sparsenicjade
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Thanks: To Theodosia for the alpha read, and doitninetimes for the beta read. All mistakes left are my fault.

AN: Written for poilass's (also) ridiculously generous donation on help_japan. I'm using for my "broken bones" square on hc_bingo.

***


After Heero had managed to duck her calls for a few days, Une left a message saying, “You’re a great agent and I’d trust you with Relena in the middle of warzone, but if you don’t take at least a couple of weeks of your accrued vacation, I’m going to fire you. And I think we both know I don’t make empty threats.”

Heero scowled at his phone for a moment and then called Quatre to ask, “Can she do that?”

Having been briefed on the situation, Quatre gave him a rather uninformative, “I dunno. Probably?”

For someone who ran a multi-billion dollar corporation, Quatre was a crap liar when it came to the people he cared about. Duo’d tried brushing up Quatre’s technique during the same year he’d used Quatre as his wingman for all kinds of less-than-savory—but fun to hear about later—exploits. Heero hadn’t seen Duo fail often when he set his mind to something, but clearly this aspect of Quatre was immutable.

Quatre said, “But hey, I mean, since she’s kicking you out anyway, how about coming out here? It’s been awhile.”

“Did the two of you conspire?”

“I had nothing to do with it, but Wufei and Relena have been talking an awful lot for two people who have very little in common.”

Heero blinked at that. “Oh.”

“I have tickets to the Post-Federation Philharmonic and nobody to go with.”

“Tro—“

“Is performing that entire month. And Catherine threatened to have a knife-throwing accident the next time I come watch if I keep taking him away.”

Heero didn’t shudder, but it was a close thing. For a tiny woman with a deceptively sweet face, Catherine was terrifying with those knives of hers. “At last count you had twelve hundred and sixty two siblings.”

“I’m telling Duo you used sarcasm and hyperbole.”

“I’m telling Cather—“

“You win.”

Heero generally did. “I can’t just take a vacation right now. Relena’s in the last stages of planning the Expo, Une’s caught up in the latest shitstorm over Marimeia, Wufei’s the only thing keeping the rebuilding projects alive, Dorothy’s—“

“I know things are busy, Heero. That’s why you take a vacation. To relax and get a new perspective. I’m not trying to suggest you’re not needed, but the universe will continue to function should you absent yourself a bit from it for a couple of weeks.”

Heero closed his eyes. It was good to hear Quatre’s voice. Between the two of them, it had been a while since they’d had a chance to speak. Quatre always made everything sound so eminently reasonable. Between that, and the fact that Une really would fire him, Heero said, “Okay. But just two weeks.”

*


Heero arrived on L4 at midday and was picked up by a driver from Winner Corp. He was taken directly to Quatre’s residence, where Quatre had a full brunch laid out for him. Quatre admitted, “I made the potatoes. You might want to exercise caution.”

Heero took that to heart. Quatre was many things, but useful in the kitchen wasn’t on the list. Heero went for the fresh fruit. That stuff wasn’t cheap and Quatre had a way of getting his hands on the best of it. He ate in companionable silence for a bit, while Quatre flipped through documents on his netpad.

Quatre looked up and said, “I’d apologize, but it’s you.”

Heero nodded. More likely, Quatre would apologize, but he could feel Heero didn’t need it. Quatre was polite enough not to refer to the fact that he could read each of them easier than his own sisters, but they all knew it. Hell, he’d saved Wufei’s life by sensing the danger he was in from four colonies away.

Heero cut a waffle into bite-size pieces and asked, “Any toys lying around?”

Quatre looked up with a grin. “What do you take me for?”

They weren’t supposed to keep Gundam tech around, and Quatre didn’t keep the suits, of course, those had been destroyed. But he kept just enough of the proprietary technology that Heero could go in and tinker with it, lose himself in the familiar rhythms of fixing something that responded to his touch.

“Yeah,” Heero said.

Quatre stood. “I’ve got a meeting. Don’t get into too much trouble, okay?”

Heero produced his very best flat, level-stare. He knew for a fact it was quite good. It had worked on even Duo for years. Quatre’s lips quirked and he ruffled Heero’s hair. “It’s good to have you here, Yuy.”

Heero waited until Quatre was out of the room to admit to himself that it was good to be there. Quatre would feel the response anyway, but it was easier for Heero to pretend some dignity that way.

*


Heero spent the morning in the cool sanctuary of Quatre’s “work” rooms. He didn’t do much. Just the feel of the metal under his fingers, the frequency it vibrated at around him was enough to make him glad he had come—not that he had any intention of admitting it.

In truth, he liked these rooms because nobody but Quatre would dare come into them. It was easy to sit on the floor, back against the wall and bring out his needles. He was in the middle of a scarf. Trowa was forever touring cold environs and failing to purchase proper clothing. Catherine, thankfully, made sure he wore a coat at least, but everyone involved agreed the situation was far from satisfactory. Duo—the only other person who knew about Heero’s fondness for yarn and needles and patterns—had found a beautiful fractal pattern that Heero had itched to begin from the second he saw it.

There was sense, precision in the way the needles clicked together, and the way the yarn knotted together to make something that kept. After the war, Heero had taken the position protecting Relena not because she was his closest friend—she mattered, because like the others, she had found something in him he hadn’t known had existed, but it would have been easier to go with one of the other pilots—but because it had been a way to keep something alive. Knitting was better, knitting was actually bringing something to life. Knitting also was straightforward, unlike painting or writing or playing music.

Heero set that last thought aside. He’d heard Quatre and Trowa play once, in the days after the war, when they were all trying to regain a sense of humanity, of having their feet on the ground. Duo had sat in open thrall, watching and clapping as they finished each piece. Wufei had been polite in his spectatorship, with curt words of praise at the end. Heero had hidden, unsure of how to enjoy anything that pure. Enjoyment hadn’t been part of his training.

He wanted to ask if Quatre would play for him again. This time he would stay where he could be seen, even if he closed his eyes, allowing nothing but the music in. He didn’t know how to ask. Asking hadn’t been part of his training, either.

Heero concentrated on the different gradients of green in the scarf. He’d chosen them to match Trowa’s eyes. It was Trowa who had taught Heero—mostly by the slow patience of being Trowa—to appreciate things like another person’s eyes. Trowa’s women would appreciate it too, Heero thought, a tight smile playing over his lips. Trowa had a woman in every town, city and hamlet the circus stopped in. Heero’d met a few in the month he’d spent with Trowa when the two of them were doing consulting work for the Preventers from the safety of Trowa’s caravan. Each of them women was so very different from the next, and yet, Heero could see what Trowa liked in every one of them. They were brash and funny, quiet and insightful by turns. Not all of them were beautiful, but they were all unique. And they wanted the same thing from Trowa as he wanted from them: a moment of touch, a week or so of togetherness. None of them, so far as Heero could tell, wanted anything more. And none of them were at all in the dark as to the fact that they were not the only one. Heero didn’t think Trowa was their only paramour, either.

Heero hadn’t known what to think of that at first, the Puritanism of Sanq being his only real idea of human interaction. He’d asked Wufei, once, if Wufei ever took his pleasure easily. Wufei had mumbled some garbage about a warrior’s code, but later, when Heero’d given Wufei two beers that were stronger than the kind Wufei normally drank, he’d admitted that women befuddled him and it seemed safest to keep his distance. That safety, of course, had later been completely destroyed by Lucrezia Noin’s straightforward and thorough campaign to have Wufei for her own, but Heero could see where it might be easier to surrender, than to plan battle strategy.

Sally, Heero had learned, liked competent, argumentative boys and warrior-like, viciously smart women in equal turns, but only one at a time. Une, in her own words, had no idea what she wanted, and didn’t want anything she, well, didn’t want.

Duo didn’t like situations where he wasn’t in charge, and was sometimes skittish about human touch from anyone outside their circle. He’d fixed Heero with a grin when he’d told him this and said, in an easygoing manner, “Share and I’ll make sure you die slowly.”

Nine out of ten times, Heero could take Duo easily. Heero knew not to fuck with that tenth time.

Heero had never asked Quatre. He’d also never explored why he hadn’t, when he’d asked everyone else. Maybe because Quatre, like Relena, had been raised to certain standards Heero implicitly respected. Or maybe because there were things about Quatre Heero preferred to have his own truths about.

Heero quieted his mind, listening to the click-click-click of the needles. Maybe he would ask while he was here. (Then again, maybe not.)

*


“It’s nice that you’re not terrified of me any longer,” Quatre told Heero after the Philharmonic concert, the better part of a bottle of wine and two sizable sifters of cognac. Quatre could hold his liquor.

Heero, who’d only helped with the wine, and who had been well-trained to resist interrogation by inebriation, considered denying that Quatre had ever scared him, but it lacked dignity. The very reason he’d been afraid of Quatre was because Quatre, unlike anyone else, could see inside of him. Instead he said, “I liked the Dvorak.”

Quatre’s grin spilled from him as if he were the wine bottled, tipped over into a pool of glee. Heero resisted the temptation to smile back. Quatre asked, “Do you ever really listen to the operas or concerts when you take Relena?”

“I don’t want any distractions.”

“Is the music why you’ve always considered me a distraction?”

“You’re drunk,” Heero pointed out, not unkindly. After all, he’d let Quatre get there.

“A little,” Quatre acknowledged. “But then, wasn’t that what you wanted?”

Heero gave him a Look. Quatre knew when he was being unfair. Quatre smiled again. “You could just talk to me, you know. Duo and Wufei, they take this kind of work to actually say anything, but me and Trowa, not so much. We’ll answer if asked.”

Heero looked forlornly at the empty wine bottle. Quatre laughed, but not as though he was laughing at Heero, just as though he was happy. He said, “C’mon, I wanna show you something.”

The touch of Quatre’s hand, leading Heero from the room into a dark hall, and then outside under the stars, was warm and dry and more comforting than Heero cared for. He didn’t let go, however. Instead, he let Quatre lead him to a part of the compound where Heero had never been. It seemed like a greenhouse, only much more unruly.

Quatre made low, clicking noises and from out of some of the brush, a baby lion tumbled. Heero blinked. “Cats are Trowa’s thing.”

“Yeah. He rescued this one off another outfit that was abusing it. The mom, the real breadwinner, had died giving birth and evidently the ringmaster didn’t have the good sense to realize if he just trained this one up right he’d have a readymade replacement.”

Heero could imagine how that “rescue” had gone. Trowa wasn’t real forgiving about abuse to things smaller than the abuser. “Why is he here, though?”

“Trowa tried working with him, but he wasn’t doing well in the circus environs, so he asked if I’d keep him for a while. We’re trying to get him ready for release, but so far he’s not so keen on basic tasks like hunting.”

Heero felt for the cub. A sudden switch in programming, no matter how desirable, was never easy. “Why bring me here?”

Quatre shrugged. “Not sure. It seemed like the right thing at the moment.”

Trusting Quatre’s instincts had saved Heero’s life once or twice, so he nodded. “The cub have a name?”

“Honeycrisp.”

Heero was silent at that. Quatre said, “Yeah, I didn’t ask. It’s a good name, really.”

The cub had trotted over at the mention of his name and was looking up at them expectantly. Heero said, “He seems to think so.”

“I think he just wants to be fed again,” Quatre said. Heero could sympathize with that feeling, too.

*


Quatre did pissed-off in a way that, had Heero been anyone else, probably would have made him pee his pants. Duo raved and was violent, Wufei did the same thing, if in a different manner, and Trowa would just kill you without a fuss. If you managed to piss Quatre off, though—and it was rare, you had to harm one of his sisters, or the pilots, so far as Heero could tell—Quatre would destroy everything you held dear without warning, and leave you to live with it.

As far as Heero could tell, Quatre was very slowly, very delicately doing this to one of his business competitors, which was not really like him. Quatre may have gotten annoyed by the free market now and then, but he still believed in it. Heero asked, “What’d they do, kidnap one of the sisters who’s better at the business side of things?”

“If only,” Quatre said quietly. He got up and paced. Heero watched him, but didn’t say anything. Finally Quatre went to the cabinet in the room and took out his violin. He sat down and set, very meticulously, to tuning it.

When it was sounding right, Quatre set it down, but laid his hands on it. Finally, he said, “Halima found it.”

Halima was Quatre’s accounting-genius sister. She was one of twelve who actually worked for the Winner Corporation. Quatre took a breath. “They were going to sell one of their subsidiaries to us, but something about the deal just felt…off. I couldn’t tell what, there’s often a certain blankness to business deals, but this was an unusual amount, so that in and of itself was enough to tip me off.

“I had Hali do a little poking and she found another subsidiary, one pretty well routed to not look like part of their corporation.”

“Arms dealer?” Heero asked. He knew Quatre didn’t have an issue with above-board ones, but the kind that sold to children revolutionaries and colony military control groups he had a lot less tolerance for.

“Human trafficking off L2 and 3.”

Quatre said it matter-of-factly, but Heero felt the punch to his stomach all the same. There were very few people who knew what Duo and Trowa had managed to escape, and what they hadn’t. Quatre and he were both included in the number. “You didn’t want to tell them?” They would both know to whom he was referring.

“They’re both too forgiving for my tastes,” Quatre said calmly. “I’ll tell them when I’m ready.”

Heero felt a lick down his spine that he pretended wasn’t arousal. He liked to believe he was something more than a lab rat who’d been taught to play with guns a little too young, even if it wasn’t all that true. Quatre raised his violin to its shoulder perch. He said, “Of course, you’re welcome to help, so long as you don’t get ahead of me.”

“I’m well trained to follow orders.”

“Mm,” Quatre said, and picked up the bow. “Mussorgsky, I think.”

Heero certainly wasn’t in the mood to quibble.

*


Halfway through Heero’s second week off, he sent the finished scarf to Trowa care of Catherine—who would make him wear it—found one of the supply lines Halima had missed that was running through a shipping station, and called Une to say, “I’m taking another week, possibly two.”

“Either your personalities have finally splintered or you’ve found enough trouble to keep even you happy where you are.”

Heero personally thought it was kind of rich of Une to talk to accuse anyone of having splintered personalities, but he actually respected her too much to come out and say so. Instead, he responded with a whole lot of silence.

She sighed. “Come back in one piece, would you? I’m crap at consoling Relena.”

“You were the one who ordered this vacation,” Heero pointed out.

“I’ve steered persons wrong in my life. It’s been known to happen once or twice.” She sounded exhausted.

“Need help with Marimeia?” he asked.

“What are you suggesting? That you threaten to kill her? Never worked with Relena, but I suppose—“

“Give her to Noin for a week.”

Une was silent for a moment. “That’s not actually a horrible suggestion.”

Heero rolled his eyes, but kept quiet. For the most part Une was great with Marimeia’s complete emotional imbalance. Relena assured Heero it was called ‘being a teenager,’ but Heero was willing to bet even Duo hadn’t been that undone at thirteen. Sometimes, though, a complete change of scenery and/or guardianship was needed to get her to settle. The problem generally was finding someone to take her on, but Noin had worked under Treize long enough to have a residual fondness for Marimeia by default, not unlike Une.

Une said, “You’ll call if you get yourself into too much trouble to get out of?”

Heero thought about lying, but Une saved him the hassle by saying, “No, of course you won’t. Fine, see you if you don’t come back dead.”

She hung up. Heero laughed quietly.

*


“We need someone on L3,” Heero told Quatre over dinner.

Quatre nodded. “I know. I’ve been thinking of talking to Tulia.”

Tulia was the daughter of Quatre’s father’s third wife, seventeenth in age of the daughters. She’d left home and become a field medic during the war after Quatre had gotten himself a Gundam. Her blend of compassion and absolute lack of squeamishness made all the pilots fond of her, if a little wary of the way she would kick their asses without thinking twice if they got themselves into stupid situations. Heero could agree she’d be good at blending in and observing, but Tulia also had a husband and two children who depended on her. He said, “Or I could go.”

“Mm, because nobody knows who you are, War Hero Twice Over and Head of Sanq’s Security, not to mention Friend of Corporate Magnate Quatre Raberba Winner. Okay.” Quatre didn’t quite snort—Heero thought that might be beneath the Winner dignity—but it was a close thing.

While Quatre had a point, Heero wanted to know, “You think I can’t?”

Quatre opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again to say, “I think there are safer, smarter options.”

“Tulia has a family.”

“One of the Manguanacs, then.”

Heero stayed silent at that. This wasn’t like following Quatre into war. This was something Quatre would have to ask them to do, ask them and know they would not refuse him. After a moment, Quatre sighed. “I take your point.”

“Three days, five at most. In and out, intelligence gathered.” Heero would even let Quatre pick someone else to do all the fun parts with rescuing trafficked humans and that sort of thing. He was built to be useful, but not necessarily a closer.

Quatre cut very neatly at his food for several moments on end. “We’re putting a tracker on you. It took months for Hali to even find the problem, it’s taken me months to have any idea who these people are. They’re good and they outnumber you and I’m not taking any more chances than I have to.”

Normally, Heero would have put his foot down. He really didn’t like feeling as though he had a leash. Strangely, he didn’t feel the need to protest in this situation. “Subdermal. Preferably in a spot where, if they find it, it won’t kill me to have it extracted.”

“I know what I’m doing, too, Heero,” was all Quatre said.

*


Heero wasn’t even surprised when he got himself in trouble on the second day after landing on L3. Intelligence, Heero was good at, but ever since the end of the war he was crap at looking the other way. It occurred to Heero it was for that very reason Quatre hadn’t wanted to send him in. Quatre was going to give him “I told you so” eyes, and Duo was going to laugh at him for being a “total softie.” Wufei would just stop speaking to Heero for two weeks until convinced Heero had seen the error of his ways—even if both Wufei and Heero knew that was a pipe dream—and Trowa would kill him in his sleep for making them all worry.

There was a warehouse full of young women who were now in the hands of Preventers, rather than traffickers, and said traffickers were having to answer some extremely awkward questions, so Heero really didn’t give a fuck about all of the above. Or, well, he gave a fuck about living long enough to experience all of the above, and that was looking a little tricky at the moment.

It had taken six of them to get him down, and Heero was pretty sure at least three of the original six were dead. Plus, they’d lost the warehouse, so he considered himself to have won. Once the second bullet hit him, though, things had gotten a little hazy. The first was in his thigh and clearly hadn’t hit an artery. The second had definitely broken his left ankle, along with whatever other damage it had managed to do. The third—because evidently he’d still had enough fight left in him for one more—was buried in his right shoulder. For a second Heero had considered the possibility that they were just really crap shots, but then they’d shot him right in the chest with a tranq.

When he woke up he was blindfolded, gagged, tied hand, foot, a few other places, and disoriented from whatever they had pumped into him. But he remembered his name and what he was doing there and could tell he was in a vehicle, so the effects were clearly not permanent. He had to believe he’d missed a significant part of the ride, so trying to determine route was probably pointless. He was in pain from the bullets and the tranq dart but not from anything else, which made him believe that the tracker was still in place. So long as nothing was blocking or neutralizing the system, he could be found.

Briefly, Heero weighed the pros and cons and decided resting and doing what he could to strengthen himself were more important than staying awake to try and figure out location. He could assess escape possibilities when he got to his destination. Until then, he was taking a nap.

*


Heero woke up dangling from his wrists in a way that threatened to dislocate his wrists or his shoulders, maybe both. It put enormous strain on the shoulder that still had a bullet in it, and forced him to put weight on the ankle with the bullet on it, or try to hold the entirety of his weight on his other ankle. He could actually do so for a couple of hours in prime condition, but right now it was half an hour at best. He was still blindfolded and gagged, but there was something blocking his sound now as well.

He took as deep a breath as he could manage around the gag. The air smelled damp and had a slight chemical residue that was neither antisceptic nor like the smell of a garage or hangar. He was pretty sure it was recycled. He flexed his hands as best he could. He suspected he’d been unconscious for at least an hour after being put wherever he was, because the blood in his hands was nearly gone.

He was pretty sure he was attached to a pipe of some sort, one that clearly took all of his weight. He twisted the stronger arm to see if he could tap on the pipe, figure out what its composition was and how much extra weight he’d have to exert to get it to budge. All tapping told him, though, was that it was a heavy metal, thick and well-constructed. He was going to have to wait until they moved him, and hope he got a chance at that point.

In the meantime, he worked on shifting his weight in between his good arm and his good leg, trying to keep blood flowing as best he could, and keeping himself in the best shape he could manage until someone came. He was feeling hot in a way he knew wasn’t right from the smell of the air and the cool of the pipe against his fingers. He imagined he was running a fever, trying to fight an infection where at least one of the bullets was, if not all three.

He concentrated on keeping his thoughts straight, going through schematics, and color plans for the hat he was planning to knit Duo and other straightforward, inconsequential facts he could check if he was keeping straight.

He felt the air shift, which was his only clue he’d been joined. The ear plugs were taken off and the gag was pulled from his mouth, but Heero didn’t really have anything to say. He could feel something that burned being injected into his arm. Heero would have rolled his eyes if he hadn’t been blindfolded, and felt it might be a waste of effort. Like his trainers would have missed the eight months spent teaching him to resist truth serums when he was ten.

They asked questions, and, Heero had to give it to them: they were good at building up, at using interrogation as a tool alongside the serum, rather than just wielding both like blunt weapons. Extra points for wearing him down first, to help the process along. But even if Heero hadn’t been serum resistant, this was Quatre and a bunch of down-on-their-luck colony kids these assholes wanted to know about. Heero was pretty sure he would have found a way to lie.

He answered the questions by whistling, or throwing out a few of Duo’s favorite curse words, or whatever felt like the easiest sound to make that had nothing to do with telling the truth. By the time they were done—Heero’s internal clock said it had been around six hours, but sometimes it went wrong when he was feverish—Heero was willing to admit, at least internally, as good as he might be at surviving and escaping, he kind of hoped Quatre’s tracker was still working.

*


Heero lost consciousness at some point after the questioning, only to be shoved back into awareness when the strain on his good arm became too much, causing dislocation. He was somewhat glad to be gagged again, because it meant he could make more noise than he generally would have allowed himself. He forced himself to focus through the agony of the dislocated shoulder and the fact that his weight was now being borne on the shoulder with the bullet.

He wasn’t entirely sure how long he’d been held, but long enough to assume either the tracker wasn’t working, or it was, but Quatre couldn’t get someone in to him. His options were no better than they’d been the last time he’d considered them, but that didn’t mean they didn’t exist.

Heero took breaths as deep as he could manage for a bit until he had relaxed as much as possible. Then he got to work on breaking his left hand in order to slip the ropes holding it. He managed on his fourth try, and even then it wasn’t easy: the person tying the knots had known what he was doing. Heero freed himself of the blindfold and the earplugs, but left the gag in place.

It was dark in the room and a strain to see the ropes still holding the other hand to the bar. It took the better part of the hour to untie his second hand, particularly with his left being broken, but if he wanted any functionality at all he had to take the time, rather than breaking both hands.

His feet, luckily, were easier, given that once he’d lowered himself to the ground he could see more, and had the use of his right hand. When he was free, he did his best to set the ankle. The bullet was still in there with no good way to remove it, and the infection made it hard to see or even feel out where the break was, but he did his best. He needed to be able to distribute his weight at least marginally in order to get out of here. If the tracker was working, he was pretty sure Quatre’s people would be close. He just had to get himself out of whatever building or structure they were holding him in. It might be good if he could figure out where he was, too, since that might give Quatre some more to go on.

First thing was first, though: he needed to find the door to the room. He loped toward the area where the air had shifted when the others had come in. Sure enough, there was a door with a keypad. It took a lot of effort to focus and start running through combinations. He recognized the model from the security detailing he’d done on the palace, so he knew it was a six number combination.

It took him 387 tries to get it, his mind keeping track of the attempts by rote. He was just glad nobody was monitoring keystrokes on these things, or, alternately, feeling the need to spend some time with him.

Once in the hallway, it was unclear which way would lead him anywhere, so he gambled on taking a right and started moving. He used corridors to duck out of the way anytime he heard someone coming, and once had no choice but to put down someone who noticed him before the other man could raise the alarm. Heero figured he was losing his touch, since the guy had gotten in an elbow against broken ribs—if not a scream—and Heero had to take a minute to get himself breathing again.

The alarm was raised fourteen minutes after he’d made it out of his cell—presumably someone noticing he was no longer in there—but by then he’d followed air currents and traffic patterns to an escape route. Heero was not a big fan of using air ducts even when he was feeling great, because they had the disadvantage of putting someone at risk of severe temperature changes.

Nonetheless, they worked, and Heero could handle third degree burns on his knees and palms. He transitioned from the ducts to the grounds and then used the cover of dark—he hadn’t even known it was night, but he wouldn’t deny it was a relief—to avoid the searchlights and make his way over the fence with its two fucking feet of barbed wire.

He pretty much fell to the ground once he made it over and went back to avoiding the search spots and hoping they didn’t have dogs. He was listening for running water, but the colony had not really bothered to mimic any kind of nature from what he’d seen.

About a half-mile off the property, behind another building, a car pulled up and Heero was trying to figure out how the hell he was going to avoid recapture, since he couldn’t outrun a vehicle, not just then. Quatre rolled down the window and said, “In, now.”

Heero didn’t argue, just got himself inside. He said, “I found one of their bases for you,” and passed out in the back seat.

*


Heero woke up in the room he’d been staying in at Quatre’s place. He had an IV running into him, and it must have been supplying some high quality painkillers, because he could barely feel his face, let alone anything else.

“Oh good, you’re awake; now Q can kill you,” Duo said from the side of the bed. Despite his words, he looked relieved.

Heero took the straw from the cup Duo offered between his lips and took tiny sips, pausing between each. When he felt decently rehydrated, he said, “We both know I’ve had worse.”

“Not by much,” Duo said, his voice tight. “Une says to tell you that from now on she’s sending someone to monitor your vacations.”

“She’d have done the same thing,” Heero said, and pretended like he didn’t sound petulant at all.

Duo ignored him. “Trowa says he likes the scarf, Catherine says that means he’s all but taken to sleeping with it. ‘Fei said a whole bunch of things in Chinese that I’m kind of hoping I translated incorrectly.”

“What do you say?” Heero asked, because at this rate Duo would talk himself hoarse without admitting a thing.

“Really?” Duo asked. “Does that mean you actually want to hear what I have to say, or are you just asking because it’s easier than having me tell you when it’s least convenient for you?”

“Both,” Heero told him.

It coaxed a smile out of Duo. “You’re an asshole.”

Heero gave him an unimpressed look, which was pretty much like the look he gave everyone, ever. Duo laughed. “Yeah, okay. I think you did a good job of helping Q find at least one of the branches of this operation and that he’s going to take it apart with his hands and leave every last piece of it to die a painful, slower death than you would have.”

Heero waited. Sure enough, Duo had more to say. “I think you should stop showing off for Q. He likes you. He’s probably liked you longer than any of us, excluding me, and that’s only because I met you first and have a taste for fucking crazy. Just tell him you like him back, or kiss him, or do something that does not end with him vomiting from sympathy pains and not sleeping for four days straight.”

“You used the word ‘like’ to mean friendship and romantic feelings in that declaration.” Heero didn’t bother denying it. He hadn’t exactly realized he’d been showing off, but Duo often saw these things before Heero did and now that it had been pointed out to him, Heero couldn’t deny the fact he really did want Quatre to think Heero was everything the war stories made him out to be and more.

“And you’re a coward.”

“What would you do if you lost Q’s friendship because of something you did?”

“Win him back over or die trying. But even if he didn’t want you, which he does—I can give you a whole list of things that tell me—but even if he didn’t, Q wouldn’t let something like that break the friendship, and it’s pretty douchey of you to suggest he would.”

Heero took a breath, and the exhaustion caused by his healing body and the meds being pumped into his system, held at bay by Heero’s need to keep Duo in his sights—it was always like that for the first twenty minutes or so of seeing any of the pilots—caught up to him.

Duo must have noticed, because he rolled his eyes. “Go to sleep. I’m not going anywhere, and neither is Q.”

“Duo,” Heero said, his eyes already closing.

Duo wrapped a hand around an unbandaged stretch of Heero’s arm. “Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty fond of your dumb ass, too.”

*


The next time Heero woke, Quatre was there, working on a tablet and drinking coffee like he would have preferred to just insert an IV of the stuff. Heero watched him for a few moments, aware Quatre had to know Heero was awake—Quatre would have felt the emotional shift—but glad he was giving Heero a moment to just be.

When he was ready, Heero said, “Q.”

Quatre looked up and smiled. It was a little stunted, but real. “Good morning.”

“Really?” Heero asked. That didn’t match up with his internal clock, which was a little worrisome.

“No, it’s almost dusk, but you’ve been sleeping.” Quatre shrugged.

“How are the girls?” Heero asked.

“Being returned to their parents where they have them, being set up with fosters where they don’t.”

It was rare Heero picked up on others’ emotions unless it was to sense danger to himself, but Quatre was a relatively easy read. “You’re mad.”

Quatre stood and walked to the window, his shoulders tense as he stared out. “One message, Heero. That’s all it would have taken to have backup there to help.”

“I contacted the Preventers.”

“For the girls. But not to make sure you had backup.”

“I – I didn’t think about it.” Heero frowned. “I was thinking about the girls.”

“I know,” Quatre said quietly. “I know what you were thinking. But sometimes, you need to consider that you exist in a given equation.”

Heero wished Quatre would turn around. It was easier to understand conversations when he had the expressions of the other person to guide him. “If I’d known they had me in their sights – look, it was sloppy to get caught, I realize. I apologize.”

Quatre made a sound, somewhere between a laugh and a whimper. He turned around. “I don’t need you sorry, I need you more careful.”

Heero wasn’t sure why he couldn’t just stay quiet, but he found himself needing to ask, “Why?”

Quatre, for the first time Heero could ever remember—he was used to others doing it—looked at him as though some crucial piece were missing. It hurt, but Quatre’s words alleviated some of the hurt. “Because I need you to come back, Heero. I need—“ Quatre shook his head. He crossed to where he’d been sitting and pulled a bag from the chair, setting it next to Heero. “Here, something to keep your mind busy.”

He left then, leaving his coffee and work pad behind. Heero stared after him for a bit, wondering if there was any way to follow, but deciding Quatre probably really would kill him if he tried, and most likely could with Heero in his current state. He bit the inside of his cheek and looked inside the bag. Inside lay a full set of knitting needles, and a veritable cornucopia of wool. For a moment he froze, wondering if Duo had sold him out, or Quatre had always known and just not said anything, or if Quatre had found the needles while Heero was away. It didn’t matter, not really. Duo was allowed to tell the other pilots, even if Heero had never told him so, and the latter two were good likelihoods in any case.

Heero ran a finger along the cool line of one of the needles. Slowly, he began picking out the right hues for his next project.

*


Heero worked up the energy to check his messages the next day. Relena’s was a simple, “Call me when you wake up. And you had better wake up.”

Wufei was also short and sweet: “Scare Q like that again, Yuy, and I’ll kill you myself.”

Trowa said, “Cath says I have to be nice to you.” There were a few moments of silence after that pronouncement, then the sound of Trowa hanging up.

Une’s was all of two words: “Really, Yuy?” She sounded exhausted, and possibly like she was coming down with a cold. Heero had never seen Une ill. It was an interesting—terrifying—prospect. He called her and she said, “You’re officially on sick leave until I say.”

“Until Relena says?”

“Half and half,” she admitted before yawning audibly.

Heero blinked. He’d never seen nor heard Une yawn. “Do I need to talk to Wufei about stepping up?”

“Chang does his work and then some, you know that.”

Heero did. He tried, “Relena would say you should learn to trust and hire some people. To help.”

“What would you say?” The words were sharp, but Une’s tone indicated she meant them.

Helplessly, Heero told her, “I always assume Relena’s the wiser of us.”

“And yet you don’t always listen to her.”

“If I did that, I’d be wise.”

Une laughed, weary but amused. Heero felt like he could breathe for the first time since he’d woken. Une might have tried to kill him once, but she was often the only person Heero believed he couldn’t really disappoint; they were too alike for that. He started, “Une—“ but realized he was unsure of what he had to say.

Une spoke over him anyway. “Relena says you were probably having fun. Up until the torture, anyway.”

Heero hid a smile, despite nobody being there to see it. Relena might not understand him, but she knew him. Une asked, “Heero?”

“My version of fun tends to screw everyone else over.”

“Not the sixty-three girls who were in that warehouse.”

Heero swallowed at the number. He’d only counted thirty-eight. “Une?”

“Just…take some time to think for yourself.”

“Some time?”

“Until Relena and I decide otherwise.” Une laughed again, and it sounded a little more solid this time, if still threaded with exhaustion.

He surprised himself by saying, ”Take care of yourself.”

Une didn’t sound surprised by the comment at all when she responded, “Yeah. Yeah, you too, Yuy.”

*


The third day Heero spent mostly conscious, the doctor came and unhooked him from all the machines. She was one of Quatre’s sisters, Jumana. She fixed him with a look that threatened dismemberment and explained very sweetly that Quatre had given permission for Heero to be restrained if that was what it took to keep him in bed. She didn’t look like the kind to fib, and Heero wouldn’t put it past Quatre, so he agreed to behave. Well, he nodded at the threat, which was sort of like agreement.

In truth, he didn’t feel much like going anywhere. He healed faster than most, and ignored pain better than anyone except, possibly, Duo, but he still felt it and right now, everything ached, everything. With Une’s polite suspension and Quatre’s cold shoulder in place, there wasn’t anything Heero really could do, either.

He pulled his knitting from the bedside drawer and let himself fall into the pattern. It took a bit of relearning to work with his left hand in a half-cast, but once he figured it out, it became as comforting as it always had been. He focused on the project’s shapes and colors rather than anything around him. He allowed a tiny part of himself to keep watch, but less than he ever had before. All the same, he didn’t miss it when Duo poked his head in the room. Heero didn’t stop knitting.

Duo came in and laid out on the bed next to Heero. “Whatcha makin’?”

“An apology.”

Duo placed a hand over Heero’s stronger wrist to get him to stop. Anyone other than one of the pilots and Heero would have broken his hand. For Duo, he stilled. Duo said, “Quatre’s not mad, Hee-chan.”

“I’ve warned you about that nickname.”

“You’ve warned me about a lot of things,” Duo said dismissively, warmly.

“You don’t listen,” Heero grumbled. “And Q is definitely mad.”

“He’s scared,” Duo corrected. “You can’t tell the difference because you haven’t learned to recognize that emotion in yourself.”

Heero opened his mouth to argue, then closed it. Duo was right. Even when he knew he should be scared he was always something else: hurt or angry or impatient or whatever, but not scared. They’d trained that feeling out of him completely. Uncertainly, Heero said, “You apologize for scaring a person.”

“Generally only if you’ve no plans to do it again. Which you will.”

“Probably,” Heero agreed. “So. No apology?”

“A gift, maybe. Conversation piece. The both of you need to talk.”

Heero looked over at Duo. Duo grinned. “Not really your strength. But you’re good at overcoming the odds.”

Heero wasn’t sure that truism held when there wasn’t a fight involved. Duo said, “Hey.”

Heero shrugged, not sure what it meant, but sure Duo would take it from him. Duo said, “You need more rest.”

It didn’t feel like he should, he wouldn’t have when he was younger. Duo peeled the needles and the yarn from Heero’s fingers and set it beside the bed, before settling them both down. Heero asked, “Staying?”

“If you don’t mind.”

Wordlessly, Heero grabbed hold of Duo’s braid. He didn’t pull, he just held. Duo took his meaning.

*


The first day Heero was allowed out of bed he tracked Quatre down and pushed into his hands the finished product of too many days in bed with nothing to do and a need for the methodical orderliness of knitting, the even, measured clicks that filled the silence. Eloquently Heero said, “For you.”

Quatre took the afghan from Heero, letting it unfold so that Quatre could see the circular, swirling patterns of earthy brown, caramel gold, and rich midnight blue. After a moment he asked, “You did this in less than a week?”

Only one day less. “I had time on my hands.”

Quatre laughed, a slightly broken, twisted sound that was still somehow genuine. “Do you have any idea how much easier my life would be if I didn’t worry about you?”

Even though Heero knew the question was rhetorical—he’d learned enough about general interaction to determine these things—he gave it thought. “Maybe. Like mine if I didn’t have to worry about you and the others?”

It took Quatre a second, but his shoulders dropped, loosened. “Maybe a little.”

Heero thought he should be mad at the others for that distraction, particularly for teaching him how to worry in the first place, but the anger wouldn’t come. “Do you… I picked the colors just for you.”

“It’s beautiful, Heero.”

“Probably warmer than you need out here.”

“Desert gets cold at night.” After a second, Quatre added, “Everyone needs warmth, now and then.”

Heero flinched at the words without understanding why. “I’m glad you like it.”

Quatre smiled. “Join me for dinner?”

Heero nodded, glad Quatre had given him an excuse not to walk away.

*


“Did you ask Duo to come?” Heero asked between the salad course and the entrée.

It was clear to Heero that if Quatre had been the type to roll his eyes, he would have. “No. I called the others when you went missing, as a courtesy. He came. Trowa probably would have, but Duo told him to continue working until we knew we needed him. ‘Fei called literally every hour. I had to set up an answering service for him.”

“I think Duo’s hitting on Lisette.” Lisette was older than Quatre by two years, and one of only two sisters who also shared a mother with him. She spent more time with the Mangaunacs than the rest of her family, and was ridiculously good at anything tech related.

“Oh, I know he is. She punched him in the face. Sure sign.”

“I’m pretty sure that only encourages him,” Heero warned.

“I’m pretty sure she knows that.” Quatre seemed amused. “At the very least, I do. I saw the way you two courted.”

Heero winced. “I didn’t know that was what we were doing.”

“I know that too.” And now, Quatre was smiling.

It still surprised Heero that Duo didn’t hate him for having used Duo as an experiment without even knowing what the hell the experiment was half the time. Quatre must have been able to interpret Heero’s unease enough, because he said, softly, truthfully, “If it had been me, I would have ripped your heart out with my bare hands. Just so it would hurt as much as mine did.”

“I know,” Heero said, but not without a chill sliding its way down his spine.

“He kept you away from me, you know?”

No, Heero hadn’t known. It made sense, though. “Duo –“ Heero shrugged, not certain how to talk about the ways Duo was smart, solid underneath the loopy smiles and never-ending motion.

Quatre’s smile came back, somehow warm and sharp at once. “You’re the same way, just with different qualities.”

Heero swallowed. “I don’t want my heart ripped out.”

“No,” Quatre said. “Me neither.”

*


Heero woke in the night with the vague sense he’d had a nightmare, but no actual recollection of one. His shoulder ached fiercely, with the vengeance of a wound somehow mistreated. He rolled out of bed and made his way slowly to the veranda off his room. Quatre always gave Heero the same room when he visited, as it was one of the easiest from which to escape. Heero had never actually needed to, but he liked knowing the possibility was there.

The desert’s night time chill settled under Heero’s skin, but he barely noticed. He was breathing in the scent of the cooling sand and desert brush when Quatre’s voice floated down from the porch two floors up and three rooms over: “You get another fever and Jumana will feed you to the jackals.”

Heero looked up. Quatre’s porch was alight. Quatre was leaning over the balcony, wrapped in the afghan Heero had knitted for him. Knowing he really shouldn’t, Heero made his way over the balcony of his veranda. It was a slower process than his normal ability to vault would have allowed, as was his careful scaling of the wall until he was on Quatre’s balcony.

Quatre said, “You could’ve used the stairs.”

For the first time ever, Heero heard, underneath the soft sentiment of unimpression, a shock of lust. Heero said, “No,” like that summed everything up, and Quatre smiled, so it must have to a certain extent.

Quatre held out an arm, making space against his chest, inside the warmth of the afghan, and without letting himself think too much, Heero went. Quatre brought his arm around Heero’s back, kissed the spot where Heero’s ear met the skin of his face. It was a stupidly innocent gesture, not something either Duo or Relena had ever tried with him, and Heero wanted more of it.

“You’re cold,” Quatre murmured.

Heero couldn’t feel it. Quatre continued, “My bed’s warm.”

“You’re warm,” Heero told him.

Quatre smiled against Heero’s cheek. “I come with my bed. Two for one deal.”

Heero was tired, the aftershock of the nightmare unable to keep its hold while he rested against Quatre. “Okay.”

Quatre’s smiled widened. “Okay.”

*


Heero woke up at Quatre’s every move. It was one of the good things about sleeping with another pilot: they might not have his level of jumpiness, but they understood it and could get used to it. When Quatre actually woke up, he just sat up in bed, shifted Heero a bit so Heero’s head was resting on Quatre’s thigh and said, “Go back to sleep.”

Heero woke up about four hours later in the same position and asked, “Can you feel your leg?”

Heero rolled over, off of Quatre, and Quatre hissed. “Now I can.”

Heero reached over and massaged at the leg, pressing the spots that would help most with the pins and needles. Quatre’s breathing got faster, and he set aside the tablet he’d been working on, his gaze focused entirely on Heero.

Heero met Quatre’s eyes and asked, “You, uh, mind?”

Quatre shook his head, wordlessly, and arched up to help Heero pull the boxers off his hips. Duo had often laughed at the way Heero was during sex, sniping fondly, “To the point and perfect, just like always, Hee-chan.”

Heero just didn’t have it in himself to fail at something once trained. And Duo had trained him quite thoroughly and completely. Heero leaned over and circled Quatre’s cock with the tip of his tongue before blowing a warm breath over it. Quatre’s breath quickened, but he stayed silent.

Heero played with the head for a while, licking and sucking and even nibbling a bit, before he deep-throated Quatre. He did that all in one go, because the surprise factor had once gotten him precisely the desired results with Duo, who was a hard nut to crack.

Quatre moaned and whispered Heero’s name. Heero drew nearly off and went right back down, again and again, teasing and giving and waiting until Quatre was almost hyperventilating to give him what he wanted, swallowing neatly.

Heero flopped over onto his back and Quatre looked down at him with hazy eyes. Heero raised an eyebrow. Quatre told him, “Self-satisfied is a good look on you.”

Heero laughed. Quatre asked, “Wanna find out if well-sucked is as attractive?”

Heero blinked slowly. Quatre grinned before pouncing. Heero hadn’t enjoyed anything other than his hand on his dick in a long time, and Quatre was good. Heero found himself wondering if Quatre had eavesdropped on his sisters discussing technique, or if Duo was right, and Trowa had reclaimed his own sexuality through unlocking Quatre’s. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was Quatre’s mouth and Heero’s thankfully iron willpower.

Quatre pulled off at one point and said, “Heero.”

Heero managed a, “Huh?”

“Come,” he said, and Heero was a soldier, he knew an order when he heard one.

Quatre barely had his mouth back on Heero before Heero was obeying, letting go, giving himself over. When Quatre pulled off, radiating satisfaction, he didn’t roll away, didn’t take what Heero had given him and go on his merry way. Instead, he settled back down beside Heero in the bed and asked, “Mind if I get someone to bring us breakfast?”

*


Heero called Relena later that day. She picked up and said, “If you’re still trying to kill me, you could aim more precisely. This psychological messiness isn’t like you.”

Heero smiled a little, but all he said was, “Q says hi.”

“Heero.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“It’s kind of—“

“I know you’re not the most socially adept person. Just ask.”

“What did it feel like, when you were in love with me?”

“I thought you and Duo—“

“No. Lots of things, but not that. Not that way.”

“Huh. Well, okay. I suppose…I suppose it feels like someone’s got a grip on your chest and won’t let go and it hurts, but you don’t want it not to. That’s the strongest part of it, for me. But mostly it’s a little like compassion and terror and amusement and loyalty all wrapped into one, so they all blend together and it’s exactly like every important friendship except for how it’s nothing like those, and that’s how you know. That difference.”

“Relena,” he said, more an apology than anything else.

She laughed. “It would never have worked, dear. It was a school girl’s infatuation.”

“This isn’t,” he told her.

“I know. I always knew it would be one of them, I just thought Duo or Trowa were the more likely candidates.”

“I don’t know if I’m coming back,” he blurted out. “Q wants to hire someone to create a training school for the Peacekeepers with grant money from Winner Corp.”

“I know that, too. Well, not the school part, but the you-not-coming-back-part.” Her voice broke a little.

“I’m sorry.”

She sniffled. “Know that three. But you shouldn’t be. I’m not, not really. I’ll just miss you.”

“I’ll visit,” he told her.

“Liar, you never take vacations.”

“I’m on one now, aren’t I?”

It got her to laugh. Heero stayed on the line to listen.

*


Une said, “Wait. Rewind to the part where you’re going to train young impressionable things to follow my every command.”

“I don’t remember phrasing it that way.” Heero had perfect recall, and they both knew it.

“Let me have my moment, Yuy.”

Heero snickered too quietly for her to hear, and counted to ten before speaking up again.

*


Heero found Quatre by following his ears until he ended up on the music room balcony. Quatre wasn’t playing anything as ornate as his usual choices. Heero sat down on the ground, leaning against the wall and listening. When Quatre was done he rested his hip against the balcony, holding the violin loosely at his side with an unthinking posture that made Heero want to crawl over on his knees. The thought wasn’t entirely comfortable, but Heero didn’t shake it off.

Quatre asked, “So?”

“What was that? Chopin?”

Quatre laughed, quick and surprised. “Copland. They don’t sound anything alike.”

Heero shrugged. “Not part of my training.”

“Stop avoiding my question.”

“Une wants me to send her playthings, preferably highly flexible and with little moral fiber.”

“Mm,” Quatre said. “She can actually joke about that at this point?”

“I inferred.”

“Ah. And Relena?”

Heero knew he had the right not to say anything. For that matter, he knew he could lie, and while Quatre would know, he probably would not call Heero on it. “I don’t think she expected me to come back.”

Quatre smiled a little and looked away, into the distance of the desert city. Heero asked, “What?”

“Just thinking that was funny, since I had never imagined I might convince you to stay.”

“Oh.”

Quatre’s smile broadened, and he looked over at Heero. “Oh.”

Heero got to his feet, feeling the need, but once he was there, he realized there was nowhere he wanted to go. Quatre stepped in closer and Heero repeated himself. “Oh.”

*


Heero had a head for a lot of things, but business was not one of them. When bankers and real estate agents and attorneys got involved in planning the school, Heero took the Route of Least Valor and hid in Quatre’s tech garage with his knitting needles. He did, as a silent mental apology to Quatre, think out lesson plans and units while the needles clicked, urging him rhythmically along. But he couldn’t stay and listen, not without wanting to utilize some of his . . . less elegant—as Une would smile sharply and say—training.

Quatre didn’t seem to need the apology, but Heero needed to give it, so Quatre would listen to his ideas over shared tea, and sometimes give feedback, if he felt Heero could use hearing some. Quatre was always right, but then, Heero had no doubt his need for approval was something he projected.

It was during one of the nights Heero didn’t feel the need to talk, just to be near Quatre, watching him send messages to associates, keep the world in line, when Quatre murmured, “Trowa’s circus will be in town next week.”

Heero knew. What he didn’t know was, “Does he have someone here?”

Quatre smiled, but didn’t look up from the screen he was reading. “Olaniyi.”

Heero blinked. Olaniyi was another one of Quatre’s sisters, older than them by at least twenty years. He said, “Maybe it’s something with the Winner genes.”

“Probably. ‘Fei’s still managed to resist, but I think that’s for the best.”

“Luc would kill him.”

That made Quatre look up. “You don’t think he could take Noin in a fair fight?”

“What makes you think she would fight fair?”

Quatre tilted his head. “I suppose that Sally seems to be such a large influence on her.”

“The four of you are a considerable influence on me,” Heero pointed out.

“Our souls are a bit more blackened than the esteemed Dr. Po.”

Heero didn’t know what made him touch Quatre, but instinctively he knew it was what he needed to do. “Not so much more.”

Quatre leaned into the touch, strengthening it. “Enough that you’ll stay.”

Heero locked gazes with him, even knowing his expression was unsure. So was Quatre’s. Heero said, “More than enough.”


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile