9-20-2002

Shadowboxing
by Anne Olsen (anneo@paradise.net.nz)

Rating: PG13 / angst / drama / AU /

Pairings: 3+4, 1+2

Author's notes and warnings : This is the first story in the 'Echoes of the Rising Sun' series, which is a series of AU fics set in 1943 against the backdrop of the Second World War. Be warned that there will be some themes which some readers might find disturbing, but these were disturbing times and this will be reflected in what happens.

The first four chapters of this are Quatre then Quatre/Trowa centric, but Duo, Heero and Wufei appear in chapter five, and from then on in the action is split evenly between them. This fic is posted with admin. permission.

Summary: A young scientist working for the Germans starts to have doubts that what he is doing is really for the good of the Fatherland and mankind in general. Can the team sent by the Allied Forces reach him before the Germans do?

Archive: http://www.angelfire.com/ab7/shadesandechoes/echoes.html

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to Bandai, Sunrise and Sotsu Agency. I promise to return the boys (and other characters) more or less intact when I"m finished, honest.

Thanks to: Sephy and Amet for beta reading this chapter plus some evil plottage, Sarah and Maria for their support and wanting more. Thanks guys, couldn't have done it without you.

/ / represent italics

******

Germany 1943

 

 

Chapter One
 

"I saw the God of Death today."

"What?" Quatre scrutinised his sister Iria from across the dinner table, noticing the slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth. He studied the soup bowl momentarily, certain his face would soon match the colour of the bright red liquid dripping off the spoon he was absentmindedly twirling in mid air. "I haven't been listening, have I?"

It was a standing joke between them of late. He'd be thinking about the events of his day, and Iria would divulge something farfetched to see if she could win his attention. The previous night she had spun a ridiculous story involving a knife-throwing act at a circus she'd insisted had set up camp in the middle of town. Quatre remembered with a small smile how he'd fallen for her story, hook, line and sinker until she'd mentioned the target was a clown. He rolled his eyes at that one, annoyed at how she'd nearly fooled him into believing such a scenario would ever eventuate.

 

"No," she said, shaking her head in confirmation. "Honestly, Quatre, the world could end and you'd never notice. I suppose you were thinking about your project again?"

Quatre nodded, trying to ignore the heat spreading across his face. Iria knew him better than he knew himself. He looked forward to these conversations, yet never managed to pay as much attention as he should. Dinner at the Winner residence would be an extremely silent affair if it weren't for Iria. He shuddered at the thought of just himself and his father sitting eating, each ignoring the other. Formal dinners were one part of his life he'd discontinue in an instant; he'd be just as happy sitting in a park somewhere with a packet of sandwiches. Quatre wasn't sure whom his father was trying to impress. He certainly never worried about the opinions of his children regarding the general running of the household. Every night was a repeat of the same scenario, food served on fine white china on an impeccable white linen table cloth, a servant hovering in the background ready to top up glasses if required. Quatre hated it with a vengeance. It was stifling, a reminder that even though he'd gone his own way in life, as Iria had, his father still attempted to maintain parental control.

"Sorry, Iria," he mumbled, forcing a half smile. "What were you saying?" He'd spent the last week mulling over an equation, the answer was so close he could almost touch it. If only he could work out what he was missing. It wasn't good, this obsession with his work, but for the moment it was consuming him to the exclusion of all else.

"One day you'll find a pretty girl to distract you from your work," Iria often teased. "If you can find one prepared to share you with whatever project you're working on at the time."

Quatre always laughed on these occasions but the part of him that yearned to share his ideas and feelings with someone else winced at the gentle jibes. It wasn't as though he wanted to live only for his work, but until he met the right person, he didn't see any reason to change. He'd dated a few times during his university days, knowing that he should attempt some semblance of a social life, but hadn't connected with anyone he'd met so far. To be honest, dating girls didn't hold any interest for him, but he wasn't about to tell Iria that. Better to let her think her efforts were appreciated, which they were, but until the right person came along, he'd prefer to pour his energies into his work.

"David Reuben didn't come into work at the hospital today. You remember him, don't you, Quatre?" Iria took a sip of wine, her eyes meeting his as she repeated the question he'd missed earlier. She seemed tired, more than usual, her voice lacking its usual fire. His sister always managed to sound enthused about everything she spoke about, the spark in her voice often ensnaring others into assisting her with her current project or charity case. Iria couldn't resist someone in need, but obviously the long hours she was putting in at the hospital in addition to the extra volunteer work were beginning to take their toll. Quatre watched her carefully, taking in the lines around her eyes, the way she brushed an errant lock of hair off her face in a gesture of annoyance. Iria wasn't only tired, she was also very much on edge. He wondered how long she'd been feeling like this; judging from the pallor of her skin, the stress of work had been building up on her for some time. Why hadn't he noticed before now?

Iria, like Quatre, suffered from a predisposition to get involved in a project to the exclusion of all else. He and Iria looked out for each other in that regard, seemingly able to notice the failing in one another, just not in themselves. It was a tendency they shared with their father, who was even now slowly sipping his soup from his place at the head of the table. In many ways it seemed that the long hours spent running the family business were of a higher priority to the elder Winner than time spent with his family. Many of Quatre's earliest memories consisted of being in the care of his sister and various nannies whilst his father worked long hours at the bank.

The child in him still resented being deprived of the presence of his father, the fact he was the sole parent making his regular absences more noticeable. /Weren't parents supposed to be there for their children?/ He wondered.

/'I'm working to build a better future for you and your sister, Quatre. When you're older you'll understand.'/ Quatre didn't understand, all he knew was that was his father had never been there for him, more often than not missing his milestones in life. His first steps, his first words, his father had even managed to miss his graduation ceremony. He remembered walking up onto the stage to receive his degree, eyes darting around the hall, wondering why he had bothered to think even this was important enough to drag his father away from his work. /I didn't want the family business, Father, I wanted you./

Paul Winner hadn't been impressed when his son and heir hadn't expressed an interest in the family business, instead opting to follow his dream of becoming a scientist. ''Over the past few generations our family have built Winner banking to be /the/ bank in Berlin. I'm very disappointed in you, Quatre. You have responsibilities to me, to your family name. Have you thought through the consequences of your decision?" His eyes had been cold, reflecting his disapproval.

/You mean how it will affect your standing in society, Father?/ Quatre wisely didn't put those thoughts into words, instead opting for the response he knew would appeal to his father's desire for prestige outside the scope of the small but select world he now inhabited.

"I have thought of the consequences, Father. If I achieve my goal I could be working alongside great scientists, working for the advancement of the Fatherland. Think of the opportunities." He deliberately left the phrase unfinished, knowing his father would draw his own conclusions. The elder Winner could never resist the idea of spreading his 'empire', of meeting potential customers, especially those connected with the upper echelon of society.

Quatre nodded. David had been one of his close friends at the University although they'd entered into different fields of study. While Quatre had been interested in physics, David acting on a genuine desire to help those less fortunate than himself, ventured into medicine. After graduation they'd drifted apart, but he doubted David had been aware of why going their separate ways had been for the best as he'd insisted on staying in touch by exchanging birthday and Christmas cards. He sighed at the painful memories, not wanting to remember the details. Maybe if he'd been honest with himself, honest with David, it would have been easier instead of taking the coward's way out, choosing not to face up to the reality of where their friendship could have led.

Iria continued, ignoring the way their father's eyebrows were knitting together as he glared at her. Quatre mentally shrugged. Father never approved of their conversations of late and still worked under the illusion that his show of disapproval should be enough to divert the subject material onto something more suitable. "He's not the first person to disappear overnight."

"Why would David disappear without telling anyone? Surely he would have told someone where he was going first? He cared about his work, leaving wouldn't have been an option, not without good reason." He'd heard the rumours about homeless people being given the option of relocation, the chance of a fresh start, but David wasn't some vagrant. She must be mistaken. The wording she'd used.He shivered, reaching for his glass to take a quick sip as she continued, knowing that this time she had his full attention.

"Poor Quatre," she said, rolling her eyes. "So involved in your work you haven't even noticed what's been going on around you. It's because he's Jewish of course." The last sentence was short and spoken as though it were explanation enough.

Quatre frowned again, this time placing his soup spoon on the starched linen cloth, ignoring the symbolism of the crimson stain slowly spreading across the once pure white fabric. "So?" he asked. What did being Jewish have to do with anything?

There was a sudden silence in the room, broken only by the sound of the elder Winner dropping his spoon onto his plate with a loud clunk. "So?" he reiterated, the outrage in his voice resounding across the room. "They are Jewish, Quatre. What other reason is needed? Better that they are rounded up and sent somewhere more /suited/ for their place in the scheme of things. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Jews are nothing more than parasites interested in taking control of the economy for themselves."

/How dare he?/ Quatre gripped the side of the tablecloth, pulling the fabric into a hard ball in his hand as he fought to repress what he really wanted to say. He'd suspected his father had disapproved of his friendship with David, but had never heard /these/ arguments voiced before. Or maybe it was because in the past he had always switched off and deliberately chosen not to listen?

Quatre rose to his feet, still struggling to quell the anger rising up within. "Father," he said in a low voice, his tone devoid of the disgust he was feeling. His stomach twisted, threatening to expel its contents as he eyeballed his father. "Most of these people have spent their lives as useful contributing members of German society. How dare you judge them because their beliefs are different to ours?"

A slow cold feeling crept through him as memories of David trickled through his mind. They had spoken a week ago, meeting for coffee in a small café near the hospital where David worked with Iria. David had seemed distracted but when Quatre tried to push for cause of his discomfort he'd become extremely evasive. In fact as Quatre turned his mind back to their conversation, David's words or rather, the things he hadn't said were more ominous than ever.

******

One week earlier.

David hadn't changed, unruly too-long dark bangs still meeting the top of metal rimmed glasses, those chocolate eyes with their hidden depths now tinged with a sense of sadness and worry. Quatre sighed loudly. He reached over the table to offer comfort, acting on instinct then withdrew his hand, hoping David hadn't noticed.

David sat, sipping his coffee, fingering the large star sewn on his pullover over and over. Quatre wriggled in his seat, his own fingers winding tightly around his cup, knowing David would speak when he was good and ready. He glanced behind him as the door opened and a tall man in a dark suit settled himself into a table across the room. David placed his cup on the light wooden table with shaking hands, his eyes darting towards the man then back to Quatre.

/David, are you all right?/ He wanted to say, needed to say but couldn't bring himself to ask the words, instead concentrating on the steam coming from the beverage he'd been consuming as he tried to control his fluctuating emotions without success.

Eventually David removed his glasses, reaching over to place his hand over Quatre's.

"Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?" David spoke quietly, as always, but there was an underlying tone of fear in his voice, a tone Quatre didn't remember ever hearing before. David had always been the controlled one, something he'd envied. "Have you any idea of their real agenda?"

Quatre pulled his hand away, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating. Why had David come to him? Surely he couldn't have assumed to use the closeness they'd once had to further his own agenda? /Was that the reason for his nervousness?/ Quatre tried to keep his voice even as he replied. "I'm a scientist, David, trying to make the world a better place, as you are. We're working for the advancement of science, for the good of the Fatherland." The last sentence came out sounding like the mantra it was. Any doubts Quatre had were always dealt with efficiently if he repeated those words. He knew the potential danger of the device they were working on, but the chances of anyone considering utilising the catastrophic component of the project was remote.

David snorted, raking a hand through his hair before replacing his spectacles. "You always were naïve". He lowered his voice "Wake up and take a look at what's going on around you, before it's too late." David sounded as though he was talking about the end of the world, an edge of desperation sharp in his voice as the worry Quatre had picked up on earlier drew closer to fear.

"Too late? Too late for what?" His earlier fears of being used vanished at the tone in David's voice. Quatre heard his own voice rise in pitch, all attempts of hiding his emotions lost as he tried to desperately work through rapidly descending confusion.

David shook his head, unwilling to say more, eyes nervously darting around the small café before his gaze settled on the man Quatre had seen entering a few moments earlier. "I have to go. I think I've said too much already."

Quatre had barely registered the fact his friend was leaving before he was halfway out the door, leaving a tip for the waitress on his way. He pulled himself to his feet, ready to follow then paused, suddenly unsure at what had just occurred.

******

Quatre realised his father was speaking, bringing him back to the present. "Someone has to protect the safety of the German people. The Nazis will bring the Fatherland into a glorious new age."

/Yes, Father, and bring you into the social standing you've always wanted if you stand with them./ His father always believed in looking after his own interests alongside those of the German people. He'd read how the Jews lived, how they thought, agreeing in principle that something needed to be done to help them but surely this didn't need to include David, unless the feelings he'd once had for his friend had blinded him?

"These people need help, Father, but relocation against their consent isn't the answer." Quatre stood, knocking the contents of his wineglass over the table in anger.

"I should turn you over to the authorities for this treason! How dare you question me, question the ideas of the Fuhrer?" His father was turning an interesting shade of white, his hand shaking as the temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees.

Iria rose to her feet, coming between her father and brother, placing a restraining hand on each man. "I think we should leave this discussion until you have both calmed down. Father, I'm sure Quatre is tired after a long day's work, as you are."

Winner muttered something under his breath, pushing Iria aside as he left the room. "We will discuss this in the morning," he said coldly and Quatre knew this was far from over. Holding on to his standing as head of the household was of utmost important to the elder Winner. Losing control in public was even less of an option than being disagreed with in any shape or form in front of the servants. Was it so hard for him to listen to his son's opinion, just once?

He sighed, and wished not for the first time that his mother were still alive. From what he'd been told by his sister, his father had been much more approachable before he'd lost his wife. When she had died giving birth to their only son, part of him had died with her. Quatre had never known his mother; all he had of her were the stories told by Iria, old photos and the fact that he looked just like her. To all intents and purposes he'd been orphaned when Quaterine Winner had died. His father tolerated him because society dictated he should, though in truth he was disliked and blamed for the death of the one person his father had truly loved. In Quatre's mind his family consisted of himself and Iria; she was the one who cared about him and discussions such as these only served to confirm that theory.

"Are you all right?" Iria pushed a stray lock of hair off her face again, winding it around her finger as she studied him.

Quatre sat down, pushing his back into the hard wooden chair, as he took a deep draft from the refilled wineglass. "No, I'm not!" he snapped, then softened as he saw the hurt on his sister's face. She was the last person he should be taking his anger out on. "It's been one of those days and I'm tired." He buried his face in his hands for a moment, trying to stop the tears. He'd always been emotional, Iria had told him it was because he cared so much about what happened to others. Quatre snorted. Yes, he cared so much he hadn't noticed what had been going on under his very nose. The work he was involved in had been so important, so absorbing that it had taken over to the exclusion of all else.

Had this absorption cost him the life of a friend he had once held dear? Ironic that he had entered science to advance the quality of life of those around him, to the extent of ignoring reality. When had he stopped caring, stopped noticing?

"Maybe you should get an early night, Quatre. You'll cope with Father better in the morning if you do."

She was right. Discussions with Father, when they couldn't be avoided usually upset him even when he wasn't tired. Herr Winner was interested only in his own opinions, not in those of a son who rarely shared his ideas. Quatre had once hoped that he and his father would grow closer together as time progressed but instead they appeared to be drifting apart.

He climbed the old wooden staircase at a snail's pace, barely aware of the rail under his hand as he trudged towards his bedroom, his mind trying to digest the information about David. What had happened to his childhood friend? The fear he'd thought he'd seen in David /must/ have been real and yet he'd ignored it, instead permitting reality to take a back seat to his work.

He changed into his nightclothes quickly, leaving the curtain open slightly so he could observe the stars. Climbing into bed, he pulled the crisp white sheets over him and lay his head on the pillow, hoping sleep would bring some respite to his confused state of mind. A dark cloud passed over the clear night sky, obscuring the small pinpricks of light as he wondered again where David was and what had happened.

It was connected with the Nazis, he reasoned, his thoughts returning to a flyer he'd read a few weeks ago but had dismissed as fiction. What if the stories the underground group, White Rose, were circulating had some element of truth in them? The rumours of concentration camps were no longer as easy to ignore as when he'd first heard them. What /had/ happened to David and the other Jews? Iria always chose her words with care, when she'd said disappeared, she'd meant just that. David must have had an inkling that this might be going down when they'd met.

/"Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?"/ Dr J had always spoke highly of the Nazi party, he remembered, wiggling down further into his bedclothes. If the Nazis were behind this, was he somehow helping them with the work he was involved in? No he couldn't, he wouldn't. He was only a scientist, he couldn't be connected to what was befalling the Jews. /"Have you any idea of their real agenda?"/ David's voice re-echoed through his mind over and over as he finally drifted off to sleep.

******

He walked slowly, taking comfort in the familiar regularity of his breathing, loud in the apparent absence of life. Hearing the echo of the leather soles of his shoes against the hard pavement, Quatre realised that he was in his own neighbourhood, walking the streets he saw every morning from his bedroom window as he started his day.

/Where were all the people?/ He turned, hearing a rumble of an engine from behind, just in time to observe a large covered truck pull into the sidewalk, brakes screeching as the driver came to a sudden halt. Moving back into the welcome safety of the shadows, he shivered as a dark shape slithered through the street leaving a sense of coldness in its wake. Death was moving through the empty buildings, he could smell it, sense it. He pitied the poor souls who would lose their mortality tonight.

A cry echoed through the silence, a plaintive cry for help.

"Quatre!"

Instinctively Quatre edged out of his hiding place, out of the safety of the shadows, only to see his childhood friend being ushered into the back of the truck by a group of soldiers. "This is your fault," David accused him, trying to pull away from the well built man trying to force him to cooperate. "I tried to warn you, you wouldn't listen and now it's too late."

Quatre stepped forward, placing himself between his friend and the vehicle as one of the soldiers brought his rifle to bear on him. David reached out only to have his arms pulled roughly behind him as he was thrown none too gently against the side of the truck, his head connecting with a dull thud.

"Do you want to join your friend?" asked the soldier. "It can be arranged very easily."

Quatre heard a sudden intake of breath and realised it was his own. He opened his mouth to protest against the rough treatment but couldn't get the words to form. One look at David, struggling against the silent soldiers, blood dripping from the gash in his forehead brought him to a sudden halt, as fear of his own safety became paramount.

"I can't help you," he whispered. "This isn't my fault. I didn't know."

"Wake up and take a look at what's going on around you, before it's too late." David's eyes seemed flat, lacking their usual spark, as though his spirit was already dying. Quatre remembered the creature he'd thought of as Death, and realisation hit that his friend would soon be one of those sating its hunger.

"David! David!" Quatre stood frozen, trying to force himself to move, but to no avail. It was too late to help his friend, too late to help the others he could see cowering in the back of the truck.

The soldier pushed David into the rear of the truck, twisting his head to stare at Quatre before joining his prisoners and closing the doors behind him, severing all contact. The street spun around him momentarily, as the blonde registered the _expression he'd just seen. The soldier had both despised and pitied him, as did Quatre himself for his cowardice and lack of action.

He stood, knees bent, breath rasping alone on the quiet street once more with his thoughts and growing feeling of guilt as the vehicle drove away into the darkness of the night. /I didn't know./ "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He whispered to himself, knowing it was too late to apologise to the one person who needed to hear. Looking up again at the sky, the once clear sky now completely covered in darkness, he dropped down onto his knees and screamed, trying to purge himself from a sin he knew he'd never forget or be forgiven.

"It's not my fault!" He closed his eyes, seeking respite from the images embedded in his mind, then lashed out as he felt strong arms around him. The soldier had come back for him.

"Wake up, Quatre, wake up." /Iria?/

He opened his eyes, relief flowing as he found himself on the floor next to his bed, his sister leaning over him. He let her assist him back under the covers, taking comfort from her gentle touch as she stroked his brow, her fingers cool on his damp forehead.

"It's okay, Cat. It's a bad dream." Iria would look after him. Iria always made things right. He took a few ragged breaths, snuggling into his sister as she held him close. Once he grew calmer she disentangled herself, tucking the covers around him before settling herself on the chair next to his bed.

"It was only a dream," he whispered, more to himself than to her, as he took refuge in the security of the soft feather pillow, allowing sleep to claim him once more. "Only a dream."

 

Chapter Two

Quatre shifted uncomfortably in the hard wooden chair in the reception area outside Dr J's office, glancing at the clock on the wall once more. Had the scientist forgotten they were supposed to be meeting that morning to go over the new ideas for the heavy water and uranium problems? He ran a hand through his hair, sighing in frustration, as he stretched out trying to rid himself of the ache across his back. /These chairs are nowhere near as comfortable as my own,/ he thought. His bad start to the day was progressively getting worse. Even though he'd managed to go back to sleep after his nightmare, the rest of the night had been spent tossing and turning, his mind mulling over the dream. Maybe it was just his imagination overreacting to the unexpected news of David? Or had it been brought about by guilt?

The expected lecture from his father over their discussion from the night before hadn't gone well either, due in part to his lack of sleep and irritability. Neither man had been prepared to back down and Quatre wondered why he bothered attempting to talk to his father in these situations. It was sheer luck that he hadn't been turned over to the authorities after some of the comments he'd made. He was on very thin ice and both of them were well aware of it. One more outburst and the elder Winner wouldn't hesitate. The fact they were family wouldn't enter into the equation.

Quatre sighed again and reached into his coat pocket for his pad and pencil. If he had to wait for Dr J to finish his urgent meeting, he might as well do something useful. Jotting down the equations he was supposed to be working on would serve the dual purpose of occupying his mind and distracting him from his present train of thought.

/Blast. Where is that pencil?/ He pulled out his pockets again, emptying the contents onto his lap, hunting for the elusive pencil to no avail. /This was shaping up to be one hell of a perfect day./ He couldn't just sit here letting his mind wander, he'd go crazy, but if he went back to his own office he might miss Dr J and that wouldn't make him very popular either. Dr J preferred his staff to be both prompt and efficient.

He busied himself putting back the small pile of odds and ends into his pockets, then settled back in his chair, fingers tapping out the rhythm of the Bach cantata he'd been listening to in his office as his eyes darted around taking in details he usually didn't notice. The paintings in their gold frames lining the walls of the room were in stark contrast to the spartan appearance of the rest of the room. It surprised him that Dr J bothered with such things, but he supposed it wouldn't have been proper to refuse such gifts from the Fuhrer himself.

He edged his chair back, wincing as it scraped noisily against the polished wooden floor, then rose to his feet as he began to pace across the confined space. /Back and forth, how much longer am I expected to wait?/ He yawned, his hand coming up automatically to cover his mouth as his elbow connected with the closed office door. To his surprise, it opened slightly, the tired hinge squeaking in protest, revealing Dr J's desk in all its glory. The scientist's desk was covered in an accumulation of months of paperwork piled one on top of the other in an intricate balancing act.

Surely Dr J wouldn't mind if he just helped himself to a pencil? If he managed to get the equation down on paper he might make sense of the problem which had been eluding them both for some time. It wasn't as though there was anything in the office he hadn't seen before; he had security clearance to everything going on in the building.

Within a few minutes he was sitting behind Dr J's desk. "Pencil, pencil," he muttered under his breath. "I don't believe this. All these papers and no pencil." Spotting the object of his frenzied search, he leaned over, his sleeve catching on the edge of one of the many documents littering the large wooden desk. A stack of papers tilted towards the floor and he let out a curse, his hand shooting out but narrowly missing the errant manuscripts. He pushed back the heavy leather-backed chair, falling to his knees as he began to gather the papers together quickly, hoping he could tidy up before Dr J returned. He muttered a few choice curses under his breath, wondering if the day could get any worse, then paused, his immediate problems forgotten as his eye caught a sentence on one of the documents.

'We look forward to putting these plans into reality. Such a device will ensure the continued success of the Fatherland during this war against our enemies.'

Quatre dropped the remaining papers with a thump and kept reading, the coldness running through him reminiscent of his dream of the night before. He shifted from his knees into a half squatting position, supporting himself with one elbow, almost losing his balance as he realised he was shaking. He reached out with his hand for the support of the heavy desk, vision swimming as he tried to recover his bearings. All he was aware of were the letters standing out on the page in front of him.

"The heavy water plant in Norway is being upgraded to provide the necessary volume required."

This couldn't be right. They couldn't be seriously going to use the device against the enemies of the Fatherland. The implications were unthinkable, bringing about death and destruction on a scale never seen before.

David's words kept running over and over through his mind. /'Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for? Have you any idea of their real agenda?'/ He'd been such an idiot, only seeing what he'd wanted to. It had been such a great honour to be chosen to work as part of a team alongside Dr J that he hadn't noticed what had obviously been going on for months. According to the paper in front of him, Dr J had been working hand in hand with the Nazis for almost the entire length of the project. Everything made sense now. Quatre had wondered why money would be poured into something such as nuclear physics in the midst of the war effort, but had dismissed his concerns. This device, this atomic bomb, would end the war in a way that no other weapon could.

He massaged his temples, slumping in the chair as a sharp pain pierced through his head. Taking a sharp intake of breath, the room spun as grogginess and a need for fresh air overwhelmed him.

He couldn't let the panic win; he thought as he furrowed his brows and tried to ignore the thumping in his head. /One breath at a time, in and out, in and out. I can do this, just focus./ He buried his head in his hands, repeating the mantra until his breathing evened out.

Minutes later the aura of calmness he convinced himself he'd achieved shattered as he heard the sound of footsteps in the distance, boots clicking against the polished wooden floors, growing louder with each minute.

/How long have I been sitting thinking?/ He'd lost all track of time as his world had crashed down around him. If he were caught snooping through the Herr Doktor's papers without his permission, he knew what the consequences would be. The fact that he was a trusted assistant wouldn't even enter into the equation, especially when it became apparent that he, Quatre, now knew what exactly what Dr J's plan was. He'd been vocal in the past regarding his pacifist views. It was a certainty that Dr J would know he wouldn't want to be part of the project now. Quatre Winner might be naïve but he wasn't stupid. There was no room for loose ends in the Nazi regime. He'd just disappear like David, never to be seen again.

/Oh David, I'm so sorry./ A lone tear trickled down his cheek, falling to smudge the ink on the sheet of paper he held between his shaking fingers. He had to get out of here. Once he could think, maybe he could work out what to do. Was there anything he /could/ do? Maybe it would be better if he just pretended he hadn't seen this? Could he live with himself if he did?

Quatre gathered the papers together quickly, hoping the desk looked much the same as it had before he'd entered the room, and made his way to the door of the office. He straightened his tie in front of the small mirror on the wall, checking that he looked presentable, at least enough to pass a brief inspection. He peered through the slight crack in the door, but the corridor was empty. Time to leave before his fears of being caught became reality. He'd had enough reality for one day.

Quatre sighed in relief, carefully closing the door behind him and starting on the route towards his own office. His mind was in chaos, compounded by the fact the pain in his head was growing with each passing minute, so much so that he didn't register the fact he'd exited the building until his foot caught on a rough patch of gravel and he went flying.

"Herr Doktor Winner. Are you in need of assistance, sir?" Quatre blinked, suddenly aware of a soldier stepping in front of him, bending to help him rise. The man needed a haircut, he thought idly, noticing the long brunet bang hanging down one side of his face. Their eyes met, and Quatre received the distinct impression he was being scrutinised carefully. He pulled away from the man's touch, a small shiver running through him as he tried to regain his sense of composure. /Get a grip,/ he told himself sternly, brushing the dirt from his lab coat all the while hoping his companion hadn't noticed how clammy his hands were.

If the soldier noticed how nervous he was, he might wonder why, and in his present state of mind, Quatre wasn't sure he could trust himself to come out with anything that wouldn't be construed as incriminating. "I'm fine. Thank you for your help." The words were spoken with much more politeness than he felt like giving. The soldier was only doing his job as one of the select group of Waffen SS 'protecting' the small group of scientists on the premises. Looking out for the safety of the Herr Doktor and therefore the project would fall under the banner of his duties.

"I'm fine," he repeated. Was there a slight glint of amusement in those emerald eyes? Quatre took a deep breath, trying to control his both his anger and growing panic. No need to arouse suspicions and draw even more attention to himself. "Thank you for your concern, Corporal, but it's really not necessary."

The Corporal - Barton was his name if Quatre remembered correctly - nodded, appearing not to notice the cold tone in his voice. "If you insist, sir, but I can escort you if required."

The man's voice was even, though with enough inflection to prevent it sounding like a monotone, reflecting the calmness he projected in direct opposition to how Quatre himself was feeling. As some of that calmness rubbed off, reaching out to soothe him, Quatre found himself wishing for a moment that he had someone to talk to. "That would be appreciated, thank you," he found himself saying without really knowing why. /What are you doing?/ his mind screamed at him. /This isn't someone you can trust./ Under the present circumstances everyone on this base was his enemy. If anyone got an inkling of the thoughts running through his mind his life would be in danger. Yet he needed desperately to talk to someone, anyone. He groaned aloud, and Barton paused, one eyebrow raised in what Quatre could only translate as a look of concern.

Choosing to ignore it, and the Corporal, he continued walking quietly, increasing his speed to overtake his taller companion. He needed to be alone, he thought in desperation, rubbing his temple in an effort to rid himself of the pain which was becoming worse with each minute. /What am I going to do?/ Somehow he didn't think this problem was going to go away if he just ignored it. What /could/ he do? He was only one man, there was no way he could halt the project now. Voicing his objections would only get him thrown into prison, that being the best-case scenario.

"Are you sure you're all right, sir?" It was impossible to guess Barton's intentions, his impassive soldier's mask gave nothing away, but his voice suggested nothing but polite concern. Even so, Quatre couldn't help but wonder why the man was so worried about his well-being. /Stop feeling so suspicious,/ he told himself sternly. /Soon you'll be imagining everyone is watching you./ He wasn't thinking straight, he knew, but realisation didn't make the feeling vanish. This was impossible. Where were the logical thinking patterns he was known for? They had obviously taken a nosedive out the window along with his peace of mind.

"Sir?"

Quatre knew that the man would insist on an answer and he couldn't run the risk of raising any suspicions at this point. The soldier couldn't have been stationed there long, a few months at most so hopefully was only being over zealous in performing his duties. As the war progressed even the men drafted into the specialist sections of the army seemed much younger than they'd been when he'd first joined the project.

"I'm fine thank you, Corporal." Quatre replied politely, realising they were outside his office door. Maybe it was a good thing that he'd had an escort. Who knew where he might have ended up otherwise, given his current state of mind or lack thereof?

Barton stood to attention, giving a small salute before continuing on his way. Quatre lingered for a moment watching him leave, then took refuge in the sanctuary of his office. He leaned against the closed door, concentrating on the feeling of the smooth wood against his back before moving over to his desk. He felt sick to his stomach, and glancing at himself briefly in the small mirror on the wall he decided it had been a miracle Barton hadn't noticed anything was amiss. His complexion was even paler than usual, blond hair plastered to his brow with sweat. Maybe he should head for home, claiming illness before anyone else saw him? That or he could attempt to pull himself together, which he doubted would work. Nothing would calm him now. He placed his head in his hands, trying to ignore the feelings of despair threatening to overwhelm him. What was he going to do?

******

"You're working too hard."

Quatre pulled his head up with a start. Had he been nodding off again? Ever since the discovery of several days before had turned his organised world on its head, he'd been suffering from severe insomnia to say nothing of lack of total peace of mind. The first nightmare had been mild in comparison to what now plagued him each night. The news about David had been his wake-up call; he could see that now. How could he have not noticed what the Nazis were doing in his own backyard? The same Nazis Dr J had promised to give the plans to - had promised his and Quatre's assistance to. He couldn't stay with the project, that much was obvious. It had been an easy decision to make once his tired brain had finally put two and two together. Putting that decision into practice - that would be the hard part.

"You're going to make yourself ill," Iria wasn't waiting for an answer; she was well into mother hen mode now. Quatre opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. What was the point? He couldn't tell his sister why he looked like hell, the less she knew about the project the safer it would be for her. He fought back an urge to giggle, slightly shocked at his reaction. No one would be safe if the Nazis got their hands on their work, his work. The world would literally go to hell and he doubted anyone would be putting up a plaque to congratulate him for his contribution.

"Yes, Mama," he said, pleased at the slight smile the term of endearment evoked from her. Iria had been all of that and more to him over the past twenty years; it was well deserved. No way was he going to allow her to become involved. He was well and truly on his own. Quatre shivered as he realised the truth in that statement. There was no one he could turn to; even if he did find someone who could help, which he doubted, all he'd achieve would be to place them in the same danger he knew he was in himself. He'd helped dig the hole, it was up to him to make things right, if only he knew how. Part of him wanted to give up right then and there. He looked down at his hands, strengthening his grip on the side of the easy chair so that Iria wouldn't see how much they were shaking.

/Pull yourself together, Quatre./ The longer he put this off the harder it became to think straight. He was convinced that the other scientists were talking about him, noticing the change in his demeanour and to make things worse he was sure he'd seen Corporal Barton out of the corner of his eye on several occasions. Allowing the man to walk him back to his office that day had been a major miscalculation on his part. Barton was watching him he was certain, turning on several occasions, positive there was someone in the room but never actually catching the SS officer in the act. /Paranoia was a side effect of a guilty conscience wasn't it?/

"Go to bed, Quatre, before I carry you up those stairs myself." Iria paused, giving him the once-over with her practised medical eye. His associates had bought the story he'd spun of being under the weather but he doubted she would. Lying to his sister had never been an option and that hadn't changed.

Quatre nodded meekly. If retiring early for the night prevented Iria from asking too many questions, so be it. Once he was in his bedroom, behind the closed door he wouldn't have to keep up the act. He paused for a moment on the bottom step, tempted to ask her for something to help him sleep then decided against it. Even though he needed sleep, drug-induced slumber wouldn't be any more dream-free than what he'd been experiencing.

"I've been so naive," he muttered as he made his way up the stairs to his bedroom. Naïve and stupid.

He undressed quickly and slipped in between the sheets, wrapping his arms around the big feather pillow as he'd done as a child when he'd been scared to go to sleep. Iria had always been able to comfort him, reassure him that the spectres that haunted his dreams weren't real. Unfortunately these new spectres weren't going to be banished by a few words, much as he'd like to believe they could be.

He rolled over in bed, biting down on his lip in an effort not to scream. He should have been a musician instead of succumbing to the desire to leave his mark on the world through science. If he survived this, he was giving up on science forever. Right about now a small house in the country and a violin would be all he needed to achieve happiness.

/That and someone to share it with./ God, he was so lonely and he now doubted that was ever going to change. Who in their right mind would want anything to do with him knowing he'd been involved in this?

Quatre pulled the pillow around him tighter, slamming his fist into the mattress. How the hell had he gotten into this mess? All he'd wanted to do was help people and make the world a better place. Why him? He reached for a handkerchief and blew his nose noisily, ashamed of his inability to act. He was a coward, there was no escaping the fact. He couldn't continue working on the project but neither could he find the strength to confront Dr J and do what needed to be done. He sniffed, running his sleeve across his still dripping nose. What could he possibly achieve by confronting the scientist? He'd only bring attention to his objections, in all probability signing his death warrant in the process.

Quatre buried down further into the blankets, trying to warm himself against the chill of the room as he concentrated on a silence only broken by the occasional sound of vehicles on the road outside. Laying a hand on his chest, he could feel his heart finally slow to a steady beat as he tried to find some source of inner calm. He had to find a solution, continuing like this wasn't an option. /'God, help me,'/ he cried out silently, repeatedly before his mind finally stopped struggling against the advances of sleep.

****

/Evil prevails when good men do nothing./ He walked the same street he'd found himself in that first night but since finding the letter in Dr J's papers the dreamscape had changed; subtly at first but with each subsequent night the sense of death had grown. The buildings around him were now ruined shells of what they had once been and there was no sign of life apart from his own. Even the truck of Gestapo from that first night was no longer present. Quatre shivered, pulling his thin coat around him, knowing there was no way to be rid of the chill.

He was surrounded by death. "I saw the God of Death today." Iria's words at the dinner table were coming back to haunt him. Prophetic words, considering this landscape was his doing, caused by his inability to act. If he could somehow find the courage to stop the evil he was involved in, maybe this glimpse into the near future could be halted.

Quatre laughed, a small sharp sound echoing off the ruins that had once been the homes of the people who had lived here before the evil had come, the evil he had helped to create. Once this had been a thriving town, people going about their business, children playing in the streets, honest innocent people unaware of what people like him did behind closed doors in the name of science. Now all was left was total desolation.

There was no way he could stand up and be counted as a good man after this. A good man would have never have buried himself in his work to the extent that he didn't notice what was going on around him. A good man would have listened to David and acted in time to save him. A good man wouldn't be so worried about saving his own skin that he couldn't do what was right.

This world was grey, different shades of neutral. For the vibrant colours associated with living you needed emotion, joy, love and there was no room for that here. Everything that was positive had been killed alongside all the people. Quatre remembered the dream from the previous night, children screaming, burning alive, calling out to him to save them. The city had been an inferno, the only colour being the bright red of flames falling from the sky. He'd walked through the inferno unscathed but something inside him had died with the people he'd been unable to help.

As he bent down to cradle a whimpering child, she looked up at him and pointed a finger. "Your fault, this is your fault." He wept over her lifeless body as she drew her final breath, knowing full well that she was right. The burden of guilt was something he would carry for the rest of his life, whether this ever became reality or not.

"What do you want?" He lifted his head to the dark sky and screamed his question to whoever might be listening. What was the point? There was nobody left to listen. Everyone was dead. The air around him was still, the smell of death permeating every part of him. Not even vultures circulated to prey upon what was left of the population. There was nothing here but the death and mass destruction caused by the evil of the weapon he was helping to build. They'd done their job well in ridding the city of all evidence that life had once existed in this place.

He'd awoken screaming that night, unable to stop the shaking and the terror and too scared to go back to sleep. No wonder Iria thought he looked like hell.

He stopped, unable to face the memories and buried his face in his hands. He didn't have the strength to stop this. What could one man do? He was barely twenty, he didn't need this responsibility. Surely there was someone else? Someone without as much to lose, someone else better equipped for the task at hand.

A quiet voice interrupted his reverie. "You need to act, to follow your conscience, to stand up for what you believe to be right. You know the project you are working on will lead to this. It's time to act before it's too late."

He spun around to observe a slender woman kneeling behind him over the body of a small child. "I didn't think anyone had survived," he told her.

The woman's lips pursed, showing her disgust as she rolled her eyes towards the sky. "Survive?" she asked. "Would you /want/ to survive this? Even those who live will feel the effects for generations to come. You know the evil of what is being planned, and yet you say nothing, do nothing."

"I'm only one man," he repeated. "What can I do?"

The woman's _expression softened.

/I know you,/ he thought. /How do I know you?/

"My poor Cat," she whispered. "You have to do what you know is right." Aquamarine eyes met his and he found himself back-pedalling as he realised why she seemed so familiar. It was the reflection he saw in the mirror each morning and yet it wasn't.

Quatre heard himself take a sharp intake of breath as he put the obvious into words. "Mama?" he croaked, his voice catching. She was beautiful, blonde hair falling over her shoulders in waves, her smile projecting a radiance and aura of inner strength he knew he didn't possess himself. The old sepia photographs didn't come close to doing her justice.

Quaterine Winner put her arm out to her son, beckoning him to move closer as she laid the body of the child she was cradling gently down on the dusty sidewalk. Quatre needed no further invitation. It was what he'd longed for his whole life, an opportunity to put his arms around the mother he'd never known. He laid his head on her shoulder, feeling the softness of her skin against his. Iria's hugs had never felt like this, even though she'd tried. A mother's touch was something unique, something he'd never had the privilege of feeling, until now. He put his hand on her cheek and ran it gently across her face, craving the contact like a drowning man clutching onto a life raft. "I'm so sorry." His body shook as the tears came hesitantly at first, then flowed as though they would never stop.

She pulled him closer, stroking his brow gently as she waited for the sobbing to stop then pulled away, a stern look on her face. "You can't go on like this, Quatre, you know you can't. It's time to take responsibility for your actions." His mother's tone was gentle as she reached over to place both hands on his shoulders but her firm grip suggested she wasn't about to tolerate his behaviour. "You have the power to stop this, stop hiding and do something."

A wetness gushed across his hands, and he glanced down, not wanting to see what he suspected was the cause. The sensation was too light for rain, it congealed with the consistency of something he'd seen enough of over the past few nights.

Blood.

The crimson liquid dripped onto his clothes from the sky, seeping into his skin as he frantically began wiping his hands on his coat in a misguided attempt to try to prevent it from staining his soul. He was already stained in guilt, in death and in blood, it was too late to save himself, to save David, to save all those he should have helped.

Quaterine Winner spoke again but this time there was no sign of humanity left in her voice. It was a cold harsh voice, born of a nightmare. "Their blood is on your hands Quatre Raberba Winner. You have to stop this nightmare from becoming a reality."

Quatre backed away, falling to his knees as the first wave of pain hit him. It was the pain of rejection, of self-hatred, of everything he'd feared in life all rolled into one. He'd failed himself, failed his mother and failed humanity.

He reached out for his mother looking for forgiveness but knowing he wouldn't find any. It was too late. "Mama!" he screamed as she started to fade before his eyes, a wraith disappearing into the fine damp mist which had appeared out of nowhere, bringing with it a sudden burst of cold. Quatre forced himself to his feet too late. She was gone and he was alone.

******

"It's okay, Cat. It's just another nightmare." His sister, Iria, was leaning over him, stroking his brow. For a moment he felt disorientated, his memory struggling to relate her features to those of his mother in the dreamscape. Taking a few deep breaths, he took comfort in the familiar smell of her perfume, before struggling to pull himself up into a sitting position, wrapping one hand around the cotton sheet. His knuckles were white as he gripped it, trying to pull himself together.

"It's not /just/ a nightmare, Iria," he told her. "It's the future. A future I'm helping to create." He swallowed hard as he shivered, trying to control the urge to run to the bathroom and vomit. He dry heaved, wiping his lips against the damp handkerchief still sitting on the side of the bed. All he wanted to do was pretend the nightmare hadn't happened but it was far too late for that now.

Iria shook her head, blonde curls falling over her face as she took the handkerchief from him, folding it over and over. A minute passed before she spoke. "I can't believe you'd be involved in something evil, Quatre." She touched his chest with her hand as she climbed onto the bed next to him, resting her back against the headboard. "You feel too much for others in here."

Quatre snorted. "I feel so much for others that I don't even notice what's going on around me till it's too late. I should have realised." He pushed her hand away, feeling guilty as he saw the hurt reflected in her eyes. Iria was trying to help, but how could she when she didn't know the full situation? The unspoken questions going through her mind were apparent, questions he couldn't answer.

"Is there something you need to talk about?" Iria asked, the tone of her voice reminding Quatre of his mother in the dream. He pulled away, shaking and she wrapped her arms around him, rocking him as though he were a baby.

They sat for a moment, until Quatre spoke again, reluctant to move away from the safety of her embrace but knowing he couldn't hide in it forever. "I can't. It's not.safe." He sat upright, pulling away from the comfort she offered. "I want to tell you, Iria, but I'm scared, I'm so scared. Do you understand?"

Iria nodded, understanding seeming to flash in her eyes momentarily before disappearing. "This is about work, isn't it? Should you be working on this project if it's having this effect on you?"

Quatre stifled a sob. "I can't .don't ask me, I can't." He hated hiding the truth from her but he couldn't take the risk of her being placed in danger because of him, because of his shortcomings. He concentrated on steadying his breathing, if he seemed less agitated maybe he could lessen her concern. His mother had been right, running away was no longer an option. He spoke again, this time with more control. "I have to do something, Iria, but I can't tell you." He reached over, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Promise me you'll understand, please?"

Iria slid off the bed, her eyes covered in a fine mist. "I /do/ understand, Quatre, more than you realise. Promise /me/, you'll be careful."

Quatre frowned. From the tone in his sister's voice.somehow she did understand, he was sure of it, but he didn't have the energy to work out why. "I promise, Iria, but I have to do what's right." He would confront Dr J in the morning and to hell with the consequences. He couldn't continue to do nothing. If the Nazis didn't kill him, inaction would.

"I love you, Cat." Iria put her finger up to her lips, leaning forward to touch his forehead in a familiar gesture of trust and affection.

Quatre nodded, letting out the breath he'd been holding. "I know you do, Iria. I love you too."

He watched her leave the room, then settled back against the pillows, sensing a calmness he hadn't felt for several days. For some reason he wasn't worried about how or what he was going to tell Dr J but it didn't seem to matter. The fight within had been resolved.
 
 

Chapter Three

Quatre paced outside Dr J's office waiting for the scientist to return as he tried to ignore the slow ticking of the large ornate wall clock. He glared at the clock, aware that it was taunting him with a reminder that the life he'd grown accustomed to was about to end. He wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say to Dr J - just that whatever words he used would be the last of importance he'd have to worry about for some time.

Quatre jumped, halting his trek across the floor in mid-step, his eyes darting towards the heavy wooden door as the creak of its hinges alerted him to Dr J's return. The elder scientist paused as he entered the reception area, his brow creasing into a frown as he noticed that he had company. He peered at his assistant through thick spectacles for what seemed like forever, one finger playing with the ends of his long moustache as Quatre shivered, suddenly aware of cold eyes examining him carefully.

Quatre spoke quickly, hoping his words might help dispel the trepidation sweeping through him, as Dr J continued to focus his attention in his direction. /This is ridiculous,/ he told himself firmly, /Dr J always does this and it's never bothered you before./ Strange how little gestures that he had previously taken no notice of were now unnerving...

"I need to speak to you about something of the utmost urgency," Quatre said. He realised how formal the words sounded, but if he managed to keep the emotion out of his speech he had a better chance of succeeding.

Dr J continued giving him the once-over before finally speaking. "So, young Winner. What is this subject that requires the /utmost urgency?/" He enunciated the last two words slowly, mockingly. Quatre fought the urge to turn tail and run, sure that somehow the other man knew what he had taken days to find the nerve to say. He clenched both fists, then uncurled them, taking several deep breaths before following Dr J into the office.

Dr J settled behind his desk in the same chair that Quatre had occupied several days before, offering the younger man the other seat in the room. The blond hesitated, then declined, deciding it would be better if he stood. It suddenly occurred to him that, if he were already on his feet, he had a better chance of making it to the door once he'd said his piece. /It's too late to plan an escape route now,/ he thought. He'd just have to take whatever was thrown his way, hoping it would be quick and painless.

He swallowed hard then cleared his throat, noisily. "I wanted to talk to you about the project," he began hesitantly, shoving his hands into his lab coat pocket to prevent wringing them over and over. What had happened to the calmness he'd felt last night when he'd made his decision? Reality and fear had kicked in, banishing good sense with their arrival. Quatre glanced up, meeting Dr J's gaze directly, and decided he didn't like the hardness in his eyes. Had it always been there or was he just noticing it for the first time? There was so much he should have seen before but had chosen to ignore. He deserved whatever came his way. Ignorance was no excuse, nor was deliberately choosing not to notice.

"When I joined this project I was under the impression that we were developing this weapon for use in peaceful applications only," Quatre began. "I have recently learned that this assumption was incorrect."

As Quatre started speaking, the inner calm that he had felt the night before returned. Even though he was quaking inside, there was no sign of it in his voice or his outward appearance. Putting his opinions into words for the first time was bringing him a sense of taking control of his life in a way he'd never felt before. Everything in his life had led to this point in time, this standing up for what was right. Ironic that the one thing he needed to do was what he'd been fighting. No way he'd fight destiny again, even if it killed him.

"And how, might I ask, have you learned that your /assumption/ was incorrect?" Dr J's voice was as calm as Quatre's but there was an underlying tone which very clearly said: 'don't cross me.'

"I found a letter from the Nazis that stated that you've been working hand in hand with them." Quatre felt pleased that he'd managed to stay calm when he'd made that statement. Dr J seemed pale, reminding him of the reaction his father had given to his comments a few nights previously.

"You found a letter? Pray tell how did you manage to just happen to /find/ this letter? Am I correct in my understanding that you have been going through things that do not concern you, Herr Doktor Winner?" Dr J pulled out a large handkerchief and wiped a layer of sweat from his brow before leaning heavily on the desk.

"'Do not concern me'?" Quatre said, his tone changed to one of ice. "May I remind you, Herr Doktor, that I have been with this project for over a year and my calculations have been instrumental in the great leaps forward we have achieved. If there are plans to use this device, I believe I have every right to be informed. And for /your/ information," he continued. "I found the letter by accident while I was hunting for a pencil. I didn't deliberately go through your papers as you are attempting to imply."

Dr J opened his mouth, then closed it again, his skin taking on a distinctly greyish hue. "You are working on this project merely because it pleases me to use your intellect. What I decide to do with the plans has nothing to do with you."

"Giving them to the Nazis is wrong," Quatre told him. "Think of all the deaths that will result from this! If you presume that the Nazis will not use this bomb against their enemies you are more naïve than I ever was."

Dr J sank back into his chair after pouring himself a glass of water from the pitcher that he kept on his desk. Quatre kept talking, keeping his eyes on his superior. Once he called for a guard or reached for the phone Quatre's life would be over. At this stage of the game he needed get his point across so he could go to his death knowing that he'd done what he had set out to do. It was pessimistic, but realistic. Once he started on this journey there was no turning back. His life, or what remained of it, would change forever.

"I mistakenly thought you were like me, working for the advancement of /all/ mankind. The people that the Nazis are targeting have as much right to life as you and I. We are not God, Herr Doktor, we do not have the right to judge and that is what we are doing by working with the Nazi party." Quatre took a deep breath and continued, warming to his topic. He was in full rant mode now, as Iria would call it. He suspected she would proud of her younger brother. /Iria. Will I ever see her again?/ "We can still change this by destroying the plans and refusing to give them the information they need."

Dr J took a sharp intake of breath and mopped his brow again. The man looked distinctly unwell. Quatre's head began to spin along with the room and he sought refuge in the chair he'd refused earlier.

"How dare you presume to tell me what I should be doing?" Dr J shouted. Quatre had never heard such anger in his superior's voice before. He'd disciplined members of his staff, but this time there was an inflection in his voice never heard before. Gone was his customary calmness, his voice rising in both volume and pitch. "I do not need to explain myself to anyone, let alone someone such as yourself. You might be used to getting what you want because of your privileged background but don't presume to think that matters to me. There is no way I will be allow you to leave here; there will be consequences for speaking such treason."

Dr J swayed slightly in his chair before standing, gripping the edge of his desk firmly. His knuckles were white and with every breath Quatre could hear a whistling sound coming from the man's throat. "You little upstart!" the scientist continued. "This is and has always been /my/ project." He paused again, taking another sip of water, before rubbing briefly at his left arm with his free hand and replacing the glass on the desk. Quatre had to stop himself from asking the scientist if he was feeling alright. At the moment, he was far too angry with the other man to be distracted by compassion.

Matching Dr J's cold glare, Quatre allowed himself a glance towards the water pitcher as he fought a sudden urge to take a draft of the cool liquid. His mouth was dry and his heart beating so fast he wouldn't have been surprised if it had leapt out of his chest. He winced as a sharp pain hit him between the temples but he fought the urge to put his hand to his head. There was no way he going to show any sign of weakness and give Dr J the victory.

"Our benefactors will be here within the hour. I'm sure they will be keen to hear your point of view, Winner," Dr J said, reaching for the phone. Quatre rose to his feet, his eyes darting toward the door. "Feeling worried now are we?" Dr J laughed, a short sharp sound that suggested he was anything but amused by the situation, and Quatre felt a chill run through him. "You should be."

Time seemed to slow down as Quatre watched the scientist begin dialing the numbers to bring the SS. Acting more on instinct than anything else, he reached out towards the phone, knocking the receiver out of Dr J's hand. For one long agonising moment they both froze, staring at the black handset and each other until the staccato sounds of the ringing tone coming from the ornate earpiece registered in Quatre's mind as a signal to act further. Wondering at the source of his sudden courage, he leaned over, placing his index finger firmly on one of the square silver buttons, effectively cutting off the connection.

"Winner, what the hell are you doing? How dare you." Dr J stretched out his hand to seize the phone from Quatre but was met with a strong grip on his wrist, as Quatre matched his glare. Dr J stood, pulling himself free from Quatre's grasp, the veins standing out on each side of his neck signposting the fact that he was clearly unused to having his authority questioned. "Once my superiors arrive you will regret this. I will." His voice tailed off as he let out a cry of pain, one hand clasping his chest. "I. Will. Not. Tolerate." The scientist moved jerkily, reaching out for Quatre, pulling the blonde towards him by shirt lapels in a sudden unexpected movement.

"Get your hands off me," Quatre hissed, trying to disengage the man's fingers. Dr J jerked again, his body thrashing violently as he pitched forward towards the desk, stacks of papers flying in all directions in protest.

/What the?/ Quatre wriggled, managing to break free of the vice-like grip, pushing the falling body away from him as he tried to avoid being trapped beneath it. There was a sickening thud as the back of Dr J's head connected with the sharp end of the heavy desk before he landed in a heap at Quatre's feet

"Dr J?" He whispered, dropping to his knees, fingers frantically searching along the man's neck for any sign of a pulse, any sign of life. /No! He can't be dead, he can't be./

He leaned down, placing his palm in front of the scientist's mouth, waiting, hoping to feel the reassuring warmth that suggested some hint of breathing, but not expecting to find any. He forced himself to open the mouth, to check for constriction to the windpipe and back-pedalled. The tongue was half bitten through, the incisor still maintaining a death grip on its prize. Quatre wiped his own brow, noticing how the temperature of the room had risen over the past minute, then pulled himself together, knowing he still had one more task to perform before he could allow himself to stop fighting his body's reaction to the scene in front of him.

Edging forward, chest heaving as he finally remembered to take a breath himself, he reached under Dr J's shirt, cringing at the feel of the clammy but still warm flesh under his fingertips, as he brought his head down to listen for any sign of a heartbeat.

Nothing.

/No. This can't be happening,/ he repeated. He felt frantically for any sign of life again, noticing how clammy his companion's skin seemed, how blue his lips were. Blue lips. He remembered Iria telling him once that that colour only appeared after death, not beforehand. Her words repeated like a litany in his mind, reinforcing what he now knew to be fact.

/"They don't usually get blue lips until death, although I've had two or three come back from that, but never to a normal brain function."/

Dr J was dead, one lifeless eye staring up at him, the other bulging unnaturally half out of its socket, as he lay in the ever increasing pool of blood which even now was spreading across the only rug in the room. White Persian carpet staining crimson, another piece of symbolism reflecting the growing bloodshed which was such a part of his life, an end result of both of his action and inaction.

Dr J was dead and it was his, Quatre's fault. If he hadn't tried to free himself Dr J wouldn't have hit his head on the side of the desk, there wouldn't be all that blood coming from the open wound where his skull had connected with the sharp edge of the desk. Had the head wound made the difference to his mentor's survival?

He reached for the same telephone that moments before he'd tried to stop Dr J using, began to dial, then paused as realisation hit home. What was the point of trying to phone for assistance now? It was too late for medical help. Dr J wasn't breathing and wasn't about to come back to life, barring a miracle.

He doubted the Nazis would believe his story, especially with the way he'd been behaving over the past few days. He remembered clearly in hindsight the grey hue of the scientist's skin, the laboured breathing, the way he'd clutched at his chest before collapsing. Heart attack? Possibly, but it was his word against Dr J's or rather the state of Dr J's body. He laughed nervously. Dr J was dead, and how much was his word really worth? At first glance it would appear that death was the direct consequence of a blow delivered to the back of the head from behind, a blow delivered by the only other person at the scene of the crime.

Even in death the look on Dr J's face mirrored the disgust he'd felt about Quatre's revelation regarding his opinion of the project, a look which could be interpreted by the Nazis to suggest he hadn't died peacefully. Whoever thought that the recently departed resembled someone in a state of sleep or that they seemed 'at peace' needed their sanity checked, he decided. He swallowed, trying to ignore the bile rising through his digestive track; the longer he was in close proximity to the body, the harder it was to keep calm and think rationally.

/What am I going to do?/ He couldn't stay here, that much was obvious. Eyes darting around the room, he took deep breaths as he tried to slow his own heart, regulate his own breathing. The last thing he needed would be to follow his superior's example. /Calm down, Quatre, calm down./

He reached over to pour himself a glass of water from the pitcher he'd noticed on the desk before, the glass wobbling in his trembling hands. The water did nothing to quell the dryness in his mouth. A few sips later, it slipped from his fingers, shattering as it hit the floor.

The sound ricocheted through him, stretching his nervous system to breaking point. Unable to ignore his body's reaction to the previous few minutes any longer, Quatre dropped to his knees, bending over the waste paper basket as he vomited repeatedly. His stomach continued heaving for a few minutes after expelling its contents, as he moved into a half standing kneeling position, wiping the back of one hand across his mouth.

He wrinkled his nose at the strong stench of what had once been breakfast, stumbling backwards, pulling papers off the desktop as he reached out blindly trying to steady himself. At this rate, it wouldn't matter that Dr J hadn't managed to make that phone call, the noise would suffice as an invitation to anyone passing to enter and investigate.

He closed his eyes, trying to steady himself. He had to pull himself together, try to act as though nothing had happened. Maybe if he left the room before the body was discovered he would have a chance of surviving this. Glancing down at his hands, he noticed the thin trail of blood from where he had cut himself on the broken glass. /More blood, that's all I need. Aren't I responsible for enough bloodshed all ready?/

The room spun wildly, as memories of the dreamscape from the night before bombarded his mind, and he forced himself to focus. Reaching into his pocket, he bound his cut hand with his handkerchief, then used the clean end of it to wipe the crimson stain seeping into the briefcase leaning against the side of the desk. Why was he bothering? asked the small portion of him still trying to hold on to some semblance of logical thought and reason. There was no way he could the rid himself of this much bloodshed, no way he could undo what had happened. In a gesture of frustration he threw the leather case against the desk, a sense of what he knew to be twisted satisfaction taking the remainder of his nausea with it.

/Bright, Quatre, really bright./ He sighed, crawling around on his knees, ignoring the hardness of the floorboards through the light fabric of his trousers, gathering the files that had flown lose in the collision as the flimsy lock on the case had parted. He paused, eyes automatically reading the title of the file he was holding with one knee, as he let out an audible gasp. He didn't believe it. The file he'd been leaning on was the one pertaining to /the/ project. Flipping through it quickly, he shook his head, the excitement entering him in an adrenaline rush.

This was his chance to put things right, to achieve what he'd come to Dr J's office to do. He hurriedly shoved the file back into the case, rose to his feet, then paused. What exactly was he going to do? Yes he could prevent the Nazis from obtaining the information, as he now had in his hands the only copy in existence but surely they would be aware that he was only too capable of replicating the information? He would have to destroy the file, then disappear himself.

He shook his head. Disappearing wasn't going to be easy, the Nazis had spies everywhere and he didn't have any connections, anyone to ask for help. Death wasn't an option. He couldn't do that to Iria, not after she'd spent so much of her energy taking care of him when no one else had wanted to. If the Nazis had planned to use the device against others, someone had to get the information out to the rest of the world. It didn't matter that the intended victims were enemies of the Fatherland, no one deserved to die by the weapon he had helped to create. He sighed. Where the hell was he supposed to find the people he needed? And if he did how was he supposed to convince them to trust him?

Click.

Quatre spun around, the noise of the office door closing breaking him out of his reverie. In one fluid movement he gripped the briefcase firmly under one arm and bent to retrieve what was left of the broken glass, holding the jagged edge in front of him in a feeble attempt to defend himself.

A calm gaze met his own as the newcomer took in the situation at a glance, one eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. Emerald eyes flickered onto what had once been Dr J, then back to Quatre, finally coming to rest on his precious cargo, the briefcase containing the cumulation of what had once been his dream, a dream which could now better be described as a never ending nightmare.

Quatre debated for all of a second his chances of success if he tackled him head on, then decided against it. For starters the Corporal was taller by at least two inches, his lean body probably hiding a well-developed physique. He also had the advantage of military training, something Quatre himself was sadly lacking. He knew the rudiments of using a gun, but as he didn't possess one, that fact wasn't going to be of much use.

Quatre edged back a step, taking comfort in the solidity of the desk digging into his back, the sensation giving him something to ground himself with as his mind tried to place the pieces of the puzzle together. His opponent must have some degree of intelligence, that much was obvious by the inquiring look on his face, the way his eyes seemed to penetrate his own, searching for answers. There was a depth to those eyes, to the man behind them, Quatre suspected, that very few people ever saw.

How much had the brunet seen? It was hard to read anything from his _expression, whatever he was thinking was kept well hidden, the curtain of hair half hiding his face helping to maintain the facade. Briefly thinking back over the past week, Quatre now wondered if he had acquired a shadow. Had those half glimpses of the SS soldier he'd put down to paranoia been in fact truth?

If he surrendered now everything would be over and the Nazis would win. He wouldn't give up, he couldn't. Quatre gripped the glass fragment tightly ignoring the pain as the rough edges scratched against his palm, the crimson liquid seeping into his shirt cuff already stained with the blood he'd unsuccessfully attempted to staunch. He stepped forward, waving the glass fragment, as he tried to look menacing, fully aware that on a scale of one to ten he wasn't achieving even a one.

They stood staring at each other, or rather Quatre stood staring as his companion leant back casually against the door without shifting the gaze of his one visible eye. After a few minutes, in which the only audible sound in the room was that of Quatre's own ragged breathing, the Corporal pulled himself to attention as he took a step forward, holding out his hand for the makeshift weapon the blond was holding. "Doktor Winner." he commented, the tone of his voice low but even as an expression of disbelief fleeted over his features. "One of the most brilliant minds in this institution, and /this/ is the extent of your plan?"

 

Chapter Four

"My plan?" Quatre tried to control his annoyance regarding the underlying inference of Corporal Barton's words. "I don't have a plan." He changed his tone to one of sarcasm. "Do you honestly think I would be standing here waving a piece of broken glass if I had a plan?"

"Good point," Barton admitted, his hand still outstretched as he waited for Quatre to surrender his weapon. His brow creased, the earlier look of disbelief changing to curiosity, as he indicated the room. "Surely you must have realised what would happen?"

Quatre attempted to back up further, fully aware it was an exercise in futility considering his total lack of acrobatic skills. He decided instead to stand his ground, giving the other man what he hoped was an icy glare. "Have you come to hand me over to the Nazis? Because if you have I'll make it clear now that I don't intend to go easily."

The corner of Barton's mouth turned up into a half smile, before he shook his head. "I've come to help you, Doktor Winner," he explained.

Quatre glanced behind him, wishing the desk would disappear into thin air, giving him a much needed escape route. "And you expect me to believe you? I know you've been following me for the past week." He noticed the slight look of surprise on Barton's face with a degree of satisfaction.

"You need to trust me, Doktor Winner." The initial surprise disappeared quickly, the tone of his voice not faltering even for a moment. Quatre felt a momentary pang of envy, wishing he could control his feelings to such a degree. Yes he often projected an air of indifference, usually using it to cover his inner turmoil, but Barton had it down to almost an art form. Watching him, one could believe that calmness wasn't an act but an extension of the man himself.

"Give me one good reason."

"The Nazis will be here in," Barton consulted his watch, " approximately ten minutes. Either you trust me or you attempt to explain to them what exactly has happened."

Quatre had to admit; that was a good reason. He studied the other man for a moment, wanting to trust him, wanting to be able to trust anyone. And Barton had a point; the choices available were limited. He remembered how concerned the Corporal had seemed when he'd lost his footing a few days previously and came to a decision. He'd fought his instincts then, maybe that had been a mistake. He'd always had strong feelings as to whether a person could be trusted, ignoring those misgivings often preceded disaster, Dr J being a case and point.

Quatre placed the glass fragment on the desk, pressing the crimson stained cloth against the cut on his hand, as the blood resumed its flow for a moment in response to the lack of pressure on the wound, then trickled to a stop. Only a small flesh wound, he noticed, with a degree of relief. "Alright," he said, "I'm going to take a risk and hope you are telling the truth. As you say I have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Barton nodded. "Doktor Winner," he began but Quatre interupted him.

"Quatre," he said, scanning for a reaction, hoping for a confirmation that his trust wasn't going to be misplaced. "If we are going to work together I'd prefer it on a first name basis."

"You can call me Trowa." The green eyed man seemed to take a sudden interest in Quatre's appearance, and the blond felt himself blush under the unexpected scrutiny. /Not exactly the expected reaction,/ he thought, wondering if he'd grown a third head.

"Take off your shirt."

Quatre felt himself grow even warmer as he replied, his voice coming out in a stammer as he tried to hide his shock. "I beg your pardon?" What the hell was Trowa playing at?

"Your shirt is covered in blood. The guards will notice." Deliberately ignoring the other's _expression, Quatre's eyes followed Trowa's gesture toward the wooden chest of drawers in the corner behind the door. He had the distinct impression Trowa was enjoying this on some level. Or maybe he still hadn't gotten rid of his earlier paranoia concerning the SS officer? "Dr J keeps a change of clothing in his office, find something suitable while I keep lookout."

Quatre glanced down at his shirt then stripped quickly as he rummaged through the drawers for something that might fit. He quickly buttoned up the clean shirt, filling the gap in the drawer with his old one. Grabbing Dr J's woollen coat off the stand, he threw it on top, completing the outfit. It was cold outside and he didn't think it would be sensible to detour to his own office to retrieve his coat. Luckily he and his former mentor were a similar height; the clothes hung on his slender frame, although not too noticeably.

Trowa poked his head around the door, gave Quatre a small nod of approval and indicated he should follow. The scientist stuffed the project file inside the overcoat, and joined the other man in the corridor, taking one last glance at the scene inside.

One last glance at what his life had been.

He gave Trowa a questioning look, wondering what came next. The officer seemed confident, much more than Quatre himself, but then under the present circumstances, that wouldn't take much. He hoped Trowa had the contacts they needed; but at least now he, Quatre was no longer alone. Trowa had placed himself in danger with his offer of assistance; if anything happened to him because of Quatre's actions, the scientist would never forgive himself.

Straining his eyes, he joined Trowa in surveying the corridor for possible adversaries, catching a glimpse of long blonde hair in the distance as he heard the light step of female footsteps heading their way.

Dorothy Catalonia.

Quatre shivered. He didn't like that woman, but had never been able to put his finger on the reason why. Something about her unnerved him; she seemed demure enough but he suspected that she had less than pure intentions towards him. The few times they had been alone in the same room, she had reminded him of a predator, and he had the uneasy feeling she viewed him as her prey. In hindsight there hadn't been anything untoward in her behaviour but he couldn't help but wonder why she'd had to rest her hand quite so firmly on his knee or why that hand had started to move before they'd been interrupted.

Trowa began walking slowly towards the exit, and Quatre followed, attempting to look as nonchalant as possible. Did he think they were just going to walk out the front door? Quatre snorted. And Trowa had the nerve to complain about the lack of a so called plan on /his/ part?

"Heading home early, Doktor Winner?" Dorothy arched one forked eyebrow at him as she came to a standstill, catching his arm in hers. He pulled free, sending an icy glare in her direction. "Aren't you feeling well?" she continued, the false tone of concern evoking a shudder from him. "Poor dear. I'm sure I could help if you'd give me a chance."

/When hell freezes over,/ thought Quatre.

Trowa interupted. "Duke Demail was looking for you, Fraulein Catalonia." Dorothy glanced over her shoulder, the _expression reflecting what Quatre decided could only be guilt. He was certain she was only part of the project because of her grandfather's influence. Being related to one of the financial backers had its advantages.

"Make sure you contact me if you need any help." The tone in Dorothy's voice as she made her departure made Quatre all the more sure that she would be the last person he'd call.

"Thank you for your concern, Fraulein, but I will be fine." Quatre was careful to remove all emotion from his voice as he answered her question in a flat monotone. If she suspected what the true cause of his less than well appearance was, both he and Trowa would be in grave danger.

He waited until she had turned the corner and out of sight before turning to Trowa. "It won't be long before she puts two and two together. Dorothy might be creepy but she's not stupid. The sooner we leave, the better."

Trowa nodded and picked up his pace, Quatre increasing his step to keep up. As they approached the gate, and the guard station, Trowa glanced around the compound, weighing up the situation ahead. The two guards on duty were both heavily armed, the MP-40 submachine guns they carried far outweighing the fire power of Trowa's 9mm Luger.

Quatre silently cursed his limited knowledge of hand weapons; his information came from a soldier Iria had once dated who had been only too happy to explain the attributes of the 'beautiful but deadly' Luger to her younger brother. He remembered too, his sister's reaction. Poor John; it hadn't paid to get on the wrong side of Iria when she was in protective mode. He was probably lucky that Iria hadn't come home earlier and caught her soon to be ex boyfriend expressing his admiration for the speed on which Quatre had learnt to actually use the weapon. Those few lessons five years ago, had been his only exposure to something he could use to defend himself with. The years spent at the fencing club at the university didn't count; that had only been in fun, and besides it wasn't as though he'd actually been any good, he'd only joined to see what David found so enthralling about the sport.

Quatre shook his head to clear it. He needed to keep his wits about him, not get distracted by a trip down memory lane. It would be two against one if they were challenged, odds which weren't in their favour, especially as it would draw attention to them, something they couldn't afford until they were well clear.

"Is there a problem, Corporal?" asked one of the men.

Trowa shook his head. "No problem, Sergeant Mueller. Herr Doktor Winner is feeling unwell and has requested I help him to his car." He reached out in a gesture of support and Quatre followed his lead by swaying and clutching at his arm, as he pretended to lose his balance. The guard glared at them with what could only be termed suspicion and Quatre swallowed, offering up a silent prayer for help.

"Should you be driving in that state, Herr Winner?" a new voice asked, as Quatre fought the urge to run. Both men turned to see the head of security for the project, Colonel Merquise. Damn. Just their luck that he should choose this time to decide to make a spot inspection of his forces manning the front gate. The Colonel would be hoping to make an impression on the important expected visitors, the blond surmised.

"Barton, escort the Doktor to his home."

Quatre let out the breath he'd been holding, unable to believe their luck. "Thank you, Colonel," he said. This was too easy. Merquise was good at his job, and thorough. Quatre hadn't expected him to fall for a ruse like this.

Merquise nodded and saluted. "Barton, when you return I wish to see you in my office." What could he possibly want to see Trowa about? A dozen different scenarios went through Quatre's mind at a frightening speed as he tried to stay calm. After all, the Colonel would hardly let the soldier out of the compound if he were under suspicion. "Good day, Doktor Winner."

Quatre allowed Trowa to lead him out the small side gate, glad of the other man's support. Once through Trowa tensed, then pulled him into the shadow, as Quatre felt fingers over his lips motioning silence. Moments later the big main gates swung open and a large black staff car, flying the swastika flag of the Nazis slowly drove through, stopping briefly at the guard station before continuing towards the main complex. The staff, unlike privileged visitors such as those affiliated with the Nazi party, were not permitted to bring their vehicles through the front gate. The few who could actually afford and obtain petrol under the current shortages used the small carpark directly in front.

Quatre shifted Trowa's hand, noticing how gentle he'd been with the earlier gesture, even with the urgency of the situation. The more he saw the more he realised his new friend didn't fit the stereotype of the other SS officers. This was a person who cared, however much he was trying to hide it. There was definitely more here than met the eye, but he couldn't work out what. "I hope you know what you're doing," he asked Trowa. "You /have/ had experience in smuggling out people and information before?"

Silence.

"Trowa?"

Trowa replied with a small shake of his head. "No," he stated. "Never."

Quatre's peace of mind, or rather the little remaining decided at that moment to make a run for it. He stared at Trowa, searching for a sign that he wasn't serious, but didn't find anything. Wonderful. How was he going to get out of this alive? How was he going to get the plans to the people who needed to know?

Trowa seemed to be watching him just as carefully, letting out a small cough as he turned to lead the blond to hopefully somewhere a good deal safer than where they were at present.

"Quatre?"

"What?" Trowa had better not be making another crack about his lack of planning. Quatre snorted. At least /he'd/ admitted from the start that he didn't know what he was doing. Quatre blushed. Be /fair,/ he told himself. Trowa had only admitted that he hadn't had any experience with /this/ kind of situation.

"You can let go of my arm now."

******

Trowa knocked briefly on the solid wooden door and waited. Quatre shivered as he realised his companion had led them to the back entrance of the same café where he'd had that final conversation with David. Was it only a week ago? If only he'd known at the time that meeting his old friend would be the catalyst for his current situation, the unravelling of what had passed for the normality of his life. He shook his head. Poor David. If only he, Quatre, had been more approachable maybe it wouldn't have come to this. If only. There was no point crying over spilt milk. The past was gone, and even though his mistakes were clearer now in hindsight, he had to look forward, to try to fix this mess somehow. It was probably too late to save David, but he had to think about his safety and Trowa's. Quatre's hand moved under his coat pocket, checking, not for the first time, that the precious files were still there. He could not allow the Nazis to use his ideas. His hands were covered in enough blood, there was no way he was prepared to add more innocents to the list of those he'd already unintentionally hurt.

A dark haired girl poked her head through a slight crack in the door, eyes widening as she took in the situation. Green eyes, though a lighter shade than Trowa's, Quatre noticed absently. "Trowa?" Reflecting her disapproval, her gaze flickered between the two men, finally settling on Quatre, even though her next question was directed to his companion. "What are you doing here?"

Trowa placed his foot in the door. "I didn't have an option. Hilde, this is Quatre. He needs our help."

Hilde wasn't impressed. "I know who he is. Are you trying to get us killed?" Quatre bit back a comment of surprise, wondering how she knew his identity. He supposed being the only son of one of the richest men in Berlin would have been enough to get him noticed. He only hoped too many people didn't realise who he was, it could be a liability in his present situation.

"I didn't have a choice." Trowa reiterated his earlier statement, standing his ground as he refused to move.

Quatre moved forward, holding out his hand in what he hoped was a friendly greeting. "Please, Hilde. Trowa's right. I need your help." He glanced at Trowa quickly, then directed his attention back to Hilde; her decision could make the difference as to their chances of survival. By now the body would have been discovered and too many people had seen them together not to put two and two together. Even if Merquise hadn't been suspicious of Trowa's loyalty to the Third Reich, he would be now. Quatre amended his original statement. "/We/ need your help."

Hilde hesitated for a moment, eyeing Trowa cautiously before opening the door fully. Even disregarding her small stature, her body language and tone enforced the initial impression Quatre had received of her; she wouldn't stand for any nonsense. Any sign that she'd been lied to and they would find themselves back on the street. "Up the stairs quickly," she told them. "Everything's in the usual place. Keep it quiet. I'll be up in a few hours after closing." She disappeared through an inner door and Quatre heard the background noise of the busy café before it closed leaving him to follow Trowa in silence.

"I don't think she trusts me," Quatre noted, as he took in his new surroundings. The old double bed filled most of the floor space, leaving room only for a small table, a chair and the old wardrobe in the corner. Mid morning sun streamed through the one tiny window, although it did little to add much warmth to the room. How long would they be safe here?

"Hilde can't afford to trust anyone, and neither can you." Trowa walked over to the window, checking the street below momentarily before indicating the door to his right. "There's a sink in there. Have a wash. You'll feel better."

"Thanks." Quatre paused, looking the Corporal straight in the eye, as he brushed past him. "I mean it, Trowa. I know you've taken a risk to help me and I want you to know I appreciate it."

"I'm not the only one taking a risk. Make sure you remember that," replied Trowa, bending down to undo the catches on the battered leather case he'd retrieved from under the bed. Quatre waited for him to continue but after a few minutes of silence, decided he was wasting his time. Trowa had said all that was needed and the conversation was over. He made his way into the small bathroom, closing the door behind him.

/God, I look awful./ Quatre rubbed at the mirror with the threadbare towel he'd found hanging over the back of the door, and examined his reflection. His eyes were bloodshot due to lack of sleep, his face flushed, his hair hanging limply over his forehead. He filled the basin with cool water, and splashed his face, hoping the liquid would help him to feel more human.

His mind raced, trying to make sense of everything so far. When he'd decided to confront Dr J he knew his life would change but the reality of it hadn't really sunk in. Even standing over the body he'd been too shell shocked to truly comprehend how much trouble he was in. The adrenalin rush he'd had earlier which had enabled him to make his escape with Trowa was beginning to wear off, leaving in its place a sense of .nothing.

Quatre groaned aloud. To be honest he didn't know how he felt. Yes, he was scared but part of him was still reacting as though this day had been a dream and that any minute he would wake and find himself in his bed at home.

Home. Iria. To him the two were interlinked, the refuge he could return to at the end of each day when reality became too much. She was the only person he had ever felt truly comfortable and relaxed with. In her presence he could be himself, Quatre.Cat. Not Quatre Winner, wayward son of Paul Winner, not Herr Doktor Winner, prodigy of Dr J, but Cat. Without that what would become of him?

He finished wiping his face with the thin yellow towel. At home it would have been replaced with a new one without thought, but here the situation was different. He glanced down at the expensive dress trousers he wore, and realised he'd always taken his social and monetary standing in life for granted. There would no longer be a meal provided at the end of each day without question, everything he needed handed to him on a platter.

Quatre laughed, then stopped, surprised at his reaction. After all, weren't those the very things about his life he had resented? In a twisted way, fate had provided him with the opportunity to move on, maybe become the very person he had always yearned to be but had never been able.

"First things first," he muttered to himself under his breath, reminding himself of the reason he was here. On the run for murder, theft and God knows what else and he was planning his future. /Winner, you're losing it./

He stood for a moment, taking a few deep breaths, his hands twisting the towel over and over as he attempted to still his mind. There was no point alarming Trowa. He had enough to worry about. Quatre hung the now damp towel on the wooden rack on the back of the door, drew himself up straight and walked back into the small main room.

"Understood. Zero three out." Trowa's head came up in response to Quatre's arrival. He was sitting at the only table, hunched over a small valve radio set, obviously the contents of the large suitcase. Quatre couldn't help but wonder what exactly his superiors had been told. Surely the scientist's unexpected presence would have affected the Corporal's original orders to a significant degree? "Feeling better?" Was that concern reflected in Trowa's eyes? Still, with the information Quatre would be able to supply the allies, he supposed he would now be an asset worth protecting.

"As much as I'm going to be," he answered, giving a small smile in reply. Maybe Trowa truly did care what happened to him? After all what he'd seen so far seemed to suggest that scenario. Or was it merely wishful thinking? He hesitated, indicating the wireless that Trowa was carefully packing away. "Is my being here going to be a problem?"

Trowa shook his head. "I pointed out the risks you've taken to get this far, and they agreed with me that the priorities of this mission have changed to include your safe passage out of Germany." He slid the heavy case back under the bed, then stood for a moment, giving Quatre the once over. "You need to change your clothing into something less conspicuous."

Trowa walked over to the other side of the room, flung open the wardrobe, and pondered its contents for a moment. He pulled a pair of corduroy trousers and a nondescript plain shirt from a hanger, holding them out in front of him as he obviously attempted to gauge the sizing. "These might fit you. Try them on and let's take a look."

Quatre took the clothing from him, and headed back to the bathroom. "See you in a minute." He changed quickly, cursing slightly at the small space he had to dress in, re entered the room and .stopped.

Trowa was standing by the bed, clad only in a pair of very form fitting boxers. The earlier assumption that Quatre had made about his uniform hiding a well-developed physique had been quite an underestimation on his part. The other man was well.. gorgeous; there was no other way of describing him, and ..

/Oh God./

Quatre blushed, stammered his apologies and ran, seeking refuge in the small bathroom he'd just vacated. He splashed himself with cold water. What the hell? One look at Trowa and he'd felt his heart speed up, and a physical reaction he hoped like hell the other man hadn't noticed. He glanced down, willing the bulge in his trousers to disappear. What was wrong with him? This wasn't right, it wasn't natural, and certainly not in response to seeing another man in a state of undress.

Quatre groaned.

No, he wasn't going to let himself react. He couldn't, not after putting all this behind him the last time. /Think about it, Quatre,/ a small voice whispered. The only other time this had happened had been because of another male. But he wasn't /that/ way inclined. He couldn't be. He'd always been taught that it wasn't natural, that it was wrong. The assumption that those teachings had to be correct had been the reason he'd backed away from David. There was no way he could continue to see his friend, knowing he was harbouring sinful thoughts towards him. If he was going to burn in hell, it was better he do it alone rather than drag someone he cared about down with him. David had been hurt, of course, when Quatre had deliberately become cold in an attempt to end their friendship. But it was better in the long term for both of them, or so he had convinced himself at the time.

"Quatre, are you alright in there?" Trowa sounded concerned. Poor Trowa, it wasn't the Corporal's fault he'd been stuck with him.

"Fine. I'm fine. I.um..my underwear got stuck in my zipper. I'm just fixing it." Quatre hated lying but there was no way he could ever admit the truth. There was no way he could cope with seeing the disgust he knew would be reflected in his new friend's eyes. Trowa didn't need to know; no one needed to know. He'd just ignore it and make sure it didn't happen again.

He was under a lot of stress; that must be it. Getting out of Germany and the danger it represented would make all the difference. No wonder his body was reacting in ways it shouldn't. After all it wasn't every day one discovered that everything they'd believed in was wrong, that the ideals they'd spent their life working towards weren't worth the paper they were written on.

Quatre exited the bathroom, making a big show of redoing his belt. "Sorry about that," he mumbled, hoping he hadn't made a total idiot of himself.

"It's not a problem. These things happen." Trowa was now fully dressed much to Quatre's relief. The dark jeans hugged his figure snugly, and the skivvy peeking over the crew neck of the contrasting cream jersey matched his eyes, eyes that Quatre was careful to avoid. The blond swallowed, glancing back at the bathroom door. He couldn't spend the whole time they were here hiding in that room. Could he?

"So, what happens next?" Finding something else to focus on seemed the sensible approach, the correct strategy to attempt to correct his current predicament. "Are your superiors sending in backup or are we on our own?" He paused. "And should I be presuming you are permitted to tell me? You keep telling me I should be careful who I trust, yet I'm making the assumption you trust me, although I'm not sure why."

"Because I know you," Trowa answered almost absently as he lifted the corner of the curtain and peered out into the street below.

"You've only just met me." The answer came automatically, before Quatre had time think. How could Trowa /know/ him? Unless.

"Exactly how long have you been watching me?" The question came out almost as an accusation, as the feelings he'd been trying to unsuccessfully to suppress disappeared, only to be replaced by a growing coldness.

"Long enough." Trowa's answer was deliberately vague and extremely annoying. The SS officer, or whoever he was, had been assigned to the project only recently. Had he, Quatre, been under observation the entire time?

Quatre sat down on the bed with a loud thump as his mind raced to try and digest this new information. "Why were you watching me? Who are you working for exactly?" His voice rose in pitch as he let his earlier frustration channel itself into anger. "How do I know you didn't have something to do with Dr J's death? There are poisons available which can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. Maybe this whole scenario is a intricately thought out plan to get me to trust you?"

Trowa rolled his eyes. "Quatre, your paranoia is getting the better of you. You've been under a lot of stress during the past few days and you're not thinking clearly." He crossed the room to sit on the bed next to the blond. "You can trust /me./ I give you my word on that." Their eyes met for an instant before Quatre turned away.

"I'm sorry, " he said. "I'd like to able to trust you, but."

"It's alright." Trowa's voice had a gentle quality to it, but tinged with a certain degree of sadness. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. "I have to go meet my contacts, but I shouldn't be long. Get some rest, and we'll talk later. And Quatre."

"Yes?" Quatre didn't even look up from his examination of the knots in the floorboard as he heard the door creak open.

"Be careful." The door closed quietly behind him and he was gone.

"You be careful, too, Trowa." Quatre whispered his response to an empty room, and buried his head in his hands. Why had he just alienated the one person who was willing to help him out of this mess? He hoped they would get the opportunity to have the talk Trowa wanted, although he had no idea what he was going to say. He knew what he should say, but they were words he dare not speak, thoughts he could never permit himself to acknowledge, a subject that could never be broached.

He crawled under the bedclothes and lay staring at the ceiling, examining the cracks in the plasterboard until he was familiar with each and every one. How was he going to get out of this mess? There would be no happily ever after in the story of his life, of that he was sure. Even if he and Trowa escaped with their lives, what then?

Maybe the people Trowa was meeting with had some answers, at least for their safe passage out. After that.he'd worry about it when the time came. And hope by then he'd know the correct path to take.

/You be careful too, Trowa./ His final words to his friend repeated in his mind as he slowly drifted off to sleep, unable to fight the exhaustion of both mind and body any longer.

 

Chapter Five

Trowa glanced around Michaelskirche [1], the old wooden kneeler creaking in protest against his weight as he slid into the pew next to the confessional box and assumed the correct position for prayer. The small church was fairly empty, not surprisingly, considering Mass had finished a few hours before. The two men outside had glanced up from their conversation, given him the once over, then continued talking, pretending to ignore his presence as he opened the heavy wooden door and entered the red brick building. /Those doors could keep out an army,/ he decided, and probably had at some time in the past. Churches had long been the sanctuaries of those in need.

Trowa lowered his head slightly, pretending to pray as he examined his surroundings in detail, taking note of the possible escape routes he might need. He turned at the sound of voices behind him to observe a young man with a shock of messy dark brown hair nodding in response to something his companion had said. The other man, who appeared to be of Chinese descent, indicated the confessional with a shake of his head, and shrugged. At first impression the two seemed nothing out of the ordinary, but there was something about them which piqued Trowa's curiosity. Whatever they were doing in the church, it certainly wasn't to offer prayer to the God many Germans hoped would help them win the war. Most of the ordinary people of Berlin went about their business totally unaware of the true horrors their Fuhrer was inflicting on others. Although the Jews in Berlin were tolerated slightly better than those in other parts of the country, and indeed in Trowa's own native France, many of those who came to pray would never realise anything was wrong in their own safe little corner of reality. Even if they did, as Quatre had over the past few days, he doubted it would make much difference, but at least it would be a start. Someone had to do something. After all wasn't that the whole reason he had joined the resistance, because he couldn't stand on the sidelines and watch, waiting for someone else to act first?

The first man's head came up and he met Trowa's gaze, returning it with his own stare. Piercing blue eyes sized Trowa up, before his eyes shifted back to the confessional. There was an assuredness in his action, a preciseness, which suggested whoever he was, he was certainly more than just the working class man he appeared to be. Clothes might help disguise a person's true identity, but body language was the key to successfully blending in. To give him credit, the casual observer probably wouldn't have given him a second look, but Trowa was a practised infiltrator whose very survival during the past six months had depended on drawing attention away from himself.

Trowa shifted his observation onto the man's companion. His nationality aside, he projected an air of impatience, with his constant glances towards the front door of the church. There was a Chinese consul in Berlin; either he was an attache or an emigrant from his native land, and Trowa very much doubted the latter. Most non-Aryans were making a point of leaving Germany, even those with mixed blood were leaving the country. The underground passport industry was booming, with a fair portion of those involved doing prison time or being shipped off to the camps for their efforts to get those at risk to relative safety. If he were with the consul it didn't explain why he was making casual conversation with someone who was supposedly merely a working class Berliner.

Trowa checked his watch. According to his instructions he was supposed to attend confession, then await contact by a member of the team sent in to retrieve the plans. It had only been a few minutes past the appointed time; obviously someone had gone ahead of him into the confessional. Perhaps that explained the impatience of the men he'd just been observing. Including whomever they were watching in the confessional, and the two men outside the church, that made five. He hoped these men were more experienced in espionage than present appearances suggested or they were not going to be able to give him the help he required.

His thoughts wandered back to Herr Doktor Winner - Quatre. He felt sorry for the scientist, who was bearing up under the strain extremely well considering he'd had everything he'd ever known pulled out from under him. Trowa couldn't help but admire the blond. He was much braver than he probably gave himself credit for - he had seen far more experienced men crack under less pressure. Iria Winner had been correct in her assumption that it would pay to keep her brother under close surveillance. Trowa shook his head. He doubted Quatre suspected his elder sister's involvement with the local resistance cell. The other man might be brilliant but that ability was certainly balanced out in his naivete. For someone partially responsible for the weapon that could make the difference to winning the war, there was much he needed to learn about the world around him.

Hopefully Quatre had taken his advice and was resting in preparation for what was ahead. Safe passage out of Germany was not going to be easy; he expected Merquise would have organised a security detail to come after them shortly after Dr J's body had been discovered. Trowa's own assignment regarding the project had been on borrowed time for the past few days. Even though he'd been careful, he'd been aware that Merquise was growing suspicious, and attempting to obtain more detailed background information on 'Corporal Barton'. Sooner or later it would become obvious that he was not exactly who he appeared to be. He'd been hoping he would be able to complete his mission successfully before that happened. Quatre hadn't been part of that original mission parameter, but Trowa had known it would only be a matter of time before the scientist realised the project wasn't exactly what he believed it to be. Dr J's death had been unexpected, but had served as the catalyst needed to convince the scientist he needed to leave. Unfortunately it had also given Merquise a public reason to go after Quatre, saving him the job of constructing a propaganda story to dispel any sympathy from those who might be tempted to harbour a fugitive from the Nazis. The SS were efficient when it came to tracking its enemies, and even more efficient when it came to dealing with them. The SS's own brand of 'interrogation' was something Trowa never wanted Quatre - or anyone else he cared about - to be on the receiving end of.

/Keep safe, Quatre, until I return./ Trowa offered up a silent prayer, surprised at himself for doing so. During the six months he'd been watching Quatre Winner, Trowa had felt his concern over the blond's continued well being grow. Of course he had, he told himself, it made sense not to let anything untoward befall him. The scientist was important to the mission and if the Gestapo got their hands on him now, the entire mission would be in jeopardy. Trowa understood enough of Quatre's abilities to realise he was perfectly capable of reproducing the project if required. Unfortunately he did not doubt his former superiors were working under the same assumption. The Nazis were not in the habit of taking no for an answer in such matters and Trowa was under no illusions as to what they were capable of doing in order to ensure co-operation. A shiver ran through him as he thought of Quatre in the clutches of someone such as Merquise. There was no way he could allow that to happen; he would protect the blond whatever it took.

The light on the top of the confessional blinked off and an old man walked out, a dazed _expression on his face. The man muttered something under his breath too low for Trowa to hear, glanced behind him making the sign of the cross rapidly, then repeated it. Then to Trowa's surprise he prostrated himself in front of the altar, calling out in a loud voice - "God, I beg your forgiveness for leading such a boring life."

Someone snorted behind him and Trowa turned in time to see the dark haired man he'd observed earlier roll his eyes. Whoever was in the confessional had an interesting sense of humour, one it seemed the other man might be familiar with. He wondered absently who was in charge of this mission. Surely it couldn't be the person masquerading as the local parish priest? His mouth twitched at the thought of Lady Une's reaction. He'd only spoken to her via the wireless but it had been enough to give him the impression of someone who wouldn't stand for any nonsense.

He tentatively opened the now empty confessional and entered, wondering what on Earth he was getting himself into. Whatever the priest had said to the previous occupant of this booth, it was certainly atypical of the penance Trowa remembered regarding the clergy of the Catholic Church.

Kneeling on the low wooden kneeler as the priest opened the small mesh window dividing the two compartments, Trowa spoke the precursory words for the sacrament, searching his mind for the correct phrasing. Confession might be good for the soul, but in his occupation some things were better left unsaid, even to a priest.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned," he began. "It's been two years since my last confession and."

A bored sounding voice interrupted him. "Just get on with it, will you?" And I hope your sins are more interesting than the last guy's. I damn well hit my head when I started to drift off."

The priest paused to catch his breath, and Trowa spoke quickly, before he could continue his tale of woe. "I'm homesick and I'm often tempted to click my heels together and say 'there's no place like home."

There was a moment's silence followed by what sounded suspiciously like a very loud sigh of relief. "The answer to your problem is to follow the yellow brick road."

Trowa arched an eyebrow in the half darkness of the small booth. This was his contact, the team leader? "Zero Two?" he asked.

"In the flesh, buddy. What took you so long? You've no idea what I've been though in here." There was a moment's pause. "How can I help you, my child?" The other man snickered. "Sorry, I've always wanted to say that."

There was a loud creak, then Trowa found himself blinking rapidly as the sun streamed through the now open confessional door. The man standing in front of him proffered his hand in greeting, giving a mock bow. "Duo Maxwell, at your service."

"Trowa Barton."

Maxwell might be dressed as a priest but there the resemblance ended. As he turned slightly, Trowa caught sight of a long chestnut braid swinging against the pseudo priest's hips. Violet eyes twinkled as he indicated the near empty church. "Come on, I'll introduce you to the rest of the guys." Maxwell's German was flawless, even down to the prominent Berlin accent. He'd been well trained, and Trowa suspected the man's attitude covered a very keen mind. Lady Une would have sent the best for this mission, with the degree of importance to the war effort attached to it.

He wasn't surprised when he was led to the pew containing the Chinese man and his companion.

"I'm surprised you didn't give that poor old man a heart attack," the Chinese man commented. "This is Zero Three?"

Maxwell nodded. "Trowa Barton, meet Chang Wufei. The other guy is Heero Lowe, our resident communications expert."

Trowa gave a short nod in greeting, and got straight down to business. "Have you been informed of the change in mission parameters?" The three men exchanged puzzled glances, and Maxwell shook his head.

"Nope," he confirmed. "So what's her Ladyship up to now? This was supposed to be a simple mission. Meet the contact, retrieve the plans, head for home, giving the Nazis a good kick where it hurts if needs be, type scenario."

Chang rolled his eyes. "It never ceases to amaze me how you manage to translate a complex mission plan into such simplified terms, Maxwell."

"It's a gift." Maxwell grinned. "And that's Sergeant Maxwell to you." The tone he used was far from serious, and Trowa doubted he meant the words as a reprimand. However long this team had been working together, he suspected they were used to the differing idiosyncrasies of each member.

Lowe spoke for the first time, /his/ tone brusque and to the point. "What is this change and will how will affect the plans we have already put into operation?" His eyes narrowed as he waited impatiently for the information Trowa was about to impart, obviously preparing himself to make adjustments to whatever part of the 'mission parameters' had been already put into place.

"Herr Doktor Winner, one of the scientists working." Trowa amended his statement. "One of the scientists who was until yesterday, working on the project, is accompanying us out of Germany. We are to ensure his safe passage to the States."

Maxwell whistled. "That's one hell of an addition to the original orders." He paused, a slight frown creasing his brow. "How do we know we can trust him? He's been working for the bad guys. Why suddenly change sides?"

"He can be trusted," Trowa assured him. "Qu.Doktor Winner has undertaken a great deal of personal risk to get this far." He glanced at his watch. "We can't afford to waste time discussing this, it's imperative we move before the Gestapo discover his location."

"Okay," Maxwell agreed. "You'd better fill me in on what's going down on the way." He exited the door of the church, giving the statue of the Archangel Michael a mock salute before beckoning to the two men Trowa had observed previously. "Walker, Palmer - go ahead and make sure the area is secure. We don't want any little Nazi surprises, do we?" His next words were spoken in almost a whisper, the momentarily look of regret gone so quickly that Trowa wondered if he had imagined it. "I wonder if her café still looks the same as it did before the war."

*******

Hilde knocked on the door to the attic room, then waited patiently. "It's me, Hilde," she called quietly, not wishing to alarm the young man on the other side.

After a few minutes, the Herr Doktor peered out cautiously, rubbing his eyes and yawning, his half-focused gaze suggesting he wasn't fully awake. She felt a pang of sympathy for him, doubting he really had any idea of the trouble he was in. "I'm making some tea, if you want a cup," she told him. "I'll be downstairs."

Doktor Winner frowned, then glanced at his watch. "Sorry," he mumbled politely. "I hadn't realised I'd slept for so long. I.um.don't want to put you to any trouble."

Hilde bit back the comment on the tip of her tongue. He was causing trouble just being here, surely he must realise that? Instead she gave him a smile. "We've closed for the day. Besides Trowa would want me to look after you properly."

At the mention of Trowa's name the man visibly brightened; obviously the two had bonded, at least in the blond's eyes. That was interesting and unusual in itself. /Trowa Barton,/ she thought, /you're slipping. It's not like you to evoke this kind of response in someone./ Usually the undercover operative kept his distance from others; he couldn't afford not to with the stakes involved. If anyone ever suspected he wasn't who he pretended to be.Mind you, that was no different a scenario than she and the others helping the Allies faced everyday. Hilde had no doubt what would happen if the Gestapo ever discovered she'd been harbouring Jews and other so called enemies of the Fatherland since the legislation had against them had been instigated.

"I'll be down in a moment," the scientist promised. "Thank you."

Hilde made her way down the narrow stairs, and busied herself making the promised refreshments, placing two cups and saucers on the bench, and pouring the weak liquid which had passed for tea ever since supplies had become so scarce. The outside light was fading, causing shadows to fall across the wooden dish racks lining the wall to the side of the sink. She ran her hand slowly against the peeling paintwork, remembering the fun she'd had working out the colour scheme when they'd found the old building and realised its potential.

Duo had been so sure the location would be ideal for setting up business as a café - it had been their dream, or so she'd thought at the time. Unfortunately time had showed both of them their relationship wasn't there for the long haul, and he'd decided it was for the best if he returned to the States. Hilde had clung to the memories haunting the café for months before she'd been able to accept that Duo was right. Since War had broken out between their respective countries, she often wondered what he was doing and whether he was safe. She smiled; Duo Maxwell had never been the kind of man to sit back and let others do the fighting. He'd be involved in the war effort somehow, of that she was certain.

Hilde turned briefly at the sound of light footsteps on the stairs - now wasn't the time to be losing herself in the past. The blond offered to help her carry the small wooden tray over to the sturdy but small table in the middle of the room, and she accepted gratefully, noticing with some amusement that he'd managed to keep his manners intact despite his current predicament.

"Thank you," she said, settling herself into the brightly coloured chair and indicating he should take the other available seat. Duo had insisted they paint the place with those colours, she remembered, although she had been equally as insistent that the two dark pink chairs remain out of the public eye. /We don't want to scare away the customers,/ she'd told him.

/'Aw, Hilde,'/ he'd complained, a twinkle in his eyes. /'Don't be such a spoilsport.'/

"What?" Hilde asked, aware of a gentle hand on her arm. The scientist was frowning, and she realised she hadn't even heard his last comment. "Sorry," she explained. "I was miles away. Would you repeat what you just said?"

"I was saying that I really appreciate what you are doing for me.for us." Doktor Winner wrapped his fingers around the heavy crockery cup as though taking some kind of solace in the hot tea he was sipping.

Hilde nodded; he did seem genuinely grateful, which surprised her somewhat considering the reputation his family had in Berlin. The reputation his father had, she corrected. Iria Winner was completely different to her father; she'd worked tirelessly to help the small resistance cell since its inception. Even when most of them had been wiped out, or gone into hiding earlier in the year, she hadn't faltered in her resolve to offer assistance to anyone in need, whether German or Jew. "I'm a Doctor," she'd said. "It's my job to help people." Maybe Iria's younger brother was more like her than their father. Hilde certainly hoped that was the case - and she had to admit Trowa's perception of a person was usually very accurate.

"Herr Doktor Winner, " she began but he interrupted, a half smile creasing his lips.

"Call me Quatre, please."

"Quatre," she continued, then paused. Maybe it was better if they stuck to safe topics of conversation. The less she knew about whatever was 'going down' to quote her old friend, the safer it would be, both for her and her 'guest'.

"You're wondering what we should talk about because you don't want to give away any information you shouldn't". Doktor Winner.Quatre.was more astute then she'd given him credit for. The half smile now had a degree of sadness in it. "It's all right," he reassured her. "I understand. Neither of us is really aware of how much we can trust each other, and that's probably the best approach, under the circumstances."

She reached out a hand towards the milk jug, and accidentally brushed her fingers against the hot teapot. "Shit," she exclaimed in English without thinking, sucking the sore finger in her mouth before running it under the cold tap.

"Are you all right?" Quatre's concern was voiced in English as well, and Hilde glanced at him in surprise. "I can speak both English and German fluently," he explained. "One of my nannies was English and Iria insisted I learn the language."his voice hitched slightly before continuing. "My mother was English."

He lapsed back in German, his eyes glassing over, as he appeared to lose himself in seemingly painful memories. Hilde wasn't sure how, or whether to respond so she allowed the silence to hang between them for a good few minutes before she finally broke the ice. "I grew up in the States," she explained. "My father is.was.German, my mother, American."

"Was?" His voice was gentle, full of concern and sympathy, and she felt herself wondering, with some guilt, whether she'd been a bit harsh when he'd arrived earlier with Trowa.

"My parents died a few years ago," she explained. "We were living in America when Mother died, and Father decided it would be for the best if we moved back to Germany."

Quatre's tone grew wistful. "I've always wanted to travel," he told her. "To see the world, to experience some of its history for myself. But Father was always too busy, and then my studies began to take up most of my free time." He gave a small laugh. "Maybe in a round about way I'll get to do that now. Although I was hoping to go the tourist route, not running for my life with the Gestapo on my heels."

Quatre rolled his eyes, and buried his head in his hands for a moment. "Oh God, I'm losing it. I know I'm in serious trouble but for some reason I keep having these strange thoughts about how things have happened for the best." His gaze met hers as he dropped his hands, and Hilde noticed for the first time the depth in those turquoise eyes, and the reflected fear. On the level where it mattered, Quatre was more than aware of the seriousness of his situation.

"You're not losing it," she reassured him. "Your world has turned upside down in a few short days. Just give yourself time."

He nodded slowly, and took another sip of his tea, lapsing into silence as he stared out the window at the approaching darkness. Hilde glanced at the clock over the door, and was surprised how late it was. Trowa should be back soon; meantime she'd attempt to lift Quatre out of his melancholy.

"We lived in America for about ten years," she told him, and was pleased to see his interest piqued. Stories were always a good way to distract people from their own worries. "During that time Father decided it would be a good idea to foster children from the local orphanage, to try and give them some stability in their lives."

Quatre smiled. "Your father must have been a good man. I hope the orphans appreciated what he was attempting to do for them."

Hilde grinned. "Most of them did, yes. I was an only child and I enjoyed having others to play with, even if we did get into quite a bit of mischief. I remember the time Duo decided it would be fun to suck lemons in front of the local brass band. We sat in the front row, and as the trumpet player began his solo we carefully and loudly made a show of eating them in time with the tune he was playing." She laughed at the memory. "The poor man had trouble reaching the high notes, can't understand why really."

Quatre let out a small chuckle, as he realised the implications of what they'd done. "I can imagine. It must have been quite embarrassing for him, suddenly finding his spittle deserting him in his hour of need." He shook his head in mock sadness. "This Duo sounds like quite a character, I almost wish I could meet him."

/You've got a good sense of humour yourself, Quatre Winner,/ Hilde observed, glad her ploy had worked. "Maybe one day he'll."

The knock on the door interrupted her, its loudness echoing ominously through the empty café.

She exchanged a worried glance with Quatre, the humour they'd shared forgotten suddenly in their shared concern. Quatre rose to his feet, eyes darting around the room, his voice shaking slightly as he voiced the question she hadn't dared put into words. "Do you think it could be.?"

Hilde shook her head, willing herself to be positive. "Until we know for sure it's the Gestapo, we're not going to assume the worse." She glanced towards the door, ignoring the knot forming in the pit of her stomach, hoping it wasn't who they both knew it was.

"You need to hide, Quatre. If they find you, it's all been for nothing." She paused, noticing how he was biting down on his bottom lip, his knuckles white as he gripped the side of the table. "Are the plans safe?"

He nodded. "I hid them under the loose floorboard in the attic, but I should get them, in case." /So the Gestapo can get their hands on both you and the plans? Not a smart move./ Hilde shook her head again, glancing askance at the door as the banging became more insistent. "You haven't time. If this is the Gestapo, and they get even an inkling you're here, you need to be prepared to take action." She spoke slowly emphasising each word carefully. "You. Need. To. Run. Do you understand me?"

Quatre hesitated, his hand brushing back a stray lock of hair nervously, before he followed her glance. His already pale complexion seemed to turn almost grey as he swallowed hard. "I can't, Hilde. If they suspect you've been helping me." He paused, then spoke again, his tone firm. "I won't let you suffer for what I've done, for helping me. It isn't right. I've done enough of that in the past, and it stops now."

"This is Colonel Merquise. I order you to open this door in the name of the Fuhrer, now!"

/Oh God./ Hilde was sure her colouring had changed to match the man's beside her as the loud voice resounded through the fragile wood of the only thing standing between them and what she had deluded herself would never happen. Hilde grabbed Quatre's arm, and pushed him towards the back exit, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "Duo told me once, there's a time to run and a time to fight. How long you survive in this world depends on having the commonsense to know which one to choose at any particular time. Do you understand me, Quatre?" She lowered her voice. "I'm going to try and convince them they have the wrong place, but if it doesn't work."

Hilde didn't allow herself to glance back and note Quatre's reaction, instead she ran to the door, and opened it, plastering a look of annoyance on her face. "Can't a lady go to the bathroom in peace, even in war time?" she asked, the annoyed glare that comment provoked from the tall, slender blond man in the uniform of the SS, giving her a degree of satisfaction.

Merquise didn't bother to answer her question, but pushed her rudely out of the way, motioning to his men to enter the room. "Search the place," he ordered. "I don't want anything left unturned."

Hilde backed up against the small shop counter, reaching behind her to grasp for the handgun kept there in the hope it would never have to be used. /Quatre, get out. Get out now,/ she willed at him.

"Winner's here," yelled someone. "I've got him." There was an another yell, followed by what sounded like the kitchen table overturning, then several gunshots. "Damn it!"

"I want him alive, or at least fit enough to be able to convince that co operating would be in his best interest," Merquise called out, the tone of his voice reflecting his annoyance. "Same goes for that traitor, Barton." He paused, then continued under his breath, so she could hardly hear him. "Of course Winner is the priority. If the Corporal just happens to suffer a slight accident while he's being brought in, I can't be held responsible." His head came up, as he examined Hilde with renewed intensity. "You don't approve of my methods, Fraulein Schbeiker?" Merquise smiled, his lips thinning, before he reached out to pin her hands behind her back, her fingers dropping the gun to the floor with a clatter.

"Tsk, tsk. You weren't actually planning on using that, I hope." Merquise raised his voice. "Herr Doktor Winner, I suggest you show yourself if you want the young lady's good health to continue." He raised the gun she'd dropped to her head, and began to count slowly. Hilde closed her eyes. She wouldn't say anything, she wouldn't beg for her life. Merquise could die in hell before she'd give him the satisfaction.

/I'm sorry, Duo,/ she thought, wishing she'd been able to see him one last time.

******

Duo stopped, his head jerking up as a single gunshot pierced the quiet Berlin night. /Where the hell had that come from?/

Walker and Palmer skidded to a standstill, nearly colliding with them as they doubled back from where they'd gone on ahead. "Sergeant," panted Walker, trying to speak and catch his breath simultaneously. "Café.Gestapo."

Beside him Barton froze. Absently Duo heard him a whisper a name, but he was too concerned with the icy fingers of his own fear wrapping around his heart as the implication of those words sank in.

/Oh shit./ The American pilot barely registered the worried glances his team exchanged.

"Duo." began Heero, his usual harsh timbre replaced by an uncharacteristic gentleness, but Duo wasn't listening.

"No," he whispered. "Not Hilde.Please, not her, not now."

******

[1] St Michael's church was built between 1851-61 and was the second Catholic Church in the city. Today the centre part of it is still in ruins due to extensive damage during the Second World War.

 

Chapter Six

Maxwell stood perfectly still, supporting himself against a nearby lamp-post, his eyes glazed over while he faced some imagined horror only he could see, his frantic pleas having being replaced by silence as he tried to digest the information he'd just received. Even though strictly speaking, the Sergeant was the ranking officer, he was clearly in no state to give orders. Whatever his relationship was to Hilde, it was not the time to dwell on what might be happening in the café. Getting Quatre and the plans to safety was their priority.

"We need to secure all exits, and ascertain precisely what has happened. " Lowe spoke first, before Trowa could put his own thoughts into words. Obviously he'd come to a similar conclusion.

"It's damn obvious someone's been shot," Maxwell visibly pulled himself together, although his voice hitched slightly before the word 'shot'. "And we need to get in there, fast. Barton, take Walker and Palmer and secure the back entrance. We'll take the front."

"What if there's another exit?" asked Chang, disengaging the safety on the colt 45 already in his hand.

Maxwell shook his head, his matter-of- fact tone verifying Trowa's earlier suspicions regarding his knowledge of both the café and its owner. "There isn't. Not unless Hilde's been doing major renovations, which I doubt."

"We're probably more than outnumbered by Merquise and his men," Trowa spoke to point out the inadequacies of the plan. "It would more sensible to size up the situation first, before moving in. The shot might have been merely a warning. We don't know for certain that someone has been injured. If Doktor Winner and Hilde have been captured, it might pay to wait until." Hopefully the single shot they'd heard /had/ been a warning, nothing more. A grotesque mental image of Quatre - lying on the wooden floor of the café, his fair hair stained red with the blood dripping from a single bullet hole through his temple - entered his mind and Trowa quickly pushed it away. Merquise needed the scientist; there was no way the Gestapo officer would risk his death, nor Hilde's. Not when he could use the threat of her continuing 'good health' to ensure Quatre's co-operation.

Maxwell interrupted him. "I don't care." His previously calm voice had been replaced with an edge of desperation, making him both unpredictable and dangerous. "I'm not just sitting here and waiting. To hell with procedure." Lowe sighed, and attempted to lay a restraining hand on him, but Maxwell pushed him away. "Last time I looked, I was still in charge. We go in, and we go in now."

Chang turned to face Maxwell directly, his expression unreadable, his brow creasing into a frown. "All right, Maxwell, we'll do it your way, but don't attempt to play the hero because I am not going to come to your rescue." His tone changed; the subtle mix of pain and regret in it evident. "I understand why you are doing this; but don't lose sight of the reason we are here." He moved forward, following Maxwell and Lowe as they headed off into the darkness.

/The dynamics of this small group are certainly unusual for a military taskforce,/ thought Trowa. The Chinese man, in particular, did not seem very concerned with following the chain of command. Even Lowe had showed no hesitation in disagreeing with his commanding officer when he was clearly not thinking logically. Walker and Palmer, in stark contrast, stood to one side, their inexperience in the field obvious by their actions. Walker was fidgeting with a loose strand of cotton on his jacket, winding it around his fingers, then unwinding it; Palmer checked the safety on his gun over and over, as though he didn't trust it would fire correctly when needed.

"Keep your weapons ready, but don't use them unless you have to," Trowa instructed the two men, before signalling them to head out. His hand rested briefly on the small knife in his belt, his mind going over the various scenarios they might encounter and the best way of dealing with each eventuality, while he concentrated his attention on the task ahead.

As they approached the café, Trowa dropped into a half crouching position, motioning the two men behind him to be silent. Trowa could make out shadowy figures moving through the building, a blaze of light illuminating each room as they were thoroughly searched. Hopefully Quatre had escaped with the plans on him, or had hidden them extremely well.

Trowa edged closer, attempting to make out some of the conversation. He needed to evaluate the situation inside before he could even consider breaking cover. If the SS already had the plans, and Quatre was. dead, there would be no point in going further and risking unnecessary lives. Retreating and regrouping would be the better option. Trowa shivered, fastening the top button on his wool-lined jacket to keep out the cold he suspected was not wholly related to the current weather conditions.

"Colonel Merquise, I've found them." Mueller's voice shattered the silence, before the light was extinguished in the small attic room.

/Damn./ Was he referring to the plans, or to Quatre and Hilde? Trowa strained his ears to learn more, trying to stifle his annoyance at the fidgeting going on behind him. He turned, placing one finger against his lips to remind the two soldiers that their very survival depended on no one noticing them. Trowa caught a slight movement out of the corner of one eye, and quickly focused his attention towards the back entrance of the café. Someone was attempting to re-enter the café, unnoticed.

Trowa frowned. Re-enter? The moon moved from its hiding place behind a cloud, illuminating the figure trying to blend in unsuccessfully against an organised pile of crates and the back wall of the old building. Blond hair shone like a beacon, giving the enemy a clear target they couldn't miss at close range. /Quatre?/

Trowa moved quickly, ignoring the muffled protests of the two men behind him. "Stay there," he hissed over his shoulder, not wanting to risk them jeopardising Quatre's life further by their incompetence. Quatre was moving again, glancing around before putting a tentative hand on the heavy wooden door. Trowa acted on instinct and ran, hoping that he could reach the scientist before it was too late. His feet left the ground as he propelled himself the last few feet, his body connecting with the blond's, knocking them both sideways to land in a crumpled heap on the ground. He wrapped one arm around Quatre's waist from behind, and placed his right hand over the blond's mouth, quickly dragging him behind the crates, before he could react.

Quatre struggled, bringing his leg up to attempt to kick his assailant in the crotch, and sank his teeth into Trowa's hand. Trowa strengthened his hold, and whispered in his captive's ear. "Quatre, it's me."

Immediately Quatre went limp, the fight leaving him before he twisted to meet Trowa's gaze. Relief reflected in his eyes, as his breathing evened, and he attempted to pull Trowa's hand away from his mouth.

Trowa loosened his grip on Quatre, bringing his now free hand up to press a single finger against his own lips as a warning, before allowing the blond to speak. "Trowa. Thank God, it's you." Quatre spoke in a whisper, following Trowa's advice. But before he could continue, the voices from inside rose in pitch as they approached the outside door, close to where the two were hiding. Trowa dropped into a half crouch, and Quatre, having moved so they were now side by side, quickly followed suit. It wouldn't do to be discovered now, not when they'd gotten this far.

Colonel Merquise wasn't attempting to keep the annoyance out of his voice as he dressed down his men. "Herr Doktor Winner is merely a scientist, with no experience in such matters. How could you allow him to escape?"

Nichol's reply was respectful and apologetic. "We had him sir - he seemed to be co-operating."

"Seemed?" Merquise queried, a note of sarcasm entering his tone. "Even in dealing with amateurs I would think with your training, you would know enough not to let your guard down." He paused. "So he overpowered you and escaped?"

"No sir. He somehow managed to slip free of Mueller's grasp by wriggling out of his jacket. Then he upturned the table, and escaped in the confusion.Sir."

"But we won't be making that mistake again, will we, Corporal?"

Trowa could imagine Nichol bringing his heels together sharply and saluting. "No, sir, we will not." Nichol was very concerned with appearances, and would not have appreciated being made a fool of in front of his superior officer. The man had a tendency to hold grudges, as Trowa himself had found out while sharing a barracks with him. This trait, unfortunately, made him all the more dangerous - and probably all the more determined to apprehend the man who had caused him to 'fall from grace' in Merquise's eyes.

Trowa placed his hand on Quatre's shoulder, signalling it was time to move out. Quatre shook his head firmly, and Trowa frowned. "Quatre." he whispered, trying to instil the gravity of the situation into that one word.

"I can't," whispered back the scientist. "Hilde is still in there, and.and I heard a gunshot. If she's in trouble, it's because of me. I won't be responsible for anymore death or suffering." His voice shook, then he removed Trowa's hand, turning away as he pulled himself into an upright position.

Trowa shook his head, "You can't blame yourself. Hilde knew the risks - she wouldn't want you to place yourself in danger. We are leaving, now."

Quatre's voice was low, but cold. "You may go, if you wish, but I'm not leaving Hilde in there with Colonel Merquise."

Trowa shook his head, admiring the other man for his courage, but at the same time wondering how he could possibly be so naïve. Did he truly expect that giving himself up would help Hilde in any way? Was Hilde even still alive? She would have been useful to Merquise to use against Quatre, but since the scientist was still free.."Quatre, we don't even know if Hilde is still alive. We are leaving. Now."

Quatre stood there unmoving, so Trowa snaked his arm around the smaller man's chest and began physically pulling him away from the scene. Quatre dug his heels in and refused to move, his face turning white, as his previous stubbornness turned to anger. "How dare you? Hilde needs my help."

Trowa pulled the blond closer, and turned Quatre to face him. He could feel the ragged breaths from Quatre on his cheek, see the sweat on his forehead, and the anger reflected in his eyes. He ignored them, instead placing one hand on each side of Quatre's face to hold him still, so that the scientist had no choice but to listen.

"I know you want to help Hilde, but now is not the time. We need to get you to safety, that's the priority."

Quatre tried to shake his head again, but couldn't with the hold Trowa had him in. "Damn the priorities. I won't do this, Trowa. I can't." His voice cracked into a sob, his tone bordering on hysteria.

"Yes, you can. And you will." Trowa didn't wait to hear the arguments he knew Quatre would give, but shifted his hands down to grasp the blond firmly around the waist, lifting the smaller man into the air, and onto his shoulder before he had a chance to realise what was happening and react.

"What the hell?" Quatre struggled, his voice raising in volume several notches as Trowa began moving back towards where he'd left Walker and Palmer.

A shout came from within the café, and Trowa realised they'd been seen. "We can do it this way, or you can run," he told Quatre. "If I put you down we have a better chance of escaping, but either way you are not surrendering to the Gestapo, while we still have a choice. Do you understand?"

Silence.

"Quatre?" The blond's head moved up and down against Trowa's back, and he paused long enough to set him on his feet. "Straight ahead, quickly. You'll find two men, stay with them until I get there. I'll be right behind you."

"But."

"Go. Now." Trowa gave him a push and dropped to a kneeling position, reaching for the Luger he'd hidden in his jacket. "Now, Quatre." He fired the weapon, once, then twice at the oncoming soldiers, then a third time, this time aiming for the sole light source in the small alley. The shot hit its target with deadly accuracy, plunging the area into sudden darkness.

The men pursuing him cursed loudly, fumbling around in the dark, and Trowa permitted himself a small smile as he headed in the direction he'd sent Quatre, feeling his way through familiar surroundings until he came to where he'd left the two Allies a short time before.

Walker had his weapon in his hand, and aimed it at Trowa as he approached. "Who's there?" he called. "Barton, is that you?" Trowa mentally rolled his eyes; it was a miracle these men had survived as long as they had. It was becoming more and more obvious that this was their first time in the field - and a credit to Maxwell that he'd kept them alive so far.

"Lower your weapon," he ordered, glancing around. "Where are Palmer and Doktor Winner?" Surely Quatre had managed to get at least this far?

"Doktor Winner?" Walker blushed. "The blond gentleman?" His British accent seemed more prominent as he realised his mistake. "He wouldn't tell us who he was, sir. Just that you'd sent him.and.we were expecting someone older. Sir."

Trowa raised one eyebrow. "And?" This should be interesting. He hadn't heard any gunfire, so he presumed Quatre was safe, but he had to wonder what had earth had happened during the few minutes it had taken him to stall their pursuers.

"Palmer has him over here, sir." He followed the soldier quickly, as they made their way to the nearby park opposite the entrance of the alley. Quatre was sitting on a bench, his hands raised, a frustrated expression on his face, as he tried to convince Palmer that the gun pointed at him wasn't necessary.

Quatre lowered his hands as he saw them approach, but quickly resumed his previous position, as Palmer made a show of waving the gun at him again. "Trowa, could you please tell your friend that I'm on your side." He paused. "I know these men aren't part of the German army, but."

"What makes you so sure we aren't?" asked Palmer suspiciously.

Quatre sighed. "For one thing your weapons are Colt 45s, which are usually American Government issue; we Germans prefer Lugers. Secondly," and he pointed at Walker. "When you were speaking English before.your friend's London accent is fairly prominent."

Trowa stifled a smile. "Palmer, lower your weapon. This is Doktor Winner, he can be trusted," he confirmed, giving Quatre a small nod of approval. Obviously the information he'd been given on the Herr Doktor wasn't as complete as he'd been led to assume. It would be interesting to learn what else had been missing from the dossier Iria had given them. Even under these trying circumstances, the scientist's mind was still sharp - his fear and earlier near hysteria hadn't dampened his powers of observation in the least.

"If you were so convinced we weren't Gestapo, why didn't you tell us who you were?" Walker asked. "It would have saved us all a lot of trouble." He glanced over at Trowa, suddenly aware he may have stepped out of line. "Sorry, sir," he mumbled.

"You were so busy assuming I wasn't Doktor Winner, I decided not to waste my breath to convince you otherwise." Quatre shrugged. "Besides, the conversation was.interesting. And I knew Trowa.Corporal Barton would be along shortly. It was easier to wait." His eyes shifted out of focus for a moment, then he glanced at Trowa. "Did you manage to lose them?"

Trowa nodded. "For now, but probably not for long." He glanced behind him, and then issued orders to the two men quickly. "Walker, Palmer. Go find the Sergeant and inform him that I am taking Doktor Winner to another safe house. I'll get a message to him using our mutual contact when it's safe. And men.you are not to engage the enemy under any circumstances. If Maxwell and the others are not in the position they should be, make your way back to the church."

The men nodded. "Yes, sir." They saluted and headed back into the darkness. Trowa watched them go, and then turned his attention to Quatre.

"Are you all right?" asked the blond, shivering and Trowa realised the shirt the other man wore wasn't anywhere near adequate protection against the night air.

"I've slowed them down, but that's all. We need to go, it's harder to track a target if it's moving." Trowa slipped off his jacket and offered it to Quatre. "You're cold."

"But."

"I'll be fine. We can alternate and both keep warm." Quatre opened his mouth to protest but was interrupted by the sudden squeal of rubber from the nearby road; it was quickly followed by the sound of pounding feet and dogs barking.

"Dogs," Quatre turned pale. "They're using dogs. Trowa, we can't out run dogs. I've read about their tracking ability. You should go. It's me they're looking for, not you."

"We're not going through this again. The priority is to get you to safety."

"No." Quatre shook his head. "No more. I won't be responsible for anymore death." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Especially not yours. You've done more than enough for me already."

"Quatre, you are being unreasonable."

"I'm trying to do what is right."

"I'm not leaving you for the Gestapo to find." Trowa knew what would happen if Merquise got his hands on Quatre, and there was no way that was going to happen while he was in charge of ensuring the scientist's safety. "Do I have to pick you up and carry you again?"

Quatre backed up against the bench seat. "Don't even think about it, Trowa Barton," he warned. "You might have caught me by surprise once, but I won't allow it to happen again. Go, please. I have enough blood on my hands."

Trowa moved closer, trying to reason with the stubborn blond. "Quatre.we can discuss this later."

Quatre's next words were spoken quietly, almost to himself, as though Trowa wasn't meant to hear them. "I've already lost one person I care about. I'm not making the same mistake twice. It's too late for David but."

A new voice interrupted, and Trowa spun around to come face to face with Lieutenant Nichol. "It seems as though you should have listened to the Herr Doktor and got out while you still could, Barton."

Trowa drew his weapon, aiming for Nichol's gun but the man laughed.

"Trowa," Quatre's voice sounded choked, and Trowa turned again to see Mueller standing behind his friend, the barrel of his gun pointed against the blond's temple.

"Lower your weapon, Barton, and place it on the ground at your feet," Nichol instructed him with a smirk. "Unless you'd like Mueller to prove how difficult it is to miss a target at this close a range."

Trowa glanced between the two men, weighing up the situation, and then slowly followed Nichol's instructions. /I'm sorry, Quatre,/ he thought, raising his hands in surrender.

"Trowa, no!"

******

"What the hell is going on in there?" Duo slipped his Colt back into the waistband of his trousers, and edged further forward, closer to where Heero had the café under surveillance. Staying in the priest's outfit had been a good move - being dressed totally in black, apart from the white 'dog collar' was good camouflage in the darkness.

"They appear to be searching the building, room by room," Heero observed, not shifting position as Duo crouched down beside him. The American nodded, trying to make out details, but not having much luck, as shadowy figures lit first one room, then the next.

/Hilde, be okay. Please./ Duo shivered, his fingers playing with the end of his braid, as he waited for some sign, any sign to indicate what their next move should be. Part of him needed to storm the place, the other had decided that Wufei was right. And so far the practical side of him was in control. However, he wasn't sure how long he could hang out. The waiting and not knowing were killing the tiny sliver of hope he had left.

/God, please. Look after Hilde. I know I don't ask you for much, but just this time. Please./ Ironic that the first time he'd prayed in years would be while he was masquerading as a priest. If Father Maxwell from the orphanage could see him now, he wasn't sure what his reaction would be. Pleased that he was fighting for the good guys, maybe a small frown of disapproval at his attire. But still the old guy had always had a good sense of humour. Duo smiled at the memory - the priest hadn't had much choice, if he'd intended to survive the 'orphan from hell.'

"Colonel Merquise, I've found them." The light coming from what was probably some kind of attic room, died shortly after the man's voice called out to his superior. /Them?/ What the hell was he referring to? Duo groaned, his hand twitching over his weapon as he tried to calm himself, tried not to think the worst.

Merquise was the guy running the operation, Duo figured, adding up the facts. Barton had given him the impression the Gestapo officer was very capable, and should be treated with caution. Getting Old Doc Winner out of the country was going to be a fun addition to the task ahead. Maybe he should try to convince Hilde that she should come stateside with them as well- after this there was no way she would be safe in Germany. The life expectancy of a known collaborator wasn't too long, and as they already had an extra person along for the ride.

If only she'd come with him in the first time he'd asked. Duo sighed. But by the time he'd left Berlin for America, their relationship had been over, although he suspected she had been trying to convince herself there was still hope for them. He wasn't sure what had gone wrong between them, - the two years they'd had together had been good, and more importantly they had remained close friends, keeping in contact until the war had prevented them from doing so. /I'm sorry, Hilde. Maybe if I had been satisfied with running the café, and following your dream, we'd still be together./ He'd seen domestic bliss on the horizon, but had decided he needed to find himself first. Part of him hadn't been sure that Hilde was the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with either. Sure she was fun, and he loved her. But the whole commitment thing had made him unsure.

"There are at least half a dozen men under Merquise's command." Wufei slid in beside Heero, giving his report. "And no, Maxwell, I didn't see anyone else, although I did overheard the Colonel dressing down one of his men. Apparently this Doktor Winner has escaped."

Duo nodded, relieved that at least something seemed to be working in their favour. Maybe if the Doc had escaped, Hilde had too? After all if an old guy could get away.

"What the hell?" The words carried clearly through the quiet night air, and the three men exchanged glances as the café suddenly came to life.

Heero shifted his weight onto both elbows and trained his glasses back towards the building. "Something's happening," he informed them in his usual brusque tone. "The Gestapo are in pursuit of /someone./" He shook his head, running a hand through his mop of dark hair, in a gesture of frustration. "Whatever is happening it seems to be taking place at the rear of the building. It's difficult to ascertain."

"Barton is supposed to be covering the rear." Wufei interrupted and rose to his feet. "Maybe the Germans have become aware of his presence?" He glanced around, ready for Duo to give the order to move in.

Duo frowned. "I doubt it. He struck me as the careful type, very efficient. Maybe if this Winner is on the loose, it's him they've seen?" /Or Hilde./ No, Hilde had to be long gone. Maybe that shot had been a warning; fired at Hilde and the Doc as they'd escaped? Yeah, that made sense.

Whatever was going down, it was time to move in, make their presence known. The Gestapo had done enough damage for one night - the thought of them in Hilde's café, in their café, already annoyed the hell out of him. There was no way he could sit here while they bastards went after her to do who knew what; not when he could do something to stop them, or at least slow them down. "Right," Duo started to say - and stopped.

Two loud gun shots sounded in rapid succession, quickly followed by a third. "Damn," muttered Heero. "The only light's just been hit. There's no possibility of making anything out clearly at this distance now."

Duo grinned, as a thought occurred to him. "Sneaky bastard," he muttered under his breath. He knew what he would have done under the circumstances and hopefully Barton had followed the same line of reasoning. No way would the pursuing Germans have deliberately shot out the only light source when they were tracking their enemies, and he doubted their aim was that bad. Nah, must have been Barton. And if he had things under control back there, there was a good chance Hilde was still okay.

"Okay, guys." He pulled out his Colt and gripped it firmly in both hands, motioning for Heero and Wufei to follow. "It's time we showed those Gestapo types that it doesn't pay to mess with the good guys."

Wufei and Heero exchanged amused glances before they drew their own weapons. "I'm almost afraid to ask which one of us is Tonto," said Heero dryly, ignoring the puzzled response from his Chinese companion.

Duo grinned. "Hi-Yo, Silver. Come on, let's go catch us some bad guys." Heero glared at him, and Duo laughed. "Aww, Heero, don't be such a spoilsport."

"Typical," muttered Heero. "He gets to be the Lone Ranger, I get stuck with the horse." He and Duo moved out quickly, turning to gesture to Wufei to follow.

The other man was standing there, shaking his head slowly. "Americans," he muttered under his breath, speeding up to narrow the distance between himself and the others. [1]

Duo paused at the corner of the street. "The back entrance to the café is opposite the park. We can survey the situation from there, before moving in."

"Sarge!" Walker skidded to a halt in front of them, Palmer almost colliding into him, as they approached the entrance to the alley, carefully keeping to the shadows. The moon couldn't decide whether to stay behind the clouds, providing them with cover, or to show itself and give away their position. Finally Duo had decided that using the cover of the buildings lining the alley would be the way to go. It would be slower, but worth it.

"Where's Barton?" asked Duo. /And Hilde?/ Both men stood for a moment, hands resting on their knees in a half bent position as they caught their breath. Finally Palmer spoke.

"He's taken Doktor Winner to a safe house, sir. Told us to let you know he'd contact you when it's safe."

Duo nodded. At least Barton and Winner were safe. "Was anyone else with them? A woman?"

Both men shook their heads, and seemed puzzled by the question. "Did you see anyone else in the café, or leaving the area?" Hopefully a description would help. "Slim lady, green eyes, short dark hair?"

"No, sir."

Damn. Where the hell was she? Duo swallowed, as he came to the only conclusion left open to him. "She must be still at the café. Shit."

"Shh," hissed Wufei from his position as look out. "I hear something."

Duo motioned his men back, pressing himself against the wall to avoid being seen, and they followed suit. Several seconds later the squeal of rubber against the road signalled the arrival of a large truck pulling into a nearby sidewalk. An SS officer opened the rear door, standing back as several men accompanied by dogs exited the vehicle.

"They shouldn't have got far," someone said, the authority in his voice giving a fair indication that this was the man in charge. "Nichol, take Mueller with you and head towards the park. The rest of you spread out."

"Yes, Colonel."

"Meet back at the truck when you find them. Dermail wants them both taken into custody, minimum damage." Merquise's tone hardened. "Personally I don't care what their state of health is, when they are brought in." He paused. " Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Colonel." Another pause. "What state of health would you /prefer,/ sir?"

"I'll leave that up to your discretion, Nichol. Of course, if they resist arrest, use whatever means necessary to ensure they don't escape. We have the plans, so at this point our main concern is ensuring they can't be duplicated." Merquise laughed, and Duo shivered. The man seriously had a screw loose, or he just enjoyed inflicting pain on others. Whatever the story, it was obvious that this Winner, and Barton, had annoyed the hell out of him. "And of course, at least to my understanding, now Dr J is dead, the only person capable of doing that is Winner."

"But Dermail."

"Dermail isn't running this recovery operation, I am. After all, we did try our best to bring them in unharmed. Traitors to the Third Reich need to be dealt with appropriately." Merquise sighed. "Do I make myself clear? Oh and Nichol? I'm returning to headquarters shortly. Don't disappoint me."

"No, sir. You can count on me to /execute/ your orders, Colonel."

/Hilde? What about Hilde?/ Yes, this Merquise was a nasty piece of work. Hopefully Barton had got the scientist well clear, because otherwise their chances of survival weren't looking too good. Duo shuddered. That last line of Nichol's and the emphasis on the word execute had left him in no doubt that both SS officers would prefer them dead rather than alive.

A few minutes later the area was quiet again, the sound of dogs and men growing quieter as the search for the fugitives drifted away from the alley. A car door slammed shut, and an engine roared to life signalling Merquise's departure.

"Right," Duo told the others. "I'm going in. Lowe, Chang - cover me. Walker, Palmer - head back to the church where it's safe and await further orders. We need someone there in case Barton and Winner show."

"Duo." Heero's voice was gentle, but firm. "You don't need to do this. Wufei or I can."

Duo interrupted him, his voice harsh. "I gave you an order, soldier. Cover me, I'm going in." /I'm sorry, Heero, but I do need to do this. Hilde's going to be scared; it's better if it's someone she knows./ He gripped his Colt in one hand, surveyed his surroundings, and headed for the pile of crates by the back door.

/Still as organised as ever,/ he thought, noticing with a grin, how neatly they were stacked. Hilde hated a mess. Everything had to be just so. She'd complained about his ideas of paperwork too.

/You're a slob,/ she'd told him.

A lump formed in his throat, as he remembered his reply. /Yeah, but cute with it, right?/

Duo rolled, taking cover behind the crates. He checked for signs of the enemy presence, found none, and moved again, giving Heero and Wufei the all clear. Obviously Merquise and his men were too concerned with tracking the fugitives to worry about the café owner. Poor Hilde. The Colonel had probably left her bound and gagged so she couldn't interfere with his plans, after deciding she wasn't a threat. The bastard. No one messed with his friends. If Merquise had hurt Hilde, Duo would kill him slowly, piece by piece.

Duo opened the heavy wooden door slowly, cautiously, and peered inside. "Hilde?" he whispered, half expecting to hear her muffled curses from behind whatever she'd been gagged with.

"Hilde?"

He checked the kitchen first, noticing the upturned table, the vase he'd given her for her birthday the first year they'd been a couple lying smashed on the floor. Shit, Hilde was going to love this.

"Hilde?" Where the hell was she?

Duo replaced the safety on his gun, lifted his jacket and secured the weapon down his back waistband. "Hilde?" Of course, the shop. Why hadn't he thought of it before? He swung the dividing door between the two areas open, eyes scanning the room as he frantically hunted for any sign of her.

"God, Hilde, you scared the shit out of me." Duo offered a silent prayer of thanks as he made out the slender figure sitting slumped in the chair behind the counter. "Hilde?" Merquise must have knocked her unconsciousness. Easier than taking the time to find something to restrain her with, was it? Bastard.

He placed one hand on her shoulder, and his breath hitched. Cold, why did she feel so cold? "Poor baby," he muttered. "I'll take you somewhere warm after this. You'll never have to worry about cold Berlin winters again."

Duo wrapped both arms around her, and went to lift her from the chair. Her head fell back limply, the moon catching them in a sudden illumination, as he ran a hand gently through her hair, brushing it off her forehead so that he could see her properly.

He swallowed, watching the congealed blood from the single bullet hole spread over his hands in slow motion. No!

Duo backed away, attempting to wipe the blood on his shirt - his breath hitched and he let out a sob. "No, Please," he whispered. "No, not Hilde. Please God, not her, not now."

******

[1] The Lone Ranger radio programme launched in 1933 and was very popular in the States. It followed the adventures of a masked hero, his sidekick Tonto, and of course his trusty horse, Silver. "Hi-Yo, Silver' was his catchphrase.
 
 

Chapter Seven

Trowa glanced between his gun lying at his feet and Quatre, weighing up his lack of options. Mueller had taken a step back, but his finger was still on the trigger - Trowa suspected that if it weren't for the fact they needed the scientist, Quatre's life expectancy wouldn't be any longer than his own. "Don't give them the information they want," he told Quatre. /Once they have that there is no reason to keep you alive./

Quatre swallowed hard, clenching his fists into a ball, and then releasing them. When he spoke his tone was calm and icy. "I have no intention of co-operating with these gentlemen."

Nichol laughed again, and Trowa grew cold as the implications of the man's next words sunk in. "Your /co-operation/ is no longer required, Doktor Winner, so your intentions do not concern me." /Damn, they must have found the plans./

Nichol motioned with his weapon, indicating a small area of trees further into the park. Trowa glanced towards Quatre, trying to determine if he'd realised the reason behind the Gestapo officer's action. Their planned execution had less chance of attracting attention in an isolated place; and would fit in well with the scenario of resisting arrest if there were no witnesses.

Quatre's shoulders sagged for a moment before he moved to stand next to Trowa; Nichol and Mueller bringing up the rear. "Dr J is dead," he pointed out, as they walked. "Your superiors are fools if they believe the plans are all that are needed to build this weapon." His eyes met Trowa's and there was regret and sadness reflected in them. "Besides." Quatre paused, turning to address Nichol directly, "they aren't complete. You need me, no matter what you've been told to the contrary."

A hand on his shoulder forced Trowa to stop, while Nichol digested the new information. The brunet turned slowly; making any sudden moves at this point wouldn't be sensible - Nichol would only interpret the action as a reason to kill them now rather than in a few moments time. The longer they could stay alive, the better their chances of survival became.

"My orders are to deliver you to Colonel Merquise. And since he's under the impression that your presence is no longer required for this project to continue, I'm going to disregard your previous comments." Nichol informed Quatre, smirking, before indicating they should continue walking. "Nice try, Winner, but you'll have to do better than that. If you want to beg for your life, I suggest you try getting down on your hands and knees."

Quatre shook his head, and refused to move. "Corporal Barton."

/What on earth is he trying to accomplish?/ Trowa didn't believe the scientist was 'begging for his life' as Nichol was assuming. Could he be correct regarding his comment about the incompleteness of the plans?

"Barton is a traitor to the third Reich and will be dealt with accordingly." Nichol paused. "As are you."

If Quatre were bluffing, he was playing a very dangerous game. Knowing the techniques Merquise would employ to attempt to extract information - it was a game he would be hard pressed to win. The fact that Quatre had no information to give wouldn't concern Merquise; he'd be seeking the truth and wouldn't be satisfied until he was given the version of it he required. Trowa inwardly shivered, remembering the time he'd interrupted one such interrogation session a few months before. The man the Colonel had been 'convincing' to talk had been a suspected collaborator from the White Rose group [1]. He had been innocent of the charges brought against him, or so Trowa had found out later from other surviving members of the disbanded resistance cell, but that hadn't concerned Merquise. The man had been shaking, tremors racking his body from whatever Dr S and his associates had done to help ensure 'co-operation'. However, the signs of obvious physical torture hadn't been what had wedged itself into Trowa's mind, but the lifelessness, and lack of hope reflected in the prisoner's eyes. The man before him was already dead inside, trapped inside a purgatory of living hell.

He couldn't allow Quatre's inner light to be killed slowly and painfully in this way; even quick death by a firing squad of two would be preferable to Merquise's methods. "Quatre." Trowa began, but Nichol took a step towards him, bringing up his knee to connect with the brunet's stomach. Trowa let out a hiss of pain, but stood his ground.

"As I said, Herr Doktor Winner, traitors will be dealt with accordingly."

"And, as /I/ said, Lieutenant Nichol, the plans are incomplete. You need me." Quatre paused. "I can't allow any more people to die." His voice lowered to a whisper, then he let out a small sob. "Let Barton live, and I'll co-operate."

/Quatre, no!/ Trowa glanced at the blond, trying to figure out what he was attempting to gain by his actions. He knew the other man's conscience had been one of the deciding factors bringing him to the conclusion that he needed to leave the project, but surely this was undoing everything he'd managed to achieve so far?

Mueller stifled a small snicker, and lowered his gun slightly. Quatre tensed; then quite deliberately adopted a look of resignation, his shoulders slumping as though all the fight had gone out of him.

"Colonel Merquise will be interested to hear of your proposition," stated Nichol, a small smile creeping over his face, as he relaxed his stance. "However."

Quatre gave the man a small hopeful look, before stepping forward, towards Mueller, and tilting his head to covertly meet Trowa's eyes. /His/ eyes were bright and focused; it was the look of a man who had nothing to lose and everything to gain. /What on earth?/

Nichol motioned to Mueller to restrain the scientist, and Quatre held out his hands as though bowing to the inevitable. Mueller reached into his greatcoat, [2] retrieving a pair of handcuffs, and secured his gun in his holster. "Hands behind your back," the soldier told him, moving to twist one of the blond's arms around sharply behind him. Quatre let out a small curse, and doubled over in pain. When Mueller loosened his grip, the blond uncurled, launching himself at the SS officer, both men hitting the ground with a loud thud. Quatre grabbed the gun from the shoulder holster, rolled, and pulled himself into an upright position, aiming his newly acquired weapon at the surprised man.

Trowa moved quickly towards Nichol, connecting with the soldier's gun arm in an attempt to throw off his aim, as several shots were fired in Quatre's direction. The brunet's hand closed over Nichol's and the two men struggled for control of the weapon. Trowa didn't dare distract himself by glancing over in Quatre's direction. The scientist had surprised him with his actions - he'd been expecting something, but not this. Quatre was obviously a lot more capable than Trowa had previously been led to believe.

"Damn you," hissed Nichol, bringing the gun, wedged between their right hands, hard against Trowa's shoulder, causing the brunet to wince in pain. Trowa brought one foot up behind Nichol's, tripping him and upsetting his balance - sending them both into a nearby tree. Nichol's arm twisted awkwardly behind him as he fell, trapped between the large trunk of the tree and his body. Trowa's fist connected with the SS officer's jaw, and Nichol cursed again, before attempting to respond by slamming his knee into Trowa's groin. Trowa shifted, using his other hand to stop him, and twisted Nichol's leg to one side with a sharp crack. Nichol grunted, then went limp, the gun falling from his grasp and hitting the grass with a thump.

Trowa reached inside Nichol's pocket, retrieving a set of standard issue SS handcuffs identical to the ones Mueller had attempted to use on Quatre, and cuffed the man roughly, leaving him slumped at the bottom of the tree.

"Are you all right?"

Quatre nodded quickly, glancing up from where he was securing Mueller to another tree with the handcuffs he'd narrowly escaped being restrained with himself. He rose to his feet shakily, using the tree as leverage. Trowa frowned, noticing the almost grey tinge to the already pale complexion. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Quatre nodded. "I'm just not used to all this exercise; the last few years have been spent mainly sitting behind a desk. I'll be all right in a moment, just need to catch my breath. " He glanced around nervously, wincing while one hand absently rubbed his left shoulder. "The ground is harder than it looks."

"Do you want me to look at that shoulder for you?" asked Trowa, but Quatre shook his head. He'd make a point of examining it later, once they'd found somewhere safe to hide for the remainder of the night. The Gestapo would be storming the park very soon - they needed to be well clear before that happened. Michaelskirche was probably the wisest choice under the circumstances. Hopefully the two Allied soldiers had reached Maxwell and the mission could proceed as planned. If not - Trowa mentally shook his head, his mind working through possible ways to adapt the existing scenario. Hilde and Iria had been his only contacts in Berlin, and with Hilde missing.

He observed Quatre carefully, as they walked briskly through the park. The blond had one hand resting on his hidden firearm, as did Trowa, just in case they met with any opposition. It was after curfew, and anyone caught breaking it would be automatically arrested. Quatre winced again, and Trowa frowned. /Something's wrong,/ he thought, /and whatever it is, it's getting worse./ "Are you sure you're all right?"

Quatre hesitated before nodding, but Trowa could see his steps growing slower, more deliberate, almost as though it were becoming an effort just to stay upright. "I'm. Fine," he replied, through gritted teeth.

"Quatre, you're not fine." They stopped under a nearby light, and Quatre let out a small moan of pain, swaying as his legs decided they weren't going to co-operate any longer. Trowa hooked his arms around Quatre's waist, pulling him close so that he could rest his head on his shoulder. "It's all right, I've got you." Quatre's breathing was ragged, his face covered in beads of perspiration, and his eyes glazed, as he fought to stay conscious.

"Quatre?"

Quatre pulled away, his hand reaching inside the jacket Trowa had given him to rub at his shoulder again, as he bit down on his lip in an effort to hide the pain. He frowned, seeming puzzled; then he shifted his hand, bringing it into the light to stare at it. "Trowa," he said slowly. "Is that blood?"

Blood? /Oh God./ Trowa's mind went back to the gunfight, and the couple of shots Nichol had managed to let off in Quatre's direction before he'd been overpowered.

Quatre was staring at his hand, almost as though he didn't believe it was his. His eyes began to close; then he blinked, letting out a small whimper. "I feel strange," he whispered faintly, gripping Trowa's jersey in an attempt to steady himself. Trowa grasped Quatre's elbows to help, but Quatre shivered, and ignored him as he struggled to pull the borrowed jacket tighter around him.

"Quatre, you need to stay awake." Trowa slid the jacket around his friend, before shifting his arms to around Quatre's waist, ready to support him if needed.

"I'm sorry, Trowa." His eyes fluttered, then he slowly opened them. "I'll try, but I'm so tired." He groaned, his head drooping before he pulled himself awake once more. "I just need to sleep. I'll be all right once I sleep." Quatre stared at his hand again then slid it back into his jacket, giving Trowa a small smile. "I only wanted to make the world a better place. I tried to stop the nightmare. Please, Trowa, you have help.put.things.right." Quatre's eyes began to close, and he shivered again. "It's cold.so cold."

Trowa lowered his friend gently to the ground, and felt for a pulse. It was fast and irregular, Quatre's skin cold and clammy under his touch. "Quatre.please. Look at me, try and focus." His fingers shook as he eased the jacket down from the shoulder Quatre had been favouring - the inside was soaked in blood; but it was hard to tell how bad the wound was, only that it had been obviously seeping for quite some time. God, how had he managed to get this far? If he didn't get Quatre to a doctor and soon. Pulling his handkerchief from his pocket, Trowa rolled it into a makeshift pad, pressing the cloth against the wound in the hope the pressure might help staunch the flow of blood.

"Thank you." Trowa barely heard the whispered words before the grip on his jersey loosened and his friend slipped into unconsciousness. He bent to lift Quatre into his arms, pausing as a dog barking nearby was followed by the sound of men shouting.

"The dogs are picking up on something. It looks like blood."

******

"Duo?"

No. This couldn't be happening. Any minute Hilde would open her eyes, and tell him it was all a bad dream. Duo glanced down at the stains on his shirt. Black was really good at hiding the dirt, hiding all the bad stuff in life.

"Duo?" Couldn't whoever it was see he was busy? He had to look after Hilde, make sure that nothing bad happened to her. Duo wiped his hands down his shirt again. Black was also good for shrouds, he remembered absently. Black was the symbol for death.

"Duo?" the voice grew more insistent. Why couldn't it just leave him alone? Duo felt a hand on his shoulder, and he tried to shrug it off but without success. "Duo?" asked the voice again, and he turned to tell it to go away, only to meet Heero's concerned stare.

"She's.dead, Heero. I didn't get here in time." He choked back a sob. "The bastard killed her and I wasn't here to protect her."

"It wasn't your fault," Heero told him. "You probably couldn't have done anything, even if you had been here." He paused. "War is an evil thing. People die, Duo. Good people, and there's nothing you and I can do to stop that."

Duo shook his head and cradled Hilde in his arms, rocking her back and forth. "I won't believe that. I can't believe that." His tone grew bitter. "I'm going to take her killer apart piece and piece."

Another voice entered the conversation. "And what will that achieve?" Wufei's voice was tinged with an emotion Duo couldn't quite put his finger on, and he wasn't about to attempt to figure it out. At present, all he was interested in was his own brand of retribution. "It's not going to turn back the clock. She's still going to be dead, Max.Duo."

"Go to hell, Chang," Duo spat out his reply. "What the hell would you know? You've never seen your loved ones die, never held them in your arms knowing you should have tried harder to save them." Damn them all to hell. Duo shivered and drew Hilde closer to him. Maybe if he talked to her, told her how much he was going to miss her, it might make things better.

Wufei took a step back, his voice hoarse. "You know nothing about what I know or what I've been through." He sounded angry. "Don't confuse justice with revenge, Maxwell." The Chinese man muttered something under his breath in his native tongue. "I." Wufei stopped, then shrugged. "Do what you damn well want."

Heero stepped between the two men. "This isn't the time or place," he told them. "Chang, I suggest you go back to the church and make sure Walker and Palmer are staying out of trouble. I'll follow you shortly."

Wufei snorted. "I don't believe you have the authority to give the orders, Lowe. I know I don't belong to your precious American airforce, but I refuse to be treated like an inferior just because of it."

Duo interrupted. "Guys, please. I just need." His voice hitched. "I need some time to." To what? What did he need the damn time to do? It was too late to /do/ anything. With the situation the way it was, he couldn't even stay to make sure she received a decent burial. Merquise and his goons could be back at anytime, and the longer they stayed here the more danger they were in.

"I'll go to the church; someone with /some/ experience needs to be there in case Barton and Doktor Winner decide to put in an appearance." Wufei headed for the door, pausing as he opened it. His expression visibly softened. "Take as long as you need. It might help you to find the peace I couldn't." Then he was gone, leaving Duo alone with Heero.and Hilde.

"Heero." Duo started to say. Part of him didn't want to be alone, the other part knew he needed space to get through this. Saying goodbye to Hilde was going to be rough, but he couldn't just leave her here, without explaining to her why he'd left. He owed her that much.

"It's all right. You need to say your goodbyes in private." Heero gave him a small nod. "I understand." He raked one hand through his hair, opened his mouth, then closed it again.

/For God's sake Heero just get on with it. If you want to say something, say it. We're running out of time here./

"Take whatever time you need." Heero's eyes glazed over slightly, as though he were taking a trip down memory lane, before he echoed Wufei's earlier sentiments. "If you don't you will regret it." And offering no further explanation for his comment, he slipped out the front door of the café into the night.

Duo stared after Heero for a few minutes, then attempted to collect himself. He carried Hilde into the living area, and laid her gently on the sofa, covering her with a blanket so that only her face was exposed. "Got to do it properly, you know," he told her, picking up the hair brush she'd left on the side cabinet and brushing her hair so that it covered the bullet hole.

"I know it's not the way you like your hair done," he finished running the soft bristles through her short dark hair, placed a kiss on her cheek, before standing to view his handiwork. "But I want to remember you like this; with no reminders of how you.died." He swallowed and ran a hand across his face. "I want to remember the good times, Hilde. I just hope you do too." The brush fell from his fingers to land with a thud on the rug under his feet.

Hilde had always loved that rug; he'd hated it. /Trouble is, you have no taste,/ she'd told him.

/Yeah, true,/ he'd replied with a grin. /I'm with you, aren't I?/

Duo rubbed his head and smiled, remembering how she'd pretended to be upset, and how he'd gone down on his hands and knees, to beg for forgiveness. "We had some fun together, didn't we Hil?" He sniffed, glancing around the room. For all their arguments about décor, and the bright colours he'd insisted on - she hadn't changed any of it.

Their relationship hadn't changed the whole time they'd been together. Maybe that had been the clue that things weren't working. "It was never you, Hilde," he told the still form on the couch. "I couldn't give you what you needed, what you deserved." Sure he'd loved her, but as time as gone on he'd realised it had been more the love between two close friends, rather than lovers. They'd fallen into the relationship because they'd been together since they were kids - ever since her family had taken him into foster care. They felt comfortable around each other, but the fire and passion had never been there. He and Hilde each had their own fire, and sure the sex had been great, but there hadn't been enough sparks between them to sustain it. Duo had come to realise that they both needed more; the longer they'd attempted to hold it together. Deep down he suspected she knew as well, but for some reason she'd clung to the idea of them being a couple; or maybe she'd clung to the ideal behind it. "There was always someone out there for you. It just wasn't me."

And now she was never going to get the chance to meet that person. Duo kicked the side of the couch in frustration. Damn, it was just so unfair. Hilde didn't deserve to die like this. She'd been.she was a good person, full of life and always willing to help anyone who needed it. He still remembered the day they'd met at the orphanage; how they had connected straight away. The only daughter of a local school teacher, and the orphan who'd been found wandering the streets years before and taken in by the local priest. Duo had no idea of his real identity - the only clues being the nightmares he'd had as a kid - the continuing nightmares of seeing a house burn to the ground, and screaming for his parents. Duo absently twirled his braid around his fingers as he remembered the sense of loss after he'd woken from those dreams. The only memories he had of his mother were of her brushing his hair, and running her fingers through it, as she'd promised never to leave him. As long as he had his braid, he still had that memory of his mother, it was all he had left of her, and of her promise.

/Everyone leaves, Hilde,/ he thought sadly. /Even you./

And this time he didn't have Sister Helen to help him through. She'd been there for him, holding him as he'd sat up in his bed screaming after the nightmares; she'd been the one who had taught him to cope, given the frightened three year old the security he'd been lacking so badly in his life.

Even though Hilde's parents had been the ones who had fostered him, in the finish, the only ones who had been prepared to take him in after years of being shoved from one home to the next, Father Maxwell and Sister Helen had been the ones he'd considered his 'family'. He'd even taken the name 'Maxwell' to show them how much he'd appreciated it.

Last he'd heard Sister Helen had been sent over this way by her order. Hopefully she was doing a better job of staying out of trouble than he was. The nun had always had a weakness for strays. /I hope your current batch gives you a lot less trouble than I did./

The blanket slipped and he bent to cover Hilde again, dropping to his knees after he carefully tucked it around her to make sure it was secure this time. "Don't want you to catch cold, now do we?" he told her softly.

Duo paused, then shook his head. "She's gone, you idiot," he told himself. "You're talking to yourself." He shook his head again. No. She could hear him, she had to be able to. After all if she couldn't, what was the point of saying goodbye?

Duo cleared his throat. Better get this over with; Heero and the guys would be waiting for him. He couldn't put them in danger any longer. It was time to pull himself together and move on. "Guess this is it, Hilde." He placed one finger to his lips, then gently caressed her face with it. "Give them hell upstairs, baby. And save me a place."

What the hell? Who was he trying to kid? Damn, damn, damn. /I can't do this,/ he screamed inwardly. He placed his arms around her, his head onto her chest, a single sob coming from his throat. "I asked you to look after her, to keep her safe," he whispered, looking upwards towards where Sister Helen had always told him God lived. "Surely you could have listened to me.just this once."

"Just this once." Duo bent over what had once been his friend, his tears soaking the makeshift shroud, as he gave up any pretence of calm. Maybe if he just held her this last time, maybe.maybe.maybe.

The noise of a gun cocking came from behind him and he turned, not caring who saw him in his current state.

The man's lips were turned into a cruel smile, as though he was almost amused by what he saw. In his hand was a 9mm Luger, and it was pointed directly at Duo.

"Go to hell," Duo told him, turning his attention to Hilde. "My friend is dead. Just leave me alone." Damn Germans. Part of his mind told him he wasn't acting logically, that he should at least make some attempt to escape but the rest of him didn't care.

The blond man grabbed Duo's arms, forcing them behind his back, and the American felt the cold steel of handcuffs click into place. As the SS officer spoke, Duo recognised the voice of Colonel Merquise.

"I'm arresting you for the murder of Fraulein Schbeiker."

*******

End of Chapter Seven

TBC

Notes this chapter:

[1] The resistance movement in Germany was on a much smaller scale than in other occupied countries, due to the barbarity of the German regime. The Catholic Bavarian White Rose group - one the main resistance movements within the Fatherland itself - was wiped out almost as soon as it was formed in 1943.

[2] The greatcoat, part of the uniform of the German army, was a heavy grey coat, very necessary for protection against the harsh climate.
 
 

Chapter Eight

The knocking grew louder. Iria frowned, wondering who would be foolhardy enough to be out after curfew. If they were seeking medical help, they were fortunate that she'd had a rough day at the hospital. Usually, she'd have been home by now. She quickly crossed the floor of her small surgery and opened the door, intent of giving the caller a stern talking to, but the words died on her tongue.

"Trowa? What on earth?"

The young man glanced behind him, before stepping over the threshold, his companion leaning on him heavily for support. "It's all right." Tightening his grip around the other man's waist as he staggered and almost lost his footing, Trowa's tone was reassuring. "I've got you."

Helping the injured man onto the small examination bed at the side of the room, Trowa murmured a few soft words to him, as he swayed again, before turning to face her after the other man shook in head in answer. It was difficult to determine clearly what had passed between them, especially with the stranger's face hidden by the jersey that was wrapped around him as a make shift blanket.

"Iria," Trowa's voice hitched slightly, which in itself was unusual. He'd always amazed her with his inherent calmness; his ability to stay collected under any circumstances. "Iria," he continued. "I'm sorry."

The man gave a slight groan, and she caught sight of blond hair as Trowa lowered his companion's head onto the pillow. "Iria," he said again, the tone in his voice reflecting a gentleness and regret she'd never seen from him before, as he moved quite deliberately to block her view of the figure on the bed.

"Don't Iria me," she started. "This man needs medical attention or you wouldn't be here in the first place. You don't have to worry about my safety, Trowa. I choose to do this, remember? I'm a doctor first and foremost."

Trowa reached out and laid a hand on her arm, "Quatre."

"You're supposed to be watching him. Yes, I know that, Trowa." Iria stopped, her mind suddenly putting the facts together. Blond hair. He was standing in front of the injured man so she couldn't see him.

/Oh God, no./

The blond groaned again, his eyes fluttering before he croaked out a single word. "Trowa?"

/Cat?/ Iria pushed Trowa to one side, brushing her brother's hair off his forehead gently with her shaking hand. "It's all right, Cat. I'm here." Iria shot Trowa a glare, as she ran a practised medical eye over Quatre. "What the hell do you think you were doing? You're supposed to be watching him, keeping him safe. Not allowing him to end up like...like this."

"It's not his fault, Iria." Quatre cut across her thoughts, his voice no more than a whisper. "It was mine. If I hadn't." He paused. "Iria? You knew Trowa was watching me?" The tone wasn't accusing, but instead more curious. Quatre glanced around the surgery, his brow creasing. "Trowa? Are we safe? Are you all right?" The fear in her brother's eyes visibly lessened as his eyes took in the presence of the other man.

"I'm fine," Trowa reassured him. "You fainted, and I brought you here. You needed a doctor, Quatre, and Iria is the only one we can trust." He turned to Iria. "His wound had been seeping for some time before we discovered it. I think the bullet has only grazed him, but I'm no expert."

Deciding the questions could wait for later, or at least until she'd made sure his initial assessment was correct, Iria gave him a nod. "No, you're not. Hand me my bag, and I'll take a look." She fixed Quatre with the glare she reserved for difficult patients - she knew him well enough to know he could be extremely stubborn once he set his mind on something. "Explanations later."

Quatre opened his mouth to argue, but then winced, laying his head back down on the pillow. "Later," she told him, hoping she sounded more in control then she felt. /Calm down, Iria,/ she repeated a few times silently. Her mind went back to what her teachers had taught her in medical school regarding techniques to help relax when a doctor felt anything but. She hadn't needed to do this in years. But then she'd never had to treat her brother for gun shot wounds before, either.

Gun shot wounds? Some protector Trowa had turned out to be. When Quatre's injury had been dealt with, she was going to give the young man a piece of her mind. Iria hadn't told the resistance to keep an eye on her brother for this to happen. The undercover operative was supposed to seek assistance once Quatre's doubts about the project had reached the stage he could be approached, not try to take on the local Gestapo by himself.

"A.B.C," Iria said under her breath, working her way through the basics. /Airways okay obviously, or he wouldn't be asking awkward questions./ Iria took Quatre's hand in her own, and listened to his pulse - fast and thready, probably due to blood loss, though not as bad as it could have been. Chest moving symmetrically - she placed her stethoscope on his upper chest, listening for a few minutes before nodding. Strong heart beat in the right place. So far, so good. "You acted well," Iria threw a glance of approval in Trowa's direction. "Keeping him warm was the best you could have done under the circumstances." She noted the makeshift field dressing. "Pressure on the wound. Good. At least it would have helped prevent further blood loss." Iria frowned. Why hadn't Quatre noticed he'd been shot? And more importantly who was the bastard who had pulled the trigger?

"Sorry, Cat, this might hurt." Iria removed the dressing cautiously, ignoring the sudden hiss of pain from him. "Graze through the muscle; it appears to have missed the bone and vessels. You're very lucky, little brother."

Quatre made a slight noise of disgust, and Iria couldn't help but smile slightly. He hated it when she called him that, but this time it wasn't her problem; he had to learn there were consequences for worrying her like this.

Motioning him to be silent, Iria shook her head. "Very lucky. What calibre was it?" Quatre glared at her through clenched teeth.

"Luger 9mm." Trowa informed her calmly. Standard issue Gestapo? She was definitely having that chat with him, and sooner rather than later. The idea of the Gestapo firing at her brother was disturbing to say the least.

"I've seen the results of those weapons before," she replied, putting on her best lecturing tone. "A 9mm round to the shoulder will cause a huge amount of bruising, ruin most of the muscles, break most of the bones, and probably tear several large vessels. If that had happened, little brother, you would have bled to death in minutes, and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"/You/ wouldn't be having this conversation you mean," Quatre's hand gripped the side of the bed tightly, and he took a sharp breath.

"When I say lucky, I mean lucky." She examined the wound more closely, her mind working through the list of what she had on hand as she decided what use to sterilise and clean it with. "Don't argue with the doctor, Quatre."

Quatre looked shamefaced for a moment. "Yes, ma'am," he said, wincing again as she continued her examination. He was pale, and trembling slightly. Delayed reaction to what had happened, most likely.

"This looks and feels a lot worse than it is." Iria frowned, then gave him a small smile, before indicating a bottle on the shelf above her desk. "Trowa could you pass me the seventy percent surgical spirits solution, please, and the small tin next to it? Thank you." Quatre followed her eyes, and pulled away slightly from her touch. /He knows what's coming,/ she realised, remembering the time he'd been here when he'd been younger and had watched her clean out a small child's badly infected wound. Quatre hadn't reacted well to the blood or the little girl's reaction. She'd been terrified and the procedure had upset him as much as her patient.

"I have to clean this, Cat," Iria told him. "If it gets infected it is going to become a problem." Iria swallowed. Now wasn't the time to lie to him. "And this is going to hurt. I'm sorry." She turned to Trowa. "Do you think you might have been followed?"

Trowa nodded, handing her the medical supplies. "I hope not, but it's likely, yes." He paused, before laying a hand gently over Quatre's. "It's important you don't make any noise. If you cry out and are heard, it will make it easier for them to find us."

Quatre grasped Trowa's hand firmly. "I'll.try. But." He looked scared, and she didn't blame him. The poor boy was out of his depth; none of his life experiences or anything he'd read could have prepared him for the reality of what he'd gone through since she'd seen him at breakfast that morning.

Reaching into her medical bag, Iria brought out a leather strap. "Bite down on this when the pain gets bad," she suggested, observing the body language between the two young men with a raised eyebrow. Did this suggest what she thought it did? Pushing the idea away, she gave Trowa further instructions. "You'll have to be prepared to restrain him if need be. I need him to be still if I'm going to do this properly. Hold his hand, Trowa. Talk to him. Obviously he's taking some comfort from your touch. Use it to help him focus, to distract him from the pain."

Trowa nodded, moving closer to her brother. "Quatre." he began, but Quatre gave him a small smile through gritted teeth and corrected him.

"Cat. Call me Cat.please." Iria almost dropped the leather strap she was handing to Trowa. Quatre was giving the other man permission to use /that/ name? The only person he allowed to call him Cat was herself. She remembered the reasoning he'd given as she busied herself cleaning his wound.

/"When you use that name I feel as though you accept me for who I am. I don't have to hide behind the facade of being who everyone expects me to be; I don't have to pretend any more."/ His voice had dropped to a whisper. /"It's the name I like to imagine Mama would have called me. It's.special." /

Quatre tensed as she carefully poured the sterilising solution over the open wound. It wasn't too deep but was still going to require packing. Iria nodded towards Trowa who was watching Quatre, his hand strengthening its grip around that of his friend.

"Iria tells me you play the violin.Cat." Trowa gave her brother a wistful smile before continuing. "I used to play the flute, but I haven't for a while. Maybe when we get through this, we could play something together. A duet."

/Another musician. Interesting./

Iria hoped for Trowa's sake that he was telling the truth - she knew Quatre would want to hold him to that promise. His own love of music had taken second place to his work for far too long now. She missed the vibrant sounds of his violin in the house, the way he could touch her deep within with a touch of his bow against the strings. How could Quatre ever have followed a path leading him to being partially responsible for the creation of such a dangerous weapon of death? /Somewhere you stopped listening to yourself - and what was right,/ she realised sadly. Hopefully if he got out of this alive, he could find his way out of the desert and back to the oasis he'd once called life.

Biting down on the leather strap, Quatre's eyes glazed over as he attempted to distance himself from the pain. Trowa continued speaking softly, but she couldn't make out all the words. She thought she recognised one or two - they flowed almost as though they were sung, not spoken, and Quatre began to calm, his eyes closing as he anchored himself with, and took solace in Trowa's voice.

Quickly finishing her task, Iria liberally sprinkled sterile sulphur powder into the wound with a silent prayer, before packing it with pre-prepared cotton gauze. Finally she bound it firmly with clean dressings, and hoped for the best. If it didn't become infected, he should be all right. He had to be all right.

Trowa grew silent after Quatre slipped into sleep, watching her carefully, although it was difficult to tell what thoughts were going through his mind. "Thank you," he said quietly. "He should be all right if the dressings are changed regularly and the wound is kept clean?" Even though it was phrased as a question, it sounded more like a statement. Trowa saw her reaction, and continued quickly. "We have to go, Iria. It's only a matter of time before they track us. I'm sure the dogs would have picked up our trail by now, and we don't want to place you in any more danger than we have to." He glanced towards Quatre, disengaging his hand from the other man's. Quatre stirred in his sleep, his brow creasing into a small frown, then settled again. "He would never forgive himself if something happened to you. I think we both know that." Trowa paused. "And I'm not prepared to run that risk either."

/You know my brother a lot better than I ever gave you credit for, Trowa Barton./ Iria nodded, then reached out her hand draw Trowa closer. "My brother trusts you, Trowa. If you do anything to betray that trust, I'll hunt you down and kill you myself. Do I make myself clear?"

Trowa attempted to pull away but she tightened her grasp. "I would never do anything to hurt him," the brunet promised.

"Not intentionally," Iria agreed. "Just be careful, be very careful. Quatre.he's got a hard path ahead of him, and I'd like to know he's not going to be alone." Did Trowa understand what she was trying to tell him? It was too dangerous to put what she wanted to say into words, but she suspected Trowa had a good understanding what she meant. Iria knew her brother well enough to know what inner demons he must be fighting - hopefully this time he'd find the courage to make the decision he needed.

Trowa glanced over at Quatre again, then spoke softly, the tone in his voice similar to when he'd spoken to him about the music, and the hope they might get the chance play together. "I'll protect him with my life," he said. The silence hung between them for a few minutes until the young man spoke again. "We need to go."

"I understand." She wouldn't ask where they were going. It was safer for all concerned if she didn't know. The Gestapo couldn't retrieve information from her that she didn't know. "Trowa, I believe one of the doctors still on late duty leaves his keys in his car. If someone were to borrow that car.well let's just say he's been very lucky so far." Iria motioned him to wait, while she quickly got together the medical supplies he'd need and handed him a small duffel bag.

Nodding his appreciation, Trowa swung the bag over his shoulder before bending to lift her sleeping brother into his arms. "Thank you."

Iria walked towards the door, opening it slowly to check it was safe for them to leave, then gave him a quick nod of confirmation. "Both of you take care," she told him, giving Quatre a quick kiss on the cheek. Iria paused, and then asked him one last question before saying goodbye, maybe forever. "What did you say to Quatre before to calm him? It wasn't German, was it?"

Trowa wrapped the blanket Quatre had been lying on more firmly around the blond before answering. "It was French. A poem my sister used to recite to me when I couldn't sleep as a child. I thought it might help."

/I think it helped more than you realise./ Iria watched them disappear into the night. /Take care,/ she thought. /May God go with you. Both of you./

******

Heero edged closer to the café, cursing under his breath. Why the hell had Merquise decided to return? The building had been swarming with Gestapo for the last ten minutes and he still hadn't been able to ascertain whether Duo was all right, or even still in the building. /You're a fool, Yuy,/ he chastised himself. A fifty-fifty chance as to which was the better entrance to watch, and he'd made the wrong choice.

The German soldiers' first priority had been Winner and Barton. The logical assumption had been that if they did return - even though that scenario was highly unlikely - he would have heard them approaching and would have been able to warn Duo in time. Merquise must have entered through the back door; making his way towards the café by foot - there'd been no sign of any vehicle - until the Gestapo had arrived in force, and by then it had been too late.

Voices sounded from the café, and Heero strained to hear what was being said. "He said what?" Merquise sounded annoyed, although there was an edge of disbelief in this voice.

"Winner said that the plans were incomplete, sir. He implied that we still needed him, and proposed that a trade." The voice paused. "He proposed trading his services for Barton's life.Sir."

Merquise laughed. "That's an interesting proposition, although I doubt it would work in practice." His voice became very calm, and Heero shivered. "When we find the Herr Doktor I think we need to show him that the Gestapo do not trade with traitors."

A muffled cry of pain came from someone in the room - followed a muttered "Go to hell." Duo. Heero raised his glasses again but it was difficult to ascertain what exactly was happening in the dimly lit building.

"I think you will change your mind about co-operating with us, priest," Merquise told the American pilot.

Duo's voice carried clearly across the still night air. "I don't have any information to give you." There was another muffled cry, then nothing.

Damn, he needed to know what was happening, but risking discovery wouldn't help Duo at this stage. The best plan would be to observe, then determine a suitable rescue plan, after rejoining the rest of his team. Heero couldn't achieve anything on his own. He was vastly out numbered, and out gunned, and he knew it.

"If you hurt Duo, you won't live to regret it, Merquise," Heero muttered under his breath, before taking cover as a transport truck pulled up in front of the building. "I will kill you slowly and painfully. That's a promise."

The door of the café swung open; two soldiers escorted a hunched over figure in black between them. Duo's arms were cuffed behind him; his feet dragging as though walking were an effort. The injured man stumbled and one of the soldiers prodded him in the ribs with the end of his rifle while the pilot struggled to regain his footing. Duo glanced around him, eyes darting in all directions as he desperately sought a way of escape. Heero stepped forward slightly, catching his friend's gaze, and attempted to give him a small smile. It came out more as a grimace, but Duo shook his head very slightly and mouthed the words 'leave me' before his eyes glazed over, and he turned away.

One of the soldiers butted Duo with his rifle again, before following his gaze, and Heero quickly took refuge in the shadows again. "Probably a good idea to admire the scenery, priest. I doubt you're going to see it again, once Merquise has finished with you."

Duo let out a small choked laugh. "May God have mercy on your soul, my child, because no else will." The soldier opened the door of the truck, pushing him roughly inside, before slamming it shut and starting the engine.

Duo might have given the order to leave him, but as far as Heero was concerned, he was no longer running this operation, and the original mission parameters had not changed.

Retrieve the plans, and return home.

Odin Lowe would have never left a colleague in the hands of the enemy and neither would his son. Heero stepped out of the shadows and tilted his head towards the sky, remembering the words Duo had used in St Michael's church earlier that day to outline the so called simple mission.

/Meet the contact, retrieve the plans, head for home, giving the Nazis a good kick where it hurts if needs be, type scenario./

"I'll retrieve you along with those plans, Duo," promised Heero. "And we'll head for home, giving the Nazis a good kick where it hurts. And more if necessary."

******

"If there's anything else you require, Herr Bloom, be sure to let me know." Trowa gave a small nod of appreciation to the nun as she turned to leave the small room.

"Thank you, Sister. I.we appreciate the risk you are taking in allowing us to shelter here."

Sister Helen smiled. "God doesn't turn away those in need. Your friend needs a place to rest until he has recovered fully from his.illness. Until then you are welcome to stay." She paused in the doorway. "Sleep well. Are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable using the bed in the room next door? You'd still be able to hear him if he wakes."

Trowa shook his head. "I'll be fine." It was important that he be here if Quatre woke. "Thank you for your concern. Good night." He watched her go, carefully closing the door behind her. Then he locked it with the key she'd given him, before extinguishing the only light in the room. Quatre had done very well to stay on his feet as long as he had. The sides of Trowa's mouth turned up into a small smile, as he recalled the events of the past twenty-four hours. /You're a good man, Quatre Winner,/ he thought. /Even though you need to learn to think of your own needs too./ Iria had been right in her assessment of her brother. He was stubborn - and extremely strong willed.

Pulling the chair which would serve as his own bed for the night, closer to the small bed Quatre was occupying, Trowa puffed up the pillow Sister Helen had left him. He adjusted the blankets over his friend, ensuring the blond was properly protected from the cold night air, then brought his hand up to gently brush a stray lock of hair off Quatre's. Cat's face. Trowa knew that giving him permission to use that name had been an enormous step of trust on the part of the other man. Hopefully it had been the first of many to come. Iria had been right in urging caution. It was sad that the world had come to this; that it was dangerous even to admit the truth to those who needed to know.

The moonlight shone through the small window, illuminating Quatre's hair in its pale light. Trowa brushed his lips across Quatre's cheek, and the blond stirred in his sleep, smiling as though giving his approval to the act of affection, before wriggling further down into the blankets. The arm Quatre had tightly gripped around his pillow fell to lie limply at this side as he relaxed into deep sleep.

Trowa smiled, before settling himself into the chair, and pulling the blankets firmly around him. "Goodnight, Cat," he whispered, "Prenez soins, mon cher ami." [1]
 

~Fin~
 

Author's notes:

[1] Take care, my dear friend.

While I was writing the first and last scenes of this chapter, I had the song "Touch of Your Hand" by Glass Tiger, playing on loop. The words are just perfect. *sigh.

This is the first in a seven part arc called "Echoes of the Rising Sun". I realise there are many unanswered questions at this point, particularly regarding the fate of Duo. These will be answered, in part, as the story continues in 'Sins of the Fathers'.

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