Chapter 13

 

Changing Allegiance

Chapter 13


"Noin? I asked a question. Since when do I have a brother?" Relena demanded.

Noin looked up at the girl distractedly. "I'm well aware you asked me something; I'm just not ready to answer yet. Why don't you change clothes, okay?"

"But…"

"Please, Relena," Noin interrupted tiredly. She was pleasantly surprised when Relena didn't fight the point.

Ten minutes later, the girl approached her again, this time wearing a pair of jeans and a pink sweater, feet in sturdy boots. Noin managed a shaky smile. "Glad to see the weather has won out over vanity."

Relena snorted. "Now tell me - who is my brother, and why haven't I been told about him before?"

Noin hung her head. "You weren't told because it wasn't safe for either of you. Your brother was six when the Sanc Kingdom fell. Your family's retainers decided to separate the children to hide them. You went to the Dorlians, and Milliardo…"

She took a deep breath. "Milliardo Marquise Peacecraft changed his name when he came to live with my family. Does that answer your question?"

Relena stared at the older woman in blatant shock. "You can't *possibly* be serious!"

"I am, very serious," Noin replied, carefully not allowing her annoyance to show in her voice. "Zechs Marquise is your older brother and the true heir to the Sanc throne. He'll never take it -- he truly *is* Zechs now, not Milliardo -- but it is the truth."

Wide blue eyes sparkled with confusion. "But he… I've seen him! Everyone knows who he is! The famous Lightning Count, considered the best pilot Oz has ever seen…"

"He is a very good man, Relena…"

"He is a killer," the girl responded angrily. "It's ridiculous! A pacifist Prince becoming a soldier! I can't believe…"

"He's no different than your Heero, Relena, and the fact that he kills people has never seemed to matter to you," Noin countered evenly.

"Well, he's *not* my Heero, apparently," Relena snapped angrily, her mood becoming even more sour at the mention of Heero's name. "And that's different. He's a freedom fighter…"

Noin rolled her eyes. "The appropriate term is 'terrorist,' Relena, and he'd be the first to tell you that. There is no difference."

Relena stood and walked over to her bunk to pick up her coat and pull it on. "My *brother.* Wonderful. Are you coming, Noin? I suddenly have the urge to talk to him again."

"Relena, wait," Noin called, and the girl paused. She walked over and put her hands on the younger girl's shoulders. "Before you go out there… Zechs has had one objective since we joined the military together. The only thing that ever counted for him has been finding the people responsible for the death of your parents and making them pay for it. While he waited, though, he found his place and found something approximating peace and fulfilment in his life. Meeting you has not been easy for him. If you rush in there and have words with him… Well, you haven't made many friends here. He's my brother, too. You hurt him, and *I* will not be as kind as Treize and the others have been to this point, you understand that?"

Relena gave Noin a smile that made the older woman's heart race. She knew the girl has something planned, damn it! "I understand." Without another word, Relena walked out into the snow.

~*~

"I'm going to kill the little bitch!" Quatre exclaimed, and started pacing, mumbling under his breath.

Trowa stood and stared in shock for a moment, then stepped in front of the shorter blond, wrapped his arms around him, and sighed.

"Since you were going to see Sally to find out how things went, judging by your reaction I'm going to assume things did *not* go well," he said, squeezing his lover tightly.

Quatre looked up at him, eyes blazing. "That little bitch called our Duo a dirty street whore, space trash, accused him of telling lies about her... no, I'd say things pretty well sucked - badly enough that Sally lost her temper and smacked the brat!"

Trowa tensed, feeling his own anger rise, and clamped down on it with an effort. "Quatre, what exactly did Sally tell you?" he asked, voice tight and strained.

It was Quatre's turn to sigh, his lover's control helping to restore a measure of his own. "I didn't actually see her. I heard her talking to Farley, and I doubt she was planning on telling any of us what happened. In fact, her exact words were 'I'm just so glad no one else heard her. We might have to worry about her life, if they did'. When I heard that, I knew I had to know, so I listened outside the door."

The blond took a deep breath and continued, telling Trowa exactly what he had heard. By the time he'd finished, the taller pilot was barely supressing his own anger.

"She's very lucky she didn't say *any* of that in our hearing... especially Heero's. He wouldn't have hesitated to shoot her on the spot!" Trowa took a deep breath to calm himself. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it now, but if she makes one snide comment about Duo, I'll follow Sally's example and slap her." He ran one finger along Quatre's cheek.

Quatre snorted. "You do that. I'll just kick her god-damn ass!"

Trowa snickered, glad to see even a tiny bit of his lover's humour resurfacing. "Better now that you got it off your chest, Quatre?"

The blond nodded slightly. "A bit calmer, if nothing else. Do we tell Heero? Or Wufei? Anyone?"

Trowa thought for a moment. "I don't think we should tell Heero, at least not now. Wufei, I think we should tell. Possibly Treize, but definitely not Zechs or Une. Zechs doesn't need the pain that would cause, and God only knows what Une would do... though maybe we should tell her, then sell tickets?"

Quatre laughed harshly, then glanced at his watch. "We should head over to the mess tent. Remember, Sally wanted us all to meet there? I think she meant Noin and Relena as well," he said, sighing heavily. "I doubt I'll even be able to be civil to the little bitch, though..."

"Me, neither, my love," Trowa said with a grimace, putting on his coat and leading Quatre into the hall. "I'll be lucky if I can even look at her..."

~*~

"Lieutenant Noin!"

Noin stopped and turned with a smile on her face as she heard a voice shout her name.

"Kevin! My God, it's been ages…" She skidded slightly as she ran towards the two approaching men and threw her arms around the younger man's neck for a hug. "I knew I'd find you here somewhere… and just as I last left you…"

He grimaced and gestured at his dirty but respectable coveralls. "Repairs. And now it's not just the Tallgeese -- I got to work on the Gundams, as well…"

She laughed and released him to turn to the other man. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've met…"

Howard gave her a sly grin. "Yeah, us old men have to watch while gorgeous women practically jump on the young ones." He held out his hand. "You can call me Howard. And you are?"

She shook his hand, smiling at the gleam of humour evident in his eyes. "I'm Lucretzia Noin, former Oz lieutenant and bodyguard to… Relena?"

Walker's eyes went wide. "I *knew* she looked familiar! She was getting cold, so she went ahead. Poor kid didn't pick the best clothes to bring with her to Transylvania…"

Noin groaned. "Well, her judgement is severely impaired where it concerns one Heero Yuy. We'd better follow her in before she insults anyone else…"

"Anyone else?" Howard asked.

Noin nodded, taking his arm as he gallantly offered to help her. "Well, we've been here for a little over two hours, and in that time she's managed to insult Treize, insult Lady Une, she said some terribly nasty things about that American pilot, and then she got Doctor Po angry enough to slap her across the face…"

The men shared a look and a frown. They hadn't even met her yet, and they were already inclined to dislike her. The three hurried in –

"… Of course. I'd love to sit here, brother." Noin watched with fear in her eyes as Zechs moved slightly to make room for his sister. The girl *seemed* to be making an effort, at least…

Noin hung up her coat near the door and quickly made her way across to Relena's table with Howard and Walker in tow. "Relena?"

The girl turned to her quizzically. "Yes?"

Noin gave a nervous smile. "I just wanted to introduce these two – Kevin Walker is a fellow ex-Oz engineer and pilot," Walker gave her a small bow and a shake of her hand, "and Howard is…?"

The older man grinned. "Never did get around to telling you that, did I? I'm the head of a group called the Sweepers. We're modern-day pirates, if you will-- smugglers, salvage workers, that sort of thing." He turned to look down at Relena, and his smile drooped considerably. "I brought the Gundams here; Duo is a bit like a son to me."

Relena quickly rearranged her expression, trying *not* to let her displeasure at hearing *that* name show. "Pleasure."

"You bet it is," Howard replied.

The group was strangely silent through the whole exchange. Walker noted with some shock that Quatre and Trowa, who were usually very polite and engaging, were both pointedly ignoring Relena and any conversation revolving around her. He felt a jolt run through him, though, as he looked further down the table -- Une was sitting with her eyes on her untouched plate, the stiffness of her shoulders a sign of her mood. He quickly pulled off his cap and ran his fingers through his short hair in an effort to look presentable as he moved to her side. "Morning, Une."

She looked up and gave him a little smile. "Kevin, hi."

The fragile look in her eyes made her boyfriend cringe mentally --**what did that little shit say to her?!** He gave her a gentle smile as he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.

Une felt calm settling over her as she brought one hand up to cup the back of Walker's head, fingers laced through short, dirty-blond hair. He felt warm and solid under her lips and hands.

He pulled back from her slowly, reading even more of her unease in the way Une clung to him, especially out in public. He gave her a gentle smile, though. "I was thinking of taking my breakfast up with some food for the invalid. Care to join me?"

"Love to," she said, giving Walker a relieved smile. Une turned back to the table and the triple grins of Treize, Wufei and Zechs. "You won't mind, I hope?"

Treize shook his head, silently thanking Walker for his interference and wishing he'd come up with the idea first. "Of course not. Go on!" Everyone pretended not to notice as Une practically fled the table.

Sipping as delicately as she could at a mug of tea, Relena fidgeted. Even Noin, who could usually be counted on to have something to say, was silent, and the younger woman could feel disapproving eyes on her, almost as if daring her to look up-

She brought her head up and was met by an acidly dark glare from a pair of deep green eyes. It took every nerve she had *not* to recoil from Trowa's stare. What could she have possibly done to *him* to deserve such a nasty look?

Howard valiantly attempted to start a conversation. "So, Quatre, Sandrock was just about in top condition. Nice to see that *some* pilots take good care of their suits!"

The blond turned to him and gave him a small smile. "Thank you. I will have to introduce you to Rashid, someday. He and his group actually maintain my suit for me."

Howard looked thoughtful a moment. "Do you think a few would be willing to join us, here? Right now, it's only me, Kev, Rod and Gio, working on those suits. We're going to need more people, experienced with Gundams, to keep things going smoothly."

Quatre nodded his head. "That could be arranged. If you don't mind, Sally?"

The doctor shook her head. "I can trust anyone you bring on board to know the meaning of operational security. Who are these guys?"

Quatre had the grace to look embarrassed. "Something of a personal army, actually. Ever heard of the Manguanac corps?"

Noin's eyebrows went up. If no one else did, she certainly knew who they were! "Impressive. I've seen them in action."

Quatre nodded to her pleasantly.

Howard shot Sally a look. "Out of curiosity, how many people on base can actually handle the maintenance of a Gundam?"

She shook her head. "Not too many. We have good technicians, but I have to imagine that those Gundams almost need personal crews."

Howard sat back, cradling a coffee cup in his hands. "I *could* bring a few more of my boys in, as well. They've all become familiar with Wing and 'Scythe, though I don't want too many people touching Duo's suit until he's better enough to handle it, himself. God knows, the boy doesn't *need* help…"

"As long as he doesn't have to *read* anything to know what he's doing, stupid little ape," Relena muttered into her tea, smirking.

Across the table from her, a fork was dropped noisily onto a plate. "I beg your pardon?" Trowa asked, his voice dripping with disdain as he spoke for the first time.

She looked up. "Nothing."

The green-eyed teen refused to back off, though. "No, I insist. *What* was so funny?"

Relena set the tea down. "All I mean is that someone of *Duo's* background can't possibly handle anything as complicated as mobile suit technology. People like that shouldn't be allowed to do anything more complicated than driving a tractor?"

Green eyes flashed menacingly. "And just what could *you* possibly know about it?" he said, in a low, ice-cold voice. "You don't know anything about Duo - you didn't even bother to try getting to know him, once you heard how he grew up, just like any other ignorant, self-absorbed, prejudiced, naïve, spoiled little rich girl."

Relena rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. He's a street rat. Don't even try to tell me he has any sort of education. Surely you don't honestly believe that someone of *his* kind could possibly have any sort of *real* intelligence? Why do you think he ended up on the street in the first place?"

The table went silent again as Trowa sat back at his place, his eyes wide. Next to him, Quatre seethed. "Miss Peacecraft," he said very slowly and deliberately, "Out of respect for your brother and the position you hold, we are going to try and forget what you just said. But if you ever, *ever* dare to speak like that about our friend again, it is quite possible that I would forget what is holding me back. Duo Maxwell was a war orphan in the L2 cluster. He did not *choose* to live there. He did not *choose* to lose his family. So unless you can learn civility, I'd recommend you keep your damned mouth shut."

Trowa stood abruptly. "I think I've lost my appetite." He nodded to Treize, Zechs and Wufei and walked away, his back held ramrod straight.

Quatre stood and gave Noin a perfunctory bow. "It is very nice to see you again, Miss Noin." Turning to the others, he said, "I'll see you gentlemen later."

As Quatre hurried off after his lover, Zechs turned and glared down at his little sister. "I don't know what you think you're doing…"

"Milliardo, he's a common killer who probably slept his way off of L2 to begin with," Relena said, her face screwed up as though she had an unpleasant taste in her mouth. "Heaven only knows what he's done…"

~*~

On the other side of the table, Howard sat stunned.

*This* is the princess of Sanc? This conceited, spoiled little girl? Spouting off nonsense about his Duo? His kid had more intelligence in his little finger than this brat... and more manners, personality, consideration...

"Milliardo, he's a common killer who probably slept his way off of L2 to begin with," Relena's voice broke into his thoughts. "Heaven only knows what he's done…"

Howard leapt to his feet, both hands slamming onto the table, causing it to shake.

"You insufferable little bitch," he growled coldly, staring at her over the rims of his sunglasses. "For your information, Duo Maxwell did *not* sleep his way off L2! I think I should know, since it was *my* ship he stowed away on, starving and sick. And he couldn't have been more than eleven years old! Are you going to accuse me of child rape, next?! How dare you! Conceited, little brat! Just because he *couldn't* get a fancy education doesn't mean he's stupid! The boy's fucking *brilliant*, smarter than you'll ever be. Where the fuck do you get off being so high-and-mighty!"

Relena stared back at him blankly. The other people around the table sat shocked at his outburst. The entire mess tent was silent... and listening.

"Surprised? Ha! My kid was tested by Doc G. You know what the result was? His I.Q. is 145... borderline genius. Can you top that, oh 'Miss I'm So Perfect'?"

He stood up, threw on his coat and started to leave, then stopped and bent down to Relena.

"By the way. My Duo was a virgin until Spandex Boy got his hands on him. Call him a slut or whore or anything like that in my hearing again, and I'll cut out your tongue myself..."

Howard turned to the rest of the table.

"Sorry, it seems that the loss of appetite is catching. I'll be with more pleasant and intelligent company if anyone needs me," he said, looking pointedly at the blonde princess, then was gone in a whirl of wind-blown snow.

~*~

Relena had paled slightly, but lost none of her atitude. "Who does he think... common junk hauler..."

Zechs froze. "Our father would roll over in his grave to hear you talking like this!"

"As if *you* can talk!" Relena retorted. "A pacifist prince-turned-murderer!"

"SILENCE, WOMAN!" Wufei erupted, a fist slamming down on the table. "I have listened to your mindless drivel of a conversation for long enough! I've never met a person as pathetic as you. You can't admit that the person you've become infatuated with is not interested in you. Instead, you have to slander and demean his lover to assuage your feelings and puff up your already over-inflated ego! You have the *gall* to insult a brother whose greatest wish all this time has been to have revenge for his family - *your* family - and to protect *you* from harm so that, one day, the Sanc Kingdom could be restored! You are a disgrace to your family! He is one of the best people I've had the privilege of knowing, and I will *not* permit your rudeness any longer!"

Treize put a hand over Wufei's forearm. "Dragon, I think…"

"I'm not finished yet!" Wufei snapped, his eyes still glued to a now white-faced Relena. Recognising the expression on his Chinese lover's face for what it was, Treize did not bother to try and interfere again.

Wufei stood and leaned over the table menacingly. "I'm going to be very clear about this. *I* love your brother; no, *we* love your brother," he said, one of his hands falling heavily on Treize's shoulder and staying there. "And Duo Maxwell is one of the best friends and comrades I could ever hope to have. For Zechs' sake, I'm giving you a fair last warning. Insult either of them again in front of any of us, and you will suffer the consequences. Your status in life does *not* give you the right to judge others based on the station they were born into. You have no idea what the other half lives like; you probably couldn't even tell me how *your* half lives. All you are is a small-minded little girl, pretending to be an adult. Our Treize might just be a *Count,* but at least he's worthy of his title. You aren't worth the air you breathe."

He stood and gathered his dishes carefully to take them to the cleaning station. Glaring at Relena all the while, Treize and Zechs followed suit and, after a moment's hesitation, so did Noin.

Relena reached out and caught Noin by the sleeve of her sweater. "Miss Noin?"

"Do me a favour and don't talk to me right now," Noin growled, snatching her arm away. She stalked away, leaving Relena alone at the long table.

~*~

Duo and Heero looked up from the laptop, tensing as the door opened. The tension melted away when Une and Walker came in, carrying breakfast trays.

"Thanks," Duo said, nodding at the trays as they set them on the table and took seats beside his bed, "but wasn't there a meeting or something over breakfast? Heero was just going to ask Ines if someone would bring ours, since we're awake and all."

"There was," Walker replied with a grimace, handing Une a small plate of toast, "but the company left something to be desired."

"She does have the right, Kevin," the dark-haired woman said softly. "I *did* kill her father, after all."

"Yes, you did," Walker said, cupping her cheek, "but that was a different Une from the one sitting in this room. And you *are* sorry for it. The little brat just didn't give you a chance to apologise or anything..."

Une sighed. "An apology won't change the facts. I'm sorry, now, that I forced Heero to self-destruct, but that doesn't change the fact that he almost died; I'm sorry I helped set him up to kill the Alliance leaders, but they're still dead... And both were my fault... My being sorry isn't going to bring her *father* back!" she said sadly, forgetting that she had an audience.

Heero blinked, the only sign of his surprise. He knew from the others that she was sorry, but she hadn't come out and said it to him. If she had, he wasn't sure he'd have believed her. It could have been a ploy. Lull them into a sense of security, then pounce. But this... this didn't seem to be an attempt to fool him.

This was honest, genuine emotion. He could see that she truly regretted what she had done. But the question was... could he forgive her? Yes... No... He wasn't sure. But he did know one thing - it was in the past, let it stay in the past. Now was a chance to start again, and he wasn't about to mess it up.

As his mind rapidly processed the implications of what was happening, Heero felt Duo's hand creep into his own and squeeze. He looked at Duo and saw the small smile on his face, just the slightest curling of his lips, and the Japanese teen nodded slightly.

"Une," he said quietly, "I can't forgive what you did, not yet, nor can I forget. But," he continued when she raised tear-filled eyes to his, "it was in the past. Let's leave it there and start over."

Une stared at him for a moment, tears slowly trickling down her cheeks, then she nodded and gave him a tentative smile. "That's more than I could have hoped for. Thank you, Heero Yuy."

"Okay, enough mush. Let's see what you brought me for breakfast," Duo said, over-cheerfully. "Heero, dish it up..."

There was a muffled growl outside, and Howard stomped in, a fierce scowl on his face. Ignoring everyone else in the room, he fell into a chair by the bed and shook his head. "Kid, if I didn't know you never lie, I would have sworn you were telling stories about that self-centered, oblivious, little bitch! But seeing is believing..."

Heero looked at his lover and saw a flash of fear in his eyes. He leaned over and rested his forehead against the injured teen's.

"Don't worry. She won't get near us. I don't want her, I want you, remember?" he said softly, watching the shadows in Duo's eyes slowly fade.

Duo took a shaky breath and nodded. "Do you think it's too late to run away now?"

Heero chuckled slightly. "Une is sitting right here. Do you think she'll let you get very far?"

Une smiled softly at the pair, reached over and put her hand on Duo's.

"Duo, if I thought we couldn't keep her out, I'd take you away myself..."

~*~

Quatre had to nearly jog to keep up with his tall boyfriend's furious strides. Ice and snow didn't seem to matter to either; Quatre was carrying Trowa's forgotten coat over his arm as he struggled to catch up. "Trowa! Wait up, for the love of Allah!"

Coming to a stiff halt, Trowa simply stood, shivering slightly in the biting wind as he clenched his fists at his sides. Quatre finally made it to his side and quickly wrapped the green-eyed teen's coat over his shoulders. Moving around in front of him, Quatre pulled the coat closed and looked up into Trowa's face. "Hey - you want to talk to me?"

The green-eyed boy looked close to tears. "I was so close… I could have reached across the table and killed that… that…" He clamped his mouth shut. "She doesn't know anything about *anything!"

Quatre's anger rose to new heights as he watched his calm, steady boyfriend struggle to contain himself. Stepping closer, he reached out carefully and slid his hands down his lover's arms to his fists, gently prying them open. "I know what you're thinking about, and if you'd defend Duo from it, then the same has to be true for you. It's not *your* fault you lost your family, and you didn't *deserve* it!"

Trowa shuddered. "I don't even have a *name*, Quatre. Duo… he had people who cared about him, but no one wanted me…"

"Even if that was true then, and I doubt it," Quatre said, squeezing Trowa's hands, "you have plenty of people who care about you *now*. Relena is an ignorant, self-absorbed little rich girl - just what you called her. Don't let her words hurt you!"

Trowa felt as though the strong, capable hands holding his were all that were grounding him. "Just because *she* said it doesn't mean it's wrong, Quatre."

With a growl, the blond began dragging them both back towards the infirmary, his eyes stormy in his pale face. "I'm going to show you just how wrong it is, then!"

~*~

The door slammed open, jarring everyone, as Quatre stormed into Duo's room like a blond tornado, dragging Trowa along behind him. "If you're not a Gundam pilot, get out."

It only took one look at Quatre's face to send Howard, Walker and Une scrambling for the door. The blond slammed the door behind them and turned back to the blank stares of Duo and Heero. "We have a new objective once the mission is over, gentlemen. The education of one Relena Peacecraft. I don't care what it takes -- that little bitch of a girl is going to learn…"

"Slow down, Q," Duo soothed, wincing as he tried to straighten up a little. "Start at the beginning, okay? No, sit down *first* and then start at the beginning."

The blond tugged Trowa after him, his frown darkening as his tall boyfriend just allowed himself to be led, refusing to look up and acknowledge the group. "Okay. She was insulting *you,* Duo -- I know, no surprise there -- and she said something about people being orphans because no one wanted them because they were useless, or something like that." Duo's eyes immediately tracked to Trowa, wide and sad. Quatre continued, "After telling Relena what we thought of her, we left, but… I really *will* kill her."

"Trowa, please look at me," Duo said in a sad, small voice. Green eyes swung up to meet his.

The braided teen gave his friend the smallest of smiles. "That's better. Look, you and me… we *can't* be anywhere close to what Relena calls us. 'Cause if we were, we'd be alone out there, somewhere, not here, with friends and supporters, with these two," he said, gesturing at Heero and Quatre. "Quatre loves you for who you are, for the person you've become. So no matter what we call him, since names are really just labels… he must be a pretty great guy, right? Heero and Wufei and me, too. You're our bro, now, and not because we were born to the same family. We *chose* each other. That means something."

Heero's quiet voice broke in, "A useless person wouldn't have made the effort to take care of me after I self-destructed. But you did."

Trowa stared at them both, silent, though a glint of… something… was showing in his eyes. Duo felt a suspicious prickling in his eyes. "Aw, hell! Come here, will ya? I'd come to you, but I'm afraid the hospital Nazi would find out and subject me to torture by Jello if I tried…" As Trowa moved into Duo's one-armed embrace, he felt Quatre latching on to him from behind and was surprised to feel Heero's arm over his shoulders, as well. He shut his eyes tightly and squeezed Duo gently. **My family…**

The flash of a camera broke the spell, though, and all four looked to the doorway, blinking in surprise.

Sally Po grinned at them as she looked down at the image on her digital camera. "How sweet! Gundam pilots having a Kodak moment! Shame, though - we're missing one to make it a full set…"

As Duo began to laugh, Quatre caught Trowa's eye and pulled him to the side, both boys slipping out past Sally as she walked forward towards the bed.

Heero and Duo shared a smirk. "Are the walls here sound-proofed?" the Japanese teen asked.

Sally blinked. "Yes, why?"

"I think Quatre just dragged Trowa off for some 'appreciation', if you know what I mean."

Sally blushed as the meaning hit her. "Oh, well… after this morning, we could probably *all* use a little TLC."

Walker chose that moment to knock and come back in. "Hey, is the coast clear? Sheesh, I just saw Quatre putting a sign on the door to his room - 'Do not disturb under pain of death!' What's that all about?"

Duo smiled devilishly. "He probably means it right about now, Kev. Let it be."

~*~

The rest of the day went much more quietly.

Howard and Walker continued getting the Gundams and Tallgeese ready for the mission. Une, Treize and Quatre - once the blond had finished reassuring his lover - worked on their own plans to combat Romafeller. Wufei and Zechs split their time between the hangar and Duo's room, updating the others on the progress and finalising the timing of the attack.

Trowa spent the day with Duo and Heero, soaking up the acceptance, affection, and friendship radiating from them.

Early in the evening, one by one, everyone gathered in Duo's room. There was little talk during dinner, but once the dishes were cleared away, and coffee and tea served, the conversation turned towards the mission.

"Deathscythe is good to go," Howard said confidently. "Tallgeese, Heavyarms, and Shenlong have been fitted with partial cloaking devices. I couldn't give them what Deathscythe has, but they shouldn't show up on radar at all, and if they do, it'll *look* like a malfunction. There will be a visual energy field around them, which will make it difficult to visually pinpoint them, but not impossible. And that field will make it almost impossible for the enemy to get a weapons lock on them."

Treize gave the older man a nod of thanks. "Your help has been invaluable…"

Howard waved it away. "You kidding? 'Sides, you should be thanking Kevin, too. Poor kid hasn't stopped working since…" He shrugged.

Treize turned his eyes to the younger engineer and felt a smile tugging at his lips. Walker was at least attempting to remain awake for the meeting, but for a person with perfect posture normally, he was experiencing an abnormal tilt… "Indeed. I didn't mean to leave you out, Walker. I've heard that your work has been nothing short of brilliant."

The young man attempted to straighten up. "Thanks, sir…"

"And I'm giving you new orders," Treize interrupted. "You are to go and bunk out for as long as you need to, is that clear?"

Duo chuckled. "Heh - go to bed, go directly to bed, do not pass 'Go,' do not collect five hundred credits…"

Heero lightly swatted Duo in the back of the head as Walker disappeared out the door. "Baka," he said, but affection was clear in his voice.

Une cleared her throat. "I checked with my operatives. No Oz activity is planned for your attack / retreat route. Resupply of the base is scheduled for next week, so you *shouldn't* run into anything unexpected. I also pulled up the current satellite data and weather projections." She passed out a couple of reports.

"The satellite data is clear. The weather report for Baikal is cold and cloudy, with light snow showers through the rest of the week. Nothing to impede you. In fact, it'll give you even more cover. Everything on that front looks good."

Wufei nodded at her. "Thank you, Une. That helps. Now, go tuck Kevin in," he said, smiling slightly.

Treize shooed her out. "Go on. I don't want to see you until tomorrow. Sleep yourself out, that's an order."

Une stood, walked to the door and smiled at everyone. "Thank you. If I don't see you before you leave, good luck and hurry back."

Duo sighed slightly, fatigue evident in his tone. "Wufei, do you want to give the details?"

"Of course, Duo," he replied. "We'll leave here at 0600 tomorrow - Deathscythe and Heavy Arms in one shuttle, Tallgeese and Shenlong in the other. Gio and Rodney have volunteered to pilot for us. It should be a ten hour flight. Just outside the target area, we will disembark, then make camp. I've timed the attack for 2200 hours. That gives us time to rest, then do some last minute recon, as well as plenty of darkness to escape in, after the mission is completed. Gio and Rodney will be waiting for us west of Kehzma, a little town on a plateau, north west of Baikal. Once we rendezvous with them, we'll be on our way back. We should land here at roughly 1500 to 1600 hours, the next day. Anything else?"

"Question - how do we get in touch with you?" Sally asked.

"Simple," Heero answered. "Quatre can monitor the battle from his own Gundam, and Duo and the rest of you can monitor from here, via the laptop. Oz doesn't have anything that can break our encryption codes. No offence."

"None taken," Treize said smoothly. He stood and moved to stand right behind his two lovers. "If that's it, I'd like to take these two and make sure they get a good rest before the mission. We can meet you in the main hangar at 0530."

Quatre nodded. "Sounds good. We'll have to juggle the transport launches around two satellite passes, but it should work out just right." He grabbed Trowa's hand. "Time to put this guy to bed, too."

Duo snickered, "Notice *he* didn't say anything about sleeping…"

Trowa shot him a pointed glance. "You haven't, either, as far as I can tell."

Treize rolled his eyes, though the effect was ruined by a grin that spread over his lips. "And Heero's already got him in bed… perhaps we should give them some privacy, don't you think?"

"Wonderful idea," Zechs chimed, pulling Wufei up with him as he stood.

The Chinese teen didn't bother to hide the smile on his face. "Good night, all of you. Try to get a little sleep, at least."

Soft laughter followed everyone out, leaving Duo and Heero alone. The Japanese teen sighed as he shut the door.

"Finally, peace and quiet..."

"And we can't really enjoy it," Duo chuckled, around a yawn.

"We'll have plenty of time to 'enjoy it' once you're well. Let's get you comfortable and get some sleep. You can barely keep your eyes open."

Heero helped his lover get settled and climbed next to him, snuggling up to his side and draping his arm over his abdomen.

"Sleep, Duo. You're exhausted, and we have to wake up early," the Japanese teen said, kissing his lover gently.

Duo returned the kiss desperately, a small sob escaping. "I'm scared, Heero. What if you..."

"Shhh, there's nothing to be scared of. We'll be fine... everything will work out okay. How could it not? We have Deathscythe, right?" Resting his head in the crook of Duo's neck and shoulder, he nuzzled him lightly. "I promise. We'll be fine. And when we get back, I'll convince Sally to let you have that steak. Maybe we can con a pie out of the cooks. Maybe she'll let you out of bed and we can all have a snowball fight..."

Heero kept up his soft, reassuring monologue until he finally heard Duo's breathing even out. Kissing his temple, the Japanese pilot tightened his grip and slowly drifted off himself.

TBC


 

On to Chapter 14

Back to Preventers' HQ

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