More Time (Part2)
The ball teetered on the rim of the basket, circumnavigating it several times before finally falling through the hoop.
"Yes!" Duo whooped, jumping ecstatically as he caught the bouncing basketball with one hand. He threw the ball at one of the five boys who'd invited him for a game and took his position for a three-on-three. It wasn't often that he had a chance to forget that he wasn't a normal schoolboy, and he'd be damned if he didn't get the most out of it now.
* * *
Wufei had disappeared early that morning without waking him. He had woken up to an empty room and had spent most of the morning in bed, preparing for what promised to be a long and sleepless night. He had contemplated staying in the room for the rest of the day, but his rumbling stomach got the best of him and he roused himself just in time for a late lunch.
Which was good in a way, as there weren't many students in the school's dining hall, thus allowing him to keep to himself. Even then, he could see that he attracted some attention from the few students that were there. But no one approached him, preferring to keep a respectable distance from the 'new student' even as they scoped him out.
After lunch, he'd retired back to his room, intending to sleep some more but by then, word had spread and several knocks on his door had revealed a very eager student population hoping to make his acquaintance. The first few had been small groups of boys whose expressions ranged from disbelief/disappointment ('I told you he's a guy!') to open welcome ('The game's at five. See you there!'), much to Duo's amusement.
After that, the knocks had been more frequent and, over the next few hours, Duo felt like he'd met the entire female population of the school. Not that he was complaining, Duo thought as he flopped bonelessly on the bed. He enjoyed chatting with girls as much as the next guy, but Wufei had missed all the fun. But then again, the longhaired boy mused, Wufei probably couldn't handle it.
Duo lolled on the bed, thankful that no more knocks resounded from the other side of the door. He probably had met the entire student population that was in school at the moment. After all, the weekend wasn't over and many of the students were still on home leave. One of the perks of having a home to go to.
Duo sighed, not liking the turn his train of thought had taken. The silence of the room roared in his ears, even as the bright late afternoon sun pierced his eyes, making him squint as he gazed towards the window. This was the reason he didn't like - never liked - being alone. It made his mind wander. And when it did, it always went in the wrong direction and took the paths to the memories he didn't like. He'd never really been alone, come to think of it, Duo thought as he turned to lie on his stomach, propping his chin on the back of his hands as he watched the dust motes dance in the air, limned by the sunlight.
Not physically, anyway.
As a child, he'd had his gang, then he'd had Father Maxwell and the church. After that, the sweepers and later Dr. G had taken him under his wing. The times that he had been alone he couldn't really remember clearly. And those memories, from before he knew Solo and after Father Maxwell and Sister Helen died, were not ones that he'd particularly savored. They were best forgotten.
Loneliness only really made itself felt when he was with Dr. G. When he had to undergo the scientist's training to pilot Deathscythe, and to be L2's agent for Operation Meteor. When he had to forget that he was human and an individual. When he had to learn to trust no one. Duo smiled, somewhat ruefully.
I guess Dr. G's training failed, he thought.
"Now, Heero, on the other hand..."
Duo flipped over on his back and stared unseeing at the ceiling. Heero was so different from him. When he'd first met the darkhaired boy, Heero had been so quiet, but the flashing blue eyes had spoken volumes. If he didn't know better, he would have thought that Heero wanted to kill him. At this, the longhaired boy smirked. Heero probably did. But he didn't… Duo frowned slightly, wondering why. Heero had had a lot of chances to do it, if he really wanted to. And Duo knew he got on the shorthaired boy's nerves enough -no, more than enough - to warrant Heero shooting him in the head. But…
"But I'm still breathing," Duo whispered with a soft huff.
Sighing, Duo picked himself up off the bed, sauntering over to stand by the window. Outside, there were a few - very few, he noted - students walking, enjoying the fine weather. Duo continued gazing, not really seeing anything but just skimming over whatever his eyes lit on. He wondered whether he had ever missed growing up normally. Or just plain growing up. Wrinkling his face into a small moue of mock disgust, Duo stuck his tongue out at his reflection in the glass. "You, my dear Duo Maxwell," the boy smirked at the faint reflection, "were born grown up." And that was true, he felt as he turned abruptly, tugging at his clothes. He couldn't remember ever being a child. Even with Solo, he'd never really thought of playing or other things children his age then should be doing. Then, it was a question of survival. There was no time for games. Until the orphanage, of course. That had been his first real chance at a normal childhood - as normal as a fatherless and motherless child could have, anyway. But it had gone too soon…
Duo stiffened slightly, remembering. "Oh stop it, Maxwell. Stop all this self-pity shit," he scolded himself. "Nobody wants to listen to that. Not even yourself, so just shut up." Then, giving a small, agitated shake of the head, the longhaired boy pulled at a white T-shirt and a pair of dark biker shorts. If being alone made him remember, then he bloody well refused to be alone, the boy grumbled to himself as he walked out of the room.
* * *
"I got it! I got it!" Duo cried, reaching for the ball as it bounced off the hoop. And he would have, as he jumped to intercept the incoming ball, if one of the boys from the opposite team did not choose that very moment to jump right in front of him.
"Oof!" he cried, crashing into the bigger boy's body and falling flat to the ground. "Aiyah! Watch where you're jumpin', ne?" Duo groaned, sitting up slowly. Strange, the world seemed to be dancing…
"Oi," a gruff voice asked in a worried tone.
"Huh?" Duo looked up into the speaker's - the boy he crashed into, he recalled - face, slightly dazed.
"You okay?" The speaker's face moved in and out of focus as Duo blinked several times until the boy's image finally decided to stand still. "You okay?" the boy repeated, sounding a little more than slightly worried.
"Uh..yeah," Duo grunted, struggling to stand.
"Here," the other boy said, extending an arm. Duo gripped the offered forearm and promptly pulled himself up, briefly remembering a similar action in an entirely different situation.
"Thanks…uh…what was your name again?" the longhaired boy asked somewhat sheepishly.
"Kenichi - just call me Ken," the boy grinned brightly.
Great! He just had to have a Japanese name…
The solidly-built blonde stood several inches taller than him, Duo realised as he steadied himself. But he seemed like a nice enough guy…
"Damn! Ow..Oh shit!" Duo muttered, as a shooting pain suddenly lanced up his right leg. Of all the bloody times to get a sprained ankle…
"Why? What's wrong?" Ken asked, worry once more edging his voice. The other boys had stopped their game and began to mill around the two of them.
"I think I twisted something," Duo winced as another sharp pain shot up his leg when he tried putting weight on his right foot. "Heh!" he grinned crookedly at the other boys, "guess I have to sit the game out, ne?"
"Ah," Ken nodded. "Come on, I'll take you to the infirmary," he offered. "Can't have a proper game with five people, anyway," he chuckled as he waved the other boys off. Putting his arm around Duo's slight waist, he made to support the longhaired boy when he realised that the other had stiffened noticeably.
"Hey, anything wrong, Solo?"
Duo started at the question, slightly off-balanced by the name he'd assumed for this particular mission. "Uh..no. Let's go," he muttered, trying to relax as he leaned slightly on Ken's stolid frame but hating every minute of it. Come on, Duo. This is nothing, nothing, nothing. Stop being so paranoid, he thought to himself. He hadn't realised that he'd been holding his breath when he felt the other boy's arm go around him. It's been so long, he thought bitterly as they made their way slowly through empty school corridors. He shouldn't even remember it anymore, much less react to an innocent touch like that. Damn! He should have paid more attention to Dr. G's sessions on self-hypnotism…
* * *
"Okay…That should do it," the nurse smiled as she put the finishing touches to the elastic bandage. "Just don't put too much weight on that for a few days."
"Hai," Duo grinned back. "Anything you say, ma'm."
The nurse chuckled before continuing. "If it starts to swell too much, come back and I'll see what I can do, Mr. Maxwell."
"Ano…Just…just Solo, if you don't mind, ojousan," Duo blushed. "The mister tag makes me feel so old," he whispered exaggeratedly, winking at a grinning Ken.
"Oh? And I suppose that's supposed to make me feel younger?" the nurse retorted with a mock glare.
"Eh..eh...Iie, iie!" Duo sweatdropped, waving his hands before him. "Ish..I'm losing my touch," he muttered to himself.
"No, Solo-kun," the nurse smiled. "You flirt well. Just pick someone your own age, ne?" she laughed, swatting a sheepish Duo lightly on the head. "Go get some rest," she motioned towards the door.
"Hai," Duo grinned back. "Domo arigatou, ojousan," he bowed slightly before Ken helped him out. "And you do look my age!" he sang out as he disappeared out of the door.
The nurse shook her head slightly, amused and, strangely enough, flattered. "Youngsters nowadays," she clucked as she sat at the terminal to type in her report. After a few minutes of browsing through the student records, she frowned.
"Strange..." she muttered softly. Glancing back at the clipboard, she entered the name into the computer again. Again, the databank gave the same answer it did several times before.
Solo Maxwell did not exist.
Duo grimaced as he limped to the Principal's office. Fortunately, the haversack didn't weigh much, he sighed. It had seemed an endless few hours before he'd managed to shoo Ken off after dinner. Much as he'd liked to chat but in his line of work, friends were more of a liability - or a luxury.
One Duo couldn't afford at the moment.
Perhaps during easier times…Perhaps things could be different. Besides, Ken was getting to be a little too friendly for his liking.
Heero had once remarked that he attracted too much attention. Damn the boy, Duo huffed. He hated it when Heero was right. Duo didn't know why he did it, how he did it. He just did.
"I must be in the wrong line," the boy muttered under his breath. He liked attention too much to be an effing spy. Pity the attention he got was always from the wrong people. Maybe he should be more like Heero or Trowa…
Duo bit back a twinge from his ankle even as he mentally chuckled at the thought. He'd have to have that properly taken care of when he got back to base - maybe a nice hot compress…
He reached the office without mishap, his ankle only slightly tingling from the slow walk from the students' wing to the administrative section of the school.
"Humph…For a posh private school, ya'd think they'd have more computers everywhere," the longhaired boy grumbled as he picked the lock open. Checking that no one saw him in the darkened corridor, Duo slipped inside.
* * *
Grim-faced, Heero tapped out the coded message, signalling Duo to start uploading the remainder of the virus components. Thankfully, the mission was in its final phase. Once the virus was uploaded into the OZ system, he could blow the joint. He didn't think he could risk another day in the facility without being detected.
Today alone had been a massive game of cat-and-mouse - after questions started being asked about Trowa's absence. Even though officially, Trowa had been 'dismissed' and his term of service terminated, that didn't stop his fellow workers from wondering. That was one disadvantage of a long-term infiltration mission, Heero frowned as he waited for Duo's reply. One tended to get to know others, and there was always one baka too many that had the damned curiosity of a cat. Almost like…
Heero smirked. Once this mission was over, he had another - a more personal one - to take care of.
All the solitary nights he spent in the facility - when he wasn't hacking into one information system or other, that is - had finally firmed his resolve. It had taken Duo's shying away from him to make him realise how much he'd wanted more out of their so-far platonic relationship. There was something in the longhaired boy that appealed to him, strangely enough. And it wasn't the fact that Duo was one of the few that could actually make him laugh, either. No, there was something else - something deeper. And the American boy had hinted at feeling the same way towards him so many weeks ago, Heero realised. But lately, Duo seemed to have changed his mind. At least, outwardly, Heero mused.
The screen lit up with data, signalling that Duo had finished uploading the virus from his end. Now, it was up to him.
"Ryoukai," Heero whispered as he inserted the disk that held the final bit of the computer virus. His mind wandered again as he waited for the virus to upload, turning once more to the braided American that had begun haunting his thoughts of late. Duo had stopped his more obvious overtures, Heero noted. In fact, the longhaired boy had seemed to be embarrassed at actually having attempted anything in the first place. And when Heero'd confronted him about it that morning - it seemed so long ago - Duo had actually seemed flustered, surprised even. And yet…
Heero scowled in the darkness. He knew he'd hit on something that morning. Something that Duo wanted to keep hidden and yet wanted to share. With him.
"Chik'so!" Damn this mission! Damn this mission for coming in at the wrong time!
* * *
Duo hummed softly as the virus uploaded itself. Soon, the mission would be over. As soon as he received Heero's confirmation message, he would be well on his way to the pick-up point.
The American glanced at his watch. 1.30 a.m. It was still early, and by the way things were going, he'd have everything wrapped up in half an hour at the most. That left him two whole hours to get to the rendezvous point to meet up with Heero.
"So I'll be there an hour early," Duo grinned to himself. Not that Heero would appreciate his punctuality, of course. He'd most probably be scolded for not using the time more fruitfully.
Like hacking into OZ files via the school's computers.
"Hmm," Duo pondered, rubbing his chin in mock concentration. "Maybe I will just do that." Duo leaned closer towards the terminal as he typed in potential passwords. A pull-down menu appeared on the screen as one password caught. A small half-smile lit up his face as he scrolled down the list of particulars. "Okay…Let's see what this place is about," he muttered softly, clicking onto the school background information.
Several pages of run-of-the-mill information were called up and Duo skimmed over them. What a bore, he yawned as he scrolled down the screen, slumping affectedly over the desk.
Until a small paragraph caught his eye.
Duo sat up almost immediately as he speed-read the short section. So short that it might have been missed had he not been looking specifically for it.
The school was privately funded by several major players in the Romefeller Foundation. And no less than two of them were linked directly to the Specials, the organisation that pulled OZ's strings.
"Hoo boy," Duo whistled softly as he shook his head minutely, quickly memorizing each line.
The last sentence had him gulping nervously. The principal was a Romefeller activist - with direct connections to OZ.
"Uh-oh. This is not a good place to be," Duo groaned. Perhaps he'd risk Heero's scolding after all…
A silent flashing at the corner of the screen indicated that Heero's confirmation message had come in. Just in time, Duo smirked as he changed screens and prepared to acknowledge Heero's signal. His skin was already crawling and he just itched to get out of this place…
"Good evening, Mr. Maxwell."
Duo's head snapped up in surprise. At the same time, bright light flooded the room as someone switched on the room's fluorescent lights. Beside the now-open door, a tall man leaned nonchalantly against the jamb. He was slightly past middle-aged, judging from the streaks of white that interrupted the glossy darkness of his hair. The man smirked as he straightened up and walked towards Duo.
Dressed in a smoking jacket, Duo immediately recognised the man from his very recent foray into the school's information system.
Ramzei Olafson III.
Otherwise known as the principal whose office he was in.
Duo tried to bite back a curse but failed. The softly uttered profanity spilled out automatically, bringing a sarcastic chuckle from the advancing man.
"Students of this school were never taught such language, Mr. Maxwell. Obviously," the man sneered, "you are not from this school. Are you?" The question came out as a hiss. At the same instant, the man pulled out a revolver from one of his jacket's pockets, pointing it at the defiant-looking boy behind the desk.
The next few minutes were a blur for the longhaired Shinigami pilot. As soon as Olafson pulled out the gun, Duo ducked behind the monitor and swiped it away with his arm, hurling it towards the man with all the force he could muster. Grabbing his own handgun from its usual hidden spot - safely tucked away in his waistband - Duo jumped onto the desk and scrambled over it to the other side.
Olafson tried to avoid the flying monitor, bringing up his arms to shield his face from the unexpected projectile. However, the monitor hit him head on, bringing a pained yelp from the man as he stumbled backwards.
"Aargh! You bloody - " Olafson grunted as Duo slammed into him in a full body tackle, sending the older man sprawling across the floor. Hardly stopping to draw breath, the boy scrambled to his feet, eyes quickly searching out for Olafson's weapon.
Duo swiftly kicked the handgun out of the man's reach, nicking Olafson's hand at the same time - much to the man's dismay as he howled with pain. Not that Duo - "Oh Shit!" he hissed - had it any easier as he belatedly realised that he had kicked at the gun with his right leg, sending fresh pain shooting up his tortured ankle. Wincing slightly, Duo raised his arm to deliver a quick backhanded chop to the man's head - he couldn't risk shooting the man; the gunshot might bring more reinforcements. Besides, shooting an unarmed man was so uncool! - when Olafson suddenly twisted and lunged at his legs with a scissor-like movement, trapping the boy's legs between his own. Olafson pulled, bracing his upper body on his elbows.
Duo went down with a startled gasp, falling backwards - Thank God for the carpet, he groaned - onto the floor. He pin-wheeled, barely bracing his fall with a hastily extended arm. His breath whooshed out of him as he landed painfully on his lower back, the jarring in his sacrum travelling quickly up his spine as his arm folded under him. Before Duo could regain his breath, he felt the man scrambling over his legs in an effort to pin him down.
"K'so! Nanda tou!" Duo growled, ignoring the throbbing of his ankle and back as he reached forward to throw the bulkier man off him.
Olafson managed to straddle Duo's thighs before the boy started bucking. His lips pulled back into a twisted sneer, Olafson struck out at the boy as he pushed the boy's torso down with his other arm.
For one millisecond, Duo froze. The man's weight on his body; the man's hands on him brought back flashes of a past memory - one he'd rather forget. Sensing the slight decrease in the boy's struggles, Olafson struck, clipping Duo on the jaw.
Olafson's eyes widened in shocked surprise. He didn't hit him that hard, surely? In fact, he'd been rather off target. A proper punch would have sent the boy into oblivion, not make him…scream? A soft thud reverberated in Olafson's head as something slammed into his face, sending him hurtling backwards. Vaguely, he felt his face become wet as something warm bathed his skin. He heard a strange, yet familiar sound in the distance - a bang? - and then, nothing.
Duo stared at the still body with wild eyes. His hand shook as he tightened his grip on his gun, vaguely registering that he was hyperventilating. Cold sweat ran down his temple, seeping into the collar of his shirt. Absently, the boy wiped at his face with the back of his free hand as he shakily got to his feet. The sharp, bitter smell of gunpowder teased at his nose and Duo could almost taste it on his tongue. Mixed with the sweet, heavy smell of blood. The gun suddenly felt very heavy in his hand. When did he pull the trigger? He hadn't realised - didn't mean to - but he had and he did.
The boy looked down, thankfully noting that he was not too drenched with the dead man's blood. There was probably a lot though, he realised - though the black material of his clothes would not show it up. Slowly, Duo walked over to the corpse - Olafson had to be dead. No one could take a bullet between the eyes at point blank range and live, surely. Not even Heero - and nudged it with the tip of one booted foot. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Duo wondered why his ankle didn't hurt anymore. Hell, he didn't even feel anything! It was like he was floating…
Olafson didn't move, staring at him with empty, dead eyes. Of course, Duo chuckled - Why did he feel like crying? - inwardly. Olafson was dead.
Crouching down, Duo double-checked. No pulse.
Olafson looked so funny, staring at him with two empty eyes and another 'eye' in between. Duo giggled. Why did this strike him as being so hilarious? Duo chuckled again, covering his eyes with his hand as he tried to regain some semblance of self-control. His hand came away wet. What? He was - ?!?
A loud gasp from the door made Duo snap his head up, his inane chuckling immediately gone.
In the doorway stood a slight, trembling figure of a woman. Wrapped in a dressing gown, the school nurse stared at Duo with wide, confused eyes. Her hands covered her mouth and her gaze darted between the prone body on the floor and the pale face of the boy crouching beside him.
Duo almost jumped to his feet, automatically aiming his gun at the panicked woman. His trigger finger started to squeeze - All who see me must die! - but something held him back. Confused, Duo stared back beseechingly at the nurse, silently begging her to run. Don't make me kill you. Please…
The woman gave a startled cry when she saw what Duo intended to do. Then, her pretty eyes rolled back and she swooned, falling silently to the floor.
"Eh?" Duo cocked his head in surprise. He'd expected the woman to scream, to freeze or just to make a run for it. He never expected her to faint.
Which was what he felt close to doing, ironically. Vaguely, Duo realised that he felt cold - although he seemed to be sweating a lot - and that his skin was clammy. Not good, he thought. He was going into shock. Why the Hell was he going into shock? What the Hell is wrong with me? Duo screamed to himself. The loud tattoo of footsteps coming towards the room tore him away from his inner self. Frantically, Duo looked around the room. There was no other exit other than the door. How the Hell was he going to get out of - ?
Duo's eyes caught the flutter of drapes. The window!
Without further ado, the longhaired boy sprinted towards the opening - grabbing his haversack and secreting his gun once more - and prepared to jump out.
"Ah shitshitshit!" Duo cursed as he surveyed the long drop to the ground. Peering forlornly into the dark, he could make out no trellis, ledges or nearby branches that would have eased his journey to the ground. In the background, the sound of footsteps became louder - he could hear voices as well, now. Why me, he moaned inwardly. Again, the braided boy eyed the ground, gulping. "Baka ne," he muttered. There was no other choice.
Duo heaved a deep breath, cursed and jumped.
* * *
Again Heero sent his confirmatory signal. It remained unanswered. Damn! Something was wrong! Something had to be wrong!
Duo had signalled him to begin uploading, and Heero had acknowledged. It was standard procedure. And yet Duo had not acknowledged the Japanese boy's last messages. Heero threw a quick glance at the clock on the wall. It was past two in the morning. If he waited any longer for Duo's signal, he would be behind schedule. With an irritated exhalation of breath, Heero quickly and expertly closed down all connections, erasing whatever links he had with the OZ facility. It was time to go, and the sooner the better.
Frowning, Heero grabbed at his jacket - it would be cold outside - and haversack, carrying it in one hand as he slipped on the denim jacket. He had a bit more than an hour to make it to the rendezvous point. They had agreed earlier to make it somewhere far enough so as to be clear of possible OZ patrols. Although it would be slightly inconvenient for Heero as he had to travel on foot, their earlier recon surveys had identified a relatively safe and easy route from the facility to the spot where he was scheduled to meet Duo. Hefting the haversack onto his back, Heero grunted. If he met Duo…
* * *
Duo grunted, hissing in pain as he landed on the hard turf. Vaguely, he felt something snap but the sensation was fleeting and strangely subdued. Thank God for small mercies, the braided boy grimaced as he scampered across the school grounds under the cover of scattered trees and bushes, hiding from the moonlight. The breeze felt cool on his skin. Duo shivered. Too cold, he observed absently.
Behind him, Duo could hear agitated voices as his handiwork was discovered. Failing to suppress a self-satisfied smirk, the boy continued to make his way to the motorcycle hidden in the woods. Just as he neared the borders of the school grounds, the building behind him erupted in a flurry of activity as spotlights were switched on and the sounds of loud voices carried in the night breeze.
"Shit!" Duo cursed softly as he risked a momentary glance behind him. Thankfully the spotlights were stationary and he was no longer in their range. But by the sound of the voices, he guessed that the game was up and that the school authorities had finally figured out where he went.
Suddenly a different sound filled the night air - a sound that made Duo's blood run cold.
Duo froze in his tracks for a tense moment before the realisation hit him like a falling mobile suit. "Fuckin' shit! Damn OZ hounds! Damn …" Duo expressed his entire repertoire of choice curses as he increased his speed as much as his throbbing leg allowed him.
"When were dogs a part of a boarding school's ensemble?" Duo muttered angrily.
When the school's funded by OZ, a small voice within him volunteered.
Shimata! They were probably using hunting dogs, Duo realised. Probably kept for those hoity-toity fox- hunts that aristocrats seemed to enjoy so much. Only now the prey was no fox, but one damned baka who lost control of himself, Duo rebuked himself. Stupid fool, he scolded silently as he quickly slipped past hedges that seemed to enjoy inflicting small, barely-felt scratches on the exposed skin of his arms and hands.
"If I had the time, I'd shoot myself and save Heero the trouble when he finds out about this…"
After what seemed like a painfully endless journey through the less-than-dense woods, the camouflaged motorcycle was a welcome sight. Duo could hardly hold back a sigh of relief as he pulled away the foliage used to hide the vehicle. Strapping the haversack on the pillion seat, the longhaired boy eased himself into the saddle, kick-starting the motorbike and gunning the throttle in one continuous movement.
The wheels sprayed dirt and grass as Duo made his getaway.
* * *
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