3-21-2005

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Gundam Wing, not its characters. I just like playing with them!

Title: A Silver Lining
Parts: 11-20/?
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 5XS, 4XR, 3XOC, 6X9
Warnings: Angst, LOTS of it, mentions on NSC, sap, possible lemon…
Lots of flashbacks to give more info on event leading to the present
BY: SkyLark
Beta Writing By: Deb

 

[Viva forever, I'll be waiting
Everlasting like the sun
Live forever for the moment
Ever searching for the one]
-Chorus to `Viva Forever' from the Spice Girls

 

 

Part 11:

Panting heavily as he wiped the sweat from his brow, Heero's gaze turned up to the sky as he picked up on the sound of helicopters flying in. Now that the sun was up past the horizon, he had to shield his eyes from the light to be able to make out the two distant crafts. After running as quickly as his legs would allow, he made it to the rescue post in time.

Quickly, the ex-Wing pilot took the smoke flares that he stole from the base. Pulling the pin loose to release the thick black smoke, he threw the canister a few feet before him. As the black smoke rose, the helicopters turned in its direction, flying straight on.

With a deep sigh of relief, the Japanese Preventer worked on catching his breath. Now that the rescue team found him, they could head back to recover Duo. They'd only parted about twenty minutes prior, sure that was plenty of time to get back to him before he was discovered. Turning his head west, in the direction where he left his braided friend behind, Heero felt the knot in his stomach return.

As he had been running to the rendezvous point to meet the rescue team, he had forced himself to put his fear and concern for his partner behind. Now that he kept his word and got to the pick-up mark, those fears and concerns were quickly catching up. Somehow, it just didn't seem like the helicopters were coming in fast enough.

Finally, the two crafts landed a few feet away, kicking up the loose dirt and grass from the ground. Shielding his face from the gusts, Heero ran towards the crafts. A handful of Preventers spring out, weapons up and ready as they secured the area.

Two other figures, one from each helicopter, jumped out into the open. It didn't take long to identify the people approaching.

Sally and Trowa met him half-way, the relief in their faces as the tall pilot shouted over the metallic swishes of the large propellers, "Sorry we have to keep this reunion short, Heero! We have to leave the area immediately!" His green eyes blinked against the dust as he scanned the area, asking loudly, "Where's Duo!"

"I had to leave him behind a little over five miles back!" Heero yelled in response, his unruly hair blowing wildly in the midst of the machine-created wind. "We're not leaving here without him!"

Both Sally and Trowa shared a wide-eyes look filled with concern. The braided woman turned to their reunited friend as she hollered, "Give Trowa the coordinates to where he can find him! I'm going back with you to our temporary base to look after your injuries!"

With her head, she gestured to the many, dark bruises on the ex-Wing pilot's abdomen that peeked out as the wind lifted his torn shirt. Shaking his head, Heero replied, "Aside from being sore, I'm fine! I'm going back to pick him up! You're not talking me out of it!"

Again, the other Preventers shared a look, this one being one of more resignation. Meeting the Japanese pilot's firm cobalt eyes, Trowa shouted, "We don't have time to argue over it! Get in and show us the way!"

With a nod, Heero entered the helicopter that Trowa jumped from. Once the tall pilot climbed in behind him, he took the seat beside the pilot. The young, blonde woman flying turned to Trowa as he told her, "Quick change of plans. We have to make another pick up. Agent Night was left behind."

At that, the pilot changed a few dials on the control panel. Looking over her shoulder, she asked, "What direction, Agent Wing?"

Leaning towards her from the seat he took between two armed Preventers, Heero answered, "West, about twenty degrees for five miles. I'll let you know when we're close."

"Got it," the blonde woman nodded firmly. Turning forward again, she finished entering her commands. Turning on her headset, she spoke into her microphone. "Agent Jet, we'll be leading us west, twenty degrees for our second recovery. Follow my lead."

The male voice of the other pilot came into her headphones as it replied, "Roger that, Agent Skyline. Ready to take off when you are."

With a small smile on her face, the blonde woman called to her team, "Hang on, crew." The second pair of Preventers, who had been securing the area just beyond the chopper, jumped inside and took the seats across from their comrades. Gripping the joystick, Agent Skyline sent the craft into the air.

Several minutes later, Heero recognized the crater-filled test area of the countryside below. As he squinted his cobalt eyes a bit, he spotted the tall hill with the large whole in its side. Leaning between two of the arms soldiers, he called to the pilot as he pointed, "That hill, right there!"

Agent Skyline gave a firm nod, her eyes never leaving her target as she spoke into her microphone, "Beginning descent." With an affirmative response from her partner flying the other helicopter, the blonde woman slowly pushed forward on the joystick.

Licking his lips, Heero felt his heart racing in anticipation of getting back to his friend and getting out of the hell they had been trapped in for the last three weeks. As the ground slowly approached, he moved closer to the opening, ready to jump from the belly of the chopper on a moment's notice. The wind blew his unruly hair up again as he peered just out the open doors.

Finally, the helicopter touched down without the slightest jaunt. Instantly, Heero jumped from the craft, running toward the opening of the hill a few feet away. Behind him, he could hear orders being yelled as the other Preventers secured the area. What was actually being said was lost to him, however, as all of his focus was on the cave where his friend had been waiting.

Just as he approached the opening of the gaping whole, Heero shouted, "Duo!" As he entered the manmade cave, he suddenly froze, nearly stumbling forward from the abrupt halt.

His cobalt eyes widened as he gave a strangled gasp. The cavern was… empty. The spot where Duo's injured leg had been lying was marked with a bit of blood spots. That left out any doubt that he was in the wrong place.

Instantly, panic filled Heero as he felt the bottom of his stomach fall out. Hoping that his partner was only playing some kind of cruel joke, he called back to the darkness of the cave, "Duo!?"

Only a slight echo from his voice answered back. As he swallowed hard, he forced himself to realize that even Duo would not find hiding from him as a joke at this time.

Behind Heero, Trowa and Sally rushed in. Just as their reunited friend, their eyes widened at the empty cave. Breaking from her shock, the braided woman blinked at something she noticed in the ground. "What's that?" she asked as she pointed to the strange markings.

When he notices what she was pointing to, Heero walked over to the place where Duo had been lying. As he squatted, in the dirt there, written in letters that appeared to be written by a rushed hand, he read: `I'll wait for you.'

As the color drained from his face, the ex-Wing pilot whispered gravely, "They got him." Turning quickly to the others, he exclaimed, "We have to go back to the base! We can't leave Duo behind here or they'll kill him, if they haven't already!" His hopes dashed as he now noticed the small tears in his tall friend's eyes.

Clearing his throat and swallowing hard, Trowa said quietly, "Heero, w-we already flew over the base where you and Duo were behind held as we made it to the rendezvous point, in case you couldn't escape. The place was…" his voice trailed off, unable to finished what he was about to say.

Sally fought her own fight against the stinging tears in her own eyes as she finished for him, "The base was leveled by the time we arrived. The place was small enough they only needed a few small bombs. There's nothing left of the place."

Looking up again, Trowa continued, "We have reason to believe that they were going off to get assistance for when we arrived. These rebels don't just up and run like this, not without having a plan to strike back. There still isn't any time to waist; we have to get out of here now."

Heero cast his eyes down to the message that Duo had left in the dirt. Even though he knew that Trowa was right to be concerned for a counter attack, he still couldn't will himself to leave at that moment. He knew his legs wouldn't support him if he straightened himself now. Duo was not only back in the hand of their captors, but now there was no telling as to where they ran off with him.

A hand fell on the Japanese pilot's shoulder, breaking his thoughts as he looked up to his rescuers. Squeezing his shoulder, Sally eyes shimmered as she whispered down to him, "Heero, we have to go."

With a small, hesitant nod, Heero shakily rose to his feet. With a startled gasp, Sally acted as a means of helping him balance. Had he not been so overwhelmed by his shock and fear for his friend, he would have been surprised at his own unsteadiness as well. Trowa quickly stepped in, flanking Heero's other side. With an arm under either of his, he was led back to the helicopters.

Only vaguely aware of what was happening, the ex-Wing pilot felt himself being seated. The grim faces of those Preventers around him only made the situation all the more real. Those faces belonged to some of the young men and women fortunate enough to have been trained by the lively American.

As the helicopter took to the air again, Heero's cobalt eyes followed the hill until it disappeared from his sight. For the first time he could recall, he felt small tears prickling at his eyes. With a hand, he wiped at them before they could fall. When the sun suddenly peeked into the craft, a bright sparkle from a chain caught his attention.

Blinking his wide eyes, he removed the gold cross that he completely forgotten was dangling from his neck. Holding the pendant in his open palm, the Japanese Preventer recalled his partner's last words `I'll wait for you.'

Recalling that he had made Duo promise those words to him before he parted, Heero had to believe that the written statement was a reaffirmation. He closed his palm tightly around the gold cross, his fist nearly shaking from his strain.

He had sworn to is best friend that he would find him. He promised to return his necklace. Whatever the means, Heero knew that he wouldn't rest peacefully until he fulfilled just that.

* * * * * *

"Heero? ...Heero?"

Duo's voice broke through the unruly-haired teenager's thoughts of the past. Looking over to the passenger seat, his eyes met concerned violet as Duo watched him. "Are you okay?" his friend asked. "You seemed like you drifted off for a while there."

With a reassuring smile, Heero replied, "I'm all right. Just thinking." That seemed to appease his braided partner as he gave his own small smile and a nod. As Duo turned his head back to gaze out the windshield, Heero couldn't help but admire him for just a moment longer.

Focusing on the long stretch of highway again, the Japanese pilot unclenched his right hand in his lap. He could feel the small scars from the gold cross that he squeezed until it embedded his palm that fateful morning. Lifting the hand from his lap, he placed it back on the steering wheel.

That morning as they had packed their things, Duo had remained quiet but continued to put on a brave front. There was no telling of what onslaught of emotions must have been wracking him since his announcement that it was time to head back home… back to deal with his past.

The only hint to Duo's inner struggle had been the few times Heero caught him running his hand over the bracelet made of the remains of his green tank top.

After a long pause of silence, Heero hesitantly stated, "I didn't know how to tell you, but Lady Une gave away your code name to another Preventer a while back." Thankful that the news did not seem to surprise or upset the other pilot when he nodded, he took a silent sigh of relief.

With a small smirk, Heero glanced from the corner of his eye and suggested, "We could think of a new name for you before we get back. Somehow, Agent Night never seemed to fit you, anyway." The reassurance served its purpose as Duo turned towards him with a bright grin.

`No,' Heero thought to himself at the sight of the smile, `Night certainly could never fit something so that lights up so much.' He refrained from actually voicing his opinion.

Sighing silently to himself, the ex-Wing pilot thought about his newest dilemma… coming to terms with the realization that he was in love with his best friend. While he did hear Duo mummer his own affections as he drifted off in his arms the night before, Heero didn't know how to broach the topic with him just yet.

After having been through so much the last couple years, sure the braided pilot would have difficulty going into a relationship in addition to, now, literally facing his demons. While he wanted nothing more than to be able to share the fact that he shared his partner's feelings, Heero decided best to wait and think over the matter of how to bring it up.

"Phoenix," Duo's voice broke through his train of thought. As he turned, the Japanese Preventer found a small grin on the American's face as he shrugged, "How about Agent Phoenix?"

The concept made the corners Heero's own mouth tug upward as he replied quietly, "It's certainly fitting." He gave a firm nod, "I like it."

As he turned to gaze ahead again, Duo continued to smile slightly as he said softly, "Me too."

* * * * * *

Trowa sighed deeply as he rubbed his tired eyes. After sitting before his computer monitor for over twelve hours straight now, his exhaustion was quickly catching up. Across from him, Anna continued to work at her own station. Since announcing their discovery that there was a leak in the Preventers, the two pilots stationed themselves in the secured computer lab that served as the database for headquarters.

As he watched his red-headed lover continue to type at a fevered pace, he noted the frustration on her face. At the rate they were going, it would take weeks to decode the disturbance in the transfer of data. While that was certainly better than most hackers could accomplish, it was not nearly enough time to find the persons responsible for the security breech.

With a deep growl, Anna slouched forward in her seat. Rubbing her face with her hands, she commented, "Just when it seems as if we're following the missing thread in the right direction, they branch off to dozens of other possibilities."

Nodding, Trowa replied, "We can't stay cramped in this room without someone noticing. Lady Une's cover story that we're updating some new servers in here will only work for so long, a week or two at the most."

Anna added, "And if we're still here after that amount of time, word will get around quick. It'll tip off the bastards we're after before we get even pick up their scent. We don't have the weeks or months we thought that we had to work on this."

Folding his hands before his face, the tall ex-Gundam pilot thought aloud, "We need to think of another angle to narrow down the search."

As she ran a hand through her long bangs, sighed, "I'm open to any suggestions you have. I'm running out of my own pretty quickly over here."

With his arms folded, Trowa leaned back in his chair. Closing his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts, he took a deep breath. After a long pause, his emerald eyes snapped open, wide. Quickly sitting up, he smirked, "We should start hacking into bank accounts."

Realization filled his partner's widening blue eyes as she stated, "See who's made a big pay off over the last few years. That would certainly give them motive for selling themselves to the enemy. There are a lot of people who would sell their souls if the price was right."

With a nod, the tall brunette continued, "It'll still take a lot of time, but it'll narrow down the field considerably faster than the route we're going. When we see anything suspicious, we can see if they're linked to this breech."

Smirking mischievously, Anna chuckled deeply, "God, I love you." Her fingers quickly tapped at her laptop's keys again as she advised him, "I can have us past the National Bank security system in a few minutes here."

* * * * * *

When they drove into the town nearest to their home on the beach, Heero suddenly came up with an idea. Turning the car towards in the opposite direction of the house, he announced, "Our house is pretty quiet, even with the two of us living in it." Duo looked at him with a confused expression at his choice of words, and the change in direction.

Smirking at him, Heero shrugged, "I had been thinking about getting a pet for some time now. What do you say we go check out the pet store?"

Duo's violet eyes widened in disbelief as he gasped sharply and whispered, "Y-you mean it?"

Heero chuckled deeply as he nodded, "You always wanted one. I think having one around now would be a good idea. It'll be a lot of work, but between the two of us, we'll be able to handle it."

Even the slightest hesitation Heero may have had at the notion vanished at the sight of the wide smile on his best friend's face. He wanted this to be something to ease the difficult times that Duo had ahead of him. Already, it seemed he had made the right decision.

* * * * * *

When they entered the pet store, Heero had to suppress a chuckle as he watched his excited partner looking over the kennels filled with a wide array of animals. As he stood beside the braided bundle of energy waiting to explode, he said, "Any idea which one you want?"

Shaking his head, Duo laughed, "I don't know how anyone can pick just one." His violet eyes scanned the kennels to the different breeds of dogs. Most of the canines were still quite young and energetic as they yelped to get the attention of the people watching them.

Before long, one puppy did standout of the group. In one of the last kennels on the bottom row, a collie stayed near the back of their cage, trembling slightly at the loud noises around them. Both Heero and Duo looked to the puppy at the same time, their attention drawn to the contrast of energy from the other animals.

Half of the pup's muzzle was light brown, the other half closest to its brown nose was white. Its tail was tipped with white in the same fashion. While the light brown fur was dominant over the remainder of the dog's body, its belly and paws were capped in the same snow white as its tail tip. Finally, the white markings surrounding the edges of its dark eyes rounded out the pup's physical character.

One of the young store clerks walked up, a sad smile on her face as her own brown eyes fell on the timid puppy. "A family that lives not far from here had a litter of purebred collies that they gave to us to sell, as opposed to worrying about it, themselves," she explained.Gesturing with her head to the little collie, she said, "The poor thing was is seven months old and the last of her siblings to be picked up. She hasn't taken to her confinement too well, and the sound of the other dogs makes her skittish."

At the small whimper that the collie made as she tried to back further in her corner, Duo turned to Heero with a saddened look on his own face. Smiling as he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, the ex-Wing pilot addressed the clerk as he stated, "We'll take her." Duo's eyes lit up as he smiled and mouthed the words, `Thank you.'

The young brunette grinned brightly, "Very well, sir. We'll get you set up with whatever you need to take care of her."

Nearly a half-hour later, the two pilots had the dog bowls, toys, brushes, food and all the other little things needed for their new pet packed in the Taurus's trunk. When they returned to the store, Rachel, as they now came to know her, was walking from the kennels with a large box.

Biting his lip, Duo accepted the carton as the girl smiled warmly, "Here's your little one."

Inside, the little collie was sniffing up at the young men watching her. While she still seemed a bit timid, her curiosity certainly was getting the better of her as she walked to the nearest `wall' towards the new faces. "She's perfect," Duo said quietly, a small smile on his face.

After exchanging their thanks, Heero and Duo walked back to their car with their new pet. Once they settled themselves back inside, the ex-Wing pilot smiled as he reached over to pat the top of the pup's head. When he pulled his hand back, he chuckled deeply as the little collie licked his hand.

"Duo you have any ideas for a name?" Heero asked. "I'm sure Lassie would be too cliché."

The smile on Duo's face had never faded from the moment the pup was names theirs. As he gently ran his hand over her long fur, he replied, "Yuuki."

Unable to help the smile from spreading on his own face, the Japanese pilot nodded, "Yuuki it is." It was only fitting, after all, that their pet be given the Japanese word for Courage. Putting the key into the ignition, he prepared to bring their newest addition home with them.

* * * * * *

Later that evening, once all of their unpacking was finally taken care of and dinner was cleared away, Heero stepped out onto the front porch of their beach house. He smiled to himself at the sight of his braided partner sitting on the long swing, overlooking the ocean. It was no surprise to find him there, as it always was his favorite place to relax.

With the sun beginning to set, the sky was an amazing array of colors as the sea rolled in peacefully across the stretch of sand. The small smile on Duo's face in the glow of the bright reds, yellows, oranges, greens, blues and violets that reflected from the sky painted him as some fey-like creature.

As wonderful as a sight it was, Heero still couldn't help but remind himself that this was just the calm before the impending storm.

Curled in the American's lap was Yuuki. The pup's head perked up at the sight of the ex-Wing pilot and her tail wagged excitedly. While it had taken the pup a couple hours before she really felt safe with her new owners and in her new surroundings, she quickly warmed up to her new situation.

Looking over, Duo smiled at his best friend as he approached the swing. Heero returned the smile as he took a seat beside him. Gently, he rubbed the back of Yuuki's ear as she panted happily. She licked his hand a couple times when he pulled it away to stretch his arm out behind his best friend.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Heero asked softly, his gaze trained out on the horizon. "You know that you don't have to do this if you don't think you're up to it."

From the corner of his cobalt eye, he saw Duo nod as he replied, "I'm as ready as I'll ever be." They stayed in a companionable silence for a moment, leaving the topic at that.

With his own violet eyes gazing out to the view ahead, Duo whispered after a long pause, "Heero, I…." He forced himself to meet his partner's eyes as he said sincerely, "Thank you for, well, everything these last few months. I really don't think I would have gotten this far without you."

Heero gave him a small grin as he replied just as quietly, "You're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for." He gave a firm nod as he continued, "But you're very welcome." Biting his lip, Duo gave a nervous smile as he leaned in and kissed his best friend's cheek lightly.

Leaning up against the other Preventer, Duo closed his eyes as he rested his head on Heero's shoulder. Wrapping his arm tightly around the braided teenager's shoulder, Heero placed a tender kiss atop his best friend's. With a squeeze from his arm, he rested his head on Duo's as he continued to gaze out to the horizon.

As they sat together like that for the remainder of the sunset, the voice in Heero's head kept telling him how some day he would find the words to tell Duo how he felt. Until then, he would be content with moments like this. At least now, there could be a some day.

 

Part 12:

With the sun rising over the ocean, the bedroom that Heero and Duo shared filled with the light from its rays. As the last three mornings since their return home, the ex-Wing pilot woke at his internal clock's signal that it was seven. Some things certainly never changed when it came to falling back into routine for him.

This particular morning was going to be a bit different than the last three. It'd be their first return to Preventer headquarters since the incident that left Duo exposing one of his many opened wounds. After being briefed over the last couple days via vid phone from Lady Une's home, it was decided by both pilots to return to headquarters to bring in their own assistance to the investigation.

With a small, sad smile on his face, Heero took a moment to watch the sleeping young man in his arms. As much as he hated having to wake his best friend from his peaceful sleep, the Japanese Preventer knew that they were expected in a meeting in a few hours. Gently, he brushed back the partner's long bangs as he whispered, "Duo. We have to get ready."

Sighing softly at the backs of fingers brushing against his cheek, Duo blinked his violet eyes open. As he smiled tired up at his friend, he yawned, "'Morning."

"Good morning," Heero smiled back before they began untangling themselves. Moving over to the closet, the Japanese pilot removed a green shirt and brown pants for his uniform. "Did you want anything in particular for breakfast?" he asked as he peered over his shoulder.

With a shrug, Duo rose from the bed and answered, "I don't really have a preference." When he met the cobalt gaze watching him, he grinned, "Surprise me."

Heero nodded and watched as the braided American went off towards the bathroom to take his morning shower. Turning back to the closet of clothes, he removed one of the gray ties. Things certainly fell right into routine smoothly so far.

* * * * * *

Yuuki chewed on one of her rubber toys as she watched her owners clearing away the dishes from the table after their breakfast. At the sound of the doorbell, she forgot all about her toy and ran for the front door with a quick yelp. Heero and Duo both looked up to the clock. With a small smile, the braided pilot smirked, "Right on time."

As he rose from his seat, Duo readjusted his grey shirt again. After losing his muscle mass, he did not fit into his old uniform quite as well as he had before his capture. Still, he looked better in his uniform now than he would have three months prior when there was nearly nothing to him.

As the two pilots took up their Preventer uniform jackets, they walked to the front door. Yuuki was wagging her tail excitedly as she sat in waiting at the entrance. Patting the top of her head with a quiet `Good girl,' Heero opened the front door.

Quatre and Relena both smiled brightly to their friends as they were let in. Now five months pregnant, the young woman was beginning to show, her light shirt loose around her growing belly blew a bit in the breeze from outside. "It's so good to see you both again," she grinned as she hugged Heero tightly.

"You guys have been missed over the last three months," Quatre added as he and his Japanese comrade exchanged a firm handshake.

Hesitantly, the couple turned to face their braided friend, who looked to be almost as nervous as they did at the moment. Biting his lip, Heero stepped back just the slightest bit, uncertain as to how this scene was going to play out. The memory of the last time Duo had been in the same room with any of their other friends replayed in his mind. It seemed like an eternity before anyone moved otherwise.

With a timid smile, Duo took a step forward, he broke the wall that seemed to be standing between them as he wrapped his arms around Relena. Gasping quietly, the blonde politician returned the embrace as she whispered, "Welcome back, Duo."

Both Heero and Quatre sighed quietly in relief, their tense shoulders sagging a bit as they let their guards down. When she pulled back, Relena dried the shimmering tears from her eyes as she chuckled, "Damn hormones." Duo laughed quietly with her as Quatre stepped up.

Nodding firmly, Quatre's voice cracked a bit when he greeted, "Good to see you, Duo." The two ex-Gundam pilots exchanged a firm embrace. As he pulled back, the Arab began to sputter, "Duo, I'm-"

The braided Preventer shook his head, interrupting the other teenager as he sighed deeply, "Look, Quat, what's done is done. I can't forget what you all did, but I… I forgive you guys for what happened. Can we please just move on,?"

A wide smile tugged at the blonde young man's lips and he nodded, "I'd like nothing better. Thank you."

Frustrated at the fact that there were so many people around and no one was giving her any attention, Yuuki gave a small whimper as she continued to wag her tail anxiously. At the sight of the pup, Relena gasped, "Oh she's adorable!" Slowly kneeling down, she rounded up the shaggy collie with a bubbling laugh.

Heero told the pair, "She was already let out to go to the bathroom this morning, so she should be all right for a while." Pointing to the brass bell that he had hung by the door, he said, "She's getting used to ringing that bell when she needs to go. Her food is already in her dish and she may need more fresh water later today. Whatever we have for food, feel free to help yourselves."

After running down the list of things he needed to advise them, Heero reached down to pet the small dog and said sincerely, "Thank you both for coming to stay with Yuuki while we're at the office."

From where he was kneeling beside his lover as he played with the collie, Quatre looked up and grinned, "Any time. This will hardly be work for us, and a nice break from what's been happening."

Biting his lip, Duo asked, "How are Trowa and Anna holding up? They've been working practically nonstop for the last few days."

Relena answered, "They're holding up all right so far. Since they are there day and night, the rest of us have been taking shifts in making sure they have all of the privacy and assistance they need. Wufei and Sally should be in the office now to start their shift." She giggled as Yuuki reached up to lick the tip of her nose.

"That reminds me," Quatre commented, rising to his feet. Removing two cards from his pocket, he handed one to each of the other pilots. "They are the last two access cards to the database where Trowa and Anna are working. Lady Une has the room on lockdown to everyone else. Wufei, myself, Zechs and Noin are the others with cards."

Looking to his watch, Heero announced, "We better get going if we want to make this briefing in time. We should be back before it gets late." He reached down to pat his puppy again, smiling at the dog when she licked his hand after the gesture.

Duo bent down and grinned, "You be a good girl for Quatre and Relena while we're away, Yuuki." As if she understood him, the collie nudged his hand with a playful yelp. The couple smiled up at them as they bid their goodbyes.

When they stepped outside, Heero wrapped an arm around his partner's shoulder as he gently pulled his head close. Whispering into the American's ear, he said genuinely, "I'm proud of you. You handled yourself well back there."

Laughing at that, Duo replied, "Then you couldn't hear my knees knocking." He sobered a bit and frowned, "I just want to start putting water under the bridge so we can focus on the more important objective."

The braided pilot turned his head to meet the cobalt eyes watching him as he grinned, "But thank you." He emphasizes his appreciation with a one-armed hug around his best friend's waist. With a firm nod and a warm smile, Heero lowered his arm when they reached the car.

* * * * * *

The first place that Heero and Duo visited when entering the Preventer headquarters was the database center. Taking one of the back ways, as not to draw any attention from the other officers, they reached the closed door. Sliding the access card that Quatre had given him through the scanner, Heero led the way inside.

When they turned the corner, they found a very tired pair of Preventers working at their separate stations. Trowa and Anna's head snapped up at the sound of footsteps approaching. The tall pilot's green eyes widened when he spotted the two pilots entering. As they quickly rise to their feet, Trowa smiled in relief, "Heero, Duo."

The red-haired young woman smiled just as warmly as she stepped forward, saying kindly, "This is certainly a pleasant surprise." The two reunited pilots smiled and nodded to her.

Reaching the Japanese pilot first, Trowa extended a firm handshake and one-armed embrace with him. "Welcome back, you two." Before he had a moment to hesitate, the tall pilot's eyes widened when Duo caught him off guard by hugging him tightly. Returning the embrace, Trowa smiled warmly as he closed his eyes and whispered, "Good to have you back, little brother."

Heero and Anna stood beside each other, smiling at the sight of their partners reuniting. Turning to the young woman whom had become an eminent part of his `family,' the ex-Wing pilot gently kiss the red-head's cheek, and told her, "Aside from looking exhausted, you seem well, Anna."

With a deep chuckle, the young woman winked before hugging the other pilot as she replied, "Aw, you know me. I try not to let too much get me worked up." Heero pulled back with a deep chuckle, know all too well the truth of her words.

Trowa walked up beside his lover with a bright smile as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Facing his braided friend, he gestured with his free hand to the redhead as he announced proudly, "Duo, I'd like to introduce you to my girlfriend, Anna."

At the slight blush on the young woman's face, Duo grinned kindly as extended his hand, commenting, "Heero had told me a lot about you during our vacation. It's nice to finally meet you."

Practically glowing as she shook his hand firmly, Anna replied, "Well, it's an honor to finally meet you, Duo. Heero had talked a great deal about you over the last few years. I feel like I've known you for ages."

It was Heero's turn to change a bright shade of red. He hardly managed to cover it up when Duo's wide, violet eyes turned to him as he asked, "You talked to her about me while I was gone?"

Quickly, the Japanese pilot answered with a nonchalant shrug, "Well, not everything, just some things." Anna giggled at his modesty, but made no further response as she let him off the hook for the moment.

"Well at any rate," Trowa smirked, also deciding to give Heero a break from the topic. "You both chose a good time to come back to the office." The volume of his voice lowered a bit as he gazed intently at the two of his reunited friends as he said, "We're close." Both Heero and Duo's eyes widened, not needing to hear anything further for an explanation.

The redhead nodded as she added, "Maybe just a few hours. The cross reference that we're following up on is reading through our last report now."

At that, Heero's cobalt eyes narrowed as he stated, "We'll contact Quatre and Relena that we may be staying late then. I want to be informed the moment you come up with a name."

Nodding firmly, Trowa replied with a brisk, "Affirmative." His emerald eyes glanced to the door as he said in a hushed tone, "Be sure to contact Relena and Quatre on your cell phone and not by a phone in the office. Also, other than those two, don't let anyone else know what's going on today. We've already faced some setbacks in our attempts to keep this search under wraps the last couple of days."

A cold chill ran up Duo's spine as he repeated, "Setbacks?"

Trying to calm his braided comrade, the tall pilot shook his head and raised a hand, saying, "Lady Une will fill you in on that part during the briefings. It's nothing to worry over too much, but we need to be cautious that as few people know of this as possible. We don't want to lose our track when we're this close to the target."

"Understood," Heero replied with a firm nod. "We won't advise anyone else. Just keep us posted." Without another word, the ex-Wing pilot turned when he felt Duo's hand on his arm for support as they left the room.

* * * * * *

The next seven hours were a blur of briefings and reunions for Heero and Duo following their meeting with Trowa and Anna that morning. Throughout their activities, the primary thought on both their minds was what they had learned from the young couple. There was a good chance that at any moment, they would know the name of the leak within the Preventers.

One of the things that had unnerved Heero came when he found out a few recruits had noticed the light in the database on very late in the evening. Lady Une assured him that she was taking every measure possible to see that the word did not spread far among the other Preventers. They could not afford to tip off the traitor that they were onto something when they were so close to finding them.

By the time it was after seven o'clock that evening, the late shift had ended and all of the Preventers working that day had left for the night. Without going into details as to why they wished to stay late that evening, as not to tip off too many people to what they had learned to raise suspicion, Heero and Duo were granted permission to close the building for the evening.

Outside of the office, a rainstorm had begun just about the time the sun should have begun to set. Staring out of their large office window, Duo sighed deeply as he began to pace anxiously. Without being consciously aware of it, he reached to bring his braid over his shoulder as he fidgeted with its end.

With a small, sad smile, Heero looked up from where he sat at his desk and said encouragingly, "We can stay here as long as we like, Duo. Quatre and Relena are fine with spending the night in one of our guest rooms for the evening, if we're still waiting for word from the others."

Pausing in his steps, the American turned to face him as he rubbed his arm nervously, frowning, "It's not the wait that's bothering me…" He corrected at Heero's raised eyebrow, "Well, all right, it is a little. But the fact that we're hunting one of our own is still killing me. For year now, we've been working with the enemy all along."

Heero rose from his desk and approached his best friend. Placing a hand on shoulder for support, he replied quietly, "I know. But they're not going to get away with this any longer. We'll get to them before they can hurt anyone else we care about."

There was a sudden, blinding flash of lightning that lit the darkened sky quickly followed by a loud, booming round of thunder that slightly rattled their office. Beneath his hand, Heero could feel the other pilot shudder. Gazing out to the storm again, Duo whispered, "I hope that wasn't a bad omen."

* * * * * *

Despite the flashes of lightning and downpour of rain outside, the power in the database was not affected as Trowa and Anna continued to work at their computers. For having worked practically nonstop for days and night now, the two Preventers worked at a feverish pace, their adrenaline pumping in knowing that their work was about to finally lead them to the end of their search.

At another loud crash of thunder, the redhead looked over her shoulder to watch her lover as she commented, "Sounds like a hell of a storm out there."

Without looking up from his screen, the ex-Gundam pilot nodded, "The weather called for this kind of front to last for the next few days." His fingers only stopped when he reached his arms upward to stretch. "I'm going to pick up a few sandwiches from the vending machine," the tall pilot announced as he rose from his seat. "Do you need anything, hon?"

Anna smiled over her shoulder, "I'll just take the usual, please." With a grin and a nod, Trowa stepped out of the room as the redhead turned back to her computer, typing fluidly as her eyes scanned the relation of names to the new list of bank accounts they successfully hacked into earlier that morning.

Several minutes into Trowa's disappearance, the lights in the database center began to flicker. His blue eyes widening, Anna sat up stiff in her seat as she gazed up. All around the power slowly dimmed to nothing then back up to full for several beats. Swallowing hard, she struggled to keep from breathing heavily when all power died to nothing, plunging her into complete darkness.

Even in the pitch, Anna's hand knew where to find her pistol. Finally, after several agonizing seconds, the backup lights turned on. While the lights were spaced sporadically and considerably dimmer than the normal lights, at least it was enough to make out her surroundings. With a deep sigh of relief, the redhead lowered the gun that had been clenched in her hand, placing it back in her holster at her waist.

Quickly, Anna rose from her seat and moved to the door to check on Trowa. While she knew he was a grown man who could look after himself, she had a strange feeling about the sudden power outage. After knowing that talk had been going around that someone was working in the office late in the evening, there was cause for alarm that the news reached the wrong ears.

As she opened the door, Anna's deep blue eyes widened with a startled gasp at the sight of the pistol barrel aimed for her head. Instantly acting on reflex, the redhead gripped the doorknob still in her hand as she pulled the bulletproof door before her just as the trigger was pulled. Three bullets ricochet off the closed door as the gunman cursed sharply.

"Fuck!" Anna shouted on the other side of the door, back inside secured office as she removed her gun. In her other hand she raised her radio to her mouth as she shouted, "Trowa, it's Andrew Dobson! The bastard's armed and he has me pined in lab!"

Immediately, her lover's voice shouted over the radio, "On my way!" Panting heavily, Anna stepped back from the door as the frustrated gunman continued to fire on the closed door. With a small gasp, her eyes snapped wide in realization. Running to her fingers over her keyboard, she typed her commands into the system under the dim backup lights.

"You should have kept your damn noses out of this!" Dobson shouted outside. "You're getting too close for your own fucking good, so now I don't have a choice but to kill you both."

Growling deeply to herself, Anna's narrowed eyes stayed glued on the screen. `Both,' her mind replayed. So he thought that Trowa was still inside. The power outage had been a ploy to being them out of the room to face him. "Come on, come on," she hissed to her computer. At the blinking message on her screen reading `Assess Granted,' the young woman sighed deeply in relief.

As she placed her radio to her mouth again, Anna said quietly, "Trowa, get Dobson to use Stairwell B. I've activated the emergency locks on the doors to every floor there. He'll only be able to go up to the roof then."

Trowa's quiet voice replied, "Roger that." At his affirmation, the sound of bullets flying outside filled the air as Andrew cried out. "He's taking the stairs now!" Instantly, Anna ran to the door, her pistol in her right hand.

Upon entering the hallway, she quickly caught up with her lover as they ran in pursuit of the traitor. Dobson turned once to fire at the pair before turning back to enter the stairwell. By the time the young couple reached the stairs, Andrew was already a whole flight of stairs above them. In the midst of their running up to catch the assailant, Trowa and Anna took a few times to fire at him, as they dodged his own bullets.

When they got up to the second floor, Trowa shouted into his own radio, "Heero, Duo, we have the leak! We're heading up to the roof now! You can access any stairwell except B!"

Both Heero and Duo were on their feet and flying out of their office the instant the announcement came over the radio on the ex-Wing pilot's desk. Removing the guns from their pockets, they ran for Stairwell A.

Anna ran into her partner to cause him to fall forward just in time to avoid a shot in the head after making his call. Growling loudly, the redhead fired up at Dobson again. The traitor continued his long climb up the stairs as the other two Preventers quickly got to their feet to chase after him. Finally, thirty-six floors later, they burst through the door leading to the roof.

As they stepped outside, the rain had calmed to a light drizzle as lightning continued to light the black sky. To the couple's surprise, Dobson had his back to them as he stood close to the ledge of the building, his pistol hanging loosely from his opened hand. Panting heavily, both Preventers trained their guns on their target. "Dobson, lower your weapon now and turn around slowly!" Trowa ordered loudly.

Without any hesitation, the tall, dark-haired man allowed his gun to fall from his hand with a small bounce on the hard surface. Obeying his orders, he turned slowly, raising his hands to place his hands on the back of his head as his dark brown eyes fell on his captors. There was a sinister smirk on his face that unnerved the other Preventers for a fraction of a second at the sight of it.

The door leading to Stairwell A flung open as Heero and Duo ran out. The braided pilot seemed to have been slightly winded from the climb as he panted heavily in effort to catch his breath. The two young men stared with wide eyes in disbelief at the sight of "Agent Talon," Duo all but whispered in amazement. This had been the same young man whom the American took under his wing to mentor and train when he joined the Preventers years before.

Dobson's head quickly snapped in the braided pilot's direction of the braided pilot, his own eyes widening a bit. His dark smirk returned as he chuckled deeply, "Well, well, well. So you really did make it back in one piece after all, `teach."

In seeing that Trowa and Anna had the situation handled, Heero replaced his own pistol in his holster as he hissed, "Why?"

With a sharp laugh, Agent Talon replied, "Why else!? The price was right, of course. A pretty penny was offered for each one of you Gundam pilots!" He shrugged, "It was just an offer that couldn't be passed up."

As he looked over his shoulder to the long fall down to the pavement, Dobson chuckled deeply. Miles below, he could make out the headlights of cars driving up and down the street. "Don't do it, Dobson," Anna's voice called to him.

His head falling back, Agent Talon smiled darkly, "I'm already dead. There is no place you can hold us that he won't be able to get to." Turning his dark eyes to look at Duo, he smirked, "I'll bet that you made a pretty little bitch while you were in that cell." The eyes of the other four Preventers widened in shock at the statement.

"I'll be watching you little pretties from Hell," Dobson stated in a deep, almost chillingly calm voice. With that, he leaned back with his arms extended as his feet left the ledge.

"NO!" Anna and Trowa screamed as they ran forward, their friends quick on their heels. When the four pilots reached the ledge, they all looked over the ledge with wide eyes as the tall man smiled up at them in his decent to the earth below until he fell out of their vision.

There was a loud crash followed by the loud squeal of tires coming to a sudden halt on the wet street. Car horns could vaguely be made out at the world below was sent into a sudden tailspin that it did not see coming. As the light rain continued to fall on them and the wind blew at their hair, the Preventers slowly pulled back from the ledge.

Wrapping her arms around her waist at a sudden chill, Anna's wide eyes looked up to her lover as she breathed, "My God… Who is `he'? Who are we dealing with?"

As he swallowed hard, Trowa shook his head as he frowned deeply, "I-I don't know."

Duo was trembling as a small whimper escaped him. Heero instantly wrapped his arms around his partner as he held him close. Silently cursing the dead man for his last few statements, the ex-Wing pilot turned to his friends and suggested, "We better get inside." With nods of agreement, Trowa and Anna followed.

As they approached the door, to the stairs they had climbed, Trowa wrapped an arm around his lover as he asked quietly, "Status?"

"Pissed off," Anna snapped. With a sigh, she added, "But other than that, I'm fine." She looked up to her lover and asked just as softly, "You?"

The tall pilot smirked, "A few bruises, but nothing major." Just as he reached the door to open it, Trowa suddenly stiffened as he turned to Heero, asking, "Dobson referred to `us' just now didn't he?"

Heero's cobalt eyes widened as he thought back to the fallen Agent's last comments. "He said that there was no place we could hold `them.'" His eyes narrowed again in realization as he growled, "There are other leaks."

 

Part 13:

"I hate this part of the job," Anna half-moaned, half-growled through gritted teeth as she reached into the pocket of Agent Talon's pants.

What little remained of the imposter was spread over the normally busy street, which was now blocked off by several police cars and yellow tape. The large chunk of torso that had been splattered open repulsively as the only limb still attached was the fallen agent's right leg.

Finding nothing in the first pocket, the redheaded Preventer moved to the left pocket. Finding a leather wallet, she quickly removed it before turning over the blood-covered remains. Closing her eyes tightly, Anna made quick work of searching the backside pockets. As her hand moved within the material, something soft and wet that was attached to the body brushed against her hand. With a groan, she grimaced, "Oh, I don't even want to know that the hell that was."

After retrieving a few papers and a small pocket watch, the Preventer quickly rose to her feet and stepped back from the gruesome sight, coughing violently as the sickening smell caught up with her. One of the officers on patrol came up to check on her process.

Gesturing over her shoulder to the remains, Anna informed the patrolman, "You can send in the cleanup crew. Thanks for your help tonight." The tall officer nodded and gave some orders over his radio as he stepped away from the bloody scene.

Two squad cars, their red and blue flashers one of the few sources of light aside from the street lamps, parted to allow a red Civic enter the site they had been sealing off. When the car came to a halt a few feet away from the red-haired Preventer, Lady Une ran out into the lightly falling rain towards her as she called out in concern, "Agent Mist."

With a weak smile, Anna greeted tiredly, "Good to see you, Commander. Sorry we had to call you so late, but given the circumstances..." she gestured with her head to he corpse over her shouder her.

The tall brunette's eyes widened when she stopped before her agent to look to the bloody remains of the body. "My God," she whispered, her face paling. "Who was it?"

"Andrew Dobson, Agent Talon," the redhead answered. A few officers from the police department moved in with a van. A team of uniformed officers filed out from the back of the vehicle with plastic bags and several power washers.

Sighing deeply, Anna suggested, "We best leave them to scrape what's left of him from the street. Trowa and I will fill you in on what happened." Finally able to feel her legs again, the young Commander nodded, leading the way into the tall building.

* * * * * *

Slightly rocking in his seat on the far side of Lady Une's office, Duo paid little attention to the briefing taking place at the commander's desk. His head was lowered and his violet gaze was locked on his hands wrapped tightly around his braid. When, another hand game to rest gently over his to squeeze them in support, he looked up to the concerned cobalt eyes watching him. Quietly, Heero asked, "Are you okay?"

Blinking his violet eyes, Duo reminded himself of where he was. He had nearly forgotten that his best friend was sitting beside him for the last twenty minutes. To answer the other pilot, he nodded, biting his bottom lip. He just didn't trust his voice at that moment.

Heero's concerned frown never faded as he wrapped an arm around his partner's shoulders, pulling him close for support. Closing his eyes, Duo rested his head against his friend's shoulder and wondered what he would have done if Heero wasn't there for him. Somehow, he always seemed to show up just when he needed him the most, knowing exactly what to do.

Again, Dobson's voice continued to replay though the braided pilot's mind, the image that satisfied smirk still chilling the braided pilot to his core. `I'll bet that you made a pretty little bitch while you were in that cell.'

A shiver ran through Duo that he was unable to stop, feeling his whole body beginning to tremble. The arm tightening around his shoulder and the gentle voice beside him whispering reassurances continued to keep him from losing it all together.

The long days and nights of the past week had finally caught up to Trowa and Anna as their fatigue was finally too great for them to hide. Slouched in their seats, the dark circles under their eyes were more striking now against their fair skin.

As they relayed everything that they had learned and the events that took place just over an hour ago, Trowa and Anna looked as though the last of their strength was being focused on keeping their eyes opened. Finally, after learning everything there was to learn, Lady Une folded her hands before her face as she thought of her next move.

After a moment of silence, the tall Commander rose from her seat and told the young couple before her, "I'm very proud of the both of you for your efforts. Right now, I'm going to order you to go home and take the next couple of days off to rest. You've earned it, and you're going to need it."

Despite their own wishes to stick around and see if they could help in the continuation of the search for the leaks, both Trowa and Anna nodded and voiced their gratitude. In their current condition, there would be little that either of them would be able to accomplish effectively. In the end, they knew that their Commander was right.

"I'm going to call Zechs and Noin in to pick up on what you've recovered from Dobson's remains," the tall woman stated. "In the meantime, I will see that Wufei and Sally investigate his residence for anything else that may tip us on who these other traitors are.

"We have an advantage in the timing, in that we have all night to work on this search now. The street has been cleaned and I have halted any reporting of this incident over the news mediums. Before the end of this coming day, we will have the identities of those who had been assisting Agent Talon in leaking our communications."

Trowa nodded and requested, "Could you please keep us informed on the progress? If we can't be here, it would be appreciated to be kept up on the investigation." His emerald eyes narrowed as he growled, "This matter is more than personal now." Beside him, Anna's own eyes were thinned as she nodded her agreement to his sentiments.

With a smirk, Lady Une reassured them, "I would not have dreamed of leaving you out of this." Her smile faded as she took on a stern look, a look that the ex-Gundam pilots referred to as her `mothering look.' "Now, go home and get some sleep. I don't want to see you in this office again for at least the next two days," she ordered in a gentle, but firm manner.

* * * * * *

After giving Trowa and Anna a ride home following their meeting with Lady Une, Heero and Duo walked up the porch steps to their own house. As they walked, their arms brushed up against each other on account of how close they stayed together, their shadows under the porch lights merging into one entity. It was just after nine o'clock and the light drizzle had finally stopped.

When they unlocked the door and stepped inside, Yuuki ran up to them with an excited bark. The puppy's tail was wagging excitedly as her owners greeted her with gentle pats. The sight of the collie brought a small smile to the braided pilot's as Heero sighed in relief of the sight. Carefully, Duo scooped up the giddy ball of fur in one arm.

Quatre and Relena stepped out of the living room to greet their friends with concerned and eager expressions. Once everyone was seated back in the living room, Heero opted to be the informer as Duo played with their puppy in one of the further corners of the room. When Heero had finished recalling the events of that evening, leaving out the comment Dobson had shot at Duo, their guests sitting before him were wide-eyed and pale.

"My God," was all Relena could manage to whisper as she sat back, covering her mouth. She reached with a gentle hand to rub her slightly swollen stomach as her lover took a firm hold of the free hand beside him.

Quatre looked just as stricken by the assessment and the realization that he and the other ex-Gundam pilots were all being targeted. All this time, it was just assumed that Duo had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. That theory had been dashed in the light of this new realization. They were all being hunted, and there was nothing coincidental in Duo's ending up in the hands of the White Out Organization.

There had been a long silence in the room before the blonde Arab finally asked quietly, "What does Lady Une have planned for the next move in finding the other traitors?"

Glancing to his watch, Heero answered, "By now, she must have contacted Noin, Zechs, Wufei and Sally. They're going to continue on with the investigation in searching through Dobson's residence and belongings. She expects to have the people who were helping him by the end of this next day."

The Japanese pilot's cobalt eyes turned to his best friend, relieved in seeing that Duo was finding comfort in just sitting on the floor with Yuuki curled in his lap. Turning back to their guests, he offered, "You're both still more than welcome to stay here for the night in one of the guest rooms, if you like."

At sensing a great deal of tension from his braided friend, Quatre smiled kindly as he shook his head, "Thank you, Heero, but we don't have a long drive back home. There are some matters we will have to take care of from there before arriving at headquarters in the morning."

Relena was as understanding, knowing that there was a reason for her lover's wish to leave their friends alone. She accepted the Arab's hand offered to her to assist her rising to her feet. Walking over to the braided pilot in the corner as he rose at seeing that his friends were leaving, the young woman pecked his cheek as she wrapped her arms around him. "We'll see you tomorrow, Duo," she whispered before pulling back. Forcing a smile, the American nodded.

When their farewells had been exchanged, Relena hooked her arm through Quatre's as they walked back to their car. "What's wrong with Duo?" she asked quietly, her concern etched on her face. "He seemed so… distant tonight." The worry on her face grew deeper as she commented, "And I know that you were picking something up from him. You wouldn't have been in such a rush to leave if you hadn't."

Shaking his head, the Arab pilot frowned, "I don't know. But I haven't sensed such a sense of loss and tension in him since the last time we saw him." A shuddered ran through Quatre at the memory of that fateful meeting when Duo had spoken up to all of them for their lack of effort in searching for him.

While the braided Preventer had every right to be upset with them, it still hurt. Had he have been able to turn back time, the blonde pilot would never have written his friend off as dead. Looking back over his shoulder to the house, Quatre commented, "I just hope that Heero is able to get him through his anguish again."

Back inside the house, Yuuki went back to her large pillow to lie down and fall asleep, having grown accustomed to the sleeping arrangements over the last few days. Upstairs, Heero and Duo were changing out of their uniforms in silence on opposite sides of the room. As he pulled a white tank top over his head, the Japanese pilot peered over his shoulder to find his friend was already changed and sitting on the edge of their bed.

Walking over to his partner, Heero knelt down before him to gaze up with worried eyes as he said quietly, "Talk to me, Duo. You haven't said a word all night." Duo bit his lip and turned his head aside, unable to meet the eyes watching him with so much concern.

Gently, Heero rested a hand on his friend's leg, only to pull it back as if it were burned when Duo flinched at the touch. Cursing himself quietly for making such a move, the ex-Wing pilot whispered sincerely, "I'm sorry."

Heero moved slowly, as not to startle the skittish pilot, to sit beside him on the bed. Sighing deeply, he pulled Duo close to him as he enfolded him in his arms. Unable to restrain himself any longer, the braided pilot all but collapsed against his best friend, burying his face into the Japanese Preventer's chest as he threw his arms around him. For a while, Duo just trembled and sobbed against his partner.

It killed Heero every time he saw Duo in this state. As much as this was a part of his friend's dealing with his pain, it just wasn't the Duo that he knew. Just when it seemed as though the braided pilot was beginning to come to terms with his nightmarish experience, all of the work they had accomplished over the last few months was beginning to fall apart at the seems again.

Once the teenager in his arms relaxed, a thought came to Heero and gently pulled the both of them up to their feet. Duo just kept his eyes locked on the deep cobalt watching him as his friend wiped the tears from his face, asking, "Better." Swallowing hard, the braided pilot nodded still unable to trust his voice. Gently, the ex-Wing pilot tugged on his hand and ordered gently, "Follow me."

Their hands staying joined, Heero led them downstairs and through the long hallway. Just behind him, Duo remained quiet as he blinked is violet eyes in uncertainty. Opening the door to their private gym, the Japanese teenager turned the light on and stepped inside, still tugging his best friend behind him.

As they passed the different pieces of workout equipment that they had accumulated before Duo's disappearance, Heero took up a roll of white bandage tape. Finally, he brought them to a stop before the large, red punching bag that was strung up in the far corner. After unraveling some of the tape, the unruly-haired pilot began to wrap it around his confused partner's knuckles without a word between them.

When both hands were properly protected, Heero took hold of the braided teenager's shoulders and locked their gazed as he stated, "This investigation is only going to become more challenging for you. If you fall apart every time one of those bastards has something to say, you're not ready to be a part of this investigation and I will not allow you to be involved."

The Japanese pilot's cobalt eyes narrowed and his hands squeezed Duo's shoulders as he continued, "From now on, tell yourself that every time you let yourself crumble, you're letting the people who hurt you win. They wanted to break you, crush your spirit until there was nothing left. You've been a victim of these fuckers long enough."

The wide eyes watching him slowly narrowed in their own determination as the words began to break through the barrier of distress and grief that had plagued Duo for the last two years. After all of the torture, all of the measures taken to destroy him, the braided pilot finally took a look at the person he had become, had allowed himself to become after the fact.

Duo had become exactly what the organizers of the White Out Organization wanted him to become… a broken, feeble shell of the person he once had been. Suddenly, the driving force within him, the same force he referred to as Shinigami, came alive again and screamed for vengeance.

At the flash of realization in his partner's eyes, Heero told him, "You better prove to me that you're ready for this case. I am not going to sit back and watch you break down every time one of these assholes tries to get under your skin. Now are you going to just allow yourself be their victim any longer?"

His eyes still narrowed, Duo growled darkly, "No." It was the first word he had said that night, and yet that one word communicated volumes to what was going through the braided pilot's mind.

Slowly, a satisfied smirk tugged at the right side of Heero's mouth as he replied, "Good. Now prove it." With that, he moved behind the punching bag to hold it in place. "This is just practice of what's to come," the ex-Wing pilot announced.

Taking a deep breath, Heero prepared himself in his role needed to help his friend heal. Lowering his voice intently to sound similar to Dobson, Heero smirked, "I'll bet that you made a pretty little bitch while you were in that cell."

Duo let out a loud cry of rage as he sent his right fist flying into the bag. His left fist followed quickly after. Replacing his anguish and distress with seething anger and the need for revenge, the braided pilot lost himself in the new sensations. The antagonizing comments that Heero continued to throw at him served their purpose in keeping him focused on those emotions.

Only when he felt the last of his recovering strength beginning to fade did Duo finally deliver the last blow, recoiling back a step from the force of it with a loud grunt of effort. Covered in sweat and panting heavily, he came down from the rush of emotions and the release of that rage. Heero came from around the punching bag quickly to pull his partner into a tight embrace, whispering, "Good job, Duo."

Still panting, the American closed his eyes as he held onto the other pilot tightly. As he continued to catch his breath, he grinned, "That was… fun." The chest against him rumbled with the deep chuckle that came from the ex-Wing pilot. When he caught his breath at last, he pulled back to smile warmly at his best friend. Instead of tears of pain, his eyes shimmed with small tears of elation as he whispered, "Thank you, Heero."

Returning the smile, Heero brushed back Duo's long, damp bangs and replied just as quietly, "You're welcome."

When they looked over to the clock, they were both surprised to find that they had been in the gym for over an hour. "You're getting stronger," the Japanese pilot acknowledged with a proud smirk. "Two months ago, you wouldn't have lasted a work out like that for more than fifteen minutes."

Even Duo couldn't help but grinning in pride, himself. He hadn't lasted nearly as long as he would have been able to when he was well, but this was certainly a start. He just leapt over a tall hurdle blocking his road to recovery.

While there were going to be more of those hurdles ahead, at least now Duo could look at them as challenges that he could overcome, and not something impossible for him to beat. It had been a landmark night.

One of the joys of reaching such an emotional accomplishment was the great fatigue that followed, Duo came to learn as he yawned widely. Having to heavily lean against the other pilot for support, he rested his head on Heero's shoulder with his eyes closed. "Tired," he mumbled before he had the need to yawn again.

Chuckling deeply, Heero scooped the braided Preventer into his arms as he replied, "Alright. Let's get you to bed."

By the time he reached the stairs on the way to their room, the ex-Wing pilot smiled himself at the sound of the even breathing from the teenager in his arms as a sign that he had already fallen asleep. Gently, he placed a kiss on Duo's forehead. Sighing quietly, he silently wondered how the others were doing in their search for the other leaks.

* * * * * *

Not even bothering with sliding a card into the door to open it, Wufei had resorted to simply kicking the door to Andrew Dobson's house in. Once they were in, Sally instantly went to two of the large file cabinets she found in the basement. Using a small laser cutter, she broke into the cabinets and went through the reports and files located there. Wufei went to the fallen agent's computer, hacking into some of the secured files there.

More than an hour into their search, Sally ran upstairs, carrying a couple folders with her. "Look at this," she told her fiancé as she walked over to the computer station in the study. Pausing in his typing, Wufei's dark eyes scanned over the papers the braided woman lied on the desk before him.

"There is nothing mentioned of White Out in any of his files," Sally began. Pointing to several lines that she highlighted, she stated, "But in some of his person records, Dobson mentioned Brian Hefner, Sara Rivers and Mark Conner more than a hundred times in his records."

Wufei took a deep breath and covered his face with his hands. "They're all agents that had been trained by us, personally, when they became Preventers." Lowering his hand, he looked up to the young woman and suggested, "Call Zechs and Noin at the office. See if those names are in any memos that were pulled from Dobson's pockets."

Sally quickly removed her cell phone as the raven-haired pilot hacked into the National bank records, following Trowa and Anna's instructions that they had passed along to him on their way to the house. Now that he had specific names to go off of, his search would only take minutes compared to the days his friends had he research without a lead.

After stepping into the hallway, the young woman dialed her friend's own cell phone number. "This is Noin," the voice on the other end of the cell phone greeted.

Sally replied, "Noin, of the personal records in Dobson's computer at headquarters and in the items he had been carrying, I need you to look for three specific names." Once her comrade announced she had pen and paper ready, the braided Preventer recited, "Brian Hefner, Sara Rivers and Mark Conner. Code names Agent Blade, Agent Storm and Agent Wolf."

There was a long silence on the other line as Noin and Zechs cross-referenced the names. Finally, Zechs's voice came over the receiver as he stated, "We have matches with all three names here. They were written on different documents as not to draw any connection."

Wufei's voice suddenly called, "Sally!"

Running back into the study, the braided woman kept her right ear to the cell phone as her fiancé reported, "The three accounts of those agents all made deposits of one hundred thousand dollars each, with no way to trace where the funds came from." He turned in his seat with a determined expression as he stated, "Those deposits were made within two weeks following Duo's disappearance."

Smiling in relief, Sally announced, "We've got them."

* * * * * *

Whistling a merry tune, Mark Conner made his way toward his office at the start of another day. He woke up in an exceptionally good mood this morning. Now that he had leave from any field work for the next couple of weeks, he could look forward to staying in his office and having the night to himself… and whatever lovely, female accompaniment he so chose. He certainly was at the top of his game.

As he ran a hand through his wavy, blonde hair, the young man chuckled deeply at the thought of what conversations he would have the pleasure of eavesdropping on this afternoon. When it came time for lunch, Conner made plans on calling his good friend Andrew Dobson to join him. It was going to be a good day.

Once he approached the door, the blonde agent entered his access code into the panel and stepped inside. He froze the moment he took one step inside. Sitting at his desk, his arms folded behind his head, was none other than Zechs. With his feet resting atop Marks's desk and a sinister smirk on his face, he greeted, "Good to see you, Conner."

His brown eyes wide, Agent Wolf only hesitated for a millisecond before turning on his heels and running out into the hall. "He's on the run," Zechs announced into his radio as he sprang to his feet to chase after Mark. "He turned down the south wing."

"I'm on it," Noin's voice replied. From where she was stationed, she could see the young man running right in her direction. Stepping out from behind the corner where she was hiding, she propped an arm on the wall and her freehand on her hip. "Something wrong, Mark?" she asked with a playful smirk.

The Mark's brown eyes widened as he tried desperately from stopping himself from running into her. When he turned, he ran right into Zechs fist, falling backwards onto the floor from the sheer harshness of the collision.

Amazed that he hadn't lost consciousness from the blow, the stunned traitor blinked his shocked eyes up to the couple standing over him, their pistols aimed for his head as they glared heatedly down on him. "Don't. Move," Zechs ordered in a deep growl.

* * * * * *

Mark was thrown into one of the holding cells located in the lowest level of the Preventer headquarters. As the thick, metal door was slammed closed behind him, the tall blonde's look of rage quickly turned into shock when his gaze fell on the two grim-faced agents sitting at the long table in the center of the room…Sara Rivers and Brian Hefner.

Suddenly, what started off as such a great day had taken a drastic turn.

* * * * * *

At the ringing of his cell phone, Heero removed one hand from the steering wheel to answer it. Putting the phone to his ear, he greeted, "This is Yuy." From his place in the passenger seat, Duo watched his friend in anticipation.

"Okay," Heero spoke after a long pause, his voice not giving anything away to what was being said on the other end of the line. "We'll see you in about ten minutes, then." With that, he disconnected the call and placed the phone back in his uniform's jacket pocket.

Taking a deep breath, the ex-Wing pilot turned to face his friend's curious, violet eyes. A smile slowly tugged at Heero's lips as he announced, "They have them."

 

Part 14:

[And like a little girl cries in the face of a monster that lives in her dreams
Is there anyone out there cause it's getting harder and harder to breathe
Is there anyone out there cause it's getting harder and harder to breathe]
-Lyrics to `Harder to Breathe' by Maroon 5

 

Wufei was leaning against the wall of the observation room, his arms folded and his dark eyes glaring at the three prisoners sitting on the other side of the transparent glass. It was difficult to just stand there, gazing on the three surviving traitors responsible for causing so much grief for his circle of friends the last two years. His fists clenched and unclenched as his seething rage continued to course through him.

A gentle hand fell on the Chinese pilot's shoulder, causing him to peer up to face his lover. With a small, comforting smile, Sally said quietly, "Steady, love. There is a long line of people waiting to have their shot at them."

Sighing deeply, Wufei ran a hand over his smoothed hair and began to pace as a means of releasing some of his tension. As he continued to stride across the room, he replied, "It's still such a disturbing thing, knowing how much trust we had put in them.

"We've trained each of them, flown missions with them, turned to them for assistance when we were outnumbered. Now…" His anger caught up with him as his teeth clenched, unable to continue his thoughts.

As she stepped in his path, Sally rested her hands on his shoulders, forcing his eyes to meet hers. "I know," she said quietly, sincerely. "Believe me when I tell you that I know what you're feeling right now. But, we have to go about this with our heads on straight."

His shoulders sagging, Wufei conceded with a deep frown. Slowly, he took a deep, soothing breath and nodded, "You're right."

Sally smirked and winked, "Of course I am." Lowering her hands, she stepped back and walked towards the table in the dimly lit room and suggested, "Come sit with me. The others should be here soon." With another nod, Wufei took the seat beside the tall woman, his dark eyes looking back through the transparent glass to the three agents sitting in the next room.

The door opened and Noin and Zechs stepped in, their own faces turned immediately to the three agents. Sitting across from Wufei and Sally, the couple turned their chairs so that they could also watch the prisoners intently. "Were you able to reach Trowa and Anna?" Sally asked after a long silence between them.

Zechs peered to the braided woman over his shoulder and replied with a nod, "Lady Une still wants them off of the premises to rest for the next couple of days, so as much as they want to be here they will have to be updated on our progress."

Again, the door opened and a very grim-looking Lady Une entered the observation room. The four Preventers rose from their seats quickly, the anticipation clear on their faces in waiting for her orders in how to handle their captives.

Easing a bit at the site of how eager her team was, the brunette smiled a bit, raising her hand as she chuckled deeply, "At ease, everyone. We're in for a long day." Slowly, the two couples took their seats again while the Commander stood before the transparent glass.

Nearly everyone jumped when the metal door grinded quietly as it opened once more. When Heero and Duo entered, they could already feel the tension in the air. His arms wrapped around his waist, the braided pilot walked up to the glass beside Lady Une. As Heero stepped further into the room, his friends smiled or nodded to him in acknowledgement.

With a deeply frown, Duo gazed on the three familiar faces in the other room. Heero stayed in the back of the room, leaning up against the wall with his arms folded. From that spot, he could keep an eye on the traitors and his partner at the same time.

Having to struggle to keep her voice calm while she continued to glare heatedly at the prisoners, Lady Une began, "We are going to let our friends, here, sit and wait for the next couple of hours. I want them to sweat out what we may or may not have in store for them."

"And after that?" Heero asked, speaking for everyone present in anxious readiness for some form of payback for what the traitors had done.

Turning to face him, Lady Une grinned wickedly, "And after that, they we start drawing straws to see who gets their first shot at breaking them." Five, smug, satisfied smirks replied their own acceptance of her plan. Duo seemed to only be partly listening, his violet eyes trained on the three individuals on the other side of the glass.

* * * * * *

Two hours later…

Peering at the reflective mirror, which they all knew to be a transparent glass on the other side, Sara Rivers narrowed her green eyes. Adjusting her long ponytail of mouse brown hair, she growled under her breath, "How the hell were they able to pick up on the break in the signal? It was supposed to be fail-safe from ever being indicated."

Careful to keep his voice down, a lanky Brian Hefner's blue eyes locked with hers as he hissed, "Before we go pointing fingers at who is responsible, let's try to think logically." His shoulder-length, deep red hair swayed as he sat back in his seat.

Making sure that he kept the back of his head to the mirror, Brian mouthed to the woman across from him, `They don't have all of us, anyway.' Sara gave a discrete nod, visibly relaxing a bit at that knowledge.

With a deep growl, Mark Conner rose from his seat, announcing, "I'm tired of just sitting here and waiting." The right side of his face was marked by a darkening bruise from where Zechs had landed his fist. Walking before the observation glass, the blonde double agent extended his arms and laughed madly, "Come on with it! Let's not play any more games here!"

Both Sara and Brian smirked wickedly to the glass, folding their arms in defiance to whoever was on the other side. There was no response from those watching them. With a loud cry, Mark punched the glass, the force of the blow nearly breaking his fingers. Despite the throb in his hand, it was good to have relieved some of his tension before returning to his seat.

On the other side of the glass, Lady Une faced the Preventers gathered there with a satisfied smirk. "That would be our cue," she announced. "The other holding cells were cleared so that you can separate the three of them. We may have a better chance of getting some information if they're on their own."

The straws had already been drawn as to who would have their first chance to handle the prisoners. From there, the three Preventers decided amongst themselves which of the traitors they wanted to deal with alone. It was agreed that the first team would have an hour to get what they could out of their chosen captive. Duo had opted to stand down from having any contact with the traitors, contenting himself to wait the interrogations out.

"All we need is a name," the Commander continued. "If we can get the name of the person they have been sharing their information with, we'll be able to slowly work up the chain of those working for White Out." With firm nods, the first three agents who drew the longest straws made their way out of the room.

In their holding cell, Sara removed her ponytail and her straight hair fell to the middle of her back. Chuckling deeply, she shook her head, "They have no idea who they're dealing with. Whatever they might try, they won't be able to get anything out of us."

Suddenly, the door to the holding cell grated open. Zechs, Heero and Noin entered, each of them with a heated glare fixed on the team gathered there. Quickly, Zechs took hold of Mark while Heero grabbed Brian before they were taken from the room with a brief struggle.

When the door slammed closed after them, Noin turned to the stunned young woman. Leaning towards Sara from across the table, the Agent Fire smirked darkly, "Looks like it's just you and me."

* * * * * *

Another hour passed before Mark and Brian were thrown back into the holding cell they had been sharing with their accomplice. Noin stepped out of the room while the three beaten captives lied on the ground for a moment to catch their breaths. Together, Zechs and Heero worked to remove the table the three chairs from the room before they slammed the door closed again.

As they left the table and chairs in the hallway, Lady Une was approaching following one of her conferences. Tilting her head, she gave the three Preventers a confused look. Answering her unspoken question, Zechs shrugged, "Now they won't have any way to hang themselves from the ceiling."

Realization filled the young woman's brown eyes as she nodded, "Ah. Good thinking." While appraising the three interrogators, she shook her head in amusement in noting that not one of them had broken a sweat during their `one-on-one time' with the captives. Gesturing to closed door of the holding cell, she asked, "Were you able to get anywhere with them?"

Noin sighed deeply, "No. They're not about to give us any information." She ran a hand through her short hair and commented, "We'll have to have the next team have their shot at them."

"I hope that included us," a familiar voice announced. When the shocked eyes of those gathered in the hall fell on him, Trowa smirked, "I'm up for a little payback." Beside him, Anna grinned mischievously. At the sight of his friends, Heero chuckled deeply to himself, not surprised at all by their sudden appearance.

Her brown eyes narrowing a bit, Lady Une placed her hands on her hips and frowned, "I thought that I had order the two of you to stay home and rest." While no one would ever tell her, everyone did find it quite amusing how quickly Lady Une could switch from being a Commander in charge to being a concerned mothering figure.

Anna pushed off of the wall that she had been leaning against and frowned, "With all due respect, Commander, we did what you had asked. Being here is more important to us right now." Trowa nodded, the concern of being sent away again clear on his face.

"If I may say something," Zechs spoke up. When all eyes turned to him, the tall man suggested, "The more hands we have in this matter, the better. We're dealing with three very stubborn people and we may tire ourselves out before we are able to get any information out of them, considering how shorthanded we are now."

Heero nodded, "I agree. After Dobson was so quick to see killing himself as a more appealing option than giving information, we're up against the same challenge with these three."

With a deep sigh, Lady Une lowered her arms as she looked back to the young couple. A small smile tugged at her lips and she nodded, "All right. But the moment we have what we need, you are to return home."

Trowa and Anna both relaxed with relieved smiles. "We'll do that. Thank you, Commander," the tall young man nodded. Lady Une just shook her head in amusement before stepping back into the observation room. Noin, Zechs and Heero reunited with the couple with an exchange of embraces and handshakes.

Duo looked up when the door to the dimly lit room opened. His violet eyes widened at the sight of Trowa and Anna entering with the others. Duo, Wufei and Sally brightened at the refreshing sight of the familiar faces.

The young couple grinned to their friends as they prepared for their own tasks at hand. After reuniting with Sally and Wufei, they turned their full attention and concern to the quiet American sitting in the far corner. They both knew that their last encounter with him on the roof certainly had shaken him.

Bending at his knees to wrap his arms around his braided friend, Trowa whispered, "Hey, little brother." Duo smiled as he returned the embrace. Anna took her chance to hug the American tightly and kissed the top of his head.

"I had a funny feeling the two of you would show up," Wufei smirked. No sooner had he made that comment than the door opened again. His dark eyes, and all the eyes of those present, widened when Quatre stepped inside.

The blonde Arab winced slightly at the shocked faces watching him. "Sorry," he began. "I couldn't just sit back knowing what was going on here." Turning to Heero, he reassured, "Relena is still back at the house watching Yuuki, but I waited until Rashid arrived to see that she wasn't left alone."

Zechs physically relaxed knowing that his sister was not left behind. Knowing that the White Out Organization was targeting the ex-Gundam pilots, Relena could very well have been made a mark for them as well. Until they knew who they were dealing with, it was best that no one in their tight-knit group be left by themselves.

Despite his initial shock at the announcement that the blonde pilot was having an affair, and now a child, with his sister, Zechs truly did like Quatre. The fact that the young man went through every measure to see that Relena was safe proved how devoted the ex-Sandrock pilot was to her. With a satisfied smirk, he nodded his appreciation and approval to the Arabian. In seeing the nod, Quatre grinned back.

Sally addressed the group, "All right, who wants the next hour with our friends over there?" Gesturing with her head, she motioned to the three battered and bruised prisoners still sprawled out on the floor in the holding cell. Quickly, Trowa, Anna, Wufei stepped up. Both Duo and Quatre remained out of this end of the interrogation, leaving the new team to decide amongst themselves which captive they wanted to deal with.

Groaning deeply, Hefner pushed himself up from where he lied on his stomach. "Damn, Yuy's a lot stronger than I gave him credit," the redhead winced when he held a hand to his injured lower back. With his free hand, he wiped at his cut and bleeding lower lip.

Now with a matching bruise to the left side of his face, Conner growled deeply in his effort to sit up. "No one said anything did they?" he managed to ground out through his pain.

Rivers was already leaning her upper body against the wall, nursing her right arm and shaking her head, "I didn't." Brian replied the same, not than any one of them would have thought that they would be broken so easily.

The cell door opened again and Trowa, Anna and Wufei entered. Bearing a large bag, the tallest of the three stepped forward, his emerald eyes taking in the traitors, and began, "I thought that you might be wondering where your forth accomplice, Andrew, might be."

At the startled looks on the three faces before him, Trowa smirked-so these were the last of the imposters that were responsible for leaking information to their enemy. The hope that they held onto, in believing that there was at least one other member of their group out there, diminished in the form of a light in their eyes being snuffed out.

Opening the black bag, Trowa threw the blood-covered contents to fall before the prisoners. With startled gasps, they gazed on the distinct college ring that Dobson always wore proudly. It was still attached to the hand and arm of their missing partner in crime. "It was a hundred feet from the remainder of his torso," Anna informed their captives. "The rest of him had to be scraped off of the street."

His face reddened with rage, Brian shot his blue eyes up at the trio with a fiery glare. "This changes nothing," he hissed. "You won't get anything out of us." His partners nodded their agreement, their own faces fixed in anger at the loss of their friend.

"Then we'll have fun trying," Wufei snarled. Stepping forward, he took hold of Hefner while Anna took hold of Sara's injured arm, pulling her outside.

Cracking his knuckles, Trowa smirked down at an ever defiant Mark Conner. "And then there were two."

* * * * * *

More than five hours later, there was still no headway in getting anything out of the three prisoners. The two interrogating teams had switched several times now, and they were finally beginning to feel the effects of their efforts catching up with them. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Noin frowned, "I don't know how the hell they could take so much abuse and still not come out with anything."

With a deep sigh, Quatre shook his head, "It's not from lack of effort, on anyone's part. From what you told me about Dobson's last statements, they consider themselves dead as it is. They don't have any reason to give away any information they may have."

Duo was sitting on the table in the center of the room, his violet eyes trained as ever on the three prisoners on the other side of the transparent mirror. Behind him, the others were huddled closely when Zechs suggested, "We should start pairing up, instead of continuing this one-on-one approach."

"I'm willing to try that," Trowa nodded. There were a few other voices of agreement, along with a few other suggestions in how to break the traitors.

As the conversation continued behind him, Duo never looked away from the mirror as he said quietly, but firmly, "Let me talk to them."

Even over all of the commotion behind him, the American's words were able to be heard by everyone and the conversation came to a sudden halt. Looking back over his shoulder to the stunned faces watching him, the braided pilot said a bit more audibly, "I think I know how to get them to talk, but I'll need to have the table and chairs set up again."

Heero stepped forward, the concern clear on his face. "Duo, are you sure that you're up to it? You really don't have to-" He stopped in mid-sentence at the intense determination in his friend's violet eyes. Taking a deep breath, the ex-Wing pilot nodded, "Alright."

Rising from the table, Duo turned to his friends and smiled sadly, "No offence, everyone, but I would feel better if only Heero and Lady Une stuck around for this." Her own concern rising now, the Preventer Commander nodded firmly to the others in a silent order to see to the request.

Slowly, the group began to file from the room, a few of Duo's friends squeezing his shoulder or giving some kind of supportive gesture before they left. Zechs and Trowa worked together in setting the table and now four chairs back up in the holding room. As the two Preventers worked, Hefner, Conner and Rivers all watched in confusion while they pulled themselves from the floor.

When the cell was closed off again, Duo took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he released it slowly. After a long pause, Heero gently placed a hand on his partner's shoulder and squeezing it. "I'll be right here, okay?" he said quietly.

Meeting his best friend's eyes, Duo gave a small smile and nodded, "Thanks, Heero." He turned to face Lady Une as she stepped forward with a small recorder to be hidden in his pocket. "I would appreciate it if this conversation was not recorded. All you need is one name, and I'll get it for you."

"Of course," the commander nodded. She stepped back and put the recorder away again. "If it ever gets to be too much for you, no one would think any less of you if you needed to get out of there." With a slight nod, Duo moved from the room without making any further eye contact with them.

When the cell door opened, the three prisoners sitting on the far side of the table paled at the sight of the braided pilot as he stepped in. unknown to them was the effort that Duo was putting in to keeping his back straight, his steps sure and his face etched in a chilling glare.

Of all of the Preventers that Conner and the others had expected to see, Duo was certainly the last of them. Taking the only seat across from the trio, the American gave them a cold smile as he began, "I am going to make this brief. You're going to give me the name of the person that you were sharing intelligence with from the White Out Organization and I won't have to do anything worse than what the others have already done to you."

There was a long silence as the three prisoners stared at him in shock. Brian was the first to break, his head falling back as he burst into laughter. His partners joined in the same. Duo remained cold on the other side of the table, his arms folded against his chest.

"When the hell are you going to get it?" Conner exclaimed through his laughter. "There is nothing that you would be able to threaten that would make us want to tell you anything we know. You may as well kill us now for treason." Slowly, he and the others began to calm from their antics.

A dark smirk curled the right side of Duo's mouth and he replied, "Oh, that's just it. I have no intention on seeing that any of you are given a death sentence. You're all going to live the remainder of your lives just as I had the last couple of years." Suddenly, he had the full attention of the three people before him, their eyes widening.

Rising from his seat, Duo folded his hands behind his back as he paced around the table. "Do any of you know what it was like to be in that kind of captivity? What kind of hell you have to endure at the mercy of someone else? Allow me to fill you in on some of the highlights." The people at the table continued to stare ahead, to the long mirror.

As he walked past each of the traitors, Duo leaned in so that he spoke directly into their ears. "You will be put into a cell secluded from all others. You will have no way of knowing if and when any food or water will be brought to you. Sometimes, you'll go for almost a couple of days before anything is given to you. And that's just the beginning, my friends." He notices Brian swallow hard when he walked past him.

"While you are in that cell, there will be some special visits. You never know when they're going to arrive. It could be while you're in the middle of sleeping, or while you're trying to use the menial shower system when you're allowed to clean up, but they'll come," Duo grinned almost madly as he continued to circle around the table.

Still pacing around the captives, the American made vague gestures with his hands in the air as he continued, "And it may not be one visitor, sometimes it'll be two, three or maybe even four soldiers that come in to hold you down and rape you. And they won't just rape you, they will humiliate you, stab you, beat you, do whatever they wish to do to your body as you're pinned down." Now it was Sara who began to react, her head snapping up to watch the braided pilot.

Leaning forward to speak into the ears again, Duo went on, "Oh, but it gets better. Not all of those unexpected visits are men trying to get off by using your body sexually, but there are also those men who use other means of using you.

"Suddenly, you've just become a lab rat for serums and other injections to be used in warfare. As you are tied down once again, you are filled with a wide range of things. It could be a nerve stimulant, one which makes every single working nerve in you burn in such an agony that you are on the constant urge of blacking out.

"Or, it could be an injection that tests the limits of your heart, causing it to race to the point of bursting in your chest, or slowing it to the point that it hardly moves any blood into your system to cause a near shut down. It might be serum that attacks your lungs, causing such tightness with every breath that you fathom the idea of just not breathing again. Sometimes, the real fun comes when just as you're struggling with these symptoms, it's decided that you're going to be raped again."

Some of the memories of the whole experience were beginning to catch up with Duo again as he had to work harder to keep his control. Forcing another smile, he stated, "Along with so many other possibilities, it may just be a shot of vitamin C, or something else which will cause absolutely no harm to you, but the doctors just wanted to laugh at you at your hysterics and crying, pleading for them to not inject you again. You just never know." Sweat was running down Mark's face, but he and the others still kept their faces forward all the while. They were all pale and looking as though they were about to be very ill.

Duo ended his pacing, resting his hands on the table as he leaned towards the stricken faces watching him. Lowering his voice, he smirked, "And you know what the best part of all? Throughout it all, you can feel death just inches away from you and you want it. You never want something so much in your existence than for that ever present oblivion to take you away. You wait for it, beg for it, pray for it, cry for it to end the suffering."

The braided pilot's voice was a near whisper as he concluded, "But it never comes."

"Stop it," Sara whimpered, tears springing into her green eyes.

Visibly trembling, Brian's voice cracked while he begged, "Please."

"You're forced to continue through that never ending hell that you never know what is coming," Duo spoke up a bit louder, ignoring the plea. "You can only sit and wait-"

Mark squeezed his eyes closed, shaking his head fiercely and cried, "No more!"

"I want a name!" Duo shouted, pounding his fist on the table, causing the three prisoners to jump nearly a whole foot from their seats.

Faintly, Brian whispered, "T-Terry Henderson." Duo's head snapped in his direction, the fire in his violet eyes enough to burn through him. "The name of the person we have been sharing Preventer intelligence with is Terry Henderson."

 

Part 15:

"And you know what the best part of all? Throughout it all, you can feel death just inches away from you and you want it. You never want something so much in your existence than for that ever present oblivion to take you away. You wait for it, beg for it, pray for it, cry for it to end the suffering." The braided pilot's voice was a near whisper as he concluded, "But it never comes."

Unable to feel his legs, Heero sat atop the long table in the center of the observation room. Finally, he knew the hell that his best friend had endured at the hands of the White Out Organization.

Before hearing first-hand what his life had been like during his two years of captivity, the ex-Wing pilot was too busy trying to help his partner heal to try to fathom what actually had happened to him. Now, he felt as ill as the three captives sitting before Duo looked.

With a look out of the corner of his eye, Heero spotted Lady Une standing stiffly beside him. The Commander's hand was over her mouth as tears coursed down her face. Seeing how pale her face was served as the proof that he had heard every gruesome detail of his partner's torture accurately. Lost in his own thoughts, he missed the quiet pleas coming from the traitors in their begging the braided pilot to stop with his threat.

"I want a name!" Duo shouted in the other room, pounding his fist on the table, causing the three prisoners to jump nearly a whole foot from their seats. Both Heero and Lady were jolted by the scream and emphasizing crash from the American's fist. The tall woman's hand lowered from her mouth from her chest as she quietly caught her breath from her startled state.

Swallowing hard, Heero had to remind himself to breathe. The raging emotions coursing through him, most which were still very new to him, prevented him from being able to have a single, coherent thought. All he could do was keep his cobalt eyes trained on the long braided rope falling along the back facing him.

If he was having this much difficulty coping with what he was now learning, Heero could not even imaging what it was doing to Duo in having to voice his experience-having to go back to that place and time that haunted him.

Somehow, through the haze of everything, Heero nearly missed Brian Hefner's faint whisper, "T-Terry Henderson." Their eyes widening in disbelief, Heero and Lady Une gasped sharply. It was the first deep breath either of them had taken since Duo began his interrogation.

"The name of the person we have been sharing Preventer intelligence with is Terry Henderson." Quickly, the Commander propped a hand on the table while her other took her pen up to write furiously on the small sheet. Swallowing hard again, Heero looked back to watch the stiff back of his partner.

In the other room, Sara and Mark both lowered their heads with their eyes squeezed tightly closed as they silently cried, whimpering to themselves. Brian just continued to stare forward, his shimmering eyes devoid of any emotion, seeming to be lost in his own world.

The braided Preventer kept his heated glare on Hefner, growling, "Is that all? There are no other names?"

Flinching at the harshness in the interrogator's tone, Brian quickly shook his head, "We don't know any other name associated with the White Out Organization." He swallowed hard, casting his pleading and terrified gaze up. "I swear that's all we know," the red-haired prisoner whimpered.

Leaning his legs against the table's edge for support, Duo knew that his act of tenacity was going to be slipping fast. Still wanting to put on an air that he was in control, he continued to glare fiercely down the line of people he once considered allies. Slowly moving his hands behind his back to appear that he was folding them, he smirked darkly, "There. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Heero sat up as he watch Duo's right hand move in three subtle gestures. From their times on missions as Preventers, the two young men came up with some simple hand signals for when they were needed in times when they could not communicate otherwise. The message that the ex-Deathscythe pilot relayed now was simple. `Help. Needed.'

Instantly, Heero was on his feat, concerned cobalt eyes widened at the realization of how much of a toll this had taken on his best friend. With Lady Une right behind, he moved swiftly to the door. The moment they were in the hall, the tall woman stopped the young pilot with a hand on his shoulder.

"Take him home, Heero," Lady Une told him quietly the moment his eyes met her reddened gaze. "Go out the back way so that the others don't see him in this state. How ever much time you need after this, I'll see that you have it."

Still anxious to get to his friend, Heero nodded with a quiet, "Arigato." Not wanting to waste another second, he pulled the door to the cell open. While Duo kept his heated glare on the three people before him, the captives all sapped their heads to see who was entering.

From where he stood in the doorway, the ex-Wing pilot instantly picked up on how his partner's legs were leaned against the edge of the long table. Moving with long strides, he reached Duo's side to discretely place a hand on the small of his back. His cobalt eyes burned with rage as he stared down to the timid faces watching him. It was almost comical to think of how cocky and defiant these trembling creatures had been just moments ago.

When Lady Une entered, her brown eyes showing no mercy for the captives, she turned to face the braided pilot. Her face softening, she gave a small nod. Knowing that Duo did not want to show any sign of weakness in front of the party that was present, she kept her voice its usual authoritative tone. "Thank you, Agent Phoenix. I'll take over from here."

A small, weak smile tugged at Duo's lips, a silent gesture of appreciation in her understanding. With a firm nod of his own, he waited for Heero's hand to lower from his back before turning. From where there were sitting, the three fallen agents would not have been able to tell how much weight the American was leaning against his partner as they walked side-by-side.

Once the door was closed again, Lady Une turned her fiery glare back to the three individuals at the table. A deep scowl on her face, she took her radio and spoke into the transmitter, "Zechs. Have three sets of shackles ready and meet me in the holding cell."

The response was almost immediate when the tall man's voice replied, "I'll can be there in five minutes." When the connection ended, the tall woman hooked the radio back onto her belt, her dark glare never wavering from the terrified group before her.

Biting her lip, Sara dared to turn her frightened, pleading face upward to the tall woman. Her voice trembled along with her body when she began, "C-Commander, I- we-" She was cut off when the brunette snapped her hand up in a motion for her to stop.

"Not. One. Word. Understood?" Lady Une grated out. Sara lowered her head and nodded along with her accomplices. "You are all under arrest," Lady Une stated. Taking a deep breath, the head of the Preventers recited from memory, "You have the right to remain silent. Any thing you say can and will be used against you…"

When the door closed behind them, the intimidating strength and confidence that Duo had displayed just moments ago fell apart in an instant. Paling to a ghostly shade of white, his right hand came up to his mouth quickly with a strangled sound. Quickly, he turned on his heels and ran down the hall to the lavatory.

Throwing the door open, the braided pilot scrambled into the first stall, lifted the lid just as he began to retch, and began to empty the contents of his stomach. With loud heaves, Duo continued to vomit from the great stress that he had just undergone for the sake of finally getting somewhere in the search for his enemies. He had to go back to that place, to that cell, to all of those memories that continued to plague him before he was ready to.

As he began to cough when the last of the materials in him had vacated, Duo felt a gentle hand pulling his braid back as another placed a cool cloth on the back of his neck. He was still panting from the force of his convulsion, the American turned his violet eyes to meet a pair of concerned, cobalt eyes. Somehow, the ex-Wing pilot had carefully maneuvered himself to kneel comfortably beside his friend without Duo even knowing that he was there.

For a moment, the two Preventers just watched each other in silence. Finally, Heero reached forward, brushing the backs of his free hand's fingers against a pale cheek. Softly, he asked, "Are you all right?" With a small whimper, tears began to fill Duo's eyes and he nodded. At the desperate look in his partner's eyes, Heero wrapped his arms tightly around him. Sniffling, the braided pilot returned the fierce embrace, burying his face in the other teenager's shoulder.

Heero fought his own private battle with his emotions as he continued to hold the trembling pilot in his arms. Placing a soft kiss atop his best friend's braided head, he pulled back enough so that their eyes met again. "Let's go home," he whispered, amazed at how steady his voice was at that moment. Without hesitating, Duo nodded.

Slowly, the pair rose from their knees, Duo unsteadily tried to straighten himself. Wrapping a supportive arm around his partner's waist, Heero led them out of the stall. After rinsing his mouth at the sink, the braided pilot reached to all but cling to the other pilot's arm as they made their way out through the back stairwells.

When they finally reached their car and took their seats, Duo sagged deeply into the cushioned passenger chair. He didn't think he would have been able to walk much further before having to ask Heero to carry him the rest of the way. His said comrade took his place in the driver's seat and turned to look at him in renewed concern.

Moving cautiously, Heero ran a gentle hand over the other pilot's head. "I'm proud of you," he breathed. Duo's closed eyes snapped open widely as he turned to face him in shock.

With a small, nervous smile, the braided Preventer asked quietly, "Really?" It wasn't until then that the ex-Wing pilot realized that he had never said those words to the young man who had captured his heart.

"Really," Heero nodded, a warm smile on his face. Some of Duo's color returned to his face and his smile grew the smallest bit. Their heads turned to peer out of the windshield as the Japanese Prevented placed the key into the ignition.

* * * * * *

Zechs stepped into the holding cell with the requested shackles just as Lady Une finished reading the convicts their rights. Once Brian, Sara and Mark were restrained, the tall man nodded to two other Preventers standing by in the doorway. With little ease, the two assistants led the prisoners away to be taken to a more secured location. On their way out, the three imposters made sure to keep their heads down as not to instigate any unwanted attention from the tall blonde.

Stepping out into the hall, Lady Une met the anxious faces of the remainder of their group that had been sent away. With a hand pointing to Trowa and Anna, she ordered, "Agent Shroud. Agent Mist. Home now." The pair smiled and nodded, politely leaving without a word.

To the remainder of the group, the Commander revealed the small sheet of paper. "I need two of you to reestablish the security in our communication system. I want the rest of you to use every resource we have disposable to find any alias and connection to Terry Henderson. It's the only name that we have to go on, and I doubt that someone by his likes would go by their actual name."

Sally was the first to step forward, suggestion, "Wufei and I can work on the communication system." With a firm nod behind her, the Chinese pilot gave his silent agreement in accepting the task.

"I will relay the name to Relena as well," Quatre began. "We both have other resources through our connections in politics and enterprises. I have Rashid bring her here once Heero and Duo are back home."

Taking the offered sheet of paper with Henderson's name on it, Noin commented, "The more help, the better." With a smirk to her partner, she asked, "Shall we?" Returning the smug look, Zechs hummed.

"Keep me informed on any and all progress," Lady Une directed. "Meanwhile, I will be following on any possible leads on those transport ships. Since there has not been any news to leak to the heads of the organization, they may assume that we're laying off in our search."

Clearing his throat, Wufei shifted on his feet as he spoke up, "Commander, if I may, how was Duo able to get the name out of them? He was only in there for ten minutes and accomplished something that we had not been able to accomplish after hours of using everything we could think of."

Her brown eyes losing their focus, the tall brunette frowned deeply. "Believe me, Agent Dragon… You don't want to know," she replied in a grave tone. Taking a deep breath, she moved through the small part in the group.

With a mix of shocked and concerned expressions, the Preventers watched their Commander depart. Never before could any of them recall seeing her in such a grim state. Suddenly, any wish to know what had happened in that room had depleted. After a long pause, everyone slowly parted their own ways with their respective partners to see to their tasks.

* * * * * *

Keeping his head lowered as not to have Relena worry over the sight of his reddened eyes, Duo stepped silently into the house behind his partner. "Who's a good puppy?" a familiar voice asked from the living room. Both Preventers shared a look of shock before quickly moving to the doorway. "Who's a good girl?" the deep voice returned.

Relena was in the recliner, chuckling deeply to herself as she continued her knitting of a small, deep green, wool scarf. Meanwhile, Rashid lied on the floor, laughing with that rumbling voice of his and playing with Yuuki. The sight of the giant man rolling around in a playful wrestle with the excited puppy was all too charming. Even Duo couldn't help himself. He began laughing, only causing Heero to join him.

At the sound, Rashid sat up, his face red as a beet. Quickly rising to his feet, he smiled in embarrassment, "Master Heero. Master Duo. Good to see you." Yuuki yelped happily, her wagging tail causing her whole body to move with it, as she ran to the two pilots.

Bending at the knees, Duo scooped up the shaggy pup with a smile that more resembled one of his own natural grins. The sight of it unnerved Heero a bit and he went to shake hands with the tall Arab. After setting Yuuki back down, Duo a one-armed hug in a friendly reunion. "It is good to have you back home, Master Duo," the giant smiled sincerely.

"Thanks. It's good to see you, Rashid," the braided pilot replied quietly. His small smile grew a bit mischievous as he looked down to the puppy at Heero's feet. Again, Rashid blushed in recalling how he had been caught in a less dignified position.

Heero smirked and shook his head, "It's all right, Rashid. That was actually… cute." Three pairs of shocked eyes turned in his direction. His own cobalt eyes widening, he shrugged, "What?"

Rising from her seat after setting her sewing materials away, Relena laughed, "Heero, I don't know what is more endearing- seeing Rashid playing with a puppy or hearing the word `cute' coming from you." It was Heero's turn to blush. Rashid and Duo began chuckling.

Announcing that Quatre had called and asked for them to meet him at Preventer headquarters, both Relena and Rashid exchanged their good evenings before departing. When the house was theirs again, Heero took hold of his partner's hand and led him into the kitchen. Gently sitting his partner at the small table in the center of the room, the ex-Wing pilot went about making dinner.

When he was finished, Heero set down a large bowl of chick noodle soup and a sleeve of crackers before his partner. At the sight of the meal, Duo frowned deeply, "Heero. I don't think that I'll be able to eat this."

"You need to eat something after losing your nutrients earlier," Heero commented as he sat beside his partner with his own bowl of soup. His friend had not moved to pick up his spoon and it was beginning to concern the Japanese pilot. Their eyes met and he pleaded quietly, a worried frown on his face, "Please. For me."

At that last request, Duo felt his heart begin to ache. Heero was right, after all, even if he did deliver a low blow in enticing him to eat something. He wasn't going to feel any better on an empty stomach. It was bad enough to deal with his demons when he was at his best. Suddenly, the braided pilot's hunger was returning.

Taking up his spoon, Duo blew over the steaming liquid and took a spoonful to his mouth. Heero watched, a relieved smile tugging at his lips before he moved to enjoy his own serving. Yuuki contented herself to lying atop Duo's socked feet as her masters ate in silence.

* * * * * *

After stomaching more than half of his meal, Duo considered himself happy with that and had moved to sit on the swing of the front porch. While it was early in the evening and the sun had already set, the full moon in the clear and star-filled sky was more then enough light to peer out to the ocean. The silvery light reflected off the rolling waves like shimmering fairies dancing on the sea.

Lost in his own thoughts, Duo nearly missed how chilly the breeze was as it drifted off the stretch of sand. He nearly jumped when a blanket fell around his shoulders. When he looked up, Heero smiled down at his friend before scooping him up to wrap him securely, commenting softly, "You're shaking." Duo knew it was not just because of the cold.

When he was wrapped in the warm blanket, Duo was gently pulled to sit in his partner's lap as he settled himself on the swing. Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes and nestled his head on the other pilot's shoulder. It wasn't long before the American's breath evened out as a sign that the exhaustion of the day's events had finally caught up with him.

Heero placed a tender kiss on the braided teenager's forehead, running his free hand over his chestnut hair. Resting his head atop the other Preventer's, he sighed deeply to himself and watched the ocean. He wasn't even aware of how long they had been sitting like that, gently swinging in the breeze, when he dozed off.

* * * * * *

He heard someone crying.

Led by the sounds of the sharp sobs, Heero navigated himself through the dimly lit, steel-walled hallway. On occasion, he had to avoid puddles of blood, urine and other fluids that he did not want to identify at that moment.

Another voice was chuckling deeply, coming from the same direction of the sobbing. His cobalt eyes narrowing, Heero quickened his pace, all the while careful not to make a sound. Passing doors to his left and his right, he focused himself on one of the last doors at the end of the hall, the only one with light peeking out from its cracks.

The soft cries were joined by what sounded like the person pleading something that Heero could not make out. As he reached for his hip, he cursed himself in finding that he did not have a weapon. While every one of his senses screamed at him to turn back for assistance, the desperation in that voice along with the sobs just drove him on. He could always think of a plan of attack when he got there. He was able to kill many people with his bare hands in the past.

Finally, Heero reached the closed door from which the voices were coming. Sweat running down his face, he took a deep breath and kicked in the door. His cobalt eyes widened with a sharp gasp and his legs nearly gave out.

Lying on the floor, his legs restrained over his head and his ankles spread and chained was Duo. Naked. His shimmering, violet eyes widened in horror at the sight of his friend in the doorway. Even though he was gagged, Heero heard the other pilot whimper his name. Unable to breathe, the Japanese Preventer whispered, "D-Duo." His eyes filled with tears and his voice cracked, "I-I'm so sorry."

Standing over Duo was a tall man wearing a long, white coat. The old man turned his bald head to face the intruder, his round glasses shining under the bright light overhead. With a crooked-toothed grin, he revealed the syringe in his hand, chuckling deeply. In the background, four brutes stood in waiting, their lecherous eyes watching the squirming captive. A few of them removed their shirts in preparation. One of them licked his lips, his lust-filled eyes taking in every inch of the body before him.

"Thank you for leaving him behind," the man in the lab coat smirked. "He's proved to be quite… entertaining." His last word was phrased with a deep chuckle. Quickly, he turned and stabbed the needle into Duo's arms. The cry that filled the room was joined by Heero's as blood ran down from his best friend's arm.

* * * * * *

"Duo!" Heero screamed, jolting forward in his sleep, his cobalt eyes opening wide in fear as he sat up. Panting heavily, the ex-Wing pilot took in his surroundings, his head searching around. He was lying on the front porch swing to the house. Not much time must have passed, as the moon was still high and no signs of the sky brightening any further. Running a hand over his face, he was surprised to find it wet from both tears and sweat.

"You kept saying that you were sorry in your sleep," a soft voice said from seemingly nowhere. Startled, Heero looked to find his friend leaning against the patio fence and sitting beside the swing. Somehow, Duo had maneuvered the Japanese pilot to lie on his back at some point during his nightmare.

Still wrapped in the blanket that Heero had secured around him, Duo rose to sit beside his partner, their eyes locked. "You blame yourself for what happened to me," he stated more than asked, his voice still little more than a whisper.

Tears began to fill Heero's cobalt eyes again and he whimpered, "I never should have left you behind, Duo. If I just stayed, regardless of your threat to shoot me, I could have done something to help-" He never got to finish his thoughts when the braided pilot placed a gentle finger on his lips.

Pulling his hand back, Duo leaned forward until their foreheads touched. "You listen to me," he stated quietly, but firmly. "You're the reason that I am still alive right now. You hear me?" Heero swallowed hard but nodded, never breaking the hold their eyes shared. "That promise you had me make to you, the one that I had to wait for you no matter what, is what kept me going the last two years of that hell."

It was all too overwhelming. These feelings were still all too new. Heero just broke down, sobbing as he clung to the other pilot with the last of the strength he had. "I missed you so much, Duo," he cried against Duo's chest. "I can't help but feel responsible for the fact that you were taken away."

Holding his partner tightly, Duo bit his lip as tears filled his own eyes. "Oh, Heero," he whispered. "It would have killed me more if you had to go through that hell. You did everything that you could. I've never doubted that. I would never hold you accountable."

After wiping his eyes, Duo gently lifted his friend's head so their tear-filled eyes met again. With a sad smile, the American gently dried some of Heero's tears with his free hand and said quietly, "I've been so busy fighting my own demons that I never took the time to realize that you've been fighting your own."

Heero shook his head, trying to regain control, growling, "I'm supposed to be the strong one right now. You don't need to have me behaving like this."

"What I need is for you to know that it's okay to share your own things with me, Heero," the braided pilot replied. "It wouldn't be fair of me to ask you to be my rock all the time. The next time that you try to put on a front for my sake, it may take a while, but I'll kick your ass." That earned him a small, weak laugh from the other Preventer as Heero dried his renewed tears from his own eyes.

Kissing the Japanese pilot's forehead, Duo pulled back with a small smile. "A pact to be each other's strength then?" he asked quietly. "You lean on me and I lean on you. We'll help each other heal through this."

Heero took a deep breath and sighed, grinning slightly when he nodded, "A pact." His smile faded a bit and he admitted, "This is not going to be easy for me. I've never… openly needed anyone or anything before. And it will take time before I can let myself off the hook for what happened."

Satisfied, Duo nodded, "Okay. I'm fine with that." There was a long pause between them as they just gazed in each other's eyes. Gently brushing back his best friend's damp and unruly bangs, the American spoke up, "You've done so much for me these last few months. Is there anything I can do for you?"

This was against everything that Heero had been taught. Not only showing this weakness, but ask for help in such a way. Still, he whispered, "Would you just hold me for a while?"

A smile lit his friend's face in a way that it paled the moon's illumination on his features. "Of course," he whispered back.

Laying his back flat on the swing, Duo opened his arms to the ex-Wing pilot. With a deep sigh, Heero lowered himself on top of his partner. Closing his cobalt eyes, and resting the side of his head against the chest below him, he wrapped his arms around Duo's waist as two arms enfolded him.

Lying in each other's arms like that, they fell into a peaceful slumber lulled by the lullaby of the rolling ocean waves.

 

Part 16:

[You're the hope that moves me to courage again
You're the love that rescues me
When the cold winds, rage
And it's so amazing
Cause that's just how you are
And I can't turn back now
Cause you've brought me too far]
-Lyrics to `I Need You' By Leann Rimes

 

"What word have you received?"

"Sir, our accomplices within the Preventers had been discovered. One killed himself before he could be taken in, but the other three were not so fortunate. They are being held in a federal prison not far from their headquarters."

There was a long pause. "So the Preventers are onto us, after all."

"I have already taken the necessary steps in advising everyone of our organization. Our transport ships will be fully armed and ready for any possible attacks. We have one ship that is prepared to move in less than three days. I could have them change their route and time of departure."

"No. Let that ship go off as planned. I have many clients paying top dollar for the arrival of those prisoners. I want mobile suits made ready to escort the craft to its designation to prevent any trouble. As many large corporations throughout space and the earth as there are, no one would be able to place any connection to us, should anyone escape alive."

"Very well, sir. I will see that it is done."

"Do you think that our accomplices may have given away anything?"

"Knowing what you are capable of, I would be amazed if they did. Their lives would be forfeit should they release anything that would help their search."

Silence lingered for another, briefer, moment. "I do not like having any loose ties out there. And I do not like putting my faith in hopes that they will remain silent." He took deep breath and released it slowly. "You know what to do."

A nod. "Yes, sir."

* * * * * *

(Begin Flashback)

In the dimly lit cell that he and Duo had shared for an unknown number of days now, Heero watched as his braided partner leaned his back against the wall opposite of him. It had been a while since their captors came to pay them a visit for another interrogation. With a wistful smile, the American asked, "When we're back home, what's the first thing you're going to do?"

With a snort, Heero replied, "I'm hitting the shower before you get the chance to use all of the hot water." Duo's laugher that responded willed the dark space. The lighthearted sound tugged a slight grin on the normally stoic pilot's face. As his friend began to calm from his hysterics, the Japanese Preventer tilted his head a bit and questioned, "What about you?"

"Well since someone already has dibs on the shower," Duo smirked, "I get first go at raiding the kitchen, then." At the reminder of how meager their meals in this captivity had been, Heero fought to control his stomach from protesting at its emptiness. With a quiet hum, the Japanese pilot nodded.

There was another long, companionable silence between the two of them. During that peaceful quiet, Heero felt a small smile pull the side of his mouth up in a smile. Even in the poor light, his friend picked it up and he asked with a grin of his own, "What's so funny?"

Shrugging, the ex-Wing pilot answered, "I can't help but think about how… nice these last few days have been, considering the circumstances."

His own smile growing a bit, Duo laughed, "You mean aside from the fact that we're trapped in the middle of nowhere." Heero nodded, his deep voice chuckling at the irony of the situation. The American cut his usual antics and said quietly, "I know what you mean, though. I've learned more about you these last few days than I ever did during the wars."

In the realization of that, Heero frowned deeply. Lowering his head a bit, his dark bangs fell over his closed eyes. "I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely, quietly.

Duo reassured him just as softly, "Hey, it's okay, Heero. I understand that with your training, you didn't really have a choice in-"

"It wasn't just my training that made me the way I was back then," the Japanese pilot cut him off. Without looking up, Heero could feel Duo's shocked gaze on him while he explained, "In a way, I had to be the way I was because of my training as much as for the fact that I wanted to protect myself."

A concerned frown fell on the braided pilot's face. "Protect yourself?"

Slowly raising his head to peer through his unruly bangs, Heero replied, "I didn't want to suddenly become attached to you, or anyone for that matter, considering the fact that I never imagined that I was going to live to see the end of the fighting. I didn't want to know what I would have missed if anything happened to me."

Taking a deep breath, he went on, "So I pushed you and the others at arms length and further so that I wouldn't have to worry about seeing the grass on the other side of the fences around me." A small smirk tugged his lips and he shrugged, "It's pretty vibrant and inviting on your side." Duo returned the slight smile, quite impressed with his friend's ability to bring such imagery with his words.

Silently in awe of how easy it was for him to open this way, Heero felt compelled to continue. His smile faded and he sighed, "The more you tried to get through, the more I pushed. You were your way and I went mine." Slowly, his head lowered again and he commented, "The next thing I knew, the Mariemaya Incident had ended and I woke in a hospital room alone."

Duo's violet eyes shimmered with small tears and he choked out in little more than a whisper, "I-I swear that I didn't want to just go off without a word between us, but I really thought that was what you wanted."

With a small and sad smile, Heero nodded, "I know. For a time, I thought it was what I wanted, too. You shouldn't feel any guilt over that." Looking up, he smirked, "Besides, I got the flowers you sent." At that, a short laugh filled the air as Duo dried his eyes.

Heero shook his head, "But what I am trying to get at is that I woke up one morning not long after that and realized something that startled me. I realized that the same thing I had been fighting back was the same thing that I missed and wanted more than anything."

The two pilots gazed on each other, their eyes locking in the dim light, neither willing to take too deep a breath and stir silence between them. Swallowing, the ex-Wing pilot concluded, "I realized that I had missed you and I thought that I had lost the chance of having a friendship with you all by my own doing."

Suddenly, the Japanese pilot was wrapped into two strong arms. Blinking his cobalt eyes in surprise, Heero released the tension in his shoulders. Timidly, he brought his own arms up and around his partner's torso in their first-if not awkward- embrace. "You never lost me," the braided pilot breathed.

When they pulled back, Duo had a watery smile on his face and he admitted, "I had been waiting for that call from you that day you called me." At the shock in the other pilot's cobalt eyes, he chuckled deeply, "Granted, the call came a lot sooner than I thought it would, and I never would have dreamed that it would involve your asking me to stay with you. But I knew that some day I would hear from you."

Releasing the breath that he had been holding, Heero frowned slightly, "You have no idea how hard it was for me to make that call. It meant going against everything that I was taught. It was against everything that I forced on myself and everyone around me."

Duo nodded, somehow understanding exactly what that must have been like. "Do you have any regrets?" he asked quietly.

There was a brief pause as a small smirk tugged the side of Heero's lips upward. Just as softly, he answered sincerely, "Not one."

(End Flashback)

* * * * * *

The first thing that Heero's slowly growing awareness was alert of was how warm he felt. Slowly, his cobalt eyes blinked open, only to have the brightness reflecting from the ocean force his eyes to squeeze closed again. The chest beneath his head rumbled with a deep chuckle and a gently hand ran through his unruly hair.

Recalling the events of the prior day and evening, Heero opened his eyes again to look up into his partner's violet gaze. It was a rare thing for the ex-Wing pilot to sleep in longer than his best friend. There had been many a morning past that he had been the first to rise, contenting himself with watching the American sleep peacefully. It seemed as though the tides had turned this morning.

After a long silence, Duo's smile warmed and he whispered, "Hey."

The Japanese Preventer replied in kind, "Hey." Rubbing his tired eyes, he asked, "Have you been awake very long?" Reluctantly, he sat up carefully so that they could both sit up.

With a shrug, the braided pilot replied, "I'd guess maybe an hour or so." Running a hand through his long bangs with one hand, he stretched his other arm. "We should let Yuuki out before she relieves herself in the living room."

"You take care of the dog and I'll start breakfast," Heero suggesting, rising to his feet to work out some of the soreness in his back.

Duo grinned and nodded, "Deal." With that, he grunted in lifting himself up. Rubbing his back, he winced at a couple cracks that popped in his spine. "We're going to have to come up with something more creative for comfort if we ever plan on sleeping on that swing again."

Heero grunted in agreement as he stepped into the house to be greeted by an excited ball of fur. Whistling for the pup, Duo smiled as Yuuki ran towards him. "Come on, girl," the braided pilot called while he led the pup to the back of the house.

In the midst of beginning breakfast, Heero noticed that there was a message on the answering machine. Pressing the `accept' key, he listened as Lady Une's voice filled the air. "Heero, Duo, I am calling early to order the both of you to stay off the premises. I do not want to see either of you near headquarters for at least the next two days so you can rest. When you return, I will be more than happy to update you on our progress in the investigation. Until then, rest up."

When the message ended, Heero chuckled deeply and shook his head in amusement. Yuuki came running into the kitchen with Duo walking close behind. "You know, Lady Une is the only person I've ever known who can pull off being an over protective mother type and an ass-kicking drill sergeant at the same time," the braided Preventer laughed. With a wistful sigh, the American smiled, "I love that woman."

Heero laughed heartily and moved back to the oven to oversee the eggs he had been cooking. When the eggs and bacon were finished, he brought two plates to the table while his partner gathered the silverware. As the two pilots began to eat, Yuuki went to short-haired owner's feet and curled atop them, just wanting to be as close to him as she could be. She was rewarded with a gentle pat to the top of her head before Heero continued to enjoy his meal.

* * * * * *

Looking up from his notes at the sound of the door opening, Wufei watched as Lady Une entered the secured lab. Sally peered up from her station and greeted with a nod, "Commander." The Chinese pilot exchanged his own salutation.

Returning the nod, the tall woman asked, "How are things coming with securing the communication system?"

"We should have everything back in order in about an hour," Wufei answered. "The blocking that we're using to lock the system will be impossible for anyone to get through, thanks to the layout Trowa laid out."

Satisfied with that news, Lady Une replied, "Good. It'll be a relief to know that no one is watching us with every call we make or email we send." A frown deepened on her face and she thought aloud, "Had there been anyway of foreseeing that we were going to have this problem to begin with, I would have made sure that we had a more secure security around the system to begin with."

With a reassuring smile, Sally commented, "But had it not been for the breech in the first place, we would never have been able to realize that we had leaks in the Preventers, or how to find them. Hefner and the others would have just found another way of accessing our information to pass on."

"True," Lady Une sighed. "When the two of you are finished in here, I am going to need to move you to other assignments."

Once the two agents nodded in acknowledgement, the Commander turned to the Chinese pilot. "I deciphered some saved information on Sara River's computer referring on another transport ship that will be on the move in seventy-four hours. I already contacted Trowa and Anna that they will need to assemble a team to intercept it. They will be coming in tomorrow to work with you."

Relief filled Wufei's dark eyes and he smirked, "Yes, Ma'am. We will meet with you to get further details of the mission tomorrow evening, then." The tall woman grinned at his apparent eagerness to be in the field again.

Lady Une met Sally's eyes and stated, "I am going to need you to meet with Noin when you are finished here. The search for Terry Henderson is progressing terribly slow. Now that Hefner and his accomplices have had a few hours to think things over to themselves, I want them brought back here as soon as possible. We are going to need to pull more from them in how they came to know this man."

Sally nodded, "I'll call Noin before the hour is up, when we're finished here." Sensing a hidden tension in the other woman, she tilted her head and asked, "Is there something wrong?"

"Let's just say that I have a bad feeling about leaving Rivers and the others in that prison. The sooner you can get to them to return them here, the better," the brunette woman stated.

Both Sally and Wufei shared an exchange of concerned looks. Gazing back to her Commander, the braided woman reassured her, "It'll be taken care of."

At that, Lady Une said sincerely, "Thank you, both. I'll continue to see what I can gather from the stored files that were found on our `friends'' computers, then." After a brief exchange of waves between them, she turned and stepped out of the room to check on the progress of the search for the mysterious man of whom they had so little to go on.

* * * * * *

Yuuki ran excitedly a few feet ahead of her owners, basking in the warm rays from the sun. The surf rolled up to her little paws and she panted in exhilaration as the feel of the cool ocean water before running back onto the dry sand. The rushing sound from the moving water filled her ears, adding to the many sensations that the collie was enthralled with. She certainly was happy that her masters decided to enjoy a long walk along the beach this early afternoon.

Not far behind the pup, Heero and Duo walked beside each other, their shoulders occasionally brushing together in their leisure pace. With his arms wrapped around his waist, Duo broke the companionable silence between them and asked, "So what have you been thinking for the last twenty minutes?"

Heero shrugged after a brief pause, "A lot of things, really." He met his partner's violet eyes. "The last couple of days have been pretty… eventful."

With a small smile, Duo huffed a quiet laugh at the understatement. His smile faded a bit and he looked down to the sand as his bare feet. "If you have any questions, you can always ask, you know," he said quietly, brushing back his wind-blown bangs from his eyes.

Swallowing hard, the braided pilot explained, "I wanted you to be around to hear some of the things that happened since you deserve to know. Now that you have a better idea of what happened…" The braided pilot's voice trailed off as the memories of his long two years began to catch up to him.

Heero lowered his own head and closed his cobalt eyes. "As much as I want to know what you had to endure, I also don't want to know more than you're willing to share," he replied quietly. The gentle sea breeze ran through his unruly hair as he lifted his head again. Meeting his partner's eyes, he said reassuringly, "I'll understand if you don't want to tell me everything."

Duo nodded and looked down the stretch of shoreline as he considered his options. Finally, he began, "I… There are some things that I need to talk about." At Heero's reassuring nod, the American took a deep breath before relaying some of the other things that he had been through and the things that he had witnessed over the course of his captivity.

By the time he had finished nearly a half-hour later, Duo wiped the tears from his eyes. Having to recall the public executions of those fellow prisoners- along with the other things that he had seen happen to those who had been captured along with him- was becoming overwhelming. All the while, Heero remained quiet as he listened to the stories that the other pilot needed to share. At some point, their hands had joined as they continued to walk down the beach.

"Before I was forced into my own cell when I protected Michael, there was this one girl, Amanda. She was no more than twenty, who the guards wanted to themselves before giving her over to the person who bought her," Duo went on.

Already not liking where this store was going, the ex-Wing pilot swallowed hard. Still, he listened intently as the braided pilot recalled aloud, "They took her into a room, five of them, and they all raped her repeatedly. In her resisting, she nearly scratched one of their eyes out. When they were finished with her, they made the rest of us gather to witness the slitting of her throat for her insubordination." Another cold chill ran up Heero's back and his eyes closed slowly.

Unable to think back to that time and place any longer for that moment, Duo took a deep, shuddering breath. Wiping his eyes again, he concluded in little more than a whisper, "It's amazing what people are willing to do to another person just because they can."

Knowing better than to trust his voice just then, Heero wrapped an arm of support around his partner's shoulders, pulling him against his side in a tight embrace. A sharp laugh escaped Duo as he leaned against his friend's side.

"You know, the funniest part about those bastards that raped me was that they actually bothered to put condoms on!" the braided pilot chuckled in bitterness. "Guess that they didn't know enough about me or each other to trust they didn't need protection."

Heero's cobalt eyes widened and he looked over to meet his friends gaze. Duo smiled slightly and shrugged, "Sally gave me a clean bill of health, where that's concerned, when she examined me following the rescue."

Releasing the breath that he was not aware he had been holding, Heero admitted, "I didn't know how to go about asking you if…" He had to clear his throat at the small hitch that suddenly filled it.

Duo shrugged against his side, "You can ask me anything, Heero. There is nothing that I would consider too uncomfortable to keep from you."

Hearing that, a small smile lit the ex-Wing pilot's face and he replied quietly, "Thank you. That means a lot to me." As the pair turned back to begin making their way back to the house, Heero whistled to the pup. Yuuki quickly turned and ran a few feet ahead her owners again. Unconsciously, the two pilots reached for each other's hands again.

There was another long silence between them before the braided pilot bit his lip before inquiring, "Can I ask you something, Heero?"

"Of course," the Japanese pilot answered, suddenly stopping in his tracks when Duo paused in his own steps. Their eyes met and he could see the uncertainty in the violet eyes locked on his own gaze. With a small smile, Heero reassured him, "You can ask me anything, too, you know?"

A nervous smile tugged at Duo's lips and he finally asked, "After all of that time looking for me, why didn't you just give up like the others did? Two years is a hell of a long time to just keep hoping that someone will turn up with no leads to go on."

Heero's own smile grew a bit and he asked, "You mean to tell me you've given up on Sister Helen's theory after all of this time?" Duo gasped sharply, his violet eyes widening in shock and disbelief. His mouth opened and closed but his voice failed him.

Gently brushing back his friend's bangs from his eyes, the ex-Wing pilot recited from memory, "Never losing sight of the fact that there is no challenge that can not be overcome. That's the Silver Lining theory, is it not?"

Finally able to find his voice, Duo whispered, "Y-you remembered that?"

Nodding, Heero replied, "Of course. It seemed like something that I could use in my own life, considering I had a pretty difficult challenge in my search for you. Aside from that, I wasn't going to rest until I found you, as I promised I would. Whatever it took, I wasn't going to let anything keep me from bringing you home."

It wasn't until that moment when the two pilots realized the close proximity of their bodies as they stood there. Heero had also neglected to remove his hand from Duo's cheek, where it had drifted to caress the smooth skin there.

Swallowing hard at the sight of the confusion and what he could only read as hope, the Japanese pilot said quietly, "Duo, these last few years have been… difficult for me. I've had to some to grips with emotions that I never allowed myself to feel before I allowed myself to get close to you when we had shared that cell before we were separated.

"To be honest, I have days where I am coping with my own, drowning, feelings so much that I don't know what end is up. All that I do know is that a lot of those feelings revolve around you in some way, and…" Heero paused, unsure of himself for the first time in his life. "I… I think I'm in love with you, and I'm scared," he breathed at last.

Duo forced himself to take a deep breath and leaned into his partner's touch, his violet eyes drifting closed. Slowly, their heads drifted closer. Just before their lips touched, the braided pilot whispered, "I'm scared, too." Their lips met in a gently caress as another gentle breeze ran through their loose clothes and hair.

* * * * * *

"Lady Une had already contacted up to announce your arrival. So you're moving them back to your headquarters?" the tall officer asked as he led Noin and Sally back to the confinement cells. "We have no problem holding these traitors for you," he smirked over his shoulder.

Noin smiled kindly, "Thank you for your help, but for the time being, this probably would be best. Now that they're rested from their last round of questioning, they should be ready for more." She smirked wickedly, "But don't worry. Once we have what we need, we'll be happy to hand them back over to your care."

The young man laughed and nodded, "Good enough. We always did enjoy the company of those you bring over."

At the end of the long hallway, he stopped and announced, "Well, here we are." Removing his swipe card, he ran the black strip into the access scanner by the tall door.

When the door opened, the officer gasped sharply, his already light skin paling to a ghostly share as his eye widened. At his reaction, Noin and Sally quickly removed the pistols from the holsters. Pushed the man out of the way to run into the room, the two agents froze.

Their own eyes wide in shock, Noin and Sally took in the sight of the three prisoners all splayed across the room with bullet wounds to their heads. The blood from the lifeless bodies all ran and gathered in the center of the cell to make the pool that the two agents were standing in.

Frozen in her place, her eyes locked on the dead bodies before her, Noin said quietly to her partner, "Call Lady Une."

 

Part 17:

Rachel never liked the dark. She disliked it even more now.

When her mother was alive, she would keep the scary things away at night. Now that her mother was gone, Rachel was alone. Locked in a secluded cell, the six-year-old girl tried to think of how long it could have been since she was allowed out of the dark room. The men that came to visit her to do those terrible things to her small body liked keeping her room dark when she was finally left alone.

Sitting huddled in the far corner of her cell, Rachel remembered her promise to her dying mother when those men stabbed her. She refused to cry and stayed strong as much as she hated being in the pitch as she was now. Her mother told her that those men wanted to hurt her, wanted to make her cry. Rachel's mother made her promise that she wouldn't be afraid and she wouldn't cry.

When her mother died, so did any hope Rachel had of ever being saved. It seemed like years since the last time she had seen the Colony where she and her mother struggled on the streets. As difficult as those times had been, she would have given anything to go back to that life than the one she was doomed to now.

It wasn't too difficult for the petite brunette to keep her word. At first, her `visitors' and the things that they did to her frightened her so that she feared her heart would beat out of her chest. Before long, Rachel taught herself to not let those men or those things bother her. She grew numb to everything and at last, she never felt the urge to cry.

Even sitting now in her corner, Rachel knew that the men out in the hall were listening for her to sniffle or cry from her panic of being in the dark. Closing her eyes and hugging her legs to her chest, her voice kept repeating in her mind, `I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.'

When she really thought about it, Rachel doubted if she had it in her to cry if she wanted to.

* * * * * *

"Goddamn it!" Lady Une shouted in rage as she slammed her cell phone down onto her desk. With a deep growl, she rose from her seat. Covering her face with her hands, she paced before the large windows at the far side of her office. The bright light from the sunset painted her room a warm hue of reds and oranges as her shadow stretched over the opposite wall in her strides.

Mentally, she struggled to sort out where to move on now that her only links to the White Out Organization were dead. Who was the assassin? How were they able to infiltrate the federal prison to pull off the murder of the three captives? Why hadn't she followed her instincts sooner? These and many other questions ran through Lady Une's head. If only she had kept the three leaks in holding within the Preventer headquarters. Now it was too late to go back and correct her mistake. In seemingly the blink of an eye, everything had changed.

After a few paces across the room, the tall Commander lowered his hands and hissed, "They know we're on to them." At that very realization, her brown eyes widened and a chill ran down her spine.

Quickly, Lady Une returned to her desk to pick up her cell phone again. Opening the flip, she dialed and waited as she pressed the receiver to her ear. After the third ring, she murmured, "Please be home."

Finally, the other line picked up before the next ring finished and Trowa's voice answered, "Hello."

With a deep sigh of relief, the tall woman replied, "Barton, it's me. Is Dawson home with you? It is urgent that I speak to the both of you."

Always one of firm composure- even in knowing when there was a matter of grave importance in his Commander's voice- the young pilot's voice answered calmly, "Let me get Anna on the other line."

There was a brief silence followed by a quiet exchange between the two agents before the redhead picked up the other phone in the house that they shared. "Top of the morning to you, Commander," Anna's bright voice greeted.

While she would normally find herself smiling at the pilot's attempt to lighten to mood, Lady Une was unable to do so in this case. Her frown only deepened and she began, "I am sorry to have to disturb you this late. I just received word that while they were being held in the federal prison, Hefner, Rivers and Conner were killed."

Instinctively, the Commander held her cell phone from her ear just as Anna's voice shouted through the receiver, "What!?"

When she placed the phone back to her ear, she heard Trowa's own startled voice ask, "Do you think there are more leaks in the organization?"

"I don't know," Lady Une replied in a deep sigh. "Noin certainly did not take any chances by calling my cell phone as opposed to my office line. Even with the communication links back up and secured, it'll be best to take every precaution." The stunned silence on the other side of the line was proof enough that the two agents were contemplating the disturbing news.

Swallowing hard, the Commander said quietly, "This compromises the upcoming mission that we had planned. I am going to need the both of you to come in as soon as possible to discuss our next move."

"We'll be there within the hour," Trowa stated calmly, with without the slightest hint of reserve. At that reassurance, the other lines disconnected.

Closing her eyes, Lady Une took a deep, slow breath. After slowly releasing her breath, she gathered herself to make the one call she wished that she did not have to make. As the phone began to ring, she frowned deeply and whispered to herself, "Please forgive me."

* * * * * *

Duo couldn't keep the smile from his face as he watched Heero enter the living room. Sitting on the couch in the living room, the braided pilot's feet kicked the slightest bit. Beside him, Yuuki was more than happy to lie on her small bed, tuckered out following her long run on the beach.

As he approached, Heero smiled in response to the wistful grin he was greeted with. Sitting beside his partner, he pulled the braided teenager back to lie against his chest. With a contented sigh, the Japanese pilot lied back against the sofa and closed his eyes. The kiss that they shared only moments ago still lingered on the American's lips and he could feel himself blushing at the memory. Closing his own eyes, Duo wrapped his arms around Heero's torso.

As many challenges lied ahead of them in the building of their relationship, Duo found himself looking forward to finally being able to act on the feelings that he had towards the ex-Wing pilot. Since the time they fought the first war, the braided pilot knew that he was attracted to the stoic teenager. Over time, that attraction became more, but he never thought that those feelings would ever be returned.

When a thought suddenly occurring to him, Duo's violet eyes opened. "So what are we?" he asked.

Sitting up enough to meet the other pilot's gaze, Heero frowned in confusion, "What do you mean?"

The braided pilot rested his chip atop his best friend's chest and shrugged, "I mean what do we call each other? Boyfriend? Partner? Significant other?"

"Aa," Heero nodded in understanding, his shoulder relaxing in reassurance that his partner was not already regretting the step further into their relationship. A small smile tugged the corner of his mouth and he suggested, "What about koibito?"

At the title, Duo smiled back warmly, "I like it." Heero chuckled deeply and kissed the top of his koi's braided head.

Just as the two pilots settled back down, the phone rang. They both groaned deeply at the nuisance and reluctantly untangled themselves. "It's strange they're not calling the vid phone," the ex-Wing pilot commented as he rose to his feet. He walked over to the phone sitting atop the coffee table beside the sofa and answered casually, "Hello."

Duo sat up with a deep frown of concern when Heero's back straightened rigidly. There was a long pause before the ex-Wing pilot stated in a grave voice, "I see." Duo rose from the couch to walk around the other Preventer to meet his cobalt eyes. The surprise and worry that he found in them made the braided pilot's blood run cold.

"We'll be right there," Heero concluded before hanging up slowly. At the concern in his partner's violet eyes, the Japanese pilot frowned, "Bad news."

* * * * * *

Gathered at the wide, round table in Lady Une's large office, Heero and Duo joined their friends once again. The concerned looks on the faces of all present were only more proof to just how grim the situation of their case had become. With a nod to Agent Fire and agent Water, Lady Une opened the floor to them.

Noin sat up with a deep breath before reporting, "Whomever is responsible for the murder of our leads is very good. Somehow, they not only infiltrated the facility, but they killed the two guards in the observation tower with little to no struggle and without being noticed."

"Once they were in the observation tower, they managed to short out every camera in the prison," Sally added. "All that we know is that less than an hour before Noin and I got there, the assassin was able to pull off their hit. There wasn't so much as a hair left behind to lead us to who took out the prisoners."

A chill ran up Relena spine and she frowned, "If they were able to get through the building unnoticed, who's to say that this person is not someone who works at the facility. Perhaps the guards in the watch tower didn't put up a fight because they knew the person."

His brow drawn in thought, Zechs rubbed his chin and commented, "Were that the case, it would also explain why this person was undetected. Anyone working at that facility would know where every guard is stationed at any given time of the day. They would know every place to avoid, getting in and getting out as quickly as possible."

With a firm nod, Noin replied, "That very well could be, and we have taken that into consideration. There are several officers that were off for vacation or other reasons. They are going to be brought in for questioning."

"If anything, we were able to get a name out of those bastards," Wufei sighed deeply. He shot a look to the Commander across from him and sensed the turmoil she was going through. Calmly, he reassured her, "Lady Une, don't feel as any of this is your fault. We all thought that moving Hefner and the others was the best idea."

For the first time since receiving word of the incident at the prison, Lady Une gave a small smile. "Thank you, Wufei," she said quietly. While she knew that the loss of their leads was not to be blamed on her, it was comforting to know that her agents still respected her and the decisions they made. They were the very people affected directly by every call of hers.

Trowa spoke up with a nod, "He's right. If anything, now we have more of an idea of how much influence those involved in the White Out Organization actually have. Andrew's suicide certainly was not just a play for dramatics."

It was Anna's turn to shudder. "It's down right creepy," she muttered. "We're going to have to have to work every angle possible in finding this Terry Henderson before we go and lose that lead, too."

"Relena and I are working on that," Quatre stated. The young woman beside him nodded and he explained, "Her access to government records and my experience with the Preventer logs will help in narrowing down any possible aliases to identify their contact." With that matter being handled, there was a long silence between the group as they weighed their thoughts.

Folding her arms across her chest, Lady Une leaned back in her own seat and announced, "I am going to pull the rescue mission that we were going to conduct."

The eyes of those around the Commander widened and turned to her. Frowning, she explained, "Obviously, the members of White Out know that we're after them. I don't want to take any unnecessary risks before we know how to work around this challenge."

Heero could feel Duo's body stiffen beside him. Understanding the concern that his partner had in this announcement, the ex-Wing pilot reached under the table to squeeze his hand in support. There was a small squeeze in return, a sign that the American was lost in his own thoughts and fears for those still trapped by their enemy.

The Japanese Preventer was the first to break the silence and stated, "Lady Une, no one joined the Preventers knowing that there would not be any risks involved. With all due respect, I believe that the rescue mission should be carried out as planned."

"I agree with Heero," Trowa nodded. "As Preventers, our first duty is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The lives of those people being transported come first."

With a nod of his own, Zechs added, "Along with that, the organization is going to heighten their security in seeing that no one can pick up on their next transportations. We may not have an opportunity like this again, so we should act on it."

Anna spoke up, "Not to mention the fact that we have the chance of getting more information on White Out, were we able to take in some of the crew on that ship, were we not able to just bring the whole craft into our possession."

Biting her lip, Relena asked, "Do you really think that they would still go on with their transport? They obviously know that we would have had ways of deciphering their messages to the leaks that were discovered. They may just change their plans and send the craft at another time, or on another course."

The Chinese pilot sat back in his seat and thought aloud, "There is a good chance they believe that we were not able to get anything out of Rivers and the others before they were killed. They also have no way of knowing what intelligence from White Out had been stored in their computers."

"The bottom line is that there's only one way to find out," Noin commented. "Even if they did feel that we might know about this transporting of prisoners, they most likely will let it go as a ways of finding out just how much we know."

Duo swallowed hard before saying quietly, "The ship will go out as planned. His braided head lowered and all eyes turned to him. "Even if they lost this ship, there are more where they came from, with hundreds, if not thousands, more people they can get their hands on. And after this, we won't have any way of picking up on their next shipments."

Taking all of this into consideration, Lady Une released a slow breath. Folding her hands on the table, she addressed the group, "Very well. We'll carry out the rescue mission. We will have to adjust for the possibility of meeting against heavier resistance when intercepting the transport ship."

All, intent, attention was on the Commander and she continued, "Since the agreement of the President and Council to allow the use of mobile suits was granted to large organizations throughout the world and the Colonies, we should be prepared that this enemy has the resources to fund their own. I will have our defense team prepare a dozen Taurus suits for the teams carrying out the rescue to use."

Both Relena and Quatre glanced at each other. The issue of the allowance of mobile suits to continue to be used was one that they had both fought very hard against in the past. It was still a thorn in their side that the leaders of the world and Colonies still refused to destroy any and all such weapons, claiming that it was a means of protection for those who needed it most.

Gently, Quatre placed a hand on his lover's leg as a means of letting her know that he knew her turmoil over the issue of the law she had agreed to sign. Relena gave him an appreciative smile. While signing the law for the permission to use mobile suits never settled well with her, it did give the Preventers their own allowance to use mobile suits in cases such as this. In the end, it was a give-and-take agreement that finally appeased Relena enough to agree to the terms.

Breaking through the Foreign Minister's thoughts, Lady Une continued, "I had already planned on sending Wufei, Trowa and Anna on this mission with their own assembled teams. Given the circumstances, I am going to ask for further assistance."

Without hesitating, Zechs and Noin both glanced to each other and nodded. "Noin and I will join them," the tall man replied as he looked back to Lady Une. Wufei, Trowa and Anna smiled to the couple as a means of appreciation.

Given the importance of successfully completing this mission, Heero raised his head and announced, "I will go as well." Duo's violet eyes widened and he turned to face his partner. Unable to meet his koi's concerned gaze, the Japanese pilot gently squeezed their hands still joined under the table.

With a relieved smile, Lady Une said sincerely, "Thank you, everyone. It is good to know that I have very reliable people to turn to in times like this." Turing to Agent Water, she asked, "Sally, I assume that you will have a team of medical staff prepared?"

The braided woman nodded, "I personally selected my team and we are ready to go on a moment's notice. I have also seen to it that Quasar is fully equipped with everything that we need when the shuttle carrying the prisoners comes in."

"Good," the Commander replied. She looked to the others watching her and stated, "Heero, Trowa, Wufei, Anna, Zechs and Noin, I would ask that you have the team you assemble together ready to be briefed tomorrow evening before you would have to leave. I will meet with all of you at 1700 tomorrow evening in the conference room on the first floor."

Those said pilots gave their own nods and other gestures of understanding. With that, the meeting was adjourned and those present began filtering out of the office. As they stepped out into the hallway as the last to leave, Heero gently pulled Duo's hand and led him down the opposite way of their friends.

Once they entered their own office, the Japanese pilot closed the door behind them. Leaning his back against the door, he pulled his braided partner into his arms and said quietly, "You know that I have to do this."

Duo held onto his koi and nodded against his shoulder, "I know. I just- I wish I could…" his voice failed him as it cracked in his throat. Small tears of frustration began to fill his eyes. Never one to back out of a mission before, especially a mission that involved Heero, it was killing him to know that he was not ready to see another one of those transport ships, to see the people trapped there in knowing some of the hell that they were enduring.

Placing a soft kiss on his partner's forehead, Heero closed his eyes and rubbed soothing circles along Duo's back. The braided pilot sniffled and dried the unshed tears from his eyes. "This whole thing just sucks, you know?" he frowned after a long pause.

"I'm supposed to be the one watching your back on these missions, not sitting back because I don't think that I could handle being faced with my own demons so soon," he commented with a bitter laugh. "I just feel like a coward right now for opting to staying behind."

Heero pulled back enough to meet his partner's violet eyes and said firmly, "No one, not myself or anyone in that room, would ever think you as weak or a coward for not going on this mission. You shouldn't feel that way of yourself, either."

Gently ran a hand through his partner's bangs Heero spoke quietly, "Duo, even knowing the things that you had to endure, not from the White Out Organization but from your childhood as well, I don't see how you're able to function the way that you are now. And if I asked any of the others, I know that they would agree with me that you're the strongest person that any of us have come to know."

A slight blush colored the braided Preventer's cheeks and he whispered, "Thanks, Heero. I just don't want you to think that-"

"I don't," Heero stated, not allowing his koi to continue that line of thought. "And I never could think that was about you." Sealing that statement with a chase kiss to the other pilot's lips, he returned the warm smile that he was rewarded with.

As he took hold of his best friend's hand, the ex-Wing pilot suggested quietly, "Lets go home." With a nod, Duo squeezed the hand holding his own as they stepped from the room.

* * * * * *

Within hours, arrangements had been made that Quatre and Relena would be staying with Duo at his house while Heero was away on his mission. It came as a relief to both pilots in knowing that the braided pilot would not have to stay in their large house alone for the next few days. Considering the timing of the mission just as Duo was still coming to terms with his own demons, it was the best option.

The early afternoon following their meeting with Lady Une, Heero was packing a duffle bag with clothes and other things needed for his stay on Quasar for the next few days. Duo sat on their bed, legs folded under him as he watched the other pilot preparing for his departure. "I have the guest room all set up for Quatre and Relena," he said at last, just to break the silence.

"That's good," Heero replied, looking over his shoulder as he finished removing a few pairs of socks from his drawer. Walking back to the bed to set the socks into the bag, he glanced at the clock on the wall. 3:49 p.m. Noting that he needed to be heading back to headquarters in the next ten minutes, the Japanese Preventer commented, "They should be arriving any minute now."

Duo rubbed his arm and nodded. Looking into the bag, he asked, "Did you remember an extra pair of jeans?" At Heero's affirmative grunt, the braided pilot inquired, "And your razor?" Another affirmative from the other pilot as he tied his white sneakers. "Don't forget to take a sweater or two in case the temperature is pretty cool in Quasar," Duo threw in, looking up from the bag.

With am amused smile, Heero rose to his feet and walked over to the bed. Bending at the waist to meet his partner's eyes, he replied reassuringly, "They're all in there. I've done this enough times that I know how to pack for a mission like this."

"Sorry," Duo frowned, his shoulders drooping. "I'm just worried, that's all." If he meant to say anything further, the lips suddenly pressing against his prevented him from doing so. Closing his own eyes with a small sigh, the braided pilot returned the chaste kiss.

Heero removed his hands from Duo's shoulders and pulled back. With a warm smile, he said sincerely, "I know. And I appreciate it."

Zippering his bag closed, the ex-Wing pilot slung the strap over his shoulder. "Will you see me out?" he asked, allowing the need in his voice to reveal his own hesitancy to leave his partner behind. Duo nodded with a forced smile. Together, they stepped from the bedroom and made their way downstairs.

Their puppy ran up to Heero the moment to was downstairs, standing on her tiny back paws to place her front on the teenager's leg. "You be a good girl while I'm gone, Yuuki," Heero smiled to her, patting her head gently. The pup licked his hand excitedly.

Not wanting to make their farewell any longer or more agonizing on either of them, Heero lowered his bag to the floor and wrapped his arms tightly around the other pilot. Duo wrapped his own arms just as tightly around his partner. They pulled back enough to kiss each other in a sound kiss that never moved beyond a firm yet gentle caress.

Finding his back against the wall by the time the kiss ended, Duo looked into his koi's eyes and whispered, "Please be careful, Heero."

"I'll come back to you," his partner breathed. With another gentle kiss, Heero reluctantly broke their embrace and gathered his bag. Just as he pulled the strap over his shoulder and turned towards the door, he froze.

At the sudden, startled look on Heero's face, Duo looked to the door and his own eyes widened. During their exchange, neither pilot realized that the front door had been left open to allow the cooling breeze from outside into the house. On the other side of the screen door, a pair of equally shocked eyes watched the two young men.

Clearing his throat, Duo played with the end of his braid and chuckled nervously, "Um… Hey, Lena."

 
Part 18:

Relena walked up to Heero and Duo's beachside home, taking her time up the front porch steps. It was only when having to do such simple things as climbing stairs, along with having to wear looser clothing, that she was reminded of her current pregnant state. Placing a hand on her swollen belly, she smiled to herself in anticipation of finally getting to meet the child she was carrying.

When Relena reached the front door, she noted that the wooden door was already open. It made sense to have the gentle breeze go through the house on this warm afternoon, so it came as no surprise to her that the screen door was sufficient. What did surprise the young politician was the scene played out on the other side of the screen.

Locked in a tight embrace, Heero and Duo were engaged in a tender kiss. Suppressing the sharp gasp that threatened to escape her, Relena froze with wide eyes. By the time the kiss ended, Duo's back was leaning against the wall as the couple just gazed into each other's eyes. There was a brief, quiet exchange of words between the two pilots before Heero gathered up his bag and turned to leave.

For a moment, Relena remained stunned before she realized that her friends stood just as surprised and frozen in place. The sound of Duo clearing his throat brought her out of her state. Playing with the end of his braid, the American chuckled nervously, "Um… Hey, Lena."

The blonde-haired young woman shook her head slightly, then smiled warmly at the couple. "I'm sorry," she said at last, a blush coloring her cheeks. "It is very rude of me to be standing here gaping like this. I was just… caught off guard."

With his own face blushing, Heero opened the screen door to her, uncertain what to say at the moment. As she stepped inside, Relena smiled at the playful puppy running up to her. "I see Yuuki is becoming quite used to my visits," she commented, bending at her knees to gently pet the furry pup.

Quatre stepped up to the door bearing the two bags, missing the entire scene that his girlfriend had stumbled on. Opening the door to him, Duo and Heero assisted their blonde friend with the luggage.

After a brief exchange of greetings and embraces, Relena gently pulled at her lover's arm and leading him into the living room so that their friends could have one last moment of privacy. Just before she disappeared, she winked over his shoulder to the two pilots.

When they were alone once more, Heero turned and embraced Duo once more, kissing his lips softly. After whispering their `good byes,' the ex-Wing pilot reluctantly released his partner and stepped from the house. Sighing deeply, Duo leaned back against the wall again, silently watching his koi depart. When Heero went out of his line of sight, the braided pilot pushed himself from the wall to quickly walk upstairs.

Once he reached the room they shared at the back of the house, Duo stepped out onto the balcony and made his way to the edge of the deck. The Japanese pilot closed the door to the back seat of their silver Civic after securing his duffle bag. Looking up, Heero's pleased smile lit his face in finding his partner seeing him off. With his right arm, he waved one final goodbye.

Duo put on his best smile, its brightness never reaching his violet eyes, as waved back. Watching the silver Civic pull from the driveway and off into the distance, he sighed deeply. The wind came to play with his long braid and a chill suddenly ran up the American's spine. It would be the first time he and Heero would spend more than a couple hours apart since he had been rescued.

Wrapping his arms around his waist, Duo frowned, "It's going to be a long five days." Another ocean breeze ruffled his bangs while he turned to step back inside.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

A sharp cry escaped Duo's throat when he regained consciousness, his violet eyes snapping open as widely as they could. Panting heavily, sweat was dripping down his face and chest, soaking his white tank top. Sitting up, he rubbed his face with his hands and forced himself to relax. The moonlight peering through the sheer, white curtains of the large windowed doors painted a soft glow of blue and white that filled the bedroom.

Just as he was beginning to place himself with his safe surroundings, Duo's right hand instinctively reached for the normally occupied side of the bed beside him for a comfort that was always there. Clutching at empty and cold sheets, he at last broke through the haze of his terror and disorientation. His violet eyes closed and he fell back to lie against the mattress.

With his eyes still closed, Duo forced the voices, feelings, sights, smells from his nightmare away. When at last he could no longer see those laughing eyes glaring down on him, no longer hear the menacing and lust-filled laughter in his ears, no longer feel all of those hands all over him, no longer smell the stench of sweat and blood in the air, the braided pilot finally opened his eyes slowly.

It would be a blessing when those nightmares finally ended, if they ever would come to an end.

Lying on his right side, Duo gazed to Heero's side of the bed. With a deep frown, he sighed deeply. It was going to be a long five days. "Come home soon," he whispered to the normally occupied spot.  Not wishing to return to sleep and possibly another nightmare, he rose from the bed. Changing into a dry, grey tank to go with his black mesh shorts, he made his way from the bedroom.

When he reached the darkened kitchen, Duo froze at the sight of the open refrigerator, its light the only artificial brightness in the room. Turning on the overhead lights, his violet eyes widened when Relena appeared from behind the opened door with a startled gasp. When her eyes met her friend's she relaxed and smiled sheepishly.

"Lena?" the American asked, still wondering if he was actually awake or still seeing things having just awoken.

Closing the door, Relena revealed one of the large containers of strawberries and bottle of chocolate syrup she had brought with her earlier. "Late night cravings," she explained. "Care to join me? Quatre had a long day today, so I didn't want to disturb him."

An amused smirk played on Duo's lips and he replied, "Sure, if you don't mind." Moving to cabinets, he removed two bowls and joined the young woman at the table in the private, conjoined dining room. Yuuki was too tired in her comfortable bed to do little more than lift her head once to see what was causing the movement around her. Seeing that all was fine, she lowered her head and went back to sleep.

When her braided friend sat across from her, Relena opened the plastic container of berries. "So what is your excuse for being up this late?" she asked, the concern clear in his voice and in her frown as she peered at the other teenager through her bangs.

"Nightmare," Duo admitted, knowing that even if he was able to lie, the Foreign Minister would see right through it. Pouring a generous amount of syrup into each bowl, he handed one to his companion. Relena remained quiet, but nodded her understanding to the pilot's response and chose not to dwell on the subject.

The two unlikely friends enjoyed their late snack in silence for a while. Duo licked his chocolate-covered fingers and folded his arms on the table, a thought coming into mind that had been bothering him. "Lena, can I ask you a personal question?" he spoke up at last.

Relena nodded, "Certainly." She picked up another strawberry before dipping it into her bowl.

Biting his lip as he thought of how to properly word his inquiry, Duo asked, "How did you and Quatre, you know," he fought the blush from his cheeks and made vague gestures with his hands before finally getting out, "…get together?" he ducked his head a bit and added quickly, "You really don't have to answer that if you don't want to, I was just curious."

With a quiet, but warm laugh bubbled from the blonde young woman. "You realize you're the only person to actually just come out and ask either one of us?" she chuckled deeply, shaking her head. "Quatre and I certainly make an unexpected pair, I imagine," she commented, laughing again when Duo nodded enthusiastically.

Sitting sat back in her seat with a wistful smile as she drifted through her memories, Relena began, "After the Mariemaya Incident, something truly amazing happened." She looked up to meet the curious eyes of her friend and grinned, "I grew up."

Relena shook her head again and smiled, "It took a lot, but I forced myself to allow Heero to recover on his own following his collapse. It gave me time to really think about what it was that I truly wanted and needed, only to find that what I thought that was had been the furthest thing from." Her smile faded a bit and she sighed, "Funny how life works that way, sometimes. Were it not for that revelation, I would have continued to chase a childish dream."

With a reassuring smile, Duo said quietly, "We've all done some things we wish we could take back." He shrugged, "But it just makes us all the wiser in the end."

The blonde girl across from him smiled warmly in a sign of her appreciation. Taking a deep breath, Relena spoke quietly, "During the first war, I did actually have a chance to get to know Quatre when he and Heero had stayed in the Sanq kingdom. While we did not spend a great amount of time together, we did have a few moments alone to engage in conversations." Her smile became wistful again and she chuckled deeply to herself in recalling some unspoken memory.

"With Quatre acting for the Preventers, both in the field and as a spokesman for many business gatherings, we met up during a convention that we both needed to attend." Relena cleared her throat, her frown returning. "Not long after you had been captured."

Duo nodded with a thoughtful look. Sensing the tension in his friend, he smirked, "And he put his charms on you?"

Her shoulders relaxing, Relena laughed, "Not at first. You of all people should know how shy Quatre can be at time." The braided pilot chuckled and reached for another strawberry, satisfied with himself that he managed to ease the tension again.

The politician grinned and her eyes lost focus as continued, "We more or less latched onto each other since we were the only familiar faces amongst the sea of people attending. After the convention, Quatre invited me to dinner and we sat in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying talking until dawn.

"We started dating not long after that, one thing led to another and that's how we got here." With a hand on her swollen belly, she concluded, "And I couldn't be happier."

"I'm happy for you, Lena, for both of you," Duo smiled sincerely. "I'll admit that it was a bit of a … shock when I heard about the two of you, but I can see where you would make a great pair."

Raising an eyebrow, the young woman smirked, "Well you and Heero certainly took your dear old sweet time in getting together." She threw a strawberry at her friend and laughed, "I was beginning to wonder if you would ever get a clue."

Duo nearly choked on the small bite of his treat, his violet eyes widening. "You knew!?" he exclaimed.

With a shrug, Relena smirked, "Your feelings towards Heero's were far more apparent to me than Heero's feelings towards you. During the wars, I always had a funny feeling regarding the way I would catch you looking at him when you thought no one was looking."

The Vice Foreign Minister giggled at the sight of Duo's reddening ears. Her smirk warmed into a kind smile as she added, "But I had noticed there was more than just that. While I never put my finger on it until after the wars, looking back, I could see that you cared deeply for Heero. Your words and actions showed that clearly." She winked, "Woman's intuition."

Chuckling deeply, Duo asked, "And how did your intuition figure Heero's feeling out?"

Relena grinned, "He whispered your name not long after he collapsed into my arms when he managed to stop Dekim Barton." When Duo's violet eyes widened in shock, she nodded. "At first, it took me by surprise, but when I saw his determination to find you despite every odd set against him… I thought back to that moment and realized that he had been hoping it was you that caught him."

At that, Duo bit his lip and the pain of missing his koi returned tenfold. "Earlier, when I saw the two of you together, I finally got a glimpse of what the two of you look like together," Relena spoke up again. I got to piece all of my theories together and make sense of the now-obvious tension between the two of you over the years."

Tilting her head again, the blonde young woman stated, "Despite your differences, the two of you just… fit."

Slowly, a smile tugged at Duo's lips and he replied quietly, "Thank you, Lena." Picking up the strawberry that had been thrown at him to fall at his feet, he smirked, "Wait until the press heard that the beloved Vice Foreign Minister Peacefraft engages in food fights." With an easy toss, he threw the piece of fruit back at his friend.

Her head falling back, Relena laughed heartily, "Baka!" Gathering another strawberry for ammo, she threw it back to the braided pilot. At the infamous nickname, the braided pilot's own laughter filled the air.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Heero peered out of one of the many large windows in the long stretch of hallways within Quasar. Subconsciously rubbing his silver cross pendant between his right thumb and pointer finger, his thoughts drifted back to Duo. He had been away for more than a day now in search of the transport ship that he and his team were hoping to intercept. Just hoping that his koi was fairing well in their first time apart since their reunion, the ex-Wing pilot gazed out to the endless sea of stars.

If the White Out Organization did not change their course or time of flight, they would be approaching it within the hour. Before long, all of the anticipation and preparation for the attack would finally come to a head. With the crew on full stand-by, everyone was attired in their flight suits to be ready to leave on a moment's notice.

A familiar voice gently calling his voice for attention broke Heero's thoughts and he turned to face Wufei. "The ship's been sited by a couple of our scouts in their Taurus suits. We're staying back far enough to keep out of range of radar as that we can start instructing the recruits," the Chinese pilot informed the other. With a firm nod, Heero followed him to the conference room.

Noting a tension in his friend, Heero asked, "Any signs that the transport ship has resistance in preparation for an attack?"

His friend's face turned grim in answer. "So far, they counted twenty Taurus suits of their own escorting the craft." Heero sighed quietly to himself, frowning deeply.

That was already far more resistance than they had faced in taking over the first transport ships that they had recovered. With only twelve mobile suits on board, they were already outnumbered. The look on the Chinese pilot's face spoke of his own displeasure with the news.

With a deep breath, Heero nodded, "I'll meet you in the conference room." Returning the nod, Wufei turned and walked off for the appointed room. When he was alone, the ex-Wing pilot's looked down on the silver cross in the palm of his hand. Closing his cobalt eyes, Heero placed a soft kiss on the pendant before replacing it beneath his flight suit.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

There was a brief exchange of conversations between the forty-five Preventers sitting together in the large conference room on Quasar. All in their flight suits and their helmets in their laps, the diverse group of agents shared their own anxiousness to face their enemy. When Heero, Wufei, Trowa and Anna entered the room to stand before them, everyone fell silent to give their team leaders their undivided attention.

With a nod to the group, Wufei stepped forward first and announced, "Your patience is about to pay off. We will commence our attack in fifteen minutes."

At that, a loud roar of cheers and whistles went up from the teams assembled, all eager to finally be underway with their mission. The four team leaders in the front of the group smirked tothemselves.

Raising his hands to hush the crowd, the Chinese pilot continued, "Anna and I will be leading those of you who will be taking the Taurus suits. Once we have cleared a way for our shuttle to enter the hanger, Our main goal will be to draw our enemy's mobile suits as far from the transport ship as possible We can't risk having the craft harmed by careless fire while the prisoners and the remainder of our team are inside."

As he took a step forward, Heero instructed, "Trowa and I will be leading those teams storming the ship. You all know which team you are on and who to follow. There are only two long hallways that are carrying the prisoners. Once we enter the hanger, my team will go down the northern wing while Trowa's team will take the southern wing."

When it was his turn to move up, Trowa added, "The override to the ship's security locks will be initiated the moment we each the hanger so that we can open the cells without any difficulty. Remember that these prisoners have been through a great deal, so they may put up their own resistance before realizing that we are here to help them. Handle them as need be to bring them into safety."

"Remember that this is strictly a rescue mission. Get in and get out as quickly as possible," Anna's voice carried over the group of agents gathered. Pacing before them with her hands folded behind her back, the redhead stated, "What that boils down to is don't attempt anything stupid. There are a lot of things that could go wrong in this mission now that we know our enemy is expecting us to strike at some point."

Wufei's dark eyes scanned over the faces before them and asked, "Are there any questions?" Everyone looked around to see if any hands were being raised. There were none. With a smirk, the Chinese pilot ordered, "Then get to your stations."

      *            *            *            *            *            *

The sound of footsteps and some shouting between the guards woke Rachel from her sleep. At the sound of a distant explosion beyond the ship, the little girl sat up with wide eyes and a startled gasp. Despite the pitch blackness of her small cell, she managed to crawl to where she knew the door was. Kneeling beside the entrance, she placed an ear to the cool metal of the door. Not far from outside of the ship,

"How far off are they?" she heard one soldier shouting over the commotion. "They sound like they're all over the place!"

Another voice answered in an angry hiss, "There is a team of Taurus suits holding off our own! They're about to breech the hanger! Move all forces there before they manage to get to the holding cells!"

Yet another voice, cried, "What about the data stored in the ship's hanger? If they get their hands on it-" Rachel nearly had to strain to make out the conversations taking place over the shouting and rumbling of feet running past her door.

"This ship will be blown apart before they get the chance!" the second voice replied. "Now move your ass and watch the hanger!" There were a few hurried affirmatives and the sound of more footsteps running.

Suddenly, another explosion filled the air, this one sounding as if it were just past her cell, and the room began to shake. With a startled cry, Rachel covered her ears and squeezed her eyes closed. When the explosion died away to a low hum, the brunette child quickly crawled back into her corner. Hugging her legs to her chest, she closed her eyes again and whispered, "I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry."

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Growling deeply within her cockpit, Anna's eyes narrowed as she warned, "Agent Fang, the next time I catch you showboating like that again, I'll shoot you myself. You could have endangered the ship with that little stunt of yours. We told you to draw your targets away from the ship before you fire." She moved to take out an oncoming challenger without blinking.

The black-haired rookie's smug grin faded into a wince. "Sorry, Agent Mist." Keeping his flight patters at an easier pace, he returned his attention to those enemy suits still remaining. With his team leader's warning in mind, the young pilot forced another opponent out of hiding.

From his place closer to the ship, Wufei watched as the large shuttle carrying the remainder of their agents moved towards him. Detonating the explosives set by his team, the Chinese pilot opened a large hole near the craft's hanger. As he and his team continued to clear the way for the shuttle, Wufei radioed to the crew onboard, "Good luck, everyone." With that, he cut the connection for radio silence.

The moment the shuttle entered the ship, the gaping hole was closed off by its emergency doors too late. Sighing in relief in knowing that his friends at least got in safely, Wufei returned his attention to the heat of the ongoing battle outside.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

When confirmation came in that the opening within the transport ship was sealed, Heero moved to the back of the shuttle, ahead of the agents waiting to be released. When Trowa joined him, they all removed their helmets and armed themselves. "Ready?" the ex-Heavy Arms pilot called back to their teams. Only nods answered him.

Quickly, Heero opened the shuttle door and ran into the hanger, taking out a few guards waiting for them to come into the open. The Preventers all returned the fire that greeted them, some of the agents moving quickly to follow their team leaders down the corridors while the remainder stayed to secure the hanger.

With their teams split, Heero and Trowa broke off in opposite directions. His green eyes narrowed, the tall pilot moved with ease down the long hall, dodging and returning fire. The agents around him ran down towards the end of the hall to secure the area from any more guards stationed there.

In moments, Trowa's team began opening the cells surrounding them. The cries of children and other startled prisoners filled the air as they were carefully lead out of harm's way. Opening a few doors himself, the ex-Gundam pilot gently herded the people within so some of his agents could lead them back to the shuttle.

As he reached the end of the hall, stepping over the bodies of the guards that had already been handled, Trowa opened two of the last doors. Calling to the Preventers ahead of them, he ordered, "Escort the last of them back to the shuttle. We can't afford to stay here much longer." With affirmatives, the two agents ran past him, guiding those stunned and disbelieving souls that they had saved.

Just as he was about to turn back, Trowa spotted one last door that had been missed. Punching the now dispensable access panel, he opened it to find the room dark as pitch inside. His green eyes narrowed at the unexpected find and he called, "Preventers. Is anyone in here?" He stepped inside and flipped the light switch just inside.

With a sharp gasp, Trowa's eyes widened at the sight of a tiny girl huddled in the far corner of the cell. Her legs hugged tightly to her chest, her head snapped up with wide, terror-filled brown eyes. It took a moment for the tall pilot to move his legs as he slowly moved towards the frightened girl. While he approached, the petite child whimpered and crawled back even further into her corner.

Slowly kneeling before her, Trowa smiled warmly and whispered, "Come along, little one. I'm here to get you out of here." The girl's eyes widened anew and she blinked in shock and disbelief. Still moving cautiously, the Preventer stretched out his hand. Biting her lip, the child placed her hand in his and allowed him to help her to her feet.

Easily scooping the girl up into one arm, Trowa told her quietly, "Hold onto me tight, okay?" With a timid nod, she wrapped her small arms around his neck and held on.

When he stepped out into the hall to the gruesome sight that awaited, the tall pilot used his free hand to gently hold the child's face against his shoulder, whispering, "Don't look."

He wasn't sure if it was the fact that she was too frightened or shocked to do otherwise, but Trowa was pleased that the bundle in his arms listened to his request. The last thing that the child needed after her ordeal was to see the gory bodies spread down the hall as Trowa ran back to the shuttle.

"Agent Shroud!" an urgent voice called over Trowa's radio.

Still moving quickly Trowa removed his hand from the girl's head to recover the transmitter. "What is it?" he replied.

"It's Agent Wing. He's been shot!"
 

Part 19:

"Duo, could you answer the phone?" Hilde called over the ringing vid phone, her attention drawn to the meal that she was cooking.

Stepping out of the bathroom with a towel over his loose, damp hair, Duo stepped into the hallway in a pair of jeans and loose, black t-shirt. With a smile, he sniffed the pleasant aroma of the meal being prepared in the kitchen. He refrained from making any comment over his friend's distracted attention. The American knew the stress that Hilde had gone through in seeing that her date with Brian tonight went off perfectly. It was out of courtesy that he went to the ringing phone without making some kind of comment.

When he was seated before the vid phone in the living room, Duo quickly pulled his loose damp hair back in a pony tail to look presentable in case the call was from one of their many clients. He was about to begin his usual, businesslike greeting when he pressed the `Accept Call' button.

"Duo Maxell, here," he began just as the screen came on. "How can I help-" the remainder of his greeting fell away and his violet eyes widened at the face that appeared on the monitor. "H-Heero?" he stammered.

It had been months since Duo laid eyes on his friend. The last time he saw the ex-Wing pilot, he was unconscious following his collapse after the Mariemaya attack had ended. In meeting those cobalt eyes again, a deep surge of guilt ripped at Duo for leaving his partner behind to recover on his own. After a long silence between the two pilots, Heero finally replied simply, "Hello, Duo."

The sound of footsteps running towards the living room brought the American's eyes up just as a wide-eyed, slack-jawed Hilde reached the doorway. Over the last few months of working and sharing their apartment together, the young woman was both shocked and honored that Duo had confided his feelings for Heero to her. Sensing her friend's nervousness, she mouthed, `Baka, say something to him.'

Swallowing hard, the long-haired teenager turned back to face the vid phone monitor and smiled nervously. "Well, this is an unexpected surprise. You look well," he commented, rubbing the back of his head. Hilde smacked her forehead and rolled her eyes at her roommate's sad attempt to start a conversation.

For the first time in his life, Duo could almost swear that he caught Heero actually fidgeting as he searched for something to say. On his other end of the call, the ex-Wing pilot had not expected something as simple as a call to be this difficult. Taking a deep breath, Heero found himself asking, "How is the savaging business coming?"

"Really well, thanks," Duo grinned with a shrug of his shoulders. "Hil and I have been able to have quite a few large clients interested in it. Work orders have been coming in regularly, so I can't complain."

Heero had to force himself not to frown too deeply in hearing that news. "I see," he replied. He lowered his head a bit, deciding best to just get to the reason for his call to have it out in the open before he changed his mind and ended the call now. "I am joining up with the Preventers and will be moving to stay on Earth in the next week. There is a nice beach house in Maryland that I was going to look at possibly buying."

Raising his head again to meet his friend's violet eyes, the ex-Wing pilot said quickly, "Duo, the reason I was calling was to see if you'd be interested in moving in with me… maybe even working together as partners again." There quick and nearly painless. That was until Heero saw the shock in his friend's widened eyes.

From where she stayed in the doorway, Hilde was bouncing excitedly, smiling widely as she mouthed, `Tell him `yes.' Tell him `yes.' With a glance over to his roommate, Duo gave a small smile of appreciation. Now that it was clear that she would not be hurt by his leaving, the long-haired pilot met his partner's gaze.

The hesitation of any response from his friend was not a good sign to the Japanese pilot. "This was a bad idea," Heero frowned, shaking his head. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Duo." With that, he reached up to his `phone to his the `Disconnect' button.

"Heero, wait," Duo suddenly called just before his partner could end the call. Biting his lip, Heero looked up again to find the other teenager smiling back at him. "How soon can we go look at this house you found?"

(End Flashback)

      *            *            *            *            *            *

He never even heard the shots.

Suddenly finding himself lying on his back, a sheering pain in his right shoulder and another in his lower abdomen, Heero stared up at the brightly lit ceiling with wide eyes. Shots rang out amongst his team. Someone who was working on his team had shot him from behind. More shots were fired over the screaming voices all around.

Finally, when the released hostages were finally removed from harm's way, Heero could just make out the voice of another agent on his team shouting frantically into his radio, "It's Agent Wing. He's been shot!"

A flash of sad violet filled Heero's vision. With a ragged breath, he whispered, "Duo…" Slowly, the world around him fell away into blackness.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Trowa cursed to himself and shouted in response to the urgent call, "Get him and the remainder of your team back to the shuttle immediately! Understood!?" After an affirmative response from the frightened soldier's voice, the tall ex-Heavy Arms pilot replaced his radio on his belt.

The thin, tiny arms wrapped around his neck tightened the slightest bit, the small girl in his arms never looking up from where her face was buried in his shoulder. "It's going to be all right, little one," he reassured her quietly. "Just keep holding on tight to me, all right?" There was a slight nod from the child's head before he took off running down the hall littered with bodies in his aim to reach the shuttle.

While she was terrified of everything that was happening around her, Rachel just clung onto the tall man that pulled her from her cell. Just when she was sure that she would die some day while being in the hands of the men that killed her mother, this person came to her rescue, so it seemed. Suddenly, she remembered the words she heard being shouted between the guards not long before she was found. Her brown eyes widened with a sharp gasp. "B-bomb," she whispered.

Halting in his hurried steps, Trowa's own eyes widened. Pulling back to look into the child's eyes, he asked, "What was that?"

"The guards… they set up the ship to explode with bombs," Rachel answered, her voice soft and frightened. With a firm nod, the man holding her lifted her higher for a better grip around her waist. Hiding her face again, Rachel felt his body lurching to a full out run.

When he reached the hanger, Trowa narrowly missed a few bullets in reaching the Preventers guarding their shuttle. "Everyone board the shuttle now!" he cried over all of the noise. "This place is going to go up any second!"

At those words, the few prisoners that were still in the open screamed and ran into the shuttle's opening. Keeping the girl in his protection close, Trowa shouted orders to the remainder of the rescue team to pull back from the fight.

"They know about the bombs!" he heard one guard across the hanger shouting to the remainder of his men. "Start the detonation before they can get out of here!"

Everyone piled into the shuttle quickly, Trowa being the last, and the doors sealed closed. "Get us the hell out of here!" he shouted to the cockpit of the craft, covering the girl's ears with his free hand. Instantly, the piloting crew brought the shuttle to life, cutting a large hole in the side of the transport ship's walls.

The loud roar of the shuttle engines compiled with the explosion following after them caused Rachel to give a small cry of fear, her arms hugging the tall man's neck all the tighter. `I will not cry,' she told herself. `I will not cry.' A soothing hand reached up to rub her back gently.

Having taken out their opposing forces, the teams led by Wufei and Anna watched from their Taurus suits as the shuttle carrying their comrades and the released captives flew just out of reach of a massive ball of fire with mere seconds to spare. Several deafening booms rang out and the White Out craft seemed to bend in half.

A few sharp gasps could be heard over the communication links as the agents stared in shock while the massive transport ship was engulfed by the massive explosions focused within its center. In a few blinks, there was little left but floating debris.

Several agents let out a loud cheer in watching the shuttle fly past them unscathed. Both Wufei and Anna released the breaths they had been holding for what seemed like an eternity. With a smirk, the Chinese pilot announced, "All right, everyone. Let's escort them back to Quasar." Along with Anna, he took the lead in flanking the shuttle to see that it reached its destination safely.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Noin and Zechs smiled warmly to Anna and Wufei as they approached them in one of the long hallways of Quasar after returning before the shuttle, all still attired in their form-fitting flight suits. Behind them, the doors leading to the hanger would open to the shuttle and its passengers. As Sally and her medical team ran to enter the hanger and assess those wounded, the four pilots waited patiently for word on their friends still in the small craft beyond the doors.

"It was an honor watching the two of you in action back there," the Anna grinned to the young couple that had joined their cause. "Their Taurus suits outnumbered us, but having you out there helped even the odds quite a bit."

Bowing her head, Noin chuckled deeply, "Thank you, Anna. You fought quite valiantly, yourself." With a shrug, she stated, "I have to admit that it felt really good to be flying a mobile suit again."

Meeting the Chinese pilot's eyes watching him, Zechs smirked, "And it is always a pleasure fighting alongside old friends. It's good to see that you haven't lost your edge, Chang." He held out his right hand, his smile growing slightly.

A small grin tugging at his lips, Wufei exchanged a firm handshake with a firm nod. "It's almost a shame we can't partake in skirmishes like this more often." The group of pilots chuckled deeply amongst themselves. Their peaceful moment was broken when the hanger doors swished open and the sound of anxious voices filled the air.

Over the commotions, Sally's voice shouted orders, "Get him into the OR stat! He's the worst off of all of them! I'll need three of you with me during the operation while the rest of you look after the others! Let's go!" With that, she led the rolling stretcher quickly from the hanger. Lying on that stretcher was Heero, unconscious and bleeding badly from his arm. At the sight of their friend, the four pilots standing by gasped, froze, gaped and watched with wide, fear-filled eyes as he was rushed past them.

Slowly, those rescued from the hands of the White Out Organization began filing out of the hanger with the aid of their Preventer escorts. Anna scanned over through the crowd pouring into the hallway worriedly.

When Trowa finally appeared amidst the near hundred people filing into the hall, the redhead breathed a deep sigh of relief and ran towards him. The tall pilot gave his lover a tired, but relieved smile of his own when she reached him. His hold around the girl in his arms tightened in a reassuring squeeze when the child at last lifted her face to peer around the sea of faces nervously.

When Anna was close enough she and Trowa quickly assessed each other before embracing tightly. When she pulled back, the redhead smiled warmly to the girl in her partner's arms. "Well hello there, darling," she greeted kindly.

Rachel blinked her wide brown eyes before timidly smiling back. Bending at her knees to be more eye-level with the child, Anna said quietly, "Trowa, here, has a friend who was hurt pretty badly, kiddo. What do you say you come with me and I'll see that you get cleaned up and checked out while he waits for word on his friend?"

Rachel looked up at the man holding her. So his name was Trowa. The pretty lady with red hair seemed really nice and Trowa must trust her. She could see that while he was hiding it, he did have a look of concern in his green eyes. She didn't want the nice man to be sad.

Looking back to the pretty lady, Rachel nodded her head. The lady straightened with a glowing smile and all but cheered, "Great." She opened her arms, to which the little girl reached out to wrap her own arms around the lady's neck. Two long, slender arms wrapped securely around her small frame and held her close. Biting her lip, Rachel tried to imaging that it was her mother hugging her closely as she closed her eyes and rested her cheek against the lady's shoulder.

In seeing the care that she took in making sure that both he and the child were taken care of, Trowa gave his lover a grateful smile and mouthed, `Thank you.' He leaned in and kissed Anna's lips soundly. When they pulled back, the redheaded Preventer winked to him before turning and walking off with the child, melding in with the crowd of people moving to be examined by the medical team in the designated rooms further down the hall. Trowa released a deep sigh, his shoulders sagging and the worry in his eyes no longer masked as he approached the remainder of his friends.

Two agents from Heero's team ran up, to the group when the crowd cleared at last. Recognizing the young Hispanic and African American approaching, Trowa frowned deeply, "Omar. Antonio. What happened back there?"

Catching his breath, the bald agent named Omar straightened and answered, "Agent Wing had us make our way down the wing to release the prisoners as planned, sir. He stayed behind to cover us from enemy fire when Agent Bow-" his brown eyes narrowed and he corrected with a deep growl, "-Jessica Adams shot him twice from behind."

Wufei, Noin, Zechs and Trowa listened on in horror, their eyes wide in hearing that there was yet another leak in their Preventer unit. Swallowing hard, Antonio ran a hand through his short, dark hair and continued, "We killed her just before she could shoot Agent Wing a third time." He shuddered, "She just had this satisfied smirk on her face the whole time, even as we fired at her. She didn't even fight back."

Rubbing his chin, Zechs commented, "Because the real targets are the Gundam pilots. She had no reason to kill either of you, as far as she was concerned. Even if she fought back, she knew that she would have been killed at any rate."

Beside him, Noin added quietly, "She was satisfied in dying thinking that she had just killed Heero Yuy." Turning to her partner, she suggested, "We better contact Lady Une to make whatever arrangements need to be made to have Jessica's house searched."

With a nod, Zechs added, "We better search her quarters in case she left anything behind that could be useful." Together, the young couple quickly walked off.

"Good work, the two of you," Trowa said at last to the two agents from Heero's team. "We're a couple of days from reaching the Earth's orbit, so see that you both keep your eyes open for anything suspicious amongst the other agents while you're out here."

A flash of nervousness glinted in Omar's eyes and he asked, "Agent Dragon. Agent Shroud… How long have there been traitors amongst us? Why were we not all informed of them sooner?"

Wufei reassured him in a calm voice, "We thought that we had found them all. Hopefully, we will find more information from what we can gather from Jessica's quarters and home. Until we have all that we can find, I am sure that you can both understand the gravity in seeing that this news stays confidential. Just keep an eye open and try to relax during our stay here. You both did well back there."

The two agents both nodded with grim expressions. "Thank you, sir. We'll be sure to alert you if we find anything out of the norm," Antonio stated. "You will keep all of us posted on Agent Wing's condition, then?"

Both Trowa and Wufei gave small smiles at the request. Heero was respected and looked up to by all of the Preventers, as were all of the ex-Gudam pilots. The obvious concern on the young men's faces was almost endearing. With a nod, Trowa replied, "Of course." Satisfied with that, Omar and Antonio walked off.

The moment that they were alone, Wufei took a deep breath in a dark hiss, spinning quickly with narrowed eyes and landing a forceful punch into the wall behind him. "Goddamn it!" he shouted. Trowa never flinched at the sudden change in his friend, his eyes gazing off at nothing in particular. "How the hell will we be able to accomplish anything if we have to keep looking over our shoulders to make sure one of our own isn't preparing to stab us from behind!?"

Releasing a deep breath slowly, Trowa shook his head, "I don't know, Wufei." Looking up to the ceiling with his back leaning against the wall, he frowned deeply, "I just don't know."

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Nearly an hour later…

With a deep sigh, Sally removed her surgical mask. "Three inches lower than where the bullet entered…" she said quietly, shaking her head. "Someone certainly was looking out for him." Gently, she ran a hand through the unconscious pilot's bangs.

Sally's findings revealed that while Heero's colon had been nicked, the repair work was fairly routine. The bullet wound to the shoulder left several broken bones that needed to be set. What had Sally worried the most was the blood that he had lost in route back to Quasar. After several blood transfusions during the surgery, however, Heero was now stabilized and set on making a full recovery with rest and care.

Turning to her three aids, the braided woman smiled warmly, "Good work, all of you. Let's move him into one of the patient rooms. With a nod from her staff, her aids moved from the room to change out of their reddened medical scrubs.

Once she was alone, Sally went to the pile of clothing that has been cut from the injured pilot's body. Recovering the silver chain and cross pendant that she has carefully removed from the teenager before the surgery, she returned to the bed to test a theory. Even if Heero was going to recover, she knew that he would need something to give him a reason to fight.

Carefully opening Heero's right hand, the braided Preventer placed the chain and pendant in his palm. With a sad smile, she watched the once slack fingers close tightly around the piece of silver. Somehow, she had had a feeling that the pendant meant something to the ex-Wing pilot.

Enfolding the balled fist with both her hands, Sally leaned closely to the peaceful face and whispered, "Duo needs you, Heero. I know that you'll get through this for him." She pulled away when the three aids returned to move the stretcher. Sighing deeply when Heero was taken out of the operating room, the young woman moved out into the hallway.

The moment that she entered the waiting room, Sally was quickly greeted by an anxious looking Trowa and Wufei, who all but jumped from their seats at her appearance. Smiling tiredly, the braided woman raised her hands to the two approaching pilots and reassured them, "Heero is going to be fine." The two pilots sighed deeply, their shoulders sagging with relief.

Shaking her head, Sally frowned, "I have to admit that he was extremely lucky. The bullet to his abdomen was millimeters from causing damage that would have killed him instantly. We came very close to losing him."

Finding the rest of the room empty, Sally gave a puzzled look. "Anna is looking after the prisoners that had been pulled from the transport ship. Noin and Zechs are in the middle of a conference call with Lady Une. They're going to be inspecting Jessica Adams's quarters," Wufei explained before his fiancé could ask where the others were.

Her confusion only growing, Sally opened her mouth to inquire more of the searching when Trowa stated, "During the surgery, we had been informed that Jessica was the one who has shot Heero in the heat of the mission."

A cold chill ran up Sally's spine at the news and her eyes widened. "My God… not another one," she breathed. At the grim faces that met her gaze, she sighed deeply and washed her face with her hands. "This nightmare just keeps getting worse," she said quietly.

Gently placing a hand on his lover's back, Wufei soothed quietly, "All we can do is take things one step at a time, the way we have been, Sally. We can't afford to fall apart now." Gently lifting her head with a finger under her chin, the Chinese pilot smiled warmly, "You did a great job back there in taking care of Heero." Sally gave him a grateful smile that also showed her sheer mental and physical exhaustion over the day's events.

"He's right, Sally," Trowa grinned kindly. "The two of you should go and get some rest. I'm going to give Duo a call so that he knows Heero is all right. I'm sure that he's probably waiting for some word on what is going on out here."

With a nod from the pair, the tall pilot watched his friends walk off. "One step at a time," Trowa sighed deeply to himself, repeating Wufei's words in trying to ease his own growing fears.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Opening the door to the room that once belonged to Jessica Adams, Noin and Zechs entered the quarters with their eyes narrowed. Their eyes widened at the markings left behind, etchings carved in the walls to read, `SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS' in bold letters across the room. Even with the lights in the room turned off, the message could be clearly read just by the dim light coming from the stars outside. "My God," Noin breathed.

Zechs stood in the center of the private quarters as the door closed behind them. Taking a deep breath, he read aloud, "Sic semper tyrannis…" His eyes narrowing, he translated aloud, "Thus always to tyrants."

"Jessica was studying history as her major in college," Noin commented grimly, examining the text books lined sitting on the large desk in the far corner. "I'm sure that she found it fitting to quote John Wilkes Booth's cry in his flight after shooting President Abraham Lincoln. She must have believed that she would be successful in killing Heero during their mission."

Running a hand through his bangs, Zechs growled deeply, "She came pretty damn close. All we can hope now is that Yuy pulls out of this." He gazed around the living quarters, both he and his partner frozen in their places, taking in all of the surroundings. Aside from the angry carvings on the wall, it was not exactly the picture of living standards for a murderer. It all seemed very… normal.

After peering around the surroundings, Zechs's eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment, His eyes widened in realization and he asked, "Weren't Brian Hefner and Jessica Adams OZ pilots during the war?"

Noin blinked in trying to understand where her lover was going. She nodded, "I believe so. To join the Preventers, a person's affiliation during the war was never a reason to keep them from joining the force. There are several agents who fought for White Fang as well."

"Yes, but to change a person's ideals is far a far cry from simply changing the name of an affiliation," Zechs thought aloud. Pointing to the etchings in the wall, he commented, "Jessica considered Heero and the Gundam pilots as tyrants. While I am not sure on the background of Sara Rivers and Mark Conner, I am willing to bet that they had fought against those boys during the war as well. This is a payback for them."

With realization filling her own eyes, Noin added, "And they came into connection with someone in enough power to see that they helped them carry out their revenge." She shook her head in frustration, "But that still is not necessarily going to lead us to `him,' whoever `he' is."

Suddenly, the light in the furthest, darkest corner of the room turned on, causing a near blinding contrast to the nearly pitch blackness that once covered the room. Both Noin and Zechs turned sharply with their pistols aimed at the young man sitting slouched in the corner.

A very tired agent, still in his flight suit following the mission, rose to his feet slowly. His deep blue eyes had a haunted look about them as they peered through long, white bangs. His skin was ghostly pale and his arms hung slack at his sides. "I believe that I have some information for you," he said in a deep, sullen voice.

Neither Zechs nor Noin trained their guns away from where they were aimed perfectly at the young man's forehead. "What information would that be?" the tall blonde asked darkly, his eyes thinned into slits.

As the first sign of any fear, the young agent licked his bottom lip before taking a deep breath and answered, "I had been approached by Jessica to join the White Out Organization's cause. I was to be the fifth and last leak within the Preventers."
 

Part 20:

The last two days of waiting for any word from Quasar had been agonizing. Duo was doing his best to keep himself occupied, though his efforts did little to ease his tension. Having Quatre and Relena did help the braided pilot keep his sanity in having actual people to talk instead of talking to himself. They had both been extremely supportive and understanding when he needed to voice his concerns over the mission. This mission was the first he ever back out on and the decision to do so was still looming over him, let alone the fact that his partner was off fighting without his backup.

It was just quickly growing dark when Duo returned to his secluded home on the beach following his walk with Yuuki. Just feeling the need to have some time alone, and allow the young couple staying with him some privacy, he opted to enjoy the warm day outdoors. Along with all of those reasons, today was a particularly difficult day.

If the transport ship was going to continue on its run as planned, the mission should have been underway by now-if it was not already completed. At any time, Duo hoped to get some kind of word from Heero or the others on how everything went. His stomach was in knots all afternoon in hopes that the mission went smoothly and nobody had been injured. The thin bags under his eyes spoke of the lack of sleep he had been suffering the last couple of nights in anticipation of the dangerous interception.

At seeing the house, the pup let out a playful bark and ran towards it. Shaking his braided head, the ex-Gundam pilot strolled after her. Quietly reentering the house with the puppy running in before him Duo moved towards the living room to rest his feet for a bit. He stopped just within the doorway at the sight of his two friends at the couch furthest in the room.

Lying on her back across the sofa, Relena's eyes were closed and a serene smile was on her face while Quatre sat on the floor beside her, his head gently lying on her swollen belly. Gently running a hand through her lover's blonde hair, the young woman asked quietly, "It's still pretty overwhelming, isn't it?"

A warm smile lit Quatre's face at the question. When the baby started kicking again, he reached up to caress Relena's stomach lightly. "It is," he replied just as softly. He opened his eyes to meet the blue eyes watching him and said, "During the war, I never dreamed that I would be a father one day." His smile faded and his eyes saddened.

With her elbows propped on the couch, Relena sat up a bit with a concerned frown. "What is, Quatre?" she asked.

Lowering his gaze to the floor, the Arab pilot said quietly, "It's just that… I don't know what kind of father I'll be. I can't take back the things that I did during the war, Relena. You know I still have nightmares from that time. It just worries me over how good of a parent I am going to be to our child."

Slowly, Quatre lifted his head to meet the eyes of the young woman he had fallen in love with. Biting his lip, he whispered, "I just don't want you to have any regrets."

Relena's smile returned and she carefully sat up before lowering herself to sit beside the ex-Sand Rock pilot. Cupping the side of his face, she leaned in and kissed him soundly, their eyes drifting closed as the kiss deepened and lengthened.

When they separated at last, the Vice Foreign Minister smiled lovingly to the uncertain eyes opening to her. "I do not, nor will I ever, have any regrets when it comes to you or our child, Quatre," she breathed. "I need you in my life."

Lowering her hand from the side of Quatre's face, she took up one of his own hands to hold it against her belly. "And you are going to be a wonderful father," she reassured him quietly. "And that's because of the things that you've had to do and the things that you experienced. I don't think that a child could be in better care than someone who knows how precious life is and how important it is to protect it."

Small tears filled Quatre's aquamarine eyes at the tender and sincerity behind his lover's words. "I love you, Relena," he whispered in a voice that Duo's ears strained to hear from where he was.

With small tears in her own eyes, Relena replied the same, "I love you, too… with all of me." They leaned in to exchange another tender kiss.

From where he stayed in silent vigil, Duo smiled warmly to himself and stepped away from the tender moment to give his friends more time alone. Seeing the exchange between the young couple was as heartwarming as it was heart retching in that it only made him ache to be with Heero all the more.

Yuuki was anxiously waiting in the kitchen for her treat that she was always rewarded for being good on her walks. Chuckling deeply, the braided pilot took care of his unspoken duty in appeasing the pup when it came to giving her treats. He took up the tea kettle and began boiling the water within to make some tea for his guests. In a matter of minutes, the kettle rang out in announcing that the water was ready.

Taking up a tray with three ceramic cups of tea, Duo headed back to the living room. He was in the middle of the hallway when the phone suddenly rand. With a sharp gasp, the American's eyes widened and he quickly made his way to the living room a few feet away yet.

"Trowa," Quatre's voice carried from the room. "How was the mission? What's wrong?" At the sudden concern that he heard in his friend's voice, Duo's heart pulsed faster and desperately, he tried to reach the doorway that seemed to move further away from him, the hallway stretching deeper ahead of him.

When he finally approached the doorway, Duo could just make out Trowa's voice over the vid phone. Whatever his friend was saying over the phone was lost for all but two words that screamed in his ears, "Heero… shot."

The tray fell from Duo's hands, the cups shattering against the tiled floor. Both Quatre and Relena jumped from where they were sitting before the vid phone at the loud crash. The couple quickly moved from where they sat before the coffee table when Duo ran towards them, falling to his knees before the monitor. His voice desperate and his face pale, the braided pilot choked out, "Trowa, what happened? Is Heero all right?"

On the monitor, Trowa's tired face smiled warmly to his friend and he quietly reassured him, "Duo, it's all right. Heero is out of surgery now and will make a full recovery with some rest and time. I was merely calling to advise you that the mission was a success and Heero is going to be just fine."

Tears began to fall from Duo's violet eyes and Relena moved to sit beside him in sensing that he was in no position to speak. Gently rubbing soothing circled along her braided friend's back, she looked to the tall pilot on the monitor and asked, "Any details on what happened to him?"

Sighing deeply, Trowa frowned and nodded, "Two agents from Heero's team witnessed his shooter hitting him twice from behind. She fired on him twice before they took her out." At the mention of the young woman's name, his friends' eyes widened in disbelief.
 

Outside, a figure in dark clothing ran towards the black car waiting a half mile from the beach house. Turning on the ignition, the lone driver sped off at top speed into the darkening evening to peel down the desolate road.

Looking to the clock on the dashboard, they estimated about another hour or two before the people within the house would begin to settle themselves down to bed. Plenty of time to get to find a place to sit and watch the view.
 

"By Allah," Quatre whispered, his eyes still wide at the news that they just received. "He's lucky they got to him in time." His hand was already squeezing his trembling friend's shoulder for support while Relena continued to rub Duo's back soothingly.

Trowa nodded again and replied, "I can't go into great details of the mission and all that happened at this time, but I will keep you posted on Heero's progress." He smiled to his teary-eyed comrade and said gently, "I know that he'll want to speak to you when he wakes up, Duo. Until then, get some sleep."

Biting his lip, Duo forced a smile and replied brokenly, "Thank you, Trowa." With a few farewells, the call was disconnected.

As emotional as she had become in her current pregnant state, Relena was losing her own fight to the tears filling her own eyes as he turned towards her American friend. Gently drying his face, she whispered, "Heero's going to be fine, Duo. There's no need to worry any more, just as Trowa said." Yuuki came up and curled in her owner's lap, lifting her tiny head in attempt to lick at his face.

Quatre added with an encouraging grin, "And you know better than any of us of the things that he's pulled through in the past. This will be nothing for him."

Wiping the last of his tears, Duo turned to the friends sitting on either side of him and whispered with a small smile, "Thanks, you, guys… for everything these last couple of days." Looking down to the wiggling ball of fur in his lap, he laughed quietly, "I know I would have lost my mind long before now if you two weren't here." His friends chuckled deeply and Relena placed a gently kiss atop his braided head.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Slowly lowering her gun while Zechs kept his own trained on the young man across what was once the living quarters for Jessica Adams aboard Quasar. Words angrily engraved in the walls around them reading `SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS' seemed to some to life, adding to the tension in the room like a breathing, threatening animal watching them and waiting to strike.

"You were to be the sixth leak within the Preventers?" Noin asked, almost uncertain that she had misheard the white, spike-haired young man.

With a solemn nod, the agent's deep blue eyes held no fear. "Yes. My name is Scott Dailey, otherwise known as Agent Rain. Jessica and I had once been… very close," he began. "She had approached me about the White Out organization almost four years ago. Jessica had been very bitter following the war. That bitterness was just one of the many things that we did not hold in common."

His eyes still narrowed, Zechs gritted through his teeth, "Any why are you now coming forward with this information? Why are you so willing to work with us?"

The young man that they now knew as Scott took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Because someone is trying to kill me," he stated flatly.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Weary from the mission and the events following, Trowa made his way back to the room that he and Anna shared. The red-headed pilot was sitting on the edge of their large bed with a worried expression on her face. Quickly rising at the sight of her partner, Anna quickly rose and walked towards him. "How is Heero?" she asked quietly, her arms wrapped around her thin waist.

"He pulled through the surgery," Trowa answered. "Sally said that he'll make a full recovery." With a deep sigh of relief, Anna's tense shoulders sagged and her arms fell to her sides. Taking his lover in his arms, he slowed his eyes when she returned the tight embrace. It was another close call for them. Had the shuttle not left the transport ship when it had…

For a long moment, the young couple just held each other in their silent need for reassurance and comfort. Trowa pulled back enough to kiss the other Preventer soundly. When the kiss ended and the embrace parted, he removed his flight suit with great relief and pulled on a pair of mesh shorts as he said, "I called Duo to let him know what happened?"

Biting her lip, Anna frowned, "How is he holding up?"

"Quatre and Relena are staying with him, so he's better than he would have been had he been on his own," the tall pilot answered. With a deep sigh, he fell into their large bed. Chuckling deeply, Anna crawled under the covers as they held each other.

Thinking back to the mission, Trowa thought of the child that he had found on the transport ship. She had saved his life, and the lives of everyone aboard that shuttle. He lifted his head a bit and asked, "How is that little girl?" He knew that he would not need to elaborate on whom he was referring.

He felt a shudder run through his partner's body and she sighed deeply. Propping herself up to meet Trowa's gaze, Anna frowned, "Physically, she's going to be fine. As for her mental state…" Her voice broke and she shook her head.

With a deep breath, she continued. "She won't talk to anyone, so I had to learn some things from one of the other prisoners that had been rescued. She had advised me that the girl's name is Rachel. Her mother had been killed in front of her. There is no word on who her father is, or where he can be found, if he is even alive for that matter."

Her blue eyes narrowed and she growled deeply, "I don't even want to get into some of the things that the nurse found had happened to her from some of the tests that she ran." Her hands balled into fists and she shivered again in recalling the results of the examination.

Reaching up to wipe at the tears that suddenly sprang in her eyes, Anna swallowed hard. "God, Trowa, she's only six years old and she shouldn't have to be dealing with any of this," she choked out quietly.

With a hand running through his partner's hair, Trowa fought his own building rage in being able to imagine some of the things that happened to that little girl. "We should go see her tomorrow," he suggested. "I still have to thank her for saving all of us on that ship."

At that, Anna gave a small smile and nodded, "I'm sure that she's like that." There was a long pause of companionable silence as the two pilots lied back down, wrapping their arms around each other tightly.

"I just don't see how anyone can do these things to anther person… especially a child like that. The whole world just seems to be going mad right now," Anna frowned deeply, staring off out the large windows across the room to the thousands stars.

Trowa nodded and whispered, "I know." Drying the last tear from his partner's cheek with a thumb, he smiled lovingly, "At least what we have is something that we can come back to. It's the only thing that's holding me together."

A warm smile fell on Anna's lips and she leaned in to kiss him soundly. As the kissed intensified, hands roamed and clothes were reverently removed in a desperate need to feel something right as the world around seemed to be falling apart.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

With a deep groan, Heero could feel himself coming out of the dark void that he found himself lost within. His eyelids felt like heavy bags when he found the strength to finally open them. Blinking against the bright light shining down on him from the ceiling, he moaned again. Thankfully, someone dimmed the light enough that he was able to fully open his eyes.

A face watching him filled his vision when he turned his head to the side. Sally. "Welcome back," she whispered with a warm, relieved smile.

Wufei returned from the light control panel to sit beside his fiancé. Taking her hand in his and placing it on his leg, the Chinese pilot smirked to his friend, "You gave us a hell of a scare back there, Yuy."

The Japanese pilot licked his dry lips and Sally was quick to carefully place a cup filled with cool water to them. After taking a long drink, Heero laid his head back down and asked in a thick voice, "What happened?"

Both Sally and Wufei shared an brief exchange in glances before the braided woman grinned, "No need to burden you with the details now, Heero. The mission was a success and you're going to be fine."

"Duo?" Heero's voice croaked out. Even as tired as he was, there was no way of hiding the concern from his cobalt eyes. All of his recollection was in disarray on account of the pain medication that was being dripped into him through his IV.

With a smirk, Wufei chuckled deeply, "You're the one who's a little worse for wear there, my friend."

Gently running a hand through the injured pilot's bangs, Sally spoke in a quiet and reassuring voice, "Duo's back at your home, remember? Quatre and Relena are taking care of him while you're away. He's safe."

Slowly, images and memories began becoming a bit clearer and with a deep sigh of relief, Heero sagged deeper into his bed. His eyes drifted closed again and his right hand tightened around something in his palm. Not having the strength to lift his head again, he somehow took comfort in whatever he was holding and squeezed his hand again.

A couple of hands worked to gingerly tuck the blankets around him and Sally's voice said quietly, "Just get some rest, Heero. We'll be back regularly to check up on you." With a small grunt of acknowledgement, the ex-Wing pilot drifted off again.

With a deep sigh, Sally brushed back some wisps of hair that came loose from her braids. "He's through the worst of it," she smiled tiredly. A yawn wide escaped her and she stretched her aching limbs.

Tightly wrapping his arms around the other pilot's waist to hold her close, Wufei told her quietly, "You did an excellent job back there." He kissed her neck and sigh deeply, closing his eyes. I'm sorry that we had to postpone the wedding on account of all of this," he whispered sincerely.

Sally gave a light snort and replied, "No need to be sorry for that, Wufei. With everything that's taken place these last six moths, a wedding is the last thing that we needed to concern ourselves with." She smirked and lightly nudged her lover in the ribs. "I'll make an honest man of you yet, when the time is right."

Wufei felt a swell of pride in knowing that he had found someone that he could honestly call his equal to share the rest of his life with. Sally understood that little came in the way of duty when it called. Over the course of the last couple years, Sally had been his strength when he had none of his own. She was the one person that he could confide in. When all of this madness was over, he vowed to make her his wife.

Kissing the braided woman soundly, Wufei gestured to the door. "Come to bed?" he asked with a playful grin on his face. Sally chuckled deeply and nodded, allowing herself to be led by the hand from the room.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Zechs ran a hand through his long bangs and sighed deeply as he paced before the young man now sitting on the edge of the bed. Noin was standing in a far corner, her back leaning against the wall and her arms folded as she took in everything that they had learned. Their exhaustion following the mission long forgotten in light of the realization of what they now had for knowledge, yearned for everything that they could gather.

Sitting on the table that had been pulled beside the bed was an opened vid phone. Lady Une's image on the monitor watched Agent Rain closely, her hands folded and propped beneath her chin. When Zechs and Noin had called her saying they had an urgent matter, she never thought that she would be initializing an interrogation as she was now.

"You say that you want our protection from those wishing to silence you," Lady Une began, lowering her hands and glaring at the white-haired agent. "Why should we provide such protection considering how long you held out on this information? Why is your life so much more important than the lives of those lost thanks to your choice to refrain from coming forward sooner?"

Turing his head to face the monitor, Scott answered, "Commander, despite the fact that the war was long over when we joined the Preventers, there is an unspoken bond between those of us who fought together. I was approached by Jessica and Brian to join them in what they thought would be what they called `the absolute resolution.'"

Noin's eyes narrowed and she repeated, "'The absolute resolution?' Resolution to what?"

Scott turned his head to Agent Fire's direction and replied, "The resolution to their own personal rage revolved around the Gundam pilots. Jessica and the others didn't care what the organization did or the means they used, they only cared that they now knew someone with the power to help them destroy the people that they felt destroyed them and their cause."

Lowering his head, Agent Rain continued, "I disassociated myself with Jessica and Brian after they propositioned me. They could have killed me for what I knew back then, but they didn't because we had something in common that was embedded in us from the war. They vowed that if I ever brought the White Out Organization to light, they would have no choice but to kill me. I stayed silent to protect myself then and I am coming forward now to do what I can to help."

Still keeping his eyes trained on the floor, the white-haired pilot swallowed hard. "When I was on this mission and I saw what is being done to those people, I…" His voice fell away with a hitch in his throat. He shook his head and said firmly at last, "I want to help stop them."

Taking a deep breath, Lady Une sighed deeply and sat back in her seat. Given the situation, she had little choice in the matter. By now, someone from the White Out Organization would have known that Scott had information. They would be foolish not to try and silence him permanently. And with what little they had to go on in their investigation, this was their best chance at finally getting the people responsible for all of this.

Pursing her lips, she spoke at last, "I am left with little choice in this matter. While I do not atone your decision to value your life over those we are trying to defend as Preventers, you come to us in a time when we have few options ourselves." Agent Rain's blue eyes met hers and she nodded firmly, "You will have our protection, if you agree to cooperate with us throughout our investigation in ending the organization."

Her brown eyes narrowed threateningly and she warned, "So help me, you'll live to regret the day you were born if you steer us wrong. If there is any doubt in your `assistance,' all bets will be off and you will be arrested for treason in withholding information."

Nodding vehemently, Scott vowed, "I understand and I will do everything in my power to help, Commander." His voice softened a bit and he breathed in relief, "Thank you."

"You swear that you know nothing of the man in charge of the White Out Organization?" Zechs asked, coming to a halt before the young agent. "Of the things that Jessica shared with you, she never gave you that piece of information?"

Frowning deeply, Scott answered, "She never knew. Brian, Sara, no one knew. I only know a few names of the people that acted as liaisons between the leaks and the man calling the shots. As for the man himself, all I know is that he only wanted six agents because it would be enough bodies within the Preventers without drawing attention or alarm that something was wrong."

"Six?" Noin asked suddenly, the alarm dripping from her voice and present in her widened eyes. "I thought that you told us earlier that you were to be the fifth and final leak within the Preventers."

With a nervous smile, Scott stated, "That was before I remembered Andrew Dobson. He was the first of the group to disappear in the weeks before this mission. But yes, there were to be six leaks."

Andrew Dobson. The first leak to be discovered. The agent who took his own life when he had been discovered. Zechs's mind was a whirl of thoughts and he quickly grabbed Scott's shoulders, shouting, "Then there's another agent that they would have recruited in your place?"

His ocean blue eyes widening in realization of the time they had lost during this interrogation, Scott suddenly asked, "Where is Agent Maxwell? I thought that he was going to be stationed on this mission." Zechs and Noin's eyes widened in terror and their faces paled.

"My God!" Lady Une cried before launching from her seat within her offices. Quickly grabbing her cell phone, she dialed and placed the received to her ear. As the phone rang, sweat ran down the Commander's face as she whispered frantically, "Pick up. Pick up. Pick up."

Finally, Duo's voice answered, "Hello?"

With her brown eyes widening, Lady Une shouted, "Duo, get everyone out of that house now! You're in danger!"

Dropping the telephone receiver, Duo ran from the kitchen into the living room with wide violet eyes. Finding his friends sitting on the soft, he yelled, "We have to go! Now! Get outside!"

The startled couple decided to act rather than ask and quickly, they rose from the couch to flee the house. As his friends quickly escaped through the front door, Duo grabbed the car keys hanging in the entrance way and called for Yuuki. The pup quickly ran through the door along with her owner at his cry.

From where they watched on a tall cliff that overlooked the beach, the dark clad figure was waiting for their glorious moment. The beach house was miles off now, just near enough to be able to witness the spectacle about to unfold.

Suddenly, the motion detector at their belt began to go off. No. Not now. "They know," they hissed darkly. Before they could get too far, the figure took hold of the detonator and triggered the explosives.

The silence of the night was devastated by a massive explosion and the night suddenly imploded with burning light.
 

TBC