Chapter Seventeen

Little Quat snuggled closer to Kaori's body to escape the cold of night.  He knew he probably shouldn't, that it might hurt her injuries even more to have him against her sore side.  But the night was too dark this far out in the wilderness, and all sort of strange animal sounds could be heard.  He shivered from more than just cold.

The horses hadn't left them, surprisingly.  He'd managed to remove his bay-colored horse's saddle to make it more comfortable and rinsed the sweat stains from its back and sides.  He left the blanket on to help keep her warm.  And the horses seemed to be thanking him for his kind care by sticking around, even in this scary and dark forest with night creatures all around them. 

Kaori had been unconscious for a long time, since the sun had started to set hours ago.  Quatre began to doubt if she'd wake up at all.  But her steady breathing and warm body reassured him that she was alive.  As he had washed her wounds when they first arrived at the stream, he thought he felt a wave of her immense pain.  Little Quatre shuddered now, thinking about how it made him feel.  He was surprised that she could hold all that inside. 

He felt the presence of people close by.  Quatre tensed, fearing them to be the soldiers that were still looking for him and Kaori, even though it'd been hours since they escaped the base.  Clicking the safety off the gun that Kaori had given him, his shaking hands attempted to hold the gun steady and in the direction he sensed the presence of other people.

The horses began to shift, showing their discomfort.  Something was definitely sneaking up on them.  He remembered what Kaori had said, about not firing the gun.  Carefully, he clicked the safety back on.  A figure began to emerge from the foliage, trapping him between them and the wide stream behind him. 

"Hey kiddo," Uncle Trowa's soft voice said from the bush.  Little Quat squealed and ran toward the tall shadow of a man, throwing his arms around Uncle Trowa's neck and crying from relief. 

"Oh, Uncle Trowa, I was so scared," he managed to say between sobs and gasps for air. 

"From all the commotion over here, I take it you've found the kids?" Wufei spoke up, appearing from somewhere off to the right. 

"Uncle Wu!" Little Quat exclaimed, relinquishing his chokehold on Trowa and running to embrace his other uncle. 

Wufei cradled Quatre as best he could, patting the little blonde head and holding his trembling body close.  "How is she?" he asked, noticing Trowa bending over the still form of Kaori.

"Alive."

"She's hurt bad, Uncle Wu.  Daniel beat her…and…" Quatre tried to say before breaking down into another bout of sobs. 

"Don't worry about her," Wufei soothed.  "Kaori is stronger than she seems.  We'll take her home and she'll be just fine."  He wished he could believe his own words, but from what he could see in the dark, Kaori's life was dangerously close to extinguishing. 

Trowa shook his head slightly, muttering under his breath about the Yuy Death Wish.  He looked back up at Quatre Junior. 

"Are these your new friends?" he asked, nodding his head in the direction of the horses.  Quatre tore himself away from Wufei's shirt long enough to see what Trowa was talking about before agreeing with a nod of his head.  "Well, they'll come in handy for bringing Kaori back to the base…"

"The base!?" Little Quat squeaked, holding on tighter to Wufei.  "I don't want to go back to the base!"

"Don't worry, little one," Trowa soothed as he moved to pick up Kaori.  "We left the shuttle at the base, and no one there will hurt you anymore."  He gingerly leapt up on the tall bay colored horse and held Kaori close to his chest.  Wufei began to direct Quatre Junior to the smaller dark horse.

"You're on the wrong one, Uncle Trowa," Quatre said, allowing Wufei to help him up on the other horse.  "That one is mine.  Can we keep her?"

"You've already picked out a horse?  Won't your father just love that," Trowa mused, smiling.  He wasn't surprised at all to find out the miniature Quatre had made friends with the animals and wanted to take them home.

Wufei settled himself behind Little Quat and began directing the horse towards the base.  Trowa's horse followed.

"Her name is Sandy," Quatre said, feeling much better now that his uncles were here, the kidnapping and escape were over, and Kaori was going to be ok.  "I named her after Daddy's Sandrock, since she helped us escape danger just like Daddy's Gundam used to…"  The little Winner continued making conversation the entire way back to the base.

*******

Duo fell of the couch with a thud.  He gathered himself and his gun before rushing to the communicator, barely making it there before Quatre who had rushed out of his bedroom the moment he'd heard the beeping. 

"Maxwell here," Duo spoke, his voice hardly working due to the early morning hour. 

"Yuy," Heero identified himself with a stern worried look on his face.  "We found the kids."

Quatre shoved Duo aside to talk to Heero.  "Is he there?  Is he safe?"

"He's fine.  A little shaken from the whole experience, but doing remarkably well."  Heero looked away from the vidcam for a moment and then set a bright blonde boy in his lap.

"Hi Daddy!" Quatre Junior beamed from the monitor.  "Guess what?  Uncle Trowa said I could keep her.  Isn't that great?" 

"Sure, son," Quatre said with a sigh of relief, no knowing exactly what he was agreeing to.  "I'm glad to see that you're alright."

"I'm fine, Daddy.  Don't worry about me.  Kaori…"

"Why don't you help Uncle Trowa load Sandy on the shuttle?" Heero interrupted, setting Junior down off his lap.  Little Quat beamed a smile, nodded, and ran off somewhere off camera.  "We'll be back ASAP, Trowa and Wufei are warming up the shuttle now.  We'll depart in about five minutes."

"Heero," Duo said, concern lacing his voice as he again pushed Quatre away from the monitor.  "What happened to Kaori?"

"She's injured," Heero answered after a moment's hesitation.  "Tell Sally to be prepared."

"Prepared for what?" Duo pressed for more information. 

Heero thought a moment, his face again turning away from the vidcam as he looked at something offscreen.  It didn't take a genius to figure out he was looking at his daughter.  Duo didn't interrupt.  "Broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, lacerations, possibly a sprained or broken knee, and she tore the stitches out of her right hand." 

Duo and Quatre gasped at hearing Heero's list of her injuries.  "I'll tell her to be prepared for the worst," Duo offered. 

"She looks horrible," Heero admitted.  He glanced down, not making eye contact with Duo's face on the monitor.  "Don't let the kids see her."  Heero shut off the communication line before either Duo or Quatre could think to answer.

*******

Luke paced up and down the hallway outside of Sally's lab.  He may be a teenage boy and a heavy sleeper, but everyone heard the shuttle land at 05:16 that morning.  And it wasn't until he rushed into Natalie's temporary bedroom in his father's apartment that he realized all the adults had left to go who knows where.  But he knew now.  His father, Quatre, Quatre's wife Catherine, and Natalie's mother Roddy had all abandoned their sleeping children and gone to meet the shuttle that brought Kaori. 

And now every one of their parents were inside that lab, working as best they could to patch Kaori up and keep her alive.  Even Dean Noin had shown up and gone into the lab.  He was thankful that they'd not told him of Kaori's arrival.  By the way Cathy ran out of the operating room and held Little Quat close to her and cried, he could tell that Kaori's situation was not favorable. 

Hade was beside himself with worry, doing nothing but sitting outside the lab against the wall with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them.  Mei had sat down beside him, hoping to offer a little bit of comfort just by being there.  Cathy was holding Little Quat in her lap just a few feet away, with Natalie holding tight to him as well. 

With a sigh of frustration, Luke turned back around and stalked the hall again, knowing he was making everyone more nervous with his pacing but unable to stop.  After three hours of waiting, he heard the door creak open.

He was in his father's face immediately, about to ask questions about Kaori's health and whether or not they could see her, but Duo's face and body language emanated extreme exhaustion.  Luke opted to hug his father instead.  The elder Maxwell sank into his son's embrace, seemingly unable to stand on his own two feet anymore. 

Quatre was the next to emerge.  His arms and hands had been washed clean of Kaori's blood, but his face and shirt were smeared with it.  He joined his family in a heap on the floor.  Natalie ran to her father and mother as soon as they entered the hall, and Trowa held her in his arms as they left the hall and headed toward the peace of an apartment downstairs.  Sally and Wufei came out, still wiping their hands of Kaori's blood.  Sally looked completely exhausted and leaned heavily against her mate as they made their way into the hall of soft crying and worrying. 

"She'll be alright," Sally gave her doctor's opinion, knowing that their children had been kept in the dark about the entire situation.  "Its going to take a few weeks for her to get back on her feet again, but Kaori will pull through this with a little time.  It'll be even longer before she's back at top form, of course, and I doubt if she'll be able to return to the Academy before the end of the year…" Sally's voice trailed off.  She knew, and so did everyone else, that Kaori would be crushed at not being able to return to "active duty." 

"Thank you Sally," Hayden said, getting up off the floor and hugging Mei's mother.  "Thank you all so much for helping her."

*******

Hayden breathed deeply as the wind ruffled his bangs and made his braid swish against his suit.  The sounds of Luke's sneezes made him smile, and he was eternally grateful that he didn't have allergies like his younger brother.  Earth spring was just too beautiful to stay inside, and poor Luke had the stuffy nose and sinus pressure to prove it.  He could hear Mei's light laughter as she handed Luke yet another tissue. 

The grounds of the Academy were alive with color.  Bushes and trees that were so drab during the winter months were blossoming in blues, pinks, yellows, and oranges.  The dainty pink petals of the cherry trees littered the ground like confetti, swirling in the wind as they drifted down from lofty branches. 

A sniff at his side warned him just moments before his gigantic brother's hand clapped down on his back.  "Well, Bro, looks like we're going to graduate after all.  Two years of training have been accomplished, and we'll be assigned to our stations on the Earth and in the Colonies by the end of the day.  How do you feel?" Luke joked.

"Like I want to hurry up and get on with the rest of my life, and I want to stay here at the Academy forever," Hayden replied, getting a little misty-eyed as he looked up at his brother. 

"Don't worry, Hade.  I'm sure Lady Une will assign us to the same station.  We do have connections you know," Luke said with another loud sniff.  "Our dads just happen to be Gundam Pilots."

"And when you get assigned," Mei said from where she stood beside Luke, "you'll get to see Kaori again.  I'm sure that Lady Une will at lease sign you two together."  She gave a big smile and hooked her arm around Luke's.  "Didn't she say she was going to try to make it here for graduation?"

"Yea, but she's awful busy on L1.  I'm not sure if they would give her time off for a vacation," Hayden confessed.  "I sure hope she can get away and come."

Little Quatre and Natalie were running in and out of the cadets, dressed in their nicest clothes and managing to run at full speed in them.  They laughed as they played, showing no evidence of the mishaps a year and a half ago.  He could hear the horses whinny from around the corner of the Academy.  Natalie and Quatre Junior ran to where Sandy and Chestnut waited in a nearby pasture with their new foal.

Hayden scanned the crowd of instructors for his father.  He saw him near the Bartons and Winners, chatting merrily with Jin and playing with his braid as Heero stood silently by.  The three of them had become fast friends again, all moving into the same apartment soon after Quatre and Trowa had left to take their families back to the Winner estate. 

Luke sneezed again.  "Never had damn trees like this on L2," he said, glaring at the cherry tree above him. 

"Do you think they sent her on a mission?" Hayden asked.

"I'm sure Kaori will be here.  I mean, the girl fully recovered from all that before anyone ever expected her to," Luke said with another sneeze.  "Noin graduated her as soon as Sally said it was ok for her to return to the Academy, and Une assigned her to L1 without a moment's hesitation.  If she can pull all that off, then she can show up to a measly little boyfriend's graduation."

"Thanks, idiot," Hayden said, dodging his brother's hand.  Before long, the Maxwell brothers were chasing each other through the crowds, wrinkling their formal dress uniform as they behaved like children. 

Hayden stopped immediately when he saw her, making Luke almost run into him and plow them both into the ground.  She smiled and rolled her eyes as the brothers tried to smooth out their uniforms and look presentable. 

"I'm on duty for eight months and this is what you turn into?" Kaori teased, shaking her head in mock frustration.  She couldn't keep the smile from her face. 

"We can't help it!" Luke insisted.  He sneezed again.  "Come on, we haven't graduated yet, Miss I'm-just-as-professional-as-my-father Yuy!"  Luke grabbed her into a fierce hug, and for once she didn't mind the wrinkling of her uniform. 

"That's Lieutenant Yuy to you, Cadet Maxwell," she corrected.

"Yea, yea, yea."  Luke moved out of the way for Mei to give her long-time friend a hug. 

"So I take it that everything is going alright?" Mei asked.

Kaori nodded, looking over to Hayden.  "There's a new cadet who's going to be assigned to my section," she said with a bright smile.  "And I can't wait for his arrival."