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I feel obligated to point out that (a) this is actually only the first part of a multi-part story, (b) this is a story that has existed in fragmentary format on my hard drive since very shortly after I first entered GW fandom, (c) this is a story that was started before I became a dedicated 1x2x1 OTPer, and (d) [ profile] au100 doesn't actually require a claimed pairing to be a "couple" in every prompt response.

That being said, while this first installment is technically 2x5x2 (yes, really), with a best-friends relationship between 1 and 2, there will - eventually - be a happy 1x02x1 ending.

And, yes, I did mean to write it like that. *smirks* Why? Well, you'll just have to wait and see.

This is really not a typical Calic0cat fic, guys. I know I say that fairly often, but this time I really mean it. It's not just a stylistic difference. This particular AU situation gave me a chance to try a twist on a fandom cliche or two (one in particular) that I haven't dealt with in the past. So, if anyone is concerned about whether or not certain specific personal "squicks" will turn up along the way - email me, and I'll be happy to answer your questions privately. Or, you can just wait till the next part is posted, as most possible issues will turn up in its warnings.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way... *crosses fingers and hopes she won't get lynched*

Title: Searching, Chapter 1
Fandom: Gundam Wing
Characters: Heero Yuy & Duo Maxwell
Prompt: 21 - Friends
Word Count: 1,863
Rating: Umm, I guess... FRT/PG-13
Warnings: Profanity
Author's Notes: This is actually the first chapter of a multi-part AU story - one that's languished in fragmentary form on my hard drive for a very, very long time, but which this community has inspired me to dust off and actually finish. As allowed by the community rules, although both of my claimed pair are in this, their relationship, in this particular chapter of this particular AU, isn't that of lovers. In fact - fair warning to my usual readers - this chapter's pairings are actually 2x5x2(!) and 3x4x3. (And now you know why I've never gotten around to finishing this, since I became a 1x2x1 OTPer.) However, have faith! All will be made clear, and there will be 1x02x1 (nope, that's not a typo). Eventually.


"Hiiro, why can't you just settle down and enjoy life like the rest of us? We've done our job, obtained peace, why not enjoy it? Why go looking for more trouble?"

I gave my best friend a faint smile and shook my head. "I can't. I really wish I could, but I just can't." I looked around the small gathering of friends. "We know that scientist used the dimension jumping device to escape. Maybe that won't ever be a problem for us here, but somebody, somewhere, is going to have to deal with him and all the inventions he took with him. It's my mistake that let him get away; that makes it my job to find him and take care of the problem. It isn't right that some other world should have to deal with our problem."

"I wish that you would at least let us go with you."

I shook my head firmly. "No, Wu. You all have roles to play here. And people that need you..."

I touched my fingertip to my best friend's mouth, silencing his objection before he could add it. "I know you're getting better, Max. But it will be months before you're really fighting fit again. You deserve to have your lover here with you while you're recovering. I won't take him with me. The same goes for you two," I added sternly, forestalling the blond's inevitable offer. "*You* have a company to run Winner, and you're going to need Triton's support. Neither of you can come with me." And both Max and Q needed their life partners there to watch their backs; Max because he was still barely able to walk a few feet on his own even after a month out of the hospital and Q because his position as head of his family's company left him highly vulnerable. Just because we'd stopped this latest flare-up before it even got under way, that didn't mean that there weren't others out there just watching for a chance to take us out before going after the government yet again.

"We understand, Hiiro. Please, be careful and come home to us as soon as you can," the Arabian said gently.

"I will," I promised. I looked around the group again. We'd been through a long, rough few years together. First the war, then the cautious rebuilding of a new government, then a series of increasingly serious incidents culminating in the one that had left all of us injured, two in critical condition. I had recovered more quickly than Max thanks to all the genetic manipulation I'd been put through while growing up. And my injuries had not been quite as severe to begin with. But then Max always did put himself in incredible amounts of danger to protect his friends.

We'd all virtually lived at the hospital until he was finally released. He was the heart and soul of our group. The one who'd turned a bunch of mismatched loners into a tightly woven team. Who'd brought us through the worst of times with the hope that things would eventually improve. Helped us hold on to our sanity when the whole universe seemed to be going mad around us.

We all loved him in our own way. But from the very start, Max and Wu had been soul mates. They'd fought like cats and dogs at first, both afraid to love someone after the losses they'd suffered in the past. When they'd finally given in and admitted their feelings, everyone else had heaved a huge sigh of relief. Things had become much more peaceful from that point on, though the two of them would never have the sort of quiet serenity that Q and Triton had.

I was the only one of our group that still had not found my other half. A small part of me had the foolish hope that perhaps I would during my chase after the missing scientist, though the practical part of me scoffed at the notion. That part was skeptical of the very notion of soul mates, despite the evidence I could see in this very room. Skeptical that there was anyone out there that I would ever feel that deeply for, feel that mixture of caring and passion towards.

"Well, Hiiro, you'd damn well better be back before I'm fighting fit again or we'll be coming after you," Max warned, the stubborn gleam in those cobalt eyes of his emphasizing his seriousness.

"If I'm not back by then, I'll welcome your assistance," I told him. "But now, I'd really better get going. Saunders has a far greater lead on me already than I would like." A far, far greater lead. Nearly three months worth. But it had taken an entire month for me to recover enough to even leave the hospital, and Max had been there for another month after that. There was no way that I would have left before he was safely on the road to recovery.

Even if I had been ready sooner, it had taken virtually that entire length of time for our five scientists to piece together the research enough to give me even a slim chance of locating the missing man.

At first, we had believed that there was no way to tell where he went. Then, we had discovered that the device only led to two worlds. Each of those led to two, this one and one other. So the possibilities were greatly reduced - a chain of successive realities to investigate, rather than a complex web. Preliminary scouting and testing of the device had proven which world he had passed through, though it was quickly clear that he had continued onwards.

From what I understood, the world immediately adjacent to ours was very similar. Advance scouts had studied it closely, then had contacted our counterparts who were able to verify that the man we sought had been there, but had fled when he was caught trying to contact individuals that were being monitored as potential sources of rebellion. Their description of his departure, vanishing into thin air, had confirmed that he had moved on again. Since he had no reason to return here - and precautionary monitoring had yet to find any trace of his presence - it was assumed that he had continued along the chain of realities.

I just hoped he would slow down enough for me to catch up. And that I wouldn't run into more trouble than I could handle alone.

It appeared that each world in the direction the fugitive was heading was at a slightly earlier point in time relative to our own. While the exact details varied substantially, the basics remained the same. The colonies inevitably ended up fighting against a totalitarian Earth-based regime and their forces consisted of a small group of Gundams. If our fugitive went far enough, I was going to end up back in the war again.

So, I had pulled an old friend out of storage to act as my transportation.

But, when I turned and opened the hangar bay doors, instead of a familiar figure of silver and white waiting patiently, I discovered a menacing black hellmonster looming over me.

"Since I can't go with you, I'm sending Shini," Max said calmly.

I was speechless. No one else *ever* piloted Max's baby. "Max..."

"You'll need his cloaking abilities, Hiiro. Professor Gage and Doc Jacobs moved Zero from Wing over to him so you've got the best of both suits."

I crouched beside his wheelchair and hugged Max carefully. Shini was far better suited for covert ops than my Wing but I would never have even considered asking to borrow him. "Thank you," I murmured fervently.

"Yeah, well, just make sure you bring both of you back in one piece!" he threatened, the tight hug he was giving me belying his joking words.

"I will," I promised. Carefully drawing away from him - god, he was still so damn frail - I stood and caught his lover's shoulder in a fierce grip. "And you take damn good care of *him*, Wu. Don't let the sneaky bastard come after me before he's fit."

"Believe me, he is not setting one foot off the estate until he can knock me on my ass again," the Chinese man answered drily.

"I can think of better things to do with your ass than that," Max leered suggestively.

"Hentai!" Wu scolded affectionately, very gently tugging Max's long chestnut braid.

I turned reluctantly from the byplay, sweeping one last glance across the familiar faces that were all here to see me off. My friends. My family. Wu and Max. Q and Triton. Lena. Hirde. Sally. Even those lingering further back, the former enemies, now fell under the designation of friends. Milliardo. Lu. Doro. Une.

And, of course, the five scientists that we all had a love/hate relationship with. They meant well most of the time, but had an unfortunate tendency to place scientific investigation above all else, including little details like legality and morals, and we were constantly having to remind them of their priorities.

They had spent hours briefing me on the dimension jumping device I would be using. One was installed in the Gundam, one I wore on a Gundanium chain around my neck, and two spares were stored in a hidden compartment in the suit. Technically, the one in the suit was all that I needed, but past experience with other critical equipment dictated that not only should there be a backup, the backup should have a backup as well.

With a last word of farewell, I headed for Shini. I would need to check out the controls since they were not identical to Wing's, but I would leave as soon as I had done so. I did not want to have to go through all those goodbyes again. Something that Max had evidently guessed, as a note in his handwriting, a manual, and a handwritten "cheat sheet" - I snickered at the sight, who else but Max would create a cheat sheet for operating a Gundam? - were waiting for me in the cockpit.

I knew he blamed himself as much as I blamed myself for the scientist's escape. And yes, it was foolish on both of our parts, it would have been a little difficult to stop the man when we were bloody heaps on the floor thanks to one last dirty trick on Saunders' part. But that didn't change the fact that we felt responsible for his escape. After all, we *let* ourselves become bloody heaps on the floor, now didn't we?

I snorted slightly at the thought. All five of us were terrible that way. We knew that we took responsibility for things we had no control over, scolded each other for doing so, but each of us still kept on doing it ourselves. I ran down Max's checklist, noting with satisfaction that all systems were go. A quick flip switched on the stealth equipment, then I triggered the dimension device. Time for this show to get on the road.

After all, I had a mad scientist to catch.

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