by Cassima
Summary: Duo and Relena must work together to save the world.
Warnings: Yaoi, het; 1+2, R+1, 2x5.
Rating: NC-17 for sex and Duo's potty mouth.

We disappoint,
We leave a mess,
We die but we don't.
We disappoint
In turn, I guess,
Forget, though, we won't.

--"
No More", Into the Woods

28 Days + Part 1

Duo was in a nervous fit. Damn Oz! Damn their every waking tendency and--and just damn them already!

He gave another turn on his heel and paced back across the room, nearly tripping over the numerous large, dusty boxes scattered around the room. Just--damn them!

Across the room, sitting very straight and proper in her gray folding chair and coolly watching him pace back and forth with a haughty air was Relena Peacecraft Darlien. Her hair was perfectly straight, as always, and her back rigid with tension as she watched the Deathscythe pilot pace restlessly.

The friction in the air between them increased exponentially with each passing moment as the two ignored each other with an intensity that would have surprised most of the people that knew them. They studiously concentrated on their own thoughts, filled with their own solutions and life problems, until Relena finally spoke.

"Heero will save me."

This remark had cataclysmic results, effectively destroying the heavy silence. "That's your answer for everything, isn't it? That Heero Yuy will just drop everything he's doing to come and once again save your sorry carcass. Well, I hate to rain on your pretty little parade, but he won't be coming, not this time. He doesn't even know where you are."

She tried to interrupt, but his pacing grew faster as his rant grew louder. "Hell, thanks to your little escapade, no one who'd be able to do anything knows where you are. So, now I'm stuck with you, and hell if I know what to do with you!"

"Heero has to rescue me," Relena said haughtily, still prim and proper. "I have to be at the trial at the end of the month."

"Well, gee, Oujo-san, shouldn't you have thought of that before you went traipsing off into the Great Unknown and got yourself stuck here with me?" He yanked his hands out of his pockets where he'd jammed them earlier and waved them about in the air. "Is there any worse place to be? What possessed you to enter a maximum security area a mere three kilometers away from their main naval base, where Oz can just stumble across you?"

"I thought Heero would be here," she muttered, half ashamed, half angry at her treatment. "I wanted to see him. Besides," she tacked on defensively, "you're here."

"I am not the prize witness in the great court case against Oz, your majesty. I am but a lowly terrorist,"--he bowed sarcastically--"doing my best to terrorize... and they're not any more desperate to kill me than usual."

"Well, then, you'll just have to rescue me." She said it with such calm assurance that Duo finally looked up from the walls and stared at her.

"And just how am I supposed to do that, your majesty?"

"You have a gundam, don't you?"

He gave her an exasperated look. "It's just a robot, Oujo-san. A mecha. It's not magic--though Shinigami is pretty damn cool. There's only enough room for one person--and not nearly enough firepower to destroy the amount of crap they got lying around here. Only one of us is leaving with Deathscythe, and it's gonna be me, so get those thoughts outta your head!"

"If I don't get to that trial, Oz will win the suit and we'll lose the cooperation of the Southern Hemisphere, and then the colonies will be destroyed!" Her temper had been lit ablaze by now, and she stood and met him, glare for glare.

"Don't you think I know that?" he yelled back furiously. "I'm not dumb, Oujo-san. I'm not the idiot you seem to think I am!"

She was in his face. "I'm not an idiot, either, and don't think I don't know that's how you all think of me. You think I'm stupid for following Heero, stupid for thinking he loves me." She swallowed her tears angrily. "But I know he does."

And, staring her in her cornflower blue eyes, Duo found a glimmering of an idea. It would solve everything. "I know he does," he repeated softly. Yes, he knew who Heero loved. If anyone. "I think I have an idea."

"Great! Let's go!" she said, slightly confused at his change in tone but covering for it neatly.

"It'll take some time, some doing, but I think we can pull it off nicely." Duo remained quiet, but his eyes shone. "I'll need your help."

"What?" she asked, a bit more nervous now. He wasn't planning to kill her, was he?

He gestured to the room widely.

She looked around--really looked around--for the first time since they got there. They were hidden in an abandoned beauty parlor in an equally abandoned shopping mall, with broken mirrors, dusty, slightly-rusty hair-styling sinks lined in a neat little row, and a corner with makeup booths and manicure supplies. Boxes of old beauty products were placed randomly around the abandoned salon. The air smelled of old hair and slightly dissipated cleaning supplies, and stale dust. Barber chairs sat in all their vinyl glory beside the remnants of the mirrors, forever caught in mid-swing.

"What?" she asked again. There were plenty of places to hide a dead body here, and she wasn't quite sure that Duo Maxwell was sane.

He sighed, and discarded the idea. "Forget it. Come on, let's go find some food." Stalking off towards the main hall of the mall connected to the salon, he allowed himself to wallow for a bit.

Frankly, honestly, and in all truth, Duo Maxwell was a bit depressed, and he knew it. His week had begun poorly, and he couldn't honestly see it ending any better, especially now that this mess with Relena had started. He was actually starting to like Wufei a little--well, more than a little--and then they had a stupid argument again. And he really had been trying not to tick off the Chinese boy. Really. He had suddenly realized what a great guy Wu was--patient and smart as hell with a really dry sense of humor--don't even mention that gorgeous body!--and he'd been thinking that maybe Wu might feel--well, never mind what he'd been thinking. The old Maxwell charm had kicked in and, well, there went their friendship, down the toilet with the rest of his crappy dysfunctional relationships.

Usually when he was having a bad time with life, he went and had a long chat with Quatre over a large pot of tea and a plate of delicious homemade cookies. Quatre could always make him feel better; the Arabian had a knack for knowing exactly what his problem was and saying just the right thing to fix it. Unfortunately for Duo, the blond boy had just discovered that Trowa reciprocated his feelings, and the two were still in what Duo liked to sarcastically refer to as the "googly-eyed honeymoon state". And Trowa didn't really like him right now, ever since Duo's last practical joke had gone slightly awry. Not that Quatre wouldn't stop in the middle of sex with the love of his life if Duo needed help, but Duo didn't want to do that to them. He could handle it by himself for a while.

Plus, he was feeling lonely. And clumsy.

Heero didn't love him.

Ah, the crux of the matter. He was pretty sure Heero didn't even like him; it was painfully obvious by the way the pilot snapped and growled at him, especially lately. At one point, Duo would have sworn the two were friends--perhaps even moving towards something more. Lately, however, this longhaired baka knew Heero was being drawn towards someone else: Relena.

And, sure, the girl was rich. Okay, she was mildly pretty. And maybe her voice wasn't quite as annoying as Duo liked to make it out to be. She had power coming out her ears, and Heero was attracted to power. Duo couldn't compete with that kind of draw. And Heero wasn't gay. He recalled those cold words, spoken evenly and pointedly: "Duo, I'm not gay." He could respect that; it was mainly his hard work paying off that allowed Heero to be interested in anyone who wasn't a computer, not a small source of pride for the American pilot. With Heero's returning humanity, however, came a declining need for Duo.

And, sure, Wu was turning out to be amazing, but Duo kept saying the stupidest things. Wufei thought he was an idiot. A dumb one.

With Heero's withdrawal and sudden interest in girls--did Relena count as a girl? he spitefully wondered--it was as if his last chance for companionship, for an end to the mundane monotony that life had become. The loneliest person he knew was starting to find peace, and Duo just felt... well... abandoned again. Pathetic, really.

So he allowed himself to be convinced of his own foolish plan, even if Relena's voice grated on his nerves like knuckles against a cheese grater combined with fingernails on a chalkboard.

"Twinkies!" he exclaimed with delight, discovering a Mini-Mart in the mall filled with all sorts of preserved food.

"Those things never die. They'll be around long after Oz destroys the planet."

"I know." He grinned cheesily. "Ain't it grand? All that'll be left of Earth are General Treize and the Twinkie factories, floating about in space." He sighed happily, picturing large chucks of rock, boxes of Twinkies, and a reclining General drifting around weightlessly. "I could eat these things for the rest of my life."

"You'd get sick of them after a week," Relena said disapprovingly, pulling over a shopping basket and beginning to load it up with different cans.

"Nuh-uh, never!" Duo cried enthusiastically, hugging the plastic package to his chest. "The sugar in one of these babies alone could stop a charging rhino in his tracks."

She sighed, a bit mother-hennishly. "Well, I suppose you can try," she remarked disparagingly. "I can't really stop you."

Duo winked at her, good mood slightly restored now that he had a plan. "Join the fun, Oujo-san, live a little. I bet you've never even been drunk."

Her eyes darkened a little, before she brought her head back up proudly. "I refuse to speak of such things with one such as you."

He rolled his eyes good naturedly. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before. Let's go eat." He wandered back to a dusty table in one of the mall's restaurants and set his boxes down proudly before going back to help Relena carry her basket. "Why'd you bring so much? It's not like it's going anywhere. We can always go back for more."

She blushed. "Um... I don't know." She wondered why he was acting so nice.

They sat down together, and Duo ripped open the first package and deeply inhaled the smell of the plasticky, eternally young and fresh pastry.

Relena pulled out a can of green beans and stared at it. 

Duo grinned and took a big bite of his Twinkie.

Relena continued to stare at her can. "...Duo?" she asked quietly.

"MMMmmmmmmm..." he purred, eating the rest with a single gulp and ripping open a new package.

She looked down at the can and then back up at Duo. "Duo?" she tried again.

He was on his third Twinkie. "I'm so hungry..."

"Duo!" she said, a little louder.

He smiled sweetly at her, white frosting stuck between his teeth. "Yes, Oujo-san?"

She blushed. "How are your Twinkies?"

He paused in the middle of tearing open a new package. "Tastes like cardboard," he admitted ruefully. "How's your dinner?"

She blushed deeper. "Um... do you have a can opener?"

Surprised, he shook his head.

They both stared at the can.

+

"This silverware is crap," he declared, tossing away yet another broken butter knife and staring resolutely at the dented can of green beans on the table in front of them. "I can't believe that in a mall like this there isn't a can opener anywhere!" Picking up a hammer they'd taken from the hardware department, he once again began to bang half-heartedly at the stubborn food container.

Watching him, Relena began to giggle.

"What?" he asked grumpily.

She just giggled harder.

He took another whack at the can, nice and hard. It dented and went rolling, but still refused to open.

She burst out laughing.

Against his own will, he began to smile.

She was laughing louder.

He began to laugh, too, reluctantly at first, but then more freely. Soon, they were both holding on to each other, in tears, and gasping for breath. Two of the most powerful people in the world, beaten by a can of beans.

"Some gundam pilot," she giggled, regaining a modicum of control.

"Some Queen of the World," he returned, and they were both gone again.

Some time later, after the giggles faded and they could breathe again, the tension was gone. Suddenly, Duo groaned.

"You have a Swiss Army Knife, don't you?" Relena accused, giggling again.

"Why didn't you think of that earlier?" Duo demanded, mock-ferociously, and they were both lost again.

After they had both subjected themselves to cans of cold condensed rice-and-mushroom soup and kidney beans, they headed off to the mattress store, where a little of their former tension returned.

"You can't sleep in here with me," Relena protested. "It's improper."

Duo rolled his eyes and groaned. "Oujo-san, I'm not going to bespoil your honor or whatever you think I'm going to do."

"I don't care," she said, crossing her arms stubbornly. "It's not right for you to see me in a state of undress."

He stared at the ceiling in annoyance. "Well, your majesty, how about if I sleep on the other side of the store?"

"It's a tiny store!" she cried crossly.

"Where else am I supposed to go?" he cried, frustrated.

She looked pointedly at one of the wooden benches towards the other side of the mall.

He kicked off his boots and untucked his shirt. "Look, Relena, I'm sorry if I'm doing something screwy to your dignity or whatever, but I'm sleeping right here. I'm not even going to look at you." He laid down and pulled the covers over his head, facing the wall.

Still wanting to put up a fight but not knowing how, she stomped over and turned out the lights before getting into her own bed.

It was quiet for a moment; Duo quietly said a short prayer to Shinigami.

Just as he was falling asleep, he heard a quiet voice. "Duo?"

He sighed. "Yeah, Relena?"

There was a short pause. "Do you really have a plan?"

He thought for a moment about his original plan. It was dumb. It was stupid. It was...

"Yeah, Oujo-san. I've got a plan."

There was another pause.

"Thank you," she whispered, and they both fell asleep.

+

After some stale crackers and cold canned broccoli for breakfast, they returned to the salon.

"What are we doing here?" Relena asked.

"Cleaning this place up," Duo replied, tossing her a dry mop and picking up the tool kit he'd snagged from the hardware store.

"Why? We're going to cut Oz's hair?" It was sarcastically said with a skeptical, amused look.

He rolled his eyes. "Just get to work."

"But--"

"I'll explain after it's done." He wanted to give himself as much time as possible to think of a new plan. One less demeaning.

+

It was hard work, but by the time they were done, the place looked... well, if not good, then at least passable. The lights all had to be replaced, and the pipes were creaky and rusty. The floor was no longer grimy and a gritty brown, but a shiny cream. The broken glass had all been thrown away, and the remaining mirrors polished and scrubbed until they shone perfectly.

Five days of hard labor went into this one room. Five precious days where they had worked side by side, bickering pettily over everything from the choice of music to who was slacking off. They studiously avoided the topic of Heero, which limited their common interests dramatically.

And Duo had come up with no better solution.

So, they sat down in the spinning barber chairs and talked about the plan.

"We're going to switch places."

Relena raised a skeptical eyebrow. "That's not the plan."

He nodded, more serious than she had ever seen him. "It's simple: we have 23 days to teach you to be me and me to be you. Then, you're going to take Deathscythe and fly to safety and I'm going to get captured by Oz."

"That's ridiculous!" she exclaimed heatedly. "I can't teach you to be a girl! Preposterous! Oz'll see through that right away! Furthermore, how exactly do you intend to escape from them after they figure out you're not me? And there're things they're bound to notice."

"I've got that worked out," he insisted, waving it off. "And we have got to work together on this. Don't think teaching you to be a guy is going to be a piece of cake."

She sniffed. "How hard can it be? All you guys do is scratch and grunt and pee standing. I can handle all that." She blushed. "Except for the peeing standing, of course."

He buried his face in his hands. This was going to take longer than 23 days.

+

"What the hell are you doing?" Duo cried, half-indignant, half-amused. "You look like one leg is shorter than the other!"

"I'm walking like you do!" Relena protested crossly. "These boots are way too big!"

He rolled his eyes. "Our shoe size is almost the same, Oujo-san. And, it's more of a swagger and less of a limp." He demonstrated again, walking across the room. "Relax your posture! Let your shoulders go! You're holding too much tension!"

She took a few more clumsy steps, took one look at Duo's stifled laughter, and stopped in her tracks. "This is ridiculous!" she spat, clenching her fists. "You're just trying to make me look stupid!"

Duo sighed. "Oi. Why do you act like the world will shatter if you relax?" At her dumbfounded look, he threw himself down in one of the chairs and put his feet up on the counter. "A rigid person will break during a storm, while a flexible person'll bend in the wind. And you, Oujo-san, are the most rigid person I've ever met." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well, except Heero. His inflexibility surpasses even gundanium."

Relena blinked. "But he's so strong. I want to be strong, too."

"Strength is one thing, Oujo-san, but does Heero ever look like he's having fun? And when he snaps, he's broken. It takes him a while, and he's never happy after. He's afraid to break again, so he gets even colder and more distant."

"And just when you think you're making progress," Relena added quietly, "he breaks again, and you have to watch his heart shatter, and his fingers bleed as he picks up the jagged pieces. And he won't let you help him, he has to be strong enough to do it himself."

There was a pause as they considered the true statement.

"Frustrating, isn't it, to only be allowed to stand aside. Like you're not even important enough to help him."

"He's just a hurt little boy under the cold mask. I want to help him understand that he can let himself go with me." Relena stared at her hands in her lap.

"He's not a little boy," Duo corrected quietly. "He's a grown man. The problem is that he won't let himself need anyone else." They sat in silence for a moment. "But, ch', we're wasting time," Duo said brightly after a few minutes. "Stop stalling and start those feets a-walkin', Oujo-san."

Relena rolled her eyes, but stood obediently.

"That's already better," Duo said, eyes twinkling. "Just keep your posture easy."

+


"You have got to be kidding." Duo stared at the monsters on his feet. "These are the most uncomfortable pieces of footwear I've ever seen."

"Be careful! Those are real Italian leather!" she scolded. "Don't twist your body up, stand up straight! More tension in your shoulders. Remember, you're the Queen of the World."

"Drag Queen of the World," Duo muttered, trying to act dignified. "I'll tell you now, though, I won't be able to walk in these."

"Balance on the balls of your feet," she advised, "and swing your arms a little. Not a lot, but a little."

A few hours later, he was starting to get the hang of it. "So, Oujo-san,"--he gave a dramatic pose--"is it me?"

She laughed at his antics, delighted. "Pink is your color. You're going to have to start wearing the dress and the undergarments. You'll move differently in them."

"It's never easy, is it?" he asked. "It's always one thing or another."

"Just be glad you don't have any balls to attend," she advised mirthfully. "You'd have to learn to be graceful."

"Graceful?" he cried with a pout. "I'm very graceful!"

[part 2] [back Cassima's fic]