Pre-Story Ramblin'

            or:

"How Duo Made Me Do It"

Title: Trading Faces

Duo: Um, Laura?

Laura: Huh? What?

Duo: Eh heh … what are you doing?

Laura: Thinking about starting a new story, see? *points to the boldface title*

Heero: *muttering* I was afraid of that …

Laura: Hmm? Heero, don't mumble. It's impolite.

Heero: I know.

Laura: Heero, don't be rude!

Heero: *glares*

Duo: Look, all we're trying to say is, you already have other stories going. Why are you starting another one?

Laura: Oh. Well, ya see, I got this really neat idea …

Duo: But Laura –

Laura: …and it sort of kept developing …

Duo: Yeah, but –

Laura: …so I kind of just thought …

Heero: Stop cutting Duo off!

Laura: Geez. Touch-y! What is it, Duo honey?

Duo: It's just … um, shouldn't you maybe finish what you've started before you start something new??

Laura: Oh, don't worry. I'll still be writing my other stories. I just think this will be a nice change from the angst. You know, something more fluffy and cute.

Duo: *brightly* Fluffy?

Heero: *darkly* Cute?!

Laura: Uh huh!

Duo: About what?

Laura: C'mere! *grabs Duo and whispers in his ear*

Duo: *smiles* Yeah …?

Laura: *whisper whisper*

Duo: *wide smiles* Yeah …?

Laura: *whisper whisper*

Duo: *grins* Yeah …?! Hahahahahaha!

Laura: So, whatcha think? Should I go for it?

Duo: I suppose it wouldn't take too much time from your other work.

Heero: Duo!!

Duo: Yes, Heero? *bats eyelashes*

-Wufei saunters in, looking confident, and pauses as he takes in the scene before taking a step or two back. Duo waves at him.-

Wufei: Why does the onna look so … intent?

Duo: 'Cause she's writin' a new fic about me an' Heero, that's why!

Heero: Duo!!

Duo: What?

Heero: You're supposed to be on my side!

Duo: But I am, Heero! We're gonna have so much fun!

Heero: … *pales*

Wufei: Heh. Scared of what the onna's going to do to you, Yuy?

Heero: Wouldn't you be?

Wufei: Not really. She leaves me alone. *snickers at Heero*

Laura: Aw, Fei, be nice to Heero.

Wufei: Why should I?

Laura: Oh … I dunno … maybe because I could always think up a nice fic for you … you and Duo, hanging out all alone for hours and hours and hours …

Wufei: Oh, no. I don't think so …

Laura: C'mon, Wuffie-kins, you know you want to!

Duo: Yeah, Wuffie-kins, you know you want to!

Wufei: Maxwell! Stop encouraging the onna!

Duo: Eep! Heero, help?

Heero: No. You're on her side.

Wufei: Ha! You're mine!

Duo: Aw, damn iiiit! *runs from the room with Wufei at his heels*

Laura: Hmmm, anyway … back to the story!

Rating: PG-13, just because I feel like it.

Warnings: Profanity, violence, eventual 1x2 pairing, etc.

Disclaimer: Nope, they aren't mine. But I like to pretend that they are. *Points to above imaginary conversation* See? I'm not that hyper. *coughliescough* Please review, it makes me feel better!

_ _ _

            "02, hurry it up! We haven't got time for your games!" an irate voice demanded harshly in Duo's ear. Duo resisted the urge to reach up and scratch the annoying communication piece out of his ear canal; instead he laughed.

            "Now now, 01. Genius can't be rushed, ya know," he replied, grinning at the reaction he knew he had gotten out of his partner.

            "Baka! Ten seconds!" Heero barked, and Duo grunted as his hands continued their work.

            "Yeah yeah, I hear ya," he muttered, frowning in concentration as he bit absently on the side of his tongue. "Almost there … just a little … ah ha!" With the last of the wiring in place, Duo rocked back on his haunches to examine his handiwork. Dusting his hands off in satisfaction, Duo smiled down on the surprisingly small but immensely powerful explosive.

            "Perfect," he murmured, then shot to his feet. "Okay, 01, ready to commence with Plan Get-the-Hell-Out. How are my options looking?"

            "Slim," Heero replied tersely. "You'll have to pass back through the labs. I'll cover your tracks and meet you at the rendezvous."

            "Okay, gotcha," Duo said, nodding despite the fact that Heero couldn't see him.

            "And 02? No dumb stuff. Just go," Heero said, his voice steel. Duo rolled his eyes, retrieving his gun from his waistline and striding quickly across the unoccupied room.

            "Geez, Heero, I ain't stupid," he muttered, sighing as he carefully made his way into the hall. Quickly scanning for traces of stray soldiers, he grinned in satisfaction before hurrying down the cold tiles toward the airtight door of the main laboratories. Duo had to hand it to OZ research facilities; they had a lot of fancy security measures for actually being so unprotected.

            "Okay, I'm at the main lab door. Care to give me a hand?" he asked Heero quietly, keeping his voice down as he practically melted into the wall's corner. There was a slight moment of pause, and then the light on the door's keycard port flashed green.

            "Hn. Get going."

            "Aye aye, Cap'n," Duo muttered in reply, hurrying to get through the door before his pass expired. Making sure the door clicked shut behind him quietly, Duo began to make his way through the main room of the lab. The wide, sterile room was dark and silent, making Duo's footfalls echo loudly in his own ears. He did his best to ignore the tables and counters around him, knowing that it didn't matter what kind of toys the OZ scientists had. They would all be blown up soon anyway. He made his way back to the familiar vent shaft he had come in, his gun going slack in his hand. He grabbed a chair as he neared the wall, pulling it along with him to stand on so that he could climb into the vent without difficulty.

            "Hey!"

            Startled by the cry, Duo whirled and nearly toppled from the chair. He found himself looking down on a man in a long, white jacket, who clutched something in his hand and scowled at Duo murderously. Duo brought his gun up, training it on the stranger who had to be an OZ researcher.

            "Look, buddy, I don't wanna hurt you, but you really shouldn'ta bothered me," Duo said, easily concealing his apprehension. He didn't have a lot of time.

            "What are you doing in here? This is a highly restricted area!" the man snapped, his heavy brows furrowing.

            "Sorry, got lost from the tour group. Don't worry, I didn't touch anything," Duo said, grinning maniacally.

            "You're … you're one of them, aren't you? One of those damned pilots!"

            Duo's face lost its façade of cheerfulness, replaced by a look of pure and dangerous determination.

            "Wrong answer," Duo growled. "I was gonna be lenient with you, but now that you had to go getting curious I'm afraid there's no other choice. Nobody sees Shinigami without a price!" The man's face looked odd, and suddenly he threw whatever he was holding at Duo. Duo, shocked by the unexpected action, let go of his gun with one hand to catch the object as it sped toward his face. Duo kept his eyes on the researcher, expecting the man to try to run in the distraction, but instead the man charged Duo with a strange glint in his eye.

            The only noise was a slight thudding as the man's body fell to the floor, blood blooming on his formerly pristine coat. Duo smiled grimly, grateful that he had such a wonderful silencer on his gun. Still, he couldn't help but feel unsure. The man had been reaching for Duo's other hand, almost as if he wanted his object back …

            Duo looked into his left fist, examining the small circular object. It was slim and lightweight, a hard metal casing protecting whatever was inside. It had some buttons and a red blinking light near the center of one side. Duo couldn't make sense of it, and shrugged it off. There would be time for speculation later. He kept it closed in his fingers as he turned and slid into the ventilation shaft to make his escape.

            "02, status," Heero's voice interrupted as he scooted down the cramped tunnel. Duo sighed, realizing that Heero had been listening to the whole scene.

            "Unhindered. Just a curious little researcher. I took care of it," Duo replied, his low voice vibrating in the small metal space. He decided to leave it at that, and Heero didn't pry further.

            With the help of his blessedly photogenic memory, Duo made it to the end of the shaft without much trouble. The gigantic fan blades which blocked the opening to the outside were still paused in their motion, courtesy of a glitch Heero had introduced to the computer timetables, and Duo slid through the gaps to jump to the ground a few meters below. He curled into a roll as not to hurt himself, and he came up running. The forest wasn't far, and being out in the open was dangerous. The rendezvous was a park a mile or so though the thin outcropping of trees, and Duo figured he could get there in a couple of minutes. He ran carefully but quickly, leaving little trace of his path as he got farther away from the base.

            The park was unlit and desolate, but with the help of the silvery moonlight Duo was able to find his way to the specific bench where Heero would come. Setting his gun beside him within easy reach, he fished in his pocket for the small detonator he had concealed there. He held it in his palm loosely, tapping his foot impatiently as he waited for Heero to arrive. He just wanted to detonate the bomb, call it good, and get back to the safe house. He was tired and viciously hungry; he wondered idly if maybe Quatre would have dinner waiting for them when they returned. The considerate Arabian often did things like that, much to Duo's delight.

            "Where the hell are ya, Heero?" he asked, setting the detonator next to his gun and reaching up to take the small device out of his ear. He squeezed it between his thumb and index finger, watching it implode upon itself. He flicked the bit of synthetic material away, and sighed. He knew Heero would be doing the same.

            A figure appeared on the edge of the trees, and Duo reached for his gun. It was an unnecessary action; a second later Duo recognized the shadow as Heero. He stood, tucking his gun away and scooping the detonator up as he took a few steps toward his partner.

            "Are we good to go?" he called softly, watching Heero quickly close the space between them.

            "Hai," Heero answered curtly. Duo grinned and opened the protective shell covering the detonator's switch, looking in the direction of the facility as he hit it. Although Duo could not actually see the impact of the explosion, he continued to look in its direction with a pleased expression.

            "Well, that's that then, huh Heero?"

            "Hn. Let's go, baka." Heero turned and began to walk in the direction of town. Duo followed him into the trees again, shoving the detonator into his pocket and turning his attention to the foreign device in his other hand. He walked blindly, following the quiet sound of Heero's feet against the underbrush as he turned the disk over several times. It was unlike anything Duo had encountered before.

            He was so engrossed in studying it that he didn't notice when Heero stopped, and he slammed into his partner's back with a surprised cry. He stumbled back, and Heero growled in annoyance.

            "Watch where you're going, baka! What do you think you're … what's that?" Heero paused in his tirade as he noticed a soft glow from Duo's hands. Duo looked down, just as curious at the dim light projecting from the device. He lifted it closer to his face, frowning in confusion.

            "Dunno … I think you made me hit one of its buttons, Heero. It wasn't glowing before."

            "What is it?!"

            "I don't know. That researcher threw it at me before I finished him off. Guess I just kind of kept it when I was escaping. I was gonna see what it was later."

            "Baka," Heero rolled his eyes. "Turn it off."

            "Well, I would if I knew how, Heero," Duo sighed, giving Heero a disapproving look. "Give me a second." He selected a button and pushed it, but nothing happened. He pushed another, and the light merely flashed momentarily. Digital words scrolled across a small, clear panel near the edge of one side.

            Systems ready …

            "Huh? The hell is that?" Duo muttered, narrowing his eyes at the disk. Heero sighed impatiently.

            "Just give it here, baka, and let me …" He reached out to snatch the device from Duo, and his words fell away as he grabbed onto its smooth surface. He felt a prick, almost as if the device had stung him, and he scowled.

            "Ow," Duo grumbled, glowering as he felt a sudden stab of dull pain in his fingers. He tried to jerk the disk away from Heero.

            "Let go, Heero, I'm not done."

            "Yes you are. Give it to me."

            "No!"

            "Duo, would you just …!"

            "Heero, I just wanna …!"

            Their protests were cut off by a sudden, blinding flash of light, and their simultaneous cries of surprise rang through the otherwise quiet forest as they were knocked away from each other by some unseen force. The disk toppled to the ground as the two young men crashed to the earth, unconscious. The light slowly faded to nothingness, leaving the woods dark and silent once more.

            Heero's eyelashes fluttered, and he groaned quietly as consciousness reclaimed him. His head throbbed mercilessly, and his stomach lurched irritably in hunger. He squinted his eyes open to meet blinding sunlight, and squeezed them shut again as he suppressed another moan. His whole body felt heavy and weak, and his limbs tingled oddly. He turned his face, frowning as leaves and twigs brushed against his skin. Forcing himself to sit, he held himself up with shaky arms and took a few deep breaths until the dizzy feeling subsided.

            He turned his face to the ground and carefully opened his eyes, keeping them comfortably narrow as he focused on the dirt and leaves below him. He was practically underneath a large shrub that had been shading him from the worst of the sun, but as he sat taller the light grew much brighter.

            For some reason his memory was fuzzy; he couldn't remember what happened. There had been a mission, he knew, but it had gone well as far as he could recall. They had just been going back to the safe house, and then …

            "Duo?" Heero called, his voice weak and awkward even in his own ears. There was no reply, and Heero grimaced as he raised one careful hand to brush his hair back out of his face. His head felt heavy. As he lowered his hand again, he paused to stare at it. For some reason his hand looked odd. He looked paler than normal. Maybe it was just the OZ uniform that he wore. He was glad suddenly for the long sleeves of the ridiculous outfit; he shivered involuntarily.

            "Duo?" he tried again, shifting his body to sit without so much pressure on his arms. There was still no answer, and Heero frowned. Something was wrong with his voice, but he didn't know what. He forced his head up to look around more thoroughly.

            He blinked several times, trying to better focus his eyes. He was hallucinating, he had to be. Because a few meters from him, lying face down in the underbrush, was himself. He gave a shuddering breath and leaned closer, shaking his head a little in disbelief. Something was terribly wrong. It couldn't be him, but it certainly wasn't Duo!

            He inched closer, and suddenly he stopped short. Something was keeping him in place. There was a strange pressure to the back of his head. He was caught on something. He turned his face to look over his shoulder, and his breath hitched. A long rope of hair, unfurling in places and covered with bits of twigs and leaves, stretched out behind him into the bush he had been laying under, apparently snagged on one of the heavier branches.

            The blood in his eardrums drowned out his gasp of surprise, and his vision swam. His braid was caught. His braid. He had a braid!

            He didn't even have sufficient time to give a reaction. Darkness swept around him, stealing his awareness once more and sending him falling back to the ground.

Continued