by Dev-Aki Basaa
Duo aimed his gun and squeezed off a round, his ears ringing even with the headset he wore muffling the sound. The kickback was stronger with this new automatic Preventers had adopted and he found it taking longer to get used to than he would have liked. He set down the gun and punched his fist into the reset button. The paper dummy came flying towards him while his percentage tallied on the screen above him.
It took 95% to pass the test, but he had been shooting 98% before his leave. Duo tossed aside the dummy and picked up his gun, dropping the empty and loading another clip. He aimed and squeezed, repeating the process.
Duo turned to see Quatre standing beside him. He didn't hear him walk up, in fact, he couldn't be sure he hadn't been standing there for a long while. Just like Duo, he had on the headset and goggles, per regulations. The goggles looked excessively large on his small round face. Of all of them, Quatre had grown the least since the war.
"Wufei tells me you passed the test an hour ago," he continued to yell over the other stalls of agents target practicing.
Duo frowned and picked his gun up again, reloading it. "That's his opinion."
Quatre sighed, an act with him that involved his whole body, like something inside him deflated and he was smaller for it. Duo raised his gun, aimed and fired.
Duo punched a fist in the air. "That's more like it!"
"Will you stop now, then?"
Duo looked at Quatre, surprised at the fierce expression on his face. Then Quatre's face softened and he spread his hands in an apologetic gesture.
"Listen. I know you're mad at yourself for not being the one to go after Heero, but there's a lot more to it than that. Am I right?"
Duo looked away, picking up his gun again, but not reloading, just fiddling with it, feeling the metal cool in his hands. He hadn't touched on that question since storming out of the meeting in Une's office and moping in the lounge. Why did he leave?
"You're going to kill yourself at this rate," Quatre continued. "You've passed an ungodly amount of tests in just this past week: the hand-to-hand combat test, running speed, the obstacle course, now the firing range. And you're not necessarily passing them on the first try, so I know you're working like a maniac to pass them. Not to mention all the written tests you took and passed last week. When do you stop?"
"When I'm an agent again," he answered, the words coming quick, surprising himself.
"But why do you have to be an agent in less than two week's time? Do you know something we don't?"
Duo scoffed - again with the suspicion. It was as if they were thinking he had a telepathic connection with Heero and keeping it from them.
"No. What you know, I know," he answered.
"Then why, Duo?"
Duo shrugged and scuffed the toe of his boot against the stall wall. Quatre was asking a lot of questions, none of which made him feel very comfortable; he had to lighten the conversation. He flashed his broadest, brightest smile and jabbed Quatre in the side with his elbow. "Hey, Q-man, you know me. Can't have Heero coming back and being able to kick my butt on the field. You know how competitive that bastard is, can't have him thinking he's one-uped me."
Quatre didn't smile
"Why don't you take a break and have dinner with Trowa and me?" he said instead. "You can order a steak."
Duo laughed - once at himself for his failed diversion and again at Quatre's own baiting distraction. But for all his joking, he didn't exactly feel social right now. He shook his head.
"Tempting, but I'll pass."
Quatre did that deflating sigh again. "Well, at least get out of here and go home, okay?"
Duo nodded, finally putting down the gun. He turned to face Quatre and leaned against the stall half-wall, arms folded across his chest. "Sure, I gotta. You wouldn't believe the mess Mari makes if I'm not home by a decent hour. Some watchdog. The only thing she's watching is her food dish and my schedule."
Quatre did chuckle this time, reaching out to squeeze Duo's forearm. They were speaking at normal levels now, all the other stalls had emptied. It was getting rather late. Quatre looked up, holding full eye contact with Duo before he continued.
"If you need to talk - ever - you know you came come to me, right?"
Duo smiled, genuine and thankful. He never doubted he had some pretty damn good friends. "Yeah."
Quatre smiled in return and took a few steps backwards, out of Duo's stall into the hall that connected each one. "Give that dog of yours a hug for me, okay?"
Duo grinned and answered, "You give yours one from me."
Quatre paused, his features crumpling with a puzzled look. "I don't have a dog."
Duo's grin took an evil twist and he winked. Quatre seemed to jolt with realization and then flushed the brightest pink Duo'd ever seen of the blonde. He swore he could see his scalp glowing under his pale locks. Quatre slowly turned, still dumbstruck, and headed for the door out of the firing range.
"You don't hide your toys very well, Q-man," Duo called after him, his voice bubbling with laughter. "I saw that studded collar hanging off Trowa's closet door!"
Quatre didn't turn around, but waved a hand over his shoulder. "Bye, Duo."
"Night, Quatre!" Duo answered as he disappeared into the hall beyond the room's door.
He stood there for a long while after Quatre left, just staring at the door. His grin faded as his friend's question haunted his mind.
Duo turned back to the range before him, picking up his gun and taking his time reloading it.
Fear. The thought came unbidden, as if shoved up from deep within his mind. Little bumps rose across his skin. Fear... that Heero would leave him for good. They all have, haven't they? Willingly or not. What if something happened to Heero on this mission, he wouldn't be the one there covering his back. Not to say he didn't trust Zechs, but... Duo shook his head. It was more than just that. It was different with this mission. How so? Why did he run away?
'Preparing for the inevitable,' a small voice in his head answered. Duo startled, but a few things fell into place with that thought.
This mission had been different because it was more dangerous (it wouldn't have been such a secret otherwise) and longer (even if hearing that five years was the projected length had been a shock, he did know this assignment would be a doosie) than any mission Heero had been on since the war. And Heero didn't need him in the war.
Preparing for the inevitable.
That was it - his fear that Heero didn't need him. That he would come back, after being away so long, realizing this and sending Duo on his merry way, out of his life. Or worse, that he'd not come back at all. The longer he was gone, the more unbearable it became. And what would he do if he truly found himself alone, without a partner?
Leave Preventers, start a new life. Run away and hide - it's what he's best at.
So, he'd beat fate to the chase and left Preventers before it was necessary. Duo turned, swinging a punch at the wall, his knuckles cracked upon impact. It wasn't necessary! He had Heero both dead and packed and gone before the boy even had a chance to come back! When did he become so dependent? He'd always been a loner.
'And you hated it too,' the voice answered again. Duo sighed, resting against the stall wall and shaking out his fist - sore, but un-hurt. It was true. With Heero, he had a home for the first time in his life and that's why being at the apartment didn't bother him like being at Headquarters did. Being alone at HQ reminded Duo of how Heero didn't need him, of a life without him, while being alone at home reminded him of how much a part of Heero's life he was and the life they were building together - it was a complete conundrum. So he'd run, leaving an organization he believed in - leaving his second home. Because that's what Preventers had been to him.
He looked down at the gun in his grip. It was so familiar, having a weapon in his hands, so natural. The salvage business didn't compare to this life, had never been the outlet being a Preventer was to him. Just like the old soldiers who'd flocked to the organization, he too had found the only place, in a pacifist world, where he fit. And he'd almost walked away for good. He loved Heero - that would never change - but, he couldn't live his life around what Heero did or didn't do with his. No matter what happened; the worst - the end of their relationship, willingly or not - or the best - a team, partners forever - he would be a Preventer through it all. His sanity would thank him for it.
Duo raised the gun, aimed and squeezed off a final round. He set down the gun and waited, studying the paper dummy when it rushed towards him. Then he looked up.
"Well, I'll be damned."