Title: Mission Parameters
Pairings: 1x2, 3x4, 5x6, one-sided 1R and 2H
Summary: A mission on L2 leaves Heero wondering about and watching Duo. Now the Perfect Soldier is determined to get behind Shinigami's mask… no matter what it takes. But it turns out there's more to Duo and all of them than he ever imagined… because there's more than one God wandering the Earth.
A/N: I always kept myself away from GW because I knew this would happen. Damn but those boys are utterly addicting. I had to try writing a fic of my own. This is my first attempt at a GW fic, so I hope it's not too horrible.
It was supposed to be a routine mission. Go in, get the data, and get out. Routine is all that it would have been had it not been for the way Duo changed when we got to L2. Normally, that braided baka can talk your ear off. It's a miracle when I have any silence. I might have pretended to ignore him, but if there was one thing I knew about Duo, it's that something's wrong when he doesn't talk.
Out of all of us, he was probably the best at it. He could smile and joke around even when it nearly killed him to do it. But it wasn't until that mission that I realized how deeply that ran. Not even Duo could keep up the mask when he returned to L2. His perpetually cheerful violet eyes lost their shrine, and the smile tightened and became visibly forced. I acted like I didn't notice, because I knew that's what he wanted me to do. But that was a lie, because I did. It was fine, though. Unlike him, I could lie.
The time we were there? Two days. Yet it changed everything. I'll never forget walking down the street on a scouting mission and seeing the scores of children around that were homeless and starving. I'd seen it before, but my mind never connected it to Duo until I watched him stop and give practically everything he had to a little boy with blonde hair and two different color eyes, one green and one blue. He would've given the boy the shirt off of his back if I hadn't grabbed him and made him keep walking.
"We have a mission to perform," I reminded him.
"I know." There was a weird look on his face, a strange shimmer in his eyes. When I realized what it was, I tripped and nearly fell flat on my face. In all the time I'd known him, I'd never seen Duo as close to tears as I did that day. Believe me when I say that it changed everything between us.
We did our mission, got the data, and left without looking back. I didn't hear a single word except for what was absolutely necessary until we were leaving. The further we go, the better he seemed to feel. By the time we were back on Earth, he was back to the full-on mask, like nothing had ever changed. Yet, something had. I was curious. I didn't know a lot about Duo's past. It wasn't the kind of thing we went out of our way to share. But I wanted to know why he hid. How he could live behind a mask all the time. How he didn't get tired. How he could hide from everyone and never get tired.
I decided to make it a personal mission to get behind that mask.
You might think that's a pretty out of character decision for someone like me. Wasn't I supposed to hate him? I did at first. For a long time, I would have liked nothing more than to snap Duo Maxwell's fragile neck. Eventually, in spite of the fact that he'd shot me when we first met, we became partners, and he started weaseling his way in under my shields. Believe me; I tried to keep him out.
It started with his incessant chattering. Whenever he went quiet, I would find myself noticing and watching him, waiting on edge for him to start up again. The silence started to get on my nerves because I was so jumpy. Before I knew it, I actually started to like it when he'd drape an arm around my shoulders or clap me on the back. Me! I'd always known I wasn't perfect, but I had truly thought that J had driven most of those kinds of emotions out of me. Apparently I was wrong.
My first opportunity came after the five of us had been sent on a mission that… well, we didn't fail, but it didn't go well. The presence of our Gundams would have helped, but it had been a stealth mission. With soldiers right behind us, we ended up fleeing in the most easily procured getaway car. Unfortunately, it seemed like the soldiers were smarter than normal, and the brewing snowstorm wasn't helping our cause. They tracked us for long after we would have normally managed to dodge them. Wufei, who was driving, finally got rid of them, but by that point, it was dark and there was a full scale blizzard in progress. Not even I would have dared to drive in that.
After driving for what felt like hours, we came across a small cabin that appeared to be empty. Though we didn't know who owned it, "beggars couldn't be choosers", as Duo put it. We piled out of the car and inside. Trowa managed to start a small fire with the wood available, but it didn't offer much warmth. He and Quatre huddled underneath one of the available blankets, while Duo, Wufei, and I sat by ourselves. Wufei started to meditate immediately. He, Trowa, and I weren't that bad off, but Quatre and Duo weren't used to the cold. Duo, of course, came from L2, where one good cold snap would've killed off half the colony, and Quatre was from L4, which maintained a moderate climate the whole year round.
Not that the three of us were any more used to the cold, but both Quatre and Duo were smaller and more physically slender than we were. Wufei and I weren't as tall as Trowa, but we had a good few inches on those two, and more bulk. I could see from where I sat that Duo was shivering hard, and even more alarming, he wasn't complaining about the cold like he had been before. Remember when I said that when Duo stopped talking, it meant something was wrong? That kept going through my head at full volume.
"Do you think they've given up?" Quatre asked suddenly. I looked over at him, distracted from my thoughts about Duo. He looked much better now that he was curled up beside Trowa.
"Hard to say," I answered in my usual monotone. "The storm has probably stopped their search for at least a little while. Hopefully they'll think that we've died from exposure."
I noticed that Wufei shifted a little at my comment, but he said nothing and kept trying to meditate as a way to deal with the cold. I cast a measuring glance at Quatre and Trowa and saw that both of them had their eyes closed, though I doubted they were sleeping. I seized my chance and scooted across the still-cold floor until I was beside Duo. That close, I could see that he was indeed shivering, and his eyes were shut. Bad sign.
"Maxwell," I said softly.
"Maxwell," I repeated, a bit louder. Still nothing. "Duo?"
When even that didn't get an answer, I did what I always accused Duo of doing. I acted impulsively. Reaching out, I threw an arm around his shoulders and dragged him closer. The iciness of his skin made me gasp. It was like pulling a slab of snow next to me. I had only intended to tuck him in next to me, but somehow he ended up in my lap, between my crossed legs. It was obvious that he was really out of it, because he didn't even say anything. His body curled instinctively towards my warmth, and he buried his face in the crook of my neck and shoulder while I shifted the blankets to better cover the both of us.
Looking up, I saw that a single green eye was staring at me. Trowa blinked at me before glancing away. I ignored them all as I focused on rubbing the frigid, almost stiff, skin on Duo's arms and legs to warm him up. Eventually, he murmured something I didn't quite catch and cuddled even closer to me. The movements made something in my chest do a weird sort of flip and squeeze. It was alarming and my hands stopped their busy work instantly, but I didn't want to analyze it. I didn't need the extra complication it would cause.
Throughout the night, I dozed on and off, never fully sleeping. Duo remained warm and compliant in my arms until sometime at around six in the morning. Wufei and Trowa had gone out to check on the car and Quatre was curled up in a little ball when he stirred. I felt the pattern of his breath change against my neck as he became more aware. Then he went stiff and lifted his head slowly.
"Heero?" he said doubtfully.
"What… How did…" He trailed off and his cheeks turned pink. I didn't bother hiding my smirk, knowing that he wanted to ask how he'd gotten here, but was too nervous.
"You were cold," I stated simply.
His large violet eyes blinked heavily. "Okay…"
I took a closer look at him when he didn't immediately jump up or push me away. There was an odd haziness to his eyes, and he looked around the room like he didn't really recognize where we were or how we'd come to be there. His face was pale behind his flushed cheeks. I shifted slightly and edged the blankets down. The heat had quickly become sweltering to me, but I was beginning to suspect that it wasn't just from our normal body heat. My suspicion was confirmed when I put a hand on his forehead. At the feel of the unnatural heat, I swore under my breath.
"What's wrong?" Duo asked, looking surprisingly comfortable with the fact that my hand was on his forehead.
His body, which had relaxed, tensed again. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not!" He started to pull away, then, but I stopped him with an arm around his waist. Duo's not as strong as me on a good day, so he had no chance when he was sick. "Let go, Heero, damn it. We've got to get up and get going."
"Shh. You'll wake Quatre."
That stilled him, and his head swung around automatically to make sure he hadn't done just that. "Is he alright?"
"He's sick, like you," I answered. I didn't know that for sure, but judging from how tender Trowa had been that morning, I figured I was right.
"I'm not sick!" he hissed. I raised an eyebrow. I could tell that he was having a hard time staying awake long enough to yell at me. When I didn't say anything and still refused to let go, he huffed under his breath and twisted away to glare in the direction of the door. I waited patiently, and sure enough, his head slowly fell forward onto his chest. He woke up a couple of times and made a valiant effort at staying awake, but eventually, he succumbed. I shook my head and pulled him back to how he'd been before, gently stroking my hand down his braid. What a baka.
Trowa pushed the door open, letting in a blast of cold air. "Ready?"
I nodded. It took a bit of work to squirm out of the blankets, but after a minute, I was standing and had the blankets wrapped back up around him. After pulling on my coat, I leaned down and scooped him up easily. He was light in my arms, though I knew after a while, he would become heavy. Trowa fetched Quatre and we headed back out into the snow.
The world had changed. Now that we could actually see, I realized we were way off track. There was no sign of the town we'd been seeking. Trees and snow were all I could see. It was freezing cold, as the temperature had plummeted overnight, and we both hurried over to the car. Wufei was in the driver's seat again. I recognized the thin line of determination between his eyes and didn't even bother asking if he would have preferred that I drive. I already knew that the answer would be a resounding no.
I got in the front seat with Duo on my lap. Trowa climbed into the back with Quatre. Wufei cast me a questioning glance, clearly wondering why I was cradling Duo so protectively, but didn't ask. He started the car and managed to get it out of the drift where it had settled. We drove for hours without stopping or seeing anything that resembled civilization. I had the feeling that we were going around in circles, but there were no landmarks available to tell us whether that was true. We passed a few farmhouses, but none of us felt comfortable stopping. You never knew where you could run into trouble.
Eventually, though, it became obvious we didn't have a choice. Sooner or later we'd run out of fuel. Already the gauge was dangerously close to empty. Wufei stopped in front of an older farmhouse and looked at me. I shrugged and nodded, knowing that we'd run out of options. It would have been better if Quatre could have gone - he possessed a natural charm that no one could escape. Better still would have been if Duo had been able to go with him. The two of them together possessed a set of puppy eyes that not even I could say no to. But neither of them was in any shape, so it was up to us three, and I was apparently elected to remain behind with the two of them when Wufei and Trowa got out without bothering to ask.
Quatre stirred at the blast of cold air. His head popped out of the cocoon of blankets like a turtle emerging from its shell. "Heero?" he said blearily, looking at me blankly. "What's going on?"
"We're lost. Wufei and Trowa stopped to ask for directions," I answered, deliberately making my voice a touch softer than the usual monotone I strove to speak in. Now that Quatre was looking at me, I could see that my earlier guess had been on track. His face was pale and flushed, and he had the same dazed expression that Duo did. "Go back to sleep."
"I'm not tired," he muttered, rubbing one of his eyes. "I have a headache."
I had no answer for that. We didn't have any medical supplies and we would have to continue like that until we found a safe house or some form of civilization where we could pick up medication. My hands tightened around Duo at the reminder. None of us pilots responded well to drugs, but I would have been willing to force a fever reducer down Duo's throat if I had to.
"Is Duo sick?" he asked meekly.
"Bad?" Quatre shuffled and pushed his head forward, peering between the seats at the two of us. If he was surprised by the way I held Duo, he didn't mention it.
"He'll be fine," I said firmly. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Wufei returning to the car carrying a red plastic can. He stomped around to the opposite side and began fiddling with the gas tank. Moments later, Trowa and an older man I didn't recognize joined him. The three of them got the car gassed up and then the man said something to them. Wufei responded by shaking his head. I could feel myself tensing a little as a woman came out and joined the three. She was holding a basket, which she practically shoved into Trowa's arms. He took it because he couldn't figure out how to say no and said something in return. The woman smiled, winked, and took the hand of the older man. Once they had returned to the house, Wufei and Trowa got back in.
"What did they say?" I asked.
Wufei shivered. "They didn't speak English or any other language we recognized," he said flatly, sounding frustrated. "We have a map and gas but no directions."
"Maybe one of us can read it," Quatre suggested.
Trowa opened the basket. The smell of chicken soup wafted through the car, and several stomachs growled in response, even mine. It had been several hours since we'd last eaten. He bypassed the soup, however, and picked up the map, spreading it open. All four of us bent over it in silence. I was frustrated to find that I couldn't read it, either, and judging by the look of annoyed on Quatre's face, neither could he. Between the four of us we were fluent in nearly twenty languages, so to be defeated by something so stupid was massively irritating. I've never wished for my laptop more.
"Did they happen to mention where we are on the map?" Quatre asked at last, taking the map from Trowa and rotating it.
"What part of lost in translation did you miss?" Wufei asked peevishly.
Quatre huffed but, for the purposes of maintaining the peace, he let the comment slide. His brow furrowed as he peered down at the map, and I could practically see that analytical mind going to work, searching for an answer. He was the strategist of our group, and it had to be killing him that he couldn't think of a way out of our predicament. I sighed to myself and shifted. The movement, unfortunately, woke Duo.
"Wasgoinon?" he mumbled, sounding pretty out of it.
"We're lost," I repeated.
"We have a map, we just can't figure it out," said Quatre.
"We're lost," Trowa muttered. Quatre glared at him.
Duo straightened up and leaned forward. I brought a hand up against his back to keep him from toppling over as he peered down at the map. His eyes ran over the map in silence, and I had to wonder whether he was even registering what he was looking at. Finally, though, his hand snapped out and he pointed straight at a specific spot on the map in the middle of no where.
"We're right here," he announced triumphantly. "Go that way."
"How do you know? Can you read it?" Wufei sounded tense, and I knew he'd be pissed if Duo could read something that he couldn't.
"Nope," Duo said, shaking his head. Then he stopped and one of his hands flew to his head, like the motion hurt too much.
"You know," Trowa stated thoughtfully, "That guy did point to somewhere around there."
The four of us exchanged looks. Duo fell back against me, still cradling his head, and I absently readjusted him on my lap. Finally, Quatre said, "We've got nothing to lose. If Duo's right, we're only a couple of hours from the nearest city. I say we go for it."
"Following directions from Maxwell," Wufei mumbled, but he obligingly started the car up and began driving with Quatre and occasionally Trowa offering directions.
I looked down at Duo, who was looking out the window with half-lidded eyes. "How did you know?" I asked, not really expecting an answer. So I was surprised when he turned his gaze towards me.
"Didn't you know, Heero?" he asked sleepily, his eyes finally fluttering closed. "Gods never get lost. We always know where we are."
I didn't think it was possible, but that comment made my curiosity about Duo Maxwell burn even brighter, especially after the road really did end up bringing us to a small town. Had I known what my curiosity would bring, I might have walked away then and there.