Author: Maldoror
Rated PG-13 for language, mature content.
One-shot, 3x4, possible 1x2 implied (you decide!), switching POV, bit of angst
Disclaimer: Do you have to make me repeat it? It's bad enough I don't own them and make no money off of them and have no rights over them whatsoever, do you have to make me sing it as well? *sob*
AN: If anybody else out there has written a fic on the reason Duo is always using nicknames for everybody, and if it's similar to this... well, I didn't see it, but please tell me and I'll yank my little story, and do my best Ritsu impersonation (Fruits Basket, you know, 'gomenasaaaaai!!'... ).
Summary: An injured and delirious Duo is driving the other pilots crazy. But then he lets slip the reason why he always uses annoying nicknames for his friends...

What's in a name?

"Wufles! Watcha readin'?"

"I swear, Maxwell, if you call me that one more time!"

"Aww, don't worry, I swear I won't do it any more!"

Wufei's bandaged hands trembled on the book, in anger since he knew that was one promise Duo wouldn't keep.

"So would you rather have... Wuffers? Fei-bay-bay? Wu-"

"Silence!"

The pinched pale face on the stained couch cushion grinned as if the command and the muttered mandarin swearing that followed were a compliment. The bruise on Duo's face seemed to have a life of its own, livid purple and brown coiling against the pale flesh.

"Q-ball, what are you doin', writing love poems?"

"No, I'm writing to my sister."

"Which one? Hahaha, I crack me up, which one. I mean, twenty nine? How do you keep'em straight! Man, Cat, your dad musta been one hell of a stud!"

"Duo, you know our family used in vitro-"

"That's just not as funny, Q-ty, work with me here."

Duo shifted as he lay on the beaten couch, and bit down a gasp. Quatre glanced at him quickly from the small rickety table. He was having a hard time writing on it, it kept shifting each time Wufei leaned forward to turn the page of Nataku's printouts. Trowa was working on a similar report for Heavyarms, the print-outs held on his lap to avoid rocking the table.

The new safe-house was crummy. Two rooms only; a bedroom with three large but grimy mattresses, and a small main room plus kitchenette. A cramped little bathroom skulked off of the main room, full of yellow cracked tiles and the smell of mildew. It was a hole. But at least it was fairly safe.

"Dirty rats!" The exclamation seemed to bubble up to Duo's lips involuntarily, and he glanced around guiltily. The three at the table were frowning. Duo bit his lip, no one wanted to dwell on it. It was his job not to let anyone dwell on it...

"Why's people call em dirty anyways. I mean there's the whole sewer thing but if ya got to live in a sewer then ya got to, I guess they weren't givin' much say in the matter, like, 'Oh now we'd rather bunk at the Ritz, ya know', and anyway they're actually quite clean considerin' where they-"

His voice rambled on, occasionally fading down to a tired murmur.

Dirty rats... Quatre frowned, doodling on his notepad. You expected just about anything from OZ. But it hadn't been OZ this time...

A splinter faction of L1 and L4 colonists had decided that cooperating with the Alliance was better than letting Gundams run wild on earth and causing retaliations against the colonies. They made it sound like one of Relena's 'peace' speeches but at the end of the day, they were just cowards. Or worse, collaborators. Unfortunately, some of them were also good hackers and had managed to get a trace on the Gundam pilots' whereabouts through one of the Doctors' e-mails.

They'd bugged the safe-house the pilots were planning to use as a base of attack on Eastern European OZ installations. Fortunately, Heero, with his usual paranoia, had picked up their bugs on a second sweep, before the faction could sell them, and any information they'd gathered, out to OZ.

Unfortunately, someone in the faction had also wired the house with explosives to destroy the evidence, and possibly the terrorists in it as well... So much for 'Peace and Love' speeches, as Duo had commented.

They'd been lucky, the Gundams were intact. Wufei and Duo were the worst off of the pilots, having been the last to make it out of the house before it blew. Wufei had bad burns up his right leg and hand that were making him bite his inner cheek in stubborn pain. Duo had been picked up by the blast and hurtled against Deathscythe. He had a dislocated shoulder, broken collarbone, several cracked ribs, badly twisted knee and ankle; essentially his entire left side had been mashed against the metal, and the metal had won.

Trowa had examined and treated him, muttering that he'd been very fortunate to have only limited internal injuries and no burns. The concussion was what was really worrying pilot 03. It would be important to keep a close eye on Duo for the next twenty four hours and monitor his condition.

They were all hurt, tired, and crushed at what had happened, knowing who had turned against them. Putting up with Duo in one of his adrenaline-fuelled motor-mouth modes was going to be all the harder.

"Tro! You finished readin' those boring specs yet?"

Trowa's face was as blank as always, but it wasn't disapproving. Quatre cast a slightly irritated glance at his friend. (Well more than a friend, but Quatre couldn't even think the word 'lover' without going red to the tip of his ears, so... ) Trowa had a deep reserve of patience for Duo's habits, it was quite surprising. Or maybe he just didn't care. Like Heero. It would all bounce off Heero as long as Duo didn't call him-

"Hee-Chan!"

The three pilots at the table froze. Quatre's pen went straight through the paper.

"Yes Duo?"

Sitting at the kitchen counter, Heero was typing at his computer with his usual speed and concentration. Maybe, just maybe he hadn't caught the insult-

"Heee-chan, watcha doing?"

Quatre found himself ducking involuntarily. Wufei slowly put down his readout, face pinched.

"I'm working on decoding some dead memory files from the Oz special ops database we broke into two weeks ago."

Duo made a face. "What the hell kinda R'n'R is that? The chance of finding anything useful in there-"

"-Are higher than if I don't look. Shut up."

The last was said in such a neutral tone of voice that the others found themselves exchanging concerned glances at the two pilots. Trowa had estimated the extent of the braided boy's injuries. Severe but not critical. But for Heero to be so nice (or at least not overly hostile, which, for Heero, was being very nice indeed)... the two boys had partnered in quite a few missions now, maybe Heero was sensing that Duo was more severely injured than-

Or maybe he'd just gone completely numb. Yeah, more likely.

"'S'OK, Hee-man, you do what you do to relax, s'ok. 'S weird, but whatever, hmm? Or maybe you're just playing tetris and you're too shy to admit it... hehehehee. Maybe we could reprogram all OZ servers to start playing one massive game of tetris. Except that each tile would represent a database table that's falling, and if they let it stack then it blows the tablespace. 'magine an OZzie tech playing a desperate game of tetris to keep... " The voice mumbled off.

A hand was placed on the corner of the table, another on the back of Trowa's chair. It was a somewhat threatening position and the fact it was Heero Yuy looming over the ex-mercenary made it only worse.

"What did you give him?" Heero whispered, scowling at Trowa.

Quatre and Wufei found themselves edging back slightly but Trowa didn't even glance up from his specs.

"Doxumedrol, 2%. Ten cc." He murmured.

"Why?" That came out even sharper. Quatre's mouth went dry.

"Dr G sent me a chart with Duo's medical records. It's one of the rare anti-inflammatories he doesn't metabolise over-rapidly. You do want the swelling in his brain to go down, don't you, Yuy?"

"Hn."

"Actually the Doctor said the side-effects would be minimal, and this isn't one of them. From the colour in his face I'd say he's mostly over the shock by now... I don't think he's delirious, Heero. I think he's just Duo."

Heero grunted and stalked back to the kitchen counter. Quatre and Wufei relaxed a bit and sighed. Trowa pinched Quatre's pen to underscore some fuel consumption ratios, as if nothing had happened.

Quatre glanced at Duo, realized the braided boy was scowling, his eyes hurt, staring at something in his memory. Quatre felt it too, the betrayal. But he was used to inner conflicts in the colonies. His own decision to join the rebellion had not gone uncontested, even within the circle of his own family.

"Hey, Duo, why don't you tell us about the time you met with Dr G? On the sweeper ship?" Quatre had already heard the story, they all had, but it was one that always made Duo laugh, and he told it well. Quatre wasn't disappointed as Duo launched into the story again, adding even more jokes and details than usual. Then the voice wound down again and there was silence for five minutes.

"I c'n lift one o' my hands, howzabout a game o' cards." Duo's voice was bleary. Trowa stood in silence, went to lean over him, glanced at his face.

"Tro-baby? You up for some action?" The grin was an attempt at salacious.

Even Trowa frowned at that. He didn't mind Duo, had learned to tune him out, but 'baby' was a name he only felt comfortable with coming from Quatre.

And he might have been imagining it- yes, he was probably imagining that slight falter in the click of keys from Heero's keyboard.

Trowa gave Duo a clinical once over. Pressure acceptable, though nothing to sing about. Heart-rate even at 72. Eyes puffy but pupils steady and reactive. His face wasn't so pale, the anti-inflammatory and pain-killer Trowa had injected was taking the edge off.

Still, Trowa thought, it may not be a good idea to let him sleep, or at least we should keep an eye on him and wake him regularly. The others saw that conclusion in his shrug as he returned to the table and they sighed.

Duo didn't seem to notice Trowa had left.

"Maybe mahjong. Nah, can' remember anything too well. Hmmm. Gin? Wuff-man, you up?"

"Maxwell." The voice was icy but steady for once, weary. Pain was taking a toll on the Chinese pilot too, he couldn't gather the energy for his usual angry comeback. "Why do you insist on calling us these ridiculous names?"

Something like a snore interrupted any further irritation. Duo's hand wandered up to his nose.

"'S your tags." He murmured, trying to scratch his nose, eyes closed, and missing by an inch.

Silence finally, for a minute.

"'S stupid Bobo... "

The three pilots at the table glanced at each other in irritated surprise. That was a new one, who the hell was Bobo?

"Sorry sorry. Benjamin Oliver Br-... damn forgot. Brrrr. Something."

Silence.

"Bobo. Benny, Ben, B-man, Bobs, but mainly Bobo because he was such a pain in the ass. So what if his mother dumped him in the gutter 'n ran. Shit, happened to all o' us. Sooo didn't like us using anything but his name. I think he'd just learned it at school b'fore the bitch hnn.... Such a bloody mouthful too...

"You tol' him, Solo. When you're out there, don't use y'r name, see, and don't use ours. Tags are harder to follow, to connect. The more tags the harder..." The voice faded to a whisper. "Hey Duo, D-man, my man, my second, lil' Dee, bro... " The whisper faded further and turned darker. "Shinigami... "

"Duo."

Heero was leaning over the kitchen counter. He repeated the name. Duo cracked open an eye.

"Do you want something to drink? To eat?"

Duo blinked slowly. "No. No, n't hungry. Thanks, babe."

Wufei's specs thumped lightly on the rickety wooden table as they slipped from his numb hand. The three pilots glanced at each other in renewed surprise as Heero once again and despite the, well, it must be an insult to him, sat back down at the kitchen counter without further comment.

 "'not hungry." Duo murmured. "Thanks man. Looking out for us. Always worry." Duo's voice faded to a whisper again. "Solo. Soledo, my man, boss-boy, big guy, Sol. You knew. Watch it. There's always someone listening. Narcs. Bugs. Cameras. Mikes. Always... Screwed up, too young... But you always stuck with us anyways...

"Never found him. Dirty rat. One o' the layabouts, you think? Maybe fuckin' shopkeeper... Heard it one too many times. Benjamin Oliver fucking whatever. Someone else heard it too. Before we stole somethin' or other. Fuckin' shopkeepers, w' didn't take much. We w'r starving... But they heard his name. Real name. Stupid Bobo ... They connected. Then they come looking for a Benjamin whatever and o'course the rat pointed them right at the kid. Always running after us yelling at us to call him that and not Bobo. Even in the street...

"You don't give your name to the street, Bobo...

"Raid was for him. The bigger ones got out. Solo, you got me out... Always... got me out... "

Silence.

"Skodie, Halfway, Meltdown and Dos. S'them. Their tags, that was them, right? The internment camp only got their paper names. From birth r'cords. Or they beat it out of you. But you keep your tag safe, you keep that separate. The tag belongs to the gang, man. Family.

"They didn't beat us all! 'M glad, Solo. Skodie and Dos did us proud, cracked the joint. Made it back to us. Only two weeks it took 'em... Never heard about Halfie though.

"Bobo... couldn't fight, couldn't whore ... starved, when they cut rations i' the can again. 'Cause of us. Juvie. Too young but still they put 'im in juvie. Cause he was in a gang. Six? Five? Bobo...

"Meldown now, she went down better, hardcore. You showed 'em, Mel. Killed t' stinking pig guard. So they took her out back."

Whisper, almost a sing-song. "Melanie... Me-la-nie. Metra, Meltdown, Mellie, Mellow, Mel...

"Yeah, took her out back and bang."

Lips formed the word 'bang' again.

The click of the laptop closing echoed the memory of a gunshot.

Heero stood with precision and his usual scowl, and took the laptop over to the couch. He put the laptop on Duo's lap, and grabbed the uninjured arm and put it on the laptop.

"Wh-wha-?" Duo's eyes staggered open.

"Hold onto it." Heero ordered sharply. He then leaned over and picked up both Duo and laptop in one easy movement.

"I'm going to work in the bedroom. I'll watch over Duo there."

Duo was staring at him wide-eyed, balancing the laptop. Heero didn't look back as he carried him gently through the door.

In the silence of the main room no one stirred.

- Owari-

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