up in blankets. But as soon as we're gone, you're back in this bed. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. Understood. I'll behave."
"Good," Heero said, climbing off the bed and going to the door. Opening it, he noticed Santelli and Murungi standing guard.
"Ah, excuse me, Sergeants? Can we get a little help in here?"
Green eyes glinted with amusement and a healthy hint of lust as Trowa lifted his head from where lips had been playing their divine torture over Quatre's chest. The brown-haired teen licked his lips lazily. "Yes?"
Quatre reached for Trowa's left hand and threaded their fingers together. "It's 5:15. We're due in the hangar in fifteen minutes."
Trowa seemed to collapse on his companion like a living blanket. He wrapped strong arms around Quatre and held him tight. "Can I bring you along?" Smirking, he pressed his lips to the Arabian teen's neck.
A shiver ran through Quatre in response. "Got to protect Duo from the Pink Menace - Heero said so." He rubbed his cheek against Trowa's silky-soft hair.
"True." Quatre had no idea how the other teen did it, but Trowa somehow managed to stand without letting him go. The taller teen smiled down at his lover. "Keep in mind, though - you really *can't* shoot her. Heero would have done it by now, otherwise."
Quatre groaned and flopped back on the bed as Trowa moved to grab his clothes and quickly pull them on. "I can't *kill* her, you mean. I don't *have* to shoot to kill."
"Quatre." Trowa's tone said it all. The blond smiled happily - very few people would ever understand him as Trowa did!
Sighing, Quatre reached for his own clothing and began to dress.
Both teens grabbed their outerwear, but before Quatre could open the door, Trowa caught his hand. "I'll miss you." He engulfed his lover in a hug, burying his face in tousled blond hair.
Quatre leaned into Trowa's chest and inhaled deeply, appreciating the smell of cologne that seemed to stick to all of Trowa's clothing. "Me, too. Promise me you'll be careful."
"You bet I will." Trowa kissed the smaller teen one last time before they opened the door and left the warmth of their room behind.
Howard blinked as Heero walked in, carrying a bundle wrapped in blankets, followed by two of the bodyguards. The small group went immediately to Deathscythe, and Howard hurried over as part of the blankets were pushed back revealing Duo. The braided boy reached his good arm out to lovingly stroke the leg of the Gundam.
"... old buddy. You'll take care of my Heero, won't you 'Scythe? You've never let me down before, have you, Big Guy?" Howard heard as he stopped beside the Japanese pilot and his slight, blanket-wrapped passenger.
"Duo? What are you... Why... Are you alright?" the Sweepers' boss stuttered, placing his hand gently on Duo's forehead.
"He's fine, Howard," Heero replied, smirking slightly. "He wanted to see us off. I was afraid he'd try to get here on his own if we didn't bring him. How are things going?"
"You would, too, wouldn't you kid..." Howard stated, directing his comment to Heero's sheepish passenger. Turning to Heero, he continued.
"Everything's set to go. Pre-flight checks are done. We'll start to load them up as soon as the others get here..."
"Heero! Duo's missing! I stopped in to... say... goodbye - What the hell is he doing out here?!" Wufei yelped, sliding to a stop in front of the Japanese teen, glaring. Zechs, looking equally concerned, halted beside his lover.
"Fei-babe, I *needed* to be here," Duo replied, earnestly. "You *know* I needed..."
Wufei shook his head, and lightly placed his fingers on the other's lips as all of the worry and anger bled out of him. "Hush, I know. I was just concerned. I'm glad you're here to see us off." He tapped Duo on the nose. "Just be prepared for the consequences. Quatre was not far behind us, and Sally is going to have a fit."
"We expect that from Sally," Heero said, dropping a light kiss on his passenger's hair. "Duo has promised to behave and follow every order, once we're gone... Haven't you?"
Duo sighed, long-sufferingly. "Yes, I'll be good. No attempting to run away. I'll do what Sally says. I'll..."
Quatre barreled into the hangar, a worried-looking Trowa in his wake.
"Duo's gone! The bodyguards are - Dammit Heero! What the Hell is he doing out *here*?!" Quatre snapped as he reached the small group, automatically tucking the blankets tighter around Duo. "It's freezing! He's going to end up with pneumonia! Sally is going to..."
The hangar door slammed behind Sally and Treize.
"Sally is *not* happy," the blonde doctor said, stalking across the hangar, followed by the blanket-carrying ex-general.
"Sally... I... I had to..." Duo started, stuttering slightly, both chilled and apprehensive.
"I know, Duo," Sally sighed, waving away his explanation. "And I understand, but I don't have to like it."
She turned and took the blankets from Treize. "So, if we're all ready, let's get this show on the road," she continued brusquely. "We have thirty minutes to get you loaded and off the ground before the satellite comes into range. Gio and Rod have the planes started and are getting impatient. Say your 'so longs' and, Heero, hand Duo over."
Wufei leaned over and kissed Duo on the forehead. "We'll make sure that Heero doesn't dent your baby, Duo." He then kissed Treize deeply.
"We'll be fine. Don't worry, Treize." He turned, walked to Shenlong, and rode the lift-wire to the cockpit.
Zechs also kissed Treize, then rested his hand on Duo's shoulder. "Be good, Maxwell."
Trowa turned from saying goodbye to Quatre, then kissed Duo lightly on the cheek, and whispered, "Thank you, Duo. We'll bring Heero home to you."
Treize stepped forward and reached his arms out for the injured teen. "I'll take him, Heero. We'll bundle him up more, and see you off on the runway," he said as the transfer was made.
Heero nodded, took the blankets from Sally and tucked them around his lover. "I love you, Shinigami. I'll be back tomorrow. I promise." He kissed Duo deeply, turned, and was in Deathscythe's cockpit before the injured boy could form a reply.
"Come on, Duo," Treize said gently, turning and walking towards the door. "We'll get out of their way and wait on the runway. Then, it's back to bed with you. No doubt Sally will dose you with all sorts of..."
His voice broke off as the door closed behind them, and Sally shook her head. She looked up at the sinister-looking Gundam and frowned. "You'd better come back in one piece, Heero Yuy, or I will be even less happy!"
Heero's voice echoed across the hangar. "Ninmu ryoukai, Sally."
"Yes, sir. Things are going according to schedule. We should be ready to begin trials with the prototype in approximately two weeks, General Tuberov," Commander Christof said confidently.
"And the computer software?" Tuberov asked.
"Our technicians say the programs will be ready for testing shortly after the prototype suit is ready. At that time, if you wish to send the second shipment for completion, Baikal Base will be ready."
"Excellent, Christof. Keep up the good work. Command out."
Christof sighed heavily and turned to his senior officer. "Any sign that that damn nuisance pilot got through our systems?"
"No, sir. He was caught before that could happen. He never even got to the computer terminals," the man replied. "And we doubt he saw the suits, since he was captured here in the command center. Not that it really matters. Pokrovsk Base was attacked by rebels a few days ago. Neither the pilot, nor any of their other prisoners survived."
"Very good. Lower the alert level to yellow, then. I doubt we have much to worry about any more."
Treize held Duo until the planes were completely out of sight. Even bundled in all of the blankets, he could still feel the injured teen tremble from the cold.
"Okay, Duo, enough," the older man said, heading for the infirmary. "The wind's picking up and it looks like we'll be getting more snow. Let's get you inside and warmed up before that happens."
"'Kay," Duo replied between shivers. "M'cold, Treize, an' m'chest hurts..."
"I'd imagine you hurt all over," Sally said dryly, walking beside them. "I'll take a look once we get you settled. Then we'll get you cleaned up and some breakfast into you," she continued, reaching out to open the door to the building.
"I'll arrange for breakfast," Quatre said with a nod, and jogged off towards the mess tent.
"Sally! Wait a second! What's going on?"
Sally motioned to Santelli and Murungi to let Noin pass.
"Good morning, Lucretzia," the doctor said as the other woman ran over to them. "Sorry we woke you up. Zechs, Heero, Wufei and Trowa just left on a mission..."
She was cut off as the bundle in Treize's arms began coughing and wheezing.
"Inside! Get him into bed, Treize. I knew this was a bad idea!" she snapped, wrenching the door open, and following the ginger-haired man inside. Noin and the body-guards brought up the rear.
"I'm assuming that's Duo Maxwell," she said, nodding to the bundle in Treize's arms.
"Yes, and he just *had* to see them off," Sally said with a sigh. "Remind me to slap Heero for aiding and abetting in this foolishness. Come on, you should meet him, since you're part of the team now," she added, leading the other woman into Duo's room. Santelli and Murungi took up their positions outside the door.
"We've assigned body-guards to Duo, and I'll tell them to let you pass, as long as Relena isn't with you."
Noin nodded absently, her attention riveted to the figure being unwrapped on the bed. She couldn't help wincing at the various bruises still visible on the pale skin, the more serious ones still purple and black. Exhaustion was clear on his face, and it seemed he didn't even have the energy to move, as Treize was doing all the work of getting him settled.
**They weren't exaggerating about his condition, at all. If anything, they may have understated it. If he's this weak and hurting *now*, what sort of shape was he in when they found him?** she asked herself.
"Duo, this is Lucretzia Noin, Relena's body-guard - keeper, whatever -and Zechs' adopted sister," Sally said, snapping Noin's attention back and leading her to the bedside. "Noin, this is Pilot 02, Duo Maxwell..."
Fear flashed in the invalid's eyes, then was gone.
"Good morning, Maxwell," Noin said politely, smiling. "I hope you're all right after this morning's unauthorised excursion?"
Duo nodded at her and attempted a lopsided grin. "Jus' peachy," he wheezed, muffling a cough.
Sally popped a thermometer into his mouth and turned to Treize and Noin. "All right, out you two. I have a patient to torture. Go help Quatre with breakfast, or something."
Treize chuckled and mock-bowed. "Yes, ma'am," he said, following Noin to the door. "I'll be back later, Duo. I'd like to stay and protect you from her, but I draw the line at standing between doctors and their patients."
Duo frowned at his back as he walked out the door.
Gio set the auto-pilot once the plane had reached its set altitude, and turned to look at Heero in the co-pilot's seat, glancing over her shoulder at Trowa as well.
"So, Heero, how is our Duo, really, and what the hell happened? Howard didn't give us any details, and Rod and I haven't had a chance to go see for ourselves."
Heero leaned back and stretched. "He's doing better. He's going to be alright, it's just going to take some time. He still looks much worse than he is." The Japanese teen sighed. "He was captured on that last mission..."
By the time Heero finished relaying all that had happened, Gio was frowning and had clenched her fists. "Damn, I wish I were doing more to help you on this trip than just ferrying your suits. I'd like to help blow this place. No wonder Howard was so pissed when he came back to the hangar after visiting our kid... well, shit!" she exclaimed, running out of words.
Trowa cleared his throat.
"You just said 'our Duo' and 'our kid'," he asked quietly, a slightly confused look on his face. "But he's an orphan... he doesn't have a family..."
"He *was* an orphan. Now he's *ours*. We're his family," Gio said firmly. "Maybe not officially or legally, but in every other way that counts. From the minute he stowed away on our ship, he was ours. Howard considers him his own son. The rest of us, well, he's either a kid brother or a nephew... though Cosmo calls him 'my monster' and Toi says that Duo is his own personal penance for a mispent youth."
Heero put a hand on the taller teen's shoulder. "It's like Duo said yesterday. He chose you as his brother. The Sweepers chose Duo... that's a stronger tie than just blood."
Seeing the slightly sad look on the green-eyed pilot's face, the woman put two and two together and hit the jackpot. "Look, kiddo, the Sweepers are a family. Duo is part of that family. Spandex-boy, here, by extension, is family. We may not know *you* really well, but Duo's brought you and the little blond with him when he visits often enough that you're family, too."
Gio smiled brightly. "Hell, if Duo said you're his brother, thay makes you my nephew, since that long-haired demon always calls me 'Auntie Gio'. Welcome to the family, kiddo!"
Gio winked at Heero as a small, but bright smile appeared on Trowa's face.
Relena pushed her eggs around on her plate, her bad mood reflected in her expression. She had barely made it to the mess tent in time to get breakfast, and sat at a table by herself, reviewing the past twenty-four hours.
**I've been insulted, mocked... *slapped* for God's sake... I'm being forced to live in a cold tent, sleep on a cot, eat food I wouldn't feed a dog... I'm kept away from Heero... Noin is more concerned about my *brother* and his friends..."
She sighed and dropped her fork on the plate. **I bet *they're* all nice and comfortable. Especially that gutter rat. He and Heero... Ha! The slut probably threw himself at Heero. What can he give him that I can't? I can give him money, power, prestige... that street rat will probably give him some disease!**
Relena stood abruptly, pulled on her coat, and headed for the door, leaving her tray on the table. **I won't stand for this! I *will* see Heero! They *will* move me into appropriate quarters! They can just toss that dirty street rat out and give me his room...**
She stalked across the compound to the infirmary, wrenched open the door, stepped inside and looked around. She didn't see Sally anywhere, but she heard voices coming from down the hall. Following the sound, she turned a corner and saw two people standing outside a room, talking. Stalking forward, she stopped in front of them.
"Excuse me, whose room is this?" Relena asked imperiously.
"This would be Heero Yuy's and Duo Maxwell's," the big man said, looking down on the smaller blonde girl. "And you're not welcome."
"What?!" she nearly screeched. "Do you know who I am? I'm Relena Peacecraft, princess of Sanc, and I *demand* that you open this door and stand aside this minute!"
The dark-haired woman laughed. "Little girl, I don't *care* who you are. I take orders from Sally Po and Captain Cole Gillen, not from spoiled little rich girls who are too big for their britches."
Rad nodded. "Why don't you listen to Ines, girlie, and go away. Play with your dolls or something. You're not getting in and disturbing Mr. Maxwell.
Relena's face flamed and she thoroughly lost her temper. "How *dare* you speak to me like that?! I'll have you fired!" She stepped forward and tried to push Ines out of the way. "Get out of my way, cretin! I will go in and see Heero! You will throw that dirty street rat out of this room and have my things -"
Her rant ended in a squawk as Ines picked her up bodily, threw her over her shoulder and started stomping down the hall. Rad ran ahead and opened the door, covering his ears against the blonde's screeches.
"Put me down this minute! How dare you-"
Ines tossed the girl into the nearest snowbank.
"Don't try that again on *my* watch, Princess," Ines snarled, making the word 'princess' sound like something disgusting. "Next time, I won't be so nice." She turned away from the sputtering girl and swaggered back into the infirmary.
Rad slammed the door and followed his partner back to Duo's room.
"Ines, my darling girl, that was beautiful," he said, chuckling. "Perfect trajectory, just the right amount of power... Can I try it next time?"
Quatre had been sitting with Duo since the injured pilot had fallen asleep after breakfast. He and Treize had decided that someone would always be with Duo until Heero and the others returned, and the blond was taking the morning shift.
He had been reading some reports when a commotion outside the door grabbed his attention. Recognising Relena's voice, he readied himself to throw her out bodily if she managed to get past Ines and Rad, then chuckled nastily when he heard her outraged shrieking.
"Well, well, well," he murmured quietly, "it seems our friendly body-guards are more than capable of handling one spoiled princess. I'll have to remember to do something nice for them... maybe give them a medal..."
"Quatre..." a sleepy and slightly wary voice asked from the bed, "wha's going on? I heard someone yelling..."
"Don't, worry, Duo," the blond replied, tucking the blankets back around the braided teen. "I believe that was the Pink Bitch, being forcefully removed from the vicinity..."
"... and relocated into a snowbank," Rad said from the doorway, still chuckling. "She pushed Ines' buttons. My partner doesn't appreciate that very much. Anyway, we just wanted to let you know that it's all clear for now. I doubt she'll be back on our shift, at least." He looked closely at Duo and frowned slightly. "Shit, little man, you don't look so good..."
"It's alright, Rad, Sally said this morning's little trip exacerbated his bronchial infection, but it's not serious," Quatre replied, glaring lightly at the boy in the bed. "Extra rest and a stronger medication and he'll be fine."
"I'm fine, now," Duo muttered darkly, a yawn and heavy eyelids belying his statement.
"Ah, good. Get some sleep, kiddo, and we'll make sure you're not *disturbed* again this morning," he said, and with a nod to both of them, Rad closed the door.
"Now, Duo, go back to..." Quatre said, breaking off in mid-sentence and smiling softly at his friend.
Duo had already fallen back to sleep.
"This is 01. I'm in position."
Trowa grinned, his eyes dark and dangerous. "Roger that." He flexed his hands as he reached for the controls. "03 is incoming. Arrival in 85 seconds."
As he hit the afterburners, he watched in amazement on his viewscreen as Heero unleashed Hell.
Deathscythe appeared out of nowhere, like a hulking demon out of Oz's worst nightmare. Alarms went off all over the base as the scythe burned to life and sliced straight through the power generator it was next to.
The explosion was so bright, Trowa winced from the image on his screen.
"This is 05. Engaging in thirty seconds."
"06 here, I copy. Engaging in twenty-five." The three suits sped into the combat area as the battled raged on ahead.
Heero laughed out loud as he spun the black suit around and fired off the machine guns - glass windows shattered like water falling, and he tuned out the screams as he finally got a blip on his radar screen. Deathscythe stepped away from the burning buildings and fired its burners.
He attacked with a savage yell, tearing into the Tauruses he faced. "For Duo."
Duo was transmitting coordinates from back at base, and he hurdled in that direction, brushing mobile suits aside as though they didn't exist. "01 here. I'm closing on the main lab. They're following me."
"06. Passing overhead now." Heero fought down the urge to cringe as Tallgeese swooped overhead and went straight for the attacking suits.
The Japanese teen ignored the battle raging behind him as he flew straight towards the laboratory. The tracking signal was beeping faster and faster as he approached and the guidance system tried to lock on.
He had tone.
"Launching buster shield." Deathscythe's arm came up-
"Heero! Look out!"
He barely had the time to register Wufei's yelled warning before something hit him from behind and knocked the black suit to its knees.
"Heero! Oh God!" Back at the base, Duo ignored the pain as he sat up ramrod straight and slapped at his keyboard, opening the transmitter. "Heero! Damn you, Heero, answer me "
Treize put a restraining hand on Duo's shoulder. "Duo, use your head. It's your suit - you know it can take more than that "
Treize caught Duo's hand before it could hit the transmit switch again. "Listen to me, Maxwell. He will be fine "
All eyes turned back to the screen, though, as several suits converged on Deathscythe, and one brought up its buster rifle for the second time.