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

Summary: Dark blue, Heero's eyes, probing in the way they did when Heero was searching for something to say. Wasn't a usual occurrence, but Duo had to give him an A for effort. All things considered, the man was trying.

Author's Note: The clearer I become on this story, the quicker each chapter reaches its word limit and I'm pulling at my hair. *laughs* Good news is, I still have so much to cover that I'm very clear on, so the next few updates should come even faster than this one. Hoffer was a fun way to jab at Wufei, make his presence known in this chapter even if we don't see him for a few more days. But all things considered, I'm happy with the informative nature of this update, and the way Heero reads when Duo is describing him. Very Bourne. Hope you enjoy!

Prerequisite + Chapter 3: My Ensign and Escutcheon

A.C. 203

The god-awful screech of tape even made Heero wince. It seemed louder than it should have, given the silence stretching between the two. Duo's laugh was one of those startled, apologetic ones that weren't really an apology at all--as it was pretty obvious how funny he found it. The slow-spreading grin probably gave him away. "Sorry."

Heero's eyes burned at him for a brief moment, the only evidence of his irritation, and then he went back to work. "If Chang's still in space, we might be able to stay here for a few weeks."

"Chang's not the only Preventer in the organization."

"Yes. But he's the only one they'd send after you."

"They might send Sally."

"Ah. She's...well, yes. They might, actually."

"Might be nice to see her."

The tape was old anyway, and to prevent any problems from it not sticking where it should, or sticking where it shouldn't, Heero and Duo completed two hours worth of cleaning their motel room. At least this time, they wouldn't have to watch where they put their hands. The last motel was...horrid.

For his part, Duo craved a clean space. Any mechanic he knew did, contrary to popular belief about grungy, filthy men who worked with their hands. Duo had treated Maxwell Scrap with the same care and devotion he'd shown Deathscythe. Kept it sanitary, well-oiled, organized...vulnerable to attack by angry people who had it out for its owner. But really, that was beside the point.

It was especially important to a person working daily with oil and dirt and metal dust, to keep a handle on it. Careless mechanics got shut down, got sick, became hazardous to the neighboring shops. And running an entire scrap yard made it especially important for Duo to be aware of his space.

"So what is it about this country that's got you so..."

"It's warm. Warmer than most of the European countries. Easy access to the Sea." Heero paused and straightened, rolling his shoulder to stretch out the bunched ligaments. "First sign of trouble, you get spooked, whatever--we hit the Mediterranean and we can be anywhere. Logistics, Duo."

"Yeah, uh-huh, or you managed to turn into a grumpy old man since I've seen you last and you get off on vacationing." Duo threw another grin in his direction, noting the stiff set of his shoulders, the jerky movements of his fingers. "White sands, tour buses, palm trees. Nude beaches..."

The bathroom was the simplest solution, as the room itself had a window and the lavatory did not. Duo used his pocket knife to cut up a three by two foot square in front of the door, scrubbing the under-floor until the ingrained dirt and dust beneath was all but up, so they could begin taping the black trash bags down and working the length to the ceiling. Heero was taller, so he worked the top half of the line and Duo concentrated on the bottom. Within the hour, they were connecting the trash bags in the center, leaving a slit open in the middle to slide through and tape closed from the inside to keep light out. Towels were used to stuff the underside of the bathroom door, in case any sneaky light trickled through spots they missed. Heero set the enlarger on the toilet cover, the only surface large enough to hold it, and Duo removed the shower curtain so the photos could hang dry from the rail. The trays went inside the tub, and the sink was filled with water, easiest to drain and refresh as the photos made their last trip to wash off chemical. The red bulb replaced the one in the ceiling, and several strips of photographic paper were set on the edge of the tub for developer and fixer samples, avoiding too much paper waste.

They worked around each other in the cramped, tiny space quietly, save for the random bursts of playful banter, as natural as it had always been. Familiarity, it seemed, came to them only when they had a joint task. It had always been easy for them to team up on a mission. Always. Conversation was harder, friendship was harder, because they had so little in common. Because Heero didn't seem to know any other way to communicate than to be a jackass, and Duo had long since lost his sense of humor about it. Even so, Duo's curiosity about what the hell was on those negatives was itching him in all the right places.

Duo silently helped Heero cut dozens of three by five inch rectangles of photographic paper and set them in neat stacks by the toilet. Afterwards, they both left the room to retrieve Heero's duffle. Heero grabbed it first and used his body to stand between it and Duo. Duo had to fight not to roll his eyes.

"Dude, really?" Duo gestured exasperatingly towards the bathroom, completely obscured by the impromptu foyer of black trash bags. "We just spent half the morning--"

"I can do this," Heero interrupted, in that flat, resonating tone of his, pointing towards his laptop. "You do that."

Ah. Actually, putting it that way, it sure would save some time. The bathroom was tiny anyway, better suited for just one grumpy vacationing male at a time. Duo shrugged, scratched the back of his neck, and went to unpack the computer.

First order of business. As it was Heero's computer, and it might just aggravate him, Duo decided to update the man's laptop, change all the passwords, revise the firewalls, re-route the infrastructure--and when Heero's computer was thoroughly and completely tweaked, Duo hacked into L4.

Duo hadn't done this in forever. He'd forgotten how entertaining it could be, how frighteningly easy. Duo found Quatre at work, looking bored out of his mind and speaking on his cell to a political advisor whose campaign the Winners happened to fund. Quatre had his back turned to his computer, so Duo could only see the back of his golden head, one polished finger twirling the chord on the phone, staring out the glass to the sprawling city below.

"Hi, Quatre."

The finger paused, slipped out of the knotted chord. His chair jerked to one side as he planted his feet on the carpet, and swiftly to the other as Quatre turned, eyeing a computer screen that was, for all intents and purposes, still black and blank from his end of the feed.

"Yes, I understand that Reace," Quatre said into the phone as he leaned forward and flicked on his computer screen. The corner of his mouth quirked at the sight of Duo and he pressed a finger to his lips. "Truly, I understand you. However, that simply does not qualify for an extension. Of course. Yes, of course; and by all means--if you can find funding elsewhere.. ." Quatre's mouth bunched, as if he wanted to smile but knew it would be impolite. "I see. Well then, I look forward to--Yes. Definitely. Alright, Reace. I must go. Yes. Good bye. Duo! " Quatre all but threw the handle on the receiver, his smile flashing the tips of his teeth. "You had me thinking I was crazy! "

Duo would have laughed, but another voice interrupted. It sounded suspiciously like Trowa, but he couldn't make out the words. Trowa's voice was good for that, being lower than the hum of static. Used to drive OZ freaking nuts when they couldn't understand a word he was saying to Heero, out testing the Mercurius and the Vayeatte. Duo's fingers flew over the keyboard, adjusting the feed so he could pick up the new tone.

Quatre's smile faded, his eyes flashing briefly over the vidphone at whoever else was in the room with him. "I would bet my life that he wouldn't contact me on an insecure line."

Duo's tampering allowed him to catch the bare end of the response. "--are betting your life, Quatre." It was Trowa.

"It's alright, lover boy," Duo called over the speaker. "Promise to keep it brief."

Quatre threw a sharp look at Duo, reproachful even, as if irritated that someone else had the nerve to fight his fight for him. "Not your place, Duo." A pause, for that, because Quatre had a way of making grown men feel chastised.

Something that was a part of his breeding, Duo supposed. He remembered conversations with Quatre, on Earth in the desert, hiding out with the Maguanacs. He was always afraid of sounding like he spoke ill of his father, but there was so much hurt, so much frustration, Duo had been the perfect candidate to sit and get dumped on. Because no matter how spoilt and vexed Quatre might seem, they both knew that Duo's opinion and respect for Sandrock's golden boy would never change. Friendships were built on that stuff. Long nights filled with: He had a way, my father, to snatch the attention of an entire room on his presence alone.

Or: He collected the loyalties of men like you or I would collect soda caps or baseball cards. Men would die for him.

Or even: He never had to pull me over his knee, punish me with violence. As pacifists, it's not our way. But he had a quality in his voice, a certain disapproval whenever any one of us wronged him, that could stop us all in our tracks, and he might as well have slapped me...or-or whoever. Probably would have had the same effect, anyway.

Duo wondered if he's realized that yet, that he's sort of become his father. At least, acquired all the attributes that struck fear and respect in the boy he used to be when his father was still alive.

"I appreciate your concern, Trowa," Quatre was saying off-screen. "I do. But we used to be friends. Don't isolate me. "

Trowa's response was quick and short, colored with anger. Duo couldn't remember ever hearing him speak like that to Quatre. "Isolate you? Ironic, Winner. Just remember who asked me here." The slam of a door, loud enough to make Duo jump, thousands of miles away on Earth as he was. Quatre however simply stared off-screen for a moment, hard lines of anger around his mouth and nose, his eyes dark and impenetrable.

"Sounds a bit more than a lover's spat," Duo mused, but stopped there. They had all become fiercely protective of their privacy, over the years, and Quatre was no exception. And if the burning look he threw back at Duo through the vidphone wasn't a testament to that, he didn't know what was.

"We've found," Quatre said after a deliberate pause, his tone cold and brittle. "The sex is remarkably better when we can't stand the sight of one another."

"All right, Quat." Duo held up two hands in surrender. "Got your point."

Quatre's mood shifted rapidly, relaxed again, bemused as his eyes roved at the spaces behind Duo. His fingers drifted over his keyboard, aiding his curiosity. "Where are you?"

"Spain," he offered freely, and the trust was rewarded, because Quatre quit his fiddling and sat back in his chair, completely at ease now.

"Why Spain? "

"Heero says he likes being close to the Sea."

Quatre lurched forward again, abruptly breathless at the news. "You found him."

"Found me," Duo corrected.

Quatre's hand moved, a weird gesture of indifference. "How is he?"

"I--he's fine, Quat. He's fine. He'll probably throttle me when he finds out I told you."

"You two getting along?"

"As well as we used to."

Quatre hummed, resting his head on the back of his chair, gazing at Duo through the slits of his eyes. "That bad, huh?"

"Not bad. Just, you know. I'm an ass, he's an asshole; we're figuring it out."

"Ah." Quatre chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment. "Wufei left a message for you. About enlisting. Would you like to hear it?"

"No. And do me a favor, will ya? Tell him, and quote me, tell him: 'Ready, set, go fuck yourself.'"

Quatre loosed a startled laugh and leaned forward to adjust the volume on his computer. He glanced up through his lashes. "I'll tell him you're considering it, but your decision is unlikely to change."

Duo made a face, picked at the peeling leather on his sleeve cuffs. "Thought my answer was more pointed."

Quatre uncrossed and re-crossed his legs. "Colonies became a little nervous when the police couldn't find you for questioning. Preventers had to make an announcement that you were in protective custody."

"Lies."

"Yes, well."

"You think I owe Chang for that?"

"No. But he might. You know how Wufei gets."

"I don't want any favors from the Preventers."

"Duo, they're trying to do their jobs. Investigation showed your body was never found, we have witnesses at the shuttleport seeing you get off-colony, some even remember you coming here. No, not specifically to my house, just to the colony. Calm down. You and Trowa, I swear. But when your trail went cold, people got scared. You needed to be accounted for."

"Because I'm the one they remember."

Quatre nodded solemnly. "Because you're the one they remember."

"So that's why Preventers were snooping around my yard."

"Yes. Mostly for show, because they already knew you went Earth, that you were safe. People need to know that the Preventers are preventing."

"Did a smashing job of--"

"Don't even say it, Duo." Quatre's voice reverted to that scolding, slashing hereditary quality from before. "You knew it was coming too, and if you were doing nothing to avert the annihilation of your own mundane lifestyle, why would the Preventers step in?"

"Would have been nice to know they cared enough to try."

"Same could be said for you."

"What are you saying?"

Quatre paused, evaluating him. Duo could do something similar with his own voice, use a tone that made it very apparently clear when someone was breaching a subject they had not been invited into.

"Let me just say," Quatre amended in a placating tone. "Let me just say that I think it will be good for you to have company, and that I'm glad you're with Heero. Speaking of which--" Obvious relation to what Quatre was choosing not say. Sometimes Duo hated that about him, that he could throw a thing in your face without being implicated for it. "Hilde keeps calling. What should we tell her?"

"Tell her she needs to get busy." Duo grinned. "Tell her I expect a godson by the time I'm in Space again."

Quatre smiled, but it was hard-mouthed, bemused instead of amused. "Is that all?"

"Yeah, Quat, that's all. Anything else I should know about my yard?"

"They've... " The hesitation made Duo not want to hear it, but he waited anyway, waited for Quatre to build up the nerve to spit it out. "They've already sold the lot."

Duo looked away, afraid that Quatre would think he was glaring at him in the event he couldn't control his expression. A great stillness settled in his stomach, anger bleeding into passivity.

"Check in soon," Quatre went on to say, sensing that Duo's end of the conversation was over. "Anytime; you know I mean that. And don't listen to Trowa--the last time I checked, my company wasn't called the Barton Enterprise, and thank god for that. I can do whatever I wish with my means of communication. Take care. Okay? Take care, Duo. And tell Heero I said hello."

Duo didn't know how long he sat there after absent-mindedly switching off the screen. His brain was numb with the knowledge, but his instincts were still active enough to register Heero emerging from the plastic foyer, crossing the room to the little kitchenette by the closet. The sound of the faucet registered, the clink of a glass.

"They sold the lot."

A long silence, broken only by the sip Heero took of his water. "Who did?"

"Doesn't matter." It did, really. It did matter because it could involve the Preventers in the attack, could incriminate more than just the angry mob that set it afire. Didn't matter, though, because Duo knew L2. And it was something L2 would do. Whatever crooked scheme that resulted in Duo Maxwell being booted, the colony washing their hands of the last reminder of oppression and revolt, it didn't matter. And frankly, he knew Chang Wufei enough to know that the man would have had a conniption if the Preventers were behind it. "They could have just asked me to leave."

Duo stood and retrieved the lease from his backpack. He went to the window, stepped out onto the terrace, and lit the thing with his zippo. He watched dispassionately as the chunky ashes caught the frail breeze and flittered away towards downtown. Not sure why he kept it in the first place. Should have just let it burn with the rest of Maxwell Scrap, since the powers that be already had a buyer ready when the smoke cleared.

Heero was still there when Duo returned, still standing by the sink, a glass of water hovering in the air between them. Dark blue, Heero's eyes, probing in the way they did when Heero was searching for something to say. Wasn't a usual occurrence, but Duo had to give him an A for effort. All things considered, the man was trying.

Duo accepted the water and gulped down the remainder of it.

"You won't pursue it." Gravelly voice, resonating. Just a pitch above monotone.

"Nah," Duo answered, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

"You'll just roll over. Let it lie." Disapproval, then, as if Heero Yuy expected more from him.

"Actually, you're right," Duo shot back with mock-appreciation. "I'm gonna sue the whole goddamn colony. As long as Quatre hires my lawyer and you agree to be my character witness."

"I would." Heero took the glass back from him, returned it to the sink. "Never asked you to take the fall for me, none of us did. You can quit being a martyr any time now."

"So it's my fault."

"No, but it's your responsibility. You made a choice, Duo. You had a lot more faith in mankind than the rest of us."

"I wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong to give it a fucking shot."

"Not about wrong or right, Duo." Heero placed a hand on his shoulder; Duo had to make a conscious effort not to flinch back from it. Heero saw the look and removed his hand. "It's always about right and wrong, with you. Peace is a gray area, right and wrong is for the wars we were sick of five minutes into it. Right and wrong is dropping a colony onto the planet, right and wrong is letting mobile dolls fight our battles for us, right and wrong is the argument we put to rest when we destroyed our Gundams in support of disarmament."

Seemed it was Duo's turned to be scolded by everyone today, even tight-lipped Heero Yuy. The effort was impressive, for Heero's part, even though Duo was still unreceptive enough not to give a shit about whatever the hell anyone thought. Duo stepped back, grabbed his cap. "I'm going out."

"Okay."

At least Heero didn't seem to be harboring any self-disillusions about Duo Maxwell and his sense of right and wrong about free will, about going wherever the hell he wanted, whenever the hell he wanted to.

+

The Preventers building in Madrid was all steel and white stucco, dotted out on the front terrace with palm trees and local flora. Duo found himself standing outside for a long enough period of time that they eventually sent someone out. The kid was barely older than he was, early twenties, with cropped black hair and dark brown eyes. He came toward Duo with quick, purposeful strides, a starched white envelope--probably the sort that was eco-friendly--held carefully in one hand. Officer Kim, his breast plaque read, and instead of taking the envelope offered, Duo stared pointedly at his face and greeted him in Korean.

Kim's face went from olive to bright red in under two seconds. "Hi-Hello, sir," Kim replied in English. "An nyoung ha seh yo."

Duo wagged a finger at him. "You 'sir' me again, and I'll make sure you get demoted all the way back to Basic."

The kid blanched, taking him for his word--or aware enough of who he was to believe him should Duo get word back to Chang. Duo rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Jesus ever-loving Christ, kid. I was joking."

"Oh." Kim glanced back at the building and then tried to offer the envelope to Duo again. Again, Duo ignored it.

"I haven't had kimchi in ages," Duo said conversationally, meandering back towards the street, aware as the Preventer warily followed him out of the building's shadow. "You know any good places around here?"

Kim kept a distance of at least three paces, but continued to follow him to the end of the street. When Duo looked back over his shoulder, Kim offered an uneasy smile and an awkward shrug. "No place is better than mom's cooking. Sir...?"

"I was serious about the 'sir' thing," Duo said, turning to face him. "Name's 'Duo'. And you should know that."

"I do. I apologize. This," Kim said, lifting the envelope a third time. "It's a message from Deputy Director Chang."

"Deputy Director, huh?" The way the kid said his name was a little nauseating. Same sort of hero-worship that incited riots. Duo's eyes skipped down to the envelope and back up to his face. "Have you read it?"

"No, si-Duo. No, I haven't."

"Read it."

Kim shoved his pinky under the seal and lifted it. He produced a single sheet of paper, made of the same stiff parchment of the envelope, a series of zeros and ones littered across it. "I apologize. I can't."

"Give it here." Duo took it, glanced once at it, and then handed it back. "They don't teach you binary code in this joint?" A truly unbelievable concept, as Preventers were supposed to specialize in intelligence and communications.

Another interesting shade of red. "I meant, I shouldn't." Kim looked at it again, his mouth moving as he translated the code in his head. "It says-It says 'In times of change, learners inherit the Earth.'"

Duo's laugh began as a slow rumble at the back of his throat, one hand coming up to press against his mouth.

"'While the learned," Kim continued, glancing up at the noise in bewilderment, "find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.'"

And the laughter became barking, a mad, shattering sound that made passersby stop and stare. Duo curled one arm around his middle, hand pressed against the stitch in his side until the hysteria passed. "Now he's quoting Hoffer to me?" Duo straightened, passing a hand over his eyes and composing himself. "Tenacious prick, isn't he? Next, it'll be roses and chocolates and a nice shiny bullet."

"There's more." Kim chewed at his bottom lip as he waited for Duo to acknowledge him. "It says 'Proposal for plausible rendezvous with zero one in fifty-six hours.'" Kim cleared his throat. "Aside from the after note, I thought it was rather beaut--"

"They pay you to think here?"

Kim straightened, at least enough pride in the guy to be affronted at that. "They do, actually, sir."

"What do you think that means?"

Kim's eyes flickered down to the code in his hands and back up again. "I have a feeling its more of a personal nature, sir. And also, I think he's alerting you to the fact he'll be dirt side in three days."

"Why on earth are you a Preventer?"

The rapid shift of conversation took him off guard, the subtle insult made Kim's face darken too. "With respect, sir, I was fourteen when my father died at Victoria, and I was fourteen when I joined Major Po."

Duo offered one of his better smiles for that, watching it work its magic. Kim eventually relaxed the iron set of his shoulders, lowered them when his body caught up with his brain at the idea that maybe, just maybe, Duo Maxwell wasn't going to fly off the handle and take a swing at him. "Guerilla," Duo murmured slowly, implicating a common bond.

Kim nodded, and then just as quickly shook his head. "We didn't have mobile suits, not until we met up with Major Po's naval contacts, and then we found--"

Duo stopped him with a short hiss, not entirely sure why the urgency for silence slammed into him. Maybe it was because they were so close to a Preventers building stock full with ex-OZ and ex-Alliance and ex-Rebels all sandwiched together and pressing their ears to some speakerphone transmitting the feed from the wire Kim was sure to be wearing. Fuck if Duo was going to be lead into that trap. Fuck if Duo was going to be lured into a conversation where Heero's gundam would come up, and speculation on who zero one was, and whether or not Duo knew his whereabouts. And fuck, the really shitty thing was that Duo knew Wufei didn't authorize the wire, but maybe it was standard procedure when meeting with a known terrorist, and Wufei probably assumed Duo would be smart enough to know when to shut the hell up.

Duo glared in the direction of the building. "Why did they send you? They think I'd get chummy with someone who played kid-soldier in the war? Someone who knew someone--And by the way, Sally has a terrible sense of humor, if we really wanna swap stories. She told me once--Don't." Duo held up a hand, stopping a third apology in its tracks. "Keep saying sorry for stupid shit, no one'll believe you when you're apologizing for something serious. Like running over your neighbor's dog."

"You've done that, sir?"

Duo laughed humorlessly and stuck his hands back in his pockets, the heat beating at his back from the midday sun just this side of annoying. His mood was curdling more by the second. He turned to leave, but Kim stopped him, one hand placed dangerously on Duo's person, upper-bicep, grip just tight enough to make its presence known and no more. Duo stared at it the hand until Kim removed it.

"For the record," Kim said softly, his face all severe and pained, that look people get when they've been caught but they still want to square with you, like they should have from the beginning--but as hindsight's always twenty-twenty... "For the record, I volunteered."

"Why?" Duo asked flatly, sick unto death of being idolized, and irritated because this one was old enough to know better. "For fucking... why?"

Kim shrugged, gaze sliding sideways to the street behind Duo. "I'm a Preventer, now. I work, every day, to make things just a fraction better--and sometimes I fuck up and make it marginally worse. But the quirk is in the trying of it. Sir." Kim looked back at him. "When we forget why we do what we do, we'll turn into the thing we hate, the oppressor, the tyrant. We all know that. You help us remember. Takes a lot of guts to do that, to be that."

"Doesn't take courage to breathe," Duo disagreed. "I'm not a cause, never was. Just fought for one." Duo crossed the street, paused at the other side. "Is it worth it?" Duo called over his shoulder. "Even when you're fucking up?"

"Absolutely, sir. Duo."

+

There was something about Madrid that Duo grudgingly liked, something raw and old and unsettling. The presence of history alone isn't enough to awe a Spacer. Duo had been encased by the vacuum and eternity of space since birth, flown and fought in it, been enveloped by it. History was merely an arrogant child to the magnanimity of the universe, of the way galaxies stretch time and suns die and planets are born. History is awe-inspiring when you're staring at the Milky Way, knowing that a dead star is slowly sucking everything in. History is awe-inspiring when you crash on the moon and create a tiny nick in a massive crater, realizing something much bigger than you once punched a chunk out of something large enough to be its own planet, if not for the fleeting amount of low-gravity, and the powerful pull of Earth's.

But there was an impressive amount of fiery pride in the inhabitants of the city, as well as a great affection for one another. Never on L2 would Duo see two straight men in business suits strolling arm in arm down Grand Via. Never on L2 would the taxi service be compiled of sleek, black imported cars. Never on L2 would Duo see a university building older than the city itself.

Duo couldn't ignore the severe undertone of catholic influence here either. The cathedrals were breathtaking, and he assumed they'd be even more striking within. But Duo did not linger long enough to go inside any of them, having washed his hands of the debt he owed God and religion eight years ago when he took off Maxwell's collar. For him, it was never a matter of serving the church, of living vows and commiserating a lifetime away to some all-knowing being that had a certain recipe written out for you in Latin beholden with the admittance fee for Heaven. For Duo, it was always about people. People no one would ever remember except him, promises no one could keep except him, revenge no one would enact except him. It was about being defiant in the face of indifferent magnificence, demanding a chance to engrave history in their small corner of the universe, because no human ought to feel less than any other based on happenstance of birthplace and societal class and the lacking opportunity for education.

It was unsettling, here, because the city seemed to understand that very well, even having already been one of the largest centers for commerce and politics and edification since the time of the Moors and Visigoths, hundreds of years ago.

Fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son, a plaque read on the Manzanares River. Esta es mi insignia y blasón.

On water I was built, my walls are made of fire. This is my ensign and escutcheon.

Pride for a shield, pride for armor and a reason to exist. Yeah. Duo understood that, could definitely relate.

He took the metro until the day began to wane, seeking recluse underground and away from the overwhelming number of trees and cathedrals the city swelled with. Solace, in that, because at least the metro reminded him of home. It was dusk when he finally resurfaced and began to wander, slowly finding his way back downtown where the motel was. The night crowd was already pouring out into the busy streets, the hundreds of clubs, stretching several districts across the face of the capital, were lighting up, lines of people forming with hopes to get in early to their spot of choice.

Heero Yuy, to Duo's eternal shock, was standing in one of them.

"This your scene?" he asked incredulously, coming up to stand beside him and consequently making the other man jump. Heero looked at him wild-eyed for a moment, as if Duo had melted out of nowhere, before quietly stepping out of line. Duo followed him to the end of the street, where Heero turned again and regarded him seriously.

"I was looking for you."

"In there?" Duo looked back at the club. Modern and garish against the ancient architecture Duo had seen today, equipped to the nines with skylights, red carpet, and severe-faced door guards in suits and sunglasses. "You serious?"

Heero ran a hand through his hair, every bit the impatient, irritated gesture it looked. The amount of places Heero had looked for him before that one went unmentioned. "Have you eaten?"

A pause, for that, because Duo really couldn't remember right away. "No," he said slowly, and without conviction. Most of the day after...well after, had been a blur.

"You're not sure." Heero shook his head and took him by the elbow. "That's fine. I have a place in mind. What's that?"

"Oh, this?" Another odd moment of confusion. Somewhere between actually considering the Preventers for the first time since their creation and wondering idly if Heero would stick around if he committed to something permanent, Duo had wandered onto Paseo del Prado and bought five different photo albums at a tourist shop just outside of the Golden Triangle of Art. Of course, Duo never actually went into the museums, just bought the albums and moved on. Finally, the uncertainty caught up with him, the indecision, the jitters. He fumbled with the handles of the bag he'd forgotten he was carrying, felt a flush crawl up his neck as he thrust the whole bag in Heero's arms and stalked across the street.

Wasn't even sure, really, what the photos were. Still. Heero's big mystery. They could be really incriminating shots of all the out of work soldiers from the war, the ones that all knew the others by name and face, dangerous to Heero Yuy even in his reclusive state. Duo didn't know. But really, he couldn't put it past Heero to obsess like that. Fifteen year old Heero Yuy might have, might have been driven restless by paranoia, might have dug a hole somewhere and made it his career to spy on anyone who'd ever seen him.

Or.

And this was what Duo had been banking on in the five minutes or so that it took to purchase the photo albums on a whim and move on.

Or. Maybe the reason Heero Yuy was a gazillion times more relaxed than he used to be was because he'd taken some 'normal' pills, and, you know, traveled a bit. Saw the world he saved, learned to appreciate it like Earthers rarely do.

Heero was at his elbow again, yanking him around and walking them in the opposite direction Duo was headed. The bag was held lightly in his other hand, barely a crease in his elbow under the strain of the heavy albums, made the damn bag look empty, the way he held it. But Heero had a way of doing that, like how tall people forget they're tall until they have to bend at the waist to hug their mother; Heero Yuy forgot he was strong until he was rattling someone's elbow out of socket in the interest of dinner.

Speaking of which. "You know what, actually," Duo said, balking outside the white building Heero was headed into, the name 'KIKUYU' in blue-glowing letters over the double-entry. "I'm not very hungry."

Heero stopped when he stopped, handing the man at the door the bag of albums and asking the host to give them a minute. They discreetly turned away, giving the two some privacy, and Heero immediately took Duo to the side.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just-I just don't want to eat here."

"Why."

"No reason. Just. It looks pricy, Heero. Not my sort of--"

"Thank you for the albums." Heero said quietly, suddenly. "I didn't expect that sort of generosity from you. I've eaten here before, Duo; it's very good food."

Of course, Duo was thrown. Thrown enough to notice Heero's hands on each of his arms, ready to shake him or draw him in, or even restrain him; a thousand times more dangerous than Kim touching him that afternoon, but Duo didn't even flinch. Thrown enough to understand the trick, the reason behind the low, soothing voice, the choice of words--and thrown enough not to care, to let it work. Duo took in a long breath and let it out slowly. "I look a mess."

Heero grabbed the tail end of Duo's wind-frazzled braid and undid it, pressed the band into Duo's palm and instructed him to put it up. Duo made fast work of his ponytail, keeping it loose and tied off at the base of his head, and shrugged out of his jacket as Heero ran fingers through Duo's fringe and made it seem like the fall of it was more style than accident. Duo tucked in his black shirt, buttoned it, and then resigned with a sigh to Heero unbuttoning most of what he'd fastened, and then rolling down his sleeves and fastening the cuffs. Duo had never in his life worn his shirt cuffs closed.

"There." Heero stepped back, tilted his head to the side. "No one will ever know you never wanted to be here."

Duo laughed a little, at that; his eyes not quite meeting his. Something about all this was working, affecting him, turning the tables again in Heero's favor. Damn bastard always had the trick of getting the upper hand without even trying. Playing tourists in Madrid, nice dinner, fastened shirt cuffs, Heero telling him what to do with his hair--something about it all was working, subduing him, making him just this side of nervous with anticipation, entertaining thoughts of forward planning. Dangerous. Heero stepped in and pressed his lips to the side of Duo's jaw.

"You look nice," he said into Duo's ear. There and gone again, like maybe, just maybe, it was Duo's mind fucking with him. Heero's fingers curled around his wrist, took Duo's jacket from him. "Now, let me feed you."

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