"As a matter of fact, something did. Trowa, could you pass me my bag, please?"
Trowa arched an eyebrow, but offered no comment as he passed a black backpack to Quatre.
The blond gave him a small smile. "Thanks. When Rad and I got past Duo and Bravo and into Dermail's office, we found it had been hastily secured - probably before the Duke and his household left. But someone else had pried open a file cabinet and had been by all appearances rifling though its contents on a table." He unzipped the bag and pulled out a large stack of papers. "I didn't have the time to look too carefully at it, so I grabbed it all."
Even Duo looked up curiously at that, from where his face had been buried in Heero's shoulder. Quatre continued, "Most of these files seem to have something to do with the Enforcer programme, though there are also some specs for some kind of ship in there, or at least that's what it looked like to me. Hey - now that I think about it, I don't think Bravo was actually waiting for us in there - I'd be willing to believe that she'd snuck in there, to begin with, and she attacked without looking because she didn't want anyone to know she had been there. Does that make sense? If she'd been left behind to guard the place, it would have been a prime opportunity for her to rifle for information."
Treize nodded along, but then blanched. He stood abruptly as though to pace the room, and frowned when he found it was too crowded to do so. "Now this is just a hypothesis," he ventured, "but what if she *is* the Enforcer project? Athena referred to her as Wessex's 'experiment' once. What if his goal is to create an army of Perfect Soldiers to act as 'enforcers' for Dermail's government? It would explain why she would be in that office and looking at that material - she wanted to know what they had planned for her and her comrades."
Heero stood up so abruptly that Duo nearly fell out of bed next to him. "They wouldn't!"
Wufei looked to the others - one glance told him that they were all ready to believe Treize was right, as sick as it seemed. He put a hand on the Japanese teen's shoulder. "Heero, please - we need you calm right now. *Duo* needs you."
Heero's blazing eyes pinned Wufei to the spot. "You have no idea what this could mean, Chang..."
"None of us do, Heero," Zechs interrupted him gently. "Wufei's right, though. We are going to need to sift through all this," he waved a hand at the pile of papers on the table, "and we'll need your help with it. I know this can't possibly be easy."
Sally Po looked up from where she sat, her nose buried in one of the files Quatre had stolen. "This report indicates that there might be more test subjects. It also mentions something about an incomplete treatment, as though Wessex was waiting for something "
Heero's fists were clenched tightly. "Waiting for Barton to complete it, no doubt. Doctor Po, I will need some help from you in getting through this-" he gestured to the pile of paper on the table. "I don't know enough about the medical side of what I went through, but I think it will be important."
Sally merely gave Heero a tight nod, her face pale.
"Heero?" Duo's voice was soft and hesitant as he forced himself to look up at his lover, a shaking hand reaching towards Heero's wrist.
The others watched, frankly shocked, as the Japanese teen deftly avoided Duo's touch and quickly scooped Quatre's stolen paperwork into his hands. He turned and left without a word. Sally stood and seemed to hesitate for a moment before she followed him out.
"Heero!" Duo's anguished cry came out as a bare whisper.
All eyes were riveted to the doorway.
Trowa broke off his stare, though, as he heard the smallest, quietest of sounds coming from his braided friend. Duo's wide eyes were dark with disbelief and shame, his hand still hanging, empty, in the air. Trowa carefully reached up and took hold of it, slowly lowering the American teen's arm back to his side.
Lady Une sputtered. "Of all the *where* did that boy " She spun away from the door and stalked to the bedside. "When I catch him, I'm going to "
Trowa spared a mutinous, angry glance in her direction, and Walker quickly stepped to her side, taking a firm hold of her elbow. "Une, I think we should go for a walk."
Wufei pulled away from his own lovers to move to Trowa's side, one hand resting lightly on the taller teen's shoulder. "That's a very good idea. In fact, if you could all give us a few moments "
Zechs caught the Chinese teen's eye and nodded to him before taking Treize's arm and turning him firmly toward the door. Farley, too, stood and left without a word.
Duo's whole body sagged as the door closed, and Quatre quickly moved to pull the braided teen against his side, knowing how much the position had to be straining Duo's still mending ribs. "Duo, you know how he is - he's just "
"He's angry, and with good reason," Duo said softly, his voice heavy with unshed tears.
"No, please don't," Duo said, looking up. "We have too much to do for this. I'll be fine. I'll talk to him, I promise."
Quatre pinned the other teen with a heavy glance, but stood and pulled away despite his misgivings. "If you're sure."
"I'm very sure," Duo answered firmly. His chin jerked towards the door. "Go on - see if you can find Heero, okay? Make sure he's all right. And tell him " His voice faltered.
"I know, I will," Quatre answered, but Duo was no longer looking at him, his gaze having fallen back to his hands, clasped listlessly in his lap.
The blond gave Wufei and Trowa stern looks to look after the American, then hurried out.
Quatre closed Duo's door and stalked down the infirmary hall, pushing away his own anger at the Japanese teen.
**Heero *can't* blame us for not getting her out! We didn't have a choice! Rad was hurt, Duo could barely walk, soldiers were moving in on us and Gio was outside! What were we supposed to do? Yell for Gio and alert every soldier there to where we were? Have me carry Bravo and leave ourselves open to being mowed down? Allah forbid - leave Duo and get Bravo out?!**
He shook his head and walked towards the large conference room, guessing that Heero would be there. It was the logical place to go over the information, with plenty of room to spread out. **No, he's not angry with *us*. He's angry with the situation. He's angry that he wasn't there. He's angry that someone else has been treated like he was...**
Quatre opened the door, stepped inside the conference room and saw Heero seated at the table, pouring over the papers in front of him. The Japanese pilot never even looked up at his entrance.
"Heero," the blond said, moving to his side, "what's going on? Duo - "
"Not now, Quatre," the stony teen replied, turning over a sheet of paper and continuing to read. "I have to get through this and find out their plans. There might be a location or something mentioned. The sooner I find it, the sooner I can do something about it."
"But Heero, what about Duo? He's back in that room, thinking - "
"I said NOT NOW, Winner!" Heero growled, blue eyes hard and cold as he glared at the blond.
Quatre stared back for a moment, then shook his head and walked back to the door. Failing to keep his temper in check, he turned and looked back to Heero, pinning the Japanese teen to the chair with a dark glare. "I sincerely hope you know what you're doing, Yuy," he snarled. "There's a boy back in that room that loves you more than life itself, who thinks you want nothing more to do with him. A boy who thinks you blame him, and that he screwed up. A boy that has been seriously injured, is ill and stressed beyond belief, who now is probably thinking that he should have stayed and died on that estate so we could get Heero Yuy II out of there. I hope you're proud of yourself."
"You don't understand - " Heero said shortly, eyes flickering with indecision.
"Oh, I understand perfectly. You're angry with the whole situation, so we have to pay. Well, you'd better get over it," the blond snapped, taking a step backwards and clenching his hand on the doorknob. "What options did we have, Yuy? Maybe we *should* have left Duo behind and gotten your *clone* out instead," Quatre continued sarcastically. "That would have solved the problem, wouldn't it. Then Duo wouldn't be back in that room thinking it's his fault and that you hate him. Of course, he'd be dead..."
Quatre watched as Heero's eyes widened slightly, and hardened himself to finish. "We can't go on like this. *Duo* can't go on like this. This emotional rollercoaster ride is tearing him apart! If you don't fix it and do it soon, I will personally hunt you down and tear your useless heart out."
Slamming the door behind himself, Quatre rested his forehead against the the hallway wall. **Allah... I hope I didn't just make things worse...**
"Where are we going, Mr. Cosmo?"
Cosmo looked down at the little girl holding his hand and skipping through the snow beside him, and grinned. "Well, Miss Marie, I thought we'd go to the hangar and take a look at the mobile suits. A bird told me that you wanted to see them."
"Farley said that Uncle Heero's is the prettiest one," she replied with a giggle. "Which do you like best?"
"Hmmm... Heero's does have pretty colours, but I have to admit, I'm partial to Duo's suit," Cosmo said, opening the door and leading her inside.
"What's 'partial to' mean?" the little redhead asked, then her eyes widened as she saw the six suits stationed around the hangar.
"That means he likes Duo's Gundam the best," a large, caramel-skinned man said, popping up beside them. He crouched down next to Marie and held out his hand. "Hello, Noelani, I'm Toi."
Marie turned to him and took his hand. "How do you do? But my name is Mariemeia Kushrenada, not 'Noelani'."
Toi chuckled and scooped her up, seating her on his shoulders. "Well, Mariemeia Kushrenada, 'Noelani' means 'beatiful girl from Heaven'. Since you're pretty, a girl, and a surprise gift, I think it fits, don't you? What do you think, Cosmo?"
Marie cocked her head in thought and Cosmo chuckled.
"I'd have to agree with you there, Toi. A pretty gift indeed," he replied, reaching out to tug gently on a lock of the little girl's hair, causing her to giggle. "But maybe something with 'red' or 'fire' might have been appropriate..."
"Nah, Noelani works just fine," Toi said, walking over towards the suits. "Now, Noelani, what do you say we go meet some people and look at some Gundams?"
Marie giggled again, unzipped her coat and pointed to the coveralls she was wearing. "Okay... But do I get to help set engine torques?"
"You guys have more important things to do, too," Duo said, not looking up from his hands. "You should go..."
Trowa and Wufei shared a look, and the Chinese teen took 'Heero's' place on the bed, gently pulling the braided teen against himself, wrapping an arm around him. Trowa climbed onto the bed, as well, sandwiching Duo between them.
"I can't think of anything more important to do right now," Wufei said quietly.
"I'll be all right..." Duo said, sniffing but refusing to let the tears fall.
"Of course you will," Trowa said confidently, rubbing his friend's back. "As soon as Heero gets his head out of his ass and works out his guilt and protective issues, he'll figure out what an idiot he is and probably come flying in here begging forgiveness and offering to commit seppuku to atone."
A muffled, watery chuckle was his reply and Wufei picked up the thread of conversation.
"I'd offer him my katana, but it's a bit awkward to use on one's self. Treize's saber isn't any better," the Chinese teen continued, brushing the end of Duo's braid coiled on their legs with his free hand. "A regular knife just isn't the proper way to do it, and a bullet is far too messy. Besides, Sally would have a fit if he screwed it up and she had to treat him. I guess you'll just have to forgive him for being his idiot-self," he finished with an exaggerated sigh.
Duo chuckled again, then sighed sadly. "He is right, though. I screwed up. We should have gotten Bravo out. He has the right to be angry with me."
"Now who's being the idiot here?" Trowa asked, tugging his braid. "You all did everything you could, and if Heero weren't so close to it, and wallowing in guilt that he got out and they didn't, he'd be the first to say so. Besides, I know for a fact that he would never trade you for Bravo."
"Duo, I am getting close to my 'frustrated' state," Wufei said, mock-sternly. "Didn't we already have the discussion about self-esteem and frustration?"
Duo nodded. "Sorry... I just..."
"Enough," his Chinese friend stated. "You *will* believe me when I say you did all that you could. You *will* believe me when I say that none of this is your fault in any way, shape or form. You *will* believe me when I say that Heero loves you more than anything in the universe, regardless of the fact that he is currently being an ass. Are we clear on that, Maxwell?"
"Crystal, Chang," the braided teen said with a final sniff. "Sorry - "
"Duo..." Wufei growled softly.
Duo chuckled slightly again, then the three settled into a comfortable silence.
"You know," Trowa said a few minutes later, "I heard Sally saying that she thought you could be up and about tomorrow. Not just for an hour in the conference room, but even out to the hangar if you promise to bundle up and supervise without doing anything physical... So, what will you charge me for a full cloaking device?"
Treize and Une looked up as the door opened and a slight blond walked in. "Did you find him?"
Quatre nodded. "Heero is He knows we didn't have any other option - he's not angry with us. He is more angry at the thought that he was not the only one. He's highly overprotective, as I'm sure you have noticed."
Une snorted. "He had no right to just walk out like that on poor "
"Getting involved in that issue would be ill-advised, Lady Une," Quatre cut in in a chilly tone.
Treize held up one hand, as Une's eyes flashed and Quatre's pale cheeks lit with a flame of anger. "A very good piece of advice, Mr Winner, that I'm sure both of us would be wise to follow. Isn't that right, Lady?"
Une flinched at his tone, almost as though struck, but nodded obediently. "As you say, sir."
Quatre sat down heavily, and everyone was silent for a long moment.
Treize finally broke the silence. "Dermail must have some suspicions about me, but I don't see how he would have made the connection to you pilots, yet."
Quatre shot the tall man a grateful look. "You're probably right, and that will be an important thing to keep in mind. That you, Zechs and Une are seen together, though, shouldn't surprise him too much."
Une lifted an eyebrow. "And not Mariemeia? I do believe we all agree that Barton has very little in the way of a heart, but even a heartless man such as himself should want to know the whereabouts of his grandchild."
Treize shook his head. "I would prefer not. I do not doubt Barton - and Dermail, by extension - had some plan for her, and I will do anything in my power to keep her safe from them. Up to and including hiding her presence with me, if necessary."
Quatre nodded. "Understandable. The thought of that poor child "
Une smiled. "I still can't believe she ended up in Heero and Duo's room last night, of all the places to go "
Quatre frowned, reminded of his friends. "Of all places, there would have been no better. Allah, I hope they are both okay."
Marianne looked up as a knock sounded at her door, and put down her hairbrush. Why on Earth would anyone be knocking at *her* door? Especially since the Duke had insisted on her taking a few days off, in light of what happened
She pulled on an extra sweater as she walked towards her door - Canada was colder than she was accustomed to. She fought off the feeling that she should be armed, somehow, as she walked to the door and opened it.
Marianne's eyes went wide in shock - what was the Duke doing, standing at her door?
Dermail smiled. "Marianne, my dear. Your doctor told me you were still suffering from headaches "
The young woman smiled sadly. **Why does he have to be *nice* to me?! This would be so much easier if he were a complete asshole ** "Thanks for your concern, sir. I will be fine, I assure you. I appreciate your kindness."
Dermail gave her a fond look. They had been so shocked when they found her, tied up and knocked out in Mariemeia's room, and when she came to, she had shaken like a leaf in a high wind, tears pouring from her eyes
He patted her shoulder in a grandfatherly way. "You must let me know if there is anything that can be done to make you more comfortable. I cannot imagine "
She shuddered convincingly. "I wish I had seen his face, sir. That poor child "
"There now, my dear, no need to upset yourself," he soothed. "We are doing everything we possibly can to locate her, I assure you. And I have reason to believe "
He smiled down into her eyes. "I have every reason to believe that whoever took her is a supporter of her late father, Treize Kushrenada. I'm sure his followers and friends would not want any harm to come to his child."
Marianne hugged her arms around her chest. "But how could they know? We didn't even know she was coming - I had to prepare an extra room while Jeremy entertained her in the garden Oh, the garden! I " She gulped. "I suppose it is gone, too?"
Dermail took hold of her shoulders and led her back into the room, gently sitting her down in the chair by the window and pulling an afghan around her. "Don't you worry about that, now, my dear. We will catch him - whoever did it. I promise you that."
He left with a kind, grandfatherly smile.
Marianne clutched her afghan tighter around her shoulders and stared out the window at the gardens of Dermail's estate in Montreal. She would be safe for at least a while longer.
Heero stared at the door after Quatre left, slowly realising what he'd done. With growing horror at his actions, he lowered his gaze to the papers in front of him, then dropped his head into his hands.
"What have I done?" he said, his words echoing through the room. "How could I have... It's *not* his fault! They did everything right! How could I have made Duo even *think* I'd rather have Bravo out than him alive and with me? I love him! I love him and I've screwed up and hurt him, something I swore I'd never do. He must hate me now. He's never going to forgive me..."
"Oh, I doubt that on both counts."
Heero snapped his head up and saw Farley leaning on the door frame. Straightening up, Sally's assistant walked to the table and gathered up the loose papers, meeting the Japanese pilot's gaze.
"You did screw up, Heero, no doubt about that," Farley continued calmly, "but you know what? Humans do that all the time. We're not perfect, we make mistakes, and we apologise for them. On the other side of the coin, we're also a very forgiving species, generally. Now, I know for a fact that Duo *doesn't* hate you, since he is currently lamenting to Wufei that you're right to be angry with him and that he screwed up. I highly doubt he'd be trying to take the blame if he didn't still love you."
The young doctor shifted his weight and waited as Heero processed the information.
"So, how do I make it up to him?" the Japanese teen asked finally.
"Heero, there is no 'make it up to him'," Farley said, slight amusement in his tone. "You go in there, apologise, then move forward. Duo may need you to prove that you don't blame him, and that you still love him... oh, hell, I feel like a marriage counselor now. Just go in and *talk* to him, Heero. Really talk and get your feelings out there. Then *listen* to what he has to say. I don't think either of you will end up disappointed."
Heero nodded, stood and started to leave, stopping at the door and turning with a guilty expression. "What about those?" he asked, nodding at the folders in Farley's hands.
"Sally sent me to pry them out of your hands so she could go over them while you, and I quote, 'go back to Duo and grovel'." Farley grinned and waved Heero out. "Go on, shoo. Sally gave you an order, and I'd hate to be you if you didn't follow it."
With a tiny smile of thanks, Heero was out the door.
"Duo, stop arguing with Trowa, close your eyes, and take a nap."
"But, 'Fei, I'm not going to charge him for the damn cloak and he won't listen to me!"
"That's right," Trowa's voice said calmly. "Now, listen to Wufei and sleep!"
"Why does everyone want me to sleep, dammit?" Duo's voice was almost a whine.
"Possibly because you're exhausted?" Wufei asked. "You've been under enormous amounts of stress, you're injured, have been ill, and you're depressed because your idiot lover is wallowing in undeserved guilt and being an ass."
"And because you need to be rested for when Heero gets his head out of his ass and comes back to attempt seppuku for his dishonourable actions. You're either going to have to help him with the katana, or stop him so we don't have to clean up the blood stains."
Trowa's voice held no small amount of humour, and outside the door Heero breathed one small sigh of relief.
"I guess I'll have to stop him," Duo said, chuckling. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you guys with more work."
There were a few moments of silence, and as Heero put his hand on the door to push it open farther, Duo's quiet, sad voice nearly brought him to his knees.
"'Fei, Tro... do you really think he'll come back?"
"I know he will," Trowa said confidently. "In fact... Heero, standing outside the door mentally flagellating yourself isn't going to accomplish anything. Get in here and apologise already."
The Japanese teen's eyes widened as the door in front of him opened and Wufei nearly dragged him inside. Trowa joined them, put his good hand on Heero's shoulder and whispered, "It'll be okay, Heero," then stepped outside. Wufei gave him a slight push towards the bed, then sighed in mock disgust.
"We don't want to see either of you until this is fixed and you're as disgustingly happy together as you were before this debacle. Understand?" Without giving them a chance to answer, he was gone, the door slamming behind him.
Heero stared at the door in shock, then slowly turned to face his lover. He felt his heart lurch - Duo wasn't looking at him, but rather down at his hands, a miserable frown on his face. The Japanese teen took a small step towards the bed. "Duo."
The braided boy flinched at the sound of his voice, twisting a handful of blanket. "M'sorry," he whispered in a low voice.
"Duo, you don't "
"Just hear me out, okay?" Duo said, still refusing to look up. "I didn't mean to leave her there - I just didn't we didn't think - there wasn't time. It was all my fault! I started to choke " He broke off with a grimace and clutched at his chest, fighting off a wheezing cough.
Heero crossed the room in two strides, reaching towards his lover and cradling him against his chest. "Duo, no! Don't! I don't blame you- God, I'm such a creep! Duo, you "
Blue-violet eyes finally swung up to fasten their stare on Heero's face. "You had every right to be angry with me. That girl is practically *you,* and I left her there. She's the closest thing you've got to family "
"No, Duo, you're wrong," Heero said, gently pushing Duo's bangs from his eyes. "I have a family. You. And Trowa and Wufei and Quatre *You* are my family, and you have nothing to apologise for. I'm sorry I hurt you." Tilting Duo's chin up gently, he pressed a kiss to his lips.
Duo was trembling as they pulled apart again. "I'm sorry I fucked up. I'm so damned stupid "
"You are *not!*" Heero declared vehemently, his heart breaking inside. It was his fault - it was all his fault that Duo was so upset, because he'd reacted so badly, so cruelly He gripped Duo's shoulders and squeezed. "You couldn't help it, Duo. It wasn't your fault, and I don't want to hear anything else about it."
Duo's sore arm hurt in Heero's grip, but he didn't dare say a word about it. "I'm sorry "
Heero pressed a finger to his lips. "Hush, love. No more. *I'm* sorry - I'm the one who should be apologising to *you.*" He replaced his finger with his lips and kissed Duo deeply, thoroughly.
The braided teen whimpered under Heero's assault. Heero's lips were drugging and soft and oh-so gentle as the Japanese teen's body slowly pressed him back onto the bed, settling over him with careful grace. "Heero "
Deep blue eyes gleamed brightly. "I love you so much, Duo I was so worried about you, and then so much went wrong, but you came back to me safe." He rained kisses over Duo's face and along his jawline to the column of his throat, nipping and kissing gently.
Duo gasped for air. Heero hadn't dared to touch him and tease him this much in so long - he felt as though he was drowning in it And it didn't bother him in the slightest. **He's not angry with me - he still loves me, and God, does that feel good ** "Heero, don't stop. Please, don't stop "
Heero groaned as he peeled Duo's sweatshirt from his body - his pale skin was still marred by light bruises and scars, but he was much better, his muscle tone coming back and his skin regaining its flush of health. Smiling to himself, Heero leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to the spot right over his lover's heart. Feeling the braided teen's trembling under his lips, he gently wrapped his arms around the other boy and began kissing his way across his chest.
He continued lower, lips trailing over flushed skin as he gently traced his fingers over Duo's bandages. "I've missed this - I missed you "
Duo's eyes fluttered closed as a gentle mouth closed over one of his nipples, teasing the peak gently with a warm, wet tongue. "Missed you, too God, Heero, don't stop "
Heero shivered - beneath him, Duo's legs parted to allow his a more comfortable position between them and, incidentally, better access to the braided boy's delectable body. He kissed his way lower, his mind shutting down as Duo's husky, whimpering cries met his ears. Reaching the waistband of Duo's pants, though, he faltered. "Love, I don't want to hurt you "
"You won't," Duo gasped, his body arching into Heero's insistent caresses to his belly and upper thighs. "But I will hurt *you* if you stop here "
Heero felt a thrill travel down his spine - Duo had never sounded sexier. Hands trembling with passion, he reached for the fastenings to Duo's pants. "Your wish," he intoned playfully, pulling the loose pants down ever so slowly, "is my command."
Duo whimpered as Heero's talented mouth moved lower, his breath coming in harsh gasps. His eyes rolled back into his head, though, as wet heat engulfed him, and a single word filled his mind and echoed in his head. "Heero!"
Farley rubbed at his eyes blearily and grabbed for his coffee. Sally had come to his office hours ago with a few large folders full of paper and asked him to look it over. He was frankly surprised - *she* was the star doctor on their staff, not him, but she wanted his opinion
The Enforcer project was nothing short of horrifying. Reading through these descriptions of the genetic manipulation practiced by Wessex's team He understood Heero's anger, earlier.
He set the latest document aside with a shudder and look at the clock. Two in the morning. He grunted. "Not like I could sleep, after reading this shit "
He took a swig of cold coffee and reached for the next folder.
Farley quickly set his mug aside, though, his eyes opening wide. "Mother of God " He set the folder aside and jumped from his seat to fetch another folder from the other side of his desk. "Nairobi Nairobi Holy shit, I think we've got him " He grabbed up both folders and jumped from his seat, his fatigue forgotten.
He pounded down the hallway to the large conference room and burst through the doors. "Sally! Sally, I've found "
He skidded to a halt, staring. Sally Po had fallen asleep reading and, waking to yelling, had automatically reached for her gun and trained it on the intruder... She flicked the safety back on and set it aside.
"Knock next time, will you? Jesus what time is it?"
"Who knows?" Farley quipped. He strode forward and tossed his folders down the table. "You won't care in a minute, anyway."
Sally picked up the folder and flipped the cover open. "What the hell is this?"
Farley grinned. "It's Tuberov, ma'am. The bastards just told us exactly where to find him."