Shinigami's Lover Arc 2

Part 13: Crying
by Kracken

Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/male sex, graphic, violence, language. NCS flashbacks

"Okay, Maxwell, your turn." Grange punched keys on his electronic clipboard, his breath steaming in the morning chill. "Try to get the bad guy and NOT ace the civilians. This will tell me how much of a hair trigger you have and how much of it is under your control." He glanced down at Soda. "There's going to be some unexpected pop ups. How is the dog going to react?"

Duo eyed the plywood cut out city street and the path through it. The morning was foggy and some of the `street' was hidden. The other trainees were gathered in a group, dressed in their Preventer exercise suits, and there was a definite tension, all of them eager to see a real Gundam pilot in action.

Duo was cold. The exercise suit wasn't meant to keep a person warm, but to move freely and be light weight. It hung on Duo and he was glad that it was a one piece. If it hadn't been, the khaki colored outfit, with it's Preventer badges, would have been sliding off of his narrow hips. He played with his plastic Preventer badge unconsciously as he replied to Grange, "Soda was trained on a course like this. He knows what to do and what NOT to do."

"Good," Grange grunted. He set a timer on his clipboard and then handed Duo a mock weapon that was, in reality, a laser light. When Duo `fired' on his target, the beam would hit a sensor, letting him know whether he had wounded or killed his target. "The infirmary told me what happened to you yesterday, Maxwell, and they cleared you for this exercise," Grange continued and he sounded skeptical as he looked Duo's wiry body up and down. "If you have trouble this time, you tell me, got that? If you're going to fail, it's going to be because you aren't cut out for this, not because you died during training."

Grange sounded sincere, but Duo wasn't trusting that. He didn't think Grange would have run him twenty laps in his uniform if he had really cared about Duo's health. Unless Grange had overestimated his ability, a small, voice said in the back of Duo's mind. He dismissed it. Grange had declared himself the enemy. Duo couldn't afford to think that the man had limits to what he would do to get rid of Duo. Duo had to be alert for any possibility. He nodded stiffly to acknowledge Grange's words, but his attention was on the course, his eyes scanning for likely hiding places.

Grange looked down at his clipboard and then clicked the stop watch, "And... go!"

"Soda. Train. Green!" Duo snapped and then began a low run through the fake city street with Soda at heel. His reactions were automatic. Duo fell into a place in his mind that was cold, calm, and deadly. Shinigami was hunting, hunting for the enemy to protect the civilians. Time to be the hero again.

Plywood cutouts of people popped up through windows, doorways, and from alley ways. Duo sighted each one, made a snap decision, and fired. His targets fell back down as he hit their sensors. When he reached the far end, he stopped and felt a momentary twitch of severe anxiety that he wasn't ducking for cover and leaving the area. Standing in the open went against every instinct that had been trained into him.

Grange motioned Duo back to the group. "Good dog, Soda," Duo murmured and rubbed behind the dog's ear as he walked back, trying not to nervously recheck the positions of his `targets'. He had to remind himself that he wasn't in a real situation and that card board cutouts, unlike people, weren't going to pop up again and try to take revenge.

Grange looked at his clipboard and then growled as Duo faced him, "You hit a female shop clerk at the end of the course. She was holding a broom, not a gun."

"I saw a gun," Duo replied with certainty.

Grange looked up from his clipboard and his nostrils flared. "You were wrong! If you continue to insist that you didn't make a mistake, then you'll need to get your eyes checked by the infirmary. If nothing is wrong with your eyes, then I will have to assume that you are mentally unfit."

Duo stared, thought about backing down, and then decided that he couldn't. "There was a gun," he insisted.

Grange looked over at the other trainees. They were nervous and uncertain, waiting for Grange to make verbal hamburger out of Duo. Grange controlled his temper, with an obvious effort to stay professional, and said, "Mr. Maxwell is going to show us the gun a female shop clerk, with a broom, is supposedly holding." He gave Duo a hard look and jerked a thumb towards the course, "If you please, Mr. Maxwell...?"

Duo felt very uneasy having so many people watching him, waiting to see his `mistake'. On the streets, and during the war, mistakes killed a person. There usually wasn't time for others to laugh or make fun of them afterwards. It was a new thing for Duo, to have so many people ready to ridicule him. It was hard for him to turn his back and lead the way down the course to where the offending piece of plywood was stationed.

As they walked, Grange reset the course. Targets popped up as they passed them. At the very end, the female popped up and everyone looked at it. Grange turned his attention to Duo, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Well, Maxwell? If you're going to try and convince me that a push broom is a dangerous weapon..."

"You don't see it?" Duo asked in amazement, looking from the target to Grange.

Grange scowled and exclaimed in exasperation, "See what?" He slapped his clipboard against one leg hard. "Maxwell, if you're trying to pull something, I warn you, it won't look good on your record."

Duo almost laughed. Record? He was a an ex-whore/thief/terrorist. Lying wouldn't get a second glance, he thought sourly. He kept his mouth shut and strode over to the cut out of the woman. She was holding the broom at an angle to her body and one hand was hidden behind the bristles. Duo pointed to that hand and the faint outline of a black hand gun.

Grange started and strode to the cut out. He glared and blinked as he confessed, "I never noticed that before..." He then went red in the face and Duo knew that he had made a mistake. Grange HADN'T noticed and it was his job to know the course intimately. Grange was stinging with embarrassment. A man with bruised pride could be a very dangerous man.

Duo tried to salvage the situation. "They must have changed the course and not told you about it, Agent Grange."

Grange glared at Duo, jaw working, and then he glanced at the trainees milling in confusion close by. "Yes, I'm sure that's what happened. Blinking people never file their paperwork." He turned away and made an entry into his clipboard. "Enough gawking, newbies! Frauker! You're next!"

Duo sighed in relief, but he knew he hadn't won any large points with Grange. The man wasn't going to thank him for placing him in an embarrassing situation and then saving him from it, even if it hadn't been Duo's fault.

As he walked back up the course with the others to the starting point, Duo looked over his targets. It had all been too easy for him and he felt old in spirit suddenly and surrounded by children. Looking at their fresh, eager faces, he tried to imagine them in the same sorts of fire fights and infiltration missions that he had gone through. When he started imagining their naivete getting them killed in those situations, he throttled his thoughts. Duo had learned early on that it would drive a person crazy counting the dead before the battle and that Shinigami didn't always take the person who looked most likely to fail and die. Life was full of surprises and people could be the most surprising of all.

The others went through their paces and Duo watched, noting the weaknesses and strengths of each person. Grange was good at his job. He might have missed a faint outline of a gun in a broom, but he never missed a fault in his trainees. His voice barked out constantly through the hour long session, informing men and women of their mistakes and correcting them with recited procedures and his own personal experiences. By the time that the exercise was done, Duo was wishing that he and Grange weren't at odds. Duo wouldn't have minded having a man of that experience at his back in a fight.

Soda growled. Duo looked around quickly and then saw Commander Richards standing and watching, not the trainees and their performance, but Duo exclusively. The man smiled when he saw that Duo had noticed, but he didn't make any effort to come any closer. He looked dressed as if he were going to a meeting or an important function and had simply stopped by on his way there... only they were far from the Preventer Building and a man would have had to have walked far out of his way to end up there. It made the hairs on the back of Duo's neck prickle, especially when Richards walked away without saying anything to Grange.

Looking over at Grange, Duo could see that the man had noticed Richards as well and that he was equally mystified as to why Richards had been there. He turned his head to regard Duo and there was an irritated expression on his face. It was clear that he thought that Richards had an interest in Duo, whether negative or positive, and that he didn't care to have one of his trainees singled out, especially an ex gundam pilot who he thought was going to be disruptive in the first place.

Soda was still looking after Richards and growling. "You don't like Richards, do you?" Duo whispered to Soda. The dog looked up at him anxiously.

"He better like Richards," Kit said as she came to stand by Duo. She huddled in on herself with her hands in her pockets, trying to keep warm as she continued, "That's the man who gives us our orders. He's always around the new recruits."

"I didn't think you were going to be training with me," Duo said. "You weren't here this morning."

Kit smiled. "Special duties," she explained. "I'm a little more advanced than the others. Still, I have to pass the same tests as you do." She eyed the course. "How tough are the targets today and how's Grange's mood?"

"Easy. Angry," Duo replied.

"Easy for you, maybe," Kit sighed. "I'm still working on my trigger finger. I can't seem to stop blasting even the kitty cats in the windows. As for Grange, he's always angry about something. When he gets disappointed, that's the time to get nervous. He wants his recruits to be top notch. If you're not, he'll force you out."

Duo didn't say anything to that. As she took her turn and began running through the course, Duo saw that she was better than the other trainees. She missed the target at the end, though, and, when Grange told her about it, she protested hotly until he showed her the hidden gun. Her temper worried Duo. Skill required a cool head.

After target practice was completed, Duo ran laps through the obstacle course with the other recruits. Some of them were used to the hard exercise, but there were some, like Duo, who were breathing hard at the end. There was an easy camaraderie among those few, a sense that they were automatic friends because of their handicap. Duo noticed that he was excluded. In fact, he noticed rather quickly that they avoided even standing close to him. Soda was an obvious reason, but Duo found them looking covertly at him rather than at the dog. Only Kit stepped inside of that invisible boundary that they were making around him, but Duo wasn't sure he was happy about that. Grange was watching them and his perpetually angry expression began to be tinged with jealousy.

After finishing the course, Duo hung back as the trainees headed for the Preventer Building and the showers. When Grange, mulling over the stats on his clipboard, passed close, Duo said quickly, "I'm gay."

Grange stopped, startled, and then he gave Duo a long, sideways look. He uttered on word, "Good!" and then continued on his way.

Duo chuckled as he followed. Grange had taken that news pretty well. There hadn't been any disgust that Duo could see. The man was solely focusing on the fact that Duo was NOT competition for Kit.

Once in the shower section, Duo stopped cold at the entrance. Grange must have felt his hesitation. The man turned. Duo wasn't sure what he looked like, but his thoughts must have been clear on his face. "If they lay a finger on you, for whatever reason, I'll shitcan them and bring charges against them," Grange assured Duo and then, "You have to get in there, Maxwell. If you can't...."

Duo grumbled something and slipped past Grange. It was a cover so that the man wouldn't see how truly frightened he was. The old Duo Maxwell was surfacing, Duo could feel it. Already men were undressing and going into the barracks like room that was nothing but spraying shower heads and tile walls and floors. The child at the back of Duo's mind was screaming and the trained Gundam pilot was thinking of weapons and blood. The child cried, "Don't hurt me, I'll do anything..." The pilot threatened, "Come close and I'll kill you!" The part that was the present day Duo Maxwell gibbered, "Can't do this! Can't do this!"

"Maxwell!" It was Richard's voice, cutting through Duo's growing fog of confusion and fear. Duo twitched and saw the man standing very close to him, looking concerned. He was still dressed as if he were going to a meeting and Duo wondered faintly what the man was doing in the locker room. "There's a shower with a door at the end of the hall. " He nodded to the hallway to their right. "It's for officers, but I give you permission to use it until you get more comfortable with your fellow trainees. I'm a soldier too. I realize that so many new people can reek havoc on a soldier's reflexes."

Duo swallowed hard, knowing that he was trembling and as white as a sheet. All he could do was nod gratefully, call the growling Soda to heel, and escape as quickly as he could. Heart pounding, the sounds of the men echoing down the hall as if following him, Duo entered the large shower stall, closed the door, and then huddled in a corner for a full five minutes as he fought hot tears and the hotter burn of memories washing over him.

Soda sat and watched and then he nosed Duo in concern. "I know. I have to get on with it," Duo said, sniffling and trying to keep his voice from shaking.

The dog moved back so that he wouldn't get wet as Duo undressed and then turned on the shower. He worked quickly to soap up and then wash off. That done, Duo turned off the water and then shivered when he realized that he had been so stressed that he hadn't remembered to bring his uniform to change into.

Soda became alert and he whuffed a warning. Duo heard footsteps approaching and he tensed.

"Uh, Duo?" Kit's voice came from the other side of the door.

Duo flinched, took several deep breaths, and then stammered, "W-What?"

"Grange is getting his back up waiting for you. Here's a towel and your uniform. I saw that you left it hanging outside your locker. Duo?" Duo heard a hanger being placed on the hook outside the door and then Kit asked tentatively, "Are you all right? The guys say that you didn't look so good and that Richards gave you some special treatment because of it. Training is rough. It can get overwhelming. There's nothing to be ashamed about if it got the best of you today. You'll get used to it, okay?"

"I'm all right," Duo told her as strongly as he could manage. "Kit... thanks."

"Hey, we might be partners!" Kit laughed. "We have to watch each other's backs, right?"

"Right," Duo replied and felt some of the tension easing. More than anything else, he wanted Heero just then, but he felt pride throttling that need. He didn't want Heero to know that he had been terrified about taking a shower.

"Get a move on, trainee," Kit warned him with a chuckle and he heard her footsteps retreating.

Duo dressed and then forced himself to leave the shower stall, knowing that it was only possible because he couldn't hear the sounds of the other showers running any longer and he suspected that the others were probably already dressed and either gone or waiting for him.

Duo found the locker rooms empty, but Grange was waiting for him, clipboard in hand. He raised it and pushed one button. "You have a demerit, Maxwell. I don't wait around for men to take twenty minute beauty baths."

Duo nodded, jaw working, but he didn't make a reply.

"I also did not need Commander Richards to chew me out for not allowing a soldier time to adjust," Grange continued acidly. "Especially when that `adjustment period' is the very reason why I think that you aren't fit to be a Preventer agent. This is also the second time that you've caused me to get into trouble, Maxwell. I hope you understand that this is only making my desire to get rid of you that much stronger?"

"I didn't want special treatment," Duo protested. "I would have been okay without it."

"Really?" Grange sounded extremely sarcastic. "Don't they teach Gundam pilots to know their limits? I think we both know what was going on, Maxwell. Save the cover up for the ladies... or the guys, in your case," he growled uncomfortably. "It doesn't wash with me. I need to know when you are in trouble. You get screwed up in a heavy training session with another trainee, or manage to get through training and have an `episode' out in the real world, and you can get people seriously dead. You got that, Maxwell? This isn't about your pride or what you want. Maybe your dream is to be an agent, but your dream doesn't count squat against other people's lives."

Duo swallowed, feeling suddenly ashamed. "You're right," he whispered.

Grange was surprised to get that admission. He was at a loss for words for a moment and then he growled, "I'm glad that you understand, now, get the hell down the hall. It's time for book work. I'm going to see if you know anything besides piloting a Gundam. Your records say that you had some primary schooling, but they're too sketchy for me to make much out of it."

Duo was glad that Grange went first. It gave him more time to pull himself together. When they reached a large room full of fidgeting trainees sitting at small desks like oversized school children, Duo took a seat in a far corner as Grange went to the front of the class and began teaching.

The rest of the day was long and tedious. Duo struggled with unfamiliar subjects and reams of Preventer rules and regulations. He fought to do the work and to keep his head in the here and now. Dark memories swirled and surfaced, making him chilled and constantly on edge. He reached for the warmth of Soda more than once and the dog responded by leaning hard against the side of Duo's leg, a reassuringly large presence.

When Duo was finally dismissed, he was exhausted, mentally and physically. Making his way down to the parking garage, he waited for Wu Fei and Heero. When only Wu Fei showed up, Duo wished strongly that he had his own car.

"Where's Heero?" Duo asked worriedly. "Is he staying late?"

Wu Fei frowned and Duo wondered if he would ever get on the man's good side. "I wouldn't be leaving if he were. We are partners," Wu Fei grumbled and then, as if realizing that Duo would be worrying, he added, "He went home very early. He had things to take care of, he told me."

"He can do that?" Duo wondered.

Wu Fei smiled tightly. "Heero Yuy is the best agent the Preventers have. He can do what he damned well pleases within reason."

"And going home early is reasonable?" Duo replied as he secured Soda in the front seat of Wu Fei's car and then slid into the back seat.

Wu Fei paused before replying. As he climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out of the garage, he finally said, "He was concerned that Mr. Hulitt might carry out his threat, so he went home to finish the list that the man gave him."

"He tells you everything, I guess," Duo replied and felt a bit of jealousy. "Why didn't he call me and tell me?"

"Heero takes his responsibilities very personally," Wu Fei replied. "He thought it was logical to do the work himself, not only because he thought that he could do it quickly and efficiently, but because your schedule isn't flexible at all. He thought that you would try and go home whether you had permission or not."

Duo felt a flush of anger. "Sometimes, Heero just doesn't get me. I wouldn't do that."

"You've never been in a regimented situation like this one," Wu Fei pointed out. "You can't expect anyone, even yourself, to know what you will and will not do."

"I guess that's right," Duo grumbled and then stared out the window until Wu Fei pulled into the driveway of his home.

It stilled amazed Duo, that pristine neighborhood and that beautiful house. It seemed too much like a dream that he never wanted to wake up from. "Thanks Wu-man!" Duo said as he climbed out of the car with Soda. "See ya tomorrow!"

Wu Fei sighed as if it were a sentence. "Yes, tomorrow," he grumbled and then drove away.

Wearily, Duo went into the house. He looked for Heero. Walking through the rooms, he noticed quickly that everything was sparkling clean and smelling like cleaning fluids. He wrinkled his nose in distaste while he appreciated seeing everything where it belonged and picture perfect. Climbing the stairs, Duo passed the bathroom and the two spare bedrooms, one that doubled as an office. They were all very clean and orderly.

"Nice," Duo whispered. When he reached their bedroom Duo found Heero sprawled out on the bed, on his back, and asleep. Duo motioned Soda to stay and he walked, cat footed, to the side of the bed. Heero twitched as if sensing a presence, but then relaxed as if some unconscious part of his mind recognized Duo.

Duo's lips twitched into a smile and, suddenly, the troubles of the day melted away. None of it mattered and the fear and the dark memories couldn't breathe the same air as his love Heero Yuy.

Heero was dressed in shorts and a tank top. Both were filthy. His face was streaked with dirt and his disordered, dark hair, tangled with leaves and a few cobwebs, was tied back with a ragged bandana. He looked exhausted and very beautiful, his face almost childlike in sleep.

"Love you, Baby," Duo whispered, the barest breath.

"Love you," Heero breathed without really waking and turned on his side to fall into deeper sleep.

Duo gently climbed onto the bed, hoping that Heero was too far gone for violent reactions, and very slowly curled up around his lover. When Heero sighed softly and relaxed even more, if that were possible, Duo had a warm feeling fill his heart. It was as if Heero hadn't been able to fully relax until he had Duo home safe with him. There weren't any words that could express love better than that. Content and happy, Duo let himself sleep as well.

Go to Part 14: Dark Light

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