By CalicOcat
Notes: This was written for the 2002 Moments of Rapture Contest. You can see the contest picture that provided the inspiration for the story at http://www.zerotwofan.com/rapture/contest2/02f-contest2.jpg (on the Moments of Rapture site).

A big thank you to Dark Tenchi, who beta read this for me on very short notice!

'Thinking'
"Speaking"

*********** Time passing
*~*~*~*~*~* POV shift

Always Best Friends

[ 0800 hours local time, May 10, A.C. 202; Vice Foreign Minister's mansion, Sanc ]

'Come on, Duo, answer the phone...'

"Good morning, M.S. Salvage, may I help - oh - it's YOU, Heero."

'K'so, of all the rotten luck..' "Hello Hilde, is Duo there?"

"No, sorry Heero, he's not."

'Shimatta.' "Well, when will he be back? I know he has been really busy with that big salvage contract, but I really need to talk to him."

"Big salvage contract... what? Oh, is that what he told you..."

Heero's eyes narrowed and Hilde's image on the vid-screen shifted uncomfortably. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, we DID have a big salvage contract but that's over and done with... See, Heero, Duo's been trying to move on with his life and forget about the war..." Hilde wrung her hands nervously, "And, well, you, and the other pilots, and the Preventers missions, are just a constant reminder of something that's ancient history and better off forgotten."

Heero crossed his arms and glared at Hilde, "Are you implying that Duo no longer wants anything to do with his FRIENDS?"

"No, no, of course not," she said hastily, "but - well, what do any of you really have in common other than the war? That was years ago, and you were all just teenagers - now that you're adults, I'm sure that, like Duo, you're all making new friends that have more in common with your present lives. I'm sure that you've been making lots of new friends in the social circles that Relena moves in."

"Hn." 'As if any of those harpies and jackals are worth making friends with. As if any of them see anything more than Relena's trophy war-hero bodyguard to begin with.' "Tell Duo to call me when he gets back."

"I'll be sure to tell him when I see him, Heero, but I can't guarantee..."

"Hn." Heero hung up the call. 'That was strange. Very strange. Hilde has never been overly fond of me, but why she would think that I'd believe Duo "he runs, he hides, but he never lies" Maxwell was LYING to me - but then, she didn't actually say he was lying, did she. She said that they did have a big salvage contract but that it was done - but it HAS been a couple of weeks since I last talked to Duo and he said they would hopefully be finished soon.... Duo and the others HAVE all moved on with their lives... They've all found other things to do, things not connected with the war. I'm the only one who hasn't - even Wufei is only on-call as a Preventer in emergencies now that he's doing graduate work in Asian History... Maybe...'

"No, Duo said I would ALWAYS be his best friend, and Duo doesn't lie. He'll call."

*************************************

[ 0400 hours local time, May 11, A.C. 202; Vice Foreign Minister's mansion, Sanc ]


**Ring** **Ring**

'What the...' Heero jerked awake, heart racing, still half caught in the nightmare he'd been having.

**Ring** **Ring**

'Phone. At this time of night - ugh, make that morning,' he glanced at the glowing clock display, 'must be...'


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ June 16, A.C. 198 ]

'This is stupid, Yuy, calling the baka in the middle of the night just because you dreamt about that time it took three hours to cut him out of his mangled suit. You know perfectly well that he's fine; that was years ago and he wasn't even that badly injured, just cracked ribs and assorted cuts and bruises. What on earth are you even going to use as an excuse if he actually answers the phone?'

"Hello? This better be awfully important," a sleepy female voice grumbled before glancing up at the video screen. "I should have known it would be you. Damn, Yuy, don't you realize that normal people are actually asleep at this time?"

'K'so. Hilde. Never thought of that - the phone's in the hall right beside her door.'

"Hn. Is Duo there?"

Hilde threw up her hands in exasperation, then stalked away from the phone. A loud pounding noise followed, accompanied by an even louder shout, "Duo Maxwell, go answer the damn phone. It's that idiot friend of yours."

A door slammed loudly as Duo staggered into view, rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

"Heero? What's wrong?" he asked anxiously.

'See, Yuy, he's fine - except that now he's worried because you called him in the middle of the night. You are such a baka.'

"Gomen nasai, Duo, it's nothing. Never mind. I shouldn't have called, it could have waited till morning. Go back to bed."

"Ah. Nightmare, huh?" Duo smirked slightly at Heero's startled look, then the smirk changed to a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about it. I get'em too sometimes. Call me anytime you need to - I'll put an extension in my room and turn off the ringer out here at night so it won't bother Hilde, 'kay?"

Heero swallowed hard as his eyes met the gently smiling violet ones of his best friend. 'How does he always know just what to say?'

"Arigatou, Duo."

"Hey, that's what best friends are for, Heero. Anything you need, anytime, just ask."

'Come on, Yuy, make the effort for once...'

"Duo... If you... I mean, you know..."

"I know, Heero. And I will."

And he had. They both had, whenever they needed to.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


**Ring** **Ring**

Heero lunged for the phone, "Duo?! It's about damn time..."

"Sorry, Yuy. I take it you haven't had any success contacting Maxwell either," Lady Une cut in.

Disappointment flooded over Heero for a moment, followed by a surge of adrenaline as he realized that there was only one reason the Preventers Chief would be calling at this time.

"Mission?"

"Yes, I need you here at the Sanc Preventers HQ within the hour. A Preventers chopper should be arriving there within the next few minutes. I've sent agents to take over bodyguard duties for the next few days and the chopper will bring you back here. If Maxwell doesn't call back by the time you're here, you'll either have to partner with Saunders or Carlson or go solo. Winner and Barton are tied up on L4 with WEI business and Chang is still recovering from his last mission."

"Ryoukai," Heero responded automatically before disconnecting. 'Some choice, babysit a green kid or deal with a resentful ex-Ozzie... Guess I'll be going solo... Duo, where the hell are you? What's going on?'

*************************************

[ 0800 hours local time, May 14, A.C. 202; Preventers HQ, Sanc ]

Une scowled at the young woman on the vid-phone. "What do you mean, Maxwell's left on a salvage run and can't be reached? Didn't you give him my message?"

"I left the message with the salvage run plans since I didn't expect to see him before the scheduled departure; I told you that was the best I could do," Hilde replied defensively. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a business to run. Goodbye."

The Preventer Chief stared at the blank screen in disbelief. "She hung up on me. That does it, there's something very strange going on here."

Une turned back to her computer and started digging through files, trying to think who else might have a way to contact Duo Maxwell. She could not believe that he would have ignored her message if he'd got it, not based on past experiences.


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ February 26, A.C. 198 ]

**WHAM!!**

The waiting room door hit the wall and rebounded as a graceful figure slammed through it and stalked up to Une.

"All right, where is he, how bad is it, and why the HELL was he partnered with a green rookie?"

Face to face with Shinigami for the first time since the war, Une flinched. "He's in surgery, we don't know yet, and I thought it would be a good introduction to the field for Masterson. It was supposed to be a simple, straight-forward mission. Get in, get the data, then make the arrest."

"Obviously, you thought wrong..."

Une winced under the intense violet glare, thinking, 'Yuy's glare may promise death, but Maxwell's Shinigami one promises a slow, painful death...'

"The suspect pulled a gun from under his desk, Masterson froze, and Yuy took three hits in the process of tackling Masterson behind cover then taking down the gunman without any backup."

Une breathed a silent sigh of relief as the doors at the opposite end of the waiting room opened and Sally Po stepped through, peeling off her gloves and mask. She saw Sally take a deep breath and brace herself as she recognized the braided figure that whirled to face her.

"Duo, he'll be fine," Sally said quickly. "IF, that is, we can keep him confined and taking his medication long enough to heal properly."

"Not a problem," Duo responded. "How soon can you release him?"

"What?!?"

Duo raked his bangs back from his face and said exasperatedly, "Look, we spent an entire war patching each other up and we all survived. I know how to change dressings and IVs and all that other shit. He is NOT going to get better stuck in a hospital room, probably drugged half out of his mind. None of us deal well with loss of control. If you don't keep him heavily sedated, he'll scare the staff half to death with his glares and "Omae o korosu"s. If you DO keep him heavily sedated, he's gonna have nightmares and flashbacks and STILL scare the staff half to death, plus you'll have to keep him restrained which is only going to make things worse."

"But..." Une started, only to be cut off by Sally.

"You're right."

"You bet I am," Duo's braid jumped wildly with the force of his nod.

"But..." Une tried, only to be cut off again.

"Besides, if I don't release him, you'll just break him out anyway and I don't think he needs to be parachute-jumping just yet," Sally said wryly.

Duo's eyes went wide with surprise, then he snickered and the last trace of Shinigami vanished from his expression.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


'And that established the pattern for all future hospital stays for either one of them. The power-of-attorney papers and listing each other as official next-of-kin neatly blocked any interference from Relena and Hilde who seemed to think playing Florence Nightingale would be fun. Well, the legal paperwork plus the fact that those two inevitably vanish to places unknown till they're both fighting-fit again...

'Let's see now... Winner and Barton hadn't heard from Maxwell in over a month, Chang said it had been a good six weeks since he last spoke to him... Who else might know where to reach him... Of course - Howard!'

Une quickly pulled up another file then dialled the number.

"Howard speaking - hey, hello there Lady Une, wasn't expecting a call from you. Somethin' I can do for you?"

"I hope so. Howard, do you have any idea how I can reach Duo Maxwell? I don't think Hilde is passing on my messages, since yesterday's was to tell him that Heero Yuy was in the hospital and Shinigami hasn't showed up threatening to have my guts for garters for sending him out solo. The message before that was for him to call so he could partner Yuy on that mission and he never contacted me regarding that either..."

"Yeesh, definitely something wrong there. Just a sec..."

Howard vanished off-screen and Une heard him bellow, "Hey, anybody heard from the Kid lately?"

Several minutes later, he was back. "Okay, apparently he's been stayin' at the Sweepers' hangar on L2 for the past few days. He was talkin' to Rick here yesterday about coming back to Earth to work. He 'n' Hilde had a big dust-up; he moved out lock, stock, 'n' barrel before the dust had a chance to settle, and he's sellin' his half of the business. Look, I'll call and get a fast shuttle fuelled up and ready for him, flight plan 'n' all, L2 to Sanc, while you call and let him know what's going on, okay?"

"Thanks, Howard," Une acknowledged, quickly jotting down the contact information before hanging up. 'I would not want to be in that Schbeiker woman's shoes when Duo finds out what's happened - Shinigami is NOT going to be happy!'

*************************************

[ 1000 hours Sanc time, May 14, A.C. 202; Sweepers base, L2 ]


"Yo, Kid - phone!"

"Uh, I'm kinda in the middle of something here, Bill, can you take a message?"

"It's Lady Une, she says it's urgent. It's about Yuy..."

"Shit!"

**CRASH!!**

"Une?"

*************************************

[ 1130 hours Sanc time, May 14, A.C. 202; Shuttle en route from L2 to Earth ]

Duo double-checked the auto-pilot course settings one more time, then started fiddling with his braid nervously. 'Damn Maxwell, you really screwed things up this time, baka. You shoulda called Heero the minute you dragged your stuff out that door...'

Catapulting out of his chair, Duo stalked out of the cockpit to give himself room to burn off some nervous energy. As he paced, he muttered, "I shoulda called Heero and discussed this whole Hilde-mess with him; then he woulda known what was going on and how to get hold of me. Une said he was waitin' for a call from me when she called him, so that makes at least three messages that Hilde mucked around with. 'Left the message with the salvage run plans' my ass - she knew damn well that I wasn't making that salvage run - she's the one that scheduled Jamison for it to start with! Mind you, I already know how little her word is worth..."

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