Farley took one look at Treize, Wufei and Zechs' faces as they approached the Sweepers' shuttle and stepped forward, extending his arms to the small redheaded child, snuggled against her father's chest tiredly. "Cricket, you wanna come with me? Some of the mechanics want to say goodbye to you."
Treize didn't stop to question the distraction; the second Farley disappeared into the hangar behind them, he turned and pulled both his lovers into his arms, clinging to them tightly. He dropped a kiss on Wufei's forehead. "This is terribly unfair, Dragon. I hope you don't think "
Zechs and Wufei exchanged amused glances, and the Chinese teen reached up to silence Treize with a finger to his lips. "Don't. I think we all would have appreciated some alone time, but she is your flesh and blood, your daughter."
The blond nodded. "And when this is all over, we hope she can be our daughter, as well."
Treize didn't know what to say, but Wufei cocked an eyebrow, a gleam in his eyes. "Fortuitous, considering none of us are likely to have a baby "
The Chinese teen laughed and pulled Treize in for a deep kiss, nipping at his lips gently and purring as the older man took control of the kiss and their embrace. As they pulled apart, though, Wufei's eyes were grave and serious. "Take care of yourself. I never ever want to hear you've disappeared, again. And you," he said, turning to face Zechs, "that goes for you, too." Threading his fingers into the silk of the blond pilot's hair, Wufei pulled him closer and kissed him, hard.
Zechs finally came up for air, cupping the shorter pilot's face in his hands. "Love you, Wufei."
The two men were gifted with a quick, bright smile. "I know, and I love you, too. Both of you." He allowed the blond to pull him against his chest, and smiled as he felt Treize wrap his arms around them from behind.
"Are you guys gonna kiss each other?"
The three looked up, surprised, to find Marie grinning at them from her perch high up on Farley's broad shoulders. Treize lifted an eyebrow at is daughter. "Does that bother you, sweetheart?"
She shook her head. "Nope. 'Sides, we just caught Uncle Trowa and Uncle Quatre kissing in the hangar. They made it look real fun."
Wufei choked on a laugh and looked around Farley to see his two team mates standing side by side, both slightly pink in the face. As Zechs laughed, as well, Quatre grabbed hold of Trowa's hand and turned to bury his burning face in the taller teen's shoulder. Trowa, ever-stoic, managed a slight half-smile, and mumbled something of which the only audible parts were the names Heero and Duo.
Zechs decided he was better off not knowing, and tightened his hold on Wufei. "It is fun, Cricket, when you love someone," he said spinning them both around for at least a little privacy as he kissed his lover gently.
Marie giggled as Farley hoisted her down. She darted forward to wrap her arms around her father's neck as he sank down to one knee and opened his arms.
Treize gave her a gentle hug. "Can I give you a mission, little one?"
She nodded against his shoulder, and he stroked her hair, continuing, "Your mission is to look after your Uncle Wufei for me, for us," he said, shooting a look over at Zechs. "And Quatre and Duo, as well. They will be sad and miss us all, but I know you can make them smile, right?"
Marie sniffled a little. "Who's gonna make me smile? I'm gonna miss you, too."
"That will be my job," Wufei's smooth tenor announced from the side as he knelt next to the two on the cold tarmac. "And Quatre's and Duo's, if he ever shows up. And your Grandpa Howard's. You'll see everything will be okay."
Heero pressed Duo's back into the wall of the hangar, molding their bodies together, oblivious to the bustling people moving around them. The long-haired teen's duffle bag dropped to the floor unnoticed as he groaned softly.
"Heero... this is so unfair..."
"I know," the Japanese pilot said, nipping at his partner's pouting lips. "I don't like it either. If I had my way, we'd hide away from the rest of the world -"
Duo silenced his lover with a kiss.
"We don't really have a choice," he murmured, pulling back, "so let's save that fantasy when we're finished making the universe safe for mankind and small fluffy animals. I mean, we have a choice," he continued, starting to ramble. "We kinda have lots of them. We could just say 'screw it' and quit... or we could make a stand here... or we could hunt down all the evil bastards and blow them away... or -"
This time, Heero silenced Duo with a kiss, not relinquishing the other's lips until he was breathless and clutching him to stay upright. Steadying his slighter lover, the Japanese teen smiled softly, lifted the forgotten duffle bag and wrapped his free arm around Duo's waist, gently pulling him towards the runway and waiting planes.
"As much as we both hate it, this is the most logical choice. It has the best chance of succeeding," he said, hand rubbing Duo's hip as they walked past a blushing Quatre and smug Trowa. "And we can keep in touch. I've rigged secure comm lines between all of the Gundams. There's no way anyone can tap or trace them. We're only a keyboard click away."
Duo chuckled slightly. "Leave it to you to use computer terms. When this is all over, I fully plan to destroy your laptop with a sledgehammer, you know."
Heero leaned over and quickly kissed his cheek. "When this is over, I'll let you. I might even help."
"Wait, Heero," the long-haired teen said, stopping short. Wing's pilot halted as well, and watched as Duo removed his cross.
"Here," Duo said quietly, handing over the necklace. "You hang on to this for me. A little reminder for you not to do anything stupid like self-destruct. I want it back, you know."
Heero dropped the bag and hooked the chain around his neck, then pulled Duo in for a toe-curling kiss. "I promise. No self-destructing, sir. And if you want it back, you'd better take care, understand?"
Deathscythe's pilot nodded, waited for Heero to pick up the bag again, and they continued on toward the planes and the people milling around it.
Une noticed the two approach the edges of the group, and sighed.
This is wrong, she thought, seeing the strain on both Duo and Heero's faces. Those two - all of them, really - should not have to do this! They should be in school! Doing things normal teens do... but there's the crux. They're not normal teens...
"Une?" Walker asked softly, noticing her sigh and slight frown. "What's wrong? Besides the fact that we're all splitting up."
"We really messed things up, Kevin. Treize, Zechs and myself, I mean... We put them in this situation - "
"Stop right there," he replied sternly. "While I will admit we have made things more difficult for them in the past, this is not totally our fault. As I understand, the root of the problem was the Alliance. They were the ones who put the choke hold on the colonies. They caused the original rebellion, which led to dissention. We, and OZ, were not the cause of the violence or poverty on L2... Hell, we were only young cadets when this all began! I refuse to take all of the blame for this situation. And you should, too. Also, we did not take five young boys and force them to be ruthless soldiers."
"But - "
"But nothing. If you want to take any blame, take it for your own personal actions. God knows we all have enough to take blame for. But don't take it for things you had nothing to do with! Now, they'll be leaving in a matter of minutes. You've already spoken with Marie and Wufei. I suggest you go over there and make your goodbyes to Duo and Quatre," he finished, giving her a slight push towards the long-haired teen. Nodding, she allowed the impetus to carry her forward and she stopped just in front of Deathscythe's young pilot.
"Duo, I'm sorry about this," she said, voice sounding slightly strained.
"Why?" The teen asked, slightly puzzled. "It's certainly not your fault that the bad guys found out where we are!" he continued with a grin. "Just bad, rotten luck, that's all. But we've handled bad luck before, and we'll do it again, so no worries, Mom! Am I right?"
Une nodded and smiled slightly. "You're right -"
Her sentence cut off and her eyes widened as she found her arms full of the long-haired pilot. Her features softened and she hugged the lithe figure tightly.
"Be careful, Duo, and please take care of yourself," she said softly. "I promise, I'll do everything I can to keep Heero safe for you..."
"Heero can take care of himself. You just have to make sure he doesn't do stupid shit... You be careful, Mom, and I mean it," Duo said with a squeeze. "Treize had that right - I can do worse than a dad who's gay and a mom that's a recovering schizophrenic. Now I really should bug 'Dad' a bit before I go, shouldn't I?" he finished with a chuckle, and with another tight squeeze, he nearly danced across to Treize and Zechs, leaving a stunned Lady Une behind him.
Heero tapped her on the arm to get her attention. "He means that, Une. He may bitch and moan about it, but he does like and appreciate your... maternal tendencies. It means a lot to him... and to me. Thank you." With a quick, slightly embarrassed nod, he turned and followed his lover.
Une closed her eyes and felt relief and hope flow through her. It was enough. With a smile to her own lover, she took his arm and moved toward the small group around the bright, long-haired pilot.
Sally Po couldn't help a small laugh as she approached Quatre and Trowa, still basically wrapped around each other. "Caught in the act, gentlemen?"
Trowa gave a small chuckle as Quatre's blush returned full force. "Guilty as charged, ma'am. Right, Quat?" He tipped the blond's chin up to brush a light kiss on his lips.
Sally watched with a smile as Quatre seemed to relax, finally turning to face her full on, with an earnest look in his bright eyes. "I can't tell you how much we all appreciate everything you have done for us, doctor. It has been a privilege to fight alongside you "
She laughed. "You make it sound as though we'll never all be back together again! No this will pass, you'll see. And in the meantime " She grinned evilly. "I'll make sure that man of yours doesn't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Whoa now there's a limitation for you," Jason quipped, walking up to join them with a smile. "You're supposed to be making him feel better, ma'am, not scare the poor guy to death."
Sally arched an eyebrow. "And just what are you implying, Mr. Farley?"
"Nothing that isn't true," he replied, giving her a bright smile before he took Quatre's offered hand and shook it firmly, then used it to pull the blond into a hug. "Be careful out there, Quatre."
"I will be, I promise," the blond said, grinning.
"That goes for you, too, boy," Howard said gruffly, walking down the loading ramp of his plane to stop right in front of Trowa. "Remember you have a family, now."
Trowa walked forward a pace, but seemed to hesitate a moment. "Thanks, Howard. I hell, I don't know what to say."
The old man laughed out loud and caught the tall teen in a tight bear hug that actually made Quatre worry for his lover's safety. "Shuddup, brat. You don't have to say a word, got it?"
"Sure, dad," Trowa quipped back, quickly darting behind Quatre to avoid being caught again.
Someone laughed right behind Farley's shoulder, and he jumped a little as Treize called, "Should I call you 'dad' as well, if my daughter's calling you 'grandpa'?"
Howard growled and turned to the man. "Just try it, Kushy, and I'll make good on Duo's threat to wax your eyebrows." He smiled, though, and held out a hand for the aristocrat to shake. Knowing just how special the gesture was, Treize took it.
"All right, people, let's get the lead out! Time to hit the air!" Howard's voice rang out. "The suits are all loaded - yes, Duo, Gio loaded your baby since you were taking so long - the sweepers are on board the suit carriers and we're just waiting on you! Duo, Quatre, Wufei, Marie - You four are with me. Let's go already!"
Treize hugged Marie one more time. Zechs picked her up, squeezed her, then handed her to Wufei with a nod. The three men needed no words as they conveyed their own feelings with their eyes.
Quatre quickly hugged Heero with instructions to be careful, while Duo did the same with Trowa, then each returned to their own lover for a final goodbye. Holding back tears, Duo kissed Heero deeply then pulled back.
"Stay safe," the Japanese teen murmured, as his lover started walking backwards toward the plane's ladder.
"Don't be stupid," Duo replied, not breaking eye contact until his calves hit the ladder. He turned, climbed hesitantly, then stopped and turned his head back.
"Hey, Heero? Take care of my mom, 'kay?"
Heero took a couple of steps back until he flanked the dark-haired woman and nodded.
"Ninmu Ryoukai, Duo."
As the last shuttle vanished into less than a spec in the sky, Heero turned on his heel and stalked away.
Une and Sally exchanged glances, and the Doctor shrugged. "I suppose I should "
Shaking his head, Trowa interrupted, "No, bad idea. There's no dealing with him when he's in this mood. Unless you're Duo or Quatre."
"Quatre? You're kidding."
Farley barked out a short laugh as he approached. "I wouldn't put it past him. That kid's smooth enough to charm a Mafia gangster out of his last cigar, and tough enough to scare the living hell out of him if he refuses," he said in an approving tone.
Trowa grinned and cocked his head, but said nothing. Une opened her mouth to comment-
A resounding CRASH in the hangar behind them froze everyone in their tracks. Sally rolled her eyes as metal implements finally ceased ringing off each other and a male voice came clearly over the silence. "Owww, shit! My poor ass!"
She rubbed both hands over her face. "Just what I need today "
They could hear the other technicians running to their comrade. "Geez someone call us a medic, pronto!"
The first voice groaned. "Anyone but that Army Lieutenant God, what a bastard! He gave me my shots last week, the damn sadist "
Farley's eyebrows shot up, a look of evil delight replacing the hurt confusion that had been there only a moment before. He put a gentle hand on Sally's arm. "This one is definitely mine, ma'am. Hey, I'll meet you at your office later?" His smile softened, and his hand slid up to knead gently at a stiff shoulder. Blushing, Sally just nodded, the tired look in her eyes fading a little.
Jason turned toward the hangar, calling over his shoulder, "Hey Kevin, wanna help me bait some Marines?"
"Right behind you." The two vanished into the hangar and a chorus of voices went up. Sally watched as Zechs and Treize dragged Lady Une in the direction of the mess tent and turned-
Trowa was leaning on the wall, arms crossed over his chest and an amused look on what she could see of his face. "He's smart, funny, thoughtful, and good with kids. All he's missing is the castle in Spain."
She knew she was blushing furiously as she stalked past him with her head held high and he pushed off the wall, easily catching up and matching her strides. Sally shot him a look and couldn't help asking, "Why Spain?"
Trowa shrugged. "Isn't that what all the romance novels say?"
Sally snorted. "You ever read one?"
He glared half-heartedly in response. "In a merc corps? You can get beat up even for rumours about shit like that."
Sally laughed. "Don't worry your secret is safe with me."
Une finally made it back to her quarters, only to find Kevin was mostly packed. She shut the door quietly and leaned back against it. "Treize asked me to tell you they'd like to go over mission parameters in the War Room at 1300."
Kevin looked up and gave her a smile. "Doesn't leave us much time, does it? Damn."
She smiled and walked over, taking the sweater from his hands and tossing it back onto the bed. "Unfortunately, no." She allowed him to pull her close for a tight hug, but Une could feel a tightness gathering in her chest at the same time. She felt strangely dizzy, and yet giddy with a rush of confidence she hadn't felt in a long time. "There will be no casualties on this mission."
Kevin's skin prickled at the cold, hard sound of her voice, and he quickly stepped back to stare into Une's suddenly-icy eyes concernedly. "Une? Uh-uh, no way, baby. Snap out of it right now."
Une glared up at him, backing away a step, one hand on her hip in a familiar pose. "I meant it, Walker."
He stepped forward and shook her as hard as he dared, in her current mood. "Lieutenant Colonel Une!"
Her eyes lost some of their coldness. "Walker Kevin. I didn't mean Well, I meant "
He pulled her closer again, knocking his still-open duffel to the floor, its contents spilling out in a heap as he sat them both down. "I know what you meant, and I'll be back when it's over, and so will my crew. But you can't Une, the compassion inside of you is what makes you the remarkable person you are, not the tough facade you have to wear to get through all this shit still standing. I know it hurts it hurts me, too. I think it hurts everyone, here."
Une frowned. "I don't want to think about it! I'll do what I have to do, and you'll "
"I'll be too far away to knock some sense into you if you start acting all bitchy again, and I doubt Heero will be as kind about it as I would," he finished for her, in a hard voice. "You're much smarter and tougher and kinder than that, and we both know it."
Une's mouth flapped open, words refusing to form as she stared into her boyfriend's intense eyes.
He swept her hair back from her face and traced one finger down her cheek tenderly. "That's all in the past. And besides I burned those God-awful pink bows you used to use in your hair. And I smashed the glasses, too they were entirely the wrong shape for your face, my lady."
Une felt a giggle threatening, but somehow managed to look properly shocked and disappointed. "Kevin! How could you?!"
"Pink isn't your colour you look much better in red, babe - and your eyesight's perfect," he quipped back, arms tightening around her until she was seated in his lap and completely immobile. "You haven't missed them, anyway."
"No, I haven't, not at all," Une answered, wrapping her arms around his torso as he tucked her head under his chin and rocked her slowly. "I'm going to miss you no one else gives me hell like you do."
"You'd better, Lady," he replied, settling them both back onto the bed.
She pushed herself up on her elbows to look into his face. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I really am."
He grinned back at her as he rolled them over, pinning her to the bed. "Dont' mention it. Just remember I'm going to be penned up with two of the sappiest, most ridiculously romantic guys in the world, and you'll be penned with a sexually-frustrated Perfect Soldier for the foreseeable future. At times like these, a sense of humour comes in very handy."
Une laughed, but her look quickly turned crafty. "So we have about an hour and a half before your briefing "
"Yes?" Kevin asked with a raised eyebrow.
"How about a little de-briefing between now and then?" She ran one hand up under his sweater.
Kevin grinned. "My thoughts exactly, dear Lady."
Sally, Une, Heero and Trowa stood in a small knot just inside the transport. With Tallgeese and an extra Leo safely stored away in the cargo hold, they had scant minutes before Zechs and Kevin finished their pre-launch checks, and the ship would leave. Heero couldn't help rolling his eyes as Jason finally stepped out of the hold, a clipboard in his hands Sally turned away quickly, unable to hide the slight blush on her cheeks.
The young doctor's eyes strayed to Sally, though he forced himself to speak to the whole bunch. "We've got it all loaded and locked down, ma'am. Ready to go."
The blonde woman made an impatient sound. "For Heaven's sake, Jason! Why can't you just call me Sally like I've told you to a hundred times! You make it sound as though "
Heero and Trowa exchanged amused looks and politely turned away as the two doctors dragged each other to the rear of the shuttle area to converse in lower tones. They instead chose to follow Une up to the cockpit.
Zechs and Walker had obviously piloted with each other in the past. Treize was sitting back in one of the cockpit jumpseats with his arms crossed over his chest and a whimsical smile on his face as he watched the two prepping the shuttle in perfect concert with one another. Une walked over and leaned on the back of his seat. "I see I'm leaving you in exceedingly capable hands, Your Excellency."
"And I you, Lady," he replied, looking up at her with a small smile. "Though I am sorry to part you from your Kevin."
She looked over at the man in question, lips quirking in a small smile. "Look after him for me, Treize."
"I fully intend to." He stood in a fluid motion and embraced the woman carefully. "Look after yourself, as well." He looked past her to where the two Gundam pilots stood at the entranceway and waved them into the cockpit.
Treize gave both teens a long stare before he broke his silence again. "I never thought it could come to this, but I'm glad it has. Fighting against you was well, it was wrong, but I also considered it something of a privilege. Fighting alongside you is an even greater one. We will meet again soon."
Heero returned the intense stare without flinching. "Had anyone else been in that cell with you, we would not be here today. I guess we are all lucky that Duo is more creative about following orders than Trowa or I."
Trowa elbowed him just hard enough to get his attention. "I'm not sure if that was a compliment or not. What he means, Treize, is that he, too, is glad we're working together and that we all survived long enough to do so. He speaks for all of us. We gave Walker the new comm. gear to stay in touch with the Sweeper network. Use it." Trowa drew himself to attention and fired off a picture-perfect OZ salute.
All conversation in the cockpit ceased as Treize stood and returned the salute.
"Take care of yourself, Officer Barton, and you, too, Heero Yuy. Look after my Lady "
Walker flashed a smile. "I think he means my Lady!"
"I think he knows what you both mean," Zechs commented dryly from the pilot's seat. He also stood and walked over, but took Heero's hand in a firm handshake. "We're making a habit of this cordiality, Heero, always shaking hands. I still say Tallgeese could kick Wing's ass in a heartbeat."
Heero actually smiled at that. "Wishful thinking, Zechs. Be careful out there." The blond released Heero's hand and turned to pull Lady Une into an abbreviated hug. "As for you, Lady, we promise to look after your boyfriend very carefully."
"Hey! I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself, thanks!"
"Of course you are," Treize said with a wink. He wrapped an arm around Zechs' shoulders and steered him towards the exit, gently pushing Trowa and Heero ahead of them. "Pre-flight's done we'll give you two a moment to say goodbye, yes?" He flashed Une a smile as he stepped out-
And ran into Trowa's back, where the young man had stopped short. "Ow! Trowa "
"Shhh," the teen replied, turning to face him with glowing eyes. "Perhaps we should give that couple," he whispered, pointing over his shoulder to where Farley and Sally were wrapped around each other, "the same courtesy."
Heero nodded. "Let's go triple check those suits, shall we?"
Sally turned from watching the shuttle's path into the sky to face the soldier running in their direction. Take care, Jason! She carefully schooled her features to hide her anxiety. "Yes, Sergeant?"
The man nodded to Lady Une and the pilots. "Ma'am, we have a malfunction with the catapult it's going to take at least another day to sort out."
"We don't have another day, Sergeant," Sally growled. "We have exactly ten hours before our next shuttle launch."
"But ma'am "
Trowa stepped up to her side. "But nothing, Sergeant. The enemy will be here soon. We do not have the luxury of time any more. We just need to launch one more shuttle. Can it be done?"
The man back-pedalled from the fierceness of Trowa's gaze. "Sir, we will critically damage the machinery "
"But we'll get the last shuttle off the ground, won't we?" Heero asked, arms folded over his chest. "That's all we need. Screw the machinery, after that."
Sally gave both teens a grateful look. "You have ten hours to our next launch window, Sergeant. Make it happen."
The limo pulled up unannounced.
Marianne felt a cold pit in her stomach as she reached for the door. For Mr. Gates to be there at 10:30PM, it had to be hot information, and that meant more trouble! She gave him the best smile she could. "Good evening, sir. May I take your coat?"
The man brushed right past her, not even giving her his habitual leering stare at her breasts. She followed him closely, nerves jumping. "Sir, the Duke has retired for the evening "
"Then wake him up!" Gates snapped nastily. "This cannot wait. Now."
When she hesitated, he tried to push past her, and Marianne took the opportunity to clutch at his arm to retain her balance. Unnoticed by the irate man, she pulled a small, matte black chip from her pocket, squeezed it twice, and dropped it into his.
As she straightened and turned down the hallway, Marianne smirked. Sometimes it was just too easy!
Now she just had to hope that Johann was listening.
She knocked respectfully on a panelled, wooden door. "Sir? Mr. Gates is waiting downstairs to see you. He says it is urgent."
Still packing a crate of files, Sally reached back blindly and slapped on the vidphone as it began trilling an incoming call. "Po."
"Get out of there. Now."
She dropped a file of papers all over the floor as she spun. "Marco! What the hell are you doing, calling me directly from the field "
"Athena managed to get a bug in a private meeting, between Dermail and Gates. They know where you are they caught a heat plume from your last launch and triangulated the signal," Marco growled, his face pale with fatigue.
Sally looked at her watch, her stomach twisting. Basic math told her it was 3AM in Montreal. This was for real! "Okay, acknowledged. Your cover is effectively blown. Head for Olympus you will be contacted there shortly. Out."
She terminated the connection and headed out the door at a dead run. "Une! Heero! Trowa! Time to leave we've got company incoming!"
The two pilots appeared almost immediately, both already in flight gear, wearing confused looks. "Say again, Sally," Trowa ordered. Une joined then, still pinning her hair up to fit under her launch helmet.
Sally paused for breath. "News from agent Athena, though agent Apollo. Gates' people got a tracer on Treize and Zechs' shuttle launch and traced it. We need to evacuate all remaining personnel immediately and get the hell out of here."
Une blanched. "The launch catapult isn't ready yet "
"And it won't be in time," Heero said quietly, Trowa nodding his agreement. "Damn. Not entirely unexpected, but still "
Trowa put a hand on Heero's shoulder to get his attention. "Call Howard you two can go east and lay low in Delhi for a while, then get a launch from the Sweepers when the coast is clear."
"No, go to Sanc," Sally objected. "It's closer you can use the stealth shuttle, rather than a freighter, and no one will be the wiser about it. We can definitely find a way of sneaking you out of there."
Heero's lips tightened with displeasure at the idea, but he could not object it was entirely too logical. "What about you two?"
Trowa's blank expression darkened into an evil grin that looked extremely alien on him. "You let me worry about that. We just need to get off two more transports Whatever they're expecting to find here, I doubt it's a stealth-equipped Gundam."
Sally turned on him angrily. "Trowa, they're going to send all they can, possibly even a battalion. Even for a Gundam, that's "
Both pilots answered at the same time, "Child's play."