by girl starfish
Wufei had folded away the book as neatly as he'd done anything else, and then drawn the covers up to his chin. "Goodnight, Duo," he'd said, and his hand had lingered for a moment on the child's head before he'd turned the lights out and left.
Duo was pleased.
Okay so it wasn't quite on the level of a goodnight kiss, but it was getting there. Not that he particularly wanted to be kissed goodnight by Wufei, he wasn't interested in getting slobbered over like adults always seemed to be. But parents, or so he'd heard from the few kids at the orphanage that actually remembered theirs, kissed you goodnight. None of the people at any of the homes he'd been in had done that, and all of them, in a couple of weeks, had sent him back.
The pilots weren't his first choice of parents, that was for sure, but they were better than nothing. He'd been on his best behavior for them and it seemed to be working. Quatre liked him, Wufei seemed to enjoy their goodnight story as much as he did, and although Trowa was somewhat hard to figure out Duo was fairly sure he didn't plan to sell him to a meat factory. Sister Helen said that Wallis was making that up but you never knew. They did seem to have a lot of food--
The only problem was Heero.
It was quiet outside. Duo listened for a moment to be sure then slipped over to his dresser. He pulled out the bottom drawer, all the way out and felt in the hollow space beneath it. This was where he kept his food store. It now numbered five cans; Duo had been busy since his science lesson. Having checked that all cans were secure he moved onto the other contents of his hiding place.
There were a few pieces of wire he'd taken while Trowa had been working on Heavyarms, Quatre's torch, a can opener, and Wufei's hairbrush. Not a bad start. Duo carefully replaced the drawer and climbed back into bed.
Heero was a problem. Duo didn't think he'd be as easy to please as Quatre and Wufei, and Heero definitely didn't think he was a good kid. After all, he'd got Heero into a lot of trouble. Not that he hadn't deserved it, but Heero knew what Duo could do, so he might not be so willing to have him around as Quatre and Wufei who hadn't seen Duo at his bratty best. Sure, he was acting nice now but Duo didn't buy it one bit. So Heero was going to be difficult.
Duo frowned. He could hear a murmur of voices from the lounge, and the steps in the passage outside his room--Quatre and Trowa going to bed. A few minutes later the hall light was turned out. He shut his eyes and tried to go to sleep.
His room was so quiet. Duo tossed restlessly. It was stupid but the moment it got quiet he got nervous. In the silence of the night it was so easy to think that you'd been left--
What was that?
Duo sat up quickly.
It was only a moth, beating at the windows in a vain attempt to escape. Stupid insects, didn't they know better than to fly inside where they might scare someone? Duo lay down again, his heart beating fast. It was lucky he was nine years old, too old to be scared of something as stupid as a moth.
The moth was silent now.
Good. Duo pulled the covers up to his chin and tried to sleep.
But the moth was still out there.
What if it flew onto him while he slept? Or worse, crawled into his mouth or something? That girl Nina, the one with the pigtails, had told the other kids about this guy who had had his brain eaten when a insect of some sort had crawled inside his ear while he slept--
Okay, that was it; he was getting Quatre.
"What's the problem?" Quatre asked sleepily. "Did you have a nightmare again?"
"I'm not a baby," Duo said. "I wasn't scared."
"Of course not," Trowa said. He had his head buried beneath his pillow, his voice was somewhat indistinct.
Quatre smiled at him. "What's the problem then?"
"There's a moth in my room," Duo said.
This seemed to fail to impress Trowa who rolled over to look at Duo. "A moth?"
"A big one," Duo said defensively.
"Just ignore it," Quatre said. "Moths are harmless."
Oh sure, easy for him to say. Betcha a moth never tried to eat his brain. Duo decided to pull out the big guns. He stuck out his lower lip and sniffled pathetically. "Can't you put it out?"
"It's late--" Quatre looked at the worried face in front of him and wavered.
Better not suck his thumb, Duo decided. He didn't want them to think he was too pathetic. So instead he scrubbed at his eyes and sniffed again.
It worked. With a sigh Quatre climbed out of bed. "Fine then. Let's get this moth of yours."
Sitting in bed with the lights on, watching as Quatre pursued the wayward moth in his pyjamas, Duo felt a lot better. Quatre's attempts to capture the insect were hampered by the fact he was trying not to hurt it. Eventually the moth was chased out into the hallway.
"Thanks," Duo said.
"No problem," Quatre said, sitting on the edge of his bed. "You know, Duo, moths are attracted to light. If you get another moth in here, the best thing to do might just be to turn the hall light on and leave your door open."
"So the moth will see the light and fly out?" Duo considered this. "Why didn't you do that before?"
"That would have been smart," Quatre conceded. "Unfortunately, I didn't think of that." He laughed and tickled Duo's ribs. "If you even think of telling the others about this--"
"I won't! I won't!" Duo protested, trying to tickle Quatre back. The older boy tucked him in. He wasn't as neat as Wufei but he did hug Duo.
"Goodnight," he said. "Sleep well."
"Quatre?" Duo said as the blond left. "Do you think you could maybe leave the door open? Just in case there are any more moths."
"Not a problem," Quatre said, pulling the door shut so there was just a stream of light left.
Duo settled back to sleep contented.
People who hugged you goodnight did not, in his book, abandon you.
Wufei was up first, having finished his morning meditations, and sitting at the table when Trowa entered, yawning.
"How did he go last night?"
Trowa shook his head. "A moth," he said. "I'm beginning to wonder if the scientists didn't make a mistake--"
Duo Maxwell scared of moths? Wufei had to admit it didn't seem very likely. Still, the kid was only nine years old.
There was a movement at the door as Duo entered, already dressed and hair neatly plaited. "Good morning!" he chirped.
"Good morning," Wufei said as Trowa fetched the child's bowl and poured him some cereal, a mute apology in case the child had heard--he hoped not, but still--
Duo stirred his cereal gravely then announced "I'm not eating this."
"Why not?" Wufei asked.
"Because I don't like it."
"You ate it yesterday," Trowa pointed out. The answer he got was a shrug.
Trowa and Wufei exchanged glances. Wufei stood. "I suppose I could make you some toast--would that suit?"
"I don't eat toast."
"I see. And what do you eat?"
"From now on I'm only eating food out of cans," Duo said firmly.
"Cans?" Wufei was confused but Trowa had had a talk with Quatre last night and was beginning to see where this was going.
"Why only canned food?"
"Because of bacteria."
"Ah," Trowa nodded. "Fresh food is okay. There aren't bacteria in it. Well there is, but so little its harmless--" Trowa saw the look on the child's face and realised he was not doing a good job of convincing his audience. "Cereal is kept in little airtight plastic bags inside the packet, see?" he said, showing Duo the container. "No bugs in there."
"Yeah but how do you know there weren't bacterias in there before they were put in the bag?" Duo asked.
"There are certain processes that get rid of bacteria in food," Trowa said. "Like boiling--"
"Or even baking," Wufei added. "And not all types of food are at the same risk of developing bacteria. Dry goods, like cereal and rice can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time, just so long as they are air tight."
"So why is cereal any different from other foods anyway?"
This prompted a lengthier explanation. Wufei and Trowa were required to drudge up information from the very depths of their brains.
"What about milk?" Other Duo was still skeptical at the end of their explanation. "That comes out of cows, right? I bet they don't take baths or nothing."
"Milk has to go through a stringent process of pasteurisation before it is bottled," Wufei said. "All the bacteria is taken care of."
"Are you sure?" Duo hesitated.
"We're eating it," Trowa said. "That would have to mean we were sure."
"I guess so." Duo took a spoonful of cereal.
"Good morning," Heero said as he came downstairs. He paused at the looks he was getting. "What?"
"I think you need to give Duo another science lesson," Wufei said sourly.
Duo pushed his bowl away.
"What is it now?" asked Trowa.
"I can't eat it," Duo said. "It's gone all soggy."
It was rather fortunate that Quatre entered then. "Good morning," he said. "How is everyone today?"
While Quatre got Duo a new bowl of cereal, the pilots discussed their missions. Heero's surveillance had uncovered a suspicious amount of activity surrounding a munitions factory--OZ was probably taking advantage of the lull in battle to prepare a surprise strike. It was imperative the pilots counter attack before OZ got its forces into space--the only question was how.
"I'll need the specifics of your report," Quatre said to Heero. "We can look over them while Wufei takes Duo for his lessons."
Wufei nodded, standing. "Come on Duo. We'd better get started." As he ushered the child into the lounge, he turned back around to face the pilots. "Have one of you borrowed my copy of the Tale of Two Cities? I haven't seen it for days."
"Maybe you misplaced it," Quatre suggested. "It'll turn up."
"I guess so," Wufei shut the door behind them.
"What now?" asked Trowa.
"We've been extraordinarily lucky that OZ decided to take a break in their operations just as the child arrived so we could spend time with him," Quatre said. "But it had to end some time. I suggest we start planning this raid and try to work around his lessons as much as possible."
"He'll need somewhere to stay while we carry out this raid," Trowa said. "It'll take us two days just to get there and back, not to mention carrying out the raid itself--"
"Better make it four days," Quatre said. "We have to add in preliminary scouting--"
"Make it three," suggested Heero. "One of us can go on ahead and do the scouting and prepare the ground for the rest of us."
"Good thinking," Quatre said. "I'll arrange somewhere for the child to stay while you and Trowa check the maps for a good place for us to set up camp."
It was a lot harder than Quatre had anticipated to find a suitable babysitter for Duo They had to be completely trustworthy, away from Oz's notice, and able to defend Duo if OZ did get interested in him, not to mention being able to keep up with the kid.
It was too bad the Manguanacs were in space. The forty of them should just have been able to manage Duo all right. There was no way Quatre would hand Duo over to the scientists, and he hated to involve anyone else--he had a feeling if he asked Hilde to mind Duo they would never get him back. Sally was a possibility, but the doctor was likely to take one look at the kid's skinny frame and write out a list of instructions and vitamins for the pilots . . . not to mention giving them a lecture on children's health to rival one of Wufei's.
That left . . . Relena.
Somehow Quatre didn't think that was a good idea.
He was searching for Sally's latest number when the phone rang.
"Howard," he said surprised. "It's been a while since we've heard from you."
Howard nodded. "Me and the boys intercepted a cargo of mobile suit parts we thought you might be interested in. We're in the area, I thought I'd offer you first pick."
Quatre nodded. "How much?"
"For friends of Duo's?" Howard winked. "It's yours if you want it."
"That's far too generous," Quatre protested. "We can't possibly accept--"
"I'm serious, Quatre. The parts didn't cost us anything--and I know giving them to you is what Duo would have wanted."
"He was that important to you?" Quatre asked.
"Oh, the kid was practically a son to me. He was kind of like our mascot," Howard laughed. "I can still remember the way he used to tear round the ship as a kid, getting into every imaginable sort of mischief. Livened the place up no end."
"Duo lived with you?"
"G was staying with us while he built Deathscythe, and when Duo turned up, he stayed too. Must have been a couple of years, I guess--" Howard sighed. "When I heard that Duo had disappeared, I couldn't--is there any news?"
"Nothing new," Quatre said. "But the scientists have come up with a new plan and we're working on it at the moment. In fact--you might be able to help us with it."
"Anything I can do, I will," Howard said.
The pilots were able to keep up Duo's routine of lessons for a couple more days before the necessity of preparing for the raid demanded their complete attention. Trowa left to secure their base and do the preliminary scouting, while the other pilots began the task of preparing the arms and equipment needed in the operation for transport.
This meant Duo was pretty much left to his own devices. This suited the child. Although social by nature, and enjoying his lessons, he had an agenda of his own to pursue. It was this agenda that led him to the bedroom Heero and Wufei shared.
Between the beds there was a bedside cabinet with two cupboards. One of them, Heero's, was unlocked. Duo had already investigated it. All it held were a few neatly folded socks and an extension cord for his laptop. Boring!
The other one was locked. Duo knew it wasn't by Wufei because Wufei had spent some time looking for the key. None of the other pilots had had it and so the little cupboard had remained locked.
It was not going to remain locked for much longer. Duo pulled the bits of wire he'd appropriated while Trowa hadn't been watching him out from his pocket. He'd spent some time shaping them so they made reasonable lock picking tools but it was now time to test them. After all, he had to keep his hand in somehow. There was no point in getting soft while he stayed with the pilots--
That said, he settled down to his task with all the application of a professional.
About twenty determined minutes later the cupboard fell open.
"Thank-you, thank-you!" Duo waved to an imaginary audience. "It was nothing folks!"
He pulled the cupboard open eagerly. To pause in confusion.
After all, who locks a cupboard leaving the key inside?
Duo set the key, hanging on a hook just inside the cupboard to one side carefully, and begin lifting out the contents of the cupboard.
It was a regular treasure store. Chocolate bars, a couple of screw drivers and wires that Duo could tell at a glance would be perfect for bypassing all kinds of locks, and a pile of comic books. Duo flicked through those with interest but put them back as too adult to be interesting. There were some tapes and CDs stored in the cupboard as well, but what really interested Duo was a package of photos lodged at the back of the cupboard just behind a loose piece of board. He turned them over intently.
Quatre smiled at him, a paper crown lopsided on his head. He was seated in Trowa's lap, there was a cake behind them--a birthday? Cool.
Wufei looking annoyed as he tried to avoid his photo being taken--Duo had to snicker at that one. A strange girl he didn't know, Heero smiling--Duo had to take another look at that one but it wasn't a trick of the light--with his arm around another guy that--
Okay, this was officially weird. He'd thought he was the only guy with a plait that long--and woah, this guy's hair was even a similar color.
"Freaky," he murmured turning the photo over to see if there was anything written on the other side--to hear voices coming down the hall. Duo pushed the cupboard door shut and dived under the closest bed with the stuff from the cupboard that was still out.
Split seconds later the door opened and Heero entered the room. Duo held his breath as the Japanese pilot walked over to the desk and began to set up his laptop. As he went to plug in the adapter at the wall, he passed the cupboard door--which had ever so slightly slipped ajar.
Duo crossed his fingers--please, please, please--
Heero plugged in the adapter, went to stand up and paused. He opened the cupboard slowly. For several long moments that was all he did. Then he shut the cupboard and stood.
"You can come out. I won't yell at you."
What? Duo froze. Did he know--was he tricking?
"It will be a lot less humiliating for the both of us if you come out of your hiding place of your own free will," Heero said. "I'd hate to have to try and drag you out--"
Duo decided he didn't like that either. He crawled out from under the bed.
The Japanese pilot looked at him with his usual set expression. "You've been busy."
"I wasn't doing nothing wrong," Duo said. "I was only looking."
"I see," Heero knelt again to the cupboard. "And where did you find the key."
"That was the really weird part," Duo said, forgetting he was talking to Heero. "It was on the inside of the cupboard, on a little nail--"
"I won't ask how you got in then," Heero said as Duo faltered. "Is this all that was in the cupboard?"
Duo gave him the things that he still had with him mutely resentful.
Heero packed them all away in the cupboard. "Do you think you could lock it again from the outside? And I don't mean with the key."
Duo hesitated. Could he really mean--"I guess I could try. I've never done that before."
Heero put the key back on the little hook. "Why not give it a shot?"
It shouldn't be any trickier than trying to get a thing unlocked--all you had to do was catch the little hooks inside the lock and then jiggle them till they fell in the right places--
"How come you're not mad?" Duo asked as he worked.
"Why should I be mad?" Heero asked.
"Most people wouldn't be happy to know they've taken home a kid who can get past their locks."
"We're not most people," Heero said. "You may have noticed."
"Whose stuff is this anyway?" Duo asked. "I don't think Wufei would have had us all looking for a key he had carefully stored in the cupboard."
Heero hesitated. "There used to be five of us pilots."
"The guy with the braid? Was he a pilot?"
"How did you know that?" Heero demanded.
Duo's eyes widened, that was almost yelling at him. "There were photos, in the cupboard. I didn't damage anything--"
"I'm sorry," Heero was--apologising? To him? "He was my best friend--more than a best friend. I still have a hard time believing that he's gone."
Duo was interested. Heero actually sounded upset--"So what happened? Did he abandon you?"
"No--No, he would never do that." Heero sighed. "We don't know. He went on a mission and never came back."
"Oh," Duo said. "That's too bad." He tugged at the door to check it was really locked. "He looked cool--and he has some neat junk." He had another thought. "Is that why you picked me? Because I look kinda like him?"
"Something like that," Heero said. "You're a lot like him in other ways too--personality, inventiveness--you remind me a lot of him. I was angry when you first arrived because you were so much like him I was worried you would replace him--but you're different too. I see that now--"
"What's his name?"
Heero paused a moment then answered. "Maxwell."
"Ya think maybe we might be related? I mean, we look kind of alike, and it'd be neat to have actual family--not that you guys aren't cool and everything--"
"It's a possibility, I'm sure," Heero said. "Now you'd better get going. And if you'd like I'll forget I ever saw the cupboard open."
So he now had two good hiding places and some tools that would seriously come in handy. He'd also noticed the pilot's toolbox while hiding under the bed.
Knowing about Maxwell explained a lot of other things too. Why Quatre knew what kind of sandwiches he liked without asking, why occasionally the pilots looked sad around him, why there were five beds.
Duo was quiet the rest of the day; he had a lot to think about.
Quatre was concerned; he fussed over Duo whenever he had a free minute. "Do you think he's coming down with something?" he asked Wufei and Heero as the pilots finished lunch, Duo pursuing his own devices elsewhere. "He hasn't been this quiet since he first arrived. Do you think he's lonely? What if he's homesick?"
"He's fine Quatre," Wufei said. "He's a tough little kid, a couple of hours on his own isn't going to kill him."
"I told him about Duo," Heero announced.
Wufei and Quatre turned to look at him.
"You disobeyed a mission parameter?"
Strangely Quatre didn't sound angry, just . . . speculative. Heero nodded. "He found a photo of Duo, remarked upon the similarities--I told him he was a pilot, our friend, who was missing--he asked me if the reason the scientists had chosen him was because they looked so similar and I said that it was partly that."
"Neatly handled, Yuy," Wufei said. "The name similarity would have caused problems though."
Heero smirked. "Not at all. I introduced him as Maxwell."
"Clever," Wufei conceded, pausing as the door opened and Duo came in with a video.
Heero was surprised as both Wufei and Quatre flinched. Duo sat down at the table, the video in front of him. "I want to watch my video. Can one of you put it on for me?"
"But you've seen it a million times already!"
"Don't you want to watch something different? Like--uh--cartoons or something?"
Heero had a different question. "Why can't he put it on himself? I mean, a video player is not that hard to operate."
"I promise I won't try and take it apart again," Duo said. "Really."
"We had a collective agreement," Quatre explained to Heero. "Duo's not allowed to use electronic equipment by himself for a month and promises not to take things apart without asking permission first. If he keeps his promise then we'll let him use things like the video player and the microwave again--"
Heero looked over to the microwave. Come to think of it, it was a slightly newer model than the one that had used to be there previously. "What happened to the microwave?"
"You know how the always tell you that you can't put metal stuff in microwaves but never tell you why?" Duo said enthusiastically.
"Now we know why," Wufei said dryly.
"Hey!" Duo protested. "It was an experiment."
"No more experiments, please," Quatre said with a groan.
"So can I watch my video?"
"Sure," Heero said, collecting some very nasty looks from Wufei and Quatre as he stood. "I'll put it on for you." As Duo took his video into the lounge, Heero faced the other pilots. "What is so bad about 'The Sound of Music?'"
"Wait until the ninth time you've watched it," Wufei said darkly as he followed Quatre out to the hangar.
Heero shrugged and went into the lounge. Duo was putting the video into the slot.
"See? I'm touching the video, not the video player," he said. "That's allowed."
"I see," Heero said. He turned the video on and fastforwarded through the previews. "What happened to the microwave?"
"It blew up," Duo grinned. "It was really cool. Trowa had to come in with the fire extinguisher."
The movie started then, Duo staring at the screen in rapt attention. Heero settled back to watch, bemused about what the child could find so intriguing in it--there were no mobile suits, no humorous cartoon animals--
Duo knew every line of dialogue, Heero soon discovered, and every song too. It was rather endearing, the way his lips moved as the characters talked, and the fact that he seemed to have forgotten he considered Heero the enemy--
Duo sighed happily as the Von Trapp family made their escape into safety. "Can I watch it again?"
"But--it only just finished," Heero said.
"I want to see it again," Duo said. "Just the start? Please?"
Heero could see what Wufei and Quatre was concerned about. "What is it about the movie you like so much?" he asked.
Heero sighed and again the nuns wondered how do you solve a problem like Maria? He really didn't see the attraction. Sure it was a nice enough story, but parts of it were cloying and he didn't quite see why they had to sing all the time--
Like now. If you have a problem with someone, you didn't sing a song about it. If people did, well, Heero would be out a job for one thing, and people would have lost their voices years ago--
Heero shot a glance at the child totally absorbed in the film, twisting his braid as he watched. At least he was enjoying it--
Wait a minute.
Duo--his Duo--played with his braid only when upset. Heero took a closer look at the child and saw that his face was clouded.
Duo blinked at him. "I was just thinking," he said. "Sister Helen used to fuss like that when I did anything."
"You miss her?" Heero asked, a sinking feeling curling in the pit of his stomach.
"I worry about her," Duo said tugging at his braid. "Sometimes the younger kids act up and she has a hard time if I'm not there to help her out." The kid looked at him suddenly. "Hey, you think I'll get to see them again?"
Heero looked at him. In his mind was the newspaper report of the Maxwell Church massacre.
"I have to go check on Wing."