Just Another Mission

Disclaimer: …  Do I really have to write one of these?  Yes?  Damn…  All right then.  I don't own the boys.  Or alcohol.  Or much else in general.  But I'd like to.  Well, everything but the alcohol.  Does that count for anything?  No?  Damn…

***** 

Ninmu ryokai.

Two little words that mean so many thing all at once.  As a whole, those two words can define me, as a person.  For as long as I can remember, that phrase has dominated my entire life, my entire being.  My entire existence.  In a roundabout way, it is my life- it has shaped me into what I am today.  My life is a mission in itself.

When I was younger, and a bit less worried about the success of each task I performed and of every deed I carried out, I would reflect upon how my life had been torn from the nest of the world and how those two insufferable words had ripped me from every pretense of a normal life.  I would question my past, my future, my sanity, and, of all things, my humanity.  But I don't do that anymore.  I've learned the uselessness of dwelling on things you can't change; like the past.  My life will not and cannot change; my past is immutable.  Especially now that there are no battles to fight and triumph in, life will no doubt become vapid and lifeless.  And yet, on some odd and instinctive notion, I find it so hard to turn from the two words that have defined my entire life for nearly seventeen years.  I could not turn my back on the phrase that had lifted me from my cradle into manhood, such as it was.  Those two words were more parents to me than any other man or woman I had met in my existence, and they had been with me longer. 

But now that the battles were won and the enemies annihilated, those words weren't quite so important anymore, and the fact that I couldn't let them go bothered me a little.  This new peace didn't confuse me, and I sure as hell wasn't lost, but I wasn't quite sure where I stood here.  Wufei had once asked where a soldier was supposed to go once the battle was won, and although I was wondering the same thing myself, I was hardly going into fits of confused trembling or raging nightmares.  My dreams were, for the most part, untroubled, and I had no doubt that they would stay that way.  However, I did have to wonder exactly how I was going to fit into this new realm of pacifism.

Living in the safe house provided by Quatre and his share of the Winner expenses did not help matters much.  I had foolishly grown accustomed to working with these other Gundam pilots, motley and ragtag as the five of us were; to my own surprise I was slowly finding myself growing fond of these boys, this anomalous collection of soldiers without a home or a task to perform.  I had become one of them, like it or not, and it was only natural that I should grow to like them, I suppose.  However, that did not mean I had to like it.

It was around six on a frigid winter evening that I finally realized just how different my life really was from the others in the group.  They too had been soldiers, pilots as I had been, and yet I was truly alien to them; almost as alien as they were to me.  And, ironically, it was pure chance, a trick of fate, that brought that knowledge to my attention.

On the slim chance that I would receive a mission, I was busily clicking upon my laptop, my most loyal and useful companion.  To my great chagrin, there were no missions for me- but there was one for Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei to share.  Just wonderful; I was going to be left alone with the braided baka himself.  Of all the pilots, he confused me the most.  He had every emotion in the book, as well as an overabundance of that happiness thing, and he had a tendency to act strange when he was left alone with me.  Not to mention that he seemed to have made it his life's purpose to badger, heckle, annoy, bother, and plague me.  With all that, it was a wonder he had time to even eat and sleep.  And yet… as the days had passed, I'd recently found that Duo's shenanigans weren't quite so annoying after all.  Strange, but overexposure to the boy seemed to have made me more tolerant of him.

Removing myself from my chair and exiting the room, I could not help but overhear a pair of familiar voices coming from a room nearby.  One sounded like Quatre, so I ventured to walk nearer to the closed door of the room; I could inform him of his mission with Trowa and Wufei.  As I rose my fist to knock on the door, I paused, listening.  I didn't want to intrude on something private, and judging from how Quatre and Wufei had been exchanging sultry glances over the past few days, I had to be cautious.

What?  I'm not as dense as I look.

"Yeah, but at least you're human, Q!"  Duo's voice.  I stilled my breath, listening carefully.  It seemed strange even to me that the two of them would be holed up in Quatre's room when it was Wufei that Quatre seemed to be attracted to, but I ignored that.  The two of them had been like brothers for a long while, and despite the initial surprise, I found it didn't stay a shock for long.  "At least you speak real words!  We're lucky if we can get four words out of him a day!"

"He's not that bad."

"Oh, really?  The only things he ever says are 'go away,' 'quiet,' and 'fuck off.'  Tell me that's normal.  I dare you."

"First of all, that's five words."

There was a momentary pause, probably so Duo could reconsider the words, before I heard him chuckle.  "So it is.  Whoops.  Sorry, my brain de-railed.  Okay, well, you get my point, right?"

"He's not that bad."

"Yes, he is!"  Judging by the tone of his voice, Duo was on the verge of exploding.  I wondered vaguely who they were talking about and quickly narrowed the selection down to either Wufei or Trowa.  I doubted Wufei would curse so fervently, but Duo had a tendency to exaggerate things to unbelievable proportions when he wanted to get a point across.

"Well…"

Duo continued.  "He just keeps tip-tapping at that damned laptop of his like it's the only thing he'd ever bother to waste his time with, besides all those missions!  He barely talks, and he forgets to eat!  How does someone forget to eat?!  I don't think we could keep him away from that damned computer if it grew teeth and started chewing his legs off!"

"I think Heero has a little bit more common sense than that!" Quatre protested.

Oh.  So they were talking about me.  Wonderful.

Before the conversation could continue further, I opened the door, not even bothering to knock.  Quatre and Duo were sitting cross-legged on the floor, a bowl of chips and a deck of cards between them.  It looked strangely, to my eyes, as though they had been playing poker for pretzels and potato chips.  Duo was looking up at me with a surprised expression on his face, but Quatre quickly recovered from his surprise and smiled warmly at my general direction.  I nodded acknowledgement to Duo and turned to the blond boy, frowning.

"You, Trowa, and Wufei have a mission."  Short and brusque.  Good.  No trace of my having overheard their conversation.  "For tonight.  The mission specs are on the MR72 file."

Quatre nodded.  "All right.  I'll tell them myself."  Before I could leave, he spoke again, quickly, so that I wouldn't disappear before he could get the words out.  "Would you like to join the game?  Duo calls it…" Quatre started to fumble for the right word.  "Egyptian mouse, I think.  Or something like that."

"Egyptian ratscrew," Duo said shortly, cheeks pinking slightly as he looked at me.  My frown deepened.  Did he know that I had heard them?  "It's called Egyptian ratscrew."

It even sounded like a game Duo would play.  "No.  I have work to do."

"Of course."  Quatre smiled, and Duo's eyes bore into me.  I could feel them analyzing me, trying to see if I had been eavesdropping on their exchange, trying to make me slip up.  But I couldn't be trapped, and I left after Quatre's brief sentence.  My mind churned with new information.

Was I truly so hostile to them?  So unapproachable?

The hours passed quickly, and, when the night came, Trowa, Quatre, and Wufei left without my even realizing it.  Around nine o'clock, in fact, Duo decided to come up to the room where I had set up my laptop and bring the fact to my attention.  Since I had been working diligently, staring stubbornly at the screen, I hadn't bothered to focus my attention to anything- or anyone- else, thus explaining why, when Duo pulled the plug, I could only stare in complete bafflement at the suddenly blank screen.

Well, there went my high score in Tetris out the window.

Shifting my gaze to the baka who still held the plug of my laptop idly in his hands, I frowned.  "What was that for, Maxwell?"

Duo shrugged.  "The other guys left an hour ago.  I'm bored.  Entertain me.  Now."

"No."  I began to boot up the laptops battery pack, wondering briefly if it was worth wasting the battery and ignoring the scowl on Duo's face.  The look suited him, surprisingly, and I made a brief mental note of that before I chastised myself for doing so.  Not my business.  Not worth my attention.

"Come on, Heero!  I'm a hell of a lot more fun than that dumb laptop!"

Sad, but true.  The baka was more entertaining than a rebooting computer screen.  "Fine.  What do you want to do?"  I could bear wasting my time for a little while longer, perhaps.  I could be worse off.  Maybe.  Besides, Duo's words from earlier were still echoing in my head, and some sort of instinct forced a desire to defy him to build up in me.

Duo looked surprised, if nothing else.  "You're actually going to stop staring at that thing and pay attention to me for a little while?"

"If you're worth paying attention to."  I frowned.  "What do you want me to do?"

"I don't know," he admitted with a shrug.  " I wasn't actually expecting you to say yes.  All I was really hoping for was a 'hn' and a night chock full of bugging the hell out of you."  He dropped the plug of my laptop onto the floor and absently began playing with the end of his braid as he thought.  I frowned.  He might get that night of bugging me yet.

"You have two minutes to decide before I go back to the computer."

He grinned, dropping his braid just as quickly as he had dropped the plug.  "I've got it.  I'm going to get you drunk as a skunk on his twenty-first birthday, and then have you tarred and feathered and shipped to Taiwan.  What do you think of that?"

"I'm going back to the computer."

Duo laughed, shutting the lid of my laptop and removing my only means of escape.  "I'm just joking, Heero.  Well, about the tarred and feathered bit, anyway.  I'm still thinking about the Taiwan thing.  But I'm going to get you plastered, whether you like it or not."

"I won't consume alcohol."

"You will.  I may have to IV tap it into your veins, but damn it all, I'm going to get you drunk!"  Duo grinned, grabbing my arm and forcing me out of my room to venture out of the house.

Duo had, in the past, jokingly threatened to put me in a state of complete intoxication.  At the time I had thought nothing of it, but it seemed as though he was more than prepared, in this case, to do his worst.  Damn.  Well, it would be an interesting experiment to see just how much alcohol I could handle at one time, and how quickly my metabolism would rid me of it.  The infamous Doctor J had spent quite some time fiddling with my body and internal workings, trying to immunize me to several things, like disease, illness, and drunken stupidity.  He had decreased all of the nerves in my mind that registered pain as well, and I had a skull stronger than any helmet.  A definite asset for the Perfect Soldier.

Almost thirty minutes later, Duo had managed to drag me to a bar not too far away from the alleged safe-house and was joyously lounging on a bar stool, flirting shamelessly with a man who had painted himself up to look like a woman and winking suggestively at a young woman who stood a few feet away.  It was obvious to me that Duo was a regular here, although I wasn't sure how or why he had managed it.  The way the bartender, a large man with skin the color of coffee, had greeted Duo by name and immediately went off to get Duo his "usual" order were only two of several clues.

The bar was dirty and smelled of stale smoke, urine, vomit, and alcohol.  It wasn't very homey, and it didn't strike me as a place Duo would frequent, as he was a surprisingly tidy person, but I didn't concern myself with that annoying bit of knowledge.  To each his own, after all.  However, the grime that permeated the atmosphere forced me to wonder exactly how much the owner was bribing the local health inspectors in order to keep this place from being shut down.

The bar stools swung in circles, and a lot of people were making use of that, Duo included, and the braided boy made a point of kicking my shins as he passed in his quick little ring.  Every so often he would miss and someone would walk away with a limp.

It wasn't long before the barkeep set several mugs in front of Duo, who pushed one my way and requested that the barkeep keep them coming.  The barkeep did so with an indulgent smile, and every time Duo gulped down one drink, another was set in its place, and Duo disposed of it as quickly as the last.

It took Duo almost an hour after his painted man had left to realize that I had not once sipped from my drink and he didn't seem to appreciate that.  Perhaps the alcohol was already getting to his head or perhaps his conversation with the painted man had emboldened him, but whatever it was, he did a very stupid thing.  He tried to hit me, and Duo of all people should have known better than that.  Even in the best of conditions he hardly ever managed to hit me, and when he did he usually hurt himself more than he did me, and now he wasn't exactly at his peak right now, with his drinks talking to him and such.  But if his action was foolish, it was no worse than my own.

As his fist approached my face, I caught his wrist in one hand and twisted it sharply.  A crack and pop, loud to my ears, made me drop him as I realized I had just broken his right arm.

Whoops.

The bar was silent but for the blood pounding in my ears and I realized belatedly that I had just done a very stupid thing.  Duo was pale, loose bits of hair framing his suddenly haggard face and beads of pained sweat appearing on his brow.  He cradled his broken arm awkwardly against his chest and his breathing hitched, as though he was smothering either furious sobs or a cry of rage.  It surprised me that he was able to maintain so much self-control, drunk and pained as he was.

Before anyone could say a word, I stood up, Duo in tow, and put a bit of money on the counter, leading Duo out the door.  The more distance I could put between the bar and us the better.  In any other situation, Duo would have struggled to get away from me, but perhaps he realized that it had all been an accident.  Or, more likely, he didn't want anyone in the bar to see him regurgitate the contents of his stomach as he did in the bushes outside the bar.

After he cleaned himself off a bit, I forced him into a random car in the lot.  We had walked over, but neither of us were in the mood to walk back, so I saw no problem with taking advantage of the charity the car owner was unknowingly providing.  I ripped a long strip of cloth off the back of Duo's jacket as he glared at me menacingly for a moment, until I handed him a pencil.  He gave it a confused look.

"Bite down on it," I commanded shortly.  He shot me a look of reproach.

"I'm not going to chew up some stranger's pencils just because you have to- SHIT!"  A howl of pain forced its way out of his throat as I snapped his arm back into place.

"I warned you."

Duo glared at me.  "You're a total bastard, you know that?  You always mess stuff up and think you can save the day in the end by pulling a Perfect Soldier.  First it was Relena, then Marshall Noventa, and my arm…  You are such a bastard."

"I don't think you-"

"And you know what else?  You interrupted my card game with Quatre, and we were talking about someone who I think I've fallen in love with and it was an important discussion!  Blondie was trying to convince me that I shouldn't give up hope on this person and you walk in and he'd almost managed to do it, too!"

"You're drunk."  Understatement, perhaps, but my mind was racing.  He'd been talking about someone he loved when I'd walked in?  But he had been talking about…

"I'm too pissed off to be drunk!"  He scowled as I wrapped the cloth of his jacket around his arm.  "And I'm really really pissed."

"I didn't mean to break your arm."

"Bastard, that's what you are!  You know, for a little while I thought that you were actually a little bit human, but I was wrong."  He shook his head.  "Damn was I wrong.  I thought I could prove you weren't the top monkey you thought you were."

"Top monkey?"

"Shit yes.  I was going to get you drunk so I could figure out why the hell I like you so much, for all you're a fucking bastard and you won't get that stick out of your ass, because sometimes I think you'd make a good friend.  But damn it, all those insults you throw at me hurt."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Sure I do!"  He gave a hiccup.  "A lot of times I get a major hard-on just looking at you, know that?  And it really sucks because you don't give a damn!  Q seems to think I have a chance of making you learn to be fucking human, but he's insane and we both know that."  He looked at me with tears in his violet eyes.  "All I really want is a friend from you, Heero.  Can't you just try to be a fucking friend?"

His voice kept getting louder and louder, and I knew I had to find a way to shut him up somehow, before someone heard the yelling and came out to investigate.  Tempted as I was to hit him, I did my best to abstain, for fear of hurting him.

By the sound of it, I'd done that often enough anyway…

Luckily, I suppose, he passed out with no help from me.  Between the alcohol and the pain and shock of his broken arm, it was a state of unconsciousness I marveled he hadn't succumbed to before now.  It took me a few minutes to pry open the panels of the car and hotwire it correctly, but as I drove to the safe house, scores of questions riddled my mind.  Was Duo right?  Was I too attached to being the Perfect Soldier?  Could I really be so cold?

A thousand questions.  No answers.

It didn't even take ten minutes to get to the safe house, but I spent a long while thinking and watching.  I hadn't been doing enough of either lately.  I picked Duo up in my arms, finally, and made my way slowly up the stairs to the closet Duo called his room.

What was it I had called him in the past?  How had I insulted him?  I had called him worthless, and I'd insulted his piloting skills.  But for all the missions he botched, I knew I hadn't been entirely correct when I called him such things.  He hadn't been trained to fight as most soldiers; all his skills were just that- skill, and talent, plain and simple.  And he cared, which was more than I could say.  I'd set my expectations too high, and he couldn't catch them, so I thought of him in cold indifference.  But I couldn't reach my own standards either.  To be a soldier, one has to be human, and I wasn't cut out to be human.

I considered him carefully as he lay unconscious on his bed, where I had set him.  He said he had wanted to make a friend out of me; he had implied that he would like even more than that.  He wanted to teach me to be human.

We wanted the same things, really, in an off-target way, but we had two severely different methods of getting them.  I thought about this.  If he wanted a lover, he would be sadly disappointed; it's too hard for me to care about people.  But if it was a friend he wanted, I could give it a try.

Ninmu ryokai.

Mission accepted.