Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing, its characters or its storyline. But I do enjoy writing about them!

Pairings: 1+2+1, 1x2x1, 3+4
Rating: PG (for the moment)
Warnings: A slice of angst, and a scoop of drama

A/N: Ah, well, what can I say? I'm hooked, and I feel this burning need to crank these chapters out. At any rate, I want to thank some pretty special people for helping to shape this chapter: Alba - as always, my character reader. Chris - for helping me keep it "straight". *snort* Niamh - for correction and being game to enter a new genre and anime for me! A salute to Saro, for correcting Duo-speak, and Hans for the thumbs up!

Protection from You
Chapter Two: Mission Discovery
By Merith

There's nothing I hate worse than being woken up. I mean, I hate it. Oh, I don't mind waking up, and I don't mind my alarm going off because I have something to do and have to get up. I hate waking up for no apparent reason other than someone wants me out of bed.

The vid-phone blared like a claxon alarm - again, and I buried my head beneath my pillow. One of the guys will get it. Was my first thought. Heero? I raised up and looked toward his bed.

It was empty and made. Asshole. He's the only person I know who'd make his bed before a midnight mission. Hell, I never make my bed, and I'd be damned if I'd make it before leaving on a mission.

Which brought me back to the vid-phone. It was already past daybreak, and Heero should have been back by now. I fairly flew from my bed, out the door and down the stairs, by-passing Wu Fei as I did so. I heard him call my name, something about crazy Americans, and stopped in front of the screen. I couldn't do it. I couldn't answer the damned phone. The call could only be about him and I didn't want to know.

The phone rang again, even more shrill than before, and still I froze.

"Pick it up, Maxwell. You were in such a rush to get here," Wu Fei drawled as he entered the room.

I don't know what he saw in my expression, but he moved forward quickly and pushed me out of the way. "I'll do it," he said quietly and flipped the switch.

"Good morning, pilot," the nasally tones of Doctor J made me shudder. Now I was glad Wu stepped up to answer. I do not like this guy. Not sure why, could be the way he created Heero.

"Good morning, doctor. What do we owe this unexpected pleasure?" 05's pilot could be diplomatic when he needed to be.

"I hope you all have had a good night's sleep. The mission scheduled for this evening has been changed." I heard the shuffling of papers and the engineer clearing his throat. "Our covert operator has uncovered extensive information that makes it essential Phoenix base is completely destroyed. The data necessary to complete this mission has been transmitted to 01's computer. In fact, I wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate Heero myself…" he paused and I heard a curious tone in his voice when he continued, "Where is 01? He is there, isn't he?"

I'll hand it to Wu Fei, he didn't hesitate to supply, "He's busy at the moment, doctor. Should I have him contact you later?"

The technical doctor cleared his throat again and waved away the offer. "No, that won't be necessary. Tell him his training did not fail by keeping him from completing his mission. If he would have followed through…"

I didn't give him a chance to finish. Stepping forward, I pushed Wu-man out of the way. "What do you mean, didn't complete his mission? Heero always completes a mission."

Able to see the doctor now, I wished I'd stayed out of sight. He peered at his screen, surprise written on his face. "Oh, it's you, 02. Why didn't you step forward earlier?" he demanded.

"Chang beat me to the com, sir," I supplied without blinking.

"Well, any way, what I was saying is, if 01 had followed through on his mission, this evening's objective would not have worked. The loss of a certain party would have proved disastrous, and the information we require would have been lost." He shuffled papers on his desk some more and I risked a glance in Wu Fei's direction.

A lot of help he was; Wu shrugged and waved me back to the phone.

"Ah, sir, what," I paused, believing I was on delicate ground. "What makes you think 01 didn't complete his mission?"

The prick frowned and peered at me again. "That's need to know information, pilot. Now, as to your mission tonight, I've sent the plans to destroy..." the guy rambled on, but I stopped listening. The front door had opened, and Heero walked in.

Talk about rode hard and put away wet, I doubt he could have gotten any more bedraggled. He stopped just inside the door, watching Wu Fei and I. Wu stepped forward and Heero was about to speak. In a flash, I knew that would not be a good idea. "That's great, sir," I interrupted in an overly loud voice. "We'll be sure to have pilot Yuy contact you when he appears. Have a good day." With that banality, I hit the disconnect button and ended his transmission.

"Heero!" I had already passed Wu Fei before the subject of my destination held up a hand stopping me. "What?"

His glare flicked between Wu Fei and I before he asked, "Who was on the phone? What's going on?" He hadn't moved forward, but had the door closed behind him and stood staring at us.

I snorted and Wu Fei supplied, "Doctor J. He's changed our mission orders for tonight."

Heero gave a short nod, and walked to the desk in the corner. I barely had time to blink and exchange a look with Wu before Heero had his laptop out and was powering it up.

"Uh, buddy?" I began, "What happened last night?" I had followed him and, hopped up to perched on the desk's edge.

He raised his eyes from the screen to glance at me. I held his look for three or four seconds and dropped my gaze. Something must have happened, and he wasn't happy.

"What are the new orders for tonight's mission?" Wu Fei asked from the doorway. He had pulled on his t-shirt, and was in the process of binding his hair. Not that I cared, but I'm sure my hair was sticking out all over the place..

It had taken him a couple of minutes, but the glowering pilot read off a few highlights for the upcoming fun. Cool. It looks like I get to set some explosives and blow shit up. I could already feel my mouth stretching into a grin.

"I'll have the orders printed out, and we'll go over mission plans at 0900. Maxwell, make sure the team is up and ready," he was already barking orders in that controlled terse voice of his. "It'll take a few minutes to get everything completed here, so Chang, get breakfast started. I want to get everything locked down before this afternoon. By 1500, I want everything prepared for one last check."

I heard Wu Fei leave, and the sound of banging pots and pans let me know he was at work in the kitchen. I sat still and watched Heero. He was doing it again; keeping something hidden he didn't want to share. He'd been pretty secretive, skipping meals, taking naps, and avoiding me. He didn't look well. Oh, not as bad as he had after he'd been on a few rough missions, but I could tell he was hiding something.

"What's wrong with you?" I blurted out. Great. Just fuckin' great. Like he's going to answer that kind of question. Those piercing blue eyes pinned me again. I noticed for the first time how dark the skin appeared under them. Something was going on with him. "You look like hell, and that prick doctor thinks your "training" kept you from completing your mission last night." The blue eyes widened with that statement. Ah, so it was as I thought. "I know you, and you don't deviate from given orders without something going wrong... so, what's wrong? What really happened last night?" I'd softened my tone to just above a whisper.

He glared at me and turned away. "Get dressed, Maxwell. We have a mission to plan." His fingers began flying over the keys again.

I wasn't leaving. This was war. Heero had never held out on a secret from me for this long before, so this must be something big. Idly, I began swinging my legs and fiddling with the end of my braid, I searched for something, anything to talk about - to drive Yuy crazy enough he'd tell me whatever I wanted to know to shut me up; without killing me that is.

"So, ya' know, I was watching TV last night, and there was an anime on. Rurouni Kenshin, it was called, and it's pretty cool. Have you ever seen it?" I paused and he didn't even look up or respond. "Well, it's all about this guy who became a warrior - a samuri at a young age. He was an orphan, just like me, and there was a war going on in Japan. Many people were being killed, many people were dying with the injustice of the government. Anyway, this Kenshin guy is all about helping put an end to misery - trying to build peace, and he killed a lot of people." Maybe this wasn't the kind of story he needed to hear, but what's funny, it really did happen. I don't mean the anime, but those events really did happen. And this Kenshin character fought for what we were fighting for - only he with a sword and we with our gundams. Different times, different weapons, same reasons.

Guess I was silent too long, for Heero had stopped typing to look at me. "Is there a point to this?" he asked.

I blinked, forgetting for a moment I had been speaking to distract him. Instead, I got distracted and wanted to think on this a bit more. "Will it end? Will there ever be peace" What the ...? Where the hell did that come from?

He continued to stare at me for several long moments, his brows drawn low, and his face a smooth cold mask. Suddenly, if only for a moment, his expression softened and his eyes held a hint of something... some emotion? "I don't know, Duo." his voice was quiet and low as though he were reluctant to supply that answer.

The sigh escaped before I could stop it and I looked away. Staring at a tiny hole in the wall behind the desk, I leaned back on my hands, trying to make sense of what and where my thoughts were going. Trying to put it together in a way I could explain it better, that blemish in the wall gave the active part of my mind something to concentrate on while the deep part worried through those half formed thoughts. It was an odd shape, too small to be anything but a nail hole, but what an odd place to hang a picture. "I sometimes just want to know what normal is and if we'll ever be there again."

My body shivered involuntarily and I brought my gaze back to Heero. He had been watching me with that same - soft? - expression as before. Wondering if he would fall for it, I asked quickly, "So, what's wrong with you and what happened last night?"

His brows drew down and he glared. Damn it. "Go get dressed." He'd already turned back to his computer again.

Giving up all pretenses, I leaned forward, shutting the computer's monitor as I did so. "Give it up, Heero. You know you're going to tell me eventually, and you might as well now because I'm not going to leave it alone." I all but hissed inches from his face.

Not missing a beat, he lifted my hand from his computer and tossed it away before lifting the monitor back into position. He blinked and, glancing from his computer to me, he opened his mouth to speak. I leaned closer, sure he was going to tell me now.

"Go away, Maxwell."

"Shit!" I shouted and jumped from the desk. "You can be so ....anal!" I stomped from the room and stopped. I didn't want to be mad, but damn it, he was really pushing my buttons!

At the stairs, I turned to go back and paused. Heero had closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. He dug something out of one of his pockets, a medicine bottle of some type, and opening it, he popped whatever the contents were in his mouth. I almost went to him, I had to see what it was, but I held back knowing he'd rebuff me once again. Leaning against the wall, I watched as his hands rubbed at his eyes, and a soft groan sounded. Deciding I didn't want to know, not right at that moment, I turned away and crept softly up the stairs, leaving him to himself.

I raised my hand to knock on Quatre and Trowa's door when it opened suddenly. Trowa stood, dressed and ready. "Uh..." He blinked at me as I fumbled. "Heero's back, and he wants all of us at a mission meeting after breakfast."

Trowa nodded, his hand on the door. I would have liked to have gone in to talk with Quat, but it looked like 03's pilot wasn't moving. We stared at one another for another moment before Trowa gave in and supplied, "I'll let him know." He looked over his shoulder a moment before saying in a low voice, "He had another nightmare last night."

Nodding, I turned and went to my own room. Quat had been having nightmares a lot lately. Shutting the door behind me, I could feel it begin, the guilt gnawing at me. Shoving it off roughly, I stared at Heero's bed. It was still made tight enough to bounce a coin on. My lips already lifting in a lopsided grin, I didn't stop my hand from pulling up on the blanket, and tossing the pillow to the far end of the bed. I chuckled as I grabbed my clothes off the floor. I know, it's petty. But shit, he makes me so mad.

Starting to pull on my pants, I stopped and thought about taking a shower first. I didn't take one the night before, giving it up to go look for Heero, and that didn't turn out so well. Snorting, I headed for the bathroom, whistling softly and thinking how irritated my being late for a mission meeting would make the Perfect Soldier.

I was still grinning while braiding my hair. Someone, Wu Fei I think, had come up and knocked on the door while I was still lost in the warmth of the water. The spray muffled the voice, but I was pretty sure it was a command to turn out immediately. Taking every moment I could, I sauntered down to the kitchen and smirked as every pair of eyes looked my way. "Save any breakfast?" I quipped looking over the remains on the table. I knew there would be something to eat; no matter what's happening, Quat demands a plate is kept for me.

"You're late." There was a distinct growl in our leader's voice, one that promised more than threatened bodily harm.

Sliding onto a chair, I flashed him a wide grin. "I had to take a shower." I missed the glare he sent me and concentrated on pulling the half-filled plate towards me. "Hey, thanks a lot, Quat, for..." I finally looked at the desert prince. My hand stilled in the middle of scooping out more eggs. "Lil' bro?" I asked softly.

His normally fair face was drained white, pinched and strained he appeared to barely be hanging on. His eyes returned my stare, wide, disbelieving and thoroughly troubled. Trowa leaned close, his shoulder brushing the smaller pilot's. "Duo, I-I..." He lowered his head and I could see his lips quivering in his attempt to not cry.

What the hell was going on? I whipped my head around to Heero, braid flying to where its end slapped me in the face. "What's going on, Yuy? What's happened to Quatre?" I wasn't playing any longer. I, too, could growl if needed.

"Nothing's happened to Winner," his quiet tone held an edge. I settled back, eyes never leaving his. "The data Doctor J provided indicates OZ has plans to use the WEI satellite in connection with a new power beam weapon to destroy the colonies."

"They can't do that!" I exploded, jumping up and knocking over my chair.

Giving me an exasperated look, Heero stated calmly, "They're not. We're going to blow up their new weapon, take the WEI satellite plans, and set off a worm in the data base erasing all traces of this weapon."

"Oh," I sat down, a little more than chagrined at delaying the mission meeting. This wasn't just business, this was personal. Cheeks flushed, I looked at the blonde pilot. "Quat, it's going to be all right. Don't worry." He gave me a watery smile and turned away again. What the hell was going on? "Pal?" As if a bright shiny new light bulb went off, I knew what was wrong. "Oh shit. The nightmare." He flinched in response. My own eyes widened with the shock and I exchanged a look with Trowa. I didn't think the others knew, but these nightmares...they weren't the usual guilt, death, murder ones the rest of us had. Quatre's premonitions had come true before.

I could hear Heero shuffling but kept my attention on the blonde pilot. If we weren't careful, he could fall apart on us and be useless when we needed him the most. Pushing back my plate, I turned back to our leader completely serious and ready to hear what he had to say. "So, what's the mission?"

His eyes flicked from mine to my plate then over to Quatre and back. "Finish your meal."

Shaking my head, I intoned, "Not hungry any more."

"Hn," he replied before picking up a handful of papers next to him. He began passing them around as he spoke. Wu started piling plates and bowls, moving them out of the way and Trowa spread out a map. "There are five warehouse buildings at the main complex of Phoenix base. One of these buildings houses the offices of General Banark, the one in charge of "Operation Blue Ribbon". An operative of the resistance discovered plans to destroy each colony station using one of its own satellites to do so." I saw his eyes flash to Quatre but I kept mine on him.

He pulled out a sheet and read from it directly, "Blue Ribbon is believed to have the firepower and range to effectively eradicating colony existence. This weapon is being built in building four." I felt his eyes on me and I looked up. "Maxwell, your mission is to plant all detonation devices. It is imperative to demolish building four. You got that?" I nodded and he moved on to point at the crudely drawn map spread on the table. "01, 03, and 05 will come from the North and East, attacking here, here and here." His finger tapped the map, identifying gun garret targets and Leo storage sites. He went on describing where Quat and I would come in from the opposite side, using their attack as a diversion, plant the bombs at buildings one and two before moving onto building four.

It took the better part of an hour to fully appreciate the tactical strategy Heero set before us. I'd protested the use of Quatre in a stealth move, but he explained patiently that Winner was the only one who could recognize the satellite plans. It still didn't sit well with me; Quat's hand to hand was virtually non-existent, and while a small-scale battle would be taking place on the other side of the compound, OZ wasn't accommodating enough to leave all their buildings empty and ready for us to blow them up.

I sat, playing with my juice glass, lost in what I needed to do to prepare for tonight's mission. It was hours away, but I inventoried my supplies in my mind. I'd have to go to the warehouse and rig some stuff together, but it shouldn't take too long. I could get Howard or one of the other guys to help. I know Brad wanted to try a new array and this might be the opportunity we needed to test it.

"...things ready and meet back here at 1500 for plans check." Heero had been saying. He had stacked his papers back together and rolled the map up, looking like he was leaving. The others were nodding in agreement. Whatever it was, I'd catch up with Quatre later and find out. Heero was out the door and I could hear him climbing the stairs.

Turning my attention back to the group at the table, I announced, "Don't touch the dishes, I'll get them later." I shoved my chair back and padded quietly after Heero.

Easing our bedroom door open a crack, I could see Heero stretch out on his bed, not even bothering to straighten the blanket. I could feel my frown settle watching him when a grimace of pain flashed and he pulled that damned bottle from his pocket again. He crunched down on the pills and closed his eyes, giving a slight hiss. Nothing he can't handle, huh. We'll see about that.

I used all the stealth I could muster gaining access to our room. He didn't notice me creeping along the floor to his bed – it just went to show how very bad off he really was. I must have made a noise, and that's probably what saved him from my full wrath. His arm came down and his body tensed just before I pounced on him. I had straddled him, pinning his legs beneath my body, and my hands planted on each shoulder.

"You're going to tell me what's wrong, Yuy, ‘cause you're not getting up, and you're not going anywhere until you spill it," I hissed in a deadly whisper.

If looks could kill, I'd have been dead more times than Jason and Freddie combined... yeah, I know, pretty cliche, but when talking of Heero, it's the truth. As it was, he demanded, "Get off of me."

"No, not until you tell me what's going on."

His gun was out and pointed at my chest. "I'm going to kill you if you don't move."

Now, normally when this guy pulls a gun on me, I know he means business and I usually retreat. But this was a fight I wasn't backing down from. Leaning forward until the muzzle touched my shirt, my eyes never leaving his, I whispered, "Then pull the trigger ‘cause I'm not moving."

Those words hung in the air for several seconds. I watched as several flashes of deep hidden emotion flickered across his face. When it finally settled into his normal cold mask of indifference, I found myself flying through the air. I guess I was wrong - I did move. Damn him and his strength!

I landed hard on my back between his bed and mine, the breath knocked out of my lungs and leaving me seeing stars. Shaking my head to clear it, I looked up at him. His back was to me, and he had curled over, supposedly getting some sleep. Sitting there, I glared at him. The thought I might lose this war flitted through my mind. I'd never lost a war with Heero yet, and I wasn't about to now. Still, I couldn't help asking, "You would tell me, wouldn't you? If something was really wrong. Right?" I winced at the whining quality of my voice.

He sighed. His voice was muffled but clear enough, "Duo, leave it alone. If it was something you could help, something you could do for me, I would tell you." He rolled over and looked at me, his expression almost pleading. "Let me be. I need to sleep and I need to rework my virus program for tonight's mission. I can't think about ..." he paused, "this any more."

It must have been the look for I was nodding in agreement with him, still sprawled on the floor, worry and anger combating for first place in my heart. When he rolled back over, I rose and left quietly. Shit, that didn't go well.

Wu was in the living-room going through the motions of his kata as I passed. I watched him for a moment, forgetting how much he hated an audience at his morning ritual. I couldn't help it; he was liquid motion, smooth, graceful, fluid. Shaking my head, I felt the grin crawling back up on my face. The guy had rhythm but couldn't dance for shit.

Quatre and Trowa still sat at the table. Lil' bro was lost in his thoughts, lost in his damned dream and Trowa was there to keep him from getting too lost. He looked up at me as I entered and began removing the stacked plates from the table. Trowa's green eyes held plaintive quality I couldn't help but answer.

Leaving the dishes, I pulled Heero's vacated chair close to Quat's other side. Throwing an arm around his shoulders, I started speaking gently. "Listen, lil' bro, you have to shake this shit off. Nothing's going to happen... not to the colonies, not to you ... not to me." His lower lip started to quiver again. I pulled him into a rough sideways hug. "I won't let it happen! There's too much we have to do, too much we have to take care of for that to happen." I whispered fiercely into his hair.

He broke down then, his arms encircled my waist and his face buried into my chest. "Duo, it's happening... it's happening just like my dream. All those people dead... and ..." he raised his tear splattered face, "and you."

The way he said it, I couldn't suppress the shudder. Using it to my advantage, though, I gave him a huge head-splitting grin. "Quit it! You're giving me goose-bumps, ya' nut!" He started to blink and the tears stopped. "Hey, did you notice Heero didn't kill me for being late? Rather surprised me, that did. Thought I'd be a goner for sure." Distraction works every time.

Frowning, Quat remonstrated, "Duo, you really have to try, you know. You can't keep making him mad just because you think he's fun to tease. One of these days he's not going to be able to control himself."

"Heh, as if! He'll never catch me." I winked. "I'm too fast." That earned me a giggle, and I relaxed seeing Quat already wiping his face dry, straightening himself up. He was going to be alright.

A look flashed between him and Trowa, an almost private one I was surprised to witness. Not looking at me, his eyes still on the green-eyed pilot, he said softly, "You might want to slow down one of these days. Let him catch you."

I sat back and looked between the two. What the...? My lips twitched but I suppressed any questions wanting to be asked. Now was not the time. I knew Quat loved Trowa with a passion that radiated from every fiber of his being, but since when did he show it so openly? And to Trowa no less? Trowa's stoic demeanor didn't change and I shifted uncomfortably. I was going to have to tackle Quat and find out just what the fuck was going on between them.

Standing up, I picked up a pile of dishes, and made my way to the sink. "Hey, lil' bro, think you could help wash this mess? I need to get my ass over to the warehouse and do some rigging." Like I said, distraction works every time.

The two of us splashed our way through the pile, even wiping counters and table down, in less than an hour. We were used to working as a team, Quat and I. Trowa had taken himself off somewhere, and neither Heero or Wu had shown themselves.

Seeing my chance, I grabbed at the blonde pilot's sleeve. "So, what's between you and Trowa? You tell him yet?"

His face flooded red and his eyes rounded. "NO!" he said a little too loudly. We looked around quickly to make sure no one was headed our way and he turned back to me, leaning closer to keep it private. "He... I... last night, he held me after the dream." I could have sworn the red was bleeding through his roots, and his hair was turning scarlet.

I didn't think my smile could stretch any farther, but I sometimes surprise even myself. "That's great, Quat. It'll happen for you pretty soon."

"I don't know, Duo... he was just a friend offering support," he ducked his head shyly. I had a weird sense of deja vu remembering the many time Quatre and I were together talking about this same topic. I'd been trying to get him to admit to the silent pilot his true feelings; I was pretty sure they would be returned. I've seen the way Trowa is around lil' bro, and it isn't just as a friend.

Clapping him on the shoulder, I changed the subject, "Didja wanna go with me to rig a few sets?"

Grateful for not dwelling on that painful subject, he nodded. "I'll see if Wu and Trowa need to go check on anything as well." He fairly skipped out of the room.

Left to myself for the moment, I stared up at the ceiling as if I could see through the layers of plaster, paint and wood to spy on our oh so fearless leader. Why won't you tell me? What are you so afraid of, Yuy? Don't you know yet, I wouldn't do anything to hurt you? I shook my head and made my way into the other room.


The four of us stopped on our way back to grab lunch. It had been a fun couple of hours, and for once, Wu Fei joined us, even cracking a joke - at my expense of course, but it was still a joke. The car we had used to transport us back and forth was an old nondescript piece of shit like we usually used at the safe houses. "Fit in, don't stand out" had become the motto of our life. We looked and acted like four teenaged boys, out of school and on just this side of the edge of raising hell.

I guess I should have known it had been going too well. Quatre was actually smiling and had forgotten to worry or even think about his nightmare for several hours. He had been effectively and throughly distracted. Our good humor carried over into the safe house, Wu chasing me inside for the wet willie I had to give him. And with Quat actually laughing, and Trowa smiling in a paternal sort of way, it was rather a shock to come face to face with Mr Badhumor himself.

Glowering at us from beneath his bangs, he waited until we were all inside and had quieted down. "I would have thought you would be getting ready for tonight and not out running around." He looked at each of us in turn, his eyes pinning us to the floor and unable to move. Resting on Quat, he added harshly, "You most of all, Winner. I would have thought you would want to make sure everything's been taken care of before going out to ..." those cold merciless eyes landed on the fountain cup he held, "play."

Talk about a damper. He sure threw one on our party. Stepping forward, I held out a hand in supplication. "Come on, buddy. We weren't "playing". We went down to the warehouse and prepared not only our gundams but the explosives for tonight's mission. We didn't do nothing wrong."

Those eyes swung my way. Oh shit, he was pissed. What the hell was his problem, anyway?

"You are prepared for tonight's mission, then, Maxwell? I will not allow your frivolity to cause us to fail."

Oh, fuck him with the broomstick he rode in on! I'd had just about had enough of his mouth and his attitude. "Yes, Heero fuckin' Yuy, I am ready for tonight. And I'll keep my ‘frivolity' away from your mission." If looks could kill, he would have been at least knocked out. I stormed to the kitchen and began banging things around. I couldn't go up to our room; he'd just follow. I couldn't go outside; it would make it worse. And I couldn't give in to how hurt his words made me feel.

Leaning against the sink, bracing my arms on its edge, I took several deep breaths. I felt a comforting touch on my back, and relaxed even more.

"He doesn't mean it, Duo. I..." Quatre's voice was low and concerned, "I think he was a little jealous we didn't take him with us."

Giving my head a little shake, I whispered roughly, "It doesn't matter. He has no right to say what he did. He had no right to come down on you like that."

His head rested against my back for a moment. "Maybe he is right, though. I should be concentrating on making sure everything is set for tonight's mission. It's my family's satellite that will do the destroying if we fail."

Trowa entered at that moment, and I heard him sit at the table. Forcing myself to laugh, I pushed away from the sink and turned to face my friend. "Pal, no matter what happens tonight, it is not your fault. Don't ever think that." He blinked at me, wanting... no, craving that bit of reassurance. "Now, how about a game of gin? I still have to win back the two bucks you won from me yesterday."

Quatre nodded and zipped out of the room to get his deck. Sighing, I watched him go and suddenly discovered the HeavyArms pilot's gaze on me. Grinning, I went to the table to watch as he field stripped and cleaned both his and Quatre's guns. He must have been cleaning guns while still in diapers; he didn't even have to watch what he was doing, his fingers moved automatically.

"Thank you," he said quietly before dropping his eyes back to his hands.

Puzzled, I frowned at him. "What for?"

He raised his head again, giving me a measured look. "For how you take care of him."

For a moment I couldn't breath. Did that mean Trowa cared? I mean, really cared for Quatre? There was a ringing in my ears, and I was on the verge of saying something I wouldn't be able to take back. "Listen, pal, as far as Quat is concern, I would do anything for him. But I think if ..."

"Here they are! I thought I'd lost them for a moment." The blonde pilot came bouncing back into the kitchen carrying cards and a pad with pencil in his hands. He hesitated looking between Trowa and I.

Sitting back, I grinned at him. "Then come get your ass kicked, pal."

For the rest of the afternoon, I spent keeping Quat's attention distracted and off tonight's mission. He was under pressure enough without stewing in it for hours. Sometimes I wish we didn't have to know what our damned missions were until just prior to. That way there'd be no time to do anything but plan and prepare.

Trowa had finished his preparations, packing both his and Quat's bags and setting them aside. He rejoined us at the table to watch the desert prince skunk my ass and paddle it pink. No matter what I say, I suck at cards.

Wu-man arrived just before three o'clock, well, 1500 hours, as per our instructions, and took a seat. Quat and I cleared the table and waited for our dictator. Always punctual, he appeared with his map, photos, laptop and mission outline. This time, I was as far from him as I could get without being outside the room. I leaned against the wall at Quatre's back, looking over his shoulder, listening to Heero go over the same plans as he had that morning.

Sometimes I wonder at myself. I mean, here I am about to face one of the largest skirmishes we've seen so far on Earth, and my mind's off and running. Oh, yeah, I listened, with the part of my brain I knew had to know, but the rest of me was focused on Heero. I nudged and poked at those thoughts, and, prodding them awake, they became raging before the meeting was finished. He hides so fucking much behind that cold facade of his, never giving an inch without gaining a foot. How was I going to get him to tell me what was going on inside.

A jab in the ribs brought me around pretty quickly. Glaring down at Quat, I rubbed the sore spot. He had the nerve to giggle. "What?" I demanded.

He smiled. "Heero's asked you the same question at least three times now."

Oh, shit. I raised my eyes to find said person regarding me steadily. Swallowing and trying to ignore the sudden nervous tic my left eye was making, I asked, "What's the question?"

His eyes still on me, measuring my awareness I think, he gave a short nod before saying, "I'd asked if you would be able to carry all the explosives necessary to carry out your mission. There are at least three buildings you have to destroy. The other two are optional, but if you can manage it, I'd like to hit those as well."

I gave it some thought. They were large warehouse types, a few simple charges of C4 wouldn't do it. It would take several arrays per building, even with the new more powerful ones Brad and I put together this afternoon. Each array weighed approximately five pounds. Including the detonators, I'd have to carry roughly two hundred and fifty pounds. Nearly double and half again of my own weight. I probably could do it, but I wouldn't be fast, I would be staggering. Reluctantly, I shook my head. "There's no way I could carry enough to blow all the buildings in one shot. I'd have to make a couple of trips." Red stained my cheeks knowing he probably wouldn't have had a problem with weight or speed.

Another one of his searching looks before he dropped his gaze back down to the map again. A long minute passed before he stated, "Here's what you're going to do, then." As he began to outline a variant strategy to the one given this morning, he caught my interest and I leaned forward drawn, in spite of myself. "...and before you get to building four, you'll return to the Deathscythe and retrieve the second pack. Quatre will continue on his own to..."

"No fucking way! I'm not going to do it! Mission refused!" I shouted, slapping my hand down on the table.

"Duo!" Quatre stood up abruptly next to me. His face was inches from mine. "You have to. It's the only way."

I turned my glare on him. Didn't he understand he had about a snowball's chance in hell of making it there and out on his own?

His voice became that of the controlled leader we knew him for as he stated, "Look at what we're up against. Nothing else can be done. The time frame is very short. We have to be in and out, and for both of us to go could cost us the mission. It is logical tactically if we separate to complete the mission."

"Listen, pal, I am not going to leave you on your own. You'll have to come back with me, and that's all there is to it."

"Maxwell," the asshole began, "You will follow orders or I will have to kill you."

Glaring didn't work with him, but I gave it my best. "If I had a nickel for every time you've said that..."

Quat pulled on my arm. "Duo, please. It's the only way." His face held that pinched desperate look I'd worked my ass off all day to keep at bay. "Besides," he ducked his head, "the way you're acting, it's like you don't think I can handle myself. That I'll walk up to the nearest OZ soldier and ask directions to where they're keeping the plans."

The shaking started slowly, a rage I couldn't check when a situation is completely out of my control. A situation I knew would result in someone getting killed, and that someone was one I cared for deeply. By the time I spoke, my whole body was vibrating, throwing off waves of animosity. "I won't have any part of your plan to kill Quatre. I will do as you've commanded, but he stays with me and we both go to building four together."

Trying to focus, my eyes darted from the satellite photos to the map and an alternative idea crept its way into my mind. Never really being the first to devise a plan, I was unsure but determined to make this work. My anger was contained - barely. My hand shook so bad I could hardly hold the pencil steady. With quick deft movements, I altered his plan, talking the whole time.

"Death and Sandrock will come in from the east behind Heavyarms. With the three of us, we should be able to power our way close to the buildings. Heavyarms will plant himself here, between buildings three and five, dropping two packs."

My eyes scanned the photos once more. "Shenlong will come down the from north, taking out this garret and that outbuilding. The satellite photos show a heavy storage of Leos on that side, Wu should be able to hold them off at least until we've made it past the front line."

Looking over the map and photos again, I circled the targets. "Wing should be able to take out these two garrets, and draw the attention away from a couple kids running between buildings." My death smirk found its place on my face, and I could feel the cold dark seeping into my blood. "You should be able to take care of building three without explosives, but just in case, carry a pack and drop them in yourself."

I threw a freezing look in Heero's direction. "Quatre and I will work from the back forward, building one, building two then building four. As soon as they're planted, we'll make it to the main offices in building five, grab the plans, launch the worm and leave. Once in Deathscythe, I'll give the signal, we jet, and I blow the mother-fuckin' base."

There was absolute silence at the table when I finished. Having said my piece, I backed away from the table, the blood pounding in my ears died down, and the shaking stopped.

Wu was the first to move. He drew in a deep breath and looking between the map and me, he said in a hushed tone, "I think it will work." This broke the paralysis holding the other pilots. Slowly, as if dazed, heads began to nod. Even Yuy the Perfect was nodding, his dark eyes watching me.

"How come you've never stepped forward for strategic planning before?"

Raising my eyes to his, hidden anger still smoldering, I answered grimly, "Because you've never tried killing one of my friends with your plans before." I heard Quat gasp and saw Heero flinch. I was past caring. I think if he tried, outside of shooting me, I could have taken him down at that moment.

Instead of the anger I expected, he gave a short nod. "Follow your emotions, Duo."

I shook my head and pushed myself away from the wall. I was at the door before his voice stopped me, "Do you have your equipment ready?"

Shit, does he never give it up? "Yes, Daddy, my equipment is ready," I replied without turning around. I ran up the stairs and slammed the door to our room. Yeah, I was being petty, but I needed an outlet. Normally I didn't get that worked up outside of Deathschythe, and usually I would have had an outlet.

I threw myself down on my bed, burying my face into my pillow. Why is it he can bring out the worst in me? Pulling myself upright, I looked at the clock. Great. I had exactly two hours before I had to leave for our gundam hiding spot. I rolled on my back and stared at the ceiling, on arm over my forehead, I watched as the shadows lengthened and the lights grew dim. I knew I should get up and really get my equipment ready. I hadn't touched it since we'd arrived at the safe house. I'd been carrying my gun around on me, but that's about it. I hadn't had to use it in a couple of weeks, and all my other equipment I did check before the last mission.

And I sulked. Sure I was angry, but Heero was doing what he always did, planned a mission the best way he could. I knew he wasn't trying to put Quatre in deliberate danger, that's why he'd asked me if I could carry enough without leaving him. Mostly, though, I was mad he was still holding out on me and I didn't know what else to do to get through to him.

The door opened and I didn't realize he was there until he stopped at the end of my bed.

"Duo?" his voice was quiet, "I need to work on my program, but if you want to sleep, I'll go downstairs." He waited.

I shook my head and sat up. "I can't sleep now, too close to show time." He made his way to his bed, and began to set up his laptop. I leaned over and pulled out my duffle bag and pack. "Besides, I need to get my equipment ready for tonight." I hid the twitching of my lips as his fingers paused over the keys. That was all he was going to get out of me in the way of an apology, and I think he knew it.

Gathering my stuff was pretty easy. Of course I didn't bother folding or even separating clean from dirty wear; everything went into a ball and everything got shoved as far down in the duffle as it would go. I even got my pillow and blanket down there this time. Looking around the room, I made sure everything I owned, besides my jacket hanging on the peg downstairs, had been accounted for and packed.

A corner of some bright color peeked out from under the bed and I bent over to pick it up. It was a small bag of circus animals. Holding it between two fingers, I frowned. This wasn't part of anything I had packed, though I often picked them up when I could. Flashes of my mad dash out of the room this morning flitted through my head. Oh. They had been beside my pillow, but then...

Whipping my head around, I peered at Heero. He steadily clicked and clacked his way through whatever program he was creating, and either didn't notice what I'd been doing, or didn't care. I looked back at the bag, turning it over in my hands. The expiration date was still a month off, meaning they most likely were fresh, just purchased. Circus animals. What made him think of that, and why did he buy them for me? Giving myself a mental shake, I packed the bag carefully in my pack, the one I'd be carrying with me. Those pink and white icing covered animal crackers had fed me for two days once before, who knows when that would come in handy again.

Packing done, I headed for the door to go check on Quatre. I was sure he was going to be upset at my display, and worry himself sick over the night's mission.

"Thought you were going to check your equipment."

I stopped and opened my mouth to say something. Snapping it shut, I spun back around and undid the straps to my pack quickly. I hardened my expression, not quite but almost to the point that it matched Heero's death glare. Dropping the pack to the floor, I tossed my gun and cleaning kit on the bed before digging out an old towel to lay parts on.

Everything set, I began to field strip my Glock. Though not the blind experts Heero or Trowa were, my training kicked in and I worked by rote, recalling the step by step directions as I seethed.

Fuckin' can't leave it alone, can you, Yuy.

*Remove magazine, eject chamber, firearm unloaded*

Always pushing. Never willing to let anything slide.

*Pistol up, pull trigger, grip pistol back, slide lock out, set down*

Got your equipment ready, Maxwell? I'm going to kill you, Maxwell. Leave me alone, Maxwell.

*Push slide forward, separate from recoil, set aside, push recoil spring forward, lift spring, remove barrel*

Don't worry about Quatre, Maxwell. Do your job, Maxwell.

*Move lever, remove trigger pin, remove locking block, punch out trigger mechanism housing*

Fuckin' hide everything. You're a rock. That's right, a rock. Plymouth rock. Rock of Gilbralter. Rock of Ages.

I snorted silently.

*Remove depressor plunger, take out firing pin safety and extractor, pull firing pin assembly*

Don't ever give me a break. Don't ever let me in. Don't ever...

"Oh shit," I said breathlessly staring in horror at the parts in my hand.

The clacking stopped, and I could feel more than see Heero lean forward. "What is it?" he asked.

Turning to him, my hand shaking slightly, I showed him the broken firing pin assembly resting on my palm. Putting his laptop aside, he rose and went to his pack, looking through its contents. "I have a spare you can have." Finding what he was looking for, he set the small package down beside me, and went back to his programming.

I sat staring at him for a long moment. Fuckin' amaze me, Yuy. Always fuckin' amaze me. It was as simple as that. No harsh words, no reprimands, no repercussions. I'd been an ass, believing I was set, and he'd been right, insisting I do my job. Looking at the broken assembly in my hand, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't given in and cleaned my gun. Fearing to go down that path, I opened Heero's package and began working on doing my job.

Before the two hours I'd allowed myself were over, I had gone over every piece of equipment in my pack, twice. The room was saturated in the fumes of Hoppe oil, smelling metallic, oily and acrid clean.

Leaving my packs for the moment, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and scrub my face. I tossed the towels in the tub, knowing someone along the way would come clean up after us, either using the house again, or removing all evidence we were here and getting rid of it. Smoothing the fly-away tendrils of hair back, I stared at my reflection.

"Duo Maxwell, you are an ass and one day your negligence is going to get someone killed."

Turning from the mirror, I was surprised to see Heero standing at the door. He didn't say a word, just watched me from beneath his bangs. I could feel my cheeks heating, wondering if he'd heard me talking to myself. I could have sworn I'd shut the door when I came in, but I guess I hadn't. Looking away, I said lightly, "I'm almost finished if you need to..."

"No, no need," his answer was quiet. I looked at him again, wondering what was going on behind those dark unexpressive eyes. His feet shifted and I wondered if he were nervous. "I've finished the program." He shoved a diskette into my hands. "I've given one to Winner as well, in case..." he left the rest unsaid. The directive is to destroy that weapon and destroy the blue prints to make another at all costs. "It's set to execute on download, hack its way into the mainframe, and trace back to all references of ‘Blue Ribbon'. Thanks to OZ's isolation policy, removing the plans from this mainframe should take care of this threat."

I nodded and slipped it in my breast pocket without saying anything. Finished in the bathroom, or at least as finished as I was going to be standing before the sink in front of Heero Yuy, I moved towards him. He stood aside, letting me slip past.

"It's a good plan." Now, I stopped and turned back. He wasn't looking at me but the floor as if the weave were the most interesting thing at that moment. "Mine would have gotten 04 killed."

His words hung softly in the air between us. He'd given me the inch; I wondered where he'd be taking the foot from. "It might not have. Either way, if you hadn't insisted I clean my gun, Quat would have been."

He raised his head and stared at me directly. "You don't know that. You might not have had to use your weapons." I was already shaking my head but before I could speak, he threw the words I spoke just a few hours before back at me, "No matter what happens tonight, it wouldn't be your fault. Don't ever think that."

As I stood gaping at him, he spun on his heel and went back to our room, closing the door softly behind him. I blinked at the door, wondering if I heard that right. Shaking my head ruefully, I followed in his footsteps. I needed to get going.

Heero was back on his bed working on his laptop. I wasn't sure what he was doing this time, but didn't bother thinking about it. It was time for me to work into my Shinigami mode. I had decided this afternoon to walk back to the secluded warehouse. The walk wouldn't take long, at most an hour, and would give me time to gear up to the night's work ahead. I lifted the pack and settled it on my back and glared at the duffle. Though I didn't have much, that damned thing was heavy.

"Leave it. I'll make sure it gets on the carrier to the next hide out," his voice intoned.

Giving him a small grin, I nodded. "Thanks, bud. I wasn't looking forward to carrying it." At the door, I paused. "See you later."

"In an hour."

I left and didn't look back. Making my way down the hall to the stairs, I could hear Quatre speaking with Trowa down in the kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs, I spotted Wu Fei in lotus position, meditating. Without saying a word to any of the others, I left the house and made my way up the street.

Each one of the pilots has his own way of working himself into their gundam mode.

Wu Fei usually worked his kata or mediated, working the justice in what he was about to do into his system, offering him some measure of comfort to appease any guilt. At times it was difficult to get him to fight what he perceived were weak soldiers and not worth his efforts. But putting him into his justice mode removed those reservations.

Heero usually clacked at his keyboard up until the last minute of departure. There have been times I've wanted to sneak up behind him to find out what it was he spent so much time writing. I never have. I've even had plenty of opportunities to snoop in his laptop, see what he keeps hidden in its depths, but I never have. His use is almost reverent, and it would feel too much like desecration to pry.

I wasn't sure exactly what Trowa did, if he did anything. I do recall the last couple of missions I'd shared with him and Quat though, he spent a lot of his time with the desert pilot. And that blonde prince soaked up the attention. If only they'd both open their eyes, how happier they'd both be - at least for as long as they could.

My lips twitched into a smirking grin. Quatre, now, he was completely different. He has had to keep his hands busy doing something, and most of us had learned to put a constructive task in front of him. Left to his own devices, I've seen the boy tear nearly a whole notebook of paper into long narrow strips. Once he got it into his head he had to bake cookies. It wouldn't have been so bad, but he didn't want to leave when it was time because the last batch had just gone in. Luckily for him, it was just the two of us on that mission, and I indulged his "frivolity".

Walking wasn't really the way I worked myself into the Shinigami, but I needed the time to go through the reasons I was here. I needed those reasons, I needed them to rip my scars wide and leave those holes open and bleeding. To be effective, I had to feel the pain, let it wash over me and direct it at a focused target. I don't put myself through that well with others around.

Each step I took, each step closer to my Gundam, I remembered.

I remembered the streets. I remembered the cold. I remembered the hunger. I remembered the fear.

Smells often trigger these memories, and smoke does it most often. Images of the Maxwell Church flashed through my mind. I placed a name to each face of every one of the orphans. I recalled the words of peace and caring Father Maxwell voiced; his image forever locked in my memory. Mostly, I remembered her hands. Sister Helen at prayer, smoothing a boy's fear, and teaching him to braid his hair.

Adding to the mix were pictures of being imprisoned, of cruel treatment, beaten and questioned for hours on end only to be tossed into a dank dark cell and trying not to give in to the depression that threatened at the impending execution.

And always the last, the vision burned into my mind of a young man, driven past any semblance of normalcy, standing on his Gundam's platform, depressing the destruct button.

Hell, yeah, I was ready.

on to chapter three

back to fiction

back to merith fiction

back home