Treize took a drink of his coffee, looked around the conference room and waited until everyone - minus Trowa and Heero - were settled.
"All right. We have a crisis and we have to set up some damage control. For the benefit of Farley and the bodyguards... at approximately 2200, Duo and Quatre 'hijacked' Gio's plane, intent on attacking Dekim Barton and Duke Dermail on Dermail's estate in Boston. Sergeant Dabrowski accompanied them..."
"Those bloody idiots," Ines growled. "I knew something was up when Rad didn't come back...
"Yes, well, I for one am glad he's with them," Sally said quickly. "The boys were Hell-bent on doing this... at least they have someone to watch their backs. Now, we have to figure out what to do on our end."
"Send someone after them, drag them back here and spank them," Une muttered. Tense chuckles followed her comments.
"I threatened to shoot them down myself," Howard said, nodding at Une. "Anyway, nothing would have stopped Duo, in his current state. He's not thinking rationally now..."
"That's putting it mildly, isn't it?" Zechs said sarcastically.
Howard threw the blond a dark look and continued. "Wufei may have seen him like this once or twice..." The Chinese teen nodded slightly and Howard sighed. "Until now, you've only seen one side of him. I call it the real Duo. But... You have to understand something about him. He's lost everything he's ever had in his life, including everyone he's ever loved. He has a lot of anger and bitterness inside of him, and when it comes out..." Howard shrugged his shoulders eloquently. "When it comes out, he becomes a different person, almost literally. Since this episode was triggered by something happening to Heero... I'm surprised Quatre had the balls to go after him. I don't think I would have."
"Quatre is feeding off Duo, and to an extent Heero," Wufei supplied. "Their anger and pain have become his own, and he is reacting to it. Quatre is extremely protective of those people he considers *his*. Trowa is *his* lover. Heero and I are *his* friends. Duo is *his* brother. Hurt something of *his* and the kind, thoughtful, calm young man disappears, and is replaced by a person who doesn't hold anything back. He lets it all out - all the pain and the rage. There are times when he's scarier than the rest of us, combined."
He cocked his head and looked thoughtful. "To some degree, we are all like that. If Duo were in Heero's place, Heero would be out there, hunting Barton. If Barton had used Quatre as the experiment, Trowa would be the one in a murderous rage. I, myself, have a great need to make Barton regret the day he was conceived, but I know I'm needed more here, for Heero and Trowa."
"But... *we've* hurt you all, at some point or another," Une said, confusion clear on her face, her hand clutching Walker's like a life-line.
"True," Wufei replied calmly, "but did you do it as an experiment? Did you do it because you got some sick sense of pleasure from it? Did you enjoy the pain you caused? No, Une, we were soldiers on different sides of a war. We fought against each other, and in battle, people get hurt... people die. That is the way war is... and revenge is a moot point."
Everyone was quiet, lost in their own thoughts, when Wufei finished.
"That helps to understand you all a little better," Sally said slowly, breaking the silence, "but now what? What do we do about Heero when he wakes up? And that won't take too long. The sedative I gave him would keep a normal person out for nearly 24 hours, especially combined with his level of stress and exhaustion. But considering what we now know about Heero, we'll be very lucky if it lasts 10 or 12 hours... what happens when he wakes up and his ill, injured lover is out endangering himself on a mission of revenge?"
"Leave that to Trowa and me," Wufei replied. "Between us, we can manage him... I think. He knows Duo can take care of himself, and if he knows that Quatre and Dabrowski are with him - well, he won't be calm, but he'll wait." He shook his head and smirked slightly. "God help Duo when he gets back..."
"The radio operators have instructions to inform me the minute they make contact with them," Howard said with a sigh. "From what Sally's told me, I doubt we'll hear anything for about 18 hours. They won't break radio silence until they're well on their way back. For now, I think we just be ready for any contingency and keep Heero and Trowa from destroying everything in a fit of pique... and we wait."
Sally nodded. "We should all get some sleep, as difficult as that may be. Treize, I'll check Marie over in the morning, she's exhausted enough that she should sleep through the night. Ines, if you would bunk in with her..."
"Sure. I don't mind another night in this nice warm infirmary. Just let me grab a pillow and some blankets. She's in the small conference room, right?" At Sally's nod, she stood, and turned to Treize. "Don't worry, sir. I'll take good care of the munchkin." and she left the room.
Howard stood as well. "I've still got some work to do. If you need me, I'll be in the hangar."
"At one in the morning?" Zechs asked incredulously. The older man just shrugged and left.
"He's taking this very badly," Walker said, clearing his throat. "You didn't see him in the control room... Une, I think... maybe I should go stay with him..."
Une nodded quickly. "Yes, do. He may need you later. Try and see that he at least gets some rest."
Walker leaned over and kissed her deeply, disregarding their audience. "That's my girl," he said with a grin, then ran out after the older engineer.
Treize stood and yawned. "I think we should all take that advice. Wufei, I'm going to assume you'll want to stay with Heero and Trowa, just in case. It may be crowded, but I think we can all fit in there. Let's go find some cots."
At Wufei's look of surprise, Treize chuckled. "You didn't honestly think we were going to leave you alone to the tender mercies of an angry Heero Yuy, did you?" He pushed his younger lovers out the door, and called over his shoulder, "Farley, where do you keep the spare cots?"
Farley jumped up and with a sheepish grin at Sally and Une, followed them out.
"Well, Une, I guess that leaves you and me..."
"Sally, these couches are quite comfortable, and blankets and pillows are already in here, thanks to our wayward pilot. What do you think of just sleeping in here?"
Sally sighed, moved to a couch and laid down, watching as Une turned out the lights and took the one opposite her.
"I think it's a better idea than sleeping alone tonight..."
Rad leaned back in his seat and feigned sleep, while his mind worked double-time. When he had decided to chase down the boys, he hadn't realised how serious the situation was. He had entered the cockpit just in time to hear Duo nearly beg the pilot, Gio, to take him, and his anger had risen as he heard why.
Radislow Dabroski was a career military man. He had joined up at eighteen, and had been a heavy machinery mechanic for the last 22 years. In that time, he'd seen and experienced a lot of things, many of them not good. He'd seen death and cruelty plenty, before and during the war. When OZ had attacked the Alliance, his commander had refused to join them and sought out Po, the majority of the troops under him following. Since then, they'd been working against OZ...
He gave a mental sigh. **Funny how things work out,** he thought. **Six months ago we were fighting Kushrenada, now we're working *with* him to get rid of Romefeller. Stranger, still, the Gundam pilots are with us, too. Who'd have thought *that* would happen... or that I'd be on my way to Boston, on a seek and destroy mission, bodyguard to one of those pilots - who's still ill and injured, but so enraged that he'd risk it all...**
Rad shifted slightly in his seat, cracking one eye open to look at his charge, and sighed again. He liked him. Hell, he liked all of them, but if he'd ever had a son, he would have wanted him to be like Duo. The boy was honest, courageous, thoughtful, cheerful... Okay, he could do without the tendency towards revenge and homicide, but given what he'd heard about the situation, he really couldn't blame him.
**If I'm honest with myself, and if I were him, I'd be doing exactly what he is. Regardless of the consequences. Hm...**
"...are our choices. My vote is land at the same strip. They won't expect that," Duo's voice broke into the large man's thoughts. He thought he could hear a slight strain in the tone, and began watching the braided boy more closely.
"True," Quatre replied. "And it's pretty close to the estate. Gio can stay with..."
"I don't think so, kid," the woman said darkly. "I'll be watching your asses while you create havoc. I'll put this baby on the edge of the field, engage the cloak and go with you. Somebody has to watch your backs... and that hulking jarhead," she waved at Rad, "is going in with you!"
Duo took a breath and winced in pain, then his face lost all expression again and he nodded. Rad's eyes narrowed.
**Damn, the kid's tough.** He moved his gaze to Quatre, not evening pretending to be asleep any more, and noted the steely glint in his eyes. **Hell, they both are...**
"Fine. Then here's the plan," the blond said shortly. "We land, acquire a vehicle, and go in - it will still be dark when we get there. Target one is Dekim Barton. Target two is Dermail. Hit and run, people. Gio, you stay outside, under cover as a look-out... Rad, you're with us. Are you sure..." His eyes softened minutely as he looked quickly at Duo, then hardened again as he turned back to the older man.
"Kid, I've been a soldier longer than you've been alive. I know what to do," Rad growled, the slight tilt of his head towards the braided pilot the only indicator that he knew exactly what Quatre meant. The short blond looked at him for a moment and nodded, then turned back to the map in front of him.
**So, blondie also realises the little man is holding on by his finger tips. Hopefully, he'll hold on long enough... but when it's over... Duo is going to fall. And fall hard.** Rad picked up his gun and started checking it over. **At least I'll be there to catch him...**
Heero woke suddenly, the early morning sun warming his face, but laid still, keeping his breathing slow and steady. Something wasn't quite right...
His mind jumped back to the previous day, and he groaned silently. **I can't believe I lost control like that. I broke down in front of my enemies... no, not enemies. They're not really friends, yet, either. Allies, then, for now... but I still should have been in control, not let the past overwhelm me. The others had difficult childhoods, if you can call them that, as well. Duo's was worse than mine...** The thought of his injured lover having to endure his breakdown brought feelings of guilt to the Japanese teen.
**He shouldn't have had to witness that. He has enough to deal with. He didn't need the extra stress -**
*That* was what wasn't right. Duo wasn't beside him. Heero opened his eyes abruptly and found himself face to face with Wufei, Zechs and Treize standing just behind him. All three looked tired and worn.
"I knew you were awake," Wufei replied, one corner of his mouth twitching. When his Japanese friend opened his mouth, he raised his hand and continued. "Duo, Quatre and Dabrowski hijacked Gio's plane last night, and are, right now, probably wreaking havoc, mayhem and pain on Dermail and Barton..."
"Wufei!" Zechs exclaimed, surprised at his lover's bluntness. "You shouldn't..."
"No," Trowa said softly from the other bed, "that's the only way to tell him. He needs to know, and won't appreciate us beating around the bush."
Heero looked at Trowa, seeing his concern and fear for the absent teens, and nodded, face hardening. He sat up, pushed the blankets aside and rose from the bed.
"Treize, I'll need your fastest plane. What time did they leave? Estimated amount of resistance they'll encounter?" He walked past the trio, intent on the door, when Wufei's hand on his arm stopped him.
"Heero," Wufei said sternly, "you can't catch them. Even in our fastest plane, they'll be on their way back before you even get there." He sighed and shook his head. "No, Heero, the best thing you can do is stay here and wait, like the rest of us. You know Duo... this isn't really a difficult mission - "
The Japanese pilot shook off his friend's hand. "It *is* difficult!" he nearly shouted, cold, hard mask disappearing. "Duo is still sick! He's still injured, and can barely walk on his own, much less fight! What if - "
"Heero!" Trowa said sharply, levering himself carefully out of bed and moving to the other boy's side. With his good hand, he grasped Heero's chin and forced the teen to look at him. "He's not Duo right now!" He nodded as Heero's eyes widened. "'Shinigami' is in control. He made Sally remove his cast, by sheer force of will."
"And regardless of his physical well-being," Treize said, rubbing his cheek and remembering how close the knife came, "he's no slouch with a knife. I can still feel it pass my cheek..."
Heero glanced at the older man, then turned his attention back to Trowa. "Quatre?" he asked quietly, calming down.
The taller teen shrugged his good shoulder. "Is not our Quatre at the moment. He's picked up on yours and Duo's pain and anger..." he said, voice trailing off and ending in a sigh, leaning forward and resting his forehead on Heero's.
Wufei joined the two and placed a hand on each shoulder. "Trust them," he said calmly. "Quatre will have a good plan. You know this. They've gone through harder 'missions' together before. They will come back. Have a little faith in them."
Treize and Zechs stepped forward to flank the three pilots, offering support.
"They're not alone," Treize said. "Sergeant Dabrowski is with them. From what I've learned, the man is no slouch, and takes his responsibility very seriously. He'll take care of them both."
"And there's Gio," Zechs added. "Howard says she's good... and speaking of Howard..."
Heero sighed and raised his head. "Howard won't be taking this well. Duo is very important to him..."
Trowa nodded, moved away, and began to slowly dress, Heero doing likewise.
"What...?" Zechs asked, leaning down to whisper in Wufei's ear.
"They're going to wait with Howard," Wufei whispered back, watching Trowa lean on Heero as they walked to the door. "I'll have to have breakfast sent to them, not that they'll eat any of it..."
"When they get back," Heero threw over his shoulder, "I'm going to - "
"We know what you're going to do, Heero," Wufei said, the small smile belying the derisive tone of his voice. "You'll chain Duo to your side, won't let him leave your sight even to take a piss, and you'll baby him until even he's ready to scream... just like you always do..."
Sally knocked lightly on the door to the small conference room before walking in, the smile on her face at odds with the stress and worry in her eyes. Neither she nor Une had slept particularly well, and the other woman had rushed to the control room with a hurried 'I'll see you at breakfast' to see if there was any word.
"Good morning, Dr. Po," Ines said, sitting on the floor next to the couch in a nest of blankets. She put aside her book and reached over to shake Marie's shoulder gently. "Hey, Marie, we have company. Come on sweetheart, wake up and say 'hi' to Doctor Po."
The two older women watched in amusement as the little girl poked her head out of the blankets, rubbing her eyes sleepily.
"Is't morning?" Marie mumbled, brushing her hair out of her face with her small hands.
"Yep," Ines said grinning. "It's morning, and Dr. Po is here to give you a quick check up, before your dad comes to take you to breakfast. Oh, no you don't," she said with a laugh and a well placed tickle as the little girl started to pull the covers over her head. "You promised if I read to you, you'd still get up when the time came."
"'The ECM senses ambient air temperature and retards...'" Marie parrotted between giggles, "'the timing of the engine in cold weather so the injector sprays the fuel at a later time...'"
"Ines..." Sally said with a chuckle, "what *were* you reading to Marie?"
"Ah, well, one of my older diesel manuals," the other woman said, lifting Marie off the couch and sitting her in a chair. "Now, munchkin, let Sally check you over quick, then we'll get you cleaned up for breakfast, okay?"
"Okay, Ines," Marie replied cheerfully. "Umm, Dr. Po..."
"Just call me Sally," the woman replied, starting her quick examination. >
"Ummm, Sally, can we do this fast? I'm really hungry..."
"Sally!" Treize called as he rushed down the hall towards the doctor.
"Good morning Treize," she replied as he reached her. "Heero?"
"He and Trowa are in the hangar, with Howard," he said, running a hand through his hair. "He didn't... I'm not sure how he took the news. At first, he was ready to rush out and 'rescue' Duo all by himself. Wufei and Trowa talked him out of it. Now he just seems... well, like Heero; quiet, cold, detached..."
Sally nodded. "At least he's here and seems to be calm, then. That's the best we could expect." She clenched her fist and swore. "Damn it! I hate this waiting and not being able to do anything to help. Duo is out there, with only Quatre, Gio, and Dabrowski... he's ill and injured, and I have to stay here and be frustrated by my inability to do ANYTHING to keep him safe!"
"Easy, Sally," Treize said sympathetically, putting a hand on her shoulder. "That's the doctor in you, as well as the woman. Une just snarled at me when I asked if there was any news, so you're not alone." Another pat on her shoulder, and he steered her towards her office. "Now that I think about it, that 'woman' comment was fairly inappropriate. Zechs just mentioned taking Tallgeese and 'trashing that damned mansion, throwing Duo into the cockpit and bringing him home'. Wufei seems calm and reasonable, but his hand keeps straying towards his sword, and I've seen him look out at the hangar a couple of times. I, myself, would prefer to go and get him, then spank him senseless."
"Ah, well," he continued, opening the door to her office, "there isn't anything we can do but wait, hope for the best, and be ready for the worst. We should hear something soon. Now, what about Marie?"
"Dear God, Treize, I'm sorry! I've been rabbitting on about Duo and..."
"My dear doctor," the tall man cut in, "Duo is seriously injured, ill and in danger. My daughter is not. Or, I'll assume she's fine, since you've just come from seeing her."
"She *is* fine, Treize. A bit bruised in spots, no doubt from Barton's rough handling of her, but there's no signs of any fractures or serious injuries in the past. She's quite healthy, and very bright and well-adjusted."
"Excellent!" Treize said, a bright smile on his face. "So, may I, ah, can she..."
"Treize, go get your daughter, take her to breakfast, and spend some time with her. That's an order," Sally said sternly, waving him out of her office.
"Yes, ma'am!" the ex-general exclaimed over his shoulder as he rushed out the door.
Quatre fumed silently as he trailed Shinigami towards Duke Dermail's hillside mansion. He was angry for several reasons, the most important of which was the slight limp he could see in his friend's gait, up ahead. He knew without bothering to ask that Duo would tell him he was just fine, and he didn't want to make the other boy lie.
If Dermail and his ilk thought they could screw with a Gundam pilot and escape retribution, they had a strong lesson coming to them!
"Winner." He stopped and waited for Rad to catch up to him silently.
The tall soldier bent to whisper into the blond's ear, "I have to try this once more. Look at him - he's not fit for this exercise, and you know it."
Quatre stared up at the other man dispassionately. "No, he isn't. But it's not important. We've all been through worse, in worse condition than this, and he will not give up. I doubt even Heero could talk him out of this without bodily harm."
Rad grunted, his brow furrowed in annoyance. Quatre was right - even he, veteran of many battles that he was, was not willing to try and talk the braided teen out of this.
By the time he snapped out of his thoughts, Quatre had already faded into the shadows ahead, less than a flitting shadow between the trees.
Duo was stopped and waiting for them just below the terrace leading into the dining room, and waved his three companions in close. "I don't like this. It's a little too quiet, considering they had a major break-in only a little while ago. Our slimy-ass target might not be here anymore."
Gio growled at the very thought. "Slinking away with his tail between his legs, the fucking coward!"
"Hush." Quatre stared up at the darkened windows, deep in thought. He seemed to make up his mind quickly, and he turned back to them. "We're going in anyway. Gio, protect our backs. Let's synchronise our watches, in case we're separated - meet back here in thirty-five minutes, no more, is that clear?"
Everyone nodded, and Quatre turned to Duo, pulling a gun in either hand. He felt an odd sense of right in seeing that Duo was already gripping a combat knife in each hand, too. "Your show, Maxwell."
Duo nodded and put one of his knives between his teeth as he backed up a few paces and dashed forward, jumping and hauling himself over the wall at his head level with his good arm. Seconds later, he called down, "Clear." Without a word, Quatre and Rad followed.
Ahead of the others, Duo was sweating madly with the effort of keeping himself moving. His lungs felt like they were on fire, and he'd already resorted to wrapping a long scarf he'd had around his throat over his mouth and nose, as well, trying to forestall the coughs that he knew would come back with a vengeance the second his concentration slipped. His little jump had strained his still-healing ribs, too.
He froze, holding up a clenched fist to warn those behind him. Finally! A sign of life in this place!
He approached the door on his right carefully and pressed his ear to it.
Behind him still by several paces, Quatre felt something strange, and looked up. "02 "
The door Duo was pressed against seemed to explode outwards in a shower of splinters. The braided teen cursed as he scrambled away, fighting to maintain his balance-
A figure came shooting out at him, and Duo reacted automatically, one of his knives leaving his hand in a deadly, precise arc.
His eyes widened as a slender hand shot out and caught the knife in mid air, and he was forced to throw himself to the side with a strangled, "Shit!" as whoever it was threw it right back at him.
He rolled, the adrenaline pumping in his veins helping him keep the pain at bay as he grabbed his discarded knife from its place in the wall and attacked his attacker.
Rad snarled and began trying to push forward, but stopped when Quatre took a particularly strong grip on his arm. "Don't - you could get hit by mistake. Come on!" The blond dragged him along through the ruined doorway.
Duo reeled back as one of his attacker's blows connected - damn, but she was strong! Fortunately, he'd been training with Heero for long enough
It clicked. He dodged a kick and swept her legs out from under her. As she landed, he flipped a knife and held it ready to throw. "You gotta be Bravo."
She growled and glared as she jumped back to her feet. "Who's asking?"
"Very funny." He darted forward and swiped at her, and the fighting recommenced.
Quatre's eyes went wide as he stared down at the documents on the table, in front of him. "Rad, you *have* to take a look at this!"
The taller man came closer. "What is Christ!"
Quatre smirked as he grabbed the bag that was slung across his back and simply grabbed as much as he could, shoving it away. "No kidding. This trip might just be worth it Oh, lord " Paper scattered to the floor as he abruptly clutched at his chest.
Rad turned as he heard the blond beginning to pant brokenly behind him. "Oh shit - Duo!"