(Part 8 of the Road Trip Arc)
The ride to the safe house had, so far, been made in utter
silence. I think we were all just too damn tired to talk, even the normally
irrepressible Duo. It had been a killer hand-full of months. Mission after
mission, duty after duty, endless flights, endless fighting. It was grinding
us down. I looked around the sparse back of the truck, at my teammates.
Trowa sat across from me, somehow dozing sitting on the hard bench, his
head resting against the wall of the truck, rocking back and forth with
the sway of the vehicle. Quatre sat beside him, slumped into his lap, eyes
staring straight ahead, but seeing nothing. Wufei was on their side of the
truck, but further up, trying to prop himself into the corner the sidewall
made with the cab. Duo was beside me, sitting sideways, keeping watch out
through the rear flap. His shoulders were hunched, and I noticed him reach
back to rub absently at tired back muscles.
I drug myself around and reached out to massage his shoulders,
feeling his muscles hard and tense under my fingers. He sighed as I gently
began kneading at them.
‘Feels good.’ He muttered, and I could hear the
tiredness in his voice, ‘Know what would feel better?’
I chuckled faintly, ‘What?’
‘Sleep.’ He turned his head slightly, so I could
see the small grin, ‘Sleep would feel better. I could sleep for days.’
‘Weeks.’ I heard Quatre’s grumble from across
the way, ‘I could sleep for weeks.’
‘In a real bed; not a Gundam, or a sleeping bag, or
a chair.’ Trowa chimed in, apparently not as asleep as he looked.
‘Without leaks in the roof or vermin in the bed.’
Wufei added from his place at the front of the truck, without ever raising
his head to look our way.
Yes, the last couple of safe houses had been that bad. Especially
the one with the fleas in the bedding. I shivered and had to repress the
urge to scratch something.
I wondered about the hideout that awaited us. It was an odd
arrangement; we were going to the home of an agent posing as the head of
a sort of foster home/half-way house. The whole troubled youths thing. Well,
you couldn’t get much more troubled than this group. I wondered if
it would be as bad as the last few places. I glanced down at my watch, and
decided that we should be arriving any time now and as if on cue, the truck
slowed and made a turn.
When it came to a stop, we retrieved our gear and climbed
stiffly down to the ground. I had time to note that it was gravel under
our boots, and not pavement, when the driver called a cheery, ‘Enjoy!’
out of the cab of his truck, and waved as he pulled away and left us standing
there in the last rays of the setting sun, in the middle of nowhere.
Nobody seemed to have the energy to move, we stood in the
middle of the gravel driveway, listening to the sound of the base truck
departing, and stared at the quaint little frame house in front of us. White,
two-story clapboard, big wrap around front porch, flowers everywhere, with
rocking chairs and a big porch swing. The porch light was on.
‘This is just…surreal.’ Muttered Duo, and
I knew just what he meant. Not twenty hours ago, we were scrambling for
our lives through a dark mountain forest, dodging bullets and grenades.
Between the five of us, we had probably killed two or three dozen soldiers
today. This switching mental gears was getting harder and harder all the
There was a loud squeal as the front screen door swung open,
and a middle aged woman stepped onto the porch, wiping her hands on an apron
and smiling broadly. Every one of us flinched.
‘Right on schedule!’ she called to us, beckoning
us to the porch and holding the door wide, ‘Come along, boys; don’t
want to let the flies in.’
I looked her over; she certainly didn’t look like an
agent, with her iron gray hair pulled back in a coiled bun and her checkered
apron. She was not a fat woman nor a skinny one, but solid, and strong looking;
probably not as tall as the shortest of us. She wore a cotton dress that
looked decades out of style, and that bizarre apron that covered her whole
front. No jewelry, no make-up, and a pair of Nikes on her feet. No; she
didn’t look like an agent at all. To my right somewhere, I thought
I heard Quatre giggle.
She planted her beckoning hand on one hip and cocked her head
at us, looking vaguely sad, ‘Come on, kitlings; I haven’t bitten
anybody in days.’
Quatre snorted out loud, and Duo broke our strange paralysis
and made the first move forward, hoisting his backpack to his shoulder and
starting up the porch steps as though he were climbing Mt. Everest. We followed
him. He stopped in front of the woman and dredged up one of his bright smiles
from somewhere, opening his mouth to begin the introductions, but the woman
just smiled and shushed him.
‘No need, Duo, no need. I know who you all are. You
may call me Mama-Marion.’ And she stepped aside, shooing us into the
The living room was…not cluttered, it was neat and clean
as anyplace we had ever stayed, but…full. There was really more furniture
than there was room. There was an enticing smell of spices and cooking,
the warm glow of old-fashioned electric lights, and touches all over the
room of handmade things. Afghans and embroidered pillows, those strange
little white lacy things on the end tables.
As soon as we were all in the house, she let the wooden screen
door close behind us with another of those loud squeals. Somewhere underneath
the exhaustion, I felt a faint pang of guilt that none of us could seem
to work up the energy to speak to this woman who was opening her home to
us. She didn’t seem to notice, coming around us and clucking her tongue
as she gave us the once over.
‘Your rooms are upstairs, mine is at the top of the
stairs, there are three others, with two beds in each. I’m afraid
you’ll have to double up, I hope that isn’t a problem.’
‘No problem.’ Duo assured her, his eyes glinting
with amusement for a second.
‘Supper will be in an hour. There’s time for each
of you to shower if you don’t take too long. There’s a basket
here at the bottom of the stairs; dirty clothes go there, I’ll be
washing tomorrow.’ She was brusque and all business, though not unkind,
seeming to take us in hand as though she dealt with battle weary soldiers
every day, and perhaps she did.
We stood for a moment, while the orders sank in. Quatre was
in front, and somehow seemed daunted by the stairs, because he didn’t
move, but just stood, alternating glances between her and the surrounding
After an odd, uncomfortable moment, the woman stepped up to
him and tousled his hair lightly, ‘Go on, Sunshine; sooner started,
She turned away and headed for what had to be the kitchen
door and my eyes flicked after her and I almost missed the moment when Quatre
turned into a five year old.
His hand rose, slowly reaching up to smooth his hair back
down, and a tiny little burst of a laugh escaped him. I blinked, and where
Quatre had stood was a child of no more than five and he was grabbing Trowa’s
hand and pulling him, laughing, toward the stairs.
‘Come on, Trowa! Let’s go see the rooms!’
He bounded up the stairs and Trowa chuckled faintly, dragging both his gear
and Quatre’s, and followed after.
No one seemed to notice. Wufei hoisted his pack and went stiffly
after them. Duo turned to me and shook his head.
‘Where does he get his damned energy?’ he muttered
darkly and then applied himself to the task of dragging his weary body up
I gaped after them. I started to call Duo back. I started
to raise the alarm, to demand that we get the hell out of here, but…nobody
seemed to have noticed but me. Maybe…maybe I was just more tired than
I had thought. I went after them.
Wufei took the first available room he came to, disappearing
inside without a word and closing the door firmly behind him. Trowa and
Quatre had already claimed the one next to his, leaving only the one across
the hall. Duo was just opening the door as I came up behind him, and we
went in together, me stealing glances at the doorway across from us where
I heard Trowa say gently,
‘Don’t jump on the bed, Quatre, come down from
there before you hurt yourself.’
The room was much like the downstairs, more furniture than
was really necessary. Two beds, two dressers, two nightstands, a desk, an
overstuffed armchair. Bright, cheery quilts on the beds, paintings on the
walls, more of those lacy doilies. There were two windows, and I suspected
that we had managed to get the largest room somehow.
Duo went straight to the bed across from us, dumping his gear
and dropping to sit down without so much as checking the closet.
I frowned; Gods, he must be tired for him to lose all caution
like this. I let him sit there and moved to secure the room. Satisfying
myself that the room was unoccupied, unmonitored, and danger-free, I turned
my attention back to Duo, only to find him slipping into a doze where he
sat. I sighed and went to kneel in front of him, unlacing his combat boots
and pulling the heavy, uncomfortable things off him. He roused under my
hands, eyes struggling open with a faint guilty look.
‘S…sorry, Heero.’ He slurred, forcing himself
to come more fully awake. ‘I’ve got it…sorry.’
I left him to finish, and went back to my bed to strip myself
out of my own sweaty, stiff camos, digging a pair of shorts out of my bag
to wear until I got my turn in the shower. This was not one of the Winner
estate houses with a private bath in every room, but I suppose it beat the
hell out of the last place that hadn’t even had working indoor plumbing.
I heard Duo sigh heavily behind me, ‘Heero, do you have
an extra pair of shorts? I missed getting any of my clothes.’
I chuckled, remembering the mad scramble to vacate that last
safe house before it went up in flames. It was a miracle that any of us
had gotten anything out in one piece. If there was any consolation at all,
it was that the explosion probably, finally took care of the damned fleas.
I dug another pair out, and turned to toss them to him.
‘Duo, why the hell didn’t you tell me you were
He sighed heavily, ‘Because there wasn’t anything
you could have done about it, it’s just bruises.’
Deep bruises from the look of them, and more than that, scrapes
and scratches and cuts, across abdomen and back, across his shoulders and
down his right arm. Knees and elbows. Damn.
I went to him, turning him towards the light and pressing
gently, checking for internal injuries, and when I didn’t find any
signs, took him gently into my arms. He leaned his forehead on my shoulder,
sighing in the comfort I was offering.
‘I could have carried your gear at least.’ I told
him affectionately, and he chuckled.
‘Damn, I’d have thrown myself down a ravine ages
ago if I’d known that.’
‘And I would certainly have been more careful rubbing
your back.’ I frowned, thinking back. ‘I didn’t hurt you,
‘Heero, don’t be an idiot; I would have said Ouch,
Ok?’ He grinned at me, and then drew away, ‘I think I hear the
water shutting off, I’m going to go see if I can get my turn in the
I let him go, and used the time to unpack what little gear
I had into the waiting dresser, surprised and happy to find one drawer in
each dresser stuffed with various sizes of generic, innocuous clothing.
I laid a pair of tan cargo pants and a white t-shirt on Duo’s bed
for him, and then gathered up the dirty clothes in a pile to go downstairs.
Try as I might, I couldn’t keep myself occupied long
enough that I didn’t wind up standing in the doorway listening to
Quatre’s voice giggling in the room across the hall.
‘Then what happened, Trowa? Did the lion save the little
girl? Did the little girl find her Mommy and Daddy?’
I could hear the rumble of Trowa’s reply, but couldn’t
make out the words.
‘Ahhhh, I don’t wanna take a bath!’
More indiscernible words from Trowa, and then the bedroom
door flew open and Quatre darted out to run down the hall towards the bathroom.
He barged right in, and the faint sound of running water became louder.
‘Duo!’ he hollered over the sound of the shower,
‘Can I have my bath next? Trowa won’t tell me the end of the
story until I take a bath.’
Duo’s voice came, bright and laughing, ‘Sorry,
kiddo; Heero’s next.’
There was an exasperated groan, and Quatre flew back down
the hall toward me, slamming the bathroom door shut behind him.
He skidded to a stop in front of me, ‘You’ll go
fast, won’cha Heero?’
I stared down at him, in his tiny combat boots and camouflage
gear. I could see in his face, the man that he would become…the man
that he was, damnit. The same sky blue eyes, the same corn silk hair, something
about the shape of his face.
‘Heero…’ He whined, getting petulant, looking
up at me expectantly.
‘S…sure thing, Quatre.’ I finally managed,
and he turned to run back to the other room.
Why the hell was everyone else taking this all in stride?
Why did no one else seem to find this strange? I doubted my sanity. I doubted
Duo came out of the bathroom and found me still staring at
the other room, listening to Trowa relent and tell just a little more of
the story of the little girl who was rescued from an evil witch by a pride
of friendly lions.
‘Cute; isn’t he?’ Duo smiled lovingly toward
the sound of their voices and moved passed me into the room.
‘I…found you some clothes.’ I muttered distractedly,
and made my way to the bathroom to take my turn in the shower, deciding
I’d better ‘go fast’ if I didn’t want a certain
five year old barging in on me as well.
After the shower, I dressed and fled downstairs with the pile
of dirty clothes, trying to lose myself in the crowded living room, finding
a bookcase in the corner laden with all manner of books, and I sat down
there to peruse the titles so that I would have an excuse for being there
if the mysterious ‘Mama-Marion’ came wandering in and found
me here alone. I didn’t really think I was ready to confront her with
any bizarre accusations just yet.
Overhead, I heard the pounding of Quatre’s feet as he
thundered to take possession of the bathroom, and he must have ‘gone
fast’ himself, because, in a surprisingly short amount of time, he
pounded back down the hall yelling at the top of his lungs.
‘Trowa! I’m done! Now tell me if the lions beat
the evil dragon!’ There was a pause, and then, ‘Awwww! You didn’t
say you had to have a shower too!’ Trowa’s voice held firm,
and then Quatre came scrambling down the stairs, bellowing for,
‘Mama-Marion!’ It was amazing that he had grown
up to be such a quiet young man. I shook my head, trying to get my thoughts
together. It was almost as though something were trying to soothe me into
not worrying about it. I had trouble keeping it firmly in my mind that this
was wrong. Quatre was not a damned pre-schooler.
‘In the kitchen, Sunshine.’ She called cheerily,
and thankfully, Quatre sped passed without seeing me and disappeared into
the bowels of the house.
I just stayed on the floor by the bookcase, trying to get
my tired brain to work this through. What in the hell was going on? Why
was I the only who seemed to think anything was odd?
‘Trowa said to come see if I could help you with dinner
while he’s in the shower.’ I heard Quatre telling Mama-Marion.
‘Think you can set the table, poppet?’ she asked
him, and there was the rattle of dishes and Quatre relating the tale of
the lions and the evil dragon, in an odd never ending string that didn’t
seem to require him to draw breath.
Why wasn’t I acting? Why wasn’t I overcome with
panic? Something had just taken one of my teammates and turned the clock
of his life back a dozen years, I should be quaking in terror. My entire
team should be quaking in terror.
I heard the sounds of Duo and Wufei coming down the stairs.
‘Maxwell, are you well?’
‘Yeah; fine…just tired. I guess.’
‘You look like shit.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
Even their banter was blunted with exhaustion. Not just Duo’s,
but Wufei’s as well, though he seemed to be holding up better. But
then, Duo ran himself so close to the edge most of the time, that he didn’t
have the reserves that Wufei did.
I rose from my spot on the floor and glanced at Duo critically.
‘He actually looks better since the shower.’ I
grunted and was rewarded with a chuckle from Wufei and a glare from Duo.
My mouth was open to broach the subject of Quatre’s
uncanny transformation, when said five-year-old burst out of the kitchen
and almost plowed into Wufei’s legs.
‘Mama-Marion says supper’s ready!’ He beamed
up at Wufei and I held my breath waiting to see what would happen, but Wufei
only smiled down and said,
‘Tell her we are on the way, little one. Trowa is right
All I could do was follow them to the kitchen and take my
place at the dinner table.
The kitchen was large and spacious, warm and…full, just
like the rest of the house. Things everywhere. There was a large metal and
Formica table on the right side of the room, with the stove, sink and refrigerator
on the left. There was a huge hutch where the dishes seemed to be displayed,
near the table, and a large counter top ‘island’ in the center
of the room. The smells were making my mouth water. We had been eating our
own cooking for so long, I had forgotten how good real food could smell.
Marion was bustling about, plopping huge dishes of food on
the table, beaming at each of us as we came into the room. There were large
glasses of milk at each place, and I caught Duo eyeing his with a resigned
air and I knew he was longing for a bottle of soda.
There was enough food here to feed an army, and I almost snorted
at the bizarre thought; we were an army, in our own way. I caught Marion
catching me with the faint smile on my face, and she flashed me a cocky
grin, just as though she knew what I was thinking. I looked away.
There was a huge platter with a pot roast on it, already sliced,
and surrounded by those strange little potatoes that seem to always be with
pot roasts as if one can’t exist without the other. There were green
beans and corn, biscuits and apple butter, the milk was icy cold, and I
had no doubt everything on the table was made from scratch. I ate because
my stomach was growling, but I had to admit everything was delicious; fresh
and hot and cooked to perfection. Even Duo, normally a light eater, especially
when he isn’t feeling well, ate his fair share. Quatre didn’t
seem to stop talking through the entire meal, so much so, that both Trowa
and Marion had to admonish him not to talk with his mouth full more than
‘…and there’s kittens, Trowa! Mama-Marion
showed me before supper, she said we can feed them after supper, they eat
the scraps, there’s a pot on the back of the sink and all the stuff
goes in there and it’s really gross and you gotta carry it way out
here like this, ‘cause it stinks really bad, but Mama-Marion says
the cats like it and we can take it out after supper, she feeds them every
night and she says…’ I had never been around a child like this
before; he talked without punctuation or breath either one. I alternated
staring at him with staring at my oblivious teammates.
‘I’ll expect you all to carry your weight around
here.’ Marion was saying, I could not bring myself to think of her
as Mama anything no matter how hard I tried, ‘This is a self-sufficient
farm and there’s plenty to do to keep idle hands busy.’
No one responded, except Quatre who wanted to know if she
She smiled at him warmly, a twinkle in her eye, and shook
her head, ‘No cows, Sunshine, just a couple of chickens, the cats
and the dogs.’
Quatre forgot the cows and came around the table to Duo, ‘You
wanna go see the kittens with us, Duo?’ he asked brightly and I turned
to see my partner with his head braced on one hand, eyes heavy-lidded and
‘Not tonight, kiddo.’ He smiled down at the little
blond head, ‘I’m kinda tired.’
‘You sick, Duo?’ Quatre’s voice became concerned,
his five year old mind not able to comprehend Duo’s resistance to
the lure of kittens.
Duo chuckled, tousling Quatre’s hair, ‘No. Just
Quatre raised himself up on his toes, and wrapped his small
arms around Duo’s neck, squeezing tight. ‘Maybe tomorrow night.’
It surprised Duo, and he took a second to return the hug, a strange look
of pain washing over his features. I caught it, and Marion did as well,
I saw the sad frown cross her face. Then Quatre and the look were both gone.
Duo’s pain, back behind the gilded mask he could pull on at will.
Quatre to Trowa’s side, who wouldn’t refuse his partner anything,
not even a trip to the barn at this Gods awful hour.
As Trowa and Quatre took the, as promised, truly gross pan,
out through the pantry to the back door, the rest of us rose as one to begin
the job of clearing the table and doing the dishes. But Marion put the lie
to her earlier remark about us carrying our own weight, and shooed us out
‘Not tonight, sweetlings.’ She told us, almost
tenderly, ‘You’ve had your showers and your dinner; now off
you go to bed.’ And she tousled Duo’s hair as she came by him.
My heart staggered, and I stared at him hard, moving to slip
an arm around him in support, as if my presence could keep the thing that
had happened to Quatre from happening to him.
He smiled at me softly, accepting the support, telling me
just how very tired he must be. I thought back, realizing his fall had to
have happened not long after the explosion, just before the twenty mile
run through the damned, dark forest, under full pack.
‘Marion,’ I asked, not liking to speak with her
directly at all, but having little choice, ‘do you have any…’
‘Pain medication’s in the bathroom.’ She
told me, before I could finish the sentence, and I glanced up to see her
busily clearing the table, not even looking our way. I shivered. Duo didn’t
seem to notice.
‘Let’s get you upstairs.’ I told him softly,
and the three of us left the kitchen.
I would have carried him, but he wasn’t so far gone
that he was ready to put up with that, glaring at the both of us as we hovered
over him on the stairs. I made him stop off in the bathroom and convinced
him to swallow a couple of the pain pills. He was starting to complain rather
loudly about being treated like an invalid, but I was just so relieved that
he was still…normal, that I didn’t respond to his barbs.
Wufei vanished into his own room while we were still arguing
in the bathroom, and then finally, I had Duo stripped and in a pair of shorts,
sitting on the side of his bed and we were alone.
‘Duo…’ I began, and then I heard the pounding
of little running feet and the sharp squeal of Quatre’s laughter and…something
I went to the door in time to see Quatre and Trowa racing
each other down the hall, laughing in wild, childish screams. I hadn’t
been there to see Trowa’s transformation, but there he was…no
more than five. They darted into their room, and I watched long enough to
see them climb together into the center of one of the beds and begin to
bounce like they were on a trampoline. I closed our door and turned away
only to find Duo curled in a ball in the center of his bed, sound asleep.
I sighed, went and drew his quilts over him and sought my
own bed, suddenly just too damned tired to care.
I awoke to a near dark room, momentarily disoriented, not
sure what had disturbed me, and not certain where I was, and that scared
me a little; a soldier should never wake like that. Then it flooded back
and I remembered the strange house and the strange woman and the stranger
thing that had happened. But that wasn’t what had roused me from an
exhausted sleep, and my eyes sought Duo’s bed, terrified that I would
find him there, reduced like Trowa and Quatre, to early childhood. What
I found instead was my partner sitting up in the center of his bed, hands
clutching at the cross at his throat, rocking himself gently back and forth,
utterly soundless in the darkness.
I rose without speaking and went to sit beside his hunched
form, wrapping myself around him close and warm. I knew this wasn’t
one of the infamous nightmares, the whole house would have known if it had
been. But I wasn’t sure what thing had laid claim to him in the night.
I pulled myself into his dark world, moving with him until it was me doing
the rocking and his face was buried against my shoulder. He was tense and
trembling, very near tears.
‘Heero….Oh Gods, Heero…I’ve lost her…she’s
I was utterly clueless. I didn’t know this nightmare,
I didn’t know who he was talking about. So I just held him and rocked
him and stroked his hair and waited for him to tell me.
‘The little ones… Ren, Py, Dart, Cat, Cutter,
Mary Lynn, Mad Dog, Race, Eel, Long Tom, Solo.’ He said the names
slowly and solemnly, pausing after each one, voice faint and far away. ‘I’ve
lost Py…I can’t see her.
I made soft noises, unsure of my ground here, unsure what
‘I have the names…I can remember all the names…and
the faces that go with them…but I’ve lost Py. I can’t
He was in agony, his voice full of pain, twisted with guilt.
I still wasn’t sure I understood completely, but I understood a little,
and I tried to reassure him with words that even I knew were meaningless,
and he got a little angry.
‘No! I’m the last of us! I’m the only one
left to remember them, when I forget, then…then they’re dead
forever! I swore I’d remember…I swore…’
A single tear forced its way passed his defenses, tracking
a silver trail down his cheek in the dim, dim light of a distant moon.
I stopped trying to make it better, and just held him, sliding
into his bed with him and letting him wrap himself around me to take what
comfort he could find in my presence. He grew quiet, and I might have thought
he had eased back into sleep had I not felt how taut and tense his body
was next to mine. He would shiver hard every little bit, like a man who
was diving deep in the water desperately searching for a drowning friend,
only to be forced back to the surface to gasp for air himself. He was diving
in his own memory, trying to make the pictures come back, trying to resurrect
the face of this Py from a mind overloaded with pain and loss. He tried,
I could feel him trying, as desperate as a father for the life of his own,
and I suddenly flashed on the pain that had washed over him at the supper
table when little Quatre had hugged him tight. At great length, he grew
still and whispered soft as a sigh, ‘She’s gone.’
All I could say was, ‘I’m so sorry, love. So very
sorry.’ Understanding without fully understanding.
He slid his arms tight around my torso, pressing himself close,
and I stroked his cheek, his brow, sifted wisps of his hair in my fingers
and murmured soft nonsense until he was carried away by sleep again, and
I saw to it that he slept long and deep.
I lay awake the remainder of the night, using my voice and
my hands to assure his rest; I was determined that nothing would disturb
him. He so sorely needed respite, to put aside these heavy burdens and just
let himself rest. He had been riding the ragged edge of his endurance for
so long, barely recovering from one blow before it seemed he was struck
down by another. It tore at my heart to watch him rise again and again,
bloodied and bowed, but somehow never quite broken. Never letting himself
give up, never letting himself just stay down and say, enough. He owned
me; heart and mind, body and soul. How could you ever glimpse the bright,
shining spirit that lived behind the laughing mask and not give yourself
up entirely? And then, of course, there was the incredible miracle that
he loved me. He loved me; Heero the perfect damn soldier Yuy. I didn’t
deserve what I had with him; I didn’t deserve what he gave me with
every breath he drew. I could spend my life trying to repay what he had
gifted me with and never manage it. I wanted to bear every one of his burdens;
take every one of his scars, lift the pain from his heart so I never had
to see its ghost in his eyes again.
Gods, I was tired. Duo would tell me I was getting damned
poetic for a Gundam pilot. But then he would smile that tender, sweet smile,
and kiss me hard.
I missed his music. I think he had lost most of his CDs in
the mad scramble to get out of that last safe house alive. I missed most
the soft lilting voice and the gentle harps of the one we had taken to falling
asleep to at night. I vowed to replace it for him the next chance I got,
it seemed to ease him off to sleep at night, and I had grown accustomed
to the sounds myself.
Dawn came, at long last, and I yearned to stretch cramped
muscles, but Duo was still sprawled across me, limp and sunk so deeply in
his sleep that I could barely feel the brush of his breathing; his heart
a slow, steady pulse against my chest. So I watched him now that there was
light enough to see; watched his face, unlined and clear in the innocence
of sleep, all the pain erased, all the care set aside. Not the bright mask,
jeweled with his manic grin, that he wore so often, but a true look of peace,
and how I wished I could grant him that expression with his eyes open.
I began to hear the sounds of the house awakening around us,
water running, the sound of doors opening and closing. I heard Quatre and
Trowa come out of their room, talking in loud whispers, cautioning each
other to ‘Be quiet!’ as they made their way downstairs. Then
I heard Wufei come out of his room, and was relieved to measure the sound
of his tread and know that he was, at least for now, still all right.
I don’t know if the sounds filtered through or not,
but beside me, Duo began to stir. I felt it in his breathing first, a very
subtle change that I doubt anyone else would have noticed. Slowly, he shifted
and his eyes were blinked open under a deepening frown, a groan escaping
as he rolled free of me, hands moving to rub sore spots, finding painful
bruises and dropping away.
‘Oh Gods…tell me you got the number of the truck
that ran over me.’ He moaned piteously, hands finally settling on
rubbing at his eyes.
I propped myself up on one elbow to look down at him, ‘Not
the first time.’ I chuckled, ‘But when he backed up and ran
over you again, we wrote it down.’
He laughed out-right, dropping his hands to look up at me,
‘Well, aren’t we perky this morning?’
‘Been watching you sleep.’ I smiled and leaned
down to kiss the end of his nose.
He frowned slightly, ‘How long have you been awake?’
He can tell when I’m lying nine times out of ten, so
I told the truth, ‘Oh, I’ve been pining over your beautiful,
reclining body all night long.’ I leaned down for a soft kiss, ‘Just
lying here watching you breathe.’
He snorted, but couldn’t hide the smile, and reached
up with his un-bruised arm, and pulled me down for a deeper kiss.
That was what we were doing when the door flew open, and two
little voices chorused, ‘Eewwwww!’
Duo broke free, peeking over my arm with a slightly embarrassed
grin and suddenly there were four of us in the bed. The two of them were
giggling and crawling all over us like a couple of hyper puppies, and I
pulled Duo into the shelter of my arms to protect his bruised body from
the flying elbows and knees.
‘Careful, guys.’ I found myself admonishing; surprising
myself, ‘Duo’s hurt.’
They both stopped instantly, sitting back and looking at Duo
wide eyed. They were both still wearing pajamas, looking ruffled from sleep.
‘Is that why you were kissing him?’ asked Quatre,
Duo couldn’t help a charmed chuckle, ‘Yeah, kiddo;
Heero was kissing my boo-boo.’
‘What happened, Duo?’ Trowa wanted to know, edging
Duo eased himself up into a sitting position, leaning against
me for support, ‘It’s Ok, guys; I just fell down.’
Their eyes seemed to take in the dark bruises for the first
time, and they made little ‘Oh!’ sounds almost in unison.
Then Quatre squirmed forward and gently kissed Duo on the
shoulder, right in the middle of a large, black bruise, ‘Does it feel
better now, Duo?’ he asked, bright-eyed, and Duo smiled down at him,
reaching to brush his fingers through tousled golden hair.
‘Yeah, kiddo, it feels a lot better, thanks.’
He said gently.
Then, of course, Trowa had to come and kiss Duo’s boo-boo
as well. He gave them a hug, pulling them against his chest while he covered
the look of pain that crossed his face that had nothing to do with bruises
or scrapes. When he let them go, he was smiling again.
‘What’d you come up here for, guys?’
‘Oh!’ Trowa burst out, obviously remembering that
they had indeed come here on a mission. ‘Mama-Marion says to come
down for breakfast!’ And they were bouncing back off the bed, running
from the room, yelling for Wufei.
‘Why’d Duo look so sad?’ Quatre whispered
to Trowa as they left the room.
‘I dunno,’ Trowa replied, ‘Maybe ‘cause
Heero’s such a bad kisser; he wasn’t kissing anywhere near Duo’s
Duo buried his head in his pillow to cover his laughter, and
it was a bright balm on my spirit.
When they were gone, I pulled the pillow away, ‘So now
I’m a bad kisser, am I?’ I murmured, seeking, and finding his
lips warm and hungry for mine.
‘Oh, not bad at all.’ He sighed and drew me down
with a desperate need that caught me completely off guard. It wasn’t
passion that ran through him with a sudden shiver, but just a deep wanting
of …I’m not sure; of my protection? Not quite it. Shelter? No…more
than that. Security? Closer. Whatever it was, if it was mine to give, it
‘I’m here, my heart.’ I breathed, nuzzling
against his hair.
‘I love you so much.’ He returned, voice husky
with emotion, ‘You’re always there to catch me when I fall.’
‘Trowa and Quatre were right;’ Wufei’s voice
interrupted from the doorway, ‘Eewwwww.’
Duo was laughing again, sliding out of my arms in defeat,
‘May as well get up, Heero; I don’t think we’re going
to get any peace until we go eat breakfast.’
I got out of bed, stretching sore, cramped muscles, and unintentionally
leaving Duo open to Wufei’s gaze.
‘What in the hell happened to you?’ He wanted
to know, a concerned frown creasing his brow.
Duo looked sheepish, ‘I wasn’t quite under cover
when that explosion went off.’
‘You told me you fell.’ I turned an accusing glare
‘I did.’ He replied, obviously sorry he’d
said what he had, ‘When the explosion knocked me over the edge.’
‘Duo! That wasn’t a ravine that was a fucking
‘I did not,’ He said a little testily, ‘fall
all the way to the bottom.’
Wufei came and sat down on the bed and looked him over critically,
‘Good thing you were in full combat gear or you’d look like
He was interjecting himself between my sudden fear born anger,
and Duo’s icy resentment. Trying to defuse the situation, and I could
see it and knew I was ‘doing it’ again. I took a deep breath
and forced myself to calm down. He was here and he was all right. Mostly
all right. Damn.
I went to the dresser to get us clothes.
‘Uhmmm…something loose, Ok Heero?’
I snorted and found him a pair of stretchy shorts and a loose
tank top, then dug out a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt for myself.
I managed to stay on my side of the room while he dressed
himself, though it was obviously a slow, painful process, as he moved abused
muscles. When he was done, he lay himself carefully back down and groaned,
‘I’m gonna skip breakfast.’
‘No you’re not.’ Wufei and I chorused together,
and shared a grin over his defeated moan.
It took us both, teasing and half carrying, to get him moving
in the direction of the kitchen. In the light of day, the bruises were horribly
livid, and somehow seemed to have multiplied over night. He moved like a
very old, arthritic man; slow and careful.
Quatre and Trowa were already at the table, dressed and waiting
impatiently for us to arrive, obviously having to wait for their breakfast
until we were all there.
Marion turned from the stove with a large pot when she heard
us come in, and a grimace crossed her face as she saw Duo, with Wufei and
me hovering at his side, easing into his seat.
The look passed quickly, and she called a cheery good morning
to us as she came to the table with the steaming pot.
‘Wufei, dear, would you mind pouring the milk please?’
Wufei gave her a small smile and an incline of his head.
‘Certainly, Mama-Marion.’ I had trouble believing
he called her that.
‘Sunshine, be a sweetheart and fetch the toast.’
She addressed Quatre as she began spooning something rather disgusting looking
into their bowls. It didn’t smell bad, but it looked like…brown
paste. She moved around the table, dishing up a portion into the bowl in
front of me, before moving on to Duo.
‘What is it?’ I demanded, forgetting all attempts
at manners as I stared down at the glop.
‘Oatmeal. It’s….it’s oatmeal.’
I looked up sharply at the strange quality in Duo’s voice and found
him staring down into his bowl with an odd look of pain and longing in his
eyes. I saw him reach blindly for his spoon and hesitantly taste it. I almost
didn’t hear the words that slipped out next, almost as though he were
talking to himself.
‘Just…just like Sister Helen used to make…just
His eyes rose slowly and met mine, for a tiny frozen moment,
and I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know how to stop
He closed his eyes, and when they opened, he was five years
old. I watched it happen, but I can’t say I ‘saw’ it.
One second he was my Duo, and the next he was a bubbling, giggling five
year old eating oatmeal as fast as he could shove it in his mouth.
‘Slow down, Kittling.’ Marion cautioned him, smiling
at his obvious enjoyment.
‘Duo, you want some toast!’ Quatre asked him,
shoving the plate his way, ‘Trowa and I made it!’
Duo looked up at Marion, bright and eager, ‘Can I help
make breakfast tomorrow?’
‘Of course, kitten.’ She obliged him, ‘You
can even help gather the eggs that I’ll fix.’
Three voices laughed happily, and talk turned to chickens
and egg hunting. Wufei smiled around at them, eating his breakfast, and
I abandoned all hope of talking to someone else about what was going on.
I felt miserably alone, oddly betrayed, and utterly sick at heart, but still
there was that strange something that was trying to calm my fears and reassure
me that everything was all right.
I watched Duo eat and laugh with Quatre and Trowa, and suddenly
realized he wasn’t in pain any more. The bruises were gone, and more
than that; the depth of his eyes weren’t shadowed by things that remained
mostly a mystery to me. Old hurts, old pains. Things that I hoped he’d
share with me one day. They were gone. His eyes were bright and clear and
untroubled. How could that be wrong?
‘Heero?’ He was looking up at me, the happy smile
on his face slipping a little, ‘Don’t you like oatmeal?’
I looked down at the untouched bowl of glop again, and suddenly,
I wanted to taste it. This was something from Duo’s past; something
that was strong enough to take him over into the dream he, Quatre, and Trowa
were living in. I wanted to know what it tasted like, wanted to share that
flavor and to know the memories that went with it.
‘I…I’ve never had it before.’ I admitted,
looking into his face and trying to see Duo. His braid was gone; his hair
not quite long enough for that, but his eyes were there, his bright, beautiful
amethyst eyes; pulling at me with their newfound innocence. Even the scars
I took a bite, finding it not as unpalatable as it looked.
A little sweet, a touch of some spice, I could tell it would be truly awful
if you let it get cold. I smiled for him, just to see the angelic grin return
to his face.
‘Not bad.’ I winked at him, and he climbed down
from his chair, satisfied that I was going to eat breakfast now.
‘Mama-Marion!’ He was off on another tangent,
and I suddenly realized what a hand-full a five-year-old Duo Maxwell was
going to be, ‘Can I go with Quatre and Trowa to see the kittens?’
He was fairly bouncing where he stood.
‘Of course, Kittling.’ She smiled down at him
and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t holding a gun to her
head, insisting she turn them back. Except maybe I wasn’t entirely
sure I hadn’t lost my mind.
The three of them scampered out of the house through the pantry,
and the rest of us finished breakfast. Wufei and Marion exchanged banalities,
and I ate in a cloud of confused silence. And somehow, when the meal was
over, I wound up washing the damned dishes. Marion wanted to know if Wufei
would help her in the garden, and as they left the house, she called cheerily
‘Just stack the dishes in the drainer, Heero, dear;
we’ll put them away when they dry.’
I had little doubt what would happen in that garden. She would
use the herbs and the plants to get to Wufei the way she had used the animals
to get to Trowa, the familiar flavors and scents of Duo’s orphanage
home, and the warm, comfortable, quaintness of her house. I wished her luck
when she came for me.
Through the kitchen window, I could see the boys playing in
the yard with a half a dozen yapping puppies. Duo was on the ground, screaming
with laughter, while a brown spotted puppy licked at his face and hands.
I don’t know how long I stood, transfixed, staring out through the
glass at them, hearing their laughter filtered through from outside, before
I realized I wasn’t alone. I felt myself stiffen, angry that I had
been caught so off guard; Marion was standing right beside me, near enough
that she could have laid a hand on my shoulder. She knew, the moment I became
aware of her.
‘Don’t deny him the healing, Heero.’ She
said very softly, and turned and went back out to the garden.
‘Did you find a bucket, Mama-Marion?’ I heard
an unfamiliar child’s voice say, and knew it was Wufei. I was truly
I finished the stupid dishes, dried my hands and walked out
of the house in the other direction, finding a place on the porch swing
that let me watch over Duo and the others.
Healing? That’s what this was all about? Why did her
comment make me feel oddly better? Because it was confirmation that I wasn’t
crazy; there was something going on here, and I wasn’t the only one
who knew it.
Duo saw me, after a little while and ran over to grab my hand,
smelling of sweat and puppies, his hair an ungodly mess.
‘Heero, come and see the puppies!’ He beamed up
‘I can see the puppies from here.’ I told him,
resisting the pull of his hand, and I saw his smile slip.
‘Ahhhhh….come and play with them!’ He amended,
stopping his tugging and just looking up at me.
‘Not…not right now, Duo. You go play.’ I
did my best to smile down at him, while I struggled with the urge to shake
him and yell for him to snap out of it.
He turned and started down the steps and then paused and looked
back at me, ‘Heero…are you mad at me?’
Gods; so easily wounded. How had this fragile, sensitive child
grown into the flippant, smart-mouthed pilot who tagged himself the God
It tore at me, and I opened my arms to him, smiling warmly,
‘Of course not, little one.’
He flew to me, all laughter and smiles again, hugging my neck
hard, then ran off to join Trowa and Quatre and the puppies.
When I sat back down, Marion was sitting not far away in one
of the rocking chairs, a glass of lemonade sitting on the porch beside her,
a sketchpad in her lap. I hated how she kept sneaking up on me. I glanced
after Duo and saw that Wufei was with them now, as well, and they began
an impromptu game of tag.
Something tried to ease my fears and soothe my anger again,
but it wasn’t going to work. I knew now, that she knew what was happening
and I meant to get some answers.
‘What the hell is going on here?’ I growled, at
my most intimidating.
But all she did was click her tongue and shake her head sadly,
‘Heero, I am so sorry to have put you through this. I didn’t
realize at first what was going on.’
‘What are you talking about?’ I demanded, sitting
on the edge of the swing, and leaning toward her.
‘I have never had any of the soldiers under my care…notice,
before.’ She looked at me sidelong, as though I was something very
‘Explain.’ I grunted.
She sighed and reached for her glass, taking a sip and staring
off at the children, my teammates, playing in the yard. ‘I am a healer.
A healer of…spirit? Of the heart?’ She spread her hands as if
to dismiss the importance of terminology. ‘Soldiers don’t come
to me until they are very near to burning out.’
She looked over at me, as if gauging my belief in her story.
But I had seen my four partners change before my very eyes into laughing
children. I would hear her out.
‘I would have explained before now if I had realized
that you were…aware.’ She looked at me squarely, ‘It must
have been very frightening.’
I snorted; giving her a look that I hoped conveyed the fact
that I didn’t frighten easily, and I still didn’t trust her.
She set the glass back on the porch and opened the sketchpad,
taking the pencil from behind her ear and beginning to absently block in
a portrait of Quatre with one of the puppies.
‘You…boys,’ I noticed her hesitation, not
sure if she thought I would object to being called a boy, or if she herself
wasn’t sure the term fit, ‘are probably the worst case I’ve
‘We are…somewhat unique.’ I told her blandly,
watching the portrait take shape out of the corner of my eye.
It was her turn to snort derisively, ‘Unique. Interesting
definition.’ There was a small silence while, with just a few well-placed
lines; she captured the essence of Quatres smile. ‘The five of you
are here because someone in your chain of command felt you were nearing
the end of your collective ropes.’
For some reason, the thought of someone making this decision
about our lives without so much as consulting us, made me angry, ‘We
can handle it.’
She gave me an appraising stare, ‘Sure about that?’
She lay the pencil down for a moment while she reached for her glass, ‘Before
you say yes, remember; I saw you arrive here the other night.’
I bit my tongue, and thought about Duo, moving like a zombie,
holding himself upright with sheer will power. Trowa, so tired he was able
to doze even through the jolting ride of that military transport truck.
I could still see the empty-eyed stare on Quatre’s face, sprawled
across Trowa’s lap. Wufei, and I, so tired that neither of us had
even noticed Duo, barely able to haul himself up the stairs. How had we
not known that he had been caught in the explosion? I didn’t bother
to answer her.
The glass went back on the porch, and the pencil began working
its way to Quatre’s eyes. ‘This is all…little more than
an illusion, Heero.’ She said without looking at me, ‘But its
what I have to offer. It can heal, if you let it.’
I looked at her, hard. ‘How do I know I can trust you?’
I asked bluntly.
She sighed, ‘I don’t suppose you can, really.
You have my word, but since you don’t really know me, that’s
not worth much. You have the fact that I haven’t harmed anyone yet.
You’ve been eating my food and sleeping under my roof; I could have
poisoned you all that first night if that was my intention.’
I hadn’t really expected an answer, but was somehow
strangely put at ease by her candidness, ‘Why so young?’ I asked
She glanced at me with a look of deep sorrow and sighed heavily,
‘You can blame that on your little Duo.’ She told me softly,
‘I had to go that far back to get passed all the bad memories. It
still isn’t entirely far enough; but any further back and it would
be pretty pointless.’
I turned away from her, sitting sideways on the swing, and
pulling my knees up to my chest. In the yard, Duo was running after Trowa,
obviously ‘it’, and having trouble running down the longer legged
‘I won’t interfere.’ I found myself telling
her, surprised, and a little afraid that this acceptance was bred of whatever
spell she had woven round us.
She went completely still in her chair beside me, ‘Heero,
there’s more to it than that.’
I saw Duo stop running and turn to look toward me.
‘He’s still linked to you.’ She told me.
‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’ I snapped,
even as I saw his happy smile fade, to be replaced by concern. He took a
step toward us.
‘Your Duo, is still your Duo; and he senses your unhappiness.’
Her voice was compelling and soothing and it made me angry.
Duo was walking slowly toward us, game forgotten.
‘Don’t lose this, Cub; you both need it.’
Her voice was a sigh, and I could see myself chasing kittens in Duo’s
wake, and I wanted it. I wanted it so bad my heart hurt in my chest. I wanted
to hate her and thank her all at the same time.
‘Don’t.’ I managed, making myself look away
from Duo. I hadn’t seen what she would lure me in with. I hadn’t
seen this coming.
‘There’s something I need for you to do first.’
I gasped out, resisting the spell with all my will.
Duo had reached the steps and was looking up at me, face almost
fearful. I made myself smile and I beckoned him over.
‘Duo, do you…do you know a girl named Py?’
I was very afraid this might not be a good idea, that if he
wasn’t far enough back, this would be a bad thing for him to remember,
but his face broke out in a broad grin.
‘Yeah!’ he told me happily, ‘She’s
neat! She likes to set stuff on fire.’
‘Can you…can you tell Mama-Marion what she looks
‘Sure!’ He beamed at me, obviously happy to do
something I had asked of him.
Marion turned over a new page on her sketchpad and smiled
at me, ‘I understand, Cub.’
I smiled back and let myself go.
Liquid end-of-summer days. The kind from early childhood that
seem to go on endlessly. Time has no real meaning; when one golden day is
done, there will be another to follow it, with no thought of the future
at all. Now is all there is.
The five little boys ran and played and explored in those
days. They learned how to snap beans and shell peas. They learned that stones
flipped at just the right angle will dance across the top of the water.
They learned that there is nothing nicer than a fuzzy, snuggly afghan on
a cool evening while someone reads to you. They learned to bake cookies.
They learned that bathtubs could occupy hours while sea monsters attacked
fishing ships and mighty whales came to the rescue. They learned to play.
They learned to laugh. They learned to love unconditionally.
Marion had her hands full. Oh yes, indeed, she did. There
were band-aides to apply, and fears to soothe, stories to tell, and questions
to answer. Along with all the normal chores of cooking and cleaning and
laundry and garden work. She had to rescue the chickens from Heero when
one of them pecked Duo and made him cry. Had to get a ladder and fetch Duo
down from more than one high place he managed to get himself stuck in. Fix
the bed in Trowa and Quatre’s room after they bounced so hard the
slats underneath broke. Had to explain to Wufei that the black and white
striped ‘kittens’ that lived in the woods did not come to live
in the barn with the other ones. But she never yelled, never lost the oddly
melancholy smile, never ceased to have hugs and kisses and cookies.
In their turn, they brought her wild flowers from the fields,
and pretty rocks, and every frog and snake and slimy thing they managed
to catch. The flowers went in a mason jar on the table, the rocks on the
kitchen windowsill, and the living things back where they came from. They
caught her by surprise more than once, doing the unexpected, bringing bright
tears to her eyes, like the day that Heero came down and laboriously drug
a chair to the kitchen sink and demanded that she teach him how to make
oatmeal, ‘just the way Duo liked it’. Or Quatre wanting to know
what her last name was so that he could give it to Trowa and he could be
her little boy so he’d have a name of his own now. Wufei trying to
stop a fight between Heero and Duo over something silly, his face set in
a desperate scowl and tears streaming down his face. Trowa smuggling the
puppies into the house when Quatre started to worry that they would get
cold in the barn at night. And then there was Duo. She set aside an hour
each evening to spend with him and her sketchpad, doing her best to full-fill
the promise to her little wolf cub, Heero. Afterward, she always spent a
little time in her room alone, to rest, she told them, but it was so they
wouldn’t see her sit and cry.
She took them fishing, and taught them to fly kites. Made
a campfire and showed them how to toast marshmallows. Let them stay up late
to watch for falling stars laying in the grass wrapped in quilts, woke them
up early to see the deer at the edge of the woods come out to graze. They
made kool-aid in a big metal pan and poured it into mason jars to chill
in the refrigerator to be drunk in the heat of the day after puppy chasing
or exploring. In the evening she would sit and knit or crochet while she
read them stories of fanciful creatures and far off wonderful places, full
of love and peace and kindness. At night, she tucked them in snug and warm
with a kiss and a murmured ‘good night’, and there were no nightmares.
Idyllic. Endless. Healing. And over all too soon.
They were playing on the living room floor, building ramps
out of books and yardsticks, running cars made out of wooden spools and
sticks down them to crash into each other. Laughter sparkling bright and
Then Mama-Marion came down the stairs, and they all stopped,
knowing instantly that something wasn’t right. Gone was the apron
and the calico dress, gone the motherly smile. In their place, was a guarded
look and a full set of military camos, complete with guns.
Their game was forgotten and they drew together fearfully,
hands reaching for each other, and her look grew even more pained.
‘Little Cub,’ she called to Heero softly, ‘Come
He went to her without a thought, without a backward glance,
eyes meeting hers trustingly.
‘I’m sorry, my little one. But it’s time
to go.’ She leaned down and tousled his hair, letting her hand linger.
‘Heero…I need you.’
It was unbelievably disorienting, suddenly myself again. It
wasn’t as though I had been gone. I remembered everything from the
past…few weeks? Days? I wasn’t even sure. I just suddenly had
my normal, adult perspective back. I gasped with the pain of it, and her
hand was on my arm to steady me.
I took in what she was wearing, and the rifle she held in
‘How long do we have?’ I queried, moving quickly
out of the way so she could bring the others back.
She clicked her tongue and shook her head sadly, ‘A
bit yet; don’t go anywhere, I’m going to need you in a minute.’
Then she turned her attention to the wide-eyed boys left staring
up at her. I waited, using the time to memorize what Duo looked like; hair
a silky mess around his clear, unlined face; a smear of dirt across his
‘Come here my little Dragling.’ She called softly,
and Wufei came, getting the same treatment I had gotten, and I moved to
steady him while Marion called her Sunshine and then her little Angel to
When Trowa and Quatre were themselves again, she sent them
upstairs to gather our gear. Duo moved to my side, leaning against my leg
and taking hold of my hand, and I frowned at her, wondering why she was
taking so long.
She looked up at me sadly, ‘I’m sorry Heero, I
don’t normally do this so fast.’
I laid my hand on Duo’s shoulder, ‘What…?’
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
‘His injuries aren’t healed…when I bring
him back…it’s going to hit him all at once.’
My breath hissed between my teeth, and Wufei moved up protectively
on his other side. Duo peered up at her, confusion plain on his face.
‘I’m sorry Kittling.’ She sighed and reached
‘S’ok.’ He smiled bravely up at her, and
his hand tightened in mine.
‘Duo…come back.’ She whispered sadly, and
he was Duo again.
I had hold of him on his left side, and Wufei was on his right,
and there was a split second when we were bearing almost all his weight.
There was one, sharp cry, cut off abruptly and then he was there again,
leaning only slightly on my arm.
‘Ouch.’ He murmured, gracing Marion with a lop-sided
smile. I thought she would cry.
Her fingers brushed his cheek and she looked deep into his
eyes, ‘I’m so sorry, kit…Duo. So very sorry.’
He caught her fingers in his and beamed one of those killer
grins at her, his eyes supplying him with all the information I had already
‘Oh its all right; I’ve got a feeling I’m
gonna get to blow something up in a little while.’
She rolled her eyes and turned away, ‘Why am I not surprised
to find out you’re the groups demolitions expert.’
‘Not sure I’d call him an expert.’ Wufei
muttered beside us and Duo grinned at him.
‘You’re just jealous because we use my explosives
more often than we use your sword.’
We were moving even as they bantered; Trowa appeared at the
top of the stair and called down to Wufei before tossing him his full pack
and then turned to go back for more.
‘Swordsmanship requires finesse, Maxwell; something
you sorely lack.’
Quatre tossed down my pack and then Duo’s much lighter
one. I caught them and shouldered them both.
‘Heero…’ Duo glared at me.
‘Don’t argue with me.’ I commanded.
‘Heero, damn it; my weapons were all I salvaged.’
He growled at me, ‘Please tell me you’re not sending me out
‘Heero.’ Wufei said quietly, not looking at me,
as he distributed his own guns in various places about his person, ‘You’re
being an ass again.’
Trowa and Quatre were coming down the stairs, armed and ready
‘Heero,’ Quatre told me with a tight little smile,
‘I already put everything of his but the bare essentials in your pack
‘It’s a freaking conspiracy.’ Duo snapped
as he jerked his pack off my shoulder and pulled out his knife sheathes,
strapping them to thigh and forearm and belting on his gun harness.
Marion just shook her head and gestured us toward the pantry.
‘The pantry door is the most exposed…’ Trowa
began to argue with her, but then saw that she was leading us down into
‘Give me some credit, boys.’ She grinned at us
as she started down the stairs.
I was bringing up the rear, and heard the faint but unmistakable
sound of distant engines. ‘Move it. I hear them.’
She led us to a narrow break in the wall behind the water
heater that I would not have noticed without a thorough search.
‘It’s low; keep down.’ She whispered, not
having to be told to keep her voice low. ‘This runs straight away
from the house and comes out under cover in the woods.’
I heard the safety click off on her rifle, and then she was
in the tunnel and moving forward at a surprising rate. It was, of course,
single file, and badly as I wanted Duo in the center of the column, he wound
up with me bringing up the rear, though he didn’t even try to argue
with me about which of us was last into the tunnel. It was pitch black down
here, and we went by touch, each of us with a hand on the one in front so
we wouldn’t plow into each other if there were a sudden halt. The
tunnel was dirt and bedrock, and I felt the brush of cobwebs more than once;
so not often used. I wouldn’t want to be down here if our pursuers
I had been subconsciously counting off the strides, and estimated
we had probably come a quarter mile, and should be nearing the edge of the
woods by now. This tunnel was impressive and I had to wonder about its construction.
I’m sure Marion would miss this house now that it had been compromised.
I thought about all the things she had left behind. Her pack was smaller
than several of ours; she had walked away from everything without a backward
glance. I thought about the animals with a pang, but doubted that Oz would
bother with them.
Our little column slowed and then halted, there was a faint
gleam of light coming from ahead of us. A hand signal came back the line
to remain in position while Wufei did recon.
I turned my back on them, to keep my sight adjusted to the
dark and kept my eyes and ears trained on our back-trail. There was the
longest wait while I heard absolutely nothing in either direction, which
was a good thing, then Duo squeezed my shoulder and passed the sign to move
out. We crept forward, waiting the standard ten heartbeats between runs.
I saw Marion moving as easily and silently as any of us, keeping low and
finding cover. Then Trowa, then Quatre, finally Duo, and I kept my eyes
roving about the landscape until I saw him safely settled, then I made my
move and eased out of the tunnel seeking a stand of scrub that would cover
me and allow me to keep an eye on both Duo and Marion.
Damn. We were not dressed for this; Marion was the only one
even in camouflage gear. Duo and Quatre were both wearing white t-shirts
and tan shorts, both of them pale skinned. I saw Duo notice suddenly and
grimace, reaching down to at least smear some dirt across his face. I pulled
the pack around to see if I could find something he could slip on quickly
and found his camo pants and a dark shirt. I eased from my place and crawled
toward him, passing the clothes to him. It garnered me a look somewhere
between a grin and a glare, that clearly told me thanks, but it should have
been in my pack on my back to begin with.
I guarded him while he slipped into them, pulling them on
over the other clothes and quickly transferring his weapons. I glanced across
to see Quatre preparing to do much the same thing, waiting until Duo was
done so that there were not two of us so vulnerable. I moved back to my
patch of scrub and scanned the group; we weren’t perfect, but we were
Wufei, who had been at the far edge of our circle, where he
could see the house, moved back and waved us together.
‘They’re at the house. Two trucks. Easily thirty
men. We have to move before they find that tunnel.’
‘Let me go trap it.’ Duo said, and got enthusiastic
nods from the group before I had a chance to object. My mouth wasn’t
open yet, but I was thinking about it, then Marion was suddenly in charge.
‘Do it. Wufei, go with him. No chances and nothing fancy,
no more than three minutes.’ They went, scrambling and low. My heart
was in my throat as I watched them disappear back into the gaping black
maw of the tunnel.
‘Heero.’ She was snapping at me, ‘Get your
head together. Take Wufeis point position.’
I blinked at her, and blushed red, crawling away to take over
watching the house. Behind me, I heard orders being issued to Quatre and
Trowa, but her voice was tight and low and I didn’t hear it. Where
the hell had Mama-Marion gone?
Below me, across the meadow where we had picked flowers for
the dinner table, armed men were swarming around the house. It took all
my will to keep my eyes where they belonged and not on the mouth of that
They kept it barely to the time limit, scuttling back out
of the tunnel almost on the three-minute mark, Duo with a feral grin on
his face. Marion directed the retreat, using the standard hand signals as
though she had invented them. Somehow it never occurred to us to argue with
her. She carried her rifle with all the signs that she knew how to use it.
She wove us and wound us through the woods and I had to admit that she knew
what she was doing, going fast but not careless, silent as any of us and
obviously knowing just where she was going. Ten minutes into the march,
the trap in the tunnel exploded and she went to double time. She held it
for close to a half an hour before I started to see the signs that she was
finally wearing down, the occasional noise, a faltering limp. I called a
halt, usurping her authority. I waved Quatre in to check on her, and he
helped her ease to the ground, where she sat and panted quietly, and I could
see that she was arguing with Quatre about something. I ignored the exchange,
signaling Wufei to check the back-trail, and moving to check on Duo. He
was taking advantage of the stop to do all the little things you do when
your body is objecting to what you’ve been doing to it, stretching
and bending, trying to keep his muscles from stiffening and cramping.
I moved up beside him, giving him my arm to lean on as he
grabbed first one ankle and then the other, pulling his legs up behind him,
stretching thigh muscles.
‘You all right?’ I asked him softly.
He nodded sharply, but his face showed concern, ‘If
we stay still too long, everything’s going to seize up.’ He
admitted to me, and I knew he wouldn’t have mentioned it if it weren’t
a serious, performance fear. Then he jerked his head in Marion’s direction.
‘How’s she doing?’
‘Not sure yet.’ I told him, my eyes scanning the
forest even as I held his arm while he stretched and moved. ‘Can I
do anything for you?’
‘Not that I can think of.’ He grimaced and then
brightened, ‘Kiss it and make it better?’
I grinned with him over the shared memory and risked a quick
brush of our lips.
I left him to check on Quatre and Marion.
‘She says we’re about ten minutes from a pre-arranged
pick-up point.’ Quatre greeted me before I had a chance to open my
I grunted and looked at her critically. ‘At what pace?’
‘Our present one.’ He said meaningfully. Our present
pace being the one we were no longer able to maintain.
Wufei came jogging back to us. ‘Move out. Now. They
The look on Marion’s face became positively feral, and
she unlimbered her rifle. ‘Get the hell out of here.’ She ordered
tersely and beside her Quatre just sat and blinked in surprise.
‘Marion,’ I reached for her, and she actually
snarled at me.
‘Move it, soldier.’ She snapped, making all the
signs that she was getting ready to dig in.
‘We’re not leaving you here.’ Trowa said
softly, his eyes flicking between her and the direction we had come from.
‘I got you into this.’ She stated darkly, ‘I
will get you out. Now run, damnit!’
Duo came passed us all and bent and took her arm, saying something
low in her ear and her shoulders sagged in defeat, but she struggled up
and they started away together, setting a pace that wasn’t quite double
time, but still faster than I had imagined she could make.
Wufei caught my eye and I shrugged; I hadn’t heard what
he said either.
‘Lock and load.’ He grinned at me, and we followed
It was getting toward dusk, making the going tougher, as the
forest floor became a jumble of shadows where roots reached to grab at ankles,
and limbs slapped at faces. Bringing up the rear, I could actually make
out the sound of our pursuers, not bothering to be quiet, but shouting back
and forth and crashing through the brush. At the head of our column, I saw
Marion get some kind of second wind, letting go of Duo’s support and
moving forward a little faster. It made it easier on Duo as well, and he
moved away, pacing her, but staying close, gun in hand now. Our speed had
improved, but they were still gaining on us.
Then I suddenly realized the trees were thinning, and we had
run out of forest.
‘Shit!’ I muttered, but Marion had stopped at
the edge of the trees and was waving us to her.
‘This is it. There should be a chopper here any minute.’
She panted, face beet red and blotchy looking in the failing light.
Wufei glanced behind us, at the glimmer of flashlights following
our trail unerringly through the trees. ‘Not enough time.’ He
said tersely, looking at me for direction.
I wished the damned dogs would bark; their silence was eerie.
‘Spread out and take cover.’ I commanded looking around; at
least the ground was rocky, ‘Marion, give me your rifle. Quatre, get
her under cover as close to the landing zone as possible.’
She turned an angry glare at me, but I offered one of my handguns
in return, and reluctantly, she gave the rifle over. I needed something
with some range to it
‘Marion,’ I told her gently, ‘this is what
we do. Let us do it.’
Wufei, Trowa, and Duo were already dispersing; vanishing into
the trees. Quatre pulled Marion further up the tree line, toward an outcropping
of rocks with at least two lines of retreat.
I stood for a moment in the silence, listening hard, but heard
no sound of incoming chopper blades. I ghosted back the way we had come;
maybe if I could get the dogs I could slow them down.
I found Wufei on the back trail, ‘How many dogs?’
‘Three.’ He told me, face grim.
‘I’ll be back.’ I checked the load and the
safety on the rifle, ‘Don’t wait for me.’
He only grunted.
I needed to put a little distance between me and our location;
the muzzle flashes would give away my position as soon as I began firing.
I moved as silently as I have ever moved, going first straight
back before veering off to the right and breaking into a run parallel to
our original route. I found a position and waited for the dogs and their
handler to come into view. And damned if I didn’t feel bad about the
stupid dogs. In the distance, I thought I heard the heart beat thrum of
the chopper. Shit; now it shows up.
Then the time was right, and I took my shots. Four shots;
four hits, and I was gone from there.
It took them a moment, and then rifle fire was tearing up
the scrub in the vicinity of my former position. I had cut directly across
their trail, was completely on the other side of them, and was heading back
the way I had come. They held their position, returning fire into the night
for several long minutes, before realizing that no one was firing back.
I hoped they would waste time looking for a body.
It really didn’t matter now; I might as well have saved
myself the trouble, the sound of the incoming chopper would lead them straight
to us. I just put my head down and ran. Duo wouldn’t let them leave
without me or else he’d stay behind. Damn. Again with the life’s
lessons about soldiers and entanglements.
Sure enough, as I pounded back up the trail, I heard Duo and
Wufei cursing at each other in low growls. I could guess what about. The
sound of our ride out of here was definitely getting closer. I whistled
the signal sharply, to avoid getting ventilated by my own teammates, and
the argument stopped dead in its tracks.
‘What the hell were you thinking?’ Duo snapped,
as I rejoined the group.
Adrenaline was still coursing through my system and I recklessly
grabbed him around the waist and pulled him close enough to hiss in his
ear, ‘Worry sucks, doesn’t it?’ Letting him go almost
instantly to stride on by to give Marion her rifle back.
‘They’re close.’ I informed the group, ‘But
without their dogs, and being a little more cautious than they were.’
I turned to Marion, the question unspoken, but clearly understood.
‘There.’ She pointed, ‘In the center of
this arm of the meadow.’
The rotor noise was near enough now that I could tell it was
one of the large troop transport ships, great-grandson of the old Jolly
Greens. It was almost here.
‘Time to go, boys.’ Marion told us, just as I
arrived at that conclusion and we moved out of our tree line cover and ran
for the landing zone.
The ship hove into view ahead of us, running treetop low and
coming to meet us. I honest to Gods thought we were going to make it, when
the first shots rang out behind us, and Wufei faltered. Duo was right there,
darting in and catching him before he hit the ground, and I breathed again
when I realized he was still moving partially under his own power.
I turned, and fired almost blindly at the tree line. They
had rifles, and the range advantage, not moving out of their cover, but
well able to pick us off. But it was too late; we were committed, there
was nowhere else to go. Behind me, I heard the crack of Marion’s rifle,
and damned if a body didn’t fall out of the trees. I turned back and
continued my run, finding her sprawled on the ground in a snipers position,
firing shot after shot into the trees. I moved to cover her.
She laughed harshly as I dropped down beside her, ‘The
idiots are too stupid to turn the damn flashlights off!’ and I saw
another body fall, and a third light fall to the ground in the trees.
I grunted, and she laughed again, ‘What’s the
matter, Cub? Think I carried the gun just ‘cause it went with the
I did my best to shield her with my body as she returned fire;
our best hope, as the rest of us only had handguns and I doubted, even as
I fired, that my shots were getting to their target.
I glanced around, finding us all on the ground, returning
fire as we could. Duo had Wufei on the ground and was sprawled across him,
using his body to protect him as best he could. My heart turned over, but
I realized it was no more than I was doing myself and I had to bite my tongue.
Then there was the wind of the chopper blades, and we suddenly had real
cover fire from the side gunner on board.
‘Move out!’ Trowa screamed over the roar of the
blades, ‘Chopper on the ground! Move out!’
I hauled Marion to her feet, and shoved her that way in front
of me. I could hear the damned bullets singing in the air. I got her to
where Trowa and Quatre were waiting to boost her in, and turned back to
find Duo and Wufei. They were on their feet, Wufei hanging in Duo’s
grasp as they stumbled toward us. I could see them arguing even as they
came, and I would have laughed if my heart hadn’t been in my throat.
I ran to meet them, grabbing Wufei from the other side, and we sprinted
for the open side of the chopper, staying clear of the side gunner and Mama-Marion’s
We handed Wufei up to Trowa’s waiting hands, and then
we were making the scramble ourselves as the chopper lifted away in a dizzying
sudden turn and lift.
I just lay on the damn floor; Duo sprawled across me with
one hand clinched on my belt in a death grip. The machine gunner finally
stopped firing and we were flying through the dark with just the sound of
the roaring blades.
‘Status!’ I yelled over the noise when I had my
‘Heero; will you fucking grab hold of something!’
Duo was screaming at me, and I realized that my legs were still dangling
over the edge of the deck. I drug myself around and sat up against the wall
behind the pilots cabin where there were straps to hang onto. Duo had himself
already anchored there, and I finally figured out why he had his hand permanently
glued to my belt.
‘Sorry, love.’ I mouthed at him with a grin, and
he just glared, not moving his hand.
‘Status?’ I yelled again, looking around at our
little group and waiting for the replies to come.
‘Clear.’ Quatre was the first to reply, and it
meant he had come through completely unscathed.
‘Clear.’ Coming from Trowa, who was bending over
I got a hesitant, ‘Not in danger.’ From Wufei,
indicating wounded, but non-life threatening.
There was a moment’s silence, and I felt Duo finally
let go of me and then he grunted a dismal ‘Unsure.’ that brought
me around in a panic. He was looking down at blood-covered hands, and when
he saw me looking at him, slowly turned his back to me. His shirt was blood
soaked across his shoulders, and I felt four pairs of eyes on me waiting
for my assessment. I just grabbed his t-shirt collar in both hands and ripped
it off. It was a bullet crease. Clear across his shoulder blades, bloody
and ugly, but not bad. I had to clear my throat.
‘Not…not in danger.’ I managed to choke
out and my hands were suddenly shaking. Why in the bloody hell was it always
Duo? He turned back to face me with a faint grin, ‘You?’
‘What?’ I grunted, confused.
‘Status, Heero; what’s your status?’
I had to stop and think about it, looking down at myself to
be sure, and finally, Duo was shoving me first one way and then the other
checking me over thoroughly, before pronouncing me ‘Clear.’
Duo glanced up then to the opposite side of the transport
where Mama-Marion was sitting and watching us quietly.
‘Mama-Marion?’ he hollered at her, ‘What’s
She flashed him a smile and ducked her head a little before
telling us almost sheepishly, ‘Uhmmmm…not in danger?’
It’s a wonder the pilot didn’t lose control of
the chopper from the sudden shift in the weight as Trowa and Quatre both
scrambled to her side. She turned out to have a bullet in her right arm
and sat quietly smiling around at us while Trowa cleaned and bound it up.
Quatre stayed with her when they were done, while Trowa came with the med-kit
and set to work on Duo.
I helped him strip off the remains of the shirt and Trowa
cleaned out the wound before applying gauze padding and wrapping bandages
around Duo’s torso. Then he returned to Wufei so that each of our
wounded had someone with them.
The door gunner sat in his harness, perched almost outside
the choppers side, eyes on the ground and hand on his guns, but there wasn’t
another attack. I didn’t envy him his exposed position. Had he not
been sitting there; a stranger in our midst, I would have had Duo in my
arms, and I think he would have been there. He looked tired, and I could
tell from his slow movements that his muscles were painfully cramping and
stiffening up. We sat side by side, though I was leaning against the cabin
wall, while Duo sat hunched forward, protecting his back, we let our legs
touch, the best we could manage.
Wufei lay with one hand draped in a harness strap, his injured
leg stretched out on the deck, eyes closed. I couldn’t tell if he
was asleep or not. Trowa hovered over him. Quatre was just sitting with
Mama-Marion, lightly holding her hand and letting his eyes wander across
the group much the way I was. While Mama-Marion just sat and smiled around
at us, simply happy, I think, that we had all come out alive. It took several
hours, and it was full dark, before we got to a base and the chopper finally
We got our wounded out and on the deck, both the gunner and
the pilot coming to give Mama-Marion a hug as though they knew her, before
vanishing into the hanger. Trowa supported Wufei and I supported Duo and
we walked out of there under our own power. We could have waited for the
medics and the fuss, but that’s just not the way we did things. We
were soldiers just like everyone else on this base, but we were Gundam pilots
and that set us off somehow; we never quite fit in. You walked into a mess
hall where they knew what you were, and the conversation would stop. Tended
to make us hang together.
Mama-Marion walked just ahead of us, Quatre at her elbow,
smiling around the base as though she was coming back to place she knew
well, but hadn’t been in awhile. She greeted more than one person
with a ‘sweetling’ or a ‘pup’ or a ‘bright-eyes’.
Those people so graced, would grin and come hug her, and call her ‘Mama-Marion’
and fuss over her bound up arm. She just waved them off and led us into
the depths of the base toward the infirmary. We were met half way there
by a puffing commander Worthington and a grinning Lt. Noin.
Worthington looked relieved to have caught up to us, looking
rather like a man who had opened a box of chocolates only to find it full
of shit. I wondered if this was the man who had determined that we had been
‘at the end of our ropes’.
‘Marion,’ he seemed genuinely happy to see us
all in one piece, but I scowled at him anyway just on general principle
and the fact that he was slowing down my efforts to get Duo and Wufei medical
attention. ‘So glad to see you made it.’
‘Not unscathed, however, Bertie,’ Mama-Marion
patted his cheek as she breezed by, catching his arm and dragging him along,
‘You wanna talk; walk with us. I want my boys in the sick-bay.’
Duo had to lean his forehead against my shoulder to stifle
his laugh, and we bowed our heads together pretending it was a sound of
Commander Worthington glanced at us and matched his pace with
Mama-Marion’s, ‘Of course.’
Duo didn’t raise his head until the mans back was turned,
and then the look he got from a near giggling Noin almost made him lose
it again. We were getting close to our destination, and I swept Duo up in
my arms, careful of his back and let him bury his face in my shoulder where
he could grin all he wanted.
It really was rather funny; the man seemed such a pompous
ass, and Mama-Marion was treating him not like a base commander, but like
another one of her brood of children, almost as though she ran things around
here and not him.
When we barged into the infirmary, it was just as though she
did run things. She started throwing orders around, and people jumped like
she was using that rifle still slung over her shoulder to threaten them.
She had ‘her boys’ deposited on beds in a matter
of minutes, directing the medics and nurses like a five star general. I
caught Trowa’s eye, and we moved in on either side of her. I took
the rifle away and passed it to Quatre and then we turned her away and headed
her toward an empty bed, ‘Enough, Mama-Marion. I think they know how
to do their jobs.’
She grinned at us, patting first my face and then Trowa’s,
‘Of course, Poppets.’ And meekly let us settle her, her pack
still clutched lightly in her good hand and when Trowa tried to take it
from her, she resisted a moment, before passing it to him with a soft, ‘Keep
an eye on it for me, won’t you Angel?’
Somewhere in there, Commander Worthington vanished, and once
he was gone, Noin was pushing passed us, grinning from ear to ear and hugging
Mama-Marion for all she was worth.
‘Hellcat? Is that my little Hellcat?’ Mama-Marion
beamed at her and finally had her attention diverted and the medic was able
to move in and start to work on her arm. Trowa and I faded back, leaving
The nurse was unwrapping Wufei’s field dressing and
I finally got a good look at his wound; fairly clean, through the calf,
missing bone and major blood vessels, thank the Gods, but bleeding still
and obviously damned painful, Quatre was by his side, trying to comfort,
while Wufei was busily not needing comfort. I didn’t think Wufei would
ever change. Trowa stayed with them, and I moved on to check on Duo.
He was sprawled on his stomach, head pillowed on folded arms,
grinning from ear to ear while he waited his turn to be poked and prodded.
‘Hellcat?’ He snickered, watching Mama-Marion
and Noin deep in conversation.
I squatted by his bed and smiled at him, ‘Don’t
laugh; you’re Kittling.’
He blinked and blushed lightly, ‘Oh yeah, that’s
right…Cub.’ And his impish grin was back.
I grunted and let my fingers brush lightly across his arm.
The intensity of his grin faded to a warm smile meant just for me, and his
eyes told me he wanted much, much more than just that small touch.
The medic came then and he hissed in irritation, as he looked
Duo over, ‘What the hell did you do?’ He questioned me, ‘Drag
I grunted again and resisted the urge to explain to this man
that it was hardly my fault; I had not been the one to throw my partner
off a stinking cliff. Instead, I moved back and gave them room as a nurse
came up and began helping.
One look at his battered body, and they sent him to x-ray
and then ran an ultrasound. I heard mutterings about Gundam pilots being
made out of gundanium, and Duo was finally settled in a bed, sprawled on
his stomach, pumped full of pain killers and pretty much passed out cold.
Wufei had endured stitches and was ensconced in the bed next
to Duo, an IV in his arm, asleep as well.
Trowa, Quatre and I sat on a couple of the nearby beds, the
place was empty except for us, and waited for Mama-Marion to come back from
surgery. The doctors had left, either to surgery or to their beds, and there
was one lone nurse on duty, but she gave us a wide berth. I fully intended
on sleeping in here tonight, and was relieved to see that I wouldn’t
get any trouble from her. She came near our end of the room only when her
job required it.
A second nurse wheeled Mama-Marion back into the room about
a half an hour later, dressed in one of those ridiculous hospital gowns,
with her upper arm swathed in clean, white bandages. She directed the nurse
to the bed she had chosen for herself and insisted on climbing into it unaided
even though the three of us and both nurses were hovering there to help.
‘I’m old, sweetlings,’ She informed the
room at large, ‘Not helpless.’
She settled herself and directed us around with a certain
amount of glee; after all, she had been waiting on us for…for…a
She retrieved her pack from Trowa with a slightly relieved
look, sent one of the nurses for water, sent Quatre to fetch an extra pillow
and had me adjusting the head of her bed. We were delighted to attend to
After a bit, the extra nurse left the room and the on duty
one returned to her desk across the room.
‘Come here, Cub.’ She said and had me come and
sit on the edge of her bed. Trowa and Quatre stifled yawns and she waved
them off to sleep.
‘Go on, little ones; go to sleep.’ Trowa just
chuckled and shook his head. At his normal height, he towered over her small
frame. They each came and gave her a soft peck on the cheek, looking almost
surprised at themselves, then went to find beds near Wufei and Duo.
‘So, tell me, my little wolf Cub;’ she asked once
they were gone, ‘How is our Duo?’
‘He’s Ok.’ I smiled at her, ‘Damned
sore; but Ok.’
She patted my hand, ‘And my little Dragling?’
I grinned; Duo was going to get so much mileage out of these
pet names. ‘Resting. Bullet missed anything major.’
She nodded once, in seemed satisfaction, and then looked at
me critically, ‘And you, Cub?’
I snorted, ‘I’m fine.’
‘Don’t look fine.’ She retorted, ‘Look
I shook my head ruefully and repeated, ‘I’m fine.’
With a little more emphasis.
‘You’re not responsible for everything, wolfling.’
She gave me a mock glare, ‘Stop taking the whole wide world on your
I quirked an eyebrow at her, ‘Oh? You have room to talk.’
I grinned, ‘Or did you think I wouldn’t know why you picked
the bed between us and the door.’
She had the decency to blush slightly, ‘Hmmm, busted,
huh?’ she grinned, then gave me a calculating look, ‘But then,
I just realized you took the bed closest to the door back at the house.
Some reason you recognized what I was doing?’
It surprised both a laugh and a blush out of me. Yes, I always
took the bed by the door. I put myself between my partner and any possible
danger whenever I could. I did it without thinking about it. I don’t
think Duo even realized why I always ‘liked’ that side of the
‘But then,’ I returned, on sudden inspiration,
‘That’s why your room was the first one at the top of the stairs.’
If anything, her grin got wider, ‘Guess we’re
just two of a kind, Heero; always on point.’
We chuckled together for a moment and then she shooed me off
to bed as well. I gave her that same peck on the cheek, hardly believing
I did it and went to make my rounds one more time, finding Trowa and Quatre
sprawled, asleep in the two beds next to Wufei, who was still sleeping soundly
as well. I found Duo with a slight frown on his face, struggling to return
to the depths of sleep.
‘What’s the matter, love?’ I murmured softly,
so as not to disturb the others.
‘S’cold.’ He muttered and I pulled a blanket
off a nearby bed to add to the one he already had, tucking him in as gently
as I could manage, and after a moment, the frown cleared away and he drifted
back to sleep. I sought the bed next to his, not bothering to do more than
kick off my shoes.
I thought about what she had said; always walking point. Always
on guard. It was true. Everything that meant anything to me was in this
room, and these feelings of…caring…were new and precious enough
that I felt a constant, gnawing fear that they would be stripped away from
me. Every hurt they suffered was a wound on my heart. How could I not be
on constant guard? How could you ever relax when you suddenly found yourself
with so much to lose?
I slept fitfully, waking several times in the night to make
my rounds, checking on all that was mine to protect. Once, finding Quatre
curled in a tight ball, I found another blanket and covered his chilled
frame. Another round found Wufei awake and wanting water he wouldn’t
ask for, but I could tell from the hoarseness of his voice. A third round,
in the small hours of the morning, and Mama-Marion cracked an eye-lid and
called me an idiot and told me to go back to bed.
Finally, morning arrived, bringing a shift change and the
doctors back to poke and prod some more. By mutual assent, we made ourselves
ready to go, informing the medics we were leaving as much as we were released.
It got us frowned at and fussed over, and bottles of painkillers and antibiotics
were pressed into my hands, but by mid-morning, we had the lot of us dressed
and ready to move out. Mama-Marion had somehow disappeared during the brief
time that I had slept and we waited around for a while, hoping to be able
to tell her goodbye. Finally, we had to go, and made our way to the transport
bay somewhat reluctantly. Wufei on crutches, and Duo not even complaining
when I shouldered his backpack. A truck would take us to a yet unknown address,
where we would wait to receive orders before moving on to the next safe
house, and we shared a mutual hope that it was better accommodations than
the place Duo had dubbed ‘the house of fleas’.
Our gear had already been thrown into the back of the truck,
and we were standing there trying to figure out how to get Duo up there
without tearing open the wound across his back, when Lt. Noin came dashing
into the bay, panting and glaring at us.
‘Oh…you are gonna be in so much trouble with Mama-Marion
if you don’t stop right there.’
‘What’s up, Hellcat?’ Duo grinned at her,
leaning against the tailgate, trying to pretend he wasn’t standing
there because he couldn’t haul himself up into the back of the truck
‘She sent me to find you, Kittling. Said to not let
you leave until she got here.’ She grinned back at him and Duo repressed
Further banter was cut short when Marion breezed into the
transport bay, in uniform with her arm in a sling, her pack over her shoulder
and a wide grin on her face.
‘There you are, sweetlings!’ She greeted us, ‘Don’t
tell me you were going to leave without saying goodbye?’
Trowa, who had been in the back of the truck stowing gear,
jumped down and we clustered around her, for all the world like the little
children we had been while under her care.
She smiled around at us, and I could feel her affection in
the weight of her gaze. Noin faded from the circle, giving us this bit of
almost privacy. Marion pulled Quatre into a bear hug, ruffling his pale
hair and then reaching to include Trowa as well.
‘You two take care of each other, you hear me?’
She had to tilt her head up to look at Trowa, and he leaned down to kiss
her cheek, just as I remembered doing each night at bedtime. It was strange
having these memories, distant and yet not.
Wufei required a sharp tug on his ponytail to get him to unbend
and hug the woman; I suspect he was having a little trouble reconciling
some of his new childhood memories with his current state of mind. I seemed
to recall several somewhat undignified images of our stoic partner. But
hug her he did, with a faint blush, and even kissed her cheek and finally
smiled at her.
‘Ah, my little Dragling,’ She gave his hair another
tug, ‘Loosen up a little bit. I swear to the Gods; it won’t
He actually snorted a little laugh and gave her another hug,
whispering something in her ear that made her smile.
She turned to me then, and I opened my arms without hesitation,
and she graced me with one of the misty eyed smiles that told me when something
had touched her. She hugged me fiercely and said close to my ear, ‘Let
it go, sometimes Wolfling; let someone else take the point position now
I kissed her cheek, ‘I’ll…try.’ Was
the best I could tell her, because I didn’t want to make promises
I wasn’t sure I could keep. She laughed outright, shaking her head
at me and turned at last to Duo.
She was pulling something out of her backpack as she stepped
up to him.
‘Little Kittling.’ She said, looking at him, just
looking into his eyes, and he let the jesters mask fall away for her, smiling
one of his sweet, real smiles; heart on his sleeve.
She hugged him, careful and gentle and kissed his cheek, then
pressed a manila envelope into his hands before turning to find Noin and
start across the hanger.
Duo, puzzled, watched her go for a second, and then bent to
the envelope and opened it. He pulled out a small stack of pages, and I
suddenly realized what this was. They were the sketches that Mama-Marion
had made from Duo’s memories, and from the look on his face, she had
gotten it right.
He gasped, staring down at the top picture. She had arranged
the figures of the twelve children as though they had posed for a group
picture. The background was vague, but obviously squalid, the children in
the picture were thin and scraggly. There was Duo, right in the center;
his arms folded defiantly across his chest, a little older than I remember
him being when the drawings had been worked on. Beside him was an older
boy, his arm thrown carelessly across Duo’s shoulders. The others
arranged around the two of them; leader and co-leader. Like a pack of wild
dogs. She had pulled no punches, but drawn it just the way it had been.
This was Duo’s childhood I was looking at.
He couldn’t do anything but stand there and stare for
just a bit, eyes blinking rapidly, mouth working almost soundlessly.
‘…Py…’ I heard at length, and suddenly
he was looking after Mama-Marion, his eyes bright and round.
‘Here.’ I said gently, and took the precious bundle
from his hands. He surrendered the stack of papers to me oh so carefully,
and then ran after Mama-Marion as fast as he could manage. She heard him
coming, and turned around to meet him in the middle of the bay, in a hard
hug that had to be hurting the both of them. Words were passed; he to her
and back again. Her eyes did more than mist, and she didn’t care,
hugging him again and patting his cheek and then he was standing there alone
in the middle of the bay staring after her, looking so small and vulnerable
that we were all moved to go to him.
He looked down at the sketches in my hands almost reverently
and said, ‘Py…how could I have forgotten?’
Then his eyes came up and he was looking at me with that same
wide-eyed awe, ‘She said…she said you did this?’
I flushed and smiled at him softly, wanting so badly to take
him into my arms and not able to in the middle of the damn base, ‘I
only made the suggestion.’ I told him, and the look that I was graced
with was like a touch against my soul.
‘Thank you, Heero.’ He looked back at the pictures,
‘Oh Gods…thank you so much.’ Then his face changed and
he looked a little panicked. ‘Where can I keep them…’
I knew he was remembering that mad scramble out of a safe
house that turned out to be not so safe and losing almost everything he
‘That,’ Noin interrupted gently, ‘has been
taken care of. That’s where Mama-Marion was this morning. She had
copies made. There’s a set in your personnel file, she has a set and
uhmmm…I have a set. Don’t worry.’
The look they gave each other was surprisingly gentle for
the two long time sparing partners, and then she turned and followed Mama-Marion
back into the daylight.
‘Come on,’ I told him, ‘let’s get
the hell out of here.’ We moved for the truck and found that someone
had placed a small step stool by the tailgate that allowed Duo to climb
up on his own without flexing his back muscles and pulling his wound open
again. Wufei insisted on using it as well, handing his crutches up and climbing
to the top step where Trowa could lean down and haul him the rest of the
way in. Quatre and I scrambled aboard, Trowa slapped the back of the cab
to let the driver know we were ready, and the truck lurched away.
Duo was sitting with his back to the cab, carefully not leaning
on his wound, and staring down at the pictures clutched firmly, but gently
in his hands.
Away from the prying eyes of outsiders at last, I went to
sit beside him, slipping an arm around him and hugging him to my side. He
tilted his head up for a kiss that bordered on feverish.
‘Heero…I can’t tell you what this means…’
I smiled at him, seeing just a little of the pain that always
lived at the back of his eyes cleared away, ‘I think I know…a
We looked at the sketches together as he slowly paged through
them. I couldn’t believe she had captured so much, and obviously,
from Duo’s reaction; so well. When he came back to that first group
picture, He laid his head on my shoulder and heaved a heavy sigh. I felt
a little tension go out of him. I let my fingers touch the edge of the picture
and softly said,
There was a long silence, during which I wasn’t really
afraid he wouldn’t speak, I somehow knew he would share this with
me, but just a small wait while he gathered his thoughts. Then he looked
up at me, eyes asking for a kiss that I readily gave him, and it turned
into something deeper. Something fell away between us and I knew in that
moment we were about to take another step together. He was going to share
this with me, this and much more. And in my turn, I would share things with
him I had never told another living soul. It wouldn’t be all at once,
but it was going to happen, and he knew it as well, pulling back from the
electric touch of our lips and looking up at me with eyes so full of love
I felt a shiver run up my spine. He curled against me, his finger brushing
‘This…’ He began, ‘is Solo…’
Go to Chapter Nine:Guidance
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