by: CalicOcat

Always Best Friends (cont)

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ 0100 hours local time, May 10, A.C. 202; L2 ]

"G'nite, Hilde. Goin' out clubbing to celebrate finishin' off the salvage-contract-that-ate-my-life was fun, but I'm beat!"

"And maybe just a bit sloshed too!" Hilde giggled as Duo staggered down the hall towards his room. 'More than just a bit, I'd say... Every time his glass was empty, I had a full one waiting for him... I'm sick and tired of waiting for him to notice me and make the first move, so I'm just going to have to get things moving myself!'

Less than an hour later, Hilde slipped silently into Duo's room, casually dropping her clothing as she went. Naked, she slid under the covers and reached towards the silently slumbering body only to have her wrist caught in an iron grip. Eyes darkened to almost black in the dimly lit room glittered furiously as Shinigami hissed, "What the HELL do you think you're doing? We had this discussion before we ever signed partnership papers and you SWORE that you would settle for friendship."

Off-guard, Hilde gasped, "But you were dead drunk! How did you..."

"You've obviously forgotten who you're dealing with, Ms Schbeiker - the God of Death may drink, but he never, EVER, gets drunk enough to lose control - at least not without someone he trusts implicitly there to watch his back!" With that, Duo flung her arm violently away from him, slid out from under the covers, yanked several large duffle bags out from under the bed, and started tossing his things into them haphazardly.

Stung, Hilde massaged her aching wrist as she shouted back, "SOMEONE?! Oh, what you really mean, of course, is Heero! It's always Heero-this, and Heero-that, and 'That's what best friends are for, Heero'! As if that's all it is - you're head-over-heels in love with your precious Perfect Soldier - hah - Perfect Asshole is more like it! The war's been over for years and he STILL speaks in monosyllables and GLARES - he has no idea what love is and never will, he's not even HUMAN!"

"SHUT UP!"

Face to face with Shinigami in all his fury, Hilde shrank back against the headboard. Duo shook with rage, needing every ounce of iron control he possessed to keep from hitting her. "You're a fine one to talk about someone else not knowing what love is! As for Heero, you don't know anything about him - he's a far better human - a far better FRIEND - than you. Get out of my room, NOW. And I would strongly suggest keeping out of my way and your mouth shut until I'm gone. My lawyer will be in touch regarding the business."

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"I shoulda known she wouldn't pass up any chance to cause trouble. Baka, baka, baka!"

Duo dragged himself back into the cockpit and slumped into the pilot's chair. 'All I wanted was a little time to think things through before I told Heero what happened. I still haven't made up my mind how much to tell him... He definitely doesn't need to know how insulting she was, he has enough problems with that whole damn 'Perfect Soldier' image as it is... But - I think - maybe - it's time to admit the rest to him. Even if he's not interested in a relationship, our friendship's strong enough to make it through.'

"Sure, all I have to do is walk up to him and say, 'Heero, you're my best friend and I'm madly in love with you'. Ugh, Duo, that sounds like something out of a bad romance novel. Definitely gonna have to work on the delivery."

*************************************

[ 2300 hours local time, May 14, A.C. 202; Vice Foreign Minister's mansion, Sanc ]

A black-clad figure slipped silently through the halls, moving easily from shadow to shadow. It paused at a door in the residential wing; there was a soft "click". The door opened, then closed again in perfect silence.

Inside Heero's room, Duo swiftly located Heero's duffle bags - stored under the bed, just like his own - some habits never changed. It was the work of mere minutes to pack Heero's personal belongings - a few outfits of casual clothing, a couple of books, and a few framed photos - Heero with himself, one of all the pilots together, another of Heero perched on Zero's shoulder, one of himself at the party after the Mariemaia incident. He then slipped the laptop into its bag, grabbed the OTHER duffle bag of weapons, etc. from its hiding place behind a tux in the back of Heero's closet, and exited the room through the window.

A few minutes later, Heero's heavily loaded motorcycle was pushed silently down the driveway. A long braid swung into view momentarily as the cycle reached the road; the helmeted figure pushing it hopped on, and the perfectly tuned machine purred off into the distance.

*************************************

[ 0300 hours local time, May 15, A.C. 202; Peacecraft Memorial Hospital, Sanc ]

'The ol' stealth skills sure are coming in handy tonight... Of all the lousy times for Sally to be away... From what Une said, there's not much chance of the doc on Heero's case releasing him. That orderly that tried to shake him awake out of a nightmare and got thrown into the wall kind of screwed up any chance of that. "Flashbacks to the war indicate a need for psychiatric evaluation and possible treatment for PTSD prior to release," according to the good doc. For Pete's sake, Sally's got a notice in red letters six inches high on Heero's records warning not to sedate or restrain him and the twit STILL went ahead and did both!'

Duo quickly shut down the assorted monitoring equipment in Heero's room, careful to do so without setting off any medical alarms, then moved over to the bed.

"Heee-e-e-r-r-o, wake u-u-p," he chanted in a soft sing-song. Tickling Heero's nose lightly with the end of his braid, he continued softly, "Ohayo, 'Ro, time to rise & shine, sleepyhead."

Heero stirred slightly, then murmured, "D-Duo??"

"The one-&-only, partner, just gimme a sec to get rid of THESE," there was a soft sound as the restraints dropped to the floor, "and we're ready to rock-&-roll." Duo's voice turned serious for a moment as his eyes met Heero's groggy gaze, "Gomen nasai, Heero. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here. It's a long and rather ugly story, but I'm here now and the story can wait till you're feeling better, 'kay?"

"'Kay," Heero murmured sleepily as Duo picked him up. The long chestnut braid slid over Duo's shoulder and landed on Heero's chest. His hand closed around it, automatically seeking familiar reassurance that this wasn't just a dream.


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ March, A.C. 195 ]

Heero lifted his head, suppressing a moan as he heard voices outside his cell. 'Back again already? K'so, haven't they figured out yet that they aren't going to get anything out of me?'

He caught the tail end of the conversation as the cell door swung open. "...surprised they're bothering to haul him down to Medical, but then I guess they want him alive for a public execution, eh?"

"Don't ask me, I just follow orders. They say 'Take 01 down to Medical', I take 01 down to Medical," a vaguely familiar voice answered.

A soldier in OZ uniform entered the cell, quickly unlocking his cuffs from the wall and roughly refastening them behind his back. Heero bit his lip as his dislocated shoulder shrieked in protest. His head spun nauseatingly as the soldier jerked him to his feet and pushed him towards the door. He pitched forward, fully expecting to hit the floor, only to be caught and draped over the shoulder of the soldier waiting in the corridor.

"Thanks, Hendricks," that same naggingly familiar voice said.

'Why does that voice sound so familiar?' Heero closed his eyes as the man carrying him spun quickly and set off down the corridor at a fast walk, causing his stomach to lurch. 'Definitely a concussion,' he thought, 'added to the dislocated shoulder, cracked or broken ribs, and the bullet in the thigh from the escape attempt... Not good odds for an escape, even from Medical...'

Heero re-opened his eyes as he was set down. "Gimme a sec," the voice whispered, then abruptly, his wrists were free as nimble fingers worked their magic on the locks of the cuffs. He looked around and realized that they were in a dark corner of the garage, not Medical. An Oz uniform hat slid to the floor in front of him as he was scooped up in someone's arms. A chestnut braid landed on his chest and his rescuer burst into a sprint for the nearest vehicle just as the alarms went off.

"MAXWELL?!?"

"That's my name, don't wear it out," that familiar voice quipped breathlessly, flinging the pair of them into the base commander's sports car. Heero gaped in disbelief as the crazy American hot-wired the car, revved its powerful engine, and shot out of the garage.

"Why?" he demanded sharply, while thinking, 'Why take such a risk for me, I'm just a soldier - they could have had two pilots instead of just one, you could have been killed...'

"Because even if you don't consider me a friend, I consider you to be one of mine," Duo answered distractedly while up-shifting the sports car and pointing it straight for the flimsy barrier blocking the gate.

"Nani?!?"

"Oh fine, if it makes you feel better, pretend whatever you want, but that's the real reason. Now DUCK!!"

Both of them slid down in their seats and the low-slung sports car brushed through below the barrier intended for stopping transport and delivery trucks.

'Well, I guess that explains why he picked the convertible,' Heero thought just before the pounding in his head overwhelmed him and he blacked out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Heero slipped in and out of consciousness while Duo carried him out of the hospital and placed him in the waiting car. A little later, he opened his eyes as Duo carried him onboard a small intercontinental shuttle, just in time to spot a pair of familiar motorcycles, Duo's plus his own, securely strapped in the bay. He must have made some small sound, since Duo glanced down at him and grinned, "Yeah, I swung by the mansion and picked up your stuff before I came after you. From what Une said, I figured you'd be out of action for at least a month so you'd probably want it with you. Brought your personal stuff, left the uniforms and tuxes. And yes, I even brought that bloody stupid laptop." Duo rolled his eyes and heaved a long-suffering sigh.

Heero smirked slightly, "Arigatou, Duo."

"Sally's not available, so I arranged for one of the doctors that worked with the Sweepers during the war to meet us and set us up with whatever medical stuff you need. Michael's a nice guy - humour him and at least pretend you'll actually take the painkillers and sedatives he prescribes, OK?"

"Hn."

"Yeah, I thought that's what you'd say... He's loaning us his truck & a trailer to haul the motorcycles on AND his cottage too, so at least lay off the death-glares - please?" Duo gave Heero a pleading look as he settled him into a semi-reclined seat.

'Those puppy-dog eyes should be illegal,' Heero thought, but only replied, "Hn."

*************************************

[ 2000 hours local time, May 15, A.C. 202; Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada ]


Duo checked to be sure that Heero was still asleep in the truck, then carried the last bag of groceries into the cottage. It was still pretty chilly in there since the heat and water had been turned off when the cottage was closed up at the end of last summer. He'd turned both on right away when they arrived, as well as turning up the hot water heater and lighting the fireplace, but it still felt a bit chill and damp. He made up the bed and turned the covers back, then went out to get Heero.

Heero was rubbing his eyes with one hand and blinking sleepily when Duo reached the truck.

"Hey there partner, I was startin' to get a little worried. Ready to go inspect this fine establishment?"

"Hai," Heero mumbled, readily raising his arms for Duo to lift him out of the truck seat.

"Okay, bathroom first or supper? I thought we'd just have soup and a salad tonight since it's getting kinda late and I'm too tired to fix a proper meal... Or I can do omelettes if you'd rather..."

Heero stifled a yawn, stretched, then winced as the stretch pulled his stitches. "Bathroom, then an omelette sounds good."

"Okay."

Duo set Heero down on the edge of the tub, then asked, "Need any help or will you be okay?"

"'M okay," Heero yawned again.

"Okay, I'll go start supper so you can eat and take your medicine before you fall asleep again."

"Hn," Heero grumbled, making a face at Duo's retreating back.

"Don't make that face at me, buddy, I'm too tired to stay awake all night because YOU can't sleep because you didn't take your pain pills!" Duo hollered without even looking back.

Heero shook his head in disbelief. 'He knows me so well - WE know EACH OTHER so well - yet he still surprises me at times.'


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ April, A.C. 195 ]

"He-e-e-e-cha-a-an... I'm bo-o-r-r-ed... Heee e-e-chan... Hey, HEE-CHAN!"

"I've told you before, DON'T CALL ME HEE-CHAN!!" Heero shouted, spinning his desk chair around to glare at the braided boy draped across the bed.

"Yeesh, you don't have to shout, Hee-chan..."

Heero always winced internally at the hated nickname - and for once, he was unable to suppress the external wince as well. He turned quickly back to his laptop, hoping the braided baka hadn't noticed that reaction.

The thump of feet hitting the floor told him that was a vain hope, and when hands spun his chair around again, he was prepared for a fresh barrage of teasing. Instead, he met the gaze of a suddenly-serious Duo Maxwell. "You really do hate that name, don't you? Tell me why, please, and I promise I won't call you that anymore."

"NANI?!?"

"Look, Heero, I tease you because that seems to be the only thing that breaks through that icy wall of yours and gets a reaction out of you. But I'm not mean - I'm not trying to hurt you. So tell me why 'Hee-chan' bugs you so much, and I'll quit using that name."

Heero hesitated.

"I don't lie, remember?"

"It's not just one reason, really," Heero said reluctantly. "For one thing, it reminds me of all those silly, giggly girls that mob us at every school. You do realize that -chan is usually used by young girls - and usually only to refer to other young girls - don't you?"

"Eep. No, I didn't know that," Duo answered, looking slightly ill.

"It's disrespectful, and not just in a rebelling-against-convention kind of way - it feels like you're belittling me and my abilities, saying you don't respect me as a person or as a fellow pilot, every time you say it," the Japanese pilot finished in a rush, not entirely certain he should have revealed that detail.

"Gomen nasai, Heero," Duo said, looking extremely upset, then shot him a quick, pleading look. "Oh man, please tell me that's the right way to say I'm sorry - I'm not really saying something insulting, am I?"

"Hai - I mean, 'Gomen nasai' does mean 'I'm sorry', and no, you're not saying something insulting," Heero answered, looking slightly confused.

"Oi, that's a relief," the braided boy sighed. "Look, Heero, I've picked up bits and pieces of Japanese on my own - I've never formally been taught it, and I certainly don't have any of the cultural background to go with it. I have this sinking feeling that I'm probably making a hundred other screw-ups where you're concerned that I WOULDN'T make if I understood where you were coming from a little better. If I say or do something that really, REALLY bothers you, ask me nicely to stop, and explain why it bugs you, and we can probably work out a compromise."

Heero gaped, "NANI?!?"

"I think that means 'what' unless I've managed to screw that up too," Duo grimaced. "Look, Heero, I'll give you an example. I know my nagging at you all evening bugs you, so I'd like to offer a compromise. I'll be quiet and leave you alone for an hour if you'll spend half an hour helping me learn Japanese properly."

Heero closed his mouth, then countered, "Three hours of peace and quiet for a half hour of Japanese lessons."

"Two hours of peace and quiet for a half hour of Japanese lessons - OR - three hours of peace and quiet for a half hour of Japanese lessons plus a half hour of basketball or chess or whatever other amusement we can agree on. And I'll leave you alone for the rest of the day today to make up for the 'Hee-chan' incident."

"Deal," Heero answered quickly. He turned back to his laptop, then froze for a moment, seeing Duo's brilliant smile reflected in the screen. 'All I ever had to do was ask nicely and explain why? And I've been calling HIM the baka?!? ARGH!'

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


'It didn't take long for part of that three hours of peace and quiet to gradually turn into mutual homework-help time. Once I realized how little formal education he'd had, his spotty grades made sense... I could fill in the missing knowledge for him, and some of what came naturally to him didn't come so easily to me... And from there, it was only natural to start sharing mission planning too... It quickly became clear that Duo's creativity could improve my mission plans, and my attention to detail could improve his. It didn't take me TOO embarrassingly long to finally figure out that we balanced each other out. And Chang's reaction the next time that we were all together again was hilarious...'


~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Begins* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[ June A.C. 195 ]

"Yuy, what did you do to Maxwell?"

"What do you mean, Chang?"

"I'm talking about the fact that he doesn't call you 'Hee-chan' anymore, or run around nagging you until you threaten him into going away briefly!" Wufei shouted in exasperation.

"I explained why the nicknames bothered me and asked him nicely to stop. As far as the nagging part goes, again, I asked nicely and we reached a compromise," Heero stated flatly.

"That's IT?!? That's ALL YOU HAD TO DO?!?"

"Hn."

"I can't believe it!! I don't WANT to believe it!! It can't possibly be that simple!"

Heero shrugged and walked away, leaning over the banister to call downstairs, "Hey Duo, you want to continue that chess game from yesterday?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Flashback Ends* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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