Duo Maxwell time was over. With a sigh, I bagged all of our clothes in my old military duffel, and slung it over my shoulder as Heero and I went to the back shack to find Wu Fei. I thought Wu Fei type of exercise would include katas or some equally highbrowed oriental regimen. I was surprised to find him outside kick boxing in just a loose pair of drawstring, black pants, with a shadow partner. He was making some moves that I didn't think could be called anything other than low blow and dirty.
"Street fighting," I said appreciatively. "Now that's something I'm good at."
"You've kept up with your training?" Wu Fei replied in a doubtful tone as he stopped and faced us. He was sweating. It was beading and making small tracks down his skin. His hair was drawn back but it was winning the battle against his hair tie, coming out in dark strands that hung in his face.
"Don't have to train," I said with a grin. "I'm a natural."
Wu Fei suddenly got that look, the one of a teacher who thought a student needed an abject lesson. "If you would care to show me some of your moves, I would appreciate having a live partner to practice with."
That sounded so nice, but I could feel the trap. I grinned wider as I tossed my duffel at his feet. "No time, Wu-man! We have to work and you need to go out and do laundry." I got the scowl I was expecting and added. "It will give you a chance to cement your cover and scope out the locals. We need to know whether they're buying this or we're wasting our time."
Wu Fei snorted and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He didn't deigned to look disappointed or annoyed to be told to do laundry. He silently exchanged a look with Heero and then he bent and picked up the duffel. "I will add my things to this," he said."Expect me back in one hour."
In your dreams, I laughed silently to myself, knowing what kind of mess the laundry was and what a time consuming chore it was, which is why I avoided it until I couldn't any longer. I motioned to Heero and he followed me to the scrap piles.
"He spent most of the night doing your taxes and inventory,' Heero said suddenly at my shoulder. "He is arrogant... and insufferable at the best of times... but he isn't as bad as you think he is. If he was, he wouldn't be my partner."
"He wanted to kick my ass back there, and you know it," I growled as I started sorting a pile by hand. I hissed as I cut my finger, the first wound of the day.
"You were asking for it," Heero shot back and then snorted, "A natural."
"That's what Dr. G called me," I told him."And I am."
I looked back in time to see the light in his eyes and his small smile and I swore. Men, testosterone, and that ever present 'cave man' instinct that overpowered sense; Heero was itching to see if I was telling the truth too, only I was less eager to prove myself with a man who could bend prison bars and blow himself up and live to fight another day.
I grabbed Heero by the back of the neck and pressed my forehead against his. "Stop it! We have a lot of work to do." I met his blue eyes and then let him go and turned to go back to work. After a moment's hesitation, he joined me.
We worked under the hot glare of the reflected lights. Wu Fei didn't return after an hour. Heero stopped several times and looked towards the back gate. I reassured him, without straightening from a part that I was trying to dislodge, "It takes a long time. Washing clothes around here is an all day event."
Heero made a 'hmm' sound and then he was suddenly bending over me, chest against my back, and an obvious hard on pressing against my ass. He kissed the sweaty nape of my neck and made a suggestive motion.
"Dream on," I grunted irritably.
He froze and then whispered in my ear. "Either way."
I craned my neck to look at him. I'd taken him down to my tonsils and licked him all over, but that last step 'either way' I wasn't ready for. It was like a last bastian against complete commitment, and that independent part of me, my street kid soul, wasn't going to let go of it. I was saved from turning him down by Wu Fei suddenly saying beside us, "You would get more leverage on the part if you attempted to lift it from the opposite side, Yuy."
Heero straightened abruptly and the motion sent me head first into the scrap. I banged my head and cut my cheek as I flailed to get my balance back. Crouched and holding my face, Heero was holding onto me and shouting, "Dammit, Chang!"
"I could have been an enemy," Wu Fei replied cooly, arms crossed over his chest.
"Are you all right, Duo?" Heero demanded anxiously.
I shook him off and stood up, glaring at Wu Fei. "Where the hell is the laundry?"
"I spoke to several people there and they were kind enough to offer their assistance in doing the wash for me," Wu Fei replied with a lifted, arrogant eyebrow.
"Idiot!" I shouted at him. "They're stealing it!" I ran towards the back gate, already sure who the culprits were.
I heard Heero say behind me, to Wu Fei, "I suppose this will cement your reputation as my lazy relative."
Running on L2 was easy on the one hand, gravity was less than it was on Earth. On the other hand, the heat was killer and the dust quickly coated lungs and made you cough them up. I started coughing as I thundered into the market and headed for a group of ramshackle huts. I had started sweating as soon as I had left my lot. I looked wild and dangerous when I kicked in the door of one hut and discovered the two men I knew hunched over my laundry. It was spilled over a plastic table and they were picking through it in disgust at the dirt and smell.
"Hey, Duo!" One called as if we were old friends, the both of them dissembling instantly, "Look what that no good freeloader of yours left at the laundry. We were just about to bring it back to you... just making sure it belonged to you is all..."
I felt insulted. Did he really think I was THAT stupid?
"I have credit at the laundry," I snarled at them, "So you can stop looking for loose credits."
The taller of the two had an edge to him. Like a cornered rat, I knew he would fight if he felt threatened. The little, fat guy was smarter, he was already backing towards another exit, trying to hide behind his companion.
Did I want to wipe the floor with them? Hell ,yes! They had twisted the knife in a day that was already starting badly. I was nothing if not fair, though. There were rules on L2, just not legal ones. One of them was, 'Always take advantage of suckers.'Wu Fei had qualified for that one easily. It wasn't as if they had rolled him in an alley for his clothes, they had just taken what he'd left behind and hoped for some beer money. I might even have gotten the clothes back... eventually... All right, so that was wishful thinking, but I really didn't want to fight over clothes. I decided on relaxing my fighting stance and sighing.
"Just give me back my damn clothes..."
The tall guy was someone I knew did a lot of petty theft. He was a small fish, pretty harmless, as I said, but willing to fight if he had to. If he didn't, it was all the better. He was quick to paste on a grin.
"Suuure! Sure, thing, Duo!" He grabbed my clothes and began shoving them back in the duffel. I saw underwear that weren't mine and had a stray thought that wondered if they were Wu Fei's. It made me shudder. I really didn't want his underwear mixing with mine.
"Toss it here," I commanded. Tall guy lobbed the duffel and I caught it and slung the strap over one shoulder, keeping my hands free. Short and fat blinked at me, hopeful that they were going to get away scott free. I skewered them with my eyes. "Do you actually know who I am, or do you just know my name?"
They exchanged looks. "Uh..." Tall guy swallowed hard and then managed, "Gundam pilot, right?"
"I know you discounted that because I seem like such a nice guy," I told them, "But nobody messes with my stuff. Step on my toes, or the toes of my men again, and I'll show you what a Gundam pilot is like when he gets really pissed... got that?"
They nodded in unison. I glared hard and then turned on my heel and stalked out. I almost fell through a rotten board on their porch, staggered, and recovered, ruining my dramatic exit. Once out of sight, I stopped and dropped the duffel at me feet, sighing in disgust.
"Orders?" Heero said at my elbow.
I jerked and turned. "Stop sneaking up on me!"
He smiled. "Why don't you do the laundry and let Wu Fei and I do the hard work today? You can consider it his punishment."
"Nobody does my work," I grumbled.
"It's not, it's his work," Heero corrected me. "He is your hired hand, just as I am."He looked around and saw only a few people not in hearing distance. He looked like he wanted to reach out to the cut on my face. He winced . "I'm sorry that happened."
"Well, it probably helped me get our laundry back. Made me look crazy," I said as I touched the cut gingerly.
"You need help doing that?" Heero asked with a chuckle.
I growled in reply, "Okay, for that, you can work along side Wu Fei."
"As long as I get to see you later?" His tone wasn't begging, just hopeful.
I decided to be a hard ass. "Maybe."
"I can make it worth your while," Heero suggested, giving me a very hungry look. His blue eyes sparkled. "We can finish what we started earlier."
"You can hope," I told him flippantly as I shouldered the duffel and turned away.
"I will," he promised.
I looked over my shoulder at him. Screw everyone. I turned, grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pulled him in, and gave him a harsh kiss. Shoving him back just as quickly, I nodded, once, winked to show him he was forgiven, and headed for the laundry. I heard him laugh behind me.
It was nice kicking back in the laundry, watching the red light pulse on my washing box as it churned my clothes, giving them a sonic bath. It was one machine in a long line of them and the place was full of customers. It had taken me an hour of standing in line to get my turn at a machine. By that time, I was ready to get out of there. I had protection against theft though, so I didn't mind leaving my clothes behind. I had a chit with my washing box number and I couldn't open the thing without it. Think stealing a scrap man's clothes is worth the bother? Some people would steal the gum off the bottom of your shoe, and sell it back to you at fifty percent markup. Everything was fair game. I think, too, that some people just took things for the hell of it... because they could.... or for beer change, like those two losers I scared the shit out of.
I decided on the nearest bar. It used to be a favorite of mine, back in the day... well, when I'd been less caring about what happened to me. It was small, had that corner bar atmosphere that was both cheap and slightly personalized. The bald guy behind the counter was doing that classic wiping up with a rag and the waitress was the stereotypical blowsy girl with her hair in a bun; the one who was usually only doing it to get enough money to blow town. A sweet talking drunk would come in one day, sweep her off her feet, and stick her with three babies, and a debt, before leaving her for greener pastures... Uhm, okay, so, to sum up, it was a plain, basic bar. At night, they had music, dim lights, and the pickup atmosphere. During the day, it was boring, lighted, and a place for people to stop off for a quick drink.
The bartender knew me. I felt slightly embarrassed, wondering if he knew some of the things I'd done out behind his place where it was nice and dark and private... he probably did. I doubt I was the first, or the last, to think of it. He did know that I didn't drink any longer, except for social toasts and victory celebrations. Since I hadn't had a chance for either of those occasions, I doubt he knew that much. He cleaned a glass and looked over it at me. He couldn't stop me from drinking, he'd lose his job, but he was a good guy and let me know, pretty clearly by his expression, that he didn't approve of my presence there.
"Non- alcoholic beer," I ordered as I slid onto a stool at the bar. It creaked under even my light weight.
"I have soda," the man offered with a grimace."Out back. It's cold."
I smiled as I leaned on my hand and toyed with a water droplet on the plastic bar with a finger. "Nope! I'm in the mood for a green tasting, synthetic, chemical in a frosty glass."
The man humphed. "It'll warp your genes."
I smirked. "Ah, but I won't be having any children, so I don't have to worry about it, do I?"
That got me a smile as the man pulled out a cold mug and put a long neck of something green beside it. It was loosely called 'beer', but it could let you pretend to knock one back. Sometimes, it was just the atmosphere and the ritual that was important, not the actual beer buzz and the taste.
I poured the drink myself and then took a slow, appreciative sip. The man stared at me. I wiped my mouth and made a satisfied sound. "Yep, pure crap!"
He laughed and then went away to do some other business. That left me with two customers and the bar girl. I knew one man for the town drunk. He was always in that same corner, nursing something strong and looking like death warmed over. It was good to have a reminder like that to keep a man clean. The other man was no one I knew. He glanced at me and then glanced away. I didn't remember seeing him when I first came in. He must have come in afterward. He was nondescript, in a simple button up shirt and casual pants. I could tell he was from the city... though it was more a crazy sixth sense instinct than anything he was outwardly showing. He had that aura of nervousness to him that I always associated with well off people walking through a slum. That man who had wanted me to meet his boss, had felt the same way. You don't survive being a street child and a soldier by not staying alert. My street sense raised it's hackles.
I didn't let my suspicion show. I kept relaxed, leaning an elbow back on the bar while I sipped at my mug and finished my survey of the room. The bar girl caught my eye and approached. She gave me a sympathetic smile. I fished mentally for her name. Candy.
"Hey, Candy," I greeted.
"Duo,"she replied as she fiddled with her hand sized order pad and stuck a few credits tip in her pocket. I boldly reached out and put a few of my own there as well. She smiled, a bit flustered, but was pleased. That move can go either way, but I knew, if she liked it, just how much she liked me and what kind of questions I could ask her. When she leaned towards me to look at my cut face, her breasts were clear to my view as her blouse dipped. It was obvious and contrived. I think that she liked me a lot more than I was hoping for.
"Did HE do this?" she asked in outrage.
She meant Heero. I discounted Wu Fei as soon as I saw her nipples and knew that her next step was to insinuate herself between me and my 'abusive lover'. I was, sadly, not disappointed.
"You should get rid of that man and that arrogant s.o.b. relative of his," she growled as she took a bar rag, with god's knew what on it, and dabbed at my cut."You need someone who will treat you right. You're a good man. You're nice. Nobody should hurt you like that."
Next came, 'I would never hurt you.', followed by, 'why don't you give me a call and we'll talk some more? Here's my number.'I could see her hand beginning to write her phone number on her pad, so I cut that off as quickly as I could.
"So... you know all about what's going on with me?" I asked.
"Who doesn't!" she exclaimed and then put a hand to her mouth, looking ashamed. "Oh! I'm so sorry! You probably didn't want to hear that!" She patted my shoulder. "It's all right. People have nothing better to do than talk and you are one of us. We care about you."
Like hell, I thought with a silent snort. Maybe a few, but most people were looking for weaknesses to bring me and my business down, or to exploit me into getting a better deal on scrap. Golden hearts were in short supply in the dirty, scrabble, world of L2. I looked down into my beer and sat up straighter, trying to look young and forlorn. I asked quietly, "What are they saying?"
She looked sorry for me. She told me, reluctantly, "Oh, just that you aren't doing so well, that the only help you could get was taking on a man in your yard and paying for it in your bed, and that you can't stand up and kick that man and his relative to the curb, because you can't do without him."
She looked at me anxiously. I hoped that I didn't look as angry as I felt. I hadn't been expecting the 'paying for my help in bed' part. "Nice," was all I allowed myself to say.
"Don't mind them!" she told me and sidled up close to me. She said breathily as she slipped her phone number into my hand, "I need to get back to work, but if you need to talk, or just have a friend, call me, okay?"
Damn! I'd let her get that one out. She was good. I pushed the scrap of paper into my pocket and looked grateful. "Thank you, I appreciate that... a lot."
She smiled, satisfied that she had scored, and went away to check on the drunk. I saw the other man looking at me out of the corner of my eye as I finished my drink, paid my tab, and took a slow walk out of the place.
I didn't turn to look, to see if I was followed. I kept walking back to the laundry. I waited until I passed a food vendor. I smiled at the blonde, young man tending the counter. He was one of a half dozen kids of the owner and, if he wasn't my friend, he was at least not my enemy. I thought I could trust him enough to ask, as he handed me a soda and a piece of wrapped fried, "Is there a man behind me; medium height, late middle age, dark hair, glasses, cream polo shirt, light blue pants-"
"With leather dress shoes, a designer watch, and a glock?" he asked, not looking.
"Glock?" I wondered with a start.
"He has a holster under one arm. You can see the outline, " he replied with an innocent smile."His eyes are on you and I can tell he's a killer. Better run, scrapman."
I snorted as I motioned at myself with my food. "This scrapman, don't run from nobody, got that?"
"Your funeral," the boy replied, looking at me as if I were a nut.
I grunted and turned away. I walked even slower; looking in the stalls lining the row and talking to a few people I knew. The girls called out to me. I smiled and only played the game briefly. One told me I was no fun since I landed a boyfriend. How true that was, I thought, though I wasn't going to get into some of the better aspects of the relationship with her.
I finished my food, and collected my finished clothes from the laundry. Shoving them into my duffel without folding them, I slung it over one shoulder and trudged back to my lot. There was a stretch that would be empty of people, that would leave me vulnerable, right before I reached my gate. When I looked back at last, right before I reached that point and passed beyond the bustle of the market, I found my tail gone. I blinked, formed a few theories that I didn't like, and then swore, realizing that my relaxing time had been ruined by my mystery man.
I made a decision right then and there. I backtracked to the market, made some purchases, and then returned to my lot. Wu Fei and Heero were working side by side, almost done with a pile of scrap. I put away my laundry and supplies, put on my hat, and joined them. Wu Fei said something about my lateness, but I was too lost in thought to get into it.
At the end of the day, I went to my shack without a word. If Wu Fei wanted another late night session with the books, I didn't give him the chance to suggest it. I left while they were still stacking the last of the scrap. Sitting on my bed, the vents wide open and my supplies next to me. I sipped on a cold drink and waited.
I didn't have to wait long. Heero knocked, I called for him to come in, and he came to sit beside me on the bed. "Did something happen?" he asked. "You were so quiet."
"Heero," I asked, almost angrily. "Are there Preventer agents in the market?"
Heero looked guilty and he had trouble meeting my eyes. "Yes," he admitted quietly.
"Why?" I demanded. "One of them was tailing me today."
"They wanted us to have backup," Heero told me. "This situation is unconventional. It's making headquarters nervous. They want to make certain there are no mistakes."
"I wasn't the only one who noticed," I growled angrily. "They can blow our cover just by being here!"
Heero nodded. "I told them that, but I was over ruled."
"By Wu Fei?" I sneered.
"He was convincing when he suggested the surveillance," Heero admitted.
I was quiet, wondering if one of these mistakes, one of these over zealous idiot Preventers, was going to get me killed. I searched Heero's face, wanting to blame him, wanting to chew the hell out of someone's ass... but I knew it wasn't Heero. I knew he shouldn't get that kind of treatment from me. I was just damned tired of it all and I wanted something good to come out of the day. Being angry and playing the blame game could wait for when I faced Wu Fei in the morning.
I dumped the contents of my bag on the bed between us. Candy, small cakes, and soda containers filled the bed. Heero's eyes lit up, just as I knew they would.
"I bet Wu Fei isn't letting you indulge yourself, am I right?" I told him. "You're probably eating tofu and rice balls."
"Close," he replied with a grimace and then smiled.
Heero's dark eyes asked a question. I answered by tilting my chin, just a hair's breath, to the right. He kissed me. After everything that had happened that day, I suppose it sounds stupid to say that such a simple contact could make it all better... but it did. He leaned into the kiss and I found myself flat on my back. Among pixie sticks and cream cakes, we made slow , but satisfying love to one another. It was hot, but... well, loving, at the same time. We didn't go 'all the way' but that didn't matter. His mouth was a warmth sheath on me and his hands were sure and arousing as they explored and made me moan. I gave as good as I got and the taste of him coming on my tongue, the sound of him groaning in climax, the feel of him pulsing and heated in my arms, washed away stress and worry. How easily that man had become my world. What else could you call it when nothing else mattered when we were together, when I felt so together and whole? It didn't even sound sappy when I nuzzled his neck and said, "Love you."
His sigh was relieved and happy. I rose above him and poured some of the snacks onto his chest. "You squished them, you eat them."
"That is your butt mark, I'm sure of it," he told me with fake seriousness as he held up a squished ho ho.
I looked put upon and took it from him. "I'll guess we'll share then."
As I opened the wrapper, I caught him looking at me with a depth of feeling that was almost overwhelming. He said, with passion, "I love you, too."
I stared back. We both blushed in the next instant. It was something we wanted to say, yeah, but what the hell do you do after you say something like that? We'd already had the sex. "If you loved me," my flippant side was suddenly in control and saying, "You'll eat this butt squished ho ho and give me the good one."
Heero's mouth opened and I shoved it in. Seeing Heero with a mouth stuffed
with ho ho made me nearly die laughing, but he took it good-naturedly and managed
to chew and swallow the thing without choking to death. The awkward moment passed
and we regained safe ground again. One day, we were going to figure out how
to do the romantic stuff, but today wasn't it.
on to Chapter 19
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