by girl starfish
"That must be some fascinating programming, Yuy."
Heero blinked, rubbing at his eyes. He was lying face flat against Wing's metal walls. How long had he been there for? "Wufei," he acknowledged.
The Chinese pilot looked smug. "I've never known the 'perfect soldier' to fall asleep on duty before."
"I wasn't asleep," Heero said. "I was thinking. Wufei--do you really think that kid is Duo?"
The directness of the question startled him. Wufei hesitated. "What else could he be? The scientists sent him to us because he is Duo--albeit, a different version of him."
"He's not our Duo," Heero said.
"You have to expect some differences, Yuy. He's had much of the same upbringing as our Duo had, and that was why the scientists chose him. They selected him at the exact moment their experiences began to differ drastically."
Heero looked up at him. "How do you know that?"
"The Doctors replied to Trowa. Quatre wants us all to assemble in the safe house, so we can go over their instructions."
"And the child?"
"Is occupied with the shopping Quatre did." Wufei's tone as he led the way from the hangar was disapproving. "If he continues to spoil the child, he will be ungovernable. Firm discipline mixed with affection is how one should raise a child--"
Heero entered the kitchen and stared. It looked as though someone had emptied a small toy store in it. He had grave misgivings about this.Quatre and the other-Duo were happily removing boxes from the shopping bags.
"You'll be all right if I leave you to it?" Quatre asked, once he spotted Heero and Wufei.
The kid gave him a look. "What are these toys going to do? Bite me?"
"You're fine. Good." Quatre patted him on the shoulder and then led the way into the lounge.
Trowa was there, expression neutral, as always, and the Doctors' instructions on the computer screen before him.
"Well?" Quatre asked, sitting down.
Trowa waited for Wufei and Heero to take the couch before replying. "The doctor's want us to take care of the child for as long as it takes to crack pilot 02's code. They intend we do a full psychological analysis of the child and apply that information to the code. In the meantime, they recommend we start training the child in the rudiments of combat."
"What?" Quatre was horrified.
"They are insane!" Wufei was also outraged. "That is preposterous! They can't want us to send a child into battle--"
"This is J's doing," Heero said quietly, more to his own thoughts than to any of the others. He knew J's lack of qualms too well. He'd met them first hand.
"I can't believe them! I knew they were single-minded to the point they think nothing of the harm their actions inflict as long as they achieve their goals, but this! This beats everything!" Quatre took a deep breath. "They can't have gone to all the trouble of bringing the child here just on the off-chance that he can be used to figure out a code written by someone six years his senior, with influences and knowledge we have no means of recreating!"
"That's another thing," Trowa noted flatly. "He is not to be told anything of this mission, not even that he is from another universe. If he consciously tries to recreate Duo the scientists fear the experiment will be jeopardised."
"Like it isn't already shaky as hell."
Three pilots blinked.
Had Quatre really just sworn?
"So what do we do?"
Surprisingly, Heero asked the question. For once, his voice was humbled--uncertain even. Shorn of the certainty befitting a perfect soldier, he sounded a different person altogether.
"I don't know--" Quatre searched for Trowa's hand. "The idea has a very low chance of success and yet--I will not abandon that poor child to the doctors."
"No," Heero said determinedly. "That must not happen."
"So you're suggesting we keep him?" Trowa turned his one visible eye towards Heero.
"I don't know. Can we look after him any better than the doctors? I haven't done a very good job of that so far--"
"We have to keep him. We have a duty to our absent colleague to do all we can to find him, and to avenge him if necessary," Wufei said. "I'm aware that the chances are not good, but it's better than anything we have." The others nodded, glumly. "But I refuse to teach the child war."
"Me too." Quatre scrolled down the scientist's instructions. "Actually, they've specified what areas he's to be taught and some of it's not bad--mechanics, programming and code-breaking--that could be pretty useful."
For us or for him? Heero wondered but did not ask. Instead he took the mouse from Quatre's hand and continued to scroll down.
"They have a mission for one of us," he noted.
"Surveillance--it looks pretty basic," Trowa said. "Only thing is it will take a week."
Heero nodded. "I'll do it. If I'm not here the child can settle in, feel secure--and when I return we might be able to start over."Wufei and Trowa nodded as Heero left to pack--he was never a believer in wasting time.
Quatre followed him. "Do you mean that? About starting over?"
"He is not my Duo," Heero said. "But that is not his fault. I should not resent him for that. And . . . he is so little. It's almost absurd how small his wrists are, have you noticed?"
He looked at the blond pilot nervously, to see if this was odd, but Quatre was nodding, looking grave.
"He's underweight for a kid his age. He hasn't had a lot--I suppose I've been going a bit overboard, giving him things, but I want him to be happy--"
Heero frowned. "He reminds me of someone I met once. A little girl--"
"If you like I'll write to you every day, tell you how he is doing," Quatre said.
Heero nodded. His backpack was kept ready for occasions such as this, and he had only a few items to add before being ready to leave.
Quatre accompanied him through the kitchen. "Will you say goodbye?"
"Do you think I should?"
"You have to talk to him at some point, you know. You can't just ignore him."
Heero supposed Quatre had a point. The kid was no longer in the kitchen, however. He and a good number of the toys had migrated into what had once been Wufei's room.
"Hello," Quatre said, pushing the door open. "May we come in?"
Other-Duo was carefully laying dominoes in a straight line. He shrugged not looking up at either of them but Heero knew he was fully aware of exactly who was present. He'd seen the way the child's mouth had tightened--he had not forgotten the previous day as easily as Quatre had forgiven it.
"Heero's going away for a while," Quatre said, undaunted. "He's come to say goodbye."
Another domino stood behind his friends.
"I'm sorry for yesterday," Heero said. "Everyone is always telling me I need to be aware of other's peoples emotions. I am sorry to have caused you distress. I will be gone a week. I hope when I return to be able to start things over--I would like to get to know you, Duo," he ended, wistfully.
The child did not look away from the dominoes. After a few long minutes, when it came apparent that he wasn't going to say anything, Heero left. Quatre shut the door behind him and hurried after him.
"Don't let his response discourage you. I'm sure--"
"I'm not discouraged, Quatre," Heero said, stopping the blond before he could continue into a full blown angst-attack. "The child is stubborn--in that he resembles Duo. I think I might have been more disappointed if the child agreed to be friends now." He nodded to his fellow pilot. "I'll see you in a week."
It took Heero two weeks to complete the mission. It was not particularly difficult work, and Heero had pursued it with all his characteristic single-mindedness--whether to return to the safe house quicker or so he could devote more time to Duo's code, he couldn't say. But fate or the scientists had interfered, and another surveillance operation was added to his current mission.
As he left Wing in the hangar and walked towards the house, he turned over the details of Quatre's e-mails, trying to prepare himself for the situation at hand.
Although Quatre had kept to his intention of writing, the details he recorded gave Heero as many questions as answers--Quatre had just happily reported that the child had spent an uninterrupted night by himself in his new room. Did that mean he would not sleep in the room? Or had the nightmares continued? There were other areas for concern. Wufei was instructing the child in the basics of education--Heero could not picture Duo making a docile pupil or Wufei being a patient teacher.
Heero stepped inside the safe house quietly, mindful of the fact that children needed greater amounts of sleep than adults, and that there was a good chance that the child was already in bed. Shrugging off his jacket, then, he was surprised by a peal of laughter coming from the lounge.
He followed the sound to the lounge. While Trowa watched, amused, Quatre was wrestling with the other Duo, laughing as he pinned the younger boy down to subject him to a bout of tickling. Duo shrieked with laughter as he struggled to pull himself away from Quatre, laughing too hard for his efforts to have any success.
The door opened and Wufei entered, holding a copy of 'The Wind in The Willows' in his hand. "Time to brush your teeth," he told the child. "It's your bedtime."
"But I don't wanna go to bed!"
"Tough," Wufei said. "You know the rules."
The child pouted but appeared to be obeying--at least until he reached the doorway where he promptly stuck out his tongue at Wufei before scampering off. "Ya gotta catch me first!"
"Thanks a lot," Wufei said to Quatre. "I've told you not to play with him just before bedtime. You get him all hyped up and then I have the hardest time getting him to go to sleep."
Quatre was still catching his breath. "Sorry," he said. "I lost track of time."
Trowa snorted softly. "I think it's time I put Quatre to bed," he said to Wufei.
"So," Heero said. "I go away for a fortnight and this is what happens."
"Heero!" The three remaining pilots stood up to greet him.
"When did you get back?"
"How did the mission go?"
"It went fine," Heero said. "Your mission?"
He was answered rather unexpectedly as their mission came tearing round the corner and collided with him. Heero put a hand out to steady the child.
"Are you all right?"
The child flinched away from him. "You!"
Heero answered the other-duo's dismay calmly. "My mission is completed. I am back now." He knelt down so he was closer the kid's level. "I meant what I said about starting over--"
Two wide violet eyes stared at him and then narrowed. "I meant what I said too!"
"About what?" Heero asked.
"About hating your guts!" The child turned and vanished down the corridor.
Heero turned to see if the other pilots had heard the exchange, they had.
"I'll put him to bed," Wufei said, excusing himself quickly from the awkward situation.
Heero stood slowly, waiting for Quatre or Trowa to break the silence. When they didn't he remarked neutrally "He appears to be doing well."
"He's a very lively kid," Quatre said. "Heero, kids at his age--I'm sure--"
"Don't apologise, Quatre. He's nine years old--of course he's not going to be reasonable about this," Heero said. "I should go type my mission report."
Heero was typing at this computer when Wufei came in. "I should thank you," he said to Heero. "It takes me ages to get him settled down but he did not protest at all when I put out the light tonight."
Heero didn't smile. He finished his report. "Tell me, Wufei, how do you think the child is?"
"Is? You mean--what?"
"Emotionally," Heero clarified.
"He's more confident," Wufei said with a smile. "He's settling in nicely. His manners and his attention span could be improved but that could be said of any child--and a great deal of adults too."
Heero nodded. He knew very little of children. "Is he eating well?"
"He's eating lots but I couldn't say if he's eating well," Wufei sounded disapproving. "Quatre's in charge of his diet. In my opinion he buys the child too many sweets--"
It was strange seeing Wufei sitting on Duo's bed, his hair free of the tight ponytail brushing his hair in short, methodical strokes. Duo used to do the same thing, waving his hairbrush for emphasis as he tried to convince Heero they should take a day off and fly kites or go roller skating. He should never have told Duo he'd never been to a theme park. Duo hadn't either and decided it was an absolute necessity the two of them went. He'd begged, he'd pleaded, he'd sulked, and finally he'd gone behind Heero's back to bully J into giving them a day off in order 'to recuperate from the stresses involved in piloting the Gundams.' So they'd gone and--
He had had the best afternoon of his life.
"Heero? You okay?"
Heero blinked. Wufei had put down the brush and was looking at him with concern. "I'm tired."
Wufei nodded. He replaced his reading glasses and book by the side of his bed. "I could do with an early night myself. Goodnight."
It was going to be weird sharing a room with Wufei, Heero could tell. Wufei was polite, respectful of his wishes, quiet--he missed Duo like anything.
"Goodnight," he said. Heero changed into his sleeping clothes, neatly folding his day clothes aside. He climbed into this bed--and paused. "Wufei? Is there a reason there is a sandwich in my bed--"
"Oh, not again!" Wufei thrust the bin in Heero's direction. "I thought we'd got him to stop doing this."
"Putting sandwiches in my bed?"
"Not your bed. He's doesn't quite believe us when we tell him that the food isn't going to run out so he has caches of food hidden around the place." Wufei sighed, polishing his glasses on his pyjama sleeve. "He hid half a hamburger behind the heater in the workroom--we still haven't got the smell out."
"Oh," said Heero.
"And you might want to air out Wing before you fly in it again--"
Heero choked. "You let him into Wing?"
"Last week the doctors sent us upgrades for our Gundams. Trowa thought he'd install yours for you and opened it--to find the cockpit full of brussel sprouts."
"Brussel sprouts?" Heero repeated. "He bypassed the trickiest security system J could devise to hide brussel sprouts in my Gundam?"
"He is really stubborn about eating his vegetables," Wufei sighed. "We're still not sure how he got into Wing. But at least he can't get out of the house." Wufei pulled up the curtain to demonstrate that the window was fastened. "Everything that can open is locked and barred from the outside. Trowa has the key to the front door, and the tool box is hidden under your bed."
"The tool box?"
"He was using it to take the locks off the windows," Wufei said with a yawn. "Of course, he hasn't tried that for a while. Goodnight, Heero."
"Goodnight." Heero lay down. He had a lot to think about it. Although he had little knowledge of children he had to admit that he was not entirely happy about this one's actions. He did not sound like a contented child--
And his bed smelt of ham.
"Good morning!" Quatre greeted Heero cheerfully the next day. Trowa nodded, the child ignored him, concentrating instead on the steady consumption of a bowl of cereal. "How did you sleep?"
"Reasonably well," Heero said. He looked at the child, wondering if he should broach the subject of the sandwich.
"We have a few changes in our routine now," Quatre said, bring a piece of paper taped to the fridge over to Heero. Each of us spends a couple of hours with Duo, teaching him."
Heero looked at the list. It read:
8-11 Wufei - Reading, Writing, Mathematics & History (1/2 hour break when necessary)
11-12 Quatre - Music
1-2 Trowa - Gym
"What about sciences?" Heero asked.
"We were hoping you could take him for those. Just for an hour, at first, and if he can handle more than that, we'll add more. In the afternoons he usually brings a few toys into the hangar to be around us while we repair the Gundams, or watches TV."
The Japanese pilot nodded. "I'll be happy to teach him."
"I don't want him to!" Duo broke his silence. "I don't like him, I don't want him to teach me, and I hate science, it's stupid and I don't need it--" He scowled at Heero. "So there!"
"I know you and Heero got off on the wrong foot," Quatre said. "But he has apologised and does want to try again. He won't hurt you, and there is a lot he could teach you."
"Big whoop," younger Duo said caustically, giving Heero a strange sense of déjà vu.
Wufei came out of the bathroom, towelling his hair dry. "Ready to begin?"
Other-Duo hastily swallowed the rest of his cereal, following Wufei into the lounge.
Heero spent the morning looking at the new additions made to Wing and getting used to them. He spent a good deal of time trying not to think of three o'clock--the time set aside for his science lesson.
When three o'clock came he found Duo and Trowa in the lounge. Trowa had pushed the sofa and chairs against the wall and, with the sofa cushions spread out over the floor as a mat, had been teaching the child how to take a fall.
Duo was sulky the moment he spotted Heero, going from laughing as he vainly tried to push Trowa over, to silent and trying to hide behind the lanky youth.
Heero put the lounge back in order as Trowa tried to detach the child from his arm.
"Don't be silly," he told the child. "Heero is not about to hurt you--and if he yells at you the rest of us will yell at him."
That was meant as much for Heero as for the child. Heero nodded as Trowa finally pried his hand loose.
And then he was alone with other-Duo.
Heero looked at the child in front of him, summoning all of the calm that J had taught him, not to give up at the determined pout that crossed the child's face.
"I thought we'd have our lesson in the kitchen today," he said. "We'll start by looking at bacteria."
The child was silent while Heero explained what bacteria were and the effects they could have on people, but Heero sensed he was listening intently. When they went down to the workroom to examine through the microscope, the bacteria on a week old sandwich Heero happened to 'find', Heero saw interest written all over the child's face.
"Eww--And they're all alive?"
"Yes, although not like we are. They can't move, all they can do is multiply."
"That's pretty gross." The child seemed to suddenly remember he was talking to Heero and shut up.
"Of course, some bacteria is useful--and there are ways of protecting food from going off. The fridge is one, cooking or preserving food is another," Heero said, leading the child back to the kitchen.
As the hour drew to a close, Heero put a couple of cans of tinned food on the table. "If you're looking to build a store of food for emergencies, these will be more useful than hiding sandwiches in my bed," he said bluntly.
Duo's stare went from the cans of food to Heero's face. "You're not going to tell me off?"
"Why? It was a good idea, even if you went about it the wrong way. Although we want to take care of you, we can't predict everything that could happen--it's probably good for you to have some food of your own."
Duo tucked the cans away inside his sweatshirt. "Um, Heero? Where I'm from, there was a plague when I was little--you think if we'd had proper food, so many wouldn't have died?"
A plague? "Without knowing more about the exact circumstances of the plague I can't be certain, but its highly likely."
The child nodded grimly and went off to hide his canned food.
"That was well done, Heero." Quatre's appearance startled Heero. "We've been trying to persuade him to stop hiding food for ages, but I think he listened to you--"
"Do you know anything about a plague?" Heero asked. "Did Duo--our Duo--mention anything about one to you?"
"He did," Quatre nodded. "Shortly after you self-destructed--while he was staying with me and we thought you were dead--he said something about already having lost one best friend in a plague--"
So young to be acquainted with death. Heero was trying hard not to imagine what L2 would have been like during a plague, but the brief glimpse he'd been given of its crowded paths and squalid living conditions did not fill him with confidence. Although his childhood had been harsh, and the hints Quatre gave of Trowa's were similarly bleak, he'd always thought Duo's had been happy--he'd liked to think that. And Duo had let him--what else hadn't he mentioned?
"Heero?" Quatre asked as Heero abruptly stood and marched towards his room.
"I have a search to perform," Heero said. "I'll see you later."
Hours later, Heero closed the last webpage. He'd been staring at the headline 'Maxwell Church--One Survivor' for almost an hour. His mind was racing. There had been hints, sure, but Duo had never said anything--no wonder he hadn't been able to break Duo's code! He knew him the best out of all the pilots and he didn't know him at all!