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

Summary: "Nice neighborhood, though. We're like the scab on the street. Oh, look. Kids on bikes."

Spoiler Warning: Scattered quotes of Duo-isms from episodes 6 & 7.
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.

Author's Note: Though it feels like a filler, it isn't. Nesting begins the 'Swearing In' arch of Prerequisite.

Prerequisite + Chapter 6: Nesting

AC 203

You load yours on too. I'll take over the cockpit.

Before, it felt like seeping, like being sunk into, saturated by, a glass of white milk inside a cavern of black marble. A creeping along his skin that went bone deep. A resigned afterthought, too, that his job might never be really over. That as long as he existed, as long as there were those who knew what he was, what he could do, he would be obligated. Obligated. Obligated to harness in, take the grip, push the button. Kill her and her dog.

The reason, the motivation had already become weak, watered down, drowned in its own smothering ideal. Futile, because maybe, in his own small way, Trieze had been right. Maybe a little bit. One human, or five, or a hundred thousand could never be any match for human nature, and human nature's own worst instincts.

Heero could admit that at first, and for many years, it felt like a looking glass to him too. First in Brazil, and then Panama, and then Burma. Definitely Burma. Africa had been what jarred him, even if Burma had been especially cruel to the human-esque creatures that lived and died there. Africa, because he'd fought there before. They'd all, at some point, brought their Gundams and fought giant machines and power-hungry generals tripping off the coke they patrolled in and out, in and out. And yet, there were still tribes, villages, small cities even who had never seen a mecca, let alone a Gundam, knew only the small wars they fought amongst each other.

A great deal of people on Earth had learned from Trieze what he had set out to teach them, that machines should not fight our wars for us because then we do not fully comprehend the cost of what we do. These people--these people lived on such a simpler frequency. Watching a body explode by the torque-force of a bullet the size of a man's fist wasn't...new to them. It was awful, and in some distant part of them Heero thought they knew that, registered that, but generations of this sort of war made them apathetic; almost.

That's when he'd decided on taking up the camera. Heero never had any intention of exploiting anyone's pain, or ever really showing anyone at all, but just the action of clamping the lever, twisting, snapping the shutter--it immortalized them, reminded him, froze this moment that might have a million more in the years to come but Heero hoped to God he wasn't there to see.

Somewhere along the way, he'd stepped up to something. Caring, maybe--but that took a whole lot more work than not caring did. A little something more, though, but just under the arrogant, self-possessed notion of duty, of thinking that it was his responsibility to continue it--because he'd finally realized how small he really was, compared...Compared to it all. To everything.

And what had really surprised him was that he didn't feel guilty about that. He thought he might, because it was this weird vertigo between giving a shit and knowing when your rock was just really a pebble and maybe there's something better on the other side of that hill over there. That maybe there was no shame in that. He felt lighter for it.

Saying yes to Preventers, saying yes to Wufei--Heero thought that perhaps a tiny part of him felt compelled. Certainly not, however, obligated. He would do it because he could. And to function, to live, he would need a skill. Heero did not think he would have the patience, or at least the determination, to learn any new ones if he could help it. And Duo needed permanence. Heero knew Duo would hate him for it for a little while, but Heero was okay with that. Heero had weathered that before.

Heero thought it would feel like seeping again. He expected the sounds to become sharper, the senses heightened. He'd wondered if he would remember to tell Duo to take off the bandages from his fingers, that he didn't need them anymore. He didn't; he forgot. His instincts were still sharp. He remembered to burn everything, to wipe down the room. It was clean by the time Duo stirred, lifting his head to roll groggy eyes at him.

Duo patted the sheet. Heero sat next to him only long enough to tug his braid and order him into the shower. The sun began to rise as Duo reemerged, dripping wet because Heero had burned the towels too, forcing him to air dry. Heero smiled a little at Duo's surly expression, and kissed his frown until it smoothed away. Then he handed him new clothes and a cup of coffee.

"Preventers are waiting for us downstairs."

Not the Asian one Duo favored, but his Spanish partner was there. Duo looked at him longer than appropriate, but slid his gaze away the moment before the man could be justified in taking offense. Duo was still next to Heero the car ride to the strip, the sound of his breathing more imagined then actually audible. He smelled like he washed his entire body in aftershave. The image in his head was fleeting, but not quick enough to stop the half-smile that crept onto Heero's face. Duo noticed it with a flicker of his eyes and a lowering of his shoulders.

You load yours on too...

The sun was bright in the early dawn, piercing, causing shadows on Duo's face. Heero squinted against the brightness as they crossed the breadth of the hangar on foot, the Spanish Preventers trailing behind them. The pilot stood by the short staircase, a pleasant look on his face that stayed safely under campy. Heero shook his hand firmly and trotted up the metal steps. Duo pulled him in a little and whispered something in the pilot's ear that made the man bark out a hearty laugh. Grinning, Duo followed Heero into the jet.

I'll take over...

The Atlantic sparkled, but that got old. Duo was already dozing, but watching him sleep was only fascinating for maybe half an hour--forty-five minutes if he was dreaming. Heero was bored, and thought about how it didn't feel like seeping, like duty, like a wash of milk inside black marble. He imagined the hum of Wing shivering into him, whispering around him, bright yellow against his iris, static white and blue along the bare skin of his arms and legs. He fell asleep thinking of battle, and being swept up in it. And how this felt very different.

+

He should spend his time enjoying life instead of trying to outsmart me. While he's alive, that is.

Heero woke with a start and Duo's breath on his face. His expression looked a little grey and Heero shrank back in his seat, convinced he was going to vomit. "Since when did you get air-sick," Heero demanded when Duo shot him a bewildered look.

"Ha ha," Duo muttered, eyes flickering back to the window for an instant before relaxing back into his seat. "You wish. I could eat a sandwich upside down at three hundred knots, asshole. What are you, new?"

Heero glanced out the window, noticing the air pressure was changing. They were circling some kind of massive bay, forests of broccoli shaped trees stretching on for miles and miles beneath them. Ah, right. Trees. Heero felt another grin creep along his face. Duo noticed and colored.

"Oh, shut the hell up."

As the jet continued it's decent, Duo would shift, then lean over Heero periodically to peer out of the window, before catching Heero's eye and settling back again with a grumble. Heero actually enjoyed Duo's discomfort. In a very small way, it felt like justice.

"You know," Heero remarked monotone. "We'll probably have a backyard with trees."

"Heero," Duo warned. "I will punch you in the face--"

"You'll have to face them when you walk that dog you want so badly."

"--and then I will kick you in the nuts," he continued. "If you don't shut the hell up."

"It might be fun to see you try."

Duo looked at him then, his expression odd but not hostile. "I liked you better when you didn't have a sense of humor." And then his eyes slid sideways and Heero could see that Duo knew what he was going to say before he said it, that resigned was his expression.

"Liar."

They landed at Baltimore Washington International Airport and walked to a separate hangar where a chopper was waiting. No one there to greet them this time, only a pair of military pilots waiting silently behind the stick for them to climb in, the bird lifting off the moment they'd set their duffels down. The flight took only minutes, landing again on a small airstrip within the garrisoned Fort Meade, nestled on all sides by suburban neighborhoods.

A General Eckart stood just beyond the whipping air caused by the chopper, flanked by four Marines in full gear and two Preventers standing by a black Lincoln. Heero was the first to jump lightly from the gunner platform, followed by Duo, ducking until they'd moved beyond the whirr of the helicopter blades. One Preventer, sandy haired with small brown eyes, held up two photos, checking, apparently, that they were who they were sent for. He then pocketed the photos and offered his hand. Beside him, Duo was peering at the Marines, and most notably, their rifles hanging ready from their shoulders. Duo made them nervous and he knew it.

"I am Officer Kilman," the Preventer said, and behind Heero, Duo laughed. "This is Officer Tailer," Kilman continued, gesturing to his partner; a woman whose sharp features weren't unkind to her, with freckles that enhanced the bright hazel of her intelligent eyes, instead of detracting from it. Heero shook his hand, and then Tailer's.

Instinctually, maybe, Duo lifted his hand to greet them similarly without missing a beat, smiling politely before returning to stare rudely at their military entourage. Kilman cleared his throat and stepped forward. "And this is General Eckart," Kilman said, moving up beside Duo.

Duo's face morphed into a strange pleasantness as he regarded the general, shaking his hand as well. "Well, its good to know you didn't steal someone else's uniform," he said. Jesus, Duo.

But General Eckart grinned suddenly, tightening his grip on Duo's hand. "Welcome to Fort Mead. Your residence will be closest to our base, so we will be flying you to Preventer HQ."

Duo's brows lifted, ignoring the iron lock on his hand. "Daily?"

"Yes," Eckart answered. "I remember you."

Duo's smile was broad. "I don't remember you," he said pleasantly. "But I get it. You've probably been wearing that uniform longer'n I've been alive." He switched gears rapidly. Heero could feel the tension between Duo's shoulder blades. He glanced at the Marines, who had mastered the art of listening closely without appearing at all interested. They were tense too. "Do you know," Duo said, his knuckles white on Eckart's hand. "You probably do, but in the Middle Ages, knights used to raise their visors and expose their face to fellow knights. It was their way of recognizing friend from enemy. That's how we get our salute. That's what it means." He suddenly released Eckart's hand and stepped back. The general laughed.

"I like you," Eckart said, lifting his hand in a quick salute. Immediately, the Marines behind him did the same, waiting rigidly until both Duo and Heero released them. That was the most surreal thing to happen to Heero since Duo walked back into his life. These men had no idea who he was. "Most likely, I won't see you two but periodically. However, if you need anything, you can contact my office and I'll see it done."

"Thanks, General." Duo's smile was genuine this time.

...instead of trying to outsmart me.

But Kilman's voice was tight as he said: "If you'll follow us to the car, we can be on our way."

Inside the Lincoln, it was bigger than it seemed and the two Preventers sat facing Heero and Duo in the back as two MP's drove it out of the base and out onto civilian roads.

"You must be Duo," Kilman said after a minute of heavy silence. "The Deputy Director warned me about you."

"Did he? That's cute. Listen," Duo sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Why do we have to bother local military to commute to HQ?"

"It was a courtesy," Tailer said, her voice smooth and even, speaking for the first time. "Deputy Director Chang thought you might enjoy a sense of autonomy."

That quieted Duo, and Kilman turned to Heero. "I don't know your name, and we were told to instruct you not to say it inside any military vehicle or anywhere on base. You've not been given a code name yet, so you'll be getting new badges once you swear in." Kilman handed two plastic covered badges attached to a chord to hang around their necks. Both had bar codes and numbers and the Preventer insignia, one had a photo of Heero, and the other Duo. The Lincoln was already pulling into a neighborhood called The Provinces.

"When are we expected at HQ?" Heero asked in a flat voice.

"Not for another week," Tailer answered. "Gives you time to settle in. There will be some furniture in the house from the previous occupant, but not enough. We have money for you, for groceries, furnishings, clothes. Next Monday, your ride will arrive to pick you up at oh-eight hundred hours." Tailer handed Duo the credit card when he held up his hand. The Lincoln stopped in front of a house--a two-story house with peeling paint and a lawn with weedy, overgrown grass. "There's a pool in the back," Tailer added.

The Preventers murmured an informal farewell as Heero and Duo exited the car, retrieving their duffels from the trunk. The Lincoln drove away, leaving the two of them standing on the sidewalk, gazing up at their new...home.

"What the hell were you thinking, with the general?"

"If we're going to be seeing them daily, I don't want to be treated like some political schmuck hitching a ride." Duo dropped his duffle onto the concrete sidewalk, stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Besides, if they're saluting us, maybe they'll let us fly instead of ride every once in a while."

"They might have shot you."

"Sure. But they didn't." Duo coughed, winced a little as a wave of insect buzzing grew thunderous from a nearby patch of trees. "This place is a dump."

"Fixable."

"Nice neighborhood, though. We're like the scab on the street. Oh, look. Kids on bikes."

They observed them riding by, staring back at the teenagers who watched them with surprised expressions. An elderly lady passed as well, walking her tiny, fluffy white dog, across the street. She didn't look up.

"It's muggy here. Thought the northwest would be getting cold by now."

"Bay makes it humid. Swamps."

"Thank you, Wiki."

"The trees are changing. That one's turning yellow."

"Okay, I've had enough. Let's go inside."

The key turned without struggle and the door opened with a light squeak. They were greeted by two sets of stairs, one leading up, the other leading down. Duo began descending nearly immediately, and Heero trotted up to the second storey, setting down his duffle in what might become the living room--or the dining room, if Duo decided to get fancy on him. There was a bay window, facing the street and the room was lined on one side by wrought iron, preventing any tumbles down the staircase. To his right, a hallway and in front of him a kitchen. The kitchen was long enough for a breakfast table, and had cabinets along every wall. The wood was new, glossy still, but whoever had installed them, Heero noticed, was either an idiot or just didn't care. A few cabinet doors hung awkwardly from crappily mounted hinges. There was a sliding glass door, also, leading out to a deck. Heero glanced only once at it and decided to tear it down. It was red with huge swatches of green mold. The thing would go on its own any day now. Heero ventured down the hall, noting the single bathroom and the three small bedrooms at the far end. The bedroom facing the street seemed barely large enough for an office, but Heero thought he could manage something.

He should spend his time...

Heero heard Duo softly calling his name. He went downstairs, found him gazing out another set of glass doors directly under the deck. The room he stood in looked like some sort of den. And there was a second bathroom here too.

"Check it out," Duo said, jerking his chin forward.

Tailer had at least been right about the pool. It was probably the nicest part of the entire property. The tiles were clean, it was long enough to do laps but still had a grassy area surrounding it, and the water was clear and welcoming. Heero did not think, however, that the girl swimming in it came with the house.

Abruptly, a dog came running from around the unseen side of the backyard, loosing a loud, cracking howl. The girl dipped in the water and got her feet under her, spraying water as she surface, eyes searching for her animal. She found her dog, and followed the dog's line of sight to them. Her eyes went wide, she swallowed, and then she snapped her fingers. Her animal, a tawny pit bull mutt, turned on its heel and trotted back to her. The pit sat near her as she lifted herself up onto the deck and grabbed her towel, staring at them with more curiosity than enmity.

"Good dog," Duo murmured, and despite Heero's groan of protest, lifted the latch and swung the door open. The dog stood, alert. The girl paused, tucking the large towel diffidently around her body.

"I don't ever go into the house," the girl began. "I'm really sorry. I live next door--"

"We just moved here," Duo said, raising his hands palm-out. "It's nice to already know at least one person."

She bit her lip, glanced at her dog. And then frowned. She made a strange noise with her teeth and snapped her fingers again. Immediately, the dog sat but did not look at her. This seemed to anger her because her fingers shot out and jabbed the pit lightly in the neck. The dog sank down to its stomach, gazing now beseechingly at its owner. The girl smiled. "Good girl," she said softly. "This is Nefie. She's really the sweetest thing since pixie dust, even if she looks like she'll maw your face off."

"Are you a dog trainer?" Duo asked, glancing at Heero as he came out to stand beside him.

"Nah. I just remember what works." The girl glanced at Heero and then right back to Duo. "Why'd you move here? The deck's about to fall down."

"It was cheap. I'm Duo, this is Heero." When Heero shot a look at him, Duo added: "And if you could keep that between us, it'd be awesome."

The girl shrugged, unfazed. "Military, intelligence; whatever, I get it. I'm Chris."

"Nice to meet you. You've kept the pool clean?"

"Um, yeah. I could teach you if you want." Chris bent down to scratch Nefie's ears.

"That's okay," Duo said. "Keep it clean, you can swim here anytime."

Chris looked at Heero again, but didn't look away this time. "Is that okay with you too?"

That surprised him, but in a good way. He nodded.

"Sweet deal. You sound like a colonial," Chris said, her attention back on Duo.

Duo didn't affirm or deny that. "You get a lot of those around here?"

Chris shrugged again, her face as open and honest as it could possibly, painfully get. She started to say something, but then shook herself out of it. Then: "Listen, I should get going. But if you guys need help fixing the place up and I'm not working--well, anyway. It wouldn't be a big deal because I do that sort of thing for fun. You should really get rid of the deck though. And the under-board in the den should be replaced. And whoever put the cabinets up there should be shot in the face."

Heero laughed, because he couldn't help himself. So much for never going inside the house. It seemed to startle both of them, his sudden laughter. She was charming, this girl who wasn't much younger than them. And it all seemed very accidental, with a tom-boyishness probably spurned from necessity, the ability and willingness to fix something old and make it new, livable, forced on an Earther girl who fought no war, but knew men and women who did. She was pretty enough, with a comic-book hourglass shape, big, bright blue eyes and long dark hair. But she seemed more used to hiding it, and it most likely had nothing to do with modesty. She was looking at him expectantly.

Duo wasn't, already gathering the courage to crouch down and touch the dog, Nefie, who was happy enough to let him, tail wagging with such force that the pit's entire body swayed with it. Heero saw Duo glance up at him through his bangs, a very pleased, humored look on his face. Heero faced the girl again, his smile long gone, and searched for something to say.

He pointed at the deck. "Do you think it'll rip the side of house off?"

She had Relena's instincts in maneuvering through an awkward conversation, but maybe only a tenth of her skill. Chris pounced on that with an eagerness that made her seem even younger. Heero was having a tough time guessing her age. "Nah--Well, if you wait for it to just cave in it might. But the--it's just wood. If you're careful, you could tear it off with a hammer and a ladder without damaging the house." Chris took in a deep breath and seemed to hold it. Her eyes, bright against her dark hair and pale skin, darted to Duo, fully engaged by the dog now, and then back to him.

And then it struck him, hit Heero like a bucket of ice water. Chris reminded Heero of the fifteen year old Duo lost years ago. Smart, aware, but not ready to give up the sense of hearth and home everyone's told them they're not allowed to have. And against all odds, pushing against the apathy that could sneak up and devour a populace like a thief in the night, was more than willing to share.

"We have to buy furniture," Heero blurted suddenly. "And food. Where--"

"Swedish Walmart," Chris said immediately. "Ikea. If you can figure out how to put that stuff together, it's a goldmine. But you'll probably need..." She was gone, then, rushing out of the backyard through a side gate, leaving the dog with them. She returned just seconds after Nefie noticed she was gone, trotting along-side Chris' legs back into the yard. She was wearing jeans now, and holding two sleeping bags, several pillows, and a handful of magazine clippings with numbers and coupons for local pizza and Chinese food. Heero relieved her of the considerable load, set it down on the patio.

"Wow, thanks," Duo said, grabbing the pizza list, eyes skimming over the options.

Chris beamed at them. "Well I figure you won't want furniture until you've fixed the place up. My garage is always unlocked, and I'll scream your name in the streets if you tell anyone that, but we've got good paint, trays, rollers, spackle--pretty much everything you'll need to get started. Just ask Doug for what you need, and he'll find it for you. He likes to 'organize' things." Her smile turned fond. "And the girls will help if he's not home."

"That your boyfriend?" Duo asked, because Heero would never.

Chris laughed in his face. "My brother, actually. And he's...well, he's a little slow so be patient with him."

"Sure," Duo said. "And really, thank you. That's going to help a lot. We've got...uh, six days."

"Six. Days." Chris looked severe for a moment, a frown gathering between her pretty eyes. "Um. Well, I'd say 'good luck with that' but that might be rude. You can use Dad's truck. Tires are crap, but it works if you can avoid a blowout--"

"You really don't have to--"

Chris fixed Duo with a sharp stare, and this time it did verge on hostile. "We do that around here. Help each other. I can't imagine the colonies surviving up there if they didn't do that too. Just say thank you."

"Thank you," Duo said. And the way he said it surprised Heero, earned a look, because it sounded uncharacteristically stiff.

Chris looked at Heero, and he could swear her expression smoothed back, back to curious and not a little bewildered. She wasn't afraid of him, but her instincts were telling her to be.

"Thank you," he said slowly.

Chris seemed delighted with that, smiling a little and turning away. "I'll leave the keys in the truck. It's the only purple rig in the entire neighborhood. Can't miss it."

Much later, over stir-fry and wontons, the kitchen floor illuminated by a single, large candle they found in Chris's garage, they began planning. The candle's red wax, scented like some over-sweet flower, dripped into a pan found in one of the many broken cabinets.

"The den, first," Duo said, around a mouthful of rice and vegetable. "And then that room downstairs connected to the garage. The carpet needs to be ripped up, smells awful."

Heero nodded, fingering a wonton distractedly. "Previous owners had cats."

Duo made a face, swallowed his food. "Yeah. What do you think about making it a mini-gym or something?"

Heero shrugged. "It's large enough. Or we can tear down the wall, make the garage bigger."

"Bedrooms upstairs, maybe?"

Heero looked up for that, but only shrugged in answer. He wasn't ready to expect they'd be sharing a room. But that might have been...

"Don't know what to do with the room with the bay window, if we're going to have a couch in the den." Duo stole the wonton Heero had been playing with and ate it.

Heero felt the quiet creep up on him, and suddenly realized Duo was regarding him. "How long are we going to stay here?" Heero asked quietly.

Heero could feel Duo's frown. "This was your idea, Heero," he said, tossing down his chopsticks. They clattered on the tile and Duo winced, as if he hadn't meant to make such a scene. "I'm playing along," Duo said more gently. "I'm playing nice."

"But for how long." Heero looked at him then; looked at his long face, his sharp jaw that could use a shave, to his eyes shining black in the flickering light. "House doesn't seem huge now. But--"

"You're already banking on me leaving you," Duo said plainly, his tone blanketed.

Heero just looked at him.

Finally, Duo sighed. "I'm not gonna rip up floor board and heave furniture up stairs and screw around with Swedish installments just to take off in two months. Jesus, Heero."

"I don't know you." Heero stopped himself, dipped his finger in wet wax. It burned, but as the wax cooled, it almost felt nice. "Like I thought I did," he finished after a pause. "I don't--know--what you'll do."

"What's there to know," Duo said. "I'm here now. Get me a dog like Nefie, and I'll sure as hell be invested."

Heero smiled a little, for that.

"You like her," Duo said, and he didn't mean the dog.

"She's--kind," Heero said haltingly. "She reminds me of--someone. A girl from the war."

Duo understood that, then. He knew the story, like Wufei knew the story. It might have been more of Wufei's manipulation, but it didn't feel as heavy-handed as it had in Spain. Subtle, if it was really premeditated at all.

"Of you, too."

Duo's smile turned into a grin. "I could see that, I guess. I don't think I ever talked that fast, though."

Heero laughed, because that was true and not true, and dipped his finger back into the wax.

I wonder if that guy even looks at the moon.

+

This is finally our chance to take down the OZ organization.

They didn't see Chris again the next day, or the day after, but she was true to her word and left the keys for the purple pick-up inside the glove box. They met the brother the first afternoon, a large, broad-shouldered man that looked thirty but had a mind younger than an average twelve year old. And despite his soft-spoken, short sentences, his eyes were bright and set Heero on edge. Duo seemed to know how to talk to him though and Doug was helpful enough in finding the hardware, tools and paint supplies they needed. He also offered to mow their lawn while they were away at the depot.

By Wednesday, only the salvageable carpet remained tacked to the floor, the walls were spackled and sanded, the plumbing tuned, and Duo was hard at work smoothing wet primer to the upstairs walls while Heero finished flooring the downstairs. They'd decided on hardwood, because it would be easier to clean and rugs would do just fine to take the chill away in winter.

It was colder at night, more normal for this area in October, and they shared the sleeping bags for necessity instead of desire. They were pleasant enough with one another, using their large tasks and limited amount of time to keep their focus away from each other. After a quick lunch of cold pizza and iced tea supplied by a quiet Doug, Duo announced he was ready to go to the pound.

...it'll be quite the battle. Yeah, and then I get to go back to space.

Heero felt irritable. He was tired and sweaty and the iced tea was too sweet. It did nothing to take his thirst away. "Paint fumes."

"Yeah, what about them."

"Might not be good for the dog."

Duo made a face at him. "Please. Come on, let's go."

The pound was a depressing affair with a dirt lot and chained link fences on the inside. The two women behind the plexi-glass seemed surprised they were there to adopt. Heero and Duo were led into the kennel, and the assistant pointed out the section of cages that held dogs eligible for adoption. Duo rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet--and it seemed worth it, suddenly, because Heero hadn't seen him that excited about anything in a long time.

There was a German Sheppard with a limp, two ankle-biters with sharp eyes and an even sharper bark, a terrier mutt, and one dog both Heero and Duo were drawn to right away. A Pit Bull that struck a striking resemblance to Nefie except that he was grey and speckled, and much larger.

"He was saved from a man who used him to fight," the girl explained. "He's been here a while because most people don't want aggressive dogs."

"Is he," Heero said. "Aggressive."

"Not that I've ever seen," the girl answered. "I'm sure he's got it in him somewhere, but all dogs do. He just needs some love, and he could be a lapdog."

The dog lay on its stomach in the far corner, only a little interested. His head was cocked to the side, his ears up and attentive, eyes watching--but this dog had seen humans come and go before. Probably, they all thought he was too dangerous. Probably, they wouldn't even come near him.

Heero exchanged a single glance with Duo and then approached him. Carefully, hand out. The dog lifted his head, waited for him. Heero watched the dog sniff him warily, his black snout barely twitching. Then the tail moved, and moved again.

"He likes you," the girl said.

Duo, oddly fearless, reached out and scratched the pit behind the ears. "We'll take him. Where do I sign my life away?"

Yeah, and then I get to go...

The drive back was considerably lighter than the drive there. Duo, laughing, had managed to maneuver the large dog onto his lap for the ride home, against the even larger protests of the girl. She tried to explain that the dog should be transferred in a kennel, but Duo shortly told her that no member of his family would be carried around in a cage. The animal seemed to enjoy that very much, because he became very active, sniffing everything, thwacking its long tail against the dashboard and licking at Duo's face every chance he got.

Nefie was in the yard when they pulled up and their pit was shaking with excitement, barely restraining himself from jumping out of the truck's window. Once Duo let him out they watched bemusedly as the dogs collided into each other, sniffed and then pounced again. Chris came out of the house smiling broadly.

"Hey," she exclaimed, hopping down her steps to join them on the sidewalk. "Look at who's planning on staying a while. He's pretty. How much was he?"

"Other than licensing, nothing," Duo said, his face all toothy grin and happy eyes. "We got him at the pound. Nefie seems to like him."

"Nefie likes everyone," Chris shrugged. "But it'll be good for her to have a walking buddy. And I don't believe for one minute you got a blue pit at the pound."

"He was a fighting dog," Heero said quietly.

Chris fixed her eyes on him, and Heero had to find a certain amount of strength to look back at her. She didn't seem to be looking at him, but rather into him. "Good for you. Good for both of you." She clucked her teeth for a moment. "Ever owned a dog before?"

"No," they answered simultaneously.

"Oh, that's good," she said breezily, and Heero couldn't decide if she was joking or not. "Virgins are always better to train. No bad habits. Named him yet?"

Heero shook his head, looked at Duo--but he had eyes only for the two dogs on the lawn.

Chris switched gears, gesturing to their house. "The yellow and black is crap. You should think about re-painting that too."

Duo laughed. Maybe he was paying attention after all. "Any ideas, Chris?"

"Gray base with brick-red trim," she answered readily, and then gave them another wide grin. "It's masculine and sharp and--"

Duo was laughing again. "We'll do it. And in five years, when we're ready to upgrade, we'll sell you the house."

"Sweet," she said, unabashed, giving them a sly wink. "Must dash. Have to help the girls with homework."

And like clockwork, a yellow school bus pulled up to the corner. They watched a ten year-old jump out and Chris walk up to greet her, Nefie beating her to the punch at an excited gallop.

Aw, man. It'll be quite the battle.

"Sweet mother of God," Duo breathed, somewhere close to Heero's elbow. "We're nesting."

I don't think you get it.

And then, as some thing seized in his chest, an ominous foreboding, Heero decided it wasn't just a mark on the calendar anymore. He needed to go to work on Monday.

Yeah, then I get to go back...

[ chapter 5 ] [ chapter 7 ] [ back to Singles a-k ]