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The Wait

Heero stood in the doorway of the adjoining bathroom , lightly leaning his frame against the jamb. His hand reflexively went to swipe at a dripping lock of dark hair that fell across his eyes, sweeping it away from his face as he pondered the figure on the bed.


 Unbidden, a sigh escaped the throat of the Japanese pilot, and almost immediately, his shoulders seemed to slump as though in defeat. Heero walked across the room silently, not wishing to disturb his roommate's sleep. Absent-mindedly, he tugged off the towel around his hips and resumed to towel himself dry. As he did so, his eyes once more returned to the American pilot sleeping on one of the two beds in the dimly lit room. Duo was lying on his back, one arm flung up and over his face, as though covering his eyes from what little light bathed the room at the moment. His mouth was slightly opened in sleep. Soft sounds of slumber accompanied each exhalation. For the first time this week, Heero observed, Duo actually looked at peace.

 Every night for the past week since Heero had returned from a reconnaissance mission with Wufei, the chestnut-haired pilot had been plagued by dreams from which he had awoken drenched in sweat, shaking with an unspoken fear. The sleepless nights had begun to take its toll on Duo. Dark circles had begun to form under his eyes, eyes that seemed to have lost the laughter that had always been associated with the long-haired pilot. He still smiled and laughed and joked around as was his wont, but Heero knew that something was amiss. The smiles were genuine but behind them was an unspoken, wistful sadness; the laughter was gay but uncharacteristically over-loud, with a tinge of tears and madness glazing its edges; the jokes , before flung with abandon, were now controlled and dripped with cynicism, of which were often aimed at himself.

 With their other friends, Duo was Duo, warm and bubbly, chattering incessantly. But within the confines of their room, Heero was surprised at the sudden shift in personality. His friend was often silent, morose even. Once he had caught Duo looking at him and he had been shocked at the look in those eyes, a look that he had thought he would never see in eyes other than his own: an empty, haunted look, a look that had combined both longing and loathing in the same instant. He remembered again how Duo had flinched under his touch when he had tried to awaken the tossing boy from a particularly bad episode. Although he had schooled his heart into a stony fort of callousness, Heero could not help feeling a little hurt at the wild, feral look that shone through his friend's eyes then. Even though it was fleeting and Duo had mumbled something that had sounded like an apology before falling back to bed, Heero had wondered at the absolute turnaround in his friend's behavior.

 Before, Duo had seemed to enjoy his presence and had seemed to find all kinds of excuses to touch him, to be touched by him, to constantly plague him with his chatter. Heero had realized this obvious attention-seeking strategy of his roommate and, at times, had even welcomed it. However, he had found it hard to acknowledge these strange feelings, that he may have felt the slightest hint of attraction for this slender long-haired pilot who shared his room. It was hard to accept that sometimes, he wished that they could share more than just a room...It had gotten to a point in which he had just felt like surrendering to his inner desires; in which he felt like just walking up to Duo and dragging him into bed to claim him for his own.

 At this thought, Heero smiled. If Duo's past indications had been anything to go by, his actions would have been justified and probably even welcomed.

 But that was before...

 Heero scowled as he continued to ponder Duo's perplexing change of attitude and his own feelings toward the long-haired boy.

 Heero had been meticulously trained to be the perfect soldier. Passing notions of fanciful attraction could never tempt him, Heero Yuy. More so when it would involve his comrade, his teammate, one he would have to work with and entrust his life.

 His life was expendable. His heart was not.

 Still, deep inside, Heero knew that he was fighting a losing battle, that the cold, frozen block of ice that had passed off as his heart was slowly, but surely melting. Over the weeks that they had begun sharing rooms, Duo had been constantly on his thoughts. The little innuendos dropped by the American constantly tugged at his thoughts, driving him to distraction. Despite his constant threats to kill the braided pilot, an innocent wide-eyed grin on that cheeky face had been enough to wipe out any possible physical follow-ups to his oft-repeated exclamations. Earlier, he had considered requesting a single room but the only available one then had been taken by Wufei. By the time such a room had become available, Heero had succumbed to Duo's inexplicable magic and the thought of moving out was long gone from his mind.

Still, keeping his confusing feelings in check had been a twenty-four-hour task.

How he wanted him, needed him! But why was it so* damn* difficult to say it?

Ironically, although Heero knew that Duo felt the same way toward him, Heero could not bring himself to admit that there was a chink in his emotional armor, a flaw in his portrayal of a perfect killing machine. He could not admit that there was now a weakness in his life.

A living, breathing, walking weakness with a long, brown braid.

He had welcomed the mission that had required only Wufei and himself, hoping that the time away from Duo would help him sort out the strange feelings that haunted his every waking moment alone. He had expected it when Duo had greeted the news with disappointment, even to the extent of offering to take over Wufei's duties, much to the Chinese pilot's chagrin. Wufei had been incensed at the thought, considering it a personal affront to his abilities and reputation. His chastening of Duo's bold suggestion had taken a whole fifteen minutes, with the American pilot clapping his hands over his ears for most of the tongue-lashing. While Heero was surprised that he had actually felt flattered by Duo's reaction, he was even more surprised by the fact that he had actually wished at the time that it *had* been Duo, not Wufei, who would be going on the mission with him.

A sudden shifting of the body on the bed brought Heero's head up, snapping him out of his thoughts. A slight frown creased his smooth brow. Upon seeing that Duo had once again settled, the frown disappeared. His concern for his friend's condition had earlier prompted him to resort to underhanded tactics.


"Here, take these." Duo's head snapped up from the reports he had been skimming, eyes resting upon Heero's stern face. In his hand the other boy held out two pink pellets.

"Why? What is it?" he asked, putting up his palm to catch the caplets that Heero had passed to him.

"Just some tranquilizers. To help you sleep," he answered quietly.

Duo screwed up his face, peering at the ovoid tablets, rolling them around in his palm. "Sleeping pills?" He hated the way sleeping pills fuzzed up his brain and messed up his thinking. He had taken them once before but their nauseating after effects had made him swear to never take them again. And now, two were staring him in the face, given to him by the one person he could never refuse.

"I don't think I...."

"You haven't been sleeping well and it's going to affect your performance sooner or later," Heero cut in coldly, placing a tumbler of water on the table. "I'm not going to have your insomnia interfere with any upcoming missions, or risk your nodding off in the middle of one."

"Heh! Heero, you know I wouldn't do that. Besides, these things make me sick!"

"Fine. Then I'll save you the trouble of blowing me up on our next mission," Heero turned away, moving toward the door. "I'll just go and self-destruct."

"Heero! Wait! Oh shit!"

Heero smiled slightly at Duo's muttered curse. That particular threat always*did*work better than threatening to kill him. He turned to see the brown-haired pilot gulping down the tranquilizers, grimacing at the slightly bitter aftertaste.

"Wek! There! Are you happy now, you creep?" Duo gagged at Heero in exasperation. Heero shrugged, and resumed his exit.

As he left, he could hear Duo's loud sigh as the youth went back to his work.

When Heero had returned to the room an hour later, he found Duo slumped over the desk, amidst loose sheets of technical reports. The tranquilizers had taken effect and the boy was dead to the world. Heero grunted as he lifted his friend to place him in the more comfortable confines of his bed. Duo was heavier than he looked, Heero thought.

Must be the hair.

He pulled off the other's boots and placed them by the foot of the bed. Next he unbuttoned the black shirt that was his friend's favorite outfit, tugging it off with difficulty while manouvering his friend's limp limbs into cooperating. Heero left the white undershirt on, pulling it down where it had been pulled up when he had removed the black shirt. His gaze fell upon the bruises on his friend's torso, and he wondered where Duo had gotten them. Heero fought the sudden desire that rose up within him, the desire to touch those fascinating patches of discolored skin, to feel the textures there and compare them with the rest of the flesh before him. Heero shook his head, pushing away unbidden images that made his blood rush to his head, making him slightly light-headed. He continued undressing his friend, undoing the fastenings of his pants and pulling them down Duo's legs. He smiled when he saw Duo's boxers, white ones liberally scattered with tiny yellow, smiley faces. Always the joker, he thought. Even down to his underwear. But Heero's smile disappeared when he noticed more bruises on his friend's legs.

Whatever had happened to his friend since he'd been gone?


"He's been WHAT ?!?"

Duo and Trowa stared incredulously at the pretty girl who had met them at the door. The boys had decided to accept Quatre's offer of spending a week in between missions at his home. He had left for his estate earlier to prepare for his guests' arrival. Trowa had seemed more than eager, Duo noted, while he himself had agreed for want of anything better to do. Heero had gone off on a reconnaissance run with Wufei and would probably be gone for the whole week. That had left him with no one to torment, and no one to torment *him*. Even Wufei, the perfect foil for his practical jokes would not be around. Spending a week on Quatre's estates had seemed like a nice way to spend a holiday, he thought.

Until now.

"Yes," the girl wailed, twisting her hands. "He's been kidnapped!"

The girl, who was one of Quatre's many sisters, ushered them into the den where several other women sat, all with identical expressions of worry on their faces. The boys knew that these were just more of their friend's siblings but they had long given up on trying to remember their names. There were just *too* many of them! Even Quatre himself had once admitted to Trowa that he, the solitary male heir, had sometimes mixed them up.

A manservant offered them drinks as they made themselves comfortable on the huge sofa. One of the older women stood up and walked toward them. She smiled, her eyes reflecting the genuine gladness at meeting them, even in these trying circumstances. She introduced herself as Jelana, the sixth eldest among Quatre's sisters, and the eldest one around at the time.

"How did it happen? Do you know who did it?" Trowa finally asked the question that had played on Duo's lips. There was a slight catch in the voice of the usually reserved pilot of Gundam Heavyarms. One that Duo noticed immediately, confirming what he had suspected for a long time. That the quiet Frenchman beside him harbored more than feelings of friendship for the young Arabian pilot.

Something like what I feel for a certain Japanese idiot, Duo sighed wistfully. He just hoped that he had not been as obvious.

"We just knew of it this afternoon," Jelana said. "He had gone for his customary morning ride and had managed to give his retainers the slip. That boy...," Jelana let out an exasperated sigh. She looked up at them, suddenly remembering that she was talking to her guests. "I'm sorry. It's just...a game he plays. Everytime, he would try to escape from his bodyguards. Sometimes he succeeds but he usually doesn't. He only does this within the estate so we never had much reason to condone his behaviour. After all, there is so little that he asks for amusement, to make him forget the war..." Again the girl's voice tapered into silence as the two boys began to fidget uncomfortably on the sofa.

The shrill trilling of the telephone broke the tense silence, making the two boys jump in surprise. Jelana literally did, rising to her feet and walking across the room toward the telephone in one fluid motion. Grace runs in the family, Duo smirked.

"Winner Residence," she answered, her voice calm, giving no indication to the worry that she shared with the others in the room. Trowa and Duo watched as she spoke, noting her pale face and pinched expression as she gave little nods and affirmations over the telephone. Finally she put down the receiver, sighing as she flopped bonelessly into a nearby chair.

"We still don't know who they are, but they want the ransom payment tonight. As can be expected, they don't want the authorities involved. They will only release him when they're sure of their own safety. They promise that he would not be harmed." A sob escaped her throat as she looked around the room. "But I don't trust them."

At the mention of ransom, the two boys breathed out a sigh of relief. The same fear had gripped their hearts the moment they heard of Quatre's kidnapping --- that the OZ operatives had been responsible. But the OZ would never have bothered with monetary ransom. They would have wanted something far more valuable, like the technical plans of the Gundams or they would have just kept the Sandrock pilot for interrogation, without wanting any ransom payments.

Duo jumped to his feet, his wild grin plastered across his face.

"We'll get him back for you," he volunteered, earning a quizzical look from Trowa.

"And how do you plan on doing that, Duo?" he asked, raising an eyebrow that was effectively hidden by the bangs that fell over his eye.

The American pilot just grinned at him.


"Waa! I'm cold!" Duo whispered, complaining to Trowa who crouched in the undergrowth beside him.

"Well, you're the one who wanted to do this," Trowa replied sarcastically. "We could have let Jelana take care of it but nooo, you had to get in on the action!"

"Why, Trowa," Duo winked mischievously at his grumbling friend. "I would have thought that you'd want to be there when we get Quatre." He sniggered as he poked the stoic-faced Frenchman in the ribs. "Quatre, remember? Qua....tre...?" He drew out the other boy's name purposely, enjoying the look of discomfort on Trowa's face that had nothing whatsoever to do with the drizzle that had begun ever since they had started their stake out.

"I didn't plan to be soaked to the bone!"

"But, Trowa! He'd be soooo grateful! You'd have saved hi..."

"Oh shut up already, Duo! Heero was right. You talk too much!"

The mention of Heero's name only seemed to egg on the brown-haired pilot more. "*I* talk too much? You guys don't talk at all! I swear that the two of ... Damn!"

Trowa turned toward Duo at the latter's curse, almost doubling in laughter when he saw the cause. Duo was flicking mud from his braid, which had slipped from around his shoulder and had fallen into a pool of muddy rainwater.

"ShitShitShit!" Duo muttered as he wrung excess water out of the thick braid, all else forgotten as he tended to his pride and joy.

Trowa settled back, enjoying the slight respite to Duo's chatter, mentally going over the plans that they had drawn up that afternoon. They had started the watch long before the designated drop-off time at a location Jelana had specified when the kidnappers had called up with the final instructions. This fact had further assured them that the kidnappers were probably amateurs, or perhaps just plain desperate, Trowa thought. That they had actually managed to cart off Quatre within his own boundaries however, testified that they had to have had *some* brains.

Unfortunately, Quatre had not brought along the homing device that each of the Gundam pilots had been issued, perhaps not seeing the need for it on his own home ground. If he had had it on, their job of tracking him down would have been made much simpler. Whatever it is, Trowa just prayed that the blonde pilot was safe wherever he was. A small smile played on his lips as he remembered the way Duo had earlier volunteered their services to the Winner family.

The American was just too fast for him. If Duo hadn't said it then, he would have.

He glanced briefly at his companion who was still fussing with his hair, wondering why and how Heero had managed to ignore Duo. The brown-haired pilot's cheerful ways irritated him sometimes, but they were endearing, reminding him of the blonde Arabian that had captured his fancy. The boy with golden hair as soft as gossamer and eyes as blue as the summer sky. The boy who's milky skin was so smooth under his touch, so...

Bright headlights brought his reminiscing to an abrupt halt. Beside him, he felt Duo tense similarly, each of them holding in their breath as though the slightest exhalation would alert the newcomers to their whereabouts. The cruiser stopped a few meters in front of the clump of bushes that was their hideaway, the engine idling and finally dying with the glare of its headlights. The passengers did not stir from within the vehicle, preferring to wait away from the darkness of the wet night. Shortly after, another vehicle came into view from the opposite direction. This time, however, the other vehicle's light stayed on, even as the passenger door opened. A slight figure stepped out, clutching a large briefcase. The figure stepped gingerly over the larger puddles, walking towards the middle of the clearing. As the figure neared, the earlier vehicle's headlights were switched on, bathing the lone figure in a yellow glare. The driver stepped out, followed by the only other occupant of the vehicle. Both of them held handguns that they trained onto the lone figure in the spotlight.

In the bushes, a long-haired figure rose and carefully made his way toward the vehicle. Trowa waited with bated breath as he watched Duo move stealthily toward the kidnappers' cruiser, a homing device in hand. Their plan was to attach the device onto the kidnapper's vehicle, thus enabling them to follow at a safe distance, letting the kidnappers lead them unwittingly to their hideout. From there, they could easily initiate rescue operations, without spooking the kidnappers into hurting their hostage.

One of the kidnappers was walking toward the figure in the clearing, reaching out for the briefcase of ransom money. Duo crouched behind the cruiser, reaching under the fender to securely attach the tracker onto the alloy rim. Just as he got up to return to the safety of the bushes, the thick rope of hair about his shoulders again escaped its moorings, falling with a loud 'plop' onto the wet ground.


Trowa cursed silently as he tensed in the undergrowth, suddenly wishing that Heero had made good on his many threats to cut off Duo's long braid.

Duo cursed silently as he angrily eyed the offending object that lay silently and innocently mocking him as it became heavier with rainwater.

The driver cursed loudly as he turned around and stalked toward the source of the sound.

Duo looked around, weighing his choices. He could not make a dash for the bushes without breaking cover. He couldn't shoot the driver in the head and he couldn't risk getting caught without jeopardizing their chances of rescuing Quatre safely.

So he did the next best thing...

The driver peered around the vehicle but spotted nothing suspicious. He craned his neck, looking out into the surrounding undergrowth but still could not detect anything out of place.

"Come on!" His partner's urgent call urged him into the vehicle, immediately starting it as they made their getaway.

In the bushes, Trowa collapsed on the ground in relief as he switched on the tracking device. The red light assured him that the beacon worked perfectly.

"All right, Duo!" he whispered into the night even as he got up to move toward the car hidden in the woods.

Under the cruiser's carriage, Duo held on for dear life as the vehicle moved with surprising speed along the dirt road, splashing muddy water onto his already wet body, bumping and jarring his bones with every uneven surface in the road.

 "I swear," he hissed between clenched teeth. "One day, this hair's gotta go!"


Heero walked over to Duo's bed, dropping to a crouch before the sleeping pilot's face. The boy had turned over and was sprawled across the bed, half on his stomach and half on his side. His face was half-hidden by the pillow and his shoulder. Heero saw that the elastic that kept Duo's long hair under control had loosened and the braid was slowly becoming undone, section by section.

Withohout realizing, Heero's hand reached for the long, silky locks, combing through it with his fingers, marvelling at the softness of the heavy mass of hair in his hand. He brought up the end of the loose braid to his face, inhaling the smell that was his friend's, a subtle yet exhilarating blend of herbs and musk. Unconsciously, he rubbed his cheek with the soft strands, revelling in the smooth silkiness that caressed his skin. After a while, the dark-haired boy stood up and pulled at the covers Duo had kicked off in his sleep. Heero covered his friend, tucking the edges under Duo's body so that the sheets fit snugly around him. He pulled away the long hair from around Duo's torso and arranged it on the pillow. He gave in to the sudden urge to smooth away the bangs that had fallen across his friend's face, exposing more of the features that had somehow captured his heart. Against his will, Heero admitted, but captured nonetheless. A dark eyebrow lifted in surprise when his fingers felt a newly healed scar on Duo's scalp, hidden by the heavy mop of brown hair.

This was too much! He had come back from a routine mission to find his friend scarred and bruised and totally changed. And everyone had acted as though nothing was wrong!

Especially the boy before him.

Duo's fingers started to grab at the sheets, clenching and unclenching, soft whimpers escaping his parted lips. Even with the tranquilizers, he was still having nightmares! A hardness entered the short-haired boy's eyes, replacing the wistfulness and wonder that had been there shortly before. Heero's face lost its earlier softness as resolve set in, returning it to its more familiar grimness. He stayed by Duo's side until the boy's whimpering stopped, then he strode off to find the two other pilots who had stayed behind with the American when he had not been around.

He wanted answers and he wanted them now!

The doors opened and he could see two pairs of legs come out, walking away amidst loud laughter. Duo sighed as he slowly let go of the cruiser's undercarriage, lowering his aching body onto the concrete. His arms and legs felt like they were going to fall off at any second. Five minutes longer and he was sure that he would be sprawled across some highway or open road. His body felt like it was being held together by scotch tape. Every joint and muscle ached. Even his hair hurt!

I bet Heero never feels this way, he thought. I'd bet that he'd just laugh it off. If the bastard could laugh!

The thought brought a smile to his mud-splattered face. He luxuriated in the feel of the flat, solid surface beneath his aching back for a few moments before inching out from under the vehicle. He seemed to be in a large warehouse. Looking round to make sure no one saw him, he scooted over to the wall, hiding behind the many large wooden containers that lined it. Perhaps this unexpected turn of events could be brought to their advantage, he thought as he surveyed the room. He knew that Trowa would be by soon, hopefully with reinforcements. He had made sure that the homing device was secure and working perfectly. Trowa should have no trouble in tracking the vehicle down.

The room was dimly-lit, light coming from two fluorescent tubes on the ceiling and the windows that lined the upper portion of the large room, probably from street lights or the moon, as it had stopped raining sometime during his bumpy 'ride'. Other than the now-closed entrance that the vehicle had entered by, there were only three other doors that he could see. One probably led outside as it was situated next to the entrance. Besides, the word EXIT glowed above it, Duo noted wryly.

That shouldn't be too hard to figure out, even for me, he grinned.

Another door stood ajar at the top of a flight of metal stairs, a narrow slit of bright light spilling from the opening. This was the door through which Quatre's kidnappers had disappeared. He could hear loud voices coming from it, interspersed with raucous laughter. There was also a large plane glass window through which he could make out some human movement. The last door stood to his right. Among the three, it was the one nearest to him and the one that looked most promising.

Satisfied that no one had spotted him, the long-haired boy silently made his way to the third door, slowly turning the knob. Cautiously, he opened the door, peering through the crack. Inside, it was dark and seemed unoccupied. Glancing back to make sure that his presence was still unnoticed, the boy slipped into the dark room.


Trowa cursed at the dead communicator. He shook it vehemently, a string of expletives accompanying each shake. Duo would have been proud of him, he thought as he angrily glared at the useless piece of equipment in his hand.

Of all the times not to work, it had to be *now*!

The rain must have somehow seeped through the plastic casing, short-circuiting some of the wiring, rendering it totally useless. If he had had the time and the equipment, he could have gotten the communicator working in no time but as it was, his resources were sadly replete. Well, he thought, there goes the cavalry! He hoped Jelana or Rasheed would have the presence of m mind to rig up another tracker when they had not heard from the boys. Until then, he would just have to go it alone. Hopefully, Duo had managed to get to Quatre by now.

Trowa waited a little while longer outside the silent building. It looked like just another warehouse, nondescript and unoccupied, except for a square of light that filtered through a large window on the upper level and the soft lighting from the windows that lined the walls. The cruiser he had been tailing had disappeared into the building about ten minutes ago, during which he had tried to contact Jelana to radio in their location. After a few more minutes of restless waiting, he decided that Duo had had enough time and if the Shinigami pilot hadn't found Quatre by now, he'd probably need help.

Trowa got out of the car and quickly crossed the road, ducking under the cover of a few vehicles parked by the side. He sidled up to the side of the warehouse and moved over to where he saw the cruiser entering the building. Nobody ever expects the enemy to enter through the front door, he thought as he tried the handle on the small door by the main entrance. The door opened, but it was creaky and difficult to budge, probably due to disuse. The boy grunted as he pulled at the door, opening it just enough to admit his lanky body. Fortunately, no one seemed to be around inside the dim interior of the warehouse. Hopefully no one heard the creaking of the door although, to him, it had seemed loud enough to wake the dead Trowa saw the cruiser parked in the middle of the garage-like space, and hurriedly ran over to hide himself behind the empty vehicle. Peering from his vantage point, he searched out the other entry points, discovering the same ones that Duo had earlier identified. Like the other boy, Trowa decided on the door that was on the ground level, and he silently made his way toward it, disappearing behind it just as silently.


Duo leaned against the wall, his heart beating a mad rhythm that thumped in his ears loudly. The room he had first entered seemed to be a reception area or an office of some sort and had been joined by a short corridor to some other rooms, mostly offices and store rooms, if the few he had peeked into had been any indication. At the end of the corridor, another flight of stairs had led him to another room simply furnished with a few bureaus, chairs and filing cabinets. This was the room he was now in. The room had a door that seemed to be adjoining the one where the kidnappers had gathered, judging by the voices filtering through the door. He crouched by the wall, trying to make out what they were saying , but could only catch snatches of their conversation.

"I still can't believe it!"

"Yeah! Easy money"


Muffled conversation.

More laughter.

What a happy bunch of bastards!

The next thread made Duo strain his ears more.

"How's the boy?"

"Hah! Probably still sleeping off the chloroform. Jenks really dosed him good."

"Well, he was kicking up hell! What'd you expect?"

"Good-looking boy, isn't he?"

"Yeah, too bad we gotta let him go. Could be fun."

"Who says we gotta let him go?"

"They've paid...Oh yeah! We're calling the shots!"

Even louder laughter.

"We'll let him sleep off the chloroform before we decide what to do with him. Why don't you go check up on him?"

"Yeah. OK."


Duo flew under one of the nearby office desks, keeping himself hidden in the shadows. The door opened and one of the men walked through, across the room, and through another door on the side of the room. In the dark, the long-haired pilot grinned. This was going to be a piece of cake.

When he was sure the coast was clear, Duo crept towards the door the man had gone through, careful not to make any noise that might alert the men next door to his presence. As he reached for the knob, a small sound froze him in his tracks, making his heart skip a beat.

A door was opening!





Recognizing Trowa's voice, Duo released a long sigh of relief, thanking all the gods he could think of. He whirled around to face his friend. "Don't you *ever* do that again!" he whispered. "You almost scared me to death!"

Trowa allowed himself a lopsided smile as he moved toward the American boy. "Did you find him?" Trowa reached up to pick at a dried speck of mud on Duo's nose. Duo made a face as he swatted Trowa's hand away.

"Jeez, stop that! One of them went to check up on him. He's in here somewhere," Duo said as the two boys slipped through the door into another corridor dimly lit by a few light bulbs that hung precariously from the ceiling. A small sound to their left alerted them to the man's whereabouts, and they promptly ducked the other way. Scrunching their bodies as close to the wall as possible, Duo and Trowa held their breath as the man walked back from one of the rooms at the other end of the corridor. As soon as he was gone, the two of them scuttled toward the room where the man had emerged from, the room where Quatre was most probably held.

Trowa must have been blessed by the patron saint of Open Doors that night as the knob turned noiselessly in his hand. The room seemed to be filled with different-sized boxes, arranged by the walls and some stacked to the ceiling. Making their way into the room, Duo could make out a still, huddled figure on the floor.

"Quatre!" both of them called simultaneously.

Trowa was the first to reach the blonde, shaking him lightly by the shoulders. Quatre seemed unconscious but a harder shake from Trowa succeeded in getting a muffled groan from the Arabian pilot. Trowa pulled the smaller boy to a sitting position while Duo worked on the ropes that held his arms securely behind his back. After untying Quatre, Duo reached for the tape that covered Quatre's mouth, pulling it off with a little more force than was necessary.



"You idiot!" Trowa punctuated his exclamation with a slap on Duo's head. "What'd you do that for?"

Duo rubbed his stinging scalp where Trowa's hand had made painful contact. "It woke him up, didn't it?" he grimaced.

Trowa got up, pulling Quatre to his feet.

"Unh....what....who....Trowa?" Quatre still seemed a little confused as the two boys half-carried, half-dragged their friend toward the door.


"Shit! They're out there!" Trowa hissed back at Duo, who stood some ways behind him, half-supporting Quatre's limp weight. The two Gundam pilots had managed to reach the ground floor without mishap, supporting the other pilot's body between them Quatre was still under the influence of the chloroform, drifting in and out of consciousness as they manouvered him to where they stood now. Now, only about a fifty meters of open space separated them from the exit. Unfortunately, that open space was now a trifle crowded. A group of men were standing by the cruiser, talking and smoking. Trowa could see thatat two of them were the ones present at the ransom drop. He counted five of them before he slipped back inside the side room with the bad news.

"What are we gonna do now?" Duo asked as he gently lowered Quatre to the floor. He moved to Trowa's side, peeking through the slightly open door.

"Dunno. You're the one with the bright ideas," Trowa replied gruffly as he pulled out his gun from wherever it had been hidden. He checked the ammunition then glanced at the long-haired boy. "Did you bring yours?"

Duo looked at the gun uneasily. He never liked shootouts. "Yeah, but..." He glanced back toward Quatre, who was snoozing away on the floor. "I don't think we should risk it. Quatre..." He jerked his head toward the prone body, and got the reaction he had hoped for. Trowa looked toward the blonde boy, a wistful light coming to his eyes.

"Yeah," he whispered, his voice almost inaudible, as he put away the gun.

The guy's got it bad! Duo could not help but grin at the taller man's actions.

He closed the door and crouched down, wrinkling his nose.

What to do? What to do?

A ghost of an idea began to materialize in his head.

It might work, he thought.

It just *might* work!


Trowa hefted Quatre onto his shoulder, balancing the boy's slight body on his own. Checking his watch, he glanced toward the open door behind him through which Duo had once again disappeared. .

Almost time...

He shifted, making sure that his friend was securely held, and took up his position by the door.

Any minute now...

A small explosion came from the first floor room, the one where the kidnappers had previously gathered. The lights flickered as hell broke loose. The men that were meandering in the garage space broke into a run, heading up the metal stairs toward the source of the blast.

That was his cue!

Trowa threw the door open and made a wild dash toward the exit. Between the noise made by Duo's handiwork and that raised by the kidnappers themselves, his footfalls went unnoticed.

Duo peered through the large window with satisfaction. Rigging up the plug points in the room had been child's play, resulting in a perfect diversion. He saw the men rushing toward the room and Trowa running unnoticed in the opposite direction.


Just as he turned to make his own getaway, his face paled when he noticed that one of the men had stopped running up the stairs, turning instead to look toward the door Trowa had left open, his eyes settling upon the figure of the running boy. He saw the man raise his gun, his mouth opening to raise the alarm.


Without thinking, Duo grabbed his gun and fired at the man. The glass window shattered as the bullet made its way toward its target, showering the men below with a million shards of glass. Duo did not wait to see whether his aim was true, turning instead to run from the room that had suddenly started to resemble a cage.

Trowa turned when he heard the shot, torn between getting Quatre to safety and returning to help Duo. He had almost reached the exit when he saw Duo's figure dash out of the side door.

"Go!Go!Go!" The boy in black shouted to him, his long braid flapping against his back as he ran. Shots rang out as Duo dove for the cover of the cruiser. He glanced back at Trowa who had managed to reach the door out, and settled to let loose a few more bullets at the men running toward them.

Trowa pushed against the door, throwing his weight against the stubborn surface. The cool night air on his face greeted him as he almost fell out. He could hear the commotion inside as Quatre's kidnappers realized what had happened. His blood froze when he heard several more shots echoing off the inner walls of the warehouse. Running with his living burden, Trowa quickly made his way to the car. Depositing Quatre's limp body in the back seat, he hurriedly started the car, waiting for Duo to make his appearance.

Duo never came out.


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