Title: The Innocent and the Beautiful
He was never going to get used to the collars. Never, ever. Even if they hadn't been uncomfortable as hell, getting used to the collars equaled getting used to the uniforms that sported them. The same uniforms that meant he, along with the others, was now recognized as a legitimate representative of the government.
Duo Maxwell, a government lackey. No way in hell was he ever going to let that sound in any way natural…
A low chuckle came from his left as the ex-pilot ran a finger beneath the bit of starched cloth. "Ease up, kid, they're not that bad," Howard rumbled good-naturedly, glancing up for a moment from his data pad.
Duo mock-glared at him in return. "And yet I don't see you wearin' one." The elevator doors opened with a quiet ding, revealing a bustling hangar.
Howard snorted with laughter as he waved his young friend outside. "That's 'cause I'm the hired help, not a poster boy for the new peace. They ain't going to make a grizzled old mechanic like me try to look pretty for the cameras, even if I am their head mechanic."
The American gave him a real glare this time. "Did you have to remind me? There's another one of those damn press conferences Friday. They want to know about that drug ring we broke up last week…"
Together they moved through the hangar, making their way around personnel and stacks of equipment and parts with the ease of long practice. "But I thought that bust was Barton's work?" the mechanic pointed out with a frown. "Why are they calling you in?"
Duo snorted, transferring his glare to his feet. "You kidding? You ever seen Tro' with the press? The guy clams up even tighter than when he ain't with them. And Heero and Wufei are even worse. Heero always ends up reaching for his gun and Wu-man loses his temper with all the stupid questions we get asked. Une's learned to call in me or Quat' whenever the press wants a look at 'the reformed terrorists'. Scarin' reporters is bad PR, and since Quatre's on L1 right now..." He stopped dead as he finally caught sight of their destination. "Howie…?"
Howard coughed, hiding a wince at the suddenly frosty tone in the teenager's voice as they watched technicians crawl all over Duo's prized antique atmospheric fighter jet. "Um, yeah, R&D wants you to test out some kind of fancy new radar system. They were supposed to send you a memo about installin' it today…"
Duo sent him a horrified look and then rushed over to visit the wrath of the God of Death upon the incompetents messing with his baby.
"Ground Control, this is Three-Seven-Golf-Niner, requesting permission for take-off at this time, over," Duo muttered into his mike an hour later, flipping the ignition switches for the secondary engines.
"Three-Seven-Golf-Niner, this is Ground Control," a voice replied after only a few seconds. "File flight plan with the tower this time, over."
Duo pushed a button next to the screen embedded in his console. "Ground Control, flight plan on file, over."
"Permission granted, Three-Seven-Golf-Niner. Taxi to Runway Four this time. Have a nice flight, Captain Maxwell," the voice returned, breaking from its cool, professional tones for the last few words.
"Roger, wilco," the American said with a grin, waving for the techs below to pull the chocks out from in front of his wheels. With nothing left to hold it back, the jet began to slowly pull out of the hangar.
"Ne, Howard? What's the word on the new doohickey?" Duo asked, thumbing the mike over to his private channel.
"The techs say it's working okay so far. They want you to test it on your flight to Fort Lakenheath, see how it performs at higher altitudes and speeds. And since it's you doin' the flyin', during high-gravity turns and general death-defying stunts like you always pull," Howard answered, his voice a little tinny, and Duo made a mental note to mess with the speakers after he'd arrived.
"Seems like a lot of fuss for just a new radar system," he commented absently. The jet had nearly reached the designated runway, and he tugged on the seat restraints to make sure they were good and tight.
"That's 'cause it ain't really radar they're using. This one's supposed to use high-frequency sound, not just too high for us to hear, but for dogs, bats, and basically anything that isn't a highly-advanced computer. And the thing is, the only systems that can read the return sound waves after they bounce off something are the ones tuned to that specific frequency. Anything tuned to the rest just gets a bunch of garbled noise."
The pilot had to whistle. A sounding system like that… it wouldn't just be an improved radar, it'd be a whole new way to send messages, ones that couldn't be intercepted and read by the enemy. "There anything special they want me to do?" he asked.
"No. It'll automatically be recording as you fly, so you just need to turn it over to the techs at Lakenheath to orgasm over."
Duo laughed. "Got it. Call you when I get there, old man," he stated, as the jet at last taxied into position. "I'm outta here."
He punched a button, and with a scream and a roar the afterburners kicked him into the heavens.
Two hours into the perfectly standard flight and Duo was just entering French airspace, while outside his cockpit dusk was beginning to fall. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was flying, he would have said he was bored; he couldn't even pull out his braid to play with, confined as it was within the flight helmet. It was almost enough to make him wish for the days when every flight was made with the constant fear of being spotted by OZ.
Almost. Really almost. Even if it was kind of boring and he rarely got to play with explosives anymore, Duo liked peace. It was… peaceful.
Duo sighed. According to the flight plan it'd be another good hour and a half before he would be close enough to the base to turn off the autopilot and do some real flying.
He broke more than a few rules when he decided to take a quick cat-nap. But according to all the programming, all the tests run, it should have been safe to leave the autopilot unsupervised and in charge, and really, Duo Maxwell broke most of the rules in the cosmos just by being there, alive and breathing. So what was a little half-hour nap in the big picture?
Well, it did mean that he wasn't awake to see the newly-installed Sound Detection and Ranging system suddenly light up like the old-time Fourth of July. He had no knowledge of the way the sodar had pinged its ultrasonic waves off of an unusual object far below. Nor of that object's reaction to being so pinged.
He was peacefully sleeping when the atmosphere in front of his jet shimmered and curled into multihued waves, and when the jet and its passenger passed into the strange shimmer.
It wasn't until they emerged on the other side, and an alarm began to scream as all power to the engines cut off, that Duo at last awoke. And by then, it was much too late for him to do anything but eject himself, seat and all, out into a completely unknown world.
Albus Dumbledore frowned and lifted his wand higher, demanding with a silent Lumos that the light at its tip push back the darkness even further. The wards around Hogwarts had reported two separate breaches, and he had headed immediately for the nearer one after requesting that his Deputy Headmistress contact the Ministry for a team of Aurors if she had no word from him within the hour. He was nearly at the disturbance now, and just at the edge of the light he could see the beginnings of a deep furrow ploughed into the earth.
The trough was a long one, and at the end was a twist of metal he could only barely recognize as a muggle flying machine, though one unlike anything the wizard had ever seen before. He spent a few minutes poking around the wreckage and found nothing.
The second disturbance in the wards was a bit further on- about as far from the school as you could get and still be encompassed by the magic, in fact. This time there was no great gaping hole in the earth to herald its location; instead, a large piece of cloth dyed in red and white stripes shone vividly in his light from where it draped over a tree. Albus followed the lines that led off it to a legless, padded chair and the slender, unidentifiable figure it contained.
The Headmaster approached to within a few feet and called out to the stranger, but there was no answer. A simple diagnostic charm revealed that the muggle was breathing, but unconscious and injured; something Albus had already guessed, given that in his experience limbs weren't meant to bend in those places.
He knew better than to move the stranger. "Petrificus Totalis," he murmured, making sure to put as little power into the spell as possible. The Body-Bind Curse worked by spasming the muscles and locking them into place; when cast at full strength upon an already-injured person, it could cause irreparable damage instead of preventing more. The elderly wizard's next spell was on a bit of parchment taken from his pocket. It glowed briefly blue and shivered in his grasp as he reached out to touch it to the muggle's arm. He had just enough time before it activated to sever the lines connecting the seat to the cloth above.
Then the Portkey deposited them, seat and all, inside the Hospital Wing, and Madam Pomfrey was rushing over demanding explanations that Albus couldn't yet give. He quickly backed off, leaving the muggle- revealed to be a young man barely out of childhood after his helmet was Vanished- in the mediwitch's capable hands.
"Professor? Who is that?" a young voice asked from behind him, and the Headmaster nearly jumped out of his skin. He'd been so distracted by their unexpected visitor…
"I'm afraid I can't answer that question at the moment, Mr. Potter," he relied, turning around to see the Hospital Wing's only other patient. "And how are you feeling? That was quite a nasty blow you took from that Bludger."
Curious eyes stared at him from behind thick glasses, until their owner visibly pushed aside his questions for another time. "I'm feeling a lot better, sir. Poppy fixed the bone right up. Wouldn't let me go back to the Tower yet, though."
Albus gave a pleased sort of nod. "Of course. Though I do hope you'll be rather more careful in Quidditch from now on, my dear boy. I'm afraid Poppy rather detests the sport, given how often she has to treat its players. We wouldn't want to see her reaction should you end up in here again, would we?"
The fifth-year shook his head with a lopsided grin that Albus returned. "Now, then, I believe I will get some sleep," he announced. "I'd suggest you do the same if you want dear Poppy to release you in the morning, Mr. Potter."
"Yes, sir," the young wizard replied to the Headmaster's back. Obediently, but not without a sigh of irritation that his question hadn't been at all answered, he lay back down. If he turned his head just so he could see the busily-casting Madam Pomfrey and a bit of her new patient…
James Potter watched the mediwitch work late into the night.
A/N: So what does everyone think? The bunny hit and for once I didn't want to make it go away, so here it is. This is the first story in a trilogy; it will be much shorter than the other two and, as you can see, is going to be rather fast-paced compared to my usual writing style. And the number of stories I'm working on now scares even me, so this will be the last new novel-length story I work on before I finish another.
This will be slash, and Duo's pairing has been decided, but I'm not going to say what it is since it won't really appear until the second story, No Enemy But Time. There will be appearances by the other pilots sporadically through this, but they are not the main focus.
Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter, nor Gundam Wing, which is probably a good thing. I could never decide how to mix and match the pairings… Trading Boyfriends, anyone?
24 October 2006