by: Kracken
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence

Tin Soldiers series + Part 4
Tempers

So, we didn't do any talking for the rest of the drive and I was glad when Heero pulled into the parking garage of our new work place. I wanted to escape that deafening silence as quickly as possible.

Quatre's headquarters was an unassuming building. There wasn't a name on the outside and all the windows were black glass. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that it was full of accountants or paper shufflers of one sort or another. The men and women walking from their cars to the elevators, didn't change that impression. Normal, pretty much summed them up. Everyone was dressed neatly and had a casual air about them. I was used to the edgy, proud, and well trained men and women of the Preventers. Everyone there had looked like an agent, even their walk saying louder than words, 'I'm the best, don't mess with me.' Quatre's people, in sharp contrast, looked like hand shakers and office cooler ornaments.

Heero was doing a great impression of a blank wall as he climbed out of the car. I tried to get out as well, but I had forgotten to unfasten my seat belt. I struggled to undo it, embarrassed, while Heero stood and looked at me from behind his dark sunglasses, face unreadable. Freeing myself at last, I climbed out and tried to think of something funny to say to cover up the awkwardness of the moment and... Nothing. I couldn't think of a damned thing to say. Can you believe it? Duo Maxwell, speechless and without a joke. Someone check Hell, I know It's frozen over.

"This way," Heero said coolly and led the way into an elevator. I wasn't surprised when we went down, but I was surprised when we went sideways. Heero smirked at my astonishment. It was only a flash and I almost missed it before he turned to stone again. As if angry at himself for his lapse, Heero's voice turned even colder. Icebergs in deep space couldn't raise a bigger chill as he explained, "This building is only a cover. The real building is on the next block."

I blinked. No, I didn't know what to think. Heero had shown a millisecond of humanity and I wasn't sure whether I had imagined it or not. I studied the memory of that blip of Heero non conformity carefully. Heero's lips had turned up in... contempt? I studied the memory some more. Humor? I wanted to believe that it was humor, because, if I had made an unintentional crack in that block of granite standing next to me, then I intended to shove in a wedge and split it wide open.

The elevator doors opened, when, I'm not really sure. I came to myself and discovered that I was grinning like an idiot at my own thoughts and that Heero, on one side of me, and a stranger, on the other, were staring at me in the cautious way one stares at the potentially insane. Shit! Can we say that this just wasn't my day? Well, I will if you won't. The scary thing was, that it was still before nine a.m. If this was a taste of what the rest of the day was going to be like...

"Uh, just remembered something funny that I heard last night," I explained lamely and toned down my grin without much effort. They both stared at me expectantly and I realized that they were both waiting for me to elaborate. Heero I could understand, but who the hell was this other guy?

I made a show of looking at my watch. I tapped the face of it with one finger as I stepped through the elevator door, realizing then that Heero was holding it open with one hand. "I'd tell you all about it," I said, "but we don't want to be late."

Heero flicked a glance at the other man and the man shrugged and snorted in sympathy for Heero's having to deal with me. Heero squared his shoulders, as if he was barely keeping himself from expressing something that probably wouldn't have been a compliment to me. He followed me out of the elevator and motioned to our right with a sharp flick of two fingers. It was a military signal and he used it unconsciously. It seemed that I wasn't the only one who couldn't drop those habits.

Finally, we ran into some security. I had been starting to think that Quatre had gone soft and that a baby could have infiltrated the building, but walking through a full body scanner and then having well armed sentinels pat me down at the entrance to the doors to the inner sanctum of the building, reassured me.

We found Quatre Winner sitting at the head of a very large table, with a group of important looking men, in a very well appointed meeting room. Heero swept in as if it were all familiar and took a seat beside Quatre as if he were Winner's second in command. Watching him smooth down his tie and remove his sunglasses, it surprised me that his blue eyes were looking, not at Quatre, but at me. They were intense and I felt... judged, searched, asked a question of great importance? Well, all of that really, but, like the smirk, that look was gone in under a second and Heero was directing his attention to some notes that Quatre had just slid to him over the shiny, mahogany table top.

I found a seat halfway down the table and felt uncomfortable among all the rich smelling colognes and four digit price tag business suits. Have you ever gone to a party very late, not known anyone but the host, found everyone in a large group talking, and then tried to figure out what they were talking about so that you could join in? I had that ten times worse, only I didn't think that a couple of casual questions was going to clear it up for me. I had been in the Preventers from the beginning. I had been 'in the know' about every aspect of the operation. Suddenly being on the outside, and not even knowing the details of my assignment, made me very uneasy. Throw Heero into the mix and you have one uncertain and high strung Duo Maxwell. Half of my brain was trying to figure out what was going on, trying to listen when Quatre began to speak, but the other half of me was stuck on trying to do one thing and one thing only; figure Heero Yuy out.

"Your thoughts on that, Mr. Maxwell?" Quatre's voice asked, carrying easily down the table to where I was sitting attentively... well, staring off into space, actually. No, dammit! I didn't have any idea what Quatre had just said or why he was asking me about whatever it was.

I took a deep breath and replied with a practiced response that had saved me many a time in many different situations, "I defer to Mr. Yuy. I'd like to hear his thoughts on it first." Yeah, it's called passing the buck, and it works almost every-

"But you're the expert," Heero replied and his hard look told me that he knew exactly what I had attempted. "State your opinion first, for the record, and then I'll respond to it if it is contrary to mine."

"Could I see the report?" My voice almost broke. I swallowed hard and prayed that there was one.

Quatre blinked and then laughed. He has a beautiful voice and an equally beautiful laugh. I often wondered, in my lonelier moments, what it was like for Trowa to hear that voice when they made love, calling out his name, groaning in pleasure, saying utterly erotic and naughty things with that cultured tone of voice he has... Yeah, I know that I told you that Quatre didn't make me even twitch below the belt, but that voice, come on! You'd think about it too! "Duo! You are such a joker!" Quatre was saying now and I tried not to show my complete confusion. "I wasn't aware that deciding what we wished for lunch needed research and a report."

Okay, now I got it. I smirked. "It was getting a bit stuffy in here. Everyone needs to loosen up a bit," I laughed and then added smoothly, "Well, since you asked... I like sandwiches and soda, but I'm sure everyone wouldn't want that, so, I think, if we catch a person and make him 'gofer', we can all get what we want by lunch time."

"Very good," Quatre responded, looked around the table, and received quick, 'yes men' nods of agreement. "We will take two breaks, have lunch, and then one more break before adjourning the meeting." More nods.

I sighed inwardly. I hadn't anticipated an all day meeting. Quatre was like that though; very thorough. I knew that, by the end of the day, all of my questions, and many I hadn't thought to ask, would be answered. I pulled my pad of paper and pencil from my bag and fiddled with it on the table in front of me. I slid a covert glance at Heero. So, I was an 'expert' at... what? Eating? Knowing what I liked? Getting what I liked? Bastard. Heero had managed to insult me without me knowing what the hell he had insulted me about. I'm sure everyone at the table had read his comment one way or another, non of it good.

Mind on business, Maxwell, I told myself sharply and turned my thoughts away from Heero, and my own anger, to pay attention to Quatre.

Two hours of staring at a chart and having Quatre explain, in detail, about the command structure of the operation was not my idea of a good morning. I looked for my position, saw it midway, and far to one side, of a maze of lines and cross lines. There were several levels of bureaucracy to make sure things were good and bogged down, and at least eleven people that I had to answer to. It didn't look good. Quatre's endless explanation for each level didn't improve my opinion.

I'm an ex terrorist, street orphan, sweeper, and a mad scientist's prodigy. Did you expect me to fall into line and nod my head like everyone else? If you did, you don't know Duo Maxwell. I glanced aside at Heero and saw that he wasn't looking any more pleased than I was. I wondered if he were annoyed by the same thing that I was though. His eyes were on the part of the chart, next to my name, where his name was printed in bold black lettering. Quatre was expecting us to work together, it seemed.

"Uh, Mr. Winner," I said, making sure that my next words were at least in a sentence that started out respectful. Quatre stopped talking and his pointer lowered from the chart as he waited expectantly. All eyes were on me. I stood up, walked over to the chart, and used my pencil on its pristine orderliness. I drew a thick line from my name to his. "I'm here on staff as an expert," I told him, "I don't need people second guessing and questioning that expertise. Since only you... and Heero," I stumbled on that and then forced myself back on track, "are the only ones qualified to question my work, I won't join your organization unless I only answer to you."

One gruff old man exclaimed, "Of all the impertinent nerve-"

"Done," Quatre replied to me, smiled, and, without missing a beat, raised his pointer and began talking again about the rest of the chart. The old man was wide eyed and stunned, but he didn't dare question someone like Quatre.

I found my seat again and sat down, feeling relieved and getting back some of that self assurance that I had lost on the ride there. I was able to relax and give some input, ask some intelligent questions, and not go too stir crazy before we took a break.

Every one stood gratefully, stretched, and began wandering over to a coffee service. Quatre was immediately surrounded by men I wanted to call 'ass kissers' one through five. They each wanted to be the first to tell him how brilliant he was. Quatre smiled that gentle, patient, you are all full of shit, smile of his and was a calm in the storm as they jockeyed for position.

I managed to get my coffee and stretched my legs by standing near a window. The sun was filtered through black glass, but it was still warm and I could see palm trees gently waving in a breeze. I let my senses take me out there into the sunshine and I forgot about the sterile meeting room completely for a few happy minutes.

"I want to talk to you after the meeting," Heero said at my shoulder. If he were two inches closer, his chest would have been touching my back. I think I even felt his warm breath on my ear.

Confidence went by the wayside, replaced by surprise. I turned, stumbled, and my coffee dribbled onto the carpet in small droplets. Heero looked down at them and I heard him sigh as I recovered my balance, righting my cup before any more could spill. The sigh surprised me even more. It had seemed involuntary and it had sounded like a sigh of disappointment. When he looked up again, his blue eyes were part of a severe frown. He looked as if he were going to perform a very distasteful duty.

I had a brief thought, a mental twitch from more dangerous times, that someone Heero Yuy didn't like would probably not have long to live. I was now that someone. I didn't like that scary realization. How much of a chance did I have against a suicidal, trigger happy, ex gundam pilot, who's training, I knew from some hints that he had dropped long ago, had been far superior to mine? I was good, I had my talents, but I had to wonder if any of it would be any advantage in a one on one fight with Heero.

"Gentlemen," Quatre called, and we both turned to see that the others were already seated.

Heero looked back at me, waiting for his answer. I swallowed hard and replied, "Yeah, sure, after the meeting."

Heero nodded, once, and then went to take his seat. I went to sit down as well and tried not to think the worst. He just wanted to talk, idiot! I said to myself as Quatre's voice began droning out facts again. He probably wants to make sure I make other arrangements tomorrow beside his Yuy taxi service. He probably wants to tell me how much it sucks to be assigned to working with me too. That seemed more reasonable than that he was going to take me to a quiet corner and get rid of my irritating person permanently. Still, I suddenly wanted Quatre's boring orientation speech to go on a little longer.

Okay, I take that back, maybe facing a potentially dangerous Heero was far better than suffering through a seemingly endless orientation speech. By the end of the day, I think Quatre had covered everything down to how many spigots were in the bathrooms. My mind went into a coma more than once and only shots of really strong coffee, and the intricate doodles I was making on my sketch pad, kept me from smashing the window and jumping out.

"That concludes our meeting for today," Quatre said with a smile and stood up. I almost couldn't stop myself from yelling, hallelujah! I allowed myself a long sigh of relief instead and gathered up my things as the 'yes men' congratulated Quatre on an excellent speech and elbowed each other so that they could be the first to shake his hand.

"Is that supposed to be me?" Quatre said over my shoulder. I started and looked up. His 'yes men' had been left behind, Quatre's hand still raised in a clear signal that they were to stay back and allow him privacy.

I looked down at my sketch pad and saw that I had made a small doodle of a cartoon Quatre being shot by a Gundam that looked like Heavyarms but with extra, oversized, guns. I covered it with my hand and felt a hot blush.

Quatre chuckled and not in that cultured, 'fake humor' kind of way. He really thought that it was funny. "I agree. It was a very boring day. One of the necessary evils, I'm afraid, of being in an organization."

I shrugged and stood up, slipping my note pad into my satchel. "This is different for me. The Preventers only let me in on the tactical meetings. All the decision making and talk was done by officers."

"In this organization, you are part of the decision making process," Quatre said. "That is why I hired you." He lowered his voice. "Did you really believe that I would leave operational planning and decision making to those three piece fools behind me? They are only good for paperwork, public relations, and cleaning my shoes."

I snickered. "Licking your boots, you mean?"

Quatre raised a golden eyebrow and laughed as well. "Yes, that's exactly what I mean."

"Okay," I said as I slipped the strap of my satchel over my head, "I guess I have to get use to these kind of meetings then. Make sure you keep triple strong coffee on hand at all times."

"Roger that," Quatre laughed, patted me on the shoulder, and then turned with a sigh to face his fawning 'yes men' again.

That left Heero and me. He was straightening his tie, and settling his coat with a shrug of his shoulders, as he came over to me. His _expression was completely unreadable as he said, "Come with me."

I felt suddenly cold. I wasn't shaking in my boots, okay, but I was.... really not sure what Heero was up to. A guy can't help but be nervous when faced with a man who had made his first kill at the age when most kids were learning how to eat with a fork. I'm the first person to admit that I'm messed me up and killer wasn't on my resume until I was in my middle teens. For all I knew, casually killing someone who was pissing him off, might seem perfectly reasonable to Heero Yuy.

Don't go anywhere where there aren't witnesses, I said to myself as I followed Heero out of the meeting room and through the maze like corridors of the building. I tried to orient myself, making note of room numbers, names on plaques, and... well, there wasn't much. It was a very expensive looking building, but the decor seemed to be repeated at regular intervals.

Heero opened a door and I followed him cautiously into an overlarge office with a huge picture window showing palm trees swaying in a balmy breeze, the tops of other buildings, and, faintly, the ocean beyond them. There were two huge desks with matching office supplies and an array of computer equipment along one wall. On one desk was a placard that had my name on it in fine gold letters.

I smiled. Heero was showing me where I was going to be working. That was all it was. I almost relaxed, until I saw his dark frown and the fact that he was standing next to the other desk. On it, was a placard with his name on it. Shit!

Heero had a note in his hand, one of the ones that Quatre hand slipped to him at the beginning of the meeting. Heero gave it to me and I tried to keep my eyes on Heero while I read the note at the same time. No, it wasn't easy, but I managed. The note read, 'Here is the number of your office. You will be sharing with Duo since you will be working closely together.'

"Closely?" I couldn't help repeating.

Heero nodded and just... stared at me. I blinked. Now what? I swallowed and felt my tongue go into a knot. Did he want me to say something about it? I hoped not, because, right then, my mind was emptier than vacuum.

"The quality of my work is very important to me. I won't have that quality compromised," Heero said at last.

Okay, I know what's going on now. Heero's marking his territory and expecting a pissing contest with me. I was only too happy to oblige him. Anger always gives me what I like to call, 'dumb shit' courage. Yeah, it's gotten me into trouble, but, sometimes, it makes me inspired and causes me to do things I wouldn't in my more 'normal' moments, like say... 'to hell with L2' and stow away on a sweeper ship..., steal a Gundam..., attack, head on, an 'I'm going to blast everyone to bits' Zechs and a class one starship with just a mobile suit... well, you get the picture. Let's just say, I suddenly knew what to say to Heero Yuy and I didn't care what it got me afterwards. It was two words. One word started with 'F' and the other started with 'Y'.

Heero looked as if he had been flash frozen. He just... stood there, for longest time, and then, just when I was about to turn and walk out to have a talk with Quatre about getting my own damned office, the man impersonating nuclear winter, spoke.

"You've changed from the war."

That left me flatfooted; confused. Since we are in a seaside place, I'll use a nautical term. 'The wind was taken out of my sails.' Impressed? Yeah, okay, anyway, so there I was, confronted by Heero's weird observation when I had been expecting him to tear me to pieces with those, big, strong, sexy... uh, steel bending hands.

"I don't think so," I managed to get out, "but you sure as hell have."

He suddenly looked as confused as I was. "How so?"

I found myself fiddling with my satchel, holding it in front of me, thinking I might be able to deflect any sudden punches from Heero as I replied, "You weren't exactly mister personality, but you had a hell of a lot more than you do now. Who the hell died and made you King of Assholes?"

Heero suddenly had an expression on his face. It was... I scrambled to memorize it, every aspect of it, because I knew.... yep, it was suddenly gone again as a man walked into the office and introduced himself as our secretary. We both turned towards him and he must have felt the tension in the room. He looked nervous as he shook first Heero's hand and then mine. As he told us his name, and outlined his duties, I only half listened as I quickly took out that mental snapshot of Heero's expression and looked hard at it.

I don't get it. I'm confused! I don't know what the hell is going on with this guy! What is he all about? Why does he have it in for me? What the hell did I ever do to him? Changed? Maybe I have changed a bit, I'm not fifteen any more, for God's sake, but I think I'm basically still the same guy. He's the one who decided to turn into some inhuman, deep freeze, Mr. Bad Attitude.... but.... that expression.... It had been fleeting, but crystal clear. It was telling me that I was wrong and I was finding it hard to believe. That expression, caused by my harsh words, had been, undeniably, one of pain. My words, somehow, had hurt Heero's feelings.

[part 3] [part 5] [back to kracken's fic]