Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is the property of Sotsu Agency/Sunrise. No profits were made in writing this.

Pairing: 1+2+1
Contents/Warnings: Take two scoops Shounen Ai, mix in a wee bit of violence and a drop or two of blood. Bake for a period of TWT. Flavor with sap and angst according to taste and mood. Enjoy the result, if you can.

White Plain
Part 4 - Clearance
by kebzero

When Duo slowly emerged from sleep, the first thing he noticed was the extreme silence, making the few sounds he could hear so much more audible. Two heartbeats, breathing, the now rather mellow wind outside and the faint hiss of the kerosene lamps. He suppressed a yawn and opened his eyes, though barely more than as thin, crusted slits. The cabin appeared darker than last evening. The answer was apparent enough; one of the kerosene lamps at the opposite wall had run dry, and the fire in the fireplace had long since turned to cold ashes. Undoubtedly, the room temperature had lowered as well. Only then did he realize his pillow was breathing. He didn't leave this time, Duo thought with a smile. Of course, if Heero had attempted to move, it would in all likelihood have awoken Duo. Not only did Heero's chest act as a pillow; Duo's right leg was wrapped around Heero's, resting around Heero's knee. Duo's arms embracing him would have been another obstacle, as would Heero's own arms holding Duo.

For a moment, Duo just lay there, head resting on Heero's chest, listening to the steady, comforting heartbeat beneath, sensing Heero's calm breathing as he exhaled gently into Duo's bangs, each breath lifting the passive arm Duo had across Heero's bare stomach. So peaceful. I wish we could stay like this. Duo tilted his head, and looked up. Heero's eyes were still closed. Sleeping. Strange. I can't remember any time when I woke up before Heero... Slowly, Duo lifted the arm he had resting on Heero's belly, letting fingers graze skin as they moved toward that sleeping face. Duo could hardly believe Heero's hair-trigger reflexes didn't engage. He looks so peaceful, so innocent when he sleeps. How would anyone suspect he is a cold-blooded soldier?

Duo moved his hand to Heero's right temple, and used his fingers to lift away tousled bangs as they caressed a line across Heero's forehead. Is it only in our sleep we remain children; cleansed of history, violence and tragedy? Fingers trailed gently down a cheek, curved along the jaw heading for the chin, when Heero's eyes blinked, then opened. He took Duo's hand in his, twisted the arm gently and kissed the exposed wrist.

"Good morning, Duo." he said, smiling softly.

"Morning, sleepyhead." came the grinning reply. Duo had an almost irresistible urge to say 'sleeping beauty' instead, but it was just too early in the morning to dodge lightly tempered fists. The mild tease would have to do. It did, judging by the mild expression of surprise he saw form in Heero's face as his hand was freed.

"Sleepyhead? What do you mean?"

"Well, it's not often I wake up before you do - besides, you didn't even react when I started moving." Duo's released hand had settled on a bare shoulder. The skin was as cold as the marble of an outdoor statue during winter. Not really surprising, though - As Duo had used Heero's chest for a pillow, he had also inadvertently exposed Heero's shoulders to the chilly air of the cabin. The very thought made Duo uncomfortable, and became something in need of immediate remedy. "Hey, aren't you getting a little cold up there?" Duo asked, fingers pricking Heero's shoulder.

"Well... maybe a little..." came the hesitant reply.

I can't believe this! Did he just admit a weakness? Had Duo been after a cheap laugh, he'd undoubtedly have used this fact in every way possible. However, his mind was occupied with other thoughts at that moment. "Let's fix that, then!" Duo scooted up to the real pillow, dragging the pile of quilts and blankets along, making sure they were both covered by the warm embrace of the fabrics from neck to toe. Heero flipped over on his side to face Duo, eyes level. For a moment, the Wing pilot seemed lost for words, staring softly deep into purplish irises.

"I.." He paused. "I..." Again, he stopped, blinked. "Your questions - perhaps I just sleep better - more secure - knowing that you're here." He spoke with such apparent gentle, quiet sincerity that Duo couldn't quite guess if he really meant it, or was trying to make Duo blush by saying something that corny. Either way, slight color did come to Duo's cheeks. Heero's smile widened. Duo laughed. He couldn't decide if it was the words or that really odd smile that made him laugh. Perhaps it was both.

Tapping one finger at the tip of Heero's nose, he said "Well, aren't you the sweet talker. Do you say that to all the braided terrorist pilots you see?"

"Only the ones I have a crush on." This time, his sincerity was slightly shaken by the smile. Duo caught himself snickering again.

For a moment, they just lay there, losing themselves in each other's eyes, limbs in a comfortable, slightly tangled mess underneath the warm shelter of the blankets. Ever so slowly, they crept closer, neither daring to speak, look away nor pull the other closer. Their noses touched, and for a moment, they both froze, progress resumed as Duo leant in for but the briefest of kisses. Once broken, Duo whispered "I wish we could just stay like this for a while..."

"You know we can't. In less than two hours we have to be ready for the incoming transmission."

Duo sighed. "Yeah, I know - but for once I just wish I could skip it, forget all about missions or the war and my part in the whole mess."

Smile gone now, Heero's face was as stone, completely unreadable. Still, it spoke quite clearly to Duo.

"No such luck, huh? Well, I guess we'd better embrace the new day, then. At least, we're still alive. Can't be all bad, right?" He grabbed the corner of the blanket pile at Heero's side, and flipped away their warm shelter in one quick go. He could have sworn he saw Heero shiver at the sudden onrush of frosty air, something Duo himself definitely did. The cabin felt - if possible - cooler now than when they first got there two days ago. Two days ago - This happened so fast... or did it?

Heero sat up, stretching his arms skyward. "I'll deal with the fireplace." He surveyed the room. "Two of the lamps have gone out. Could you refill them with kerosene?"


Heero was already re-igniting the fire by the time Duo managed to sit upright on the edge of the bed, awakening fully at last, copying Heero's stretching. The crisp cabin air reminded him all too quickly what his body had gone through yesterday, muscle aches setting in all over, causing him to wince. The quick stretching of muscles during last night's wash had obviously not been sufficient. Over by the fireplace, Heero caught the grimace in the corner of his eye, immediately tossing the log in his hands to the growing flames.

"Are you in pain?" came the concerned inquiry.

"Nah, I'm fine. Just a little stiff after the stroll." Duo rotated one shoulder, trying to get some mobility back. As he copied the maneuver on the other shoulder, Heero walked up to him.

"Lie down," he said.


"Just do it, okay?"

With slight hesitation, Duo lay back down on the bed.

"On your stomach, please."

Raising a questioning eyebrow, Duo again complied, hugging one of the pillows for support. Though he had already guessed what Heero had in mind, he wouldn't miss the opportunity to tease for the world, so the moment Heero straddled his lower back, he turned his head and said "Heero, when I said 'not now, but later' yesterday, I didn't mean the next morning..." How he managed to keep a straight face while speaking, would remain a mystery.

Heero however, had anticipated any number of such comments. His only reply was a quick knock on Duo's head, a barely audible muttered "Idiot." and his hands on Duo's shoulders, fingers seeking out target muscles before starting kneading gently. Before he could stop himself, Duo let go a slight sigh. He closed his eyes and let the magic fingers on his shoulders dance.

And dance they did, limiting not to a single repertoire, but all from tap dancing to slow to polka, movements common only by the fact they felt good, providing relief for sore muscles. Shoulders, back, upper and lower arms all got the same treatment, all over much too soon - something both patient and therapist would agree with. Heero turned around to offer the same treatment to toes, feet, ankles, shins, calves and thighs. Then Heero realized what he was about to do, and stopped, turning to sit down on the edge of the bed, back to the patient, who grew impatient, as the warm caressing hands left his skin. Duo flipped his head over to look just as Heero stood up. Acting on mere impulse, he reached out to grab Heero's wrist as he tried to walk away, pulling him back.

"What?" came the inquiry.

With an impish grin, Duo replied "You missed a spot," and proceeded to place the caught paw on his buttocks. The minuscule gasp escaping Heero, along with the quickly repressed flush on his face, was more than enough to cause Duo to laugh, though he rapidly constrained himself. With his best questioning, slightly pouting look, he asked "Well?"

Heero accepted the challenge, sat down on the bed and tried to treat the sculptured, clothed half-globes in the same way as his fingers had worked the rest of the body beside him, but it turned quite awkward, and the originally intended result was left unfulfilled. Other desired results were fulfilled, however - that is, until Duo sighed again, which was the last straw. Heero lost his nerve, withdrawing his hands. "Done."

"Already?" said the Cheshire Cat impersonator at his side, earning a glare.

Trying to stand up to leave, Heero again found his wrist in a steel grip.

"...and just where do you think you're going?"

"Quit it, Duo. We have to get ready for-"

"Not before I get a chance to return the favor - Somehow, I doubt you did enough stretching yesterday either."

"No time. We-"

"C'mon, Heero. Think I'll let you do all the groping today?"

Cue the crimson cheeks.

Cue snickering.

Cue indignation.

Cue eager hand patting the mattress.

Cue compliance.

And unlike Heero, Duo definitely had no intention to halt before he had returned the entire favor.

Once satisfied, he leaned down to touch his lips to his patient's ear, ending the treatment, before walking over to his bags to find clothes. Despite the heated moment, the room remained cold.


The gales outside had diminished in strength since the day before, but were still strong enough to make the log walls and roof of the cabin creak to life, as if warning that the roof might be blown away any second. Inside, the temperature was slowly becoming tolerable again, as the flames of the fire and lamps did their best to spread warmth throughout the cabin. Neither would openly admit it to the other, but they both felt cold now that there was nothing to distract them from the chill.

Duo was busy going through their supplies, trying to find anything even remotely palatable in the vast mix of dry ration packs, mysterious dehydrated powder blends and highly preserved and vacuum-packed foods. Heero was carrying another bucket of fresh snow for the black cauldron over the fire. Soon, they'd have more hot water, last remnant of the night-cooled water from yesterday used for bathroom detail and other assorted morning routines less than an half an hour earlier. Just as the red plastic bucket slammed into the cauldron, releasing the white flakes in the heating water within, Duo threw his arms up in frustration and shouted "I don't believe this! Didn't we pack anything even remotely edible for this trip?"

Looking over at Heero, he half-expected an answer praising the nutritional value of the tasteless foodstuffs packed. Instead he got a simple, surprising "No."

Duo blinked. "No? You admit these aren't good to eat?"

"I have never claimed any of it tasted good - or anything at all. They fulfill our nutritional needs, that's all I've-"

"Yeah, well, I'd like to have brought along something more appetizing than - than -" Duo was examining a small piece of what looked like meat, but in no way felt like it, brittle as it was, wrapped tightly in plastic. "- than whatever this is." He threw the mystery meat back amongst the other goods.

Like the eve before, Heero crossed his arms and leaned against the ledge above the fireplace. "I won't disagree with you on that. However, in places like this, we need something that weighs little, takes up little volume, and still provides enough sustenance. In addition, it has to preserve well, and be easy to prepare. Though those things might not appeal to your taste buds, they meet all those requirements."

"Still, we could have brought along something. We're only to stay here for a short time - won't be much time for real food to spoil. Besides, it's not like we don't have refrigeration options here - just toss the thing outside, and it'll be deep-frozen within minutes."

Heero's eerie smile returned. I don't know why, but that still creeps me out, Duo thought, returning to sifting through the dehydrated packages. I guess I'll get used to that too, eventually. Lost in his thoughts and actions, he didn't notice Heero sneaking up on him until possessive, strong arms wrapped around his torso, locking his own arms, and surprisingly gentle lips met his cheek.

"Hey, stop that," Duo said unconvincingly, grinning. "I'm trying to find something worth eating here - don't get between me and my breakfast!"

Soft lips moved to his earlobe, vaguely nibbling at it. Barely audible, Heero whispered in that ear "At least I found something that tasted good..."

Left momentarily speechless, Duo tried mentally counteracting the sudden face flush. Taking advantage of the pause, Heero let one arm search through the selection - or lack thereof - of foods, while the other still kept a tight grip around Duo. Finding what he searched for, he pulled out a small plastic bag filled with reddish powder.

"Here," he said, offering the bag to Duo. "This is what's left of the instant soup we had when we first got here. You didn't seem to mind that so much."

Breaking free from both mental and physical symbolic shackles, Duo grabbed the bag, spun around, placed a quick peck on Heero's cheek, said "Thanks!" and ran over to the fireplace, snagging a plastic bowl and a spoon on the way there.

Placing a hand over his cheek, fingers briefly cherishing the spot just attacked, Heero observed as Duo scooped up a bowl-full of hot water, threw in the content of the bag and stirred frantically with the spoon, yet not spilling anything during the maneuver. Duo walked over to the table in the center of the cabin, sat down and began slurping spoonfuls of hot soup with great eagerness. Finally noticing Heero watching him, he said with a trademark grin "Hey, grab something to eat and join me, would you? Kinda sad to eat alone - you need food too, you know. No good fighting on an empty stomach!"

Heero complied, took one of the ration packs and sat down at the end of the table opposite of Duo. As he carved off a small piece of the dry substance and promptly put it in his mouth, a soup spoon rattled as it hit the bottom of the bowl on the other side of the table.

"Heero, I don't get it. Why did you bother to find me something with taste and not search for any for yourself? I bet that thing tastes just as good as compressed sawdust."

Swallowing the granular mouthful, Heero replied "It might not be a luxury meal, but it covers all the needs of the body - unlike that soup of yours." ...but your assessment is correct, his mind silently added.

"Heh - and you don't think enjoying the meal matters to the body?" Duo glanced at one of the empty plastic bowls. Seconds after the thought hit him, he reached out for one of them. "Tell you what - let's share the food. I'll take half of that... whatever that is, and you get half my soup. That way, we both get 'the essential stuff', as you keep insisting on, and I don't keep this guilty conscience for taking all that's left of the truly digestible food. Agreed?"

Heero nodded, not daring to show any relief, took a knife and split the brick of a ration pack in two. Duo meticulously poured parts of the content of his own bowl in to the empty one, handed the now filled bowl to Heero and got a plateful of 'compressed sawdust' in return. Still, something wasn't quite right. Another moment, and he realized what was amiss.

"Hey, how come you gave me the biggest half of this stuff?"

Heero barely covered a smug half-smile. "I already had a mouthful of it - and you probably need the extra energy it'd provide more than me."

Duo frowned. "Sheesh, one could almost think you've been taking lessons from Quatre."

As he tried to wash down some of the dry brick with soup, Duo's thoughts strayed into an area of uncertainty they had entered the day before; a few nagging questions that once returned, refused to go away. He looked across the table where Heero was eating his half of the ration pack with the efficient motions of a machine. Being able to suppress nerve signals - not only those telling of pain, but those describing taste - obviously had its advantages. Even so, Heero seemed fed up with it soon enough, as he grabbed his spoon to dig in of his half of the soup. Duo didn't feel like interrupting, but they didn't have much time, and he needed answers.

"Heero, can I ask you a question?"

Pausing in mid-slurp of the hot stuff, Heero answered. "You just did."

"Oh, ha-ha. Very funny. Look, it's hard enough to ask this as it is."

Heero put his spoon down. The sudden seriousness in Duo's voice made him alert. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good, and best not be pushed aside. "Okay, ask ahead, Duo."

It took a great deal of determination to utter the question, and he almost lost his nerve before finishing it. "Do you... do you love me?"

One could see the vague features of puzzlement in the face usually as readable as a stone. "Considering the last few days, I find that an odd question to ask."

"That's not an answer."

Silence. After a few seconds of eternity came the awaited answer. "Yes."

"...but you had to think about it?" Duo's voice turned sour, facial expression matching.

"Yes," came the truthful, yet hesitant response. Heero paused, but could see Duo wanted an explanation. "Duo, I'm not good with feelings or emotions. I've been trained to suppress them, to remove all things that could distract me from whatever assignment I'd get. It has become an instinct, a second nature. I'm not as good at understanding or dealing with emotions because of that - I do have them, but not always the understanding of them."

Duo sighed. "Heero, nobody understands all feelings or emotions. Most of the time, you just have to go by your gut reaction."

"That's just it - I don't have that instinct anymore - not as vividly as you, at least."

"Oh, you have it, all right. You've read me pretty well these last few days."

Heero shook his head in denial. "Even if that was true, this has caused such a mess ever since I got to Earth. Dr. J was right - emotions confuse you."

Dou laughed. "Yeah, I'll have to give the old goat that much - Heero, emotions confuses everybody. We just have to make the best of it."

Stoneface returned.

"Heero, why weren't you sure you loved me?"

Heero crossed his arms and stared down into the table, as if carefully surveying every crack and crevice in the surface. "I don't know - You were the first to offer me friendship - offer me something and not expect anything in return. You got me out of that Alliance hospital and fished Wing out of the sea even though I had attempted to destroy both it and Deathscythe earlier. You even offered to help with repairs, and not once did you ask for anything in return. That fascinated me - and scared me, I think."

"Scared you?" Why would friendship scare you?"

"Perhaps scare is the wrong word. 'Concerned' might be a better one. Anyway, it was because I partly thought you'd eventually demand something in return, and because all of the feelings you, Howard and the others kept triggering, despite how much I tried to shut them out. I couldn't - didn't want to deal with them. Running away seemed easier."

Duo suddenly felt an itch on the back of his neck, immediately redirecting a hand to deal with it. "Well, I owed you for that hospital thing, I put you there in the first place, after all. I don't blame you for running away, either. I've done it often enough when things got rough myself. I'm glad we ran into each other again, though."

"Me too - Look, I'm sorry I didn't answer right away. It's just - I can't break something that's so deeply engraved in my mind easily. I won't blame you for hating me for that."

Itch suddenly of no importance, Duo placed both hands on the table, half-heartedly reaching across, not wanting to cause alarm. "Heero," Duo said in a slightly harsh, deep tone of voice, trying to get Heero to look up from the table he had currently engaged in a staring contest. "Heero, look at me." The table won on walkover. "I want you to know something. Doubt everything else as much as you want, but not this; I love you. Got that?!"

Heero nodded - and then they sat there, eyes locked, both silent. Duo got impatient.


"Well what?"

"When you say 'I love you' to someone, you kinda hope for a reply."

"Like what?"

"Like the three little words in return."

"What three little words?"

Duo's nostrils flared. He wasn't quite sure if Heero was just teasing him now, or if he was still sincere. He hoped the former as the next sentence formed in his throat. "You know damn well which three words I'm talking about!"

" 'Omae o korosu' ?"

Duo's jaw dropped.

"Not that one, huh? 'Duo, shut up' ? 'Don't eat that' ? 'Where's my towel' ?"

Duo was dumbstruck. When Heero finally smirked, he sighed in relief. Thank God - he was only joking. For a second, I thought he was serious. Then the exact words said dawned on him, causing confusion to return. "Towel?"

Another smirk. "I guess you don't remember."

"Remember what?"

"Back on Howard's ship. When you fished Wing out of the ocean for me, I assessed the damage done, and needed time to figure out the most efficient way for repairs. I thought I'd take a shower while working out those details, so I took some clean clothes and a towel, and went to the shower room. When I got out of the shower, the towel, as well as both the dirty and clean clothes, were gone. Obviously, 'someone' had taken them. I had to walk stark naked and dripping wet back to my quarters. When I got there, I found all the missing items lying on my bunk."

On the other side of the table, Duo's cheeks were once again getting slightly tinted. While using one hand to scratch the back of his neck again, he worked up the courage to look Heero in the eyes again. "Eh... Yeah, that was me. Sorry. Just meant it as a joke."

"I knew."

"Don't you mean 'I know'?"

"I didn't mean the joke part, Duo. I knew it was you who had taken my clothes already back then."

Duo was surprised enough to momentarily stop scratching his neck. "You did? How did you know? And why didn't you say or do anything about it?"

"As I was walking back to my quarters, the halls were completely empty - nobody ever saw me - except you. The door to your room was slightly ajar - just barely, but enough for me to notice. I also saw you staring at me with a grin the size of the moon within that tiny opening. I kept on walking, though. I didn't want you to know I knew."

"Heh - every time I've pulled a practical joke on you after that, you've reacted rather quickly - why didn't you back then?"

"I didn't think breaking in your door with my good leg and assaulting you was a good idea, considering the circumstances. The ruckus would probably have alerted the rest of the crew, and then what would they think?"

With his mind's eye, Duo briefly visualized just that; Heero in the buff, soaking wet, crashing in his door and tackling him. He shook his head and chased the image away before it turned manifest elsewhere. "Well... as I said, sorry I did that."

"Don't be."

"Why not?"

"Seeing you ogling me like that-"

"Hey, I wasn't staring quite so intensely, thank you very much!"

"Oh, sure. Your eyes were bulging out. It was a miracle they didn't leave your skull."

Duo snorted, noting his disagreement for the record, causing Heero to back down a bit.

"As I was saying, the way you looked at me, made me hope that you might want to be more than just friends. At the time, I didn't know why I wanted that, and I... and I got scared - I told you that much already."

Duo snickered. "I still can't quite imagine you being scared, Heero."

"As much as you seem to think otherwise, Duo, I'm merely human."

"With a few 'improvements', courtesy of Dr. J, of course." Duo punctuated his point with a wink.

Heero ignored both the verbal and expressive comment. "That little incident sparked several things - It felt good to be wanted, admired, but I also wanted revenge. Both sensations disturbed me. I couldn't block either of them out completely, but I tried. I also tried to stay away from you to prevent them from growing in strength. In the end, I wanted to flee - and I did, taking out my revenge at the same time."

"... using Deathscythe as spare parts."

"Yeah. I'm sorry about that."

"It's okay... now. So, you do love me?"

"Yes." No hesitation this time.

Cupping a hand around his ear, leaning in closer, Duo teased "The three little words, please?"

Heero's smile returned, less eerie than before, but still unsettling. "I love you. I love you, Duo."

"Good. I love you too, Heero." Duo grinned as another cliché question entered his mind, and on impulse, he felt the need to ask it. "There, now that that's finally settled, can I ask you something else?"

Heero didn't know if it was safe to answer 'yes'. Who knew what his now declared love would try to dig out next? Still, best to appease. "Sure."

"Have you loved me ever since we first met?"

Heero's face contorted slightly. He'd just told otherwise, hadn't he? Perhaps the braided one was searching for something else. Against better judgement, Heero opted to play along. "Duo, when we first met, you had me at gunpoint."

"Well, yeah, but-"

"And then you shot me!"

"Yeah, but-"

"Twice!" Heero barely contained his agitation and slight anger.

Duo couldn't help but laugh at Heero's expression, and he struggled to regain control. "Well, what can I say - looks like Cupid had to use something with a higher caliber than an arrow to reach your shielded heart."

Anger dissipating to annoyance, Heero smirked. "...jerk."

Not missing a beat, Duo replied "Are you offering one?" The reward; slight crimson in Heero's face, caused by embarrassment, not frustration.

Wanting to escape the fact he was turning a grand shade of tomato, Heero looked at his watch. "We should finish eating. There's not much time left before the scientists will contact us, and we still have to pack things up here and do a quick maintenance check on the suits."

With a quick salute and a "Yes, sir!", Duo dug into his now lukewarm soup, hoping to avoid eating too much of the dry ration pack by tossing it away when Heero wasn't looking. He had no such luck, as Heero never took his watchful gaze away from him until it was all digested. There was more reasons behind that slight motherly look than concern over diet however, something Duo totally failed to see.


They had packed their things sufficiently to be ready to leave within minutes, regardless what the orders might be. They had checked their gundams for possible damage from the weather, not finding anything serious. Tightening a few bolts were the high end of the scale. During it all, however, they had barely exchanged a word. Duo didn't say anything as he didn't want to distract Heero, intently focused on preparations as he appeared to be. In turn, Heero simply didn't feel he had anything to talk about, as if the conversation over breakfast had emptied him.

Noting the time yet again, Heero signaled to Duo to get ready for the incoming transmission. Duo opened Deathscythe's hatch, and settled inside, bringing the communications systems online. Heero remained standing by the still open hatch, to Duo's slight frustration. The wind wasn't exactly making the open cockpit comfortable heat-wise, and in a far corner of his mind, the observation that Heero had kept his distance ever since breakfast began rooting itself. Both urged action.

"Why are you just standing there, Heero? There's room enough for two in here, you know."

"No, there isn't. There's only one seat."

Duo grinned, and took a firm hold of Heero's wrist. "Aw, I think we can work around that." In one swift pull, he dragged the Wing pilot inside and swirled him around, making sure Heero would land flat in his lap. Deathscythe's hatch closed automatically, locking the worst chill out. Heero was momentarily stunned by Duo's rash action, looking mildly puzzled. Giving him a quick peck on the cheek, Duo said "What? Think you're the only one who can take some initiative?"

Heero remained a bit dazzled. Duo laughed, and embraced Heero in a solid bear hug.

Before Heero could reply, Professor G's notable nose appeared on the screen. While one part of his brain immediately asked the question why the scientist bothered with both audio and video, in blatant disregard for security, when a simple narrow-beam all-text transmission was all that was required, the words never had a chance to make it into speech before Duo started chattering. As always, it proved futile to speak faster than the motor-mouth master.

"Hey, pestilence! How's it going?"

With an ominous voice, Heero said "Duo. Shut up." With that, Duo relaxed the embrace, not quite comfortable with the sudden shift of mood Heero appeared to go through.

On the screen, the geriatric human version of a lying Pinocchio barely contained a snicker. "I couldn't agree more - we don't have much time, and this will be done so much quicker if you two remain perfectly silent until I'm done with this briefing. Clear?"

Heero nodded. Duo huffed indignantly, but kept his tongue.

"We have finished analyzing the data you sent us, and we have some bad news. We also have some worse news, but we'll get to them soon enough. Boys, sorry to have to tell you this, but you have to return to the OZ base ASAP. And once more on foot."

Heero didn't appear to react at all to the news. Duo was another story entirely.

on to part 5

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