Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

//THIS// is Heero's entries on his laptop.

Trial and Error + Chapter 10

//Mission duration: 16 days 9 hours

Operation 2xHD

Status: Promising.

2 very curious about HD.//


Heero nodded at his laptop's screen. Very curious indeed. When Duo had returned from Hilde's yesterday, Heero had had no difficulties in getting him to discuss Daniels. In fact Duo took the forefront by asking him all sorts of questions about Heero's 'little friend' as he called him (despite the fact Daniels was taller than either of them). Duo wanted to know long had Heero known Daniels; did Daniels have a boyfriend or girlfriend; how long had he been separated from the last one; whose fault was it (that one had Heero stumped, for some reason that bit of information hadn't been in the Preventer files); had Daniels checked out as a Preventer; did Daniels have any odd habits that Heero knew of; did Daniels have a lot of friends; why not and why had he left New Zealand in such a hurry anyway. Heero, who had been reading a few more of Relena's romances, found the questions to be promising. Duo was obviously very interested in Daniels. Maybe this might work after all.

But that was the only positive point. Trowa seemed to be more withdrawn than usual, and Heero often caught him looking at Duo with somber eyes. Quatre was also quiet, and seemed prone to headaches and bouts of depression, particularly around Duo. Heero realized he also had to take care of the blonde. Maybe seeing Duo this interested in someone was reminding Quatre that he was all alone as well. Wufei's temper had grown steadily worse, but he seemed to be avoiding Heero. He supposed the Chinese Preventer was still mad at him.

Heero shut down the laptop and went to look out the window at the dying light of the afternoon falling on the garden, feeling the little joy he'd been experiencing at the mission's progress flutter out. The behavior of the other three worried him; he just hoped they wouldn't make the evening uncomfortable for their guest. Heero really wanted his friend to get along with Daniels. Even if it turned out the man wasn't Duo's type, it might still be nice to have Daniels get along with the group. Heero had to work with him after all. And besides...Heero had realized some time back already that if his plans succeeded, all his friends would probably go and eventually live with whoever he managed to find for them. From all he read in Relena's books, a romantic relation was very involving. He would probably see a lot less of his friends.

This was not a problem for Heero, in fact the idea hadn't even made him blink. He'd been alone most of his life, in one way or another. The others' friendship was very dear to him but it was a luxury, like his oath not to kill, or having a home, or being able to live and work out in the open instead of hiding undercover. Precious but not essential, these were things he accepted he might lose, so he had hardened and distanced himself to them without even realizing it. The bottom line was, his friends deserved to be happy. Heero's feelings were so far below in importance to that fact they may as well not exist. He'd still have Relena, for a little while at least. And when she too found someone to make her happy, then Heero would hopefully have the tools to make new friends; it was the gift Duo and the others had given him, the wedge that had taken off the hard edge that had isolated him from normal people. Daniels might be the first of this series of new friendships, not as deep or as intense as with the others of course, but not born of war and loss and bloodshed either. It would do. It was more than Heero had ever hoped for growing up, at a time when his idea of an ideal future was a swift death that would have some purpose to it.

"Heero, don't worry."

He started. Quatre had appeared at his shoulder, and he'd been caught unprepared he'd been so deep in thought. Once this mission was over, before he worried about making friends or anything else, he'd have to retrain himself; he appeared to be slipping.

"What?"

"Don't worry, I'm sure we'll like Hugh." Quatre smiled. He looked tired and pale but his smile was genuine and Heero, for the barest hint of a second, realized he would miss that gentle look on Quatre's face when the blonde was gone from his life. He sealed the emotion off expertly after acknowledging it. It was true, but it would not affect his performance.

Quatre left the room to oversee dinner preparations; Auda had agreed to come over and cook since none of the boys had much familiarity with anything that didn't require defrosting, nuking, or the addition of hot water and a stir.

Heero leaned his head against the window pane, keeping an eye out for Daniels, his mind reviewing the whiteboard again...who could he find for Quatre...Trowa was the greater urgency, though. And of course Wufei...

Movement from the corner of the house caught his eye. He stared, engrossed. Daniels had apparently shown up a bit early and was talking to...Duo! Heero had thought his friend had left fifteen minutes ago already, but he'd apparently held back to have this opportunity to see Daniels again. A prickle ran up the soldier's spine. This was not a casual meeting.

He could see Duo's face, almost in profile. He was serious. He'd only met Daniels once, and already he was showing him the inner man, the real Duo. Heero felt...ambivalent at that. It was a wonderful sign, an indication that he might have got it right this time, that he'd actually helped one of his friends towards the happiness they deserved. But to see Duo like this...Heero realized he hadn't actually thought of this, how it would feel to see Duo behave with anybody else the way he behaved with Heero. He caught the feeling, analyzed it, dissected it, accepted it and buried it. He would not let it interfere.

Heero realized he was catching the tail end of the conversation. His eyes followed it on their lips automatically.

'You don't have to worry Duo. I'm a nice person.' Daniels was saying. He was smiling widely. His hands were stuck in his pockets, his head tilted on one side.

'See to it you stay that way and we'll get along just fine.' Duo's answer puzzled Heero, it sounded like one of his jibes, but he had said it so seriously...well, Heero had never seen Duo with a possible love interest, it would be reasonable to expect him to behave differently than with his friends.

'So...if you've decided you approve of me after all...you're okay with it being a date? For the birthday party?' Daniels said, swaying back and forth on his heels, eyes fixed on Duo's face.

Duo nodded slowly.

Heero's felt a small rush as he turned from the window. A date? For Relena's birthday tomorrow? Apparently his misgivings had been incorrect! It was working, it was actually working...This love thing wasn't so hard after all...

Dinner went a lot more smoothly than he'd anticipated, though he wasn't really concentrating. He was analyzing what he'd seen of Duo's attitude, and what he knew of Daniels, and trying to anticipate what would happen next. Would they need any more help? Would it be presumptuous of him to try to help them if they did? He wasn't completely ignorant of how couples worked; he realized that love wasn't something you could fix like a broken Gundam. At some point, he'd have to let Duo go. He'd have to see if the relation would grow on its own or not. This was where having Duo paired with someone other than a friend was helpful. If Daniels actually did something to compromise the relation, Heero would feel no compunction at being quite thoroughly angry with him. But he wouldn't do anything, it was up to the two of them now. Heero was feeling some relief, even some contentment. Duo was taken care of, for now; he had a shot at a normal life. Now Heero had to take care of the other three. The pilots in question were all glancing at him in surprise, and Heero realized he had a smile on his face as he listened to Daniels talk. Probably not an expression the others were used to seeing on Heero, not where a stranger was concerned. But if Daniels made Duo happy he would definitely be a stranger no longer as far as Heero was concerned.

"Well, I better go." Daniels finished his coffee and stood. "Thanks for the evening, gentlemen, but I have to take a tour of duty at midnight. Care to walk me to my car, Heero?"

Heero nodded. He had a few last minute recommendations to make to Daniels regarding security in the west wing.

They opened the door and almost ran into Duo as he lifted his key to open it.

"You're home early." Heero was the first to recover from the surprise. Sweeper parties could normally be counted on to last until nearly dawn.

"Er, yeah. Decided to call it a night." Duo was looking at his boots.

Heero turned to Daniels. "Did you want to stay a bit longer? You have some time, maybe you and Duo could-"

"That's okay." Duo and Daniels said, in perfect synchronization.

"But you barely saw each other-"

"I'll see you tomorrow at the party, Duo." Daniels said with a cozy smile.

"Right." Heero had turned to see how Duo would respond and was watching a braid disappear through the door behind them instead, with that last word hanging in the air like a starting shot. What was that? Could...could Duo be shy? It had never, ever occurred to him, but then again, he hadn't known Duo's sexuality or types either. Still...a shy Duo...that almost rewrote the laws of behaviorism...

Daniels' hand was on Heero's shoulder, tugging him slightly forward and Heero filed the observation away under Duo's growing data, and accompanied his fellow Preventer down the path through the front garden.

The air was cool with a breath of promised rain. The gravel crunched beneath their feet. They turned the bend of the path and the lights of the house gave way to moonlight and the glint of stars off flowering shrubs and an early-blossoming rose bush, its white flowers hovering like phantoms in the gloom.

"...and make sure you do a round at three AM sharp-"

"Heero."

"- Jo Atakai has the bad habit of nodding off around that time, it's why I never put him on the staircase, it's too central a position for-"

"Heero!"

"What?" Heero glanced up in surprise at the interruption. They were almost to the garden gate and Daniels' car, and he still had some security details to go over.

"Let's not talk shop." Daniels purred, and grabbed Heero's shoulder. While the ex-pilot strangled his instinctive reaction to break Daniels' arm in three places, the taller man pulled him close, lifted Heero's chin with his other hand and leaned towards him.

The scene froze. Daniels' breath was warm and alien on Heero's lips, two inches away. The man was still in the same position, holding Heero close, but his eyes were on Heero's right hand.

"...do you always draw your gun before you kiss someone?" Daniels asked, a bit tightly.

Heero's fingers tightened on the grip, anchoring himself to the only thing he could rely on right now. Everything else had gone crazy in about one second, but you could always trust your gun. That was why he carried it everywhere, like a deadly security blanket.

"What...are you doing?" His voice sounded dazed even to himself. Belatedly he started to move back from Daniels and the screaming invasion of his personal space, only to find the man wasn't relinquishing his grip on his shoulder. Once more Heero had to restrain himself from reacting instinctively and harming his colleague.

"I could ask you that. Come on, don't play too hard to get, Heero. At least not with a loaded weapon. I don't find that much of a turn-on." Daniels' grip tightened but he kept his eyes on Heero's gun. For the moment it was directed upward, and trembling with the effort of not expressing Heero's horror and confusion in a more lethal way.

"I...what?" Heero was shaking too. His left hand was curled as if gripping a throttle, a sign of stress and uncertainty he thought he'd gotten rid of when he'd destroyed Wing.

"I know you're a bit new at this, and the whole soldier thing...my ex had some problems as well. That's okay, I guess I can work around that, you're hot enough to make it worth the effort. But I'd really feel more comfortable if you put the gun-"

Heero wrenched himself away, mind whirling. "Wait this is wrong." His voice had dropped back into the cold, dead tones he'd used during the war. "This is a mistake." A small part of him that wasn't turning to stone was hoping against hope that this was, indeed, a mistake, the kind that could somehow be rectified by talking...

"I'm beginning to think it was." Daniels had made no move to restrain him, fortunately for his own health as Heero's stress levels were rapidly approaching a dangerous level. The man's eyes were narrowed and hard. He was smiling but it didn't look friendly. "I didn't think I could misread a come-on so badly - not when it's from the famous 'Ice Prince' himself. Even your friends think it's a done deal. You sure you know what you want, Heero?"

"Yes, no-...you - I thought you wanted Duo."

"Maxwell?" Daniels' eyebrows shot up. "You thought I was-...where did you get that idea!"

"But Duo likes you." Heero's voice was still hard but it couldn't quite mask the confusion and pain.

"He does?" Daniels scratched his head. "If he does, then I gotta admit you Gundam pilots really are something else. Talk about completely crossed signals. Why did you- wait a minute." Brown eyes narrowed, lips pursed. "Were you by any chance trying to set me up with Maxwell?"

Heero said nothing, his only thought in his confusion was that he wished he had his laptop here to help him analyze what the hell was going on.

"Huh. One of us is a very mixed-up puppy and I don't think it's me." Daniels muttered. "Well, I'm not interested in Maxwell. Are you gonna give me a chance or not?" The voice was imperious and impatient.

"Chance? But...Why not Duo?" Heero was not sure he understood anything at this point, and was grasping at the mission like one clutches a life-saver.

"Maxwell's cute, I'll grant you that." Daniels was speaking too loudly for Heero's ringing ears, his pose, hands on hips, head tilted arrogantly, was grating against frayed nerves. "But I set my sights a little higher. I look for an equal in a lover."

Heero's head slowly came up from the dazed slump.

"You have excellent prospects with the Preventers. You have the minister wrapped around your finger for heaven's sake, and she's a shoo-in for the presidentials one day, when she grows up a bit and loses the pink glasses. You have discipline, strength, brains, you're very easy on the eyes...with my qualities we'd make an excellent team. I'm not looking for a one-night stand here, Yuy, in case that is what you were thinking."

Heero slowly put away his gun, since Daniels was keeping his distance.

"That's why it wouldn't work with Maxwell. He'd be a bit of fun, hell, he's got to be the best looking guy I've seen in ages, but he's a nobody, a drifter. It's bad enough he's an L2 street-rat with no parents or past, his war record can make up a bit for that. But look what he's done since. I don't think he's had one steady job in the last few years. And a temper to boot, so no wonder. You guys may not mind him sponging off of you and bumming around but as I said, I'm looking for an equal partner; not a hanger-on or a loose canon. I wouldn't hook up with him except for a fling, and I'd be careful to keep it quiet. Talking of which, I would advise you to not get too buddy-buddy with him either, you might want to start thinking about your own reputation if you want to make any headway in Preventers."

Heero's eyes had widened slowly as he watched Daniels' mouth move, the curt hand gestures, the hard eyes.

"So, where do we stand, Yuy?" The man said sharply. "I'm giving up on the idea of getting you in bed, you're obviously not interested and I'm not suicidal. Are we going to be able to work together? I'm not sure I want to put up with La Darlian's tempers and foibles if there's nothing in it for me, though, so I think we might want to call that quits too. Well, what do you say?"

Heero nodded once, curtly.

"Right. I'll not leave you short, you can take a few weeks to replace me, I'm not that unprofessional. I have a career and at least I know what I want to do with it and my life." Daniels said with a reproving shake of the head.

"Acceptable." Heero's voice sounded very distant in his own ears. He turned slowly back towards the house. He heard Daniels snort softly behind him and stride towards his car.

"You were right."

Heero's voice was controlled, without inflections. The voice of his war-steeped childhood.

"Right?" Daniels swung back at the gate and took two steps towards him. "Right about what?" He looked suddenly hopeful. His eyes ran up and down Heero's frame in a way Wing's pilot was finally beginning to understand.

"You were right about Duo." Heero said slowly. He couldn't seem to lift his eyes higher than Daniels' chest. "He grew up in the streets of L2 where murder is commonplace, he survived more shit than even I did, nothing was able to break him, he broke the system instead; he joined the resistance at age twelve, he learned how to pilot a Gundam within a ridiculously short period of time to a level comparable to mine, he taught himself higher physics, mechanics, chemistry, electronics, computing; he took a stand, fought a war, he was the god of death, then he helped broker the peace, and through it all kept his sanity, his humor, his heart and his soul intact and is always available to support his friends.

"You're quite right. Duo is not your equal at all."

He walked back in silence towards the house.

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