by Bronze Tigress

Strawberry Swirl + Prologue

Apr. 9, AC197; approximately 1900hrs
Sanq Palace environs
[the day after Relena's interrupted 17th birthday party]


And that was it. All the hostages were safely freed, the terrorists had all been cuffed and lead away. The 'atomic' had been safely disarmed. Best of all, there were no injuries to speak of. Depositions had been taken from nearly all the witnesses already, and all of those not actually living in the palace (which still houses the residential pacifist school), were being sent home, if feasible, or offered temporary lodgings there until they could arrange transport.

Wufei had taken Sally and Duo to the Preventers' Headquarters clinic to have their injuries checked, driving the official jeep back to its garage at the same time. Sally was cleared through with an ice pack for minor bruising and sent home. Duo has had his wrist X-rayed, diagnosed as slightly cracked, and strapped into a light, nearly invisible brace - with very firm instructions to leave the splint in place for at least a week lest something small shift, break loose, and cause havoc in his system. Wufei was given the bag with a pair of prescription bottles to carry. Then, since Une had requested it, he took himself and Duo back to the palace to speak with Une.

Duo stayed as silent on the way back as he had been on the drive to HQ, once again mulling over the events of the past few hours. The long shuttle flight with Sally - during which he had managed to snatch perhaps an hour's uncomfortable sleep - and then the adrenaline rush of the mission itself, on top of nearly a full day's work and the spacewalk beforehand, were tiring. The reconnaissance with Trowa had gone smoothly, and the mission itself had gone very nearly as Quatre had planned it. Sneaking in disguised as one of the terrorists had been no problem at all, and of course, his shot at Sally had been perfect - right in the hollow where the "blood" was. But then that bastard Epyon de Teros had taken the butt of his rifle to Duo's wrist to make him drop his gun. Their tall blond leader - who turned out to be Zechs Marquise of all people! - had sworn softly at that and taken his right arm himself. He'd been careful enough with it, under the circumstances, putting the ropes only around his upper arms and holding him by that bicep rather than tying his wrists and shoving him around by the elbow. Duo supposed he owed Zechs one now.

And then the bomb. That had been a real treat to work on lefthanded(1), although it was just as well that he'd been the one to find it. None of the others had any training on the old precolony-style types. He had managed to get the cover plate unscrewed and had been looking at the wiring - or, trying to look at it; the top wires kept slipping back into his line of sight -when Wufei had appeared. It had been out of the blue and at the last minute, as usual. Okay, maybe not really either, since Duo had at least known he was in the vicinity beforehand, and there had been a good hour left on the timer - but that was close enough, right? His arrival had been a godsend, though, and for once, Wufei had skipped the surly, sarcastic remarks and gone straight to the point. The conversation replays in his mind, complete with his own new mental commentary, as he stares out the window at the passing scenery.

+

[an hour and a half earlier]

"Ah, Maxwell, I see you found it. How is the wrist?"

"What?" //Oh, that sounded intelligent.//

"Merquise said it had been hit; you said there were no hostage injuries. How bad is it?" //Well, that had explained it, at least.//

"Not good; can't close the fingers or twist. Did you come to help or chat?" //Oh, that wasn't very nice...//

"Tcheh. Bomb first, then I check that wrist. What do you need me to hold?" //Although he didn't sound too put out by it...//

+

And then, finally, once Wufei was holding that damned top bunch of wires out of the way, Duo could see the set he needed to see. //Kinda weird to have him reaching around me like that. He smelled nice, though; sort of like incense and vanilla.// He isn't quite sure if the fact that he'd been holding the wire cutters between his knees at the time had been a good or bad thing, though. //I wonder if he brushed his hand against my thigh on purpose or not? Or if he even noticed?// A small grimace crosses his face. //Do I want it to have been on purpose?// The jeep pulls to a stop as he is still pondering this. //I've sure been putting enough energy into keeping tabs on him... So what do I want with him?//

Duo gathers his thoughts back together, wondering once again just what it is that Une wants to speak to him about. He's pretty sure Wufei's going to hear something about bringing in the lot of them, seeing as the pilots aren't exactly regular Preventers forces... He opens the door, //thank goodness the passenger side is on the left in this part of the world// and hops out of the jeep, narrowly missing a puddle. Then the pair walk up the main stairs, and are soon directed to where Une was last sighted. Having found her in the middle of the last bits of the confusion, Wufei clears his throat as Duo taps on her shoulder for her attention.

Une turns around, then, and smiles when she sees who is standing there. "Gentlemen, good to see you back; I would have waited to talk to the others but I didn't know how long you'd be," she begins, before making Duo the same offer she had already extended to Heero, Trowa, and Quatre - that of a permanent position with the Preventers, probably as part of a special unit, along with those of the other three who joined, Wufei, and Zechs. She notes, as a matter of information, that Trowa has already tentatively accepted her offer, and that the other two have asked for some time to think about it, as well as conclude their other business.

Duo looks at Une as if she has gone mad for a moment, then blinks. Finally, wary of making any permanent decisions in his current lightly-drugged condition, and not quite sure he should be doing this anyway, he tells her that it has been a very, very long day for him already, and the pain medicine is not helping his sleepiness, and could he talk to her in the morning about it? She agrees, and suggests that he come by just before lunch. Wufei just looks at Duo, a peculiar expression in his eyes, but says nothing.

At that moment, Heero and Quatre come up to speak to their friends, and to pass along Trowa's goodbyes - and what Duo suspects are Quatre's regrets that Trowa couldn't bid them farewell in person. Heero notes that he had been talking to Relena, saying that she had commented about the 'my woman' remark he had broadcast over Wing's speakers, that obviously hadn't meant her in the context, and that he would welcome any advice. Duo points out that that was all Quatre's idea, but none of the four thinks that will help matters much. Heero mentions Relena's offer of a place to stay for the night, if he has not accepted Une's offer, almost in passing. Duo looks vaguely uncomfortable at that idea, however, and deftly turns the conversation back to Une's offer - asking the opinions of the other three about the seriousness of the offer and the advisability of taking it.

Eventually, Heero and Quatre spot Relena and head over to speak with her, and Duo excuses himself, pleading weariness. Before he's quite sure what happened, Wufei is leading him gently but firmly by his good elbow towards one of the window seats, far enough away from the small crowd still milling about the room to be quiet. "Are you well, Maxwell?"

"Ah, yeah, I'm fine, Wufei. Just tired and sore and hungry, and I've got just enough of those pain meds they shot me up with in me to make my brain fuzzy, and not enough to make my wrist stop throbbing, and damn if I didn't twist something in my back squirming through the perimeter. Nothing a quiet night's sleep wouldn't cure, although with the action we saw today I'm not likely to get that, either." //And I seem to have started telling all; it's a damned good thing nobody ever interrogated me with whatever I'm on right now.//

"Maxwell... I do have my own quarters back at HQ - not very big and certainly not fancy - but you are welcome to stay with me tonight, as it is clear you do not wish to stay here."

Duo blinks, then peers closely at his friend, who lifts an eyebrow in enquiry. "I'm trying to decide if my ears just took a holiday, or if the pod people have replaced you with a clone, Wufei. Did you just offer to take me back to your place tonight?"

Wufei smiles just a little, then says, "your ears are working fine, Maxwell - and I have no idea what a pod person is. You would not speak about staying here - and I do not think you feel very comfortable with all the finery here, do you?" Duo shakes his head somewhat ruefully. "I thought as much. Come, you have not eaten; nor have I. Shall we go find some dinner, and you can decide what you want to do about sleeping after that?"

Duo nods, and gets to his feet. "Sounds like a plan to me."

Wufei rises as well, then waves towards the main doors. "I will meet you at the front steps in a moment; I should speak with Lady Une and Miss Relena before we disappear." He glides off in search of those two worthies, and is at the steps less than a minute after Duo arrives there himself. The two are making their way down the steps when a cheerful voice hails them.

"Hey, Duo! Wufei! Are you leaving us already?"

"Hai, Winner. Maxwell and I have some catching up to do; you two go on inside and visit with your princess. We will see you tomorrow, yes?"

"Okay! See you later! Have a good evening!" And with one cheery wave and a quiet salute, Quatre and Heero turn inside to find their own dinners, just as Une begins shooing the last people who are not actually remaining at the palace that evening out the doors.

[ch. 1] [back to Bronze Tigress' fic]