Marianne didn't dare to look over her shoulder, and she didn't have to. The fact that Dermail seemed to like her didn't count for too much as a member of his household, she was under constant surveillance. And if she put one foot out of line
She found her way to a nearby public library and walked in and up to the front desk, smiling warmly at the elderly woman she found there. As she began filling out the paperwork to get her new library card, Marianne took the time to observe the man following her. Tall, broad-shouldered, with dark eyes and sandy brown hair. Pretty nondescript. She frowned no one was going to look twice if he started following her around probably assume he was interested in her.
He was, actually. Just not the way that little librarian would assume.
She made her way into the stacks, to all appearances exploring the books in the massive library. She prowled aimlessly until she finally found the computer room. It was time to ditch her shadow.
She turned away from the room deliberately and headed for the card catalogue. Finding something that looked vaguely like the sort of book a housekeeper would enjoy, she turned back to the stacks and pretended to get slightly lost on her way to the right shelf.
She stared up at the shelf she was luckier than she thought the book was at the top of the shelf, much higher than a woman of her height could reach. She sighed and turned around, as though looking for a stool-
Her eyes lighted on her shadow, and she smiled as she approached him. "Hi, um, sorry to bother you, but could you help me? I can't reach my book."
The man sputtered for a moment, at a loss as to how to treat the situation, but he finally smiled. "Sure, no prob. Which one?"
She smiled as he lifted the book down. From the look on his face, gothic romance novels were not his sort of reading. She gave him a grin, nonetheless. "Have you read this one? This will be the third time I've read it, now "
He shook his head. "No, not really my kind of book."
"Oh. Well, thanks for your help," she said brightly. She squeezed his hand gently before moving away, smirking.
Sure enough, he left immediately.
She would have about ten minutes before a new mark was set on her trail. Just enough time.
Carrying her book, she made her way to the computer room and the precious internet terminals it contained. **Hmmm never read a gothic romance before,** she thought, looking at the novel she was holding. **I wonder if it's any good.**
There was a knock at the door.
Zechs groaned and covered his face with a pillow, refusing to move, though he felt Wufei, on his right side, stirring.
"Wha timezit?" the Chinese pilot asked drowsily.
"Time to get up, sir," Une's voice called from behind the door.
Wufei just turned and scooted closer to the blond man at his side. His nose wrinkled a little. "Zechsy... yer sticky."
"That's what happens when your boyfriends screw your brains out," Treize said, pressing up against Zechs from the other side. "S'yer fault, Fei." He nuzzled Zechs' neck and settled back into a comfortable sleep.
Smiling in his state of half-awareness, Wufei agreed, "Yeah, my fault." He wrapped an arm around Zechs.
Another knock. "Treize? Wufei? You have a mission today."
"Shmission," Treize grumbled, tightening his hold on the blond man. Grinning a little against his neck, he began tracing gentle patterns over Zechs' abdomen with teasing fingers, and somewhere deep in Zechs' chest, a rumble of pleasure made itself known...
"COUNT KUSHRENADA! IF YOU DON'T GET OUT OF THAT BED RIGHT NOW, I SWEAR I WILL SHAVE EVERY HAIR OFF OF ZECHS' BODY WITH A RUSTY NAIL!!!"
Treize sat up so quickly at the sound of yelling that he lost his balance and rolled backwards-
"Bloody hell." And right down onto the cold floor. He groaned and glared at the door. "Rusty..."
Two very amused laughs came from back up on the bed, and Treize transferred his glare from the door to his lovers as he stood and stared down at them. "It was *not* funny."
Zechs just laughed even harder, while Wufei chuckled and snuggled deeper under the blanket.
Grinning evilly, Treize reached down and yanked said blanket away, leaving his bedmates suddenly naked as he was in the cool morning air. He was gratified to hear both men squeak.
Une knocked again.
The former leader of OZ rolled his eyes and yelled back at the door, "WE'RE AWAKE, ALREADY!"
"Oh. Okay." They could hear the sound of her boots on the tiled floor, walking away.
Treize shook his head as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "I really hate that woman sometimes."
"Treize, don't be ridiculous," Zechs scolded lightly. "You're just upset that your little tumble destroyed the mood you were going for."
Treize shot him a glance, while Wufei chuckled. "Spoilsport."
"You still love me."
Wufei chuckled. "Someone obviously does. You should see your hair right now."
Zechs automatically reached up, and grimaced. He *knew* they should have cleaned up after last night! "Wufei! Did you use my hair as a towel, or something?"
Chuckling, Treize pulled both pilots out of bed and towards the bathroom.
"Miss Dorothy!" Marianne gave the girl a swift curtsy as she swept past, almost as though she hadn't even seen her.
In truth Dorothy hadn't, but not for the reasons Marianne might have supposed. It took every ounce of training she'd ever received not to show how nervous she was as she walked straight to her grandfather's study and opened the door without ceremony.
She knew she was one of the few people - on planet or off - who enjoyed that privilege. Her grandfather had always been easy for her to manipulate, as happy as he always was to see his favourite granddaughter. But deep down, Dorothy knew it could only last so long. He would figure her out, eventually, and when he did, it would behove her to be as far away as possible!
Dermail's face lit up as he saw her, and he stood to embrace her immediately. "My dear Dorothy! This *is* an unexpected pleasure!" He kissed her on both cheeks, in the European manner. "Sit down, my dear, please..."
Dorothy sat back in a large, overstuffed chair while her grandfather perched on the adjacent divan. She gave him a false smile. "Grandfather, I was so worried for you! What happened?"
He took one of her hands in his and patted it gently. "You have always known I was a target, my dear. Someone simply got too close. I can assure you it won't happen again."
Guileless blue-grey eyes stared up at him. "After Treize's disappearance, you must understand how I worry..."
He shook his head. Dermail had always known how much Dorothy looked up to her cousin, Treize, and one of his greatest fears was that she should learn the part he had to play in the man's disappearance. "What happened with Treize was... regrettable, certainly. But it cannot be changed. Do not think of him, my dear - let him go."
Dorothy shook her head, and let tears fill her eyes. **Stupid old man! As though you ever cared about him! If only I could tell you that I know!** She blinked hard to hide a smile as a thought came to her, though, something the tears would back up quite nicely. "I can't let him go - not with that self-righteous little snit of a Relena Peacecraft going on about how his removal is a benefit to society! You know she's been saying that at her little pacifist school? She has no right - she didn't know him!"
Dermail frowned. As much as Dorothy's obvious distress bothered him, what was worse was that Relena's alleged comment struck a bit too close to the truth. "I'm sure she meant nothing by it, my dear..."
Dorothy shook her head. "Oh yes, she did! And that's not all she says..."
Dermail tuned Dorothy's complaints out as his brain kicked into overdrive. **If Relena is shrewd enough to make the right comments, it could cause a world of trouble. Damn her - I need to know what is going on, don't I?** He sighed and squeezed Dorothy's hand as a method of shushing her. "Enough, my dear. I realise you are upset, but ranting isn't going to fix it. I can think of something else to make you feel better."
**Bingo!** Dorothy blinked up at her grandfather with wide, guileless eyes. "What would that be?"
He gave her a small smile. "Go to her. Befriend this Relena Peacecraft and become a member of her inner circle. Then you can have a hand in bringing her down and showing her what it means to truly have and use power."
Dorothy allowed a slow smile to bloom over her face. "Grandfather, that's just perfect! I can do it - I won't let you down..."
"You never have, child," he said fondly, watching as her smile took on a dangerous glint once again. He knew his granddaughter was smart and cunning.
He could kill two birds with one stone like this - he would know what Relena was saying and thinking, and Dorothy, in her guise as a spy and her dislike for the Princess, would be less inclined to believe any of it than she might have been, otherwise.
He drew her into an embrace. "Let's not talk about such unpleasant things anymore, though. Tell me, how has school been?"
"Come on, Duo, wake up. I've brought you breakfast..."
Heero smiled slightly as his lover squeezed his eyes shut tighter and wrinkled his nose. He set the tray on the bedside table and sat on the bed, then leaned down and brushed a light kiss against Duo's pouting lips.
"The mess cook made one of your favourites, by special request," he said teasingly, "and I didn't even have to pull my gun on him."
A muffled snort was his answer, and blue-violet eyes opened slowly. "Time?"
"6:30. I know it's a little early, but I thought you might like a long, hot shower before Sally mummifies you and you have to leave."
"You know me too well, Heero. Offer me a long, hot shower and whatever you want is yours," Duo replied with a grin, pushing himself upright. Heero put the tray on his lap and his eyes closed in appreciation as he inhaled deeply. "Bacon and cheese omelettes... Damn, Heero, you spoil me."
"Hn. I can spoil you if I want to," Heero replied, handing the braided teen a fork and lifting his own. "Now, eat, shower, then we have to meet Sally for her to tape you up. Your plane leaves at 9 am. I asked Gio to fly you out, since I knew you trusted her... and she *is* a damn good pilot. She'll also be waiting to bring you back..."
"Heero, you have to stop worrying so much," Duo said between bites of omelette. "You're going to give yourself an ulcer. I know Gio is piloting the first leg, since that was one of your stipulations yesterday."
Heero was silent as they finished breakfast, then took the tray away and cupped his lover's face in his hands. "I'll try to stop worrying, if you do the same."
"But... Sally said there could be problems..."
"Yes, she did. She also said she doubts they'll affect me, and the tests are more precautionary than anything else. You need to concentrate on your mission, not on me," Heero said firmly. "I will be fine and waiting for you when you get back. Put the tests out of your mind, and think only of what you have to do. If your mind is elsewhere, something could go wrong, and... and I couldn't bear to lose you."
Duo leaned in and kissed his lover deeply. "I promise. I will be fine. I will come back to you."
Hero rested his forehead against the other teen's for a moment, then stood and pulled the blankets back.
"Mr. Maxwell, can I interest you in a hot shower and a personal valet to assist?"
"I think that's a marvellous idea, Mr. Yuy. Lead on!"
Sally stopped outside Duo's partially-closed door and just listened to the conversion inside for a moment.
"Don't forget to ask Wufei to do this if your arm, chest or ribs are bothering you. You know how it ends up a rat's nest after a mission..."
"I promise, even if he doesn't braid as well as you do."
"And let him check the bandages..."
"If something unplanned happens, listen to Wufei. He'll get you and Treize out..."
Sally sighed. **Poor Duo. Heero is going to drive him crazy if this doesn't stop...** She knocked sharply and entered the room, pausing at the bedside as Heero finished weaving the long braid and wrapped a band around the end. Duo appeared nearly ready to go. He was half dressed, shirt on the bed beside him, a small, packed bag was on the floor, and his coat was thrown over a chair.
"Good morning boys. I see you're nearly ready, unlike your teammates," she said cheerfully, laying down the rolled bandages and tape.
Duo grinned at her. "It's hard to sleep in when your favourite person brings you your favourite breakfast in bed, then treats you to a nice, long, hot shower." He winked at her and continued. "Not to mention the joyous anticipation of being mummified by your favourite evil scientist."
"Mummified, hm?" She asked, wrapping one of the bandages tightly around his chest and ribs. "It could be arranged. And just think of the fun Heero would have, unwrapping you like a present." Tucking in the end of the bandage, she began a layer of tape.
"Duo, let's not get you mummified," Heero said, joining in on the light-hearted banter. "Sally would have to put you in a pyramid in the middle of the desert, then I'd have to go find you and dig you out." He cocked his head and looked thoughtful. "Of course, there would be lots of gold and treasure in the tomb. Maybe I should leave my mummy there, grab the treasure and retire to some tropical paradise..." he said teasingly, smirking at his lover.
Sally snorted and started wrapping Duo's arm, as the long-haired teen slapped his boyfriend lightly with his free hand.
"That is so not funny, Yuy," Duo replied mock-derisively. "Maybe your mummy should just cut you off from all forms of sex for even *thinking* that."
Sally laughed out loud as she finished applying the tape over the bandage on Duo's arm. "He's got you there, Heero. Let's just skip the complete mummification and go with what I've done. How does it feel?"
Duo moved his arm around, bending it and stretching it over his head. "Well, I've got almost full range of motion, so that's good."
"Any pain in your ribs or chest?" Heero asked, looking at him sharply.
"No real pain," Duo replied honestly. "More like slight twinges in the ribs, and I can feel a little pull in the stitches..."
Sally nodded. "Good. That's about what I had expected." She handed him a small bag of pills. "If you do feel pain on the way back, have Wufei check you out, and take a couple of these. They're just the mild painkillers you've been taking on and off."
Duo nodded and dropped them in his bag.
"Now, you're as ready as I can make you. Finish getting dressed and meet us out on the runway in about twenty minutes," the blonde doctor said, then gathered her things and hurried out the door.
"We have twenty minutes, Heero," Duo said, pulling on his shirt. "What should we do -"
There was no answer as the Japanese teen pulled his lover into his arms and silenced him with his lips.
Gio was just finishing the pre-flight checks when Howard and Rodney entered the cockpit.
"Hey, boss, Rodney, you guys here to see me off? How sweet..."
"Slight change of plans, Gio," Howard said shortly. "Rodney is co-piloting."
At Gio's startled look, the other sweeper raised his hands. "Whoa, not my idea, Gio! This is all the boss! Not me!"
Howard sighed, pulled off his sunglasses and rubbed his face. "Gio, I don't doubt you or your abilities. I just... I just need to stack the odds a bit. You know? If I wasn't needed here, I'd be flying this boat..."
Gio's face softened and she nodded. "Yeah, Howard, I read you," she said, rising and putting a hand on the older man's shoulder. "Duo's our kid, too. We'll do everything we can to bring him back in one piece, right Rodney?"
"You betcha, lady," Rodney replied, sitting down in the co-pilot's seat. "No worries, Dad. We'll all be right as rain. You'll see."
Howard smiled wryly at the younger sweeper's attempt to get a rise out of him. "You'd better be," he said, not rising to the bait, "or you're all grounded for a month." He turned and stalked out of the cockpit.
Rodney blinked at Howard's retreating figure, then turned to Gio. "You sure you're all right with this?"
"Yup," she replied, resuming her seat. "Like he said, nothing wrong with stacking the odds in our favour. Now, let's finish the pre-flight. Engine coolant?"
Trowa walked across the tarmac, Quatre's hand tight in his own, and watched his friends and family as they stood by the plane. Treize, Wufei and Zechs were off to the side, huddled together, and while he couldn't hear what was said between them, he could easily imagine their conversation. When they were joined by Une, Walker and Marie, he moved his gaze to the other small group.
Heero stood behind Duo, his arms wrapped tightly around his long-haired lover, as if loath to lose physical contact. Sally was beside them, most likely giving Duo last minute medical instructions. Howard, on their other side, had his hand on Duo's shoulder, nodding occasionally as if in agreement with everything Sally said.
As he and Quatre moved closer, Trowa concentrated his gaze on his friend... **No, my brother,** he said to himself, a tiny, half-smile momentarily crossing his features. His eyes searched Duo for any sign of... **What am I looking for? Weakness? Pain? Fear?** He sighed to himself. **Even if he were in pain or afraid, he'd never let on...**
His mind drifted back to the day he'd arrived on the base, to Duo, weak, bandaged, and bruised, lying pale and fragile-looking on the bed. He could almost hear the long-haired boy's rasping voice again, protesting the need for painkillers. He remembered the detailed list of injuries on the chart and his own burning need for revenge...
"It's hard, isn't it, Trowa?" Quatre's calm, quiet voice broke into his thoughts. "It seems like yesterday that Heero and I were watching him wake up from the morphine, battered and bruised, unable to breath without pain, unable to walk alone..."
Trowa blinked at his blond lover, and Quatre smiled wryly. "It's hard to reconcile *that* Duo with the one standing in front of us. I don't want him on this mission any more than you or Heero do, but physically, he *is* well enough for it. We've all done harder missions than this, in worse condition than he's in. And he may run and hide, and occasionally twist the truth, but there is no way that he'd lie to himself or the rest of us about his fitness for this mission. There's too much at stake for that. If he had any doubts about his ability to pull this one off, he'd be the first one to say so."
"I know, you're right," Trowa replied with a sigh, giving the blond's hand a squeeze, "but -"
"No 'buts' and of course I'm right," Quatre said, picking up his pace. "Now, lover, we're going to hide the worry and see them off properly - Ah, Duo, promise me you *won't* play any jokes on Rashid! He still hasn't recovered from the last one..."
Duo laughed. "I promise Q! No jokes. I'll even apologise to him," he said, hugging the blond. Pulling back, he met Trowa's eyes, and smiled. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the taller boy, careful of his wounded arm.
"It's okay, Tro," Duo whispered for the other boy alone, "we'll be fine. I'm okay for this, bro, no worries."
Trowa squeezed the shorter teen with his good arm. "I know Duo. Give them hell for us."
Duo stepped back grinning, and winked. "You got it, man!"
"Okay, people! Let's load up! We've only got fifteen minutes until the satellite pass," Gio yelled out the cockpit window. With a thumbs up, her head disappeared back through the window and the plane's engines roared to life.
Marie sighed as she looked at Heero and Zechs after the plane had disappeared from sight.
**Papa, I think this is going to be hard. Uncle Heero and Uncle Zechs are awful sad...** she thought. **I don't think they're going to want to play in the snow. Maybe...**
"Well, back to work, people," Howard called, turning back to the hangar. "Sandrock needs those boosters, Heavy Arms is still in pieces..."
Marie cocked her head, ran to Zechs and grabbed his hand, then dragged him over to Heero.
"Uncle Heero, Uncle Zechs, you want to help me fix Tallgeese?" she asked cheerfully, tugging both towards the hangar.
"Fix Tallgeese?" Heero asked absently, following along.
"What are you doing to my suit, Marie?" 'Tallgeese' had gotten Zechs' attention and he looked from the empty sky to her face as she pulled him toward the hangar.
"Howard said we have to..." A frown wrinkled her forehead as she tried to remember what she had overheard. "We have to flush something from it, then change the oil... Maybe... remove the circuits and warp the mainframe?"
Heero snickered involuntarily as Zechs stared at the little girl in shock.
"Are you sure that's what Howard said, Marie?" the Japanese teen asked, opening the door.
"Ummm... well, I don't know what the warping is, but that's what it sounded like..."
Zechs rushed inside, yelling, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY SUIT, HOWARD?!" and Marie giggled. "Wow! He really wants to help."
Heero nodded. "Yes, so it seems. I'll help you, too, for a little while. Then I have to go let Sally poke and prod me."
"Eeewww..." Marie said, slipping her hand into Heero's. "Is she sticking you with needles?"
The Japanese teen nodded again, and the little girl squeezed his hand.
"You want to take my teddy bear with you so it doesn't hurt as much, Uncle Heero?"
Heero blinked, then smiled slightly at her. "Yes, I think I'd like that..."
Sally stirred a cup of tea as she sat down in front of her computer and booted it up. She squeezed her lemon gingerly, poking at it with her spoon as her email came up. Same old, standard reports
She was sure she didn't know anyone named Mary Jane Watson She opened the email curiously:
Sally was close to hyperventilating as she finished reading. The audacity! Athena had dared to send *her* an email directly? **That girl's got guts, but damn!**
She read it again critically it was an old code they'd established very early on for her to use with Apollo. She had some info to pass on, but she couldn't just give it to them she needed to put a person inside before she made her move. Sally sat back, frowning. They were already spread thin it was going to look awfully strange
She looked up to find Trowa at the door, watching her with an expression approaching concern on his face. "Come on in, Trowa. What are you doing here?"
The tall pilot sat down with a huff, cradling his injured arm carefully. "Quatre and Howard kicked me out of the hangar. They got angry with me for trying to help tune a set of radar monitors "
She cut him off with a distracted, half-hearted glare. "They were right, and you know it."
He sighed and nodded. "Yeah."
She watched him curiously for a moment Trowa was a hard one to read, his face blank, though she knew something had to be going on behind his calm eyes.
He broke the silence before she did. "What were you reading when I got in?"
Sally waved to the screen, and he got up to come and read over her shoulder.
Smirking a little as he finished, he raised an eyebrow. "She's got balls, sending that so openly."
"Tell me about it."
He pointed to the second half of the message. "Uncle Mark and little Gregory? I'm guessing she means Johann by that one, but who's little Gregory?"
Sally shook her head. "Someone you don't need to know about yet."
"Fair enough," Trowa backed away and retreated back around her desk to take a seat. "Am I right in guessing that was a request for backup?"
"Very good." She smiled. "It must be something big for her to send *me* a message like this."
He snorted, a half smile on his face. "Who are you sending in?"
Sally shrugged. "She asked specifically for either Marco or the other agent she's used to working with. Given their backgrounds, she's got something hot."
"Sounds interesting," Trowa remarked dryly.
Sally gave up and finally laughed. "Shoo! I need to do secret spy stuff for a while."
"As the lady wishes," he said smoothly, standing up and leaving with a rare full smile.
It wasn't until after he'd left that she realised he's been trying to make her smile all along. She shook her head and picked up the phone.
"Marco, can you please come and join me in my office?"