Rating PG (for the forseeable future)
Infiltration was sometimes necessary, usually by means that were somewhat unconventional. Offering up oneself, either by straight out surrender or fighting and letting oneself be overpowered, was dangerous in every known situation. He could have easily been killed, Heero reflected. The situation had been thoroughly researched, the atmosphere and mental stability of those in charge and their underlings studied. It was due to no mean luck that their predictions had been correct, and Heero had merely been taken in and imprisoned for questioning, not immediately killed. The one thing they hadn't expected, that no one could have expected, was that the cell he had been taken to had not been empty.
His eyes swept the interior of the room immediately as he entered. Ceiling to floor, checking for possible routes of escape. He expected none, seeing as one didn't build prisons to help prisoners escape. It was of little concern to him in that moment, because he had successfully completed step one, everything else would have to come into play at a later time. His eyes halted as they fixed on the back corner. A thin figured sat crouched there, back towards him. The small form was dressed in a thin t-shirt and shorts, with dull, ragged black hair the face. A child.
He didn't speak, seeing the trembling shoulders. If the person, the child, was frightened by his presence... he or she might also think him an enemy. Or perhaps he or she was just cold. The temperature of the cell was even, but not terribly warm. The concrete was not damp but conducted little in the way of heat. It was possible the guards thought cold would bring lethargy and lessen the will to escape. They had taken his outer uniform after all, leaving him in his thinner lining pants and undershirt. He took another look at the small figure, oddly drawn to the child, shaking his head. He settled back and allowed his mind to slip into a watchful sleep.
Twenty minutes later he was woke by a quiet sound. His eyes snapped open to meet a pair of wide, and frightened green eyes. They were set in a pale cream face framed by the jaggedly cut black hair. The arms and legs exposed by the clothing were thin, but he was relieved to see not weak. His jaw clenched as anger coursed through him. They had been keeping a child in here, this small child, a girl... a girl of no more than 6 or 7.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said quietly, half expecting her to jump and flee at the sound of his voice. Instead she stood straighter, the fear in her eyes turning into a form of quiet defiance.
"Why should I be afraid of you?" she asked with only a slight tremble in her voice. "You got caught, you can't be so tough."
She had guts, he had to give her that. He had to find a way to approach her, some way to make her trust him.
"I was caught, that's true," he started out tentatively. "My name is Heero, what's yours?"
"Lauren," she nearly whispered. "My middle name is Mya, 'cause of my eyes. It means emerald. My mommy used to tell me that... before she had to go away."
Heero swallowed convulsively. "Did they bring you here when she went away?"
Lauren nodded, her hair bouncing with the movement. They sat across from each other, taking survey of the other in silence.
"Did you come here to take me away?" she asked in a hopeful voice.
"We didn't know you were here," Heero said truthfully. "But I'll help you as best I can."
"I'd like that. My mommy's never coming back, y'know. It's always cold here, and they forget to feed me some times. I'm kind of like the puppy no one wants. It'll be ok if you take care of me, right? Can I call you Heero?"
"Sure. You can call me Heero."
She worried her lips, still quietly looking at the man in front of her. He didn't look too scary, and though his eyes were cold they were not cruel. He had pretty eyes, she decided. And his hair had to be just as messy as hers.
"What do you do?" she asked finally. "How did you get here?"
"I'm a pilot," Heero said after a second, staying still. "I work for the people trying to stop the people who are holding you here."
"You fly?" Her eyes grew so wide and luminous he thought the admiration in them would about blind him. "I used to see planes before..."
Cautiously Heero reached into his pocket and pulled out a small golden pin in the shape of two wings.
"This signifies that I'm one of the elite pilots," he told her, letting her take the pin.
"You're eeleet," she said copying his word. "That must mean you're special. And you got caught."
"I meant to," he corrected.
"Of course you did," she said, stroking the soft gold, "everyone does. Some just have a better reason than others."
He blinked. This child was unlike any other that he had encountered. That number was... slim, but... she intrigued him. That slight pull he felt when he had first saw her crouched in the corner was still there, and stronger. Admiration made it stronger, she was strong; she had spunk. But under it all she was still just a little girl who was alone, and frightened.
"If you want... you can sleep with me. Maybe we can keep each other warm," he offered.
She smiled, the first real smile he had seen cross her face, a bright affair of white baby teeth replaced here and there by newer, stronger teeth, and one that looked just a tad loose. Then she looked so young, the same little girl, and less the strong woman she was trying to become too early. Still clutching his gold wings she climbed up and allowed herself to be cradled against his chest. It took several minutes for her trembling to stop, and several more before she relaxed enough to sleep.
Breakfast was brought in that morning quickly and efficiently. They left no chance of a prisoner getting near the deliverer. Lauren stirred against him a few seconds after the tray had clanked to a halt.
"Food," she cooed into his shirt, her little arms snaking out to stretch. Scrambling up she grabbed his hand and waited patiently until he was able to get up and follow her. He nearly groaned, his backside felt like it had been nearly flattened as he hobbled with her. She poked at the bowls of thin oatmeal.
"They even put milk in it today," she mumbled around a bite of bread.
He began to reach down for a piece, when a scrap of paper poking out from under the edge of the bowl caught his attention. Lauren was there instantly as the paper opened.
"A fairy princess!" she squealed.
Maybe not a fairy, he admitted, but it was a princess. It was a picture of Relena, dressed in white at an official function. The lighting had hit her in such a way that she did seem to glow, causing Lauren's reaction to her. The blurb underneath of it spoke of the continuing search for the missing downed pilot in the area of instability. Were they taunting him with it?
"Who is she?" Lauren asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
"Her name is Relena. She's a very important person."
"To you? Or to everyone?"
The kid was too sharp.
"To everyone," he said carefully.
"So she's important to you, too, since you're part of everyone," she said hopefully.
"OK," he conceded with a nod. "She helped bring peace to everyone. That's why she's so important."
"You helped bring peace, too?"
"My... friends and I did as much as we could," he said.
"Did you almost die?"
He looked at her face, hearing the small note of apprehension in her voice. She was not seeking a thrill from death and war, but... she must have apparently associated it with her mother's leaving, or death.
"We had some close calls."
Moving like a frightened rabbit she moved to perch lightly on his knee and take his hand.
"I'm glad you didn't die," she said earnestly.
He felt the answering pang in his chest. What was this child doing to him?
"Me too," he said with some surprise, squeezing the little girl's hand.
Content with that she cuddled back against him.
"I'm bored, can I sing?"
In a lilting, slightly off-key voice she began a rousing rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Not for any memories of Christmas itself, but of the heart.
Another day went by, and half another night before the Preventers made their way in. The temperature in the cell had dropped somewhat, causing goose bumps to raise on even his stronger skin. He wished he had another two arms to help keep Lauren warm, even now her knees were tucked to her chest trying to conserve warmth. The temperature continued to drop until he could see his breath in the early morning light, and the child began to shiver.
"Yo, Heero, you alive in there?" came a voice from the doorway.
The word came on a burst of relief. Duo laughed as he inserted the keys.
"I've never heard you so glad to see me."
The man halted abruptly just inside the door to see Heero hunched over, protecting the little girl in his arms.
"Geez, man, it's freezing in here. Who's the kid?"
"An orphan from here, apparently. They'd been keeping her here, but apparently they decided to try and kill us off. What took you so long?"
Duo stripped off his coat and handed it to Heero to wrap around Lauren. She snuggled into the warmth without waking up.
"We got the information you sent us from the plane. It was just a matter of getting here. And none too soon. Do you want me to take..."
Seeing the look of near desperation in Heero's eyes Duo stopped. He held the girl possessively, carefully, like crumbling sugar. Duo's eyes widened. In the short time he had been here Heero Yuy had fallen... for a little girl.
"Let's get you two out of here," Duo settled on, leading the way. "Relena came with, so she's anxious to see how you are."
"What's she doing coming on a dangerous mission?" Heero barked.
"She was safe, my friend, don't worry," Duo said, attempting futilely to keep the humor out of his voice. "She was just concerned."
"I can take care of myself."
"I think she knows that, Heero. I said concern, not doubt."
Holding Lauren a little tighter, he allowed himself a small smile as he followed Duo. Concern was all right... he guessed.
Lauren woke as they passed the last line of soldiers. She knew Duo immediately from the descriptions of the other pilots that she had coerced out of Heero. Duo solemnly shook hands with the little girl, charmed by her big eyes, and precocious smile. He could feel for her situation, an orphan in unfamiliar grounds. Seeing the way she clung to Heero made him smile. It seemed like both she and Heero had found a rock in the storm.
Heero spotted Relena immediately, wrapped snugly in a bulky sweater and jeans she looked rather serene in the midst of the chaos. He supposed that was to be her lot in life. Her eyes searched his as they got closer, before turning with compassion to Lauren.
Lauren looked up from where she was playing with Heero's hair to see Relena standing there, and she gasped in delight.
"It's Relena," she said in a furtive whisper, kicking his knee accidentally to emphasize her point.
They hopped a bit sideways as she knocked him almost off balance.
"Heero...?" Relena queried.
"This is Lauren," he said straightening both himself and the girl. "Lauren, this is Relena."
Taking them both by surprise, she all but squirted from Heero's arms to hug Relena, causing Heero to nearly fall on them both to keep Lauren from plummeting in mid-leap because of the grip she had on his shirt. Relena squeaked softly as she found she suddenly had a child wound around her, and Heero with his arm behind her back to keep them up.
"Lauren," he said softly, his eyes level with Relena's neck. "Let go."
If she didn't let go soon, he thought frantically, his face was going to sink right into Relena's warm shoulder and he was never going to want to move.
"Do you want me to take her so she can get some warm clothes?" Relena asked.
"Mmm..." Heero began.
Suddenly Lauren turned and as his eyes closed she kissed his cheek.
"I'll go with Relena, ok? I'll come back."
He opened his eyes as she let him go, his eyes locking with Relena's. They froze, only inches away from each other, caught in some spell wove by the other. She looked away finally, patting his cheek softly.
"We'll be back soon."
He could do little but withdraw his arm, and wave meekly as Lauren enthusiastically waved over Relena's shoulder.
"Good thing she's not any heavier," Duo said over his shoulder. "You three would have made an interesting heap."
Heero scowled. "Relena could have gotten hurt if that had happened."
"I know. The kid's just looking for some security. You and Relena seem to be it. Did you tell her about Relena?"
"They gave us a newspaper clipping. She seemed to take immediately to her."
"Relena likes kids," Duo said almost off handedly. "I suppose that's a good thing, too."
"Wh..." Heero stopped, knowing he was about to play into Duo's little scheme. "Let's find some clothes."
"Your wish is my command. So... what are you going to do with two women now?"
"I don't *have*..." he began in a Heero version of exasperation.
Duo, king of bickering, had struck again.
"I'm so glad I got to meet you," Lauren said from her place against Relena's shoulder.
"Why do you trust me?" Relena queried.
"Because Heero does."
"He told you that?" Relena asked in surprise.
"No," Lauren scoffed. "Heero doesn't say stuff like that. He didn't mind Duo being called his friend, but he about keeled over when I asked if you were special... so I know you are."
"You got to know Heero pretty well, didn't you?"
"Yup. He's an eeleet pilot. He really did mean to get caught, didn't he?"
"Yes. He's the best."
"So why not send in someone easier to lose?"
"Because we knew he'd be able to get us the information and stay alive. We've all come to depend on him."
"I can tell why. He smells good, like a daddy should. Do you think he smells good?"
"Ah... yeah. He does."
"Good. I hoped you thought so."
"'Cause I like you, and I want you to like him too."
"No need to fear there, " Relena reassured.
In the house they had been brought to Relena drew a warm bath for the little girl, directing the hunt for clothing and a few belongings as Lauren laughed and played in the water.
In the surrounding village the men had found warm clothing, a coat and in a sweet act, even a teddy bear.
Clutching the bear in one hand and Relena's hand in the other, they were off to meet Heero. Heero stood with Duo as they entered. The Preventer uniform he wore was slightly too large, obviously borrowed. Still Lauren was enthralled at the sight of Heero in uniform.
"He looks handsome," Lauren announced to Relena.
Duo grinned at Lauren and then Relena who casually ignored him and his implications.
She looks better, Heero thought. She looked more like a child now, in colorful pants. The dull black hair now shone, swinging merrily around her chin.
"A social worker was called," Relena said quietly as Lauren left her side to take Heero's hand. "I'm not sure who called them, but they should be here any minute."
Heero's eyes closed briefly, and it was only through careful watching, and knowledge of him, that Duo and Relena saw the look of pain that crossed his face. His jaw tensed.
"What's going on?" Lauren asked.
"They're coming to take you to a better place," he said carefully.
"I want to stay with you!" Lauren exclaimed. "Heero, I want to stay, please?"
An unknown officer came to them.
"Sir, social services has arrived."
Heero's stomach clenched. How had they arrived already? There hadn't been enough time. He couldn't even begin to explain what was happening to Lauren, she was crying already, pleading with Relena to make her speak with him. Only quick eyes let him see Relena dash away a tear that was threatening to fall. She was soothing the child, that he knew. But in all honesty what could he do? Ask them to let him keep her? What did a soldier know about raising a little girl? What reason would they have to let her stay? He had nothing to offer, nothing to give.
A pleasant looking blonde entered, allowed in my the still nameless officer.
He stood, "Yes."
"My name is Ms. Lansen. I'm here for the child." She turned to look at Lauren, now silent and staring with wet horrified eyes. "Is this her?"
"Lauren," he corrected.
"Lauren," she said, smiling. "How would you like to come with me to a place where you can play with other children?"
"No!" Lauren shouted, clutching Relena's leg. "I'm not going to any orphanage. I'm not 'n orphan. I have Heero."
Ms. Lansen turned a quizzical gaze on Heero. He looked away quickly, Relena watching helplessly as he fought an internal struggle. She could say nothing, do nothing. A part of her urged to say she would care for the child... but she knew it was not her place. Lauren abruptly let go and ran to Heero, tugging at his shirt.
"Please, don't make me. Please, I'll be good! I'll be quiet, I won't ask questions. Can I stay with you Heero, please?"
Relena's eyes closed, her hand flying to cover her mouth as Heero took Laurens hand and placed in it in the hand of the social worker.
"You'll be better off where you're going," he said softly.
"But I'll be happy with you," Lauren whimpered.
The child hung her head, scrubbing at her tears with her free hand. When she looked up her bottom lip had slid into a pout, only making her look more miserable. "Me, too."
"I'll be in touch, Colonel Yuy," the social worker promised.
"Thanks," he grunted.
Heero and Relena followed the two out the door and into the parking lot. He swallowed hard, took a shuddering breath, as Lauren sent one last longing look over her shoulder. One tiny hand raised and waved. In his mind he could see her hanging over Relena's shoulder, waving ecstatically, the way she smiled like he was the best fudge sundae in the world as she had gone to him when they returned.
"Heero," he heard quietly from behind him. He turned to look, his eyes shooting from the bear Relena was holding out to him, to her eyes. His heart began to thunder as he saw the quiet shine of encouragement in Relena's eyes. He could do it. He could!
"Wait!" he shouted, taking the bear and running. "Lauren..."
The girl had twisted in the woman's grasp and stood, waiting expectantly as he dropped to one knee in front of her.
"Do you really want to stay with me?"
"Yes," Lauren whispered.
"Do you think we can make it?"
"You can do anything," she said confidently, throwing herself into his arms.
"I have a nice home," Heero began almost offhandedly to the social worker, "there's plenty of room, and I have a good income..."
"Your job is dangerous?"
"It doesn't have to be."
"He's safe, Ms. Lansen," Relena said from behind them. "There's no reason you should fear for Lauren when she's with Heero."
"You do know there will be a process to follow."
"Yes," Heero sighed, feeling Lauren hug him tighter. "I'll do anything that's necessary."
"This is a full time commitment, you understand?"
"I went through the wars, Ms. Lansen. There's nothing I'd like better than a full time commitment like Lauren."
This seemed to satisfy her, at last. Lauren leaned her forehead against Heero's and smiled.
"I was scared, but I knew you'd come through."
"I'm sorry. You were very brave."
"I know," Lauren grinned him, then at Relena who had come up to stand quietly behind him. "So were you."