by girl starfish
Duo sat in his seat, watching Lady Une. Treize had dragged Zechs into the apartment for a private conversation, and since then, Une's mouth had been one thin line, so straight that Duo was almost tempted to pat her on the shoulder and say 'Lighten up'.
He didn't want his head taken off.
He fidgeted restlessly in his chair. He didn't like this. He didn't like this at all.
These people were totally alien to him. Zechs hated him, he was pretty sure of that, Treize--well, Treize was nice but Duo didn't believe him. It was one thing to offer to take him back to space, it was quite another to stop him from leaving. Treize had some private agenda Duo wasn't certain how he fitted into. And Une--
"Stop fidgeting," Une said crisply. "I want your hands where I can see them at all times."
Duo sullenly complied. "Don't like kids, do you?"
"I'm in charge of watching a high priority prisoner," Une reprimanded him, in that same icy voice. "Whether or not I like children doesn't come into it."
"Yeah?" Duo asked. "Well, I don't like you."
"Yes. In fact I hope . . . a mobile suit falls on your head. Or that your hair falls out. And that you get warts and your teeth fall out and you get blown up by a Gundam and then die of floating round in space cos there's no air in space or that you float into a star and get all burnt up--"
"We're even then," Une said. "I hope you lose your voice."
Duo glared at her, then slid out of the chair. "The hell with this. I want something to eat."
There was a tiny refrigerator in one corner of the plane. Duo wrinkled his nose at it on the discovery that it contained mostly bottles and a few collections of nuts and other nibbly things. He was beginning to think longingly of his box of canned food.
Une sniffed as Duo took what he could scavenge back to his seat. "Your table manners leave a lot to be desired."
Duo ate faster, hoping that wasn't a prelude to her taking the food away from him.
"When was the last time you ate?"
"Last night," Duo said. "I think."
It took a moment to realise that Une was staring at him.
"Right," she said. "Of course." She stood suddenly. "I think I have some muesli bars in my bag."
He made a good meal, all told. And Une stopped glaring at him. All went well until Treize and Zechs returned from the back room for docking.
"And how is our young charge?" Treize asked, ruffling Duo's hair. Duo ducked his head, he didn't let people touch him unless he liked them--and he did not like Treize.
"Actually, sir, I would like to discuss his accommodation with you. He is hardly a regular prisoner, and if I may venture some suggestions--" Une drew Treize into a corner.
"That's my chair," Zechs said, glaring at Duo.
"I don't see your name on it."
"Fine." Duo gripped the chair as hard as he could--he would not be budged. Before Zechs could try however, Treize intervened.
"Zechs, you forget yourself. Our guest should have first pick of the chairs."
Duo smirked as Zechs glared at him. "Guess it's my chair now."
"Brat," Zechs muttered as he took another seat.
Despite himself, Duo found himself getting excited about docking. While he'd been born in space, he'd never travelled through it--unless you could count being unconscious while Heero took him to Earth.
He wasn't terribly surprised to find that Treize intended on taking him back to his base. He hadn't thought that Treize was the type to sit tamely by while he strolled off.
Still, he probably could have got away if Une hadn't held him firmly by the hand as they walked. An escort of soldiers met them along the way and Duo resigned himself to having to go with them. Eventually though, they would relax and then he was so gone. In the meantime, he had to concentrate on getting his bag back.
A frown crossed his forehead as he looked at the bag, carried by Une. So far they hadn't looked in, apart from a cursory inspection to make sure he wasn't carrying any bombs. He had to make sure they didn't find the photos--
He'd gone back to get the photos in Maxwell's cupboard--he wanted to have something of the pilots to remember them--even if--He could still pretend--they were a family--
"General Khushrenada." A woman in uniform saluted crisply. "Let me welcome you--"
"We can waive the formalities, Noin," Treize said, waving her aside. "There has been a change of plans."
"Sir?" Noin asked, eyes widening as she saw Duo. "Oh, what a cute little girl! What's your name, sweetie?"
Sweetie? Duo sniffed. "I don't associate with weak onnas."
On reflection, that might have been a bad move.
"Lieutenant Noin! Get a hold of yourself," Une snapped. Zechs was restraining her, while Duo, wide-eyed, was sheltering behind Une, one hand on his neck where Noin had tried to strangle him.
"What's the matter? Noin, calm down!" Zechs begged.
Noin took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that--that is what pilot 05 said--at Victoria base--"
"Interesting," Treize said. "It appears he does know the Gundam pilots."
Four pairs of adult eyes were turned towards him. Duo gulped.
This was not good.
Heero stared at the computer screen. Deathscythe had been retrieved and now it and Wing were stored in a barn on the outskirts of the city that Heero and Quatre had met the man with Deathscythe in. Heero was now free to devote all his time to his missing partner.
The problem was, he couldn't.
He'd heard Wufei's comment. The Chinese pilot thought he'd abandoned them and child Duo--
He would never do that. But--
He was so useless. It was his fault child-Duo had run away. He'd scared him, and then he'd left the webpage where he could find it--
Heero buried his head in his hands. He didn't know what to do. He hoped that if he went that Duo would return to the others--the others loved him. They could build a family--
But he could find Duo.
After running every decoding programme he knew of, and a few he'd invented just for the occasion, he'd worked out how that the information was protected by eight walls, each one that would disappear once a certain combination of keys was pressed. In addition, he'd noticed that in amongst the transmission static that accompanied the message were a few letters. When he wrote them all out he had eight short phrases. This was not a new discovery, they'd been aware of this from the start. The problem was that none of them made any sense.
Heero looked at them.
Heavy metal thunder. Time is fleeting. How do you solve a problem--
How do you solve a problem--that seemed familiar for some reason.
How do you solve a problem--how do you solve a problem--
The Sound of Music. Of course--How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Duo loved the song--Heero smiled as he remembered the child watching the video with them--
But--was it possible?
Holding his breath, Heero typed in 'like Maria' and hit enter.
The computer hummed. Section 3 decoded, the screen reported.
Heero laughed. Any one who knew him would have been surprised. Not only was the normally stoic soldier laughing, but there were tears in his eyes.
He was going to find Duo.
He grabbed his jacket as he left the safe house they'd taken for their last mission, the one on which they'd found Deathscythe. Duo always kept a couple of CDs in his cockpit.
Une was relieved to shut the door of her quarters behind her. It had been a long day. She sighed, happily shedding her uniform and its responsibilities. Treize had no idea what taking care of a child meant. It was all well and good to decide the kid was going to come with them, but Une was willing to bet it had never crossed her beloved leader's mind that there was more to having a child then sending it to a Swiss boarding school--
The alert bell went. Une sighed as she pulled her nightgown on. "What now?"
"We are having problems with the, ah--prisoner," the strained voice of one of the young lieutenants reported over the intercom. "You'd better come."
Une rolled her eyes, and throwing a wistful glance at her peaceful apartment went out into the corridor.
There were several soldiers dithering around outside the child's door. Une glared at them: it was her policy to have her subordinates in terror of her. Those who lived every waking moment in the fear of you taking their heads off were less likely to question your orders.
"What's the problem now?"
"He wants to go to the toilet."
Une stared at the officer in front of her till he visibly paled. "Surely all four of you are capable of taking a nine year old to the toilet block."
"But this is the third time. In forty minutes. And he hadn't had that much to drink--"
"He's up to something," another young lieutenant cut in eagerly.
Une gave him a withering glare. "I might have come to that conclusion by myself. Let me in."
The fourth soldier took the key from her belt and unlocked the door. The others drew back the bolts. Une tapped her feet impatiently. She had a moment's panic as the door swung open and Duo was not immediately in sight. But the lieutenant hit the light switch and Duo blinked at them bewilderedly.
"What's the problem, then," Une said briskly.
"He keeps on--"
Une waved the lieutenant outside. "I'm dealing with this."
The lieutenant flinched but filed outside. Une gave the child in front of her a steely glare.
Duo just did not meet her eyes. "I can't sleep."
"Would you like a glass of warm milk?" Une blinked. Where had that come from? She sounded almost--affectionate.
And Treize-sama was nowhere in the vicinity.
The child nodded.
"You!" Une barked at one of the young soldiers. "Fetch a glass of warm milk." As the subordinate scurried off to do her bidding, Une turned back to the child. "You'll be fine now?"
The child nodded but his bottom lip trembled.
Une frowned. "Or-- if you like I could stay here until he gets back."
Was that brief movement a smile?
Une sat on the side of the child's bed, thinking hard. She was startled by a brief touch to her hand and only managed to control the urge to point a gun at the source.
Instead she watched bemused as the child settled down to sleep, fingers clutching her sleeve in a gesture that was probably unconscious. Poor little thing--so alone--it was only natural that he would try to reach out to those around him. Why he'd chosen her though was a puzzle--
Une remembered how she'd stopped Noin from trying to strangle the child. He probably thought of her as a protector now--
Oddly, Une found that thought pleased her. She smiled, running a hand through the child's hair. He was so precious when he slept--
She took her glasses off, idly playing with them.
"Uh, Colonel Une? I have the milk--" The soldier was rather worried. OZ training didn't cover how to approach your superior when said superior is dressed in a frilly nightie and staring off into space with a dreamy look on her face--
"What? Oh, good," Une said, putting her glasses back on. "Send it round to my quarters."
"The child will be spending the night with me," Une decided. "Notify security and the General of the change." She took Duo's hand with a smile. "Is that all right with you?"
Duo gave her a small smile but didn't otherwise respond. It had been a long day and he was among strangers.
The subordinates just gaped.
Une glared at them. "Is there a problem?"
This was the Colonel Une they knew and feared. "No sir!"
Quatre grabbed the phone a mere split second after it rang. "Yes?" he demanded breathlessly.
"This is patrol delta-4 reporting in."
Quatre sighed. "Report."
He checked off the sections of the map that had already been searched. This was not looking good. A child could hide anywhere--and Duo had experience at making himself hard to find--
It was a risk, but it might be the only way of finding him. Quatre had found a photo of Duo and Wufei at their studies, Duo's face glowing as Wufei praised him for a job well done. Quatre had carefully removed Wufei from the photo then increased the size of the picture-- it wouldn't do for the Chinese pilot to be recognised and Duo connected with the Gundam pilots--he hated to think what OZ would do if they got their hands on the child.
Now was the hard part.
Reward for information about? That was asking for trouble. It might take weeks to wade through the misinformation. Run-away? That would draw inquiries from the police and maybe an investigation into why this hadn't been reported and what he had run away from--
Then there was the problem of the address. Should he put the address or just the phone number? All of his tactician's instincts told him it was a mistake to tie himself down to a specific location in an area with a large OZ presence. But what could he do?
The door opened softly. Quatre smiled as Trowa stepped inside, but that smile faded as he took in Trowa's flight suit. "You're going now?"
"Wufei's already left. We can't waste time. Treize has returned to space-- who knows what he's planning?" Trowa kissed his forehead and then his neck. "I wish I could stay--"
"I can do this, love. I will be strong--" Quatre leaned back, enjoying the warmth of Trowa's touch. His lover smiled tenderly, his eye's going from Quatre's face to the computer screen. He frowned.
"What are you working on?"
"A poster. I know it's risky-- and I don't know what to say on it--"
"It's a good idea, love. Duo might be able to elude the Manguanacs--but he can't hide from everyone." Trowa leaned over Quatre to reach the keyboard.
Quatre had to hastily wipe away tears on the back of his sleeve. "Trowa--"
"We'll find him, Quatre. Even if it takes the rest of our lives." Trowa hugged him then disappeared.
Reassured, Quatre made a few small changes to the poster then hit the print button.
"We'll be together again, Duo," he said. "I promise."
"Sir?" Rashid stood at the door. "You summoned me?"
"I want these posters all over this town by evening," Quatre said, very much in command again. "They are to be distributed to every street and every alleyway, starting from the area in which the Ute was abandoned and spreading out from there."
"At once, sir."
Une had just time to register the blaring alarms before the door to her room was rudely thrust open.
"Une!" Treize said as he entered. "There's been a security breach. The child is missing--"
His voice trailed off as he found himself staring down the barrel of Une's gun.
"Not a morning person, is she?" Zechs muttered from the doorway.
"The child is with me," Une said. "Didn't Security tell you?"
"We tried to tell Security," one of the recruits from the night before said miserably. "But they wouldn't believe us when we told them that you'd taken the child into your room to see he got a decent night's sleep. They laughed us out of the bridge."
Une's eyes glittered. "I see. I shall deal with that later--for now--" She flicked the safety catch off the gun. "Everyone. Out. Now!"
"Une?" Treize questioned, hardly believing that she could point a gun at him.
"The child needs his sleep. If any of you wake him up--" The others gulped and took a step back as Une's fingers tightened over the gun.
Duo sighed in his sleep then and stirred, casting about worriedly for something--
Luckily this called Une's attention back to him and Treize and Zechs were able to make their escape in safety.
"Now that was something I never thought I'd see," Zechs said. He was a little unnerved by the sight of Une in a nightie. A nightie with lace--
Treize appeared to be in shock. "She pulled a gun on me!"
Zechs rolled his eyes. "She does that a lot."
"But on me! She pulled a gun on me!"
Zechs patted him on the back. "It would appear you have been displaced in her affections. Come on, we should call off the colony-wide search."
Treize followed, slowly. He was not altogether pleased with the situation.
Two hours later, a colony wide search and a phone call later Noin joined the others in Treize's quarters.
"I've got the search called off and a shuttle to L2 booked, sir," Noin said, saluting as she entered the wall.
"Good, good," Treize didn't even look up at her as she entered. He was watching in horrified fascination as Duo ate scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast and hash browns--all at the same time.
"Would you like more juice?" Zechs asked sourly. Duo was sitting in his seat again.
"-es," Duo shoved his glass in the blond's direction. He didn't take a break in eating.
Une patted his head fondly. "Can I get you some more eggs?"
Duo shook his head, following the eggs with a mouthful of pancake.
"Incredible," Treize said. "Can you actually taste that?"
Zechs snorted. "I don't think he appreciates the value of a clear palate, Treize."
"Don't matter what it tastes like," Duo said. "As long as there's lots of it." He gulped down his orange juice.
Treize tore his attention away from the child. "When do you want to leave, Noin?"
"We can go at any moment sir," Noin reported.
"Lead the way, my dear," Treize said as he stood. "Well, young Duo, you wanted to go to L2 I believe?"
Duo used a very colourful phrase, one that would have made Quatre's ears turn pink and earned him a good fifteen lecture on filthy language from Wufei. "You're really going to take me home? I thought you were lying!"
"I'm the leader of OZ. I don't lie." Treize said petulantly.
"Although you did deceive the Alliance Doves," Zechs pointed out.
"You ordered me to lie to the Colony delegates," Une reminded him.
"What about the representatives of the different Earth governments? You weren't exactly honest with them," Noin said thoughtfully.
Duo snickered as Treize scowled at his subordinates. "It's a tough job. One must sometimes stretch one's personal integrity--"
"Don't gulp your food like that, dear," Une interrupted, patting Duo on the head. "You'll choke yourself."
"And we wouldn't want that to happen." Zechs rolled his eyes.
"Shall we depart?" Treize wanted to leave before they could get back to discussing his faults.
Wufei had not been in many churches. Still he recognised the blackened remains as having once belonged to a chapel. Even when it was whole it would not have been very grand. The windows were gone, long since looted, but they would not have contained stained glass. The outer buildings would have been built from wood--or what passed for wood on this resource poor colony--and their presence was known only from blackened smudges on the dusty ground.
Still, it might have been a decent place. Unlike other vacant lots, this one had no squatters--the place was left bare out of respect for the former occupants.
"Ain't no-one who will live there," a shop assistant told him. Pulling on a cigarette and sighing wearily, she looked old at twenty three. "Father Maxwell was crazy--ain't no other way to explain why he'd saddle himself with fifty or hungry mouths--but he was good. You gonna buy anythin'?"
No one remembered a braided child, but street urchins were so common in the L2 cluster that no-one gave them a second thought. Wufei saw several, thin to the point they appeared on the edge of starvation, but who ran away at his attempt to approach them. Life on L2 was hard, and the first lesson, apparently, was to trust nobody.
From a more helpful informant, the Chinese pilot learned that Father Maxwell had no living family, and had left no children. However, it was not uncommon for his past charges to take his name.
"The ones that didn't have names, at least," a former inhabitant of Maxwell's Church told Wufei. "Or those, like me, who no-one wanted."
Which was Duo?
Wufei thought of the bright, vibrant child he'd taught and who had blossomed under the pilot's care--he couldn't believe that no one could fail to see the promise the child carried.
But then there was Duo Maxwell.
Wufei thought of his former comrade with puzzlement. It was hard to reconcile the child Duo he knew with the fearless Shinigami--Duo was so strong. But sometimes there was a bitterness in his conversation that Wufei had been unable to account for--
All of a sudden he was reminded of child-Duo's fervent belief that Wufei would not come back for him at the Docks. It was becoming clearer now-- Wufei shook his head. Abandonment and then rejection--Pilot Duo had told Wufei once he had no family which meant he had never been successfully abandoned--and now what?
Duo was somewhere, scared no doubt, thinking the pilots were out to get him-- Wufei could only hope that the Manguanacs would find him quickly. Quatre was the best person to take care of Duo right now--He was the first of them that Duo had trusted, and with his spaceheart, Quatre would know just how to reach him--
Wandering among the ruins, Wufei paused a moment among the pillars of what had once been the inner chapel.
It had been identified as harbouring rebels and attacked, destroying rebel and innocent alike. It had been a massacre. Somehow Duo had survived--
There was the sound of a car stopping outside the church. Wufei ducked behind a pile of rubble. From his observations, it was unlikely anyone in this district could afford a vehicle--
It wasn't a car.
It was an armoured OZ convoy.
Wufei said something impolite in Chinese. He only had the one gun on him, something that wasn't going to get him very far in this situation. A hasty escape was the best option--but how had they tracked him here?
Wufei was further bemused as Noin and Zechs exited the vehicle followed by Treize and Une. What was this, the OZ top brass's annual picnic?
They certainly weren't trying to hide their presence. Treize's voice carried to where Wufei was hiding. "Certainly not my choice of a location!"
Then Wufei's heart skipped a beat.
"Hey! That's my home you're talking about!"
"No," Wufei thought. "It can't be--"
"Let me help you with your seat belt, dear," Une said, and a moment later a very familiar child came into view.
Wufei's heart constricted. "Duo--"
The child looked around at the ruins with an expression of growing horror. "It can't be!" he wailed as he dashed forward towards the chapel. "It's true!" He knelt by what had once been the altar, stretching out a hand towards it, then shakily drawing it back to stem growing tears.
Une knelt beside him, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. "There, there," she murmured. "It'll be all right."
"Curiouser and curiouser," Treize intoned. "Well, Zechs, what do you make of this? Time travel? Someone rebuilt the Orphanage and no-one told us?"
"Acting lessons?" Zechs sounded more embittered than Wufei remembered him.
"You still think this is a pretence?" Treize asked. "What is the point? What do the colonies gain by sending us a child who thinks he's from the Maxwell Orphanage?"
"I bet pilot 05 is behind this," Noin said. "He probably sent the child here just to piss me off." She flexed her hands menacingly.
Wufei made a mental note to stay away from Noin and hunched down further in his hiding place.
"Are you all right, dear?" Une asked the child who had stopped crying.
"I don't understand," the child said. "This is like the orphanage-- but the walls are gone."
"The walls?" Zechs was studying a map of the former orphanage-- hoping to catch the child out.
"The Alliance built them. Ten feet high with glass on top. We weren't allowed out-- they said we were a public menace."
"There's no record of any walls on the map," Zechs said.
"That building wasn't there neither-or that one-- and where the Alliance Post used to be is just accommodation."
"What the-- how did you know about the Alliance building?" Zechs demanded, staring at the map.
"It was there." Duo pointed. "It would be kinda hard not to notice it. That's where they used to check our tags and make announcements and that. If you climbed up from the second infirmary--that building there-- you could throw stuff at the building without them seeing ya."
Treize peered over the map Zechs held. "Well, the infirmary is in the right place-- how long has the Alliance building been absent?"
"After the Maxwell Church Massacre, the Alliance abandoned their post in this area, due to the reprisals by several community groups in retaliation for the attack on the church."
Duo took a sharp breath. "The Alliance destroyed it?"
"Of course," Treize answered idly, still studying the map.
"Are you sure?"
"It's in their records," Zechs said impatiently. He should know, he'd spent a good part of the flight reading over them.
Duo made a choking sound and sat down suddenly. "No--" he whispered, shaking his head. "I can't have-- I--" he stared dazedly at the wreckage.
Wufei decided to take a risk. He picked up a nearby pebble and threw it.
Duo blinked as the stone landed nearby him. Puzzled he looked around to see where it came from--and nearly gasped as he spotted Wufei. Only the Chinese pilot putting a finger to his lips reminded Duo to keep quiet.
Wufei made a beckoning motion with his hand. "Come," he mouthed. "I'll get you out of here." He hoped Duo would understand. He ducked behind the pile of rubble heart beating fast. He had to get them both out of there.