| by Cassima
see part 1 for warnings
28 Days + Part 2
"...And now what do you do?"
"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!"
"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."
"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?"
"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.
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.