See? I'm still working on my other stuff!
There was utter silence for a moment as they absorbed Dana's statement.
Wufei appeared to shudder once, then turned to face her. "So this is
She nodded, eyes wide and pained, her hand going to her right hip. "Hai," she replied, her voice soft but steady. "A fairly young one, from the size."
"They get bigger?" Quatre blurted out, wringing his hands in distress.
"They grow all their lives - legends say the very oldest are the size of mountains. That's a male, too - females are larger and more aggressive than the males."
"How much more aggressive?" Heero demanded, never taking his eyes from the screen.
Dana shrugged, seemingly casual, but Duo could feel the tension in her body. "That one is just an adolescent having fun - for the moment. When the military moves in, he'll become annoyed."
As if her words had been a cue, several missiles were shown on the screen, heading for the monster. They exploded harmlessly against its scales, causing little or no damage. The huge reptile roared, clearly furious, and turned to flame the mobile suits now surrounding it. Luckily, its flame did equally little damage to their armour. Its tail, however, was another story.
"How do you damage it?" Trowa asked.
Dana seemed to be struggling. "Well - I don't know much about the power of your weapons. I know ordinary swords won't even scratch it - you have to have one made of a dragon claw from a previous hunt to even have a chance. Even then - the scales on the back and sides are very tough." She frowned, thinking. "The best way to kill them is to annoy them until they get frustrated and stop thinking. Then they rear up, and you can get at their softer belly scales - IF you're lucky and very, very fast." She shuddered, obviously thinking of her own fight against one.
Duo blinked as he watched two more Leos taken out by the swinging, spiked tail. "You went up against one of those things by YOURSELF?" he asked, disbelieving. "With a SWORD? Are you CRAZY?"
She gave them a wry grin. "Now you know why it's not a very COMMON rite of passage. Most people who attempt it, never come back." She blinked, a thoughtful look passing over her face. "Though, I wonder now, how many were taken as I was, and never returned?"
"Oi!" Wufei exclaimed, bringing their attention back to the TV. "Looks like OZ figured it out. They're sending in Aries to harass it from above, and then attacking the belly with the Leos. The guns still aren't working, but the beam sabers are."
Dana breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness," she murmured. "But, why is it here at all? You said yourself that you'd never heard of one before, and you certainly have the capability to detect something so large and destructive just about anywhere on Earth. Why is this one here?"
"Perhaps someone else on their Dragon Hunt?" Quatre ventured, but Dana shook her head.
"It takes years to prepare for that sort of thing - unless you're very foolish, and very stupid, in which case you will soon be very dead. I hadn't heard of anyone else preparing for a Hunt - though, I suppose it is possible that someone from one of the far Kingdoms might not have been reported."
She turned worried eyes to the screen. "Twice, in two years," she murmured. "That doesn't make sense. Transportation is rare. Hitomi was reported to have been transported about on Gaia several times, when her life was in danger. And otousan said she once returned to the Mahou no Tsuki and back again, before leaving the final time. But all those incidents involved the same person, and it was all because of the pendant and her powers." She shook her head in confusion. "I don't understand why just a Dragon would suddenly appear, when it has not happened in thousands of years of your recorded history!"
Wufei grunted, and abruptly shut the TV off. "They're just cleaning up, now," he said, glaring at Dana as if he thought the damage caused by the Dragon was somehow HER fault. Well, she thought guiltily, maybe it was. "Are we going to see any more of these things?" he demanded harshly.
Duo pulled her into an unconsciously protective embrace. "Oi, Wu, that's not fair," he protested. "She just SAID she doesn't know where the hell THAT one came from, how's she supposed to know if more will come?"
Wu snorted and stalked out of the room. No one made any move to stop him. Heero also rose and moved for the door. "The scientists need to know about this, if they don't already," he said in his flat voice.
Dana sighed, and drifted over to the window to stare longingly outside. "Duo. do you think it would be okay if I went outside for awhile?"
"Of course you can, Dana-sama!" Quatre answered, beaming at her. "There's a rose garden and a water garden in the back. Just don't wander too far off. And try not to get lost in the hedge maze!"
Duo laughed and shook his head. "Man. What other terrorist group gets to hide out in such luxury? Man, Quatre, you really amaze me sometimes. C'mon, Dana, I'll show you the way out." He wrapped his arm about her waist and led her out of the room.
Duo cursed as yet another blinking yellow light on his console turned
abruptly red. There were more of those than green, now. That last battle
had taken a lot out of Shinigami, and Wing, off to his left, hadn't fared
much better. He checked to see what had gone wrong now.
Communications. Well, shit. Now he wouldn't be able to call Quatre on the secure short-distance frequency to ask how Dana was, without Heero remonstrating with him for not paying attention to the mission. Well, he'd just have to wait and see her personally. Between undercover school operations and frequent missions, he'd barely seen her in the past two months. Two more Dragons had appeared, though neither in areas as heavily populated as the first one, in that time. She had stayed on at Quatre's estate long after they'd all changed safe-houses, they all having decided it was best not to try to move her. They'd managed to snatch a few moments here and there, and he'd stolen a few more of those earth-shattering kisses, but he'd been looking forward to the promised down time at the end of this mission with even more fervour than usual.
As they neared the estate, he saw Wing dip towards him slightly. Realizing Heero had probably just tried to call him and been unsuccessful, he waved his scythe, and gestured at his (probably busted) antenna. Wing's head nodded fractionally, then focused back on the landing field. Duo sighed and concentrated on bringing Shinigami in for a smooth landing, to avoid any more damage to his beloved Gundam.
Something niggled at him, and he stared at the fuzzy image in his viewscreen, trying to figure out what seemed wrong with the picture. Finally, he realized it - that bird in the distance. his radar said it wasn't all THAT far away. But how could it possibly be THAT big. unless.
With a whoop, he watched Dana soar by him, discarded feathers swirling in the winds of her passage, her face bright and mouth open in what was probably a shout of laughter. She swung up above them, then dove, trading height for speed, and matched their pace towards the base, wings spread as she glided on the air currents.
Duo waved enthusiastically, forgetting for a moment that she couldn't see him, encased as she was in the cockpit. She waved back at him, though, her long hair floating behind her in a messy braid. As they approached the field, she beat her wings and strained for altitude, trying to get clear of the turbulent air currents they caused by landing. No sooner had he opened his cockpit though, then she was swooping in from over Shinigami's shoulder, to land, neat as you please, beside him.
"Duo!" She threw her arms around him and he hugged her back eagerly. "You're back!"
He held her at arm length and stared at her. Tanned by long hours in the warm sun, her hair brushed and shining, both wings mantled around her - she looked utterly magnificent. His throat dried up and he couldn't speak for a moment - a rare condition for him indeed.
"You. you really can FLY." he finally murmured, the awe in his voice coming through clearly.
She blushed, but smiled happily. "Hai, I really can." Grinning wickedly, she stepped back off the tiny platform, snapping her wings out at the last possible moment and spiraling around the Gundam, showing off. He turned to watch her, completely fascinated.
"Should you be straining them like that? They've only just healed!" he protested her acrobatics display. She laughed, the silver sound showering around him.
"I'm fine! It'll take months before I'm as good as I was before I was captured, but I can handle a few simple dives and turns!" To prove her point, she stooped on him from above, catching him beneath the arms and carrying him right off his Gundam.
"Hey!" he protested, clinging tightly to her supporting arms. He gulped - though he had no problems with heights, it was an AWFULLY long way down. She just laughed, and bore them both gently to the ground, placing him down carefully before settling to her feet.
Quatre was standing nearby, applauding. "That was wonderful!" he exclaimed. "I've only seen you fly straight lines before this, Dana-sama."
She blushed, but bowed for her audience of one, with a grace that would have done Trowa proud. "Thank you, Quatre-san. But really, what must I do to convince you to stop calling me -sama? I'm really NOT an angel, and I hardly deserve such respect from you!"
Duo laughed. "Forget it, Dana, you'll never convince him. The best you might do is get him down to a -dono. He's too damn polite for his own good sometimes."
She laughed as well at the aggrieved look on Quatre's face. "Well, I guess it's all right. Though." and she looked at him shyly. "I really would rather you considered me a friend, than someone to look up to."
Quatre beamed and blushed. "Why, of COURSE I think of you as a friend, Dana-sa.. Dana."
Duo stretched, basking in the warm summer air. It had still be winter where he and Heero had been for the last month, and he was grateful for the lack of 3-foot snowdrifts here. "Saaa.. It's a great day, ne, Dana? Quatre, do ya think I could steal a picnic basket and some sandwiches or something?"
Quatre's eyes lit up. "A picnic! That's a great idea! I think I'll ask Trowa if he would join me on one, too. Come to the kitchen in about ten minutes, I'll have the cook make something up."
Dana blinked. "A picnic? Just us?" she blushed and looked at him, suddenly shy again.
He grinned at her. "What? Did ya change your mind about me while I was away?" She shook her head, and shyly reached up to kiss him. He returned it, careful to keep it light - they could so easily get carried away if they weren't careful, and he'd had MORE than enough of the other pilots catching them in awkward situations. He grinned inside. :Well, she's made it through two months - that's longer than anyone but Solo. Maybe God won't take her from me after all. Regardless, I'm damn well going to enjoy this picnic!:
They found a sunny meadow with a brook running through it not far
from Quatre's estate. Mossy boulders provided a backrest as Duo spread the
red and white checkered cloth out. He grinned - trust Quatre to think of
everything, and to make sure everything fit the cliché. Even the
picnic basket was a large wicker basket with double handles, right out of
a shoujo manga.
He leaned back against the rock, and was a little surprised when Dana curled up next to him, her head on his shoulder. "Do you mind?" she asked quietly, and he shook his head, draping his arm over her shoulder. "The Maguarnacs are very nice," she said softly, leaning back into his chest, "but I have missed having you here to hold me."
He smiled softly into her hair. "Well, that's good, 'cause I've missed holding you. Now that you're healed, you can come with us when we change safehouses."
She looked up at him earnestly. "I want to help, somehow. I don't know much about computers and such things, and although I'm a better than average swordswoman, I don't think that's going to do me much good here." He nodded, and she grinned wryly. "But," she continued, "I've been studying hard while I've been here. Your technology is so very much more advanced than ours, I didn't even know where to start. So," she blushed a little, "I used just a TINY bit of magic to divine what I could do to help."
Duo blinked - she'd been so vehement in her insistence that she wouldn't use her magic to help them. "What happened?"
She waved her hand dismissively. "Oh - Quatre's cook burned dinner. The Maguarnacs weren't very happy, and the poor cook couldn't figure out WHAT he'd done wrong - but small magics like that are generally okay, as long as you don't use them very often. Anyway, it led me to the right reference books."
"So, what did you learn?"
She grinned at him. "Why, all about the Gundams, of course. I know how to take apart, put together, and repair just about any mobile suit ever developed by OZ, except for the very newest ones - the. Taurus? I think they're called?" When he nodded, she continued. "'Cause those files were too classified."
"How'd you get into any of the files?" Duo asked, somewhat surprised.
"Oh, Trowa helped me one time when he was here to see Quatre," she replied, and he grinned. "He also let me see the specs for the Gundams - 'cept for ShenLong, 'cause Wufei won't let anyone else see them. So, I can help to repair them when they get damaged."
Duo winced, slightly, at the thought of her handling his precious DeathScythe - but then again, he had the same reaction to Quatre's techs, too. Hell, he hadn't even really trusted Howard's men to fix the thing properly, despite what he'd said to Heero. "Well, you can have a go at Shini when we get back - ah, with my supervision, of course, no offense - and we'll see what you can do."
She smiled happily. "I'm so glad! I'm so tired of living off of Quatre's charity. It bothers me not to be useful in some way."
He sighed, and wrapped his arm around her a little more firmly. "Yeah, I understand. Bugs me too - that's why I'm such a bad convalescent." He grinned at her. "Heard you were driving the Maguarnacs nust a few times, too."
She grinned back. "I think, once you get past our cultural differences, you and I are very alike, Duo Maxwell." She leaned up for the kiss.
Hazy lights, bubbles, and tremors in the earth. Duo gasped as he drew back for air. "Wow. I always thought those movies and shoujo manga were exaggerating. About what happens when you kiss the person who's really right for you."
She sighed, and snuggled against him. "I know. It feels like. like." she shook her head, at a loss for words, and kissed him again.
This time Duo could have sworn he physically felt the earth jump beneath him. "Whew!" he exclaimed as they pulled apart. "Dana, you are really something else."
But she was frowning, slightly, not really paying attention any more. "Did you feel that?"
"Didn't I just say so?" he asked, but even as he spoke, the ground jumped beneath them again. His eyes widened as he glanced around for the cause. "What the hell was that?"
"Earthquake?" she suggested, but he shook his head.
"Not in little jumps like that. Besides, this is a stable area - about as stable as you can possibly get." He frowned, thinking hard. "Could be explosions," he said slowly, "or impacts. Mobile suits landing nearby, maybe." His face grim, he stood up and offered her a hand. "Looks like our picnic's been canceled. I'm really sorry - I'll make it up to you later, I promise."
She hushed him with a brief kiss. "No worries, Duo. I understand. Let's get back to the." she paused, her eyes wide, then suddenly whirled to face the forest behind them. "Masaka.."
"Wha." her sudden tackle and shout to get down cut him off, and all his breath left him in a whoosh as they hit the ground.
He wasn't able to get it back, either, as all of the oxygen in the air was used up by the flame shooting over his head. When the heat faded and he was finally able to breathe again, he looked up - and up, and up, into the hideous face of a monster.
"Holy shit!" He bounded to his feet, grabbing Dana by the arm, and hauled her off into the trees. "We gotta get out of here!"
"Duo, wait!" They were in the trees before she could stop him, tearing along through the underbrush. "We'll never outrun it! They LIVE in forests like this!"
"Well, it was gonna fry us if we just stood there!" Behind them, they could hear heavy crashing noises as the monstrous beast chased them. "That thing's a hell of a lot bigger than the one on TV!" he shouted.
"It's a mature female," she shouted back, ducking under a branch. "It looks like it just clutched - laid its eggs, I mean. It must be frantic to be separated from them!"
"Yeah, well, I'd love to send it back to them!" he replied as he skidded around a wide tree truck. "Oh fuck!" He grabbed wildly at the branches behind him.
Before him, the forest ended abruptly, as the land fell off sharply before him in a cliff easily several hundred feet high. Far below, a river ran through the gorge - and the other side was far, far too far away to jump for it. Duo stared in utter dismay. "We're screwed."