by girl starfish
It had been nice, Duo thought. He didn't even mind that they hadn't let him watch the movie twice. They'd all been together--hell, they'd come back for him. Howard had been cool an' all, but the pilots--
He was beginning to think the pilots were something special.
He pulled out his toys from the backpack. The transformers were his favourite, some of them kinda looked like Mobile Suits, and with a bit of imagination could be a Heavyarms or a Shenlong. He dumped his clothes on the bed, and set about pulling his acquisitions from them.
It was a pretty good haul all told. Some more bits of handy wire. A couple of bits from a mobile suit, a few rounds of some sort of ammunition (he thought they were full) and, best of all, a small magnifying glass.
He'd have to hide them now, while the pilots were still in the lounge.
He paused at the door to listen.
They seemed likely to be busy awhile.
Duo left with a smile.
A family--he'd never had one of those. It sounded like it might be cool.
At any rate, that should keep them busy for long enough for him to add his possessions to those in the little locked cupboard.
He stole into Heero and Wufei's room quietly. The cupboard was there--but--he paused.
So was Heero's laptop.
Laptop. Cupboard. Laptop. Cupboard. Geez, it was a tough decision. In the end he decided to go for the laptop--Heero was so careful with it, it must have something good on it.
He was disappointed when he noticed it was nothing but some sort of search pattern. A list of all hospitals and airports in the area they'd just left, a list of shipping companies with a subsearch on 'pocky'--whatever that was--and a list of all news reports dating from the last six months.
Duo looked at them but quickly dismissed them as boring. He clicked on a couple of other sites in the history, just a quick check that Heero didn't have a link to an organ-farming site or something--
The name was familiar--wasn't that the name of the lost pilot?
Duo clicked the link curiously. He'd been wondering what the last pilot might be like--apart from having obviously good taste in hair--
What he found--
Maxwell Church Massacre. Maxwell Church--his home. His first thought was that had to be a mistake because no way would Father Maxwell let anything like this happen, not him--
But there was the picture underneath the headline with the too familiar walls crumbled and smoke and the emergency crews and the body bags--
It just couldn't have happened, Duo told himself. It couldn't, it couldn't--
He'd seen it before--never this bad but he'd seen it. Death, cruelty, meted out with no distinction between those that deserved better and those that didn't.
He shouldn't have left them. If he'd been there, there could have been something he could have done--something--
But Heero had gone and taken him, he'd had no say.
Had--had Heero something to do with this?
The pilots--they'd had that mission, they'd been gone--is this why they wanted him out of the way?
"No!" he said, protesting against the very thought. "They're not the kind of people who would do that! They like kids--they like me--"
But Heero had kidnapped him. And threatened to break his arm too.
"No!" Duo tried to unthink that thought but it was too late. The pilots were dangerous--He tried to choke back a sob. He had to think about this carefully. Logically. Like Wufei had taught him.
So, Heero knew about this. That didn't necessarily mean anything--except you'd think he'd have said something. So that was definitely suspicious. But that didn't mean the others were involved. He'd look at the dates and see when it--he didn't want to think about that.
Trying to act braver and not quite succeeding, Duo looked at the laptop again. This made no sense--the dates--
"But the church couldn't have been blown up five years ago," he said. "I was just there--"
A noise coming down the hallway. Duo closed the browser window and took what cover he could. He hunched down, slipping his braid into his mouth--he would not be heard this time.
Heero entered, not looking right or left but going straight to his lap-top. Duo swallowed--he could only hope that Heero wouldn't notice that he'd been using it. He looked wistfully towards the door. There was no chance of making a break for it, none at all--
A frown creased Heero's face. He must know--
Duo waited, afraid to breathe.
He saw Heero's face go pale. There was a long time and Heero did not do anything. He just sat there--frozen.
Despite his best efforts, a shaky sob escaped Duo. He was really afraid now. The only time he'd seen someone look so terrible, was just before Solo had died--
"Who's there?" Heero said at once, standing. "Duo? Duo, are you here?"
Don't make a sound, not a sound, not a sound--Duo shut his eyes, trying desperately not to wail. At any moment now Heero would round on him and--
"Shimatta," Heero hissed, hurrying with the laptop into the lounge room.
He hadn't found him.
Duo uncurled. Incredible! Heero didn't know where he was.
He could hear the sounds of the other pilots in the lounge. Heero was probably telling them what had happened. He didn't have long then.
Lucky he'd planned for this kind of thing. Duo retrieved the toolkit from under the bed and selected those needed to open the window as noiselessly as possible. By wrapping the window lock in a pillow case he managed to muffle the sound somewhat--it still wasn't enough. The computer chair was jammed under the door handle.
Just in time.
"Duo? Are you in there?" Quatre, sounding upset. "Please come out."
As if he was listening to them again.
Duo gave the lock one last hit and was rewarded with the window coming loose. He clambered out of the window as Wufei tried.
"Duo! If you don't open the door we will break it down."
Go ahead, Duo thought as he scrambled up onto the roof. It's your house, after all. As noiselessly as he could he made his way over to the chimney, and lay down flat behind it. Hopefully they wouldn't think to look on the roof--
There was a crash. Wufei, it seemed, had made good his promise.
"He can't have gone far--he's had, what, five minutes?" Wufei taking charge. "I'll take this direction, Yuy, you take the other."
"What should we do?"
"You're the one with the space-heart, Quatre. I'd suggest using it."
Duo saw the tips of Heero and Wufei's heads as they headed out to look for him. He crossed his fingers and waited. Hopefully they would assume that he would run rather than hide--
Trowa's voice broke the silence suddenly. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, I hope they find him," Quatre said miserably. "Trowa--"
"It's okay. They'll find him, you'll see--he can't have gone far."
"But Trowa--even if they do find him, I'm so afraid. I can pick up some of his emotions--not enough to pinpoint his location, everyone else's worry is getting in the way--but he doesn't trust us."
"We shouldn't have listened to the scientists," Trowa said. "Come on, I'm going to get Heavyarms out. It will be twilight soon, and if he isn't found, we're going to need the Gundams' heat-sensors."
"Be careful," Quatre said. "If a Gundam is spotted--"
Trowa's ironic response came from further back in the room, apparently he was going. "You know, I have done this before, Quatre."
Duo guessed he was gone. Quatre lingered by the window for several long moments more, looking out into the deepening twilight. "Duo--come back to us, please," he whispered, before following Trowa.
Duo gave them a couple of minutes to get out of hearing range than swung himself back inside the room. Heero's bed creaked as he landed on it, but no one seemed to have heard the slight noise.
Duo retrieved his tools from the floor and paused by the little cupboard. He really didn't have time but--
He hurried back to his room with a slightly larger load. The backpack was still on his bead, his clothes not yet unpacked. Duo dumped the toys on the floor, packing the bag instead with his tools and other acquisitions. After a few seconds of thought he picked up 'A Tale of Two Cities' from another of his secret hiding places, and added it to the pack. As a final touch he took his coat and gloves from the closet. He was now ready to go. Duo tiptoed into the corridor silently.
The door to Quatre and Trowa's room was slightly ajar. Through the crack in the door he noticed Quatre's wallet unattended on the bed; this he helped himself to as a matter of course. Not that he liked taking money from Quatre, but he needed it more. Adults could always get more money, but it was next to impossible for kids to get it. Duo slunk through the house on the lookout for the remaining two pilots.
He had a close shave when he entered the hangar, almost running into Quatre's back. The blond pilot was watching as Trowa set off in Heavyarms, confident of remaining undetected now that it was night.
Hunched up in a temporary hiding place behind a crate, Duo watched Quatre sigh as Trowa disappeared and then went back to the kitchen.
Duo hadn't thought this far. He had a vague feeling he should get back to L2 but not much idea of how to do this. Maybe he could hide in the hangar and get a lift on a vehicle next time one of the pilots went out? It was risky--especially if they realised there was a possibility of him hiding out in the property.
He didn't really want to walk into the city--didn't even know which way to walk. And if he did that there was always the chance of him ending up running into Wufei or Heero.
So that left what? Stealing a Gundam? Duo snorted, with his luck, he'd crash into something. But wait a minute--Quatre kept the keys to the Ute in his wallet--
He was so outta here.
It had gotten so dark by now that Wufei couldn't see the outline of his hand stretched in front of him distinctly, let alone spot Duo. There was nothing else to be done but to return to the safehouse and retrieve torches.
He walked back as quickly as he could, gathering Yuy along the way. Neither of them talked much, they were too tense. Duo had run from them, now he was missing.
Heavyarms continued to search the fields. That was something at least, Wufei decided.
As they neared the house, the jeep suddenly roared out of the hangar, weaving wildly as it went down the road. Heero stopped walking to regard it solemnly.
"Quatre must be upset," Wufei said. "He doesn't drive like that."
"I wonder where he's going in such a hurry at a time like this," Heero said, grimly.
Had he perhaps heard something on the radio? Had Duo gone farther than they'd realised? He was a child--but if he'd got to the road--someone might have given him a lift--
Wufei hurried to the safehouse.
There was no note of explanation of the kitchen table, nothing. Most unlike Quatre.
While Wufei had a quick look around the living room in case they'd missed something, Heero went to the hangar. His startled exclamation called Wufei after him a moment later.
A pile of boxes had toppled over. Beneath them lay a limp form --Quatre.
Heero knelt by the still pilot.
"Is he--" Wufei swallowed.
Quatre groaned, satisfying that worry.
"He's okay," Heero said. "Help me shift these--"
The boxes were hurriedly pushed aside. Between the two of them, they managed to get Quatre inside. He was regaining consciousness steadily, but still stunned.
"What happened?" Wufei asked, once they had the blond settled on the sofa, and he judged he was coherent enough.
"Ow ... I heard a noise ... in the hangar. Trowa had just left and I thought he might have forgotten something ... then the crates just toppled over."
"You're lucky you weren't more seriously hurt," Wufei told him. "Be more careful, Winner, in a situation like this, we can't have you getting hurt too--"
"Wait," Heero said. "If Quatre is here, then who took the Ute?"
The pilots stared at each other.
"Does he even know how to drive?"
"We have to find him," Heero said. He hesitated momentarily as he looked at Quatre, still pale.
"I'll be fine," Quatre told them. "Go."
Wufei nodded, grabbing the keys to his motorbike. "Come on Yuy."
Duo grinned as the Ute lurched to a stop. Geez, from the way the big people carried on about driving you'd think it was hard. Of course, Jake letting him have a go at the Cancer's controls hadn't hurt any.Well, now he'd stopped. Now what?
You usually took the keys out. Now, where was the off switch?
Nothing doing. Duo's brow furrowed as he tried to figure it out. If he didn't turn it off, the petrol would be wasted--then he glanced round his surroundings and shrugged. Neighbourhood like this, it would be stolen in five minutes.
Which was all for the further good. Duo slipped out of the truck, holding tightly to his bag and melted into the shadows without any further ado. Now, to get to the spaceport. There was a sign up ahead, just what he wanted ...
As he tried to make out the letters in the darkness he heard the screech of tyres behind him. Less than two minutes. He was impressed.
Duo had a pretty good sense of direction and an even better memory. He and Wufei had passed the spaceport on their trip to meet Howard, and that was enough to enable him to find his way there, even in the dark. Small and insignificant, he slipped relatively unnoticed through deserted streets.
The perimeter fence surrounding the spaceport did give him some trouble. Barbed wire, nasty. With the help of a tree he made it over with only a few scratches and a bruise from the landing on the other side. Duo groaned as he picked himself up. He was getting soft, he was. That was the problem with living with the pilots--
He wasn't thinking about that.
Now what? It was dark and there were no flights--Duo yawned. The exhilaration that had sustained so far was beginning to ebb--time to turn in.
A hangar gave shelter and a couple of boxes were cover. Duo managed to find a pile of sacks that made a bearable nest. He nestled in amongst them, thinking wistfully of his room with the open door--at least he'd felt safe there--
A frown creased his forehead. He felt bad about Quatre--who after all, had been kind and patient and never yelled at him--he'd had to stop him from chasing after him somehow though. He hoped he was all right.
What was he thinking? Quatre was the enemy. They all were--
Quatre and Trowa sat at the kitchen table, a slowly cooling mug of tea in front of them. Quatre picked up his mug, swirled it around and put it down again.
"Do you think he--"
"No," said Trowa.
"What if he--"
"A very capable young man. He'll be fine." Trowa said. This conversation had continued over the same lines for quite some time now with neither feeling much comforted by it.
Quatre sighed then stood as the Ute was heard pulling into the hangar, followed by Wufei's motorbike. This in turn was followed by the sounds of a crate splintering.
"Heero," Quatre said, rubbing his temples. "Oh dear."
"That doesn't sound like they found him," Trowa said, just as Wufei entered.
"No luck," the Chinese pilot admitted softly. "We tracked down the Ute only to find it was being driven by some kid who thought joyriding might be fun. Yuy managed to scare out of him the place where he found the car, but by the time we got back there--" he shook his head. "He could be anywhere."
There was another crash from the hangar. No one said anything. Better to have Heero vent his anger on the crates then on them.
"We can't give up," Quatre said. "We'll have to expand operations. I'll call the Manguanacs, and start drawing up plans for a neighbourhood by neighbourhood search--"
Wufei nodded. "Do either of you know what Duo saw on Yuy's laptop that upset him? He refused to tell me anything about it."
"I've got an idea that it relates to Duo--pilot Duo's--childhood," Quatre said.
Wufei nodded. "I might go to L2 see if I can't work out what it was. It may be useful."
"It's a good idea," Quatre said. "At any rate, we can't all of us risk the exposure to the public that a thorough search for Duo will occasion. I think it best if I remain here to co-ordinate the search while the rest of you head out, to take care of missions as usual."
"You've thought about this." The pilots were startled by Heero's voice. None of them had heard him take up his place in the doorway.
"We had a lot of time while we waited for you to return. We thought we should plan for the worst case scenario--just in case," Trowa explained simply.
Heero nodded. "I'm returning to get Deathscythe, then I'm focusing my attention on finding Duo. I'll leave as soon as I've packed."
Wufei ground his hand into a fist as Heero departed. "Unfeeling bastard! Doesn't he care--"
"He cares, Wufei," Quatre said, rubbing his head again. "If anything he cares too much."
Trowa put a gentle hand on Quatre's shoulders. "Are you all right?"
"No," Quatre managed a wan smile. "Getting hit by that pile of crates is not helping my health any--"
"You need to go to bed," Trowa told him.
"Not yet. I must contact Rashid--Trowa!" Quatre protested as he was pulled out of his seat by his taller lover.
"Wufei can phone Rashid," the European pilot said. "You need rest Quatre. You're bearing not just your own worry but all of ours too."
Wufei nodded. "I'm capable of making a phone call Quatre."
That settled it for Quatre. He let Trowa lead him to their bedroom. "It's not fair," he whispered as he climbed into bed. "We were so happy--all that seems like a dream now and it's what, only a few hours?"
"Six hours," Trowa said, climbing into the bed beside him.
"And everything was going so well! He liked us--I could tell he did--and even Heero was starting to relax--and now--"
"We'll find him," Trowa said.
"Even if we do--what if he hates us? What do we do then?"
"He won't hate us," Trowa said, placing a kiss on Quatre's forehead. "We're family."
"It appears our search has come to nothing," Treize remarked as he walked across the tarmac, past rows and rows of saluting, uniformed officers to his jet.
Zechs was less happy. "I'm positive the boy on that security footage from the clothing store is the same boy I faced in Antarctica. We should search the entire area for Gundams--"
"That's reading an awful lot into a few minutes of tape--"
"It's the best lead we've got!" Zechs responded hotly. "The base that was destroyed in Poland left no traces--"
Treize waved a hand to silence Zechs as the captain approached.
"Good morning, sirs. We are ready to depart in approximately ten minutes, once our final safety check is completed."
"Thank-you." Treize nodded to the woman, before climbing into the elegantly furnished shuttle. "Lucrezia is already in space, you said?"
"Yes, she'll be meeting us on L1," Zechs said. "Although I have to wonder why you would leave the planet when there is obviously one or more Gundam pilots on earth--"
"Zechs, you forget. The Gundam pilots will come to us."
Treize's second rolled his eyes. He'd heard this argument before and he was sick of it. They should be doing something now instead of letting the war roll on and on, claiming more lives in the process--
"Let me go! Bastards! Ow!"
Both Zechs and Treize started to their feet at the sudden yell.
"Shit! He bit me!"
"Grab him quick!"
Drawing his gun, Zechs stepped outside, expecting to be confronted with anything--except this.
He looked in disbelief from the pilots, one of them sucking a hurt finger, the other struggling to restrain ... a little girl?
"And what exactly is the meaning of this?" Treize asked, looking out of the door above Zech's shoulder.
"Stowaway sir," one of the pilots said. "Caught her hiding in the cargo hold."
"Geez!" the kid managed to pull away from the pilot restraining him. "I'm not a girl!"
"Our apologies." Treize knelt down to the kid's level. "Now, what were you doing hiding in our cargo hold?"
"Sir, we also found his bag--it looks as though he was planning on leaving earth with us."
"Dear me." Treize turned his attention back to the child. "Now why would you want to do that?"
This whole situation was bugging Zechs. He felt uneasy, scanning the area for signs of a sneak attack or diversion. He would not put it past the colonies to use a child to mask a more sinister attack--after all, their defenders, the Gundam pilots, were little more than children themselves.
"To go space, of course. What kind of idiot are you?"
Charming, Zechs thought with a sniff. "I presume you have authorities to deal with this sort of thing--" he said, turning to the shuttle pilots.
Treize put up a hand to forestall them. "Allow me a few minutes of conversation with the child. I find his ... honesty ... refreshing."
The pilots hesitated but Treize was already escorting the child inside the shuttle. "What's your name, child?"
"Duo. And I'm not a child." The brat chose Zech's seat to settle in, naturally, resting his dirty shoes against it as if he owned it.
"Duo what?" Zechs asked.
"I see." Treize studied the child in front of him, looking for all the world as if he'd just discovered a new puzzle to amuse him. "An orphan then? Who looks after you?"
"You must have some adult who looks after you."
"Adults lie. I don't need them." The child scowled at Treize coolly.
Treize took a sip of the iced water placed in the shuttle. "Running away won't solve anything, you know."
"I'm not running away," the child protested. "I'm trying to go home."
"And home is?"
Duo wavered. "L2," he admitted, after a moment's deliberation.
"Oh," Treize said. "And how were you planning on getting there? We're only going as far as L1."
"Once you get into space it's easy to travel between the colonies," Duo boasted. "The kids at the orphanage said so. All ya gotta do is--"
"Orphanage?" Treize said. "I knew there was someplace you should be. Which orphanage?"
"Maxwell Church. It's in L2."
That was just the slip up Zechs had been waiting for. "Maxwell Church was destroyed years ago," he said. "Alliance forces, no survivors."
"You're lying!" The child jumped to his feet, voice shrill. "I was there not that long ago, and it was fine! And it wasn't the Alliance neither, it was the Gundams--"
"The Gundams?" Treize and Zechs said in unison.
"But that's impossible," Treize said.
"No, its not," Duo said. "I'm not a liar. I know the Gundam pilots, I know it was them--"
"You've seen the Gundam pilots? Where are they?" Zechs demanded.
The kid looked at up, expression speculative. "Why'd you want to know?"
"The whereabouts of the Gundam pilots are of particular interest to us," Treize said smoothly. "If you can tell us where they are--"
Duo shrugged. "I don't feel like telling you. I think I'll be going now." He slipped off the seat and headed towards the door.
"Wait!" Treize said. "How would you like us to take you to L2?"
Duo paused. "You mean that?"
Treize nodded. "Tell us anything you know about the Gundam pilots and we'll take you anywhere you want to go."
The child hesitated. "No deal."
"Why not?" Treize approached the child. "Don't you want to go to L2?"
"They were nice to me, they were kind ... even if they did--" Duo scowled suddenly and fiercely. "You can find them yourselves! I'm not helping you!"
"Stop him!" Treize ordered as the child whirled for the door. Zechs made a valiant effort but he wasn't quick enough. The child managed to dodge his grab, even tripping him up in the process.
"Too slow!" the child crowed triumphantly, as he ran out the door--and straight into Colonel Une.
"Une, my dear," Treize said, as he helped Zechs upright. "Your timing couldn't be better."
Une was staring at the child in front of her in astonishment. "Duo?" she breathed.
"How the hell do you know my name?" the child demanded.
"Une?" Treize enquired. "You've met him before?"
"I've never seen this child before in my life," Une replied. "But he's the living image of pilot 02."
"Well," Treize said. "Isn't that a coincidence." He looked at the child who was watching sullenly as Zechs locked the shuttle doors.
"Don't worry, child. We'll take good care of you."