Spoiler Warning: This takes place between episodes 3 and 4 of the anime series, "Mobile Suit Gundam Wing".

All in the Same Boat

By Kuonji

            "Hey, Heero, whatcha doing?"

            Heero glanced at the black-clad long-haired boy who plumped himself down in a plastic chair next to him.  He was holding a bowl of what looked like vanilla ice cream in one hand and a short metal spoon in the other.  As soon as he had seated himself, he scooped up a large spoonful of the sugary stuff and popped it in his mouth.

            "Mmmm."  He closed his eyes and made a big show of enjoying the sweet dessert.  Heero ignored him, returning his full attention to his laptop, which displayed a map of the city closest to where they were now.  He had studied the geography of his likely landing area in detail before he landed on Earth, but some information was to be found only locally.  Integrating this information with what he already knew gave him something to fill his time with the past few days.  The fact that they were constantly moving kept the local networks changing, feeding him new information as they traveled.

            That was good.  More data was always useful, and he needed to be totally familiar with whatever data he could attain.  That was the best way to ensure his own survival, and by consequence, the survival of what he was fighting for.

            "You work too hard, man.  You've been looking over that stupid city for the last ten minutes.  We're not even going to dock here."

            Heero looked up again at the other boy, just in time to see him consume the last mouthful of his ice cream.  He frowned, watching him lick the spoon clean.

            This other boy was also a gundam pilot.  That was without question.  Just the fact that he had a gundam in his possession didn't necessarily mean a thing, but Heero had heard him talking to the mechanics and could tell that he knew how a gundam worked.  By the bits of conversation he dropped to Heero, Heero also knew that the other boy could and had piloted one before.  Still, it was hard to believe, first of all that there was another pilot like himself, and second of all that this chattering air-headed boy was it.

            No, not like me, Heero amended, ignoring him once again.  He's not like me at all.  How did such a smiling idiot become a gundam pilot?  I wonder if he's ever killed before...

            "Yo, do you ever talk at all?"

            Heero looked up, irritated at the constant interruption.  The boy was watching him with that wide dark-blue gaze that was becoming damnably familiar.  "I talk when I have something worthwhile to say," he replied pointedly.

            The other boy raised an eyebrow.  "Makes sense," he said, grinning.  "So, you feel like saying anything worthwhile right now?"  Heero grunted, exasperated, and turned back to his laptop.  He typed in a command and the screen switched from the street map to an altitude map of the city.  However, he was interrupted again before he could get a good look at it.

            "Hey, do you want some ice cream, too?  I can get it for you.  You know, with your leg and all..."

            Heero scowled at the reminder, glancing down at his broken leg.  All of his other wounds were well enough by now to allow his body to function at acceptable efficiency, but his leg was a different story.  The pain was not a problem, but the hindrance of movement grated on him.  He knew that to regain full use of his body he had to let it heal and so could not push himself too hard, but he hated not being able to get around as freely as he normally could.  "What I want," he growled, "is to take a look at my mobile suit."

            The black-clad boy shook his head, his smile dropping for a moment.  "Nuh-uh.  I'm not letting you climb up there, not with your leg like that."

            Heero scowled again.  He knew that he couldn't climb up unassisted, but the other boy had refused to assist him and had gone so far as to tell everyone else on this vessel to do the same.  He supposed that he could force someone to help him at gunpoint, but though he didn't know yet what it would take to repair his gundam, he was pretty sure that he would need to use the mechanical facilities on this carrier.  Threatening someone who worked here would not be conducive to that end.  Even though he dearly wanted to.

           No help for it now.  But as soon as he was able, he was going to get up on to his gundam and run a full diagnostics check.  And if anyone touched his mobile suit before then, that person was going to die.

            "Look, it really wouldn't be that big a deal for us to fix it for you.  Howard and his guys are real good.  Are you sure you don't want-"

            "No."  Heero glared at the other boy, daring him to ask again, knowing that he probably would anyway the next day, as he always did.

            The boy shrugged.  "Fine, fine.  Whatever you say.  Anyway, do you want ice cream?"

            Heero started to growl a negative answer, then thought, At least it'll get him away from me for a few minutes.  "Sure."

            "Alright-y.  Be right back."  Another cheerful grin, and he departed.  Heero glanced up once to watch him go, then fell back to studying the map.

            All too soon, the boy returned.  "Here you go."  A bowl of ice cream was shoved in front of him, a spoon stuck into it at the side.  It was then that Heero realized the flaw in his plan.  He might have gotten the other boy away from him for a short time, but now he would actually have to eat the ice cream.  And no doubt, the boy would watch to make sure that he did so.  He hesitated.

            "I don't want it anymore.  You eat it."

            "Nah, I got myself some more."  Heero saw that it was true.  The other boy had another bowl that was, if anything, heaped higher with ice cream than the one currently in front of Heero's face.  Heero sighed internally, then took the proffered bowl.  He looked at it uncertainly.

            The other boy plopped down in the chair next to him again and leaned over to look at Heero's laptop screen.  Heero fought the urge to bark at him as the back of his head swung into Heero's line of sight to the screen.  "So, you're on weather patterns now, huh?  Why do you do this anyway?"  Thankfully, he sat back from blocking the screen when he said this.

            "Do what?"  Heero asked testily as he watched the boy scoop up some ice cream and put it in his mouth.

            "Look over all the cities we pass, study their info and stuff.  You don't need to unless you're going there."

            Heero frowned.  "You never know when you may have to."

            The boy shrugged.  "That's true.  But all you really need is the street map until you're actually there.  That's all I bother to remember.  Long as I won't get lost and can shake anyone who's after me, I'm happy.  I couldn't remember all that other stuff, anyhow."

            Heero was surprised.  "You memorize the street maps?"

            "Yeah, sure.  I've spent a lot of time bouncing around places by myself.  I know how useful a good sense of local geography is."

            Maybe he wasn't a fool after all, Heero conceded.  Then he watched as the other boy shoved a heaping spoonful of ice cream in his mouth and chewed with exaggerated bliss.  Not a complete fool, Heero amended.

            "You going to eat your ice cream?  It's melting."

            He was right.  It was.  Heero picked up his spoon, glanced a few times between it and the bowl, and finally lifted a small spoonful to his mouth.

            The taste was astounding.  It was disgustingly sweet and milky and creamy and cold.  And it melted slowly on Heero's tongue, leaving a pool of sweetness in his mouth with a cold lump of semi-solid stuff still left in the middle.  The surprise must have shown on his face for an instant because the other boy laughed.

            "What's the matter, Heero?  You never had ice cream before?"

            "No."  Heero swirled the stuff around with his tongue and swallowed.  It left a thick cold burn down his throat, not unpleasant.

            "You're kidding!"  Heero looked up.  The other boy was staring at him, open-mouthed.  "You never had ice cream before?" he repeated.

            Heero frowned.  "No," he answered again.

            "Wow, you poor bastard.  You've been missing out!"  Heero shrugged and ate some more ice cream.  "I like chocolate-dipped ice cream bars better, actually," the boy said after a while.  "But any ice cream at all is a treat.  You know, I probably shouldn't laugh at you, because I never tasted any myself until I was almost ten."  He glanced at Heero, probably waiting for him to say something, but Heero ignored him and he shrugged, continuing, "Anyway, I hate to see anything go to waste, especially food.  The freezer's malfunctioning and the ice cream's either going to get eaten or get melted.  I volunteered with the eating part."  He smiled broadly.  Heero continued to eat without a word.  "So," the boy said, "what do you think of it?"

            It's good, Heero thought, catching himself from licking his lips.  For some reason he could not identify, he didn't want to give the other boy the satisfaction of knowing he had introduced Heero to something enjoyable.  So out loud, he said, "It's impractical.  It melts."

            The boy was silent for a second, and then he burst out laughing, causing Heero to glare at him with more force.  "It's..." he gasped between chuckles, "It's impractical!  Heero..." he dissolved into chuckles again, doubling over, his ridiculous long braid jiggling as his shoulders heaved from mirth.  "Ohhh, geez, Heero.  I swear, man, you have got to loosen up."  He wiped tears from his eyes, chuckling harder.  "So," he said after he had calmed down somewhat, "what's so impractical about melting ice cream?"

            Heero shrugged, starting to feel stupid under that cheeky blue-violet gaze and not liking the feeling.  "It doesn't stay the same.  Once it melts, it's just sugary soup."  He stirred the half-melted remnants of his bowl of ice cream to illustrate.

            The boy shrugged.  "So you have to enjoy it while you can.  Besides..."  He licked his spoon, his own bowl of ice cream already completely gone.  "There's always more, right?  Refills available on request."  He winked and held out his hand.  Heero looked at it, wondering what he wanted.  The boy grinned and clarified, "You want more ice cream?  Howard has a huge tub of the stuff and you might as well help me not let it go to waste."  Heero hesitated, then nodded, handing his bowl to the boy.  "Okay, be right back."  Another wink, and then he was gone again.

            Heero watched him go, his braid swinging behind him.  I'm not like him at all...  The thought made him feel a bit regretful somehow.  He scowled, not liking that feeling either.

            For once not looking at his laptop, Heero stared out over the deck railing at the blue expanse of the ocean.  He could see the soft waves that rippled away from the carrier as it drove its path through the water.  He was on the side facing away from land, and so the ocean seemed to stretch forever and ever, until it joined with the sky at the horizon.  It was a calming and beautiful sight.  There were no oceans on the colonies.  Heero wondered what else Earth had to offer that the colonies did not have.

            "It's a real pretty view, isn't it?" an age-roughened, though cheerful, voice said.

            Heero glanced up to see the chief mechanic and captain of the vessel, known only as Howard.  He wore his usual angled sunglasses and loose-patterned colorful shirt (Hawaiian, he remembered the style was called) with requisite shorts and sandals.  He sat down in the seat that the long-haired boy had vacated moments before.

            "Hn," Heero answered, returning his gaze to the never-ending body of water passing by before them.

            "You two boys getting along all right?"

            Heero looked up sharply.  The old man was gazing out at the ocean and did not look at Heero.  "Hn," he replied.

            "Getting to be buddies, eh?"

            "Soldiers don't need 'buddies,' " he responded tersely, sensing that the man was making slight fun of him.  Particularly not ones who'd rather sit around eating ice cream than do their jobs seriously.

            Howard chuckled, reminding Heero irritably of that other boy.  Why was everyone so damn cheerful?  Didn't they know there was a war going on?  They all talked too much, too.

            "Everyone needs friends, kid.  Especially soldiers."  The eccentric old man turned to look Heero in the eye, peering over his sunglasses at him.  Heero glared back, not willing to dignify that ridiculous statement with an answer.

            Howard ignored his look and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head.  "From what I can see, being a gundam pilot's pretty lonely, isn't it."

            Heero frowned.  "Loneliness is not a relevant concern," he stated dismissively, and turned back to his laptop.

            "There's probably more of you guys, you know," the raspy voice put in casually.  "Five in all, I would guess."

            "Hn."  Like everyone else on the planet, Heero had heard of the other 'meteors' falling to Earth, and he had wondered after meeting the other boy if there might actually be other pilots.  He had hacked as far into the OZ network as he safely could soon after he reached Earth, and had uncovered some dubious evidence showing that there had been attacks on OZ facilities around the world, attacks much as he would have carried out had his gundam not been damaged before landing, and such that the other boy had carried out, if he were to be believed.  Heero didn't bother to think about it, however.  Even if there were other gundam pilots, they weren't necessarily his allies.  In fact, it was better to assume that they were not.

            "And I'm willing to bet that the others' gundams are almost identical to yours, just as Duo's is."

            Heero turned back to the man, frowning thoughtfully.  "Why do you think so?"  This question had been bothering him as well.  The other boy's mobile suit did seem to be virtually identical to his own in its basic structure and programming.  It was uncanny.  And suspicious.

            Howard shrugged.  "Call it a hunch."  He tilted his head and gestured in the direction the other boy had gone.  "Maybe you should ask Duo for some ideas on the matter.  Wonder what he thinks about the fact that his 'partner' isn't entirely unique?"

            I don't think he thinks much in general.  "I doubt he has any ideas."

            "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure."  Howard smiled.  "He might talk a lot, but he doesn't say all he knows.  You should be nicer to him, kid.  He might have saved your life."

            Yeah, after he shot me and got me captured in the first place, you mean.  Heero regarded him sullenly.  Crazy old man.  Just what does he want?

            "Anyway," Howard added, "seeing as how you're both doing the same job, you're bound to meet up with each other again.  And if there really are other pilots, chances are you'll run into them as well.  At the very least, getting along with the others would make working together more pleasant.  Keep an open mind, Heero."  Apparently having had his say, Howard stood up and dusted his shorts off.  He shrugged his shoulders carelessly.  "Just a suggestion."

            "What are you two gabbing about, Howard?"  Heero turned sharply at the voice.  The boy had returned, walking carefully with a load consisting of two large bowls of vanilla ice cream.

            "Hey, Duo," Howard called out.  "I see you're taking care of the ice cream for us, huh?"

            "Yep," the boy returned cheerfully.  "And Heero here's helping."  He handed one of the bowls to Heero, who took it without a word.

            "That's great, Duo.  See how much you two can finish off before it has to be chucked overboard.  I had about all I could stand this morning, and the boys have had enough, too."  Howard waved as he left.  "Later, you two.  I'll be in the hangars working on your baby if you need me, Duo.  She's just about all repaired."

            "Thanks, Howard!" the boy called after him.  He dropped down in the battered plastic chair next to Heero.  "Funny old guy.  I... met him the day I landed here with my gundam.  He sure knows a dang lot about mobile suits and about the gundams.  I think he knows more than he lets on."

            Heero agreed silently, noting to himself to keep that in mind.

           "So, Heero, still got nothing to say?"  Heero ignored him.  "Just nothing worthwhile, huh?"  Heero glared at the other boy, bristling at the implied insult.

            Duo just grinned back at him, his lively eyes sparkling.

            Idiot, Heero thought, emphatically.  As soon as I can, I'm leaving, he decided.  It was convenient now to stay here where he could heal and rest with no significant fear of discovery, but once his leg was healed and his gundam repaired, he was gone.

            Heero finished the rest of his ice cream without another word.