Duo hung back from the main group as the screen came to life. Relena was sitting at Dorothy's side, with Luca sitting opposite her, and he still had no great wish to see her, if it could at all be avoided.
In fact, only Heero and Trowa's presence behind him kept him from leaving. He leaned into his lover's touch, looking anywhere but at the screen.
Dorothy smiled at her cousin as the screen came up, but she looked both tired and worried. "Good evening, Treize. My apologies we called so late "
"Think nothing of it, Dor," Treize replied, directing his smile over at Relena. "And you, princess, nice to see you, as well."
Relena, too, seemed to be avoiding looking at Duo and Heero. "General. Brother. Everyone. Glad to see you're all well."
Dorothy waved her hand shortly. "We don't have too much time, here. Treize, Romefeller is looking for you, and they've narrowed their search to somewhere in East Europe or somewhere deep in the Sahara. You are no longer safe where you are."
There was a moment of deep silence as that sobering thought sank in. Sally leaned forward from her position at Treize's left. "Dermail told you that? Did he give any specifics?"
"No," Dorothy shook her head, "he simply said he thought he knew where to find the rebels." She rubbed her temples. "How soon can you leave?"
Everyone looked to Howard and Kevin. The older man in turn looked over at Duo. "Scythe is shit. If we really push it, we can get it back online within two days. But that's pushing it big time "
"No!" Duo said. "I can make him work! You just hafta "
Howard glared at the boy. "For heaven's sake, Duo, your methods aren't safe! You could easily overload the circuits with your tinkering "
"And who figured out how to stabilise the stealth system, huh?" Duo practically shouted. "Who doubled the power output? Jesus, Howard, give a guy a chance!"
Before anyone could say another word, Quatre turned around in his place. "Gentlemen! Howard, is there any reason why you can't work with some help from Duo?"
Kevin put a restraining hand on Howard's arm. "What worries us - there are established ways of doing these procedures, and bypassing them could cause catastrophic errors to happen at precisely the wrong time. Duo's work is it's revolutionary and untested "
Dorothy spoke up from the vid-feed, "According to everything I've ever seen and heard from the Gundam attack reports, it worked quite well."
Duo finally looked up at her, blinking, then a small smile crossed his face.
Sally fixed Howard with a stare. "As Base Commander, it is my call to make, folks. Howard, we don't have time to play around on this one. We will discuss it further after the video call, is that clear?"
Howard's eyes blazed, but he nodded and, across from him, Duo sat back down, his arms crossed over his chest.
Sally turned back to the screen. "We will be prepared in time, Dorothy, I promise you. Go on. What else did he say?"
Dorothy shifted in her seat. "There is going to be a shake-up in the Romefeller leadership very soon. Grandfather gave me very few details. He said someone new was going to have to take over, someone under his control, but not someone from his inner circle, thank God. I don't know who."
Une and Treize shot looks at each other. "Who Oh God - do you think I can call my uncle fast enough?" Une whispered, her eyes wide.
Dorothy blinked. "Your uncle?"
Une nodded. "Marcel Picavet. He is shall we say associated with Romefeller. He well, he and I have not gotten along well, you might say, for years now. Ever since I joined OZ, actually. He's rather well-respected, much in the way Marquis Weyridge is."
"It could work - if he were to step up at just the right time, at least. Especially as he is one of the true neutrals in Romafeller," Dorothy said. "Is Relena mentioned Weyridge as a possible inside voice, as well. Is there anything we can do from here?"
Une met Relena's eyes. "Wasn't he the one who yes, when you tried to shoot me," she said.
Zechs arched an eyebrow. "She did what?!"
Relena blushed a little. "It was just after my fa- I mean, my adopted father was killed. I was very angry, and I saw it happen with my own eyes "
Une looked away.
Kevin put a reassuring arm around her from the side.
Relena hung her head. "Lady Une, I I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive what happened out in the Colonies, but I understand that we have to work together, and I am willing to try," she said, clearly forcing herself to remain calm, but making the effort, nonetheless.
From his place to the side of the small group, Jason beamed. She was learning, after all.
Sally waited until Une looked up again before she spoke up. "Une, what will it take for you to get your uncle to act?"
The other woman shrugged. "If he'll talk to me, not too much. He was always a rational man - far more rational than I was."
Treize frowned, but nodded his acceptance. "We'll speak to him, if you, Relena, will try and talk to Weyridge."
Relena nodded. "There's one last thing. Zechs, he knows that we are related. Dermail knows your real name."
Zechs grabbed for something and was terribly grateful when Wufei caught his arm in a firm, grounding grip. "God, Relena Luca if that bastard lays one hand on either of you because of me "
Dorothy shook her head. "While I'm still here, she is protected, at least mostly. At any rate, I will know when trouble is coming and we'll be able to do something about it."
Quatre's worried frown deepened. "I don't like it. No offence meant, Dorothy, but you are all in an extremely vulnerable position there. And your grandfather will not hesitate to place you in danger if it suits his needs. I think we need to have more protection in Sanc, and we will need it soon."
Heero lifted an eyebrow. "We don't have anyone to send, Quatre. Who will go - you? Trowa?"
Trowa shook his head. "No, we won't have to."
Everyone turned to look at him, and he shrugged. "Lady, you said some men were asking for direction, did you not?"
She nodded, and he continued. "They have their direction - send them to Sanc to protect the Princess. Discreetly, of course."
Quatre blinked, but then gave his boyfriend a bright smile. "Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?"
Dorothy rolled her eyes. "Save it for later, gentlemen "
"You're going to send troops here?" Relena asked, her eyes huge in her face.
Une nodded. "Not just troops. Suits, too, if I can get them. Noin, can it be done?"
Luca nodded. "Sure "
"Suits?! But wait a moment!" Relena clenched her fists. "This is a pacifist kingdom, and I don't think "
"Relena, please," Zechs said. "We need you safe. I need you safe, okay?"
She stared at her older brother, her eyes stormy. "Milliardo, I just can't "
"Yes, you can." He stood in his spot, a tall, impressive figure in the small room. "Pacifism doesn't mean giving up without a fight. It means having the respect for life to avoid wasting it unless it is absolutely necessary."
Dorothy gave the blond man a nod of thanks as Relena averted her gaze again.
Sally looked down at her watch. "We've been on for a while now, people, is there anything else we need to discuss?"
"Yes," Dorothy said. "Grandfather will not be in Montreal for long. He wouldn't tell me where he was going, but he gave me a number to reach him at, or else to speak with Marianne, his servant. He said she would know where to find him at all times."
Dorothy was surprised when the people in the other room smiled. Sally replied, "Good to know."
Une slipped out of the large conference room and made her way to Sally's office. Sitting at the desk, she bowed her head for a moment, then keyed in a number on the computer vidphone.
She fidgeted as she waited for the secure call to go through. She hadn't spoken with her uncle in nearly a year, since their last confrontation about OZ, its methods and her involvement.
And he was right, she thought morosely, Our way was not the way to achieve our goals. I can only hope he doesn't know of the things I've done...
"Well, Une," a strong voice growled, cutting into her thoughts, "if you've called to harangue me into supporting OZ again or for help to take control now that Kushrenada seems to be out of the picture..."
"No, Uncle," Une replied quickly, looking earnestly at the distinguished man on the vidscreen, "that's not it! Please, just listen to me. Things have changed... I've changed..."
Picavet raised an eyebrow and steepled his fingers on his desk, staring hard at his niece for a moment, then nodded slightly. "Go on, Une."
She took a deep breath. "To start with, obviously Treize is not dead. I'm sure you knew he disappeared, supposedly taking a vacation. And that there was some sort of accident that resulted in his 'death'?"
At her uncle's nod, Une relaxed slightly and continued. "Actually, he was arrested for openly opposing Dermail's mobile dolls and thrown in prison to rot. At the same time, they began hunting Zechs and I. We slipped past them and have joined with a group of rebels."
"I had heard that, only it was slightly different," the older man cut in. "The story going around here is that with Treize's death, you and Merquise turned traitor."
Une shook her head. "Zechs and I knew some of their secrets," she replied. "They had to get rid of us, as well. Anyway, a Gundam pilot was incarcerated with Treize, and with the help of the rebels, we rescued them both. Since then, we've allied ourselves with the pilots as well."
"Well, that is a change of events. However, I don't see how this necessarily changes things, or what you want from me."
Une sighed. "Uncle, our goal hasn't changed. We still want peace, for earth and the colonies. It's the method of achieving it that we've changed. Forcing peace by showing people how bad war is isn't the solution -"
"It took you long enough to figure that out, Une," her uncle cut in sharply. Waving off her attempt to reply, he continued. "So, your ideals have changed, but what does that have to do with me?"
"We do need your help - no, hear me out," Une said, her colonel facade coming to the fore. "Dermail is more twisted and power hungry than you imagined. We have proof that he's been involved with inhuman experiments, in collusion with Barton, Wessex, and a man named Gates - an experiment to create perfect, unquestioning soldiers to be his enforcers. We have two of those 'experiments' with us. He plans to take control of the entire earthsphere with his mobile dolls. He is planning to take control of Romafeller, removing as many members who oppose him as possible, replacing them with people he can control. He also plans to remove Relena Peacecraft if she becomes a threat..."
Onscreen, Picavet's face paled as Une continued giving him details. When she outlined what they had surmised about Dermail's plans within Romafeller, his features hardened.
"That cannot be allowed to happen," the older man growled when Une had finished. "Have you spoken with anyone else? McKellar? Zukov -"
"No, Uncle," Une replied quickly. "I know Relena is planning to contact Weyridge with this information, but I don't know the others. I thought it best to give it to you, and let you take it from here."
"Good. I'll contact the others - at least the ones I can work with to try and stop Dermail," he said with a nod. "What will you be doing?"
"We'll be opposing his troops and cronies militarily. He basically has control over the remaining Alliance forces, as well as a good portion of OZ. He may have the space fortress Libra in his hands, as well as the moonbase. Until those are neutralised, whatever you do within Romafeller may well be in vain."
"True. All right, Une, leave Romafeller to us," Picavet said, leaning back in his chair. "You deal with your end as best as you can."
"Thank you, Uncle," Une said sincerely. "That takes a great load off of us. We have to move our base, but as soon as we resettle, I'll get in touch with you."
"Make sure you do," he said sharply, "And remember this. While I believe you, I will be watching you. If this is another elaborate scheme on your part..."
He let the sentence trail off, and Une nodded. "We won't betray your trust."
By the time Une returned to the conference room, the call was over, and the discussion had turned to their imminent departure. The conversation stopped as she slid into her seat and all the attention turned to her.
"Everything's fine," she said with a slightly strained smile. "Picavet will take over the Romafeller problem as much as he can. So, for now I think we should concentrate on our escape."
Sally nodded. "We were just getting to that."
"And not getting very far," Duo grumbled.
"I think we should split up a bit," Wufei said with a sigh. "We're too large of a group to go unnoticed for very long. We're lucky it lasted this long."
"I have to agree with Wufei," Une added. "The question is, though, how and where."
"Well, the Sweepers have a Pacific base," Howard said, leaning back in his chair. "The island is small, mostly rainforest on the surface with an extinct volcano, and out of shipping and air-traffic lanes..."
"The 'Chop Shop'", Duo cut in. "Howard and G modified the volcano - state of the art engineering equipment, repair bay large enough for a couple of Gundams, decent living quarters - you get the picture."
Treize nodded appreciatively. "Send the Gundams still needing work or upgrades there? Along with their pilots of course..."
"That's my suggestion," Howard replied. "I'll take Quatre, Wufei and Duo - and their suits of course - with me."
"What about Wing?" Heero asked, gripping Duo's hand.
"If Sally and the rest can handle all of the packing, and any other arrangements, we can have Wing ready in... Kevin?"
Walker thought for a moment. "Between you, me and the majority of your crew working non-stop, we could have Wing finished in under ten hours. Then we just load up the rest and we're ready to go."
"Before we go any further, Sally, how long will it take you to pack up this base and be ready to leave?" Treize asked calmly, as Duo leaned to Howard and whispered something.
"Um, about 24 hours? Non-stop. Less if we leave non-essential items behind," she replied after a quick mental calculation.
"I think we don't have to leave much behind. Doro said we have at least two days before they even get close to us," the ex-general stated. "So, we set a departure time for 36 hours from now?"
Everyone nodded, then Howard cleared his throat. "Duo just brought up a good point. Bravo and Marie. While I don't have a solution for Bravo, I have an idea for Marie," he said, lowering his sunglasses and looking at Treize.
"Marie will go with me," the ginger-haired man said firmly. "She's my daughter and - "
"She won't be safe with you," Howard cut in shortly.
Treize stood angrily, prepared to argue, when Zechs grabbed his arm.
"Howard is right, Treize," the blond said quietly. "We are hunted. Wherever we end up, we have no idea how long it will be before we have to run again. Do you want to do that to her? Just hear him out, please?"
Treize looked at his lover, then slowly sat back down. "Fine, let's hear your idea."
"We'll take her to the island with us, along with Ines and Rad to be her bodyguards. Once we're ready to move out, Gio and Toi will take the three of them and bury them so deep in the Sweepers organisation that even Duo or Heero couldn't find them if we didn't want them to."
"Treize, it's a good idea," Duo said with a small smile. "She'll be more than safe with them. The Sweepers will adore her. She'll be loved, taken care of, taught, played with... Believe me, I know," he added, glancing at Howard, "there aren't many childhoods better than one with the Sweepers."
Heero squeezed his lover's hand and added his two-cents. "And I'm sure we can always rig up secure channels of communication. She won't be cut off from you or from the rest of us."
Howard nodded. "That's right. Communication is more than possible. Our ships stop all over the place. Easy enough to exchange messages or arrange meetings."
Treize looked at his lovers. Wufei nodded at him. "It's the best idea I can think of Treize. I think you should agree."
Zechs agreed. "All that matters is that she's safe, right?"
Treize gave a defeated sigh. "Fine, you're right. Marie goes with the Sweepers. Next?"
"If I may," Rashid said, speaking for the first time, "we will attend to Bravo. With Miss Po and Master Farley's information, our doctors can continue her treatment in a safe and secure environment, well away from the hands that would abuse her. Once she is ready, we'll send her where she's needed."
"Thank you, Rashid," Heero replied quietly. "I appreciate that."
"You're welcome, Master Heero," the big man returned. "Our duty and pleasure to assist."
"Okay, that's three things settled," Sally said brusquely. "Next?"
"I'll head to Barge. That's still under our control, according to my sources... unless you've heard otherwise, Sally?" Une asked.
"As far as we know, the Barge is still in OZ hands with no signs of Romafeller or Alliance incursion. Whether or not that's truly the case..." the blonde woman shrugged.
"That's as good as I can hope. Kevin... I think you need to stick with Zechs and Treize. They'll need you for Tallgeese," Une said to her lover.
"You can't go there alone!" Walker protested. "We're not sure it's still in our control! What if - "
"She won't be alone," Heero stated firmly. "I'll go with her."
Une stared at the Japanese teen incredulously. "Wha... Are you sure you want to team up with... I mean..."
"Une, you and I have things between us in the past," Heero said quietly, glancing at Duo long enough to catch the sad, but approving look on his face. "But I meant what I said. It's in the past. You need one of us with you, and I choose me."
Une just nodded her acceptance.
"Thank you, Heero," Treize said sincerely. "Une is very important to me. I'm glad to know she has you to back her up."
"Okay, that leaves me, Zechs, Treize, Jason and Trowa," Sally said, moving along.
"If I might make a suggestion," Quatre offered, "I know of a small, deserted mining colony. It would probably be ideal for a base, and we do need one in space. It might be a good idea to get you off-planet for a while, Treize, and you shouldn't go without support. I propose that you, Zechs, Jason and a small support staff take over the satellite."
"Me?" Farley nearly yelped.
Quatre nodded. "They will need medical personnel. You're ideal for the position." He turned his attention to Zechs and Treize. "What do you think?"
"I think that's a good idea," Treize replied, then nodded at Sally. "And that leaves you and Trowa, my dear doctor. Any plans?"
"I'll go to Canada and try to set up an operation near to Dermail's center of power -"
"But that's not safe!" Une protested, Jason nodding emphatically from his place across the room.
"No," Trowa replied for the blonde doctor, "but it is necessary. We will need to know what is going on."
"We?" Sally asked, raising an eyebrow at the tall teen.
Trowa nodded and winked. "I'm going with you. No ifs, ands, or buts. I've decided, and I'm sure Quatre will agree."
The teen in question nodded firmly. "Each of you need back up. Treize has Zechs, Une has Heero, and now you have Trowa. Don't argue, Sally. Trust me, you won't win."
Walker hung back slightly from Howard's group as the meeting broke up. The old man was arguing quite loudly with Duo for the moment, while Trowa tried vainly to get both to back down a little. He shook his head. This was going to be a rough couple days!
A hand was placed on his arm, and he turned to the person - Une, naturally - and gave her a quick, impish smile. "Hi, babe."
Her smile quirked a little at the endearment. Definitely kiss him. She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and slowly began pulling him away from the main group.
Kevin quirked an eyebrow. "Une, I don't know "
"They will argue for at least a half hour before Howard gives in, Kevin," she said in a low voice. "Come with me?"
He couldn't argue with that logic. Silently, he let her lead him around the corner to their room, all the while going over the new arrangements in his mind. If he wasn't very mistaken, she'd practically ordered him to leave her side, as much as they both didn't want that to happen
Une closed the door softly and leaned back against it, her eyes glued to the man who had walked straight over to the window to stare out at the dark cold beyond. "Kevin."
He turned around. "I don't like you going there, Une, not at all, and I don't care who goes as your back-up."
She nodded and walked over to him, slowly wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his chest. "I know. It's risky, even with Heero there. But Kevin, it needs to be done."
He sighed, closing his arms around her. "Just because it's true doesn't mean it doesn't suck."
Une cracked a grin. "Nice new vocabulary - the Sweepers must be an interesting crowd."
Kevin tilted her chin up to look her in the eyes. "Une, I mean it."
The smile melted away. "What about you? If you think it will be any safer running around with Treize and Zechs "
He shook his head. "I'm used to it, though. And if needs be, I can always jump in a suit, myself. I was a pretty good pilot, you know."
"A very good pilot," Une conceded, her lips twitching a little. "A very good, very brash pilot who was crazy enough to bait me in my bad, old days, and kept going, no matter what I did "
He finally cracked a smile, and leaned down to give her a small, gentle kiss. "When this is all over, my Lady," he whispered in her ear, "we're going someplace warm and secluded for as long as we want to, and the rest of the world can be damned, for all I care. I'm going to miss you."
"Me, too." She buried her face against his neck as he easily lifted her and carried her over to the small table, setting her down so he could kiss her again. Une wrapped herself around him, noting the tension in his back and shoulders - not a good sign. He was far more upset by all this than he was letting on about. She sighed into the kiss.
At least he'd be with friends, and she knew Treize and Zechs would both make sure he was okay, in the end.
Her thoughts turning decidedly evil, she slid one hand under the heavy sweater he wore, pushing it up so she could pull up the t-shirt he wore underneath. Kevin gasped as her cold hand came into contact with his chest. "Une!"
She smiled up at him. "Sorry it's cold. Want to warm me up?"
Kevin groaned as she slid both hands around his body, dipping her fingers past his belt and the waistband of his pants to tease at his lower back. "Jesus, baby." He buried his hands in her hair, taking her mouth in another deep kiss.
Une broke the kiss and pulled at Kevin's sweater until he let her pull it off of him, followed almost immediately by his undershirt. She ran both hands up his muscled chest greedily, sliding one hand behind his neck to pull him closer. As soon as his ear got close enough to whisper in, she gave a seductive little laugh. "Let's worry later, shall we?" She playfully nipped at his throat, right below his ear.
Kevin shivered, arms wrapped around Une tightly. "I never argue with a Lady."
He lifted her bodily and carried her to their bed.
Gio and Rod shot each other looks. She gradually let her hand fall from where it had been about to knock on the door to Une and Walker's room, and quirked a quick smile up at her companion. "Well, I'd say he's definitely not free for the moment."
A deep moan from beyond the closed door seemed to echo her statement perfectly.
Rod shook his head. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to be you if you interrupted them, hon. We can make do without him for a bit longer, I'm sure." The two turned to head back down the hallway towards the door.
As they stepped out into the cold, Rod couldn't help asking, "So what do we tell the boss?"
Gio grinned, though it was mostly hidden behind the scarf she wore; her eyes twinkled merrily. "Sorry, Howard, but he's hopefully not literally tied up for the moment?"
Rodney laughed. "I can't wait to see Duo's reaction to that one!"