When you are the shining stars of the Preventer organization.
The elite of the elite. The guys the experts call when they can’t
handle something… you don’t ask for time off, you tell your
boss you’re taking time off. And she offers to drive you home and
pay for the pizza and beer.
It’s not something we take advantage of all that often, but I knew
it was one of those times when I walked into the office I shared with Duo,
and found him sitting on the floor, a box of spilled paperclips scattered
around him, looking like the task of putting the things back in the box
was light years beyond his ability to cope with.
‘You know,’ he said conversationally, as though sitting on
the floor staring at office supplies was something he did all the time, ‘paper
clips are really pretty damn ingenious.’
‘A miracle of modern technology,’ I agreed, and didn’t
even get a smile.
‘I wonder who invented them?’ he mused, sifting through the
pile in front of him, seemingly amazed when several of them clung together.
I took in his almost vacant stare, the slump of his shoulders, and the
battlefield of little metal clips, and knew we were done for the day.
I went around him to his desk, and pressed the do not disturb button on
his phone. ‘I’ll look it up for you,’ I assured him,
taking a quick scan through his email inbox before setting his out of office
‘You think the staple guy was pissed?’ he suddenly wanted
to know. ‘Or… maybe the staple guy came after, and the paper
clip guy was pissed?’
‘There seems to be room for them both in the grand scheme of things,’ I
told him, pushing his desk chair in and moving on to my own desk to repeat
the disturb/out of office thing. There wasn’t any answer, so I went
and squatted down in front of him. It took him a minute to raise his eyes
to mine, and when he finally did, he tried on the ghost of a sheepish little
smile. ‘Uncle?’ he asked very quietly and I smiled.
‘Yeah,’ I agreed, ‘it’s time to go home for a
while, I think.’
He looked relieved and I kissed his forehead while he closed his eyes
to try to let the feeling sink in.
‘Can you clean this mess up?’ I prodded, and he had to look
around to remember what mess I was talking about.
He nodded after a minute. ‘I… yeah. I should. I think I made
‘Ok then, ‘I encouraged him. ‘Put them back in the box
and I’ll call it in, all right?’
He nodded wearily, bending to the task with renewed focus while I went
back to my desk, picked up the phone and dialed Une’s secretary’s
line. ‘Audrey? This is Agent Yuy; Agent Maxwell and I are checking
out early, we’ll be taking…’ I glanced back at Duo, finding
him flirting with the edge of frustration trying to get the stubborn paper
clips to go back in the box, ‘the rest of the week, at least. We’ll
be in touch.’
‘Very good, sir,’ I was told. ‘I’ll inform the
‘Thank you,’ I said, and signed off without waiting to hear
her wish us a good vacation; the paper clip box was about to meet its maker,
and I could suddenly visualize how they had ended up on the floor in the
first place. I quickly returned to Duo’s side and took the box away
from him, ‘I’ll pack and you pick up, ok?’
Another weary nod and we settled in to quietly cleaning up the office.
Duo tells me that when I’ve reached the end of my rope, I get a
little bit… maniacal. Duo just gets very… tired. Thankfully,
our triggers are very different, so while it had been a long damn week
for the both of us, I wasn’t quite as near my own edge.
God save Preventers if we ever slipped over that edge at the same time.
I suspect the thought of it keeps Commander Une awake at night.
When the wayward paper clips were finally returned to their box, Duo let
me pull him to his feet and lead him out of the office. We were half way
down the hall before I noticed that he still had a paper clip in his hand. ‘I
wonder,’ he said, holding it up to the light, ‘why they’re
‘Optimal use of tension and surface area, I assume,’ I tried
and he nodded, as though that made it all clear. We reached the end of
the hall and I paused at the floor receptionist’s desk to sign us
out, but Duo kept walking toward the elevators. ‘Denise, we’ll
be taking the rest of the week…‘ I told the wide-eyed girl,
who wasn’t really listening to me, but watching Duo fly his paper
clip through the air. I finished signing my name and forging Duo’s,
and jogged after him… Denise just blinked and waved.
‘Uh… ok, Agent Yuy. Have a nice weekend! You guys earned it!’
Thankfully, I caught up to Duo before he had a chance to do more than
use his paper clip to poke the elevator button. ‘Look! It has other
uses!’ he declared triumphantly.
‘Many uses,’ I agreed, saved from having to think of any when
the elevator doors opened. I stepped back, pulling Duo with me, to allow
the two passengers to disembark.
The first one, a guy I recognized from bookkeeping, smiled broadly. ‘Hey!
Great job, guys! ‘ he greeted, and the lady with him went all doe-eyed
when she recognized us. I gave Duo a nudge toward the elevator before the
woman could follow the look up with the gushing that usually followed.
‘Thanks, Kurt,’ I said with a jaunty wave that was mostly
meant to distract from the way Duo was protectively clutching his paper
clip to his chest and eyeing them unhappily. ‘We’re late for
a debriefing meeting though…’
Luck was with me again, as the elevator doors closed before Duo turned
to me, looking like I’d just given him a box of worms for Christmas. ‘Meeting?
I don’t want any more meetings…’
‘Just a ruse,’ I assured him, punching the button for the
lobby. ‘She was going to start that hero thing.’
He shuddered and covered his paper clip with his other hand, as though
shielding it from the very idea. ‘I hate the hero thing. It’s… gloopy.’
I couldn’t quite contain the snicker, but it made him smile, so
I just agreed that hero-worship was indeed, pretty damn gloopy, and we
made the rest of the ride in peace.
‘I’m going to call him Hank,’ Duo decided, just before
we arrived on the ground floor, holding his paper clip out to show me.
Just to make sure I got it, I suppose.
‘Hello Hank,’ I said dutifully, and it made him smirk at me.
I’ve never quite been sure if it’s a triumphant smirk, that
he’s corrupted me enough to talk to inanimate objects, or a smug
smirk that I love him enough to talk to inanimate objects for him. Or maybe
it’s just an amused as hell smirk.
Either way, I was quick to hustle Duo, his smirk, and Hank all out the
front door as fast as possible… it doesn’t pay for other people
to hear us addressing inanimate objects. It makes them nervous. And if
they get nervous enough, calls are made and then we have to talk to the
people in HR.
Apparently, it’s an odd coping mechanism.
But then… Duo has always been an odd person.
Personally, I find it odd that people are more apt to be understanding
over my tendency to punch holes in things, than they are Duo’s little…
Well, whatever you would call what Duo does. Self distraction?
Though I suppose my punching holes in things is my own brand of distraction,
and you’d think people would just be happy that Duo’s methods
are quieter and less destructive. But, apparently, the quiet ones are the
It was a gold-plated cinch that Duo was not going to be driving, so I
saw that he was ok to settle himself in to the passenger seat and took
the wheel myself. ‘Buckle up,’ I had to remind him, as I did
so myself and he followed my instructions, but then frowned down at his
‘Hank should buckle up too…’ he said, and there was
a hint of something in his voice that I moved to quash.
‘He can ride in your shirt pocket,’ I soothed and the frown
‘Good idea,’ he agreed, and carefully deposited the clip there,
buttoning the pocket down for good measure.
I realized that not having Hank to keep him occupied though, would leave
him without the all important distraction, so I set him to finding a CD
in our small pile, for some music to play while I got us out of the complex
and on the road.
He bent to the task with as much attention one would put on planning and
executing a major search and extract mission. He narrowed his choices down
with mumbles to himself, discarding several CDs based on some criteria
known only to himself. But then he looked up, suddenly exclaiming, ‘I
wonder what Hank would like?’
The thought had made him pause in a way that was not entirely good, so
I was quick to speak for the mute Hank. ‘I think Hank is in the mood
for something… soothing.’
The discarded CDs went back into the pile in his lap, and he started sorting
again. I resisted the urge to sigh in relief.
It took him almost half the drive home to settle on something, and what
went into the player was an instrumental selection that was so far away
from Duo’s normal tastes, it wasn’t even funny. It wasn’t
a matter of minutes before that frown was coming back and I could practically
see him thinking.
Thinking, at that stage of his foray onto the edge… is bad.
‘What’s the name of that song?’ I blurted, desperate
to stop the wheels in his head, and he leaped on the offering. Somewhere
under the cotton cloud he was in… he was doing his best to work with
He found the case and then made a noise of amused derision, struggling
with the pronunciation before giving it up. ‘Something to do with
a mongoose. You listen to weird shit.’
‘It was a gift,’ I grumped, giving him a feigned glare. ‘From
Relena and Wufei when they took that trip to Hawaii.’
He snickered some more, playing with the titles and mangling the Hawaiian
spelling to utter mash. ‘What on earth possessed them, do you think?’
For a moment, he almost sounded normal, and I sort of forgot we were supposed
to be playing the distraction game and not just having a conversation. ‘I
think it was right after the Fenwick case, when I tore out…’
I really don’t know what alerted me, some change to the feel in
the air, and I could have smacked myself. I bit down on the rest of it,
too late, and turned to judge the amount of damage I’d done.
Duo was looking at me, the pain bubbling up to the surface. ‘Heero?
Are you… all right?’ he suddenly asked through the fog.
‘I’m…’ I hesitated on the word, but then said
it anyway, ‘fine.’ You weren’t fine after a week like
we’d had, but in the grand scheme of things… I was fine enough.
I held his gaze until I had to look away to drive. I heard him take a
breath that was ragged, and I knew the thoughts were beginning to boil
‘I don’t think Hank likes this CD,’ I dared. ‘Maybe
you should find another?’
There was a noise that just made my heart ache, but then he floundered
after my words like he was reaching for a life line. ‘He… I… don’t
like it much either. It’s kinda boring. I guess it’s pretty,
‘Relena said it was more fun hearing it in person,’ I offered. ‘I
guess they played at the hotel they stayed at.’
‘For real?’ he asked, perking up a little. ‘I… I’ve
never heard music live, I don’t think.’
‘Quatre’s niece, that one time,’ I grinned and it finally
made him laugh.
‘She sucked!’ he crowed, and I felt guilty as relief flooded
me, watching the fog settling in again.
‘She was five!’ I returned, but it didn’t stop him from
expounding on just how bad a five year old piano player could be.
It carried us the last half mile, and then I was pulling into our garage
and taking him through into the house. Sometimes there is a winding down,
and food or showers come first, but this was not one of those times. I
helped him undress, and I helped him to bed and he was asleep before I’d
finished closing the blinds and turning off the lights.
Thursday for him, was done, despite it only being mid-afternoon, and Friday
was on the chopping block. I think our worst episode had seen him check
out for three days. Complete with autopilot, staggering trips to the bathroom
that he didn’t even remember making.
If I was any judge, I’d be lucky if he came back to me sometime Friday
I don’t know where he goes, but it offers him some healing, so I’m
grateful for it. I sometimes feel guilty that when it’s my turn to
be the point man, all I have to do is get him home intact. I’m afraid
I don’t offer him that same sort of easy job when it’s his
turn… I’m thankful I’ve never had to talk him down the
way he’s had to talk me.
We’re the elite. The go-to guys. We’re considered the last
line of defense, because if we can’t handle something… there
isn’t anybody else to call. We never have the option of throwing
up our hands and telling Une we can’t do it. We don’t get to
draw lines in the sand that we won’t cross. When you’re handed
the safekeeping of the peace of the entire solar system, you can’t
be afraid of getting your hands dirty.
Sometimes you have to do things that don’t necessarily make you
happy. Sometimes you make promises. And sometimes you make promises you
know you can’t keep, in order to get the job done. Sometimes you
kill people. Sometimes you let people die. And sometimes you let people
die who don’t really deserve it, because letting them die keeps a
dozen others from doing the same.
The needs of the many… the greater good…
We know the drill, but it still sucks.
I went through the motions; eating, showering, opening the mail that had
piled up all week. I watched a little TV and spent the night on the couch… I
find it entirely too unnerving to sleep next to Duo when he’s like
that; the man could be in a damn coma for all the response he gives.
Friday morning, I checked to make sure he’d at least shifted in
his sleep, and then left him alone.
We’d been away for awhile and the cupboards were pretty sparsely
stocked. Plenty of canned and pre-packaged goods, but nothing fresh. I
could have left the house and gone shopping, no problem, but it makes me
weirdly uncomfortable to just leave Duo alone when he’s that vulnerable.
We’ve never had to test his ability to come out of that place he
goes, in an emergency, and I didn’t like the idea that it might not
happen. So I made a list and called the neighbors across the street; the
Wilson’s had a teenage boy who had run errands for us before, and
I made sure to put comfort foods on the list for the both of us.
The rest of Friday I spent mimicking a vegetable; a lot of time was spent
just lying around not thinking. I refused to touch the computer, avoided
the news and just… waited.
The squirrels in the side yard were very entertaining.
I knew he was awake when I heard the toilet flush. I knew he was back
in the land of the living when I heard the shower turn on. He wouldn’t
be long, so I used the time to open some soup and put it on low so it would
be there when ever we were ready for it.
He was still warm and damp from the shower when he came to find me, and
we just stood in the middle of the living room in each other’s arms
while the room slowly faded to dark as the sun went down.
It had been roughly thirty hours since I’d tucked him into bed.
Thirty-two hours since we’d finished our debriefing meeting with
Thirty-five hours since the official end of our last mission.
Forty-two hours since Henry J. Taylor, the unfortunate co-pilot who had
been in the wrong place, at the wrong time had breathed his last breath.
Forty-three hours since Duo’d promised the man that he was going
to be fine, and that we’d get him out in one piece.
Forty-five hours since we knew it wasn’t going to happen.
Sometimes… the job just sucks.
‘I’m sorry,’ Duo whispered against my shoulder, for… it
didn’t even really matter.
‘I know,’ I told him, and let it go. He knew he didn’t
have to say it. And I knew he needed to anyway.
Later we would eat our soup, and later still we’d talk it out. We’d
tear it apart, trying to reassure ourselves that there wasn’t something
we’d missed. We’d try hard to come up with the should-have,
and pray to God we couldn’t do it, now that it was miles too late.
And somewhere before the sun came up again, we’d lie down to sleep,
and Saturday morning would find us striving for a normal that was still
a ways off. Duo would go for a run, and I’d sort the laundry. Hank
the paper clip would be rescued from Duo’s pocket and somewhere between
breakfast and his asking me if we could go to the funereal… we’d
put the clip in the box on the dresser.
It would tuck in between the bottle cap and the pebble, sharing space
with the nickel and the wooden button. Duo would name them all in his head,
but would try to spare me the thoughts.
And we’ll agree… again… that when the box is full… we’ll
Neither one of us can quite work out just how that makes us feel.
But for now it’s just enough to know we’re neither one of
us in this thing alone.
Fiction : GW :