Crossing Paths Arc: Part 29

Part 29: Wings
by Kracken

Disclaimer: Don't own them and Don't make any money off of this. If anyone is selling these fanfiction stories, I don't have any knowledge of it, really I don't.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, Violence, language. Ass kicking.

Someone was nuzzling between his shoulder blades. Duo twitched and opened his eyes, remembering a prison and sadistic guards. When he saw the peeling paint wall and the plain table with a closed laptop, he oriented himself and recalled... Duo blushed furiously.

A broad hand was brushing over one nipple. It tweaked it and Duo let out a yelp as Heero chuckled, deep and sensual. "It took you long enough to wake up."

Duo blinked at the dim light coming in from around the corners of a blanket over the window. "What time is it?" he mumbled, unwilling to move from the nest of sheets and blankets that had made up their bed on the floor.

"Mid afternoon," Heero replied. "You needed the sleep. I think you need more, but you also need to eat."

Duo's tight stomach agreed. He shifted and then winced as his lower body responded with a few twinges. Instead of frowning, Duo blushed even more and then developed a very wide, very foolish grin. "We really did it, didn't we?"

"Hurt?" Heero asked in concern. "I tried to be gentle, but..."

Duo turned on his back and Heero propped himself on one elbow, looking down at him with a warm expression, chocolate hair a tousled mess in his face. "I didn't exactly stop you," Duo replied. He reached up and caressed Heero's face. "I didn't let you go slower, when you probably should have. Doing it twice more was probably a bad idea as well."

Heero smirked. His eyes gentled and he leaned down and whispered. "You are so beautiful, Duo. It's like a happy dream. I've wanted us to be here, like this, since we first met."

"On the floor?" Duo laughed jokingly. He looked over at the bed. "Quatre is going to have a fit when he sees that wet mattress. What are you going to tell him?"

Heero suddenly frowned, a thought occurring to him. "Do you want me to make up a story? If you don't want the others to know..."

Duo became serious as well, thinking about what it might mean for Heero. "I don't mind. I'm an orphan from L2 with a very bad reputation. Being Heero Yuy's lover is a step up in the world. You, on the other hand, might not want people knowing that you're associating with someone with a reputation like mine. Getting your face plastered over every paper and vid screen is a distinct possibility. Letting the guys know is only a small part of it, Heero."

Heero's eyes went soft with love. He kissed Duo on the lips and then said with determination, "We don't have to watch vid shows or read papers. What people think of me has never mattered, Duo. I'm concerned with you, with me, with our happiness. Once we get free of Earth and our troubles, they can say what they like. Secretly, they'll be envying me."

Duo stared, astonished, and then he pulled Heero against him and tried not to weep. He clung to Heero's bare body and Heero responded, wrapping strong arms around him and holding him lovingly. "When you say things like that, I believe you," Duo murmured against Heero's chest, "though I don't know why you should think that way about me."

Heero rolled onto his back and Duo was suddenly sitting on top of him, straddling his waist. His tangled, loose hair draped down over Heero's body as Duo splayed his small hands over Heero's chest and looked down at him. Heero reached up and caressed Duo's face with both hands. "Let my eyes be your mirror, Duo. Don't doubt me or my vision of you."

Duo swallowed hard and could only nod in reply, overcome with emotion.

Heero played with Duo's hair for a moment and then he looked uncomfortable. Duo was suddenly put aside and Heero was climbing to his feet. He had an obvious erection as he stood among the bedclothes on the floor.

"I think I need to think about other things and get you something to eat," Heero said apologetically.

Duo stared at Heero's muscled body with its arousal. As the man dressed, taking his time tucking himself into his black jeans, Duo felt the urge to stop him, to reach out and... Duo sighed and curled up in his blankets. He was sore and exhausted. He needed to rest, to eat, and to recover from his prison stay. "That sounds good," he told Heero, but then admitted, "I know I shouldn't have started stuff between us last night, as worn out as I was, but...," He grinned up at Heero. "It was damned worth it!" When Heero smiled and chuckled in return, Duo added more seriously, "It would have been worth anything, Heero. Anything."

Heero nodded, going sober as well. "Yes, anything," he agreed with passion, but then looked pained. "I wish that we had more time."

"We'll have the time," Duo promised him vehemently, "as soon as we get rid of a few obstacles."

"We will get rid of them," Heero replied determinedly. He bent over and seized Duo's lips with his own. When he finally broke the kiss, he said, "Now that I know how very sweet you are, nothing will stand in the way of my loving you and having you for the rest of my life."

"I feel the same way about you," Duo agreed and then smiled as he made himself more comfortable in the blankets. He yawned, "but, for now, I need more sleep and to eat. After that, you can debrief me and we can-" Duo scowled in mock anger at Heero's raised eyebrow. "I meant you can tell me what's been going on since I've been locked up!" He thought for a moment and then grinned. "But, of course, debriefing during the debriefing might be interesting too."

Heero laughed as he opened the bedroom door to leave. He found Quatre standing outside, balancing a tray of food and raising a hand to knock. The blonde Arabian froze with wide, blue eyes, waiting for Heero to take his hand off of his gun before saying, "Duo needs to eat, Heero, and so do you."

Heero blinked and then nodded as he stepped aside. Duo pulled the blankets up under his chin in trepidation as Quatre stepped into the room and then stopped in consternation. He took in the fact that Duo was on the floor with blankets and pillows and then turned his attention to the bed and saw the bare, soaked mattress. His face turned bright red as he stammered, "D-Duo! What's..." Quatre stopped mid sentence, unable to go on. He clutched the tray close to his body uncertainly.

Duo was embarrassed as well. He retreated nervously into humor. "I couldn't sleep last night so, ah, well, me and Heero had a 'meeting of the minds', you might say."

Quatre blinked. "We could hear," he said, "and I guessed when you didn't come down for dinner. I'm- I'm glad that you and Heero were able to... " He blushed deeper and then came to what was bothering him abruptly. "W-What happened to the mattress?"

Duo picked at the blankets. "Uh, well, Heero kind of pulled me out of the tub. He was a bit... over enthusiastic and... God, Quatre! Can I just eat? Sorry about the mattress and all, but you're making me feel like I just got caught by the decency police!"

Quatre shook himself and put the tray on the floor near Duo. He smiled apologetically as he crouched, but he still looked nervous as he said, "It's your business, Duo, sorry. I'm not judging you. " He frowned at Heero as he continued, "I don't approve of the timing, you were exhausted, but I saw a long time ago that you and Heero were attracted to one another." He looked Duo over and his smile grew warm. "You do look better than last night. You're glowing. Love will do that."

Duo looked away uncomfortably. "Quatre!" he protested and then looked at Heero and saw Heero's loving expression directed at him. Duo grinned back. "Yeah, love will do that," he affirmed to Quatre, remembering why he and Heero had made love to begin with. Life was too uncertain to hold back. The same went for holding back words out of shyness or embarrassment.

Quatre straightened and his expression turned stern, "Eat and rest today," he ordered Duo with a tone that wasn't going to accept argument. He turned that stern expression on Heero, "and you make sure that he does, Yuy." He began to leave, but then stopped and stared at the mattress. "You had better take that outside to dry in the sun. Expect the others to laugh at you. Duo was..., " Quatre stammered as he blushed, "Duo was rather loud last night, so they know what went on, I'm afraid."

Duo was mortified, a hand to his mouth as he watched Quatre leave. He looked at Heero as the man sat cross legged beside him and began looking through the food Quatre had brought. Slowly, Duo lowered his hand and Heero put a glass of juice into it. "I-I, " Duo began, swallowed, and then looked both bitter and unsure. "This is stuff I should have gone through when I was sixteen, dammit!"

"We'll pay them back for that," Heero assured him, "Together."

"Looks like they're going to the same party," Duo said as he stared at the print outs. "Encryption codes galore. They don't want anyone knowing about it, that's for sure."

Wu Fei frowned. "They're afraid, obviously. Both groups are probably wondering where we'll strike and whom. We now have a vendetta against both the Peacecrafts and Santoro's group."

Trowa had a mercenary's perspective. He looked at the correspondence, his beard making him look inscrutable. He stroked it with slender fingers as he said, "It's possible that they are joining forces, putting aside their differences in order to protect themselves."

Quatre frowned. "Relena Peacecraft joining forces with killers? After trying to expose them for so long, I can't believe that."

"She put Duo in jail," Heero growled. "She dangled him and threatened him to gain our cooperation."

Duo frowned. "To be fair, Zechs did try to make things more comfortable for me." His face went tight, "Still, a cell is a cell, and solitary, with some rat bastard guards for company, is not a pleasant experience."

Heero draped an arm around Duo's shoulders and pulled him into a tight embrace. Standing in the small office of the safe house, maps, readouts, and electronic equipment everywhere, there was hardly enough room for the ex pilots to stand around the small, round table at the center. Duo was acutely aware of their eyes on him at such close range and he looked at his feet nervously. Quatre and Trowa wouldn't judge, and Wu Fei had made it already clear that their relationship didn't matter to him, yet Duo still felt a flush on his cheeks and felt shy.

"It could be," Wu Fei suddenly said, and all eyes shifted to him, "that one is pursuing the other. Prey and predator. It could be that our defection and Duo's rescue has set the stage for factions to grow desperate and act prematurely before we strike."

Heero nodded, "Santoro has control of government troops, but not all of them. If we attack him, he can call on them to protect him and he can condemn us. If we attack Relena it will be the same result. That depends, of course, on whether we attack in stealth or full frontal. Since both parties are unsure how we will act, it is logical that they will make their positions more secure to protect themselves better. Relena will naturally leave a capitol that's hard to defend and retreat to a safe bunker until we have made our move, defeated Santoro, or been defeated ourselves. Santoro will only have the option of trying to overthrow Relena and therefore gain military control over installations.

"So, if he is going after Relena and Zechs," Duo surmised with a dangerous gin, "then perhaps we should join the party?"

"Save Relena?" Quatre wondered.

"Yeah!" Duo replied. "What better way to get our good names back than to save the day and get rid of Santoro? That's what we're good at, right?"

Heero smiled. "Right. Gentlemen?" he asked the others.

Wu Fei was thoughtful, staring down at the papers on the table. "It could go very wrong. We don't have Gundams any longer. If they have time to bring troops against us-"

"Be optimistic, Wu Fei!" Duo urged.

Wu Fei glared. "I simply wish us to be more prepared."

Duo sighed impatiently. "You can't prepare for everything. Sometimes, you just have to wing it."

"Wing it," Wu Fei repeated, "How appropriate since it's your wings that we are trying to recover, your ability to go into space."

"I'm with you," Trowa said to Duo. "I don't know much about politics, but I do understand loyalty and the need to eliminate an enemy."

"That's right," Quatre said. "Which is why I will be attending the 'party' as well. I want to help you, Duo, but it's personal too. Santoro will turn to us after he has gained his revenge on you, I think, and Relena can't be trusted not to use us as she used you once you're no longer available for her schemes."

"Fei?" Duo asked. "In or out? You can go back to Sally and reading your books, if you want to."

Wu Fei scowled. "It isn't necessary to accuse me of being a coward," he growled in a tone they remembered from the war. "I am not weak. I won't hide behind books and a woman when there is justice to administer. I am with you."

"Then let's get ready," Heero said, suddenly settling into soldier mode. "Quatre, you coordinate."

Quatre raised eyebrows, always astonished when he was given command. The man had the ability though, and he didn't avoid the duty. "I need infiltration here and here," he said as he pulled a map from a stack and began pointing out key positions. "I need this road set with radio detonator bombs, and blinds set up at this point..."

Duo watched their eager faces. Adrenalin was already making their skin flush with excitement. It never went away, Duo thought; the taste for danger. They might hate killing and war, but they couldn't deny that they all had something inside of them that made them who they were, that made them the best of the best, that made them willingly throw themselves into the fray.

"I'll take care of the detonators," Duo spoke up. Everyone froze and stared at him. Heero's arm around him tightened. Duo stepped away, bristling. "I'm going to do my part! What I do best is piloting and making things go boom! The job is mine!"

Quatre studied him minutely and then nodded, "I'll give you the timetable. You'll be solo. I need Heero to do drops and conditions are rough. A storm is coming from the East, but we can't wait. understood?"

"Understood," Duo replied. His eyes sparkled. "I can do this," he assured Quatre.

Quatre didn't smile, but he nodded. "I know you can, Duo."

"Not a good time, Lover!" Duo shouted into the cell phone.

On a secure channel, the voice on the other end was familiar and worried. "Report, Duo? What's your situation?"

"Ninety five percent complete!" Duo shouted back. "Now let me finish!"

The phone slipped from Duo's fingers and it plunged into the water below him. "Shit!" he swore.

Hanging by his knees from the struts of a low bridge, Duo squinted at the detonator bomb he was trying to secure. The storm was making everything dark and whipping the water below him so that it sprayed him with ice cold droplets. He was shivering convulsively, making his job even harder, but he was determined to finish and to do the job flawlessly. The last detonators had to be placed in very difficult positions and they had taken up a good deal of his time already.

Duo's coat kept him dry, but he couldn't wear gloves and do the delicate work. His braid was trailing down as well, the very tip touching the rushing river and slowly becoming soaked. Duo felt as if he were freezing to death. He comforted himself with thoughts of revenge and Heero's warm arms afterwards.

"Come on, come on!" Duo growled as he secured the bomb with ties and then made sure the transmitter was working properly. He saw a row of green lights appear on the device's monitor and he breathed sigh of relief.

Swinging, Duo caught a strut with his hands and swung up to a sitting position. Perched above the dark, roiling water below, he rubbed his freezing hands together briskly and then pulled gloves out of his pocket and gratefully slipped them on. It was then that the sky ripped open and the storm rushed down full force. Lightning flashed and Duo wished that he could stay where he was. He knew that the timetable wouldn't allow it. He had walked into the area, knowing that a vehicle would be easier to pick up on a radar if anyone was keeping watch over the road. Walking back the five miles to where he had left his car wasn't something Duo wanted to contemplate, yet it was necessary.

Duo braced himself for the cold rain, made sure the straps of his small pack were secure, and then climbed up onto the bridge. He immediately began a quick jog, but the rain stung and his braid became a dead weight down his back, chilling him to the bone. He was forced to slow to a walk not far from the bridge. He was still not in optimum condition for any endurance test, but he couldn't take it slow. He walked as quickly as he could manage, knee joints protesting and his body groaning under the onslaught of the Storm.

When a car pulled up along side him, Duo swore. He forced a smile as the man driving the car rolled down a window and showed a swarthy face and a look of concern. "Hey, kid!" The man shouted above the pounding rain. "What're you doing out in this? Get in and I'll give you a ride."

Duo couldn't refuse. That would have looked even more suspicious. He climbed into the warm car and closed the door, breathing a sigh of relief as his body slumped and shivered against leather upholstery, dripping with water. "Thanks, man!" Duo exclaimed with chattering teeth. "Car broke down and I tried to walk for help. Didn't realize there was nothing nearby, so I was walking back thinking I'd try the other direction." It sounded just foolish enough to be true.

The man was large. He was wearing a black overcoat and his hands on the steering wheel were large and tense. He had a sharp, Asian look to his face, but his mouth was a cruel line and his dark eyes were flat, both belying his pleasant voice. His crew cut, dark hair gave him a military appearance and Duo was suddenly wary, especially when the man looked him over minutely as if he were a piece of meat.

"Not much too you," the man suddenly said. "Pretty eyes, but you're pretty ugly everywhere else. I like a lot more baby fat."

Duo blinked. "You think I'm ugly?"

The man frowned. "I was hoping for better pickings. Country lads are usually so hardy. I can see your bones in your neck. You're absolutely hideous!" The man sighed as he pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road, put the car in park, and then turned to Duo. "Just take off your pants. I'm not interested in seeing the rest of you."

Duo raised an eyebrow. "You really think I'm ugly?"

The man was puzzled. "Are you so concerned with vanity when someone is about to rape you?"

"If you had a chance in hell, I might be," Duo replied with a shrug.

The man chuckled darkly. "You're hardly a match for me boy!"

"Ah, see, you've made two mistakes now," Duo replied seriously. "One, that I'm a boy." Duo's hand shot under his jacket, pulled out a gun, and fired point blank. Blood splattered over the car and himself. He flinched, but hardly paused as he finished, "You're second mistake was in thinking that I'm ugly. I have it on very good authority that I'm absolutely beautiful!"

The man mouthed something in shock, but no words came out as he slumped onto the seat, very dead. Duo felt a wave of sickness, but he shoved it down deep. Holstering his gun, he stepped out into the rain and let it wash the blood from him in a pounding torrent. After sickness and blood were gone, Duo put the car in drive, put the man's foot on the gas, and awkwardly guided the car towards the nearby river. Watching it roll into the dark, rushing depths, Duo spat aside, refusing to feel guilt for someone like that. If things didn't go as planned, and his bombs blew up more than a bridge and vehicles, then he would have a more valid reason to be both horrified and guilt ridden.

Duo checked his watch and swore. He was off schedule. Quatre had padded it, making allowances for Duo's long walk, the possibility of a storm, and Duo's reduced strength, but no one had counted on Duo running into a rapist and he had taken longer than expected to plant the bombs.

"Shit!' Duo swore and began to jog again. He had to make the time up somehow, even if it meant pushing himself over the limit. Without his cell phone, the others wouldn't know that his detonators were in place. He had to reach his car and its radio as quickly as possible.

Duo was panting and slipping in and out of a red haze as he finally reached the car. Collapsing into the front seat, he fumbled under the dash for the spare cell phone. Dialing the secure number, Duo was surprised at the quick answer. Before he could speak, Heero was shouting frantically, "Don't ever hang up on me again!" When Duo continued to pant and not answer, his anger turned to concern. "Duo?! Are you hurt? Has something gone wrong? I have in-"

"Fine," Duo managed, cutting him off. "Tired. Pick up in twenty. Mission complete."

Duo hung up again and tossed the phone into his coat pocket. Leaning his forehead on the steering wheel, he started up the car. It was long moments between that act and regaining enough strength to pull onto the road.

Duo's heart was hammering with exposure and exhaustion. He was chilled, but numb, and he knew that was a dangerous sign. Still, he had to make the pick up point, and look competent when he arrived, or they would cut him out of the mission. Duo flipped on the heater and tried not to cry in relief as the warmth washed over his frozen body.

"I can do this," Duo growled to himself and rubbed at his eyes to clear them as he drove. No one was going to keep him from his revenge, not rapists, not bad weather, and not his own frail body.

Duo left the car where he had stolen it, a partly abandoned track of stores and dilapidated houses. Shouldering his pack, he walked through the pouring rain to a covered gas station pump, rusted with age and attendant asleep in the small booth, and waited for his pick up.

"It must be fate, or damned good luck," a voice said behind Duo. Duo whipped around, pulling his gun at the same time, but an iron hard hand closed on his wrist and the weapon was jerked out of his grasp. Duo stared up into the smiling face of Santoro.

Duo crouched, ready to break the man's neck, but the man suddenly dangled something in front of him. It caught Duo's eyes and he froze. It was a gold cross on a long chain. Duo recognized it instantly, wondering how he could have forgotten it. His cross! It was as much a part of him as his braid.

"Come with me," Santoro ordered and Duo found himself complying without resistance, all of his attention on that glittering representation of his past. Santoro was pleased. "Seems those doctors did their job. Can't help yourself can you? It's like a carrot on a stick to you. Did you think all of those sessions with the psychologists were for your benefit? I had them brainwashing you every step of the way. You'll do what I say as long as I have this trump card to play. If you hadn't surprised me at Quatre's estate, I would have used it then. It would have saved me all of this trouble, trouble you're going to pay dearly for, Gundam pilot scum."

Santoro walked ahead of Duo and led him to where a convoy of black limos was lined up on a road very close by. Men stood outside in the rain, guns drawn and aimed at Duo. It was obvious to Duo that he had been spotted as they had passed close to the station.

Santoro was too early, Duo thought in a small part of his brain that still seemed to have some free will left. He cursed himself for hanging up on Heero. He had expected the man to complain and worry about him. He should have known better. He was certain now that Heero had been trying to warn him of this very thing.

"Were you waiting for the other pilots to arrive?" Santoro wondered as a man opened the door of a limo and he slid inside. Duo followed his cross and sat on the seat next to him, eyes large and unblinking. Santoro played with him, moving the cross about and watching with amusement as Duo helplessly turned to watch it. "I think your companions have other concerns besides picking up a little murderer like you. I'm sure they're even now descending on the bridge Relena and her brother will soon be crossing; the bridge you so conveniently rigged with bombs."

Duo felt a chill. It must have registered on his face. Santoro laughed. "Oh, yes! Understand now? You were set up, fool! We've been watching you every step of the way! I spent four years getting my men and my plans ready. You were the bait, you and some carefully leaked information about weapons that could penetrate Gundanium. Once I attacked Quatre Winner's estate, I knew that I had given you Gundam pilots every reason to attack me. Zechs attempted to use you for his own ends, but I'm smarter than that fool. We're going to go to the site of you ambush and I'm going to allow you to set off your bombs... prematurely." He held up a transmitter. "I've already had men change the frequency. I'm in control of the timing now, not your 'friends'. Relena and Zechs won't know what hit them. My troops will move in and destroy your friends, they will be blamed for the assassination, and I will quickly take control in Relena's place."

Duo knew all about brainwashing techniques. He knew that a strong will could break through it. Duo knew that he definitely had the will. As rain and sweat dripped down his face, he tried will all of his determination to break free of Santoro's compulsion.

The barrel of a gun rested against Duo's temple. "I'm not stupid," Santoro growled. "I won't underestimate you. Relax, boy, and enjoy the ride. There will be some pretty fireworks in a very short time."

Duo couldn't speak. He could only stare and want his cross. Take it! He shouted it at himself, but his body refused to respond. It felt as if he were tied hand and foot as the car moved inexorably towards the site where Relena and Milliardo were about to be assassinated. He had to save them! Saving them meant saving his friends. If the government troops imagined that the Gundam Pilots were attacking Relena and her brother then they would be slaughtered out of hand. Heero would be slaughtered!

Duo relaxed suddenly. Santoro nodded. "Good, about time you gave up and faced the inevitable. A few more minutes until we reach the bridge, Duo Maxwell. A few more minutes until I blow up a bridge and the last obstacles in my path to power. I have you and your comrades to thank. I wonder how I should show my appreciation?" His eyes glittered. "Maybe I'll take my time getting my revenge and let you live long enough to see me take power?" Santoro placed the gun in his lap and then drew a thin knife from his coat. Still holding the cross up where Duo could see it, Santoro started bringing the knife towards Duo's face.

The man was going to cut his face, Duo realized in a panic, scar him as he had scarred Santoro so long ago. Move! Duo shouted it at himself. He could see up ahead, see the rain soaked bridge coming into view and another convoy of white limos approaching it in front of Santoro's vehicles.

"She's always so punctual," Santoro laughed, "Even when she's running away." His expression went cruel. "I still have time. Don't worry. It will only take a moment to give that face of yours a new beauty mark."

No! Duo thought. He couldn't let this happen! He couldn't let it all end with his dearest friends dead, the government overtaken by a madman, and his body mutilated. Duo concentrated. He pumped adrenalin through his body by sheer force of will. His heart raced and his pulse hammered in his ears. The memory of doctors sitting in front of him with his cross hanging from their hands, monotonous voices hypnotizing him and setting the compulsion, bled through the mental blocks that they had used to cover their tracks. Used! Used again and again! The anger Duo's thoughts of outrage generated burned through him and burned through mental restraints, setting him abruptly free.

Santoro's one hand held the remote and Duo's cross, both prizes Duo had to have. Duo forced a grin. The knife hesitated as Santoro registered the expression with confusion. "Why are you smiling?" the man asked suspiciously.

"Because I know something that you don't," Duo replied hoarsely.

"I doubt that," Santoro growled and then demanded, "What?"

Duo pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and held it up. It was turned on, the light obvious to Santoro. "You really are stupid, you know that?" Duo sneered.

Santoro lunged with his knife, face purple with fury and an incoherent shout of rage coming from his lips. Duo ducked. The knife buried itself into the upholstery. The heel of Duo's hand caught Santoro on the chin even as he reached and snatched the gun out of the dazed man's lap. Bringing it up, he fired straight towards Santoro's chest. The man was already in motion. Eyes wide with panic, he managed to twist out of the way in a move that seemed impossible for his size. The bullet hit the driver instead. The man slumped over the wheel with a splatter of blood and the car jerked sharply towards the river.

Santoro looked frightened and then he whipped back around, rage over taking him again. "I'm going to break every one of your skinny bones, you little bastard, but first I'm going to blow up that bitch Relena!" The man pushed the button of the remote and Duo heard bombs explode. The car shuddered.

Duo saw the bridge erupt in fire and smoke, but he didn't have time to see if the white limos were a part of it as he brought his foot up and caught Santoro in the gut as the man rushed him. The air left Santoro in a whoosh! but his momentum brought him down on top of Duo. Duo felt as if his bones were being crushed and he cried out even as he brought his gun in line with Santoro's head and fired.

The door suddenly opened and Duo fell backwards. The bullet hit the ceiling of the car as Duo suddenly found himself inches from the ground, the grass of an embankment rushing beneath this head, his braid whipping along the ground. Santoro was leaning over him, eyes wide with glee, his hand on the handle of the door and his other still gripping Duo's cross. Duo's hand, wrapped in the man's coat, and Santoro's weight on his pelvis, was the only thing keeping Duo from falling.

Gritting his teeth, Duo brought the gun to bear again. Santoro had expected him to panic and drop it, but Duo was a trained soldier. He didn't panic. He calmed his mind, ignored his danger, and narrowed his eyes as he tried to take aim. Santoro sneered and simply removed his weight, shoving Duo's hand off of his coat. Duo fell.

It was as if everything stopped. Duo seemed to have an infinite amount of time to think as the rain soaked ground rushed towards his head and back. It was going to be ugly, he thought. He was about to be very messily dead. He decided not to die in vain. In the seconds before oblivion, Duo brought his gun to bear with both hands and fired into Santoro's face. He saw the man jerk and die instantly. Duo also saw his cross tumble from the man's suddenly slack hand. The golden, glittering reminder of Duo's past fell towards him as pain exploded against his back and neck.

Duo didn't die. Shocked, he felt himself sink into deep mud as the wheels of the car churned past his body, spraying him with more mud as it crashed into the river and was swept away by the strong current. The cross hit Duo's chest, bounced, and then went slithering down the embankment after the car, heading towards a similar fate.

"No!" Duo choked out as he gasped for air, rolled to hands and knees, and then flung his numb body after the cross. He slid in the mud, scrambled, and frantically clawed towards the fast moving glitter.

Another body was suddenly there and scrambling along with him. Duo didn't flinch or care who the stranger was, he only knew that, if that cross hit the water, he would dive in after it and probably die. It wasn't a psychologist's compulsion that drove him this time, but his own emotional need. No matter what the stranger intended, Duo wasn't going to falter from his course.

Duo used every ounce of the strength he had left to throw himself forward for one last effort. Just as the cross reached the water, his hand closed on it, as did the hand of the stranger. As both of them grasped the precious cross as hard as they could, they sat up, panting and shaking. Duo looked into the mud covered face opposite him, expecting the face of an enemy. Instead, he met the cobalt blue eyes of Heero.

Duo fell against his lover, sobbing. His cross was released into his care and Heero's strong arms wrapped around him and held him tight. "I thought that I lost you!" Heero kept sobbing, over and over again, against Duo's mud covered hair. Duo pressed his cross close to his heart and simply sobbed in return.

They both calmed after a time, shivering with the chill and reaction, and Heero held Duo back from his chest to look into his face. "I heard Santoro on the cell phone. I saw you fall out of the car. I jumped out of the ship's hatch to reach you in time."

"Why you didn't break every bone in your body, is beyond my understanding," Wu Fei said as he and the others approached. Duo and Heero turned to face them , startled. "You've done some impossible things, Yuy, but that was incredible! I thought that you were a dead man when you didn't wait until I reached a proper altitude."

Quatre made a face as he stepped through the deep mud, and Trowa picked his way as delicate as a cat, behind him. "Uh, guys," Quatre said anxiously. "I know that was a very emotional moment for all of us, but there is a troop of soldiers wanting an explanation. They want to know why Santoro called them, why a bridge was blown up, and why we were there to stop Relena and her brother from being on it when it happened."

Duo came back to himself with an effort. He slipped the chain of his cross over his head and centered the cross over his breast. He suddenly felt whole again as he asked in disbelief, "You stopped them? How?"

"Wu Fei landed the ship in front of Relena's convoy," Trowa explained. "It received some damage. A car wasn't able to stop in time and broad sided it."

"I will be sending her the bill," Wu Fei interjected sourly.

Duo looked anxiously at Heero. "She'll have me arrested again, Heero," he said as he put a hand in Heero's and squeezed tightly. "We need to get out of here."

"Arrested?" Wu Fei raised a dark eyebrow. "You saved her life, Maxwell! You're a hero, as are we all. The Gundam pilots have cleared their names. Our honor is restored."

Quatre was more skeptical, "You aren't a politician, Wu Fei. She may owe us and Duo, but-"

Wu Fei nodded to the skies. Everyone looked up. The rain had reduced itself to a drizzle and clouds were breaking. Clearly they could see a troop of hovering ships with vid show logos on their sides. "She can't cover this up. She'll have to acknowledge it. It's in her best interest as well. Santoro, I assume, is dead, and his movement can now be safely eliminated as well."

"I suggest that you not stay long enough to test that theory," Trowa said seriously, wiping the dripping water from his beard. "Lions are lazy after they've been fed, but they get hungry and vicious again soon enough."

"Is your ship space worthy?" Duo asked as he shakily stood up. Heero rose with him and put an arm around his waist. Covered in mud and faces drawn and emotionally exhausted, they looked almost like twins at that moment.

"Yes. The only damage it received was to it's beauty," Wu Fei replied. "It's still fueled and supplied for a long space flight as well. If you're intending on using it, do so with my sincerest compliments."

Duo smiled warmly. "Thanks, Wu-man! Those were my thoughts exactly." He laughed softly at Wu Fei's disapproving frown at the nick name as he looked up at Heero and asked, "Coming, love?"

"Of course," Heero replied. "I can save the universe in Space as well as on Earth."

Duo chuckled and then turned to his friends and held out his arms. Wu Fei hesitated, but then was forced to take hold of Duo as Duo staggered on uncertain legs. Duo hugged him hard around the neck and Wu Fei stiffly returned it. Quatre and Trowa were less reserved. As they joined the embrace, Quatre was openly weeping and Trowa was smiling ever so slightly as he clapped Duo on the back.

"Bye, guys," Duo said as he broke the embrace. "I don't think I'm coming back here again, I'm too much of a space baby and the locals were less than hospitable," he said bitterly. "I want to see you once in awhile though, so get in your damned ships and visit, K?"

"You're so sure that Relena will give us clearance?" Heero wondered.

"Can't tell about women, but let's find out, shall we?" Duo was flushed under the mud, anticipation giving his exhausted, wounded body, the energy he needed to return to Heero's embrace and begin the walk to Wu Fei's ship. The others followed behind, mud squelching beneath their shoes, faces solemn and dangerous, ready to protect themselves and their friend.

Troops had the area surrounded. Milliardo and Relena were standing outside of their limo, a servant holding an umbrella over their heads as they talked to a troop commander and surveyed the missing bridge with shock. As the mud covered pilots approached, guns began to be drawn.

Milliardo growled, "Stand down! They saved our lives!"

Duo smiled. Relena looked prim, but he could see fright in her eyes at her close call. Both of them were dressed in their formal senate clothes. Relena was dry, but Milliardo was wet, his white hair plastered to his body. Duo imagine that he had exited the limo to coordinate the troops, not stood on the sidelines with Relena. It reminded Duo that Milliardo, while a scheming politician, was still a brave man.

"It seems that we owe you our thanks," Relena said formally. "I-"

Duo shook his head, his mud covered braid swinging heavily with the motion. "I'm too tired and sore to stand here and listen to a pretty speech. I want off planet, now. Give me clearance."

Relena looked concerned. "I'm sure that the courts will agree to give you that clearance once we present them with proof that you are not a sympathizer with-"

"No more courts!" Duo snapped, his amethyst eyes glowing with temper. "No more waiting! I saved your life. I want clearance and my freedom in return, now."

"Is this man threatening you?" the troop leader growled and his gun nosed out of its holster. "I'll arrest him at once, ma'am."

Milliardo gave a curt hand sign. "He's a hero, captain. All of the former Gundam pilots are. They single handedly saved our top government official. I think a pardon is well within reason, don't you sister?"

Relena still hesitated, blonde eyebrows drawn down in disapproval. "There are certain channels that have to be adhered to. We can't just ignore the law and-"

Duo nodded to the ships hovering with their cameras. "If you don't, I'll kiss Zechs right now and announce our marriage to everyone of those ships. Ready to pose for pictures honey?" Duo said with a humor he wasn't feeling. Anger was seething through him instead, anger for the system that Relena was so ardently defending; the corrupt system that had made four years of his life a hell.

Milliardo could have declined to go along. Instead, he smiled tightly. "Certainly, 'darling'. Have we set a date yet? I'll defer to you, of course."

"Well, April, I think," Duo began. "Well have bridesmaids in pink and purple and pink roses would look rather nice-"

"You have clearance!" Relena suddenly erupted, her eyes wide and her cheeks as pink as her dress. She turned to the captain. "He has leave to go, Captain."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll inform communications." The man bowed curtly and left.

Duo nodded and then he smiled at Milliardo. "Sorry, I guess I'm a fickle bride. I've fallen in love with Heero, you see."

Milliardo nodded to Heero. "I do see. Lucky man."

"I think so," Heero replied, but he frowned at Duo as he led him away towards the ship. "We will not be married with pink and purple flowers!"


After taking leave of their friends and taking quick sonic showers in the cramped quarters of Wu Fei's ship, Heero and Duo both dressed in Wu Fei's spare clothes and then prepared for flight. Duo sat in the pilot's seat. He was wearing a shirt of Wu Fei's. It hung on his slight frame, as did the black pants. He looked like a child in the high backed, leather chair. As Heero took position in the co pilots' chair, he couldn't help asking worriedly, "Good to go?"

Duo nodded and smiled reassuringly, eyes sparkling in anticipation. "It would take me more than four years to forget how to pilot. I want to be the one at the controls when we hit zero g."

"You fell out of a speeding car and you have just finished a difficult mission," Heero reminded him.

"And I'll pass out later," Duo agreed. "Not now."

Duo touched his cross and his braid, stroking both. He reached out to Heero and caressed his arm. "I have everything that I've ever wanted, except one thing."

"Then Heaven is only minutes away," Heero chuckled. "Let's do it, Love."

Heero set off the thrusters and the ship rose sharply upwards. Duo's stomach dropped to his toes and the g force made his head spin, but he was a professional pilot and a good one. He compensated, adjusting the controls to make the thrust constant. He felt a joy rush through him. It was almost as good as sex with Heero, he thought, to pilot again and to know that he was about to burst through the atmospheric envelope of Earth.

Wu Fei's ship slipped through the turbulence easily. Duo resisted the urge to close his eyes against the pressure. Instead, he watched the view screen and witnessed their entry into space. As the blackness surrounded them and he felt the gravity of Earth release his bones, Duo shouted with joy, tears floating from his eyes like fiery crystals.

It was a long time before Duo could speak again. Heero had unstrapped him, holding him close and whispering soothingly into his ear as they floated weightlessly in the cockpit. Finally, Duo sighed and, smiling happily, he said, "I don't ever want to forget this moment."

"Neither do I," Heero replied as he lovingly looked into Duo's eyes. He kissed Duo deeply and then said, "You have wings again, my Shinigami. Let's fly."

Duo held Heero close. "We'll fly together. Always together."

"Always," Heero agreed softly and Duo set the ship's course to take them to freedom.

On to Chapter 30

Back to Chapter28

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