Trowa watched, fascinated, as Duo and Howard poured over the plans for Heavyarms.
Howard shook his head. "No good, kid. This mech's just not built "
Duo shook his head. "As close as we can get, then! The weapons are louder than any beam particle weapon, it's true, but we could at least give it a cloaking system that would go active when the guns aren't spitting bullets. It's do-able, Howie, I know it is."
"Kid, I still don't get how you jerry-rigged "
Duo rolled his eyes. "Tro, come on over here," he called, waving his tall friend over. As soon as the other pilot joined them, Duo flipped to the blueprint of Heavyarms' reactor core. "The trick to a full cloak is using what you've got to its fullest capacity. Each of the Gundams has monitors and cameras recording the world around them from every angle. To project those pictures onto the machine's surface would take a few days' work with some new circuitry, a paint job, and a nice, cold beer for when that part's done. You guys already know that the Sweepers have been employing that technology for ages."
Trowa nodded. "Al the Gundams were already equipped with radar-absorbing skins, too. But what I really don't get is how you can make something this big run so silently. We literally can't hear Scythe unless you want us to."
Duo nodded. "That's where the reactor core modification comes in. It's not a very complicated upgrade, actually I have the plans stored away in Scythe's main computer, and I'd recommend doing it for all the Gundams, even if we don't cloak 'em. But anyway, tweaking the reactor will reduce the heat outputs enough that a diffusion system at all the exhaust portals will hide all heat outputs altogether. You following?"
"I think so," Trowa said, staring down at the plans and nodding.
Duo grinned. "Really? Cool. Just so you know, though the suit will be completely dead until I'm happy with the new reactor core system. That will take at least two days, with all the other mods we're talking about."
The green-eyed teen nodded and gave his friend a small smile. "Understood. I appreciate it, Duo."
Howard snorted, on the braided teen's other side. "Hell, *I* appreciate it. Believe it or not, Trowa, he's never let *anyone* see those plans before."
Trowa raised an eyebrow as he looked down into Duo's suddenly blushing face. "Really? Duo, I'm surprised I thought you said you could tell Dad anything "
"I'VE TOLD YOU BEFORE, I'M NO ONE'S FREAKING FATHER " Howard joked, reaching around Duo to muss Trowa's hair and earning himself a "Hey, not the hair," from the green-eyed teen.
Laughing, Duo backed away. "Now you done it, Howie! No one messes with those bangs " He kept backing away.
A set of arms caught him gently, and Duo let out a startled yelp as he turned.
Quatre grinned at him. "Glad to see you up and running, Duo." He gave his friend an affectionate hug.
Giving Howard a mock dark look, he growled, "You heard him don't mess the hair, okay?" He turned with a wink and joined the other two pilots.
Giving Trowa a small kiss, Quatre looked both his friends in the eye. "If you two have a minute, we all need to meet again. We've got some more news from all that stuff Duo and I stole, and it's good news this time."
Duo and Trowa shared a look before the long-haired teen nodded. "Okay. Just let me get Howard and the crew started out here. Give us a half hour?"
Quatre nodded. "That should do. Main conference room, guys."
"We'll be there," Duo assured him, and turned to walk back to Howard with a smile.
Trowa pulled the blond close for a slow kiss before releasing him with a cat-like grin. "I'm getting a cloaking device!" he said, his voice alive with glee.
Quatre laughed and rolled his eyes. "If you're good, you might get *more* than that, Barton!" He winked and turned for the doors, his hips swaying that much more. "See you in a little bit."
Trowa shook his head, chuckling under his breath as he re-joined the Sweepers
"Any luck, Une?" Sally asked, falling into step with the other woman as she left the control room and headed for the mess tent.
"Unfortunately, no," Une replied. "Most of my operatives are still underground, it seems. The few I was able to get in contact with will *try* to find the others, but there's no telling how long that will take. I decided to take a coffee break. Care to join me?"
"I'd love a coffee. But we'll have to take it back to the conference room." At Une's worried look, the blonde grinned. "We got some good news, this time, but we need to decide what to do with it. Quatre's gathering up the boys and Treize went after Zechs and Wufei."
"Ah," Une murmured, holding open the mess tent door. "I guess we should grab a couple of pots, then..."
Treize rounded the infirmary walls, still curious about the looks on Cosmo and Gio's faces when they pointed him in that direction. **Really! With Zechs and Wufei looking after her, I'm sure Marie is just fine. I hope she won't be too disappointed that I need to steal her *playmates* away **
He looked up and stopped, his eyes going wide in wonder.
Zechs was rolling up a huge ball of snow, his cheeks bright with cold, while Wufei and Marie tried to sneak up on him from behind, the little girl perched in Wufei's arms with a ball of snow in her hands.
Treize remained silent, a grin on his face-
Zechs Marquise let out an extremely unmanly shriek as Marie dumped her handful of snow down the neck of his jacket.
Treize nearly doubled over laughing as the blond turned and raced after Wufei, who was carrying Marie securely in his arms, slipping and sliding through the snow. "Come back here, Chang! I know this is somehow *your* fault "
"Run, Uncle Fei!" Marie shrieked, laughing and clinging around the Chinese teen's neck so tightly as he ran that Treize was surprised he could even breathe.
Darting forward, Treize tackled Zechs into a snowbank as the blond almost caught the fleeing pair
"Papa! I *knew* you'd be on our side!" Marie crowed triumphantly as Wufei skidded to a halt and set her down. She ran over to where Treize was sitting on Zechs' chest, looking quite proud of himself.
Treize wrapped the small girl in a hug. "Just tell me one thing. *why* did I just tackle your Uncle Zechs like that?"
Marie brushed at some of the snow stuck in Treize's hair. "Because we're making a snowman, silly!"
Zechs sputtered, pushing at Treize's back to try and dislodge him. "Correction - *some* of us were making a snowman, while the others played jokes on him!"
Treize looked back up at Wufei. "Is that so?"
A rare full smile played over Wufei's face, framed by his loose hair, which must have fallen from its ponytail in the midst of the snow antics. "Would it help if I said *she* started it?"
Treize laughed outright and, still holding Marie, stood up and offered Zechs a hand out of the snow. "Not really, but hearing *you* making that kind of argument is well worth it. Are you alright, Zechs?"
Vigorously shaking his long hair to get the snow out of it, Zechs paused and winked at his lover and his small daughter. "I won't retaliate on one condition."
"Uh-oh," Wufei intoned with mock-sincerity. He moved to Zechs' side and began helping the taller man brush the snow from his clothes.
Zechs caught his younger lover's hand. "The condition is that *you* stand right over there and let me take one good shot at you," he said, grinning dangerously at the Chinese pilot.
Marie squealed in delight. "Oh! He's gonna get you!"
Wufei spared Zechs a small smile as he made a show of pacing over to the spot Zechs had indicated, holding his arms out at his sides. "Okay, here I am, Zechs "
He turned just in time for Zechs, who had picked up the smaller snowball meant to be the snowman's head, to grin at him before dropping the entire thing over his head.
Wufei sputtered as the others burst out laughing. He wiped frozen strands of hair out of his face and slowly opened his eyes. "That was COLD!"
Still laughing, Treize set Mariemeia down. "Gentlemen, we've got some business to attend to "
"But they *promised!*" Marie said, looking up at her tall father with confused eyes. "Uncle Fei and Uncle Zechs promised they'd help me make a snowman!"
"Hush, sweetheart," Zechs said, turning to the girl and going down to one knee to talk to her face-to-face. "We *did* promise, and neither Wufei nor I ever break our promises, okay?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a little squeeze.
Walking to Treize's side, Wufei nodded his head in Zechs' direction. "Care to participate, Treize? If the Cricket wants a snowman, a snowman she shall get."
Treize glanced back at the building, and then over at Zechs, and Marie, hugging his left leg. "Count me in."
"I thought you'd say that." The only warning Treize got was a glint in deep, obsidian eyes-
His eyes opened wide as something cold and very wet slipped under the neck of his jacket and down his back. Wufei laughed and darted away.
"Okay, Dragon! This means war!"
Heero sighed silently as Farley drew another tube of blood.
He had nearly refused Sally's request to have the tests done when she had grabbed him as he walked with Duo to the hangar. His plans for the day had involved helping his lover with the Gundam upgrades and making sure the braided teen didn't overdo it, not sitting in the infirmary being poked, prodded and bled. The blonde doctor had quickly explained her fears and reasons for the tests, but he had still almost said 'no'.
Duo's grip on his arm, and the fearful, pleading look in his eyes, however, had the Japanese pilot following the doctor to one of the exam rooms without protest. Sally turned him over to her assistant with an apology to both, and hurried off to the latest meeting.
"Sorry, Heero," Farley said, breaking into his thoughts, "I know this isn't how you planned to spend the afternoon, but we're nearly done."
"There are worse things," he replied with a shrug. "And if it makes them feel better, I suppose it's worth it."
"If my opinion counts for anything, I doubt you've had as much done to you as the current subjects," Farley said, placing the tube next to the others. "At least not some of the more... 'drastic' modifications. According to the reports, all of the 'side-effects' have occurred within one year of the procedure. You... 'escaped', for lack of a better term, when you were what - ten or eleven years old?"
Heero snorted mirthlessly. "'Escaped' isn't exactly how I'd put it, but it will do for now. It's been six years, I was eleven years old."
"Yes, well," Farley continued, slightly embarrassed, "I did put that badly, didn't I? Anyway, there's always the chance of problems later in life, but I think if you were going to have any serious, short-term problems, they would have already shown up. These tests should confirm the latter, and give us a heads-up on the future -"
There was a knock at the door, and Quatre stuck his head in.
"How's it going?"
"Nearly done Quatre," Farley replied.
"Very good!" the blond said, stepping inside. "Heero, when you're finished, would you meet us in the main conference room? We've gotten some more info from those reports. Nothing bad," he added quickly as Heero started to frown. "Good news, this time!"
"How much longer?" Heero asked Farley.
"Ten or fifteen minutes?"
Heero turned back to Quatre and nodded. "I'll be there. Fifteen minutes."
Everyone looked up as the door opened and three bedraggled, soggy figures walked in. Sally frankly stared, open-mouthed. "Gentlemen, I take it you have a good reason for being late?"
Wufei somehow managed to keep a straight face and give her a withered look, despite the strands of hair that were clinging to his still pink with cold nose. "Marie wanted a snowman."
Treize and Zechs both swept into the room as only bred aristocrats could, straightening messy clothing almost automatically. Duo and Walker promptly lost their battle with self-control and burst out laughing. Grinning, Quatre poured three large cups of coffee and passed them down the table. "Here. I think you'll need these."
Wrinkling his nose at Duo, Treize inhaled deeply and heaved a contented sigh. "Thank you, Mr Winner."
"My pleas "
"If you all are done with the pleasantries," Sally interrupted, trying not to laugh, herself, "does anyone remember that we were supposed to have a *meeting*, here?"
Trowa nearly choked on his coffee.
Treize ran a graceful hand through his hair, though, and swept into his seat with the air of a King. "Of course, my apologies, Sally. If you would all be good enough to forgive our tardiness, we have a lot to discuss."
Still snickering, Duo managed to calm himself as Heero clamped a steadying hand on his leg. He shot his boyfriend a look of gratitude.
Sally smiled and motioned for Treize to continue.
The ginger-haired man took a sip of coffee. "Sally's told you all that we have good news. The documentation Quatre and Duo obtained from Dermail has provided many insights into out enemies' plans, but most importantly it revealed where the new OZ leader, Tuberov, has been hiding, along with the rebuilt guidance system research for the mobile dolls. I've had an independent confirmation of it he's in Nairobi."
Heero's eyes glinted evilly. "When do we leave?""
Quatre shook his head. "Not so fast, Heero. The base he's at it's in a residential neighbourhood. And one mistake "
Duo shot the blond a look that stopped the words on his lips and squeezed his lover's hand tightly. He could feel Heero's tension at his side
Treize spoke up quickly. "Don't worry, Heero. We are not planning on risking the lives of any innocents in this. We have an alternate suggestion to going in with mobile suits."
Duo felt some of the tension in his lover ease, and gave Treize a nod to continue.
The tall man clasped his hands lightly on the table, not wanting to show either his nervousness or his excitement. "Rather than sending a few suits in to deal with the place, we can send in a team. After I kill Tuberov, we will set explosives and destroy the place with no one being the wiser. The team will be comprised of "
Trowa raised his good hand. "Just a moment. Why are *you* going out It's not that you can't do it, but you're well, you're not exactly a trained infiltrator "
Quatre and Sally exchanged glances before the blond said, "No, he isn't, but the two going in with him are. At least, one of them is the Master of stealth "
Duo froze in surprise, but almost immediately grinned widely.
Next to him, though, Heero froze again and turned angry eyes on the Arabian teen. "You're out of your mind "
Sally put a hand on Quatre's shoulder in a sign of support. "No, Heero. We're being logical. Treize will go on the mission, accompanied by Duo and Wufei. All three are trained, experienced soldiers, and they are our best bet."
Heero stood up, only vaguely aware of the way he was clutching Duo's hand in his. "I can take the mission! Duo is not ready yet "
Sally's eyes flashed, reminding everyone of why this woman was the Commander of this base. "Yes he is, Heero, and deep inside you know it. Now sit down and let us explain the situation."
Sally took a deep breath. "We are all concerned for each other's welfare, and you must believe that none of us would willingly put another member of the team in jeopardy. I would not authorise Duo to go on this mission if I did not believe him capable of it."
Duo's grip on Heero's hand tightened. "I can do it, Heero."
Une shook her head, as well. "Why not Heero? I do not wish to second guess anyone, but is there not less risk of failure if we send an operative out who is at 100 percent, not just 85?"
Duo's eyes flashed.
Sally once again intervened. "Other documentation revealed that there have been complications involved in the treatments Heero was subjected to as a child. I would prefer to keep him here until we have finished our analysis on him."
Trowa and Wufei turned concerned eyes on their comrade, noting that Duo didn't seem surprised by the pronouncement, at all. "When were you going to tell *us* about this, Sally? We're his *family* "
Quatre held up his hand. "Hear us out, okay? Sally, if you would "
The doctor nodded. "Part of the Enforcer Programme consists of high exposure to gene therapy, along with a drug cocktail that " She shook her head. "None of the records mention Heero or even date back to the time of his treatment, but since then, several test subjects, for lack of a better term, have suffered a variety of side effects, ranging from blindness to split personality disorder to death. Now it is highly unlikely that Heero would suffer any of those effects, given how long it's been," she added quickly, seeing Duo shudder and Trowa and Wufei tensing up, "but as a doctor, I have to be sure. I've made the decision to ground him until the tests come back. It will take us about five days to complete all the tests, and this mission must occur before then. Therefore, he will not be participating. Any questions?"
Heero turned to look into Duo's face as Treize's voice filled the sound void. "In three days' time, Wufei, Duo and myself will slip into the facility. We should have the full blueprints of the facility within the hour to determine our route in. Wufei will find and destroy the communications net while Duo and I find and dispose of Tuberov. We will then set explosives throughout the facility, concentrating on the labs, and wipe it off the face of the earth. Quatre's contacts will handle getting us in and out of the city. I've been told that the Manguanac corps is highly reliable."
Wide blue eyes sparkled with life and determination. Heero broke off his stare and, looking away miserably, whispered, "Yes, they are."
Wufei stood up abruptly and walked around the table to kneel at Heero and Duo's side. He carefully put one of his hands over their joined ones. "We can do this, Heero, and We will be fine. I promise that."
Duo gave Wufei a grateful nod, and got a small smile in return.
Heero finally looked up again and matched gazes with Treize. "Can I at least help plan the mission?"
Zechs smiled. "Wouldn't have it any other way, Heero."
Quatre climbed into Sandrock's cockpit, punched a code into the comm and sat back.
**I don't like it, but Treize is right. Even at 85%, Duo is the best one for this mission. And with his demolitions experience, Wufei is the logical one to go with them. And they won't be alone. I'll change the plans a little. They may not be helpful inside, but the Manguanacs can hold the perimeter - **
"Master Quatre! Finally!" Rashid's voice boomed over the comm as his image appeared on the screen. "We had begun to fear for your safety when we hadn't heard from you! You are all well?"
"We're fine, Rashid. Sorry to have worried you, but... things came up," Quatre replied. "It seems the allies and enemies in this war have now changed. The other pilots and myself are currently on the rebel Sally Po's base outside of Vilno, Transylvania. Duo was captured a few weeks ago and incarcerated with none other than Treize Kushrenada. Lady Une, Zechs Marquise and Sally Po ended up rescuing them." The blond stifled a chuckle at the incredulous look on his friend's face. "Treize, Une and Zechs are also here, since they are now wanted fugitives from Romafeller. The power has shifted again, this time from OZ to the Romafeller Group, headed by Duke Dermail. Tuberov has been placed in Treize's position -"
"M-Master Quatre, are you sure this isn't a joke? Master Maxwell didn't put you up to this, did he? I did hear you say you're on a base with the leader of OZ... " Rashid stammered, eyes wide.
"I know, Rashid, it sounds crazy. Apparently, Wufei somehow convinced Treize, Zechs and Une of 'the errors of their ways' months ago. They've been trying to turn things around, slowly and carefully since then. As you know, Treize disappeared about two months ago." At Rashid's nod, Quatre continued. "He was actually arrested and thrown into prison for speaking out against Romafeller's latest plan to use unmanned mobile suits. Zechs and Une escaped to Sally Po's camp and mounted a rescue mission, ending up with both Treize and Duo. Heero, Wufei, Trowa and I joined them here."
The blond sighed and smiled crookedly at the tall Manguanac. "It seems that the Gundam pilots, the rebels and OZ are now allies."
Rashid rubbed his hand over his face. "If you're sure we can trust them, Master Quatre, then we will, of course, follow your lead. You said Master Maxwell had been captured. He is all right?"
"He was badly injured, but he's nearly fully recovered." Quatre paused and pinched the bridge of his nose before continuing. "There are two main reasons I called, Rashid. Basically, we need your help."
"Just ask us, Quatre. You know we'll do whatever we can."
Quatre smiled at his friend's casual, affectionate use of only his first name. "Thanks, Rashid. Firstly, we need some of you here, at the base, both for mechanical expertise and defence. Duo had Howard and some of his crew come in, but we still need more with five Gundams and Tallgeese to deal with."
"Certainly. Just give me the coordinates and we'll be there as soon as possible," Rashid replied.
Quatre rattled off their position, then sighed again. "Secondly, we found out that Tuberov is on a base in Nairobi, and Treize, Duo and Wufei are planning a stealth mission to neutralise both. We'll need your help getting them into the city and..."
Wufei pulled Heero to the far corner of the conference room, while Duo and the others went over plans as they waited for the base blueprints to arrive.
"Heero, talk to me," the Chinese teen said quietly. "You've been silent for the past half hour..."
"I can't help it, Wufei. I'm worried. Duo is *not* fully healed and shouldn't be going on this mission."
"I know! My head knows that he's done harder things in worse condition before," Heero whispered sharply, "but I..."
"Your heart tells you to wrap him up and hide him away so that nothing can hurt him, right?" Wufei said, smiling slightly. At his friend's nod, he continued. "We all feel that way. I don't want Treize on this mission any more than you want Duo on it. If it were you going instead, Duo wouldn't want you to go. That's all a part of caring... wanting to protect the one you love. But you have to balance that caring with trust; trust that your partner can care for himself, make his own decisions, know whether or not he can handle what he may encounter."
The Chinese teen put a hand on Heero's shoulder. "I doubt that Duo would appreciate you treating him like some fragile piece of glass that needs to be protected and cushioned all the time. In fact, he would probably attempt to beat you senseless if you tried."
Heero snorted. "He would, wouldn't he? And I know that, but - "
"Your heart doesn't want to accept it," Wufei said, chuckling wryly. "It's as stubborn as the rest of you. Will it help any if I give you my word that we will be careful and that we will come back alive and in one piece?"
Heero thought for a moment, amazed that his friend's words actually made him feel more comfortable. It didn't erase his concern by any means, but it was easier to accept.
"Actually, Wufei, as odd as it seems, it *does* make me feel better."
Wufei nodded sharply. "Good. Then you have my word. Now, let's get back to the others and make sure your 'boytoy' doesn't go getting too elaborate on us..."
**Don't ever let them see you're scared. Hide your feelings. Do not react - reacting gives them power over you, and they will just hurt you more...**
Bravo struggled, but managed to keep her breathing and heart rate steady. She was still strapped to the doctor's table, unable to move, and she had no idea what day it was, or even where she was and how she got there. All she knew was that Wessex and Barton were in the room, as well, watching with a sickening light in their eyes as the doctor filled a large syringe with a clear fluid, being extremely careful not to spill a drop or let it touch his bare skin.
Behind tranquil eyes, she felt like screaming. She and the others had watched in horror as Barton tortured Alpha, all those years ago. Wessex had proved to be just as bad, and now both of them were watching her every move...
She shifted focus to stare at the needle as it seemed to draw closer in slow motion.
Bravo had seen enough of what was in those files to know that these could quite possibly be the last sane moments of her life. Her eyes flicked up to the doctor's face, hovering over her now-
She could have sworn she saw something akin to pity there.
The light hospital gown covering her was opened. Bravo's calm finally shattered as the doctor exposed her top half to the entire room before quietly and professionally swabbing the area right above her heart with alcohol. She struggled against her bonds. "No! I don't want..."
"Silence, girl," Barton growled as the doctor's hands faltered, "or I'll show you the meaning of pain like even Alpha never felt."
Terror - she knew what it felt like, and she struggled in vain, her drugged, sluggish body refusing to obey her.
Bravo screamed as the doctor stabbed the needle into her and, as a burning feeling spread quickly all over her body, her vision began to grey out.
She was shaking like a leaf, hovering just on the edge of consciousness, and she felt three sets of eyes glued to her...
**Alpha is alive and well... please let me survive it, too...**