by Dyna Dee
The two boys dressed in their green jumpsuits left the room that had been their home for the last time and walked to the docking terminal shoulder to shoulder. As they entered the room they hadn't been in since their arrival to the training center, they were immediately handed a gray jumpsuit with blue stripes down the outside of each sleeve and leg by Sargent Sloan, one of the base's uniformed soldiers, and were promptly told to strip off their green suits and re-dress in the gray. Seeing their friends and the other newly promoted boys were already dressed, both teens quickly complied and handed their worn jumpsuits to the officer at the door. With five minutes left to spare, the ten trainees stood ready with their black duffle bags on their shoulders, waiting for further instructions.
Trowa and Wufei stood together, talking just under their breath. Quatre was engaged in a conversation a short distance away with Zechs and Tai Kamwansa. Heero and Duo walked over to join Trowa and Wufei nodding to the others who were chatting close by.
"Took you long enough," Wufei said with a teasing glint in his eyes, raising one arched eyebrow.
"Well, you know Heero," Duo's mouth quirked as he spoke in a quiet voice while wiggling his eyebrows knowingly at the Chinese boy. "He has a definite way of saying hello and goodbye." His smile grew further at seeing the flush of embarrassment on the Chinese boy's face at the indiscreet reminder of Heero's kiss.
"Ten-hup!" The soldier at the door called out sharply and the ten boys came to attention as a tall, middle aged man they had never seen before, with tanned skin and sun-lightened hair entered the room. The new soldiers watched the high ranking man, noting that there was an intense aura that radiated from him as he moved and the decorations on his short-sleeved khaki shirt declared his rank as a colonel in the Federation Forces.
"At ease," the newcomer told his newest soldiers. "I'm Colonel Charles Davis and I'm in charge of transporting you to your assigned destination. We may encounter enemy fire along the way as all hell has broken out in the skies throughout the day, so I'll need you to stay alert and follow my orders to the letter in order to assure your safety."
The man appeared to be in his late forties with a balding head and sharp hazel eyes that scanned each boy now placed in his care. His eyes settled on the two standing shoulder to shoulder. He had a knowing yet curious look in his eyes as he visually raked each boy up and down.
/He's been told of our standing orders to stay together./ Heero's voice sounded in Duo's mind.
/And he's trying to figure it out; figure us out./ Duo added with a mental snicker.
/Good luck!/ Heero's sarcasm came through the link. /If he does figure us out, maybe he'll fill us in on his findings and then we'll all know./
A smile twitched on Duo's face in response to Heero's dry humor, earning a frown from the man in charge of them. Colonel Davis then turned to the launchbay doors, motioning the ten to follow. "Line up. I will swear you into active duty in the United Federation's Air Force."
The ten quickly complied and stood at attention at the colonel recited the soldier's oath to them and they repeated it word for word with their hands on their heart, pledging themselves to the Federation, its government and people. Colonel Davis saluted the newest soldiers of the Federation, then ordered them to get on board his ship. He proceeded them to the open hatch and stood to the side as they turned to enter the shuttle that would take them away from the base and into a war zone.
Quatre quickly lined up next to Trowa and gave his roommate a nervous smile.
Duo caught Wufei's eyes and winked at him, receiving a slight smile from his friend in return. The Chinese pilot placed himself comfortably between his four friends as they shifted into a single line and entered the hatch that led to the passenger cabin of the shuttle.
Stowing their gear in the compartments above the seats and securing them, the ten trainees, now soldiers, observed the interior of the shuttle that would carry them away from their home. The shuttle itself was small in terms of carrying personnel, having twenty-four seats separated into two rows, two seats deep. The ten boys could have spread themselves out, with space for more leg room, but instead chose to sit close together, feeling uncertain as to their future and what was in store for them at the end of the shuttle ride.
Strapping themselves into the seat restraints, they watched as Colonel Davis closed the hatch then turned to address them. "If we don't encounter any trouble, we'll arrive at our destination in approximately ninety minutes. Sit tight and try not to move around the cabin too much." He then turned and entered the cockpit, shutting the door firmly behind him. The shuttle shifted as the retracting passenger walkway fixed to the hatch was detached and pulled back into the terminal.
Duo leaned over Heero's lap to look out the window as the engines immediately roared to life and the ship reverberated strongly from the power of the thrusters. Slowly the ship began to lift straight up from its dock and the boys inside got a last look at the island and the buildings that they had been trained in.
Duo took hold of Heero's slack hand nearest him and brought it to his chest.
/Careful,/ Heero cautioned, acutely aware of the others around them.
/No one can see,/ Duo assured him as his thumb stroked the top of the olive-skinned hand.
/It'll be okay,/ Heero said, hoping to reassure his mate as his eyes also turned to gazed out the window to see the whole training facility and the island, now easily seen below them as the shuttle continued to rapidly lift vertically up from the base.
The shuttle then began to thrum with increased power and dropped altitude slightly as the thrusters changed direction. The ten were the abruptly pressed forcefully back into their seats by the sudden surge forward as the sleek ship picked up momentum with every second that passed and began to slice through the atmosphere.
It had been four years since his first and only air flight, but Duo never forgot the thrill he got at the speed and power of the flying ship. His excited eyes turned to Heero. "Damn!" he whispered with awe, impressed by the feeling of flying.
"I'd like to fly one of these some day," Heero agreed with Duo's sentiment.
"I'll be your co-pilot." Blue-violet eyes sparkled with excitement.
The passenger cabin remained relatively quiet during the flight as anticipation and trepidation clouded the ambiance of the small enclosed space for what ever awaited the ten at the end of their journey.
Heero and Duo spoke quietly, trying to distract each other from the nervousness they both felt. "Can you believe the nerve of Dead Red?" Duo asked with a look of disgust on his face as he recalled the confrontation with the other boy that morning. "Now I'll never get my revenge."
"Being one of the ten advanced into military service will serve to cause him a lot of jealous feelings for a long time to come," Heero replied calmly.
"Yeah, maybe." Duo didn't sound convinced. "Why do you think he goes by the nickname Dead Red anyway? Do you think he killed someone or had a fetish with blood or roses or something?"
"I'm fairly certain he gave himself the name and maybe bullied others into calling him that." There was an slight, ambiguous smile on Heero's face that caught Duo's attention.
"What?" He asked with a grin of his own, knowing Heero knew more than what he was telling.
Heero looked at his friend and lover, the odd grin still in place. "I'd change my name too if it was Wilbur."
Duo's eyes danced with laughter. "Wilbur? Why didn't you tell me? That bit of information could have been very useful on the platform this morning."
"I was saving it for when the time was right," Heero answered.
"Well, next time let me in on the juicy little tidbits you pick up. Man," Duo shook his head at the horrible name and what he could have done with it. "Wilbur!"
Forty five minutes into the flight, the ship suddenly dipped and made a sharp turn to the right, the red flash of a laser shot past the port side of the transport.
"We've got uninvited company." The Colonel's tense voice came over the speakers above the teenage pilots. "Whoever ranked number one in your class, report to the cockpit."
Heero immediately unbuckled his seatbelt and moved over Duo's legs, pausing only long enough to give the other boy a parting squeeze of reassurance to his slender shoulder. The ship jerked again, and Heero struggled to stay upright as he clung to the top back of Duo's seat in order to keep his balance. With some effort, he straightened and with staggered steps made his way to the cockpit and cautiously entered. A moment later the hum of lasers being fired reverberated through the small transport.
Duo's hands gripped the armrests of his seat. Heero was blocking his mind in order to concentrate and the braided boy suddenly felt alone and helpless. He'd loved the mock battles he and the other Green trainees fought on the battlefield at the training center; the power and thrill of piloting the mobile suits was addicting not to mention the adrenaline high he experienced in the middle of a battle that always had the potential to turn dangerous. He'd proven his ability and cunning over and over on the field, but here, trapped high in the sky with no weapon in his hands or control over where he was going or what he was doing, not piloting the ship and trying to evade the enemy, he felt a fear he'd never experienced on the practice field. "This is for real," he whispered, his voice slightly shaky.
He recognized the sound of a seat harness being released behind him and a moment later Wufei wobbled unsteadily over to him even as the ship continued to make evasive maneuvers. He bumped into Duo's knees at he tried to move past him and fell rather than sat in Heero's vacated seat. He quickly fastened the safety belt then glanced worriedly at his friend. Duo realized by the look in Wufei's eye that his friend was feeling the same sense of helplessness that he was experiencing.
"Three ships to the starboard," Zechs called out, looking out his window on the other side of the transport.
The other teen pilots leaned over in their seats to see if they could catch a glimpse their enemy through the small windows, but from Wufei and Duo's position, they could only catch sight of the blue sky one moment and the earth far below them the next as the transport spun to avoid another attack.
The ship jerked sharply to the right and then dove, turning instantly into a controlled spin and a red beam of laser fire flashed past the hull of the ship with a reverberating crash, sounding similar to thunder in the beam's wake.
Quatre glance over to his friends, his blue eyes wide and startled looking. "That was too close," he said in a tight voice.
The boy's still strapped securely into their seats gripped the arm rests as the wild ride continued. The ship was in constant motion; diving, spinning and rising up into the air, desperately striving to get closer to their destination and possible help from the Federation's Air Force. Another bright red flash filled the passenger cabin and with quick jolt to the right, the transport turned abruptly and spun to avoided being hit by more of the lethal beam lasers. The steady thrum that emanated from underneath the shuttle announced that their own weapons systems were constantly in use against the enemy.
Duo closed his eyes. There was nothing to see out of the shuttle's windows but the enemy's occasional firing of their deadly lasers, and despite his training, the constant diving and spinning of the ship was causing his stomach to flip flop. The ships behind them were out of his range of sight and he decided he didn't really want to see his death coming when the enemy who was fiercely pursuing them finally got lucky and hit their target. Heero's comforting presence in his mind was momentarily gone, blocked so he could concentrate while working along side the shuttle's pilot who was desperately and expertly trying to save them. Duo had not felt this frightened or alone since his struggle to survive on the streets before he'd met Heero.
A warm hand suddenly griped his own, tightly grasping the armrest of his seat. He turned his head and opened his eyes to see Wufei's concerned face watching him and looking equally anxious due to their precarious situation. Duo's hand turned to firmly grip Wufei's, entwining their fingers together. If he was going to die, it seemed he wasn't going to die alone after all.
A brilliant burst of red light out the port window and a horrifying screech of metal tearing filled the shuttle cabin and the ship lurched violently and then dove, nose first, plunging downward towards the Earth's surface. Instantly, air shrieked wildly and at a high pitch through the cabin as the shuttle's air pressure and oxygen was sucked out of the gaping hole that the enemy's laser had made in the ceiling at the stern of the passenger cabin, the sound effectively drowning out the cries of fear and alarm coming from the terrified boys. Oxygen masks immediately popped out from above the frightened passengers and flew wildly above them. After scrambling to gain hold of the swinging masks hanging from white tubes, the nine quickly put them in place over their faces and took a deep breath of the oxygen that was being pumped through them.
Duo and Wufei forced their heads to turn against the angry pull of the wind rushing through the passenger cabin to face each other and exchanged wide-eyed and fearful glances, each boy believing he was living the last moments of his life. Duo took a deep breath then took the mask off his mouth and shouted against the squall of the wind coursing through the compromised cabin. "Thank you for being my friend." He then replaced the mask on his face and his eyes, wide and bright, spoke silently of his fear of their eminent death.
Wufei removed his own mask, never taking his eyes from off of Duo's face, mouthed the words to his thoughts. "Your friendship has honored me. Thank you."
Duo smiled with eyes tearing at Wufei's words and felt the reassuring squeeze of his friend's hand as he watched the mask once again replaced on the Chinese boy's face. He closed his eyes and squeezed Wufei's hand even tighter, desperately wishing for some last words from Heero.
The ship turned abruptly once again, causing the passenger's stomachs to feel like they'd been pushed up into their throats. It then began to straighten out and climb, giving hope to the frightened teenagers even as laser fire hummed like a strong, pulsing heartbeat from the laser ports on the wings and under the belly of their shuttle. Because of the loud, shrill sound of the air rushing through the cabin, none of the nine heard the successive explosions coming from the attacking aircraft as the laser fire from their own shuttle hit its mark, eliminating two of their attackers and the immediate threat to their welfare.
/Duo?/ Heero's voice called out to his partner, his mental voice sounding frantic.
/Love you,/ Duo answered in an emotional rush, needing to get the words to Heero before it was too late.
/Hold tight,/ Heero warned a fraction of a second before his shields went back up and the ship spun yet again, sharply this time to the left and spiraled into a roll. The g-force was considerable and each of the nine in the passenger cabin remembered once again their training, to clamp down on the muscles of their lower body, pushing down as if they were shitting a brick in order to keep the blood from rushing to their brains and causing them to pass out.
The lasers thrummed in rhythmic desperation again and again with an effort to conquer and survive. Wufei forced his head to turn once again to look past Duo towards the starboard to see water meeting land on the far horizon, and as the aircraft plunged into a dive once again at a rapid speed, he observed the blue water rising rapidly towards them with each moment that passed. He thought that if they could just make land, surely the Federation would send back up to help them.
Anger suddenly filled the Chinese boy, anger and frustration. Ten of best trainees from the Federation's training facility and several of those being the brightest the school had ever seen, were about to be shot down like sitting ducks, with their honed skills left untried in a real battle. What chance would their government have in this conflict if the best of their defenders could be eliminated like ducks shot down by hunters from a swamp blind?
Then suddenly he became aware that the ship was leveling out yet again, the twists and turns used to dodge the enemy fire had suddenly stopped.
Despite the fierceness of the air rushing through the cabin, he lifted his oxygen mask and faced Duo to ask, "Are we surrendering?" He shouted, the replaced the mask.
The long haired boy shook his head, his eyes bright, and when he removed his mask, their sparkle matched the boy's smile. "He got them. Heero shot the bastards down, all three of them!" he shouted excitedly before putting the mask back in place, he then turned in his seat to face the others and gave them the thumbs up sign that everything was going to be okay.
Twenty five minutes later, the ship performed a fairly standard landing on a long runway lined with emergency vehicles on both sides of the tarmac, their red lights flashing indicating their state of emergency readiness.
The moment the damaged ship came to a halt, the nine threw off their oxygen masks and seat belts and were out of their seats, shouting, cheering and tearfully embracing each other. As quick as their shaking limbs allowed, they clamored for their duffle bags stashed above the seats, then turned to the exit door of the shuttle as the hatch was opened from the outside. Heero chose that moment to open and step through the cockpit door with a satisfied if not frazzled grin on his face. He was immediately seized upon by his fellow trainees, enthusiastically embraced and congratulated, all of them demanding an account of what had gone on in the cockpit during the air fight.
Duo stood next to the hero of the hour, needing more at the moment than just a touch of their shoulders to reconnect. By the force of his own will, he restrained himself, knowing he had no choice in front of so many people.
Colonel Davis, clip board in hand, followed Heero out of the cockpit and paused for a moment to watch the boy who had brilliantly handled the lasers in the air to air battle they had barely managed to survive and now accepted his friends' congratulations. With a relieved smile on his face, the man moved toward the open hatch that was spilling brilliant sunshine and oppressive heat into the interior of the damaged shuttle, calling for the boys in his charge to follow. At his exit, the cheering sounds of the emergency crews heralded the safe arrival of the shuttle and passengers, and he found his legs rather wobbly as he began to descend the portable stairs that had been pushed up to the hatch. As his feet touched the tarmac, another ranking officer stepped up to him and glanced briefly to the ten following behind as they exited the ship, their eyes squinting against the bright, unforgiving sunlight and arid heat of a desert.
After the two men exchange a few brief words, the boys were startled to hear a sharp command being directed at them. "Soldiers," the new officer barked out crisply. "Line up!" The ten did as ordered, forming two even rows as they had been taught in the training center. The clip board carried by Colonel Davis was handed to the another younger uniformed officer who had come to stand by him. This man scanned the list before him then called out each name of the newly indoctrinated soldiers to which they properly answered. With roll call completed, the officer, now obviously in charge of them, introduced himself.
"I'm Captain Rhys Dunstan and I am your new commanding officer until further notice. Follow me to your barracks." The officer seemed surprisingly young, mid thirties at the most. He was dressed in desert fatigues with a matching hat pressed firmly over his head, effectively covering his eyes from the relentless brightness of the desert sun. He promptly turned on his heels and quickly walked ahead of the ten, not once looking back.
The newest of the Federation soldiers promptly followed with Heero telling Duo through their link all about his first real ariel battle. The ten followed Captain Dunstan across the tarmac, over a graveled area and into one of several buildings on the base. Soldiers dressed in their desert uniforms scurried about carrying out orders or performing their duties, all of them looking serious and determined. The ten were led down a series of stairs, well beneath the surface of the base, to their barracks located on lower level four. The teenagers surveyed the long, cool room and found it had a look and feeling similar to the barracks of the training school, with lockers and beds lined up on both sides of the walls of the narrow, rectangular space.
"Find yourself an empty bed and locker," Captain Dunstan barked out and paused to take the hat from off his head to wipe away the sweat that had formed on his forehead with the right sleeve of his uniform. "I'll be back in fifteen minutes to take you to the commissary and to acquire your new uniforms." With that said, their new captain paused to look at each boy, allowing the ten a good look in turn at the man who was now in charge of their very lives.
Heero carefully observed their commanding officer, a man in his thirties. He figured the man had been on this base for a while as the skin on his face and forearms were a deep brown and slightly leathered from over exposure to the desert's sun. His hazel colored eyes were narrow and calculating as he, in return, took in every detail about his new subordinates. From the way he held his body, tense and properly squared at shoulders, and from the look in the man's eyes, Captain Dunstan unquestionably looked to be a no nonsense man that went strictly by the book. Duo must have come to the same conclusion as Heero caught his partner's feeling of anxiousness and turned to look at him questioningly. Blue-violet eyes held his gaze, worry lining the other boy's handsome face. Heero offered him a smile in response, hoping to give Duo a boost of confidence and reassurance that everything would work out fine, though he had his own doubts.
"You're young," their new captain said with a trace of annoyance in his voice. "But you'll have to do." With that said, he turned and left the ten to settle in.
The Federation's newest and no doubt youngest soldiers turned to claim their beds and lockers while Heero and Duo inched closer and nonchalantly touched their shoulders together.
"Guys!" Quatre's voice called out to the two. "Let's bunk close together. Grab what beds you want and we'll situate ourselves around you."
Duo's smile returned. /We've got good friends, don't we Heero?/
The Japanese boy nodded, his sober looking face contradicting the warm feelings he sent to the other boy. /The best./
Together they approached their blond friend. "Thanks Quat, you're a pal," Duo slung his arm around the blond's shoulder and gave him a quick, half hug and a warm, sincere smile that would make the stoniest of hearts soften.
"Well, I just.." Quatre blushed, suddenly bashful at Duo's open display of affection and being the recipient of the melting smile. "You're welcome." He smiled in return at the two of them. Then standing back, he watched as Heero and Duo moved together down the aisle. They passed the five bunks that were neatly made, noting those available were completely stripped of all bedding. They chose a bunk for themselves towards the far end of the room with Duo taking the bottom bed and Heero claiming the top.
Wufei claimed a bottom bunk adjacent to his two friends and the other seven began to locate themselves in close proximity to each other, sensing that there was safety in numbers especially in the unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances they now found themselves in.
All of the new arrivals quickly unpacked their belongings and placed them into the lockers next to their beds. It was in there they found fresh bedding and they quickly made up their bunks in proper military fashion, aware that their captain would be back for them shortly. Each boy noted the lack of security they were accustomed to in the training center by the absence of the palm print lock system. Finished with the simple task of unpacking, they then gathered together, sitting on or around Duo's bed as they listened to Heero's account of the attack they'd just survived and his experience of firing the laser weapons and bringing down the three enemy ships as Colonel Davis expertly piloted the ship to avoid being hit by the weapons being shot at them by the attacking enemy.
"Attention!" Captain Dunstan's voice barked out and the ten new pilots jumped to assume the stiff pose commanded. "Line up, single file!"
The new soldiers quickly carried out the order, lining up as they were told.
"Follow me." The uniformed man abruptly turned his back to them and at a brisk pace led the ten out of their room. Their line stayed impeccably intact as they followed behind their captain through the labyrinth of hallways and stairwells in the underground building that looked to house not only barracks, but supplies, computer rooms, empty briefing rooms, and a map room, all of which were sparsely occupied.
Back up the stairs they went, following their new captain upward and into the brighter natural light of the corridor at ground level. After going down the long hallway with other curious soldiers marking their presence as they passed, the teenagers were led to a large room labeled above the doorway as Uniforms and Supplies and were taken to an open counter where they were ordered to state the size of their jumpsuits and shoes. The woman behind the counter, dressed in military fatigues, performed her duty with precise and practiced movements, giving each of the ten teenagers three sets of new, crisp and folded fatigues and a flight suit to be used when piloting the AMS.
Stuffing their new belongings into a military issued duffle bag labeled simply Earth's United Federation, the teens were then allowed into the commissary for a total of ten minutes to purchase any personal items they might need, toiletries and such. After they purchased the necessary goods, the captain led the boys, their arms filled with their new belongings, back through the building, down the stairs and returning to sub-level four and their barracks. Once there, each teen was given a map and told they had one hour to acquaint themselves with the base and were instructed to change clothing during that time from their temporary gray jumpsuits from school, to the new desert uniform.
The late afternoon continued, oddly repetitive with the colonel's coming and going every ten to fifteen minuets, leaving brief instructions and returning with the expectation that his orders had been carried out in an exemplary manner. When it seemed the man had finally found the time to spare, he took his new soldiers through a brief and rushed tour of the base, explaining to them that the haste with which the tour was guided was because they were currently in a stand-by, orange alert mode of operation. The base was in the state of preparing for a battle with their enemy, a battle that could strike at any moment. Non-essential personnel had been shipped out the night before and many of the men housed in Joshua, the name of the building where their barracks was located, had gone into battle, he told them, and that, he explained, was why the large building seemed almost empty.
It was nightfall when they returned to the building tagged as Joshua, named so after the obstinate cactus that surrounded the base and not only survived but thrived despite the desert heat, wind and lack of moisture. The small troop of young soldiers was taken to the mess hall where the teenagers were allowed to finally eat a late evening meal. They sat together and picked at their meal in relative silence, their eyes taking in everything around them. Each newly uniformed soldier noted that, to some degree, they were surrounded by seasoned soldiers bearing grim faces; men much more mature and hardened by battles than themselves, with dour, frowning expressions on their faces that displayed the seriousness of the situation even as they mechanically ate their own meals.
With the meal finished, Captain Dunstan led the ten back down to their barracks. No words were passed between the boys as they followed him, the tense feelings that was almost palpable in the mess hall seemed to travel down the stairwells and hallways with them. The general, unspoken feeling the ten teenagers had gotten from their first experience in the presence of their future comrades in the base's mess hall was that of feeling both small and insignificant and that they were indeed, from the expressions the other soldiers wore, facing eminent danger.
Five soldiers in flight suits sauntered into the barracks an hour before lights out. They stopped abruptly, their conversation coming to a halt on seeing the newcomers and slowly, smiles of obvious disdain grew on the first three men's faces as they spied their new barrack mates, their eyes moving to take in every aspect of the pilots fresh from the training facilities, the greenies.
"They sent us a bunch of babies to fight a war with." A tall man with a ruddy complexion, circles under his green eyes and dark hair that was cropped closely to his scalp complained loudly as he threw his helmet on the bunk nearest the barrack's door. Turning, he walked briskly down the aisle towards Duo and Quatre who had been sitting on Quatre's bunk studying a map of the base. "And what do we have here?" The soldier amplified his voice as he observed the two wary looking youths as his eyes slowly raked them from head to toe. "Two pretty boys that can substitute as girls?"
Heero jumped down from his bunk where he had been listening to Quatre and Duo's conversation and came to stand next to the two startled boys on the bed, silently offering his protection. Without a word, his glare gave the higher ranking men a silent warning to tread carefully.
"What's this?" The man scoffed, one eyebrow raising. "Protecting your boyfriend?"
"Leave them alone," Heero told him in an emotionless but deep voice filled with threat.
"Or what? What do you think you can do to me, little boy?" The man leaned closer, trying to intimidate the Japanese boy standing protectively next to the two still sitting on the bed with their eyes wide with apprehension.
Heero stood his ground. "Evidently we're a part of your team," He said, his eyes narrowing. "If you want to have a friend rather than an enemy watching your back and fighting by your side, you had better treat us with respect."
"I don't need you watching my back, you piss ant," the man snarled, not liking the threat the boy hinted at.
Not liking the tone of the conversation, Trowa made eye contact and gave a nod to Wufei then made a tactical move by stepping closer to Quatre while Wufei moved to take the place on his other side.
Another soldier dressed in a flight suit came up from behind the pilot who had been verbally accosting the young pilots, he was a red headed man who moved forward and casually put his elbow on the first antagonists's shoulder and leaned against him in a comfortable manner. "Hey guys," he called over his shoulder to the three standing quietly behind them in what sounded like a Texan drawl. "Looks like we've got a play group going on here. Ya wanna join in the fun? Maybe play a little game of Kick the Can of the greenies?" He rolled his eyes and winked at the man he was leaning on, and to the ten trainees he said with a malicious grin, "I just happen to like games, fella's. Who wants to play with us first?"
Wufei looked the red head up and down and the disdain he felt was clearly etched on his face, reflecting his opinion that the man was acting like anything other than a trained pilot. "Are these idiots the men we're supposed to fight with?" the Chinese boy asked loudly and boldly, inserting unveiled contempt in voice. "I refuse to fight alongside fools," he declared arrogantly.
"Fools?" A pilot of African descent pushed forward, his face bearing a fierce frown. "Who are you calling a fool, you little nub?"
Duo jumped up and stood in front of Heero and Wufei and, with anger blazing in his eyes, he faced off with the offensive man. "You're definitely a fool if you insist on calling us names and trying to intimidate us. That just proves you're as stupid as you are ugly."
Quatre looked with wide eyed shock from the braided teen to the angry black man after hearing Duo's words. Trowa rolled his eyes but readied himself for action while Heero stood still, poised for a fight even as his left eye lid twitched. Wufei gave a soft moan and shook his head; Duo had a perfect sense of timing for starting trouble, he thought miserably.
The black pilot, who was standing behind the other two that had been teasing the greenies, lurched forward between his teammates, reaching for the slender, insulting teen with the smart ass smirk on his face. It was in the blink of an eye that the soldier suddenly and surprisingly found himself thrown face down on the barrack's floor, his right arm twisted painfully high behind his back while being held in an unrelenting grip with a sharp knee pressed painfully into the center of his back.
"You touch him and you die," Heero hissed as he leaned over the soldier's back and spoke in a lethal sounding voice to his captive.
The other four pilots cautiously moved closer as did the other five from the training school. Ten now faced off with the four unhappy looking seasoned soldiers. Neither group looked like they were going to back down from the impending fight.
"I'll break his arm if you don't back away or if you lay a hand on any of us," Heero threatened again and pulled on the man's arm until he cried out through gritted teeth, assuring his buddies that the dark haired teen's threat was not an idle one.
"Alright, everyone just calm down," Quatre spoke with authoritative calm as he moved forward and cautiously stepped between the two groups standing off with each other. The last thing they needed now was a melee that could cause injuries. He looked to the two older soldiers just in front of him who glared angrily at him. The blond continued. "We're here and we're not going anywhere," he told them. "We're just in from the training facilities and we have a lot to learn. You can either work with us to bring us up to speed and ensure we will soon be a well functioning unit, or you can fight and bicker, even threaten us, and the end result will be a unit divided, a non-functional team doomed from the beginning."
"We'll wipe the floor with you little shits," the red headed man shot back angrily, his nostrils flaring and his pale, freckled face flushed.
"Knock it off, Red." One of the two soldiers who had hung back and not spoken a word up to this point spoke out now. He moved forward to place himself in front of his uncouth friends and the boy who had his other teammate on the floor. "The kid's right," the smaller, dark hair and eyed Laotian man addressed his companions. "We're at war and we have to wisely choose our battles. These boys are not the people we need to fight," he said in a calm but stern tone of voice. "Our anger is misdirected; it's not these greenies we should be fighting but the our real enemy who killed our friends today. We need to work together if we're going to live another day and fight for our country and to avenge their deaths." The Asian man's dark eyes settled on Heero's taunt form as he stared up from the position above other soldier's back. "Let him up," he ordered the teen.
There was a moment's pause as the room of soldiers waited to see if Heero would comply.
/Do it Heero,/ Duo's voice urged him.
Heero released the bent arm and was instantly off the downed pilot who rolled up and onto his feet, rubbing at his strained arm. He turned to face the Japanese boy with a decidedly unhappy expression on his face. "Don't ever do that again," the man warned as Heero moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Duo.
"Then never threaten or attempt to harm my friends again," Heero countered as both of them glared at each other.
"Enough!" The Laotian man who seemed to equal Quatre's voice of reason interrupted them. There was a moment of awkward silence before Zechs stepped forward and extended his hand to the Asian pilot who was striving to bring an end to the altercation. "I'm Zechs," he introduced himself.
"Captain Kahn Knaphasey," the black haired soldier replied, giving the young, tall and blond soldier a brief but hearty handshake. "You can call me Kahn." He then turned to give a small smile to the other nine newcomers. "Let me introduce you to my comrades," He turned around and motioned to each of his fellow pilots as he spoke of them. He motioned with his hand to the brunette man just behind him, the man who'd first taunted Quatre and Duo. "This is Shots, an expert marksman in a fight. And Red," he pointed to the taller red head who still looked decidedly unhappy. "Named appropriately by the color of his hair and his temper." Captain Kahn then pointed to the black man still rubbing his arm. "This is Hawk, one of the best pilots in the Federation," he said, obviously praising the man in an effort to boost his self esteem after having the humiliating experience of being taken down and held captive by a kid. The man accepted the compliment with a curt nod of his head.
"And last but not least is my friend Liam Sullivan, who doesn't like nicknames, especially if they refer to his pasty white skin, his freckles or being of Irish descent, so we call him Laddie." The auburn haired man who had stayed completely out of the earlier skirmish, stepped forward and rolled his eyes at his friend who's given the introductions. He smiled with good humor at what seemed like a continuing joke regarding his heritage, then murmured quietly to the ten, "Welcome aboard."
"Then let me introduce my fellow greenies according to their rating in training," Zechs said with a slight smile, the atmosphere in the room noticeably lightening with the small insert of humor. He then introduced Heero, as the number one student of the training facility and proceeded down the list.
After the names were given, there was an awkward pause and a stretch of silence which Trowa broke with a quiet question. "When will the rest of the squadron arrive?" he asked, noting that nearly half of the barrack's beds were still empty.
The men before them suddenly went still and both a hardened and stricken look came upon their faces. "They're not coming back," Captain Kahn spoke for the other four while his eyes scanned the room with a distant look in his eyes and a frown on his face. "They were all killed in combat during the skirmish this morning. I guess someone had their things cleared out of here already."
"How many?" Chen Chow, one of the ten new soldiers questioned, his eyebrows pinched together in worry.
"From our barracks, twenty; from the base, two hundred eighty seven."
"Then our petty fighting is a waste of valuable energy," Wufei stated in a subdued voice, knowing the men before him were hurting inside at the loss of their friends and comrades. "It dishonors those who fought the real enemy bravely and paid the ultimate price."
"Your right," Kahn replied with a thoughtful look to the Chinese youth. "I believe my friends here just needed to blow off a little steam after such heavy losses. I'm glad it was stopped before something happened that we would all regret."
"Hut!" A loud command came from the doorway. The fifteen soldiers of different rank standing together in the room came to attention as Captain Dunstan came into the room. "Lights out at twenty-two hundred hours," the man barked out. "Training will commence at oh-seven hundred hours if a battle doesn't break out before then. I suggest you gentlemen get settled quickly and sleep while you can." The man who was their captain then did what he usually did after issuing them an order, he turned on his heels and left the room.
"When did Rhys become our troop's den leader?" Red said mockingly in regards to one of their teammates sudden promotion, though the grim smile on his face showed that he was anything but humored.
"Since our commander was killed this morning along with a good many others," Kahn replied, motioning sadly at the ten empty bunks marking only half of what they'd lost that day. The unmade bunks seemed to haunt the room as a pointed reminder of the lost soldiers. "In this war, I'm afraid any or all of us could be either killed on any given day, or promoted to a desk job."
"Which is just another form of death," Laddie mumbled with a frown.
"Well, no one is going to take me out of my mobile suit just to plug me into a vacant desk like they did Rhys," Hawk said fiercely as the went to another bunk towards the front of the room and began to unfasten his flight suit. "I was born to pilot and if they try to promote me to a desk job," he paused only to give a dark glare before he added. "Well, that's the day we lose the war."
The other four mumbled their agreement as they too began to undress. Taking that as their clue to return to a normal routine, the ten greenies moved back to their own beds to prepare for the night. They used the wash rooms and undressed, their sleep wear seemed to be the stylish white boxers and t-shirts they all wore. The room fell silent as the fifteen made their way to their beds, except for the squeak of old springs that protested loudly as each soldier tried to find a comfortable spot or position on their bunk.
The lights had been out for ten minutes and Heero lay on his bunk on his stomach, his blanket pulled up to mask his movements. He dropped his right arm down over the edge of the bunk that was against the wall. /Reach your left arm up,/ he told Duo, resting in the bunk below him. In the darkness of the subterranean barracks, with only a small, dim light at the barrack's door to keep away the suppressing blackness, Duo's hand reached up and in finding it's mate, clasped firmly onto Heero's, their connection began and they both sighed, silently content at the familiar and comforting touch that boosted them both physically and mentally.
After minutes had passed, maybe as many as ten, Duo's hand went slack and slipped from Heero's fingers as he drifted into a deep sleep. Heero brought his own arm back up and turned onto his side to follow his fellow soldiers into sleep. His fleeting thoughts before he drifted off was of missing his room back at the training school and the feel of Duo in his arms as he went to sleep each night.