By: Lyssira Miokii
Disclaimer: I don't own them any more than the next fanficcer. And if, for some strange reason, law enforcement is singling me out, I say here that I do not claim the rights to the settings or characters of Gundam Wing. The words, however, are mine and if you take them....well you could at least *tell* me first so I can brag, dammit!
Warnings: Sap. Slight Angst (arguing) Shounen Ai. Language. Probably the oldest plot bunny known to man.
Pairing: 1+2+1, R+1 (1+R, if you look for it)
Rating: PG/Drama
Spoilers: Yeah, buddy...many for the end of the series. Another after the war fic.
C&C: Please...encouragement...feedback...air...
Dedication: Many thanks to Lily, Faia and Presser for beta-ing and a bunch of other people who volunteered. *glomps poor betas again*

Between Floors

AC 196

The dinge of city smog and age clung to the brick of an ancient apartment building on the far corner of a rambling street. It sagged, rather than stood, against the elements, waiting for the day when the safety officials would grow weary of its presence and demand destruction. Onlookers squinted to see the few lights that glowed through its tarnished windows. The rest were dark and empty -- corpse's eyes. In the dying sunlight the building looked more like a veteran than any solider Heero had ever met. Its opponent was far harsher than any man of White Fang or OZ. Time never surrendered, after all.

Hands deeply buried in his pockets, Heero marched down the sidewalk, unconsciously hunching his shoulders in defense. His hair -- uncut -- hung into his eyes, shielding their unnatural depth from the passersby. Jeans two sizes too large hung low around his hips. A similarly ill- fitted sweat shirt pooled over the waistband, hiding everything `private' from view. His shoes were the same ugly, mustard colored sneakers that he'd worn ever since his feet stopped growing.

On this street, he fit in. The thick stream of people he moved through were not well dressed, though the odd businessman appeared here and there. Heero seemed to be like the other teenage boys in that part of the city. They weren't gang members, nor would most of them grow up to carry a briefcase.

He reached the entrance of the building with no mishap and less attention from the people around him. They didn't notice that they unconsciously let him slide past. None of them would remember him. If they'd known who he was, they still wouldn't remember his face. He crossed the worn mauve carpet covering the hall, studying the forgotten portraits on the wall, followed by the reception desk that could've been called ornate once, just as he did every time he walked through those doors. This was one of many places that had come through the war - but far from unscathed. Heero found it hard to imagine this place as happy and upper class, though a few of the remaining tenants remembered.

He punched the familiar `up' button next to the elevator doors. It lit up after a few minutes, in just as much disrepair as the rest of the building. Somewhere above he thought he heard the rusty travels of the elevator itself. His eyes drifted shut and he felt the tension of the day drain out of him slowly. Searching for jobs and schools was more of a hassle than he'd anticipated. After Dr. J's death, he'd discovered factual papers for himself in one of the labs. Apparently he had a birthday, a birth certificate, a social security number under colony L1X00082 and a bank account accessible to him when he turned 18. Until then the government would pay for his care under the impression he was staying with a reclusive elderly relative.

Heero allowed the corners of his mouth to twitch upward slightly. So much for being a mad scientist with no care for anyone. But even with the money and the identity, his quest for jobs was getting long and frustrating. The fact was he had very little job experience. `Gundam Pilot' was not something a normal person put on a job application. He had plenty of skills, most of which were unnecessary in peacetime. And no one was going to entrust computer work or flying a shuttle to a 15 year old kid.

Schools were just as bad. They wanted records of where he had been before, who he lived with, his grades, his behavior record -- practically a goddamn autobiography. Most things could be forged, yes, but it would be incredibly easy for whatever facade he chose to present to slip. All it would take was a phone call to wherever he claimed to be from. Computers were so much easier to fool than people. . .

He sighed.

A solid weight stumbled into Heero from behind, destroying his balance and his inner calm. His reflexes saved him from a fall, though he faltered . A growl of frustration rumbled from his attacker, as Heero was spun around.

"Why don't ya watch where -- hey!" a familiar voice said.

Heero blinked, finding himself staring into a pair of equally familiar blue-violet eyes that flashed from annoyed to stunned all in the space of heartbeat. The same chestnut brown bangs hung over the same upturned nose. The same lopsided mouth set in that heart-shaped face completed a picture he hadn't seen since Libra shattered over Earth's delicate atmosphere months before. The owner of the voice wore his favorite black cap, the one he'd been wearing when he shot Heero upon their first meeting.

"Duo?" he asked, dazed at the sight of another pilot.

Deathscythe's former pilot grinned, settling his hands on the other boy's shoulders, "What the hell are you doing here, Superman?"

"I live here." And you?

"I'm visiting an old friend," Duo said, "I thought I'd pay him back for his help with salvage and all."

"Come into some money?"

"Yeah, Dr. G-"

"I know," Wing's former pilot looked away.

Heero could feel Duo studying him out of the corner of one eye. He shrugged to himself, relieved when the doors opened, revealing the worn interior of their transportation. A weathered-looking old man exited; Heero recognized him as his next door neighbor. He gave Heero a nod and Duo a cursory glance before shuffling off. The two boys stepped inside the metal box without speaking, each pressing their separate numbers. Duo's destination was three floors above his. He wondered whether he should be disappointed or grateful.

He leaned against the elevator wall, eyes slitted. His one-time partner waited casually, occasionally humming or checking his watch. His clothes were more fitted than Heero's, all black and made of stronger stuff. The trademark braid swung back and forth around his thighs, carefully trimmed and bound. He stood taller than before. The worry lines they'd all accumulated in their short lives had faded. Life was treating the American better, by all appearances.

"How've you been, Heero?" he asked after the first few minutes.

"Fine."

"Really? Get a job?" Duo persisted, now outrightly searching his face for some sign of . . . something.

The pilot of Wing Zero shifted his weight, "I've been trying to."

He smiled a little, "Yeah, it's kinda tough for guys like us, isn't it?"

Heero grunted.

"What happened with you and -- "

Both boys tumbled to the floor as a scraping, screeching noise whistled though the air and the elevator shook violently. The machinery groaned overhead, like a giant burdened with some unreachable injury. The lights flickered for several moments, alternately blinding them with brightness and darkness. Duo gripped the bars for the handicapped until the elevator finally came to a grinding halt. The lights wavered one final time before returning to their usual brightness. Heero hauled himself to his feet and met the other boy's eyes.

They were in deep shit.

+

Heero pried apart the crack between the doors, sweat sliding off his arms like hot oil, muscles straining against the determination of the stainless steal barriers. The veins stood out on his biceps, vivid on the reddening skin. His face darkened from scarlet to nearly purple. He could vaguely hear someone grunting, sounding almost pained. At first it didn't register that is was him. His arms ached from the effort, but the doors weren't budging a millimeter.

"Heero! Heero, c'mon man, give it up!" a hand grabbed him by the wrist and wrestled him away.

He slid onto the floor, panting heavily. Despite this he managed a good glare in Duo's direction. To his surprise, the braided boy returned it.

"That's a quick way to get yourself hurt," Duo snapped with surprising vehemence.

Heero shrugged, "It was worth a try."

"Not really," he said,"I think we're between floors. Those things'll never open. Even if they did, they're pretty useless."

"If you're right."

Duo snorted but didn't comment. He picked up the phone next to the brass buttons. An antique.

"Hello? Is anyone there? Shit...no one's answering," he flopped against the opposite wall.

"We'll wait then," Heero closed his eyes and leaned against the wall.

The sweat cooled on his body, itching in places he couldn't reach on his back. Duo wrapped his arms around his knees, resting his chin on top. The Japanese boy didn't see the placid, almost innocent expression on his friend's face. Instead, he studied the insides of his eyelids, counted to 500 in his head and went through a series of mental exercises to calm himself.

This sucks.

"I don't suppose you have any cards," Deathscythe's ex-pilot sighed.

"....." He didn't bother to look.

"Thought not," Duo sighed again. He stretched his legs out, letting them rest against the far wall.

Silence reigned for another few counts to 500.

"Where have you been?"
Heero asked slowly, eyes still closed.

Duo blinked, "Huh?"

Heero repeated his question.

"Oh, me?" the black-clad boy grinned, as if there had been anyone else in there with them, "Here and there, I suppose."

"Ever go back to space?"

"For while. It's really messed up still. Hilde's taking care of things while I get my head on straight." Duo's eyes brightened as he thought about the colonies waiting for him, "I'll go home, soon. You?"

One eyelid opened, "If I had a home I knew of, I'd be there."

For a moment the braided pilot looked surprised. Then he smirked and shook his head.

"It's not necessarily something that gets dropped into your lap, you know," Duo said.

"It's not something I'd know where to look for, either."
Heero gave up on counting and stifled a sigh.

"Whatever happened to Relena? That's welcoming you with open arms if I've ever seen it," his companion said.

"Relena needs to figure things out for herself. With me there, she'd want them figured out for her," he replied, crossing both arms in front of his chest, "Not every girl is as independent as Hilde."

Duo laughed, "Maybe, but you haven't seen her cook."

"She risked a lot for that Libra information. The rest of us never got a chance to thank her."

"She'll be thrilled to hear you remember. She never met you or Wufei, but she stills thinks of you guys as friends," Duo shook his head.

"I wouldn't forget something like that. She was very brave. That was more than I'd ever have expected out of a civilian," Heero said. The girl he remembered was limp on the hospital bed, bandaged with IVs running into her arms and mask helping her breathe. Relena had talked to her.

"That wasn't brave, it was stupid."

Heero's eyes snapped open and he fixed his full attention on the boy sitting opposite him, "What do you mean? You took greater risks than that."

"She shouldn't have had to," the braided boy growled.

"It was necessary at the time. No one else would have been able to get that disk to us."

Duo's expression darkened to a glare he never could have pictured, "I could have."

Their staring contest lasted several more counts to 500. The American's violet eyes bored into blue, almost punishing as they burned. Heero returned the look calmly, comfortable with the expression. It was standard for him, after all. His mouth, not used to smiling, easily lapsed into the thin, stubborn line. His eyebrows hung like dark storm clouds over Prussian blue seas. Not a hint of any inner thoughts leaked into his face or posture.

"You're being arrogant," he informed his comrade.

"What?" anger melted to utter disbelief. Duo's face had always been an open book.

"You can solve the worlds problems? If you fight, no one else should have to?" Heero grunted, "You know, you're worse than Quatre."

Silence. Duo's fists were tightening and loosening.

"What about you? I don't believe I was the one halfway into Earth's atmosphere with my big, mean beam rifle, ready to save the world or fry."

"I did what was needed."

The other boy snarled. "Bullshit. You got cast the hero and you played the part like a champ."

He blinked, "Did I take that from you?"

"No, but-"

The elevator slipped from its jammed position, trembling madly. It raised itself, dropped and raised. It slid up and down the cabling erratically, as if it couldn't decide on its destination. Both boys lay flat on the carpeted flooring. For a moment Heero wondered if it was going to let go completely and plummet to the basement. They were seven floors up. Instead, the machine screeched like an animal in pain and stopped once more.

Duo's face was a pale green when he spoke again, "This is not cool. I'm gonna be sick. . ."

Heero moved closer to him, "Put your head between your knees."

He obeyed, breathing deeply, trying to quell his rebellious stomach. Heero crouched next to him. He rested a steadying hand on Duo's back, rubbing in small, soothing circles. The braided boy leaned against him, many minutes passing by before he lifted his head to look his comrade in the eye. He laughed weakly.

"Never thought you'd end up here, eh?" Duo smiled.

"I didn't know you got motion sickness."

"Funny, neither did I," he said, using the wall as a support. Heero had no response for that. He stared at the floor, listening to the not-quite silence. Air hissed through the vents. He and Duo breathed softly. But the elevator radiated quiet.

"Let's see if those f***ers downstairs have woken up yet," the L2 pilot picked up the phone again. A few minutes later he slammed it down. Heero continued to say nothing, instead finishing another count to 500, this time in a mixture of English and Japanese. His companion focused his attention on exploring his pockets.

"So. . .," Duo fiddled absently with a set of keys, "How are you anyway?"

"Fine."

"Give me a break here, ok? We both know we're bored."He switched the keys for a wallet. It overflowed with receipts and crumpled dollar bills. He sorted through them while he spoke, smoothing out the money and organizing the receipts by date. A small stack of photographs tumbled out of their cracked plastic slip. Heero picked them up before the other boy noticed.

The first showed Hilde, striking a pose for the camera and laughing at whatever Duo had said. Next was Quatre, obviously caught unawares after a night of heavy partying. His hair stuck up in all directions, his shirt hung off one pale shoulder and his mouth stretched in a huge yawn. Then came Trowa and Wufei, both reading in the library, both with the exact same posture, expression and book. There were two newspaper clippings: a shot of Relena with a group of Preventers and one of Howard overseeing scrapping the remains of Alliance MS.

The sixth and final picture was of Heero.

"Hey, have you seen my pictures -- oh,"Duo interrupted himself. He accepted the photographs quietly, tucking them back into their container.

"Where'd you get it?"

"Your girlfriend," he said.

"You asked Relena for it?" Heero blinked.

Duo nodded, "I knew she'd have a good one, too. The ones Quatre showed me had you in that school uniform she gave you to wear. Nasty looking things, I might add."

The Japanese boy grunted.

"So I asked Relena and she showed me an album-full. She's got it really bad for you."

"She's not my girlfriend," Heero said.

"Tell her that," Duo tucked his wallet back into his pants. From the other pocket appeared a handful of change, two gum wrappers, a tootsie roll and a lighter. He proceeded to count the change.

"Why are you so interested in my relationship with Relena, anyway?"

The braided ex-pilot looked up from his quarters, pennies, nickels and dimes. "You seemed to like her, that's all. I thought you could use some encouragement since you don't usually talk to girls much."

Heero's glare deepened.

"Jeez. . .the least you could do is ask her out or someth -- "

Once again the elevator dropped and surged, as if it had suddenly gained the will of a living thing. This bout of rising and falling lasted less than a minute. Before boy either could think, it settled back to its original jammed position. Duo leapt to his feet the moment it *did* stop and kicked the doors. He pounded on it furiously, taking out his frustration on the already abused metal. He was red in the face by the time he finished.

"Would you just move already, you stupid piece of shit?" he shouted.

Heero regarded him cooly, "It's only been thirty minutes, you know."

"It seems a lot longer with you in here," Duo said.

"The same could be said about you."

"Well, it's a little late for you to take back saving my life. But, if you want to, you're welcome to try," Deathscythe's former pilot glared.

Heero counted to 500 in French.

"I never said I regretted that," he said.

"Do you?"

"No."

"Thanks." Duo snorted. He shoved his possessions back in their place. Neither said anything. They might not have spoken ever again, had the phone not rung after ten minutes. The braided boy snatched it from's old-fashioned cradle.

"Hello?"

"Excuse me sir, there are residents complaining that the elevator is being held up. Do you have a probl-"

Heero watched idly as the vein in Duo's forehead started pulsing.

"Yes we having a fucking problem. Your elevator has been jammed for the past forty-five minutes. We're stranded, you stupid bitch!" Duo interrupted, his eyes blazing violet.

"Sir, please calm do-"

"I won't calm down. You're going to get maintenance to fix this goddamn thing or I am going to-"

Heero snatched the phone from his puce-faced companion, "We'll wait for you to assemble a team for repairs, miss."

"Right away, sir," the young woman replied.

Duo stood less an inch away from his comrade, staring him in the eye despite the height difference, "I could kill you for that."

"Isn't it a little late for you to take back saving my life?"

Two deceptively slender hands rested on each side of his neck, "No."

Heero's heartbeat throbbed beneath his fingers.

"Taking your frustrations out on me isn't going to solve anything."

"It'll make me feel better." Duo squeezed lightly.

"Go ahead. I've never minded dying for a good cause," Heero said.

Fury flashed across the shorter American's face. "Yeah, I'd forgotten that. Always the savior, eh?"

"It's fitting for a worthless life."

"You aren't worthless."

The Japanese pilot pulled Duo's hands away from his neck. "And you're not the God of the Death."

Duo stared at him for a long time before stepping back and standing as far away from Heero as possible. Wing Zero's former pilot closed the space between them with two long strides. Before Duo could do anything, he was pulled close to the other boy. Real silence loomed over the two. Even the air conditioning was still. What had happened didn't register immediatly in the American's mind. Heero was hugging him. Duo blinked..

"Hee--wha -- are you -- ?" He rested his cheek against the soft fabric of his friend's sweatshirt.

When he was released, Duo discovered he no longer had the will to stand. He slid to a stop on the flooring of the elevator.

"I'm-"

"Sor-"

The elevator sprung to life one final time, finishing its ascent to Heero's floor.

+

A team of repair men were gathered in the hallway when the doors opened. Most of them were middle-aged men sporting salt and pepper mustaches and beer bellies. They parted for the two boys, one of whom jumped to his feet when the light of the corridor poured into the dim little box. They laughed at the pair's eagerness to leave, asking if they were all right, what had happened, etc. One glanced at his watch and the inside of the elevator.

"Man, you guys must have been bored in there."

Duo and Heero looked at each other and shrugged. They left the repair men at the elevator, where they proceeded to examine its gears and cables. Heero led the way to his apartment door.

"Hey man, where are the stairs?" the braided boy asked.

"Why -- Oh, I forgot. They're at the end of the hall, past the double doors.""Thanks. I still gotta visit that friend." He smirked, "You know this other guy I knew in the war lives here. Somebody named him after Heero Yuy. Weird guy."

Heero nodded.

"I thought I'd drop in on him later," Duo grinned. He leaned in close to his companion, so that his lips barely missed Heero's cheek. Then he spun around, resting his hands behind his head. He waved. "C-ya later, man. That was some ride, wasn't it?"

Heero stuck his key in the door, remembering the warmth on his face for a moment. Then, he stepped inside. There were things to do. Hopefully he could find a new apartment soon, maybe on the colonies. He needed a job and an education. And he had an old friend to call, by the name of Relena Peacecraft.

~Owari~

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