Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language, NCS flashbacks.
"You two look like shit!" Wu Fei exclaimed as Heero and Duo climbed into the back of his car after securing Soda in the front seat. The dog was nervous and twitching ears and he lowered his voice nervously as he continued in shock, "Did you have a fight? Why do you have a black eye, Maxwell? Heero! You out weigh him and you're a trained Preventer. If you-"
Duo was amazed. "Are you worrying about me, Wu Fei?"
"I am a part of a police force," Wu Fei reminded him. "It's my job to ask questions if I see that laws might have been broken."
"Oh," Duo leaned back into his seat, disappointed as he gingerly touched the large bruise over his right eye. "Actually, we were up on the roof fixing a hole last night and we had an accident... well, a couple of accidents. Heero didn't intentionally hurt me. I was leaning down for a tool and he was turning around to get another one. His elbow connected with my eye. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?"
"I think tripping over your braid, and slamming a board into the back of my head, was worse," Heero growled as he gingerly touched a lump on the back of his head.
Duo scowled in outrage, "Oh, yeah? What about you hitting my hand when I was holding the patch in place while you hammered?" Duo held up a bruised hand indignantly. "You almost hit Mr. Hulitt's hand too!"
"It was dark!" Heero shot back. "How could I see anything in order to be careful?"
"Mr. Hulitt participated in this madness?" Wu Fei wondered in shock, but then he shook his head sharply and turned his attention to driving. "Never mind! I don't want to know anything more. Let's just get to work."
"Yeah," Duo sniped. "Let's get to a place where people actually know what they're doing."
Heero snarled, "I agree. I'm sure they never knocked over a ladder while everyone was still on the roof."
"We got down!" Duo shot back.
"Because we had ropes!" Heero retorted. "They were my idea, as I recall..."
They glared at one another for a long moment an then Duo burst out laughing. Heero smirked and then chuckled as well. He gently reached out and squeezed Duo's arm and whispered. "Love you, Little Baka."
"Love you, Baby," Duo responded, still laughing.
Wu Fei frowned and pretended to ignore them both, but a wistful expression flitted across his features before he schooled it into sternness.
After pulling into Preventer Headquarters, and climbing out of the car, Heero and Wu Fei were called over by a superior just arriving as well. "Don't get caught sleeping at your desk," Heero warned Duo, only half joking as he and Wu Fei walked away with the man.
Duo slung his bag to one shoulder and muttered under his breath a mocking echo of Heero's words. Once he was riding the elevator down to the basement, he sighed and then smiled as he reached down and scratched Soda's ear. When the dog looked up at him curiously, Duo whispered, "I wonder what you make of all that? We weren't REALLY fighting, you know? We were just letting off steam." The dog's only comment was to wag his tail.
Once Duo had settled into his cubicle, and turned on his computer, his bones began to tell him that adrenalin was going to run out soon and that they were really going to hurt then. Duo was ready for that. He fished a bottle of aspirin out of his pack, his mug that said, `Death is better than no coffee', and went in search of the coffee maker. After a few false starts, he found it crouching on a table against a wall without any obvious reason why it was in THAT particular location.
"Good!" a voice snarled. "Now I don't have to search this damn rat's maze for you!"
Duo jumped, his freshly poured coffee sloshing onto his already injured hand. He flapped it, biting his lip to keep from crying out in pain, as he turned defensively to see who was speaking. Soda, surprised as well, had growled a short, low warning. He quickly remembered his training, though, and fell silent, waiting tensely for Duo's signal as he kept his attention on the person who had managed to get so close to them. It was Grange.
"You're to report to the training rooms after lunch," Grange ordered as he held out a folder to Duo. "Fill out these forms and hand them in before you do. They're permission forms. They give me the right to give you intense training, maybe killing you in the process, to make you a Preventer agent. Sally ordered me to train you pronto. I'm going to tell you right now that I don't like it and I don't like you. If you sign on, I guarantee that I will grind you, like corn between two stones, in an intense effort to make you give it up. Got that? I'm going to make sure that you don't get your agent badge. I suggest that you take my advice; throw those permission forms in the trash and keep paper pushing."
Grange turned on his heel and left, not even waiting for Duo to respond. Duo watched him disappear around a cubicle and then he looked down at Soda, who was raising his hackles in distaste. "That was stupid," Duo chuckled. "He really thinks he has a chance against Shinigami. Well, we'll just have to show him, won't we?"
Later in the day, after eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Duo had packed for his lunch, he pulled a coin from his pocket and flipped it. "Tell Heero; tails. Don't tell Heero; heads." As Duo caught the coin and slapped it onto the back of his hand, he looked down at Soda. The dog was watching him as if in disapproval.
Duo said to the dog, as he took his hand away from the coin, "If I tell Heero, he'll get anxious and want to hover over me." Duo looked down and saw that the coin was facing tails up. He flipped it again. It still came up tails. Duo sighed in exasperation and purposefully turned the coin to heads. He looked apologetically at Soda, "Yeah, I know I'm cheating, and I know that I should tell Heero, but I get the feeling Grange is going to play rough on the first day. I wouldn't want Heero to lose his job by punching the man's lights out. I can handle it." Duo glared at the coin before putting it back into his pocket, "Would have been nice to get a little support in my decision though."
Soda whuffed in warning and cocked ears as Kit came from around a partition. It was obvious that she had heard the conversation. "Do you think Heero is going to accept, `the coin told me to do it.', as an excuse?"
"Nice," Duo grumbled in embarrassment. "My boss eavesdrops on me talking to my dog and taking orders from my pocket change. This can't be good."
Kit pointed to something Duo couldn't see on the other side of the partition. "I wasn't eavesdropping, I was getting coffee." She displayed her steaming mug. Her mug said in bold letters, `warrior princess of paperwork.'
Duo scowled. "There's a coffee maker right there? I searched all over for one earlier."
"The dangers of working in a rat's maze," she chuckled. "Ready for your first day of training? I'm supposed to show you the ropes so you won't have to play catch up with us newbies."
"Grange not going to personally destroy me today?" Duo asked acidly as he put all of his work in order and then shut off his computer.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kit wondered, puzzled.
"He doesn't like me," Duo replied shortly as he grabbed his bag and followed Kit to the elevator with Soda at his heel.
"He's an excellent trainer. He has to be tough. It's not personal, Duo," Kit replied as if Duo's words were unwelcome.
Duo had come up against tight knit groups of soldiers during the war and tighter `families' on the streets. You couldn't say a word against one without all of the group taking it personally. Duo knew that he wasn't going to get belief or sympathy from Kit, so he shrugged and kept the rest to himself.
The practice rooms were very large. There was a gun range, training equipment, a martial arts area with padded floors, and several groups of agent trainees waiting for instruction.
Grange approached. He was wearing tight, red spandex and a muscle shirt with a Preventer logo on the breast. He jerked his chin towards a group of men and women. "Take over there, Kit. I'll personally bring Maxwell up to speed."
Kit frowned uncertainly. "Sir?"
Grange gave her a hard look. "Are you questioning my orders? Maxwell is obviously a special case. He will require a trainer familiar with his abilities."
Kit nodded, understanding. She gave Duo an encouraging wink and then left him alone with Grange. Grange smiled tightly, worked his hands as if he were going to start punching Duo at once, and began to step close to Duo. He froze when Soda stepped in between and cocked ears at him.
Duo narrowed eyes at Grange. "He's trained to not allow unauthorized people close to me. He won't bite you unless I order it, he'll just stand in your way."
"Why?" Grange demanded, his face looking unpleasant.
"It's all on file. I am allowed to have Soda where ever I go," Duo replied defensively.
"Not here," Grange protested. "How are you going to train if no one is allowed close to you?"
"He does follow orders," Duo replied. "Soda. Green. Stay." He stepped around the immobile dog and faced Grange, even though every instinct told him that Grange was a danger to him.
Duo repeated the mantra that he had learned in the institute over and over again silently as he came within a hair's breath of Grange. He stared up at the big man. `I can protect myself. I don't need to prove it. I don't need to threaten. He isn't one of the people who hurt me. I am safe. I am safe. I can protect myself....' He felt himself tremble. He forced himself to stop.
"Let's start," Duo said.
Duo wasn't sure what Grange was thinking. The man studied him. He could see that Duo was afraid and it made Grange frown, maybe not having expected it. What had he expected? Duo had an idea; an arrogant, murdering, crazed Shinigami ready to slaughter trainee, trainer, and civilian alike. Finding himself confronted by a frightened young man who was still bravely attempting to go through with his training, and who looked very sober and not at all crazed, Grange was obviously reconsidering his preconceptions about Duo.
"You'll train with the dog," Grange said, suddenly coming to a decision. "If he has to be with you at all times, then you'll have to work as a team. He'll have to learn not to stand in the way when you confront people and situations in the line of duty. I want a detailed list of his training so that I know what to expect from him." He glared. "You're going to be under my thumb, Maxwell. You still have my tests to pass before you can have a badge. Like I said before, you'll have it worse than any other trainee because you have a hell of a lot more to prove to me and Sally Po."
Sally? Duo was startled and then he felt angry. He recalled Sally saying that there would be other tests. Grange was obviously working under her direction. She was going to test him hard, he guessed, in an attempt to find his breaking point. Duo had a traitor urge to walk away then and there. He wasn't sure what his breaking point was, how much he could take before the institute's lessons no longer worked. He was still afraid of large men and people who came too close to him. An inadvertent touch could make him cringe and think violent thoughts. He kept those thoughts under tight control, but how good was that control going to be when a big man like Grange trained him at close quarters?
Duo felt a sudden surge of resolve. He couldn't live his life being afraid of what might happen. If he never took the step, then failure was guaranteed. Duo didn't like failure of any kind or backing down from a challenge. He squared his chin and grinned with the light of Shinigami in his eyes. "I'm ready."
Grange was good. That was Duo's assessment after an hour of sparring. For a big man, he was light on his feet and his eyes never missed a trick. Duo found himself slipping into soldier mode. It was a cool, cold center of his being where fear never entered. When Grange gave him time to rest, he stood at ease, but his flat, clinical regard never left his `enemy'. He could tell it was unnerving Grange and he wondered if the man realized how close he was to death. Duo had been trained to kill, not to take prisoner, and not to disarm. Each time he closed in on Grange, he told the soldier within him he needed to interrogate, but that didn't guarantee that his soldier mode would interpret that as keeping a man alive `long term'.
"Enough!" Grange finally said. He grabbed a hand towel from the top of a stack of equipment and wiped his sweating face. His hand on the towel was trembling with exhaustion. "I think I have an idea what your fighting style is now."
"Do you?" Duo couldn't help replying. He really doubted that Grange understood what he was facing.
"You need to be trained to subdue opponents," Grange told Duo, sounding as if he thought the lack in Duo's training was criminal. "I could see that you were making the attempt, but that you didn't really have any idea of what you were trying to accomplish."
"You're alive," Duo replied pointedly.
Grange scowled and ignored his comment as he said, "You will be training with me. I will give you one week to learn and implement the restraining techniques that I will teach you. If you can't do that, I will eject you from the program."
Grange came suddenly very close. Soda stood up, but Duo's hand signal kept him in his place. Almost nose to nose, Grange glared down at Duo. He reached out and gripped the collar of Duo's uniform. Pulling him even closer, he said, not wanting anyone else to hear, "You're a killer and you don't care that you are. Your words and actions just proved that to me. I'm not going to let you slip up and kill one of my trainees or instructors. I'm not going to let you out on the street to kill a civilian. You get one chance to prove that you can control yourself. When you fail, and I think you will, I'll have my proof that you're unfit and it'll force Sally to get rid of you." He added, with a determined, riotous expression, "I'm going to do everything in my power to make you slip up."
"You already told me that." Duo replied, "I get it." He felt his body fight to respond to the threat, felt the darkness nipping at the corners of his mind as memory tried to bleed into the present. Big man, holding him, breathing into his face, eyes glaring with threat. He could almost feel hands pushing him down onto a dirty mattress, obscene lips slobbering on him, hands holding his arms as if he might fight. It was swelling up, ready to burst.
Duo panted and stepped back, pulling away from Grange with a jerk. "Soda. Heel," Duo said in a thick voice. When Soda pressed against his knee, he sunk a hand into his soft fur. The dog would protect him, Duo chanted to himself. He was safe. This wasn't the man who had hurt him. He didn't need to attack him. Soda felt his tension and became very alert. He stood between Duo and Grange, watching Grange and looking ready to spring into action.
Grange made a sudden move. Soda began a lunge forward.
"Soda! Heel! Green!" Duo shouted around the edges of his waking nightmare, even as he moved an arm in an automatic blocking motion. He felt it connect with Grange's arm and he pushed the larger man off balance.
Soda barked, growled, and whined, but he kept to his training and stuck by Duo's side as Duo backed up, trying to see reality through the mental pain that was close to overwhelming him.
Grange grunted as he backed up as well. Duo took shuddering breaths, finally seeing the man and not the nightmare. Trembling, he patted Soda's head and praised the dog in a voice that was only a little more steady than his hand.
"Looks like I passed another of your `tests', " Duo finally said to Grange, unable to keep the anger out of his voice. "Guess you don't get to get rid of me today."
Grange's brows came down. "It was a valid exercise. I had to see how you would react when surprised. Your smart mouth, Maxwell, isn't going to fly here, got that? It's called insubordination when you question me like that and it will get you canned too. " He jerked a thumb towards a thick door. "That leads out to the obstacle course. Take your pooch and do twenty laps." He paused and then said warningly. "I have a monitor on the field so don't try and slack off. I'll know. Disobeying orders will get you canned too."
"Twenty?!" Duo bit his lip hard and then he said more calmly. "Can't YOU get canned for abusing your recruits?"
Grange's hands turned into fists as he replied, "Every man and woman here can do twenty laps, Maxwell. If you don't think you can..."
"I'm going, Agent Grange, " Duo replied with a tone he tried to keep from slipping over the border of insult. He was glad to take Soda and leave the man and the cloying nightmare behind. He resisted the urge to look back, to make certain that Grange wasn't going to jump him again.
"At a run, Maxwell!" Grange barked and Duo hated his involuntary flinch at the man's loud voice.
"Yes, sir, Agent Grange!" Duo shouted back and then was through the door and walking gratefully into the bright sunshine of mid-afternoon.
He had dodged a bullet, Duo thought, as he eyed the very long obstacle course field in front of him. He had very nearly lost it back there with Grange. Only the reassurance of Soda had really brought the episode to a halt. While Duo hated that kind of weakness, that kind of dependence on something other than himself, Duo was still grateful. He leaned down and calmed the dog, who was still high strung and uncertain how to react to the abruptly changing situation.
"I need you," Duo said to the dog and the dog looked up at him with cocked ears. "Keep being there for me, okay?"
The dog licked Duo's hand as if it were making a promise.