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The Sniper Project : Chapter 1

And here, it begins...

--Safe House 023E

Duo sat up.
Normally this was no overly impressive feat for him; he fairly burst with vitality and energy.
However, it WAS four AM. Considering the fact that he'd actually gone to bed at a decent hour, and not attempted to pull an all-nighter, that made a lot of difference.
He glanced over at Heero, whom he shared a room with at this particular safe house, almost without thinking. The pale, Prussian-eyed pilot looked unusually peaceful asleep.
Duo wondered why he wasn't awake. Heero was a lighter sleeper than Duo (he'd proven it, sometimes quite painfully, on several occasions) and whatever stimulus Duo had reacted to should have made Heero react as well.
However, it hadn't. That pointed to something Heero couldn't see. Or hear. Or even feel.
Shaking his head muddily, Duo managed to stay awake for all of three more minutes.
Then, he fell back, and was asleep before he hit the sheets.

--Elsewhere (Same time)

The scientist looked at his newest 'project.' Created solely for laboratory use, she was really almost too pretty for menial laboratory duty.
However, that same beauty made her perfect for the job he had in store for her.
"So, you've planted AND activated the chip?" he asked her.
She nodded, preferring movement to words, as usual.
"Good. Now go and brainwash him. With HIM in our grasp we cannot lose. Not only will we have an inside link to a powerful force, but a hideously strong fighting machine as well!" he said, allowing himself a slight chuckle of success.
The girl nodded again. With the special chip implanted in his body, Duo Maxwell would be unable to resist her.
She stood.

--Safe House 023E (A couple of hours later)

Duo woke up bright and early the next morning. He yawned and glanced over at Heero's bed, pushing his bangs out of his eyes sleepily.
The other pilot was already gone.
A strange pain suddenly flashed through Duo's head as he thought a few rude--and probably wrong--thoughts. Duo shook his head and sighed as that pain floated through his brain again, hazily. He was probably with...Relena.
Not that Duo had anything against the rather...clingy blonde girl...another strand of pain.
What was he thinking? He wasn't jealous. Heero had no ties to him beyond friendship. And Duo certainly wasn' he? He shook his head muddily, wondering where that pain had come from...
Suddenly, and without explanation, he thought of the girl he'd met yesterday in town. It had only been for a split second, but she'd smiled at him as she brushed past. Later, he'd met up with her at a cafe and worked in some of his irresistible charm. They'd shaken hands and left, but he'd made plans to meet her again tomorrow.
Perhaps the strangest thing had been her hair...instead of the normal colors...a dark brown, a black...maybe blonde, it was a striking silver color. Not the dimmed, diluted silver of hair that had lost all its pigment, but a shimmering, shining metal color in its own right. Mysterious hair.
Duo shook off the last traces of sleepiness and with them faded memories of the girl. He didn't know why he'd thought of her so suddenly, still. Yawning, he pulled on his clothes and walked downstairs to grab something to eat.
Surprisingly, when Duo reached the kitchen door, he found the other four pilots seated at the table. Quatre and Trowa had plates of toast and eggs, and a skillet in the sink, though cleanly washed and drained, spoke of Quatre's early morning efforts. Quatre's face was missing the warm smile that usually adorned it, even at this hour--Quatre was, inexplicably, almost always a cheerful person, no matter the hour of day or night.
And that was just the odd thing. Quatre hadn't smiled--cracked a joke--even acted CHEERFUL since they'd gotten back from town yesterday. Despite several attempts to cheer him up, the boy appeared to be either lost in thought, or gravely considering something. It was just too odd.
Across from the blonde boy, Trowa pushed his eggs and toast around his plate aimlessly. He snuck glances at the blonde boy occasionally, careful to keep them secret. He was, in truth, worried about his blonde friend. He'd never seen Quatre this grave for this long before...not since the wars, anyway.
Next at the table were Wufei and Heero. They had similar bowls of rice and similar chopsticks--credit to their Asian heritage. Even if Heero didn't exactly look Japanese, he managed to have a bowl of rice now and then or secretly flaunt his prowess with chopsticks (or so he thought) at Asian restaurants. Wufei was simply eating his rice as he usually did, not too fast, not too slow, somewhere in the middle, a good eating pace. Wufei complained about slow eaters and he smirked when people ate too fast and got a stomachache. That was just the way he was.
Duo put on a half-assed smile just as an enormous, jaw-cracking yawn burst from his lips. "Yo!" he said as cheerfully as he could manage and stumbled over to a cupboard, pulling out a bowl and a box of cereal. He got milk from the refrigerator and hastily poured out the cereal. He reached into the silverware drawer to grab a spoon, but somehow ended up with one of the sporks he'd brought back from some cheap fast-food restaurant they'd eaten at. Not even noticing, he stumbled over and sat down across from Wufei, beginning to eat his cereal. With a spork.
After a few sporkfuls of cereal, Duo realized something was wrong with his eating utensil. He held it up, squinting, and Wufei snorted.
"Maxwell, you baka." he said. "It's just like you to not realize exactly WHAT you're eating with until you've already eaten half of your food," he said imperiously.
"Well, I don't see how you and Heero eat with THOSE things..." Duo retaliated. "If I was given a pair of those, I'd probably either tie a fork to the end of one or sharpen the end and stab my food."
Wufei gave Duo a reproving glance and went back to eating his rice, neatly and accurately. Duo snorted and went back to eating his cereal. With the spork.
Heero looked across the table diagonally at the violet-eyed boy, still eating his rice at a steady pace, slightly quicker than Wufei, however. He watched as Duo scooped up a spoonful of the cereal and attempted to eat it, most of the milk spilling out through the 'tines' of the spork and the baka stabbing himself in the tongue as he bit down. The boy was, well, there was no other word for it. Adorable. Not so long ago, Heero would have labeled him as a baka and practically thrown a spoon at his head, forcing him to eat correctly. However, he let the boy carry on in uncharacteristic silence, both making a mess and hurting himself by intervals, both of which were harshly accepted by the Chinese pilot seated across from him, who continued to tag him as a baka.
Heero struggled against feelings that Dr. J had buried so well, so ... completely? No, not completely or he wouldn't be feeling them now. Studiously tucking more rice into his mouth, he thought back to the past. He'd been practically tortured every day. His very parents had been tagged as evil, not that he could remember them. Love was an enemy; it made the soldier weak. A soldier did not need love, did not need to give love. However, Duo's eternally cheerful personality had finally broken through Heero's hard shell, and Heero had made his first friend. The others had become friends as well, but Heero had always felt a closeness, some sort of attachment about Duo he hadn't been able to describe and was too prideful to talk about.
He only wished that he could tell Duo his true feelings, but he was skeptical of what the braided boy would say. It was quite obvious Duo preferred girls, or was it? Some of the glances that Duo shot Heero were downright...strange. Heero, definitely NOT being the world's expert on emotions, couldn't decipher them. He held back from the simple fear that if he told his friend how he really felt, he might lose him. And he didn't want to lose Duo. Because that, as sure as anything, would bury those feelings again. And this time, nothing would be left to mark where they were; they'd be six feet deep and gone for good. And with that chain of thought, Heero went back to eating his rice.

--Nearby Town (Later in the day)

All the Gundam Pilots had gone off in different directions. Heero had looked as if, rather, he'd like to go with Duo. However, Relena had appeared and was tugging him away.
Duo stared at their backs, a look of unabashed longing on his face.
Relena really didn't know just how lucky she was. Once again, his head whipped with pain. He shook it off, threw his thoughts of Heero to the wind and looked around for the girl he'd met the other day. She wasn't hard to find.
He saw her silvery hair shining in the wind on a corner and she waved to him. He waved back, then walked over to her and said hello. They then walked to a small outdoor cafe to continue their talk.

--Different Area of Same Town (A couple of hours later)

Quatre frowned. He'd been looking around in a music shop for a couple of hours, and not only was it starting to get dark, but one of his friends was was barely registering, but he could still feel it.
The bell above the door jingled. Quatre looked up from the display of violin solos and duets he had been examining in time to see Trowa step into the shop.
Trowa looked around the store at the highly polished instruments and collections of music, and nodded when the owner called out a greeting. He then spied Quatre near the violin music section and barely managed to hide his happiness. He walked over to the smaller boy.
"What are you looking at?" he questioned quietly.
"Solos and duets..." Quatre said, rubbing his forehead. That nervousness was much stronger now, and laced through with a dim panic and an edge of raw fear...
Trowa looked at his friend. "What's wrong? Why're you--"
He didn't get any further. Quatre gasped at that moment and clutched at his chest, mumbling two words as his eyes widened and a pain swept through his body. "Duo...pain..."
Trowa's eyes widened in shock. Quatre was trembling and looked like he was going to pass out. Worried for his friend, Trowa shook him gently, but it didn't have any effect. Just then Quatre's eyes rolled up in his head and he started to drop. Hoping that he'd forgive him later, he caught the blonde boy and gently cradled him in his arms. He was surprised at just how little the boy weighed.
He easily carried him to the front of the shop, where the owner inquired what was going on and if there was anything she could do. Trowa replied politely, saying it happened sometimes and getting him home would be the best thing. The owner nodded assent, though hesitantly, and Trowa walked out of the shop.
Wufei was in the shop across the street, and happened to look up and through a window just as soon as Trowa came out of the music shop carrying Quatre. The Chinese boy's eyes widened in shock and he mumbled a curse under his breath, fumbling as he paid for his purchase. He finished paying and ran out of the store and across to Trowa.
"Is he okay?" Wufei asked.
"I hope he will be...he said Duo was in pain, then blacked out." Trowa said, trying to conceal the worry in his voice.
Wufei snarled. "We'd better find that baka then and see what he's gotten himself into THIS time!" he snapped, running off down the street.
Trowa followed, slower, so as not to disturb Quatre. Just then the blonde boy started to stir a bit. Trowa looked down at him just as he opened his eyes.
Those eyes...! Beautiful...depthless...ocean colored...there was pain flickering in their depths, and on the surface floated quick shock, then wonderment and gratitude. Trowa was barely able to control his emotions as he stared into Quatre's eyes. That gaze might be beautiful, but it had a soul-searching quality.
Quatre smiled up at his friend, able to feel his distress. "Trowa...don't try to hide your emotions. It only leads to pain later on," he advised.
Trowa seemed to struggle with himself for a few seconds, then the mask dropped. "Quatre..." Trowa said quietly, concern filtering into that pure emerald gaze that hadn't seen such emotion in so long conveyed through it...a voice unused to speaking in anything beyond a monotone struggled to properly emphasize words...he'd had so little practice...he'd shown emotions a few times since he'd met the others, and admittedly, it became easier over time, but it was still difficult...
Quatre was astonished to see this. His friend had made an honest effort and while his emotions, portrayed such as this, might be classed as clumsy at best, they were beautiful to the smaller boy. Because Trowa had done it...for him. He blushed slightly but managed to control it, glad for the half darkness, and spoke.
"I'm okay, Trowa...don't worry...but..oh! Duo! Where's Duo? He was in such pain!" Quatre said in a pained voice...he wondered where his friend was, and how he could have forgotten about him.
The comforting look on Trowa's face, though not the best, was beautiful and priceless to Quatre. "Don't worry about it...Wufei's gone to find him and we're following." Trowa told him.
Quatre seemed to think for a moment, trying to process all the information. "Hmm...okay." he finally managed.

--Nearby, same town (same time)

Heero had finally lost Relena and was walking back to the place that all the pilots had agreed to meet at, when Wufei came barreling towards him, shouting Chinese war curses and not caring exactly who he ran into. Heero, startled slightly, stepped back. Few things could make Wufei react like that. He ran after the Chinese boy, gun drawn, as soon as he passed.
He slammed into Wufei when he stopped, but managed to not fall backwards. Heero looked up at Wufei as the boy looked back at him. His face was pale, unsmiling...and...worried.
"Wufei...what's wrong?" Heero asked. Wufei merely turned and pointed to something in front of him. Heero leapt nimbly to his feet and looked where Wufei was pointing.
His gaze traveled to Duo...a crowd was forming...Duo...Duo was lying there...
Duo was lying a pool of his own blood...unconsious...bullet all ran through Heero's mind...the baka had given things away...he had gotten himself shot...he tried to analyze how large a chance Duo had of surviving but thoughts milled in his head until he nearly screamed with the pressure...and he could control his facade no longer...
"No...Duo! DUO!" he didn't realize the pained shout as his own, didn't realize he'd moved until he was kneeling beside Duo, the blood soaking into the knees of his jeans as he stared at the other pilot.
He didn't see the look of alarm and dawning recognition on Wufei's face...

--Hospital (a couple of days later)

Heero was pacing.
Wufei looked up at the Japanese pilot. Heero hadn't slept, hadn't eaten, since they'd brought Duo here...they'd barely persuaded him to take baths and change clothes, he was so agitated. Such behavior was un-Heerolike, and none of the pilots could explain it.
Wufei yawned, and looked to his side. Trowa was sitting next to him in some of the uncomfortable hospital chairs, and Quatre on his other side. Quatre was asleep, his face mercifully clean of pain and fear, two emotions that had claimed him almost straight for the past two days.
Trowa glanced sideways at the blonde boy...he was slipping...slipped...his head came to rest on Trowa's shoulder. Trowa let it rest there, and didn't seem to mind when Quatre grabbed his nearest arm in his sleep.
Just then the door into the room where their friend had been taken opened. Quatre was instantly awake. The doctor stepped out, closed the door, then turned around to find four boys staring intently at him. He cleared his throat.
"As you know...your friend had two bullet wounds in his chest. We also discovered internal his brain," the doctor said slowly, trying to phrase everything out in an unthreatening way.
Quatre's grip on Trowa's arm tightened. No! Duo can't be dead!
"Fortunately..." the doctor began again, clearing his throat, "We were able to save him. We didn't even have to cut his hair, due to a few new techniques we've discovered in the past few years," the doctor said, smiling, remembering how the boy had unconsciously clutched the long, thick rope of hair to his chest whenever he could.
"Miraculously, the brain was unharmed. Somehow, it almost looks like the brain was..well, just sort of sweating blood...that's the best way I can think to describe it...there were no get the picture. We just drained out the excess blood, and, well, he's okay now. We've still got him heavily sedated...the chest surgery went perfectly, by the way. We also removed a strange object from his appears to be some sort of computer chip."
Alarm bells went off in Heero's mind. "Do you still have it?"
"Yes, we do."
"I will ask you to give that chip to me for further analysis." Heero practically ordered. The doctor looked taken aback, then said, "Certainly, I suppose."
Silence hung on the air for a long moment, then, surprisingly, Heero cleared his throat and asked the question that hovered on every pair of lips.
"Can we visit him?"
The doctor nodded. "Of course--he's unconscious...I mentioned we had him sedated..."
"You did, but I would like to see him anyway." Heero said forcefully.
"We all would," Quatre added, to take the sting out of the statement.
"Fine." The doctor said. "One at a time."
Heero looked at the others. "I'll go last."
Wufei blinked. "I'll go first...and...see the baka, get it over with," he said, trying to hide his obvious pleasure that his friend was okay by sounding gruff. It didn't work. The other three pilots smiled weakly.
Wufei muttered something and walked into the room. He looked down at Duo, covered in monitors, electrodes, strange tubes...the boy didn't look the same as his normal, bouncy self...Wufei's breath caught in his throat against his will.
He sat down in a chair and recited several Chinese poems from memory before leaving. He didn't notice the slight flutter in Duo's brainwaves when he did so.
Trowa was next. He looked at the boy for a moment, then cleared his throat and told Duo that he'd been taking care of Deathscythe for him, using Duo's nickname for his Gundam, Shinigami. He thought it might help the boy. Unbeknownst to him, it did. He left, and Quatre walked in.
Quatre cheerfully chattered with Duo. He talked about several different things, and he could have sworn Duo stirred once or twice. None of the pilots knew, of course, that Duo was near the end of his sedation period, and that their concern was bringing him back from the unconsciousness he was caught in.
Heero was the last in. He sat down, looking away from Duo for a few seconds, then back at the boy. He cleared his throat, then took one of Duo's hands, careful not to disturb the IV drip going into Duo's wrist.
"Duo...I wish I could tell you everything..." he said. "But I've seen you with's not fear to tell you, but I just don't think I'd be able to act on it...and neither would you. It'd end up hurting both of us. I don't want to hurt you because you were the first real friend I made and I don't want to lose that friendship. But...I have to tell you anyway, and this seems the perfect time..."
Duo suddenly stirred. Heero gazed at the other pilot. He'd better make this quick.
"Duo, I've loved you for a long time. I can't stop it. I can't contain it. I know you may not love me back but I have to tell you anyway...I love you, Duo."
Heero quickly replaced Duo's hand on the blankets and walked out, blissfully unaware that Duo had heard the last four words he'd said and ran them over in his mind a hundred thousand times...

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