Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, violent, language, NCS flashbacks.
Sitting in the back seat of Wu Fei's car, Duo fiddled with the badges of his uniform, looking at them for the thousandth time and straightening them nervously. When he became aware of Heero, sitting in the car seat beside him, looking at him covertly, he grumbled, "I'll be fine. Everyone is nervous on their first day, Heero!"
Wu Fei, driving in the front seat, glanced in his rear view mirror and gave them both a look. It was the expression of a man who thought that a bad mistake was being made. "I would like silence as I drive," he said, but sounded as if he knew he wouldn't get it. "I wouldn't want Soda to become alarmed." His eyes flicked to where the big dog was secured with a safety strap in the seat next to him. The dog was watching him alertly. "Maxwell," Wu Fei pleaded. "If you could tell Soda that I'm safe..."
"Your nervousness could escalate once we reach the Preventer building," Heero said to Duo, ignoring Wu Fei.
"It will," Duo admitted, "but that's 'normal', Heero."
Heero fretted. "I think you should really consider staying in your office for the first few days. I think Sally will agree."
Duo didn't reply. He leaned against the door of the car, eyes watching something outside of the window. Heero sighed. "I'll take a cab home," Duo said at last when the silence had stretched very long. "I can't do my job if you're going to try and isolate me."
"Duo, be reasonable," Heero began, but Duo cut him off furiously.
"Why should I when you aren't?" Duo demanded. He crossed his arms over his chest tightly and sank down into his seat, his stare out the window turning into a hard glare. "If I don't do my job, if I can't be around people without losing it, then Sally will fire me. It's as simple as that, Heero."
"As simple as that?" Wu Fei snorted. Soda perked ears at the noise. Wu Fei anxiously asked again, "Duo, Soda seems very nervous. If you could tell him-"
"Soda, Green," Duo muttered distractedly.
The dog settled into his seat and looked out the window, unconsciously mimicking his master. Wu Fei stifled a sigh of relief. "Surely you can see that caution is called for?" Wu Fei asked. "Surely you can agree that you might be dangerous? I know that you left all of your weapons at home, but your body is a weapon too. Coupled with Soda, you are lethal, Duo. You know that. Perhaps you are disregarding Heero as being overly protective, but you know that I don't over react or underestimate situations. Your lack of patience is legendary, Duo, and I know that you would rather know how things stand immediately, but, for everyone's safety, please listen to what Heero is saying to you."
"I am listening!" Duo protested and glared at Heero and Wu Fei. "Please give me some credit for intelligence! I don't want to keep having this same argument! I know my own limits. I know when to get out of a situation when I begin to feel uneasy and not leave it until I panic. That's one of the things that I was taught at the institute. I spent a year there, guys! I wasn't just making potholders and tea trays!"
Both Wu Fei and Heero looked suddenly uncomfortable. Duo grimaced. "Nobody likes to talk about it, I know. You mention it, Heero, but you never ask me about my time there. I had three psychologists assigned to me, a guard, and five sessions a day of therapy. I didn't waste my time there and it all wasn't about me trying to kill myself at the End of the War party. That was just the tip of the iceberg."
"Sorry," Heero said softly and took hold of Duo's braid. He rubbed the end between his fingers and then brought it up to kiss. "I haven't asked about it because I thought it would be very personal to you and... and it was a very painful time for me. I was uncertain when, or if, I would ever see you again. You refused my visits after a month... I worried... Being without you, and not knowing if I would ever see you again... I just wanted to forget all of that after you came back to me."
Duo followed the length of his braid to Heero's hand. He closed his own over it and Heero looked into his amethyst eyes. "I told you that I was a basket case. I didn't want you to see me like that. It was bad, Heero. I know there are things that I never want to tell you about that time, but some things, like the fact that I can police myself, you need to not only know about, but have confidence in." Duo smiled weakly. "The proof is the pudding, though, so let me have some slack and let me show you what I can do."
Heero nodded, even though Duo could still see some hesitation. "All right. What else can I say? If I don't agree with you, I'll come home and find that you've locked yourself in the kennel again."
"What?" Wu Fei said, startled and then sighed. "Things are going to get interesting, it seems."
Duo grinned. "Aw, Wuffie! What did you do for two years without me to liven things up?"
"Treasured my peace and quiet," Wu Fei grumbled. "And don't call me, 'Wuffie'! It was demeaning in the war and it's not any better now. I'm also your superior, let me remind you, and so is Heero. You're to address us both as 'sir' while you are in Preventer headquarters."
Duo quirked an eyebrow in irritation, but Heero smirked. "That might be nice, having you be respectful."
Duo gave him a sideways look that spoke volumes. "Remember, hot shot," he said, "you still have to go home with me.... maybe."
Heero took the hint and sat back in his seat, echoing Wu Fei's earlier sigh. It was going to be a long day.
When they pulled into the Preventer headquarters parking garage and parked, Wu Fei scanned the area quickly and was glad that there weren't many people moving around yet. "Duo, why doesn't Soda have any dog tags?" he asked, suddenly imagining the German Shepherd running amok. "He only has his red service collar. If he should run away or get separated from you in a crowd-"
Wu Fei was leaning over the seat to look at Duo in exasperation. He caught Heero's swift shake of the head, but Duo was already answering. "I don't like dog tags, or collars if you want to get right down to it," he replied icily. "I inscribed Soda's Id numbers on one side of his collar. That's as far as I'll go."
Duo opened the car door and climbed out. He opened Soda's door, untethered the dog, and then stepped a few feet away from the car. Wu Fei looked at Duo's tense, pale face in confusion and then asked Heero nervously, "What now? What did I say wrong?"
"They put a collar and dog tags on him when he was a child," Heero explained tightly and looked pained. "That was not a good way to start the day, Wu Fei, stirring up memories like that."
Wu Fei looked contrite. "I- I never know what to say to him, Heero! That's why I never come over to your home. It's as if it's filled with land mines waiting for me to take a wrong step."
"I know that," Heero replied as he opened his own door. "I only know where half of the mines are myself, Chang. Don't worry about it. Let's go calm Duo down."
"I'm all right," Duo said as they joined him. He shrugged off Heero's comforting hand. "I'm a big boy, Heero. I can handle a few bad memories." As they entered the elevator, he said aside to Wu Fei, "Sorry. I didn't mean to be sensitive. There wasn't anything wrong with what you asked me. I guess... I guess I'm going to have to get tags for Soda if we're going to be in strange places more often."
Wu Fei only nodded, not wanting to say anything else wrong.
As the doors opened, and they stepped into a hallway teaming with Preventers, Duo froze and tensed. Heero said, "Got your back, Duo."
Duo glanced at his lover and smiled, relaxing some. He had Heero and he had Soda. A little less trusted, but still a comfort, was Wu Fei as well. He could do this, Duo thought. It was a mission and his mind knew how to block out his fears when he put it in that context.
"Sally's office is that way." Wu Fei motioned down the hallway, but he didn't follow as Heero led Duo in that direction. He said, "I'll wait in our office, Heero. We still have that Penski case to mop up."
Heero only nodded, his thoughts with Duo. As they left Wu Fei behind, Duo said pensively. "I didn't realize that you and Wu Fei worked so closely together."
Heero raised an eyebrow. "He is my partner. What did you think we did?"
Duo shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I never really thought about it. You went to work. I stayed home and wished that I could go too. I never wondered about what you did all day long."
Heero snorted. "Perhaps it is good that you're getting out of the house, then. You may have been becoming too self-absorbed."
Duo frowned. "You mean, 'self-centered'?"
Heero chuckled. "Well, at least you'll know what I have to go through after a long hard day when you call up and ask me to pick up dinner and my uniforms from the dry cleaner."
Duo felt the sting of that. "I guess I didn't think too much about that either. Pretty insensitive of me, wasn't it? After spending a day shooting bad guys and risking your life, being asked to run errands is kind of insulting."
"Forget about it, Duo," Heero said more seriously. "I was only joking. You know that I love you and that I understand."
Duo sighed. "Well, you can forgive me, but I'll be hard on myself, okay? Things are changing for the better. Duo Maxwell did NOT make a good housewife."
"I liked coming home to you," Heero said softly. "A lot of men can't say that about their companions."
That made Duo think. "Speaking of which... how does everyone here feel about you having a guy at home? Do you think anyone's going to get ugly with me?"
Heero chuckled and it was dark sounding as he turned to a door with an official name plate and put his hand on the knob. "With our reputations, do you really think that anyone would SAY anything or pick a fight if they did have a problem with our relationship, Duo?"
Duo laughed, feeling more confident. "No, guess you're right. Sometimes, a rep. is a good thing."
They entered Sally Po's office. Sally was speaking rapidly on a vid phone, leaning back in a leather chair and cupping a steaming cup of coffee between her hands. Her blonde hair, in two neat pony tails, and her crisp Officer uniform, made her seem both approachable and commanding. There were two chairs, but she didn't motion them to sit and Heero didn't make a move to do so without that permission. Duo took the hint and stood as well, waiting for Sally to end her conversation.
Soda eyed Sally, ears pricked forward alertly as he tried to discern if her quarreling tone was directed at Duo. Satisfied that it was directed at the inanimate object in front of her, he sat at Duo's feet, alert still, but relaxing his aggressive stance.
Sally ended her conversation, turned off her vid screen and then sat forward in her chair with her hands clasped on top of her desk. Her eyes swept Duo up and down and then she looked at Heero.
"Good morning, Heero. You can leave us now," Sally said confidently.
Heero looked surprised. "I thought-"
"You have other duties," Sally stressed. "I will assign a person in Duo's division who will make sure he finds his station."
"But..." Heero looked from Sally to Duo in trepidation and then he said, "Duo, will you be all right?"
Duo felt embarrassed. "Yeah, I'll be fine, Heero. Have a good day. See you at lunch."
"All right..." Heero hesitated again, met Sally's frown, and then left reluctantly. He purposefully didn't close the door behind him. He knew how much that would comfort Duo if he was nervous.
Duo sighed and faced Sally with a small smile. "Sorry about him, Ma'am. I really am all right. Please don't treat me any differently than you would another Preventer."
Sally touched something on her vid screen and then sat back in her chair. "I don't intend to treat you any differently, Maxwell. I'm allowing the dog because you have papers to the effect that you are handicapped without him, but if he so much as takes a nip out of anyone, for what ever reason, I'll ask for your badge. Understood?" When Duo nodded, she continued, "The same goes for you. Step out of line, lift a hand against anyone, and I'll not only have your badge, I'll bring formal charges against you. Do you understand that?"
Duo nodded again, wide eyed. Sally's gruff, no nonsense tone was reassuring. She wasn't afraid of him. She wasn't going to let him get away with anything. She was going to control the situation and keep Duo and everyone else safe. Duo appreciated that.
Sally steepled her fingers. "I respected you during the war. I was in awe of your abilities. I think it's a waste if you're not allowed to use those abilities now. I'm giving you a chance to prove that you can be stable, that you can follow rules, and that you can follow the law. Paperwork and research is just a trial. If none of my people end up in the hospital at the end of your probation period, we might discuss a more active position in the Preventers for you."
Duo felt a glow of pleasure. He grinned, trying to control himself and stay serious. "Thank you... you don't know what that means to me."
"I do know," Sally replied. "I felt the same way after the war; at loose ends and not fulfilled. You deserve a chance as much as I did."
The door opened and a very petite woman came into the room wearing a uniform. She gave a nod to Sally and then smiled impishly at Duo. Duo looked down at her, puzzled by her presence. Dark haired, she had a long braid like he did, and her eyes were a bright blue. A spray of freckles and wide lips gave her a perpetual look of mischief.
"This is Kit Harkin," Sally introduced. "She's assistant to the head of records and research and in training for field assignments. She'll show you the ropes."
"Hiya!" Kit said cheerily. She looked down at Soda. "Sally's told me everything about you, so I know what to expect. I don't know his name though. He's a beauty."
"Don't touch," Duo warned softly as she reached out a hand.
"Would he bite?" Kit wondered and exchanged a look with Sally.
Duo was quick to reassure them both, "No, he only attacks on command. He isn't a pet though and I try to keep contact with other people to a minimum. He has to keep focused on me."
"Understood," Kit said, serious. "Does he have a name?"
"Soda," Duo replied and then blushed as Kit raised eyebrows. "He liked soda pop when he was a puppy and chewed his way into a six pack one day."
"Cute," Kit chuckled. "Okay, well, let's get out of Ms. Po's hair and start our day, shall we?"
"I'm ready," Duo assured her.
Kit smiled and motioned him to follow as she lead the way from Sally's office. "We get to work in the dungeon," Kit explained. "You'll get a cubicle, a computer, and an in box you will not believe! Daylight and free time will be sweet memories. If you have a girlfriend, I suggest you have a long talk with her. Some women, strangely, don't like their men working at all hours and bringing their work home on top of that."
"No girlfriend," Duo replied absently as he watched the crowds of men and women pass him by. Kit didn't pursue that. She saw his nervousness and hurried their steps to an elevator. Taking it downwards, Duo saw that they were going to the basement. Kit's tag of 'dungeon' was at least geographically correct. They were going far below Preventer headquarters.
"Nice hair," Kit said, making small talk as she lounged against the far wall of the elevator, keeping a healthy distance between herself and Duo.
"Yes, it is," Duo agreed, trying to keep his thoughts calm and centered in the cramped space.
"I saw you on the vid news a few times," she blushed and chuckled. "I used to think that you were a girl."
Duo grimaced. "Thanks a lot!"
She laughed outright. "Oh, you don't LOOK like one, certainly. It was just the hair and the vid reels of you weren't very close or clear."
The doors opened and they stepped out into a very large space. The lack of windows and the bright, over head lights, reflecting on white walls and a multitude of white cubicles, made everything look cold and sterile. There was a faint smell... antiseptic. It reminded Duo of the Institute.
"This way," Kit said and lead Duo through a confusing maze. People were typing hurriedly on keyboards and shuffling papers at every cubicle. Some leaned over the walls and talked to companions, while others talked to vid screens.
Kit came to an empty cubicle. The computer was on, there was a tray full of papers and disks, and sticky notes were pasted to a white note board. Kit made a face as she motioned Duo to have a seat. "They don't lose any time! Looks like you have work already." She quirked an eyebrow at him. "You know what to do, right? Sally told me that you have been working this job at home."
"Yellow," Duo said to Soda and the dog settled at his feet. Duo smiled at Kit. "I'll be fine, thanks."
"Everyone has been told to give you some space," she assured him. "I'm leaving you alone, but don't get nervous. If you need my help, or just need me to hang out with you if you get a bit overwhelmed, just give me a buzz." She pointed to a caution orange sticky note. "That's my vid number. All right?"
Duo took a deep breath and then let it out. He nodded to her as he scooted his chair closer to the computer. "Thanks, Kit. I'll be all right. You don't have to worry."
Kit laughed. "Oh, I will, Maxwell! That's my job!"
Duo watched her go with a puzzled smile and then he turned and reassured himself of his surroundings. He heard men talking not far off. He didn't like not being able to see them. There was enough room in the cubicle to turn his chair so that his back was against one wall and he was able to face the opening. He repositioned the computer and then, taking a deep breath and trusting Soda to be alert, Duo reached for his first folder of work.
"Hiya," Kit said softly, long before she turned the corner of the cubicle. Her impish face was curious as she looked at the much reduced in box and the full out box. "You did good!"
"They weren't too hard," Duo replied. "I think they're being easy on me today."
She chuckled, "Probably. Hungry?"
It was past lunch time, Duo saw as he glanced at his computer clock and felt a definite rumble of his stomach. He'd been too nervous to eat breakfast and now he was suffering acute hunger pains. He nodded emphatically. "Is there a cafeteria in the building?"
"Yeah, upstairs," Kit replied. "Wanna come with me?"
Duo hesitated. Heero hadn't called. Duo didn't want to bother the man if he was too busy for lunch. "Sure," he replied and stood up. His back cracked and his ass ached from sitting so long.
Kit laughed at his expression. "Learn to relax once in awhile and stretch," she told him. "This isn't slave labor. You do get breaks."
"I know, but I wanted to make a good impression," Duo replied as he followed her into the elevator with Soda at his heel.
"If you work a lot harder than you normally do, then you're just setting up false expectations," Kit said wisely. "You'll burn out trying to keep up a frantic pace like that."
Duo nodded. It made sense, but he was used to giving a hundred and ten percent along with his life. It was hard to consider going at a slower pace.
The cafeteria was large and mostly empty. Plastic chairs and tables were in disordered arrangements and attendants were cleaning up after the lunch time customers. Kit picked a table and saw a box of donuts there. "Hm," she said in appreciation. "Looks like someone had a meeting. They always put the leftovers in here for everyone else. Help yourself. What do you want for lunch? I'll go get it for you."
Duo squinted at the menu posted above the food station. It was cafeteria style. "Ham and cheese sandwich, lots of mayo, water for Soda, and a soda for me." He dug into his pocket and then handed her some credits.
Kit winked at him. "Back in a flash. Eat some donuts while I'm gone. You need to be less of a rail. Makes me look bad when I stand next to you."
Duo laughed. "Thanks."
"For calling you skinny?" She shrugged and sauntered off to the food counter.
Duo sat gingerly, looking around as he absently snagged a donut. There was one man hunched over his meal, eating it intently. Three women were chatting at a table too far away for him to make out what they were saying. The attendants were worrisome, but engrossed in their work. Duo kept an eye on them until Kit returned with their food.
They ate and talked. Kit was very engaging, explaining to Duo all the goings on of Preventer headquarters and what was expected of him. He nodded as he ate, memorizing everything that she said. He asked pointed questions and Kit seemed impressed by his intelligence.
"I think Sally made a good choice allowing you to join," she said at last. "I thought that she was getting soft, but I can see that you have some talents."
"What's this?" A deep voice growled. Soda came to his feet, ears pricked forward, and Duo felt every muscle in his body tense. He forced himself to slowly look up. The man who had been eating alone earlier was now standing very close to him and looking angry. "I thought you were too busy to eat today, Kit? You blowing me off for this long haired freak?"
Duo smiled tightly. "I'm Duo Maxwell," he said. "I'm new. Ms. Po assigned Kit to show me around."
The man looked Duo up and down with disgusted thoroughness. "Guess you weren't man enough to do anything, but push paperwork. You'll call me sir, boy. " He tapped his ID. It listed him as a field agent.
Duo throttled his angry response and replied dutifully, "Yes, sir. Sorry."
"You don't look sorry," The man snarled. "Maybe I should put you on report?"
Duo imagined doing all sorts of heinous things to the man standing over him and Soda was getting agitated, waiting for a command. "Yellow, Soda," Duo soothed. The dog looked up at him, astonished, but sat and stayed alert. "I'm sorry if I offended you," Duo forced from his lips. "It is my first day."
"Which is why I'll cut you some slack," the man growled.
Kit glared, but her voice was stiffly correct as she said, "I'll make certain to instruct him better in behavior, Agent Grange."
The man nodded, but then his eyes shifted and he looked very nervous. "Agent Yuy," he greeted.
Duo turned in relief and saw Heero standing almost at his elbow. Heero's face was like stone, but his eyes were sizing up the situation and not liking what he saw. "Agent Grange," he returned. "Is there trouble?"
"Just instructing the new guy in Preventer courtesy, sir," Grange replied.
"That's this woman's job, I believe, " Heero said sharply. "I'm sure that you have more pressing duties?"
Duo was enjoying watching Grange squirm. Kit's exclamation caught him off guard. "Duo! Did you eat ALL of those donuts?"
Everyone looked down at the empty box. Heero barked, "Bathroom, Duo, now!" but it was already too late.
The combination of lunch, donuts, and tension was too much for Duo's stomach. He bent over and threw up, right on Grange's shoes. The man swore and jumped back, but he didn't escape completely.
"You son of a bitch!" Grange swore and lifted a ham sized fist. Soda was there, standing between Duo and the angry man in a flash. He didn't growl or bare his teeth. He waited quietly for a command. His ill master finished retching and then hooked a hand into the dog's collar. Pale and sweating, Duo mumbled, "Yellow, Soda. Heel."
Duo climbed to his feet and found Heero there to help him. "Are you all right, Duo?"
Duo nodded, embarrassed and agitated. Grange was still threatening him, face red and eyes slitted, but Soda was holding him back, the dog doing his job admirably.
"Sorry, Agent Grange, " Duo said. "I'll clean your shoes up, okay?"
"Stay away from me," Grange replied, low and dangerous. He gave Heero a look, challenging something he saw in Heero's cold expression, but then stalked off, swearing under his breath.
"What the hell just happened?" Kit demanded. "You just made one hell of a bad impression on Agent Grange. He is not the kind of man you want to get on the bad side of, Duo! Why did you eat so much? Don't they feed you at home?"
"They didn't used to," Duo replied and saw her make quick, silent assumptions. "Agent Grange was picking a fight. I didn't start anything. I'm not going to either. "
Heero sighed. "Agent Grange is in charge of new field agents. He evaluates them for admission. He has to be tough, but not abusive. I'll have to talk to Po about him."
"I keep telling you that I'm a big boy, Heero," Duo said irritably. "I'll take care of it myself."
Duo sat down heavily, hands hanging between his knees. "I guess I blew it. I'm going to have to get used to paper work."
Heero frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Sally offered me a field job if I proved myself," Duo explained. He felt Heero's tension. Looking up at his lover, he saw Heero's expression. "You're glad." It wasn't a question.
Heero exchanged a look with Kit. Duo turned and saw a glint in her eyes. Something was definitely being said without words. Duo stood up and glared at them both. As he walked away with Soda at his heel, he said, "Nice to know that you all have such confidence in me. Guess puking on an agent's shoes a man's first day is proof positive he's a waste of space. I'm going back to work... unless you think I can't handle that job now?"
"No one said anything like that, Duo," Heero replied quickly. "I just don't think that a field job would be good for you. I think that the last thing that you need is to be thrust into violent situations again. I think your self control-"
"In case you hadn't noticed," Duo said, cutting Heero off as he stalked away, "Agent Grange may have ruined shoes, but he is ALIVE!"
Kit sighed and looked from the unhappy, frustrated Heero to the angry, retreating back of Duo and said, with a chuckle, "He's got a point."