Chapter 4

    "You disapprove."
    Trowa sent his partner a brief, sideways look, and snorted softly. Heero was definitely getting too good at that-- reading his moods and his silences. "I think it was foolish," he said honestly. Heero made an indelicate sound in his throat, and Trowa shrugged silently.

    Heero's sudden decision to visit each and every member of the Noventa family had surprised Trowa, and also given him a little more insight into the way the boy ticked. Heero followed his emotions, all right. That didn't mean he understood them. But his foolhardy, self-appointed mission had not sat well with Trowa, who acted as a silent witness during the trip. He could not understand why such a valuable asset to the war would throw his life away in anything other than battle. They needed Heero in this war; with or without a Gundam, he could still fight. When Slyvia Noventa had taken his gun and pointed it at him, Trowa had been half tempted to interrupt.
    But now, after visiting every surviving Noventa family member, Heero was still alive, and Trowa continued to travel with him. Even he wasn't a hundred percent sure why he stayed with him-- or why Heero let him, for that matter.
    Heero's eyes glanced left and right a couple of times as they entered the small town they had decided to stop by for gas and food. Trowa's eyes flicked sideways as well, taking in a nearby building, mortar chipped and riddled with bullet holes. Down the street, a crew was working to get a pile of rubble off the steps of a church, which was missing its belfry. There were other signs the further they walked that not even this out-of-the-way place had been able to avoid the harsh hand of war. The sight of it had long since ceased to affect Trowa. He had seen battles and the aftereffects of them for as long as he could remember in his time as a mercenary and then as a Gundam pilot. And having never been a boy of very lucid or tangible emotions, the sight of the near-destruction of what seemed to be an otherwise peaceful little town did not bother him.
    He looked sideways at Heero, wondering if he felt the same, and found the other boy studying him as they walked.
    He arched a brow. "Nani, Edward?"
    A dark scowl blossomed on the other's features, and Trowa almost smiled. Almost. "Don't call me that," Heero growled. He looked forward once more, face set back in his customary half-glare, merciless soldier mask. "That woman called me your friend," he said, making Trowa's eyebrows rise at the unexpected topic. Heero hesitated, perhaps mulling things over in his mind. "Is that true?"
    Trowa was silent for a long moment, watching a little girl run past shrieking, followed by an even younger boy clutching a muddy frog. "Why do you ask?"
    A flash of dark blue as Heero's gaze darted towards him and then away in a quick, calculating glance. "I've never had a.. 'friend' before."
    "What about Duo?" Trowa countered.
    Heero's mouth twitched downwards in contemplation. Trowa almost shook his head. 'Does not compute' was practically scrawled across the other pilot's face in big black letters. "Would you like me to give you the definition?" he asked dryly. "For 'friend'," he explained when he was met with a blank look. At the other's silence, he quoted tonelessly, "A person whom one knows well and is fond of. An ally, supporter, or sympathizer."
    Heero gave a small snort. "You looked it up?"
    Trowa gave him a steady, unreadable look that spoke volumes. 'Friend' was a foreign word to him, as well, though Catherine was fond of using the word with him, as had some of the mercenaries from his youth.
    Heero seemed to turn the words over in his mind as they walked, and Trowa began keeping an eye out for some place to get food. They paused by a street vendor, and the tall pilot looked over the unappetizing fare without interest.
    "A soldier doesn't need friends," Heero said firmly after a long moment of silence.
    Trowa turned from the vendor's stand and continued down the street, hands in his pockets. It occurred to him belatedly that he talked to Heero more than he'd talked to almost anyone else in his memory. The realization made him a little uncomfortable. "You're probably right," he agreed easily. "But Catherine likes to say that friendship isn't always a conscious choice."
    Trowa raised one shoulder in a half-shrug. "She seems to think that whether you want it or not, closeness between people can happen unconsciously. If it makes you feel better, think of it as 'ally'."
    Heero was still frowning intensely as he took this all in and tried to fit it to his rigid way of thinking. He was obviously struggling a bit with it. "Duo is.. an ally," he finally said slowly, still looking as if he wasn't quite sure himself. "He talks too much, and he's a fool. But he seems like a decent pilot, and has.. aided me a few times." By the way he said 'aided', Trowa got the impression that Heero hadn't really needed nor appreciated Duo's help, and his mouth quirked slightly.
    "You saved my life," Heero said bluntly.
    "That doesn't necessarily make us friends," Trowa interrupted quietly.
    Heero grunted in agreement. "Maybe it makes us allies," he said after a moment, but Trowa could tell by the other boy's tone that that was a big 'maybe'. That didn't bother him; he wasn't like Quatre. He wasn't so willing to accept another person so quickly. He felt unexpectedly relieved that Heero was the same.
    "Allies, then," Trowa agreed, and they fell into a comfortable silence. Strangely, Trowa felt as if a slight weight had been lifted from his chest, and wondered at it. He respected- maybe even admired -Heero. He might even enjoy the other's company, in his own strange way. The thought that Heero might reciprocate those muddled feelings of companionship was oddly comforting.
    As they passed one of the few buildings with its windows still intact, Trowa glanced sideways instinctively and caught their reflection: two young boys, one just a shade taller than the other. One wiry and dangerous looking, the other slender with an impassive face. They certainly made a strange pair.
    He also saw the reflection of the dark car rolling quietly after them, so slowly that the wheels made almost no noise on the dirt street.
    Trowa turned his gaze forward once more, still calm. "We're being followed."
    "I know." Heero's hand twitched instinctively in a half-hearted gesture for his gun. As a rumbling grocer's truck approached, Trowa shifted his gaze around until he spotted a motorbike leaning against a wall. "I've got a better idea," he murmured just when it looked like Heero was prepared to whip out his gun and start firing. He glanced towards the bike, then the truck.
    Heero looked towards the approaching truck, then at Trowa, and gave another scowl of disapproval as the plan clicked. He didn't like the idea of hiding like a rat-- especially after so long of being out of commission.
    "This will be quicker," Trowa pointed out smoothly. "And easier."
    Heero's eyes narrowed, but after a slight hesitation, he gave a brief nod.
    When the truck rolled past and the occupants of the dark car could see the road again, Heero was gone, and Trowa was seated on the motorbike, staring directly at them.
    Trowa gunned the engine.


    Wufei threw back his head to get his hair out of his face, and the wet locks smacked against his shoulder blades. He gave an involuntary shiver as he stood half submerged in the freezing lake water. Blowing droplets from the tip of his nose, he reached up to wring the excess water from his hair. As he stood hip-deep in the lake's shallow end, he stared up at the sky with a dull gaze.
    "Ben dan," he murmured to himself, resting his hands on his shoulders and offering the unoffending sky a weak scowl.(1)
    He had gone over the other day's sudden visit to Trowa's circus a thousand times in his mind since then. What in the hell had possessed him to track the solemn pilot down? And then, to top it off, stay and get acquainted with 01? He dropped his hands by his sides abruptly, fingertips dipped in the water. He lowered his head and took a few slow, deep breaths. No. This was not what he needed. He'd told himself after leaving Sally Po and her ragtag group that he would need to put emotions and thought behind him for now if he wished to continue to successfully fight in this war. Emotions could come later, when he actually had worthy opponents.
    Heero Yuy would make an interesting opponent.
    He frowned slightly at the stray thought, then, instead of discarding it, turned it over in his mind almost idly. That thrum of danger and competence that seemed to hover in the very space Yuy occupied-- and the way he fought in his Gundam. He was a true warrior. Yes. Just the thought of actually going head to head with the blue-eyed pilot made Wufei's heart beat faster with fierce anticipation.
    But Trowa sees him as an ally, Wufei reminded himself sharply. Maybe even a comrade, for all he knew. And Wufei had gotten the impression Trowa didn't choose his company lightly.
    Maybe one day the opportunity would present itself.
    He offered a fierce, fleeting grin to his reflection and waded towards the shore. He climbed onto a rock and stretched out to sun dry, closing his eyes and willing his body to relax. Slowly the tension eased from his body, and he slipped into meditation. He calmed his battle-lust and rested his body and mind until he was completely dry and more focused.(2)
    Within an hour he was up and on his feet, tugging on his pants and digging in the pocket for his hair band. He would have to check and see if he had gotten any missions. If not, Nataku could use a tune-up on her--

    Out of what was fast becoming a paranoid habit, Wufei had set up a few sparse perimeter alarms around his side of the lake, several yards back into the brush framing the water's edge. Enough to give him warning if any uninvited guests decided to come by.
    He was snatching his sword from where it lay on the rocks almost before the first squeal of the nearby com unit had died off. The motion detectors had been set off.
    Moments later a young man stumbled from the brush, staggering to a stop when he spotted Wufei. The pilot's eyes narrowed. Oz.
    The man had discarded his hat and overcoat at some point, but the pants were the standard Oz uniform issue. He was clutching his left arm to his side, and by the way it hung, it was obvious it had been broken pretty severely. Blood leaked from a head wound, matting his hair to his scalp and dripping down his face. His eyes- dazed with pain and exhaustion -focused on Wufei and desperation lit his face. "Please-" he croaked. "I need a doctor.." He staggered forwards.
    Wufei held his ground, pointing his sword warningly at the man. "Get lost," he snapped. "I'm not a doctor."
    "Please..." the man stumbled suddenly and fell heavily to his knees, breathing harshly. The bushes behind him shook, and Wufei took a wary step back to gain more ground, tightening his grip on the hilt of his dao. (3)
    Another soldier burst from the underbrush, looking around quickly before spotting his companion. He was fully clothed in the Oz uniform, though it had seen better days. It was rumpled, torn, and smoke-stained. He sported a sloppy and bloodied bandage around his hand. He moved to help his comrade, and caught sight of Wufei out of the corner of his eye. He froze, his eyes flicking warily from the blade to the boy's stony features.
    His hand moved slightly towards the gun at his hip, but he didn't draw it. "Hold on," he said carefully. "We're just trying to get back to our platoon."
    "You're going the wrong way," Wufei pointed out helpfully, his tone biting.
    "Wait- were you in that town?" The man looked even more wary, and tensed in preparation for a fight. "Look, we--"
    Wufei's lip curled. He'd seen smoke in the distance several hours ago. Evidently these pathetic dogs had gotten lost after their attack on some hapless town. "Get your man and get out of here," Wufei snapped. A part of him hoped darkly that the soldier would draw his weapon. He wasn't about to kill these two fools in cold blood when they were obviously no threat to anyone; his conscience cried out against it. His sense of justice, however, was itching for an excuse to kill any man responsible for the massacre that had likely occurred in that town.
    The man seemed to sense this, and relaxed minimally, edging towards his partner.
    Wufei mentally judged the distance between himself and the soldier. An easy leap. "Try to draw your gun and I'll kill you where you stand," he warned. The man's eyebrows rose slightly in disbelief.
    "Look, kid-" he said, starting to sound a little angry.
    There was that blasted word again. Wufei felt his lips lift from his teeth in a silent snarl. "Go!" he barked. There was a thunder of wings as the shout startled a few nearby birds, and they shot from the surrounding woodlands into the sky.
    The man straightened fully, facing him, and his eyes ran up and down Wufei's form critically. Wufei tensed, knowing what he must look like to this man's eyes: a short kid, bare to the waist, his hair loose and hanging by his shoulder blades. Just a slender child with a sword he probably didn't even know how to use properly. No match for an armed Oz soldier. The twitch of lips- the beginning of a condescending smirk -on the man's face made a curl of fury twist in Wufei's stomach.
    "Calm down, kid," the man said, lifting his injured hand in a placating gesture, a mix of arrogance and amusement in his eyes and tone. "What are you doing out here, anyway?" His gaze shifted, taking in their surroundings quickly. "Are you out here all by yourself?" His comrade was giving little noises of pain from where he knelt.
    Wufei's eyes narrowed. This peon was really asking for it.
    The man's eyes studied Wufei's compact form again, and this time there was a different look to his face underneath the scorn. Wufei felt the hairs on his arms stand on end at that penetrating look, and shifted instinctively into a defensive position, sword at the ready. What kind of look was that? What the hell was wrong with the man?
    "Hey," the man said casually, "why don't you put up the sword and we can talk about this rationally? Will you help me get my partner to a doctor?"
    "Kisama," Wufei hissed. "I told you get lost."
    "Come on, I'm not going to hurt you," the man said soothingly. "What's your name?"
    Wufei remained silent, gritting his teeth in impatience. He should just kill them both-- screw his conscience. Best to get rid of the scum of Oz no matter what the circumstances. It would be two less bodies to fight later.
    "I'm going to take out my gun, now," the soldier said, making Wufei tense in preparation for a leap or a dodge. "I'm going to throw it over there." He pulled the gun free slowly, keeping his fingers on the butt and dropping it a couple feet to his left. He held his arms out to the side. "You see?" He began to approach very slowly, hands still out.
    Wufei stared at him in blank incomprehension. Was the man suicidal, or just stupid? Did he really see Wufei as so little a threat? Resentment burned hotly on his tongue, and his grip on the hilt of his dao grew crushing.
    "Stop where you are," he growled when the man had gotten within easy slashing distance. The man hesitated, frowning, then came to a full stop. He lowered his arms slightly, eyes still flicking up and down Wufei's body. His eyes wandered across the pilot's bare chest, his sinewy arms, down his legs, and back up to...
    Unexplainably, Wufei felt heat rush to his face, and snarled in a fury. "What are you looking at??"
    "You." The soldier offered him a cocky smirk. He reached out with a hand as if to touch him. "Come on, kid, don't be so--"
    Behind him, the wounded man, obviously misreading the situation and desperate for action, struggled to pull his own gun from its holster.
    Wufei's body reacted almost before his brain gave permission.
    He brought his blade up in a sweeping blow that sliced off the hand closing in on his face. Twisting, he pulled back his sword and then drove it forward in one fluid move, cutting off the soldier's scream of horror as he buried his weapon in the man's gut.
    Wrenching it free, he released his hilt with one hand and seized the falling body with the other, holding it up bodily by the shirt as the wounded man began firing wildly. Using the body as a shield, Wufei rushed forward. Tossing the body aside at the last moment, he spun to the side to evade the other soldier's desperate shots, swinging his dao in a brutal sideways chop.
    The second body crumpled to the ground, its head rolling off towards the bushes.
    Adrenaline pumped through Wufei's veins, his blood roaring in his ears as he stood poised with his blade still extended, letting his brain catch up to his body. It had all happened so fast-- instincts and reactions drilled into him from years and years of training. Usually he appreciated them; they had kept his ass alive thus far. But...
    He straightened abruptly, flicking his weapon irritably to shake off some of the blood. He glared mutely down at the two bodies, a dark scowl on his face. He had overreacted. They were just weak men-- wounded. He could have simply grabbed his stuff and left. Or ordered both men to discard their firearms and get lost. But the second man's- he felt an involuntary shudder go through him -unexpected... advances.. had thrown him for a moment. He had acted out of anger and revulsion instead of using his head.
   He bent and wiped his blade off hastily on the grass before sheathing it in an angry motion and stalking over to where his shirt and shoes lay. Pulling them on hastily, he pulled his hair back in its tight ponytail before going about the distasteful act of disposing of the bodies.
    When he was through, he washed his hands quickly in the lake and set off at a quick pace in the direction of his hidden Gundam. He disappeared into the underbrush without a sound, and not only the few remaining birds noticed his passing.


    The first word to go through Trowa Barton's mind was- Bullshit.
    Trowa's gun was in his hand and aimed at their uninvited guest in an instant. Behind him, Heero remained motionless and silent.
    Lucreizia Noin put her hand on her hip and offered a fleeting smile. "I told you, I'm not here as an officer of Oz, Gundam pilot. I promise you, all Zechs is looking for is a little one-on-one. To finish what was started now that he knows Heero is alive."
    Trowa's gun never wavered. Heero stayed where he was, watching the older woman with an unreadable expression.
    After a moment the perfect soldier gave a slight nod. "Fine."
    Trowa lowered his gun marginally, glancing back at his partner in surprise. Heero was agreeing to this pointless piss test??
    Noin's smile widened. "Great. I'll bring you to the battle ground."
    Heero inclined his head in silent acquiescence . Trowa holstered his gun, turning to face him. "I'll go with you." Heero offered him a sharp glance, but before he could protest, Trowa offered calmly, "You can use Heavyarms."
    Heero's eyes widened slightly in surprise at the unexpected gesture. "Nani?"
    "You no longer have Wing," Trowa pointed out simply. "You can use my Gundam in the duel."
    Heero studied his face carefully for a long moment before nodding slowly. "Aa. Domo." Trowa gave a slight shrug.
    Noin hesitated, then shrugged. There was a twinkle to her eye that made Trowa suspicious. She was hiding something- a surprise of some sort? Could they really trust her? "Very well. Bring your Gundam to the air strip in an hour. There will be an air carrier waiting there. I'll see you then, Heero Yuy." Turning briskly on her heel, the Oz official marched from the shadowed shed.
    Trowa arched a brow at his comrade, who was gazing in the direction Noin had gone with his customary stern face, though the slight turn to his lips betrayed that he was deep in thought.
    "Why did you agree?" Trowa demanded bluntly.
    Piercing cobalt eyes shifted towards him once more. "I want to finish this."
    Trowa looked away, feeling the slight crease to his brow that gave away his own disapproval. He smoothed it away in the next instant, retreating behind his impassive mask, but Heero had caught it, and was frowning at him. "It's your choice," Trowa murmured. "I still think there are better things we could be doing than going into a potential trap just to satisfy this man's whims."
    Heero sneered. "Stay here, then."
    Trowa turned his back on him and stalked towards the driver's side of the carrier they'd used to cart Heavyarms cross-country. "I'll show you how to use Heavyarms on the way to the battlefield," he said shortly. "It will be different than Wing."
    Heero hesitated before following and climbing into the passenger side. He reached out and seized Trowa's wrist as the other pilot put the key in the ignition.
    Trowa gave a slight, involuntary jolt at the contact, his eyes snapping up to meet Heero's unwavering gaze. He was too close-- The intensity of Heero's stare and the strong grip he had on Trowa's wrist made him tense instinctively in preparation for a fight that never came.
    "Thank you," Heero said deliberately.
    Trowa managed not to frown as he looked at the other boy blankly. "I already said--" his eyes flicked sideways, in the direction of Heavyarms.
    "No," Heero cut him off. "I meant.." he hesitated, his mouth hardening as if he was having difficulty getting the words out. "For staying with me."
    Trowa stared at him, unsure what to say, surprised by the other's words. He was tempted to ask "Why?" but had a feeling not even Heero himself was sure of the answer to that question.
    Heero released him and settled back in his seat, and Trowa twisted the key in the ignition. Grateful for the silence that sat heavily on the air during the drive, he was left to his own jumbled and confused thoughts as they pulled out of the shed and headed down the dirt road.
    "Thank you for staying with me."
    Trowa had the sudden, irrational urge to flee. This was dangerous. Comradeship was unwanted- unneeded. Trowa Barton didn't need anyone. Heero Yuy sure as hell didn't need anybody, either. Ally, comrade, partner, whatever they may be to each other... it was foolish. Perhaps he should have left that broken body back on the battle field, left the nameless soldier to the mercy of Oz. Or at the very least, let Heero go off alone on his little Noventa quest instead of offering to drive him to each and every destination.
    Heero had told him "Follow your emotions".
    He hadn't really understood it then. But as he glanced sideways at the dark haired boy beside him, he thought perhaps he understood it a little better now.
    Maybe even soldiers needed help sometimes.
    Maybe even soldiers needed friends.
    Their trip continued in silence as they set off for the battle with Zechs Marquise.

(1) I think it's Chinese/Mandarin/whatever for "fool/idiot". If I'm wrong, gomen T.T
(2) Don't be a hentai ^^;; Battle-lust as in eagerness for a fight. =p
(3) Dao= Chinese broadsword
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
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