Drums of Heaven

Part Twenty-Five: A Solution For Every Fool

some long ago when we were taught
that for whatever kind of puzzle you got
you just stick the right formula in
a solution for every fool
--- Emily Saliers

Everyone was waiting in a booth, with Trowa squeezed against the wall with Jeet in the middle and Duo on the outside. The two girls were laughing about something as Heero came alongside, but got up as the photographer approached.

"We're going to powder our noses," Enny announced joyfully, dragging Hilde along with her. "Keep our seats warm, Hito."

Heero slid into the booth, his stomach quivering strangely as he sat at the edge of the long seat, across from Duo. The photographer schooled his face into indifference, and pretended to listen to Jeet, who was telling Trowa and Duo a story about one of the other hookers.

"Move in," came Hilde's voice from over Heero's head, even as Enny poked him twice in the arm. He stifled the urge to break her fingers and started to get up from the booth. The petite brunette shook her head and shoved at his arm. "No, just slide in! Besides, we might have to get up again."

Reluctantly Heero slid the rest of the way into the booth, and his chest ached in that strange rippling way that was becoming too familiar. Glancing up, he noticed Trowa staring at him. The pilot's face was blank, but Heero was almost convinced there was a flicker of amusement in Trowa's green eyes.

Heero scowled and lowered his head to study the menu again.


The pizzas were finally served, and the table was quiet as everyone filled their plates. Enny, Hilde, Duo and Jeet had done all the talking, and even that had consisted mostly of light chatter and gossip about local bartenders, the other hookers, and the latest bumbling johns. The real conversation didn't really start until Duo claimed the last slice of pizza just as Trowa was reaching for it. Stalling off the inevitable endless argument between the two teammates, Hilde cleared her throat and rapped on the tabletop.

Heero dug the folded papers from his jacket pocket and handed them to Hilde, who laid them out on the table. She explained the plan in efficient, clipped terms. After several minutes of discussion, Enny agreed to ask Pops for the week off, two months ahead of time. Jeet would be joining them, traveling with Hilde and Enny in the shuttle. Heero and Duo would be leaving on a separate shuttle for L4, to get jobs in the convention center's main kitchens. Trey would leave the same day, for L3, and would make the dance troupe's winter auditions with two days to spare. Hilde would remain on L2, working various one-person jobs for Pops during the eight weeks' lead-time.

When the party broke up, Trowa headed back to the shuttle station with Jeet. Hilde and Enny left for Pops to get the old man's permission for the additional personnel. Duo was left counting the credits against the group's bill, and grinned as he pocketed a handful of extra credits.

"Love it when they overpay," he quipped. Heero smirked, falling in line behind the longhaired man as he led the way from the restaurant. Outside, the colony's nighttime chill had descended. Duo pulled his long wool coat closer, buttoning up the front and shoving his hands deep in his pockets. "We could call another cab," he offered. "Courtesy everyone else."

Heero grunted disinterest, and started walking. The night was crisp, without the usual daytime humidity thanks to L2's incompetent air transfer systems. The coolness of deep space seemed to invigorate him, more than the empty warmth of the colony's false daytime.

"Don't start that again," Duo replied, but his tone was jovial. "I heard a rumor you actually talk now. In real sentences."

"Hn," the dark-haired man said, but the quirk of his lips gave him away. Duo laughed and draped his arm over Heero's shoulder.

"It may take a day or two before I'm up to speed," the thief quipped. "I'm a little rusty on my grunts-to-English, English-to-grunts translating skills."

"Idiot," Heero replied, but couldn't keep the affection from his tone.

"Yeah," Duo said, and grinned, letting his arm drop casually as they navigated around another pedestrian. "Say it like you mean it when you insult me."

Rather than say anything, Heero waited until they were side-by-side again, and simply slipped a hand out of his jacket pocket and put it over Duo's shoulders. Pulling the other man a little closer, he smiled as Duo's arm slowly advanced, finally settling around Heero's waist.

"I missed you," Heero said, softly.

Duo didn't reply, but at the next corner he let his arm drop. By the time they'd crossed the street, Heero pulled away from Duo, letting his own arm fall to his side as nonchalantly as possible. The two walked the rest of the way in silence.


The next afternoon Hilde bundled them onto a commercial shuttle bound for L4 with a variety of admonitions to write regularly, not party too much, and to remember to brush their teeth. Duo laughed it all off, and Heero reluctantly allowed the petite girl to give him a quick hug. The shuttle flight was an uneventful six-hour trip thanks to planetary evolutions, and Duo spent most of the time using the shuttle's online databases to search for apartments. Heero spent most of the time trying to ignore Duo's running commentary about the prices on L4.

The two men checked into a medium-rate motel on L4, after Heero had barely managed to steer Duo away from a higher priced one that also happened to be where Heero had stayed on his previous six or seven trips to L4. Bernie's preferred printer was on L4, and Heero had taken advantage of the need to deliver the galleys as an excuse for photography. Duo raised his eyebrows at Heero's sudden insistence for a different motel, but didn't comment otherwise.

By noon of the next day they'd both applied and interviewed at the Crescent Convention Center. At Duo's suggestion they separated, each with a list of possible apartments. By nightfall they were back at the motel and comparing their finds. After a lengthy silent deliberation, they had settled on a studio apartment in the cheaper district when the phone rang. It was the hotel kitchen manager, calling to let Duo know he had not gotten the job, but that the front manager had an opening in the wait staff and would be calling shortly. When the phone rang five minutes later, it was the front manager, calling for Heero. He had the job, working morning shift, and would start the next morning.

Duo was staring at the studio apartment listing when the phone rang a third time. The front manager was now calling for Duo, unaware the two applicants were sharing a motel room. Duo spoke politely with the deep-voiced manager, smiling at the appropriate points during the informal interview, and finally hanging up with a grin. Without explaining, he pulled the studio apartment listing out of Heero's hands and replaced it with a slightly better option.

"Just because we're on a job doesn't mean I want to live like we're still on L2," Duo told the surprised Wing Zero pilot.


Heero was lying in the dark, staring at the lowlight digital display. Eleven o'clock, standard time. He needed to sleep, but his back ached, his feet were screaming, his shoulders were sore, and his tension headache was still securely in place despite eight hundred milligrams. It was three days into his new job, and his body still hadn't adjusted. He scowled at the ceiling and rolled over on the futon, trying to find a comfortable position. And here he'd thought piloting a Gundam was hard on the body. Clearly he'd been ignorant, the small voice taunted.

The futon wasn't helping, but it wasn't like he could go curl up on a sofa, since they didn't have one. The apartment wasn't furnished, and they'd agreed that excessive furniture purchases were unnecessary when they'd only be around for two months. The Asian market around the corner only had queen-sized futons, and neither was willing to deal with the hassle of transporting a futon from the shopping district to their apartment with only cabs as transportation. The rest of the apartment was relatively bare, with only pillows to make the floor seating less noticeable. The problem was that floor sitting, while tolerable most of the time, was positively unbearable with an aching body.

Heero sighed and rolled over again, cradling his head on his forearms as he lay on his stomach. They were settling into a rhythm. Heero wasn't certain it was the one he would have picked, had he been in charge, but it was comfortable. In some ways it reminded him of the early days of the war, when he'd first roomed with Duo at the Saint Gabriel Institute. They'd had some classes together, some apart, but managed to find time to play basketball, during which Heero could set aside the wartime distance and compete as friends might. The only thing lacking, this time, was the conversations they'd had while doing homework each night. It was then, between the soft rustle of pages turning, and pencils scratching on blue-lined notebook paper, that Heero had slowly opened up about Relena, and his descent to earth, and his reasons for pulling a gun on her at the naval base. Duo, in turn, had told him about the Sweepers, and the way he'd ended up with a Gundam. That was about all the thief had said, Heero remembered, only now finding that curious.

Heero pondered that as he punched his pillow and tried to arrange himself so some part of his body wasn't complaining. He'd never really prodded Duo for more information, assuming that Duo would speak like he did: when and if he chose to. It had never occurred to him that Duo wanted to be asked. The photographer rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling again. Car lights outside the apartment building traced arcs across the walls as they passed. Slowly Heero's eyes closed as he let himself drift into a dreamless state between sleeping and waking.

It was three in the morning when the studio door unlocked with a soft click, and Heero was instantly alert, if not entirely awake. The dark-haired man heard the two muffled thumps from Duo toeing his work shoes off at the door. Heero watched from under his eyelashes as Duo passed the bedroom door, heading for the bathroom. The sounds of water splashing against a body echoed in the one bedroom apartment. Thirty minutes later Duo was out, wrapped in a towel and wringing his hair with a second towel. Heero could see the reflection on the ceiling as the refrigerator door opened and closed, followed by a thump of Duo settling down in front of the laptop. The liquid crystal display was turned on, lighting the living room with an eerie blue light. Heero rolled over on his side, barely able to see Duo through the open bedroom door. The young man was yawning as he searched the 'net for something to help wind down from the stress of dealing with a night of demanding tables and imperious managers. Heero knew this pattern; his version, though, was to take pictures in the mid-afternoon once he'd gotten off the morning shift.

An hour later Duo was crawling under the covers next to Heero. Duo's footsteps were heavy if silent, and Heero knew it was a telling action on the thief's part. They both knew, without speaking, that each was leery of sleeping in close contact with another person. Heero suspected it would be years before his body would lose its instinctive reflexes. Until then, he required the warning of Duo's footsteps nearing the bed, the faint scent of Duo's conditioner, just as Duo required the scent and sounds of Heero in the morning to identify the movement as friend and not foe.

Heero let himself drift into sleep again; somehow comforted by the purring that had always passed for snoring in Duo's reality. He was aggravated, though, to open his eyes only to find it was already five in the morning, standard time. It was as though two hours had passed in two seconds. Exhausted enough, his mind said, that I'm going straight into Delta waves and missing REM sleep. I should have adjusted by now, he chided himself. Groaning, he stretched momentarily, having discovered the little movements of tension and relaxation were the best way to let Duo's subconscious know it was safe.

After a pause, Heero slipped from the bed, grabbing his work uniform as he padded to the bathroom to change. A quick breakfast over the laptop, thirty minutes on various political forums, two cups of coffee, and Heero was heading out the door for his morning shift. Another day had started, and now they had only fifty-three more days to survive before the real job began.


Forty-nine days to go, Heero thought. He was standing at the laundry machines in the basement of their building and folding Duo's long-sleeved shirts. A part of him was amazed his body had managed to adjust, but he wasn't sure he'd ever adjust to the draining sensation of dealing with so many people, every single day. What got him the most was the constant impulse to take pictures of each guest. For all that he'd spent four years as a photographer watching people closely, he'd never really found himself in a position to be truly unobtrusive. As a waiter, however, he had to be, and the customers helped by considering him part of the background.

A successful waiter, he knew from watching the man who'd trained him, required patience, stealth, and quiet awareness, as well as an eye for detail, strong empathy, and an impeccable sense of timing. He had the first four; the last was coming with practice. The empathy, however, was a little harder. It required a sense of what the customers were feeling, and anticipating their needs.

Blindly reaching into the dryer, Heero pulled out a pair of jeans and began folding them as he contemplated the day before. Frank, the front manager, had asked him to work two hours later on a last-minute call, covering for one of the afternoon waiters. It had been his first chance to observe Duo at work, and he'd reveled in it. The thief was an excellent waiter, despite his grumbling in the kitchen. Duo could slip in, replace silverware, plates, refill wine glasses, and do it without the customers even aware of his presence. But Duo could just as easily turn on the charm and be completely conspicuous. It mystified Heero, and frustrated him that he couldn't mimic Duo's abilities.

Heero sighed and stacked the clean clothes on top of the dryer, collecting them all into his arms as he began the trudge up the stairs to their second-floor apartment. Unlocking the door, he bumped it closed behind him with his hip. In the bedroom he sorted out their laundry, kneeling back on his heels to survey the neat stacks before hanging them in the closet. Duo's half was unrelenting black; Heero's half were mostly blue jeans and button-up shirts. He gave the closet a crooked smile before heading to the bathroom to hang the clean towels.

In the kitchen he grabbed a beer from the fridge before returning to the bedroom. Their chores were split less by conversation and more by practical silent acknowledgement. Duo was simply better in the kitchen, although Heero was capable of cooking if the situation arose. Heero had been mildly surprised to find Duo kept the apartment's kitchen as well organized and neat as the ship's kitchen, and shook his head at the realization that he'd assumed the ship's kitchen was clean only due to Hilde's interference. It appeared that Duo had outgrown his teenaged sloth the same way he seemed to have outgrown his need to chatter incessantly.

Heero lay down on the bed, propping a pillow under his chest as he lay on his stomach. He'd come across a new science fiction series, and had taken to reading while eating an early dinner. Two more days and he'd have his first day off; Duo's first day off would be tomorrow. Heero set the book aside and rolled over on his back to contemplate the idea of an entire day off.

He rolled back over onto his stomach and tried not to think about waking up at the same time as Duo. He was pretty sure Duo was usually up by about ten, which would give him four or five hours before heading off to the evening shift. Perhaps that would be enough time to get Duo interested in a game of one-on-one. Heero had seen an empty lot with two basketball hoops the day before on his way to work. The Wing Zero pilot furrowed his brow, thinking about it, and nodded to himself. He'd pick up a basketball tomorrow after work, and suggest a game to Duo when he got home. Duo would probably be on the computer again, surfing the net, if his after-work patterns were any indication.

But the first thing I'll do on my day off, Heero decided, is sleep late. Very late.


Duo was napping when Heero got home from work at four o'clock standard time, and didn't wake up while Heero took a shower. Fifteen minutes later, the dark-haired man stumbled into the bedroom, making as much noise as possible as he selected a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. When he returned from the bathroom, changed into the clean clothes, Duo was still in bed but his eyes were open. He sighed dramatically and rolled over on his back as Heero picked up his latest book.

"I don't know what to do with myself," Duo announced.

"You usually find something," Heero replied with a smirk. "I bought a basketball. Join me?"

There was a pause, and he looked over to see Duo with a thoughtful expression. Heero paused in the doorway, uncertain, his shoulders slumping a little as he considered briefly whether he could still return the basketball to the sports store. Before he could turn away, however, he was surprised by Duo's soft response.

"I think I'd like that," the young man said.


The colony lights were powering down when they finished playing. Their first game was a tie, as they both held back, waiting to see what the other could do now that each had gained in height and muscle tone. Heero won the second game. When they looked around, they discovered the game had attracted several locals, including two of the other waiters from the convention center. He was about to suggest best two-out-of-three, not counting the first game, only to find Duo had already made friends with the six observers and invited them to join in. The next thing Heero knew, Duo was introducing him. Samuel was an inch taller than Heero, with gangly limbs and large hands. Ted was one of the sous chefs at the convention center. Ted wasn't tall, but Duo had seen him work, and knew the guy was coordinated and could move lightening speed behind the line.

"Shuffle offense," Duo was telling them. Heero raised his eyebrows, and Duo laughed. "Screw the coin toss, Hito, we own the ball. We get it first, so there's no reason we have to let it go."

Ted and Samuel nodded their approval, spreading out as the game began. They slaughtered the opposite team on the first game, but the difference narrowed on the second game as the four locals caught onto Heero's and Duo's offense styles. Heero carried a number of the scores, and couldn't help but grin smugly when he heard Duo boasting to Ted.

"Japanese boys can jump," he was crowing.


"What do you want to do for dinner?" Duo wiped his face on his shirt as Heero unlocked the apartment door.

"Do we need to get groceries?" Heero toed off his sneakers at the door. "I haven't been shopping."

"I did, yesterday, but I was thinking we'd go out. It's my day off! We should do something."

"We can do it after I take a shower," the Wing Zero pilot replied. He saw a flash of motion out of the corner of his eye, and ducked in time. Duo's sweat-soaked shirt hit the wall behind him and slid to the floor in a heap. "Put that with the laundry," Heero told Duo. "I've got to do laundry tomorrow."

"You did it just two days ago."

"Clothes get dirty. Then you wash them." Heero snorted. "Idiot."

"Anal retentive bastard."

Heero shut the bathroom door and started up the hot water. In the privacy of the bathroom, he grinned happily at his reflection. Maybe Duo didn't like the idea of them being more than friends, but at least, Heero told himself, even just being friends was proving to be worth the effort.

When he opened the door after his shower, the steam billowed out into the hallway. Duo was standing there, grimacing. "Geez, man, what were you doing in there? That's twice your usual time." Duo pushed past Heero, cranking the water back on. "The sweat's dried on me. Disgusting, being stinky."

"More than usual?"

"Hilde was right," Duo replied with a cheeky grin. "There must be a new world order if you've learned how to joke."

"Hn." Heero didn't need to yell from the bedroom, picking out clean jeans and a t-shirt. Third set of clothes for the day, he thought.

"Wait, let me guess. That grunt means, thanks, glad you noticed, right?" The bathroom door shut with a click and a second later Duo could be heard laughing, just barely audible over the sound of water splashing.

Forty-five minutes later, Heero was just finishing his latest novel when Duo reappeared. His clothes hung to his damp body, highlighting the curves and muscles sheathing his compact frame. He'd already combed his hair, and was braiding the length with deft flicks of his wrist as he stood at the kitchen countertop, studying the pantry shelves. Duo's auburn bangs were drying quickly, and he blew them out of his eyes with a quick uprush of air.

"So? Eat out, or are you going to make me cook on my day off?" Duo leaned one hip against the countertop and studied his roommate as he twisted a hair band around the end of his braid.

"I don't mind your cooking," Heero retorted.

"That means you're not going to treat, are you."

Heero glanced up from where he'd dropped the finished book next to its brothers. A small line appeared between his brows as he considered the answer that had first popped up in his head. The pause stretched on, and Duo cocked his head, waiting expectantly. Finally Heero gave him a quick shrug, and a crooked smile.

"We'll go dutch then," Duo announced. "Get your shoes. I saw this great Pho restaurant over by work."

"Dutch?" Heero recalled the term, vaguely, and frowned as he slipped his feet into his boots. He leaned over to tie them quickly around his ankles rather than lace them up fully, and remembered. "Dutch is what you say when you're dating."

Duo didn't respond.


Five minutes later they were on the street. Heero caught sight of the calendar hanging behind the apartment building's front desk and halted in his tracks.

"What?" Duo glanced at Heero, then around, wondering what had made the dark-haired man stop so suddenly.

"It's the tenth," Heero blurted out. "I've got to... Damn." He shook his head. "Never mind. Just something I forgot to do."

"What is it?" Duo held the door open for Heero, who was busy zipping up his leather jacket.

"Nothing important."

"Nothing important that made you stop flat-out in the lobby." Duo grinned. "Oh, wait. Is it a surprise for me?"


"And that means... let me think. That particular grunt means... Yes, Duo, it's a large and expensive shipment of new computer games that I didn't want you to know about because I was planning on surprising you."

Heero made a face. "Stop that." Catching Duo's wide-eyed expression, Heero glared. "Stop making fun of me. And don't try to pretend you're innocent. You're always guilty of something."

"So what did you forget?"

"Drop it."


I'm really going to kill him, Heero thought, and groaned privately. Now that he'd been so stupid as to say anything in front of Duo, the longhaired boy wasn't going to let up. Heero scratched his neck and thought about it for several seconds before he came to a decision.

"I have to... check in."

"Check in? I sent Hilde an email yesterday."

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?" Duo jerked his head at the corner, and they turned right to head down Fifteenth Street. "And don't change the subject."

"I'm not. It's just that I can't keep track. You called her Hilde, not Hel. When is it safe?"

"We're not on L2," Duo pointed out. "And when we're on the street, it's okay."

"How do you know?"

Duo shot Heero a look, and then softened it with an abashed grin. "I don't. But I have this cool device that buzzes when we're near listening devices. It's usually pretty accurate."


"So far. Besides, there's no way the L2 syndicates have listening devices all over L4. And as far as anyone around here knows, we're two old friends who've gone to school together and now work together."


"Yeah, hn." Duo did his best imitation of Heero's characteristic grunt, and laughed when the photographer shot him a disgruntled look. "So why do you have to check in? Pops?"

"No... some kids I know." Heero spoke slowly, measuring his words as they stood at the light. When the traffic cleared, Duo darted out across the street and Heero followed a heartbeat later. On the curb they fell in step again, passing the Asian furniture store where they'd bought the futon. Heero noticed Duo was watching him with that expectant look again, and he shrugged. "If I don't check in, they'll... alert someone."

"Should've figured you'd come in with backup." Duo stared up at the colony's vaulted space windows, where a sliver of earth could be seen through the glazed arches. "And they're going to alert who? I wonder... " Duo hummed for several seconds, then flashed a sudden wide grin at Heero. "Ah. They'll tell headquarters you've disappeared."

"Headquarters... " Heero canted his head at Duo.

"Appropriate, don't you think?"

Heero scowled, not getting what Duo found so humorous. Headquarters? Despite himself, he gave Duo a half-smile. Quatre, the head of their strategic movements. Duo blinked, then shyly smiled in response.

"Yeah," Heero said. "It fits. But actually, I told them to contact Chang."

"I see. So who are they?"

"Oh... " The photographer considered the question as he followed Duo into the restaurant. "A bunch of kids. Hackers."

Heero was disconcerted when Duo suddenly burst out laughing. The waiter showing them to a corner table stopped, giving them a curious look, but Duo just waved him away and took the menus, leading Heero to the table. The dark-haired man followed, unzipping his jacket as he glared. Duo's laughter subsided into chuckles by the time they sat.

"Mike Anders?" Duo laughed again as Heero's glare grew even deeper. Duo shrugged. "Also known as The Hand?" A muscle flickered in Heero's jaw, and Duo started laughing even harder. "So you're the one who set those kids on us. Should've known!"


On to Chapter twenty-six

Back to chapter twenty-four

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