"Duo!" Gio called across the tarmac of the abandoned airstrip where she and Rodney had been waiting, then ran toward the slim figure walking unsteadily her way. Ignoring the group following her 'nephew', she enfolded him in a huge hug before stepping back and giving him a thorough once-over. Satisfied that the long-haired teen was no worse off than before, she wrapped her arms around him again momentarily. Glancing quickly over his shoulder at the men following Duo and assuring herself everyone was well-enough, she led him back towards the shack.
"While Dr. Po did let us know that everything went alright, and no one was seriously injured, I want to hear it from you. Any new injuries or complications I should worry about?" she asked, sliding an arm around Duo's shoulders and eyeing the faint bruises around his neck.
"Nah, Gio, nothing to worry about," Duo replied, turning his head and planting a quick kiss on her cheek. "I took a nasty chest blow, and the guy tried to strangle me, but Treize pulled him off. I'm a little out of shape, so the mission wore me out, but I'm feeling okay... at least as okay as can be expected. I wouldn't mind a long hot bath and sleeping for a week, though," he added with a grin.
"Maxwell," Wufei called from behind them, amusement clear in his tone, "that's all you've done for the past couple of days! We were staying in a luxury suite, after all, not some hole in the wall motel! Please do not give that woman the impression that you've been abused. I would prefer not to be ejected from her plane at 20,000 feet because of some perceived slight to your person!"
"I'm that woman now, am I?" Gio asked over her shoulder as Duo's cheerful laughter rang out. "I'll remember that, Chang. How would you like a new paint job on that precious piece of scrap metal of yours, hm?"
"Evil woman! You wouldn't!" Wufei snapped, his eyes sparkling with amusement. Beside him, Treize valiantly controlled his snickers. The Manguanacs, however, felt no such restraint, and burst into laughter.
Gio opened the door, gently pushing the still giggling Duo inside, then motioned for the others to follow. "Rodney is doing the pre-flight check right now. We should be ready to leave shortly, though it might be a slightly tighter squeeze with all of your hulking body guards joining us, Duo," she said conversationally.
As Wufei stepped past her to go inside, she slid an arm around him and pulled him into a light hug. "Glad to see you, too, Wufei," she said softly, an affectionate smile on her face, then kissed his cheek quickly before scooting outside to help Rodney.
The Chinese teen stared after the older woman, surprise clear on his face.
Treize looked at his stunned lover with concern. "Wufei?"
Wufei blinked, then turned slightly glazed eyes to the taller man. "She's never done that before," he said slowly.
"Perhaps," Rashid said calmly, stepping beside the two lovers, "she never felt the need before?"
"Duo?" Wufei asked, looking at his long-haired friend.
Duo gazed back, a happy smile on his face and his eyes shining. "Welcome to the family, Bro."
Trowa filled a thermal carafe with coffee, grabbed some mugs, then turned to leave the mess hall. Heero and Quatre had slept around the clock, and even though he was loath to leave them, he knew they'd wake soon and need coffee. Hence, his foray out into the cold Transylvanian evening.
He'd just decided to take some rolls back as well when a small body hurled itself against him and wrapped their arms around his legs.
"Uncle Trowa!" Marie exclaimed, pouting up at him as he identified his 'attacker', "You said you'd come and get me! You forgetted!"
The tall teen sighed silently and carefully placed the coffee and mugs back on the table, then crouched in front of the little girl.
"No, I didn't forget," he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Quatre and Heero were very tired when they got back. I made them go to sleep. I knew you would understand and wait until they woke up," he said coaxingly, hoping to avoid a small tantrum.
Marie's face clouded up and she stomped her foot. "But I-"
"They should be waking up soon, so how would you like to help me take them some dinner?"
The little girl blinked, attention distracted from 'I want to see' to 'I can see' and her face lit up. "Yay! I can see Uncle Heero and Uncle Quatre!"
Trowa smiled slightly, stood, then put a few sandwiches in a cloth napkin and tied it up. "Here," he said, handing her the small bundle, "you carry these, and I'll get the coffee."
Marie nodded and held the food carefully, all but bouncing in place. Trowa picked up the coffee and mugs, then nodded for Marie to go ahead, and followed her out of the mess tent.
Farley sat back and rubbed at his eyes, then turned to look at Sally, working at the desk directly behind his own. "Anything?"
She glanced up at him. "Not yet. Jesus, I've never seen anything like "
Farley nodded. "Now that we know what to look for, yeah. I've never seen this level of genetic manipulation in a living subject. I'm amazed either of them have survived."
Sally pushed away from her desk. "Amazing, sure. But how the hell are we supposed to find the antidote? You know how many different genes a person has, and it could be any of them "
Farley sat up straight as she spoke, though, staring at his computer screen and abruptly stopping the data flow. "How about a new code, then?"
Sally was at his side instantly. "What?"
He pointed at the screen. "I've had it running a search for the past couple hours for any code lines that seem out of the ordinary. I had a friend back in med school who specialised in neurobiology, and I remembered him telling me that there are certain code strings that are both common and harmless. Major diseases have modified coding sequences that cause any number of strange effects that you can discover if you have powerful enough computers and a long time to study it. We don't instead, I had it match up coding patterns in Heero and Bravo's blood samples. We just got a match."
Sally let out a low whistle. "That's some pretty advanced medicine you're talking about, Jason."
He looked up at her. "No kidding. But hey I just told you everything I know about it. I had a hunch."
Sally smiled. "You've been having a lot of those. A good doctor follows those hunches and solves his case."
Jason smiled, but yawned. "Well, it's one match. We don't know if it's the right one, and knowing what they've been through, it could be anything. We need to let the program run itself out and see how many matches we can find."
Sally pointed to the screen. "D'you need to watch it scan?"
He shook his head. "Probably not. It'll just keep going "
"Good!" She grabbed his arm and hauled him from his seat.
"Ummm Sally? Where are you "
She shot him a smile. "Relax. I'm just returning a favour. You didn't let me sit in here and rot, I'm not letting you do it, either." She rubbed at his shoulders gently as she steered him to the doorway. "It should just about be time for dinner, dont you think?"
"I just feel bad, leaving her," Jason said, glancing back at his desk. "You didn't see it, Sally. She was in so much pain, she was so scared, and they just left her like that."
Sally tipped his face around to look him in the eyes. "No, I didn't, and I'm sorry you had to. Look, Jason, I know how you feel. I've been there. But sitting here, staring at the screen as it scrolls by you won't help anyone. Come with me. Please?"
He gave her a tired smile and nodded. "Thanks, Sally." He allowed her to pull him into a hug.
As they left, Farley kept his arm wrapped around her waist. The contact felt good.
Heero opened his eyes as a slight murmuring outside the room reached his ears. Glancing quickly around, he met Quatre's sleepy gaze beside him.
"'Morning Heero," the blond said softly with a smile. "Trowa must have gone out for something, and from the two voices outside the door, I'd say he's coming back with more than he left with."
The Japanese teen nodded. "I'd say it's more like 'Good evening," he replied, nodding toward the window. Just then the doorknob turned and both pilots shifted their attention to the people outside.
"... they may still be asleep," Trowa's voice whispered as the door opened. "So remember to be quiet, alright?"
"'kay," Marie's voice solemnly replied, and the little girl stepped inside first, a grin on her face.
"Uncle Heero! Uncle Quatre!" she nearly yelled, running to the bed and diving on the two young men. "Why are you in the same bed? I'm telling Uncle Duo!"
Heero caught her in mid-leap, while Quatre deftly rescued their dinner, and the blond snorted at his taller lover. "Well, Trowa, I see she knows how to be quiet."
Trowa just shook his head, stepping to the table and putting down his burdens. "Can you say '30 second attention span'?" he replied ruefully.
"I can too be quiet," Marie said defensively. "But Uncle Heero was awake. I saw his eyes. So there!" she finished, sticking her tongue out at Trowa.
"Be careful, Marie," Heero said sternly, setting the girl between himself and Quatre, "your face may freeze like that."
The little girl gaped at him for a moment. "Really? You think so?"
Quatre laughed. "No, Cricket, it won't do that. Uncle Heero is just teasing you. Duo tells him that all the time."
Marie glared at Heero. "Not nice to tell fibs, Uncle Heero," she said accusingly.
Heero just stared placidly back at her.
"Why don't you tell them what you did while they were gone, Marie," Trowa cut in as he poured coffee, intentionally changing the conversation.
The little girl bounced in place on the bed.
"I played with Uncle Zechs and Uncle Trowa, and Grandpa Howard, and Toi, and Cosmo, and - " she started, ticking names off on her fingers.
"Why don't you tell Heero and Quatre what we made, Marie," Trowa said quickly, cutting off the list.
"Oh! We made snow-people!" Marie continued. "We made Papa and Uncle 'Fei. Then we made you, Uncle Quatre. Uncle Trowa got one of your shirts for your snow-person! Then we made Uncle Heero and Uncle Duo! We used one of your shirts, too," she went on, looking at Heero. "And Uncle Trowa put your sneakers on him! And Uncle Zechs gave me his scarf so Uncle Duo has hair! Wanna see?" she exclaimed, starting to climb over Heero.
The Japanese pilot sat her on his lap before she could get away. "Why don't you show us after we eat? Then we can take a picture so Duo can see when he gets back."
Marie looked thoughtful, then nodded. "'kay. Oh! And why are you in bed with Uncle Quatre?" she added, returning to her first question.
At Heero's slightly panicked look, Quatre replied, "Because Uncle Heero wasn't feeling good last night. Since Uncle Duo wasn't here, we wanted to keep an eye on him and make sure everything was alright."
"Oh, okay," Marie said, then she wrapped her arms around Heero's neck. "You're okay now, right, Uncle Heero? Uncle Duo will be sad if you're not."
"I'm fine," Heero replied, hesitantly hugging her back.
"Good! Grandpa Howard said Uncle Duo should be back tonight... well, after I go to bed, anyway. With Papa and Uncle 'Fei!"
"That's very good news, Marie," Quatre said. "Isn't it your dinner time? The sooner you eat dinner, then the sooner you go to bed. Once you go to sleep, morning will come very fast, and your papa will be here."
Marie nodded. "I promised Uncle Zechs I would let him eat with me."
"Well, you'd better run then, or he'll start without you," Trowa said, holding her coat. Marie climbed off the bed and shrugged it on, zipping it up and waiting while Trowa handled the buttons. Mission accomplished, Trowa turned her towards the door, and gave her a little push.
"Go on, don't keep Zechs waiting. We'll be over shortly so you can show them the snow-people."
"Okay! Bye Uncle Heero! Bye Uncle Quatre! See you later!" she called as she ran out the door and down the hallway.
Heero sighed, and Quatre laughed.
"When did she turn into a real six year old?" the blond asked.
"When Sally tried to foist her off on Howard just before you got back. She stomped her foot and said 'no' quite vehemently." Trowa answered, handing out coffee and sandwiches. "I'm guessing that she has discovered that acting her age here is acceptable, and she will not be punished harshly for doing so. I, for one, am relieved. Her acting like a mini-adult was disturbing."
Quatre nodded in agreement.
"She said Duo was due in tonight?" Heero asked abruptly, changing the subject. At Trowa's nod he seemed to relax a little. "Any other news?"
"I saw Sally. Bravo is stable and resting comfortably. She's also having a few of her people try and find if there are more of you, and if so, where they are. Treize's group should be getting in sometime around 5 am. Gio radioed that they were en route to her position and as soon as things were set they'd head home. Dorothy has settled in with Noin and Relena, and she was quite put out by Treize's active role in their mission. Aside from that, things are fairly quiet."
"So, we're pretty much 'off-duty' until tomorrow?" Quatre asked, then took a bite of his sandwich.
"Barring any unforeseen interruptions or acts of God, yes," Trowa confirmed.
"Good, then I'm for a shower," Quatre said, rising and heading for the small bathroom. "Anyone care to wash my back?"
Heero shook his head, grabbed another sandwich, and walked to the bedroom door. "I'll leave that to Trowa," he said, a tiny smirk on his face. "Duo might be upset if I joined in and he missed out. I think I'll go see Howard."
"Your loss," Trowa grinned, stepping in the bathroom and firmly closing the door.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready for take-off," Gio said, settling herself into the pilot's seat and starting the plane's engines. "Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened. If you don't have one, I guess you're shit out of luck. In case of emergency, stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye. In the event of a water landing, please save the pilot as I can't swim."
Rashid groaned audibly. "Is Miss Gio always like this?"
Duo turned and grinned at the Mangaunac. "Nah, Rashid. Usually she's worse. She hasn't done the insurance line, the 'pray to whatever God you follow' or the 'if you think you can do better - eat shit and die' lines."
"I must remember to ask Master Quatre if we get hazard pay..."
"Come on, Gio! Let's go already! There's a certain brown-haired, blue-eyed guy I have a wild and kinky date with!" Duo called out.
"Do we get video?" Treize asked Wufei softly.
Howard looked up from the console as Heero reached his side. Stretching, he straightened and put a light hand on the Japanese pilot's shoulder.
"All right, boy?" he asked gruffly, staring intently.
Heero nodded. "I'm all right Howard. It's been a tough few days, but it's nothing I can't handle."
"Just remember that you don't have to handle it alone," the older man said sternly, giving Heero's shoulder a squeeze. "Now, enough mush. I suppose you want to know how the upgrades are going?"
Howard pulled out the schematics for Heavyarms. "Well, We've finished reinforcing the cockpit. The boosters and jets are in place, so it's now space-capable. We made a few improvements... reaction times, speed, that sort of thing. And it now has an active cloak. Much more stable than 'Scythe's, though I'll make alterations to his next. My kid is a genius, but... well, he just doesn't take enough precautions."
"So, you're grounding Deathscythe next?" Heero asked, glancing at the menacing-looking Gundam.
"Yep. Heavy Arms will be ready for duty in 24 hours," the lead Sweeper said confidently, tucking away the red and white Gundam's plans and pulling out Tallgeese's. "Tallgeese should be ready in roughly 36 hours. I can't give it a fully active cloak, but we have enhanced what we put in place for that other mission. We've modified cavitation, upgraded inertia dampers, reinforced the cockpit, and god knows how many other tiny things it needed. But it's nearly done. Once it's mission ready, I want to pull Wing off-line."
"Wing?" Heero asked, blinking slightly.
"Yep. I want to do the standard cockpit reinforcement. I want to give it the full active cloak as well. I doubt there's much else that will need tweaking, but I want to check anyways. Not taking any chances with your welfare, boy."
Howard looked sternly at the pilot beside him, but Heero could see the affection the older man had for him in his eyes. Heero barely hesitated.
"Thank you, Howard." he said quietly, a tiny smile appearing on his face. "I'd really appreciate that."
Howard nodded, then clapped Heero on the back and grinned. "You've come a long way, boy, from the brat who refused to even let anyone touch his suit, much less work on it."
The Japanese teen ducked his head, then looked up and winked at the older man.
Trowa's face was still flushed, his eyes bright as he dried himself off and followed his smirking, strutting lover out of the shower and into their room. "You know, the walls in here aren't all that thick, Quatre," he said, half in admonition.
The blond grinned as he pulled on his jeans, hair still dripping water down his bare chest and shoulders. "Good thing everyone is at dinner, then. I had no idea you could scream that loud."
Trowa aimed a playful punch at his lover and started shrugging on his own clothes. "Just don't spread it around I've got a reputation as a quiet guy to uphold."
Quatre smiled as he pulled on a clean red sweater and then reached for his towel to work on his hair. "Your secret is safe with me, Tro." He looked over at the taller teen, still shirtless. "I really missed you, you know."
Trowa rubbed his rear slightly, a small smile on his face and glinting in his eyes. "I sort of realised that." He pulled on a black sweater, though, and immediately stepped across the room to fold the shorter teen into a hug. Even from across the room, he'd been able to see there was more to that statement than it seemed. Sure enough, Quatre was trembling slightly in his arms.
He kissed Quatre's hair gently. "It must have been terrible."
Quatre pulled back and sat down, clinging to one of Trowa's hands. "You could see how much she was hurting, and I took one look at Heero, and I knew he was re-living it with her. Every time she cried out or flinched or anything, it was as if it was happening to him, too."
Trowa sat down and pulled the blond into his arms again. "I wish Duo was here. Heero needs him "
Quatre looked up. "He needed us, too. He needed you and everything you said to him." He snuggled closer to Trowa. "You were right we really are a strange, little family, and he didn't just need Duo. He needed you, too."
Trowa kissed his forehead. "You, too, love."
Quatre's eyes hardened. "I need to talk to Sally. If there are any others like Bravo, I'm not letting Heero bear the hurt of leaving them behind again. I'll send Rashid and the Manguanacs after them."
"He'd appreciate that," Trowa agreed, "though I could see him wanting to go in again, personally."
The blond shook his head. "No. Too risky if he's caught, I wouldn't put it past Dekim Barton to try and drug him senseless, and take him over."
"Hm." Trowa gave Quatre one last hug and stood, reaching for a hairbrush. "Duo and the others should be back hopefully by tomorrow morning. If anyone can talk Heero into not doing something stupid, it's him."
Quatre chuckled. "Talk? He doesn't have to say a word he just gives him those puppy dog eyes "
Trowa groaned. "Tell me about it."
The blond's eyes flashed with playful anger. "Been using them on you, too, has he? I'll teach that long-haired teasing my man "
"And just who was it who was commenting on how good Heero looks in his body armour, hmmm?" Trowa asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Touché." Quatre ran his fingers through his own hair, letting it fall into place effortlessly. "You ready to go yet?"
Trowa shot him a mock glare. "Shut up, Winner." He reached into a bag for his hair gel and turned back to the mirror, trying to ignore his lover's chuckles in the background.
He failed a smile spread over his face, and he began to laugh a moment later.
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