Mission Implausible + Part 5 (cont)

-- oOo --

Howard groaned, burying his head under the pillow and trying to regain his sleep, but the beeping of the monitor would not go away. Throwing his pillow at it did not help. Mumbling something rude, Howard hit the on button.

"What?"

"We've completed our mission," Heero said, appearing on screen.

Howard was not impressed. "You woke me up at six in the morning to tell me that?"

Quatre pushed Heero out of the way. "Actually we woke you up to tell you that we would be arriving, soon. Where are you?"

"We left port two days ago, we're currently anchored off the coast of Japan. You want the co-ordinates?" Howard asked, smothering a yawn.

"That would be great," Quatre took them. "We'll be there in about half an hour -- we're travelling by shuttle. Oh," he added as an after thought. "Tell your men not to be surprised when a shuttle bearing OZ insignia lands, okay?"

Howard was too tired to even raise an eyebrow. "Yeah, sure. Now let me get some sleep."

Half an hour later, still yawning, Howard watched as the pilots disembarked from a shuttle that did indeed bear OZ insignia. "You pilots sure get around," he commented.

"We thought you might like it," Quatre said. "You can take it apart for its parts -- payment for the mobile suits parts."

"Aw, you don't need to do that," Howard said. "I don't need nothing -- "

"You've done us a great service by minding Duo," Wufei said. "Allow us to make this gesture of our appreciation."

"The little tyke's a pleasure to have around," Howard said. "Anytime you guys need a bunk for him, he's welcome here."

"How is he?" Heero demanded abruptly and Trowa nodded.

"Sleeping. He won't be up until breakfast is served -- ya wanna check on him?" Howard was rather surprised as all four pilots nodded. "This way."

The pilots filed silently after Howard as he led them through the Sweepers' sleeping quarters. Only Heero had seen them before, and the bunks and their occupants were pretty much the same as when his-Duo had been staying with them.

"We set him up a little corner of his own, so the guys wouldn't disturb him when they change shifts," Howard said, leading them to a corner that was partly screened from the rest of the dormitory by a partition. A hammock had been hung up, and within it, curled in a nest of blankets, Duo was sound asleep.

"Aw -- ain't he cute?" Howard observed. "At least till he wakes up."

The pilots were silent, busily scanning Duo for signs of ill treatment of injury. Not that they didn't trust Howard -- but some habits were hard to break.

Duo's belongings were untidily spread out around the hammock. On a bench that was being used as a shelf, stood a few of Duo's toys, some unidentifiable mechanical bits, and a radio that was blaring away quietly.

Wufei reached out to turn it off automatically but Howard stopped him.

"Leave it."

"But won't it disturb him?"

"Other way round," Howard said quietly, leading the pilots away from the sleeping child. "See," he said, once they were in the corridor, "When Duo -- Shinigami-Duo -- first turned up he had real problems sleeping unless he knew there were other people around. Used to give us all sorts of problems, eventually started dragging his sleeping gear into the bridge to sleep there. We figured it out over time -- he can't sleep unless he knows he's not alone. So we started putting the radio on in his room and letting him fall asleep to it -- problem solved."

"I should have thought of that -- " Quatre said. "I should have picked up on -- "

Heero interrupted Pilot 04's latest angst attack with a demand. "Where's the nearest computer port?"

Howard pointed and watched as Heero marched off with laptop in that direction. "Does he never relax?"

"We found a lead to finding Duo," Trowa explained. "Heero's determined to follow it up."

Howard was no longer surprised. "What say the rest of you tell me about this over breakfast?"

They were still at breakfast when Duo turned up. "You're back!" he announced at full volume, throwing himself bodily at Quatre. The blond laughed as he hugged Duo.

"Yes, we are -- how are you?"

Duo beamed at him. His hair was neatly brushed back and plaited, beneath a black cap. Although he was wearing a pair of shorts that Quatre had bought him, he wore a singlet top that was far too big for him. Despite the way it hung off his skinny frame, Duo wore it with obvious pride. "I'm an honorary Sweeper! See my cap? And I was allowed to help take apart a mobile doll -- look at my bruise? Isn't it cool? I fell off the -- "

Wufei smiled as he put a plate in front of the child. "You can slow down, you know. We're not going anywhere."

"Hey, where's Heero?" Duo wondered.

"He's here. He has some stuff to take care of," Trowa replied.

"Oh, okay," Duo sat down to eat happily. "I got an even cooler bruise but that's kinda faded now. What did you do?"

"Oh, stuff," Quatre said vaguely. "We stopped OZ from sending a lot more weapons into space."

"Good," Duo said viciously. "Did I tell you that Jake took me for a ride in a Cancer?"

The pilots had enough time for Duo to take them on a guided tour of the Sweepers' ship before they left. Holding on tightly to Wufei and Quatre's hands, while Trowa watched amused, Duo showed them the bridge and workshop, telling them all his adventures as he did so. He had been busy. There did not seem to be a member of Howard's crew, a mobile suit or a piece of machinery he was not personally acquainted with, or a part of the ship he hadn't explored, played in, or fallen off.

In fact, they had a hard time getting Duo to leave until they promised that he could see Howard and the guys again next time they had a visit.

"Quite a turn around, don't you think?" Quatre said to Wufei with a smile as they gathered Duo's belongings. Trowa was watching with awe as the child insisted on saying goodbye to every member of the crew in person.

"He's shows great adaptability," Wufei agreed. He'd just found his sword -- in perfect condition.

"Now," Quatre said. "Do you want to try and detach Heero from his computer, or should I?"

-- oOo --

"Really? You're not just saying that to make me eat my vegetables?"

"No, we don't mind watching the Sound of Music with you, after tea," Quatre told him, smiling. It was so like Duo to expect a catch --

Duo grinned. "All right!"

"But you have to eat your vegetables anyway," Wufei told him. Duo looked at his plate then at Wufei. "Howard said only girls eat vegetables."

The meaning in his tone was clear.

Wufei put his fork down. "So eating vegetables makes you an onna?"

"Yeah."

Wufei made a big show of checking his hearing. "Pardon me, but did I just hear you insult Barton and Yuy and me?" He pointed towards them with a fork. "Barton just got second helpings of peas and Yuy always eats what is put in front of him."

Duo cast a look across the table. Wufei he could take on. But Trowa and Heero …

Trowa blinked at him, Heero frowned. They were both somewhat surprised to find themselves put in the 'threat' category. They were even more surprised when Duo started eating his greens.

"I'm done," he announced, hurriedly. "Can I go to the bathroom?"

"Swallow," Wufei said "Then you can go."

Duo pouted. How come Wufei knew all his ploys? He swallowed the last mouthful of veggies, then went to the bathroom where he made a big show of brushing his teeth.

Unfortunately the display was wasted on the pilots who had more pressing matters to concern them.

"What was that about?" Trowa asked.

"What?"

"You made it sound like we were scary," Trowa said. "I resent that."

Heero had a feeling he couldn't say anything. "Hn."

Quatre was sulking. "What I don't understand is why you didn't mention me."

No-one commented.

Quatre's eyes watered. "You guys are mean!" he whimpered. "I can't believe you would -- food fight!"

"Wha -- " said Wufei as Quatre threw his broccoli at him. "Injustice! This means war, Winner!"

When Duo returned to the kitchen it was to find Quatre, still giggling weakly as he helped Heero get the potato off the ceiling while Wufei and Trowa wiped all available surfaces. He looked pointedly at the pilots. "You done playing with your food? Cause I have a video I want to watch."

It was one of those moments loved by photo companies. Duo sprawled on the couch between Quatre sitting on Trowa's lap, and Wufei, polishing his sword. Heero, his laptop in his room, sat on the floor. The movie was watched in companionable silence and interrupted only so Quatre could fetch hot chocolate and biscuits.

"We ought to do this more often," Quatre said.

"Watching videos?"

"No, spending time together. Like a family."

Were they a family? Heero wondered. He had no experience with one --

"Can we watch it again?" Duo asked hopefully.

"No!" all four pilots said at once.

Duo pouted, and went to unpack his things.

Trowa stretched as Quatre began gathering mugs. Heero saw that Wufei was putting away his sword and decided that if he wanted to ask, now would be the time, before the others dispersed.

"Quatre -- how much did you mean that?"

"Mean what?"

"The family comment." Heero kept his features set, betraying nothing of his uncertainty.

"Well -- a child does need a stable home -- and I'm very attached to you all. I guess I thought -- " Quatre trailed off awkwardly, not encouraged by Heero's blank statement.

"I think of you other pilots as, if not family, something more than friends," Wufei said. "At any rate, you're more like family than anything I have left."

Trowa squeezed Quatre. "You know about this than I do," he said simply. "I'll follow your lead on this."

Quatre smiled. "Heero?"

"I've never had a family," Heero said. "I don't know how to act in one. I'll let you down -- "

"Don't be silly, Yuy," Wufei told him. "You've done great with Duo -- "

"I still don't know," Heero said. "I need to think."

He went to the bedroom, mind churning with everything he knew -- or thought he knew about families. J hadn't seen fit to include them in his training --

Maybe a quick computer search would help?

Heero opened his laptop -- and paused. He'd left it on -- but not on the page it was now. His earlier search had been erased.

Someone had used it? Not the pilots -- they'd been in the lounge. So that left --

Heero had a data log running that recorded whatever activity his laptop did. His internet history pages had been accessed, flicked through at random -- Heero followed up the pages. It appeared to be done at random. Duo, getting curious perhaps?

Heero flicked through the pages, scanning them for restricted information. Although he'd been searching for his-Duo, the search terms used were general, not likely to mean much to the kid. Then Heero hit the last link.

The page that appeared in the browser was the one that Heero least hoped to see.

"Maxwell Church -- one survivor."

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