"What do the stars tell you?"
"...Nothing at all."
"They tell me lots of things."
"Would you like to know why you were born?"
"Do you believe in fate?"
"I don't know."
"Everyone is born for a reason. And those who carry the stars in their eyes are destined for great things."
"Is that a boast?"
"Some say it is a curse..."
"Why is that?"
"..Would you like to know how you are going to die?"
"The Strange Boy"
There was, Duo realized, a distinct difference between a student and a soldier. When the explosion hit during biology class, rocking the room and drowning out Professor Hikari's worn, scratchy voice, his temporary classmates screamed and reacted instinctively, like frightened animals. Some dove under their desks for cover, others clutched each other, and just about all of them fell to the ground and covered their heads as bits of ceiling tile and dust rained down.
Duo Maxwell leapt over a fallen desk and had reached the open window in a flash, grabbing the sill of the large window and leaning out as far as he could. Dark, angry columns of smoke were rising from a gaping hole in the west wing, and something large was stirring in the rubble, like a giant finding its feet after a fall. It was a mobile doll, one of the newer models- it must have strayed off course and crashed into the school.
His class was on the second floor- not too high up. Without hesitation, Duo leaned further out, letting his body weight pull him down and kicking up over his head in a quick, powerful motion that sumersaulted him out of the window and dropped him to the ground. He landed correctly, if not gracefully, bending his knees to prevent breaking anything, kicking off the second he had his balance, sprinting across the lawn towards the wrech, ducking behind trees in case the doll's radar picked him up and it decided to open fire.
He dove behind an oak close to the accident and crouched motionless as the doll rose unsteadily to its feet, bricks and debris falling from its massive body. Duo couldn't supress a large grin, despite the nerves fluttering in his stomach.
Just freaking perfect. How was he supposed to lure this hulking piece of scrap metal away from the school without getting shot?
"What do you think you're doing?"
Duo jumped, turning to clout the crouching figure behind him. "Gahh! Dont' *do* that!"
Heero caught the blow easily, ignoring him, intent eyes on the wreak. "What is that doing here?"
"How should I know?" Duo grumbled, tugging his fist free and making a face at him. "Whaddyou mean what am I doing here?"
Heero declined to answer, shooting a glance towards the windows. "Where's your gundam?" he demanded.
Duo pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "Deathscythe? Hid 'im back in the woods, why? You're not planning on fighting that thing *here*, are you? In the open? The school will be totalled!"
Heero finally looked at him, shooting him a brief, impassionate look. "You're going to lure it into the woods- be ready in your gundam when I get there. Keep it distracted while I get Wing."
"Keep it distracted?!" Duo squawked indignantly. "You think I can't take that thing out myself?" He smirked. "Just leave it to me- it'll be over in one blow."
"It isn't alone," Heero snapped, evidently annoyed by Duo's opposition. He flicked a glance towards the doll, which was slowly thundering towards the east wing, scanners humming.
Duo frowned. It was as if it were looking for something...
"I saw it coming," Heero said calmly, keeping his eyes on his foe. "It flew in fine, but got tangled in the trees when it tried to land- it lost direction and crashed into the building."
Duo's eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "You mean it was *trying* to land here? What the hell could it be looking for *here*?"
"Or who," Heero corrected meaningfully, pulling something from his pocket and hiding it in his fist. "Which means as soon as it spots your gundam, it'll call for back-up." His voice hardened. "No *go*."
Duo scrambled to his feet without argument, sprinting into the oipen and halting where he could be plainly seen, cupping his hands around his mouth and hollering as loud as he could. "HEY, TRASHCAN! OVER HERE!"
The doll paused, turning slightly towards him, its sensors whirring loudly as it identified him. Duo held his breath, tensing to flee.
The whirring stopped, and the doll turned away without interest, lumbering towards the east wing once more.
Duo's jaw dropped. What the hell?? Wasn't he the doll's target? What else could that thing want at this particular school aside from the gundam pilots undercover there?
The doll raised a fist, aiming towards a nearby wall. Duo yanked out the gun hiden underneath the school jacket, drawing it out of its holster and aiming in a heartbeath, firing off three rapid shots.
The bullets pinged harmlessly off the things 'head', but it had the desired effect. The doll hesitated before turning on him fully, regarding him. A few more shots and shouts finally go the thing to move, and it came fast, large steps covering the ground between them in frighteningly little time. Duo stood his ground for a few seconds more before whirling around and racing towards the woods, drawing in great breaths of air as he strove to put distance between himself and the oncoming robot.
He hit the woods just in time, the enormous hand seizing a load of brush behind him, branches popping loudly as they broke.
Duo ran on, leaping over roots and skirting thorn bushes as he headed towards the place where he had stashed his gundam, not daring to risk a glance back. The sound of limbs cracking loudly behind him was enough to keep him going at breakneck pace, sweeping with his arms and smacking away overhanging foliage.
Where the hell was it? Was it this way-?
He took a wrong turn, and suddenly the ground disappeared from under his feet. He gave a yelp as he tumbled down a steep embankment, landing in a heap at the bottom of the narrow ravine. He winced as he slowly forced himself to his feet, feeling bruised all over. "It-t-tai!" He stumbled, and cursed. In the fall he had managed to sprain an ankle. He heard crashing overhead, getting closer.
He forced himself to go onwards, trying not to favor the foot too much, as it slowed him down. God, he was going to regret this later- his foot was gonna hurt like a bitch. But right now he needed to stay alive, and if that giant cockroach caught up to him, he could kiss any tentative future for himself goodbye. He staggered to a place not so steep, and grabbed hold of some roots thrusting through the dirt, dragging himself up and kicking at the sides, gritting his teeth at the screaming pain in his ankle as he struggled upwards. Just a reach from the top he seized a twisted root to haul himself upright, pushing himself against the rocky bank with his foot.
At the same instant his injured ankle gave a demanding flare of agony, the root he was holding sagged, slipping free from the dirt just enough to cause him to fall back, losing his balance.
He did a frantic pinwheel for one breath-holding moment, swaying backwards, already knowing he was going to fall and that in another instant the doll would be here..
Panic exploded in his chest, and he made a frantic grab for something, anything.
A pale hand grasped his, pulling heavily, and he slammed forward, into the dirt, gasping as his free hand latched instinctively onto a nearby root. Coughing up dirt, he began tugging himself upwards, pushing feebly with his good leg, while his unseen savior hauled him upwards.
Finally he reached the top, and collapsed on his stomach, half in and half out, gasping for air, eyes stinging with tears of pain. He glanced upwards to identify his helper, expecting to see a familiar face. Heero? Perhaps even Trowa, for some strange reason? Who else could have such pale, slender hands?
But the anxious face hovering over him wasn't a familiar one. Long dark hair fell like a curtain on either side of a pale, sculpted face, bloodless lips opened partially in worry. He was dressed in Duo's own school uniform-- funny how he had never noticed him in the week and a half he and Heero had been hiding in the school. He was a little strange looking, with that long hair (like he had room to talk..) and his slim, pale body, but the thing that sent a chill straight up Duo's spine was the boy's eyes.
They were the blackest eyes he had ever seen- fathomless and opaque as the night sky, reflecting none of the sunlight around them, devoid of any reflection, even of the braided pilot gasping at his feet. And for just an instant Duo imagined he saw something sparkle in the depths of them.
There was a loud crash in the brush across the ravine, and Duo cursed, snapping out of his slight daze.
He pushed himself quickly to his feet, sucking in his breath sharply at the pain that spread like wildfire from his ankle to his toes; it would be next to impossible to walk on that foot. He chanced a risky glance over his shoulder- the doll had emerged from the trees and was hesitating on the edge of the ravine, 'head' turning towards him, scanning. Suddenly it seemed to go berserk, letting out a loud hiss of steam as it barrelled towards them with shocking speed and aggressiveness.
Oh, god, it was going to leap the ravine and smash the both of them.
He heard himself screaming- "RUN!" -and then he had the boy's arm in his fist and was running/limping as fast as he could make himself go, ducking deeper into the woods, dragging the strange student with him. The huge crash and mini-quake that resulted in the doll's leap almost made him lose his footing, but he bit his lip hard and ran on. Not far now.
It occured to him that the boy was shouting at him, trying to tell him something, but he ignored it, pulling him along and trying desperately not to fall, not to stumble. If he did, they were dead men. The doll was closing on them, and closing fast.
He felt a twinge of despair. Even if he made it to his gundam on time- which was beginning to look highly unlikely -the kid would see him climb into it and know he was one of the pilots that the world and space seemed to hate and fear out of their distrust. He bit his lip harder, and tasted copper.
There was no helping it. If he wanted to get out of this alive, he had no choice.
Where the hell was Heero??
They burst into the clearing suddenly, and it almost caught him off guard.
Deathscythe was standing right where he'd left him, covered with camoflauge netting to protect him from those in the sky, but visible here on ground level, clear as day. There was an audible gasp from the boy behind him, and he turned to him quickly, shouting to be heard over the thundering footsteps of the approaching doll.
"Hide! I'll take care of that tin can!"
The boy didn't hesitate, but only nodded quickly, looking paler than before. He dashed off to hide in the shrubs, and Duo hobbled towards Deathscythe as fast as he could. Now all he had to do was--
The ground near him exploded in an eruption of earth and rock, and his body flew through the air like a rag doll, a scream wrenched from his throat.
He hit the ground hard, and all the breath was slammed from his lungs. His vision went black for an instant, but he battled fiercely to recapture his breath and his senses, and in another moment he gasped chokingly on precious oxygen, coughing and hacking, weakly pushing himself to his hands and knees, feeling as if he had been run over by a truck. He heard the high-pitched tone of a laser preparing to fire, and scrambled across the ground like a bug, spurred on by fear. The shot struck the ground behind him, flinging him across the clearing once more with a howl. This time he hit the ground wrong, cracking his shoulder hard against something and bending almost double before his own body weight and momentum sent him sumersaulting a few feet farther on. He tried to gasp with the pain that flared in his shoulder, but no noise emitted from his throat. Heavy warmth filled his mouth, and he choked on it, spitting a small pool of blood into the grass.
He rolled slowly onto his back, liftin ghis head to prevent blood from sliding down his throat and choking him. He watched the mecha come with a sort of detatched awareness. Some inner part of him was screaming at him to get up- get to his gundam; but his body was refusing to move. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the pale boy emerge from the bushes, mouth moving as he shouted something, arms waving wildly over his head in a frantic attempt to get the doll's attention. Its sensors whirred, and the thing hesitated, turning slightly towards its new victim. The moment it caught the boy in its sensors, it seemed to go crazy again, ray gun snapping up, aimed towards its target, preparing to fire.
A blast from nowhere hit it dead-on in its side, throwing it oof balance. Another instant it exploded in an enormous burst of flame and flying metal. The strange boy back-pedaled swiftly, mouth agape. Duo turned painfully onto his stomach and covered his head with his arms to avoid the flying debris.
Wing stomped into the clearing, gleaming like ivory in the afternoon sun. It halted beside Deathscythe, and there was a hiss of air as the hatch opened.
Heero appeared at the edge, scowling down at Duo. "Are you out of your mind?"
"It's about time," Duo grumbled, spitting out blood and dirt and coughing hoarsely, flopping back onto his back, giving a gasp of pain as his shoulder protested violently. "Gah, shit!"
A rope snaked down, and Heero had shimmied down it in seconds. He stalked over towards his partner, ignoring the staring boy crouching in the bushes. "What's wrong with you?" Heero demanded, squatting beside the Deathscythe pilot. "What took you so long to get to your gundam?"
"Don't ask," Duo suggested, clasping one of Heero's strong arms with his good one. "Here, help me up, man... I fucked up my ankle and shoulder pretty bad."
The soldier hauled him to his feet without comment, allowing Duo to lean on him for support when he gave a hiss of pain. "Think I dislocated my shoulder..." he closed his eyes tightly. "Could you-"
Heero reached out unhesitatingly, seizing his shoulder and upper arm and giving a precise, powerful wrench.
Duo screamed, collapsing against his partner, and if Heero hadn't grabbed hold of him, he would have fallen.
"SHIT!" Duo immediately began spitting out every bad word he had ever learned, hopping to get his balance back and clinging to the front of Heero's uniform.
Finally he calmed down, taking deep breaths and giving the other pilot a watery smile. "Thanks, man. I think."
Heero frowned, reaching up to wipe a stream of blood from Duo's chin. Duo blinked.
"Hey, it's not *my* fault," he said defensively, sensing the accusation in his partner's attitude. He pointed towards the figure stepping tentatively from the bushes. "I ran into that guy- he helped me out of the damn ravine-"
"-and I had to get 'im away from that thing. Y'know, the thing went ballistic when it saw 'im, too." He raised his eyebrows. "Whaddya think?"
"What ravine?" Heero demanded impatiently. "What are you talking about?"
"Ahh, nothin' much," Duo floundered, grinning sheepishly. "Just took a wrong turn... twisted my ankle, almost died- standard day for a gundam pilot, eh?"
Heero ignored his sarcasm, turning narrowed eyes on the student as he came towards them. "Who are you?"
The boy halted, seeming to hesitate before responding. "My name is Atreusio. I... wanted to thank the both of you for saving me."
Heero scowled. "I didn't-"
"No prob," Duo chirpped, grinning. "I owe ya- if you hadn't hauled me outta that ditch, I'd be dead."
"You're... Taka-kun, aren't you?" the boy ventured. "I've seen you in the halls. You're new."
Duo grinned at the fake name he had adopted. "Hai, that's me. This here's my bud Yuu. Uh.. I can't say I've seen *you* around."
"I thought your name was Idaki Ran," Heero said abruptly, eyes narrowing in sudden recognition.
Atreusio's eyes widened. "I..."
"I saw your records," Heero continued. "You're under a fake name- why are you telling us your real one?"
The boy glanced away. "Because... I.. figured I owed it to you. And besides, it seems we both have secrets we'd rather have kept."
Heero calmly reached for the gun hidden under his jacket. Duo grabbed his wrist, shaking his head quickly when Heero glared at him.
"No one needs to see our gundams," Heero reminded him. Or know who their pilots are, he seemed to add silently.
Duo frowned up at him, and realized belatedly the position they wbere in.
Heero still had one stron garm wrapped around his middle to support him, and he was still clinging to Heero's shoulders.
He dropped his hands hastily, face flaming, stepping back to escape his partner's grip. To his surprise, there was a moment of resistance as Heero's arm seemed to tighten around him, as if trying to keep him there. Then Heero seemed to realize what he was doing, and withdrew his arm.
Atreusio glanced quickly from one of them to the other, but kept his mouth shut, which Duo was grateful for.
He cleared his throat, trying to hid his embarassment. No need to let the whole world know Duo Maxwell had a crush on his own partner.
Atreusio smiled politely. "Again, thank you. You didn't even have to get involved- I was its target. Thank you for your selfless act."
Duo blinked. "Huh?"
"I need to go, now- perhaps I'll see you in school. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone your secret." He waved, turning to go.
Heero scowled. "Oi-"
A blast of wind and the sound of engines caused them all to whirl around. Five more dolls were coming at them from the sky. Duo cursed colorfully, and he and Heero made a dash for their gundams. "Get out of here," Duo shouted over his shoulder, hoping Atreusio would heed him.
The moment the dolls landed, the two gundams threw themselves at them, laser sword and scythe swinging in twin deadly arcs.
Duo's wild laughter crackled over the radio, causing Heero to frown disapprovingly.
"Time to be recycled, boys! Hahahahaha!!"
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