Author: Gloria
See Ch. 1 for other warnings, notes, disclaimer

Summary: "Duo, starting over would be as easy as cutting your hair and changing your name. But we both know you won't do that. And this won't ever blow over."

Author's Note: Hi everyone. Thanks so much for receiving this story so well! It fueled the update, which was finished a lot sooner than I thought it'd be. Getting into Heero's brain was challenging, but a lot of fun. I wanted to keep core qualities of Heero-the-kid, and mature them in Heero-the-adult. I've been pulling heavily from the canon to organize Heero in my head, and I've found that every time I return to the series and watch it again, I get something new from it. One of the things that hit me this time was that Heero really does have a sense of humor. It's dry, surely, but definitely there. I tried to play with that somewhat here.

Prerequisite + Chapter 2: Jaded

A.C. 203

Never wanted to be forced into a life I never wanted.

October in Brussels was cold. Heero had felt just about every atmosphere Earth had to offer, and Brussels in October was one of his least favorite. Mostly because the wet accompanied the cold, an aggravating combination. The wet got into joints and froze, stinging bones when they had to move, groaning in protest. Heero's body remembered the war most with the wet, with the wet and with the cold.

He didn't babble. Heero might have been more at ease if he did, might have chalked it down to normal, might have been comforting to hear Duo blather about something nonsensical. But Duo was silent, walking beside him. No furtive glances, no sarcastic remarks, no fidgeting.

Wasn't really that Duo was ever nonsensical. Actually, for the most part, whatever Duo had chosen to say had usually been on the mark. A little jaded, sometimes, and often colored with extreme language and a pitch just above room temperature, but relevant. Duo was nothing if not relevant.

Maybe that's why the colonists got so uneasy around him. Duo could be anyone. He stood out, but only because Duo made a conscious decision to, during the war. The rapid shift from obvious to covert and back again excited Duo, kept the war from being boring, for him, addictive, until it got too serious, until the colonies accepted OZ and Duo became so self-righteous and indignant, he'd throw himself into a fight just to see how many people he could make bleed. How much he could bleed without dying, how far he could push himself. Heero refused to consider he might have been the one to give him the idea. Except that he did consider it, and it bothered him so much he forced himself to stop there and ignore the bigger question. Why.

But why was not as relevant as it seemed. Because Duo wasn't like that now, and so it didn't matter why.

Duo's quiet was unnerving, but not really surprising. Duo was good at being silent when he wanted to be, when he needed to be. Heero tried to think of something to say, even something ugly, just to get him fired up, but his mind went a little blank. Heero thought he was better with people, now, but he hadn't prepared for how easily he'd slip back into the introvert he was eight years ago around a guy he used to fight beside, a guy who was barely more than a stranger.

Heero made an educated decision and took them further into the more urban parts of the city, maintaining a brisk walk, avoiding the old centre and the Grand Palace altogether. The city itself was old, ancient, still thick with a culture that clung to its roots, gothic architecture covetously maintained and rebuilt, over and over, even when the war of 195 shook its foundations, and Mariemaia's launch for power backfired, when Heero was forced to fire on one of the oldest structures in the city. Of course, the palace had been rebuilt, funded by the Earth Sphere Unified Nation that still insisted on keeping its headquarters close by, replacing Romafeller and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that came centuries before it. History stretching back further even than the Sanq Kingdom held a power of its own, and Relena had been brilliant about understanding that, convincing the first President Elect that history, even a turbulent one, is the finest tool in swaying separate-minded political parties. Explore the new while respecting the old. And it worked. It's always worked. Because the war of 195 was not the first to devastate this international administrative center, and it would probably not be the last.

Heero took Duo east, towards the edge of the city, skirting the presence of history and politics and international chess because the one person who definitely did not want his presence known to that specter was Duo. Heero thought him something of a fool, at first, for coming to Brussels, after the attack on Maxwell Scrap. But Duo was nothing if not relevant, and Duo was nothing if not on the mark, and it was simple, therefore, to deduce Duo was looking for him. Better to meet him here on the first day, get him out, before Duo got himself into more trouble.

Duo walked beside him, matching him step for step, as if connected by an invisible harness, sensing more than seeing Heero's change in direction, rapid shift left or right, silent and quick as the shadow he was renowned for. Heero wasn't sure how he felt about that, how he felt about what changed in a person, and what didn't change at all, over time. Heero crossed the street, steps light on the wet asphalt, moisture clinging to it almost counter-scientific, as it hadn't rained in hours, a glaze of colorful, oily grime in the early, dingy light of dawn. He halted outside of a diner, reading the OPEN sign printed in French, and then again in Dutch, and rolling his eyes at the bewildering complexity of Brussels' demographics, another ancient conflict, petty, almost, because it really seemed mostly about language. Duo was looking at him now.

"You're underweight," Heero said. Which was to say, Duo looked hungry, and blearily hung-over enough that he could really use a hot meal in his belly--but Heero wasn't sure how to say that without pissing him off. Heero went inside, feeling, more than knowing, Duo was right on heels following him.

A hollow-eyed waitress smiled sleepily at them as the door chimed, her hair, still wet from a recent shower, coiled tightly in a bun at the base of her neck, and gestured toward a dozen rows of vacant booths. Heero chose the one in the back corner, giving both of them perfect views of each exit, without being too close to the large windows encasing the restaurant. Duo tossed his backpack onto the seat, a ratty affair held together with more paperclips and pins than actual stitched seams, and began to shrug off his jacket. Heero raised a hand sharply to stop him, somewhat outstretched, hovering in the air between them as Duo froze and stared at him. Slowly, Duo replaced the tattered jacket on his shoulder, kept his hair tucked underneath of it, hidden. At least he understood why Heero stopped him, without forcing him to explain out loud. Duo kept his cap on as well and slid into his seat.

"So, what is this, another pity fuck?"

The abrasiveness of the delivery was more startling than the bluntness of his words. Heero jerked a little in his skin, eyes jumping up to meet Duo's as he sat down. Duo didn't look angry, just very still, demanding. Blatant in that he expected an answer.

Pity fuck. An obscene reference to Peacemillion, something they'd never, ever spoken about, even when they teamed up to crush the Barton Rebellion before it got too much footing. Something that never came up because Duo was too blasé about every goddamn thing and Heero needed to concentrate on getting Relena out of Mariemaia's juvenile clutches anyway.

"I don't know what you mean," Heero said, but only because he did not like that particular look behind Duo's eyes, blue, today, in the early daylight.

The waitress arrived with a pot of hot coffee, setting two mugs in front of them and filling each with the brew. They ignored her, too busy staring at each other, wary and defiant, equal parts, impregnating the silence with a foreboding of interpersonal drama. The waitress dropped off menus and left, well-tuned to when she was interrupting a conversation customers would rather her not overhear.

However, the second the girl turned her back, Duo's eyes slid away and dropped. He picked up his menu and flipped it open. Hesitating only a moment, Heero did the same. They both ordered waffles and eggs, though Heero wanted his boiled and Duo insisted on his scrambled with an absurd amount of cheese. In fact, he highlighted the word absurd to the waitress, winking and turning on the full Duo Maxwell charm to make sure there was more cheese than egg when it finally arrived on their table. Aberrant.

Duo caught him eyeing it, and maybe the look on his face amused him, because he pushed his plate across the table and told Heero to try some.

Heero wondered, briefly, if the undercurrent of tension between them would escalate if he refused--and it might, because this was Brussels and if language was enough to embitter a populace, cheese would be too. Heero forked some and popped it into his mouth. It was like he thought it would be; instead of egg with cheese as an added flavor, it was cheese with the texture of egg. That being said, it wasn't too bad.

"It's weird," Duo said around a mouthful of waffles. "Being here. Hasn't changed much."

"Une lives here," Heero answered without looking up. "On the other side of the city."

"Preventers." Enough irritation in that single word to encourage Heero to change the subject. However slightly.

"Mariemaia changed her name. She wants to go to University here, but Une doesn't think it's a good idea."

"It's not." Duo swallowed a mouthful of coffee, wiped the back of his hand across his lips. "You're in touch with them?"

A little resentment there, too. "No, Duo. I killed her once. Just making sure she stays dead."

"Oh." Duo tapped the prongs of his fork against his teeth absently, his eyes toward the window. "You're permanent in Brussels?"

"No." Heero sipped at his coffee and sat back, following Duo's gaze. The neighborhood was beginning to wake up. Two men in overalls walked by, entered the diner, took a booth close to the door. Never so much as glanced their way. "I don't have a permanent residence."

Duo did not answer that, losing the tempo of the conversation, his gaze fixated on the men by the door. Heero saw what Duo saw. Black lining the fingernails used to pick up the menus offered them. One wore a round metal ring hooked to his jumper, more than two dozen keys dangling from it. Their last names were printed on identical stitched plaques, the emblem of their shop right above. Mechanics. Heero looked back at Duo, who allowed Heero an entire moment to see the naked mourning in his face before he shuttered it, put down his fork and replaced it with his coffee. Duo took another swallow, gestured to the waitress for a refill.

"Do you need that?" Heero waited until Duo looked at him again. "Permanence?"

Duo shrugged, restless fingers twisting a bit of napkin as they waited for the girl to come over with a fresh pot and leave again. "Don't want any trouble," Duo said, like he'd said it before, repeated it over and over, until it lost meaning even for him. "Just want it to blow over so I can start again."

"Start again doing what?" Heero let a little heat move his words, getting Duo's attention now, making him sit up straighter in his seat. "Duo, starting over would be as easy as cutting your hair and changing your name. But we both know you won't do that. And this won't ever blow over."

Duo had tried everything he could make it right, and Heero always knew things would never be right, only slightly better--and now Heero wished he'd had the balls to tell him so forever ago, like he'd told Chang, like he'd told Relena. Might have prevented the embittered dreamer sitting across from him.

Duo's jaw went tight, the muscles in his face moving as he ground his teeth. He turned to glare furiously out the window. "You afraid I'll expose you? Like Trowa?"

That surprised him, only because of the addition. Trowa must have said something to him, guilted him into making his visit to the Winners as brief as possible. "No," Heero said. "And stop feeling sorry for yourself. Anyway, it's warmer south. Still. Spain will be nice until November, and then we could go to Greece."

It was Duo's turn to look startled, eyeing him carefully under the brim of his cap. "What the hell have you been doing all these years?"

Heero shrugged. Nothing spectacular, nothing as exciting as making your dreams come true and watching it burn to ash in the course of seven years. Heero signaled for the check. "L'addition. I have a room down the block," he said. "You need rest. We'll talk later."

But Duo was still eyeing him, and not quite with that defiant, bitter look he'd favored him with earlier, like it was Heero's fault his whole world had come crashing down around his ears. Now, it was more interest than anything. Heero fought vainly against the wave of nostalgia that swept through him.

Duo had looked at him like that before. Duo had looked at him like that scarcely weeks after he'd shot him, scarcely weeks before Heero gutted his Gundam and ruined a friendship Duo had not been shy about offering.

+

I'll be the God of Death any day. But right now, I need some sleep.

"Homey."

It was a familiar bit of Duo Maxwell snark, so Heero let it pass. The hotel was indistinct and crumbling, which is why Heero chose it, and the room wasn't much better. Heero hadn't planned on staying in Brussels very long anyway.

Duo sat his backpack on a chair and shrugged out of his jacket. The windows were covered with thick, moth-eaten curtains, and light only refracted off of thin streams of dust motes. Duo's eyes seemed larger in the darkness, larger and brighter. He seemed more like the boy he knew from the war with his eyes like that, big and wide and noticing everything. Heero watched him do a quick sweep of the room, removing his cap and running two hands through his hair, scratching at his scalp beneath the braid. Different, that, too; because his hair wasn't the mangled, near-dreaded mess it'd been eight years ago, when Duo knew no other way of getting the mane out of his face than to braid it. Now, even though slightly tousled, it seemed groomed, polished in the way that vets polish old medals, shine old dog tags, even when during the action they'd been no more than bits of metal to identify them in the raucous. A prized trophy, taken care of and differed to in the sense that made mere pride something to acknowledge, something to respect. History, as glaringly obvious as scars from battle wounds. Duo would never willingly cut it, because even though being who he is was just enough to put him in harm's way, it was the pride of the thing, the conduit for a memory Duo was never willing to let go of, the symbol of eternal baggage. The icon of survivor's guilt, muted, subtle, but definitely there.

Heero gestured to the single bed, mattress already turned over so the cleaner side was up. "Sleep," he said.

Duo didn't need to be told twice. He crawled onto the bed and flopped on his side, curled towards the wall, bundling up his jacket and using it as a pillow. Heero sat behind his laptop, his pride and glory, if he had such a thing, and booted it up. He was dead serious about Spain. And he hadn't seen the Sea in almost a year. Maybe instead of Greece, they could just go to Formentera, where the climate was mild year around. Where it was quiet and autonomous, where the odds were against anyone ever recognizing Duo. Heero had a postcard of the island somewhere in his duffle.

Heero shook Duo around midday, thinking the other man might thank him for helping regulate his shaken sleeping pattern. Heero offered to bring him lunch.

"Fuck lunch and fuck you. Lemme sleep."

Well, okay. Heero ate lunch alone, at the deli on the corner of the block. It was interesting, Heero found, and almost fun, to analyze how cultures mimic others. The Dutch deli, selling Italian subs and mis-transliterating Italian words on the menu was faintly amusing. Comforting, too, because Heero had done this before. Many times before. Seven years worth of times before. The American Quarter in Japan was especially funny, their insistence on capitalizing cowboys, a genre dead centuries before he was born, showcasing a fascination that had never quite died out a half a world away. A parody, as his culture dictated humor. Colonies did that too, mimic, but the culture in space was either blue collar or political, rarely anything in between, the miners and mechanics and their families, and then the committees in place to control them, regulate them, docket them. Colonial humor, Heero found, was bit more brittle. Duo woke finally around dusk and stumbled into the shower, grumbling under his breath about sleeping the day away. When he re-emerged, Heero explained about the Thalys.

"So, we're going to Paris." Duo's smile was wide. Heero might have been irritated by it, if it weren't so relieving.

"We're connecting in Paris," Heero corrected. "Pay attention. We're connecting in Paris, and we're going to Madrid. I was thinking we could spend a few weeks there, get you settled, research the status of the investigation--"

"I need clothes."

"And then--what? Fine, whatever. We'll get you clothes, in Madrid." Heero rubbed at his forehead.

"I'm hungry. I'd rather not wait for Madrid to eat something."

"I'm not your fucking keeper," Heero snapped, closing his laptop and jerking the cord from the wall. Which was to say, I offered to feed you five hours ago.

Duo was quiet for half a breath, and then: "Wufei wants me in Preventers."

Heero froze, looking up sharply at Duo. "When did you see Wufei?"

"Came to Quatre's. Slipped me the address in Brussels." Duo's eyes were darker now, indigo. Heero fought a reactionary shiver. "Are you a Preventer, Heero Yuy?"

Heero blinked very slowly, trying to relate to what he was saying, trying to see it from his perspective. God, it wasn't for lack of trying. "No, Duo. I'm not a Preventer."

"Would you swear to that?"

"I have never in my life lied to you."

"You have never in your life acquired something valuable enough, where I'm concerned, to necessitate lying. Completely fucking irrelevant." Duo's eyes were almost black, now, tiny slits in a face that had, at some point, decided to lose its youthful roundness. "Would you swear to it?"

Heero wasn't sure why it was so important. "I don't see why I need to, and I'm tempted to say no just out of principle." Admittedly juvenile, but anyway. "Wufei asked you to enlist and you said no? Duo Maxwell, you are a fool."

"Don't fucking judge me, Yuy. Don't do that. And don't try to sell me Wufei's fucking garbage either. I'm fine without anyone's goddamn babysitting."

"Right." Heero shook his head, knowing it would anger him. "And that's why you came to me."

"Fuck you." Duo was up and gone, quick, as he was, to burn his heels on the back of an insult a little too close to home. Either way, Heero shouldn't have said that. He knew he should not have because he had done the very same thing to Duo over Relena Peacecraft's abduction. I need help, and you're the only one I trust.

Duo was just, really, calling in a favor. And he had enough class not to say so, if one could argue that 'fuck you' was classy. Heero went out after him, grabbing the jacket and cap Duo left behind on the way. He caught up to him two blocks down and fell into step beside him.

"Duo," Heero said, nudging him with his jacket.

"Don't 'Duo' me," he retorted, but he took the jacket, and then the cap.

"What do you want to eat?"

"Food."

A stifled sigh. Difficult. Duo Maxwell had to be difficult about everything. "What kind?"

Duo paused at a crosswalk, waiting for the go. "What's this place popular for."

"Waffles," Heero said, without missing a beat, without thinking, like maybe he should have. "Chocolate. French fries."

Duo looked over at him, watching him in that way that suggested he was listening to more than what Heero was saying, but also to what Heero was not saying. "Anything else?"

"Beer." Heero ran a hand through his hair and started forward as the light shifted, as the mingling crowd around them surged. "They have a lot of beer here."

"You were never much of a drinker."

Heero snorted. "I was fifteen. And I was distracted by the war. Sorry to disappoint."

"Distracted by the war," Duo echoed, adjusting the cap over his eyes and tucking a wisp of hair behind his hair. "That's the first goddamn thing you've said in the past eighteen hours that's made any sort of sense."

"I'm still not much of a drinker," he admitted, skirting the issue.

Duo laughed. "Alright. French fries it is." Duo fell behind a little, the shadow again, following Heero's lead. "By the way, when are we leaving?"

Heero checked his watch. "Three hours."

+

How 'bout trusting me a bit? This time I definitely won't let the mission fail.

The train station was congested, even at the semi-late hour. Trains were popular in Europe, and for many of the same reasons Heero liked them. The magnet-on-magnet technology for railroads made the trip smooth, reminded Heero of flying through space, where you had the psychological sense you were going somewhere, but your body wasn't quite sure. And they were private, if you knew how to reserve your ticket. Heero always paid for four, so he did not have to deal with unwanted, unwelcome strangers and their bizarre, uninteresting topics for conversation.

They passed a beggar, all but obscured by the rush of feet in the crowded terminal. Heero dug in his pocket and dropped a few bills into the man's can. He didn't look at his face, Heero never looked at their faces. It disturbed him too much wondering whether or not he'd known them, shot them down once upon a time, widowed or orphaned them. Duo noticed. Duo noticed and turned around, looked the old man dead in the face. His stalling didn't slow Heero, who grabbed his sleeve and jerked him forward again.

"You know that guy?" Duo Maxwell and his big, stupid mouth.

"No."

Duo stared at Heero the entire way to the train.

Train stations were useful for other reasons, especially the three larger ones in Brussels. They were monitored. He utilized that now, gesturing to Duo to board, shifting his duffle from one shoulder to the next, turning deliberately and looking up at the security camera in the upper northeast corner. He lifted his hand, two fingers up. A message for the Preventers, who surveyed this terminal piously, determined to prevent terrorism anywhere near the headquarters for the Earth Sphere Unified Nation. A message for Wufei, who would be watching too, if he'd made a point of speaking to Duo, sending him to this city. Message: I have him. Leave it alone. Heero boarded the train.

Their cabin was small, as it happens on trains, but there were four bunks and a tiny, private bathroom. They wouldn't need to leave unless for meals. Duo settled in, using the lavatory first to brush his teeth with the complimentary toothbrush and paste he acquired from the motel. Heero went after, splashed water on his face and rinsed out his mouth. He avoided his reflection, habitual now, after all these years. Heero had all but forgotten why he did that, though he was pretty sure there was some definitive reason, and so stuck with his instincts. He left the lavatory when the train began to lurch forward, minutes, perhaps, too late--or maybe just seconds, as Duo could be quick when he had a mind to be. Duo had his duffle open and was shifting through his belongings.

Heero wasn't certain why he was suddenly so angry. Maybe he was affronted, insulted by Duo's lack of respect for his privacy. Maybe it was because a small part of him dreaded having to explain himself. Heero had never quite mastered that, explaining himself; especially not to Duo. Either way, the surge of heat in his chest was like an echo of battle lust, rising to the occasion, because if you didn't like it just a little bit, the fighting, then you might as well go home. War wasn't worth losing your soul over. Heero learned that from ZERO.

Duo's grip on his duffle was firm when Heero went to snatch it from him, his expression utterly unapologetic, which only served to anger Heero more.

"How's your ribs?" he snarled.

Duo laughed in his face. "Fine, thank you. Thought you'd never ask. Why are there, like, three hundred rolls of film in here? Camera's good quality too--"

Heero tried to jerk the thing from Duo's hands, but only managed to rip two seams in the bag. "It's absolutely none of your business."

"Is if some of those photos are of me."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"What do you have to hide, Heero?" Duo tugged back, half-heartedly, his eyes wide and laughing and amethyst. "Besides, it's sort of silly to take so many pictures and never develop them. Why do you carry around the negatives?"

Heero played dirty. He dropped his eyes to Duo's mouth, watched as his breath hitched, leaned in. And tore the duffle from his grip as Duo's fingers loosened. Heero turned when Duo's face went blank, and then thunderous, and stuffed his duffle under his pillow. Made his bunk smaller and much less comfortable, but Heero had slept on worse. He crawled in, daring a glance up at Duo, still standing in the center of the cabin, fingers clenched into fists.

Duo glared at nothing for an entire minute, his mouth set in a thin line. Finally, when his gaze shifted and he looked at Heero, his eyes were so dark, they were purple, shadowy, murderous. "Two can play that game, Yuy."

Heero shrugged and lay back on his bulky pillow. He closed his eyes, listening as Duo moved around the cabin, selected something to fiddle with, and crept into his own bunk. Then, Heero slept. He could always sleep around Duo Maxwell. At least that had never changed.

+

Well, there's no turning back now.

Paris was brief, but not eventless.

They had to change trains, take two flights of stairs down to the correct terminal. Wasn't really taxing, except for the part where Duo noticed the late night news. Heero couldn't remember Duo ever knowing more than a handful of words in any given language, but he'd always had the uncanny ability to understand more that a street rat from L2 had rights to.

There were televisions in a shoppette between terminals, four of the six screens running the same story from different channels, all in French. Colonial news, however rarely known to trickle down and infect dirt side circulation, was still interesting for Earthers, who had long memories and enjoyed believing they were well-informed. The shots of inner-L2 weren't remarkable, unless you'd been to the cluster often enough to tell the difference between that and any other colony, but the plume of black smoke swirling into hidden vents was unmistakable. Old news, as the attack on Maxwell Scrap happened almost a month ago, so the camera work was old too, carefully cut together, like it was more of a short film than quick coverage, the pompous pricks. The anchors were chatting with specialists, discussing everything from the nature and history of hate crimes, to terrorism, to conspiracy theories too absurd to be worth mentioning. Shots of Duo from the war flickered from one screen to the next, two OZ soldiers dragging him from his suit by the arms, shackled to a chair for interrogation, the explosion of Deathscythe as Trowa Barton, posing as an officer under Une, destroyed it on international and colonial news.

Duo was ghost white beside him, shaking like a leaf. His mouth was torn somewhere between a grimace and an incredulous, self-deprecating smirk. His face, thankfully, was hidden beneath his cap, his braid obscured by his tattered jacket, and no one recognized him. No one even noticed him until Wufei's face came on the screen.

Wufei was surrounded by a dozen other Preventers, all uniformed and on site after the yard had burned itself out. He seemed to have been picked by the reporter on mere bad luck, a microphone shoved in his face. Wufei shoved it back, but the reporter was insistent, repeating her question, the French translation in white block letters at the bottom of the screen.

"Is it true that the community was only defending themselves against--"

"The accusations are unfounded,"
Wufei bit out, flashing an irritated look first at her, then to the camera man, and back again. "Duo Maxwell is a hero. A great injustice has been done here."

Duo snorted hard, his whole body convulsing with the effort, as Wufei pushed past the reporter and the screen switched back to the anchor. "Fucking give it a rest, Wu," Duo barked, earning none too few stares in response.

Heero grabbed Duo's elbow, jerked him slightly to get his attention. "Let's go."

"I want to watch the feed."

Following an odd whim, Heero caught a stray lock fallen free from Duo's cap and tucked it back behind his ear. "I know," Heero said, doing his best to keep his tone soft as well as quiet, watching Duo go still beneath the gesture, wary, like he would run at the slightest sign of danger. Duo was a runner, especially when he was on edge. Heero just needed to make sure they ended up running in the same general direction. "I promise you, we'll watch all the footage once we're in Spain."

"Why would they still be covering this story," Duo asked breathlessly, still shaking, still ghost white. "Why would they show all of that again?"

"We'll find out," Heero promised. "In Spain."

The first time Space decided to use Duo Maxwell as their whipping boy, the first time, when they cheered as OZ destroyed everything Duo held dear, even if it was just his pride, his cause and his suit, Duo had been alone. Heero remembered thinking, when it happened, that Duo was alone.

Heero remembered the broken mantra, sensible--harsh--but sensible liturgy that sent the insurgent he used be after him. 02 is now a hazard, 02 is obsolete, therefore 02 must--but broken by the single terrible fact. Duo Maxwell fought a one-man war in space against a tyrant, defending Spacers who weren't even grateful. There was something to be said for that.

There was something to be said for Duo withstanding another onslaught, careful not to incriminate the rest of them, take it on alone. There was something to be said for trying.

But he wasn't alone this time.

Duo was even more silent during the train ride into Spain than he had been into France. Heero expected that, and let him be. In Madrid, Heero led them out of the station, but decided to take a detour on the way to their motel. The sun was up, brighter here than in Brussels, in the early morning. They spent forty minutes in a cab, and then another ten walking quickly up several blocks. Heero remembered the place by sight, felt his way there like he felt his way around any cockpit. He'd considered, before, purchasing the equipment, but thought himself out of it because he didn't have anyone to share the images with anyway. Besides, he had already seen them, when he initially took them.

Inside the shop, Heero found an enlarger and brought it to the cashier. He left it on the counter while he went back for chemicals. He returned with several bottles of developer and fixer, and Duo appeared at his side, his arms laden with plastic trays, photographic paper, and a red light. Afterwards, they went next door and purchased about eight boxes of black trash bags and half a dozen rolls of electrical tape, necessary, of course, to create a darkroom.

Duo was grinning like a demon by the time they checked into the motel.

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