Disclaimer: Hey, you can try to sue me… but that's just not goat. Don't take my Nirvana CDs either, then I'd have to go kung fu on your ass, if I knew how. I don't own Gundam Wing, Bandai, or whatever. Not Kurdt Kobayne either. Damn.
Pairings: 2+1, Rx1, 3x4, Sx5, CB+2, H+2
Warnings for All Chapters: Relena, stupid humor, angst, minor violence, het, shounen-ai, yaoi, romance, language, suggestive dialogue, drugs, limey, NCS, suicide issues.
Chapter 1 Preview
A.C. 205: A lonely, rolling stone Duo drifts into Seattle and finds out that he's not alone in the Rainy City. A painful twist of fate reunites Duo and Heero in a police station, causing a few sore teeth. A forgotten invitation, homemade salmon fettuccine in a coffee shop, and – a wedding?!
"You Can Sleep in the Garage"
December 9, A.C. 205
Seattle, Earth. It'd long been a bustling city by the sea, all too familiar with the linty grayness of rain clouds and the crystal morning mists and the boisterous shouts as glistening silver fish were tossed from the sunrise fishermen to the shipment trucks for the hungry masses Northeastern Americans. Puffs of inky smoke rose from the old-fashioned factories dotted along the shore, whirling and squawking seagulls chattered and scuttled their ways across parking lots, and cars gunned to work along congested highways. Umbrellas bobbed at the ready, hooked to each master's pocket or belt loop. The mists and dew glistened along the glassy skyscrapers, along the stationary cars, collecting in hair and clothes and eyelashes. Thick-soled shoes clicked monotonously along the moist cement to accompany the flittering, diminishing bird whistles that seemed to disappear with the pre-dawn.
It was a seemingly peaceful city; serene amongst the guttural calls of various machines and transit and seduced by the seeping blue presence of the Pacific Ocean inlet. Cars jerked in and out of unsteady waiting, dispersed by the flickering of green and red lights, peeling off the main highways to the grungy individual streets like the skin off an orange. It was barely past 5:30, when the congestion began to clog. Radios clicked on, accompanied by frustrated sighs, as traffic reports came in. An average day in Seattle was not what it seemed. Industrialized, raw, and rainy.
After the A.C. War, a shower of bits of debris had pelted into the Pacific Ocean and rabid salvagers and mechanics flocked to Seattle to pick off the new feed, which could last as much as four to seven years. Seattle was the natural port for this salvage and its numbers grew in great swells, fed by the incessant birth rate and dropping death rate and immigrating workmen. It grew and it didn't stop. It rained and it didn't stop. Seattle was on the upswing and running with it, while war had ravaged other thriving American cites and left them pocked with depressions and economic scars.
A Northwestern Air plane, just a run of the mill plane out of hundreds identical ones, swooped toward the ground at the Seattle airport at 7:58, earlier than normal. It had a lighter than normal load and one which was stingy on precautions, obviously, which contributed to the rareness of being a head of schedule instead of hideously behind. The first seven rows collectively held only 8 people who had decided to space themselves as far was demurely possible. Anti-social in nature, they were content to sip their coffee off the cart and close themselves off into their own internal conversation, which the attendant didn't mind one bit. The ninth, the last to be inhabited in the entire plane, held only one person who was gravitated naturally to the window seat on the right side.
He held a blue Bic pen in one hand and idly chewed on it as he watched the ground lurch up at him from his window with little interest. He'd seen thousands of landings on shuttles, water, land, and space alike, and it fazed him as much as flies faze an old crusty horse. The wheels of the plane gave a slight hiss as they connected again with the Earth and had to give into gravity. The young man blinked out of his daze and pulled the pen from his mouth.
Since when did I start getting these nervous habits? He thought to himself, as he was brought back to reality by the flight attendant emerging from behind him, shoving the curtain hastily aside, clearly sick of its presence.
It looked heavy as burlap, and only slightly prettier in a shade of mud. He smiled slightly, noticing the harsh, unjustly unpleasant expression he received, which turned into a buttery nothing as she realized she wasn't allowed to take out her frustrations out on passengers, no matter how bad they were. She haughtily walked up the aisle, the anger she was dying to express manifested in a self-destructive lip chew and the extra swagger in her generous strut. A head poked out into the isle, belonging to the young man with long brown hair, and a grin lit on his lips.
The exact charm of her sky blue skirt and inky pantyhose, paired with the sour-as-a-tart expression, was tempting. It made him want to wink his baby blues at her and try to make her even more aggravated. It did no harm, right? She couldn't take action against him just by making her a little sourer than before – she couldn't prove nuthing! Besides, he'd always enjoyed getting a rise out of stone-faced people and it'd been denied from him for far too long. He missed the thrill of pounding against that stone and seeing if he could smash it. He ducked his head in before she could turn around.
Static. Feedback. The wisecracking pilot using the cockpit radio came on the P.A. and the twenty-six-year-old in back listened with mild interest.
"Well, passengers, it's a beautiful morning in Seattle," the pilot said causally, "and we didn't crash. So get out there and enjoy yourself. There's a good waffle skillet at Ma Susan's on Sixtieth and Aberdeen so I suggest you have breakfast. You too, anorexics."
Laugher rose and fell futilely. The flight attendant passed again, the young man not aware she'd gone past him again, laughing, as she went to help with the docking procedures. The young man watched numbly her brunette hair swing and the rest of her body move in time with it. He glanced down on his long hair stretched over his shoulder and imagined if he ever did that. He quickly was cut off, as the people in front of him shot out of their seats reservedly, in a hurry to attend to whatever they were going to, but more conscious of what was perceived of their rush. They frittered after the slow people, visibly gnawing at their bits. It made him want to laugh. Jeeze, he thought to himself with mock enthusiasm, this plane is full of fun people!
The women, clutching their dirt-colored suitcases, moved in a professional group of four and exited the plane together. A few men also dressed in pressed suits and taking the last long swings of their coffee, left soon after them. It became a sort of game, watching and predicting who would exit the plane next.
A leisurely old woman, her old gray hair held back loosely by strings of beads, got up after shuffling through her purse. That left him and a clumsy Italian girl with her obvious beauty burdened by a pair of thick, Buddy Holly glasses. She left momentarily, and it left him sitting, with carry-on in lap, alone on the plane, staring at the attendant. The attendant, meeting his eyes with stony ones, popped a bubblegum bubble and he laughed quietly to himself, finally leaving as well. One he was walking down the hallway, she left to prepare more food for the next flight. She glanced briefly back down the hall and rolled her eyes, scoffing.
That idiot was whistling.
It was a slow morning. Thick, sluggish, and run of the mill, but not unpleasantly so.
With a tiny, contented sigh, a man with long, calloused, tan hands fluttered rapidly through a flipbook of white paper and black text, then scuttled the clipboard over and pounced on the idle keyboard, bringing the sleeping computer back to life.
His chair complained of old, rusty wheels, but knew its cries were ignored. Despite its owner's light weight, years had caught up to it long ago and it was audible and verbal. The air murmured slightly with the compliant and comforting hum of a heater rattling somewhere deep in the dark blue walls surrounding him, hiding behind desks and snapshots of genial-looking officers. It was a white noise that calmed him down, although today it didn't look like he'd be needing it that much. No patrolling today. The reports and files and text that bloomed into windows on his laptop suggested a casual, peaceful day of filing reports at a distance from the actual happenings and soothing coffees spiced with sweet, idle conversation. Normal, average, mediocre, the picture of peace…
One hand strayed from its incessant typing on the keyboard to grasp a fresh cup of decaffeinated coffee and the brown-haired man drew deeply, his dark blue eyes jumping from word to word on the screen. Early light filtered through the blinded window overhead and warmed the skin on his face. It was a familiar position, much preferred over the confining black fabric of a cop car seat. Much preferred over the manslaughter of his teen years. So maybe the peaceful jobs meant a painful absence of a gun, which had been inbred into his paranoia as a need, in his pocket but as long as he never needed it again, Heero Yuy wouldn't miss it for a second. He didn't need a promotion, at least from here, sitting in the sun, coffee in his stomach, and the security of knowing he'd live to the next wonderfully mundane morning, he didn't feel like he needed one.
April, creamy-wheat colored hair tightly restrained in a ponytail, leaned into Heero's desk and gave that quick quirk of a smile that contradicted her painstakingly precise stare. Like always, one side of her collar wasn't properly flipped out. She put her elbow on the top of Heero's laptop and waved another stack of manila folders in his direction. "Good morning, Heero," she cooed, apparently in a good mood. "Always ready to sit on your ass and exercise that gray matter, aren't you? I don't understand you. You never want to be out there, in the action!"
The Japanese man withdrew a bit as the papers landed on his lap in a neat, orderly pile. "You don't need to understand me, though."
"I'd like to." Her lips titled with absurdity. "Maybe then you wouldn't creep me out as much."
Dark bangs in his face, Heero briskly read through the lines of text like a machine, without the cold abrasiveness that would have been painfully obvious five years ago but now had sunken deep somewhere. He didn't satisfy her witty remark with a glance, he wouldn't. He paged through another segment. "I can't help it, I guess."
She pointed at him accusingly, unable to resist a grin. "Your smile could scare the scales off a hydra. I'm not exaggerating."
He wanted to smile, half to spite her, half out of the humor of it. "I'm sorry, April. The next time I plan to smile, I'll remember to lock myself in a dark padded room where no one can see and won't be frightened."
Her gray eyes locked on his, a bit wide. "Now, I didn't mean to be mean."
Heero tossed the leafed-through manila folders onto the input pile that dwarfed the immaculately empty output one and quickly typed something in, glancing up to his female comrade every so often to met her gaze. "I know. I haven't had much practice with smiling."
"Can't your love help you with smiling more like a normal person?" she teased, tapping on the desk.
"Not here." He titled his head, closing his thick, chocolate-lashed eyes and letting his face relax. "Probably not ever."
"Hm, you're impossible, Yuy," she bantered.
"I know that," he commented coolly, face again lit by the unreal blue tint of the computer. He absently rubbed at the faint shadow of a beard that had been ghosting through his skin lately and itched at his nose, not noticing the girl curtly leave on a request to inspect some suspicious youth on the corner with shifty eyes and bulging pockets. Prussian eyes moved like a typewriter again as the Japanese pressed on with his contenting, lazy work and felt the sun rise on his skin and in the sky.
A fellow officer, Elijah, dropped in only a minute later and complained of his sore back, which was accented by the flushed, agonized expression he held and the fragile yet violently arched back. He was sent home after bending over for a pen had sealed his fate for the workday in the cooing worry of his wife's right arm as she drove him home to spend the day with his kids.
Standing in the doorway and breathing the cold crisp air and watching Elijah leave, he felt a pang of jealously yank his stomach down hard, wishing he could have his own kids to come home to, and they'd greet him with happy faces. Heero suddenly felt an odd feeling come up in his belly again, at the thought of kids. Blonde ones, with pink little lips and high-pitched voices and sky blue eyes… he wasn't sure exactly what it was, if it was even definite enough to have a name, but it felt like an anvil suddenly taking permanent residence in his stomach. Hard. Almost nauseating. His clouding breath brought him back to the real world, snapping the train of thought, and Heero watched Elijah's car drive away and the rest of the police men and women pile back into the warmth of the office, then walked inside with hands pocketed.
John U., the gnarled veteran of the Seattle police forced, waved Heero over as soon as he was inside and rubbing some warmth into his fingers so he could resume typing. His ruddy, perky face was just a hiding place for a tough, smart man probably from a war, just like Heero, who'd found police work in this rainy city a good substitute for war that was like nicotine. "Heero!" he called, waving his empty coffee mug.
Heero stared at him for a second, face unreadable.
"Whippersnapper! – Hey!" he said quieter this time, as the cold-eyed Japanese man paused at John U's desk, leaning slightly forward in his half-tucked blue shirt and black slacks.
"Yessir?" His voice was flat and open to suggestion.
Dark black eyes met his genially, as they had for the last three years. John smiled. "I can count on you not to throw your back out, right? If I can't count on you, our police station will be ruined!"
Heero's natural good-natured sarcasm blossomed on his face. "In shambles, I'm sure."
The slightly portly man leaned back in his chair. "Would you mind taking care of Elijah's post, Heero? I really don't think you'd be typing more than some teenager complaints for the remainder of the day, especially with those kids having the whipped cream party at that damn hippie high-school…"
"The Art School?" Heero folded his arms. "Brilliant modernists there," he commented with the air of an experienced art scholar.
"Whatever," John waved with a slightly soured expression. "You wouldn't mind, though?"
"Of course not," he complied in a flat honey tone. "I haven't been at the front desk for years. And to think I that I wouldn't have sat in reception for my entire career if you hadn't just proposed I do so. What was I missing? What was I thinking?" His voice was wet gravel – unremarkable and monotone.
"I'm sorry if I embarrass you by turning over control of reception to you, and I know how much you like the anti-social life—"
The dark-haired Asian man waved it off. "Apology accepted."
The next half-hour involved only a nonchalant promenade between different coffee machines, speaks of conversation doused with professionalism and casualness, and the morning paper. Heero scanned the headlines, skipping over the sniper shootings deliberately, and felt his body well up with another surge of mundane happiness. No more war… Eyes on the paper, he reached over for his pen on the counter, dashed somewhere between the iris flowers and form papers on clipboards on the counter. He clicked it idle back and forth in habit, and then gnawed at it once, reading an article that subconsciously made him a bit uncomfortable. Heero realized that plastic taste in his mouth was a pen, and then quickly drew it out. He stared down at it for a second, then tossed on the desk. Pulling his feet off the counter, he ducked inside the office and went to find a pencil so he could waste his time on the crossword. Heero's lean form disappeared back behind an impersonal wooden door, in eerie synchronism with the opening of the glass one out front.
Sunglasses perched on a pert nose, as a Bic pen was whirled around between long fingers. An elfin figure sauntered through the doorway, as a tinny bell rang from somewhere over his head. The young man of about 25, dressed in a light black jacket and not-so-modestly-fitting black pants, leaned against the glass door and peered about the empty reception area, which was contradicted by the murmur of activity in back. It was sparsely decorated, too. The only ostentation to be found was the vase of purple and white iris and a few chairs to the left and a potted palm tree. Stingy people. Adjusting his bold sunglasses, he sauntered up to the seemingly abandoned counter and shouldered his backpack more tightly. He looked down and saw a chair with a newspaper laid over it. Someone was here, somewhere, he thought.
Flipping his brown hair over his shoulder, the man leaned forward. "Hello? Someone here?"
No answer came.
Oddly colored eyes flickered in uncertainty. He glanced down and saw a tiny little bell waiting for him and he slammed his hand down a few times, listening for any sounds of people coming or even moving in his direction from the offices in the back. "Excuse me, I'd like to turn in some money I found!" he called, louder this time, directed more at the closed door behind the desk. "If no body cares, then I'm gonna keep it!"
He frowned, poking idly at his bugling backpack. The man sighed and then threw up his hands, sauntering back and forth with his hands on his hips a few feet then turning impatiently back to the reception desk.
A few more rings of the pounded bell broke the silence and the young man stood waiting. He stared at the door. "Give me a break," he muttered, scratching his head.
Turning around to look at the street in habit, his sunglasses suddenly slipped off his nose and clattered to the floor. The pair was so ancient that when it hit, the left earpiece popped out of its socket.
"Damn," the violet eyed man grumbled, leaning down to pick it up. It was a sacred piece to him, almost as important as the tiny glint of a gold necklace around his neck. He'd had it for what… ten years now? and he wouldn't give it up.
Heero noiselessly reappeared; he was twirling the pencil he'd been after between his fingers like a pro and with little effort. He left the door slightly ajar and returned to his swivel chair, hands around his newspaper again. As he sat down as silently as a panther, his war-hardened eyes locked onto the black item lounging on his counter when it hadn't been there previously. He glanced from side to side of the room, searching for an owner of a tattered, barely strung old backpack that seemed hauntingly familiar for some reason. At the same time, the young man was snapping his beaten-up sunglasses back into the correct form and slipped them onto his face coolly, out of sight. He grumbled and stood up.
Simultaneously, Heero leaned over the counter.
Fate intervened, hard.
Heero grunted in sharp, spiking pain as his chin was smashed with something solid, silky, and definitely moving. His bones cracked suddenly and teeth clamped down on a warm presence in his mouth, drowning his mouth in a watery, metallic flavor. A yelp echoed through the cold walls and Heero couldn't help but let out his own contortion of pain and withdrew, mumbling. The man with the backpack, rubbed at his head, then turned see to just what he hit, through his dark sunglasses. A brunette man was holding at his face, sloshing what seemed like blood in his mouth. Ripping his sunglasses off, he bolted up and began apologizing furiously.
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry! I didn't see you! Are you okay?" he said anxiously, eyes wide and apologetic. "Oh, please don't hold your face like that – it's making me feel guilty! God, I'm sorry!"
Heero's grip around his aching mouth loosened instantly, his heart stopping suddenly as he recognized the voice. Faces rushed back, breaking the mental chains that had hidden them, one in particular, one he'd recognize anywhere. Lively, peach, heart-shaped, and purple eyes. Deep, accentuated, demonstrative voice. Long, long hair, gung-ho grins. Shinigami conviction beneath it all.
Duo Maxwell. He whipped his head up as if he wasn't fast enough, he would disappear.
He definitely looked like Heero hadn't seen him in nine years, which he hadn't. Duo seemed caught in a freeze frame. Years had done little for his general height and build besides adjust it slightly, ripening it into a perfectly proportioned body that had long forgotten its bony waif roots. A blue wife beater displayed the top of his chest boldly in the Seattle rain and snow and cold, covered by a loose, casual black leather jacket and finished with a worn pair of black jeans, the dark denim lightened at his knees from walking. He seemed collectively more openly mature, more masculine and more fluid and self-confident, yet tinged with a little weariness. His arms were even more masculine, coated with fine golden-brown hairs that were much more noticeable than they had been in the war. His legs were longer in comparison to his body, his shoulders broader and cocked with much more bravado. Duo's trademark braid was now currently swung over his shoulder, a thick, silky rope that swung the rubber binder at his knees, insanely elongated. His round, heart-shaped face with the slightly ruddy cheeks was definitely matured, only portions having not changed. A gold-brown shadow of a beard ringed his face, stubble around his lip. His nose was basically the same, as was his strong chin. His lips seemed to have broadened to accommodate his facial expression. His cheekbones had risen or his cheeks had thinned out, although they still retained some slight baby fat. His eyebrows were thicker, but more becoming. Those unreal violet eyes weren't as wide and innocent as they had been, if they had had any innocence true or feigned in them before, but now were more intense, multihued, and almost ungodly purple. They could still pierce his stoic defenses.
Meanwhile, the American stood, breathless, suddenly face to face with his old best friend, the haunter of his thoughts. While Heero stared at him, Duo stared back with an anvil-dropped jaw.
'Oh my god…'
Heero was so much different than the Deathscythe pilot had pictured he'd be at age 25, but this different wasn't bad, not by a long shot. The first things his eyes flew to were those dark Prussian orbs, slightly slanted and ghostly piercing and infinite. There were dark and brooding, inhuman still with stoicism, but they were so more warm and melting than ever before. In them, past the thin, artist-quality dashes of blue and black and azure in his iris, he could see the years layered in dappling effect, could see the stories and places and new experiences in those eyes. He could see laughter embedded deep into them and felt a stab of pain, wondering if he had invoked any of that laughter. He seemed half and half; half Perfect Soldier, half new and improved Heero Yuy. His stony Asian face had softened into a glow of light tan skin and enriched features. There were telltale dimples just past the corner of his lips, proof that the absence of his precious Wing Zero hadn't depressed him to the point of emptiness. His adolescent pug nose had all but disappeared and evolved into a perfectly carved one. His dark brown hair was still unkempt and wild and danced in his eyes when he moved, a pinwheel of thick chocolate bangs. Those arms that could bend steel, although hidden by fabric, appeared to be as chiseled as they'd been in the wartime. They no longer looked like metal pinchers with a skin covering, but like real arms. His Japanese heritage was more pronounced now, in his slight but strong frame, perfectly muscled and hiding the fifteen years of intensive pilot training. Duo swallowed a huge, dry lump in his throat once he laid eyes on the good-looking blue uniform. He seemed like some ghost of Heero Yuy, even more seamless than during the war in those spandex shorts and loose green tank top. Suddenly, he noticed—
"Duo," he said flatly, obviously smothering his emotions again but not without a disarming, paradoxical grin.
In record time, the invincible Heero Yuy was knocked to the ground like no soldier, no mercenary, no mobile suit, or anything on the face of the earth would have been allowed to without complete and instantaneous death, and Duo mussed his hair with a laugh.
Seconds later the disheveled brunette was back up, jerked to his feet by the familiar calloused hands of his American comrade and found himself staring into two purple eyes and a caricature smile. He straightened out the wrinkles in his blue shirt, something the intently watching Duo wasn't surprised about, and ran a few fingers through his hair for a second. "Good to see you, Duo," he said, genially meeting eyes and using just the right words in the right tone.
Nervously, Duo blinked over a numb jaw, then managed out a "Hi" out of pure habit. How the hell did Heero manage to act so calm with all this bubbly stuff in his stomach? Didn't he have it?
"Hi," Heero parroted, waiting for Duo's garrulousness to kick in.
The American gave a wry smile, cockily tilted to one side, and laughed. He could have stood there laughing at his old best friend and heard an alarm and thought to run to Deathscythe on instinct; he felt like they'd never separated. He could almost picture Wufei coming in through the door and growling at him. It was if those damning, friendless nine years had been a blink opening his eyes, creating, something familiar and smiling.
"Come here, Hee-chan," Duo said finally, after staring with a big grin. He jumped at Heero in another bear hug and suddenly felt the gundanium-snapping arms vice around his waist and lift him effortlessly off the ground.
"Hi," he said again, half-mockingly.
"Oof, Heero!" he squeaked in surprise, eyes wide. "Hee-chan, put me down! Choking—windpipe! Aah!"
The Japanese man laughed softly into Duo's coat and evilly grinned against the fabric. Simultaneously, the captive held suspended three feet from the safety of earth and gravity stared down at the top of Heero's dark, tousled hair, a contortion of disbelief lit on his face. A few anvils did dances in his stomach, feeling the Japanese pilot's nose press into his bellybutton. He gulped down a thick lump in his dry throat with equally dry lips, unable to find any moisture in his mouth. Is this really Heero? Laughing?!
The imp in the Wing pilot's voice glinted dangerously, while he stared up at Duo's chin. "Put you down? …Nimyu Ryokai."
"Oh shi—Heero, no!"
Duo was unceremoniously dropped to the floor and subdued laughter followed. Even the injured-bottom Maxwell cracked his face with a display of pearly teeth, followed by a stream of his own animated laughter. Again, a Gundam pilot was jerked to his feet off the pristine tile floor. Heero suddenly stared down at his hand, which the American still had a death grip around, causing anything from his knuckle down to turn an asphyxiated pink.
Duo's sun-freckled face flushed. He snatched his hand back into his long black leather sleeve and hooked it behind his abundant brown-haired head. "Sorry," he said, grinning broadly. 'Just smile Maxwell, that makes everything just the way it used to be, don't it?' he said in his mind. "Just a little excited to see you again."
'Congrats, Max, you've just won the understatement of the year!'
"What are you doing on Earth?" Heero asked, seemingly genuinely interesting.
The anvils taking permanent residence in Duo's stomach committed a collective sigh of relief that "Hn" Heero Yuy had started the conversation. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to stop grinning like a kid in a candy store enough to make intelligent conversation.
"Uh… I was actually… just passing through." Duo's smile grew at the cliché of his words. "What are you doing on Earth? I thought you and went to work with the Preventers."
"I let Wufei have all the glory in the Preventers. I live here," he stated flatly, coining his original stoic look again.
"I could have deduced that," Duo said with a laugh.
"It really is good to see you again," Heero shot back, wasting no time. "I was beginning to think that Shinigami was dead."
"Who, me? Never!" The American triumphantly grinned and punched Heero's shoulder. "How are you doing? Not dead either? You seem to be in one, non-bloody piece to me."
"I'm fine. You?"
"Fine," Duo confirmed. He hoped the conversation wouldn't just circle like that.
"Good. We can talk while we eat then," Heero said briskly, leaning over the blue counter and snatching a clone of his wartime denim jacket from the back of the receptionist chair and hooking it on his shoulders in a fluid motion. "I have something important to talk to you about."
"Like what?" Duo stared at the Japanese man's back as he rapidly snatched a memo pad from behind the counter and scribbled something on it, stared at his stone-intense eyes as they darted across the words he wrote.
He furrowed his eyebrows suddenly and felt something catch dryly in his throat, which he recognized as his throat, scratching to get out in a sudden pang of fear. "Did somebody die?" he asked fearfully.
Heero turned back, paused to analyze Duo's expression, then shook his head in all solemnity. "Everyone is fine; pretty good, even." He ripped the adhesive strip of paper with a sharp, quick flick of his wrist then stuck it to the newspaper over the half-finished crossword puzzles. "You haven't been keeping in touch at all?"
The American bit his lip. "Is there something I should know?"
A spark of optimism churned in Duo's stomach, but he didn't want to get his hopes up. He didn't want to come across as a giddy schoolgirl either. He would never say that…
"Well, thank you Heero for telling me the news straight out," Duo said sarcastically.
"I'm hungry. I'll tell you once we've eaten," he replied, turning around and his eyes gluing Duo to the spot.
Duo shrugged noncommittally. "Alright then. Where are we going?"
Heero walked up beside him and his eyes darkened slightly.
"You'll freeze." His faceless prussian eyes locked on Duo's light jacket and how it was unzipped halfway down.
"Worry 'bout yourself, okay? I'll be fine. I've been in worse shape for weather like this." The American snorted good-naturedly. "Just lead the way to wherever we're going, Mr. Yuy."
Heero's eyes bore into his for a second, salvaging a bit of his old soldier stubbornness, but decided to let the issue drop. He had to tilt his head up slightly, since Duo had gained an inch over him in the nine years apart.
Damn. This made things a little more awkward.
He could remember, as clearly as water, Duo having to cock his head slightly up to meet his eyes, especially during the ever-rare grim conversations they'd have in the war. His caricature grin and cocky expressions seemed like they never even existed during talks like those, of death, the possibility of it, and the possibility of having say good by.
He'd never leave Heero's eyes during those talks, as stony and calm as his own in their own dark, inauspicious way, and it would scare him for a second. Maybe it was the severity of Duo's discussion the topic that had instilled the uneasiness in him back then, but he could never understand why he was afraid to look Duo back in the eye. He saw death in them… but he had been trained not to fear death—hell, he even embraced several times. But not when it bred in the eyes of another person. Then it was too personal…
"…Hellllooo, Earth to Heero, Earth to Heero Yuy! Konnichiwa!"
Duo's voice, paired with a nice flick of a hand in front of the Japanese man's nose, finally brought him out of the solemnity of his thoughts and back into the world. When Heero jerked back in mild surprise, he smiled again. "Sorry," Duo said. "What are you, a narcoleptic? You just seriously dazed off."
He seemed confused for a second. "Ah… no. Sorry, just thinking."
"Don't worry about it. Like I always say, if you got the brain cells, use them." He hooked his elbow around Heero's. "Now, if we don't get to wherever we're going and you tell me what happened soon, I'll make you skip there."
Salty air stung at Duo's nose, since he was unaccustomed to ocean air that was so damned cold, and he really wished he'd taken another coat to Seattle with him. Glimpses of sacred silver ocean peered through the cracks were there was no city any more. Rubbing his arms fiercely for warmth as he followed Heero, they turned the corner to be faced with a new onslaught of frozen-car traffic in the streets. They seemed be to be the only people on the street. As Duo slowly admired the city and took in his surroundings with wide, bright violet eyes, he was unusually in tuned to the sound of Heero's feet on the pavement. The Wing pilot seemed not to notice, or to care that Duo lagged behind, circling around and getting a panoramic view, and kept walking ahead. Duo could hear him, or rather the rhythm his feet kept, and when he started to hear him pull away, he focused back on where Heero was going and caught up to him.
"Beautiful ocean today," Duo commented causally, half-dreamily. His gaze wondered off the indifferent profile of his friend and concentrated on the cornflake-frosted cars and buildings.
"It's beautiful every day."
Duo stared at him. "Hm. Lucky you," he said with a tint of jealousy. A wind kicked up and flung his long bangs into his eyes. "How long have you lived here?"
Heero continued to stare up ahead, onto the cold-sunlit sidewalk dashed with snow ahead, but answered. "2 years, 5 months, and 4 days." He shrugged. "Feels like I've been here forever though."
"Is that a bad thing?"
Heero's eyebrows furrowed. "No… no, it isn't… This place makes me forget the colonies and the rest of my life even exists." He sighed. "It's nice."
The American sauntered along side him for a second, his own eyes focused down at his shoes, a bit worn but as reliable as hell, as they moved mechanically over clumps of frost and snow on the sidewalk. He thought for a moment, then kicked at a rock his toe came across. "Hm, I wish I could find a place like that for me. Of course, with my selfish standards, it'd practically have to be Heaven, you know?" The tone in his voice was an ambiguous hybrid of something between sarcasm and nakedness.
Suddenly, Heero's head jerked up like a deer scanning for predators. He paused and his right arm shot out to pull Duo to a halt. The American glanced back and saw a coffee shop wedged in-between two other buildings, one for rent and the other a blank tower of bricks. It was small, granted, but not claustrophobic at all.
"This it?" Duo asked, titling his head.
For a second, no one moved, the cars froze to the spot coughing smoke, and somewhere a dog barked. They both stood side-by-side staring at the door, hands in pocket and noses turning red from the cold, unaware that they were stalling like dying cars. Suddenly, Heero glanced around then stared at the profile of Duo's face, wistful and clearly fading into thought.
"Huh? —Oh!" Duo jerked to attention, sun-freckled face flushed.
The Japanese man extended his arm toward the door. "You first."
He shook his head, tinged with a half-nervousness about him. Holding out his palms, he contradicted, "No, you go ahead."
"No, you first. I'm paying, aren't I?" Heero's flawless face was planted in its characteristically stubborn and stoic poise.
As Duo fidgeted slightly, once again struck by the pure blueness of his comrade's eyes and the ferocity and feral glint in them, he could feel them zero in on him and follow his every move. It was eerie in a way, too. After nine years of losing touch with Heero, he'd become a flat idol in his mind, just a painting or photograph. Just a thought paired with an infatuation and mental picture. But now that he was here again in real life, the animation he had, however little displayed, was striking. He could shift his weight to the left, and staring into those Prussian blues, he could watch them follow his every, tiny, insignificant move as intently as a dog watches its master. He'd always been like that, even back in the war but he'd taken it for granted… and God, it was intoxicating—Heero interacting with him… like he was the only thing.
But he couldn't have, no, no way would…
Reality came like a cold slap of water. "Yeah, yeah, I'm going." Flipping his long plait of hair over his back, he took the stairs leading up to the iced coffee shop two at a time, which was oozing warmth from the window on the door, Heero following. He opened the door and another tinny ring sang meekly out above him. The warm air hit him like a heater bursting into flames, waking up molecules that had been dead from cold. He hadn't even noticed he couldn't feel his fingers until he walked in, and then they were burning from cold. As Duo rubbed his fingers together, Heero walked up beside him and paused as well.
"Where are we going to sit?" he asked, between the breaths he used to warm his hands. "Anywhere special?"
"Just my usual." Heero's eyes instinctively scanned the half-empty coffee house, a useless and as-good-as-dead defense mechanism left imprinted in his brain from the war.
"That tells me a lot," Duo grumbled, groggily following Heero as he went to a window booth to the right of the door. Heero tossed his coat into the far side of the booth, while the American stiffly staggered in on the opposite, with his back to the door, and sat down tiredly. He was surprised how much his feet hurt when he stopped walking. Emitting a small grunt of soreness, Duo shed his coat, overcome by the fierce warmth of the coffee shop, both from the mochas and the heating system. In his peripheral vision, he could see Heero grabbing coffees for the both of them and paying with a spill of metal on the counter. He locked downcast violet eyes with the saltshaker, as not to stare at Heero in his uniform alone tail only partially tucked in. Maybe if the little saltshaker started tap-dancing, that might keep his eyes off him…
Heero sat down and clinked two coffee mugs onto the table gently, pushing one toward Duo. He took a drink from his own, testing it, and stared at Duo's skin under the wife beater. "You like mocha, right?"
Duo's face cracked into a smile. "Yeah!" Now that he recognized the smooth, brooding scent, he snagged it up quickly and warmed his fingers on the hot porcelain and leaned forward into the steam. His eyes shot across to Heero. "How did you know? I doubt we ever talked about coffee."
The Japanese man was drinking and staring into the dark cup of strong black coffee. "Quatre told me," he said flatly.
Duo blinked for a second, then turned his gaze upward to think. "I wonder how Quatre found out… Oh, anyway, let's talk." The clink of porcelain and the eager tone in the baritone voice brought Heero's attention up to a heart-shaped face, lips bubbling with unspoken conversation and news from the last nine years. He waited for a stream of anecdotes of what Duo had done the last few years; a stream of self stories, but was caught off guard when he suddenly said, "So Hee-chan, why'd you become a policeman?"
"Hn?" Why a question about him?
"Why'd you join the force? You know… coppers, the black and whites, the good guys." He snorted and his grin broadened. "After being a terrorist for most of your life, this seems like a turn in the opposite direction to me."
Heero dropped his Prussian eyes to his coffee cup, feeling the familiar dark reserve of not anti-socialism, but fear to talk and open up. 'Not now,' he thought forcefully, 'not now… not to Duo. Duo would never hurt me if I opened up, he's my friend…'
"I guess I… wanted to protect people more. Not like we did when we had our Gundams, not with all the wasted and destroyed life that came with, but just to protect their happiness…" He found it amazing that he didn't falter and that he hadn't formulized some short and precise answer, even to himself.
"Wow, that's noble…" Duo answered, eyes focused on Heero completely. Engorged with Heero. "I guess you are a just a nice guy under all that badass pilot."
Blinking through his thick, chocolate-colored bangs, Heero finally lifted his head up from staring at his coffee, but his finger still ringed the circumference of his mug in an uneasy habit. "What do you do now?" Heero asked.
The American gave a faked, nervous laugh. "Heh—Technically, I'm "in-between jobs" right now. The hours were just not working for me." He rubbed the nape of his neck and laughed again, a bit more relaxed this time.
"So you're unemployed."
"Yeah yeah, if you say so. I prefer Labor-Challenged."
"Are you looking for a job in Seattle?" Heero questioned, sipping from his coffee but not shying away from starting at the caricature expressions crossing Duo's face in rapid progression.
"No, not really. The last year or so I've been basically on one endless road trip across America. I'm supposedly from this place, so why not explore it all?" His purple eyes turned slightly wistful. "Hell, I could even come across some remote family member if I were so lucky… But basically, I'm just trekking around and looking for a nice place to settle down, even if it's for a few months. You know, just trying out places." He cocked his arms behind his head and relaxed against the leather booth, looking Heero tiredly in the eye. "Hitchin' a ride most of the time, mind you. I'm trying to save up my severance pay for a down payment."
Two masculine eyebrows furrowed and Heero's eyes seized on his face confusedly. "Severance from what?"
'Oh shit. Shitshitshitshit.' A visible flinch went straight through him, squinting his eyes shut, unable to believe that he'd let his tongue slip over something that important. 'Goddammit…' Regret accented by memories of burning shame and pain rocketed through his stomach and clawed at his back and neck, trying to get back out, trying to see the light after all these years. He didn't want to remember. He'd buried it and now Heero had ripped it out of its grave like it was a rag doll buried under toothpicks.
Heero stared at Duo, taken aback by the uncharacteristically dark look he had adapted all of a sudden. His violet eyes bore straight at him with no life in them, shadowed. Frightened by the almost schizophrenic change in his friend, Heero slowly said, "…Duo?"
The American rubbed at the point between his eyebrows with a sigh and admitted in a gravelly voice, "I was fired from the Sweepers a few years ago… that's what I was severed from…"
He sighed again. Avoiding eye contact with Heero anymore, he dove his mouth tiredly into his coffee cup.
Heero began to screw his face up and lips to form the word, "Why?" but two eyes zeroed in on him dangerously and caught it before it could be said.
"I'd rather not talk about it… Heero." His finger trailed along the edge of the coffee cup "But really, I never wanna talk about it."
Heero just blinked. "Duo? Are you okay?"
Shinigami eyes leapt up from the coffee cup, eyes of purple fire, eyes of death that saw through him again, like they had before, in the war, as if they were talking about the possibility of it being the last mission. Like his eyes had been when he'd confronted him in his dorm room just before he self-destructed Wing in Siberia, face framed by the yellow light of the hallway. "I'll be just fine if we never talk about the Sweepers or anything slightly related to them again, understand?" When Heero said nothing, just trying to comprehend what could have happened to cause for Duo hate the Sweepers so much to loath even hearing the name, the brothers who'd taken him in, fixed his Gundam, given him a warm place to sleep, he stared harder. "Understand?"
It was Heero's turn to sigh. "Completely."
After a few more drinks from his mocha, Duo finally put the mug down and settled back into the leather cushion of the booth, brushing a few bangs back into place and glancing out the window. The sun was arching over the damp blacktop and tiny drifts of snow, almost catching fire. He sat watching it for a few more moments. The sun, an odd morning color of melting orange glared him back in the eye and he turned away when it hurt. Duo glanced back up at Heero, uncomfortably staring at his hands on the table. He huffed into the air.
"Well, now that I've managed to kill the atmosphere with a sledgehammer… where do you live, Hee-chan?" His face had shifted effortlessly back to its bouncing, profusely energetic caricature shape, once again smiling. The sun pouring into the shop turned his face yellow with light.
"Here," Heero said flatly, in a plain, innocent tone and cute, half-confused face. It was clear that he was still shaken up by the seething Duo he'd just seen, and hell, Duo could understand. If he'd been watching himself just a few moments ago, he was sure he'd be scared shitless. Good thing Heero finally regained his composure and gave a sensible answer. "Outside the city a half of a mile."
"Nice house?" Duo asked, scratching at his exposed collarbone. He dipped his mouth in the coffee cup then licked his lips and put it back down.
"Uh…yeah. Nice house," Heero parroted, eyes suddenly prone to wandering away from Duo's face. "It's roomy. But I'm only going to be there for another month or so."
This perked curiosity. "Why are you leaving so soon? And you said so yourself, it's a nice house; why move out?" Duo asked, one eyebrow cocked and gesturing with his elbows on the table. "You're not in trouble with the mafia are you? Because if you are, I know some—"
"I'm moving to Japan," Heero said flatly, retrieving his drink.
Duo's two violet orbs engorged into saucers, and his face split in half with a grin until Heero was sure something had to pop, whether it be his dimpled cheeks or his eyes themselves. "Honto ni? Can I come with?" The American leaned across the table, causing the provided silverware to clatter in the metal basket on the side, and clasped his hands in front of Heero's face. "Please, Hee-chan, tell me I can come with! It'll be just like old times, huh? We can egg the old schools we stayed at!"
Blinking twice, then once more, Heero stared at the begging, pleading purple eyes that seemed unnaturally big and shiny, and smiled. "No, no. I don't think that would be possible…" His gaze dropped off into the streets outside.
"Why not?" Duo asked, devoid of the immature whine he'd employed in his teens.
Suddenly, Heero's big blue eyes locked on his, a spark of fear and panic, of being put on the spot with a spear and glaring spotlight. His wild dark brown bangs clouded in his face, as he seemed to refer to the floor and door and yellow-lit window for advice, nervously tapping his fingers around his coffee mug. Expectant eyes focused on him from opposite the booth, as he bowed his head down, trying to bore his eyes into a niche in the wooden table so they would stray to Duo's face. With a half-sigh, he answered, "…Because I'm moving there with Relena after we get married on Christmas Day."
Chapter 2 Preview
A.C. 205: The misadventures in the coffee shop continue, testosterone is in abundance at the house, and Duo gets second place. Numskull's debut, a green greenroom, and hidden pictures come to the surface…