by: Kracken
Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this
Warnings:Male/Male sex, Violence, graphic, language

Crossing Paths + Part 24
Operations


"This is unacceptable!" Milliardo fumed as he followed Duo and Heero from the bungalow and watched them taking up positions facing each other in the yard. "You're telling me that you are leaving, that I'm not to know where you are going, and that I'm to stand aside while you endanger Duo's health! You want me to do all of that without question. I refuse! I want answers, Yuy!"

Duo, having spent the day resting, felt ready for what ever Heero cared to throw at him. He gave Milliardo a serious look. "Zechs," he replied. "Thanks for everything that you did for me, but I gotta go with Heero. I still have to try and shake things up with the government. My life is shit until I get recognition that I'm not an anti unification terrorist and prove that people have been plotting against me. I don't want to spend my life hiding in a fish hut."

"You are not completely well, Duo," Milliardo complained. "It was my plan to take you, once the government had stepped down its search for you, to one of my remote estates. I had planned to have the other pilots join us there so that we could coordinate our efforts to reveal the corrupt individuals in the government."

Heero narrowed eyes at Milliardo. "You are too high profile," he reasoned. "Your properties will be watched. As for Duo's health, I will make certain that he receives proper care." He faced Duo again and began to warm up with several slow, martial arts moves. "It has all been carefully planned. I didn't allow any room for mistakes."

Heero looked dark and dangerous, dressed only in a blue t shirt and a pair of loose, black jeans, but Milliardo was in his red uniform, looking like ice as usual, his long, white hair fluttering in a breeze. Compared to Milliardo, Heero looked like a boy, shorter, slighter, and wilder. Next to them both, Duo felt like a child.

"Let's get on with it!" Duo snapped as he flexed his knees and felt only a slight pain from Earth's gravity. No more self pity, he reminded himself, show Heero that you're a man.

Heero nodded, once, and began to approach cautiously.

Duo knew that his only chance to beat Heero was a full frontal assault. He couldn't win the test of strength or endurance. He had to conquer by speed and cunning. Without warning, he sprang at Heero, grinning at Heero's sharp surprise and his flinch backwards. That allowed Duo all the opportunity he needed. He twisted in mid air and brought his foot around. It connected with Heero's head. Landing neatly, he turned to survey the damage.

Heero had staggered, but he wasn't a normal man. Genetically enhanced and possessed of extraordinary strength, he straightened from a blow that would have knocked anyone else out cold and counter attacked.

Duo wasn't there to meet Heero's blow. The chop of the man's hand ruffled the air by Duo's neck as he ducked and kicked upward, catching Heero's chin with his heel. Heero staggered back again and abruptly sat down, both of his hands on his chin as if he was afraid that Duo had broken his jaw.

Duo didn't fall for it. He held back, wary, and was rewarded as Heero dropped his hands and smiled at him, eyes glinting appreciatively. "I'm not stupid, Heero, " Duo chuckled. "I know a trick when I see one." He turned to see how Milliardo was reacting, but the man was gone.

"I feel guilty," Duo admitted as Heero motioned that he was through and stood up. "He risked a lot to save me and all I can do in return is say, 'See ya' later and thanks!' Maybe we should take him with us?"

Heero's _expression went grim. "I thought that you didn't fall for tricks."

Duo frowned. "I keep having this feeling about him, but it gets all mixed up with the past. I don't like him, but I wonder if that's just because he almost took my cherry when I was drunk or that he's a big somebody and orphans on L2 learned to hate guys like that." Duo gestured at Heero. "Even you have reasons to hate him. You're jealous of him."

Heero suddenly looked angry. "I don't make decisions based on emotions. I base them on facts. There are too many inconsistencies surrounding Milliardo Peacecraft and you should never forget that he is Relena's brother. He is loyal to her, whatever else he may be."

"Relena, " Duo said absently as he wiped sweat from his brow and tried to take stock of his own condition. "You used to be interested in her. I'm surprised, knowing how devoted he is to her, that you aren't enlisting his help and petitioning her to speak for me."

"If you are insinuating that I was ever sexually attracted to Relena Peacecraft," Heero retorted, even angrier. "You are wrong. I am homosexual. I don't have any interest in women. If you are alluding to her quest for total pacifism, my training had as it's mission statement the protection of peace and those who sought it. My interest in her was never more than that. That interest doesn't give her or her brother my unquestioning loyalty. I think all of us Gundam pilots learned how corrupt and 'convenient' ideals, people, and governments can become."

Duo nodded, remembering the painful past and the betrayal of the colonists. "So," he said, "I think what you're saying is that we should cut out of here alone rather than risking the chance that Zech's isn't what he's making himself out to be?"

"Yes," Heero replied.

"Okay," Duo said, flipping his long braid behind one shoulder and putting hands on hips cockily. "I guess I can agree with that, so, if you think I'm ready and able...?"

At Duo's agreement, Heero's anger disappeared. He asked, "How do you feel?"

Duo shrugged. "Joints are sore, but I don't see that getting any better. I spent all of my young life in low gravity. There are just some things that won't toughen up."

"I grew up in space and on Earth," Heero admitted, "But I trained in high gravity to enhance my genetic supplementation."

"Meaning," Duo chuckled, "That Dr. J 'fixed' you because you were a scrawny weakling?"

"Thin and tall, not scrawny," Heero amended and then laughed at Duo's _expression as Duo tried to imagine a weak, thin Heero.

Duo blinked at Heero and then smiled. "I never get tired of hearing you laugh," he admitted. "It's so deep and warm, like a campfire on a cold day. It always gives me goose bumps. You should do it more often."

"When this mission is over and you're free of all of this, I will," Heero promised.

"Then clear me for duty, Captain Yuy," Duo urged, "And let's get this over with now."

"You're cleared," Heero replied seriously. "Get your things together and I'll call for transport. We're leaving."

Duo hadn't expected that. He'd been joking. "Zechs isn't going to like-"

Heero scowled. "He isn't a consideration."

"Okay! Okay!" Duo chuckled.

Heero stayed in the yard and Duo went to gather up the few pieces of clothing Milliardo had managed to acquire for him. After slipping on a dark green turtle neck and a pair of black broadcloth pants, Duo jammed his feet into boots as his stomach turned into a knot. A mission, reunion with Wu Fei and, later, the other pilots. After four years of doing nothing but lounging in clubs and making up things to tell his doctors, Duo was getting more excitement and danger than most people ever saw in a lifetime.

Duo caught himself grinning, despite his deeper trepidation. The old flame of Shinigami was eager for the danger, eager to feel again the rush it had experienced only during the war. It didn't care that the mission was to gather information to clear Duo's name. It cared only for the thrill. Duo controlled it with an effort, but the grin didn't leave his face. It was that grin that Milliardo saw when he confronted Duo at the front door.

Duo's grin faded as he anticipated trouble, wondering what Milliardo was about to say to him. The man was frowning, one hand fidgeting in a pocket and the other clenched into a fist. "Thanks again, Zechs," Duo said uneasily. Up until then, Milliardo had been honorable, keeping what ever he felt for Duo under wraps. Duo wondered if some sort of last minute plea or revelation was about to be shot across his bow.

"I had hoped that we could fight together," Milliardo said regretfully. "I came to you at Quatre's estate because the plot against you had been revealed to me and I knew that the injustice of it had to be righted. I've risked my position in the government. There will be questions when I return that I won't be able to answer to their satisfaction. I may face imprisonment."

"Heero's right and you know it," Duo replied, feeling a sting of guilt, but enough of a soldier to know the reality of the situation "You ARE too high profile. We're not going to another backwater fishing village, we're going to be out where there are people who will recognize the second most known face on Earth and in the colonies."

Milliardo retorted, "Relena's face is first, but I think yours is third, Duo Maxwell."

Duo's grin returned as he tucked his long braid into the back of his sweater, pulled out a nondescript, blue cap from a pocket, and put it on his head. Pulling the brim low, he drawled. "Sumtimes, ya can hide in plain sight when ya wanna, Zechs. It's easy when yer use ta bein' a nobody." He left off the accent and shrugged. "Heero's the problem, actually, with that 'I'm a killer' _expression of his, but he's been pretty good at keeping himself out of the news. Contrary to popular belief, most people DON'T read tabloids, so I doubt many people will remember that we had an orgy under a full moon and that he fed me grapes from a old girlfriend's skull."

Milliardo winced. "How anyone can believe such-"

Duo chuckled darkly. "They don't, they just like to read about it," Duo replied. "Unfortunately, though the story doesn't stick, the overall image of me as a weirdo, bad guy, does. I'm afraid Heero has joined the ranks with me."

"At least tell me where you will be going next?" Milliardo asked. "If you won't let me help you clear your name by using my contacts and influence, then I'm not sure how you intend to accomplish it. I don't think you will find anyone else sympathetic to your case."

"No?" Duo frowned. "I'd like to think that there are good men still in the government, men who would do something if they knew what was going on." He was suddenly irritated, angry, and he pushed by Milliardo abruptly, saying, "You had four years to help me, Zechs, and you decided not too. I don't think you can complain that you're being left out of things now."

"The other pilots had four years as well, including your Heero," Zechs called after him. "Maybe you should remember that too!"

Duo wanted to shrug that comment off, but it followed him as he went to find Heero. The man wasn't far. He was standing on a slight rise of ground and putting away a cell phone. Digging hands into his pants pockets, Heero appraised Duo with a swift glance, noting his very small bundle of clothes. "That's all?"

"All that matters," Duo grinned. "How far do we have to walk?"

Heero looked pleased with himself. "I set up a transport on standby before I came here. I thought that there might be trouble."

"Efficient," Duo replied with raised eyebrows. "Where's it going to land and what is it?"

"Class 5 evac-mobile plane," Heero informed him. "It can land vertically."

"That's not cheap. Quatre's going to kill you for spending all of his money," Duo joked with a bit of awe. "How long until touchdown?"

Heero checked his watch. "Five minutes."

"That close?" Duo felt his face flush with anticipation. He was a pilot through and through. He couldn't wait to get into the air.

There was time to think. Duo wished that there wasn't. "Heero," he said slowly, "I know you had a life and all, and you probably didn't realize what kind of trouble I was in, but Quatre and Trowa... they knew... Quatre was there when they sentenced me. I always wondered why he didn't say anything, why he and Trowa, Hell, even Wu Fei didn't talk to me and ask-"

Heero gave him a look and Duo swallowed hard. "Did you make any effort to contact anyone or ask for help?" he asked pointedly.

Duo shook his head, "No."

"You make the assumption that we knew, that we allowed you to suffer," Heero said. "You were found guilty and sentenced in a way that seemed rather light for someone plotting against a peaceful government. I didn't believe the charges against you, but I didn't feel that there was a need to run to your rescue when all you were given as punishment was a leg locator and a few doctors. I'm sure Quatre and the others felt the same way." Heero looked both annoyed and angry at Duo's display of doubt as he turned to watch the sky for the transport. "If you had called on me, nothing would have stood in the way of my coming to your aide."

"Maybe it's just the way he talks," Duo thought softly.

"What?" Heero glanced at him and then went back to watching the sky. "Are you referring to Milliardo?"

"Yeah," Duo replied, arched his back, and put his hands behind his head as he sighed and shook his head despondently. "He says a few words and makes me doubt everything."

"He's a politician as well as a soldier," Heero reminded him.

Duo chuckled darkly. "A lethal combination."

"Yes," Heero agreed and then, pointing to a spot in the sky. "There it is."

Duo didn't try to look. His sensitive eyes had grown used to the sun, somewhat, but they still hurt in direct light. It was his ears that told him that Heero was right. The familiar hum of a transport vehicle sent another thrill through him. Any moment, he told himself, he was going to leave the bounds of Earth and the uncertainty of Milliardo Peacecraft behind. He would be in Heero's company and, soon, in the company of the other pilots. His thrill of anticipation heightened. A mission and his old comrades. It was as if the clock was turning back, he thought, taking him to a time when he had been someone; someone who had been both useful and strong.

"Heero," Duo said quickly as they backed up out of the yard to give the transport room to land, "Sorry, okay? I just think too much about what could have been. I know it doesn't do any good."

Heero turned and cupped Duo's chin with a firm hand. His _expression was fiercer. "Don't doubt me!" he told Duo. "I love you. I would never hurt you!"

Duo nodded, feeling tears. He brushed them away as the wind of the transport whipped up their hair and clothes as it landed. As soon as the ramp lowered, Heero had hold of Duo's hand and was pulling him up it at a dead run. Stopping at the top, they met the pilot; a young, freckled, red head in a flight suit.

Heero slapped a plastic card into the man's hand. The man looked down at it and its display of glowing numbers. "I'm buying your transport," Heero told him, and then added, eying the man's jacket, "and your flight jacket. I'll pick up the paper work later."

The amount must have been more than generous. The man's eyes were saucers as he stammered incoherently and slipped off his jacket. Heero took it and then shoved the man down the ramp. The man barely avoided getting hurt as Heero opened up an access hatch, slapped the retrieval switch for the ramp, and then the emergency auto pilot take off.

Duo staggered as the ship did a quick vertical lift with engines roaring. Heero kept his balance expertly and hooked a hand under Duo's arm. As he pulled Duo up towards the cockpit, he used his free hand to drop the flight jacket over Duo's shoulders. "You'll need this," he said simply. "It's cold where we're going."

Duo expected to sit in the co pilot's seat, but Heero guided him to the jump seat instead. Duo felt a flare of anger, but Heero forestalled any outburst. As he jumped into the pilot's seat, he called back, "You'll need to be free to move around the ship if we have any trouble. I might have to pull maneuvers and I'm not sure how secure the cargo is. You need to use the screen to your left to review your mission."

Heero flipped a disk over his shoulder, Duo caught it despite the shaking of the ship and a roll to the left maneuver as Heero set course. Heero grinned at the proof that Duo still had a pilot's hand eye coordination.

"I'm going to verbally give you the mission parameters, and tell you what maps to bring up on the screen. I'll verbally give you the codes as well. You'll need to enter them on that disk," Heero explained as he eased the ship into a high altitude for maximum speed. He didn't call into a tower and Duo knew that there wasn't a flight plan submitted. Running into another ship was a distinct possibility. "I hope you still have an excellent memory?"

"You like green beans and you think nobody knows about your obsession with Japanese opera music," Duo retorted as he popped in the disk and strapped himself into the jumps eat. "You had a favorite pair of socks and you used to have a problem with burning too much fuel on reentry."

"Were you that obsessed with me during the war?" Heero wondered with a chuckle.

Duo, caught off guard in the middle of a joke, paused, and then replied softly, "Yeah, I was."

Heero glanced back at him briefly and then said, "You hated washing your hair because it took too long. You used to tap Deathscythe on the nose before every mission and call him your 'Big Buddy' when no one was looking. Since you mentioned vegetables, you use to scoop your peas into a napkin and pretend that you had eaten them. ... I was obsessed with you too. I wish... I wish I had known... that I hadn't cared so much about throttling my emotions... "

"Stop it!" Duo growled. "You're being awfully self indulgent today, Heero. You know we both did what we had to. We can be sorry about lost time all we want, but we were fighting a war. There wasn't time." He sighed, seeing Heero's dejected back. "I don't have to tell you that. You're just saying this stuff to make me feel better about you being a stone cold bastard all that time. I don't hate you for it, Heero, so just let it go, K?"

Heero nodded and didn't reply. He gave Duo the location of the building plans and then fell silent to allow Duo to memorize the mission. "The old, 'slip through the vent system'," Duo chuckled after a time. "You have laser cutters and those nice calipers for deactivating the security force shields?"

"Of course," Heero replied.

"Good," Duo smiled and then, after Heero gave him the codes, "Well, it looks pretty straight forward. Bitch of a comp system. They must have some other goodies besides 'why we screwed Duo Maxwell' in that system."

"Just downlo
ad the files I listed," Heero replied sternly. "No hot dogging."

"Yes, Mom," Duo grinned and saluted Heero. "I should hate this," he admitted as he puzzled over the codes, "but it feels good, really good... maybe I do need my head examined."

"You've grown strong again," Heero told him. "Now you need the confidence to go along with it. I know you can do this, Duo. You've done more difficult missions with bullet wounds and installations full of armed Oz soldiers. This is just a database site for government officials."

"Walk in the park," Duo agreed. He did need this. He did need to know if he could be his old self, be a man, do something that mattered. He just hoped that he wouldn't let himself, and Heero, down.

+

[part 23] [part 25] [back to Kracken's fic]