11-23-2005

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

Title: A Silver Lining
Parts 31-40
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 5XS, 4XR, 3XOC, 6X9
Archive: http://www.mizunoamy.bravepages.com
Warnings: Angst, LOTS of it, mentions on NSC, sap, gore at times,
strong language, possible lemon… Lots of flashbacks to give more
info on event leading to the present
BY: SkyLark
Beta Writing By: Deb

 

Part 31

[Momma, take this badge off of me. `Cause I can't use it anymore
It's getting dark, too dark for me to see. Feels like I'm knocking on Heaven's door
Momma, put my guns in the ground. `Cause I can't shoot them anymore
That long, black cloud is coming down. Feels like I'm knocking on Heaven's door]
-Verses from `Knocking On Heaven's Door' written by Bob Dylan performed by Jordis Unga

The screams finally ended.

Breathing a deep sigh of relief at that, Heero ran a hand through his sweat-dampened bangs. It had been more than an hour since Duo had been taken away for further… entertainment as their captors called it. There were statements made by the rebels watching them that they wanted to have a little fun before the two pilots were taken away.

Any other time that they were taken away, it was little more than a handful of guards having their chance in taking shots while the two agents were restrained. But this… that was different. Never before had either of them screamed as Duo had.

Every shrill, bloodcurdling cry sent a chill up Heero's spine as he held his breath fort it to finally come to a stop. He would have given anything to not hear his best friend's screaming, to not have to imagine what ungodly things were being done to him to make him cry so. For the last hour, he silently prayed for it to end.

Now that those screams were finally at an end, the ex-Wing pilot held his breath in wondering whether that was a good thing or not.

Suddenly, the heavily guarded cell door was opened, casting blinding light into the nearly pitch room. Having to shield his eyes from the sharp brightness, Heero watched as his partner was pushed roughly into the room. As Duo stumbled wearily into the cell, the door was slammed closed again.

Before the braided Preventer collapsed to the ground, the last of his strength spent in his attempt to stay upright, Heero caught him up in his arms. Through his overwhelming concern for Duo, he somehow recognized that the injured young man was soaking wet. Carefully lowering his friend to sit up with his back to the nearest wall, the ex-Wing pilot filled with panic at how violently the other agent was trembling.

Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness with the aid of the thin line of light that came from beneath the door, Heero hissed at the sight of the deep, long red lines that marked the American's bare chest and arms. Those bruise and the fact that Duo was drenched from head to toe put the pieces of the puzzle together as to what had happened. Their captors were resorted to water electrocution for means of torture on him. That certainly explained the tremors that wracked through his partner.

Having witnessed such a means of torture before during the war, Heero cursed a million deaths to those who had delivered the treatment to his best friend. Not enough to kill, but enough to render one's body useless as shearing pain coursed through every nerve.

The thought of Duo lying in that tub with electro pulses charging through him was enough to make the Japanese agent sick to his stomach. In knowing the agony that the torment caused in his few encounters as a witness, it was a wonder to him that the American had not screamed louder than he had.

As the trembling continued, the Japanese pilot quickly recovered the remains of his partner's fleece to wrap it around the bare, wet shoulders along with his own shirt. Gently brushing back the wet bangs from his friend's face and holding him close with his other arm, Heero urged quietly, "Talk to me, Duo."

A small, broken whimper was his only response as the braided pilot only shook all the more. Closing his eyes, the ex-Wing pilot rested his head atop his friend's as he rocked him slowly. Some time passed before Duo was finally able to move his arms up to wrap tightly around his friend as he clung desperately.

When the American stopped shaking some time later, Heero anxiously checked his vitals to find that the other pilot had fallen asleep in his arms. Sighing deeply in relief, the Japanese Preventer closed his eyes and released a long sigh. Carefully, he lowered the both of them down to lie on the ground.

This had to come to end. They couldn't afford to wait and hope that the team they had worked with at the start of the mission would find and rescue them. His arms tightening around the pilot in his arms, Heero stared in the ceiling as he went through the layout of the building as he knew it from the inside when he was taken from the cell.

Slowly, but very surely, a plan started forming.

(End Flashback)

* * * * * *

Gathered around in the large living room of the safe house that had been their haven, Heero and Duo were surrounded by their friends with their heads down as everyone remained lost to their own thoughts. Standing in the center of their ring was a grim-faced Lady Une.

"Are you sure?" Wufei finally asked, the first to finally find their voice as he raised his head to the Commander.

Taking a deep breath, the young woman turned to him and nodded solemnly, "The coroner confirmed beyond the shadow of doubt that the remains belonged to Kent, and the countless aliases associated with him, earlier this morning."

Nearly a week prior, word came back from the recovery team on Colony D15. They found the hidden base that housed their prime link to the White out Organization had been blown apart from inside. In their search of the area, they removed the charred remains of a body that had been covered by the rubble. Those remains were transported to Preventer headquarters within hours to the coroner for examination while those in the safe house held their breaths for the results of the tests.

With a sigh, the tall Commander addressed the group gathered around her as she stated, "There was enough identification material on the disc that Angie has been deciphering to prove conclusively that the body was not a plant, as we had hoped."

Turning his lowered head away, Trowa hissed, "Goddamn it. They're always ten steps ahead of us. Just when we thought we were finally gaining on them, we fall back further than where we were last."

"I should have had that code broken sooner," Angie frowned deeply, biting her lip to fight the onslaught of tears at the thought of her friends that had died for nothing.

Quatre looked up to her and shook his head and reassured her, "Kent was dead killed before you even got back to the safe house with that data chip. He knew that he was in danger, or he would not have gone through such extremes to see that we didn't get our hands on it." The reality of that served to calm the dark-haired agent.

Sitting at the furthest corner of the room, Heero cast a worried look to the braided pilot beside him. With his arms wrapped around his abdomen, Duo's pale face just stared ahead with unfocused violet eyes. Gently wrapping an arm around his tense shoulders, the ex-Wing pilot leaned his head in to whisper in his ear, "We'll find them, Duo. This isn't over yet."

The fear in those violet eyes that turned to face him early made Heero's blood run cold. There was due cause for Duo to doubt their chances. As Trowa had mentioned, no matter how much ground they seemed to gain, they only found themselves in a worse position than before.

In reality, there was no telling how much longer their cat and mouse chase would continue in this fashion. More and more, their mouse seemed all too large to swallow.

Not even thinking of the others present, Heero just pulled Duo close and kissed his forehead tenderly, silently willing for his partner to remain strong. Now more than ever they couldn't afford to start falling apart. Quietly, the Japanese Preventer murmured in his best friend's ear, "Silver lining."

At the mention of the phrase that got him through the most difficult of times, Duo seemed to finally break through his distraught state. With a small smile, he reached up to squeeze Heero's hand with his own in his own show of appreciation while not trusting his voice at that moment. The ex-Wing pilot returned the smile and squeeze before they returned their attention to the group around them.

Clicking her tongue in thought, Anna turned to her dark-haired friend and asked, "Does that disk have anything else on it that could still help us, Angie?"

The young woman ran a hand through her short hair and replied, "There is a fair amount of encryption left to crack, but I've never encountered the kind of code that is securing the data. For the last few days, I've been a little… preoccupied while waiting on word regarding that body that was found."

At the news that perhaps they would be able to draw more from the disk that until then they had rendered useless, everyone seemed to come to life. With a wide smile, Anna raised her hand, "I'd be more than happy to help now that we know we need whatever else may be on that card. I haven't had a challenge at hacking in quite some time."

Beside the redheaded pilot, Trowa nodded, "I can be of assistance, as well. Between the three of us working together on that hopefully we'll be able to get something out of that disk that we can still use."

With a small smirk, Lady Une commented, "The three of you are the best I have in decoding. If you find anything on that disk that can be of use, I want to be informed immediately."

Scanning the assembled group, the Commander regained her serious composure and continued, "Meanwhile, Zechs, Noin and Sally will be returning later this evening. We still have the matter of another leak within the Preventers to worry about and sniffing them out with all of you here will be near impossible. I'm hoping that between the three of them, we'll be able to be tipped off by unusual behavior."

"I'd like to help in that search, if I may," a familiar voice broke in as all wide eyes turned to the entrance of the living room. His back leaning against the doorway, Scott shrugged, "Whoever this leak is, they do not know that I was considered and offered the chance to work with the White Out Organization."

With a raised eyebrow, Lady Une commented, "And that would also compromise your wish to remain safe, here. If you were to continue to work at headquarters, you would put yourself at risk should the leak find your sudden reappearance suspicious."

Scott merely smirked, "Commander, I believe that you would be able to come up with a convincing enough story for me. I had been off on a solo mission that only you were aware of." Turning to the other pilots, he frowned deeply, "My sitting around here and waiting for something to happen isn't going to make it happen any sooner."

Quatre and Relena briefly turned to each other with small smiles, the first to break through their utter shock over the young man's change in demeanor. It seemed that Angie's outburst days before had more of an effect than anyone realized. The young, dark-haired agent remained the most taken aback by Scott's request to help.

With a small smile, Lady Une nodded firmly, "Very well, Scott. You will report to headquarters every day as usual beginning tomorrow. I'm sure that Sally, Zechs and Noin will appreciate your assistance. To keep up with our story, I'll have you look through some reports that I have obtained as of late when you're not catching up with the other Preventers."

Returning the nod, the white-haired pilot replied, "Thank you, Commander." At that, he turned on his heels and stepped from the room.

As everyone turned to look at each other, Duo muttered, "Well shit." All around, heads nodded their agreement with the overall sentiment looming in the room, no one able to put it to better words than that.

* * * * * *

It had been a long time since he heard from Terry… It had been too long for that matter.

Tim was becoming restless.

In his rush to impress those in charge of White Out, he destroyed the home of those two ex-Gundam pilots. But not only had his targets managed to escape, but he scared all of them into hiding.

Had he not acted on his own, those pilots and their friends would never have known that there was still a breech of security within the Preventers and would remain sitting ducks. Terry made it perfectly clear how displeased he was by that.

That was strike one.

Next, there was Tim's firm belief that a Preventer by the name of Angie would know the whereabouts of their enemies. Passing the name and residence and young woman to Terry with the certainty that he had redeemed himself for his previous mistake, he soon found how wrong that assumption had been. His last talk with Terry- who went by Kent at the time - was less than pleasant to say the very least.

Not days later, words was all around the Earth, space and the Preventer headquarters of a mission where three agents were killed alongside ten known criminals at the scene. Obtaining more details on the deaths, Tim found that Angie's apartment had been burned to the ground, the same site of three killed. Despite the grisly scene, the young woman seemed to have vanished to fall off the face of the earth.

Strike two.

Every attempt that he had made only proved to set Terry and the organization back in their attempt to capture those pilots. Taking a sip from his glass of gin, Tim recalled his link's threat should anything else go wrong. But what if he had a change in heart and decided that two strikes were enough? That would certainly explain the lack of communication.

A chill ran up Tim's spine as a terrifying thought came to him. What if he was suddenly now a target in knowing too much and being inadequate and unreliable in the cause? Not wanting to dwell on that possibility, he threw back the remainder of his drink before recovering the tall bottle of alcohol for a refill.

When his vidphone rang, suddenly breaking through the still air and his running thoughts, he nearly jumped from his seat at his private bar. Holding his breath in anticipation, the tall agent went over to the living room table. Opening the monitor, he ran a hand through his crew cut head and sat before the screen.

His hand shaking, he pressed the `Accept' button. Reminding himself to breathe as the image came in, he greeted, "Hello?" The unfamiliar face with shoulder-length, orange hair and hazel eyes made him blink his fuzzy vision and frown deeply, "Do I know you?"

The young woman smirked, "Not yet, Tim. But, I know quite a bit about you from Terry's records." At the wide eyes and slack jawed response, her deep voice chuckled darkly, "Sadly, Terry is no longer with us, so you are now my charge. You can refer to me as Iris."

Swallowing his suddenly dry throat as his grey eyes widened all the more, Tim stammered, "N-no longer with us? What happened?"

With a shrug and a dramatic sigh, Isis smirked, "Something that he shouldn't have. That is all that we need to know as far as that is concerned." Her smile faded with a grave seriousness in her eyes as she stated, "I managed to pull up some of Terry's old records and I must say that you've proven to be quite a handful."

His grey eyes narrowing, the young man retorted, "My intent in my actions was not to cause any harm to the White Out Organization. I only meant to prove myself." It was not until after his outburst that Tim's haze cleared enough for him to consider the reason for the call. "I-I am your charge now?" he gasped. "I still have another chance?"

Raising an orange eyebrow, Isis commented, "And for someone walking on thin ice such as yourself, I would say that speaking up to your commanding officer is not very wise."

"Forgive me," Tim quickly pleaded, bowing his head. His sluggish reactions to think things through before speaking made him admit aloud, "When I had not heard from Terry for over a week now, I had feared the worst for myself due to my errors."

Isis's hazel eyes narrowed on him as she replied, "Were I Terry, your second mistake would have been your last. However, we are in a position of having to count on you, seeing how you are the last leak we have within the Preventers."

Biting his lip, Tim quickly offered, "I can convince others to help us. If I managed to get more to help us within the agency, I would have made up for my previous misjudgments. I have friends that I know would be willing to listen to the organization's plans to remove the filth from society."

At that, Isis shook her head, "Best not to risk someone going and running to Lady Une should you talk to the wrong person. Were there any doubt that someone you wished to bring in, you would have to dispose of them, same as your friends that recruited you would have done if they thought you would side against them."

Tim blinked in shock at the thought of Brian, Sara or Mark killing him. While he had fought as a member of the White Fang during the war, the three OZ pilots had quickly become like a small family to him in their time as Preventers.

More than two years prior, he was thrilled when his three friends wished for him to be a part of their greater cause. Had he shown any resistance to their wish, would they have really killed him rather than risk him revealing the White Out Organization to Lady Une?

"No," Isis shook her head, breaking his thoughts. "No, this is much better this way, only having to worry about keeping tabs on you." Her eyes narrowing anew, she spoke slowly, "I want to make myself crystal clear. Should you disappoint me, I will not show you the same mercy that Terry had."

With a firm nod and with his head clearing at last, Tim reassured her, "Understood completely, madam. I will do all in my power to aid the organization's cause."

Her smirk returned in apparent satisfaction towards his subordination. Losing only a little of her edge but not an ounce of her seriousness, Isis began, "I do have a mission in the works for you that needs to be carried out. You know that Terry had a list of names and means of contact for those outside of the Preventers that he would use to serve as the muscle in some of our more vital tasks, correct?"

Terrorists. Hit men. Assassins. Ex-cons. Terry seemed to have a knack for getting a hold of such walks of life. Without hesitating, Tim nodded, "Yes, maam. I know that at any given time, he could have them mobilized within moments." Even as he was speaking, his eyes widened.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Those bodies recovered at Angie's apartment had all been identified as known law offenders. So Terry had been the one that sent them. And he failed whatever it was he was hoping to achieve. Suddenly, Tim's throat was dry again.

At seeing the realization in her charges eyes, the corner of Isis's mouth tugged upward. Taking a deep breath, she informed, "We may have a situation on our hands here, but I will be contacting you as soon as I have all of the details.

"I have a list of my own that, if need be, I will be contacting. You will be in charge of assembling them and seeing that they carry out the task given. Expect another call from me within the next seventy-two hours."

"I will be waiting," Tim grinned smugly.

Just as she reached up to end the connection, Isis's hand paused as she smirked, "You know, Tim, you really should get some rest. you look like shit." And with those words, she ended the connection.

Staring at his reflection in the black monitor, Tim took account for the first time the dark circled under his eyes and his pale skin. When he thought about it, he could not recall the last time that he had a full night's sleep. Sighing deeply in ragged breaths, he washed his face with his shaking hands.

He had just been granted another lease on life.

Slowly rising on his wobbly legs, Tim walked over to the large window of his living room to watch the sunset. Recalling the conversation that he just took place, he could not help but dwell on the thought of the position his friends had put themselves in by their approaching him to join White Out.

Had he given them any reason to question his reaction to their recruiting, would they have killed him? Were there others that they had considered before Brian, Sara and Mark had approached him or were they really that lucky to pick out the right people to ask?

Somehow, Tim was having a hard time imagining any one of them killing him, even if they worried about his intentions. Rubbing his chin, he smirked to himself, "I wonder…"

* * * * * *

Early the following morning…

"My God," Trowa breathed, his emerald eyes widened on the screen before him. Both Anna and Angie rose from their own desks to peer over his shoulders. After working tirelessly the previous day through the night, it was more that welcoming to hear that someone was making progress in deciphering the data they had recovered.

Pointing to the few lines of code that he managed to crack, the tall pilot stated, "They're installing chips into a select few prisoners to transfer information from one dealer to the next. The people that they used for these installments don't even know that they were being used as messengers."

Anna gasped sharply, "There is no telling what they have on those chips. Do they have a list of people that they have used for those installations? Of the people that we managed to save from the few ships we intercepted, we might have one of them without knowing it."

Turning to face his lover, Trowa answered, "I only have a couple names for a start. It'll take some time to decode the entire list, even with the three of us working on it. Even then, I doubt that there are more than a handful of these carriers, so I wouldn't be surprised if we haven't rescued any of them yet." Sighing deeply, he rubbed his face and shrugged, "Still, we have something to go on for a change."

With a bright, relieved smile, Angie announced, "I'm going to call Lady Une to have the list of names of those prisoners that were recovered. We just might get lucky." Quickly, she turned and ran from the room.

Resting a hand on her lover's slumped shoulder, Anna smiled reassuringly, "It is a long shot, Trowa. But like you said, it's something. We can't afford to get discouraged just because we've run into a few brick walls." Slowly raising his head, Trowa gave her a genuine smile, unable to really put to words what the encouragement at that time.

Her long braid of red hair swinging as she folded her arms, she winked, "One of these times, we're going to find a big enough sledge hammer to break our way through." With that, she went over to her station to network with the tall pilot's machine to see where he was hacking away at the encryption.

Still smiling as he watched her, Trowa shook his head. With a deep sigh, he turned back to his own screen and told himself, "Even if we don't have that, we can always try chiseling our way out." With his determination grown anew, his hands started flying over the keyboard.

* * * * * *

That afternoon…

Life certainly was much better now, even if it was a little lonely at times. The other children were nice and she had become friends with a few of them. From where three of her closest companions were playing at the orphanage swing set, one of the girls smiled and waved excitedly to her, "Rachel, we saved a swing for you! Come play with us!"

With a bright smile, the little brunette rose to her feet. Frowning deeply, she scratched at the itch in her right arm. Once the nagging itch passed, she ran towards her friends, shouting happily, "Be right there!"

 

Part 32:

[And there are voices that want to be heard
So much to mention but you can't find the words
The scent of magic, the beauty that's been
When love was wilder than the wind]
-Lyrics from `Listen To Your Heart' performed by Roxette

"Well, you're clean," Sally announced with a small smile as she lowered her hand-held scanner. "Everything is as it should be."

At that, Duo took up his black T-shirt from the metal table that he had been sitting on during his examination. Raising the shirt over his head, he admitted, "I'm not sure whether or not I should be happy with that news. It almost would have been easier on all of us if I had one of those chips inside me."

Earlier that evening, Trowa, Anna and Angie announced their findings regarding the White Out Organization's implanting data and communication chips sporadically into their prisoners. Despite the fact that finding such a prisoner was slim, Heero's concern Duo's protection was enough to see that his partner was examined immediately.

Neither Sally, nor Duo, put up an argument to his demand.

Once her small medical bag was closed, Sally announced, "Now that I can sleep well knowing that we got this out of the way and all is well, I am going to bed. Zechs, Noin, Scott and I have a long day ahead tomorrow at the office getting the lists of names of the prisoners that we've rescued."

Peering over his shoulder to the pilot leaning against the doorway as Sally stepped from the room, Duo pulled his long braid out from under his shirt and smirked, "Feel better now?"

With a small grunt, Heero pushed himself from his perch and approached the table. "Always best to air on the side of caution," he stated flatly as he sat bedside his best friend. Raising an eyebrow, he commented, "Besides, you can't tell me that you weren't a little worried about the possibility, yourself."

"Yea, yea," Duo relented, lowering his head on the other agent's shoulder with his eyes drifting closed. Heero chucked deeply and wrapped an arm around his love's shoulder, placing a tender kiss on his forehead. Biting his lip, the braided pilot opened his violet eyes to meet the cobalt gaze watching him. With a small smile, he said quietly, sincerely, "Thanks for always looking out for me?"

Heero returned the warm smile and whispered, "No thanks needed." Slowly rising from the table, he took up the American's hand to pull him onto his feet as well. "It's been a long day. Come on," he urged gently, "Let's get some sleep." Allowing his partner to lead him from the room, Duo smiled to himself, closing the door behind them.

In the late hour that it was, the safe house was still as the remainder of its guests had turned in. curled in a tight ball on one of the recliners, Yuuki poked her head up to watch as her owners walked past the otherwise empty living room. Her tail wagged excitedly at the sight of them.

At the pup's small whimper, the two pilots turned back to pat her head, appeasing the ritual for a `good night' pat before they stepped from the room to head upstairs, turning the remaining lights out in their passing.

Once in their room with the door closed after them, Heero removed his white T-shirt and blue jeans with a deep sigh of content as he approached the bed. In his movement, the silver cross around his neck shimmered against his bare chest in the lamp light.

Taking a seat at the edge of his side of the bed, he looked up to find Duo still in the doorway, watching him. The hungry looks in those violet eyes was one that brought back memories of another evening when he had seen that same, almost predatory gaze in those eyes.

Moaning deeply, the braided pilot fell back to lean against the door and frowned deeply, "Gods, Heero, I think I'm going to go out of my mind if I can't ravage that body of yours or have you ravage mine, and soon."

The side of his mouth tugging upward, Heero slowly rose from the bed, his tight muscles flexing with his movement. Stalking over to the braided pilot, he reached up to cup the side of his love's cheek.

"Do you really think that you're ready for that?" he asked quietly. It was all but agonizing for him to keep his own need at bay to keep it from influencing the smaller pilot's decision. If anything was going to happen between them, Heero was going to make sure that it was going to be the right thing for both of them.

As he leaned into his partner's touch, Duo took careful consideration. Recalling his last attempt to `take the next step' in their relationship that had gone terribly wrong, he swallowed hard. Roughly biting his lip, he fought against the whimper that threatened to escape his clenched throat. "I don't know," he admitted in a quiet voice that nearly came out as a full moan, his head lowering.

"Okay," Heero smiled reassuringly, silently proud that the other pilot was being honest with himself. The frustration and disappointment that he found in Duo's slumped shoulders and hung head weighed heavier on the ex-Wing pilot than whatever emotions he was dealing with, himself, and he quickly thought of how he could help the situation.

"What if we tried something simple, not going for penetration right away?" Heero offered cautiously.

Quickly raising his head with wide, hope-filled eyes, Duo breathed, "We could try that." He swallowed to dampen his dry throat and nodded, "I want to try something."

His own heart beginning to race, Heero licked his lips and forced himself to remain in some control. Their eyes locked, he stated firmly, "You trust me, right?" he asked. Without hesitation, Duo nodded enthusiastically. At the gesture, smile returning, the Japanese agent cupped the other side of his partner's face to still him.

Smile fading, the ex-Wing pilot spoke clearly, his face one of fierce seriousness as he began, "Then know that if this gets at all uncomfortable, I won't be upset in any way."

"I want this to end the moment that this gets to be too much for you. Do you promise me that much? Because I would never be able to forgive myself if you forced yourself through something you're not ready for just for my sake," he concluded in little more than a whisper.

It was not just the sincere words, but the love that he found in those cobalt eyes that calmed the unease that threatened to rise in Duo once more. This was the one person whom he could bear all of himself to and be perfectly safe with. With a firm nod, he replied, "I promise."

At that, Heero smiled lovingly. With no need for further words, he wrapped his arms tightly around the other pilot's waist, pulling him tightly against him as he took his lips in a gentle kiss that progressed as their mouths opened. Moaning deeply, Duo's hands reached up around his best friend's neck until his fingers buried themselves into the thick hair at the back of his head.

Breaking moments later for only air, Heero's hands roamed to remove his love's shirt before claiming his lips once more. The gold cross around Duo's neck fell back against his chest shimmering along with the silver one that Heero wore.

Their fleshed pressed together as they clung on one another tightly, the Japanese Preventer moved them further into the room before gently easing Duo to lie back on the bed as he lowered himself atop. Hands roaming and panting heavily, Heero pulled his head up enough to take in the flush face of his partner as he tried to catch his own breath.

Slowly lowering himself atop the other pilot again, Heero begin kissing at Duo's neck, slowly moving his kisses down the length of the lithe, sweat-coated abdomen. Whimpering, the braided Preventer breathed, "Oh, Gods."

His right hand moved down to bury itself in the thick and unruly hair once more. It was overwhelming to him how the same hands that he had witnessed bend steel seemed to turn to silk as they handled and caressed him.

Careful giving every scar that he found attention with his lips and tongue and enjoying the whimpers and moans that responded, Heero slipped a hand in to work at the button and zipper of his partner's jeans. Raising his hips when he felt a gentle tug, Duo readily aiding his love in removing his pants.

Once the jeans were removed, the braided pilot had to bit his lips at the initial panic that threatened and his heart rate grew dangerously fast. Closing his eyes closed tight, he took control over the fear by reminding himself who he was with.

Heero seemed to catch the slight stiffen in his body, however, his own body tensing over him. "Duo? Look at me." he asked quietly but firmly.

When he opened his eyes to peer up to the concerned face looming over him, the American smiled reassuringly, "I'm all right, now. Promise." When Heero seemed a bit hesitant, Duo just reached up to pull him down into a searing kiss.

In finding reassurance in Duo's roaming hands and demanding, roaming lips, the ex-Wing pilot returned to his homage of the lithe body beneath him. Tentatively, his courage growing, the braided young man reached down to pull at his best friend's blue boxers.

Pushing himself up, Heero gladly pulled and kicked off the offensive fabric and lowered himself onto his side as the violet eyes watching him took everything in. His lips suddenly dry as his eyes drank in the nude form of his partner, Duo licked at them, panting heavily and unable to find the right words-or his voice- at that moment.

With a smile of understanding and gratitude for the unspoken but understood admiration, Heero asked quietly, "May I see you?" Swallowing hard, Duo nodded and allowed the other agent to pull his own red boxers away from him.

A shiver ran up the braided pilot's spine when the material fell away, exposing him. Slowly looking up, the awe that he found on his best friend's face took his breath away. When their eyes met, Heero smiled, "You're beautiful."

Duo swallowed hard and shook his head, knowing how scarred his body was after his ordeal. Shaking his head with tears in his eyes, he choked out, "No, I'm not." Looking down at his own body, he frowned deeply, "Not like this."

Catching his partner's chin between his fingers, Heero gently lifted Duo's head until their eyes met. His cobalt eyes shown with all of the sincerity and love that was in him as he replied softly, "I mean it, Duo. If only you could see yourself through my eyes. I've never known anyone as strong or breathtaking as you."

With his hand gently running over all of the scars, the Japanese Preventer whispered, "I love you, all of you."

"Love you," the American managed with a grateful smile, tears rolling down his face. Leaning in, the two pilots held each other closely to exchange another deep kiss. Moans and whimpers filled the air again as the pair fell into a rhythm of pressing and rubbing their bodies together.

Both gasping at the first contact of their lengths rubbing against each other, their need and passion overwhelmed all other senses. Spitting into his hand, Heero reached down to press their penises together, pumping them slowly at first and steadily increasing the friction as Duo panted and moaned his consent.

As the friction of their bodies increased, so did Duo's boldness as he added his own hand in assistance to Heero's, causing his head to fall back as he whimpered, "Gods, Duo. Yes." Many strokes, kisses and bites later, he could no longer restrain himself and he came, crying out his lover's name.

Duo watched his partner climax, heard the desperate shout of his name, and found his own release at last. Biting down on Heero's shoulder as he released his seed over their chests, he screamed out. Their bodies jolting at the after shocks, the two agents clung to each other with the last of their strength.

Sagging heavily with a deep sigh, Heero slowly opened his eyes, shocked to find that his cheeks were soaked by tears that he was not aware he had silently cried during their lovemaking. He had not been prepared for such an overwhelming wave of emotions that had overtaken him in their experience.

Carefully raising his head, he found his lover lying half atop him, trembling almost violently his eyes squeezed closed. Sitting up, and tightening his hold on the smaller pilot, he whispered in concern, "Duo?"

Raising his braided head, the American met the wide, worried cobalt eyes watching him with tears down his own face. With a watery smile, he spoke in a soft, shaky breath, "That… that was…"

A smile of relief spread on Heero's face as he replied, "Yea." Placing a hand at the back of his love's head, he pulled him up for a gentle kiss. When he pulled back, small tears began to well up once more as he breathed, "I love you."

Sniffling, Duo replied in kind, "Love you, too." Making a face, he looked down to their chests and made a face, "And we're messy." His head falling back, Heero laughed loudly before carefully easing himself out of their tight embrace.

When he returned from the adjoining bathroom with a wet cloth, the ex-Wing pilot took especially gentle care on cleaning off his partner before taking care of himself and discarding the rag. Easing himself back into the bed, Heero pulled Duo back into his arms with another deep kiss as he pulled the sheets back over their naked bodies.

Duo reached up to tenderly run his fingers over the teeth marks embedded in his lover's right shoulder. "I'm sorry," he frowned deeply in concern.

Chuckling deeply, Heero ran a hand over his hair and reassured him, "Don't be. I never had a passion bite before. I'm already planning on wearing a tank top tomorrow to show it off to the others."

Now his turn to laugh loudly, the braided pilot shook his head against the shoulder he lowered his head upon. "Who are you and what have you done with my Heero?" he asked, shaking with his laughter.

"You happened to me," the Japanese pilot murmured tiredly as his eyes drifted closed. With a deep sigh, his breath evened as he was pulled into a peaceful slumber.

His violet eyes widening at the softly spoken words, Duo watched his lover sleep as he considered them. Closing his own eyes with a small smile, he leaned up to kiss Heero's cheek before reaching over to turn out the lamp on the table beside the bed. His eyes drooping closed, he held onto his best friend as he joined him in a dreamless sleep.

True to his word, Heero wore a tank top the following morning to brandish the bite mark on his shoulder. The wide eyes of their friends and their discrete glances to get a better look throughout the day were priceless.

* * * * * *

Stepping from Lady Une's office, Scott tightened his grip on his briefcase handle. Bearing the original copy of the long lists of names of those prisoners who had been rescued, he had to make sure that he got the lists back to the safe house unharmed.

"Well would you look at who finally decided to show himself," a familiar voice smiled from behind him. Turning, he found two uniformed agents approach with wide smiles. The young, blonde, woman of the pair took his hand in a firm shake as she commented, "Good to see you're back, Scott."

Returning the smile and handshake, the white-haired pilot nodded to the pair, "Good to see you as well, Coral and Jeff. Have I missed anything exciting while I was off on my last mission?"

The red-haired young man frowned deeply, "Have you heard about Gary, Samantha and Albert? They were killed in a recovery mission they had been sent on."

Scott returned the deep frown and nodded, "Lady Une just briefed me on that. It still hasn't really set in just yet."

Frowning deeply, Jeff leaned in to whisper, "Between that and a lot of other weird things that have been going on these last few months, there are rumors of a leak within the Preventers. The Gundam pilots have been missing for quite some time, too, so the rumors are saying that they're the ones being targeted."

As he rubbed his chin in consideration, the white-haired agent commented, "I would hate to think that one of our own would be working against us. If there were any truth to that, it certainly would explain a great deal of the strange things that I have been informed of."

Coral nodded, "Everyone is looking over their shoulders around this place. That last mission-gone-wrong has stirred a lot of concern when it comes to being sent on a mission. We were worried about you, what with your being away for so long."

Shrugging, Scott smirked, "Well, as you can see, I'm fine, though I appreciate the concern for me. This last mission took a lot out of me, having to go solo."

As he looked to his watch, Jeff offered, "We're heading down to the cafeteria, if you would like to join us for lunch. Then we can catch up with the others that have been asking for you these last few weeks."

"I'm certainly up for a break after all of my briefing this morning," Scott nodded. His right hand unconsciously tightening on the handle of his brown briefcase, he stated, "Then I have to get going to start work on my report. Considering how long I have been away, it's going to take me some time to get this finished."

Making his way down the hall with his friends as they continued to talk amongst themselves, Scott knocked on one of the closed doors before cracking it open and peering his head inside. The young man sitting inside looked up from his computer and blinked his shocked, widened eyes of grey.

"Well I'll be damned," the young man smiled as he rose from his seat for a firm handshake. "Long time, no see, Scott. How the hell are you? I was beginning to think you had fallen from the face of the earth."

With a deep chuckle, the white-haired agent shrugged, "I'm doing well, Tim. Will you be taking a break for lunch soon?"

His grey eyes taking in his friends, the other pilot answered, "I just have something that I need to take care of, and I'll meet the three of you down there in a few minutes." With that, Scott and his friends gave their brief salutations.

Sighing deeply as he closed the door again, Tim sagged in relief. Quickly returning to his desk, he narrowed his grey eyes on the person that was waiting there. "I told you that you should not have contacted me here," he hissed.

Isis simply shrugged, "I would have cut the connection if I heard them enter the room. This call is untraceable and will not alert anyone within the Preventers."

Her hazel eyes thinned menacingly as she spat, "You should learn to have better faith in our measures of precaution. At any rate, this call simply cannot wait. We have a dyer situation and you are the only person that we can call upon for this."

"Just let me know what I need to do," Tim replied, the edge in his voice gone and anticipation in his eyes in his hopes to redeem himself.

Taking a deep, even breath, the orange-haired young woman began, "Our organization relies heavily on the transfer of communication chips that are implanted randomly into the people that we transport. Those chips contain the information and requests from one dealer to the next. There is an immeasurable amount of information regarding White Out."

She paused as a brief glimpse of concern fell on her face. "Recently, because we have so many of those chips to sort through in our transfers, we found that one of those chips is missing," she announced quietly.

With a sharp gasp, Tim's grey eyes widened as Isis continued, "Fortunately with the tracer that is also placed on it, we have found the location of that chip. How you handle recovering this person is up to you. I am going to be sending you the list of names and contacts for a number of… assistants that you could call upon if you so wish."

Already feeling the weight of a great responsibility to the organization in carrying out this task, the young man stated, "Just give me the name and identity of who I am after. I'll see to it that we get the chip back."

Smirking, Isis sent over the image to take up half of the screen. The picture was one of a young girl, no more than six that had been taken during her time of captivity in White Out's possession. Her frightened, widened eyes and pale skin proved to explain some of the horrors she had witnessed and experienced.

"I should think that you would be able to handle recovering a child," the orange-haired woman commented smugly. "She is being cared for at an orphanage several miles from where you are currently."

On the screen, all of the data that had been known of the child and her location appeared along with the image to fill the screen. "I should not have to tell you just how vital it is that you are successful in returning that chip to us," Isis's voice warned. "Again, how you handle this is up to you. Failure in this is unacceptable."

His lips tugging into a dark smile, Tim studied the image of the small face on his screen as he replied, "And failure will not be an option in this… I'll see to that."

* * * * * *

That evening, Scott returned to the safe house to several anxious faces. With their combined efforts, Trowa, Anna and Angie had finished recovering the identities of those who had been implanted with the communication chips, making copies of those names for the others.

Comparing that list with the names of those that had been recovered became a task that everyone shared as they sat together in the living room at the tables and couches. Few breaks were taken during their efforts as those gathered knew how time was working against them more often than not.

Noin, Zechs, Sally and Wufei worked together at one side of the room. Heero, Duo, Trowa and Anna bade a second team while Quatre, Relena, Angie and Scott made the last. With everyone working in silence, the tension in the room remained as they scanned their papers carefully, looking from one sheet and comparing the names to the other.

The hours dwindled by and those lists that had been checked and cleared were tosses aside, not one name on them matching. As those papers yet to be checked grew fewer and fewer, so did the hopes of those working begin to dwindle.

Just as the last few sheets were taken up, Relena suddenly sat up, her eyes wide in shock. "Wait a minute," she muttered to herself. All eyen snapping to her, the young politician took up the list that Trowa and the others had come up with.

Her skin paling, she announced in a distant voice, "There's a match." An explosion of excitement erupted through the room as her friends came up around to get a look at the name as they cheered and spoke anxiously when she turned to Trowa and Anna.

"What's wrong?" the tall pilot asked in concern.

Taking a deep breath, Relena bit her lip before she could find enough of her voice to answer, "Do either of you remember Rachel's last name when she was taken in?"

Anna frowned deeply but nodded, "Jamison. Why?"

Unable to reply speak, the pregnant young woman handed over the two sheets in her possession over to Trowa. Looking over the reports, it did not take long for his green eyes to widen in terror as he breathed, "My God."

Swallowing hard, Relena nodded, "She's a match."

 

 

Part 39

[Catch me as I fall
Say you're here and it's all over now
Speaking to the atmosphere
No one's here and I fall into myself]
Lyrics to `Whisper' performed by Evanescence

 

 

"The area has been secured, Commander," a tall, young man with short
black hair informed as he approached with a steaming cup of tea in
each hand. All in all, thirty uniformed Preventers had been sent to
the large estate and they were moving about the grounds of the large
estate. The need for car headlights and flashlights was no more with
the electricity restored and every light in and out of the house on.

All around, leaves of an array of fall colors continued to fall on a
gentle breeze. Handing over the two cups, the handsome pilot
continued, "We're in the process of removing the bodies and the
usual cleanup procedures at this time."

With a firm nod, Lady Une sighed in relief, "Good work. Thank you
for the update, Agent Blaze. I appreciate your assembling your team
so quickly on such short notice. Please extend my gratitude to them,
as it will take time for the dust to clear enough before I can do
so, personally. However, I do intend on making up for that when this
is all over."

A proud smile lit the agent's face as he shrugged, "All part of the
fun of being a Preventer." Gesturing to one of the body bags being
carried off by a pilot at either end, he informed, "I will have the
staff at our morgue get the identities of the hired hands to you as
soon as they are available."

The Commander replied, "Very good, soldier. When you're finished
here, let the others know that I am giving all of you the day off.
You've more than earned it after tonight." With that, she turned
towards Preventer emergency vehicle. The back doors of the ambulance
were opened and inside, Anna was being checked out by another agent.

Wrapped in a long blanked, Relena sat across from her friend with
Yuuki safely in her lap. As the last couple of stitches were placed
over the long, deep cut along her right knee and a wide bandage
placed over the wound, Anna leaned her back against the wall. The
medic closed up his equipment kits and stepped from the ambulance
with a firm nod to the Commander as he walked off.

Carefully stepping up and into the large vehicle, the Commander
handed a steaming cup to the two young women and smiled, "I thought
that you both could use something to help stay warm. Fall certainly
has arrived."

At the concerned, anticipating faces watching her, Lady Une
frowned, "I haven't heard from the others yet." She brightened and
smiled reassuringly, "But I am sure that all went well at the
orphanage.

Relena accepted her cup with a quiet word of thanks. Anna gave a
small nod of gratitude before sipping at the steaming tea. After a
sip of her own drink, Relena tilted her head and asked the Commander
sitting beside her, "How did you know to bring a whole team along
with you?"

"Call it woman's intuition," Lady Une shrugged with a lopsided
smirk. "When we got off of the phone and you told me that the two of
you were alone, I just thought that I would have some agents sit
back just be to on the safe side. I drove up without my headlights
and when I saw all of the cars sitting by the safe house, I called
the team in."

Anna took another sip from her tea and smirked, "That's why you're
our leader." Gazing at her reflection in the white porcelain of the
cup, she saw the long scratches that ran diagonally down her face
and frowned dramatically, "Damn. And I was so hoping to run for the
Miss Universe beauty pageant next month."

Both Relena and Lady Une laughed, their heads falling back. Shaking
her head, the Commander chuckled deeply, "You are a piece of work."
Anna raised her eyebrows with a playful grin as she finished her tea.

Her smile fading, the Vice-Foreign Minister turned to the woman
beside her and stated, "I suppose that the leak that is still in the
Preventers got lucky and somehow managed to find where we were
hiding."

Running a hand over her brown hair, Lady Une sighed deeply, "That's
something that I am still trying to figure out, is how they were
able to do that. I never documented this location in any of our
records. However they did get the information, it's a mystery to me.
Hopefully Scott will have better luck in figuring out who the leak
is."

As she gazed down to her wrapped knee, Anna frowned deeply, "I don't
know that I'm convinced it was the leak that we're after that found
us." Her companions turned to her with confused looks and she
gestured to her leg, "The bastard that cut me knew to go for my
right leg, when my left was closer with the way I was standing over
him."

Her frown deepening, the red-haired pilot shook her head as she
commented, "Either that was sheer luck, his going for where I was
already injured, or someone told them where to hit." At that notion,
both Relena and Lady Une turned to each other with wide eyes in
consideration of the possibility.

The sound of a car rolling up the dirt road had the three young
women sitting up with wide eyes. Quickly, they descended from the
back of the ambulance. Anna took Yuuki in her arms as she and Lady
Une assisted Relena to the ground. Two agents waved the car into the
scene and through the parked vehicles around the house with friendly
smiles that proved they knew the people inside.

When the black car stopped just before a few feet from the
ambulance, the car doors flew open. The first to run to the three
young women gathered, Quatre cried in relief, "Relena!" Throwing his
arms around her, he breathed, "Thank Allah you're all right." The
pregnant young woman clung to him tightly as tears ran down her
face, the events of that evening catching up with her.

Zechs and Noin soon joined the reunion, wrapping their own arms around Relena as they shared a group embrace. Smiling at the touching scene, Anna and Lady Une stepped back to allow the family a bit of privacy.

As she looked back to the car, Anna frowned deeply at the sight of Sally leading a clearly distraught Duo out into the open. At the sight of her master, Yuuki barked and wiggled anxiously in the redhead's arms. With a small smile, the young woman stepped carefully on her recovering leg as she reached the braided pilots.

Seeming to come from his daze at the sound of the puppy's whimpering, Duo blinked his wide violet eyes and took the collie into his arms as she licked his face excitedly. With a sniffle, he kissed the dog's head and held her to his chest.

"That pup deserves a badge of her own with how she performed tonight," Anna chuckled deeply. The lack of response from the braided young man made her smile fade.

After their happy reunion, Relena and her family pulled from their tight hold as they all, too, looked to the American pilot in concern. At the unspoken questions in the faces of the unsuspecting young women, Zechs sighed deeply and ran a hand through his bangs. Lowering his head, he informed quietly, "Angie is an agent for the White Out Organization. She was the one who led them to our hideout."

Eyes wide with shock and their jaws dropping, the three stunned faces paled. Raising his head again, Zechs gestured to the braided pilot still cradling his pup and staring out at nothing in particular. "She got away with Heero in her captivity."

Relena's hand came up to cover her mouth, Lady Une turned away muttering a sharp curse and Anna's blue eyes slowly closed as she bit her bottom lip in frustration. Still reeling from her own shock, the blonde politician frowned deeply in concern as she looked to Duo as he stiffly lowered Yuuki.

With small tears filling her eyes, Relena walked over and wrapped her braided friend in a tight embrace. Unable to hold back his hopes that he was walking through some nightmare, Duo all but crumbled at the gesture. Returning the tight hug, he sobbed into her shoulder, his whole body shaking.

Gently kissing the top of his head, the pregnant young woman whispered, "Shh. he's going to be all right. We'll get him back." As she continued with the quiet reassurances, she rubbed circled along his back as the others watched on with sad and concerned faces.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Anna's face was slowly becoming as red as her hair as she turned away. "How the hell did this get so fucked up?" she whispered, running a hand through her bangs. Looking to the others with narrowed eyes, she shook her head and hissed quietly, "I'm going to kill that bitch."

Noin smirked darkly, "Get in line." Her smile fading, she sighed deeply, "She had every damned one of us fooled into thinking that she was nothing more than someone in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Like Anna, Lady Une's shock had faded into rage over the situation. With narrowed eyes, she growled deeply, "It was my decision to have her stay here, with all of you, under the assumption that it was the safest place for her to stay. Had I not done that, she would never have released the location to the organization."

Quatre broke in, before allowing her to continue on that trail of thoughts and insisted, "If you hadn't insisted on her staying at the estate, anyone of us would have for you, Lady Une. Like Noin said, we were all tricked in this."

With a firm nod, Sally added, "All we can do now is focus on what we're going to do now. Wufei and Trowa should be arriving with Rachel at any moment. With that, we'll have something to go on that will hopefully lead us to where Heero is."

At the mention of her lover and the little girl, Anna looked up with relief in her eyes in hearing that at the very least, they were all right. With a glance back to Duo as he continued to hold onto Relena, her relief faded to guilt in seeing how difficult of a time he was facing without his partner.

When Duo seemed to have a bit more control, he pulled back from Relena's arms and wiped at his face. "Thanks," he managed after taking a deep, shaky breath. Yuuki remained at his side, looking up at him with her tail wagging excitedly at having him back.

"No thanks needed," the politician replied quietly with a sad smile as she wiped at her own eyes. "What are friends for, anyway, right?" she asked with a wink. Reaching up, she cupped his face and locked their gazes as she said firmly, "But I mean it, we'll get Heero back."

Zechs stepped into the scene and stated, "Yes, we will." Resting a hand at the back of the braided pilot's neck as his wet violet eyes turned to him, the tall young man said quietly, "As I promised, I'll personally do everything within my power to see to that. And I do not give my word to just anyone, nor do I give it lightly."

Swallowing hard past the lump in his throat, Duo nodded his appreciation, knowing better than to trust his voice at that moment. Zech pulled him into a tight, one-arm hug before quickly releasing him. "Thank you for seeing that we got here to check on Relena and Anna," he muttered, clearing his throat. "I know that was a difficult decision for you."

His violet eyes widening at the rare sign of affection from the tall, blonde pilot, Duo nodded again. With that, Zechs returned the tight nod, looking up along with the others at the sound of another car coming into the opening.

When the black car pulled beside the one that Zechs's team brought in, Trowa quickly opened the passenger door with Rachel in his arms. At the sight of them, Anna smiled and sighed deeply in relief. Finding her amongst the crowd of their gathered friends, the tall pilot's green eyes widened as he cried, "Anna!"

After a quick glance from Duo to her boyfriend as he approached quickly, the redhead gestured for him to follow. With a firm nod of understanding, Trowa followed her around the ambulance where they could reunite without making their friend's state all the more difficult.

The moment that they were away from prying eyes, Anna hugged her partner fiercely as he rained kissed along her cut face. "My God, I was so worried about you," Trowa breathed. He pulled her in for a fiery kiss and when they finally came up for air, their flushed faces blushed when they turned to the giggling girl in his free arm.

Quickly taking the child into her arms with a tight hug, Anna looked up to the other pilot and sighed deeply, "I've been worried sick about the two of you, as well." She kissed the Rachel's head and cheek as she held her back to appraise her.

Instead of panicking at the dried blood splattered on her small nightgown, or asking questions that would only bring up the child's horrendous experience, the redhead smirked, "Looks like you're going to be stuck with us for a while, little one. And we're going to have to find you some new, clean clothes."

Her feet kicking back and forth in the air, Rachel smiled brightly, "I didn't hesitate, Anna, just like you told me. Trowa and Wufei tried to get me away from the bad men, but I had to help them."

Chuckling deeply, Trowa kissed the little girl's head and told his lover, "That's right. Rachel was a very brave girl, tonight. Wufei is going to have her made into an honorary Preventer when all of this is over."

"That's my girl," Anna grinned in pride as she ran a gentle hand over the child's brown hair. "Wufei is very hard to impress sometimes, so you did a great job if he's going to give you that honor."

Rachel bit her lip and gently ran a small hand over the long cuts along the pretty lady's face and frowned, "Do these hurt?"

With a snort, Anna shook her head, "Nah. I've had worse than this. And they'll go away before long." She winked, "The guy who did this to me won't be hurting anyone else again." Rachel's smile returned and she threw her arms tightly around the young woman's neck again.

Looking up, the red-haired agent found Trowa's face still bore his own concern and she mouthed, "I'm okay." That reassurance seemed to be enough for her lover and he gave a small, lop-sided smirk of relief.

When Rachel loosened her hold, Trowa suggested, "We should check on the others. Wufei and I managed to find something else that may help up in finding Angie and Heero." Anna's eyes filled with curiosity as she followed her partner closely.

As he reunited with his friends and his own lover, Wufei looked up as Trowa and Anna reappeared. The two agents exchanged firm nods and the discussion amongst the others died down when the Chinese pilot went back to the car. "What's going on?" Relena asked quietly as she stepped closer to the Latin pilot.

Trowa answered quietly, "We have our last leak." Everyone around him stiffened with wide eyes at the announcement.

Opening the back door, Wufei reached in and roughly pulled the young man that was lying within out of the car and onto his feet. Hesitantly looking up, the gagged captive's wide grey eyes took in the shocked faces watching him. Sweat beaded anew on his already damn face as he was scrutinized.

Lady Une growled deeply, "Tim." With a firm hold of the back of his detainee's collar, Wufei led him to the pilots gathered, all but dragging him along.

Duo's initial shock faded while his friends reacted in their own ways. What replaced that shock was a seething hatred and rage. Driven by that anger, the braided pilot lunged forward with a sharp cry, ripping Tim from Wufei's clutches before anyone knew what was taking place.

Slamming the fallen agent's back against the side of the car, the braided pilot tore cloth gag from his mouth. "Where's Angie!" he screamed in the frightened man's face. "Where did she take Heero, you son of a bitch!"

His mouth opening and closing but unable to find his voice, Tim's wide eyes gazed into the burning violet eyes that bore down on him. Struggling to breath after having the wind knocked from him, the prisoner whispered, "D-Don't know…. I swear."

With another cry, Duo picked Tim up to ram him into the side of the car again, yelling, "You lying sack of shit!" The shouts and cried of his friends finally registered past the thumping of his heart in his ears when Wufei grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him away before he could rip the traitor apart.

Shaking the American when he turned him so they could face each other, the Chinese pilot cried, "Duo! Get a hold of yourself!" As the American panted and glared heatedly at him for disrupting him, Wufei sighed deeply, "Not like this. You'll have your shot at him, but right now, we need him in one piece so we can get what we need."

Forcing a deep, calming breath, Duo's rigid shoulders relaxed, but the threatening gaze remained. "Fine," he replied in a deep growl. "But if I don't think we're getting the answers we need fast enough, he's mine."

A tight smile tugged at Wufei's lips and he nodded firmly, "Fair enough."

Tim straightened himself on wobbly legs and glared at the two agents. "I don't know anything about Angie or what the organization wants with Heero," he spat. "You know as much as I do where that's concerned. So, I'd like to see how the hell you'll be able to get anything out of me to help you."

At that, Trowa stepped into the scene and nodded, "Oh, you may not know anything, but that doesn't mean that you're not going to get us the answers."

His grey eyes widening, Tim looked from one pilot to the other and asked quietly, "W-what do you mean? What are you going to do to me?"

Both Trowa and Wufei shared a glace and a satisfied smirk. Looking back to the worried prisoner, the Chinese pilot answered simply, "You're going to be our bait."

* * * * * *

An hour later…

Bending at the knees, Sally leaned over so that their eyes met and smiled, "I promise this won't hurt at all, Rachel. We're just trying to get something that those bad men were after." The little girl was sitting at the edge of the medical table in her office, biting her lip anxiously.

Gently wrapping an arm around the child's shoulders, Trowa hugged her against his side and grinned, "You can trust Sally, Rachel. She's one of our best friends." As promised, he sat right next to her and held her hand so that she wouldn't be as scared. Anna watched in the near corner with a comforting smile.

After removing a few tools from her cabinet, Sally showed the long, thin hand-held scanner and explained, "I'm going to run this over the arm, by where you said it itches, to find what might be causing it." The girl examined the device, tilting her head to get a good look at it before easing at how harmless it looked.

Sally then held up what looked like a needle. When Rachel's brown eyes widened in fear, the braided woman soothed, "This is going to be like a magnet. There might be a sharp pinch when it takes out the chip, but it won't be bad, I promise."

"That chip is going to save a lot of people from having to go through what you went through," Anna told the worried girl. "You're going to help put all of the bad men away that hurt you and everyone that they captured."

With a deep breath of that, Rachel thought of her mother. A resolve filled her eyes and she straightened. Meeting Sally's eyes with a firm and determined nod, she announced, "Okay. I'm ready."

Gently rubbing the top of the child's head, Sally whispered, "Good girl." With one hand running the scanner over the child's right arm, she had the magnet ready in the other. As the red laser was run up along the upper arm, the scanner beeped loudly at finding something that should not have been there.

Narrowing her eyes as she got in close to inspect the area highlighted by the red light, Sally spotted the dark square embedded just above the small elbow. "There you are," she smirked. She kept the scanner in place while bringing up the sharp magnet. Biting her lip, she carefully held the point of the magnet over the foreign object.

When the chip reached the surface of the skin, Rachel squeezed Trowa's hand tightly at the small pinch. The quick discomfort was forgotten as the child as she watched the piece of metal come out of her arm. When the chip locked onto the end of the magnet, Sally held it out to show the wide-eyed girl and smiled, "There's the nasty little thing that was making your arm itch."

"Cool," Rachel laughed. Looking down to her arm, she grinned, "That was it?"

Sally chuckled deeply, "That's it. You did great." After covering the small cut that remained with a band-aid, she quickly went to her sink to carefully clean off the disk. Once it was cleaned, she handed the chip to Trowa.

With a deep sigh, the tall pilot gazed down into his hand and commented, "With everything that we went through to get this thing, I hope that it was worth it.

* * * * * *

The following afternoon…

Pacing anxiously, Isis looked to the clock on the wall. Finally, a car rolled into the driveway of the secluded resort. She threw her door open to run outside and smiled brightly at the sight of Angie leading her handcuffed prisoner before her. Stepping out onto the front porch, the orange-haired young woman folded her arms and chuckled deeply, "Well, well, well. If it isn't infamous Heero Yuy."

The Japanese pilot's cobalt eyes narrowed heatedly but he would not give her the satisfaction by giving more of a response than that as he walked past. The last to step back inside, Isis pulled the door closed behind her and took a small scalpel from the top of her desk.

Stalking towards the ex-Wing pilot, the orange-haired agent smirked, "Sorry to be so forward without a more formal introduction, but time is of the essence and I have a terribly important appointment to keep." Without further warning, she walked behind her captive and cut a thin line at the base of his neck.

Despite the sharp pain, Heero remained still, his eyes glaring at Angie. The traitor only glared back, her arms crossed as she leaned her back against the door. Isis maneuvered the hidden disk until she was able to pull it from the cut that she made. Her green eyes wide and alive as they looked down to the chip, she breathed, "Hello, beautiful. Welcome back home."

"I still think that we should just kill him now that we have what we want," Angie commented, her thinned eyes never looking away from the piercing gaze watching her.

Shaking her head, Isis replied, "All in due time. It's only right that he gets to see the peace that he and his friends worked so hard for fall apart before he meets his demise." Shoving Heero towards her accomplice, she ordered, "Lock him up where we won't be a nuisance for now. I'll have him moved to a more suitable holding cell after my meeting."

With a grunt, the dark-haired pilot gripped Heero's arm tightly and walked off down the hall with him. "Oh, and Angie," Isis called after them. When the younger woman turned back to meet her gaze, she stated, "Don't get too comfortable when you're finished. I already have another assignment for you."

Blinking her dark eyes in surprise, Angie tilted her head and inquired, "And what assignment would that be?"

Isis smirked darkly, "I just need you to take care of a loose end that could cause us trouble. I believe he's an old acquaintance of yours." At that, Heero turned his head a bit to the side, his own interest peaked. "Tim Gillen."

 

Part 33

[I see my red door and I want it painted black
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facing up
When your whole world is black]
-Lyrics to `Paint It Black' by the Rolling Stones and Performed by Mig Ayesa

"A child?" the tall assassin chuckled deeply as he looked over the picture handed to him. "Is this some sort of joke?"

Tim's grey eyes narrowed as he replied shortly, "This is not a joke. That child unknowingly holds a great deal of data that would destroy the organization if it got into the wrong hands."

At that announcement, the assassin's dark eyed widened as he straightened and nodded, "I see." His lips curled up in a menacing smile as he gestured to the five armed men and women standing a few feet behind him. "No need to worry about that ever happening. My team will keep her from slipping from your grasp the way that one agent had not long ago."

Looking up at the tall man with new interest, Tim tilted his head and asked, "How much of that mission do you know of? I never received any details on why Terry wanted Agent Sleet killed. I had offered him a tip that she may be helpful in knowing where the Gundam pilots were, but I saw no reason to why she needed to be disposed of."

Quickly taking a glance over his shoulder to see his accomplices were out of earshot, the large man turned back to face the agent before smirking, "Terry had called me to join in that mission, but I was out working for another client, so I couldn't join. That fool had left behind a disk of reports he had saved for his own reference. He wanted that woman taken out in case she decided to take a peak at what it had."

Instantly, a chill ran down Tim's spine and he could feel his skin paling. "And Angie got out with that disk. She's one of the best decoders the Preventers have to offer. If she's been working on that deciphering card, it wouldn't take long to learn that the girl we're after is right under their noses."

Shaking his head, the dirty agent ordered, "I waited long enough for you to assemble your team. You have to get to that orphanage now. For all we know, we might already be too late if those damned pilots already found out about that girl."

The tall man, seemingly unbothered by the possibility, shrugged, "I have five more of my men scouting the area surrounding the orphanage. If there was any sign of trouble, I would have been contacted. And if we should run into those Preventers, we'll handle the problem"

Once more, the mercenary's lips tugged up into a dark grin as he commented, "I almost hope we do run into those pilots. It would prove more interesting than just kidnapping a helpless child."

In the moonlight, the many weapons on the mercenary's belt shimmered with the movement of his chest in his deep chuckle. "You have nothing to worry about in this," he stated firmly. "The team that Terry had picked was careless. We won't make the same mistakes that they had." He turned to go join the others as he called, "You'll have that little girl before dawn."

Folding his arms, Tim replied, "Well, I am going to be there, watching nearby to be certain of that. I had been trusted to carry out this mission, and I am going to be on hand to see that nothing goes wrong."

With a deep growl, the nameless man turned on his heels to face the smaller young man and hissed, "We do not need a babysitter. If you wish to come along, you'll be taking part in the mission along with us. Otherwise, stay the hell out of our way."

At that statement, Tim's eyes widened. This was not what he had planned at all. He wanted to lay low, overlooking the affair without running the risk of being identified by someone at the orphanage. And the possibility of the Gundam pilots being hot on his heels was certainly unnerving to say the least. As much as he would have preferred to not go to the orphanage at all, he feared what would happen should anything go wrong.

Finally, the dirty agent nodded firmly, "Fine. If it's the only way that I can be there first-hand, I'll go in along with your team. But what if someone should be able to identify us?"

"Oh," the tall man smirked, "No need to worry about that. You of all people should know that we are quite resourceful of covering our tracks." Raising an eyebrow, he commented, "I also understand that you are quite… experienced in explosives."

Tim's grey eyes widened a moment. Slowly, a lopsided grin pulled at his face as he chuckled darkly, "I believe that we are going to get along quite well, my friend."

* * * * * *

"Time's wasting, everyone!" Zechs called up to the second level of the safe house, his bullet-proof vest already secured on him as he secured his weapons into his belt. Just behind the blonde man, Noin finished checking her own equipment before looking up to the stairwell.

Everything had become a blur of activity the instant that Relena had announced her discovery. Now knowing that Rachel was a match in being the bearer of a communication card, there was no mention needed to how vital it was to reach her before anyone else did. Thankfully, Lady Une had supplied the group with new vests and a variety of guns for weapons to be used on a moment's notice.

The first to run down the stair, Trowa finished shouldering on his own vest and closed it in the front. The determination in his green eyes and etched on his face spoke enough of his readiness to protect the little girl that he had rescued from the White Out Organization once before. Heero, Duo, Wufei, Sally, Scott and Angie were close behind their tall friend in the midst of their own preparation and checks.

In spotting the dark-haired Preventer in her preparations for the task at hand, Wufei commented, "I thought that you preferred to stay away from `the field'."

Cocking a pistol, Angie's face was etched in grin determination as she replied, "I was robbed of my chance to repay Kent for what he did for me. I would hate to have him in whatever hell he was sent to without company, should anyone that is working for his cause be at the orphanage." With a smirk of respect, the Chinese pilot nodded firmly.

"I found the phone number for the orphanage and all of the back road maps to take," Noin announced. "On the way there, I'm going to see if I can't wake someone in charge up to alert them of what is going on."

Scott finished buckling his belt of weapons and nodded, "Not a bad idea, considering how we may be running into some unwanted company."

Relena stepped into the room with Quatre close behind as she frowned deeply, "Shouldn't Lady Une be contacted about what is going on?"

Shaking his head, Heero finished his check of protection as he replied sharply, "No time. We have to go now." His voice softened in realizing how harsh that had sounded as he suggested, "If you could take care of that call while we're off, that would be a help."

A relieved smile fell on the politician's face as she nodded her blonde head in appreciation to be able to assist somehow. Silently Relena marveled once more at the changes in the ex-Wing pilot. Duo certainly had worked wonders on his demeanor.

Trowa's green eyes widened in finding his lover making her way down the stairs with a vest in hand and a couple of pistols in the other. "Anna," he sighed deeply, as he approached while thinking of the best way to discourage her from joining without causing an argument.

Looking up, Anna smirked at her lover, "Don't worry, I know I'm not up for this one." With a gesture of her head, she stated, "Quatre asked for my things." His green eyes widening, her tall partner snapped his head the Arabian standing in the living room doorway.

Her own eyes widening, Relena turned to her fiancé with a worried, "Quatre?" Anna had already reached the pair as she began handing over her equipment. Her right hand drifted up to run itself over her swollen belly in a nervous fashion.

As he secured the weapons at the utility belt handed over, Quatre met his lover's gaze and explained, "This is not a recovery like the last mission. There are a lot of children in danger and the more able agents there the better." Biting her lip, the young politician nodded in reluctant agreement.

With a pat on her Arab's friend back once the bullet-proof vest was on, Anna winked, "Quat, as far as I'm concerned in my biased opinion, you've got the best of the equipment that anyone could have loaned to you. This vest got me through a shit load of trouble ever since I joined the Preventers, so it'll take good care of you, Quat."

Smiling gratefully, Quatre replied sincerely, "Thank you, Anna." His smile faded a bit as he leaned in and requested quietly, "Take care of Relena and our little one while I'm gone."

"Of course," the redheaded agent vowed in firm resolve. With that, she allowed the pair a moment alone to bid their farewells and turned to her own lover. Sighing deeply, she made a spot check that his vest and weapons were secured before saying softly, "Don't do anything stupid out there."

Trowa smiled warmly at his partner's attempt to lighten the grim mood around them and reassured her, "I'll be careful." Using one arm, he pulled her close and into a fierce kiss.

Zechs's voice took command once more as he shouted, "All right! Let's move out!" Swinging the door open, he led the group as they quickly filed from the house. Before joining the others, Trowa kissed Anna soundly once more while Quatre did the same to Relena and her swollen stomach. As they followed their friends' heels, the door was slammed closed behind them.

In minutes, the engines of the cars roared just outside of the house. Yuuki walked up to the two wound women standing out in the main entrance and started whining quietly. With a warm smile, Anna bent down to run her hand over the pup's head reassuringly as she whispered, "Don't worry. Heero and Duo will be back with the others soon."

When she straightened, the red-haired pilot noticed Relena walking over to the window. Together, the two young women watched as the cars peeled from the driveway and down the dirt road until their tail lights disappeared in the cover of trees.

"I hope that he'll be all right," Relena breathed, frowning deeply in worry.

Gently resting a hand around her friend's shoulder, Anna grinned, "Quatre's a Gundam pilot, Lena."

When the politician turned to her to protest, the redhead raised her hand and explained, "Boys will be boys and Gundam pilots will always be Gundam pilots. They may not have the metal suits anymore, but no one can take away what they are. It's in their blood to handle themselves in any situation."

With a gentle squeeze of the smaller young woman's shoulders, Anna winked, "He'll be fine."

At last, a small smile spread on Relena's face and she nodded, "You're right, Anna." She reached up to squeeze the hand on her shoulder as she whispered, "Thank you. Sometimes I forget how strong that mild-mannered, soft-spoken lover of mine can be."

Her blue eyes widening, the blonde young woman gasped, "I almost forgot! I have to get a hold of Lady Une."

Nodding, Anna replied, "You go take care of that while I start some tea. If we're going to be up waiting for the others, we might as well get to enjoy our rare time alone to girl talk."

As her friend walked down the hall, her leg brace clicking with each movement, Relena smiled to herself in gratitude of having someone around that would understand and help lighten her spirits. Quickly, she turned on her own heels to return to the living room. Taking up the phone, she dialed and only had to wait a couple of rings before the call was answered.

"Hello," the familiar voice answered.

Taking a deep breath, the blonde young woman responded, "Lady Une, it's Relena. I'm sorry to have to call you at home so late, but something has come up."

At the introduction, there was a noticeable change in the Commander's voice as it took on an alert, authoritative tone when she stated more than asked, "A match was found when you compared those lists."

"Yea," Relena answered, biting her lip. "I'm afraid it's a great deal more complicated than just that. The match was in a little girl that is located at Saint Peter's Orphanage, several miles from here. The others went off to recover her."

On the other end of the line, Lady Une was already turning on her computer in her small office. "I'll see that the authorities in the area are contacted. Zechs would know to take the back roads to avoid being discovered. I'll have those routs blocked off. Did either you or Quatre call the orphanage to let them know what's going on?"

Swallowing hard, the young politician replied, "Noin did mention that she will be reaching the orphanage on the way there. Quatre is off with the others. Anna and I are the only ones here at the safe house."

Her brown eyes widening at that announcement, the Commander masked her surprise as she nodded, "I see. All things considered, I'm glad to know that everyone that was able to help is working on this recovery."

The directory on Lady Une's monitor filled the screen, mapping out the area surrounding Saint Peter's Orphanage. Highlighting the lesser used roads that led there from the safe house, she announced, "I found the way that they would be taking, so I will give that information to the authorities there. From there out, it'll be a matter of waiting to hear back from the others."

Relena ran her free hand over her stomach and frowned deeply, "I just wish that there was more than I could do to help, other than sitting and waiting."

With a small smile, the Commander reassured her, "All things considered, you handled yourself beautifully in contacting me with everything I needed. All you should worry about now is seeing that you relax and not stress yourself, for your baby's sake. We don't even know if anyone from White Out is aware of this girl. He just knows better to act on the side of caution."

The tall woman's fingers typed furiously over her keyboard as she continued, "Even if there were a risk involved, you know Quatre better than anyone. He'll see to it that he returns safely to you and your child."

Feeling a small kick against her hand from her baby and knowing the truth in the words of support offered to her, Relena couldn't help but feel a bit better as she smiled to herself. "Thank you, Lady Une." Her blue eyes widening, she asked, "What of the children that will still be at the orphanage once Rachel is safe?"

As she rose from her desk, Lady Une answered, "I'm already on that. I'll have three teams assembled with trucks to have everyone in the building moved to a new location. I'll contact the others to let them know to pass the word on."

With a quick glance to her watch the Commander stated, "I have quite a few loose ends that I need to tie up here. As soon as I'm finished, I'll be heading over to the safe house."

"Okay," Relena nodded. "We'll see you soon then." With a quick salutation from the two young women, they disconnected.

Anna arrived carrying a tray just as the call ended. As she and her friend sat across from each other, the red-haired Preventer poured the first cup of tea and carefully handed it over to her friend.

Yuuki decided at that moment to jump onto the couch to lie beside Relena, as if knowing that the young woman somehow needed some company. Her smile returning, the blonde young woman reached with her free hand to gently pat the furry pup.

As she sat back with her own cup of tea, Anna grinned, "Now, considering how we're about to have a new addition to the family in a little about two months, have you and Quatre decided on any names."

Her smile growing a bit at the realization that she was about to become a mother in such a short time, and in her renewed appreciation for the redhead's attempts to take her mind off her fears, Relena answered, "Quatre and I came up with a name for a boy and a girl."

A thin eyebrow raised over Anna's sapphire gaze as she finished taking a sip from her cup. "Really?" she cheered excitedly. Were the Preventer a cat at that moment, Relena imagined that her tail would have been swaying a mile a minute at that moment. The mental image made her fight the urge to laugh, spitting out the tea in her mouth.

"If you wanted to let the cat out of the bag, I promise not to tell any of the others," Anna sputtered quickly.

The timing of the 'cat' comment along with the mental image was all too much for Relena as she quickly finished her mouthful and burst out laughing. Tilting her head and blinking in confusion, her friend inquired, "What's so funny?"

Relena continued to laugh as she waived her free hand and shook her head, "Nothing." As she settled herself again, the politician smiled warmly, "You know, since coming to the place and getting to have a chance to spend time with you, I've a better understanding on what it would have been like to have a sister."

At that, Anna returned the warm smile and nodded, "I know what you mean. Being on only child, I never knew what I was missing out in not having a sibling to talk to."

With a mischievous smirk, Relena sank back into the couch, her teacup and small plate in both hands. "All right," she began. "We weren't going to tell anyone the names until the birth, but I'll hold you to your promise."

Quickly lowering her own cup and plate back onto the table, Anna pulled her legs up to her chest with a wide, anxious grin as she reassured, "My lips are sealed."

Chuckling deeply, Relena nodded, "Well, it wasn't an easy choice sine there were a few names we liked. But we decided on..."

* * * * * *

"Come on," Noin growled deeply as she waited once more for someone to pick up on the other line. This being her third attempt at reaching someone, she was beginning to fear the worst. Zechs took his focus from the road to watch his wife from the corner of his eye for a moment. Meeting his gaze, the young woman kept the cell phone to her ear as she frowned deeply in concern.

At the Saint Peter's Orphanage, one of the nuns working there hurriedly opened the office door to answer the insistent ringing. With the children all tucked away in bed, she was quite miffed that whomever was calling did not just leave a message for them to respond to first thing the next morning.

Tucking her graying hair behind an ear, she turned on the closest lamp and moved to the desk and placed the phone to her ear. Recalling her vow of patience, she smiled and greeted quietly, "Saint Peter's Orphanage. I am sorry that you have reached us after hours, but I am afraid that-"

The rest of her words cut off when a young woman on the other line all but shouted, "This is Agent Fire of the Preventers. This is a matter of great urgency."

Her brown eyes widening, the nun slowly lowered into the chair behind her. "Y-yes, Agent Fire. This is Sister Grace. How can I help you?"

With a deep sigh of relief, Noin lowered her head in a silent prayer whomever was listening that there was no cause for alarm. Her voice calming, she replied, "There has been a recent development in our investigation of the people responsible for having captured the children that are in your charge. Is Rachel Johnson still in your care?"

Placing a have over her chest, Sister Grace nodded, "Why yes, she is. She and the other children are sleeping now."

Nodding to herself, Noin responded, "We have reason to believe that she is going to play a large role in our bringing these criminals to justice. I am with a large team of agents and we are on our way to take her into protection with us as we continue the search."

"Oh that poor child," the nun whispered to herself. "She's been through so much already," Suddenly, a cold chill of realization ran down her spine as she straightened. "Are these people that you're after aware that she would be so valuable to finding them?"

Noin licked her lips and chose her words carefully as not to start a panic. Finally, she answered coolly, "I am not going to lie to you, Sister Grace. Rachel will not stay unnoticed where they are concerned.

"Recent developments spared us time and a means of learning her importance, ourselves. I don't want to frighten you when there may not be a need for concern tonight, but we have to take precautions."

Biting her lip, Sister Grace asked quietly, "If we were in danger... would these people hurt the children?"

Noin closed her eyes, again carefully mapping out her response. "From personal experience in dealing with these monsters first-hand," she began slowly as she opened her eyes, "I have to tell you, in all honesty, they will stop at nothing to get what they want."

At that, the nun swallowed hard and replied, "I understand." Rising to her feet, it took a moment for her to straighten her trembling legs.

There was a brief silence on the line before the Preventer stated, "Again, I don't want you to panic. Chances are that this will be a simple recovery. There will be another team, with trucks, to move you all of your charges from the orphanage not far behind us to move you to a new, safe location where you can continue your services."

Her courage returning and resolved to her cause, Sister Grace questioned in a clear voice, "What shall we do until then?"

Deep within the woods just beyond Saint Peter's, a black-gloved hand held the receiver that had been tapped into the phone line to an ear. The other gloved hand moved with a pair of pliers to the cord.

"First and foremost, keep everyone inside until we arrive. My team and I will show our badges and until you see them, don't let anyone in. We're about twenty minutes away from the where you are," Noin answered. "If you could have Rachel ready with her belongings-" The sound of a sudden click filled her ears followed by a dead silence.

Pulling the phone from her ear and quickly replacing it with wide eyes, Noin called urgently, "Hello? Sister Grace?" After a long pause, the disconnection buzzing was her only response. Closing the cell phone with a forceful smack, she screamed, "Goddamn it!"

Trowa leaned forward his head forward from the back seat, his emerald eyes filled with concern. Before he, Heero or Duo- at either side of him- could ask, Noin yelled in frustration, "Someone cut the line!"

* * * * * *

The tall mercenary answered his ringing cell phone after freeing one hand from the steering wheel. "This is Logan," he greeted in his deep voice.

"Seems we're going to have company," the familiar voice of one of his accomplice on the other line announced, the smile ringing in his tone.

Chuckling deeply, Logan asked, "Any word on their ETA?"

His teammate responded, "About twenty minutes."

Logan smirked, "Good. We'll beat them by more than ten." Glancing over at a nervous looking Tim in the passenger seat, his dark grin spread further along his chiseled face. " And we'll have one of their own to smile at them as we take them out."

Sinking in his seat, Tim looked out his window as he swallowed hard. He didn't need to hear the other end of the conversation to know the focus of the discussion, or who's ETA Logan was inquiring.

… So it was going to come down to a race after all.

 

Part 34

[Wish there was something real wish there was something true
Wish there was something real in this world full of you
I want to but I can't turn back
…but I want to]
-Lyrics to `Wish' by Nine Inch Nails

Sister Grace ran down the halls, knocking on each door as she passed, yelling, "Everyone, wake up! Children, out of bed!" In her wake, several doors opened as several sleepy-eyed children watched the frantic nun.

The sound of heavy footsteps rounded the corner as a tall man approached with wide eyes, his bald head shining even in the dimly lit hall. "Sister Grace," he cried. "What is going on!" When the slender woman nearly slid into him, he took hold of her shoulders.

Gazing about the many young faces around them, the bald man spoke quietly but firmly, "You are frightening the children." Entering the scene, another nun and a young man looked anxious for an explanation to that caused the stir.

As she panted heavily, gulping air, the nun replied, "Father Bryce, I just received a call from an Agent Fire of the Preventers. Our call was ended off when someone cut the line. We're all in danger and we have to act quickly." The tall priest's face paled as his blue eyes widened.

Those children close enough to hear the quiet warning stiffened, a couple whimpered. One little girl walked towards the kind Sister, clutching her small blanket and a fistful of her shoulder-length blonde hair in her nervous gesture. "Are the bad men coming to take us away again?"

Forcing a smile, Sister Grace knelt before her and ran a hand over her head. "We're not going to let that happen, Megan. I promise that we'll keep them away as best we can until our help arrives. For now, we have to get into the basement. With thirty-six children, it's the only place that we'll be able to keep a watch over all of them."

The youngest of the nuns tied her long, white robe tighter over her nightgown and offered to the elder sister, "Sister Phoebe and I will see that all of the children on this floor are taken downstairs."

"Good, Sister Catherine," Sister Grace replied. Looking to the third sister, she suggested, "Sister Rosa's room is there as well, so I'll have her to help me."

With a firm nod, Father Bryce turned to the young man with a full head of brown hair. "Father Carl and I will barricade the windows doors up here. It won't be much, but it'll hopefully slow them down at least. See that the basement windows are blocked off, as well."

The three sisters nodded firmly in response, their faces calm with resolve to do whatever they had to in order to protect their young charges. With that, the two men ran off about their tasks.

Quickly, Sister Catherine and Sister Phoebe set about gathering the children around them, searching the rooms as they passed along the way. Several children clutched onto each other as a few sobbed quietly in their fear.

Moving as swiftly as she could up the stairs to the second floor, Sister Grace immediately went to the last room at the end of the hall. Not bothering to know, she moved to the bed and shook the sleeping form by the shoulders. "Sister Rosa, you need to wake up now," she all but cried.

The brown eyes of the red-haired woman blinked open wide. "Sister Grace?" was all that she managed before her friend interrupted.

"No time to explain right now," the graying nun stated. "We have to get all of the children into the basement now. I'll explain when we're there." Straightening, she looked back to the bedroom door and asked urgently, "Which room is Rachel in?"

At the graveness in her voice, the younger nun quickly gathered her senses and rose from the bed as she answered, "Last room on the right. I'll start gather the children right away." Without another word between them, the pair made their way out into the hall.

With the sound of doors opening behind her, Sister Grace moved to the end of the hall. Opening the last door on the right, she called to the three little girls sleeping, "Children, you have to go and follow Sister Rosa and I downstairs right away."

The first to stir, Rachel sat up, rubbing her eyes with one hand and holding her beloved teddy bear to her chest with the other. Kneeling at the child's bed, the nun told her, "Rachel, you're going to have to stay with me, little one."

Blinking her brown, widened eyes, the little girl did not have time to respond more than that before she was easily scooped up. Her two friends were already up, and running into the hall to the sounds of the other children stirring about in the hall.

With the last of the closed doors opened, Sister Grace carefully walked among the small ones with Rachel safe in her arms as she looked to her friend. "Is that all of them, then?" she asked as the blonde woman finished counting heads.

"Yes. We have them all," Sister Rosa answered. Tuning on her heels, she announced, "This way, children. Follow us. Quickly, now." With the other nun and Rachel falling to the back to see that no one fell behind, she led the way downstairs. Despite the nervousness on the children's faces, not one voices their concern as they followed direction.

As they descended the long stairs towards the basement, Sister Grace cupped the side of Rachel's face with one hand to lean her ear close to whisper, "You are going to be very brave tonight, my dear. You trust us, right?"

The girl nodded a few times, her bottom lip pulled into her mouth roughly as she fought her tears. `I will not cry,' Rachel thought to herself, focusing on the phrase that she would repeat to herself when she was in that dark cell to calm herself when she was scared the most. `I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.'

"Good," the nun smiled warmly. "Then you're going to have to do everything that we ask of you. Can you do that?"

Nodding again, Rachel whispered, "Yea, maam." The arm that was not wrapped around her guardian's neck pulled her bear with the purple, silk bow tighter to her. The voice in her head spoke all the louder, `I will not cry. I will not cry.'

Gently kissing the child's head of brown hair, Sister Grace said quietly, "God will protect you, little one. And if He can't, we will. I promise you that." Rachel swallowed hard and lowered her head on the nun's shoulder. The decent down the stairs grew darker as they made their way into the damp basement.

* * * * * *

Trowa's nails dug into his knees as he growled deeply, "This is taking too damn long." Frowning deeply, he shook his head, "I never should have left Rachel at that orphanage. It's my fault that she and those other children are in danger like this."

Sitting at his left, Duo replied calmly, "Steady, Tro. You did the best that you could. We all thought bringing her to the safe house would put her in danger and we had no idea that she would be a target like this."

Over the radios that they had already turned on, Wufei's voice stated, "Duo's right, Barton. No sense in placing any blame where it's not warranted. We're doing our best to get there in time to help without putting everything that we've been working for at risk."

Looking over her shoulder to make sure that her sincerity was seen as well as heard, Noin frowned, "I will say that I understand your frustration. You're not alone in that with the circumstances, I can assure you."

With a deep sigh, Trowa sunk in his seat and nodded, not trusting his voice at that moment. Placing a hand on his friend's shoulder, Duo squeezed it in quiet reassurance. Looking across from the tall pilot, he found Heero watching him in concern. Raising his right hand, the ex-Wing pilot made subtle sing language. `How are you holding up?' his signing asked.

That… was a loaded question. His lover being the only one of his friends to know of his past at the Maxwell Church, Duo knew what Heero's question was referring to. The thought of another attack on another orphanage was something that he had tried to force from his mind, but apparently the Japanese pilot knew him better than he thought.

His own hand moving in slight signs, Duo answered honestly, `I've been better, but I'll be okay.' Seemingly satisfied with that, Heero nodded firmly before turning his head forward, folding his arms and closing his eyes in silent preparation for whatever lay ahead as he would before a mission.

* * * * * *

"Oh how cute," Logan chuckled deeply as he placed his hands on his hips with a dark smirk "They've blocked the door." The whole of his team standing behind him laughed loudly. Lifting the strap that fell across his chest, he raised the semi-automatic riffle he wore at his back.

The group moved back several paces as Logan raised the large weapon and took aim. His smirk still I place, he pulled the trigger. The silence that had loomed around the orphanage came to an abrupt halt with the loud rounds of bullets flying, splintering wood and shattering glass.

In the basement, gathered into a tight group at the back of the dark space, the children screamed and covered their ears. Father Bryce looked up to the wooden beams of the ceiling with wide eyes. Muttering a prayer, he made the sign of the cross and brought his cross pendant to his lips.

Terrified that the shouts would give way to their whereabouts too soon, Sister Grace moved to the front of the heard and raised her hands as the gunfire continued. "Quiet, children" she called urgently to her frightened charges. "You must keep still."

At the very back of the group, the nun could see Rachel's brown head of hair peeing through the small crack in the wall where she had been hidden. Her eyes widening, Sister Grace quickly made her way around the scared children. Kneeling before the small girl, she whispered, "Rachel, you have to stay in this crack no matter what happens."

Her bear clutched tightly with both arms, Rachel bit her lip and nodded, "O-okay." With a quick kiss to the pale girl's head, Sister Grace eased her thin and tiny body into the deep crevice until she was no longer in sight. When she moved back, the nun moved the other orphans back to cover the crack all the more with their bodies.

Riddling the entrance with more than a hundred holes, Logan finally lowered his weapon. In the sudden silence, the echoes of the last few shots faded into the distance. With a pleased grin, he took in his handiwork. With very little of the door that remained in tact hanging by the hinges, the barricade that had been bade was all but blown to shreds as well.

Slowly, he stalked to the entrance and with one swift kick, the tall man cleared the way inside. Stepping into the room with the light of the moon spilling in behind him, Logan gazed around the dim and simple surroundings. At the front of the room was a brass cross hanging lopsidedly with bullet holes.

As his team moved in, Logan took in the sight and chuckled deeply and bellowed, "Where is your beloved Almighty now!" Turning on his heels, he gazed to the ten people awaiting his orders. "They'll all be together and most likely downstairs," he stated, the voice of experience in being a master in his craft for many years.

There were several nods among the young men and women as they gazed about the room with weapons ready. Tim remained in the back of the group, gazing nervously over his shoulder as he suggested, "I don't see why we don't just get what we came for and make quick to cover our tracks. I don't like thinking that we won't be alone for long."

Beside him, a blonde woman clad in black chuckled deeply, "And miss the chance to take out a few Preventers? Not a chance in hell. Considering the trouble those agents have caused us over the years, we've been looking forward to a skirmish with them."

The muscular man at Tim's other side smirked, "If you're too scared, you could always wait in the car and wet yourself there while we handle this."

At that taunt, the once appealing notion of being away from the mission was no longer an option. His grey eyes narrowing, Tim took up one of the many guns that was strapped on the man's shoulder and growled deeply, "Just tell me where you want me."

Logan smirked and gestured to the seemingly scrawny man beside him. "You're with Mike, here. The two of you will be in charge of setting up the explosives and detonator."

His eyes spanning over the remainder of his team, the clear leader announced, "I want Alex and Jamie with me. The rest of you station yourselves throughout the first and second floors. That girl will most likely be with the others, but search the rooms closely to be certain. At that, everyone quickly moved into the hallway and split apart in different directions.

Pausing only to grab the tall man's arm before running after his assigned partner, Tim glared heatedly and warned, "Don't forget that the girl remains unharmed. I need her in one piece when I hand her over."

With a dark smirk, Logan shrugged, "Oh, she'll be in one piece. That part I can assure you. I just can't promise how well off she'll be otherwise." Roughly pulling his arm free, he ran off with the blonde young woman and muscular man that had bantered with the fallen agent.

"Let's move," Mike called in frustration. When Tim turned to face him, he was tossed a couple packs that he struggled to catch. "Careful with those," the mercenary said. "If those shells aren't handled gently, you'll be scraped from the trees for days."

His eyes widening with a startled gasp, Tim steadied the bags in his grasp as he paled a sickly shade. Laughing loudly, Mike gestured with a free arm, "This way. I'll show you how to get started and then you're on your own." With that, he turned at the doorway and ran down the dimly lit hallway.

* * * * * *

Gripping the steering wheel, Zechs glanced at the time on the dashboard. Already, fifteen minutes had passes since the call that Noin had made was cut. At the rate that they were traveling and with all of the back roads they had to take yet, they were another good twenty minutes off, if not longer than that. "This is not going to cut it," he growled deeply.

Without warning, the blonde man turned the wheel sharply to go down the right path at a fork in the road. The car following behind jerked in its efforts to stay behind at the sudden change in direction. "What the hell are you doing!" Wufei cried. "Could I have a little more of a warning next time! We're heading right for one of the barricades that Lady Une ordered!"

"I know," Zechs answered flatly, his eyes narrowed. "Change in plans." As the red-and-white striped blockades came into view, he slammed his foot onto the gas. The two police officers stationed before the road block turned at the sight of headlight coming from behind.

Their eyes widening, the two young men ran to either side just before the car shot through the barrier, sending shard of wood into the air. The second car followed at great speed as they went onto the open highway.

Shaking his head from the shock, one of the young officers narrowed his eyes as he watched the pair of taillights disappear. "Damn Preventers," he muttered to himself with a deep sigh. "Just another fun night working with them."

"Are you crazy! This is crazy!" Wufei screamed over the radio.

Quatre's voice shouted, "This is dangerous!"

With an elated smile, Duo cheered, "That was fucking awesome!"

* * * * * *

When Logan, Jamie and Alex reached the large wooden door that lead to the basement, the blonde young woman moved to push it open. When there was only resistance at her attempt, she smiled in amusement. "Stand back," she ordered the two men as she took several paces back of her own.

Taking up her rocket-launcher, she fired one of her smaller missiles as a large explosion shook the building. With the smaller size of the rocket, only a few small tongues of flame danced on the hinges of where the door used to stand. As she lowered her weapon, Jamie extended a hand towards the large hole and grinned, "Ladies first."

Rolling his eyes, Logan stepped through the large opening and into the billowing smoke. Quickly finding his footing, he made his way down the long stairs with his accomplices close behind. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, the smoke parted enough for them to find the heard of children huddled together in the back of the room.

In the light of the candles that were spread of the room, Logan approached the crying and whimpering bunch as their guardians straightened with wide eyes. Taking in the boarded windows, he commented, "For religious folk, you certainly know how to make someone feel unwelcome when you want."

His eyes narrowing, Father Bryce moved to the front of the group and growled deeply, "This is a place of God. You have no right to come here and threaten the innocent lives here."

Raising a hand, Alex smirked, "Easy, old man. We're only here for a little girl that you won't even miss. Just hand her over so that we can handle this like reasonable adults and we'll be on our way."

Deep when in the crack where she was hiding, Rachel had to bite down on her bear's hand to keep from whimpering too loudly. Her heavy panting echoed in the space around her as she watched and listened to the scary people. The tall one's dark eyes were scanning over the other children, searching.

Suddenly, something ran across her feet. With a stifled cry, she jumped and watched a long-tailed rat run deeper into the crack. Her brown eyes widened in terror, she could feel her sweat rolling from her face and neck down her light blue nightgown.

With a choked laugh, the tall priest shouted, "Reasonable! You fire upon this orphanage and we're suddenly supposed to be civil towards you!"

At that, Logan's eyes paused in their search to fall on the bald man. "That would not have been necessary had you not barricaded the doors in the first place," he said smoothly. "Now, if you continue to be difficult, we'll only be forced to continue to be forceful."

"We have many little girls in our care here," Father Bryce stated as he continued in hopes to spare more time for their aid to arrive. "What in creation would you and your men possibly want with a child?"

His dark smirk returning, Logan kept to himself that he knew the priest's intentions to stall time. Little did he know, however, that the mercenary was looking to do the same. After all, it would take time for the explosions to be prepared and set. "What we want with her is no concern of yours, old man," he smiled.

"The fact that you are going to such extremes to hide her from us, however, does." At the sight of bead of sweat rolling down that shiny head as the older man swallowed roughly at his words, Logan laughed inwardly. Oh how he enjoyed these games.

Rachel swallowed hard as she hugged her legs to her body. She needed to stay strong. She thought about Trowa and Anna and how they had been so brave when they had rescued her and everyone on that she was on.

Tears filled her eyes and she thought of how safe she felt around them, wanting that feeling again more than anything at that moment. Closing her eyes tightly, she thought to herself, `I will not cry. I will not cry…'

The sounds of the radio snapping to life on Logan's arm broke the brief silence. "All rooms are cleared and no signs of the girl," the female voice announced.

With a tilt of his head and his dark eyes still locked on the priest, Logan took hold of his radio and replied, "Good work, Cassandra. Is everyone in place, then?"

"Affirmative," his teammate answered. "We have clear lookout points on the road into the opening and a couple of our men in the surrounding trees. No one will be entering without coming into a hail of bullets. Mike nearly has everything ready on his end as well."

Logan chuckled deeply, "Excellent. I have a fly to sway down here then I'll be joining you shortly." With that, the call was ended and he replaced his radio onto his right shoulder.

The priest kept his ground, his back straight and his gaze never breaking from the mercenary. His smile spreading, Logan raised his pistol before the man could blink and fired a bullet through his forehead.

As the priest fell back, fragments of his skull flying and blood spraying the air, the children screamed and retreated back as far as they could, nearly trampling over each other in their efforts to get as far away as they could.

Sobs and wails filling the air, Logan and his two friends stepped forward. "Now," he began coolly as he turned to the nun with graying hair. "You look to be a much wiser person than the dearly departed Father, here. Would you be so kind as to assist us in finding the girl that we want?"

Tears rolling down her face, Sister Grace straightened herself and moved to the front of the heard where Father Bryce had been. Stepping over his body, she made her stand. "I will not allow you anywhere near her, or any of these children, so long as I have breath in me."

With a shrug, Logan commented, "A woman who gets right to the point. I like that." With that, he raised his pistol and took aim of her forehead.

"No!" a voice screamed from the back of the crowd of children. The crying young ones parted to reveal a large crack in the wall that they had concealed. Slowly, the girl on the image that Tim had presented emerged from the dark hiding place.

With her bear in one hand, Rachel raised her hands in the air, tears rolling down her tiny face. "Don't hurt anymore!" she cried.

With a wail, Sister Grace whimpered, "Oh, Rachel, no."

Her eyes locked on the scary people, the little girl pleaded, "Promise you'll leave them alone."

A wide smile tugged at Logan's lips as he put his pistol back in its holster. Raising his own arms in the air, he replied smoothly, "No more hurting. I promise." Lowering one arm to stretch it out to the child, he gestured for her to walk towards him.

Biting her lip and swallowing hard, Rachel walked past her friends and towards the tall man. When she was close, Logan chuckled deeply, "My, my, but aren't you a brave little one. And a very smart one at that."

His big hand swooped down to scoop her up, holding her to his chest. With a deep bow, the mercenary smirked at the crying guardians, "You certainly could learn something from this one here."

The moment was broken when the night air exploded with deafening gunfire. "They're here!" Cassandra's voice shouted over the radio. "I repeat they're here!"

Muttering a curse under his breath, Logan growled deeply, "They got here much sooner than I had expected." Looking to the pale girl in his arm, he chuckled, "Not that it makes much of a difference. We have what we came for."

Along with Alex and Jamie, he turned on his heels as they made their way to the stairwell. Looking back over his shoulder, the tall man suggested to the huddled group, "You best stay here were none of you will get caught in the middle of this. I'd hate to think of one of you being hurt in this."

As he climbed the stairs, Logan's laughter carried along with that of his accomplices'. Sinking to the floor, Sister Grace hugged as many weeping children to her as she could. "Dear God," she breathed, "This cannot be happening."

 

Part 35

[All my life I've been searching for somethin'
Somethin' never comes, never leads to nothin'
Nothin' satisfies, but I'm gettin' close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope]
-Lyrics to `All My Life' by Foo Fighters

His eyes narrowing at the sight of the dark orphanage coming into view at the end of the long road, with nothing but dense wood around them otherwise, Zechs watched the building closely. Though there were no cars in sight, he knew better than to lower his guard. After racing down the major highways to shave off time to reach the site, the tall Preventer brought the vehicle to a slow crawl as he searched their surroundings with the second car close behind.

The headlights of the car he drove flashed up when he rolled over a small hill, casting the light up to the second level of windows. In that brief cast, something metallic reflected in the window before moving. His eyes widening, Zechs shouted, "Get out of the cars now! They're watching us!"

At that, the doors to the two cars flew open just as hail of bullets rained down from the building, the loud explosions from the gunfire nearly deafening. The brief light given off from every shot lit the darkened opening like lightening flashes. Wufei, Quatre, Sally, Angie and Scott crawled on their stomachs to the first car, shielding themselves behind the opened car door along with their comrades.

With the tight quarters, the agents struggled in their haste to retrieve their weapons. "Fuck, I didn't expect it to be this bad!" Duo yelled over the loud pops of gunfire. "Bulletproof seals or not, these cars won't be able to take this sort of hit for long!"

Scott quickly scanned the front of the large estate and noted aloud to the team, "They broke all the glass from the windows before we got here to keep us guessing where they're shooting at us from."

Finally retrieving a semi-automatic from the car, Heero was the first to rise to his feet and return fire. After a few rounds, he ducked behind the door where Quatre bit his lip in waiting for a break in the shooting to return the favor. "There are three on the second floor from what I could tell," the ex-Wing pilot called to the others.

"There's at least two on the ground level," Trowa followed up before rising to his feet again to fire a few shots. "We won't be able to get very far at this rate."

Within the orphanage, on the second level, Tim dug his fingers into his hair as he watched the onslaught with wide eyes. From down the hall, he could hear Cassandra yelling into her radio, "They're here! I repeat! They're here!" From his view out the window, he watched as the two cars were fired upon endlessly.

"It's too soon!" the fallen Preventer cried, having to scream to hear his own voice in his ears. "They're here too soon! They shouldn't be here now!"

His eyes narrowed, Mike shoved a riffle into the young man's arms. "Who gives a shit! So we start the party early! I'll stay here with the detonator and get finished up. You get down stairs and help the others hold them off a little longer! I need more time than this!" he shouted.

Snapping from his haze of fear, Tim swallowed hard and ran off with the weapon. Making his way down the other end of the hall and into the bedroom overlooking the front of the building, he panted heavily as he gazed out the window. With a sharp gasp, he pulled away and lowered himself into a dark corner. He couldn't risk being seen by the Preventers now.

With his hands clutching the weapon, the young agent rose to his feet with a hunched back to avoid fire as he fled the room and darted down the hall. In the confusion of all that was taking place, he went unnoticed in his desperate charge. Quickly descending the stairs, Tim made his way to the back of the orphanage to his only escape.

Feverishly kicking away the dressers and other heavy furniture that had been used to block off the door prior to the attack, he finally managed to clear the door. His sweaty hands slipping at his first couple attempts, he cried out in frustration-the sound lost to the loud gunfire all around. His grey eyes narrowed, he kicked the door off its hinges with a loud grunt of effort. The way made clear, he ran into the dark night and into the surrounding forest.

"Come on you son of a bitch," Duo hissed, one eye closed tightly and the other narrowed in its aim with his sharp shooter. The window that he had been watching closely since their arrival finally showed sign of life again. Just as the person in that second-floor room crept into position to fire again, the braided pilot pulled his trigger first, landing his mark through his target's head. "One down!" he cheered as the lifeless body fell back.

Mere seconds later, Sally made contact with another assailant, this on the first floor. The scream of pain that the gunman made as he writhed was cut off when the young woman made a clean second shot. One final sway and the still body collapsed to hang from the shell of the window. With a smirk, the braided agent called, "There's two!"

Noin cried out in pain when a bullet grazed her arm. Her eyes widening, she turned in the direction that the bullet came from. "We have more hiding in the trees out here!" she shouted to the others.

"I saw where the shot came from," Heero announced as he reached into the vehicle for a pair of night vision glasses. "I'm going after them." Without another word, the ex-Wing pilot charged into the thick cover of trees.

On the other side of the road, at a sudden movement in the trees that she caught from the corner of her eye, Angie just managed to avoid a bullet aimed for her. "We've got another over here!" she yelled. With one of the last pair of glasses, she yelled, "I'll secure the area over on this side."

Nodding firmly, Scott announced, "I'll go off to see if I can't reach the back of the building while I clear the area with Angie." There were a few affirmatives hollered over the gunfire before the two agents disappeared.

Thankfully, with the coverage provided by the two agents at either side, the random fire that was beginning to fall upon the rescue team came to a halt. While it was little relief in the onslaught that was falling upon them, it was something.

Back within the orphanage, Logan rose from the basement, Rachel still in the tight hold of his left arm. As he neared the front of the building, to the gaping opening that he had created, he asked over his radio, "How are we?"

Cassandra's voice replied, "We've lost Garret and Michelle, so we're down to six securing the building. Dan and Phil were stationed at either side of the driveway in the trees. They were being pursued last they called in."

Nodding to himself, the tall man stated, "I'm on my way out with the girl. When they get close enough, start the detonator and get the hell out of here." His dark eyes turned to Jamie and Alex as he thought aloud, "Too many of us leaving at once will draw too much attention."

With a snort, Jamie commented, "We won't be far behind. Alex and I will see that the kids and their babysitters stay put until the others let those pilots get close enough when Mike is ready. Just get that girl out of here."

"All right. Give them hell for me," Logan replied. Turning to the terrified child, he warned, "Not a sound out of you now." Biting her lip, Rachel nodded in compliance before he made his way to the back of the orphanage. When he reached the door, the tall man hissed, "Goddamn it. That little snake in the grass managed to sneak out of here."

Rachel bit down on her bear's foot to keep from whimpering. The mean man was getting mad and she didn't want to think what else he may do if she didn't stay quiet as he had told her. She tried desperately not to think of what had happened to Father Bruce. Her concern for the other children left behind was enough to make her break out in a cold sweat.

Shaking his head, he thought aloud, "No matter. He won't get far." With a deep chuckle, he smirked, "I hope he gets hit by a stray bullet, the coward." With that, he stepped out of the building, quickly making his way down the path that he and his men had cut away through the tall brush prior to arriving.

Back at the driveway, Zechs ducked behind the driver side door as bullets whizzed past and frowned deeply, "Something's wrong." Looking across to his wife, he inquired, "You said that someone cut the call that you made more than twenty minutes ago, right after you told Sister Grace how far off we were, right?"

Noin ducked lower behind the car door shielding her with a confused look, but nodded, "That's right. What are you getting at?"

His eyes narrowing further, the blonde man asked loudly, "Why go through all the trouble of setting up a resistance for us when they knew that they had more than enough time to escape with the girl, leaving us with no way of finding them?"

Realization filled the young woman's widening eyes as her skin paled. "We're being lured into a trap!" she yelled, her eyes narrowing in frustration of not having come to the conclusion sooner. Turning back to the others, she yelled, "They must have a bomb inside!"

Cursing to himself, Tim frantically tired to calm his shaking hands in effort to hold the wires still. It had taken longer for him to find the hidden cars than he had hoped it would. With his pen-sized flashlight clutched tightly between his teeth, his efforts to hot wire the first vehicle were proving to be a challenge with his failing nerves. In the distance, the continuous thunder of gunfire drifted through the thick trees around him.

A deep voice commented, "You know, these tend to work better." With a sharp gasp, Tim froze. Slowly, his head turned to find a glaring Logan, the girl in one arm and his free hand dangling a set of keys to the car.

His eyes wide, the fallen Preventer forced a smile as he quickly rose out of the driver seat. "You got her!" he breathed in relief, his arms stretched to the child and hoping that all would be forgotten with his attempt to get away with one of the few getaway vehicles.

With a deep grunt, Logan shoved the smaller man aside with a sharp, "Get in. We'll discuss this little matter later." Stumbling to keep his footing following the rough push, Tim all too gladly rounded the front of the car to climb into the passenger seat.

Bending down to slip into the driver seat, the tall mercenary placed the pale child between the two of them as he closed the door with a loud slam. As he brought the car to life, Logan announced into his radio, "I'm leaving with the girl. Hold your fire until we're away." Looking to the coward beside him, he tossed a newly loaded pistol and hissed, "Roll your window down and make yourself useful."

His grey eyes widening, Tim cried, "But I can't risk being seen!"

Logan's eyes narrowed threatening as he took the gun into his possession once more. "You really are a pussy," he gritted as he rolled down his own window "If you're so worried, then get in the back seat and stay down." Looking to the little girl, he told her, "You keep down, too, girl." Nodding enthusiastically, Rachel complied as sunk in the passenger seat as Tim eagerly climbed into the back.

At the front of the orphanage, just as quickly as the hail of bullets began, it suddenly came to a halt. Their eyes widening in disbelief, Zechs, Noin and the other pilots carefully raised their heads, but did not dare to risk rising to their feet at the chance that the gunmen hidden in the rooms were waiting for a chance to pick them off.

Panting heavily from their long excursion, Wufei frowned, "Now what?" No sooner had he asked than the sound of a car engine's purr grew into a roar as it neared, a pair of headlights rounding the tall building in its approach to the only way out of the opening.

With the car heading right for them, to the team of agents, it only looked to carry a lone driver. Pulling their weapons, the pilots fired on the quickly approaching car. The driver steered the car to drive over the thick grass just to the side of the dirt path where their cars had been blocking the way out. As he passed, the driver laughed loudly as he hung out the window, firing with one hand while controlling the wheel with the other as he rounded the Preventer vehicles. As quickly as the car was going, the man's arm could not hold steady enough to make a solid lock on his targets.

His eyes widening, Trowa watched as for an instant, a child's head peered up just as they passed. When their eyes met, the child's brown eyes filled with tears as she screamed hoarsely through the open window, "Trowa!"

"Rachel!" the tall pilot yelled. As the car recklessly maneuvered its way from the grassy edge onto the dirt road, Trowa yelled to the unaware friends that were still firing, "Hold your fire! Rachel's in their!" The other pilots froze, their own eyes filled with fear as they watched the car disappear down the road and into the darkness.

With their prize now carried away safely, the gunmen in the orphanage made their presence known once more with a renewed attack of gunfire. Ducking behind the car door that he had been pinned behind, Trowa's narrowed eyes looked through the inside of the car and yelled to his friend across from him, "Chang!"

Already reading the other young man's thoughts, the Chinese pilot nodded firmly. Together, the two young men crawled amidst the flying bullets to the abandoned car behind them. His dark eyes narrowed in determination, Wufei started the black automobile once all the doors were closed. Peeling backwards into a hasty u-turn, the two pilots sped off in search of the retreating culprit.

Over the loud crackle of guns shooting, Zechs yelled to the remainder of his team, "Everyone get inside and stay down! We've wasted too much time here!" Not needing any further insistence, Duo, Quatre, Noin and Sally dove into the car and ducked low with the tall pilot taking the wheel. Glaring at the tall building, the blonde man growled deeply, "We're going in on our own terms, not theirs."

With bullets flying through the windshield and nicking his arms, Zechs revved the car and sent it into drive. Two gunmen stationed at what had once been the main entrance could only gape in shock and terror at the sight of the car charging head-on for them. With no time to react, they were crushed when the car plowed through weakened opening of brick and wood.

Crashing through the first wall inside, Zechs managed to control the car enough to come to a halt in the middle of the hallway. Just feet in front of the black automobile, illuminated by the bright headlights, there was yet another large hole in a wall that looked to have been blown open.

Debris fell off the car as the pilots quickly vacated the vehicle. Looking over his shoulder, Zechs ordered, "Duo, Quatre, check the basement. The rest of us split up and take out the rest of the welcoming party." Sally and Noin ran down one end of the building while Zechs ran down the other, carefully searching all of the rooms for the remaining gunmen.

Their weapons ready, Duo led his blonde friend down the stairs quietly and slowly. As dark as it was in their descent, it was difficult to find their footing. When they neared the bottom of the stairway, the braided pilot heard the metallic click of a pistol's safety being removed and the gun locking on him.

Using only his ears to guide him on where the sound originated, the American quickly turned with his own gun in both hands in the direction. Without hesitating, Duo pulled back on the trigger twice. The young woman that was hit fell silently in a heap with only light thump to let him know that he hit his mark.

"Don't move!" a man's voice shouted. At the sound the two young men turned, Quatre's right arm rising to point his own gun. Now that their eyes had adjusted to the dim candle light, the two pilots noted the dead, blonde woman on the floor, her gun still in her hand.

Scanning the room behind the assailant, Duo's violet eyes widened in concern at the little faces watching the events unfold from the furthest corner of the room. Many of those faces were familiar from his stay at the ship that had brought them back to the Earth from their rescue. At the lump that filled his throat, he swallowed hard.

The source of the shout stepped forward, a graying woman's back pressed against the muscular young man. With one arm holding the woman tightly across her shoulders and his other holding the barrel of a gun to her temple, the man shouted, "Lower your weapons or she's dead!" With tears rolling down her face, the Sister's eyes closed tightly as she swallowed roughly.

His arm falling to the side, Duo remained calm as he let his gun fall to the floor. Without looking over his shoulder to his friend still on the last stairs, he asked, "You got it, Quat?"

Not having moved, his arm still locked and his finger on the trigger, Quatre smirked, "What do you think?"

Panic filled the man's widening eyes as he screamed at the Arab, "I told you to put your weapons the fuck down, now!"

A smug, satisfied smirk slowly crept on the braided Preventer's face. In a flat voice, he ordered, "Take it." His eyes narrowing, Quatre pulled the trigger, sending a bullet ripping through the assailant's neck. Falling back with a last, bubbly gasp, the mercenary collapsed beside his fallen accomplice.

Suddenly free from her attacker, the graying sister's eyes widened as her hands reached up to wrap around her neck as it to check that she was still breathing. With a glance over his shoulder, Duo smiled to his friend, "Still got it."

Quatre gave a mock hurt look and asked, "You expected less of me?" His smile returning, the blonde pilot descended the last stairs as the heard of children ran to them, crying in terror and relief from their ordeal.

Falling to her knees, the Sister took each of the young men's hands and kissed them repeatedly. "Thank you," she whispered brokenly. "Thank the good Lord you got here when you did to save these young ones." With a gesture of her head, her shimmering in the candlelight, she whimpered, "Father Bryce…" Her voice cracked and she was unable to continue as she fell into violent sobbing.

Their eyes turning to a body that had been tossed to the other side of the room, Quatre's eyes widened as he breathed, "Dear Allah."

His own violet eyes widened and his skin paling, Duo sharply turned his head away. Biting his lip, the braided pilot's trembling hands reached out to the children that were gathering close. Unable to find his voice, he pulled the ones closest into his arms and held them close. Sniffling, one of the little girls looked up to him and sniffled with a small smile, "We've missed you, Duo."

With a watery smile of his own, the American struggled to keep his own emotions in check as he whispered back, "I've missed you little ankle biters, too." At the nickname he had given them on the rescue ship, the children giggled as they all had their turns to be reunited with their braided hero.

His eyes narrowed, Mike's hands shook in their hasty effort to tie in the last of the wires. He was not ready for the pilots to make their way into the orphanage yet. Their unexpected move into the building meant that he would not be able to trigger the explosives from outside now. Resolving himself to the task, nevertheless, he went to work on the timer. If he was going to die that evening, he would go knowing that he sent the agents into Hell with him.

"Finally," he sighed deeply in relief, sweat running down his face. Entering the access code, a sinister smile pulled at his lips. Large, red numbers appeared on the large screen of the detonator, counting down from 5:00. There wouldn't be any time for them to get everyone out, or away far enough at that time.

A gunfight broke out down the hall, ending with Cassandra's cry of pain being cut short with the sound of another bullet. "One more down," a young woman's voice called. At that announcement, Mike swallowed hard. If they got to Cassandra, that meant that he was the last one left. Thankfully, he managed to pull his work off, and not a moment too soon.

The sound of footsteps from both ends of the hall quickly approached the room where he waited. At the sight of a braided young woman carefully searching the room, he smirked darkly. Her eyes narrowed and her gun trained on him, the Preventer hissed, "Hands in the air where I can see them."

With a loud, bitter laugh, Mike shouted, "No need for that, darling! We're all as good as dead!" His hand reached for the gun at his belt and his smile still in place, he hissed, "I'll see you in Hell!" Before the young woman would blink, he pulled his gun up, pressed it against his temple and pulled the trigger.

Her eyes widening, Sally ran into the room as a spray of blood, skull and brain splattered against the wall as the man collapsed. With a sharp gasp, she found the large detonator in the corner that he had been guarding, its timer reading 4:20 and rapidly counting down. Reaching for her radio, the braided Preventer shouted, "Quatre! Noin! I need the two of you here now!"

"Goddamn it," Trowa growled, his eyes narrowed on the taillights of the car that was rapidly speeding off ahead of them down the empty highway. "Can't we get any closer."

His own dark eyes trained on the other car, Wufei reassured him, "I'm working on that."

In the getaway car, Rachel bit her lip as the mean man named Logan chucked deeply to himself again. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the black car falling further and further back. "Only another mile and they won't have any way of following us," the tall man smirked.

In hearing that, Rachel began to breath heavy and sweat again. Time was running out. Looking to the man's belt with the many guns and knives, her brown eyes widened. Trowa had told her once that she was brave. She had to be brave now if she would ever get away from the bad men.

With a deep breath, the child gathered all the courage she could. With a sudden lunge, Rachel threw her bear down and dove for one of the long knives. "What the f-!" was all Logan could cry out before the girls little hands stabbed the blade into his neck with all her strength and weight behind it with her own cry of effort.

His hands flailing at the knife that was embedded in his neck to the hilt, Logan gasped raggedly for air as blood poured from the wound. The car swerved violently to one side of the road to the other.

"What the fuck is going on!" Tim yelled from where he was lying across the back seat. In the car's violent shifts, he could not get his balance to rise from his place. Rachel quickly returned to her seat, managing to secure the seat belt across her. With one final, choked gasp, the mean man fell forward, onto the wheel. At that, the car turned off the right side of the road entirely, slamming head on into a tree.

Their own car coming to a stop before the crashed vehicle, Trowa's widened eyed took in the damaged car, the front of it run in half where the large tree trunk split it. "My God," the tall pilot breathed. His eyes filling with tears, he cried, "Rachel!" Not even thinking to bring a weapon with him, he ran to the smoking car.

Slowly, the little girl climbed half-way through the shattered car door window, her precious bear ever in her possession. Looking up at the young man, she shouted in elation, "Trowa!"

Carefully pulling the girl out through the window, the Latin pilot pulled her close, breathing, "Oh, you brave little thing." Rachel clung tightly to him, her little arms wrapping around his neck as he rained kisses on her head.

From where he remained lying I the back seat, Tim's eyes narrowed as he watched the tender scene. Smirking, he slowly raised the pistol that he had in his belt.

"Don't. Even. Think about it," a deep voice gritted from the other side of the car. His eyes widening, the fallen Preventer looked up through the broken window to see Wufei with a fierce glare and gun aimed at him. Recognition filling the dark eyes, he watched as a lop-sided smirk tugged the pilot's lips as he greeted darkly, "Well, well. Good to see you, Tim."

The last gunman had proven to be a challenge, but he certainly was no match for one once deemed the Perfect Soldier. Removing his night vision glasses, Heero sighed deeply in relief. At the announcement of the orphanage being secured by the remainder of the team, he moved about to see that there were no other assailants lurking about.

Angie and Scott approached from the other side of the woods, meeting him in the middle and behind the building at the end of their clearing the area. In their search, they came across several cars hidden among the trees. "So this is where they managed to secure their getaway vehicles," Scott thought aloud as he appraised the handiwork and wide range of transports. With a nod to the Japanese pilot as they replaced their weapons, Scott asked, "Mission accomplished, then?"

"Not quite," Angie replied. As the two men looked to the young woman, she quickly raised her pistol and fired three times into Scott's abdomen. The stunned, wide-eyed agent fell backwards as Heero moved to retrieve his weapon, only to have Angie train her gun on him before he could reach it.

Chuckling deeply, the young woman smirked, "Alone at last."

 

Part 36

[Hush little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head]
-Lyrics from `Enter Sandman' performed by Metallica

It was one of the longest scars that she had ever seen.

Rachel tilted her head to the side, her brown eyes wide, as she looked to the wide line that ran from the right shoulder blade, under the straps of the deep purple sports bra and down to the left hip. It wasn't something she expected to see just stepping out from the bathroom, changed into a new outfit. There were many other scars here and there, but nothing like the angry one that ran across the whole back.

Looking over her shoulder as she continued her stretches, Anna gave her one of her pretty smiles and greeted, "Hey, little one. All finished with your bath, I see." Rachel watched as the pretty red-haired lady rose to her feet and threw a deep green tank top on before scooping her up.

Sitting on the edge of one of the two beds, Rachel was settled comfortably into the Preventer's lap as she began to play with her hair, asking, "So what would you like today? Do you want a ponytail? Or a braid?"

With a smile of her own, the little girl answered by holding up a silver headband that she picked out to wear with her hair down. "Ah," Anna beamed, "A fine choice." Taking up a fine comb from the dresser next to the bed, the nice lady began gently getting the knots out of Rachel's damp hair.

As she worked, Anna's charm bracelet jingled quietly. The penny-sized charm with the winged angel in the middle had the words `Saint Christopher Protect Us' wrapped around the edges. When Rachel had asked her about it before, the redhead told her that it had been a gift from her mother, so she rarely took it off. For the little girl, the soft jingling of that bracelet was as comforting as having arms wrapped around her.

Once the knots were out, Anna moved to a soft brush to run through the child's brown hair. Closing her eyes, Rachel thought of her mother and how she would brush her hair for her, making it all pretty. It felt wonderful to have someone do that for her like that again.

Biting her lip, the little girl tried not to get tears at remembering that the next day, she would be sent off to an orphanage with the other children that had been rescued. Her time with Trowa, Anna and their friends had been some of the best times she ever had.

She felt a gentle kiss at the top of her head and heard Anna whispered, as if reading her thoughts, "No time for sad thoughts now. We still have a whole day and night together, so best to make the most of it, right?" The silver headband was put in place as the red-haired pilot brushed a few short bangs loose.

Looking up, Rachel smiled bravely even though her heart was breaking. Even though Anna smiled back, it seemed sad somehow. "That's a good girl," she said quietly, running a hand over the back of her head.

"Trowa should be back in a few minutes so we can go to breakfast together," the tall woman said as she lifted Rachel from her lap before rising from the bed. Moving over to one of the dressers, she began brushing her own hair, using the mirror to pull her long, red hair into a ponytail.

Slowly walking over to stand beside her, Rachel reached up and traced a finger over the tank top, where she knew the end of the long scar ran down. "Did it hurt?" she asked quietly.

Anna stiffened, her hands frozen where she was securing the rubber band. Finally, with another one of her pretty smiles, she turned to meet the wide, brown eyes watching her. "Not any more," she answered softly. "It did hurt a lot when I got it, though."

Lowering herself to her knees so their eyes were the same height, the Preventer asked, "I thought you would be in the bath a lot longer. I didn't mean to scare you by having you see that nasty thing."

Rachel shook her head and replied honestly, "It didn't scare me. I just never saw one that long." At that, Anna nodded with a look that told the little girl she knew that she had questions and it was okay. "How'd you get it?"

Something in the pretty smile that she was given told Rachel she asked the right question. "When I was on a mission, one of my first with the Preventers, I hesitated in shooting someone because I was afraid."

The orphaned girl felt her eyes get big as she breathed, "You get scared, too? Just like Trowa?"

"Of course," Anna grinned. "I was afraid in this case because I thought that I could stop the bad man I was after without having to hurt him. Just when I was close enough to put on the handcuffs, he turned and fired a gun that I didn't know he had. I spun and fell to the ground as the bulled cut down my back. So I learned my lesson after that."

Swallowing hard, Rachel nodded, "M-my mom and I hesitated when those bad men came to take us away. We had a chance to get away, but we were too afraid to." A large tear rolled down her face as she began to shake.

With a deep sigh, the red-haired pilot gently wiped the tear away before pulling the little girl into her arms for a tight hug. Sitting at the edge of the bed again with Rachel in her lap, Anna held her like that until the shaking stopped. Easing the child's head up with a finger under her chin, her blue eyes met hers with a serious look.

"If you ever remember anything of our time together," the Preventer began, "I want you to remember what I tell you." Anna's voice stated slowly and firmly, "Don't ever hesitate to do whatever it takes to protect yourself if someone tries to hurt you. Even if you're scared, don't hesitate to hurt someone if they mean to hurt you."

Nodding firmly, Rachel swallowed hard and promised, "I won't. I promise I'll remember."

(End Flashback)

* * * * * *

Trowa gave a sigh of relief after looking over the little girl in his arms. At first glance, one would have been startled at the blood splattered on Rachel's arms, legs and nightgown. That was until one saw the state of the driver that had captured her, knife in the side of his neck and his carcass hanging from the broken windshield following the crash. Still, it was just a reassurance that the tall pilot checked to see that the child didn't suffer any wounds.

In finding her free of any abrasions or cuts, Trowa held her close. Rachel smiled as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "I didn't hesitate," she whispered.

Blinking in surprise, the tall Preventer pulled her away enough to look into her smiling eyes. "What," he asked quietly, still a bit shaken after the turn of events that left him nearly scared to death for the little girl.

Rachel grinned, "Anna told me not to hesitate to hurt someone if they meant to hurt me, even if I was scared. "I didn't hesitate this time."

With a sharp breath of a laugh, Trowa hugged her tightly again, whispering in pride, "No, you didn't. I'm proud of you. And I know Anna will be, too, when tell her." Holding her up with one arm, he turned to watch as Wufei approached the car.

His dark eyes narrowed, Wufei dragged a tied and gagged Tim along before shoving him roughly into the back seat, growling, "I don't want you to move, make a sound or so much as piss your pants without our permission until we get you in for questioning, asshole."

Slamming the car door after the last leak in the Preventers, the Chinese pilot winced at the glare his foul mouth earned him from his friend. In Trowa's arm, Rachel just smiled at the dark-haired pilot as her hanging legs kicked back and forth.

"Sorry," Wufei muttered to his comrade before grinning to the little girl. "Looks like we're going to have a young recruit on our hands after that brave act back there," he chuckled deeply, gently rubbing the top of her small head. Rachel giggled and blushed, pulling her teddy close.

The sound of patrol officer sirens filled he air and neared. Before long, the sight of flashing red and blue lights rounded the distant corner. "Good. They're finally here," Trowa sighed deeply. "Since we have all that we need, we'll let them block off the crash site and bring the body into headquarters for us."

Nodding firmly, Wufei replied, "Right. We better head back." With that, the Chinese pilot took the driver's seat once more as Trowa rested Rachel into his lap in the passenger seat. Just as the police officers pulled into the crash site, the black Preventer car pulled out to make a U-turn before speeding back to the orphanage.

* * * * * *

"They certainly found themselves a professional for this job," Noin growled deeply as she managed to pry open half of the silver cylinder of the detonator. With the clock winding down from 3:04, Quatre carefully opened the second half. With the wires and gears exposed, the two pilots removed their flashlights to examine the makings of the device.

Duo, Zechs and Sally looked on from the doorway of the bedroom. "Do you think we did the right thing not telling Sister Grace and the children what is going on?" the braided young woman asked, peering at her comrades from the corner of her eye.

With a deep breath, the tall blonde replied, "We wouldn't be able to get them far away enough if they're not successful in stopping the bomb. If it goes off with them downstairs, it would be best." He did not need to explain further that it would be a quicker end for them.

At the suggestion, Sally's eyes widened as she turned to him and asked quietly, "You think there's a chance they won't stop this thing?"

Meeting her gaze with a calm, reserved expression, Zechs answered simply, "They'll stop it. Noin and Quatre there are in disarming explosives. It just doesn't hurt to make precautions." Only somewhat comforted by that, Sally swallowed hard before turning back to watch the two pilots in the center of the room.

Sweat dripping down his face, Quatre hissed, "This isn't a simple matter of cutting a single wire. He wired this in such a way it that cutting cord will set the whole thing off." Noin grunted her agreement as she continued to carefully move her hand over the multicolored cords, guided by her flashlight.

The clock hit 2:36.

Duo bit his lip and stepped out into the hall and began pacing down the long corridor. With all that had happened that evening, he was starting to lose his nerve again. Finding that dead priest in the basement certainly did nothing to help him in fighting off the demons of his past. Now, the thought of the orphanage being engulfed in flames only worsened the situation.

As much as he wanted Heero with him, Duo knew better than to radio him as there had been no official confirmation that the area outside had been secured. There would not be such announcement until the ex-Wing pilot caught up with Scott and Angie again. He was in the process of finding the two when Zechs last received word. Until then, they would have to maintain radio silence.

While he would never risk the mission of keeping the children and his teammates safe, Duo would have given anything at that single moment to at least hear his lover's reassuring voice just once. He still wasn't strong enough to go about this alone, and it was beyond
frustrating.

His thoughts were abruptly hauled when a gentle hand fell on his shoulder, causing the braided pilot to jump as he spun with wide eyes. Raising her hands, Sally spoke in a soothing voice, "Sorry to startle you. I was just checking that you were all right."

Swallowing hard, Duo fought to calm his heavy breathing and nodded. He wasn't able to trust his voice at that moment to respond any other way. The braided agent tilted her head and said quietly, "Would it be out of line if I asked for a hug? It's been a long night and I'm afraid that my nerves are a bit shot."

The request certainly served to confuse Duo, as he had never known Sally to be frazzled by anything. But at the warmth in her eyes, he soon realized her true intentions. She had known that he badly wanted to be comforted somehow, but also knew that he was not one to ask for it. So her request was not for herself, but for his sake while at the same time sparing him the embarrassment of voicing it.

At that, Duo's emotions got the best of him as tears filled his eyes. Closing the distance between them, he wrapped his arms tightly around her frame, his own trembling. Sally reached up to hold him closely, rubbing his back in support as he quietly sobbed against her shoulder. Turning her head, she gently kissed the top of his braided head.

Somehow finding his voice at last, the American confided in a broken mutter, "I hate being so weak, Sal."

Gently pulling back, her hands on his shoulders, the young woman silently urged him to meet her concerned gaze. A warm smile tugged at her lips as she stated quietly, "You're not weak, Duo. In fact, you're far from that. After everything that you've endured, you've come so far these last few months."

Cupping the sides of is wet face, Sally said sincerely, "I have treated others who had been through your nightmare that continue to hide within themselves. But you're overcoming your ordeal by leaps and bounds."

To Duo's surprise, he watched as large tears filled her eyes. Having to clear her throat, she breathed in a shaky voice, "I just want you to know how incredibly proud of you I am. And just remember that like Heero, we all love you and we are here for you when you need us."

With a small whimper as his tears began to fall again, Duo kissed her lips gently and threw his arms around her again. As she returned the tight embrace, he whispered faintly, "Thank you, Sally."

"Found it!" Noin's voice exclaimed from the bedroom. "We have to cut these two at the same time." Quatre's voice exclaimed his agreement of her findings.

Looking back to the room, the two pilots eased out of the tight knot they made and ran back down the hall. When they rejoined Zechs in the doorway, they watched as both Noin and Quatre reached for a pair of pliers from their pockets. :41 was displayed on the counter as the three pilots looking on held their breaths.

From her end of the detonator, Noin placed her pliers at a vibrant green cord. At the other end, Quatre was ready to cut through a black cord. Licking her lips, the short-haired woman took command and suggested quietly, "On three." With a firm nod, the Arab pilot kept his hand still in anticipation.

Her eyes narrowed on her target and sweat dripping from her chin, Noin counted, "One. Two. Three." On the word three, the two pilots cut their cords at the same time, their eyes squeezed closed tightly should they have been wrong in their judgment.

When nothing happened, they opened their eyes to find that the timer has stopped at :29. Noin and Quatre released deep sighs of relief as they fall back to lie on the floor. "And with time to spare," Zechs chuckled deeply. "Good work, the two of you."

The moment of stillness was broken at the sound of a vehicle peeling out through the back of the woods and around the orphanage. Running to the window, the five pilots watched with wide eyes as a black car rounded the building to make a quick escape down the only road out. With no one around to stop them, the driver had a clean getaway as they disappeared into the night.

Pounding his fist on the windowsill, Zechs hissed, "Damn it! I had hoped we would get all of them." Looking to the others, he commented, "Heero, Angie and Scott must have their hands full. I'm going to see if they need more help."

"Right behind you," Noin announced as she followed her husband's heels while removing a pistol from her belt. Looking over her shoulder, she advised, "The rest of you stay here with the children and the others in the basement. We'll radio if we need backup." At that, the pair disappeared at the turn of the hall in their charge downstairs.

The radio on Sally's shoulder beeped to life and Wufei's voice called, "Sally?"

Quickly taking up her receiver, the braided woman replied anxiously, "Wufei? Are you all right? What happened with Rachel?"

Taking his eyes off the road for a moment, the Chinese pilot looked to the girl curled up in his friend's lap. A content smile on his face, Trowa held Rachel close as she continued to cling to him and her teddy bear. While bloodied from her attack on the man that had captured her and shaken up from the night's events, the child seemed happy to be in safe arms.

As his eyes turned back to the road, Wufei brought the radio close with one hand and answered, "We managed to get to Rachel, with her help. She's a bit shaken, but fine otherwise. As for Trowa and myself, there are no injuries to report."

The person tied and gagged in the back seat looked up from where he was lying on his side. Swallowing hard, he noted the black eyes glaring at him in the rearview mirror. "And we have an added bonus to getting her back," the dark-haired pilot smirked darkly. "We should be back at the orphanage in the next fifteen minutes or so.

"Along with that, I checked in with dispatch at headquarters and found out that two teams of agents will be arriving soon as well to relocate everyone at the orphanage," Wufei added. "I take it, since I don't hear gunshots, that the orphanage has been secured."

Chuckling deeply, Sally responded, "Brilliant deduction as always, love. Yes, aside from at least one culprit getting away, we managed to secure the area. Noin and Zechs just went to help Heero, Angie and Scott in flushing out any other possible stragglers. So, until you hear otherwise from me, proceed back into the clearing with caution."

"Right. We'll be there soon," Wufei's voice answered. "Chang out."

With a deep sigh of relief, Quatre smiled, "Well, at least the worst of it is over." Appraising the pistol at his hip, he stated, "As fun as it's been to relive old times, I hope I don't have to do it again any time soon."

"One confirmed dead over on my end," Zechs's voice announced quietly over the radio. "Still no sign of Yuy or the others."

Nodding to herself, Noin responded just as quietly, "Same over here. One dead on this end as well that's not one of our own."

Her eyes widening, Noin checked that the readings on her night vision glasses were skewed. "I think I just found a second one," she announced. Approaching the body that she found, she panted heavily from her charging across the perimeters. When she got near the body, however, her heart leapt into her throat.

Quickly removing her night vision glasses, Noin fell to her feet beside the body, crying, "My God! It's Scott!" Looking up, she shouted, "Zechs! Get over here!" With a grunt of effort, she rolled the injured pilot onto his side.

Trembling, the white-haired young man wheezed with every breath that he struggled to take. Blood oozed out from under his hands pressed against his abdomen. "Hang in there," Noin told him gently as she added pressure onto the bullet wounds.

Within moments, Zechs arrived, removing his own glasses with wide eyes. "What the hell happened?" he managed, looking up for a moment to the cars that had been hidden amongst the trees.

"A-A," Scott's voice gurgled in attempt to speak, blood dripping from his mouth. With a deep, bubbling breath, he breathed in an airy wheeze, "Angie… did this… has Yuy." With a sharp gasp, Noin paled, looking up to the equally shocked face of her husband. "E-end it," the injured pilot pleaded.

Nodding firmly, Zechs knelt up and aimed his pistol to the injured pilot's temple. "I'm sorry I doubted you. I hope your soul finds peace at last," he whispered to the hopeful eyes, filled with pain, watching him. Closing his own eyes, he pulled the trigger. As the sound of the gunshot echoed throughout the forest around them, he sagged to sit on the cold ground.

As her hands began shaking, Noin removed her hands from the still body as she fell back on her heels. "Angie?" she whispered in disbelief. "The whole fucking world has gone mad." Her blood-covered, shaking hands gripped her hair as she squeezed her eyes closed and screamed, "When is this going to end!"

In an instant, Zechs was by her side, pulling her into a tight embrace as he rocked her. Kissing her head, he whispered, "Shh. I know how bad this looks, love, but we have to hold ourselves together somehow."

Biting her lip, Noin held onto him in desperation for some sort of comfort, for something right in a world where everything had gone wrong. Whimpering against his shoulder, she asked, "Heero's been captured and we have no way of knowing how to find him or what they want with him. How the hell are we supposed to break this news to Duo?"

At the mention of the braided pilot's name, Zechs closed his eyes slowly. Heero had been Duo's strength more often than not. He dreaded how the American would react to their announcement. With a shaky breath, he answered quietly, "I… I don't know."

Slowly getting her composure back, Noin pulled away, wiping at her shimmering eyes. "I still can't get over the fact that Angie, of all people, has been working against us all along. We welcomed her into our safe house-" Even as she spoke the words, her eyes widened anew. "Oh my God!" she shrieked.

His back stiffening, Zechs gasped and shouted simultaneously with his wife "Relena and Anna!"

* * * * * *

Yuuki began to bark at the sound of a car rolling up the dirt driveway towards the house. Quickly walking over to the window, Relena peered out as the beam of headlights moved up through the trees. Smiling in relief, she called to her friend, "Anna, looks like Lady Une is pulling in."

"Good," Anna grinned as she walked into the hallway. Looking out the window beside the pregnant politician, the redhead watched the approaching headlights. Suddenly, the beam began to pick up speed as it neared.

Her blue eyes narrowing, the Preventer waited and watched as the car seemed to gain even ore speed, its lights getting closer. "Something's wrong," Anna whispered, her eyes widening in realization.

Blinking in surprise, Relena turned to her and asked, "What do you mean?"

The car came into view, rounding the corner as it nearly peeled off the road in its top speed. "Lady Une wouldn't be pulling in that fast." The car revved head on towards the safe house. Taking hold of her friend's shoulder just as the sound of bullets filled the air, Anna screamed, "Get down!"

Landing on her side with the red-haired pilot shielding her with her own body, Relena cried out as bullets riddled the side and front of the house, shattering through glass and through walls. Outside, the car wheels could be heard screeching in their turning around as another round bullets whizzed over their heads.

From the driveway, several more cars pulled in quickly, their drivers and passengers hooting and laughing loudly as they rounded the safe house. Panting loudly, Anna slowly crawled off of her friend and checked over her, asking urgently, "Are you all right?"

Having to swallow hard to wet her dry throat, Relena looked up and nodded stiffly, "I think so. What about you?"

With a snort, the redhead answered, "Don't worry about me."

Just then, the lights flickered as the two young women held their breath. Light and dark fazed in and out until finally, the sound of a chainsaw cutting through thick cord filled their ears from outside. Looking to each other with wide eyes, the frightened face watching them was the last thing they saw before the house entire house plunged into pitch darkness.

 

Part 37

[But don't stop if I fall
And don't look back
Oh baby don't stop
Bury me and fade to black]
-Lyrics to `Hang `Em High' performed by My Chemical Romance

The world had been shattered into thousands of fragments and only now, with some time to think things through did some pieces of the puzzle come together.

Glaring fiercely at the young woman driving- who he once thought a victim and friend- Heero growled deeply, "So you set Kent up. This whole time you acted as though you happened to come across his card, it was all a huge set up."

Angie chuckled deeply and peered out the corner of her eye, replying, "You certainly are a clever one." Her gaze turned back to the road as she smirked, "Kent, if that even was his name, had been the victim of ironic circumstances. While I was sleeping with him, I had no idea of who he was, until I hacked into the card that fool had left behind and realized what a small universe we all live in."

Clenching his hands, his wrists bound by the metal cuffs that went from his wrists to mid-forearm, the Japanese pilot asked, "When you found out that he was with White Out, why didn't you just contact him to work with him?"

Her head still facing forward, the dark-haired young woman chuckled deeply, "The agent that I work for had been looking for advancement in the organization. Kent was the direct subordinate to the man calling the shots. Once he was out of the picture, my superior filled in. And I get to ride her curtails."

Looking over at her captive, Angie commented, "Isis is not one to be steered away from what she wants. Luckily for her, unlike Kent, she put her stock in one person within the Preventers to help her reach those goals. She made the right choice with me."

"You're quite the actress," Heero hissed. "All of those tears and your distraught state when you were rescued were very believable." A proud smile tugged at Angie's lips, but she did not respond any other way.

Another realization hit the ex-Wing pilot like a blow to his gut, his cobalt eyes widening. "You were the one who killed Brian, Sara and Mark when they were moved into that holding cell," he stated.

The young woman looked to him in surprise before looking back to the road. Gritting his teeth, Heero realized aloud, "Of course. You have access to all of the data entries in the Preventers, so you knew where they were and how to sneak in."

Angie shook her head in amusement, "Very good, Heero." Feigning sadness, she sighed, "It pained me to have to kill them, but I was under orders." The `sorrow' quickly fading, she laughed loudly in merriment.

With his breath hitching in his throat, Heero paled as another pieces fell into place. "My God," he breathed, unable to move. "You're the one who told White Out about the mission that Duo and I were on years ago." His face burning with rage, he turned to her and screamed, "You're the reason Duo ended up in their captivity for over two years!"

Shrugging nonchalantly, Angie answered flippantly, "Guilty as charged. Like Kent, Brian, Sara and Mark, he was just another victim of circumstance."

After a long pause, she peered once more out of the corner of her eye and smirked, "Ironic how all this time, you were the one that they've been after all along, and no one figured it out. Now, not only will I be the one bringing you in, I was successful in locating the whereabouts of your safe house." His mouth drying, the Japanese agent froze once more.

"Duo had it easy compared to what awaits Relena and Anna tonight," the fallen Preventer said quietly, her eyes narrowing on the road. "They'll be used to be made examples of what happens to those who oppose us."

Swallowing hard, Heero sank in his seat, staring out at nothing as a cold chill ran up his spine. With a shaky breath, he said a silent prayer for a miracle that somehow, Relena and Anna would be all right…

…or that if it was too late, that their end would be quick.

* * * * * *

With the moonlight pouring in from the many windows, Anna navigated herself through the house, leading Relena by the hand upstairs. Outside, the loud shouts, howls and laughter continued as it had when the many cars arrived mere minutes ago. Reaching the second level of the house, the redhead quickly entered the furthest bedroom down the hall and opened the closet. "In here," she whispered urgently.

Relena, cradling a frightened Yuuki in her arms, stepped into the closet while Anna searched under the bed. Her friend came up with two shotguns and bullets, sighing in relief, "Good `ol Wufei and his supply of weapons."

Turning to the blonde politician with a grim expression on her face, the redhead held the gun and ammo out to her and said sternly, "If anyone opens this door without announcing themselves, you shoot. Don't even take a second to think. Just shoot."

Her panic rising, Relena's eyes widened as she lowered the pup to take up the weapon with one hand while grabbing her friend's hand in the other. "Wait. Where are you going?" she frowned deeply.

Without blinking, Anna answered simply, "We have weapons stored in the attic two floors up. I'm going to slowly draw them after me, taking out as many as I can, before I hold them up there. It'll keep them occupied enough to take their focus from looking for you.

"Lady Une was on her way out here when she called last, so we have to stall long enough in hopes that she'll be able to help somehow." Sitting on the floor with a long blade that she also found under the bed, she began loosening the screw hinges on her leg brace.

The harsh reality of the situation settling in, the pregnant young woman breathed, "Do you really think that their intent is to kill us, and not just to capture us?" Outside, the cars continued to circle the large estate and the sound of gunshots filled the air as the loud antics continued.

"Whoever sent them here sent too many of their own for it to be a simple capture mission," the long-haired young woman replied in calm certainty. With a deep growl of effort, she pulled at the loosened hinges until they snapped free and the brace fell apart.

Freed from the brace, she quickly removed her shoes and socks. After shoving them along with the loose metal pieces under the bed, Anna rose to her feet and told her friend, "Just keep still and wait until I come back to get you, but now I have to go."

At that, Relena nodded and stepped deeper into the closet, grabbing a handful of ammo, before the redhead closed the tall door. Even as the door closed on her, she wished that she could have said something, wish Anna luck or told her to be careful, but her constricting throat would not permit so much as a whimper to escape its tight clasp. But the small, tight smile that the Preventer flashed her before she was shut away spoke of Anna's own struggle to find the right thing to say at that moment.

Slowly settling her self to sit on the floor in the dark, Relena clutched the shotgun close in one hand while patting the whimpering pup beside her. Even the cries from outside were dulled by the pounding of her heart and blood hushing in her ears. Closing her eyes, the blonde young woman whispered a prayer, something that she had not done in years.

Taking up the second shot gun, the Preventer loaded the weapon before taking a handful of bullets. Quickly walking from the room, Anna raised her left arm and kissed the Saint Christopher charm bracelet that she always wore.

"I'm going to need all the help I can get tonight, buddy," Anna whispered to the amage of the angel on her coin-shaped charm. That said, she headed for the stairs and shifted the slide of the shotgun to arm the weapon, its metallic click filling the stillness.

* * * * * *

"Here comes the calvary," Duo grinned as two large trucks and a black car pulled in and came to a stop. Leaving the headlights on, the drivers of the vehicles and the agents in the back of the trucks stepped out. After a quick scan of their surroundings, the Preventers lowered their weapons and approached the building.

His hand extended, the first driver grinned, "Fine work, as always, Agent Phoenix." He nodded to the other pilots, "Agent Water. Mister Winner." Gesturing to the trucks behind him, the blonde agent said, "We'll be the escorts from here. Lady Une already found a suitable shelter for the kids and their guardians."

The young man looked into the large opening of the orphanage, where the black car that had been used as a battering-ram remained slammed into a wall inside. Laughing, the Preventer gestured to the black car that he and his team arrived with. "Good thing we brought a spare for you just in case!"

With a nod, Duo smiled in relief, "Thanks, Agent Flame." Turning to the wide opening, the braided pilot called, "Your chariots await." With Sister Grace in the lead, the children stepped out into the open. At the sight of the frightened young faces, Agent Fire and the remainder of the team gave them warm smiles.

Kneeling, Quatre gestured to the escort team and grinned to the children around him, "Everyone, these are more of our friends from the Preventers. They're going to look after you and take you to a safer place now."

The ex-Sandrock pilot blinked in surprise when one of the little girls hugged his neck with a whispered `thank you.' Closing his eyes with a wide smile, the he hugged her back tightly before kissing her head and waving her off.

While the children were led to the trucks by the recovery team, most of them went to hug and thank the three agents that had saved them. Moved beyond words to express her gratitude, Sister Grace hugged them all with tears in her eyes before being led away.

After accepting his tearful embrace from her, Duo was beginning to feel his nerves collapsing once more. It had been all too much for him- having to see the priest that had been killed and now to have that nun embrace him only brought back more painful memories of his past. It was all he could do to refrain from trembling where he stood.

Once everyone was loaded, the two trucks revved and pulled out of the opening before fading away in the distance.

Brushing back a few loose wisps of hair fro her face, Sally sighed deeply, "Well, this has been one hell of a night."

"That's an understatement," Quatre chuckled deeply. His smile faded when he looked to his American friend. Picking up on his growing concern, he watched as the braided pilot gazed around the trees anxiously.

As he was about to offer some words of support, Quatre paused at the sound of footsteps running around the corner. Looking up, the three Preventers watched as Zechs and Noin panted into the scene. At the grim expression on their faces, his violet eyes widening, Duo paled. Walking up to the pair urgently, he asked, "What's wrong? Where's Heero?"

Nervously, the two agents looked to each other before Zechs took a deep breath and met the worried gaze. "We don't know," he answered with a deep frown. Noin bit her lip and lowered her gaze to the ground.

Blinking in shock, Duo breathed, "You don't know?" His breathing came in quick, frantic pulls and he shouted, "What do you mean, you don't know!"

Noin closed the distance between them and placed her hands on his shoulders for support. Swallowing hard, she said quietly, "The car that had taken off while we were disarming the bomb was carrying Heero. Zechs and I found Scott in the forest behind the orphanage with three bullets in him. Zechs had to kill him to end the pain he would have suffered for hours."

With a sharp gasp, Sally covered her mouth. "Dear Allah," Quatre managed. "He came to us for help and they got to him in the end, after all." Closing his eyes, he said a silent prayer for the young man.

Silently reeling from the news, and as upsetting as learning of Scott's demise was, Duo was on the verge of panic in wondering what that meant for his lover. Tears filling his eyes, he asked, "What about Angie? Someone has to know what happened to Heero."

Zechs sighed deeply before raising his head and replying, "Scott told us that Angie was the one that shot him." The three faces watching fell with disbelief as the pilots froze. Duo fell back a few steps, his knees weakening as he stood. "Once Scott was out of the way, she took Heero during her escape."

Shaking his head, Duo whispered, "No." The tears in his violet eyes grew as he shouted, "No!" Just as his legs began to give out, Zechs and Quatre both seemed to materialize as they kept him from collapsing to the ground with their arms under his own.

Her fingers burying themselves in her hair, Sally's widened eyes widened as far as they could as she realized aloud, "My God. If Angie is working for White Out, she would have revealed the location of the safe house."

Quatre gasped sharply, his own eyes growing, as he shouted, "Relena! Anna!" While supporting his friend, the Arab turned to the others pleadingly. "We have to get back there!" he cried, desperately trying to keep his own head while comforting Duo's crumbling composure.

Nodding firmly, Zechs's free hand turned the braided pilot's face until their eyes met. With a deep breath, he said calmly but firmly, "Duo, with Rachel and that chip that we'll have from her, we'll have a chance at getting Heero back and I swear to you that we will."

The American's lip trembled as he whimpered, tears running down his face. With a deep frown of concern, the tall man stated, "But, Relena and Anna are in danger as well and we know where they are right now. Before we came here, Noin and I tried to call them, but the phone line had been cut. We have to get back to the safe house before something happens, if we're not already too late."

Swallowing hard, Duo could only nod his agreement, knowing that Heero would never have wanted him to sacrifice Relena or Anna in that situation. Still, it didn't make the decision any easier on him. With a sigh of relief, Zechs whispered, "Thank you." Looking up to the others, he yelled, "Let's go!" Without another word, the small team scrambled to the black car that was left waiting for them.

All but falling into the back seat, Duo sat between Sally and Quatre, all feeling gone from his body as he was lost in his dark thoughts and fears. Even in his own grip of worry for his lover and their baby, the Arab took one of the stunned pilot's hands into his own to squeeze it. Sally took up the American's other hand in a tight grasp. Staring out into nothing, unaware of the tears falling from his empty eyes, Duo was only vaguely aware of their presence.

Noin removed her small radio from her shoulder and all but shouted over the transmitter, "Wufei, there has been a change in plans and we are leaving the orphanage and heading back to the safe house immediately!"

Blinking in surprise at the announcement, both Wufei and Trowa looked to the radio on the Chinese pilot's right shoulder. Reaching over with a free hand from the steering wheel, the dark-haired Preventer asked, "Change in plans? What's wrong?"

"Angie's been working against us all this time," Noin replied. The two Preventers straightened, their eyes widened in disbelief. Sitting in Trowa's lap, Rachel looked from one stunned face to the other, confusion all over her face. "She killed Scott and managed to escape the scene with Heero."

Unable to breathe, Trowa whispered brokenly, "Anna." Shaking his head, he frowned deeply, "My God, we left her and Relena behind because we thought that the estate was the safest place for them, only for this to happen!"

With his dark eyes on the road but his thoughts a million worlds away as he frantically tried to make sense out of the madness of it all, Wufei took the radio from his shoulder and announced, "We'll only be a few minutes behind you, knowing that we'll be using the major roads and highways. Has anyone tried calling the safe house?"

There was a brief pause before Noin answered simply, "Yes." The graveness of the situation became all the more clear at her lack of elaborating on how successful, or unsuccessful that attempt had been.

Licking his lips, the Chinese pilot responded flatly, "I see." His mind reeling from one bad scenario to another, his thoughts returned to Heero's capture. With a frown of concern, he asked, "How is Duo holding up?"

At that, Noin peered over her shoulder to assess the braided pilot. Still frozen in shock, Duo made no response to anything going on around him. Swallowing hard, the young woman looked ahead again and answered honestly, "Not well."

There was a deep sigh over the transmitter. "With all the shit that he's been through, this is the last damn thing that he needs," Wufei commented quietly. After a brief silence, the Chinese pilot stated, "We'll rendezvous at the safe house, then."

With a firm nod, the short-haired pilot replied, "Right. Agent Fire out." Lowering the transmitter, Noin fell back in her seat as she peered out the window. Slowly looking over to her husband, she found his hand gripping onto the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white.

Reaching over, she gently her hand onto his. "I know that you're worried," Noin whispered, hoping that somehow she could make his voice reassuring enough despite her own worries. "But we'll get to Relena in time."

With a deep breath, Zechs swallowed hard and peered out the corner of his eyes. Easing his hand from the wheel to grip his wife's, he replied sincerely, "Thank you." Noin bit her lip when their hands let go so that the blonde Preventer could focus on driving. The remainder of the ride was made without another word spoken by anyone.

In the other car, Latin pilot's arms tightened around Rachel as he peered out the passenger door window. Looking up with a concerned frown, the little girl asked quietly, "Are Anna and Miss Relena going to be all right?"

Trowa's green eyes blinked in surprise at the question as he looked down to the child in his lap. His mouth opening and closing, he was unable to find his voice-or the right words- to give an answer. How was he supposed to reassure her when he was finding it difficult to keep from falling into his own fears of the worst?

Wufei came to his friend's aid when he turned his head to face them and smiled reassuringly, "Of course they will be. You know, Anna was hit by a truck on our last mission and she still came back to save my life."

Her brown eyes widening, Rachel breathed, "Really? She did that, Mister Wufei?"

Chuckling deeply, the dark-haired pilot winked, "Just call me Wufei. And yes, she did." His gaze looking up to meet his friend's gaze, he said sincerely, "Anna's one of the toughest people that I've had the pleasure of knowing. She and Relena will be fine."

A small lump formed in Trowa's throat that he had to swallow away before meeting Rachel's eyes and nodding, "Wufei's right. You don't have anything to worry about." Their words certainly served their purpose in putting the child at ease. She smiled in relief and settled back into the tall Preventer's protective arms, pulling her teddy bear close.

Peering over at the other pilot, Wufei silently watched his friend to see how he was coping. When their eyes met, Trowa mouthed the word `thanks.' The Chinese pilot smirked with a firm nod of understanding before looking over his shoulder.

Tim's gray eyes widened in fear at the fierce glare staring down at him. In a low, deep growl, Wufei warned, "For your sake, you better pray that I don't have to go back on my word to that little girl." Even with the gag in his mouth, he could see the fallen agent swallowing hard as he shrunk deeper into the seat he was lying in.

* * * * * *

Stepping on her bare toes, she stepped without making a sound in her descent. Her blue eyes narrowed, and shotgun at the ready, she scanned the ground level of the house. Falling back on her OZ training, the red-haired pilot focused her eyes in the dim moonlight and heightened every sense until they tingled in anticipation of knowing her surroundings.

The screams and hollers outside, along with the roar of car engines rounding the large estate had died down. From her experiences during the war, Anna knew that the behavior was nothing more than a scare tactic meant to draw their prey from hiding. Those same antics also gave away that their `guests' would not be using the front door as a means of entering the house.

Only a few steps in her rounding the staircase, Anna stiffened at the sound of glass shattering in a distant room down the hall. Straining her ears, she could hear the shifting of glass as hands gripped the windowsill and the heavy fall of feet on tile floor. In the further distance, more glass shattered as more feet fell onto the carpet of the rooms being invaded.

Without balking, Anna stalked towards the sounds, down the dark hall. Her bare feet on the hard wood floor gave off no sound as she approached the kitchen, where the closest and original sounds of glass breaking were heard. As she approached, she watched the shadow slinking across the moonlit floor as the lone intruder approached the doorway.

Pressing her back to the wall by the doorpost, the Preventer held her breath as not to alert the approaching assailant. His steps sure in their heavy approach, the tall young man came close enough that Anna could smell the sharp hint of cologne in the last short breath that she drew.

Further down the hall, those who had also broken in were taking their sweet time, muttering to each other.

"First come first serve," a deep voice commented, the smirk clear in the tone. "Only a few of us will get to have our way with the ladies before we cut them." Her eyes narrowing further, the redhead ignored the remainder of the banter as she focused on her target drawing nearer to the kitchen doorway.

The lone young man was much taller than she was, but that didn't matter when he finally stepped past the doorframe with the barrel of her shotgun pointing against the side of his neck. He certainly had not expected the feeling of the cold metal pressed against his skin, the metallic click of a safety being removed. He simply froze stiff, his eyes wide and looking forward as he had been when he stepped into the open.

A dark smirk tugged at Anna's lips as she whispered, "Surprise." Without hesitating, she pulled the trigger, the force of the bullet ripping the tall intruder's neck into bloody shreds as he crumbled to the floor.

The sound of the shot echoed off the walls, ending the eerie silence for a brief moment. Everything went still as the last reverberations faded, even the cars outside screeched to a halt. Obviously, this was not a part of their plans. Somehow, it was clear in that deafening silence that the invaders knew that the shot was not from one of their own. Even the further down the hall made no move.

Her eyes narrowed, Anna straightened and shouted as loudly as her voice allowed, "That's a warning for the rest of you fuckers! I'm not afraid of a goddamned one of you and I. Will. Not go down quietly!"

Quickly, the red-haired pilot bent at her knees just as the intruders down the hall began to move. Gathering up thick blood from the corpse onto her free hand, she moved back towards the stairs, smearing the walls with her wet hands as she passed to leave a trail.

The sound of footsteps running up behind her filled the Preventer's ears. Turning up the stairs once more as she continued to smear blood on the white walls in her passing, Anna whispered to herself, "I hope to hell this works."

 

Part 38

[Voices call, they call out my name, (my name, my name)
They say I'm different well I'm not the same (the same)
You say you want to be like me (like me, like me)
Well boy let me tell you, you didn't know what I've seen]
-Lyrics to `Black' performed by Sevendust

The footsteps were nearing rounding the corner of the stairs as they reached the second floor. Waiting just within the doorway of one of the many bedrooms down the east wing, Anna's narrowed eyes watched the two tall shadows continued to follow the blood trail that she had left on the walls. Holding her breath, she prayed that they would both move in her direction and not down the other wing, where Relena was hidden at the end of that hall.

Within the dark closet that she was hiding in down the far end of the west wing, Relena bit her lip roughly at the sound of wooden boards creaking under heavy feet as they reached her floor. Yuuki whimpered beside her, obviously frightened to death from the gunshot that had exploded downstairs followed by Anna's screamed vow of vengeance.

Breathing a small sigh of relief, the pregnant young woman was thankful for her friend's thoughtfulness to hide the pup as far down the hall as possible for their `guests' not to hear. Softly, Relena ran her hand over the frightened dog's fur and whispered, "It'll be okay, Yuuki. It'll all be over soon." As the collie lowered her furry head onto a folded leg, the young woman bit her lip and tried to calm her own frenzied nerves.

"I just don't like this," the smaller of the two intruders growled deeply. "They weren't supposed to but up any kind of resistance. Now, we lost one of our best men before we were even in this place for five minutes."

The man in the lead snorted, "You're going to let a couple of girls scare you? Besides that, whichever bitch killed Garret didn't go unscathed. I'm going to have some fun with her before I make her watch me skin her alive."

A dark smirk tugging at her lips at that, Anna forced a small and pained moan. The two dark shapes straightened at the sound at the same time the metallic clicks of their readied guns were aimed down her wing. The other end of the hall forgotten, the two assailants slowly stalked onward, following the remainder blood trail towards the end of the corridor.

With the two men nearing the door that she left cracked open to spy on them, Anna stepped further into the dark room. The footsteps paused just outside of the door that she painted with the last of the blood that she had pooled into her hand before it dried. Through the thin crack, the Preventer watched as the taller of the two men nodded to his accomplice.

The door was kicked in as the first man quickly entered with his own shot gun ready a second too late as his face was blown apart. As the first attacker fell back in a bleeding heap, the second was taken aback by the sudden gunfire and as he spun in the right direction of the assault, his nose was broken when Anna slammed the butt of her riffle into it.

Spinning the shot gun in her hands, the Preventer rammed the barrel into the young man's chest to knock the wind from him. His eyes wide, the man fell onto his back gasping for air. Standing over the stunned man with her legs straddled over his chest, the red-haired pilot glared down heatedly and hissed, "How many of you are there?"

His own eyes narrowed, the injured man quickly sat up with a switch blade that snapped from the dark band on his right forearm that had been hidden under his sleeve.

Caught by surprise at the sudden attack, Anna cried out when the long knife was sliced across her exposed right knee. Growling madly, she fired her gun before any further damage was done, the bullet slamming into the man's chest. The close impact blew the torso open as blood splattered on the Preventer and the walls.

As an eerie stillness fell over the room once more, Anna panted heavily, her eyes narrowed fiercely at the body beneath her. Wincing in pain, she limped away from the corpse, hissing, "Goddamn it." With her teeth and hands, she tore off the right sleeve of her deep green t-shirt and used the fabric to wrap her bleeding knee.

Just as the young pilot finished sealing the wound, the sounds of windows being shattered downstairs and the front door being kicked open filled the air. Her eyes widened, Anna straightened, sweat beading on her forehead as she listened to what sounded like a stampede approaching the stairway.

Quickly unlocking the barrel of the shotgun in her possession to reload, the young pilot locked the barrel again and grabbed the semi-automatic along with a couple grenades from the body of the man who stabbed her. The knife that was used to cut her, still stained with blood, was sheathed in the wide leather belt of her black jean shorts.

Taking up more blood from the pool that was gathering on the floor, the red-haired Preventer sighed deeply, "Three down. And a whole mess still to go." With that, she quickly walked down the hall, minding her injured leg as she continued to paint the walls in her passing.

When she reached the stairs, Anna turned just as the first couple of dark-clad assailants climbed the stairs just below her. Gripping the semi-automatic, she fired on the unsuspecting man and woman, killing them before they knew what hit them. With the angry cries and shouts of the other attackers close behind their fallen accomplices, the Preventer took two stairs at a time upward into the darkness.

In her climb, Anna narrowly avoided a few bullets fired in mere rage from the mercenaries after her. Wincing in pain every time she stepped on her right leg, she found little comfort in the small chiming of her charm bracelet. "Okay, Chris," she whispered in a small moan. "Make sure to give me a kick in the ass before I make a slip up like that again tonight."

Nearly winded when she reached the third floor, the Preventer rounded the corner and leaned her back against the wall for support. "Jesus," she laughed bitterly. "A whole other floor to go before I'm in the attic." She gasped sharply when a bullet whizzed over her head.

Turning on her heels, she gripped the knife in her belt and threw it into the shoulder of the man that managed to sneak up on her. As he fell back, his cry of pain was cut off with the loud crack of his neck snapping when he hit the stairs. With a deep sigh of relief, Anna kissed her penny-sized charm and smirked, "Thanks, man."

At the sounds of the heard charging up close, the red-haired pilot ran to the large window the top of the next flight of stairs. Peering down, she watched as three cars sat along with a handful of dark-clad and armed mercenaries by the entrance of the large estate. Quickly opening the pane, Anna pulled out the pin of one of the grenades before sending it into the air with a loud grunt of effort.

"Up there!" one of the four men standing guard cried, pointing at the high window just as the Preventer threw. The warning came too late as the grenade fell between two of the vehicles and exploded, setting the cars ablaze as they were blown apart. Between the flames and flying shrapnel, three of the men were taken out.

The young man who had spotted Anna, however, dove away far enough. Glaring up at her, the man screamed in rage and fired. Her eyes widening, the Preventer ducked just as the bullets ripped through the wall siding. At the first break in the rounds, she jumped back to her feet and returned fire, cutting her target down before he could take shelter behind the remains of the closest overturned car.

With the charging feet right on her heels, Anna panted heavily as she climbed the last flight before running into the large attic. Closing the door behind her, she shed the semi-automatic and shotgun to frantically go through the metal shelves filled with weapons and ammunition.

Several guns were removed along with their needed projectiles. Piling the shot guns, rifles and semiautomatics into a pile she could get to easily, the agent quickly went through the finishing touches needed to hold her position for as long as she could.

There were four shelves that were known to be empty. The two by the entrance were knocked over to act as a barricade while Anna opened the doors of the remaining two and moved them to the center of the room with her.

Using the doors of the shelves as shields at either side of her to make a thin opening for her to fire from, the redhead faced the door. With the two large windows behind her on either side that looked over the brown-shingled roof, her eyes quickly adjusted with the moonlight pouring in.

Sweat and small trails of blood that had been splattered on her running down her face, Anna licked her lips and calmed her heavy breathing as the loud, stampeding footsteps and screaming voices drew closer. "No turning back now," she muttered to herself. Just then, a force rammed into the wooden door, bowing the top which was not blocked off inward.

Her deep blue eyes narrowed, the pilot raised a shot gun in her right hand to rest its butt on her shoulder. Knowing better to use the semi-automatics first, she relied on the use of weapons that she would have the time to reload at the start.

The loud crashing against the door continued, the door bending inward more and more with every strike. Finally, the two metal shelves began to shift inch-by-inch from where they were piled atop each other.

Between two large shields of metal at either side, Anna closed her left eye and took aim with the other through the small scope. One more hit and the top of the door fell apart from the impact. Her first glimpse of first assailant was a mere split second, more than enough for what she needed, before firing a single bullet into his head.

As the first man fell back, there was a second right behind him lunging for the opening. Pumping the forearm of the shotgun to lose the used bullet shell, Anna raised the weapon and took aim once more. With a pull of a trigger, the second threat was removed. Unlocking the barrel, the young woman quickly and easily reloaded before readying herself for the next person to attempt to enter the attic.

The cries of the enraged men and women beyond the door became deafening and bullets flew through the opening. Shielded by thick metal at either side of her, Anna continued to return fire without so much as flinching. The attackers were still too far away and frantic to get at her to fire a clean shot into the thin opening that she made for herself.

Several rounds into her holding her position the attic, the Preventer reloaded and frowned deeply when there were no longer any targets in sight. Of her last shots, she was only able to wound one assailant and kill an other to make three dead from her holding the attic.

The intruders were becoming smart, pushing as the base of the door to move the barricade back once the bodies of their fallen were moved aside. With their new tactic, they were shielding themselves by ducking behind the metal shelves that had been used to keep them out.

Growling deeply in frustration, Anna tossed the shot gun aside and turned to one of the semi-automatic weapons as she frowned deeply, "Time to shift gears." With her foot, she drug a pile of ammunition closer to her for easy access when needed.

On the other side of the door, seeing the progress of her team in their pushing the bottom of the door open, dark-haired young woman shouted, "That's it! We're almost in! I want that bitch taken down!"

One of the injured men on the floor, covering his bleeding right shoulder as he lie on the floor, watched in horror as another young man who looked to want to make use of a grenade. His wide, green eyes narrowing, the injured mercenary shouted up at him, "Put that thing away! All eyes turned to him as he yelled, "There is enough oil and ammo in that room to send this whole place up if we're not careful!"

The dark-haired woman growled deeply, "The rest of you can work on taking care of that Preventer. I'm going after Peacecraft." Looking the eight strong that remained of her team, she pointed to a red-haired man and said filmy, "You're with me." Her subordinate gave a firm nod and followed close behind.

Looking over her shoulder, the woman in charge told the injured man leaning against the wall, "Eric, you're in charge of these three." With the arm that was not covering his bullet-wounded shoulder, the brunette saluted. The three men under his command went back to their work of pushing the door open.

When they reached the third floor, the dark-haired woman hissed, "That girl was leading us away from Peacecraft. She's hiding in here somewhere."

Two more men and two women climbed the stairs and approached, panting after their strenuous climb. Nodding to their anxious faces, she ordered, "I want two of you to search this floor's rooms. The moment any of you find the Foreign Minister, I want to be contacted immediately. The other two search the basement and first floor. Samuel and I will search the second floor. How many more are left?"

"We have four in total, Lori. Four others were killed when they were hit with a grenade," the bald young man of the backup team answered. "They're outside and waiting to be called in when more back up is needed."

Quickly doing the math in her head, Lori brushed her long ponytail of dark hair from her shoulder. "Including all of us here and the five upstairs, we have twenty-one strong left of the twenty-five that we came with."

The dark-haired woman smirked, "More than enough to handle two young women. The orders are still the same- no one should be able to identify what we leave of their remains for when the others return." At that, Lori barked, "Get moving, then." Without another word, her assembled group split.

Once they reached the second floor, Samuel waited until he was alone with Lori to ask her, "Why are you so focused on this floor?" His had running over his short, red hair, he scanned the two wings.

Gesturing to the blood on the walls from down the east wing, the young woman smirked, "Looking for a lead. That pilot wanted to lead us from the west wing on this floor." Turning to face the other corridor, its walls clean of any blood, she stated, "She's down here." With her accomplice right behind, Lori headed for the end of the hall.

Yuuki's ears perked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. As the steps drew nearer, the pup's instinct to protect the young woman with her outweighed her fear with everything that had been happening. Stalking towards the closet door, she started growling deeply, her teeth showing as her lips snarled.

With a sharp gasp, Relena gripped the shot gun in her hands and whispered, "Yuuki, shh." Having to strain her ears, she was then able to hear the approaching footsteps. Her breath hitching in her throat, sweat began to bead anew on her forehead as she slowly rose to her feet. The rise and fall of the approaching feet continued without pause as they entered the room and stopped before the closet door.

Hunching her back, Yuuki's growl deepened and rumbled louder.

Panting, Relena watched with wide eyes in the dim light that spilled in under the door as the doorknob slowly turned. Focusing herself, her eyes narrowed as she aimed the shotgun at the crack that began to open. All that she saw was a head of short, red hair before she fired on the person opening the door.

His hand still on the doorknob, Samuel's remains, the head all but blown apart fell back to open the door the rest of the way. Yuuki lunged out and bit hard on the leg of the woman behind him that had been, causing her to cry out in shock and pain.

Quickly pumping the forearm of the shotgun to lose the empty shell from her first shot, Relena took advantage of the dark-haired woman's second of hesitation and shot her in the chest. Eyes wide and mouth falling open wide, Lori fell back lifelessly as blood sprayed into the air.

Silence fell heavily onto the room, only disturbed by Relena's heavy breathing. Her eyes wide as she gazed on the bodies, she felt her legs begin to give out. Yuuki walked up to her and licked her leg. Lowering her weapon, the pregnant young woman fell to her knees and scooped the pup into her arms. "Good girl, Yuuki," she breathed with a shaky voice. Squirming in the arms wrapped around her, the collie licked her face.

With the danger ever present, the blonde politician took up the shot gun to reload. As she snapped the barrel back into place, Relena froze with wide eyes at the sound of more cars revving into the scene, screeching to a halt at the front of the estate. "Oh, please, no more," she whimpered, her eyes losing in dread, small tears running down her face.

Just then, from outside, voice of a young man screamed, "Preventers! Lower your weapons or we will fire!" Stiffening at the cry, Relena's eyes snapped open wide just as gunfire broke out.

Footsteps from upstairs and down could be heard running in frantic haste as the shooting outside continued, no one sure what was happening. Still more vehicles could be heard screeching into the scene.

The gunfire ended as quickly as it began and soon, a new heard of feet charged into through the front door just below. The voice of the first agent shouted, "Preventers! Come out with your hands up! We will fire if you retaliate!" Again, there was a brief pause before there was more shooting.

Her hand resting on her swollen stomach, Relena's tears of sheer terror became ones of relief as she whispered brokenly, "Oh, thank God." Lowering the shot gun to carry Yuuki in her arms, she waited for the gunfire to die out and quickly moved to get to where help was waiting, only a floor below her.

Just when she reached the stairs, Relena heard someone running up the stairs. With a wide smile, she stated, "You have no idea how good it is to see-" Her words caught in her throat and her eyes widened when she was face-to-face with an armed, dark-clad young man that had scrambled upstairs before the agents could kill him.

With a dark smirk, the equally surprised young man raised his pistol. Relena heard the deafening shot, but did not feel the pain with it. His black eyes widened, the assailant fell at her feet. Behind him, Lady Une lowered her pistol and ran up to the stunned young woman.

Placing her hands gently on her shoulders, the Commander held the young woman close when she all but collapsed in her embrace. "Relena," she said gently, "Are you all right?"

The pregnant young woman nodded against her shoulder. There was a brief gunfire exchange that made her jump. Keeping her hands on the politician's shoulders, lady Une held her back to look into her eyes and asked urgently, "Where is Anna?"

Instantly snapping from her shock at the mention of the agent's name, Relena answered in a cry, "She's in the attic!"

Nodding firmly, Lady Une turned to the Preventers charging up behind and past her. "Clear every floor and don't bother with warnings, just take them all out!" she ordered as the long stream of agents continued upward. Taking up her radio, she shouted, "Agent Skyline, I need you in the air now!"

The young woman's voice replied over the radio, "Roger that, Commander. I'm on my way now."

As the armed Preventers continued to climb the stairwell, Lady Une wrapped an arm around Relena's shoulder and said quietly, "Let's get you outside."

Shaking her head, Relena insisted, "I want to make sure Anna's okay, first." Yuuki decided to raise her head at that time to lick the side of her face, somehow sensing her distress and wanting to help.

With a deep frown of concern, Lady Une reluctantly nodded, "All right." Raising her finger, she spoke sternly, "But only after the team has secured the remainder of the estate." Satisfied with that, Relena nodded with a grateful smile.

Back up by the attic, Eric knew that time was running out. The sound of heavy footsteps quickly approaching following the gun fights were enough to know that they had unexpected company. With his good, blood-covered hand, he removed his pistol and pushed himself off the wall to rise to his feet.

His eyes narrowed, he shouted to the three men under his command, "We have to move now! Soon as that door opens, we storm in!" With the door cracked widely open, the two largest members of his team violently charged at the bottom of the door. Grunting in their effort, they managed to force the barricade away and the remainder of the door fell open.

With her semi-automatic ready, Anna's narrowed eyes fell on the two men who charged into the room. Before either of them could get a shot off, she cut them down with a hail of bullets. In the continued spray of gunfire, she took out a third man right behind his two accomplices. But the forth, already injured man in the back of the charge was able to get close enough to catch her off guard when he threw a knife that she had to dodge.

Not able to fire and duck from the blade aimed for her head, the redhead found herself being wrapped around the waist by two strong arms as Eric charged on with a cry of rage. Driven on, he ran on, crashing through the right large window. Anna just managed to close her eyes tight in time as the pieces of glass cut their way down her face as she was hurled through the pane.

Landing on her side onto the cold shingled of the roof just below the attic, the Preventer gasped breathlessly after having the wind knocked from her. With long, thin cuts on her face that looked like a wild animal scratched her, she scrambled to grip the point of the roof before falling to the ground far below.

Standing over her just a few feet away, Eric laughed wildly. The strong wind blew Anna's hair up and from her face as she watched with wide blue eyes the assailant raise his pistol, aiming for her forehead. Unable to move much less catch her breath as she held onto the roof with everything she had, she was helpless.

"I may be going out," Eric smirked, his deep chuckle sending a chill up the pilot's spine. "But at least I'm taking you with me."

The wind grew all the more at that moment and suddenly, a spotlight fell on them. Looking up, Eric shielded his eyes and shouted, "What the hell!" His own eyes widening when his covered eyes spotted the turning of helicopter blades in the moonlit sky, he froze.

Quickly covering her head, Anna hugged herself against the side of the roof to flatten herself as much as possible. The side gun of the helicopter fired several rounds, hitting their mark. Knocked back with every hit, Eric's body was sliced down until it fell over the edge of the roof. When the gun was silenced, Anna sat up with wide eyes, watching the man plunge into the darkness.

Collapsing onto the roof, the redhead panted heavily as she managed to regain her breath. Rolling onto her back, she looked up to the helicopter as a voice spoke over the radio, "Glad to see that you're still in one piece, Agent Mist."

With a small, breathy laugh, Anna waved to her friend in the cockpit and gave her a thumb's up for reassurance that everything was fine as well as expressing her gratitude. The helicopter was flown away to find more ideal landing spot.

At the sound of voices within the attic above, Anna looked over to the broken window. At the faces of Lady Une and Relena that appeared in the window frame, the agent continued to lie on her back as she raised her right hand to salute. Her voice gritty and breathy, she grinned, "Beautiful timing, Commander."

* * * * * *

Isis smiled when his face appeared on the screen. "Isis," the gray-haired President of the Earth greeted with a pleasant enough smile. "I certainly hope that your calling me at this late hour is to inform me of good news."

"Oh that it is sir," the orange-haired young woman replied, her own smile turning mischievous. "I just wanted you to know that my accomplice and I have captured Heero Yuy." The old man's eyes widened at the news, his mouth falling open. "So, I hope that you can forgive my disturbing you at this late hour to announce that."

Finally able to find his voice, the President smirked, "Wonderful, my dear. You will be rewarded handsomely for this. For now, I have appointments to cancel so and I will meet with you tomorrow." Raising an eyebrow, he commented, "And I will have to set up the right appointments before my attempted assassination."

Nodding firmly, Isis replied, "Very good, sir. Until tomorrow, then." When the connection was cut and her screen black, the young woman folded her arms behind her head and lean back in her seat with a deep chuckle of content.

 

Part 40

[Master of Puppets I'm pulling your strings
twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can't see a thing
Just call my name, `cause I'll hear you scream]
-Lyrics to `Master of the Puppets' performed by Metallica

Heero groaned deeply as consciousness finally returned. "You okay, man?" his partner's voice asked quietly, dripping with concern. It took blinking his eyes a few times, adjusting to the darkness once more, before he focused on the heart-shaped face just above his own.

With a relieved smile tugging his lips, Duo very tentatively ran a hand through his friend's unruly hair to keep the other pilot conscious enough that he could check his pupils. "You scared the shit out of me," he sighed. "You've been out ever since they brought you back. I've been trying to wake you up for at least an hour now."

Still dazed after his last `meeting' with their captors, Heero leaned into his partner's touch when his rand ran down the side of his face. His heavy-lidded cobalt eyes began to drift closed again as he muttered, "They changed tactics. Can't tell what they used on me." His hands reached up to dry wash his face as he tried to regain his wits about him.

Duo sat back up, hugging his legs to his chest as he watched the ex-Wing pilot in concern. "Well whatever it was, it must have been just short of an elephant tranquilizer to knock you out like that." A shudder wracked his body as he shook his head, "I was starting to panic thinking that I wouldn't be able to wake you up."

At the plain fear in his friend's voice, Heero turned from staring at the ceiling to watch his friend. "Don't worry," he reassured the American with a small smirk. "I don't plan on going anywhere any time soon."

Taking a deep breath, Duo nodded but looked away, his eyes shimmering in the dim light that peered from under the cell door. "I just… I can't lose you. Not like all of the others," he whispered brokenly.

Blinking in surprise, the ex-Wing pilot remained still as he watched his partner wipe at his eyes. Thinking of Solo, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen and all of those who Duo had cared before a died, he felt terrible for trying to make light of their current situation. It was pretty obvious, now, that the braided pilot was scared to death he lost someone else.

Slowly sitting up, Heero fought the wave of nausea his movement caused. Just as Duo turned to face him with wide eyes, the Japanese Preventer wrapped his arms tightly around his friend. At the initial contact, the other pilot stiffened from surprise, but soon relaxed and returned the tight embrace, his body trembling.

For a long moment, the two agents just held onto each other. Up until that moment, Heero never admitted to himself that even he needed some sort of comfort after their long ordeal in captivity. It had been one of the more trying times that he experienced. And it was clear that the ordeal had taken its toll on his friend. "It's all right," he finally whispered as Duo buried his head in his shoulder.

When he finally calmed his shaking form, Duo pulled back from their embrace to meet his partner's concerned gaze. The many days that they had spent in their small cell had finally worn on him enough to show plainly in his violet eyes. His voice stern and the seriousness etched on his face, he stated, "I need you to promise me that you won't die on me. I would never be able to handle losing you."

Heero's cobalt eyes widened as he watched his partner. Throughout the wars, he always considered Duo to be a rock of fortitude even in the most bleak of situations. Now, knowing the young man's past, he could not think of anything capable of breaking the braided pilot down. It was the first time- staring into those frightened violet eyes- that he could see that his friend was on the cusp of doing just that.

The thin threat that Duo was gasping onto to keep from falling into madness was close to snapping.

And yet, in despite of all of that, Heero was beside himself in having someone worry about him so much. Up until then, even he never cared about himself. How many times had he thrown caution to the wind all for the sake of accomplishing a mission? The mission always came before him. And now, to have someone actually tell him to swear that he would not die on them, to say that they would not be able to handle his loss… it left him reeling.

Everything changed that moment. Suddenly, Heero found that he wanted to live... wanted to be the person worthy of having someone care about him that much.

With determination in his eyes, the ex-Wing pilot nodded firmly, "I promise." The edge of madness at the edges of Duo's gaze faded into sheer relief. Swallowing hard, the braided pilot nodded back. Reaching out, Heero placed a hand on the back of his friend's neck and pulled his head against his own shoulder for another tight embrace that was quickly returned.

A new mission was set. As he held onto his friend, the Japanese Preventer knew that they had to get out of the base at all costs, if for no other reason than for Duo's sake. The next time their captors came into the cell, they would be taking the braided pilot. Fearing what treatment they would use on him during that meeting, Heero's wheels turned all the faster in the need find a way out before that happened.

Waiting for help to finally find them had taken far too long. Despite the risks involved in attempting to get themselves out, it was the only option now.

Silently, Heero contemplated their options. In the times that he had been taken from the small cell, he was able to take note of the number of guards that were normally on duty and down which halls. It was just a matter of getting a hold of a few weapons.

When they pulled back and met each other's gazes once more, Heero smirked, "I think that I've about had enough of this place. What do you say we work out a way to get the hell out of here and get in touch with our backup?"

A small smile of relief tugged at Duo's lips as he nodded, "I'm up for that. How soon are we looking to make a move?"

"Tonight, just before the guards switch their shifts," the ex-Wing pilot answered flatly, the makings of his plan already starting to come together. Timing was everything in this, and so every detail had to be considered.

Looking to the door, Duo nodded, already knowing fully well the sounds and sights of shifting light from the hall that announced that time of evening. For as long as they had been held captive, it was easy for an ex-terrorist to be alert to such things.

"There won't be a large window of time before the halls will be fully staffed," the braided pilot thought aloud. "Even if we were able to get a hold of a couple weapons, if we take too long to get distance between them and us, game's over for us."

As he leaned back, Heero smirked knowingly, "Do you think you'll be up for it?"

Duo returned the smirk, no further response needed. The God of Death shown through that mischievous grin. Whatever the outcome of their attempted escape, death or freedom, their hellish stay would be over.

Wincing, Heero reached up to rub a sore spot at the base of his neck. With a deep frown of concern, Duo asked, "Are you all right?"

The slight discomfort subsided and eventually faded away entirely. Lowering his hand, Heero nodded, "Yea. Just a strained muscle. It's fine now." Quickly focusing on the matter at hand, he began, "Now, we need to have a good enough reason to get a couple guards in here without alarming them enough to call for backup."

"Oh, I have just the thing for that," the American grinned.

At the changing of the guards at the large base later that evening, two armed men that were about to be relieved as they began to walk away from the cell door. "Help!" screamed one of the pilots within the doors. Their eyes wide, the two soldiers turned to each other before removing the riffles and quickly opening the door.

Weapons raised, the first of the guards gazed to the braided pilot on the floor, shaking violently as he gasped for air and moaned in pain. The Japanese Preventer looked up at them with wide, frightened eyes as he cried, "He's having a seizure! Don't just stand there!"

Blinking his wide eyes, the first of the guards carefully stepped further into the room to get closer to the seizing prisoner. Aiming his weapon at the worried pilot, he ordered, "Stay back, in the corner." Heero quickly obeyed, moving to the furthest corner as he watched his friend with wide, fear-filled eyes.

Just as the guard reached and bent over the shaking form of the American, the young pilot suddenly grabbed his weapon, spinning it in his hands and firing. The second guard had two seconds too few to react in time to defend himself.

Moments later, outside of the base, the stillness of the night was shattered when the loud sirens of the base wailed their long cries to announce that the prisoners had escaped.

(End Flashback)

* * * * * *

"Are you insane!" Angie growled deeply, stalking towards Isis. Forgotten for the moment, Heero watched the scene in the living room from the hallway. As close as his two captors were, he knew better than to attempt to make any move at that point. Now knowing the identity of the last leak that he and his friends were searching for, he silently wished a painful end to him.

"By now, the others know that I've been a dirty agent all along!" the fallen Preventer shouted. "Why would you have me go back to the Earth to take out someone that does not know anything that would jeopardize the organization?"

With a satisfied smirk, Isis brushed back her orange bangs and answered, "Those pilots have the chip that had been planted in that girl, Angie. You seem to have forgotten that detail in all of this. Should they start to tie the links that are encoded, they'll eventually find their way to us. Our pictures will be distributed throughout the Earth and colonies and there will be nowhere that we can hide."

To that, Angie could only swallow hard. Taking a deep breath, Isis continued, "Now, I have had a few eyes from my own scouts watching the progress of the missions at both the orphanage and the safe house. Both the girl and Tim were taken into the Preventers' headquarters and have yet to leave. So, we need to remove the chance that they will get anything from that chip. We need to move in and soon, if we are to assure ourselves of not being discovered."

Angie's eyes narrowed further as she shook her head, "Can't you just send someone else to take care of him?"

Placing a hand on her agent's shoulder, Isis replied, "You're the only person that I can rely on to get the job done. First and foremost, you're the only person who knows that facility inside and out. I need to have someone that will make sure the job is done right.

"Now, when I said to take care of Tim, I did not necessarily mean to kill him. He could be an asset in assisting you to recover that chip. Use him however you need. " With a nonchalant shrug, the orange-haired young woman mocked sadness as she said, "If he should have to be sacrificed or have an unfortunate accident in the process, so be it." She raised a thin finger before the pilot's face to emphasize, "But first and foremost, that chip has to be destroyed, whatever the cost. While getting in and out of there will be a challenge, you have pulled off the impossible before. You were the only person capable of bringing Yuy in."

As she spat the ex-Wing pilot's name, the tall young woman's green eyes looked up to glare heatedly at the young man down the hall. He met her glare with his own. "I know that you will be able to pull this off."

When Angie still did not look to be satisfied with just that, the orange-haired woman tilted her head frowning deeply, "I'm meeting with him today." With no need to mention who `he' was, she watched as the fallen Preventer paled. "Do you really want me to tell him that you were insubordinate to a direct order. Now I did not want it to have to come to this, but if you leave me no choice-"

"No!" the dark-haired pilot quickly cried, her eyes wide with terror. Lowering her head and rubbing her arms nervously, she said quietly, "No, I-I'll take care of it."

Her smug grin returning, Isis ran a hand over her agent's hair and whispered, "That's a good girl." She cupped the ashen young woman's face in her hands so that their hazes met and reassured her, "I have the utmost faith in you that you'll get this done and that is why I am sending you. When this is all over, you can name your price for your services. By then, you would not be able to name a figure too high."

With a gesture to the young man in the hall, Isis stated coolly, "Now, go put him away so that you can get ready to leave. I want you out of here within the hour." As she appraised the small chip that she held in the lamp light, she grinned, "I have to prepare for my presentation."

Angie took a deep, slow breath before nodding, "Yes, Commander." With that, she turned and headed back down the hall. "Let's go," she hissed to her captive as she roughly tugged him along with her. "We have a special place set up just for you."

When they turned the corner, Heero peered out the corner of his eye and smirked darkly, "She's setting you up. You realize that, don't you?"

Tightening her grip on his arm, Angie growled deeply, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about. Isis said that she can't rely on anyone to carry out the task. She knows what she's doing by counting on me."

Heero shrugged, his smirk only growing as he commented, "Of course. Isis is very trustworthy when it comes to her looking after her own." He chuckled deeply, "Too bad that didn't quite work out for Kent."

"Shut up," Angie hissed sharply, glaring at the pilot fiercely. Pausing before the last metal door at the end of the darkened hall, she opened it and stated, "Isis did what she had to in order to advance. There would be no reason for her to try to get rid of me. You're just trying to cause me to doubt her intentions." With a rough shove, she sent Heero into the dark cell.

Just before she could slam the door after him, the ex-Wing pilot's narrowed eyes turned to the young woman he once thought of as someone he could trust. "Think, Angie," Heero warned. "You're being sent into the headquarters of the Preventers. Even with Tim's help, do you really think that you're going to get very far?"

The corner of his mouth tugged up as he said quietly, "I would just make sure to watch my back. Were I in her place, I would not miss out on this opportunity to remove more than just the threat of whatever is on that chip. The Preventers' headquarters has been a prim target for terrorists for years. To be the one responsible for leveling it, I'm sure Isis would go through whatever lengths to pull it off."

There was a look of hesitance in the young woman's eyes as she stiffened in the doorway, her hand still on the door. As much as she wanted to scream at him for making such accusations, Angie could not help but admit to herself that she feared the same even before he happened to mention it.

Shaking her head, she cleared her head and banished those dark thoughts. "No," she finally spoke, her voice little more than a whisper. Her eyes narrowing, she repeated louder and more sure of herself, "No. Isis would not sacrifice me for such a thing. She has what she wanted and that was to sit second-in-command of the operations we are carrying out to our main objective. There is no motive for her to have me sacrificed."

Heero raised an eyebrow and asked, "Not even to ensure that she stays second-in-command? There would have to be others further down the line that would be just waiting for the chance to set her up the way the two of you set Kent up. Had he done a better job of proving his worth, he would still be ordering Isis around."

With a sharp laugh, he went on, "And you're forgetting the most important piece of evidence here." At that, Angie quickly looked up to meet his gaze with wide eyes. "Do you really think that she's willing to share the credit of destroying that chip with you?" Heero inquired with a smug grin.

"That's enough!" Angie shouted, pistol suddenly in hand and aimed at the ex-Gundam pilot. Her shrill voice echoed eerily off the metal walls. "Another word and I'll kill you where you stand now!"

In seeing the way that the gun shook in the unsteady young woman's fierce grip, Heero was satisfied with his efforts. The seed had been planted and already, it was starting to grow its weeds into the young woman's firm resolve. He merely smirked at the fallen Preventer and nodded firmly. With that, Angie grunted loudly as she slammed the door.

In the dark, Heero sighed deeply and leaned his back against the far wall to sink to the floor. Gazing down to his shackled wrists, he weighed his options. Waiting was not one of them. Knowing that Angie would soon be leaving to destroy the data chip his friends had recovered, he couldn't risk their losing that chance to get to him in time. Somehow, he would just have to find a way to get himself out of his precarious situation.

Being trapped in that dark cell only served to bring back bittersweet memories of the weeks that he had spent with Duo prior to their separation. Had it not been for that time, the once deemed Perfect Soldier would never have opened up the way he had. His chest began to hurt over how much he missed his braided lover. Sighing deeply, Heero looked up to the ceiling and frowned deeply, "I wish that I had you around to talk to, koi."

* * * * * *

Duo glared through the observation glass to the young man in the other room. Standing at either side of the room, Wufei and Zechs loomed over their charge seated at the table in the center. Seated at that table, Tim stared back as if able to see through the mirror on his end to meet the gaze watching him, his own gray eyes narrowed heatedly in a silent challenge.

"I still don't see the point in keeping him alive," the braided pilot growled deeply. "He's served as bait and has no other use to us now. If anyone working for White Out saw us bringing him in, they'll be sending someone in to look for him. He doesn't have to be in one piece when they get here."

Lady Une frowned deeply and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I know your frustration, Duo," she replied sincerely as she turned to face him. "But we can't take his word that he does not know anything.

"Trowa and Anna are walking Noin and Quatre through on how they can help them decrypt the data card that was implanted in Rachel. There has to be something on there that would jog his memory." She smirked, "And if that can't Zechs and Wufei are just waiting for word to use other means."

Running a hand through his long bangs, Duo sighed deeply in frustration, "Yea, yea, I know. It's just not doing us or Heero a shit load of good just sitting and waiting, though, is it?" Lady Une lowered her hand and her head a bit, biting her lip in knowing that she couldn't disagree with the young pilot.

Unable to look at Tim any longer, the braided pilot turned towards the door and announced "I need to get some air." The commander just watched him quietly in concern as he slammed the door after him.

Stalking down the long hall of the basement floor, Duo made his way to the stairwell. With the building closed and locked off from the world, the empty shaft picked up every footstep as they echoed off the walls.

His body moving on its own accord, he walked up the flights until he reached his destination. Turning the corner, he quickly reached the door that he sought out and punched the access code. As the door to the office that he and Heero shared open, he turned the light on.

It had been months since the last time Duo had set foot into the large office. One of the first things that he noticed was that despite the fact that they had been gone so long, there was not a trace of dust to be found. The sight of it made him whimper as small tears filled his eyes. Recalling how painstakingly Heero had cared for his things while he was held, the braided pilot instantly regretted his decision to visit the room.

With a quick wipe at his eyes, Duo forced himself to regain his composure. As the braided pilot moved to the windows to look down on the city a voice from the doorway announced, "There you are." Looking up, Duo found Rachel smiling brightly at him. In her right arm, she carried her faithful teddy bear.

There was something about the child that always seemed to make Duo smile. Her own grin was quite infectious. "Hey, there, munchkin," he greeted as she entered the room. "What are you up to?"

"Looking for you," Rachel laughed as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Trowa and Anna are busy working and they sent me to look for you. That pretty Lady Une said that I would find you here."

Kneeling so that they were eye-to-eye, Duo frowned in confusion, "Why would they send you to look for me?"

Quickly spreading her arms wide, the child beamed, "To give you this." She launched herself at him, tightly wrapping her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek three times. "You looked sad all night and they said that you could use a good hug. The kisses are from all of us."

That sweet gesture undid the resolve that Duo was desperately trying to keep intact. Wrapping his arms around the small girl, he lifted her up as he rose to his feet, biting back a sharp sob as tears began to run down his face. "Thank you, Rachel," was all that he could manage in a broken whisper.

Pulling back, the little girl frowned deeply and wiped some of the tears away. "Don't cry, Duo," she said quietly. Her smiling returning, she reassured him, "Mister Hero is going to be all right. We'll get him back."

Something about the endearing, unbreakable faith managed to shed some light on the bleakness that threatened to swallow Duo whole. He chuckled deeply at her mispronunciation of his lover's name. With a watery smile of his own, he nodded, "Yea. Thanks, kiddo. I really needed that." Her smile growing, Rachel threw her arms around his neck again.

As he returned the embrace, Duo looked up to see Lady Une peeking into the doorway. The tall woman's eyes widened at being caught. Resigning herself to being spotted, she gave a sheepish smile. Suddenly, it was clear who had taken the time to see that his and Heero's things were looked after. With a sincere smile, the braided pilot mouthed, `Thank you.'

Her cheeks turning pink at being caught once again, Lady Une mouthed back, `You're welcome.' With that, she winked before disappearing once more.

Carefully shifting Rachel in his arms so that he could hold her more comfortably, Duo moved towards the window and smiled to her, "I bet you've never seen a city from up this high, have you?"

Her brown eyes widening in awe, Rachel peered down to the millions of city lights far below. "Wow," she breathed. "It's so pretty." Humming his agreement, Duo kissed the top of her head and enjoyed his own view of the slowly waking city below. Off in the distance, the sky began to lighten as the sun began its slow creep over the horizon.

* * * * * *

Technology was a wonderful thing. It certainly never ceased to amaze Isis. Appraising the small tracing detonator that took on the color of the tip of her finger to vanish before her eyes, she smiled to herself. Only if one was really looking would anyone know that something was there. As the sound of footsteps neared, she quickly rose from her seat at her desk.

With a clack backpack strapped over her shoulder, Angie nodded to her commander, "I'm off."

Isis gave a wide smile and patted the center of her agent's back, latching the small detonator onto the black, long-sleeved shirt. "Be certain to contact me as soon as you've finished to let me know how the mission went," she ordered.

With a firm nod, Angie replied, "Of course." Gesturing to the chip on the center of the orange-haired woman's desk, she said, "Good luck with your meeting."

Once the young woman left the hide out, Isis watched through the window over her desk as Angie's car pulled away. "Oh, I'm not the one who is going to need any luck this day, my dear," she chuckled deeply.