9-16-2002

"Domino" Episode 3

A Gundam Wing AU by Anne and Raletha

Feedback:

Anne: anneo @ paradise.net.nz

Raletha: geekpuella @ yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to Bandai, Sunrise and Sotsu Agency. We are not making any money from this, though we do admit to having fun and losing a lot of sleep.

Summary: Duo aids Heero in escaping an Alliance hospital, but can the two young pilots learn to become allies? Relena tries to learn more about the mysterious Heero Yuy while Quatre has his first encounter with a Gundam pilot. With the assistance of the Maguanac Corps, Quatre furthers his investigation of the enigmatic Operation Meteor. Meanwhile, Trowa faces his worst case scenario during an attack on a mobile suit factory in Corsica.

Rating: PG13

Pairings: Eventual 3x4x3, 1x2x1.

Warnings: mechanical violence, language, drama, action, angst, violence

Archives:

Anne: http://www.angelfire.com/ab7/shadesandechoes/domino.html

Raletha: http://www.angelfire.com/gundam/serendipity/Domino/domindex.html

Notes: Just a reminder, the premise of this canon based AU is answering the question, "What if Quatre had made a different decision and not become Sandrock's pilot?"

************

Opening Credits

 

Reclined casually on a sofa in the Domino green room, Trowa holds a sheaf of papers. As he reads through them, a slow smirk creeps across his face. Without looking up from his perusal he calls out, "Cat, come and see what I found!"

Presently Quatre and Duo enter the room. Curious, they both go to read over Trowa's shoulder with Quatre wrapping his arms around his lover's shoulders and giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Here," Trowa says, turning his head to meet Quatre's lips briefly, and handing him the papers. "Start at the beginning. Things are looking up for us after all - eventually."

Quatre takes the papers and begins reading while Trowa watches him. Eyes growing wide, he becomes absorbed in the page. Meanwhile, a sulky frown grows across Duo's features.

"I see what you mean by /up/..." Quatre trails off turning a page, a smug smile on his face.

The door opens abruptly and Heero enters. "Guys, they're on their way."

"Oops!" Startled, Quatre shoves the papers into Duo's hands before the braided pilot can object. Grabbing Trowa's hand, Quatre pulls Trowa to his feet. After whispering something into Trowa's ear, the two leave together, grinning.

"Practice makes perfect." Trowa is heard to say as they disappear down the hall.

Duo fixes a perturbed glare on Heero that makes even the dark haired pilot flinch. "Look at this!" He pushes the sheaf of papers under Heero's nose.

"What is it?"

"Why the hell do they always get the fun? What about us? Is it too much to ask that..."

Duo's tirade is broken off as the authors enter the green room. Anne clears her throat, pointedly glaring at Duo. "Not again, Duo." She shakes her head in a disappointment. "You know, I need someone to look after the twins this weekend..."

Duo blanches. "It wasn't me this time, I swear! Trowa did it..."

"Give me that..." Raletha tears the papers from Heero's hand receiving a Death Glare (tm) in response.

"Trowa?" Anne asks, incredulous. She's answered by Duo's best innocent look and a vigorous nodding of his head.

"That would explain why they were so keen to get home. This is the unfinished script for our first side fic." Raletha grimaces. [1]

Anne glances at the script briefly and laughs, "We probably won't be seeing those two for a while now."

In an attempt to change the focus of the conversation, Duo speaks again, "Hey, wasn't Bast supposed to be here by now? And where're Wufei and Relena?"

As if on cue, the door opens again, admitting one feline headed Egyptian goddess in a black trench coat and dark glasses. "Sorry I'm late," Bast speaks, removing her coat and glasses. "You know how it can be... "

Wufei and Relena enter with Wufei holding a stack of plates while Relena smiles, carrying a cake. Elegant Chinese characters adorn the surface of the cake. "Wufei helped me decorate it," she enthuses. "It says, 'Thank you for the beta reading, Lady Bast!'"

************

~previously~

Quatre skidded to a halt at the front gate of Relena's house, watching her pink limousine carry her into what could only be a dangerous confrontation. He cursed silently under his breath, frustrated that he hadn't been able to stop her.

/Whoever you are, Heero, you've certainly made an impression on her./

His thoughts went back to the shuttle once more. What on earth was Operation Meteor? Whatever it was, the cryptic codeword probably could lead to answers that could help explain everything that had happened. He only hoped he could find out in time to help Relena before she got in over her head.

Quatre sighed, and traipsed back towards the house, debating his next course of action. /I wonder if there's a vehicle I could borrow to go after her?/

************

The human race has ventured out from the Earth, seeking to build a future in the space colonies. But under the banner of justice and peace, the United Earth Sphere Alliance has seized control of these colonies, using its superior military power.

It is the year After Colony 195.

However, a few colonists rebel against this oppression and send new weapons to the Earth, disguised as shooting stars. But the Alliance has discovered the existence of Operation Meteor.

************

EPISODE THREE - WORST CASE SCENARIO

************

His consciousness resolved to bright light behind closed eyelids, a hard surface beneath his back, and the muted /plink/ of liquid slowly dripping into a puddle.

/I'm still alive,/ Heero realised; he wasn't sure if he were pleased or not. For now, it was merely an observation. Since he was alive, he had a mission to complete. The Gundam. Had it been destroyed, or had that newcomer managed to foil the attempt?

Spread-eagled on the hard surface, Heero tried to raise an arm. It moved only a few millimetres before being halted by what felt like a heavy, padded restraint. /I've been captured./

Directing his attention to his body, Heero carefully attended to his breathing and heart rate, focusing on those two rhythms to keep them steady and unchanged. Slowly, he considered each part of himself: his feet, his legs, his pelvis, abdomen, and ribs; his arms, hands, his shoulders, neck, and head. He ached, or rather his bones ached, indicating numerous minor fractures. Muscles felt bruised and strained in many places, and the bullet wounds on his arm and thigh throbbed dully. That, he concluded, must be the source of the dripping. Against his skin, he could feel several biosensors. Both arms and legs were restrained.

Still, he was functioning well within parameters. He knew his body could take far more abuse than this before it failed him. /That's one thing I can thank J for./

With care, Heero cracked one eyelid open, waiting patiently for his vision to focus on the revealed sliver of his surrounding. Other senses began to resolve with more fidelity - the sterile smell, the thrumming and muted beeping of electronics, and the muffled sound of voices from somewhere above and behind him provided him with several clues. /I'm in a hospital,/ he concluded. That girl, Relena Darlian, she had to be partly responsible for his being here. /I should have killed her when I had the chance./

But, she was the least of his concerns at the present. Heero scanned his memory for nearby and local hospitals. /This must be the Alliance Military Hospital./ Considering that he must be in an ICU unit, given the extent of his injuries, it must be building three. He risked opening both eyes, glancing around the room. A high ceiling and a metal stairway, combined with the murmuring of voices told him this was some kind of observation theatre. /I'm on the fiftieth floor./

He began to pull one arm against the restraints. It held firm against the table, but Heero judged that it would give way before his bones did, and he possessed the strength to break it. His flesh was another matter, but it would heal in time. He silently thanked J again for having given him the means by which to succeed in this situation. Though, an even quieter part of his mind questioned that gratitude; Heero ignored it.

The hiss of static and the blinking of a vid monitor next to the table he was on caught his attention. Once the static cleared, he made out the face of the boy from the wharf, the one who'd been trying to recover Wing. The boy motioned to Heero to remain silent and began to speak without the benefit of volume.

*********

Dazed, Relena stared after the retreating military ambulance that carried away the injured and unconscious Heero Yuy. A late afternoon breeze had picked up, coming off the water, and she shivered in her thin party dress. The last several minutes (it had only been minutes, hadn't it?) had all gone by far too quickly. After Heero had fallen into the water, the other strange boy hadn't hesitated before diving into the water and dragging Heero ashore. And this was after he'd just been shooting at the young soldier - or whatever Heero was.

/He'd been trying to protect me,/ Relena reminded herself. Then the boy had urged her to call an ambulance. By the time she'd made the call and returned, the braided boy was gone. She'd made the emergency call anonymously, and had hidden when the sound of sirens had drawn near. Attempting to explain what she'd been doing here would have been difficult; she simply felt too strung out to try to make up something plausible sounding. Anything she would have said could have compromised Heero in whatever he was trying to accomplish. Relena realised Heero viewed her as a liability; she would show him that she wasn't. She cared about him, and would help him as best she could.

She blinked and looked around. The sun was getting lower. If she didn't return to the car soon, Peygan would begin to worry. With a sigh, she took note of her torn dress and bloodstained gloves. She would have some explaining to do to someone; that was certain. Beginning the long trek back to the hill where Peygan waited with the car, she returned her thoughts to how she could help Heero. Despite his hostility, she was positive that she'd seen brief flashes of something kind in the boy. It was sad that someone as young as he had been sent on such a dangerous mission.

But what was that mission? Something had been coming out of the water. Heero had said it was his mobile suit, and then, after the explosion, the other boy had said something about Heero being the pilot of the other Gundam, of knowing about the impact tolerance of gundanium. /What's gundanium? Is a Gundam some new sort of mobile suit? /If the object had been Heero's mobile suit, his Gundam, then he'd been trying to destroy it. Although, Relena realised, there might be more than one, since for Heero to be the pilot of the other Gundam implied there were two of them.

/Why would he want to destroy his own mobile suit?/ she wondered, pausing to remove her shoes, before she began trudging up the incline to her car. /I'm really bright, /Relena grimaced, stopping to rearrange the tattered skirt of her gown, /running around like some kind of adventure story heroine dressed like this./

"Relena!" came a pleasant and familiar voice. She looked up to see Quatre jogging down the hill toward her. "Are you all right? "

Of all the people who could have arrived just then, he was the most welcome. She broke out into a relieved smile, and before she could think twice, rushed up and threw her arms around his neck. "Quatre," she mumbled into his shoulder. "I'm so glad to see you." He was such a comforting, solid, and real warmth that she simply clung to him while the nervous tears she'd been containing broke loose.

His arms wrapped around her, a little hesitantly at first, but then strengthening their embrace as she began to sob. "Are you hurt?" he asked gently, and she felt him begin to stroke her hair.

"N-no," she hiccoughed. "I... I'm fine." No one had held her like this when she cried for such a long time - not even her mother or father. /I've been so lonely,/ she understood as she inhaled the clean, spicy-sweet scent of Quatre, clenching her fingers in the crisp cotton of his shirt. /Is this what it means to have a friend?/ she wondered, sniffling as she finally released the blond.

Relena could feel her face heating slightly as she stepped back, wiping her eyes on the back of one soiled white glove. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't mean to be so..."

"It's okay," Quatre said with a smile, handing her a handkerchief. "Sometimes you need to cry. Don't be embarrassed." His _expression turned a little odd as his eyes ran over her ruined dress and bloodstained gloves. "That's not your blood, is it."

He hadn't inflected it as a question, but Relena answered anyway, "No, it's... it's Heero's. He was shot, and I tried to help him." It sounded so strange to say it out loud. The events she'd witnessed suddenly became that much more real.

"Shot?" Quatre's eyes widened as he reached to take her shoes, and then grasp her hand in his. Giving it a little tug, he continued, "Can we talk about it in your car? We need to get you home and cleaned up."

Relena slumped in frustration, "I can't go home yet... the party's still on, and my mother will be... upset to see me like this."

Quatre's _expression grew thoughtful, "Nigel won't be home yet; you can come to my apartment if you want. I think my sister left some clothes there that might fit you. And it's probably a better place to talk than in the car."

"You wouldn't mind?" Relena felt her mood brighten at the generous offer. Quatre shook his head, his smile broadening. She returned the smile. "That would be wonderful, thank you!"

Peygan, true to the discretion required by a professional chauffeur, questioned neither Relena's appearance, nor her newly acquired companion and choice of destination. They didn't speak much on the way to Quatre's apartment, aside from a brief discussion on where Quatre could procure his own chauffeur and car for the time he'd be staying in the area. He admitted he was becoming tired of relying on his tutor or taxis for transportation.

Once they'd reached their destination, Quatre showed Relena the bathroom and the wardrobe of his sister's clothing before he left her to herself. Feeling somewhat self-conscious, she quickly selected a pair of loose black crepe trousers and a ruby coloured blouse. The cut seemed a little mature to Relena, but it would do for now. She showered, dressed, and joined Quatre in his living room.

"I made some tea, if you'd like some. Are you hungry?" he spoke as she emerged from the hall.

"Tea would be nice, thank you. I'm not hungry though." She fidgeted with the too-long cuffs of the blouse while Quatre busied himself in the kitchen collecting cups and a tray. The small apartment - which she gathered belonged to either the family or his sister - was tastefully furnished in a soothing, neutral palette, the furnishings, classic and understated. She seated herself on the sofa; her posture felt a bit too rigid, but she found that she was unable to relax completely. There were so many things she wanted to talk to Quatre about, and he was taking his time in coming to join her.

Eventually Quatre exited the small kitchen to set his tray of teapot, cups, sugar, and cream on the glass-topped coffee table. He seated himself next to her and poured the tea. "What you did today was quite dangerous," he began, "I was concerned for you."

Was she being scolded? Quatre's tone was polite and friendly, but he didn't seem pleased. "I'm old enough to take care of myself," she protested, trying not to sound whiny. "I knew what I was doing."

"I'm sure you thought you did." Quatre glanced up at her before straightening in his seat. His gaze turned unexpectedly intent. "What happened, Relena? What's going on with Heero. And I don't mean hypothetically."

She blinked, astonished at the note of authority that had unexpectedly entered the boy's tone. "Well... I... I'm not sure..." Relena stalled for time as she frantically attempted to organise the events of the day relative to what she'd already told Quatre. "I went to the wharf because of what Ken said at the party. I was worried about Heero."

When she stopped speaking to sip her tea, Quatre prompted her to continue. "And you found him there?"

"Yes," she said slowly, afraid to meet Quatre's eyes. How could his gaze have become so penetrating? She forced herself to continue, speaking a little too rapidly. "He was there. He had a bunch of torpedoes. I didn't know what he was going to do with them, but I decided it couldn't be anything good, so I tried to talk him out of doing whatever it was he was planning."

She took a deep breath and continued, "I'm sure he doesn't want to do bad things. I can just feel it. He's not a bad person..." She trailed off as she realised she was beginning to sound a touch deluded, even to herself. Heero had pulled a gun on her, hadn't he? If the other boy, the one dressed like a priest, hadn't shown up when he had, she could very well be dead by now. Swallowing with difficulty as she imagined her cold corpse floating to the bottom of the harbour to become fish food, she took a large gulp of tea, and tried in vain to keep her hands from shaking.

"Did he threaten you again?" Quatre asked, his tone softer now.

"Yes... He hesitated at first - almost as if he didn't want to - but then he pulled a gun on me."

"Then what happened?"

"He said something like, 'You're in too deep. Good bye, Relena' and then, before he could fire, someone shot /him/, in the arm." She set her cup down on the table before leaning forward and hugging herself. Quatre scooted closer, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "It was so loud, and he fell down... there was blood and, I was so..." her voice faltered, breaking down to a whisper, "I was so scared."

"Who shot him?" Quatre pressed, but his voice was gentle, the warmth of his proximity soothing.

"Another boy, his age - our age. He was odd. Dressed like a priest, with a long braid, and a cap. He was trying to protect me, but I didn't recognise him." Frowning at the memory, at her actions, which with the benefit of hindsight, seemed utterly insane, she spoke again, "Heero tried to get his gun, but the other boy fired again, knocking the gun away. I ran between them and told them to stop. Heero was hurt. It was awful. So I helped him, I bandaged him with my dress to stop the bleeding." Relena realised she was crying again. "I hope he's okay."

"And you don't know who that other boy is?"

Relena shrugged, taking an offered tissue. She turned her head away to blow her nose delicately, and, pulling away from Quatre's half embrace, turned to face him on the sofa. "I think he's involved in the same thing as Heero - even though they didn't seem to know each other. Operation Meteor?"

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, something started to come out of the water. I think the strange boy had something to do with it, because he set of a flare to blind me from seeing. I didn't get a good look at it, but Heero did, I think. He said it was his mobile suit."

"Mobile suit?"

Nodding, Relena continued, her voice strengthening as she relayed what seemed to be crucial information. "Heero launched the torpedoes at it. The other boy said something about gundanium and how Heero must be the pilot of the other Gundam."

"Gundam. That must be the name of the mobile suit? And the other boy - he must be a pilot of one of these... Gundams as well?"

"That's what I think."

"So where are they now?"

"Heero was knocked unconscious after he fell into the water launching the torpedoes. The other boy dragged him ashore. I called an ambulance, but by the time I got back the boy was gone. I checked on Heero and then hid until after the ambulance had arrived and taken him away."

Quatre fell silent, his _expression thoughtful. Relena waited for him to speak again to offer his own insight, but he merely sipped at his tea, frowning slightly.

In the wake of Quatre's silence, Relena spoke again. "I'd like to go to the hospital to make sure he's okay. I think he was taken to the Alliance Hospital."

"Do you think that's wise? These people are dangerous."

"He's hurt and alone. He needs to know someone cares about what happens to him. And I feel partly responsible for him being there."

"All right," Quatre conceded slowly. "I won't try to talk you out of it, but I /will/ go with you. I don't think you should go alone."

"Oh, that would be wonderful," Relena smiled, standing. "Thank you, Quatre. You've been such a good friend to me."

She was surprised to see Quatre blush slightly as he stood too. "I hope we can continue to be friends, Relena."

"So do I," she admitted, feeling somewhat strange to be making that admission. "It's hard to find real friends. Most of them only want to be around me because of my family, it seems."

"I know exactly what you mean. It can be lonely."

"Lonely, yes. I guess we have that in common too." They stood awkwardly for a moment before Quatre gestured for her to precede him from the room to the hall. "Oh, my dress!" she exclaimed, remembering she'd left it in the bathroom.

"Don't worry about it right now," Quatre said, opening the door. "I'll make sure it gets laundered and returned to you."

It took them longer than expected to reach the Alliance Hospital due to the heavy afternoon traffic. Relena fidgeted in the back seat, wishing the car could sprout wings and just fly over the slowly creeping queues of cars ahead of them. She smiled at that thought before Quatre interrupted her musings. "Don't worry, we'll get there," he said, evidently noticing her anxiety.

"I know. I'm just worried about him. It's been such a weird day too." She sighed, slumping back and leaning her head against the window, absently watching the woman in the car next to theirs trying to apply lipstick in her rearview mirror.

"That reminds me. I forgot to wish you a Happy Birthday."

Relena brightened with a chuckle, "Thank you. It's certainly turning out to be a memorable one. It doesn't even feel like the same day..."

Eventually they did arrive at the hospital. A few inquiries took them to the nurse's station in the ICU unit of building three. "Excuse me," Relena addressed the woman behind the desk, "We're here to visit the young man brought in today from the wharf."

The nurse looked up briefly, "Let me see," she spoke tapping at her keyboard. "It says here he's not permitted any visitors, I'm sorry."

"No visitors? Are his injuries that bad?" asked Relena, trying to keep the note of panic from her voice, "I really need to see him. I'm the one who called the ambulance..." She broke off at Quatre's hand on her arm.

He gave her arm a reassuring squeeze and leaned forward to fix the nurse with a dazzling smile. "Surely you could make an exception for my friend and I. The young man is a close acquaintance from out of town. We're both concerned for his well being. I'm sure you can sympathise with that?"

The young woman behind the desk returned Quatre's smile with a light colouring of her cheeks. "I'll see if there's something I can do. Wait here for a moment, please."

"Thank you very much. You're very kind." Quatre's smile broadened.

Looking between the blushing nurse and Quatre, before the woman moved away to find someone who could perhaps help them with their problem, Relena decided it was like seeing the boy for the first time. Yes, she had to admit, he was extremely handsome - the slightly unruly blond hair, expressive eyes, refined features, and urbane manner. That, combined with the knee-melting smile he'd just displayed, led Relena to wonder why she hadn't found herself swooning over Quatre the same way Bethany and Co. had been. /Whatever girl he does decide to fix his attentions on won't stand a chance of resisting/

Relena turned at the sound of footsteps approaching. A tall, handsome woman in a military uniform approached. Her smile was warm as she addressed them, "I'm Major Sally. Could you tell me more about the young man you're wanting to visit?"

"Can we see him, please?" Relena pressed, not wanting to give the Major what she wanted until she knew Heero was all right.

"Come with me," said Sally, indicating they should follow her.

After following Major Sally a short way, they entered an elevator and headed up to the fiftieth floor. "I'm very interested in that young man. He has a wild look about him, but I sense he has an inner strength," the officer began again.

Exchanging a quick glance with Quatre, whose attention seemed elsewhere, Relena shrugged, "He seems like a pretty ordinary guy to me," she said slowly, frowning at Quatre. Though he met her gaze, his eyes were glassy, and his mouth was slightly slack as he gripped the rail of the elevator tightly for support. It reminded her of that time on the shuttle. She was just about to ask him if he were all right when he came to with several rapid blinks. Straightening his posture, he smiled at her, once more perfectly alert. /Weird. Does he have some sort of health problem?/ she wondered.

"What're your names?" Sally asked, diverting Relena's attention from her friend.

Before Relena could respond, Quatre did. "I'm Quatre Winner, and this is my friend, Relena Darlian."

"Winner?" Major Sally looked surprised, "And Darlian? You're related to the Vice Foreign Minister?"

"Yes," Relena grimaced. "I'm his errant daughter." Quatre seemed so much more proud of his name than she was of hers sometimes.

"I'm sorry if I said something to upset you," the major spoke gently in mild embarrassment.

"Don't worry about it," Relena replied. It wasn't the Major's fault her father was too busy to have even stayed around for her birthday. But feeling sorry for herself wasn't why she was here. "Can we go see Heero now?" she blurted.

Leaning forward in interest, "Heero. Is that his name?" Major Sally prompted.

"Um, yes. I'm his classmate and good friend." In her peripheral vision, Relena saw Quatre wince slightly. /Oops, that doesn't mesh with the out of town story he told the nurse... Oh well. It's not like we're being straightforward about much at this stage./ Beginning to feel a bit out of her depth, Relena was relieved when the elevator halted and the doors slid open revealing a glass enclosed room full of assorted monitors. "Heero..." Rushing to the window Relena peered down into the theatre below.

There he was. He looked unconscious and terribly vulnerable, strapped down on a table with all sorts of things plugged into him. A pool of blood was collecting on the floor below his injured arm. They hadn't even bandaged him - it was barbaric! She tore her eyes away from the injured boy and turned fiercely, "What have you got him tied down for? He's hurt and bleeding? How could you..."

Quatre reached her and put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure there's a good reason for it, Relena." he spoke softly, but his tone was hard edged as he glanced down at Heero. "I /hope /there's a good reason for it," Quatre turned back to Sally, his mouth pressed into a thin line of displeasure.

Giving a gesture of helplessness, the Major attempted to explain, "We're unsure of him. He's much too strong for us - that's why he's restrained. We need to ask him some questions before we can release him."

"He's not in the Alliance Military?" Relena queried. /I was right. He's not with the Alliance or OZ./

"Let's go downstairs," said the Major instead of answering.

Exiting the observation room the three began to descend a narrow metal staircase, but before they could get far, a sudden explosion rocked the room. Relena cried out, covering her ears in alarm. Blinking to see through the smoke, she saw a gaping hole in the far wall of the room, the dust settling around a figure she recognised. She grabbed Quatre's arm and whispered, "That's him, that's the other boy from the wharf.

She started to continue down the stairs, but Quatre restrained her, "Wait a minute. It's dangerous."

After pulling her sidearm, Sally turned back to them, "Are you both okay?" Relena nodded, and Sally rushed down the remaining steps.

Somehow, Heero was free and moving; he and the braided presumed-pilot were fleeing through the ragged gap in the wall with Sally pursuing them. Had they planned this? It was all so well executed.

"Let me go," she demanded, pulling her arm roughly from Quatre's grip. She had to see what was happening. Recklessly, she took the stairs two at a time, nearly falling as she reached the bottom before scrambling to follow the Major.

"Relena!" Quatre's voice was exasperated behind her, but she heard his steps as he hurried along behind her.

Another explosion came from ahead causing Relena to fall to her knees and cover her head as a cloud of debris flew past. A hand closed over her ankle. "Are you okay?" Quatre asked.

"I'm fine..." she trailed off, looking ahead at the sunlight pouring through the new opening in the exterior wall in time to see the two boys take a leap out into the open air. They were fifty stories up. "Oh no..."

She was helped to her feet by Quatre, and the two jogged to catch up with Sally who was staring in disbelief at the two free falling figures. No, Relena amended. The boy with the braid had deployed some kind of propeller on a stick to slow his descent, but Heero... he was just falling straight down onto the rocks lining the beach below. "Heero! No!" she cried. "Heero!"

Then, miraculously, almost as if he'd heard her, he moved and a parachute blossomed from a pack on his back. Still, he'd fallen a long way without slowing. She hid her face as his small form detached from the parachute and impacted with the unforgiving terrain below. Turning away from the imagined horror of Heero's death, she was pulled into Quatre's arms. Trembling she found herself just whispering "No," over and over again. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't the way things were supposed to be happening.

"It's okay," Quatre spoke, a note of disbelief in his voice. "He's not... he's not hurt."

"Wh-what?" she stammered, pulling away to see for herself. Sure enough, far below, two figures were moving. She saw the other boy move to support Heero just as a motorised boat came close to shore to pick them up.

"Damn," Major Sally swore, glaring at the two boys who were making their escape, before turning and fixing Quatre and Relena with a skeptical _expression. "He's a classmate of yours?" When neither answered her, the Major continued in a resigned tone, "Nevermind. I'm sure you two didn't have anything to do with that. Why don't you go home to your families and get some rest."

*********

Duo glanced at the man in the white coat lying at his feet, before hitting the switch on the monitor. For a so-called Alliance hospital, these guys weren't exactly up on security. Breaking in had been a joke. He grinned. /Especially for someone with my experience. /It had been almost /too/ easy - he just hoped it wasn't some kind of trap. Still, at least he was in; time to get on with the job at hand. Howard would be waiting at the rendezvous point with the Gundams; it was now up to Duo to collect the other person invited to the party.

His mind went back to the weird initial meeting with Heero. "Tell me why I'm rescuing you again?" Duo muttered under his breath, observing the image of the other pilot as the monitor came to life. Heero turned his head towards the small screen to the side of the examination table he was restrained to, but his _expression didn't change.

Duo placed a finger over his lips, motioning Heero to be silent. "I'm guessing even a guy like you knows when to be quiet, and that you can understand me," Duo told him. Hopefully his assumption that the other boy could lip read was correct or they were screwed. "Okay, listen up, and I'll help you get out of here." Duo frowned. "No change in pulse, or fluctuation in your breathing. That's some control you have there, pal. When we're done here you and I are going to have a long chat."

Heero didn't respond, but Duo knew from the glare he'd received before the other boy had turned away that his words had been understood. Whoever this guy was, he was another Gundam pilot - and Gundam pilots needed to stick together. Of course if Heero had plans to implement the original Operation Meteor, Duo would have no problems in pointing out why that was no longer an option. He'd worry about that later though; at present the idea of another ally was looking damn attractive. Sure Howard was cool, but he wasn't a Gundam pilot.

Duo quickly got himself into position, shaking his head in mock sadness. Didn't these idiots realize that leaving complete floor plans to this place lying around where anyone could uplift them was just asking for it? He tightened his grip on Howard's fun gadget - part of him was looking forward to trying it out, the other part wondered if maybe /he/ should be the one using the parachute, not Heero.

The bomb worked like a charm, blowing the door to the room where Heero was being held, and within moments Duo was struggling with the other boy's restraints. "Damn," he muttered, "can't budge them."

Meanwhile the building came to life, as the hospital staff finally realised they had company. /Took you long enough,/ Duo thought, muttering a few choice curses under his breath as the sound of rapid footfall came closer.

"Give me your knife," Heero's voice was the same brusque tone he'd used at the wharf; his hands flexing in an effort to break free of the leather straps.

/Yeah sure, Heero, thank me later./ Duo stopped mid thought as he noticed the blood dripping from Heero's wound. "Hey, your arm," he started, then stopped while he watched Heero make short work of the straps. How the hell could Heero just ignore all that blood? It was kind of hard to miss. Duo swallowed hard, trying not to focus on the growing red stain seeping through the straps and over Heero's hand. He glanced backwards into the corridor. Shit, they were running out of time.

"Come on," he yelled after Heero freed himself, "we're getting company and fast. Here, catch." Duo threw the parachute at Heero, and headed for the door. He paused at the entrance to the corridor, checking their escape route was still viable while Heero shrugged on the parachute. "This way!" Duo headed off quickly, hoping like hell Heero was behind him.

Footsteps sounded behind them and Duo hit the floor, throwing the grenade towards the window while shielding himself from the blast. Duo launched himself through what had been a large window moments before, hitting the small switch to kick start Howard's mechanical propeller.

He twisted his head - just in time to notice Heero falling head first, eyes closed and ignoring his parachute. What the hell? Was the guy even crazier than he'd first thought? This wasn't some Sunday afternoon stroll. If Heero didn't open that chute."Heero, what the hell are you doing? You idiot, open the damn parachute."

Heero ignored him, and continued his descent. A shrill very familiar sounding voice sounded from above, and Duo craned his head to spot three figures, leaning over what now a good sized hole courtesy of his grenade. "Heero!" Damn, what was it with that girl and Heero? Was she his girl-friend or something? Strange relationship if she was. Unless this was how Heero was with relationships? /Note to self; don't get too involved with this guy until you work out what makes him tick./

If he survives that long.

"Heero!" To Duo's relief the other boy's eyes opened, and he seemed to suddenly become aware of exactly how much shit he was in. /Took you long enough./ Duo wasn't sure he could watch as Heero pulled on his cord, but continued plunging straight down headfirst; his parachute opening too late to save him from certain death. "What the hell is up with you," Duo muttered. "I'm sure going to have nightmares over this one. "

Heero discarded his chute, moments before hitting the first set of rocks, curling his body into a ball as he literally bounced down the cliff face below them. Ouch, thought Duo, wincing in sympathy. /That/ has /to hurt/.

Heero finally reached the bottom of the cliff and twisted so that he rolled the last few feet, coming to a stop on the sandy beach. To Duo's amazement he picked himself up calmly, shaking sand from his clothes and stood staring into the distance.

/He's alive? I don't believe this. Who the hell is this guy?/ Duo discarded his own mode of transportation, landing in a crouch beside the other boy to give him the quick once over.

Heero clenched his fist, then unclenched it. "Damn," he muttered. "I shouldn't have released my parachute."

"You don't say," commented Duo sarcastically. He tilted his cap, then gave Heero an exasperated look. "Look, pal, next time you decide to commit suicide find some other way of doing it, okay?"

He placed Heero's arm around his shoulder in way of offering him some physical support, while they made their way to the boat which had appeared as if on cue. Howard had arrived to give them the way out they needed before the military worked out what was going on and tried to apprehend them. One thing was for certain - Duo had no intention of taking them up on their kind offer of hospitality. He'd seen enough of the so-called kindness of the Alliance to last him a lifetime.

"I'm not asking you to trust me or anything," he told Heero, as the other pilot closed his eyes but said nothing. "But right now I'm the only friend you've got."

*********

Quatre entered the small foyer of his apartment slowly, his mind still mulling over the events of the past few hours. He hadn't been happy leaving Relena after what had happened- watching Heero and the other boy make their escape from the Alliance hospital by jumping from the window had unnerved both of them, to say the least, especially when Heero had delayed opening his parachute. Thankfully, the pilot was all right.

There had been no mistaking that Heero Yuy and the pilot he'd felt on his journey to Earth were one and the same. The empathic signatures were identical - Quatre had found from experience that he could usually identify someone he knew well in this manner but this had been the first time he'd connected to someone so strongly, especially a stranger.

He frowned, tugging at the tie around his neck as he began divesting himself of the formal attire he'd worn to Relena's party. Something was nagging at him but he couldn't work out what. Quatre kicked his shoes off, and padded towards the small kitchen, pouring himself a glass of juice as his mind struggled to connect the dots. He paused, trying to visualize the events of the day, groaning aloud when his memory refused to co-operate. What was he missing? Quatre deliberately took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself, as he worked through what had happened.

The hospital. It had something to do with the hospital. Heero had followed the other boy, the one dressed in black, out the window, and.Quatre stopped. That was it. There was something about that boy, something very familiar. The blond placed his hand on his heart, almost instinctively, and smiled. Was he like Heero? Was that the reason Quatre had felt drawn to him? It was the only explanation which made any sense. He doubted the two pilots had noticed him, but he'd felt drawn to both of them - he'd known they were there even before the explosions had alerted the hospital personnel to their exact whereabouts. The smile turned to a grin. At times he'd likened his ability to pick up emotions to that of a dog picking up a trail. Each person had their own unique 'smell', for want of a better word, yet for some reason Heero's and the other boy's had almost intertwined for a moment, reaching out to tug at him, pull him towards them, in much the same way Heero's had a few days before.

"Master Quatre? Is that you?" Quatre's train of thought was interrupted by the extremely annoyed tones of his tutor. "I was about to call in the authorities."

Quatre turned to greet Nigel, as the older man sighed and placed the newspaper under his arm on the counter top. "Sorry, Nigel. I should have let you know I was going to be late."

Nigel sighed again. "If something were to happen to you, your father would hold me personally responsible. In future could you please inform me of your whereabouts? I was concerned when you didn't come home at the expected time." The tutor raised one eyebrow. "I do however appreciate the fact that a person of your age involved in a romantic liaison does not always think logically." Nigel gave him the smallest hint of a smile. "Young love. At times like this I wish I were younger."

"Young love?" What on earth was Nigel talking about? "But."

Nigel made a small tsk-tsking noise, then opened up the evening edition of the local newspaper to the Young Society page, and showed it to Quatre.

Winner heir and Vice Minister Darlian's daughter romantically involved, screamed the headline.

"But." spluttered Quatre, running his eye down the article, and trying not to laugh. A newsprint picture of him and Relena sitting talking at her party, holding hands across a small table, their gazes quite firmly fixed on each other, and seemingly unaware of anyone else in the room. "A close friend of Miss Darlian's insists that although Master Winner told her he has no intentions towards the young lady in question, it's obvious he's hiding something." Quatre sighed, wondering which particular 'close friend' had shared that particular tidbit of information.

/How on earth do these journalists manage such a rapid turn around time on their gossip?/

"I can explain." he started. "This is nothing like it seems. Someone must have taken a photo while we were talking." Relena had reached across the table and grabbed his hand when she'd brought up the subject of Operation Meteor. He shook his head. If the media were going to take an interest in their non-existent relationship, this could be awkward, especially considering he didn't want to draw attention to himself while attempting to continue his research into Operation Meteor.

Nigel gave him another small smile. "If you insist.sir." He paused. "Remember we have an early start in the morning. " The other man turned to head towards the corridor leading to the bedrooms. "I suspect you would prefer some time on your own to recover from your.busy.day, so I'll say good night now, Master Quatre."

"Good night, Nigel." Quatre replied, almost absently. He'd forgotten all about his father's planned schedule for him, and his reason for coming to Earth. Tomorrow was the tour of the Japanese branch of Winner Enterprises; a chance for him to observe the inner workings of the company, and experience a small taste of some of the responsibilities expected of him as the Winner family heir.

Quatre removed his shirt and headed for the small bathroom opposite his bedroom. He splashed his face with cool water, and rummaged through the bathroom cabinet for some toothpaste, nearly knocking a glass bottle off the narrow shelf. "Rose and Sandlewood Massage Oil," he read the label with a small smile. "I'm not even going to ask what Alimah's plans are for that." When his sister had been on Earth last, and staying here at the shared family apartment, she'd supposedly been on her own. Or so she'd insisted. Quatre replaced the blue bottle, making a mental note to tease her about it the next time they met, as he continued his search. His leg brushed against something soft overhanging the side of the bath, and he smiled as he recognised Relena's party dress. Speaking of teasing, it might pay for him to shift her clothing before Nigel discovered it and used it to fuel his theory that he and his new friend were ' romantically involved.' Making a mental note to arrange to get it laundered, he continued rummaging around in the cupboard. Finally he found the small tube he'd been searching for and began to brush his teeth. Even though it was still light outside, he was tired from the events of the past few days, and he suspected the change in time zones wasn't helping.

He'd check his email first, he decided, before attempting to get some sleep. If Rashid had managed to find the information he required, it would be easier to contact him without Nigel hovering in the background. Padding into the bedroom, he booted up his laptop, and checked his mail.

Good. Quatre opened the expected email, and devoured the information greedily. So the meteors were some kind of new mobile suit. Interesting. His eye ran down the screen further. Gundanium. He frowned, suddenly remembering why the word had seemed familiar; when Relena had used it while telling him about her experience at the wharf. Hadn't H also used that word when he'd escorted him the resource satellite? Could there be a connection between the scientist's work and these new.Gundams? H had been convinced of the need to fight for peace both on Earth and in the colonies.

According to Rashid two of these Gundams had been seen in Europe and China. If, as he suspected, they played a large part in whatever Operation Meteor was, it was important to observe them discreetly and attempt to retrieve more information.

Quatre opened a new email and began typing a message to his friend. After thanking him for the valuable information, he queried the possibility of the Maguanacs monitoring the two Gundams. He needed to ascertain whom the pilots were fighting for, and how much of a threat OZ and the Alliance perceived them to be. The fact that Heero had been in restraints in the Alliance hospital, and Major Sally's comments regarding how unsure they were of his capabilities suggested that they knew very little about either the pilots or their suits.

Four meteors. If each meteor were in fact a Gundam, these new sightings accounted for only two. So if Heero and the boy with the long braid had been the other two pilots, where were their Gundams? Mobile suits weren't easy to hide, and presumably Heero's main priority would be keeping his Gundam out of the hands of the military. The information Relena had told him regarding what had happened at the wharf had been quite detailed, especially considering how shaken up she'd been from the experience. She was a strong person - if only she'd be more careful - her tendency to not think of her own safety was beginning to concern him. He sighed. The events at the hospital had made him even more determined to learn more about the Gundams and their pilots. For now there were too many questions which needed answering. The other pilot had obviously been trying to protect Relena when he'd shot at Heero - so the two hadn't met at that point? Why then had he taken the risk to rescue the boy from the hospital? Maybe he had decided that they needed to work together. After all if there were only four Gundams against the might of the Alliance and Oz forces, they would need to pool their information and resources. Four pilots working together would be able to achieve much more than one working alone.

Quatre paused, his fingers hesitating on the keyboard, before adding a final request. Relena could be in danger if the Alliance suspected she was connected to Heero in some way. It might be a good idea if Rashid could send one of the men he'd brought to Japan with him to keep an eye on her. After her rash behaviour in going after Heero, he wouldn't be at all surprised if she was attempting to track him down herself. Relena, he thought with a smile. /You might be sensible when it comes to boys, but obviously that common sense doesn't extend to cover Gundam pilots//

*********

"There," said Duo, with a satisfied grin. "I've pulled yours up too." He released the controls of the crane as the other Gundam rose from the water to join Deathscythe on the deck of Howard's barge. "You could at least show me some gratitude." Duo glanced around, wondering what the hell Heero was up to.now. This guy was seriously weird.

A beautiful evening, the sun still shining, the sea nice and calm, but could they just sit and enjoy the scenery? Get real.

/Oh crap, you have got to be kidding./ Duo buried his face in his hands and sighed. Heero was on his back holding his injured leg with both hands, attempting to set his own thigh bone. A few groans and grunts came from the other boy as he focused on the task at hand. A loud crack sounded, signaling he'd succeeded, and Duo swallowed hard, feeling his dinner reconsider if it wanted to stay in his stomach where it belonged. "I can't take much more of this," he grumbled.

Heero calmly rose to his feet, adjusted the bandage on his leg and strolled away, as though it was something he did every day, three times before breakfast. The way things were going, Duo wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't too far from the truth.

"Oh man, he just set his own broken leg," he muttered to whoever was bothering to listen. "That totally grosses me out just thinking about it. "

*********

Wufei swung Nataku's beam glaive once, then twice, heavy grey smoke pouring from the burnt out shells of what, moments ago, had been the main buildings of Indus supply base. He brought his Gundam's arm down again, surveying the destruction he'd been responsible for with a degree of disappointment.

"They're just so defenseless," he told himself, his brow creasing in a frown. "Looks as though they're not taking me seriously enough."

It was very foolish to underestimate an enemy, or make assumptions based on initial appearances. Still, it seemed a common trait amongst those he'd met so far. Wufei thought back to his encounter with the men who had supplied him with the explosives he needed for his next mission.

One of the men had been more than happy regarding their transaction. As long as the Chinese pilot had the money to pay for the merchandise, that was the extent of his concern. The other man, the one driving the vehicle, hadn't viewed the situation the same way, but had instead voiced his uneasiness regarding leaving such a large amount of explosives in the hands of a 'mere teenager.'

Before Wufei could correct his error of judgement, the man who had organized the deal had spoken and chastised his companion. "Don't ask questions," he'd reminded the man behind the wheel of the large truck. "We've got the money; what happens now is not our problem." He'd tilted his hat to Wufei in a mock salute, before leaving. "Good luck."

Wufei had given him a curt nod in reply. "Thank you." Perhaps those observing the destruction of this base needed to be shown that he was indeed a worthy opponent.

Raising the dragon fang attached to Nataku's right arm, he aimed for the still standing large storage tower and fired, following the action with a burst from the weapon's flamethrower. Wufei turned, with a small sigh of satisfaction, noting the fierce fires breaking out around him. /There,/ he thought. /That might make them reconsider their erroneous presumption. /

*********

"Are Abdul and Auda in position?" Quatre asked Rashid, sliding himself into the seat behind the monitoring equipment. He'd received word that morning from the head of the Maguanacs that the Gundam they had been observing in Europe was heading for the Alliance supply base at Corsica. Quatre had made his way to where his friend and the few men he'd brought with him to Japan were staying so that he could use their equipment to observe the mecha in action for himself. So far the information they'd managed to provide him with hadn't been particularly detailed, but he suspected that was because the Alliance themselves didn't know as much as they would like on these new suits either.

A small smile played over his lips. As far as Nigel was concerned he was meeting Relena for dinner, not furthering his research on the Gundams and Operation Meteor. He'd told the tutor the truth about his plans, but not the complete truth. Quatre was sure if Nigel were aware of what he'd been doing the last few days, and what his mind had really been on while he'd been going through the motions of paying attention during lengthy but boring tours of various sections of Winner Enterprises, he would have no hesitation in sharing the information with his father. And his father would be very much less than impressed.

Rashid nodded. "Close enough to relay radio transmission, but from enough of a distance to not be observed. As you requested, Master Quatre." The large man took up a position behind Quatre, and focused his attention on the small screen hooked into the Alliance satellite feed they'd hacked into.

"Good," the young man replied. "We don't want the Alliance or the Gundam pilot to realise they have company. I also don't want to put anyone in danger because of my investigation." Quatre paused. "I appreciate you sharing your resources, Rashid, and aiding my search for information. "

Rashid nodded again, his expression unreadable, as were his emotions. Quatre frowned; the shielding he'd come up against the last time they had met face to face was still firmly in place. /What is he hiding from me, and why? /"We're happy to help where we are able."

/Where we are able?/ Quatre's train of thought was interrupted by frantic voices coming through via the radio transmissions.

"Enemy attack confirmed."

"But sir, there's only one of them," the other soldier's voice sounded almost puzzled.

"One may be enough," came the reply.

Enough? Quatre frowned. Enough for what? Did they believe this one Gundam would be enough to stand against their troops? Still, judging from the data he'd seen from the previous Gundam attacks, it certainly seemed more than capable of doing so.

He flicked a few switches on the console in front of him, until he found the satellite feed that would give him the best view of the area, and the upcoming battle. A large red mobile suit, which could only be the Gundam, was firing at the Leos attempting to defend the base, the Gatling guns mounted in its chest cavity making short work of the Alliance troops.

/So that's a Gundam./ Quatre took a sharp breath. The information he'd read didn't do it justice. It was certainly a powerful machine, considering the ease in which the pilot seemed to be holding his own against the attacking Leos. For a brief moment, Quatre wondered what it would be like to be behind the controls of such a suit himself. It had been such a long time since he'd had the privilege of piloting - it was something his father didn't think was a suitable past time for his son and heir.

The Gundam swung in a semi-circle, employing the Gatling cannon attached to its arm to destroy more Leos, before bringing it to bear on the planes approaching it from the air. Soon the air was filled with the smoke from burning wreckage, and Quatre sighed. A very powerful machine indeed. No wonder the Alliance were concerned. The beam Gatling cannon was very impressive - this was a suit expected to win whatever battle it undertook, if its offensive capabilities were any indication of its designer's intentions.

The video feed blanked out momentarily and Quatre hastily switched to another camera. Obviously the Gundam had taken out the one he'd been hooked into, as it continued to leave a path of destruction its wake. The Alliance moved in to surround the Gundam, retaliating with its own firepower, but failed to penetrate the gundanium armour.

Quatre shook his head, as he continued to observe the battle. Even though the enemy commanders decision to surround and destroy, was, in effect the correct one under the circumstances, he should have waited to determine his enemy's capabilities first.

His eye catching a movement on the screen to his right, Quatre noticed several Aries moving into position to join the fight. OZ troops? What the? His mind worked through the information he'd been given previously by the Maguanacs, and he spoke urgently into the radio. "Abdul, Auda. This is Quatre. Be careful. Reinforcements are arriving. Keep your distance." After the attack on the factory in Guam, Corsica would have been a logical next target. Could OZ have expected this attack by the Gundam and taken the necessary precautions?

The Aries hovered, ready for the signal to move in on the offensive - the Gundam turned, taking in the situation, then fired its Gatling cannon in response.

Nothing.

Quatre felt himself take a sharp intake of breath.

The Gundam released its now useless weapon, and deployed what appeared to be the equivalent of an army knife from its right arm. The chest cavity opened as the pilot continued his attempt to defend, but then closed as he realized that those weapons too were out of ammunition.

Quatre's fingers strengthened their grip on the side of his chair. The pilot was surrounded and out-numbered.

*********

Ten Aries surrounded him, not counting the two suits he'd just managed to destroy in a brief but tense melee incident. The new OZ suits were lighter than the Leos he was accustomed to fighting, but they were faster and wielded more dangerous firepower. Even with the benefit of Heavyarms' gundanium armour, Trowa didn't much like his chances. The stray warning he'd intercepted on his radio had not come soon enough. He'd only caught part of the transmission, ".Auda. This is Quatre. Be careful. Reinforcements are."

Unfortunately, Trowa didn't have time to contemplate either its source or its destination. A single suit charged him, breaking away from the support of its teammates. /Distracting me so the rest can pick away at me like wolves?/ Trowa questioned the seemingly reckless move, and hesitated briefly. So, this is it? He wondered, feeling an odd, detached sense of surprise. /I hoped I'd make it further./

Time slowed as his senses heightened in preparation of the inevitable strike from the attacking suit. /I guess there's no retreat possible,/ he noted in abstraction as the chunky suit raised its chain rifle.

Regret, he felt regret. He did want to make it further in this battle for the colonies. He even wanted, in some small place, to return to the circus.

"No," he whispered and somehow managed to jerk Heavyarms' combat knife up to impact the attacking Aries. Titanium alloy shrieked as it tore under the upward sweep of the heavy blade. "I will not die today."

/Or at least if I do, I'll die fighting./ He strengthened his resolve by calling to mind images of the Alliance's and OZ's subjugation that he'd witnessed. From here on Earth, he remembered the burned villages, the homeless families, the orphans, the maimed, the wounded, and the dead. From the colonies, he remembered the fear and uncertainty, the shattered dream of peace, and the victims of the violence. /I fight for them./

The Aries exploded in a ferocious blast of heat and noise. Trowa brought his hands quickly over the controls, turning Heavyarms to face the greatest number of his surrounding foes. Before the pilots of the suits could react, he charged into their tentative battle line.

He took out two more Aries while the rest scrambled to respond more effectively. Grappling with a third suit, he was rocked by the impact of concentrated fire from behind. The six remaining suits had converged behind him and were all firing at the left knee of the Gundam. /So, their commander isn't an idiot after all./

Heavyarms shuddered and lurched suddenly. Trowa broke off his attack against the Aries in front of him, struggling instead to bring his Gundam down gracefully as the left leg gave way. Heavyarms fell with a jolt that sent Trowa's head snapping back against his headrest with a sharp crack, jarring his teeth, but nevertheless, the Gundam landed supported on its bent right knee and extended left arm.

Ignoring the blinding pain that had blossomed up his neck and through his skull, Trowa blinked to clear his blurring vision and forced his concentration onto his sensor readouts. The Aries were converging on him. Heavyarms quaked in protestation as Trowa attempted to bring what was left of the Gundam's shattered left leg underneath the machine for support. He needed enough leverage to use the right arm.

He flipped on his remaining external cameras to supplement the smaller proximity radar, and managed to achieve a shaky balance for the suit. But it didn't last; he severely lacked maneuverability, and the Aries were behind him. He couldn't turn; he couldn't stand. Two suits knocked into the Gundam, their combined mass enough to throw his balance off again. Trowa gritted his teeth as Heavyarms fell forward with a crash of finality, and winced as he was wrenched in his seat harness. The collision with the ground was followed by a steady thunder of rounds from the chain rifles pounding into the felled machine. It was only a matter of time now.

His external cameras went out. He felt a small explosion rock the cockpit as he lost part of the Gundam's powerplant; the instrument panels flickered and died and he smelled oily smoke. In the dark, he took a last breath. Tasting blood, he wiped his mouth with one hand and felt for the self-destruct panel with the other.

The firing ceased. The cockpit fell silent. Hesitantly, Trowa lifted his hand from the smooth button under his fingers. /What are they doing? /

His radio crackled and spat before a voice came through the static. "Gundam pilot. If you surrender yourself and your mobile suit, you will not be harmed in our custody. This is by the direct order of Lieutenant Zechs Merquise who gives you his personal word of honour."

/The lesser of two evils?/ Trowa grimaced. If he destructed, they'd still have enough of the Gundam left to make whatever use of it they desired. If he surrendered, he'd have a chance to fight another day. He reached out to his comm panel, pressing the switch that would allow him to be heard on multiple OZ communication frequencies. Clearing his throat he replied, "Affirmative, OZ unit. I will surrender to Lieutenant Merquise."

"Roger that. We're moving in to assist you."

/Assist me?/ Trowa laughed out loud at that, but allowed himself to relax. There was an abrupt jerk and the harness dug into his chest momentarily as the Aries suits, presumably, lifted Heavyarms. Trowa found himself pulled upright, but only for a brief span of time, until gravity seemed to reverse and he was pressed into his seat while the Gundam was lowered to its back.

Trowa hit the hatch unlock and lay there as the doors slid open and the ramp deployed above him, useless at this angle. Pain flared through his head in the wake of the bright sunlight assaulting his eyes; the inside of his skull pounded a stabbing rhythm as if his brain were trying to escape. Trowa clenched his jaw, forcing his watering eyes to remain open and adapt to the light while fighting a wave of nausea. The sky was clear; a small puffy cloud lazily scooted past before being obscured by the bulk of an Aries suit positioning itself above, its gun aimed directly at him.

With slow deliberate movements, Trowa unfastened the harness and maneuvered to stand on his seat back. With a short jump to grip the side of the hatch opening, he swung himself up and out of the cockpit, to crouch on the chest of his Gundam. Wincing at the agony in his head and not fully trusting his balance, he stood carefully while raising his arms to indicate his lack of violent intentions. Briefly commanding his attention was the battered body of Heavyarms. The left leg was in complete ruin; scorch marks and bullet scars marred the otherwise intact surface of the Gundam's front. Dense black tendrils of smoke wisped up from under the damaged suit. His stomach sank at the thought of what the back of the machine must look like. Raising his eyes to the four Aries suits hovering around him, he waited.

*********

The pilot moved slowly out of his Gundam, his hands raised in surrender. Quatre requested an electronic zoom on the camera images, in an attempt to achieve a closer look. The image became hazy, before it adjusted to the new instructions, slowly giving the resolution he needed to observe the scene in more detail. "He's only my age," he breathed. That made all three of the pilots he'd encountered so far roughly his age.

Quatre frowned as he noticed the boy on the screen wince. The battle had been hard; it was obvious he must have sustained a few injuries. He doubted whether the military would go any easier on him because of his age. The pilot was in trouble, and was probably more than aware of that fact. And his machine was in bad shape. Even if there were some way of escaping he would not be able to use the Gundam without extensive repairs.

Remembering the ease in which the other boy had handled his Gundam, Quatre felt a suddenly urge of envy. How had he become a Gundam pilot? Had he come from the colonies like Quatre himself? How many other colonists believed that the oppression had to be stopped? His father had always held strong beliefs that the only way to achieve peace was through diplomacy and discussion. Maybe more people in the colonies disagreed with those philosophies than he'd initially thought?

"Damn," he muttered under his breath, ignoring the concerned look Rashid was giving him. "If only I'd been able to help in some way. If only I /could/ help in some way." Quatre clenched his fists, then unclenched them. The Gundam pilots must be trying to help stop the bloodshed caused by the Alliance and OZ. Why else would they be risking their lives in battle like this?

/"Would you fight.to help end the war, to end the bloodshed?"/

Instructor H's words echoed through his mind. No. It couldn't be, yet it was the only explanation. H had known about gundanium. H had asked him to fight. to help end the war and he'd refused. Could the project the scientist had been working on had anything to do with Operation Meteor? Had H been responsible in some way for the Gundams? Had H been asking him to.? Quatre closed his eyes for a moment. It wasn't something he could afford to even contemplate at this stage. He'd already made his decision, and there was no way to change the past. Anyway, the Gundams all had pilots, so H had evidently found other suitable candidates.

Quatre sat back in his chair, feeling numb. "There's nothing I could have done to help that pilot," he reasoned, his voice dull to his own ears. /Or was there?/

"You should not be so hard on yourself, Master Quatre," pointed out Rashid. "And you will not solve the problem by wondering what could have been. Perhaps you should think instead of the future."

Quatre sighed. "I guess you're right, Rashid." It was too late to worry about it now. What was done, was done.

"What do you wish to do now?" Rashid prompted gently, his emotional shielding slipped slightly and Quatre was sure he was picking up on something akin to hope or maybe anticipation, although his words didn't reflect the emotions.

"I'm not sure I can /do/ anything, my friend." Quatre thought back to the reasoning that he'd given H regarding his original decision. "But I need to help in some way, to show that that pilot's fight has not been for nothing." He made a conscious effort to drag his gaze away from the screen; surely there must be other ways to deal with this situation. He didn't have the means to fight on the battlefield in the way the Gundams did - but he did have other options and resources open to him - options which were more suited to his present situation.

Operation Meteor. The Gundams. Instructor H.

All three were linked, of that he was sure. But unfortunately H had disappeared shortly before Quatre had left to come to Earth. And of the four Gundams that had come to Earth, OZ now had one in its possession, and its pilot, the two probably belonging to Heero and the boy at the hospital were unaccounted for, and the other hadn't been seen since it had attacked the Indus supply base.

Swinging his chair around, Quatre gave Rashid a small smile. "Could you inform Abdul and Auda that I would like them to continue monitoring the Corsica area, please? I want to know what happens to that Gundam pilot. " His mind began to calculate possible scenarios while he turned to face the screen once more, and his fingers began to initiate the program he'd used before to hack into OZ's security system. If he could discover the enemies' plans for the Gundam and its pilot, maybe, just maybe he could use the information against them in the playing field he was more familiar with.

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One by one the surrounding Aries deployed their legs and settled to the ground, their weapons still trained on the young pilot. The hatch of the suit Trowa had judged to be the commanding suit opened, and a youthful man stepped onto the open hatch platform of his suit, his sidearm drawn. "Lieutenant Merquise is on his way." The man's voice as he yelled over the drone of the mobile suits' engines was angry and cold.

/He would have killed me if not for the intercession of his commander,/ Trowa realised without surprise. /I killed five of his men. /

The OZ soldier gestured brusquely with his pistol between Trowa and the ground.

The young pilot nodded and slowly dropped his arms. The tenderness of his head and the lagging dizziness he felt - in addition to the weaponry aimed directly at him, kept him from any moves more elegant than simply sliding down the side of his Gundam to the ground and landing in a low crouch. The Aries moved to maintain their line of sight while the OZ soldier descended from his suit via a pulley system and approached Trowa, his _expression one of undisguised hatred.

"Just a kid, huh? If it were up to me you'd be dead by now. You're lucky the Lieutenant has a soft spot for heroic last stands and unique mobile suits." The man grabbed Trowa's arm roughly, and turned him, jabbing the barrel of his gun into Trowa's ribs. Despite the bruising force of that action, Trowa didn't flinch. "Start moving toward the hangars, Lieutenant Merquise will meet us on the runway."

Sensing that the OZ soldier escorting him would take advantage of any opportunity Trowa gave him to inflict injury - or even death; the pilot remained silent and began walking. Behind him the pitch of the Aries' engines became a laboured whine. They were probably trying to move his Gundam. Where to, Trowa couldn't be sure. But he'd have to do his best to keep track of the machine to improve his chances of escaping with it later. Sooner would be preferable to later; the protection of this OZ Lieutenant would last only as long as his superiors allowed it. Depending on the charity of their feelings, Trowa's life expectancy could be dwindling rapidly.

An open-topped military jeep was approaching and the OZ soldier jerked Trowa to a stop. Trowa sensed the man holding him snap to attention - despite his hands being occupied - as the jeep came to a rapid stop. Two other OZ soldiers clambered out quickly to help restrain Trowa. One pulled a pair of heavy handcuffs out and pulled Trowa's arms together in front of the boy to clamp them on. Through this Trowa remained relaxed and unthreatening while he observed the third passenger of the jeep who exited the vehicle more slowly.

/Lieutenant Zechs Merquise./ The tall man wore the bright red jacket, sword, and high boots of a senior OZ officer. A peculiar masked helmet covered most of his face revealing only a fine, set jaw and long blond hair. /He's not the typical OZ officer,/ Trowa noted. /I bet his story is an interesting one./

Lieutenant Merquise carried himself with an air of aristocratic dignity and authority that was consistent with what Trowa knew of the hierarchy and history of the OZ organisation; the respect afforded him by the other three officers was palpable, and yet, something about this Lieutenant was too aloof and distant - more so than Trowa would have expected for a successful leader.

It was difficult to tell where the Lieutenant's attention was fixed, but Trowa didn't think it was on him. Rather the man seemed to be looking past him, perhaps watching the recovery efforts of the Aries suits. Trowa waited patiently. Presently, Lieutenant Merquise turned to face Trowa directly. A few long strides brought the man to stand only a few feet in front of him, and Trowa found himself subjected to a silent, enigmatic evaluation under the man's masked regard.

Thin lips quirked into a phantom smile before the Lieutenant spoke with the chill courtesy of nobility, "I believe we shall have much to discuss, Gundam pilot."

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~to be continued

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Next on 'Domino'

EPISODE FOUR - DAWN AT VICTORIA

Heero takes advantage of Duo's hospitality. While meeting for dinner, Quatre and Relena's different attitudes regarding pacifism lead to a disagreement fueled by their individual concern over the fate of the Gundam pilots. Meanwhile, Trowa is interrogated by Lt Zechs Merquise and Wufei launches his attack against the OZ base at Victoria.

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Notes:

[1] A scheduled side fic to episodes 6 and 7