Lawless Hearts

Part 5:By The Numbers
by Kracken


Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warning:Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence, grittiness, tax man stuff...

Lawless Hearts

By the Numbers

"A friend of yours?" Heero asked me in a tone of voice that let me know that he knew exactly what was going on.

"I don't think he's anyone's friend, well, maybe the rats," I growled.

"Mr. Maxwell," the man greeted me as we stepped onto the porch. "Harold Kimmins, agent for L2 Internal Revenue."

Heero went passed me to open the door and go inside. I watched him put his supplies on my empty desk and that drove home the helplessness of my situation. Laptop; gone. Accounts; gone. Hilde's careful inventory; gone. I'd never flinched, even when faced with a troop of mobile dolls, but this scrawny, little man, with his undertaker's smile, had me shaking in my boots. Forget about me taking down the business, this man could kill it with one stroke of his pencil.

Heero came back out and, hands in pockets, he took up a position beside me as if he were my right hand man. It was comforting, and I wasn't sure why. There wasn't anything he could do to get me out of the mess that I knew was about to descend on Maxwell's scrap yard.

The scrubbers lowered. Kimmins and I stood, poised, used to the distraction, knowing that we had to wait until it was over to continue. Heero fidgeted. The dust made him cough. Kimmins and I had already raised scarfs to block our noses and mouths. The metallic sounds of old machinery in motion ceased. The moving air fell dead and the dirt began it's slow drift back to 'earth'.

Kimmins said, as if there hadn't been any interruption. "We, at the Service, have some questions to ask you after looking at your last tax payment, Mr. Maxwell." He patted the leather case he was holding. "If you could clear up some discrepancies, we would very much appreciate it."

"Discrepancies?" I was stalling. I knew exactly what he was talking about. My mind was going around in circles though, trying to find my way out of the closing jaws of a trap made out of my own creative accounting.

The man nodded to the yard. "You have some equipment that wasn't described in your list of assets and several of your employees have filed for unemployment compensation. There wasn't any mention of employees on your latest return."

The man smiled. Sharks must smile like that, right before they tear into their prey and eat them whole. He knew he had me. He wasn't asking questions because he was confused, he was asking me because he wanted me to break down and admit my errors were on purpose. Duo Maxwell, didn't break under Oz torture, and I certainly wasn't going to go down blubbering in front of this guy. I started to reply, but Heero's hand suddenly closed on my arm. It hurt. It told me how much he wanted me to shut the hell up. I glared at him, but he was ignoring me now, motioning Kimmins inside the shack.

"Let's go sit down, sir," Heero said, but Kimmins didn't think much of my shack. He looked uncomfortable, ready to balk. Heero didn't give him the chance. He all but herded Kimmins inside and pulled up a chair at the desk for him.

"I am limited on time," Kimmins said, meaning he didn't want to stay long for fear he might contract something from my dump.

"This won't take long," Heero assured him. He took off his hat and ran a hand through his dark hair as he explained, "Duo Maxwell recently lost his accountant and was forced to do the returns himself to make the deadline. He was completely unaware of the equipment that his accountant mistakenly didn't add to her report. As for the employees, they didn't work for Mr. Maxwell, but were squatting on his property. Since they were indigents, Mr. Maxwell didn't have the heart to evict them. If we may have an extension form, and a form to correct the return, I'm certain Mr. Maxwell can have it completed in a timely fashion and pay any amount due in monthly payments."

Kimmins frowned. "Payments, sir?"

I felt like a third wheel, a spectator, a fly on the wall, but I wasn't about to break in while Heero was obviously saving my ass. I backed up into a corner and just let him have his room.

"Mr. Maxwell was robbed. Many of his assets and records were stolen," Heero explained. "It will take time for him to reconstruct those records and recover from the monetary loss. I believe that there is a program for hard luck cases to make payments until their tax bill is paid?"

Kimmins looked very unhappy. "There is.... but there will be penalties, sir."

"Of course," Heero replied.

"Hmmm..." Kimmins frowned. He didn't want to help me. He wanted the kill, the taste of taxpayer blood, but he couldn't refute what Heero was saying. With an exasperated sound, he began pulling forms from his case. Heero took them, checked them over to make sure they were the proper ones, and then thanked Kimmins. Kimmins looked Heero over, thinking, 'scrap man' , but he asked instead, dubiously, "Will you be doing Mr. Maxwell's accounts now?"

"No," Heero replied. "Mr. Maxwell will be retaining an accountant from now on."

"Good," Kimmins grumbled as he closed his case and stood up. He dusted at his impeccably tailored suit with flicking fingers as he made his way to the door. "You won't get another chance to get it right, I warn you."

"Understood," Heero replied.

Kimmins left and I closed the door behind him. I watched him leave the lot through a murky window before turning to Heero. I was extremely embarrassed. "Hilde used to do all the paperwork," I said, rubbing the back of my neck nervously. "I don't have much talent for it."

I expected Heero to ride me over it, to demand explanations, but, instead, he picked up his supplies. I noticed that he left one bag behind. I began picking it up, thinking that he wanted me to help him, but he shook his head.

"That's for you," Heero told me and then, knowing I needed to hear it, he added, "You can pay me back later."

That helped, like someone taking a few grains of sand from a mountain, the mountain of embarrassment and helplessness that was currently crushing me. I couldn't look at him as I opened the door and followed him outside. The silence between us, as we walked to the back of the lot, was full of what I imagined he was thinking. I couldn't help but try to explain, not taking him up on his silent offer to forget it.

"I'm good at dealing," I said. "I'm good with mechanics, with fixing this garbage and getting someone to buy it, but I'm not good at paperwork, at the inventory, at keeping all of this scrap straight. Hilde was good at that, real good."

"It doesn't take talent," Heero replied as if he were amused, damn him. "It takes education. I... I had a few problems of my own when I was fresh out of the war and trying to find my place."

My eyes went wide. "You did?" I put two and two together. "You knew about all of that back there because you went through it too?"

Heero nodded. For once, I kept my big mouth shut and gave him the same courtesy that he had given me. I didn't ask and I didn't condemn. "I learned," he offered, "To not do it myself. There are experts that deal with that."

I grimaced. "In case you didn't notice, Heero, I'm kind of short on credits."

"Not for long," he told me. "Working together, I think we can make more of this machinery run and saleable."

That had been a problem with Hilde. She could fly and operate a suit, but actually fixing them, or anything else, had been out of her expertise. It had seemed like a good partnership, I fixed and she did the paperwork. Unfortunately, as Heero had pointed out, I could fix things and prepare scrap for sale, by myself, only so quickly. You couldn't get credits if you didn't have anything for sale.

We reached the shack at the back of the lot, Heero silent and me with possibilities whirling in my head. That stopped when we opened the door and a smell wafted out that was indescribable. There were three cots lined up along the walls. The floor between them was littered with filth. Pee and vomit mingled with rotten food. I backed up from the door and put my scarf over my nose.

"Shit!" I exclaimed.

"Probably," Heero replied, dead pan, but he was looking as disgusted as I was.

I plucked at his tank top. "Come on. You are NOT staying here."

Heero frowned and ignored my attempt to make him come away. "It has to be cleaned, regardless of whether I stay here or not."

"I could just burn it," I protested.

Heero grunted. "Too many fines."

"You can't be serious," I protested again, when I saw that set, stubborn look on his face, the one he wore when he was determined to accomplish something even if he died doing it.

"I'll need to stay with you a few nights until I have it cleaned," Heero told me and it was a question.

I mentally stepped on the part of me that jumped like a freakin, over excited, kid and refrained from shouting, 'Yahoo!' It wasn't a date. It wasn't an offer of anything other than a platonic 'sleep over'. Get real, Maxwell, I told myself sternly. Heero was going to be uncomfortable enough sleeping close quarters with a gay man, let alone a gay man who was drooling all over him... well, not drooling... more like longing... strike that... wanting.... hoping... Okay, there wasn't a good way to say that I had just kissed heaven and couldn't help peeking at a very big dream, one that I had tucked away since the war. It had been ready and waiting for just this incredibly impossible moment.

He's not gay, he's not gay, he's not gay. I said it at least five times to myself before I was able to grin at Heero and say with some control, "Okay, you bunk on my futon, but I'm helping you hose this place out. It is mine, after all."

Heero replied, "Help would be appreciated."

"Good." I plucked at his tank top again, "Now let's get the hell away from here before I add to the decor."

Heero laughed and we walked back towards my shack. I looked sideways at him and said, "I don't remember you ever laughing, well, except in that really evil way you had during the war."

"Evil?" Heero smirked. "I think I was attempting to sound mature."

I laughed then, too. "Mature? It was pretty damned psychotic sounding, Heero."

The ground suddenly started to shake. I crouched, hands braced flat on the ground. Heero looked at a loss. I jerked on his pants as he swayed and then he followed my lead, crouching as well. The shaking grew stronger and a low groan of a stressed machine echoed everywhere. Some of my scrap tumbled from their piles, metallic clangs adding to the noise. When the shaking ceased, I slowly straightened along with Heero and continued walking.

"What was that?" Heero asked in trepidation, his eyes raking the station walls all around us. Maybe he was imaging a breech.

"Nobody knows what causes that," I told him. "It happens once in awhile, not too often. Maybe it has to do with the rotation of the station, or the moisture collectors, or the scrubbers, or the pipes underground... or- well, it only happens on this end of the station, so, of course, no one's been out to fix... whatever it is."

Heero grunted. "Meaning, no one has died yet, so it's okay?"

"Right," I replied brightly. "You kind of have to have faith that it all holds together, Heero, or you'll go crazy real quick."

We reached my shack and went inside. It was air conditioned, but only a few degrees cooler than outside. It was much better to turn on the overhead fans and open the venting traps in the floor that lead to cooler temperatures far below us. It saved on the cost of energy. Heero watched me open them up and lean over one to catch the updraft of cool air.

"Doesn't that vent gasses from below too?" Heero wondered with a frown.

I lifted a finger and wagged it at him, "Try not to think about stuff like that Heero. The average person on the bad side of L2 lives to be seventy five and most people breathe the dirt and the vent gases. Maybe it is bad, but not too bad. A person gets a rawer deal from radiation on freighter ships."

Cooler, I tossed my hat onto the desk and carried my bag into my room. Heero followed. Putting the packages on the floor, we sorted through them. Meal packs were self heating, we stacked them in a low cupboard. Drinks were sealed and had cold tabs or heat tabs, depending on how you wanted it. They went in the cupboard as well. It was the real food that needed the small refrigerator. Screwed to the floor because of the infrequent shakes, my three thieves hadn't been able to steal it. We shoved in some vegetables, some meat packs, and, wonder of wonder, junk food, including a six pack of soda. I grinned at Heero.

"I took you for someone who eats healthy," I told him.

Heero shrugged. "My trainers didn't allow junk food and I was afraid it would impair my efficiency during the war. Now, I don't have to worry about that." He blushed. I stared and grinned wider.

"Trying to capture some of that lost youth, right?" I asked knowingly.

He looked at me, those blue eyes almost pained and apologetic. He actually felt guilty for wanting to turn back the wheels of time that had run roughshod over our lives.

I pulled out a soda and tossed him one. Getting one for myself, I popped off the top and took a swig as I sat cross legged on the bed. "Look, Heero, there's nothing wrong with that. We're still young. Maybe we have to make our way in the big universe, but we can still have some fun and act like kids once in awhile too. We can drink soda and eat..." I looked at the cookies and chips, "stuff that is absolutely no good for us."

Heero fiddled with his bottle. "The training has been very hard to overcome... and people gave up their lives to make me what I am. I feel-"

I cut that off, "Made you what you WERE, buddy," I corrected him. "Now you're just Heero Yuy, Preventer agent. A young guy with one hell of a junk food tooth."

He blushed again and took a drink of his soda to cover the uncomfortable moment. I really needed to break through that embarrassment, I felt. I could see that he was blowing his 'dietary lapse' way out of proportion. I gave me a window into the man sitting next to me. He was still a soldier deep down, still worried about staying in top condition, still thinking, maybe, that he was just a weapon for peace and didn't deserve the new lease on a normal life that he had been handed. Yeah that was reading a lot into a few bags of chips and some sugary junk food, but I had never blushed in shame over a twinkie.

"I think that's a lot better than the alternatives," I told him, leaning back so that I was supported by the wall. "I did some drinking and smoking... tobacco and some stuff I thought would make me forget a lot of things." I was the one who was blushing and looking ashamed now, but I had more of a damned reason. "It wasn't for long, though. Quatre caught me and ran me through rehab and some sessions with a psychologist. Hilde came to my rescue after that and we set up business. I've been clean since then. I was just damned stupid and... overwhelmed. So, you see, I'd rather be addicted to some potato chips than the harder stuff."

"I'm sorry," Heero said and he sounded very sympathetic, almost sad. "You made a life and we came crashing in and turned it upside down."

Oh, yeah, I forgot... I'd been going out of business when that happened. My 'new life' hadn't been going that well. Heero and Wu Fei's sting had actually been a nice distraction from that, a way to escape it, despite the way they had treated me. I'd been talking as if my life had been a success story, screwed up Maxwell gets shit together and has perfect life. That had been true in the beginning. It wasn't true now.

Dr. G told me once, that life is full of opportunities, a person just had to stick his hand out and grab them. I had unintentionally grabbed a handful of thorns and I wasn't eager to grab again. I had to, though. You didn't survive, you didn't make it, by hesitating, by being chicken. I had to take this ride to the end, I thought, and then jump off when it died. Hopefully, there would be another ride after that and I would be ready to take it.

"Honey stick?" Heero offered and held out a slim tube of amber, sugared, honey.

I looked at him as I took the tube and he smiled. He knew what I was thinking, I was sure of it, though I don't know why I was. I was thoroughly convinced, somehow, that he knew all my troubles and that he was not only sympathetic, but 'there' for me. So much I could read into a simple offer of junk food. I wanted to make fun of myself, call myself some choice names, 'sucker' and 'dreamer' being two of them, but, you know, I didn't.... because I didn't really want to, just then. It felt too good believing that Heero was caring about me.

"Thanks, " I said, meaning a lot with that one word. He nodded and we both sat back and reverted back to childhood as we sucked on our honey sticks.



on to Chapter 6

Back to chapter 4

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