Author: Gloria
Summary: And Duo deflated. His breath left him in a rush, shoulders slumping forward. Hate crime. Made what he was seem like nothing more than a slur. Gundam pilot. Started with his yard suffering for it, bad for business. Then it got worse.

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is the property of its creators. I do not own this franchise and no infringement is intended or profit gained by the writing of this fanfiction.
Pairing: 1x2, more may follow
Spoiler Warning: In the prologue, I intend to rely heavily on events occurring during episodes forty-five through forty-eight.
Alternate Warnings: Rating MA is for violence, swearing and adult sexual situations, which include, but are not limited to, homosexuality. Also contains characters dealing with serious subjects like death, war and grief, so standard angst warnings apply.

Prerequisite + Chapter 1: Lack of a Better Idea

A.C. 203

The brick managed to shatter not only the window it was hurled through, but the pane above it as well. Duo sat up sharply, his boots slamming on the cement floor so hard it shot trails of pain up his ankles. Splintered glass showered his desk, skipping across the organized chaos of paperwork, hard evidence of Maxwell Scrap's slow drain down the tube. Another crash, from a window in Hilde's old office. And then another, a fourth, a fifth.

Duo crossed his office with quick, sure-footed strides, refusing to panic, even when the fire-lit glass bottles of propane followed the hail of bricks. Duo inhaled a deep lungful and held it. He opened his file cabinet, grabbed his pension documents, his lease to the yard, and the two only other documents he owned that had his name typed on them, and stuffed it all into a backpack. He grabbed his jacket, the reek of propane and melting rubber invading the room right on the heels of the thick smoke, and stuffed his braid under the collar. Next came his cap, as cozy as the comfort blanket Duo used it for, hiding his face under the tattered, black brim. He crouched in the corner, the seam of his shirt collar held up to his mouth and nose with one hand, and waited for the smoke to fill the room. There was an explosion, Duo felt the whole structure shudder from the impact, what was left of his windows shattering and beating
Duo with glinting shards. Fire must have gotten too close to the tyres. There was shouting, panicked screams. Idiots. This whole acre would be a plume of black smoke within minutes. Duo waited until his eyes watered and the smoke began to aggravate his throat. Then he moved, using blackness for cover, keep the clean air trapped in his lungs.

Quick, slinking, utterly silent. He wouldn't retaliate. He knew they were just civilians. Angry ones, misled and protective of a generation that disdained them. Down the hall, utilizing ingrained memory to lead the way, past Hilde's old office, paperwork ablaze and beating him with roiling heat. The broom closet had a small window; it led to the shipping containers, not yet on fire. He slipped inside, teetered dangerously on boxes filled with cleaning chemical, and wriggled his way through the tiny window. He twisted, flinging his backpack up and over the roof, and grabbed the ledge with the tips of his fingers. Two fingernails bent backwards as he hauled himself up. He registered the pain, but had learned a long time ago how to do so silently. Duo let out his breath explosively and sucked in another lungful, this air cleaner but just barely. He slipped only once on the tile, but once he gained footing, he
was sprinting, hell for leather, grabbing his backpack on the way and launching himself onto the nearest shipping container. The yellow metal was sooty, days of grime mixing with oily, black smoke causing it to be treacherous and slippery. He jumped to the next one, staying low, staying fast. He made a quick left, rolling down the edge, and dropped to a crouch on the ground. He uncoiled like a spring, jumping onto the chain linked fence, clambering up and somersaulting to the other side.

Duo ran towards uptown, his muscles only feeling the strain when he sighted the business district. Sirens wailed, the smoke from his yard sighted by now, or maybe someone called it in--or hell, maybe the fire got out of control and the neighbors didn't want it burning down their shops too. Duo did his very best not smile vindictively.

The air filters groaned over head, compensating for the plume at his back, sucking in the toxic smoke and channeling it out to space. The entire colony seemed to shudder as vents shifted, concentrated on the breach. Duo knew it would take at least forty fire fighters to get the blaze under control, and uppers would be cleaning the soot from ceiling slates for days. Really, they could have just asked him to leave. They could have just asked him.

He reached the shuttleport out of breath and sweating. He must have looked awful, the stares he was getting were blatantly curious to the point of rude. He smiled back at them, scratching at his face as he ordered his fare, his fingers coming back blackened with ash. The cashier attendant pointed out that he was bleeding, right before security caught up with him, taking him aside for questioning.

Duo took off his cap and pulled out his braid. Both men sucked in sharp breaths, recognition lighting in their eyes. "We all knew this was going to happen sooner or later," Duo told them, his voice not nearly as nonchalant as he wanted it to be. "I don't want any trouble. I just want to get off-colony."

Their walkie talkies screamed at them, news about the structure fire quick to spread. There were regulations, rules about this sort of thing. And certainly allowing a man in Duo's state to waltz onto a shuttle was begging for a demotion. But even if these guys were security, they were also L2 born and bred. Being so, they knew Duo. Knew him. Knew him and all the rumors of dissent that were circulating midtown about Maxwell Scrap and the teenagers that loitered there. Whatever they thought, they didn't say. Whatever they thought, it didn't matter. They let him go.

Duo took the first shuttle to L4.

+

The Winner Enterprise took up a decent third of L4. No, seriously, a third. Most of uptown, quite a bit of midtown. Even down-colony had a charity structure or two with a Winner plaque on it. The Winner's did not precisely own L4, not like that all. But they definitely paid for a good percentage of it when the colony was first being built two hundred years ago, when Earth was searching franticly for an entrepreneur to pay off some of the debt. Winners were good for that, Changs too--but they had their sights set on L5 even before the project was finished. Two hundred years later, the Changs were all but dead, feeling righteous enough about what they felt they could or could not do with their colony, and the Winners had backed off from entrepreneurs to financiers, to builders and architects. Build, sell; build, sell. Quatre was very touchy about the subject; he hated having people think he owned them because his name was on the real estate. These days, Quatre gave away more than he profited, it bothered him so much. Or maybe he was just still holding an unhealthy amount of guilt over his dad...and that colony he blew. Quatre was good for that, agonizing.

The Winner Estate on L4, however, was positioned on the back edges of midtown on a four acre lot, downsized considerably since Quatre inherited his father's company. The houses on Earth were bigger, much bigger, as Duo recalled, but since Quatre spent most of his time in space these days, he's left his sisters to run the houses dirt side to their heart's content.

Even with the downsizing and the agonizing and the charitable pine for humility, the estate's gate was this absurdly massive bleached stone, white marble, gilded thing with a calligraphic ‘W' that split down the middle when opened. Whoever answered the intercom was snooty--at least until Masif replaced him and recognized Duo through the vid. The gate swung open, quiet as mouse, thank you very much, and Duo began the short walk through the imported lawn and up to the front door. That, too, swung open for him, another monster of gold and marble, and Duo was only three steps into the foyer before he was launched upon.

Quatre stepped back quickly when Duo didn't respond immediately, face all strained with concern, bottom lip disappearing between perfect white teeth. "Duo! You--"

Duo held up one hand, still grimy from the attack on his yard, even though he'd been able to wash up somewhat on the shuttle here. "I'm okay, Quat. Just need a bed for right now. You don't mind, do you? We can talk when I'm not grumpy."

"No, no; not at all." Quatre glanced down at himself, frowning a bit at the stain of soot that had smudged off of Duo and onto his black-stitched cream blazer--an article of clothing that probably cost more than Duo's dental plan. "You must be hungry. Surely. I'll send a tray up for you. Come on, this way. Don't mind that--" Quatre said, following Duo's gaze to the side of room, where a large plastic sheet hung from ceiling to floor. Behind it came the tell-tale sounds of construction. The hiss and grumble of mechanical tools, forced air and chainsaws. What Duo could see of the foyer was an odd mix of black on white furniture, walls, and appliances, highlighted here and there was something garishly red. The rest of the room, Duo noted, as it opened up to the hall with the wide staircase, was a riot of colors. Champagne walls with hanging tapestries of deep burgundy and tawny gold, straw mats
over old oak floors imported from Earth centuries ago, and palm trees in large pots of blue and white ceramic.

"Renovating?"

Quatre sighed, leading the way up the staircase. "Yasmine got it in her head that a smaller home necessitates a more modern interior design. I don't keep her on a very tight leash, even if Hani thinks I should. It's harmless, and it gives her something to do. She says she's trying to build her portfolio. Here we are. Listen." Quatre paused outside of a large double door down at the end of the hall. They were very close to the front of the house, and Duo wondered idly if Quatre chose that room on purpose; giving Duo easy access to the door should he need to take flight, instead of rampaging through half the mansion. "It's easy to get lost in this house; this is the only hallway we have on the estate. Every room opens into the other--so if you do get wander-lust and can't work your way back, my staff is very friendly and--"

"I get it, Quat. Thanks."

"Okay." Quatre smiled up at him, not like he used to, but the new smile he wore more frequently. Hard mouthed, barely a muscle twitching in his face. His eyes were still concerned, but there was a shadow to them. "I'm-I'm very busy today. I won't be back to the estate until tonight, but Trowa should be back around dinnertime, if you want company. I'll phone him, tell him you're here."

"You don't have to do that."

"It's really no trouble." His smile was more sincere, this time. "You're never trouble, Duo; not here. You're always welcome."

"Thank you, Quat. I mean that. I promise, we'll talk later."

Quatre released him then and Duo went inside the room. The drapes were pulled, so the chamber was dark. Duo dropped his backpack; dizzy with the exhaustion he hoped didn't show on his face when he talked to Quatre. He shucked his shoes on the way to the four-poster bed, pushed off all the pillows except for the softest one, crawled beneath the duvet, and promptly fell asleep.

+

Trowa was sitting beside him when he woke, oddly upside down. Duo rolled onto his stomach, grinding the palm of his hand into his eye. The lamp was on; Trowa was using it to read. Or had been. He was eyeing Duo over the brim of the book now. An easel was situated a few feet away, a covered, pewter tray on top of it. Must be dinner. Smelled like dinner. Duo sat up Indian style, his hands in his lap, blinking tiredly at nothing until Trowa cleared his throat.

"Yasmine's going to kill you for destroying those sheets."

Duo looked over his shoulder, eyeing the mess he'd made wearing his dirty clothes to bed. "I'm sure she can afford new ones." He felt hot, stuffy. He shrugged off his jacket, wincing at the pain the motion produced. Duo gritted his teeth, and unzipped his jumpsuit, pulled off the sleeves, let it pool around his waist. The tee shirt underneath was damp, but cool now that air was getting to it. Duo breathed in deeply and let it out, closing his eyes and resting his face in his hands. Wasn't quite the despairing movement it looked; though, by rights, Duo could be distraught and get away with it.

"You should shower so I can dress the wounds," Trowa said quietly. Trowa had two voices. One was quiet, one was quietly mocking. Duo guessed he earned nice Trowa today.

"Why you?"

"Because Quatre's still working and you won't let anyone else touch you."

Duo ran his tongue over his teeth, feeling grit there too. He rose without talking and went into the bathroom. It never occurred to him to close the door as he bent over to start the water and then kicked off the rest of his jumpsuit. His tee was off before Trowa did it for him, pulling it shut so he could have some privacy. The effort made him pause, but not because it was an odd thing for Trowa to do--even though it was--but more so because Duo honestly hadn't thought of it. He hadn't needed to close his bathroom door since Hilde left, and that was two years ago.

The shower stung, but he felt better afterwards. His neck hurt from his heavy, waterlogged braid even before he made it out again, dressed only in a fluffy towel robe folded neatly in one corner. There were clothes waiting for him where Trowa had sat by the bed, folded neatly. Black slacks, black shirt, hell, even black underwear. His mood lightened as he dressed, amused by the silent joke. Corned beef and cabbage was under the pewter lid, and Duo ate all the cabbage by the time Trowa returned. He carried a small satchel, a bowl of steaming water and two towels, which he placed in no certain order on the nightstand. Duo helped him pull the dirty sheets off the bed and replace the soft pillow for a cleaner one Duo tossed on the floor that morning. Then he sat and tried not to make a sound as Trowa pried bits of metal and glass from his shoulder, his forearm, the back of his calf. Trowa cleaned the gash on the side
of Duo's face, wrapped the fingers missing fingernails, and threw the bloody cotton swabs in the trash when he was finished.

"Thanks, mom."

"You don't have to be sarcastic," Trowa retorted, quiet as ever, tone just below normal. He closed up the satchel and set in on the floor, handed Duo a glass of water. He said: "You tried."

"Yeah. Yeah, I tried." Tried and failed.

"Hilde called."

Duo looked up for that, unable to smother the smile that quirked at her name. "Did she? How's she doing?"

"Worried about you, I gather." Mocking quiet now, dry as a bone and reproachful. Trowa ran a hand through his hair, mussing up the regular fall over one eye. For a second, Duo was able to see both, gaze as subdued as his voice. They flickered, met Duo's. "She predicted you'd be here, that you'd come to Quatre."

"She's a smart girl. She knows me." There wasn't any weight to it; there wasn't any weight to it because they weren't really talking about Hilde. They were talking about the trouble Duo was in and the fact he brought it to Quatre's doorstep. Duo was breaching territory. Story of his life. "I'll leave. Say the word, Trowa."

Trowa lowered his gaze first, his thumbnail scratching idly at the inner skin of his wrist. "There will be an investigation. They'll want to question you."

Duo became angry, a surge of heat in his chest. "For fucking why? Should be pretty fucking obvious it was a--a..."

Trowa looked up, lifted a brow. "Hate crime?"

And Duo deflated. His breath left him in a rush, shoulders slumping forward. Hate crime. Made what he was seem like nothing more than a slur. Gundam pilot. Started with his yard suffering for it, bad for business. Then it got worse.

Duo had the misfortune of having his face branded on every colonist in the L2 cluster's memory. They saw him and thought GUNDAM in glaring fucking letters. Publicity like that didn't really make for good blue collar work. Even if they didn't mind the fact he used to pilot a gundam, they didn't want trouble. Even if they thought he was a hero, they didn't want to stir anything up by going to pay for a few bits of sheet metal, branding themselves as a gundam-lover to the whole neighborhood.

Duo knew that was the biggest part of it. Started with White Fang, picking up the pieces of Operation Meteor, mortifying the whole of space by firing on Mother Earth. Mariemaia came next, another dark scar on the colonists. Now they had to keep their chins tucked in, their heads down, because if anybody started talking about it, making sides known, everything would go to shit all over again. And Duo had gone and got himself caught by OZ, and the bastards publicized the capture, videoed him being dragged out of Deathscythe, his Gundam's destruction, everything. Eight years ago, that happened. Eight entire fucking years, but it didn't matter. He could never undo that, never outlive it. They all knew who he was.

The older ones were willing to let it be. They remembered the war, lived it, suffered it; they saw what Duo was trying to do. Make nice, play civilian. Live. Maybe they even respected him for it. The younger generation thought different. A weird phase of hero-worship sprang up in the new age bracket, teenagers knocking on his door, asking him to support their gang, be their PR, their anthem. Duo told them to fuck off--eight years wasn't long enough to forget White Fang had pulled the same exact bullshit before snagging their precious Peacecraft and then blowing a boil into the Earth's crust. Kids don't remember that kind of thing, and while Duo was fairly certain that wasn't where they were going with it, he didn't want to encourage any resemblance of it either.

Parents got the wrong idea. Neighborhood somehow became convinced Maxwell Scrap was funding teenage gangs, inspiring a new uprising. And L2 didn't harbor the sort of populace who would sit back and let something happen that they didn't want to, even if it wasn't true.

"It wasn't true," Duo whispered, hating himself because he knew he sounded pathetic. "It wasn't true, what they thought."

Trowa waited until Duo looked at him. "I know that, Duo. You're as honest as they come."

Quatre came in then and, weirdly, Trowa stood and left, closing the door held out for him without so much as a glance in Quatre's direction. Quatre seemed unfazed by it, though the whole thing made the tiny hairs on Duo's neck stand on end. Duo tried to answer Quatre's wan smile, but didn't feel right about it, so he let it drop.

Quatre sat on the edge of the bed, next to Duo, close enough he could smell his cologne, see the golden five-o'-clock shadow on his jaw. Quatre wore his hair swept away from his face, now, instead of the messy bangs that made him look every bit the runaway schoolboy he was when they were fifteen. Now, he looked every bit the polished CEO he was at twenty-three. Quatre folded his hands in his lap. "You can stay as long as you like, Duo." He looked up at Duo, blue eyes still big on his face but not so overwhelming, even darker than they had been earlier that day. "You know that, don't you? As long as you need. I mean that."

"I believe you, Quat." Duo slung an arm over Quatre's shoulders, noting how they stiffened before they relaxed, like Quatre actually had to think about letting Duo embrace him. They didn't used to be so distant. But eight years is a long time. "I won't stay long enough to wear out my welcome."

Bottom lip disappeared between white teeth; Quatre had developed a habit of chewing on himself. That was new as well. "It makes me happy to see you. Truly. Even if the circumstances are rather--"

Duo squeezed Quatre's shoulders, dropped a kiss on his head, grinned a little at how Quatre turned red and dropped his eyes. "It's cool. Probably looks worse than it is."

"They shouldn't have done that to you."

"Yeah, and bees can't fly. Really, it'll blow over in a month."

Quatre looked up at him again, expression almost earnest, almost youthful, almost like it should be. "Will you go back to L2?"

Duo returned his gaze levelly. "No, Quat. No, I won't."

+

Wufei's visit was surprising.

Wasn't really a best wishes visit, and Wufei made that pretty clear right off the bat.

Quatre and Duo were eating breakfast on the deck when he showed up, unannounced, as things happen, but unorthodox enough to startle the Winner heir. He was pushing back his chair with a screech and jumping to his feet before Duo even realized something was different--but the look on Quatre's face was enough to cause Duo to reach for the gun he didn't have on his hip, compulsory, futile. A little absurd.

But then, Duo was always good for being a little absurd.

"Wufei!" Quatre exclaimed, wiping his mouth with a napkin and coming around the table swiftly to greet him.

Seeing who it was, Duo relaxed back into his seat, watching in amusement as Quatre and Wufei did that dance, the whole hesitation game, where they weren't sure whether to hug or merely shake hands. Some of them became close, during and after the war, even though the only thing they all had in common was what they piloted, and that eighty percent of the time they weren't all that sure who the hell they were supposed to be fighting, and ended up fighting each other just to kill time. But a history of Gundams wasn't enough to keep all five of them together, or even in contact, for the most part. Wufei, always one to do his own thing, had joined the Preventers seven years ago, and no one had heard from or seen Heero Yuy since he scorched a hole in Brussels' Presidential Palace.

In fact...it might have been seven years since he'd seen Wufei in person, having only caught brief glimpses of him on the international news in the past handful of years. He looked good, Duo thought, biting into a crepe. He flicked crumbs off his chin as he chewed, rising to his feet but remaining by the table.

Good, yes, and taller. Must have hit a growth spurt; television didn't give the guy justice. Leaner and stiff--but then Wufei had always been a bit stiff. He was dressed to the nines in a crisp Preventers officer uniform, dark navy blue with pale green lapels. Heavy on the bars, lots of stripes; Wufei's done well for himself, it seemed, in the Preventers. Expected, surely, as Wufei joined them not nine months after the ESUN signed the charter giving them jurisdiction and funding. Basically had been there since they cut the umbilical, courtesy of Sally Po's graciousness.

"It's good to see you, Quatre," Wufei was saying. Halting, but sincere. They decided on a hug, which Wufei bore with surprising grace, meeting Duo's gaze with black eyes.

"Ah." Duo swallowed his mouthful and grabbed his jacket. "Time to go."

Wufei made to grab his arm as Duo moved past them, but Duo nimbly maneuvered just out of reach. Quatre said something in protest, but Wufei overrode him. "I'm not here about Maxwell Scrap, Duo. Just give me five minutes."

Duo turned, lifting his arm and tapping his watch-less wrist. "Alright, go."

Wufei cast a single apologetic glance toward Quatre, who was an expert at pointed looks and went into the house. Then Wufei jumped in.

"Preventers want you to enlist."

Duo shook his head. "Said no seven years ago, Wu; a little structure fire isn't going to change my mind."

"They attacked you; we can provide immunity, protection, a full, publicized pardon."

"Relena already did that, again, eight years ago." Duo crossed his arms, made a point of looking at his wrist. "Worked marvelously already, from where I'm standing."

Wufei took a step forward, hands palm out in a non-threatening gesture. "It's a job, Duo, work; utilizing skills you've had since before the war, honed during the war. You'd skip all the training, all the bullshit. Do not pass go, Duo; don't be stupid. Take the offer."

"Again, all the same shit that sugared the offer seven years ago, Wufei. I'm perfectly capable and willing to wait until this blows over. Then I'll start again. Don't make a big deal out of nothing."

Wufei dropped his arms, fingers twitching like they wanted to curl into fists, and Wufei was taking a great effort not to do just that. His face was still, immobile like Quatre's got whenever Trowa happened to pass through the room. "Not everybody hates the Gundams, what they stood for, us--you know that as well as I do. But there are just enough people still dissenting over the fact that none of the five of us ever had to stand trial for what we did to make your life miserable as long as you're able to keep dodging incidents like Maxwell Scrap--and only because you're the only face they recognize, the only name they know. You catch the heat for all of us."

Duo scoffed, even though it was true. However, being true didn't make a thing any less absurd. That being said, scoffing at a zealot's beliefs didn't make them any less fervent, any less dangerous. "I can live off my pension. I'll go underground."

"Technicality, Maxwell." Last names, now. Wufei was beginning to loose his temper. "You were never good at technicalities, especially when they apply to you. You'll lose your mind out of boredom. At Preventers, I can personally guarantee a challenging atmosphere. You'll feel more like yourself. You can't tell me you don't miss that."

Ah. No. No, Duo definitely couldn't say that he didn't miss it, because it would be a lie. And Duo Maxwell did not lie. "Not enough, Wu. Nostalgia was your motivating factor, not mine."

Rigid, now, spine ramrod straight. Wufei's lip curled, contempt covering the aggravation he really felt. Duo knew him well enough to know that. People change, but people don't change that much. "You're a fool, Maxwell. You're a fool not to take the offer."

Duo licked his lips, tasting a bit of crepe that was caught in the corner of his mouth. "Time's up, Wufei."

+

"Johnny! Turn that up!"

"Fuck you, Bill. No one wants to listen to the news."

Johnny turned it up anyway. Duo made a special effort to tune it out. He'd been getting better and better about that, lately. He swallowed the rest of his beer, the sour tang twisting flavor on the tip of his tongue. His stomach felt full from drinking so much, but he was barely buzzed. Stupid, fucking genetic tinkering; goddamn scientist who absolutely refused to let the street rat into his precious Gundam without a few mandatory ‘precautions'. Hell of a lot of good that did him in the end, except for making his bar tab absurdly high eight years in the running. Time for something stronger.

Duo wiggled his empty glass at Johnny, a burly man with hair everywhere on his body except his head. Johnny flicked a damp towel over his shoulder, arching a thick brow. An interesting scar cut through that eyebrow, more hair missing where it divided it; interesting only because that was the sort of scar that had a story behind it. Duo learned a long time ago not to inquire about those stories. Sometimes they led to bitter truths that put Duo on the wrong end of some stranger's anger.

"'Nother one?"

"Nah. Something else. What do you have on whiskey?"

The barkeep rattled off brands, his face beginning with pride as he listed the more expensive stuff, and ending in a wary glower as Duo waited patiently until he got to the cheaper liquor. Just to see the look on his face, Duo ordered a double of the first, earning a startled grin and snappy service. The dark liquid burned like fury in his mouth, warm and punishing, but went down smooth. Duo finished it in two swallows and ordered another.

The bar was one of those hole-in-the-wall misfit lounges that harbored locals who didn't want to be bothered with the crowds of the bigger joints down the strip. Dimly lit, old rock jams humming from a juke in the corner, a regular cycle of tunes barely a drone in the background, wood tables with plastic mats, visibly worn but clean. Type of place an owner took pride in, even if pride alone wouldn't get him the business he needed to take that vacation he's wanted since he was thirty. Duo liked it, even despite his surly mood. Reminded him of the kind of bar he'd been a regular of on L2, before his scrap yard went to shit and Hilde ran off with that guy Duo had made the mistake of introducing her to. Nice guy, Dean. Idealistic, earnest, complete, utter moron. Had the nerve to look at Duo with pity because he was the poster-child of out-of-place ex-soldier, verging on malcontent.

I'd like you to be there, Hilde said. Really. Be his best man.

Hilde was smart, Duo had to give her that. Hilde knew the numbers, was willing to face the music even before Duo--and Duo was never shy about reality. Yard was going under. Now it was ash.

Duo sighed, resting his forehead on one palm, staring at the dark whiskey in his glass, the overpowering waft of alcohol sliding past his nostrils, down the back of his throat. His thoughts shifted to Quatre, his few short weeks at the Winner Estate on L4. He hadn't bothered with goodbyes, once he decided he would wear out his welcome if he stayed any longer. Once he decided he was going to Earth. It was good to see him, both of them; even Wufei, who managed to mellow out enough to hold a decent conversation. Quatre seemed tired, strained to his limit, but smiled wanly throughout it all. The Winner Enterprise was more than a business to Quatre, more than money, it was a family. Between the twenty-nine sisters and their respective families jerking Quatre in circles, asking for money, demanding positions, promotions, real estate, school funding, permission to redecorate...It was a small wonder Quatre was tired. Hard-mouthed, now, bemused more than humored. Though, he did seem genuinely concerned about the well-fare of Maxwell Scrap, or the lack thereof. But when he began to offer, because Quatre was good at that, offering, Duo declined. Duo would always be the one person in Quatre's life that would be there without Quatre's charity, big dewy eyes be damned.

Duo wasn't quite sure what Trowa's role was there, and Duo didn't have much of a reason to ask. Trowa always did whatever Trowa did, and there wasn't much to say for that anyway. He didn't quite hover over Quatre, and was almost always gone doing other things while Duo was at the mansion, but he remembered Quatre's eyes following Trowa's exit, his movement across a room, aware when he came in, left, wasn't there at all, wary about it in a way that suggested they weren't quite lovers anymore. Quatre mentioned that Trowa was bored. But then there was that wry, hard-mouthed smile, a slight shrug, and the topic would shift.

Wufei's presence was irritating. Only because Duo had no intention in joining the Preventers, and Wufei had no intention in speaking to Duo unless that was the subject of conversation. Of course, Wufei had good, convincing reasons, and Duo's reasons for refusing seemed superfluous and juvenile at best, but Duo was never the sort to do anything he didn't want to do, even when he was just being stubborn to be stubborn. He felt like his home colony just gave him the boot. Duo felt he'd earned a few months' privilege to being a bitter ass. But then, Wufei's timing was never quite on about anything anyway, so fuck him.

You going dirt side? Wufei asked, in one of those rare moments when being a Preventer wasn't the new Jedi, and joining wasn't the only way to feel the Force.

Yeah. Think so.

You going to look for him?

Maybe.

You think you'll find him? This was about where Duo realized Wufei's mind was already churning with the idea of getting Heero to join too. Hell, maybe Wufei followed him all the way here. Wouldn't put it past him. Wufei had a stubborn streak too.

No, Duo responded. No, I won't find him. He'll know I'm looking long before I'm anywhere close, and he'll find me if he wants to.

Wufei had nodded. He knew that. Conversation was one of those weird ones where the banter was barely necessary, because both parties knew the answer already and they were both speaking out loud just to give their phantoms the finger. Wufei slipped him a piece of paper. On it was the written address of the hospital in Brussels he'd been sent to on Earth, where Relena Peacecraft Darlian held his hand for four whole days while his body healed itself, where he disappeared and was never seen again. Heero Yuy's trail was seven years cold.

Might I ask why? Wufei's voice was quiet, almost disinterested if it weren't for the genuine curiosity in his black eyes.

You can ask whatever the hell you want to ask, Wufei. Fire away.

Why are you looking for him?

Lack of a better idea. Its time, anyway. Always knew I would, just a matter of when.

Duo finished his fourth whiskey, turning in his seat to glance at the television hanging in the upper-corner. Something about a string of murders, a group of officers surrounding a stretcher, a white sheet thrown over the body. Odd that it wouldn't be in a body bag, if the victim was dead. Duo turned back to Johnny and signaled for a fifth.

Johnny shook his head. "I think it might be time to cut you off, friend." His English was accented, sharp on the vowels. Czech, maybe.

Duo sighed heavily. "Fine." He threw some bills on the bar for his drinks, an extra twenty for the tip, stuffed his braid down his jacket and donned a black cap. "Have a good one."

"You too, man. Thanks for coming by."

The door chimed behind him, the street was glossy from a sprinkle Duo missed inside the bar. He hugged the jacket closer around himself, still not acclimated to the natural chill. Colonies had regulated temperatures, Earth not so much. Earth got cold whenever the hell it wanted to. Duo sort of liked that about the planet. She had a mind of her own, even with her billions of inhabitants stomping their foot for something different.

The strip was well-lit and busy. He followed it for seven blocks before veering left down a business block. Another five blocks, and he was at the hospital campus. It took him an hour and a half to circle it, massive structure that it was. Relena sure knew how to pick them. Probably wanted the best for her hero.

Duo didn't mind Relena, not really. Couldn't say that he really understood her, but he didn't mind her. She was idealistic, like Dean, and earnest, like Dean, but she was also not a moron, unlike Dean, so she had that in her arsenal. She was currently serving yet another term in office, Prime Foreign Minister, youngest yet in office. Hell, she earned it, and all the crap that came with it. Whatever. That story was also seven years cold.

Duo paused at a bus stop, sat on the blue, metal bench. He watched the traffic putter by, the groups of people heading for the strip, the promenade, the Hard Rock Café just around the corner. He watched the nurses and doctors meander through the courtyard, snoozing where they could, rushing by with their beepers beeping. The visitors walking in circles, some obviously lost, most just killing time. The bus stopped once every hour and left again without him. Eventually, Duo dozed off.

When he woke, it was very quiet. There were some noises, the faint whirring of a sole vehicle passing a block away, the sound of steam hissing through a vent a few yards down, the grumble of a bum who couldn't quite get comfortable on his pile of rags, the hum of the sliding doors at the entrance of the hospital. The sound of breathing.

Duo looked up sharply. Heero stood leaning against the hub of the overhang, gazing thoughtfully at the bum across the street, tossing on the sidewalk. He looked the same, and yet very different. Fuller, taller, like the teenage boy from before was just the frame of what he'd grow into. Same crazy hair, same dark blue eyes, same consternated frown. Wider shoulders, longer fingers, longer legs. Heero caught him staring.

Pugnacious, Duo met his gaze levelly. Of course, Duo spoke first. Duo always spoke first. "That was a lot easier than I thought it would be."

Heero's lips parted, just barely, and then pressed together again. He tilted his head to one side, his eyes sliding back to the fitful bum across the street. "Heard you were looking for me." Pointing out the obvious. Heero was good for that.

Duo shifted, rammed his hands further into his jacket pockets. Might as well get to the point. "Never wanted to be forced into a life I never wanted. Call this my last ditch effort."

"What do I have to do with that?" Same gravelly voice, rough as cement, that extra rumble that made you strain just a heartbeat too long hoping it would resonate something more.

"Live with me?"

Heero looked back at him, turning his whole body to face him. It was still very dark, pre-dawn blackness, made the shadows dense, thicker, eerily consuming. The shadows clung to the dips of Heero's face, mostly obscuring the hue of Heero's eyes as they burned at Duo, into Duo. "Live with you."

"Yeah."

Another tilt of his head. It was almost cute. Almost. Like when a dog gazes up at you with that one particular look and just dips its head to the side, the exclamation point on a very melting expression. That look dogs get when they're begging for scraps without actually making any noise or wagging their tail. More of a sensory thing.

"Okay."

"Okay?" Duo never really got to the part in his head on whether on not Heero would agree, or if he'd even have the balls to ask, or even if he'd be able to find him at all--or, Jesus Christ, if it was a good idea at all. So, the speed with which his half-formed, desperate attempt at individuality and ambiguity actually fell into place was unnerving. Things were rarely this easy for him. He waited for the other shoe to drop.

"Okay," Heero repeated, his face immobile, his eyes glinting in the lamplight overhead.

"Okay," Duo echoed. "Okay. Alright. Okay." He stood, wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans, stuffed his hands back into his pockets. "Where to now?"

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