Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language, NCS flashbacks.
Duo collapsed after finishing his twentieth run of the course. He was sweating and trembling. He had unbuttoned his shirt and yanked open his tie on the fifth lap and then had discarded both on the sixth. Naked to the waist, he cursed himself for not having work out clothing and cursed Grange for not providing him with any. Duo had expected some sort of rough treatment from Grange, but he hadn't expected anything physical on his first day.
Soda was exhausted as well, stretching out beside Duo, who was sitting in the grass beside the course, and panting right along with his master. Duo gripped his fur as he felt a wave of light headedness. Remembering the half eaten sandwich from lunch, and feeling dehydrated now from sweating, Duo knew that he needed to refuel. Wearily getting to his feet, he forced himself to head for the door of the Preventer building.
"Watch it!" A half clad body almost barreled into Duo. Soda was between them instantly, still high strung despite the run through the course. He barked and snarled a warning at the intruder. "Jeez! " the man exclaimed and quickly backed up, hands held out to show that he wasn't a threat. Soda raised hackles, seeing the hands as potentially dangerous.
Duo snapped. "Soda! Yellow! Heel!" He was still gasping for breath and it didn't have the force he wanted. Soda was slow to respond, growling still, but the dog crouched at Duo's feet and stopped looking ready to spring.
The man didn't relax as he watched Soda carefully. He was tall and broad in the shoulder, in his late thirties, and sporting a very short, black, buzz cut. He definitely had a military stance and his pale gray eyes, that suddenly lifted to Duo, were assessing the situation expertly. Those eyes widened in surprise though, and seemed to forget their objective, when they saw the young, half naked, Duo.
Remembering that he was nude to the waist, and that his uniform pants were riding rather low on his slim hips, Duo quickly began to put his shirt back on, buttoning it up with flying fingers as the man began to apologize.
"I'm very sorry. I was jogging and didn't see you...," He paused, looked Duo up and down, studied the dog for a moment, and then asked, "Are you a trainee?" When Duo nodded, the man seemed confused. "You don't look old enough and you certainly aren't regulation. I'd like to know who signed you up and who made you work out in full uniform as well."
Duo wasn't about to start his career as an agent by ratting on his officers. As he tightened his tie, hating the feel of dripping sweat under his shirt and disturbed by how nervous this man was making him feel, he replied carefully, "It was my own fault. I wasn't prepared for a work out."
The man frowned. "I could order you to tell me who it was."
It was then that Duo realized that he was talking to a high ranking Preventer Agent. He adjusted what he was going to say and stood straighter. "Yes, sir, you could."
The man noted Duo's changed attitude and smiled. "I'm a veteran. I do outrank an instructor by a long shot." He made a dismissing gesture. "I won't order you, don't worry, but I won't allow this to happen again. I'll give a general memo to the instructors. You could injure yourself by not being dressed properly." He gave Duo a slow once over, noting Duo's name tag. "Duo Maxwell?"
The man blinked and Duo knew that his reputation went before him. "That explains the hair dispensation and being underage, but isn't this step down for you, 02?"
Duo felt a chill hearing his old code number from the war. "No, sir," he replied. "Someone with skills like mine shouldn't waste them. They can help people."
"That's an admirable attitude," the man said with a respectful nod. "I'm Commander Richards, by the way. I'll be the one riding your ass from now on."
Soda growled. Duo glanced down and said automatically, "Heel, Soda. Green." The dog was looking at Commander Richards and he wasn't settling down. His hackles were up. Looking at Richards again, Duo saw him shrugging.
"I'm not an animal person," the man explained.
"Sorry, sir," Duo apologized. "He's not used to-"
"If you're going to say that he's not used to people or unexpected situations, then I have to question his presence here," Richards cut in sharply, dropping his friendly manner and becoming military in a heart beat.
"He's well trained," Duo explained hurriedly. "I have permission to have him with me."
"He has a service collar," Richards noticed, puzzled. "Are you handicapped, Maxwell?"
Duo did not want to explain to Richards his mental instability that required that he have the comfort of the guard dog. Instead, he evaded the question in the same way that he had evaded Grange's attempt to understand the dog's presence. "It's in my file, sir."
Richards didn't like that answer, but his expression smoothed out. "It seems that I will have to have a talk with Ms. Poe."
"Sir," Duo replied noncommittally, even though he was inwardly in turmoil. How many people had looked at his files already and now knew everything there was to know about Duo Maxwell?
There weren't any records of Duo's birth, his parents, and his life of running on the streets; nothing from his earlier life but a small blip in a computer file noting his release into the custody of Maxwell Church and several failed adoption attempts. Afterwards, Duo had dropped out of society once more, lived on the streets again, whored for nearly a year, and then stowed away on a sweeper ship. Because of Preventer security, Duo had been forced to document all of that, including his uncertain mental health. Some things were sealed information, but the higher ranking officers were allowed access at Sally Po's discretion. Duo had never been shy about his unusual childhood, but it did bother him that he was going to judged by those files, judged by the past instead of being judged by how he had turned out in the end.
"Maxwell!" Grange was suddenly trotting up to them, out of breath. He had probably seen the two of them talking in his monitor and had feared the worst. He turned to Richards and was extremely deferential, almost awed, as he apologized quickly. "I'm sorry, Commander! If he's stepped out of line in any way-"
Richards held up a hand and smiled. "Not at all, Agent Grange. I was just greeting a new trainee. I think Mr. Maxwell is going to be an interesting addition to our force, if he completes his training." Richards turned stern with a suddenness that made Duo blink as he added, "I expect men training to be in proper clothing, Grange. Don't let it happen again."
"Yes, sir!" Grange replied, turning red to his ears at the reprimand. Duo could almost hear Grange's angry thoughts about him and Duo knew that he had another mark against him in Grange's book.
Again Duo was given that careful, once over from Richards and again Soda growled. Something about the man's intent gaze made Duo as apprehensive as Soda, though Duo couldn't call the look lewd or suggestive. It was assessing, but not in the cold, calculating way of a soldier looking for the weakness in an enemy. "He's pale," Richards said at last. "Let Maxwell go for the day. He may have been a Gundam pilot, but he's been out of commission for several years now. Don't over estimate his strengths."
"Yes, sir," Grange responded.
"I will be interested in seeing how well you will get through your training," Richards said to Duo. "I think I will have reports of your progress sent to my office. I might even call you in for questioning periodically."
"Yes, sir," Duo responded, wondering if this man's notice was good or bad.
Richards nodded and smiled and then he was striding away from them towards the Preventer building. Grange glared at Duo. " You make trouble for me with him, Maxwell and I'll-"
"Grind me like corn between two stones," Duo finished. "Yes, sir, Agent Grange. I understand."
"You'd better," Grange warned. He hooked a thumb towards the door. "You look like shit! Stop at the infirmary and get a check up, then get the hell out of here. I expect you to be in the right clothes and ready for me to smear you into the ground tomorrow. Got that? Of course, if the doctor says that you aren't fit for training, that will make my job that much easier."
"Yes, Agent Grange," Duo replied tightly, but managed not to say the dozen angry thoughts that came to mind. Grange seemed to be waiting for them. When Duo wasn't forthcoming, he grunted sourly, and Duo took that as a dismissal.
"Soda. Heel," Duo said and headed for the Preventer building and the infirmary. "I know this is pretty stressful for you, Soda," Duo grumbled under his breath as he stopped to retrieve his bag, "but I have enough troubles without you forgetting your training. You don't growl when I tell you green, especially not at a commander. I think we're going to have a refresher course when we get home."
Soda seemed relaxed now that they were heading away from Grange and unknown joggers. He panted and wagged his tail once or twice when Duo reached down and ruffled his fur. When they reached the infirmary, Duo began to think about what a checkup entailed and his touch on Soda became more grasping for reassurance than affection as they entered the doctor's offices.
At the institute, Duo had become used to medical checkups. Therapy was stressful mentally and physically and he had been one of the bad cases, one of the types that were so unstable that they had felt it necessary to monitor him constantly. Still , he was already strung out and shaking from the day's stress and from his work out. It made him doubt his ability to keep his reactions under control if the exam became too invasive.
A female nurse was reassuring. She made Duo sit while she took several tests and then she made a quick diagnosis that finally let Duo relax. "You need to eat and take in some fluids, Mr. Maxwell. Since you'll be training, I'll need to give you a diet plan that will give your body the vitamins, carbs, and proteins it needs. We'll adjust that plan depending on how your body reacts, so I will need to take a few repeat tests in the next week."
"Yes, Ma'am," Duo responded, and then anxiously, "I am fit enough to train?"
She smiled and nodded. "You're showing a few signs of having led a sedentary lifestyle, but I don't see any signs that you can't get back into shape fairly quickly. Just watch your fluids and food intake. No skipping meals. If you notice that you are losing weight, feeling light headed, or extremely fatigued, you are to report to me at once. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Duo replied nervously.
"Jean," she said with a smile.
"Jean, " Duo repeated and smiled in return.
She laughed lightly, "I wish that I could say that I'd like to see more of you, but in my line of work, I have to wish, instead, that you don't."
It was a subtle `come on', but Duo sidestepped it. "I was told to take the rest of the day off. Is there someone I need to tell? I think I'm still in between positions."
Jean scribbled on a paper. "I'll turn this in for you so you can leave right away. " She paused and then scribbled some more. She handed Duo a separate paper. "That's the number of the Preventer hotline. You can call if anyone's been stepping over the line... at work or in your personal life." She glanced meaningfully at Duo's bruised face. "They can get you counseling or file papers on your behalf."
Duo frowned as he touched his face. "I'm not likely to be the one to get beat up, ma'am. Don't let my size fool you. This was an accident." He paused and then was more gracious. "Thanks anyway."
She didn't look convinced. "Keep the number any way. You never know."
Duo pocketed the number. "Okay, but I really don't need anyone's help."
After leaving the clinic, Duo stood uncertainly in the hallway. If he was released for the day, then telling Heero was the next step and finding his way home was the one after that. As Duo tried to think of a way to explain to Heero why he as leaving for the day, without implicating Grange and having his lover try and take revenge on the man in some way, Heero came hurrying out of an elevator down the hall. When he saw Duo, he stopped as if he were startled, and then he recovered and walked quickly to Duo's side.
"What are you doing here?" Duo asked worriedly before Heero could speak.
Heero looked nervous. "I... what are YOU doing here?"
"I asked you first," Duo replied evasively.
"I-I had a headache and I didn't have any aspirin," Heero replied, but he blinked and stammered over his words. "Now, please, tell me why you're here?"
Duo frowned, suddenly concerned for Heero and puzzled by such an obvious lie. "Why did you just make that up?"
"Duo!" Heero growled, "Why can't you just tell me what's wrong with you?"
"Why can't you tell me the truth about why you're here?" Duo countered, growing angry. "Are you trying to hide something?"
"No!' Heero retorted in exasperation.
"Then tell me!" Duo demanded.
Heero licked nervous lips and then looked down at the floor as he confessed, "I have a standing order to be advised if you are checked into the infirmary or the..."
"The detention center?" Duo demanded, face flushing hotly and hands turning into fists.
"I was worried, all right?" Heero snarled. "I'm not officially your husband and I'm not your relative. There aren't rules to inform me if something happens to you, so I had to order it and make it official."
"Oh." Duo was suddenly confused about how he felt. On the one hand, he imagined droves of agents spying on him and frantically calling to report Duo Maxwell entering the infirmary. On the other hand, he felt a warm sensation of being loved. Heero had cared enough to have thought that problem, which Duo hadn't considered, through and come up with a solution. "So... no one would have informed me if you were hurt on the job? I would have been sitting home, wondering why you were late?"
Heero nodded cautiously. "At first, of course. I do have you on record as the person who will make medical decisions for me in case I am incapacitated. You are also on file as the heir to all of my-"
"Screw your stuff!" Duo snapped, feeling his heart clench at the reminder of just how uncertain Heero's job made their future together. It was dangerous. It could be fatal.
"Duo..." Heero began in a worried tone, but Duo hooked an arm around Heero's waist and went slightly on his toes to look him eye to eye.
"I want you," Duo told him sternly, "Not your tool chest or your subscription to gun and ammo. You better never get yourself killed or Shinigami will be coming for you." It was a veiled promise and both of them understood what Duo was saying. Shinigami wouldn't live without Heero Yuy.
"Acknowledged," Heero replied softly, kissed Duo on the lips, and then asked, "If the argument is done now, will you please tell me why you were in the infirmary?"
"My own fault," Duo hedged. He looked down and released Heero. He fiddled with his braid. "I started training today and over did it. They're giving me the rest of the day off. I have to drink fluids, eat a few good meals, and get some rest before tomorrow's session. I AM NOT HURT OR DYING," Duo stressed the last. "I'm just out of shape from lounging on my ass for two years and staying up all night to fight with you on the roof."
Heero frowned, "Why didn't you call me and tell me that you were going into training?"
Duo shrugged. "It was a sudden thing and I thought you'd be busy."
Heero's exasperation was almost tangible. "Duo! I'm never too busy to-"
"I CAN take care of myself, Heero. It was just a training session, nothing worse than going to the gym," Duo cut in. He flipped his braid behind his back and squared his shoulders. "You train every day." But not under a bastard like Grange, Duo thought. he felt like sitting down on the floor. Exhaustion was creeping up on him again. He didn't want Heero seeing him go pale and shaky. Briskly, he started talking, wanting Heero to be reassured and return to his work. "I'm going home. I'm going to shower and then relax once I get there. You don't have to worry about me for the rest of the day. What could be better?"
Heero was still frowning. He was a soldier. He could see that Duo was tired, but Duo was too good at hiding the rest for him to guess at the extent of his exhaustion. "I'll call Wu Fei. You can stop and get some take out on the way home so you don't have to worry about cooking. Get some chicken and rice. Make sure there are vegetables."
Duo took a step back and didn't have to fake exasperated anger. "I can call a cab, Heero. Wu Fei has an important job, just like you do. He doesn't need to take time from that to drive me! I'm already on his shit list. I don't have to compound the problem, okay?"
"But, Duo..." Heero sighed and gave in. "All right, but only if you are sure you will be okay?"
"I'll be fine. The cab driver will be in the front seat and I'll be in the back seat with Soda. No problem. I'll get your chicken and rice." Duo couldn't help an irritated growl as he gave the worried looking Heero a quick kiss. "Bye, Baby. Have a good rest of the day and DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME. I'm not a stupid, little kid. I can manage a cab ride."
"I know you can," Heero replied, but followed that with a sigh of resignation. It didn't seem that he really believed his own words.
Duo frowned and turned to go. He stopped and flushed with embarrassment, all of his ascertains of self sufficiency melting as he was forced to turn back and say, "Uh, Heero. I don't have any money on me. Could you..."
When Heero handed him the money, Duo did feel like a child then and he hated that feeling. He clutched the money tight and said to himself as much as to Heero, "I need this job. I don't want to be your housewife, begging you for spending money."
"I know," Heero replied softly and then smiled gently. "I know you. I'm the other half of you, remember?"
"You always have the words ready, don't you?" Duo chuckled. "I like that, though. The other half of you. That's how I feel, too, but... we're equals. I can't be happy stuck at home and not doing anything. I have to be right along side of you, making a difference and doing what we both do best."
"I've been trying to save the world. That's what I do best," Heero sighed, but without regret. "I could use help."
Duo grinned. "I'm your man! Count on me... and trust me, Heero."
"With my life and heart," Heero replied and watched his lover go. When Duo had turned the corner, he went into the infirmary to ask questions, to find out what Duo had been hiding from him. He trusted Duo with his life, but Shinigami didn't like to lose respect or look weak. Heero was sure that Duo had been covering up. "I'm going to watch out for you, Little Baka," he said under his breath, "and you'll just have to accept that."