Heero remained staring at Une as Sally walked in the woman was openly shaking now as Walker wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her into his embrace. Was this really the same woman who had threatened the colonies' destruction? Who killed Relena's father right in front of her eyes?
Sally's offer to talk brought his head around, though, and he stood to grab the charts out of Quatre's hands. He scanned the top sheet quickly. "Moderate concussion, massive contusions to face, torso, and extremities... broken left arm, sprained right ankle, bruised kidneys... three broken ribs on left side, two cracked ribs on right side, punctured left lung, minor viral infection, minor bronchial infection..." the Japanese teen read out loud, voice tight and strained.
Quatre shook his head sadly, stepped to Duo's other side and gently brushed his bangs out of his face. "Duo, you really do get yourself into messes, don't you? How many times have I told you that Oz grunts don't have the intelligence to appreciate your special brand of humour?"
"Sorry Q. You know how hard it is for me to resist. Treize mentioned that he thought high school was less dangerous that piloting a mobile suit. What do you think? Career changes all around?"
"That sounds very good to me, Duo," the blond replied, nodding at Heero to continue.
The Japanese pilot read through the treatment plan, handed Sally the chart and gave her an almost pleading look. Sally smiled encouragingly at him.
"The puncture to his lung was very minor. His arm is set and the ribs are in their proper positions. The bruising and the ankle, well, they'll just take time. As for the infections, we caught them early and the antibiotics seem to be doing their job. There's no permanent effects from the concussion, though he'll have headaches and dizzy spells for a few more days. The dizziness shouldn't be a problem, since he's not allowed out of bed for at least another few days, and then only for the necessities and not alone. The weight he's lost should be easily replaced, and the bedrest will ease the effects of the exhaustion," Sally said, looking pointedly at her patient. "I've had him on a morphine drip, because the fever he spiked last night caused hallucinations and violent reactions, as well as to control the pain and keep him asleep. Now that you're here, I'll expect *you* to keep him under control and obeying the doctor's orders."
She grinned at Duo, and the injured teen groaned and winced. "No fair, Ms. Hyde. You're cruel..."
Sally chuckled and turned back to Heero. "I'll leave the IV going without the morphine drip. I want to keep him off solid food for a few more days, as well. To be fully honest with you, Heero, he was and is in bad shape, but, it looks worse than it really is. However, if we hadn't gotten to him when we did, or he'd taken any more physical abuse, we probably would have lost him. As it stands now, he'll be in a good deal of pain, and out of commission for a while, but he'll make a full recovery... as long as he obeys the doctor's orders."
To everyone's surprise, Heero leaned over, cupped Duo's cheek and gently kissed his injured lover. He broke the kiss and murmured "He'll obey orders, won't you, Duo?" then sat back in his seat at his lover's side.
"Thank you, Sally. If I have any more questions, I'll be sure to ask."
Another knock sounded at the door, and Wufei pushed it open. "Sorry we're late. Did we miss anything?"
Quatre looked back and forth from Heero to Duo before flashing a quick smile to Wufei. "Nothing we can't fill you in on later. Come on in we were waiting on lunch for you."
Treize and Zechs followed him in. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"That's quite alright, gentlemen," Une said, "you arrived just in time."
Sally watched the braided teen carefully as everyone finished eating he had stopped eating, himself, at least fifteen minutes before. She dabbed at her lips with her napkin. "I think our patient needs some rest."
Heero nodded his agreement, gently stroking Duo's bangs back from his face. He called to him, "Duo? Koi, are you okay?"
Blue eyes blinked blearily. "H'ro? Is't lunch time y't?"
Heero gave him a gentle smile. "We already ate, don't you remember?"
Duo's nose scrunched up a little. "Y'made me eat applesauce "
Sally laughed. "Yes, we did, and now it's time for you to take a nap, okay?" Heero gave her a grateful look as she adjusted Duo's IV lines. He tucked the blanket over Duo's shoulders carefully.
Duo's hand shot out weakly to grasp Heero's shirt sleeve. "Please don't go "
Heero looked up at Quatre pleadingly.
The blond nodded. "Of course. And perhaps if one of you could be good enough to give us a tour of this facility?"
Zechs nodded eagerly. "I had promised Treize a tour as well, in fact. I would be happy to show you around."
Heero nodded. "Fine with me Wufei, Quatre, I'll catch up with you later."
The two other Gundam pilots approached Duo's bedside. Quatre pressed Duo's uninjured shoulder gently, and Wufei reached out to tousle the boy's bangs a little. "We'll be back to check on you two later."
"Thanks," Heero said, giving his Chinese friend a small smile.
Wufei squeezed Heero's shoulder before he followed Quatre out and closed the door behind him.
Heero reseated himself and squeezed Duo's hand. "Now, go to sleep. I'm not going anywhere."
"Thanks, H'ro. Missed you. Love you..."
Heero put a gentle finger on his lover's lips. "Shhh... sleep, remember? We can talk when you wake up. Just sleep, no worries, no bad dreams... just sleep..."
He kept talking softly as Duo's eyes slowly closed and his breathing slowed in the pattern of sleep. He laid his head on the bed, closed his eyes and let his mind drift.
**Too close... it was too close this time. This has to end. Duo's been through too much already... we all have. We have to end it, and if that means allying ourselves with Treize, then so be it!**
**But do they mean it? They *seem* sincere... but what if it's all an act? One big plot? No, Duo would never fall for it. His instincts are usually right-- in fact, I can't remember a time they failed us. And Wufei is no pushover, either. He would know if they were lying.**
**Besides, if this has been going on that long, and it were a plot-- no. I'm not going to do that. Quatre said to be open-minded, and Duo said to hear them out.**
**High school? Duo is considering high school? He'd be bored in two weeks. He already knows more than most of the teachers. Maybe University. That might be a challenge to him...**
He never saw Une and Sally smiling softly at them when they checked in two hours later.
"The Captain has approved the use of permitted electronic devices "
Trowa nearly sighed in relief as he pulled out his laptop and switched it on. He knew for a fact that no one in his or her right mind would have approved *this* computer for use during a commuter flight but he also knew that its custom-designed encryption codes were next to impossible to break. It would be perfectly safe.
He pulled up his email and smiled there were two messages. He clicked on the first.
----- message begins -----
Just to let you know that Customs didn't even bother looking. With any luck, we should be at the coordinates you provided in about three days. Will be in contact.
Hug my boy for me when you see him.
----- message ends -----
He'd expected as much, but it was nice to know. Trowa wasn't quite sure *why* the Sweepers slipped security lines so easily, though he was pretty certain that Duo knew.
He was even more certain that it was related to the easy way *Duo* slipped through enemy lines.
Green eyes glittered as he clicked on the next message. He'd saved the best for last.
----- message begins -----
We arrived safely this morning. Thanks again for handling our travel arrangements so well.
First, since I know you were worried, Duo is going to be fine. He looks pretty beat up and he did get pretty sick, but he's on the road to recovery. The broken bones will slow him down, but you know Duo he'll be back up and flying much sooner than any of us would like.
Heero was predictably morose and cagey until he reached Duo, and Wufei was not much better, as worried as he was for Treize. The trip was not easy.
It is interesting, though, now that we're here. General Kushrenada and his entourage are working very hard to make us feel welcome and accepted. They obviously didn't have to worry about winning Wufei over, but if there is some strange plot brewing below the surface, the wool has already been pulled over Duo's eyes, and I'm inclined to trust them, too. Heero alone is still growling, but I am once again not surprised.
The facilities here are rudimentary but highly functional; I know you're thinking that what *I* consider to be rudimentary would be considered deluxe by anyone else's standards, so stop smiling. You're probably right, but you'll have to make that judgement for yourself when you get here. The people are nice, and even the ex-OZ personnel have been polite and helpful. The chief engineer, especially. I think you'll like him his name is Walker, and he gave us a guided tour of the repairs he's working on the Tallgeese. Shame Duo couldn't be there for it. He would have loved it.
Anyway, we are all fine and settling in. I can sense no background mechanics in motion, and I'm inclined to trust these guys. I don't think my instincts will lead me wrong.
I miss you. Come to me quickly!
----- end message -----
Trowa breathed a sigh of relief. Quatre seemed optimistic, and the report on Duo was favourable. All in all, things could be far worse.
He shut down the computer and stowed it quickly before leaning back and shutting his eyes. He would be in Minsk in a few hours and from there, with any luck, it would only take him half a day to reach the base. If he slept now, it would be that much easier.
Reclining in his seat, Trowa allowed the hum of jet engines and a set of blue-green eyes twinkling in his imagination to lull him to sleep.
Late that afternoon, Wufei poked his head into Duo's hospital room and smiled; Quatre, as good as his word, had managed to persuade Yuy to leave for a while, and Duo was asleep, a peaceful smile on his face. Turning back, he motioned Zechs and Treize to join him.
The three approached Duo's bedside quietly. Wufei looked guilty as he reached out to re-tuck a blanket carefully. "I should have come to see him earlier I am remiss as a friend."
Treize shook his head. "I think Duo would be the last person on earth to hold a wish to see your loved ones against you. He... he used to call for Heero in his sleep. Back in Russia."
Zechs lay his hands on Wufei's shoulders and squeezed gently. "Wufei "
"Hmmmm didn't know I did that." Duo slowly blinked his eyes open and looked up at Treize. "Did I really?"
Treize smiled. "You did. Probably as much as I did for these two."
The braided pilot smiled. "Quite a bit, then."
"Let's keep that between us, now, shall we?"
Wufei sat quickly in Heero's unoccupied seat. "I'm sorry I did not come before, Duo."
"Are you kidding me?" the boy exclaimed, staring up at his Chinese friend. "I would have made Heero chase you away d'you have any idea how much Dracula over there missed you?"
Treize quirked an eyebrow. "I vanted to suck your blood "
"Well, suck *something,* at least "
"Duo Maxwell!" Zechs exclaimed. "I can't believe "
Wufei was laughing, though. "Believe it, love. And count yourself honoured if he's joking with you, you've been formally accepted."
Duo smiled and coughed a little, then motioned them all closer. "Okay, so I'm only going to say this to you guys once. Wufei looks real happy with you hurt him in any way, shape or form, and when I'm outta this bed, I'll kick your asses to Mars and back. Okay?"
Zechs blinked and turned his face to Treize with a quirked brow. "Did we really just get a 'big brother' speech?"
Treize nodded seriously. "I believe we did." He nodded to Duo. "Understood, sir."
"He beat us to it, but that stands for any of us, too," Quatre remarked from the doorway.
Wufei turned with a red face to find the two other pilots watching them. "Are you all quite done discussing how to beat up the men I love?"
The blond entered with Heero close on his heels. "I think so; Duo said everything that needed to be said."
Heero went directly to Duo's side. "Alright, love?"
Duo slowly pulled the hand now holding his to his lips and kissed it gently. "Fine. Fei just came in to say hi."
"Hn." Heero nodded a greeting to Wufei and spared a glance for the other two.
Zechs sighed heavily. "Heero Look, I know you have little if any faith in us, and I don't blame you for it. You and I have fought since the minute you reached Earth, and Treize and Lady Une did nothing to endear themselves to you, indeed the contrary. But I'm asking if you cannot forgive us, allow us to earn your forgiveness and trust. For Wufei's sake, if for nothing else."
Quatre put a careful hand on Heero's shoulder.
The Japanese pilot looked back and forth from Treize to Zechs, and finally to Wufei. He squeezed Duo's hand gently. "I you took care of my Duo when I couldn't; I'm in your debt for that. And Wufei... is as close as I'm going to get to having a brother. So for their sakes, we'll call it a truce. As for my trust, you *will* have to earn it."
Treize gave him a small bow. "I would expect no less. My thanks, Heero Yuy."
"See? I told you he's not so bad," Duo said, yanking on Heero's hand a little. "For an Ozzie, that is." His stomach growled, and he groaned. "Hey, since we're all friends d'you think we could get a little dinner?"
Duo seemed far more alert and energetic after dinner; his eyes were glowing with something approaching their usual light as everyone pulled up chairs in the room and began talking over their tea and coffee.
Quatre fixed Sally Po with an inquisitive stare. "You've mentioned the rescue to us several times by now, but we've heard no details."
The doctor smiled. "I'm sure Duo would like to hear the story, too. We were actually surprised - Pokrovsk was an old Alliance base "
"Pokrovsk?" Duo asked. "But whoa - I thought uh, how did I get there?"
"I thought you knew," Zechs said. "You must have been moved, following your capture. Baikal is at least a half-day's flight from Pokrovsk "
"It's possible," Duo said, rolling his eyes, "They had to take me down with tranquilliser darts. I was surprised they didn't just shoot me."
Heero's grip on his hand tightened. "It actually makes sense - they captured you and got rid of you as quickly as possible so their superiors wouldn't need to know that someone had breached security. Am I not right, General, that it is standard procedure to fill out a death certificate for anyone, including prisoners, who dies on a base?"
Treize nodded. "Yes, and one would have to file it with Central Command. Your idea makes sense."
Une caught Duo's eye. "How well guarded was Baikal? I should imagine "
Duo grinned. "Nearly a full company of Leos, with all the associated ground support. The base has passable radars, too, as well as a full sensor net extending around the base for fifty kilometres in all directions. Unless you're using stealth gear, they will see you coming in. Or unless you're skimming the grasslands, that is."
"Company strength," Une commented. She shook her head. "Those suits must be quite something."
Quatre nodded. "And they've no doubt added to that strength, hearing about the rescue."
Duo tried to shrug and winced instead. "If I only had my Scythe here "
Heero's hand tightened. "You would stay right where you are, baka, and leave it to the rest of us."
"Yes, mother "
Zechs looked up hopefully. "I could lead a strike on it in Tallgeese."
Walker shook his head. "She isn't flight ready yet, Zechs, you know that."
Treize broke in before Zechs could make another comment. "*If* they heard about the rescue..."
Everyone turned their attention to him.
"If?" Wufei asked. "Treize, what are you thinking?"
"Lady Une, you are familiar with the commander at Pokrovsk, are you not?" the ginger-haired man continued.
Une thought for a moment, then grinned nastily. "Oh, him. A weasel of a man, who will do anything to protect or advance his position. Losing you and a captured Gundam pilot is definitely something to hide from his superiors... from everyone, is more likely. The odds are that no one, barring those on the base themselves, knows you've escaped." She turned to Duo.
"Duo, do you know if the commander at Baikal knew you got the information out?"
"Um, I doubt it," Duo said, his forehead wrinkling as he thought back. "I *forwarded* the information in such a way that it couldn't be traced, then erased any sign that I'd actually managed to hack in. Unless they have someone as good as Heero checking their systems, they'll be under the impression that they caught me *before* I accessed the files. And I know for a fact that they don't know I saw the suits. The only reason I got caught was because some soldiers came into the room while I was in there... and they were damned surprised to see me."
"So," Treize concluded, "as far as Commander Christof at Baikal is concerned, you were stopped before damage could be done."
"And Christof is from the same mold as Commander Getz at Pokrovsk-- protect *himself* at all cost," Une pointed out.
"I think I see where this is going," Zechs commented. "Christof, to hide the fact that you broke in, makes you disappear, so to speak, leaving no sign of you behind. Because you were *never there*, he doesn't have to report a failure. Following that theory, he won't change anything on base or do anything to get the attention of his superiors."
Treize steepled his fingers at his chin. "Getz has probably reported that his prisoners were killed in the attack by now, or that he had us terminated, rather than letting us fall into enemy hands -anything but admitting the truth. In that case, Treize Kushrenada is officially dead... as well as that troublesome prisoner from Baikal. I'd wager your identity, Duo, was never recorded."
Quatre smiled darkly. "So, to recap - Commander Christof at Baikal has probably not augmented his defences, since doing so might alert his superiors that something has gone wrong. He is also probably under the false impression that Duo is dead and never got any information out, so he'd be even more confident that his secret and his mission is intact. At the same time, the news is bound to break eventually that Treize Kushrenada was killed..."
Une met his eyes. "Speak plainly, Quatre."
The blond stood and leaned against the wall, tapping his foot as he thought. "We have to address two priorities. One - Baikal and everything it holds must be destroyed and soon. Two - we have to make some play in the power struggle that will rise when Treize's 'death' becomes public knowledge."
Heero grunted. "Well... a company of Leos would be child's play for a pair of Gundams to handle. I think Wing and Shenlong would be able to handle it quite easily."
"Walker, how soon can you get Tallgeese ready to go?" Zechs asked.
Walker blinked. "Um, four days? If we work straight through..."
Quatre looked at Heero and spoke at the Japanese pilot's nod. "Our Gundams will be here in about three days..."
Zechs nodded. "Walker, you have three days. If it's not done, I'll take it as is. We attack on the fourth day, Heero, Wufei?"
Wufei nodded sharply. "We should start planning tonight--"
"There is no way in hell you're leaving me behind! This is *my* mission, dammit!" Duo's rough voice broke in. "My 'Scythe and I can get in--"
Heero gently placed his hand over Duo's mouth, mindful of his badly split lip. "Duo, you'll stay right here and supervise, or, I'll let Une have Sally sedate you the whole time we're gone. You either help us plan and supervise, or you sleep. Your choice."
Seeing the rebellious gleam in Duo's eyes, Quatre quickly spoke up, in a calm, soothing voice, "He's right, Duo. It is no slight to you, and you know it. Besides, if you take on the mission planning, I can devote myself to helping Treize and Une plan up something to deal with Treize's supposed death. It makes sense."
"Duo," he continued, stepping forward and lightly touching the injured pilot's shoulder, "the strike team is going to need your input on this. They'll have to know everything you saw, where, how it was set up... you're not going to be left out, but even *you* have to admit you're not up to going out on the mission. Think about it, right now, could you even walk out to Deathscythe and get in unaided, much less fight?"
The braided teen sighed, shaking his head, and Heero removed his hand, lightly brushing Duo's cheek with his fingertips. Duo's grimace was half in shame and half in acceptance. "I'm useless in this stinking bed."
"Hardly useless, my dear God of Death," Treize chuckled. "You are uniquely qualified to plan their mission. And I expect you to tell them when they're being idiots or too careless."
Duo rolled his eyes, but everyone could see that he liked that idea. "Well... then they'd better listen to me, or I'll kick their asses when Ms. Hyde lets me out of bed without a babysitter."
Zechs chuckled at the disgruntled and slightly indignant looks on Heero's and Wufei's faces. "Yessir, Master Maxwell. We will follow your commands to the letter."
Duo leered at the tall blond. "You'd better!" He turned to Walker. "I'll need to see a full set of technical readouts on Tallgeese, if I'm going to plan this out."
Walker nodded. "Certainly. I can have them for you tonight..."
Sally shook her head. "Oh no, you won't. Tonight, he's going to get a good night's sleep. You too, Treize, and *don't* tell me you're fine. You're not, and we both know it."
Treize glared at the doctor as both Wufei and Zechs turned on him with concern written all over their faces. The Chinese pilot shot Zechs a look. "He *does* look tired to me. Perhaps we should take him to bed, should we not?" he asked, deadpan.
"Yeah, Drac-man, if I can't work, you can't either. Just be grateful you get a real bed, and not one of these torture devices again. I heard about you *convincing* Sally to spring you from here. *And* you actually get to sleep with your two body pillows..." Duo was about to say more when a yawn interrupted him, leaving him wincing in pain.
"All right, everyone out. Duo needs sleep. Wufei, Zechs, we'll meet here at 0900 to start planning," Heero said, stepping away from the bed and motioning for everyone but Sally to leave.
"Right, Heero, 0900," Wufei said, leading his lovers out. "Good night Duo, sleep well." His words were echoed by Treize and Zechs, then they were gone.
Walker nodded to Duo. "I'll be here at nine, too, with the schematics."
Une walked over and tugged the blankets straight. "Please, Duo, rest." She turned, took Walker's arm and was out the door in seconds.
Quatre stepped to the bedside and gave Duo a gentle kiss on the forehead. "Sleep tight, Duo..."
Duo smiled and finished the sentence. "Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Quatre chuckled and wandered down to his own, empty room, wishing Trowa had already arrived. He was one *bedbug* Quatre never minded being bitten by...
Sally smiled as she leaned over Duo. "You doing okay?"
He grimaced slightly, and Sally understood. Heero knew his partner too well - the braided boy would never have admitted to how much pain he was in with the others around. "My ribs chest..."
She ran her hands over the bandages carefully. "I know it hurts, Duo, I'm sorry "
Heero frowned. "Can you give him anything? Just to help him sleep better?"
She considered for a moment, then nodded. "Just a light painkiller, though. Will that be okay with you, Duo?"
He managed a small smile. "Thanks."
It was a sign of how much pain he was in that Duo took the pill she offered without complaining. Sally tousled his bangs playfully. "Sleep well, Duo. You, too, Heero." She smiled and vanished out the door.
As the door closed behind Sally, Duo lay back, exhaustion showing as he closed his eyes. "M'tired, Heero."
Heero ran a finger down the bridge of Duo's nose, and smiled when large blue eyes opened to look up at him. "I know, love. Sleep. I'll be right here, I promise." He leaned down and lightly brushed his lips over Duo's.
Duo hummed in pleasure. "'Night, love "
His eyes popped back open again, though, as he heard scraping, bumping noises, and he struggled to sit up as something bumped against his bed. "What "
"Shhh," Heero was next to him instantly, running a hand over his braid and fingertips over Duo's cheek. Duo finally understood - Heero had moved the other bed to his side. He smiled and clasped Heero's hand tightly.
Pulling blankets over them both, Heero pressed a kiss to Duo's hair and lightly grasped the braid in his free hand. "I love you, koi."
Duo pulled Heero's hand to his lips and kissed it gently. "Love you, too."
Johann Marco sat in the arrival lounge of Minsk airport, patiently awaiting flight 1523 from London. He absently flipped through a local paper, pretending to read as his mind churned through everything he knew about pilot 03. Tall, brown hair, green eyes, exceptionally good at infiltration. He smiled - this pilot had a reputation of being as cool as Chang was reputed to be temperamental. This was going to be an interesting meeting!
As the flight was called, he stood and folded his overcoat over his left arm and began tapping his newspaper against his leg with his right hand.
He recognised the pilot immediately as the boy stepped through the portal, and felt a surge of adrenaline as he watched him moving through the crowd of people. You could sense it with these pilots - they were all soldiers like no others.
He waited for Trowa to approach him, though, not wanting to startle him. Commander Po had been very clear about it - startling a Gundam pilot was a quick and easy way to get himself killed.
Trowa walked up to him with a smile on his face that was belied by the glittering of his single, visible green eye. "Dyadya Valerii?" [trans. Uncle Valery?]
"Stefan Trofimych!" Taking hold of the boy's shoulders, he leaned into him and gave him the standard greeting, a kiss on either cheek, hoping this pilot was well-versed enough in local customs not to slug him for it. Thankfully, Trowa returned the gesture as though it was the most natural thing on earth.
The two chatted lightly as they picked up Trowa's luggage, and Marco found himself amazed at how perfectly the pilot spoke Russian - he was even speaking with something approaching the local accent! The boy was flawless.
As they reached the car, Marco winked at his passenger and quickly swept the vehicle for listening devices before they got in. Trowa offered his hand as he closed the passenger door. "Trowa Barton."
Marco shook it warmly. "Johann Marco, it's a pleasure." Letting go, he reached into the backseat and pulled out two thermoses of coffee and a bag of sandwiches. "I came prepared, sir. Dig in - we've got an eight hour drive ahead of us, barring any problems."
Trowa nodded and accepted his thermos. He opened it and inhaled appreciatively. "Let me know if you need a break driving. I got some sleep on the plane."
Marco began started up the car, but before he could put it in reverse, Trowa's hand shot out and caught him by the wrist. "Hey, tell me something."
"The other pilots. They are all "
Marco nodded in understanding and in awe of the connection these five seeming boys shared. "They are all fine, I assure you." Trowa released him, and he put the car into reverse as though nothing had happened.