"Heero... where the fuck were you?"
Heero's eyes widened in confusion, but the braided teen continued his rasping rant.
"Leavin' me stuck in a cell t'be corrupted by the Antichrist, subjected to images of him, Sexy and 'Fei together... leavin' me to be rescued by Toady, Dr. Jekyll, Sexy, and Scary Une..."
Quatre glanced around to see how the other people in the room were reacting. Treize was valiantly trying to supress his laughter. Wufei and Zechs looked mildly indignant at the various 'nicknames'. Walker was grinning and shaking his head; Une was smiling and Sally was looking pointedly at her main patient, one eyebrow raised.
"Duo, I resent the Dr. Jekyll comment, and I think Heero believes you're really mad at him. I doubt he got the 'Wizard of Oz' reference. How do you feel?" the blonde doctor asked, laying her hand on his forehead, then frowning slightly.
"Hurts. Everywhere," Duo whispered, looking at the various faces around him. Locking eyes with Heero, he reached his good hand out to him, and smiled slightly when the Japanese pilot took it in a gentle grasp. "Where are we?"
"We're at Sally's base, just outside of Vilno--"
"That's in Transylvania," Treize said lightly, cutting Heero off. "I do believe you will have to change my nickname from 'Antichrist' to 'Dracula', now, Duo."
Heero glared at the ex-general, then quickly turned his attention back to his lover when Duo started to chuckle and ended up coughing painfully.
Sally quickly raised him up slightly and when the coughing fit passed, gave him a drink of water.
"T-man, I thought I told you not t'make me laugh," the braided boy wheezed.
"Enough excitement, gentlemen. Duo, you need to rest. If we can trust you to lie there and be quiet, I won't force everyone to leave, and you can listen to the various discussions on what's happened, how we came to this point, and what our current options are," Une said sternly, the oddly gentle smile at the teen belying her tone. "Otherwise, I'll chase everyone out-- having Sally sedate Yuy if necessary-- leaving you to *my* tender mercies and bedside manner."
Duo stared at her for a moment, smiled slightly and whispered, "Yes, ma'am, Scary Une, ma'am."
She nodded at him. "Good. Walker, would you please call the kitchen and have lunch sent here for everyone?" At his nod she smiled and continued. "Sally, gentlemen, if you'll all be seated, we can figure out what's happened and where we all go from here."
"Oh! Walker, nothing solid for Duo, if you please," Sally said as everyone pulled chairs over to Duo's bedside and settled around him. "See if they can send some apple juice and a bowl of broth."
Duo groaned and glared weakly at Sally, and Treize hid a smile at the tender look Heero gave his lover as he sat down, Duo's braid in one hand, his hand in the other.
There was an awkward moment of silence before Une took a deep breath. "Okay. I understand that you might feel somewhat leery of telling us anything right now, and we respect that. So maybe we can fill you in on exactly what has been going on in our sphere to begin with. Will that be okay?"
"Hey, I know I called you Scary an' all that, but..." Duo protested.
Une shook her head and shot Duo a glance. "For them, Duo, not for you."
"Oh." The boy's eyes slipped closed momentarily as he attempted to take a deeper breath, only to wince in pain again. Heero's grip on his hand tightened minutely.
Quatre nodded to Une. "We would appreciate that, thanks."
Une's eyes strayed to Treize, safely ensconced between his two lovers. "I don't know where I should start..."
Treize said, "Tell them everything, Lady, and I will fill in the holes as we go along."
Une nodded. "I won't bore you with the internal working of Romefeller and how they relate to the OZ organization since you obviously already know all about that. About a year ago, my network began hearing rumours that a very select group of men were holding strange meetings. At Treize's direction, I tried to get a person into the group. I failed - I couldn't even get a bug onto one of the group members.
"Wufei came into our lives at around that time, too, or maybe earlier. He was... I don't really know how to explain the changes he wrought in us all." Une hung her head. "I was so ashamed of what I had become..."
Wufei reached out and took her hand to give it a gentle squeeze. "We've already been over this, Une. Reopening old wounds will not help them to heal."
"I swear he talks like a fortune cookie sometimes..."
Une shot Duo a dirty look. "I thought *I* was the one talking right now, Duo. You need your rest."
Une turned to glare at him but thought better of it, catching the dark look in Heero Yuy's eyes. She turned back to look at Quatre, a much safer direction. "What the Alliance and OZ have done was wrong, and we admit that and are prepared to make what amends we can."
"Amends?" Heero asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "What *amends* could possibly heal the damage you have done?"
Treize shook his head. "Perhaps the choice of words was not the best, but I assure you the intentions are. We are all well-aware that we cannot change the past, however we can work to make sure that it is not repeated."
Quatre raised an eyebrow. "Interesting idea. But you have not finished your story yet - throwing Treize Kushrenada in prison was a risky step for a small band to take."
Treize nodded his understanding. His opinion of the small blond went up several notches. "While maintaining control of my armies, yes. The truth of the matter... most of my men don't know what has happened yet, and by the time they find out, it could already be too late."
"Too late for... what? Why would..."
"Duo," Une interrupted him gently, "let us explain, okay? Don't make me ask Sally to sedate you again."
Heero was on his feet almost immediately. "You will not threaten..."
"Heero, please," Duo rasped, wincing in his effort to keep hold of Heero's hand. "She didn't mean it as a threat. Please."
The Japanese pilot seemed to forget Une and Treize completely as Duo began coughing; Sally helped him settle Duo back on the bed comfortably. He hovered anxiously. "Duo?"
Pained blue eyes opened again, fixing on Sally as she reached to re-open the morphine drip. "Don't. It really isn't that bad." He waited until she put her hand down to turn to Heero. "Hear them out, for me, okay?"
Heero gently brushed Duo's bangs back from his eyes. "For you." His head came around to stare back at Une. "Go on."
Zechs spoke up, "Walker would be a better person to explain some of this, but I'll try. In the technical world, there has been a long-standing argument that mobile suits cannot reach their optimum efficiency because of human error. Pilot error, to be precise. We had been able to overlook it, for the most part... but your Gundam attacks only served to drive the point home. Apart from a handful of OZ pilots, no one really stood a chance against such advanced suits and trained fighters.
"Romefeller leadership began to split over this very issue," Zechs continued. "We unfortunately didn't find out until it was too late to counter it properly, but a small band of Romefeller leaders pursued the automated suit programme - they call them Mobile Dolls - and developed full prototypes. Their argument is that... using these dolls, they can win the war with as few human casualties as possible, all from the safety of a docking bay."
Treize's voice filled the void. "Those suits... they aren't suited for anything *but* domination and subjugation. Please believe us when we say this - we consider those things abherrations."
"Dolls," a quiet voice remarked. Everyone turned to face Duo, whose huge eyes seemed to stand out even more . "It makes sense now."
"Duo?" Quatre queried gently.
The braided boy swallowed painfully. "G didn't send out my report yet, did he?" When neither Heero nor Quatre gave him a nod, he continued, "I didn't think so. I saw them, Heero."
Walker re-entered the room just in time to hear something he had hoped never to hear.
"I saw those mobile dolls," Duo said in his raspy voice, "an entire battalion of them."
Heero was shocked - Duo actually trusted these people enough to openly speak about his mission in front of them?
He met Duo's eyes and saw the question in them - Duo trusted them and wanted to let them know. Wufei trusted them - enough that he would *sleep* with both Treize and Zechs...
He nodded to Duo and gave his hand a small squeeze. If Duo could give that trust, he would try to, as well.
Duo waited for a return nod from both Heero and Quatre before he opened his mouth again. "The mission had two purposes, really. We received information that the leader of OZ was on-site at a base on Lake Baikal to oversee his pet project. I was sent in on recon to see what the project was, first of all, but also to find out what was up with you, Treize, since you had disappeared so completely."
He continued speaking slowly, as though forming words was still painful. "There was no sign of Treize anywhere, but I saw those..." He shuddered slightly. "They aren't ready for testing yet, but they will be soon. Since they don't have to worry about life support systems or pilot protection, they did away with a lot of the weight issues in normal suits - the skins are made of a half-titanium alloy, very tough, and they carry extra ammunition, almost half-again what a normal Taurus would have."
Walker's eyes went wide. "I beg your pardon?"
Duo shot the man a glance. "It's true - I downloaded the specs and managed to send them off before I got picked up. My controller should have them."
He turned back to Treize. "The ugly guy with the scars and that tragic nose - talk about needing plastic surgery - was that Tuberov?"
Treize chuckled a little at Duo's description. "That's him. My replacement."
Duo snorted, then winced. "Ah - he won't last too long, if you ask me. The men - you could see it in their faces. They don't like him much."
Une shook her head. "He has powerful people at his back, Duo. If only it were that simple."
Quatre frowned - he could see the strain in his friend and knew that Duo wouldn't want to pass out from it in front of Heero. He leaned forward and gently tucked a blanket around Duo's shoulder. "One last question for you, Duo - how long until they are ready?"
The braided boy smiled his thanks. "Um... depends. The suits themselves could be ready in a little under a month, but the computer software supporting them should take longer. They were going to test them, using a prototype, and then factor in changes in computer modeling, after the fact. Hair-brained idea, if you ask me."
Quatre smiled, then looked over at Walker. "How long until lunch?"
The young man checked his watch. "The cook said they'd be up in about ten minutes."
Quatre smiled brightly. "Perfect! Just enough time to get our gear stowed away and make it back here! Duo, do you mind?"
Duo tried to shake his head, but winced at the pain. "No - go on," he said, smiling over his obvious discomfort. "I'll still be here when you get back."
Heero rose to follow the others out, but stopped when Duo didn't let go of his hand. He turned. "Duo?"
Duo's grip tightened, and Heero allowed the other boy to pull him forward until he was only inches away. Smiling, he pressed a gentle kiss to Duo's lips, enjoying the light moan of relief the braided boy gave.
Duo's eyes twinkled as Heero straightened. "I knew I forgot to give you something. You can go now."
Heero gave him a playful salute. "Yes, sir."
"I think I'll show this one to his place," Zechs called -Wufei felt a hand on his shoulder, and he shivered slightly.
Une looked back over her shoulder and smiled when she saw Treize moving to Wufei's other side. "Of course. You'll be joining us for lunch, though, won't you?"
Treize nodded, and the tall woman turned to show the other guests to their places.
Zechs spared his Chinese lover a smile. "This way, Dragon."
They were silent as they walked, but Wufei was hypersensitive to Treize's presence, no less than an arm's reach away. "For the love of God, Zechs," he growled, "are we going to get there before sundown?"
Treize gave a low laugh that sent chills down Wufei's spine. "Soon enough. Patience, Wufei."
"I'll show *you* patience, Kushrenada," Wufei mumbled under his breath. Smiling to himself, Treize declined to comment.
If anyone was surprised to see the former General of OZ and his right-hand man escorting a Gundam pilot to their quarters, no one was foolish enough to say anything about it. All the same, Treize could feel enquiring eyes on their backs and resolutely put an arm around Wufei's shoulders, making his position completely clear. **If anyone has anything to say about it now, they can say it directly to _me._**
As soon as the door closed behind the three, though, that arm tightened until Wufei found himself crushed to Treize's chest. Seconds later, another set of arms wrapped around him from behind, and Wufei squeezed his eyes shut tightly, ensconced in his lovers' arms. "Treize, thank God."
Treize pulled the hair tie from Wufei's short ponytail and longingly ran his fingers through the smaller man's silky black hair. He reached up for a handful of Zechs' platinum locks, as well. "I now have everything I need right here."
The blond shot a playful look down to Wufei. "With his hair fetish, we're damned lucky he didn't go for Maxwell, trapped in that cell of theirs."
Wufei sighed. "Yes, we are." He grabbed one of Treize's hands and pressed a kiss into the palm. "I was so worried about you, and then when Zechs mentioned that Duo was there..."
Treize brushed the boy's hair back from his face, then took his hand to lead him to the bed, while Zechs hefted Wufei's duffle onto his shoulder and headed for the closet, still in their sight. "I was damned lucky you decided to send Duo, rather than Heero, on that mission. If it had been anyone else, I would be dead by now."
"You're probably right." Wufei reached up and pulled Treize's face to his for a deep kiss.
Zechs smiled as he turned - Treize had pulled their Dragon into his lap for one of the deepest, sexiest kisses he'd ever seen in his life, and it occurred to him that he had better intervene before all three of them ended up missing lunch, as enjoyable as that might be. He walked over to them and shook his head. "Aren't you forgetting about someone? I'm... Ack!"
Zechs cried out as he felt Wufei grabbing hold of him and yanking him forward onto the bed, too quickly and powerfully to resist. He landed on his back and in seconds was covered by both Wufei and Treize. Wufei's lips hovered over his for a second before he pulled his face down with a growl and gave him a demanding, powerful kiss, all his pent-up worry pouring out and into the Chinese pilot, who moaned and squirmed against him.
"Are you trying to kiss him to death, Wufei?"
The Chinese pilot reluctantly released Zechs' lips and sat up to give the blond some air. "No - he has to suffer some more first. Zechs, you have no idea how I panicked when I got your first email! And then Yuy walked in..."
The blond shuddered - after seeing Heero, back in Duo's hospital room, he had no doubts as to how the Japanese pilot had reacted. He took one of Wufei's hands in both of his. "I'm sorry, Dragon, I truly am. I'm sure Yuy was..." he shuddered again.
Treize looked deeply disturbed. "It wasn't your fault, either of you, so no more of this! We're here, we're together, and that's all that matters." He yanked Zechs into a hug with one arm, running his free hand down Wufei's back soothingly.
All three straightened by some sort of mutual accord and began smoothing out their clothing. Wufei turned with an arched brow to Treize and stared until the man smiled and handed back his hair tie.
He walked across the room to Zechs' mirror and tried to fix the ponytail. "So... now that you've met them, what do you think?"
Treize cocked his head. "Remarkable. I can see your team dynamic already, and one member is still missing."
Zechs picked up a brush and quickly ran it through his hair, wincing every now and then as he hit a snag. "I was impressed by your Quatre Winner - ow, shit! Oh, pardon - the way he is simply *in* control, and he knows it. Reminds me of a certain pointy-eyebrowed scoundrel I used to know..."
Treize gave Zechs a small bow, a glint in his eyes. "I was impressed, too. I think... well, whatever comes of this partnership, it will be interesting, to say the least." He stood and walked to Wufei, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. "Lunch?"
Wufei gave him a rare, full smile. "As soon as Barbie is done primping."
Zechs glared, but put the brush down. "Between you and Maxwell, the nicknames are going to drive me crazy."
Wufei grinned up at the taller man as he walked past him out the door. "Sexy, eh? Can't fault his taste, at least."
Une stopped Heero at the door and motioned to his duffle bag.
"You may as well leave your things in here, Mr. Yuy. We assumed that you'd rather stay with Duo, so I'm having a cot moved in later, if necessary. If Treize manages to bully Sally into allowing him to stay with Zechs and Wufei, however, you can use the other bed. Is that satisfactory?"
Heero nodded shortly, dropped the bag and stepped into the hall next to Quatre.
"Mr. Winner, we don't have a lot in the way of accommodations, but there's a small room just down this hall. We've put in a couple of cots, and we figured you wouldn't mind sharing with Mr. Barton, when he arrives," Une said, leading them down the short hall, around a corner, then stopping in front of a door. Walker followed behind them. "I hope this is alright," she added, opening the door and stepping into the small room that looked like it had been an exam room until the day before.
Walker stepped in and opened an inner door. "You *do* have a private bathroom, at least, though it's just a toilet and small shower stall," he pointed out, then stepped back out into the hall. "Une, I'm going to go get the lunch myself. Let's keep as much of the details of what's going on between us as possible, at least until we get things hammered out."
Une nodded and followed him out. "I'll leave you and Mr. Yuy to yourselves for now, Mr. Winner. We'll meet back in Duo's room in ten minutes?"
Quatre nodded and smiled. "Thank you, Lady Une. We'll be back then. And you may as well just call me Quatre. 'Mr. Winner' sounds like I'm a Board Director or something."
She gave him a small smile and a nod, then walked down the hall.
Heero closed the door and did a sweep for any type of bug or surveillance device, but found none. He turned to Quatre, raked a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Quatre... what do you think? Of all this?" he asked, looking almost pleadingly at the blond. "And Duo? How bad do you think he really is? Why does he seem to trust them? What--"
Quatre stepped over to the Japanese pilot, rested his hands on his shoulders, then gently pushed him to sit on the nearest cot.
"Duo first, I think. He's hurt, and pretty badly, but I doubt he's truly in any danger from his injuries now. We can ask Sally for his chart and any details when we get back. From the way she's acting, and Une and Treize as well, I don't think they'll hesitate to give answers. As to why he trusts them, I'm not sure. I get the feeling his trust is still a tentative thing, but if the information we have gotten is fact, they rescued and have been taking care of him. And *something* went on between Duo and Treize in that cell, but I don't know when and if we'll find out what is was. We can ask Duo, though. He'll find a way of telling us that something is wrong or that we're in danger, even if they don't leave us alone with him."
Heero stood up and started pacing, and Quatre sighed.
"What do I think of all this? I'm witholding judgement right now. What they've said so far is true, and pretty much confirmed by Wufei and Duo. I'm not getting anything negative from them, and I don't *think* this is a set-up, or a trap, or anything. I *do* trust Wufei's judgement, as well as Duo's, so I'm willing to give Treize the benefit of the doubt. I wish Trowa were here. He *hears* so much more detail than I do."
The blond walked to the window and glanced out. "I think, for now anyway, we 'go with the flow', as Duo would say. Don't make any judgements, don't let our guards down, and keep an eye on things. I don't think we need to be paranoid, but it's best to be alert for any contingency. On the plus side, they haven't searched us or taken our weapons, and they seem to be letting us move freely. I--"
Heero walked up behind Quatre and tentatively rested a hand on his shoulder. He felt awkward, touching someone besides Duo, but obviously the comforting hand was appreciated by the Arabian teen. Quatre turned his head and gave Heero a smile.
"Thanks, Heero. I guess I'm more nervous than I thought. I'm sure you understand the ramifications if Treize is telling the truth and they all want to at least try and right the wrongs they committed..."
Heero squeezed his shoulder, then let his hand drop. "Yes. We'll have allies, and potentially, the war could end sooner. Duo won't have to fight and possibly get hurt anymore."
"More than that, Heero. None of us would have to fight alone anymore. We'll have a real support base. Real medical attention... people to bounce ideas and plans off of. Howard and the Manguanacs won't be overworked and over stressed by our needs, and we won't need to wait as long for help if they're far away." Quatre turned and looked closely at Heero.
"One thing, though, Heero. Can you put the past aside and work with Treize and Une? Maybe not forget, but forgive the past wrongs and move forward?"
Heero looked at the door and shrugged slightly. "I don't know. I almost attacked Une in there, for threatening Duo, and all I could think of was her threatening the colonies. But Duo said she wasn't threatening him. I think I'm a bit confused, right now."
Quatre nodded. "At least that's something... and you're being honest with yourself about it. As for a threat to Duo, it was for his own good, I suppose, which sort of shocked me. She acts like she really cares, now. I didn't feel any subterfuge from her, either. And Treize's joke with Duo, and Duo's reaction... definitely not what I would have expected. Something has happened to all of them, and I, for one, am dying to find out what it was."
Heero winced, shook his head, then smirked slightly at the blond. "Please, Quatre, don't say 'dying' right now. Duo *has* explained Murphy's Law to me, and I'm afraid it might apply itself to this situation."
Quatre blinked at Heero, then laughed as he opened the door to return to Duo's room. "Don't worry Heero. Murphy's Law also states if you expect Murphy's Law to apply, it won't!".
They walked out the door, not noticing Sally coming down the hall behind them. She smiled to herself as she heard Quatre's bright laughter, then sent up a little prayer.
"Please, whatever Gods are watching... let this all work out."
Quatre knocked politely before opening the door and stepping inside. "Hi, Duo." Heero slipped in behind him and went straight to the bedside, while Quatre stopped to shut the door for privacy.
Without prying OZ eyes around to scrutinize them, both boys took a good, hard look at Duo. He was smiling at them drowsily, but the smile couldn't quite hide the pain that was making those tiny creases between his brows visible. His face was noticeably thinner, not that Duo'd had any weight to lose before the mission. Heero frowned. "Duo."
The braided boy met his lover's eyes. "Hi, Heero, Quatre. Where's your room?"
Quatre sat down at the foot of the bed carefully and snagged Duo's chart to scan. "I'm two doors down on the left. Heero will be staying here with you."
Duo managed a full smile. "Good for Treize - he needs to be back with his yeah, you know what I mean."
"Duo," Heero said, looking up and into said boy's eyes, "Do you really I mean "
Quatre smiled and put a hand on Heero's shoulder. "I think what he's trying to ask is well, you seem to trust Treize, Une and the others, Duo, and we all know that hasn't always been so."
Heero squeezed Duo's hand tightly. "We don't mean to say that we aren't willing to try - both you and Wufei seem convinced, and that's enough to make me try, but I'm still "
Duo sighed. "I know. All I can say is that they are for real. That's not to say that I'd tell Treize my life story, but he was nice to me, even after I clocked him one good. He helped me clean up after interrogations, re-set my arm for me, hell, the guy carried me halfway outta that stinkin' base "
"You trust him - you trust them all, don't you?" Quatre asked.
Duo met Quatre's gaze and held it for a moment before he nodded. "It's like the twilight zone to hear myself say it, but yes, I do."
He switched his gaze to Heero and sighed softly. "Don't ask me for specific whys and hows. I don't know... it's just a feeling, maybe. We talked a lot in that cell. It's like he's a different person now. You know, he apologised to me for New Edwards, and I could tell... he really meant it. He even apologised for Une forcing you to self-destruct, but I told him only you can forgive that."
Duo swallowed and winced slightly, and Quatre held a cup as he took a drink. "Thanks Q," the braided teen said, voice dropping back to the harsh whisper. "And have you noticed Une? She is *not* acting like the 'psycho-bitch' anymore... though Treize said that Walker may be responsible for that, at least partially."
He turned his attention back to Quatre. "So, when does your other half get here? I'm guessing he stayed behind--" Violent coughs cut Duo off and Heero raised his shoulders slightly until the spasm passed.
Quatre's eyes were wide, his mind fixed on Duo's previous statement. "Walker? Une and Walker, as in... having a relationship?"
Heero stopped rubbing Duo's back and stared down at the boy. "That has to be the most troubling thing you've told us so far."
Duo rolled his eyes. "It's not so bad once you get to know them. It's kind of cute, in a weird sort of way. Now Q, answer the question! Where's Trowa?"
Quatre was still shaking his head, but he answered, "He'll be here tomorrow - he was making arrangements with Howard to get our Gundams over here safely. He sends this, by the way." He gave Duo a gentle hug.
There was a sharp knock on the door and Une walked in. Taking in the scene-- Quatre giving Duo a careful hug, the slight pinching of Duo's face from pain and fatigue-- she walked quickly forward, a slight frown on her face.
"Duo, you have to take it easy! No more talking! No more excitement!" she chided gently, tucking the blankets back around him once Quatre released him, and straightening his pillows. She turned to the other two and continued with more force.
"Gentlemen," she said severely, "perhaps you aren't aware of just how serious Duo's condition is. This young man needs undisturbed rest for at least another full day. His fever might have broken, but a relapse would put him in grave danger! We almost lost him, for the love of H Oh, lord!"
Quatre and Heero both stared at her, but Heero quickly turned back and gently restrained Duo back onto the bed. "Duo, please, you have to stay calm "
Une turned away, her shoulders trembling slightly, and Quatre asked, "Could you please explain that to us, Lady Une?"
Another knock sounded at the door, and Walker's head popped in. "Room service Um what's up?"
Quatre fixed the young man in his stare. "Maybe you can tell us what Une meant about nearly losing Duo, if you'd be so kind."
Heero glared at the two OZ officers from where he hovered protectively over his boyfriend. "I think we've been very understanding up to this point, but if someone does not explain what she meant when she said we'd nearly lost Duo "
"Heero," Duo wheezed painfully, "it's okay - I'm fine now "
"It isn't okay, Duo, I want answers and I want them now," Heero ground out, his eyes glued to Une's face.
Walker stepped between the two. "Try to understand, Mr Yuy, he was very sick when we got to him "
"Yes, he was, but I was in no danger of losing him, I
assure you," an authoritative voice called from the doorway.
Sally walked into the room and tapped the chart in Quatre's hands.
"That will explain most of it, but I'd be happy to answer
any questions you have."