The approach angle was bad. He noted it, already instinctively sprinting for cover as Gundam Sandrock came hurtling towards the bunker. The air itself resonated with the keening whine of stressed aerodynamics as Sandrock hit the turf with a roar, and the ground under his feet jumped. He tumbled, rolled, and got up running.
"Quatre!" Trowa Barton yelled, sprinting towards the bulk of the golden-haired pilot's Gundam, half-plowed into the earth against the partly-concealed bunker that was their temporary home.
Uneasiness gave way to a full-blown. . .almost fright that caught in his throat along with his breath as he climbed over the inert Gundam to reach the cockpit, although he never would have admitted any such feeling aloud. He was...concerned, rather. Quatre was a damned fine pilot. What could have gone so terribly wrong with Quatre's mission that his flight would be impaired?
He slapped open the hatch release and it hissed as it gaped wide, exposing the cockpit. Quatre was sprawled within, blinking, dazed and fumbling with the straps.
He pushed himself upright, eyes wide and blank, blood streaming heavily over one eyebrow, pouring down his temple.
"What happened?" Trowa demanded.
"Mission. . .accomplished. . ."
Quatre wavered, then collapsed into his arms.
"Trowa? What the hell was that, an earthquake?" Duo demanded, rushing towards him as he carried Quatre through the bunker to the small infirmary.
"No," Trowa replied, tight-lipped.
Duo's eyes widened when he saw the prone form of Quatre in the tall Heavyarms pilot's arms.
"Shit! What happened to him? He just got back from his mission, right? Geez, I wonder how Quatre got hurt! It must've been pretty hard if Quatre got hurt, right? Let's get him to the infirmary..." Duo rambled, falling into step with him.
Trowa shot the American pilot a cold sidewise glance and Duo faltered. "Do you ever stop talking?"
He carried Quatre into the infirmary, Duo still trailing behind.
Trowa examined the golden-haired pilot carefully. The only wound seemed to be trauma to the head, and he wondered how Quatre had managed to be so careless as to get hit.
"Geez, that looks pretty bad! I hope he's okay! Is it just the one wound, or..."
Trowa gave the brown-braided pilot a cold, flat-eyed Look and Duo held up his hands defensively, grinning uneasily.
"Okay, okay! I get the picture!" He edged hastily out the door.
Trowa turned his attention back to Quatre, eyes unaccountably softening. He wiped away the blood on the golden-haired pilot's brow, then checked him over carefully. Apart from the enormous purpling knot on his temple, marked over its center by a jagged, still sluggishly-bleeding tear, Quatre appeared unharmed. Trowa deduced that the blow must have given him a concussion, accounting for his erratic landing. He moistened a clean cloth with cool water and settled it over Quatre's forehead.
It disturbed him, how he could feel this way.
He knew that Quatre was a perfectly competent pilot. He was more than competent, or he never would've been picked for a Gundam. But he...he was concerned every time Quatre left on a solo mission. Hell. He...he worried about him. And seeing Quatre like this made him angry that there was a world where such bright, unsullied innocence and light was forced onto the front lines. He, Trowa -- he deserved this. But not Quatre.
Almost compulsively, Trowa checked his lover for wounds again. He frowned as he felt out a hard rectangular shape jutting at Quatre's hip, and put his hand into the other's pocket...A disk? Had this been the object of his mission?
"Hey, Trowa, I don't mean to butt in but Wufei told me to ask if Quatre's conscious enough to ask him about his mission objective---"
"Here." Trowa shoved the disk at him.
Duo blinked. "How is he?" he inquired, taking it. "Boy he sure plowed Sandrock halfway into the cliff! That was some---"
"He'll be fine," Trowa cut him off shortly, eyeing the door significantly. "He just has a concussion."
"Ah...okay," Duo blinked, then took the hint and beat a hasty retreat.
Trowa turned back to Quatre, a pensive expression crossing his face. He ran a hand through the soft, fine golden hair, then sighed and pulled up a stool beside the bed to wait until Quatre woke up. He couldn't quite shake the conviction that this feeling of worry was weakening him, that it was unworthy of Quatre...that maybe the Arabian pilot would be better off without him.
Duo hummed a merry, slightly off-key tune as he headed up the hall of their current hideout to give the disk to Heero.
Trowa certainly had it bad for Quatre! He'd never really noticed before. But the look scrawled over the lanky pilot's face, still struggling for its normal expressionless mask, had been explicit. Quatre was hurt, and Trowa responded.
He heard Wufei talking as he walked into Heero's room -- well, his and Heero's room, but everyone still pretended like he didn't sneak in there every night -- and saw the Chinese pilot peering over Heero's shoulder, both their faces backlit by the eerie greenish glow.
"Look at those figures...he did tremendous damage to that waypost. Very commendable results," Wufei was saying, a tinge of reluctant admiration coloring his tone. "Almost one hundred percent annihilation."
"All that on top of a concussion," Duo added cheerfully as he entered the room, unabashedly admiring of Quatre's handiwork.
"Just a concussion?" Heero raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, Mr. Superman-Yuy, maybe that's nothing for you," Duo bristled, handing him the disk, "but it would've been enough to put anyone else out. Especially under the stress of piloting one of our Gundams."
"He did okay," Heero grudged, shoving the disk into his computer.
Heero began to upload the information to their superiors -- routing it to Dr. J first, most likely. "Someone should probably unearth Sandrock from its furrow and get it back into the bunker, to be safe."
"Yeah, that's a good idea!" Duo beamed at Wufei.
The black-haired boy frowned back. "I did not offer. Besides, I believe he was addressing you, Duo."
"Yeah, well, I think you'd do a better job, Wufei," Duo conceded generously. Then he leaned over, widening his eyes, and poked Wufei in the ribs. "Unless you want to be alone with Heero...!?"
"W-WHAT!?" Wufei sputtered, red-faced with outrage.
"Duo..." Heero growled, giving him a flat glare.
Wufei bolted out of the room without another objection.
"Duo..." Heero eyed him accusingly, as the brown-braided pilot sidled up to him. "I'll kill you."
Duo grinned. "That's what you always say," he responded, plunking himself in Wing Gundam pilot's lap without further ado.
Quatre cracked open one sapphire eye, and groaned.
Trowa bent over him instantly. "You all right, Quatre...?"
"My head hurts," Quatre winced, closing the eye. "Ne, Trowa. Do me a favor and knock me out."
"It looks like someone already tried," Trowa murmured, getting up to rummage for painkillers.
"I'm just glad Rasid isn't here to scold me," Quatre said ruefully. "Trowa! Did you find the disk---?"
"Yes," the brown-banged pilot reassured him, "Heero has it."
"Thank goodness." Quatre relaxed.
Trowa helped him sit up with careful hands, assisting him as he swallowed water to wash down the pills.
"I'm sorry to be so much trouble," Quatre apologized as Trowa eased him back into a reclining position.
Trowa smiled faintly. "You're not trouble for me."
"So Heero got the data?" Quatre's eyes popped open again, just as he was beginning to relax.
"Yes," Trowa responded.
"That means we'll probably be sent on another mission again..." Quatre frowned, beginning to struggle into sitting position.
Trowa gave him a dead-eyed stare and flicked a finger against the golden-haired pilot's forehead. Quatre released an explosive little cry and fell back against the pillows.
"You're not going anywhere," Trowa said implacably. "Not until that concussion heals."
"But Trowa---" Quatre began to object, and Trowa leaned down to cover the smaller pilot's lips with his own, silencing him effectively the easiest way he knew how. Quatre melted.
He felt a hand at the back of his neck, and Quatre's sweet lips were just starting to part under his own when---
"Hey, Trowa man, we got the results back from up high, and new mission---ack!!"
Trowa sat bolt upright. Quatre turned beet red and closed his eyes hastily, pretending to be asleep.
"Sorry!" Duo blurted, and slammed the door behind himself.
Trowa, unexpectedly, chuckled.
"Trowa?" Quatre peered up at him, startled by the unfamiliar sound of Trowa laughing. Trowa gave him a faint sliver of a smile and picked up his hand, pressing his lips to the soft skin on the back.
"I have to go."
"I know," Quatre responded softly.
"I'll be back as soon as---"
Trowa kissed his hand again, then set a glass of water thoughtfully within reach. He left the room quietly.
"Our instructions are very clear," Heero began, spreading out a map. "But we'll have to compensate for Quatre's absence."
"Demo..." Trowa frowned. "Quatre has a concussion. He shouldn't be left alone, because he'll have to be woken up for at least an hour in four-hour intervals."
Heero frowned back. "So we'll set an alarm clock for him."
"Well, is the assignment going to need four Gundams? Or will three be enough?" Duo inquired, casting a sympathetic glance at Trowa.
"We can waylay a shipment of parts just outside Denver and conceal our Gundams inside..." Heero continued, indicating a point on the map and ignoring Duo, "the objective being to gain access to a huge research and development plant the parts are intended for. Their subject of research is to discover a design for Gundams to compete, even exceed, with our capacity."
Wufei smiled grimly. "They'll get Gundam, all right. More than they bargained for." He preened self-righteously.
"Our primary mission isn't to destroy the plant," Heero warned, scowling. "That comes after step one."
"Which is?" Duo prompted.
Heero shot him an irritated glance. "Stealing the research from the complex's data banks. There's just one problem." He stopped, frowning.
Duo looked like he wanted to say something, but refrained with an obvious effort.
"The only proper passkey to the files is in the possession of the research director, a very paranoid man. So we can't copy the data banks until we get the key from him."
Again Duo obviously refrained from urgently prompting Heero. He looked like he would pass out.
"The information from our superiors indicated that one of his weaknesses was boys, young men...our age...and suggested that we approach from that angle."
"What!?" Wufei demanded, explosively aghast.
Heero nodded grimly. "One of us will have to approach him, and make certain offers he would find attractive...Dr. J suggested Quatre, because no one would ever suspect Quatre, but he's out of action."
Trowa looked relieved.
"I'll do it," Duo volunteered, twirling the end of his braid.
"Like hell!" Heero retorted at once, then blinked as he realized he'd said it out loud. Wufei was looking at him skeptically.
"Whaddya mean, like hell? I'm going to do it."
"No. I'll do it," Heero glared at him darkly.
"Don't be silly, Heero, I'm the next best person in line," Duo said nonchalantly. "As if you could ever be sweet and seductive! Ha! I don't think so. I, on the other hand---"
"You're about to get something shoved down your throat, that's what you are," Heero growled.
"Heero!" Duo objected. "Without any foreplay!?"
Heero glowered daggers at him. "I'll kill you." He looked like he really, reeeally meant it.
"Yeah well, I don't think dead guys are his type, so you'd better not kill me."
Even Trowa looked ill.
"Duo," Heero began grimly, "You're not doing it."
"Well, one of you had better do it, because I certainly am not!" Wufei interrupted, looking nauseous. "Stop your unmanly bickering and get on with it."
"Unmanly!?" Duo and Heero objected.
"Forget it, Duo," Heero glared. He muttered something, too low for the other two boys to hear.
"What's that!?" Duo demanded, looking outraged. "I am not your property, Heero Yuy! And if someone else touches me it's my business!"
They started to brawl.
"Stop it!" Trowa interrupted forcefully, and they both paused to eye him in surprise. Duo winced at the horribly painful grip Heero had on his scalp. "Neither of you are going to do it, because I am."
Duo and Heero blinked at him.
"Okay," Heero agreed, releasing Duo's hair.
Duo frowned, then looked towards the infirmary. He knew why Trowa wanted to do this...in some fashion, because Quatre was incapacitated, Trowa was trying to take his place. He couldn't shake a sudden flicker of unease that gripped him, but didn't protest the brown-banged pilot's decision.
"Now..." Heero began, turning back to the table. "This should go smooth, and by the numbers..."
Damn, I sure hope so, Duo thought, casting a worried glance at quiet, self-contained Trowa.
Duo shifted gears in the truck, keeping pace with Heero's increase in speed, and glanced over at Trowa, the other pilot's face half-hidden in the sweep of bangs that overshadowed his features.
"You gonna be able to do this?"
Trowa flicked a brief, impersonal glance at him, then resumed his scrutiny of the passing fields.
"Why wouldn't I be able?"
Duo frowned worriedly. He knew from observation and experience what a difficult person Trowa was to get close to. One was never quite sure of his ultimate motivations, or the thoughts moving behind those impassive green eyes. Yet somehow, he and Quatre had become close. Still, in spite of, or perhaps even because of this, it would be difficult for the tall, introverted pilot of Heavyarms to be intimate with anyone else -- which was why Duo thought Trowa's role in this mission was a mistake.
"Trowa, man -- you shouldn't be doing this just because Quatre can't," he voiced his concern. "It would be just fine if I went in there, and I'm sure the other guys wouldn't mind. But if you're somehow feeling guilty or responsible for Quat---"
"That is none of your business," Trowa interrupted him, his voice as calm and contained as ever, but carrying a force behind it that was more powerful than a shout.
Duo sank back into his seat, chastised, and concentrated on just driving. He'd tried. He could probably try to force the issue, but since Heero and Wufei obviously had no problems with Trowa's assumption of Quatre's place, he'd just end up losing. And probably earn Trowa's scorn to boot.
"Why are you so concerned?"
Trowa's quiet question startled him. Duo glanced over at him again. The lanky pilot was still immobile in his contemplation of the landscape, but Duo thought he saw a flicker of -- something -- in the quiet boy's piercing green eye.
"Well---" Duo was uncomfortable. He wasn't sure how Trowa would take his opinion. "What you and Quatre have is sacred, man. He wouldn't ask you to put yourself into this position."
"Quatre shouldn't have to be in that position," Trowa asserted bleakly. "And what about you and Heero? You said you would---"
"Me 'n Heero are different," Duo replied cheerfully. "And you saw how he was ready to kill me rather than let anyone touch his 'property.' Seriously though -- I can take that sort of thing with a grain of salt. It's just business to me. And Heero knows that."
". . . . ." Trowa frowned.
Duo suddenly realized that he must've insulted the other pilot. "Uh...ah, not to say that you can't! But I can have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Laugh it off." He blew out air through his teeth and hoped Trowa wouldn't take offense.
But the pilot of Heavyarms had already lapsed back into his customary silence, shutting out the world in that blanking field of his.
Duo flipped on the radio after a long moment of silence, but nothing tuned in. The truck's cabin was filled with the empty static hiss as he searched across the band, then finally gave up, unable to find anything but white noise.
He tried not to regard the man's groping hand with the revulsion that filled him, as it twitched over the seat in search of his leg. Much as he hated to admit it, Duo had been right -- he shouldn't be doing this. He should be with Quatre, but it was a mission that required all of them. And it was too late, now, to switch places with Duo.
With an effort he kept his muscles lax as the hand clasped over his knee, moving up as the fingers curled into his thigh. He clenched his teeth. This was all wrong.
The car pulled up to the gate of the huge house. He knew Duo was concealed somewhere nearby, his contact for this mission, but the knowledge didn't help him.
The hand was suddenly gone and he felt relieved, looking up to see Artek typing in the security code into to the gate's computer pad.
"Just a moment, pretty one," the man chuckled softly. "I just have to disarm security for a few crucial moments, then I'll be right with you."
Trowa wondered if Artek knew how much he was revealing, as he calmly observed the security code from the side-view mirror. The man either thought he was a complete idiot, or he really was that trusting.
Then they were driving through the gates and the hand was back and squirming between his thighs and Trowa had to put all his effort into NOT ramming his elbow into Artek's face, which would make a satisfying, sickening crunch but would be counterproductive to the mission. The only comforting thought he had to cling to was that Quatre wasn't here, and hadn't even been in the position to be forced into this.
Trowa clamped down on his lip as the hand reached higher, squeezing him painfully.
The car ground to a halt and Artek turned the car off, then faced him, teeth glinting white in the faint light that came from the nearby house. "How 'bout we have a little fun right here?"
"Won't someone see us?" Trowa asked quietly, nodding his head to the house where lights burned steadily in the window.
Artek leered at him. "The servants are all gone for the weekend, pretty one." He reached across the seat for Trowa, his right hand letting go to take hold of his arm, pulling him towards Artek.
Trowa closed his eyes and remained utterly passive as Artek tugged at him, shoving a hand into his pants, nibbling at his ear, and then a slimy wet tongue was probing at his ear, moving across his cheek, worming in between his lips and forcing its way inside. Artek pushed him down across the seat, making excited noises.
"You don't resist...I like that, pretty one..." Artek's breath rasped over his cheek, rank with liquor.
Trowa's nostrils flared, but that was the only response Artek got out of him. He lay limply on the car seat as Artek's hands worked over him, ignoring the other man's presence but feeling at the same time like he was drifting weightless and anchorless in a sea of static, an island adrift without moorings. His head, strangely enough, was filled with the empty crackling of the radio Duo had turned on that afternoon...a band without any settings.
The lanky pilot's lip curled, as Artek grunted, shifting his hips to dig into him urgently. He'd had enough. The hissing static surged up to roar in his ears, and Trowa finally decided to take action.
"Gaahh!" Artek choked as Trowa bit down on the man's disgusting, invasive tongue, hard. He pulled away, wiping at his lips. "How dare you! You little shit -- I'll beat you until---"
Whatever threat he was about to spew out remained unsaid as Trowa drove stiff fingers into a pressure point on his neck, then indulged his initial impulses and slammed his elbow into Artek's face, crushing his nose.
Artek released a gurgling cry and his body went tense with pain. Trowa shoved him off and sat up, scrubbing at his lips with the back of his hand.
"It doesn't take much to resist you," he observed.
Artek twitched, eyes bulging, still in throes of pain from the abused nerves thrilling out from his neck. Trowa rummaged around in the glove compartment, finding exactly what he expected to -- handcuffs. Velvet-lined ones, too. Apparently he liked to take care' of his boys.
He got out of the car, going around to Artek's side, and opened the door. The research director eyed him with a terrified, glazed look, obviously aghast that one of his playthings would go this far, would ever possibly be able to resist him.
Trowa clipped him a good one to the head, to be sure he would stay out of it long enough, then hoisted him without much effort over his shoulder.
There was a rustling noise at the edge of the grounds, and Duo emerged from the bushes.
"Trowa, what the hell are you doing!?" the brown-braided pilot exclaimed as they headed for the house.
"Change of plans," Trowa said laconically. Artek moaned inarticulately. Duo ran to catch up with them, eyes wide.
"Oooh...are we going to torture it out of him?"
"You're late," Heero frowned at them, as the two pilots approached the cargo trucks where their Gundams lay concealed under the tarps.
"Couldn't be helped," Trowa shrugged.
"Did you get the passkey?" Wufei demanded. "We have been waiting here for hours. We must act quickly, before someone comes to check out the cargo and discovers us."
Silently Trowa held up a thin card. Heero and Wufei nodded, setting their mouths in grim lines, and turned towards the complex.
After Heero had extracted the data from the main computer, his hands danced over the keyboard, and a 'SELF-DESTRUCT' sequence flashed across the monitor.
"Great thinking!" Duo praised, folding his arms. "Makes less work for us, ne?"
"Let's get the hell out of here," Heero snapped. "I set it for twenty minutes. That should give us enough time."
The four boys sprinted out of the research complex and climbed into their Gundams. Duo was already beginning to laugh maniacally as he shook his scythe free, thermal blade sweeping in a wide arc of destruction. Trowa played his left-arm cannon over the warehouses, shredding them up with a constant stream of bullets. Heero shook free Wing Gundam's blazing sword and attacked the inert forms of prototype mobile suits that had been concealed in one of the huge cargo bays. Wufei uttered a battle cry and wreaked havok on the outlying complex, trashing everything completely.
The first explosions blossomed over the research complex, and Duo yelled, "That's it!" over their intercom, and the four Gundams sprang up into the sky, thrusters thrumming at a keening pitch, as the plant below them whooshed up in flames. Duo was cackling gleefully and Trowa cut off death-boy's connection, enjoying the abrupt silence that followed.
Duo had asked if he was going to torture the information out of Artek, but he'd had something far more appropriate in mind.
It had been extremely distasteful -- but they'd led Artek to believe that they were going to rape him. In his panic and desperation to have his pristine buttocks remain untouched, Artek had been willing to do practically anything...so had told them where he hid the passkey. And like any other bully once his victims proved not-so-helpless, Artek had crumbled into a shuddering, wailing wreck of a man, absolutely terrified and completely willing to believe that they would act with the same sick impulses that he possessed.
Duo had wanted to kill him. Trowa had, too, but his honor wouldn't permit him to kill a man in anything other than the heat of battle. Artek hadn't realized who they were, and that spared his life.
So they'd left him in his house tied up. And with the servants gone for the entire weekend, he was likely to be quite miserable from blood loss to certain extremities by the time someone found him...
Trowa allowed himself a tiny smile of satisfaction. It would be a very, very long time before Artek molested anyone, ever again.
"Trowa!" Quatre greeted him with a happy smile, as he entered the blond boy's room. "How did the mission go?"
"Successfully," Trowa replied laconically, as Quatre approached him, giving him a hug. He let his free hand settle on the Arabian pilot's hair, stroking the silky-soft strands. "How are you?"
"I'm just fine," Quatre assured him. "I should be ready for any mission they throw at us within a few days."
Trowa nodded, then looked down into Quatre's smiling face. I missed you, he wanted to say, and the line of his mouth softened. Instead he bent down and kissed the cupid's bow of Quatre's mouth gently. The blond turned his face up eagerly into the kiss, a hand tightening on the back of Trowa's neck.
When he pulled back, Quatre's face was slightly flushed and he smiled happily at Trowa. He groped for Trowa's hand, intending to turn and tug him towards the bed, and frowned when he realized that the lanky pilot had something in his hand already.
"What's this?" he inquired.
Trowa held up his flute case, aiming one green eye at Quatre. "I thought we could do with a little music..."
Quatre's brilliant smile lit up his entire face. "Just the thing!" Eagerly he went to get out his violin. "It's been too long since we made music together..." He blushed fiercely. "This kind of music, anyway..."
Trowa's lips twitched into the barest curve of a smile as he watched his lover extract the violin from its case. As they began to play, the melody curved up richly around them to encase just the two of them, but riding on its pure and focused strains Trowa found the peace he always did when playing. Iie, it wasn't just the playing itself -- it was the melody that he created with Quatre.
In one pure, high tone they finished. Quatre's face was flushed with the pleasure of losing themselves in the give and take of the melody.
And Trowa smiled.