Bounty Hunters: Case #346578-01

Betaed by Skippyscatt

Heero realized he'd made a mistake. He couldn't have helped it if he'd tried, but now he had to fix it.

When he'd walked off after Mariemaia he'd seen the tears in Duo's eyes, but he had no control over himself, he couldn't have turned around if his life had depended on it. J. had triggered his final sleeper command.

When he'd gotten where J. had commanded him to go, he''d been told that he was to be retrained

"I know you think I'm going to try to turn you into something you don't want to be. However, as you've actually managed to survive this war you will be rewarded. I'm going to break your training and enable you to live in the peaceful world you've fought so hard to make.

"You'll never be demonstrative. It's not in your nature, but you will need more emotions than a Perfect Solder is allowed. Now."

Heero didn't remember much after J. said a short sentence of nonsense words to him. Until he'd awakened six weeks later feeling like he'd self destructed again. He'd spent the next week getting back into shape, he found that he liked training and had continued with it, he also found that he really hated protean bars and energy drinks. He liked sushi and pizza and Mexican food. He didn't like pork in any form except bacon nor did he like tofu. It was amazing how much feeling he had now, he'd actually over loaded and had to learn to control himself all over again. He'd experienced crying jags and attacks of almost uncontrollable fury.

But he'd undergone extensive therapy for weeks until he felt emotions even enjoyed them and still kept them under control. That was the trick keeping them under control without suppressing them.
And he'd learned. Although he still felt somewhat awkward at times.

When J. was sure he wasn't going to do something stupid he'd called him into his office and presented him with his life. He actually had a business. He was an expert in computer security and cooperate espionage as well as being a more than competent skip tracer.

Using these skills, he'd started hunting for Duo. He''d been hunting ever since. Trowa, Wu Fei and Quatre didn't know where he was, he'd cut off all communication with them. Quatre said it was because he missed Heero so much when he saw the other pilots. Wufei said it was because he couldn't afford the subspace charges.

He used every trick in his massive bag of same but every lead came up empty. He had been hunting for over a year now and was beginning to wonder if he'd ever see that braided baka again.

All he knew was what he'd been able to find out from Quatre, Duo had bought a salvage ship and was working out on the rim of the solar system helping clean up some of the mess the Gundams had left. Not a good job, there was plenty of unexploded ordinance and other dangerous things floating around out there. That worried Heero, Duo's old ship wasn't really up to the job he was forcing it to do. What if it had given up the ghost and taken Duo with it. It didn't bear thinking of.

Finally he found him in a large Sanq space port city. His ship had been repossessed, which was how he found Duo. His ship was up for sale, as scrap. Heero decided he was going to find Duo there, he just knew it.

Heero arrived at the air port and found that it was right next to the space port. He went straight to the salvage yard to see Duo's ship. He was hoping to find Duo there but he didn't, all he found was a very obnoxious fool who started bothering him almost immediately

"Hey man, I got good stuff, all in A-1 condition. Re-po mostly, some hock stuff. Take a look, got a real nice chip set repoed from that Maxwell guy. I mean it's nice if you like 20th century old calendar music. Rock n' Roll or something."

"Maxwell? Duo Maxwell? How'd you get his chip set? He prized . . ." Heero reached out and took the man by the throat, careful not to crush it just yet.

"Urk! . . . He . . . The bank said lock him out. They didn't say anything about letting him have anything but his clothes. And I even got most of them. Ya wanna see? I'll make ya a real deal."

Heero knew that the man had no right to anything that was Duo''s personal property. All he should have taken was the ship and any cargo that wasn't assigned.

"You bastard. I'll make you a better deal. Everything you stole off Maxwell in exchange for your life."

"Well . . . everything but the notebook. I promised . . ."

"Especially the notebook. You . . . ."

Heero took a deep breath before he did something he wanted to. He didn't need the aggravation of explaining how he'd accidentally' strangled someone who desperately needed it.

He pulled out his pistol, stuck the working end under the man''s nose and snarled, "My name is Heero Yuy, I'm that Heero. Duo Maxwell is my friend and I'm taking back everything you stole from him. Now! And don't think you'll get away with anything. I have a pretty good idea of exactly what he had."

Heero soon left the premises with a large box of clothing, Duo''s precious MP3 chip set, his notebook and not much else. All the manga had been sold or given away, and the man swore there hadn't been any guns or knives. Heero didn't believe him, but he'd wait until Duo told him what he'd had before coming back and taking it out of the idiot's hide.

The other thing he'd gotten from the man was Duo's last known land-based address. He headed there straight from the port. The landlord told him that Duo had moved out when he'd gotten a job as a welder''s assistant. At Heero's, look he'd explained that no matter how good he was, he couldn't get a welding certificate at his age. He gave Heero Duo's new address, remarking that the only reason he'd moved out was because it was closer to his job site. He gave him that address too.

"You know, I'd have carried him forever. His apartment is a basement and cheap as hell, besides we all owe the Gundam Pilots more than we can ever repay. How you know him? Serve with him?"

Heero eyed the man for a long moment, he'd had some trouble with people who'd found out who he was. But this man didn't seem the type. So he just nodded then decided to take the man further into his confidence.

"Yeah you might say that. I'm Heero Yuy. I''m hunting for him. We're friends."

"Hey! Heero Yuy? Damn, I wish he was here. Talked my ear off about you. Really missed you.
Said you had business to take care of after the war, but he always told me you'd show up sooner or later. Too bad you couldn't have shown up before they took his ship. I think that finally broke him.
He really tied one on, spent the better part of a week soused.""

Heero looked at his watch wondering if he should try Duo's job but decided that he didn't want to.
He'd rather meet Duo somewhere more private than a welding shop. But he could go watch him for a while, after all he was a retired terrorist, if he couldn't sneak into a welding shop and watch a simple welder's assistant without getting caught, he'd better find a new line of work.

What he saw made him sick to his stomach. Duo sat on a pile of scrap head hanging, shoulders slumped dejectedly, as a fat, greasy old man dressed him down.

"Damnit boy, I told ya, you gotta clean them channels out good. If one of em clogs we gotta take the whole fountain down and ream it out. Stick your arm right . . . "

"Yeah, Yeah, I know. Will ya let me eat in peace. I''ll get right on it. After I finish my lunch."

"Yeah, smart mouth, maybe you might like to see if Anderson has an opening."

Duo just sighed, shook his head and bit into his sandwich.

"Sorry, I'll do better."

Heero wanted to shoot the prick but he knew that most kids their age didn't need a job. Duo was going to have trouble no matter where he worked because his bosses would know he didn't have anyone to fall back on. Except Duo had him now and he'd see to it that he didn't work here much longer. Heero wondered why Duo didn't use his computer skills to do something more in his line.

He shifted around so he could get a better look at all of Duo, he was way too thin, his ribs showing where his tight fitting t shirt clung to his torso. He was also ragged, every stitch of clothing he had on had a hole or tear or two in it.

Duo picked at the newest cut on his wrist. He muttered, Damnit, it looks like I'm a cutter Every time he stuck his hand into the spray tube assembly, he cut himself. He was responsible for cleaning out the welding waste so it wouldn't clog the pumps but the welds were ragged inside and he nicked and cut himself constantly.

Heero was horrified, his beautiful Duo was hurting himself. Why, he didn't know, but it was going to stop, now. Heero's smile was nothing short of feral, he would deal with Duo's problem himself.
He knew what would happen if he took Duo to a hospital. They wouldn't have the slightest idea how to deal with a Gundam Pilot.

They'd have Duo so drugged up that he'd never recover. Duo didn't metabolize drugs like ordinary people and drugs that worked were so powerful that he'd be confused, which would make him panic. Then it would be a vicious spiral into complete escape from Oz mode. It didn''t bear thinking of, so he didn't, instead he thought of how to help Duo.

First he acquired an apartment, furnished of course. Then he made a very sub rosa purchase of a very expensive sedative. It was one of three that worked on Duo without side effects, except for a nasty headache.

He carried in Duo's things and put them in a closet, he had little of his own not having expected to need much, but he wasn't taking Duo back to his home until he was sure he was at least beginning to get better. He didn't want too many bad memories there, he liked his house too much to have bad memories associated with it. If Duo didn't like his home he'd have to sell it.

Heero actually sat down and started to type up a mission plan, laughing he snapped his notebook shut. He'd have to wing it on this one. He was well aware that planning and Duo didn't always go together.

First; how to get his hands on Duo, he wasn't worried about keeping him once he got him, he had everything he needed available. He'd gone to a military outlet to get restraints and the man had remarked that he was awfully hard on his girl. When Heero asked what the hell he was talking about the man had said he knew every cop in town at least by sight and strangers were usually into B/D but he couldn't like it. It was too hard on a body to wear standard police steel for very long.

Heero had politely thanked the man and left to find the nearest phone book. Now he had padded restraints and everything else he'd thought he'd need. And, embarrassingly enough a very fine braided leather flogger. He'd spent enough to get it free. He tossed that in the bottom of a drawer and promptly forgot it even existed.


Getting Duo drugged had at first seemed impossible until Heero found out that Duo went to a local bar every night after work and had one and only one beer. He also had the bad habit of leaving it on the bar while he played pool with whoever could be persuaded to take him on.

Heero shook his head, thinking, Stupid shit. He knows better. Anyone could slip him a mickey.
Good thing I'm not just anyone.'


Duo laughed, he was winning this one. He'd be able to get his chip set back from the bastard who had it. He'd be able to access his funds soon. Maybe even get back his ship. He'd tried to make it without using the funds he'd stolen from Oz but it hadn't worked. So he was going to start again,
using those funds and Quatre's contacts to start a business based on his computer skills. He might be down but he wasn''t out yet.

"I really feel strange, look just give me my money. I''m goin' home. I think I caught that flu going around."

Duo sagged against the pool table, he was dizzy and felt weak in the knees. As he started a floor ward slide, he felt hands grasp him and something solid butted against his stomach, then he passed out.


"It's ok, Mister. I'm a friend of his. I think he had one too many. I'll take him home with me. He may be gone a few days. We haven't seen each other in a while. So don't worry if you don't see him around. Spread the word, will you?"

Heero smiled at the man hoping that he was conveying the right amount of chagrin and irritation,
combined with open friendliness. It looked like he''d carried it off as the man just grinned back and shrugged.

"He deserves a vacation. That asshole he works for really makes him jump through hoops. Have fun and don't worry, if he gets fired I'll help him find a new job. He should have quit long ago. He's just too stubborn for his own good."

Heero just grunted, nodded and left with Duo draped over his shoulder, just like old times except that neither one of them was bleeding. Well that was way too easy. I wonder what's going to go wrong


Duo woke up with a splitting head ache and no idea where he was or how he got there. He eyed the ceiling for a moment and decided it surely wasn't the rat trap he'd been living in, the ceiling was way too clean for that. He started to put his hand to his head but it jerked to a stop way before it got where he wanted it to go.

He eyed the leather cuff on his wrist with distaste and some fear. He could pick the lock no problem.
He reached for his braid and realized that it was unbraided the heavy mass smelled clean and felt slightly damp.

He looked around, thinking a little frantically, Damn. Who's got me? Obviously someone who knows me.' He raised his head to look around better. Someone poked their head in the door.

"You awake? Duo? How's your head?"

Duo flopped down with a groan. He was dead and hadn't known it til just now.

"I'm in hell. I knew it. No ship, workin' for an asshole. Now I'm hearin' voices."

Heero sat down on the side of the twin sized bed and took Duo''s hand in his, I hate the look of those cuffs on him he started winding a roll of gauze around the abused flesh.

Duo grabbed for him with both hands, unfortunately one didn''t reach. The chain passed underneath his body denied his need with a sharp pull.

"Heero you're real, you're not a dream. I can feel ya . . . hey! What goes on? Hurry up with the rescue all ready. I wanna get outta here."

"I am rescuing you . . . . From yourself. Don't worry Duo, I'm real and I'm going to take care of you. You''ll see. It'll be ok. When you're feeling better I've got a lot to tell you. For now just let me say . . . I'm sorry I left like I did, I didn't have any choice. J. didn't leave me enough initiative to even say goodbye."

"Yeah? I don' believe that. All you had to do was shout over your shoulder that you'd be back. I . . .
I don't want to talk about this now. Let me go. I wanna leave. "

Heero looked at Duo, his arms were cut from wrists almost to the elbow. Not deep, just shallow cuts,
but so many of them. He held Duo for a minute. Duo didn't resist but he stayed limp and unresponsive, giving up for now. Heero finished bandaging Duo's arms and pushed him gently down on the bed again.

"Just rest some more. I'll get you some soup. I remember you like tomato soup and bread and butter. Would you like anything else?"

"Yeah, some answers and some aspirin. What the hell do you think you're doing? Why do you have me chained up like this? You gone kinky?"

Duo started yanking on the cuffs so Heero pinned him down to keep him from hurting himself. That only made Duo fight harder but he soon wore out and stopped. This worried Heero, Duo had worn out way too fast. He should have been able to fight harder and longer, he felt Duo's ribs against his hands and realized that Duo hadn't been eating well. And had probably been drinking, his trip to the bar every night the bartender had said that Duo only bought one beer. But he hadn't said he only drank one.
"Heero let me go. You can't keep me here forever. I . . . Heero what do you want? Just tell me what you want."

"I don't want anything except to help you. You''re too thin, you haven't been eating right and you've been working too hard. You don't understand what you've been doing to yourself.

"I understand the depression of not being useful anymore, it can drive a man to extremes, self-
preservation can fall by the wayside. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you nor will I let anything happen to you."

Duo stilled on the bed. What was Heero talking about? Self preservation? Depression? Not useful?
Duo decided that he d better cooperate until he could get out of there.

"That's ok Heero. I'm sorry if I seemed ungrateful. I've just been having a real run of bad luck. It's kinda made me cranky. I think I'd like some soup and something a little more stick to the ribs, if you've got it."

Heero relaxed with a soft sigh. If Duo was hungry that was good. Most people who were truly suicidal didn't have a good appetite. He went to the kitchen and opened a can of soup and poured it into a pan. The slight scuffling sound reminded him that he hadn't padlocked the cuffs. He should have known better, Duo was not only good at stealth he was an escape artist of some talent and extremely flexible.

Dropping the pan, Heero caught Duo half way down the hall and moving fast. He caught him around the waist and let him spin them both around to absorb the momentum of his dash for freedom which put him headed back for the bedroom. He half dragged half carried Duo back and dumped him unceremoniously onto the bed.

"Stay there. Dammit. Duo, why do you have to be this way?"

Duo hopped off the bed and headed for the door again.

"Damnit Duo. You can't run out naked. I'm gonna chain you to the bed if you don't stop that."

"You wouldn't dare. And why don't I have . . . damn you, Yuy, let go of me! Don't you dare! Get offa me!"

Duo squirmed and wriggled as Heero pinned him back on the bed. Heero got the cuffs back around Duo's wrists, locking the slide locks, then buckling the heavier straps around the cuffs and padlocking them. He flipped the chain around to Duo's back, then ran a chain from the head of the bed to the chain between Duo's wrists. He hated doing this, it was like chaining up a unicorn or perhaps a Pegasus, but he wasn't going to take a chance on Duo hurting himself anymore.

Duo swore and jerked at the chain, then tried to kick Heero. Heero sighed again, almost sighing over how much he seemed to be sighing, and found a short set of leg cuffs. He didn't want to do any of this but if Duo kicked him just right he'd be in trouble and Duo might escape before he could recover himself. He didn't want to think of the damage Duo might do himself before he found him again.

"Heero . . . Heero! Let me go. I'll be good . . . I promise . . . I'll do whatever you tell me to do. I'll make you happy, really I will, whatever you want buddy. Just let me loose. I don''t like this. The cuffs are too tight and the leg chain is way too short. Why ya wanna be a butt like this?"

"Duo, just shut up. I have to think this out. I'm not making any more mistakes. I made one and now I'm paying for it in sorrow. I don't think I can stand much more, therapy or no."

Duo thought frantically. Therapy? Heero? Shit! Can't stand much more? He's suicidal? Damn'
He bit at his lip then said, "Ok, Heero, I'll be quiet, just tell me what you want."

Heero gave Duo a long speculative look.

"I want you to cooperate. I'm keeping you here for a while. Just until things get better. But I'm not fighting you every time I turn around. If you're not good I'll punish you. J. says that punishment is the sure way to perfection." Heero stood up and sighed. "I'm going to the grocery store. I shouldn't be gone long. Twenty minutes should do it. Be good or I'll punish you. Do you understand?"

Duo gulped and nodded vigorously. He wasn't going to push Heero just now, he had a good idea of what J. had done to Heero and he wasn''t interested in experiencing the same treatment. He'd just have to get away and see if he couldn't help Heero somehow. Maybe Quatre would have some idea of what to do.


Duo wriggled uncomfortably, he was cold. Heero had left him strapped to the bed and gone out.
He'd said he'd be back in twenty minutes, Duo shivered and grumbled, Damn him and his fresh air.
I'm freezin' my ass off.'

Duo really and truly felt like crying he'd dreamed of being naked in a bed with Heero this just wasn't exactly the picture he''d envisioned. He wondered if he could pull this off. He just wasn't the submissive type, and if Heero got too demanding he wouldn't be able to keep his smart mouth under control.


Heero hurried as fast as he could, he didn't want to leave Duo any longer than he had to. He didn't like the idea of him being helpless and alone but he liked the idea of what he could do to himself unsupervised even less. So he hurried.

Heero didn't know what brands of things Duo liked but he remembered the foods he liked. He just hoped Duo's tastes hadn't undergone major changes in the last eighteen months. He didn't think so.
He remembered that Duo liked oranges and apples. Granny Smith not Delicious. And navel rather than Valencia. He didn't much care for bananas. He liked almost any vegetable except cauliflower and lima beans. Heero filled his cart accordingly and added eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and the special coffee creamer he'd seen Duo secretly covet when they couldn't afford it.

Standing in the check out was agony, he had been gone almost ten minutes longer than he'd expected already and showed every sign of being gone a full hour rather than the twenty minutes he'd promised Duo. He glared the checker into hurrying but it back fired on him as the poor girl made a mistake and he had to wait until the manager could come and make a correction. When he finally got out of the store it had taken a full forty five minutes and he still had to drive back to the apartment.


"Duo I'm home!"

Heero dumped the bags of groceries on the kitchen table and started putting things away. Only to head for the bedroom at Duo's panic stricken voice.

"Heero, Heero, let me up. I can't . . . please . . . I'll be good . . . I'll do whatever you want, just let me up. Please, please. I can't stand it . . . please."

Heero snatched at the straps unlocking and unbuckling as fast as he could. Duo was white as a sheet and sweating, the shaking was bad too. He got Duo loose and hauled him into his arms

"Oh, Duo. I'm so sorry. It took longer than I thought it would. Let me . . ."

"Heero, I gotta go."

"Duo, I'm not letting you go anywhere. You have to stay here."

"Heero . . . I gotta piss. Now."

Duo jerked himself out of Heero's arms and headed for the bathroom to Heero's embarrassment. He realized that he was going to have to be much more aware of such things in the future or Duo would never forgive him. He probably wouldn't anyway, but Duo was more important than any hopes Heero might be giving up.

Duo emerged from the bathroom before Heero had a chance to worry, and giving Heero a sheepish look reached automatically for the foot of the bed where he should have had a pair of jeans. At his blank groping Heero felt guilty but he couldn't allow Duo even the dignity of a pair of boxers. Not yet, not while he might hurt himself. It was easy to braid a heavy enough cord from strips of cloth.
He didn't want to come back from a job and find Duo hanging from the overhead.

"Un . . . Ro? I'd really like . . . umm . . . boxers? Maybe? You know. Not a brief man myself. But I'm . . . um."

Duo wasn't sure exactly what expressions had flitted across Heero's face he wasn't used to seeing any expression except that all purpose scowl and a funny moue, lower lip pooched out, that he'd used when blank or scowling wasn't appropriate and he needed something.

Heero sighed and squirmed a bit, Duo goggled at him, the sight of Heero Yuy squirming was something to see.

"Duo you can't have any clothes, not yet. Maybe later. When you get over . . . er . . . whatever it is you need to get over. I . . . I need to go put groceries away. Stay here and keep out of . . ."

Heero turned red and abruptly left locking the door behind himself and going to the kitchen again busied himself with putting the groceries away only to find that he was very carefully shutting the cabinet doors to keep from slamming them so hard that the doors cracked.

He decided to call Quatre and tell him everything. Quatre was still the organizer of the group. If any one of them wanted or needed anything he would either get it or tell them it wasn't available. None of them took advantage of Quatre, but they all relied on him. In a way it was a hold over from the war. Everything they got was paid for, just sometimes not right away. That was one of the reasons that Heero couldn't understand why Duo had allowed his ship to be repoed all he would have had to do was call Quatre. Quatre would have, not given him charity, but made sure that he had what he needed until he could get back on his feet.

Heero also didn't understand why Duo hadn't availed himself of some of the funds he was sure he'd liberated from Oz. He knew that there had to be some funds, he had plenty, J. had told him that he should give it back but he'd asked sarcastically who he was supposed to give it back to and also told J. that it was his pension. So Duo had money and Heero couldn't understand why he hadn't used it.
Sometimes depressed people didn't make the wisest choices.

After talking to Quatre and finding out that Duo had at first taken Quatre's calls and made calls of his own; been truly interested in news about Trowa and Wufei as well as asking about him but then he'd stopped calling and finally started refusing calls. It didn't make sense to Heero this gradual withdrawal from the circle of his friends. Then the loss of his ship. The only thing that Heero could think was WTF.

Heero decided to just ask Duo. It wasn't as if he was invading his privacy or anything. So he opened the locked door to the bedroom and started to call Duo. But Duo wasn't on the bed, a quick scan of the room left Heero shocked to his toes. Duo was huddled in a corner covered by his hair. All Heero could see was one wide violet eye.

Duo turned his head to gaze at Heero. He'd crouched down in the warmest corner of the room out of the draft from the window and done the only thing that he could do to keep warm, covered himself with a blanket of his hair. The chains were cold, so when he'd crouched down and before wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to conserve body warmth, he'd flipped the chains over his hair. He had no idea of the pathetic image he presented.

At Heero's choked cry Duo just gave in, letting Heero drag him from his crouch and wrap him in warm strong arms. He melted into Heero''s chest and just shivered like he was going to shiver right out of his skin.

"Oh Duo. You're so thin . . . and I forgot. You get cold so easily. I'm sorry. So very sorry. Let me"
Heero looked around the room and realized that while he wasn't cold Duo had to be freezing. He had on a pair of heavy jeans, a t-shirt and a denim over-shirt. Duo was naked and the draft from the window was blowing right over the bed. ""Shit! Here let me wrap you in a blanket."

"What blanket? There isn't a thread of anything in here that remotely resembles cloth. What the hell are you trying to do? Give me pneumonia? Yuy, you're . . . "

Heero had the grace to look more than shamefaced as he unlocked and removed the shackles.

Heero gave Duo a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt which he gratefully donned. He also took Duo into the living room and wrapped him in an afghan and a shawl. Settling him on the couch, he went into the kitchen and started tea.

"And don't make me any of that green crap! It tastes like boiled grass. Not for this boy, thank you very much."

Heero couldn't help the wide smile, this sounded much more like the Duo he'd striven so hard to find. But he couldn't help a nervous babbling as he rummaged for tea and cookies or crackers and cheese or would he like something else.

"Duo I don't know what brands you like but I remember the foods well enough if you don't like anything I got I'll eat it myself or we'll throw it out. So would you rather have Jade Star oolong or Ti Kwan Yin. Or there's Rooibous, I remember you liked that. And I''ve got some good Assam.
Kennelworth Estate. And I'll fix you an orange. You like oranges, don't you?"

Duo sat on the couch braiding his hair and listened to a Heero he didn't even recognize as he babbled on and on about the choices he was offering Duo. All Duo could think was Heero had lost his mind or this wasn''t really Heero at all, but who would pretend to be Heero or go to all this trouble to play a prank and he couldn't think of any reason for anyone to try to get any kind of information out of him this way so all he could do was sit pretending to be a deer in the headlights of an on coming wreck and wonder what the hell he'd gotten himself dragged into.

If Yuy was suicidal why was he going on about food and if he wasn't why had he disappeared and why . . . . Duo decided that there were too many whys and not enough answers. He needed to hold on and try to find out just exactly what was going on. Heero wouldn't hurt him, at least he didn''t think so. If he was going to hurt him, he wouldn't have tried to buy all his favorite foods. So that left; what? Why was he chained up and what was the situation and . . .

"Damnit! My head's starting to throb."

"What? What did you say?" Heero stuck his head out of the kitchen and eyed Duo for a moment,
then ducked back in as the kettle set up a shrill whistling. He decided on a tea and poured the water on the leaves leaving it to steep while he set out cups, cookies and fruit. He was going to get Duo back on his feet, fed up and well then they'd . . . see.

Heero finished making the omelette adding plenty of cheese, and gathered up the food. He knew that Duo liked oranges and tangerines but he also had bananas and grapes. He added the pot of tea and a glass of juice.

"Here you are. Eat up. You're way too thin.""

Duo looked at the mass of food and felt slightly ill. There was way too much for just him.

"I hope you're going to help me eat all this. I can't do it alone. Here, cut the omelet in half and we can share.""

Heero smiled, this was good. Duo blinked at Heero for a second, he'd smiled? This was new.

Heero went into the kitchen and got another plate. He cut the omelet in half and put one on the plate.
He took some grapes and tea. Heero put the plate with the other half of the omelet in Duo's lap along with toast, some bacon and a banana. Settling on the coffee table he started to eat. Duo stared at the plate that was a lot more food than he was used to eating in a day.

"Duo, don't just sit there letting it go cold. You need to eat. I want you to eat all this."

Duo eyed the plate full of food for a few seconds, then grimly began to eat. He wasn't going to eat all of this food but he was hungry so he'd eat all he could.
He managed about half the omelette, one piece of toast and a bite of the banana. He was full when he started to put the plate on the coffee table. Heero didn't let him get away with it. He picked up the plate and nearly force fed the contents to Duo. He coaxed Duo into finishing the whole plate.

Duo lay back on the couch, miserably full and getting a bit hot. He pushed the afghan off his legs,
squirming restlessly. His over stuffed stomach decided it wasn't happy and Duo made a quick dash to the kitchen. Heero was there cleaning off the counters. He jerked out of Duo's way as he leaned over the sink and vomited up everything he'd eaten.

Heero hurried to help him. He held Duo's braid out of the way as Duo bent over the sink. He also rubbed his back and finally put one hand on Duo's forehead as the vomiting made Duo weak enough that he had trouble holding up his head. Duo groaned and leaned against Heero's chest.

"Man. That was just too much, too rich and too fast. I just can't eat like that."

Heero bit his lip as he helped Duo sit at the kitchen table. ""I'm sorry. I thought it would be good for you. What . . ."

Duo held up a hand. "Don't worry. I just haven't been eating too good lately. I usually buy a beer at that pub. They have a snack bar, so if I buy a beer I can eat half way decent for the price of a brew.
But they only have it on Friday and Saturday, Sunday I go to the soup kitchen, but it's only open from four to six. I don't get off in time some days."

Heero pulled Duo against his side, running his fingers through sweaty bangs. "And the rest of the time?"

"Catch as catch can. Some days, MRE's. Others, energy bars. Whatever I can afford. Which, after rent, utilities and kickbacks, isn't much."


"Yeah, it's against half a dozen laws, but you prove it. Dare you."

Heero nodded. "I know. But we'll get you back on your feet first. Then we'll go after them. I swear .
. . now. You have to eat something. I'm sorry I made you sick. What do you think you could eat?"

Duo thought for a second. "I did like that omelet, but it was too much, and the cheese was too rich for me. I think some sort of soup. Maybe chicken. And bread, no butter. Tea again. The tea was good."

Heero raised an eyebrow. "Tea? I thought you only liked coffee. I figured you were only drinking tea to make Quatre and me happy.""

Duo shrugged. "At first, yeah. But I learned to like it. Especially when my stomach is upset. But like I said, none of that green crap. I really like that oolong . . . you know the one. It's little pills that smell like flowers."

Heero knew the sort. It was called Dragon Pearl Jasmin. He got up to fetch the tea and warm up some canned soup.

"Would you like some crackers instead? They re good for an upset stomach." Duo nodded. "Sure, crackers are fine. Thanks . . . um . . . sorry about the mess."

Heero just shrugged, turned on the garbage disposal and ran hot water. "Forget it. It's my fault. I'll clean the sink and we'll just go on from here."


Heero nervously cleaned the immaculate kitchen while Duo slowly ate the soup, nibbling at crackers between sips. He managed a bowl of soup and several crackers. The tea was sweet, which he didn't like, but he didn't feel like fighting Heero over a couple of spoons of sugar that he needed anyway.

After finishing his meal Duo returned to the couch to struggle with the afghan and pillows. Heero came in and efficiently tugged here pulled there and tucked somewhere else. He had Duo tucked in and comfortable in no time.

"Duo, when you feel better, we need to have a serious talk . . ." Duo started to say something but Heero held up his hand "Not now. You look awful. Rest for now. Give it a couple of days. We'll talk, figure out things. I'll take care of you. I swear . . ." Heero clapped his hands on his knees and stood up. "Well, not now. You go to sleep. I've got some work to do. I'll be in the small bedroom right there." Heero pointed to the door. "Yell if you need something . . . Oh, don't try to sneak out on me either. I'm not losing you again."

Duo bit his lip admitting to himself that that was exactly what he'd intended to do. He was a little scared of Heero right now. He wasn't sure what he was up to. He wasn't even sure he was glad to see him again. He settled back to nap, grumbling.

As he slept, Duo dreamed.

"Heero, ya wanna go to the arcade?"

Duo leaned over Heero's shoulder to look at his laptop. Heero shoved him, none too gently, and went back to his typing.

"Go yourself. I have to finish this mission report.""

Duo sighed, walked away and watched over his shoulder as Heero moved away.

He turned to chase after him but couldn't move.

"Nnoooooo. Heero. Come back. I need . . . don't . . . we've got to . . ."

Duo woke in a cold sweat with Heero's arms around him. It felt so good. He nestled into those strong arms, ignoring the twinge of foreboding that nagged in the back of his mind.

"Shhhh, Duo. It's ok. I'm here. I won''t go anywhere. I'm here to stay if you want me."

Duo sighed, he hoped Heero would let him go in a little while. He wanted Heero with all his heart but not this odd man. He wanted his dream Heero. The loving, kind man he knew Heero could have been if not for Dr. J and his training.

Heero held Duo and felt better, whatever was going on with Duo he could fix it.

"I'm sorry, Heero. I don't . . . I won't . . . I'll just rest. If I sleep, I'll just have another nightmare. I don't dream at night, only if I try to sleep during the day."

"I'll just lay here with you for a while if I can. I didn't sleep very well last night. I was all wound up.
Just settle here with me for a while. Then I'll get you something to eat and we can watch tv for a while. Ok?"

Duo nodded, settling against Heero's chest. "Sure, Heero. That'll be nice."

Heero gently stroked Duo's braid, thinking. He knew Duo wasn't suicidal. He didn't have any of the signs. He wondered what else it could be. He ran the symptoms through a mental check list of signs and symptoms he'd been taught to look for in the people he hunted. The only thing he could come up with was . . . nothing. He hadn't been around Duo long enough to see much.

Duo's appetite was good, but he wasn't eating. He wasn't suicidal but his arms were cut to pieces.
Things weren't adding up to anything Heero recognized, which he didn't like at all. He vowed to keep Duo safe from himself until he could figure out what was going on. He settled down with Duo on his chest and fell asleep.

Heero woke to the sound of his phone ringing. He answered and listened as one of his contacts told him that a bounty he'd been working on was at the docks trying to get off Earth. He swore softly and woke Duo.

"Mmmm. Wassat? Ro?"

"Duo, wake up. I have to go out. I've got a job."

" K. How soon will you be back?"

Heero bit at his lip. He didn't want to leave Duo strapped to the bed, but he didn't want to take a chance on him disappearing again either.

"If I go, will you swear to be here when I get back?""

Duo gave Heero a steady look. He wanted to say no but what would Heero do if he did?

"And don't think that saying yes then taking off will do you much good." Heero made his decision.
Duo's hesitation didn't bode well. If he said yes and took off, that opened a whole other can of worms and if he said no Heero was in deep. Either way he was going to make Duo angry. "Don't take off. I'll be back in one minute. Don't make me chase you down and strap you to the bed."

Duo gave a small snarl but stayed where he was. Heero returned in exactly one minute with a small electrical device. "Dammit, Duo I hate to do this, but I don't want to leave you helpless, nor do I want you taking off on me. So an e-leash it is."

Duo didn't even try to get away. Heero fastened the strap around Duo's wrist. It should have been put on his ankle, but Heero knew that if Duo could get to it with two hands he'd have it off in no time. He checked that it wasn't too tight, or loose enough that Duo could slip it off over his hand.

"I've got the apartment wired for this. If you go too far away, an alarm will go off. I'll track you with the self-contained GPS. And I won't be happy. I'll punish you. If you do anything stupid, I'll punish you."

"Yeah, yeah, all right already. You'll punish me. I get it. Geez, I wish I could get my hands on J. I'd give him punish. Shit. If you've got something to do you better get doing it. Go on. I'll be a good boy. I'll be right here when you get back. I swear."

Heero eyed Duo for a second then left. Duo hadn't looked angry, just sort of . . . sad? Heero swore virulently as he fished his equipment out of the back of his car and started putting it on.

The newest bullet resistant vest was nearly as thin as his t-shirt and sat comfortably under his black polo shirt emblazoned with a small badge over the left breast and the words Fugitive Recovery Agent' on the back. The black BDU pants were well worn and the pockets filled with useful things.
He holstered a 9mm and checked his Mace.

The drive to the dock area was uneventful and short. He located his target efficiently and easily. The man was stupid in the sly way of many criminals.

Heero drew his mace with his right hand and his 9mm with his left. He just cornered the man in a loading dock and told him to surrender or be maced or shot. The man decided to fight it out, Heero was not pleased in the least. He wanted to get this over with and get back to Duo.

His perp got exactly one swing in, Heero maced him with a long shot straight to the face. Watering eyes and burning lungs made it hard for the man to fight. Heero holstered his gun and Mace canister.
He grabbed the wheezing man by the collar and dumped him on the ground, straddling him Heero handcuffed him and dragged him to his feet.

"I don't believe you. I said I'd Mace you."

"Yeah, but you had it in your right hand. You're left handed, everybody says so."

Heero sighed, rumors ran in criminal society even faster than they did in high society. And like most rumors, they were usually wrong.

"So you had to push your luck."

"But, you're left handed and you had the gun in your left. I didn't do anything to get shot for. It's not fair."

Heero shoved the man into his SUV. "I'm ambidextrous, asshole. But my dominant hand is my right. Now shut up and sit back. I'm taking you to the station and checking you in. I've got someone waiting for me, so don't give me any trouble."

Heero checked his prisoner in through the nearest station intake and collected his bounty. He'd made 40,000 credits in less that 25 hours of actual work. Most of it done on his computer and telephone.
He headed back for his apartment, worrying. The alarm hadn't gone off but that didn''t prove anything.


Duo grumbled irritably, he wanted a shower. He wasn't sure how the e-leash would react to being wet then he realized that it had to be water proof or real criminals would be soaking them down every day. He decided that he wanted a shower worse than he worried about shorting out the electronic device.

As he washed his hair, something under the skin of his forearm caught in his hair. Duo finished conditioning and wrapped a towel around his head. He scratched idly at the scab and hissed in pain and irritation as his fingernail caught on something. It was a small sliver of metal stuck in the fleshy part of his arm. He must have picked it up cleaning out the spray assemble of the fountain he''d been working on. He'd done it before and once he hadn't caught it before the metal gave him an infection.

Duo dug around under the sink, looking for a first aid kit. When he didn't find one there, he went to the linen cupboard. He found one there. It was fairly good as over the counter ones go. It contained everything he would need to get the sliver out and dress the resultant wound.
Just as he was about to start trying to cut the metal out of his arm, Heero came in. Duo looked up startled as Heero snarled in fury. He put down the scalpel at Heero's command and gave him a blank look.

"Heero what is . . . ouch! Hey! Take it easy there.""

Heero grabbed Duo by one arm and dragged him into the bedroom. He dumped Duo on the bed and yelled at him.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Have you lost your mind? This sort of thing is completely unacceptable. You're not going to feel better by cutting on yourself. You have to stop it. Now!"

Duo was chilled to the bone. A cutter? What the hell was Heero on about? He didn't think he was.
All he wanted to do was get the irritating bit of metal out of his arm. He didn't want an infection.

"Heero, I'm not. I don't even know . . ."

The first smack startled him more than anything else. The next one hurt a bit.

Duo swore at Heero and demanded that he quit.

"I'm not going to quit. J. said that misbehavior has to be punished. I don't want you to think I'm going to allow that sort of thing. Now shut up and take your punishment."

Duo realized that Heero was angry enough that he wasn't going to be able to reason with him. He quit resisting and braced himself for a beating.

Heero stared at the two red hand prints on Duo's pale buttocks and gave up.

"Fuck. I can't do this. I just can't. Son of a bitch. Duo, you're making me crazy. What the hell is up with you?"

Duo ventured a quiet, "Heero?" then fell silent as he waited for Heero to decide what he was going to do.

"Duo. Please. I don't want to do this. I don''t know what to do. J. retrained me, but some of my socialization is unstable. I get angry too easily, especially when I think someone is being stupid. And . . . why are you cutting yourself. I know things are bad but . . . please, talk to me."

Duo let himself be eased into Heero's arms and relaxed against his chest. "Mmmm, nice. Heero.
Where the hell did you get the idea that I'm a cutter? And let me tell you, J. may think beatings are going to teach anything. But they don't, they only teach fear and hatred. Don't hit me. Ok?"

Heero just buried his nose in Duo's hair and nodded.

"I want you to understand me. You don't hit me. You do it again and I'm out of here. I don't care about tracking devices or anything else. Got me?"

"Yes. I understand. I'm sorry. I . . . lost my temper a little. I shouldn't have hit you. Please don't be mad."

Duo wriggled until Heero loosened his hold enough that he could look into Heero's blue, blue eyes.
"I should be mad. You take off, disappear entirely. You come back and tie me up. Smack my ass like I'm three. Don't answer my questions, then beg me not to be mad? One of us needs to get a grip and I don't think it's me."

Heero bit his lip, trying to figure out how to start. "I'm not sure where to start, so . . . When I was conditioned the first time, J. put a trigger phrase in my conditioning. When he triggered it at the end of the war, I didn't have any choice but to go to him. I couldn't even say goodbye. I'm so sorry."

Heero held Duo as he told his tale. He sighed at the end. ""So I hunted for you. And when I found you. You look so . . . bad. You're too thin. And your clothes are . . . rags."

Duo hugged Heero gently. "Well, that explains a lot. You'll tell me what you're doing to make a living, ok?"

Heero shrugged, "Later. Now . . . about your arms. What the hell did you think you were doing with that scalpel if you're not cutting yourself."

"Cutting myself. Only not the way you mean it. That''s just nuts. Look."

Duo showed Heero the cuts on his arms. "I've been working as a welder's assistant. And the pay sucks by the way. I haven't been able to get a decent job. I'm too young, no schooling, no training"
Heero made a derisive noise. Duo snorted. "Yeah, right. Whatever. So I got stuck with cleaning welding waste out of the spray assembly of a fountain we . . . they are making. I hate it and . . . I just quit.""

Heero gently took Duo's arm in his hands. "If you want to quit, that's fine with me. I can get you a job with me."" Duo opened his mouth to reject the charity. "Not a charity job either. I need help.
But we'll talk about that later. I want you healthy and in full control of your faculties. Now I just want to feed you up and take care of these cuts."

Heero ran his fingers over the cuts. Now that he got a good look at them he could see that they were ragged and messy. Not the straight, regular, neat cuts of a cutter. He felt the tiny prick of something just as Duo hissed in pain.

"Ow! Heero! Take it easy man. My arm is full of slivers. I've been cutting them out when they come to the surface. That's what I was doing just now. And . . . by the way . . . might really help our relationship if you would ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions. Ok?"

"I'm sorry, really. I'll try to do better. Come to the bathroom and sit on the commode. I'll see if I can't get that sliver out without cutting on it. I have a pair of tweezers that should do the trick."

Duo obediently sat on the commode and held his arm out, tender under arm up, along the counter; so that Heero could gingerly pick the sliver of metal out.

Heero examined the curl of metal with a frozen expression. ""What is that? I've only seen something like that when I cut some pipe."

Duo looked at the bit of steel and shrugged. "The assembly is made of pieces of pipe. The cut was probably ragged and the welder didn''t bother to clean it off before he did his thing. Most of the guys working there are criminals, they can't get jobs anywhere else and the foreman takes advantage like mad. They just go through the motions, doing as little as possible."

Heero dropped the sliver into the trash and went back to check Duo's arms for more. He took his time, enjoying just touching Duo. Duo relaxed too.

When Heero was sure he'd gotten all the slivers he could, he smeared Duo liberally with antibiotic cream and wrapped gauze around his forearms to keep the cream on his arms and off everything he touched.

"Geez, eero. I look like . . . I'm not sure what. Overkill, much?"

"Not over kill. You're right. That metal was filthy. I don't want you getting infected. And you're debilitated so it's a definite possibility."

Duo hung his head, shamefaced. "Well, it's been pretty slim pickin's lately. Um . . . is there any more soup? I'm hungry again. And, there's a bakery nearby that makes a killer seven grain bread.
Little loaves, like Quatre used to make? Can we get some?"

Heero finished putting the medical kit away and turned to see an eager expression on Duo's face.
"Sure, if you really like it. I'll get some tomorrow. It's almost dark and I don't feel like getting out the SUV." Duo started to say something but Heero cut him off. "Do not say We could walk it'
You''re not walking around out in the night chill in those clothes." Heero, upset from the scare Duo had given him, completely forgot about Duo's recovered possessions.

Duo sighed. "I know. I look like a street rat. I need some stuff too. Shampoo and conditioner,
deodorant and some toothpaste. I'm about out of everything. What's left in my apartment isn't worth going after."

"You have anything in that roach motel that you want? If you do, I'll go by tomorrow and get it.
Other wise, I'd just write it off as a total loss and abandon it."

"I'm on the abandon it page. Most of the clothing is in worse shape than what I had on. And by the way. I'd really like to have something to wear besides these sweats and an old t-shirt."

Duo plucked at the hem of the shirt with a frown.

"I'll get you something else before we go anywhere. You can wear my jeans. They'll be a little loose, but my shirts fit you fine. Ok?"

Duo nodded, plopped on the couch and sighed. "Heero. I''m glad to see you and all that. But could we can the drama. Frankly, I don''t think I'm fit to handle it. I really feel shitty, now that I''m not hustling my ass off just to keep a roof over my head . . ." He slid down prone on the couch. "In fact,
I think I'll take a little nap now."

Heero smiled as he fished around in the kitchen for some soup. He set out a can of soup and some crackers. He'd warm the soup in the microwave when Duo woke up. Until that time he had some work he could do.


Heero spent the next two hours searching for one of his bounties. The man was a real piece of work.
He had embezzled a fortune from a bank, which had put up an enormous bounty on him. The man thought he was a hacker, but he was only a hack. Heero knew all he had to do was wait for him to access any one of several accounts and he'd catch him. That was what he was doing, setting watch dogs on all the accounts. Unfortunately, he had to do each one manually as it had to be tailor made.

Heero muttered, "Damn, shit, fuck," as the banks virus checker deleted his watch dog for the second time. He had to set it up, then hide it. The program kept running before he could get things hidden.

" Ro? What's wrong? Can I help?""

Duo stood in the door of the smallest bedroom, which Heero had converted into an office.

Heero didn't have to fake the relieved look he gave Duo. He stopped trying to insert his watch dog and explained his problem to Duo.
"Hell. That's easy. You write your code. I''ll keep the VC off your back. It'll be just like old times." Duo settled at the end of the desk and set up Heero's back up computer. Booting it up, he grinned and announced, "Ready, set, GO!"

Heero started typing, Duo watched strings of code scroll across his screen for a moment. He started typing too, just as furiously. They worked in silence for several minutes then Heero announced,
"Got it! All done."" Duo continued to type for a moment longer then he leaned back.

"Well, that's done." Duo stretched somewhat wearily and yawned. "I'm done for. Been a while since I had to do something like that. It was good. I missed it. I miss my own computer. Bastards took everything when they took my ship. Is there soup?"

Heero nodded and went to heat it up. He heated enough that he could have some and made toast and tea to go with it. He decided to make his favorite Ti Quan Yuan oolong hoping that Duo might like it too.


They ate in companionable silence, just enjoying the food and quiet. When they were done, Heero took the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. He turned just in time to see Duo's head jerk up.

"You're falling asleep on your feet."

Duo squinted at him muzzily. " m sittin' down."

Heero snorted inelegantly. "Come on, you're asleep. I'll help you to bed."

Duo woke up with a yelp. "No! I don't want to!"

"Duo you have to go to bed. You'll fall down. Come on."

"Ro, I don't want to be strapped down again. Please? Don't. Ok?"

Heero rubbed a weary hand over burning eyes. "I . . . don't want to. I swear. But . . . it nearly kills me to do it. If you promise not to take off, I won't. But I'm leaving that leash on.""

Duo fiddled with the bracelet like tracker. "I don''t mind it. It's not in the way or anything. So, but. .
. I promise I won't take off if you promise not to . . . swat me anymore."

Heero nodded. "I won't, I promise."

"Well, then . . . I swear I won't take off."" Duo yawned. "Can we go to bed now? I'm bushed."

Heero went into Duo's bedroom first and took great pleasure in pulling the restraints off the bed. He tossed them into the closet and shut the door with finality, thinking, Thank god for that!'

Duo peered at the bed with some misgivings. "Um . . . Heero? I really need more covers. And that window closed. And, would you mind if we moved the bed. Damn! I'm so nervous I'm babbling."

Heero couldn't help the amused and affectionate look he gave Duo. Duo blinked back at him for a moment then grinned.

"Babble if you like. But covers are easy, and yes we''ll move the bed, but the window won't close any further than that. It's stuck. I could close it, I think. But I'm sort of scared to try. I might break the glass."

Duo winced, "Oh, well. I'll manage with an extra blanket. Get the sheets for me will you? I want to wash my face and stuff.""

Heero went to get sheets, blankets, a pillow and some towels. He rummaged in the foot locker he'd brought. It contained enough things that he could set up temporary housekeeping almost anywhere.
He realized that he only had two blankets and Duo was going to need both of them. He shrugged and got the bed linens and towels.

Duo finished his ablutions and groped for a towel. He felt one touch his reaching hand and grasped it with thanks. Heero watched as Duo dried his face and hands then hung the towel on the bar. "You want a shower? I can find you some travel shampoos in my duffel."

Duo snorted softy. "Yeah, sure. How many you got? Remember that time we were stuck in that country motel?"

Heero remembered and laughed. "Ok! Ok! I get it. I''ll get you some shampoo and stuff tomorrow.
I would have gotten it today but frankly I forgot. And I don't know what brands you like."

Duo tossed a sheet over the bed and snorted. "The brands I like are really expensive. Just get me something that doesn't smell like fruit." Heero caught the other side of the sheet and started pulling the fitted pockets over the mattress on his side.

"Doesn't make any difference how expensive it is. If you like it I'll get it for you. I've got money to burn."" Heero stopped for a second, then decided to yell at Duo for not using his Oz money later.

They finished making up the bed then moved it to the side of the room, away from the stuck window. Heero made sure that Duo was tucked in, turned off the light and left him to sleep.


Heero settled in his own bed. Pulled the thin sheet up to his chin and decided he deserved to be cold.

He didn't sleep very well that night every time Duo so much as twitched he jerked awake.

Morning found him cranky, wanting his coffee and in need of a hot shower. He was chilled to the bone.

Duo on the other hand was bright eyed and ready for the day.

"Morning, Heero. How . . . man you look like shit. Bad night?" Duo reached out to touch Heero on the arm. "And . . . Christ on a cracker. You're cold as a frog. What the hell?"

"Only have two blankest with me. You needed them worse than I did. I deserve to be cold. Leaving you under that open window like that. How dumb could I get? And . . ." Heero got a good look at Duo's dismayed face. "Never mind. It's ok. Um . . . Duo?"

Duo came back from the living room with the afghan he'd been wrapped in yesterday. "Here. Wrap up in this. I'll make coffee. Ahou! Sit down. I'm not sick or helpless, just a little . . . tired."

Heero decided to sit, he didn't feel like arguing with Duo. In fact, he didn't feel well at all.

"Ok, thanks. I really don't feel like arguing with you. Just don't over do it."

Duo looked at Heero over his shoulder. "I've been working ten hour days six days a week on ration bars and beer. I think I can handle making coffee and scrambling some egg substitute. I can even manage burning some bread."

Heero chuckled softly. "Don't burn it too much. I like mine sort of . . . Wufei colored. And I didn't get eggs because the substitute is easier to handle. I'm always breaking the eggs before I get them to the pan. And where did you learn Japanese."

Duo popped bread in the toaster, dropped a pod in the coffee maker and grabbed a pan. "From you,
dumb ass. I don't actually speak it. I just know a few words, mostly insults. Baka." Duo poured egg into the pan and added salt and pepper. "I hope you like your eggs wet, I hate dry eggs and I don't feel like trying to fix two batches."

"This to the guy who lived on energy bars and protein drinks for most of a war. Insults? I didn't . . .
well, maybe . . . Duo, you''re not good for my ego."

"Fragile thing that it is."

Heero grumbled a little but had to admit that J. had made sure that he was firmly grounded before cutting him loose.

"Thanks, it looks good." Heero accepted the plate of eggs and toast gratefully. "Coffee?"

"Coming right up. And . . . hey! My very most favorite cream stuff. Thanks." Duo settled across from Heero with a contented sigh. This could work out.


After breakfast Duo sat on the couch announcing that he was going to watch the news. "I never had time. When I was in space, the time lag was horrible. I got an e-paper until I couldn't afford it anymore. Then when I got my ship repoed I was just too busy hustling to keep body and soul together. So, I have no idea what's going on in the world."

Heero sat down next to him. "Why didn't you read one of the free feeds on your computer?"

Duo turned slowly to pin Heero with a steady gaze. "What computer? The one that got repoed along with everything else I owned?"

Heero slapped himself on the forehead. "Dammit! I''m losing my mind. Wait here." He clambered off the couch and headed for the closet where he'd put Duo's things. "I''ll be right back. Stay there."

Duo looked after Heero with a blank What the hell?'' look on his face. He settled back to wait for Heero to return.

"Here. I got it back from the repo center. They had most of your stuff. I couldn't get your books back. But I think I got everything else. I m sorry. I ve been so worried about you I forgot.""

Duo gave a crow of delight as Heero held out his notebook computer. "Oh, man. Thanks. Please tell me you got back my MP3 player and chip set. If you did, I'm set."

Heero held out the items in question and smiled as Duo clutched them to his chest. He checked to see that all the chips were there and when they were he sighed and relaxed against the couch back.
He thought carefully then asked Heero to connect him to the net. "I would do it myself but I really don't feel like convincing your network to let me in. Ok?""

Heero smirked slightly. He knew that Duo could get connected himself but the request was in the nature of fence mending and Heero appreciated it.

"Sure thing. It won't take a minute and I''ll give you your own port. All you'll have to do is connect to any jack and enter your password. Just be . . . never mind. You know protocols. I don't change passwords every two days anymore. More like every month."" Heero worked as he talked and had Duo hooked up and logged in in moments. ""There. Password is 15hG and it's case sensitive."

Duo grinned, Heero had a penchant for random key stroke passwords. Who knew how he came up with them.

"Heero, what logic do you use to pick these damn passwords. Some real esoteric mathematical formula? What?"

"Um . . . random key strokes." Heero grinned at Duo, ducking his head slightly. Duo realized with amusement that Heero was embarrassed.

"You shit. Here I've been trying for months to figure out how you did it. Damn." Duo grinned back.
"I'll grumble later. Um . . . you got any swipe cards? I need a writer too."

"Sure. Got both right here." Heero handed Duo the requested equipment and watched as Duo connected to the net, typed for a moment then took up his MP3 player. He picked a chip out of its nest and snapped it into the player. He listened for a moment then typed in something. He snickered softly and keyed in more information.

Duo did what he should have done at the end of the war. He transferred money around, covering his trail, until he had it all in easily assessable accounts. Then he started covering, erasing and confusing his tracks. By the time he was done even Heero would have a hard time tracing what he'd done. He shut down his computer, gave it a pat and put it away. Then he picked up the swipe card and reader and created a bank card. It was actually legal as he had money in the bank and the number in the code strip was attached to a real account with money in it.

Heero silently handed him a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Duo took the cup and plate, settling in,
he took a bite then realized what he'd done. "Hey, Heero. Thanks." Sister Helen would have frowned at him for not saying thank you at once. But Heero understood about being in what Wufei called a thinking trance.

"Eat your sandwich. Then I want some answers. You're nearly starved but you had more money than I did when the war ended." Duo started to say something but Heero hushed him, "No, don't talk . . . eat. After you've eaten you can explain it to me. In detail. Or else." Heero's glare made Duo blink.


"Ok. I'm done. That sandwich was really good. All the stuff I like. So. You wanna ask questions or should I just start talking until I run out of stuff to say."

Heero thought for a moment. "I'll ask questions after you've told me your story."

"Ok. So here goes."

Duo explained that he'd bought his ship with the bonus money he'd gotten from a grateful' ESUN,
hush money as far as he was concerned, and had gone into salvage. It hadn't been as much fun as he'd thought it would be. Mostly because he was lonely most of the time. But he'd started in a business, had people depending on him so he had stuck it out as best he could. But the jobs didn't come like he'd thought they would.

"So I started cutting back the gravity to save the generators. And I ate mostly ration bars and protein drinks, they are cheap and you don''t have to cook them. That saved on energy too." Duo pouted at Heero's sour expression. "Ok, big mistake. I was too stupid proud to use Oz money. But I wanted to make it on my own. So sue me."

Heero grumbled and shifted uneasily. He rubbed the back of his neck and finally asked. "But, Duo,
you're so good at computer programming and repair, systems analysis and . . . a whole list of things.
Why salvage?""

"I always dreamed of going into salvage when I was a kid. Just . . . well, it was my dream. Turned out to be more of a nightmare than anything else. And by then I was committed. Stupid, now that I think about it. But there you are. I always thought I could fall back on computers, but my ship got repoed on me along with my notebook. I was actually trying to get setup for a job when that happened. And all the money in all my accounts was keyed to numbers from my chip set. I've still got about ten accounts that I haven't touched yet.
"That nearly drove me crazy. I have a ton of money but I couldn't get to any of it without that chip set."

"You could have called Quatre. Why didn't you?""

"Lost track of him. He's always having to change his numbers. News hounds get them and fill his inbox with nonsense. So . . . well, you know ground to space calls are charged at both ends. I just couldn't afford the charges anymore. First I quit calling him, then I had to refuse a call. It just went .
. . away. Dammit."

Duo covered his face with one hand and groped for something with the other. Heero pressed some tissues into Duo's palm and waited while he got himself together again.

"Ok, now?"

Duo sniffled softly and fended off Heero's attempt to hug him. "Don't. I . . . I'll really lose it.
Gimme a sec here."

Heero let Duo fight his emotions under control again then he scooted closer to Duo, pulled the hand away from his face and held it. "Go on."

"So they repoed my ship and I lost everything. All my music, my clothing. My instruments and my weapons. That bastard just laughed at me. And when I complained to the bank, they told me to call the cops. What the hell would they do?"

Heero snarled in wordless fury. He was going to go back to the pawn shop and do something nasty to that pig.

"You do know that the repo doesn't have the right to take more than your ship and any unassigned cargo?"

Duo blinked, "Really? I'm not up on law. But . . . if they aren't entitled to my stuff. And . . . I'm confused.""

"I just went to the shop where the repo guy sold your stuff and got it back. Except for your instruments, your weapons and manga. That asshole lied to me. I'm going to go back and collect the rest of your stuff. And kick some ass. You stay here."

Duo started to object but Heero reached out and put one hand on Duo's chest. "Get up . . . if you can." Duo started to but as soon as he put any pressure on Heero's hand he realized that he was weak. He had gone so long on so little that there was nothing left. He was worn out.

"Ok. I give. Yuy, you aren't good for my ego. Go, do. Bring me back my stuff."

"I will. Make me a list of what you had. I'll see if I can't get you back your stuff. If I can't, I'll take the most reasonable substitute. If that's ok with you."

"That'll be good. Here. Hand me back my computer. I have a list . . . with pictures. It was for insurance but I'm sure it'll do the trick." Duo took his computer and opened the inventory file.
Heero turned on his wireless printer and waited as the list printed. Duo sighed and settled on the couch.

Heero just enjoyed a long look at Duo. He was way too thin and looked tired. His hair was limp and rather dry looking. He made a mental note to pick up some really good shampoo and conditioner while he was out.

" Ro? What? . . . I'm not going anywhere. I promised. You want me to Shinigami Swear? I will."

Heero shook his head, bringing his attention back to the present moment. "No that's ok. I was just looking at you. I wanted to during the war, but . . . my conditioning. I couldn't . . . never mind. I'm better now. So . . . I'll bring you back some shampoo and conditioner. Any particular brand, or . . . I remember you said nothing that smells like fruit. But the shampoo you used to use smelled like strawberries. So, what's with that?"

Duo grinned like old times. "It was cheap, but even better, it was usually back in a corner. Easy to boost." Heero made a face. ""Ok, I shoplifted it most of the time, so shoot me." Duo sighed and pulled the afghan to his chin. "Go. I'm going back to sleep. I'm tired all the time and I'm going to cater to the need to nap."

Heero was torn between staying and watching Duo sleep and going out to get his things. He decided to leave. Duo would love it if he woke up and found his things. Heero wondered if he could pull it off.

"Heero, go already. If you leave now, I'll sleep through it all, probably won t even dream. I'm planning on sleeping myself out as often as possible. Go, now. Scat."

Heero left smiling at the residual image of Duo curled up under a fuzzy chartreuse afghan.


Heero walked back into the pawn shop and remembering Duo's penchant for scratching a small half moon shape, which he insisted was a scythe, on his things started looking.

What he found made him so mad he nearly did something stupid. He managed to get hold of his temper and start piling Duo's possessions on the counter. He found a very nice keyboard, a beautiful guitar, more electronics, and some tools. When he pushed his way behind the counter, the clerk tried to stop him.

"Get out of my way. I'm collecting some stolen property. And you better not try to stop me."

"Look, I don't know anything about that, but you can't just walk in here and say stuff is stolen. You have to prove it."

"Ok, sure." Heero pulled Duo's list of weapons from his pocket. All the guns were listed along with serial numbers. ""I'm checking for these hand guns. There are also some knives made of Gundanium. I'm taking everything on that list or a reasonable substitution. You know damn good and well that the Gundanium is stolen. As to the guns? Prove they re not."

Heero took the keys off the nail next to the register. Opening the nearest case, he started looking at the numbers on pistols that matched the specifics Duo had listed. He found Duo's matched .44 Colts then his tiny .25 hide out. This was a positive ID as Duo had made it himself. The knives were next and Heero went right to them. There was no mistaking Gundanium if you knew what you were looking at.

When Heero showed the clerk the matching numbers and descriptions, he just shrugged. "Well,
damn. That's that. I'm now officially out of a job. I don't work for anyone who receives stolen goods."

Heero stopped him when he started to take off his name tag. ""Hold on a sec. This guy got all this stuff from a repo. You know that it''s not legal to repo personal possessions. It's stealing. This guy needs to be taken down. Will you help me?"

After a moments thought the clerk agreed to help Heero. He listened to the plan and grinned. All he had to do was stay at work, listen and call Heero the next time the repo guy brought something in.
He said that "Jumbo"" should show up within the next day or so.


Duo heard Heero come home, the bump as something large hit the door frame was rather a clue. He didn't bother to wake up though. Heero would call him when it was time to eat and that was all he cared about just now.

Heero finished setting up things and gently shook Duo by the shoulder, preparing to duck if he took it the wrong way. Duo knuckled sleep out of his eyes. And grinned. "Don't duck. I know when it's you.""

Heero stepped back and let Duo get a look at all his things. Heero had recovered everything on the list except for an auxiliary key board for the shipboard PC.

Duo cried out in pleasure at the sight. "Oh, man. Tell me you got back my matching .44's. And there's my key board. I . . . and my guitar. My knives. Heero you're my hero. . . ." Duo looked at Heero with dilating eyes and an open mouth. Then he started to laugh. Heero couldn't help but join him. They laughed together until Heero had to sit on the end of the couch. Duo obligingly moved his feet.

"I'm glad. That guitar is very nice. And I did get back everything. Except for that extra key board.
Sorry about that, it was already sold."

Duo shrugged. "Doesn't matter. It was only good for a ships computer anyway. So . . . you're looking really pleased with yourself. I got to say, ya done good.' But something else is up. So spill."

Heero explained that he wanted to get the repo man arrested for stealing. He was sure that the man had done this before, and would do it again. He wanted to get him off the streets. He was victimizing people.

Duo eyed Heero then chuckled, "Damn Heero, are you channeling Wufei or what. And . . . um . . . where the hell is Chang? I even tried to get ahold of him. No go. The operator at Preventers HQ said she'd pass the message along. But I never heard."

Heero settled back on the couch making himself comfortable. ""He's been on an assignment on the moon for the last six months. He''s head of the security there until a replacement is trained. Long story short. The old head got killed in a decompression accident' that wasn't. Chang is investigating that as well as training the replacement. He'll be out of touch for another two or three months."

Duo looked puzzled. "Why out of touch? That doesn''t make sense. He'll need to advise Une of status and get new orders. All that official stuff. So he shouldn't be out of touch . . . should he?"

"Not really. But the replacement is . . . one of the reasons, the other is . . . the replacement and Une have a history. So no communication, or at least minimum, for now."

"Well, who the hell is the damn replacement. And why would they be out of contact when Wufei is training a newbie."

"Politics. Relena wants the replacement in place." Heero made a face at that sentence. Duo laughed.
"There can't be any hint of nepotism."

Duo grabbed at his bangs in frustration. "Well, who is the replacement. Tell."


Duo flopped back on the couch making a strangling sound. He sat back up and fiddled with his braid for a few moments. "Well, yeah, that explains most of it. Merquise doesn't need training. And,
while we know Relena wouldn't stoop to that level, not many others do. So . . . m m m m. yeah. I can see the scenario right now. A fait accompli. But it was real hard on me."

Heero patted Duo's foot. "And I didn't help much. Grabbing you out of the bar like I did. And you've lost your job . . . not that it was much. But . . . you're coming to work with me. That's not negotiable. Everything else is. So . . . what now?""

Duo batted his eyes at Heero like a silly girl and then grinned. "Food. Real food. I want another sandwich and some soup. And coffee, coffee, coffee. Lots of it. With cream. And something sweet for after. Now, feeedddd meeee."

Duo's imitation of a vegetable from an old move made Heero laugh. "All right, all right. Just don't go shedding any leaves. I don't feel like sweeping the floor."

Duo laughed too then he blinked, Heero had never gotten his old movie references before. "You know Little Shop of Horrors? Since when?""

"I remember all the silly jokes you used to make. I looked up the references and watched them. But no coffee. I'd rather you had something more nourishing. Like orange juice."

Duo stood up, folded the afghan and followed Heero into the kitchen. "Ok, orange juice it is. But don't blame me if I fall asleep on you. I'm still falling asleep at the drop of a pillow."

"Don't worry. You need the sleep, sleep. I''ll manage somehow." Heero put on a long-suffering look and gazed mournfully at Duo, who just snickered. "I have some research to do. Seems like that's all I do."

"You give me some of your work. I'll see what I can find. You don't have to do it all yourself anymore . . . um . . . Heero?" Heero looked over his shoulder at Duo, one eye brow raised in question. "What the hell is it you do anyway?"

"I'm a fugitive recovery agent."

Duo yelped, then started to snicker. "You're a bounty hunter? Oh, man, that's a good one."

"What's wrong with it?"

Duo flapped his hand at Heero. "Nothing, nothing. Just. . . I'd have figured you'd have partnered with Wufei. Preventers.""

"I'm too much the individualist to join Preventers. Also, I'd have to kill. With this, I can use non lethal methods. Although I do reserve the right to shoot if I have too."

"So you're a bounty hunter? That's great. I . . . I'll buy in."

Heero put the food on the table and settled in his place. He''d gotten some of the bread rolls Duo had remarked on and had stuffed two with deli turkey and lettuce, the soup was cheddar cheese and he'd made Duo a cup of coffee. He also supplied the juice. Duo dug in with relish.

"Duo, you don't have to buy in. I've got plenty of money . . ." he trailed off at Duo's heated glare.

"I'm not a freeloader. I don't need charity. If you want a partner, I buy in. You want an employee,
that's fine too. Just make up your mind which it is."

Heero made his decision easily. "Ok, buy in is going to cost you . . ." Heero thought then mentioned a price that was almost exactly half of his start up money. "You can make payments if you need to.""

Duo swallowed the mouthful of soup he'd just taken. ""I can get you the whole amount in a few minutes if you can take a cash transfer. And don't tell me you can't, because I wouldn't believe you for a second."

Heero just ate his sandwich, watching Duo as he devoured his and the soup. He sipped happily at the coffee and watched as Heero finished his soup at a more leisurely pace. When Heero got up to clear the dishes, Duo offered to help.

Heero smiled, realized he was doing a lot of that and liked it, and told him, "I bought my favorite desert. I know you like sweets. I do too. I was never allowed to have them during the war. Not good for me. But, now that my conditioning is broken, I indulge myself." Heero produced a Black Forrest tort. He cut two generous portions and put them on plates. He opened the refrigerator, took out an aerosol can and covered the slices with whipped cream.

"Here." Heero suddenly snatched the cake up. ""Um . . . this isn't going to make you sick, is it? I don't want another repetition of yesterday."

Duo made grabby hands at the cake. "No, my stomach had been empty for two days, except for some beer. And that sedative you used, upset it. Gimmie. I'll be careful, eat it slow. All that. Come on, man. No fair teasing."

Heero put the cake back down and settled back in his seat to watch Duo eat the cake, rolling his eyes at Duo's expression of ecstasy. ""Better than sex."

Heero snorted. "Really?"

"Yeah, can't catch anything nasty and it's not as messy. Doesn't hurt. And won't kick you out of bed or hog the covers when you're done."

Heero cringed internally at this damnation of the act of love. What happened to you, Duo, to make you say something like that?' After finishing his cake, Duo picked up his laptop for the third time that day and made his transfer. Heero checked from his end to make sure the transfer had gone through good. It had and Heero checked his balance then he put Duo''s name on the account.

"You can draw against the account now. This account is business. I have a personal account. You should set up one too. A local one. I know where you put the money you accessed. Why didn't you access it sooner?""

Duo grimaced. "Several reasons. I needed my laptop to get into the system. You can't do that kind of banking from a pubic station. And I didn't have my chip set. You might be able to remember a hundred access codes. I can't, so I linked the numbers to songs I like. Without my music I was done for. So now, I have money. But my ship is gone. Sucks, but . . ." Duo brightened, making Heero relax. "I really don''t want to go back to the salvage business. I'd rather run with you. I'll get to see the guys more often. I really miss you all. And . . . salvage isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's not romantic, it's damn hard work. No real schedule, no . . . nothing. Space is damn cold. I think I'd like to warm up some."

Heero stretched carefully. "I need to work out. I have a universal membership in a franchise gym.
Gold's has been around for I don't know how long. They're good. I'll sign you up if you like."

Duo replied through a yawn. "Be good. I need to get back into shape. If I'm going to be working with you. I need to be in tip top shape. Do you have a membership in a firing range?"

Heero smirked. "What do you think? I'll sign you up there too." Heero looked at his watch. "It's a bit early to be going to bed but I'm tired. I'll check email then maybe we could watch some TV. See what you can find."

Duo flipped around the channels finally settling on a soccer game as the only thing on worth watching. Heero brought his computer to the couch and settled in the unoccupied corner. He watched the game with one eye as he did his research.

Duo groaned as his' team let another goal through. He sprawled across the couch and grumbled,
"That goalie should just give it up. Why is he always so out of place?"

Heero glanced up. "He's off balance for some reason. Your team is in serious trouble."

Duo put his head on Heero's thigh and angled his head to gaze into his eyes pathetically. "I'm wounded. The least you could do is commiserate with me. I'm completely disillusioned."

Heero snorted. "Sure you are."

Duo wriggled a bit, trying to get more comfortable, but the corner of the laptop was digging into his neck. "Come on. Put that thing away. It's getting late and we both should be in bed." Preferably together', he added to himself.

Heero did shut down the computer, he wasn't getting anywhere, the information just wasn't out there. He decided to try again in a day or so. He left the computer on hibernate incase one of his watch dogs was set off. The computer would sound an alarm and he could start tracing the signal.

They headed off to bed, alone.


Duo curled up in his bed and tried to sleep. He was forgetting something, something he was sure was important. He lay there for nearly an hour, tired but unable to sleep until he remembered.

"Oh, shit. Heero! Damn," Duo scrambled out of bed, dragged the blankets off and headed for Heero's bedroom.

He opened the door and saw Heero curled into a small, shivering ball. He just tossed the blankets over the top and crawled into the bed with Heero.

"You giant dumb ass. You'll get pneumonia or something. You're cold again. You never used to get cold? What's up?""

Heero rolled over and hesitantly put his arms around Duo. Duo cuddled up and sighed. "This is nice. But . . . tell. Ok?"

"Ok. J messed with my metabolism so I didn't feel the cold so much. But it cost in calories. Now that I don't have to deal with extremes of temperature change he fiddled me back to normal, or close. I feel the cold a lot more than I used to. But I don't need to eat so much either. Why do you think I kept energy bars on me all the time. I needed the calories or I felt like I was starving."

"Fucker. I'm gonna find him and kick his ass clear up between his shoulder blades. Fanatic. And he's just plain creepy. Where is he? Do you know?"

Heero nuzzled his nose into Duo's hair. "Donno. He cut me loose and disappeared. He might be dead. Doesn't matter anyway. I'm as normal as I'll ever be. He got me counseling and every thing.
Tried to fix what he broke. Let it go."

Duo sighed. "Ok, if you say so. But if I actually see him, all bets are off. Remember . . . mmmm . . .
nice. Warm. Cuddle. . . . Ro?"

"Go to sleep."

" K. Glad you found me. But no more restraints. Ok?"

Heero hugged Duo gently. " K. Go to sleep.""

But Duo had dozed off between one word and another.


"Ohshit!!" Duo woke up, patted the bed and, not finding Heero, panicked. "Shitshitshit. Where is he? What?"

"Hey! Bright eyes. Up an at em. Breakfast is on the table. I'm going out again today, but not for a while. I'll get you some shampoo and stuff. I've got some things to do. Watch the watch dogs will you?"

Duo yawned and stretched, showing Heero a rack of ribs with way too little meat on them. He sighed, but realized that Duo was eating well and would put the weight back on quickly. He was going to the gym. He decided to get Duo a membership while he was there. And a membership at the firing range.

Duo gave himself a quick wash, glaring at the e-leash on his wrist. He wasn't about to ask Heero to take it off. He would do so when he felt like it. Finished with his three S's, Duo headed for the kitchen, grabbing some clothes as he went.

Heero turned around to see Duo hopping on one foot while he put on socks. He was dressed in a clean pair of jeans, t-shirt and flannel. He looked good. Except for his hair, which looked dry and flyaway.

"Here's breakfast. Oat meal, fruit, toast, coffee. And there's juice, milk and I'm having tea. Help yourself. I'll refrain from trying to stuff you. Ok. . . . I'm going to eat on the run. I've got a reservation at the gym in half an hour. So I got to get going soon. If you need anything call me on my cell. Or text me. Ok?""

Duo mumbled an affirmative around a mouthful of oats. He swallowed hard and announced. "Next time you go to the gym, I'm going too. I'm still a little too off to be exercising. But I spent too much time in low grav. My muscles are atrophied. I got to get back in good shape if I''m going to work with you." He glanced at the clock on the wall. ""You better get. You'll miss your reservation. Go,
I'll be fine. I'll watch the computers. Do some clean up on my finances. Can I email from my computer now?" Heero hollered 'yeah' from the living room. "I'll try to email Q and Trowa then.
See you." Heero slammed the door on his way out, making Duo grin. He decided he might really like this Heero. But he still wanted words with J.


Heero spent an hour at the gym. His workouts had changed dramatically from his training but they were still unmercifully hard. He lifted at least twice as much as anyone else and did more reps than seemed possible. But now he knew why the other men in the gym stared.

Finished at last, he took his towel and wiped his face. He wrapped the towel around his neck and headed for the showers. He'd abandoned his old spandex shorts and tank for lose cotton shorts and bare chest. He wasn''t worried about what people thought, never had been, so he was constantly amused at the stares and flinches. Someday he'd have his scars removed. It wasn't a difficult procedure, but it was rather time consuming. He hadn''t taken time yet because of his search for Duo.

He took a shower, ignoring whispers and stares.

While he was drying himself off, a man approached him. "Excuse me. I don't mean to be nosey, or a bother, but . . . are you Heero Yuy?"

Heero tensed slightly, waiting for the man to condemn him for some real or imagined offence. "No.
Hey. Um no offence intended. Just . . . me and some of the guys were stationed near an Oz base.
Surveillance. And, when you flattened it, you were real careful not to take us out too. Took some real damage to Wing. And . . . well . . . we just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for not killing us. So . . . um . . . thanks . . . I'll go away now."

Heero pulled his t-shirt over his head. "Don't do that. I . . . well, I'm not good at this. But . . . I'm glad you said something. I'm so used to people trying to spit in my face and yell at me for being a terrorist and stuff. It's nice. You're welcome. And . . . um . . . damn, this is awkward isn't it. So . . .
now what?"

The man grinned at Heero, held out his hand, and said, "Well, um . . . now we shake hands, say stuff like. Nothing to it. Glad to have done it. And sort of figure out how to get away from each other without seeming rude. So . . . thanks for not killing us."

Heero grinned at the man, shook his hand and nodded. "Glad to have not done it. Killed you, I mean. So. Bye, have a nice life and all that."

"You too. I'll tell the others. Bye yourself. You too. Um . . . I'm going now."

Heero watched the man wander off with a slightly bemused expression. well, that was different.

Heero finished dressing and went up to the desk to get Duo a membership. That was when he ran into the first obstacle of the day.

The receptionist sighed, this guy was so intense that she just knew she was going to have trouble with him. "I'm sorry, sir, we can't sign someone up without identification."

Heero blinked at the woman for a moment. "But what if I wanted to give a gift membership? How do you do that?"

"You bring the person in and sign them up, or we send them a package with a membership packet and a certificate for the payment. It's easy. All you have to do is prepay it and we'll imprint the certificate with the duration of the membership. Everyone knows how much the memberships cost"
Heero nodded his understanding. "So, how long a membership would you like to give?"

"I want to give Duo Maxwell a universal membership for five years. Put it on this card, please"
Heero handed over his credit card and waited while the woman completed the transaction, printed out the gift certificate and made up the membership package.

"There you are. Thank you for doing business with Gold''s."

Heero put on his practiced pleasant smile' and thanked her. She relaxed under the look. After Heero left she turned to the other receptionist and remarked. "Man I'm glad he was nice. Did you see the glare he had on his face when he walked up? Made me fear for my life, figuratively speaking.
Brrrr." Her friend shuddered in sympathy.


After leaving the gym, Heero weighed the various merits of visiting the firing range first, then getting Duo's toiletries. He decided the firing range first made better sense, so he tapped the address into the built in GPS system in his SUV. It only took it a second to show him a map. He realized that the firing range was located near a Wal-Mart. He shuddered, but knew that it was the best place to shop for what Duo needed.

Arriving at the range, he entered the huge building. He looked around the check in. The room was clean, uncluttered and comfortable. There were several seating groups, a small snack bar and a fireplace. He admired the set up for a moment glad that he'd found this particular franchise. All the ranges looked similar and the standards were very high.

He turned at a disturbance at the check in desk.

A man was demanding a reservation and the clerk was refusing. Heero realized that the clerk had refused him more than once. He'd noticed the heavy set man at the desk when he'd come in.

"Look here. I've been a member here for years. I . . . you can't just cancel my membership like this."

The clerk looked harassed to say the least. "Sir, we can. You've been warned several times about gun safety, but you continue to do the same things over and over. Your membership was cancelled after two written warnings. We don't issue written warnings until you've ignored at least three verbal ones. I'm sorry, Mr. Henderson, sir. I don''t make the decisions, the board of directors does."

Mr. Henderson puffed up and got chesty' with the clerk. "You little shit. You don't have the authority to tell me I can't come in here. Do you know who I am? I'm . . . ""

"The man I'm going to eject bodily, if you don''t settle down right now." Heero crowded the man hard and moved him away from the desk by main force of will. Mr. Henderson stared at Heero as he backed up, unconsciously trying to put some distance between him and this threatening young man.

"And who the hell are you? You're no one. Who do you think you are?"

"I know who I am. You just don't really know who you are. You're a disgrace to the human race.
Throwing your weight around like that. You ought to be ashamed. If you don't like the decision, go to the board and protest it. But I'd suggest you learn safety rules before you do. They don't just toss people out for nothing. So . . . here''s the door. Don't let it hit you in the ass on your way out."

As he talked, Heero had crowded the man clear across the room and right up to the door. He gently pushed the man out the door and shut it in his face.

He smiled across the room at the clerk. The clerk gave him a relieved grimace and motioned for him to come up to the desk.

"Man, I hate that sort of thing. Thanks for getting that asshole out of my face."

"You could have done the same thing. All you have to do is develop a good glare."

"Naw. I'm not good at that sort of stuff. You have to be able to physically intimidate that sort of guy and I'm not intimidating----at all. I'm too skinny. So . . . how can I help you?"

Heero told the man what he wanted and waited while James, or so his tag declared, to fill out the paper work.

"I have to have the serial numbers of the firearms. And a picture ID of some sort. So, here's the preliminary paper work. Fill it out and fax it to the central offices, attach a file with a picture ID,
make a cash transfer and you're all set. You did want a universal, not a single location, membership,

"That's right. So, all I have to do is fax this single sheet with the other stuff?"

"Right . . . oh, damn. Here comes Henderson again.""

Heero turned just in time to see the big man shove through the front doors. He decided he was glad he'd come in. There was no one else in the front of the building to help James.

"I'm going to shoot. If you don't like it, you can just lump it. Get out of my way, squirt." Henderson tried to bull his way past Heero. Heero just stood and let the man run right into his chest. Henderson bounced off with a grunt.

"I wouldn't do that if I was you. I'm not easy to bully. Real experts tried and failed. You better go before things get ugly."

James reached under the counter and pushed a panic button which sounded an alarm in the back and at the police station. He bit his lip, wondering what he should do. He didn't want to leave Heero alone with the irate man, but he was sure that he wouldn't be much use. He stayed behind the counter.

Heero waited to see if Henderson would leave or start something. He'd heard the alarm go off and was glad that he would have backup. He didn't need the help, but having witnesses was always good.

Henderson decided to be stupid and start something he couldn''t finish. He took a swing at Heero.
Heero ducked the wild, round house swing. He grabbed the flailing arm and pulled. Henderson was already off balance and the sharp tug made it worse. Heero then stuck his left foot between Henderson''s stumbling feet and tripped him. He flailed wildly, trying to recapture his balance.
Heero glanced over his shoulder to see two men come in from the back. James quickly explained what was happening, but before the two men could get around the counter it was all over. Heero had turned back to Henderson and smacked him on the shoulder with an open hand. Since he was already off balance, Henderson went down like a ton of bricks.

Heero grabbed Henderson's right wrist and twisted it up behind his back; kneeling on the small of his back with one knee, Heero groped for his zip cuffs. He sensed someone coming up behind him so he started to draw down on them. One of the range officers held up his hands, the other stepped back.

"Easy there. We're on your side."

Heero nodded, "Ok. Here. I've got zips in my back pocket. Fish them out. This guy is a squirmer."

The range officer carefully pulled the cuffs out of Heero's pocket and handed them to Heero. Heero zipped one side onto a vocally protesting Henderson. Who still continued to threaten everyone around. Heero smacked him on the back of the head and told him to shut up. He wrestled the other wrist into cuffs with the help of the two men from the back.

"Well, there." Heero dragged Henderson to his feet. "Hey! James! Did that panic button call the cops?"

"Yeah, but they usually take a while to get here. I''ll call the station, if you think it'll do any good."

Heero just grunted. He decided to check up on his prisoner, so he fished his computer out of his pocket and set it on the nearby counter. Henderson snarled and grumbled.

James consulted with his two coworkers and then turned to Heero. "Mack and Toby need to get back to the range. Do you need them anymore?"

Heero shook his head, bangs flopping in his eyes. He grunted in annoyance and thought, Got to get Duo to cut that.' "No, I don't need them." He turned to the men. "Thanks for coming out. And, will you check him over? Give him the once over. See that he doesn't have any marks or cuts. That way he can't do something to himself and claim I did it." Both men gave Henderson the requested check then went back into the back end again.

Heero used his phone camera to take a picture of Henderson. Then, over his loud protests, he pressed a pressure sensitive print reader to what ever fingers he could and entered the data into his request form. He didn't have to wait long. Henderson came up with three want-and-warrants, the reward wasn't much but it would cover the membership to the firing range. Heero snickered. The charges were: assault and battery, assault with intent, and battery. There was another charge pending: misuse of a fire arm.

"Well, aren't you the elderly offender."

"You don't have the right to do this. I'll sue. I'll press charges."

Heero fished his ID out of his shirt and let it dangle by its bead chain. "Oh, I've got the right. I'm a FRA. Fugitive Recovery Agent. And I've got the right, the duty and the pleasure of taking idiots like you off the streets. So shut up and stand there until the cops get here."

James cleared his throat softly. "Excuse me. You came in here for something? What did you want?
In all the excitement, I forgot."

Heero told James what he wanted again and James started the paper work. "I'll just fill in as much as I can for you, shall I? Then you can fill in the rest after you deal with the police. Ok?"

Heero sighed realizing that his day was pretty much FUBAR. ""Yeah. But I'll be tangled up in red tape for the rest of the day. Dammit."

"Sorry about that. If there's anything I can do I'll be happy to help. "

Heero shrugged, pulled his phone out of his pocket and replied as he dialed. "No. I just promised my friend I'd do some shopping for him. I'll have to call him and tell him I'll be held up most of the day. Shit. I really wanted to get him something nice." Heero pinned Henderson with a glare fit to fry him. He was trying to edge toward the door. "I really wouldn't if I was you. Thank god I'm not.
Stand still."

Henderson opened his mouth, caught a really good look at Heero''s face, and subsided.

Duo picked up the phone and hesitantly said hello?'' then listened as Heero told him his tale of woe, ending, "I have no idea how long it's going to take. I'll be back as soon as I can. If I have time,
I'll get you your stuff. If not, I'll get it tomorrow. I'm sorry."

Duo shrugged it off easily. "Hey, don't sweat it. You got a bounty, that's a good thing. As to my toiletries. If we put it off until tomorrow, maybe I'll feel up to going with you. We could make sort of a . . . date, maybe?" At Heero's surprised grunt, Duo hurried to reassure Heero. "Not a date date,
just a date to go somewhere. Like an appointment. You know? I don't think we . . . I mean . . . not that I wouldn't if you wanted. But I don't . . . you aren''t . . . just that I need deodorant and toothpaste. I'm using yours right now. And I know you don't really like that. So, I need stuff. And underwear. And another pair of socks. You could get more toothpaste too. You''re almost out. And I'm babbling like a loon. Tell me to shut up.""

"Shut up, Duo. I know exactly what you mean. But it''s a date date . . . if you want it to be. That is.
I . . . shit. Got to go. Cops are here. See you as soon as I can. Just called so you wouldn't worry.

Heero closed his phone and turned to the officer in charge.

He took the hand the officer offered and introduced himself. The officer introduced himself as Sergeant Peters.

"Heero Yuy. Here's my ID." Heero showed the officer his ID and badge.

"Ok. What's the deal?"

James limped forward to tell his story. Heero realized why James had felt so helpless, he had a prosthetic leg. Sergeant Peters listened to James, took notes and ignored Henderson as he cursed and complained. When he turned to Heero, he just asked if he had any additions. Heero thought for a second then shook his head.

Peters flipped his note book closed. "That's that. I've got your ID and particulars. I'll make sure you get your money. Electronic funds transfer ok?"

Heero blinked. "Sure. But don't I have to come down to the station and fill out paper work."

The man shook his head. "Naw. That legislation passed finally. We got a law that says we have to pay within thirty days of capture and can''t get out of it by specifying on conviction'. I think it''s a good thing. So, we'll transfer the funds by tomorrow. If you have any questions or problems, here's my card. Call me."

Heero took the card and tucked it away in his pocket. He offered his hand again, Peters shook it and turned to the waiting patrol officers. ""Ok. Collect him and let's go." They hauled Henderson out the door, over his continued protests. Heero wondered idly when the man would get hoarse. He hadn't shut up from the time he'd been cuffed to the second he'd been dragged out the door.

Heero accepted the papers James handed him, checked his computer for conformation of capture then shut it down, folded the papers, stuck them in his pocket and left.

He left the building just in time to see the cops struggling to stuff Henderson into their car. He watched in some amusement but left the group to their own devices. He wasn't about to get reinvolved with the mess.


Heero pulled into the parking space, thanking his lucky stars that it was a recharge station. His SUV was almost out of charge and his nitrogen cell was close to empty. He upbraided himself for being so careless.

After plugging in and locking the station, he headed for the beauty aids department. He thought this was going to be easy. He hadn't been in a Wal-Mart ever that he remembered. He usually patronized local smaller stores.

Heero gazed in dismay at the side counters. There were so many brands of shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste that it made his head spin. He wandered for a few moments then gave up. He called Duo and threw himself on his friend''s mercy.

"Duo, I never saw so much stuff. There's like a million brands and thousands of varieties per brand.
What the hell do you want?"

Heero, I don't care. Just buy me whatever's cheapest.

"No way. I what you to have what you like. We all did without during the war. There's no reason to do so now. We can afford the best. So, tell me what you want or I'll just buy the most expensive of whatever you need. Whether you like the scent or not."

Ok, ok. Let me see. Duo gave up after some thought and told Heero to decide for him. Pick stuff like oak moss and lavender over anything flowery or fruity. Ok?

Heero said he'd do his best and hung up.

He wandered the aisle for a little while longer, until he was approached by a girl in a blue smock.
"Can I help you? You look completely lost.""

Heero turned to her with relief plain on his face. "Yeah. You're a god send. I have a friend who's sick. And he's almost out of everything. Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, everything. And he just told me he doesn't care what I buy. Bastard. . . oh, sorry. He really is my friend but he's thrown me to the wolves on this. So . . . he doesn't want fruity or flowery and his hair is down to here." Heero drew a line across his tight backside, giving the girl a good excuse to check it out. "So . . . what do I buy?"

Helen smiled at Heero and led the way to the next aisle over. ""Here. You want this. It doesn't smell like much of anything but herbs. And it's really good. Does he have a lot of flyaways? If he does,
you want a hot oil conditioner. And this. It's a heavy duty conditioner but it won't make his scalp greasy. Here's deodorant that smells like the shampoo and conditioner. And toothpaste is two rows down. Anything else?"

Heero shook his head in a bemused fashion. He now had an arm full of bottles. Shampoo, hot oil conditioner, regular conditioner and deodorant. He accepted the rolling cart the girl shoved at him,
smiled at her snicker and walked away incidentally giving her a good look at broad shoulders,
narrow waist and great legs'. She sighed realizing that he was already taken.

"Rats ."

Heero wondered what that was about.


After finding the toothpaste he liked and dropping two tubes into his buggy, Heero spent a while wandering around. He remembered that Duo said he needed shorts and socks so he picked up some.
The one size fits all socks made him laugh. The socks would be huge on either one of them and way too small for someone like Milliardo. He found some in standard sizes and added them to his selections. Finding underwear he grabbed plain white. Duo would have preferred colors and patterns but Heero knew finding something he'd like was out of his league.

He approached the checkout like it was an Oz base. This was the other reason he stayed out of places like this. The checkouts were intimidating as hell, did he have too many items to go through the speed check? How about self check. Or did he want a check out with a checker? Heero stood in the middle of the main isle trying to decide.

"Sir, can I help you?" Heero turned to see a woman in a red jacket watching him.

"Um. . . don't think so. I just can't figure out which line to get on."

The woman smiled at him. She was used to men coming in and being confused. "Don't shop Wal-
Mart much do you?"

"No. I stay out for exactly this reason. And all the brands and stuff confuse the hell out of me. So . . .
where to?"

The lady checked his basket and pointed. "There. Della is really good. She'll take good care of you.
Just put your things on the counter and stand back. She'll fix you right up."

Heero entered the indicated line and smiled at the dark-haired woman. "Just tell me what to do. I'm good at following orders.""

She smiled at him in a friendly fashion. "I'll just ring you up and bag it. Then you give me money,
or a credit/debit card. Bingo, you're out of here. No problem. Easy."

She swiped the merchandise over the scanner pad and popped it into a bag, putting the bag on the counter she pointed to a small display.

"Thirty-two fifty. Cash or card."

Heero took out his wallet and handed her cash. She punched in the amount, handed him his change and bag and smiled again. "Thank you for shopping Wal-mart." Then she gave him a wide grin.
"See that didn't hurt so much."

Heero put away his change, stuffed his wallet into his pocket and smiled back as he picked up his bag. "No, it didn't. Thanks to you. Thanks a lot. Bye."

Della watched him as he walked away. "Cute kid. Too bad I'm married . . . then maybe not.
Wonder if he's house trained." She returned to her work smiling


Heero managed to get home with no further incidents. He parked and gathered his bags. Carrying them he managed to open the door to the vestibule and get into the building. The elevator decided it didn't like him and refused to function. Impatient, he took the stairs.

"Duo! I'm back. I got you the stuff you need. Duo? Where are you?"

A voice from his impromptu office called. "In here. The watch dog went off about two minutes ago.
Better get in here. I could use some help. This damn bank isn't cooperating at all. Hurry!"

Heero dumped the bags unceremoniously on the floor. There was nothing in there that couldn't wait for twenty minutes. He hurried into the office and plopped down in his chair. He pulled the keyboard to him and glared at the monitor. He started typing, as Duo raced to trace the banking transfer, he worked to keep from leaving traces in the bank computer. He also helped Duo keep the receiving bank from blocking them. It was an electronic race against time and antivirus software. They won.
Duo crowed in triumph and gave Heero a high five.

"Got him . . . now what? We go in and . . . what? Can we even catch him? He's in . . . Tupiza in Bolivia."

Heero shrugged. "We don't do anything. I have an associate in that city who will go pick the prick up. We get the reward. He gets 10, since all he has to do is grab the corpus. The perp isn't violent,
so my man is good enough. If the guy was a shooter or anything, we would do the job. Or I would.
You're still not in any condition to be running around picking up malefactors." Heero got up from his chair. "Come on. Come see what I got for you. I hope it's the right stuff."

Duo followed Heero into the living room and helped him pick up the bags and carry them all into the kitchen. He put his bags on the table and Heero added his. Duo started taking things out of the bags and sorting them by where they went. Heero smiled, they'd done this before, during the war;
only it had been explosives and ammunition then.

"Just like old times, sort of . . . um . . . what''s this?" Duo blinked at the tube in his hand. "Hot oil conditioner? Heero, this is great. I love you. Thanks." Duo didn't even realize what he'd said. Heero however was floored, he looked at Duo for a second then had to look down so he wouldn't scare Duo with the intensity of his gaze.

Heero helped Duo put everything away then led him to the couch. He pulled Duo down beside him and sighed. "Duo. I'm not sure exactly how to put this so I'll just jump in with both feet. I need you.
I''ve been searching for you since J cut me loose. I've already told you that, but I . . . you're . . . I'm so bad at this still.""

Duo patted Heero on the arm. "It's ok. I think I know what you're saying. You need me for public relations. I'm good at talking to people. I can do things you can't. I've already made the payment on the buy in. We agreed. So what's with the second guessing?"

Heero smiled at Duo. "I just had to make sure you wanted to hook up with me. I don t want you to ever feel I . . . coerced you in any way. I'm still not really normal."

Duo clapped a hand over Heero's mouth. "Geez, Heero. You never used to use language like that."

Heero made an inquiring sound behind a hand that he really just wanted to kiss.

"You said the n' word. Normal doesn''t exist. We both manage to function. I don't know what else we need. If you're asking if I'm sure? Yeah, I am. I'm not sure where anything will go from here.
But I missed your ass. I was pissed as hell at you for a while. Then I just missed you. We go good together. Let's just hang and see where things go. Ok?"

Heero nodded, relieved that Duo didn't seem to need much more in the way of explanation. He still wasn't good at figuring out how to tell people about his feelings. He tended to be too blunt and he really didn't think, Duo, I want to fuck your brains out.' was going to get him anywhere, so he just replied, "Ok, sure. I just wanted to make sure you were sure. I mean, I don't want you doing anything you aren't sure about. So are you . . . mmmmmffff."

Duo slapped his hand over Heero's mouth again. "Heero, for god's sake. I'm sure, already. Ack"
Heero had broken down and licked Duo's palm. "Oh, yuck! That is just so gross! Heero. . . you shit." Heero couldn't help himself. He grabbed Duo and tickled him. Duo yelped and wriggled,
finally managing to struggle free, he darted into the bathroom. Heero followed him and cornered him there. But instead of pressing his advantage he just smacked him in the face with a towel and offered to help him put on the hot oil conditioner.


Heero didn't regret his offer even though he wound up with quite a bit of the oil on himself. Duo's mass of hair had taken the entire tube of oil. Duo had unbraided his hair and wet it. Then Heero had opened the tube of oil managing to squeeze it too hard and squirting himself in the face in the process.

After wiping Heero's face with a lock of hair observing, no sense in wasting that' Duo had shown Heero how to work the oil into the dry ends. Using Heero's hair. Then Heero had worked on Duo's hair. Combing through Duo's hair had proved to be strangely soothing.

"Heero, you better stop now. It feels soo good, I'm falling asleep. But I'm really getting cold and the oil has done its job. We need to wash it out now."

Heero obediently turned on the shower, adjusting the temperature to steaming. He didn't care for himself, cold was still as good as hot. But he knew Duo liked it hot, so hot it was. He ran his fingers through his hair and grimaced at the slimy feel.

"Yeah. It's really nasty. But your hair will feel great . . . once we get the oil out. And if you even look like you're thinking of touching your hair with bar soap I'll . . . I'll . . . well, I'm not sure what I'll do, but you won't like it."

"As long as you don't leave, I don't care."

Duo gave Heero a deer in the headlights look. After a moment, he stepped into the shower pulling Heero in after him. He turned and got the shampoo, he dumped some into his hand and much to Heero's surprise he slapped it into Heero's hair. He scrubbed at Heero's head for a few seconds the pushed him under the water.

"I'm not leaving. Get that through your hard head"

Heero grumbled. "You could have said sooner. "

"Yeah, but I wanted to soak your head a while. Soften it up."

Heero snorted blowing water off the end of his nose. "Ok. So I'm hard headed. Takes one to know one."

"Ouch!" Duo clutched dramatically at his chest then turned to allow Heero to shampoo his mane.


It didn't take long for Heero to shampoo Duo's hair. The oil washed out surprisingly easily. At least to Heero.

Duo wrapped a towel around his head and handed one to Heero. He wrapped it around his waist and another around his head. His hair was dripping as much as Duo's.

Duo grinned at Heero. "Well, that feels good. And you . . . you look like a drowned cat. All that hair and . . . geez, jug ears." Duo reached out and tugged on one of Heero's ears, he slapped at Duo''s hand in mild annoyance.

"Not either. Just look like it because you've never seen them before. Quit that."

Heero ducked out of the way of Duo's fingers and smacked him in the face with the towel he'd been drying his hair with. Duo popped him with his towel and the fight was on. They ran around the apartment popping each other with their towels, yelping and laughing. Finally the downstairs neighbor put an end to their antics by banging on the ceiling.

Duo plopped onto the couch, brushing out his still damp hair. ""Man that was fun. I haven't had that much fun in I don't know how long."

Heero tossed his clothing on the easy chair and hopped on one foot as he put on his jeans. "Since you blew up that doll factory in . . . where was it? The one where they had the fuel cells in a converted fireworks factory. Pretty colors."

Duo laughed in remembrance. "Forget where it was but the colors were pretty. Yeah, since about then." He braided his hair and snapped an elastic around the end. "I need clothes. This apartment is chilly. Can we turn up the heat?"

Heero shrugged. "I never even looked for the thermostat. I'll see about it now."

Duo went to get some clothing and sighed softly. Heero heard the sigh and wondered about it.

He waited until Duo was seated at the table then asked. "I heard you sigh. You ok? Want something?"

Duo picked at a loose cuticle. "I'm ok. I just . . . I want my strength back. I'm tired of feeling tired. I . . . I know I'm just run down but it sucks. That little bit of horse play wore me out. I used to be able to go all day and into the night. Full pack. Whole nine yards. Sucks."

Heero patted Duo on the shoulder. "You'll pick up quickly. You're not out of shape. You just can't run on nothing for so long and not expect your body to want to store up some calories. You hungry?"

Duo nodded and grimaced as his stomach announced that it was empty. Again. Heero just laughed.

"Damn. I'm really packing it away. I think I feel better than I did yesterday. It's kinda hard to tell.
What are you fixing? And, I can cook you know."

Heero flipped the piece of French toast and nodded. "I know you can. I'll let you cook tomorrow.
We'll set up a rotation. Or assign chores, which ever you prefer. I don't intend to take care of you forever. Just until you're back on your feet. Then we share. Partners. Right?"

"Yup. Right o rooney. But what is that?"

Duo eyed the fried bread on his plate curiously.

"French toast. Lightly toasted bread, dipped in egg then fried. Butter and syrup on the side. It's good. You've never had it?"

Duo shook his head. "No. It looks really good . . . we never had money for stuff like this at the orphanage and sweepers . . . well, not much in the way of fried stuff. Ever think what might happen if there was a sudden gravity drop? Hot droplets of fat drifting around in free fall. Ouch."

Heero winced in sympathy. "Ouch is right. I always wondered why everything was steamed, baked or broiled. But those are all enclosed methods. Frying requires an open pan. Or a deep fat fryer.
Man, can you imagine a deep fat fryer?"

Duo shuddered. "I'd really rather not . . . I do like this. Can we have it again?"

Heero nodded, mouth full of syrupy toast. He swallowed it and promised, "I'll teach you how to make it."

"I'd rather not." Heero gave Duo a puzzled look. He gazed back slightly embarrassed. "It could be your special dish. Ya know? Ok, I'm nuts."

Heero shook his head. "No. That's nice. But you have to come up with one too. Not fair other wise."

Duo nodded, and stuffed another chunk of toast into his mouth.


They spent the next two days lazing around the apartment, eating and sleeping.

Duo enjoyed the feeling of safety and comfort. He'd never had such a thing before. He'd always been alone. Comforting himself as best he could. Creating safety with locks and bars. He settled in happily.

Heero enjoyed it more than he had ever thought he could. Heero watched as Duo nested', he was so happy that Duo wasn't really hurting himself. He watched as his long time friend bloomed under his care.

Duo popped his head into the office and announced. "Heero, I'm getting a little stir crazy. Maybe we could go somewhere? Do something fun outside?"

Heero turned from his email. Quatre was getting a little more insistent than he liked but he had held him off as long as he felt he should.

"Ok, how would you feel about meeting with Quatre and Trowa for supper tonight. Quatre is going to be in town on a lay over. He's taking the shuttle back to . . . L4? . . . somewhere, tonight. What do you say?""

Duo pounced on Heero, "Quatre? Is he on the phone. Can I talk to him? Please? Let me?"

Heero smacked Duo's grabbing fingers gently. "No, he's not on the phone. He's in his office. I'm emailing him. Yes or no?"

Duo nearly danced with impatience. "Yesyesyes. Tell him yes. I missed him a bunch. And Trowa.
He'll be there. Right? Type man, type. You used to type so fast I thought you'd set the keyboard on fire, now you're Mr. Slowpoke. Come on, come on."

Heero laughed and turned to the keyboard and made a display of his fastest typing. He sent the mail and settled to wait for Quatre's reply. His reply was that he'd be honored to have them to supper in the airport's best restaurant. Trowa would, assuredly, be with him. They were both looking forward to seeing Duo again.

Duo immediately went into a paroxysm of worry. Did he have something to wear, was what he had good enough? Did Heero think Quatre was mad at him? Was Trowa? Did Heero think he should wear a jacket?

Heero finally went through Duo's closet himself. He realized that Duo really didn't have anything appropriate to wear. All his clothing was either thread bared or from Wal-Mart. Not that there was anything wrong with Wal-Mart clothing, unless you were going to a restaurant with Quatre Raberba Winner. Heero had his doubts about his own wardrobe. He hadn't brought a suit with him.

"We need to go shopping. I don't have anything to wear either. Come on. Let's go."

Duo scrambled into something half way decent and Heero rummaged for something that was clean.
They needed to do laundry in the worst way.

Finally settling on a clean polo shirt and dark slacks, Heero edged Duo out the door. Duo's jeans were clean but a bit ragged and his shirt was some sort of slogan thing. Heero shook his head. Duo needed more clothing in the worst way. Nearly everything he had was old and worn.

Duo sighed and admitted. "Maybe we should make a day for me to just get a new wardrobe. This is the best I've got except for that pair of slacks I wore yesterday. I . . . cut a lot of corners." he squared his shoulders and marched himself out the door. "Ok let's do this. I've got money now. I'm through being nice. I stole it and I'm going to use it . . . um . . . you didn't hear that."" Heero just smirked and punched the remote to unlock the doors of the SUV.

Duo climbed in the passenger side and stroked the upholstery. ""Nice. Velvet?"

Heero laughed. "Soda bottles. Recycled. You'll love this baby. It'll run on good wishes."

"Yeah? You take it with you? Wouldn't think that would be very economical."

"No. I rent. But I've got an agreement with the rental agency. I get the same vehicle wherever I go.
That way I'm not trying to get used to a different car every time I need one. And it makes it easy to shift my equipment. I've got a special trunk made that fits right into the luggage compartment. And the restraint system buckles into the safety belt system." Duo gave Heero a wide-eyed look. "Oh,
Duo, dammit, don't look at me like that. I have to restrain most of them or they'd attack me the minute my back is turned. That's one of the reasons I need a partner. Besides missing you like nothing I ever imagined."

"Really? I . . . when you walked away, it hurt so bad. . . ." Duo wiped unashamedly at his eyes.
"Can we change the subject?"

Heero peeked at Duo out of the corner of his eye. "Sure . . . I know a good place to get you what you need. Off the rack but really nice. Did you remember your credit card?"

Duo displayed the card he'd created. It was plain white, but even though it was a self made card it was good. Heero though for a moment. "Make me one like that. I like the idea of carrying one with no logo on it. It's more memorable for that but really hard to trace."

Duo shrugged. "Sure, remind me when we get home. I''ll do it right away or I'll forget. And . . . what do I need to wear tonight. A suit? I've never worn a suit before. I have no idea how it should fit or anything. And what about guns. I'm not about to run around without at least one. And a knife.
And my wire."

Heero laughed softly. "Old habits die hard. What did you bring with you?"

"Hold out in an ankle holster. Knife down my neck. Wire in my braid. Small of the back, paddle holster with one of my Colts. Lock picks and electronic lock scrambler. Picks in my belt. Scrambler looks like a lighter. Smokes. Only they're actually a swipe card lock decoder. You?"

Heero replied without taking his eyes off the street. "Shoulder holster, Glock .10mm. Ankle holster,
.38 snub nose special. If I'm working, I carry a Beretta modified .9mm, it's set up like the ancient sub-auto. One or three shots. Super capacity magazine. Knives here and there.""

Duo cracked up completely and spent a minute writhing in his seat, Heero's lips twitched into a grin.
Duo finally straightened up wiping at his eyes again.

"Man, you can take the boy out of the war, but you can''t take the war out of the boy. We sound like we're going on a mission. Feels good. But . . . I thought you weren't going to kill anymore. I don't want to . . . um . . . Heero?"

Heero just shrugged. "I don't kill if I can get out of it. I use mace, tasers, even darts. But if I'm going after a really bad person, all bets are off. I won't just shoot someone anymore. I''ve got better ways of handling things. Most of my bounties aren't violent offenders. But some are. And they need off the streets. So . . . is that going to be a problem?"

Duo shook his head. "No. I just . . . well, I don''t want to go around randomly shooting up the streets. And I really don''t want to have to kill someone. Did enough of that during the war. But what you've got sounds like a real good compromise. I'm going to have to have you show me all your equipment. I need to be up to speed before we go out together. Wouldn't do for me to fuck up and lose your man for you. Or get someone hurt."

Heero agreed with Duo and told him he'd make arrangements for them to go over all the equipment so Duo wouldn't have a nasty surprise. Or hurt himself or someone else.

"And you better do some serious running. Some of these guys rabbit at the first sight of me. And they're running for their lives, so they're fast. I usually run at least a mile every other day. I''ll take you out as soon as you feel up to it and bring you along as fast as you can stand. I don't want you undoing every bit that you've accomplished by over doing it. And gym time. You've got muscle,
and lots of it. You've been working out, or just working enough that you've really broadened across the shoulders." Heero chanced a sideways admiring glance. Duo noticed and blushed slightly.

"Yeah, well. Salvage you know. And I did work out. Until I couldn't afford the membership anymore. And shoot. But again ammo is expensive. And . . . well, I give up. Anything I liked, I couldn't afford. Then . . . but we're beating a dead horse here."

Heero made a face. "That's one of the worst sayings I've ever heard. It's useless to beat a horse. And cruel.""

"It means we're going over and over the same stuff. Or trying to make someone do something impossible." Duo peered out the window. "Are we there? It looks like a house. Are you sure we're in the right place?"

"Yes. The tailor converted an old house. This area is all commercial, but lots of the businesses used old houses instead of building a premises. This is a really nice place. They've got off the rack or tailored. We'll get measured for a couple of tailored suits. Off the rack will have to do for now. I just hope they have something that won't bulge under the arm too much. Come on. Let's get in there."

Duo looked impressed, "And you know this how?"

Heero grinned. "Called Quatre."


The man that met them at the door turned his nose up at both of them. Heero didn't even twitch.
Duo however hung his head, embarrassed at the state of his garments.

Heero dodged by the clerk and went straight to the back of the place, looking for the good suits. He found them in what had obviously been a lounge or day room.

"Back here, Duo. Come on. We need to hurry or they won''t have time to do the hems." Heero tossed through the suits on display, looking for something that would suit Duo.

The clerk followed him and cleared his throat, Heero turned to eye him distractedly. "Yes?"

"I doubt that you can afford that. It would be better if you went to a chain store. I'll be glad to show you the way out.""

Heero just dipped a hand into his pocket, pulled out his credit card and handed it to the man. He held out his hand to Duo, who just gave Heero his card and watched as Heero handed it to the man too.

"Check the balances. If they aren't sufficient to buy a suit, we'll leave. If they are, I expect an apology and exemplary service."

The clerk, deciding that this was the easiest way to get rid of the two intruders just went to check.
When he came back he was red faced and sweating slightly. "I'm so sorry, young sir. I . . . you'll have to admit that . . . um . . ."

"We're caught embarrassed. Our luggage was lost. And we're meeting a friend at the airport for supper. We need to get something nice and Heero said that you could get the job done in time. Sorry.
Um . . . help a guy out?"

"That's what I'm here for. You both are on the small side. No offence intended. And muscular. That could be a problem."" The clerk shoved suits back and forth looking for something. "I think . . . now . . . ah . . . here. Cashmere. And very nice if I do say so myself. It's very elegant, but understated.
Not that loud stuff young people like. Not that you shouldn't have such stuff, but . . . you need a good suit as well as club clothing. I can't convince my own son of that. But . . ."

Duo just grinned at the man and took the suit. "No offence taken. I like this. But Heero needs a suit too. Maybe he should have this one?""

But the clerk was fishing on the rack again. "No. It''s grey. Very dark charcoal but it's still grey. He needs something in a very dark brown. Or a blue black. Not a grey black. Ah! Here we are. It''s very dark chocolate brown. It will make his complexion look less yellow."" Heero just stood back and let Duo work. He liked to watch Duo coax the crankiest person into being helpful.

"It's really nice. Silk? Looks like it. And we need shirts and ties and . . . what else?"

"I'd suggest a pocket square to match your tie. And a real pocket handkerchief. Belt. Do you have shoes?" Duo solemnly shook his head. "Thought not. I'll send for some. What size do you wear?"

Duo told him, Heero gave him his size and continued to look through the suits. He wasn't sure about the brown and he didn't care that much for silk.

The clerk, whose name Duo acquired after a little smoozing, sent for shoes and had them both change into their clothing. Duo came out first and watched as Allen grimaced. The jacket was too loose in the neck and too tight across the shoulders. The pants dragged the ground but were way too short in the crotch. The shirt fit at least.

"Well, looks like we have our work cut out for us. Would you please return to the fitting room and remove that abomination? Put on the kimono you find there and come back. We'll have to run you through the computer."

Heero was in much the same position as Duo except that he had the additional problem of his shoulder holster. It bulged something awful.

Allen dropped his head into his hand. He'd crossed his arms earlier and now he just braced his elbow on the wrist of the opposite arm and rubbed his forehead. "Well, this is nice." Duo added not' and shook his head in sympathy. "I'd like to see your permit if you don't mind."

Heero just produced the required document and nodded to Duo to hand over his. Duo did present a sight, standing in nothing but a short kimono, ankle holster and a knife sheath. Heero had to smother a snicker.

Duo's bright eyes didn't miss much and certainly didn't miss Heero's shaking shoulders.

"You're laughing at me you shit. But . . ."" Duo caught sight of himself in the triple mirror in one corner. "Well, I can see why. I look like a string bean. All knees and elbows and hair. Dammit."

Allen caught Heero's glance and made a face. "He certainly has no idea what he looks like, does he?" Heero shook his head and kept his mouth shut. Duo never had had any idea of his good looks.
I'm fair, I guess' was his grudging admission.

"He's been ill so he's a little self-conscious about his body right now. And . . . um . . . come over here while he's in the scanner."

Allen tucked Duo into the size scanner and left him to its mercies. He followed Heero across the room.

"His hands are in terrible shape. Is there somewhere I can take him?"

"Right next door. They do a wonderful paraffin wrap. It''ll cure almost anything. But . . . I'm sorry about earlier. You look familiar. Do I know you? You're not one of those local boys that keep coming in here wanting suits."

Heero shook his head. "I don't remember ever being in here before. I don't recognize you either.
And I have a good memory for faces."

Duo exited the machine and announced that they could quit talking about him now. Heero turned without embarrassment. He had known Duo would know they were talking about him. It didn't bother him any. He was going to relate the entire conversation to Duo anyway.

"We were just talking about your hands. They're a mess. There's a place next door that can work on them. Your nails are ok. But those calluses are bad. And they're rough. You might catch on something and tear one."

Duo flushed hotly. "I know my hands are a mess and so are my arms still. They look so bad I'm ashamed to . . . well" Duo pulled the sleeves of the kimono down to cover the still healing cuts and,
incidentally, the e-leash which Heero still hadn't removed. Allen looked sympathetic.

"Well, they don't look all that bad. What were you doing for heavens sake?"

"Welders assistant." Heero flushed himself. He couldn't believe that Allen had known Duo wasn't hurting himself and he hadn't.

"Oh, my. Well, you just go on over to Sylvia's. Heero, you pop into the scanner and get scanned. Go on over and get him a paraffin wrap and a callus removal. Come back in about an hour. I'll have something worked up by then."

So Heero took Duo over to Sylvia's and watched as the woman eyed Duo's hands, grimaced and demanded to see Heero's too. She sighed over the state of both of them and commanded Heero to sit beside Duo so she could work on both of them. Heero started to protest but Duo silenced him by announcing that if he had to suffer through being coated with hot paraffin so did Heero.

So Heero submitted to having his hands coated in lotion, massaged, washed, rubbed with pumice stone and rebooted with lotion. He watched Duo as he nearly purred with pleasure at the attention.
Heero sighed, if Duo liked it that was all that counted.

The actual paraffin wrap was something Heero didn't care for much. Sylvia put plastic bags over their hands and then had them dip the covered appendages into very warm paraffin wax. Then she covered them with towels and left them until the wax cooled off. Heero didn't like having his hands covered with anything like this. The only reason he even permitted it was that he was fairly sure no one who had anything against him knew he was there.

Duo however, enjoyed every minute of the treatment. His hands were sore and the heat made them feel so much better.

"Hey, Syl, is this equipment hard to use? Or expensive?""

"Naw, sweetie. It's easy. All you do is put the wax in and let it melt. I just use plastic wrap if I'm out of those bag things. And it's fairly cheap. Why?"

Duo grinned at her. "I'm thinking of getting myself some. My hands are so bad. I thought it might be good to just go ahead and get it."

Sylvia just shrugged. "Well, it's up to you, but I'd just make an appointment once a month or so.
You shouldn't get it done more than that. You need some calluses or you'll get blisters. You go back to work and you'll be sorry."

Duo just grumbled irritably. "Not going back there. I''m getting my last check and clocking out for good."

Heero gave Duo a fiercely feral snarl. "You're getting your check and I'm clocking your boss out."

Duo shrugged, "Ok, sure. Can I watch"
"Yeah." Heero glanced at his watch. "How much longer? We need to get back to Chambord's in time to finish our fittings and still get to the airport in time to meet Quatre and Trowa. . . . Duo, stop pestering the poor woman." But Heero took the sting out of his words with a surprisingly tender look. Duo snorted.

Sylvia just hid a smile and finished up her job.


Allen watched the young men as they entered the door. He sighed, Young love. I remember that.
They're so cute. And deadly. I remember now.' Allen remembered who they were when he saw them standing together in the door.

Heero gave Allan a sharp look, but didn't say anything. Allen led them to the same back room and settled Heero on a couch there. He instructed Duo to go put on the suit that was hanging in the fitting room on the right side of the room.

Allen cleared his throat, Heero turned to look at him. "I remember who you are now. You're Gundam 01. Heero Yuy. You don't remember me. I look a great deal different from what I did during the war. I was the local resistance contact."

Heero relaxed, he'd tensed up when Allen said he remembered them. "I see. And that's why you gave me a hard time?"

"Oh, no. I just knew I knew you. We're always getting silly boys in here, wanting suits and complaining when they find out the price. I try to get them out with a minimum of fuss. No. I just now realized who you were . . . er . . . Are . . . when I saw you in the door. I just want to say that I''m proud to have served with you. And thank you for saving my brother. Um . . . now . . . I feel awkward. I'm sorry."

Heero just passed it off. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad you're proud. I don't remember you, but I had so many missions so close together that it's nothing against you. Don't tell Duo. You'll just make him nervous. Ok?"

"Certainly. But, if I might?" Heero gazed at Allen and waited for him to continue. "What happened to Colonel Maxwell? A welder's assistant? If it's classified, forget I asked."

Heero shook his bangs out of his eyes. "Not classified. He just lost his ship due to circumstances beyond his control. So he took whatever he could get. We just now found him again. Long story short. He's too proud for his own good."

Allen nodded. "I see. Well, mum's the word. I''ll see that you both have your suits in time for your meeting. Who's it with, if it's any of my business?"

"Quatre. At The Top Of The Heap."

"Oh, my. That's very exclusive. I think I''ve changed my mind about your shirts."

Heero turned just in time to catch sight of Duo as he tried to slip back into the fitting room. He'd caught sight of himself in the mirror and didn't realize that they were only ready for the first fitting.
The suit hung funny and looked really sad.

Heero called him into the center of the room and watched as Allen worked magic, not only soothing Duo's misgivings, but marking the suit for fit so quickly that Duo didn't have time to feel self conscious.

Allen called Heero to the platform and marked his suit while Duo watched. Allen was careful now not to move too suddenly or touch either one of them without warning. Heero snickered when Allen told him I have to measure your crotch. I'm not getting familiar with you.'

His reply of well, if feeling me up isn't getting familiar, I don't know what is.' made Duo crack up.
Allen started to get offended then realized that Heero had done it to lighten Duo's mood, which was sliding into morose. He went along.

"I swear I'm not . . . er . . . feeling you up. I don't want Colonel Maxwell going Shinigami' on me."

Heero snickered. "He won't. I know which side my bread is buttered on."

Duo interjected. "I've got a better use for butter than wasting it on bread."

Allen choked then laughed. Heero blinked then joined him. Duo made a third and they laughed heartily at their own silliness.

"Well, that was good. Here. I'm done marking the suits. I'll send them out with a rush like crazy on them. They'll be ready for their last fitting at three. I know that's cutting it close, but it's the best I can do."

Duo nodded his acceptance. "Ok. Just do the best you can. I'm sure we'll get in anyway. Q-ball will just buy the place if they give us too much shit."

"Really? This Q-person has that much clout."

Heero checked his weapons and nodded. "Quatre Raberba Winner. Yeah. I think so."

Allen gulped and goggled. "Mr. Winner . . . the Winner. Oh, my goodness. Gracious me."

Duo gave Allen his sunniest smile. "That Winner. Yeah. We're supposed to meet him at . . . eight?

Heero grunted in acknowledgment. "Check your weapons and let's get out of here and let the man work. We'll do lunch at a place I know. Then I'd like to go back to the apartment and check to see if Jason has left a message or anything. I really want that repo guy.""

Duo grumbled, "Won't do any good. My ship''s still gone. And most of my stuff." At Heero's unhappy look he shook his head. "I had tools, and equipment on the ship and some of the stuff in the hold was mine. He got enough stuff to pay the payments due at the very least. And the fuel on board was worth some. I just filled the tanks. So I got screwed."

Heero grinned savagely. "Someone's going to pay for it. If we can get the guy, we can make him pay up. Either to you or the bank. Which ever you want."

"The bank. I still think they jumped the gun on me, but I owe them. I really should see how much I still owe. I want to clear up my credit record."

Heero parked in his assigned space. He'd decided to drop by the apartment so he could run up and check his answering machine.

"Heero, why don't you have a machine with auto check?"

"I do, at home. This isn't my home. I just rented it so I could take care of you. I have a house in San Jose."

Duo's face fell. "Oh, well. Ok."

"It's really nice. Not right on the beach. That's stupid. First thing you know a hurricane comes along or the beach washes away. It's up in the hills a bit. Good view of the ocean, fire place. You'll like it, I hope."

Duo blinked for a second. "Um . . . I'm invited? Really?"

Heero turned to Duo and at the look on his face snarled fiercely. "Don't be stupid. You're my partner, of course you''re invited. You can come stay with me. If it doesn't work out you can stay until you find someplace you want. I . . . you . . . hell." Heero banged his fist on the steering wheel making Duo flinch. "Don't DO that. Dammit!"

Duo patted Heero on the shoulder. This was more emotion than Heero had shown for all of the war.
"Easy. We need to talk about some things. But not right now. Ok? There's too much going on today for it. But we'll have a good talk and figure out stuff. I promise. Ok."

Heero nodded. "Sorry. Really. Sometimes I just . . . I''m still not good with handling emotions sometimes. I'll get better. My therapist says I'm doing fine. I only see her now when I need to. I call her and she sets up an appointment. I'll get you some sessions with her if you like."

Duo considered this carefully, examining it from all sides like a cat with a new toy. "I dunno.
Maybe. I'll keep it in mind.""

"Ok, I'm not going to push it. But if we . . . never mind that for later. I'm going up now." Heero just opened the door of the SUV and got out. He walked across the parking lot and entered the building.
Duo watched him every step of the way, fiddling with the e-leash bracelet absently. Heero was offering Duo a place to live? Or at least stay until he found a place nearby. San Jose?

Duo decided to table that whole thing for later.


Heero upbraided himself all the way up the stairs, he'd noticed Duo's changing expressions. He hoped he hadn't scared Duo away. He'd been careful since he'd found him, not to do something inappropriate. He felt that, so far, he'd succeeded.

He checked the machine, had no messages and no email. He gathered up some things he thought they'd need and went back down to Duo.

"Here." Heero handed Duo the small shooting bag, which Duo dropped in the foot well. "We'll drop by the shooting range. I gave you the papers to fill out. You fax them?"

"Yup. Think I'm going to miss out on shooting? And I faxed in the membership to the gym too"
Duo settled in and fastened his seat belt. "I hate this kind of safety set up. What if I need to not fasten my seatbelt for some reason?"

"Cut off switch under the dashboard. I like the set up. Kept me from losing my target and my car a few times. Some idiot darts out of a blind spot and snags my ride? Explain that."

Duo groaned. "Oh, man. That actually happen?"

Heero laughed softly. "No. I remember you doing it to Ozzies more than once. I tried to remember all the tricks you used and figure out a counter to them. You might go over my arrangements some time. See what I might have missed."

"Sure. I guess it would be pretty embarrassing if someone pulled half the shit on you that we pulled on Oz. And the rest was plain deadly. We going to lunch first or shoot first. I'm all for lunch. I'm hungry again."

Heero shrugged slightly. He didn't care one way or the other, but he did want to get Duo into a different shirt. He recognized the badly faded logo finally, it said, See a Gundam, kiss your ass goodbye.'' emblazoned across Deathscythe.

"We're stopping at the nearest store. That shirt has got to go. It's going to cause all kinds of grief at the range.""

Duo plucked at the hem of his shirt. "What? . . . This old thing?"

Heero just turned into the parking lot of a strip mall. He''d seen a store at one end that would do.


They entered the store and looked around. Duo headed for a rack of t-shirts with logos of various kinds on them. Heero reached out and grabbed him by one arm.

"Oh, no you don't. You're going to pick out at least three shirts without obnoxious sayings on them.
You'll present a professional front on demand." Duo stuck his tongue out at Heero but followed him to a different area where Heero proceeded to pick out several shirts that he felt were appropriate.
"Try this one on for size. If it fits, keep it on. I'm not getting into a fist fight with some red neck over a shirt. Scat."

Duo snickered at the mental picture of Heero's fist disappearing into some fat slob's gut. "Ok. I know you don't need the grief. I don't either. I didn't even realize what was on the shirt until it was too late. Allen didn't say anything, but you''re right. So . . . this one? Or that?" Duo held up a dark blue shirt then a brown one.

"Blue." Heero flicked through a pile of shirts to see what else he wanted for Duo.

Duo went into the fitting room and put on the blue shirt. It fit nicely. Tight enough to show off his musculature but not so tight it looked trashy. He stuck his head out the curtain and called Heero.
Heero came into the hall between the ranks of curtained doorways.

"What is it?"

"This shirt fits me now. But it won't as soon as I put on some more weight. I'd say; buy this one and one other. Then get several in the next size up. I've lost about twenty pounds."

Heero eyed Duo's thin frame. "Pounds you could ill afford. You're too thin. Not that I haven't said that half a hundred times already."

"Yeah. I should weigh in at about one fifty or so. I''m down to one twenty-five. Not good. So . . .
finish picking out the damn shirts already. I'm starvin' here."

Heero did as Duo suggested and handed the pile of shirts to the check out clerk. She smiled at Heero as she scanned the merchandise over the scan plate. Heero smiled absently back and watched dumbfounded as she flushed red and made a mistake, double scanning the shirt she held.

"Oh, crap. Now I have to call the supervisor. I'm sorry, it'll take her forever to get here too."

Heero just shrugged. Turning to Duo he excused himself and went to find the supervisor. Duo watched him walk away, admiring his firm body and authoritative air.

"It won't work. She's a cow and a half. Won't come forever. She just loves it when a costumer complains. She blames it on us. I guess she thinks it makes her look good or something."

Duo shook his head, making his braid dance. "Oh, she''ll come. Heero has ways."

Just then a rather flustered looking older woman hurried up, Heero right behind her. Heero winked at Duo and announced. "There's an error. Please correct it in a timely manner. And don't flirt with my boyfriend." The woman gave him a dirty look but cleared out the mistake and filled out the paperwork quickly. She hurried away, leaving the checker with a befuddled look on her face. She finished checking them out, accepted Heero's card and completed the transaction without further error.

Heero gathered up the bag of shirts and hustled Duo to the door. "Easy there. What's up?"

"I hate it when they flirt with me. I never know exactly what to do. All I did was smile back and she turned into an idiot. It's very unnerving. And that supervisor? She was all I'm grown up and you're just a child' so I showed her my shield and she turned into an idiot too. What's the matter with those women?"

Duo nearly hurt himself he laughed so hard. "Heero, she was flirting with you because you're every girl's wet dream. The supervisor probably nearly had a stroke when you glared at her. That look scared Scary Une Lady. So what makes you think that some low level . . . what ever you call her. . .
is going to stand up to it for a second?"

Heero looked at Duo like he'd lost his mind. "Don't be stupid. Those women don't know me from Adam. And I didn't glare at her . . . much."

Duo continued to snicker as Heero tossed his bag of shirts over the back of the seat into the middle seat. Heero scooted in behind the wheel and backed out of the parking place. He was careful to watch for oncoming traffic. That was all he'd need. A collision in a parking lot, paper work to fill out and he wasn't sure what else.

The screech of tires made him swear, until he realized that he hadn't hit anything. The sound had come from someone else avoiding a collision with a bike riding hooligan who flipped them the bird and disappeared between parked cars.

Duo sighed in relief. "I don't believe we still flinch at stuff like that."

"I do. Remember how many times it was us pulling stuff like that just to avoid getting caught?"

"Oh, yeah . . . good times . . . not! Where are we going to eat?"

Heero turned his attention to the GPS. He punched in a request and eyed the display for a moment.
After some mental calculation he nodded.

"How do you feel about some dim sum? There's a restaurant nearby that has that service you like.
Just don't pile the plates up too high."

Duo rubbed his hands together in delight. "Man, I don''t believe you remember I like dim sum. We had it the one time. Wufei took us somewhere or other. Was that lady related to him?"

"I think she was some sort of cousin twice removed or something. I remember . . . I remember the look on your face. The sounds you made as you ate. I remember the way you piled the little plates up."

"Seems like you remember everything."

Heero kept his eyes on the road as he murmured, "I do.""

Duo blinked once then remarked carefully. "Everything?""

"Yes. Every single thing."


They got to the restaurant and Duo hustled Heero in the door exclaiming in delight at the Chinese motif of red wallpaper, black trim and shining chandeliers of hand painted glass panels. They were greeted by a small Chinese woman of indeterminate age and shown to a table. Heero shook his head.

"Could we please have a table further back?" He looked around and found one in a sort of raised cubby hole. They could both put their backs to a wall and still see most of the room.

"Yes. Of course. The police like that one especially. The table is for eight but we're not busy so I guess it'll be all right. Come this way." She led them to the table and seated them. ""Tea? Or coffee.
The first cart is almost ready. I'll send it around with the server"

Duo decided on tea as did Heero. The hostess left them to wait for the cart to come around.

This restaurant was the kind that served a few bites of food on a little plate. Different prices were different shapes. You could get anything from tiny okonomiaki to broiled squid on a stick, chicken tenders in mango sauce to steamed meat buns. Granted, some foods were Japanese and some Chinese, but this was Sanq. The neat joining of all nations that was ESUN hadn't managed to erase regional borders like Relena had hoped. People realized pretty quickly that chaos was on the horizon and reinstituted them as legal borders.

Heero helped himself to several plates from the cart and set them before himself. Duo followed suit and announced, "Too bad he can''t just leave the cart. I'm starving." At Heero's amused glance he chuckled. "I do seem to be saying that a lot. But it''s true."

Heero swallowed something that looked suspiciously like octopus and agreed. "Yeah, you are nagging on that one note a bit. But you''re going to be hungry until your body makes up the lost weight. Your system is trying to recover from all that abuse. So, I don't think you need to be worried about it. Just eat when you're hungry. I don't mind."

Duo mumbled around a mouthful of rice. "Tha's goo' to o. mmm." he swallowed hard. "Sorry.
That' good. Hand me some soy sauce, please."

"Sure. Want some wasabi? It'll go good with that tuna."

Duo accepted the wasabi and finished his last plate. He looked around for the cart which happened to be across the room. He signaled to the server who nodded to show he'd seen them. He started to wheel the cart over to them but was stopped by a large man seated between them and the server. The man nearly emptied the cart with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Heero was steaming, but Duo announced loudly, "Great! That man took all the cold stuff. We'll be first at the new cart. All hot and fresh."

Heero watched in satisfaction as the man realized that his greed had left him with a table full of food that would go cold before he could eat it. His face reddened and his glare promised retribution. Duo managed to look innocent as only he could.

The fresh cart was brought straight to their table. Duo picked out half a dozen new plates, Heero satisfied himself with four. They nibbled their way through those while Heero talked about what they were going to do for the rest of the day. Duo finished his last plate and smiled.

"I'm full. Let's just pile the plates by shape. I'll buy. I've got my own money now. So it's my treat."

Heero started to object then realized that that would hurt Duo''s feelings rather badly. He just shrugged instead. "Ok. That'll be good. Lunch tomorrow is my treat."

Duo counted the plates and consulted the list from the condiment rack on the table. All it showed was the size and shape of the plate with the cost. He did some mental math and grimaced, he was glad he was paying. The total was rather shocking.

Heero did his own math and just remarked. "At least the tea was free."

They headed for the register. They found themselves behind the fat man who'd cleaned off the cart.
He was arguing with the hostess.

He felt that, since most of the food had gotten cold, he shouldn't have to pay full price. He was trying to bargain for half price or less. The hostess was looking harassed, trying to get the man to keep his voice down.

"Excuse me. You're making the poor woman embarrassed. Why don't you just pay your bill and go on your way?"

Duo crowded the man slightly, this usually made people uncomfortable and moved them on.
Unfortunately, this didn't work on the man. It just made him angrier, which made him louder.
"Who the hell are you to tell me how to act? You're just some insolent kid with an attitude. Get lost!" his scornful remark didn't bother either Heero or Duo but the rest of the room started taking notice of the disturbance.

Heero stepped up beside Duo, adding his voice to Duo's. "You need to keep it down. You're acting like a child."

"Yeah, so what. What are you going to do about it.?""

Duo looked at Heero who just shrugged. "You?"


Duo grabbed the man by one arm and did a little twisting move that took the man's arm up behind his back. Duo frog marched the loudly protesting man to the door and shoved him out. "And don't come back. Here!" Duo tossed the man's wallet in his face, waggled the bills he'd extracted and announced, "This is for the bill. And a tip for the hostess as you're such an ass."

He allowed the door to shut on its own.

Heero finished paying the hostess and turned just in time to see Duo come back to the register.
"Here. Keep the change. Come on Heero I want out of here."

Heero just followed Duo to the SUV.


When they arrived at the firing range they had been silent for several tense minutes. Duo had finally eased the tension buy turning on the radio. He purposely picked a station that would play the least obnoxious music possible. Heero would hate it.

He did. They spent the last of the drive alterably sneering at the music and singing along. Duo was amazed at Heero's vocal range and said so. Heero had only replied that it was all muscular control.
Duo still admired his firm baritone.

Heero opened the door for Duo who was carrying the bag and a small ammo box. Duo dumped the things on the desk and waited while Heero rang the buzzer.

It didn't take long for someone to come to the desk. It wasn't James but the man recognized Heero and nearly groveled at his feet.

"You're the kid James was telling us about. Great move. Thanks a bunch. James is a good guy,
pisses us all off when someone''s rude to him. And that Henderson . . . imagine having all those warrants out and still acting like a total ass."

Heero handed the man his duffel and managed to get a good look at his name tag. "Well, Matt, I like James too. He is nice. And Henderson wasn't worth the skin it takes to keep his guts in. So . . . don't mention it. Here." Heero fished out Duo's guns and handed Mat the list of serial numbers. He also set out his guns for examination.

Mat did the required checks quickly and put everything back in the bag. "There. Go on back. I'll tell the range officer that you're coming. And your friend . . . um . . . where are his papers?"

Heero told Mat Duo's name and he punched it into the computer. Duo's name came up at once with conformation of membership. Mat grinned, "And that's where I know him from." Heero stiffened,
then relaxed as Duo came up behind him. "Major Maxwell, how are you.""

Duo grinned. "Good, good. Discharged as a colonel. I''m sorry I don't remember you. Have we met?"

"No. I just know you from vids. Colonel, huh? That''s great."

"Sure it is. With a medal and a dollar you can get a cup of coffee." Duo turned to Heero. "We ready?"

Heero picked up the bag and nodded. He led the way into the back of the building and told the range officer that they would take one bay. He just handed them a pile of papers and pointed to the one nearest him.

"Take that bay. I'll want to keep an eye on you this time. I like to watch new comers for a while. No insult intended. Just . . . I'd rather be safe than sorry."

Heero nodded his understanding. This actually raised his respect for the man. The range officer had never seen either him or Duo. He had refrained from commenting on their age, but he was taking care to make sure that they did know what they were doing. All without making a scene, or embarrassing anyone.

Duo couldn't help teasing the man a bit. "You wanna take a look at my pieces?"

"Ok, be glad to. Something wrong with one of them?""

"No just thought you might like to have a look."

Duo set his weapons out and stepped back. He pulled the duffel nearer and fished in it for ammo.
He'd loaded several magazines before they left the apartment. He intended to put them out on the bench so he could shoot without having to hunt for his things.

Heero stepped back as the RO came down from his perch in the observation booth, following Duo to the floor.

He picked up one of Duo's matched Colts and examined it with awe. "Holy hell. This is nice.
Sweeper work?"

Duo just smirked. Those guns had been reworked to his specifications by Howard himself. "Yurp.
Howard made em special."

"Howard? Hmmm. . . I thought he got out of the gun business years ago. Last I heard he'd only made . . . oh . . . .wow." the RO realized that the last guns Howard had made were for Shinigami,
trailed off, blinked at Duo and stammered to silence, eyeing Duo carefully.

Duo gave him a slightly puzzled look then turned to Heero. ""You want me to put out your stuff?"

Heero just shook his head. "No, I'll do it. You continue to scare the RO out of his senses."

The RO shook himself back together. "Sorry. I just never can get used to the idea that you five were just . . . boys when OM started. You're what? . . . Eighteen now?"

Heero nodded with his trade mark grunt. He finished putting out his handguns and magazines and dropped the duffel under the bench. "Yeah. But we're both FRA's. If there's nothing else, I''d like to get started." Heero turned to Duo. "If we're going to shoot, we better get started. We still have to go back to the apartment, shower, get to Allen's and suit up. The airport is almost exactly opposite the shop. Clear across town. A forty-five minute drive."

Duo nodded and picked up his first weapon, one of his beautiful Colts. He slid the magazine into the receiver and seated it with a soft click. He efficiently chambered a round, lowered the hammer and set the safety. Picking up the loaded handgun's twin he loaded and locked it.

Heero didn't actually watch the RO but he was aware that he returned to the viewing station. Heero set papers for himself and Duo then turned to prepare his own weapons. He did this with quick,
efficient motions. Duo watched admiringly as Heero's capable hands worked over the weapons.

Duo had always loved Heero's hands. They were small, square palmed with long fingers, palms calloused from a life time of handling weapons and Gundam controls.

"You ready?"

Duo drew his attention back to the task at hand. "Yeah. Protection?"

Duo and Heero both donned the mandatory hearing and eye protection. The muffs' were top of the line with very efficient noise canceling properties that made it possible to speak to each other but still block out the hearing damaging explosions. Tempered plastic glasses protected their eyes from noxious gasses and the powdery residue of lead, and carbon from the burning gunpowder.

Duo ran the papers out to the back wall, 100 yards away. Heero smirked at him, "If you think I've lost my touch why don't we have a little bet?"

Duo shook his head. "I don't think you've done any such thing. I won't bet unless I can set the boundaries.""

"Set away. I'm game."

"Ok. You get six shots. You have to hit the bulls eye and each of the cross points in the inner ring."

"That's only five shots."

Duo rolled his eyes at Heero. "Hell, I know that. That gives you six shots at five targets. I can do it.
Can you?"

Heero just turned and fired off six rounds. He ran the paper up and just bowed slightly to Duo.
There were five neat holes in the paper. Duo started to smirk, five holes, six shots. Then he noticed that the middle hole, the bulls-eye was clipped slightly. Heero had hit it twice.

"Shit." Duo laughed and ran a hand through his bangs. "Ok. What's my set up?"

Heero shrugged. "Same as mine. But you can take as much time as you want."

Duo just clipped a fresh paper to the holder and ran it out. He waited for the paper to settle then took his shots almost as fast as Heero had. They waited as the paper ran back to them. Duo eyed the paper with disgust. He''d tried the same shots as Heero but hadn't gotten the same results. One shot was off by about a sixteenth of an inch. The second bulls-eye shot had clipped deep into the edge of the first hole.

"Well, damn. That sucks. Looks like I'm going to be spending some real serious time in here. Ok,
what's my forfeit?""

Heero thought for a moment, it wouldn't do to ask for what he really wanted, it'd scare Duo.
"Breakfast in bed tomorrow morning. I'd like poached eggs, soft. Toast, no butter. Tea. And a newspaper."

Duo gave Heero a funny look. "Breakfast in bed? Huh? I mean, excuse me?"

Heero gave Duo a bland look. "What? I've never had it."

"Have too. I mean, you've been in the hospital, so you have to have had it."

Heero watched the expressions flit across Duo's face. ""Yeah, but never just because I could. I was always wounded. And you've tasted hospital food. What's fun about it?"

Duo had to snicker. "Ok, ok. I get the picture. Which paper do you want, my lord?"

Heero named a local paper then turned to set up more papers. They both went about the business of blowing away several hundred dollars worth of ammo. They even practiced with their hold outs. As Heero remarked, What''s the use of having something you can't hit shit with?' Duo had absently agreed and finished out the magazine with a flourish, puncturing the bulls-eye in a neat circle around the black.

The RO, who had kept an eye on them, was practically drooling. He wanted those papers, badly. He waited until they were through shooting and had started examining their papers. He left the observation booth and walked up to them starting to say something. He was greeted by two pistol barrels pointed directly at his face. He held up his hands in an I'm harmless' gesture.

"Sorry. I'd like to look at your papers. If you don't mind."

Heero handed over his papers with out comment. Duo laughed and remarked, "I've got some practicing to do. He's beat me to bits. Look here." Duo held up one paper and pointed. The hole was tri lobed, three bullets going through almost exactly the same place. "I just can't seem to get in the grove somehow . . . well, I'll just keep working on it."

The RO shuddered, if that was what Duo called out of the grove, he wasn't sure he wanted to see what in the grove was. He found out seconds later.

"Here. Take a look at this one. Nearly perfect."

The paper showed a neat pattern of holes. But he knew that he hadn't issued this paper. One, it was folded in quarters. Obviously, so it would fit in the bottom of the duffel. Two, it had an eight by eight square of inch and a half red circles with a simple cross hatch. Each circle had a hole in the middle of it, punching out the cross. He just goggled for a moment.

"I see. And . . . um . . . can I have those? I'd like them autographed, if you don't mind."

Duo blinked one time, very slowly, as if he wasn't quite sure he'd heard right. Heero glanced from Duo to the RO, then shrugged. "If you like. I'm not sure why, but if you want them, you''re welcome to have them. Duo?"

Duo just scribbled his signature across the bottom of his three best papers and handed them to the RO. Heero followed suit and watched in bemusement as the man stapled them to the bulletin board across the back of the room. He stepped back to admire his prizes and announced with some satisfaction, "That''ll put some very complacent guys back on their toes. Thanks so much."


Duo had finished putting all their equipment in the duffle again. It wasn't quite as one sided as it seemed, Heero had cleaned every weapon with ruthless speed and efficiency. He'd started on the first one while Duo was picking up the brass. When he'd finished that one, he'd stopped to watch Duo for a while. Then he'd finished his self-imposed chore and, after wiping off the frames and grips, handed Duo each weapon to put away.

"Well, that's the last one. Thanks for doing mine too. Made it easy to get cleaned up. Check to see if I missed any brass. I hate to have to order more .44 auto's, it's a real bitch to get them. They have to be specially made and the turnaround time sucks."

"I'll make them for you. I've got all the equipment at home. And I'll take over reloading for you, if you like. I know how you hate it."

Duo grimaced comically. "So sucks. Have you ever thought about getting gunpowder out of hair like mine?"

Heero ran a hand over his tousled locks. "No. It's bad enough getting it out of mine."

Duo eyed Heero's hair critically. "You condition that? Doesn't look like it. You want me to put some of that hot oil . . . damn, we used it all on our hair yesterday. I'll give you some of the other.
You should use it."

Heero didn't even bother to shrug. "I'll just use the same all purpose bar I always use. It doesn't make any difference."

Duo shuddered in mock but sincere horror. "That all purpose camping soap isn't intended for long term use. It's not bad for your hair. It's suicidal for hair. You quit using that shit. I'll find you some good soap and shampoo. A two in one would be good for you. Shampoo and conditioner in one.
Slap it on, leave it a while then rinse. And don't argue with me." Duo held up a hand, stern expression sitting oddly on his elfin face. "My mind is made up. And if you don't cooperate, I'll just keep stealing it and tossing it until you give up."

Heero just gathered up the bag and some of their papers, heading for the exit he spoke over his shoulder. "What ever you want. I don''t care. If you want me to use what you buy, just don't make it some girly stuff."

Duo gave an indignant exclamation. "Girly stuff? I'll have you know, I don't use girly stuff. What makes you think I'd try to get you to." He followed Heero into the front, grumbling.

Heero gave him an amused glance and held the door as Duo continued to grumble. "Hush. You sound like an old lady. I'll take you by a drug store or something and you can pick what ever you like the smell of. I think we have time."

Duo tossed the papers into the back and carefully put the duffel back in the foot well. He belted in and settled comfortably. "I don''t know. We have to get back to the apartment, clean up then Allen's, dress, airport." He figured in his head for a moment. "Maybe if I'm quick. I'll just have . . .
you don't care what I get. So . . . I know!"

Heero backed out of his parking place and maneuvered his vehicle into the aisle. "What? You've had a brain storm."

"Why don't you just use my stuff. I'll let you have whatever you need for today. Then we can pick up some for you later. That'll take care of that nicely. And we can share if one of us runs out."

Heero nearly crowed with delight but refrained for fear of scaring Duo out of his wits. This was good. Duo would run out long before he did, he invariably forgot to stock up in time. So he could not only offer to give Duo some of his, he could suggest that they might like to share more than just shampoo and body wash.

"That sounds like a really good idea. We can share if one of us runs out." He did manage to keep the glee out of his voice.


They showered in record time. Heero had always thought it was a misconception that Duo couldn't get ready in under an hour. Chang had insulted him several times but the only one who'd ever been scrambling at the last minute had been Wufei himself. He'd had to search for a hair tie. Duo always had hair ties.

Duo braided his hair wet and tossed the resultant rope over his shoulder.

"Shouldn't you dry that. Won't it smell . . . funny?" Heero had always wondered about that and now that they were roomies, he smiled, he felt he could satisfy his curiosity.

"No. Used to have to worry about that. Sometimes, if it didn't dry fast enough, it'd smell . . . musty.
But this shampoo prevents that. And I dried it enough that it won't drip on me. So . . . we need to get going."

Heero glanced at his watch and realized that they did need to be on their way.

Duo led the way to the SUV, announcing over his shoulder, ""I really am looking forward to seeing Q and Trowa again. I haven't seen any of you guys in way too long."

Heero winced, he knew it wasn't his fault but he still felt guilty. Duo had endured a lot, without any support from people who were supposed to be his friends. He was going to have a lot of making up to do.

"We'll go to see Allan, get our suits and shoes." He nearly slammed on the brakes at Duo's wide eyed look. ""What!"

"Shoes. Did we give him our sizes? Shit."

Heero grumbled slightly at the scare but managed to reply calmly enough. "Yes we did. Besides, the computer measured us for shoes too . . . don't scare me like that. I thought I was going to run over something or . . . something."

Duo snickered at that and leaned back in his seat. "Sorry, I'll never get used to that scan business.
Am I going to embarrass you?"

Heero snorted. "I couldn't care less about others. Not even Trowa or Quatre. If you're happy, I'm happy. Eat with your fingers, drink out of the finger bowl. Won't bother me."

Duo gave Heero a wide-eyed look. "There's bowls shaped like fingers? Wow."

"Idiot." Heero's fond look made Duo feel warm all over. "I know you know better. Quatre taught us all about formal dining before we went to boarding school, so don't give me that. Dig around in the glove box and find some change. I want a soda. We'll nick through a drive through along the way.

Duo obligingly rummaged through the glove box for change, finding a bunch of lose change he counted out enough for a soda. Then he started putting all the change he found in a zip baggie he'd taken out of the door pocket. He tossed it back into the box and shook his head.

"Heero, there must be at least twenty dollars in there. What's up with that?"

Heero tapped his brakes to let a car into the flow of traffic. ""I go through drive-thrus a lot. I usually don't have a hand to deal with the coins, so I just toss them in there."

Duo eyed the box, puzzled. "But Heero. If you move around as much as you say you do, how the hell does this car have a glove box full of junk and change?"

Heero pulled up to the curb in front of Allan's and parked. "Open the box." Duo did so. "Now look carefully."" Duo eyed the box for a moment then fingered the liner.

"This is smaller than it should be. And . . . umm . . . oh, I see." Duo hooked his finger into the small hole in the floor of the box. When he pulled gently the whole thing slid out half an inch. "This is neat. Where's the cover. Or is there one."

Heero reached over and pulled the liner out a little more so Duo could see the full length hinge. The liner was inserted in the glove box, it was actually a removable box made to fit into the SUV's glove box.

"Saves me having to take everything out, find something to put it in and pack it. The trunk is lined too. I just pull out the liner of the glove box, console and back console. Stick them in the trunk close the lid, lock it and go. Takes about five minutes. And they're easy to ship."

Duo examined the console. It was just as tight as the glove box. If you didn't know what to look for,
you'd never realize that the SUV was different. Heero smiled as Duo grinned in delight. Duo loved gimmicks as much as he did.

"Duo, we're here. We need to quit admiring the equipment and get inside."

Duo scrambled out with a soft snicker. They raced to the front door and entered the building with a clatter.

Allan came from the back hearing not only the bell that rang when the door was opened but the noise of their entry.

"Hey! . . oh, hello. I was just steaming the last of the wrinkles out of your pants. Come into the back fitting room. I'll have your suits just as soon as they cool. And socks. I obtained silk socks. I thought I would be a good idea."

Duo goggled. Silk socks? Holy hemlock.' He looked at Heero who was just nodding his head like that made sense.


Allen came out with their suits and stood by to help if he was needed. Heero donned his suit without trouble, flipping the end of the tie around, tucking and tugging until he had it tied in the newest knot.
Duo, however, had trouble. He got the suit on easily enough, how hard is it to zip zippers and button buttons? But the tie was like and eel slipping and sliding around like it was alive. Duo sighed and eyed the thing with dismay. It was now wrinkled beyond use.

Allen smiled and took it from Duo. "I'll just take this back and iron it. Shall I?"

Duo nodded, slump shouldered. Heero went over to him and patted him on the shoulder. "Have you ever worn anything but a clip on?"

"Hell no. I wouldn't even have worn that, but that school we were in insisted. How the hell do you manage those things?"

Heero rubbed Duo's back gently. "It's not hard. I'll help you. Quatre didn't teach you?" Duo brightened and smirked at Heero. "How did you manage to get out of tie tying lessons?"

"I was on a mission. And when I came back I'd sprained my wrist. Remember?"

Heero smacked Duo on the shoulder. "I thought that wrist took an awful long time to heal. You stinker!"

Duo grumbled. "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But now . . . I'll look like a fool."

Heero gave Duo a little shake. "No, you won't. I'll help you. It's not that hard. And there's even books out. There's a bunch of different knots. It's just that the Windsor is popular right now."

Duo gave Heero a deer in the headlights look. "Damn, there's more than one? Oh, hell, I'm doomed."

Heero laughed so hard he had to hold his sides. "Duo! I said I'd help you. There's nothing in the world or space that the two of us can't conquer. Relax." Heero gave Duo a quick hug. "Besides, it's Quatre and Trowa. They won't care.""

Allen came back with the repaired tie and insisted on doing it himself, much to Heero's disgust. But he had to admit that Duo looked very fine when Allen was finished. He was still so slender that he looked like a high wind would blow him away. But his face was beginning to fill out already, and he didn't look nearly as gray. His hair shone with cleanliness and smelled of herbs. All in all, Heero thought Duo was the most beautiful man he'd ever seen.

Duo tugged at the sleeve of his jacket and smiled at himself in the mirror. "Well, well. I clean up good, don't I? Never thought I'd ever wear a clean shirt much less silk. And . . ." Duo lifted one silk-clad foot. "Silk socks. Who'd a thunk it?"

Heero smiled at Allen who was watching Duo with some amusement. Kindly patting Duo on the shoulder he knelt at his feet. Heero gritted his teeth in jealousy. But he knew that he couldn't put Duo's shoes on for him. It would wrinkle his suit.

Duo was wide eyed and stammering. "Hey. Don't do that . . . that's . . . you're . . . it's not.""

"Lift your foot. You can't put these on without wrinkling your pants. After I'm done with you, I'll do Heero. Just . . . yes, that's it. Now the other." Allen fitted, smoothed and tied. Duo shifted uneasily from foot to foot until he was sure the shoes fit properly, then he relaxed with a grin.

"This I've got to see. Heero Yuy with a valet, that's something. I wish I had a camera."

Allen just knelt to help Heero on with his shoes. Heero lifted one foot then the other without protest.
Allen tied the shoes and smiled. Duo wondered why they hadn't put on shoes first.

"There. Now I'll check the hems again. . ."" He walked around both young men checking carefully for fit and length. ""Well. Perfect. Hems right. Sleeves right length. No bulges. Guns are the very devil to tailor for. But . . . you both look perfect. And you make the perfect couple."

Duo started to correct Allen but Heero staved him off. "Thank you. I'm glad you think the suits fit.
Mine feels great. Shoes fit too."

Duo nodded at Allen. "Fits fine. I just feel . . . weird. This is the first suit I've ever worn. Out side that rented monkey suit I had at Victory Celebrations. And it didn't fit worth a damn."

Heero winced in sympathy. Their tuxes had been off the rack rentals. The only one of them who's tux had fit was Quatre and he'd had a rush job in a fancy place that knew his name. They had been extremely uncomfortable. Duo had bitched the entire time.

Allen smiled in relief, he was well aware that Duo wasn't one to mess around, if he didn't like something, you'd know it. He turned to Heero who gave him a jerky nod. Allen nodded back.

"Well, that's that. You're as well turned out as I can make you. Remember to pull your trousers up when you sit and don''t shoot your cuffs. It's tacky. Now, if that's all, I''ll see you on your way. It's going to take you nearly an hour to get to the airport. Traffic is horrible. Have a nice time." Allen saw them to the door totally unaware that he was the first person ever to wish them such a thing.


Heero gripped the steering wheel as if it was his temper, which he was rapidly losing. Traffic was backed up for miles it seemed. There'd been a wreck at the intersection of two major highways and the wreckers were working furiously to clear it away. But there were more than twenty vehicles involved. They were going to be late in less than twenty minutes.

"Shit. Heero, we're going to be late. I better call Quat or he'll be sending out Magunacs to find us."

Heero nodded. "You do that. I'm taking the next exit. With the GPS and direction generator, I should be able to find a way there. I hope."

Duo dialed his phone and spoke to the Mater d' who told them that he'd take a message. He was sympathetic, the traffic jam was affecting things there in a major way. The Mater d' reassured them that the reservation was for all night, not a specific time. Duo snapped his phone shut and relayed the message to Heero.

Heero sighed. "Well, that's a relief. I'm glad that Quatre won't be disappointed. He was really worried when he realized that it had been six weeks since he'd heard from you. Then he called me on the phone nearly in tears. I've been searching ever since. He'll probably fall on your neck. Kill the fatted calf, all that.""

Duo blinked. "Well, I . . . that's . . . you know, this whole situation is just sad. I lost out on months of visits and calls from my friends. You lost . . . how long . . . don't tell me, I'll probably get sick.
And now . . . just . . . we're all going to be back together again. Emails, calls, visits. I can't wait.
Except . . . Wufei . . . how's he? Really?"

Heero settled back to drive and talk. They were now on a side street and making fair time. He was going to have to deal with stop lights and signs, as well as side traffic, but he wasn't worried. They weren't on a tight schedule, Quatre wouldn't care if they were late as long as he knew that they were coming. Their message with the Mater d' made sure of that.

"Wufei is doing well. He's working for Preventers, you knew that, right?" Duo grunted an affirmative. "And, we all thought that his clan was obliterated when the colony was destroyed. But there were a lot of people off colony for various reasons. So he's got family again. Not real close,
second cousins and so on. But family. So he's doing well. Travels a lot. But he likes that. We'll have to get together with him when he comes back from the moon. You'd like that?"

"Man, I sure would. I miss the old stiff necked dragon. Has he loosened up any?"

"Nope, still the same old pissy dragon. And he still hates it when someone calls him that. You should ask him to give you some pointers in the arts. He'll love it. And it won't hurt you to take some training from him, if he'll give it to you. I doubt he'll turn you down, though."

Duo grimaced at the thought of submitting his all too human flesh to the not so tender mercies of Wufei in Sensei mode. It was a bit daunting, but if Heero said he needed it he'd do it. He just hoped it didn't come about too soon. He remembered that Wufei was on the moon with Milliardo and wondered how much longer he would be there.

It took them another ten minutes of zigzagging through the suburbs to get to the gate of the airport then they got back in traffic and it took an unconscionable fifteen minutes to traverse the four blocks to the gate. Heero fumed in futile ire the whole time. Duo finally took to rubbing his hand across Heero's tense shoulders, trying to keep him from losing the famous Yuy temper.

Heero's temper was something most people didn't believe even existed, but Duo knew better. Heero didn't rage or carry on. He didn't break things. He just went cold, colder than anything other than space itself. The dangerous sort of cold that smelled of grave dirt and blood.

"Heero, take it easy. We'll be a little late. You can't blame it on anything other than bad luck.
Quatre might even be stuck in traffic too. Do you have his phone number? I could call him."

Heero rattled off a number from memory. Duo wondered why Heero hadn't called that number before, so being Duo he asked.

"Heero, why didn't you call him earlier? I''ll dial now. Do you want to talk to him, or should I?"

Heero explained that he wouldn't call that number if he thought Quatre might be busy. And, since Quatre and Trowa flew themselves, they were probably busy flying right now.

"Oh, well. You mean Quat and Trow fly? But . . . why? Quatre is so rich he could pay . . . um . . .

Heero nodded as Duo realized that Quatre and Trowa flew themselves because they were the best pilots in WEI. They flew themselves for enjoyment and as Duo put it why settle for second best'.

Heero pulled up to the gate and handed the guard his identification. It was harder to get into an airport than might be expected. You had to produce identification and give your reason for entering.
Heero gave their names and intent. The other guard came around and asked Duo for his ID. Duo handed it over and was startled as both men came to attention. Heero just saluted, said thank you and waited for Duo to salute his guard. Duo did so and the man relaxed slightly. The gate opened and Heero drove through.

"Well, Geez, that was different. What the hell?"

"You must have been out of contact when the law was passed. Or whatever it was that passed . . .
anyway, we're officially decorated veterans. If you haven't collected it yet, I think you've got a discharge bonus floating around. We'll check on it tomorrow. And . . . I think you're a Brigadier General now. I am."

Duo frankly goggled at Heero. "You're shittin'' me. Ya gotta be crank crazy. Hoggin' me. Tha's no good.""

Heero snorted. Duo was completely flabbergasted, he could tell because his accent was pure Sweeper. Duo always fell into cant when he was flustered.

"No, I'm not teasing you. I'm not sure what your true rank is, but I'm sure your honorary address is colonel.' Isn't that the rank you retired with?"

"Yeah, but who's going to believe that a kid like me is a veteran. That's been one of the biggest problems I've had."

Heero pulled into the restaurant's front entrance and got out of the vehicle. He just handed his keys to the attendant and accepted the claim chip from him without comment. The attendant gave him one sharp look, but kept his mouth shut. He wasn't paid to police his patrons. He was paid to park cars.

"Park that where you can keep a special eye on it."" Heero didn't bother to say please, he just pinned the man with a glare that could freeze flames. He turned to enter the restaurant without looking back, Duo just ahead of him.

Duo opened the door and held it for Heero. Heero entered first and gave the room a sweep of the eyes that pinpointed every exit and hiding place. Old habits die hard and Heero was still in enough danger that the precautions were still necessary. Duo noticed Heero's glance as he made a sweep of his own.

Duo couldn't help remarking, "We're really sick puppies, ya know?"

Heero just grunted, pointing. "Quatre."

Duo was amazed and rather amused to see that Quatre and Trowa were making sweeps of their own.
Then Duo's brain kicked him, making him exclaim, "Quatre!" he nearly ran across the lobby to Quatre. He stopped just within arms reach and gazed at Quatre, his feelings written all over his expressive face. Quatre grabbed him, hugged him hard, pushed him away then hugged him again.

"I'm so glad to see you. Duo, you're too thin. What have you been doing to yourself? Come in. We just got here ourselves. The traffic was horrible. Trowa, tell the Mater d' that we'll be served in thirty minutes. Thank you."

Duo turned to Trowa who just gave him an amused glance before turning to the hovering Mater d.
"You heard him." He turned back. "Quatre, quit Bogarting Duo. I want to greet him." Quatre flushed and stepped back. Trowa just offered his hand to shake. Duo smiled at him and shook hands.
"I'm glad to see you again. Quatre has been on the verge of sending out Magunacs for the last several months. The only thing that kept him from it was having Heero on the job. Where've you been?""

Duo shrugged looking uncomfortable. "Here and there. Could we take this inside? I don't like having all that openness at my back."

Heero said softly, from behind him. "I've got you. But we should clear the lobby."

Quatre led the way to a private dinning room. "I reserved these rooms. It's very nice. Private, close to the kitchen. Enter, please."

Duo bowed then entered the room, Heero right behind him also bowed. Trowa followed Quatre into the room.

Duo took a moment to look around. The room was decorated in a decidedly Arabian motif. A large low table, surrounded by cushions and arm rests was placed near the back of the long narrow room.
Duo wondered if there was going to be an entertainment as part of the hard wood floor was bare while the rest was covered by a large Ibizan carpet.

Quatre motioned to a Magunac who was standing in the shadows of one corner. He came close and offered the tray he held to Quatre. Quatre took a small loaf of bread from the tray, tore it into pieces and handed a piece to each of them keeping one for himself. He held a dish of salt in the other and dipped his bread in the salt. Duo, Heero and Trowa dipped their bread in the salt then they each took a bite.

Quatre put the bread back on the tray and picked up a pitcher of water. He poured water into a cup then handed it to Duo. Duo took a sip and handed it back, Quatre then passed the cup to Heero then to Trowa.

"Welcome to my humble accommodations. Please, be comfortable."

Duo realized with dismay that if he sat on one of the cushions he'd wrinkle his suit, possibly beyond repair. But Quatre led the way through a door concealed behind the curtains in the corner. Beyond the door was a normal banquet room with a round table with chairs.

"I know. It's silly, but I do like the old greeting. I also hate tables like that if I'm wearing a suit.
They're nice if you're in robes but suits . . . not comfortable at all. Sit down. Sit down. Make yourselves comfortable."

Duo could tell that Quatre was dying to ask questions and was only holding off until the greeting was done and they were served coffee.


Quatre took a sip of coffee, sighed and announced, "I want a story from you. Duo, what happened,
why did you refuse my call. What did I do to make you mad? Please. I need to know"

Duo rubbed his face. This was going to be hard. "Nothing. I couldn't afford it. I was running on fumes. Eating ration bars and drinking energy drinks or water. Cooking took thermal units so I didn't. I had to take it easy on the generators. They were failing."

"But I was paying . . . oh . . . oh my . . . oh, Duo, I'm so sorry. I forgot."

Duo patted Quatre's groping hand. "I know. You were paying from your end, but I had to pay on mine and I couldn't afford it."

Quatre had forgotten that ground-to-air (space) cost on both ends. The sender paid the bulk of the cost but the receiver had to pay too. Duo hadn't been able to accept his call.

"Oh, Duo I'm such a bad friend. Bad, bad. Careless. I don't blame you for being angry with me. I'm sorry."

Duo looked at Heero, asking with his eyes for help. "Quatre, what ever makes you think I'm mad at you?"

"You never called me back. I thought that if you were on Earth you'd call."

Duo bit at his lip. "Ok, Quatre. I'm going to have to tell you some things and you're not going to like them." Duo started at the beginning of the end, when he told Quatre that his personal things had been taken along with his ship, Quatre snarled. When he admitted that he'd been working as a welder's assistant, Quatre slammed his fist down on the table. When Duo told Quatre that his phone numbers changed so fast that Duo couldn't find a good one, Quatre announced that a certain secretary was in big trouble.

"Easy Q, the woman is nice. I couldn't even get to her. Seems I'm not on some list or other. But, it's all over now. We're back in touch. And . . ." Duo wibbled at Quatre, ""I'm hungry. Is the food coming any time soon?"

Heero poked Trowa and they both snickered. Quatre gave them an indignant look, gave the order that their food be served and turned to Duo again. "When the food comes, take whatever you want.
It'll be served old style. If you deal with the Magunacs there's only so much modernity they'll stand.
And we'll be having both tea and coffee."

Duo smiled. There was nothing like Quatre in full nurse mode, except Heero. He sighed happily.


The food was brought and placed in the middle of the table. There were traditional dishes and modern ones. Heero was pleased to see that most of them were meant to please Duo. Quatre did apologies right. He noticed spicy rice with almonds and raisins. Chicken roasted on a spit. Eggplant,
cucumbers, tabouli, Beef in gravy. Onions grilled on an open fire. He gave up trying to figure out all the dishes and filled his plate.

Heero and Trowa watched Quatre with subdued amusement as he did his best to stuff Duo like a Thanksgiving turkey. He hovered, he put spoonfuls of dishes on his plate, he filled his coffee cup.
Duo took this all in stride, until Quatre tried to tuck his napkin into his collar.

"Quatre, stop. You are forgiven." Duo smacked Quatre in the forehead with the palm of his hand.
"Now. Hand me some more of that yellow rice. And sit down. You're makin' me nervous.""

Quatre sat much to Trowa's amusement. Trowa was watching Duo with Quatre and saw no signs that Duo was angry with Quatre. This relieved his mind. He guarded Quatre's peace of mind as zealously as he guarded his physical safety and his heart.

Quatre started trying to find a new subject of conversation. Trowa wasn't helping much and Heero,
not at all. Both young men were, as Duo put it, "the strong silent type, clams even.' Quatre was wondering if kicking Trowa would make him look childish.

Duo, realizing what the problem was provided a new topic. ""Hey! Take a look." he held out one arm. "Never had a suit at all, much less one like this. Isn't it great?"

Quatre nodded. "Oh, yes. It's very nice. Excellent material and the color of your shirt goes very nicely with your eyes. Cashmere isn't it?"

"Yeah, I think." Duo turned to Heero who nodded once. "Ok. Cashmere, and the shirt, tie and pocket square are silk. And the socks. Who'd a thunk it? Silk socks. I'm used to cotton or that wicking stuff." Duo poked out a foot for examination. "And real leather shoes. My boots are leather and nylon. But I've never had leather shoes before." Duo thought for a second. "Come to think of it.
I don't think I ever had shoes. Just sandals or boots. Or ship slippers."

Quatre shook his head. "I can't imagine that. I mean, no shoes?"

Duo shrugged. "Boots were better in the winter, and sandals were cooler in summer."

Heero broke in with, "I don't remember ever having sandals. Only shoes or boots. Trowa?"

"Cast offs. What ever I could find." Trowa sipped at his coffee, watching as expressions chased themselves across Quatre's face. "It's better now. I have three pairs of boots."

Quatre snarled at Trowa. Trowa smiled serenely back.

"But Trowa, you only have one pair of feet. How's that work?" Duo's wide eyed innocent expression made Heero snort tea up his nose. The resultant choking fit turned Quatre's attention to him instead.

After some fluttering and fussing Quatre settled back in his seat. His upset either forgotten or controlled. Heero turned the conversation to his latest case and spent the rest of the evening explaining things and answering questions. Duo was animated, Trowa to the point and Quatre happy.

The evening ended with all parties satisfied that no one was mad at anyone. Duo and Heero had promised to visit Trowa and Quatre at their residence soon.


"Well, that went well. I'm glad Quat isn't mad at me. And Trowa? He's as silent as ever. But his face is more expressive. I could tell what he was thinking almost half the time. He's so in love with Quat that it isn't even funny. But it is sweet. And Quatre . . . if he was anymore in love back it'd be sappy. I wish. . . ." Duo trailed off. Heero wished too. He wished Duo had finished that sentence.

"Wish what? Tell me?" Heero was careful to make it a question.

"I wish. . . I wish we had that." Duo gazed out the window carefully avoiding Heero's eyes. Heero used the reflection in the dark window to see anyway. Duo looked wistful and, Heero realized that he was looking at him. yes!!

"Well, if you want something some time's you have to reach out and take it." Heero steered the car carefully around a roundabout. Some idiot was going the wrong way and he had to avoid a head on collision. ""Idiot. Where the hell did he learn to drive?"

Duo snorted. "Probably bought his license in a kiosk. Mmm . . . damn. I wish I had another piece of that baklava. Does he have it made special or what?"

Heero remarked absently. "He has one of the Mauganacs'' ladies make it. Imports it all over. Just for his own use. If you like it that much I'll see if I can't get him to send you some . . . no . . . on second thought you should ask him yourself. He'll love that."

"Ok. I'll call him in the morning. See if this new number works . . . I bet some heads will roll tomorrow too. I tried to tell that secretary that he wanted to hear from me but would she listen? Hell,
noooooo. So . . ." Duo yawned widely. "Man I'm bushed. Are we there yet?"

Heero snickered at that childish question. "No, we''re not there yet . . . about ten minutes.
Depending on traffic."

Duo settled back in his seat. "Ok." Heero was amazed and pleased to see Duo lean against the door and close his eyes. He was asleep and snoring softly before Heero turned his head back to traffic.
Heero felt something in his chest unclench for the first time he could remember.


"Duo we're here. Wake up." Heero didn''t shake Duo, he didn't need to. Duo sat up alert and ready.

"I'm awake . . . um . . . oh, we're home. Good. I need to pee. Let's get going."

Heero nearly laughed out loud. Trust Duo to say something like that. He followed Duo to the door and turned to check the street. Duo checked the apartment. Neither one of them thought a thing about it.

"Um . . . Heero? I've still got a bunch of stuff to put up in the morning. Do you mind if I clear out this dresser?"

Heero shook his head. "No, go ahead. I'll get a box or something for you. Tomorrow. I'm bushed too."

Duo yawned and shrugged out of his jacket. "I need to hang this up nice. Where's the hangers"
Heero handed Duo the hanger he'd brought from the SUV. Duo stripped out of the suit, hanging the pants and jacket on their hangers and putting them in the closet. "What about the shirt and socks? I have not the foggiest idea how to care for them."

Heero grimaced. "Hand wash. Cold water. Special soap. That's why I don't like it. Or dry clean,
which is even worse. The smell never quite goes away."

Duo flapped a hand at Heero. "Don't sweat it. I'll do that. I don't mind. But I get sour cream raspberry Danish. Ok?"

"If that's all it takes to get you to hand wash this . . ." Heero handed Duo his shirt. "You're on. With double espresso as well." Heero found himself yawning. "Me for bed. See you in the morning"
Heero tossed his jacket over his arm and picked up his shoes which he'd shed to take off his socks for Duo. He wandered down the hall to his lonely bed wishing Duo was joining him. Wishing he hadn't fixed the window, or the thermostat.

Duo gazed at the empty door frame for several seconds, wishing he had the nerve to ask Heero to stay. chicken shit. He fiddled with the e-leash absently for a few seconds then went to bed.


Heero woke before Duo, having set his internal alarm clock. He slipped out the door and headed for the bakery. It didn't take him much time to get the desired pastry and coffee. When he pushed the apartment door open he smelled steam and shampoo.

"Duo! I'm back. Better come soon or the coffee will be cold." Heero put the pastries on the table and stuck his head into the bathroom. He was greeted with hanging, dripping shirts. But no Duo.

"I'm in here. You better come. Bring the stuff in here."

Heero fetched the breakfast and went into the office where he found Duo on the phone. He made a Who is it?" gesture and Duo mouthed, Pawn shop guy' at him then returned to his conversation.
Duo seemed to Heero to be trying to get the man to do something.

When Duo hung up Heero waited until he had some coffee and a bite of his Danish. "Ok, you're fortified now. What's up?"

"Jason says that the repo man is going to come in with some stuff this afternoon. He says we should be there because he thinks some of my tools might be in the load. He also said that he's put tools he thinks might belong to me in lay-a-way. We're going to have to do some fancy foot work to prove that that asshole is taking more than he should. Most people don't know anything about tools, or ships."

Heero settled in his chair with a soft Hn'. ""Did Jason come up with a real name for this guy?"

Duo shook his head. "No, all he' has is that street name. Jumbo. But that's not going to do us much good, legally. We need his real name."

Heero gave Duo a slightly disgusted look. "I know that. But I'm not good at getting street people to talk to me. They take one look at me and run. I've never figured that one out."

Duo nearly fell out of his chair, laughing so hard he nearly choked himself. When he got himself back under control, he told Heero, "Man, one look at you and they run? You can't figure it out? Ok.
One, you''ve got a glare that could burn the finish off a shuttle. Two, your body set and posture scream cop. In capital letters. If you want them to talk to you, you have to come off as harmless.
Which you're not. And you look it.""

Heero took exception to this. "Oh, yeah, and Shinigami is just one of the guys. Like you're not all kinds of dangerous too.""

Duo chuckled. "Ok, so you know me. But I can look harmless if I need to. It's an acquired skill."

Heero froze in place for a long moment. "Oh, I see. An acquired skill? Could I acquire it, do you think?"

Duo shrugged, turning his attention to his computer, "I don't see why not. It's just a matter of posture, attitude and . . . er . . . not glaring at everyone like you'd like to gut them. Easy."

Heero snorted. "Some of the people I glare at should be gutted."

"Well there's no denying that."

Heero and Duo both spent the morning doing research, Duo on the non-bonded pawn shop's history and transaction log. Heero on the specific legalities of repossession, with special attention to what they could and couldn't attach. He wasn't surprised to see that their man was overextending his authority by quite a bit. The problem was going to be proving that he didn't know better.

That was the problem of the ignorance of the law'' provisions. There were some very gray areas in the law, and some pure black and white. The ignorance clauses didn't apply to murder, outright theft, rape, drug dealing and that sort of thing. They applied to such things as sale of vehicles,
repossession by non bank affiliated persons and bounty hunting in general. As well as some things that didn't apply here. Heero searched for some way to prove that their target knew what he was doing. It finally came down to getting him to implicate himself someway. Heero snarled in frustration. That wasn't going to be easy.

Duo looked up from his researches and stretched. "Problems? Can I do anything?"

Heero pointed to his computer which had at least a dozen threads open on it. "Read." Duo shrugged and started reading. Heero watched as he clicked through the windows quickly scrunching up his nose as he absorbed the rather confusing legalities. Heero couldn't help but notice how cute that was.

"Well, looks like we've really got our work cut out for us. Damn. I really want that guy. Not only for me, but for all the other guys he's ripped off. Fucker. Really, really want him, bad."

Heero took a sip of his now stone cold coffee, wrinkled his nose in disgust and remarked, "me too.
Really, really. He did you wrong and I'm going to get your evens for you. You just wait and see."

Duo grumbled. "What am I? Chopped liver? I'll get my own evens. You can help. We have to get him to . . . hmmm. . . and. . . . Heero?"


"I have a plan. We got to call that bank."


After the call they had to actually visit the bank. Heero was all for dressing up in their suits until Duo pointed out that cashmere suit did not say what they wanted. They argued genially about what to wear for a while. Duo was trying to decide between BDU's and jean and a t-shirt. Heero finally put his foot down. "We'll wear these new things." Heero produced the newest UOD from ESUN military. "ECU's, very nice." At Duo's slightly puzzled look Heero added. "ESUN Combat Uniform." he went on to explain that they were fire proof 100 cotton and designed to carry everything they needed between them and the vest. Duo shrugged, he could get almost everything he needed in his braid and pockets. But Heero was so obviously delighted with his acquisition that Duo didn't have the heart to burst his bubble.

Instead he replied, "As TRU's go they're great. But if you expect to get anything out of street people you better not show up dressed like that." Heero gave him an arrested sort of expression. "You didn't. Did you? You did!" Duo gave Heero an exasperated look then had to laugh. "Never mind.
We'll come back and change if we need to after we're terrorized the bank. Let's get dressed and go."

So they went to the bank dressed in military garb with Fugitive Retrieval Agent stenciled over the pocket of their shirts.

They were greeted at the door by a Senior Vice President. The one in charge of loans. And he looked a great deal less than happy.

"Come this way. I had a call from Mr. Winner. He asked me to extend all possible cooperation to you. I'm sure we can get to the bottom of all this. It's unfortunate. I'm not even sure we were supposed to repo that particular ship. I . . . er . . . come this way." The man positively wilted under the pressure of two steely glares. One cobalt blue the other bright amethyst.

Duo followed the SVP with Heero right behind him. He was about to clear up the misunderstanding when Heero poked him gently in the ribs. Heero wanted to hear what the VP had to say.

Evidently the bank had started out with one repo man who'd farmed out some of his work. Then he'd gotten ill and turned running the business over to his son, who'd just hired two of the subcontractors to do all the work while he sat behind a desk and gave idiot orders. The subcontractors were both on the shady side. Nothing the bank could really point at but there were more and more complaints of abuses of one kind or another. The bank was losing customers as word got out that the repo men were crooked.

"So, you see, we need some kind of proof that Hensen is on the take or whatever he's doing."

Duo picked at a loose thread as he thought, then he shook his head. "The man's not on the take.
He's out and out stealing. He's locking people out of their ships before they can get their personal possessions out. Then he's pawning their stuff. If they're lucky, they can get it back. Most can't afford to do that so they're just out. Tools they need to get some kind of job. Computers, MP3 players, personal pictures, you name it. It's wrong. And you're aiding and abetting him. When is the last time you really checked up on him? And who decides what to repo?"

The Vice-president managed to look ashamed. "Well, that's where we fell down on our job. We, the board of directors, didn''t do our job. We're supposed to review every repossession order, but what with recovering from the war and loans for new construction and . . . but that is no excuse at all.
What we did was allow Hensen, Anderson and Jukes to review the files themselves and decide who should be listed. Then we didn't go over the lists. We just . . ."

"Did bad. Now you want us to clean up your mess. What about the people who've lost everything?
What are you going to do about them?" Duo was pissed and didn't bother to hide it. "You just say oh, so sorry' and go on about your business? Not good enough."

The VP waved his hands about in distress. "No, no. Not at all. This is costing the bank a fortune.
Every single person will be reimbursed for anything they can prove."

Heero snorted in disgust. "Prove? I'm anal as hell and I couldn't prove half of what I own. And I'm sure you're giving them the depreciated value of their things, right?"

"Well of course, why should we pay for them to get new things?"

Duo snarled in frustration. "Because, most of their things can't be replaced with second hand. My tools, for example. If you went in to a second hand place and tried to get stuff in the condition my things were in, you couldn't do it. I took real good care of my stuff. Pick up tools second hand and they're nearly always in terrible shape. And clothing is nearly worn out. And on and on. It's just not right. You should have to put people back in the same condition as they were before you took their stuff."

The VP looked upset. "I see. That puts a different complexion on things. We never thought of that.
I'll have to organize another meeting of the board. In the mean time, I am asking you to get enough evidence on this man to incarcerate him. The pay will be your standard hourly rate plus a bonus if we convict him."

Heero was shaking his head before the man stopped speaking. ""Not a chance. The cost will be four hundred dollars an hour. And the bonus for providing evidence sufficient to convict him. I'm not getting screwed because your lawyers cut a deal with the guy. Or foul up the case. And I have a standard contract that you will sign without emendation. Or no deal."

The executive nearly pouted as his subterfuge was torpedoed. Specifying conviction was one way that clients cheated FRA's out of their pay. Heero had learned the hard way to avoid that particular pit fall. He had to smile as he watched the man read the contract that he had handed him. Quatre had written it.

"Who wrote this? It's comprehensive and covers things I didn't think of."


"I see. Well, I'll send it down to legal for approval. It shouldn't take long."

Duo sat jerking his leg while they waited for the contract to come back up from legal. Heero just sat,
expressionless, staring at the executive who could only sit and sweat. He was on the hot seat as he was the one who'd decided to just let the repo company do his work. The board hadn't really realized what was going on until they were already in hot water. Now there were complaints and questions. Not the sort of thing a bank really wants.


When the contract came back, it came with a legal aid. He wanted to go over the changes to the contract before it was signed. Heero took the contract and, without looking at it, tore it into confetti.
"I said without emendation. And I meant it. You don't seem to get the drift. We're pulling your chestnuts out of the fire, and I'm making sure you don't screw us over. So either sign the damn thing or don't. But quit fucking with us."

"Well, you insolent little rat. I'll have your job. We'll be in touch with your boss and he'll send you back into the gutter you crawled out of."

Heero started to say something but Duo interrupted him. "Come on, Heero. We don't need them. All we have to do is prove our accusations and we've got them all by their short and curlies. And I,
personally will give them a twist. I got some ideas. You wanna stay here and be abused by that paper pusher, fine. I'll see ya on tha' flip side."

Heero just snorted and headed for the door. "Sorry, I may be a street rat, but I'm your only hope.
Deal. Or don't. The price just doubled and the bonus is to be put in escrow. It needs to be six figures and the first one better not be one."

There was some sputtering on the part of the legal aid and the VP. Heero just continued on his steady way to the door with Duo dogging his heels. They didn't even get all the way through the first set of doors into the lobby before a Senior Vice President stopped them.

"Excuse me. Are you Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell?" Duo glared, Heero grunted. "I assume that means yes."

"Yes" Heero stopped long enough to survey the man. "What do you want?"

"I'd like for you to come to my office. We need to talk."

Duo made an irritated sound. The man turned his gaze to Duo and started to say something, but Duo had had it.

"Look. We don't need to talk. You need to brow beat and manipulate us. We need you to fuck off.
So. . ."

Heero just pulled another copy of the contract from the bellows pocket on his thigh. He handed it to the SVP and announced. "Your man has our conditions but I'll tell you too." He went on to repeat his words to the other VP ending, "No changes to the contract, not so much as a comma. You mess up and that's it. No further contact will be accepted. Frankly, you're all on my shit list. You repoed my partners ship. Without warning and left him stranded with no way to contact any of us for help.
Now . . . we're going. Call me here. You have 48 hours."

Heero handed the official his card and, executing a perfect heel and toe turn, marched to the door,
back straight. Duo shadowed him, in perfect form, his braid swinging across his ramrod straight back.


"Well, doesn't that just put the spanner in the works. Heero, I want those guys worse than ever. And that . . . official whatever he is. I want his ass on a platter too." Duo gritted his teeth in fury.

"You'll have em if I have anything to say about it. All we need is proof. And I intend to get it.
Come on. There''s a coffee house just over there." Heero pointed across the square. "I'll get you a cup of that mud you like. We'll make some plans. How we're going to get . . ." Heero turned around and walked off, confident that Duo would follow.

Duo did follow, thinking hard.

They seated themselves in the caf┌ and waited for the server to come give them menus. Duo picked at his lower lip still thinking. When a hand entered his field of vision, catching his wrist, he flinched.

"Sorry. Stop that, you'll make it bleed. You''re thinking so hard I can smell insulation burning.

Duo swatted irritably at Heero's hand. "Leggo. I'm thinkn' I need ta ask some questions here and there. Need ta see a guy bout a guy. Only. . . you can't come with. An'' I dun like it."

"I'll back you up. I have a wire that even some really sophisticated equipment can't find. All you have to do is say the safe word and I'll be there in seconds."

Duo nodded absently. "Ya, sure. Great. I just have to get in touch with . . ." Duo turned wide eyes to Heero. "Oh, shit . . . Howard! He's gonna rip me a new one. I . . . fuckityfuckfuck. Dammit. When he finds out that I got my ship repoed he's never gonna speak ta me again. I'm so dead."

Heero patted Duo on the shoulder. "Don't freak out on me. If there's a problem with Howard, I'll help you with it. Just calm down. And as to losing your ship. I've still got some . . . how many payments were you behind?"

Duo took his coffee from the server and took a fortifying sip. ""Lemme think. I made a payment after that run from L3 to . . . mmm . . . and . . . well, two and the third was due in three days. I hadn't had any extensions and my insurance was up to date . . . I just had fuel on-loaded too. And the kicker is . . . they never sent me a notice of late payment. Not once. Nor any demand to produce.
You know they have to send in a thirty-day notice. And a sixty and ninety-day one. I never got any of those. No emails, no snail mail. Hand delivery or nothin'. They blindsided me. And Howard will want to know why the hell I didn't ask him for help or use Oz money or somethin'. I''m not lookin'
forward ta havin' him chew out around it and let it fall out. Man, I am so toast."

Heero managed to decipher most of this tirade and settled back in his chair to sip his tea and think.
"Duo, calm down. The first thing you need to do is email him. Just tell him the truth, reassure him that you're ok and with me. Then we'll see if he might have some ideas of what to do to catch our quarry. Ok?"

Duo sipped more coffee, putting his mind to calming down and thinking about what he needed to tell Howard and how to not get his head bitten off by the old grouch. And they still had to go see Jason.


Jason turned around when the door buzzer zinged. Heero stood in the door and waited as Duo entered the main part of the shop. He nodded to them and returned to the customer he was waiting on. When he got the woman out the door, he sighed with relief. She was a talker and would stay for hours if he didn't have another customer.

"Hey. Glad to see you, in more ways than one. She'll talk the hind leg off a brass donkey. Lonely, is all. So . . . here's what I managed to get hold of. And Jumbo called off this afternoon. He's up to something bad for someone. But . . ." Jason opened the door to the lay away area and pointed to some tools. "There you are. They all have a crescent moon on them." Duo grumbled. It's a scythe'
but both Jason and Heero ignored him.

Heero let Duo go over the tools and sighed when Duo announced that most of the tools were his.
The few things that weren't had a stamped mark on them.

"Yup, that's all mine, except what I put aside. How do I get possession of it without getting you fired?"

Jason shrugged. "You have to prove in court that it's yours, or buy it back. I'd suggest buying it back. Court will impound them all and take forever. That set of micro tools will never survive police impound. Some idiot will decide that he'll just borrow that little screwdriver and someone else will borrow something else and they'll never get back in the case. I looked at the price the boss has on it and I'll take 10 off for cash. And another 5 because you're officials. Bounty Hunters count as far as I'm concerned. And, since I'm quitting, I'm taking another . . . oh . . . 5 off because I hate my boss. So."" He led the way to the register. "I'll ring you up."

Duo eyed the total on the register with disbelief, he was going to pay less that 10 of what his tools were worth. Not that he was complaining, much. He shouldn't have had to pay anything, but 10
was better than having to buy new.

Heero and Duo both leaned on the counter and listened as Jason told them everything he had found out. Although it wasn't much. All he knew was Jumbo had an in somewhere or other. He could find out who was borderline and who was in really deep. Then he took advantage of his cachet from the bank and somehow managed to, as Jason put it, do his evil thing' and repo a ship.

Jason allowed as how he could stay at the pawn shop for another week at most. He was hunting for another job, which wasn't easy with the hours he worked. He had back up money enough for three weeks then he was going to be in trouble. But he was sure he could find a job before he ran out of money.

Heero just handed him a card. "Go here. They'll help you find a job. But you have to keep it on your own."

Jason took the card and tucked it in his pocket. ""Thanks. I'll go there tomorrow. I'm off and it's the official start of my job hunt. I'll give notice . . . Next week?""

Heero shrugged. "It's up to you. I'd appreciate it if you could stay as long as possible. Without jeopardizing your financial stability."

Duo smiled at Jason pouring friendliness out like sunshine. "Thanks man. Keep an eye out for more of my tools will ya. And if you need help, call me at this number, it s my cell. I'll do what I can."

Jason took that card too and put it with the other. "Sure. You're welcome. I like this actually. Get to be a good citizen and get my evens at the same time. Guy's a bad boss. Pay''s good, but my name ain't boy' and hate a thief. I told him I wouldn't work for a fence when I took this shit job. He swore he never received hot goods." Jason shrugged. "So much for that, and me. You guys better go.
He's due in in a few. And he knows you." Jason nodded at Heero, so Heero helped Duo put his retrieved tools in the SUV.

"We'll leave these in the car for now. Ok?"" Heero headed for the drivers side.

Duo crawled into the passenger side and sighed. "Yeah. That's fine. Those three cases have all my micro tools and mini tools. I had a full set of woodworking tools and hand tools. Ratchets and sockets. All that stuff. None of that has showed up yet. Probably a couple of thousand dollars worth."

Duo started to relax then stiffened. "Shit. I still have to write that mail to Howard. Man, I'm gonna need coffee. Lots of it."" He slumped into a dejected hump against the door. Heero just drove,
deciding that the best he could do for Duo in this case was keep the coffee flowing.


Duo finally finished his third cup of coffee and his rather lengthy email. He'd settled at their table with his computer and written his explanation to Howard. Heero had seen to it that his cup was always full as Duo squirmed his way through the composition.

When he finished his email and clicked send' Duo leaned back in his chair and blew his bangs out of his eyes. "Well, that's that. And now all I have to do is wait for Howard to answer. And go pee.
Dammit, Heero, why'd you give me so much coffee?"

Heero shouted, "Because you needed it?" at Duo's retreating back then cracked up. He couldn't help it. Duo had looked so indignant.

Duo finished his business and washed his hands. He swiped one still wet hand over his face then dried it and his hands. He smelled the towel and sighed. Real cotton instead of micro fiber, washed with water instead of cleaned in a sonic. He sighed. He'd never expected such luxury when Heero had left him. He didn't realize he'd moaned until Heero hurried into the room.

"Duo, what's wrong? Did you hurt yourself? What can I do?"

Duo turned around and punched Heero in the stomach, Heero grunted, more in surprise than anything else.

"You left me you shit. Just gone . . . away. Ass hole! Why did you do that? You could at least have said bye. Or something . . . dammit!"" Duo swiped at tear streaked cheeks with one hand and clutched Heero's shirt with the other.

Heero realized that this was no time to be logical, explaining anything would only make Duo worse.
So he took the wise way out, he groveled.

"I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. I just. . . I did miss you. I didn't want to go. I'm sorry.
I'm sorry. . . ." With each sorry Heero stroked Duo's heaving back. He pulled Duo down onto the floor and rocked him, well aware that this storm had been a long time coming. Duo sobbed until he had hiccups then shuddered to a sniffling puddle of hair and sorrow.

Heero wet a wash cloth and wiped Duo's face. "Now. Better? I hope so. Do you really want another explanation or do you remember what I told you before? Duo? . . ." Duo looked at him with reddened eyes. "I really am sorry. I would have told you what was happening if I''d known myself.
But I couldn't. J wasn't taking any chances on someone stopping me and breaking the sleeper command. He wanted to undo my conditioning, fix me. As if I was a toy or something." Heero couldn't help but sound indignant at that thought. "I'm sorry. Really. Forgive me?"

Duo sighed and put his aching head on Heero's chest. Heero cuddled and comforted him as best he could. He felt awkward and uncomfortable.

Duo stirred after a few moments and sniffled. "Sorry. Man, I didn't see that coming. I never had a melt down like that before. I guess I'm going crazy. Sorry." Duo rubbed his aching temples and struggled to sit up.

Heero let Duo go and helped him to sit up. "That's ok. You've been under considerable pressure for some time. Now that you don't have to keep it together to survive, you're going to find yourself falling apart a bit. And you're not crazy. Crazy people swear they're normal. Here." Heero handed Duo the wash cloth. ""Rinse that out, go lie down on the couch and put it on your head. I'll make tea . . . And check to see if Howard has replied yet."

Duo groaned dramatically, then announced. "I'm not up to reading an ass chewing from him right now. Just . . . print it out . . . no! On second thought, don't. It'll set the printer on fire. I'll read it when my head stops aching."

Heero just followed the babbling man to the couch where he dropped an afghan over his legs. He rubbed his own face then went to make tea. Duo''s sobbing had nearly torn his heart out, now all he wanted was tea and ibuprofen, not necessarily in that order. He poured some water, dumped pills into his palm and swallowed them. He set out two more in a little sauce dish on the tea tray along with a glass of water.

The tea kettle whistled and he poured water over the leaves. He finished putting cups and things on the tray as he waited for the tea to steep.

"Here. Tea, headache pills and cookies. Or biscuits. Which ever. Sit up." Heero helped Duo sit upright tucking a pillow behind him to brace his back.

Duo accepted the pills and water, popping the pills in his mouth and gulping the water thirstily.
Heero poured tea and added sugar. Putting the cup and saucer on the table within Duo's reach he settled back with his own cup and waited for Duo to collect himself.

"Ok. I'm semi coherent now. I'm sorry I punched you. You ok?" Heero gave Duo an amused look and nodded. ""I can't believe I'm all crying in the bathroom like some girl. Dammit. I'm falling apart." Duo held up a hand. "I know. I already said that once. But . . . god . . . I feel like such a fool.""

"Don't. You should have seen me during my retraining. I cried, lost my temper over nothing." At Duo's raised eye brow, Heero nodded vigorously. "I did. I lost my temper one time because the tea was too hot. It's part of the recovery process. I'd suppressed emotions for so long I didn't know how to deal with them. So I had to learn how to deal. I'll never be one of those kissyhuggy types like Quatre. But I do like a bit of a hug once in a while. Or more, from the right person.""

Duo ran his hand over his braid then started tickling his chin with the end of it. Heero wished he would tickle him with it. He sighed. "I'm tired now. I think I'll take a nap. And . . . Heero?" Heero just grunted. "Am I . . . maybe . . . the right person?"

Heero froze for so long that Duo was afraid that he'd offended him. "Yes. I think you might be"
Duo sighed with relief. ""Go to sleep. I'll check the mail." Duo settled down to sleep tugging the afghan up to his chin. Heero went to check mail., feeling foolish because he still hadn't worked up the nerve to say anything to Duo.

Since there was a pile of mail, Heero decided to work his way through as much as he could before supper, or Howard's reply. Whichever came first. As he worked Heero tried to decide how he felt.
All he could come up with was relieved. Duo wanted to be with him.


Duo slept for most of the afternoon, his still weakened system recovering from the excitement of his near collapse. Heero checked on him from time to time but let him sleep himself out.

Duo woke near four in the afternoon, his growling stomach making too much noise for him to sleep any longer. He tossed the afghan aside and stood, wondering where Heero was. He went in search of him and found him half asleep at his computer.

"Heero. Heero? Wake up. Come on." Duo stood in the door and called Heero softly. He didn't want a punch in the face caused by waking Heero up too suddenly. His reflexes were as good as ever.

Heero flinched, jerked and the snuffled softly. He stretched and yawned grumbling softly. "I'm awake. I was just resting my eyes." Duo nearly fell down laughing. "Well, I was. No message from Howard yet. I'm worried."

Duo stiffened. "You think something may have happened to him?"

Heero rolled his eyes. "That old goat? Not a chance . . . what I'm worried about is him coming here and kicking your ass personally. You know how he is."

Duo scrunched up his nose. Yeah, I do. Well, if he does I'll just have to take it. I deserve it after all.
I couldn't even get a message to him. They kicked me off the docks. Out of the port. No ship, no berth. No anything . . . hey! How'd they do that? I should have been able to be on the grounds if I wanted to. Something's rotten somewhere. I''m smelling . . . I'm not sure what. What the hell is going on?""

Heero shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I intend to find out. Probably some thing Jumbo did . . . so. . .
now we need to make some contacts at the port. Who? How? Got any ideas?"

Duo nibbled at his lower lip, making Heero crazy. "Gossip a bit. Sniff around. I can find out something, I'm sure. Well, if I could get a pass. I could wander around with a box asking where the dock it's supposed to be delivered to is. One, make pass. Two, make proper box. Three, find the most difficult to find pad. . . So when do you want to start?"

"As soon as I find out where the two most out of the way bays are. Why do you call them pads?"

Duo leaned back on the couch, crossing his arms behind his head. "It comes from landing pad. Don't know why they call them that. Couldn't land on one for anything. Two? You gonna give it a try?""

Heero tapped at his computer, making the passes. "Yeah. Laminate these please. "Heero handed the two cards he'd plucked from his printer to Duo. He turned back to his computer to search for the required out of the way, hard to find bays.


Duo grumbled. He hated ties, but they'd found out that every delivery company in town made their people wear one. Thank god they were clip ons. At least he didn't feel like he was strangling. Nor did he have to be concerned about someone deciding that it made a good handle or noose.

Heero wasn't that concerned about a tie. He was more worried about his ability to carry on a conversation with someone. He knew what he wanted to know but how was he to get the information without asking questions?

Duo smiled to himself, he could practically hear Heero's mental wheels turning. He decided to wait until they got to the port before he made his suggestion.

The drive to the port was different in the light of day. They could see the industrial parks situated around the port. The land for four miles around the port was zoned industrial. Housing wasn't allowed, not even apartments. Duo never had been able to understand why people would build housing in a crash zone, then complain about engine noise and sonic booms.

He shrugged that off as inconsequential and returned to the business at hand. They got through the gates by simply showing ID. No one at the gate had any reason to suspect that they were anything but what they looked like and having their real names on the lists wouldn't make any difference to their mission.

When Heero parked Duo immediately hopped out and pulled their boxes from the back. "Come on.
Let's get on the move. We need to keep each contact short until we find someone willing to talk. It shouldn't take long. Most of the desk jockeys around here are bored to death. You kind of stand back for this first contact and see what I do. Ok?"

Heero just grunted, he was in mission mode now and was going to be nearly mute until Duo got him relaxed and in character. Once that was achieved Heero would be able to do whatever he needed to do. Duo knew that if he could give Heero an example of how to do what was needed Heero could mimic it. He wasn''t stupid, just asocial. Duo cursed J again.

They headed in the opposite direction of their supposed targets. Duo kept an eye out for someone at a desk. Someone obviously stuck there for whatever reason. That was the kind of person who would like to gossip just to relieve their tedium. All they had to do was talk to them enough to prim the pump so to speak.

"There. That guy is so obviously bored out of his mind, it's not even funny. Just kind of hang back,
hold both the boxes. I''ll pass you off as a trainee. Just watch and listen. Who knows, we might even get lucky and get the intel first bang out of the bottle. Come on."

Duo walked up to the desk. His target looked up and gave him a hesitant half smile. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, can you tell me where berth . . . um . . . 24-41-3 is? The numbers are all scrambled around here. Never saw such a rabbit warren."

The man snorted. "Yeah, my boss is always tellin' me, Tony, the man that laid out the addresses around here was drunk and used a pretzel as a straight edge.' that berth is clear across the lot from here. Nearly a mile. But you can't go straight. That would put you crossing the runways. Can't do that. Get run over. So . . . um . . . "

Duo worried at his lip. "Man that sucks. I've got a trainee with me and all. And I'd like to have lunch for once."" He leaned on the desk and remarked in a companionable way. "So, what the hell are you doin' stuck clear out here?"

The man made a face. "There's been some trouble with refueling. I'm supposed to make sure that all the permits are in order before the fueling truck goes to a ship. You ever deal with spacers"
Duo just shrugged noncommittally. "Well, let me tell you. The good ones are great. The bad ones will shoot on sight. And that creepy repo guy is always asking who's got fuel and who doesn't."

Duo raised an eye brow and risked a quick glance at Heero. Heero crept a little closer, hoping their informant didn't spook.

"Yeah? What's that all about?"

Tony shrugged. "Don't have a clue. I just don''t like him hanging around. He's just . . . if I could put my finger on it, I could explain it. Just creepy is all."

Duo knew he wasn't going to get any more information out of Tony but he hung around a little while longer to avoid suspicion. When they''d visited for about five more minutes, Duo gave Heero the prearranged signal. Heero cleared his throat, then asked. "Excuse me. You said you wanted to get lunch today. Don't you think we better get these delivered?""

Duo rolled his eyes at Tony and nodded. "Sure, man. Just let Tony give us the directions."

Tony gave Duo a sympathetic look and the required directions. Duo thanked him and they headed off in the right direction.

As soon as they were out of his sight they split up. Duo headed in the direction of one berth from which a ship had been repossessed. Heero went to the berth where Duo's ship had been. They were hoping that someone on the berth crews knew something useful.


Duo wandered into the bay and looked around. He didn't see anyone but that didn't mean much.
Half the time the crews were in the back of the bays in the machine shops, trying to make something for a ship that was out dated enough that parts weren't readily available.

"Hello! Yoo-hoo!" Duo just stood and hollered. It wouldn't do any good to try to run someone down. They always wound up playing tag.

"Back here! Come on back. My hands are full."

Duo headed back to the back carrying his dummy package. He stuck his head into the machine shop and sure enough there was a man in there working on some part. He turned his head and invited Duo in with a gimme a hand here.'

Duo obligingly reached out and took hold of the whatever it was at the point the man indicated. He held it until the machinist was done then examined it.

"Rotor core? What for?"

"Generator on a garbage scow of a ship that came in couple of days ago. That ship is prime junk.
Here." The man handed Duo a rag to wipe the turning grease off his hands with. "Name's Doyle.
What can I do ya for?"

Duo handed Doyle his clip board with the delivery receipt on it. "Need to find that bay. Help?"

"Sure thing kid. It's clear across the port from here. Come sit a spell, I'll see if I can't find a damn map somewhere."

Duo followed the man farther into the back and settled at the small table, accepted a soda and waited. The man finally came back with a map and a pen. He sat down and started talking.

"Let me see, now. You're here." He circled a spot with the pen. "And you want to be here." He circled another spot. "But you can't go straight across the port. You'll get yourself killed. So what you want to do is go this way." He started drawing a line on the map. Duo watched.

When the man was finally done, Duo examined the map and thanked him. "Thanks, man. I don't think I'd ever have found it. I've got to get that package delivered and get back to the shop . . . um. .
. you said that ship was prime junk? What's that mean?"

Doyle, sensing a new ear, limbered up his vocal cords with a gulp of soda. "Well, now. Here's the way it is. There's fixer uppers. Ships you can fix with a lot of elbow grease and a little money. Then there's prime junk. Ships that are what ya call money pits. Ya cun toss money at em till hell freezes over an' they're still junk. That's one a' them. New paint, few parts. It'll run good enough, but it'll break down before you know it. Suckered quite a few with it. See. I don't own that piece of shit and I wouldn't do this but I'm a con an' I got no choice. Got a wife and a daughter in college. So, I'm screwed. If I had the right contacts I''d squeal like a pig in a fence. But I'm not hooked up. So what am I supposed to do?"

Duo gave him his best wide eyed innocent look. "But surely if you told the port authorities they'd do something, wouldn't they?"

"Why? Every time someone registers that ship, they pay the registering port a fee. So . . . they'd be cutting into one of their primary sources of income. Solid, we keep it all' income. They get berthing fees and all that but they have to be shared with the crews and who all. See? Besides that, who's gonna believe me."

Duo did and snarled to himself, to Doyle he showed his tell me more' look. "I do. Isn't there something the bank could do?"

Doyle snorted so hard Duo though he might choke. "The bank? Are you completely innocent?
Wouldn't think so with that on." He pointed to the e-leash on Duo's wrist. "Why would the bank want to do anything? They repo the ship and sell it again. They get the payments some poor schmuck comes up with. It breaks down, he can't pay because he had to buy parts. So they repo it again and again. Round and round. Why would they break that cycle. It's to their advantage."

Duo flushed, pulled his sleeve down and shook his head. "It seems sort of . . . dishonest or . . .

"Yeah. And I'd love to figure out how to get it stopped. But I'd lose my job. Well, shit."

Duo eyed the man for a moment. "Yeah?"

"I hate to be rude, but that's my boss. You better get on your way."

Duo didn't argue with Doyle, he just scooted into the hall and headed for the open bay. He didn't go in though. He stood where he could hear, eavesdropping shamelessly. What he heard was an earful.
Doyle''s boss was on him to finish his work as quickly as possible, so they could sell the ship at the next auction which was in four days. Doyle said it could be done, with over time. His boss told him he could have all the over time he needed. Doyle went back to work, muttering curses and slamming things. Duo hustled himself out before the boss saw him.


Heero hovered doubtfully in the door of the bay, he wasn't sure how to find anyone and didn't want to get off on the wrong foot. He was sure he wouldn't get any gossip if he antagonized the crew.

He saw a woman striding across the back of the bay, so he called to her, "excuse me? Hello. Could you help me please?"

The woman turned his way without a word. When she got near, she said in an annoyed tone of voice. "We aren't expecting a package. Especially not one that small. You're in the wrong place."

Heero wondered for a moment how to handle this one, then he shrugged and sighed. "Man don't I know it. If I get booted one more time, I'm gonna feel like a lost puppy. Sorry I bothered you."

The woman ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "Sorry. Come here. We're all a little on edge.
What's the problem?""

Heero handed her the clipboard Duo had fixed for him. "See. I'm supposed to deliver this here . . . but I can't find it. And everyone's just all . . . you're not supposed to be here, go away. And I'm so going to be in trouble if I don't get back to my training partner. He's nice, he's really good and friendly. I'm not so much. Friendly that is. And . . . I'm babbling. I don't usually but if I lose this job . . . well, I'm not sure what will happen. So . . ."

The woman cut him off in mid babble, much to his relief, he was about to run out of anything to say.
"Ok, ok. Stick a cork in it, will you? I'll . . . ok . . . no wonder you can't find it. That''s purgatory.
The middle of somewhere else. I'll give you directions. But you need to get out of here fairly quick."

Heero ducked his head. "I'm sorry . . ." Heero got a look at her name, stenciled over her pocket.
"Sonya. I know I'm a bother. But I really appreciate your help . . . you got problems?"

She shook her head. "Not really. Just . . . this bay is making the crew nervous. The last ship that was here got repoed. We're up on payments but you never know with ground pounders. No offence intended.""

Heero gave her a quick nervous smile. "None taken. But how . . . I mean. Why? Shit."

Sonya laughed. "The poor guy got behind in his payments and the bank called in his loan. He must not have had contact for a while. The banks usually give 48 hours for the skipper to get in touch and give an explanation. If you've had hard luck sometimes they'll give an extension. Young kid,
probably didn't know about that. So the repo guy skinned him good. Poor kid. Don't know what happened to him, but we got most of his tools off ship before the repo guy made it. We couldn't get into his quarters, can't over extend our cachet that much. But we tried. If we ever get hold of him,
he'll be glad to have them. Until then? We keep them in a locker here."

"I don't understand. If you're a ship''s crew. How is it that you're here and have tools that belong to another . . . ok . . ."

Sonya was grinning at him. "We got here just as the asshole was repoing the ship. Couldn't get past the security system. We didn''t know what was going on so we helped him get in. Found out too late to stop him but we managed to get hold of the tools. Lucky the guy kept them in a locker. We just boosted the whole thing. Haven't even opened it. I just hope the guy forgives us. As to why we're still here. Got a busted hydrogen pump. Parts take forever. Especially for this old girl. "

Heero nodded his understanding then took a chance. "Who was the captain of that ship?"

"Not sure. Used the name D. Maxwell. Could stand for anything. We looked him up in ships registry but all we found was Maxwell, D." She pronounced the comma and period. "And that's not much help. We tried everything we could to find out more but the repo guy and the space port are both stone walling us. Been . . . two . . . three months now? Maybe more. Kinda lost track. We're working like navies to get this bucket of bolts back in space."

Someone yelled from the back of the bay and Sonya yelled back, ""Coming! Keep your shirt on"
Turning to Heero she gave him quick directions to the address then said. "You look like a nice kid.
You go on now. And don't let some old coot make you feel bad. Bye." She hurried off and Heero stood for a moment wondering what to do now.

Deciding against trying to figure it out for himself, Heero called Duo, told him everything he'd found out and set up a meeting place. Duo told Heero he had one more stop he wanted to make, it would take fifteen or twenty minutes then he'd be there. Heero hung up and worried at his lower lip for a second. He decided that Duo was a big boy and didn't need his hand held, no matter how much he, Heero, really wanted to.


Duo finished his gossip with the crewman and headed for the meeting with Heero. He was still digesting some of the things he'd been told things weren't adding up and he was trying to puzzle out exactly what was going on. He wasn't paying proper attention to where he was going and ran right into someone.

"Oh! Excuse me. I'm sorry. Wasn't looking where I was going."

The man he'd run into was fairly tall and slender. He was also security, port security. If he decided to scan Duo's ID, he was busted. shit

"That's ok. You look confused. You lost?"

Duo nodded putting on his most engaging smile. "Yeah. Lost, all right. And in a shit load of trouble if I don't meet my partner. He's lost too. We're supposed to meet at bay . . . um"

Duo handed the security man a slip of paper he'd written the bay number on. "This one. It's right over there." Duo pointed, the security man turned to look in that direction and saw Heero, who was wondering if he should intervene in some way.

"And there's your friend. Better get with him and make your delivery. You'll be in deep shit if one of the sticklers catches you here, your ID is good but not that good. . ." the man started to stroll away but turned back. "Colonel Maxwell"

Duo nearly fell over. Seeing the look Heero hurried to him. ""Duo? What did he say? What's wrong"

"He knew me. I don't like that. Even though I was on vid during the war, most people don't recognize me. My face was too swollen and bruised." Heero winced. "Stop that. Water under the dam. Or over the bridge. Anyway. It gives me the creeps when that happens. He didn't seem like he was going to bust me." Duo took a deep breath. "I got all the intel I'm gonna, I think. What about you?"

Heero agreed with Duo so he just headed for their vehicle. ""Hump. We'll compare notes when we get home. Ok?"

"Sure. I'm bushed anyway." Duo trailed after Heero, admiring the view.


They stopped at a carry away place and picked up some supper. Duo grumbled about that, claiming that they had spent enough money to buy food for a week on one meal. Heero just shrugged. He didn't feel like cooking and Duo wasn't up to it yet.

Duo was visibly drooping already. He had to admit that he didn''t feel like making anything so he quit grumbling. But he vowed that as soon as he was back on his feet he was taking over cooking.
He wasn't going to live on carry out and soup and sandwiches forever.

Heero unlocked the door and made his safety sweep, Duo headed directly for the kitchen with the food. By the time Heero was done, Duo had the food set out on the table along with the plates and flatware.

Heero washed his hands at the kitchen sink and then settled in his chair. He looked at the lay out without emotion. There was a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls. Duo had insisted on apple pie for desert and Heero hadn't had the heart to refuse him. Besides he could still use a good fifteen pounds back.

Heero was worried about Duo's weight still. And his general condition. He tired too easily and always seemed to be cold.

In fact, Duo was shivering slightly right now. And he looked ready to drop.

"Duo, sit down. You set it out, it's only fair that I clean up. Just sit there. I'll make you some tea and stick the dishes in the washer. How's that?"

Duo shivered and sighed. "I'm cold again. When I get tired, I get cold. Heero?"

Heero came over to Duo. He sounded so sad that Heero was worried. "Yes? What is it?"

"You think I'm ever going to be well?"

Heero put one arm around Duo's shoulders. "Sure you are. You just ran yourself down so badly that it's going to take a while for you to recover. I admit that I'm a little worried about your weight. You should weigh at least fifteen pounds more than you do. And you don''t eat nearly enough. I don't want you to make yourself sick by stuffing yourself, but do you think if I got it you could eat a little more?"

Duo patted Heero's hand, which was resting on his chest. "No. I'm full. But I'll try to eat more. A little more at each meal until I'm eating what I should. I'm working on it. I really don't need another bout of puking. And maybe a couple of snacks." Heero flinched as the kettle screamed at him. "Oh,
tea. Two spoons of sugar, please." Duo didn't like that much sugar but he knew he needed it.

Heero shuddered, but put it in the cup, he added boiling water to the cup and dropped a tea bag in.
He wasn't that fond of bag tea but Duo couldn't have cared less. Heero knew that Duo would rather have had coffee but the caffeine wasn't that good for him. Especially in his debilitated condition. So tea it was, sugar and all.

Heero set the cup in front of Duo and went back to his cleaning. He closed all the containers and put them in the fridge. He eyed the chicken and then started to toss the carcasse away. Duo stopped him.

"Hey! Don't do that! There's still plenty of meat on that. Here, give it. I'll pick it."

Heero eyed the chicken doubtfully. "Um . . . Duo? Didn''t we already pick it? I mean, there it is."

Duo took the platter from Heero with a slightly amused air. ""I'll pick the meat off the bones. We can have chicken and noodles or chicken salad or . . . something. It's a sin to waste." Duo settled back in his chair with the carcasse and a container. Heero finished wiping down the counters then went to sit across from Duo watching as he completed the chore of removing the meat from the bones. When he was finished Heero told him to wash his hands then turned to put the chicken in the fridge with the rest of the leftovers.

He heard a clatter and turned to see Duo clinging to the edge of the counter slowly sliding toward the floor.

"Duo! What the hell? Let me help you. What hurts?" Heero grabbed Duo around the waist and helped him to a chair.

"Dammit! . . . one minute I'm fine, the next I''m dizzy as hell. What's going on?"

Heero shook his head. "I don't know. Your blood sugar is out of whack. But I'm not sure how, or what to do about it. I think you should see a doctor."

Duo refused flatly. He wasn't sick, he claimed, just tired. He'd take a nap and be fine. Heero decided not to fuss him, but keep an eye on him. If this happened again he was going to the doctor if Heero had to tie him up and drag him.

"Ok. No doctor this time. But if it happens again, you''re going. Understand?"

Duo grimaced but agreed. "Yes, mother. I'll go." Duo caught sight of Heero's worried expression and relented. "No. Really, Heero, if it happens again, I'll go to the walk in clinic. I swear"
Heero helped Duo to the couch, even thought he insisted that he didn't need it. Then he announced that he was going out.

Duo pulled his favorite, and only, afghan to his chin and watched Heero stride out the door, pulling on his jacket as he went.


Heero left the apartment and headed for the nearby walk in clinic. He hadn't picked this building without checking out all the nearby facilities. He needed information and he wanted it now. What better place than the clinic?

Heero planned out what he was going to say carefully. He didn''t want the doctor to think he was talking about himself so he decided his best bet was telling the absolute truth and hoping the doctor 1) believed him and 2) could help him without actually seeing Duo.

The doctor came into the small examination room and raised an eye brow. "I thought you understood that I need you undressed for the examination."

Heero cleared his throat. "I know. But . . . this is very difficult and a little weird. My friend is ill and he won't come in. I think he's afraid that he's sicker than he really is and doesn't want to be told so." The doctor's professional look faded slightly into the beginnings of disbelief. "Really. I know this sounds like one of those my friend's second cousin once removed' stories, but it's not." Heero sighed and ran his hand through his messy hair. "My name is Heero Yuy, and the man I'm worried about is Duo Maxwell. I'll start from the beginning . . ."" Heero managed to get through the story without unduly antagonizing the doctor.

When he finished the doctor eyed him for a long moment, then remarked. "Well, matching what you're telling me with your physical appearance, you're telling the truth. So . . . what you need to do is check his blood sugar. If it's too high, you get him in here if you have to drag him kicking and screaming." Heero smiled slightly at the mental picture of him dragging Duo by his braid with him screaming like a banshee. "Yes . . . and if it's too low, give him some juice. Now . . . I want you to keep a food diary. And here's some literature on hypoglycemia. I'm fairly certain that's what is wrong. I don't like this much but I recognize both names and I'm willing to bet that Mr. Maxwell won't argue much if it turns out to be hyperglycemia. Now. I'm going to write out what you'll need and a simple test you can do to see which it is. But only if you swear to me you'll bring him in if his blood sugar is over . . . m m m . . . 250."

Heero nodded once. "Yes. I swear. He is my best friend. Trusted me when most people were either scared shitless or trying to kill me. I''ll take care of him."

The doctor eyed him carefully for a moment then started writing. When he was finished Heero had a sheet of paper with several purchases he had to make at the local pharmacy and several pages of instructions. He flipped through them quickly then asked a few questions. The doctor answered with growing respect. When he showed Heero the door he had a few final instructions, wished him good luck and shook his head as he turned to his next patient.


Heero walked to the pharmacy around the corner from the clinic, it was in the opposite direction from the apartment directly across from the bakery. He handed his list to the assistant there and waited while the man filled it.

"Hypoglycemia?" The man just wanted to relieve the worried looking young man.

"Not sure. He keeps getting dizzy. I'm not sure why."

"Ah, that nice looking young man I've seen you with?" he reached out and took something off the shelf.


"He's too thin. You best be careful though. If you feed him too much, he'll be sick."

"He threw up the first time I fed him. Too much, too soon. I really felt bad." Heero accepted the sack of supplies, feeling relieved that he didn't have to break in and steal them, like he had during the war.

"I see. And you better watch feeding him too much sugar. He'll crash."

Heero's head snapped up, eyes narrowing. "What are you talking about?"

"If you give someone in his shape too much refined sugar, his insulin will soar, burn up all that sugar and keep on rising. His sugar gets burned up and he crashes."

Heero thought for a moment trying to remember when Duo had gotten dizzy. "I see. The doctor told me to keep a food diary. Maybe I should include drinks?"

"Yes, especially one's with a lot of sugar. They're just as bad, if not worse than, foods. The sugar is in suspension and gets into the blood quickly. Keep that diary carefully. The test kit has instructions right in it. And I'm including a tube of sugar gel. If he crashes, give him the recommended dose. If his sugar is over 250 drag him to the clinic.""

Heero nodded, "I will. The doctor told me the same thing. Thank you for your advice."

"Sure thing. Take care of him. He's really a nice boy. Here you go. Good evening."

Heero took his change stuffed it into his pocket and headed for home, realizing at the last minute that he'd just had a conversation with someone who knew too much without feeling threatened.


Duo eyed the door and worried, the only thing he could think of that would have him passing out like this was a low gravity related problem called space knees' caused by being in low gravity for long periods of time. He wasn't sure exactly how much exposure it took to cause it. But he was worried. He wondered how much it would cost to cure it.

He was still worrying when Heero came back with a bag in one hand and a pamphlet in the other.
He was reading so intently that he nearly fell over Duo's boots. He toed off his foot wear and went into the kitchen. Duo trailing after him.

"What did you get, Heero? Is it something good?" Duo peeked over Heero's shoulder, curious as a cat. He tipped his head to one side trying to figure out what was in the boxes. "It looks like medicine. Are you sick? Do you want to lay down on the couch? I'll give you my afghan."

Heero grunted noncommittally and started setting out his purchases and the information. "Here.
Start reading this. And, no more sugar in your tea, or coffee. And how much sugar is in that creamer?" Heero eyed the label with disfavor as he realized how much sugar was in the stuff.
"Wow. Take it easy on this, too."

Duo watched in confusion as Heero flitted around the kitchen reading labels at a glance and muttering to himself. He shrugged at last and took up the first paper. While he was reading, Heero was still rummaging. Duo ignored him as many of his questions were answered by the first piece of paper.

"Heero?" Grunt. "Do you think I'm diabetic."

"No. Hypoglycemic"

"Ok. Where's? . . . oh. Here it is." Duo settled to read about this. He couldn't decided whether his symptoms fit or not, but the information seemed to rule out his main concern. Duo finished reading the papers and pamphlets. He looked up to see Heero seated across from him at the table waiting patiently for him to finish reading.

"Well, that explains a bunch. I was really worried that I had space knees' I spent way too much time in null grav."" Heero raised an eye brow. "Grav plates were burning out. And not using them made it even easier on the generators."

Heero rubbed his face. "You could have mentioned that earlier. That's one of the reasons you're weaker than you should be. Even working at the welding yard. Or maybe because. Anyway . . . you know damn good and well that too much time in nul grav will lead to atrophy of major muscles.
And then over working yourself after that. You're in fair shape but we need to figure out what's making you dizzy. So. . . research. Now that I have a starting place. I'll be on the net for a while.
Finish reading those instructions."

Duo started to bull up but Heero cupped one soft cheek in his palm and leaned close. "Please? I'm worried about you. Let's just do this to put my mind at ease."

Duo gave up. He hadn't even known Heero knew how to make puppy eyes. "That's low. Using that look. You know I'll do anything when you look at me like that. So go, research. I'll read about this test thing. Scat." Duo flapped his hand at Heero and turned to his instructions. Heero left to stick his nose in his computer for an hour.

After they both digested all the information, with Duo reading the open windows on Heero's computer and Heero reading all the printed matter, they sat at the table again and made their plans.

"Well, food diary, not that big a deal. I'll just keep it right here on the counter. And . . . um . . .
blood test? How's that? How often? And when?"

Heero handed Duo the glucometer. It was the newest model of course. All you had to do was clip it to an earlobe and wait. It read the blood sugar level then beeped.

"Test yourself and I'll record it in the food diary. We might as well keep all the records together. If your sugar is over 250 you''re going to the clinic if I have to carry you. So test."

Duo obediently clipped the instrument to his ear and waited for it to beep. "Well, it's at 110. Is that good? I don't remember."

"You better. Your sugar should be between 80 and 120, plus or minus 10. If it's over 180 but under 200 we need to watch it carefully. Or if it's under 80. But the doctor was very firm on the fact that if it's over 250 you have to check in there at once."

Duo nodded. "Ok. I'll remember now. And . . . should I write down supper, do you think?"

Heero nodded. "I already did it."

Duo sighed. "Well, at least I don't have space knees'. And if I eat right I should feel better by tomorrow. I need to get into the gym but I feel all shaky when I do too much. Or is that sugar?"

Heero thought for a moment. "Probably sugar. You're burning it up too fast for some reason"
Heero suddenly yawned, a jaw cracking, wide open thing that made Duo snicker. "Well, dammit,
I''m tired. You're worrying me half to death. You don't take proper care of yourself. Eat like a bird,
then get sick. Duo . . . hey."

Duo had bopped Heero on the back of the head then scampered away to his room. Heero followed grumbling about "baka yarou" who didn't take care of themselves and rubbing his head.


The next morning, Duo checked his sugar level, then settled at the table to see what Heero was going to fix for breakfast. It was nice. Duo sighed as he saw the fruit laden waffle, egg, coffee and juice. Heero settled opposite him writing in the diary with one hand as he ate with the other.

"Heero. For god's sake. Will you lighten up? Do you even taste what you're eating?"

Heero looked up. "Yes, actually. And I like peaches. Why?"

Duo tapped the book with one finger. "That's why. How can you pay attention to writing and what you're eating?"

Heero smirked at Duo. "Multi-tasking. You finished?""

Duo snorted. "Would it do any good if I said no?"

"No, because I'm not blind. You inhaled that. I think you should eat slower. When you're ready,
we'll go to the gym. I filed a report with the bank already." At Duo's curious look Heero shrugged happily. "They faxed over the contract, signed sealed and delivered. I'm expecting a hard copy by one this afternoon. We're in business for real. I saw that the deposits were made."

Duo hummed a happy agreement. "Nice. Sweet. Not only do we take that asshole down, we get paid for it. What's the bonus?"

Heero told him and Duo yelped. "Shit! That's what my ship cost. Serves them right. Come on. I'm ready to go to the gym. I need to see where I am. Go."

Heero snatched up his duffel and headed for the door, calling over his shoulder. "Do you have anything you can wear? If not, I'll lend you something. But I thought I saw gym clothing in that pile of things on the closet floor. Oh, and you said you wanted to clear out that dresser. I''ll get a box for whatever's in it on the way home."

Duo rummaged through the pile of clothing, tossing things over hurriedly. He found a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that would do. When he found his shoes, he snickered softly.

Heero heard him and called, "What's funny. And tell me in the car. It's a forty-five minute drive so I'd like to get going before traffic picks up."

"I told Quatre that those shoes were the first pair I ever had. I'll have to apologize to him. I forgot about these."

Heero grinned at the way Duo waved his cross trainers at him. ""Well, just call those cross trainers.
That's not technically a shoe. Exactly."

Duo snorted. "Damn it, Heero. You chop logic like a Jesuit." He laughed all the way to the car.

The drive was easy as Heero had the route set in the GPS, all he had to do was follow the arrow. Not that he really needed it, but it paid to be careful.

On the way there, Duo had some questions.

"Um . . . Heero?"


You said we are bounty hunters. So how come you wanted a contract with the bank. If that guy isn't on the lamb, we've got no reason to go after him."

"I'm also a licensed private detective. The two go together if you ask me. So, the contract with the bank allows me to investigate his methods. And, that reminds me, I need to check that creep for wants and warrants. It's quite possible that he's pulled this trick elsewhere. With some not so good results, for him. If he's wanted somewhere, we'll not only get paid for this job, but we can collect the bounty on him too.""

Duo settled deeper in his seat and contemplated the joy that was getting paid to earn a bounty.


The gym was upscale and so new it still smelled of paint and new carpet.

Heero signed them in at the desk and headed for the locker room. Duo paused to look around appreciatively. The place was very nice.

He started across the lobby to the locker rooms, but he was stopped by an older man. He turned around when the man called hey, boy!'' Duo turned around to see who was calling who. He saw the man gesturing to him so he ambled over.

"Yeah? What . . ." Duo didn't get any farther. The man dumped a duffle into his arms. "Excuse me?"

"Here. And take this too." The man handed Duo a briefcase. "I have to take this call."

The man pressed his cell phone to his ear and walked off. Duo gave him a speculative look then just carried all the baggage into the locker room. He didn't bother to be stealthy about what he did next.
He just unzipped the duffle and rummaged through it. He opened a locker and started taking things out of the duffle and putting them into the locker. Heero turned to look at him and blinked.

"Duo, what are you doing? Where did you get that?""

"Some guy just gave it to me. He called me over and handed it to me then told me he had to take a phone call and walked off. So . . . I decided to see what he gave me."

Heero sighed, he recognized Duo in one of his moods. Although he couldn't blame the braided bandit. It was annoying to be mistaken for a parking attendant, or cabana boy, or some other sort of attendant.

"Is there any personal property in there?"

Duo shook the last of the contents out on the floor. He poked around with his toe and shook his head. "Nope. Nothing personal. There's deodorant and shampoo. Several of those nice micro fiber towels. Soap . . . um . . . condoms. Yuck!"

"What?" Heero jumped at the sharp exclamation.

"His aftershave stinks. And I got it on my hand. Smell."" Duo thrust his hand under Heero's nose.
He wrinkled it up at once. The stuff did stink. "Smells like the inside of an old space suit. I''m gonna wash my hand."

Duo walked away whistling, several of the things from the duffle dangling from his fingers and arm.
Heero stuffed the unwanted things into a locker and followed.

"You really shouldn't have done that."

"Why? The guy just handed it to me. He didn't tell me to do anything with it. He just said Here.
And take this too'' so I did. If he wanted me to do something for him, he should have asked me nicely. So I guess it was a gift."

Heero shrugged, there was no arguing with Duo when he got in this sort of mood. He'd just have to deal with the fall out as it came.


Heero took the job of Duo's personal trainer. Duo didn''t mind a bit, in fact he appreciated it. It also made it possible for him to admire Heero as he worked out.

Heero would have Duo go through the exercise then he'd correct his form and assign him reps and sets. He would watch for a moment then go to do his own.

Other people in the room watched surreptitiously. It was considered rude to just stare, but everyone wanted to watch the two young men. Heero was square and hard, his muscles highly defined. Duo was too thin, but still well muscled in a lithe, tight-knit way. Heero looked like a wrestler or martial artist. Duo was more like a dancer or swimmer. No one wanted to look away.

Both young men were oblivious to the attention, until Heero saw two of the women talking.

"Will you look at that? Yummieeee!"

"Yeah. I want some of that. You can have the other.""

The dark-haired woman pointed at Heero, while the other was looking at Duo. Heero felt himself flush heavily.

"What's wrong?" Duo started to look around but Heero stopped him.

"Wait a sec then turn around. Look in the mirror. Those two women are checking us out. What do we do? We don't need the attention."

Duo picked up a towel and draped it over his shoulders. He casually sauntered to another machine and watched the women in the mirror. They were checking him out. He smirked at Heero.

"They're just checking us out. They like the way we look. Skinny as I am, you know they have no taste. Want to get rid of them?""

Heero replied without turning his head. "You know I do."

"Ok, then. Just don't slug me. Look like you enjoy it."

Heero started to ask Duo what he meant but was forestalled by Duo leaning in and putting both arms around him from behind. Duo wasn't a threat so Heero allowed it, soon he was glad he had.
Duo nibbled at his ear then hissed in it. Dammit, will you relax a little. M not gonna choke ya or anything." Heero forced himself to relax, but it wasn''t easy when he was trying to keep an eye on those women and keep something that he didn't want to from coming up.

"Sorry." Heero turned his head to hide his lips from view. This put his nose right in Duo's braid but instead of turning his head, he caught hold of it and pressed it to his nose. "Smells nice."

"Thanks. Keep doing that. Maybe stroke it a bit. Those women are getting an eye full. They're starting to get the picture."

Heero seized the opportunity to play with Duo's braid, stroking the thick silk and pressing it to his nose again. "I'm not sure what you're up to. If you explain a bit more, I'll be able to help better."

Duo dipped his head to hide his mouth in Heero's neck. "If they think we're together they'll go away. If they think we're just not interested, they might decide to make us interested. So . . . mmmm . . . damn."

Heero kissed Duo's neck, snatching at the opportunity that presented itself. He had wanted to do this for months. Now that he had a chance, no matter why or how, he was taking it.

Duo didn't seem to object, in fact he seemed to enjoy the attention, or at least pretended to. Heero hoped Duo was enjoying this as much as he was.

They heard a soft Shit' from one of the women and broke apart as they left the room. Duo snickered softly. "Well, that put their panties in a bunch. You ok?"

Heero touched his lips, nodding slightly. "Yeah, fine. You better get back on that machine. You need to do four more reps then another set. I'll spot."

Duo pouted slightly but did as he was told. Heero had all he could do not to jump Duo right there.


They moved from machine to machine, Heero kept track of Duo''s repetitions and realized that while his muscles were nearly as strong as his war time levels, his endurance was low. He needed to do multiple sets to build them back up. He wrote notes in a small spiral book he pulled out of his pocket. Making sure to note that nul grav hadn't weakened Duo noticeable.

When he started to put it away, a hand reached over his shoulder and plucked it from his fingers.
Heero flinched. He'd been concentrating on his notes and between that and the noise of the machines in the room he hadn't noticed the boy sneaking up behind him.

"Give that back."

"Make me."


Heero smacked the boy in the face with the back of his hand and snatched the notebook back. He stood up and pushed him over. Duo, catching sight of the fight from the corner of his eye hurried over.

"Heero! That's enough."

Heero stepped over his tormentor, remarking. "Don''t be a bully. You might run into another like me . . . without my patience. Or self-control . . . you might want to put some ice on that."

Duo snickered. "Where did that idiot come from?"

Heero shook his head. "No idea. I need to be more careful. He walked right up behind me. I didn't even hear him. I'm slipping."

Duo thought about that for a moment as they walked toward the locker room. "Don't think so. This is sort of like a safe house. You're not supposed to have to watch your back here. What if he'd tried that on the street?" Heero shrugged irritably. "Come on. Tell me he'd have gotten away with it. I dare you."

Heero snorted. "I know what you're up to.""

Duo rubbed Heero's shoulder. "Is it working?""

"Yeah. Come on. I want a shower. I'm all stinky."

They entered the locker room just in time to hear a loud voice exclaim. "I don't care. I gave my stuff to that long haired attendant, so find it."

Duo serenely handed Heero two towels and took three for himself. Heero led the way into the showers laughing to himself. Duo was still a practical joker of monumental proportions. This one was going to be interesting.

Heero didn't take long to finish his shower, all he had to do was shampoo his hair and use the resultant suds to wash the rest of him. Duo, on the other hand, took forever. First he washed himself then he washed his hair, conditioned it and rinsed it. Then he had to run a comb through it until it was smooth, braid it and blot it with towels again. If he didn't, it would drip all over and smell funny too. So he waited patiently until Duo was ready to return to the locker room.

Despite the amount of time it had taken to complete their ablutions, the man was still raising a ruckus. A loud one.

Heero snickered and poked Duo in the ribs. "You've done it now. You better go take that poor guy off the hook. It's not his fault that . . . um . . . Paul Jackson is an idiot."

Duo snorted in disgust. "I really shouldn't have done it. But you know me, can't resist temptation . .
." Duo finished drying his braid with the towel. He gathered up the towels, shampoo and other things stuffed them into a locker and called, "hey, Mr. Jackson. Thanks for the things. Real nice of you to give me your duffle when you saw I forgot mine."

Jackson nearly had a fit, yelling and ranting about thieving employees and threatening to sue the gym. Duo stood with a slight smile on his face as the man got so red in the face he nearly turned purple.

When he wound down Duo remarked kindly, "Well, I'm really sorry about that. But when someone comes into a gym that doesn't provide locker room attendants and hands a guy something and just says here' what's a guy to think? And I really did appreciate it. So stuff's in this locker. Here." Duo handed him a key. "Sorry the towels are all wet. All this hair. See ya."

Duo sauntered off, braid swinging across his tight ass, a fact that Heero enjoyed immensely. Jackson spluttered, fumed and announced that he was giving up his membership. The assistant manager muttered, thank god.' and walked back into his tiny office.


Heero gathered their stuff, realized that Jackson had left his stuff and packed it away in its duffle too. Duo grabbed his bag and headed for the door. He stopped at the assistant manager's office to offer apologies accompanied by his sweetest smile. The man just shrugged. "I'm glad you did it.
He's been a pain in my ass for the last two years. Always threatening to have my job' as if he could do it anyway. So . . . thanks."

Duo gave the man a thumbs up and wink then hurried to catch up to Heero, who'd just headed for the lobby and front door. Duo realized that Heero was still uncertain in complicated social situations, he tended to just leave now, instead of threatening to kill someone. Not that that was always a bad thing, Duo contemplated the idea of Heero threatening to kill Johnson and snickered softly.

He was just in time to see Heero dealing with said man.

They were faced off in the lobby. Johnson was looming over Heero in a threatening manner. Heero just stood there, arms crossed over his chest, head down. He appeared to be listening intently. Duo muttered, oh, crap'' and hurried to head off disaster.

Jackson was demanding payment for his appropriated things, ranting about having Duo arrested for stealing. He was nearly on top of Heero, which was a very bad thing in Duo's experience.

But Heero surprised both Jackson and Duo, for different reasons. Jackson ranted on for a while as Duo stood to one side keeping his eyes on Heero.

Heero listened to Jackson, then he lifted his head. "Are you done." Heero's voice and gaze would have made a brigade of Oz troopers turn tail and run. It froze Jackson in mid sentence. Heero's look was direct, bland and cold, his voice monotone and soft. They made everyone within ear-shot stop dead.

"I'm . . . done. But my stuff."

"I'll be glad to give it back to you." Heero's tone of voice made it clear that that was all he was offering. "And next time, be sure who you're giving your stuff to before you just shove it at someone and say here'. Do you understand?"

Jackson nodded, looking very much like a noddy dog. "Yes. I understand. Um . . . I don't want that stuff. Keep it."

Duo walked up to Heero, careful to make sure to approach from the side so Heero saw him. "Heero?
You ok?"

Heero reached out and took Duo's hand. "Yes. I am fine." Heero turned back to Jackson. "In what way does he resemble an attendant?"

"Um . . . Long hair? Young? Looks kinda queer? Got that tracker thing on? What else was I supposed to think?"

Heero raised an eyebrow, which had been known to make even crazy lady' Une nervous.
"Queer?" Heero turned to look a Duo. "He doesn't look odd to me. Explain yourself.""

Duo bit at his lip to keep from laughing, trust Heero to take something like that literally. Jackson froze for a second then muttered. "Well he does. Look gay, I mean."

"Yes, he's a happy person. That still doesn''t explain why you would take it amiss that he's either odd or happy. And you're still not explaining yourself." that was when Duo realized that Heero knew exactly what queer meant. And that he was having a poke at the man.

"Um . . . well, you know he's. . . not interested in women. Like that."

Heero nodded, a bland expression on his face. "I see. And . . . I'm still waiting for some sort of explanation as to why you should take exception to his sexual orientation. Unless he made a pass at you. Duo . . . you didn't, did you?"

Duo shook his head, to busy trying not to laugh to do more. Heero turned back to the man with a puzzled line between his eyes. "I didn''t think so. I'm waiting. And believe me, making me wait isn't a good thing."

"Well, um . . . it's . . . I . . ." Jackson gave up as he was pinned by a frigid blue glare and realized that he was skating on very thin ice. "Never mind, if you don't care, who am I to say anything. Just you wait, when your reputation is ruined and he steals you blind, don't come crawling to me."

Heero snorted. "My reputation as a cold-blooded son-of-a-bitch is in no danger from hanging around with him. And as to his sexual orientation being a problem . . . only with assholes like you. Everyone else has the good sense to keep their noses out of other peoples relations. Also, he doesn't steal.
Now, if you're done acting like a fool. Go away."

Heero turned to Duo and pulled on the hand he was still holding. "Come on, honey. We need to get out of here."

Duo followed the tug in a daze. Heero was standing up for him, not that he couldn't do it himself of course but it was nice.

"Heero? You . . . I . . . oh, hell." Duo leaned against the wall and howled with laughter. Heero was laughing too. He slid down the wall to sit on the floor of the short hall, laughing like a loon. They both sat on the floor laughing for a while then Heero calmed himself and stood up. He offered Duo a hand up which Duo took.

"Are you ok? I think I hurt myself. Did you see his face? I thought he was going to piss himself. Too bad he didn't."

Duo snorted. "As if it makes any difference if I'm homosexual or what. Where do guys like that come from. And can we bomb it?""

Heero snickered. "No, we can't bomb it. Come on, I'm hungry."

Duo followed Heero out the door. "No, you're not. You just want an excuse to feed me again. So don't." Heero turned his head to look at Duo. "Make excuses, I mean. I'm hungry again. So let's just go get a snack."

Heero faced front with a smirk. "Ok. No excuses. I''m not really very hungry, but I could eat a little something. What would you like? Here." Heero took Duo's duffle from him and tossed it into the back of the SUV along with his.

Duo considered this for a moment. "I used to get melon from a lady at the space port at L4. She put some kind of white stuff in it. It was good. I wish I could get some of that."

Heero flipped his phone open, stabbed a speed dial with his thumb and waited. "Hello. Yes, Yuy.
There's a vendor at the space port who sells melon with a white dressing. What is it?"

Duo goggled at Heero, he was calling who? To find out what that dressing was?

"Who is that?"

Heero pressed the phone into the palm of his other hand, "Miss Kamilah. She's somewhere around the second rank below Quatre''s personal secretary. She'll find out for me. Hang on." Heero put the phone back to his ear.

After listening for a moment he just said thank you'' and hung up.

"Ok, Heero, what was it? Some exotic dressing made out of . . . what? Come on."

Heero eyed Duo for a second, then smirked and said. "Yoghurt, cinnamon and honey. Little lemon juice."

Duo blinked, then remarked rather dazedly. "So easy. I was thinking it would be something that was really fussy. Where can we get some around here?"

Heero gave Duo a slightly sad look. "Can't get it commercially around here. You'll just have to wait until I can get to the store and get the ingredients to make some. Kamilah says it's also good with apples, oranges, and bananas."

Duo managed to hide his smile in a pout, it wouldn't do for Heero to think he was laughing at him.
And Duo did want to laugh. Not at Heero but in simple joy. Heero was trying to take care of him. It felt really good.


Heero drove for about fifteen minutes. Duo didn't bother to try to keep track of where they were going. He trusted Heero to get them somewhere where there was good food. He wasn't disappointed.

Heero turned into a parking lot and found a parking place. ""You'll like this. I think. You do still like Greek don't you?"

Duo nodded eagerly. He loved Gyros and Spanikopita with tatziki. He'd missed having such simple things as that and soba noodles with peanut sauce. He decided not to think of all the foods he'd missed. He would be up all night.

Heero parked right in front of the restaurant and carefully locked the SUV. He had a lot of expensive equipment in it and would really feel a fool if he allowed his things to be stolen. He pocketed the keys and started to follow Duo into the building. He stopped, snapped his fingers and called Duo back.

"What's up? Come on, I'm starving here."

"Come to the back of the SUV. I won't take but a moment." Heero got the key to the e-leash out of the trunk and opened the lock. "There." Heero tossed the bracelet and key back into the trunk. Duo just rubbed his wrist a bit and followed Heero into the restaurant smiling.

The decor wasn't much, just some pictures of Greece on the walls and some rather tacky amphora on columns here and there. The tables were simple wood, the chairs ladder back with small red and white table cloth-covered cushions on them. But the people were real Greeks and greeted them in that language. Duo laughed and replied, delighting the family, who immediately took him to heart.
Heero started to stand back and let them but an older woman poked him in the side gently.

"You're worthy too. I saw that you understood. Go. Sit. Eat. Have fun. You deserve it. And it'll make the long-haired one happy."

Heero smiled at her and nodded. "Ok. Thank you, Yiayia""

Duo settled himself at a table near the kitchen. It was nearly behind a large planter, but they could see the whole room. Duo wondered if they were setting up some sort of precedent then decided not to worry about it.

They looked at the menu, but Duo already knew what he wanted.

"Gyros, Spanikopita, tatziki. Coffee. Thank you." Duo handed the menu to the young boy who was taking the order.

Heero eyed the menu, decided he didn't care and told the boy he'd take the same thing.

"Yes sir. It'll be a little while. The meat isn't quite hot yet. I'll tell PaPa to turn on the music, shall I?"

The music was turned on and Heero realized that they were going to be treated to Greek folk music.
He heaved a small sigh of relief. He hated elevator' music. It was designed to be offensive to none,
but almost everyone he talked to hated it. This was going to be interesting. He hadn''t had time to listen to music when he was in Greece with Oden. They'd been much too busy.

"This is great. I love the music. And these folks are really nice. And . . . m m m m m." Duo sniffed the air with appreciation. ""Smell. Smells soo good. Yum."

Heero sniffed the air too and realized that the smell was making his mouth water. The smell of onions grilling and the meat on the rotisserie made the restaurant smell wonderful. He sighed softly.
He felt comfortable here for some reason.

"We have to come back here. This is nice. I like the table. It's out of the way, comfortable, and near the kitchen. And the back door and bathrooms." Heero eyed a grinning Duo. "What?"

"I was just thinking the same thing. We're sick, you do know that, right?"

Heero gave and offhanded shrug. "You've said that before. Does it really matter? It's not like we're going to go off and go on a shooting spree. At least, I'm not. Are you planning to go postal?"

Duo snorted. "Me? I'm way too lazy. Too much work by half to drag stuff up a jillian flights of stairs, hiding it from security. Forget it. If I feel all melancholy, I'll just have myself a good cry"
Duo twisted around in his chair, looking towards the kitchen door. "I wish they'd hurry. I'm starving here."

Heero found himself watching Duo as he twisted his too thin body, but he was beginning to put back some weight. His shoulders had broadened in the months since Heero had seen him last, and he was taller. Heero wondered if Duo would end up the taller of the two of them. He knew that his own oriental heritage might keep him short. As long as Duo didn't mind he didn't either. He remembered hearing, Dynamite comes in small packages, but it makes a big boom.' He wasn't sure where he'd heard that, it might even have been Duo. Heero yanked his wandering thoughts back to the subject at hand. Duo had also put on muscle, but not the same bulky kind as Heero, he was all lean lines and smooth skin. Heero thought of Duo as an acrobat or swimmer, and himself as a wrestler or weightlifter. They complimented each other in more ways than one.


Duo fidgeted, he was hungry and that made him restless. So he started bouncing around in his seat in time to the music. One of the waiters saw him and smiled. He came over and asked Duo if he wanted to learn the traditional dance that went with the music. Duo did, and dragged Heero onto the dance floor in the middle of the room.

They learned that the dance floor was for the demonstrations, in traditional Greek costume, that they had in the evenings on the weekend. The rest of the week they usually had tables, but some of them were out for refinishing.

Heero stumbled through the beginning steps of the dance and tried to drop out claiming he was spoiling their fun. Duo pulled him back and announced, "You dropping out is more likely to spoil my fun than you stumbling a few times. Come on. Just look at it like a new karate form. Step, kick.
Slide. Easy."

Heero thought for a moment. "Let me watch you a while. I promise I'll try again. Ok?"

The young man, whose name was an easily pronounced, Alexis, laughed. "You're doing a lot better than some people who insist they can dance. It is really easy. Here. Watch." He demonstrated the steps slowly counting the beat out loud. Heero watched carefully. After several rounds he put his arm over Alexis's shoulder and fell into step. Duo, on the other side of Alexis, whooped happily.

This brought several people from the depths of the restaurant. They happily began clapping time and calling out encouragement. Duo blossomed in the warm attention, laughing and tossing his braid. Every time he turned, it swung around like a living thing. Heero wanted to catch it and pet it.

Finally their food came to the table. One of the older women brought it out and clapped her hands to attract their attention. "Come. Eat. Before it gets cold."

Duo broke from the line and grinned around. "Thanks for dancing with me. Come on, Heero, I'm fading away here."

They sat down to a table full of food they hadn't ordered, but the look on the old lady's face told its own story. She folded her hands under her apron and watched as Duo picked up his Gyros, opened it and dumped tatziki sauce on it. He folded it again and took a bite.

"Oh. . . m . . . o. . . ood. . ."

The woman tapped Duo on the shoulder. "Don't talk with your mouth full, you'll choke. And, here,
wipe your mouth." She handed Duo a paper napkin and walked away. Duo wiped his mouth, picked up a bite size Spanikopita and dipped it in the cool sauce. Popping it into his mouth he chewed and swallowed before saying, "man. That's so good. And can we have baklava for desert. Oh, and look at the salad. I do like Greek salad. All the olives and cheese. But we didn't order this, did it come with the dinner?"

Heero squinted, trying to read the specials menu on the wall over the register. "Don't know, don't care. It's good. We both need the greens. So, don't talk with your mouth full. I don't want that grandmother to think we're savages. Nice people, nice restaurant. I'd like to be welcome back."

Duo nodded. "Yeah. Why is it, do you think, that people are always so nice to us?"

Heero just gave Duo his thousand yard stare. "Duo, you''re . . . never mind. People are always nice to us because you have the knack of . . . insinuating yourself into their good graces." Duo gave Heero a startled look. "It's not a bad thing. You're not the type to take advantage. Unless it's for a mission. Just enjoy it."" He smirked at Duo. "Just don't let it go to your head.""

Duo reacted before he thought, he lobbed the Spanikopita he was holding at Heero's head. Heero caught the delicacy in his teeth and ate it. Duo burst out laughing, clapping his hands. "Good one,
Heero."" He clapped a hand over his mouth, wide eyed. "Oh, shit. I hope Yiayia didn't see that."

Unfortunately, she did. She came over to the table and scolded Heero for tempting that nice young man' into such ill conceived actions. Heero took the scolding without a flinch, merely apologizing for Duo's actions and his own. She turned to Duo.

"As for you, you know better. Nice catholic boy. Shame on you. Temptation should be ignored with dignity, not yielded to. Now. I know boys. I have five of my own. You're going to have baklava or I miss my guess. You clean up those plates and I'll have it right out."

Duo's eyes were even wider than before. He turned to Heero to apologize and found him struggling to keep his face straight. He failed rather spectacularly, he laughed until tears ran down his face,
finally managing to stammer out, "Nice . . . c c ca ca catholic boy, my a a a ass."

"And a nice ass it is too." Duo snapped his mouth shut, trying to figure out how to recall that particularly ill considered sentence.

Heero shifted slightly in his seat. "Is it?"

Duo just nodded, stuffed more gyros into his mouth and changed the subject by pushing a plate of something he didn't recognize in Heero''s direction. "Yeah. What's that?"

Heero took a bite, allowing the subject change without comment. "Don't know exactly. Eggplant and onions, garlic . . . something I don't recognize. It's good. Try it."

Duo did and nodded. "Find out the name of this. This is really good. I'll see if I can't find a recipe for it online. And speaking of that. I'm going to take over some of the cooking. It''s not fair for you to have to do all the chores. I'll get better quicker if I start doing things."

Heero thought about that while he chewed a bite of his gyros. ""Ok, that's good. I don't mind cooking, but if we both do it, it'll be easier on both of us. Don't bother to ask me if I like something.
I'm not sure what I like and don't like. I'll eat anything once." He noticed the mulish look on Duo's face. "I'll tell you if I don't like something. If you really like it, I'll be glad to eat it again. But that way, maybe we can compromise on dishes. If you don't like something I make be sure to tell me.

Duo nodded, braid smacking the back of his chair. "Sure thing. Sounds like a really good idea. But one thing, whoever cooks, the other washes up. Ok?"

"Yeah. That's fine. And . . . we both do research and hacking. And I need you to get your shooting skills back up to par. Is there anything you can think of?"

Duo shook his head. "Nope, I think you've covered it all. And here's desert. Baklava, and coffee.

Heero took one of the gooey pastries and licked the honey off his fingers. He wasn't fond of sweets,
only eating them because he wanted to keep Duo company, but this was different. The nut filled diamond was very good. He decided that he was going to learn how to make it. Just for Duo. He wanted to see him smile more.

The grandmother came over again and fussed at Duo for drinking coffee.

"You should drink good things. Not coffee. It's not good for you. You're a growing boy, you need good things. You should drink milk. But. . ." Duo treated her to what Quatre called, Duo puppy dog eyes power of four' she melted. "Very well. You did good. You ate all your good food. So I guess it won't hurt. But you eat good tonight. Vegetables and good meat. Not some frozen mess.

Duo promised smiling gently at the motherly woman. "I will. He won't let me get away with eating junk. Or not much at any rate.""

She just smiled, shook her finger at him and walked way. She visited several other tables while they watched her. Heero poked Duo. "You know she's right. But you don't eat near as much junk as you used to. Why is that?"

"I didn't have money for snacks and treats. And, you guys never noticed, but I only pigged out on junk right after a mission. Helped me settle my nerves. Don't know why."

Heero took a good look at Duo's face and changed the subject.


After paying the bill, they headed for home, or rather, their apartment. Heero wanted to take Duo back to his real home and show him how much nicer it would be for him to stay there; rather than rent an apartment near by.

Duo entered with dragging steps. Heero stopped him half way through the living room. "Duo what's the matter? Did I do something?""

Duo hugged himself. "Man, I've got to see if Howard sent me mail. I'm really not looking forward to that. He's gonna cut me a new one. You know I hate that. He was real good to me when no one else was. And I really hate disappointing him. Sucks." Duo straightened his shoulders and headed for the office. "Well, there's no help for it. I got to go."

Heero reached out to him but let his hand drop, he couldn't help Duo with this. He had to take his medicine, not that Howard would do more than yell' at him. He couldn't do anything else over the net.

Duo sat down at his desk and opened his mail box. It was full, everyone he'd ever known with the Sweepers had sent him something. He looked for something from Howard and shuddered when he found it. 30Kb? All he could think was "Oh, shit, I'm a goner!" He opened it and found a very short lecture on being a stubborn fool. The rest of it was news about Sweeper business, friends and ships.
He sighed with relief. Howard wasn't mad at him. He'd said so several times. He was a little pissed about him not letting them know he was in trouble and especially that Duo hadn't had him go over the ship before he bought it.

He settled himself to send everyone a news letter. That would get everyone up to date on what he was doing and where he was.

After sending out his newsletter he decided he better get his belongings in order. He had no idea what he had in the way of clothing. And he needed to count his ammunition, clean and sharpen his knives and write a new program for his code cracker. He tried to keep up with the newest locks but the lag in communication had set him back some. He didn't want to get caught with his pants down,
as they said, if he had to crack a pin coded lock.

"Heero? Where are you?"

Heero stuck his head out of the living room. "Here, what's up? Howard seems to have let you live."

"Yeah. Old geezer was just glad to find me back again. You wouldn't believe the people who sent me mail. I sent out a newsletter. So, now I have to catch up on the domestic stuff. I'm going to go through my stuff and see what I need in the way of clothing. You got me some stuff, and I have stuff. But I'm running out of clothing too quickly. I'll clean out that dresser and organize myself. Is there a box or something for me to put your things in?"

Heero led the way into the pantry. "I meant to get a box, but we got sidetracked by Mr. Asshole at the gym. I think there's something in here . . . yeah." Heero produced a large canvas open top bag.
""Here, just stuff it in here. I'll sort through it and keep some of it and toss the rest. Later."

Duo took the bag and went to his room. He opened the top drawer, saw that it was empty and decided to sort clothing first.

He dumped the pile of clothing onto the bed and sorted through it. He had underwear, thanks to Heero. And socks. T-shirts also courtesy of Heero. As he went through everything, he realized that he really didn't need that much, just a couple of pairs of jeans or pants. He dumped the discarded,
ragged clothing into the bag and opened every drawer. Most of them were empty so as he opened the drawer he put his things in.

When he opened the bottom drawer, he nearly fell on his butt. There in the bottom drawer was a flogger. What the hell?' Then he thought of the straps Heero had used on him. The only place he'd ever seen anything like that was in a bondage shop. He muttered, "Must have been a freebie." Then snickered.


Heero looked up from his magazine when he heard Duo clear his throat.

Duo was leaning on the door frame on his right shoulder, right ankle crossed over left, right arm dangling easily, but dangling from his left index finger was the flogger.

He smirked at Heero. "Heero, you have a kink I should know about?" his slow drawl made a flush burst over Heero's face.

Heero jumped from the couch and rushed over to Duo. "Duo . . . I . . . never . . . it was free . . . and . . . give me that damn thing. You know I would never."

Duo cracked up and had to lean on Heero. "I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. Your face was worth it.
Man, I never saw you blush like that before. And . . . where the hell did you get that thing. Come on . . . fess!"

Heero took a deep breath, explained about the restraints and sighed. "I was sure you were hurting yourself. And you know damn good and well that going to a hospital wouldn't be good. They'd sedate any one of us into a coma. So . . . well, I fucked up. So now . . . what?"

Duo laughed softly. "Now . . . we get on with life. I was scared. I'll admit that. But everything worked out for the best. You meant well and when you found out I wasn't nutty, or no more so than usual, you let me go and now . . . I'm happy. Are you?"

Heero nodded. "Yeah, I like having a partner. And we always did work well together. So . . . gimme that thing."

Heero snatched the whip from Duo's hand. He'd been idly swinging it by his side. He stuffed it into the bag Duo had dropped in the hall and tossed the whole thing into the pantry.

"And I want those restraints. They might come in handy for a bounty. Never know. I'll stick them in a special bag and add it to my war chest. Where are they?"

Duo had to think. "In the back of my closet . . . I think. And I need a couple more pairs of pants.
And some equipment. Vest. New harness. Stuff like that. We need to go shopping in a surplus store or. . . ."

Heero was shaking his head. "No surplus for us. We can go to a tactical shop and get what you need. Let me get those restraints and pack them up."

Duo led Heero into his room and went to rummage in the back of the closet to find the straps. He dragged them out and dumped them on the bed. Heero rolled them up neatly and packed them into a drawstring bag, pulling the slide lock down he carried it clear out to the SUV and locked it into the war chest/trunk. Duo wanted to hug him, he looked so distressed it hurt Duo.

"Hey, Ro. Don't look like that. It''s ok."

Heero rubbed his neck then ran his hands through his hair, making the unruly locks stand on end.
"No, it's not. I should have had more confidence in you. I should have just approached you first.
Then if I didn't get satisfactory answers I could have acted. I panicked. That's not so good."

Duo reached out and captured one of Heero's clutching hands. He held that hand in one of his and reached out with the other to smooth down Heero's disordered hair. "Stop. It doesn't make any difference. You scared me a little, and that's all. You meant well. Now, stop that, let it go. I'm not mad. I'm thankful. Now, no more, or I''ll get pissed and go all Shinigami on your ass."

Heero studied Duo's face for a moment. Duo's clear open gaze convinced him that Duo had really forgiven him. He felt much better, he'd been harboring a tiny fear deep in his heart, but it eased away under Duo's bright, friendly look.

"Ok, ok. No Shinigami, please. Save it for the bad guys. But I owe you."

Duo realized that Heero needed to make reparations somehow, so he agreed. "Ok, you owe me. I'll collect at an inconvenient time. So . . . I've got my stuff put away. Answered Howard's howler.
What else?"

Heero looked puzzled. "What's a howler?"

"Harry Potter reference. Don't tell me you haven't read them. They're classics."

"No, I don't remember Harry Potter. We could read them together?" Heero couldn't help the hopeful look.

"Sure. We can take turns reading. Sounds like something good to do on a stake out."

Heero agreed.


Heero settled to finish his research, trying to find something on a man with the street name Jumbo.
He wasn't having much luck. There were only about forty thousand Jumbo's listed. He narrowed the search to Earth and got nothing. He tried searching for repo, Jumbo??? and got nothing. He leaned back in his chair and thought.

Duo came in with tea, handing Heero one mug, he plopped himself down in his chair and looked over Heero's shoulder. He read what Heero had with disgust. "Heero, you're never going to get anywhere that way. We need to know what that creep's real name is. Call the bank.""

Heero sighed, "The name he gave them is false. I emailed them for all particulars and they sent them back right away. They're in real trouble. At lest four people are suing them. You should too."

Duo grunted. "Not a chance. I'm just going to ask them to return part of my payments. I'm sure they'll at least give me the difference between rent and payment. And my fuel payment back, too.
After all I did use the ship. But, maintenance . . . I wonder if I could get that back. If I was renting,
they'd have to maintain the ship . . . m m m m. what do you think?"

Heero did think. "I'm not sure. Just email them and ask. The worse they can do is tell you to take a hike."

Duo grumbled and did as Heero said, only remarking, "I''m sure they're gonna laugh at me. And if they do, mister, you''re on the hot seat. Just . . . yeah. Thanks a whole bunch."

Heero swivelled his chair. "You mean you got an answer already? What did they say?"

Duo snorted. "My request will be reviewed by the proper person at his/her earliest convenience. In other words . . . a great big get stuffed."

Heero reached out and patted Duo on the shoulder. "At least you put in a request. And I have finally gotten a picture of Jumbo."

Duo looked interested. "How'd you manage that particular bit of magic?"

"Hacked the pawn shop security records."

Duo leaned over to look at the picture. The man was unimpressive as such things go. He was medium everything, medium height, medium weight, medium brown hair. He was undistinguished in every way. Heero sighed how the hell were they supposed to find a man like that?

Duo grumbled. "Damn, that guy could be anyone. No tats? No scars? No . . . shit, no thing . . . no piercings. Dammit!"

Heero flinched, he was going to have to do something he wasn''t very good at. He was the straight forward type, smash and grab. Or walk up and snatch, as Duo called it. He wanted to find his perp,
walk up to them and snap on the cuffs. If a door was between him and them, kicking it down was his style. Now he was going to have to wander the streets, asking questions of very suspicious street people. He sighed.

"Geez, Heero. Heave up a lung, will you? What is it?""

"I'm going to have to go under cover. I'm no good at that." Heero rubbed his face.

Duo leaned on Heero's shoulder. "Now why the hell would you want to do something like that? It's dumb. I'm good at stealth, what I was trained for after all. So, I'll go undercover. It isn't like it's going to be one of those sleep in the streets' things. I'll just wander around the port, ask questions like a tourist, hand around a little money and we'll be home free."" Duo caught the look on Heero's face, "And don't tell me I'm too sick. I look like I've been on the streets a while. It'll be easy. If anyone wants to know where I'm bedin'' down. I'll get all weird like and they'll leave it alone.
You'll see. And you can put one of your new fangled trackers on me. Ok?"

Heero didn't want Duo to do it, but he knew if he objected too much, Duo would think he didn't trust him. He did trust Duo he just didn't want him out of his sight, silly as that might sound.

"Ok. But at the first sign of trouble you bail. Right? This isn't the war anymore. I don't want you getting hurt. Understand?"

Duo nodded absently. "Yeah. Damn. I've got to get into the rag bag and pick out a suitably ragged pair of jeans, and that green t-shirt will do. I need a jacket that looks like it's been used a lot. My old jacket actually fell apart, so I don't have anything. If that old jacket of yours . . . you know the one?" Heero looked blank for a moment then nodded. "Well, if that one was a little more ragged,
it'd do. Warm enough for late evening, but not so heavy that I'll look off wearing it during the day.
And it would hide lots of stuff. Damn. But it's way too nice. So . . . I'll have to see what I can come up with."" Duo stood up and wandered out the door obviously considering his options.

Heero just went to find the coat Duo was talking about. He looked at it and fingered the material. It was tough canvas with a quilted lining. He took it outside and tossed it on the ground behind the SUV. He backed over it then ran over it. He got out and looked it over again. Better but not good enough. He fingered the material then rubbed the elbows on the concrete, abrading them. Then he rubbed the under side of the right cuff hard, fraying it completely through. A small rip over the outside breast pocket and some oil completed his camouflage. He carried it inside and called Duo.

Duo bounced in from his room, dressed in a ragged pair of out at the knees jeans and the green t-
shirt. He'd also found a ragged hemmed flannel shirt. He looked like a street kid, except he was clean. He saw the coat and exclaimed. Heero! What did you do? That was a good coat, now it looks like it went over ten miles of bad road."

Heero shrugged. "You need it. I've got a new coat. And it's still warm and in better shape than it looks. So, you try it on and see what you can hide in it. Then I'll wire it permanently. We''ll put it in the war chest along with that outfit. You'll have it handy next time you need it. Ok?'

Duo put the coat on and sniffed at it. "Mmmmm. Smells like you. And it's warm. If I keep it open, I won't sweat. But if it gets cold, I can zip it and be warm enough. I don't intend to spend much time on the streets when it's cold. I did enough of that by necessity. So . . . I'll print out a picture of our guy. Who should I say he is?"

Heero thought for a moment, carefully admiring Duo in his coat. "Maybe someone you owe money?
No, that's no good. Someone on the streets wouldn't be looking for someone to give money to . . .
um . . . how bout he owes you money and you want it?"

Duo had waited for Heero to come up with the idea first. He was going to train Heero to be better at relations, starting with covers. "Yeah, that's good. All I have to do is bitch about how they're going to throw me out of my squat if I don't pay up. That'll get even the stevedores on my side. And I can do the pitiful act. So . . . I''m all ready. Let's go."


Heero watched nervously as Duo sauntered away, into the depths of the space port. He'd carefully sewn the wire and the tracker into Duo''s jacket, he was going to man the GPS and the com, but he wasn't happy. He knew Duo could do this, but he'd only found him a little while ago, he didn't want him out of sight. He knew it was stupid, but there you are.

Duo sauntered along as if he didn't have a care in the world, which he didn't but who was to know that. He looked in doors and down alley ways. He knew exactly what kinds of people he was looking for, trouble was finding them. Which he finally did, in an alley way behind a diner near the loading dock of one of the commercial bays.

The group of men and women were all down at the heels, obviously not doing well. They were grouped around several fire pits made of oil' drums, although in this day oil was stored in large plastic tanks. Duo slouched tiredly and wandered up to one of the groups. He warmed his hands for a few moments before asking softly, "Anyone know Jumbo? I need to find him."

He got eyed over by the people around the drum while he did his best to look unassuming and non-
threatening. He succeeded as one of the women asked, "What you want with that . . . man. Honey,
he ain't very nice."

Duo hung his head. "I know. But . . . um . . . he owes me some money. I did a job for him but he hasn't paid me yet. If I don''t pay my rent, I'll get tossed. It's bad enough that I haven't had a decent meal in . . . well, a while. But getting pitched out on my butt and having to sleep on the streets . . .
just sucks so big time I can''t even say. So . . . have you seen him?"

A few of the people shifted uncomfortably, remembering desperate times of their own. The woman shrugged, "Haven't seen him. He doesn't hang around here. You try over at the UPS Depot. He hangs there mostly. Just ask for him. But don't tell them he owes you money. They''ll peach on you sure."

Duo nodded. "Thanks. I'll just ask for him. Maybe tell them he's got a job for me?"

He was greeted with nods from the woman and several others. ""Yeah, honey. That'll get you in.
Then all you have to do is hang around until he shows. If you corner him in front of his buds, they'll shame him into paying you. Just be careful, he's bad news."

Duo thanked them and vowed to do something for them if he could. Especially the nice woman,
she'd looked worn and tired. He was glad he wasn't in their ranks anymore. "Hear that, Heero? I'm headed for the UPS Depot right now. You might want to move the van to be closer."

The tiny ear bud Duo wore whispered with Heero's voice. "Ok. I'll move now. You sound upset."

Duo mumbled as if he was talking to himself. "I just need to see if I can't help some of those people.
That lady wasn't looking so good. See if you can't figure out something. Ok?"

"Sure. Keep sharp."

Duo just grunted and tried to figure out where he was in relation to the depot.

Duo's search for Jumbo proved fruitless. He found the depot easily enough, but Jumbo wasn't there.
He got some run around until one of the older men took pity on him and pulled him aside. "You don''t want no business with that guy. He's no good. If he owes you money, you'll have a hard time collecting. But here's his address."" Duo squinted at the paper then the helpful man. "Ok. I don't like the asshole. If I can throw some trouble his way, great. He repoed a friends truck. And he was caught up on his payments. Had the devil of a time getting it back. He jumps the gun on purpose and the bank just lets him. So . . . not much I can do legal but this'll do until something better comes along."" The man looked around. "My break's almost up. You better get on your way."

Duo left laughing up his sleeve. Guys like Jumbo brought trouble on their own heads. Their attitude made relatively nice people go behind their backs to do them dirt. He looked around for the SUV and smiled. Heero had parked the lumbering vehicle in the open and was sitting behind the wheel,
ear phones in place, looking like nothing so much as a young man waiting for a friend, reading a newspaper and listening to music

Duo bopped up to the passenger door and rattled the handle gently. "Hey buddy. How bout a ride?
I'm stuck for change. I'll spot ya to some coffee on the tab if you'll take me here." Duo held up the paper for Heero to see.

Heero shrugged a bit over dramatically. "Sure, get in. My buddy hasn't shown up yet and he's late as hell. I'm gonna call it a wash and go home. I'll take you there."

Heero popped the locks and Duo clambered in, settling in the seat and leaning back. Heero dumped the head phones on the console and started the engine. He backed out with Duo lounging in the seat beside him.

The minute they were securely out of sight of the depot, Duo stripped out of the jacket and shuddered. "Sorry. Can we stop somewhere and get me a hot drink? I'm cold."

Heero just reached into the console and handed Duo a small thermos. "Here. Coffee. You'll feel warmer in a moment."

Duo snatched the thermos with a groan of thanks. He poured himself a cup and cradled it in his hands. "Man, that smells good." He sipped appreciatively. "And tastes even better. God, I'm so glad I'm off the streets. It's hell to worry every day about whether or not you'll have money enough for rent, food, utilities; stuff like that. Never mind a movie or even an apple with lunch. Or just lunch."

Heero winced he hated it that Duo had gone through that. "Well, it's over now. And . . . here"
Heero handed Duo a wrapped sandwich. "Eat this. We'll go have supper after we visit this address.
Punch it into the GPS, will you?"

Duo nodded refraining from speaking with a mouth full of sandwich. He punched the address in and turned the GPS so Heero could see the screen. ""There. It's almost four miles, in traffic. Sucks. Did you find out anything more about our target?"

"Not yet. I've still got a search going. It should yield something soon. Maybe after supper"
"I'm not sure we should just drive up on this guy."

Heero glanced at Duo, he seemed to be warming up some. "We're not. I'm just going to drive by the place . . . check it out. And the neighborhood. You can tell a lot about people by the neighborhood they live in. Especially the relation between their house and the others around them. I'll bet you anything you want that his house is a mess and every other house is neat. Or that he lives in an apartment in low rent. And all his neighbors are complaining about loud music and stuff."

Duo nodded. "You won't bet with me cause you're right."

Heero smirked at Duo then checked the GPS, he was right on target. They found the address and drove by Heero didn't slow down he relied on Duo to use his eyes instead. Duo was as observant as he was if not more so. Duo's bright eyes would pick up every nuance of the place in two passes.
They could get away with that because the house was a single dwelling on a cul de saq. Heero cruised past slowly, as if he was lost. Then he looped in a leisurely fashion around the circle and back by again. Duo looked out the window making no attempt to hide the fact that he was looking at the houses. The cruised out of the street and back the way they had come.


"Well, what do you think?"

Duo made a face. "If I lived in that neighborhood I''d be telling that pig to clean up that mess before there were rats."

Heero shuddered. "There already are. I'm sure I saw one scurry into the garage."

Duo shuddered too. He hated rats, having lived with them much too long in his youth.

"I hate rats. Unless they're bar-b-que."

Heero gagged. "Gack! Not a chance . . . here." Heero fished a writing pad out of the door pocket.
"Write down everything you saw, before you forget something."

Duo took the pad and started writing. Since he was well aware that sight memory faded quickly he wasn't about to argue with Heero, not that he would anyway, it was better than sitting doing nothing. He wanted to drive, but he knew that Heero wouldn't let him until he had a license. He made a note on the pad reminding him to get one.

After he finished writing down everything he could remember, Duo quizzed Heero about what he could remember. Heero obediently answered every question as best he could. Duo wrote down his answers and clicked on collate then tucked the device into a pocket.

"Well, that's that. When we get home we need to go over everything. There's a key in here somewhere. We just have to find some reason to follow that ass and pick him up. Something.
Somewhere. Somehow. Just . . . it's there, I can feel it."

Heero agreed with Duo. This guy was dirty, he knew it. The problem was proving it. The bank had serious problems because of him and someone who knew how to flim-flam a bank was experienced in fraud. Very experienced. It might be hard to make a case against him. Heero decided that he was going to leave that up to the bank lawyers. All he really had to do was catch the man.

"Duo, think. I've searched everything I can think of. I'm missing something. If only I could get prints. That would be a real help. No chance of a retinal scan, I'm sure. So . . ."

Duo shrugged. "I'll think of something. I''m going to lean back and rest. I'm tired. Again. I wish I felt better."

"You will. You just need to build yourself back up. Too much nul-grav, over work, and not enough food."

Duo nodded. "Yup, that's me. Over worked, under paid and under laid." Duo snapped his mouth shut, wide-eyed.

"Poor you. But I'll build you up again. You''ll be back in good shape in no time." Heero blandly ignored Duo''s agonized look. But inwardly he cheered. He did have a chance. Duo was as skittish as a whore in church but Heero knew one of the reasons was bad experiences when he was little, and during the war. He had patience, he could wait.

"And on that fateful day that I'm all built up again . . . what?" Duo couldn't help prodding at the subject any more than he could help prodding at a bruise.

"Nothing, something, anything. Whatever you want." Heero deftly swung into his parking place.

Duo gathered up the few things they needed to take in and followed Heero to the apartment building.

After the usual checks, they settled at the kitchen table. Duo had started the coffee pot and the kettle as he passed through. Heero checked his search as he waited for his water to boil. Duo set up the tea cup and doctored his coffee cup in advance. When the kettle shrieked, the coffee was done. Duo poured boiling water into one cup, coffee in the other. He carried them to the table just in time to hear Heero exclaim. "Ha! Got him."

Duo settled in his chair, waiting for Heero to finish reading and fill him in.

"Well, well, well." Heero settled back an expression of satisfaction on his face. "It seems that our guy is an old hand at this rip off. He's wanted in two jurisdictions for pulling the same stunt. There's a significant bounty on him in both. And best news of all, there's no sentence restriction on the reward." Duo raised a questioning eyebrow. "Some bounties base the reward on a specific that restricts the reward. Like on sentencing or on conviction of a certain charge. It's a good way to get out of paying. I don't take those bounties. Or I have the officer of the court sign a specific contract that guarantees payment of the reward ascisco corpus. It's a real buzz kill for them. But it gets me paid. So . . . um . . ."

Duo nodded, he'd heard of this particular legal trick. The reward wasn't paid unless all the parameters specified in the reward poster were fulfilled. Many bounty hunters wound up in the hole on a bounty because they didn't get paid or were only paid a partial reward. It was a nasty trick and one that had certain jurisdictions going begging, unable to get agents to work with them.

"Ok. What are we going to do?"

Heero picked at his lip. "I'm going to get in touch with the jurisdictions in question. They'll give me intel we need, I hope. I'll also get . . . no. You'll get in touch with the bank." Heero wrote quickly for a second, then turned the data pat around for Duo to see. "Here's what I want you to do. Call the bank and get these papers issued from them and then call the police department and inform them that we're collecting a bounty. That way we don't have the cops arresting us for kidnapping. Ok?"

Duo read the pad quickly. "Sure thing. I can do this. Easy. So . . ." Duo reached out and got his cell phone out of the charger, checked the charge and started calling.

Heero went back to his lap top and started typing quickly. His request mails were done in no time and a click sent them on their way. He turned to Duo who was sipping coffee and listening to the phone with a bored expression on his face. Heero picked up his tea cup and dropped in another bag,
he took the coffee pot off the heater and held it where Duo could see. Duo nodded holding his cup out for Heero to fill. Heero poured in coffee, added cream and sugar then went to wring out his tea bag.

They relaxed, Heero to watch Duo and Duo to listen to whoever it was on the other end. He occasionally made interested sounds or interjected you don't say' or no! Really?' Heero wondered what the hell he was doing. All they needed were the papers faxed ASAP, didn''t they? He decided that Duo knew what he was doing so he left him to his phone call, only mouthing, shower' at him.
Duo nodded his head to show he'd heard, keeping the phone pressed to his ear.

Heero headed for the shower musing on the fact that a bank of all things had failed to check out an employee properly. Then he realized that it was two banks. Entities who were supposed to check out everyone for everything. But they'd allowed a criminal to do work for them, and get them into serious trouble. He turned on the shower and sighed. Sometimes he wondered.


Duo spoke to the bank representative in his most conciliatory tone of voice. The man was embarrassed enough without Duo adding fuel to the fire. The information was the important thing.
They needed to know everything they could about Jumbo. How he'd gotten the bank to trust him.
What he was doing with the money. How he was deciding on his targets. The bank had that information and Duo intended to get it. If he had to shmooze every stuck up, wanna be VP in the place, right now it looked like he had the right man on his line.

This was the dickhead who'd signed off on using Jumbo. He wasn't the brightest bulb on the chandelier, in fact he was pretty dim. Duo understood him to say he was a nephew of someone or other higher up on the corporate ladder. Nepotism was a wonderful thing, especially if you were stupid and lazy.

"So, you didn't do a background check? At all? Why not? . . . . Oh, I see. The computer wouldn't let you. Your secretary wasn't in so you just signed off on him because if he was bonded it should be fine? Of course not. We'll bring him in. But I have to have some papers. Just put your girl on the phone, tell her to get me what I need. It'll be ok. You'll see. Sure . . . I know . . . it's really too bad."

Duo soothed and coaxed until the stupid man gave him everything he wanted. He got all the information they needed and a signed contract that said they got all the bounties from all the jurisdictions. The bank would guarantee them even if the other jurisdictions didn't pay the bank would. He smirked to himself. Heero would be pleased. Duo couldn't believe that this idiot still hadn't learned his lesson. He wondered at the stability of the bank too.

The signed complaint papers that made Jumbo a legitimate bounty were on their way to the Prosecuting Attorneys office, with copies to the police department and Heero's computer. Duo down loaded the requested files to the main server.

Duo loaded the files into his computer and started the search for something worthwhile. Any little thing would be helpful. He found nothing they didn't already know. He sighed, wished for more coffee and started reading. He read the actual files and found several things that might be helpful.
The man had some nasty habits and was wanted by two ex-wives as well as the banks.


Heero finished his shower and rubbed his head with a towel, he was going to fix supper, so he was absently trying to decide what to fix. He dug out a pair of sweat pants and a sloppy t-shirt. Pulling the pants on was the work of moments. He ambled into the hall pulling the shirt on over his head.

"Duo, are those papers filed yet? And do you like bacon? I know you eat it but do you like it?"

Duo turned around in his chair. He gritted his teeth to keep from jumping on Heero like a sex crazed teenager. Oh wait a minute, he was a teenager still, but he wasn't sex crazed, yet. "Yeah, I like bacon. Why? And the papers are filed; with the PA, the police department and copied to the bank and us. I also got a guarantee of payment. We'll be paid by the bank for all rewards, whether the jurisdiction pays or not. You should have heard that idiot. He agreed to everything I said like he doesn't have a mind of his own. He's a rubber stamp-yes man and how he keeps his job is beyond me. Can we have as little to do with that whole bunch as possible?"

Heero shrugged. "Sure. I'm not too thrilled with them either."

Duo leaned back in his chair arms behind his head. Heero had to drag his eyes off his chest up to his face.

"Ok. I need to get my thoughts clear. As a private detective you, no we, can take a contract to investigate just about anything for just about anyone. Right?" Heero nodded. "And, as bounty hunters we can arrest anyone with a want or warrant wherever we find them. Again right?"

Heero nodded. "Within certain bounds, that's just about it. And we have a lot more leeway than the cops. Especially if we have a contract with the jurisdiction in question. Either the resident jurisdiction or the one the perp fled."

Duo looked puzzled for a moment. "Who exactly is the contract with?"

"Usually the Prosecuting Attorneys office. Sometimes with a corporation, if it's an officer of the company wanted for fraud or something like that."

Duo grinned. "Ok. Well, I'm good to go for tomorrow. What's for supper? I'm starved."

Heero smiled at Duo. His appetite had returned with a vengeance. They'd checked his sugar levels several times over the day. It didn''t take but a second to clip the meter to his ear another second and it beeped. They read the numbers, wrote them down and were on their way again. So far, Duo's sugar had been right on, much to Heero's relief. He decided that malnutrition, over work and stress had just sent Duo's system into a downward spiral that he'd interrupted with his well-meaning intervention.

"Heero? Hey!" Duo snapped his fingers under Heero's nose, careful to stay out of swinging range.

"Oh, sorry. Just thinking . . . Duo, you do know that I meant well when I snatched you, don't you?"

"Sure, Heero. And by the way, have I thanked you? I mean, if you hadn't snatched me, I'd probably be in really bad shape by now. If I wasn't living on the streets. So, while you didn't need to drug me.
I did need you. I'll admit that. Although, at the time I probably would have denied it to my dying breath. Anyway . . . what's for supper. Don't make me ask again."

Duo gave Heero a mock glare which made him laugh. "Don''t look at me like that. Your face might freeze that way. And BLT's on toast, soup, salad, and fruit. I'm having tea. You're having coffee.
With creamer, unless you insist on polluting it to death."

Duo grinned at Heero as he settled himself in his place at the table. "I resemble that. And yum. It looks really good. Thank you."

They ate in companionable silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

When the meal was over, Duo insisted on clearing away the dishes and loading the washer. "I don't freeload." Duo held up a hand to forestall Heero's objection. "I know, I know. But we're partners now, so that means each of us carries' the load. Together? Remember? So you cook, I do dishes.
Damn, my dick won't fall off for doing a dish or two; or running a vac for that matter. But you get to mop the floors. I hate it. Ok?"

Heero smiled and just nodded. "Ok. Whatever." He looked at his watch. "Damn, where did the day go? It's almost 7 p.m.."

Duo stretched. "I'm for news, mindless game shows then bed. We got any pop corn?"

"No. I forgot it the last time we shopped. We'll get some tomorrow." Heero opened the pantry and rummaged around for a moment. "We got . . . chips . . . crisps . . . crackers . . . and some unidentified wafer thing that looks like squashed rice crisp cereal and smells like . . ." Heero sniffed at the stuff. "Not much of anything."

"Just drag it all out. We'll eat it or toss it . . . rice crisp wafer? Thing?" Heero handed the bag over with a snort.

"I'll eat it. I don't mind."

"If they turn out to be nasty, just throw them out."" Heero settled on the couch. "TV on!" the vid system blinked to life.

"Heero, don't waste food. I . . . well . . ."" Duo flopped down by Heero, cramming a wafer into his mouth at the same time. "Ack! Oh, . . . plah! . . . ugh! That's just plain nasty. You're right. Tastes like . . . wet . . . something. All it is is crunchy."

Heero just took the bag from Duo, emptied it into the trash at the end of the couch and dropped the bag in after. "I don't believe in that. I don't like wasting food any more than you do. But snacks don't apply. They're not real food. They're . . . entertainment. Oral gratification. Here, try this instead." Heero handed Duo a bag of potato chips.

"Heero? Why do they call these crisps on some colonies and chips on others?"

Heero shrugged. "Haven't got a clue. Good?""

Duo nodded. "Mmmm hummm. Oh, shit. Look at that will you?"

Heero snorted. He couldn't stand sports. "So. Waste of energy, space and time. News. Do you mind if I flip around?"

Duo shook his head. "Nope. After the news, can we find something mindlessly entertaining?"

"Sure. There's a show on I like. They're looking for the next super star. Some of the people are so hopeless that it''s really funny. Then they get down to business. The good ones are really good."

"Ok. Sounds great."

They settled down to watch the news. Then the show Heero liked came on and they munched pop corn and chips, commenting on the different acts. Sometimes quite rudely.


Morning saw them taking care of the three s's in a mad rush. Their snitch from the pawn shop had called with the news that Jumbo was coming in to pick up a check. Now all they had to do was get there before he did. If they could, picking him up would be easy. Heero hoped that he hadn't just jinxed the operation.

He also regretted furiously that Duo didn't have proper equipment yet. They'd meant to get to the supplier today to get Duo measured for a vest. Heero knew that it took ten days to get a custom vest,
so that didn't help this situation. He sighed when he realized that the vest wouldn't be ready before they left more than likely. But they were one of the best in the business so he still wanted them to make Duo's vest.

Duo tugged at the vest as Heero fitted it. "Man, I don''t like this vest. It doesn't cover right. I wish we'd had time to get me a good one first. But beggars can't be choosers. I''m just glad to have one at all. And a job I can deal with. So . . . come on. Let's get this over with."

Heero eyed the vest in disgust. The armholes were too big and it, surprisingly, wasn't long enough.
"Hate that thing. I only have it because a few of my pickups are targets. Shit! You let me go in first.
Keep a low profile and . . ." Duo gave Heero a disgusted look. "Ok, ok. Tick-a-lock." Heero made a locking motion at his lips then figuratively threw the key over his shoulder. "I'll shut up. Just . . .
please. Be careful."

"I will if you will. I don't fancy getting shot by some asshole at this late date." Duo settled his equipment and checked his firearm. "And what's this stuff." He held up the aerosol spray can that he'd extracted from its special holster.

"Chemical mace. I use it first. If the perp doesn't go down I up the ante a bit. If they're armed, all bets are off. I'm not getting shot for some idiot. You know how to use it?""

Duo shook his head. "Nope. Never saw the shit before. I'll need training before I'm comfortable with it. Why don''t you go in first . . . yeah, yeah. We already said that. But now I mean it. You go first. I'll back you up with a gun. Ok?"

Heero nodded. "Exactly what I was going to say. That way if Jumbo is armed we've got everything covered. I checked his record. He's not noted for using weapons. A tire iron once, but that's a weapon of opportunity. He's not a known carrier. So . . . I'll corner him, show him the mace which usually does the trick. Cuff him and stuff him. If he puts up a fight, I'll give him a squirt. That usually puts a guy down for the count. If not, we'll play it by ear. Ready?"

Duo nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be. How long to the pawn shop?"

"Forty minutes, traffic allowing." Heero headed out the door.


Duo sat back in the seat, watching the pawn shop door as Heero walked up the block. He was going to check the back to see if Jumbo was in the back of the shop. He wasn't in the front. The wide windows gave them a good view of it and he wasn't there. Duo wondered if their man had missed his squeal.

He heard Heero's voice in his ear. "He's in the back office with a bunch of odd's and end's. Come in the front, now."

Duo scrambled out of the SUV and headed for the front door. He heard Heero yelling from the back.
"Fugitive Recovery Agent. Freeze! . . . mother . . . do NOT run, you asshole." Obviously the man didn't listen. Heero's swearing impressed even an L2 rat like Duo.

Duo blocked the door with his body and waited. Jumbo burst through the door from the back office like a full back. Which he vaguely resembled. If a full back had a beer belly that is. Duo pulled out the can of mace and held it ready in his hand.

"Hold on there. You're not going any where. Hands over your head. Now!" Duo waited, knowing that the man wasn't going to obey him. And he wasn't getting into a physical fight with the man.
One of them would be badly hurt and Duo would make sure it wasn't him.

Jumbo didn't stop, he charged at Duo with Heero right on his heels. When Duo was sure he had a straight line, he whipped his Monadnoc from behind him and slid it across the floor, right between Jumbo's feet. He tripped and fell flat on his face. Heero pounced on him like he was a steak.

"Got cha. Asshole. Didn't I tell you not to run?" Heero put his knee in Jumbo's back and dragged one arm behind his back. Jumbo yelled and whined. "Shut up. If I was breaking your arm, it'd already be broken. Hold still, if you know what's good for you."

Duo leaned against the nearby counter and watched as Heero efficiently cuffed Jumbo and then stepped over his supine body.

Heero nodded to Duo. "Good work. Wait here and watch him. I need to get some leg irons from the truck. And don't let him get up. You're not going to have to wrestle with him." Heero turned to Jumbo. "And you . . . if you so much as look at him, I'll know. So stay down, like a good bounty."

Jumbo told Heero what he thought of his parentage. Heero shrugged. "I'll be sure to tell her, if I ever find her. As to J? Yeah, he's an asshole. Shut up."

Duo sighed. "Look, stupid. Just shut up. If you piss him off enough, he can be really mean. Take my word for it."

"Cocksucker. You can't get away with this. I got my rights. I'll call a lawyer. I'll sue you til I own every thing you've got."

Duo kicked him in the side. Not hard enough to hurt the man, but hard enough to get his attention.
"You already got everything I owned. Heero got most of my stuff back but there's some things still missing. We'll see if we can't find them at your squat. Bet you got that black bracelet of mine. You know, that's going to really cook your goose."

Jumbo allowed as how he didn't give a fuck. Duo just shrugged and said he didn't either.

Heero returned with leg irons and a bad attitude.

"Roll the fuck over. And, if you don't hold still, I'll hold you. Duo, hook him up, will you."

Duo grinned at Jumbo as Heero rolled him over onto his back. He reached down and got hold of Jumbo's pants leg. Jumbo tried to kick him and got a smack in the head for his troubles. Heero told him to shut up for about the tenth time. This time Jumbo decided to shut up, the look Heero gave him promised murder and mayhem at the least. Duo snapped the cuff around Jumbo's leg over his pants and demanded the other leg, telling Jumbo not to make him bend down again.

"If you do, I'll let Heero have you." The funny look Jumbo gave him was priceless.

"Heero? Yuy? Oh, shit."

"Yeah, Heero Yuy. So?"

"Why didn't you tell me? Dammit! If I'd a known it was Inu, I wouldn't a ran. Don't do to make The Dog mad."

Duo blinked. "Excuse me? The Dog? What, Heero you''re holdin' out on me."

Heero shrugged. "Got named after a great 20th century hunter. Some guy said I'm like a dog with a rag, never let up. I don't either. Once I get the scent, I don't stop til I''ve got my man, woman, or who ever. So, let's get this pissant to the station and collect our money."

Duo nodded. "Ok. Then we can go search his place for the rest of my stuff."

Heero shook his head. "Can't. Don't have a contract to recover any stolen merchandise."

"I know. But we do have a sanction to make sure that all gundanium is either destroyed or in the possession of the proper authorities. And we, as Gundam pilots, are proper authorities. Relena had bracelets made for each of us, out of gundanium from our mecha. I had yours and mine. Wore both of them most of the time. But I took them off when I went job hunting. Thought it''d scare off the bosses. So asshole here got both of them. They never showed up at the shops. I want them back. So .
. . how do we go about it?"

Heero dragged Jumbo to his feet and steered him to the door. ""Not sure. I'd call Chang, but he's out of touch. Maybe Une . . ." Jumbo tried to keep from getting into the SUV. "Get in there. Don't fight me. I'm not in the mood." Heero tripped Jumbo by stepping on the chain between his feet then shoving him in the back. The result was that Jumbo wound up on the floor between the front and back seats instead of in the seat. "Duo, get in and keep idiot from attacking me while I drive. I'll get us to the station a-sap. Oh, and call them to let them know we're coming." Heero waited while Duo got in and found his phone then he rattled the number off from memory. Duo dialed then talked.

"They're ready for us. They've wanted this jerk for a while but couldn't get anything on him. Now that the bank has filed a complaint they're very happy campers. I asked about the gundanium too.
All we have to do is get a warrant, which is on the way. And the cops are going to go with us, to confiscate anything else that's found. Lots of people are wanting things back." Duo poked Jumbo with one foot. "You're in such deep shit you need a snorkel."

"Stop kicking me. What'd I ever do to you, kid."

"Took my ship for one. And all my shit for another. Left me stranded, creep. And stop calling me kid. No one but Howard calls me that.""

"Fuck. So what's your name then."

"Duo Maxwell. You'll call me Mr. Maxwell, if you know what's good for you."

Jumbo's eyes got big as he finally made some connections. "Ohshitohshitohfuck. You're both Gundam pilots. I'm so screwed."

"Yeah, you are. So shut up and lay down."

Jumbo did as he was told.


The desk Sergeant at the intake met them at the door. "I've got him now. You need to fill out some paperwork then you can take off for his place."

Heero just smirked at the officer and handed him a packet of papers, already filled out. "Here. I hope you use standard ESUN forms. I think you'll find everything you need."

The officer checked the papers and grinned at Heero. "Great. All done already. That's good. Nice to see someone like you organized for a change. Some guys come in here, papers are a mess and they expect me to clear it up. Not my job. So . . . I'll take Mr. Congeniality here off your hands. Go up one floor, turn left, two doors down. Tell the guys I sent you. They''ll take it from there." The Sergeant took Jumbo by the arm and pulled him toward the desk. Jumbo went unresisting, he decided he'd rather be locked up than take a chance on angering Heero.

Heero nodded to the desk Sergeant and signed the paper he was handed. "He's all yours. Good luck with him. Duo? You ready?"

Duo looked up from the handful of wanted posters he was looking at. "Sure. Lead on."

Heero did and it didn't take long for them to find the office in question. Heero knocked gently then opened the door when someone called come in'. Four men were in the room, obviously waiting rather impatiently for them to show up.

"Hello. I'm Heero Yuy, this is my partner Duo Maxwell. I was told you had the warrant to search . .
. um . . ." Heero looked at his papers, searching for Jumbo's real name. "Collin Perkins's home and surrounds. We're supposed to go with you and take custody of certain items. To whit. Two gundanium bracelets, a set of lock picks, also gundanium and . . . um . . . Duo? Where the hell did you learn to write. I''d have thought it would get better with time, but I think it's worse. What does this say?"

Duo leaned over Heero's shoulder to look at the paper. As he did so his braid slid over his shoulder to dangle down Heero's chest. Heero unconsciously grasped the end of it.

"Um . . . oh, lock picks, bracelets, and . . . well, damned if I know. Looks like it says. Tools? Or maybe books."

Duo shrugged. "Does it make a difference?"

One of the officers grunted. "Yeah, it does. We don''t have a warrant to search for just anything. If we find stolen merchandise, we can confiscate it. But that gundanium, that's different."

Duo shook his head. "The bracelets and lock picks are the only gundanium. The rest is my personal stuff. He snatched it when he repoed my ship. So what now?"

"Oh, well, now we go see what we can see. This way."" The officer led the way to the front door where two cars awaited.

Heero shook his head. "We'll take our vehicle. It's in the back. We'll meet you at the address"
"You know how to find it?"


"Ok, meet you there then."

The officers took their places in their cars and drove off. Heero and Duo made their way back to their SUV and followed. Heero easily catching up to the slower cars.


The house was as big a mess as the yard and garage. In fact it was worse as it stank. Jumbo obviously didn't believe in throwing out anything. Including empty food containers, pizza boxes and drink cups.

Duo wrinkled his nose. "I think this is a new life form. Ugh! Heero?"

Heero turned from where he was searching a cabinet. "Yeah?"

"I don't think he'd have jewelry in the kitchen, unless . . ." Duo opened the freezer and fished around. ""Hah! Damn fool. Here, Heero, help me go through this."

Duo dumped a zippy bag on the kitchen table. Bits and pieces of jewelry scattered in a glittering cascade over the table. Heero trapped a few errant pieces with one hand.

"Well, well, well. What do we have here? Diamonds and emeralds and pearls, oh, my. And . . "
Duo picked up a simple bracelet made up of five coins of black gundanium, linked together with flat links. Each disk was slightly curved and inscribed with a number. Numbers one through five. Near Heero's hand was another bracelet, identical in every way except that it was white. Heero picked it up. "There's five of those. One black, one white, one red, one yellow and one blue."

Heero stood and fingered the thing for a moment. He raised his eyes to Duo. "Put it on for me. I'm no good at this sort of thing."

Duo took the bracelet from Heero's fingers and wrapped it around his wrist. The clasp clicked closed with a small snap.

"There. Looks good. And am I glad to have my own back."" Duo struggled with the clasp for a second, the bracelet kept slipping away from the tongue. "Well, shit."

Heero simply reached out and returned Duo's favor. They smiled at each other. Heero started to say something but they were interrupted by one of the officers.

"Hey, is this yours? It's a bunch of lockpicks and an electronic thing. The picks are all black. Like that . . . holy shit!"" The officer goggled at the pile of jewelry on the table. "That rat bastard. Well,
damn, there goes tonight and most of tomorrow. If you guys want, and that's all your stuff, you can leave."

Heero looked at Duo. Duo checked his mental list. "Let''s go. The only things I haven't found are a few books and some really old tools. Oh, hell. I forgot to tell you. The people who are using the bay I was in have most of my good tools. I'll go by and pick them up . . . tomorrow? Or the next day.
And I need to make a donation to the Spacers Service. We done here?"

Three of the men looked at the fourth. He shrugged. "Probably. But I'd appreciate it if you'd stick around a little while. Might be, he has more of your stuff somewhere in the house. You got that garbage off the streets when we couldn't. I'd like to return the favor somehow."

Heero turned to Duo. "What do you want to do? I'm good. Job's done, bounty's collected."

Duo looked startled. "Huh? You sure?"

"Yes. I got a confirmation on my cell just a second ago. My bank texted me."

"Oh, ok. We could hang just a little while. See what else they come up with."

Heero nodded. "Sure. But let's go sit in the SUV. Ok?"

Duo turned to the lead detective. "If that's ok with you guys."

The detective nodded and went back to his search. While the gundanium had allowed the search, the other things they had found allowed a further search and they were finding some very interesting things.

Heero and Duo went to sit in their SUV. Duo leaned back in his seat with a sigh. Heero just left him alone. Duo looked tired and a little worn. Heero hoped if he was quiet Duo would go to sleep.


"Duo, come on, wake up." Heero knew better than to shake Duo at a time like this. He just kept calling his name until he woke up which he did with a snort.

"Huh? Wa'. m awake. What do you need"" Duo sat up straighter in the seat, rubbing at his eyes.

"They've finished searching. They want us to come look at some things to see if any of them are yours."

"Ok. Don't know what it might be. I got most of my stuff back, or rather you did. And I'm pretty sure the people at the space port have all my tools. So . . . let's go see what the nice men found."

Duo hopped out of the SUV and trotted to the front door with Heero at his heels. He stopped so quickly that Heero nearly over ran him.

"Dammit, Duo. . . ." Heero caught sight of what had made Duo put on the brakes like that. "Oh,
holy shit!" Heero nearly grabbed Duo up and ran. The room they'd entered was full of canisters. All kinds of canisters. None of them good.

Duo just stepped back crowding Heero out the door. "Guys! Come out of there. Son of a bitch. If we'd come in the front instead of the back. Out! Everybody out!"

The detectives didn't bother arguing Duo's tone of voice convinced them to scramble out the doors and ask questions later. They met at the SUV, as the closest vehicle.

"Ok, guys what's up? What's the panic?" The head detective didn't seem angry only curious.

Duo ran a hand through his bangs and sighed. "Call HAZMAT every single thing in that room is dangerous in some way. There's acetylene, oxy, hydrogen packs. And I'm pretty sure I saw some plastic too. Fuckityfuckfuck. That guy's a total idiot. If anything sparks in there . . . well, I didn't get a really good look, I was too busy getting out of there, but you're gonna lose several square blocks. Geez Louise."

The detective pulled out his phone and made the call. One of the other men was on a phone too,
calling a supervisor. The supervisor told them to stay out of the house, call HASMAT and wait.
They did as they were told.

The HAZMAT team arrived quietly. A large van pulled up in front of the house and several men got out. They grouped around the back of the van and waited while one man walked over to the lead detective.

"Hi, there. My name is Roland Carter. I'm head of this HAZMAT team. So what's up?"

The detective just pointed at Duo and said. "He said clear out. He's supposedly an expert at this stuff so we did."

Officer Carter looked over at Duo and blinked. "That kid? Who the hell is he? If this is some sort of joke, I'm not laughing.""

Duo just walked over and eyed the man. He eyed back. Then his eyes widened, he knew who Duo was.

"Ok, Major Maxwell, why don't you tell me exactly what we've got on our hands?"

Duo grinned, not in a nice way. "Couldn't tell you for sure. I got my ass out of there when I saw an oxy tank cheek by jowl with some acetylene. And there's a couple a' three good size packs of plastic. Unopened. I'm not sure that ass jumbo even knew exactly what he had. So . . . I'll take you through. It's all in the living room as far as I can tell."

"Why didn't you find it sooner?"

"Came in the back door. The search was concentrated in the garage and back yard. Until I found this in the freezer." Duo showed the man his bracelet. "That . . . don't look like that. It''s exactly what you think it is. The last bit of Deathscythe. I'm allowed to have it. Anyway, Heero and I went outside to wait in our SUV, not our job to search the whole house after we found the gundanium.
When we were called back in to see if they'd found any more of my stuff, we came in through the front. I nearly shit myself. Holy Christ on a pogo-stick."

Duo had led the man to the front door as he was talking. He opened it and allowed Officer Carter to look inside. He took one look and swore then he just turned around and called to his men, telling them to suit up.

"Fuck. You're right. We got a hell of a mess on our hands. It's going to take days to clear that room alone. And . . . I want that fucker, bad."

Duo grinned at him and pointed to Heero. "We already got him. Heero and I picked him up just a few hours ago. He's going to spend a long time in jail. Just make sure you get in touch with the PA when you''re done with that."

"Oh, I will. You can bet on it. I'll have a book of charges, that ass won't get out for years."

Heero grunted. "Don't bet on it. I'd say he's already out on bail, or I miss my guess. If you want him held you better get on the horn right now and tell someone." Which he did rather quickly.


The entire HAZMAT crew put on their suits. They were modified space suits, much safer and more comfortable than the first suits from the 20th century. They entered the living room and started carrying things out.

Heero and Duo watched for a few minutes then Heero went to find Officer Carter. "Do you need us any longer? Duo isn't as well as I'd like." At the officers sharp look he smiled softly. ""He's getting better all the time, but he still gets tired easily. And this hasn't been easy on either of us. That Jumbo took his ship before the bank actually called in his loan. He had a hard time for a while. And I''ve been searching for him for months. Well. . . I better get him home. Thanks. . . ." Heero handed the man his card. "If you need me, or find any more of Duo s stuff, call this number."

Heero shook hands and turned to look for Duo. Duo was leaning against the SUV nearly asleep again.

Heero sighed, went to Duo and told him to get in the SUV. He started the engine then decided to just take Duo home to their temporary apartment. They'd take care of the rest of their business in the next few days then he'd take Duo to his real home. There was no way he was letting Duo rent an apartment there. He might disappear again.

"Come on, Duo. We're going back to the apartment. We both need a nap."

Duo snorted himself awake then snickered. "A nap? Heero Yuy . . . "

Heero gave Duo an amused look. "What? We used to nap all the time. You know, never pass up a chance . . ."

"To eat, shit or sleep. Yeah, you're right. And I really could use a nap . . ." Heero watched as Duo's face fell. "Damn it. I wish I felt better. A year a go I could have partied all night, done this and kept on going. Like it was nothing. Now I can barely keep my eyes open. Shit."

"Duo, stop that. You're better than you were just a day ago. All you need is to get caught up. You had trouble sleeping?"

"Yeah, cities don't sound like ships. Weird noises. Sirens, stuff. All together, just not conducive to me getting a good night''s sleep. A ship has a sort of white noise' going on. Atmo pumps, fans, all kinds of support systems. You remember. Once you get used to them, you don't hear them. Ships are really quiet."

Heero nodded, remembering. "Yeah. I remember. So all the traffic noises and such keep you awake?
I wondered what it was that kept you so restless . . . well, when we get back to the apartment you can get a nap. It''s quieter at this time of day. Everyone's at work and so on"
Duo sighed. "It's good. You should take a nap too. You look a bit worn."

Heero just shrugged and drove off.


They got to the apartment with a minimum of fuss, did their usual area scans and entered the apartment.

Duo tossed his vest on the counter, scratching at a place it had bound him. He took off his utility belt and dumped it on top of the vest. It rattled harshly, the handcuffs, key ring, mace canister and holster knocking together noisily. Heero dumped his stuff on top of Duo's.

"I'll take all that out to the war chest when we leave for supper. You want to shower?"

Duo yawned and scratched his head. "No. I feel crawly from being in that stinking house, but I'd rather shower when I wake up. I''m actually going to undress and hit the rack. My bones ache."

Heero watched Duo wander down the hall. He was worried, but he wasn't about to let Duo know.
He didn't seem to be getting better as fast as Heero thought he should. Heero decided to email the doctor. Then he was going to take a nap too. His nerves were frazzled. Making sure Duo was safe without insulting him, getting Jumbo into custody, searching that mess the man called a house and finding that he had all those hazardous materials in his house had worn him out. He rubbed his precious bracelet against his cheek and went to email the doctor.

The email he got back relieved his mind a great deal. The doctor just said that recovery would be slow at first but once Duo got enough rest his rate should pick up considerably.

Heero closed down his computer and started to go to his room. On his way he had to walk by Duo's room. He heard an odd noise coming from it.

He opened the door a bit and listened. Duo was making soft noises deep in his throat. He was having a nightmare. Heero slipped into the room. The blackout curtains kept the room dim enough that Duo could sleep in the day.

"Duo, wake up. It's ok." Heero approached the bed cautiously, if he frightened Duo in the midst of a nightmare there was no telling what he might do.

Duo didn't wake up so Heero took a step nearer. He considered his options, none of which were very attractive. He could leave Duo to his dreams, unpleasant though they were. He could shake Duo and possibly get a punch in the face for his trouble. Or he could get in the bed and wake Duo while holding him. Heero blinked at his own audacity. And climbed into bed with Duo.

Putting his arms around Duo firmly anchoring his arms to his sides, Heero squeezed Duo and called his name. Duo blinked awake, flinched hard and started to struggle. The second he did, Heero called his name again.

"Duo, stop. It's me. . . Heero. Wake up."

"Hummm? Ro? Was' up?"

"You, I hope. You were having a bad dream. I wasn't sure how to wake you without getting my head taken off. Sorry. If I let go, will you hit me?"

"No, ahou, I won't. I'm awake and aware times five."

Heero slipped out of the bed and sighed, his arms felt empty and cold. "Ok. Coffee?"

"Yeah, I'll be out in a sec. Thanks."

Heero went into the kitchen and started the coffee pot. He decided to have some with Duo so he made plenty.

Duo ambled in only a few moments later, signs of a quick face wash apparent. He blew at an errant strand of hair as Heero handed him his cup.

"Thanks. Man, that was gruesome. I keep dreaming that I''m all alone . . . somewhere . . . some colony I think. I know I'm in bad shape but I can't ever remember exactly what's wrong. And they'
are coming for me." Duo shuddered. "Ugh! Then I wake up all sweaty and shaking. Mmmm" Duo took a long swallow of coffee.

"Duo! I swear, one of these days you're going to blister your tongue. How do you do that?"

"Spacer ways. Impenetrable mysteries." Duo smirked at Heero. "Actually, I think I'm just used to it. What time is it?"

Heero glanced at the clock on the wall behind Duo. "Almost four. Why? And what happened to your watch?"

"Haven't had one in a year or more. Don't really need one in space. You get up when you wake.
Sleep when you're tired. Work when it needs doing. But now I guess I'll have to get one. We could stop by a store on the way to the port. I think I should take my tools off those people's hands. Maybe help them get their ship back in space too. I'll have to see. So . . . we going or what?"

Heero took a careful sip of his coffee. It was cool enough to drink courtesy of some cold tap water.
Duo liked his coffee strong enough to float the spoon. Heero made the coffee to suit Duo, he could weaken it with water, Duo couldn't make it stronger. A little consideration went a long way.

"Yeah, finish your coffee and we'll go get your tools. I think . . . you should just thank them. We can do a little something sub rosa so we don't embarrass them. What do you think?"

Duo gulped his coffee. "I think you're right. And don't look at me like that, the mug cooled it enough." Duo took Heero's mug to rinse and put in the dish washer while Heero got his keys.


Their first stop was at a shop that sold police equipment. The nondescript store had a sign in the window that simply said Uniforms'. Heero called out, "Anybody here?"

"Yeah! Gimme a sec." The voice from the back was deep, masculine and cheerful.

"Take your time. We need to get to the space port before nine so we have plenty." Duo raised an eyebrow at Heero. He shrugged. "You have to check in after nine if you remember. We'll still have to show id, but I hate all that signing and shit."

Duo groaned. "Dammit, Heero. We don't go in through the front gate. Have you lost your mind?
We never checked in when we went in through the spacer's gates, right?"

Heero shrugged. "I wondered a little about that, but we were kind of busy both times. How'd you do that?"

"Security scanners. They just rip a pic out of the security images as we drive up. They matched me,
you were with me. Nough said."

"Shit. Do they realize how dangerous that is?"

Duo gave a negligent shrug. "You really think anyone is going to try any shit? Most of those people are ex-something-or-other."

Heero decided not to argue with Duo, they'd spend the next forever arguing about it. He was glad that the owner came out from the back.

"Well, what can I do you boys for? Halloween is a while away, or ago depending on how you look at it."

Duo gritted his teeth, but Heero just handed the man his id then poked Duo. "Show him your id.
And stop glowering." He turned back to the man. "You'll have to excuse him, he's not housebroken."

Duo opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again then gave up. He snickered until his eyes watered.
"Oh, hell, Heero. I always thought you were the unhousebroken one." He turned to the waiting man.
"Sorry, my feelings are a little tender just now. I'm old enough to have fought in the Eve War. I need a vest. Not a costume."

The owner, who introduced himself as Pat, just Pat. Looked at their ID. "Hump. Emancipated minors, eh? Well, well. Just let me get my tape." He reached under the counter, making both Duo and Heero flinch. He pretended he didn't notice but his mind changed from humor the kids to watch out for the scary guys.

Duo obediently stood on the box and allowed Pat to measure him. He moved as he was told and idly wondered how many different measurements Pat needed.

"I know it's a pain but if I don't have all these measurements the arm holes will be too big, too tight,
or bind when you reach. So just be patient, only two more to go. Reach forward."

Duo did and Pat took the last of his measurements. Duo hopped off the box with a grunt of relief.
When he looked for Heero he saw that Heero was gazing into a display case. Duo walked over to see what Heero was looking at while Pat finished filling out the form for his vest, making sure to allow for weight gain.

"See something you like?"

Heero glanced in the mirror behind the case. "Yeah, I do." Heero didn't think he and Duo were talking about the same thing.

Duo gazed into the case, spotted a watch and sighed. "I like that one, but I don't think I have enough money to get it. Haven''t had a paycheck yet."

Heero tapped the glass. "That one?"

Duo eyed the bulky, dial laden thing. "Ugh! Not a chance. It'll get caught on everything in sight.
And I don't need it." Duo looked through the case and saw what he wanted. It was thin, very thin,
no more than an eighth of an inch thick. It had a date window and that was all. The strap was woven metal with a double safety clasp. "That one.""

Heero nodded. "When Pat gets back, I'll tell him."

Duo looked at the price and shook his head. "I don''t have enough money in my account. I'll have to do a funds transfer or wait until I get a paycheck. I don't want to transfer funds just now. Too near the end of the quarter."

Heero shrugged. "I'll spot you to it. You can pay me back out of this bounty. And don't start with the "can''t touch the Oz money' stupidity again. I'll smack you a good one. You use that money when you need it. Hear me?" Heero backed up his proclamation with a glare.

"Don't glare at me like that. I forgot my asbestos underoos. Besides being immune by long exposure. And . . ." Duo ducked his head then peeked at Heero through his bangs. "Thanks. I'll get over myself. But I set it up so I have to do funds transfers through a computer. So a loan would be welcome."

Heero just grunted and wondered when Duo would realize that his credit card was tied directly into the company funds. Duo could be really stupid about money sometimes. Heero hoped Duo caught on soon. He knew the loan wasn''t necessary but he wasn't going to make a scene here in the store,
Duo was sure to throw a fit when he realized that Heero had effectively given Duo half of everything he had when they signed their contract.

Pat came back, got the watch and rang Heero up for it and the vest. Heero handed over his credit card and signed the pad. Duo put his new watch on and smiled at Heero. He'd realized that he had money when Heero reminded him, he'd let Heero pay because it seemed to mean so much to him.
Duo wondered how much of the company he really owned. He'd have to check it out. He didn't want to take advantage unintentionally, or intentionally.

"Next stop, my tools. Wonder what all they have. We didn't find anything at Jumbo's. They said they had them all. Be a good thing. I'll set up a workshop somewhere. When I get settled. Man, I'd like to be settled somewhere. Living on a ship is just as good as having a house, but . . . I've never had a house. Be nice. Is your house nice?" The longing in Duo's voice made Heero feel sad, but it also encouraged him.

"I think so. It's Heinleinean, I think you''ll like it. You are moving in with me, you know."

"Well, yeah, at least until I can find a place of my own. We better get going, it'll be dark before we get done. I wonder . . . maybe we should rent a truck. I've got a lot of tools and some are kinda big."

Heero thought as they exited the store and headed for their vehicle. "Maybe. Let's see what we can get in the SUV, then we'll make a final decision. This thing holds more that you'd think. And . . .
what are we going to do with them when we get them?"

Duo bit at his lip. "Um . . . good question. I . . . maybe I can rent storage for a little while . . . until I can make arrangements to get them wherever I wind up at. What do you think?"

"Sounds good to me . . . well," Heero cranked the engine over. "We're off."

"In more ways than one."

Heero chuckled at the old joke.


They didn't have any trouble getting into the port, Heero watched the camera as they came into range. It zeroed in on both of them, a light blinked and they were in. He wondered what would happen if no one in the vehicle was recognized.

He navigated his way through the port until Duo pointed, "There, that building, third bay. And it's lit up. We're in luck. They're not asleep or gone."

Heero pulled up right in the open bay door. They both got out and Duo looked around for someone.
They spotted the crew in the back of the bay.

"Looks like most of the crew right there. Wonder what they're up to."

Duo called out to the group and then headed in their general direction in a jog. Heero followed after him keeping an eye on the other doors.

"Hello, name's Maxwell. Heard you had my tools."

A large man came towards Duo, hand out. "Hello, I''m Captain Sanderson. Got ID? Wouldn't want to turn stuff over to the wrong man. And . . . am I glad to see you. We've got clearance to take off in the morning. We were just trying to figure out what to do about your tools." Duo had dug out his ID while the captain talked. He examined it and handed it back. "Well, it all in order. All you have to do is cabbage onto those tools and haul ass. We'll help you load them if you like."

Duo just nodded. "That'd be great. Thanks a lot man. I really appreciate this. You know how much it'd cost me to replace most of that stuff. Wild, isn't it?"

Captain Sanderson nodded. "You better believe it. The cost of good tools is outrageous. Ought to be illegal. . . Here! Harper, Cooper, Bond. Help me get these things loaded. And Parker. Check on that last delivery of supplies. See when it's due. Tell them if they can't get it here by . . . 7:00 a.m. forget it. We're supposed to be on take off line at 8."

"Ok, Captain. Right on it." The group broke up into component groups. The men the captain had named scrambled to take care of their chores.

Heero just stared, these people acted like they'd known Duo for years, the suspicious looks wiped away by proper ID and a friendly smile. He shrugged. If Duo wasn't worried about it, he wasn't either. He took a moment to stop a man.

"Excuse me. I have an odd favor to ask . . . Duo's having trouble sleeping. He's sweeper stock and all the ground pounder noises keep him awake. Could you get me a . . . um . . . two minute loop of ship noises? I'd really appreciate it, if it's not too much trouble. Please." Heero tried out his most persuasive look. Not realizing that that particular look made him look constipated. The man gave him one odd look then smiled.

"Sure. Um. . . but if I was you, I'd have Maxwell show you how to pull that look off. You don't look well when you try it now. And ship noises. I'll . . . um . . . it'll take a few. I'll get it done before you leave."

Heero noticed that, while he'd been talking to the man, Duo had pulled the SUV into the bay as close to the storage locker as he could get. He started to help carry tools then realized that Duo was loading things into the SUV, while the three men handed tools from hand to hand. He decided to go help Duo instead.

"Need help?" Duo stopped long enough to grin at Heero. "Sure do. Can you put the back seat down and start loading the smaller stuff in there? I didn't want to put heavy stuff in there incase the seat can't bear the weight."

"Ok, which boxes?"

"The blue plastic ones."

They loaded quickly and soon had the SUV packed to the roof. Duo eyed the space for a second then turned to one of the men.

"What's left?"

"Just that compressor. Um . . . we used it a bit. Ours ran afoul of old age. Hope you don't mind."

Duo grinned. "Well, not a bit. In fact, I'd appreciate it if you took it off my hands. I don't have room for it and it'll be cheaper to just let it go and buy a new one."

"Thanks. We really appreciate that. What do you want for it? I'm purser so I've got authority to bargain for it. Within reason."

Duo scratched the back of his neck for a moment. "Well, I think three months storage for my tools is a fair deal. They've been in there for . . . how long now?"

The man grinned at him. "You know damn good and well how long. We've been sitting on those tools for three months. Three ships worth. We're the last of the bosses . . . ahem . . . fleet to use this bay and lucky for you it is too. So three months storage for that compressor and we'll call it even.

Duo shook the man's hand, thanking his lucky stars that the crews of all three ships were honest people. He'd taken a visual inventory of things as he packed the SUV. As far as he could tell,
nothing was missing. He sighed feeling relieved and sad at the same time. He knew a period of his life had come to an end. He brightened, that just meant that a new period was starting. He vowed this one would be better than any of the others.

"Hey, Heero. Let's get out of here and let these people get back to work . . . thanks, guys. Thanks for everything." Duo's shout rang through the bay and brought calls from all over.

Calls of, take care' smooth flights' and "safe take offs' from around the bay.

Duo climbed into the SUV and watched as Heero trotted towards him calling "thanks, this is great'
over his shoulder. He wondered what was great, but let it slide. Heero would tell him about it when it was time. Just now all he wanted was to get out of here. He felt like he'd been run through a training exercise.

"You ok?" Heero reached out without a thought and patted Duo on the leg.

"Yeah. Just . . . tired. Can we go back home now?"

Heero wasn't thinking about what he was saying, he was paying attention to weaving his way among several loaders and baggage handlers.

"No. It's too far to drive in one day, so we''ll fly. We'll head for home day after tomorrow."

Duo said, huh?' rather blankly.

"Oh, you mean the apartment? Sure. On the way. Sorry. It's not my home. I just rented it to rescue you. I'll admit that I didn't want to take you to my home right away. I didn't want unpleasant memories there."

"Oh. Um . . . you really want me to move in with you? You sure? Really, really sure? Cause I gotta say, if I move in, I'd like to stay. I'm tired of movin' around. I want some roots. A potted palm, or ivy, somethin' you're supposed to have to show that you're settled at any rate. Know what I mean?"

Heero snorted softly. His amusement aimed at the both of them rather than at Duo's somewhat confused confession.

"Sure. We'll get a palm, or ivy, or whatever. Move in with me?"

"Try to stop me. Now shut up. I'm about to fall asleep and have a really good dream. Funny how I can sleep good in the car and can't for the life of me in that bed." Duo's eyes drooped even as he spoke, he was asleep by the time Heero had driven another block.

When they got back to the apartment, Heero locked the SUV, set the security system and hauled Duo bodily into the building. He was still half sleep, mumbling about waking up and being useful.
Heero just told him to stay asleep so he'd get better faster.

Heero got Duo on his bed easily enough, stripped him down to boxers and t-shirt. He tucked him in bed, noticing that their day had been longer than expected. It was nearly ten. Heero carried his stereo into the room, stuck the chip into it and put it on loop. The sounds that came from it were odd. Soft creaks and pops. The hiss of air through vents and the lub dub of a pump. Duo snuggled down into his pillow and sagged. Heero smiled at him with a tender look.

He left the door ajar, and his as well.

He stripped down to boxers and pulled the covers back, flopping down on his stomach he punched the pillow into a comfortable shape and fell asleep.


"Man. That was great. Where did you get that? Heero, it was so good. I slept like a log. Heero?"

Duo wandered through the apartment looking for Heero. He'd over slept he was sure. He glanced at his watch and realized that it was nearly noon.

"Heero? Where the hell are you?"

Heero's voice from the office informed him that he didn't have to bellow, Heero's hearing was great thank you'.

"I was just making sure that our friends had gotten off ok. I made a call while you were loading and I was waiting for that chip. Glad to hear that I did the trick. I got a shipment of fresh fruit to them before they took off. Got a email thanking us just now. So . . . hungry sleeping beauty.""

Duo made a rude noise. "Since when haven't I been hungry. Breakfast! Now!" Duo settled on his side of the table and waited while Heero chopped things, poured coffee and tea, mixed things and made an omelet. He got out two plates and cut the omelet in two pieces. Handing Duo a plate he put his own on the table and sighed.

"I'd like to settle the last of things here today and leave early tomorrow. If that's ok with you." Duo had never seen him look so uncertain.

"Fine with me. I'm all for getting out of this city. Um . . . Heero?" Heero looked up into bright eyes.
"Where the hell do you live anyway?"

Heero gave Duo one stunned look then burst out laughing. He laughed until he got hiccups, Duo had to slap him on the back to stop them.

"Ok. What's so funny?"

"Do you remember that song you used to sing? The one that drove Wufei to distraction?"

"Sure." Duo started to sing. "Do you know the way to San Jose? . .. No, man, that's crazy. How did you settle on there, of all places?"

Heero shrugged. "Didn't settle. Liked the area. Liked the house. And that song just stuck in my head. Wait til you see the house. It's on the beach . . . not right on it. Close enough that the view is fantastic, but not close enough that I have to worry about storm swells. Huge bullet proof windows,
wrap around porch. Hard wood floors. Great kitchen. Solar power. Battery backup. Bolt hole. Cellar that will hold a year's worth of supplies. Fully shuttered. Panic button in every room. You'll love it."

Duo was nearly glassy eyed with the description. "God, everything a retired terrorist could desire.
Sounds great. Can we leave really early? I can hardly wait."

"I'll get every thing done. Pick up your vest and settled with the bank. You see to getting everything here packed up. Ok?"

Duo grinned at Heero. "And you're going to drive the SUV around with all that stuff in it?"

Heero shook his head. "I'm taking it back to the rental agency today. I'll unload it at the shipping depot along with all my gear. I'll ship it all to my place via UPS. One container ought to hold it all.
They'll pack it up for me. All I have to do is pull up to the loading dock and give them the address.
All the stuff we have here ought to fit into two suitcases and a carry on. If you get everything cleaned, folded and piled on one of the beds I'll bring back another suit case."

Heero hoped Duo wouldn't argue with him. He still didn''t look rested.

"Sounds like a deal to me. I'll make sure all the dishes are washed and put away. Run the vac. In fact . . . hell, I'm gonna make someone a great wife."

Heero smirked at Duo. "Only if they want someone who can field strip a 9mm in under six seconds,
make a bomb out of kitchen supplies and hot wire any vehicle made in the last fifty years."

Duo laughed and told Heero he better get going or they'd be here this time next week. Heero bailed,
heading for the SUV and the UPS depot, in that order. He thought as he drove that he just might have a chance with Duo after all. If he didn't scare him half to death by being obsessive. He knew he had a tendency to go over board.

Duo could have the bedroom at the end of the hall. It was the next largest and obviously intended for either children or guests who were married. Heero was keeping the master suit, Duo would know something was up if he offered to move out. Heero never realized that he was obsessing and wouldn't have cared if he did, as long as he didn't scare Duo.


Duo searched the apartment thoroughly. He didn't want to leave a single thing behind. Heero was thorough to a fault so Duo wasn't going to fail him. He wondered if he could convince Heero that living together full time was a good idea. He didn't want to piss Heero off, he'd done it a few times during the war and the resultant silent treatment had nearly broken him. He'd rather Heero had hit him. It would have been over quicker.

He dumped everything he found on his bed and sorted through it. It was mostly clothing, and mostly needed washing. He sniffed carefully and decided he needed to do laundry in the worst way. He resorted things into laundry piles and non laundry packing. He packed the non laundry stuff in a box and set it by the door. Then he bit his lip. They didn't have a washer and dryer in the apartment which meant that he had to go to the Laundromat. So he left a note for Heero and stuffed all the laundry into a big duffle bag and headed out.

The Laundromat was nice, just across the street from the apartment building in the ground floor of the office complex. Duo dumped the duffel on the floor and started stuffing clothing into machines.
He wasn't worried about sorting, he sorted just like he always did. Jeans and not jeans. What else was there?

A nice lady had other ideas. "Excuse me, young man. You're going to ruin some of those clothes"
Duo started from his thoughts and gave her a wide-eyed stare. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I know I'm just an old busy body but it's a shame to ruin good things like that."

"That's ok. I really need all the help I can get. What do you mean?"

The woman showed Duo how to sort clothes and told him why. Duo eyed the piles of white, jeans,
colored shirts, and towels. Well, who''d a thunk it.' He thanked her, put his wash into machines, set them according to her instructions, fed them money and settled back to wait.


Heero entered the apartment with a new suitcase. He had decided that Duo should have his own, not share with Heero. Heero wasn't even sure that all their stuff would fit in one.

He froze for a moment realizing that the apartment was empty. He ran through the rooms calling Duo. No answer, not that he really expected one. He stood thinking. Then he hurried to the kitchen. They used to put notes on the kitchen table, under the sugar bowl. There was a note. He actually had to press his hand over his heart to help still its panicked pounding.


went to do laundry. No sense in packing stinky stuff.


Heero grumbled. "Damn, man. Give me a freakin' heart attack. Did you have to fold it up so small?
Almost missed it." He tucked the note into his wallet.

Heero headed for the Laundromat. He peeked in the window and saw Duo sitting in a chair reading a magazine. For one instant he wanted to thump Duo for scaring him like that even though it was totally illogical. Then he decided it wasn't, he'd been scared.

"Hey Duo. Next time will you call me on the phone. You nearly scared the life out of me."

Duo tossed the magazine on the table. "Wow, man. Sorry. I never thought about it. Too used to leaving hidden notes I guess."" Duo got up and opened a dryer door. Sticking his hand in he rummaged a bit. "Almost dry. The lady said to make sure things were good and dry if we were going to pack them. I've been fishing stuff out as I thought it was dry enough. All the under things and most of the t-shirts are dry. Duffles over there."

Heero took the armful of clothing from Duo, dumped it on the folding table and started to fold it.

"I'll fold this. You check the jeans. They take forever, unless you put them in two dryers. I hope this stuff is almost done. I want to eat a good meal and get to bed early. I hate flying, so I'm always up early. You?"

Duo shuddered dramatically. "I hate flying too. Unless I'm at the stick. You don't fly anymore?"

Heero shook his head. "I'm qualified, but owning a plane is more trouble than it's worth. I rent one for enough hours to stay licenced. You?"

"Me too. Couple a' old fogeys, us."

"Yup. Let's get this done ok?"

Duo opened the dryer full of jeans. "These are dry. Here." He handed them to Heero who started to fold. Duo moved to the next dryer and realized that it was already empty. He looked around to see what had happened to their stuff and saw the lady who'd helped him folding their shirts.

"Excuse me. You don't have to do that."

"I know. But I know who you are. You saved my son so he could come home and make a good life.
It's the least I can do. Let me, please?"

Duo grinned uncomfortably. "If you like. Thanks. And . . . um . . . it was . . . not nothing I . . . well .
. ." Duo decided he''d better shut up before he got both feet in his mouth. "I think I''ll just shut up before I say something really stupid. Thanks. Again."

The lady smiled kindly and handed him the pile of folded shirts. He thanked her again and stuffed them into the duffel being careful not to mess them up.

He turned just as Heero finished folding the jeans. He picked up the duffel thanked the lady again and got to Heero just in time to hold the duffel open for him to stuff the jeans in.

"Done! Lets go back to the apartment and finish packing. If we hurry, we can get a plane" Heero glanced at his watch. "In two hours. That'll put us sleeping most of the way. We change in Minneapolis-St. Paul, have breakfast on that flight and hit San Jose about 11am. What do you think?"

Duo didn't care and said so. "All I want is to . . . settle somewhere. Heero?" Heero hefted the duffel with a grunt. "Can I really move in with you? You don't mind?"

"Would threatening to chain you up in the basement make it clear to you? Duo. I've spent nearly six months tearing the solar system apart looking for you. Fielding Quatre, Trowa and Wufei off of declaring you a missing person. So come on."

Duo trotted after Heero with a wide grin on his face.


They scrambled around rather frantically trying to get everything packed so that they could catch the flight. Heero closed the box and slapped premade address labels on it. They'd drop it off at a parcel service at the airport.

Duo packed their suit cases, glad that Heero had thought to get him his own. He didn't trust the duffel in baggage. He packed one carry on for them. One set of clothes for each of them and their shaving kits. Heero had to carry the special locked carry on with their weapons in it. It couldn''t be checked through baggage or special shipped. Live ammo had to be carried by a licensed person.
Both Heero and Duo were licensed. Duo shook his head at the wonders that never ceased.

"We ready?"

Duo nodded. "Got both suitcases packed. Carry on in hand. Papers in my pocket. What else?"

"MP3 player, book, puzzle book. Anything else?"

Duo grinned and shook his head. "Not that I can think of . . . oh, water and snacks. That meal we're gonna get isn't going to be enough by a long shot. Fruit."

Heero laughed. "Yes, fruit. Some chips and bottled water. Be sure to see that the seals are intact or they'll make us pitch them."

Duo nodded. "Ok. Quick stop nearby?"

Heero nodded, picked up the box and headed for the SUV. Duo followed with all the luggage. Heero stuffed the box into the back of the SUV and hurried back to take one of the suitcases away from Duo.

"Don't you dare over do it. I don't want you falling off on me on the plane. You're still not well."

Duo made a rueful face. "Don't I know it. But I think I can handle getting this luggage from the building to the car. Here. Take yours." Heero took the proffered suitcase and tossed it into the foot well behind the driver's seat. Duo shoved his in the well behind his seat and settled back for the ride.
He wasn't looking forward to a flight in a strange ship with a nervous Heero. He'd be very glad when they got there.

Heero turned into the rental agency return. "I'll go turn in the keys, handle the luggage will you?"

Duo nodded and pulled the suitcases out of the SUV, dumping them on the sidewalk. He was thankful for Heero's ingenuity. Those removable trunk and glove box inserts had saved them a great deal of time and trouble. He made sure to put his foot on the locked case containing their weaponry.

Heero came out of the agency stuffing a paper into his wallet. ""Ready? I checked on our reservations on my computer while I was in there. We have exactly twenty minutes to get from one end of this airport to the other. Come on."

Duo laughed. It wasn't that far, what with sideways and all, but it was still aggravating. "I thought we'd have at least an hour."

"Last minute cancellation in first class. We got lucky. So come on."

They converted the suitcases into backpacks and each picked up the smaller carry on they were responsible for. Heero nodded to Duo who nodded back. They broke into a distance eating trot and headed for the main concourse. The middle of it was full of sideways. Heero hopped onto the correct one with Duo right behind him. They didn't stop running.

They trotted up to the check in desk with ten minutes to spare. The lady behind the desk laughed at them gently. "We'd have held the plane for you. Do you have any . . . um . . . I'm not even going to dignify this list by reading it to you. What do you have to check in and is that locked case what I think it is?"

"No explosives, no alcohol. Weapons in a regulation locked case that hasn't left my control or that of my partner since I packed it. Two suitcases to check through, one carry on. Any other questions?"

The clerk grinned. "No. Put the suitcases on the weigh in pad. Here are the stubs for the baggage checks. Does that case . . oh, I see that it does." She pulled a wire and lead seal from the desk and slipped the wire through the grommets, inserted the sensor and squashed the seal with the tool. If the case was opened on the plane an alarm would go off. "There. Better get going."

They walked through the tunnel into the plane along with a couple of other late arrivals.

The steward greeted them at the door of the plane, inspected their boarding passes and showed them to their seats. He waited as they put the one carry on into the over head then, when Heero put the other under his seat he told him, "You have to put that on in the over head too. It's . . .""

Heero interrupted him. "It's a safe box, stays right where it is."

"A safe box? But . . . I just know I'm putting my foot in it, Mr. . . ." He consulted his data pad.
"Yuy. But . . . Yuy? Oh, please. Not the bounty hunter ex-Gundam pilot Yuy?"

Heero just scowled and nodded. The steward backed up with a quick apology and headed for the cockpit. Heero watched him for a moment then settled back.

"Well, what the hell was that about? Guy looked like he''d swallowed a bug."

"The pilot has the right to refuse to carry me with a safe box. Most won't. But I've been kicked off a flight twice. We''ll see."

The steward didn't come back and after a few minutes the pilot began his take off spiel. They settled back for a hopefully uneventful flight.

It was, as they were in first class. The faint sounds of crying children and coughing adults was muffled by the solid door between them and the other classes.

The steward was attentive in a wide eyed skittish kind of way, offering pillows and blankets. And drinks, which they both politely refused. Duo snickered and commented. "Well, stupid him. Not only are we both underage, but I really don't think he thought about the ramifications of drunken Gundam pilots. You first or me?"

"You. I'm too wired to sleep." Heero tucked the blanked up to Duo's chin and settled to go four-on,
four-off with him.

Duo smiled a little blearily at Heero. He was feeling much better but the run through the airport concourse had worn on him more than he liked. He still wasn't quite up to par. When they got settled, he was going to do some serious working out. His eyelids fell before he was quite finished with that thought.

Heero settled to watch over Duo, he really didn't need to but he liked watching Duo sleep. He looked so young and untouched then.

The steward called Heero's name from in front of the next seat up. "Mr. Yuy? I'm getting ready to serve the meal."" Heero grunted at him and straightened up. He kicked Duo's foot gently causing him to snort softly.

"Ro? What?"


Duo straightened up too and shoved the blanket and pillow into the space between him and the wall.

"Good, I was beginning to wake up anyway. I'm hungry. What are we having?"

Heero shrugged. "Didn't bother to check. Usually a couple of choices but as we're last minute, we take what's left over after the other passengers get what they ordered."

"Oh, ok. Wonder what it is." Duo eyed the cart with interest. He was really hungry.

The steward made his way down the aisle placing trays in front of the passengers, consulting his data pad as he went. When he reached their seats, Duo was glad to see that they had a choice, he thought.

"Well, let me see. Beef, beef. . . . All the beef is spoken for. I'm afraid you have your choice of chicken or fish."

Duo looked at the two trays. The fish looked dry and pale. The chicken was grilled with a compote of peppers and onions. "I'll have the chicken if you don't mind."

Heero shrugged. "Chicken."

The steward set their trays on the little tables and rolled his cart to the next seats. His relief at their cooperativeness subdued but evident.

They ate their meals in comfortable silence, Heero was a bit surprised to realize that Duo wasn't, as Wufei put it, a complete babbling fool'. In fact, he tended not to talk unless there was something to say.

"You don't talk as much as you used to. Why?""

Duo wiped his mouth on the paper square that pretended to be a napkin. "I babbled a lot back then.
Seemed that I was always running on adrenalin and coffee nerves. Couldn't help it. Now. . . don't talk so much. Got used to not talking on my ship. No one there to talk to. Chicken is good.""

Heero accepted the change of subject. "Yes. I like this pepper compote."

Duo poked at the remains of his serving. "It's nice. Looks like . . . . red and yellow peppers. Onions.
. . .garlic? If it''s there, they've chopped it really fine but I can taste it. What else?"

Heero reached over and helped himself to some of Duo's compote. "M m m m. not sure. Wish I had an evidence vial. I''d take some home and analyze it." He gave Duo an indignant glare as the braided idiot got what Quatre called the whoops' "Well, what do you advise . . . stop that . . . people are staring.""

Duo hiccupped, wiped his eyes on his handkerchief and said, ""let them. We're not undercover now.
They can stare if they want. Lighten up . . ." He snickered. "Evidence vial . . . oh, my god. Only you."

"Well, how else do you suggest we get the formula.""

"Um . . . ask the steward?" Duo signaled the man who was watching him from what Duo decided he considered a safe distance.


"Do you have the recipe for this compote? It's really good."

"Yes, sir. For one serving. One table spoon of very finely minced garlic, one table spoon of ordinary olive oil. Half a red and half a yellow pepper cut in strips. One quarter of a medium onion cut in slices. One tablespoon ultra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat the first oil in a wok or fry pan. Add every thing and sweat it til soft. Then let it cool a bit, add the rest of the ingredients stir and plate."

Duo had taken a small pad from a pocket and was writing on the entry surface. "Ok got it. Thanks pal."

The steward nodded then hesitated. Duo just grinned at him and said. "Ask"

"What was so funny?"

"Heero. He was regretting not having an evidence vial so we could analyze it later."

The steward gave Heero a wide-eyed look. Heero returned it with a sulky one of his own. "I see.
Well, that is an interesting solution to the problem." The steward staggered slightly as they hit an up draft. "Sorry. Better fasten your seat belts for now. Captain . . . well you know the drill as well as I do."

He walked back to his station and fastened his belt just as the captain turned on the seat belt light.
Heero and Duo quickly changed places and fastened their belts. Heero didn't think he'd be able to sleep with the turbulence but he did. All the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul.


" Ro, wake up. We're at our change over."

Heero snorted once then tossed the blanket and pillow aside. ""Should have woke me up earlier."

"Why? You were sleeping good. I'm slept out.""

Heero just shifted around and sighed. "I don't know. I just feel . . . guilty, sleeping when you're awake. You should sleep."

Duo bopped Heero on the back of the head with his palm. "Idiot. You're going to be worn out if you do that. Four-on, four-off. Remember?"

Heero nodded as he folded the blanket up. "Yeah. I know I'm being stupid but . . . you're still too thin and . . .""

Duo shushed Heero. "I know. I'm going to do some serious training when we get to . . . our place."

Heero nearly dropped the pillow he was fluffing. "Yes. As soon as we get to our place, I'll help you set up a regimen. If you like."

"I like." The tension poured out of Duo, leaving him feeling slightly nauseous. Heero noticed as he relaxed as well. That was over with.

The steward interrupted their moment by announcing that they were commencing landing procedures, please. . . Blah blah blah. They obeyed procedures and settled to wait for disembarkation instructions.


Heero realized that he was out of position when he reached under the seat for the safe box. Duo handed it to him and then stood up to get their carry on. The taxi to the airport had been uneventful,
thanks be. The plane was parked at the gate and the passengers were gathering up their things getting ready to go home or make the switch to their next flight.

"How long before our connection takes off?"

Heero pulled his ticket out of his pocket and eyed it. "Hour. Why?"

Duo shrugged. "I hate to rush around if I don't have to. We have to collect our bags, get to the other gate and recheck them. You have to have that safe box resealed?"

Heero shook his head. "No. The airline will transfer the data to the new gate."

They headed for the carousel to collect their bags.


"Look, I don't care. My bag is in there somewhere and I demand that you let me in to look for it"
The man tried to chest the attendant but she backed up quickly and slammed the door in the fat man''s face.

Heero sighed. He didn't want to get mixed up in this but he wasn't about to allow the man to harass the attendant without doing something.

"Excuse me. Why don't you go to Lost and Found and check there?" Heero kept his voice as soft as possible, not realizing that his idea of soft and gentle came off as soft and deadly.

"Um . . . I . . .um . . I'll . . . dojustthatexcuseme." The man hurried off.

Duo cracked up completely at Heero's puzzled look. ""What got into him?"

"The fear of Heero Yuy."

"Duo!" But Duo was cackling like a hen laying an egg. Heero gave up, knocked gently on the door and called the attendant.

"Sir?" The girl opened the door just a bit.

"He's gone. You can come out."

"Thank you." The attendant opened the door the rest of the way and smiled. "Can I do anything for you? Help you find your bag?"

Heero smiled at her, a genuine gentle smile. "Here''s the claim checks. That'd be really nice of you.
I have to baby sit my safe box so it's a little difficult. Really appreciate this." The girl took the proffered tickets and deftly found the bags. She hauled them off the round about and plopped them on the floor. Duo took charge of them, quickly converting them into backpacks again.

"Thanks a bunch. You really didn't have to do that."

"I don't mind. Anytime someone stands up for me, I like to return the favor. Which gate do you need?"

Duo glanced at his ticket for the gate number. "46. Where's that at?"

The girl sighed. "Clear across the port. I'll get you a cart."

Duo sighed, there went any chance of getting a snack before they had to run for it. "Figures."

The electric sound of a battery powered golf' cart made them turn around.

"Here you go. It's almost a mile to the gate. I'm sure you'll appreciate this. Just be careful not to run over some kid. The little buggers will just stand and stare at you like . . . like . . . little buggers."

They all had a good laugh at that. Heero tossed their bags into the back and set the safe box between his feet. Duo flipped him for driver and won.

They stopped in the food court for hot dogs and fries. But they had to take it out as they were running out of time to make the gate in time. Heero sighed. He hated all this rushing.

But they rushed anyway. Duo drove darting through the congestion of other carts, pedestrians and planters. Heero sat confidently. If Duo could pilot a Gundam, he could certainly drive this cart.

They made it to the gate with plenty of time to spare. The check in was a repeat of the first.
Everything went quickly and efficiently. Heero sighed with relief. For once things were going well.
He just wondered what was going to go wrong.

But the gods of worse must have been asleep that day, as they got on the flight, settled in and took off without a single thing going wrong. Heero told Duo to sleep until breakfast was served, then he'd take his second turn.

The stewardess served breakfast, smiling at the two boys kindly. They ate then Heero took his second turn at napping. Duo watched him as he slept. His face relaxed in sleep, Duo thought him handsome. He hoped that everything worked out like he hoped. He was tired of being alone.

The stewardess nearly lost her head as she leaned over Duo''s shoulder. Heero caught his arm just in time although she never noticed.

"We'll be landing in about twenty minutes. It would be a good idea to wake your friend now."

Duo gasped his relief. "Thanks, Ro, I really don't need the grief of accidentally punching the staff.
Do you think we'll ever get over that?"

"Sooner or later. I'm mostly over it, unless I''m in certain situations. Don't worry about it. I'll keep an eye on you until you get better. Come on. Twenty minutes to freedom. Get the carry on down now. We can put it between us on the floor."

Duo complied, realizing that it would be a lot easier to get the bag now rather than wait until everyone else was trying to do the same thing. They settled in their seats, fastened seatbelts when told to, and generally readied themselves for landing.


The landing was flawless, making Duo wonder aloud what was going to go wrong. "Sooner or later something goes wrong. So what is it going to be. Explosions, gas, major melt down? What?"

They found out at the baggage check. The airline lost their bags somewhere between Minneapolis-
St. Paul and San Francisco. Heero just shrugged. "Was there anything in any of the bags that you are particularly attached to?"

"Every thing you gave me. I . . . well, I never had such nice things before. What do we do?"

Heero snarled wordlessly at the claim check in his hand, basically it was a worthless bit of paper now.

"Now we go to the Lost and Found office and fill out a ton of paper work. Detail everything in the bags, and suffer through a whining officious disclaimer and hope that someone somewhere actually looks for the shit."

Duo shrugged. "I don't have a stitch to wear without that bag. And do not tell me we'll just go shopping' I want my stuff. Stupid as that sounds."

Heero shrugged. "If you want that bag, we'll try to find it. But we really will have to go shopping.
They don't guarantee to find it in less than 30 days. . . ." He ran a hand through his hair distractedly.
"Well, come on. Let's go glower at the Lost and Found guy."

They went to the Lost and Found and were confronted with, not a person, but a computer. Heero snorted. "Well, let's get down to business. Duo would you mind checking to make sure that we don't miss our last connection. I'd hate to have to drive."

Duo blinked. "You mean we're not there yet?""

"No. We still have to get across the bay. The last connection is to the ferry. It'll take us right to San Jose. My car is there. I hope the trunks got there already. The crew at the depot will install them for me so I don't have to mess with it. Then it's only about thirty minutes to the house. You go. I'll . . .
beat this piece of shit into submission. Um . . . if they offer compensation, should I take it? Or do you really want to wait for the bag?"

Duo bit at his lip, it was silly to be so attached to a few pieces of clothing, but Heero had bought them for him, picking them out himself. ""That stuff means more to me than you'll ever understand.
Would you please tell them that I want it?"

"You got it. Go."

Duo left, wondering if he was getting OCD or something. But he found the name of the ferry service on a desk half way around the concourse from the Lost and Found. He stepped up to the desk and checked the schedule. There was a ferry leaving every thirty minutes he wondered why Heero had wanted him to . . . "Oh shit. He would not. Would he?" Duo headed back for lost and found at a hard trot, dodging between pedestrians and strollers and all the other nonsense people insisted on pushing or dragging through an airport.

"Heero. Don't . . . I . . . what the hell.""

Heero was standing behind the computer desk calmly explaining to a rather harassed looking suit that he really, really wanted that bag found asap, or else. Heero turned to gaze at Duo. "What?"

Duo eyed the man and decided. "Can I help kill him? I''m not in a good mood. I liked my stuff. I liked my stuff with me. So . . . what's his . . ." Duo waived a hand vaguely in the direction of the suit. "Excuse."

"Well, he seems to think that we didn't apply the tags properly. I was just explaining to him that we didn't put the tags on, the check in clerk did. And I had to do some very unhappy things to their system to get him here. So, can we kill him later?"

Duo shrugged. "Sure, but if you don't want to kill him, maybe you should put him down?"

Heero turned back to the purpling man. "Ya think?"" He dropped him back to his feet and patted his lapels back into place. ""Find our stuff. Ok?" he patted the man on the shoulder, turned and left.
The man gave a sigh of relief.

"Ok, Ro, wanna tell me what was up with the assault and battery?"

"Called me a brat. Told me to go home to my mom and give up on the bags cause they weren't going to look for them. Pissed me off. Remind me to fill out a complaint form when we get home."

"Ok . . . Heero?" Duo touched Heero on the arm making him turn. "Next time you fake me out, I'll punch you out. Got me?"

Heero shrugged. "Ok, but I was about to commit a misdemeanor and I didn't want you involved."

"Let me make the choice. Got me?" Duo gave Heero a gentle poke in the ribs.

"Yeah. I'm sorry . . . come on, we're going to miss the ferry and I don't want to hang around for another thirty minutes. That guy might cough up some courage."

They made it to the ferry with several minutes to spare.


Heero walked up behind Duo, who was leaning on the railing watching the shore. "It's nice, isn't it?
If you look carefully, you'll see our house. Right . . . about . . . there." Heero pointed to the house,
nestled in a crease in the hills above the bay. It was white concrete, four levels and to Duo's eyes gigantic. And beautiful.

"Wow. It's huge. Four levels?"

Heero nodded. "Yeah, but the bottom two don't have as big a foot print as you'd expect. They're right up against bed rock. You'll see. But it's nice. I guess."

Duo turned his head to stare at Heero in disbelief. "You guess? Christ on a cracker, Heero."

"It's big, and empty. I didn't choose it myself. J chose it for me. And the furniture, the . . .
everything. It . . . echoes sometimes."

Duo put his hand over Heero's on the rail. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you. I can fill up a Gundam hanger so . . . hope I don't drive you nuts. If I do, just tell me."

"That house is big enough that we can get away from each other when necessary. There's a gym on the third level, counting from the top. And the garage is on the second, you drive right into it. It's open but hard to see into. And the next floor down has a small but very well equipped shop, sound proofed. There's four bed rooms and a library, studio and . . . well, you'll see. I want you to make yourself at home. Anything you want to change. . ." Heero caught a look at Duo's face and changed what he was going to say slightly. "We'll discuss it. Ok?""

Duo knew that Heero had changed his words at the last minute but didn't call him on it. Sure.
Thanks man. . . . Oh, we''re docking."

Heero turned to look. "We're not docking where we're supposed to. We should dock at pier 41, this is . . ." He rubber-necked to see the pier marker. "Christ. . . 63. We're at least three miles from where we're supposed to be. What the hell is up?"

Duo shrugged tiredly. "Don't care. How are we going to get home?"

Heero pressed his cell to his ear more firmly. "Calling now. I'll find out . . . oh, Heero here." Heero questioned whoever was on the other end of the line. "There's a barge wreck about pier 50. My guy made arrangements for us to get the SUV later. We'll just take a cab home for now. Come this way."

Heero led Duo to the pier proper and looked for a cab. Duo hoped he found one quickly, his lack of endurance was catching up to him, he was drooping badly.

"TAXI!" Heero's shrill whistle attracted attention all up and down the sidewalk. The cabbie pulled up and hopped out.

"Get your luggage?" The man held out a hand.

"Not the safe box. But here's the other."

The cabbie gave them a sympathetic look. "Airline lost your stuff? That sucks." He opened the back door and held it for them. They scrambled in with relief. Duo realized that the long flight and unfamiliar smells were working on him.

"Heero, we need to get me home soon. I don't feel so good."

The driver noticed Duo's greenish complexion. "Your buddy doesn't look too hot. He sick?"

Heero just grunted, yeah' and tried to help Duo settle more comfortably. The driver turned back to the front, asked for the address and when Heero gave it he sighed.

"I just hope he doesn't get sick in the back. No offence, but it's a bitch to get puke out of the upholstery. If he starts heavin' tell me and I'll pull over."

Heero gave Duo a questioning look. "I'll know in time. I'll just lay back and close my eyes. How far?"

"Couple of miles. About . . ."

"Ten minutes if I drive slow. And I will. Sorry you don''t feel so hot." The driver was as good as his word. He drove carefully keeping his speed down and taking the curves gently. It took fifteen minutes of careful driving to get to Heero's house. The driver opened the door and helped Duo out.
He got the carry on out of the cab and offered to carry the safe box. "I know you're not supposed to let me, but what the hell would I do with whatever is in there?" Heero just gave a jerky nod and started to help Duo to the door.

They didn't make it. Duo gave a funny sounding hiccup and moaned. "I'm not gonna make it. Man oh . . ." he started to crouch on the ground but Heero held him at the waist, tossing his braid over a shoulder. The cabbie put both cases in the deep doorway then waited patiently as Heero helped Duo.

When Duo was through, Heero propped him up with one arm and just handed the driver his wallet.
"Go ahead and swipe my card give yourself a good tip too." The driver tapped at his pad and showed it to Heero. "Double the tip." The driver grinned at Heero and did it. Heero signed the pad and nodded to the driver.

"Sorry to be unsociable but I better get him inside. Thanks."

Heero picked Duo up and carried him to the door. He scooted the bags against the door and opened it. He kicked the bags in the door and scooted them to the side with his foot.

"Ok, here we go. I'm taking you straight to your rooms. Don't argue with me. You're sick and shouldn't be climbing stairs in your condition."

Duo didn't argue with Heero. He felt too sick.

"This wasn't the home coming I was hoping for. Dammit. . . ."

"Don't worry. It's ok." Heero carried Duo into the entryway. He felt him beginning to tremble.
"Duo? What's wrong?"

Duo shook his head, rolling it back and forth on Heero's shoulder. "Nothing. You do realize that you just carried me over the threshold, don't you?"

Heero just grunted and carried him to his room, tucked him in the bed and bade him sleep well. He left the room and leaned against the closed door.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I?"


TRU - tactical response uniform

This is Heero's home. I'm providing a link to the web site that actually sells this house. It is used without permission.