I should have remembered how sensitive Duo is about the few personal possessions he allows himself to keep, given our perpetual risk of sleeping at a new safehouse the next day, often fleeing in between. I think I'm the same way; gun, Wing, spare spandex - but I was never one for frills. I've never kept anything like... his frame.
I was studying it, trying to figure out why Duo kept an empty picture frame with him, when he caught me. He yelled at me for invading his privacy, among other things, and he wasn't afraid to use expletives and gestures to further his point. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Duo that angry. At one point, I dared ask why he kept it - which only served to fuel his fury. I felt myself shrink at the sight, put the frame back where I found it and made a retreat. I think I managed to mutter an apology on the way out.
Even I have limits to what I can take.
I made a guess at the frame - and a decision.
A few hours later, we were running for our lives. Our mission - a fairly standard 'get info and get out' thing - had gone sour. Duo and I kept accusing each other over who tripped the alarm, but it was a moot point. It was only a matter of time before bullets would catch up with us.
I was responsible for getting the 'information', while Duo was to cover our tracks - which meant-
From the corner of my eye, I saw him pull out the tiny detonator, flip the red cap aside and push the button. He side-stepped to land on my shoulders, tackling me to the ground, a mere split second before the flash and boom and rush of warm air swept across us. A big chunk of corrugated iron, probably a fragment of the former hangar roof, missed us by a few feet.
I tossed him off of me and glared at him like he was insane.
At the least, his grin was maddening. I knew it was part glee for making me frustrated. I rolled my eyes at it, and we ran on. The bullets never came, but they were not missed. Apparently, the guards were distracted.
Back at the safehouse, Duo started asking about the unexpected mission - especially, what we'd been sent to get. I hadn't told him, and I kept on doing that, struggling to avoid his question, regardless how he phrased it. In the end, he gave up. Without saying it, he knew I didn't want to tell him. I had my reasons.
I didn't have luck, though.
Just as he'd thrown up his arms in frustration, and as I was about to take the small folder from the OZ base upstairs, a sole sheet fell out.
Of me, strapped to a table at an Alliance medical facility. Not that you could see that; only my face was visible, my eyes closed. I don't know if it was taken before or after I regained consciousness - playing dead is an act I've learned well.
Duo stared at the picture on the floor, then at me. I bent to pick it up, but as I did, he snatched the folder out of my hands, and perused the contents.
Nearly all of it was OZ intelligence material; pictures and sketches of suspected Gundam pilots - us five included, drawings and schematics of the Gundams and other assorted images - all of it wide-spread within the OZ system already; nothing new we had to 'contain'. "They have copies..." I muttered, unable to meet his eyes at first.
When I finally did, I found him glaring at me; he knew that as well as I did. I wasn't the only one to have torn down a 'wanted for questioning' poster. "Then why the hell-"
"I was wondering if..." I mumbled, unsure how to say it. After a tense minute, I retreated up the stairs with the sole picture. He didn't try to stop me - I suppose he was as surprised at my actions as I was.
A minute later, I was back, bringing with me-
"Hey, I thought I told you not to touch that!"
Struggling not to frown, I nodded solemnly, handed the frame to him and looked away, only cautiously checking his reaction out of the corner of my eye.
He stared. At the frame, at me, back at the frame - and the face of a sleeping boy trapped behind the plastic.
It was the simplest way I could think of to say it, show it - or at least hint at it. They say a picture can tell a thousand words - but so can a gesture.
I glanced at his lips. Maybe I'd make myself perfectly clear...
Tomorrow, I thought as I turned away and retreated up the stairs. For this mission, I couldn't bear a failure.