The Forewarning - Part 1
Duo's Friendship Arc 24
by Dyna Dee
"Are you ready?" asked the long haired teen with an excited and devilish gleam in his eyes.
The blond boy next to him chuckled in response and wrapped his fingers around the metal bar in front of him in readiness. "Ready," he answered.
"Please master Quatre, think this over," a deep male voice in front of him pleaded.
"I think all day Rashid," the blond teen replied in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, "and nighttime is the time for play, not thinking."
The older and much bigger man was not sure he liked the smirk on the face of the boy who had always been so responsible. He was sure Master Duo was not always a good influence on the Winner heir.
"Well then, hurry it up as this is damn uncomfortable," Abdul snapped unhappily, his face contorted just slightly in relaying his immediate discomfort from the position he was in while sitting in front of Duo.
Quatre's eyes danced with unusual mischief, reflecting the humor he was feeling at watching his friends as they gave each other a look of long suffering. Exchanging a quick glance at his long-haired friend, both he and Duo were hard put not to burst out laughing.
"Ramal?" Duo called down the long deserted grocery aisle. "Is it clear for take off?" he asked.
The tall, dark skinned Maguanac, the youngest of the three men that now served as bodyguards for Masters Quatre and Duo, couldn't keep the smile off his face, his white teeth gleaming brightly in contrast to his brown skin as he waved his arm, indicating the isle in the twenty-four hour grocery store was indeed clear.
Both boys readied themselves at the far end of the cereal and snack aisle, hands griping the handles of the Maguanac filled carts, their feet planted, ready to push the heavy load.
"Give us a start please, Rashid," Quatre requested politely, still smiling at the silliness of their form of entertainment at eleven thirty at night in an all-but-deserted store.
"This is the last time we do a snack run for Master Duo this late at night," Rashid said rather sullenly.
"We're waiting," Duo said, his voice sing-songed with a tone of infinite patience.
"What does the winner get?" Abdul asked with a grunt as he shifted his large body crammed into the good sized grocery cart, clearly not designed to carry a six foot, two, two hundred thirty pound man.
"Loser buys the treats," Duo announced happily.
"Alright," Rashid growled. "Let's get this over with. On three."
As he hit the number three in his count, both teens strained to move their cumbersome load from a standing start and grunted at their first laborious steps, but their momentum picked up and even as their feet moved as quickly as possible on the glossy linoleum floor, laughter bubbled out from both contestants.
Ramal, standing with hands on his hips at the far end from the beginning line, laughed in his deep voice with abandon at the wide eyes and pained faces of his Maguanac brothers as they sat pinched up into the metal carts. His laughter ended abruptly, however, as he realized the increased momentum of the carts and the weight within them that there was no way the gundam pilots were going to be able to stop the carts at the finish line. He turned his head to see a large display of cereal boxes stacked artfully behind him and quickly weighed his options: trying to stop the carts and be run over, or step aside as let something else take the brunt of the collision. In order to save face, he waited until the very last second before he jumped to the side, landing next to the cookie display that Master Duo had previously ogled.
"Stop!" Both Rashid and Abdul cried out in unison, with their hands both coming up to block the impending collision with the eight foot wall of stacked cereal boxes.
Both teens crossed the imaginary finish line and pulled back with their arms and stretched out their legs in front of them in an effort to stop the heavy carts moving at a fast pace. The highly-waxed linoleum floor proved to be an ineffective foothold and the boys were dragged along with the heavy carts like bowling balls having been launched down an alley into a full set of pins.
Ramal watched with a wide smile as the tower of boxes reacted to the sudden impact and buckled forward, cascading down in a flow of cardboard onto the four below.
The laughter of Duo Maxwell was the first to be heard, followed immediately by his blond friend.
"It's not funny." Rashid's voice sounded from under the mound of boxes that completely hid the carts and their occupants as well as the two teens.
"What's going on here?" The store's night manager stormed up to Ramal with a scowl on his face and his fists planted at his waist.
The tall Maguanac raised his hand up to scratch the back of his head, even as he looked down at the much smaller and irate man glaring up at him. "Well..., ah...you see," he began to hem and haw, his eyes shifting over to the destroyed display.
Suddenly, Quatre came to his rescue by poking his head out from under some of the boxes. His very recognizable face had an immediate effect on the scowling grocery chain employee. "Mr. Winner!" The man who's appearance depicted everything that would be considered average in appearance was suddenly smiling and affable. As Quatre pushed the fallen boxes aside and gingerly began stepping over the many boxes strewn over the floor, being careful not to destroy them further, the manager's face turned from surprised to a look of concern.
"You're not hurt are you, Mr. Winner?" he asked, then rushed to continue. "I'm so sorry. My employees must have stacked the display in a faulty manner. Please accept my apologies."
Duo followed Quatre out from under the carts and boxes and came to stand next to his friend. He chuckled and shook his head in disbelief at the man's kowtowing. In the months that he'd lived with "His Blondness", he was well aware that most people, meaning his family and the people of his colony, were under the misguided assumption that Quatre Winner could do no wrong. He was their golden boy. Duo rationalized it was the big blue eyes, blond hair, baby face and kind disposition that led to that belief, and it was money and power that seemed to keep his friend at an almost god-like position in their many eyes and hearts. It was adulation that Quatre didn't seek nor appreciate, which made him a better man yet in Duo's eyes.
Yet after a couple of months of having lived with L-4's darling prince at the Winner estate, the eyes of the people sworn to protect the Winner heir had been opened. The Maguanacs were no longer under the illusion that their blond prince didn't have a wicked sense of humor at times and a slight penchant for getting into trouble. For Quatre, such opportunities for mischief allowed him to be the kid he never had the chance to be, much like the other gundam pilots. Though he was housed and well fed and cared for, he'd been raised in an environment of seriousness and groomed daily to take over the heavy responsibility of being the head of the Winner conglomerate and large family.
Duo was well aware that his presence had been like a healing balm to the over-burdened teenage mogul who, newly returned from the war, was eagerly shown to a large, beautifully furnished office on the top floor of The Winner owned corporate building with an empty desk and a gaggle of well-intentioned if not overly indulgent sisters, eager to lead their little brother back into the way of life dictated to him since his birth. The teen from L-2 had been a great excuse for Quatre leaving meetings early, cutting a working day short, or just getting into mischief. Duo was a guest in the Winner household after all, Quatre often explained to some unhappy person, and the Winners were well known for their hospitality, even to a permanent guest.
That was Quatre for you, Duo thought as he looked at his friend. He was ever the diplomat, and well aware of the predicament they'd gotten into in the grocery store, but he had no doubt that the blond would talk his way out of it.
Quatre held his hand out to the middle aged store manager, whose dark blond eyebrows and thin mustache twitched as he gazed upon the famous Winner heir and put his hand into the teen's extended one and gave it a hearty shake. "No, the fault is mine," Quatre told the man, looking innocently apologetic. "I'm afraid my friend and I got carried away in a bit of fun and accidentally crashed into your display. I'll gladly pay for any boxes damaged and help to clean up this mess."
"Oh no, that's not necessary," the man was quick to say.
"I insist," Quatre said with a smile and a look of determination on his face that squelched the man's need to excuse his bad behavior.
Duo clapped Quatre on the shoulder. "We don't mind at all," he added with a lazy grin. "After all, we brought help." He gestured with a tilt of his head to the destroyed display behind them and the tall Maguanacs. The store manager looked over to see the two large men struggling to rise out of the over-sized carts and the many boxes that surrounded them. Both men were muttering unintelligible words in Arabic under their breath. The tone and character of their words led the others watching them to know they were not the most pleasant, and the blush on Quatre's cheeks let them know for a fact just how very colorful the words were.
The three men and two teenagers returned to the Winner estate around twelve thirty in the morning with approximately twenty five damaged boxes of sugar coated cereal. The kitchen light shone brightly down on the five as they indulged in a bowl or two of the sugary breakfast treat, although Duo was teaching them yet another unusual way to enjoy it.
The long haired teen, still very much awake, was studying the bowl in front of him, a firm grip on it and his spoon as he judged the ratio of vanilla ice cream to the fruit rings he'd poured all over the top. "Now the trick," he continued with his instruction to the others, "is to stir the cereal into the ice cream without crushing it."
"It will still taste the same regardless," the ever practical Rashid said as his eyes watched the former Deathscythe pilot carefully work his spoon under the cereal topped ice cream and fold the white frozen dessert up and over the top of the colorful pieces of cereal.
"Sure it would taste the same," Duo agreed with a slight shrug as his hand continued working. "But it's just more fun if it's whole."
Quatre looked up to the three Maguanacs and silently urged them to play along. He lifted his own spoon and followed Duo's demonstration. He smiled to himself as he thought about how fun the evening had been. It had been just over three and a half months since he and Duo had left Earth and the other pilots. With their graduation came freedom from being under the government's magnifying glass. They had successfully proved to the higher-ups in the newly forming government that they could live within the norms of society, and peaceably.
It hadn't been much of a surprise when Lady Une informed them that they were hesitating when it came to releasing Duo. The government leaders were cautious and hesitant about letting the boy from L-2 go on his own recognizance. His reactions to the drugs that he'd been ordered to take for his manic depression didn't always leave a favorable impression to those observing him, and the violent deaths the kidnaping incident brought about, though justifiable and commendable, showed the authorities just how lethal they could all be if necessary. The bottom line of the investigation concerning Duo's reactions and the killing of the kidnappers was that he acted properly, given that Quatre was about to be killed and the final two he'd killed had been deemed as a justifiable act of self defense.
In order to protect their identities, the local Sanq law enforcement agency gave a press conference stating that an attempt to kidnap a member of the prominent Winner family had been thwarted by the new government. Having received a call from a classmate who had witnessed the kidnaping, the agency had swooped down on the location and the kidnappers were killed when the police stormed into the room the kidnaped victim was being held in.
It was also reported that the victim was shot by the kidnappers but would recover. The press was always rabid at any story involving a Winner and a foiled kidnaping had them foaming at the mouth. The government and local police agencies were hard put to keep the story from growing or any more information from leaking out. But there is always someone willing to tell, given the right monetary motivation, and someone in the hospital did just that, despite their efforts, and leaked out reports to the press on how Quatre was the injured victim, the seriousness of his wounds, and that he was recovering. He'd spent nearly a month in the hospital with Maguanacs arriving before he was out of intensive care in order to take over his round-the-clock security, waylaying many sneaky reporters trying valiantly to get the story that would make their careers.
The other pilots had to visit him in their school uniforms to keep up the appearance of concerned classmates visiting their friend. The press was constantly asking for the name of the witness, but Duo's name had been protected with the greatest of efforts. Finally the press calmed down and went on to another story, making the next months stay at the hospital mundane and dull. It was only because of the arrangement Und made with the school and a private tutor that he had come been able to graduate with his friends.
Lifting his eyes from the messy concoction before him, he took an appraising look at his friend. Duo was happily munching on his ice-cream/cereal, looking like he hadn't a care in the world.
"Not bad," Abdul murmured. Rashid and Ramal nodded in agreement as their mouths were full.
"I like this idea better than the grocery cart race," Rashid complained just under his breath.
Quatre looked up and smiled at the older man. "I can only imagine that you're going to enjoy your weekend, Rashid," he said just before putting a spoonful of the unusual dessert into his mouth. He paused to let the taste of the ice cream and the fruity cereal hit his taste buds. Swallowing, he looked back to his friend. "I like it!" He grinned in a silly manner with his cheeks full of melting ice cream and cereal.
"Would I steer you wrong?" Duo asked with a raised eyebrow and a satisfied grin.
"Not on purpose," Quatre chuckled.
The blond teen's eyes focused back on his bowl, his mind reflecting on his friend sitting next to him. Duo was doing so much better. He thought of their arrival on L-4 after their graduation, greeted in the shuttle terminal by several of his many sisters and a few of the Maguanacs. Duo had seemed fine at first, eyes comically widening at the enormous building that was the Winner residence. He joked with the Maguanacs and the hired help, even flirted with all of his sisters, including those who were considered middle aged. They all adored the outgoing teen and his sisters soon informally adopted him as their second little brother.
Yet after a week, when the excitement of a new home, people and surroundings set into a comfortable routine, Duo began to disappear for several hours a day. He had set out in search of his friend, but when Duo decided not to be found he would stay hidden until he was ready for company.
He let his friend continue his disappearing routine for several days but then decided it was time to get to the bottom of it. If Duo was taking off to meditate, that was fine, but if he was upset or troubled, that was another matter that would need to be dealt with.
Knowing his friend well, he checked the hard to reach places other people might not venture. It didn't take long for him to locate the other former pilot sitting on the rooftop of the three story mansion, laying on his back, his body resting easily on the sharply sloped roof with his eyes closed and his braid, laying over his right shoulder, was being gently fingered by his pale hands.
Quatre had pulled himself up onto the roof from the attic window and crawled away from the roof line, then stood to walk silently over to his friend. He sat down next to his jean clad friend and looked off into the distance, taking in the view of the colony as it lay before them, enjoying for a moment the upward curve of the city in the distance, a view earthbound people were privileged to see only in pictures. He thought for a moment of the differences between Earth and his colony, which in a way was uniquely beautiful with its lush greenery and trees that grew in parks, yards and along the roadways. He had taken a deep breath and found himself disappointed that the colony's air would never quite be like the air on earth, more precisely the desert, as there was high humidity and metallic smell that could never be adequately filtered. He'd longed for the dryness and heat of the arid desert that he'd naturally taken to from the moment his gundam had landed near the Maguanac base. With a loud sigh, he had realized too late that he'd disturbed his friend.
"Doesn't this seem weird?" Duo asked, eyes still closed, but his arms left his braid to move up and cradle his head from the rough surface covering the roof.
"How do you mean?" Quatre asked.
"Here and now," Duo sighed. "This colony is at peace, no soldiers, no gundams. It's almost like the war never even happened. Our friends are on Earth doing their own thing with no orders, no connection to us, and no direction other than their own lives to pursue. It seems so... surreal. I can't tell if I'm dreaming or what. I feel kind of confused and lost," he confessed.
"That's why you're here with me, Duo." Quatre answered. "We're going to figure this out together, remember? I feel the same way sometimes and I think we both need some time to get our lives back on a normal track."
Duo opened his large, unusually colored eyes that now looked sad.
"I miss them," he said softly.
Quatre had laid down next to my friend. "Me too," he sighed. "But they'll be in contact with us as soon as they're settled."
"Do you think it's really possible to settle down and be normal, Quatre?" Duo looked to his friend, obviously needing to believe there was something more in his life than the life he'd been living.
"What's normal, Duo?" The blond said it a slight smile. "We'll be normal for us and not worry about being like everyone else. After all, how many fourteen year old kids do you know that flew gundams and fought in a war?"
"Five to be exact." Duo gave a slight grin and a snort with his answer, then added, "And the best four people I have ever known."
"Just remember that, Duo. You are included as one of the best."
"So are you Quatre, the best." Duo's eyes clearly portrayed his earnest sincerity with that statement.
"Just do me one favor," the blond teen asked, turning on his side to face his friend, both dressed in new jeans and tee-shirts. "When you're feeling down or just displaced, talk to me. No more running and hiding, alright? After all, we're blood brothers," I picked up his hand and looked at the long, slight scar that ran across his palm from where the wire cut through his skin when one of the kidnappers had tried to strangle him. "And I think they're supposed to be there for each other, through thick or thin."
"Old habits are kind of hard to break," Duo answered with one corner of his mouth twitching upward. "Running and hiding has served me very well in the past."
"Just try, please?"
Quatre's memory briefly reflected on the days and weeks following that conversation on the rooftop. They'd certainly had their ups and downs, but there had definitely been more good days than bad.
They'd heard from the other pilots within a few weeks after leaving Earth. Heero's messages were stiff, succinct reports of the dorm he resided in, the campus, classes and his judgement on the effective or ineffective teaching methods of his professors were almost amusing. The two boys reading the e-mail couldn't help but find humor in Heero's mission-style reporting.
Wufei had e-mailed the both of them telling them of his trip to China and his unease with the rumors of unrest he'd heard whispered from everyday citizens. He stated his desire to begin visiting the colonies to discover the seed of this unrest and put a stop to it, if that was possible. He promised to make a point of stopping by to see them when he made it to L-4. That communication had been the last they'd heard from their Chinese friend, and that had been two months previous. They were becoming worried.
Trowa wrote more regularly than the others, but his messages were always short. He talked about the circus, the animals, and different acts that came and went in the show as they traveled to many interesting and sometimes exotic places on the Earth, and in September, he would be journeying with the circus to the colonies. He had informed them that he would be on Colony L-3 in October, and offered them tickets to an evening performance, subtly asking his friends if they would come for a visit.
Quatre looked up from his musings and half empty dessert bowl to Rashid, who was asking him about their time of departure for L-3 the following morning.
"We're both taking tests at ten o'clock in the morning, and I hope to leave the docking bay by noon," he answered the older man.
Rashid's frowning face spoke clearly of his disapproval of their weekend plans. Abdul and Ramal were both shaking their heads, adding their disfavor also. "I still don't like the idea of you and Master Duo traveling to L-3 alone," Rashid said as Duo dropped his spoon into his empty bowl, the silver clattering loudly against the porcelain surface.
"We traveled all over Earth and on the colonies for over a year, Rashid," Quatre said with a sigh, tired of this continuing argument.
"And look how much trouble you got into. And the kidnaping..."
The older man stopped speaking when Quatre raised his hand. He didn't discuss that day with any one but Duo, not that he remembered much, but every time they would mention the kidnaping Duo would begin to question why he had taken the bullet for him and then to blame himself for not saving him from being shot. To not talk about it or mention that incident and all the negative emotions it drummed up seemed a better way to deal with it rather then having Duo come down on himself for days because of his self-perceived failure.
Abdul was now speaking and Quatre tried to focus, but the long day and his tiredness was beginning to seep into his brain. "Just let one of us fly you there and serve as a chauffeur," he requested earnestly. It became even more apparent to the blond teen that the Maguanacs were more than a little upset with the plans for the weekend, tipped off by the pleading in the older man's face and tone of voice.
"But I wanted to fly the shuttle and drive," Duo complained, a frown forming on his face at the thought of his fun being taken from him.
"Pardon me," Ramal chuckled. "But I've seen you pilot and drive a vehicle Master Duo, and frankly, your record for crashing both does not highly recommend you."
Duo blinked in dumbfounded shock, then looked to Quatre. "I think I've just been doubly insulted."
The blond couldn't seem to hide his growing smirk. "Yes, I believe you have been," he answered, then continued. "And so I think a befitting punishment will be for Ramal to accompany us, as an observer."
Duo was about to protest when he thought Quatre was going to let the younger of the three Maguanacs, ten years their senior and a good foot and a half taller than the two of them, be their chaperone. Yet he swallowed down his argument when he heard the word "observer" and chuckled. Ramal was in for one hell of a weekend.
Rashid cleared his throat to get their attention. "That will put my mind somewhat at ease," he said. "When may we expect you to return?"
"Sunday night around seven," Quatre answered, then popped more ice cream into his mouth and chew it happily.
The leader of the Maguanacs stood, his now empty dish in his hands. He then moved to the sink and rinsed it out. "Then I'll bid you goodnight," he said. "If I don't see you in the morning, I'll wish you all a good journey and a safe return home."
Abdul stood and copied his brother's actions. "Good night Masters Quatre and Duo." He bowed his head slightly and followed Rashid out the back door to their apartments at the rear portion of the estate grounds.
Ramal stood and looked down at both teens as they finished their past-midnight snack. "You're going to run me ragged, aren't you?" He frowned unhappily with the sure knowledge that they would.
"You bet," Duo smirked and exchanged a knowing glance with his blond cohort.
"Most likely." Quatre shrugged. He really had no plans for the weekend other then visiting Trowa. They were planning on just going to L-3, surprising Trowa, and then be spontaneous after that.
Ramal left the kitchen, shaking his head as he went and leaving the two teenagers to put away the boxes of cereal and to load the dishes into the dishwasher. Quatre bid Duo a sleepy goodnight at his friend's bedroom door, then headed to his own bed. He sighed with a tired smile on his pale face as he prepared for a collapse into his inviting bed and thinking, not for the first time, that life with Duo was sometimes as exhausting as running from Oz...but a lot more fun.