Disclaimer:Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence, NCS Flashbacks
It was odd to be in soldier mode again, Duo thought as he crouched in near darkness. It was a flashback to the past to see Heero once again the sullen, silent soldier in his black clothing and gear and Wu Fei working along side them displaying his old, cool arrogance in his ability. Gone were the insults, the jokes, even the love. They were full of maps, strategies, and time tables. Duo cracked his knuckles and checked his gear for the hundredth time, making sure his explosives and weapons were secure and tucked close to his body so that they wouldn't interfere with his movements. No one looked at him. No one asked about his nervousness. No one wondered if he was up to the mission. They were committed. They were all in the `zone' and it was almost enough like the old days for Duo to feel a chill, an apprehension that failing to keep up and pull his weight would get him eliminated by his two comrades. Not for the last time, he wished that Soda was at his side instead of back home, but there wasn't any place for the dog on a mission like theirs.
"Ready?" Heero asked.
They synchronized their watches.
"Go," Heero ordered.
Duo grinned, but it was Shinigami looking out of his eyes as he threw over his shoulder, "Don't hold dinner for me, honey, I'm gonna be late.", as he disappeared into the shadows.
Heero didn't reply anything. They had talked for a long while already. They had made love as if it might be the last time. There wasn't anything more to say. Heero's last words had been spoken and they had been about the mission. "This is a stealth mission to open the way for the main police force. Killing anyone, except for self defense, is unacceptable, understand?"
"Roger that," had been Duo's prompt response, even though inwardly he had cringed. During the war, inflicting as many hits on the enemy as possible, in an effort to disable the enemy, had been the goal. Silencing, instantly, anyone who discovered them had been an unbreakable order. The danger for the operative rose ten fold when the objective became carry out the mission, but leave the enemy alive.
Could he control himself? That was the question. Trained by Dr. G, Duo had been taught to go into a near trance, a trance that enabled him to forget fear, forget the past, and to carry out his objective whatever the cost to himself. Shinigami, Dr. G. had named it, and Duo had laughed at how well it had encompassed his cold, death dealing alter ego. Duo had always imagined that he was ultimately in control of it, turning it on and off at will, but now he had some doubts. He was sure Sally Po, Heero, and Wu Fei had doubts as well. Allowing him to go on the mission, untested and only at the beginning of his Preventer training, was taking a huge risk. It had told Duo how very important the mission was.
Duo remembered Grange's face when he had told the man that he had to take a leave of absence for `personal reasons'. Without anymore explanation forthcoming than that, Grange's fury had been understandable. Being told by Sally Po that Duo's leave wasn't going to be explained or used for grounds to dismiss him, had further infuriated the man. If there had ever been a moment when Grange had begun to warm up to Duo, that had ended it then and there.
Surprisingly, as Duo had been leaving headquarters, Kit had caught up with him, very concerned. "Duo, I hope everything is all right?"
Kit's concern and her steadfast friendship, offered so unexpectedly, had made Duo so uncomfortable with telling her the informationless spiel that he had given to Grange, that Duo had found himself leaning close and saying, "It's Preventer business, Kit. Some things need a guy like me to do them. That's between you and me, okay?"
Kit had gone wide eyed and had almost put a hand on Duo's arm in concern. Soda had interjected his body automatically, though, having sensed Duo's tension and Kit had lowered the hand and had said instead. "Okay, but you be careful, okay, Duo? I have you picked out for my partner. I don't think anyone else can keep me out of trouble, but you, so you make sure you come back in one piece."
Duo had felt himself blush in embarrassment, not having had expected that response from her at all. Partners? She had wanted him of all people? He had made a face. "Out of all the trainees, you pick someone like me? You DO need someone to watch out for you, Agent Kit." Duo had grinned to take the self deprecating sting out of it and had turned to go. Pausing, he had looked back at her concerned, almost crestfallen face. It had been obvious that she had been thinking that he had rejected her. Duo had said quickly, "I know that we don't get to pick and choose, but... yeah, I'd want you for a partner too. "
Kit had smiled then, "I always get what I want, Maxwell, anyone will tell you that."
It wasn't until Duo had been heading for his meeting with Heero, Wu Fei, and the other operatives, that he had realized that Kit was his first friend, aside from Gundam Pilots, and an old next door neighbor, that he had made since living on the streets of L2. On the one hand, he had been glad, but only the other, it had made him feel sad and isolated.
Duo thought about those things on a very low level. His mind was taken over by the mission, by Shinigami. Everything else was peripheral. Feelings, memories, and fears were shadows on the borders of an all encompassing need to accomplish his given assignment; break in, disable security, open any barriers, even if he had to use his explosives, to allow the main force to enter. The level of that security was expected to be intense, hence the need for his particular expertise.
Duo hugged the shadows until he came up to the fence around the nondescript building. Nestled in among the trees, the targets had made their first mistake. Duo hadn't spent his childhood where there were trees, but he had clambered through the old metal bones of enough buildings to be agile. That skill allowed him to swing easily up into the heavy branches of the trees and to fearlessly crawl to the ends of those branches until he had cleared the sensor alarms and razor wire on the top of the fence. Dropping lightly on the other side, he rolled into a patch of darkness and waited to make sure no one had caught sight of him.
Duo could feel his heart pounding and he grinned as the rush of adrenalin made every nerve tingle with anticipation. It was hard to stay silent, to stay still, and to wait until the continuing silence and his watch told him it was time to move out again. There were bored guards wandering the perimeters. They talked, smoked, leaned against walls, and were confident that no on knew who or where they were.
Duo stifled a laugh as he clambered up one floor, found a narrow ledge, played sure footed cat, and then found a gutter to use to reach the roof. Crouching, he found two alarms in easy sight and one almost hidden by a roof vent. He disarmed them with a hand laser and several small gadgets that allowed him to cut wires and fool the system into thinking they were still whole. He was a veteran. Even the shock pad around the roof service hatch, and the pressure sensors, didn't take him by surprise.
Slipping onto a ladder that led down into a large open space full of equipment, Duo hung almost upside down as he reached out and hacked into a touch pad on the lower part of the wall. Alarms disabled, and door sliding open, he dropped the rest of the way to the floor silently and slipped into the main building.
Duo wiped sweat from his face. He was trembling a little with the strain of muscles. He was out of shape for such an extreme mission. Not as young as I used to be, he joked silently to himself, and determined to spend an hour at the gym a day in the future.
"Jeez, Ryan! Why didn't you bring me some coffee?"
The voice was loud and very close. Duo started badly and hugged the wall. Two men came around a corner of the hall, one man's eyes on the cup of coffee in his hands and his companion's eyes glaring at him. That kept Duo from being discovered at once. He ducked back into a side room and quickly closed the door. He then pressed an ear to the cold metal and listened as the footsteps passed his position and receded down the hallway. Opening the door again, Duo tried to calm the pounding of his heart.
"Too close," Duo whispered and then hurried in the opposite direction down the hall. He checked his watch. He was off his schedule. He knew that Wu Fei and Heero wouldn't allow him any leeway. He HAD to be on time. Duo dared to run.
The computer room had men and women moving about. Duo counted his breaths, trying to stay calm until they had all walked away from the open door and become engrossed in their projects. Keeping low, Duo used the work stations and the taller equipment as cover until he reached a deserted computer.
Duo wasn't sure why he had such incredible skill with computers. Natural didn't seem to explain it adequately. Dr. G had hinted that he might be someone's discarded genetic experiment, but believing that, then Duo would have had to wonder why he had been discarded, and what exactly had been so wrong that scientists had felt the need to dump him on the harsh streets of L2. Whatever it's source, Duo's skill was phenomenal. Everything was a dance, a Zen perfection, a clarity of thought that allowed him to create, decipher, and unravel complicated programs and security protocols with ease. In no time at all, he had completely dismantled all the computerized locks, lock outs, and alarms in the building. Communications were shut down and the power was under Duo's complete control.
"Who the hell are you?" A gun barrel pressed hard against the side of Duo's head. Duo hit enter and then dropped his hands into his lap.
"My mommy said that I could play on the `net' until she was done working," Duo replied in a small, frightened voice. "Mister... You're not going to hurt me, are you? I-I'm afraid of guns. I didn't do anything bad, did I?"
"Since the engineers are the ones who called me, I really doubt that you're telling the truth," the man growled angrily. "Get the hell up, slowly, and tell me what you were doing."
Duo stood, back still to the... guard? He felt a hand touch his braid, finger it, and then let it drop before he could react. A coldness settled in Duo's gut and he trembled. Nobody touched his hair, Shinigami thought, nobody. Duo Maxwell took firm control of that beast inside of him and struggled to keep it from killing the man then and there. Instead, Duo reached into a pocket and fished out an explosive. With one thumb over the detonator, he held it up and showed the man.
"Holy shit!" the man screamed and started running. "He's got a bomb! Get the hell out of here everyone!"
Duo frowned as he heard things knocked over and people beginning to shout and scream over the sound of running feet. He left the work station and looked around. The room was deserted. "I didn't even have to threaten to blow myself up," Duo said in contempt. "That's pretty pathetic."
The building shook. Heero and Wu Fei were carrying out their part of the plan; infiltrate and open up key areas wide enough for troops to enter in large numbers and to disorient the targets. Duo didn't have much time. He ran from the room and down the hall, making for their planned rendezvous.
Duo froze and then glanced over his shoulder. A scowling man in a guard uniform was holding a gun on him. This man wasn't stupid and, unlike the other guard, he wasn't a coward. When Duo held up the detonator device, he pointed his gun so that it was aimed at a place between Duo's eyes.
"Try me," the man dared.
Duo lowered the detonator. His bluff had been called, but he wasn't out of ammo yet. "Okay, what now?"
The building rocked again. Duo began to smell burning plastic. There was a fire. "Let's go find out where you were going, shall we?" the man bit out and motioned Duo to keep walking in the direction he had been headed. The man lifted a cell phone and began talking as they walked, informing someone about what he was doing. When he hung up, Duo almost felt sorry for him. it was already too late for him and his fellows to stop what was happening.
"Shit!" the man snarled when he realized where they were going. "The hanger!"
"What did you expect?" Duo wondered. "Did you really think that you would get away with trying to start an insurrection? Right now my buddies are destroying your equipment and rounding up your friends."
"Climb!" the man gestured to a service ladder that led up to a hatch. "Let's surprise them, shall we? Maybe I can't stop them, but payback is a bitch."
Duo stared at the man and saw a gleam in his eyes he was used to seeing on men less than stable. Just his luck he had run into a man on the edge. He didn't have any doubt that a refusal would get him dead. The man knew where he was going. He didn't need Duo to show him the way.
Patience, Duo told himself and started climbing.
"What the hell is the freakin' hair all about?" the man grumbled as he swatted it out of his face as he stayed close to Duo, but he wasn't really wanting an answer so Duo kept quiet.
Shoving the hatch open they both climbed into an access tunnel. It ran for a short distance before it became a catwalk over a forest of metal struts leading down into a huge space full of smoke, fire, and shouting men. Gun fire rang out like strings of fire crackers being set off.
"Son of a b-" The man grabbed Duo by the collar and shook him viciously. "You and your buddies are going DOWN!" the man seethed. "Nobody ruins my plans and lives. I'll escape and try again, but none of you are getting out of here alive!"
Duo started. He looked the man over and then noticed that the plain uniform the man was wearing wasn't that of a guard as he had thought. It seemed that Duo had run right into the leader of the entire operation. "So, what's the plan?" Duo wondered, keeping his voice calm.
"If you so much as twitch, I'll blow your head off," the man warned and motioned Duo over to a closed metal box riveted to the wall.
Duo swallowed. The smoke was getting intense and he could hear the fire eating its way towards their position.
"Duo!" a voice shouted from very far away. It sounded panicked. Heero, without a doubt, looking for him, not understanding why his skilled lover wasn't showing up.
The man flipped open the access panel and began keying in codes. Duo watched intently and then realized what the man was trying to do. He was overriding controls and making them manual. It was clear that he was attempting to make several large machines at floor level dump their fuel. If that happened now, everyone down below would burn or be torn apart by the resulting explosions.
Duo knew something that the rebel leader didn't. Duo had locked out all the systems beginning with command protocols and passwords. In a few heartbeats, the man was going to realize it as well and kill him.
Duo dug in his pocket and then reached out. "Here. This might help."
The man, still aiming the gun at Duo's head, automatically took what Duo was offering. When he saw what it was, he flinched, went as white as a sheet, and then began squeezing his finger on the trigger of his gun. Duo was already in motion though. He crouched and swept a leg to knock the man off his feet. The man landed hard, fearfully holding the explosive charge that Duo had handed him.
Duo rose up in a cat like spring and did the only thing he could. As the man shouted, "Straight to Hell, bitch!" and fired his gun, Duo was flinging himself backwards over the railing of the cat walk and hitting the detonator with his thumb at the same time. He felt something hot and stinging hit his face, slide along his cheek, and pass harmlessly behind him as he took the long fall.
The cat walk exploded with the small charge, metal, debris and body parts spraying everywhere. Duo felt the force push at him and shake his senses. Sharp things embedded into his skin, even going through his clothes. His mind ignored it all and found that place where time ceased to exist. It seemed as if everything stopped and Duo had an eternity to size up the fall and find a scaffolding further down in the maze of struts to reach out to and grab hold of. His fall was stopped sharply and he swung, hitting metal hard. The pain that exploded into that arm, shocked him, but he doggedly held on, sliding his hand over and down so that he was hanging by his crooked elbow over a strut beneath a platform.
"Shit!" Duo ground out, hanging and trying to clear his head and plan what to do next. The heat and smoke of the fire, rising up to him in a gust told him that he didn't have long to decide.
"Maxwell!" a familiar voice shouted. "I know that's you! I can tell by the damned hair!"
Duo looked down and tried to focus. He saw Grange propped in a crossroads of struts as if he had been climbing upwards. The man's face was red and apprehensive despite his brave show of temper. Duo could see what the problem was immediately. The fire was at the base of the platform and there was enough material to allow it to burn to their positions quickly.
"Up!" Duo shouted.
"Status!" Grange shouted at the same time.
"Fucked, but mobile!" Duo shouted back. "Now, get your ass up here. There should be enough platform to get us to an access tunnel!"
"No time!" Grange's bleak reply came. "Fire's too fast!"
"Time to see if you can do the course in record time!" Duo shouted. "Now get your ass up here, Grange!"
"Yes, sir, Agent Maxwell!" Grange shouted back with some hard amusement in his voice; a tone that let Duo know that Grange wasn't expecting any miracles.
Duo waited until he saw that Grange was climbing and then he began to painfully climb himself. He felt blood trickling into his collar and his eyes throbbed and went out of focus again and again as he played monkey and forced himself from strut to strut with sheer force of will.
A hand touched his shoulder, Duo cringed, "Don't fucking touch me!" He screamed down at Grange, all nerves raw and mind lost in the fight to live. He sounded six years old and Grange blinked, startled, suddenly meeting with the core of Duo, the force of will that had kept the man alive and mostly in tact through the harsh years of his youth.
"Hurry, dammit!" Grange shouted back. "You're about to get your feet barbecued!"
"Going as fast as I can!" Duo snarled back.
"I expected more out of Gundam pilot!" Grange's voice dripped contempt. "Guess people were just exaggerating when they told me how good you guys were."
"Shut the fuck up!" Duo snarled.
Grange slipped. Duo had turned to shout in the man's face, but then saw Grange's panicked look as the man scrabbled to get another handhold. His big body tilted back from the struts and began to fall. As quick as a snake, Duo reached down and twisted a bloody hand into the man's uniform. Grange came up short and he found handholds quickly.
"Shit!" Grange swore, trembling in reaction to his close call, and then roughly, "Thanks!"
"Don't mention it," Duo ground back and began climbing again, pulling on every ounce of adrenalin to shut off pain and center his mind with the coldness of Shinigami. The heat was sizzling on his back. The smoke was making him choke. When they reached the catwalk, Duo wondered if they would die of asphyxiation before they made the access tunnel exit.
Grange's arm came around Duo's body and he literally dragged Duo down the part of the cat walk still intact, still supported by struts. It swayed under their feet, letting them know that it wasn't all in one piece.
Duo found himself clutching his cross and thinking about Heero. He tried to stay centered, tried to concentrate all of his will on surviving, but he couldn't help that part of himself that wondered if he would ever see his lover's face again. He mentally painted Heero's cobalt blue eyes on the billowing smoke before him and made them his goal as he struggled to stay on his feet.
Shots rang out and Duo smelled the discharge of firearms amidst the harsh burning of plastics and insulation. Return fire whizzed past his ear as Grange fired back. It was the last thing that Duo remembered of their flight before something hard slammed into his face.
"Duo," the voice was much loved and familiar.
"Set the snooze, Heero," Duo complained as he tried to roll over and pull a blanket over his head. Something stopped him, strong hands on his shoulders.
"You don't have to work today," Heero told him.
"Mmmm, that's good," Duo slurred and yawned. That made his face sting. He tried to think why that should be, but Heero, yes, it was Heero, Duo thought warmly, was talking to him again.
"You have to call Soda," Heero was saying. "You have to calm him down and tell him it's okay to let me take care of him."
There was the rattle of a chain and the sound of dog tags clinking together. Duo heard panting and a cold nose touched his face. There was also a low warning growl.
"Once you calm him down, we'll go to the hospital," Heero was saying. "You aren't critical, just banged up and full of superficial cuts. When they told me Soda's status, I thought it would be wise to pick him up on the way rather than let him spend a few days terrorizing the Preventer garage."
"Garage?" Duo mumbled. "Superficial? I feel like hamburger," Duo whined, memory seeping back. Concern began to fill him and confusion. "How's Grange? I heard shots."
"Everyone is out," Heero replied. "There were some injuries, but none life threatening. Grange has some of the same damage as yourself, but to a lesser extent. Now, Duo, we need to go to the hospital. Please talk to Soda."
Duo frowned, trying to understand. "We chained Soda in the kennel," he managed to say even as his mind began to slip into exhausted sleep. "So he wouldn't try to follow."
Heero sounded amused, "He's a strong dog. He has some slashes that I suspect were sustained escaping the kennel and he is dragging his broken chain. It's amazing that he remembered the route here. Agents say he followed your scent through headquarters and then ended up in the garage where you boarded the truck for the mission. He's been here ever since. They knew that he was your dog and that you would return today, so they left him here."
Duo fumbled with an aching hand and knotted it into Soda's fur. "Good dog," Duo murmured and felt a delicate lick on his cheek. It stung like fire. Duo winced. "Soda, Green, "Duo said wearily, but then. "I want him to stay with me."
"You can't take him to the hospital," Heero argued reasonably.
"Not going," Duo grumbled. "If I'm just cut and banged up, you know enough to take care of me. Let's go home."
"Smoke inhalation-" Heero argued.
Duo's lungs did burn, but the level of smoke hadn't overwhelmed them and he was confident he would be all right. "Home," he insisted.
"Do as he says," Wu Fei growled. "Stubborn idiot." There was a hint of respect in his voice though and Duo would have suffered a lot worse to earn that from the man.
Heero still hesitated. "Normal people don't field dress their own wounds, Duo. They let doctors-"
"Yr justa worry wart," Duo slurred, exhaustion overwhelming him. "I don't wanna be inna hospital. Take me home. Home. Home . Home..." he kept repeating it.
"All right, Little Baka," Heero growled back in defeat, "But the medic here is seeing you first."
"Thash fine," Duo breathed contentedly. "As long as Soda comes too."
"Okay Dokay," Duo sighed like a small child and then he let the numbness of unconsciousness roll over him, confident that Heero would take care of him and protect him.