the_goldenpath: (Gundam Wing Fics - Heero and Duo)
[personal profile] the_goldenpath
Title: Duo Maxwell and the Amber Room of Gold
Fandom: Gundam Wing
Pairings: established Heero and Duo
Genre: AU, action/adventure with light angst/drama/romance
Warnings: Duo’s potty mouth, some violence. Shounen ai.
Summary: After his adventure in Tibet, Duo Maxwell returns home with Heero and receives a request from the military organization known as The Alliance to retrieve paintings lost during WWII. He travels to Eastern Europe and soon discovers that’s not all he’s supposed to retrieve…
Author’s note: unbeta-ed. Sequel to “Duo Maxwell and the Sword of the Khan”, following the same Tomb Raider-ish concept (not a cross-over), but can be read as a stand-alone. Some references to people and events from the Tomb Raider comics, movies, and/or games. Feedback is a nice thing.

Key: ----------------- = scene change



-------------------------------



The only pair of wheels they managed to find was an old Jeep, exactly to Duo’s liking. He negotiated the price (cash only. Fortunately, he had US dollars with him) and bought it on the spot. Heero knew better than to interfere, but he wasn’t happy to learn that the seatbelts were fairly worn out.

The road to Brsiç was well-paved and Heero started to enjoy the ride. This area was remote and sparsely populated, the road leading them past farm houses and very small villages where the local population, clad in colorful fotã and suman, waved at them. A few kids ran along with the Jeep, as Duo had to slow down significantly when driving through the villages; the main road became a cobblestone path, but wasn’t hard for the Jeep to navigate. Outside the villages, the road was paved again and they picked up speed towards Brsiç. Basking in the good weather, Heero had pulled the window down, taking in the wide, green landscape. He checked his GPS; the Bulgarian border wasn’t that far. Duo hummed a non-descript tune and drove into the town of Brsiç. Following the signs, they ended up in a parking lot close to the central plaza, with a huge, stone fountain. Duo parked the Jeep next to a few other cars, their license plates showing foreign markings, from Austria to Turkey and Russia.

“We’re here,” Duo announced superfluously. “Do you want to get something to eat first?”

It was a rhetorical question; Heero just smiled. Duo’s appetite was well-known to him. He pointed to a small restaurant across the plaza. “Over there?”

“Looking good,” Duo agreed and hopped out of the Jeep. A few tourists were strolling through the plaza, admiring the massive fountain. In passing, Heero noticed that the fountain wasn’t made of stone, but cast in bronze. The sculptures, three naked women with huge jars where the water flowed from, were quite intricate and striking in the modest, old-fashioned plaza. Duo didn’t pay attention to the fountain, he went straight to the restaurant. A large bell chimed when he opened the door.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the bartender greeted them, putting away a few glasses. “Have a seat! My son will come to tend to you soon!”

Duo chose a seat next to the large, dark wooden bar with huge copper handles, to tap beer with. Heero gallantly pulled the chair back, so Duo could sit down.

“Well thank you, husband dear,” Duo said and batted his eyes at him dramatically.

“I’m not your husband yet, officially,” Heero answered dryly and sat down. “We should discuss this sooner or later…”

“I want to be proposed,” Duo said. “With an engagement ring on the bottom of a glass of champagne! And a slice of triple chocolate cake with whipped cream on top. You should know that by now!”

“Yes, but as with certain other things, I can’t tell if you’re completely serious or just joking…”

“What, are you telling me you don’t know me that well?”

“Duo…”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the young man popping up at their table said joyfully. “My name is Stjepan Djurdjevic. I’m the son of the owner. Can I help you?”

“We’d like to order lunch,” Duo said, after sneaking a wink at Heero. “What can you recommend?”

“My mother has prepared soup of the day, ciorbã,” Stjepan said. Duo wasn’t very fond of the sour soup, but it was a common starter for lunch. “We also have eggplant salad, and for the second course, grilled mushrooms with potatoes and polenta.”

“We’ll take the eggplant salad,” Heero said. “And the mushrooms. It sounds great.”

“I’ll be back soon,” Stjepan said and hurried back to the kitchen. Duo made a face.

“Eggplant salad?”

“You should eat more vegetables,” Heero said matter-of-factly. “It’s good for your health and your recovery.” It hadn’t escaped his attention that Duo had chosen this seat so he could stretch his leg easily. Duo made another face, then shrugged and accepted his fate of eating more greens. The topic of marriage had been interrupted by Stjepan, but neither Duo nor Heero brought it back up again. Instead, Duo played with his cell phone and tried to access the Internet.

“Wi-fi isn’t a priority here,” he muttered. “What am I supposed to do without my beloved Internet?”

“Says the one who forbade me from using my laptop.” Heero was a little surprised, though. He had seen the tourists in Brsiç; surely Wi-Fi hotspots would be available around here? “Perhaps only in Bucharest,” he added. “This is a more remote area. What are you looking for?”

“A local map,” Duo said. “I want to know how to drive to the hospital.”

“You need a hospital, sir?” Stjepan had arrived at their table with the salad and looked Duo over. “You’re in pain?”

“Oh no, just in case. I’m recovering,” Duo said, light-heartedly. “Is there a hospital around?”

Stjepan frowned. “I’m sorry, sir. We used to have a hospital. You better go see County Clinical Hospital in Brasov.”

“Really? I was informed that Brsiç had its own hospital,” Duo said.

“I’ll ask my father,” Stjepan said. “He has lived here all his life. I’ll be right back.”

While the young man was gone, Duo tasted the salad, spearing a piece of eggplant with his fork. “Not bad!” He eyed the small bowl with a white, thick concoction. “What’s that?”

Heero dipped his spoon in it to taste it. “Sour cream,” he said. “I should’ve known. Give it a try!” He chuckled at Duo’s face, which automatically went disapproving of anything looking, sounding or tasting sour. They finished the salad and talked about food in general until Stjepan returned, carrying the second course of their lunch. He put the plates on the table, slightly trembling.

“My father doesn’t know about the hospital, but grandpa does,” he said. He looked a little anxious, his eyes darting back and forth. “He was wondering why you were told it still existed, though. It was destroyed in the war.”

Along with all records. Duo and Heero exchanged a look. Well, it was too much to hope for. Besides, digging into Septem’s past wasn’t part of the Alliance mission.

“I’m sorry for any inconvenience,” Duo said. “I have been misinformed, then. It wasn’t my intention to cause trouble.”

“No problem, sir.” Stjepan’s voice was strained and he turned around quickly, leaving Duo and Heero alone.

“Well, that was awkward,” Duo said. Heero pulled his plate towards him and calmly picked up his utensils to continue eating.

“Some events in history leave scars for decades, even centuries to come,” he said. “We should be more careful than I thought.”

“You’re right. And we didn’t even ask about any paintings yet! Let’s finish lunch and get out of here.”

Duo took care of the bill and tipped Stjepan a few extra Leu. He accepted the money, but refused to look at Duo and turned away from him, all but fleeing into the kitchen. Taken aback, Duo followed Heero outside and shivered a little as the bartender, who had greeted them so enthusiastically before, now stared at them with an unfriendly, piercing glare. It wasn’t a nice feeling.

“We can call the County Clinical hospital in Brasov to ask about their records,” Duo suggested as he put on his sunglasses. “If the archives have been transferred…”

“I doubt it,” Heero said. “Besides, I just realize that they’re not going to give out medical information unless we’re next of kin.”

“If the records are digital, you can hack the hospital’s database..?”

“We might as well stop the investigation,” Heero said, albeit reluctantly. “The hospital was destroyed during the war, and it’s doubtful that the records were transferred to somewhere else, let alone put into a computer system. We’re here for the paintings.”

“True that. Septem isn’t our business anyway.” Duo put his hand on Heero’s shoulder and gave him a light squeeze. Heero appreciated the support and nodded at him.

“You want to look around?”

“Sure. Let’s go.”

The local history museum was closed for lunch and would open in another hour. Duo and Heero took a walk around the town, not bothered by the curious looks they were given, especially Duo’s foot-long braid. Heero snapped a few pictures here and there, and Duo went into a large church, just out of curiosity. He lit up a candle but didn’t pray; they admired the statues and rich paintings of biblical events before exiting the church again. Heero looked at his watch; the museum should be open by now.

Unlike in Çleçiani, this museum had its own building, with two floors. It was still small compared to regular museums, but it held an informative exhibition, showcasing the events during World War II up to the Revolution that marked the end of the Ceauşescu era. Duo studied the pictures, as always fascinated by history, and his attention was pulled to a drawn to a particular picture, one of a war cemetery.

“Did you see any signs in town about a war cemetery?” Duo asked, keeping his voice low. Heero came to stand next to him, shaking his head.

“No, I haven’t seen any. Maybe they don’t want tourists to visit it? I have the feeling it’s still a touchy subject, judging from Stjepan’s reaction.”

“No, the cemetery isn’t here at all.” A female voice rang out. The girl smiled shyly when Duo and Heero looked at her, not having heard her approach. She was dressed in traditional Romanian garb, with a fotã as they had seen the women wear in the countryside, combined with a maramã, the decorated white head covering, loosely framing her face, only showing a little of her dark, curly hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Tourists? American?”

“Half-American, half-British,” Duo pointed at himself. “Half-Japanese, half-unidentified,” he pointed at Heero, whose scowl made the girl blush in slight embarrassment. “We’re very much interested in history.”

“My name is Branka Silivaş,” she said. “You can ask me anything about local history.”

“You’re a student?” Heero asked.

“Personal interest,” she answered. “I earn a little money working here. I also give guided tours in summer, when it’s busy.”

“Neat.” Duo tilted his head. “What about that war cemetery?”

“It’s a delicate subject around here.” Branka scrunched up her nose. “People won’t talk about it, as they think it brings bad luck. Well, I’m not afraid.”

Heero didn’t take her for a damsel in distress. “What can you tell us about it?”

“I heard you mention Stjepan,” Branka said. “It’s a small town, so I know it’s Stjepan Djurdjevic.” She took a deep breath. “You better stay away from him and his family. They don’t have the best reputation in town. It’s hard to avoid them as they meddle with everything and have great influence. Stjepan’s father, Marku Djurdjevic, ran for mayor not long ago, but he lost to Lubjan Silivaş.”

“Ah,” Duo said, not entirely sure what to do with this bit of information.

“My father,” she clarified.

“Oops,” Heero said.

“About the war cemetery,” Branka continued, rather abruptly. “It was to commemorate those who have fought and fallen for our nation’s independence. The Alliance was here, five years ago, to identify the soldiers and civilians. Djurdjevic was one of the most prominent to protest.”

“Why would someone protest against the identification of soldiers?”

“He wanted the Alliance to remove the cemetery, not to give the soldiers a name or a face,” Branka answered. “He accused every one of the buried people, soldier or civilian, of being a collaborator. He didn’t want any attention drawn to it, let alone all the press and international coverage of the Alliance’s work. He didn’t want people to know that Brsiç had a lot of WWII veterans.”

“I don’t get it. That’s just awful,” Duo said. “Maybe he lost a lot of family members in the war?”

“Not that I know of,” Branka said. “It’s very complicated. The Djurdjevics take great pride in the number of resistance members in their family, but there are no records or any other kind of proof about it… Some say they took the wrong side in the war, others worship them like national heroes.”

“And what do you think?” Duo asked, curious to learn the girl’s opinion.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted honestly. “But since you asked me, I do believe that the entire family is opportunistic, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they have chosen a wrong side, in any war or conflict…” Branka started to pluck at her fotã. “It doesn’t help that Stjepan has this major crush on me. It’s very awkward.”

“I can imagine. Do you mind if we look around?” Duo asked.

“Not at all.”

“Oh, before I forget - do you know if Brsiç ever had a hospital?”

“Yes, but it was destroyed before I was born. In WWII, of course.”

“Thank you. You’ve really been a great help, Branka.”

“My pleasure. If you have any more questions…”

“We know where to find you.” Duo smiled brightly at her. “Does your museum have a tip jar of some kind?”

“We welcome all kinds of donations,” the girl answered. “Next to the exit, there’s a box where you can leave something, if you want to.”

“I’ll make sure not to forget it.”

Duo and Heero spend the rest of the afternoon at the museum. Apart from the exhibition, the museum offered a veritable treasure trove of documents pertaining to WWII. Duo submerged himself completely in the documents, eliciting an enthusiastic ‘Hm-mm” or an “Aah” every now and then. Heero studied maps and read chapters from several books, detailing the events of the war in this area. No one of the family Djurdjevic was mentioned. Engrossed, they forgot all about time until Branka re-entered the room.

“I’ve never had visitors staying until closing time,” she laughed. “Sorry about that,” she apologized when she saw a string of dust cling to Duo’s braid. “I should really clean around here.”

“That’s quite all right. Do you have a recommendation for a good restaurant? I’m quite hungry!”

Branka gave them the address of a restaurant run by people she knew, before Duo and Heero said goodbye. As promised, Duo paid the donation box a visit, stuffing a wad of Leu in the small slot.

“We have a lot to talk about,” Heero said. “This was really interesting. Still, no clue about any of the paintings.”

“M-hm.”

“Something wrong?”

“Nah.” Duo stared at the ground. “I was just thinking about that war cemetery. There’s something not right about that. Something doesn’t add up.”

“You mean, about the Djurdjevic family?”

“No, not exactly… I don’t know. It’s just a hunch. I don’t think it’s important. At least, not in the scope of our mission. We should focus on the paintings, not on war cemeteries. But first, I want to have some dinner and then we go back to our hotel, okay? I want a soak in a hot bath.”

“Very well.” Heero couldn’t agree more. While Duo would be soaking in the bath, he could arrange his thoughts by writing them down with the help of his word processing software. With such an overload of information like today, he preferred to write an overview to keep everything in order. After that, he could simply join Duo in the bath… now that was something to look forward to.

An hour later, filled up by a hearty meal and in a good mood, they walked back to the Jeep. Duo put his hand in his pants pocket to search for the car keys as soon as they passed the impressive fountain. He yawned. “That was some really good food,” he said. “I’m almost passing out.”

“Do you want me to drive back?”

“I’m fine,” Duo said, teasingly. “Nothing like a nice-”

“Duo,” Heero interrupted him.

“What?” He followed the direction Heero was looking into: the Jeep in the parking lot. “Aw bloody hell no!”

All four tires were slashed.

---------------------------------------------




Previous chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 |

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