Chapter 22

 

Changing Allegiance

Chapter 22


Sally and Une cornered Farley late in the afternoon when he stepped into the mess tent for coffee and a quick sandwich. Une stepped right up to him, anger and worry on her face.

"What did you think you were doing, taking Relena into Duo's room?" she snarled. "What if Duo had woken up? What if that little brat had caused a scene? What if..."

Sally placed a hand on her friend's arm, soothingly. "Calm down, Une. Let's all find a seat and let Jason explain," she said, motioning to a semi-secluded table. The look she threw Farley, however, was anything but calm and soothing. It clearly said 'this had better be good or else...'.

Farley sighed and followed them to the table, before beginning his explanation.

"I realise things could have gone badly, but it was a risk that needed to be taken. Relena has been receptive to advice from me... maybe because I'm more detached from the situation. She confided in me, asked for my opinions, and seemed to listen. Each time, she's taken another step forward. *This* time, I think I actually got through to her. She finally admitted that she might have jumped the gun, had been rude, treated people horribly, and talked about changing 'so Heero will love me, just like I love him'." He sighed and shook his head. "She was still delusional about that, so I asked her why she loved him. Her answers were all wrong... all superficial... so I asked her some harder questions. And no, I'm not giving you details," he added when both women started to question him. "That would *not* be fair to Relena. I don't feel too great telling you what I am."

Farley ran his hand through his hair, a slightly frustrated gesture, and continued. "Anyway, I could tell she finally caught on to the point I was trying to make, and decided she needed visual proof. So, I took her to *see* her supposed 'nemesis'. What she did see, and learn, stunned her, I think. I can't be sure, but I think the little princess may finally have opened her eyes to the world around her, and stepped out of her own personal fairytale. I suppose only time will tell."

He stood abruptly. "If that's all, I still have a lot of paperwork to finish and patients to see. I know you both think the worst of her, and now probably of me, but give her a chance. People *do* change, you know..."

Farley shot a look at Une, then turned and left the tent, coffee and sandwich untouched on the table, while Sally and Une stared after him, too stunned to speak. Sally frowned as she looked down at her plate, her appetite suddenly gone.

~*~

Marco's eyes went wide as he ran up to the car. Heero popped the driver's door open and barked, "Trowa took a bullet to the shoulder. Here, take Marie."

Johann carefully didn't mention how Heero had naturally given the child a nickname – he reached out, smiling nervously as the Japanese teen handed him a sleeping child. **My God – this is Treize Kushrenada's daughter…**

Heero ignored the man as he jumped from the vehicle and darted around the back to open a door and reach inside. "You're not allowed to do this to me, Trowa," he growled as he gently scooped the other teen into his arms and lifted. He got no reaction – the green-eyed pilot had mercifully passed out several miles back.

He quickly carried his friend into the house and set him down on the round table in the kitchen, as carefully and gently as possible. Heero felt a jolt of fear – Trowa was so pale…

He drew out his combat knife and didn't wait for Marco to join him, but began cutting Trowa's combat vest and shirt away from the wound. "Come on, Trowa. Come back to me…" His hands shook as he pulled the shirt back.

Marco strode into the room behind him and approached. "Heero, what…"

"I need some warm water and a towel, a few towels. Now."

"Right." Marco was smart enough to simply obey.

Both faces were grave as they leaned over Trowa's bloodied shoulder. Heero gingerly probed the wound. It looked to have missed the bone, but there was so much blood…

Marco sucked in a deep breath.

Heero lifted his friend gently – the shirt was very stuck in the back…

He didn't even notice he was holding his breath until he released it in a sigh of relief. There was an exit wound. Straightening, he brushed his hair from his face with the back of his wrist, not noticing it when he smeared a bit of blood over his forehead. "It's clean – it's okay. We need to sew him up, though, and he's going to need blood."

"What's his blood type?" Marco asked.

Heero grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and yanked, tearing it off. "Same as mine."

~*~

"Relena, what are you doing out here by yourself?" Zechs asked, walking through some trees on the edge of the compound with Noin. His dark-haired 'sister' had dragged him out of the hangar, on the premise of getting some air... but really to get him to talk to her about the situation with Treize, and with Relena. To say that he was surprised to see Relena, sitting on a fallen log staring into space, was an understatement.

At his voice, the young girl looked up, and smiled tightly. "Noin, Milliardo... or do you prefer Zechs, now?" she asked, tucking a blowing strand of hair behind her ear.

"It doesn't matter," her brother replied, rushing over and dropping to his knees in the snow beside her. Noin followed, ready to protect him if Relena started to verbally abuse him. Her charge had been quiet, withdrawn, and very polite over the last day or so, but she still didn't trust her not to hurt him.

"Are you alright?" the blond continued, putting his hand on the girl's arm. "What's wrong?"

"Hmmm... alright... no, I'm not really alright," Relena replied, patting his hand absently and looking back out over the snow-covered trees. "I've learned a few things about myself and others that I don't really like. I guess you could say I've had my head banged against the proverbial wall and I finally see the light... at the end of the tunnel... I'm just not sure what to do at this point."

Noin stared down at the siblings, nearly amazed at this side of the spoiled little girl she was so familiar with. This was *not* the selfish, thoughtless, 'princess with her head in the clouds'...

"Who hurt you?" Zechs snarled softly, brotherly instincts taking over. "Tell me and I'll..."

"*I'm* the one who hurt me," Relena replied, looking at her brother again with a sad smile. "I don't think you can *fix* that, Milliardo, unless you can turn back time and change the past. And while you may be my big brother, the Lightning Count, and one of the finest soldiers in the universe, I think that one's just a bit too much for even you to manage."

Seeing her charge shiver, Noin placed her hand on Zechs' shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Zechs, it's getting near dinner time. We should get her inside and warm, before she catches a cold... Maybe we can continue this in one of the infirmary's conference rooms? I'll see if we can get some hot food brought in for us."

Zechs nodded and stood, holding his hand out to Relena. "Come on, let's go inside, where it's warm. I think I'd like to get to know my 'little sister' some more," he said, smiling softly.

Relena stared at him for a moment, looking for the earlier disdain she'd received from him. Not finding it, she took his hand and stood. "I think I'd like that, too," she said, turning towards the camp and walking at his side.

Following behind them, Noin smiled as she noticed that neither sibling let go of the other's hand.

~*~

"Hmmm... that's a lot of troops," Duo murmured, shuffling the photos around on the table. Once they had finished hacking into the satellite, they had moved to the conference room to have more space to work in. Twenty minutes later they had the photos and got to work.

"Yes, and... those look like mobile suit carriers," Wufei said, pointing to a spot on one photo. "I'd hazard a guess and say this," he moved his finger towards a very large building on another picture, "is another factory. I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that it's manufacturing mobile dolls..."

"Nope. I'd have to agree with you there, Dragon-dude. Pretty smart of them, too," Duo agreed. "Who'd expect to find a mobile doll factory in the middle of the industrial part of the city? Factories like that should be in secret locations, in bunkers, etc. Not next to a... Q? What are you looking at, Mastermind?"

"This," the blond said, laying out the photos in order and smirking slightly. He pointed to the far western edge of the first photo. "I'd say that little raid on Baikal has scared someone. There are even more troops moving in."

Duo snickered and Wufei snorted, then both sobered.

"We're going to have to do something about that, you know," Duo said softly.

"Yes, and the troop build-up is going to make it much more difficult to accomplish," Wufei agreed with a sigh.

"Maybe, and maybe not," Quatre said. "Depending on how long we can hold off, they may ease off on the troop numbers..."

"Right, Brainchild! If we don't make a move, they may relax, thinking we're not going to attack at all," Duo put in, an evil grin on his face.

"That's taking a long shot," Wufei said, glancing at his teammates. "What if they don't?"

"Let's not worry about it right now," Quatre said, gathering up the photos. "We can't do anything until Heero and Trowa get back anyway. We'll start making plans then. Now, let's get you back to bed, Duo, and have some dinner. I'm starving."

"But..."

"No 'buts' Duo," Wufei chided, picking up the injured teen and walking out the door, Quatre tossing the blanket over him as they went. "You're tired, hungry and worried, though you won't admit it. You need the rest. Just humour us, please?"

Duo sighed. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry, guys... Q... I know you're worried about Tro. I didn't..."

"Don't worry about it, Duo. Let's get you settled, then we can worry together. It's better than worrying alone..."

"I doubt there's anything to worry about. Both Trowa and Heero know what they're doing," Wufei said, turning the corner and stepping into the next hall. "They'll be fine..."

~*~

Zechs and Relena stopped short as Wufei, a blanket-wrapped Duo in his arms, turned the corner and nearly ran into them. Relena watched silently as her brother steadied his lover, then tucked a corner of the blanket tighter around the injured boy's bad arm.

"How are you today, Duo?" Zechs asked, concern evident in his tone.

"Not too bad, considering," Duo replied quietly. "I'd feel better if Heero and Trowa were back. I'm better suited to this type of mission, but I'm stuck here..." His voice trailed off, and Wufei could feel the slight tremble ripple through the slim body in his arms.

Relena knew the moment Duo realised she was there. He suddenly went silent, and his face paled. She looked at him and could see something like fear, or near panic in his eyes as he glanced at her, before turning his face into Wufei's sweater. Moving her eyes to Wufei and Quatre, she could see anger beneath the protectiveness towards the injured teen in both of their faces. Wanting to avoid any outbursts, she stepped forward.

"Good evening Duo, Quatre, Wufei," she said softly. "I hope you're feeling better, Duo. I've heard you were ill and badly injured."

She winced inwardly as Duo flinched when she addressed him, but continued on in the awkward silence, surprising herself at wanting to calm the braided boy. "I've heard good things about Sally Po, and with her as your doctor, I'm sure you'll be good as new in no time."

Wufei narrowed his eyes at Relena, trying to figure out what she was up to, but he couldn't detect anything but sincerity in her tone. Nodding, he gave his passenger a slight squeeze, and answered the blonde girl for him. "Yes, Sally is a fine doctor. We're all lucky that she's here." He raised an eyebrow at Zechs, his eyes conveying their need to talk later.

Quatre stepped forward and nodded at the siblings. "Good evening Zechs, Relena. I'm sorry we can't stay and talk, but the halls are chilly and we don't want Duo's bronchitis to flare up. Plus, he's tired and we need to get him back in bed," he said politely, but slightly distantly. "If you'll excuse us for now, perhaps we can talk again tomorrow or something." Without waiting for a reply, he motioned the guards behind him to continue ahead of them, gave Wufei a slight push towards Duo's room, and followed behind them.

~*~

Wufei gently set Duo on his bed, removed his shoes and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders. His braided friend hadn't stopped trembling since running into Relena, and his silence was beginning to concern the Chinese teen.

"Duo?" Wufei murmured, brushing Duo's hair away from his face. Duo refused to make eye contact. "Come on, Duo, talk to us. It's all over now..."

Quatre stepped up beside Wufei and lightly stroked the fingers poking out of the cast on Duo's arm. "She wasn't bad, Duo. She didn't make one nasty comment, sounded honestly concerned..."

"For a change..." Wufei muttered under his breath. Quatre shot Wufei a glare, then turned back to their injured friend and continued.

"... and she didn't mention Heero once. That's a serious change from her usual behavior. Maybe she's starting to come around." **Though... even if she *is* changing, I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive her,** he thought.

Duo raised wary eyes to his friends and sighed. "And maybe this is some kind of new scheme. 'Make nice to Duo to get to Heero', then once she has him, 'toss the dirty streetrat out with the rest of the garbage'..."

"I never want to hear you refer to yourself that way again!" Wufei snarled, grasping Duo's shoulder. "You are *not* a dirty streetrat! You are *not* garbage! You are not a whore, or a liar, or stupid, or anything else Relena has called you!" At Quatre slight gasp, he suppressed his anger, shook his head and cupped Duo's chin. "You just don't get it, do you? And I don't know how to get through to you..." With a sigh, he turned and left the room.

Quatre stared after him for a moment, then turned back to Duo. The other boy's eyes were wide and confused, and Quatre almost felt like chuckling at his expression. The situation was too serious for that though. He'd always known Duo had low self-esteem, but he hadn't realised how bad it really was. With a sad sigh, he sat down on the edge of the bed.

"You just don't see yourself as we see you, do you, Duo?" he said softly. "You just see the lonely little boy from the streets. The one everyone mocked, teased and abused. The one who kept losing the things he cared about. The one who has to keep proving to the world that he's worth something..."

"But..."

"No, 'buts', barâdar. I *know* I'm right," he said with a smile, tapping his chest. "I *know* how you really feel. I also know it's driving Wufei crazy. He can't understand where you're coming from. He doesn't understand why you don't see yourself as the bright, caring, thoughtful, important person he knows you are... and it hurts him when you put yourself down or call yourself stupid or trash."

Quatre took Duo's good hand and squeezed. "I know you're not as bad as you used to be. You *are* more confident now, and I realise it's just Relena's presence that's causing all of the self-doubt again. Wufei doesn't see that..."

"I didn't," Wufei said from the doorway, "but I think I understand a little more now." He made his way back to the bed and gave Duo a small, sheepish smile. "I'm sorry for my outburst, but, sometimes you just frustrate me so." He pulled a chair over and sat down. "Let's make a deal. You try not to let Relena get to you this way, try not to lose your self-confidence, and try to think better of yourself... and I'll try not to get so frustrated and angry when you occasionally slip up?"

At Duo's nod and weak grin, Wufei sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Good. Now, Maxwell, you take a nap. We should be hearing from Yuy and Barton soon, and I don't want to be the one to have to explain that we let you exhaust yourself in their absence!"

~*~

Sally knocked on the door and walked in quietly, her face grave. She didn't know how she was going to do this…

Wufei looked up from where he sat, at Duo's side, and the braided teen opened his eyes blearily. "Sal? What's up?"

She pulled a chair up close. "We just got a short radio message from the plane. They are inbound, and the mission was successful."

But?" Quatre asked, his sharp eyes noting the tension in Sally's body.

She turned and looked him in the eye firmly. "Trowa was injured as they got out. Now he's okay," she said quickly, as Quatre began to speak. "Heero said he took a bullet to the shoulder, but it was a clean shot. He lost a lot of blood and he's out cold, but he will be fine once he wakes up."

Wufei held Quatre in his seat with a firm hold on his shoulder. "Anything else?"

Sally shook her head and looked away. "No, that's all they said." There was a moment of awkward silence before she stood and headed towards the door. "I'd better go and let Treize know." She stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "You three going to be okay?"

Wrapping an arm around Quatre's shoulders, Wufei nodded. "We will be."

He pulled Quatre against his side and squeezed him tight.

~*~

Relena and Zechs had been enjoying their time together, while Noin arranged dinner for them all. By unspoken agreement, both had avoided any subjects that would put them at odds, or make the other one uncomfortable. Most of the discussion revolved around their separate childhoods.

Zechs laughed as Relena told him about one episode where she had frightened everyone by disappearing for hours one day when she was six years old. "How was I supposed to know that the hole in the hill was actually a small cave, and not a rabbit hole to take me to Wonderland? I just wanted to see the talking rabbit. I didn't know it was just a story..." She broke off and looked to the door as it burst open.

Noin hurried into the conference room, papers in her hands and annoyance on her face. Dropping the papers in front of Relena and Zechs, she threw herself into a chair and frowned.

"We have a problem, Relena," she said shortly. "It looks like a couple of the neutral nations near Sanc are planning to join OZ. We've still got a couple of neutrals between us and them, but how long they'll hold out is anyone's guess. We really need to get back to Sanc and see what we can do to keep the others with us."

"If things are getting dangerous, I want her to stay here!" Zechs interrupted, grasping one of his younger sister's hands in his. "She has to stay safe!"

"Milliardo, stop," Relena replied, squeezing his hand. "I'll have Noin and her people with me. I'll be perfectly safe with *our* sister. You have to agree that she'll take good care of me... why else did you send her in the first place?" The blonde girl smiled almost shyly at the older woman, a silent apology for her previous treatment evident to Noin.

"She has you there, Zechs," Noin replied with a wink to the other girl. "Don't worry, I'll make sure she stays safe. Now, get Treize, Une and Sally in here, while I call the hangar and get our plane ready. We should let them know what's going on, and we have to leave as soon as possible."

~*~

Une winced as she entered the conference room. She had no desire to face Relena again, but Zechs had said her presence was required at this impromptu meeting, so here she was. Treize and Sally were already seated at the large table, going over some papers with Noin, Relena and Zechs, so she sighed and joined them.

"Ah, Une," Sally said, motioning the other woman to a seat, "Noin and Relena have gotten some disturbing news, and they're going back to Sanc tonight. Look these over and tell us what you think, would you?"

Une took the offered papers and read them quickly. Clearing her throat, she looked at Noin, then Relena. "Well, I'd say you have some time, but not a lot. You've still got two small countries between you and the... defectors, for lack of a better word..." She hesitated, then continued. "You need more information... how long will they hold out, what are Romefeller's plans for you and Sanc, how soon do they plan to move... I think I know..."

Une hesitated again, dropping her eyes back to the table in front of her.

"Lady Une," Relena's voice had the woman looking up again, "you and I have our differences, but if you have an idea that can save my people, I will be in your debt..."

Une stared into Relena's eyes for a moment, then nodded slightly. Her demeanor changed, the 'Colonel' taking over. "I know of someone, deep within the Foundation who would be perfect. She's trusted by Barton and Dermail, to a point. However, she's actually been working for us..."

Treize stared at Une for a moment, then laughed. "My dear Lady... are you implying that we ask *Dorothy* to join Relena in Sanc? While it would be amusing, in a sort of morbid way... no, you're right! Dermail would think he finally had someone in Sanc, to undermine Relena, when in reality, Doro would be feeding us everything she can get out of them."

Zechs winced. "But 'Dorothy'?! She... it won't... well, shit!" The blond blushed at his own outburst. "Sorry, but are you sure?"

Une nodded. "She's perfect. You know most of her posturing is all an act, Zechs. It keeps Dermail happy, and he'll jump at the chance to get Dorothy into the Sanc Palace..."

Noin raised her hand. "I hate to rush everyone, but we've got to leave soon. Would someone tell me what we're getting ourselves into?"

Treize grinned, and leaned back in his chair. "Well, Doro is... Dorothy Catalonia is my cousin..."

~*~

Noin and Relena watched from the Control Room as a small plane glided in to a perfect landing and taxied to a stop on the short runway. Their plane was ready and they'd be leaving as soon as the runway was clear.

Relena trembled a little - she'd heard the argument that had ensued when Quatre told Duo point-blank that he was not meeting the plane with them. She'd never heard the blond sounding so sharp with one of his fellow pilots - 'For the last time, Duo, you are *not* going! We have little enough time before the satellite passes overhead, again, too little to be dealing with *two* injured people. Do I need to make that an order?!'

She sighed and leaned her head against the window. She hadn't bothered asking - if Duo wasn't welcome to greet the arrivals, then she certainly wouldn't be, either.

~*~

Marco hadn't yet shut down the plane's engines before Quatre ran forward, out of the safety zone. Wufei started to follow him, only to be held back by Treize. "No, let him go. He needs to see Trowa with his own eyes right now." Wufei turned and looked up to see Treize and Zechs sharing a look of understanding.

By the time the engines were off, Heero already had the door of the plane open, and Quatre charged up- "Heero, where is he? Is he okay? How much blood did he lose? How did..."

A strong grip arrested his movements, and Quatre stopped speaking only long enough to glare at his Japanese friend, who was holding his shoulders firmly. "Slow down, Winner. He's just fine..."

"Quatre?"

Both turned as a quiet voice called from the back of the plane, and Quatre threw Heero's hands off to head back in that direction. "I'm right here, Trowa."

The blond's eyes went wide as he took in the bandages around Trowa's shoulder and upper arm. "That was more than what you made it sound like. Heero! What the hell..."

Trowa reached up weakly to catch his lover's hand. "He saved my life, Quatre. Whoever that was... I think she recognised him. She heard him yell and missed her shot. She left..."

Quatre looked shocked. "*Missed?!* You call *that* missing a shot?!"

Trowa managed a weak smile. "When the gun was aimed at my heart, yes."

They were all silent as Heero helped Quatre maneuver the injured pilot to a sitting, then a standing position. Trowa was more than a little wobbly as they got him up and out of the plane.

Sally was waiting at the foot of the stairs, a wheelchair sitting in front of her and an expression on her face that brooked no argument. "In the chair, Barton. We need to get you inside and take a look at that shoulder."

Trowa didn't fight it, but looked up at her as he sat. "Heero already stitched it up..."

"Did he?" Sally shot the Japanese pilot a look. "We still need to get you on an IV..."

"Gave me a transfusion, too..." Trowa was already nodding off as Quatre began pushing the chair towards the infirmary.

"Ma'am!"

She turned just as Johann Marco ran up to her side. He spoke in a low tone. "Athena passed this to us via the pilots. I took the time to translate it while the plane was on autopilot. You need to read it. Now."

~*~

Wufei walked up to Heero's side quickly. "Duo's fine - we didn't want to bring him out here, though, too much of a risk..."

"I understand that," Heero interrupted shortly, giving his friend a reassuring nod. He looked past Wufei to Treize, who was waiting as calmly as he could manage, just beyond them. "Treize, there's someone here you should meet."

The tall man shivered a little, and it wasn't from the breeze. If not for the reassuring warmth of Zechs' hand on his back and Wufei's gaze, he didn't think he'd even still be standing, as nervous as he was! He nodded to Heero. "Indeed. Please lead the way."

A ghost of a smile formed on Heero's lips as he turned to board the plane again, three people following him. He walked straight to a set of seats and a blanket-covered mound, safely tucked into the seat belts. "Hey, Marie. Marie, time to wake up!"

Wufei stared, shocked. Was that *Heero*, speaking in such a soft voice? To someone other than Duo? And using a *nickname*?

His breath caught, though, as Treize stiffened at his side-the bundle of blankets was stirring, and they could just see Heero's face softening into a smile as a small voice piped up. "Are we there yet?"

"Yes, we are, and there's someone here who really wants to meet you, okay?"

The small girl sat up, her hair askew, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Kay." She held her arms up to be lifted.

Heero indulged her and scooped her up gently. He turned back to them all, and at his side, Wufei heard Treize gasp in shock.

"Marie, you see that good-looking, tall guy right there? He's your dad, and we brought you here to meet him."

Wufei and Zechs carefully watched their lover's face- the shock that had been there was quickly fading into a warm, radiant smile, and tears were forming in the corners of his eyes.

Treize took one step forward, then practically ran the few steps closer. "Mariemeia... my Mariemeia. I'm Treize."

She smiled at him - he really *was* tall! She held out her little hand. "Nice to meet you! I'm Mariemeia Kushrenada."

Zechs and Wufei hid their smiles as Treize shook her hand and gave her a small, but heartfelt, bow.

Heero handed the child over with a small smile.

Mariemeia stared up into her father's face curiously. "You have eyebrows like mine. Uncle Trowa said you did."

"Uncle Trowa, eh?"

Marie giggled and nodded. "His name's Barton, just like Mummy's."

"So it is." He caught a look from Zechs who, through his smile, tapped at his wristwatch. He nodded. "Hey, Marie - what do you say we go inside where it's warm and we can talk a little? I can get you some hot chocolate..."

Her eyes widened. "I can have chocolate here?"

The ginger-haired aristocrat laughed, though inside, his heart wrenched at the thought that Dekim had forbidden this girl-child anything. "My darling girl, you could ask me for all of the stars in the sky right now and I'd say yes."

She blushed a little and finally relaxed enough to wind her little arms around his neck. "Oh, okay. But I really *would* like some chocolate."

"All right - cocoa it is! But then I think you need to get some real sleep, little one..."

Zechs smiled as he watched Treize walking down the stairs, happily chatting with his daughter. "And he was worried about meeting her! What a sweet kid!"

Heero nodded. "That she is. She even insisted on singing Trowa a song - she said her nanny used to sing to her when she was hurt or scared, and it made it all better."

Wufei smiled as he approached. The girl had to be something, to have gotten so far under Heero's skin so quickly. He put a hand on the other teen's shoulder. "We're going to follow them. Care to join us?"

Heero blinked. "Me?"

Wufei and Zechs shared a little smile. "Yes, you. Go and check in on Duo, then meet us at the small conference room. It will be good for her to have a more familiar face there and..." Wufei's eyes gleamed with amusement. "She should get to know her Uncle Heero, too."

~*~

Noin and Relena stepped out of the Control Room, on their way to their plane, and nearly ran into Heero as he hurried towards the infirmary. Noin put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.

"Easy there, Heero. Duo's not going anywhere. Quatre made it very clear that he was to stay put."

Heero blinked then nodded slightly. "Noin, Relena," he said, voice polite but short. Seeing their plane move out onto the runway, he continued. "Hn. You're leaving."

"Yes, we are," Relena said softly. "There are some problems with the other neutral nations that we have to address, and plans to make. Noin found out that a couple have gone over to Romefeller. We have to keep the others from following suit."

"Good luck and safe trip," the Japanese teen said, turning back towards the infirmary. Relena's voice stopped him before he had taken more than a couple of steps.

"Heero, take care of Duo," she said, voice breaking slightly as she finally accepted the loss of her dreams. "You're very lucky to have found him..."

Heero looked over his shoulder and gifted her with a small smile. "I know," he said, and hurried off to the injured teen.

Relena bowed her head for a moment, then straightened. "Well, Noin, shall we? We have a lot of work to do."

Noin chuckled slightly and put her arm around the blonde's shoulders, leading her to the runway. "Not to mention we have about fifteen minutes before the satellite comes into range. It might be a good idea to be gone before that happens. I really don't want Heero hunting us down because we gave away the location of the base by our own tardiness... Or Duo, for that matter," she said with another chuckle as they approached the boarding stairs. "I can just imagine what *his* revenge would be..."

Mounting the stairs, Relena giggled and looked over her shoulder. "Oh, no... not Duo. Heero would only kill us... Duo would never let us live it down..."

~*~

Heero rushed to Duo's room, and quietly stepped inside with a nod to the guards on the door. His lover was propped up against some pillows, frowning and muttering curses - most of which had to do with Quatre and Wufei's anatomy. He had to laugh, though, when Duo seemed to run out of ideas and had to settle for 'a plague on both their houses!'.

"Duo... quoting Shakespeare now? I knew that Ancient Literature class at the boarding school in England would be beneficial," he said, smiling.

Duo looked up at the laugh and grinned sheepishly at the Japanese pilot. "Yeah, well, you missed all of the really good ones." He sobered, a worried expression crossing his face, and looked his lover over carefully as he approached and sat on the edge of the bed. "You're all right? Sally said Trowa was shot..."

Heero leaned over and kissed the braided teen deeply, pulling back only when Duo was humming softly with pleasure. With a final nibble on the boy's bottom lip, he sat up and brushed the bangs out of Duo's eyes.

"I'm fine. Not so much as a bruise. Trowa took a bullet in the shoulder, nasty, but it will heal just fine."

"The little girl?" Duo asked, eyes narrowing in concern.

"Marie is just fine. Treize is probably filling her with hot chocolate right now." Heero sighed slightly, then smiled softly at his lover. "She was such a trooper. Frightened, of course, but she didn't scream, or cry or anything... until she thought I was going to hurt the maid - who turned out to be Sally's agent Athena, by the way. Then she got mad and demanded to know what we were doing." His eyes filled with a kind of wonder, and Duo smiled at him, squeezing his hand tightly.

"Even during the firefight, she... she was so scared then, but she did what we told her. I carried her after Trowa was hit, and she held on so tight..." He shook his head. "She kind of reminds me of you. She wasn't afraid of *me*. She trusted me. When we got to the safe house, and then to the plane, she wasn't worried about what would happen to her. She had to make sure I was all right, then sang Trowa songs 'because Nanny always sang them to me when I was sick or scared'," he said, imitating Marie's tone.

"She sounds wonderful," Duo said, leaning in to kiss his lover's temple. "When do I get to meet her?"

Heero turned his head and caught the braided teen's lips for a quick kiss. "Tomorrow? Treize mentioned giving her chocolate then putting her to bed. She fell asleep on the plane, and with the time change, she's probably exhausted." He looked at his lover closely, seeing the slight bruising under his eyes. "You need some sleep, as well. Have you eaten?"

Duo nodded. "I ate. And you know I don't sleep well when you're on a mission. Now that you're back, I'll sleep just fine. You, however, should get cleaned up, and check on Trowa and Marie. She's most likely a little confused... and she's used to you now..."

Heero nodded and stood. "Wufei did mention that she might be more comfortable with at least a semi-familiar face..." He cocked his head slightly. "Duo, do you think I'd make a decent uncle?"

Duo blinked, then grinned. "The best, H'ro. Now, go, shoo, shower, see to Marie," he said, waving him towards the door. "Oh! And tell Sal to bring Trowa in here. I'm bed-bound until the various mother hens decide to stop punishing me, so I may as well keep an eye on Tro while you guys do your debriefing and plans and everything else... but I want details, dammit!"

Heero walked back to the bed and kissed the braided teen hard. "Relena was right. I *am* very lucky to have found you," he said against his lips, then spun around and hurried out the door, leaving a stunned Duo staring after him.

~*~

Sally Po knocked softly on the door and waited for an acknowledgement before she pushed it open and walked in – the pilots had discussed it, and decided to let Duo watch over Trowa as he slept. She walked right up to the bedside and leaned over to take a closer look at the tall teen. He was still terribly pale, but he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, no longer shivering as his body tried to keep up its warmth.

Duo gave her a small smile. "T-rex is tough, Sal. He'll be okay."

She cocked an eyebrow. "T-rex?"

He nodded. "T-rex and the Q-Raptor. Two of the toughest damned guys in the Earth Sphere. Don't worry."

She smiled – he was obviously trying to calm her down, even though she could see his own fear for his friend in the slight squint of his eyes that wrinkled his forehead ever so minutely. "I know. Listen, Duo – we need to talk some business, and soon, but I wanted…"

His smile drooped a little – he could see that something was bothering her, and he'd never seen her this upset before. "Sally?"

The tall woman sat down at his side and reached for his hand. "Duo, Trowa said that his attacker seemed to recognise Heero, somehow, and I think I know how…"

~*~

Everyone could tell that something was wrong immediately, as they walked into the room. The infirmary was kept very warm for the patients' protection, but it seemed cold in the room, and it only took a moment to figure out why. Propped up on a pile of pillows, Duo Maxwell was sitting ramrod straight, his eyes flashing with a look that no one – not even Heero – could meet for long.

Heero stopped short, staring at his lover. "What is it?"

"Sit down, Heero," Duo said clearly, his voice ringing with a tone of command.

Everyone filed in silently, and Johann shut the door behind the last person, locking it for safety. He took a seat and gestured for Sally to begin.

The blonde doctor clasped her hands tightly. "The report that you brought in, gentlemen, contained some extremely sensitive information. I shared it with Duo first…"

She held her hands up for silence as Quatre and Treize both looked like they were about to object. "I had my reasons, so deal with it. The news was… shocking, to say the least."

She pinned Trowa with a look. "Trowa, the person who attacked you was Wessex's experiment. She turned to look Heero straight in the eye. "Her name is Bravo – she doesn't know if she has ever had any other name. She is approximately sixteen years old. But most importantly… She isn't originally from Earth. According to Athena… Bravo was part of an experiment funded by the Barton Foundation, out in the Colonies. She is a trained human weapon, genetically altered to transform her into a kind of evolved human. And she wasn't the first."

Pale as a ghost, Heero began to tremble, and Duo wrapped his good arm around him. Heero gripped his hand tightly – almost painfully so. "No, she wasn't. I was."

He looked up into Duo's eyes, and the braided teen shivered at the fear and hurt he saw there.

Heero's grip tightened, but Duo didn't dare to say a word about it. "I think I should start at the beginning."

TBC


 

On to Chapter 23

Back to Preventers' HQ

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