Disclaimer:Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence, NCS Flashbacks
They were under the blankets, Duo on top, lying between Heero's thighs and cheek nestled on Heero's chest. Heero had his arms loosely about Duo, Duo's braid trailing over his face and tickling his nose. Morning sunlight streamed over them both from a nearby window, but not even that could wake the exhausted pair.
It was Soda who finally woke them. He was alert and growling, nosing at Duo, one big paw raking Duo's thin arm for attention. Duo winced and pulled his arm away as he jerked awake. Heero blinked open bleary eyes and looked from Duo to Soda in confusion.
"Wha- What time is it?" Heero slurred and brushed Duo's braid from his nose as he struggled to sit up.
"Dunno," Duo yawned and snagged the clock off of the side table. He peered at it with squinted eyes and then cursed. "We're late!" He scrambled from the bed, twisted in the bed sheets, and went sprawling. As he struggled clear and staggered off to the bathroom, with an anxious Soda following him, the phone rang.
Heero wiped a hand across his face, trying to think clearly, and then reached out and picked up the receiver. "Yuy here."
"Will you answer your door?!" Wu Fei shouted, obviously using his cell phone. Heero held the receiver away from his ear as Wu Fei continued to shout. "I have been pounding on it for almost two minutes, Yuy! Can't you hear your dogs barking? What is that guard dog of Duo's doing? Guarding dust under the bed? He hasn't even come down to investigate!"
Heero looked through the bathroom door at Soda. Duo was in the shower now and the dog had his eyes glued to him, as if the water might hurt him in some way. "Let yourself in and wait in the kitchen," Heero said around a yawn. "We had a late night. We'll be ready to leave shortly."
"My record isn't getting tarnished because of you two!" Wu Fei shouted back. "I am NEVER late. This will NOT happen again or you will be taking the bus to work!"
"This is not helping us to get ready to leave any quicker," Heero growled back. "Make coffee. Calm down."
"You have five minutes, Yuy!" Wu Fei threatened and then the phone clicked off.
"Wu Fei is downstairs in the kitchen!" Heero warned as Duo jumped out of the shower and began toweling off as he walked back into the bedroom.
Duo frowned and stopped moving. He looked at Heero and Heero couldn't read his expression. "He has a key?"
"He helped me take care of the house," Heero told him, sensing trouble as he stood up and headed for the shower himself. "I had to give him a key." He felt that Duo was waiting for something else. Heero groped, his still groggy mind not ready to tread the intricate word dance needed to calm a suddenly jealous lover. It WAS jealousy, Heero could see, and he sighed as he said, "I'll tell him to give it back. There isn't any reason for him to have it now."
Duo's shoulders relaxed and Heero knew that he had said the right thing. Land mine avoided, he thought, as he stepped into the hot spray of the shower.
Duo dressed in his uniform and, after putting clothes out for Heero, he went downstairs, following the scent of coffee as he did his tie with expert fingers. "Green, Soda, " Duo warned as they went through the kitchen door and found Wu Fei seated at the table.
Duo poured himself a cup of coffee and gingerly sat down as well. They stared at one another. Wu Fei's eyes were like black ice chips. "We used to be friends," Duo said tentatively.
Wu Fei crossed his arms over his chest, still glaring. "We still are."
Duo sipped at his coffee and then replied, "Oh, all of that putting me down and yelling at me had me a little confused, I guess."
"If you weren't my friend, I wouldn't try and correct your behavior," Wu Fei snapped back.
Duo looked over the rim of his coffee mug at Wu Fei and saw that he was serious. "You are my friend too, Wu Fei, but you have to let up and lay off. I'm the same person I was during the war and I'm not likely to change much."
"Your behavior reflects badly on Heero," Wu Fei pointed out acidly.
Duo put his coffee mug down carefully on the table and then met Wu Fei's dark eyes. "Heero is with me again, Wu-man. I know you two got close while I was gone, but you have to step back and let me take care of and worry about him now, okay? When you're on the job, you watch his back, but when he's off and home with me, he's mine to take care of. If he has a problem with me, he'll tell me."
"When we were in the war," Wu Fei replied, "did worrying about and taking care of Heero stop after a mission?"
Duo's face went tight. "That's diff-," he stopped and then reconsidered. His stance softened. "Guess not."
"We're not lovers, Maxwell," Wu Fei told him sternly. "We're partners. That doesn't end after we clock out of work. Shutting me out of Heero's personal life, and ignoring what I have to say about him and our work, is a mistake."
Duo wrapped his hands around his mug and then asked carefully, "You used to live with Heero, eat with him, do things together all the time, didn't you?"
"Yes, " Wu Fei replied shortly.
"I stopped that, didn't I?" Duo said and then felt guilty. "It wasn't all my doing, I hope you know?"
"Heero is over protective," Wu Fei agreed.
Duo was quiet. He took two long sips of his coffee and then asked tentatively "Come to dinner tomorrow night, Wu-man?"
"If you promise not to call me, `Wu-man' ever again," Wu Fei replied, but he seemed relieved, an imperceptible relaxing of his expression. Duo understood then and he ached for Wu Fei. The man lived for his career. He and Heero had been cut from the same mold. It must have seemed like a betrayal when Duo had come back and Heero had turned from his work to have a lover and a home life. Being denied Heero's friendship must have hurt as well. Wu Fei wasn't the kind of man that others could understand easily. Duo doubted the man had many friends, if any, except for Heero.
"Deal," Duo said at last, just as Heero came bolting into the kitchen, fingers flying to do his tie.
"Let's move!" Heero exclaimed as he sloshed coffee into a travel mug and made motions that they were to head for the door.
Wu Fei began to stand and then he glanced from Heero to Duo before sitting down again. "Eat breakfast... quickly. We are already late. A few more minutes will not change the situation."
Duo grinned. "Charity from the Wu-ma- From Wu Fei! Ain't that great, Heero? Next he'll be-"
"Don't push it, Maxwell," Wu Fei grumbled and Duo laughed at his dour expression and Heero's stunned confusion. **************************** "I need to talk to you, Agent Grange," Duo said, not really wanting to do that at all.
The other trainees were changing into their work out suits. When Duo had arrived, he had used the separate shower to dress, glad that most of the trainees had already finished dressing and that hadn't had to chance becoming nervous before he talked to Grange.
Grange glared at Duo over his clipboard. He was standing near the doorway of the locker room making some notations. He didn't look pleased at the interruption. "Maxwell, if you want to give me your resignation, I'll be happy to hear it, but right now..."
"Sir, It's important," Duo insisted.
"Private?" Grange sighed.
"Yes, sir," Duo replied and Grange slapped his clipboard against his leg in frustration as he led the way to his office.
Grange went to his desk and slumped into his chair behind it. Steepling his fingers, elbows propped on the desk, he snarled, "Out with it, Maxwell."
Duo kept the door open and he didn't sit down. He fiddled nervously with his gold cross. Admitting that there was something he couldn't do was going to be hard, especially when that something was so personal. "I can't change my clothes or shower with the other men," he finally spit out, before his mind could balk.
Grange stared at him. "If you can't work with MEN, Maxwell, I don't see-"
"It's not that!" Duo snapped uncomfortably. "Just-I just can't undress with them. I can handle any other situation. I have in the past. You can check my records. In fact, I'm sure you have already, so you know that I can complete missions successfully with male partners."
"I knew something was wrong yesterday," Grange said angrily. "You should have told me then." Grange clenched his hands into fists and his expression was white with fury. "If you have problems, you tell me now, not wait until it effects your performance and gets someone killed! I could have assigned you under cover work and this little aversion of yours could have blown your cover. I could have sent you into a situation like that to arrest a man or give an agent backup, and you would have froze! When are you going to get that people's lives are counting on you and your performance? When are you going to get that you're screwed up and you shouldn't be in a peacekeeping force? You are a killer, pure and simple. You killed soldiers and anyone else who got in your way. In that kind of profession, your crazy quirks were probably a plus, but in a peacekeeping force they don't have any place. I want you out! I want you to resign! I want you to damn well admit that you can't do anything but kill people, and that keeping the peace by ARRESTING people and diffusing situations, is the last thing you are qualified for!"
Duo stared at him for a long moment, jaw working, and then he said, as calmly as he could, "Are Wu Fei and Heero such bad agents, or don't you approve of them either?"
"They proved themselves," Grange replied. "We're talking about you and the fact that you have documented mental problems. We're talking about the fact that you can't take your clothes off in front of other men and the fact that the first day that I tested you, you were on the edge. You can prove to me all day long that you have the skills. You do, I won't argue that. Proving that you have the mental ability to react rationally and within the law is something else."
Grange stood up. "I told you, if you won't resign, I'll get you on something else and it will be totally legit. I don't have to overstep my authority or set you up. You'll slip up sooner or later all by yourself. Someone like you can't help it."
"Treat me like everyone else and I'll prove to you that I can do the job," Duo demanded.
"Treat you like everyone else?" Grange scoffed. "Everyone else takes a shower and changes their clothes together Maxwell. Unless you've changed your mind about that-"
"You don't understand," Duo cut him off, not wanting to explain. "I-"
It was Grange's turn to cut him off, and there was some sympathy in the hard look he gave Duo. "Don't explain it. I won't ask that. I can guess. War isn't pretty and things happen, terrible things. Commander Richards already gave the order that you can shower and change by yourself, but you can't ask to be treated like a normal trainee when you can't possibly be normal."
"If I..." Duo swallowed hard, trying to regain his composure. Just when he was beginning to think of Grange as a complete bastard... "If I screw up, if I lose it in any way, I will resign," Duo promised. He saw Grange's shoulders relax slightly, a sign that the man was relieved. "I need to try though," Duo continued. "You know why. You feel the same thing, the need to use our abilities to help people. That's why I joined the war, to help the colonies, to make a difference. My skills cost a lot, Agent Grange. If I don't use them, if I don't make all of that sacrifice mean something, It will hurt too much."
Grange went quiet, distant for a moment as he probably thought of the war, the killing, and what Duo's sacrifices might have been. His face went hard suddenly and he gave a firm shake of his head. "I can't let you sway my common sense with sympathy for what you need or want, Maxwell. It isn't about you or me. It's about those people out there we are going to protect. Maybe, the best you can do, is to NOT use your skills, not put yourself in a position where you are a danger to people. That's another kind of service to the people, Maxwell, if you think about it, taking a dangerous weapon out of commission and keeping it away from people who might get killed by it."
There was a timid knock on the door and Kit leaned in nervously. "Uh, Agent Grange? The trainees are waiting. Should I put them on the obstacle course, or...?"
"I'll take over," Grange said briskly and gave Duo one last look. "Think real hard about what I just said, Maxwell."
If you'd said anything new, I would, Duo thought to himself angrily. The man was like a broken record. He supposed, as he followed Grange and Kit to where the other trainees were huddled, Grange, being a trainer, was used to repeating himself. Either that, or Grange thought he could wear Duo's resolve down enough that he would want to quit just to get away from his constant diatribe, Duo thought sourly in an effort to climb out of the bad mood Grange had thrown him into. At least he had confirmed his concession about the shower, Duo told himself, and he wouldn't have to try and face that ordeal. It was a great relief to Duo, even though he felt a sick twist of disgust at himself that he hadn't been able to manage it. He didn't want to admit that there were things his past had robbed him of forever, and that there were mental scars that would never heal.
"Maxwell, are you done dreaming?" Grange barked out. Duo started and found all eyes staring at him. He flushed.
Grange growled something under his breath and then said, "You'll pair up with Kristoff since you are the smallest and youngest. Some of the training obstacles on the second level field are out of your reach. Kit, you're in the same boat. You'll team with Tyre."
"Yes, sir," both Kit and Duo said at the same time, both of them looking embarrassed to be singled out as inferior to their fellow trainees.
Grange made some other adjustments for trainees he felt had weak points and then they were going outside to the advanced course. Grange walked close to Duo and said without looking at him, "Kristoff is going to have to put his hands on you to help you on the course. Got a problem with THAT, Maxwell?"
Duo felt a flash of anger that made him lose all sense as he retorted, "As long as he keeps his pants on, no."
Grange did look at him then and his nose pinched angrily. "I'll take that as answering truthfully, but you better watch your smart mouth, Maxwell. It'll be my excuse to can you if you don't."
"Yes, Agent Grange," Duo replied, pulling himself back into order. Stupid! he said to himself. He didn't need to make Grange even more angry with him. It was his defense though, to shoot back with his tongue, to cover up with his grin, to make people think nothing was wrong and that it was all a joke so that they couldn't see how scared and really messed up he was. When he had lived on the streets of L2, or been captured during the war, his ability to hide his weaknesses had been a survival tactic he had cultivated to its fullest. It was hard to not fall into that mode when he felt stressed or in danger.
The trainees all stopped at the starting point of the course and looked it over with different levels of trepidation. Grange faced them as a soft, misting rain started. He ignored it.
"You have exactly four minutes." He jerked a thumb over at a scaffolding of metal at the far end of the course. There was a platform at the top tied with ropes. "Four minutes to get through the course and get to the top. I can tell you right now, you won't make it. Nobody does on the first try. There are tricks and exercises that we will be doing that WILL allow you to eventually make it to that platform in your allotted time. It's your goal." He flicked glances at Duo and Kit. "Some of you are going to have to learn teamwork to make it. All of you are going to have to learn endurance, discipline, and speed to complete the course."
Duo looked up and up at his partner, a big blonde man with a crewcut and a square jaw. The man looked down at Duo in return and they sized each other up. Duo found a grin. The man tentatively grinned back. "I won't let nothing happen to you, kid," The man said, "Follow my lead and I'll hoist you right up there with me."
Duo couldn't help a small laugh. "We'll help each other, okay?"
The man didn't believe him, not able to imagine how someone as slight as Duo could help someone like him, who easily outweighed him by at least sixty pounds. "What about the dog?" the man wondered. "What's he going to do?"
Duo grinned. "Watch. As far as I know, he can't climb a vertical stack of metal rods."
The man regarded Soda. "Will he get upset?"
It was good question. The man was big, but he wasn't stupid. "He won't like it, but I'll give him an order to stay," Duo replied reassuringly.
The man still looked a bit skeptical, but he shrugged and said simply, "Okay."
Duo was in his element. He wasn't afraid of the course. He'd run worse on Oz missions, far worse. He knew his own abilities. His `partner' was the only question mark. The man didn't look flexible, though he did look very strong. The climb they would be facing was going to take balance, strength, and flexibility.
Kit looked at Duo with a raised eyebrow and he realized that he was still grinning, an adrenalin rush taking him over. "You look confident," she said. "Why do I think that you'll ace this course?"
"Because you don't make assumptions when you look at a skinny kid," Duo replied. "You know the facts."
"Ah," she said softly and then winked at him. "Race you."
Duo perked up. "How much?"
"Ten credits?" Kit offered.
Duo blinked in surprise. "You think you're that good?"
She chuckled. "That's just lunch money, Maxwell, not a car payment."
"Lunch is very important to me," Duo replied with exaggerated seriousness and then grinned, "but I brought mine today, so the bet is definitely on."
"Get ready!" Grange called, unaware that his last, tedious instructions had been ignored.
Duo took up a position with the others. Everyone was bracing themselves, tensing and taking deep breaths that steamed white in the drizzling rain. When cold drops began soaking Duo's braid, he remembered the long liability at his back and tucked it into the collar of his workout suit. When in a situation, it wasn't good to give anyone, even a rival in a practice course, such an obvious handhold.
Kit snickered. "For some reason your hair made you look older. Now you look like a baby."
Duo's comment was to make an obscene gesture with one hand as Grange called, "Go!" and then he was racing, along with his large partner, into the course.
The course was hard, but Duo was wiry and fast. He went through every obstacle with quick competency, his partner keeping up with him with an effort. When they ran into walls, though, his partner was the first to the top, reaching down to give Duo a hand up and over with ease. Duo knew that he didn't need it. He had scaled, without a rope, sheer rock, the outside walls of Oz installations, and his immense Gundam many times during the war, but letting Kristoff help him was faster and it allowed him to save his energy for the harder parts of the course.
It felt good, Duo thought, to finally let himself go, to use his body and his skills to their utmost. His grin was a window to his thrumming emotions and his pumping adrenalin. He had been rotting, staying in the institute for a year and then another year at home, trying to find things to fill the time. This was living, this was who he was; a creature of action and intense purpose. I'm a tiger, he thought, not a house cat.
"Stay, Soda!" Duo ordered when they reached the scaffolding and the dog reluctantly obeyed as Kristoff hooked a line to Duo's belt and sent him up with such force that Duo felt as if he were being thrown. Duo caught a metal bar and swung himself up further to clear the way for Kristoff to scramble up behind him.
The metal bars were wet, freezing, and slippery. They couldn't fall and hurt themselves because of the lines, but more than a few slowed down in trepidation anyway, not trusting the ropes, or fearing a long fall even knowing that they wouldn't die at the end of it. It was a caution that Duo didn't own. His skin had always been expendable.
"Kid!" Kristoff growled nervously s Duo began climbing rapidly. "We're partners, remember? Slow it down or you'll fall on the wider spans. They were made for bigger people than you."
Duo didn't want to listen. His goal was almost in reach and he was going to be first. He ignored numb, frozen hands, and a rain that was edging into something more serious than a drizzle, and left Kristoff behind. When he found a span that was beyond his reach, Duo sized up the problem and then launched himself into space.
"Hey!" Kristoff shouted.
"Duo!" Came Kit's scream not far below Duo.
"MAXWELL!" Grange shouted.
Duo had jumped upwards. His hands caught on a bar across from the one that was too high for him. it was slightly lower and in reach of another slightly lower bar. Duo's hands slapped painfully on the hard metal, but he was using his momentum to swing upwards and to come upright on top of the slippery bar. He did slip, but he caught himself and didn't pause in his upward climb.
"Damn showoff!" Kit exclaimed and Duo heard Kristoff swear.
"Maxwell!" Grange's voice thundered. "You have a team mate and you are leaving him behind! "
`Acceptable,' the soldier part of Duo said emotionlessly in the back of Duo's mind. To accomplish a mission, sacrifices some times had to be made. Duo reined that kind of thinking in hard and paused in his climb. He could feel the seconds ticking. He could hear the others grunting and struggling far below him. He knew he could make the top in time. He knew that he would be first. Duo also knew that it wasn't the right way to do things. This wasn't the war. He couldn't leave a partner behind when he had specifically been teamed with the man to give him help; backup. In a Preventer mission, that was standard procedure. Duo had almost failed a test, one he was sure Grange had given both him and Kit on purpose. They were both loose cannons, he thought, hot heads; liable to tackle something alone because they thought that they could. It wasn't a desirable trait in a Preventer agent. It didn't follow the rules. The Preventers didn't want hotdoggers in their ranks.
Duo looked down. Kit was still with her partner, but she was getting ahead of him too. Kristoff was slightly below the both of them. Duo made a decision. He jumped back, endured curses and exclamations once more, and then lowered himself until he was even with Kit. She looked at him in confusion.
"We're a team," Duo said. "Let's all get up to the top together."
Kit looked confused, as did her partner, but Kristoff chuckled, understanding. "Let's do it, Kid," he said.
They extended hands, braced each other, lifted, pushed, and pulled as the rain broke from the clouds in a torrent and they were all soaked and freezing. When they were all standing on top of the platform at last, looking around them and then at each other, they laughed and clapped each other on the back. Something inside of Duo eased, some long standing fear, some uneasiness about being forced to deal with so many strangers so close to him. They had helped each other and that had required some trust. They hadn't finished the course in time, but that didn't matter. In that short climb, they had forged a bond between them and they knew it. They had stopped being a collection of strangers thrown together. They knew now that they could count on each other. They were a team and Duo was not an outsider any longer.
"You owe me ten credits,"' Kit said aside to Duo.
"What?!" Duo exclaimed in outrage. "What do you mean, ten bucks? We climbed up here together!"
"But I was first onto the platform," Kit replied with a smirk.
"Because I put a hand on your ass and pushed you!" Duo retorted furiously.
"I could tell that to Yuy," Kit said with all the innocence of a black mailer.
"I'll buy you lunch," Duo grumbled.
"Deal!" Kit chortled. "Now, let's get the hell out of the rain!"