Educating Quatre - Part 2
Duo's Friendship Arc 18
by Dyna Dee
Standing within the shadows of a deep-set doorway of a storefront, the Deathscythe pilot's eyes searched the crowd for his friend. He'd been there for about a quarter of an hour and hoped he wasn't looking suspicious. Leaning against the glass window, he gave the appearance of being at ease, not really worrying much about Trowa's abilities to lose the tag as he was a master at losing himself in a crowd of two. A sudden light touch on his shoulder caused the Deathscythe pilot to whirl around in alarm to face the green-eyed boy calmly standing behind him. Trowa's eyes, lit up with amusement at startling the other, met Duo's for just a moment before they shifted to search the area surrounding of the storefront.
"Geeze, Trowa, scare the crap outta me." Duo whispered tersely as he scowled at the taller boy. "How'd you get here anyway?" he indicated the area behind him, thinking he'd been in a protected space.
"Back door." was his quiet, simple, and completely Trowa-like explanation.
"I notified Heero." Duo turned to fully face the Heavyarm's pilot whose sharp eyes moved constantly scanning the area. The braided boy then repeated Heero's instructions and location of their rendezvous. Without looking down, Trowa nodded his understanding, then led Duo into the store.
"You had three tags on you." Duo reported as they moved into the store together. Keeping his voice low, he described in detail the three who had followed him down the street. "I don't think they made me, but I can't be sure."
Trowa nodded and bent lower to speak softly to the smaller teen. "I saw the two, but not the woman." They continued to move through the store that had a mixture of clothing and accessories, both male and female. As they moved, they each began to pick out articles of clothing and hats for disguises.
Suddenly the braided boy noticed something missing. "Hey, where's the food?" he inquired with a searching look behind the taller boy.
"I had to leave it behind in order to do the climbing necessary to lose the tag."
The unhappy pout on Duo's face spoke plainly of what he thought of the loss of food.
With a sigh of resignation he followed Trowa to the next rack containing shirts and they rummaged through it looking for something appropriate. "These are way to big for me." Duo complained softly as he held up the men's shirt marked small, a size that might fit the tall, slender boy, but not the almost diminutive American. His 5'2" inch height and slender build guaranteed that he would be lost in almost any clothing in the store.
Trowa turned and studied the other boy with a thoughtful eye. "Take off your shirt."
Duo looked up questioningly, one eyebrow lifting up. Nevertheless, he unbuttoned his black, long sleeve shirt and pulled it off. He wore a white tee-shirt underneath. Reaching over to a display shelf, Trowa grabbed a beige sports cap and passed it to Duo. "Tuck all of your hair into this."
Taking off his black hat, Duo pulled his braid up and wrapped it around the top of his head.
"Bangs too." Trowa instructed.
With another deep sigh at the request, the boy complied, though it ended up taking the both of them to accomplish the difficult task of getting the mass of chestnut colored hair under the cap. Once secure, the taller boy observed his friend again, and nodded his approval at the change in appearance. Duo glared in return. He hated pulling the hair covering his forehead back, it made his eyes look freakishly large and made him look even younger than his sixteen years. As he looked up into his friend's face, Trowa blinked in surprise.
"Duo....y our eyes." he whispered in astonishment.
"Yeah... I know," he answered with a tone of disgust. "freakishly large."
"No." Trowa shook his head. "They're....... amazing." Then a frown formed on his face. "Too amazing not to be noticed. Do you have your sunglasses with you?"
Reaching into the deep pocket of his pants, he pulled out his favorite pair of shades and once again slipped them onto his pert nose.
"Perfect." Trowa declared quietly, a slight grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. "You look like a twelve year old juvenile delinquent."
"Shut up." the Deathscythe pilots replied and punched his friend's arm in retaliation.
The Heavyarm's pilot didn't laugh out loud, but Duo thought he heard a slight snicker. He followed the taller teen through the shop as Trowa selected a light blue polo shirt, and a blue cap similar to Duo's and for himself, and after taking the tags off, tucked his bangs up into it also. Now it was the smaller teens turn to stand with his mouth hanging. He'd never seen Trowa's face and eyes so exposed, and he found the green orbs were striking. "Wow Trowa, you should wear your hair back more often. The girls will drop at your feet and worship you just at the sight of your eyes." Duo declared.
"I will if you will." A small smile quirked at the corner of Trowa's mouth.
Duo rolled his eyes. "Fat chance." he replied and tied his long sleeved shirt around his waist. As Trowa paid for their purchases, the Deathscythe pilot thought about how all of them, with the exception of Wufei, kept their hair long in the front to somewhat cover their eyes, Duo wondered why that was to himself. Did they all harbor insecurities deep inside themselves? Were they that insecure, or just so use to hiding that it became a part of who they were, even in their appearances? He tucked that thought away for future contemplation and followed his friend to the storefront.
Trowa quickly pulled on the polo shirt and left it hanging loose. He pulled Duo close in order to speak in a quiet voice. "I'm going out the back door." he told him. "Don't go back to the safehouse, just make your way to the rendezvous point." Duo nodded and turned to go when he felt his upper arm grabbed and he was pulled back to his friend's side. His eyes raised questioningly to meet his friend's. "Be careful." Trowa said quietly, but with a look of urgency on his face.
"I will," Duo replied in a more serious tone. " you too, Trowa." They exchanged a wordless but needed expression of the feeling of brotherhood they felt for each other. Concern and worry on each of their faces was revealed for only a moment before each nodded and parted to go their separate ways.
Trowa exited the back door of the store and walked several blocks unaccosted by anyone. He promptly stole a motorcycle and made his way to the point of rendezvous.
Duo "borrowed" a thirty-speed bicycle and wove through the narrow city streets and traffic northward towards the Autobahn. After nearly being hit by three automobiles and having to ask directions several times, he finally reached the outskirts of town, his skin was glistening from his efforts and his calf muscles were becoming stiff from the unfamiliar form of exercise. Until coming to earth he'd never ridden a bicycle, and he remembered fondly how on a visit to one of Quatre's plush homes that Rashid had taken time to teach him how to ride one.
The sign at the entrance of the Autobahn clearly indicated that bicycles and pedestrians were not allowed on the fast moving highway. He turned off to the east side of the road. Laying the bicycle against a brick building, he abandoned it and casually crossed the street and entered the heavily wooded area to begin the one mile walk towards the ravine paralleling the highway. Making sure he wasn't being followed, he walked cautiously, checking the area around him constantly for any signs of a tail.
He scarcely noticed the wooded scenery nor the sounds of birds in the trees surrounding him, but he did notice the thick brown mud that stuck to his boots as he trudged through the shaded forest, the ground having been dampened by the recent rains. The shaded woods also caused the goose bumps to rise on his arms and legs. Untying his shirt from around his waist, he slipped it back on and continued on his way. He finally found the ravine and followed it, slightly perturbed at the tracks he was leaving behind him, knowing there was nothing he could do about it. He just hoped the rain that had been forecast for later that afternoon would cover them up. The ravine had a good sized stream of fast moving water flowing down the center of it. He followed it for at least a half hour before his ears picked up the sound of water splashing. He walked closer towards the sound and suddenly the path he followed dropped off. He paused to look down over the edge, seeing the fall of water spilling gently over the rocks onto the bouldered area below. It wasn't a great height, thirty feet at most and, after taking a breath of determination, he began his descent of the slick and slippery slope. The carefully place footsteps didn't help as the slipperiness of the wet earth caused his booted feet to fly out from under him, landing the teen on his posterior. His sliding down the hillside proved to be messy, ending with his hands, boots, and seat of his pants wet and thick with mud by the time he got to the bottom of the slope.
"Dammit!" he swore as he tried to brush the offensive muck from off himself. Reaching up, he removed his hat, freeing his mass of hair. The sudden click of a gun spun him around and into a defensive crouch, facing towards the other side of the stream to find three of his friends stepping out from behind the shelter of a large rock on the other side of the small water fall. Heero was lowering his gun and putting the safety back on.
Duo nodded to the three, then scanned the area. "Where's Quatre?"
"He'll be here soon." Heero assured him, but the worried frown on Trowa and Wufei's faces failed to calm his own growing sense of alarm concerning their missing friend. It was then that Duo noticed a make-shift and bloody bandage tied around Heero's upper left biceps. His eyes raised to meet cobalt blue ones. "You okay? What happened?" he questioned.
"I'm fine." Heero answered calmly, dismissing his wound with a shrug of his right shoulder. "After Quatre and Wufei left, I went to the market place to see if I could find out something about the three you described. I picked out two others. Different from what you described. One was about five foot, eight inches, slender with brown hair, narrow eyes, a very short military hair cut. The other guy was shorter five foot five inches, but stocky in build. He moved as if he was all serious muscle. Dark blonde hair pulled back similar to Wufei's and a saucy grin like your's, Duo. Both were heavily armed, unnoticeable to others, but detectable to me."
The other three nodded at Heero's descriptions, picturing the individuals he described in their minds and memorizing the details.
"They were good." he told them all. "Their instincts were sharp and, somehow, they detected me; and once they realized I'd spotted them, they began to advance towards me." Heero continued. "I tried to lose myself in the crowd, but there weren't a lot of Asians on the streets this morning." he explained. "Once free of the crowded market, they began to fire their weapons in order to stop me." His forehead furrowed as he thought. "I don't think they wanted me dead. I have no doubt they could have easily accomplished that as I was in their line of fire numerous times between the two of them." He looked up solemnly. "They were definitely a Special's Team, and hard to lose."
Duo reached his arm up and scratched the back of his head, then remembering the state of his dirty hands looked disgustedly at them. "Man Heero. This was way too soon, we just got here. How the hell did they find us? It is OZ, isn't it?" he asked.
"They are definitely military trained." Heero replied and watched as Duo began to look for a way to cross the five foot wide stream without getting wet. He began to hop on stones that topped the surface as Heero continued. "I've been searching Oz's files regularly and recently came across a high security file labeled "Predators". Funds were diverted to this and two other projects that seem to be related, but I couldn't find any more data other than one of the other projects was named Project C.G.P, and the other was classified to a science division elsewhere."
Duo was now safely across the stream, smiling at his accomplishment. Crouching down, he placed his soiled hands in the frigid water and worked off the mud. "Did you manage to leave with any of our stuff?" he asked looking up from his position below them.
"We were unpacking as your call came." Wufei stepped into the conversation. "So it was not hard to leave the safehouse with what we came with, minus any food supplies." he lightly accused the braided boy with a piercing look.
"Well, we had to eat." Duo replied unapologetic. "Where's my bag?" he asked as he stood up, shaking the excess water from his hands.
"Quatre has it."
Unconsciously, all four turned their eyes to look worriedly up the slope, wondering where their blonde friend was.
"You did manage to ditch those two after they shot you, right?" Duo asked and Heero didn't dignify him with a verbal answer, but with a snide glare and a disgusted snort letting the American know the ridiculousness of the question he'd asked.
"So there are five military types, probably a specialized unit, that seems to have an uncanny knack of tracking us?" Duo surmised aloud.
Wufei nodded. "Five of them tracking five of us." he answered thoughtfully. "Could they be what the file indicated as the Predators?"
Trowa nodded. "It seems plausible that sooner or later OZ would assemble a specialized team trained to capture or kill us."
Heero looked up sharply. "C.G.P, Capture Gundam Pilots?" he reasoned out loud.
"What do we do now?" Duo asked trying to hide the sense of the worry that was settling in as each minute passed.
"We wait for Quatre." Trowa replied firmly. "If he's not here soon, I'm going back for him."
"What resources do we have." Duo asked again. "Money, food, water?" the three collectively rolled their eyes.
"What? What'd I say?" the long hair boy asked incredulous at their response to his question.
"You ate most of the food this morning, Duo." Wufei looked at him accusingly.
"Hey, I'm a growing boy with a overactive metabolism. I can't help it if I get hungry....often." he added the last with an impish smile.
The sound of a twig snapping on the path above caused the four to look up sharply. Even as Duo smiled, believing his blond friend had arrived, he found himself grabbed by the arm and dragged forcibly behind the boulder and thrust behind Heero, who had raised his gun up in a defensive move. The braided teen looked behind him as Wufei latched onto his shoulder to hold him in place, and saw Trowa as he stood behind all of them, his eyes focused on the area where Duo had been moments before on the other side of the stream.
A soft cry was heard as well as the unmistakable sound of someone tumbling down. Heero cautiously stepped out to see their small fifteen year-old, blonde friend sprawled on the ground, his limbs tangled around three duffle bags.
Quatre looked up, seeing movement from the corner of his eye. Color rose in his cheeks as he saw the humor in his friends' eyes at his predicament.
"It's not funny." he insisted with a scowl on his face as he struggled to remove himself from the duffle bags. Trowa was across the stream with an effortless leap and silently offered his help to his friend by separating the bags tangled around Quatre's limbs.
"Are you okay, Quatre?" the Heavyarms' pilot asked, not able to keep the humor he felt at his friends misfortune from his voice.
The Arabian teen glared at him before turning to look with mild horror at his muddy clothing. "Great. Just great!" he spat out with disgust as he tried to flick some of the thick mud from off his pant legs.
"That's okay, Quat. You've got company." Duo smiled and turned around to show the other boy the state of his muddy posterior.
"That's real comforting, Duo." he snarled derisively, uncharacteristically out of sorts.
"Hey!" The American's eyes widened, surprised and slightly hurt at his friend's out-of-character rebuff.
Heero stepped in to break up the tension that was growing between his teammates. "What took you so long?" he asked the blonde boy. "Did you have any trouble?"
Quatre looked up from the mud plastered to his clothing to the Wing pilot. His eyes widened as they lit on the bandaged arm. "Apparently not as much as you did." he answered, obviously still in a snit, he continued with a frown on his face. "But just try lugging three large duffle bags that weigh more than you do through soggy woods and mud. I left a trail behind that even a blind man could follow."
"Were you followed?" Wufei just had to ask, earning his an uncommon glare from the blonde.
"No!" he replied cooly as he continued to try to remove the mud from off his clothing. "I hailed a taxi and rode around the city for a while to make sure. Then I had the driver drop me off at the train station where I hung around for a while and then caught another taxi to the largest hotel in town, and from there another taxi to a street east of the Autobahn. I walked the rest of the way here, following someone else's footsteps I might add." He looked over to Duo's mud clustered boots then up to the boy's face with a knowing look.
"Well sue me." Duo huffed. "I didn't cause the rain or pick the location." He folded his arms across his chest and stuck his chin up. But this defensive posture only lasted a moment before a smile crept onto the boy's handsome face. He chuckled. "Only you could make an escape in a taxi cab, Quatre."
Heero nodded, pleased at the caution the blond had exercised and that Duo hadn't bated him further into a verbal altercation. "So, for the moment, we're safe." he said to all of them.
Duo snorted. "Yeah, safe. With no food or shelter. Anyone got any money?"
They spent the next ten minutes going through their bags and pockets, pooling their resources while the two muddied boys changed into clean clothing from their duffle bags. Quatre produced from his pockets and duffle a large stash of cash that was equally given and split amongst them amounting to roughly twelve-hundred Euro-Common Market currency for each of them. Heero offered his supply of power bars and raisin granola bars that had escaped Duo's early morning raid, mainly because he didn't like them. They were also equally divided amongst the five. Duo gave the offensive food a look of disgust, but took them anyway, stuffing them into his bag in case of an emergency.
That settled, they perched themselves on the rocks below the waterfall as the afternoon waned and the gathering clouds overhead intermittently blocked out the warm rays of sunshine.
"Do we go our separate ways, or leave together." Wufei asked as he sat cross legged on top of a large round boulder.
"Where should we go?" Trowa inquired quietly.
All eyes turned to Heero who sat next to Quatre with Duo on the other side of Heero stretched out on his back and taking in whatever warmth the fickle afternoon sun would give him. The look on his face was that of contentment, appearing as if he hadn't a care in the world. Heero tapped his leg with his tennis shoe. "Pay attention, baka."
"I am." Though he didn't open his eyes, Duo's eyebrows furrowed a bit, his moment of serenity broken. He hated it when the others called him that name, baka. He wasn't the smartest person in the world, but he certainly wasn't an idiot. He chose to ignore it, and out of stubborn pride he remained in the relaxed position he was in.
Heero gave the unmoving boy a disapproving glare, but it was wasted on the braided teen who didn't bother to open his eyes. "Alright." he turned to the others still watching him. "All of our Gundams are nearby and are in need of service before another battle." The others nodded their agreement. "I think it would be best if we each found ground transport to carry them out of here. I suggest that we leave separately and meet up at Quatre's base in the desert. The Maguanacs can repair any damage sustained and supply us with additional fuel and weapons.
"By ground?" Quatre questioned dubiously. "It's an awfully long way, Heero."
The Wing pilot nodded. "I think we should leave the immediate vicinity by ground to throw off our trackers. OZ is somehow tracing our movements. Unless one of us or our Gundams has acquired a tracer, they have found a way to follow us. I suspect it has to do with the emissions that emanate from the engines. Gundam alloy is very distinctive and could possibly be traced.
"But how did they find the safehouses? How did they know Trowa to follow him?" Quatre asked, his normally serene face was pinched with worry.
Wufei answered. "They've got pictures of Heero and Trowa from the Antarctic duel." he explained. "And I was captured on film when I blew up the training facility that was my first mission. Duo always wears his hat and black, so if they caught him on camera, they probably know only that he has a long brown braid. They might even think he's an underdeveloped, oddly dressed onna." he concluded with a sly grin forming on his lips.
"Hey!" Duo's eyes finally opened. He sat up and put his hands on his hips, his chin lifted indignantly. "I am all boy, Mr. Wuffie, and don't you forget it. I've yet to see a girl heft a grenade like I do, wield a thermal scythe, or hit a target dead on like I do. In fact," his look was clearly a challenge to the Chinese boy. "I don't think even you can match my abilities in those areas. Does that make you an onna?" Duo inwardly smirked as he saw Wufei's eyebrow twitch. Nothing irked the pilot of Shenlong more than being compared to the "weaker sex" as Wufei put it. They all watched as the Chinese boy's humorous chagrin turned instantly to a sneer at Duo's insinuation.
"That's enough." Heero warned seeing the direction their conversation was headed. They all knew by now that when Duo felt unsettled or frustrated he would bate one or all of them into a fight, just to burn off steam. Wufei didn't help anything with his teasing.
The American looked over at his partner and frowned. "Spoil sport." he murmured darkly.
Heero's glare silently warned Duo to behave, or else.
"Alright." he began again, satisfied that things were back in his control. "If we all agree, we'll leave here just before dusk and steal whatever we need to move our Gundam's out. Check it first for any tracking device. I'll head north before I turn southward. Wufei, go west. Trowa, east. Quatre and Duo go south. Wait at least two days before you try to secure any air or sea transport. We need to throw off our trackers until we can recoup and discover how they're doing this." He turned his head to look at his teammates. "If you suspect you are being followed, secure your Gundam and leave it. Are we agreed then?"
There was little discussion after that, but all in all, the five agreed to the plan laid out for them. As the sun lowered and the forested area grew dark, each boy took up his own bag and headed in the direction of his Gundam.
After seeing Heero and Wufei off, Trowa, Quatre and Duo trudged back up the muddy slope to follow the ravine's path back towards the city. Heavyarm's was secured in a storage unit south of the city. Sandrock was nestled, heavily tarped on a transport truck in a Winner Corporation owned warehouse near the city center. Deathscythe was hidden in the woods east of the city, not too far from where they were presently located.
Trowa veered off the path slightly and, from the bushes, pulled out the motorcycle he'd stolen that morning. He offered the other two a ride, but they declined after seeing the narrow seat and the bumpy terrain. Wishing each other well, Trowa departed.
The last two walked companionably together through the darkening woods. "Hey Quatre?" Duo began. "Since we're both to head south, how about we team up? It would be fun to go together for a change."
The blonde boy looked aside to the braided boy with concern. "But Heero said..." he began, only to be cut off.
"He said we were to go south. Duo said adamantly. "And besides, we can pull our resources."
"We've already done that, Duo." Quatre reminded him.
"I don't mean money and stuff, I'm talking about our abilities and resources. We've never been pursued this aggressively before, and you don't have the same skills as I do, nor I yours. I know how to run and hide." he said a bit prideful. "I'm an expert at it."
"I don't know." Quatre replied dubiously. He was worried about what Heero would say if they deviated too much from his instructions. Even at the thought, he chastised himself. He might be the strategist of the group and often the bankroller, but he knew himself well enough to be aware that, by nature, he was a pleaser. He wanted people to be pleased with his work, not disappointed in him or anything he did. He acknowledged to himself that he was the result of being the last child in an obscenely large family that had high expectations for themselves and for him, which he innately tried to fulfill at all costs. His first major step away from that roll of pleaser that his subconscious had set up for him, was when he'd helped O, a brilliant engineer, build Sandrock, then fled his colony in his gundam and left behind his role as a pleaser and his very unhappy pacifist father. He'd come a long way, but it was hard to shake off his natural self and become something more.
"Come on, lets just give it a try. It'll be fun." Duo urged, his eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Oh, alright!" the Arabian gave in with only a little reluctance and a smile.
The two pilots began to walk towards the city again. "Do you think we can piggy-back Deathscythe on your transport?" Duo asked with a smile as his arm wrapped around the blonde's shoulder.
Lady Une rose from her chair, her arms stiff as she leaned on them to peer into the vid-camera attached to the vid phone. "What do you mean you lost them?" she asked in a tone that boded trouble to the man on the receiving end of the baleful glare.
Colonel Braun, not use to being made to feel inadequate or small in a superior's eyes, swallowed hard. "The team made visual contact with one of the pilots in the market place, pilot 03. He seemed to be shopping alone, and we had three Predators on him. He eluded them. The team found the food laden bags he carried, but the pilot was gone. I suspect he detected them and fled to warn the others." he explained their failure.
"This is not the sort of report I want to hear, Colonel Braun. I had hoped that your team would have learned from their first attempts and mistakes." Une hissed as she calmed down enough to resume her seat, though her eyes still bore malevolently into the camera.
The man on the screen continued. "A short time later as we continued our search of the market place, we spotted pilot 01 scouting the area. When he realized we'd tagged him, he ran. A chase ensure and Ghost managed to get a shot off that wounded him. Just a graze, not a mortal wound." he was quick to add knowing the directive was to take them alive and with little damage to them. "But even wounded, the boy escaped." He shook his head slightly. "I've never seen anyone as elusive as these pilots." he added.
"My confidence in you and your team is waning, Colonel." The bespeckled woman frowned in disapproval.
"Sorry, Mam." he said crisply. "But we believe they're still in the area. We found a Gundam quite by accident when a hunter called the police station to report he'd discovered one while hunting rabbit in the woods northwest of the city. Half of my team is there laying a trap, the other half is organizing a shut-down of the city and a search that will begin at 2100 hours." he reported, hoping to salvage some of the Predator's reputation in the powerful woman's eyes.
"A trap?" Her eyes brightened slightly. "Very well." she nodded in approval. "Proceed as planned and keep me updated."
"Yes Mam." the Colonel saluted.
"And Colonel Braun," she seemed to crawl through the communication and grab him by the throat with the cool steel of her voice. "don't disappoint me again."
The seasoned soldier was relieved as the connection was cut and Colonel Une's face disappeared from his portable vid phone. He rubbed his face with his hands trying to get back to where his mind needed to be, that being, capturing the Gundam pilots. He picked up a communicator and changed to the frequency his team used. He would alert them to the necessity of not failing this assignment or they would all have to answer to the powerful woman's unpredictable anger.