"Which one of you will be living 'in quarters'?" the balding, beaked nosed man asked. His entire attitude told me who he was. It was his business, his official badge and clipboard said, to monitor the entire wing of HQ bachelor housing.
"I will, "Heero replied, ready for a fight.
"I'm just here for a movie and popcorn," I said with a grin. He knew who we were and I didn't really expect him to buy it, especially since I was carrying a duffel bag with my name stitched on it.
He glared with a lifted eyebrow at something on my face. I rubbed, self consciously, at the pimple there and then determined that I wasn't going to let him intimidate me like that. Sure, I was a cyclops, but I was a cyclops attached to one, Heero Yuy, and I wasn't going to back down.
I draped an arm over Heero's shoulders and said, "Look, we're both under protection, until they find the crazy who wants us dead. We don't like it anymore than you do, but that's the way it is. We are a couple. We will be in the same room, sleeping in the same bed.... You get it, right?"
The man looked as if something had gone up his nose. His nostrils snapped shut and his eyes went beady. "That is highly irregular."
"Yeah, that's us," I told him.
He looked down at his clipboard. "I do have a room in section b...."
"No," I said immediately. "We're staying together."
"I meant, that's larger than the one assigned to Captain Yuy," he finished as if I smelled bad. "The bed is still small, but I'm sure that... won't be a problem."
"I thought... Isn't it against regulations?" I wanted to slap myself. Why the hell was I reminding him of that? Well, because I was pretty sure that he didn't need reminding.
The man poked at his clipboard and looked long suffering. "Even men in positions such as myself, know about your reputations, and your honors. I think a room together, is the least I can do for you." He scowled then. "But, as far as anyone else is concerned, you, Captain Maxwell, are still only here for a movie and popcorn."
I grinned, I couldn't help it. I was too used to having my desires blocked, my luck go sour, my karma out to get me...it was weird to have it all go my way for once.
"Thank you," Heero said, always formal and polite in these situations. "We very much appreciate it."
The man still looked annoyed as hell, but he gave Heero a curt, respectful nod. He swiped code keys on his clipboard and then handed them to us. "Room B12. The regs are posted on the back of the door. I hope you will follow most of them, sirs."
"We will," Heero replied before I could come up with something smart, like, 'What? No bowling nude down the corridors at two in the morning?', and then steered me towards our room.
After a few steps, I relaxed, battle won, and a slight euphoria almost dulling the edge of the knowledge of why we were there. Oh, yeah, someone had tried to shoot a bullet up my ass and we were hiding, like little girls, because he might try it again. Pathetic. We won't even go to the part where Wu Fei had been put in command of us, because we couldn't be trusted to keep our cool.
The room was small. So small, I wondered what the hell the smaller room looked like. It had a window, with a cheesy, motel type, curtain, a bed with a too thin blanket, one pillow, and a table and chair tucked into a corner.
"I feel like I'm in school again," I sighed as I dropped my duffel and stretched. It was my usual M.O. to toss myself onto the bed, but... I didn't... and Heero noticed.
Heero gave me this look that made me feel loved, cared for, and... like a loser, though he didn't mean it. Not at all. It just came with the territory. He looked under the bed, checked everything, and then stood and waited for me to do something, eyes worried and thoughtful.
"I don't need a psyche evaluation yet," I grunted irritably.
"Then... why don't you sit down?" Heero wanted to know.
I hugged myself and told myself it was only the damned air conditioning turned up too high, but we both knew better. My body was tensed, adrenaline making my heart pound. It was expecting a trap, expecting danger. I had to convince it that everything was all right.
I slowly moved to the bed and looked down at the cheap blanket. It was green, a shade I couldn't identify, and... polyester. I hated polyester. With so many high tech fabrics, that could feel like anything you wanted, why did they always fall back on polyester?
"We need a new blanket," I told Heero. "And sheets. I bet the sheets are polyester too."
"All right," Heero agreed, not sure what I needed just then, but ready for any cue from me. "Should... should we get them first?"
I found my balls somewhere and slowly sat down. I felt like I was settling on sharp nails. "No," I forced out. "We can get them tomorrow." I managed a weak leer. "Sleeping so close, I doubt I'll be thinking much about sheets and blankets."
He smiled for me and I... relaxed. See, body, I told it. No explosions, no clicks of a trigger mechanism, just a hard mattress and cheap bedding. We were safe, though I knew better than to trust that completely. It was a nice lie right then, and I wanted to believe it.
Waking up, sprawled all over your better half, in a bed the size of a postage stamp, might have it's good aspects, but I couldn't find any just then. I had a headache, every muscle in my body was kinked, and Heero had morning breath from our hasty dinner of garlic bagels and cream cheese, that we had bought from a vending machine down the hall.
Heero cocked an eye open at me. "Is that your breath?" he wondered with a grimace.
"I think it's ours, actually," I snorted and rolled off of him. I did a lazy stretch and then rubbed at my aching head as I made my way into the tiny bathroom. It had a prison type steel toilet and a sink. "Shower in the gym, I guess," I growled as I relieved myself and then moved to the sink to brush my teeth.
"That's all right," Heero replied. "I'll be able to get in a few bench presses before we start work."
Heero came in and relieved himself as well, completely unselfconscious. The sound was loud and I glanced over at him and grinned, mouth full of toothbrush and tooth paste. I spat it out and said, "This is like when we were hiding out in those schools, during the war."
Heero shook his head as he went back out into the room to find his workout pants. "Those weren't good days."
I thought about that. "No, I suppose not... but I was with you."
Heero paused in his search and turned, giving me a warm smile. I winked at him, he grinned, and then he went back to his search.
Showering with a bunch of guys takes on a whole new aspect when you're gay. I may have been head over heels in love with Heero Yuy, but I still had eyes in my head, eyes I carefully kept glued to the shower wall in front of me. When they know you're gay, an idle look can get a guy into a lot of trouble. When Heero finished his work out, and began soaping up next to me, it more than made up for it.
Dressing and heading out to the main building, one of our fellow agents snickered at me. "Trying out a third eye, Maxwell?"
I touched the zit, still front and center on my forehead and snarled, "Good one, Franks! At least my problem goes away, dog face is forever."
Heero put a hand on my elbow and steered me past. "Remember," he said, "We aren't really back in school."
"I'm not the one who started it," I grumbled back. My fingers traced the raised bump. "Is it really that bad?"
"No," Heero assured me promptly.
"Hey, Maxwell!" one of the female agents snickered as we headed for our office. "It looks like someone used your head for target practice. Bulls eye, too."
I stifled a reply. Heero wasn't going to let me deliver it anyway. He snagged a donut from a cart rolling by and shoved it into my mouth.
"That was for Une!" the woman pushing the cart protested.
"Emergency," Heero replied shortly and then we were in our office with the door closed.
I munched on my donut and sat down sullenly as Heero picked up the vid and ordered more food from the commissary. "Coffee," I prompted around my food as I booted up my system and put in the password.
"Coffee and tea, no sugar," Heero finished, hung up, and then checked our in box.
We didn't really expect any results during the night, but we both wanted it over with. Our disappointment made us both glare as Wu Fei came into our office, sipping on his own tea.
"Your anger at the situation won't solve this case any faster." Wu Fei had a drawl to his voice, though he'd never admit it. It was smooth as silk, but arrogance itself. It could convey everything, or nothing. Today, it was telling us that we were a burden that he didn't want.
"We weren't angry at you," I corrected him, though that was a bit of a lie, Wu Fei could make anyone angry in 0.3 seconds.He didn't really expect me to try the 'friendly fellow agent' crap until after I've had my coffee? Especially, after sleeping on a guy as hard as gundanium, on scratchy polyester, and in a room smaller than my gundam cockpit."We just need breakfast," I grumbled.
Wu Fei looked me over, blinked at the zit, and then looked very superior as he crossed arms over his chest. "It seems you've already had breakfast."
Huh? Heero gave a short chuckle and motioned to his own face. I reached up and found powder from my donut there. Embarrassed, I wiped it away and then glared at Wu Fei even more.
"Let's get this show on the road," I told them both. "I am not spending the rest of my life hiding in a bedroom smaller than a rat cage."
Wu Fei raised an eyebrow. "Then I suggest that you apply yourself, Maxwell, and worry about solving the case more than eating breakfast."
Heero made a motion to calm down and drop it, but then Wu Fei launched into the fact that I should really cut out the caffeine because my addiction was obviously contributing to my foul mood.
Fei was lucky, my coffee arrived before I could throw a punch. Heero took it from the server and placed it into my hand. Glaring over the steaming rim, I sipped hurriedly and sat down again.
"Now that you've had your drug of choice, can we get started on your case?" Wu Fei wondered acidly.
We were either going to solve this case, quickly, I thought, or Wu Fei was going to make me lose it in a very spectacular way.
"So what is Une doing here?" was Heero's next question.
"Coordinating for a large mission," Wu Fei replied. "She dropped off information pertaining to your case as well, though. Quatre is almost convinced that the suspect is an ex agent and he needed information from Une to confirm it."
"Ex agent?" My list of enemies was a very long one. Not many were ex agents, though.
Wu Fei raised an eyebrow at me, as if I were being extremely stupid. I glared back, sipped my coffee, and said, "I can think of three people, right off, that would seriously like to see me dead, but all of them are in lock up. What about you, Heero?"
Heero was frowning; clueless. He'd been the one to make these people his friends, long before I had appeared on the scene, but it wasn't hard to imagine that his high standards might have pushed someone over the edge. I really didn't expect him to see it, though. I could point to myself and say, ''I can be an asshole and piss people off.', but perfectionists never do. People should want to meet his high standards, I was sure he thought,not break down and want to kill him when they failed.
"Preventers keeps track of their ex agents as a matter of course," Wu Fei continued, as if he couldn't believe our combined stupidity. "People that highly trained can be a dangerous force."
"You know who it is, Fei, so spit it out!" I grumbled.
"We suspect him, only," Wu Fei corrected me viciously. "Making the case, that he is the perpetrator, will be our job."
I glared. "Tell me his name."
"Gerald Filmore," Wu Fei finally admitted, as if he relished having that bit of knowledge over us. He probably did.
I blinked as it all made sense, but I had to argue, "He didn't seem the type." He'd been angry, sure. You don't do a stint at the pole without getting really pissed, but he hadn't acted like a raving lunatic afterward, either.
"He purchased a ticket to this area," Wu Fei told us. "He hasn't checked into any hotels, though, or rented any bungalows. There may be more people involved, people who are helping him while he is here."
"We don't know his current location, then," Heero said. He had that look on his face that was both scary as shit and nice at the same time.The man was ready to hand out justice, but there was a 'Protect Duo.' level to it too.
I rubbed at my forehead and winced as I hit the pimple there. "So, we have to case the entire area until he makes the wrong move," I surmised.
"Yes, obviously," Wu Fei replied, as if he could barely keep from hitting me for being so slow.
When you're an agent, you get a dose of 'I should have gotten that' when ever anyone gets info on your case. Knowing that people, including Quatre and Une, had stayed up late last night to get that much information, while Heero and I had slept, stuffed with cream cheese bagels, kind of stung us both in the pride midsection. We both had the strong desire to redeem ourselves.
I finished my coffee, crushed and tossed the cup into the garbage, and then stood up with a glint in my eye. "Let's go nail Filmore."
Heero had his laptop and we keyed it to signal us if Filmore used any of his credit. It was also keyed to alert us if anyone using a variation of his name popped up online.It was a start, but all of us knew that it was going to be a grueling case. Finding the man, would be the easy part. Pinning the crime on him, was the challenge.
"I've made up a grid," Wu Fei told us. "We'll each search a section."
I didn't like being separated from Heero, but I didn't show it. I liked, even less, being seen, as completely dependant on him. I'd been a damned good agent before I'd met him. I didn't need him to back me up doing a search. He seemed troubled, though, when Fei gave me the section nearest our home. Yeah, tons more likely that I'd run into the guy than they would. It made me more determined to be tough and to show them both that I was capable of handling myself.
Getting hit in the mental midsection sucked. Getting two sucker punches in one morning should be against the law. I wasn't ready for Wu Fei to ask his next question.
"Duo," Wu Fei asked, with an expression of distaste, "You did have a 'relationship' with this man. Is it likely that your judgment will be impaired by any lingering attachment?"
You can always count on me to be crude and blunt when I'm pissed off. If he wanted to be that wrong, then he needed me to come down on him like a ton of bricks. "We were partners," I replied. "I had a lapse of judgment, where I let my dick rule my brain, I took him home, and we screwed like weasels.That doesn't, in any way, mean that we had a 'relationship', or that I wouldn't cuff him and-"
Wu Fei cut me off sharply, "I was worried that your personal dislike of the man, might cause you to use excessive force, Maxwell."
"Oh." Not much to do after that one, but look like a complete dumb shit. "Well, no, I wouldn't-"
"I am ordering you, nonetheless, to report to me, at once, if you locate Filmore," Wu Fei told me."You are not to move in on him alone."
"Yes, mom," I growled, hating his lack of confidence in me.
Wu Fei didn't have to say his next line, 'I can have you taken off this case.' It was in his expression.
"Okay, okay!" I replied to it. "Yes, sir, I'll call."
He wasn't satisfied. That's not Fei, but he did let me go. Heero gave me a hard kiss on the way out and his own look, which said different things, one of which was, 'I love you', and the other, 'be careful.'. They were a lot easier to swallow, much easier than the armed escort that met me at the front of the building.
What? You thought Fei would let me go alone, when we had been cooped up there 'for our own protection'? The three well armed men looked uncomfortable, especially when I glared at them and demanded to know what the hell they thought they were doing.
"Orders," Huckaby replied and touched his sidearm in a way that let me know that arguing about it was a waste of breath.
I was a man that had faced armies alone, that had infiltrated installations bristling with every weapon known to man, and come out alive. Being babysat now, as if I had suddenly lost the ability to take care of myself, made me want to kill things. "I was cutting up armies, alone, when I was fifteen," I told Huckaby.
Huckaby swallowed hard, but he was one of those men who did exactly what he was told, no matter the danger to himself. "Sorry, sir," he replied.
It took me less than twenty minutes to 'ditch' them. I led them into the city, as if our objective was there, sidestepped into a crowd, and just dissolved into anonymity. I laughed as I watched them from distance, beginning to frantically search for me, but I couldn't stay to enjoy it. I took the first bus to the seashore, changed into shorts and a tank top in a public restroom, and then wandered the simmering hot sands and dunes, dangling myself out there for my enemy to see. I didn't need search grids and meticulous, careful days of combing the city. I just needed to make myself available as a target.
Come on, asshole, I thought, Duo Maxwell is done being afraid of you. Come and get me.
"Hey," a voice said from behind me, and I knew that tone. Someone was trying to get lucky.
"Taken," I said, without turning around.
"Damn," the voice continued. "You are sooo hot. Sure you don't want to consider a change?"
I turned, then, wanting to get rid of the guy, but he started when he saw my face. He was young and handsome, and I would have considered him any day for a roll in the sheets, but something about my face was making him reassess his choice.
"Ah, well," he stammered, "Suppose we have to be faithful."
That didn't make any sense to me as he turned and headed down the beach for more likely prospects. I touched my face and felt the pimple. It was oozing. I dabbed at it, swearing, imagining what I must look like. Duo Maxwell, vain? Hell, yes.
My cell was ringing. It had been doing that off and on, but I had been ignoring it. I had already called in to headquarters several times to reassure them that I was all right, but I had avoided both Wu Fei and Heero. I could tell by the call that it was Heero again. The cyclops needed reassurance, though, bad enough to put up with Heero telling me what an idiot I was being.
"I don't see why you are avoiding me," Heero started.
"I hate lectures," I replied as I kept scanning the beach.
"I wasn't going to give one," Heero growled back.
"So, how many guards did you get?" I wondered sourly.
"Four," Heero replied with a chuckle. "It took me less than five minutes to get rid of them."
I grinned, but it made me worry too. Wasn't that a kick? I was sure that I could handle anything coming my way, but Heero made me want to rush to where ever he was and watch his back. The heart is damned stupid.
"Look, Heero, " I said as I bent down and dug up a shell out of the sand, trying to look like the usual beachgoer, "I think we both know you're not going to find a freakin' thing where you are. Fei's just being by the book thorough."
"Which is why I'm pulling up to the beach right now," Heero told me and it made me laugh. "Filmore will wait until we get complacent and come back home. He'll be near it, keeping watch."
I scanned the beach. "Well, he's not taking the bait so far."
I could hear the scowl in Heero's voice. "Duo!Get back under cover and tell me where you are."
"Right down the beach from the main parking lot," I told him as I straightened and began to stroll up into the dunes. "Now I'm up in the dunes."
"Duo!" I heard a car door slam in my cell and could picture him scrambling to reach me.
"Watch out!" I warned him, irritably. Unless Filmore planned on shooting us both, I doubted that he would try anything with two of us there. Besides, I think he was mainly interested in taking me out, not Heero. I was the one he had been 'involved' with, even if it had been only a one nighter. He would naturally blame me for everything that had happened after that. It was deserved, I suppose, but a punch in the face was a normal reaction, not murder.
Heero came pelting over a dune, shoes full of sand and his jacket flapping in the breeze. He glared when he reached me, but his eyes never stopped scanning our surroundings, his hand on the gun under his jacket.
"You stand out like a penguin in snow," I growled. Heero was wearing
his dark sunglasses and his black and white suit. "A handsome penguin,
I amended, because, damn the man, only he could look that handsome looking so out of place and ridiculous.
Heero snagged off his sunglasses, blue eyes skewering me. "I should have you written up for insubordination."
"Should I write you up too, Mr. Security Guard Ditcher?" I shot back, "or are you going to tell me how you were going to stay in your designated area to search in a safe and professional manner?"
Heero's glare lost heat."So, we're both here," he said with an exasperated sound. "What's the plan?"
"You change," I told him, "and we hope that Filmore hasn't seen our little sideshow. Then we dangle ourselves out in the sun and wait for him to make the next move."
Both our cells rang. We ignored them, knowing it was Wu Fei.
"Time table?" Heero wondered.
I thought about that and then told him fiercely, "As long as it takes. I'm not hiding anymore. I'm not letting this asshole intimidate me." Make me pee my pants, actually, but I wasn't about to say that. I don't think I would be losing my fear of booby trapped beds any time soon.
"Agreed," he replied, totally in mission mode.
He looked at me, ready for more mission specs.
"Relax," I told him. "get your suit on and meet me on the beach. We'll catch some rays, have a few tikki bar drinks, and look like we're clueless to danger. If you go in with that face, you'll make even the crabs scatter."
Heero settled his shoulders, as if making a supreme effort, nodded, and then gave me a nudge towards the beach. "I'll cover you until you get there. I don't think the man would be insane enough to take shots at you in a crowd."
"I hope not," I muttered as I slogged back over the dunes and onto the beach. We were making a lot of assumptions based on Filmore's sanity. I had to wonder what would happen if the man didn't actually have all of his marbles.
Back to Chapter nineteen
on to chapter twenty-one