Quatre fiddled with the radio again. The dinner hour had come and gone, but no one had felt like eating. Heero was still staring out the window, fists clenched at his sides, and Wufei was running more searches on his computer. Trowa went into the kitchen to make another pot of coffee. At this rate, it was going to be another long night.
There had been little or no conversation since Heero's guilty 'confession' six hours earlier, and the oppressive silence had only been broken by occasional static from the radio.
Quatre sighed, stood up and walked into the kitchen, quietly closing the door behind himself.
Trowa turned from the counter and gave the blond a sad smile. "It's getting to be too much for you, isn't it, Quatre?" he asked gently, placing an arm around his shoulder.
"A bit. Wufei is sunk in despair, Heero in guilt. He still blames himself. They're both terrified. If I wasn't worried, too, I'd think it was damned cute." Quatre shook his head slightly. "Even I'm beginning to lose hope. It's been almost a week, Trowa! One or two days... well, that's happened before, then Duo gets in touch with us. But this... if he were able, he *should* have at least emailed, or radioed or even found a phone box and called collect! Any of us would have accepted the charges! The hell with security and--"
Trowa wrapped both arms around his lover. "Quatre, calm down. We *will* find him, and he *will* be all right. Have faith just a little longer. He's probably just lying low. You know things in Europe are tense with more Oz build up. He's probably hiding out, waiting for things to calm down. And if he radioed or called, there is a chance they could trace him. Give it a little more time." Trowa closed his eyes and held Quatre tightly. He hoped he could convince himself, too.
Quatre sighed and rested his forehead on the taller teen's shoulder. "You're right. I know you're right. My heart is just having problems convincing my head of that. I wish--" Quatre's body jerked and his knees gave. "Heero... Wufei... Something--"
Trowa held the blond upright, then started moving them both to the door, his mind shouting *God, Duo, please be alright...*
"Barton! Winner! They found them! They're alive!" Wufei's shouted.
"Where?" Trowa replied, entering the living room and settling Quatre on the couch. "Status? Location?"
Heero, standing behind Wufei and reading over his shoulder, growled, "Bad shape? How bad? Best treatment? You may not consider them enemies, Chang, but I still don't trust them. Do you know where this base is? How secure? Options for--"
"Heero! For the love of Allah, settle down!" Quatre yelled, cutting off the Wing pilot's tirade. The other three simply stared at him in mild shock.
"Thank you. Now, Wufei, I assume that's an email from Zechs, and that 'they' are he and Une. I also assume from Heero's rant, that they rescued Duo, who is in 'bad shape', and will give him the best care they can." Wufei nodded at each point.
"Good," the blond continued. "I will also assume that 'them' was both Duo and Treize. So, putting these assumptions together, Duo and Treize together have been rescued, and are being taken to a base, where Duo will be given the best medical treatment Zechs and his allies can manage." More nods and Quatre sighed heavily. "Fine, now, would someone read me the damned email, in full, so I can stop guessing now?!"
Wufei nodded, blushing slightly as he turned back to his computer. The other three listened with rapt attention as he read the whole message. Complete silence fell as Wufei finished.
Trowa spoke up quietly, "Do you know where this Vilno base is?"
Wufei nodded. "I believe so. If I'm not mistaken, it is being controlled by the rebel group Dr. Sally Po is affiliated with. You remember her, Yuy. She's the one who..."
"I remember," the Japanese boy muttered. He turned a cold gaze on the Chinese pilot. "I want the coordinates. Now."
Quatre quickly moved from the couch and put a calming hand on Heero's shoulder. "Hold it a moment, Heero. We need a plan of action; we don't need anyone going off like a loose cannon."
Heero turned on the small blond with flashing eyes. "Winner..."
"I don't want to hear it, Heero," Quatre snapped back with no trace of his customary easy-going tone. "The only thing your attitude is going to accomplish right now is to insult and alienate Wufei and put Duo's well being in jeopardy. I suggest you think before you say another word."
"Besides," Trowa commented, "if Zechs or Une or anyone with them were going to hurt Duo, why tell us they had him? Why make a point to tell us they're giving him the best care they can? Why rescue Duo at all? If Zechs hadn't mentioned him, even if we did go to their base, we'd never have known a thing. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here. We need to make arrangements before running off half cocked and possibly endangering Duo more."
"But--" Heero started to protest and Quatre cut him off once more.
"Heero, do you trust Wufei? Do you trust his judgement?" the blond asked him evenly.
Heero nodded slowly and Quatre addressed his next question to the Chinese pilot.
"Wufei, will Zechs or anyone harm Duo in any way, or allow any harm to come to him, while he is with them?"
Wufei looked Heero straight in the eyes. "No. Neither Treize, Zechs, Une nor Sally will let anything happen to him. They will do their best to take care of and protect him. And following their lead, neither will any of the people under their command."
Heero looked deep into the other pilots eyes and nodded.
Wufei sighed with relief and turned back to his laptop, pulling up a map. "The actual travel time, taking all normal precautions is approximately a day and a half by conventional transport. We won't want to use the Gundams. They'll be too conspicuous. We also can't leave them here, unattended. I suggest you three pack what you'll need while I make travel arrangements. Then, I'll arrange with Howard to bring the Gundams to Vilno. Once Howard has them, I'll join you."
Trowa shook his head. "No, I'll stay here until Howard has the suits. Wufei, you need to see Treize for yourself, as well as be the liaison between us."
"I'll stay with you, Trowa," Quatre said. "Heero and Wufei need to be there as soon as possible, but I don't."
"Yes, you do," Trowa said, smiling slightly. "You are our diplomat, as well as the strategist." He leaned over and whispered in Quatre's ear, "Besides, they may need you... *Duo* may need you." He straightened up and looked at Heero and Wufei. "Gentlemen, get packing. It won't take me long to make the travel arrangements."
As they headed out, though, Heero stopped Wufei with a hand to his shoulder. The Chinese boy stopped and stared down at the restraining hand, one eyebrow raised in question. Heero quickly withdrew his hand - he knew a threat when he saw one. "Chang, I... I didn't mean to insult you; it's just that he's... Duo's..."
The other eyebrow twitched to join the first. "You'd give your life for his, I know that. There are few people I would consider my friends, Yuy, but both you and Maxwell are among them. Whatever you may think, I would not allow anyone to harm any of you, nor would I ever betray you to an enemy."
Heero flinched as though the other pilot had hit him. "I know that, Wufei. I just worry."
"As you should. No need to worry, *Heero*," Wufei answered, putting a special emphasis on his use of a first name, "I understand, perhaps more than I should." He gave the Japanese boy a slight bow of his head before he disappeared into his room and shut the door with a light 'snick.' Heero shook his head and continued on to his own room.
Helo-3 was the first to touch down, and Walker jumped off immediately to intercept the tall blond pilot they all knew would be waiting for their arrival. He jogged to the man's side. "Zechs! We need..."
The blond pushed past him quickly. "Where is Treize?" The question came out more like a command.
Walker refused to back down, though, cleanly stepping between Zechs and his goal. "The General was just waking up, Lieutenant. I have to ask you to remain where you are for now, until we can get the casualties unloaded. I assure you he is fine."
The blond cocked an eyebrow as he attempted to go around the young man and Walker once again stepped in front of him. "Une put you up to this, didn't she?"
Walker gave a devilish grin. "I'd watch out if I were you, sir," he replied, "After seeing what they did to that Maxwell kid, she got spitting angry. Sally had to threaten her with a tranquilliser."
Zechs shook his head in disbelief, watching as several people emerged from the helicopter, many helping others. "You know, it's just slightly disturbing that you find her mood swings so amusing."
Walker laughed out loud. "She expects people to be frightened of her. You have to admit she's mellowed quite a lot since we started dating."
"I'm not even going to begin speculating as to why."
"Walker, we need your help up here!" Une yelled from the chopper, interrupting him. Both young men shared a look before dashing up to it and hopping onboard. As their eyes adjusted to the dimness, they could see Sally hovering over the weakly thrashing figure on the stretcher, while Treize leaned over his head, murmuring reassurances. Within seconds, Duo calmed down and Treize leaned back, nodding to Sally. Une stuck her head out of the chopper and started yelling, and both men jumped back, out of her way.
"Where are those trauma teams?! Get over here now!" She hurried back to Sally. "Sally, they're just outside."
"Good. Walker, get in here. Pick him up carefully and get him on the stretcher. Une, run ahead to the infirmary, have the x-ray techs ready, and wake up the lab," the blonde woman ordered.
Une nodded and jumped out the doorway with nothing more than a nod at Zechs.
Feeling more than a little useless, Zechs moved to the side as Walker shouldered past him, reappearing moments later with a body carefully cradled in his arms, a familiar long, brown braid dangling. The blond felt his stomach tightening as he got his first look at Duo Maxwell under the lights. "Oh, God..."
"That's what we all said," Sally said in a dry tone as she followed Walker out. She stopped in front of Zechs and gave him a light smile. "I need to run ahead with the trauma team, but... get Treize cleaned up for me, will you? Then bring him to the infirmary afterwards. I need to give him a full exam, at least, but I think he needs you more than anyone right now." She left without another word.
Zechs didn't need any further urging - he was on the chopper in seconds, squinting as his eyes readjusted to the darker setting. "Treize?"
A tired-looking figure that had been slumped against the chopper wall looked up as his name was called, and Zechs felt his heart catch in his throat. "Treize..." he took a hesitant step forward, clearly at a loss for what to do, with so many people still around.
"Decorum be damned, for once!" Treize remarked as he stood. With a purposeful - if a little unsteady - stride, he crossed the distance and pulled Zechs into his arms. The blond's arms wrapped around him instantly, and Treize smiled outright as he buried his hands in a familiar mane of blond hair. "Zechs, I missed you so much! I was worried..."
Zechs gently pressed Treize back. "Hush, love. It's over now." Ice blue eyes looked Treize over critically, noting with concern both the bruising that was showing under the stubble, and the way the former General's uniform jacket - all that was left of his old uniform, it seemed - seemed to hang from his shoulders. "God, what did they do to you?" He pulled the other man into his arms again, tightly, possessively.
Treize's deep blue eyes were touched with sadness, and Zechs flashed back to what little he'd seen of the young Gundam pilot who had been rescued, as well. "Far less than they could have."
Zechs gasped as Treize's arms tightened around him - he was suddenly swimming in blue eyes that were too close for comfort in such a public place, and he could feel himself blushing. "Treize, w-we're..." His words faltered as he felt the other man's breath, hot against his skin. The sensation made him giddy. "God, Treize, the men will see..."
"I don't give a damn," was all the reply he got before another set of lips was touching his. Zechs felt his head spin as Treize kissed him, lips caressing, tongues dancing and sending shivers up his spine despite the facial hair that, in any other situation, would have brought tears of laughter to his eyes. Treize was back, solid and real in his arms, and kissing him as though tomorrow would never come...
They were both slightly dazed as they pulled apart again, eyes bright with tears as they smiled at each other. Treize straightened as best he could, given his fatigue. "I think I need to freshen up a bit, Lieutenant, and then I want to check on our young visitor. He helped me get free, you know."
Zechs smiled, hearing the familiar, playful tone of his lover's voice, and took hold of the other man's hand, refusing to let go despite the looks he knew they had to be getting. "As you wish, sir, though I'm afraid we're short on space. You might have to share a room with me."
The grin Treize sent him nearly made the blond groan. "I can think of worse punishments than that. Lead on!"
Neither man saw the smiles darted in their direction as Zechs carefully helped the other man off the chopper and then slowly escorted him to their room.
Une stepped back as one of Sally's assistants rushed past her, heading for the base's single operating theatre. Five minutes later, Sally followed Duo's stretcher out of the x-ray room and paused beside her.
"Did the lab reports come back?" the doctor asked. Une nodded and handed her the report. Sally read it quickly and sighed.
"Well?" Une asked, concerned. "What does it say? What did the x-rays show?"
"Well, it looks like I will have to operate. I knew that gurgle in his breathing didn't sound right - one of his ribs *has* slightly punctured his lung. Luckily, it's only a small hole. And according to the bloodwork, he is developing a mild bronchial infection. He probably already had a cold or something, and the conditions in the cell and the punishment his body took compounded the situation. I'll reset his arm and put it in a cast. His ankle is sprained, not broken, and there's no other internal bleeding. He's going to be in pain for a good while, and it won't be a speedy recovery, but it's not too bad, considering. He looks much worse than he actually is, and that bruising will take a fair amount of time to fade--"
Une looked as if she was getting furious again, and Sally quickly attempted to calm her down again. "Une, don't make me sedate you. Calm down. He's going to be okay," she said, placing a hand on the other woman's arm. A calculating look crossed her features. "Not to be rude, but, why the big change? It wasn't that long ago that you would have thought nothing of this. You all did some--"
"Yes, I did some terrible things," Une sighed, slumping against the wall. "I did those things because I was... I would have done *anything* for... I wanted to prove..." She looked up at the tile ceiling and took a deep breath.
"I think it started back when I forced Heero Yuy to self-destruct. He was just a boy, who should have been in school, going to parties... and he stood there and casually pressed a detonator that would in all likelihood kill him. Then Treize started 'seeing' Wufei and the boy managed to show us what we were doing. Romafeller started getting too much power, and Treize was worried. We began trying to turn things around subtly... oh, I know we can't change what we did, but we wanted to make it right. We started searching for you and the other rebels, the pilots... then Treize disappeared." She sighed again and Sally patted her shoulder.
"You know, Sally, I've admired the Gundam pilots for a long time. I didn't like them, and I tried to kill them at every turn, but since Wufei has been around, I feel like I know them a little now. He never told us any information that could be used against them, though by then we were already looking for a way out of the mess ourselves. He'd tell us about Winner's latest attempt at making a fancy dinner, or Barton's latest reading craze, or Duo's latest prank and Yuy's reaction. Little things, but humanising things. They became teenaged boys stuck in a bad situation that we were at least partially responsible for, rather than 'enemies' to be destroyed at all costs." Une shook her head, clearing her thoughts. "Well, I should let you get to Duo, and I need to check on the rest of the men and make sure everything is alright on base. Send someone for me when you're finished? He probably shouldn't be alone afterwards."
Sally nodded and watched Une walk off.
*Well, that was interesting...* Sally pondered as she headed toward the operating room. *You would have done anything for Treize, you were jealous of his relationship with Zechs, and Heaven only knows how you must have felt when Wufei joined the equation... You wanted to prove you were just as good and loyal... Thank God you came to your senses.*
She looked through the room's window at Duo on the operating table and chuckled to herself. *Though I wonder if I should pity poor Duo. With both you and Treize taking an active interest in him, becoming the 'over-protective' parent figures, it seems... he may want to run screaming...*
She watched his face through the glass even drugged, the pain it caused him simply to breathe showed on Duos mobile features. She shook her head, somewhat surprised at just how much it bothered her to see this young man in such obvious pain. *What am I thinking? It's not just Une and Treize. You've got Heero Yuy wrapped around your finger; Walker is worried about you, though he doesn't show it. Hell, even *I* was considering turning the chopper around to get revenge for you. Duo Maxwell... what is it about you...?*
Walker finished his review of Tallgeese and shut the mecha down with a heavy sigh. He should have known that Zechs would only become *more* reckless with the General's life at stake, but he'd convinced himself that the pilot had taken his last set of warnings to heart...
He was just finishing his repairs report as Zechs Marquise wandered into the hangar, a smile on his face. Walker tried very hard *not* to think about why he looked so happy. He asked, "Sir, how are they?"
Zechs shrugged. "Treize will be fine; it will take a while, but he will recover fairly easy, now that he's back with us. I just left him in the infirmary to be checked over by Sally's aide, Farley. The Gundam pilot... I understand he is still in the operating room. Sally told Une that he would make a full recovery, though. Eventually."
"I'm glad to hear it," Walker replied honestly. From what little he'd seen of the kid, he had spirit and remarkable courage, to even attempt to go into battle in the condition he'd been in, and all with a grin and a punch line. "Sir, I finished the preliminary repair estimate on the Tallgeese," Walker continued, changing the subject neatly.
"Let's see it, then," Zechs said, ignoring the reproachful look on his chief engineer's face. He picked it up and began scanning.
Walker decided not to even bother trying to escape what was going to happen when Zechs read the part about...
"You *can't* be serious! Walker, that suit needs to be ready to go at a moment's notice..."
The smaller man refused to allow himself to back down from the Lieutenant's anger. "We talked about this last time, sir. I know perfectly well that you were worried about General Kushrenada, but that is no excuse for remaining in an active battle when your main engine had destabilised! If that thing had blown, you would have been dead before you could blink. Tallgeese will remain grounded until *I* am satisfied that the engine is working properly!"
Zechs tossed the report back onto Walker's cluttered desk. "And just *what* am I supposed to fly until then?"
Walker couldn't help the twitchy little smile that crept onto his face. "There are plenty of operational Leos and Aries in the other hangar, sir."
"You must be joking..."
"I'm not, sir," Walker replied evenly. "You were so wound up in what you were doing that you didn't even notice the warning light, did you?" he asked, already knowing the answer. "Look, I'm sorry to do it, but this is *my* suit as much as it is yours, and it will be *my* fault someday when something malfunctions and you get injured as a result. Since I'd prefer *not* to see the reactions of *either* of your significant others when that happens, I'm going to do my damndest to make certain it doesn't. The suit remains grounded."
Zechs was chuckling, despite his annoyance. "They would try and kill you, you know..."
Walker gave a full-fledged smile. "They would succeed, too, given their track record. Go away - I have work to do."
"Get on it, Walker. You know I hate suits with bloody training wheels still on them..."
Both men laughed as Zechs left the hangar.
True to his word, Trowa had the arrangements made by the time the others had finished packing their gear. The other three dumped their gear and gathered around the tall, green-eyed pilot as he hit PRINT and the printer began to hum.
"I've got you booked on a commuter flight from here to London. At Heathrow, you'll connect to a flight to Minsk. There will be a rental car in the name of Didier Martel - you still have the passport in that name, Quatre. I've booked the tickets in names from aliases you've used before to simplify things - Heero as Ikeda Naoki and Wufei as Shen Shi-Fan," Trowa said, tapping the laptop keyboard again. Heero and Wufei nodded.
"Your cover story is that you're going to attend an international shooting competition. I have already entered you and gotten clearance for your guns to be allowed in your stowed luggage. Sorry, Heero, there's no way I could have managed to allow any in your carry-on."
Heero shrugged and Trowa continued. "You are now official members of the local gun and sport-shooting club here in England, and all corresponding paper work is taken care of. Once you've set out for Vilno, I'll withdraw you from the competition for medical reasons. Any questions?"
"I don't think so, Trowa. It sounds like you have everything covered," Quatre said, smiling at his lover.
"Good. Once you pick up the car, you'll have to backtrack to Vilno. I have various maps printing out, so you should be able to get into the area with no problems. By my calculations, and barring any hold-ups, you should be in there within 36 to 40 hours. Wufei, if you can, get the exact coordinates from Zechs..." Wufei nodded again at the other pilot and sent off a quick email from his own computer, then gathered up the maps.
"Right," Trowa said. "Gentlemen, your plane leaves in two hours. Shall we head out?" he asked, picking up the duffle Heero had packed for Duo and heading for the door.
Shouldering their bags, the others followed him out.
Treize looked up again as the door opened and a tired-looking Sally Po walked in, her scrubs stained lightly pink. Good afternoon, Doctor. How is your other patient?
She blinked at him Sally never thought shed see the day that Treize Kushrenada wore something as commonplace as military fatigues, but she was relived to see that hed taken the time to shave. *Right, with a little help from Zechs, if that smile means anything.* Afternoon to you, General. Hes not well, but he will be in a while.
He caught her stare and barked out a short laugh. You noticed my change of apparel, I take it? Zechs apologised profusely, saying that he didnt have the time to find something more to my tastes.
She managed a dry laugh and a smile. Its just a different look, sir
If I remember correctly, Doctor, you defected from my army, did you not? Treize asked, interrupting.
Well, yes, but
He gave her a charming smile. In that case, I dont see any reason for the use of titles between us. Call me Treize.
She laughed, relaxing a little. Id forgotten how bloody charming you can be when you want to. Fine then, Treize. She gave him a polite nod. Did Farley start your check up while you were waiting?
Yes I did, Maam! a voice piped up as the door opened again. A young man with curly brown hair walked in. He just remembered that he didnt have to salute as he handed a chart to the doctor. Just did the bloodwork, he said, his normally cheerful face grave.
Sally frowned and grabbed the chart. As she shared a concerned look with her assistant, a knock sounded at the door. Une popped her head in. Anyone mind?
Treize shook his head and waved her in. Join us please, Lady, by all means. The good doctor was just reading over my chart and frowning at it.
Une cocked an eyebrow. Sally?
Sally looked up, her fatigue lending to the look she wore. Une, please have someone fetch Zechs in here a moment.
Une nodded, recognising the tone of command in the other woman's voice. Of course. She stood and quickly disappeared out the door.
Treize cocked an eyebrow. Well?
Sally sighed. Viral infection, sir. Similar to what Duo is suffering from, though that doesnt surprise me. Must have been the cell. Ill just want to give Zechs a booster shot against it.
She smiled. Id prefer to keep you in the infirmary for at least a couple days to monitor it, Treize. I dont expect it to be bad, but we must be cautious.
Do you really think
Sally nodded. Treize, you are far too thin for my liking and much weaker than youre letting on. As for those bruises youre sporting
He shook his head slowly. Oh, they quickly stopped trying to interrogate me when I sent some of their men back in body bags, he said, an edge to his tone. No, most of what you see happened recently, when I was stupid enough to startle an injured Gundam pilot while he was disoriented.
She gasped. Duo
He did that to you? a low voice asked from behind them.
They turned to find Zechs and Lady Une silhouetted in the doorway. Treize extended his hand to the blond and pulled him forward. It was nothing like that, Zechs. The first time they took him for questioning, he was still in fight mode, even though he was mostly unconscious. When I tried to help him up, he simply reacted, not knowing who it was that was touching him. Those bastards!
Zechs felt a jolt of fear, seeing his lovers anger so clearly. For Treize, a man who was as practiced at hiding his emotions as he was at swordplay, to be showing such anger, the beatings must have been terrible, indeed! He peeled a clenched fist open and held Treizes hand firmly in his own. Treize?
Sally patted Zechs shoulder when the General didnt respond, preferring to lean weakly on his lovers shoulder, as though the display of emotion tired him.
Zechs, Id like to keep him under observation for a day or two, she said softly.
Concerned ice blue eyes swung up to meet hers. Sally?
Just a virus, but Im being cautious.
He nodded. Fine with me, as long as he gets better.
Were going to give you a shot, too, Marquise, she said, a hint of a gleam lighting her eyes.
He groaned. I swear you doctors are all sadists
Treize, Une and Sally all laughed, and the doctor responded, And you pilots are all the same, big babies when you take the mobile suits away!
She turned to find Farley waiting with a syringe in his hand, and she accepted it with a smile, grabbing an alcohol swab and a set of gloves. Now if Lieutenant Marquise would be so kind as to drop his pants
Une promptly blushed bright red. Ill go see about dinner
Sally laughed. Fine well be just behind you, Une.
As the door closed, Zechs glared at the doctor. Youre doing this on purpose, arent you?
Treize smacked his lover lightly on the arm. Decorum, Zechs. Take your medicine like a man.
Blushing darkly, the blond bent over. You would be just as upset if you were in my OW!
Shaking her head, Sally stepped back. All done.
The blond pulled his pants back up with as much dignity as he could manage and, properly zipped and tucked, he turned to Treize. What would you say to dinner, sir?
Treize turned to Sally with a raised eyebrow, his eyes clearly pleading to be allowed out.
She relented. Fine, but I expect you to tell us when you get tired, Treize. And you promised to tell us all how you managed to get thrown in the same cell as Duo Maxwell.
So I did, Treize said, nodding. He stood slowly and took Zechs hand. Lets get dinner now, and well speak of it later, I promise.