8-10-2000

And Never the Twain Shall Meet
Part XIV

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"Heero, I'm so glad you could attend today's forum. It's been so long since I've seen you."

Heero's back stiffened noticeably at the sound of that voice. And, although the timbre was a bit more mature, Heero recognized it immediately.

"Relena." Due to recent events, it took a conscious effort on his part to refrain from hissing her name. He slowly turned to meet her ice-blue eyes and was momentarily stunned to find a woman standing there instead a little girl. "I'm not here for the reason you think."

Relena took in Heero's taut, ever-defensive features and smiled secretively. "I know why you're here, Heero," she admitted.

The pilot relaxed his stance a bit. "Why does that not surprise me?"

"What is that supposed to mean?" Relena served the question with the mild flavor of hostility.

That took Heero by surprise. "It means that I am not surprised. You do, after all, manage to have me followed wherever I go."

Relena appeared to be mildly injured by that statement. "Oh, come now, Heero, you must give me some credit. After all, I haven't chased after you in, what... almost a year?"

Heero gritted his teeth. "I don't have time to reminisce, Relena. I have work to do." With that Heero turned and walked away.

Relena smiled at Heero's retreating back.

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"I will be standing here and Ms. Peacecraft will be standing there." Treize indicated the podium opposite his own in the semicircle.

"Switch places," Wufei said simply.

"Pardon?"

"Switch places. Anyone who knows where you will be standing will be better able to plan your... demise. It may not make a difference, but when you leave your seat, you are to stand in Ms. Peacecraft's place. She has already been alerted to the change."

"Will that not then endanger Relena?"

"We think not. It will simply create an element of uncertainty for a potential assassin who may have gotten word of where you would be standing."

Treize raised an eyebrow. "I see." His voice betrayed that he was ever so slightly humored by Wufei's all-business approach.

Wufei's look and tone were even. "Don't start with me, Treize."

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"No, Kaylin, this goes here... and this... goes here." Duo sounded only slightly agitated.

"Stop yelling at me!"

Duo looked at Kaylin with honest surprise. "I wasn't yelling... was I?" Duo truly didn't remember how he had said it.

Kaylin huffed and looked at the floor. "No... no, I don't think you were. I'm sorry, Duo... I'm just tied in knots right now. Maybe I should just get out of your way."

"No, I'm sorry." Duo's apology was soft-spoken and sincere. "I keep forgetting that this is your first time," he added in the same tone, but with a huge grin on his face.

Kaylin looked up and chuckled at the cheesy grin.

"Here... take this to Trowa and let him know that we're finished here."

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Trowa took the case that Kaylin handed him and gently lay it on its side. He flipped the dual latches and opened the lid.

Quatre watched as Kaylin went pale. "A gun."

"A rifle," Trowa corrected. "A very accurate and powerful rifle." Trowa's voice was almost wistful.

"Still... it's... a gun." Kaylin's voice shook.

"Kaylin, can I talk to you for a moment."

Kaylin followed the sound of the voice to Quatre's smiling face. "Yeah... sure." He gave the weapon another uneasy look before following.

Quatre led them until they were safely out of earshot of the other boy. "Are you OK, Kaylin."

Kaylin visibly gathered his courage. "I just... reality didn't hit me until I saw that gun. I'm... unnerved."

"Kaylin, if you don't want to be here, you don't have to be."

"What makes you think I don't want to be here?"

Quatre grasped the other blonde's forearm with gentle firmness. "Kaylin... somebody is probably going to die here today."

Those words, combined with the way they were said, jarred Kaylin to the core.

In that single statement, Quatre had conveyed everything he felt when his duty demanded someone's death.

Kaylin was terrified and amazed all at once. Terrified that this boy-barely-a-man could so easily declare someone's death. Amazed that even through the grim determination, he could see the loathing for the task at hand. "You hate this, don't you."

"Yes," Quatre said quietly.

"Then why do you do it?"

Quatre looked at Kaylin out of the corner of his eye and smiled. "Do you believe in destiny, Kaylin?"

Kaylin thought that a rather odd question. "I... I don't know."

"Think about it. The world is in turmoil and this is the chance to end it. Do you think it is arbitrary that we are here... that you are here?"

Kaylin was becoming a bit unnerved again.

Quatre continued. "No. Today is too important. Everyone one of us is here for a reason. To answer your question, I do what I do because I was meant to be here today. Today is the day I have fought for for far to long." He looked at Kaylin. "You... you, on the other hand, have yet to determine why you are here today." He placed a reassuring hand on Kaylin's shoulder. "Be prepared, Kaylin... you may not like the role you play." Quatre turned his head away. "None of us does," he added softly.

Kaylin thought for a while about all that Quatre had said. "So, let me get this straight, if I decided to leave, then it's what I was meant to do?"

Quatre nodded. He knew Kaylin wouldn't want to be here. Hell, he didn't want to be here either - but Kaylin needed to make a choice - and he wanted to let Kaylin know he understood whatever choice he made. It was just meant to be.

"Then I guess you better find something for me to do..."

"Huh?!" Quatre looked struck.

Kaylin smiled smugly, "... and destiny be damned."

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Wufei and Duo visually scoured the crowd below them from opposite sides of a darkened balcony. So far, the morning had been uneventful.

Duo listened carefully to Treize's speech as his eyes traveled across the dignitaries and media below. That's it, Treize, lay it all out for them and then sell it. Hell, you almost have me convinced that this is really what you want. Keep talking... old man.

Wufei's eyes moved from one point of concern to the other. From Treize, Relena and the colony leaders to the crowd below. Closing the talks to the public but still allowing the media was a wise decision on Relena's part. His eyes settled on a set of open double doors on the floor below and across from him. That hallway lead to smaller conference rooms and offices. He watched as a severely limping figure walked into view and stood casually in the doorway, watching the proceedings. Wufei waited. The figure didn't move for quite some time, apparently engrossed in the fact that history was being made. Wufei was momentarily distracted by laughter from the crowd; however, he looked up in time to see the figure move off.

Something wasn't quite right. Wufei spoke into his headset. "Trowa, did you see the man standing in the west doorway."

"Yes." came Trowa's reply.

"See if you can determine what his business is."

"Right."

Wufei watched as Trowa's form appeared in the doorway. "I saw him go to the right."

Trowa took off to the left.

"To the right! To the right!"

Trowa stopped for a moment. "His right... or your right?"

Wufei couldn't believe this conversation. "My right!"

Trowa looked at the wall behind him. "Wufei, I can't go to the right... there's a wall there."

Wufei's features were briefly perplexed... then his eyes grew round. "The walls! Trowa! He's managed to get into the walls!"

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After considerable effort, Trowa found his way into the passage. "I'm in... but there's no sign of him."

"Be careful, Trowa." Five voices sounded almost simultaneously.

"Out," was all he said as he removed the headset.

Trowa looked around. Apparently this old building had been given a facelift by building a new structure around it. He waited, listening carefully. He thought he could detect movement from the right, but there was no way to go in that direction. He slowly made his way around the inner walls in the only direction he could go. As he made his way toward what would have been the South entrance, he found he could go no further. There has to be a way. Damn it!

He started making his way back around again before he spotted the metal ladder hanging almost flush against the outer wall... broken off about five feet above his head. Shit! How did he get up there?! Trowa shouldered his rifle and leapt, catching the bottom rung on the first try. He crept upward, making as little noise as possible. The ladder lead him through a small opening in the floor above. He stepped off and moved as quickly and quietly as possible toward the South side of the large room in which the conference was being held.

He rounded the corner at the South wall and brought his gun to bare. "Drop it."

The man didn't even flinch. It was obvious he already had his victim targeted through the small opening in the upper level wall.

"I said... drop it." Trowa could hear the joints in his own finger creak as it tightened on the trigger, but he feared that, even if his own shot was successful, the other man's gun would fire in reflex.

After a period of silence, the man asked him a question - his aim, unwavering. "Do you enjoy war, young man?"

"I despise it. Please, drop the weapon, now." Trowa recognized this man, he couldn't quite place the face though.

"I enjoy it. No... that's not entirely true. I live for it. Do you have any idea what it's like to walk away from a deadly battle? How glorious it is to know that you have been victorious?"

"Yes, I do. Now, drop the damn weapon!" Trowa was quickly losing his patience.

"Trowa?" Kaylin's voice could be heard from the opposite end of the narrow passage.

Damn it, now is not a good time! "Don't come any closer, Kaylin."

The man seemed to stop breathing for a moment. "Did you say... Kaylin?" He asked softly.

Recognition suddenly struck Trowa. "Marcus Braithwaite."

Braithwaite smiled as he peered through his sights at the man he intended to kill. "Kaylin, come here son."

Kaylin came around the corner and took a couple of steps before Trowa could react.

"No! Kaylin, don't move. Your father... he is trying to murder the General."

Trowa could have thrown a brick at Kaylin's head and it would have had the same effect. He watched as Kaylin froze, staggered a bit, and sagged against the wall.

"No," Kaylin managed in a very ragged voice.

"Oh, yes, son. I am going to eliminate this threat once and for all. I found out about his grand scheme. A scheme for peace. A scheme for the weak!" Kaylin's father snarled as he spoke those last words. "Treize would have them rule the world. I can't... I won't allow it."

"Mr. Braithwaite, it is through our weaknesses that we become strong. I have discovered that for myself recently. It is time for a new age. Now, for the last time, please, put down your weapon."

Kaylin steadied himself and his voice. "Treize... he's... he was like a second son to you. How could you do..."

"Treize is as weak as the rest of you," Marcus cut him off.

The statement confused Kaylin a bit. "What do you mean 'the rest of you'? What about mom... and Megg?"

Marcus Braithwaite seemed to consider his next words very carefully. "Who gives a shit." Then he smiled.

Kaylin fell to his knees as the words hit him as hard as a physical blow. He was wracked with so many emotions at once, all he could do was sit and stare for a moment. "What... what did you say?" Tears threatened the corners of his eyes. He did not want to believe.

Without answering the question, the assassin settled in to make his shot.

In that moment, Kaylin realized that this was not his father. This was not the man that had raised him with such a firm but loving hand. Only a madman could have spoken those words. Something had gone so terribly wrong somewhere. As he regained his feet, a steely determination and a cold sense of dread filled him... and Kaylin made his choice.

As Kaylin moved into the light, Trowa noticed a glint of silver attached to the end of Kaylin's outstretched arm. "Kaylin..."

"Drop the gun, da... Marcus." The sound of a gun's hammer being cocked momentarily drew the killers attention away from his quest.

That was the only shot Trowa had... and he couldn't make it because the bullet would pass through the would be killer and hit Kaylin. He almost pulled the trigger anyway.

Braithwaite smiled. "So... you did learn something while your pitiful ass was in training..."

Kaylin somehow managed to keep the gun steady while the rest of his body twitched at the words.

"... but you don't have the balls to pull the trigger."

Kaylin lost control. "Shut up! Just shut up and drop the gun!" Kaylin was moving closer still. "Papa, please! For God's sake, drop the gun!"

The killer just snorted and retargeted his prey.

"DROP THE GOD DAMNED GUN!" Kaylin tried desperately to get his father to listen.

Trowa could hear shouts of confusion coming from the other side of the wall as the 'guests' became aware of their presence.

What happened next, no one could ever be certain, it all happened so fast.

The flash of Braithwaite's hand, the horrified look on Kaylin's face, and three sounds Trowa hoped he would never hear again after today.

The sound of a trained killer's gunfire, the sound of an innocent's gunfire...

... and the sound of Kaylin... crying.

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Quatre sensed a commotion almost directly overhead where he stood at the South doorway. Trowa had found what they were looking for and it was now safe to move to better cover Treize. As he ran down the isle, he could hear shouting from somewhere above and behind him. He took off in a sprint... and that's when all hell broke loose.

The sound of gunfire from somewhere within the walls sent many of the media and dignitaries into a fit of screaming and scrambling. He could hear other more... seasoned people in the assembly trying to calm everyone. He left crowd control in their capable hands as he made his way toward where Heero, Duo, and Wufei knelt next to Treize... his head in a small puddle of his own blood.

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Trowa watched and listened as Kaylin sagged to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. He was not sure what he should do at this point. He wanted to offer Kaylin comfort, but he knew that Kaylin would probably lash out... at least in words. "Kaylin..."

Kaylin took a shuddering breath and looked at Trowa with questioning, tear-filled eyes. "WHY?!"

Trowa did not have an answer, but he did he have a response. "You did what you thought was right."

Kaylin bared his teeth. "How can you say that?!?! He was my father for Christ's sake!"

Trowa thought for a moment... then posed his own question. "Was he?"

Kaylin crawled to the prone form that lay before him. "Why... Papa... why?!" Kaylin broke down again as he lay his head against his father's chest.

Trowa walked to the point in the wall where the gunman had been targeting Treize and peered out. "Kaylin, Treize has been shot. I must assist the others but I do not wish to leave you alone. Please... come with me."

Kaylin sat up and wiped his swollen eyes on his sleeves. "Why did he do it, Trowa?" he asked again in a hoarse voice.

"He had the sickness of this war inside him." Trowa lowered himself to the floor where Kaylin sat trying to recover. "Kaylin... would your father... the man you knew as your father... would he have done something like this?"

Kaylin knew full well what Trowa was driving at. "No... no he wouldn't."

Trowa looked meaningfully at the distraught young man and said nothing more.

"He was already dead... wasn't he." Kaylin began choking back sobs again. He suddenly realized that he had already lost his father without ever having known it.

Trowa placed his hand on Kaylin's shoulder. "Kaylin... I'm sorry."

The blonde shook his head. "This... this isn't fair. The last time I saw him he was fine. I just... I don't understand what happened."

Trowa made a decision at that point. "We will find out what happened, Kaylin. You have my word. But, for now, you have to understand that this man... this man was not your father."

Kaylin stared at the corpse with tear blurred eyes and remained silent for several minutes as he sorted through his feelings and gathered his resolve. "No, Trowa... he wasn't."

Trowa looked up as Kaylin stood on shaky legs.

The blonde man's face turned to stone. "Let's go help the others." He turned and walked away.

Kaylin did not look back.

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Wufei gingerly examined the wound in Treize's scalp where a narrow row of flesh was neatly peeled back from his skull. "It is only a deep flesh wound, but the bullet must have concussed. He is out cold."

Duo looked at Heero and huffed with relief. "Thank God."

"Thank God indeed, young man." Treize cracked one eye open and looked at the surprised faces hovering over him. "I assure you I am quite lucid. I just... hurt."

Relena could not help but smirk at Treize's tenacity.

Wufei wore a barely perceptible smile of his own as he removed his shirt. "The media will be disappointed, I'm certain." He pressed his wadded shirt to the gash in Treize's head.

Quatre had politely directed the gathering crowd to reclaim their seats. They were in the process of complying when Kaylin and Trowa arrived.

Heero stood and nodded. "Good work, Trowa."

Trowa looked at Kaylin then back to Heero. "I did not stop the assassin, Kaylin did." He made certain everyone heard it.

That prompted looks of surprise from everyone who knew Kaylin.

Treize had managed to sit up with some assistance from Duo and Wufei. "I'm sure your father will be proud of you, Kaylin."

"Treize..." Kaylin's chin shook. "My father... was the one... trying to kill you. I... I shot him." Kaylin collapsed to his knees in front of Treize, too numb to show any further emotion.

That prompted gasps from everyone... except Treize. "I know... Kaylin... and I say again... your father will be proud of you."

It took a while for what Treize had said to register with the grief stricken boy. "You... you knew?"

The General looked at Kaylin with deep regret. "Kaylin, your father was a dedicated soldier... and he was a good man; however, he felt his life would come to an end should the war ever come to an end."

Heero and Duo looked at one another. They knew exactly what Treize meant.

"It was when I became aware of his obsession that I realized that things had gone too far. It was through him that I realized my own search for ultimate peace would doom others to a fate similar to his. A madness which would claim every one of us if I didn't put an end to it. That was when Ms. Peacecraft and myself began meeting secretly in order to hammer out the details to end the war. Your father was very resourceful. Somehow, word of our plans reached him. He saw peace as a death sentence for himself and others like him."

Duo had had his eye on his mate through Treize's entire dissertation. "Heero, are you ok?"

"This has to end... and it has to end now." Heero was angry, but there was a passion behind the anger. Everyone watched as Heero moved to stand in the focus of the semi-circle. He looked out across the crowd as the room fell silent. "My name is Heero Yuy." Heero paused. " I am a Gundam pilot."

That caused quite an uproar in the crowd. Cameras flashed and several disparaging comments about Gundams and their pilots could be heard quite clearly.

Duo did not appreciate those comments and his temper flared. He quickly rose from Treize's side and moved to stand in front of Heero. "Everyone, shut - the fuck - up!!!" Silence instantly fell over the room. "Listen... I mean really listen for a change." He turned and smiled at Heero, patting him on the shoulder as he moved to tend to Treize once again.

Heero again considered the ensemble of people before him. There were media people and individuals here from every government - not to mention Treize, Relena, and the colony leaders behind him. They were all silent now.

"I used to believe... that war was the answer. I used to believe a show of strength... a show of technological prowess... was the way to insure that certain dissenting factions would not step out of line."

"It is how I was trained."

"I used to believe that my only purpose in this life was to strive to be the perfect soldier... an emotionless killing machine inside of an emotionless killing machine. Accept each task as it is assigned... and perform that task with deadly accuracy. Destroy anyone and anything that stood in the way of my mission. No questions asked."

"It is how I was brainwashed."

Treize began motioning for the others to help him stand.

Heero continued. "This war... it has become pointless. No one has gained... and many have lost much. Who in this room can stand up and say with sincerity, that they have benefited from war? We have all lost someone or something we care about. Some of us claim to fight for honor... but, I challenge you, try to put words to the cause. Is it truly honorable? We all walk away with our hands stained crimson... but to what end? Show me one thing that you have today that you are absolutely certain you will still have tomorrow."

"My hands... are empty."

"It is time to put our differences aside and work toward a common goal. I am not suggesting pacifism. I - am - demanding - balance." Heero's voice shook and he had to stop for a moment to reel in his emotions... something he was hard pressed to do for a change. "Do we still need a military? Yes. To suggest setting our defense aside would be foolish, but military dominance must end. It has consumed us... and we have missed much."

"We have all missed living."

"I will not fight in your war any longer. I am young... I am tired... and I have... a new purpose now... a reason for living."

Heero turned and walked from the center of attention... his face... emotion ridden.

Treize, holding the ball of cloth firmly in place over his wound, approached his podium. "Effective immediately..."

...and people started applauding. First a few... and then more... and then many... and then most. Not all... but most.

Duo couldn't help himself. Right in front of God and everyone, he threw his arms around Heero and embraced him thoroughly. "I hope you realize... you just quit your job."

Relena looked at the couple and smiled.

Treize held up his free hand and the crowd fell into a dull roar. "Effective immediately, I am ordering the withdrawal of eighty percent of all assigned military. A similar number of military facilities will cease function. The remaining forces will insure a peaceful withdrawal from agreeing governments. Any dissenting or abstaining governments will be on their own as all troops and military facilities will cease function. I will assign return rosters by tomorrow PM. All those opposed?"

The hall went so quiet, one could hear the plants grow.

Treize dared the silence to make a noise of its own. "All those in favor?"

The chamber erupted into thunderous cheers.

Colony leaders, Treize, Relena, Kaylin, Duo, Trowa, Quatre, Wufei... and, yes, even Heero, found they could not contain themselves any longer.

A bittersweet joy filled the room.

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Heero busied himself with disassembling surveillance equipment on the upper level. "Hn. A lot of good this did." Quatre and Duo were off doing likewise elsewhere. Trowa, Wufei, and Kaylin were accompanying Treize to the nearest OZ military medical facility. Heero and Trowa had already seen to the morbid task of removing Braithwaite's body from within the walls while Kaylin had been kept busy elsewhere.

Heero stopped what he was doing and sat with his eyes closed. It's over. I... I can't believe... it's really over.

"Heero, may I speak with you?"

He looked to where Relena was coming up the stairs. She hadn't said his name the way she normally did. "I have work to do, Relena. I am meeting someone as soon as I am finished."

"Hmmm... let me guess..." She tapped her finger on her cheek as she walked to stand over Heero. "... could you perhaps be referring to... Duo Maxwell?"

Heero came to his feet, his surprise shone clearly on his face.

Relena smiled. She had never before seen that expression on Heero's face, and it was almost... comical. "Why do you think I haven't bothered to pursue you in almost a year?"

Heero clamped his jaw shut before responding. "I thought you were unable to locate me."

Relena raised both eyebrows and laughed out loud. "Heero, I've known where you were all along... " She stepped closer to the handsome man. "... I just realized I didn't stand a chance against Duo Maxwell."

"Relena, how in the hell..."

"... did I know?" Relena shrugged. "Female intuition. I'm a very bright girl." Relena chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Not to mention the fact that I have friends at every major university in the world. Also keep in mind that Treize and I have been working on peace plans for well over a year. Treize likes to talk. Treize knows Wufei... and Wufei likes to talk."

Heero looked down and squeezed his eyes shut. "I am going to kill him."

Whether Heero meant Treize or Wufei, she did not know, but she laughed at Heero's use of the same old threat. "Oh, come now, Heero. It was only speculation really. Besides, you should be grateful. It sent a very clear message to me that I was getting in the way. I'm just glad you opened your eyes. You deserve the happiness."

Heero actually stammered. "But... but..."

"But, but nothing. The two of you are perfect for each other." Relena laughed at the look on the former pilot's face. "Don't get me wrong Heero, I still think you are drop-dead gorgeous, but I have grown out of my obsession. Now... now I would like nothing more than to be a friend to you. Oh, I may flirt every now and again..." Relena put her arms around Heero's neck. "... but I know when I've been bested. God bless you, Heero." Relena's eyes sparkled in the balcony's dim lighting. "God bless you both."

Duo chose that moment to come up the stairs. "Heero?!?!?!"

Heero looked at the shocked expression on Duo's face and almost laughed. He held out his hand and motioned for Duo to come hither. "Duo come here. I would like you to meet..." He looked back into the smiling woman's eyes and began smiling himself. "... the real Relena Peacecraft."

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Treize winced as the doctor tied off the last of the stitches and applied a dressing. "Well, that should do it. You will definitely have a scar there though."

Treize smiled as he stood from the examination table. "It's quite all right. I'm sure my hair will cover it."

"Hair?" The doctor looked at Treize and laughed. "You'll be lucky to have peach fuzz there."

Kaylin and Wufei both snorted.

"I... I'm going to be bald there?"

The smiling doctor nodded his head. "Probably."

Treize looked at Trowa then turned his attention to the two snickering boys. "I don't find this funny in the least. What am I going to do?"

"Mohawk," Trowa deadpanned.

Laughter chased laughter through the halls of the medical facility.

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Six young men and two world leaders walked through the OZ airbase.

"Your Gundams have been hangared back in North America," Relena informed.

The five pilots stopped in their tracks.

Relena turned and looked at them. "Don't worry, they are not under lock and key..." She looked at Quatre. "They were transported to one of the Winner holdings."

Five faces conveyed their owners' relief.

"It is a pity you must leave so soon." Treize sounded sincerely downcast. "There will undoubtedly be celebrations this evening and for several days to come."

"We need to get back. We have classes to attend." Heero sounded like he needed a break.

Relena smiled and gave him one. "Oh, well... I guess I forgot to mention... Treize and I have ordered all schools closed for the next two weeks. We want returning military personnel to have some time together with their families. The lost class time will be made up at the end of the Spring semester."

Quatre examined the faces of his friends. Kaylin, especially, looked lost in his own thoughts. "Thank you both. However, I think it is best that we return. We all have a great many issues to face right now."

"Don't worry. I'm sure we'll be doing some celebrating of our own," Duo added with a wink.

Relena folded her hands behind her back and bounced on her toes. "Rub it in, Duo," she murmured, smiling mischievously. "Very well then. Treize has arranged for your flight back."

Treize cleared his throat. "Kaylin... I thought I should let you know... you were correct in assuming I would approve of your new friends. Wufei... take care of... my Nephew. If either of you should ever need anything..."

The two young men smiled slightly and nodded.

"That goes for all of you," Relena added. "Do not hesitate to call on either one of us."

"Thank you Treize... Relena. You are both too kind," Quatre said sincerely.

Everyone fell silent.

Duo looked around for a moment. "Ehhh... what the hell." He moved forward and gripped Relena in a bear hug, lifting her from her feet and forcing almost all the air from her lungs.

She giggled and gasped. "You take care of Heero or I'll..."

Duo set Relena down and laughed. "I know, I know... there'll be hell to pay."

Relena smirked. "To put it mildly... and, Duo... do take care of yourself."

Relena and Treize watched as the six men boarded their plane. "Do you think we will ever see them again?" Relena asked hopefully, looking up at Treize.

"Most definitely."

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Duo bounded down the aisle. "Wooohoooo! First class... look! There's even a bar and a big-screen TV. I wonder if that thing will fit in Shinigami's belly?"

Heero poked him in the ribs. "Don't even think about it. Your days of thieving are over."

Wufei crossed his arms over his chest. "Which one, Maxwell, the bar or the television?"

"Oooo! Me... a Gundam... and a built in bar. Now there's a scary combo." Duo chose a window seat and plopped his lanky butt down, Heero sitting beside him.

Wufei continued down the aisle to where Kaylin sat, alone. "May I sit here?"

Kaylin pulled himself from his thoughts and nodded.

The Chinese man sat down and examined Kaylin's expression. "Are you all right?"

Kaylin looked on the verge of tears again. He blinked his watering eyes and shook his head. "No..."

"Perhaps I should leave you to your thoughts." Wufei moved to stand.

Kaylin gripped his forearm. "Please... I don't want to be alone. I'll be OK... eventually. I just... need your company."

Wufei settled into his seat again and nodded his understanding.

Duo could hardly sit still. He looked across the aisle where Quatre and Trowa sat. "So, what's the plan, guys?"

Quatre leaned his head forward and looked past Trowa to a broadly smiling Duo and a content looking Heero. "We go back to the university and gather our things. I think we all need and deserve a little vacation right now. I am asking you all to come to the Montgomery estate. It's one of the few remaining plantation homes left in the area; quite beautiful... and very relaxing. It will also give us some time to... sort things out."

Heero turned and looked into Duo's hope filled eyes. He smiled slightly and nodded his agreement to Quatre.

Trowa leaned into the aisle and looked to the rear of the plane where Wufei and Kaylin sat.

"Is that agreeable with you, Kaylin?" Wufei asked softly.

Kaylin swallowed hard. "I... I will need to go home for a couple of days... to be with my mom and Megg... while we bury my fath..." Kaylin choked off the words and nodded as he regained control of his voice. "I will join you... later."

Wufei looked back to where Trowa was still waiting for an answer and nodded.

Trowa scooted down and rested his head on the back of the seat, closing his eyes. "They will be there."

"What about you, Trowa?"

He cracked one eye open to find Quatre smiling at him. "I am there by default, Quatre... you know that... but I would like to see Catherine. If I can convince her to take a break, would you mind terribly if she came to visit?"

Quatre's smile broadened. "You needn't ask. She will take a break and she will be there. I promise."

Trowa smiled and closed his eyes again.

Within minutes of the plane's takeoff - for perhaps the first time in any of their lives - the six young men were truly... sound asleep.