by Cassima
see part 1 for warnings

28 Days + Part 3

Feeling strange receiving a message from a dead Duo, Trowa waited patiently for the video clip to flicker on.

Duo's cheerful face wavered into view, and he grinned. "Hey, Trowa, it's me. Um, I'd just like to apologize for all the times I ticked you off. I just, y'know, was a little bored, and you guys always seem so serious... it was the obvious solution. I was just having a little fun; I know I was annoying, but I hope you can forgive me. God, you must think I'm being really strange, but if you haven't guessed by now... I'm not coming back.

"You and I, Trowa, we were never really that close. In fact, I can't remember you ever really even touching me--well, except for that one time in Oz when you punched me in the stomach--damn, but that hurt!" He rubbed his stomach as the old injury gave a phantom pain. "You don't pull your punches, do you?--and, yeah, that time last month where you socked me in the eye. Can't say I didn't deserve it, either time.

"But, anyway, I'm babbling, which is painfully obvious, ne? I just wanted to explain to you what was going on, so you could understand--and maybe, when the others are ready, you could tell them, if you want. If you don't mind. But, they won't be ready. Not yet.

"You see, I'm taking Relena-san's place so she can testify against Oz. If they're smart at all, they'll kill me as soon as they find me--well, maybe a day or so after they capture me, if I'm lucky. Or, maybe that's unlucky. But, I've figured it all out--it's gonna take Oujo-san at least a day to get back to the safe house, maybe longer, since she's going on autopilot. I'll get out if I can, but Oz isn't stupid, and they have some damn good locks on their doors. I'm really sorry, but it doesn't look like you're gonna have to kill me for that hairspray stunt after all, ne?"

Duo's smile turned sad. "Take care of Quatre, but don't smother him. He's stronger than he looks, and even though he might take it hard at first, he'll be okay. He loves you very much. I want you to know that I never tried to take him away from you; I was just--lonely. He's--he was a good friend of mine, and I just wanted to--" He closed his eyes for a moment. "Babbling, ne? Take care of him, Trowa! Ja!" The message fizzled, and was gone.

Trowa stared blankly at the static in disbelief.

+

"Hey, Wu-chan. Yeah, yeah, I know, don't call you that. Well," Duo stuck his tongue out at the camera. "Hey, you alone? Don't watch this with the others. They can't... they won't... I don't want them to hear what I have to say, okay?" Wufei gripped the edge of the desk as Duo looked at him urgently from the screen. "This is just for me and you.

"It's simple, really: that dumb blonde of Heero's got herself in trouble, and the only way to get her out in time for the trial is in Deathscythe. I don't want to, I really don't... but, for peace, Wu? I'm only a soldier; I'm worth it.

"God, Wu-chan, this is hard. I saved your message for last, 'cause I knew it was gonna be tough. But, Wu, I just wanted you to know that... you're my best friend. And, I know we haven't always gotten along in the past, but I thought we'd found some common ground, and you're a real special guy. You're funny, and you're nice, and sometimes you have a stick up your butt, but we've been working on that. Don't let my hard work go to waste!"

His tone sobered a bit. "I'm gonna explain this to you. I know you need to hear it; the others..." He shook his head. "'Sides, you're the strongest person I know, and I need to tell someone--" his voice cracked, "--that I'm so fucking scared. This isn't suicide--not really. I mean, I thought hard. I looked for other solutions, I really did, but, Wu-chan, if Relena lives, it's the end of the war. Peace. You deserve peace, Wu--the world does. And, this is one of those situations where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

"Damn it, Maxwell," Wufei hissed, "I'm going to strangle Yuy--"

Duo looked away from the camera and sighed. "Don't blame Heero, Wu-chan. Maybe he's rubbing off on me--hell, maybe I'm just sick of being alone. But, I'm over him." He laughed, a little bitterly. "Figures I'd get over my stupid, pointless crush right before I die, huh?

"Oh, and Wu-chan? Don't blame yourself. Our fight was inevitable; I just have this way with annoying people. It just proves it's me, not you, not Heero, not anybody. I'm the one who screws up, not you guys, so--God, I'm rambling.

"But, since I think I've killed my nice little segue, I'll just dive right into the topic. Wu-chan, I know this is horribly unfair, but I need you to be strong for everyone. You're good at it, and they need someone to lean on, especially Heero. I don't think he realizes the depth of his emotional attachments. You may be my best friend, but I think I'm the only friend he's got. He's gonna pretend he's alright, and I need you to make sure he spends some time with Relena. Yeah, Wu, she's annoying, but they get each other. She'll be good for him. Hell, if not her, then who?

"Wu, thanks for everything you've done for me. You're my best friend. Please--remember: No one is alone. Not even you. I... I'm sorry."

He wanted to cry. He could feel the tears bloating his eyes, but they wouldn't come. He wouldn't let them.

Because he wasn't sad. He wasn't grieving like a stupid weakling. He was angry. Duo couldn't--

It couldn't be too late.

Gritting his teeth, he opened a contact channel to a source and sent out a questioning email.

+

With a calmness that was entirely physical, Heero slid the CD into the drive and waited for the message to pop up on the screen.

Duo's face, when it appeared, was serene, a far cry from it's normal hyper quality. "Hey, Heero, it's me. Oz is finally gonna get my sorry carcass--guess I just wasn't meant to be a soldier. Just worry 'bout Oujo-san--I know she's annoying, but I think you'll learn to enjoy her if you just give her a chance.

"I just wanted to say thanks. For putting up with me. I know it wasn't always easy.

"Heero, I..." He trailed off, and a strange smile flitted onto his face. "Goodbye, Heero."

What was that look on his face?

Suddenly, his door slammed open, and he hoped if he sat very still, Relena wouldn't see him. The excited voice that greeted him, however, was not that silly chit's twittering, but a much more pleasant one. Though, it was strange to hear Wufei excited about anything.

"Heero, I have the blueprints, I know where he is, and I know how to get him out. They haven't figured out he's not the onna--or, at least, if they have, they're not saying anything--but his execution is scheduled for eight hours from now. Get Zero and let's head out." Wufei scowled. "Well, Yuy? Do you want to rescue the baka or not?"

Heero stood. "Ninmu kanryu."

+

"Well, Relena-sama? Where are they?"

Duo felt like laughing. Really laughing. Possibly hysterically. It figured--allow himself to be kidnapped for a routine killing, and what happens? They want to know where some fucking file he'd never even heard of is. Fucking wonderful. He chose not to answer, and instead, gave his best martyred "Do what you like, you wicked, horrid men, but I'll never tell" look. He considered flicking them off, but that was not something Oujo-san would do.

Or was it? He considered at great length, weighing both the pros and cons.

A hard slap across the face didn't end his musing, but it did make it a bit more difficult. "Perhaps you misunderstood the question when the others were asking. I will make sure there are no such misunderstandings, understand?"

Nod, or don't waste the energy? Honestly, this torture was only torture because of how tedious it was. He'd had worse beatings when he lived on the street, and in ten mintues. At least gangs were quick in their work.

The true torture was waiting to die. Shit, but it was hard to fight the panic at his inevitable death. He bit it back; he wasn't getting shot in the head, execution-style, possibly at point-blank range, just yet. He forced himself to focus on the ridiculous torture.

"You are Relena Peacecraft, aren't you?" the haughty man--General of some sort, maybe?--asked Duo.

"Damn straight," almost slipped out of his mouth, and he bit his tongue before replying, summoning all his diginty. "I have no need to speak to the likes of you." Oh, he congratulated himself, very cold!

"Bitch!" the ugly man swore, losing his cool and slapping him again. Why were the Oz generals all ugly as hell? Well, except Kushrenada. He was kind of hot, but the rest of them--dogs, all!

He tried not to roll his eyes, and to look properly chastised.

"Tell me where the HQR75 files are!"

"I don't know," he whispered, Relena-pitiful. "I don't even know what you're talking about."

"Liar!" the man declared, and suddenly Duo felt all the wind knocked out of him. Damn it, why did everyone always go for the stomach? He'd lost track the number of times he'd been punched, kicked, or otherwise beaten severely in the gut.

He doubled over, clutching his middle, and let out a girly shriek. Okay, that one stung a little. Okay, more than a little.

"If you don't tell me where the files are, I shall be forced to kill you," Big Ugly General-Man threatened.

"You're going to kill me anyway," Duo wheezed, hoping his suddenly shitty falsetto would be blamed on his lack of breath. "Why should I tell you anything?"

"There are ways to die," the general said sadistically, "and then there are ways to die."

Man, this guy thought he was a class-act! Duo snorted internally, and the man kicked him in the stomach in a sudden show of rage. Hard.

"Fine," the man said, after taking a short pause to regain equilibrium. "Still won't talk? The files don't matter that much. I'm sending you to the gas chamber in two hours. Enjoy the rest of your life." With that, he left with his lackeys, and the door swung shut behind them.

"Hey!" Duo wheezed, wincing as he sat up. Oh, his stomach hurt. The Gas Chamber? What the hell did this guy think this was, WWII?

What a sucky way to die. "Oujo-san," he groaned, "you better win that fucking trial." Suffocation... could he strangle himself before then? It was one thing to die in the heat of battle, beaten by your foe(s), but it was quite another to be shepherded into a room where poisoned gas was pumped into your lungs until they burned and sizzled, and you coughed up, and eventually drowned in, your own blood and pieces of your own lungs. Couldn't they spare just one bullet through the middle of his head to give him a humane death?

Flopping down on his back, he stared up at the ceiling. A maximum-security prison. Key-card locks, so no picking them with his lock pick. Tiny air ducts--he was practically suffocating in here already, no gas chamber needed, thank you very much. No hope of poisoned food or water.

God, the last time he'd been in a prison like this had been with Wu-chan and Heero, back when Trowa had infiltrated Oz. At least Wu had been with him then, and they were going to die together, in their sleep. Not alone. Not like this.

Okay, he was sending himself into a panic now. Time to stop thinking--his brain was on overload, and he couldn't stop. Damn, he was going to miss Wu 'n' the guys... what was he thinking? He wasn't going to miss anybody! He was going to be dead!

Just as he was starting to worry about hyperventilating, the door opened and Quatre came in. "Duo?"

"Quatre? What are you doing here?" He looked over, to see the strange, strange sight of Quatre wearing an Oz guard uniform, and felt suddenly, oddly calmed. "And what are you wearing?"

"I'm here to get you out, of course," the boy said, surprised. "Can you walk?"

"I think so," he said, confused. "I'm supposed to die in an hour. Talk about timing!"

"I know," the blond said, and hauled him to his feet.

He winced and pressed a hand to his stomach in pain before remembering what he was wearing. "Hey, Q? I don't suppose you brought me a uniform of my own, didya? Q?"

Quatre was staring. "You make a very convincing girl."

"Q!" Duo snapped. "Focus so we can leave, okay?"

"Right, right," the boy said. "There are unconscious guards in the hallway." He couldn't stop staring, though, and that weirded Duo out.

"Right then," he responded, giving the blond a strange look before moving to the hallway to pull a guard in. Oh, but his abdominal muscles hurt!

"Duo! Are you okay?" Quatre asked when he paused to grimace. "Are you hurt?"

"Nothing I can't handle," Duo replied, shaking it off. The guard was a little taller than him, and the fit a little looser than it should have been, but it would pass. After dressing carefully (and tucking his stuffed bra into the pouch Quatre brought with him; no use letting Oz know they didn't really have Relena), they headed out to the pickup point.

+

When they were safely away from the base and back at the hideout, and Duo had a chance to change his clothes again, Heero turned to him and punched him in the shoulder. Hard.

"Damn it, Heero!" he shouted, grabbing his shoulder. "What the hell was that for?"

The pilot crossed his bare arms over his dark green tank top and glared at him. "That was a stupid stunt you pulled." Then, unexpectedly, he lunged forward and wrapped Duo in a hug.

The braided boy, caught completely unawares, just stood there and blinked as the other squished his throbbing shoulder and stomach. "Heero?" he asked uncertainly. "I thought you weren't...?"

"I thought you were dead, and you'd stop nagging me," the other boy muttered a bit incoherently, and pulled away abruptly.

Duo frowned. "Where's Oujo-san? Doesn't she have to be at the trial?"

Heero frowned, remembering. "We're leaving now," he declared, and went to go get her.

The other just stood there, blinking, confused. Had Heero just hugged him? His world had become very strange, where he dressed up as Relena and Heero slugged him and then hugged him and then practically ran away to the real Relena. He rubbed his shoulder again. Man, didn't anybody pull their punches when they beat on him?

"You're such a baka," Wufei's voice hissed from behind him, and Duo spun around.

"I know, Wu-chan," he said with a crooked smile.

"To think I'd let a stupid fight get in the way of our friendship!" Wufei took a step forward. "Maxwell, what kind of dishonorable cur do you think I am? I'm not heartless!"

"You seemed really pissed," Duo said quietly. God, the past few days--hell, the past month was starting to take a toll on him. "Didn't you listen to the message, Wu? I was just tired."

"Maxwell, you are--you--I don't even know what you are! But, don't you ever, ever leave me with a message like that again! Ever!" Turning on his heel, he stalked away, out of the hanger, towards the forest outside.

Duo was confused. Stupefied. Tired. "Wu?" he asked the air in the Chinese boy's wake, but the air didn't answer. He turned around again to find Quatre standing where Heero had been before, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Feeling like he was watching a ping-pong match, he swallowed and asked, "Q? What's going on?"

"Oh, Duo," the blond Arabian said warmly, a sympathetic smile on his face, "he was just worried."

"Worried?" he echoed stupidly, feeling suddenly like he had meandered into an Advanced Physics class taught in Portuguese. "About what?"

Quatre's eyebrows shot up. "Duo!"

He winced and shook his head, smoothing down the loose hair on the top of his head and combing the ends with his fingers. He frowned. Blond hair? Oh, right. Hmph. He wondered if it would wash out. "I'm sorry, it's just been a long day." His tight smile was a little wry. "I better..." he gestured towards the door Wufei had stalked out of.

Quatre smiled. "Go on, Duo. Dinner will be at seven-thirty, if you're hungry."

Duo nodded absently, but he had already begun to wander outside.

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