"Come on, you two," Trowa said, breath freezing in the cold air as he, Duo and Howard paced towards the hangar, "be rational. Duo, nothing needs to be done to Deathscythe now. Nothing has really been started, so we put him back together, then you load him on a transport. You don't need to climb all over him for that and risk further injury to yourself. The sweepers can handle it easily enough. Once we get to the base and settled in, we'll start over and work out the upgrades. I'm sure Howard will need your input and help then. Howard, the upgrades Duo has already done are stable enough for now..."
The three of them stomped the snow off their boots at the hangar entrance and continued.
"I just don't get where he comes off saying that my work is half-assed, is all!" Duo snapped.
"I never said that, kid!" Howard protested vehemently. "You've done well enough, but even you have to admit that the cloak is unstable, not to mention the power coupling enhancement! It was well enough before, but now that I'm here, I refuse to let you go out in that monster until I'm satisfied that everything is as safe as I can possibly make it! And another couple of days rest for you won't make any difference to Deathscythe, but it will do you a lot of good!"
"Dammit Howard!" Duo nearly yelled, but Trowa cut him off.
"Howard, I think I need to talk to Duo... we'll be right back." He grabbed the long-haired teen's arm, dragged him into the office and pushed him into a chair as he closed the door.
"Okay, Duo, what's really the problem here?" Heavyarms' pilot asked, leaning against the desk and staring at his friend. "It's not that you're mad at Howard, really, is it?"
The braided teen sighed heavily. "No, I'm not, I guess... I'm... I feel so useless, Trowa!" he blurted out. "Everyone is treating me like I'm made of glass! They tell me to rest and let the others do the work! 'Don't rush it, Duo, give it time. Don't work on your suit, you'll risk further injury.' Une is mothering me to death, and Sal is backing her up! Heero treats me like if I sneeze I might break! I handled those missions fine, and they're still smothering me! Even you, Quatre, Treize and Wufei are, to a lesser extent! I'm tired of it, Tro... tired of being tired. Tired of being forcibly cosseted. Tired of -"
A bout of coughing interrupted Duo's tirade and Trowa just cocked his head and raised an eyebrow pointedly, waiting patiently until the coughing subsided.
"That, right there, is one reason we're all concerned, Duo," Heavyarms' pilot stated calmly. "While your arm and ribs are nearly healed, your lungs are still weak from the infection and the puncture. We're not cosseting you out of some sort of perverse pleasure or revenge, you know. We're doing it so you have a better chance of coming through this mess alive. Howard certainly does not think your work is sub-par. He is constantly amazed by your innovations, but even you have to admit that not all of them always work..." He hesitated as he searched for a good word, then continued. "Not all of them work as efficiently as you had imagined. Some of them end up down right dangerous. Don't blame him for worrying, or for taking every chance to fix them. He loves you like a son. He's going to do everything physically possible as well as some of the impossible - to help you stay alive and be around to enjoy the peace we've fought so hard for."
Duo dropped his eyes and slumped back in the chair. "Why do you have to be so smart? And right?" he asked, a slight pout on his face.
Trowa chuckled softly, leaned forward, cupping Duo's chin with his hand and raised the other teen's face up. "Because I am a god," he said, a small grin on his face, and got a snort from his friend. "Now, have we worked this out, or is there something else bothering you?" he asked.
Duo shrugged slightly. "I don't want to leave Heero, even though I know it's the best thing to do. He needs me..."
"We all need you, Duo," Trowa replied seriously, straightening up as Duo's eyes widened. "Wufei needs the teasing and pranks, though he won't admit it. Quatre needs his big brother's cheer and optimism. Heero needs his best friend, lover and other half. I need my brother, and your confidence. Une needs you to mother, Howard needs his son, and I think Treize sees you as a younger brother, more than anything. But we all need you alive and well, so forgive us if we seem to smother you in order to make sure you stay that way." He leaned forward again and tapped Duo's nose, ignoring the slight teary shimmer in his brother's eyes.
"You do the same, you know," he continued thoughtfully. "God forbid one of us be injured - no, don't deny it," he said firmly, cutting off Duo's attempted protest. "The last time Quatre was injured you forced him to stay in bed longer than necessary, if you remember."
Duo sniffed and cleared his throat. "I never forced him to do anything. I persuaded," he countered smugly, regaining his composure.
Trowa raised an eyebrow and smirked as he straightened. "Persuaded? I'd say guilt-tripped at the very least. Quatre can't resist your big eyes and quivery lip routine, and you used it shamefully," the taller teen commented as he tugged Duo to his feet and led him to the door. "Now, if you issues are worked through, we should go out there. Howard won't expect or really need an apology, but..."
"Yeah, he does deserve one," the long-haired teen finished as Trowa opened the door and stepped into the loud hangar. "And issues? Are you implying that I'm a drama-queen?" he asked indignantly.
Trowa laughed out loud. "If the shoe fits..."
Howard looked up from the diagram in front of him with narrowed eyes as the door to his office opened.
Damn, I hope Trowa settled the kid down, he thought, body tense as he watched the two teens step into the hangar. Duo knows I wasn't implying incompetence, but he's so stubborn - His thoughts came to a halt as Trowa laughed out loud, and he relaxed. Good, things are back to normal... well as normal as they get around here.
The Sweeper boss straightened as the two young pilots crossed the floor and stopped in front of him. "Well, since everything is al-"
Duo's thin body impacted with his and Howard felt his 'kid's' arms wrap around his ribs. The smaller teen buried his head in the older man's chest, and Howard caught most of his muffled words.
"Sorry, Howie... didn't mean... not your fault..."
"Nah, nah, Duo," he replied, hugging the teen tightly. "I know you didn't mean anything. Things are getting a bit too stressful for you and you reacted. I gotcha. No worries."
With a last squeeze they separated, and Howard threw an arm around each pilot. Pulling them both along, he moved towards the hangar door.
"Now, I have an idea," he said cheerfully. "Why don't you two take it easy tonight? Go pack, spend some time with Heero and Quatre - do whatever floats your boat, and let me and the guys worry about the suits. Don't worry about sleeping," he added with a wink to Duo, "my long-haired brat can sleep on the plane, and since Sally will be one of the last people leaving, Trowa will have plenty of down-time once I get Quatre out of his hair. How does that sound, kids?"
"Um, won't you need me for Heavyarms?" Trowa asked, the tone of his voice almost begging Howard to say 'no'.
"Nope!" the older man obliged him. "Your suit is ready to go. We've done everything we can with him, so the only thing left is for you to take him with you when you leave," he said with a wink. Turning his attention to Duo, he continued. "As for your buddy, Gio and Rod are putting him back together as we speak. All you'll need to do is load him on the transport when the time comes. Now, both of you, beat it! You have about 12 hours before we go. I expect you boys to make damn good use of it!"
Trowa nodded and slipped outside. Duo hesitated, hugged Howard again, then spun around... and ended up in his lover's arms.
"Hey handsome," Duo purred, "Funny meeting you here."
Howard chuckled and headed back to work. "You two go do something useful with your time, hear me?" he mock-ordered over his shoulder.
He really didn't expect an answer.
"Thank you for doing this with us, Duo," Heero said quietly as he led Duo and Rashid down the hall.
"Hey, we have plenty of time left together, Rashid wants to leave in two hours, and this is important," his lover replied. "We can do 'couple' things when we're done here."
The Japanese pilot smiled at him, then paused with his hand on the handle to Bravo's door.
Noticing the hesitation, Duo placed his hand on the small of his lover's back and gave a gentle push.
"Let's go, Heero. It's best to explain things to her now and get her out as soon as possible," he said softly.
Rashid laid a large hand on the Japanese pilot's shoulder and gave a light squeeze. "Master Duo is correct," he rumbled. "My men will be ready to leave very soon, and it is in the young woman's best interest to remove her from danger as quickly as possible."
Heero nodded sharply, gave a soft knock before opening the door, then led the other two inside.
Bravo regarded them calmly, her face betraying no emotions, though her eyes lingered on the large Manguanac, and Heero frowned slightly. Standing at her bedside, he grasped Duo's hand.
"Bravo, the situation has changed," he started tentatively, then glanced at the long-haired teen beside him.
Duo sighed, a small smile on his face. "What my partner is trying to say is that we're all going to have to evacuate this base and split up. Behind us," he continued, "is Rashid, the leader of an elite force called the Manguanacs... also known as 'Quatre's Lackeys..."
Duo jumped and snickered slightly as Rashid lightly hit him in the back of the head, flashing the tall Arabian a cheeky grin over his shoulder before going on.
"Anyway, Rashid, here, has volunteered to take you to a secure base, where they will continue your treatment, tenderly nurse you back to health, then assist you in finding out who you really are and what you want to do. Of course, once you're ready, we're hoping you'll want to give us a hand making the universe safe and all... but that'll be your choice. And if this plan isn't to your liking, we can try and come up with something else, but honestly, I can't think of a better idea." He paused, tipped his head and grinned. "So, what do you think?"
Bravo looked at Heero. "Alpha - Heero..." she said, the tone of her voice questioning.
The Japanese teen seemed to understand. "It is a logical solution. You still need a great deal of care, which we will not be able to provide at this time, since most of us will be moving into possibly dangerous situations. Those who are not, aside from the Manguanacs, will not have the facilities or knowledge to complete your recovery. The Manguanacs have those facilities, and highly competent physicians. They will keep you safe and assist you in any way you need."
Still silent, Bravo shifted her gaze to Rashid, as if trying to read him. The Manguanac leader nodded at her.
"Miss Bravo, you have my word that we will do our best to see to your recovery. While you are with us, we will also help you to understand the freedom you now have, as well as anything else we can assist you with..."
The girl looked back at Heero and nodded slightly. "I agree to your plan. You are right, there is no better solution," she said slowly, then nodded at Rashid. "I... I..." she hesitated, searching for a word. "I appreciate your offer, thank you," she forced out, face nearly expressionless, but Rashid could see a hint of relief in her eyes.
"You're welcome, Miss Bravo," he said calmly. "If Master Heero and Master Duo would go and find Abdul and Auda, we will, as Master Duo says, 'get the show on the road'."
Duo chuckled and began hauling Heero to the door. "Got it, Uncle Rashid," he quipped. "We'll go get your henchmen! No worries, Bravo! They'll take really good care of you! I know! We'll see you before you go, promise!" His voice trailed off as he and Heero disappeared out the door.
Bravo never realised that a tiny smile had appeared on her face. Rashid, however, didn't miss it.
"You have to tell her, Treize," Wufei said sternly, "and now. Howard will be leaving as soon as Wing is finished."
"But, it's late," the ginger-haired man protested. "She needs her sleep -"
"Treize, you're looking at roughly twelve hours or so before she's gone," Zechs cut in. "She can always sleep on the trip. You both need to spend some time together, not to mention get her packed..."
"And there is no telling how she'll take it," the Chinese teen added. "She has been showing a bit of... shall we say temper and obstinacy lately."
"Oh, lord... what if she throws a tantrum?" Treize asked, horrified.
Zechs couldn't stifled his chuckle, and Wufei shot him a slight glare.
"If she starts a tantrum," Wufei stated, "you simply treat her like any wayward cadet. Be calm, firm, and don't give in. Now, get in there and explain things to your daughter, General," he finished, pushing his lover to the door. "We'll wait here for you, just in case..."
Treize nodded, opened the door, and stepped inside, closing it behind himself. He waited a few moments until his eyes adjusted to the dimness, then walked to the couch and crouched beside his sleeping daughter.
"Marie," he said softly, lightly touching her shoulder. "Wake up, sweetheart. Papa needs to talk to you."
The little girl squirmed, rubbed her eyes, then looked sleepily at her father.
"Papa?" she whispered, smiling.
"Hello, Marie. I'm sorry to wake you, but I need to talk to you. Close your eyes while I turn on the light, all right?"
At her nod, he turned on the small table lamp beside the couch. Marie sat up and waited for Treize to sit down, then scrambled onto his lap, blinking.
"Hi, Papa," she said, hugging her father. "I missed you. You didn't tell me a story."
"I missed you, too, sweetheart. And I'm sorry I didn't put you to bed, but we had some meetings..."
Treize squeezed her, then cleared his throat.
"And that's what I need to talk to you about. But, first, do you promise to listen to everything before you get... upset?" he asked tentatively.
Marie frowned, but nodded, and Treize sighed.
"Marie, sweetheart, we have to leave. All of us," he blurted out. "The bad people are going to find us soon, so we have to go somewhere safe..."
"That's all?" she asked, cutting in and patting his cheek. "Then we go somewhere better, right? It's okay, Papa. I won't be scared. You'll be with me... and Uncle 'Fei, and Uncle Zechs, and Uncle Heero, and -"
"No, Marie," her father said softly. "That's not how it will be. I'm sorry, but you can't go with me." He steeled himself as her lip trembled. "Howard is going to take you, Duo, Quatre and Wufei with him to some place safe -"
"Rad and Ines will go with you as well," he continued, ignoring her outburst. "Later, Gio and Toi will take you out into space... you'll like that, I promise. They'll teach you all sorts of fun things. You'll get to fly ships -"
"But Papa, I want to go with you!" the little girl shouted, sliding off his lap and standing with fists clenched. "I'm not going with Grandpa Howard and you can't make me! I'm staying with you and Uncle Zechs!" Angry tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Marie, you can't stay with me," the ginger-haired man insisted calmly. "It's not safe. Bad people are going to be looking for us. We may need to run and hide at any moment and I need you where I know nothing will happen to you. Howard will make sure you're safe and happy -"
"Nonono!" she shouted, stamping her foot. "I won't go! I'll protect you an' Uncle Zechs! I'm staying -"
"Mariemeia Kushrenada!" Treize said in a commanding tone, falling back on Wufei's advice. "I am your father, and you will do as I say," he finished firmly.
Marie looked at the floor dejectedly, shoulders slumped and her father softened slightly.
"Come here, sweetheart," he murmured, leaning forward and pulling her onto his lap. "I love you so much," he continued, hugging her tightly, "and I couldn't bear for anything to happen to you. Please, go with Howard, for me? Uncle Wufei will be with you for a while, as will Duo and Quatre. And we can still keep in touch... maybe even see each other from time to time."
He tipped her chin up and dropped a kiss on her forehead. Marie lunged and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"But I don't want to go, Papa," she whimpered, voice filled with tears.
"I know, Marie, I know. And I don't want you to go," he replied softly. "Unfortunately, it really has to be this way, for now."
Treize pushed Marie far enough away that he could look her in the eyes. "I promise you, Mariemeia Kushrenada," he said, tears in his own eyes, "as soon as this is over and it's safe, we'll be together again. We'll live in my house near Vienna... or maybe in the one outside Lyons... You can go to a real school, make lots of friends, we'll go on trips..."
"Can I have a real puppy?"
Trieze chuckled slightly and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Of course, you may. You may have as many puppies as you want."
Marie gave her father a wobbly smile. "I just want one," she said, then sighed. "Do I really have to go, Papa?"
"Yes, sweetheart, I'm sorry, but you really do," he replied, voice tinged with sadness. "Now, I know you should be sleeping, but Howard will be leaving tomorrow morning. What do you think about calling Zechs and Wufei in here to help us pack you up? Then we'll go and make a midnight raid on the mess tent..."
"Okay, Papa, but I really don't like this."
"I don't like it either, Marie," he answered, rising with her in his arms and walking to the door. "I don't either."
"Ten minutes! Launch time, people!"
Heero checked the harness holding Bravo in place one last time, then gave her a small smile. "You're set."
Her eyes darted between Heero and Duo quickly. "When will you two leave?"
"Soon," Duo answered, squeezing his lover's shoulder. "At least, I will be. This specimen of sexiness," he said, ruffling Heero's hair a little, "will be leaving later. Space launch, the lucky bastard."
Bravo's eyes centred on the Japanese teen. "Do not go near L-3. Barton would love to take you back."
Heero felt Duo stiffening next to him and quickly replied, "I know. I will be careful."
"He'd better be," Duo growled. "Anything happens to him, and space won't know what hit it once I'm done with them."
Bravo could only watch as Heero turned enough to wrap an arm around his slender lover, pulling him tightly against his side.
"Master Heero? Master Duo? We need to get going," Rashid said softly from behind them.
Faster than Bravo could react, Heero darted forward and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then whispered, "Take care, Bravo. They will take care of you, I promise."
As they walked off the plane, Duo turned and threw her a wink and a wave.
Bravo surprised herself by waving back. The door closed, and she settled into her seat, smiling gently.
Alpha had definitely changed since she had known him, and she'd finally decided it was for the better. The name Heero suited him well, as did his choice of companions.
She could only hope that with a little bit of time and a lot of help, she could one day become secure enough, herself, to follow his example.
Trowa steered Quatre back towards their room, a small smile gracing his face as he listened to the blond, still talking out the numerous thoughts in his head. " It's a good thing they left first when Dermail finds this place, he's going to try and track every ship that leaves, and there's only one way either in or out of the Manguanacs' new home base. Great place defensively, but it would be a bloodbath if they were ever found "
Grinning to himself, Trowa swung the blond teen around as they rounded a corner, pressing him against the wall as he kissed him deeply and hungrily. He didn't pull back until Quatre was practically purring against him, arms wound around his neck almost painfully tightly.
Quatre's aquamarine eyes were dazed and lustful as he stared up at his lover. "I'm not complaining, but what was that for?"
Trowa leant his forehead against his lover's and spoke in the quietest of whispers. "Let me think you're leaving with Howard without me, I might add - in only a few hours, and all you can think about is "
Quatre reached up and covered Trowa's lips with his hand. "All I could think about was getting you back into our room, but with everything that has been going on here " He grabbed one of Trowa's hands and slowly slid it down his body until the taller teen could quite clearly feel the heated bulge in the blond's pants. "Does that feel like I'm not thinking about you?"
"Well you certainly are now..."
"Creep!" Quatre shoved the taller teen, mock glaring at him and not realising that the twinkle in his eyes was giving him away.
Trowa slipped on the icy ground and fell in an inelegant heap, hair askew over his face. He gave an uncharacteristic pout as he looked up at his lover. "You know you love me."
The blond couldn't help giving in under the force of that pout he extended a hand and pulled Trowa to his feet, immediately burying his face in the taller teen's warm chest. "Where on Earth did you learn that?"
Trowa smiled. "Brotherly advice. I'll have to tell him it worked." Not giving Quatre a chance to resist, he swung the shorter teen up over his shoulder, one hand resting on the blond's posterior. "Later. Right now I need to get you inside and in private before we scare any other passers-by."
Quatre turned bright red, though Trowa couldn't see it. "There were people around us?!"
"Just Heero and Duo," Trowa replied, "and I doubt they saw us."
"Just shut up and take me to bed."
Another grin. "As you wish."
Duo turned to close and lock the door behind him, and promptly yelped as cold fingers pushed up and under his sweater and t-shirt. As Heero's hands slid up his chest, impatiently shoving clothing out of the way, Duo groaned. "Man, Heero we've got ahhhh "
Heero paused in his ministrations to look up at his lover's face as Duo's head fell back against the wall, eyes tightly shut. He drew a now-stiff nipple back between his lips, stroking it hungrily before releasing it and placing a gentle kiss over Duo's heart. "We have exactly four hours, thirteen minutes and nine seconds." He yanked the offending clothing off Duo with a slight growl.
The long-haired teen grinned wolfishly as he pulled Heero closer, hands flying to his belt buckle. "We'd better get busy then, eh?"
Heero's zipper opened with a sound like a ragged sigh. He sucked in a deep breath as Duo yanked his button-down free and quickly worked the buttons open, trailing kisses down his chest and stomach as he worked. "Oh, God " Heero muttered.
Duo stopped abruptly and gracefully stood from where he had fallen to his knees, taking Heero's face in his hands. "You know I love you, right?"
"Yes " Heero leaned forward to kiss him.
The L-2 pilot pulled back again and gave his lover a serious look. "So you know I will follow you into the afterlife and drag you back here to kick your ass if you dare go and die on me."
"You'll try." Heero twisted his way free of Duo and quickly scooped his lover into his arms, crossing the room in three long strides. He laid them both down on the bed, covering the American's body with his own and groaning as Duo wrapped his sinfully-long legs around him. "Same applies to you, Duo, and don't ever forget it." He nuzzled the long-haired teen's hair, then leaned down for a slow, deep kiss.
Pressing Duo's wrists into the bed, Heero started rolling his hips slowly, teasing them both as he nipped at the pale column of Duo's throat, leaving a series of small marks in his wake. The other teen whimpered in response, arching up against his lover. "Heero "
Two pairs of blue eyes met, darkened with lust and hunger. Eyes locked with his partner's, Heero pressed Duo's wrists down one more time in a silent command before releasing him, hands running up the sculpted muscles of the braided teen's arms. He slipped his hands down an equally sculpted chest, as though trying to memorise the feel of Duo beneath him. "Beautiful."
Duo trembled slightly under his hands. "Heero, for the love of God "
"I have to make it last," Heero murmured, dipping his head to kiss a path along Duo's jaw.
With no warning, Duo's legs tightened around his lover, and he pushed off the bed, flipping them over quickly. Now straddling Heero, Duo paused to grin down at him. "Or we could try it my way."
"Yeah, we could." Heero grabbed the end of Duo's braid, pulling the elastic free and slowly working the braid apart. He ran his hands down Duo's back to cup his butt, then around his hips to the button of his jeans.
The long-haired teen was forced to stand to get the tight jeans off by the time he was free of the restrictive garments, he could feel Heero standing behind him, the heat rising off his skin evidence of his equally glorious nude state. He gasped as Heero thrust his hips suggestively against him, their bodies fitting together as though made for each other.
Arms wrapped around him from behind, and Duo shivered. "I love you, Heero." He gasped as Heero gave another thrust of his hips.
"Four hours, three minutes, love," Heero whispered in his ear. "How many times do you think I can make you come in that time?"
The sound of Heero's husky voice sent shivers down Duo's spine he pulled a hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss in its palm, then slid it down his body until Heero's hand closed around his hardness and squeezed gently. "How about we find out?"