by girl starfish
Heero ended up taking the scientists' advice. He glared at the cracked paint of the cheap motel room, reflecting on how unproductive this was. OZ could be up to any number of nefarious schemes, and here he was stuck babysitting--
He turned from staring the peeling walls into surrender to eye the prone figure on the bed. Without knowing what drug the scientists had used or the amount, he had no way of knowing when he could expect the child to wake so they could move out. He was already past his projected mission schedule--
Something had changed, something--
He smirked. The child was awake. The slight change in the depth of his breathing indicated the child was no longer unconscious, but alert, probably trying to work out the situation.
This Heero approved of.
"We're in a hotel room," he said. "On earth. Russia to be exact."
There was a short intake of breath.
"I'm aware you're awake, you know."
Other-Duo sat up. "You're lying," he said. "Earth's a half day's flight from L2 an' Russia's even further away than that."
"Don't believe me?" Heero shrugged. "Look out the window and tell me what you see."
Giving him a wary look the child slid off the bed and walked over to the curtained window. A glance at the street and the vehicles passing by outside was enough to tell him they were no longer on L2--or indeed, on a colony.
Heero's observational senses were such that he did not miss the slight sob the child made. "We must leave. It is still a long way to the safe house, and the scientists suggested I get you clothes on the way." He turned towards the door.
"I don't want clothes."
"I said, I don't want clothes." The child glared up at Heero, hand tightly clenched around the windowsill.
It took Heero a few seconds to realise the kid was defying him. "You don't have a choice. Now come."
The kid tightened his grip on the windowsill. "I want to go home! Take me back to Father Maxwell, now!"
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Heero said. "You said it yourself, it would take a very long time to take you back to L2"--not to mention that he had no idea how to return to the child's universe--"so I'm afraid you're stuck with me. Now come."
"No," the kid said. "You kidnapped me--I hate you! Hate you!"
Heero without quite knowing why found he'd taken a step back. He frowned. To back down in front of the child would lose him face--"How you feel about this does not matter in the slightest." Heero tugged the child away from the window firmly. "Now come."
The child protested all the way out of hotel and most of the way down the street too, at least until Heero pulled him into an alley to give him a little talk on the desirability of silence.
He regretted having to threaten the child but it was necessary. And at least it produced the desired results. The child, white-faced and silent allowed Heero to pull him through the streets.
Heero, although he'd achieved his desired objective, was uneasy. Duo would not be so easily cowed--he never took Heero's threats seriously. Then again, Duo was Heero's equal in strength and skill, his mind told him. Duo wasn't a nine-year-old suddenly separated from all he knew, and thrust into the company of a hardened soldier--
All the same, Heero was uneasy.
The shop assistant in the children's-wear section of the nearest department store gushed as she caught sight of Heero and his charge. "How adorable--is this your younger sister, sir?"
"He's a boy," Heero growled at the same moment as the other-Duo broke his silence to protest "I'm not a girl!"
They met each other's eyes, startled. Heero saw that the child had forgotten his wariness briefly--for a moment he had seen beyond the unwelcome mission. The child was Duo--
The assistant tittered uncomfortably. "My mistake. Boys clothes are this way."
The moment was gone. Heero took the other-Duo's hand and pulled him after the assistant. The child went willingly enough, the novelty of the store enough to make him forget for a while his predicament.
"That's a hell of a lot of clothes . . . whoever owns this store must be loaded." Child Duo looked around the shelves in awe.
The shop assistant laughed. "Well, we do turn a pretty neat profit--What are you looking for?"
"Winter clothes," Heero said. "He doesn't have any."
Duo helped the shop assistant chose clothes off the racks. "But don't you ever get robbed? Aren't you afraid to have so many clothes out?" he persisted.
"We have a very good security system in place," the assistant explained. "See this tag on this shirt? If it's taken out of the store an alarm will go off."
"That's pretty cool. Do I get to try all of these on?"
"Well that depends on your brother."
Heero did not correct her. "We'll take them all."
"You should at least try them on sir. The fitting rooms are this way. If you'll just follow me--"
Duo skipped after her--he'd evidently decided that Heero couldn't threaten him while other people around, pestering her with more questions about the store. Heero settled back to wait.
The store's security cameras heightened the acute unease that troubled him. He knew it was just paranoia but still--he could not wait to reach the safe house.
"All done!" The assistant returned with Duo again attired in his orphanage uniform. "The trackpants are a little large, sir, but he will grow into them in no time."
Heero nodded and drew out his card for J's funds account. Well, this was the scientist's fault.
"Can I get my jacket out?" the child asked. "It's cold."
Heero nodded, distracted by the business of paying for the clothes.
When he'd finished he noticed the kid was happily absorbed in admiring his new purchase--probably the first new thing he'd owned in his life. Heero frowned and picked up the bag. "Come on--let's go."
Duo followed obediently.
Heero was worried now. He knew something was wrong--
He stepped through the door only to be greeted by blaring alarms. Two security guards strolled over to him.
"Excuse me sir, may we check your bags?"
Heero saw Duo slip by him. He made a move to grab the kid to be halted by the second of the guards.
"Sorry sir, but you can't go anywhere till we've sorted this out."
Heero ground his teeth.
The kid Duo waved to him from outside the shop. 'Thanks for the jacket, lame-brain,' he mouthed before turning to vanish into the busy crowd.
Heero growled. He had known this was a bad idea.
It was four hours later before they reached the safe house. The kid, once Heero had managed to find and catch him--he was installing a tracking device on the brat at the earliest opportunity--had fought, bit, and scratched wildly. Heero had managed to scare him into submission without too much difficulty--the child was unnerved enough at the fact that Heero had been able to track him down. The real difficulties lay in the fact that in order to catch up with the kid before he got too much of a head start, Heero had had to blow his cover. Police patrols had been scouring the city for a dangerous youth of about fifteen or so, with messy brown hair, medium height, etc. More than once Heero and the child (gagged--Heero did not trust him not to alert the police to their whereabouts) had been forced to take cover to avoid notice. For that reason too, they had avoided public transport.
While Heero could take the walk to the safe house without difficulty, the child obviously wasn't used to such conditions and tired fast. What slight concern Heero felt for the child was overlaid by a greater annoyance at the difficulties his actions had caused, and the fact that once the child had got tired, he had ceased complaining.
"Finally!" Heero pushed the door to the safe house open to be greeted by Wufei. From the sounds of things, Shenlong's pilot had been waiting a long time. "Where were you, Yuy? And whatever possessed you to take such a risky action? Pulling a gun on a shop-assistant--there are pictures of you all over the news!"
"Nice to see you too, Wufei." Heero pulled off his coat.
"We were worried," Trowa said, joining the Asian pilots in the hallway. "Doing something so reckless is not like you."
Heero snorted. "You can thank him for that," he said, pushing the child forward. "The entire business was his fault."
Wufei and Trowa stared.
"What the hell?"
The child stared back.
Heero eyed him suspiciously--he looked as he might bolt under the scrutiny.
"I don't believe it," Wufei knelt, pushing the child's wayward fringe away from his eyes. "Is that--it looks like--Duo--"
The kid's head snapped upright. "How do you know my name?"
"It's not your name!" Heero snapped, surprised by the bitterness in his voice.
Eyes wide the kid flattened himself against the wall. Wufei and Trowa transferred their stares to Heero.
"What is going on?"
The kitchen door opened. "Is Heero back?" Quatre asked. "I heard voices and--" he took in the scene before him and blinked. "My."
"Well that's one way of putting it," Heero said grumpily.
"Yuy, what is going on? All we know is that you've got a mission--G and J and something about O and a beach party--extremely unlikely in my opinion--" Wufei got side tracked.
"And some sort of explanation would be appreciated," Trowa added recalling him.
"Shush," Quatre told them all. "You're making the poor child nervous."
The poor child? Heero thought indignantly.
Quatre knelt down so he was on an approximately equal level with the child. "Hi there. You look pretty cold. Do you feel like a cup of hot chocolate to warm you up?"
The child shrugged.
"Come into the kitchen with me and I'll make you one." Quatre took the child's hand and led him into the kitchen. Heero watched him go with relief--finally, he was someone else's problem.
Quatre put a heaped spoon of cocoa into a mug--he'd watched Duo make it and knew that he preferred it strong. A glance at the small child resting his head on his arms, and Quatre added a few heaped spoonfuls of sugar as well--poor thing looked as though he needed the energy.
"You look exhausted," he said, as he added milk and hot water. "Don't worry, we won't keep you up too much longer."
The child said nothing but seemed grateful for the drink. In all likelihood Heero had forgotten to feed him. Quatre frowned. "You look like you've come a long way. Where are you from?"
Quatre raised an eyebrow. Wasn't that where Duo--? But the child was asking a question.
"Why am I here?"
"That's a very good question," Quatre said. "Heero didn't tell you?"
"Him? Nah, he just kidnapped me without even asking permission first." The kid felt safe at last to give way to his resentment. "I don't get a choice."
"I'm sure there is a good reason you are here," Quatre said. "Don't worry about it, this will all be sorted out soon. Now, you just rest here. I'll see about getting you a place to sleep and I'll be back soon."
The child nodded.
Quatre returned to the lounge. He didn't immediately announce his presence, he just leaned back against the door and watched the scene in front of him.
"He put a tag in your bag?" Trowa was asking.Heero nodded. "The shop assistant had told us about them, attached to the clothing in the store. Then, while the security guards checked my bags he made a break for it."
"Interesting," Quatre said. "He's in your company for less than an hour and he already wants to run away from you?"
The three pilots blinked. It wasn't like Quatre to be so cold.
"Yuy, what on earth were thinking?" the blond pilot continued, staring at Heero in such a way that Wing's pilot began to feel acutely uncomfortable. "Taking him from his home like that--"
"That was G and J," Heero protested. "I was told to bring him to the safehouse, which I did--"
"Managing in the process to terrify him completely," Quatre continued sarcastically. "Well done. Terrifying nine-year olds--J must be proud to see his training going to such good use."
"It was a mission," Heero protested, not even sure why he was on the defensive. "G thinks we can use him to crack Duo's code."
"Oh does he? Well listen to this, perfect soldier." If Quatre's tone had been chilly before, it was dripping with ice now. Wufei and Trowa watched in terrified fascination as he continued. "You may have just jeopardised this mission and your partner's survival!" He pointed to the kitchen door. "That child in there is scared stiff! He is in no state of mind to co-operate with us--he may never trust us, Allah knows you've given him no reason to."
Heero opened his mouth to protest then shut it. Quatre was right--"Don't go anywhere near the child," the Arabian continued. "Don't scare him any more than you already have. Trowa, would you please report back to the scientists and see if you can get a more detailed explanation of what they want the child for and what their eventual plans for him are? I'll be in the kitchen getting the child something to eat--" He glared at Heero. "Apparently he hasn't had a bite to eat all day."
The Japanese soldier had not had anything to eat since that morning either but he somehow felt telling Quatre that would not help.
"Why don't I report back to the scientists?" Wufei suggested. "I need to talk to O about the schematics on my next mission--"
"Trowa will make the report," Quatre said briskly. "You'll be busy shifting your stuff into Heero's room."
"No buts. Your room is the best for the child to have. It's close enough to mine and Trowa so that my space heart will let me know how he's feeling."
"Heero's room is just as close--and he has a free bed!" Wufei protested.
"And give the child nightmares? If being in the same room as Heero is enough to make him nervous, you think I'm going to force him to spend an entire night with him?"
Heero felt peculiarly superfluous.
Wufei pondered about suggesting the kid sleep on the couch then saw the look on Quatre's face and decided he wasn't in that much of a hurry to risk his life. "It's late and I have a lot of stuff. Can we do this tomorrow?"
"I guess so," Quatre decided. "I'll just take him in with me tonight."
Trowa's turn to look concerned. "What--in our bed?"
"It's no big deal. I used to babysit my sisters' children. One of my nephews was going through this patch where he couldn't fall asleep unless someone was there with him."
"But--what about--" the bit of Trowa visible under his fringe went pinkish. "You know--"
"Don't be silly," Quatre said. "It's only one night." He nodded to Trowa and Wufei, glared at Heero and returned to the kitchen.
He was pleased to see the child had finished the hot drink.
"I'm going to get you something to eat, then you can get some sleep. You'll be sharing with Trowa and me tonight. Is that okay?"
"I'm not a baby, you know. You don't have to treat me like one."
"I didn't mean to imply you were one," Quatre said. "Anyone spending the night in a strange place would feel a little uncomfortable."
"Well I don't."
"That's very good," Quatre said. "But as its late now, Wufei doesn't have time to shift so your stuck with us anyway."
"Wufei's the Asian guy?" The other Duo considered this. "So Trowa is the one with the weird fringe?"
"His hair is like that naturally," Quatre said shortly, putting the dinner they'd saved for Heero into the microwave. "If you want, we could let you sleep on the floor in the lounge or something."
His space heart picked up the quickening of interest the kid felt at that.
"After we lock the doors," he added.
The kid shrugged. "I guess I could sleep with you guys. Just for one night."
"Good. I'm glad you approve."
The microwave beeped. Quatre took the meal out and put it on the table in front of the child. "There you go."
"I want to go back to L2," The child said not touching the meal. "I don't like it here."
"Until we hear from the scientists, I'm afraid you're staying put," the blond pilot said. "I'm sorry, but with the war the way it is, there's not much we can do."
The kid snorted. "You must think I'm really wet. The War's been over for years. Everyone knows that."
This was interesting. Quatre leaned back against the fridge. "Really?"
"Yeah--that's why there's so many of us kids--" he appeared to take in the plate in front of him for the first time. "Is this all for me?"
"Yes," Quatre said with a smile. "It's all yours."
"You're kidding--what about food rationing? The meat shortage?"
"I'm guessing that things here are rather different from where you're from," Quatre said.
"I'll say," the other-Duo picked up his fork with relish. Then paused. "The food's spoiled right? That's why you're giving it to me--or have you drugged it?"
Quatre sighed. This was going to be a long night.
Heero did not sleep well. In his dreams he walked through a mist shrouded battlefield. Mostly the fog clung around him, surrounding him in walls of grey, but sometimes it parted to reveal the gory contents of the field. It was as if he walked on the edge of nightmare. He was lost, not knowing which way was out, easily loosing his sense of direction in the mist.
"Need any help?"
The familiar voice sent shivers down his spine. Heero turned eagerly around.
The mist crowded round him. Heero tried to bat it away, tried to see beyond it--
The reply came from his side. "Who else would be crazy enough to offer help to you, O self-destructive one?"
Heero stretched out his hands blindly in the mist. "Duo--I can't find you--"
"You're not looking hard enough." Duo laughed exactly as Heero remembered it. "Well, perfect soldier, catch me if you can!"
"No! Duo, come back!" Heero took off after the shadowy form, just visible through the cloud. He stumbled as he pursued his partner, but kept on, following the fleeting glimpses of black cloth and chestnut braid he got through the mist. "Duo--please--"
"Please--" Heero stretched out his hand to suddenly find himself clutching nothing. It was night, he could see the moon shining through the gap in his curtains, he could hear the steady murmur of his laptop as it awaited mission specifics. The clock by the side of his bed said 4:38. With a sigh, Heero settled back on his bed, trying to pushback the feelings of terror and panic caused by the dream. Although he eventually dropped into uneasy sleep, he did not dream again that night.
When morning came, it found him sitting at the breakfast table with a bleary eyed Trowa. Wufei emerged from the shower, drying his damp hair with a towel and looking at the two of them curiously.
Heero just grunted. Trowa sighed.
"The kid has nightmares," he said. "Woke us up three times last night. When I complained, Quatre threatened to make me sleep on the couch."
"Children have no place in battle," Wufei said, stirring his tea and laying the teaspoon down beside the cup. "Even less than women."
"I've been fighting ever since I was a child," Heero remembered, vaguely.
"My point exactly," the Chinese youth returned with a hint of a smirk. Anything more would be too much--" And what exactly do the scientists want us to do with our charge? Have you heard, Trowa?"
"They haven't replied to my query," the acrobat replied, somewhat sourly. "Although S did mention last week some sort of meeting he was attending--"
"The AGM," Heero sighed.
Heero shrugged. He didn't feel like elaborating.
"It would be ridiculous to think the child could pilot a Gundam," Wufei continued. "I doubt he could reach the controls from his seat. And what use will he be to us otherwise?"
"Good morning," Quatre appeared in the kitchen, already neatly dressed. "What are our plans for today?"
"There's not a lot we can do," Wufei took another sip of tea. "Not until the doctors deign to inform us of their plans. I'll be moving my stuff into Heero's room and then researching future missions." There was a faint hint of accusation in his voice--he hadn't got over being forced to surrender his room.
"Good," Quatre said brightly. "Trowa, would you mind helping Wufei move? I would to, but I'm going to go up town to get some supplies."
"What for? We have everything we need," Heero said.
"In case you hadn't noticed, Yuy, we have an extra person staying with us. And while living out of cans might be all right for us, we have a growing child with us and its our responsibility to make sure that he receives the proper nutrients and vitamins he needs."
Heero was sorry he'd asked. From Quatre's tone he hadn't been forgiven one bit.
"Where is the child?" Wufei asked.
"He's a little bit nervous about being around all of us," Quatre said, glaring at Heero. "Some of us more than others. I'll take him some breakfast now and then go into town to do the shopping."
"I can do the shopping," Heero volunteered, hoping to reconcile with Quatre that way. The blond frowned.
"I don't think so. You're still being sought by the police, remember?"
Quatre poured a bowl of cereal. "That reminds me, Trowa will you look through the OZ reports, see if anyone has connected yesterdays incident with the Gundams or the Rebellion?"
The green eyed boy nodded. "Anything else you want us to do?"
"No--just see that the child is all right. Talk to him--once the strangeness of all of this wears off he'll be feeling lonely."
Duo was never lonely.
Heero pushed his unfinished breakfast aside and went out into the hangar.
That was a lie--Duo was life, and joy and yes, danger and death to, but he was never without something to say, someone to listen to--
"I don't understand," he admitted once inside Wing's comforting metal interior. "Duo--" he stopped, having no words.
Wing, as always, remained silent.