Chapter 7
"Take Off to the Sky"

    Heavy lids lifted slowly, revealing dark eyes that reflected the lights of the surrounding cockpit, starlight scattered across the smooth face shield of the space helmet.
    A shallow intake of breath confirmed that he was still in space before his eyes were even fully open. He'd missed this-- the icy, merciless nothing just outside his gundam's cockpit, surrounding him in a vastness that boggled the mind. He had never felt this type of peace- not even when he'd sat in the flower field of his youth on his colony, a stack of books by his side, spectacles balanced on the bridge of his nose.
    Another slow breath. Almost lazily, he shifted his gaze sideways, the rest of his body immobile. It was the rapid, insistent beeping of his radar that had dragged him from his rest. His right hand gave an involuntary twitch on the controls. Incoming. Had they not gotten enough of Nataku's wrath back at Barge?
    A smile as cold as the empty space around him pulled at Wufei's mouth. Very well. He would show them their weakness. They would find out the hard way that they'd made a mistake by actively hunting him down.
    His brow wrinkled in a frown as he observed the radar more carefully. Only one? Slowly he straightened in his chair, hands wrapping in firm familiarity around the controls of his Gundam. Perhaps it wasn't Oz? A civilian, maybe? No.. unlikely. No one in their right mind would be wandering around space in the middle of a war by themselves.
    No one normal, anyway...
    He reached up to flip on his radio broadcast, twisting the dial as he searched for an open frequency amid the whine of the net. His eyes stayed locked on his computer as a suspicion began to nibble at him; each frequency was analyzed, putting the basic codes up to confirm identification. He caught a couple faint voices on a few of the frequencies, spinning past them impatiently as their IFF/SIF flashed across the screen, along with brief descriptions for some of them: SAR, media, something that could be contracters--
    His fingers froze on one of the freqs, eyes glued to the sudden encryption that flew across his screen. The cold smile touched his mouth once more. His breath puffed before him inside his helmet as he muttered to himself in his native tongue.
    He snapped on the transmit switch, speaking boldly onto the buzzing net. "This is 05. You had better not be following me."
    The radio buzzed back at him as the other end remained silent. Wufei's eyes flickered towards his radar; subject was approaching. He should be able to spot it soon, but for now it was too far away to tell which lights were stars and which were possible shuttle engines.
    "I repeat, this is 05," he said firmly. "ID yourself or you'll be destroyed on sight."
    After a moment, a voice responded over the crackling radio, tone hard and cool. "This is 01."
    It figured. "What are you doing out here, Yuy?" he demanded.
    "I'm not following you," the voice responded crisply. "Don't flatter yourself."
    Wufei sneered. "Did you plan on taking on Barge yourself? Don't bother."
    Heero interrupted him bluntly. "Just because you failed doesn't mean I would." Wufei's grip on his controls tightened in sudden anger. "However," Heero continued in that same uncaring voice, "my immediate objective is not the destruction of Barge."
    He could see the other's Gundam, now, approaching in a diaganal angle and heading in the direction Wufei had come from-- Barge. Wufei frowned slightly as something occured to him. "Barton isn't with you?"
    Heero was silent so long Wufei was beginning to think he'd turned his radio off, when finally the other pilot answered coldly, "We got separated when we left earth. I haven't seen 03 since then."
    Wufei's eyebrows rose at that. He had run into Trowa just a day or two after his arrival in space. They had spoken over the radio about justice and the war in a strange moment of talkativeness for them both that made him think of that night at the circus. When they had separated, Wufei had assumed the solemn boy had left to join Heero.
    Unwanted, a memory of just days prior flashed in his mind-- when he'd found the two of them and told them how 02 and 04 had been planning to head for space. He distinctly remembered how flushed Trowa had looked as he walked up to confront him.
    Trowa was never flustered.
    His head hurt, and he realized belatedly he was clenching his teeth. He relaxed his jaw with a twinge of self-disgust. Whatever had been going on in that hangar before he'd arrived was certainly none of his business. Trowa had spent quite a lot of time with Yuy. He shouldn't be so surprised if they had.. bonded. Or whatever. He shook his head quickly to clear his mind and scowled at the vision of Wing on his screens. "I fight my battles alone, Yuy," he said sharply. "This is a warning. Fight your war however you like. Let me complete my missions my way."
    "Fight alone if you want," Heero responded indifferently. "01 out." The radio began to buzz annoyingly again, and Wufei twisted it off with a snap.
    He flashed a fierce smile at nothing. Alone, eh?
    Just the way he liked it.


    Duo found himself seated on a bench in one of the colony's many dinky parks, staring numbly at nothing. He wondered vaguely how long he'd been sitting there.
    He clenched his fists, and the ball of paper in his hand crinkled. He lifted it, gazing at it dully. It was one of the posters demanding his capture that he'd torn from a telephone post. Oh yeah- he was a wanted man. He reached up to tug the brim of his hat a little further down his forehead, hunching down on the bench. The same thought continued to run through the back of his head in a merciless, relentless litany:
    Deathscythe was destroyed.
    OZ had destroyed his Gundam. He clenched his teeth until his head hurt, his fists shaking on his knees. "Damn you.." he snarled quietly, eyes narrowing to slits. "You'll pay for pissing off Shinigami."
    He rose abruptly, tossing the crumpled paper into a nearby trashcan. Shoving his hands deep in the pockets of his coat, he turned his feet in the direction of the hotel he'd checked in at earlier in the day. Technically, he should still be in a hospital, he reflected with a slight wince. He was still sore, and had to walk carefully to avoid dizzy spells or flashes of horrible pain.
    He was lucky to be alive at all, he reminded himself with a sour grunt. Who would have thought that Heero Yuy, of all people, would bother to rescue him? He hadn't been expecting a rescue at all. Death had seemed like the quickest solution to the problem. Still, if he was going to be rescued, he would have preferred a more cheerful- and considerate -hero.
    Like Quatre.
    His mouth tugged downwards in a frown as he turned down the correct street, keeping his eyes down but his senses open for any hint of hostility from the people around him. He'd seen Heero, Heero had briefly mentioned Trowa when Duo had questioned him, and he was sure that uptight guy- whatshisname.. Wufei -could take care of himself...
    But where was Quatre?

    Duo wasn't usually one to concern himself too much with other people when he set his mind to a task. Such as killing every OZ soldier in sight. But Quatre was his friend; another miracle in this madness of a war. He certainly hadn't been expecting to make a friend in the middle of all this. Well.. one and a half. Heero made a weird 'friend'. He snorted quietly, climbing the steps that led to the hotel's main entrance. But then, he hadn't been expecting a lot of things.
    Discovering the other Gundams and their pilots, taking the war to space so soon, the colonies' betrayal, Heero's rescue of him... and Quatre Raberbra Winner. Quatre, who smiled not because he would go insane if he didn't, but whose bright face was an honest reflection of the gentleness in his heart. "I used to beat kids like him up for their lunch money when Sister Helen wasn't looking," Duo muttered to himself with a wry grin, pushing the elevator button in the lobby.
    He took the elevator to the third floor and his footsteps made no sound on the threadbare carpet in the hall as he instinctively lapsed into thief mode, barely even noticing the way his body fell back on years of self-training in the art of stealth and caution. Later, he wouldn't be able to determine if he did so out of some sixth sense or because of the wanted posters he'd seen.
    No one else was in the hall, and he made no sound as he walked towards his door, already reaching in his pocket for his keys. As he came up on an intersection in the hallway, the left leading to the west wing, he heard the barest scratch of a shoe against carpet- barely audible.
    This was followed by the familiar smell of gun oil, faint but distinguishable under the scent of the air freshener the maids had used in their cleaning.
    He threw his body down and to the right, and the gun's report sounded like thunder trapped in the thin walls of the hotel. Duo hit the ground with his shoulder and hip, his own weapon already in hand. He lifted and aimed before his full body weight had even settled from the fall. There--
    There was a man standing in the west wing, a look of surprise crossing his face, his eyes darting towards Duo but his hand not quite fast enough as he swung his gun hastily to get him back in his sights. No uniform- civilian.
    The entire observation flashed through Duo's mind in an instant, and in a heartbeat he adjusted his aim, even as his upper back slammed into the ground. He fired, gritting his teeth at the loud bang that rang throughout the building.
    His would-be assassin screeched in pain and shock as the bullet took him in the shoulder, just shy of his chest, spinning him around with the impact. He hit the wall and slumped halfway to the ground. Duo fired again, and the man cried out as his gun went flying from his hand at the dead-on shot. He fell heavily on his ass and clutched his shoulder, crying from the pain and spitting curses at his target.
    Duo twisted his body into a roll and bounded to his feet, already swinging his gun left and right, eyes darting around for any other prospective bounty hunters. None. Either the idiot had decided to take on a Gundam pilot by himself, or his backup had freaked and fled the scene. Duo gave a loud sigh of annoyance, flipping his braid over his shoulder and striding over towards the man. He made a face at the gunman, kicking his weapon out of reach.
    "Jeez, that was stupid," he said in exasperation, keeping his gun aimed between the man's eyes. "What, did you think you could take me cuz I'm a kid?" He snorted. "Lucky for you, you ain't an Ozzie. That was your warning, though." He indicated the shoulder wound with a flick of his gun barrel. "You try any other funny shit and you get the priviledge of having Shinigami himself send you straight to hell." He grinned dangerously.
    Thirty seconds later the man was racing for the elevators as if the devil himself was on his heels.
    Duo rolled his eyes and bent over to retrieve the man's weapon, giving a small wince as he did so. "Damn," he muttered, straightening carefully and flicking on the gun's safety. He shoved it down the waistband of his pants and slid his own firearm into his pocket, hand still wrapped loosely around the handgrip. All that rolling and jumping had not made his already battered body happy with him. He all but limped to his room, muttering darkly to himself about trigger-happy rednecks and doomed Oz officials.


    It was obvious to any fool on Barge that Nichol did not trust the newest recruit that had quickly become Colonel Une's favorite.
    Trowa could feel the man's eyes on him as he changed out of his flight suit in the locker room. He ignored the scowling Oz official as he meticulously straightened his sleeves, away from the other pilots who were joking around and gossiping several feet away as they also changed.
    "Soldier," Nichol barked. Trowa glanced sideways at him, face dispassionate. Nichol's lip curled slightly in derision. "Come here."
    The other pilots fell silent, watching expectantly. They'd noticed the man's resentment of their newest teammate, and were curious to see just what Nichol would do to degrade him.
    Trowa shut his locker door carefully and strode over to stand at attention before the taller man, composed as always. Nichol's temper seemed to burn worse at the boy's visible lack of fear. He scowled, thinking for a moment before grinning nastily. "The Colonel says you're an excellent soldier. Well, maybe you can pilot a mobile suit somewhat decently for a scrawny little kid like yourself.." the pilots snorted among themselves. They'd seen Trowa in action, and "decent" didn't even begin to describe the boy's skills. "..but to be a true soldier, you must be physically fit as well. Basic hand to hand combat is as important to a soldier as air and water."
    Trowa made no response.
    Nichol sneered. "Well, I have yet to see you do shit as far as one-on-one fighting is concerned, Barton. If you can't fend for yourself in raw, physical battle, Oz has no need for a pint-sized brat like yourself."
    The other pilots were shifting, getting a little closer to watch, their interest piqued. A few murmured opinions and bets were tossed back and forth.
    Trowa continued to stare at the wall just over the officer's shoulder, still at attention. His expression never changed. "The need for me to fight hand to hand hasn't presented itself," he pointed out in a deadpan voice that- despite its complete neutrality -irked Nichol even more. His face darkened. He didn't trust the kid. And he didn't like him. He was just on this side of cocky, and his expressionless face grated on his nerves. Most of all, he hated the fact that Une was so impressed by him. She had already dismissed Nichol's own opinions and warnings a few times in favor of what this punk had to say. No newbie grunt was going to make him look like an idiot in front of his Colonel and his men.
    Nichol lifted his chin in challenge, hands firmly on his hips. "Well, Barton, let's see it," he commanded.
    "What, are you afraid you might get hurt? Or afraid of repercussions?" Nichol squared his shoulders and stood like a taunting target. "Hit me, Barton. Go ahead. There will be no consequences-- if you can land a blow, that is."
    The young pilot's eyes flicked towards his, just for an instant, then away again. He hesitated.
    "That's an order, soldier," Nichol barked. "Hit m-"
    Trowa had been with the circus for several months. The odd jobs and his performances had not only toughened his body, but quickened his reflexes and sharpened his instincts. Trowa was not a brawler, and his forte was not hand-to-hand. He preferred the cockpit of Heavyarms to the up-close and personal demands of a physical fight. He lacked the confidence to go into a fistfight and expect to win. He reacted to Nichol's order, even as a part of him coiled in preperation for retreat in case he should miss.
    His arm jerked, his fist snapping upwards and slamming into the taller man's stomach.
    Nichol had tightened his abs the moment he started goading the young man. Nevertheless, a grunt escaped his tightly-clasped lips, and he almost bent over at the strength behind that one quick jab. Hot anger shot through him. He hadn't even seen the blow coming- he should have been able to block it. Unthinkingly, he lashed out with his own arm, aiming a heavy blow at the slender boy's head--
    Which wasn't there anymore.
    His fist swung at empty air as Trowa bent backwards swiftly, his back almost parallel to the ground as he dodged. One of the pilots whistled.
    "Flexible, ain't 'e?"
    A companion guffawed.
    Nichol swung his foot at the boy's legs, but Trowa was fast as a cat. He had already allowed gravity to win the fight, completing his backwards fall until his palms smacked against the ground. Kicking off and thrusting against the floor with his hands, he did two swift backflips and landed neatly on his feet several paces away. One of the pilots dropped his water bottle in shock.
    Nichol blinked, then glowered at the calm-faced boy, adrenaline already beginning to pound through his body. "Don't you know how to block?" he growled. "Quit jumping around and fight, damn it!"
    Trowa was already back in the position of attention, not a hair out of place. "I landed a blow, sir," he pointed out dispassionately. "That was your order."
    One of the pilots snickered.
    "You expect to win a fight by one weak-ass hit and a bunch of fancy dodging?" Nichol snarled aggressively. "Try again!"
    Trowa's mouth jerked quickly, then his mask feel smoothly back into place. Nichol caught the momentary flash of annoyance and internally congratulated himself on finally getting to the young boy. "Now fight!" He took a couple steps forward.
    Trowa forced back his hesitation and swung at his superior.
    This time Nichol blocked the blow easily, aiming an uppercut with his other hand. Trowa's head darted to the side, and the fist just barely grazed his cheek. The other pilots were spreading out now, giving them room as they cheered either one or the other on. Trowa managed to throw a few more hits that never quite connected, then found himself ducking, weaving, and blocking to avoid the rain of blows that beset him.
    Nichol sneered as one of his fists came dangerously close to crashing into the boy's face as his opponent swayed backwards at the last second. This child didn't have a snowball's chance in hell in winning a real hand-to-hand fight. These new recruits were all the same.. all talk, no action. This kid may be good at mobile suits and running away, but--
    Belatedly he realized that the look on Trowa's face had not changed since that first swing. As he pulled back for another punch, he stared into calm, calculating green eyes, and felt a rush of anger.
    Snarling, he stepped forward and drove his fist towards his target's chest with all of his weight behind the blow, making it impossible for Trowa to simply dodge back due to the older man's longer reach.
    Slender fingers more suited to an instrument or the schematics of a Gundam wrapped around his upper arm with surprising strength, and Trowa twisted his body lithely out of the way, hauling on the arm. With his own weight and momentum used against him, Nichol couldn't stop himself as he stumbled past the young pilot and crashed into the lockers.
    His back was open long enough for at least one or two crippling blows, but lucky for Nichol, Trowa wasn't keen on pissing his superior off enough to risk getting kicked out.
    The Oz official was livid. Trowa was making him look like a fool again. He had caught it-- that flickering look of disdain flashing in emerald eyes just before he'd found himself slamming into the lockers. Trowa was definitely not the best combatant he'd ever been against, but something about that glance suggested Nichol was not the best Trowa himself had gone against. He'd looked calm-- alert, but unimpressed --throughout the fight.
    It pissed him off.
    Of course, if he'd known Trowa had mentally been weighing him against his sparring partner of almost a month, the infamous pilot of Gundam Wing, he might not have taken it so hard.
    Une's sharp command over the loudspeaker gave them both pause before they could finish the fight. "Nichol! Bring Barton and meet me in the hangar. I'm going to show him the Vayeate and Mercurius."
    Nichol's face turned red with anger. He glared daggers at the willowy boy before him. Why should this damn kid see the suits Une had commanded the Gundam engineers to make? He still didn't trust Barton; he'd told Une several times not to accept the boy, yet she ignored him. His fists clenched by his sides as he jerked his head in the direction of the door and stalked off, fuming.
    Trowa followed silently behind, his trigger finger twitching. Nichol's animosity made him wary. He'd have to watch his back, or the other man would start to really get suspicious, and find a way to get rid of him. He couldn't afford that. He was damn lucky Une had taken such an interest in him. Barge was the perfect place for him to work undercover. He would be able to monitor Oz and the fort's deady beam cannon at the same time. Still, a part of him wished he could use his gun and shoot the cocky man.

    As it turned out, he got the chance to draw his gun not ten minutes later....
    When Heero Yuy shocked them all and fell from the cockpit of the Vayeate.

Author's Notes: The title for this chapter is the name of one of Heero's image songs in the show; one of my faves. ^^
Bleh.. yeah, the chapter's short. @_@; gomen. I punched out the first scene, and then just was not in the mood to work on this for some reason. When I finally made myself write more, I hated how it turned out, so I just stopped it before it got any dumber. -__-;

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
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