|Disclaimer: I own none of the manga or anime I'm borrowing from. This is Gundam Wing with a character from Sazan Aisu thrown in, and a trace of Mermaid Saga at the end.|
Duo ducked into an alleyway and flattened himself against the wall behind a dumpster, panting harshly. This sucks, he thought, holding his breath as heavy boots marched past his hiding place. Heero's gonna kill me if OZ doesn't get to me first! I've been in town for less than two hours, and my cover's already blown? I don't believe this...
If I can just get over to the south side of town, to the docks, Howard's contact isn't leaving until 6am; if they haven't been blown too, I can get back on board and go with them. But every blasted patrol and search party I run into pushes me north!
The sound of marching feet faded away, and Duo stood up, tugged his jacket straight, and strolled casually out into the street.
Half an hour later, Duo was even further north and beyond acting casual. Miraculously, he hadn't yet been spotted by a patrol, but he'd ducked and dodged his way through a ludicrous number of near-misses.
Diving into yet another alleyway to hide for the umpteenth time, he silently called down curses on the head of whoever had let the OZ military know there was a Gundam pilot in the neighbourhood. I've got a nasty suspicion I know who, too, he thought angrily. I ran into that first patrol just two blocks away from where I was supposed to meet up with that Arnold guy and get directions to the new safehouse. Looks like either he sold me out, or OZ sniffed him out and he talked. Either way, I'm still screwed!
Glancing around for another way out as he heard the latest search party drawing nearer, Duo swore under his breath as he saw the two-storey blank wall that closed off the end of the alley.
Shit. Shit! Wrong place to hide, definitely. What's in that dumpster? A quick peek, then he ducked down behind it again. Lots of bottles, some broken glass and a sprinkling of empty snack food packets; elementary, my dear Maxwell, I deduce that I am hiding behind a bar. I also deduce that I'd better find someplace else to hide, 'cause jumping in there would be kinda painful and way too noisy! Where-- aha! Door!
Scuttling across to flatten himself against the opposite wall behind a tall stack of empty crates, he snaked one hand across to grasp the doorknob; it turned easily enough, but the door didn't shift. Locked, he thought, crouching and turning to face the door as one hand rose to pull a lockpick out of his braid. Nothing I can't-- aw, hell!
There was no keyhole.
I just can't get a break today! Duo bitched to himself, flattening his back against the door again and peering through the slats of the crates towards the mouth of the alley. Some jerk phones in a terrorist sighting, I can't get south no matter what I do, and now I have to run into what's probably the only back door in town that bolts!
He froze as he glimpsed a cluster of black uniforms. The OZ soldiers paused, the leader of the search party glancing down the alley, and Duo's eyes narrowed. Move along, guys... nothing to see here... This is not the pilot you're looking for!
"Andrews, Vance, check it out," a curt voice ordered.
Fuck. Where's the Jedi Mind Trick when you really need it? Duo smirked wryly, suddenly calm, pushing himself slowly upright and sliding one hand inside his jacket. His fingers closed around the reassuring weight of his gun.
Behind him, there was the quiet *snick* of a bolt being pulled back.
What--? Duo started to turn, eyes wide, and a hard hand snaked over his shoulder, clamped over his mouth, and yanked him backwards into the building. The door swung shut behind him and closed without a sound.
Ten seconds later, two OZ soldiers walked past, guns at the ready. One reached over and tried the doorknob, then shook his head, glancing back at the other. "Won't budge. It's locked," he reported.
As he was hauled backwards, Duo automatically fought back, biting viciously at the cloth-covered palm over his mouth and striking backwards with his left elbow as he pulled his gun out with the other hand. He caught a brief glimpse of a white-sleeved arm pushing the door closed as his back landed against a hard chest; then everything went dark as the light from outside was cut off.
"Quiet," a deep, rough voice breathed softly into his ear. "If you kick the door, they'll hear you."
Duo froze, leaning back against the stranger's chest, gun hovering for a moment as he debated which way to point it. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light seeping in under the door and coming from somewhere deeper in the building, he could make out his anonymous captor's (saviour's?) hand, still holding the doorknob in front of him; then the hand clenched, knuckles whitening, holding the knob still as someone rattled it from outside. Making up his mind, Duo brought the gun down into a two-handed grip, pointing at the door.
"Won't... locked," a muffled voice came from outside; then faint footsteps crunched across the gravel in the alley, moving away.
Duo's shoulders slumped as he relaxed, releasing a breath he hadn't realised he was holding and tipping the muzzle of his automatic up towards the ceiling. As he watched, the hand holding the doorknob let go and shot the bolt; then the hand across his mouth loosened.
"You can stop biting me now," the deep voice said, sounding faintly amused.
Duo blinked and carefully opened his mouth; the hand pulled away, and he was gently pushed upright. "Sorry about that," he said flippantly, turning around and squinting at the dim silhouette behind him.
"No harm done," came the reply as the silhouette reached out to the wall and flicked a switch. A fluorescent light sputtered to life above, and Duo and his benefactor blinked at each other in the light.
The other boy spoke first. "You're awfully short for a terrorist," he said dryly, crossing his arms across his chest. Duo's eyebrows shot up and he snorted, putting his gun away.
"Well, excuse me for not eating all my greens when I was little," he said loftily. "You're not exactly a beanpole yourself."
The boy shrugged. He looked around nineteen and was about an inch taller than Trowa, Duo estimated, which made him only three inches taller than Duo's own 5'3". His hair was almost knee-length, tied at waist level with a leather thong, light brown except for two reddish streaks through his spiky bangs. He was wearing black leather boots, black jeans, and a high-necked loose white shirt with the sleeves tucked under cloth wrappings that reached from his knuckles nearly to his elbows; the ensemble was topped off with a slightly incongruous headwrap that (to Duo, at least) looked like a cross between an abbreviated turban and a Jewish yarmulke. A straight scar ran diagonally across his left cheek, and another, fainter scar traced a crooked path across his left eye.
It was his eyes that were really interesting, Duo decided. Under sharply upswept brows that made him look as though a scowl was his most common expression, his right eye was a dark yellow-brown colour; his left eye, though, was a bright, hard emerald green.
Momentarily distracted by the contrast, Duo didn't realise he was staring until the older boy rolled his mismatched eyes and held his arms out to the sides, turning in a slow circle to give the Gundam pilot a good look. "Satisfied?" he asked, deep voice almost purring.
Okay, the eyes and the voice, Duo decided, blushing. "Nice hair," he offered, then hurried on. "What makes you think I'm a terrorist, anyway?"
"Please," the other said disgustedly. "If you're not the reason OZ have been buzzing for the last hour, you're welcome to walk back outside and go talk to that patrol. They can't have got far."
"I'll pass, thank you," Duo replied with all the dignity he could manage. "Still, 'terrorist' is such an uncivilised word... I'd prefer a designation with a little more style."
"'Freedom fighter'? 'Gundam pilot'?" Watching Duo's expression intently, the other boy suddenly grinned. "Thought so. They wouldn't kick up this much fuss for one person otherwise."
"Who says I'm alone?"
"They aren't stopping couples or groups."
Duo threw up his hands. "Fine, all right, you know all and see all! I'm a Gundam pilot, they're looking for me, I admit it. Happy? Now how about you let me sneak out some other exit and just forget you ever saw me, let alone picked up my toothmarks?"
"I can do better than that. Come on."
"So, who are you, anyway?" Duo asked curiously as he followed deeper into the building. "And why are you helping me? If I get caught here, with you, OZ aren't exactly going to let you off with a 'bad boy' and a slap on the wrist."
"Call me Haan," the boy said softly, peering around a corner. "OZ annoys me. I like pissing them off."
"A man after my own heart! So, what's the plan?"
"Wait out here." Haan knocked briskly on an unmarked door, opened it without waiting for an answer, and stepped through.
Sidling up to the door, Duo listened intently. I've still got no real proof that I can believe this guy. He feels trustworthy, somehow, but...
"Go tell Brian he needs you out front," he heard Haan say.
"Go tell him?" a woman said, sounding confused. "What are you up to now?"
There was a quiet chuckle. "If you don't know, you can't get in much trouble."
"Suddenly I don't want to know." Something rattled as it was picked up, and papers rustled. "Who's going to watch these?"
"I'll take care of it. Go out that way."
"Whatever you're doing... be careful, okay? You're not a complete pain in the neck," she said, sounding exasperated and worried. A door opened and closed, and there was silence for a moment.
"Come in," Haan called quietly.
Duo slid into the room and closed the door behind him, looking around; he whistled softly, raising an eyebrow. "Nice setup."
"Thanks. I built it."
Haan stood in front of a bank of monitors, frowning slightly as he scanned various security camera feeds. It was obviously a 'home-made' security monitor post -- there were several different types of screen, and the computer controlling them all had had its case removed so that a couple of strange boards could be added to its circuitry -- but all the images were crystal clear, and what Duo could see of the wiring had been done perfectly.
Well, that answers how he knew I was outside, Duo thought, spotting a clear view of the alley. Either he was in here, or there's another monitor post somewhere else... hey, judging from the angle of that shot, I must have looked straight at the camera and never seen it! He is good...
"So," he said quietly, coming forward for a closer look, "why does a bar need a system this good?" He nodded towards several screens that were switching between various views of a perfectly normal barroom. "At least, it looks like a bar out there. Cover for a smuggling setup?"
"No," Haan said flatly, sitting down in front of the computer and typing in a few quick commands. "It's just an ordinary bar. I was upgrading one of my setups when Brian decided he needed security cameras, so I sold him the old one instead of junking it."
"One of your setups?!"
Haan grinned evilly back over his shoulder for an instant, then turned back to the screens. "I am not an ordinary anything."
Duo realised he was starting to enjoy himself immensely.
Haan typed in a final command, and half the screens blinked to new views. Duo frowned for a moment, puzzled, and then snorted as he recognised some of them. "So, does your friend Brian know that his bar security setup can access cameras all over town?"
"He hasn't asked."
"If he did ask, would you tell him?"
"What are you going to do if he ever finds out?"
"It's not exactly an obvious option. I didn't put it in the menus." Watching as the screens switched between cameras, Haan suddenly hit a key combination, stopping one screen on a view of a patrol. Another key combination brought up sound.
<<--any more information yet?>>
<<No, sir,>> a soldier said, one hand touching a small earphone as he listened intently.
<<Damn it, how are we supposed to find this guy if we don't even know who he _is_?>>
"What-- they don't know who they're looking for?! Oh, man!" Duo groaned, smacking one hand over his eyes. "I've been working my butt off to avoid those clowns when I coulda just flashed some fake I.D. and strolled straight past?!"
"It might not have been that easy," Haan muttered.
"Hey, my fake I.D.s are good. As long as they don't have a description, I should be able to pull it off--"
"Too late." Haan nodded at the screen and turned the volume up a little.
<<--getting a name and description now, sir. Pilot 02, Duo Maxwell. Long brown hair in a braid... probably wearing black... teenage male, fairly short.>>
<<...may be wearing a cap of some kind. That's all, sir, I'm sorry.>>
"They're being so thorough today," Duo muttered, glaring at the screen. "So accurate..."
"It's enough to get you caught," Haan pointed out. "It also gives me an idea..."
"Are you sure you want to do this?!"
"It'll work," Haan said calmly.
"Yeah, maybe, but it could get you shot!"
"Walking past a patrol flashing fake I.D. could have got you shot, but you were going to do it anyway."
"But I'm me! You're not me! It's not your job, it's mine! It's what I do! I blow things up, I shoot people, I get shot at, it's right there in my job description!"
"Where was it advertised?" Haan asked, shooting a sardonic glance at Duo.
"All right, so I don't actually have a job description, but if I did--"
"Shut up, lock the door behind me and watch the monitors. I'll be back."
"You don't even look like me!"
"No, but I fit the description they've got."
Haan had plaited his hair and put on a black waistcoat; Duo had to admit, he did match the sketchy description they'd heard.
Brown hair in a plait? Check. Sandy brown, not chestnut, but the soldiers were just looking for 'brown'.
Wearing black? Check. Never mind the style.
Teenage male? No problem there.
Fairly short? That depended upon how you defined 'short'.
Wearing a cap of some kind? The headwrap-turban-thingy would probably do...
"Look, I really don't like this idea," Duo said miserably. "I mean, you're a civilian. You're not supposed to be taking risks for me. You're one of the people I'm supposed to be fighting for!"
Haan reached out, took Duo's face gently in his hands... and kissed him.
"Thank you," he purred softly, looking into startled blue eyes; then he pulled away and walked out.
Walking down the corridor towards the bar, Haan smiled to himself.
*Hm... that was nice. And it distracted him long enough for me to get out of there without any more arguments!*
Duo stood perfectly still, blinking rapidly.
What the... why... what did he do that for?!
Not that it wasn't nice... for a quick kiss, it was pretty damn good, actually. And he's definitely sexy...
Why am I even considering that?! I've been chasing Heero for months! He probably doesn't want any more than that one kiss, anyway.
What am I doing?! I've got to get out there and stop him!
Shooting one last glance at the monitors as he reached for the doorknob, Duo slumped.
Damn. Too late...
On one of the screens, Haan glanced up towards the hidden camera, winked, and stepped out into the barroom.
As Haan walked up to the bar, Brian intercepted him.
"Haan, what's up?" he asked, voice low. "Tina said you dragged some guy in from the alley and then chased her out of the monitor room... and that's definitely a new look for you," he added, eyes narrowing.
"No it's not," Haan said, just as softly. "In fact, I've been wearing my hair like this all day. You saw me, if anyone asks."
"Oh, boy. What are you getting into now?"
"Me? Nothing. I'm getting somebody out of something."
"Do I want to know the details?"
"No." Haan's voice was calm, but his eyes glittered dangerously; Brian sighed.
"All right... not that it would really bother you if I asked you not to do whatever-it-is," he said a little sourly, beginning to turn away.
A hand on his arm stopped him. "It would bother me," Haan said softly. "But I'd still do it."
"Yeah, yeah," Brian said gruffly. "Go get your drink, or whatever you were going to do!"
Tina served Haan a beer and glared at him. "I thought you said you'd watch the monitors," she hissed.
"I said I'd take care of it, and I did. They're being watched."
"Only because I can't walk out there and strangle you without getting you into really deep shit," Duo grumbled, quickly clicking his way through the menus on the computer. "This guy even writes his own software?! Jeez... okay, that's how I switch to a directional pickup..."
About fifteen minutes later, Haan spotted movement at the front door.
About time, he thought, draining the last of his beer and setting the glass down. I thought they'd never get around to searching buildings!
Standing up, he moved to where he had a clear view of the OZ squad filing in the door -- and vice versa -- looked towards them, then turned away. As he started towards the back of the bar, he shot a quick glance back over his shoulder, making sure his long braid flicked out to one side.
Did they see it?
"Hey! You! You with the braid! HALT!"
Running feet pounded up behind Haan as he turned, deliberately slow. "What--"
He saw a split-second glimpse of a gun butt swinging towards his face, and then time seemed to freeze for a moment.
I can still dodge.
...Naah. It'll work better if I don't.
Time started again, and pain exploded along his jaw as the blow hit.
Duo jumped up from the chair and started pacing, one hand pressed to his forehead. "Oh, man. Oh, that's got to hurt..." He glanced towards the door, then shook his head. "No. Can't do that. Right now he's maybe got a broken jaw; if I go out there now, I'll just get us both shot.
"Oh man, I hate this," he muttered, glaring at the screen. "Haan is so dead when this is over! I'll kill him myself!"
"FREEZE! All right Maxwell, one false move and I'll pull the trigger!" The muzzle of a gun jabbed Haan's temple as he shifted to get up, and he froze, lying flat and pressing his hands to the floor on either side of his head.
"What the hell is going on here?!"
"Sir, please stay back," a young OZ soldier requested, stepping in front of Brian as he moved forwards. He didn't quite point his weapon at Brian, but it was close; the bar owner stopped, but didn't back up.
"What do you think you're doing? You can't just burst in here and attack a friend of mine!"
"Do you know this person, sir?" The rifle swung a couple of degrees closer.
Careful, Brian, Haan thought, wincing as his hands were roughly cuffed behind his back. Don't get yourself arrested as a suspected accomplice!
"His name is Hazrat Haan, not... whatever you called him!" Brian snapped. "He's a trucker and a Jack-of-all-trades. He occasionally works here as a bouncer, and yes, I know him! I've known him for five years, and I can give you the names of several other people who've known him for as long or longer. You'd better have a damn good reason for treating him like this!"
"Sir," the soldier cuffing Haan said quietly, "Maxwell would've been on a colony until six months ago. If this man has been known on Earth for five years..."
"I realise that, Vance," the officer hissed, then cleared his throat. "He matches the description of an extremely dangerous criminal, sir, and we can't afford to take chances. Where's your vidphone?"
"Over here, behind the bar."
Quick hands started patting Haan down, and he raised his head slightly. "If you're looking for my I.D., I'm lying on it," he said; the hands stopped.
"Oh, shit. I don't think this guy is Maxwell," the soldier searching him whispered to another.
"What? Why not?"
"I haven't seen him, but I heard him when he attacked the Nagasaki base in his Gundam. The guy never shuts up--"
"Ha! Do too," Duo sniffed, scowling at the screen. "Damn good directional mikes," he muttered, adjusting a control delicately.
"--and he sounds nothing like this guy."
"You could have found that out without hitting me," Haan said mildly, suppressing a smirk.
Over at the vidphone, the lieutenant was getting irritated. "What do you mean, you can't give me a better description than that?!"
<<It's all we got from the informant,>> the soldier on screen said.
"Well, that's useless," he snapped. "Without better information, we can't be sure we've grabbed the right guy. How do we even know this anonymous informant saw the real Maxwell? It could be a mistake, or a false lead to distract us from something else!"
<<I realise that, sir, but the base commander thinks-->> The soldier stiffened, one hand going to his earbug. <<Please hold, sir, I'm transferring your call now!>>
"What? Where to--" The screen went black and the lieutenant swore under his breath, then snapped to attention as a cold female face appeared. "Ma'am -- Colonel Une!" he gasped, saluting.
<<Show me the prisoner.>>
Duo sighed in relief. "Une, baby, lookin' good... I never thought I'd be glad to see the psycho bitch from hell!"
As two soldiers hauled Haan to his feet and marched him forwards, another snatched his I.D. and hurried ahead. Quickly saluting Lady Une's image, he began to read.
"Ma'am, his I.D. says his name is Hazrat Haan, of no fixed address. Dual Pakistani and Chinese nationality, current visa, date of birth September third, AC 168--" He blinked in surprise, peering closely at the small card. "--twenty-seven years old?! He doesn't look -- er, excuse me!" He ducked out of the way and tried to fade into the wallpaper as Haan was pulled in front of the vidphone.
He and Une stared at each other.
Haan raised an eyebrow.
<<That is most definitely not Maxwell,>> she said abruptly. <<Let him go.>> And without another word, she disconnected.
Half a minute later, as a soldier was taking the cuffs off Haan and the lieutenant was (very reluctantly) gritting out an apology without actually using the word 'sorry', the soldier with the earphone jumped.
"Sir? We're being ordered back to base," he reported. "The whole search has been called off."
"It did work."
"I'm not even a little bit dead."
"That's not funny."
Haan rolled his eyes. "Stop sulking."
"I am not sulking," Duo said loftily, sticking his nose in the air.
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Oh, yes you are," Haan drawled, starting to grin.
"Oh, no I'm-- oh, shut up!"
"If you're not sulking, why won't you turn around?"
"I'm angry," Duo growled, eyes firmly fixed on the monitors but not really paying attention.
"Do you always get angry when people help you?"
"Usually they're not setting themselves up to get shot in my place! Without my agreement, I should point out," the braided pilot snapped.
"I felt like poking my nose in," Haan replied calmly, inspecting the end of his own temporary braid. "I did it of my own free will, and it worked, so I don't really see that you have any grounds for complaint."
"I don't want people to put themselves in danger for me!" Duo hissed, spinning around. "It's none of your business!"
"Oh really? Duo," the other boy said softly, saying his name for the first time, "you have no idea what my business is."
"...No. I don't. What is your business? 'Cannon Fodder 'R' Us'? Do you regularly risk your life for people you just met?"
"When I feel like it," Haan said, smiling slightly.
Duo snorted. "What, been feeling suicidal lately?"
The smile widened. "Now and then, yes."
Duo's eyes widened in response; then he snorted again, shaking his head in exasperation. "Great. Another Heero. You wouldn't happen to have a self-destruct button on you, would you?"
"I don't believe so, but if you give me a minute to look--" Haan started patting at his pockets, and Duo had to laugh.
"Well. Now what?" he asked.
"Now you take my motorbike and go... wherever," Haan said, handing him a key. "There's a helmet with an opaque visor; if you stuff your hair down the back of your jacket, you should be fine even if there are a few OZ soldiers still out."
"Uh... I can't take--"
Haan shrugged. "If you can, mail the key back here with a note saying where you left it. If not... find it a good home."
"...okay. I will," Duo said softly, then shook himself and grinned. "Thanks, man. I owe you a big one. Um... do me a favour, will ya? Get some new fake I.D.! I don't care how good the one you're using is, sooner or later you're gonna get sprung 'cause somebody won't believe you're twenty-seven. I mean, I sure don't believe it! Get something a bit more plausible, or I'll worry about you."
"You say that like it's a threat."
"Oh, it is! I'm a terrible worrier sometimes; I'll get ulcers, and it'll be all your fault! You don't want that on your conscience, right?"
"All right, all right," Haan said, chuckling softly. "I'll get a new one. Now get out of here! The bike's this way..."
When Brian knocked tentatively on the door and peered in, Haan was sitting on the chair in front of the monitors, leaning back and swinging it slightly from side to side.
"How's the jaw?"
"You're lucky it wasn't broken, you know."
"So... he got away all right, did he?" Brian asked casually, shutting the door behind him.
"The guy they were chasing," the bar owner said pointedly. "Maxwell, or whatever his name was. The guy with the plait," he finished, flicking the braid hanging down behind Haan's chair.
Haan glanced back over his shoulder at him, a faint smile twitching at one corner of his mouth. "You don't see anyone else here, do you?"
There was a pause.
Haan winced slightly, but didn't say anything.
"I believe it," Brian said abruptly. "You're older than you look, I know that for sure. You certainly don't act like a teenager... and you haven't changed a bit in five years."
"Mm," Haan grunted non-committally.
"Need anything for the jaw? Ice? Aspirin?"
"Well... if you're sure you're all right, I'll go head Tina off. She was hunting through the first aid kit to see if we have anything that's good on bruises."
"I mean it," Haan said softly, still not turning around. "Thanks."
"Any time," Brian grinned.
As his footsteps trailed off down the corridor, Haan sighed and dropped his head back, going limp for a moment. Closing his eyes, he swallowed painfully and winced.
Ow. That hurts... I don't think I've talked that much in years. I guess it's infectious; Duo babbles on, and you just want to respond...
He's right. Haan dug the I.D. out of his pocket and stared at it, frowning. Time I got a new identity again. I've used this one too long... what, nine years? Ten? It was fine when I looked nineteen and the official records said seventeen, but nineteen to twenty seven is a bit of a stretch.
It was nice using my real name again...
I should have moved years ago. I've stayed in one life too long... let people get too close. Brian cares about me. Tina... she hasn't even known me for six months and she's starting to worry. And there's others...
I care about them.