Disclaimer: I don't own GW nor profit from my storytelling.

Warnings: angst

Breaking Free - Part 1
Duo's Friendship Arc 12
by Dyna Dee

Quatre's eyes shifted nervously from the angrily pacing Japanese boy to his two tense friends who, along with himself, stayed well out of the other boy's way.

Heero was more than angry, he was furious. His body was tense and rigid as he paved a path into the carpet in front of the fireplace of their latest safehouse.

The four of them had staggered into the two-story, barely patched together farmhouse during the last half hour after having completed a difficult and frustrating mission. The orders had been to take out a spaceport near Berlin. A strategic plan was mapped out and each pilot was assigned a specific target to demolish and then destroy any mobile suits within their assigned parameter. They were then directed to retreat to a safe distance as a ready back up, if needed. If the plan was executed correctly, the base and space port would be completely and expeditiously destroyed when each solo objective was achieved.

The aquamarine eyes turned to gaze at the front door. The reason for Heero's anger and the other's consternation should be coming through there at any moment. 'Duo, whatever possessed you to act so rashly?' Quatre asked himself as he wondered at his friend's actions. The pilot of Deathscythe had completed his part of the mission quickly and efficiently, destroying the shuttles on the launch pad, and those that were on the field in a cue, ready for take off, that just happened to be filled with mobile suits for space. He then followed the second part of his mission, obliterating the attacking ground troops of Leo's. At that point, he was to retreat until the others finished their assigned tasks. But for some reason, Duo turned again to the battle field and had begun to fight recklessly. He gleefully charged any enemy in his or his fellow pilot's path, whether they were attacking or retreating. Each of the other pilots attempted several times to return Duo back to the mission's plan, urging him to retreat as he often veered into their paths, but to no avail. Duo fought on, putting himself constantly at risk, throwing his gundam into one battle after another.

As Heero finished with his designated targets and ordered through the com a retreat, a sudden and unexpected blast from a hidden laser cannon bolted out from an innocuous building just off the southern side of the tarmac. The beam shot out, aimed at Wing. But the potentially deadly weapon was diverted when Duo threw Deathscythe into the beam's path, the laser piercing a large hole into the right shoulder of Deathscythe as he threw himself perpendicular to the ground to intercept it. The red laser beam cut deeply into the almost impervious gundanium metal, causing the large gundam to spin on it's side in mid air. With the horrendous sound of metal crashing and skidding across the asphalt, the black gundam came rolling to a stop on the tarmac to stop at Wing's feet. That gundam's powerful beam cannon immediately lifted and took out the laser cannon and building with one perfectly aimed blast.

As the black gundam slowly, and with some effort, climbed to it's knees, Wing jumped into the air and transformed into flight mode. Circling the base, he dove and effortlessly picked up the damaged gundam and the vocally protesting pilot by the gundanium shoulders and retreated. The other gundams suits and pilots followed silently, guarding their return to the safehouse.

Over the COM unit, Duo, his adrenaline coursing wildly through his body, ranted and cursed at the enemy as he was forcibly carried away from the crippled launch site, vowing loudly to return and single-handedly obliterate what was left of it from off the face of the earth. The other pilots listened to his tirade with mixed feelings. Heero kept his COM unit off, an ominous sign of his displeasure.

One by one, each pilot entered the safehouse. Heero had been the first to arrive, his mood, evident to each consecutive arriver, a warning of an inevitable confrontation with Duo.

In silent agreement, the other three pilots decided to be present when Heero confronted Duo about his deviation from the mission plan and his recklessness. In truth, they were all upset at their friend's abandonment of discipline that endangered his gundam and his own well being. They each silently realized that Heero's present mood was volatile, and they didn't want past mistakes to happen again, threatening their friendships.

The Arabian's eyes shifted to Trowa, looking for some kind of reassurance from the taller boy, but the Heavyarms pilot's sight was fixed on Heero's pacing body, rigid with anger.

The rapid sound of booted feet on the porch herald the arrival of the awaited pilot only seconds before the front door flew open. Duo burst in, his face flushed, his eyes sparkling, and an enormous smile on his face.

"Man, was that awesome or what? We kicked Oz's ass all the way to hell and back!" he said triumphantly. He then stopped abruptly, searching the serious faces watching him. He backed up a step when he saw Heero's angry glare.

"What?" he asked, looking honestly surprised.

Heero moved quickly and grabbed the front of the braided boy's black shirt with both hands and jerked him forward to hold him inches from his scowling face. "What in hell did you think you were doing?" he growled in demand of an answer.

"Heero?" Quatre cautiously approached the two, hoping to bring some calm to the situation. But he stopped abruptly as the boy he was appealing to turned his narrowed eyes to him with a look of warning, the famous Yuy Death Glare was in full force. The blonde felt a hand on his arm which quickly pulled him back. He looked nervously up into Trowa's face, only to see that friend shake his head, silently telling him not to interfere.

Duo's face registered his shock and growing apprehension at being so roughly manhandled by his best friend. "Heero, I...." he began, but was abruptly cut off by the angry boy in front of him.

"You deviated from the missions directive. You were to take out the transports, eliminate the immediate mobile suits and retreat. RETREAT!" Heero shouted angrily, his narrowed eyes dark and dangerous.

Duo moved to try and speak, but was shaken roughly by Heero's gripping fists on his shirt and the Japanese boy continued.

"You endangered yourself, your gundam, the rest of the team, and jeopardized the mission by failing to follow your orders." Sparks seems to shoot from the livid boy's eyes.

The American grabbed hold of Heero's wrists and fought to pull his hands from off his shirt. "I achieved my objective and decided to help out." He shouted back in explanation.

Heero drew the now struggling boy back into close proximity, almost nose to nose. "From now on, you will follow the mission exactly as it is given to you-no deviation, or you will be replaced. Do you understand, Duo. REPLACED!!"

Forcefully bringing both hands up and between Heero's arms, Duo managed to break free from the other's grasp on him. He instantly jumped back to get out of his reach, anger now etched on his own face as well.

"Stop!" he shouted, his body was visibly shaking. "Who are you to reprimand and threaten me?" His eyes shot daggers at his best friend who stood inflexible before him. "I did my job, plus more."

"You were reckless." Wufei cut in, his voice calm and reasoning. "A warrior is methodical in his attack, not reckless."

"Reckless?" Duo shouted in reply, his facial features incredulous. "Did you see how many suits I demolished?"

"Careless," Trowa added quietly. "and irresponsible."

Duo looked in disbelief at the uni-banged boy at the continued criticism. His wide eyes wandered to Quatre, standing to the left of Trowa, whose facial expression revealed his worry. "You were out of control, Duo. Why wouldn't you listen to us?" His voice was gentle in its questioning, but even the soft words stung in their gentle criticism.

The braided boy lifted the heels of his hands to press against his temples and closed his eyes. "I ..... I can't take it any more." he stammered, almost in a whisper, his face grimacing as if he were in pain.

"What's the matter with you?" Heero demanded tersely.

Duo opened his eyes and looked up into Heero's, anger building again. "You! That's what's the matter. All of you." He shouted and glared at the four collectively. "I came to this team as an individual, fighting and doing a hell of a job on my own, if I do say so myself. Now I'm......I'm crippled, constrained by your rules and ideals. I....can't...take..it any more. You're over protectiveness of me and Quatre is stifling." Duo could feel an invisible weight lifted off of him as he unburdened himself from what had been bothering him for some time now. Yet even after finally saying it, he found that he was breathing much too quickly, almost hyperventilating. He struggled to calm himself to see where his words, spoken in anger and haste, would take him now.

The air around them was silent as the four took in Duo's outburst. They then watched as he closed his eyes, apparently willing himself to calm down, his rapid breathing slowing just slightly. Nothing would be accomplished it they didn't get control of the situation. Then, the room went perfectly still as, to everyone's shock, Heero spoke a cold solution, his voice flat and emotionless. "Then go, leave us."

Duo looked up sharply as the words sunk in, hurt visible in his eyes. He paused for only a moment to ascertain his friend's seriousness. Who was he kidding? Heero was always serious. With defiance shrouding his hurt, he allowed the look of determination to show in his face and posture, straightening his back he pulled back his shoulders and lifted his chin. Without another word, he turned, his long braid flipping around as if waving farewell as he stomped up the stairs to his shared bedroom.

"No, Duo. Don't!" Quatre pleaded as his friend retreated. Once again, he was held back by Trowa's hand.

"Trowa, we have to stop him. Please." he implored his friend, who merely shook his head in response. The blonde turned next Wufei who stood leaning against the wall, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes were distant in thought.

"Wufei?" Quatre's tone of voice appealed earnestly to the Chinese boy.

The Shenlong pilot looked to the pleading blonde and shook his head. "I think Duo needs to find himself again." he replied quietly. "This has actually been bothering him for a while, and I think he needs to do this." He thought back to his time with Duo in the locked-down city weeks before. He recalled his friend's comments that were, at that time, spoken in haste about his frustration, feeling his every move was being controlled by others, even his movements while sleeping.

The agitated blond pilot then moved to stand in front of Heero and searched his eyes. "How can you let him go?" he asked questioningly, knowing of the close bond of friendship that had formed between the two roommates. Duo was Heero's first and closest friend.

Cobalt eyes never faltered as they bore into Quatre's as he answered him. "He's a liability if he won't follow the outline of a mission and his orders. It could get him or one of us killed."

"But he did follow orders!" Quatre said in exasperation. "He just got carried away, just got caught up in the battle." Quatre could feel his anger building along his frustration at the stoic and stubborn boy in front of him. Seeing that no one would help him stop Duo from leaving, he turned and fled up the stairs to do what he could to stop this mistake like a train wreck from happening before his eyes.

Running to Duo's room, he knocked rapidly on the door. "It's me, Duo. Please let me in." he pleaded with the other through the door. He jumped slightly as the door was abruptly swung open and he was grabbed and pulled swiftly in. With a thud, the door quickly shut behind him and he was immediatedly freed as Duo turned from him and went back to his bed. The familiar black duffel bag was open and he was in the process of angrily shoving his clothing and belongings into it.

"Don't go." Quatre pleaded as he approached the braided boy. "We need you."

The brown haired boy stopped moving for just a moment and slowly shook his head. "I need to go." he said with a note of sadness in his voice.

"I..... I don't understand, Duo. Why?" Quatre's whole demeanor showed his dismay.

The American boy turned, hearing the distress in his friend's voice. Taking the few steps to him, he embraced the other boy tightly. They were both relatively the same height and of slender build, their thin bodies fit firmly together like planks of unyielding wood. Holding the blonde against himself, Duo's face rested his cheek against the soft blond hair that carried the smell of sweet musk. He pillowed his face into it as he began to explain himself.

"Don't feel badly, Quatre. I'm not rejecting you as my friend," he began to explain. "and I'm not angry, not really."

"Then why?" the blonde questioned again, trying to understand.

Duo sighed and reluctantly released the other boy, his hand lingering for just a moment on the soft mass of blonde hair. "I guess...." he began, looking a bit puzzled himself. "I've lost myself." He looked into Quatre's eyes, the color of the Mediterranean, and slowly dropped his hand. "I've been on my own for most of my life, Quatre, and I've had to follow my own instincts, trust my judgement as my life depended on it. I've had total freedom in making choices for myself." He looked up with a curiosity etched on his face, as if he was just figuring things out. "I think I've lost those things. You know, I've never responded well to authority figures, and with the mission orders, rules of what to do and what not to do, where to live, how to live,.... it's all just kinda gotten to me. I think it's also because the others try to shelter us to some extent. Sometimes that feels good. It's comforting to know that someone cares. But, sometimes it becomes.....smothering to me." He reached up and brushed his long bangs to the side of his face and they immediately fell back into place.

Quatre stood listening, trying to understand, analyzing what he had learned. He was well aware that Duo had not been raised by a family. In fact, any family life was nearly non-existent in Duo's past other then his short stay in the orphanage. Before that, he had been a child of the streets, a wild child with no rules or authority figure telling him right from wrong for years. The Arabian inwardly sighed, it was sad to realize that out of the five gundam pilots, only he and Wufei were brought up in a family setting, though maybe not in a traditional sense. In a family, you learned that you had a place within a community, you were a part of something larger. Quatre had grown up with many siblings, and you had to learn to give and take, to share and be tolerant of others and their differences. He had learned the rules and mores that went with a family unit. Maybe because he had been raised in such a family unit, he had more easily accepted his place and role amongst the other pilots, and he could now see that Duo bristled under the same subtle protection and rules this family of pilots lived by. He understood part of his and Duo's roles within the group, that they were essential in keeping a sense of life and happiness when their job of war weighed heavily on all of them. He hadn't realized it at first, but over time the blonde had observed and sensed the others watching over the two of them, protecting them as an essential part of the team. He inwardly appreciated the reason for it and was grateful for the friendships that were quickly becoming to be more like family. Yet as he thrived in a group setting so like his home, Duo, who had not been raised with others watching and guarding his movements as closely, bristled at it and apparently, because it was so foreign to him, began to lack the confidence to do what he use to.... remain independent. 'Was that what this was about?' Quatre asked himself. 'Did Duo need to prove to himself once again that he could work alone and be independent of his friends?'

As he watched Duo turn his attention back to his duffle bag, he vaguely remembered Wufei commenting aside to him weeks earlier, when Duo was having a particularly bad day, that their friend was struggling with all the constraints put on him. At first he didn't understand what that meant. 'What constraints?' he'd wondered. Now he was beginning to understand what Wufei had hinted at.

Quatre felt powerless to affect any change in the situation. He knew the team needed Duo, but what about the boy himself, his own needs. If Duo truly needed to go, he would have to let him, and with his blessing. Suddenly, his eyes lit up with sudden inspiration. "I'll go with you, Duo." He announced excitedly. "If you'll just wait, I'll pack."

Duo's eyes were suddenly moist with emotion as he turned back to face his generous friend. He was touched by the gesture friendship, but shook his head. "This isn't your problem, Quatre," He moved to grasp the blonde's shoulders in his hands and gave them an affectionate squeeze. "and thanks for offering. It really means a lot to me. But, I think the others need you to stay here."

With a disappointed sigh, Quatre's face fell, his eyes lowered in disappointment. Maybe Duo had also sensed their importance to the team and why Quatre's continued presence was necessary to the others.

"Hey!" Duo smiled in response and ruffled the flaxen head. "Why so glum? It's not like we'll never see each other again."

"Promise?" Blue eyes searched violet ones.

"Promise." Duo replied, his smile still in tack.

Quatre nodded, accepting Duo's word. "Where will you go?"

"Well," Duo drawled as only Duo could. "I think I'll mosey over to Howard and have that hole taken care of in Deathscythe's shoulder. From there I'll check the orders and let my next mission guide me. Hopefully, I can avoid uppity schools." His face grimaced with distaste at the idea. He'd had enough of those institutions to last a life time.

"How will we stay in touch?" Quatre wondered aloud. He was ever the one to plan ahead.

"Humm....." Duo hummed in thought, his finger tapping his cheek. "How about we use the COM unit in our gundams every Monday night at eight p.m. Sanq time. We can sit in our comfy pilot seats and have a nice catch-up chat."


Duo chuckled and shifted his eyebrows in a mischevious manner. "Leaves the weekend open for fun."

Quatre smiled back looking a bit more hopeful. "That could work."

As Duo turned back to finish packing, Quatre tried to stall the inevitable. "Stay for dinner?" he ventured. "Trowa's cooking.", always an enticement.

With his back turned, the pilot of Deathscythe knew the blonde couldn't see his smile falter at the thought of sharing a last meal with his friends. With a cleansing breath, he forced it back into place and turned his head slightly. "No, I better not. But if you could make me a few sandwiches that I could take with me, I'd appreciate it."

Quatre's hand went to his chest. "You're hurt." he said as he felt the others sadness in his heart.

"Can't hide much from you, can I?" Duo said without turning, and busied himself with the task at hand. His feelings were hurt. When he finally erupted and burst out all that had been bothering him over the past few months in reaction to Heero's anger, he spilled out all his frustration without thinking. He had hoped that the others would at least try to understand and work with him to better the situation. He never expected Heero to tell him to leave. That hurt deeply.

"Don't worry about it." he shrugged his shoulders, trying to look nonchalant about the whole situation, but not quite succeeding at keeping the bitterness out of his voice. "I'll deal with it and get over it, like everything else in my wonderful life." He didn't want to turn and look at the expression on Quatre's face. He was afraid he'd see pity. "So, how about those sandwiches?"

Twenty minutes later, Quatre stood at the bottom of the stairs, a grocery bag of sandwiches, fruit, and goodies next to him on a small table. He watched the American, dressed in his pseudo-black priest's outfit, descend the stairs with his duffle bag slung over his shoulder, his jacket and hat in hand. He moved in a more sedate manner than they were accustomed to.

Duo's eyes looked sad and tired in contrast to the forced smile he had fixed on his face. From the corner of his eye, he saw Trowa come into the room from the kitchen. Heero and Wufei were seated in separate chairs in the livingroom, watching him leave.

As he reached the landing, Quatre threw his arms around his shoulders and hugged him fiercely. "Come back to us.......soon." he whispered as he felt Duo's arm wrap around him in return of his affection.

"Bye, Quatre," he whispered and slowly backed away. "Take care of yourself, okay?"

Quatre nodded. "Here are the sandwiches I made." He turned to grab hold of the large bag from the table and presented it to him.

Duo's eyes widened at the size of the bag and raised one eyebrow questioningly as he accepted the bag.

"Oh, I added a few extras." Quatre answered with a crooked smile.

"Thanks." The amethyst eyes softened and he gave the other the gift of a true smile of appreciation. He would miss the extra little gestures of friendship that Quatre was always ready to give.

Taking a deep breath, he turned to the front door, but instantly found his arm held by his friend. "Say goodbye to them." he whispered firmly.

Duo lowered his head. "I can't" he whispered back.

"Please. It's important." Quatre implored. "What if something should happen to one of them? Would you ever forgive yourself for leaving without a kind word?"

Knowing Quatre spoke the truth, he allowed himself to be turned around. He looked up through his bangs to see the others, still fixed in their places.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye." he looked back down to the floor, studying a scuff mark on his left black boot. "I left something for each of you on your beds......take care of each other." He turned to leave yet again and made it as far as the door before he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. Looking over his shoulder, he was surprised to see that it was Heero this time who had stopped him. Cobalt blue eyes, now lacking their earlier angry sparks, met his questioning ones.

"Think before you act. Have a plan." Heero advised and released Duo's shoulder.

"Don't get all sentimental on me, Heero." Duo's lip curled up to match the sarcasm in his voice.

Quatre, standing at the door, translated Heerospeak. "He means be careful. Be safe."

Duo nodded and stepped out the door. He walked slowly, no need to hurry with no real place to go. 'Why is it that each step hurts?' he wondered. He should be happy to be gaining his freedom again, to be breaking free from all the constraints he felt were suffocating him. Despite his determination not to, he turned around to look behind him, at what he was walking away from. In the distance he could see Quatre standing on the porch, Heero behind him, both of them watching him leave. Behind the large glass window of the front room, he could see Trowa and Wufei looking towards him. Raising his arm, he waved goodbye. Quatre waved back, then turned and rushed back inside the front door of the safehouse. With a deep sigh, Duo turned and, as the evening faded into the gloaming, forced himself with heavy footsteps forward down the wooded path towards his gundam.

on to part 2

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