by Cassima
see part 1 for warnings

28 Days + Part 2

"...And now what do you do?"

She frowned. "...turn on the autopilot?"

He sighed heavily and struggled with his patience. "You have to type in the password, Oujo-san. She'll just shut right down without the password."

"And the password is...?" She struggled, biting her lip in a very "Duo Maxwell"-ish way.

"Begins with an 'H'," he prompted.

"Heero?" she asked.

"No, Oujo-san."

"Hilde."

"Oujo-san, you always forget this part. I musta told you a bazillion times!"

"I'm sorry," she exclaimed, frustrated. Standing in a huff, she moved semi-clumsily away from the makeshift gundam consol he'd set up so she could practice . "It's a strange name!"

He turned away, feeling tired and depressed. "It's Helen, Relena-san. Helen."

"Well, maybe it'd help me remember if you told me about her." Relena stared at the toes of Duo's boots with more than a little malice. How she hated the clunky things, especially on her own feet!

"I don't want to talk about it."

Relena winked cheerfully. "Is she your girlfriend, Duo? I bet she's your girlfriend!"

"I said I don't want to talk about it," Duo replied tensely, all the good humor gone from his voice.

His tone booked no discussion, and she rolled her eyes at his back and gave a huff. "Well, I don't know how I'm going to remember it."

Duo slowly turned and looked up, good temper strained. "I don't care how you remember it. Make something up if you want. Just remember it, or the whole plan is shot to Hell and you're screwed, Oujo-san."

She sniffed. "Well, there's no reason to get crude about it."

He rolled his eyes. "Let's work on something else for a while, ne?"

+

"I can't breathe!" she exclaimed, putting a hand to her neck.

"Try breathing deeper," he suggested, making a few adjustments to the back. "From your stomach, not your chest."

She shifted self-consciously, feeling incredibly naked. Sure, everything was covered, and even if it wasn't, she knew she had an incredible body, but even so... "You sure it's not too tight?"

Duo nodded and handed her his shirt. "Any looser and you'd be bobbing all over the place. The bindings have to be tight, to give you a flat chest. Duo Maxwell does not have breasts!"

She blushed, and he did, too, when he realized what he'd said. "Ano..." he tried to correct, swallowing, "it's just that..."

She giggled and pulled the shirt over her head. "You lack breasts... for the moment."

He flushed deeper, looking even more uncomfortable. "Can't we just sew them into the dress?"

She shook her head, enjoying his discomfort. "They wouldn't move with your body, they'd move with the clothing. That wouldn't look real at all. You're going to have to make do with a stuffed bra." She stole the hat from his head and pulled it rakishly onto her head. "Looking good, ne?" She dropped her voice down a few notes. "Shinigami lives! ...ne?"

Duo's mouth twisted with humor. "Oh, most definitely." He spoke in imitation of Relena's voice. "Though I do believe your energy level was a little less than manic." He gave her a practiced, polished politician smile.

Her answering free grin was a little forced. "Just saving my energy to do... all that--man stuff."

He winced, and made his expression parody Wufei's "stick-up-the-butt" haughtiness. "Maxwell, you're speaking like a woman. Weak! It is injustice for me to put up with this!"

She giggled.

"Oh, you think that's funny?" Duo continued, still gruffly imitating the Chinese pilot. "Stupid idiot woman. Weak! Back on L5, we didn't put up with that kind of weakness! You were lucky to get food and shoes--and we had to learn to use a sword with a twig the size of my pinky finger! Guns were for the weak! And, if you complained, justice was served straight to your behind! Your level of impudence and idiodicy wasn't tolerated! We threw you out, because you're weak! And sometimes, we threw you out even if you weren't weak, just to keep you on your toes! And now? There's no justice anymore!"

Relena couldn't help herself; she was leaning heavily on a chair, practically in tears. "Does he really talk like that?" she asked through gasping laughter.

"Not really. Only if you get him started," Duo replied, watching her with amusement. "And Duo Maxwell is an expert at getting him started."

She started laughing again. "Oh... I can't breathe..." she gasped, holding her gut. "Itai..."

Duo couldn't help but chuckle himself.

"What's he like?" Relena asked, once she had gotten a hold of herself again.

"What's Wu like?" he repeated, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to think how to describe him. "Well... he's quiet and serious. And grumpy, like Heero, but different. I mean, Heero tunes me out when I talk, but Wu-chan, he listens--God, does he listen. And he's so smart, I gotta to be careful what I say or he calls me on it, but we had some of the best conversations--okay, he called them arguments, but they were more like debates. He's very intense at times. I like to goad him into sputtering; his eyebrow does his little twitchy thing--it's hilarious. He's so considerate, too; this one time, I told him--what are you smiling about?"

"Nothing," Relena sang out innocently.

"Liar," Duo accused.

"Your description doesn't sound anything like your impression, you little contradiction!" She grinned cheekily.

"Well, he can be abrasive. And he likes to wax moralistic," Duo replied, a bit put out. "It doesn't make the other part untrue. And I am not little, thank you very much." He stuck his tongue out at her and blew her a loud raspberry. "So there."

She made a noise of amusement, but continued to look too entertained for his comprehension.

+

"Don't worry," she soothed, seeing the look of despair on his face, "I'll be very careful."

He swallowed. "I'll be okay, Oujo-san... just get it over with." With every *snip snip snip* of the scissors, he flinched. His eyes burned with tears, and felt huge and bulging under his eyelids, but he knew it was silly to get so upset about such a silly thing, so he held it in tighter.

"All done," Relena said quietly from behind him, and began to brush out his hair. "I kept it as long as possible."

"I know," he whispered. It felt like a part of him--the true Duo--had come off as well. He looked down through slitted, watery eyes at the large pile of hair on the ground.

"It'll grow back, sooner than you know it," Relena comforted him, setting the scissors down on the old hairdresser's counter. "Your hair must grow very quickly, to be so long."

He nodded, and tentatively ran his fingers down its length.

"You have such beautiful hair," she continued, as if his silence weren't unusual. "Hardly any split ends at all. It must be because you keep it in the braid all the time, ne?" When he didn't answer, she frowned a little. "Duo, are you alright?"

Something changed in his face briefly, and then he was his normal self. "Nah, I'm fine, Oujo-san. After all, it's just hair. C'mon, it's time for dinner! I think I saw some clam chowder on the shelf at lunch today..."

+

"Ow! Damn it, Oujo-san, that hurt!" He rubbed his burning legs and scowled. "Shit! You girls really wax your legs every damn day? That's fuckin' masochistic!"

"Not every day. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" she teased.

"No mother," he said cheerfully.

She paused, set aback. "Well... your father?"

"No family whatsoever. Well, 'cept for the other pilots, I guess." He shrugged and squirmed under the plastic on his head. "Street rat war orphan." At her shocked look, he gave her a reassuring smile. "Aw, Relena-san, it wasn't as bad as all that. Sure, food was a little tight, and there was the cold, but I had people."

"Where are they?" She rubbed at her own head.

His smile was sad, but his eyes met hers. "Gone, now."

"Gone where?"

"Dead, Oujo-san."

"What happened?" she asked quietly, trying to imagine growing up without parents, without a home. Even Heero had had Owen Lowe to take care of him, and food to eat, and a home, and Heero lacked a childhood of any sort.

"Oz happened. Blasted the shit outta us peons on the street." He gave a crooked smile that wasn't the least bit sincere.

"The Maxwell Church Massacre...?" she whispered, finally making a connection.

Duo bounded away, pretending not to hear. "Come on, Oujo-san, I think it's time to wash this crap out of our hair and become our new, improved selves, ne?"

She allowed the subject to drop, and followed him to the chair. "Are you sure you're ready to become a blonde?"

"Well, it's too late now to stop it, ne?" He cheerfully began to take the plastic shrink-wrap off her head and rinse out the dye. "Might as well lose some IQ points. Not like I'm using 'em."

"You can say that again. And, on behalf of blondes everywhere: Hey!"

+

There was a strange look in his eye as he turned to her, and a matching smile crossed his face. "You've done very well, Relena-san. You learned so much in such a short amount of time..."

She blushed. "You too, Duo."

There was a pause as they stared at the other person, trying to see something other than themselves. "You know," Duo blurted out, studying Relena's pink high heels sitting strangely on his own feet, "Heero really does love you. You just have to be patient."

Relena blushed. "He does?" she asked softly. "Really? I always thought... well, for a while anyway, I was jealous of you."

Duo shook his head. "You don't have to worry about me anymore, Oujo-san. I won't be in your way. Heero cares for you."

"Thank you, Duo," she said with a smile that warmed her whole face. "I'll go for it!"

Another pause filled the air as they stared at each other. "There's just something off with your costume..." Reaching back to the nape of his neck, he unfastened the clasp on the chain and took it off. Quietly, almost reverently, he stepped forward and fastened his cross around her neck, letting it hang on his black shirt. "There," he said cheerfully, stepping back. "Now it's perfect. You remember where Deathscythe is?"

She nodded.

"Oh, one more thing," he said, handing her a small packet. "In here are four disks, one for each of the other pilots." Once again, his smile was a little strange. "They contain--instructions."

"On what?" she asked, accepting the packet and putting it carefully in her pocket.

"How to rescue me," he answered, eyes shuttered. Then, suddenly, he gave a little curtsey and smiled demurely. "Well, Duo-san, it's been nice to finally meet you. You better hurry and get back to your gundam before Oz gets here."

Relena bit back tears and dropped into the persona she'd been practicing for the past three weeks. "Stay safe, Oujo-san! Bye bye!" Before she could change her mind, she turned on the heel of Duo's big boot and raced away for the gundam.

With a sigh, Duo watched her go. And then, straightening his posture, he turned to go find Oz. He'd done it... and now, the real fun began.

+


"Maxwell! Stop fooling around in that damn machine and get down here!" yelled the grouchy, black-haired man who grimaced like his hair was pulled too tightly.

Tugging on Duo's hat self-consciously, she tried to use his descriptions of his teammates to identify the annoyed boy. "Chang Wufei," Relena identified under her breath, and began to climb down. "Glad to see you, too, Wufei!" she hollered down in her best impression of Duo's voice.

"Where have you been, you idiot?" Wufei continued to rant as he finished whatever he was doing to his gundam. "You've been gone an entire month! Get your ass down here already!"

"I'm coming as fast as I can!" she cried, frustrated. What, did he just expect her to jump? She was dressed up as Duo Maxwell, not Heero Yuy! "Geez, Wufei, hold your horses!" She finally reached the ground and gave him a hard look. "Oi, you know when dinner is? I'm hungry!"

He glared at her, looking annoyed. "Quatre wanted to see you as soon as you get back."

A bit unnerved at his constant glaring, she struggled to stay cheerful. "Well, I'm here, so lead the way, Wufei!" Through the material of her shirt, she could feel the folded edge of the envelope Duo had given her sticking out from her pants, and she worried the edge with her fingers a bit, to soothe herself. This was all part of Duo's plan; the other pilots would help her, they'd take her to Heero, and he'd keep her safe. "The sooner we go see Quatre, the sooner we can eat!"

Muttering something in Chinese, he led the way through the compound, through the twisty hallways, and into a large room with a piano and several large cases filled with music. A short, blond boy--"Quatre Winner," Relena identified mentally--was leaning over what looked like sheets of music, and the boy next to him with his hair combed into one long bang settled carefully over his left eye--"Must be Trowa--oh, begins with a B--Barton," she confirmed--looked up first, nudging Quatre.

She grinned cheekily. "So, guys--didya miss me?"

Almost before the final word was out of her mouth, she found a sword at her throat. Wufei held it steadily, glaring at her.

"Wufei!" Quatre yelped, moving to restrain the Chinese boy. He stilled when Trowa's hand came down on his shoulder. "Trowa? What's going on?"

"Who are you?" Wufei asked Relena, voice acidic. "And what have you done with Maxwell?"

She stumbled back a step, hands raised. "I--uh..."

"Wufei's right," Trowa put in, voice quiet and suspicious and strangely dead to her ears. "You're not Duo."

"Sure I am!" Relena cried desperately.

"What's going on in here?" a familiar voice asked from the doorway behind her.

"This dishonorable weakling is impersonating Maxwell, of all people," the Chinese boy answered with a terrifying scowl.

"Heero!" Relena exclaimed, running and ducking behind the familiar boy. She hugged him from behind. "Heero, save me!"

He blinked, and looked down to her hand as it reached from behind to clutch his shirt. "Relena?" His voice was almost incredulous. "What are you doing here?"

"I..." She smiled at him as he pulled away from her clinging form to look at her. Then she paused and looked around the room at the tree other pilots--and realized she didn't know what to say.

There was a silence in the room as she stared at them and they stared back. Finally, Quatre was the one to break the silence.

"Um, Relena-sama? Why are you wearing Duo's clothes?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "it was his idea! He's wearing my clothes!"

There was another silence as everyone digested that factoid. "Maxwell's taken up cross-dressing?" Wufei asked skeptically. "Try again, woman!"

She fumbled into her pocket for the packet with their instructions on it. "He switched places with me so I could get back in time for my hearing. He needs you guys to go get him--he sent instructions."

The corner of the envelope caught on the edge of her pocket for a moment in her hurry to pass them out. "I was going to wait until I found Heero--because I know he'd know what to do. The rest of you I couldn't really be sure of." Finally getting it free, she opened it up and shook out the contents, revealing four CDs labeled with the pilots' names. Picking his up from the top of the stack, Quatre nodded. "You guys stay here with her. I'll go check out what Duo has to say, okay?"

The three other boys nodded, all staring at Relena dressed in Duo's clothes and braid.

+

Quatre sat down at his computer and slid the CD into the drive. After a few seconds, Duo's face popped on screen.

"Hey, Q-man! It's me!" Duo grinned manically and flashed the victory sign before sobering. "Well, as you may or may not have heard by now--I know how Oujo-san can be with details--she got herself into trouble in an old abandoned building and we had to switch places to get her out in time for the trial against Oz. I know you're probably looking for my master plan, but--hey, you know me, I've always been an improv type of guy. By the time you get this, it'll be too late. Oz's probably killed me already, and if you've taken the time to think this through, you've figured that out." He smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, Quatre... you've been a real good friend to a guy like me, and I'm sorry for all the times I annoyed you. Try to enjoy the peace, okay? Stick with Trowa... you guys are such a cute couple! I know he loves you a lot, even if he doesn't say it as much as he should. 

"But, trust me, Quatre: this is for the best. I know nothing good happened in my life, so... maybe in my death I can do some good." He scratched his head nervously. "You've always been a great friend, Quatre. Don't take this too badly, 'cause it's not your fault, and I know that's what you're thinking, so don't deny it. It just happened this way. Try... try to keep Heero... well, make him... he might take this a little weird, so please be careful, okay? And, watch out for Wu. He's--he's really alone. Stay safe, Quatre." He grinned, and the screen once more became black.

The Arabian stared at the screen, face pale. He felt cold creeping up his spine as he played Duo's message again. And again. And again. And again.

He felt detached from his body, oddly enough. Calmly, more calmly than he thought possible with the ice in his back and climbing his shoulders with little finger-like tendrils, he walked back to the library.

What ever conversation Wufei and Relena had been having broke off suddenly at his entrance, and Trowa rose from his seat with a small frown on his face and asked Quatre what was wrong, because he looked a little pale, and Quatre felt cold all over all of the sudden, because he had to be the one to tell them, damn Duo for putting his CD on top.

"There's no instructions," Quatre finally said. "Duo wanted to tell me..." He suddenly, out of nowhere, felt the ice drain and the tears start, and Trowa was holding him tightly to his chest before he even knew he was sobbing.

"What?" Trowa prompted gently.

Quatre forced his eyes away from Trowa's and made himself look at Heero and Wufei. "There is no plan. Duo's already dead."

"No," Relena said. "No, that's not right. We were just trading places for a bit, and then you guys could go help him out. That's the plan..." She trailed off at the look of anger on Wufei's face.

"Damn it, you stupid woman," he yelled furiously, "this is all your fault!"

"But I didn't --"

"Damn!" he breathed, furious, and picked up his CD and stomped out of the room.

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