Disclaimers: I do not own these characters nor do I profit in any way from my rambling.

Warnings: mild angst

Synopsis: The five pilots come together in a private school to prepare for a mission. An incident between Heero and Duo has the Deathscythe pilot questioning the other pilots' friendships. He decides to put them to the test.

A Test of Friendship - Part 2
Duo's Friendship Arc 4
by Dyna Dee

Coming to a level of wakefulness, relief flooded the Wing pilot as he realized his headache was gone and the stiffness in his neck was decidedly better. He sat up swinging his legs over the side. The room was dark as the curtains were tightly drawn. His alarm clock showed the time to be 8:14 a.m. Standing, he went to the bathroom ignoring the other bed and its sleeping occupant completely. The American usually had to be awakened and he decided to enjoy the quiet until after his shower. Twenty minutes later, he opened the bathroom door letting the excess steam and light spill into their room. He stopped and blinked in wonderment at the bed in front of him. It was empty--unmade, but nevertheless, empty. He scanned the room to see that Duo was no where within the confines of the room. He scratched his wet head wondering if he had been there when he'd entered the bathroom. He mentally shrugged. He probably went to breakfast early or to Quatre for sympathy after their quarrel last night. He knew he had shocked and probably hurt the other boy if not in body, then certainly his feelings. But it had gotten the desired results and he was not sorry for it.

He dressed and had straightened the room to his level of orderliness when a knock sounded at his door. Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei stood on the other side.

"You guys want to go to breakfast with us?" the small blonde asked cheerily.

Heero looked past them. "Duo's not with you?"

The other replied that he wasn't and they hadn't seen him since they left their room the night before.

"Maybe he went down already." Trowa suggested calmly as Heero closed the door behind him and they proceeded as a group to the cafeteria only to be disappointed in not finding their friend present. When he failed to show during the coarse of the day, their concerns mounted. The four gathered in Heero and Duo's room that evening voicing their concern.

"Did something happen after we left last night?" Trowa asked Wing's pilot pointedly.

"Could he have gone on a mission?" Wufei asked.

Heero shook his head. "His music and clothes are still here."

"Heero," Trowa tried again, "did something happen last night?"

"I told him to shut up."

Wufei snorted "You always telling him to shut up. What was different this time?"

His three friends looked at him suspiciously.

"I did it rather forcefully." he replied in his most unemotional tone

"What did you do to him?" Quatre asked, an accusation in his voice and on his frowning face.

Heero stood with his arms folded across his chest in a defensive posture.

"Tell us." Wufei scowled at him.

Heero raised an indignant eyebrow. "I told him we were all sick of his incessant talking and we just wanted him to shut the hell up." His voice rose in pitch just slightly as he related the words spoken the night before in anger. He felt again the righteous indignation surge through him that he was right and had nothing to be sorry about.

"Well, you obviously hurt his feelings." Trowa said, his voice still cool and level, but his green eyes glared in disapproval.

"You shouldn't have included us in your verbal attack, Heero." Quatre said in an unaccustomed anger.

"Did I lie?" The Wing pilot asked the group of boys obviously not happy with him. "Aren't you tired of his constant chatter, his teasing and bantering . Try being his roommate and having to listen to that all the time and put a horrendous headache on top of that." He stopped short, realizing that he was trying to explain his actions, something he had never felt the need to do before.

"He might be upset now," Trowa reflected, "but Duo never can stay angry for long."

Wufei shook his head in disgust and turned to walk towards the door. He stopped with his hand on the nob and looked over his shoulder. "If he's not back for classes on Monday, I'll go look for him." He then turned his ebony eyes on the person he was perturbed with. "Next time you're angry with him, keep "us" out of it and speak only for yourself." Opening the door, he left the room.

"Heero," Trowa looked at him, disappointment written on his usually placid face, "You've got to understand that Duo's tendency to talk and be sociable is as natural to him as your quiet aloofness is to you. He is an intricate and necessary part of this team."

"I never disputed his fighting or tactical abilities." Heero declared indignantly.

"That's not what we're talking about." Quatre was obviously trying to hold back his irritation and be patience with the boy the unofficially considered their leader.

"Think about these last few weeks," Trowa continued, "all we've done is receive, plan, and execute our missions, then wait for the next one."

Heero looked perplexed. "And the problem is...?" he asked.

The other two shared a knowing glance with each other silently agreeing that Heero really couldn't see that there was a problem.

"The problem is that even though we are a major part of the war machine for the colonies, we're still fifteen year old kids." Quatre answered. "Don't you see Heero, Duo plays an important role within this team. Not only is he a master at handling Deathscythe, but more importantly, he helps pull the war out of us even if it's for just a short while. He gives us an opportunity to be normal teenagers, to help us see what it should be like. Without that, we are just war machines; fighting, destroying, and killing." He looked into the cobalt blue eyes of the Japanese boy with a bit of desperation on his young face. "I need to be more than that, Heero." He took a breath and continued. "I need Duo's laughter, his teasing and mischievousness in order to survive this wretched existence that's not normal for any kid our age."

He stepped up to Heero and with his index finger he pointed to the middle of the Wing pilot's chest. "And if you look in here, in your heart, you'll find that you need him, too." The two boys looked into each others eyes for just a moment before the small blonde turned and left the room. With a nod signifying his agreement, Trowa turned and followed, leaving Heero alone to think about the person he referred to as the "braided baka".

The missing pilot did return Monday morning. The clock read 1:34 a.m. when the door to the room opened. The small squeak of the door's hinges signaled his entrance to the room. Heero heard it and watched through his eyelashes as the braided boy tip-toed in and shut and locked the door. He silently made his way to his bed and fell unto it. Heero decided to wait for morning to question him as to where he had been the last two days after detecting the other's pattern of breathing indicating that he had instantly fallen to sleep.

He woke up with a start to the unaccustomed sound of the shower. Duo had risen earlier than he had. The clock indicated that the time was 7:10 a.m., and the Japanese boy wondered at the other rising on his own volition. 'Well, there is always a first for everything' he thought to himself. Twenty minutes later, the American emerged from the bathroom dressed for the day in his school uniform, his towel dried hair was neatly braided, though still damp. Heero passed him as he rushed into the newly vacated room. He was going to be late for his 8:15 class if he didn't hurry.

"I want to talk to you." he said in passing, instantly realizing that his brusque request sounded more like a order or impending threat. Duo shrugged his shoulders and slipped on his blazer and bent to collect his books and schedule for the day.

When Heero emerged from the shower not more than ten minutes later, his elusive roommate was gone. "I'm going to kill him." he muttered as he rushed to dress.

Wufei looked anxiously at the classroom door. Heero had told them in passing that Duo had returned during the night, but hadn't had a chance to question him, and none of them had seen him at breakfast. Remembering from the schedule that they both had the same third period class, he found himself anxious to see the other boy appear.

The science room was nearly filled when he finally entered. Without looking in his direction, the American went to the front of the class to where the teacher stood looking over her notes for the day. She looked up as he approached and he simply smiled at her as he held out a handful of papers. All eyes in the room were riveted on the new student who kept his eyes on the teacher as she looked over the documents. When she finally looked up, she had a soft, sympathetic look on her face. Smiling, she took Duo's shoulders and turned him forward to face the classroom.

"All right everyone, settle into your seats." she instructed. When the room reached the level of quiet and attention she felt proper, she began again in her teacher sing-song voice. "We have a new student joining us today. Mr. Max Harriwell is from the United States. Mr Harriwell has only this weekend had surgery to remove nodules from his vocal chords and, in accordance to his doctor's wishes," she lifted the papers in her hand as proof, "he is not to speak for several weeks until it heals properly."

There was an outbreak of loud whispering that rippled through the class.

"Now, you can all appreciate how difficult this must be, not only to be a new student, but to be unable to speak." She let them think about the difficulty of his situation for a moment before continuing. "With that in mind, I would like to ask each of you to extend your kindness and compassion to Mr. Harriwell while he recuperates from this surgery."

Duo smiled gratefully at the teacher and then to the students nodding their acceptance of her request. Wufei thought several girls nearly passed out at the innocent looking smile.

"Just take an empty seat...... anywhere you like." she instructed him.

There were four or five chairs sitting empty and one right next to Wufei. He was surprised when Duo took the second chair in the first row. Wufei's brow furrowed in thought. 'What is that all about?' he asked himself. He watched him during the class and Duo looked like a devoted student, smiling, but not talking to anyone. He noticed that he was definitely the recipient of many notes.

The bell sounded dismissing the class and Wufei bounded from his chair in order to catch up with his friend determined to find out what was going on. Duo went out the front classroom door and completely eluded him. Wufei huffed in frustration. There wasn't time to track him down before his next class began. He'd have to catch up with him at lunch. Quatre had the next class with him and if anyone could find out what was going on, it was the blonde Arabian.

Heero placed his tray down next to the Chinese boy's and sat. Quatre and Wufei quickly related the events surrounding their friend's arrival into their classrooms.

"Is this a part of a mission? Quatre asked quietly as to not be overheard.

"Not as far as I've received them". Trowa, sitting next to Quatre, looked up, green eyes meeting cobalt blue. "Could it be true?"

"The operation?" Heero asked then shook his head. "No, we all know his voice was just fine on Friday."

Wufei was watching the door as they spoke and observed Duo enter the cafeteria, a group of eight to ten girls surrounding him. Without looking around the room, he walked straight to the lunch line and picked up a tray. The girls trailing behind quickly followed and queued up after him.

"Looks like he's figured out a way to attract even more girls than usual." Trowa smirked with a half grin. "He's bringing out their need to nuture, and he's milking it for all he's worth." Wufei gave a snort of amused disapproval, but agreed with Trowa's assessment.

The talk of the cafeteria seemed to be abuzz with the name of Max Harriwell. All eyes seem to turn to watch the trim boy with the incredibly long braid and overly handsome face as he chose his lunch. As he turned from the food bar, he scanned the room for a place to sit. Quatre raised his hand to wave him over to their table. Seeing him, Duo smiled back and then sat down at a table as far away from them as possible.

Wufei leaned forward and whispered to the group, a sly grin on his face. "We are being given the silent treatment, ala Duo Maxwell. He never does anything by halves."

"But we didn't do anything wrong." Quatre said concerned and a bit hurt.

Trowa leveled his gaze at Heero. "You caused this breach, and it's up to you to correct it"

Heero glared at him.

"He's right" Wufei added looking accusingly at him. "Your mission now is to unify our team."

Heero nodded his head and looked strangely resigned. "All right!" he said gruffly and proceeded to finish his lunch.

Duo proved to be elusive to the other four, and when he was within range, he was surrounded by a horde of females. Heero determined the best course would be to return to his room where Duo would have to show up sooner or later. He did, at 9:15 p.m.

Heero was downloading from his lap top when at last, Duo walked in and dumped his book bag on the floor next to his bed. Without a word, he went to the bathroom and locked the door. He emerged 10 minutes later, his hair unbound and brushed. He undressed by his bed, climbed into it, and faced the wall.

Heero watched his every move from the moment he had entered their room, mentally daring the other pilot to speak first. He didn't. Standing, he walked to the other's bedside. He saw the boy in the bed stiffen as he sensed him standing behind him.

"Where were you this weekend?" he asked gruffly. No reply. "What if a mission came in for you?"

Duo reached out of his covers with his right hand and pointed to the pager on his backpack.

"There's a briefing on our mission in Quatre's room at 0600, be there and lose this childish behavior." Sensing that the boy in the bed below him was not about to answer or turn around, Heero returned to his own bed to prepare for the night.

At precisely 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Trowa opened the door to let the two remaining pilots in. Everyone was dressed in their school uniform, ready for the day to begin. Being mindful of the other students still sleeping in the dorm, they were careful to keep their voices down. It took only a few moments for the three already present to determine that Heero had not succeeded in coaxing their friend from his silence.

Duo smiled in greeting as he entered and crossed the room without a word to lean against the desk facing his teammates. His face was calm and placid as he folded his arms over his chest and waited.

Wufei scowled, Trowa looked, well, unreadable, Quatre looked upset, and Heero was clearly angry. Duo cocked an eyebrow at the most rational of the group.

Trowa turned to Heero. "We don't have much time, what are the mission's orders?"

Duo shifted slightly to allow Heero to move forward and set up his laptop on the desk.

"The base is 41.5 miles from here." he began. "We are to infiltrate and gather information on the base, it's personnel, and weapons stored there. After the information has been analyzed, we will return to destroy it if, and only if, there is a evidence that the base operations or materials are to be used against the colonies, for building mobile suits, or transporting them to space. We'll leave tomorrow after the 11:00 p.m. curfew and travel together, letting Quatre off to collect Sandrock and the rest of us will continue to the base. Once there, we'll split up into twos. Wufei and Trowa" he looked up at the two pilots "will team to infiltrate the area where personnel and financial records are kept." The screen flicked to show a map of the base and he pinpointed the location as the four boys crowded around the desk to view the screen. "Duo and I will infiltrate the munitions hanger to tap into its computer. Quatre, you will be our backup. Be ready to attack if alarms are sounded. The usual distract and destroy may be needed for us to escape if our movements are detected. Any questions?" He searched their faces.

A few questions were raised by Wufei and Trowa. Duo's silence was strange on such a briefing. He had a natural insight on the complexities of a mission and usually had some unique ideas or an added concern that helped in planning. Heero leaned back in his chair to look pointedly at his roommate. "You got anything to say?" He asked.

Duo's eyebrows were drawn down in thought. He sighed audibly and shook his head.

Heero stood and shut down his laptop. "Use tonight to gather the usual supplies. Who would like to procure transportation?" Duo's hand went up.

Heero nodded, acknowledging Duo's acceptance of the job. "Have it outside by the gate at 10:30 tomorrow night." Duo nodded.

The meeting seemed to be over. "Any one for breakfast?" Quatre asked as he picked up his backpack.

"I'll meet you there." Heero answered as he caught up his laptop and turned to the door to return it to his room.

As the door shut behind him, Duo moved to leave the room also when Quatre grabbed his upper arm to stay him. The braided boy's audible gasp and quick pull away made the remaining pilots wonder at him.

"Are you injured?" Trowa asked concerned.

Duo shook his head.

"I think you are." Trowa speculated. "Let me see it."

The American shook his head adamantly.

"Listen." Wufei cut in sharply. "We need to know if any injuries you have might affect your performance on this mission. Our lives depend on each other performing our best. Show them to us or we will be forced to strip you to check for ourselves."

Duo's eyes opened wide in disbelief and shook his head putting his hands out in front of himself to stay them.

Wufei looked at his watch as Trowa moved to stand in front of the door blocking the only exit. "You've got fifteen seconds to get your shirt off."

It took only two to three seconds for the Deathscythe pilot to determine that they were not bluffing. He huffed in frustration and took off his blazer, loosened the sloppy knotted tie, and unbuttoned his shirt. He shrugged it off his shoulders not bothering to undo the cuffs. The shirt hung from his wrists as his upper torso was exposed to the other pilot's eyes.

The three studied his upper chest and back noting old bruises and some scaring from pervious battles. But the newest and darkest of bruises were in the form of hand and finger prints imprinted on Duo's upper arms.

"Heero's handiwork? Trowa guessed correctly.

Duo didn't answer, but his pained violet eyes looked away in embarrassment.

"We know what Heero said the other night to you, Duo." Quatre spoke softly, "But why won't you talk to us? Did we somehow offend you? He didn't speak for us, you know."

The American concentrated on re-buttoning his shirt and ignored the questions.

Trowa's spoke up next. "You didn't really have surgery did you?" He asked as Duo shrugged on his blazer and avoided meeting their eyes.

"We could force his mouth open to check." Wufei suggested and the threat brought Duo's head up to glare forbiddingly at him.

"Yes or no." the onyx eyed pilot demanded.

Reluctantly, Duo shook his head.

"Then, this is your way of throwing a temper tantrum." Wufei surmised contemptuously.

At first, the braided boy glared at Wufei's accusation, then his face relaxed and he slowly shook his head as if to say they just didn't understand.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Quatre approached the boy, now fully dressed.

"Will you sit with us at breakfast?" his aquamarine eyes implored the boy in front of him. "Please. You don't have to talk if you don't want to." he assured him.

Violet blue eyes searched the others, and seeing compassion there, nodded his agreement. Trowa moved away from in front of the door to let him leave the room.

"Well, that was interesting." Wufei commented as he leaned against the desk after Trowa shut the door.

"What can we do to get him to talk to us?" Trowa asked the others.

"Maybe we should be worried about what Heero will do to him." Quatre said seriously. "If his silence unnerves us, what will it do to Heero? Did you see the look on his face when he first came in? He was livid."

Trowa worried his lip with his thumb and finger. "What will the unnatural silence do to Duo?" he asked. "I don't know how he is keeping his mouth closed for so long."

"I suggest" Quatre began thoughtfully, the others listening intently, "that we play along and not pressure Duo into talking to us. This is obviously important to him. But if we make it easier for him to continue his enforced silence, he might not shun us as he did yesterday." The other two boys agreed and they began to formulate a way to worm their way back into Duo's good graces.

Duo collapsed onto his bed, flinging his sore arm over his eyes. 'I made it another day!' he thought to himself feeling weary from the strain of not speaking and fending off the overly helpful girls.

The soft tapping sound of Heero's fingers nimbly moving over the keyboard of his computer was the only sound in the room as Duo reflected on his day. His friends has taken pains to greet him at each class they shared and saved a seat for him next to theirs. They even came over to join him for lunch at the table he chose to sit at, even though he was surrounded by a horde of willing-to-help females. He sighed audibly, never realizing how much the female persuasion would be drawn to nurture, or to his thoughts "smother" him because of a known incapacitation. He shuddered at the remembrance of how doting and over solicitous they were all day and had been surprised and relieved that his friends came to his rescue. Surprisingly it was Heero's harsh frown that chased most of them away. The guys had chatted easily throughout the day asking him questions that could be answered with a simple nod or shake of his head and, in effect, making it easy for him to keep his silence. Well, all except Heero, who added little to the conversation yet seemed to manage to keep his glare down to a minimum.

The tired, braided boy pulled himself up to a sitting position on the bed and reached for his duffel bag. Unzipping the side compartment, he took out his cleaning tools and pulled out his favorite gun still in it's shoulder holster out from under his mattress. Taking it apart, he began the task of cleaning it for the next evening's mission. As he did, he wondered if he could make it until the weekend in his self-imposed silent state. He vowed that he wouldn't jeopardize his teammates or the mission just to fulfill the promise he had made to himself or the course he had set to determine the others' friendship.

The dull thump next to him shifted him from his thoughts. A large dark satchel had been dropped near him. "Want to help set the explosives?" Heero asked. The stunned American nodded yes, and they worked in companionable silence for the next hour.

on to part 3

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