Warnings : Implied yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized
characters, and a little bit of squick, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading at the speed of light!
Thanks to Aya and Yume for opinions rendered.
Feed-back is a dream I have…
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
So I didn’t request a solo assignment after that first
awkward time we all five stayed together after all. Things had gotten a
little better after the night I had stormed out of the house. I still didn’t
feel like I could talk to Heero or Wufei about personal stuff and carefully
kept my relationship with the two of them strictly business, but they had
backed off a little bit. Quatre and Trowa were a little more accepting of
me and I managed to eventually develop something like the relationship I
had envisioned we would all share, with Quatre at least.
I thought of him a little bit like a kid brother. I don’t
really know why, he certainly didn’t need my protection. He was tough
as nails when he was behind the controls of his Gundam, was possessed of
a near brilliant tactical sense; but somehow seemed to maintain this…ethereal
innocence. I think that was what I was drawn to protect; he just hadn’t
seen some of the things I had in my lifetime and I wanted to keep him untouched
by that kind of ugliness.
The next couple of months found me paired, and assigned to
work, with just about every possible combination of the five of us you could
imagine. The worst was a long couple of weeks when I was partnered with
Heero when we had to go under cover as roommates at a boarding school. I
thought I would go out of my mind sharing a room with the guy, sharing meals,
doing class work together and never managing to get passed that cold exterior.
I did my best to be as un-annoying as possible. I followed all the school
rules like a good little boy, didn’t engage in anything that I thought
might be considered an endangerment to the mission, left my music in my
Gundam and just did my best to keep my mouth shut. Still, somehow, by the
end of the two weeks I seemed to have annoyed the hell out of him, because
he was even colder and more sullen than when we had started.
And of course, it didn’t help matters that I spent most
nights dreaming about the ice melting out of those cold blue eyes. Dreaming
about my finally getting around that exterior and finding the passionate
man who lived inside.
Oh shut up. I am well aware that his ice probably went all
the way to the core and if there was any passion in that body at all it
sure as hell wasn’t going to wake with the touch of my hand. They
were dreams, ok? I know that. Those two weeks taught me that if they taught
me nothing else.
Even the short assignment I spent with Wufei wasn’t
as painful. I suppose it was because I wasn’t hoping for something
from him. I think he disliked me every bit as much as Heero did but it didn’t
bother me the same. Besides, I had somehow seemed to have earned a little
bit of respect from him with my piloting skills and he had finally gotten
to the point where he would afford me a least a little courtesy, if not
any real friendship.
I was heading toward my latest assignment with a confused
mixture of dread and anticipation. I was supposed to be meeting up with
Heero and Quatre. We were going to be hiding out in the states on the edge
of an industrial town somewhere in the mid-west. We had a small house to
stay in about two miles from an abandoned warehouse where we would be able
to hide our Gundams. There were rumors that there was something odd going
on in the area and we were there to figure out what.
While I was looking forward to seeing Quatre again, I had
managed to avoid Heero since the boarding school assignment and wasn’t
looking forward to being trapped in a ‘small house’ with Mr.
Sensitive. I suppose I should just be happy it was Quatre making up the
third on our little team and not Wufei. I didn’t think I’d survive
being cooped up with the Brothers Grimm for very long.
So I was a little subdued when I climbed down from my Gundam
after landing and securing it in the warehouse. Both the other Gundams were
already there; Wing somehow managing to glare down at me with the same angry
expression that it’s pilot usually wore. I resisted the urge to flip
it the bird. Now that would have been mature.
I was just wondering if someone was going to meet me or if
I was going to have to figure out where the safe house was on my own, when
Quatre’s voice rang out and he was running to meet me.
‘Hey, Qat!’ I called as I jumped to the ground,
meeting him half way to return his quick hug.
‘Duo!’ he laughed, ‘you made it; I was starting
to get worried.’
I held him at arms length and looked him over with a grin,
‘No problems. Just caution.’
Then over his shoulder I caught a glimpse of our other partner
and had to sigh; Heero was already glaring daggers at me and I’d just
gotten there. This was going to be a long assignment.
‘Hey, Heero,’ I called and he came toward us when
‘You’re late.’ He said sullenly.
I rolled my eyes. ‘Five and a half fucking minutes,
Yuy. Gimme a break.’
He just continued to glare at me and I suddenly, inexplicably
felt awkward about my hand resting on Quatre’s shoulder and I stepped
away from both of them, turning to get my duffle bag.
Yep. Long damn assignment.
Gear shouldered; I turned back and grinned at them, ‘Lead
on, oh partners in crime.’
Quatre chuckled and went to get his own stuff. I followed
him, not relishing the idea of standing around having a staring contest
with Mr. Glare-o’-death. After a second, I heard his steps behind
We walked to the safe house, Heero had obviously already settled
in and we followed his lead. It was a somewhat uncomfortable walk and not
just because of the cold night air. Mid-winter ain’t got nothin’
on Heero Yuy. That man could put out fires with that icy silence of his.
Quatre and I refrained from a lot of conversation during the
walk; mutually agreeing to wait until we’d gotten to a place where
we might find a little privacy.
When the mission specs said ‘small house’, they
weren’t kidding. It was a little run-down, frame, one story with a
small yard that was mostly just dirt and neighbors that looked they wouldn’t
have questioned it if we’d ridden in on elephant back. It was the
wee hours of the morning though and no one was around to see us arrive.
Bad neighborhood; I could tell instantly and decided that I would need to
keep a close eye on Quatre. I imagine he’d never seen this side of
town before and probably didn’t even know what the term ‘crack-house’
Every nerve I owned was twitching just walking up to our front
Heero took us inside and Quatre looked around with a little
‘oh’ noise. I grinned and without thinking, said, ‘Nice
place you got here, Heero. I really love what you’ve done with it.’
It was simple banter; like I said…I hadn’t been
around him in a while. I’d forgotten that perfect soldiers aren’t
aloud to joke; I think there’s something in the Perfect Soldier handbook
about it. Rule #16, right after the one that says they can’t ever
smile and before the one that says they have to have abs like a fucking
He glared at me, ignoring the comment and gesturing around,
‘We do have electricity and water. The bedrooms are in the back. I
will start dinner.’
With that, he turned on his heel and left the room.
‘What a dump,’ Quatre muttered and I nodded agreement
as we made our way toward the back of the house. I glanced into the first
room I came to and looked around; I didn’t see any gear, so I went
on in and dumped my stuff on one of the beds. Dust flew and I had to grin
wondering how Quatre was going to handle this.
He came back into my room a few minutes later with a rueful
grin, ‘Wait until you see the bathroom.’ He smirked.
‘Well…’ I told him, ‘I was thinking
about a shower before dinner…’
‘Be my guest,’ he laughed, ‘I think I may
give them up until this mission is over.’
I pulled my stuff out of my duffle and then, on a sudden thought,
made my way to the kitchen.
‘Heero,’ I called from the doorway, ‘mind
if I shower before dinner?’
‘Go ahead,’ he said without turning around, ‘I
have already taken mine.’
Well, that didn’t go too bad. Of course, he might have
been glaring and I just couldn’t see it with his back turned.
‘Thanks, man,’ I called. I always tried to keep
it in the front of my mind to keep my sentences short and always maintain
a strict politeness when dealing with Heero Yuy. I never knew when something
I said or did was going to set him off.
The bathroom wasn’t all that bad when compared with
ones that I had seen in my lifetime but I suppose by Quatre’s standards
it was the pit of the kingdom of disgusting.
I worked fast and only used lukewarm water, just in case and
returned to my room when I was done to comb my hair out and get dressed.
There was barely enough room in the tiny bathroom to turn around.
I pulled on a pair of loose Dockers but left my shirt off
until my hair wasn’t dripping water everywhere, got out my little
MP3 player and turned on some of my music, careful to keep it turned down
while I began the arduous task of combing my wet hair.
I had hunted up some Emerson, Lake and Palmer after a certain
young grocery store clerk had introduced me to their music and before long,
I lost myself in the familiar job of untangling my hair and began to sing
‘Lend your love to me tonight, don’t ask me who
or what is right. I have no strength I cannot fight, just flood my darkness
with your light….’
I leaned over at the waist and threw my hair forward to comb
it out completely, getting the snarls out from underneath.
‘…Behind this face I am alone, I would give everything
I own, to touch you. Just lend your love to me once more, don’t ask
me what I came back for…Shit.’
That was when I saw the duffle bag tucked back under the bed
across from the one I had chosen. I should have known Heero wouldn’t
just leave his stuff sit out in plain sight. I froze for a heartbeat while
Mr. Lake sang on without me. I straightened, tossing my hair backward and
turned to start grabbing my things…and found Heero standing in the
doorway with the most unreadable expression on his face I have ever seen.
I blinked at him like an idiot for a minute and felt my face flame. Then
I scrambled to slap at the MP player, shutting off the music and the sudden
silence was almost deafening.
‘Sorry, Heero,’ I muttered, grabbing my bag and
stuffing things in as fast as I could manage. Wasn’t staying in this
room; uh’uh; no way…absolutely not, ‘I didn’t see
He didn’t say anything for another couple of seconds
and I was starting to wonder if one person could actually bore holes in
another one with just a look.
‘You don’t…’ he began and then stopped
to clear his throat, ‘Dinner is ready.’
Then he was gone.
I breathed a sigh of relief and got my ass out of that room
as fast as my little feet would carry me.
I discovered there was only one other bedroom, there was only
one bed in it and Quatre had already laid claim to it. Great; looked like
I’d be sleeping on the couch for the duration.
I dug a black sweater out of my bag and pulled it on as I
made my way to the kitchen, didn’t want to be late for something Mr.
Atomic Clock had scheduled.
Quatre was already sitting at the little metal table, dubiously
eyeing the stew that Heero was dishing up. The kitchen was a dinky little
thing and I had to grin at the archaic gas powered stove. There were exactly
three chairs at the table and none of them matched.
I went around and got myself a bowl and scooped up a couple
of ladlefuls of stew.
Behind me, Quatre kind of gasped and I glanced at him.
‘What’s the matter, Qat?’ I asked when I
found him staring at me.
‘I’ve just never seen you with your hair down
before.’ he told me. ‘You don’t even look like yourself!’
I brushed a lock behind my ear self-consciously, ‘I…was
in a hurry,’ I muttered and took the only open chair at the table.
Heero was eating his dinner with single-minded purpose, not
looking up; you would have thought he was the only one in the room.
I nibbled at the stew, something I learned early in life;
the slower you eat the more full you feel. If you stretch a slice of bread
out over ten minutes, you can kind of fool yourself into thinking that you’ve
eaten twice what you really have. Wolf it down and it’s gone before
you know it and you still feel hungry.
‘It’s good, Heero,’ I remembered to say…politely.
He only grunted.
Not for the first time, I wondered what in the hell it was
about me that pissed him off so bad he wouldn’t even look at me most
of the time. I sighed.
‘What’s the matter, Duo?’ Quatre asked graciously
and I could have kicked myself.
‘Uhmmm…was just thinking; it’d be nice if
our assignments were in Hawaii or California or someplace warm now and again,’
I evaded; rather artfully, I thought.
Quatre grimaced at me and nodded vehement agreement, ‘I
hate the cold.’ He muttered and took another bite of the hot stew,
I laughed at him and then thought to look him over; he was
wearing a pair of light cotton pants and a dress shirt, ‘Don’t
you have anything any warmer?’ I asked.
He ducked his head in embarrassment, ‘I didn’t
have time to pack anything else; had to bring what I had with me.’
We weren’t that different in size, I think I’m
a little bit scrawnier than he is and might have a half an inch in height
on him but I thought my clothes would fit him, ‘I’ll go through
my things after dinner.’ I promised, ‘I think you can wear my
He threw me a grateful look and I realized that he must be
really uncomfortable. The house was pretty damn chilly.
I forgot who was sitting across from us for a second and opened
my mouth to ask if Heero had anything he might want to donate to the cause.
He was quite a bit broader in the shoulder than either me or Quatre but
still…none of us was all that different in size. Then I blinked at
him. He was sitting there in just his jeans and a tank top.
‘Damn, Heero!’ I blurted, ‘Aren’t
I swear his cheeks colored slightly and he shrugged one shoulder
without looking up, ‘Cold is irrelevant.’
If Trowa or Quatre had said that, I would have laughed out
loud and accused them of forgetting to pack cold weather gear. But this
was Mr. Always Prepared, after all, so I kept my theories to myself.
I ducked my head and went out on a limb for the sake of doing
the right thing and murmured, ‘Would you like to see if I have anything
warmer you can wear?’
He actually flicked his eyes away from his bowl for a moment
but only said, ‘I’m fine.’ There was a small silence and
then, ‘Thanks anyway.’
I almost choked on my dinner. I glanced up but he was totally
focused on his stew again. I caught Quatre blinking owlishly across the
table at our stoic partner and we shared a grin.
Quatre and I insisted on doing up the dishes and Heero disappeared
to his room as soon as he was done eating.
‘I think I’m making progress, Qat.’ I whispered
while I washed and he dried, ‘I got through a whole meal without getting
my head bit off!’
Quatre chuckled quietly and poked me in the ribs. ‘Don’t
get cocky; you’ll get careless and lose an arm or something.’
I snickered and handed him a clean bowl. ‘So, how is
everybody?’ I hadn’t seen any of the others for a while.
He let his voice rise to a normal level as we talked amiably
about his recent assignments and where he’d been. He’d seen
some space time and I lamented my lack thereof. I’d done a little
infiltration work and he bemoaned having few skills in that area. He reported
his last meeting with Wufei, able to tell me that he was all right as of
a week ago. I hadn’t seen anyone any more recently than he had and
wasn’t able to give him the information that I knew he was secretly
‘I’m sure Trowa’s all right,’ I murmured
softly as we finished the dishes, letting a knowing smile curve my lips.
He blinked at me for a second and flushed the darkest shade
of scarlet I have ever seen. I thought for a second he was going to faint.
‘Duo!’ he gasped, shocked as hell, ‘How
did you…I mean…I…’
I laughed at him and reached under his chin to push his mouth
‘Because you freaking glow whenever he comes into the
room,’ I told him with a wicked grin.
‘Don’t you dare ever tell anybody!’ he burst
out and his eyes were wide with fear.
I felt bad; I really hadn’t realized that he thought
it was such a deep dark secret, ‘I’m sorry, Quatre,’ I
told him, ‘I shouldn’t have teased you…I just thought…you
two just look like you belong together…I…’
I was suddenly embarrassed, ducked my head and shut the hell
up. He just stood and blinked at me.
‘You don’t think I’m…some kind of
freak?’ he breathed and I jerked my head back up to look him in the
‘Why in the hell would it make you a freak to care for
someone?’ I growled, a little harsher than I had intended.
Pure relief washed over his face and I suddenly found myself
with a bundle of Quatre wrapped around my neck.
‘I was always so afraid that if you guys ever found
out…I kind of thought sometimes…but I…’ It was his
turn to not have the right words.
I hugged him back for a moment, if the truth be told, just
enjoying the touch of another human being myself but then I straightened
him up and drew him to sit down with me at the table.
‘Qat.’ I told him seriously, ‘I have no
idea how the other guys would take it but I don’t have a problem with
He gnawed at his lower lip for a minute, ‘Before I met
Trowa,’ he confessed softly, ‘I never thought about it one way
or the other. I assumed that I just hadn’t met the right girl yet.’
I chuckled and laid my hand over his, ‘Never dreamed
that you just hadn’t met the right guy yet, huh?’
He flushed again and his jaw worked for a minute but nothing
I knew what he was dying to ask me and didn’t know how.
I thought about it for a minute, trying to think how to put it into words.
‘Listen,’ I said and my voice dropped another
notch, ‘I’m not sure I believe in…gay and straight…I
think that when you find that…person that you’re meant to be
with; it doesn’t matter what package they’re in.’ I frowned
and looked off at nothing for a minute, trying to make the words come, ‘I
didn’t think I was…I mean, I always thought I was straight until…’
I glanced back at Quatre and found him grinning at me like
a loon and I had this dawning sense of horror that I had just said too damn
‘You kind of glow, too.’ he told me in the softest
of voices and then his grin faded, ‘Or…you used to…before…’
He just shut up and looked back at me with the most heart-broken look in
I didn’t blush. I went white as a sheet; I’m sure
of it because Quatre looked scared and grabbed my arm.
‘Duo?’ he whispered, voice full of concern.
‘No…nobody else knows?’ I could hardly make
my voice heard.
He just shook his head emphatically and I remembered to breathe.
‘He’d kill me and scatter the body parts from
here to the asteroid belt,’ I warned and managed to get a small, sad
smile out of Quatre.
‘I used to think…’ he began and then stopped,
looking up at me with those wide blue eyes, ‘But then he started being
He flushed at his own use of the near swear word and I chuckled
I shook my head, ‘No…there is absolutely nothing
in that man’s heart for me but full-fledged loathing. No doubt at
His face crumbled and I thought for a second he was going
to cry, I blinked at him stupidly. ‘Qat? What’s wrong?’
‘Seeing the way he treats you…I’m so scared
that Trowa might react like that if he ever realized…’
He looked so damn vulnerable, wearing the shadow of my own
pain on his face, that I pulled him toward me and let him lay his head on
my shoulder, rubbing my hand soothingly up and down his back.
‘Trowa’s not like that,’ I told him firmly,
‘I can’t tell you if he’d be interested or not…but
I know him well enough to know that he’d never act like…that.’
He nodded against my shoulder, ‘I don’t think
‘Just because my heart was stupid enough to decide it
was going to pine after Mr. Freeze doesn’t mean that you have to be
afraid,’ I whispered, scared to death that we weren’t keeping
our voices down enough.
He straightened up and looked at me, ‘I don’t
see how you stand it.’ He sighed, ‘It would kill me if Trowa
treated me the way Heero treats you.’
I grinned at him, putting on the brave front. ‘I’m
starting to think of ‘baka’ as a term of endearment.’
He had to stifle a laugh behind his hand and I effectively
ended that line of conversation.
He sobered. ‘Duo…I’m so glad we talked;
it really helped.’
I smiled at him warmly. ‘It did; didn’t it?’
Then I went to get my duffle bag from where I’d stashed
it in the bathroom. The sweater I was wearing was the warmest thing I had
and I shucked out of it and made him put it on.
‘But Duo…’ he objected, looking guilty.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ I assured him and
found myself another shirt, a denim one, not as warm but at least long sleeved,
‘I’m more used to the cold. It doesn’t bother me the way
it does you.’
He took the sweater, and a pair of heavy jeans as well, and
finally went off to his room. As I had hoped, he assumed that I would be
going back to the other bedroom with Heero. I waited until I was sure he
was in his room for the night, then settled myself on the couch, using my
duffle bag for a pillow.
Surviving one dinner without getting yelled at was not enough
to make me brave enough to try and mount an assault on that closed door.
I am not the suicidal one.
But by morning I really wished I had thought to pack a blanket;
I was freezing my ass off.
I’m an early riser; old street habit, so before Quatre
was up and about I had my bag tucked away and there was no sign of where
I had spent the night.
I went scrounging in the kitchen, found some potatoes and
left over meat that Heero hadn’t used in the stew and set out to make
hash for breakfast.
Quatre wandered in first, wearing my clothes and yawning hugely,
and just sat at the table while I finished cooking.
Heero didn’t come out until right before I was ready
to put it on the table; I was pretty sure he was avoiding me.
He glanced at Quatre, and then at me and frowned slightly
before he sat down at the table. Sometimes he just made me tired trying
to figure out what was going through his head.
He was wearing his jeans and a plain t-shirt. I gnawed my
lip a little bit before getting up the courage to offer him one of my shirts
‘Heero…I have some long-sleeved shirts if you
want to borrow…’
‘I said I’m fine.’ he said flatly and I
backed off with a mental shrug of my shoulders. The hell with him.
Quatre was frowning at him like he was about to light into
him with both hands; I caught his eye and gave him a warning look. All I
needed was for Quatre to start lecturing Heero. I’d end up getting
killed trying to save Quatre’s ass.
I finished serving breakfast and turned the conversation to
the mission. That’s always a safe topic with Heero Yuy.
So we ate our breakfast and spent the next hour going over
the mission objectives and the little bit of information we had available.
We didn’t have a lot to go on; a report from a spy we
had in the Oz organization that there was something covert going on here.
The proverbial needle in a haystack.
‘Well, we’re not going to find anything out just
sitting around this place.’ I ventured at last.
‘I agree,’ Quatre said, ‘We have to get
out where we can make contacts…meet people.’
The prospect of him wandering around this neighborhood alone
about froze my blood in my veins. I forgot about the mission for a minute
and turned toward him.
‘Listen; Qat…’ I began, trying to figure
out how to say this without hurting his feelings; ‘I’ve been
meaning to talk to you about that…’
He turned and met my gaze with an odd frown.
‘This isn’t…the kind of place we’re
used to staying.’ I didn’t want to single him out by saying
‘you’re’, ‘Most of the people we’re going
to run into around here are…drug dealers and hookers and the like.’
I’m not sure which of the two of us was blushing more.
‘You need to be real careful around here.’ I looked
down at my hands, I felt bad; like I was saying he couldn’t handle
himself but I didn’t know how else to put it. ‘You really shouldn’t
go out without one of us…’
Then I looked at Heero. Really looked at him with my head
in ‘street’ mindset.
‘Oh dear God…you’re both going to stand
out like sore thumbs,’ I blurted before I had a chance to shut my
mouth on it.
Heero looked pissed, Quatre looked confused.
‘Duo…I don’t understand,’ Quatre said.
Heero didn’t say anything at all.
I got up and walked to look out the window, turning my back
on them, trying to pretend I was just talking to nobody in particular.
‘Look,’ I said around a heavy sigh, ‘I grew
up in places like…this. I know…what I’m talking about.
There is nothing outside this door but predators…and prey. You are
one or you are the other. You are a threat or you are in danger. And if
you are perceived as too much of a threat then you are in a whole other
kind of danger ’
I turned back around and looked hard at Heero’s stony
face. ‘You are a predator. You look like a fucking undercover cop.’
I turned to Quatre. ‘You are prey. You look like an
Hell; now they both looked pissed at me.
‘I’m sorry…I don’t know how else to
explain it. We are going to attract all kinds of attention when we go out
There was the longest silence and it was Heero who surprised
me by breaking it.
‘What are you?’
I blinked up at him, shocked by the question, ‘Prey
with an edge,’ I told him before I had a chance to think about it.
‘I’m not a threat but I understand the rules of the jungle.’
He just sat and stared at me. It wasn’t necessarily
a glare but it made me feel like I was being stripped down to the bone,
weighed and measured.
‘Then you should be the one to go out,’ he said
and I was left blinking some more.
I didn’t know whether to grin or frown. Half of me was
floating a foot off the ground from the mere implication that he might possibly,
maybe, trust me to know what I was talking about. While the other half was
asking me just what in the hell I had gone and done.
‘Heero!’ Quatre snapped, ‘if it’s
all that dangerous out there, you can’t just send him off by himself!’
‘He is the…expert here,’ Heero said softly
and I was so busy for a second trying to decide if that was a derogatory
remark, that I missed part of what Quatre said next.
‘…Damn it! You are letting your personal feelings
against Duo…’ He was flaming pissed if he was cussing.
‘Qat!’ I cut him off sharply, afraid of what he
might be about to say. I lowered my voice when I had his attention.
‘I’m sorry…’ I told him, ‘I’m
not trying to say anything against your abilities. If we were going into
some high powered political meeting or…or dealing with a negotiations
situation; you’d be the point man. But…this is different. This
is outside your realm of experience; that’s all.’
He mulled it over, glared at me and finally said, ‘I
don’t think it’s safe for you to go out alone.’
‘I will actually draw less attention by myself,’
I assured him.
He turned those cornflower blue eyes on Heero again and I
was only relieved to have them off me.
‘I just want to state that I am totally against this,’
he gritted, ‘and just what are you and I supposed to do? Sit here
on our hands while Duo does all the work?’
‘I am intending on doing some reconnaissance work after
dark when the likelihood of running into…’
I laughed. I had not meant to and damned if I didn’t
have both their eyes on me again.
‘Uhmmmm…Heero,’ I ducked my head, ‘After
dark is when things start to happen in a neighborhood like this. You’ll
do better to wait until three or four in the morning.’
I got a slight rise out of one eyebrow and a grunt. I took
it as acknowledgment of the information.
I decided to quit while I was ahead, ‘I’m going
to go see if I can put an outfit together,’ and I went to get my duffle
There was no rush; there wouldn’t be any point in going
out for hours yet. Though I suppose I could find someplace to pick up some
warmer clothes for the two of them while I was waiting for the local street
life to stir.
I pulled out my clothes and looked things over, trying to
decide who I was going to be; my Max persona wasn’t right for this
kind of situation. I was guessing that I was going to end up playing either
Dodger the hustler or Helio the streetwalker. I was hoping for Dodger; I
don’t even like Helio. I finally concluded that I didn’t have
the right clothes for either one of them. I checked the clock; almost ten.
I’d probably be able to find someplace to buy some clothes and recon
the neighborhood a little before much was stirring. I dug into my stash
and counted out enough money to buy what I needed plus a little extra.
‘What are you doing?’ I heard Heero say behind
me and turned to find the guys watching me curiously. Well, Quatre was watching
curiously. Heero was just watching.
‘We need some stuff,’ I told him, shoving the
money into my front pocket, ‘I’m going out.’
‘Duo,’ Quatre came toward me with something in
his hand, ‘Heero and I discussed your going out alone. I’m still
not happy with it and we decided that you should at least wear a wire.’
I straightened and looked at what he was holding, ‘You
have surveillance equipment?’
‘Some,’ Heero admitted and I had to bite back
on the urge to ask him just what the hell else he was holding out on us.
I looked the little bug over when Quatre laid it in my hand.
It was a transmitter only; they wouldn’t be able to talk to me. It
was actually pretty state of the art; I recognized it and knew it had a
range close to a mile.
I quirked a grin at Heero, ‘I’m impressed.’
Of course, I only got a grunt in return.
I mulled it over in my head, weighing the possibility of getting
caught with it against the stress this whole thing seemed to be exerting
‘All right,’ I finally agreed, took off my shirt,
dug out my repair kit and proceeded to undo the seam on the collar. I tucked
the little transmitter inside and stitched it carefully back up.
‘There.’ I raised an eyebrow at Quatre as I slipped
the shirt back on, ‘Happy?’
‘Not really,’ he grumbled, ‘But I guess
it will have to do.’ Then he turned to Heero, ‘Test it,’
he said tersely.
Heero went into his room without a word and I gave him a moment
before I began intoning, ‘Testing...testing…testing…’
Like some monotone robot.
He came out a minute later with a tight nod and I shut up.
On a sudden thought, I turned back to Quatre, ‘Now you
listen…there’s a lot of talk on the street that sounds…serious,
that just isn’t. People push. People test. You are not to panic unless…’
I thought about it for a minute, ‘Unless I start talking in Japanese.
He nodded and somehow only looked more upset. That was what
would get him eaten alive outside this little house; everything he felt
was written across his face in six foot, flaming letters.
‘I gotta teach you to play poker.’ I muttered
and grabbed my jacket and turned to go.
Quatre’s fingers came to brush my arm, ‘Be careful,’
‘Just stay cool,’ I told him, ‘I’ll
Then I was out on the street and turning my jacket collar
up against the wind. Damn but I hate the cold.
The house to the east of us was boarded up but you could tell
that someone was slipping in and out of it, ‘Looks like we have squatters
living in the house next door,’ I told them as I ambled along, letting
my eyes scan everything. Might as well pass along a little information while
I was out here.
‘Stop glaring, Heero,’ I chuckled, ‘A lot
of street people talk to themselves…it’s no big deal.’
‘Stay clear of the third house down, our side of the
street,’ I warned, thinking about Heero’s plan to be out after
dark, ‘Looks like they raise pit bulls. You go in that back yard and
you won’t be coming out with all your body parts.’ I’m
sure they could hear the savage barking in the background. I shivered; I’d
seen dog fights before.
‘Nasty little pieces of work,’ I muttered to myself,
‘Give me a nice golden retriever or a German shepherd any day.’
I got quiet while I worked on my walk; God it had been years.
I hunched my shoulders and crammed my hands in my pockets and stopped trying
to walk like a soldier. Blend in, Maxwell; I chided myself. Stop striding.
After a few minutes I remembered to pull my hand out every so often and
wipe at my nose. Harmless…think harmless.
‘I been hangin’ ‘round you guys too damn
long…’ I muttered, thinking about Quatre hunched over the receiver
back at the house, ‘This is harder than I ‘member.’
I dug through my memory, pulling up a mental picture of the
kind of person I was pretending to be. I remembered the guy clear as day;
Ganor…his name had been Ganor. Everybody called him Gimpy because
he had this rolling walk that was almost a limp. I could hear his voice
in my head. I had the walk down within the next half block.
‘At’s better,’ I murmured, practicing the
talk, ‘Don’ you be callin’ me Gimpy to my face…my
name’s Ganor. G. A. N. O. R.,’ I intoned, just the way he used
to say it. I always thought it was probably the only word he knew how to
Ganor had walked and acted like he owned the fucking block
but everybody knew he was a nothing nobody and paid him little mind. Most
people thought he was a loon.
‘At’s odd…’ I said to nobody in particular,
‘Ol’ gray house with the big ol’ porch…she got a
brand spankin’ new front door.’
I continued that way, doing Ganor as I made my way toward
the business district. Muttering and murmuring to myself and verbally pointing
out things that stood out to my mind as something odd, like the car that
looked a little too nice for the house it was parked in front of and the
only other person I saw stirring that early in the day.
The houses gave way to apartment buildings within a few blocks
and I began to pass businesses and bars. Some of them boarded up; few of
them open. It took me five blocks of wandering before I finally found a
second hand clothing store.
I went inside, snuffling and rubbing my nose, which really
was a little runny from the cold.
The clerk glanced up only long enough to give me an appraising
glance, counting me as no real interest and went back to her Playgirl magazine.
It didn’t take long to find where the better stuff was and I began
digging around looking for enough to put together an ‘evening’
outfit. I had decided I would probably do better as Helio, much as I would
rather have not…but I hadn’t seen too many places where Dodger
could ply his pool hustler trade.
I picked up a couple more sweaters and an extra jacket because
I didn’t think that Quatre had one and went slouching up to the counter.
The clerk raised her eyes and glared at me.
‘This here jacket’s gots a hole in it,’
I whined and she only rolled her eyes.
‘That’s why it’s called a second hand store,
honey. Get over it.’
‘I ain’t payin’ no full price for no jacket
that gots a hole.’
She went back to her magazine, ‘Then put it back, sugar.’
‘Come on, man.’ I whined a little more and reached
to rub at my nose again, I caught the flick of her eyes at the movement
and I let my hand tremble as I put it back down and shoved it back into
my pocket. ‘I ain’t got much…and I got to save some…’
I had her full attention now and her whole attitude changed.
The money she made off the clothes went to somebody else. The money she
made from selling…other things under the counter was all hers.
‘What’s a’matter, sugar? You look a little
wasted.’ The sympathy in her voice held absolutely no reality in it.
I ducked my head down and to the side the way I remembered
the real Ganor doing it. ‘I needs the clothes and I ain’t got
‘Well…’ Her eyes never left mine and I forced
a shiver, ‘Maybe we can talk price if you’re interested in something
I gave her a hungry look and we got down to the real dealing.
She was careful not to mention anything by name but a small bag appeared
on the counter next to my pile of legitimate merchandise. I got a much better
deal on the clothes.
I left the store with a couple of plastic bags full of clothes
that would all have to be washed and something else tucked inside my jacket
I breathed a sigh of relief when I got a couple of blocks
behind me, ‘Jesus Christ,’ I blurted, forgetting for a second
that Heero was probably sitting there with Quatre, ‘This is bringing
back a whole shit wagon full of crap I would just as soon not remember.’
I deliberately worked my way back to the house using a different
route and continued my litany of observations as I went.
‘There’s something strange over here on fifth
street. There’s a building here that looks too new. There’s
something not right about it…it almost looks like somebody was trying
to make it look old.’
It was afternoon now and I was seeing more people. I deviated
once from the route I had intended to take because I spotted a small group
of punks hanging around a street corner. ‘Punks’ and ‘hanging
around’ usually meant bored. They weren’t bored enough to come
down two blocks to follow me.
I was getting antsy this close to my goal and found myself
rambling to Quatre as I wove my way between obstacles, surprised at how
quickly old instincts came back.
‘Old piece of street wisdom, Qat. Never go where you
don’t have at least three ways out,’ I was prompted to say as
I briefly contemplated and rejected going down an alley to shorten my route.
I came to the corner just two blocks up from the house and
had to decide between going down the north or south side of the street.
On the north, the owner of the pit bull service was outside in his front
yard and would have to be passed. He looked like a sullen bastard and wasn’t
doing a whole lot of anything but he had one of his dogs with him. On the
south side there was a pair of youngish looking punks in colors sitting
on the hood of a car passing a joint back and forth, laughing uproariously.
‘Great,’ I murmured, ‘Hell or high water.
Ok…let’s decide based on the rules set before me as a child;
never failed me before. Rule number two, Qat…it’s the quiet
ones who’ll give you the most trouble.’
So I stayed on the south side and only had to endure the hoots
and catcalls of two guys too stoned to want to get up off their asses to
give me any grief.
I made the front porch of the safe house with that spot between
my shoulder blades itching like a son of a bitch and having to make myself
I had been too long off the streets, had forgotten the constant
tension, I knew I’d have trouble sleeping tonight with the monsters
of my childhood hunting me through the dark.
The door flew open in front of my face before I had a chance
to reach for it and Quatre fairly pulled me inside, falling all over himself
trying to ask me questions. I laughed at him, a little of the tension easing
now that I was under cover.
‘Let me get these clothes in the bathtub to soak and
then we’ll sit down and talk.’
He gave me a puzzled little frown, ‘But Duo…you
just bought them…’
‘And they’re probably full of vermin coming from
a place like that,’ I told him and his eyes flew wide. I passed Heero
in the hall on my way and grinned at him, still a little bit high on adrenaline.
‘If you have the map of the area, I can mark some stuff
we should probably check.’
‘Meet us in the kitchen,’ he said and I grinned
wider. There hadn’t even been a glare with that line!
I ran the tub full of scalding hot water and poured in a liberal
amount of the harshest cleanser I could find. By the time I got to the kitchen,
I had put Ganor completely behind me and was able to sit down with them
When Heero spread the map out, I could see that he had already
marked the place with the dogs and to tell the truth, it rather surprised
me that he had thought enough of my observations that he had noted it. I
went over what I had noticed and marked things off on the map. Heero actually
asked me a couple of questions and I hated myself for the warm feeling his
attention gave me.
Heero decided he wanted to investigate the house with the
obviously new door and the building on Fifth Street; possibly that very
When we were done talking tactics, Quatre jumped all over
me, ‘What was going on in the clothing store? Why did that clerk suddenly
change the way she was talking to you?’
I chuckled lightly, ‘You just heard your first drug
deal go down, Qat.’
‘But…’ He sputtered and I laughed some more
and explained about how much more difficult it was to make charges stick
if the seller never actually makes a verbal offer. I showed him the stuff
and marvelled again at how wise and naïve he could be all at the same
I caught a slight frost in the air and glanced at Heero to
find him looking at me in a very odd way, ‘What are you planning on
doing with that?’ he asked in a voice I had not heard before and I
had trouble deciding what the tone was.
‘Depends,’ I told him blandly, ‘If I have
to go out as Dodger…I may try and sell it as part of my cover. If
I have to be Ganor again…God forbid…I’ll probably just
carry it as a prop. Otherwise it goes down the toilet.’
There was a subtle change to his features but it was beyond
me to read him most of the time.
Quatre was confused again, ‘Dodger? Ganor? Duo…I
‘My personas,’ I told him, ‘cover identities.’
‘You have them already made up?’ He looked a little
‘It makes it easier to pull one out of my hat when I
need to be somebody else in a hurry,’ I explained and he just shook
‘Who are you going to be tonight?’ he finally
I ducked my head and rubbed at the back of my neck, a little
embarrassed, ‘Unfortunately; after looking around…I think I’m
going to have to be Helio.’
‘Helio?’ Heero questioned with a frown.
‘Uhmmm…yeah. Heliotrope…Helio. He’s
That brought a shocked gasp from Quatre and he blushed a bright
red. Heero had that unreadable expression again and I sighed. I had a feeling
I was starting to seriously give him some shivers.
I ignored what I couldn’t understand and turned my attention
to Quatre, ‘Don’t worry, Quatre…I have no plans of taking
on any…clients. It just affords me the opportunity to converse with
a lot of people while blending in.’
‘But…’ and his color escalated to an even
brighter shade of red, ‘Won’t it blow your cover if…I
mean what if somebody…’
I laughed out loud. ‘You just set a price that’s
ridiculous and send them on their way.’
He didn’t look convinced and I reached to pat his hand.
‘Don’t worry so much…there’s plenty of fish to pick
from out there…no reason to push the issue with one skinny little,
nothing street rat.’
He blinked up at me and his mouth popped open. ‘Are
you kidding? Duo, you’re…’ and then his mouth snapped
shut. I am not at all sure what he had started to say but he was red again
and he never did finish it.
I finally decided I’d had enough of the question and
answer session. ‘I’m going to go rinse the clothes out.’
And I left the room.
I rinsed the crap out of the new clothes and I’m pretty
sure I did see some little dead somethings go swirling down the drain. I
rung the water out of them the best I could and took them outside to freeze
them the rest of the way dry.
With luck, they’d be ready by evening.
When I came back in the house, Heero was on the couch working
at his laptop and Quatre was making lunch.
I bypassed Heero and went to sit in the kitchen to talk with
Quatre while he worked. No sense pushing my luck with Mr. Mission; if I
wasn’t careful, I’d forget myself and cross whatever line it
was that only he could see.
Quatre was making soup and sandwiches and just generally hanging
around the stove more for warmth than anything, I think. He kept stealing
glances at me and I finally sighed in exasperation.
‘Listen, Qat…if there’s something you want
to ask me; just go ahead.’
He flushed and ducked his head. ‘I just don’t
understand…things, I guess.’ He muttered.
I bit down on the urge to tell him that was exactly why I
didn’t want him going out but only asked, ‘What things?’
Wishing that he could learn to be a little more blunt.
‘How did that woman know…’ he stopped, searching
for words while he slowly stirred the soup.
I closed my eyes for a second and slipped back into Ganor’s
head. I got up from the chair and made my way across the room toward him,
doing the walk, doing the tremble, doing the sniffle and the whole attitude.
‘Why…dat woman…she’s a pro-fess-on-nal.
She knows her work…she knows the signs.’
He almost knocked the pan over whirling around to face the
stranger that suddenly seemed to be in the room with him.
I chuckled in a nasty, Ganor way, closed my eyes and when
I opened them I was Dodger.
Dodger’s a punk, on the ragged edge of dangerous. He’s
all angles and attitude. I came out of the slouch and cocked my head and
my elbows. I seem larger when I do Dodger; you stand up straight and tall
and just imagine yourself occupying more space than you really do. I continued
‘S’matter pretty bird?’ I drawled and let
my eyes run over him the way he would get looked at if he dared wander out
of this safe place into the streets. I got in his space and he gave ground
with his eyes wide.
I pushed it until he croaked, ‘Duo?’ I heard in
his voice that he wasn’t sure. I’d genuinely scared him. Good.
I flashed him a pure Duo Maxwell grin and reached passed him
to take down the soup bowls from the shelf. ‘What, Qat?’
He just blinked at me as I turned to set the table.
Heero was standing in the doorway watching us. He had that
expression again; that one that can only be described as a total lack of
expression. Not for the first time, I wished I could read his mind.
Then Quatre surprised me with a question I wasn’t prepared
for, ‘Which…which one of you is the real one?’
‘Sometimes I’m not sure,’ I heard come out
of my mouth before I could stop it, even as I was standing there still staring
at Heero and I saw the surprise wash across his face.
Ouch. Ok…maybe I’d taken this game a little too
far. I turned away from them both and set the table.
The subject got dropped after that and I was careful to stick
with just being Duo Maxwell the Gundam pilot.
When I brought in the clothes after lunch, I left a sweater
and the jacket on Quatre’s bed. Then feeling like a damned little
kid sneaking where they didn’t belong, I carefully folded and put
the dark gray sweater I had picked up for Heero on the foot of his bed.
I have no idea why I keep making these damn gestures; I’m not normally
the type of person to pick up rattlesnakes just for fun.
Then I busied myself with getting my ‘outfit’
ready and trying to convince myself to pull Helio out of the box.
There’s an assumption that people make about you when
they figure out that you grew up, not only on L2 but as an orphan running
the streets. It’s an automatic conclusion that you had to have sold
your body to have survived. Nope. Sorry. Not always the case. Yeah, some
of the kids did; but you want to know a nasty piece of truth? Little kids
trying to be hookers do not live long. If you survived the physical damage,
you weren’t likely to survive the diseases you were going to get from
the type of people who were looking for a roll with a pre-pubescent anyway.
I am as virgin as the new-driven snow. I am not innocent. I know how it
works; I know the tricks and the secrets. I’ve had to lie quiet as
a mouse in my packing-crate shelter for the night with girls plying their
trade not twenty feet away. But I came through those years pretty much untouched.
Solo saw to it; saw to it with all his ‘rat children’. I don’t
know if he ever had to go that far, I sometimes wondered because he was
very vehement about the subject. None of the kids in his gang ever even
thought about it. He made damn sure we understood how that would just get
Helio is based on a girl named Azure. She took her trade name
from the color of her eyes. She had the most beautiful blue eyes. I suspect
that I will be able to see those eyes when I have forgotten what the rest
of her looked like. She wasn’t one of us kids, was older…probably
fifteen or sixteen. Seemed as old and wise as some ancient Oracle. She was…a
bitter piece of work. I avoided her as much as possible; she made me uncomfortable.
Sometimes if you caught her in the right mood, you got a glimpse of the
person she might have been. It ate at me.
I sincerely don’t like Helio. I guess sometimes it just
comes home to me how close I had come to being Helio.
Quatre sat and watched me slice artful holes in denim for
a while, nibbling at his lip and refraining, thank God, from any more questions.
Heero worked at his laptop, doing searches on the building
on Fifth Street and coming up empty, which only served to peak our interest
about the place.
Then there was no more putting it off and I went to the bathroom
to change. It was getting late and the nightlife would be starting to stir.
I started my disguise with black spandex. Shut up, ok; I don’t
want to hear about it. Black leggings and a long sleeved, form fitting shirt;
a veritable body stocking. Over that went a pair of acid washed jeans that
were so slashed there wasn’t a whole lot of places where slinky, black
spandex wasn’t showing through. A matching denim shirt, not buttoned
but tied at the waist and equally slashed. My black combat boots and a black
leather jacket. I took my hair down, brushed it until it shone and pulled
two locks from either side of my face to tie back behind my head. I thought
of Relena with a dark chuckle.
I surveyed myself in the mirror with a bit of a shock. Shit.
I wasn’t quite the scrawny little street kid I remembered. There was
some muscle on the frame I found in the looking glass.
My transmitter had been transferred to the shirt I had on
and there wasn’t any getting around it; it was time to go out.
I made eye contact with Helio in the mirror and growled to
myself. ‘Damn I hate you.’
In the mirror, Helio gave me a saucy wink and just grinned.
I came out of the bathroom trying not to blush and failing
miserably when I found the drop-jawed look on Quatre’s face.
‘Duo!’ he gasped, ‘You can’t go out
looking like that!’
I laughed until the tears threatened to run down my face.
‘Qat…it’s kind of the whole point.’
Heero came out of his room then and I could feel him looking
at me. I didn’t have the nerve to turn and see what expression he
was wearing; I had a feeling it was going to be that frozen one again.
‘Heero?’ Quatre exploded, looking to our partner
for support and finding none.
‘Will you still be using the same Japanese code if you
experience trouble?’ he asked and the glare he got from Quatre was
‘Yeah.’ I told him without turning and Quatre
got so pissed he stormed off to his room slamming the door when he got there.
I finally turned to where Heero was setting up the receiver
and caught him looking me up and down appraisingly. It kind of irritated
me somehow. Or embarrassed me, I’m not sure which but a tiny bit of
Helio peeked out and I raised my arms and turned around to display the goods.
‘Do I pass inspection?’ I purred and was gratified to see him
blush and turn away.
I wrestled with things to say, I knew if I got into any serious
trouble I was pretty much on my own. There wasn’t going to be a whole
lot they could do for me. I wanted some assurance that they wouldn’t
do something stupid trying to bail me out. But then I remembered who I was
standing here with and I realized what an idiotic notion that was. I finally
muttered, ‘Take it easy on Quatre…he’s just…out
of his element here and it makes him feel helpless. It’s in his nature
I left before he had a chance to bite my head off.
I went out the back door and slipped through the yards, ghosting
out to the street and I finally figured out what the odd noises were I’d
been hearing for the past hour.
‘Looks like our pit bull buddy is running a dog fight
tonight.’ I murmured, ‘Watch yourselves…there’ll
be a lot of drunken nasties wandering around the neighborhood for hours.’
I shut up then, realizing that I was talking only to Heero
unless Quatre had come out of his room after I left. I couldn’t maintain
the same banter unless I felt like I was talking to the more sympathetic
of my two partners.
Besides, I needed to get Helio out of his box in my head and
get him tried on.
Slow down the walk; need more of a saunter. Stroll…don’t
stride. Eyes up and scanning; looking for potential clients. Swing the hair,
flash the smile…accentuate the positive. God I hated this.
I managed to swing by the house with the odd repairs and muttered
into my collar, ‘Still no lights at target A. No sign of activity.’
By the time I hit the business district, Helio was firmly
in place and enjoying himself; swinging his hips and smirking his ass off.
Have I mentioned that I don’t like Helio?
The strip was like a place transformed; the grates were pushed
back from all those places that had been closed that morning and there were
people just fucking everywhere.
I passed a bar and got a catcall. Where I would normally have
ignored it and walked on, as Helio, I turned and flashed the guy a bright
grin, tossing the hair and giving him a wink. I was here to make contacts
and find information after all.
The guy wasn’t really interested though and backed down
when he got a response from me. I walked on.
I wandered like that for a while. I could tell the regulars
from the appraising stares I got; somebody new in their territory. I got
a couple of propositions and used the high price tactic to blow them off;
entered into a couple of absolutely nothing conversations.
It took an hour before one of the local girls got in my face;
just a little territorial pissing. In this business, you need a lure…something
that makes you stand out. For me…I mean, Helio…it was the hair
and the eyes. Violet is a very rare color.
For this girl, it was also her hair. Mine was better.
Hers was long but not as long as mine and flaming red where
mine is a light chestnut. Usually when I’m doing Helio I have it streaked
but I hadn’t had access to a lot of supplies.
I briefly debated getting into it with her but decided to
at least give a friendly exchange a try. I went straight for the jugular
and complimented her hair. She preened. I lamented my boring, mouse brown
color and raved a little about her hair color. She preened some more and
I had to keep myself from shaking my head.
It wasn’t as hard as all that; we really weren’t
in any serious competition for clients. The kind of johns that would be
interested in me wouldn’t be interested in her anyway. I think she
only got in my face to start with out of boredom.
I got her to talk to me a little bit. The clichéd hookers
with the hearts of gold really do exist. They usually don’t last long…but
On closer inspection, I realized that she was a little older
than she had looked at first and I played to that, managing to get some
maternal instincts going with a calculated show of a little trepidation.
‘Now you listen here, Honey,’ she told me after
we’d talked for a few minutes, ‘You stay away from the ‘Red
Dog’…them people is just plain mean. They don’t care nothin’
You got scarred up in her line of work and it dropped your
street value. Most johns will at least honor the face. Some like it rough
and will sometimes get carried away but they will usually stay away from
I nodded in understanding, appearing to hang on her every
word, even as my eyes were scanning the street, looking for things that
were out of place. A lot of this kind of surveillance work is pure instinct.
She went on in that vein, warning me away from this or that
person; letting me know which ones were the gay bars, until a car cruised
by and she got a nibble on the hook she was dangling in the water. She forgot
me like yesterday’s news and was gone, sidling up to the car and engaging
the man behind the wheel in conversation.
I wandered on.
There was a small altercation after that, from a…gentleman
who approached me from a bar. Before I quite knew what he was up to, his
hands were slipping through the gashes cut in the back of my jeans and he
was kneading my spandex covered ass. As Helio, I had to smirk and simper
instead of breaking his damn arm.
I finally managed to work my way free with a teasing, ‘you
go much further and I’m going to have to start charging, sweetie.’
We did the price thing and he got a little pissy with me.
I thought it was going to get rough but he finally backed down and went
away muttering to himself about high-priced hookers.
I couldn’t keep the shaky, ‘Shit,’ from
passing my lips after he was gone.
Then I spotted something that made alarms go off in my head.
Like I said, a lot of this job is instinct and the guy I saw making his
way down the street was kicking my instincts right in the head. This was
a predator…but wrong somehow. Like finding a tiger shark trolling
through the Sahara. Damn dangerous…but out of place. People were giving
him a wide berth but eyes were following him from all over the street.
‘Well…this is interesting,’ I murmured to
my shirt collar and put myself in the guy’s path.
He was hunting; I just wasn’t sure what. His eyes snagged
on me and homed in. I smiled, keeping my body language inviting without
making too much of a statement. I wasn’t sure what this guy was after
yet, I didn’t want to commit to being one thing only to find he was
looking for something else.
He stopped and I could see the people around us writing me
off for dead. Shit. I hoped this guy didn’t have a reputation for
I cocked my head to the side and looked him up and down. His
clothes were a little better than this part of town usually saw but they
were nondescript to a fault. The guy was freaking huge; a good six inches
taller than me and probably twice as broad. Good looking in a crew-cut kind
of way. And that thought brought it home to me; military. He fairly reeked
In some distant part of my memory I heard Solo’s voice
tell me, ‘Run, you fucking idiot.’
I let my eyes roam back up his impressive height and made
eye contact with a grin. And saw him dismiss me.
When he walked on, I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed
or weak-kneed relieved. I just stood and watched his retreating back trying
to decide between the two until a quiet voice at my elbow said, ‘Damn,
honey; you really are new at this.’
I turned with a start to find my earlier redheaded acquaintance
standing beside me, I opened my mouth to speak but she didn’t wait.
‘Don’t you know bitchin’ bad news when it
almos’ runs your ass over?’
I leered in a typical Helio way. ‘But he was damn fine
lookin’ wasn’t he?’
She actually reached up and smacked me in the back of the
head; ‘Fine lookin’ don’ mean nothin’!’ she
snapped and walked away as though I was obviously just too stupid to talk
So I started to follow Mr. Military without seeming to, stopping
now and again to respond to whistles and offers but always keeping a close
eye on my quarry.
He was looking for something with a little more spice to it.
He completely ignored the few who bothered to approach him but actively
sought out the ones who were obviously avoiding him. He wanted at least
the illusion of a little bit of fight; the thrill of the hunt and all that.
He was looking for a challenge. And he was looking the guys and the girls
over with equal interest. I tailed him for close to an hour and was pretty
sure by the time he finally connected up with a girl who looked desperate
enough to risk him, that I understood what it would take to get his attention.
I called it a night and began my meandering path back toward
the safe house, things were starting to thin out anyway; it was near two
in the morning.
Even though I was getting tired, I made a point of going down
Fifth Street and was rewarded with the sight of lights in our second potential
‘Target B seems to have a third shift,’ I murmured
softly, a little more leery of talking to myself out here in the night.
The loons generally wandered around in the daylight hours and holed up someplace
safe when it got dark.
‘There are lights,’ I observed for my silent listeners.
‘But only on the lowest levels. No vehicles either…curiouser
I briefly toyed with the idea of going in for a closer look
but decided that wasn’t what Heero had assigned to me and I would
just piss him off if I overstepped his instructions for no better reason
than ‘I was in the neighborhood’.
Out here, away from the relative, semi-safe ‘business
district’, I felt like I was creeping through a minefield. I was strung
tight as a bowstring and jumping at every little shadow. I was within a
couple of blocks of the house and needed to decide which route I was going
‘Sure wish you guys could tell me how long the damn
dog fights have been over,’ I murmured, thinking how much faster it
would be to come right down our street. If I circumvented that area, it
was going to add four or five blocks to my path. I settled on the direct
approach and picked up the pace a little bit.
The dogfights had obviously not been over long enough and
two blocks from ‘home’ a rather large, drunken, dog lover suddenly
loomed up in my way. From his attitude I was willing to bet his dog of choice
I stopped and cocked my head to the side, looking him over
and preparing some flippant remark but this guy was so far gone there wasn’t
any preliminary; he just grabbed for me.
‘God damn it,’ I muttered and danced out of his
He kept coming, forcing me to sidestep or attack him. Drunk
as he was, he probably wouldn’t have felt any punch I might have connected
with, so I settled on sidestepping…right into the waiting arms of
his buddy who’d been hiding in the bushes.
I realized then that the first one wasn’t quite as drunk
as he had seemed to be. Well didn’t this just suck? I couldn’t
believe I hadn’t seen the second man.
They weren’t playing around, there wasn’t any
toying with me. The guy who had me by the arms was twisting so hard I thought
for a second he’d broken something. There was a flash of burning pain
across my shoulders as ligaments stretched to the limit. The original dog-boy
came in and punched me hard in the stomach and when my breath exploded out
of me, bush-boy let me fall to the ground.
I had my knife out of my sleeve the moment he gave me the
opening to do it, but kept it tucked up tight to my body while I sucked
for air and tried to get my bearings. Then they were hauling me to my feet
by the back of my jacket and I brought the knife into play.
‘Back off, asshole,’ I wheezed and had the blade
at his throat before he knew I even had it.
‘Shit!’ dog-boy yelped and let go of my jacket.
We stood and stared at one another for a minute.
‘What the hell do you want?’ I growled and bush-boy,
who didn’t have a stiletto under his chin, was more than happy to
talk to me.
‘Fucking little whore!’ he snarled and I suddenly
recognized him as the guy who had grabbed my ass earlier in the evening.
‘Well isn’t this just a happy little coincidence,’
I drawled and shifted my stance to get them both on the same side of me.
‘Think you’re so God damned hot…’
bush-boy was saying and I cut him off in true Helio style.
‘Oh, sweet-cakes…I am damned hot. Damned expensive
and damned worth it. But the likes of you will never know.’ My voice
dripped utter contempt.
I could tell that dog-boy had only gotten involved out of
boredom and some misdirected desire for a little excitement. He was regretting
his choice to throw in with bush-boy and I shoved him away from me hard
enough to send him sprawling in the dirt, turning my attention to my real
‘You wanna dance?’ I asked him in my coldest voice,
letting the knife weave while I beckoned him with my free hand.
‘What?’ he blurted and I swear to God for a second
the guy actually thought he still might get a piece of me.
‘I am most definitely not speaking Japanese,’
I told him roughly, delivering another message to my waiting partners at
the same time. ‘I said…do you want to fight me?’
He mulled it over, looking at me, looking at the knife. I
heard dog-boy getting to his feet and scrambling away.
‘I ain’t easy,’ I told him, hoping to speed
his decision, ‘I ain’t cheap. And I sure as hell ain’t
His eyes were following the blade in my hand and he must have
finally decided that I knew how to use it, because his hands came up and
he backed off. We maneuvered around each other and he let me go on my way
and I let him go on his.
‘Gonna take the long way back,’ I sighed into
my shirt collar when I was satisfied that he was headed back toward the
business district. I couldn’t take the chance that I might lead someone
back to the others and so walked on by the house without even looking at
it. I wasn’t sure if bush-boy had followed me somehow, without my
seeing him or if my running into him out here really was just a coincidence.
I took another damn hour to work my way around and make absolutely sure
that I wasn’t being followed before I made my way up through the yards
to the back door.
‘Coming in the back,’ I breathed, just to make
sure I didn’t get my head shot off, and again, the door was opened
for me when I got there.
I was surprised to find them both there, Quatre hauling me
inside while Heero shut and relocked the door.
‘I thought you were going out?’ I exclaimed to
Heero before I had a chance to think better of it.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Quatre snapped at
me, wide eyed, ‘He couldn’t go off with you in danger!’
I stared at him for a minute. ‘I’m not in any…’
I began and got a full-fledged Quatre death glare. He’d been practicing.
‘We heard you being attacked,’ Heero said flatly,
‘Are you injured?’
I shook my head; unable to think what to say in the face of
this…pissed off concern? Whatever the hell it was.
‘They hit you,’ Quatre accused. ‘We heard
‘Will you guys calm down?’ I blurted, ‘I
got careless and got jumped. They only landed a couple of punches. I’m
There was a moment of strange silence and I decided to break
it in an effort to change the subject.
‘You’re not still planning on going out are you?’
‘It is too late now.’ Heero said and made it seem
somehow like it was my fault. ‘It will be light soon.’
‘I’m…sorry. I didn’t realize you were
waiting on me to come back,’ I said sullenly.
A look was exchanged between Heero and Quatre and I suddenly
realized that he hadn’t gone on his recon mission because Quatre had
not let him. I sighed heavily, imagining what the last couple of hours had
been like in this house.
‘Look.’ I tried to keep my voice steady and reasonable.
‘We’re not doing anything else tonight. Let’s just get
some sleep. I think I might be on to something, we can go over everything
in the morning.’
Heero only grunted, turned on his heel and went to his room.
‘He is the single most pig-headed God damn son of a
bitch…’ Quatre hissed through gritted teeth.
‘Qat!’ I gasped at him and suddenly his face crumbled
and he was throwing his arms around me.
‘Duo…’ he blurted, ‘I was so damn
scared! I didn’t really believe you about what it was like out there!
Those people are so…’
I wrapped my arms around him and held him close, using his
need for comfort to answer my own need for just some damn physical contact.
‘S’ok little brother.’ I grinned where he
couldn’t see it anyway, ‘I’m all right. I was only in
over my head for like…maybe ten seconds.’
The joke fell flat but the new little nickname made him draw
back and smile up at me, a little reassured.
‘Go to bed,’ I told him gently, ‘It’s
been a long night. I’m going to shower. I really, really feel the
need of a shower.’
He nodded and retreated to his room.
I went to the bathroom and stared at Helio in the mirror for
a minute. ‘You’re going to get my ass killed one of these days,
Helio,’ I told him and he just grinned.
I showered in water as hot as I could get it and scrubbed
until my skin was raw. Then I went out to get a little sleep on my couch
and about fell over when I found a blanket folded and lying there.
Well damn. It had to be from Heero; Quatre didn’t have
a clue I was sleeping out here. I rolled up in it and tried to stop grinning.
And no, I am not that stupid; I knew it didn’t mean a damn thing.
But I was just so hungry for him to…hate me a little less…that
it meant the damn world to me. Especially after the night I’d had.
Faces and voices swam in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking
about Mr. Military; trying to figure out what he had to do with all this.
Mulling over my observations, thinking through my strategy for making a
connection with him. Wondering if I truly wanted to make a connection with
him. The man looked like he could tear me in half without breaking a sweat.
What if I managed to get him to proposition me? What then? How the hell
far was I willing to go for the mission?
I remembered the feel of bush-boys hands on my ass and I shivered.
I flopped over on my side and let my hand fall on the pile of denim and
spandex on the floor by the couch, I fingered the material and tried to
follow that scenario through. Nope. Not that far; I knew I wouldn’t
be able to go through with it.
I wished Heero weren’t so damn…tight assed. I
could really use somebody to talk to right now and I just could not talk
to Quatre about this. He was already so upset he was on the verge of imploding.
He’d never met people like the ones prowling around out there. Fighting
against faceless pilots in mobile suits is one thing; these were civilians
and were not supposed to be a threat. I don’t think he had known that
there were people in the world who were that close to being animals. It
had scared the crap out of him and it was about to drive him insane that
I kept wading out into it. That and the fact that Heero kept sending me.
I rolled over onto my stomach and ended up jabbing my bruised
abdomen into the corner of the couch cushion and hissed in irritation. With
a muttered curse, I threw myself back over onto my back and stared up into
My shoulders ached from where bush-boy had damn near ripped
them out of their sockets. I heaved another sigh; I wasn’t going to
get any sleep tonight at this rate.
Across the living room, I heard the door to Heero’s
room open quietly. His shadow came silently out and padded toward me. He
stopped beside the couch and just stood there for a minute. I blinked up
at him and waited for him to speak. What the hell?
‘You are injured,’ he said and I could not have
told you if it was a question or a statement.
‘What?’ I asked brightly.
‘I can hear you muttering and cursing from the other
room.’ It held a hint of accusation.
I thought about what I had been doing since I had lain down
here. Surely I hadn’t been that damn loud? ‘Well excuse me;
I’ll try to be quieter.’
There was a long silence and then, his voice sounding cold;
‘I need to evaluate your condition.’
‘I’m fine,’ I growled.
‘I will be the judge of that.’
I was pissed. And well aware that it was driven by the unreasoning
fact that I wanted him to come out here and care if I was all right. Wanted
it so damn bad I could taste it. I wanted him to sit down next to me and
say my name and ask me if I was ok and truly fucking care what the answer
was. This…this cold, detached checking of my status as it related
to the mission was enough to just about push me over the edge of…whatever
the hell I had been sitting on the edge of all night.
He turned away only to flick the light on and then turned
back to face me, ‘Show me,’ he said, voice was angrily sullen.
I threw the blanket off and flung myself to my feet, spitting
mad and for a minute I couldn’t even speak. He just ran his eyes over
me; calmly looking for wounds.
‘Where?’ he asked after a minute.
I had to take a couple of breaths before I could open my mouth
without snapping at him, ‘I took a single punch to the stomach. I
may have strained some shoulder muscles. Nothing more,’ I gritted.
He stepped in toward me and it was all I could do not to jerk
away. It was probably the surreal unlikelihood of his hands on me that kept
me standing there, still as a stone, as he pressed on my abdomen checking
for internal injuries. He turned me around and checked my shoulders, making
me raise my arms up against the downward pressure of his hand. He was efficient
and thorough and the clinical coldness broke me in a way I had not expected.
My anger washed away on a rising tide of pain.
‘Satisfied?’ I said coldly, my back turned to
I got the standard, ‘Hn.’
‘Then leave me the fuck alone.’
He quietly turned the light off and walked away. I didn’t
move until I heard his door close. I didn’t dare. When I was sure
I was alone, I balled the blanket up and threw it on the floor, then balled
myself up into a shivering lump on my couch. I always have had a penchant
for slicing my own nose off just to spite my damn face.
‘The wounds are on my fucking soul, you bastard,’
I whispered into the dark and silently cried myself to sleep.
It was out of my system by morning. I’m funny that way;
sometimes I wonder about my sanity. I’m thinking about willing my
psyche to science when I die. They can put my brain up on display in a jar
labelled ‘Abby Normal’. Should make an interesting exhibit;
the universe’s only naturally coal-black brain. Ok…maybe it
wasn’t completely out of my system.
I opened my eyes to see Heero through the kitchen doorway,
making breakfast, his back to me. My blanket was off the floor and draped
across my legs. He was wearing the sweater I had bought for him. My first
thought was just pure shock that he had come that close to me without waking
me. The second was that he was obviously some sort of psycho, split-personality
lunatic. I give up. I just fucking give up; I won’t ever understand
the damn son of a bitch if I live to be a thousand years old. I can’t
read him. I can’t figure out his reasoning. I quit.
I rose, folded the blanket and carefully took it back to his
room. If I left it out in the living room, I would have to explain it to
Quatre. Nothing more to it than that. Yeah.
I killed a little time in the bathroom, braiding my hair and
dressing in my Dockers and a turtleneck. Maybe I could get my black sweater
back from Quatre; I was freezing to death. I had a feeling that I might
just as well face up to the fact that I was not going to be warm again until
this damn assignment was over. I rinsed my mouth and scrubbed at my face
and met dark circled, blood-shot eyes in the mirror. I had to grin; maybe
tonight Helio wouldn’t get quite so many offers. He looked like shit.
I stayed in the bathroom until I heard Quatre stirring, then
emerged and waited for him so that I didn’t have to go into the kitchen
It was as though the previous night had never happened. We
ate and went over my observations and suspicions from my stint as Helio.
Heero seemed a little…subdued. I suppose he hadn’t
gotten much sleep last night either; I knew how late he had been up, after
all. Quatre was so openly curious about everything, that he seemed to have
forgotten how pissed off he was at Heero. I found myself dominating the
conversation as I warmed to my theories, telling them about Mr. Military.
I dug out some paper and did a quick sketch of the man, describing his clothes
and expounding on my idea of approaching him. The room went rather icily
I looked up from my drawings to find two pairs of blue eyes
drilling holes through me, ‘What?’ I asked, unsure what in the
hell I had done wrong now.
‘Duo,’ Quatre said quietly. ‘Isn’t
that the man that lady warned you to stay away from?’
All I could do was stare at him. He turned his gaze on Heero
for a second; looking for some support before deciding he probably wouldn’t
‘The man is obviously dangerous!’ he snapped at
me and I just lost it. I felt like I was being assaulted on the one side
with Heero’s cold-hearted disdain and on the other with Quatre’s
heart-wrenching fear and anxiety. I had been waffling back and forth between
them, opening myself to Quatre’s emotions, trying to keep him reassured
and calm but then having to throw the shields back up with every encounter
I had with Heero. I think I just overloaded my system; pain, comfort, pain,
comfort. Isn’t that a torture technique?
‘No fucking shit, he’s dangerous!’ I yelled,
‘I am ninety-five percent sure he’s a damn Oz agent! That sticks
him in the dangerous category just on general principal! That is kind of
the whole God damn reason we’re here!’
Shock registered on Quatre’s face and Heero’s
turned to stone. I was flaming losing it and couldn’t seem to get
my mouth to shut.
‘I don’t know about you two…but I’m
a fucking soldier here to do a God damn job! I thought we were a team. I
thought we were supposed to be working together. But you are about to mother
hen me to death…you’re making me do shit that I wouldn’t
ordinarily do, just to keep you from worrying!’ Mouth just would not
shut up and my momentum turned me in Heero’s direction. ‘And
you! I want to know what your God damn problem is! You do not treat any
other member of the team the way you treat me! I have never failed a mission.
I have never refused to do anything you have asked of me. I’m sick
of you treating me like I’m some kind of…of…baka!’
Ever kicked a puppy? Unless you are a severely twisted individual
you will regret it pretty damn quickly. I was sorry almost before the last
words were out of my mouth. I found that somewhere in there I had stood
up so fast that I’d knocked the kitchen chair over and I was standing
there panting and glaring at both of them. I threw my hands up in that ‘no
threat’ gesture and backed away, turning to brace my arms on the counter
and letting my head hang down while I got myself back together.
So much for having all the clutter out of my system.
‘Duo…?’ Quatre ventured and there was a
world of hurt in his voice. I was opening my mouth to tell him how sorry
I was when Heero spoke.
His voice was calm and very quiet. ‘He’s right.’
I couldn’t help it, I had to turn around. He was just
sitting at the table, looking down at his hands.
‘I have been letting my…emotions affect my handling
of this situation.’
I wondered if my eyes looked as wide and round as Quatre’s
did. Somebody find me a calendar; I need to mark this day down.
There was a frozen moment when not one of us knew what in
the hell to say next. I toyed with ‘I’m sorry’ but I really
wasn’t…it had needed saying. Perhaps not at that volume, nor
laced with quite that many swear words…but it had made Heero Yuy admit
that I was right about something. Later, I would let myself think about
the fact that he had just admitted that he truly didn’t like me.
Heero finally broke the stillness. ‘You have shown yourself
to have good instincts and strong powers of observation. I…trust your…evaluation
of the targets.’
It took Quatre a minute to realize that meant that Heero was
going along with my plan to approach our possible Oz soldier. He opened
his mouth but then his eyes flicked in my direction and he shut it again.
I moved to pick my chair up and sat back down at the table,
I took a deep breath and just tried to get back into mission mind-set.
‘We can’t afford to waste another night,’
I said to nobody in particular, ‘The recon of target B can’t
wait until I’m done with my scouting mission.’
Quatre was trying hard to focus as well and when his voice
came, it was calm and totally objective. ‘I disagree. The two missions
should not coincide with each other. Duo might need backup.’
I turned to Heero. ‘You’re the mission leader.’
I told him, dumping it in his lap.
He grunted and the look on his face flashed irritation for
a moment but quickly stilled. ‘I have had no contact with the operative
in question. I can not make a judgment on your ability to handle him.’
And he dumped it right back in my lap.
I started to speak and then thought better of it for a moment.
I had been reacting with my gut for the last couple of hours. I needed to
really think about what he had just asked me. My eyes flicked down to the
rough sketches I had made. I remembered the man towering over me. Thought
about what his eyes had promised for whoever ended up accompanying him for
the night. Yes…I was afraid of him. But was it merely the thought
of what he intended to do to me…to whoever…that was unnerving
me? The mental picture of the man overpowering me and…pinning my naked
ass to the wall? Why was that any more frightening than getting shot or
‘In an out and out wrestling match?’ I said at
last, ‘I’m dead; he outweighs me by a good hundred pounds. But
I think I can keep the situation from coming to that.’
Heero nodded sharply and I think I earned points for blunt
Quatre saw the vote go in my favor without having to be told.
‘Do you have anything that would allow me to contact you in the event
Duo gets into…trouble?’ he asked Heero and only got a shake
of the head.
He looked at me then, not ready to give up just yet, ‘Could
you possibly come in earlier than you did last night?’
I considered it; ‘I can’t control that,’
I said at last, ‘It’s going to depend on Mr….the target.
It was fairly late before he made an appearance last night.’
‘He might not show up at all,’ he said then, a
bit of emotion trying to thread its way into his voice. ‘How about
you call it a night and return to base if you haven’t made contact
with him before…say; 2:00?’
‘That seems reasonable,’ Heero agreed before I
could speak. I felt an instant’s irritation but I had to remind myself
that he was the team leader here.
Quatre eyed me warily, something in his face I couldn’t
quite read, ‘What makes you think you can attract his attention?’
he asked me suddenly, ‘He didn’t seem to have any interest last
That one caught me rather flatfooted. ‘I…followed
him. I watched to see what attracted him and what didn’t.’
‘And?’ he prompted.
I sighed and ran a hand through my bangs; he’s a persistent
little shit. ‘I was too forward last night…he’s the kind
of guy who’s looking for…a little challenge.’
‘Challenge?’ he asked and I wondered, not for
the first time, if Quatre had any sexual experience at freaking all.
‘He’s an intimidator. He wants his…’
I thought about wording. ‘Partner to be afraid of him.’
That got me another one of those looks from Quatre and it
was all I could do not to bang my head on the table.
‘Can you do that?’ Heero asked softly before Quatre
had a chance to open his mouth.
‘No problem whatsoever.’ I grinned at him. ‘Six
foot three, two hundred pounds, shoulders out to freakin’ here…probably
Oz; I think I can work up a little nervousness.’
I did not get the laugh. I didn’t even get a smile.
I sighed again.
‘Look.’ I said before things went any further,
‘I am not going to sit here and play sex education teacher; do we
have a plan or not?’
Quatre reddened and Heero only grunted.
‘Fine. Then if you guys don’t care, I’m
going to try to get some more sleep. I’m probably going to be out
late.’ I glanced at Quatre. ‘Mind if I use your bed? It’s
in the back of the house.’
‘Go ahead,’ he murmured and I was rather pleased
with myself that I managed not to go running from the room like my ass was
The dark of Quatre’s room was a nice comfort. It was
pure bliss to stretch out on a bed and have a real blanket to roll up in.
Even if the bedclothes did smell a little…musty.
I hadn’t lain there two minutes when there came a light
tap at the door and it opened to spill light and Quatre into the room.
‘Duo?’ he said softly, holding something in his
hands, ‘Heero sent me to look at your shoulders.’
‘What?’ I asked, totally agog.
He slipped into the room and flipped the light on and I could
see the thing in his hands was a tube of liniment.
‘Quatre, I’m fine,’ I told him with a sigh.
He only grinned at me, coming the rest of the way into the
room. ‘Oh shut up and take your shirt off. I wanted to talk to you
I threw him a half-hearted glare and sat up with an exaggerated
sigh; pulling the turtleneck off.
He sat down on the bed behind me and poked at my shoulders
for a minute. ‘You’ve got all kinds of broken blood vessels
back here. Hurt?’
‘Not all that bad,’ I told him, ‘Just a
I heard him rubbing his hands together briskly and I had to
grin; only Quatre would think to warm the stuff up first. Then he began
to gently work the ointment into my sore muscles.
‘Duo,’ he said softly after a minute or two of
rubbing, ‘I’m really sorry…’
‘No,’ I interrupted him before he could go any
further. ‘I’m the one that should be sorry. I had no right to
yell at you just for being concerned.’
‘I shouldn’t argue with you over your every decision.’
‘It wasn’t…you.’ I sighed, feeling
the liniment beginning to warm my skin, ‘I just feel like things have
been…running hot and cold for days.’
‘Tell me about it,’ he muttered.
‘I just…’ I stopped and let a sigh escape
me, feeling my shoulders relaxing almost against my will, even as my stomach
was starting to knot again.
I wanted to throw my arms around him; someone who could understand
what I was feeling. I love him, I wanted to say; the words were right there
in my mouth, I love him so much it hurts…and he hates me and I don’t
even know why! That’s what I wanted to say. Instead I smirked and
whispered, ‘Pinch me, Qat. I cussed Heero Yuy out and I’m still
He laughed with me and I put the pain back on the shelf where
it belonged. Sure, I could talk to Quatre about it but what good would that
do? Only upset him further and might actually push him enough that he would
try to make things better by talking to Heero. Now that would be a very
His hands worked over my shoulders and I felt my head sagging
forward almost against my will.
‘Did you mean what you called me?’ he blurted
‘What?’ I thought back, trying to remember if
I had called him something…rude when I’d thrown my little temper
‘Little brother?’ He said it very quietly, an
odd sound to his voice.
‘Yeah, Qat.’ I told him firmly. ‘I did.
I…kinda think of you as a younger brother.’
There was a moment or two of silence. ‘You know I’ve
got enough sisters to start my own Country…but I don’t have
I snorted a soft laugh, ‘Well…I think I might
look a little out of place at the next Winner family reunion…but;
there’s more than one kind of brother.’ I didn’t tell
him that was how I’d originally imagined the five of us, together;
like a band of brothers. That was obviously not meant to be.
‘I’d like that,’ he said simply and he finally
stilled the movement of his hands, ‘Better?’
I rolled my shoulders and had to grin at him. ‘Yeah;
it is. Thanks.’
‘Then go to sleep.’ He laughed at me and I reached
for my shirt.
‘Qat…I really am sorry for yelling earlier; I
was completely out of line.’
He smiled, his eyes twinkling with mischief. ‘If you
can’t yell at your little brother; who can you yell at?’
It gave me something warm to hold next to my heart when I
lay back down in the cold bed to sleep.
I had weird-ass dreams but didn’t really remember much
when I woke up that afternoon. Something about black spandex and Relena
Peacecraft; all I know is I woke up chuckling so evilly that I kind of scared
I wandered out of the back room yawning and stretching, and
found Heero and Quatre sitting on the couch huddled over the laptop.
‘Find something, guys?’ I asked as I padded into
Quatre grinned up at me, ‘We may have finally found
a link between target B and the military.’
I went around the couch and leaned where I could look over
their shoulders. Heero was in control of the keyboard of course and was
typing commands into a DOS window. I could see they had hacked into some
web site and Heero was extracting some sort of data. His fingers flew over
the keys and, not for the first time, I wondered what his damn typing speed
was. I leaned closer to read some of the information as it scrolled by.
I detected a break in the rhythm of the tapping of keys, Heero mistyped
a simple command and his breath hissed in irritation. He faltered as he
cleared and retyped. As an experiment, I straightened and moved away; his
hands went back to their normal speed and pattern. I couldn’t repress
a sigh; God he must really hate me.
I wandered off to the kitchen and got some juice from the
refrigerator. I leaned against the counter and drank it, watching my two
partners where they worked. Quatre had finally found something he could
do. Using his knowledge of legalese and the intricacies of red tape, he
was guiding Heero through a myriad of layers of virtual camouflage, hunting
for some proof that our suspicions were right. I felt glad for him; happy
that he had found a way to contribute to the mission. It actually relieved
me a little; I had been worrying that he was going to let the inactivity
get to him and he was going to try to force the issue of leaving the house.
I think if push came to shove, Heero would let him.
But at the same time, I was insanely envious of his ability
to sit and work with Heero like that. I wanted to be able to do that; wanted
to be able to sit side by side with him, working on a problem together.
I wondered if I would ever know what it was about me that made him so…nuts.
I washed the glass and went to get cleaned up for my evening
out. Helio made kissy faces at me in the mirror while I tried to brush my
‘Kiss off, asshole,’ I muttered, spat in the sink
and refused to look at him again.
Just to vary the theme, I braided my hair, but much looser
than I normally did. I briefly toyed with the idea of not wearing my arm
sheath but couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind. I’m fairly
certain I would have gotten my ass out of the frying pan the night before
without it but it would have definitely come down to a fight. The knife
had made my attackers think twice and had allowed me to end the situation
without having to kill somebody. I really didn’t need any dead bodies
to have to hide right now.
It wouldn’t go far to further my ‘vulnerable and
scared’ routine if I managed to hook up with Mr. Military but I would
just have to see to it that he didn’t find out I was wearing it.
I retreated to Quatre’s room with my MP3 player while
I waited for it to get dark. I was having trouble working up to this again
tonight; the proper mind-set seemed just slightly out of reach and I knew
it was just because I was feeling sorry for myself. I used my music to drag
myself through the emotional transformation that was required. Had to start
out by getting a little pissed off to pull myself out of the depression
and put my thoughts about Heero out of my head. I listened to a little hard
rock ‘battle music’ until I could feel the harsh, metal beat
thrumming through me. When I was angry enough that I was starting to feel
almost claustrophobic, I changed it to some of my folk ballads. My ‘defense
of the innocent’ music, I called it. Channelled the anger until it
had a little purpose, refocused myself on just what the hell I was doing
here. Helio’s music I would have to play inside my head later. Damned
if I’d make the segue into that here in front of Heero and Quatre.
I was standing in the middle of the room with my eyes closed,
listening to ‘Goodnight Saigon’ when Quatre came to call me
I switched the player off before the next song started and
turned to look at him.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked curiously.
I flashed him a grin and was pleased that I was able to again.
‘Ya gotta have a theme song.’
‘What?’ He just looked confused, of course and
I laughed lightly.
‘It’s all attitude.’ I tapped the side of
my head, ‘It helps to have…theme music running in your head.’
He grinned at me but I could tell he didn’t understand.
‘Dinner’s ready.’ was all he said.
‘I’m not eating,’ I informed him as I moved
passed him to go get my jacket out of the living room.
‘Why not?’ He followed me as we went through the
house. ‘You didn’t eat any lunch either…’
I repressed the urge to laugh out loud; he sounded so upset
about it…like missing two meals in a row was an unthinkable thing.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was probably ten years
old before I had known that some people got three meals a day.
‘Because…I look too well fed,’ was as much
as I elaborated.
I saw him open his mouth out of the corner of my eye but then
I saw him close it again. Well, somebody here was trying at least.
I was rushing and I knew it. I wanted to get out of the house
before Heero popped up from wherever in the hell he was; two seconds with
him could undo all the work I’d done over the last hour preparing
myself for this. I really should have known better; when I turned toward
the back of the house, intending to go out the back way again, he was standing
in my path. I just stopped and looked at a point past his right ear and
tried to keep my music in the front of my head, waiting for him to say whatever
it was he was going to say.
"We came in spastic
Like untamed horses
We left in plastic
As numbered corpses
And we learned fast
To travel light
Our arms were heavy
But our bellies were tight.
And we would all go down together
We said we’d all go down together…"
Ok…maybe that wasn’t the best song to be playing
in my head right now but it’s what I had and I clung to it and waited
for the shot I figured he was getting ready to take. He never failed to
somehow hit me below the belt.
We weren’t really making eye contact, because I stubbornly
refused to meet his icy gaze but by God he was the one who looked away first.
‘Be careful,’ he growled in a voice so low I almost
didn’t catch it. I would have met his stare then, if he hadn’t
already turned away.
Damn. Below the belt again…just in an entirely unexpected
way. All I could do was grunt and head out. He’ll surprise me until
the day I finally die and take that number nine bus straight to hell. I
have a reserved seat you know.
I changed the song in my head as soon as I was out on the
sidewalk heading back for the dreaded business district. Dance music, mostly;
light and a little bubbly. Fluff stuff; that’s Helio. ‘Footloose’,
‘Safety Dance’, junk like that. Yeah…I like the retro
stuff; I can’t stand the new music. It never has anything to say,
all instrumental ‘expressionism’ crap. It’s no wonder
everybody is listening to stuff a hundred or more years old. By the time
I made the strip, Helio was fairly dancing along, wiggling and swinging
his hips. I really hate letting him out of the box.
God but it was cold tonight. Under the slashed denim, I might
as well be stark naked; there is no insulation factor to spandex at all.
I was damn near shivering by the time I made it to my destination.
I ran into Red pretty quick; she seemed to have forgotten
that I was too stupid to talk to and introduced me to a couple of her friends.
I stood around talking with them for a bit. There was a certain safety in
the numbers, especially since I wasn’t really interested in letting
anybody pick me up.
I kept a sharp eye out for my friend from the bushes the other
night but didn’t see either him or dog-boy.
Red got a nibble and wandered off, her group soon broke up
so I was back to walking around.
The night took a lovely turn when it started to snow. Damn;
as if it hadn’t been cold enough. Now I was cold and getting wet.
It seemed to put a damper on things too; people started to disappear, making
quick connections and going to seek shelter. I was left trolling the main
drag with the other desperate ones. Great. I was just considering heading
back toward the house when I saw him coming down the street.
He wore one of those long, dark, great coats. The kind that
come down to the calves of your legs and make some guys look damned cool
and other guys look damned stupid. He looked cool; striding out of the blowing
snow like some dark specter. I didn’t have to fake a shiver and I
let myself hunch up against the cold and pretended I didn’t see him.
I waited until he was almost abreast of me and then I turned and deliberated
plowed right into him. Of course, I acted like I didn’t have a clue
and even though I was prepared for it, I rebounded off him like I’d
hit a brick wall and fell on my ass in the rapidly accumulating snow.
I let my eyes travel up the length of him until I was staring
up into his down turned face. I let my eyes grow wide and my mouth fall
open and I squeaked a shaky apology. It really wasn’t hard to put
a little bit of fear into my voice; running into the man had brought it
home just how solid and strong he was. My little stiletto suddenly seemed
He smiled slightly at my position and stretched a hand down
to help me up. My eyes flicked back and forth between the face and the hand
as though I were afraid to take it. When I finally reached out, I let my
own hand tremble.
The smile turned a little feral and I knew I had him.
‘You should watch where you’re going,’ he
said with a touch of mockery in his voice.
He didn’t let go of my hand even after I’d regained
my feet. I spent a few seconds clearing my throat and blushing and finally
murmured another apology.
‘You’ve gotten yourself all wet,’ he purred
and used the hand he was holding to turn me around; brushing snow off my
butt with his free hand.
In my head, Solo was screaming for all he was worth, ‘Run,
you fucking asshole! Run like hell and don’t look back!’
The shiver that ran through me then was completely genuine.
I tried to pull my hand free and said, ‘I’m…ok,’
trying to sound defensive.
My hand stayed right where it was and he was suddenly leaning
over me. ‘Am I mistaking what you’re out here for, on a night
I shook my head and let it appear that he’d shocked
me into looking up at him. I let my eyes lock with his and saw him register
the color with another of those deceptive smiles. He knew he could scare
me, now he wanted to charm me enough to agree to go with him.
‘You aren’t dressed for this weather,’ he
observed dryly. ‘I have someplace warm…’ He let it trail
off with a raised eyebrow.
I swallowed and did my best to look like somebody getting
their head together. ‘I…I don’t come free,’ I blurted,
sounding petulant and inexperienced.
He grinned again, from his great height. ‘I have no
doubt, little pet.’
He asked the price.
Without thinking, I popped out with the one I had been using
to blow people off.
He never blinked, only let the smile widen and then he unbuttoned
his coat and motioned for me to move in close enough that he could wrap
it around me.
‘I never buy without tasting the merchandize,’
he whispered next to my ear, once he had me tucked under his arm. ‘Will
you let me taste you?’
I had seen him kissing the girl he had picked up last night
but I hadn’t seen this coming. I froze and he brought his hand down
to raise my chin up and before I could think what to do, he was kissing
It was gentle and warm and…thorough. He invaded my mouth
with a placidly exploring tongue. My damn knees went weak. I knew this was
the velvet over the steel; this was what was meant to lure me into going
with him where things would change into something…different. I let
him think I was fooled.
‘Oh…’ he breathed into my ear when he released
my lips, ‘I think you’re going to be well worth the money.’
He had us moving but not, I noted, back the way he had come.
‘Where…’ I let my voice start out a little
high and cleared my throat to bring it down. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I have a place out of the cold,’ he reassured
me and I had to admit the guy was very good. If I were to meet this man
in any other circumstances I would not hesitate to shake his hand and join
him in conversation.
I really, really wished that I had seen the girl he had…employed
last night around somewhere but I had never spotted her. And I had looked.
‘Uhmmm…’ I stole a glance up at him. ‘What
do I call you?’ I asked and did a bad job of trying to sound coy.
It came across, of course, like false bravado.
He chuckled and his eyes when he looked down at me, glinted
oddly. ‘I haven’t decided yet.’ He had his arm around
me, holding me inside the sweep of his coat. ‘What shall I call you?’
I opened my mouth to tell him but he suddenly stopped me with
a finger to my lips.
‘No…on second thought; I think I shall tell you
what we shall call you.’
I shrugged and dared another look upward.
‘Little bird…’ He sighed. ‘Pretty
little bird…I think I’ll call you my little Sparrow.’
He leaned down to nibble lightly at the top of my ear and I shivered, not
by design this time. He chuckled lightly.
Solo kicked me in my memory and shouted, ‘And he’s
gonna pluck you like a God damn little bird if you don’t get out before
it’s too late!’
I tried to act like I suddenly remembered I had a job to do
and dared to slip an arm around him, letting my hip nudge against him as
‘Why are we heading down Fifth Street?’ I frowned
up at him, even as I delivered the message to my backup. ‘There’s
nothing down here…’
He smiled and his arm tightened around my shoulders. ‘My…company…owns
a building down here.’
My heart skipped a beat. Could I get this lucky? The only
commercial building down this way was target B. We walked on in silence
for a bit.
‘Those are neat boots,’ I said at length, as though
trying to fill the awkward silence. ‘Where’d you get ‘em?
I got mine at that second hand store on Fourth…’
He laughed lightly and looked down at me, his eyes terribly
amused. I maintained my innocent interest. He finally grinned and said,
Oh, that was good; the truth within the lie. To start with;
he thought I was stupid, and that was a good thing. Next, he had just as
much as admitted that he was military.
Could this get any better? Yeah…I could live through
the encounter with my ass intact.
It was all I could do not to crow out loud when he did lead
me right to target B. He let me step away from him while he fished out a
key. I spared several glances over my shoulder, as though I were thinking
of backing out. His eyes were getting…scarily bright the closer we
got to his destination. He led me inside.
‘Here?’ I said, moving ahead of him by several
paces while he took a minute to disarm an alarm system, getting a little
distance between us. ‘It’s a freaking warehouse. There’s
nothing in here but crates and boxes. And it’s cold! I thought you
said it was warm?’ I wished I dared more of a description to pass
back to the guys but I knew this man wasn’t stupid.
Behind me, he laughed and the sound wasn’t near as pleasant
as it had been.
‘Surely you’re used to such…austere…bedroom
I turned toward him and looked confused; he wouldn’t
expect me to understand the big words. ‘What?’
He looked smug. ‘Never mind.’ He smiled.
‘Listen…uhmmm…’ I ducked my head and
blushed, it wasn’t hard, imagining Heero and Quatre sitting back at
the house listening to me. ‘I…gotta pee…the cold…is
there a bathroom?’
He laughed out right and pointed to the side, ‘Through
there, little Sparrow.’ He took a step toward me. ‘I’ll
I flashed an embarrassed grin and trotted off to do my business.
Holy shit; I hoped I could get out of this in one piece.
As soon as the door was closed behind me, I had my stiletto
out and was cutting at the seam in my shirt where the transmitter was currently
‘Listen,’ I breathed into it, keeping my voice
as low as possible. ‘I’m gonna try to get this thing on him.
Don’t panic; it’s gonna get rough here in a minute but I think
I can get myself out of this.’
I slipped the knife away and went ahead and peed, just in
case he was listening. Then I palmed the tiny transmitter, took a deep breath
and headed back out of the bathroom.
He was indeed waiting for me, sitting on a packing crate with
one leg swinging idly. I smiled and went toward him; he was still doing
‘nice’ and I needed to get the transmitter on him before that
changed. I went right up to him, hoping that he thought I’d used my
time in the bathroom to work myself up for the job. I slipped my arms around
him, dipping my fingers into his back pockets and rubbing myself against
him to distract him while the button-sized transmitter was being deposited
in his hip pocket. I’m an excellent pickpocket and it works pretty
much the same either taking or leaving; most of it is distraction. The rest
He chuckled at me and wrapped his arms around me, leaning
down to kiss me but this time it was harsh and forceful. Here we went; he
had gotten me where he wanted me and now he was going to change the rules.
Things were going to get violent. The man freaking raped my mouth. I rode
with whatever he did without protest and when he drew back from my bleeding
lips to look at me, I grinned up at him.
‘Oh…’ I purred, ‘you didn’t
tell me you liked it rough.’
It wasn’t what he had expected, what he sought. He had
wanted me to fight him; had wanted to see fear in my eyes. He frowned at
me but I didn’t give him time to speak. I slid out of his reach while
he was busy reevaluating the situation. I turned off Duo and let Helio take
complete control, cocking my head and planting my hands on my hips.
‘Honey, you gotta tell me what you want,’ I sighed
in exasperation, ‘I thought you wanted the innocent bit…now
you’re tellin’ me you want somethin’ rougher. Just what
is your game?’
He was getting angry, starting to realize that all my earlier
nervousness and hesitation had all been an act. He rose from the crate to
his full height but I didn’t give an inch.
‘I can make you feel real good if you’ll just
tell me…’ I began and I saw him go from angry to really pissed
in the space of a heartbeat. Seeing it probably saved my ass because I was
able to roll with the punch a little bit. He still knocked my butt a good
ten feet and I ended up crashing into a packing crate. I came up instantly
and had the stiletto out of its sheath before he had a chance to get to
me. I knew at this point that survival depended on not showing even one
more hint of fear.
I had all of three seconds to register what came spilling
out of the crate when I crashed into it. Some damned sophisticated looking
electronic parts. He didn’t catch me looking.
‘That’s it!’ I snarled at him, ‘I
do not do S&M…no way; no how! Back off asshole!’ I perhaps
could have done without the asshole…but my mouth has never been the
‘I think…’ He glared at me, advancing slowly,
‘That you are going to be…’
I cut him off with a roll of my eyes, ‘Oh cut the damned
evil-villain posturing!’ I growled, ‘there isn’t much
you could do to me that hasn’t already been done!’ I managed
to make that last part come out sounding almost bored.
I continued to back slowly toward the door and he continued
to pace me. Sexually; he was losing whatever rush he had been getting from
toying with me. But he was still pissed and I was pretty sure the least
he had on his mind was a good beating. If he had his way I wouldn’t
be walking out of here.
I spared a glance over my shoulder, partially to locate the
door and partially to see if he would make a move. He did. He lunged toward
me but his move assumed that I would make a break for the door or stand
my ground. He didn’t expect me to move toward him. I threw myself
at him, dropping low at the last moment to duck under his swinging arm.
I did not hesitate after that but shot across the floor of the warehouse
and made straight for a pile of crates that were stacked under a window.
Now there is something that people assume about me that is
true; I am a fast little son of a bitch. You learn to run on the street;
run for your life. I was pretty sure I was running for it now. I could hear
him behind me, cussing under his breath and I lunged for the first crate,
scrambling up the pile like a damned alley cat with a junkyard dog on his
tail. I didn’t even hesitate when I got to the top but threw myself
through the glass knowing that I was going to have a good eight foot drop
on the outside of the building. I finished my alley cat act and managed
to land without breaking anything and got the hell out of there as fast
as I could run. I never heard him come out of the building. I think I finally
just became more trouble than I was worth. I somehow had maintained my grip
on my knife but couldn’t make myself sheath it for a good two blocks.
I just hoped like hell that Quatre didn’t panic; I had gone to a lot
of trouble to get that transmitter planted on Mr. Military and I didn’t
want to lose the opportunity it offered.
I didn’t run straight back to the safe house but I didn’t
take the hour-long meandering route either. I burst in the back door with
a panting sigh of relief and damn near collapsed on the floor right inside
Quatre came running the minute he heard me, not even slowing
down to make sure it was me. Heero’s presence didn’t even deter
him from coming full tilt and throwing his arms tight around me.
‘Duo!’ he almost wailed, ‘you’re all
Behind him, I could see Heero standing with his arms folded
over his chest and a frown on his face.
I returned Quatre’s embrace, maybe a little harder than
I should have, ‘S’ok little brother…everything went according
to plan.’ I panted.
Something strange passed over Heero’s face and the frown
changed subtly, ‘Are you injured?’ he asked in that clinical
tone of voice. I opened my mouth with my standard smart-ass retort and then
closed it. Hadn’t we put some of this behind us earlier?
‘I…’ I blinked thinking about it, ‘I
don’t think so.’
Quatre let go of me and drew back, looking up at me questioningly
and his eyes widened a little. His fingers rose toward my face and then
hesitated, ‘He really belted you a good one,’ he finally murmured.
I raised my own fingers and touched gingerly around my cheekbone,
wincing slightly. ‘Guess he did, huh?’ I sighed and all of a
sudden the last couple of hours just rushed in and smacked me in the face.
All I could think about was the feel of that bastard’s tongue in my
mouth. I shoved Quatre away and went storming into the bathroom, slamming
the door behind me. If I had eaten that day it might have been easier, as
it was all I could do was hang over the toilet with the dry heaves for the
next five minutes and spit as best I could. When I was done, I stripped
out of Helio’s clothes as fast as I could get them off and threw them
in the corner. I was pretty sure that was the last time I was going to be
able to pull Helio out of his box. That was as close as I ever wanted to
come. I couldn’t make myself take the knife sheath off. I rinsed my
mouth and washed my face and only almost lost it once when it came to me,
all unbidden, that that had been my first kiss. I distracted myself by checking
for injuries, finding only a couple of cuts from the window glass and some
bruising on my hands and knees. And of course the rapidly swelling side
of my face and my…lips.
Outside in the hall I could hear the faint sounds of Heero
and Quatre arguing.
‘…I said; give him a few minutes.’ Heero’s
voice was completely unyielding.
‘Heero;’ Quatre said in an angry tone, ‘he
‘He needs you to stop hovering for a minute.’
I was surprised at the calm quality to his voice.
‘He just went through something…horrible,’
Quatre grated out and I could imagine them standing toe to toe in the hall.
I found the clothes I had changed out of earlier and began dressing as fast
as I could before things escalated into something ugly.
‘And it is over,’ Heero replied and then shocked
the hell out of me. ‘He is not…’doing Helio’…again.’
It got quiet then; Quatre didn’t seem to have a reply.
I finished dressing and pulled the door open. They turned as one and I came
fairly steadily, I thought, out of the bathroom.
‘That’s good…’ I confessed, the shock
not having worn off yet. ‘Cause I don’t think that I can.’
Heero came and took hold of my face, turning me toward the
light. I got that tiny grunt and then he asked, voice all business, ‘you
have evaluated? Are you otherwise injured?’
I shook my head and he let go of me, turning to Quatre, ‘Get
some ice on that.’ And then he turned back toward the living room.
Quatre and I just stood and stared at each other for a minute.
‘Oh Duo…’ he sighed and it made the backs
of my eyes sting.
‘Don’t,’ I whispered and he saw and understood
and just shut up.
In the other room, we suddenly heard a stranger’s voice
and we both jumped. Then Quatre’s eyes flew wide. ‘The transmitter!’
We followed Heero into the living room. Quatre maneuvered
me into the second chair they had sitting there and stood behind me.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked as soon as we
were there and Heero raised a hand to silence us while he listened.
‘…hell have you been?’ a totally strange
‘None of your damn business!’ came the reply and
I had to suppress a shiver; it was Mr. Military.
Quatre laid a hand on my shoulder and leaned close, ‘This
is the first thing we’ve heard in close to a half an hour.’
he whispered, ‘There was a lot of cussing and crashing around after
you…got away.’ He smiled a little, ‘He was very mad; seemed
to throw a lot of things.’
I grinned, more than happy to have frustrated my little playmate.
I had missed something relatively unimportant but now the
stranger was saying, ‘You didn’t take another of your little
‘conquests’ over to the damn factory, did you?’
There was a moment’s silence and then a sullen, ‘And
what if I did?’ I could tell that he had been surprised. He had not
known that this other person knew of his nighttime habits.
‘God damn it!’ yelled the stranger, ‘You
are jeopardizing this operation!’
‘How so?’ purred Military-man, ‘It’s
not like they ever tell anyone what they’ve seen.’
On my shoulder, Quatre’s fingers tightened so hard I
almost flinched, I put my hand over his and squeezed reassuringly. ‘It’s
Ok, Qat.’ I whispered and felt eyes on me. I glanced up to meet Heero’s
appraising stare. This time, I broke first, looking down at my lap.
‘You are a sick son of a bitch!’ snapped Stranger-man,
‘How many does that make now? Four? Five?’
Military-man didn’t reply and I chuckled, ‘He’s
not lying if he doesn’t answer.’ I grinned ferally in appreciation
of the tactic. He never did say and therefore never had to admit that he
let one get away.
‘The suits will be ready to ship at the end of the week.’
Stranger-man said in a dangerous tone of voice and I had to wonder what
in the hell he looked like if he wasn’t afraid of Mr. Freakin’
Huge. ‘I am going to be so glad to get the hell away from you.’
Mr. Military chuckled and there was the sound of a slamming
door not long after that.
I glanced up. ‘When that crate broke open…there
were electronic parts…mobile suit parts; like I’ve never seen.
I couldn’t get hold of one.’
‘They’re building some kind of new mobile suit?’
Quatre questioned and looked down at me.
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted, turning my face
up to meet his gaze. ‘I think so…the building had a feel to
it inside; like there was a lot more to it than I saw. I think…I think
there might be a lot more underground.’
‘There wasn’t anyone else there,’ Heero
Something hit me all of a sudden and I stiffened, looking
past him and not really seeing anything. ‘Son of a bitch,’ I
murmured without meaning to, piecing it together in my head.
‘What’s wrong, Duo?’ Quatre asked softly.
‘Last night…’ I blurted, a sick feeling
welling up in my chest. ‘When I went by there and saw the lights and
thought…thought that there were people working there…’
That bastard had been in the process of torturing and killing
that girl that I had watched him pick up. I had been within yards of the
damn place. I remembered my unanswered urge to go look the building over.
I raised my eyes to Quatre’s and whispered, ‘I let her die…’
There wasn’t any answer to that. I looked from the one
of them to the other and neither of them could seem to speak.
‘I was right there…if I had just gone on and checked
the place out…’
A sudden voice on the receiver made us all three jump. ‘What’s
wrong, Jensen?’ a brand new voice said, full of nasty amusement, ‘You
act a little…frustrated.’
as…fulfilling as I had hoped,’ Mr. Military…no; Jensen
said, his voice a little irritated. These two were kindred spirits.
The new voice got suddenly serious. ‘You didn’t
let one get away did you?’
There was a moment’s hesitation and if the new guy didn’t
know Jensen was lying, he was an idiot. ‘Of course not!’
I shook myself suddenly; this was getting us nowhere. We pretty
much had the information we needed, what in the hell were we doing sitting
around listening to a couple of perverts for?
‘Screw them,’ I exclaimed. ‘We have to blow
that factory and we have to do it now. Sooner or later…Jensen is going
to find that transmitter and they’re going to know we’re on
I was looking at Heero, because it was his call after all
and he gave me that tight nod.
‘Pack your gear,’ he said tersely, ‘We won’t
be coming back here.’
We scrambled to comply and were ready to go in under five
minutes. Quatre made me take my black sweater back and I was grateful; I
felt chilled to the bone from wandering around all night essentially half
‘We have to make the trip to the Gundams,’ Heero
told us, ‘I don’t have any explosives with me.’ He turned
to me then. ‘I would rather not use the Gundams to do this but I’m
not sure I have enough…’
I grinned. ‘Say no more. I have enough in Deathscythe
to bring down a ten-story building.’
I got the grunt and we took off out the back door, doing double
time the whole two miles. Heero took point and I brought up the rear. The
snow was piling up, three or four inches already but the wind was up enough
that it was covering our tracks almost as fast as we made them.
We stowed our gear and unpacked our explosives, divvying them
up amongst the three of us. Then it was double time back into town. Heero
had kept the small receiver with him and called a halt while we squatted
in the snow a half block from the factory and listened in to verify that
the transmitter had gone undiscovered. There were a couple of scary moments
of silence before we heard the sound of a television and then murmured conversation
as our two perverts argued over what to watch.
Heero switched it off after a few minutes and gave the hand
signals to move out.
Jensen had made only a half-hearted effort to board up the
window I had crashed through. Quatre eyed the height and gave me an appraising
glance. I just grinned.
Heero tapped for my attention and then signed to ask me about
an alarm system. I nodded and then frowned; my going through that window
should have set it off and screwed it to hell until they repaired the window.
I tapped my chest and gestured upward; I wanted a closer look at the damage
and the connections. Heero cupped his hands without hesitation and boosted
me up until I could get hold of the window ledge and pull myself up.
I had to shake my head; the cocky son of a bitch had just
shut the alarm system down rather than deal with it at two in the morning.
His buddy with the morals was going to be severely pissed off. I turned
back and gave them the thumbs up sign. Heero boosted Quatre up to me, I
hauled him up and guided him through the window and then leaned down for
Heero to jump for my hand.
Heero let me take point, since I’d been here before,
and I led them straight to the broken crate. Now that I had a little more
time, I looked the parts over. It seemed to be part of a guidance system.
I couldn’t figure it out with no more scrutiny than that; Hero had
all three of us take one. I knew it was in case we didn’t all make
Then we spread out and began searching for what I was sure
was there, a lower level. I was the one who found it and it was most definitely
not supposed to be found. There was a dummy wall and an elevator. I waved
the guys over and we stood staring at it, mulling over our options.
Heero glanced at me, asking with his gestures if I thought
there was a secondary alarm system on it. I was surprised that he had asked
my opinion and it gave me the incentive to think twice before answering.
I finally shook my head with a crooked grin that let him know that I wasn’t
a hundred percent sure.
We opted to take the chance and pushed the button to open
the elevator doors. Heero flipped on the receiver to see if there was any
uproar at the Oz base. They seemed to be watching the news.
In the end, it turned out to be not all that difficult since
our good friend Jensen had been kind enough to turn off the whole alarm
system for us. Gotta love lazy.
There ended up being three floors below ground, one of them
a huge bay where we found a batch of a couple hundred mobile dolls unlike
anything we had ever seen before. Quatre had a small digital camera on him
and took some pictures. I hacked into their system and downloaded what I
could. Hero attempted to monitor the transmitter nestled next to Jensen’s
ass for a bit but discovered that the receiver couldn’t pick up below
ground. He then busied himself setting charges. When Quatre and I finished
what we were doing, we went to join him. We set enough explosives to sink
the whole place far enough into the ground that it might just end up in
It took us just under an hour and we headed back upstairs
feeling pretty damn smug. Until the elevator doors opened and we heard voices.
There isn’t a military hand signal for ‘shit!’,
but there should be.
I had just enough time to hear, ‘…fuck you; Moore!’
and then they heard the elevator. We scattered.
‘What the hell?’ Jensen’s pervert buddy
yelped and then they were taking cover as well.
A shot was fired and I’m not sure from which side. Nobody
seemed to be hit, because nobody yelled. I worked my way to the left, wishing
I knew where Quatre and Heero were. I hoped all the crates contained suit
parts; it was a pretty effective shield.
I glanced at my watch and had to bite down on a curse…we
really needed to get out of here; we didn’t have a ton of time left.
A couple more shots were fired but nothing seemed to be finding its mark.
I made a sudden decision. I knew where our three adversaries had gone to
ground and I could only hope that they were still in that general area but
I needed to know where Heero and Quatre were. I dug in my bag and pulled
out one of the leftover explosive devices I had. I carefully removed about
two thirds of the actual charge, set it and yelled, ‘Position!’
at the top of my voice. I heard two quick whistles in response, far enough
away that they should be safe. I lobbed the thing at the last place I had
seen Jensen and took off running.
There was a shot and I heard the whine of the bullet, seconds
ahead of somebody shouting, ‘Oh crap!’ And then all hell broke
loose. The concussion knocked me to the floor and there were just a confused
couple of minutes before I got myself moving again. Between one minute and
the next, the room was peppered with flaming debris. I made for the window
with all due speed and at the last minute saw Heero silhouetted there, half
in and half out. I scrambled up the crates toward him, he was holding out
his hand and I yelled, ‘Where’s Quatre?’
He just shook his head and I froze. What the hell?
‘Come on, Duo!’ he hollered at me. ‘We’re
almost out of time!’
I wasted almost three seconds gaping at him. One of the two
whistles had been from this general area; I turned and began to scramble
back toward where the second one had come from.
‘Duo!’ he shouted but I was too mad to judge if
it was fear or anger in his voice.
‘You never leave a man down, you bastard!’ I yelled
but I didn’t even look back to see if he’d heard me. Down the
crates I went and damn near fell at the bottom. I ran in the general direction
of the door and found my way blocked by flaming wreckage. I had taken down
part of the ceiling with my explosion. The smoke was starting to get thick.
In the back of my mind, my internal clock was telling me just how much time
I didn’t have. Then I saw him; stretched out on the floor and not
moving. There was a pile of flaming ceiling joists between him and me. I
hesitated, looking for a way around and my clock told me we only had a couple
of minutes left. I grabbed joists and just started throwing them. The pain
was unbelievable, I let it fill me and gave vent to it with a piercing cry;
‘I got him! We’re going out the door!’ On the slim, faint,
unlikely, off chance that Heero was waiting for us to come back.
Just as I got through, I saw Quatre stir and I thanked whatever
God was listening for the small favor of not having to carry him. I swept
through the rest of the debris and caught him under the armpit with the
crook of my elbow and got him on his feet.
‘Run!’ I screamed at him and we did. I would not
allow myself to look at my hands.
Quatre didn’t seem to be hurt. He was disoriented but
moving under his own power. We slammed through the door on the minute mark
and started running for all we were worth. I was sobbingly relieved to see
Heero come running from the other side of the building. He came in on Quatre’s
other side without being told to and we just concentrated on moving. We
were almost half a block away when the explosion hit but it still threw
us to the ground. I let my hands sink into the snow and bit back a cry as
the pain lanced up my arms.
Heero was getting Quatre to his feet and my little brother
seemed to be pulling himself together. I struggled up with my clenched hands
full of snow and stuffed them in my jacket pockets while they were both
otherwise occupied. I still wouldn’t look…I knew damn well I
had done some serious damage and as soon as I really looked at them the
pain would hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know if the cold of
the snow made it better or worse but it made me feel as though I wasn’t
cooking any more.
We started to run again and since I’d had the rear position
before, no one thought a thing of my taking it again. That way they didn’t
notice my running with my hands in my pockets. It made it difficult and
I was falling behind but I just concentrated on movement. I had just had
it seriously demonstrated to me what happened when a soldier fell in this
outfit. Heero obviously didn’t understand the code of the Marines
or anybody else for that matter; it was every man for himself, apparently.
I was damned if I was going to come all this way just to have Heero shoot
me at the end because I was incapacitated.
They reached the hanger first and Quatre turned to find me,
his eyes flying wide when he saw how far behind I had fallen. He moved to
head back but Heero shoved him into the hanger and damned if he didn’t
start back himself.
‘I’m coming!’ I shouted at him, ‘Go
ahead!’ I couldn’t afford for him to see my hands. I wasn’t
ready to see them myself. He hesitated, then disappeared inside.
When I finally staggered through the door, I found Deathscythe
with his hatch open and the winch cable run down waiting for me, Heero and
Quatre were already in their Gundams.
I stumbled toward the sanctuary of my Deathscythe and did
something I don’t often do; I caught the hook on the end of the cable
in the treads of my boot but still had to finally pull my hands out of my
pockets to hook the winch line with an elbow. Oh God…I looked away
quickly and made my ascent.
I threw myself into take off procedures but I couldn’t
keep my eyes averted for long and as promised the pain came crashing down
as soon as my eyes let my mind acknowledge what was going on at the end
of my wrists. OhGodohGodohGodohGod…
Distantly, I heard Heero yelling at me and I croaked a reply.
‘Did you receive the coordinates?’ he snapped
and I had to blink the screens into focus.
‘Y…yeah; got it,’ I finally managed.
‘What the hell is wrong?’ he demanded and my stomach
about turned to water.
‘Nothing!’ I yelled back, ‘let’s get
out of here!’
He took off, Quatre right behind him. I took a second to queue
my music and jacked up the volume so I would have something to listen to
besides my own screams and then forced my hands to close around the controls.
I do not really remember that flight. That scares the crap
out of me when I think about it very hard. I apparently have an autopilot
of my very own and it must have fully engaged. I ended up looping the ‘March
of Cambreadth’ endlessly, letting the fierce music fill me; replacing
whatever rational thought I had. It kept me moving; kept me doing what had
to be done. My landing wasn’t my best but apparently didn’t
attract too much attention. I would realize later that Nataku and Heavyarms
were in the hanger as well but I was so far gone, I didn’t even see
them. I jammed my hands back in my pockets as soon as I touched ground.
I felt oddly detached, was probably shocky. Trowa appeared to lead us up
to the house and Quatre was, thankfully, otherwise occupied, as he always
was when Trowa was around. Trowa had engaged Heero in conversation pretty
quickly, asking questions about the mission. Heero was being fairly subdued
himself, but it still served to keep their attention off me. I needed to
get to a quiet, private place where I could deal with this. Nobody paid
any attention to me, trailing along behind.
Trowa gave us a quick description of the house as we were
coming up the front walk and I had enough mind left to register the location
of the bathroom. I walked away from them and headed there as soon as we
were inside. I thought someone called my name but I couldn’t tell
who and I really didn’t care.
My heart was pounding in my chest and my vision kept going
to gray. I moved with a certain, slow deliberateness. I couldn’t get
the bathroom door closed fast enough. I wanted to just fall over right there
on the floor but knew that I would probably not get back up. I rummaged
around until I found the med kit, using my elbows as much as possible to
lever the doors and drawers open. I had to use one hand to lift the med
kit down when I finally found it and thought I would weep with the pain.
I almost fell when I went to sit on the floor and had to lean back against
the wall for a minute before I could make myself open the kit and start
I forced myself to really look at the mess that had been my
hands. They were black and red and swollen and weeping liquids and…my
vision faded to gray again. I just sat until it came back, then worked the
scissors out of the med kit and taking a deep breath, began to cut away
the shreds of skin hanging…gray…gray…gray…
I came back with the scissors on the floor between my legs
and my head drooped on my chest. I reached for the scissors again.
There came a soft tap on the door, ‘Duo?’ Quatre
called softly. ‘Are you in there?’
‘Yeah,’ I croaked and the sound of my voice must
have been enough, because he just barged in. I blinked up at him; I thought
I had locked the door. I had meant to lock the door. He just stood and stared
at me for a minute and then he…screamed.
I don’t know what else to call it.
‘Qat!’ I moaned, ‘be quiet! They’ll
hear you!’ God; what was he thinking?
He dropped down to the floor beside me and put an arm around
my shoulders to steady me but after that first shocking glimpse, kept his
eyes off my hands.
‘Trowa!’ he yelled and I couldn’t stop the
tears from suddenly breaking and washing down my face.
‘Damn it, Quatre!’ I sobbed, ‘don’t
let them see…I can’t be a liability…they’ll think
I can’t handle my job!’
He moaned beside me and I distantly heard the sound of pounding
feet. Trowa appeared in the doorway.
‘Quatre! What’s wrong…?’ Then he saw
me and went still as a stone.
I blinked up at him. ‘I can still pilot,’ I told
him with all the conviction I could muster. Shock registered on his face.
‘You did this saving me, didn’t you?’ Quatre
was suddenly saying from his place on the floor beside me. ‘Oh Allah…Duo…this
is because of me!’ He began to keen softly, trying to hold me but
he was shaking too hard. I heard more feet coming. Damn; I was coming into
hard focus again.
I dropped the scissors and wrapped an arm around Quatre, keeping
my hand carefully away from him, ‘It’s all right,’ I soothed,
rubbing the top of his head with my cheek. ‘Couldn’t let my
kid brother get blown to kingdom come, now could I?’
He began softly to cry and hid his face against me, ‘Oh
Duo,’ he kept saying over and over. Behind him, Heero and Wufei appeared
I met Trowa’s gaze squarely and calmly told him, ‘Get
Quatre out of here.’
He nodded, his eyes hooded and closed off. He came into the
room and gently took hold of Quatre’s shoulders. I wouldn’t
let go until I had choked out, ‘Get him far away…don’t
let him see.’
He met my eyes and firmly told me, ‘Duo. No one is going
to hurt you.’
I looked up at him, feeling the gray tugging at me and struggling
against it, ‘Trowa…you were a mercenary…you understand…’
I struggled for words, ‘Semper Fi. You know what I mean?’ He
looked at me oddly, something in his eyes that I didn’t have the strength
to read but he nodded once. My eyes flicked past him and back again, ‘They…they
don’t get it.’
He let go of Quatre for a moment and his hand came to squeeze
hard on my shoulder, ‘Damn it, Duo…no one will harm you…I
swear it.’ I let go of Quatre and Trowa led him away.
‘I can still pilot,’ I murmured to no one in particular
and bent to retrieve the scissors, still struggling against the gray, against
the searing pain.
‘Duo…’ Wufei said softly and came to squat
The gentleness of his voice shocked me and I jerked my head
up to look at him. It was a mistake; the gray swirled around me and I was
When the gray receded again I was disoriented and completely
confused; I could see Wufei in front of me and I knew Trowa and Quatre were
gone but there was a warm body behind me, arms tight around me. What the
Wufei saw something in my face that told him I was back from
the gray place, ‘Duo…let us help you,’ he said softly.
I must have dropped the scissors again because they were in his hand.
‘I’m…fine…’ I murmured and tried
to sit up but the arms wouldn’t let me.
Wufei snorted softly and it was such an odd sound that it
made me look at him, he was smiling gently at me. ‘Oh you look just
Maybe I stood a chance; if enough of the other guys thought
I could still do my job…
‘I’m not a liability. I can still pilot,’
I told him with as much intensity as I could gather.
The arms around me tightened and Wufei frowned.
‘Just what is going on here, Yuy?’ He was looking
past me. ‘What in the hell have you done to him?’
There was a surprised grunt from a voice I recognized and
I had to finally face up to who was holding me. There was nothing for a
long moment while a staring contest went on over my head.
‘I…made a bad call during the mission,’
Heero finally said, his voice very soft. ‘I made an assumption that…proved
‘You left Quatre,’ I translated and was taken
aback at the hint of anger that flitted across Wufei’s face.
There was a sigh from Heero, ‘I…left Quatre,’
he admitted and I finally let myself entertain the idea that they might
really be trying to help me.
‘We will discuss this later,’ Wufei said somewhat
harshly and then he bent to examine my hands. He turned back to the med
kit and I saw him getting out the bottle of morphine and the syringe.
‘No,’ I said, panic taking hold of me again, ‘I’ll
be totally incapacitated.’
When his eyes came up to meet mine they held a touch of sadness,
‘You have my word that we won’t leave you. We won’t harm
I blinked at him; Wufei’s word means more to him, I
think, than his damn life.
He didn’t wait for me to acquiesce but gave me the injection
with an intent look and I was just suddenly too damn tired to care. If they
decided to put me out of their misery; at least I wouldn’t feel it.
Wufei gave the shot a minute to take effect and then set to
work. A calloused hand came from behind me and lay across my forehead. Heero
gently but firmly pulled my head back against his shoulder and turned my
face into his neck, ‘Don’t watch,’ he said almost kindly
and it was the last thing I remember before the morphine mated with the
gray and it all went to black.
It got very strange after that; I really hate morphine. It
just does weird shit to my head. I don’t remember much; just sounds
for a while. My own voice groaning; echoing strangely. The sound of Quatre
I swam up towards the light of day once, just enough to know
that I was in a bed in a dark room.
I dreamed some very bizarre things. Not the Relena/spandex
thing again, thank God. But dark stuff; I struggled once in the arms of
Jensen, feeling him savage my lips. I thought I opened my eyes to see Solo
sitting on the foot of my bed but he only waved. It seemed I heard Trowa
whisper to me softly in the dark, ‘Thank you, Duo. Thank you for bringing
him back safe.’
More than once I thought I woke to find Heero sitting beside
me but that only told me I must have still been dreaming.
It felt like I lost a lot of time. Morphine just wastes me;
I really hate the stuff but was not even able to get oriented enough to
fight with them over it. I was both relieved and dismayed when they began
to reduce the dosage.
In my short but eventful life, I have been shot, stabbed and
liberally beat to hell. I have had both fractured and broken bones. I’ve
had a couple of surgeries. This was my first experience with severe burns.
I think I am in a position to make the statement that burns suck. It hurt
unlike anything I had ever experienced before or have ever experienced since.
There is no easing it. There is no getting away from it this side of consciousness.
It is a pain that encompasses your entire attention. So while I was more
than happy to leave behind the drugged half-awareness that I’d been
floating in, I was not happy to be waking up to the intense pain.
I opened my eyes to soft morning light and knew that I was
truly awake for the first time in…a while. I raised my hands and found
them wrapped like the hands of Boris Karloff in the ‘Mummy’.
I would have laughed if they hadn’t hurt so damn bad. I lay them carefully
back down on the bed and hissed at the jolt of pain even that small contact
‘Do you need something for the pain?’ a voice
asked gently and I jerked in surprise to find Heero sitting in a chair beside
the bed. How did he manage to keep getting inside my radar?
‘No,’ I said and my voice came out dry and gravelly.
‘Please…no more. I can’t take that drifting…’
He grunted in what sounded like understanding and without
any prompting, brought a glass of water from somewhere and held the straw
so I could drink.
It eased the dry throat and I looked up at him to ask, ‘What
are you doing here?’
Something odd happened behind his eyes and he glanced away.
‘We’ve been taking turns sitting with you,’ he murmured,
looking oddly embarrassed.
‘Nani?’ I blurted and the strangest transformation
came over his face and he quirked a grin at me. A real one.
‘Now you start speaking Japanese,’ he said drolly.
It surprised a bark of laughter out of me and I grinned back,
forgetting just who this was sitting beside me.
Then his face clouded as he looked down at my hands. ‘You
could have been killed,’ he said flatly and I blinked at the sudden
transformation. I tried to switch mental gears but couldn’t seem to
‘So could Quatre have been,’ I said in return.
‘You let your feelings toward him effect your judgment.’
His frown had deepened and there was still that strange play of thoughts
behind his eyes.
I sighed and looked up at him; I must have still been slightly
drugged because it suddenly didn’t matter to me if he got angry. ‘You
still don’t get it do you?’ I told him sadly and realized for
the first time that he was the one to be pitied here; that he couldn’t
understand this most base of things. ‘I would have gone back for you
too. It wasn’t that it was Quatre…it was…a teammate. You
never leave a teammate behind.’
‘Never leave a man down,’ he whispered, almost
to himself and I knew that he had heard me that night.
I nodded. ‘That’s what it’s all about, Heero.’
And I didn’t hide from his searching gaze, ‘I would have gone
back for any one of you…it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d
had five minutes or five seconds. You never leave a man down.’
‘Maxwell,’ came Wufei’s soft voice from
the doorway, ‘You shame us all.’
I started and looked his way; I hadn’t heard him come
in. He had the med-kit in his hand, obviously come to change my dressing.
I flushed and did look away from the both of them then.
‘He’s awake?’ I heard Quatre almost whisper
and Wufei chuckled at him.
‘Apparently.’ He stepped aside to give our Arabian
partner access to the room…access to me.
He came to the side of the bed in a rush only to stop short
and stare down at me with wide eyes. ‘Duo?’
Being flat on my back with the room full of people was starting
to make me feel…strange and I tried to lever myself up with an elbow.
A strong arm slid behind me and eased me up, while Quatre
rushed to put extra pillows behind my back.
I murmured, ‘Thank you.’ to the both of them and
just tried to hide the blush.
Then Quatre demanded all of my attention, ‘Duo…I
am so sorry…this is all my fault.’
I snorted at him. ‘I believe I was the one who threw
the bomb, Qat.’
His cheeks colored slightly but he forged ahead. ‘It
got us out of there. They would have shot one of us eventually if you hadn’t
thought so quick.’
I just shook my head. ‘If I’d been thinking, I
would have checked the damn transmitter before the stupid elevator doors
They both looked shocked and I had to grin at them. ‘Makes
you feel kind of stupid…doesn’t it?’
Quatre actually chuckled but Heero couldn’t seem to
get the shocked expression off his face. ‘Don’t sweat it, Yuy.’
I grinned up at him, suddenly not afraid of his anger anymore. ‘We
all three forgot about it.’
He didn’t look reassured, only sat and frowned.
‘Well, it doesn’t matter now,’ Trowa said
from the doorway and I looked to see him standing with Wufei. ‘The
reports are back; the factory was completely destroyed. They’re still
looking over the samples you brought back but preliminary findings indicate
that was a major find. You guys did good.’
Quatre gave him a funny look and then said, ‘Duo did
good. All we did was sit around and listen to…’
I cut him off with a chuckle. ‘Quatre…enough all
ready. It was a mission and we all did our part. It wasn’t your fault
that your part this time was backup.’
He gave me that irritated glare that told me he was getting
set to argue with me some more, so I changed the whole course of the conversation,
‘I promise…the next time we need somebody to play the part of
a hooker…you can do it.’
‘What?!’ gasped Wufei and I thought Quatre and
I would die laughing at the look on his face.
This of course, as I had planned, led to the retelling of
the Helio saga and I embellished the crap out of it until I had them all
laughing. Well…all of them but Heero.
I caught him looking at me with an oddly appraising stare
and I think Mr. Stoic might have figured something out about the Duo Maxwell
grinning idiot façade in that moment. I’ll never know, I looked
away to listen to Quatre telling Trowa about how different I looked with
my hair down and the next thing I knew, Heero was gone.
Wufei finally got around to changing my bandages and I managed
to make eye contact enough with Trowa that he gently but firmly made Quatre
leave the room.
Wufei didn’t miss the exchange and quirked an eyebrow
‘He feels guilty enough,’ I growled, feeling defensive.
‘He thinks it’s his fault.’
‘Is it?’ he asked simply.
‘Of course not!’ I snapped, looking up at him
in surprise and finding a strange half-smile on his face.
‘As long as you don’t think so,’ he said
I grunted and watched as he unwound the last of the gauze;
he hesitated. ‘You might not want to look.’
I just glared at him and he smiled again. ‘It was just
He gave me a minute to turn them back and forth, looking them
over. The palms were the worst but oddly didn’t hurt much at all.
The pain was all coming from the backs of my hands and around my wrists.
I frowned as I looked; he’d done a good job of cleaning them up.
‘The worst damage is on the palms of your hands,’
he explained. ‘They don’t hurt as much because of…nerve
damage. You really should have some skin grafts.’ He shrugged and
quirked me another gentle smile. ‘But I’m just an inadequate
‘You did a better job than I was doing,’ I muttered
without really thinking about it. My brain was rather preoccupied trying
to get itself around the fact that those were my hands doing a fair imitation
of…of…hamburger. Charred hamburger.
‘That’s enough,’ he warned me and I looked
away before the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach turned into something
Then his face got…strange and he was pinning me with
those dark, intense eyes of his. ‘You are never to hide an injury
from us again, do you understand me?’
I ducked my head and flushed. Somehow, after the last couple
of days, my reasoning didn’t seem to stand up so well. ‘I’m
‘I know what you thought,’ he told me gently,
‘And I understand. But you see now that things aren’t quite
how you thought they were, right?’
I nodded, still not looking up, still embarrassed. He put
a hand under my chin and forced me to look up at him. His eyes met mine
with a searching intensity that made me feel like I’d been turned
wrong side out.
‘Heero made a mistake,’ he told me firmly, his
lips curving a little. ‘Despite what he seems to think; it happens
to the best of us. That does not mean that we would…abandon you because
you’ve been hurt. Are we totally clear on that?’
He wouldn’t let me get away with the nod again and I
had to smile at him. ‘Yes….I think it’s sunk into my thick
He let go of me then and bent to work on my hands. He is surprisingly
gentle; there is the spirit of something else behind the fierce warrior
front he puts on.
I whined until he grudgingly agreed to let me out of bed for
a while but he stayed close, helped me until he was sure I was steady enough
on my feet that I wouldn’t fall.
‘Burns are very susceptible to infection,’ he
warned me, holding my elbow as I took my first wobbling steps across the
room. ‘You have to be very careful to keep things clean.’
I marvelled at him; he had probably spoken more civil words
to me in the last hour than he had the entire rest of our acquaintance.
Somehow this mission had won me…something from Chang Wufei. Respect
maybe? I really wasn’t sure.
We walked together down the hall and though I wouldn’t
have let it show for a million credits, I was feeling the strain before
we had gotten far at all.
‘As soon as we are cleared to leave this place,’
he was telling me, ‘I want you in to see a real Doctor. Those hands
are going to need a lot of work.’
I was trying hard to listen but found myself struggling with
the gray again. I stopped walking and waited for the light to come back
into my sight.
‘Duo?’ Wufei questioned, concern in his voice.
The gray was eating me one sense at a time; it had my sight
already and now my hearing was dimming. ‘I…I’m Ok…’
I tried and even my own voice sounded distant.
‘The hell you are!’ he growled at me and his arms
went tight around my waist. I’m taller than Wufei and I may actually
outweigh him, he was holding me up but couldn’t do much else, ‘Yuy!
Barton!’ He was yelling and I tried to hush him but the gray was nibbling
at my balance now and I was reeling in his arms.
‘What the hell is going on!’ I heard Heero very
near at hand and he sounded angry.
‘Help me get him back to bed;’ Wufei was saying.
‘He’s going to pass out…’
‘I’m Ok!’ I snapped but it came out sounding
pretty damn lame.
‘Let me have him!’ Heero said tersely and just
swept me up in his arms. The sudden movement had my head spinning and though
I wanted to fight against them, all I could do was press my face against
Heero’s shoulder and fight the nauseating dizziness.
I think I did fade completely into unconsciousness for a moment,
because I don’t remember being laid down. I don’t remember the
blankets being pulled up. But it was just for a moment, because I was aware
fairly quickly of the two of them arguing over my head.
‘Why the hell did you let him get up to begin with?’
‘He hides things too damn well! He seemed all right.’
‘You can’t trust what he says; you ought to know
that by now!’
‘He doesn’t lie…’
‘He doesn’t have to…he works with half truths
and evasions…you won’t ever get him to admit to the pain!’
That was followed by an ironic little snort and then an angry
grunt. Heero stormed out of the room.
‘I’m sorry, Wufei,’ I said softly. ‘I
didn’t have any warning; it just came on me all at once.’
‘My fault.’ He smiled down at me, ‘You’ve
been drugged and flat on your back for the last thirty hours; I should have
He put his fingers against the side of my neck to check my
pulse and looked long and hard into my eyes. ‘You need to rest; I’m
going to give you something for pain and I want you to get some sleep.’
‘No more morphine, ok?’ I pleaded. ‘I can’t
stand that ‘out of my head’ feeling.’
He just chuckled at me and gave me a couple of pills to take.
I was pleased that he left the room after I swallowed them. I really didn’t
like the idea that they had been taking turns sitting here watching me sleep.
The pills might not have been morphine but they were still
damned strong and I felt myself drifting away on the ebbing tide of exhaustion,
despite the wracking pain.
Jensen was leaning over me and he grabbed hold of my bandaged
hands, squeezing until I whimpered.
‘Thought you could get away from me, my little Sparrow?’
He chuckled evilly and I groaned as he gave my throbbing wrists a sudden
‘I wasn’t done with you, my pet…’
He breathed and was leaning down to kiss me again. I struggled to get out
of his grip but couldn’t seem to manage any leverage and then his
lips were crushing mine, his teeth cutting me, his breath filling me…
‘Duo! Wake up! It’s all right…just wake
My eyes flew open to find Heero sitting on the side of my
bed, his hands on my shoulders. My breath was coming in sporadic pants and
I was shaking like a leaf.
Our eyes locked and he leaned down and whispered intently,
‘He’s dead. He can’t touch you ever again…I won’t
let him. Never again; do you hear me?’
I managed a nod, my brain reeling from the sudden wrenching
twist in reality. What the hell? The drugs were making it hard to think,
I couldn’t process this. Then it hit me and I beamed up at him, ‘I’m
still dreaming aren’t I? You’re dream Heero.’
He just sat and blinked down at me but then his hand moved
to stroke a sweat soaked strand of hair from my face telling me that I was
right. I relaxed under his hands and smiled happily up at him.
‘I haven’t dreamed about you in so long,’
I sighed, ‘I’ve missed you.’
His face became oddly still and my smile faded. ‘Heero…what’s
He just stared at me for the longest time, long enough that
I started to doubt myself…maybe this was the other dream Heero; the
one who yelled and cursed.
But finally he hesitantly raised his fingers to stroke gently
across my uninjured cheek, ‘N…nothing.’
I smiled full force again, closing my eyes and turned my face
into his touch, ‘I like dreaming,’ I murmured against the palm
of his hand.
‘I’m sorry…’ he breathed and I opened
my eyes to look up at him, puzzled.
‘The whole mess…the mission…Quatre.’
His eyes looked pained and something started nagging at me again.
‘I…I don’t understand,’ I told him
and I knew I was frowning. ‘That wasn’t you…that was the
He was quiet for a minute. ‘All the same.’ he
said at last, ‘I’m sorry for…what he did. I…he let
his fear for you panic him.’
His fingers were stroking over my face with increasing boldness
and I smiled again, letting the questions just slip away. I forgot about
the strange things he was saying.
‘Hold me…please?’ I sighed; dream Heero
loved to hold me close.
‘Of…of course…my…love,’ he said
and his voice was strangely hesitant. His arms slid around me, gentle and
warm and he pulled me against his chest. It was better than any dream I
had ever had. ‘Don’t let me hurt you,’ he whispered against
the top of my head.
‘You could never hurt me,’ I told him and felt
a shiver run through him.
I drifted out of the dream and back into deep sleep pillowed
against his imaginary warmth with a soft smile on my face.
It was the sweetest dream of him I had ever had and the harsh,
morning reality of my solitary bed damn near broke me.
I found out later that he had left the safe house sometime
in the night; against orders. Under the circumstances, the orders were lifted
and Wufei and Quatre whisked me off to the base hospital immediately. Deathscythe
was packed off to Howard for safekeeping.
I was out of action for weeks; Wufei had been right about
the skin grafts and there were other things he hadn’t told me about,
all of it amounting to a lot of pain. I went back to the active duty list
before the Doctor’s wanted me too, but I was learning to work through
the pain and the guys needed me.
When Heero sent the message to base, he blind copied me on
it. I had to think about that for a long time and I never did completely
make up my mind what it meant. I almost showed it to Quatre once, but decided
it was a bad idea and never did tell anybody. I’m still not sure what
‘Though pilot 02 has shown himself to be a very competent
agent, the dissimilarities between his methodologies and those of pilot
01 make their working together an impossibility. Therefore pilot 01 would
like to request that they not be assigned to any further missions together.
This request does not in any way reflect on the abilities or performance
of pilot 02.’
Just like Heero; short and to the point. We crossed paths
after that but only on missions that required all of us together. We seldom
spoke. I never worked up the nerve to ask him why and I never dreamed about
On to Chapter Three:Revelations
Back to Chapter One
Fiction : GW :