by Maldoror


Chapter Three: Whisper Of Your Touch

I'm asleep before my head touches the pillow.

When the laptop gives its tinny little chirp less than an hour later, I have my gun out and trained on it and I swear I almost squeeze the trigger in pure hatred.

Heero is sitting with the laptop in his naked lap before the thing stops beeping, fingers flying over the keys, eyes flickering, shards of colour from the screen reflecting in dark pupils as if the mission is scrolling directly across his mind.

I'd twitched the gun away as soon as he moved, but I hesitate to put it back under my pillow. I thought I caught one of those shards darted in my direction. Either the perfect soldier is having 'morning after' blues -*hysterical mental laughter*- sorry - or I'm also part of this mission.

"So how's Dr J? Still brainwashing the wife?" My mouth picks up on my uncertainty and goes into automatic. After months of working with me, I know Heero can tune out my babble, it won't distract him.

Heero puts the laptop back on the dresser and stands fluidly, turning towards me.

"Mission objective is the base at point L141-V35. Pilot 01 to infiltrate, hack into mainframe, download data. Pilot 02 to infiltrate, plant explosives, destroy both data and evidence of download. Pilot 03 to provide cover and air support. Supplies of explosives?"

"2 K M18, 200 grams C4, some grenades-" I answer promptly, and manage to stop Duo from adding 'and no regrets!' to the sentence. There's a mission on, and that's almost as important to me as it is to him, so I don't have the time to get my lights punched out now.

He jerks a finger from me to the laptop then turns and starts moving. Still naked, but the look in his eyes stops me from commenting, or even enjoying the view. In three precise movements he has his gun, his back holster and his clothes in hand while I'm still struggling off the bed.

He leans forward again and picks something else up, I see it out of the corner of my eye. I tense as he turns and takes three military steps in my direction. I'm suddenly staring blankly at the hilt of my knife in my face.

I meet his eyes over the sharp metal blade he holds in firm fingers. The sudden intrusion of last night throws me. His eyes are blank slates, unreadable, he's scowling as I waste a precious second in hesitation. That scowl prompts my fingers to grab the knife automatically, and he's gone, heading towards the bathroom.

Still on automatic I walk to the laptop, clipping the knife to sheathe on my arm. I lean against the dresser, hands on either side of the cold machine-

- hands on either side of Heero, lips and bodies inches apart, the air between us pulsing and burning like wildfire-

I take a deep ragged breath, changing my position a bit to something not so charged with emotional memory. I take another breath. Damn you, Heero! You may be able to switch whatever feelings you have on and off -and that's assuming you have any, and this wasn't just some kind of - of - *gentle hands*- no, I guess it wasn't 'just' that, but what you think it was- whoa, ok, no time for this now. Damn, I wish I *could* shut myself off with a flip of a switch!

I don't work like that. Though I sometimes think of myself as Shinigami and Duo, the god of death and Sister Helen's little orphan, in fact they are one and the same, one massive twisted paradox born of fire, blood and death. I can't turn either side on or off, though I can let one or the other to the front when I have to. But the other one is always there, two opposing currents dragging my mind into a whirlpool. I know this would blow Heero out of the water; how could I possibly function like that, he'd ask. He thinks in straight lines, hell, he makes his laptop's logic board look like a corkscrew. But I'm not like that...

The thing is, it works. This chaos generates solutions and conclusions that occasionally catch even the perfect soldier flat-footed. At other times, though...

Finally my tired brain flips out a few thoughts to anchor me back to the here and now.

There's a mission starting, it's very time sensitive, I need to be one hundred percent.

I don't want to lose that small light of- whatever, pride, respect, equality that I saw in Heero's eyes an hour ago.

If I blow a mission, I'll be losing a lot more than that!

I might like playing footsie with death but I don't have a death-wish unlike some people I know, and I really don't want to die anytime soon, not before I can find out what last night meant exactly to him, to me...and see if maybe, just maybe, we might get to do it again!

Time to concentrate and get cracking.

My own fingers are already flying over the keyboard, part of my mind running through base schematics even while arguing with itself. Damn, she's a big one alright. As all my attention comes back to the task at hand, that part of my mind Dr G trained pops up and presents a tally.

"I don't have enough bang to do it straight out." I say to the door opening behind me.

"You have 2K of-"

"Babe, Dr J doesn't want this place wounded, he wants it totalled! Half of it's underground, parts are reinforced." I feel a warm presence at my shoulder, looking over it as I fly through blue-prints. I ignore it. We both concentrate on the small window with the mission parameters flashing in one corner of the screen. Then I point to several key areas on the various blue-print windows I've tiled.

"Suggestion?" Heero grunts.

"I'll wire the MS fuel tanks here and here."

"That will save you some explosives but-"

"You'll have to start by hacking the fire doors to the underground rail system so that the fuel and fire will-"

"-penetrate into the MS ammunition depot." Heero concludes. "I'll disable all fire systems, the heat should blow the depot. The MS rockets will take care of anything in a one hundred meter radius, however reinforced. That will avoid you having to go anywhere near the depot, it's likely heavily guarded."

"Which gives me time to pack the rest of my 2K here, here and here. That will torch the Records building and labs."

"But the computer room is reinforced as well. And it's our principal target" He's frowning in the light from the screen. I try to concentrate on the cold laptop and not on the warm flesh a few inches from mine. But I can't help noticing that there is a fraction less tension in him than I would expect, seeing that I'm right into the kill zone...

"That's OK." I say, my attention back on the screen, the mission. "I'll cook up some party poppers with the C4 and plant those there while you're getting the alarms and fire-response off line." I don't like what my mouth is saying. I'm wiring the room where my lover is going to be working on hacking the mainframe... But I've already played the parameters of this mission in my mind a few dozen times, and I just don't have enough explosives to do it any other way, and no time to cook up a new batch.

"Hn." Which is Heero for OK, agreed, well thought out plan, good job Duo! You takes what you can gets, as Solo used to say.

I'm already hauling out the 'other' duffel from under my bed. Not the small one containing my clothes, weapons and a few knickknacks. The one that contains the highly-explosive tools of my trade. Yeah, I sleep over enough hi-ex to total three city blocks, and, most nights, I sleep OK. The smell of nitro compounds is my security blanket.

Heero is downloading blue-prints to our Gundams so we can memorize them on the way over. I check the contents of my duffel and start sorting wires and packets of ex.

"I'll go get Barton." Heero says over his shoulder, hitting the enter key.

"Better you than me! Just make sure you knock loudly or you might barge into something steamy! I wonder if Quatre can blush so hard he might actually blow the veins in his cheeks. I've always wanted to sneak up on 'em but then Trowa would fold me into a pretzel-" I've been talking to an empty doorway for the last ten seconds but I'm still grinning and talking while my fingers start wiring fuses and packing the M18 and C4 into dead-bags. They're not that reactive, but when you're running around in a Gundam and getting shot at, you don't take the chance of plastique tumbling around the cockpit unless it's in isolating containers.

I glance at the laptop one last time before I carefully haul my duffel onto my shoulder. The time lines J gave us are insane. I'm going to have to wire the goddamn C4 while in Deathscythe, at the same time as I memorize the base layouts.

Two, three, four... There are at least four interesting and messy ways I can die in the next six hours. Suddenly I'm not so sorry I didn't sleep last night. Exhaustion adds another element of risk but if I'm gonna go, I'd rather do it with Heero's whispers of my name on my skin...

I hear Trowa asking curt mission-related questions as two sets of feet run down the stairs. Careful not to bang my duffel on anything I run out to follow them.


I hate this.

Getting into the mainframe was harder than anticipated. Getting through the perimeter at dawn was OK, we went through like a couple of ghosts gearing for a haunt. The electronics designed to keep us out surrendered gracefully to the Perfect Soldier. The human guards didn't even know we were there, but they were many of them and we had to avoid them all. Some of them will be dead in two hours, some of them will not, depending on their patrol route in and out of the blast areas. The sheer randomness of this brings bile to my throat but I ignore it. I'm familiar with the taste of death.

I hate *this* though.

I'm wiring the mainframe with the C4. Heero is at the terminal screen, his fingers blurring over the keyboard. The hacker programs from his CD have downloaded now, and he's bypassing the inner ring of security measures. The mainframe is actually isolated from the outside world, it's a control server for the MS plant and research lab of the base. Not many firewalls can keep Heero out for long, but if the thing isn't actually connected to the rest of the world, you can only get to it if you're willing to get close.

I hate this...

- I'm strapping explosives to the racks three feet away from my lover's head.

- The explosives are not on a timer, I have a switch, but I know that the mission timelines are such that I will hit the button as surely as the little mechanism of a clock would; there will be no leeway.

- There is enough time for Heero to crack the mainframe -maybe- and get out -maybe- before the whole base goes sky high -maybe.

- But if there is any delay he will not leave this spot, this terminal, this desk where I'm wiring a fuse near his long legs until he is done, and then he'll upload the information via the wireless modem he's installed and he'll stay until it's uploaded and the Done message pops up or the explosives blow, whichever comes first.

I really *really* hate this.

But I'm still doing it.

"Duo." My head shoots up from under the desk and I nearly brain myself. This was the first word he'd said since the operation started.

"The alarms are off." Now why was I stupid enough to think he was going to say something else... At least he used my first name. My heart does a double thump-thump as I realize that he's not called me Maxwell since last night.

"The fire response system is on the same server, I'll have it off in an estimated three minutes. Get going. RV at gate four in one hour and seven minutes-" we'd already synchronized our watches "- hit the detonator no later than 0738."

That meant a five minute lee-way between our meeting at the gate and armageddon. I find myself nodding. My howls of protest don't make it further than my chest where they sit and sulk and use my heart for a punching bag. I ignore it.

I see Heero open a window on another monitor, checking on his programs chewing holes into the mainframe's security. He stares at it for two seconds then continues working on the fire-alarm system.

"If you arrive with spare time, take out the guards between the Records building and gate four." He says. He hasn't looked at me once since we entered the mainframe room, even when I slipped between his legs to wire ex to the landline beneath the desk, insuring his modem and any traces of download are incinerated.

"Anything for you, buddy." My voice is a whisper, though the room is heavily reinforced, sound-proofed and the guards in the security room are dead.

I know why he's asking me to do that. He's estimated the time it will take to crack the mainframe, download the information and get out, and he thinks he's not going to have enough time to play dodge-em with the guards on the way to our RV. My heart takes another punch but I'm already moving, re-checking the straps inside my duffel, my weapons, the blue-prints in my head. The sooner I finish the sooner I can take out those guards. I leave like a ghost, my mind so full I don't even say anything to him.

I just hate this...

I'm still doing it.


The mobile suits are frozen giants above us.

Step, step, turn.

I can't see what the fuss was about. J had learned that this plant had improved the operational efficiency of Leos by 20% or something. These were the improved models but they looked just like the old ones...

Step, scuffle, fumble.

I'd love to crack the hatch on one of these sad giants looming over me to see what his newly improved guts look like.

Fumble, flick- I can't believe this guy!

"Jesus, Jack, cut that out!"

"Why, you going to report me?"

"When you're risking MY ass smoking this close to a hydro-mix fuel tank, you bet your sweet ass I am!"

"Fuck, grab a clue, the tanks are so well isolated that-"

Turn, shift rifle.

"Cut it out, Deckers, you know regulations."

"OK, OK, she's out already. I swear, you two... "

My blood pressure climbs down from the plateau Jack's lighter had sent it to. The fuel tanks are very well insulated, sure. The pack of M18 I planted a meter away from Jack is not so lucky.

I ignore the scream of minutes slipping by. The third man had showed up unexpectedly, his patrol route had not been on our maps. He was now facing my escape route out of the wired hangar and didn't look like he was continuing his rounds any time soon.

I was fast approaching a red flag on my internal clock that meant I had run out of time for him to pursue his patrol, if he was even going to. At that point I would have to risk slipping out, or I was going to have to kill these three guys without raising the alarm, or I was going to have to wait here for fifteen extra minutes before I hit the detonator and sent us all to hell and that last wasn't an option. I had to go clear the gate guards for Heero.

I'm nearly in plain sight, though my black clothing blends into the shadows of the hangar's walkways and vents I'm clinging to. Humans have more animal instincts than they will allow for, I know that beyond sight and sound, my 'presence' might eventually intrude on them, cause them to shift nervously, to look around to try to define the prickle on the back of their necks.

So I put myself elsewhere...

I keep my senses on them but my mind drifts, my breathing and heart rate are slow, my muscles relaxed...

...When Heero downloads that data I'll have to access it. 20% optimisation. Deathscythe, old buddy, compadre, how does that much extra juice sound to you, hmm?

Shift, yawn... step, step, turn.

The MS and gundams work on different systems but I didn't spend all that time working on my metallic 'better half' to not have picked up a few tricks.

Step, step, scratch scratch,.

Four minutes until I have to risk-

Grunt. Hoist Rifle.

"Say hi to Marla for me, Rich."

"See you in two hours."


Finally! Rich's military boots ring like a tocsin on the metal ramp down to ground level . He's doubling back on his patrol route though. I see how many swearwords I can remember in Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic as I let him get a few meters ahead, relaxing my muscles.


I coalesce out of the darkness, falling limply from my hiding place to land in a silent crouch on the observation platform beneath me. My legs straighten slowly. I am behind Jack, who is looking at the fuel tanks morosely, probably waiting for his next coffee and ciggie break. My body falls into the next few steps with the best compromise between silence and speed. My rubber-soled boots fall precisely where I want them to, where they won't cause a shuffle against metal or the creak of the slats. Jack shifts. His partner, who is staring at nothing much on the other side of the platform with his back to me, yawns again.

I'm a whisper, a silence, a cipher, a patch of nothing ghosting down the ramp to shadow Rich's slow footsteps out of the hangar. I leave Jack and his unnamed colleague to die in flame and fury behind me. OZ scum and human beings, we're all just these little paradoxes aren't we? No hard feelings, guys, you'd do worse to me. Enjoy your last twenty minutes.

Rich breaks off to the left at the hangar door. I am a shadow within a shadow near a gangway strut, I knew before he did that he would glance back one last time, out of habit. Then his slow steps echo away and I've got five minutes to get to gate four and kill everybody there.


I slither up to the guard post and freeze in horror.

There's only one guard there instead of four. He's not lounging in front of his consoles, he's standing at the window saying 'Ed? Come in, Ed?' over and over in his communicator.

He doesn't look alarmed yet but I know that will change.

I already know what's happened, my brain working with the speed you gain when your life has been on the line more times than you've had birthdays, or even hot meals. The bloody patrol route map which sent Rich unexpectedly into my feet has sent someone over Heero's way, probably into the guard's room near the mainframe. We'd hid the bodies out of redundant precaution -we're all too used to having the crap shoot of chance screwing us over and over again to take risks. But an empty surveillance room has brought the guards over to investigate.

Heero has already switched off the alarms, that might buy us some leeway. If the alarms go off, then we've failed. The scientists in the lab will immediately break isolation protocol and will send an emergency transmission of the data we're trying to steal and destroy, straight to the OZ headquarters in Zurich. As it is, since they finished their research yesterday, they were going to present their report to HQ today anyway and send them the data in an official transmission. We have only twenty minutes before they do so, alarms or not. That's why the base has to blow before then, no matter what, or their completed data will be sent out of our reach, and new and improved Leos will be striding through the colonies in a matter of weeks.

No matter that Heero has run into a pack of investigating guards and is now somewhere in those hallways, possibly fighting, possibly wounded, possibly-

"Ed- Dammit, if you don't get onto the com now I'm calling-"

I don't bother waiting to see who he'll call. He gasps as he sees me but doesn't have time to raise his rifle before I plunge my fist into his gut. He doubles over with a strangle gasp of pain and I hit him in the neck with my elbow. With a crunch of vertebrae he falls silent to the floor.

The uninterrupted crackle of the communicator is music to my ears, it means Ed and company have run into the Perfect Soldier and are now pushing up daisies. But how long did it take him to get through them? I know he'll now be scouting the area, to be sure no other guard from their group is left to raise the alarm before we blow the base. He's cut the landlines by now, but the guys in the lab might have another way out for their data, we can't risk the alarm even now. Damn damn damn!

I don't need to glance at my watch, I know there is less than seven minutes for Heero to get back here. I drag the man I'd taken out to the back room. Damn, his nose is bleeding, a red smear on the concrete. I'd deliberately taken him out bare-handed to avoid the mess my knife would have made! Uncooperative jerk. I waste a few precious seconds cleaning up the blood trail, I don't know who else is around and the alarm cannot go out now. Then I peek around the doorway. No one in between the guard house and the small inner wall that separates Records from the rest of the base. Beyond that I can't see. The mainframe and Heero are in Records.

Five minutes to go before I have to blow the base.

I know the blind spots of the lookouts -at least if THAT information wasn't wrong - and the cameras are already off, so I slither out of the guard house and crouch near an old jeep parked outside, scanning the area for patrols.

Four minutes plus.

I stand up and calmly walk towards the perimeter wall. My black clothes look like Spec Ops from a distance, and I know my body language, gait, scowl, everything, will peg me as such as well, as I slip into the role as easily and completely as I slip into stealth mode. I'm not as good as Trowa but I've still walked right past a few patrols and lookouts before with barely a second glance.

Three minutes.

I hesitate when I get to the wall. I can walk -slowly- to the gate ten meters away or I can break cover and climb the wall. I *want* to go and help Heero now. But I need to make sure no-one sees me and radios in an alarm. At this point, they will not have time to do much about it but I cannot take the risk someone is faster than I think they are. I turn and walk to the gate in the inner perimeter wall. Heero had snapped the guard's neck on our way in, and hidden the body underneath the deep desk of monitors, but one of the patrolling guards might-

Two minutes.

-have left someone there to watch the defences. I step into the guard room in one smooth motion, drawing my gun and shooting the man hunched over the monitors before he can look around. The room full of electronic hum ignores the pfft of my silencer and the rag-doll noise of the man collapsing on the monitor desk. The monitors are all offline, a simple diagnostic program the man was running making no headway against the damage Heero has inflicted on the system.

One minute.

I look around the inside of the perimeter. No one. They must all be inside the Records building. Dammit Heero where are you?

Forty five seconds.

At this distance, I should be safe. He has to come through here to exit now, he wouldn't have time to make it over the wall. He has to make it at least to this guard station or he'll be in the blast radius and that's playing dice with death.

Thirty seconds.

I take the detonator from my belt, my thumb flexing on the button. I scan the empty space in front of me, in sudden fury. Damn it don't you dare do this to me!

Twenty seconds.

I know you've always got your finger an inch from the button! I've seen you hit it once, seen you almost die so many times, one more time is almost routine but don't make me do it! Not now! Come on, perfect soldier! You still have enough time to come running out that door.

Ten seconds

One mad dash and you're with me in the guard room you're with me you're with me you-

Five four three

I am going to storm heaven and kill you, God, for making me do this-

two one

My thumb hits the button and I belatedly dive for cover as the silence is ripped apart. The windows of the guard's room shatter inwards in a graceful rain of glass, seeming to hold still for a trembling second before the second blast -the MS fuel blowing- rattles the walls and sends the glass flying to the other side of the room.

I'm on my belly, arms over my head and neck, just inside the door of the guard room. I listen to the crash of debris falling in the inside perimeter near the Records building which is gripped in a hurricane of fire and flying masonry. I feel like the calm at the eye of the storm. Dead calm. Dead.

Our radio finally crackles to life //Status?// It's Trowa, breaking radio silence now that our presence here is obvious to anyone in a ten mile radius.

"Is Heero at Wing?" I ask, my voice so calm. I know he's not.

// ...No.// That pause before the word is the one minute silence you give to fallen heroes. He knows what it means that I had to ask the question.

"Get ready for air support, Tro, I don't know how quickly the military base at the airport near town will react."

//They can get MS here in twenty minutes.// Trowa informs me.

"That gives me fifteen minutes to look for Heero then." I snap. I make my voice as final as possible and amazingly enough Trowa doesn't argue. Heero has survived blowing up his own Gundam with him in it, there's no telling exactly what it will take to kill the perfect soldier. I just hope it isn't Shinigami.

I have my gun in my hand as I run out of the guard room and back to gate four. Nothing inside the perimeter could have survived, now I have to hope he made it past the wall and I missed him. I widen the arc of my search. Debris smoke and hiss around me, the blast radius was wider than I thought. The reinforcements of the building had been crummy. More chances of Heero getting killed.

I don't wonder what I'll do if I don't find him, or find his body. My life is not my own. It belongs to Deathscythe and the colonies. I don't own my death, I'm not allowed that luxury.

I never explored the depths of my feelings for that silent man who would dare to let Shinigami get so close to him, who could apparently see straight past the jester mask when no one else could, who wasn't afraid of what he could see there. I don't think of it now. I'm not allowed that luxury either.

So I don't think at all, just widen my search pattern further, and count the minutes that fall like scorched debris all around me, counting down to the moment I will have to leave.

I twist into a crouch, turn and squeeze the trigger before my mind even registers the movement behind me. I manage to jerk the gun up and loosen my finger at the last possible instant.

"*Fuck*! Heero, don't sneak up on me that like, I almost blew you away!"

That wasn't what I'd wanted to tell him if I found him alive, but that's what came out.

Heero frowns at me. "I wasn't- where were you when the explosives went off? Is your hearing impaired?"

Damn, he's right. I do have a slight ringing in my ear, I was too close. He's not stupid enough to sneak up on-

*He's alive, he's alive, he's alive!*

I straighten up swiftly. "Where the hell were you?!"

I realize there's a trail of blood leading to a storm drain near the wall at the same time as I realize that there's a trail of blood.

"You're hurt!"

"Flesh wound."

If someone ripped his left arm off or removed a kidney, he'd call that a flesh wound too. I give him a quick once-over. He has a deep gash in his thigh right under the spandex, looks like a bullet ploughed in and out again. It's bleeding a lot, but it shouldn't be fatal. The rest is a lot of cuts and bruises.

His hand is like a vice as it closes on my arm, jerking my gaze away from his injury to stare into his eyes.

"The mission?"

I blink then gesture eloquently at the burning buildings, the wreckage, the secondary explosions. It looked like one very dead OZ base to me!

"Was the timing followed?"

Uh? I glance down, and realize that somewhere along the line, his watch had been smashed, probably against someone's face. He must have made it past the wall anytime in the last twenty minutes and then hit the storm drain to protect himself against an explosion that could come at any time.

Was the timing followed...!

"To the fucking minute, Yuy!" My voice cracks as that last minute comes back to me. I wish I could drag that minute out back and shoot it in the head.

But I'd hit that button anyway. I live, I fight, I kill, I die for my missions too, perfect soldier!

He looks at me solidly. "Good. I was interrupted by an unexpected guard detail. I was afraid you might have been delayed by one too."


"We need to extract ourselves from this situation now. Let's go."

"If you mean we have to run like hell I guess I agree with you." I say to a spandex backside disappearing into the rubble near the gate with barely a limp. I run to catch up as I flip on the radio.



"We're on our way."

// ...Good.// I love working with these guys. It's like living in a crossword puzzle. What's a four letter word for 'Wow, he's alive, that's wonderful, Duo'?

"We have ten minutes or so before company shows up." I shout to Heero. "You know, I think Oz just doesn't appreciate all the efforts we put into blowing up their research centres. They're kinda funny like that. Maybe instead of improving their Leos they should work on their sense of humour. I wouldn't blow up *that* lab. I did hit the button on time." That last came out from behind the jester's mask and caught me by surprise.

"Thank you."

"Th-thank you for almost *blowing you up*?! What kind of *sick*-"

"For last night."

I'm back at Deathscythe before I can figure out what that means, what I feel about it, and above all, how to wade through the adrenaline, the anger, the remains of panic chocking my system, to find the right way of saying: 'Gee, no problem, is there a chance in hell we'll ever do it again?'

He could have died today. We could be dead tomorrow. I accept that, I accept the pain, I accept the fact I will lose him sooner or later, I accept that I may even be the one who will pull the trigger. That's what he's really thanking me for. So, can we take what we can while we're still alive? Neither of us will let it become a weakness. So, can we...?

I'm not sure the perfect soldier is willing to make a habit of something so human.


"You're back!" Quatre bounces towards us like a happy puppy (well, towards Trowa really), as if he hadn't had his gun trained on the door when we opened it, ready to blow any intruder away with clinical efficiency. Sometimes, I think we're not normal teenagers.

"Yeah, Q-man, break out the bubbly." No one else is going to answer him, that's my role in our twisted little sit-com. I toss off my priest's coat and start to talk, my usual little rambles. It doesn't hold a thimble to the way Trowa reaches out and squeezes Quatre's hand as he passes him on the way to the kitchen and the medical kit. Heero follows him.

I talk and I talk. It helps me blow off steam, it reassures Quatre - and Wu Fei too, I know he's skulking around somewhere, letting the tone of my voice and the quantity of words tell him that the mission was a success and no one got dead. Q-man starts to grin, losing that slight pain in his eyes he has whenever one of us leaves the house with a chance of never coming back.

"Maxwell, do you ever stop to take a breath of air?" Wu Fei grumbles from the door to the TV room. He has a book of Chinese poetry in one hand, his reading glasses in the other.

"Nope, Wuffers, air is overrated."

"Then choke up and die already." He snarls. He only glances at the kitchen, listening to the snip of scissors cutting suturing thread. Reassured, he leaves again. Back to his book of poetry, I guess. That is dangerous and unnatural reading for a teenager, and I tense my muscles to leap off the couch and do my duty of putting an immediate halt to such deviant behaviour.

"Duo, you look shattered, get to bed. You can report later." Quatre has probably sensed my train of thought and is trying to derail it before things end in bloodshed.

The amount of sleep I've had over the last two days is a sick joke. My body isn't laughing though. I grin at Quatre.

"Geez, Mom, whatever you say, will you come and tuck me in? I'd love a hot chocolate before snuggling up with my teddy. I know it's a school day tomorrow, but can I watch a little TV first, pleeeease?"

Q-man grimaces but he knows what I'm saying. I just killed a lot of people. Made a whole bunch of orphans. Sleep is for those whose conscience isn't bathed in blood and fire. He has to give me a few hours before I can cope with something as dangerous as sleep.

There's a bit of a tightening in Quatre's eyes though. He knows that until I unwind enough to let my exhaustion pull me under, I'm going to be downright unbearable. I think I can almost hear Wu Fei groan from the other room (how'm I gonna get that book from him, without getting myself a brand new sword-cut... ) and Trowa sighs from the door to the kitchen.

Well, that's what you get for having the jester on your team! I know that my sense of humour helps them get their sanity back when they return, bloody inside and out, from one of their missions; now it's time to pay the piper, baby! I wonder if Wu Fei would kill me if I somehow managed to set that book on fire while he was reading it. I wonder how much innuendo I can lay on Quatre about his love life before he understands what I'm saying and blushes beet-red, or before Trowa tells me to cut it out. I wonder-

Quatre and Trowa are looking at each other with resigned airs, knowing what they're about to go through, so they don't see it. I'm slouching, my arm flung over and behind the top of the couch, my back to the kitchen door. Heero come out of the kitchen, heading towards the stairs going up to the bedrooms. He's passing me, waaay too close for Heero.

Funny, my body didn't even react though I knew he was walking towards me. That's stupid, body! Heero is not immune to my pranks, though I might cut back a little since he's injured. But he could still be creeping up on me to stick his gun in my face and order me to shut up, or maybe just go straight to punching my lights out if he's feeling tetchy enough. He's also got his adrenaline running, and his demons have another bone to chew on, that's a lethal combo that he has to address somehow.

As he passes, plunging me right into the kill zone, I feel something brush along my arm hanging over the couch. Not close enough to touch skin but a whisper of a caress that ignites it, his fingers drifting from the wrist all the way to the sensitive skin on the back of my arm near the edge of my tank-top's strap.

My mouth runs dry and stops of its own volition.

He's already passed me, and is climbing the stairs.

Quatre and Trowa are staring at me in increasing alarm, wondering if I have concussion or something. Then Wu Fei's head appears in the door to the TV room, staring at me as well. I wasn't supposed to stop talking for at least an hour.

I suddenly realize there's a better way to pass that hour, use up that adrenaline.

" ...You know what? I think I'll take your advice. I'm going to bed. I'll see you guys tomorrow."

I ignore three stares on my back as I leap towards the stairs.


On to chapter four

Back to chapter two


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